Another goal of FRESH Ideas is to make time spent in the kitchen a fun experience that offers lessons and informative tips on grocery shopping, ingredients and cooking techniques.
I decided to pick five ingredients featured in recipes over the year that I didn't use much in the past, but are now frequently on my shopping list. With each of these ingredients I created a new recipe for a hors d'oeuvre to celebrate the FRESH Ideas anniversary.
There is Stilton from England, Roquefort from France, Gorgonzola from Italy and many artisanal blue cheeses from America. A favorite American version is Bailey Hazen Blue from Jasper Hill Creamery in Vermont. It is drier and crumblier than most blue cheeses and is aged four to six months. It also has a sweeter flavor and aroma and is darker in color.
I have started using blue cheese in recipes where I might have used much milder goat cheese crumbles instead. Mixing it into burgers, homemade macaroni and cheese, and even crumbled over a pizza brings a strong hit of flavor that when balanced with other ingredients can be very enjoyable.
An important thing to remember about mussels is that, at time of purchase, they are still alive. You want to keep them alive until you cook them so you must buy them the same day you are using them. Keep them in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook. They should not be placed on ice because when the ice begins to melt they die when submerged in water.
Before cooking rinse the shells and remove the beard which is a fiber attached to the back of the shell. If the shell has come open tap it gently. If it does not close tightly throw the mussel out. An open mussel is a dead mussel and could cause food poisoning.
After cooking, any mussels that have not opened should be thrown out. This is another sign of a dead mussel. Mussels have a sweeter flavor than clams and generally take about 15 minutes, depending on temperature, to open during cooking. They can be steamed, sautéed or baked alone or with other ingredients.
Polenta is a whole grain cornmeal that has Italian origins and a finer grind than typical cornmeal. It comes in slow cook, instant or already mixed tube form.
I cannot find the slow cook polenta, which requires 20 minutes or more of stirring, in the East Texas area. Also, I do not prefer the tube form because of its consistency, flavor and additional ingredients. The instant version is comparable to the slow-cook version and is easy to prepare in around five minutes with the addition of milk, water and cheese.
Simply mix two tablespoons of custard powder with a small amount of sugar and milk and make a paste. Then add one pint of nearly boiling milk, and heat gently to a boil, while stirring, until thick. It is very good served warm over cake or fruit.
Additionally when warm you can add melted chocolate to make chocolate custard. When chilled it has a pudding consistency and also makes perfect custard for pie filling.
Bird's custard has a natural vanilla flavor but other flavors can be added to the custard by including a small amount of extract, liqueur or fruit juice, such as lemon or lime.
Over the last year I have braised lamb shanks, roasted whole legs of lamb, grilled lamb chops and made plenty of lamb burgers and I can honestly say I am beginning to prefer its flavor over beef.
Although the cost of lamb is still higher than beef, it is a nice alternative for special occasions and the lamb being raised today has immensely improved in flavor over the lamb or mutton we may have eaten twenty or thirty years ago.
Italian Dried Pasta:
Another favorite are the Tagliatelle nests from Rustichella d'Abruzzo. This pasta is the closest in flavor and texture to fresh pasta that you can find in dried pasta.
Blue Cheese Bruschetta
1 cup blue cheese crumbles
1 pear, diced
4 to 6 marinated cippolini onions, minced (available on the FRESH olive bar)
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Water crackers or baguette slices
Gently combine the blue cheese, pear, chopped onions, walnuts and balsamic vingar. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving. Serve with thin crackers or toasted baguette slices.
Rose Steamed Mussels
1 pound mussels
½ cup rose or white zinfandel wine
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh basil, cut into strips
Keep mussels in the refrigerator until ready to cook. Rinse the mussels of any sand and rub shells with a damp paper towel. Discard any mussels that have opened prior to cooking. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the mussels in a baking dish. Add the wine, lemon juice, tomato and garlic and stir to coat and combine. In a small bowl combine the olive oil and panko bread crumbs. Stir to coat the breadcrumbs with the oil. Scatter the breadcrumbs over the mussels. Cover the dish with foil and place in the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until all of the mussels have opened. Discard any mussels that do not open. Scatter the strips of basil over the tops of the mussels before serving.
Note: Mussels that are open before cooking or still closed after cooking should be discarded to prevent the risk of food poisoning.
1 cup polenta
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup Italian salami or ham, chopped
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup chopped mushrooms, sautéed
2 cups flour
2 cups panko bread crumbs
Canola oil, for frying
Heat milk and water in a saucepan to a light boil. Add the polenta and stir until thick. Add 1/2 cup parmesan and stir until melted. Stir in the olive oil and place polenta in a separate bowl and bring to room temperature. When cool, stir in the remaining parmesan, basil, salami, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. Begin forming the mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls and refrigerate for about an hour to set. In three separate bowls place the flour, eggs and bread crumbs. In a saucepan heat the oil to 325 degrees. Roll each ball in the flour, then the eggs and finally the bread crumbs. Place the ball in the fryer and fry until golden brown. Repeat with the remaining balls. Use short skewers or Popsicle sticks to turn the polenta balls into polenta pops.
1 box mini phyllo tart shells, thawed
2 cups of Bird's custard, prepared and divided
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
Prepare Bird's custard according to package directions and divide into two one cup portions. In one cup of custard stir in the melted chocolate. Using a small spoon or piping bag fill the tart shells with the Bird's custard. Top with assorted berries and dust with powdered sugar. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Spaghetti Martinis with Lamb Meatballs
2 cups prepared angel hair pasta
1/2 to 3/4 cup prepared marinara sauce, plus two tablespoons
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan, plus more for garnish
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 basil leaves
8 small martini glasses
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the pasta and the 1/2 to 3/4 cup marinara to desired ratio of sauce to pasta and keep warm. In a large bowl place the lamb, 2 tablespoons marinara, panko, egg, parmesan, salt and pepper and gently combine. Form into 1 inch balls and place in a greased baking dish. Bake for twenty to thirty minutes until browned but still juicy. Heat pasta in the microwave, if necessary, and twirl a small amount around a fork. Place in a martini glass and slide off the fork. Place a basil leaf on top of the pasta and a meatball on top of the basil leaf. Repeat with remaining pasta, meatballs and martini glasses. Garnish with grated parmesan.