Friday, July 27, 2012

heirloom tomato caprese salad with balsamic reduction

As the saying goes, "you are what you eat!"  Well, if that's true, over the last week, I've become a tomato! - the fresh, local, juicy garden variety.  Better yet, I'm dressed with bright green, tender basil leaves, creamy mozzarella, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sweet, balsamic vinegar reduction (yum!)…to complete me, a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground pepper.  I'm so darn pretty!

My recent summer tomato obsession began a week ago.  While stopping to admire a display of huge wheels of parmigiano-reggiano in the gourmet cheese department of my favorite local supermarket, Wegmans, an employee was serving caprese appetizers.  As I became engaged in conversation about the horrible earthquake in Italy last May, where sadly, millions of dollars in parmigiano-reggiano and grand padano cheese wheels were lost, the server continued to offer me the delicious caprese appetizers.  I didn't refuse a second, and a third, and I may have even had a fourth!  Those adorable little bites were made up of a cherry tomato, ciliegine mozzarella, and a basil leaf on a sandwich pick.  After I arrived home, I couldn't get those little treasures off my mind.  I knew what my weekend recipe creation was going to be!

I set out early Saturday morning on a quick jaunt to the farmer's market.  I went from stand to stand picking out the prettiest heirloom tomatoes I could find.  My mind was spinning with the beautiful colors of the salad I was planning.  My next choice was a fresh bouquet of basil, with a scent so wonderful,  I kept sticking my nose in the bag it was sitting in!

After a stop by Wegmans to pick up some yummy pearlini mozzarella, I headed home.  Of course, I bought way more tomatoes than I needed for my salad - when will I learn?  I proceeded to eat tomatoes for lunch and dinner, literally, for the next five days.  The last tomato was devoured Wednesday evening, and I'm ready for more!  "You are what you eat!"

This simple caprese salad is amazing with any tomatoes you choose.  The flavor is divinely enhanced by the balsamic vinegar reduction.  Be sure to make enough reduction to last you several days, because you never know, you may have the same problem I had!

My life as a tomato will continue in my next post, where I can't wait to introduce a scrumptious, summery pasta dish.

Until next time…mangia!  xox


Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad with Balsamic Reduction

(amounts will be based on the size salad you want to make)

fresh local heirloom tomatoes (or tomatoes of choice)
pearilini or ciliegine mozzarella
basil leaves
balsamic vinegar
sugar (1/4 teaspoon for 1 cup vinegar) - optional
extra virgin olive oil
salt and ground pepper to taste

Create the Balsamic Reduction:

This is a very easy process, just keep a constant eye on it or you'll wind up with one large lump of balsamic vinegar!  Trust me, it's happened to me before, and I was sick a beautiful bottle of balsamic was wasted.  Begin with any amount you'd like.  When completed, it will be 50%-75% reduced from the amount you started with.  I began with 1 cup to yield 1/2 cup of delicious balsamic reduction.

Pour vinegar in a heavy saucepan/frypan, one with a curved bottom is best.  Turn burner on medium - med-high and bring to a boil.  Once it begins to boil, reduce immediately to a simmer, medium to med-low heat.  Whisk in sugar if using.  Watch and whisk every minute or so until syrupy, approximately 10 - 20 minutes, depending on the amount you are reducing.  Remove from heat, cool and pour in a glass container.  Refrigerate any leftover.

Create the Caprese Salad:

Cut your tomatoes into 4, 6 and 8 piece sections, depending on their size.  Add mozzarella and basil leaves.  Drizzle with evoo and balsamic reduction.  Salt and ground pepper to taste.  It's as simple as that!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

eggplant caponata

My intention was to purchase a jar of black olive tapenade for a few friends coming over the following weekend.  I had already planned out an array of appetizers that would go well with the wine I had chosen to serve from Barrel Oak Winery, one of my favorite vineyards near my home, but wanted one more item to round out my menu.  I was headed to the Leesburg Farmer's Market, and decided to stop quickly by the Williams-Sonoma outlet store (I go crazy in that place!).  They carry a great selection of gourmet food items, and figured I could find the tapenade there; and besides, needed to pick up a jar of Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans…least expensive place to purchase them!

As I started browsing the selection of food items, I couldn't find any tapenade.  Oh well, I'll just make it myself, I thought.  My eyes then spotted a jar of eggplant caponata (caponata di melanzane), imported from Italy.  Oh, how lovely!  My tapenade decision quickly changed to this delicious, classic Sicilian dish, which makes the perfect topping for bruschetta or crostini.  If you are unfamiliar with eggplant caponata, it's a cubed, fried eggplant, in a sweet and sour sauce, filled with lovely ingredients.

The jar I picked up to look at was only 6 ounces, and the cost was more than I wanted to pay for such a small amount, so I quickly left the store and headed over to the farmer's market.  My mission - to pick up some nice fresh eggplant and head home to search my cookbooks and internet for the most authentic eggplant caponata recipe I could find.  Since the eggplant readily absorbs the other flavors so well, eggplant caponata is actually better made ahead, which worked well for my schedule.

After reading several versions, knowing exactly what I was looking for, I chose one adapted from Saveur, and it was the best choice ever!  A very authentic recipe appearing in Saveur Magazine's March 2011 special feature "Soul of Sicily", it contained all the ingredients I was looking to include, and even a special surprise, chocolate!  Needless to say, this recipe is exceptional!

To serve for brushcetta, as I have done here, lightly brush your bread with evoo, toast under a broiler for 1 - 1-1/2 minutes (depending on the size of bread you are using), until a light golden brown.  Watch it closely.  Turn the bread over and repeat.  You can also just lightly toast without the evoo, if you prefer.  Serve the caponata at room temperature, or cold, on the toasted bread. You can also put it in a container with the bread displayed around it.  Whichever way you decide to serve, make sure you have a nice glass of red wine with it!

Until next time…mangia!  xox


Eggplant Caponata - caponata di melanzane
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Serves 6 - 8


3 cups olive oil or canola oil
2 lbs. eggplant, cut into 1" cubes (no need to peel, you will do that later)
1 large yellow sweet or vidalia onion
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped (use the hearts)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons tomato paste, thinned with 1/4 cup water
1 cup crushed canned tomatoes
6 oz. green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup red or white wine vinegar (I used red)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup (3 fl. oz. jar) salt-packed nonpareil capers, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated unsweetened chocolate (yep! chocolate)
1/2 cup finely shredded basil
2 tablespoons pine nuts

Create the eggplant caponata:

Heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat.  Working in batches, add eggplant and fry, tossing occasionally, until browned, 3-4 minutes.  (It took 3 batches for me.)  Using a slotted spoon, transfer eggplant to paper towel lined plates.  As soon as the eggplant is cool enough to handle, I peeled off the skins.  This goes really quickly, and peels off paper thin, still leaving some of the skin color on the eggplant cubes.  Once peeled, transfer eggplant to a large bowl; set aside.

Pour off all but 1/4 cup oil, and reserve for another use. Return skillet to heat, with the 1/4 cup oil in it, add onions and celery, and season with salt and pepper; cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, approximately 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium, add thinned tomato paste and cook, stirring, until caramelized and almost evaporated, 1-2 minutes.  Add crushed tomatoes and continue cooking for 10 minutes.  Stir in olives, vinegar, raisins, capers, sugar, and chocolate, and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Transfer mixture to bowl with the eggplant, add basil and pine nuts, and mix together.  Season with salt and paper to taste, and let cool to room temperature before serving.  Can also be served cold.

Carol's notes:
The 6 - 8 servings is using as a side dish.  Using the caponata for bruschetta or crostini will yield many more servings.

I fried the eggplant in 3 cups of canola oil and then poured it all off, and reserved for another time.  I then used 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil for the browning stage.

Peeling the eggplant is a totally unnecessary step.  I chose to do it only because I was using it for brushetta; however, the skin is usually left on.

For the chocolate, I used 70% cocoa dark chocolate, since I had it in my pantry.  It worked perfectly.

This wonderful recipe keeps for 3 - 5 days refrigerated, and also freezes beautifully.

Eggplant caponata is also the perfect side dish alongside a grilled meat or fish.

Varieties of eggplant from one of my many visits to the Leesburg, Virginia Farmer's Market.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

coffee ice cream

A long, long time ago, during my summer break from college, I joined my two best friends who were working at Stewart's Ice Cream in my hometown of Saratoga Springs, New York.  I was working as an office assistant during the week, but thought I would make a little extra college spending money on weekends, having fun working with my bff's, Donna and Jeannie.  Donna is actually my sister, but we're only 11 months apart in age, so she's always been my best friend too!  We had to arrive at the ice cream shop by 6:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings, after being out late partying at the Rafters the night before.  The Rafters, a dance club on Saratoga Lake, was the "in" place to go during our college years.  (Drinking age was 18 years old - way back then.)

Dragging ourselves into the ice cream shop after only a few hours sleep (maybe), putting a smile on for our first customers of the morning picking up their gallons of milk, one of our regulars entered the shop and burst out laughing at us.  Gee, we thought we were hiding our "not feeling the best" pretty well.  He looked at us, and questioned, "you work at an ice cream shop, and you don't know what the best cure is for how you're feeling right now?"  Three sets of eyes looked with pleading anticipation at him, waiting for the solution to our pain.  "A coffee milk shake", he announced, as he waved good-bye walking out the swinging door, still laughing.

Jeannie ran over to the frozen case with the huge vat of coffee ice cream and proceeded to whip up three frosty glasses of coffee milk shakes.  Yep, it worked!  From that point on, it became a Sunday morning ritual.  The first one in the door, had three coffee milk shakes waiting as the other two arrived.

Coffee ice cream became my favorite that summer and still is to this day, not only because it tastes so delicious, but also the treasured memories it brings of Donna and Jeannie, and our wonderfully carefree time together, that special summer.

This creamy, natural coffee bean infused classic ice cream is adapted from the delightful, highly acclaimed book, The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz.  You can also find it online here.  If you enjoy your coffee, you will love this ice cream!

Until next time…mangia! xox


Coffee Ice Cream
(Printer friendly button below)

Makes about 1 quart (1 liter)


1-1/2 cups (375 ml) whole milk
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
1-1/2 cups (125 g) whole coffee beans (I used Starbucks Blonde Veranda Blend)
pinch of salt
1-1/2 cups (375 ml) heavy cream
5 large egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon finely ground coffee

Create the ice cream:

Heat the milk, sugar, whole coffee bean, salt, and 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the cream in a medium saucepan until it is warm and steamy, but not boiling.  Once the mixture is warm, cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for 1 hour.

Reheat the coffee-infused milk mixture, on medium heat, until again hot and steamy, but not boiling.  Pour the remaining 1 cup (250 ml) of cream into a medium size metal bowl, set on ice over a larger bowl.  Set a mesh strainer on top of the bowl and set aside.  In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Slowly pour the warm coffee mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly so that the yolks are tempered by the warm milk, but not cooked by it.  Scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.  This can take about 10 minutes.  Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the ice bathed cream.  Press on the coffee beans in the strainer to extract as much of the coffee flavor as possible, then discard the beans.  Mix in the vanilla and the finely ground coffee and stir until cool over the ice bath.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Carol's note:
If you like to eat your ice cream in the evening, and coffee keeps you awake all night, feel free to use decaffeinated coffee beans.

I'm an egg white eater, so always looking for ways to use my saved egg yolks.  Ice cream and lemon curd are my favorite uses.  If you, on the other hand, need to find a use for the leftover egg whites, a few ways are:  a white egg omelette, meringue, or white cake/cupcakes.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

blueberry and lemon mascarpone tart

"What's in a name?  That which we call a blog.  By any other name would sound as sweet."  As I repeated my cynical take on the famous Shakespeare quote, I was hoping it would inspire a name for my first ever blog.  For the millions of bloggers out there, I'm sure many can relate.  Considering that it was a culinary blog, I definitely wanted the name to contain a foodie designation.  My blog was in the planning stages for several months, and my concept - "sweet and savory creations inspired by lovely ingredients" was down pat.  That part was easy.  But what about a name?

As the days and weeks went by, I'd come up with this and that, enter my office and announce to my co-workers, "I think I've come up with a name for my blog!", only to conclude, "nah", a few hours later.  I was convinced once a name hit me, I'd know it immediately.  That day finally came!

While taking my usual early morning walk, thoughts went to my parents.  They will be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary this fall, (quite an accomplishment!), and for some reason this fact came to mind that delightful, spring morning.  My Dad loves tiramisu, and has to have it every year for their anniversary dessert. That was it!  Mascarpone!...the ingredient that makes tiramisu incredible…an insanely lovely ingredient, with a charming family tradition.  a cup of mascarpone!

So that's how my blog name came about.  My name is Carol - the newbie blogger and photographer, and experienced foodie of a cup of mascarpone.  Welcome!…and thank you so much for stopping by to take a look!  I hope my sweet and savory creations inspire you, as they do me, and you will come back often to follow my evolving journey.

Obviously, mascarpone had to be the lovely ingredient used for my first blog post.   There are so many recipes that embrace mascarpone, but initially, I chose this scrumptious, easy to make tart adapted from Donna Hay Magazine.  If you've never had the pleasure of tasting this deliciously divine, creamy Italian cheese - trust me, once you do, you will be searching for ways to utilize it more often.  I would love hearing what you think!

Until next time…mangia!  xox


Blueberry and Lemon Mascarpone Tart Recipe
(Printer friendly button below)

Serves 8 -10


for the sweet shortcrust pastry:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup plus 1 tsp cold butter, chopped
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon iced water

for the filling and topping:
16 oz - 18 oz mascarpone cheese (I used two 8.8 oz tubs of Galbani Mascarpone)
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 cups blueberries
confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Create the tart:

make the pastry:
Place the flour, butter and confectioners'  sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process in short bursts until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  While the motor is running, add the egg yolks and vanilla.  Add the iced water and process until the dough just comes together.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and bring together to form a ball.  Flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Preheat over to 350 degrees F.  Roll the pastry out between 2 sheets of parchment paper to 1/8" thick.  Line a lightly greased loose-bottomed 14" x 4.5" (or similar) rectangular tart tin with the pastry.  Trim the edges and prick the base with a fork.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Line the pastry bottom with parchment paper, fill with ceramic pie weights (or rice or dry beans) and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the paper and the weights and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until golden.  Set aside to cool.

make the filling:
While the tart is cooling, make the filling.  Place the mascarpone, lemon zest and confectioners' sugar in a bowl and mix well to combine.  Spread onto the base of the cooled tart shell, and top with the blueberries.  Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving, and enjoy!

Carol's note:
I refrigerated the completed tart and served chilled the following day.  It was absolutely delicious!  So definitely feel free to prepare the tart a day ahead.