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 :)

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.