Friday, December 25, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
If you're like me and have already blown the bank on Christmas gifts ( and still have people to shop for!), you're probably not looking to spend too much on food. Roast Pork Loin is the perfect solution as it is inexpensive and so versatile.
Last night, I cooked a small boneless pork loin and we ate it for dinner with roasted potatoes and a salad. This morning, I packed Gian Luca a sandwich of roast pork, sundried tomatoes and provolone cheese, while I just enjoyed a salad with roast pork, arugula, apples and grana padano cheese for lunch myself.
And we still have pork left over: not bad for one night of cooking.
Roast Pork Loin
3 pound boneless pork loin
4 cloves of garlic ( peeled)
1/4 cup ground butcher pepper
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dry or fresh rosemary
1/4 cup white wine
salt to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Trim the fat off of the pork loin and, with a sharp knife, make four 1/2 inch deep slits across the top of the pork. Push the garlic cloves inside the slits.
3. Place the pork in an oven safe pan and season with salt, pepper and rosemary. Tuck the bay leaves under the pork.
4. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove and pour the wine over the pork.
5. Bake for an additional hour ( if the pork starts to look dry add 1 cup of water to the pan).
6. Remove from oven and cover tightly with aluminum foil ( this will allow the juices to stay inside the pork.
7. Slice and serve warm with pork gravy.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup of water
1. melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low flame. Add the flour and stir to form a roux.
2. Strain the juice of the pork ( to get rid of some of the pepper) the add 1 cup of water to it.
3. Add to the roux and stir until thick.
4. pour over the pork and enjoy.
Friday, December 11, 2009
The title of this post has two meanings. The first being that no matter how expansive and ever-changing my cookies repertoire has become, these Kitchen Sink cookies have survived. They've made the cut because they are so versatile and contain literally everything you could want in a cookie. Really.
These babies are made up of everything that I love: besides the butter, flour and sugar, they contain chocolate-chips, coconut, bananas, oats, raisins and almonds. And the best part is, you can stir in anything you want. Yep, that's right. Don't like raisins? Add dried cherries. Want some crunch? Try adding slivered almonds or chopped walnuts. Hate bananas? Just leave 'em out! This recipe is flexible enough to adapt to any taste.
So can you see why these are an old favorite? And since you don't even need a mixer these are the perfect cookies for those of you who live in a tiny apartment like us ( Yes, that's right folks, we don't have a mixer here!).
The second meaning to my title is a bit less exciting than this cookie recipe. In fact, it is actually depressing. The second meaning is literal because these eight cookies that you see here are the only survivors of this batch.
Everything was going well and I had just placed these eight cookies on a cookie sheet, when I opened my cabinet to grab a glass ( to press the cookies, see below), when low and behold, a glass fell on the counter-top, shattering into millions of little pieces all over the counter and floor. Unfortunately, the cookie batter was hanging out right next to the wreckage. I actually debated picking through the batter, but, when I saw how small the little shards of glass were, I knew I had to trash it.
And of course, we had no more butter, flour, oats, coconut or chocolate chips in the house. Lessons learned: don't overcrowd your cabinets and always, always have cookie fixins' on hand.
Guess I'm headed to the grocery store. Happy weekend!
Kitchen Sink Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes about 4 dozen
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 ripe banana
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup sweetened flake coconut
1 cup raisins
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with Silpat baking mats or parchment paper.
- In a large bowl with a wooden spoon, beat butter, banana, sugar and brown sugar together until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Stir in vanilla.
- In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Gradually stir into butter mixture until well blended. Add oats, chips, coconut, and raisins, and stir until well blended.
- Drop batter by heaping tablespoons or with a 1 ounce ice-cream scoop onto silpat about 2 inches apart. Press tops down with the bottom of a glass to flatten cookies evenly. Bake until golden, about 16 to 18 minutes. Cool on pan for 2 minutes. Remove from pan, and finish cooling completely on wire rack.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
I want to start by saying I didn't bake these. My mom did. I've been so focused on working and writing that I've hardly had time to cook, and poor Gian Luca has been living on Mortadella and Provolone sandwiches for the past week. But I can't stay away people. So even if I didn't bake these cookies, I need to tell you about them.
As I told you last time, my mom is the best chef I know. She can not only cook an amazing meal, but she can bake too. I owe all my cooking abilities and passion for baking to her.
My Nonna Lucrezia was also an excellent cook and my mother has so many stories of watching her mother in the kitchen as a child. These cookies, however, are not my grandmother's recipe, but one that my mother learned at the age of twelve when she left her small southern Italian town and moved to Prato in Tuscany for school.
My mother learned most of her culinary skills while living in Prato, Assisi, and Milano and growing up we were lucky enough to eat recipes from North and South Italy. When my mom opened up her restaurant in 1989 she fused the two regions together and created Italian food that transcends boundaries. Yet, some recipes must stay true to their origins. So when my mother was writing her cook-book, she labeled these cookies Biscotti di Prato, other wise known as Cantuccini.
Biscotti literally means "baked twice" and these cookies really exemplify their name. Smaller than the average biscotti, these little guys are hard as rocks as they are meant to be dipped in Vin Santo ( very sweet dessert wine, which, by the way, my in-laws always bring us from their hometown of Montepulciano) or at least, a rich, dark espresso.
These cookies are one of the first recipes that I tried and successfully baked on my own one winter in New York when I decided to bake Christmas cookies for everyone at work. They are so easy and delicious that they were ( and still are) perfect for a cookie tray. And, because of their durability, these cookies have a very long shelf life. They can last up to one month in an airtight container, but trust me, one bite of these and I guarantee the batch won't last a week. Just watch your teeth!
Biscotti di Prato
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups almonds ( shaved or whole roasted)
1 egg beaten
1. Sift together flour and baking powder and put on a rolling surface. Make a well in the center of the flour. Put sugar, 4 eggs and almonds into the well and mix with the flour ( starting in the center and gradually adding flour, the same way you'd make homemade pasta). Combine until dough forms.
2. Form dough into two long, skinny loaves ( about one inch in diameter). Put the loaves on a greased baking sheet. Brush the surface of the loaves with the beaten egg.
3. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes
4. After taking the loaves out of the oven, cut 1/2 inch slices diagonally across each loaf. Place the cut pieces on a flat tray and bake for another five minutes, or until golden, but not too dark. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
December is my favorite month because really the entire month is filled with celebrations. But before I get into all that, I need to post a bit about Thanksgiving ( better late than never!).
This Thanksgiving was the most special one I've ever had, mostly because Gian Luca and I live far from my family and friends it was so nice going home to see them. And even though it had been five months since we'd seen them, everything thing felt as though we never left which made me realize that, no matter how far away we go, our hearts are always connected to those we love. I feel so thankful and blessed to have so much love around me.
Since this is a food blog, I have to say that I've never met a better chef than my mother.
My aunts in Italy are a close second, and my brother Luciano who owns his own restaurant isn't too bad either, but still my mom takes the cake (and makes it too). So, of course, on holidays she really shines. And even though she and my dad recently moved into a new house, and this was her first Thanksgiving cooking in a new kitchen, she really out did herself.
My mom is used to cooking for restaurants so serving a family is easy for her. While some people stress over Thanksgiving preparations, she enjoys every minute of it. Fourteen people had dinner at our house that day and everyone left with doggie bags filled with enough food for the next few days.
Bread: Cranberry Walnut loaf, Corn Bread, and Rosemary and Sea Salt Breadsticks
Appetizers: Sauteed Shrimp Scampi, mini Crabcakes in Filo dough
Salads: Radicchio and shaved fennel salad with a white wine viniagrette
Entree: Turkey and gravy
Sides: Twice Baked Potatoes, Candied sweet potatoes, Sausage stuffing, String beans with garlic and fresh mint, Sauteed Broccoli rape, homemade cranberry sauce
Desserts: Pumpkin Pie, Apple Pie, Blueberry Pie, Chocolate chip cookies, Biscotti di Prato, Ricerelli di Siena, Amaretti Cookies
My Aunt Angela brought a delicious Grape and Gorgonzola Focaccia and my sister- in- law Christine brought over my favorite, a coconut custard pie. My cookies were a big hit as well.
Needless to say, we were all stuffed by the end of the day.
I promise some recipes soon, especially the rosemary and sea salt breadsticks which have been a family favorite since the 80's.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I am so excited to go home for Thanksgiving but I'm not excited to pack our bags, then wake up at 2:30 am to get to the airport for our early morning flight. As I walked home from work I started making a mental list of all the packing we have to do, and all the things that we can't forget to bring, and by the time I unlocked my door, I had a headache. So I reached for my instant cure, a rich dark espresso and a fresh baked cookie.
As I sipped my coffee I realized that, wow, my holiday weekend has officially started! And the anxiety of packing and traveling melted away. Then came the excitement.
As I mentioned yesterday, I have no patience, so I expect the next 24 hours until Thanksgiving dinner will feel like years, but I just keep reminding myself that soon we will get to see my parents and brothers and best friends. And tomorrow night, we'll all be munching on the cookies that I baked last night.
So before packing anything else, I packed up the cookies. Nothing else really matters anyway.
Chocolate Sparkle Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart
The recipe calls for sanding sugar, but I used regular sugar, which is slightly finer and worked just as well.
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup ( 2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temp.
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
sanding sugar for dusting
1. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, coffee powder and salt into a bowl
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and beat to combine. Reduce speed and gradually add flour mixture; beat to combine. Form dough into a flattened disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm, about 1 hour.
3. preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Shape dough into 1 1/4 inch balls. Roll each ball in sugar. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart. bake until set, about 10-12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Rum Raisin Shortbread
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Remember those butter cookie assortments that used to come in those tin cans. My favorites were always the round cookies with the little raisin bits in them. Last night, when I munched on one of these I realized that is exactly what these taste like. Only better.
1/2 cup dark rum
1 cup currants
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temp
3/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 teaspoon course salt
1. Combine rum and currants in an airtight container; let sit at room temp overnight. Drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the rum.
2.Put butter, confectioners sugar and zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until creamy and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla and reserved rum. Beat well, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Reduce speed to low. Add flour, coconut and salt. Beat for three minutes. Stir in currants by hand. Divide dough in half and form each half into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter; wrap in parchment, and refrigerate for 1 hour ( or up to 3 days).
3. Preheat oven to 325 degree F. Remove dough from parchment paper; slice into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Place on parchment lined baking sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Bake until pale golden, about 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temp for up to 1 week.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I've never been known for patience. It is a virtue that I would love to possess, but, unfortunately, I don't have an ounce of it. And every year, right around this time, I start itching for Christmas.
I know that Thanksgiving has not even passed yet, and that the unofficial Christmas season has not begun, and the official Christmas season does not start until Sunday. I know all of this, but yet, I just can't wait. So tonight, I got a jump start on Christmas cookies and baked three batches that I'll bring to NJ when we go there on Thursday morning for Thanksgiving.
It was so exciting to have our apartment smell of warm baked cookies, and even more exciting to see them cooling on wire racks on the kitchen table. I almost turned on some Christmas tunes, but restrained myself ( until next week at least). Of course, the best part of baking cookies is taking that first bite, and obviously, I don't wait for them to cool.
Here's one recipe for now, you'll have to wait until tomorrow for the other two. A little patience will do you good ( or so I'm told).
Biscuit Sandwich Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread
1. Put flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and plus to combine. Add butter and pulse to form course crumbs. With the machine running, pour in 1/4 cup heavy cream and the vanilla and process until dough almost comes together.
2. Remove dough from food processor and bring together on a work surface. Roll dough between two floured sheets of parchment paper until 1/16 inch thick. Using 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut 36 circles, rerolling the scraps as necessary. Place rounds on parchment-lined baking sheets and transfer to freezer to chill until firm, about 15 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 325 degree F/ Combine egg yolk and remaining tablespoon of heavy cream in a small bowl. Brush the tops of cookies with yolk mixture and bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool on wire racks.
4. Spread 1 heaving teaspoon of chocolate-hazelnut spread on the undersides of half of the cookies. Sandwich the remaining cookies. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days.
Monday, November 23, 2009
It's almost Thanksgiving!! This year I have so much to be thankful for considering I got married, started this blog, have been given the opportunity to finish my book, the fact that my family is happy and healthy, and that we are all coming together for Thanksgiving and then again for Christmas. As the year winds down I'm reflecting on all of these big things, and feel a great sense of gratitude.
Its easy to see the big things we are thankful for, but, if we look at our daily lives there are many many occasions to give thanks. One simple thing I am thankful for is the fact that my husband and I eat breakfast together every morning.
I've always been a breakfast person, even when it consisted of grabbing a cereal bar and running out the door. But since I got married, I've become a huge fan of breakfast as it is a simple way that Gian Luca and I connect before we start our hectic days.
Consequently, I also love baking breakfast foods, and thankfully, my husband is Italian and is used to eating pastries in the morning. So tomorrow when the shiny beams of light flutter through our kitchen window, we'll be sipping our espresso and munching on Pear and Raisin scones.
3/4 cup of raisins
1 cup heavy cream
3 medium pears ( peeled and cut into cubes)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons butter ( cut in 1/2 squares)
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Soak the raisins in heavy cream for 1/2 hour, drain and set aside, reserving heavy cream. Toss pears with cinnamon and sugar, set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Add butter and, using your hands, crumble the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a course meal ( this can also be done in a food processor by pulsing the butter into the flour mixture).
Combine the egg and heavy cream and whisk together until incorporated. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing well. The dough will now be fairly wet and sticky. Add the pears and raisins and knead on a lightly floured surface until the dough just comes together. It should be a bit sticky.
Cut dough into 14 small wedges and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden.
Monday, November 16, 2009
I told already told you my menu of lasagna, veal champagne, and chocolate cake, and I promised you the veal recipe. This will have everyone licking their plates clean. In fact, I don't even have a picture of the veal for you because it was dished out so fast that I forgot to photograph it.
4 veal cutlets ( pounded thin)
1/2 cup of flour ( for dredging the veal)
12 button mushrooms sliced
1 15 oz can of artichoke hearts
1/2 cup dry champagne
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons of butter
4 tablespoons of olive oil.
salt and pepper to taste
Dredge veal in flour and heat olive oil in the pan. Add 2 teaspoons of butter to the oil and sautee the veal until golden brown on both sides. ( this should take 1-2 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the veal). Remove the veal from the pan and add the rest of the butter to it. Add the sliced mushrooms and artichokes and sautee until mushrooms are golden brown. Place veal back in the pan with the mushrooms and artichokes. Add the champagne and allow it to simmer for a few minutes. Add the cream*, salt and pepper, and allow everything to simmer until the sauce has thickened. Serve and enjoy.
* if making this dish ahead of time, leave out the cream until you are ready to serve it. When you are ready to serve the veal reheat the pan and add a bit more champagne. Add the cream and allow to simmer until the sauce has thickened.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
So it has been 10 days since I last posted, even though I signed on for the National Blog Posting Month and was supposed to write 30 posts in 30 days. Don't worry, I'm not going to post 10 times today. I am just going to explain that, while I wanted to post every day, my life interceded: work got hectic, I devoted all of my writing time to working on my book, and honestly, I haven't cooked that much.
But today I'm back, and revved up for a fantastic day of cooking. We are hosting a dinner party for some friends tonight and the menu is stocked. I'm making my sausage lasagna, veal with artichokes and mushrooms in a champagne cream sauce ( I'll post the recipe tomorrow), a fresh tomato and cucumber salad, and finally, a dense delicious chocolate cake.
My mom taught me to always, always bake dessert first. Even when she teaches her cooking classes, she uses this method. So last night, after a ten hour shift at work, and late-night grocery shopping at the 24 hour store, I baked a cake for my friends.
Even though I was so tired, there is something reviving about baking a cake that you know people will enjoy. And although my day will be filled with cooking and cleaning, I know that at 7:30 when our friends arrive, it will all be worth it.
Dense Chocolate Cake:
Adopted from Molly Wizenberg
* I made one slight change by adding a tablespoon of instant coffee to the batter to intensify the chocolate flavor. Besides that, this is taken directly from her amazing book, A Homemade Life. If you haven't read it yet, get it ASAP!
7 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped 1 3/4 sticks of unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder 5 large eggs 1 tablespoon flour
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F, and butter an 8 inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper and butter that too.
Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heatproof bowl. I used a double-boiler for this, but you can also melt it in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl. Just be careful not to burn the chocolate.
When the mixture is smooth add the sugar and coffee powder, stirring well to incorporate. Set batter aside to cool for 5 minutes. Then add the eggs, one by one, mixing well after each addition. Add the flour and stir to mix well. The batter should be dark and silky.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for about 25 minutes until the top of the cake is lightly cracked and the center looks set.
Remove the cake from the oven and set on cooling rack. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Carefully turn it out of the pan and then flip it onto a serving plate, so that the crackly side faces up. The cake is fairly delicate so this is a bit tricky, but Molly gives great advice on how to do this:
Place a sheet of aluminum foil over the pan, and place a large, flat plate, ( not the serving plate) on top of the foil, facing down. Hold the cake pan and plate firmly together and quickly, carefully, flip them. The pan should now be on top of the plate, with the foil between them. Remove the pan, revealing the cake, which is now upside down. Remove the parchment paper. Place the serving plate gently atop the cake. Wedging your index fingers between the plates to keep them from squishing the cake, flip them so that the cake is now right side up. Remove the foil.
Serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I like to think that I am a great cook, that I’ve inherited this innate talent from my mother, but the truth is, I need a lot of practice. This is problematic because when people learn of my upbringing they expect me to know how to cook Gnocchi alla Fiorentina, or Chicken alla Zingera. But the fact is that, even though my mother opened an Italian restaurant when I was seven, and I was literally raised in the kitchen, I spent most of my time sitting in the dry storage room playing with my Barbie dolls. Once I became old enough to learn how to cook, I decided that I’d rather waitress, so I left the kitchen for the adventures in the dining room. Though I’d collected many stories, I never really learned to cook.
I managed just fine in college. I knew the basic how-tos of cooking, and at the very least, I was able to make edible food. Most of my friends at the time were accustomed to living off of boxed macaroni and cheese and instant ramen noodles, so anything above those was a step in the right direction.
By the time I finished grad school I had mastered a few dishes. The kitchen in my New York apartment was barely the size of a closet, but I resisted take out and cooked myself dinner on a daily basis, and even managing to replicate my mother’s Pizza Rustica for Easter.
The year after, I found myself living back at my parents’ house in South Jersey. I gladly surrendered all cooking responsibilities to my mother and didn’t give it a second thought until I met Gian Luca.
I had recently become friends with a group of Italians who were all working at U Penn. There was Luca from Prato, Enea from Padova, Franscesa from Milan and Michelle who was raised in Singapore but spent summers on Lake Como. We met at Penn every Tuesday for dinner and discussion. Sometimes we would cook in someone’s small apartment, other times we frequented New Deck, a local bar for burgers and fries.
That particular Tuesday I was running late and had just parked my car at 7:30, our designated meet up time. I sprinted across campus, trying not to slip on the thin layer of snow that was quickly accumulating on the ground. I was breathless by the time I reached the second floor of the building. That was when I saw him first, standing in the doorway of the room, wearing an oversized coat, speaking quick fluid Italian with Luca. I was staring.
“Hi” he said looking at me and extending his hand. “I’m Gian Luca.”
“Piacere, sono Antonietta,” I said trying to speak Italian.
“Ah, you’re Italian?” He said in English.
“Well, I’m Italian- American,” I replied feeling paralyzed.
That night, for dinner we all went to New Deck and I managed to steal a seat across from him. I just couldn’t stop staring. I knew logically that we had never met, but I couldn’t rid myself of the feeling that I knew him from somewhere.
We ordered Burgers and Fries. Everything else at the bar was mediocre, but their burgers were thick and juicy and the fries were double fried, leaving them with a crunchy coating, perfect for dipping in ketchup.
I picked up the Heinz bottle and shook it violently, the loosened the cap and allowed the red river to flood a corner of my plate. This time he was staring at me.
“What?” I asked him smiling and hoping that no one else would interrupt.
“That is disgusting,” he replied and laughed.
My heart sank. “What is disgusting?” I said indignantly. I dipped my fry in ketchup and took a bite.
“That,” he pointed at my ketchup. “Try this.” He slid a cup of mayonnaise across the table. “It is so much better with your fries.”
I hated mayonnaise; the thought of it made me sick. “No, that is okay. I like ketchup better.”
“Trust me, you must try it,” he said inching the cup of white lard in front of me and smiling.
Reluctantly, I grabbed a fry and dipped the tip in the mayo. He watched as I took a bite. It was actually a lot better than ketchup.
By the time I got home I was smitten.
“Mom,” I squealed with the zeal of a star-struck teen. “I met the man I’m going to marry.”
“Well then you are going to have to learn how to cook.”
Of course, with every subject, there is a learning curve, and mine, however small, was still blaringly evident.
I considered myself more advanced than the average cook. Although I never cooked in the restaurant, I was sure that simply being around food so much had ingrained some recipes in my brain. This confidence was my hubris.
For our next dinner, I wanted to impress. Gian Luca had mentioned that he loved Chicken Picatta, so the entrée choice was obvious. But I chose to make profiteroles for dessert, thinking that the fluffy puffs of pastry would surely win him over.
Given my lack of experience, it was obvious that I needed help. My mom had recently developed a passion for desserts and made profiteroles on a daily basis for the restaurant. She was happy to assist.
Together, we melted equal parts butter and flour in a saucepan.
“Stir it until it is all combined,” she instructed. “Then flatten the sides against the pan until it sizzles.”
Once the flour and butter mixture looked like greasy dough, we removed it from the heat, let it cool, and slowly added eggs, one at a time.
“The trick to profiteroles is the oven,” my mom said. “You have to watch them very closely.”
She was right. After fifteen minutes at 400 degrees, we lowered the oven and watched them puff. When they were finished, each one was the size of a small fist, with a golden crust on top. As they cooled I made a chocolate sauce with condensed milk and bitter sweet chocolate.
An hour later I was driving across the Ben Franklin Bridge, confident that I would win Gian Luca’s heart.
“Did he like the profiteroles?” My mom asked as soon as she heard the door unlock.
“Not really,” I said removing my coat and sitting at the table. I had watched intently as he took small bites, eventually leaving half of the pastry on his plate, allowing the ice cream inside to melt into a thick white puddle. Earlier, I had burned myself while cooking an unsuccessful Chicken Piccatta. Michele had wowed everyone with creamy bowtie pasta with salmon and spinach, next to which my mediocre chicken did not shine. The profiteroles were going to be my saving grace, my wow factor. Instead, they ended up being devoured by everyone except the one person I wanted to impress.
Slowly, I was learning about his palate. This was a man who despised ketchup and dipped his fries in mayo; a man who came from the most famous wine village in Tuscany; a man who was not impressed by complex desserts, but loved Philly Cheese Steaks from street vendors. I was up for the challenge.
I began watching my mother each night, asking questions as she effortlessly created amazing meals. “Cooking is simple,” she’d say. “You just have to feel it.”
Dinners with my friends continued, and since I was the only one who did not live in Philadelphia, I always offered to bring different things that I could cook ahead of time. I was successful in preparing bruschetta in New Jersey and assembling it in a small city kitchen hours later. I made focaccia, frittata, brownies, bunt cake, flourishing in appetizers and desserts, things that could be prepared ahead of time and served at room temperature or even cold. I would arrive and act as if I had just whipped something up, while in reality I had spent hours planning and preparing dishes. My friends always enjoyed my creativity, and sometimes after eating, I would catch Gian Luca staring at me. My heart fluttered with hope.
Almost six months after the profiterole disaster, Gian Luca emailed me about a dinner party he wanted to throw. His research position was ending and he would be returning to Italy. This would be his one last dinner party before moving out of the city. He emailed me for help.
I promptly emailed back, offering my culinary expertise, which, at this time, he was clearly impressed by. Still, I was a little nervous. I had yet to execute an entire dinner menu from start to finish. I was good on the start, and also the finish, but the pesky in-between, the main course, was still a rough spot.
We decided on a simple crowd pleaser for the main course: Penne all’Amatriciana. A favorite in small taverns in Rome, this delicious mix of crispy pancetta, sweet caramelized onions and juicy plumb tomatoes would be the perfect dish for the final dinner in Gian Luca’s West Philadelphia home.
The apartment was tiny and the kitchen even more so. The studio was part of the university housing and was one step above the dorm room I had my freshman year of college in New York. The main difference between the two was that Gian Luca’s apartment had a tiny kitchenette nestled into one corner. The building housed around one hundred students, most of whom seemed to be home at around 6:30 when we began cooking.
Our friends were coming over at 7:30, leaving us just enough time to cook a non-fuss meal. I did not make menu cards or waste time with a fancy setting; we would be lucky if everyone had a chair to sit on. The water for the pasta was already on the stove and while we waited for it to boil, I started cutting radicchio for the bruschetta. Gian Luca sliced the bread and placed it on a baking sheet. Into the oven went our bread to crisp and we began slicing the ingredients for the Amatriciana sauce. Gian Luca took the pancetta while I worked on cutting the tomatoes and onions into long strips.
I was nervous. There were times that I though he was interested in me, other times when I was convinced we would never excel beyond friendship. I feared that he would go back to Italy and we would communicate a few times a year through mass emails.
By seven, the radicchio bruschetta was finished and we were prepped to make the Amatriciana sauce. Though I had never actually made the dish, I had seen my mother make it so many times that I was confident in the process. The first step is to cook the pancetta until it crisps. Since the meat is fatty, there is no need to put oil in the pan, you just dump the pancetta in and turn up the heat. That is exactly what we did.
We watched the meat stirring it occasionally. We waited. And waited. And waited. We couldn’t proceed with the sauce until the pancetta was crispy; soggy pancetta is fatty and tough, not what we wanted to serve our guests, so we had no choice but to allow it to cook.
An awkward silence passed between us. “Maybe we should cover the pan,” I suggested. He agreed.
As Gian Luca reached to grab a lid I reveled in my brilliance. I covered the pan and lowered the heat just a bit, sure that the pancetta would crisp quickly. We moved to set the table and spent a little too much time averting glances and pondering whether or not we were falling in love.
He smelled the smoke first. “Is something burning?” he asked.
“The pancetta!” I squealed, running towards the stove and turning it off. I lifted the lid and was met by a monstrous cloud of smoke. The pancetta was not just burned; it was welded to the bottom of pan.
Even though the heat was off, smoke continued to rise from the pan. We knew enough not to run water over it, but we were not sure what to do with the waste.
Gian Luca had an idea. “The toilet,” he said between coughs. He grabbed the handle of the pan and walked it over to the bathroom, his arm extended to its furthest reach to distance him self from the smoke. I heard a sizzle as the burnt meat met the water in the toilet bowl. Instantly, there was more smoke.
It was May and the small window in the apartment that was already open was doing nothing to assuage the smoke. After a few minutes, the smoke detector started to beep. I rushed to open the door, thinking that the cross wind would provide us some relief.
The alarm continued to sound.
I jumped on a chair and tried pushing buttons on the detector. When that did not work, I began fanning the smoke away from it with my hands. This only enhanced the alarm. Soon the main alarms in the building started blaring and the lights in the hallway blinked as if there really was an emergency.
We looked at each other nervously. We saw his neighbors beginning to evacuate and I had the urge to tell them all to stay in their rooms.
“There’s no emergency, I was just cooking!” I wanted to scream, but thought better of it when I saw the look of embarrassment on Gian Luca’s face. My heart sank.
“What should we do?” I asked.
“I guess we should leave,” he said. He walked over to the stove and turned off all of the burners.
Slowly, we left the building, walking with our heads down, lightly fanning ourselves in an attempt to get rid of the lingering smell of burning pork fat that nailed us as the culprits.
Outside, crowds of people were gathered on the sidewalk. Some were already in their pajamas; others were still carrying their backpacks.
It was seven-twenty five, our friends would arrive to find us in the middle of the crowd, and we’d have to explain ourselves.
The distant sound of fire engines grew stronger. Gian Luca and I both looked at each other. I could tell he was disappointed. I had ruined his dinner party. How could I have made such a horrible culinary mistake? I fought back the tears.
“Hey,” he said, placing his hand on my lower back. “Don’t be sad. This will just end up being one of our stories.”
I looked at him and smiled. The smoke had cleared.
He was right, it is.
So here goes- Part 1.
My friend Jann is one of the many people who are allergic to gluten. Almost everyday at the restaurant a customer asks what items can be made without gluten and surprisingly there are lots. Yet, it is still difficult for people with gluten intolerance to have a warm comforting meal, and it is especially difficult to have pasta.
The other day Jann asked me for some gluten-free recipes and, being Italian, I thought I'd never come up with any. But as I scanned the isle of the supermarket on Sunday, I saw Spaghetti Squash and remembered the savory satisfying flavor. This would be perfect for Jann, since its consistency is very similar to spaghetti and can be topped with sauce and cheese. I opted to play up the spicy autumn flavors of the squash by pairing it with Andouille sausage. Even Gian Luca, who could eat pasta every night, loved the dish.
Spaghetti Squash with Andouille Sausage
1 Spaghetti Squash
1 medium andouille sausage ( or spanish chorizo)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp chopped italian parsely
salt and pepper to taste
grated pecorino romano (optional)
Cut squash in half length-wise and remove the seeds. Place cut side down in a large pot in 2 inches of water. Cover and bring to boil, allowing the steam to cook the squash for 20 minutes. Drain and let cool.
Once cool, scrape the insides of the squash with a fork. The pulp with come off in spaghetti-like strands, hence the name.
Place pulp in a bowl and add butter, oil, salt and pepper. Toss until coated
Slice sausage in diagonally cut 1/2" pieces. Heat in non-stick skillet or grill pan.
Place spaghetti squash on dish and top with the sausage. Sprinkle with pecorino romano cheese and fresh parsley.
See you tonight for part 2!
Monday, November 2, 2009
It's only day two and I'm already realizing that this daily blogging is going to be a challenge.
One of the best things about writing a food blog is that I can choose to write only when I want, leaving out the culinary train-wrecks that happen every so often. But since I pledged to blog everyday, you're going to get to know the real me, disasters and all.
So here's the truth, I was supposed to make Chicken with Lemon and Capers for dinner. I planned everything this morning and even remembered to pull two chicken breasts out of the freezer to defrost them before I went to work. I placed the chicken in a bowl in the sink and left the house, forgetting that Mondays are my day to work late. It was only when I got home at 6:30 that I remembered that the chicken had been sitting in the sink for eight hours, and our apartment is no ice-box. Needless to say, we didn't have chicken for dinner.
Instead, I made a pasta dish that was probably worse than the rotten chicken. The only saving grace came at the end of the meal, when Gian Luca reached in the cabinet and pulled out the Nutella.
One taste of the creamy, chocolate hazelnut spread smeared over pieces of toast and we forgot all about the culinary mishaps of the day. I suggest you pick up a jar and keep it on hand, for when all else fails.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
So first things first: I needed to stock up for a full week of cooking. And that required a trip to the supermarket because really, it all starts there.
Since I was a kid the supermarket has been one of my favorite places, probably because going for groceries was always an event. When my mom opened the restaurant, my dad took over as household shopper, and, of course, I was his assistant. Though our trips always took place on Saturdays, the real work started on Sunday, when we’d sit at the kitchen table, clipping coupons from the Sunday paper. We weren’t as organized as some people, with their coupon files and grocery lists, instead, our coupons went into a kitchen drawer and, come Saturday, half were forgotten at home. It didn’t matter though, because our essentials, the meats, cheeses and vegetables, always came from the restaurant. Our groceries consisted of the fun stuff, the juice boxes and cupcakes we would take to school; the sweet smelling shampoo; a different box of cereal for each kid, and various bottles of sodas. The trips would always start with the consumption of a chocolate and toffee candy bar, and we’d graze progressively, sampling grapes from the produce isle or thinly sliced prosciutto from the deli, laughing the entire time.
I still feel the magic when I walk through the automatic doors of a supermarket, but now I realize that the entrancement is not with the actual store, but with the endless possibilities lurking in each isle. Usually, I shop without a list and wander through the store, dreaming up different things make for Gian Luca, usually picking up a treat or two along the way, just like when I was a kid.
See you tomorrow!
Friday, October 30, 2009
I was a weird kid. I always always always ate my veggies. Its not that I was super obedient or anything like that, no, I just really loved the taste ( I still do). But I know that not every kid is like me, and normally parents have to sneak in veggies in any way shape or form.
Now of course, just because I liked veggies doesn't mean I was a healthy eater; I loved my desserts so much that I once polished off an entire tub of Cool-Whip when my mom was not looking ( Ugh, I don't even like to think about that!). So, I understand the mentality of a kid, especially during Halloween time, when veggies are the last thing on their minds.
I also understand the mentality of a parent who wants her child to eat healthy. The solution: trick 'em!
These carrot cake cookies pack in enough nutrients that you can almost forget the sugar involved. Almost.
And A Treat:
Remember the joy of Halloween? Besides the fact that you can dress up and pretend to be someone new, you get free candy just by going and knocking on someone's door. But my favorite part of Halloween was always, in the evenings, when we got home and divided up the loot.
I learned quickly that, being the youngest of five had some drawbacks, one of which occurred every Halloween, when we'd dump our pillowcases full of candy on the floor and separate it into three piles: The throw-aways, the middle-men, and the untouchables. The throw-aways were always chalky candies like Necco-Wafers, or waxy things like those little bottles filled with juice. The middle-men were usually fruity candy, things like Starburst and Twizzlers that I liked, but didn't mind sharing. Then there was the Untouchables.
The untouchables were our favorites, the candy that we would not share, and the ones, unfortunately, that my brothers would often steal. For me, these were always chocolate, the mightiest of all being anything with chocolate and mint. Next in line would be chocolate and peanut butter, mostly Reese's Peanut Butter cups, which are the inspiration, and the key ingredient to Peanut Butter Cupcakes, which are the perfect treat for Halloween parties, or any time really.
Enjoy and Happy Halloween!
Carrot Cake Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart Cookies
1 cup butter (softened)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Creme cheese Frosting ( recipe follows)
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy ( 3-4 mins). Add eggs and vanilla and beat on medium speed until well combined.
Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Gradually add four mixture to butter mixture, stirring well to incorporate. Mix in oats, carrots, raisins and nuts. Chill until firm, at least 1 hour.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Shape tablespoons of dough into balls and place on prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart.
Bake until browned and crisp, 12-15 minutes, rotating halfway through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Spread about 2 teaspoons of frosting until the flat sides of half of the cookies. Sandwich together with the remaining cookies.
Cookies can be refrigerated in airtight containers up to 3 days.
Creme Cheese Frosting
8 oz cream cheese
1 stick of butter
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla.
Place cream cheese in a mixing bowl. Using a rubber spatula, beat cream cheese until smooth, Gradually add butter and continue beating until well blended. Sift in confectioners sugar and continue beating until smooth. Add vanilla and stir to combine.
Peanut Butter Cups:
Adapted from Pillsbury: Complete Book of Baking
1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
24 mini-Reese's Peanut Butter Cups ( unwrapped)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 muffin cups with paper baking cups.
In a large bowl combine all ingredients except Peanut Butter cups. Mix at a low speed until incorporated then beat for 2 minutes at a medium speed.
Fill paper lined muffin cups 2/3 way full. Press a peanut butter cup into the batter until the top edge is even with the batter.
Bake for 18-24 minutes, or until the tops spring back when touched.
Yield: 24 cupcakes
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Ever have one of those days that just works? Today was that kind of day for me. After endless days of rain, we woke up to sunshine ( well, actually we woke up before sunrise but once it came out, it was shining non-stop). And when I got out of work it was still shining.
It was too nice to go right to my bus stop so I walked around Downtown Minneapolis for a while, basking in the crisp fall weather and thought about those apples that are resting on our porch and how I wanted to try a new cake. So I headed to the library to browse through old cookbooks.
I checked out the Pillsbury Complete Book of Baking and as I rode the bus to Gian Luca's lab I narrowed down the options for tonight's cake. In the end, he picked out the recipe for Apple Streusel Coffee Cake.
As I walked home at 5 pm I soaked in the various reds, yellows, and oranges of fall, stopping to notice the little flowers that are still around.
Then I went home, opened the book, turned on some Italian rock music and baked. It was so simple, like I had made the cake 1,000 times. And, while it was in the oven, I even cooked dinner. Its these little culinary triumphs that make this blog writing so fun.
Apple Streusel Coffee Cake
Adapted from Pillsbury Complete Book of Baking
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons plain yogurt
3 medium apples (peeled and thinly sliced)
For the Topping:
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine 1 cup flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix well and set aside.
In a large bowl, beat 1/4 cup butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and blend well. Alternately add the dry ingredients and yogurt to sugar mixture, beating well after each addition. Spread batter in prepared pan; arrange apple slices over batter.
In a small bowl, combine all topping ingredients except butter. Using a fork, cut in 2 tablespoons of butter until crumbly. Sprinkle topping evenly over apples.
Bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
After being home bound for 6 days straight, I needed to go out. So on Sunday Gian Luca took me to Minnesota Harvest, an orchard in Jordan Minnesota.
We couldn't have asked for a better day to pick our Haralson, Fireside, Regent, and Connell Reds. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, and the entire world screamed autumn.
From the smoky smell of fire in the lodge, to the taste of sweet apple cider donuts, it was the perfect apple picking experience, and a first for both of us here in Minnesota.
Throughout the day Gian Luca recounted stories of picking apples off trees in his hometown of Montepulciano, Tuscany. I couldn't help feeling a little envious of his past. Not that I didn't pick fruit in the garden state. The summers in New Jersey led my family to the farms for fresh tomatoes, strawberry picking and the world's largest blueberry festival, but autumn always fell short.
I'm sure there are apple orchards in New Jersey, but I've never been to one. I vaguely remember "pumpkin picking" which consisted of taking a hay ride around a school parking lot and selecting a pre-picked pumpkin from the piles. Those days always ended with fresh apple cider and warm apple-cider donuts but the experience always felt a bit fake. Sunday was the real deal; we even rode horses around the orchards.
After our ride, we were left to graze the orchards and pick our apples. We ran through the fields like two little kids, and yes, I actually skipped for a bit. Gian Luca climbed the trees to get the good apples and we laughed all the way back to the lodge where we sampled cider and ate our donuts, baked fresh just minutes before.
We came home with ten pounds of apples just waiting to be baked into delicious treats.
And of course, my first instinct was to make muffins. ( I just love a good muffin for breakfast!)
Apple Bran Muffins:
1 1/2 cups wheat bran
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup apple cider
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large apples, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Toss apples with cinnamon and sugar, set aside
Mix together wheat bran and milk; let stand for 10 minutes.
Beat together oil, apple cider, egg, brown sugar and vanilla and add to milk/bran mixture. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, until just blended. Fold in apples. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool and enjoy!
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Basically, since Monday I have been hibernating in my apartment, alternating my time between the bed and what I like to call "my sick chair", which is one of our kitchen chairs with a blanket on the seat and a pillow on its back for extra cushioning. My head has been aching too much to read or write so I've been filling up on Bravo's reality TV and sleep. To make matters worse, Gian Luca has been away at a conference in St. Louis, so its been me, myself, and I spending quality time with the remote. Oh yeah, and it snowed all day on Monday. Isn't this October?
Luckily, I didn't have to worry about cooking, since I made Chicken Soup last week and had a bountiful supply in the freezer. So my cooking these past three days has been as simple as hitting the defrost button on the microwave. But tonight, all that has changed.I was feeling a little better this afternoon and I finished the last of my chicken soup for lunch, so I decided to make a nice hearty lentil soup that would make the entire apartment smell delicious for when Gian Luca arrives home tonight.
I played with what I had in the fridge to make this chunky variation of an old favorite, and so this soup came out more like a combination of Minestrone and Lentil soup. And since I had some Canadian Bacon in the fridge I threw that in too. Why not, right?
The minute that I smelled the leeks and bacon simmering together I began feeling better. Now, I won't say that this soup will magically cure my flu, but it sure did provide some much needed comfort on this chilly afternoon.
Hearty Lentil Soup
1/4 cup olive oil
2 leeks ( white parts only, finely chopped)
3oz Canadian Bacon ( cubed)
2 celery stalks (finely chopped)
2 carrots (finely chopped)
1 medium potato (finely chopped)
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup Italian Parsely (finely chopped)
1 (16 oz) bag of lentils
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 cups chicken stock
3 qts water ( approx)
Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium flame. Add the leeks and Canadian Bacon and simmer until the leeks are translucent (about 7 minutes) Add the celery, carrots and potato and let simmer for an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining ingredients, making sure that liquid is two inches above the vegetables. Simmer for one hour, or until all of the vegetables/lentils are tender and the liquid has reduced a bit. Stir occasionally.
Top with pecorino romano cheese and a drop of olive oil. Enjoy!
This will keep in the fridge for 3 days or can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Last night my writing teacher called the first chapter of my novel "darling" and today I've basked in the loveliness of the word.
The entire world seemed darling today, starting with the vibrant sunlight that beamed through the windows of our apartment, to the yellow and orange leaves that crunched under my feet as I walked home, to finally the little chocolate-chip muffins I made this afternoon.
It seems that I am in a muffin mood lately, baking two different batches this week alone. But the truth is that I just realized we had muffin pans in the house. And really, the are so darling.
Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
3 large eggs
1/2 t vanilla (optional)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 bag of semi-sweet chocolate-chips.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with paper cups. Set aside. Fold the chocolate chips in a tablespoons of flour ( this will prevent them from sinking). Set aside.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In another bowl, mix the sugar, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla until well blended. Mix in the oil.
Add the dry ingredients a little at a time, mixing until just combined.
Fold in the chocolate chips. Fill each cup 2/3 of the way full.
Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack until completely cool.