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.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

FFwD: Crab-Avocado Ravioli

I did not have a phenomenal week, as far as dinners go. Things just went wrong at every turn, all week long. Is there a full moon or something?

This week, the French Fridays with Dorie gang made Crab-Avocado Ravioli. This is supposed to be two thin slices of avocado that encompasses a crab/lime/cilantro mixture in the shape of a ravioli. I knew right off the bat that I'd be turning this into a salad. Dorie says to use your mandolin to slice the avocado WITH THE PIT STILL IN. Maybe that would work if you have access to a fancy, restaurant-grade mandolin, but there was no chance my neon green cheapy would be up to the task, and I'm pretty sure I'd lose my fingertips (best case scenario) along the way. No thanks.

I don't think crab is local here in Naples, which means that it doesn't exist. I've never seen it in the store, in any form. The Commissary sells one-pound cans of claw meat, so I bought one of those. Mistake, though I don't know what my alternative was. Maybe I should have made this with shrimp. The crab tasted like the South Street Seaport in Manhattan smelled, circa 1989 (aka horrible). Additionally, I couldn't get my hands on cilantro, so the crab mixture was a disgusting bust.

My avocados were crispy. Felt soft enough on the outside, but inside they were inedible. Bust.
I wish this was the first time I had this problem with Commissary avocados.
Matt attempted to salvage this salad by sauteeing up some zucchini, since the avocado was totally useless. Even still, I couldn't stomach it. The crab was flat-out too fishy and wrong.
That's a lot of nasty crab.
So, this recipe was disgusting for me, but I am certain that I'd love it with fresh and ripe ingredients. Bummer. If I end up back in the DC or Norfolk area for our next tour, you can bet that this will be one of the first recipes I try once I have access to Chesapeake Blue Crab again. Until then, I'll be avoiding crab.

This week, I also made up the Garbure from the Supermarket. I never made this recipe because I never make ham, and therefore had no ham bone to use. Fortunately, my friend offered me one that was sitting in her freezer, so I snatched it up.
I'm thirsty.
I should have read the recipe closer. I didn't realize that it's meant to boil for three whole hours. I remembered that Doristas said that they put their vegetables in halfway through so they didn't dissolve, but when I read the instructions, I thought it only boiled for an hour. My bad. My vegetables disintegrated, and I oversalted it. By a lot. I hated it the first night. The second, I added more water, potatoes, carrots, and beans to absorb some of the salt. It helped, but the whole thing still tasted like hot ham water to me.
No thanks.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

FFwD: Salmon Rillettes

I stalled all week before making the Salmon Rillettes from Around My French Table. I was thrown off by how much I disliked the smoked salmon waffles that I caught up on last week. The idea of more smoked salmon, in any capacity, didn't sound appetizing. On the other hand, I'm glad I did two smoked salmon recipes were back to back, because I was able to use up the leftover fish that I still had in the fridge.

This was easy to make. Diced salmon is poached very quickly in a white wine and spice mixture, then mixed up with smoked salmon, spring onions, a hot red pepper, lemon zest, lemon juice, and butter. Let it sit in the fridge for a few hours, then smear on some bread.
I was suprised by how much I enjoyed this. The smoked salmon is diluted enough to be non-aggressive, and the overall effect is of a light, fresh spread. Very tasty, and I loved the fact that I could make it during the day, while Charlie was at school, and not have to do anything but make a little salad to get ready for dinner. I read for the hour I would normally be cooking. It was glorious. (Reading The Goldfinch, if you care. I'm having a hot and cold relationship with this massive book. I adore giant chunks, and then it sloooooooows down. For a hundred pages. I digress.)

Matt wasn't as smitten with this recipe as I was, but he also didn't enjoy the benefit of being able to prepare it completely in advance. That scored big points for me.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pain in the Ass

Remember when I said that Charlie specifically requested that we make Cowboy Elmo's Fastest Mac' n' Cheese in the West? Meaningless, in terms of his willingness to actually try it.

The Commissary only had white American cheese, so that's what I bought. With that one decision, I sounded this meal's death knell. You see, our pasta turned out to be white instead of yellow. The picture in the book was yellow. Because ours was not yellow, Charlie refused to taste it. Not even one bite.

He has been banished to his bedroom, and I'm quite sure I'm in for a long night.

I'm certain he would like it if he tasted it. I actually thought this was good. It's more like out-of-the-box mac n cheese than any other version I've made. It's just a bit of milk, a bit of oil (I used olive instead of vegetable), add the cooked pasta and broken up American cheese, and mix it all together until it's saucy.
Had I realized that the color would be such a problem, I would have shredded some cheddar to add to the mix. More cheese never hurt anything.

As far as the cooking goes, Charlie counted out eight slices of cheese, broke up two of them, then said that I should do the rest. He scooped the pasta out of the box, and he added the oil, milk, and cheese to the pot. Seems like an okay level of involvement to me. There wasn't much else to it, except for the parts that involved boiling water.

Not really sure how to judge this. I think I need to make a Wouldn't Taste It category.

I was in a good mood before we started cooking. I'm currently seething. The joys of parenthood. Sha na na naaaaa!

Update: After an hour, he came out of his room and ate his cold, congealed pasta. Going to call it a "Liked it." 

Long Term Project: C is for Cooking

The Easter Bunny brought Charlie a Sesame Street cookbook: C is for Cooking. I've bought kid cookbooks before. They're usually pretty underwhelming, either because they're aimed at older kids, or because the food is flat-out lame. I'm sorry, but I can make all the raw vegetable smiley-faces I want. Charlie isn't going to eat it.
I ordered C is for Cooking without seeing it first, and it looks decent. Not that these will be award-winning meals or anything, but they are easy recipes with clear steps. I also like that they specify which steps are kid-appropriate and provide little counting games and such to do while you're cooking.
Charlie likes to look through his cookbook while I look through mine. Yesterday he pointed to the mac n cheese recipe and asked if we could make it. Heck yeah, we can make it! It's on tonight's menu. Figured that I should make this book a long-term project so that I don't forget to use it with him. My judgments for how successful a recipe was will be based on whether or not Charlie ate it, not if I liked it, and how much he can actually participate.