Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Greatest Thing Since Stuffed Peppers…

Stuffed Tomatoes! Stuffed Tomatoes! Please, do yourself a favor and stuff a tomato tonight! Why have I gone twenty something years thinking peppers were the only stuff-worthy vegetable. Not so. Tomatoes!

So it starts with my nemesis, good ol’ rice. But once that’s cooked and cooled, it’s easy peasy. Just cut off the top of the tomato and scoop out the innards. The hollowed tomatoes get placed on an oiled baking dish. The cooled rice gets combined with the tomato innards, basil, parsley, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and Parmesan cheese. The mixture gets stuffed into the tomatoes and their lids get popped back on. The stuffed tomatoes bake in a 350 degree oven for just twenty minutes and can be served hot or cold or room temperature.

Somehow the whole thing doesn’t fall apart into a delicious mess on your plate when you cut into it. Perhaps that’s thanks to the cheese (cheese, is there anything you can’t do?). Instead you get perfect little bites of tomato chunks and flavorful rice and it’s all so light while at the same time filling.

This is a new staple in the Julie recipe repertoire. Sorry peppers but you can’t hold a candle to these GDL stuffed tomatoes!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Light & Fresh...

My most favorite adjectives are fresh, crisp, light, clean– and all of them can be used to describe the meals I made last week. It is all a part of my quest for bikini glory on my September Caribbean Cruise with Jared. That’s right, kiss the Fettuccini Alfredo goodbye because we’re on the fast track to a better bod by the boat!

First up was GDL’s Farro Salad with Tomatoes and Herbs along with a Steak Salad and Cantaloupe, Strawberries and Grapes with White Wine and Mint for dessert. The Steak Salad was a cinch. Romaine lettuce and arugula, cherry tomatoes and red onion, all topped with Gorgonzola cheese, steak (or Morning Star Farms Meal Starters) and a red wine vinaigrette. The flavors combined beautifully and was much more filling than one would think.

The Farro Salad was the big shock of the night. Unable to find Farro in my local supermarket, I opted for Orzo, which is similar in size, shape and texture. The Orzo gets cooked and then combined with mashed garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. Once combined, chopped tomatoes, sweet onion, chives, and parsley are added. I’m in love with this dish. It’s perfect for summer and will accompany me to any summer barbecues or picnics I happen to be invited to.

To end the evening, balled cantaloupe, strawberries and halved green grapes are served with mint leaves and sweetened white wine. A perfect cool sweet thin-dulgence! 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Good Food, Good Wine, Good Friends...

Virginia isn’t just for lovers- it’s for wine lovers. There are so many vineyards all a short drive from each other. And this past weekend I planned a wine tour with Jared and his friend Jon (a.k.a. my cousin), his girlfriend Cindy, Jon’s friend Matt, and his girlfriend Samantha.

The plan was to visit five vineyards and do a tasting at each. If the typical tasting serves 6 to 10 wines and a sip of each that amounts to about one and a half glasses, I guess you could say… we were in for a lot of friggin vino.

Always up for an opportunity to play hostess, I packed a stylish cooler filled with Stewarts sodas for my non-drinker boyfriend, cheese and French bread, cherries, cookies and cool water for the 90+ degree day.

After an hour in the car we were itching to get into the first winery. Delightfully quaint, Flying Fox was as welcoming and comfortable as the large greyhound lounging in the corner of the tasting room. I could’ve chatted with our lovely server all afternoon over their crisp Chardonnay but alas, we had four more to go and the afternoon was already upon us.

Next up was Cardinal Point, which looked alternative and modern compared to the Granny’s cottage vibe of the last vineyard although they did have a charming fat cat. The wine was delicious and we indulged in some cheese and bread on their beautiful property.

Veritas was an entirely different experience. This established vineyard featured a grand tasting room with a sprawling property. Service was slow due to the popularity of the place but we enjoyed each other’s conversation on the oversized leather couches while we waited for each savory sample.

Our next stop featured more gorgeous scenery complete with a shimmering lake and commanding mountains. I wish I could say we took it all in and relished in the moment but us greedy, tipsy bastards forged on to the last vineyard of the night before closing time.

King Family Vineyard was one I had stopped at on a previous wine tour but crowds sent us packing quickly. This time we stopped, took photos, ogled the goodies for sale and savored the wonderful wine.

It was a memorable day that made Monday morning hard to face. I do have multiple GDL recipes that I made last week to share with you but for now, I’m going to leave you and go sip my Flying Fox souvenir Viognier and dream of my carefree sunny wine tour with friends.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Evaluating and Evolving...

It's been six months since I started this project. Back then, I was in a long distance relationship, trying to move closer to Jared and had just been rejected for a position I interviewed three times for. I was at a job that provided no intellectual stimulation and even less creative inspiration. I related to Julie Powell and was excited by this challenge.

Things have changed. I'm happy and wish to remain in this contented state. I give this project a lot of credit for that but I also give myself credit for this major life change of a move and a new job and a committed relationship. What am I getting at?

The Julie Giada Project is undergoing a small change. I adore having this project- cooking and trying new things and getting to write and hearing that my family and friends love reading it. It's a great gift and I would never abandon it. However, my life is much more full than it was in Connecticut and finding the time to shop, cook and then write is becoming a burden rather than a joy.

So after reflecting with Jared during a hike in the woods a la Walden Pond, I have concluded that rather than completing every recipe in Everyday Italian I am giving myself permission to skip some. And yes, it makes most sense to skip a lot of the meat recipes since I cannot describe what they taste like anyways.

It is difficult to not look at this as a failure- I set out to complete every recipe in a cookbook in a year just like Julie Powell did with Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It was considerably less work with almost 400 less recipes. To be honest, I have no idea how Powell did it without losing a lot of sleep, gaining a lot of weight and throwing a ton of money into groceries.

I'm not Julie Powell. I don't eat meat, I am the biggest neat freak you will ever meet and I have no intention to cause myself or my boyfriend additional and unnecessary stress by having to do anything. I love simplifying and I'm applying that mentality to this project.

I cannot thank my family and friends enough for reading this blog week after week. I hope I will continue to entertain you. And as for myself, I hope I enjoy this project even more as I free myself from rules and deadlines and simply cook my way through my favorite selections in Everyday Italian.

Monday, June 7, 2010

New Family Member & a Familiar Recipe…

I just want to take this opportunity to welcome into the world my second nephew Caleb. In Italian, the literal translation of “to give birth,” is to give to the light. My dearest Caleb, dare alla luce, welcome to the light. And because I can’t mention one nephew without the other, to my little Noah who turned two last week, buon compleanno mio caro.

OK, on to the food! This week I made a dish that is near and dear to my heart. I have previously mentioned my childhood best friend Jeannette and the fact that she comes from a big Italian family including her Mama, my preschool teacher and later my high school Spanish teacher, who we always referred to as Senora. In true Italian Mama form, Senora cooked a lot. The house always smelled of tomatoes and garlic and was warm from a boiling pot of pasta or warm olive oil.

And the one dish that I will never forget is Senora’s Arancini. While all the little girls in the second grade lunchroom were munching on their Wonder bread Fluff n’nutters, Jeanneatte was crunching on perfectly round and golden brown rice balls. I remember peering into her Tupperware and seeing gooey rice and bright green peas and wondering what the hell her mother was feeding her?

My American taste buds were not so adventurous and I don’t think it was until we were in high school that I was brave enough to try Senora’s golden spheres. I remember the warmth and the stick-to-your-ribs-ness of them. It was comforting and filling and made with love.

So last Friday night, I attempted to bring this Italian memory of mine into the present. GDL’s Arancini di Riso sounded simple with very basic ingredients but I had to, of course, add peas to give it a more Senora edge.

You start with basic risotto, which I have now mastered thank you very much. And when cooled, combine it with breadcrumbs, Parmesean cheese and two eggs. You then get messy, which was surprisingly fun for a neat freak like me, by forming the mixture into little balls around a cube of mozzarella cheese. The ball gets coated with more breadcrumbs and placed into vegetable oil that’s been heated to 350 degrees. Word to the wise, try not to hover over the boiling oil when the balls first go in- they will pop and shoot burning oil at you once in a while. I have the ruined t-shirt but luckily no permanent scarring to prove it.

Anyways, the Arancini sit in the oil for just four minutes before cooling on paper towel. The outside is delightfully crispy and crunchy while the inside is ooey gooey with extra goo from the mozzarella. And when I brought in my leftovers in Tupperware today and sat in the cafeteria at work, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the other women were munching on their turkey sandwiches on whole wheat and thinking, what the hell is she eating?