Thursday, July 30, 2009

Playing It Safe

With food-borne illnesses and their sometimes dire consequences constantly in the news these days, you might have more than just a casual interest in taking a proactive approach to protecting yourself and your loved ones from these pathogens. I've recently been participating in an online course designed to result in earning a food-hygiene certificate. Even though I live in the U.S. and this course is based in the U.K., I've yet to experience any cultural disconnect ~ salmonella is salmonella, and undercooked eggs or unwashed hands are just as hazardous on any continent.

So far, I like the course. It's pleasantly illustrated and easy to follow. Topics covered include everything from food law to food preservation and storage to personal and workspace hygiene. Periodic quizzes keep you on your toes. It's a painless way to learn about the basics of food hygiene and sanitation, and I encourage you to visit the site and explore a little. Even if you don't cook in a professional or certified kitchen, you'll benefit from knowing how to keep your kitchen and its eqipment in the best and safest condition possible.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Farfalle with Pearlini and Tomatoes

Summertime is not my favorite time for cooking elaborate meals. My under-air-conditioned kitchen gets seriously hot, and while I can take it, strangely enough, my family seems less enthusiastic. Experience has taught me that they'd rather eat a bowl of cold cereal than sweat through a roast and mashed potatoes. So, I rely on lots of fresh vegetables, herbs, and ingredients that don't need a lot of heat to prepare. This pasta dish is one of my favorites this year.

This meal comes together so quickly, once your pasta water comes to a boil, you can have it on the table in 15 minutes. It makes use of one of my new absolute favorite ingredients: fresh mozzarella pearlini. I. Love. This. Stuff. I literally daydream about it, thinking about the salad I'm having for lunch, studded with gleaming white pebbles of deliciousness, concocting recipes to use up the industrial-size containers I've managed to find ~ joy! ~ at my local warehouse club.

Although I was really, really hoping to have some homegrown tomatoes at this point in the season, so far I'm still waiting. My two St. Nicholas grape tomato plants (my favorite all-purpose tomato for culinary use) are loaded down with bright green fruit and yellow blossoms, each plant now a good foot taller than me. But not a single tomato is ripe enough to eat yet. It's rained nearly every day since . . . since at least the beginning of June. We've had sun, true, but just not enough to get some color into those tomato cheeks. So, I buy locally grown tomatoes, or open up a can of petite diced tomatoes. Both will work just fine.

My basil, on the other hand, is flourishing this year. Last year, a phalanx of snails devoured the entire crop. This year, I put my plants in a sunnier spot, surrounded them with marigolds, and no slug damage yet. I like to throw in some black olives, but you can leave them out if your prefer. In my opinion, the star of this dish really is the pearlini ~ miniature balls of fresh mozzarella no bigger than blueberries. I have a vegetarian at my table, so this dish relies on the pearlini for protein. If you like, though, feel free to toss in some sauteed or grilled shrimp or scallops. Use good-quality olive oil for the best flavor. As far as the pasta shapes, I like orecchiette or farfalle, but any ruffled or flattish shape would do just fine. In a pinch, I'd use linguine too.

Faralle with Pearlini and Tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound farfalle (I like Barilla's Piccolini pasta line)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups diced tomatoes with juice (fresh or canned)
  • 1/4 cup pitted black olives
  • 4 tablespoons chiffonade-cut fresh basil, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup pearlini
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, for garnish
  1. Cook farfalle according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large saucepan or deep skillet over medium heat. Saute minced garlic in olive oil till just golden. Carefully add tomatoes and juice, stirring to combine. Lower heat to medium-low and let tomatoes simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in olives and 3 tablespoons basil. Let simmer for an additional minutes; season with salt and pepper.
  2. Drain pasta and add to tomato mixture; remove from heat. Sprinkle pearlini over pasta and toss to mix. Cover and let stand 5 minutes to melt pearlini slightly. Divide pasta among 4 serving bowls and sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese and some basil. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Recipe Notes:
  • Don't worry if you can't find pearlini. Use bocconcini, halved, or just dice up a block of fresh mozzarella
  • Be careful not to melt the pearlini all the way. It will still taste fine, but it's charming to serve the dish with the little mozzarella nuggets visible among the pasta.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A review, and a chance to win

If you're feeling a little peckish and you'd like a chance to win a $100 gift card, why not mosey over to my reviews-only site ~ Tuppence Reviews ~ and read my two-cents review of the new Crackerfuls from Ritz? I'm giving away one of these gift cards, and my fellow BlogHer reviewers are giving away 7 others, so the odds of winning are looking pretty sweet. Go, see! And good luck!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

July 4, 2009 - Happy Independence Day!

Happy 4th of July, stateside readers! I'm on vacation for the weekend, and although I'm doing a little cooking here and there (cobbler made from freshly picked cherries for dessert on the 4th; roasted cauliflower to accompany barbecued chicken), I'm mainly just enjoying some downtime (and fireworks) with my family, eating no-fuss food off the grill and going out for locally made ice cream.

Here in New England, it's ice-cream country. Locals, and repeat visitors, know to order a single (never a triple, unless its dinner and you skipped lunch), and to ask for a cup instead of a cone, unless you can lick really fast. There are some flavors that are totally unique to this area, which we just don't have back home in New York. Because of this, I justify my at-least-once-a-day indulgence as "fieldwork." For example, Grapenuts, Frozen Pudding, and Indian Pudding are, to the best of my knowledge, strictly New England dips. Which is not to say I've ever actually eaten any of these three classics. I haven't. That's mainly because I can't get over my profound attraction to the Maine Tracks (vanilla base, peanut butter cups, fudge ribbon) and Tornado (vanilla base, Oreos, M&M'S, chocolate chip cookies, Heath Bars) flavors. But I feel sort of obligated to get to know these traditional old standbys, especially since this is my 21st consecutive year vacationing here.

So, as my vacation draws to a close and I've managed to branch out only as far as the Caramel Turtle Cluster, it looks like I'll be trying to re-create these flavors at home for the present. The only problem is, I have no idea what they should taste like. Which is why I'm putting out the all-call for your suggestions. Got a great recipe for Frozen Pudding? Send me a link! I'd love to hear all about the Indian Pudding ice cream your aunt Peg used to make . . . or that you make as an adult in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine.

I'd love to make one of each of these flavors and post them here, the New England Ice Cream Trifecta.

Until then, maybe you'd like to try one of these to help satisfy your cravings for sweet, cold, and creamy: Fresh Strawberry Gelato, Pomegranate Punch Sorbet, Kiwifruit Sorbet, or Fresh Peach Sorbet.

Happy July, wherever you are!



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