Bella Cucina Journal

Beautiful Food + Artful Living

  • Candied Winter Citrus :: Kumquats & Meyer Lemon in Vanilla Simple Syrup

    Kumquats are an unusual fruit.  They're small in size, oblong in shape, pack a punch of flavor and only in stores for a short time during the winter season.  I love that the origin of their name means "golden orange".  Somehow, that makes them all the more lovelier. Eaten out of hand fresh, their delicious taste, if somewhat bitter, is a colorful addition to salads, sliced thinly and removed of the tiny seeds.  They can be chopped and cooked down with fresh cranberries, layered on tarts sweetened ricotta tart, topped with cream over shortbread biscuits or folded into cranberry muffins. My favorite new way to cook kumquats is to candy them with another seasonal citrus, Meyer lemon,  in a vanilla simple syrup.  Pair that with an Italian Almond Cake and you have a match made in golden heaven. Ingredients: 1 pint kumquats, rinsed and dried 1 Meyer lemon 1/2 stick of vanilla bean, sliced crosswise 3/4  cup sugar 3/4 water Slice the kumquts and Meyer lemons thinly. Remove the seeds and disgard.  In a saucepan, heat the sugar, water and vanilla bean over medium low heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the citrus and cook on a low simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit 8 hours or overnight.  The syrup should be thick and the citrus should be slightly candied.  Heat the citrus again until warm and place in a sterilized jar.  Keep refrigerated until ready to use.  

  • Chiptole Chicken Corn Tacos with Peach & Plum Salsa

    Who doesn't love the idea of creating two meals from one? This recipe was one of those spontaneous creations made out of sheer hunger and leftovers in the refrigerator, but I would make it again from scratch in a minute. INGREDIENTS: 1 cup Grilled Chipotle Chicken (or pork) 1 cup white or brown rice, cooked 1 roasted or steamed ear of corn on the cob 1 ripe peach 1 ripe plum 1 sprig mint 1/2 cup grape or cherry juice 6 Tortillas In a shallow saucepan, warm the juice over medium heat until it boils. Reduce the liquid by half, until it has a thick but not too syrupy texture.  Remove from the heat to cool. Remove the pit from the peach and plum and cut into 1/4 inch dice.  Remove the corn from the cob with a sharp knife. Place all the ingredients into a small bowl.  Chop the mint and add to the bowl with the reduced syrup.  Stir until combined and let sit until ready to use. Heat the tortillas in the 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, or warm over an open flame on the stove top just until slightly charred on each side.  To assemble the tacos, place the chicken on the taco and layer with the rice and salsa. * When serving guests for entertaining,  keep the tortillas warm in a cloth napkin lined container and serve all of the condiments in separate bowls.  

  • Pan-fried Morel Mushrooms

    When I was growing up in the midwest, my family spent many weekends in a remote part of Wisconsin where the only entertainment was the adventures we dreamed up on a vast expanse of farm land. After enduring harsh winters, much of it spent indoors playing countless board games and taking turns cooking (or stirring) at the stove, we enthusiastically welcomed the warm weather.  Spring and summer meant long hikes in the pasture, brown bag lunch excursions next to a pebbled stream and playing in the  overgrown garden. Surrounded by an ancient apple orchard, the garden was lush with tall stalks of tart rhubarb,  pencil-thin asparagus spears and tumbles of tart concord grapes, all of which provided an edible education and plentiful afternoon snacks until our stomachs ached.  Little did I know back then that one of my favorite farm foraged foods, morel mushrooms, was an expensive seasonal ingredient sought after by discerning chefs.

    Our neighbor (who lived more than a mile away)  grazed cattle on the land and knew just where to forage these prized fungi.  Morels have an earthy scent, much like that  of the forest floor. Just picked morels are soft and spongey with an earthy scent of the forest floor.  Their honeycomb - shaped spores create the perfect surface for absorbing flavor.  My favorite way to eat morels is how my mom used to make them, lightly breaded with an egg and flour batter and pan sautéed in foamy brown butter until golden and soft. We devoured them hot out of the pan, just after they were sprinkled with salt.

    Morels have since become more easily found, but they hold an expensive price tag.  At a cost of roughly $20-25 per pound, I still have no hesitation snapping up a heaping handful whenever they're in season, which are only a few months, starting in April. If you  have morels growing in your neck of the woods, you'll typically find them growing at the base of dead or dying elms, old apple orchards, old ash,  and poplar trees .  If you're lucky enough to have access to these spongey fungi, consider yourself a fortunate forager!

    BATTER PAN-FRIED MOREL MUSHROOMS

    This recipe is so simple, I can't really call it a recipe, it's more like a "go by" how to make it.      You can create all kinds of variations, using panko breadcrumbs or adding chopped fresh or dried herbs to the flour or breadcrumb mixture.  Just be sure to let the flavor of these delicate fungi shine.

    • Fresh  morel mushrooms  (about an ounce per person)
    • 2 whole eggs, beaten
    • 1 cup all -purpose flour, seasoned lightly with salt and pepper
    • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
    • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
    • Coarse sea salt

     

    Dip the cleaned morel mushrooms and coat until the all surfaces are completely covered. Drain off excess, then dip into the flour and coat lightly, shaking off any excess flour.  Carefully place into pan and cook over medium heat until golden brown on each side. Remove from the pan and sprinkle with salt.  Eat immediately!

    buon appetito!

  • Tuscan Kale, Pomegranate & Blood Orange Citrus Salad

    When winter rolls around, I get giddy about eating and cooking with some of my favorite fruits.  Pomegranates are like prized jewels from Persephone's underworld that add beauty and brilliance to all kinds of dishes, as well as eaten out of hand (or over the kitchen sink!). The tarocco blood orange is another red rich fruit which adds not only vibrant color to a dish, but also a subtle sweetness and texture. Pair those two flavors with the healthy and hearty kale and you have a winter salad that's a marriage made in heaven.

    Tuscan Kale, Pomegranate & Blood Orange Citrus Salad

    1 bunch Lacinato Tuscan Kale

    1 pomegranate or 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

    2 blood oranges*

    1 Tablespoon Banyuls or sherry wine vinegar

    2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

    1 Teaspoon kosher salt

    1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper

    2 Tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds

    2 Tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds

    To Prepare the salad: 

    Remove the stems from the kale leaves, reserve for another use.  Stack the leaf "filets" on top of one another and slice crosswise into 1/2 inch strips.  Wash and dry well. Refrigerate until ready to use.

    If using a whole pomegranate, cut into quarters and remove the seeds over a bowl to catch any juices.  Discard the peel and the pith. (Remove any white pith that falls out with the seeds, as it will be bitter tasting.)  Set aside.

    Cut the each end of the blood oranges so a good portion of the orange is exposed.  Slice the peel and pith off the orange, going back to remove any white pith that may have been missed.  It helps to use a small, sharp paring knife, starting at the top and curve the knife blade around the flesh of the orange.  After the peel and pith has been removed, hold the orange in your hand and carefully cut on either side of each segment and let it fall into a small bowl. Squeeze out any juice from the remaining peel and pith into the bowl.  Set aside.

    To make the vinaigrette, strain off the juice from the pomegranate and blood orange.  if there is no pomegranate juice and/or little blood orange juice, use another orange and squeeze juice into bowl.  Add the vinegar, salt and pepper, then whisk in the olive oil.

    To assemble the salad, place the kale in a large bowl. Add the pomegranate seeds, blood orange segments and nuts.  Add a portion of the vinaigrette and toss until all the ingredients are just barely coated. Add more vinaigrette as needed until the salad has enough vinaigrette to be well-coated and glossy, but not over dressed.

    Serves 4-6 as a salad course.

    *use other citrus varieties when not in season

  • Quinoa & Kale Cakes with Sweet Pepper Pesto

    www.bellacucina.com

    I hate to waste anything.  so, when I had a handful of kale stems left over, I just had to come up with a good way to use them.  I think this recipe might be a good start.

     

    Kale & Quinoa Cakes with Sweet Pepper Pesto

    4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

    1 cup onion, chopped

    1 cup kale leaves and/or stems

    1 clove garlic, chopped

    1/2 tsp. salt

    1/8 tsp. pepper

    1 cup cooked quinoa

    ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs

    2 TBSP. grated fontina or Parmesan cheese

    1 large egg

    ½ cup Sweet Pepper Pesto

    In a medium sauté pan, heat 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil over medium low heat.  Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent.   Add the kale, garlic, salt and pepper to the onions and cook an additional 3-5 minutes, or until the kale stems are tender. Remove  pan from the heat and place the kale mixture in a mixing bowl.  Add the cooked quinoa, breadcrumbs, cheese and egg. Mix until well combined. Form patties in the palm of your hand.  In the same sauté pan, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Cook a few quinoa patties on each side until lightly golden brown.  Serve warm with warm sweet pepper pesto sauce and a garnish of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4-6 as an appetizer   *vegan version: omit cheese and substitute 2 Tbsp. olive oil for egg.   recipe adapted from cherylstyle.com

  • Sunday celebration :: Apricot Bellini Aperitivo

    www.bellacucina.com
    Sunday is one of my favorite days. Aside from being a day to sleep and lounge around, it's also a day me and my handsome celebrate. Why shouldn't every Sunday be special?Especially when there's sizzling applewood smoked bacon cooking on the stovetop and the sound of the POP of a bottle of bubbly. This particular Sunday, we've amped up the celebration with a little twist on the traditional bellini (traditionally made with pureed peach nectar) by using our Organic Artisan Preserved Apricots blended with a bit of its almond-y cane sugar simple syrup. Let the celebration begin.  Salute!  Ingredients: 4 Preserved Apricots 2 Tablespoons apricot syrup 1 bottle of chilled Prosecco or sparkling white wine In a blender, puree the apricots and syrup. Pour 1-2 Tablespoons of the puree into chilled champagne glasses and top off with chilled prosecco or champagne. Sip and savor until supply lasts.

  • Q&A Monday: Nona Rosa's Kitchen

    Mark Snyder, owner of Nona's Rosa's Pizzelles in Atlanta honors his grandmother's efforts in creating and feeding him delightful, authentic treats each Christmas. Disappointed that the pizzelle maker disappeared at the end of each holiday season, Mark set out to make these traditional waffle-like cookies available year-round. Our Bella Cucina Porta Via store in Atlanta carries these delicious hand-made cookies. Flavors include the traditional vanilla anise, plus the holiday-worthy gingerbread and chocolate-dipped with a sprinkle of sea salt. Tell us about the history of the pizzelle in your family. My memories of pizzelles go back to Christmas. As with most Italian-Americans, we only enjoyed these when my grandmother made them, which was a small window around the winter holidays. As I got older and had my own machine I realized there was more to life than vanilla/anise, the classic recipe, and I wanted to do something to honor my grandmother's memory.

    What's your most essential kitchen utensil? (A pizzelle maker I'm sure! Anything else?) My most essential kitchen tool is probably my knife set. Used every day.
     
    What is your fondest or favorite food memory?
    As a child, my mom would always make me and my siblings our favorite meal on our birthdays. I remember several instances, for me, that it was London broil or chicken divan.
    Pizzelles formed into cannoli shells in the Nona Rosa kitchen.
    (Photograph courtesy Nona Rosa's)
    What pizzelle flavor can you or your family just not live without? Why is that your favorite one?
    My favorite pizzelle these days is the one hardest to make: vanilla dipped in chocolate with sea salt. The savory component is the thing putting me over the edge as a snack.
     
    Fill in the blank: When I am in my kitchen, I feel _______.
    When I'm in the kitchen I feel very satisfied at the process of cooking. Whether on a Sunday morning when I'm planning my meals for the week, or when I'm hurried to make a meal, I know I'm not going to let myself or my guests down.
    Pizzelles on display.
    (Photograph courtesy Nona Rosa's)

    Grazie Mille, Mark!

  • Bella Spotlight: Savory Tomato Jam

    In the dark depths of winter, indulge in the sweet and supple fresh tomato flavor of our Savory Tomato Jam. Part of our Organic Artisan Collection, this jam is made from locally grown tomatoes, picked at the height of season, and is both sweet and savory with a decadent undertone of Ceylon cinnamon. This elegant everyday ketchup replacement will elevate your average burger or enhance your momma's meatloaf recipe. With a few simple ingredients -- tomatoes, pure cane sugar, citrus juice, cinnamon and salt -- this hearty spread pairs well with a number of cheeses (we're partial to mozzarella and Parmesan, of course), vegetables and herbs. Try it with our Pane Rustico Italian flatbread or use it as a sauce for a warming meatloaf panini with fontina cheese or use as a quick, flavorful tomato paste substitute.

    Savory Tomato Jam Meatloaf Burgers

    1/2 lb. Ground chuck 1/2 lb. Ground Vveal 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (marjoram is a favorite!) 1 garlic clove, chopped 1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs 1 whole egg 1 tsp. Bella Cucina Peperoncini & Pimenton Savory Salt 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper 3 tablespoons Bella Cucina Organic Savory Tomato Jam In a large mixing bowl add the meat, herbs, garlic, breadcrumbs, egg, salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of tomato jam. Mix by hand or with a wooden spoon until just well blended. Form the meatloaf mixture into patties. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until done, or grill for a few minutes until meat is cooked through. Serve on a brioche bun with a heaping tablespoon of tomato jam on each patty. Makes 4-6 burgers.

    Herbed Mascarpone and Savory Tomato Jam Crostata Antipasti

    1 6-oz. container Mascarpone cheese 2-3 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped (chives & dill work well) Bella Cucina Crostata Tarts Bella Cucina Organic Savory Tomato Jam Allow mascarpone to come to room temperature. Finely mince fresh herbs and fold into mascarpone. Dollop about a teaspoon of the cheese mixture into each Crostata shell. Top with a spoonful of Savory Tomato Jam and garnish with additional herbs.

    Buon Appetito!

  • Sunday Suppers: At the Table

    Sunday Suppers are a time to gather around a table and share -- the meal, news, gossip or good drinks. It's not about complicated and stuffy but rather comfort, relaxation and reconnection. Take a breather before the next week begins and gather together those around you for a quick but beautiful meal. These are some of our favorite meals from beloved bloggers. Buon Appetito! Gnocchi in Tomato Broth from Smitten Kitchen Citrus Pomegranate Chicken over Whole Wheat Couscous from Oprah Lemon, Chilli and Bacon Spaghetti with Crunchy Herbed Pangrattato from What Katie Ate Pork Stew with Hard Cider, Pearl Onions and Potatoes from Bon Appetit (Make it easy: this recipe is great for crockpot cooking!) Caramelized Fennel and Goat Cheese Flatbread from My New Roots (Make it quick! Use our Caramelized Onions, Fennel and Golden Raisins for a delicious topping swap!) Wishing you a delightful gathering this Sunday!

     I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love. – Ghandi’s Prayer for Peace

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