Travel Journal October 2007

While recently in Arizona, we took our second trip to the Queen Creek Olive Mill located in Queen Creek, Arizona (45 minutes Southeast of Phoenix). We were lucky to get a tour from the owner himself, Perry Rea, seems the regular tour guide lost her voice! I can see why, the in-depth one hour talk & tour was insightful, and full of good information, I know a heck of a lot more about Olive Oil than I ever did! You can taste just about every product they make in the tasting room.The infused olive oils are delicious and when owner Perry makes up a new flavor, it makes it to the tasting room very quickly.
They have also recently added a Mediterranean style cafe, Del Piero, serving breakfast, fresh salads and Panini sandwiches. Most of the menu choices include an Olive Mill made ingredient. The offerings are cleverly named after different types of olives. The cafe was PACKED while we there on a Saturday afternoon. Del Piero also has Gelato for dessert. Very tempting in the hot Arizona weather!
I stock up on their Tuscan style olive oil and the White Truffle infused olive oil whenever I'm there.Our daughter-in-law, Joy, has deemed visiting the Olive Mill a family tradition, and we are completely on board.We usually purchase the fresh crusty baguettes, brought in daily from a local bakery. Then we always get our favorite tapenades, Sundried Tomato and Basil, and Artichoke Roasted Garlic, then we rush home to make Bruschetta...it's a great tradition!

The Olive Mill happened to be hosting a Fudge tasting that afternoon.
Heritage Fudge Company had us stopped in our tracks to taste some very yummy concoctions.The favorite was a sweet & salty roasted peanut fudge, naturally it was so good, it was sold out! Handmade in small batches, it is a family enterprise that seems to uphold an old fashioned tradition of fudge making. The young man hosting the tasting was the owner, and relies on his grandmother's fudge recipes for inspiration. The ingredients are all natural, and the amount of sugar is much less than traditional fudge, so the real flavor of the ingredients, really shines through!

Recipe: Classic Manicotti

I had the opportunity to make Manicotti in Arizona for dinner one night, we are a family that LOVES pasta & cheese. This recipe gives us the chance to have it all in one dish and use a variety of cheese for the filling. I do like the shortcut of jarred pasta sauce, since there are so many really good sauces available now. One of my favorite jarred sauces is Muir Glen Organic, sweet and mellow sauce with practically no acidity or bite, which is a detrimental feature of some other sauces.

Boil one package of manicotti shells short of al dente, because they will finish cooking in the oven covered in sauce. Toss them with a little olive oil to prevent them from sticking together until you are ready for them. Note that you can also use jumbo shells for this recipe.

Since I am a cheese nerd, I feel compelled to offer my humble opinion on the cheese you may use in this and other recipes. For best flavor use fresh cheese, pre-packaged shredded or pre-grated cheese is usually a sub-par product. If I haven't begged you to throw out the "green can" yet, please do....it's as far away from real cheese as you can get. If you have access to a quality cheese shop you are going to want to splurge every so often for some excellent cheese. High end grocery stores are paying much more attention to their cheese tables, and you are much better off purchasing hunks of real Parmigiana Reggiano, and fresh Mozzarella for your cooking. Even Costco carries decent
Grana Padano, Parmesan and fresh Mozzarella. If it seems like a lot of work to grate large amounts of cheese by hand for recipes, hint heavily that you are in need of a food processor, a 10-12 cup Cuisinart style is perfect for the job.... besides it's almost Christmas, and your partner will be thankful that they know of a least one thing you want under the tree!

Basic Cheese Manicotti Filling
16 oz tub fresh part-skim ricotta cheese
8 oz freshly shredded Grana Padano cheese (or Parmesan)
16 oz freshly shredded Mozzarella cheese (save half for top)
1 egg
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F, lightly oil a baking dish with olive oil. Stuff manicotti with a small spoon, pastry bag or your fingers. Arrange in baking dish, pour 1- 2 jars of your favorite sauce, depending on how "saucy" you like your dish. Sprinkle remaining shredded Mozzarella on top. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until everything is bubbling and cheese is lightly golden. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Variations on the filling:
Try 8 oz of fresh Goat cheese (Chevre) and 8 oz of Ricotta mixed together.
If you have a favorite cheddar, (I have access to
Rogue Creamery's Rosemary Cheddar), shred an 8 oz block of that in place of the Mozzarella, then shred 8 oz of Mozzarella just for the topping.
In place of the Grana Padano, you can use
Vella Dry Jack, or Mezzo Secco.
You can also add chopped, drained spinach to the cheese filling, very yummy!

Sauce variations:
Try adding sauteed, drained ground beef, Italian sausage, lamb, veal or turkey to your jarred sauce before pouring over the manicotti shells.

Recipe: Compound (Flavored) Butters

A friend of mine recently asked about flavored butters, also known as compound butters. They are very easy make with endless possibilities. Choose a stick or a pound of butter, depending on how much you want to make. Try not to use anything except real stick butter, salted. Let the butter soften at room temperature. One of the most popular compound butters is made with fresh herbs. Fresh herbs contain oils that add to the flavor of the butter, the further ahead you make your butter mixture, say the day ahead, the butter will develop more flavor.
Small amounts of butter can be worked by hand with a pastry blender or fork. Large amounts of butter, say a pound or more, are better worked with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Chive Butter is a good place to start and is great on baked potatoes, fish & steamed vegetables.
Chive Butter
2 sticks softened salted butter
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
Work chives and sea salt into softened butter, cover and refrigerate for at least a day.

From Chive Butter you can use the same concept and add as many fresh minced herbs as you want to your softened butter. Amounts of the herbs and seasonings can be adjusted to your taste, don't be afraid to taste your butter and add more herbs, salt or even pepper to your liking.
Some ideas for savory butters include, garlic and basil butter for spreading on slices of baguette, dill butter for halibut,
herbs de provence butter, spicy cayenne and cilantro butter, the possibilities are endless!

Sweet compound butters are equally as fun and tasty! Blend butter with confectioner's sugar and vanilla, you will have the perfect pancake and waffle butter. Butter blended with honey is a classic spread on fresh, dark, whole grain bread.

Cheese butters are decadent and really great for entertaining. One of my favorites is to blend
Rogue Creamery's Smokey Blue cheese and Cypress Grove's fresh Chevre with softened butter. Spread this intriguing mixture on a fresh baguette slice, from there you can top it with fig jam, onion jam, or you can slide it under the broiler until just barely melted.... not to be missed when you top with fresh garden tomato!

Hope this gives you some inspiration, with Holiday entertaining right around the corner you may be able to showcase your favorite compound butter. Most of these butters will stay fresh and ready to eat for up to one week. Keep in mind that strongly flavored butters will only get stronger with time, something to keep in mind when working with the garlic based butters.

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Cincinnati, OH, United States
A dedicated foodie, with a passion for the best food. Favorite food crushes include; Cheese, Wine, Breads, Seafood, anything made with eggs, ...there's actually no point in a list, there isn't much out there I don't have a crush on. Transplanted from the Northeast at age 18, a whole new frontier of food was opened up to me. I have fished for Salmon, hunted for mushrooms, cracked open fresh oysters from the sea and devoured them on the spot. Figs, pears, peaches, so many indigenous jewels! I dedicate this BLOG to the endless variety this region provides. My hope is to live here for a very long time & continue to discover and experience it's unique bounty! Alas, my life has now taken me to Cincinnati, OH where the food culture is like none I have ever experienced.


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