The Amazing Alessandro Martini….Super Guide

He arrived with his driver at our Bologna hotel at 7:30 am sharp, in a beautiful Mercedes nine passenger van.  The background music in the van is compliments of Dean Martin (who else).  Our first stop is the Parmesan Reggiano factory where we see the fresh milk coming in from the local farms. Alessandro introduces us to the head cheese maker and his nine year old son. We witness the addition of rennin and separation of the curds into giant cheese cloths, and then into forms allowing the cheese to age in specially salted tanks of water.  Next we visit the thermostatically controlled rooms for aging and final testing of the KING of CHEESES.   

 

Alessandro shows the cutting of the curds    

 

Doug in aging Parmesan Reggiano heaven…………

Next, with a supply of REALLY FRESH ricotta, we travel to a beautiful farm and villa  in Modena where we will taste samples of the original Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena.  As the story goes, the owners of this historic villa discovered twelve ancient barrels of balsamic vinegar in the attic when they bought the property in 1947.

Alessandro among the casts of liquid gold Aceto Balsamico

Like liquid gold, they have been producing and marketing this original product ever since. After meeting the owners, we are treated to 10, 25, and 45 year old aceto over our fresh ricotta AND vanilla gelato!  Can life get better than this?…yes it can, and Alessandro will make it possible.

 

Tasting 45 year old aceto on fresh ricotta!

 

Next it’s off to visit the Prosciutto di Modena DOP factory where we see the freshly butchered and salted legs of specially selected prime pork. Again , Alessandro escorts us on a very personal and “up close”  experience as the legs of prosciutto go through a process that will take many months of pain staking processing before they are graded and finally attain the highest designation as Prosciutto di Modena DOP.

 

Bone testing aged Prosciutto di Modena legs…..ready for marketing.

After sampling the delicious sweet and slightly salty delicacy we’re back in the van and headed for a “light lunch” in a little trattoria high in the bucolic hills of Modena.  Many kilometers later of mountain roads we arrive at the ancient farm house.  Alessandro explains that this special trattoria is frequented only by locals, and run by the 89 year old female chef.  I have been sworn not to reveal the name or location of this piece of nirvana.  Our “light lunch”  begins with FOUR exquisite pastas!  Amazing lasagna verde, tortellini that has ruined me forever,  tagliatelle with wild boar sauce and giant spinach stuffed  agnolotti.   Next its coniglio arrosto (roasted rabbit) and more tender chunks of cinghiale (wild boar )   Of course, the meal is accompanied by an endless re-supply of white sparkling wine (Pignoletto) indigenous to the Bologna area .

Close to food /wine comas in secret trattoria in the hills of Bologna

After delicious berries and fresh gelato we are helped back into the Mercedes in a total food/wine coma…to be delivered back to the door of our wonderful boutique Hotel PortoSan Mamolo  http://www.hotel-portasanmamolo.it/en/index.htm   at 4:30 pm.

Favorite Bologna Hotel ........ Porta San Mamolo

This has been a full eight hour day of FOODIE heaven…..and all because of the greatest food/wine guide in Italy.  So if you are ever  thinking of visiting  Bologna, don’t forget to hire Alessandro to be your guide. www.italiandays.it.   Or e-mail him at info@italiandays.it.    Buon Appetitto! 

About the Author  Part time chef  Doug Cordier, is a food writer, TV cook,       Certified Ergonomic Consultant and business man. Doug is the owner of Cascom Group Travel and has been teaching corporate and Italian cooking classes for twenty years. For more foodie thoughts and recipes, try www.cookingwithcordier.com 

Super simple shrimp & cucumber appetizer

Super simple shrimp & cucumber appetizer

So, how many times have you been asked to bring a “small appetizer”  (antipasta/hors d’oeuvre) to a party?  You start to panic, trying to dream up something that is quick, unique, tasty and won’t cost your last pay check for the ingredients.  Well, here’s one that will make you the hit of the party……….plus (don’t tell anyone)  it’s really simple to prepare.

Shrimp and cucumber hors d’oeuvre

24 medium raw (shell on) shrimp (31-40 size)

1 English cucumber

Spread (acts like glue to hold shrimp on cuc slices)

3 oz cream cheese (4 -5 TBS)

2 TBS mayonnaise

2 TBS melted butter

1 TBS fresh lemon juice

Pinch sea salt

Blend together, refrigerate for 15 minutes to firm up

Chopped chives for garnish

1. Cook shrimp in boiling water for 3-4 minutes, refresh in ice water

2. Remove shells, dry shrimp

3. Slice cucumber into 24 slices, dry top side

4. Arrange cucs on platter, spread scant tsp of spread on top

5. Place one shrimp on top of spread

6. Garnish with chopped chives

About the Author  Part time chef  Doug Cordier, is a food writer, TV cook,  Certified Ergonomic Consultant and business man. Doug is the owner of Cascom Group Travel and has been teaching corporate and Italian cooking classes for twenty years.

For more foodie thoughts and recipes, try www.cookingwithcordier.com 

 

Insalata di Farro 

Ancient grain FARRO salad with fennel, ceci, tuna, tomatoes, and basil at the Shores of Erie Wine and Food Festival in Amherstburg, Ontario Ancient grain FARRO Salad

 

Last weekend was the Shores of Erie Wine & Food Festival in Amherstburg, Ontario.  Right on the grounds of Fort Maldon this festival boasts over 8000 foodies all enjoying great wines and food demonstations. http://www.soewinefestival.com/festival/culinary/  

This was my fifth year back as a demo chef and we had a standing room only packed tent.  The Canadians are the BEST audience. This year, I featured a very special salad with FARRO, fennel, ceci beans, real Italian tuna, grape tomatoes, and basil.   The crowd loved it, so I thought I would include it in this blog.  

 If you are not familiar with FARRO, it is an ancient grain that was used to feed the Roman Army!  The grains are larger than barley and require a little soaking…….but provide a wonderful nuttiness and texture to this Italian salad.   With autumn upon us, this grain will become one of your favorites to also use in soups. 

Insalata di Farro (Farro,tuna,ceci,fennel salad)  

(also known as Insalata di Spelt)  

½  cup dry farro (spelt) Makes 1 cup             For Cooking farro 

2 cans tuna (5 oz in oil)                                       ½ cup celery (large chop)  

½ full cup ceci beans                                           ¼ cup onion (large chop) 

½  full cupseedless cucumber (sliced)         1 small carrot (large chop) 

¾ full cup red onion (thinly sliced)               3 cups water 

1 cup fennel (thinly sliced)                                2 TBS olive oil 

1 cup grape tomatoes (halved) about 18 

¼ cup fresh basil (torn not chopped)            DRESSING 

2 cups mixed greens or arugula                       4 TBS red wine vinegar 

 ¼ tsp sea salt                                                           3 TBS olive oil 

                                                                                        2 TBS lemon juice 

                                                                                        2 toes garlic (minced with salt) 

1. To cook farro, sauté celery, onion, carrot in olive oil for 5 minutes, 

    add farro, stir, add water, cover & simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes 

    until farro is al dente.  Drain, discard veggies, let cool.  

2. In a large bowl, combine, farro, tuna with oil, ceci, cucumber, toms, 

    onion, fennel, and basil. 

3. Wisk together oil , lemon & vinegar (add pinch of sugar) 

4. Toss salad with dressing, and then add greens, or serve over greens 

Serve with crusty bread 

About the Author  Part time chef  Doug Cordier, is a food writer, TV cook,  Certified Ergonomic Consultant and business man. Doug is the owner of Cascom Group Travel and has been teaching corporate and Italian cooking classes for twenty years. 

For more foodie thoughts and recipes, try www.askthecooks.com   

 

Aluminum Vegetable Bombs for camping, Platt River, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Cooking classes in Michigan

Aluminum Vegetable Bombs (AVB) Assembly Ingredients

Aluminum Vegetable Bombs (AVBs) for Camping 

My family loves to camp, at least we used to. We have camped all over Europe, Mexico, Canada and the US.  Recently, we decided to drag out all our old equipment again and give it another go.  Our choice was the beautiful Platt River Campground near Sleeping Bear Dunes in northern Michigan. 

Once again, we discovered the age old camping conundrum, “whether you go for one day or one month, you still have to take the same amount of STUFF”   When we told our friends that we were going camping, many of them said….”You are kidding of course……like are you going to sleep in TENTS!”  Yes, we are not only tent campers but natural wood fired campfire cookers! If you are an outdoors person, you know that cooking hot dogs, steaks, or s’mores are usually de rigeur, but how do you prepare some delicious and nutricious vegetables?  Years ago, as the camp chef, I  solved this problem by inventing the ALUMINUM VEGETABLE BOMB or AVB. Today, AVBs have become part of our family’s camping legend.  Everyone remembers how much fun we all had assembling these tasty devices.  So, since it’s camping time across the northern hemisphere, I thought I would let everyone in on the secret of  how to assemble AVBs, and then they can become part of your family’s outdoor culinary heritage.   

AVB…they EXPLODE with flavor  

Assembling an AVB 

For each AVB you will need: 

One potato (preferably 5” long (not fat) cut in half 

¼ small carrot sliced (2 TBS) 

1 mushroom sliced (2 TBS) 

¼ green onion chopped (1 TBS) 

1 slice cooked bacon large chop 

2-3 TBS butter (small pieces) 

2 green beans sliced 

2 TBS chopped zucchini 

Sea salt & pepper 

3-4 sheets of heavy aluminum foil 

  1. Lay one sheet of AL foil flat (shiny side down)
  2. Place potato halves on foil
  3. Fill the space between halves with veggies
  4. Sprinkle with bacon and butter pieces
  5. Season with salt & pepper
  6. Fold over halves of foil, making a folded seal
  7. Roll up ends, repeat with three other sheets
  8. Place AVBs in campfire or on top of grill
  9. Turn constantly, for about 30 -45 minutes
  10.  Carefully open one to check doneness after 30 minutes…

  

Aluminum Vegetable Bombs, Platt River Campground, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Cooking Classes in Michigan AVBs on the campfire

 

About the Author  Part time chef  Doug Cordier, is a food writer, TV cook,  Certified Ergonomic Consultant and business man. Doug is the owner of Cascom Group Travel and has been teaching corporate and Italian cooking classes for twenty years. 

For more foodie thoughts and recipes, try www.cookingwithcordier.com 

 

Kufta, grilled meat on skewers

Kufta, grilled meat on skewers

You’ll LOVE KUFTA

It has many names, Kufteh, Cufta, Kifta…..depending on country of origin Lebanon, Turkey, Serbia, Bulgaria, or Iran.  It all stems from the Persian word “to grind” or “meatball”.   Kufta is a mixture of meat, parsley, onions, bulgar wheat, spices and egg. They are usually formed into cigar shaped cylinders, then grilled, baked, fried, steamed, or poached.  They can also be served with a spicy sauce.  One thing is without question, this is a delicious ancient food, with endless ethnic variations.  The following recipe is one I have used for years. It is made with lamb and beef and then grilled. I also use a special an ancient middle eastern spice called BARAHAT, a mixture of allspice, cardomon, cassia bark, cloves, coriander, cumin, nutmeg and paprika. See if you can find it, because it adds a special exotic flavor to the kufta.

KUFTA

¾ lb ground lamb

¾ lb ground beef

¾ cup finely chopped or grated onion

1 toe finely minced fresh garlic

¾ cup chopped parsley

3 TBS chopped fresh mint leaves

1 egg (beaten)

1 tsp BARAHAT

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp sea salt

Optional: flat wooden skewers (soaked)

Optional:  Labna or Laban (Lebanese  yogurt)

Directions

  1. In a large bowl mix all the ingredients
  2. Form into 10 equal balls, then into cylinders
  3. If using skewers, run skewer through cylinders
  4. Grill until med rare, residual heat will continue to cook
  5. Don’t over cook. 
  6. Serve with dollop of labna, garnish with chopped parsley or chives

 

Kufta, cooked on Grilling Stones
Kufta, cooked on Grilling Stones

About the Author  Part time chef  Doug Cordier, is a food writer, TV cook, Certified Ergonomic Consultant and business man. Doug is the owner of Cascom Group  Travel and has been teaching corporate and Italian cooking classes for twenty years. For more foodie thoughts and recipes, try www.cookingwithcordier.com 

Photo and recipe by Doug Cordier.  All rights reserved, Cooking with Cordier 2010

 

Strip Steaks on Vermont Grilling Stones

Strip Steaks on Vermont Grilling Stones

The Ultimate Grilling Experience

I have been a “grill guy” forever. I am always looking for the next best grill, or grill gizmo.  Well, my search was over when my daughter Erica gave me a pair of Vermont Grilling Stones http://www.vermontcountrygrillstone.com/ for Christmas.  I read all the directions and claims on the box and I couldn’t wait until the weather got a little warmer and I could try them out. Now it’s a month later, I have used my stones at least ten times, and the claims are TRUE.  Yes, “every time you use them it gets better”. Honest.  Vermont Grilling stones are made of heavy basalt (igneous rock), they measure about 6” x 14”  x 1” I would suggest buying two ($39.95) …….that way you can grill larger items, and even pizzas!   The first thing you do is oil them.  The oil soaks into the stone and provides an almost non-stick surface. This is especially great for fish and seafood,  (the residual heat provides perfect temperature control) which turns out fantastic. If you hate to clean your grill, this is also amazing because these stones clean themselves!  So far I have grilled, chicken, lamb chops, burgers, kofta, and lots and lots of seafood.  These grilling stones are just the best thing that could ever happen to a “grill guy”.  Enjoy…………

About the Author  Part time chef  Doug Cordier, is a food writer, TV cook, Certified Ergonomic Consultant and business man. Doug is the owner of Cascom Group Travel and has been teaching corporate and Italian cooking classes for twenty years.  For more foodie thoughts and recipes, try  www.askthecooks.com

Photo by Doug Cordier.  All rights reserved Cooking with Cordier 2010

 

Calamari in Wine Sauce with peas and rice

My first encounter with calamari was in San Sebastian, Spain where calamari fritos are sold on the streets. Big rings of sweet squid are breaded and then deep fried in lard (pig fat rules)  until crispy.  It just doesn’t get any better than that! Over the years calamari has become my favorite treat. I love it fried, sautéed, broiled, grilled, marinated in salads, or in a seafood stew like the recipe below.

Calamari needs to be either cooked FAST or VERY SLOWLY and LOW or it will turn into rubber. Nutritionally, squid is a very good source of protein. 4 oz yields 16 grams of protein, 92 calories and only 1.5 grams of fat……….however, and this is a WARNING for some of you………4 oz of squid is loaded with LDL cholesterol (250 Mg bad cholesterol! ) The highest concentration appears to be in the tentacles.  So if you’re a calamari lover and watching your cholesterol limit your intake of this versatile seafood delight.  

Calamari in wine sauce

Squid in classic wine & tomato sauce

1  2 LB package of frozen squid (thawed)

3 toes garlic minced

2 TBS oyster sauce (optional)

3 TBS tomato paste

1 cup finely chopped red onions

2 TBS flour

1 small can tomato sauce

1 ½ cup dry red wine

2 TBS chopped thyme leaves

1 cup parsley leaves

Fresh ground pepper

Pinch sea salt

2 TBS olive oil for frying

Finishing olive oil and parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

  1. Thaw calamari in frig, drain, pat dry
  2.  Add olive oil to heavy pan, fry squid for two minutes, add onions & garlic
  3. Sauté onions, garlic, add paste, oyster sauce, flour, thyme, salt & pepper
  4. Add wine, cook 2-3 minutes to reduce
  5. Cover and cook for 50 minutes in 285 oven
  6. Anoint with finishing olive oil & sprinkle of parmesan cheese (optional)
  7. Serve with rice, peas, light salad & crusty bread.

Yields 4-5

About the Author  Part time chef  Doug Cordier, is a food writer, TV cook, Certified Ergonomic Consultant and business man. Doug is the owner of Cascom Group Travel and has been teaching corporate and Italian cooking classes for twenty years. For more foodie thoughts and recipes, try www.askthecooks.com                 

Recipe and photo copyright 2010 , Cooking with Cordier, All Rights Reserved

First layer of zucchini, cheese, and bacon

My Wife’s Favorite Zucchini  Dish

I love zucchini in nut breads and ratatouille but have never been able to create a savory dish that really lets this versatile veggie shine.  My wife, “MB” is always asking me to prepare special zucchini dishes but I fall short each time. Perhaps it’s the fact that zucchini “weeps” a lot of liquid, or the way I slice it.  I’ve tried slicing on a diagonal, shredding, julienne, chopping, stuffing, and of course just plain cross sections.  Well, I finally have a dish that she loves.  It combines, some great flavors that marry perfectly with zucchini…….fresh ricotta, parmesan, provolone, green onion, lemon and just a touch of BACON……(everyone loves bacon).  So MB, here’s your dish, and I dedicate it to you.

Zucchine con tre  formaggi e lemone

2 small zucchini (thinly sliced on cross section)

1 cup fresh ricotta cheese

6 slices provolone cheese

½ cup parmesan cheese

2 green onions (sliced on diagonal)

½ the juice of a lemon

1 strip of bacon (cooked crisp and diced)

2 TBS olive oil

Sea salt & fresh Pepper

  1. Coat a 7” x 10”  baking dish with oil
  2. In a bowl, toss sliced zucchini with oil and lemon
  3. Layer in pan like scales, one layer of zucchini,top with dollops of ricotta, and onions.
  4. Sprinkle with parmesan and bacon, top with provolone.
  5. Repeat with second layer
  6. Bake at 325 for about ½ hour or until bubbly.

 Serves four

Recipe and Photo by Doug Cordier

Marco and Aldo with fresh lamb

The Ultimate Stuffed Lamb……..

My friend (and former science student)  Mark Garmo owns the Village Market  (Grosse Pointe, MI) and also a farm where he raises very special lambs.  The day before Easter this year, I thought it would be a great idea if I could “procure” some of this lamb, so I asked Mark. Unfortunately, Mark explained that he could not sell the lamb he raised on his farm because of strict regulations, BUT…….he just happened to get in a new shipment that day, and he would love to supply this high quality product.  Mark also assured me that his “very talented butchers” could take care of my needs immediately. Next thing I knew, I was consulting with Franco and Aldo Ostialeto. I mentioned that I wanted some lamb ribs. Franco said he would find the best lamb ribs I ever had. In fact, Franco said that I should stuff the breast and ribs….and HE would prepare a special stuffing.  I asked what kind of stuffing?  Franco insisted he would make up something especially for ME……and he did……….ground veal and spices with a rosemary/garlic marinade!   

OMG…I watched as Franco and Aldo cut this swatch of ribs right off a fresh lamb, then     created this stuffed amazing masterpiece. Finally they were finished, and so proud of what they had created that we all stood around and took photos!  I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to roast up the stuffed lamb. So the next day I placed the roast on a rack, covered it with more garlic, and olive oil…….and popped it in a 450 degree oven for fifteen minutes then reduced the heat to 325 degrees, finished the roast to an internal temp of 150 degrees, tented it for 10 minutes…………and served it.  Holy Cow, or Holy Lamb, what a treat! The roast was so great, and Marco and Aldo were right………..this was the best stuffed lamb you could imagine.  Thanks guys.

Photo by Doug Cordier