Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Green Tea Sangria

People get thirsty at spring parties and not everyone wants to quench with something alcoholic.  Think of all those graduation celebrations, Mothers and Fathers Day brunches and outings when its nice to keep things light.

Here is a great alternative to festive sangria that can be spiked later with wine, Prosecco or brandy. 

Green Tea Sangria
(Pitcher serves 6-8)
5 cups water
5 herbal tea bags like pomegranate- decaf green tea,  chamomile-mango, white tea-tangerine
optional 1-2 Tablespoon honey
ice (1 tray is fine)
12 ounces cranberry juice
1 organic apple or pear, scrubbed and sliced
1 organic orange or lemon, scrubbed and sliced

  1. Boil water and pour into a large heat resistant container or pot with cover.  
  2. Add herbal tea bags and stir in honey.  Cover and let steep for 5 minutes.  
  3. Stir in ice to cool and add juice.  
  4. About 2 hours before serving, add in sliced fruit. 
For an alcoholic version: Per serving, pour an ounce or two of sparkling wine, light red wine or a splash of brandy or bourbon to spike this non-alcoholic punch.  Guests can serve themselves and add wine to individual servings. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Merluza, Spanish Style

In Spanish, this fish is known by the melodic name merluza.

Merluza is part of a big fish family that includes whiting, cod and pollack.  Here we call it hake.   While each fish is different based on its home waters, the various fillets can be prepared in a similar manner. 

Next time you see whiting or hake on sale here, enjoy this simple, pure recipe inspired by Spain’s distinct and balanced ingredients of olives, peppers and oranges.  For very little effort you can create a sophisticated yet approachable fish dish. 

As a bonus round, this cooked fish tastes wonderful in a taco for lunch the next day.  Just pile the hot leftovers into a warmed corn or flour tortillas with its accompanying olives, red peppers and scallions.  Fill in with lettuce and enjoy. 

Iberian Hake
Serves 4
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound hake fillet (cod or pollack may be substituted)
1 orange, scrubbed and quartered
1 lemon, scrubbed and quartered
3-4 scallions, sliced
¼ cup olives (mixed or your favorite)
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup fresh parsley (or dill) chopped

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F while you prepare vegetables and fruit. 
  2. Coat bottom of a pie plate or small roasting pan with olive oil.  
  3. Place fish fillet in pan and scatter orange lemon, scallions and olives over fish.  Finish with a dusting of red pepper flakes.  
  4. Roast fish covered at 400˚F for 15 minutes.  Uncover and roast another 5-10 minutes, just until fish firms up and begins to flake.  Do not overcook.  
  5. Garnish with parsley just before serving.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Roasted Zucchini Feta Salad

Some occasions like spring birthday parties and wedding showers need a side dish with a little sex appeal.  It should be easy and bridge the seasons since the temperature can really roam at this time of year.

Roasted Zucchini Salas completes the assignment.  It can be served warm or cold, can be prepared in advance or served up straight out of the oven and it holds beautifully.  It looks and tastes pretty special too.

Roasted Zucchini Feta Salad
Serves 4, recipe can be doubled

4 medium sized zucchini
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
4 heaping tablespoons crumbled feta cheese (low fat is fine)
1/4 cup fresh herbs, roughly chopped (dill, mint, parsley, thyme)

  1. Preheat oven to 450˚F.  
  2. Lightly oil a sheet pan.  Canola oil works well here.  
  3. Slice the zucchini on a extreme angle to get nice wide angled strips.  
  4. Lay zucchini slices on oiled and and turn to coat lightly with oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides. 
  5. Roast Zucchini at 450˚F for 15-20 minutes, turning once.  The zucchini will be crisp if you have sliced it in thin slices and  melting-tender if you have sliced it into thicker (1/2 inch strips).  Both are excellent.  
  6. Serve zucchini with crumbed feta cheese and chopped herbs like dill and mint.  Drizzle with a little oil or lemon juice- your choice.
Bonus: these roasted treats can be quickly turned into little hors d'ouevres served on thinly sliced baguettes.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

Simple Lasagnas

I love the section of Italian menus headed by the phrase “al forno” meaning "baked in an oven."  For some that still means a wood-fired oven but even without a rustic touch, a baked pasta meal is pure comfort food. 

This week my husband was picturing an old fashioned meat lasagna while I was dreaming of spinach and mixed vegetables.  You might think a big heaping combo lasagna with ground beef, sausage, mushrooms, zucchini and eggplant would be the answer but for real variety two smaller, more pure lasagnas were just right.  I use 8” X 8” brownie pans or several small loaf pans to build these smaller, more manageable al forno dishes.  

Recipes can look daunting with up to fifteen ingredients but consider that a pure lasagna, meat or vegetable versions, can be broken down into 4 basic elements.  There will be cheese, sauce, wide flat noodles and filling.  Each of these elements can be prepared in advance and assembled and baked up to a day later. 

Formula for Pure Lasagna
Lasagna Noodles
I like the no-bake kind or fresh sheets but have also used regular uncooked noodles and added extra liquid to small lasagnas.  For the uncooked noodle version, you need to bake the dish 10-15 minutes more.  Cooking regular noodles takes a little extra time but if you lay drained noodles onto wax paper, is not too big a production.  Recipes ask for 8-12 noodles.  Cut or break the noodles to fit the pan.

Ricotta, grated Parmesan cheese and sliced mozzarella are musts for me.  Cottage cheese makes a great substitute if you don’t have ricotta, especially the small curd type.  I mix a pint of ricotta with an egg, a ½ cup of grated Parmesan and some oregano and basil. I also like black pepper in the mixture and a nice handful of chopped fresh parsley. Sometimes I dice some mozzarella and add that but mostly I leave this mixture light and place the mozzarella as a layer on its own.  I always finish with a layer of mozzarella with some grated Parmesan over that. You will need 1-2 pints of ricotta depending on the size of your project. 

If it’s meat, my favorite is ground beef and some Italian pork sausage (out of the casing) cooked and drained and moistened with a little marinara sauce.  Use a 2:1 ratio for the meats, about 3 cups of meat is nice.

If its vegetable, either make a cooked mixture from steamed and drained spinach, sautéed mushrooms and assorted chopped vegetables that can be held together with a little ricotta or layer grilled or roasted vegetables over the ricotta layer as you would noodles.  (If you choose vegetable layers, you can skip a layer of noodles.) Sliced and cooked eggplant, zucchini and Portobello mushrooms make nice layers. 
You will want 2-3 cups of filling.

Marinara sauce can be your homemade or use a pure brand out of a jar.  Some recipes, especially for vegetable lasagnas, add a béchamel sauce layer but I find this adds extra work and the ricotta layer has already provided a nice creamy contrast.  You will need about ½ cup of marinara sauce to coat the bottom of the baking dish and extra for serving is always nice so I try to have about 4 cups of sauce on hand for assembling and serving. 

With your fillings ready, here is the layering and baking method:

  • Lightly oil the sides of your baking dish. This will make removing the noodles later and cleaning the pan a little easier.   
  • Spread ½ cup marina sauce on the bottom on the pan and lay noodles down to cover bottom.  
  • Cover noodles with filling, a little sauce and a second layer of noodles.  
  • Cover second layer of noodles with the ricotta cheese mixture and a little sauce, and any extra filling.  
  • Last place the top layer of noodles, a layer of sauce and if you have any little extras like sliced olives and roasted red pepper strips before covering it all with a layer of mozzarella and grated Parmesan. 
  • Bake your lasagna covered with tin foil at 350˚F for 35-45 minutes until the center reaches 145˚F. Remove the foil covering during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Remove form the oven and let the dish least at least 10 minutes to firm up before slicing.
Don’t miss out on making lasagna for a small family.  Leftover lasagna cut into individual portions is a freezer treat that can be reheated either as is --frozen-- or defrosted.