Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Joshua's Cooking!!!

My little Joshua.... How proud I am of him!! Following in his father's footsteps with his desire to experiment (or "play" as Jenna refers to it) in the kitchen. Here is his very first recipe, found in a children book: Bell Pepper Fantasy! He was sooo excited when he discovered that we actually had the ingredients in the refrigerator to make it:

- One green bell pepper
- One red bell pepper
- One carrot
- As much Ranch salad dressing to fill a bell pepper!

Cut the top of the green bell pepper and remove seeds (kind like a small bucket). Fill 3/4 of it with the Ranch salad dressing. Cut the carrot and the red bell pepper lengthwise in small sticks. Place inside the Ranch salad dressing. Enjoy!! Thank you Joshua!! You are quite the little chef!

Photo by Joshua

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pizza Time

I asked my boys what they felt like eating for Sunday dinner and they responded in one voice: PIZZZZAAAA!! So, Pizza it was. I made two kinds: a traditional cheese pizza with thin crust and slices of Mozzarella di Bufala and one that was a variant from a Calzone.

The dough is simple to make. I used my Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook attachment and placed 4 cups of white, all-purpose flour in the mixing bowl. In a tall glass, I combined lukewarm water with two Tbsp of dry yeast and let it sit for a couple of minutes. I added the water + yeast to the flour with a couple Tbsps of extra-virgin olive oil, mixed the whole thing and added few more Tbsps of lukewarm water as needed, until the dough was elastic to the touch and did not stick the the side of the bowl. I covered the bowl and let the dough raise for about 30 minutes. In the meantime I gathered everything I needed for the topping and the filling.
For the tomato sauce I used two 8oz can of tomato sauce (one for each pizza) mixed with some extra-virgin olive oil, minced or powder garlic, dry oregano, salt and pepper. I also add my shredded mozzarella cheese. When the dough was about twice the size and nice and fluffy, I flattened, cut the two ends (and kept them for the thin crust pizza) and spread the tomato sauce, cheese, and more extra-virgin olive oil to seal it:

Then I folded the edges over, placed the calzone on a greased cookie sheet, poured some more oil on the top (for a flakier texture), and baked it for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. I placed the thin crust pizza in the oven later and baked it for about 12 minutes:

Of course, "someone" wanted to help...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bufala Mozzarella and Pate' at Costco!

Who said that yummy food is the result of hours in the kitchen??? Today, as I was browsing through Costco (Salt Lake City store), I had to rub my eyes when I saw two items (next to each other) that I just had to have: Mozzarelle di Bufala and Pate'.
You are probably familiar with Mozzarella cheese. The American version is nothing like what we have in Italy. Italian fresh Mozzarella comes in little plastic bags with their own "milk-juice". When you cut them, they "sweat" the milk from the middle (I am getting hungry just thinking about it...). Costco usually had the regular Italian mozzarella, which comes in two small loaves individually packaged, distributed by Belgioioso. There is also an "upgraded" version of Mozzarella, which is made from milk of domesticated Italian buffaloes and that has a bit more flavor to it. They are also more expensive, since this particular cow is only found in some parts of Italy (mainly in the Campania region). I am afraid that not a lot of people will really know what they are and therefore Costco might discontinue this product soon (like they did in the past for fresh Ricotta cheese and for Mascarpone cream - sigh!). However, I am just glad I got to have a taste of it. They are best served with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt (see picture). They are also great on pizza.

The other item I got at Costco today was Pate'. Pate' is usually made out of geese's liver. We ate it all the time during the Christmas season when I was in Italy. This one is made of pork liver. I know, I know... it sounds disgusting, but believe me, I did not meet many individuals that did not like it after they tried it. It also looks like SPAM, which is too bad. The price was too good to let it go. Three pieces of differently flavored pate' (nearly 1 lb of total weight) for $4!! I think the reduced price is because this is a seasonal item (you might think that it is because of the liver part and that no one else wanted to buy it, but I would like to disagree on that...). It expires at the end of January so it is a lot of pate' to eat in two weeks, but I will do my best. It is essentially a spread, so you eat it in small quantities at the time on crackers or toasted bread (my "small" quantity tonight was nearly half of this pate' loaf!). The three flavors are: white wine, herbs and garlic, and peppercorn.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Focaccia, Devil's Eggs, Arancini, and Brownies with Gelato

The cooking-bug I had last week did not wear off. I had to get few more recipes out of my system. I cooked a couple things for fun and others for some guests we had over for Sunday supper. The main course for that meal was "pasta al forno" (baked pasta), of which I forgot to take a picture and therefore decided to cover in a future blog. Jenna asked me to make it again in the near future as she wants to learn how to prepare it.

First off is one of my favorite treats: Focaccia bread. I prefer salty dishes over sweet ones and I love bread. So a salty Focaccia bread fits perfectly the purpose for which my taste buds were created. The recipe is simple:

- Four cups all-purpose flour;

- Two Tbsp dry yeast;
- Lukewarm water;
- Extra-virgin olive oil;
- Coarse salt;
- Dry rosemary.

Dissolve the dry yeast in a couple of cups of lukewarm water and add to the flour. I use my Kitchen-Aid mixer to prepare the dough. Add enough water to obtain a dough that is elastic, but that does not stick to the bowl. I usually let it go for about 5-7 minutes. I let the dough raise in the bowl by adding a bit of flour and covering it with a clean dish cloth. Let the dough raise until it doubles in size. Grease a cookie sheet, place the dough on it and flatten with a rolling pin. I love the Pampered Chef rolling-pin (see picture) to do this job. It is smaller than my regular wooden one and allows me to stretch the dough as to cover the whole cookie sheet. Cover with the dish cloth and let it raise again for 30 minutes. Pre-heat over at 420 degrees. Puncture the dough with a fork in several places. Brush abundant olive oil (using a spoon or cooking brush) on its surface and sprinkle with coarse salt and rosemary leaves. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden. The Focaccia bread should turn out a bit crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Your house will smell like heaven for hours. You can serve it warm instead of rolls (see picture below) or cut the pieces in half and fill them with your favorite cold meat and cheese for some great sandwiches or panini.

Focaccia Bread

The next one is another simple dish. This morning I just start having a craving for Devil's eggs. My grandmother makes the best ones in the world and I will never be as good as she is, but here is my simpler version:

- 6 hard boiled eggs;
- 1 can of tuna in olive oil (I bring mine from Italy where they use extra-virgin olive oil);
- Mayonnaise;
- Paprika;
- Capers.

Cut the eggs in halves. Remove yoke and mix in a small bowl with mayonnaise, tuna, paprika. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place spoonfuls of the mix back in the eggs and add a caper on each one for decoration (and a little kick to your taste puds). They might not look pretty, but they were yummy!!! (By the way, keep them refrigerate until ready to serve!!)

Devil's Eggs

Arancini (= small oranges) is a typical Sicilian dish. These are nothing more than fried rice balls with a variety of fillings. I made two kinds: large with a filling of meat and peas, and small with a filling of cheese. As I was preparing them, I felt like I was surrounded by vultures... In fact, as soon as I got the Arancini out of the frying pan and onto a paper towel, Jenna and the kids started attacking them and I barely saved few for a picture to share...

Risotto recipe:
- 2 lbs Arborio rice;
- Butter and extra-virgin olive oil;
- 2 Tbsp dry onions;
- 1 TBSP minced garlic;
- Saffron;
- 3 bouillon cubes;
- Parmesan cheese.

Sauteed the onion and garlic in the butter and olive oil. Add rice and stir. Add hot water, a cup at the time (let the rice absorb the water before adding the next cup). STIR CONTINUALLY!! Also, add the saffron, salt and pepper to taste, and the bouillon cubes. It takes about 30 minutes until it is soft and tender. When ready, add abundant Parmesan cheese and stir. Let it cool down until you can handle it with your hands. In the meantime, prepare the meat and peas sauce for the filling:

- Two cups of ground beef;
- 1 can of peas;
- 1 can of tomato sauce.

Cook the meat thoroughly and add the can of peas and tomato sauce. Stir on low heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let it cool down.

For the final Arancini you need bread crumbs and vegetable oil in a fry pan. I used a wok. Make balls of rice with your hands about the size of a small orange. Make a hole in each one of them and with the help of a small spoon place the meat sauce in it. Close with more rice and pass in the bread crumbs. I made also some smaller balls and placed a piece of string cheese in it. I figured that my kids might enjoy these ones better. Heat the oil to 400 degrees. Be careful not to burn yourself. Cook the rice balls until golden (almost orange). Place on paper towel and let them cool a bit. They are good warm or cold.


This dessert was the result of improvisation. As I said, we had people over for dinner tonight and I did not have much time to prepare one. As you may remember, last week I made some chocolate Gelato (Italian ice-cream). See recipe here. I remembered placing the Gelato in a large Styrofoam cup, which was still in the freezer (I guess it went unnoticed this whole week...). So, I decided to celebrate a dessert marriage between Italy and the US and combine the Gelato with some good all-American brownies. I had a nice brownies mix ready to use from Lehi Roller Mills, which my boss gave me as a Christmas present. Using a knife, I cut the Styrofoam cup lengthwise thus obtaining a Gelato cylinder, which I then sliced and placed on the dessert plates. I topped it with a generous piece of brownies and completed it with few touches of whip cream and milk chocolate crumbs (obtained by placing a chocolate bar in the food processor). Voila':

Brownies and Gelato

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Gelato, Meringues, Thai Coconut Soup, and More

It all started last night. We went out on a date and picked one of our favorite Chinese restaurants for dinner. It has been a while since we ate there (I am purposely leaving the name of the restaurant out as I don't want to provide negative publicity). Being with my wife was great, but the eating experience was everything but what we remembered to be. What a disappointment!! See, I love food. I know many people like to eat food, but I love food. I love to buy it, cook it, and eat it. I love everything that has to do with food: the food network channel, recipe books, kitchen utensils, and Ratatouille (even if it takes place in France...). I love to look at food, smell it, touch it. So, when I am expecting a good meal from a place I know and that is not delivered, it is a pretty hard hit to my stomach...and to my heart.

One of the things I really disliked and that used to be so good was their Hot and Sour soup. At the end of the meal, I asked if I could have a container to take it home. My goal was to "fix" it! So, today, Saturday, I did what I like the most: cooking. I started early, first tackling the soup Ratatouille style. In addition, a friend of mine gave us several gallons of whipping cream few weeks ago, which I froze, taking up much of our freezers space. So, another one of my goals today was to be creative and use up at least one gallon of this whipping cream. I spent from 9am to 6pm playing in the kitchen!! This is what happened:

1. Bad soup project: I blended the soup and placed it in a saucepan on low-medium heat. I added coconut powder, potato starch (to thicken it), whipping cream, two cans of chicken, some dry carrots and onions, and a bit of dry cilantro. I was very pleased with the outcome.

2. My son David came by a couple times asking me what I was doing. He requested that I baked some bread. So, I took the bread maker out of the closet and let him help me mix the ingredients. Then I placed a chair next to the machine so that once in a while my little boy could jump on it and check the status of the loaf. I followed the recipe for milk bread that came in the bread maker recipe book, replacing oil with extra-virgin olive oil. Delicious!

3. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think "whipping cream" is ice-cream; GELATO to be exact. I asked my kids what they thought about making some chocolate gelato and there was a standing ovation. So I got the ice cream maker out of the garage and started making the custard mix that needs to go in it. I have a really simple and good recipe from a old book my parents received as a wedding gift. You start by beating 4 egg yokes with 180 grams of sugar and a touch of vanilla extract (I used my Kitchen Aid at high speed until the cream is light and silky). In the meantime, I melted 140 grams of dark chocolate with two spoonful of whipping cream in the microwave and then added the chocolate syrup to the egg mix and mixed it at slow speed. Finally, I added 2 cups of milk and a cup of whipping cream (one of the major differences from ice-cream and Italian gelato is the milk/cream ratio used in the recipe). Then I slowly cooked the mix in a saucepan at low-medium heat, until it thickened, making sure it did not boil. This is it. I placed the custard in a double bowl and give it an ice-bath until it was cold and then poured the whole thing in the ice cream maker. This will be a good treat one evening next week.

4. Since I used egg yokes only for the gelato, what to do with the whites? Well, one of my favorite treats are meringues with whipped cream. It is a typical winter dessert in Italy and I remember my dad getting them at a nearby pastry shop for Sunday desserts when I was a child. I followed a simple recipe from a book I got in Italy last year: mixed the four whites at high speed until fluffy and stiff, then gently mixed in 250 grams of powder sugar. With a pastry bags I placed walnut size amounts of the meringue on a cookie sheet (which I previously greased with butter and dusted with flour) and placed it in the oven at 215 degrees (Fahrenheit) for 2 hours. I then took 4 cups of whipping cream and whipped half with some powder sugar (to be used tomorrow with dark Italian hot chocolate) and half with sugar and semi-sweet baking cocoa powder to be used as filling for the meringues. This is how they turned out and how two of my biggest fans were diving into them to provide valuable food critique:

5. Still had a lot of cream left...so I opted to use the bread maker (now that the bread was ready) to churn some butter. I made 4 cups of unsalted sweet butter in about three hours, placed it in zip lock bags and froze it. In the past, I have tried adding some dry basil and garlic powder and used the mix as a spread for bruschetta.

6. Well, with all the fun, I forgot that I should also make something for dinner. Lately I have been having a craving for Thai curry coconut chicken. I can't really remember how I made it since I was thinking in my head how it tasted at my favorite Thai restaurant downtown Salt Lake City. This is approximately what I did: I sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil 1/4 white onion with two Tbsp of minced garlic and some carrots. I then added 3 chicken breast (diced) and stirred until the chicken was nearly cooked. I made a curry paste by mixing together few Tbsp of mustard (the same one you use for sandwiches), whipping cream (~three cups), curry powder, coconut powder, a touch of cumin, a touch of dry ginger powder, and a touch of red hot cayenne pepper. I peeled and diced 5-6 potatoes and placed them in a large pan, covered them with water, on medium heat. Then I added the chicken/onion/garlic/carrot mix and the curry paste. I also added two cans of coconut milk (I love this stuff!!) and a bit of potato starch (it is not supposed to look like a soup so the starch will help thicken the whole thing). I also added 3-4 bouillon cubes (I don't like to use salt in my recipes and I often replace it with them). I cooked the whole thing for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour stirring continually to avoid that it burned on the bottom. I don't think it was as good as the one at the restaurant, but it was not bad for something that did not come from a recipe book.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Christmas Dinner 2007

The highlight of my Christmas was cooking a glorious Italian meal for family and friends. The menu this year included:

- Antipasti: toasted bread with vegetable pate', toasted bread with caviar, devil's eggs, shrimp cocktail (Italian style -- shrimp in a ketchup, mayonnaise, whipping cream, and paprika sauce), bruschetta;

- Primi: 1) strascinati pasta (this is a typical fresh pasta from the Italian region of Puglia) with porcini mushroom sauce, 2) radiatori-shaped pasta (Gandolfo brand from Costco) with Sicilian pesto (I brought this from Italy. It was a delicious sauce with ricotta cheese, tomatoes, walnuts, and basil), 3) pear and cheese filled ravioli with a butter and sage sauce;

- Secondi: chicken saltimbocca with carrots and gatto' (potato casserole);

- Fruit and traditional Italian Christmas desserts (see picture below).

We ate for 3 and 1/2 hours. Yeah!!

I think everyone had a great time! Buon appetito!!