Archive for January, 2012

Birthday feast for Nonna

January 30, 2012

I love an occasion to cook for. Cooking is my way of showing love for someone I care about. Its not so much the foods I make as much as it is the preparation or love that goes into the meal. I would rather spend all day making something from scratch for someone than taking them to a restaurant chain. My mom’s birthday was yesterday. For her present she requested a favorite meal of ours. My mom is the reason I cook, because she always taught me so many things in the kitchen. I love seeing her with the girls today teaching them the love of cooking. For her dinner she requested Penne with Crabcake pasta from the restaurant we had our wedding rehearsal dinner at. I always loved that entree so I recreated it at home till I got it right. It is extremely simple yet it plates and tastes like 5 stars. Then because my mom has a sweet tooth I made her a delectable chocolate cake. Who doesn’t want to try a new chocolate cake recipe? So here we go:

Crabcake Penne with Spinach and Sundried tomatoes

This recipe is one I made up to duplicate the dish we always enjoyed at one of our favorite NC places, Amos Mosquitos cafe. First I cook some garlic, about 6-8 cloves, roughly chopped in butter. Then I toss spinach in the butter and cover it to wilt, you don’t want it to cook too long. Then I add a about 3/4 jar of chopped sundried tomatoes in olive oil and I add some of the oil from the jar as well. I cook some penne till it is al dente and then I toss it in the saute pan with the spinach. I serve a bowl of this lovely pasta concoction with a crabcake sitting on top and some aioli on the crabcake. Sometimes I make my own crabcakes from scratch but lately I have been using Maryland Lump crabcakes from the freezer section. The crabcake is so happy to be sitting in this pasta nest. Aioli is what really adds the zing to this dish. For my aioli I use garlic, mayo, chipolte peppers in adobo sauce, dijon mustard, and white wine vinegar. I got the recipe from Food Network.com a while ago but I have since added to it. This dish has such few simple ingredients but it is really pleasing to the eye and the palate. It really makes a date night in look extra fancy.

For dessert we had the Buttermilk Chocolate Cake with Fudge Icing, pictured above. No matter how little time I have I just can’t use a store bought or boxed cake, as the ones from scratch taste so much better. I have made this recipe for so many special occasions before. It is so moist and light and fluffy. I have really never tasted a cake like it. In fact I think I am going to go taste some right now…

 

tonights tummy warmer

January 27, 2012

tonight I am making this, Sicilian Meatball Stew, perfect for a chilly winter night, and a crowd pleaser!

Polenta Virgin

January 21, 2012

So I am a polenta virgin. I am not ashamed to admit it. I just have never tried it, for some reason it has never appealed to me. Polenta is a very finely ground version of corn grits and if you cook it very slowly to get it creamy. It is often served with tomato and mozzarella or even chilled and sliced into circles for fancy appetizers. I see it on all different calibers of cooking shows and I am usually the first to try to make something if it is more challenging, but yet I have not tried it.

The other day on The Chew, Mario made Polenta with shrimp (shrimp are gamberoni in Italian) and he enticed me. So I bought some polenta and shrimp and I was ready to try it out. Following Mario’s directions were easy and the step by step video helped make my first time making polenta easier. I had seen other chefs use fresh herbs as skewers before in other recipes so I was excited to try this with the shrimp. Remember it has to marinate for 3 hours so plan ahead. Grilling the shrimp on the rosemary skewer really adds delicious flavor, I might use this idea for summer cookouts. Make sure not to grill it too long, you don’t want your shrimp tough, but tender and succulent.

When I made the polenta I made sure to pour it slowly and whisk as pouring, to me it was just like making cream of wheat, which I make often for breakfast, so it was easier than I expected. I got it to be just the right texture and then I scooped it out and served the freshly grilled shrimp on top. It was amazing! I am really glad I took the plunge. I can’t wait to try it chilled as a sort of cracker to serve a yummy appetizer on. I also am excited to try some other recipes, my friend said that she had polenta fries with gorgonzola dip at a restaurant, I want to find the recipe to make that too. So if you have not tried polenta but are feeling the urge, don’t be scared and you won’t be disappointed! Oh and please excuse the photo I snagged from the Chew site, I gobbled up my dinner so fast and forgot to snap a pic for my fans…

Contraband Chocolate Cookies

January 19, 2012

Have you ever heard the story of the Mrs. “F” cookie recipe? Somehow the story goes that a woman was in Neiman Marcus or some fancy store and she asked for the recipe to the cookies she was eating in their cafe. The waiter told her it was seven fifty so she said to put it on her card and she got the bill and it was $750! For revenge she gave out the recipe to all her friends. I don’t know if this is an urban legend or not but I always loved that story so I will share the recipe here with you. My Mrs. F cookie recipe is one of my favorites, with double the chocolate and also oatmeal ground to almost a flour like texture, which really adds a great flavor. So if you want to change up your typical chocolate chip cookie recipe you have to give this a try!

Mrs. Fields Cookies

Cream: 1/2 c butter, 1/2 c sugar, 1/2 c brown sugar. Add 1 egg. Add 1/2 tsp vanilla

Take 1 1/4 c of oatmeal and blend in blender till it is powder. Set aside.

Take a 2-3 ounce chocolate bar and grate in blender or chop finely, set aside.

Mix oatmeal powder with 1 c flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda.

Combine all ingredients except chocolate and mix well.

Add 6oz of chocolate chips (I prefer Ghirardelli) and your grated chocolate and mix by hand.

Make into golf ball sized cookies and space evenly on baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 6 minutes. Yum!

Forget Papa John’s, we eat Mama Tara’s!

January 16, 2012

Tonight I am making my favorite homemade pizza dough, if you have never made your own dough, you should try this recipe it is so easy and tastes way better than any store bought dough or take out. I am going to divide it into three balls of dough so we can each make our own. I will probably make mine into a calzone and the girls can make their own pizzas. So we get to enjoy one of our favorite meals for free and we know what is in it, can’t beat that!

Gnocchi UFC Battle

January 16, 2012

Ok so because I am a perfectionist and I love to cook I had to attempt the gnocchi again. I just wasn’t happy with how it came out. My mom had given me a different recipe to try and so I decided to try it. This gnocchi recipe from King Arthur Flour’s website just sounded more delicious to begin with. I didn’t make the gorgonzola sauce but I have made that before for fresh fettuicine and it was to die for. In this recipe, I liked how you microwave the potatoes, rather than boiling them forever, as it instructed in my previous gnocchi post. Also by adding grated cheese to the dough it gave it such a yummy smell, along with the nutmeg (which thanks to my MIL, I had fresh nutmeg to grate). So the dough already seemed to have a big advantage with these additions.

This dough was a bit easier to work with and also cut and roll with a fork, but I still might getting the $5 gnocchi board at the King Arthur Flour store to make it easier, or maybe my handy hubby will make me one. Of course making them by hand gives them a slightly irregular shape but that did not affect the taste at all, we didn’t have a single gnocchi left!


I made sure to gently lower them into the water with the slotted spoon and then used the same spoon to strain them, as last time I dumped them in the collander and killed them. Then I tossed them with some olive oil before topping with my cacciatore sauce and pecorino romano. Then we devoured them!

So if you liked my last post or you like gnocchi, you have to give this version a try and you too will think this version wins the ultimate gnocchi championship! Oh and it made just enough for me and my 2 girls, but I would have to double the recipe if my hubby were home or we had guests, FYI.

Black & White Italian Cookies

January 13, 2012

I have been wanting to share this recipe for a while, if you have ever seen the Black and White cookies at an Italian bakery (think Mike’s Pastry in the North End of Boston) or ever heard of them, then you are going to be excited about this post. It’s my mom’s secret family recipe, here it is

Black & White Cookies

Combine:

3 Cups flour (king arthur is the best) and 1/4 tsp of baking soda

Beat:

1 1/3 cups of sugar, 2/3 cup butter, 1/2 cup crisco, 2 eggs, 2 tsp light corn syrup, 2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 3/4 tsp lemon extract

Add dry ingredients alternatively with 1/3 cup sour cream. Mix to blend. Use 1/4 or scoop to shape into a ball and then flatten. Bake 12-14 minutes at 350 degrees. Makes approx 20 cookies.

Fondant for b&w cookies:

boil in small pan:

1/4 cup light corn syrup with 1/2 cup water

Boil this for a few minutes so it really bubbles, as the first time I did it not long enough and it was not thickening as it should have after it cooled, so I made a second batch and boiled it longer. Remove from heat, add 5 cups of confectionary sugar, 3/4 tsp vanilla. Place 2 squares of finely chopped unsweetened chocolate (chopping it is very important, I skipped this step and my whole chocolate wouldn’t melt) in separate bowl and add 1 cup of the vanilla fondant you just made, stir till it melts the chocolate. The chocolate fondant hardens faster than the vanilla so make sure the cookies are ready and cool to frost. This step is no joke because my frosting started to turn to cement right away, so you might want an assistant to help you frost faster. Frost half of the cookie with chocolate and half with vanilla and viola, you have fancy bakery cookies right in your own kitchen! The texture of these cookies is amazing, they are soft and pillowy like cake. But this recipe is very hard and I would say make sure you have the time to follow all the steps to a T, as I was rushing and made a few mistakes.

let’s get roasted!

January 3, 2012

tonight I am making one of my favorite go to recipes, Stracotto with porcini, or Italian pot roast. I have posted about this before here

the perfect winter tummy warming dish, manga!