Calamari with a spicy mustard Aioli

I’m back! And continuing with my menu challenge, here’s another appetizer: Fried Calamari with a spicy mustard aioli.

I’m a big seafood fan and calamari is just the best! I had to do some hunting for it though, it’s not always available but it was worth it! I put it in a cornmeal flour crust to make it extra crispy and because I love heat, added some cayenne pepper! I first tried calamari when I worked in an Italian restaurant. The initial thought of it grossed me out! Eating squid?! yuck! I guess I was told what’s what!  Here’s the finished product:

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This mustard aioli fairly easy too. You can sorta make this aioli to taste, but I put 1/4 cup of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of spicy brown mustard, 1 tsp of finely minced garlic, 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper and a dash of salt and pepper and oregano. Let it sit in the fridge for a little bit to thicken. This will be enough sauce for a half pound of calamari rings.

I’m becoming very impressed with myself at my ability to search out food that I usually don’t look for and actually do this whole ‘cooking’ thing! Plus, it’s really fun. Most of my cooking has been self-taught other than learning from my parents and family friends; (for which I’m forever grateful!)

I think my next post will be something about cheese and wine, as that is one of Italy‘s finest gems!  Thanks for reading and share with your friends!

 

10. Sidetracked: Mussels Oreganata

Did I tell you that I get sidetracked sometimes? Well I do! When I was making my mussels with tomato broth appetizer for my previous post, I thought of another dish that would be perfect for my menu. I saw a version of it on Food network and decided that this was something worth trying! Rather than cooking the mussels in a broth, you just steam them so they can open up, and then you make this herby, garlicy paste (with lots of oregano!) that you put on top of the mussel and lightly broil it. Its just as easy and just as good as the previous dish.

By the way, I love seafood! Mussels, oysters, clams, fish, shrimp.. So delicious! I grew up right on Lake Michigan, so seafood was very present with a lot of food I ate!

Here’s what my version of Mussels Oreganata looks like:

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The bed of salt keeps the mussels from moving and sliding around and the parsley is just a nice garnish! Adds good color to the dish! I think the next dish I’ll post will take us back on dry land!

9. Mussels in a spicy tomato broth

Definitely ran into another roadblock as I was trying to upload my awesome picture of this appetizer from my menu! It wasn’t allowing me to upload! How frustrating right? Oh the joys of running a food blog!  Especially when it worked all the other times. But it got fixed thank goodness!

You know one of the cool things about making a food blog is that you get forced (in such a good way!) to eat food that you might not usually eat often. For me, it’s mussels. I love them but always thought I could never afford to purchase them from a seafood store! I think I always thought they were really expensive, so I only order them when I’m out at a restaurant. Surprisingly, they’re not expensive at all and you can get a lot of them for not that much, since they weigh next to nothing!

Take a look at this amazing dish. Amazing photography right? And it’s SO flavorful and rich, with a nice salty briny (fishy) taste! I bet it would go great with a nice bottle (i mean glass! :) of white wine and a crostini.

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What are your favorite seafood dishes??

Oh and since this is a test kitchen, I’ve come up with another appetizer that involves mussels. I’m going to try it out and post it in the next few days! Stay tuned.

Stay tuned for the recipe as well. Making some final touches on it.

Share with your friends, family and tell me what you’re favorite seafood dishes are!

8. Italian French Fries with Rosemary Aioli

Who knew that french fries could be so difficult? I had the hardest time taking a good picture of these things! Nevertheless, I found a way to show the yumminess of these fries. Everything is homemade, including the aioli, which was indeed my first time making it.

French fries make me happy though. I usually always order them if I go out for happy hour or if there’s a bar menu. It’s always exciting to see what kind of aioli restaurants and cooks come up with to pair with fries. I’ve seen all kinds: saffron, truffle, rosemary, anchovy (yes, from the little smelly fish anchovies!) and spicy. I love them all! You can also use aioli for sandwiches instead of plain mustard or mayonnaise. And making it from scratch is kinda exciting! Eggs and oil, simple as that. I’m not sure though how the store bought mayonnaise is so white! Every recipe I’ve seen gives it a yellowish tint from the egg yolk, unless your adding a ton  of olive oil…. hmm.. Mysterious!

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What I learned is to cut the potatoes the long way into semi-thin slices, then stack them on each other and cut into fries. I like leaving the skin on, it adds more flavor! I deep fried these in oil and then dressed them up with Italian seasoning, swiss cheese, salt/pepper and  drizzled the aioli ( 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp of dijon mustard, 1/2 cup olive oil very slowly added as your beating the eggs on pretty high speed. You can add 1 tsp. of garlic and cayenne or more to taste!) on top.

 

4 appetizers down, just a few more to go! Then we move onto Salads, then soups, then entrees and finally desserts!

 

7. Citrus Marinated Olives

To be honest, I’m not a fan of olives! I’d eat them if I had to, but I’m not crazy about them. Being a chef though, you’ve got to remember that it’s about the people’s likes, not yours! Olives are extremely vital to Italian cuisine.. hmm I wonder why?? Haha.

This appetizer off of my menu combines salty, briny Sicilian Green olives with  garlic, citrus (oranges), olive oil, peppers with a dash of cumin and parsley.  It’s got an interesting taste, maybe one that needs to be acquired, especially if your not an “olive” type of person. I imagine they would go great with a cold dirty (or clean, since you’re eating olives!) martini.

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The idea here is to let them marinate obviously. If you’re planning on eating them the same day, leave them out at room temp. for 2-3 hours in the marinade. If you need them tomorrow or another day, put in them in a container, covered and chill for up to 4-5 days. I assume the longer you marinate them, the better they are!

Take 1 Cup of Sicilan Green Olives (like from an olive bar at a local grocery store)

3/4 cup. Olive oil

1 Orange, cut up into slices (plus save the rind for zesting)

1/2 tsp. cumin and parsley (each)

A few julienned slices (cut into long thin strips) of red  pepper

A few julienned slices of banana pepper

4 tsp. minced garlic

Cooking on low heat, put everything except the oranges and olives in a pan for 16 minutes, letting the mixture become aromatic and stirring occasionally. Pour the olives in a bowl and put a few slices of the orange in it as well. Set aside and let those marry! Once the olive oil mixture is cooked, let that sit for 30 minutes and pour that over the olives/oranges. Zest the rind of the unused orange over the olives and either let sit for 2-3 hours or cover and chill for up to 5 days. Grab a martini and enjoy!

6. Potato and Ricotta Ravioli

Another one bites the dust! Today we have an interesting twist on an Italian dish from my menu. This recipe came from a food competition I entered on Food.com called the “Five Ingredient Fix”. The contest entails that I had to create a recipe using 5 ingredients (I’m sure you figured that out lol) that had to include mashed or shredded potatoes. Interesting right? Not to mention challenging.

So I thought, why not just add mashed flavored potatoes to the already traditional ricotta filling in most raviolis? Although I haven’t found out if my recipe is a winner according to them, it’s a winner in my book and if you dare to try it, probably in your’s too! It’s different, interesting and surprisingly very good.  I have this as an appetizer on my menu, but it definitely could be an entree too! I made the filling mix (not the ricotta and potatoes separately) and pasta from scratch (true story!) If you dare.. give it a shot! It turned out for me, and I can’t tell you how impressed I was as I was doing it, thinking “wow, look at this, I can’t believe it’s working!” because by the way, I’ve NEVER made homemade pasta before in my life!  Check out some of the pictures I captured during the different stages of this dish.

These are the essential ingredients needed to make pasta for 2 people:

2 Egg yolks, 1/4 c. water (maybe more), 1 1/4 c. flour and 3/4 tsp. salt

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Put the flour in a bowl and make a “well” in the middle.  Next, add the egg, water, salt and mix! Add more water if necessary and you’ll get this eventually:

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It’ll be sticky, so flour a counter top/board right away and start kneading for at least 10 minutes. Consider it your workout for the day! You’ll want it to look like this:  Nice and smooth and elastic

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Next, rub some olive oil on the top and  let it sit for 10 minutes. You can start with your ricotta and potato mix at this point. To serve two people,  just take 1/2 cup of ricotta and 1/2 cup cooked, flavored mashed potatoes, pinch of salt/pepper and mix together. Set aside.

Then roll out your pasta dough, flat, flat, paper thin flat, until it looks like this: (Try to make it as square as possible, I wasn’t as successful at that!)

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Cut into 2 inch strips, take the filling and in small amounts spoon it on one strip 2 inches apart (they should be in the middle of the strip, not spilling over the edge!) Get some water and brush the edges of the strip with the filling on it to create a seal and take the identical, clean strip and place over the strip with the filling on it, pressing down on the edges to seal them shut. Cut the strip into individual raviolis.

Put into a boiling pot water that’s salted and has 1 tbsp of oil in it, cooking for 6-7 min. Drain the pasta from the water and top with pesto, tomato sauce, cheese.. whatever you’d like!  Here’s how mine turned out:

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Delicious right? Well, thanks for reading, 2 down, 28 more to go! Sign up for email updates and share with your friends/family!

5. Pancetta Wrapped Asparagus

Well, I did it! The first of many challenges. Today we have a delicious appetizer from my menu: pancetta wrapped asparagus with a fried egg and a delicious, creamy hollandaise sauce. It was delicious. I was very proud of myself! I’ll let the pictures do the 1,000 word speaking!

BEFORE                                                                                                                                    

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 AFTER 

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I have to admit, I was super nervous this morning when I was thinking about how to prepare it, plate it and if the pictures would turn out good! Whew! Glad there wasn’t much to worry about.  This all in all, was a fairly easy dish to make and it turned out beautifully right? The recipe for this was pretty simple as you’ll see.

First, I took the asparagus and washed them. I cut off the ends, grouped them in “4’s”  and set them aside. Next, I took the pancetta (2 slices for each group) and wrapped it around each group of four. I sprinkled each group with olive oil, salt and pepper, put it on a cookie sheet and into the oven at 400 degrees for approx 30 min.

Next, I made my version of hollandaise sauce. You’ll need (for 1 cup serving) 3 egg yolks, dash of salt, 2 tablespoons of orange juice, 1 tsp of cumin (gives it a savory and nutty flavor), 1 tsp of cayenne pepper (more if you like spicy!) and 1/2 a cup of melted, hot butter.  Start by pulsing the eggs, orange juice, cumin and cayenne with a hand held mixer for 30-35 seconds. Slowly add the butter; you’ll start seeing the sauce thicken and get creamy. Once all the butter is added, set sauce aside.

Finally, I made the egg. Here’s a nice tip: cook the egg on medium low in vegetable oil and spoon the oil in the pan over the yolk and whites and you’ll get a nice shiny yolk and firm white area, which makes it look great and easy to handle.  Then just assemble how you want to!

That’s it! Pancetta Wrapped Asparagus. Tell me what you think of it! Leave a comment, share with your friends/family and for once, try this at home!