Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Prosciutto & Melon

Chapters of My Heart by Nicole Sheahan
Full transparency up front here.  I know Nicole Sheahan and have since before she was born!  Her mother is one of my dearest and oldest friends and we met while she was pregnant with Nicole.  I kid you not, Nicole was every bit as beautiful as a newborn baby as she is today!  And her music is truly an extension of her lovely soul.  This song works perfectly today as this recipe carries a story of one of the chapters of my heart.  Please click through on the song title and watch and listen to her video of this song from her latest album.  You'll be so glad you did!

Today is my 38th wedding anniversary!
And this marriage or ours has written many chapters
 - some up and some down - but I wouldn't change a single one of them.
We learn from each chapter, don't we?
The hard times make the good ones even sweeter.

Some of the sweetest chapters have been written while we've
taken the opportunity to travel to distant places.
You learn a great deal by visiting different cultures.
I am really bad at journaling my every day life
but I'm a champ at keeping my travel journals!
I love rereading my thoughts and experiences and find that
I often forget some of the little things.

But today's dish is one I have never allowed myself to forget.
I don't think I could forget, even if I tried!
In 2010 we traveled to Italy and
every meal, save one, was a complete delight.
And almost every restaurant offered this Prosciutto e Melone dish.
It can be an appetizer or a light meal.
All I know is that I had it almost every single meal!!
It's the perfect sweet and salty combination.
You can also dress it up by adding some fresh tomatoes.
I love adding either fresh mozzarella or burrata as well.

This time of year, with all the scrumptious melons coming on, I make sure I always have some prosciutto on hand.  Prosciutto is an Italian cured ham and is ready to eat -
no cooking necessary.
Don't confuse it with pancetta - which does need to be cooked.
They're both found in the same place at your grocery store
usually in the deli area.
Prosciutto is salty and thinly sliced and partners so well with the melon!
It's also fun to say!
 I eat the whole plate as my lunch and it is filling and satisfying.
I love cutting up the prosciutto and melon and making sure I get the perfect bite each time.
If it's a crazy idea to you to put salt on melon, all I can say is
this is how we ate melons growing up in Pennsylvania.
The salt enhances the sweetness with a surprising boost.
The salt also makes the fruit "sweat."
Fruit sweat is more commonly known as "juice."
So when you're done with the dish, you'll want to grab a hunk of bread
and use it to wipe up the "dressing" that's been made with the juices and oil
and salt and pepper.
Do yourself a favor and write a new chapter in your life by trying this.
You will title it "The Day A Melon Hammed It Up and Changed My Life!"

Prosciutto & Melon 
1 ripe cantaloupe
1 pkg. prosciutto
1/2 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small handful of fresh parsley or arugula
salt and pepper, to taste

Cut and peel the cantaloupe.  I like to start by cutting off a bit of the top and bottom to give the cantaloupe a firm footing on the cutting board.
The flat bottom will keep the melon still while you take the knife and make small slices around the outside, from top to bottom, to remove the rind.  It should look like this.
Next, you'll cut the melon in half and scoop out the seeds of one half with a spoon.
Keep the seeds in the remaining half and wrap in plastic wrap to save it for another time.  Turn the half you're using upside down and cut it into slices.
Next, you'll want to place the melon slices on a plate.  If using a round plate, I like to fan the slices around like a pinwheel.  It's not much effort and I look at it as a treat for myself to make it look nice.
Prosciutto usually comes in 3 oz packages.  It's very thinly sliced and comes with some sort of paper or plastic in between the slices because they like to stick together.  
I use about half of a package, so 1 1/2 oz.  I remove one strip and tear it into strips and lay them around on top of the melon slices.
Now you'll drizzle just a little bit of extra virgin olive oil over the top and sprinkle kosher salt and some black pepper around as well.
Almost done!  Now chop up the fresh parsley and sprinkle over the top.  Do not skip the parsley!  Arugula is also a divine option!  Done!  

Eat with a knife and fork.  And, please, take your time and savor each juicy sweet and salty bite.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Persian Jewels

Here It Goes Again by O.K. Go
I think I've been gone long enough!  And so I'm back but, like this song says, it doesn't mean everything is perfect - but that I'm finally in a place to get things going again!  Lots of life under my belt, lots learned, lots to share.  And, can I say, feeling better than I have in a long time!  It is a secret dream of mine that I could line up some treadmills and do what these guys do in one of the BEST music videos EVER!  However, since I'm not nearly as limber as these guys, what we'd end up with would be a heck of a blooper reel!  But enough about what I can't do.  Let's get to what I can do - and that's make food!

It's been a long time, folks!
I've missed you so much!  It's a good thing when you find something you love to do.
And I love writing this blog and all that goes with it.

As I mentioned when last we visited, I needed to focus on getting myself healthy.
And since then I have read and researched on all sorts of 
"movements" or "revolutions" in the "get healthy" scene.
There's a lot of info out there - some of it that's good and 
some of it that just sends a red flag up the crazy pole.  
I think that's why we're given an intuition - to know 
when we've gone over the line from being informed 
to inflamed.  And by inflamed I mean - that point when a good idea
gets taken past the point of common sense and
starts feeding into fears in order for it to survive.
Every camp I studied had some good nuggets and they 
likewise all hit a point where they went a little overboard.
I'll share my take on what they have to say over time but 
what I've learned the most is that 
not everybody's body works the same.  
If they did, then treating our bodies would be a lot easier - not so much trial and error.  
I've had to learn to really pay attention to what MY body likes and what makes it sad/mad.

And what have I been doing while I've been gone?
You know, besides learning to be healthy?
I've been teaching other people how to cook!
And, guess what?
I love doing that!!
It's so rewarding to share skills that empower people!
Because when you have skills you have choices.
When you have choices you aren't at the mercy of others.
And that, people, is a grand feeling!
Basic cooking skills makes you the boss at the grocery store -
not the other way around.
I loved seeing the light come on in each of my students' eyes as they saw how
quickly and easily they could make a meal for their family, how much faster and more delicious a non-packaged alfredo sauce is, and how thrifty it is to make your own stocks.
I will be sharing some of the lessons from those cooking classes on here so stay tuned!

But to start out and welcome you all back, 
I wanted to share this beautiful cookie recipe.
It's inception started in Hawaii last winter.
My husband and I had wandered up to a town called Hawi 
in search of Tropical Dreams Ice Cream, 
which some friends had raved about.  We were also hungry so we sought out some lunch.
We wandered into a place called Local Dish that had a cool vibe to it -
tables made out of surf boards and all that beachy feel.
The menu is on a board over the ordering window and I was
studying it all - sweets and savory - when my
eye zoomed in on a cookie they called a Persian Slipper.
"What would a cookie called Persian Slipper taste like, " I asked myself.
It would have to have some middle-eastern notes to it.
Possibly even cardamom.
And then I asked the guy behind the counter.
But what actually came out was
"So what's the flavor profile on that Persian Slipper?"
Apparently, non-culinary people don't talk about flavor profiles.
He said "You're a chef then."
I said, well, yes, that I was.
He then knew we could talk shop.
But basically, all it was was a chocolate chip cookie base that he amped up with
pistachios, coconut, chocolate, dried apricots, and cardamom.
It's like, in the back of my mind I was chanting - 
please say cardamom, please say cardamom, please say cardamom!
And when he did I said "YES!  I'll take one of those!"

"Oh, yeah, well, we don't have any of those right now."
(insert sound of a needle scratching across a vinyl record here)
And then I got a quick lesson on the difficulties and cost of 
acquiring certain ingredients when you're on an island 
out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  


So I ate my delicious sandwich while visions of these lovelies danced in my head
and vowed that, even if he didn't have the Persian Slippers,
I would make every effort to come visit his place again
if I ever found myself on the big island in the future.
We found the sought-for ice cream in a shop across the street and agreed that it was, in fact,
very, very, very, good!  Worth the trip!
So, if you're on the north shore of the big island in a town called Hawi,
eat at Local Dish and have Tropical Dreams Ice Cream - any flavor - at Kohala Coffee Mill
just across the street!

You can bet that as soon as I got home, I set about creating the elusive Persian Slipper.
It isn't difficult.  And they are absolutely delicious!
After several batches though, I started contemplating on how I could showcase the colors better.
That's when I decided to do the version I'm sharing today.
Basically a sugar cookie base.
I had to come up with my own name though.

Persian Jewels 
makes 40 cookies
1 cup granulated sugar (200 g)
1 cup powdered sugar (120 g)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (227 g)
1 cup coconut oil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or regular vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour (500 g)
1/2 cup cornstarch (60 g)
1 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 c. shredded or flaked coconut, toasted
3/4 cup pistachios, chopped
1 cup dark chocolate chunks
1 cup dried apricots, chopped*
fine baker's sugar, for coating

In a large mixer bowl, cream together the sugars and the butter and coconut oil until well combined.  With using the coconut oil, this won't take as long as if you were using only the softened butter - a couple minutes should do it.

Add the egg and mix on low until combined.  Add the vanilla and mix just to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, cardamom, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until well blended.  Add all at once to the butter and sugar mixture and mix just a few passes around with the beater.  Then add the coconut, pistachios, chocolate, and dried apricots and continue to mix just until it all comes together.  Don't overmix!  

And, as usual, I like to scoop and freeze the cookies before I bake them.  I used a #24 scoop for these, which is equal to three tablespoons.  Scoop the dough, then toss in a bowl of extra fine baker's sugar, then place on parchment-lined sheet trays.  You can either leave them this way 
and they come out looking like this
or you can slightly flatten the tops.
Flattening the tops gives them a slightly smoother look when baked.

When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 14-15 minutes, turning the tray halfway through.  Cool and enjoy!

*A note about the dried apricots.  If your apricots are looking a little more dry, then rehydrate them before using.  I'd squeeze the juice from an orange and then add enough hot water to cover the apricots.  Let sit for at least 30 minutes and then drain and use.  While you have that orange, it would be a totally AWESOME idea to use the zest in the dough!  Just sayin'!