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.