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 :)

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.

Tuscan Mac and Cheese

I've talked about the deliciousness of Tuscan Mac and Cheese on my message board, so if you go there, you've probably already heard about this dish. It bears repeating because it is SO good! In fact, the first time I made it, Nick's exact words were, "You know, if you want to make this again, I won't object." We love it, Mom loves it, even Grandma loves it. I am posting it with my tweeks to the original recipe.

8 ounces sweet or hot Italian sausage
1 lb.
gemelli or cavatappi, cooked and drained
8-ounce package cream cheese, cut into cubes and softened
ounces crusty Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
cup shredded mozzarella cheese (4 oz.)
tablespoons butter
tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon snipped fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
teaspoon salt
cups milk
ounces shredded Asiago, Parmesan, or Romano cheese (1/2 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degree F. Remove casings, if present, from sausage. In a skillet cook and crumble sausage; drain. In a very large bowl combine sausage, cooked pasta, cream cheese, bread cubes, olives, and mozzarella cheese. Set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour, thyme and salt. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir until slightly thickened and bubbly. Pour sauce over pasta mixture. Stir gently.

3. Transfer mixture to a 2-quart casserole. Bake, covered, for 35 minutes. Uncover; top with Asiago cheese. Bake, uncovered, 15 minutes more or until heated through. Let stand 15 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with additional cheese, if desired.

I know, this sounds like fat city! But there are so many ways you can lighten up this recipe. Start out by using turkey sausage. Use light cream cheese. I wouldn't try using fat free. But light works nicely. Use skim milk. I've made it both ways... full fat and lightened up and it's delicious both ways. I bet if you try this, it will become one of your go to meals too.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Zucchini Casserole that Wasn't

Those last few zucchini of the summer were sitting in my fruit basket (because there was no fruit in it) on the counter waiting for me to do something with them. Waiting patiently. Staring at me. "Make us into bread" they said. "Bread and fry us in that so delicious way that Grandma taught you," they said another day. They wouldn't shut up and were driving me crazy! But I really wanted to do something different. How about casserole!

I searched my endless supply of cookbooks and I scoured the internet for just the thing I was looking for. Of course, I never found exactly what I wanted so I picked and chose different aspects of different recipes. I wanted something with ground meat (99% of the time I use turkey, this day was no exception), I wanted something with rice and I wanted something with cheese. I wanted a meal casserole, not a side dish.

I started out on my quest by making the rice. Only a small amount (I use jasmine rice 95% of the time), 1 cup of water and a half cup of rice. Then started to brown my ground turkey with a small chopped onion (some salt, some pepper and some oregano). It was time to chop and add the zucchini to the browning meat and onions. Lo and behold, they tricked me! While the top of the zucchini (is it zucchini no matter how many you have? What I mean is, is the plural of zucchini, zucchini?) looked lovely and firm, the bottom of them was a gross mush of rotting zucchini flesh. EW! What to do? I already started my casserole! I thought of using portobello mushrooms because I happen to be in abundance of those right now (I'll save the things they say to me for another blog), but it didn't seem right. Zucchini is what I wanted dammit! It wasn't to be, so I pulled out a bag of a frozen vegetable medley that I always keep on hand for my famous Roasted Vegetable Rice. This particular one was broccoli, carrot and cauliflower.

A quick boil to take the freeze off and the veggies were ready. I mixed all the ingredients I had ready so far into a 9 x 13 casserole dish. (I have this gorgeous heavy duty white porcelain casserole dish that was on a clearance table at Kohl's for $7! What a deal!). That was the veggies, the meat/onions and the rice in case you aren't keeping up. Now was time for the sauce. I took 1/4 cup of butter and a 1/4 cup of flour and cooked them together. I wasn't out to make a big dark roux, just a nice thickener. To that I added 2 cups of milk (2% in this case) and stirred until thickened. To that I added a cup of shredded cheddar cheese. Once melted I poured it into the casserole and mixed it all together. Then topped with bread crumbs (should have used Panko... and I have it too!) and some shredded Romano cheese. This then baked at 350 for about 45 minutes.

It was pretty good. Nick liked it a lot. I thought it was, as I said... pretty good. I'm not sure I'll make it again. But it was a fun, if not exasperating experience! Here is the full recipe and the obligatory photo:

1 lb ground beef or turkey
1 small onion, chopped
1 bag of a hearty vegetable medley
1 cup water
1/2 rice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese

Parboil the vegetables and set aside. Cook the rice in 1 cup of water until just done, set aside. Brown ground beef with chopped onions, salt, pepper and oregano. When all of these are done, mix together and place in a casserole dish.

Melt butter then add flour and cook for 2 minutes. Add milk and stir until smooth and thick (this should take 3-5 minutes). Add cheddar cheese and stir until melted. Pour into casserole and mix with other ingredients, thoroughly. Sprinkle top with bread crumbs (use Panko!) and Romano cheese then bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Buckeye Cookies!!!

While shopping at this great store, Beiller's Market (a unique place that combines a farmer's market with an Amish bulk store) in Uniontown, Ohio recently, I came across a bag of mini Buckeye candies. They were SO cute and I knew I could come up with something to do with them. I actually forgot about them for a little while and then yesterday, remembered that I had them. I really only had one choice in the matter... cookies!!! This recipe can be adapted to include chopped Reese cups if you cannot find mini buckeyes. If you're not in Ohio, there's a good possibility that you won't.

Chocolately Buckeye Cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups mini buckeyes (or chopped Reese cups)

Heat oven to 375. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, sugars and vanilla on medium speed until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add eggs and beat well. In another bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until blended. Add buckeyes (or Reese cups) and blend. Do not overmix, candies can break in the mixer.

Drop cookies by heaping teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookies sheets. Bake for 7 minutes. Cool on tray for 1 minute then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. ENJOY.