Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Caramelized Onion and Fennel

If you have never tried fennel before, I highly recommend this as a recipe to start with. The results are very rich and sweet! Fennel tastes like anise.

This is wonderful on top of polenta. To lower the fat and calories of the recipe I shared for Polenta with Gorgonzola and Almonds, you could omit the Gorgonzola and top it with this instead. It will give the dish a surprisingly similar flavor and you won't miss the Gorgonzola. It is also wonderful on pizza with Parmesan cheese... Really it would be great with many dishes.

Caramelized Onion and Fennel

1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 or 2 bulbs of fennel, trimmed and sliced in similar sized pieces as the onion
2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil or a combo of butter and oil
salt and pepper

Heat oil/butter in a large heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel slices. Stir occasionally. When the onions and fennel start making a lot of noise and the oil is diminishing, add some salt. Lower heat if needed, it will depend on your pan. Continue simmering the onions and fennel, stirring occasionally, for about 45 minutes, until very golden. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
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Flavored Water

So very simple. Pour water in a glass pitcher along with a few slices of fruit or cucumber. Voila! The water has flavor! It's remarkably delicious. Experiment to find your favorite.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Birthday Meal

This is what I got for my birthday: a pasta maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer! Looking at the photo, it sure looks like the color of my mixer is pasta dough yellow... In any event, the way we celebrated my birthday was to spend the entire day cooking everything that we could from scratch.

I went to the farmer's market on Friday and bought what was the most fresh looking. I knew I was going to make some sort of pasta to try out my new attachment, but I didn't decide to make lasagna until about mid-day Saturday. The produce I had on hand worked out well for it. The menu evolved as the day progressed. The lasagna noodles are the first pasta I have made from scratch. It took a few tries to get used to how to use the attachment, but once I got the hang of it, it was pretty easy!

Semolina Egg Pasta ingredients:

4 large eggs, 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 3 1/3 cups semolina pasta flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt.

I used some Florida tomatoes to make the marinara sauce for the lasagna. I started by boiling them to soften the skin. Then I peeled them and the simmered them with low heat for many hours with olive oil, onions, bay leaves, etc.

I made homemade ricotta cheese which I mixed with fresh (but blanched) spinach, parsley, an egg, and salt and pepper.

I also made a white sauce (a bechamel with Fontina and Parmesan cheeses melted into it), and I roasted some red peppers, portobello mushrooms, and zucchini with olive oil and Italian herbs.

All of these went into the layers of the lasagna. Above I am assembling the lasagna. Yes, I used my hands to spread the ricotta layer. I like getting my hands dirty!

Here is a slice of the lasagna. It is the best we have ever had! Yes, I am biased! I must not forget to mention that we also ate homemade bread (sampling all day long, as the different kinds of loaves were coming out of the oven).

For dessert we made Crespella Cream Pie, topped with homemade Chocolate Sauce and filled with homemade Vanilla Pastry Cream and slices of bananas and strawberries. To top it off, we also made homemade Strawberry Ice Cream. Everything was outstanding!

I was able to get Florida strawberries at the farmer's market, something I hadn't seen in many weeks, at least a month. I couldn't resist buying an entire flat of them, as they were only $6. There were 12 pints, about 24 cups, of strawberries in my flat. I would say that 25 cents per cup of berries is pretty cheap!! There was a line of people eagerly waiting to buy them, so I was lucky I was able to get a flat before they were all gone. That's the way the farmer's market is here. A random truck of freshly picked produce arrives, and sometimes it will all gone within an hour. If you don't happen to be there during that hour, you miss out!

Anyway, it was a fabulous way to spend the day. We ate very very well!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Birthday Breads

DH made many loaves of bread in celebration of my birthday Saturday. Here are a few photos. If only you could taste them! Above and below are Pane Siciliano, an Italian bread. It contains some semolina flour, which gives it a sweet flavor. It is soft but also has a crispiness. Really this bread tastes like no other bread I have ever had. I will be requesting it again!

Below are some Pain a l'Ancienne, a French bread. DH formed the dough into long breadsticks. They are crunchy on the outside and light and airy with lots of holes in the inside. They have a surprisingly complex flavor (that's a good thing!!)

Below is the only thing I did to contribute to making the bread. I braided the dough of the Whole Wheat Brioche with Chocolate Chips. Mmm. Can't wait to use it for French Toast in a few days.

DH also made a double batch of Whole Wheat Pizza Crust, which we froze into ten balls, to use for ten future individual pizzas. What a privilege to have such a talented baker as a husband! The recipes all came from Peter Reinhart bread baking books.