Grillin’ Up Summer BBQ: Tasty Chicken Burgers and Shrimp Kabobs

chicken and shrimp bbq
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chicken and shrimp bbqSummer is finally on it’s way and along with the warm weather and sunshine comes grilling season! For Memorial Day, me and my guy went to Brighton Beach and soaked up the sun, sand and waves on a gorgeous, relaxing day. We hit the fresh fish, fruit and vegetable markets to pick up some gorgeous iced shrimp and some fresh ground chicken, pineapples, onion, cilantro and broccoli slaw and headed home to Manhattan to stoke up the fires and make some awesome BBQ rooftop-style.

Rooftop BBQ
Rooftop BBQ

Aiming to keep it light, we decided to whip up my infamous Chicken Burgers with my secret recipe made with Dale’s Steak Seasoning (a delicious find I discovered when living in Atlanta and great on anything grilled!) made with soy sauce, garlic, paprika and ginger mixed with some other spices mixed into the ground chicken (garlic, cilantro, salt, pepper and smoked paprika). We also made our signature Teriyaki Shrimp and Pineapple Kabobs marinated in Tavern on the Green‘s tasty Golden Ginger Teriyaki Sauce with ingredients of soy sauce, lemon, red wine vinegar, ginger, honey, and spices with pineapple juice and let them marinade for up to an hour. For grilling, we smoked them up over some Mesquite flavored coals to give the Chicken and Shrimp a delicious charred, smoky flavor. To top it off, we enjoyed a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and some Broccoli Slaw and enjoyed our rooftop dinner watching the stars on a lovely, breezy summer night overlooking the East side of Manhattan. Happy Summer on it’s way!

Chicken Burgers
Chicken Burgers

Tasty Chicken Burgers

1 lb ground chicken (breast meat)
1 lb ground chicken (thigh meat)
1/2 tbsp garlic powder or 1 tbsp fresh chopped garlic
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp Dale’s Seasoning (can substitute soy sauce)
1 tbsp Paula Deen House Seasoning (can substitute garlic salt and pepper mix)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup Japanese Panko bread crumbs
1/2 large red bell pepper, diced
2-3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
fresh ground and pepper to taste
4 cheese slices, Muenster or Monterey Jack

Mix all ingredients except the cheese together with the ground chicken and mix thoroughly with your fingers in a claw motion until mixed well. Place burgers in a baking dish and cover, let marinade in refrigerator for up to 1 hour. Preheat grill with Mesquite Charcoal. Form meat mixture into 10-12 patties and grill over med-high heat for 5-6 mins each side until no longer pink. Melt cheese slices over burgers last 5 mins of grilling, covering grill to melt cheese. Serve with broccoli slaw and garlic dill pickles.

Serves 4.

Shrimp
Fresh Shrimp from the Market

Teriyaki Shrimp Kabobs

1.5 lb fresh Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 can pineapple chunks, or 1.5 cups fresh pineapple chunks
1/2 large red onion, cut into large chunks
Tavern on the Green Golden Ginger Teriyaki Sauce
1/2 cup Pineapple juice

In a large resealable plastic bag or plastic bowl, combine shrimp with Teriyaki Sesame Marinade and Pineapple juice; cover or seal and let marinate in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours.

Drain and discard marinade. On 8 metal or soaked bamboo skewers, alternately thread shrimp, pineapple and onion. Moisten a paper towel with cooking oil; using long-handled tongs, lightly coat the grill rack. Grill kabobs, covered, over medium heat for 2-3 minutes on each side or until shrimp turn pink.

Serves 4.

Asian Broccoli Slaw
Asian Broccoli Slaw

Asian Broccoli Slaw

Recipe by Paula Deen, Food Network

2 bags (3-ounce) Ramen Noodle Soup in Oriental
3/4 stick butter
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 bags (12-ounce) bags broccoli cole slaw (in the bagged salad section of the grocery store)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
Chopped green onions, for garnish

Dressing Mix:

3/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup brown or white sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 ramen noodle seasoning packet

Directions

Put the ramen noodles in a bag and crush them with a rolling pin while melting butter in a large skillet over low/medium heat. Add the crushed noodles and slivered almonds to the skillet and saute, stirring occasionally (keep temperature at low/medium heat). Meanwhile, whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Place the shredded broccoli into bowl and toss with the noodles, almonds, and sunflower seeds. Pour dressing over salad and toss to coat. Garnish with chopped green onions.
Serves 4-6.

Albondigas en Salsa de Chipolte (Cheese stuffed Spanish Meatballs)

albondigas
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Spanish Meatballs
Albondigas en Salsa de Chipolte (Spanish Meatballs)

These Spanish-style meatballs are a delicious little treat: sweet, smoky and spicy and lavished in a luscious tomato sauce, they are sure to be a hit at your next Tapas or Cocktail party. You can serve them with some stuffed olives and rustic bread for dipping or over pasta or polenta for a full on hearty meal. Ole!

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. coarse ground salt
1/2 tsp. coarse ground pepper
1/3 c. fine dry breadcrumbs
1 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika
1/4 c. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
9 (3/4-in.) cubes queso fresco
2 Tbsp. lard or canola (or other vegetable) oil
1 c. finely chopped white onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (1 lb.) can whole peeled tomatoes,
undrained, coarsely chopped
1/2 c. beef stock or broth
2 to 4 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, finely chopped
Sliced Chiles and Parmesan cheese, grated for garnish
9 whole pimento-stuffed green olives, for serving
Rustic Bread, for serving

Beat eggs with salt in large bowl. Stir in breadcrumbs; let stand 5 mins. Add beef, pork and cilantro, salt and pepper, cumin and smoked paprika; mix lightly but thoroughly. Divide meat mixture into 18 even portions. Shape 1 portion into flat patty; top with 1 cheese cube. Press meat firmly around cheese to enclose completely and form balls.

Heat lard or oil in deep 10-in. skillet over medium high heat until hot. Fry 1/2 of meatballs at a time, turning occasionally, until brown on every side, about 5 mins.; remove to plate. Remove and discard all but 3 Tbsp. drippings from skillet. Add onion and garlic; saute over med. heat until soft, about 4 mins.

Stir in tomatoes, stock and chiles; heat to boiling. Return meatballs to skillet; reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, until meatballs are cooked through, about 45 mins. Remove meatballs to serving dish with slotted spoon; keep warm.

Transfer tomato mixture to blender container; process until smooth. Return mixture to skillet; heat over high heat to boiling. Pour sauce over and around meatballs.

Garnish with chiles and cilantro or parsley and parmesan cheese. Serve with stuffed olives and rustic bread for dipping or over pasta or polenta for a heartier entree.

Serves 8.

Meet the Chef: An interview with Chef Andrew Whitney, dell’anima

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Watch the video of a behind the scenes interview with myself and Andrew Whitney, Chef de Cuisine at dell’anima, a charming and popular Italian trattoria located in Greenwich Village, NYC, as he talks about his culinary background and shows how to prep his signature dish, “Chicken Diablo”.

dell’anima, meaning “of the soul” in Italian, is an upscale, intimate Italian restaurant opened by Gabe Thompson of Del Posto, and Joe Campanale of Babbo in 2007. The open kitchen is a cool feature of the space, set right behind the bar and dining room with full view of their Chefs cooking in action. The artwork and photography on the walls is created by Partner and Photographer Jamie Tiampo.

The menu is elegant and hearty, featuring a variety of unique Italian pasta dishes and grilled vegetables, a bruschetta bar, antipasti and salads, seafood, chicken and steak dishes and a offers a robust Italian wine selection. Having gained status as 3 Star Certified Green Restaurant ®, dell’anima uses mainly local and sustainable ingredients and buys from local food producers.

Rustic dishes with a Tuscan influence are the focus of their cuisine. Most entrees, pastas and salads are infused or served with fresh grilled vegetables, herbs and spices in unique combinations to stir up the palate. Pappardelle with Wild Boar Ragu, Sweetbreads with sunchoke puree, rhubarb and scallion, and Charred Octopus with rice beans, chorizo and chicories are just a few of their unique dishes that set them apart from the traditional Italian places in New York. Always delicious and standard fine cuisine prices for New York standards at $16-30 for pasta and entrees, $10-18 for antipasti and bruschette for $5-15.

View the Menu

dell’anima restaurant
38 8th Avenue
New York, NY 10014
212.366.6633
www.dellanima.com 

On the Menu: Cooking with Fresh Seasonal Ingredients

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Pan-seared Scallops and Asparagus
Pan-seared Scallops and Asparagus

Spring has arrived! It’s my favorite time of year when everything comes alive…flowers are blooming, streets are buzzing, the sun is shining, and the freshest fruits and vegetables are available at the local markets. Asparagus, Strawberries, Avocados – three lovely, seasonal ingredients perfect for a light and refreshing Spring menu. The salad has marinated strawberries in a Strawberry Balsamic Viniagrette, which gives them a sweet, tangy flavor – a perfect complement to the crunchy toasted almonds, bacon and avocado in this delicious spring salad. The Scallops are pan-seared in a roasted garlic chardonnay marinade with a splash of lemon, served with a side of sautéed fresh asparagus. Enjoy!

Pan Seared Scallops with Garlic and Lemon and Sauteed Asparagus

Ingredients

16 Large Sea Scallops
¼ c. Roasted Garlic Chardonnay Marinade (Tavern on the Green)
2 tbsp EVOO
1 lemon, sliced into wedges
Lemon Pepper (Trader Joe’s)
1-2 Green Onions, sliced
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Kosher Salt to taste

Preparation

In a plastic freezer bag, place scallops and ¼ c. marinade and lemon pepper, coat scallops well. Marinade in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Prepped ingredients
Prepped ingredients

Chop the green onions and parsley and reserve for topping the scallops.

Asparagus
Asparagus

Cut off the ends of the asparagus (tough parts of the stem), rinse and pat dry. In a pre-heated sauté pan over medium-high, sauté the Asparagus in a tablespoon of olive oil with a splash of lemon juice and lemon pepper for about 5-6 minutes until cooked through.

After scallops are done marinating, take them out of the bag and dry off with paper towels. Place them in the same sauté pan, adding remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt and lemon pepper.

Pan-seared Scallops
Pan-seared Scallops

Sear the scallops for approx. 2-3 minutes per side until browned and cooked through. Sprinkle scallops with some fresh lemon juice and remove from pan.

Place asparagus and scallops on a plate and garnish with chopped green onions, parsley and a lemon wedge.

Serves 4.

Strawberry Avocado Salad
Strawberry Avocado Salad

Strawberry, Bacon and Avocado Salad with Toasted Marcona Almonds

Ingredients

1 lb of mixed lettuce
1 pint of fresh strawberries, sliced
4 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 ripe avocado, sliced
½ cup of Rosemary Marcona almonds, toasted (Trader Joe’s)
3 green onions, sliced thin
3 tbsp of EVOO
3 tbsp of Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar (Tavern on the Green)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Preparation

Slice the strawberries into thin slices and place in a sealable plastic bag with the 2 tbsp Strawberry Balsamic vinegar in the refrigerator, let marinade for about an hour.

Prepare salad dressing, mix olive oil, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and mustard together, slowly whisking in oil until it is mixed well and set aside.

Fry bacon in a pan until cooked well and drain on paper towels. Let bacon cool and crumble for salad topping. Set aside.

Rosemary Marcona Almonds and Green Onions
Rosemary Marcona Almonds and Green Onions

Place almonds in a separate pre-heated medium-sized pan with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle kosher salt over the nuts. Cook and stir for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown and toasty.

Slice the avocados and green onions.

In a large salad bowl, toss the lettuce and vinaigrette together, mixing well, and top salad greens with the marinated strawberries and sliced avocados.

Garnish the salad with crumbled bacon, green onions, toasted almonds, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4.

Chicken Enchiladas de Mole Negro

chicken enchiladas mole
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chicken enchiladas mole

Last year I took some friends from out of town to a great Mexican restaurant in the spirit of Cinco de Mayo, and sampled their classic Oaxacan-style Enchiladas de Mole Negro (Chicken Mole Enchiladas). Served bubbling hot with a melted layer of Chihuahua cheese, velvety mole sauce and shredded chicken with onions inside corn tortillas, this delicious dish was baked to perfection. I decided they were so good I need to make them myself at home.

Mole (pronounced Moh-lay) is a common dish in Mexican cuisine, prepared with a rich, reddish brown chili-chocolate sauce using dark chocolate and guajillo peppers (you can find these at your local fresh market or online at Marx foods or Penzeys Spices). Slightly spicy with a touch of smokiness, Mole Enchiladas are usually prepared with chicken but can also be made with pork or shredded beef, (or vegetarian with corn, beans and rice filling). To save time, you can prepare the sauce ahead of time, and use pre-made shredded chicken, beef or whatever filling you decide on. Bake them in a clay or ceramic casserole and serve directly from the oven in the dish, garnished with cilantro or green onions, along with a side of chips and a variety of salsas and a tangy lime margarita.

Chicken Enchiladas de Mole Negro

Enchilada Ingredients:

8-10 corn tortillas, small size
1 ½ cups shredded chicken (can substitute shredded beef or pork if desired)
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup green onions, sliced
2 cups grated white cheese, halved in 2 equal parts (queso fresco or chihuahua)
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Mole Sauce Ingredients:

2 slices thick-cut bacon
1 large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
4 dried guajillo peppers, seeds & stems removed
4 cloves garlic
1/4 c warm water
1 – 14 oz can stewed Mexican tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 c premium dark chocolate, chopped fine
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
Cilantro and diced white onions, for garnish

Directions for Mole Sauce:

Preheat a saucepan over medium high heat and cook bacon until fully cooked and crispy. Remove bacon from pan and save for another purpose. Add onion, carrot and celery and sauté until soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree chilies, garlic and water in a food processor. Strain the puree through a fine mesh strainer, reserving juices. Add tomatoes, broth and strained chili puree to vegetable mixture in the saucepan and cook on high heat for 20-30 minutes. Let the sauce reduce and thicken, then strain the sauce again, pressing on solids.

Stir in the dark chocolate to the sauce until melted. Add salt and pepper to taste; keep warm.

Directions for Enchiladas:

Mix chicken, sour cream, green onions and half of the cheese in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Lay out the tortillas on a baking sheet and fill each one with chicken mixture down the middle. Roll the tortillas tightly and lay in a ceramic or clay baking dish that has a thin layer of mole sauce already spread on the bottom (to prevent sticking and burning).

Cover with remaining sauce and top with remaining cheese. Bake at 325 for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling. Let stand a few minutes before serving.

Serve with chopped cilantro and green onions for garnish and extra sour cream, if desired.

Serves 4.

Salad Niçoise for a Spring Day

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Salad Nicoise
Salad Nicoise

Spring is about unearthing fresh things. Lighter things. Brighter things. Turning a new leaf. Dusting off and starting new. There’s something so refreshing about a lovely, fresh, healthy salad on a Spring Day and what better time to make one of my favorites: Salad Niçoise.

Salad Nicoise is known as a compound salad made with eggs, potatoes, green beans, salad greens, fresh tuna and Niçoise olives arranged in a colorful display. The salad is made with a Tarragon Vinaigrette for the potatoes and with a Red wine vinaigrette drizzled over the entire salad platter at the end. We start by making the vinaigrette dressings, then boil the potatoes, beans, eggs in separate pots. The tomatoes are blanched for a minute and then cooled in an ice bath for peeling and quartering. The fresh tuna is seared in olive oil over a high heat until it has a crispy crust and then cut into slices. This recipe makes a large serving for 6-8 people which can be halved if you’re serving for a smaller crowd (or quartered if just making this lovely dish for yourself!)

Salad Nicoise for a Spring Day

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • Tarragon Vinaigrette:
  • 3 tbsp tarragon wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, finely minced
  • ¼ c or more chopped fresh tarragon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Red Wine Vinaigrette:
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 3 tbsp minced fresh green herbs (basil, parsley or tarragon)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Salad:
  • 3 cups (2 lbs) red-skinned potatoes
  • ¼ c. dry white wine
  • 3 c (1 lb) baby green beans (haricots verts)
  • 3-4 tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 lb fresh tuna (or 2 cans imported tuna in olive oil)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 head Boston lettuce leaves, washed, drained and dried
  • 3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and quartered
  • 6 anchovy fillets, soaked in water for 20 minutes and cut lengthwise
  • ½ cup Nicoise olives

Instructions

  1. Make the tarragon vinaigrette. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and mustard. Whisk until well blended. Slowly, in a thin stream, add the oil, whisking constantly, until it is emulsified into the vinegar and mustard. Stir in the shallot and tarragon and season with salt and pepper. Reserve.
  2. Make the red wine vinaigrette. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and mustard. Whisk until well blended. Slowly, in a thin stream, add the oil, whisking constantly, until it is emulsified into the vinegar and mustard. Stir in the garlic and fresh herbs and season with salt and pepper. Reserve.
  3. Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until just done, about 20 mins. Drain in a colander and allow the potatoes to cool slightly. When cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes into ¼ inch slices or a medium dice. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and pour the wine over. Toss to coat and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. When the potatoes are completely cool, drain them of any excess wine and toss them with the tarragon vinaigrette. Reserve.
  4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Trim the beans at the stem end leaving the tails intact. Add the beans to the boiling water and cook until just done, about 5 mins. Remove the beans with a slotted spoon, reserving the water. Drain and refresh under cold water. Drain again.
  5. Return the salted water to a boil. Core the tomatoes and make an X in the bases just deep enough to score the skin. Fill a large bowl with ice and water and have it nearby. When the water boils, add the tomatoes and blanch them for 1 minutes. With a slotted spoon, immediately transfer the tomatoes to the ice bath. When cool, remove the skins and cut the tomatoes into quarters and eighths.
  6. To prepare the fresh tuna, in a heavy skillet heat the oil over a high heat. Lightly salt and pepper the tuna and sauté until the fish has a golden crust and is rare to medium-rare in the center, 2-3 minutes per side. Cool and cut into slices or 1 inch cubes.
  7. To assemble the final presentation of the salad: drizzle the beans and tomatoes with some of the red wine vinaigrette. If using canned tuna, lightly flake and toss with the vinaigrette lightly. Place the lettuce leaves around the edge of the salad platter. Drape the eggs with the anchovies. Arrange the tomato alternately with the olives, eggs and string beans. Mound the potato salad on the platter.
  8. Arrange the tuna next to the potatoes and drizzle the remaining red wine vinaigrette over all. Serve.
http://www.theartfulgourmet.com/2011/04/30/salad-nicoise-for-a-spring-day/


Going Bohemian at The French Spirits Soiree

soiree pics
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Watch the video of Kristen with eDiningNews.com covering the festivities at The French Spirits Soiree at the Astor Center, a fun and lively cocktail event held by The Dizzy Fizz.

The French Spirit Soiree

With over 300 guests at the event, we experienced the hedonistic era of turn of the 20th century France, filming and interviewing the guests and spirits vendors, all the while sampling delightful Belle Epoque-themed cocktails, punches, absinthe and spirits in this surreal Parisian bohemian environment. The event featured live vintage jazz music, street artists, painted clowns and a risqué burlesque dancer – all reminiscent of the romantic, glamorous lifestyle of the Parisian art nouveau era. There were plenty of noshes to go with our French Spirits with cheese trays from Murray’s Cheese and rustic bread by scratchBREAD.

A special nod to all of the spirits sponsors that made the night complete: Lillet, Tariquet Armagnac, Pernod Absinthe, Ricard Pastis, Benedictine, Cointreau®, Rémy Martin 1738® , Noilly Prat, G’Vine Gin, June Liqueur, Bonal, Dolin, and St-GermainÀ votre santé!

soiree pics

Here are some drink recipes from the event (and for more of them check out SpiritsSoiree.com)

La Vie en Rose
1 oz. Ricard
½ oz. simple syrup
4 raspberries
G.H. Mumm Champagne
Muddle raspberries with syrup. Add Ricard, and shake with ice to chill. Strain into a Champagne flute, and top with Champagne.

Cointreau® Basil Lemonade
2 oz. Cointreau®
5 basil leaves muddled
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
2 oz. soda water
Muddled basil with fresh lemon juice, add Cointreau®, shake and strain over fresh ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with leaf of basil.

The St-Germain Cocktail
2 parts Brut Champagne or Dry Sparkling Wine
1.5 parts St-Germain
2 parts club soda
Add Brut Champagne, then St-Germain then club soda to an ice filled Collins glass and stir until completely mixed. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Avant
2 oz. G’Vine Floraison Gin
.25 oz. L’Esprit de June
.5 oz. lemon juice
5 green grapes
3 oz. tonic
Muddle grapes and basil. Add all but tonic and shake. Strain over ice in a tall glass. Add tonic and stir. Garnish with a basil leaf and grapes.

French Spirits Soiree at Astor Center

See more photos from the event on Metromix, and on Facebook.com/TheDizzyFizz.

Ecco La Cucina: An Interview with Chef Gina Stipo & Tuscan recipes

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Gina Stipo at Ecco la Cucina, Tuscany
Gina Stipo at Ecco la Cucina, Tuscany

I recently took a Tuscan cooking class with Chef Gina Stipo at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, and immediately fell in love with her rustic Tuscan recipes, her passionate, hands-on teaching approach and cooking philosophy; centered around fresh, seasonal produce and local ingredients from Tuscany. We learned the basics of Tuscan cooking, local ingredients, cheeses and wines, and a little bit about Gina’s culinary training. She explained Italian culture and ways of cooking, and we made some really delicious food which we thoroughly enjoyed at the end of the evening.

Pecorino Flan, Kristen making Gnocchi, Artichokes and Lemon
Pecorino Flan, Kristen making Gnocchi, Artichokes and Lemon

For starters, we made a savory Pecorino Flan, served with roasted pears and arugula and paired with a crisp, white Tuscan wine to complement the tangy cheese. We made fresh homemade potato gnocchi from scratch, along with two savory, simple cream sauces – one with fresh crumbled gorgonzola, onion and sage, another with walnuts, butter and parmesan.

For the Roasted Chicken dish, Gina demonstrated the ‘Tuscan’ way of cutting up a whole chicken (with a large pair of kitchen shears), then she threw it gently into a roasting pan along with our fresh trimmed artichokes, lemons, garlic, rosemary and sage and put it in the oven for awhile until it was crispy and browned. For dessert, we savored a light and fruity Strawberry Semifreddo drizzled with melted dark chocolate – straight from the heavens above!

Gina's Cooking Class, Ecco la Cucina Cookbook
Ginas Cooking Class, Ecco la Cucina Cookbook

In my interview with Gina, she discusses her culinary training and background and cookbook Ecco La Cucina, (“Here’s the Kitchen”). Having lived and trained in Italy, Gina specializes in Italian cuisine primarily from the Tuscany region. She also does personalized food and wine tours in Tuscany and around Italy, and offers hands-on cooking classes held on the rural estate of Spannocchia, south of Siena, focusing on Tuscan cuisine and wines. Gina is truly passionate about her work and has found her place in the culinary world. She’s truly an inspiration, and a talented Chef and cooking instructor… Read my personal interview with Gina below to find out more about her culinary training and career, cooking philosophy, her cookbook and a few of the recipes from our class.

Can you tell me a little bit about your culinary and professional career background?

I feel as if my life has always been food focused, I have so many early memories of different foods I loved.  Growing up in an Italian family, meals were very important.  We celebrated with food, we made special trips to buy the right ingredients, and we ate together as a family.  When I was six years old we moved to Italy for four years and the beauty of the country, the food that is such an integral part of their lives, made an indelible mark on me that formed a basis for the way I relate to both the beauty of my surroundings and food. I have been studying food all my life but made a career change when I was in my late 30’s to focus on food professionally.  I came into a little money and I used it all to go travel in Italy and study their cuisine.

When did you realize you wanted to be a professional chef and cooking instructor? Who inspired you most as a young cook? What did you learn from them?

For a long time as a young adult my dream was to live in New York City and go to culinary school but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it.  I lived that dream when I was in my late 30’s and then worked in restaurants for several years to gain experience, but I still hadn’t found my niche.  In 2000, some friends who own an estate in Tuscany asked me if I would come and do some classes for their guests.  I set up cooking classes and found that I’m really good at it, that my innate curiosity and constant study of the subject before I went to culinary school had given me a lot of information that people are interested in.

My mother inspired me as a young cook, she has a curious nature and was always buying strange things in the market and figuring out how to cook them or eat them.  The Italian food of my father’s family inspired me.  From my mother I learned curiosity and openness, from my grandmother and aunts I learned the importance of freshness and respecting your ingredients.

Can you tell us about your training at the Institute of Culinary Education as well as abroad in Italy? How were you trained and what was that like? What was your first job as a professional cook and what was that like?

I loved going to ICE, spending every day surrounded by food and talking about it; I got extra bonus points on tests, joyously studied and constantly felt thrilled to be learning and surrounded by people interested in food.  I learned that I love the technique and precision of beautiful desserts and enjoy making them perfectly.

I also trained in Italy, at a school in Bologna as well as by talking to little old people and home cooks about their food and cooking with them in the kitchen.  It’s important to have an open mind and realize that, no matter what you’ve studied or for how long, you don’t know it all, there’s always something new to learn.

How did you get started doing food and wine tours in Italy and can you tell us a little bit more about that?

After I started doing classes for the estate in Tuscany I hit upon the idea of doing a tour for their guests and taking them around the area to great restaurants and wineries, sharing with them the intricacies of the regional foods.  That grew a little every year.  Meanwhile I did single day classes for people who come to Tuscany.  In 2005 my sister came to work with me and is my partner in the States, coordinating the weeklong tours and coming to Italy when we have a group.

Can you tell us a little bit about your cooking style and what makes your cookbook and cooking classes unique?

I would say what sets my cooking apart is knowledge and respect for the ingredients, for the way the dishes developed and evolved.  My cooking style is simple, I don’t believe in making it complicated or scaring people away from food; I want them to have the same acceptance and understanding of the importance of it as an integral part of their lives.  While I enjoy entertaining with stories, my focus is on education, not on reinventing the wheel or making a dish so complicated it takes the joy out of cooking.

Tell us about your cookbook Ecco La Cucina, and what inspired you to write this?

My cookbook is a simple compilation of the recipes we use in my area of Tuscany and was put together by the requests of many of my students.  I put a spiral binder on the first several printings because i want people to be able to use it in the kitchen, not fight with it to get it to stay on the page.  It’s all about making it friendly and comfortable, like Italian cooking should be.

In your opinion, what are the most important elements when creating a recipe from scratch?

There are two questions there:  a recipe from scratch or a dish from scratch.  I do both.

When I went to Italy I worked with an Italian woman who was the cook on the estate.  The owners wanted someone to write down her recipes in English because they had so many requests from their guests.  It hadn’t been done before because she didn’t use recipes, she just cooked.  I worked with her for two months and watched her and learned a lot and wrote the recipes down into a saleable cookbook for the estate.  That exercise helped tremendously when I moved to Italy and traveled around learning about the cuisine and how the dishes were made and allowed me to write my own cookbook years later.

When making a dish from scratch it’s most important to understand the science of cooking; the why and how to make a dish taste good.  There are certain basics in cooking and if you understand those you can create authentic dishes.   But those basics can be different depending on the cuisine.  Indian food is put together differently than Chinese, which is different than French.  The fun thing is learning all of that and making great authentic food!

What is your signature dish or your favorite recipe?

There is my grandmother’s special baked lobster that’s a family favorite and has become my signature dish among friends.  You have to have the courage to kill the lobster and it’s stuffed with bread crumbs, herbs, garlic and drizzled with olive oil, baked and then served on top of thin spaghetti.  It’s fabulous!

What is your favorite spice to cook with and why?

I just did a series of classes on spices used in Italian cooking .  I am crazy about salt and talk a lot about the importance of using unprocessed sea salt, but I don’t think I have one particular spice I like to cook with.  I’m against the constant use of black pepper in absolutely everything without thinking of whether it adds anything good to the dish or whether you even like it.  I love making Indian food for all the wonderful spices there are and adore the smell of cloves, but really in Tuscan cooking we use more herbs than anything because they were free for the peasants, whereas spices cost a lot of money.

What is the most underrated ingredient in your opinion?

Freshness and the seasonality of food.  When you get a vegetable or fruit that is grown in season and is allowed to ripen before picking, there really isn’t much else you have to do to it but eat it.  And by using seasonal ingredients that are local and fresh your dish is elevated before you even begin.

As a professional chef, what was your funniest kitchen incident?

My first job as a professional was in a very hot, very small kitchen at an excellent French bistro in Atlanta.  I was garde manger until I got promoted to the grill.  The first day I was there it was 95 degrees outside and too hot in the kitchen for chef coats so we all wore our favorite t-shirts and ball caps.  After 10 minutes sweat was already trickling down my back and stomach so when the owner asked me if I thought they should turn on the air conditioning in the kitchen, I answered YES!  Everyone laughed because it was a joke they always played on new crew: there wasn’t any air conditioning in the kitchen and, to make it worse, if you kept the kitchen doors open it pulled the air conditioning from the dining room and the guests would be too hot.  I loved how tough you had to be to make it through your shift and the camaraderie you have with the other cooks, like surviving under fire.

When cooking at home, what do you like to prepare for yourself?

Sometimes I like to make complicated braised dishes that take all day, but when I’m hungry I’ll make myself a big fresh chopped salad with walnuts, dried cranberries, blue cheese and grapes.  Or cook up a batch of fried chicken or rabbit.  But I’ve been known to make dinner a bottle of red wine and a bowl of buttered popcorn!

What is your favorite cooking gadget or kitchen item you can’t live without and why?

I really love a decent rubber spatula and a microplane, but I tend to travel with my own special paring knives.

What 5 cookbooks would you recommend every home cook own?

That’s hard because I’m not a big fan of cookbooks, I prefer to read food history or food science.  But the Joy of Cooking is a go-to book in my kitchen for all those traditional recipes that no one knows by heart, plus the original Betty Crocker book from my childhood is great for straightforward American desserts and a bit of nostalgia.   The Greens cookbook from The Greens Restaurant in San Francisco is my all-time favorite book, it’s all vegetarian cooking and every recipe in there is amazing, yet simple.  The Essentials of Italian Cuisine by Marcella Hazan is also an excellent reference book.  My new favorite is by an Italian, Giorgio Locatelli who owns a restaurant in London; his book “Made in Italy” is a wonderful read and a great learning tool

Do you have any advice for aspiring chefs and home cooks?

For aspiring chefs:  respect your ingredients and spend time learning in depth a cuisine rather than trying to reinvent something you don’t understand.

For home cooks:  Don’t be afraid and don’t let them confuse you with complications.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?

I’ve really enjoyed living in Italy, studying the foods of the regions and getting to know the people who make the food and preserve the roots of their cuisine.  I love being able to share that with visitors and help them to better understand Italy, to build memories and enjoy their vacation.

Homemade Potato Gnocchi
Homemade Potato Gnocchi

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

2 lbs red skinned potatoes
2 large eggs
2 cups flour
Salt

Preparation

Bring potatoes to a boil in salted water until cooked through, being careful not to cook too much or they become water logged. A fork should enter easily with no hard center. Peel and then put through a ricer onto your work surface. Make a well and add the egg and half of the flour and work until incorporated and evenly mixed, adding the rest of the flour as you go. Knead the dough until its just pulled together and you don’t see tiny potato pieces. Try not to overwork the dough. Form into logs, cut off half-inch sized pieces and roll them on a gnocchi board or fork.

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

Gorgonzola Sauce

4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
1 medium onion, chopped
6-8 fresh sage leaves
8 oz gorgonzola cheese
½ cup cream
Fresh ground pepper
Salt to taste

Preparation

Saute the onion in butter until soft, add sage leaves and continue to cook gently without browning. Add gorgonzola and cook over low heat until melted, stirring occasionally. Add cream and heat through, being careful not to boil. Season with ground pepper and check for salt; some cheese is saltier than others. Serve over homemade potato gnocchi and top with some fresh ground Parmigiana cheese as garnish.

Walnut Cream Sauce
Walnut Cream Sauce

Sugo di Noci (Walnut Cream Sauce)

1 cup walnuts, chopped fine
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
White pepper, ground
Salt

Preparation

Put the cream, walnuts, Parmigiano, and butter in a saucepan and heat. Salt and pepper to taste; bring to a simmer and then turn off heat. Allow to remain hot until pasta is cooked, then toss and serve with a sprinkling of more Parmigiano and finely chopped parsley. Because gnocchi or pasta continues to absorb liquid, you will need to save some of the pasta water to add when you toss the pasta, as it may seem dry. Serve over homemade potato gnocchi and top with some fresh grated Parmigiana Reggiano cheese as garnish.

Strawberry Semifreddo

Strawberry Semifreddo
Strawberry Semifreddo

1 cup sugar
3 cups fresh strawberries, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
6 egg whites
½ cup sugar
1 pint whipping cream
Dark chocolate, melted
Strawberries for garnish, whole

Preparation

Combine the first cup of sugar together with chopped strawberries and lemon juice and bring to a boil, allowing to cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and cool completely.

Whip the egg whites with ½ cup sugar until stiff, then whip the cream. Fold together with the cooled syrup.

Spread the semifreddo in a pan, or into individual cups, and freeze until set. To serve, allow it to sit at room temperature 10 minutes then either slice or invert onto plates. Serve with fresh strawberries and chocolate drizzled on top.

To find out more about Gina, her cookbook and Italian culinary tours, visit www.EccoLaCucina.com

Artful Gourmet on ABC News!

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Food Styling & Photography story – ABC News

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Watch the video as Lauren Glassberg from ABC News interviews Kristen Hess, ICE instructors and students on their experience at Institute of Culiary Education’s Food Styling and Photography course. CLICK THE VIDEO OR LINK TO VIEW

READ THE FULL STORY HERE

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Spring Fever! Spicing It up with Caribbean Flavors

caribbeanchicken1
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Caribbean Chicken w/ Guava Pan Sauce, Caramelized Mangoes, Black Beans and Rice

caribbeanchicken1

Since I have lived in New York City, this has probably been the longest winter known to man. Last week on another cold, rainy, dismal day I started dreaming about going somewhere warm, sunny and tropical. Where the skies and sea are blue, the sand is white and the warm tropical air breezes through the palm trees and you don’t have a care in the world. I started having flashbacks of a trip I took to Jamaica a while back where the islanders greet you with a smile and the pace of life is laid back, jovial and carefree. One of the things I remember most about my experience there was the food and how delicious it was.

 

They use unique fiery blends of spices (typically Jerk which is used as a rub on grilled meats) accompanied by an abundance of tropical fruits such as citrus, bananas, mangoes, pineapple, coconuts, papaya and guava. Caribbean cuisine is a unique blend of hot and cool, savory and sweet, and a refreshing burst of flavors reflecting the tropical climates in the region.

 

I suddenly had a strong urge to cook a Caribbean dish and I wanted to try my new spice blend from Instant Gourmet, Caribbean Isles. This seasoning is a delicious blend of salt, bell peppers, garlic and onion, paprika and chili pepper and some additional spices – it really is great to use as a Jerk seasoning when you want some spicy flavor that isn’t too hot but very flavorful. You should try some of Instant Gourmet’s other spice blends too – they have an Original Spice blend, a Butter, Garlic and Parsley blend, a Spicy Coffee Steak blend, an Italian blend and a Southwestern Spice blend – all delicious and great on everything!

 

I had some chicken breasts on hand and thought I would pair it with some black beans and saffron rice as a side dish. I also wanted to experiment with some of the tropical fruits from the region and incorporate them into my dish somehow so I decided to get a mango and some guava paste to caramelize and make a pan sauce for the chicken.

 

I also marinated the chicken in lemon juice, garlic and parsley and used an infused lemon oil in the saffron rice to give it a nice lemony zing to round out the tropical flavors in the dish.

Traditional Jerk Chicken is usually rubbed with a dry spice blend and then grilled over hot coals to give it a crunchy blackened flavor. I decided to saute the chicken instead and make a savory pan sauce with wine, broth and guava paste to drizzle over the chicken and the rice and caramelized the mangoes by sauteing them in brown butter, brown sugar and a dash of salt and pepper. The black beans were canned (Goya brand) but to make them more flavorful, I added some sautéed onions and garlic, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and a dash of the Caribbean Isles seasoning.

The dish turned out to be a great combination of flavors – the sweetness of the caramelized mangoes complimented the spicy savory flavors of the chicken and black beans and the lemony saffron rice gave it a fresh kick of citrus to round out the dish. It was light, refreshing and a definite departure from this dreary, rainy, cold weather city I live in, a sliver of sunshine for my day – if even for a moment.

Caribbean Chicken with Guava Pan Sauce and Caramelized Mangoes with Black Beans and Saffron Rice

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice plus some lemon zest from 1 lemon
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Instant Gourmet Caribbean Isles Spice blend
4 large skinless boneless chicken breasts
2 tbsp guava paste
1 1/2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 tbsp butter (1/2 stick)
1-2 tbsp brown sugar
1 large mango, halved, peeled, pitted, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
Salt and pepper
1 package of Goya Saffron Rice (Spanish style)
1 can Goya black beans
1/2 onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, chopped fine
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 green onions, sliced fine

Whisk first 4 ingredients together to make the marinade in a large bowl. Add chicken breasts to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and Caribbean Isles Spice blend on both sides. Cover chicken and chill for 2-3 hours, turning occasionally.

 

When chicken is done marinading, boil a pot of water and prepare the Saffron Rice per the box instructions and cook about 45 minutes until fluffy.

 

Remove chicken breasts from marinade, scraping excess off the chicken. Heat 1 tbsp canola oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken breasts to the skillet and cook until brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a plate.

Add wine and broth to the skillet along with the guava paste and stir until paste is dissolved and blended to the liquids. Bring to a boil. Add chicken breasts to the wine/broth/guava mixture in the skillet and cover, reducing heat to medium and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes (basting occasionally). Transfer chicken to a work surface and let stand for 10 minutes.

 

In a medium stovetop pan, saute some chopped onion and garlic in some canola oil until lightly browned. Add black beans (don’t drain), and 1 tbsp vinegar and a few shakes of the Instant Gourmet Caribbean Isles spice blend and a dash of salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes and keep warm.

 

Meanwhile, melt butter in another heavy medium size skillet over medium-high heat. Add mango slices, 1-2 tbsp brown sugar, a pinch of salt and stir. Saute until browned, about 2 minutes per side.

Boil juices in skillet until slightly thickened and sauce is reduced, about 3 minutes. Drizzle guava pan sauce over the chicken breasts and serve with caramelized mangoes, black beans and saffron rice. Garnish with chopped green onions, parsley and serve with a crisp white wine.

Serves 4.

Recipe inspired by a Bon Appetit recipe for Guava-Stuffed Chicken in Tastes of the World, 2008

Find out more about Instant Gourmet spices online at www.instantgourmetspices.com

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