Friday, July 29, 2011

Italian Friends Cook Figs

My Italian gym rat friend, Charlie, loves to cook, eat and talk about Italian food.  Every morning when I see him, at 5:30 am!, he has a story or a recipe for me.  Today was no exception.

"Hey, Susie-Q, how are you today?  Cook anything good last night?"  Unfortunately, I haven't been in the kitchen since my party last Saturday night and couldn't add much to the conversation.  Granted, at 5 in the morning, who really wants to add to any conversation?  Charlie continues...

"My 'goomba' friend, a REAL Italian from Brooklyn, told me about figs he made last weekend.  $5.99 for a box at Costco.  Oh, God, I DIE for figs.  My friend made them in the most unusual way!"  Being from New Jersey and being Italian, I took a little exception to his "REAL" reference, but point taken.  I think the Brooklyn Italians are much more hard core than the New Jersey breed.  We're more watered down, perhaps.

Charlie goes on to tell me that his "goomba" friend prepare the figs by slicing them in half, spreading goat cheese on them, wrapping them in prosciutto and baking them.  "What!?" I say.  "Charlie, I wrote about this in my newsletter last month!  Didn't you read it?"  Apparently, he didn't.

As an American Italian, I could not grow up not loving figs.  Sadly, most of us only ate the figs right off of the tree and never did anything else with them.  Oh, what they all are missing!

It's fig season, so go and get yourself a few figs, slice them in half lengthwise, spread a small amount of goat cheese on each side, wrap each half in a piece of prosciutto, and bake for 10-20 minutes in a 350 oven.  You won't be disappointed!  For an even better experience, sprinkle each fig half with a PINCH of sugar, before you spread the goat cheese.  You can also make your very own goat cheese and really wow your friends with this one!  Enjoy!

Chow Bella Cooks Goat Cheese

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Changes For Chow Bella Cooks

July was a very busy month for Chow Bella Cooks.  Each week was packed with classes and requests for new recipes.  In fact, I'm still trying to catch up.

In August, I will be taking some time to re-structure, plan and continue writing my book, and starting in September, classes will be by request only.  The private parties and request parties have become quite popular, and since there is only one of me to go around, I had to make some changes.  Until the Chow Bella Cooks facility is built, and I have more people on staff, this is the strategy I've chosen.  For those of you who are wanting and waiting for a special class (i.e. Thai or Indian).  If I have enough single requests, I will run a party for that particular cuisine and let you know the proposed date.  You can also get 4 or more of your friends together and make it a private party.  Private parties can be held for two people, but the cost is a little more, due to the time involved.

Stay tuned for more good changes, and in the meantime, please keep the requests coming!  My blog and newsletter will stay active, for August, and I'll also be taking some classes to broaden my horizons.

Until next time,

Enjoy and Chow!
PS - visit the website for the latest recipes.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chicken Challenge Day 2

It's been terribly hot, in Eastern North Carolina this past June, and the thought of cooking over a hot flame has been far from my mind.  However, today it's going to be a breezy 68 degrees tonight; perfect weather for grilling.

The other night I made a roasted pork tenderloin in a maple/honey glaze, and Chow Fella loved it!  Quite honestly, I was pressed for time, and I wanted to get the most flavor and bang for my buck in a short time.  This chicken recipe was as a result of the pork tenderloin.  Plus, any time I can use my 20 dollar, Black & Decker juicer.  "It's the BEST, Jerry. The BEST!"  If you can't find or don't want to buy the Chinese 5 spice, you can substitute a dash each of cinnamon, ground cloves, a few fennel seeds and peppercorns.

Along with the chicken, I'm making a roasted corn salad for Chow Fella (I'm not a big fan of corn), and for me?  I'm making a kale and jicama's low in calories, high in nutrition and fiber!  I'll be posting the corn and kale recipes later in the weekend.  Stay tuned and enjoy the chicken!

Orange Kissed Grilled Chicken

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chicken Recipe Challenge For July!

When I was ten years old my dad had a heart attack.  Against all odds, Dad survived, and our entire family lifestyle changed.  It's because of Dad's coronary I credit my love of creative, healthy cooking, and my quest to help people live a balanced lifestyle.

At the age of 10, I became the cook of the family, and each Sunday I would pour through magazines and come up with healthy recipes Dad could eat and actually enjoy.  Dad's cardiologist recommended chicken, fish, no salt, fat, sugar or red meat.  My options seemed extremely limited.  Back then, who knew about wonderful meal options like quinoa, amaranth, and good fats (avocado and olive oil) etc.  More on those items later, but my challenge, at ten years old, was chicken.  How many ways can I make chicken interesting, tasty and healthy?

For the month of July, I vowed to make a different chicken dish every other day.  Bob would kill me (not really), if I made chicken every day, so I opted for 3 chicken dishes per week starting today and making them through the end of July. 

Unfortunately, my rules (yes, I made up rules for this challenge) say I cannot use chicken dishes I already developed and or use currently or in the past.  However, I can update old recipes to make them healthier and bring them into the current century.

Today's base recipe was inspired by Canyon Ranch's kitchen.  For years, I would take bi-annual retreats to the facility in Lennox, MA and Tuscon, AZ.  They were always wonderful about sharing their recipes, or giving me tips about each dish. 

In my quest to spread the word about healthy and delicious cooking, enjoy today's entree, and stay tuned for another fabulous recipe on Thursday.

Pecan Encrusted Chicken

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What To Do With Zucchini Flowers

Did you know the zucchini flower is one of the most wonderfully delicious foods of the summer?  Well, for me, they not only taste great, but they bring back memories of Grandma's house, in Nutley, NJ.

Every summer I would wait with drooling anticipation to go to Grandmas, especially in the morning.  It was then that Grandma would whip up her famous zucchini flowers in a variety of ways.  Grandma referred to them as "ga-gootz."  I know that's not the official name of zucchini, in Italian, but this is how she referred to them.  Like most pronunciations, I think this was indigenous of Norther New Jersey Italian's.  When  I looked up zucchini I found that they are known as courgette or courgettes (pleural), and I could find no trace of ga-gootz.  No matter what you call them, you can prepare them in a variety of ways and impress your friends, family or just your taste buds.

The flowers of the zucchini are produced by both the female and the mail plants, and prior to cooking them, you must remove the pistils (from female) and stamens (from male).  My favorite way to eat them was battered and fried, and although this is not the most healthy way, it is IMHO the most delicious way.  Keep in mind that these flowers are only available during the early summer months, so the extra fat and calories won't break the bank.  However, if you are watching your weight, you can opt for several other ways to prepare the flowers.

When I was in Italy, for cooking school, last year, we prepared the flowers by filling them with mixture of ricotta cheese.  We finished them off in the oven with a homemade breadcrumb and Parmesan cheese coating, drizzled with a little butter.  Another less fattening way to prepare them is to cut them up and saute them with peppers, onions and eggs for a colorful, unique and tasty scramble in the mornings.  Make sure you saute the onions and peppers separately and then add the zucchini flowers.  Once they are limp, add the eggs. 

So far, I haven't been able to find a local place from where I can purchase the flowers, so I must resort to my garden.  Alas, the flowers are almost gone, but they did bring back some very fond memories of Grandma and her mantra, "Eat, Susie! EAT!

Love you, Gram...
Zucchini Flowers 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It's summer, and it's supposed to be hot, right? Well, when temps top 100 degrees, like they did in Wilmington yesterday, it's really hard to want to cook anything, even if it's cooked outside on a grill. So, I got to thinking about quick nutritious meals I could make in the evening but won't heat up the kitchen. Why not cook breakfast for dinner? Breakfast meals are fast, nutritious, delicious and won't heat up your kitchen.

A simple omelet is loaded with protein. Add some pre-cut vegetables or frozen veggies to make a complete meal. If making an omelet is intimidating, just scramble your eggs with a little cheese, vegetables and serve with whole grain bread.

Breakfast burritos can be made in a jiffy, and they are a great way to use up leftovers. Scramble eggs and add your leftover meat and vegetables to the mix, fill and roll your burrito. No leftovers? Add some chicken or turkey sausage to your eggs, along with vegetables. I keep chicken and turkey sausages in the freezer for quick, nutrituous meals.

Why not make pancakes for breakfast? My favorite, quick recipe is a whole grain & buckwheat mix by Hodgeson Mills. I top mine with a tablespoon of peanut butter and fresh berries. Chow Fella likes his with sausage or turkey bacon on top.

Last but not least, if you're really in no mood to cook, try a high protein cereal topped with fruit.

Remember, there are no rules that say you have to eat steak, potato, or have an elaborate meal for dinner. Just remember to choose healthy, fresh ingredients you like and that will satisfy you and your family.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Father's Day Food Memories

Father's Day is this weekend, and the weather report for Wilmington is temperatures in the high 90's.  Hazy, hot and humid is the forecast, and when it's this hot even I don't feel like cooking.  What is Chow Bella to do for Dad when it's too hot to cook?  Here are some of my favorite dishes Dad used to create for us growing up.  In a summer tribute to Dad...Enjoy!

Beans, beans are good for your know the rest!  Each summer my dad would have a bumper crop of pole beans.  My favorite summer meal was a bowl of Dad's bean salad.  Dad would blanch the beans in boiling water, cool and then chop them into one inch pieces.  He would add red wine vinegar, 1/2 of a red onion, chopped; a few tablespoons for olive oil (depending upon how many beans were in the bowl), and salt and pepper to taste.  We also used to use left over steamed beans for this dish, too.  The minute I taste these beans I am thrown back to my childhood.

Another one of Dad's amazing dishes was his "Daddy Potatoes."  Dad would chop up potatoes and onions and saute them in olive oil, in a cast iron pan, of course.  Once the potatoes were almost soft, Dad would add sausage of kielbasi or whatever meat he had in the refrigerator.  A product of the depression era, nothing was wasted or thrown away.  A little salt, pepper and a little garlic powder topped off this dish.  My version is a little bit different.  I pre-cook the potatoes in boiling water, until almost cooked and set aside, until I'm ready to add to the pan.  I saute the chopped onion (1 onion) in the cast iron pan in 1 teaspoon of oil.  Once they are golden brown, I remove them from the pan and add the cubed potatoes.  Once the potatoes are golden brown, I add the onions and sweet, Italian turkey sausage, salt, pepper, fresh oregano.  For breakfast, I omit the garlic, but at dinner time, I add the garlic when I add the onions with the potatoes.  In the winter, I place the pan in a 350 oven for 20 minutes to get a golden crisp crust.

Last but not least was Dad's pasta fagoli.  In New Jersey, we would say "pasta fa-zool."  The proper pronunciation is just like is it spelled.  Pasta Fa-goli.  Nevertheless, this was a great dish to cook on a summer day, because it was done on the stove in the morning, and when it came time for supper Dad would just heat it up.  I wasn't a fan of this dish when I was kid, but I have grown to love it, as an adult.

For Dad's famous Pasta Fagoli, with a Chow Bella Cooks twist, go to my website: Casper's Pasta Fagoli!

Happy Father's Day and Chow!