Saturday, April 30, 2011

Smoked salmon deviled eggs

Pasquetta (Easter Monday) is kind of a big deal around here. First of all it's a holiday, so everyone loves it. Anything that makes a weekend last longer is a blessing, even when you are unemployed. Because let's face it, it's more fun to play when you have tons of people to play with. Also, when Easter happens to be a late Easter like this year, chances are Pasquetta will mark the first cookout of the season. That's how it was here In Bissone last weekend. It was nice enough out and we had big plans for our first outdoors party of the season. Huge plans that involved grilling pork and chicken at the communal grill, while drinking draft beer (they had 5 liter kegs on sale... too good an opportunity to let it slip by...) and munching on the many appetizers and side dishes I was going to prepare. We were excited, I tell you. Excited and a little scared because the weatherman kept being a freaking killjoy, threatening us with the notion that it might rain. 

"Screw him."

We said that about a million times. And Friday, a friend and I passed the border and went to Italy to buy groceries. They do have grocery stores here in Switzerland, in case you are wondering, but everything is more expensive here, so it's worth the trip, especially when you have to buy meat and alcohol. Needless to say, you are supposed to tell the customs officers that you are bringing meat and alcohol back into Switzerland, but no one does it. Which adds a certain thrill to the whole experience, like you are some kind of much lamer, much tamer rum runner or something like that. 

We went, we bought, we came back. We stuffed another friend's fridge with out loot —he has a real bachelor fridge if I've ever seen one. I mean, he doesn't even have ketchup in it...— then we all went to the bar to celebrate our successful expedition. Saturday and Sunday flew by ina  whirlwind of parties, Easter lunches and trips to several lakes. I actually hung out at three different lakes in three days. But that's another story.

Monday rolled around and we packed all our stuff, ready to party by the lake. The menu included slow roasted tomatoes , potato and arougola salad, cold cuts and, of course, these deviled eggs, stuffed with smoked salmon and dill —two of my favorite ingredients. They were delicious. The meat was delicious. Everything was great and we had an awesome time. But weatherman, that bastard, was right. It did rain. At 4 o'clock, only for a half hour, but violently enough to send us all packing and running for shelter.

Oh well. It was still fun. So screw him. 

Adapted from Cooking Light

  • 8 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup fat-free yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh dill
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ounces cold-smoked salmon, finely chopped
  • 16 small dill sprigs (optional)
    • Place eggs in a large saucepan. Cover with cool water to 1 inch above eggs; bring just to a rolling boil. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold running water until cool.
    • Peel eggs; cut in half lengthwise. Place yolks in a medium bowl; mash with a fork until smooth. Add Yogurt and the other ingredients (through salmon); stir well. Spoon mixture into egg white halves (about 1 tablespoon in each half). Garnish with dill and tarragon sprigs, if desired.

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Hospital" shrimp

No. They are not called 'hospital' shrimp because they are served in hospitals. As good as Swiss hospitals are, they don't serve gourmet food. The reason why we called them 'hospital shrimp' is that my dad saw this recipe on a tv show while he was at the hospital with pneumonia back in December. He saw it, liked it, and told everyone in the family about it, so a few days later, when he was released from the hospital, we decided to make them on Christmas Eve as an appetizer. They pleased the whole family, so they have become a family staple since then. The beauty of this dish is that is very easy to put together, but it looks really great and it's easy to serve at parties as finger food. So, if you are hosting a little Easter get together this might be a good addition to your menu.


Large shrimp, peeled with tails on
1 packaged pie crust
As many thin pancetta slices as you have shrimp
1 egg
Poppy seeds

Wrap each shrimp with a slice of pancetta. Cut pie crust into half inch strips and wrap each strip around the shrimp over the pancetta.
Beat egg in a bowl with a tablespoon of water and baste shrimp with egg mixture. Sprinkle with poppy seeds. Place directly on the oven grid (if you palce them in a pan the bottoms will be soggy).
Bake at 400F for about 25 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tomatoes stuffed with farro

I'm obsessed with farmers' markets. There, I said it. It's kind of weird because I used to hate markets when I lived in Milano, mostly because I was a pissy teenager and because markets meant only one thing to me: traffic and blocked roads. Also, I didn't like vegetables, so I really saw no point in going to farmers' markets. But now things are different. I love veggies and I love seeing what a great selection markets have these days. Saturday I went to the market in Ponte Tresa, a town on the lake on the border of Italy and Switzerland. And when I say 'on the boarder' I really mean it. I parked my car in Switzerland, crossed the bridge and went to the market in Italy —the reason being that during weekends there's a mile long line to get through customs. I was in heaven. The vegetables, fruits and herbs were wonderful and cheap. With less than 10 Euros I walked away with a bunch of tomatoes, spinach, a cauliflower, zucchini, fennel and asparagus. Not bad, uh? I was so proud of myself, saving money and buying fresh veggies and herbs. And then, of course, I saw a stall where they sold really cute and funky dresses and spent another 30 Euros to buy a dress and a t-shirt. Oh well. I swear, I really really needed both of them. 

Anyway, I wanted to make good use of my tomatoes and herbs, but didn't want to make the same old pasta dish, so after some thought I decided to make stuffed tomatoes. What to stuff them with, though? I picked farro because I had some in the pantry and also because I thought it would be a good, healthy choice. I was right. They turned out great, light and refreshing. 

Serves 4

8 fresh, round tomatoes
2 green onions
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons black olives
Fresh herbs
1/4 pound farro
So first you chop the green onion, the capers and black olives and you mix them in a bowl. You really don't need to season with salt because the capers and olives infuse the mix with their natural saltiness.
Then cut the tops of the tomatoes off and hollow the tomatoes with a teaspoon. Pick whatever fresh herbs you like — I used rosemary, basil and thyme— and mince them.
Cook the farro according to packaging directions in abundant salted water. Drain and add to olive mixture. Add whatever tomato you have hollowed out to the bowl and sprinkle with the fresh herbs. Mix well.
Spoon Mixture into hollowed tomatoes and place caps back on. Place in an oven safe casserole with a half inch of water in it. Cook in a preheated 350F degree oven for about 30 minutes. Serve either hot or cold.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The (in)famous Negroni

I hate fou fou cocktails. I really do. Perfect example: I cannot stand any variations of the good old Martini. There's only two Martinis in my world —one is made with gin and vermouth, the other one is made with vodka and vermouth. Period. I don't like Cosmos and I certainly don't like Appletinis —they remind me of this green apple shampoo my sister used to wash her hair with in the 80s.

But I do love classic cocktails, the ones that taste like the 20s and 30s, smoky Paris lounges, Hemingway and guarantee you the mother of all hangovers. What can I say? I don't drink cocktails often, so when I'm drinking them, I want to drink a good one. A classic. Something that has some serious history,

In other words, a Negroni. Classic, classy, boozy. Very boozy. Extremely boozy. One part gin, one part sweet red vermouth, one part Campari, this drink ain't for sissies. And to top it off it has a lot of history. As it happens with most classic there are many stories, mostly contradicting one another, about how the cocktail was invented. The one I like the best is the one about Count Emilio Negroni who back in 1919 asked the bartender at Caffe' Carsoni in Florence to strengthen is favorite drink, the Americano. The good bartender, instead of adding soda water to the Campari and vermouth concoction added gin, substituted an orange slice for the regualr lemon garnish, and the rest is history. A star was born.

I don't order a Negroni very often, but I do enjoy drinking one every once in a while. That said, I enjoy it even more when I make myself one at home. because then I don't have to worry about driving and stuff, and I can just melt into an armchair and enjoy my Negroni. And it's always worth it.


1 ounce gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 onuce Campari
1 orange slice

Fill a tall glass with ice cubes, pour the gin, vermouth and Campari in the glass and stir well. Garnish with a slice of orange.

To find out how to make a variation of the Negroni, called a Negroni sbagliato (wrong Negroni) click here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Vietnamese spring rolls

When I was a child most of the ethnic options available in Milano were greasy, depressing looking Chinese restaurants where the food was cheap and the smell of fried food lingered on your clothes long after you had left them. Nevertheless my parents loved Chinese food, so we went every weekend, even though the only thing I liked in the menu was steamed white rice. My sister, on the other hand, loved spring rolls. Even though I was only about three at the time I have this very clear memory of her devouring one fried little roll after the other, usually eating so many that they ended up being her main course instead of her appetizer.

As I grew older I started liking Chinese food just fine, and became a fan of many dishes, especially the spicy Szechuan ones, but I have say... spring rolls never really won me over. Don't get me wrong. I like them alright and I do enjoy the occasional Chinese spring roll, but ever since I've discovered the non-fried kind I have become addicted. They are so fresh and packed with crunchy vegetables you can actually feel that they are good for you while you are eating them. I'm not kidding. I was munching on one last night and felt the vitamins just flowing through me. I made them for a little Asian dinner I put together yesterday and decided to make them 100% vegetarian, but they are also very good with the addition of chopped shrimp. You decide.

For 6 rolls

6 round rice paper rolls
6 leaves of lettuce or spinach
1 zucchini, matchstick cut
1 carrot, matchstick cut
A bunch of bean sprouts
1 spring onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce (or less if you don't like the heat)

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon water

Submerge rice paper in warm water until soft, doing one sheet at the time.

Mix all vegetables except for lettuce and season with chili paste thinned down with a little water. Toss well. When rice paper is soft place it on a plate, add lettuce leaf, then spoon three tablespoons of vegetables over it. Roll up. Repeat with remaning ingredients.

To make sauce whisk soy, fish sauce, sugar and water in a bowl.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Vegetarian for a month

Everyone knows I love meat. Pork especially in all its forms —from tenderloin to prosciutto— but also beef, especially when it's raw like in carpaccio and steak tartare. Heck, I even like poultry, which most of my family members despise. So to go vegetarian for a month is quite the challenge for me. I have to be careful not to munch on cold cuts when I'm out drinking an aperitivo. I have to remember not to order tartare when I'm out. I have to give up most of my favorite recipes and discover new ones that showcase vegetables and seafood, which is a good thing I guess. And another good thing is that I will have the perfect excuse not to eat the damn Easter lamb this year. I really don't like it, so I'm excited about having a great way to say 'thanks, but no thanks' without offending anyone.

Other than that... it's going to be a long month. I decided to do this for one main reason: to cleanse my system a little bit. It's part of my quest to be healthier this spring, since I kinda overindulged during the winter. But it's hard. Today it's my fourth day without meat and already I'm dreaming of it. I wonder if it will get easier as the days go by. I wonder if I'll like it so much that I'll end up being a full time vegetarian. I doubt it, but who knows?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Yogurt pudding with warm berry sauce

You know how some people are dessert kings and queens? They bake beautiful cakes and pies, their chocolate suffles are flawless, they even make their own pie dough, for crying out loud. Well, I'm not one of them. I very rarely make dessert —mostly because I don't particularly enjoy eating it, so I just kind of assume that other people don't care about it either. Which is not true, since I know that there are many who live for dessert. I'm quite the opposite —I'd never skip a savory appetizer to keep room for dessert— but sometimes, when you invite people over for dinner and you know that they like dessert... well, you have to come up with something. I usually take the easy way out and just buy gelato. But last week I figured I'd give dessert a try. I was flipping through my cookbooks and saw this yogurt pudding with berry sauce. It looked good —much better than the photo above— and it sounded light and refreshing so I went for it, even if it involved using gelatin, something I've never done before. Well, had I known it's so easy to use I would have started using it a long time ago.

Before I go on with the recipe, I just wanted to thank all of you for visiting my blog and leaving me so many nice comments. March was my blog's most successful month ever, and that's thank to you. Also, here's a link to my Facebook page, if you aren't a fan already:

Makes 4

6 ounces white, low fat yogurt
2 tablespoons sugar
5 ounces heavy whipping cream
1 sheet of gelatine

1 pint mixed berries
1 tablespoon good quality honey
1/2 glass of red wine
ground cinnamon

Mix yogurt at room temperature with sugar in a bowl. Soak gelatine in warm water, squeeze out excess water and melt gelatin over low heat with a tablespoon of cream.

Add gelatine mixture to yogurt mixture and stir. Whip remaining cream and incorporate whipped cream into yogurt mixture. Divide mixture into four metal individual metal cups and place in the fridge until they set.

20 minutes before serving, place the puddings in the freezer.

In the mean time, make sauce by cooking the berries with honey, wine and cinnamon until warm and syrupy.

Remove pudding from molds and serve with warm sauce.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fondue chinoise

There are a few things that are very Swiss. Most stereotypes are... well, just stereotypes. Case in point: the famous punctuality of Swiss trains. Yeah. Right. I take a train from here to Milano twice a week because it's more cost effective than driving and let me tell you, Swiss trains are NOT always on time. This particular one is almost always 10 to 15 minutes late and it comes from Zurich, mind you. Swiss people from Zurich speak German and like to think of themselves as "the real Swiss", implying that the Swiss from the south, who speak Italian, are not as Swiss as them. Well, I guess that regardless of that, they still cannot get the train to Chiasso in time. Unless I'm running late, of course. Then it's there early, of course. 

So if we cannot count on Swiss trains being on time, what can we count on? Amazing cheese. Even better chocolate. And fondue. Fondue is quintessentially Swiss, in all its forms. There's of course cheese fondue. And chocolate fondue. And then there's fondue Bourguignonne —cubes of filet mignon cooked in sizzling hot oil— which is delicious but makes your house, your clothes and your hair smell like a cheap Chinese restaurant for days. Which is why, when I eat fondue at home, I prefer the Chinoise (Chinese) version: thinly sliced beef —think carpaccio— served raw, then cooked by each guest in an aromatic broth, and accompanied by the same dipping sauces you would use for a Bourguignonne. 

So here's the thing. First you have to have good meat, as good a meat as you would use to make carpaccio. Second, you have to make a good broth —it's simply not enough to throw some random canned broth in a pan and use it. If you can't make your own broth, which is understandable because it takes a long time, at least use the best cubes money can buy and add some herbs and spices to it. Last, but definitely not least, don't buy crap jarred sauces. Seriously. I'm famous for my hatred for jarred mayo and the reason is if you have an immersion blender there's absolutely no excuse not to make your own mayo and, therefore, your own sauces. It takes literally two seconds to make the basic mayo and a few more to customize it into four delicious dipping sauces. Traditionally, fondue is served with white rice and french fries as sides. If you ask me, making the rice is pretty much superflous since everyone attacks the fries and nobody eats it, but it's tradition. So I make it anyway. 

1/2 pound of thinly sliced beef tenderloin per person
Note: slice the beef right before serving so it doesn't get dark around the edges. 

For the broth:

8 cups of water
4 beef broth cubes
Fresh thyme
One onion, chopped
A few black peppercorns

Prepare the broth in a regular stock pot or directly in the fondue pot, then place in the middle of the table and fire up the flame to keep it nice and hot. 

And now, for the dipping sauces...

Basic mayo recipe:
Place 1 egg, 1 cup of oil, a pinch of salt, the juice of a half lemon and a teaspoon of mustard in a cup. Place immersion blender all the way to the bottom, turn on and slowly lift it to the surface. Done. It's that easy. 

Curry sauce:
Add garam masala, cumin, turmeric and onion powder to basic mayo recipe.

 Cocktail sauce:
Add two tablespoons of ketchup, a splash of cognac and a splash of Worcestershire sauce to basic mayo recipe.
 Tartare sauce:
Add one chopped hard boiled egg, three minced gherkins, and a tablespoon of minced capers to basic mayo recipe.
 Horseradish sauce:
Add horseradish to taste to basic mayo recipe.


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