Mussels au gratin

Mussels au gratin

For 4 people I bought one bag of fresh mussels and cleaned them . . . I like doing it myself better than having the machine do it  . . . or you can buy a bag of frozen mussels in their shell.

To clean the mussels you need to rip out the “rope” that sticks out of the shell with a certain energy. You must throw away all the mussels which are open or have a broken shell . . .  better safe than sorry! Once all the rope is removed you need to scrub the shells with a metal brush to remove all the dirt.

I poured a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan and added one or two cloves of garlic then as it was all heating I put all the mussels in the pan. I stirred just enough to have all the mussels be “touched” by the oil and then covered them. I let them cook on low flame stirring once until all the shells were opend.

When the mussels open it means they are cooked. If the mussel did not open it’s shell, it is not good and you MUST throw it away – don’t try to open it !

Once the mussels were cooked, I prepared a large baking sheet and set each of the half shells with mussel on it – discarding the empty half shell – and set it aside.

I filtered the liquid that was left in the pan and set it aside.

I then made some coarse breadcrumbs with some tuscan bread, and mixed it with chopped parsley, chopped garlic and grated parmesan. I then added some of the cooking liquid from the mussels to soften the mixture up – but not enough to make it soggy. You can use panko instead of bread crumbs, but you want to crush it a little bit as it would be too coarse.

With a teaspoon I “filled” the mussel shells in the baking sheet with the bread mixture, then drizzled some olive oil on  top and cooked it for 10 – 15 minutes in a hot oven (350F or 180C)


Barley “risotto” with mushrooms

Barley and mushroom "risotto"

Barley and mushroom “risotto”

As we all know, “risotto” is a typical italian dish made with rice. You need to use a short grain rice that is quite starchy, like Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano . . .

Risotto is also the way the rice is cooked,  by adding the liquid to the pot of rice as it is absorbed while stirring frequently.

What I did last night is make a “risotto” using pearled barley instead of rice !!

. . .  so here are the details. ..

The main ingredients

The main ingredients

You will need button mushrooms sliced, portobello mushrooms sliced, garlic, olive oil, butter, parmesan cheese, some red wine, and stock (I used vegetable but meat is good too). . .  and some herbs . .  . I used thyme leaves

I measured 80g of barley per person and set it to the side. I got a small pot ( I was cooking just for me) of stock on one of the burners and kept it simmering – I use stock cubes for this kind of dish.

In a frying pan I added olive oil and garlic, and let it heat up just enough so that the garlic gives out some of its flavour to the oil. Then I added the portobello mushrooms and let them cook for a few minutes. When they were about ¼ cooked I added the sliced button mushrooms and let them cook, stirring often, until they were about ½ cooked.

I removed the mushrooms from the pan and set them aside in a plate. Without washing the pan I added some more olive oil and returned it to the burner. I poured the pearled barley into the pan and let it toast for a few minutes, then I put the mushrooms back into the pan and deglazed with a bit of red wine. I then started to add the stock, one ladle at a time, stiring well so that all the ingredients are well blended and that no barley is stuck to the sides. Let the barley and mushrooms cook, stirring occasionally, and when the barley has absorbed the stock, add some more. Keep adding stock, and stirring to mix ingredients until the barley is cooked ( I like it al dente . . .  ).

When the barley is cooked, taste for salt . . .  you probably will not need much because the stock gets boiled down and evaporates and becomes more tasty . . .  and add your herbs and some pepper if you like it.

Remove from heat, add a spoon of butter and grate some parmesan cheese on top – stir these in and your barley will become a bit more creamy.

Pearled barley and mushroom risotto

Pearled barley and mushroom risotto

Serve immediately and enjoy the flavour boost !!

Weekly menu for the week starting July 7

Mini Apricot Crostata

Mini Apricot Crostata

This will be a different menu that I am sending today . . .  as we are leaving for Italy on Monday July 7, I will NOT be cooking next week !!!

I love cooking and I have made it my profession. I cook with passion and constant interest in changes and improvement . . . but it’s nice to be on holiday and not do it for a while :-)

So the menu that I’ll publish today is to give you an idea of what I can do for you. I am posting a menu for a party that I catered for 30 people.

Hors d’Ouvre

Frittata with Potatoes, Frittata with Onions, Crostini with caramelized onion and cheddar cheese, Raw vegetables with aromatic salts, Tuna and olive spread, Home made Focaccia, Home made Tuscan Bread

Caramelized onion crostini with strong cheddar

Caramelized onion crostini with strong cheddar


Gnocchi alla Romana
(semolino gnocchi baked with blue cheese and walnuts or simply butter and sage)

Home made from scratch lasagna alla bolognese
Penne with Tomato sauce
Penne with Butter

Tuscan style Arista(pork loin cooked in the Tuscan Style)

Seasonal vegetables and roasted potatoes Mixed greens salad


Home made Mini Apricot Crostata ( tart)

Fresh seasonal fruit salad served in a brandysnap basket

Fruit salad in brandysnap basket

Fruit salad in brandysnap basket


This menu was a great success and everybody enjoyed the great food.

Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta with Fresh Strawberries

Panna Cotta with Fresh Strawberries

Panna cotta is one of those desserts that always WOW’s people . . .  it is rich and delicious but also light and refreshing !

Ingredients: 1 litre of 35% creme, 200g of sugar ( about ¾ of a cup), 24g of gelatine ( if you are using sheets) otherwise follow gelatine package instructions for 4 cups of liquid, ¼ of a vanilla pod ( or ½ tsp of vanilla extract)

If you are using gelatine sheets, soak them in cold water. If you are using gelatine powder, follow the instructions on the package using your cream instead of the water they require.

Pour remaining whipping creme in a pot and add sugar and vanilla. Bring creme to a light boil, as soon as it starts to bubble remove from heat and add the drained gelatine ( if you are using the sheets) or the creme gelatine mix if you are using it.

Stir until it is all dissolved, remove the vanilla pod ( if using) and pour into a loaf pan. To make life easier, you might want to line the loaf pan with cellophane film so that it is easier to un-mold.

Refrigerate for at least 4 / 5 hours or overnight. The creme should set and have the same consistency of jello.

Serve Panna Cotta with fresh strawberries, or any berry . . .  but you can serve it with a chocolate sauce, or a caramel sauce . . . your imagination is the limit !

Strawberry panna cotta in a shot glass

Strawberry panna cotta in a shot glass

Panna Cotta can also be served in individual servings using small ramekins, or shot glasses, or champagne glasses.

If you wish to make it with less fat  you can use ½ creme and ½ milk.

You can also give the Panna Cotta different flavours by adding cocoa, or coffee to the creme ( or milk).

Individual panna cotta

Individual panna cotta

Weekly Menu for June 30

School is out

. . . and now the fun begins !!!

The children are out of school and the summer is finally here ( we hope !!)

Let’s get down to business now, planning is crucial when the summer begins.

Monday Lunch – BLT – Dinner will be gnocchi with semolino

Tuesday Lunch – Grilled Cheese – Pasta with Meat sauce

Fake Fish - pesce finto

Fake Fish – pesce finto

Wednesday Lunch – Fake Fish – Hamburgers on the bbq. . .  with my home made buns !

Home made Hamburger Buns

Home made Hamburger Buns

Thursday Lunch – Quinoa Salad – Saltimbocca alla Romana with mashed potatoes.

Saltimbocca alla romana

Saltimbocca alla romana

Friday Lunch – Pasta with Pesto (my secret stash in the freezer ) – Home made Pizza . . .  haven’t made this in a long time!!

Saturday Lunch – Potato Salad and Cold cuts – how about a nice Roast beef ?

Sunday Lunch – Chicken Sandwich . . .  and dinner will be left overs . . .  sometimes the best dinners are made of left overs from the previous meals !!


Kale – 10 ways of preparing it

In this time of the year, in this part of the world . . . it’s Kale season !

Kale is part of the Cabbage vamily and is very rich in Vitamin A, C and Potassium


(even after cooking).

But how do we prepare it ? how do we cook it?

To clean the kale (this is black kale ) you need to remove the center spine of the leaves, it is hard even after cooking. In the picture you can see the difference between a “clean” leaf and a whole one.

Kale needs to be washed in plenty cold water and cooked in plenty boiling salted water for about 10 / 15 minutes. After it has been boiled there are many many ways to cook or serve it, here are 10 ideas:

  1. on bread with extra virgin olive oil: slightly toast a slice of tuscan bread, rub a piece of garlic on one side, cover the slice of bread with cooked kale ( and a little bit of it’s cooking water) and dress with new tuscan extra virgin olive oil, green and tangy.
  2. sauteed in a pan: drain the kale and keep one or two cups of it’s cooking water aside. Roughly chop the kale. Sautee it in a pan with olive oil and garlic. As you sautee it you can ad other flavours like: red pepper, fresh ginger, anchovies, beans, sausages, pieces of bacon . . .
  3. once it is sauteed, kale is great to dress pasta or gnocchi – just remember to always keep a cup of the pasta’s cooking water to add to the pasta as you dress it, this will make the sauce softer and it will “hug” the pasta better
  4. ribollita – see recipe
  5. in the oven with eggs: roughly chop the cooked kale and dress it with oil and salt and a clove of garlic if you like it. Arrange the kale in an oven proof dish leaving little craters for the eggs. Set a raw egg in each crater and loosen the white of the egg so that it runns through the kale leaves. Add salt and pepper on the eggs and set in a hot oven for a few minutes ( the cooking time depends on how well done you like your eggs)
  6. kale is great with stewed squid, or with shrimp – sauteed with a splash of lemon
  7. frittata – beat a couple of eggs per person, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, 1 or 2 tablespoons of milk, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture in a greased frying pan, add the cooked chopped kale ( if you have any leftover sauteed kale it  works great !). Let cook covered on low heat. If you are looking for more body in your frittata, add some sliced boiled potatoes . . . .
  8. Kale Chips :Preheat oven to 250°F. Toss kale with olive oil in large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange leaves in single layer on baking sheet. Bake until crisp, about 30 minutes for flat leaves and up to 33 minutes for wrinkled leaves. Transfer leaves to rack to cool.
  9. Cream of Kale with spelt: Sautee the roughly chopped kale with olive oil and garlic. Add 1 cup of vegetable broth and let cook untill kale is very dender. Puree the kale (add some broth if necessary) and return to skillet, add cooked farro and correct the seasoning. Serve with a splash of fresh new olive oil.
  10. simply boiled and dressed with olive oil, salt and a few drops of fresh lemon juice!

Kale will keep for a few days in the refrigerator and can be frozen after it has been par-boiled . . .  enjoy it !!

Weekly menu starting June 23

Caramelized onion crostini with strong cheddar

Caramelized onion crostini with strong cheddar

This is it . . . . this is the last week of school !!

From Monday until the end of August we will have the kids at home . . . . It will be fun :-)

As you know we have recently moved. This time, the move is more permanent . . . I am unpacking all my boxes from Italy and there is so much to tidy up !!

Veggies to dip in aromatic salts.

Veggies to dip in aromatic salts.

Of course I am very happy to be working hard. Dinners at the Beild House are always fun, and I am receiving lots of requests for lasagne to be prepared for family meals.

Buffet at the business dinner - The hors d'ouvres

Buffet at the business dinner – The hors d’ouvres

I have also been catering to larger events: a confirmation on June 1, a business dinner on June 10, a get together on June 19 and Sunday I have an other event coming up !

This is the advantage of having many weekly meal plans that have already been put into place . . .  just pick one that was successful and repeat it !!

Buffet business dinner - Chicken Cacciatora and crespelle

Buffet business dinner – Chicken Cacciatora and crespelle

I am going to pick from the second week of May.

Buffet business dinner - the desserts

Buffet business dinner – the desserts

Although I am busy . . . I love to cook and it is what really helps me relax. So please keep asking for food !!! :-D