Open Faced Orange, Pesto and Cheesy Tuna Sandwich

Cold winter mornings always bring me back to those simple warm lunches that Mom would make. The stay in your pj’s all day kind of days. The fish of the sea is something some people wouldn’t touch, but it’s one of those comfort foods that I love to pair with a good cheese.

I went to a friend’s after Christmas holiday party and we played White Elephant. Guess what I won.  A box of delicious, cold cheese.

One of the cheeses in the box was Mountina Cheese, an Alpine cheese from Montana. It has a smooth nutty flavor, reminiscent of a Gruyère.

Open Faced Orange, Pesto and Cheesy Tuna Sandwich

Open Faced Orange, Pesto and Cheesy Tuna Sandwich

I was craving a tuna sandwich, but of course also some cheese, so I looked in my cabinets and fridge to see what I could whip up. Here are the ingredients I used:

  • Bread
  • Tuna
  • Mayo
  • Slice of orange for a spritz of juice
  • Pesto
  • Mountina Cheese or a Gruyère
  • Arugula
  • Olive Oil (I used one infused with garlic)
  1. Mix the tuna and mayo together
  2. Squeeze the orange to get the juice out. Normally I use lemon, but didn’t have any. I’m glad I didn’t because it brought a floral taste to the sandwich. Also, I drop the orange rinds down my disposal after to make my kitchen smell fresh!
  3. Use a cheese grater to get thin pieces of the cheese. Mix into your tuna.
  4. I don’t usually toast my bread  before I broil, because I like it to still be a little soft. If you like crispy, toast your bread.
  5. Spread pesto on bread, then the tuna mix. Pop in the oven and broil on low for about 10 minutes.
  6. After the cheese has melted and the tuna is warm, pull out and top with arugula.
  7. Pour a tablespoon of garlic olive oil and drizzle on top of the arugula.
  8. Get a glass of milk and enjoy!

These cheeses came from local Cheese Queen, Lara Mulchay, who owns Petit Fromage & of Hot Dish Inc., a pop-up cheese shop.  You can check out her products here: http://hotdishinc.com/shop/

 

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Black Truffle Bacon Mac & Cheese

I’m sorry to those of you who I said I would post this recipe sooner but the holiday season brought on a wonderful sickness in my household! Cheers to Kleenex and Nyquil stocking stuffers!

Alright, so I met Go Lb. Salt at the Mac and Cheese Throwdown this past year. Aaron is awesome and gave me some of his new black truffle bacon. I knew when I laid eyes on this thick cut bacon I had to put it in my favorite dish. Lucky for my family, I made it on Thanksgiving for them.

Black Truffle Mac and Cheese

Black Truffle Mac and Cheese

Here is the recipe that I used from Chow.com to make my from-scratch macaroni and cheese. Chow.com got the recipe from Homeroom a restaurant in California that sell nothing but mac and cheese. (I die.)

The recipe didn’t include bacon but don’t forget it! I mixed it in before baking, and also saved some to sprinkle on top. The truffle bacon is going to be the hardest part. If you can’t get some of Go Lb. Salt’s bacon, get thick cut bacon and drizzle a little truffle oil into the dish.

 (My notes below in italics)

For the béchamel:

  • 4 cups (1 quart) whole milk
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt (Since you’re using bacon, I would recommend less salt)

To assemble:

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 8 ounces shredded 2-year aged sharp cheddar cheese (about 3 cups)
  • 3 ounces grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 1 cup)
  • 2/3 cup panko (optional, but I used since I baked)

For the béchamel:

  1. Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until it just comes to a simmer, then turn off the heat and set aside.
  2. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown in color, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  3. While whisking constantly, slowly add the hot milk to the flour mixture until evenly combined and smooth. (It will get very thick when you first add the milk, then thin out.)
  4. Return the saucepan to medium-high heat and while whisking constantly, cook until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the salt, taste, and add the remaining salt as desired. Remove from the heat and set aside.

To assemble:

  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until it’s almost al dente (just on the edge of being underdone), then drain and rinse with cold water; set aside. (If you plan to top the mac ‘n’ cheese with panko and bake it, heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle.)
  2. Place the reserved saucepan of béchamel over medium heat and stir in both cheeses just until melted and smooth. Add the pasta and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is heated through and steaming, about 2 to 4 minutes. (THIS IS WHERE I ADDED TRUFFLE BACON.) Serve immediately or, if baking, transfer to a 5-quart baking dish, sprinkle with the panko (AND BACON), and bake until bubbling and brown on top, about 25 to 30 minutes.

If you don’t want to bake and want the ultimate creamy dish, just serve and top with the bacon.

Drizzle it, just a little bit…2013 Mac and Cheese Throwdown at Renegade by MOD

I officially have a mac and cheese food baby after last nights 2013 Mac and Cheese Throwdown.

I was fortunate enough to be voted as the third judge for the competition. I met two great food influencers in the Valley, Aaron from go lb. salt & Joanie from Restaurant Live AZ, who were the other two judges of the night.

2013 Mac & Cheese Throwdown Judges

2013 Mac & Cheese Throwdown Judges

After being told by our Judge Nazi, Susie (Girl Meats Fork), that we had to sit and eat, I got into my mac and cheese swing. There were 10 chefs and we were not told who created which dish. The judging was based on taste, cheesiness, consistency and creativity.

Here were the entries:

1. Rusconi’s American Kitchen: Chef Michael Rusconi

White truffle scented with San Joaquin Gold Mac & Cheese.

White truffle scented with San Joaquin Gold Mac & Cheese.

White truffle scented with San Joaquin Gold Mac & Cheese.

2. Renegade by MOD: Chef Michael O’Dowd

Rangoon style mac and cheese with chinese sausage, foie, edamame, dried cherries, cream cheese and veleveeta. It came with a cheese dipping sauce as well as a drizzle of cherry sauce.

Rangoon style mac and cheese

Rangoon style mac and cheese

3. 5th and Wine: Chef Joshua Yazzie-McLean

Fried onion string & chorizo mac and cheese

Chorizo mac and cheeserg427k

Chorizo mac and cheeserg427k

4. Tom’s Thumb Fresh Market: Chef Kevin Janeski

Three cheese mac and cheese

3 Cheese Mac & Cheese

3 Cheese Mac & Cheese

5. EVO: Chef Jeff Caswell

Prosciutto, Scallions and Parmesan mac and cheese

Parmesan mac and cheese

Parmesan mac and cheese

6. Cafe ZuZu at Hotel Valley Ho, Chef Richard Garcia

Southwest mac & cheese with hatch green chilies, smoked corn, oven-dried tomatoes, double-cream gouda, shepard’s hope cheese, and a squeeze of lime, topped with a cheddar cracker crumb.

Southwest mac & cheese

Southwest mac & cheese

7. AZ Food Crafters: Chef Eddie Castillo

Jalapeno Bacon Mac N Cheese Pie Poppper: Jalapeno, mini pasta, cheddar cheese, pepper jack & cream cheese all stuffed in a buttery crust

Mac N Cheese Pie Poppper

Mac N Cheese Pie Poppper

8.  District American Kitchen & Wine Bar, Chef John Marchetti

Mac and Mole Short Rib with micro cilantro

Mole Short Rib Mac and Cheese

Mole Short Rib Mac and Cheese

 

9. Twisted Rose Winery & Eatery: Chef Nicholas Galakatos

Twisted mushroom mac and cheese

tumblr_inline_mwhohnyieO1rg427k

Twisted mushroom mac and cheese

10. Stacey’s Smoke Dem Bones: Chef Paul Williams

Red pepper mac & cheese

Red pepper mac & cheese

Red pepper mac & cheese

There was a clear winner in my book with a close second. The golden macaroni dishes triumphed as follows:

1st Place: Cafe ZuZu at Hotel Valley Ho, Chef Richard Garcia (Green chili)

2nd Place: Renegade by MOD, Chef Michael O’Dowd (Rangoon style)

3rd Place: EVO, Chef Jeff Caswell (Prosciutto and Scallions)

Peoples’ Choice: District American Kitchen & Wine Bar, Chef John Marchetti (Mole Short Rib)

There wasn’t a category, but if there was, my homemade golden mac and cheese headband would have for sure been in the lead:

Finally meeting Chef Michael O'Dowd!

Finally meeting Chef Michael O’Dowd!

Thanks to all the chefs who participated and rocked the event! I can’t wait until next year!

Rainbow Valley Farms Cheese Gnocchi with Fresh Peaches & Pulled Pork

Quiessence at The Farm at South Mountain

Quiessence at The Farm at South Mountain

Quiessence at The Farm is a magical place. Hundred year old trees line the property, and it’s as if you’re transformed into another state. A farm literally in the middle of the city.

Quiessence at The Farm Tasting Menu

Quiessence at The Farm Tasting Menu

I was lucky enough to snag a reservation for the last dinner service that Quiessence’s previous chef was cooking. Chef Greg LaPrad has moved to Sonoita and opened his own restaurant in wine country. Before he did, I was able to experience a lovely dinner that included 7 courses, with my favorite being the Rainbow Valley Farmers Cheese Gnocchi with Fresh Peaches from Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek and Pulled Pork from the Meat Shop in Phoenix.

Rainbow Valley Farmers Cheese Gnocchi at Quiessence

Rainbow Valley Farmers Cheese Gnocchi at Quiessence

Usually when you think Gnocci, you think a heavier, sauce filled dish. Just having in Italy, it was a refreshing surprise to eat this lighter take on the pasta. The juices from the peach created a light sauce with the sage and butter.

The best part of the dish is that the gnocchi is made entirely of cheese – there is no potato.

The dish paired perfectly with the Gruet Blanc de Noirs from New Mexico.

Gruet Blanc de Noirs from New Mexico.

Gruet Blanc de Noirs from New Mexico.

Tonight we will be back at Quiessence for it’s soft opening as we experience the new menu, look and creations by Chef Dustin Christofolo (formerly Head Chef of The House at Secret Garden) and Chef Sacha Levine (formerly Sous Chef of Rancho Pinot and FnB).

 

 

Mac & Cheese Throwdown 2013 #MNCT2013

Mac & Cheese Throwdown 2013

Mac & Cheese Throwdown 2013

What do I love more than going to dinner and getting mac and cheese? Going to an entire event where my whole meal is mac and cheese! The two fine ladies of Girl Meets Fork Marketing & Media and Diya Marketing put on the Mac & Cheese Throwdown (they also do the Grilled Cheese Throwdown) every year. Every year, I am out of town or have another commitment the day of the events. This year I blocked my calendar and was on that ticket sales link like crispy bread crumbs on my bowl of chz to make sure I got 2 tickets to the always sold out event.

Now it’s your turn! They have some tickets left, so join me on November 17 at 4 pm as we frolic through a night of cheese, booze and full tummies.

Tickets here: http://girlmeetsfork.com/events/mac-cheese-throwdown-2013/

The line up of chefs will be:

Chef Michael O’Dowd, Renegade by MOD
Chef Michael Rusconi, Rusconi’s American Kitchen
Chef John Marchetti, District Kitchen & Wine Bar
Chef Eddie Castillo, AZ Food Crafters
Chef Jeff Caswell, EVO Scottsdale
Chef de Cuisine Richard Garcia, Hotel Valley Ho
Chef Joshua Yazzi-Mclane, 5th and Wine
Chef Kevin Janeski, Tom’s Thumb Market
Chef Nicholas Galakatos, Twisted Rose Winery & Eatery
Pauline Martinez, Owner of Perk Eatery

I am excited because a lot of these restaurants I haven’t been able to make it to yet, so will be a great introduction for me to go back!

Spicy Red Sauce and Tattooed Arms

The agony continues back in the states; missing wandering the streets of Italy, drinking wine from decanters any hour of the day and basking in course upon course of pasta and cheese.

With my husband begging for a glimpse of this bittersweet memory, I decide to treat him to his favorite meal – Baked Eggplant Parmesan. If you would have asked me 3 years ago if I would eat the green, slimy vegetable, I would have scrunched my nose faster then you could finish the question. Alas, for love, I have learned how to cut the vegetable, get most of the goo off, cook it and dress it on a plate for an hour (or usually 10 minutes) of smiles while he devours.

Baked Eggplant Parmesan Recipe

Baked Eggplant Parmesan Recipe

If you have the time, it’s a great meal to fill the house with smells of Italy. What has made the dish even better, is finagling the secret recipe from my husbands’ family for a red, spicy sauce.

Cheese you ask? Only the best fresh mozzarella to complete this dish.

I’ll give you my recipe for baked eggplant, but you’ll have to kill me for the sauce.

Ingredients:

  • Large eggplant
  • Salt
  • Italian Bread Crumbs (or breadcrumbs, basil, red pepper, salt, pepper, etc.)
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • Pasta sauce (hint: use fresh garlic and some red pepper please)
  • Slices of mozzarella (I use a whole log from Trader Joes)

Directions:

Slice the eggplant so you have ¼-in slices of circles. Lay out on paper towels and soak excess water from eggplant for about 20 minutes (more time is better to get crispier).

Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium heat.

Mix breadcrumbs, parmesan, salt and red pepper in one bowl. Beat eggs in another bowl. Lay out more clean paper towels to begin frying.

Dip eggplant slices into the egg, then breadcrumbs and drop into the oil. Cook on each side for about 3 minutes or until a golden brown.

After all pieces are fried, layer a casserole/baking dish with red sauce. Add four eggplants. Top with mozzarella slices, red sauce and another eggplant slice. Continue until all eggplants are in the dish. Layer with leftover mozzarella and sprinkle with parmesan.

Place in oven at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes until the dish is bubbling and the cheese is fully melted, sliding to the sides.

Thank Ashley later.

Pasta the Italian way

We did it. Tied the knot. Hitched the wagon. Took the plunge. Bought the cow. Dropped the anchor. GOT MARRIED.

Now that the crazy families of ours have headed home, we ventured off to our honeymoon. Two weeks in Italy – Rome, Florence & Venice.  I have never been to Europe, but knew that if I never get the chance again I have to go to Italy. Pasta, wine & cheese while roaming the streets and shopping…really, it’s all I need.

Roaming Venice

Roaming Venice

If looking for a shop in Venice to buy meats, cheese & wine for exploring go to this shop.The owner was incredibly nice, giving us samples and even opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate the day. Yes, that is all he needed as an excuse.

If looking for a shop in Venice to buy meats, cheese & wine for exploring go to this shop.The owner was incredibly nice, giving us samples and even opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate the day. Yes, that is all he needed as an excuse.

While you think you cannot go wrong in Italy with food, beware of the tourist traps that have guys standing out herding you in. Even if you’re starving, wait to get off of the beaten path and find a place that is actually about making the food, not just serving tourists. We ate at over 20 places while venturing, but a few cheesy dishes I still cannot get off of my mind.

Lasagna in Florence

Lasagna in Florence

The first comes from a hidden neighborhood restaurant that we were told we had to try. This place was so hidden, not even the cab driver knew where it was. Some family that had recently been to Rome told us we had to go though if we wanted a real Italian meal.

We entered the tiny restaurant and were greeted by an old man eating his dinner. We were being true Americans by trying to be seated before 8 pm, but were starving after exploring all day.

Il Timoniere was a stop on Anthony Bourdain's Rome episdoe

Il Timoniere was a stop on Anthony Bourdain’s Rome episode

“Bourdain,” he asked? Maybe it was the over sized camera and map we were holding, but even so he said it with a smile, unlike many natives would do. We shook our heads yes, and were escorted to a table. Part of what brought us to Il Timoniere was a prior visit from Anthony Bourdain during his No Reservations stint. He proudly pointed to a picture of him and Bourdain on the wall, as he told the chef they had customers and quickly returned to play the episode:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nE9LCLsk-qg

Il Timoniere in Florence

Il Timoniere in Rome, Italy

He didn’t speak a lick of English but we were fine with it. We asked him to bring us anything and everything – we wanted to try it all. He laughed with us as at the episode (his daughter had discrepancies with one of Bourdain’s dinner guests) as the food began to flow.

After alicette fritte (fried anchovies), baked buffalo mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto and endless wine poured from his built in wine barrel (you can see behind Bourdain at about 3:40 mark), we were served the dish we were told to order no matter what.

Fettuccine alla carbonara fiori di zucce. So rich. So perfect.

The pasta done al dente, the egg, the prosciutto, the wilted zucchini flowers,  heaven. The mixture of the egg and zucchini sauce with the freshly grated parmesan snowing over the mound of noodles was exactly what I envisioned when I thought Italian.

Il Timoniere Menu in Rome where Anthony Bourdain ate.

Il Timoniere Menu in Rome where Anthony Bourdain ate.

Fettuccine alla carbonara fiori di zucce from Il Timoniere in Rome

Fettuccine alla carbonara fiori di zucce from Il Timoniere in Rome

Our second experience was in Florence. We had heard that we had to visit the Italian hippy that the celebrities loved to dine with. Ristorante la Giostra a Firenze was in walking distance of our hotel, the perfect night tour of neighborhood domas.

La Giostra in Florence

La Giostra in Florence

La Giostra is covered in photos of Dimitri’s travels (the chef/owner who is rumored to be a Habsburg prince), celebrity friends who have visited the restaurant and eclectic knick nacks covering the crannies. The restaurant is offset by crisp white tables with single candles, plenty of space for food and wine. We were coincidentally sat at a table that had photos of Dimitri on a motorcycle tour through the Grand Canyon. We were also treated with him as our server for the night. We chatted with him about his trip and fell in love with La Giostra before a morsel even touched our lips.

http://www.ristorantelagiostra.com/grafica/Ristorante-La-Giostra-menu.pdf

The dimly lit table is your escape for the evening, as they want nothing more than for you to stay as long as you wish, with their motto being “The very slow food…the best!” You start your dinner with a complimentary flute of spumante and primi of crostinis.

Primi of crostinis at La Giostra

Primi of crostinis at La Giostra

Pasta and steak followed, with my first gnocchi dish eaten in Italy.

Each pasta was hand rolled and cut, covered in a melted ricotta and spinach sauce. Gnocchettini alla ricotta spinaci.

Gnocchettini alla ricotta spinaci at La Giostra in Florence

Gnocchettini alla ricotta spinaci at La Giostra in Florence

We left overbearingly full, but filled with a memory of the prince with the metal bangles on his wrists.

I will update this post later with a full list of the restaurants that we ate at and ratings on them if I can get all the Yelp & Foursquare check-ins!