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 :)

Friday, February 29, 2008

Cake disaster!!

Oh Gale Gand, why have you forsaken me? I saw Gale make this recipe for Chocolate Almond Upside Down Cake on The Martha Stewart Show. What can I say, I love Martha! The cake looked delicious and I knew I would have to make it sooner or later. Well I decided today was later. Maybe I should have waited a bit longer.

You start off by preparing your TEN inch cake pan. My first error... I think my pans are 8 inch. Generously butter the pan then add 6 Tablespoons of melted butter to it.

To that add 3/4 cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup honey and a cup and a half of sliced almonds. Set this aside and prepare the cake.

First you will need to sift your dry ingredients... 1 1/4 cups cake flour, 1/2 cup cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Then start by whipping (yes whipping) a stick of softened butter. Then add 1 and a half cups of sugar. From there you will add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Then take your dry ingredients and add a third of them to the butter/egg mixture while beating on slow speed. When that is in, add half of your 1 cup of buttermilk. Another third of the dry ingredients, the rest of the milk, end with the rest of the dry. Pour the batter into the pan with the almonds.

Can you see from the above picture that disaster is imminent? I should have, but chose to ignore it. Within 10 minutes of putting the cake in the oven, I started to smell something. Uh oh... the batter started to overflow from the pan and into the oven floor! I quickly put a baking sheet in the over under it, but it was already too late. The kitchen got smokier and smokier and the smoke alarms all started going off! I turned them off, turned on the ceiling fan and opened some windows. Remember, this is February in Ohio.. it was only 20 degrees today!! I did let the cake finish though. I was bound and determined to finish what I started!

It doesn't look THAT bad. Not compared to the oven anyway. Can you even see in there through all the smoke?? What apparently happened is that the cake was too full and couldn't help itself so it pooped in my oven!

Well, clean up was a bitch. But now we have to deal with getting the cake out of the pan. turn upside down on a platter and let sit for 5 minutes or so, so the caramel can seep into the cake.

And here is the finished product! I can honestly say, I doubt I will make this again. I found it to be too sweet with all the brown sugar plus honey in the topping and the white sugar inside. Oh well, we don't know until we try!

Chocolate Almond Upside-Down Cake


6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 1/4 cups sliced or slivered almonds, lightly toasted


1 1/4 cups cake flour (not self rising)
1/2 cup cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Prepare the topping: Generously butter a 10-inch round nonstick cake pan. Pour 6 tablespoons melted butter into the cake pan and swirl to coat the bottom; sprinkle in brown sugar. Drizzle honey over sugar and sprinkle evenly with almonds.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the cake: Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together three times to make the cake extra light. Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat until smooth and fluffy. Add sugar and continue mixing. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Continue beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the mixer running on low speed, add a third of the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Add half the buttermilk and continue mixing. Add another third of the dry ingredients, mix, and add remaining buttermilk and vanilla. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Pour the batter into the pan.

Bake until set in the center and springy, 45 to 55 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and immediately invert the pan onto a serving platter. Let it sit with the pan still on top for 5 minutes so the caramel can soak into the cake a bit, before removing the pan. If the topping is sticking to the pan, warm the pan surface over a low burner to loosen the caramel and then pour it over the cake. Let cool completely. Cut into wedges with a serrated knife.

Great pantry meal.. that damn pasta!

That damn pasta! That is what I call it because damn it's so good! I saw Alan Alda make this recipe on The Martha Stewart Show. He said he learned it at cooking school in Tuscany. It seemed intriguing and easy enough so I gave it a shot. Oh my, it is absolutely delicious! I'll include the full recipe at the end as I always do, but I will include my tweaks as I describe the deliciousness of that damn pasta!

Start with a pound of rigatoni. I have tried other pastas, but rigatoni works the best. The bigger the pasta the better. Put the dry uncooked pasta in a large bowl and add 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil to it (the recipe calls for more, but 1/2 cup is enough). Mix and let sit for about 20 minutes to half an hour (give it a little stir every now and again).

After that time, add one 28 oz. can of tomato puree and one 14 or 15 oz can of diced tomatoes in juice (and then add half a can - from the diced tomatoes - of water). Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and then place in a baking dish. Cover and bake for 45 minutes at 400 degrees.

You will need to stir this mixture every 10 minutes or so. The recipe says every 5 minutes, but I found that unnecessary and excessive. As it cooks you will see the tomatoes get absorbed into the pasta.

When it's done (you can feel the consistency change when you're stirring and you should be able to tell that it's done by feel and sight), remove from the oven and stir once more.

Serve with some Parmesan cheese on top. I have a nice little garlic bread with mine and usually a salad. It's incredibly delicious. The texture of the pasta is very different. The taste is so rich. I highly recommend this dish. Martha really wanted to add basil or something to it. But Alan was adamant that nothing else be added and that it be enjoyed as is. Now I'm not saying you can't add to it if you want. But enjoy it once as is and maybe you won't want to! Although a little melted provolone on top would be lovely!

Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Parmesan

3/4 cup olive oil
1 pound rigatoni, or penne pasta
2 (28-ounce) cans, whole tomatoes, crushed, or 4 pounds very ripe summer tomatoes, cored and sliced 1/2 inch thick
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place oil in a large bowl. Add dry pasta and stir until well coated; let stand for 20 minutes.

Add tomatoes to pasta mixture; season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Transfer to a 2 1/2-quart baking dish. Cover with a parchment-lined aluminum foil. Bake, stirring every 5 minutes with a wooden spoon, for 45 minutes to 60 minutes. (If using fresh tomatoes, layer, alternating with the pasta mixture, beginning and ending with the tomatoes. And be sure to bake without stirring.)

Remove from oven, sprinkle with cheese, and stir to incorporate. Serve immediately.

Oh TJ Maxx... you crazy kid you!

I have had the best luck at TJ Maxx lately!! I had one of those psychic moments where out of the blue I said to mom, "Hey, let's go to TJ Maxx. I haven't been there in ages." So off we went. I was looking at clothes and shoes and stuff, when my mom found me to ask if I had been to the housewares area yet. I hadn't. I save it for last. She said, "wait until you see!" I was holding a nice black sweater that I promptly put down. Her tone made me realize I would be buying something else. And oh was that instinct correct!!!

I was a like a kid in the candy store!! There was a whole display of zebra dishware. OMG. I think I may pass out from the sheer joy of it! There were two designs. One was square with zebra stripes, the other was octagon with zebra stripes and black bamboo edging. I chose the square ones and was able to get 4 dinner plates (4.99 each) , 4 salad plates (3.99 each) and 4 bowls (3.99 each).

I have always wanted zebra dishes and Nick has been saying he'd like to have square dishes. So there ya go, two birds... one stone.

So the weekend rolls around and I hint to Nick that, hmm maybe we should go the TJ Maxx that is near our house and see if we can get more! No luck. But mom called and said she went back with my aunt and they had put out more. Oh my, the dilemma. Do I go, do I wait? I waited and went this week on my usual day at my parents house.

Luck was again on my side! I got this gorgeous zebra relish tray ($12.99)! It matches the dishes with the bamboo edging, but I don't care. I love it! And I love to mix and match.

Not only this, but I have been coveting a Le Creuset pot for years. The kind that is cast iron with enamel over it. I look at them then sigh at the huge price tag. I look on Ebay, but never had any luck. Today my luck changed! And while it's not Le Creuset, it is the same idea. It is Chantal and is a 6 quart size pot. It's gorgeous and I love it and I got it for $39!!!!

Hurrah for new stuff!!!!!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My Funny Valentine

I've done Red Velvet before with little success. The cake tends to be dry and not have a lot of flavor. It's crumbly instead of moist. But what can I say, I try and try again. I look for recipes and see what is different about them. Usually nothing is different. They most always have buttermilk, the most always have a touch of white vinegar. But finally I found one that was a little bit different so I decided to give it a try. I was NOT sorry!!! This recipe made moist and delicious Red Velvet cupcakes.

You start out like you do many cakes... cream the butter and the sugar together. When that is nice and fluffy.... wait, let's back track. Have you ever creamed butter and sugar and had it come out looking fluffy? Depending the ratios of butter to sugar, I really haven't. As much as I bake, I would not call butter and sugar mixed together fluffy. Yet most recipes say that's how it should look. I'd call it creamy or silky, maybe even velvety... but fluffy? No. So anyway blend until the butter and sugar looks velvety. Add eggs and mix well. Here's where one of the different things comes in. Take your red food coloring and make a paste out of it and the cocoa powder. I use Ghirardelli Cocoa Powder and would never use anything else. It's fantastic! But if you use Hershey's or whatever, knock yourself out.

Add the paste to the velvety butter, sugar and egg mixture. A lot of recipes I've come across call for 2 bottles of red food coloring. Believe me when I say, one bottle is enough! See, it's plenty red! I really don't think you need two bottles! That's just kooky talk.

Then you add your flour and salt. From there you add, one at a time, buttermilk, vanilla and then water. Water was one of those ingredients I don't often find in a red velvet recipe. But here's the kicker. When that is all mixed, stop the mixer and take the bowl off. Then mix together baking soda and white vinegar. It bubbles and effervesces. When it's doing that, fold it into your batter. Make sure it's mixed in, but by hand only, not the mixer.

Then pour the batter into your cupcake cups. About three quarters full (a little more than I am showing here). And bake for 15-20 minutes.

When they are completely cool, it's time for that oh so delish cream cheese icing. You need cream cheese and butter at room temperature, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. In the mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until... what? Say it with me... CREAMY. Screw this fluffy nonsense! Then sift your powdered sugar and add to the butter mixture. Then the vanilla. Beat until you have a nice smooth and velvety consistency. And then ice away!!!

These cupcakes are absolutely incredible. Of course I'm a little bias because I think just about anything is delish when it has cream cheese icing slapped on top of it. But it's true, these are way better than any of the red velvet cake recipes I have tried. Give them a go and let me know how you like them!

Red Velvet Cupcakes

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
2 ounces water
1 ounce red food coloring (1 bottle)
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Cream Cheese Icing

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Line a cupcake pan with cupcake papers. Cream butter and sugar until (ugh) fluffy. Add eggs and blend well. Make a paste of cocoa and food coloring and then add to the butter mixture. Sift flour and salt together and then add to butter mixture. One at a time, add buttermilk, vanilla and water. In a small bowl, combine baking soda and white vinegar then fold it into cake batter. Make sure it's all incorporated by hand, not with the mixer. Pour the batter into the cupcake cups. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 10 minutes then remove to a cooling rack.

For the frosting, blend together cream cheese and butter until smooth then add sifted powder sugar and vanilla. Beat until well blended and smooth. Ice as you like! I like to pipe it out into a nice swirl. Enjoy!

Thrice the Cranberries

I am still on my cranberry quest. This time it was Cranberry Date Bars. These are really delicious but kind of messy to eat. To start, in medium sized bowl, mix the cranberries (fresh or frozen, or in my case, fresh that I froze) with sugar.

Add chopped dates. Now I recommend whole pitted dates and chopping them yourself. If you buy already chopped dates, they tend to have a coating of sugar on them and who needs even more sugar than this already has?

Then add chopped walnuts. I always use more than the recipe calls for because Nick is a nut fanatic. "Everything tastes better with nuts in it" is one of his favorite things to say.

Mix them together and set aside. Then in another bowl, mix flour, sugar, brown sugar, rolled oats (not the quick ones), and baking soda.

Add melted butter or margarine and mix well. Reserve 1 cup of this mixture and set aside. The rest is pressed into the bottom of a 9 x 13 glass baking dish and then baked for 10 minutes.

When that comes out, sprinkle the cranberry mixture over the partially cooked crust then then top with the reserved oat mixture. Bake again for about 20 minutes or until a lightly browned.

This is, like I said, really delicious, but the cranberry topping tends to fall right off. I wonder how it would be if I added a can of sweetened condensed milk to the top of the crust, before the cranberry topping? Hmmm... something to ponder. Would it be too sweet? If you try doing it that way, let me know how it works out.

Cranberry Date Bars

1 cup cranberries
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup margarine or butter, melted
1 1/2 cups dates, chopped
2/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 350.

In a bowl, combine cranberries and 2 Tablespoons sugar. Add dates and walnuts and mix to combine. In another bowl, combine flour, oats, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar and baking soda. Add melted butter or margarine and mix well. Reserve 1 cup of crumb mixture then press remainder firmly on bottom of 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Bake 10 minutes. Sprinkle cranberry mixture over crust then top with reserved crumb mixture. Bake 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool and then cut into bars.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Cranberries, part deux

Thanks to Wendy on the PVB Recipe Board for this recipe for Pear Cranberry Pie. The moment I saw the title I knew I had to make it. And it kills two birds with one stone... it continues my new year's quest to make more pie and it uses up some of the cranberries I have been hoarding in my freezer.

I am not a pie maker so I find crust intimidating. Actually I find anything I have to roll out intimidating. It's never even, it's never the shape it should be. But I'm goin in. Cover me!

The full recipe will be at the end, but here is the play by play. You start with 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/3 cup cake flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 Tablespoon sugar. Pulse that in the food processor a few times to mix the ingredients. Then add 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces and 2 Tablespoons cold vegetable shortening. Pulse about 6 times until the until you have lumps about the size of peas. Then with the processor running, add 3 Tablespoons of the cold water and process until large moist clumps form and the dough holds together. If the dough is too dry, add more cold water, 1 teaspoon at a time. From there you want to put all the dough together and form it into a flat square. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about an hour.

Butter a 9- or 10-inch pie pan. Take the dough from the fridge and, on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a round about 4 inches wider than the bottom of the pie pan.

You can roll the dough around your rolling pin then place it in the pie pan. Carefully press the dough into the pan. Trim the edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, and crimp the edge.

Freeze for 15 minutes before baking. As not a pie baker, this part made me sweat! I didn't want to overwork the dough, so even though it was way thinner on one side, I kept it the way it was. I also have no clue how to crimp edges! I thought of flattening them with a fork too late so I tried to make a nice edge from seeing so many chefs on TV do it. Not bad right!?

While the crust is in the freezer, mix together pears, sugar and melted butter. I used red pears. They looked the best in the store that day. Funny thing, I bought 5 pears to use. When I was slicing them, I lost count and wasn't really paying attention but assumed when I came to the end of the bag, that I had sliced 5 pears. A few days later, I found a lone red pear rolling around in my trunk! Oops! Stir in cranberries and cinnamon (I also added a little nutmeg). Then pour the mixture into the pie crust.

Now it's time for the best part, the crumb topping!!! In a small bowl, stir together granulated and light brown sugars, flour and cinnamon. Pour in melted butter over the flour mixture and mix until fine crumbs form. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the pie.

Now it's time to bake this beauty! Bake until the crumb topping is golden brown in color, the pears are tender and the cranberries are soft. Let it cool for about an hour or more. This pie is delicious. It's not overly sweet and the pears are a nice mild compliment to the tart cranberries. A little vanilla ice cream with it rounds out this great dessert!!

Flaky Pie Crust

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling dough
1/3 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus additional for the pan
2 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water

In a food processor, mix together the all-purpose and cake flours, salt and sugar. Add the cold butter and shortening and process, using about 6 pulses, until the mixture forms pea-size lumps. With the machine running, add 3 tablespoons of the cold water and process until large moist clumps form and the dough holds together. If the dough is too dry, add more cold water, 1 teaspoon at a time.

Gather the dough into a ball, then flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 1 hour before rolling. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead and refrigerated.) This makes one crust for a 9 or 10 inch pie plate.

Butter a 9- or 10-inch pie pan. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a round about 4 inches wider than the bottom of the pie pan. Press the dough into the prepared pan. Trim the edge, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, and crimp the edge. Freeze for 15 minutes before baking.

Pear and Cranberry Crumb Pie

For the filling:
5 cups peeled and cored ripe pears, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup granulated sugar, or more to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cranberries, fresh or frozen and defrosted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the crumb topping:
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

For the filling: In a large bowl, mix together the pears, sugar and melted butter. Stir in the cranberries and cinnamon. Transfer the mixture to the pie crust.

For the crumb topping: In a small bowl, stir together the granulated and light brown sugars, flour and cinnamon. Pour the melted butter over the flour mixture and mix until fine crumbs form. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the filling.

Bake the pie in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake until the crumb topping is golden brown, the pears are tender when tested with a toothpick and the cranberries are soft, about 30 minutes. Set the pie aside to cool for at least 1 hour before serving. The pie can be baked 1 day ahead of time, covered and stored at room temperature.

Cleveland Home and Garden Show - WE MET LEE!!!!

February 2, 2008. We have been waiting for this day for months. We were finally going to meet Lee Snijders from HGTV's Design on a Dime. But first, we had to walk around Italy. That was the theme of this years show and the minute you walk in, you go directly to all the Italian gardens. It was absolutely beautiful!

There is so much to see at the Home Show that we really didn't what to do with ourselves. We wandered around the gardens for awhile and then decided to head over to the floating homes. Yes, floating homes. Inside the I-X Center were two complete homes that are designed to be on water. We noticed while we were waiting in line to get into the homes that Lee was on the deck of one of them just chillin out! OMG, we're going to see Lee before the 3:30 pm scheduled appearance we were going to! We quickly rushed through the first house so we could get through it and to the second one. You had to go through one to get to the other. Wouldn't you know, as soon as we got to the door of the second one, Lee was called out to do a TV spot. Doh! Foiled!

So we walked around some more, looking at furnishings and accessories for your home. We saw some really amazing stuff, like this glass and copper fountain.

You can't really see the water trickling through it, but it was really gorgeous in person. We also saw this unique chandelier and this gorgeous bedroom suite.

But when we saw this room Nick and I about lost it! This is a dream room for is. Retro and cool. Black and turquoise. Chrome and leather. There might as well have been a sign on this room that said, "Inspired by Kathy and Nick." We called The Dating Game room. If we get nothing else from this room, we must... and I repeat MUST have that rug!

As we continued walking around, we looked at plants and seeds (some of which I bought!). But the orchid booth was by far the most beautiful of all the booths. The flowers were incredible. It takes talent to cultivate such beauty. I do OK in gardens, but I don't know about orchids. That seems to be out of my league.

Now it's time to see Lee!!! We got to the stage area a little early so we could get a good seat. The speaker before him was still talking but as soon as she was over and people started to filter out, we took two seats front and center! Lee came out and set up his own props, which were pictures from rooms he had designed on Design on a Dime, Designing for the Sexes and Designer's Challenge. All HGTV shows. We saw some we recognized and some we didn't. The ones we didn't recognize ended up being pictures of his own home. I told Nick that when we get to the meet and greet, if Lee likes my scarf, I'm going to give it to him. Why I said this, I don't know. I just figured it would be something Lee would like. It's black fleece with white skull and crossbones on it.

When his talk officially started, Lee was all over the place! Talking a mile a minute, moving from one end of the stage to the other. He was so quick, I had difficulty getting any pictures of him! His energy was intoxicating. His talk was interesting and informative. Did you know that if you have dark hair your bathroom color should be light and if your hair is light your bathroom color should be dark? Why? So you can see the siloutte of your hair in the mirror. I did forget to ask him what I should do about that though, since my hair is both dark and light!

Lee talked for about 45 minutes or so and gave us a lot of helpful hints. But now it was time to meet Lee. We have liked him since the first time we saw him. One of his first Design on a Dime rooms was a living room that so inspired us, we are doing something similar in our kitchen. If you can believe it, the minute we got up to the desk where Lee was signing autographs he looked at me and said, "hey I love your scarf." I looked at Nick, laughed and told Lee... "I had just told my husband before you started that if you liked my scarf, I would give it to you." He said, "Really!?" And I told him yes and took it off and asked if he wanted it. He did! lol We told him how he inspires us and he couldn't be more sweet and gracious. Then we had a guy in line behind us take this photo. Here we are with Lee wearing my (now his) scarf! He also said he loved Nick's Social Distortion shirt, but didn't think Nick would want to part with it. He was right about that! lol

12) Favorite vegetable? Brussel Sprouts...I swear!

No one ever believes you if you say your favorite vegetable is brussel sprouts. Most people hate them. They are the Rodney Dangerfield of the vegetable world. It's a shame too, such a bad rep for such a yummy and versatile veggie. This is one of my favorite ways to make them. Take a pound brussel sprouts and clean them, trim off any of the outer leaves that may be bruised or browned. Then slice them thinly. Now I do this with a knife so they look like shreds but you can do this with a shredder blade of a food processor too.

Heat about 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and 2 Tablespoons of butter in a skillet and then add the shredded sprouts. Cook them this way for about 20 minutes. You can add more olive oil or butter if the pan seems to dry or you can add some chicken broth if you don't want to add more fat. The sprouts should end up being soft and tender, and slightly browned. When they are done, sprinkle with lemon juice and Parmesan cheese. You'll never look at brussel sprouts with contempt again!