Mrs. Carla Monti

Mrs. Carla Monti

Monday, July 23, 2012

French Style!

This past weekend was the perfect combination of activity and rest; it was a gorgeous day Saturday so it made for a lovely beach day, then it rained like a demented hurricane Sunday, which translated to quality cooking time. I ended up making three French dishes without realizing the theme beforehand. Since making a pasta salad last week, I have been intrigued by family style meals served in a large platter - it is easy for one, often requiring little to no preparation/actual cooking, and looks aesthetically appealing in both color and layout. I made a traditional, French rustic Niçoise salad, with hard boiled eggs, diced cherry tomatoes, green beans, diced tri-colored fingerling potatoes, and tuna. The presentation was spectacular and the salad also held up to a great lunch at the office the next day.

A Niçoise salad is traditionally served with olives as well, however, I tend to only enjoy olives in form of oil or occasionally, as a tapenade. A tapenade is a Provençal (south of France) spread made of black olives, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil blended together. I used a basic recipe from and then sliced up a small French baguette. I rubbed the slices with the cut side of a garlic clove and toasted them up in a 400 degree oven until nice and browned and crisp. Spreading the salty, garlicky tapenade on toasts - this was a meal in and of itself. Two platefuls of tapenade little toasts, and two healthy glasses of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo made for my dinner tonight! Sometimes the simplest foods are all you need for the ultimate satisfaction.

Continuing with the creamy European dessert trend, per my boyfriend's request, I made vanilla mousse over the weekend, using egg yolks and whites, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla bean paste, and a touch of Godiva white chocolate liqueur and Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur). I found a simplistic recipe at Nature's Kitchen, and added to it with touches of booze and by including white chocolate covered blueberries. I have been on a berries and yogurt kick lately (they make the perfect mid-morning work snack!) so the idea of covering blueberries in chocolate seemed heavenly. White chocolate is not easy to work with, and my first batch of melting white chocolate chips in the microwave seized up, but I was able to achieve the desired consistency on my second try. I put the blueberries to set by laying them on a wax paper-covered tray in the fridge. As usual, I served up the mousse in different sized glasses for maximum effect.

Fluffy, sweet, and creamy - this is a lovely dessert for when it is horribly humid, wet, and otherwise boiling hot outside. I also high recommend dipping (or covering completely) all fruits in chocolate to top your desserts with. Minimal effort, for a fantastic looking (and tasty) garnish! Perfect for celebrating, as this is my 100th post, yay! :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Fresh Orzo Salad!

I rarely come up with my own recipe, at best I come up with interesting takes or little tweaks on recipes I pull from other foodie blogs or Food Network chefs. Last night's dinner came completely out of nowhere. I had just finished work (8 hrs) and calculus class (3 hours) and was in no mood to pick up takeout or make a sandwich. I still had the urge to make dinner, but I was too tired to go through the motions of seasoning and baking a protein. I decided to make a simple but fresh and colorful pasta salad using orzo. Orzo is a lovely rice-shaped type of pasta, typically found in soups or casseroles.

I cooked up a small bag of orzo in boiling water and chicken stock, and then drained and seasoned it with olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, dried parsley, sea salt, and black pepper. To accompany it, I added diced avocado, diced cherry tomatoes, mozzarella pearls, sweet corn, and white cannellini beans, and tossed it all together. This orzo salad took fifteen minutes to make, as most of the ingredients were already prepared (I used canned corn and beans, and chopped the veggies). This is a great vegetarian and vegan option, and both filling and satisfying. I made a big batch and served it Italian family-style in a lovely rustic ceramic platter. This is the perfect summertime dish, light yet hearty, colorful and fresh.

While at the store, I picked up some mini treats to enjoy with the Chianti I had picked up at the farmer's market over the weekend. PS: I never get tired of that gorgeous Italian granite as my background ;)

Monday, July 16, 2012

New Marketplaces!

I have been on a hunt for fresh new stores to expand my grocery shopping beyond our local chain, Publix. Last week I started going to The Fresh Market, which I would describe as a mini, more organized version of Whole Foods. I've only been to Whole Foods a handful of times and my impression is always the same - too big, too expensive, and too chaotic. Quite frankly, one doesn't need ten different types of quinoa. The Fresh Market seems to be in it's own category. Although relatively small, the selection of fresh produce, proteins, wine, and imported products is spectacular. I spent about an hour last week browsing all the aisles, and I was pleasantly surprised to find many Italian or Swiss food products common to my college years.

I ended up buying two pieces of bourbon glazed salmon, chicken breast wrapped around ricotta and spinach and covered in breadcrumbs, haricots verts, and baby bella mushrooms for dinner. I can't take too much credit with this picture - my boyfriend took over once I unpacked my groceries! Yum :)

I also baked some basic chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting (topped with rainbow sprinkles) for my attorney's little girl's birthday - but I made sure to use my favorite chocolate cake recipe which always includes a healthy serving of sour cream, the key ingredient to keeping any chocolate cake rich and moist :)

This past weekend, I made my way to two well-known, New York-style farmer's markets, one called The Boys and the other, aptly named The Girls. The Boys is small but fully stocked with a lovely bakery, cheese, wine, fruit, veggie, protein, and ready-prepared food sections. I had every intention of coming home with a bag bursting with freshly ripe berries, broccoli florets, and whatever else my little veggie/fruit loving heart desired ... however I made a beeline for the wine selection and came home staggering with bottles of Chianti, Merlot, and Marsala. (Fairly typical.) I also bought some lovely linzer cookies with apricot in the middle, but I got a little too excited and forgot to snap a pic. Here is just one section of the bakery side.


The Girls was a smaller, more country-type store, with various knicknacks, every flavor of fresh ice cream imaginable, and mile-long shelves of every jam and jelly in existence. I'm not kidding - there was even a homemade fig-jalapeno jelly on stock.

I also had the best strawberry milkshake of my life at The Girls, which is locally known for offering people to pick their own strawberries (sadly not in season on my visit), so their main menu features strawberry milkshakes, strawberry shortcakes, and strawberry ice cream - all homemade with natural ingredients and a comforting lack of preservatives or artificial ingredients, something that seems to be all too prevalent in everyday groceries.

I was in a Mexican mood for dinner over the weekend, so I purchased the usual suspects;  ground beef, sour cream, corn, refried beans, shredded cheese (Mexican 4-cheese blend) corn tortillas, and fresh limes to make one of my favorite recipes - tostadas. I have made them before (here) and my basic recipe comes from Gimme Some Oven, but I generally tweak it each time, depending on the ingredients at hand. In the case of this past weekend, the avocados I had bought were not ripe in time, so I substituted corn to add a sweet element amidst the salt and crunch of the other components.

Delicious! I love how crunchy the tortillas get when baked in the oven, both sides doused with a healthy serving of extra-virgin olive oil. Topping it with enchilada sauce-soaked ground beef, sweet corn kernels, dollops of creamy sour cream, melty cheese, and smooth refried beans - yum! These are filling and so quick to put together whenever you have a Mexican craving.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tiramisu and Mini Pot Pies!

Following my successful attempt at panna cotta last week, and in light of the oppressive heat down here in South Florida, I decided to try my hand at another creamy Italian classic - tiramisu! I had to invent a little because upon returning home from the grocery store, I discovered I had forgotten the ladyfingers, a rather integral component as any tiramisu-lover would know! I ended up mostly going my own way on this recipe, but I did take some inspiration from Confections of a Food Bride.

First off, I decided to use an assortment of glasses to house individualized portions of tiramisu instead of making a larger one to cut pieces out of. I used martini glasses and highball glasses. For the base, I crushed some shortbread cookies and pressed them down into the bottom of the glasses. Then I whipped mascarpone, vanilla extract, sugar and heavy cream together to make the first creamy layer. I made a second creamy layer with mascarpone, vanilla, sugar, and espresso to make a lovely caramel colored, coffee scented cream. I layered the two different creams by piping them into the glasses using ziplock bags with the corners cut out. For the next layer, I took the remainder of the crushed shortbread cookies and mixed them with espresso to make a crumbly, chunky layer and spread that on as well. For the final layer, I whipped heaving cream together with sugar and then topped with cocoa power. Voila! A little invention, a little substitution, and a delicious creamy, coffee dessert awaits in my fridge. :)

For dinner I made mini chicken and veggie pot pies - couldn't be any easier! I made shredded chicken breasts by baking them in tented tinfoil until cooked through, then combining in a hot oiled pan with onion, garlic, peas, corn, lentils, and white wine. To form them, I Pam-sprayed two cupcake tins, and then mixed up some Bisquick baking mix with eggs and milk. I filled the bottom of the tins with a little Bisquick, and then a big spoonful of the pot pie mix, and topped with a bit more Bisquick. They bake for less then half an hour and are very flavorful and filling! Recipe courtesy of Betty Crocker.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Crazy About You!

A few weeks ago I was in Miami to watch a game with my dad, and went out to dinner with two of my very good friends afterwards, to restaurant overlooking the bay called Crazy About You. The scenery was gorgeous and it was right about sunset time, so I was able to take some lovely pics.

The menu is eclectic and unique - you pick one appetizer and one entree and the options are varied and fabulous! My friends and I shared white wine and apps first.

My entree was shrimp and mushroom risotto, so delicious!

Dessert was the best part - it was a create-your-own! My friends surprised me with it and I loved it! It was a tray that came with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, a warm brownie, cocoa powder, diced strawberries, and chocolate sauce.

I wrote Portugal because the soccer game I had seen with my dad was Portugal v Spain, a semi-final in the Euro Cup, that Portugal had lost, sadly! The third picture has some beautiful Arabic script done by my friend, who wrote our names :) Needless to say, the dessert was great! And I recommend this restaurant to anyone in the South Florida area for sure!

Panna Cotta!

My boyfriend asked me to make him panna cotta last week and since I know it's one of the few desserts my dad loves, and something I had yet to make, I was instantly on board. Challenge accepted! I used a recipe from Giada and it came out great! I made the panna cotta using heavy cream, whole milk, honey, vanilla extract, and topped with fresh sliced berries (strawberries and blueberries in honor of 4th of July). I set the panna cotta in several ramekins and found that the best one was the last one I served over a four day period, so I believe this dessert really needs time in the fridge, way beyond the minimum overnight hours. The time is so worth it - panna cotta is really just Italian eggless custard, so it is very creamy and rich with just a hint of honey and vanilla. I would like to make it again and omit the honey and go for some fresh citrus zest instead.

I also made a simple meal running home after class; tilapia francese, roasted broccoli florets, and garlicky pearl pasta. I made the tilapia by dipping the fish into an egg wash and then into a flour, old bay seasoning, salt, and pepper and back in to the egg wash before setting it down in a hot pan with olive oil. I got the basics of the recipe from I Was Born to Cook's blog. The broccoli I roasted simply using olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. The pearl pasta I made with chicken stock, white wine, and minced fresh garlic. Yum!

Last week it was another lovely co-worker of mine's birthday, so I made mini carrot cake cupcakes with lemon mascarpone frosting, recipe courtesy of Williams-Sonoma.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

More Birthday Cupcakes and Dinner!

Summer is always so full of birthdays! Most recently, I celebrated my dad's birthday and since his favorite cupcake flavor is vanilla, I made raspberry vanilla mini cupcakes. I used raspberry extract to get the flavoring without changing the airy lightness of the cake or the pale yellow color, and topped the whipped cream frosting with a fresh raspberry. I tried a different basic vanilla cupcake recipe, this time from Brown Eyed Baker.

Dinner for daddy's birthday was at J Alexander's, my favorite restaurant in Boca. I ordered grouper in lemon butter sauce and peppery haricot verts ... yum!

For today I kept it simple; fresh shrimp poached in butter, white wine, minced garlic, and lemon juice; sauteed spinach in olive oil mixed with garicky rice pilaf; and balsamic roasted red potatoes, a great recipe I have been meaning to make for some time from the lovely blog, Words of Deliciousness.