What I Miss & Perfect Pairs

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Yesterday was William’s 29th birthday. Cheers to my boy. His birth was truly one of the best days of my life. Missing him more than I can express I celebrate him in the best way I can. In the garden planting seeds and in the kitchen creating a few recipes inspired by him he continues to be a bright light in my heart. I’m thankful for my hobbies and my passion to want to learn and try new things. Getting through tough times? It’s all about the distraction. Cooking, baking and gardening do it for me. How do you do it?

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I have been practicing my food photography with a new camera and have already received some very exciting feedback from some recipe/food sponsors. Can’t reveal what that is right now, but it sure made me feel good about trying something new and difficult. These days’ recipe contests require quite a bit of work. I miss the old days when all I had to do was create a recipe, write it down and mail it in. Now, in addition to preparing an original recipe, I am required to be a food stylist, food photographer and a creative writer. My poor husband. He knows he is not allowed to eat anything in the house until I have photographed it…on many a day we eat the food cold.

Probably one of the more wonderful things that have been on my plate lately is teaching two really smart and joyful young ladies, ages 11 & 9 how to cook. Sharing what I know about cooking and baking with the younger generation is quite fun and exciting. We are cooking our way around the globe and just finishing up Mexico with a Mango Tres Leches Cake. I think I was channeling my favorite teachers of Mexican cuisine Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Too Hot Tamales. I miss those cooking shows that really taught me and helped build my knowledge in the kitchen.

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Mango Tres Leches “Celebration” Cake is perfect for a birthday or Cinco de Mayo

Are there any famous chefs that you have learned from and would like to meet? Wouldn’t it be great fun to travel  to the 2017 Vegas Uncork’d Expo food & wine event happening next week? Take a look at that celebrity chef schedule. Famous chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Giada de Laurentiis will be preparing their dishes alongside perfectly paired cocktails. There are a few I would love to learn from, but if I could only pick one my heart still belongs to Mary Sue & Susan as they opened up a whole new world of Mexican cuisine and especially cheeses to me.

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queso fresco on scrambled eggs makes a perfect pair

Speaking of cheese and back in my own kitchen I have been working on some new recipes for grilled cheese sandwiches. After a hard day in the garden cooking up something like a grilled cheese and dining out al fresco on the deck is an easy and delicious way to end the day. Heading into the warmer weather we often enjoy a cool glass of rosé wine with a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s a rustic perfect pairing, but who says wine has to be fancy? Rosé matches quite well with just about any cheese and bread. It’s not as elaborate as some famous celebrity chef dishes, but it works.

Cheers!

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Here is one of my winning cheese sandwiches from yesteryear. The salty bacon and olives with the sweetness of fruit, peppery arugula and luscious burrata pairs perfectly with a glass of Rosé.

Burrata & Bacon Ciabatta, Oh My

3 slices thick cut bacon

¼ cup apricot jam

1 (4-inch) ciabatta roll, toasted

2 tablespoons Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro Homemade Style Basil Pesto

¼ cup arugula leaves

2 Mezzetta Sweet Cherry Peppers, seeded, diced

1-ounce burrata cheese (1/2 of a 2 ounce ball)

1 ripe apricot, sliced

4 pieces Mezzetta Sliced Greek Kalamata Olives, chopped

1-teaspoon balsamic vinegar syrup

Heat oven 400F. Line bottom of broiler pan with foil. Coat both sides of bacon with jam; place on broiler pan rack set over foil-lined bottom. Bake 30 minutes; transfer bacon to a plate. Spread bottom half of roll with pesto. Layer with arugula, cherry peppers, bacon, burrata, apricots and olives. Drizzle with balsamic. Cover with remaining bread slice.

 

 

Giving Life, Celebration & Aidan’s Pizza

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Have you ever read my About Page here? Take a look at #6. Today is the day.

“I started this blog because I have promised myself to follow in William’s light. This is just another example of me stepping out of my comfort zone. If it helps just one grieving parent celebrate their child’s life then my mission has been accomplished.”

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April is Donate Life month.

Krista Skinner is mom to Kyle, Molly and our donor hero, Aidan. Krista follows Good Grief Cook. She, her husband and children hope to spread awareness about organ donation by sharing Aidan’s story.  After Aidan died she became involved with The New England branch of Donate Life where she spoke about a family decision to donate Aidan’s organs. An honor followed when Boston Children’s hospital asked to share Aidan’s story as well. Krista wrote to me last week asking if I would be willing to share her story on the blog. She wrote, “I am giving you the link because your blog inspired me to share with others, and I hope you will read what you gave me the courage to write.” It’s an honor to celebrate Aidan Skinner here today.

My blue-eyed boy: The decision to donate life

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Hot, humid air arrived that last week in June 2014. Our family was looking forward to a summer of entertaining, barbecuing and sharing our newly built patio with friends. Spending time as a family hiking, traveling or just hanging out at home was important to us. Aidan was ready to head off to a three-day goalie lacrosse camp. It was something he had begged to do all winter long.

Aidan loved life and he lived it with passion. Aidan or AJ, depending on who you asked, had his future completely planned. He played basketball, swam and skied. As a Boy Scout, he had spent many days camping and hiking throughout New England and he worked each day delivering the local paper on his bike. In the winter, he loved to create huge, elaborate snow forts. On vacations, he and his two siblings were thrill-ride junkies. He loved to draw and doodle.

A Lego fan, his creations are everywhere in our home. It was a Christmas tradition for him and his brother to spend a good part of the day building. Aidan was a dedicated student: a treasurer for the student council, a member of the Junior National Honor Society, a part of the debate team and a volunteer at every charity event. Every other Sunday, he was an altar server at our parish. But above everything else, Aidan loved lacrosse and cooking.

The aspiring chef, Aidan, planned on attending culinary school at Johnson and Wales. From there, he was headed to Harvard to complete his MBA so he could start building his restaurant empire. He had even planned his first restaurant, Boston Water, a floating building in the harbor. I still have the menu he designed. As a family we spent many days together in the kitchen or by the grill creating meals. We loved to travel and one of my favorite memories was Aidan’s excitement shopping in a local neighborhood market in Paris. He had no fear at the age of ten trying to get vendors to understand his incredibly limited French. He would try any food you offered him!

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AJ, the lacrosse goalie, was a leader. He wasn’t afraid to take charge. His dream was to play on the high school’s varsity team. Every day he was out there practicing alone or with friends. We knew going to goalie camp was going to be the highlight of his summer. The evening before he left, we grilled pizzas and planned the Fourth of July menu. He wanted to impress my friend, one of his teachers, with a new recipe.

Aidan had a great first day and night at camp. My husband received a text saying he was “definitely” having an awesome time. He spent the evening texting friends. The next morning, July 1, while on the practice field, Aidan suffered a massive brain hemorrhage caused by an undiagnosed AVM. He had always been a healthy, active boy and was rarely ill.

Aidan was resuscitated on the field, and he was taken by med flight from a local hospital to a critical care hospital. By early afternoon, we learned that Aidan, at the age of 12, would not survive. When they first asked us to consider donation, before my husband or I could even open our mouths, it was Aidan’s older brother and sister that said we were going to do it.

Our family has been touched by donation before. My husband is a living organ donor and Aidan had written about how much he wanted to help someone like his dad someday. We knew that Aidan would want to help whomever he could. On July 2, 2014, my blue-eyed boy left us to become a hero.

Aidan touched many lives. As a very tall 12 1/2 year old, Aidan’s organs were able to go to people with a wide range of ages. His recipients ranged from teenagers to people in their 40s. We also donated AJ’s corneas. Generous friends and family honored our wishes to support New England Organ Bank.

We continue to be overwhelmed by the outpouring of support we have received by our friends, community, schools, New England Organ Bank, the hospital and people we have never met. Aidan is missed by many friends who continue to honor his memory and share their stories with us.

Although there is not a moment that goes by that we don’t wish that Aidan was here with us, we find comfort in the fact that he was able to help others to begin to live life fully again. Aidan was generous with his time, held his hand out to those that needed it, laughed loud, fought hard and loved with a love that still surrounds us today.

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Did you notice that delicious looking pizza Aidan was making? How about that crust edge? I don’t have his recipe, but his mom remembers it to be a combination of grilled duck breast, a maple bourbon BBQ sauce, smoked gouda and another cheese (I am guessing fontina) plus shallots and cranberries. At 13 he sure knew his way around a kitchen and a pizza.

Thick crust or thin here is the best recipe for pizza dough. It requires “00” or Italian style flour. This kind of flour is finely ground with less protein than the basic all-purpose flour. It creates the most supple and easy to shape dough. The crust bakes up light and airy and most importantly crispy. It has enough structure to hold all of Aidan’s abundant toppings, too.

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Pizza Dough

1-teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon sugar

1 ¼ cups hot water

½ bag (1 kg) “00” flour (4 ½ to 5 cups)

1 packet yeast

drizzle of olive oil

Dissolve salt and sugar in hot water. Place flour in large bowl, forming a well in center. Pour hot water into well. Pour yeast into water. Mix with a fork, dissolving yeast into the water. Slowly incorporate the flour. Get your hands in there and need the dough for 5 minutes or until smooth. Lightly oil a bowl and turn dough into it. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 1 hour. Punch dough down; divide and shape into 4 smooth balls. The dough is ready for crust making now or can be individually wrapped in plastic to ferment in the refrigerator for up to 36 hours. Shape, top and bake at highest temperature the oven can muster. I do mine on a lightly oiled perforated pan at 550F.

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Blended Mushroom Meatball Sub

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A couple of weeks ago I shared some of the World Food Championship experience here. Today I want to share one of the recipes I prepared in the kitchen arena. This sandwich is a tribute to my home town of Kennett Square (AKA mushroom capital of the world) and my Italian roots. It’s a bit of a twist on a chicken parmigiana sandwich and filled with flavor thanks to Saucy Mama.

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Fontina Stuffed Chicken & Mushroom Meatball Sub with Crispy Cheese Frico

1 (28 oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes

1 shallot, peeled, halved

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1-teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon sugar

parmesan cheese rind

4 ounces cremini mushrooms, very finely chopped

1-tablespoon extra virgin olive oil plus additional for sautéing meatballs

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat, ground

2 links Italian sausage, casings removed

2 tablespoons parmesan garlic marinade

½ cup day old Italian bread crumbs

¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese plus ½ cup coarsely grated

1 egg

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

8 fresh basil leaves, chopped plus additional for garnish

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, plus for garnish

12 (1/2-inch) pieces fontina cheese

Italian seeded or plain rolls, sliced through top and opened like a boat

Pour tomatoes and juice into a medium saucepan. With hand, crush each tomato. Add shallot, butter, salt ,sugar and cheese rind; bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer; cook uncovered, stirring occasionally for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare meatballs. Brown mushrooms in olive oil until they have released their liquid; cool slightly. Gently, but thoroughly, combine mushrooms, chicken, sausage, marinade, breadcrumbs, ¼ cup finely grated parmesan, egg, pepper, basil and parsley. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop out 12 leveled portions of meat mixture. Dampen hands with water and form each portion into a meatball pressing one piece of fontina into the center wrapping the meat around the cheese. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Sear meatballs to a golden brown, turning as needed. Add browned meatballs to sauce. Cover and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes or until fully cooked. Heat oven 350F. Crisp rolls on sheet pan in oven for 6 to 8 minutes. Prepare parmesan cheese frico. Pour a heaping tablespoon of Parmesan onto a silicone or parchment lined baking sheet and lightly pat down. Repeat with the remaining cheese, spacing the spoonfuls about a ½-inch apart. Bake for 3 to 5 minutes or until golden and crisp. Cool.

To assemble sandwiches: fill rolls with meatballs. Sprinkle with herbs and crumbled parmesan frico. 

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Thanks to my fabulous friends for the memories in Orange Beach