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!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

All In One Plate

You are looking at a plate that makes most of my friends back at home shake their heads in disapproval. Isn't it just terrible?

Take a second look: Bavette al Limone, Gamberi al Rosmarino, Verdure Grigliate (Lemon Linguine, Rosemary Shrimp, Grilled Vegetables).

What's the problem? THE PLATE IS! "You don't put pasta, seafood and veggies in the same plate, Dani!" At home they would never!

Confession time: I have, as you can see, and I still do it quite often.

I must admit I have come to terms with this american habit of "building" the entree plate that had shocked me too, at first. It offers possibilities and some mix are interesting. Of course I still think it fits better American food than it does Italian and when I cook for some more important occasion I tend to stick to the traditional "multiple courses" and "multiple plates" meal I am more familiar with. But like I said I have started to like the cross-contamination.

To my Italian friends: if you think about it there are exceptions to the normal standard in our tradition too. Take Ossobuco col Risotto alla Milanese, for instance...OK, OK, got it: it's no excuse. I promise: when you come visit, you will never be offered a plate like this! We'll pretend this conversation has never happened and you will be kind enough to forgive my weirdness...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Teach Your Children Well

It's never too soon. It can'hurt as long as you keep a close eye on them. It has a whole lot of pros and very little cons, if you ask me.

Cooking with your children, that is. Having them around while you prepare their meals. Letting them ... ehm ... help you. It's educational and fun.

I don't know about you, but I want my son to know about ingredients and how what he's eating became what it is.

He can barely count to ten, as of today, but he knows rosemary from basil, he knows the main ingredients of pizza and what a hamburger is made of (that's the beauty of dual citizenship, there).

It's big motivation to eat their food when it's time to sit and have their meal. I was blessed with a good eater (with the parents he has, I would have been surprised if we wasn't) but I must say that it's harder to be picky about what's in their plate when they helped fixing it.

In the picture Nicholas is helping making brownies. Not that he needed motivation to eat those. In fact, right when I was ready to put the pan in the oven he told me: "no need, mamma: I like them cold"

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Lemon Zesters Are A Girl's Best Friends

“WE” are a strange type of women. “WE” as in those who recognize themselves in the description that follows (please raise your hand as you read on, if the case).

We are the kind that can pass in front of a boutique store window and turn their head the other way but cannot resist the impulse of thoroughly checking every detail of the last Calph**** or Cuisin*** or Ales** kitchen tool . Average time for the operation: it depends on the size, but never less than 30 minutes since we do things properly and take our mission seriously.

We are those who can spend a fortune in useless kitchen toys (“it’s NOT useless and it’s NOT a toy: I used it ONCE in the summer of 1997!”) and do not remember last time they bought a pair of shoes.

Our husbands don’t fear walking with us into a jewelry store, but panic when we’re taking a stroll together in a mall and they see the sign that shows the direction to the home department. They can’t help it but reach for the pocket in their jeans and check if wallet and credit cards are still there.

Santa Claus does not even open our letters anymore: he goes “yeah, yeah, yeah, I know: it’s gotta be another hard-anodized pan, an electric wine opener, a digital scale or…what was it the other year? Oh, yeah, the professional crème brulee torch…” (and this must be ringing a bell to someone I know...)

Gotta love us, the way we love the ones we’re cooking for. Let us be a little strange sometimes: see the sparkle in our eyes when we open a well wrapped lemon zester for our birthday and just know that we’re already visualizing the next shrimp pasta we’ll make for you with that special touch that had been missing till now. It’s all love, just love, as usual…