Sunday, January 31, 2010

Goodbye January

Can you believe the first month of the year is over today?
Did you all keep your New Years Resolutions so far?
I know I didn't keep them all ( some never made it to Jan 3rd), but I did keep one, and I'm very very happy about it.
On the first day of the year, I vowed to begin eating more protein. In the carb-happy world of food blogging we often ignore meats and fish for the more photo-friendly baked items. While they are delicious, they are not exactly diet friendly. Now don't worry, I didn't forgo sweets all together; I could never break my love affair with carbs. But I am incorporating protein in my diet in as many ways as possible. Which led me to my newest discovery: Greek Yogurt.

While I've always been wishy-washy about regular yogurt, I am madly in love with Greek yogurt. Its thick, rich texture and slightly sour taste pairs wonderfully with sweet or savory dishes.
I've been packing it with cut up bits of fruit, unsweetened coconut, and slivered almonds, for a protein packed lunch that has much much less fat than a hamburger, but almost the same amount of protein. Yes, I'm talking twenty grams per serving! Do you see why this is love?

Then, last Friday, Gian Luca and I went to dinner at 112 Eatery which is hands down the best restaurant in Minneapolis ( the chef, Isaac Becker, is a James Beard award winner). And low and behold, I saw my friend on the menu- there he was peaking out at me, accompanying the Lamb Scottadito.
The creamy yogurt based sauce was like a burst of freshness accompanying the juicy grilled meat. So I set out to recreate it, and came out pretty close, though I added a lot of parsley, so mine came out looking a bit greener than the original.
We ate the sauce with grilled skirt steak, and when we finished the meat, we happily dipped our potatoes into it, after all, a girl's gotta have some carbs.

Yogurt Sauce
Yield 1/2 cup of sauce

1 cup flat leaf Italian parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of plain Greek Yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients into a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Use as a dip for meats or veggies.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bravo Bravo

Last week, Gian Luca got a craving for his mother's Ragu. I know that no one can ever top a mother's sauce, so I asked for her recipe instead of trying my own. The result: an authentic meaty ragu that had us both reaching for seconds.

The ragu cooks low and slow so this recipe is not one to be made after a long day of work. But trust me, it is perfect to cook on these cold, snowy Saturdays when you want to stay home all day.
Luckily the recipe makes a lot of sauce so you can stock your freezer and whenever you get a craving for mamma's ragu ( or the almost equivalent) just defrost a bit, boil up some pasta and start dreaming of Italy.
I'm actually defrosting some right now...


Meat Ragu
( makes 4 quarts)

1 large yellow onion
2 carrots ( peeled)
4 stalks of celery
1/8 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork

2 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 32 oz can of tomato puree

1. Finely chop the onion, celery and carrots ( this can be done in a food processor). In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and sautee the vegetables until lightly browned.

2. Add the ground beef and pork and lower the flame, allowing the meat to cook slowly. Break up the meat and stir occasionally. Allow the meat to cook through, (about 30 minutes).

3. Add the tomato paste and wine. Stir and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

4. Add the tomato puree and allow the sauce to simmer for 1 hour - 1 1/2 hours.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ultimate Ham and Egg Sandwich

There's just something about lazy Sundays. I love a day where you can do everything that you love and not have to worry about rushing around checking off your to-do list. Today is one of those days ( which is why I'm posting!).

The other thing that I love about Sundays is brunch. It really is the perfect lazy day meal because it just feels indulgent to eat a huge amount of breakfast food smack in the middle of the day. And being that breakfast food is my favorite, I love the fact that I can be lazy and savor it at whatever time I please.

I think I also love brunch because it reminds me of the early days of my relationship with Gian Luca, when we were still getting to know each other and trying to interpret whether or not we were falling in love. In those days I was working as a waitress in New Jersey and I never had a Friday or Saturday night off. So Gian Luca and I would do Sunday brunches in Philadelphia. I loved waking up early ( even when I worked late the night before), getting ready and driving over the Ben Franklin Bridge listening to Frank Sinatra on the radio. We'd meet for church at St. Patrick's near Rittenhouse Square ( where we eventually got married) and then get brunch and spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city. Everything was new to me then, even the city that I had grown up in, because I was seeing things with Gian Luca.

And even now, we love brunch on Sundays. Sometimes we go out and sometimes, like today, we get creative and eat at home.

There's one rule about brunch for us: it must be easy. So when we are cooking brunch, it usually consists of eggs, toast, and maybe a pancake or two. But today we were inspired by the movie Spanglish. In it, Adam Sandler's character makes himself an egg sandwich on crusty ciabatta bread that made us both want to reach through the TV screen and take a giant bite. Instead, we re-created it ourselves, deeming it the ultimate ham and egg sandwich. Enjoy.

Ultimate Ham and Egg Sandwich

2 Ciabatta rolls ( or whatever bread you'd like, today we used multi-grain buns)
4 slices of prosciutto
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic
1 cup baby spinach leaves
2 thick tomato slices
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Place bread on a baking sheet and toast until golden ( flipping once to ensure that both sides are toasted). Place one piece of prosciutto on each piece of bread. Bake for 5 minutes.
3. In a small saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil and 1 clove of garlic. When the garlic begins to brown, add the spinach and salt and pepper to taste. Allow the spinach to wilt and remove from heat. Set aside.
4. In a medium skillet, fry eggs over-easy style, so that the centers are still runny.
5. Assemble the sandwiches with the prosciutto, egg, tomatoes and spinach. Drizzle remaining olive oil over the sandwich.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

On the Fly

Yesterday afternoon we had some friends come into town, and before they arrived Gian Luca suggested that we have them over for dessert and coffee after dinner. He suggested this at 2 pm, when I was still in my pajamas, sitting at the kitchen table working on my book.
I was in no mood to go to the grocery store, but I also wanted everyone over for dessert, so I took a quick survey of the kitchen and tried to figure out what I could bake. I saw pears in the fridge, coco powder in the cabinets, and I thought they'd go well together in a cake.
A quick google search told me I wasn't alone. Pear and chocolate cake recipes flooded the screen, and although some which called for chocolate chips looked to-die-for, I had to settle for what I had in stock.The result: a moist, rich chocolate cake, sprinkled with sweet refreshing pears. To be honest, it wasn't my best cake ever, but for something baked on the fly, it was pretty good. And there is something accomplishing about being able to just make a cake without planning. To have all the ingredients for a cake available just made me feel settled in our apartment. Sometimes I am still amazed at my life. Gian Luca and I sometimes look at each other and squeal, "We're married!" ( sorry but we are still newlyweds!) So being able to whip up a cake is like we're screaming "We live here!" Ya know what I mean?

* as a side note, I have to say that my friend Luca's reaction to the cake was the absolute best reaction to a baked good I've ever gotten. Luca, I repeat, you are always invited over!

Upside-Down Pear Chocolate Cake
adapted from Jesse Ziff Cool,

1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened coco-powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup strong brewed coffee ( cooled)
3/4 cup buttermilk*
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 pears, peeled, cored and sliced into 1/2" thick slices

1. Lightly oil a 10" cake pan, line with parchment and lightly oil the parchment as well
2. preheat oven to 375 degrees F
3. Combine flour, sugar, coco-powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl
4. In a large bowl mix together eggs, coffee, buttermilk, vegetable oil, and vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture and stir until well combined.
5. Line the bottom of the cake pan with the pears in a circular design. Pour the batter on top of the pears and bake for 40 minutes ( or until a wooden pick in the center comes out clean).
6. Place on a wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. If the cake is uneven, cover it with a clean plate and weigh it down with a pot of cold water for a few minutes.
7. Carefully run a metal spatula around the edges of the cake pan. Invert the cake onto a serving platter and tap the top of the pan, shaking it a bit to loosen it. Leave the pan on the cake for 15 minutes. Remove pan and parchment and allow the cake to cool completely.
8. Serve with French vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream. Enjoy with friends.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Way to Warm Up

All I heard all day at work was people commenting on how warm it is. Then, tonight as I was driving to the grocery store the radio weatherman said it was going to be warm all week. I stuck my hand out of the window. Yep, still freezing. Then it hit me, we are living in a city that considers 24 degrees Fahrenheit to be warm.

I guess it could be worse. It could be -24 degrees ( which is typical here in January). Still, I had to chuckle.

Being that the weather is still unpredictable ( it may snow later in the week) and real warm weather is months away, I thought I'd share the no-fail way to warm up. A recipe for soup.

Minestrone soup has always been my favorite, because as a kid I had a strong aversion to meat, and this was the one meal I didn't have to worry about. It remains a favorite because, once it is in the pot, I still don't have to worry about it. This soup is so easy to prepare, and the longer it stews the more flavorful it becomes, and while the stove-top is warming up your kitchen, you can make yourself a nice warm mug of coffee and read a good book. That's what I did at least. And before I knew it, I felt like I was on the beach again.

Minestrone Soup

This recipe is completely vegetarian and can easily be made gluten-free. Just substitute water for the vegetable stock.

You can pretty much use whatever durable vegetables you'd like. Feel free to play around.

2 large zucchini
3 potatoes ( peeled)
4 celery stalks
4 carrots ( peeled)
1 head of broccoli
1 cup green peas
1 medium onion
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
3 cups vegetable stock ( or water)
2 tablespoons fresh basil ( chopped)
salt and pepper to taste

1.Dice all vegetables ( except peas) into uniform pieces. Blanch the zucchini, potatoes, celery, carrots, and broccoli in boiling water for 3 minutes. Strain.

2.Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onions and cook until they begin to look translucent. Add the rest of the vegetables and cook until lightly browned.

3.Add the crushed tomatoes, vegetable stock, basil and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes ( the longer this simmers the softer the vegetables will become).
4. Top with a drop of olive oil, freshly grated parmesan cheese and basil. Serve with onion focaccia or crusty bread.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

For the love of tomatoes

I've been thinking a lot about tomatoes lately. I know that sounds strange in the dead of winter, especially since we live in sub-zero conditions, but I have, and I'll explain why.

The novel I've been working on is titled In the Field of Tomatoes, and as I mentioned before, it takes place in my mother's hometown in southern Italy, Salandra. The town was primarily a farming town in the early 20th century ( when my novel takes place) and I set the entire novel either in town, or in the tomato fields around the town.

I've been hard at work revising the novel and, one of my goals for the early part of this year is to start sending it out to agents and ( cross your fingers people!) sell it. So, you see my preoccupation with tomatoes now huh?When I got home from work tonight, I barely had enough time to cook, let alone revise anything before dinner, so I used the one hour that I had to brainstorm about chapter 9 and make these stuffed tomatoes.

They were the perfect side-dish to the herb frittata that we ate for dinner, and even if you don't have tomatoes on your brain, one taste of these and you'll be thinking about them too.

Pomodori al Forno ( Baked tomatoes)

6 medium Roma tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons pecorino romano cheese ( optional)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place on baking sheet or casserole dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic powder and cheese in a small bowl.
4. Fill the tomato halves with the breadcrumb mixture.
5. Drizzle olive oil on top of tomatoes.
6. Bake for 30 minutes.

Monday, January 4, 2010

An Epiphany

Hello again! I know I've been away for what feels like forever.
Our Holidays were delicious and I'm not just talking about all the food that we consumed.
Gian Luca and I went to New Jersey to stay with my family and his parents flew in from Italy to be with us too. All of us together made for some great meals, laughs and many many hugs, but no time to blog- so sorry!
And even today, I don't have a recipe for you all, just a little posting about my day and my big epiphany for the new year.
Remember those books- Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ? Someone gave me one for a graduation present when I finished high school and I absolutely hated it. It actually got me mad because the accumulation of all the small stuff can lead to a big meltdown.
You know the story- we've all had bad days- days that just start off bad and progressively get worse little by little. Well today was like that for me, because this morning I woke up late, scalded the milk for my coffee, and then, got into my car and puff- the radiator blew out. After more than a few tears, I spent most of the day waiting for my car to be fixed and then reluctantly paid the hefty bill.

But as I was waiting for my car I spent some time thinking and I came to realize that yes, life is made up of the small stuff, but that is the beauty of life. Small things ( like scalding your milk) can annoy us, but other small things ( like the fact that your husband made you coffee) can cheer us right up. So today I made a New Year's Resolution: to focus on the beautiful small things in my life.And once I started looking around, I saw that my world is full of them. And even this morning, as I was crying about the car, I saw these tiny porcelain measuring spoons that Gian Luca bought me for the Feast of the Epiphany. They are so darling that, even in the midst of tears, I had to smile.

So I have to ask- what are the little things that make you happy?