Welcome to the new and improved Carano's Cucina. I make a lot of kick ass food and go out to some amazing restaurants. Take a look around and make yourself at home :)

Monday, December 31, 2007

First Resolution for 2008 - Make more pie!

I have decided I need to master the pie. And yes, Nick will be VERY happy about this resolution! Granted, I have made this particular pie before, but I've never really mastered pie. I don't really know how to make a good pie crust, or a good fruit pie filling. I have no doubt though, that it will be a lot of fun learning!

For now, I do know how to make this one... Chocolate Hazelnut Pie. I LOVE chocolate and hazelnuts together in any way, shape or form. This pie starts out with a crust of flour, brown sugar and finely chopped hazelnuts. Add melted butter then press into the bottom and sides of the pie plate. I am using a recycled Baker's Square pie plate. I save them whenever possible for this reason. They do come in very handy when you are taking a pie to a party, which is what I am doing with this one tonight. The crust then bakes for 8 - 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Take your mixing bowl and whip attachment and put them in the freezer while you use another bowl and another mixer (I used the Kitchen Aid hand mixer for this) to beat one 8 oz. block of softened cream cheese with sugar, melted/cooled semi-sweet chocolate and milk.

Take your bowl and whip attachment out of the freezer (that is, if you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, if not then you will need to do this step after the previous one) and add one cup of heavy cream and whip to soft peaks.

Fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture.

Place the now mixed pie filling in the cooled/prepared pie shell.

Top with more hazelnuts or chocolate shavings or both! Refrigerate.

And enjoy!

Here is the exact recipe. I found it on Better Homes and Gardens website. The recipe includes ingredients for a raspberry sauce to serve with it, but I've never found it necessary. The chocolate and hazelnut is delish on it's own!

Chocolate Hazelnut Pie
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup very finely chopped hazelnuts
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate pieces, melted and cooled
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup whipping cream

1. For crust, in a bowl stir together flour, hazelnuts, and brown sugar. Stir in melted butter; toss to mix. Spread evenly in a 9-inch pie plate. Press onto bottom and sides to form a firm, even crust. Bake in a 425 degree F oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until brown. Cool.

2. For filling, in another mixing bowl combine cream cheese, melted chocolate, granulated sugar, and milk; beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. In a chilled bowl beat whipping cream until soft peaks form; fold into cream cheese mixture. Spread in the cooled crust. Cover loosely and chill for several hours or overnight.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get the Struffoli!!

What the heck is a Struffoli, I can hear you asking. Well it is a traditional Italian Christmas dessert that consists of fried balls of dough draped in honey and then mounded into a tower so you can pick them off and eat them all day long. My family never had this dessert, but for some reason last year I thought to myself... "if I have time next year, I'm making Stuffoli!" Well, I didn't really have time, but I decided to make it anyway. I searched my cookbooks and the internet for a good recipe that would make a lot because I wanted to have one for my family and one for Nick's family. I opted to use Mario Batali's recipe because it called for 3 1/2 cups of flour and I thought that would make a huge batch. Still, it wasn't enough for two trays worth.

To make the dough, you mix 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 6 egg yolks, 6 eggs, Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange (of course, if you know me at all you know I left the orange out!), 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1 tablespoon limoncello (I don't normally have this on hand to I used vanilla extract instead). Once the dough forms a firm ball, you cover it and put it in the refrigerator to rest for 30 minutes. When you take it out, pull off pieces and roll to the about the size of a golf ball and then roll that into a rope about 1/2 inch in diameter. From there, cut pieces about a half an inch and then roll them into balls.

In the meantime, be heating up a large pot with about 3 inches of oil (I used vegetable, canola or something similar would work too. I've seen recipes that call for olive oil, but I don't think I'd try that, there is too much likelihood that it could burn) and heat to 375 degrees.

When the oil is ready, drop the struffoli in one by one and make sure not to crowd the pan. They will puff up. Cook them until they turn a nice golden brown.

Then remove with a slotted spin (or I use a spider) to a cookie sheet lined with paper towels to drain. There are a lot of struffoli and it will take a little while to get them all done. Make sure you watch your oil temp, once you start frying, the temp fluctuates quite a bit.

After you finish frying, in a large skillet with high sides, heat 2 cups of honey with the juice and zest of one lemon until the honey is significantly thinner and warmed through. Then put the struffoli in the pan and coat with the honey mixture. Turn off the heat and let the struffoli sit in the pan for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

After they are liberally coated, take the struffoli and mound them up on a nice platter, and pour any honey left in the pan over the top. Then top with sprinkles (you can also use lemon and orange zest for garnish or whatever you like!). Mario says these should keep for 5 days, as is.

Now that all that is out of the way, I will say that I'm not overly thrilled with my result. My struffoli came out dry and tough. They improved greatly with the addition of the honey/lemon sauce, but I'm still not going to serve them. This morning they feel very hard. They just didn't come out as puffy and light as I had hoped. I attribute this to a few things... 1) it was my first time making them and 2) I had to go out yesterday to buy eggs and I could only find extra large. That adds a lot more liquid to the dough and I had to keep adding more flour to make the dough less sticky. But even though these came out less than perfect, I will make them again next year!

12/29/07 - I discussed this outcome with my Grandma (99 years old and going strong!) and she suggested that if it happens again (that I can only find extra large eggs), that I should just omit one. Good advice! I wish I had thought of it at the time. But (thanks to Elaine!) new information has come to light that the recipe I used had a typo in it!! It was supposed to be 1 egg yolk, not six. That makes much more sense!

Friday, December 21, 2007

I never met a cookie I didn't like :)

This year, because of how busy I was with Carano's Cucina, I only made four varieties of cookies in addition to pizzelle. And I got them all done in one day. I don't care how busy I ever get, Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without some cookies. It is crucial that I make the Ritz cookie. If I didn't, there would be rioting in the streets! It kind of amuses me that everyones favorite cookie isn't even a cookie at all. To make them you take two Ritz crackers, spread peanut butter in between (smoothy or crunchy, it doesn't matter) and then take the whole Ritz sammitch and dip it in chocolate. You can buy the ready made Ritz peanut butter sandwiches too, but I never tried them so I'm not sure if they taste as good as buying your favorite peanut butter to do this with.

I also made Cranberry Noel Cookies. I started making these about 4 years ago and they quickly became my favorite. The are a shortbread style of cookie with dried cranberries and walnuts. I can't remember where I got the recipe, but I think they are from my gal Martha Stewart. There is very little sugar in them so they are not a real sweet cookie, which I like. You should definitely chop the dried cranberries some. I put them in the food processor for a few pulses.

Cranberry Noel Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (you can also use pecans)

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add milk, vanilla and salt. Beat until just combined. Gradually add flour, cranberries and nuts. Mix on low speed until fully combined. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into 8-inch logs, about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (2 hours minimum, you can leave it in the fridge overnight).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Using a sharp knife, cut logs into 1/4 inch thick slices. Transfer to ungreased baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake until edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Store up to 2 weeks in an airtight container.

Next up, Ricotta Cookies. These I started making a few years ago as well. I think I started because my Grandma cannot eat nuts and just about every Christmas cookie I know has nuts in it. They have turned into a crowd favorite with their super moist texture and mild sweet taste. They are easy as can be to make and the recipe makes tons!

Ricotta Cheese Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 (15 oz) container of ricotta cheese
3 Tablespoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups all purpose flour


1 cup powdered sugar
milk or heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the cookie ingredients well until dough sticks together into a big ball. It will be sticky. Drop by teaspoonfuls on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes or until the bottoms turn golden brown. Let cool for one minute and then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. In a small saucepan, slowly stir milk or cream into powdered sugar until it creates a glaze thin enough to be spread over the cookies. Stir over low heat then spread over cooled cookies. Quickly top with sprinkles. (put sprinkles on as soon as cookies are glazed or the glaze will harden and the sprinkles will not stick!)

This year I wanted to try something new and had Rogelach on my mind. I wanted one with cinnamon, sugar and nuts, and my friend Elaine had the perfect recipe! Hey Elaine, I hope you don't mind that I'm posting it! lol


1/2 lb. cream cheese
1/2 lb. butter or margarine
2 cups sifted flour

1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup finely chopped nuts (I used pecans)
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar

Soften cream cheese and butter and then cream together until well blended.

Add flour a little at a time, using a fork until all is mixed together. (You can use a Kitchen Aid and pulse it until mixed. Do not turn it on to a constant speed.)

Form into a large ball and refrigerate at least two hours, preferably overnight.

Mix ingredients for filling.

Divide dough into 4 pieces. (Take out 1 at a time to keep rest chilled.) Roll one piece the size of a large dinner plate (the dough is rather hard, just keep working it). Spread 1/4 of filling over dough. Using a sharp knife (a pizza cutter works great!), cut into 16 pieces by first cutting in fourths; then each 1/4 into fourths. Roll up each piece starting at outer rim, working towards narrow center. If any filling falls out, use it to sprinkle on top. Repeat with other three pieces of refrigerated dough.

Bake end flap down at 350° for 20 minutes until delicately brown.

Nick LOVES them!

And last but certainly not least, Pizzelle! I use the late Jeff Smith's recipe from his book, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian. The recipe is so huge though, that I have cut it in half. I'm posting the halved recipe. I bought my pizzelle iron, a very old one, at a flea market about 10 years ago. It's not non-stick so I use cooking spray each time I put batter in the iron.


3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup margarine, melted and slightly cooled
1 Tablespoon anise extract (you can use vanilla if you don't like anise)
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Beat the eggs and sugar together until thickened and pale. Add the cooled margarine and anise (or vanilla). Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix until smooth.

Place a heaping Tablespoon of batter into each side of the pizzelle iron. Close and cook until it starts to brown. Each iron is different so watch and time yours! Remove with a fork and lay flat to cool.

Now share your recipes with me in the comments section :)

So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.

With the holiday season in full swing, so is business! Carano's Cucina was booming this year with candy orders, with over 100!! I made various chocolate nut clusters, peanut butter cups, turtles, almond brittle, English toffee, peppermint bark, and pretzels galore!!! Pretzels dipped in chocolate with toffee, nuts, sprinkles, M&M's, coconut, or rice krispies.

This year, as last, I only had one nervous breakdown. There comes a point when, after 10 hours of making candy, several days in a row, you just lose your mind. Well I do anyway. But it passes because I have the best support system in the world. Nick loves being a part of the business. He is PR, inspector, boxer, bagger, taper and ribbon bow maker. All I have to do is make everything!!

Wouldn't it be wonderful if, by this time next year, we had our own little place? Big dreams, but if you don't dream, what do you have? This is my wish for 2008... first and foremost, health for me and my family. A beautiful 100 year celebration in October for my Grandma. And lots of business with more opportunity to grow!

So now that it's done, what am I to do? Well, bake cookies of course! But that's another blog :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What came first, the cheesecake or the pan?

Were you ever faced with the dilemma of making a cheesecake for a party or to give away and you wondered how the heck you were going to do that without giving the person the bottom of your springform pan? This is what I was faced with last week when a customer ordered a Tart Cherry Cheesecake. How am I going to package the cake without handing over the bottom of my pan? Mom and I pondered it and she came up with a brilliant idea. Line the pan with parchment paper and let it hang over the ends of the pan, so then when it's baked you can lift it out with the parchment paper.

So I pressed the crust onto the paper, in the pan. I wasn't sure how it was going to go. The crust seemed crumbly at first and I wasn't confident that the paper would keep it together in the baking process. But it did. Phew!

And then the side of the pan was removed.

When completely cooled, and refrigerated so that it's firm, I was able to lift the cheesecake off the bottom of the pan and placed it on a cake round, with the paper. Slowly, ever so slowly and carefully, I pulled the paper out while lifting up one side with a spatula.

Ta Da! And the customer LOVED it! This is a really delicious cheesecake, especially with the sauce on it. The texture is perfect. It's so creamy even without added cream and/or sour cream. But a warning, those tart cherries are expensive! I paid $3.20 a can! Thank goodness you only need one can! What I did in order to get maximum juice was pour the cherries into a strainer with a bowl under it and pressed the cherries into the strainer with a rubber spatula. This worked great and in the end I didn't even have to chop the cherries. They don't go through the sieve, but you do get a lot of juice for the sauce.

Here's the recipe:

Macadamia Nut Crust

3 1/2 oz. macadamia nuts, very finely chopped
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, combine macadamia nuts, crumbs, sugar and butter. Press mixture firmly onto bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 for 8 minutes. Cool completely.

Tart Cherry Cheesecake with Macadamia Nut Crust

1 can tart red pitted cherries
3 pkgs (8 oz each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 2/3 cups white chocolate chips

Thoroughly drain cherries, reserving liquid. Chop cherries; drain again. In large mixer bowl on medium speed of electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar, eggs and vanilla; beat until well blended. In medium microwave-safe bowl, place white chocolate chips. Microwave on high for 1 minute, stir. If necessary, microwave at high for an additional 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each heating, just until chips are melted when stirred. Blend into cream cheese mixture. Stir in chopped cherries. Pour mixture over prepared crust. Bake at 350 for 50 to 55 minutes or until almost set in center. Remove from oven to a wire rack. With knife, immediately loosen cake from side of pan. Cool completely, remove side of pan. Refrigerate about 3 hours.

Sour Cherry Sauce

1 Tablespoon cornstarch
Reserved cherry juice (from cheesecake)
2 Tablespoons cherry brandy or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

In a medium saucepan, combine cornstarch and cherry juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from heat, stir in brandy, if desired. Cool.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Asparagus? In November!?

If you can believe it, I found asparagus for $1.99 lb. last week. I couldn't believe it, but of course I bought it. I had in mind what I always have in mind when I have asparagus, Giada's Creamy Farfalle with Cremini, Asparagus, and Walnuts. Have you made this one? If you haven't, go out right now and buy the ingredients! The combination of flavors in this pasta dish, indescribable, but I'll try to describe them. Slightly firm asparagus, creamy mascarpone cheese, meaty cremini mushrooms, al dente pasta, and crunchy walnuts. If it were me reading this and not writing it, my reply would be, "you had me at asparagus."

Creamy Farfalle with Cremini, Asparagus and Walnuts

1 pound farfalle pasta
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 pound thin asparagus, trimmed, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
1 cup mascarpone cheese
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add salt. Add the farfalle and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until tender and most of the juices have evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and saute until the asparagus is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add the farfalle. Stir in the mascarpone and nutmeg and toss until the cheese coats the pasta, adding the reserved cooking liquid 1/4 cup at a time to moisten. Stir in 1/2 cup of walnuts. Season the pasta, to taste, with salt and pepper. Mound the pasta in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and remaining 1/4 cup of walnuts. Serve.

If my photo looks dry, it's only because I forgot to take the picture when it was done and this picture is of the leftovers that had already been in the fridge. Believe me, this is NOT a dry pasta. If you make it, let me know how you like it. IMO, it can't be bad with all those wonderful ingredients in it.

It Really Was Fabulous

November 10 was my third Fabulous Food Show. The first year, then known as The Great Big Food Show, was sponsored by Food Network and was being tested as a possible yearly touring food fest in Cleveland and Philadelphia. It was a huge success. So why then did Food Network never do it again? That's a mystery to me. So in 2005, there was no show. But in 2006, Cleveland unveiled the Fabulous Food Show.

In attendance this year were chefs Rick Bayless, Jason Roberts, Giada De Laurentiis, Duff Goldman and Alton Brown. How it works is, with the price of admission you get to chose which chef you want to see do a demo. You can only chose one, but you can pay extra and see others if you want. I was thrilled to get tickets to see Alton! He's been to each show in Cleveland and each time we've gone to see someone else (first year, Rachael Ray... second year, Paula Deen). I was even more thrilled because we found out when we arrived that while Duff was on the main stage (where we'd have to pay extra to see him) he was also on the second stage that was open to all! And adding to that, he brought Geof with him, who is one of his friends and helps him at Charm City Cakes and one of my faves on his show. I love Geof (who I call, Low Key Geof).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Our first stop when we arrived was checking out all the gorgeous cakes on display from White Flower Cake Shop in Cleveland. They were stunning! Just take a look for yourself. I personally loved the mosaic cake. It looked amazing, but then again, they all did! I wish we could have tasted them!

We walked, and ate... walked and ate, from one end of the IX-Center, to the other. The place is huge, the show is huge and there is so much to see. Like Jason Roberts, who was on the second stage doing a demo.

There is so much food sampling that it's almost impossible to get to each and every booth. We try, believe me we try! We tried candy, pie, cookies, dips, breads, pulled pork, cheesecake, sweet potatoes, olives, chips, lattes, cheeses, sauces and sauces and more sauces!! There is so much stuff and just about every sample is free. The only one that we had to buy was the pulled pork from Famous Dave's, and it was well worth it! But if you're thinking that all these samples are a bellyache waiting to happen, well.. you're kind of right. That's why when we spotted the stand from Ohio apple farmers, I made a beeline for it! They were giving away whole apples and when you're eating all kinds of combinations of food, putting something nutritious in your belly sure seems like a very good idea. And it was.

So many great places were represented at the show. As I more and more want to delve into more and more Ohio based products and Ohio grown foods, I uncovered a wealth of resources for things that I may never have thought of, like potato chips. So often we just automatically reach for Ruffles or Lays, but now I have the option of Ballreich's very delicious chips, of Tiffin, Ohio. I took everyone's business card that I could grab and these will all go into a file of Ohio resources that I'm going to be starting. To me, it's very important to support local businesses. Which is why I am here, having my picture taken with the mascot for the best Italian Imports store in Cleveland, Gallucci's! I'm not sure, but I'm just going to guess that his name is Guido!

With our bellies already full, and still about 2 hours until it was time to see Alton, we found the second stage where Duff and Geof would be, and found a seat on the floor off to the side. The chairs were all full. What can I say about Duff and Geof? They were fantastic. They were fun, silly, made fun of each other and seemed to really have a blast. Duff did most of the talking while Geof showed us how to color fondant. He did it three different ways: with a brush (that makes kind of a wood grain look), by airbrush for that smooth shiny finish and by hand, kneading the color into the fondant. All the while, Duff talked and took questions. And Geof took every opportunity to zing Duff! You could tell they were good friends who loved to poke fun at each other. A lady in the audience told them she was moving to the Baltimore area and asked if she could have a job with them. Geof answered, "we already have five people who employed who stand around and do nothing." Then he paused, looked at Duff and said, "well 6 really." He was so cute!!! They were very entertaining and fun and I'm so glad we had the opportunity to see them.

We had to leave Duff and Geof's demo a little early because our scheduled time for the Alton demo was approaching. Alton, I have to say, does not disappoint. He's as funny and quick witted as you would think he is. And he loves to poke fun at his Food Network friends. He mentioned Giada, said that "she says she's pregnant." But he can't figure out where she's hiding the pregnancy and said at the most, she looks like she might be hiding a gerbil (I saw her walk by with her bodyguard later, and he's right! She is not showing at all and looks gorgeous!!!).

Alton was supposed to be making chocolate taffy. He said now that he has a child, he's become obsessed with making candy. He put all the ingredients in the pot (when adding butter, a big picture of Paula Deen came on the screen above him!) and when he added the salt, he said, "OK, let's do it for Emeril!" and wanted the crowd to say, "BAM!" but most people didn't catch on quick enough to what he wanted. So he was disappointed in our weak bam. When he added some vinegar, a few BAM's were shouted out and he chastised them for bamming a liquid. He said if you're going to say something when a liquid is put in, it should be "SPLASH!" Then, thinking this over, thought maybe he should copyright that! He's a stitch, I'm telling you!

Once all the ingredients were in and the pot was heating, he had his assistant watch the pot until it reached the proper temperature of 250 degrees. While we waited, he told us the science behind how sugar reacts to different temperatures and methods. And when it got up to temperature, it was poured out onto a silpat and Alton chose two people from the audience to pull the taffy. Wouldn't you know, something was very wrong with that batch of taffy and while he and his assistant tried to start the pulling, it blopped and glopped all over the place.

And then, when the two volunteers got it, they tried so hard to keep it from the floor but they did not succeed. It was taffy gone terribly wrong, and it was really not planned that way, at least it didn't seem like it. Alton was convinced his assistant did not get it up to the right temperature, although she was pretty sure she had. All we know is that this all made for great comedic fodder! Alton seemed genuinely flustered, but at the same time, taking it all in stride. He was fabulous, funny, and truly everything you would expect him to be. One little scoop... he said that there will be a Feasting on Asphalt 3, but this time it will be on a train. He wouldn't say where they were going, and he didn't know when it would air. None has been filmed yet. Oh and he absolutely would not tell us who won The Next Iron Chef (which has it's finale tonight, with Cleveland's own Michael Symon as a possible winner!).

After Alton, we walked around for about two more hours and ate some more! And just when we were getting ready to leave, we happened upon the Taste of the Neighborhood display where area restaurants have samples of some of their best dishes. WOW, we had just eaten our way back to the entrance only to find MORE FOOD. We had soul food (delicious mac and cheese), Ethiopian food (I can't tell you what it was, bit I thought it was delicious! Kind of like a meat mixture in a phyllo crust) and the most delicious pumpkin/currant bread pudding from another restaurant (and I don't even like pumpkin!). I probably gained a few pounds yesterday. Then again, maybe all the walking offset all the food. Oh yeah, walking. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!

It was a wonderful day as always and I can't wait until next year! My wish list for next years Fabulous Food Show celebrity chefs are Anthony Bourdain, Tom Collichio, Lidia Bastianich, and Mario Batali.

Special thanks to my good friend, partner in food crime and all around great gal, Lynn for use of her Alton pics!

Sunday, November 4, 2007

I now know what Heaven tastes like

Last night, Nick and I went out for our yearly anniversary dinner. We were married on October 30, 1993 on a cold, crisp and yes, snowy day. A beautiful day. The best day of my life quite frankly. But I'll stop with all the cheese for now and fast forward to 14 years, 4 days, 7 hours and 53 minutes later. With much thanks to Mom and Dad, and their generous anniversary gift, Nick and I were able to enjoy LeFever's River Grille, for the second year in a row. And enjoy we did!

Our reservations were for 7:00 pm. I knew, after last year, that I would be ordering the calamari appetizer once again. I have truly never had any calamari so delicious as this. It's not just your standard breaded and fried calamari. After that part of the process, they then take the fried pieces of calamari deliciousness and toss it with Kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes and green onions, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. It's incredible. The calamari is tender and succulent, and mixing it with those other ingredients brings to a whole new level. It's the perfect start to a perfect meal.

Nick and I both had trouble deciding what to order for our entrees, but for me, my eyes kept going back to the Dijon crusted lamb rack. That ended up being my choice. It came with Cilantro Couscous, but seeing the other side dishes they had on the menu, I wondered if I could substitute. This was not a problem, so after the run down of all the delicious side dishes I could chose from (Garlic mashed potatoes, lobster mashed potatoes, shrimp au gratin potatoes, risotto, mushroom risotto, goat cheese risotto) my choice was clear... goat cheese risotto! The waitress wasn't sure how it would go with the Dijon crust of the lamb, but said if I wanted it, to go for it. I did! It also came with glazed carrots. After much indecision, Nick asked Carrie (our waitress) if he should get the Chipotle marinated pork tenderloin, or the veal medallions. She recommended the pork, so that's what he went with. It came with black bean salsa and spinach saute. He kept his meal as is. We both got salad with their homemade Romano Peppercorn dressing. This dressing was amazing! Creamy and thick, peppery and delicious. I asked Carrie if there was buttermilk in it, because it tasted like there was to me. She wasn't sure but she said it is made with their homemade Ranch base, so it could very well have had buttermilk in it. Funny thing was, it had no hint of a Ranch flavor (which Nick hates!)

Our dinner plates arrived soon after and were a thing of beauty. I had a very generous helping of goat cheese risotto with thin strips of glazed carrots on top of it, and my gorgeous lamb chops (4!!) with their long bones that had been frenched. Interestingly enough though, Carrie was right and the Dijon didn't go well with the risotto so I ended up scraping it off, even though it was really good (Nick ate the crust pieces with his pork!). Nick's plate was equally as beautiful, with the tenderloin of pork sliced on a bias and arranged over a bed of spinach with black beans scattered all around the plate. I had so much risotto that I gave him some, I ate some and I brought some home (mmmm risotto for later). In fact, we both brought home food... he had two pieces of tenderloin and I had two lamb chops and risotto. Every single thing we ate was incredibly delicious from the lamb down to the spinach. We had a truly amazing dining experience, as Nick pointed out when we were leaving. It wasn't just good food, it was a total experience.

What could top off the evening for us? Carrie, our sweet waitress brought us a glorious dessert on the house to celebrate our anniversary! We got an Ice Cream Ball, which was a generous scoop of homemade peanut butter ice cream with toffee chips on top and chocolate ganache on the bottom! What a topper!!

A beautiful restaurant right on the river, overlooking the falls (even though they are difficult to see at night), delicious food, wonderful service, and great company. All in all, it was one of those nights to remember.

Afterwards, we decided to go out to a local coffee house we discovered not too long ago so as to not let this great night end too quickly. It was cozy, comfortable and we talked for hours. Isn't it wonderful to know, that after 14 years of marriage and being with someone from 20 years, you still have things to talk about for hours? And just to put icing on the cake, Angel Falls Coffee Company has XM radio and on this night, they had on a station that was perfect for us... we heard The Clash, Peter Murphy, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Bauhaus, The Ramones, New Order and on and on. It was wonderful! So all this and great music too!! What more could anyone ask for?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Roast Roast Baby

I'm often faced with dinner dilemma. What to make? Who won't like it? Don't put in garlic (mom can't stand the stuff-I know I know...she's a freak!). Will Dad eat it? Well unless I'm making meatloaf, pot roast, or some other kind of homey comfort food, Dad probably won't like it and deem it "foreign." So generally if I'm going to make something out of his norm, I make sure he has something leftover or is going out. I've also occasionally roasted a few heads of garlic to have on hand so that I can just put a few on mine and Nick's dinners. Today was one of those days Mmmm garlic.

So, with stuffed peppers in the fridge, I decided to roast.... roast it all! Italian sausage, butternut squash, yukon gold potatoes, garlic and onions. After it was done, I thought you know...Dad probably would have eaten it, but it's better not to ever think that, trust me!

This is a dish that couldn't be more simple and the finished product is delicious! We very much love the butternut squash and this is exactly the time of year for it. My next fave would be the Japanese Kabocha squash but they are very expensive and very hard to find. Amazing flavor though. I like acorn squash and delicata, but they don't have that sweetness that butternut has. And when you roast it in the oven... Oh.My.God. It's crazy good.

So I had the sausage in mind. Sausage and potatoes are good, sure. OK, toss in some onions. WAIT! There's a butternut squash on the onion rack! Now we're talking. This dish just went up a few levels. With the sausage in the oven, I peeled and chopped the potatoes and the butternut squash and then tossed them with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Put them on a cookie tray and slid them in the oven. Then I sliced some onions, tossed them with olive oil and put them in the oven. And then cut the tops off two heads of garlic, drizzled with olive oil, wrapped them in foil and put them in the oven. Everything would roast individually and then be tossed together at the end. It probably sounds oily, but it wasn't, not at all. It's a festival of roasted Fall goodness.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Kids dig pretzels

One day I was at the bank making a deposit to my business account. On the check I was depositing in the memo area, it said "pretzel treats" so the teller asked me what that meant. I explained the business I've been trying to get off the ground and she was very intrigued. That intrigue has turned into some business here and there from several bank tellers. This week one of the them wanted a box of chocolate covered pretzels with sprinkles for the treat for her daughter's kindergarten class. We made sure that there were no nuts anywhere near the making of this treat, considering how many kids have allergies these days.

They came out perfectly. And my bank buddy was super excited. In fact, she was so cute. She took the box all around to the other tellers and kept saying how cute they were. It was quite flattering, I have to say. It's really gratifying when someone really loves what you make for them. And this will turn into repeat business because she has to provide the treat for the class once a month. Hopefully it will lead to more business, maybe from another mother or teachers! Here's hoping!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Great Cupcake Debacle

It's a busy weekend for us. Nick and I had doctors appointments this morning, we had bulbs to plant and a party to go tonight. And tomorrow is Grandma's 99th birthday party. So when I got an order for 18 chocolate peanut butter cupcakes for Sunday, I wondered how I was going to do it all. But I knew I'd find a way.

Off we went to our appointments. And I got jabbed twice (not counting the PAP test) for a blood test that never was. Apparently I was a little dehydrated and my doc couldn't find a vein. So back I go on Friday, urgh. Anyway, after our appointments we went out to breakfast at the very wonderful Eddie Sands Blueline Cafe, home of the very delicious Granola French Toast (which Nick and I both enjoyed today). Then we stopped at Home Depot to find a hole digger. It makes sense to have a tool for this, when you are going to be making twenty holes! Finally it was homeward bound. Nick went out to plant the bulbs while I got to work on the cupcakes.

Ahh the chocolate peanut butter cupcakes. I really thought the original recipe could use some work. The cupcakes themselves seem dry to me. Sure the peanut butter filling and the ganache icing make up for any shortcomings the cupcakes may have, but I'm a perfectionist and I want it all... moist cupcakes, creamy peanut butter filling and oh that ganache icing. I turned to my go to gal, Martha Stewart. Martha never lets me down. She had a recipe for chocolate cupcakes that sounded very good, so I thought I would make those, then use the same peanut butter filling and ganache icing. What could go wrong!? EVERYTHING! The Martha cupcakes never really rose up in the oven. They were tiny. A much better tasting cupcake mind you, but minute. Very moist, but itty bitty. I was actually willing to overlook this, the taste being so good, so I forged ahead. When it came time to pipe in the peanut butter, it would not squeeze into the cupcake. I ended up making several holes in each cupcake and still there was not a lot of peanut butter going in. Still.. I was willing to go on. Time to fix all mistakes with the wonder of ganache. Well, the ganache did not set up properly and when I went to beat it into icing, it wouldn't do what it was supposed to be doing. But I still I went on and put the ganache in the piping bag. When it came out in blobs that is when I lost my cool. Several hours of work have been all for nothing and there will be no party for us tonight because instead I have to redo the cupcakes for morning delivery.

Time to start over. This time, I abandoned my gal Martha and went back to the original recipe. Here is what they look like... Martha's is on the left, the original is on the right. I used the exact same size of cupcake liner (courtesy of Martha's Halloween collection at Michael's). Hmmm... something is seriously amiss.

The recipes were different, clearly. Martha's recipe called for 3/4 cup of flour, and the original calls for 1 3/4 cups. But the amount of batter seemed about the same. What I mean is, I got the same number of cupcakes from each batch and the cups were filled the same way. Weird. Martha's had baking powder, the original had baking soda. The powder should have risen the cupcakes some. It didn't. But let me reiterate, they were delicious cupcakes. Probably because Martha's recipe had sour cream in it. I think just about anything tastes better with some sour cream. Especially Yoder's Sour Cream. You can't get much better than Yoder's and it's an Ohio product!

Time for the peanut butter filling. Wouldn't you know, the originals filled beautifully. One hole, one squeeze and they were filled. And then came the ganache. Again, it came out perfectly. The first ganache was made with a bar of dark chocolate Nestle Chocolatier. I happen to love the Chocolatier product. But for some reason, this time it didn't work. I went back to Nestle's semi sweet chocolate chips. There is something about the consistency of them that makes the best ganache icing. Or maybe it's the semi-sweet product itself, whether it be chips or blocks, that I need to use? Something to ponder. When not using ganache as an icing though, I do prefer better chocolate. I'm sure I'll keep experimenting with that one. Mmmm ganache. So, I ended up with one bad batch of everything and then one good batch of everything. The original recipe, complete is on the left, Martha's is on the right.

I'm certainly not disparaging my gal Martha. Her cupcakes clearly were the taste winner. But the moral to this story is, don't mess with the recipe when you know what works and someone is going to be paying you for them, lest you throw a hissy fit and end up working past 1o:00 pm. on a job that should have been done by 6 pm.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Anyway, here are both recipes.

Chocolate Cupcakes (Martha)

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners.

Into a medium bowl, sift together cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each, then beat in vanilla. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with sour cream and beginning and ending with flour.

Pour batter into cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.

Cool in pan 5 minutes, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Ice as desired.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes (also known around here as Buckeye Cupcakes)

1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk

Peanut butter filling:
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
3 Tablespoons milk

Chocolate Ganache
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line the cups of a standard size muffin pan with paper liners.

Cupcakes: In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, with mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar until smooth and creamy, 2 minutes. Beat in eggs and vanilla until fluffy, 1 minute. On low speed, beat in flour mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Fill each prepared muffin cup two-thirds full (about 3 Tablespoons). Bake at 375 for 20 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from the pan to a wire rack and let cool.

Filling: In a medium size bowl, with mixer on medium speed, beat peanut butter and butter until smooth. On low speed, gradually beat in sugar (I used only 1 cup) and slowly add milk. You may not need it all, or you may need more. Beat on high until light and fluffy. When cupcakes are cooled, spoon filling into a large pastry bag fitting with 1/4 inch plain round tip. Insert tip into the top of each cupcake and squeeze as much filling into center of each as possible (without exploding the cupcake of course!)

Icing: Place chocolate chips in a medium bowl. Heat cream until it just starts to bubble then pour it over the chocolate chips. Let set for 3-5 minutes then whisk until smooth. Ladies and gentleman, this is the most wonderful ganache. Let cool in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. It should no longer be runny but net firm. Beat the ganache at medium speed. It should set up into a nice icing consistency. If it doesn't, put it back in the refrigerator for 5 minutes and try again. Once you get it to a nice creamy consistency, put it in a piping bag fitted with a star tip and give your cupcakes a nice swirl! Or you can just ice them with knife. Your choice.