Bologna to Bolognese: Adventures With Food

Food is necessary. Food is fun. Food is an adventure!

My name is Shannon and this is my adventure, my love affair with food.

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Touch of Southern Tradition, Ham Steak With Red Eye Gravy

For years and years I have heard and read about Ham Steaks and Red Eye Gravy. Not having had the opportunity to try it I continue to be intrigued. In an effort to give an All-American classic a fair shake I decided to give it a shot and was pleasantly surprised!

While incredibly simple this dish is delicious and eminently satifying. It's often served with eggs and biscuts or at the very least cornbread or grits. I decided to pair it with cornmeal mush and creamed spinach for a nice weeknight dinner.


Ham Steak
1/2 - 1 cup of coffee
1 tsp flour (optional)

The Ham Steak itself is simple. Try to select one with a little bit of fat (not too much) along one edge. Then in a skillet over medium heat brown the ham on both sides. When the ham has reached desired doneness, Browned but not dried out or hard, remove it from the pan and trim the fat which you will then add back into the pan. Render the fat until it dissapates and deglaze pan with 1/2-1 cup of black coffee. You will notice, and traditionalists will already be knashing their teeth over this, I included and optional teaspoon of flour. Traditionally no flour is used but I really like my gravy a bit thicker so I added just a smidge.

Serve this up with on a bed of cornmeal mush with a side of creamed spinach and you have yourself a delightful weeknight dinner inspired by a great southern traditional dish.

A Taste of the Mediterranean - Spiced Couscous and Figs

Comfort food doesn't have to be bad for you. I'm a big fan of using herbs and spices to make healthy food delicious. Take this Couscous dish for example, seasoned with warm middle eastern spices and dotted with figs it offers homey comfort without the unnecessary calories.

Mediterranean Spiced Couscous with Figs 


1 c couscous
5-10 dried figs
2 c boiling water
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp ground clove
1 dash ground nutmeg
1/2 tbsp sesame oil (or Olive Oil if you prefer)


In a medium bowl combine the couscous and spices, pour the boiling water over the couscous and stir. Cover the bowl with a lid or plate and allow to set for approximatly 5 minutes or until the water has been absorbed. Quarter the figs (you may want them smaller if you use fresh figs). Once the Couscous has absorbed all the liquid fluff it with a fork and stir in the sesame oil and figs. Serve warm or cold.

The naturally nutty flavor of couscous lends itself to rich flavors and you can make it heartier by substituting broth for water or lighter by using some citrus juice, fresh herbs and fresh fruits or veggies. Play around with this wonderful ingredient and I would bet you will find a combination that is just perfect for you and your family!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Not Your Grandmother's Apple Pie

What could be better than hot Apple pie fresh from the oven? Apple Pearberry pie fresh from the oven!

Growing up my mother always kept a colander of fresh fruit in the kitchen ready for after school snacks or to add to a school lunch. When some of the fruit neared the end of it's fresh shelflife she would slice it up and dry it in the dehydrator for a different sort of snack.

With this in mind it should come as no surprise that a bright spot in my kitchen and one of my favorite purchases is the bright chrome fruit bowl I keep filled with nature's bounty year round. Unfortunatly, not every fruit is destined to be munched right from the bowl and when I find myself with a plethora of fruit about to go the way of the DoDo I often turn to one of my favorite solutions, pie. Pie is a glorious way to repurpose fresh fruit, and so simple and comforting. Recently I found myself with a few more apples and pears than I could eat and a bit of research led to a plan for a Pear and Apple pie. My concern was that most of the recipes I came across called for all the same spices you would find in an apple pie and I felt if I used those the delicate flavor of the pear would be lost altogether.

I asked some fellow bakers online for suggestions and did some more research and some tasting and smelling around the kitchen. I played with a few different ideas, and allowed a third fruit to jump in the mix, and viola! The Apple Pearberry Pie was born.

Apple Pearberry Pie


Pear Syrup:

2 Bartlett Pears Cubed
1/2 cup Sugar


In a small saucepan combine sugar, pears and just enough water to cover the pears. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat and allow to simmer until pears become very soft. Transfer the pears to a seive and press out as much juice as possible. Discard pulp. Allow the remaining liquid to simmer untikl thickened. Remove from heat and reserve until neaded for the pie filling.


Pastry for 2 crust pie (I buy Pillsbury's from the grocer's cooler)
3 Apples cored and cubed
3 Pears cored and cubed
3-6 large strawberries
3/8 cup flour (plus some for dusting)
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp Vanilla

*** (less is better than more if you are unsure of these flavors, these are STRONG spices)

1/4 tsp ground Star Anise
1/2 Tsp Ground Cardamom
scant 1/4 tsp ground clove
1 tsp ginger (powdered)
a dash of nutmeg and ground black pepper


In a large mixing bowl combine the cubed apples and pears with the sugar, spices, and lemon juice. (Make sure to dress the fruit with the lemon juice quickly to prevent oxidation). Allow this mixture to sit for a minute while you preheat the oven to 450 and place 1 half of the pie crust in the bottom of the pie pan. Add the vanilla and strawberries and mix well. Next gently fold in the flour and coat the fruit well. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pie dish and pour on the pear syrup taking care to distribute it evenly. Dust the top of the fruit with a bit more flour and top with the second half of the pie crust dough. cut slits for ventilation and place pie in oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 and bake for 60 minutes or until crust is golden brown and flakey. To keep crust edges from burning allow them to brown then wrap with tin foil for the remaining baking time. Upon removing the pie from the oven allow to cool on a wire baking rack for at least two hours. (I find that while delicious anytime, this pie improves by being allowed to sit overnight).

A note regarding the spices used in this recipe:

I wanted a more complex and unusual flavor profile for this pie and all of the spices used can be quite overwhelming if used in great quantity. If you are unsure you can reduce the amount of any or substitute a more common spice of your choosing. I found this combination to be different, refreshing and delicious. If however you just can't have a pie without Cinnamon, or can't abide the flavor of Star Anise change it up. Just remember to have fun and enjoy!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Couture Crusts - Panzanella

In the "Tea Time" blog I shared my secret (or not so secret) obsession with afternoon tea and the delightful little finger sandwiches that have become part of that tradition. The question that always bothers me though is, "What to do with the leftover crusts"? Well, after catching part of a cooking show one afternoon, I was struck by a stroke of genius. Panzanella, a rural Italian dish that transforms day old bread (or leftover crusts) from bland to beautiful.



2-3 tablespoons good olive oil
3-4 cups of day old bread, cubed
1 large, ripe tomato, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 English cucumber, unpeeled, diced
1/2 red onion diced
5 large basil leaves shredded
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 tbsp minced garlic
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
About 1 tbsp Vinegar (use your favorite, I use Basil)

Combine the bread, seasonings (including the basil and zest) and vegetables and mix well, add the lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil and mix well again then serve.

Simple and sumptuous this is a great way to reduce kitchen waste and treat your friends and family to a light but filling summer salad.

Fiesta Fare - Arroz con Garbanzos

I was looking for a fun Mexican dish to offer up just in time for Cinco de Mayo when I was sidetracked by a friend. We started talking about food and our favorite dishes and as he described a dish made by his mother I knew I'd have to take this week's blog a bit further afield by trying the very traditional Puerto Rican dish Arroz con Garbanzos. 

Arroz con Garbanzos is a hearty rice and chickpea dish with layers of flavor. It does mean making the rice from scratch but the flavor that develops as you build the dish is fantastic.

Before I dive into how to make this there is one thing I should address. The starting point, and the component that really is the star of this dish, is Sofrito. Sofrito is a combination of aromatic ingredients which have been diced and braised in cooking oil to release their flavor and develop a unique multi pourpose base used in everything from rice and meats to soups throughout the Carribian.You can purchase a version of Sofrito made by Goya in the international aisle of many larger grocery stores but it is not nearly as good as homemade. If you choose to buy it I suggest the Cilantro base instead of the one labled Sofrito because it has a brighter flavor. I used homemade Sofrito given to me by my friend and in the future I will defenitly make my own rather than buy it.  Also, from the photos you will note I have included a portion of seasoned meat which is a delightful accompaniment for this dish and full of even more flavor. First things first though, Arroz con Garbanzos!

Arroz con Garbanzos

1 Tbsp Sofrito
3oz (1/2 of a 6oz can) Tomato Sauce (I usually use Contadina)
1 tbsp Vegetable Oil
2 tsp Salt (or to taste)
2 cups Rice
1 can Garbanzo Beans


You will want everything ready to incorporate because the rice will require constant attention for about ten minutes. 
Place a heavy bottomed pot on the stove and set the heat to high. Add 1 tbsp oil and after allowing it to heat for a few seconds add the sofrito.  Saute the Sofrito for about 15-30 seconds, then add the tomato sauce and saute for another 10-20 seconds.  Add the rice (dry), garbanzos beans, and enough water to cover the rice by about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch. (You can adjust the amount of water to get the texture you prefer).  Stir using a plastic or wooden spoon (so as not to damage your pot),  add the salt, and continue stirring, making sure the rice does not stick to the bottoms or sides of the pot.

When the water comes to a rolling boil, reduce the heat to medium high so the water maintains a steady boil, and continue stirring as before until the mixture becomes thick.  This usually happens when there is about an eighth of an inch of water covering the rice (about 6-8 minutes).  Cover the rice and reduce the heat to medium and let it steam for about 10-15 minutes. 

The next part is important and my friend explained it better that I could ...
"Check on the rice by stirring it, taking care not to disturb the layer of rice touching the bottom and sides of the pot.  This rice (called pegao) will become caramelized, and sometimes a little burned, but protects the rest of the rice from being burned. The rest of the rice, depending on your taste, will be anywhere from mushy to fluffy to al dente, depending on how much water you started with.  If it seems a bit too dry, and undercooked for your taste, then add about a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of hot water and stir, again, being careful with the bottom layer."

Once the rice is done, remove it from the heat, and serve. 

Another thought from my friend...

"After storing any leftover "top layer" rice, scrape the pegao from the sides and bottom of the pot (if there is any...some pots don't create pegao), and form portions of it into rice balls if you like.  Otherwise, discard and soak the pot overnight for easy cleaning."

Seasoned Meat


1-2 lbs Beef Tenderloin (I used ground beef this time because that was what I had on hand)
1/2 - 1 tbsp Oregano
1-2 tsp garlic powder
1-2 tsp onion powder or 1 onion diced and sauted with the meat
salt and pepper to taste
Sazon (this can be found in the international aisle as well)
1 tbsp vinegar
1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

I chose a nice piece of beef tenderloin and cut it into strips which I the seasoned with oregano, garlic, onion, Sazon, salt and pepper, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and a splash of your favorite vinegar (I prefer Balsamic). Allow the meat to marinate for about 10 minutes (If you get it ready it can marinate while you start the rice). Saute Gently over Medium heat until cooked through and serve over rice.

I hope you have as much fun as I did making this Puerto Rican favorite. The flavors seem so simple but they just burst in your mouth and leave you wanting more. Enjoy!