Friday, December 12, 2014

FFwD: Beef and Dried Apricot Dutch Oven

Okay, so today's French Fridays with Dorie recipe is supposed to be Lamb and Dried Apricot Tagine. I knew I wasn't going to find the cut of lamb Dorie specifies, but I thought I could get my hands on some ground lamb, and use all the same ingredients, but treat it like Indian keema recipes that I've made. However, I couldn't find lamb. I grabbed ground beef, because I've made the aforementioned keema recipe with beef before, and it turned out fine. Not as good as lamb, but not bad. I had no idea if beef would work with the predominant flavors of this recipe--coriander and apricot. I'd planned to get back to the store this week to try and find some pork or veal to stew instead, but it didn't happen, so I returned to my ground beef plan.

It worked out fine. I'm 100% certain that it would be better as a lamb stew, per the recipe, but I really wanted to do something, to stick to the schedule. Once I fall behind, I stay behind.
I have no strong feelings about this recipe. Its biggest draw is that CHARLIE ATE IT. Well, he ate the meat and the rice. Good enough for me. I was shocked. After dinner, he found a stray coriander seed on my counter. He has a thing about seeds. He'll spit out an entire piece of fruit if he gets a seed in his mouth, and refuse to take another bite. I don't get it. He asked why I had a  seed on the counter. I told him it was in the meat--the meat that he liked. He said, "Oh, so you took this disgusting thing and made it yummy." Sure. I guess. Kid brains are weird. Ha!

My one gripe was that I could have broken up the coriander seeds more. I would prefer a rough grind, rather than "broken", in the future. I don't like chewing on the seeds. Maybe Charlie's on to something after all.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pioneer Woman: Turkey Tetrazzini

I landed on Turkey Tetrazzini, one of Ree's suggestions for your Thanksgiving leftovers, because I had a little bit of turkey left. I bought a rotisserie chicken to supplement it. Good thing I did, because when I opened the bag of turkey, it didn't smell quite right. We'd been working on it for over a week, so I guess it hit its boundary. Tossed it and used the chicken. Crisis averted.

Butter and garlic and mushrooms and wine, cream cheese and olives and bacon and cheese, all mixed with pasta. While I cooked, I'd periodically hear Matt yell, "That smells SO good," from the living room, where he was watching Rudolph with Charlie. He was right. It did smell so good.

I tasted it before I popped it in the oven, and started to laugh. It tasted like my Grandma's "tuna slop", only with chicken instead of tuna, and with ingredients I can pronounce and identify. I don't say that as a criticism. I love Tuna Slop. I much prefer to make a version that doesn't involve Velveeta or a can of cream of mushroom soup, if I can help it, though. I also added finely chopped broccoli, just to give it a bit more veg.
This is worth making, whether you have leftover turkey or not. It was cozy and comforting and delicious. Even Charlie ate it! He picked all the peas out, but I expected that, as he has never in his life eaten a pea. He ate the chicken, mushrooms, and broccoli without seeming to notice them, though. Woohoo!

This makes a massive amount of food. Once again, I forgot that Ree says it serves 12. I probably could have cut the recipe in half. We'll finish up the leftovers for dinner tonight. I'm not sick of it yet, though Matt may be, because he's also been bringing portions to work for lunch. I'll give him a breather before I make it again. 

Conclusion: Liked it.

Friday, December 5, 2014

FFwD: Tartine de Viande des Grisons

Tartine de Viande des Grisons is a long and mysterious name for a simple tartine that the French Fridays with Dorie crew made this week. Bread? Check! Butter? Check! Bresaola? Check! Walnuts (or in my case, toasted almond slices)? Check! Olive oil? Check! That's it.

The deep red color of bresaola has often caught my attention at the supermarket here in Napoli, but I was never really tempted to buy it. I find the color off-putting. It's just SO red. I'm happy to have found this recipe, though, because it turns out to be delicious!

This is one of those recipes that tastes better than its individual parts seem to warrant. The butter, oil, and toasted nuts really pull the toast and meat together into one delicious bite of food.
Matt got home late from work the other day, so I put a tartine together for him while his soup re-heated. Instead of eating any soup, he turned the rest of the (sizeable) loaf of sourdough bread into tartines and devoured them all. Needless to say, we loved this. I thought it would be good, but I didn't anticipate how good!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving with Pioneer Woman

I've made a bunch of recipes from The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays. Most of them are from the Thanksgiving section, but not all of them are.

First up, Drop Biscuits (pg 346, the Christmas section). I brought these over to a friend's house a few week's ago. She made soup and mulled wine. I made biscuits and dessert. I've had a hit-or-miss relationship with biscuits in the past. I always blame my failures on my Yankee-dom. These Drop Biscuits are simple to make (put the ingredients in the food processor. Whir. Scoop spoonfuls on to a baking sheet. Bake.) and turned out to be delicious. I need to make biscuits more often.
Conclusion: Loved them.

Matt and I haven't been overly impressed with our Thanksgiving stuffing for the past few years, so we decided to mix it up this year and use Ree's Basic Thanksgiving Dressing (pg 258). This uses three types of bread: cornbread, Italian bread, and ciabatta, and a host of standard stuffing flavors: celery, onion, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and basil. She uses dried herbs. In the future, I'd like to try it with fresh herbs. I think this was a good starting point. I felt it needed a bit more flavor, but I'm not totally sure what to do to it. I liked that the cornbread practically turned to breadcrumbs and coated all the other breads. There was a lot of different texture.

Conclusion: Liked it, but it needs some fiddling. We didn't salt it enough this time. Needs more oomph.

For the dressing, I made Ree's recipe for Skillet Cornbread (pg 268). This was easy to make, and it worked fine in the dressing, but I don't like it on its own. The cornbread is VERY salty and gritty. This may be why Matt undersalted the dressing--I warned him that the cornbread was salty. I like sweet, wet cornbread. This was the opposite. Different strokes for different folks.
Conclusion: Disliked, but it worked fine for the dressing.

I almost forgot about the Giblet Gravy. Matt is the Bird-meister, so he made the gravy. I was uninvolved, so I have no input regarding the process. All I can say is that it was deeeeeeelicious. I can never be without it again.

Conclusion: Loved it. 

I'm roasting a chicken tonight to use up our leftover dressing. For a side, I decided to try Ree's Cranberry Sauce (pg 256). This was a last-minute decision, and so I don't have the orange zest and juice that I'm supposed to. I threw in a splash of mandarinetto instead. Figured it couldn't hurt. I normally make a basic cranberry sauce with sugar, orange zest, and juice. The difference here is that, instead of sugar, Ree uses a cup of maple syrup.

I'm torn about what to think. I love the smokey maple flavor that the syrup gives to the sauce, but it's too sweet. It's possible that the orange zest and juice might have cut the sweetness a bit. I'm not sure. I may continue to play with this, cutting back on the amount of syrup used until the balance tips over a bit in favor of cranberry tartness. It's cranberry sauce. I want to taste the cranberry!

Conclusion: Liked it, but it needs tweaking.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

FFwD: Butternut Squash and Chestnut Soup

This week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe is Beatrix's Red Kuri Soup. I had to google red kuri squash, because I had no idea what it was. After seeing pictures of it, I knew I was going to have to come up with an alternate plan, because I'd never seen that squash here in Napoli. They have other squashes, but nothing that looks like red kuri.

Fortunately, Dorie provides a bonne idee in the sidebar that butternut squash and chestnuts can mimic the flavor of red kuri. Weird. Weird, and convenient. I already had a butternut squash in the house, and I currently own more roasted, peeled chestnuts than I will ever know what to do with. I still have to catch up on the Pear and Chestnut Soup, so I ordered the vacuum-sealed chestnuts on amazon. I could only get a 4-pack, and I didn't realize that 20 oz bags are huge.

This would be a good spot for me to request all of your favorite chestnut recipes. Really. What am I going to do with all of these???

Unfortunately, my digital scale ran out of batteries. I eyeballed what I thought 7 ounces might be. I think I added way too many chestnuts.
No, grazie.
I wanted to like this soup, so that I could use up the rest of my chestnut supply on it, but I really don't. There's no strong flavor, apart from the sort of muddy taste of the chestnuts. If you blindfolded me, I'd never guess there was butternut squash in there.

Not much else to say. It's better with the chopped apples that she suggests as a topping, but that's only because the apples provide a bit of texture and much-needed flavor.

I'm not a fan.

I'm posting this early, because we're heading to Vienna on Thursday. Yahooo! 

Baking, Chez Moi: Cranberry Crackle Tart

Keeping Thanksgiving timeliness in mind, the Tuesdays with Dorie crew selected Cranberry Crackle Tart (pg 135, Baking, Chez Moi) for this week's recipe.

I was excited when I read through the recipe, because it sounded like a version of a pavlova. I have a friend from New Zealand who makes me "a pav" every few years when I manage to swing a visit , because I love it so. Tart cranberries mixed into what looks like a pav-ish meringue topping? Yes, please!

The Sweet Tart Dough was easy to handle. I love Dorie's suggestion to roll out pie dough while it's still soft, and then refrigerate or freeze it. I used this method on her galette dough recipe for my Thanksgiving pies (we celebrated last weekend), and it worked beautifully. Unfortunately, I didn't love the actual flavor of the crust as much as my standard pie dough, which comes from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. His dough is a BEAST to work with, and absolutely was too crumbly to cooperate with Dorie's rolling-while-soft technique. We preferred the flavor and texture of the crust of the one pie that got the Bittman treatment, which made me sad, because I'd make pies a lot more often if a recipe that's as easy to use as Dorie's galette recipe produced my perfect crust. I've wandered off on a tangent. Where was I? Oh yeah...

Pre-baked sweet tart dough crust, then a layer of strawberry jam, topped with the cranberry-jeweled meringue. I was afraid that my meringue wasn't going to cover the surface area, but it turned out to be the exact right amount. Bake it for an hour until it's peaks turn beautifully golden, and voila! Fairly easy for an impressive looking dessert.
I brought this tart to a friend's house, and we inhaled it. Everyone was impressed that the meringue was sweet enough to keep the cranberries from being unpleasantly tart, but not so sweet that it tasted like candy. The overall effect was of a really light dessert that you could easily eat multiple slices of without wanting to explode.

I loved it. This one has definitely earned a spot in our Fall/Winter holiday repertoire.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Baking Chez Moi: Palets de Dames, Lilles Style, Take 2

I am super duper excited that Dorie's new book, Baking Chez Moi, has finally been published, and I'm thrilled to bake through it from the start with the Tuesdays with Dorie group. One of these days, I'll even get to hold the book in my hands and look at it. It is currently sitting in the military mail system.

What was a little less exciting to me was that the very first recipe chosen was for Palets de Dames, Lilles Style, which I baked two weeks ago when the French Fridays with Dorie gang celebrated Dorie's birthday. I understand and appreciate that TWD chose a recipe that was available online so that people who don't have a book yet (ahem, me) could bake along, but it did make my first foray into the book a bit less exciting.

It's week 1 of the new group! First recipe from the book! There's no way I was going to sit this one out, just because I posted about these so recently.
Last time, I stuck to the recipe. This time, I decided to play with flavor a bit. I replaced the vanilla in the batter with almond extract, and replaced the icing's lemon juice with orange zest and juice. Charlie had just as much fun decorating on Round 2 as he did the first time.
The cookie and the icing were separately delicious, but the flavors competed when eaten together. Don't get me wrong, they're not bad. Next time--and these are so easy to make that there will be a next time--I'll either do a vanilla cookie with the orange icing, or an almond cookie with a vanilla icing. I'm pretty sure I'll work my way through all my extracts on these cookies. Hmmm...peppermint icing for the holidays? Yes, please.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Year of Holidays: Broccoli-Cheese Soup

This is going to be a quick one. My friend from home is currently sitting on a runway in Paris, and I have to leave in a while to pick her up from the airport here in Napoli. HOORAY! In the two + years that I've lived here, this is only my second visitor who is not directly responsible for birthing either me or my husband. My friends are slackers.

So, I'm busting out this little post, because I'll forget about it in the next week, otherwise.

Pioneer Woman's Broccoli-Cheese Soup tastes exactly as broccoli cheese soup should. I replaced her 2 cups of half-and-half with 2 additional cups of milk (plus the 4 that's already called for), and didn't miss it for one second.
I did wish that I'd served this in a bread bowl, as she instructs, or at least had some bread with it, because I was very hungry by the time I went to bed. Like I said, though, the flavor and texture were perfect.

Charlie took his one taste and acted like I'd made him eat a spoonful of liquid waste. Very dramatic. Silly doesn't know what he's missing.

Conclusion: Loved it.

And so, I will now move on from the Halloween section. (This soup is suggested as pre-trick-or-treat fuel.)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Year of Holidays: Popcorn Balls

I don't know what it is about Ree Drummond's presentation, but I want to make everything in this book. Everything. Even things that I'm pretty sure I'd pass right over in a different cookbook, like Popcorn Balls (pg 232), which are in the Halloween section, but, like the pancakes, could easily be tweaked for any holiday, season, or mood. They look so damn festive and kid-friendly, dyed yellow, with cheerful nubbins of candy corn and peanuts jutting out, that I couldn't resist.

I'd originally planned to make these for Halloween, because we were having pre-trick-or-treat dinner with friends and their two kids, and I felt strongly that the kids  needed to have Popcorn Balls in their lives.

I didn't get my act together in time to make them, even though they aren't complicated. You basically give popcorn the Rice Krispie Treat treatment, by coating them in melted buttery marshmallow. Can't be bad.
I thought the same kids would be at my friend's housewarming party this afternoon, so I brought the treats there, instead. Unfortunately for the young'uns, they were sick and stayed home. Fortunately for my group of pretending-to-be-adult friends, that meant more for us. Charlie, for some reason, was uninterested. I don't know how a kid can look at these festive balls of glory and say, "Nah," but that is what he did.

Like I said. More for us.

Everyone really, really liked them. There was some raving going on. I was absolutely  not expecting these to be such a hit with the grown-ups. It either proves that we're young at heart, or that we like big balls. Take your pick.

I have one complaint with the process. First you mix the popcorn into the melted marshmallow, and then you stir the candy in. This is harder than it sounds. Because the pot is still hot, the candy sinks to the bottom and then melts/adheres to the pot, and does not incorporate into the popcorn easily. Even though it would create another dish, I think there needs to be a step where you dump the marshmallowed popcorn into a cool bowl, and carry on from there.

Conclusion: Liked it. It was a surprise hit among the big kids.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

FFwD: Osso Buco a la Arman

Finally! A French Fridays with Dorie recipe that gives me a sourcing edge over people who don't have access to an Italian supermarket. Ipercoop may not have duck or brown sugar or affordable avocado, but veal? They're up to their eyeballs in veal (which is kind of weird, because the adult beef offerings are poor.) Odds are good that veal is available in the already-cut meat section, any way you want it cut. As soon as I read Dorie's description of the veal shanks ("cut crosswise from a veal shank, thick slices of osso buco are round, with meaty nuggets surrounding a central hole, which is filled with marrow"), I thought, "Yep, I've definitely seen that at Ipercoop." Score: 1 for Italy. Or should I say, "GOOOOOOOAL!"
One of three. 3 euro a piece. Not too shabby.
On a side note, I'd like to mention how very, very grateful I am that I didn't have to walk up to a butcher with my google translation of "veal shank." I can never be sure that the words coming out of my mouth are appropriate. For example, when we first arrived here, I looked up the word "pecorino," because I love cheese and wanted to know what the word meant. Google informed me that it meant "doggy style." In disbelief, I contacted my Italian friend and interrogated her. Apparently, pecorinA means doggy style. PecorinO means cheese from a goat. Google has since corrected its mistake. I'm certain that it also makes errors when translating from English to Italian, so who knows what I'm actually saying to people. Always an adventure. I digress.

Armed with my shanks, at the last minute, I decided to invite some friends over for dinner. It felt like a meal that needed to be shared. Much to my delight, two of our favorite families came on short notice, and we had a wonderful, relaxed evening. "Sunday dinner" with the extended family (closest friends, in the military) is one of the many ways that Italy has steeped into my blood. It's one of my favorite customs, and one that I hope to bring home with me.

This was a perfect recipe to cook for company because all the cooking is done ahead of time. There aren't any last-minute steps. Take it out of the oven, break the meat apart so it looks like a stew, and bring it to the table. Dorie said to skim fat off the top, but mine somehow didn't look greasy enough to bother. The meat was so tender. I didn't even care when I had a mouthful of fat, because it literally dissolved. Dorie's Orange Rice Pilaf paired perfectly with the stew. Three shanks fed six adults. The only problem was that there were no leftovers. At all.

Last night, I caught up on Rice Pudding and Caramel Apples. I love rice pudding. It's one of those desserts that takes me right back to my Mom's kitchen. She always put raisins and a bit of cinnamon in hers, and I have to say, I missed them in this.

I compulsively made the pudding, because it struck me as a decent way to keep myself busy, and hopefully distract myself from stressing about the fact that everyone else we know who is Matt's rank and scheduled to move next summer heard from the detailer last week, receiving their next assignment. We haven't heard a peep. We're exhausted from the stress of waiting. So, rice pudding.

As I stirred, the phrase, "The solace of stirring," popped into my head. For a few seconds, I marveled at how perfect that phrase felt right at that moment, and that clearly I'd missed my calling as a poet. Then I remembered that that is a section title in Nigella Kitchen. My bad. Nigella, you were spot-on with that description. There is much solace to be found in stirring.
Due to my anxiety level, I had zero interest in making caramel and cooked apples. At first, I planned to put a layer of applesauce on my pudding, and then drizzle with caramel I bought in Brittany. I forgot about the applesauce, and just went with the caramel. It was good, but I didn't drizzle any on my second bowl of pudding, and missed the raisins and cinnamon the whole time I ate it. Sometimes, you just want Mom's recipe. This was delicious, and it was exactly the type of nursery food that I needed yesterday. Unfortunately, I ate so much of it yesterday that there's only a little bit left to see me through today's stressful wait. GRRR!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Year of Holidays: Petrifying Pumpkin Pancakes

I find the Halloween section in The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays to be especially adorable. First recipe up on my mental agenda was Petrifying Pumpkin Pancakes (pg 223). There was just one hitch. The Commissary had no canned pumpkin. At all. For weeks. American women are crazy for Autumn pumpkin products, and they cleaned the shelves in a frenzy that the re-stock couldn't keep up with, I guess. The hoarding is contagious. When I finally found pallets of pumpkin stacked in the produce section, I grabbed eight cans. EIGHT CANS. I am not going to use eight cans of pumpkin this Autumn. Better start baking pie. Mmmm...piiiiie.

Once I snagged my pumpkin puree, these pancakes jumped to the top of the dinner menu, much to Matt's horror. He scoffs at the thought of "breakfast food" for dinner. He refused to eat these pancakes, and opted for leftovers instead. More for me.

The thing that makes these pancakes so cute is that a bit of the batter is pulled out, then flavored with molasses and dyed brown with food dye. Ree says to use a spoon or a plastic squirt bottle to make faces/words/anything you can think of with the brown batter, let the design set on the hot griddle for a few seconds, then pour a normal pancake on top.

I'm here to tell you, don't use a spoon unless you want to scream at your griddle in frustration. It's possible this fun holiday treat was accompanied by a good bit of not-so-restrained cursing.
Methinks my griddle was too hot--just one of a number of problems.
Once I remembered that I had a medicine syringe thing laying around somewhere, and I got the griddle temperature down from molten hot, the experience improved dramatically.
SO CUTE, and Charlie loved them.

My one complaint is that, because of the sugar in the molasses, the brown parts tasted kind of burnt and unpleasant. Pour enough syrup on anything and it'll taste good, but next time, I'd omit the molasses and just use food dye. The design is there to look fun, not to add a layer of flavor.

Conclusion: Liked them. Charlie is so delighted with his Halloween pancakes that I expect to make them next year, too. And so tradition is born. I now house a gallon bag full of them in the freezer. I need to remember in the future that Pioneer Woman is trying to feed an army. I also did some with letters and hearts and other designs, so they don't have to be Halloween themed. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reasons to Celebrate with Dorie

October marks several Dorie-related occasions--it's Dorie's birthday, it's French Fridays with Dorie's 4th anniversary, and Dorie's new baking book (Baking Chez Moi) comes out. Woohoo! To celebrate, the Doristas were given three recipes from the new book and told to pick one.

I went with Palets des Dames, Lilles Style, which is a fancy name for a simple and delicious cookie that I've never heard of. Charlie helped me bake the cookies, and it turns out to be a perfect recipe for kid participation because there are only a few basic steps, no expensive ingredients, and includes an icing that begs to be dyed colors and/or coated in sprinkles. These cookies bake up with a little bit of a dome, and have a texture that's closer to cake than cookies, so they're nice and sturdy. Not one fell apart after being handled by my overzealous 4-year-old.
 I thought I measured the batter properly, but I only got 24 cookies, instead of 40. I also needed to make two batches of icing to coat all the cookies. Minor complaint. With a touch of vanilla in the batter and a touch of lemon juice in the icing, these are the perfect match for a cup of tea.
Charlie and I had a lot of fun baking these together. Halfway through decorating them, he threw his arms around my neck and exclaimed that he was "so happy!" He kills me with how sweet he is sometimes. He may have been a difficult infant, but he's becoing a pretty incredible kid. Thanks for the memory, Dorie. I'm sure it's the first of many I'll associate with Baking Chez Moi.

Check out the links of the other participants, and the other recipes we had to choose from. I could sure go for some Brown Butter Peach Tourte right about now.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

FFwD: Celery-Celery Soup

I so wanted to rave about this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe: Celery-Celery Soup. I mean, I cooked this for dinner on Friday, so provided that I managed to blog about it by Saturday, I'd almost be participating in real time! Fancy that!

Unfortunately, I did not love this soup, which primarily consists of celery, celery root, and apples. After scanning through Dorie's soup section, I've come to a realization about my own tastes. I've adored the majority of her savory soups. I haven't enjoyed a single one that involve fruit. I just don't dig sweet soup. See that? I've learned something about myself.
Matt ate one bowl and said he didn't want another. Charlie actually ate most of a bowl, but it was only because I was dangling dessert over his head. All's fair in feeding kids.

I hate to say it, but we threw out the leftovers. We all knew they'd mold over in the fridge before any of us went back for seconds. Oh well.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dorie, Dorie, Everywhere.

Are you tired of me saying that I'm behind on my Dorie posts yet? I don't blame you. I'm tired of it, too. The whole cooking-along-with-the-group thing is a lot less fun when you're not actually cooking along with the group. On the plus side, I've busted out quite a few make-ups and feel like I'm beginning to close in on my list. Sort of. I have a butt-load of dessert to catch up on. I better get a move on, since baking through Dorie's new baking book begins in November. I thought I had more time before tackling Baking: Chez Moi. If I don't bust these tarts out before the new dessert book begins, I'm not certain I'll get it done. The countdown begins.

Since it was a more recent recipe, I'll start this off with French Lentils: a Basic Recipe. I didn't have du Puy lentils, but the normal Italian ones I bought maintained their structure and worked just fine. There was a time when I hated lentils. I'm glad those days are gone. This was easy to throw together since there wasn't much chopping involved, and it made for a very tasty lunch.
Everything looks better in Polish pottery.
I originally skipped Twenty-minute Honey-glazed Duck Breasts because I can't find duck here in Napoli. I even asked my Italian friend if he knew where I could get some. He looked baffled, then said, "No. We don't eat that here." Okay, then. I'm certain that this recipe would be more delicious with duck. In the interest of finishing all my recipes, I grilled some chicken cutlets and then drizzled them with the sauce. I expected a thicker, more honey-centric sauce. The balsamic vinegar was what monopolized the flavor. That's not a complaint. I like balsamic. I just think it should have earned a spot in the title over honey. It's entirely possible that I did not reduce the sauce enough, and if I had, it would have become more honey-ish. Regardless, delicious, easy, and barely used any ingredients.
For dinner one night, I made Dieter's Tartine. I rubbed my toasted sourdough bread with a garlic clove, because Italy has taught me that doing so makes all versions of bruschetta exponentially more delicious. Then I smeared it with ricotta (rather than cottage cheese) and topped it with Dorie's tomato and cucumber mixture. It was fine. Unremarkable.

At the same time, I made Roasted Peppers. This was a pretty basic roasted pepper recipe, so I don't have much to say about it, except that I love roasted peppers, and would take the tartine I made them into over the Dieter's Tartine any day of the week.
I know I've bemoaned the state of avocado at the commissary on many, many occasions. It is the reason that I skipped Pistachio Avocado, which, it could be argued, is the easiest recipe in the book. All you're supposed to do is halve an avocado and fill the pit-hole with pistachio oil. Okay, the second reason I didn't make this is because I don't own and have never seen pistachio oil. The third reason is that eating a hole full of oil doesn't appeal to me.

I got my hands on a decent avocado, and knew I needed to do something to tick this recipe off. I smashed it on some German rye bread, drizzled lovely olive oil on top, and sprinkled it with sea salt. It bears little resemblance to the original, but it's the best I'm going to do before the group finishes the book in the spring, so I say it counts.

Last, and maybe least, I brought Crispy Crackly Apple Almond Tart to a JAG wive's lunch thing hosted by a higher-up. I liked that I had everything in my house that I needed to bake this recipe, and that it came together easily.
I expected to love this, but I didn't. I blame my apples, not the recipe. They had no flavor, and the almond mixture wasn't impressive enough to carry the absence of apple deliciousness. The dish I carried it on got a lot of compliments, though.

Okay. Phew. That covers what I've cooked lately. Now I have to get my hands on a celery root by Friday, so I can participate in real time. They sell them at the Italian supermarket, but I hate having to make a special trip there for one item. We'll see if I get there.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Beef Fajitas and Homemade Tortillas

I've gone fajita crazy. I cooked The Pioneer Woman's Beef Fajitas and Homemade Tortillas (pg 141 and 143 of A Year of Holidays) last week, and have been craving them again ever since. The ingredients are already on my grocery list to make again for dinner this week.

The meat sits in an easy-to-throw-together marinade of Worcestershire, garlic, lime juice, sugar, olive oil, and spices for several hours, then gets grilled. The veg (multi-colored peppers, onions, and mushrooms) are simply cooked in olive oil and butter. I was originally skeptical that there was no seasoning for the vegetables, but it turned out that the meat marinade provided plenty of flavor.

I didn't get as many tortillas out of my "walnut-sized" balls of dough as I was supposed to, and the tortillas, which I flattened in my tortilla press, were too small to wrap the food up like a fajita, but they tasted delicious and were a nice, soft, bendy texture. Next time, I'll know not to halve the recipe. The tortillas, used like tacos, disintegrated under the weight and wetness of the food, but as long as you're not a neat-freak, the deliciousness will compensate for the mess. If you have a problem with messes, you probably shouldn't be eating fajitas in the first place.

I inhaled these so fast that I didn't even think to snap a picture. Whoops.

Conclusion: Loved both recipes. I want more, right now. I may experiment with the ratio of corn to white flour in the tortillas, because I do prefer a cornier flavor, but that's just a matter of taste.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Let's Get This "Long Term" Ball Rolling

I recently asked Charlie to pick a recipe out of C is for Cooking. He went with Ernie's Fruity Frozen Fun Pops. I like the idea of these a lot more than either one of us enjoyed the outcome.

Blitz banana, canned crushed pineapple, plain yogurt, and a little sugar in the blender. Fill an ice cube tray with the mixture. Put them in the freezer, and when they're half frozen, stab them with straws.
These were annoying to eat, because the second they get a little melty, they fall off the straw and make slow-eating 4 year olds scream. Also, the straws that I used weren't sturdy enough to support the weight of the cube, so they bent. Refer back to the screaming 4 year old.

My biggest problem with this, though, was that the texture of the cube was unpleasant to eat. There weren't fruit chunks, but there was a lot of fiber from the pineapple, so you almost had to chew it. Not ideal.

Charlie barely ate his first one, and never wanted another. I felt the same way.

Conclusion: Dislike.

My first two forays into Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays have been delightful.

First up: Sticky Cherry Cake, from her Valentine's Day section. This cake uses canned cherries in the batter, and then the syrup from the can is cooked down with sugar and butter, and poured on top of the cooked cake.
Holy moly. This thing was rich, sweet, and delicious. The chewy, caramelized edges were the best part. For me, a little went a long way, and my family didn't eat much of it on the day I made it. However, our friends and their kids came for dinner the next day. We demolished the rest of the cake. One of the kids may have licked the pan clean.

Conclusion: Loved it. Sometimes you need something this decadently sweet.

The Chipotle Chicken Chili from the section for "The Big Game" is, hands-down, the best chicken chili I've had. I think that the element that sets it apart from other recipes I've tried is that, in the last few minutes, you add a mixture of beer and masa harina. This provides that nice, earthy, corn flavor, and also thickens the chili beautifully. I'm also a huge fan of the flavor that chipotle peppers in adobo give to any recipe, so this wins points for using them.
I realize this looks like a pile of cheese, with no chili.
Conclusion: I loved it. Matt loved it. Charlie ate an English Muffin.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

FFwD: 2 Make-Ups

The recipe that the French Fridays with Dorie gang is cooking this week is Curried Chicken, Peppers, and Peas en Papillote. I've made this dish several times. Each time, I amp up the measurements and the variety of the spices I use, and each time, it turns out bland. For me, it's a cozy kind of blandness that I don't mind. Matt, however, grumbles and moans and says it doesn't taste like anything. It may be bland, but it's so, so easy, and one of these days, I'm going to figure out a good way to make the spices stand up to the amount of water that leaks out of the vegetables.

Because I mistakenly thought that I'd already done a post about this dish back in the day when I first made it, I decided to skip it this week and catch up on two recipes that I missed.

First, I made Potato Chip Tortilla. Yuck. I like potato chips. I like Spanish tortillas. I'd skipped this recipe originally, because dumping half a bag of potato chips into my eggs didn't exactly align with my dietary ambitions at the time. I shouldn't have worried about it. I ate three bites and threw the rest out. I would think that food cooked with half a bag of potato chips would be salty, but it wasn't. It was remarkably underseasoned, and the texture was weird, to the point of being gross. I'm pleased to say that I hated this one. I could have been in trouble if I thought it was delicious.
Last night, I served one of my old Dorie favorites: Creamy Cauliflower Soup Sans Cream. To go alongside, I made Socca from Vieux Nice, which is a simple batter made from chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt, and chopped rosemary. A thin layer of this goes into a cake pan, where it's baked for a few minutes, then broiled to brown and (ideally) burn the top.

I didn't cook mine properly. I baked it for the specified amount of time, but hit a snag with my broiling. My oven is gas, but the broiler is electric, and takes a looooong time to get going. I switched over from baking to broiling, and let it sit there for quite a while, but I don't think the broiler was even warm yet when I finally took the socca out of the oven. I made the executive decision to remove it, even though there were no brown or burnt patches, because it looked like it was drying out.
Not a looker.
For such simple ingredients, the flavor was surprising and delicious! Chickpea flour. Who knew? The best bits were the crunchy edges, so I imagine this would have been even better when cooked properly. Dorie isn't joking when she says it should be eaten immediately. When Matt got home from work, his portion was gummy and dense. He ate it anyway, but after tasting both, I can confidently say it was much better hot out of the oven.

Despite the fact that easyjet flies cheaply from Naples to Nice, I haven't really been interested in going, because it's so expensive to stay there. Now I kind of want to go, just to try "real" socca. We'll see.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Wrapping Up, and Up Next

In my heart, I'm not really done with My Calabria. Not even remotely. I've loved six recipes, liked five, and hated one. There was only one in-between take-it-or-leave-it recipe. Pretty strong statistics. There are many more intriguing recipes in this book, but I'm trying to limit my carbs right now, which doesn't really jive well with Italian food. There are plenty of fish and meat recipes left in this book, but I can't crack it open without trancing out, staring at a picture of mussel risotto, or daydreaming about her special doughnuts, made at Christmas, or her family's everyday loaf of bread, or, of course, the pasta.

 No doubt about it, My Calabria is a keeper. It's beautiful to read, and the food knocked it out of the park most of the time. I mentioned in specific posts that I was impressed with the precision with which these recipes correctly claimed that x amount of stuff would produce y number of finished product (meatballs, etc). I trust this book. 

Frankly, focusing attention on any one book isn't really working for me right now. I need diversity in order to keep myself interested in my food plan.

I have non-food-related reasons for hitting the pause button, too. Charlie's home from school, and keeping me busy. Plus, I've enrolled in a photography course, and want to focus more of my free time on that (not that I've been especially consistent at spending my free time on this blog, but that's besides the point. Leave me to my delusions of all the time I'll save!)

So, I'll declare a new book once my head is in the right space for it.

I do, however, want to name another Long Term Project: The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays. I enjoy The Pioneer Woman as a character. Her children's book, Charlie the Ranch Dog, is a long-running favorite with my Charlie (and with me, too.) Her food always looks delicious and cozy, and her photos are beautiful. I like that she lets us in to see her life at the ranch, and that she's so unabashedly herself, quirks, flaws, and all. I own two of her cookbooks.

I've cooked a grand total of one recipe so far.

Why yes, I would like another biscuit. Thanks, Ree!
See, the thing is, Ree cooks for cowboys. Hard-working, horse-riding, manual labor type of cowboys. They can eat whatever they want and stay rail-thin. If I cooked from her book semi-regularly, I'd puff up like a Thanksgiving Day balloon. There is no moderation in these recipes. Not that that's a bad thing. Butter and sugar make food taste good.

My conscience would never allow me to focus on one of her books, as I do not burn calories like a cowboy.

With its purpose being cooking for holidays throughout the year, A Year of Holidays makes sense as a long-term project. I hope Ree's food tastes as good as it looks. I sure wish I made her hot cross buns last Easter, instead of Nigella's. They're on the agenda for this spring.

Ticking Them Off...FFwD

I don't have this week's recipe for French Fridays with Dorie prepared yet, but I do have a butt-load of recent make-ups to report on.

First, Provencal Vegetable Soup. Lots of veg. I liked the pesto mixed into the broth. Very tasty. I added chicken to make it more filling.
Conclusion: Liked it. Don't know that I'd go out of my way to make it again, but it was fine.

I actually made the Gateau Basque on time, but didn't post about it last week. I really wanted to enjoy this more than I did, primarily because the cherry preserves that I'd bought in April during a trip to Alberobello turned out to be DELICIOUS. I feel like I wasted the preserves, because I really wasn't impressed by the cake. I thought it was dry, and the cake itself didn't have a lot of flavor.
Conclusion: Just okay.

Lastly, the Coddled Eggs with (Pork Pate, not Foie Gras). Ugh. I don't even know what to say. The pate was gross, on its own, so I don't know why I thought it would taste ok in the end product. I cooked this according to Dorie's instructions. The egg appeared to be cooked right, but when I cut into it, the whites were still raw.
Ew. Then, I tried to just make poached eggs with all the same components--pate, tartufo spread, eggs. Again, I undercooked the eggs. I tried to eat it anyway. That pate made me want to puke.
After wasting 3 eggs and 2 spoonfuls of tartufo spread, I called it quits and made bacon and eggs. Classic. Perfect. Ha!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pasta and Zucchini and Booze-ahol

A bout of poor dinner planning paid off when I realized that I was in possession of the three ingredients necessary to make Rigatoni alla Pastora (Shepherd's Style Rigatoni with Ricotta and Sausage) from My Calabria. An added bonus was that all three ingredients (pasta, ricotta, sausage) are things that Charlie will eat.

This recipe was easy. Cook chunks of un-cased sausages. Add cooked pasta to the greasy sausage pan. Mix some of the pasta water into ricotta until it loosens up and becomes saucy. Add the pasta and sausage to the ricotta. Season to taste. Boom. Done.
Not a pretty plate of food.
This was heavier than I would prefer, and it made enough to feed an army. Matt and Charlie both loved it, though, and it was simple.

Conclusion: Liked it.

I served Parmigiana di Zucchine with last week's Dorie recipe. If you have a million pounds of zucchini in your garden, this will use it up. If you're going out of your way to procure zucchini, just go the eggplant route instead. The zucchini is lightly fried in olive oil before being layered with cheese and sauce, but it doesn't take on that same luxurious silkiness that eggplant does. I was aware that what I was eating was inferior to eggplant parm for the duration of the meal. It didn't help that Costantino suggests you serve this at room temp, which is a huge mistake, because the mozzarella is tough at room temp. No bene.
Conclusion: Just okay. A heap of it is still sitting in my fridge.

When the relevant fruits (mandarin oranges, which my landlord has a grove of, and strawberries) were in season this year, I used Costantino's recipe to make Liquore al Mandarino, as well as the Fragolino Variation. Italians, including Costantino, use grain alcohol for their liquore. Too many of my friends have produced undrinkable limoncello with grain alcohol, so I learned last year, using a different "mandarinetto" recipe that using a mid-grade vodka produces a muuuuuuch smoother and more delicious drink. I substituted vodka into Costantino's recipe, too, but used her proportions of fruit, alcohol, and sugar-water/syrup. Both flavors are deeeelicious. Love them.

Friday, July 11, 2014

FFwD: (Cheese) Filled Zucchini Blossoms

Fried zucchini blossoms are near and dear to my heart. Growing up, my Italian-American next-door neighbor fried batches of flowers from her garden all summer long to lure me and her daughter out of their pool. Now, whenever I visit my mom during the summer, Ann makes a point of frying zucchini blossoms for me, because she knows how much I love them. (During winter visits, she inevitably brings over cookies. She's a good neighbor to have.)

Years ago, I asked Ann for her recipe. She gave me a list of ingredients and told me to mix them together until the batter looked right. This will come as no surprise, but my first run at frying my own zucchini flowers was an epic failure. Matt will eat just about anything that's fried, and even he found them inedible. I haven't really tried again since then, so I was very excited to give Dorie's zucchini blossom recipe a try.

Technically, Dorie's recipe is for Shrimp-Filled Zucchini Blossoms. I'm sure that's delicious, but here in Naples, I've only seen zucchini blossoms come with one filling: cheese. In my ongoing effort to learn to duplicate things I love from my time here, I decided to follow Dorie's cheese-filled variation instead of the shrimp one.

Finding zucchini blossoms was easy. Italians are crazy for these things (with good reason). They actually sell fresh packs of them at the supermarket. Or so I thought. I didn't realize until I got home, that I'd actually bought fiore di zucca. Pumpkin. Not zucchini. Oh well, no big deal. I couldn't tell the difference.
I don't know what army I thought I would feed with this many flowers. We wasted quite a few.

Is club soda the same as sparkling water? I don't think so. I used sparkling water, because that is what the lady in my Italian cooking class uses. If it's good enough for Vera, it's good enough for me.

This batter fried up perfectly. These flowers were crispy and delicious. I'll always love Ann's zucchini flowers best, because they're made out of love, but this is now my go-to recipe when I need to fry flowers--or any other vegetable, for that matter--myself. The cheese filling was, frankly, better than a lot of what I've eaten at restaurants around here. Well done, Dorie.
After much prodding, Charlie tasted, then devoured an un-stuffed flower, while skeptically reciting Green Eggs and Ham ("You may like them, you will see..."). Score.

Matt said this was one of his favorite dinners in ages. All hail my beloved zucchini flowers!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Calabria: Ciambotta

Oh boy, do I have a work-horse recipe for you! I flipped through My Calabria last Wednesday and realized that the recipe for Ciambotta (Southern Italy's Summer Vegetable Stew) would use up the ridiculous amount of vegetables that I had in my kitchen. I say ridiculous because we were leaving town for three days, and my bushel of produce would surely be rotten by the time I returned.
Between all the chopping and the individual frying of each component, it took longer than I normally prefer on a weeknight to complete this recipe. However, since it is meant to be served as a room-temperature accompaniment to grilled meats, you could prepare it earlier in the day.

I'm not sure that mine came out exactly as it was meant to. The recipe calls for 1.5 pounds of tomatoes. I didn't have that many, so I supplemented with canned tomatoes. I suspect mine was a bit more "tomato saucey" than it should have been. Oh well. Basically, the peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and potatoes are independently fried, then returned to the pan with onion, garlic, tomato, and basil, and left to simmer in the tomato juices for a few minutes. Then, you let it rest. So, it's uncomplicated, but does take a while.

The first night, I served the glop over pasta.
We had a kitchen at the place we'd rented for the July 4th weekend in Umbria, so I brought the leftovers along as a side dish for steak. I ate the leftover leftovers for breakfast, as a bed for an over-easy egg. YUM.

Conclusion: Liked it, with bonus points because it's the perfect "too-many-vegetables-in-the-garden" dish.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My Calabria: Zucchine Ripiene con Ricotta

Well, looky here. Not 24 hours after preparing dinner, I'm posting about it. I don't know about you, but I'm impressed with me.

One of the vegetables I served with last night's dinner was Zucchine Ripiene con Ricotta (Baked Ricotta-Stuffed Zucchini). Zucchini stuffed with a mixture of fresh ricotta, onions, garlic, the zucchini pulp, and parsley? Yes, please.

Rosetta Costantino is a master of precision when it comes to measurements. I love this about her. The recipe calls for "6 small, tender zucchini." Italians around here go for wee little zucchini. They don't let them get very big, because they say they're more tender and sweet when they're small. It goes against my American "let's see how big this squash can get!" mentality. Anyway, 1 cup of ricotta, mixed with breadcrumbs and all the other stuff looked to me like it would make an awful lot of filling for 12 teeny zucchini boats.
I was wrong. Costantino was right. It's remarkable to me how this was the perfect amount of filling for 12 nicely filled zucchini halves--no skimping; no overflow.

This didn't blow my mind, but it was a good, salty, cheesy way to eat zucchini. Matt asked a few questions while he was eating that led me to believe he didn't approve, such as, "So, you liked this??" and "What's in here? Fish?"

FISH? What???

However, when I asked him after dinner if he thought it was good, he said yes. I'm confused.

Unsurprisingly, Charlie wouldn't touch it. Nor would he touch anything else on his plate except for one slice of cheese. It was a go to bed hungry kind of night for him.

Conclusion: Liked it.

Monday, June 30, 2014


Although I've been plugging along and enjoying recipes from My Calabria, I've (once again) been a delinquent blogger. Thanks for putting up with me.

Lo, these many days ago, on June 11, I cooked Tonno alla Menta (Fresh Tuna Pizzo Style with Wine Vinegar, Garlic, and Mint). Coat sliced tuna in flour, then fry briefly in some olive oil before removing it to a plate. Garlic, vinegar, salt, and mint leaves are whisked into the remaining oil, then poured over the tuna. Easy, fast, unusual, and it's meant to be served at room temp. The tuna should marinate in the sauce for at least 30 minutes, and supposedly improves the longer you leave it.
I don't think I've ever cooked a vinegar + mint combo. It was unusual, tangy, and very delicious. I'm a fan.

Conclusion: Loved it.

Unfortunately, that meal wasn't all grand. I'd also prepared Melanzane all'Insalata (Eggplant Salad with Garlic, Mint, and Hot Peppers). I was never much of an eggplant fan before moving to Italy, but I lo-o-ove them here. The eggplants are smaller, thinner, and much more flavorful than the hulking behemoths we get back home.  Not to mention that the Italian nonna's generous, extravagant use of olive oil works wonders when dealing with melanzane. I've often had an eggplant salad as part of an antipasti course in restaurants, and it's always good. I'd hoped that this recipe would turn out similar to those.

It didn't.

This was disgusting.
There's nothing appealing about that.
First of all, the eggplant are left whole, with slits down the sides, and boiled. Once cooked, they dry in a colander for an hour. Then, pour a mixture of vinegar, oil, garlic, hot pepper, mint and salt over the eggplant, and leave at room temp to marinate for 24 hours.

There was nothing good about this. The temperature, slimy texture, and hyper-vinegarized flavor were all totally gross. Neither one of us ate more than a bite. I wasted a lot of eggplant on this one. Not happy.

Conclusion: Hated it.

Another day, I made Pollo con Melanzane (Braised Chicken with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Pancetta). I could do without the chicken in this recipe. The thighs didn't absorb any flavor. They just turned out as your standard chicken thigh. The sauce, on the other hand, was amaze-balls. It reminded me of an easy recipe that an Italian woman that I know here taught me, in which cubes of eggplant are fried in peanut oil, then mixed into tomato sauce, except (shh! Don't tell!) this was even more delicious.
This recipe has you fry the eggplant in olive oil, but I stuck with my Italian's peanut oil. I hate wasting so much delicious olive oil just to fry something.

Cooking pancetta and garlic in olive oil, browning the chicken thighs, pouring in some white wine and letting it evaporate, then adding tomato puree and cooking it down until the chicken is finished takes this sauce over the edge. I want to try this without the chicken. I'm sure the chicken fat adds some flavor to the sauce, but the chicken itself couldn't compete with the sauce. I served mine on cannelini beans, but this would be equally great on rice, pasta, or just on a plate.

Conclusion: Loved it (sans chicken).

Last, but definitely not least, I brought Polpette di Melanzane (Crispy Eggplant Meatballs) to a friend's bbq yesterday. (Can you tell that it's eggplant season?) This is an appetizer that I've had at restaurants, and it's one of my favorite new foods that I've eaten since moving to Napoli. I knew I was going to try this recipe before leaving this book, and this seemed like a prime opportunity.

I was surprised at how easy this was. Boil diced eggplant for 10 minutes. Drain, cool, and squeeze out the water. Then, you just chop it up (it's already pretty mushy), mix it up with breadcrumbs, grated cheese, parsley, garlic, and an egg, roll small balls in more breadcrumbs, and fry in olive oil.
Homina homina homina. FEED MY FACE.
They were so good fresh out of the oil that they almost didn't make it to the BBQ. They were still wonderful at room temp. Two people separately asked me for the recipe. Even Charlie ate one. If my kid will eat eggplant in this form, it'll be a new staple in my house. I had to call them meatballs, but he didn't notice foul play.

It's a pet peeve of mine when I follow the measurements and sizing instructions in a recipe and end up with a drastically different number of items. I am delighted to report that this recipe says it will make 32 1-inch meatballs, and that is exactly the number I got. Bonus points!

Conclusion: LOVED it.

Friday, June 27, 2014

FFwD: Guacamole with Tomatoes and Bell Peppers

It's strange for me to follow a recipe for guacamole. I'm used to winging it, with the same basic flavors: avocado (duh), cilantro, jalapeno pepper, a smidge of finely sliced red onion, and--the holy grail--diced tomatillos. With slim access to decent avocado, scattered access to cilantro, and no access to my beloved tomatillos, I can't say that I make much guacamole these days. However, the stars aligned and ingredients fell into place for this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe: Guacamole with Tomatoes and Bell Peppers.

Let's take a moment to absorb the full weight of what I'm about to say. Ready?

The Commissary had ripe avocado. Not crispy! Not rock-hard! Not, on the other end of the spectrum, rotten and brown with weird stringy stuff inside it! Just soft, fatty, lovely avocado.

I sliced the first, met no resistance, and pulled the half off the pit to find green flesh. I'll tell you, I was this close to weeping for joy.

I prefer my standard, back-in-the-Texas-days guac. Tomatillos, man. Tomatillos. I didn't love the texture that the bell pepper brought to the table. I like my guacamole to be chunky, but don't want to have to chew it. However, since I can't get tomatillos, and was FINALLY able to secure a decent avocado, I'll say that this is the best guac I've had since I've lived in Italy.
The presence of the guac prompted me to make tacos for dinner. I haven't made tacos in a very long time. Charlie ate one. WOOT! Looks like we'll be having tacos--with or without guac--more often.

This week, I also caught up on (Tilapia) with Capers, (No Cornichons), and Brown Butter. Dorie is much more enamored with the cornichon than I am. I'm just not a pickle gal. Once in a while, with a burger or a deli sandwich, fine. I never eat them at home, though, and didn't feel like buying a jar I wouldn't use up before I have to move again (in a year).

I also didn't have sherry vinegar, and used white wine instead.
I'm pretty sure that I turned this into a piccata sauce. A piccata sauce that involves an entire stick of buter. And mustard. Maybe not a direct match for piccata, but the flavor was close. Whether or not it turned out as it was supposed to, it was delicious. I can't quite wrap my brain around that entire stick of butter for 3 pieces of fish, though. For that reason alone, I probably won't be making this again.