Wednesday, December 24, 2008


January is going to be a very stimulating month for CUCINAMORE, my cooking group, and I hope some of you will be here to join us for this great occasion and share the excitement!

I am going to have two special classes in January with a "guest star", my friend Benedetta, or "Betta" as we call her, who is arriving from Italy to be with us for a little while.

Betta owns and manages a very unique piece of paradise in Southern Tuscany, where, among other things like pampering her guests, picking up olives, checking the production of her own wine and much more, she also finds the time and the strength to be the main chef at her Agriturismo called "Poggio al sole" (click on the name to know a little more about her and her place).

Betta will be leading two classes at my house as follows (and remember: even if she's a real chef we will keep it "family-style" as usual, easy and tasty!):

21 Jan - wed - 6pm: "A TASTE OF TUSCANY 1 (The Meal)"
A variety of ideas for an original Italian meal that you can enjoy here and then prepare yourself in your own kitchen!

28 Jan - wed - 6pm: "A TASTE OF TUSCANY 2 (The Desserts)"
The sweet side of Betta!

Pick the class you are most interested in or come to both: cost per person/per class: $30.00 (all food prepared will be enjoyed by participants at the end of each class)
Payment is required when you book your class.

My kitchen is not huge, so hurry to reserve your own chance to have a "Taste of Tuscany" in San Antonio!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Someone Sells Their Cookies for the Holidays....

...a friend told me I should sell my homemade pasta, ravioli and gnocchi instead!
Well, in case you need a hand for your holiday dinners, just get in touch with me, I might be able to help: those go from your freezer to your plate in less than 5 minutes and add a nice, different touch to your meal. Just, don't cheat on Christmas day and say you made them yourself. Or if you do, make sure Santa has already delivered your presents...

Monday, December 15, 2008

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So Much Fun With This Group Class!

Here: pizza, again! I know, we talked about home made pizza before, but this group lesson I had last Friday was really special for me. We had a lot of fun and I got so much enthusiasm and support and good vibes from the people who attended it that I need to share some of it, at least. I was never good at keeping emotions inside anyway :-)

What the class was all about was proving them that making a good, VERY good pizza at your home is a task that we all can achieve with some passion and good ingredients.

Italians don't talk with their hands, do they? Look at me! Always swinging them around...

Here are some fresh cherry tomatoes getting ready to become a pizza that tastes like Summer (even in December, but that's the magic of San Antonio, TX ;-) ). Note: the basil came from my backyard!

Here is how it looks out of the oven (and after someone had a few bites of it)

Bell peppers getting ready for their perfomance on a "sausage and peppers" pizza

There: ready to get in the oven!

I know, the pic is a little out of focus, but these are the people I need to thank for that very special night: grazie Shylah, grazie Rose, grazie Carl and Carla...and a very special grazie to my friend Yolanda, who is not in the picture because she's the one who took it and was big help all through the class.
Let me leave you with the menu of that class and remind you all that if you're still thinking of your last minute Christmas present for a food lover friend of yours, I might have an idea for you!
12 December 2008

· DIAVOLA (pepperoni pizza)

· POMODORINI E BASILICO (cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, Parmigiano Reggiano)

· PROSCIUTTO E FUNGHI (sautéed mushrooms, cubed ham)

· RICOTTA E SPINACI (sautéed spinach, ricotta cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano)

· BROCCOLI E BACON (sautéed broccoli with garlic and red peppercorn, bacon)

· SALSICCIA E PEPERONI (Italian mild sausage, sautéed bell peppers with balsamic vinegar and brown sugar)

· VEGETARIANA (grilled bell peppers, zucchini, eggplants)

· SICILIANA (pepperoni, capers, olives)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Special

You’re still in time
To tell Santa
That all you want for Christmas is

A voucher for a special
Italian Cooking Lesson

To learn how to make a whole yummy meal
(antipasto, primo piatto, secondo piatto e contorno)

Available for those who’ve been good
And also for those who promise they will be…

(Special Christmas voucher: $ 50.00 or package for 4 "one-topic-lessons": $ 120.00)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pizza Group Class

Friday, December 12th, 6:00 pm


You will very seldom buy pizza again, after learning how to make your own, delicious and healthy, the way we really do in Italy.

With my hands-on teaching you will learn all the tricks you need to know to make the right dough to get a nice thin crust, get a few ideas for the tastiest toppings, all made of fresh ingredients and then taste the difference!

Cost per person: $15.00

Max 8 people, confirm your participation by Dec. 10th

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Well, what did you think I could possibly have in the oven after cooking all that ragu’ the other day? A cake? Obviously not.
This makes me look so "average Italian", I know that, but what can I say? I'll admit it: I enjoy the occasional Lasagne. There, I said it. Look how pretty my babies look, while they are cooking:

And yes, the right spelling is LASAGNE, with an E at the end, and it's plural. There: I threw in the Italian lesson for the day at the same cost. What a deal!
Seriously, though, Lasagne is a great dish, who can deny that? It's rich, complete, filling, comforting, and makes wonderful leftovers.
But I especially love them right out of the oven, with that crunchy brown top, all that cheese and creamy bechamel sauce (no ricotta cheese and tomato sauce in my Lasagne. Only good ragu', bechamel and cheese). They smell soooooo good too, can't you tell from the picture? ;-)

I know, with all this talking I made you hungry, didn't I? Here, have your slice and Buon Appetito!

For my friends who come to the cooking classes: I will soon have a group class on Lasagne as requested. It might not be original, trendy, sophisticated...but it's just plain good!

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I could be making ragu’ on a Wednesday afternoon, a Monday evening or any other day, it does not even matter: to me it always smells like “Sunday Morning” anyway. That was the day my mom used to make it, almost every week, basically for our Sunday lunch, traditionally the most important meal of the week, but also to freeze it and have it ready some other day for a quick pasta, being the working woman she has always been.

Making ragu’ is considered an art in Italy, a pretty complicated one too, especially in Napoli and around it. I come from up North instead, so you will forgive me if, as usual, I keep it nice and simple.

When I want my ragu’ to taste as much as possible as mom’s I use very little spices, if any at all: onion-celery-carrot-garlic, to begin with, beef and pork meat combined, wine, tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper. When in season, maybe some basil. That’s it. Or actually no, that is not it. I am missing the main ingredient. That would be TIME. And I did not misspell thyme: I actually refer to those three or four hours that the sauce needs to slow cook in order to become a real ragu’. At least according to my mom, that is.

I used to get discouraged by long preparations of any sort but now I don’t feel that way anymore. I just do other things in the meanwhile to keep my anxiety and impatience under control. Of course I don’t do these kinds of things very often and when I do I make a lot so that I can have it ready to use whenever somebody in the family craves some special spaghetti, tagliatelle, lasagne or gnocchi. And in my family “special” means that they must smell like “Sunday Morning”.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Falling in Love with a Crust

I found out that puff pastry is not that common in the US stores as I thought it would be. At least not as common as it is in Italy, so I find it pretty hard to find it in stores and I never even thought of trying and make my own! Too long and complicated. So it had been a while since I last made my easy and tasty antipasto with that kind of crust.
On my favorite Italian cooking site I recently found a recipe for the crust, though, that I must say I like much more than puff pastry itself, it is easy to make and only requires a reasonable quantity of butter! It's made of flour, egg, butter and ricotta cheese, so it's lighter than your average pastry and still very, very good. I tried it today and I simply loved it.
In those Chiffels in the picture I added some paprika seasoning to the dough too and then filled some of them with pieces of wiener, some with cheese, some with ricotta and spinach and some with ham. I decided this has officially become my base for quiches and savory tarts from today on.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Oatmeal Cookies

This is mainly for my Italian friends out there. Just to prove you guys I am still working hard on that deficiency of mine: I am baking sweets on a regular basis now. Training hard. Sweat and hard work. They still never come out a masterpiece of any sort, but I am not giving up.
These oatmeal cookies for instance (I know: again, not exactly a traditional Italian treat) can fall in the category of "not bad, not bad at all: edible!”. Which to me equals to the Pulitzer prize for those who can write...
Stay tuned: you never know when I am going to shock you all baking a real cake!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

And We Finally Made Those Gnocchi

I told you how it works with me: when a dish finds its way to my mind I am not happy until it's on my plate. So I had to make those gnocchi I told you about a few days ago. I also found the perfect potatoes: they call them "Russet" and they are normally used for baked potatoes. Very "dry", after I boiled them I did not even have to use all the flour I had anticipated. And there was no need for eggs to hold the dough together, which I strongly prefer, when I can help it.

Here is the sequence of our latest task.

Dani and Nicholas at work

Nicholas with the wooden tool for gnocchi we brought with us from Italy (you know...just the essential things when you make a big move ;-) )

Our little "puppies"

a close-up of our work

and the final dish. Yummy!

Amazing what a bunch of poor ingredients can do: potatoes, flour, a container of sauce from the freezer that was the leftover from a chicken meal of a couple weeks ago. Definitely a satisfying dinner with little more than nothing...

In The Mood For Paella

It could not be less Italian than this, but hey! It’s not like we only eat Italian or American food at our house! We like to go and venture on those unexplored foreign territories at times, with different results, of course, not always exactly amazing.
This, though, is certainly a foreign territory, but I cannot say it’s unexplored to me: I used to make Paella pretty often, in the past. For some reason I then stopped for a while (I have my phases and my moments with food), but the other day I suddenly started to think of it. That’s how it always works for me: some type of food somehow finds its way to my brain, it can be something I see or hear around me, an insignificant detail I capture on TV or on the street or at a store, anything, and I start thinking about it. Then, I am not happy until I have it on my plate.
I finally made Paella the other night. As you might know there are a million versions of this wonderful, traditional Spanish dish. Here is how I like to make my own.

Basically my favorite is the one that requires a combination of vegetables, meat and seafood. I use green beans, bell peppers, tomatoes and peas for the veggie part. Chicken (preferably the dark meat), pork (I recently discovered the extra touch of a little chorizo too) and rabbit, when I have it, for the meat. Clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp for the fish ingredients. I used to like to add a particular crustacean that is very common in the Mediterranean Sea, but that I cannot find here in the US or at least I never found it so far. I don’t even know what its American name is, but the Italian for it is “cannocchia” or “cicala di mare” and the scientific one is “Squilla Mantis”. Go have a look following the link and if anyone knows what I am talking about I would love to know if it is known and used over here. It tastes a little like lobster, but has a softer and even more delicate meat and I love to use it in a lot of seafood recipes.

Now the essential touch of flavor that comes with spices: you have to have some saffron! The slightly bitter and aromatic taste and smell, together with the shade of yellow that it adds to the plate cannot be substituted by anything else, if you ask me. Then sweet paprika, but that one is not as essential to me.

It takes a long time to make Paella, as it requires for most of the ingredients to be cooked separately and then assembled, but to me it’s a fun way to spend a couple hours of a lazy afternoon and then treat my family to a special dinner.

To make the whole experience not just “good” but “great” you want to have a glass of Sangria with it. Sangria is the Spanish drink made with red wine, fruits and a shot of spirit. I tried those bottles of so called “base for Sangria” but I really did not like it. I found my personal taste to be closer to a good mix of light red wine, fruit juice, pieces of fruit and of course a drop of good brandy. Must be because I’m Italian, but a friend suggested I used Lambrusco and I found this humble, family-style red wine to be perfect for me.

I did not end up dancing flamenco on the table, the other night, in case some of you are wondering, but we all enjoyed our Spanish dinner nevertheless. With another round of Sangria I might, though. Maybe next time. I’ll think about it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

I'm Thinking Gnocchi...

Gnocchi...I haven't made them in a long time. For some reason I have been spoiled by my Godmother, in Italy: this sweet old lady makes potato gnocchi at least once every two weeks or so and when she makes them she makes A LOT! She lives alone, so she basically makes them with with the purpose of delivering freezer bags to her "entourage": her four sons and families, a few friends, my mom and dad, my brother and his family and, back when I was in Italy, me.

Gnocchi are potato dumplings, as most of you probably know, a traditional dish that used to be a part of festive meals. Very filling, they are normally served with ragu', tomato sauce or simply your butter-sage-parmesan cheese dressing. Or (this too is pretty common, just like for fresh egg noodle) any gravy from the meat pot on the stove, whatever is supposed to be the main course of the day: roast beef, chicken, veal stew, anything.
Nowadays you can find them at restaurants in Italy with all sort of "trendier" sauces, but they don't impress me. Personally, my favorite are still those with butter and sage. Or with the sauce of a good "pollo in umido", a chicken stew in a tomato sauce. Which brings me to what made me crave gnocchi these days: I have a container of this sauce in the freezer waiting for the right match. I was thinking to use it for tagliatelle, but I am reconsidering it and I will probably make some gnocchi soon.

I hope I am able to choose the right potatoes for the purpose. I am not an expert and here there are so many varieties to choose from and I am not familiar with most of them (advices are welcome, if you have any). I need a potato with a high content of starch and little water, because this allows me not to add too much flour to the dough and it makes a world of difference in taste and texture. Normally I would use what we call an "old potato", when some time has gone by from the moment they have been picked up, and therefore part of the water has been lost in the "aging" process. But again, I am not an expert and most of the times, if I can't ask for advice at the store, I just cross my fingers and hope I pick the right ones.

The word "gnocchi" commonly refers to the potato ones, but this is not your only kind: among others, I love the ricotta gnocchi, which is a pretty recent discover for me. Very delicate in taste. I am not a great fan of the zucca (pumpkin) gnocchi instead, even if I think I should do some researches and experiment some, in this regards, as I find they would be a very good fit for the upcoming Halloween period. Just to give my Italian touch to the seasonal menu. For a change ;-)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

And I Am Back

Here, back. The old computer passed away. It won't come home again, ever. And with it won't be back any of my cooking recipes, my pictures, documents, my life-in-a-box. Please, spare me the speech on back-ups, external hard disks and all of that. I know I am dumb, crazy, out of date and all of that and more, and it's my fault, my fault only, so let's just move on. This is a new start. Will be back soon with some food-related topics. Till then...what's for dinner tonight? Seafood salad, here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Out Of Order

Sorry, my friends, but it looks like our home computer decided to leave us, at least for a while and I won't therefore be able to update my blog until it comes home.
We took it to the "doctor" and it seems like that's where it's going to be for a while.
I'm still cooking though. Will tell you all about it as soon as "we" are in a better shape.
For my "so-called-students": please contact me by phone for booking your lessons, as I can only seldom check my email. Thank you.
Ciao ciao,

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I Am Stuffed!

Ravioli, tortellini, cappelletti…I love stuffed pasta. It offers a million possibilities for the filling, from the traditional to the most daring and experimental ones, and many possible shapes too. Plus it is fun to make. I did not say anything like “quick” or “practical”. I said fun. Actually, I must correct myself on the second one: if you decide you are going to spend an afternoon making ravioli and you make a good quantity and freeze what you do not eat right away, the day you will pop the bag out of the freezer and amaze your guests with your own homemade ravioli, ready in 5 minutes from freezer to plate, you will secretly tell yourself they’re “practical” too.

I recently had a cooking lesson with a group of ladies and we had a lot of fun making three different types:
· Some traditional “ravioli di magro” (ricotta cheese and spinach) with a light cherry tomato sauce
· Some filled with “salsiccia e mascarpone” (sausage and mascarpone cheese) topped with some “funghi al verde” ( sautéed mushroom with garlic and parsley)
· Tomato, mozzarella and basil inside, Mediterranean sauce made with shallot, capers, anchovies and pine nuts
I am not particularly fond of those with a sweet filling (some use pears, amarettos …) while I especially love those with seafood and/or vegetables. If I had to make my own hit list, it would see “scallop ravioli with brandy and pink pepper sauce” on top, but the very simple eggplant ravioli will follow right after.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A trip to Texarkana, TX - where everything meets everything: states, roads, people and even food

From the “visitors guide” of the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce site:

"Although many have contended for the honor, it's not known officially who gave Texarkana its name. One popular version credits a Colonel Gus Knobel (…) who marked the name "TEX-ARK-ANA" on a board and nailed it to a tree with the statement, "This is the name of a town which is to be built here." It was believed at the time that the Louisiana boundary was just a few miles to the south (actually it is only 25), and Colonel Knobel, in selecting the city's name, derived it from TEXas, ARKansas, and LouisiANA. "

Most of my husband’s family lives in this town in northern Texas with this particular name. I always love to go there, mainly because I sincerely love those people, but not only that. The atmosphere is great and this idea of a place where three states meet has always fascinated me, maybe because our own family is quite an interesting melting pot itself, so what better place to have us all merging together?

This side of the family can definitely cook and when I go there I always have a lot to learn. During this trip in particular we cooked one dinner together, a “tex-alian” dinner you might say, mixing what we know and what we like and the result was definitely satisfying for everybody, if you can measure that from that one sentence everybody would say as soon as they walked into the house: “Boy, it smells good in here!”

There were some perfectly smoked pork loins going hand in hand with broccoli and sausage farfalle pasta, traditional cornbread sitting by baked cauliflowers in béchamel sauce and much more. Of course I had to make my beloved Miscati

I know I might be boring repeating one more time that cooking basically means “love” to me: the love that you find, breath, smell and taste in a family kitchen where people are happy to be right where they are, among those few faces that really make a difference in their lives.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

CAPRESE – The “Not-For-Everyone" Cake

Capri (that’s the root of the term “caprese”) is one of the beautiful islands of my Country. It’s a little jewel on the sea and it gave the name at least to a couple interesting dishes of the Italian traditional cuisine.

One is the refreshing, nutrient salad that everyone knows and that you can find in almost every Italian family dinner menu in the summertime, when everyone is just too tired or too hot to cook: tomato and fresh mozzarella, a few leaves of basil, olive oil.

The other, maybe less famous but certainly not less important or less interesting, is this intriguing sinful chocolate cake. It might not have the looks that some more renowned chocolate cakes have: no pretty icing, no rich filling, no attractive decoration, but I promise you it just tastes great. Like those precious things that you need to WANT to discover, looking beyond what’s obvious to everyone. And when you do you consider yourself very fortunate.
It’s a cake for true dark chocolate lovers. It does not contain any flour or baking powder whatsoever, and it melts in your mouth when you have a bite. It’s simply made of dark chocolate, almonds, eggs, butter and sugar.

Even the sugar is not one of the main ingredients, as there’s not much of it so what you get is a cake that is not particularly sweet. That probably does not fit the average American taste since, generally speaking, everything here is pretty sweet. But if you are into bitter chocolate I’m pretty sure you will love this.

Just add a spoon of semi-whipped cream to it, if you like, and that’s it. It’s a test: if you’re truly a part of the chocolate lovers club, you’ll appreciate it very much.

Friday, August 22, 2008

And I Have The Nerve To Tell People I Can Cook...

Have you ever had the feeling you are not sure whether to be proud or ashamed about something? Me, this is precisely how I feel when I serve this snack with the aperitif, at my dinners.

It’s called “ostriche finte” (guess you can translate it into something like “wannabe oysters”). They have very little of the oyster, maybe just a fishy memory that comes from the little piece of anchovy that’s on them, but that is how the Venetian nonna (grandma) who taught me how to make them called them and, of course, who am I to change their name, right?

All in all it’s only a bunch of poor, even “junk-food-like” ingredients, but the combination of them (strictly to be put in your mouth in one single bite, that’s the rule) creates a strange mix of taste and texture that is absolutely interesting and definitely pleasant.

Even my more sophisticated friends back in Italy (right Silvia?) had to admit that this strange appetizer is something worth munching on while waiting for dinner to start and she even promised me she was going to talk about them on her own blog. Talk about a hit with zero effort, here…

What’s the secret formula? Here, write it down, you’ll thank me for this:
· Potato chips
· Lemon (thinly sliced, zest on)
· Mayonnaise or soft butter
· Anchovies
What you do is cut the lemon slices into very small triangles and the anchovies in equally small pieces. You then put on top of each chip a drop of mayo or creamy butter, whatever you prefer, and using that as if it was glue, add a piece of lemon and a piece of anchovies to it. If you serve it on a nice plate it is EVEN going to look good!

Here is my "gourmet" appetizer for today. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Cheese, fruits & C.

I have never been particularly fond of mixing the sweet taste with other tastes like sour or salted. With one exception and that is when cheese is involved.
I love cheese with fresh fruits, honey or homemade preserves. Here are a few ideas from my experiments:

pears with taleggio cheese and walnuts
semi-hard tuscan pecorino cheese with an orange, onion and vinegar preserve (it's a friend's recipe, especially made to go with cheese)

sweet emmenthal with apricots or grapes or cherry tomatoes (I know that's not fruit, but maybe the "cherry" in the name counts?). Plus, the plate needed a touch of color ;-)

apricots with cream cheese and honey
kiwi with robiola cheese and pink pepper

Cute and tasty, aren't they?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Eggplant, Elegant Lady of the Summer Garden

Once upon a time there was a thing called “seasonality”. We, dinosaurs, would have never even thought of having peaches at Christmastime, oranges in the summer, chestnuts in spring. Now, instead, we hardly remember what grows when, as everything is available in the stores year round. Anyway, for those like me who, besides being dinosaurs, are also food-obsessed, flavors, smells and textures are a great memory conveyer.

All this brings me to EGGPLANTS.

If I think “summer” in my childhood days I think watermelon, I think green beans, I think peaches, I think zucchini, but before anything else I think eggplants! How’s that for a favorite child food, uh? And I have the nerve to act surprised when I see my son swallowing guacamole and corn chips as if they were candies…I wonder who he got that weird trait from.

My dad used to take great care (and pride) of (and in) the vegetables he grew in his garden. In the summer we used to have a huge production of almost all of that mentioned above, plus tomatoes (of course), peppers and many other vegetables. But eggplants have always been my favorites. Even while still attached to the plant, in their fancy dark purple evening dress, tall and slim ladies of dad's garden (he liked the long kind).

My mom used to often cook them “al funghetto”, which means “like you do mushrooms”. Now, it’s a given that you need garlic and parsley for that, but there are some people who also add tomatoes while some others don’t. My mom belonged to the party who did not. I sometimes do, sometimes don’t. “Melanzane al funghetto”, that’s how they’re called in Italian, are a tasty side dish, but if you get to save some leftovers try use them on a pasta (see picture). It’s excellent both hot or room temperature, like you would serve a pasta salad. Or, have them over some toasted crusted bread, as a different bruschetta.

I also remember eating them stuffed, fried, grilled, in “parmigiana”, pickled… only recently have I discovered the “polpette di melanzane” (eggplants ball) and I think they are delicious. I use them for a vegetarian cannelloni (where I roll them up to substitute the cannelloni noodle). I make a spread for crostini that makes excellent appetizer, or can be used over grilled meat. Shall I go on? I could. But I will stop here for now, with my tribute to a very versatile and tasty vegetable. That my husband hates, by the way… :-)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Incognito Anchovies

I have developed this theory: the number of people I met here in the US that affirm they do not like anchovies is inversely proportional to the one of those I know in Italy who say they love them. I wonder why.

I am an anchovy's fan, a real one. I truly am. But I understand that we are not talking about an "easy" food here. Their flavor is strong and salty and fishy. And delicious.

One of the reasons for people to not liking them much must be their flavor audacity, but possibly also the way they are used in cooking. My husband is one of those who do not get along too much with them. I recently found out, though, that his first encounter with anchovies was on top of a pizza and the main thing he remembers about that flavor experience was SALT. Clearly the high heat to which they are exposed with no mercy when baked over a pizza does not leave room to any subtle hints: the salty trait is mostly all you perceive.

But there is more to them than just salt and definitely more than the role of pizza topping. They perform greatly even (if not especially) when they are not the main star of the movie. So, in case you are among the distrustful ones, try approaching them when they hide, rather than when they are in the spotlight, at least at the beginning of what, I bet, could be a mutually satisfactory relationship.

I made two different pestos with anchovies, in the past few days. One of them was for a sauce for homemade tomato and mozzarella filled ravioli. The pesto sauce was made with shallot, garlic, capers and pine seeds. An orchestra of flavors playing some tasty mediterranean music. You would have not known the anchovies were there but I promise you we would have missed them if they were not!

The other was made with anchovies (of course), parsley, garlic and olive oil to make a dressing for some baked sliced bell peppers. Come on, it’s really difficult not to like them that way: they dissolve into a savory sauce that enhances the peppers. These vegetables are certainly not weak in flavor and therefore need some daring sauce to go with them. There it was: my anchovy dressing. Bold, yes, but complex. Not just salty.

I still like anchovies a lot as they are, no masks on or hidden in anything. To me they are elegant even when naked. I remember one time, back in Italy, when a friend brought a can of spanish oil-packed anchovies to a party I went to. We had them over bread and butter, nothing else. For a while you could not hear a word. Just sighs of pleasure.

But, again, f you want to use them as ONE of the ingredients for other preparations, well the sky is the limit and sometimes you can hide them so well (still benefiting from their contribution to the recipe) that even the most convinced detractors would appreciate them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 what?

I all are, my friends, kinda disappointed today. You opened my blog and found the picture of some anonymous strawberry and raspberry muffins. What's up with those? And it couldn't be less Italian either.

Point is that I am very proud of them, instead, go figure. Let me explain: I was born with a little handicap. For as much as I love cooking I don't seem to be able to bake any sweet stuff, any sort of decent dessert, nothing. When I entertain I must always buy the dessert or just hope that one of the people coming offers to bring some. I really can't make anything worth eating, in term of sweets.

That, up till now. The Magic Muffins changed it all, I feel it.

I very reluctantly decided to try again with these guys only because Nicholas was bugging me because he wanted something sweet, I had nothing in the house and I did not think that stuffing him with M&M's was a healthy choice. Plus, I did not have the car available to go to the closest store.

Miracle! With my great surprise I baked my first edible sweet in like forever and I made it from scratch too! So there is hope. And I want this recipe framed: if I made it, anyone can.

Now the sky is the limit. After I neutralized the evil spell I had suffered for all of my life I might EVEN be bold enough to decide to bake frozen cookies! You never be continued.

Friday, July 25, 2008

MISCATI - When Grandma Is The Pusher

MISCATI? Yes, Miscati. Look at the pic and I dare you to say you already know what this is.
Ehhhh….We are talking heavy stuff here! Not your “I’ll just try it once, I can quit whenever I want to” kind of drug. You try Miscati once and you’re in the tunnel. There’s no turning back. The person responsible for all this goes under the name of Nonna Maria and it’s my friend Chiaretta’s grandma.

This is bread but it’s not your average bread. It’s sausage, but it’s not a sausage dish. There’s cheese in it too. It’s a good snack, it’s great for picnics, it perfectly fits in your buffets, wonderful to-go food, great on the table during a nice dinner, even with its rustic old fashioned aura (or maybe because of it)…the only problem with it is to find the will power you need to quit eating them once you start.

I met Chiaretta through the cooking club I belong to in Italy and she was kind enough to share the recipe of these little wonders with us. Her nonna (grandma) used to make these little guys for her and taught her how to do them, so Chiaretta eventually taught us. Now they are on our table very, very often, and I haven’t met anybody yet who has told me they don’t like them. Chiaretta says that both Miscati and Nonna Maria should be on the Unesco list for our World Heritage and I perfectly agree with her. To all those who haven’t tried them yet, if you get the chance to do it do so at your own risk. Just don’t say I did not warn you…

Saturday, July 19, 2008

B.C./A.D. (Before Cooking, After it’s Done. Homemade Pizza, That Is)

Pizza and Italians…what a cliché! Well, I guess today I will add it up to the image of the average Italian that I give of myself: I love pizza and I bake my own at least once or twice a week. There, I said it!
Now, in case you don’t know this, I come from northern Italy. That would not normally allow me to “legally” make pizza (right Noyra?). This is considered to be a “southern territory”. Coming from up north I can make polenta, if I like, pasta e fagioli (beans soup), maybe a few other things but what do I know about pizza?
Here is what I have learnt with experience, living my life as an outlaw and baking my pizzas in the shadow, trying not to talk too much (which is almost a mission impossible to me) so that no one can detect my northern accent.

B.C. (Before Cooking)

The main ingredients of a good Homemade Pizza are, if you ask me, TIME and PATIENCE.
I have learnt that I cannot make pizza in two hours like most recipes promise. Or rather, it takes more yeast if I do that than I am willing to use and I don’t like what I get when I do that: when I use more yeast and less time, I can actually taste it in the crust and, second but not less important, my stomach seems to not like my pizza just as much.
So when I prepare my dough I just take my time. Do not get discouraged, though, when I tell you that it takes me a whole day or a whole night: it’s not like you have to actually work all that time! It’s more or less all about training your patience (and it takes lots of training if you are the kind of impatient person that I am). You actually need 15, maybe 20 minutes to make the dough (maybe a little more if you don’t have the help of a machine for kneading and you can only count on your muscles). But after that it’s only a matter of forgetting that bowl in a nice, comfy place. Not too cold, not too hot, no breeze to disturb the sleep…I normally leave the bowl in the turned off oven morning to evening or the other way round. After that I simply divide my dough in balls the size of a big orange (or a small grapefruit, ah!) and either let them rest another half an hour or so before making my pizza or freeze them for those nights when I am out of ideas for dinner and they come – oh – so handy. I have no idea if this is the right process. I can only tell you it works great for me.

A.D. (After it’s Done)

Please, please, I am begging you: do not do like my husband does. Eat your pizza while it’s still hot! Do it for me. Don’t let it sit on the counter for half an hour or, even worse, have it cold the following morning for breakfast! Vince can eat pizza like that but it’s not fair to this food. Pizza gives its best fresh (hot) out of the oven, when you proudly look at it telling yourself (secretly) how amazed you are that it looks just like those you get from the pizzeria! Anyway, anything after that moment is not the same. Take the risk of burning your tongue, it’s worth it. If you are willing to face the challenge of trying it this way at your home I promise you that you will never (ehm...not often) order pizza from any delivery place again. If you are not, you are always welcome to come try mine at our house. And then stop at the closest Pizza H** on the way home to get what you really call a pizza ;-)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

When Hubby Cooks

We have a problem in my family. We all love food. It's serious. Pathological. We think about (good) food all the time. All of us. And we all enjoy cooking, with all our diversities.

To Vince and I a good dinner at home means relax, means family, means pampering. It does not have to be gourmet. It just has to be good. Most times it is, I must say. And after many years we still manage to surprise each other with food. Like he did the other night when he put dinner together with something that might be common to my american friends but it certainly wasn't to me since I had never had it before.

He cooked some Maryland style Crab Cake. Mamma mia! That stuff is awsome! Delicius tender and juicy crab meat with seasoning, panfried till it got a crunchy golden crust on the outside! Spicy but not too hot. Sooooo good! I even got to have a glass of Pinot Grigio to go with it that he bought for me even if he does not drink. Next time you hear me complain about that man (do I ever? Who? Me? Nah....) just stick a panino in my mouth. Oh, butter it first, if you don't mind.

p.s.: I bet you are wondering why that Grilled Tilapia with Cajun Seasoning did not make it in one piece to the picture...sorry: it smelled too good

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Soups, Amore Mio!

I don’t know why it took me so long to learn and appreciate soups. I guess as children we think they’re not cool enough. In fact they’re pretty HOT (trying to be funny here, please smile at least).

One of the false ideas I had about soups was that they are only good in wintertime. WRONG!
Of course they are among the most common comfort food when it’s cold out there but some of them are wonderful source of vitamins and minerals ESPECIALLY in the summertime when we lose so many of those sweating and trying to drag our heavy (in my case) bodies around in the hot and humid weather. Ok, Syl, this might not apply to you, since you live in Finland and probably do not sweat much at all but it does to most of us.

There is nothing like lukewarm (or even cold) hearty MINESTRONE on those hot summer days. Or a Zucchini and Potato Soup. Or, why not, a Spanish Gazpacho. Healthy, tasty and refreshing.

But I wasn’t trying to be any healthy or refreshing the other night, when I managed to be nice to myself and finally make the ZUPPA DI PESCE (seafood soup) I had craved for days.
Hot and tasty, it made me sweat more than ever, but it was worthy.
I still missed a glass of ice cold Prosecco to go with it but hey…you can’t have everything in life. I still went to bed happy.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Cecilia, Larry and the Tagliatelle

Today we’re on a mission: Cecilia and Larry are going to make FRESH TAGLIATELLE from scratch with me. By the way: I love working with couples. It’s so much fun!
Making fresh egg noodle the old, traditional way, is simple and fun, not to mention it’s just delicious!

Ok, let’s do this!First, we get a little help for the dirty work

Not much, though, just to get us started, since today we are definitely going to use our hands for this project. So we start kneading....

...and then we knead again...

…and then we knead some more! See? Isn’t this good deal? You pay for the cooking classes and the working out part comes for free!

Now we let the dough rest a while, making sure it does not dry out

We need some help to get the pasta machine ready, but we have the right man for the job

Here starts the rolling phase. Let’s get a piece of dough

Rolling, rolling, rolling…

...Rolling, rolling, rolling…

....more rolling aaaaaand.....


“Aren’t they loooooveeely?” (singing like Stevie Wonder, here)
Now here are a few suggestions on how to treat these cute guys…

Some fresh zucchini would be good

Don’t forget the fresh mint

And how about some citrus shrimp? Yummy…

Someone needs to taste. Salt's ok?

Even some champignon mushroom sauce would be good…whatever you pick, make sure you boil the noodle in lots of water and saute’ the pasta for a few minutes in the pan with the sauce you use.

OK. We are done and gone to eat now.

There would be so many other great ideas for this pasta…slurp!
Care to share with us what yours would be?

Bye bye and buon appetito!