Monday, January 28, 2008

Fennel, Fennel, Where is my Fennel?

I love fennel. It's hard for me to say that. If you knew me, you wouldn't think that is the case, but it is so true. I am in complete wonder of fennel and of fennel fronds. How great is it that we can actually eat a vegetable with fronds? I know I'm bordering on the silly, but fennel really makes me think of Dr. Seuss. I think he would had a grand time creating a story around fennel fronds - I digress.

I remember the first time that I ate fennel. I didn't even know it was in the dish. About 12 years ago, I was traveling on business and I ordered room service. I was trying to avoid the typical hotel burger and went out on a limb and ordered fish. I remember biting into crunchy fennel, thinking to myself, "what is this"? It almost tasted like licorice, but not so much. (I hate licorice, so it is so oddly interesting that I truly enjoy fennel!) The crunch was very pleasing. I could have eaten an entire bowl of the fennel. It certainly made the hotel fish edible.

The mere fact that I love fennel does not help me prepare it in new and interesting ways. I am always in search of new recipes and ideas. So, a few months ago I was watching the Food Network and became mesmerized watching Rachel Ray prepare this dish. Not to diss Rachel, but I typically don't make many of her recipes. I'm more about leisure culinary experiences. But this recipe was different, it spoke to me. I promptly tried it, and have made it a least 3 times over. I have to say, it's a perfect way to eat fennel. It's basically a pasta, fennel, Italian sausage dish that is delish!! I made it again this past weekend, which is why I must share it with you. Try this when you can, you won't be disappointed. Embrace the fennel side of you!

Fennel Sausage Pasta
I adapted this from a Rachel Ray recipe. I add more cubanelle peppers and more onions than is called for. I don't skimp on the San Marzano tomatoes. They are expensive, but worth it. I like this hearty and thick. The combination of flavors is a winner!

1 pound rotini or ziti pasta (hollow fat spaghetti)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage (I've found it in links and have taken it out of the casing to brown it)
4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
1 bulb fennel, trimmed, quartered and core cut away, very thinly sliced
1 small yellow onion, very thinly sliced
2 cubanelle peppers, seeded and very thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine or stock (wine is better)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed San Marzano (Italian imported) tomatoes
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 cup basil, 20 leaves, shredded or torn

Crusty bread, for mopping

Place a large pot of water on to boil for pasta. Salt water and add pasta and cook to al dente.
While water comes to boil and pasta cooks, make the sauce. Heat a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Add sausage to the skillet and break up the sausage into small bits. Brown sausage all over then transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Return pan to heat and add 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, the garlic, fennel, onions and peppers. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. Cook, turning frequently, 7 to 8 minutes until tender but do not allow the fennel and onions to brown – reduce heat a bit if they begin to. Add the wine or stock next and reduce 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and the sausage. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until pasta is done.

Drain the pasta very well and add to the sauce. Sprinkle the pasta with 1/2 cup cheese, a couple of handfuls, then toss pasta with thick sauce to combine. Transfer pasta to a large shallow platter and cover with the pasta with basil leaves. Serve with extra cheese and pass crusty bread at the table to mop up the plates.

What to drink: Well, I simply drink the white wine that I used in the recipe. This past weekend I had a 2005 Salvestrin Sauvingnon Blanc. It was perfect in the pasta and perfect in my glass (even if it didn't remain in my glass for long).

Until we can visit again, raise a glass and Cheers to You!!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


I never thought I would begin with the word Snow. Living in the South gives me very few opportunities to see snowfall. But that is exactly what happened yesterday. In the South, if the weatherman even hints of a winter storm all havoc breaks loose. Schools are closed, work is closed early, and don't forget that the milk and bread disappear from grocers shelves faster than you can shake a stick! I can't even talk about the increase in battery sales to compensate for the fear of losing electricity!! It began earlier in the week, the predictions - that is. "Georgia needed to hunker down for a wintery mix." I must tell you, I wasn't impressed. I didn't give it a second thought. They get it wrong so often...

So, yesterday morning, I awoke to a cloudy day, very overcast, and very cold (for Georgia standards). I made my coffee and settled in for a hard day at work. The weather was pretty uneventful until about 3:30pm. I was deep in thought and barely glanced outside the window, when my eye caught something. Low and behold, to my surprise, it was SNOWING. It was pretty snow. It was light and fluffy with enormous flakes. If I wasn't such a sissy in cold weather, I would have run outside in my barefeet!! So, I grabbed a camera and recorded this event for historical purposes. Here is the proof of the beautiful snow. The snow that fell in Georgia.

The snow continued until about 6:30 pm. It was so peaceful and beautiful. I can almost understand why people live in areas with frequent snowfall...well, almost. The wintery storm came in like a lamb and pretty much left us that way as well. Peaceful.

So, what does this have to do with food?!? Nothing. I just couldn't write about my chicken without talking about the beautiful snow!! Since, I was "snowed in", I had to make due with ingredients on hand. I had some very nice chicken cutlets and didn't want a boring chicken dinner. I mean, I could have just grilled the chicken, but that didn't sound good. So, I made a parmesean breading for my chicken and pan-seared it. I served it with a nice easy green salad. It was a light dinner, but it hit the spot!! I guess you can tell from my plate.

Parmesean Chicken
8 chicken cutlets (you can use 4 chicken breasts as well)
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 cup of grated parmesean cheese
1 cup of Italian fine breadcrumbs (I crushed mine in a mini-food processor)
2 eggs
Splash of milk
salt and pepper

Set up a breading station with flour, then egg wash, then breadcrumbs.

Combine the flour, salt, and pepper on a plate. In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs with a splash of milk. On a third plate, combine the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
Begin with the flour, coat the chicken breasts on both sides. Then dip both sides into the egg mixture and dredge both sides in the bread-crumb parmesean mixture, making sure to coat evenly.

Heat a little bit of olive oil in a large saute pan and cook 2 or 3 chicken cutlets for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until cooked through. Add more oil and cook the rest of the chicken cutlets.

What to Drink: Well, I must admit, I only drank water. Can you believe it? It is true. In my defense, it was a work night and my hubby has a very bad cold. But, if I were going to pair this with a wine, I would have chosen a very crisp and cool Rombauer Chardonnay. It would have worked well with the parmesean chicken. time. It makes me want a glass right now.

Until we can visit again, raise a glass and Cheers to You!!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

French Food - an indulgence!

It has been too long since I posted. I was traveling last week for work, so I have missed my kitchen. My intentions were to share with you a culinary treat from my very own kitchen. Instead, during the hustle and bustle of traveling with work, my hubby and I managed to visit one of our favorite local restaurants. We visited a little French bistro in our neighborhood. It certainly helps that we know the chef, but let me tell you - we had a divine time Saturday night. I must tell you about it.

In this bistro, there is a chef's table which is basically two barstools that overlook the chef's kitchen. You basically belly up to the bar. If you are lucky enough to sit there, not only do you get to watch the master at work, but you also get to sample many treats.

The first thing that he prepared for us was a pissaladière with caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, and sprinkled with cheese. It was yummy and a great way to whet our appetite. Of course, the meal is served with fresh baked bread, which always comes warm with the most creamiest of butter. Even though to many it is just bread, to others (including me), it is the utmost of comfort food. I just had to share a picture.

Now for starters, I had a signature salad. It was a baby lettuce wedge with a home made blue cheese dressing. It was topped with crispy granny smith apples and perfectly sauteed applewood bacon. Even if you don't like blue cheese, you would love this dressing. The blue cheese is faintly noticable, not overpowering.

For dinner, I chose the fish. It was a pan-seared grouper on a bed of ever so subtle garlic mashed potatoes and perfectly sauteed green beans. Notice the capers drizzled over the divinely cooked fish. He also topped the dish with caramelized red onions. I wish you could smell and taste the picture!!! It was de-lish!

Our evening was capped off with a wonderful creme brulee, which is my hubby's favorite!! It was a wonderful and relaxing evening.

What To Drink - Well, I completely bucked protocal and tradition and simply had champagne the entire evening. Champagne or sparkling wine is one of my favorite indulgences. An adage that I live by: Never wait for a special occasion to pop a cork!! Life is too short, and champagne is too good! Enjoy life, drink bubbly!!!

Thank you for indulging me on this restaurant fete. Our next meal together will include an adventure in my very on kitchen!! I'm not sure what is on the menu for this weekend, but I'm sure the market will lend a hand in my choices. Until we can visit again.... Raise a glass and Cheers to You!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Cafe Nay Nay - The Beginning

Well, I thought I would kick-off Cafe Nay Nay by telling you a little bit about the name. Nay Nay is a nickname given to me by a very special little girl who had trouble pronouncing her R's when she was learning to speak. Renee soon became Nay and then Aunt Nay Nay. I am now known to her and many others as Nay Nay.

The Cafe part of the name hopefully introduces this site as one dedicated to the love of food and wine. Food and wine has become a hobby, almost an obsession, most definitely a love of my life. This is the perfect forum for me to chat and share my experiences in what I love.

Why did I think of Cafe Nay Nay as the name for my blog? At first I was contemplating many exotic food names. Nothing felt right or rang true. But then it came to me! As it happens, a very close girlfriend gave me a gift for Christmas that inspired this very blog. Notice the wonderful inscription on a cook's best friend - a good spatula!

About Chef Nay Nay, I am not a chef - not even close. I am a self-taught cook who has a passion for food and wine. I remember baking my very first banana nut bread when I was 9 years-old, and I was hooked. I remember many summers baking pound cake and cookies with my Grandma. Through it all, cooking and baking has been the one hobby that brings me true joy. I love to share happiness with others, and nothing does it better than a bite of something scrumptious!

Where this leads me, I'm not sure. However, I am excited about the journey that I'm embarking on. I hope to meet many, but more importantly I hope to inspire others to find even a fraction of the joy in cooking, wine, and friends that I have found. My life has truly been enriched. May yours be as well! Cheers to You!

Naughty Pumpkin Pie

Have you ever been inspired by a movie? Or maybe just one line from a movie really can't leave you? I must admit, that is exactly what happened to me over the New Year's weekend. I was sitting with a girlfriend watching the moive "Waitress" with Keri Russell, and boy was I inspired to bake pies. But not just any pie, I was inspired to bake a Naughty Pumpkin Pie.

It does help that my hubby LOVES pumpkin pie. As is it so happens, he was grumbling over the holidays that he didn't get enough pumpkin pie. As with all holidays, the house is full of family and those desserts do depart quickly! So, in the spirit of any loving wife, I promised to bake him another pumpkin pie - just for him. To his unknowing delight, a little movie would change the very bite of pumpkin pie that he would savor. It was the most scrumptious, decadent, full of creamy goodness pumpkin pie ever baked - at least in my kitchen. Indeed, I was inspired!

So let's talk about the Naughty Pumpkin Pie. If I were truly motivated, I would have baked a fresh pumpkin in the oven and then used the freshly baked pureed pumpkin to make the filling. Unfortunately, I wasn't. I did use a little help from Libby - Libby's canned pumpkin that is.

I decided to use heavy whipping cream instead of evaporated milk. I also used light brown sugar instead of white granulated sugar. The silkiness of the heavy whipping cream turns the pumpkin pie into a thick mousse-like concoction. My hubby thoroughly enjoyed it. It was so silky,so Very Naughty indeed! Here is a picture of the pie.

And for all of you glorious pie bakers with a keen eye, I do have a confession. I did not make the crust from scratch. Pie crusts are not my forte. The idea of creating that perfectly flaky pastry crust makes me a bit woozy. It is an art that I need to practice. Between ice water and cold butter, my pie crusts just taste so boring. How do you make pie crust NOT boring? I know it is possible. I have tasted the possible!! But for this endeavor of naughty pumpkin pie, I took some help from the store. I simply had to! And it worked out ok....for least this time. Thank you, Pillsbury.

Now the biggest quesion of all:

What wine should I have? What wine to drink? First of all, you all will learn quickly, that I can always find a wine to pair with any food. When I think of pumpkin pie, my taste buds tingle at the the sweet spiciness of the cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and fresh ground nutmeg. I would probably drink a dessert wine such as a muscat - nothing too sweet.

I am off to another culinary adventure in my mind. With any luck, I will be able to share it with you soon. And always, Cheers to You!