Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thank-you for 2009

The generosity of bloggers overwhelm me. I did not go into this for "free stuff." I do not comment for the same. I read your sweetnesses and try to return in kind. I came home from scary driving in downtown St. Paul to what you see below from Joe at Bacis and torrone and coffee (black coffee! as Aunt Fay would say) and a heavenly jar of roasted peppers that I will guard with my life. And my college-age kids oohing and ahhing and wondering when they could partake. And I received this - for what? For commenting???? Sending a post? Which I did in order to join in the Feast. Who wouldn't want to join in an Italian feast? Thank-you, Joe.

I started the blog two years ago. The first year it was pretty private. Simply a way of sharing family stories and recipes so my Midwestern children would have a feel for their New Yorker Italian/American mother. One year ago (almost), I went public and met all of you.
In early December I received two awards which I am late in acknowledging. So, I shall share the first award with "old" friends who lifted helped me navigate the blogging world and the second award with "new" friends.
2009 has brought a lot of "slings and arrows." I won't dwell, for everyone has their share of slings and arrows. Cooking and blogging lets me lose myself for awhile and take a respite. So, to all of you - I thank you for being there and providing a safe haven of comfort and delectables.
This is from Rebecca who created Chow and Chatter. I cook from her blog (most recently Columbia-inspired meatloaf) and enjoy her warmth and recipes. Thank-you, Rebecca.

I know some of you have "award-free" blogs and I respect that - so even if you do not pick up the award, I still wanted you to know I valued you.
I have cooked from all the blogs mentioned below - so I hope you will visit them. I guarantee you'll leave smiling.

I would like to share this with:
Donna at My Tasty Treasures, Heather/Dar at Girlichef, Reeni at Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice, Bunny at Bunny's Warm Oven, Sam from My Carolina Kitchen, Katherine at Smoky Mountain Cafe, Linda at Ciao Chow Linda and Wanda from Moments of Mine

And this came from Gaga in the Kitchen, who like me, doesn't always measure - but manages some heavenly stuff. Her baked brie was a hit in this house last week.

This goes to seven people with seven facts about yourself. I think people know too much about me as it is! So I shall just state that I am an onion - lots of layers, lots of sarcasm, too much cynicism, cannot resist the wisecrack but I think I could be caramelized.
I would like to share this with: Janet from Meatless Mama, Gera at Sweets Foods, Velva at Tomatoes on the Vine, Claudia at What's Cookin' Italian Style Cuisine, Bridgett at La Bella Cook,
Barbara GF at Dish 'n That and Mary at One Perfect Bite.
Speaking of onions, my caramelized onion tart is ready ..... again, thanks to all of you and onward and upward in 2010! Who knows what we will create? Happy New Year! Felice Anna Nuovo!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Red Wine Gravy - Bon Appetit's October Cover Recipe

My resolve to keep my New Year's resolution 2008 to cook all 12 cover recipes of Bon Appetit has been successful. (There's just the little matter of baking the peppermint chocolate cake on December 2009's cover...) My procrastination is in posting the Cover Girl dinners - well - this, that and the other thing occurred. There was the sprained ankle.... and my six weeks directing a rodent (Stuart Little- a holiday show), a few deadlines and then this decision (which I declared in print) to bake 24 holiday Italian cookies in December.... which will definitely go into my "what was I thinking" file folder....
Enough! Below is Bon Appetit's slow-cooked short ribs dinner. Smothered in a red wine, sun-dried tomato gravy with mashed potatoes and braised greens, it was a hit.

I bought my ribs from a local producer at St. Paul Farmer's Market - Otis Family Farms. His ribs were meaty and tender. Another plus for buying local and from someone you know.
The Swiss chard was briefly sauteed in olive oil.

The ribs were braised for two hours in red wine, herbs, sun-dried tomatoes and other aromatics.

Potatoes were mashed and the melding of flavors was delectable. Comforting, autumn, with the fresh taste of the Farmer's Market shining through. It can be made a day ahead, it does not need babysitting and it guarantees smiles at the dinner table. Conversation ceased for awhile as everyone savored the meal. Don't let the list of ingredients intimidate you - the meal is very easy to execute and once your ribs are braising, you are free to dance in your living room, take a bubble bath, check Facebook, read food blogs, or nap. The recipe is here: Braised beef short ribs.
Dessert was "Cake with three milks." The cake is drenched in three milks and just - soaks it in - marinates and is the tenderest, milkiest, whitest, creamiest cake know to come out of an oven that does not contain buttercream. You will find yourself thanking cows. It will be part of your repertoire. Find the recipe for Pastel de Tres Leches at Girlchef's blog here.

Looks like a simple sheet cake.

But the clouds of milk tells you there is something special going on in that cake. It's inviting.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The 12 Days of an Italian Foodie Christmas

The 12 Days of an Italian Foodie Christmas

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
12 scampis scampering
11 scungillis congealing
10 olives oiling
9 rapinis rapping
8 pignolis pining
7 feasts of fishes
6 yeasts-a-proofing
5 golden figs
4 squalling squids
3 frenched hens
2 curdled doves
and Mario Batali in a pine tree.

Merry Christmas, friends! May your days be merry and bright!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cioppino for Feast of the Seven Fishes

Holy cannoli! I almost forgot. Joe at is hosting Feast of the Seven Fishes and the deadline is (gulp) tonight.I made something to bring.... I just didn't bring it yet.
Cioppino!Or as Aunt Fay said, "Neopolitan Stew." She hosted the Feast for decades. All "us" cousins looked at the sumptuous Christmas Eve platters of fish and pushed the seafood aside and ate the pastas. This is where age has its advantages. I know better now - as did my aunts, uncles and grandmother!
Since I do not live in the "seaport of the world," I made do with what Minnesota has to offer. The meal was quick and easy to prepare and I had a short vacation to Naples this evening. All for the price of some shrimp, a few mussels and clams.
INGREDIENTS: (serves 4)
1 fennel bulb - chopped
1 large shallot - chopped
4 T olive oil
2 cloves of garlic - chopped
1 rosemary sprig
1 can vegetable broth
1/2 small bottle clam juice
1 cup white wine
1 large can of peeled tomatoes in juice
1/2 cup tomato paste (sometimes I leave it out when I don't want it sweet)
8 clams - scrubbed
3/4 pound mussels - scrubbed
1/2 pound shrimp (peeled, deveined)
1 tilapia fillet - can use any white fish
1/4 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 pound spaghetti (optional)
In large stew/soup pot, heat olive oil. Add chopped fennel, shallots and garlic. Saute till fennel is soft (about 4-5 minutes). Add vegetable broth, clam juice, tomatoes, wine and rosemary. Let simmer for ten minutes and break up the tomatoes with the back of a spoon. Add mussels and clams and let them simmer for 8-10 minutes - until they open. Discard any unopened ones. Add shrimp and tilapia or other white fish and let it simmer for five minutes. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve as a soup or over spaghetti. Savor. Alternate play Volare in the background with Christmas songs. Go to Italy for Christmas Eve - even for just one hour.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shimmering Candied Orange Peels and a Cast that Glistens

Yes. He's adorable. He's also hard-working and talented. He carries the show in a cast of 22 adults and kids and he's ten years old. When you work with kids, you know that's as good as it gets. In between the frenzy of opening Stuart Little, baking an Italian cookie a day for The Examiner and you know - the Christmas stuff, I took an evening off to concoct some candied orange peels.
But first Stuart - that's the mouse with his mother - having just rescued her engagement ring from the bathtub drain.

In one of my favorite scenes, some cats menace a pigeon. (Conflict in a children's play!) They glowed opening night. The show is a confection, a sweetness and they had all of that plus humor, insight into acceptance and finally - a responsive, grand audience. So I could go back to my kitchen.
I am planning on making an almond-ricotta pudding and some panettone bread. Both call for candied orange and lemon peels.

My orange peels were thick - I cut the peel off - and sliced them into 1/4 inch pieces. I then boiled them for one minute - four times (you drain the water and start anew) until they were soft.

Some recipes have you cut the peel off with a vegetable peeler but then they are too flimsy to hold up to the sugar syrup.

Add 3 cups of sugar to one cup of water. Stir to dissolve and then heat to boiling.

Add your peels and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. You want the coating to be thick and shimmer on the peels. The peels should start to look translucent. Mine took an hour.
Put wax paper under a wire rack, drain the sugar syrup and let dry for 6 hours. I let them dry over night.
They will adorn my Italian Cookie Christmas platter, be eaten from their airtight container at whim and be put into Italian Christmas desserts. They glisten also. Just like my cast.

I had a heavy hand when I dipped them into chocolate.

But no one minded. Because they're gone.

I hid a few to use for baking. My tree remains undecorated, my Christmas decor are in boxes - but the shimmery, glistening days are here. Onstage and at home.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Mandelbrot for Hanukkah

Menorah photo: AP photo by Larry Crowe

On Friday, December 11th, latkes will be fried, menorahs will be lit and at sundown the Festival of Lights known as Hanukkah begins. Growing up in New York City in the 60's, I hailed from a neighborhood of Jewish refugees from WW II, Italians, Greeks and a smattering of Chinese (fleeing the Cultural Revolution), African-Americans and Hispanics. My birthday parties often resembled a United Nations, Junior. I have poignantly sweet memories of spending Hanukkah with friends. While not one of the most significant of Jewish Holidays, the lit menorahs make it one of the prettiest.

Mandelbrots are a cousin to the almond biscotti. Oil is used instead of butter and chopped almonds replace ground almonds. Everything else is the same. And equally delicious.
Mandelbrot Recipe
2 cups flour
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 t vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract
1 cup coarsely chopped almonds
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl combine flour, salt and baking powder. In another large bowl (or stand mixer) beat eggs. Slowly add sugar to eggs and mix on high for about 3 minutes until mixture is thick and creamy. Add oil and extract and beat till combined. If using a stand mixer, change whisk attachment to dough paddle. Slowly add flour (in fourths) and then chopped almonds until mixture comes together. It will be thick.
Put dough on baking sheet. Using lightly oiled hands, mold into a log - about 12 inches by 3 inches. Bake for 45 minutes till browned and bread-like. Cool for ten minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut log diagonally into 1/2 inch logs. Bake cut-side down for five minutes. Turn cookie over and bake for an additional five minutes. Cool on racks.

"To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle." Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

"I ask not for a lighter burden but broader shoulders." Jewish Proverb

"May the lights of Hanukkah usher in a better world for all of mankind." Author unknown.
May your burdens be light, your shoulders broad and your life filled with light. As with the shammes (servant), the 9th candle used to light the other candles, may you know that giving light and love to others does not take away from your own radiance. Happy Hanukkah!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Panforte Recipe and a Mouse

Don't you just love looking at ingredients. They are welcoming - just waiting to be used. And then the miracle of chemistry begins. My father was always bemused about my choices in life. He is retired but was a chemist. Daughter #1 (that would be me) did not seem to have a science or math gene in her body. But if you think about it - I did. It just mutated. For cooking is chemistry. Where the theatre gene came from - is a mystery for the ages.

Meanwhile I cook. And bake more than I used to - or it's the season. Lately I've been craving panforte. Not the $25.99/per pound panforte found in the specialty shops. They are too sweet, too cloying for me. I want dense, rich decadent chocolate - without tons of honey. I do want the sweetener! But I really want the chocolate ... and hazelnuts.

So I made some. Except for warming the honey, it all comes together in one bowl.
Panforte Recipe
1/2 cup flour
2 T cocoa powder
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/4 t ground cloves
a bit of pepper
1 cup chopped (or whole) almonds
1 cup chopped hazelnuts
1-1/2 cups dried cherries
1-1/2 cups chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli semi-sweet; altho' tempted to use bittersweet)
1-2 T orange zest
1 T almond extract
1 T Marsala wine
1/2 cup (little less actually) honey

Panforte Preparation
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Coat a nine-inch brownie pan with cooking spray. Mix your cocoa with the flour. Add the spices and mix, then the nuts and then the zest and dried fruit. Add the chocolate chips and coat with mixture. Warm the honey in a sauce pan till almost boiling. Add your extract and wine and mix thoroughly. Pour warmed honey over prepared mixture and stir quickly to cover all. Spoon, scrape, pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes.

Panforte is done when edges pull away from pan and become a bit "cake-y."

Dense and rich, a little bit goes a long way.

And it went down well with a glass of wine.

Meanwhile, I am spending my eves with this mouse. His name is Stuart Little and I have an assortment of 17 young performers and five adult actors. It's - busy, high-energy, filled with giant ping-pong balls, huge combs, a gargantuan engagement ring and chock full of Stuart's adventures. I've been having a few adventures of my own with them!
Lovely bloggers have presented me with two awards which I shall happily display - after we open on Friday! Missing costume pieces, parents schedule for kid-wrangling, pot-luck for after the matinee and before the evening performance, publicity, shifts, photo call and oh yeah - the directing part have consumed me. And then there's this cookie-a-day I've been baking over at the Examiner. Which I know makes me certifiable for something...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pomegranate Molasses for World's AIDS Day

I know I am a few days late. There are reasons - silly and serious - but that's for another post. Ever since I say 5-Star Foodie's post linking to Angela of Spinach Tiger and her Cooking Red to Remember I knew I had to participate. I was still living in NYC when this "unknown" disease fiercely struck. I sadly remember those lost, the panic, the fear and so I post. Angela's story is filled with love and compassion and worth your time.

I've had a hard time finding pomegranate molasses - and when I did, I found it to be about the price of a car payment, so I "surfed" at home looking for a way to make it. The recipes are similar but most remain too tart for my family (I've upped the sugar; you don't have to). I now put this all over pork roasts, add to chicken sauces, glaze roast vegetables with it and add a drop to a vinaigrette. I know there is a gelato in its future.

2 cups pomegranate juice
1/4-1/2 cup sugar
generous squeeze of 1/4 lemon

Put all in a saucepan and simmer till reduced to 1/4 cup and thick and syrupy. It took me about an hour and I checked and stirred every ten-minutes. Enjoy!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Triple Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Peppermint Filling - When You Need to Bake and an Award

My goodness - this may be the longest blog title in my history - and I am wordy. When my daughter starting dating her boyfriend, they baked. Well, sort of. Box mixes and pre-made cookie dough lined the kitchen cabinets a few nights a week. That was when they were seniors in high school. That was then.

This is now. What a difference three years makes.

Why they needed to bake a complex holiday chocolate cake when the fridge was filled with turkey, yams, mashed potatoes, stuffing, chocolate pecan pie, pumpkin pie, apple tart, pumpkin bread, etc. remains to be seen. But the need to bake comes from a powerful zen-like place and Saturday was designated "Bake a splashy chocolate cake day."
They assigned each other duties: You make the ganache, I bake the layers, you mix the filling, I'll crush the chocolate squares.

The Christmas CD's went on in the kitchen and they baked and sifted and stirred and chopped and voila! A Triple Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Peppermint Filling straight from the pages of Bon Appetit.

The cake was split in half and each family got to sample the cake. Gooey, creamy, minty, lusciously velvety smooth, it is an offering of love.

In truth, we had a weekend of great poignancy. The very act of stirring and sifting and filling your head with the next step of a recipe is a wondrous thing. And in the end, just by the mere act of following directions, you can create sweetness. And that's what they did. Since they didn't change a thing, you can go to Bon Appetit and find the recipe here: Triple Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Peppermint Filling. It is a grand addition to your holiday table.
Meanwhile, an Apple and Pear Salad gets all dressed up for the holidays here.

I will confess to being remiss about posting awards. They are appreciated and I want to thank My Little Space for gentle reminders and Claudia at Pegasus Legend for thinking of me. It belongs on all of your blogs. Please, post it - some sparkly gold for the holidays is good for the heart.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving ... have a cranberry in Marsala wine on me

I am up to my earlobes in yams, pumpkin, citrus salt, sausage stuffing, maple glazed carrots and there's a turkey in there somewhere. Rock 'n roll is blaring and I couldn't be happier. But I needed a pause - to say Happy Thanksgiving to you all.
I figured out how to make cranberry sauce Italian - Marsala wine! Cooked it in sugared-Marsala with Pom syrup and pomegranates. The jewel-like recipe is here (in case you hadn't decided yet!). May you be well-fed, well-loved and warm. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pumpkin-Mascarpone Pie, An Award and Thanks

I have a story about this pie. Well, actually - it's a secret. So I cannot tell you yet - because if a family member should read this ... But it has to do with my taking a perfectly good American tradition and then giving it an Italian twist. "Why can't I leave well enough alone," exclaim some people? (Non-Italians.) And I can't. I'm still tyring to figure out how to get pasta on my Midwest Thanksgiving table.

This is pretty close to the pumpkin pie recipe on the canned pureed pumpkin! I periodically lower the sugar amount - thinking pumpkin is sweet enought, thank-you. But I was determined (shh) to make this pie a tad Italian. And why not celebrate harvests world-wide? I'll start with Italy and you can run with the ball!
Oh and the crust! make your favorite. Use pasta frolla, use Cook's Illustrated - whatever works in your day. Or buy a prepared one!

Gather your ingredients:

1 can pumpkin puree

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 cup light brown sugar (sometimes I flip-flop the sugars)
2 eggs

1t cinnamon

1t ground ginger

1/2t nutmeg (I freshly grate it and guess and usually use more)

1/4t ground cloves

1/4t salt

1t vanilla

1 8-oz container mascarpone

Mix your pumpkin, sugars and eggs.

Add the spice and vanilla.

Watch the color brighten after the creamy clouds of mascarpone are blended in.Pour into favorite pie crust and cook at 350 degrees F for one hour till set. (Stoves vary so check your pie after 50-55 minutes. Mine took exactly one hour.) Cool and serve with spoonfuls of whipped cream. (Can be made one day ahead of time. Cool, cover and refrigerate. If desired, rewarm in 325 degree F oven for 5-10 minutes.)

Piping hot.

And perfect.

But going ...

going ...


gone. As American as apple ...well pumpkin pie and as rich as the tapestries of Italy. Layered, sweet, spiced, creamy and "worth the calories!"

I would like to offer thanks and .. apologies. My Little Space presented me with the sweetest of awards:

... in October. As I have only been posting on the run and once a week these days, I have yet to post it. So I am posting it proudly and happily and thankfully. My Little Space
is a treasure trove of wonderful recipes: breads, sweets, yams, dim sum. Pay a visit. I promise you you'll stay.
I am grateful for so much: being busy which means I have a rich full life, cyberspace friends who I feel I chat and drink coffee (and ahem wine) with many days and that my table does have a harvest when so many do not. I would like to pass to all but last time I did that, there were no takers. You are all so shy. So for today, the friendship blogger will go to: