Thursday, May 30, 2013

Here We Go Again! Coronado Concerts in the Park - Campania

When I was preparing my marinated seafood salad for Challenge Campania, the culinary theme for the first Concert in the Park of the season, I posted a photo on Newf in My Soup's Facebook wall of my grilled octopus and another of the finished salad. Carmen's comment regarding my first attempt at preparing octopus struck home as I sat down to write this post:

"There's a saying in the writer's world ... 'finishing a story is like putting an octopus to bed.' 
In other words, there will always be loose pieces - meaning:
You MUST avert your eyes from the stubborn loose appendages to see the glory of the work.
Press on. Your blog is a sight for sore eyes! We need you.
Put the need for perfection to sleep."

Those stubborn loose appendages really do get in the way of my writing. It takes me forever to get a blog post started because I want it to be creative, funny, interesting, and ... perfect.  I don't like just posting a recipe and photos - I want to be able to tell a story and share a little piece of my life with each post. It's easier to do that with these Concert in the Park posts because our intimate group of friends and family look forward to the summer season when we can all gather at the park and share the fruits of our labor in the kitchen while we visit, eat, drink wine and listen to music. I try to take as many photos as possible and hope the photos help tell the story - although I didn't do a very good job this week and need to get more people and band shots next time! What a great way to end the weekend!

I can't believe we are embarking on our 6th summer season of culinary-themed Concerts in the Park! I never know how many people are going to show up each Sunday, but we've definitely grown and it's always exciting to see new faces. Jim and Holli have become very close friends of mine over the past year. Holli could hardly restrain her enthusiasm for the first concert, so we met at the park extra early to set up the tables, relax in the sun, sip on margaritas, and take it all in.

If you've followed our group, you know we choose a particular ingredient, country, region, or something inspired by the band as our theme. Holli chose Campania because they travel to the region often to visit some of Jim's family. I was all for it because I love Italian food and have been wanting to make a marinated seafood salad with octopus.

Insalata di Mare - Marinated Seafood Salad

I've never prepared octopus before, but I've enjoyed it lately in a few salads at local restaurants. There are several variations of insalata di mare, using various combinations of seafood, vegetables and herbs, all simply marinated in olive oil and lemon juice. I found Bobby Flay's Marinated Seafood Salad to be most appealing, but I made a few changes. I liked that the seafood was simmered in a pot of water, white wine, lemon juice, peppercorns, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. Bobby uses octopus, shrimp, calamari and lump crab. I used octopus, shrimp, calamari, scallops and mussels. I stayed with julienned carrots, onions and celery (I've also seen bell peppers and fennel). Bobby uses orange juice and orange segments, but I wanted more lemon and used half orange juice and half lemon juice and thinly sliced lemon for garnish. I added a bit more chopped parsley and garlic and a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar.

I felt Bobby's instructions about preparing the octopus were a bit lacking, so I consulted a few other recipes and watched a few videos to figure out how to prepare it. I bought a whole, cleaned octopus which was about 2 lbs. They come frozen, but thaw quickly by placing the bag in a sink full of cold water. The octopus simmers for about an hour and then the pan is removed from the heat and the octopus is allowed to cool in the broth. After it cooled, I cut off the tentacles and discarded the head (you can cut up the head and use that too, but I just wanted the tentacles for the salad). Bobby didn't mention anything about the head. Some recipes tell you to cut off the purple skin and suckers from the tentacles, but I think that is a matter of personal preference. I did remove most of the skin, which I understand adds a bit more chewiness, and I sliced off some of the larger suckers. I marinated the tentacles in olive oil, chopped garlic and parsley, grilled them in a grill pan for about 10 minutes, sliced them, and tossed in with the rest of the seafood and marinade. Although the octopus is a little bit chewy, I loved the texture, flavor and color it added to this beautiful summer salad.

Also, I cooked the shrimp and calamari together in the broth for about 3 minutes, but I did not let them cool in the broth because I felt they would be overcooked. I transferred some of the broth to another pan to steam the mussels.

Cherries as Olives are from Jose Andres' Made in Spain cookbook and I've made them before, but couldn't resist making some for concert since it's cherry season.

Cherries as Olives 

Holli went all out with three of Jim's cherished family recipes: Braciole, simmered in and served with top secret DeLauro Three-Day Sauce, and Pasta e Fagioli

Braciole Preparation (photos by Holli)

For the braciole, Holli stuffed and rolled beautiful flank steak with garlic, parsley, red pepper flakes, grated Romano, pancetta, pignoli nuts, and baby spinach.  The rolls are tied, browned in a skillet, and simmered in sauce for about four hours. This was heavenly...and the sauce, OMG! She warned me not to even try asking for the recipe; she had to date Jim for three years before he shared it.

DeLauro Braciole

While the pasta e fagioli was warming up on the portable stove, we dug into Kai's selection of pizzas - Pizza Margherita, Mushroom & Truffle Oil, and Artichoke.  I recently made some Neopolitan pizzas featured in Saveur, here.


Kai's Pizza Margherita

Carmen is always able to find the most interesting recipes, like this Molded Tomato Bread Salad. Slicing it reveals layers of bread, red and yellow tomatoes, and arugula - dressed with a garlic and herb  vinaigrette - all molded together in a loaf pan weighted down by a brick overnight.

Carmen's Molded Tomato Bread Salad

As the sun went down and the park became quite chilly, we were all happy to have a bowl of hot pasta e fagioli!

Jim refilling the Pasta e Fagioli bowl

Another winning DeLauro recipe, this version of "pasta and beans" also includes new potatoes and prosciutto (you can find the recipe on Holli's friend's blog, here).

Pasta e Fagioli 

Pammy, also known as our "salad queen" departed from her norm and shared this Neapolitan Potato Pie, which paired nicely as a side to the braciole. Inside, you'll find creamy mashed potatoes, diced ham, parsley, and four cheeses!

Gatto di Patate (Neapolitan Potato Pie)

In addition to all of the above, we nibbled on Kelley and Bryan's Tomato Bruschetta and Caprese on a Stick, and Sandra's  Italian Sandwiches. For dessert, mom suggested and I made Lidia Bastianich's Tiramisu al Limoncello (Limoncello Tiramisu). I added a thin layer of limoncello whipped cream to the top and garnished with fresh strawberries, raspberries and a drizzle of Strawberry Pomegranate Sauce featured on the cover of this month's Fine Cooking.

Sparks & Kellee

Ma che vuoi?

Holli made a batch of homemade limoncello last month, but I drank most of mine and had to buy another bottle to have enough for the tiramisu ;-)

Holli's Homemade Limoncello

Marina Grande, Capri, Campania (photo by Holli)

What a fabulous kick-off to the 2103 Concert in the Park season! Thank you to Jim & Holli for choosing the first theme and generously contributing incredible and authentic family dishes!

The Hollywood Stones, a Rolling Stones tribute band, perform this Sunday and our theme is anything inspired by the name Rolling Stones (rolled, stone fruit,... ?) or something inspired by one of their songs. Can't wait to see what everyone comes up with on this one!

Buon appetito!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bon Appetit's June Cook the Cover Challenge: Spaghetti with Parsley Pesto

I'm addicted to Bon Appetit's Cook the Cover Challenge. I'm also addicted to pasta. Not only does Bon Appetit's June issue feature a gorgeous plate of summery pasta on the cover, but my photograph from the March Cook the Cover is published on page 8. I've been thrilled to have my Cook the Cover photographs featured on The Daily Feed the past three months, but it's even more exciting to be recognized in the magazine!

There aren't any rules about trying to style and photograph your dish exactly like the cover, but I enjoy that additional challenge and excuse to go prop shopping...even though my prop drawers, cupboards and closets runneth over! That bottle of rosato was also very refreshing during the shoot ;-)

Spaghetti with Parsley Pesto

Parsley, Chives and Almonds

Into the food processor with olive oil and Parmesan

A few pulses and you're done

Swirl the pesto into hot pasta
or spoon it over grilled chicken, fish or vegetables

Spaghetti with Parsley Pesto
Minimally adapted from Bon Appetit (June 2013)
Serves 4 - 6


1/2 cup unsalted, roasted almonds
4 cups (packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
3/4 cup chopped fresh chives
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish

1 pound spaghetti
Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper


For the pesto, pulse almonds in a food processor until smooth. Add parsley, chives, olive oil, lemon juice and Parmesan and process until smooth. Season pesto with salt and pepper. The pesto can be made a few days ahead. Cover surface of pesto with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain pasta, but reserve about 2 cups of the pasta cooking liquid.

Toss hot pasta and pesto in a large bowl. Add pasta cooking liquid, 1/4 cup at a time, until pasta is saucy. Season with salt and pepper. Plate pasta, and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and grating of Parmesan.

Of course, you can prepare the pesto with different herbs, nuts and/or pastas. The only change I made to this pesto was adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. I enjoyed it as a light dinner on its own, but it would make a beautiful side to grilled salmon. 


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pistachio e Mortadella Pizza Wins the Toss

ENO Wine Bar at the Hotel Del Coronado now offers artisan Neapolitan-style pizzas from its new outdoor wood-fired oven. During the course of three visits, I've enjoyed the Margherita, House-Made Veal Meatball, and Salsiccia (fennel sausage, charred broccolini, garlic oil). On Margherita Wednesdays, the classic Margherita pizza is $10.00 - still pretty pricey for a 10-inch-pie. The pizzas normally range from $15.50 to $18.50 and wines by the glass are similarly priced. Granted this is the Del, but JEEZ!

ENO Wine Bar Pizza Margherita

My most recent evening at ENO inspired me to stay home and make the Margherita Pizza featured on the cover of this month's Saveur. The Gold of Naples special feature offers recipes for several delectable pizzas served in Naples' pizzerias. I was most intrigued by the Pistachio e Mortadella, but I also wanted to try the Margherita.

The Naples-style pizza dough must slowly rise in the refrigerator for 48-hours to achieve its deep flavor and tender structure. The Naples-style pizza sauce (Salsa di Pomodoro Fresco) is an uncooked tomato sauce made only with canned San Marzano tomatoes, puree, and salt. Saveur provides picks for Top Tomatoes and Mighty Mozzarellas. Antima Caputo Italian Superfine "00" Farina Flour is also highly recommended (I was able to find it at Bristol Farms, La Jolla).

I purchased all the recommended ingredients, made the dough a few days before, and then made the tomato sauce. For the Pistachio e Mortadella, I prepared the buttery pistachio puree with shelled pistachios, grated Parmesan, olive oil and lemon juice. I couldn't help eating a few spoonfuls as is!

Mise en Place for both pizzas

First onto the pizza stone was the Pistachio e Mortadella. After pressing and then stretching the dough to the proper size and thickness, it is gently schmeared with the luscious pistachio puree (more like a paste), followed by quartered pieces of mortadella, slices of mozzarella, grated pecorino romano, fresh basil leaves, and a drizzle of olive oil.

The recipe says to preheat the pizza stone under the broiler for 30 minutes, slide the pizza onto the stone, and broil for 3-4 minutes. I preheated the stone in a 500 degree oven, baked the pizza for 5-7 minutes and then broiled the top for 1-2 minutes. This is definitely a keeper!

The Margherita pizza would have been great if I listened to my gut before adding 2 tablespoons of salt to the tomatoes. Always listen to your gut - I should know better by now! The sauce was much too salty and I didn't enjoy the pizza. I commented on the Saveur recipe online and noticed the salt quantity has now been changed to "according to taste." I will add a few more cans of crushed tomatoes to my salty sauce, freeze it, and save it for a future spaghetti or pizza sauce.

Saveur's Neapolitan Dinner Party Menu sounds fabulous and includes the recipe for the Pistachio e Mortadella, which should have been the cover recipe.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bon Appetit's May Cook the Cover Challenge - Blackberry Farm's Griddle Cakes

What is it about luxury ranches and farms serving the most amazing stack of pancakes you've ever tasted? When the rooster crows at the first hint of morning light, you had better roll out from beneath those Egyptian cotton sheets and goose down comforter, slip on a soft flannel shirt and faded pair of jeans, and make your way to the lodge for a steamy cup of java and towering stack of buttery, syrupy griddle cakes. You'll be thankful you did before setting out on that morning hike, horseback ride, or fly-fishing float trip.

Blackberry Farm, a pastoral 4,200-acre estate in the Great Smoky Mountains, captured the #1 spot in Bon Appetit's Top Ten Food Lovers Hotels in America list, most likely with a little help from these drool-worthy griddle cakes. I can call them drool-worthy because Trapper polished off this stack when I was done photographing it. I nibbled a few as I was cooking them and made a second batch the next morning to enjoy piping hot right out of the pan. Best. Pancakes. Ever.

Blackberry Farm's Griddle Cakes

These healthy and gluten-free pancakes corral wonderful taste and texture from buttermilk, egg, and four different flours - oat, buckwheat, corn, and brown rice. Instead of corn flour, I used polenta for a more rustic and grainy texture. You can even ditch the warm maple syrup on top (there's a little in the batter for sweetness) and stay healthy with a pat of butter and fresh berries.

Dry and Wet Ingredients

Whisk up each in separate bowls 

Combine the wet with the dry and whisk again

Add melted butter and whisk again 

Corporate Chef Josh Feathers demos preparation of the Griddle Cakes in this YouTube video:

Bon Appetit published the recipe here. Now go make some pancakes and plan a vacation to one of the 10 Best Hotels for Food Lovers. These luxury hotels and resorts focus on quality food made with locally grown ingredients and prepared simply. My choices would be #1, Blackberry Farm, TN; #3, The Willows Inn, WA; #4 Dunton Hot Springs, CO; and #9 Manka's Inverness Lodge, CA. What about you? Have you been to any of these places?

Friday, May 3, 2013

French Fridays with Dorie - Lovely and Ruffly Poached Eggs

The French Fridays part of this post is going to be brief because I was too lazy to go to the store for the brioche, wild mushrooms, shallots, cream and herbs required to prepare this week's recipe:  Creamy Mushrooms and Eggs. The recipe calls for poached eggs or Ruffly Poached Eggs. I was intrigued with the technique for the ruffly poached eggs so I decided to give those a test run and create a simple lunch with ingredients on hand. The creamy mushrooms will have to wait for another time...

Toasted English Muffin, Prosciutto and Ruffly Poached Eggs

Achieving the "ruffly look" is a small production - Tear off two pieces of plastic wrap, put one on top of the other, lightly brush the top piece with olive oil, gently press the wrap inside of a tea cup, crack an egg into the plastic wrap-lined tea cup, forage through several drawers in search of kitchen twine, gather up the wrap around the egg, and then tie the pouch with twine. Repeat with each additional egg to be poached. Submerge said pouches in simmering water for 5-6 minutes, remove pouches to counter top, snip off plastic just below twine, unwrap poached eggs, and transfer to waiting English muffin halves, toast, asparagus spears, or salad. Add freshly ground pepper and parsley sprigs and serve.

Egg ruffling tools

I enjoy playing with my food, so this egg poaching technique was fun to try. Dorie shares the method here. The eggs do look elegant with their ruffles and pleats, but Michael Ruhlman's badass egg poaching spoon method also yields lovely eggs, without wrestling plastic wrap and hunting down twine.

Speaking of elegant and lovely, the annual Coronado Flower Show, the largest tented flower show in the nation, took place recently. The home front division competition excites the Coronado community and inspires everyone to spruce up their gardens and beautify the city in preparation for the flower show. Here are some photos from my self-guided tour of the top 25 home fronts. You can see the full album here.

Cheers, and have a great weekend!

- Denise & Trapper


French Fridays with Dorie is an online cooking group, dedicated to Dorie Greenspan‘s Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. As members of the group, we have purchased the cookbook and cook along as much as we can. There is a new recipe each week, and we post about that recipe on Friday. We are asked to refrain from posting the actual recipes on our blog. The book is filled with stunning photography, and personal stories about each recipe, which makes it that much more intriguing. I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook collection if you haven't already!