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Archive for the ‘antipasto’ Category

After fifteen years of great service, my GE double wall oven died a relatively quiet death. After a day or two of spontaneous beeping, we flipped the circuit breaker and took it off life support. The estimated cost of repair was higher than we thought reasonable and so we purchased a new oven.

We had to wait four weeks for the projected delivery and snafus delayed delivery and installation for another week. What was the worst part of the whole period? Right, no homemade bread. After a year of making bread four times a week, we were reduced to (horrors!) supermarket bread. We supplemented with two loaves of bakery bread to get us over the hump, but my husband especially, the big bread eater, was nearly despondent. The day the oven was installed, a new loaf was ready to bake and fill the house once more with that yeasty, pleasant bread aroma.

There were times when I didn’t use my old oven for a week or two (except for baking bread), but once it was out of commission, all I wanted was to bake, roast, or broil something. Anything. I craved baked potatoes, lasagna, meatloaf, roast chicken, bread (naturally), cake, brownies, casseroles – all things that don’t cook as well in a microwave or on the stovetop.

I became more creative with the gas grill, baking potatoes, roasting foil packets of garlic, spoiling a few things along the way. We basically only use the grill for cooking meat and roasting vegetables now and then. 

Finally, I have my new oven, top half conventional and convection, bottom conventional only. It has six shelves in each unit for a great many positioning options as well as the ability to bake on three cookie sheets at a time. I have yet to try the convection feature. I must do some research and will certainly write more her at Best Room in the House about my trials and errors. 

Go kiss your oven today and don’t take it for granted.

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My daughter came up with a quick and easy appetizer last week. She gave me permission to share it with the “world” at least that part of the world that stumbles upon my humble writings.

It starts with fresh basil leaves, the larger, the better. I found a basil plant in a local nursery this year that has the most gigantic leaves I have ever seen. They are about the size of a 3 X 5 index card. The plant itself is about 18 inches tall, even though we have been harvesting from it and cutting it back for the past three months. I hope I can keep it alive in the house through the winter. It is a remarkable variety. I don’t know what it is but I will try to find out.

The next ingredient is mozzarella. Get the best, freshest that you can. Forget the ordinary “Kraft” like mozzarella. Find the freshest. Also, get good tomatoes.

Here is the recipe, straight from my daughter.

Ingredients:
basil leaves (large as possible)
fresh mozzarella
tomatoes
olive oil
salt and pepper

Cut the mozzarella either into small balls or cubes small enough to be enclosed in a basil leaf.

Cut tomatoes in half, then each half into slices, creating flat bite-size pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Take a basil leaf, put a small piece of cheese in it, then and a slice of tomato. Roll up the edges to create a little package and stick with a toothpick to hold it together.

Store in refrigerator for an hour if necessary or serve.

You can added small pieces of smoked salmon (lox) to give it more salty flavor and substance. Maybe a bit of salami would be good. Give it a try.

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Often we are invited to a potluck lunch or dinner and I occasionally bring vegies and dip. A well laid out platter of colorful fresh vegetables is not only a sight to behold, but a sight to be eaten. You can do all sorts of clever things with hollowed out bell peppers to hold dips, fancy roses carved from tomato peels or radishes. Be creative if you wish, and if you have the time. The best recommendation I can make, however, is to cut everything evenly, and make carrot and celery strips skinnier and shorter than you might initially think, maybe 1/2″ X 3″. People find slim carrot and celery sticks easier to eat. Be sure to de-string the celery even if you would leave it as is for yourself.

As for the other vegies, go for as many colors as possible. Broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper strips of all colors, and scallions usually show up on my vegetable trays. Don’t buy the all ready prepared trays from groceries. You have no idea how long they have been sitting around waiting. You also have no idea how well the vegies were cleaned. You can bet they weren’t cleaned as well as you would clean your own. Sure, it takes some time to do it right, but you will be preparing fresher cleaner and prettier food for yourself and your guests and family. I was totally grossed out recently to see celery sticks on a buffet table at a restaurant that were filthy! I mean big black hunks of who-knows-what on many of them. I still am disappointed in myself that I didn’t complain to the management. Do it right. People will notice that you took the extra time to make it special. I don’t bother with fancy garnishes, but I do try to make all the pieces uniform in size and shape where possible.

Some people prefer to blanch broccoli and cauliflower before adding them. I don’t find it necessary.

Now that you have a beautiful platter prepared, do you want to serve a savory dip to accompany it? I have two that I often make. One is the omnipresent dill dip and the other is my favorite, a tangy mustard/horseradish dip that would make a salad dressing as well. Try one, or both, next time you are preparing a vegetable platter.

DILL DIP FOR A VEGIE TRAY

This can easily be doubled or tripled

1/3 c. mayonnaise
1/3 c. sour cream
1/2 t. dillweed, dried or 1 t. fresh, chopped
1 drop Tabasco, or to taste
1/4 t. Worcestershire
1/2 t. seasoned salt, (I use Lawry’s)
1/2 t. dried onion flakes, or 1 t. finely diced fresh onion
2 t. fresh parsley, finely snipped
black pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients well. Cover and chill at least 4 hours. Can be made a day or 2 ahead.

MUSTARD DIP

1 c. mayonnaise
1 t. tarragon vinegar
1 t. garlic salt
1 t. horseradish
1 t. dry mustard
1 t. prepared yellow mustard
1 t. grated onion
1 t. curry powder

Mix all together, cover and chill. Can be made a day ahead.

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We can’t leave the subject of composed salads without discussing two of the great Italian contributions, the classic antipasto plate and insalata caprese. Although often served as an appetizer, with good bread and olive oil and a bottle of wine, the antipasto plate (meant to be served before the pasta) could become the meal itself. The same is true for the insalata caprese, although it might be more suited for a light supper or lunch.

images1.jpgInsalata caprese, or salad in the style of Capri, should not be made unless you have the best fresh tomatoes you can find. We only prepare it in the summer, unless we are fortunate enough to have some great tomatoes brough to us from Florida in the winter. You need fresh mozzarella and fresh basil. No dried basil allowed. No supermarket “Kraft” mozzarella allowed. I think it’s against the law. Anyway, layer slices of tomatoes on a plate overlapping each with slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf. Drizzle with good quality olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Delicioso! This can be made on a serving plate or prepared on individual salad plates. It can also be prepared with a plate of sliced tomatoes having scattered chunks of basil and mozzarella over the top. This can be a lifesaver if you don’t have enough mozzarella for distinct slices between each slice of tomato, or if your basil leaves are few in number.

An antipasto platter can consist of much the same ingredients as Nicoise salad: tuna, tomatoes, olives. But there are other ingredients that can be added as well. When we prepare it, we make sure to have bocconcini (bite-size balls of mozzarella made with small melon ball cutter and fresh mozzarella) or at least small pieces of mozzarella, marinated artichoke hearts, and roasted red pepper bites. Don’t forget to get some thinly sliced hard salami. It needs to be thinly sliced in order to roll it up tightly, somewhere between a toothpick and a pencil. Try to find a container of mixed olives, black, purple, green. Maybe get some oil-cured olives. They are so different in taste, and appearance, from the everyday olives. If you’ve never had oil-cured olives, get ready for a new taste sensation.

I’ll just make a list of ingredients and you can use whichever ones you want. The more the merrier! Everything is optional, just use the combination you like best or happen to have on hand. It can be served on a bed of lettuce but that is certainly not mandatory.

Antipasto Platter

Olives (black, green, purple, oil-cured or a combination)
Pepperoncini
Hard salami, thinly sliced and rolled up tightly, or Genoa salami*
Marinated mushrooms
Marinated artichoke hearts
Roasted red peppers, cut in bite-size chunks or sliced
Tuna, preferable Italian in olive oil, but any will do in a pinch, save the oil if you want for drizzling
Mozzarella, in cubes or balls**
Cherry tomatoes, or Roma tomatoes cut in wedges
Vinaigrette
Leaf lettuce

*Try adding or substituting prosciutto or mortadella
**For something different, instead of mozzarella, shave off some slices from a hunk of Parmesan or cube some Asiago cheese.

Use a large platter or a few small ones if you are serving a lot of people on one big table. Line the platter(s) with lettuce if desired. Keep a hole in the middle for a small bowl for the tuna. Surround the tuna with all the other ingredients, keeping each ingredient in one place if you want to mixing them around the platter. I like to keep each ingredient separate. Drizzle the oil from the tuna over all or use your favorite vinaigrette for drizzling or nothing at all. Good crusty bread is perfect for sopping up any leftover oil or vinaigrette on the plate.

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