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, March 31, 2008

Spring has sprung... Asparagus Couscous

Despite it's somewhat, um, unsavory after affect, asparagus is one of my favorite things about spring. I love it in one of my favorite Giada recipes. And I love to experiment with it and different ingredients. Granted, this is similar to the Giada recipe in some ways, but I didn't intend it to be. Couscous with Asparagus and Almonds, that's what it started out to be. But since I wasn't paying attention, I burned my almonds beyond recognition and had to go with a different nut. I opted for walnuts.

Start by cleaning and cutting your asparagus and then drizzling with olive oil, salt and pepper. I say salt and pepper because most people use it. I tend to not use a lot of salt. Especially if I'm making something that will use a boxed broth or stock, which contains more than enough salt. But since this is a couscous recipe, the more seasoning the better. It really needs it. I threw in a few whole garlic cloves in their skin while I was at it. Roast at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes. You want it to be a little caramelized, but not too brown.

Couscous itself does not take long to cook so make sure your asparagus is just about done and your nuts are roasted before you start to cook it. Cooking it in broth or stock helps give it more flavor. Follow your couscous package directions for measurements. Mine called for 3/4 cup of liquid to 1/3 cup couscous per person. Once the broth comes to a boil, put in the couscous and stir. Bring back to a boil then turn off the heat and cover for 10 minutes.

Then it's done! Just fluff it up with a fork.

Then add your accoutrements. Load that couscous up with as much stuff as you can!! Mine has the roasted asparagus, garlic and walnuts, in addition to Tuscan Sunset, salt and pepper. I served it with roasted chicken. Nice!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Monkey or Gorilla...Bear, Lion or Wildebeest Bread whatever it's called, it's good!!!

I love Paula Deen. I think she's a hoot and a half. Except for maybe on her Paula's Party show where's she's, as I like to say, too Paula. And quite honestly, I don't make her recipes very often. I just don't cook that way. But there are those times when you just have to try it. This is one of those times. I've heard it called Monkey Bread, but Paula calls hers Gorilla Bread. It's become an Easter staple in our house over the years. And it is SO good!

Start by spraying a bundt pan with non-stick spray and then putting about half a cup of nuts in the bottom of the pan (you will need a cup and a half total, of nuts, chopped). The recipe says walnuts, I used pecans.

In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup of granulated sugar with 3 teaspoons (or 1 Tablespoon) of cinnamon. And set aside.

Take one stick of butter (I always always use unsalted for any kind of baking) and 1 cup of brown sugar and heat together in a saucepan, stirring until butter is just melted. Set aside.

Next you will need one 8 oz. package of cream cheese, cut into small cubes. And set aside. We're kind of creating a little assembly line here.

Now, it's time to get down to it and assemble this wackadoo bread thing. This recipe uses refrigerated biscuits. The recipe calls for 2 packages of 10 biscuits, but I used 2 packages of 8 Grands biscuits and cut each in half. Take a biscuit and spread it out a little with your fingers and then sprinkle some of the cinnamon sugar mixture over the top. Then place one of the cream cheese cubes in the middle.

Then roll it up into a ball. Try and seal that cream cheese in there!

Then you want to layer them over the nuts in the bundt pan. First in one layer and then pour half of the butter/brown sugar mixture over the top of them. And then more nuts!! OMG, I'm going into cinnamon sugar ecstasy right now and I've already eaten it!!

Repeat this process until all the biscuits are filled and placed inside the pan. Make sure you have some of the butter/brown sugar mixture and nuts saved for the top. Oh... oh my. I wish I had some leftover!

Bake at 350 for about 25-30 minutes. And when done, let cool for about 5 minutes before you invert it onto a platter. Make sure you don't let it cool in the pan too long or the brown sugar/butter will end up getting too sticky too release from the pan. It will still be warm though and may collapse a little onto itself. But it doesn't matter! This is finger food anyway. It's fun to pull apart and eat those delectable little pillows of love.

And of course, I had to take to even another level. I had cream cheese frosting leftover from a batch of Red Velvet Cupcakes I made for a customer for Easter, so I put that on the side in a bowl so when you pull off one of these nutty cinnamon delights, you could dip it in even more cream cheese! Which worked out well, because you'll find that the little blocks of cream cheese do kind of bake into the biscuit some.

Gorilla Bread
Recipe courtesy Paula Deen

1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
2 (12-ounce) cans refrigerated biscuits (10 count)
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray. Mix the granulated sugar and cinnamon. In a saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar over low heat, stirring well; set aside. Cut the cream cheese into 20 equal cubes. Press the biscuits out with your fingers and sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon sugar. Place a cube of cream cheese in the center of each biscuit, wrapping and sealing the dough around the cream cheese. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the nuts into the bottom of the bundt pan. Place half of the prepared biscuits in the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, pour half of the melted butter mixture over the biscuits, and sprinkle on 1/2 cup of nuts. Layer the remaining biscuits on top, sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar, pour the remaining butter mixture over the biscuits, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of nuts. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Place a plate on top and invert.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Just call me the Queen of Peanut Butter and Chocolate

I'm always searching for new ways to make something with peanut butter and chocolate. I'm a total chocoholic. If ever there came a day when a doctor said to me, "Kathy everything is great, but you can never eat chocolate again." Shoot me. Kill me. Put me out of my misery, I don't want to live!!!

Nick on the other hand is a peanut butteraholic. So it's only natural that I'd like to make things that contain our two favorite ingredients. You've seen my Buckeye Cookies here. As well as Ritz Sandwich Cookies for Christmas and Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes. Today I bring you Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownie Cups (the actual recipe is at the end, as always). This is a Nestle recipe and it starts out by putting 1/4 cup of butter (I always always use unsalted), 3/4 cup of granulated sugar and 1 Tablespoon water in a bowl and microwaving it until the butter is melted. Stir and then add 3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips and stir until the chocolate is melted.

From there, add an egg and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and stir until well mixed. This is all done in a bowl with a spoon. No mixer is needed. Add 1 cup of AP flour and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. Stir well.

When completely mixed, add 1 cup peanut butter/chocolate swirled chips. I used just peanut butter chips to enhance the peanut butter aspect of it and because that's what I had in the house at the time. Stir well and then place a heaping Tablespoon of dough into a each cup of a prepared muffin pan (prepared... buttered or sprayed with non stick spray). It should make twelve, so just add more to the cups if you have extra. There's no baking powder in these so they don't rise an awful lot.

Bake at 350 for 13-15 minutes. Mine needed a little longer, but not much. When your toothpick, placed in the middle comes out clean, they are done. Do NOT over bake! Brownies are best, in my opinion anyway, when they are slightly underdone or as I like to say, medium rare. When they are done, put them on a rack to cool and watch in awe as the centers start to collapse. If that doesn't happen, give them a little push with the back of a spoon. Then take 3/4 cup peanut butter and microwave on high for 1 minute. Put a dollop of peanut butter in the center of each brownie.


Brownie Peanut Butter Cups

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate morsels
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 2/3 cups (10-oz. pkg.) milk chocolate and peanut butter swirled morsels, divided
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease 12 muffin cups.

Combine sugar, butter and water in medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH (100%) power for 1 minute or until butter is melted. Add semi-sweet morsels; stir until melted. Add egg and vanilla extract and stir well. Add flour and baking soda and stir until blended. Allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in 1 cup Swirled morsels. Spoon a heaping tablespoon batter into each prepared muffin cup.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until top is set and wooden pick inserted center comes out still slightly wet. Place muffin pan on wire rack. Centers of brownies will fall upon cooling. If some do not, with back of teaspoon, tap center to make a hole.

Place peanut butter in small, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on HIGH (100%) power for 45 seconds; stir. While brownies are still hot, spoon a scant tablespoon peanut butter into center of each brownie. Top with remaining Swirled morsels. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Run a knife around edge and carefully remove from pan.

The Fruits of my Labor

Now that I have all this sausage, what does one do with it? The first logical answer is, make pizza!! So yesterday I dove in head first and went for it. I've made pizza before, but unless you buy frozen or pre-made dough and bottled sauce, it's a very long process. Of course, I made my own sauce. And of course, I made my own dough. I made Grandma's dough and my Grandma's sauce. There is nothing on this earth like my Grandma's pizza. And, even though I make it just like she does, it's never quite the same. How could it be? She has a lot more years of experience making it than I do.

Her dough starts out with 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of dry yeast and 1/2 cup of warm water. Mix them together and let proof for 10 minutes. After that time, add another cup of warm water and mix well. Then add 3 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Mix in your handy dandy Kitchen Aid stand mixer with the dough hook until well combined and the forming a ball. The dough should not be too sticky. You can knead by hand for a few minutes of you like. When ball is formed, put in an olive oiled bowl, cover with plastic and then a dish towel and let rise for 2 hours.

In the meantime, start your sauce. This sauce could not be more simple. All you need is a can of crushed tomatoes (a big one, 28 oz I think it is), about half a cup of red wine, salt and pepper to taste and Italian seasoning. Mix them all together in a pan, bring up to a boil, then lower to a simmer for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

The dough recipe is enough for two pizzas. Divide in half and spread out onto your pizza pan. You can use a cookie sheet if you don't have pizza pans. I topped one with mozzarella cheese and turkey pepperoni. And the other with our delicious homemade sausage, black olives and mozzarella cheese.

Monday, March 17, 2008

My Famous Roasted Vegetable Rice

People who know me already know this recipe. I'm often asked for it and I always give it. I have it on my catering menu and I make it quite often for Nick and myself. We love it. Using fresh vegetables works just as well, but I have discovered that using frozen works great too. I use a mixture of hearty vegetables, ones that can stand up to the roasting process. Carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash... things of this nature. This particular time I used a frozen California blend vegetable. Put them frozen, in a metal baking pan (metal works better for browning) and then drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 400 for about 40-45 minutes. Check them. You want them to be roasted, not just cooked.

While the veggies are roasting, cook your rice. I use Jasmine rice. It's such a fragrant and delicious rice. You can use something else, but I can't guarantee you that the dish will come out as well. The rice is key to the flavor. I use white or brown Jasmine and it works great with both (brown takes longer and uses more liquid, just an FYI). Melt a Tablespoon of butter in the bottom of your pan and add a cup of rice to it, and about half a cup of slivered almonds. Cook the rice and almonds in the butter for a few minutes, until you start to get a delicious nutty aroma coming from the pan. (This is brown rice, thus the browned color.. you don't want white rice to get this brown!)

Then add 2 cups of chicken stock (Kitchen Basics stock in a carton a wonderful product. It's a little more expensive than say College Inn, but it's worth it). Stir, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer, stirring occasionally. In the summer when I have fresh herbs, I add fresh thyme. But dried works well too. You can cover the pot, but I don't find it absolutely necessary to do that.

When the rice is done, the veggies should be done as well. Add the roasted vegetables to the rice, stir and serve. Delish! And aside from a little butter, pretty darn healthy too especially if you use the brown rice!

Two meals in one

I've had a little bee in my bonnet about making a dish using wonton wrappers. I wanted to bake them and make them into little cups to hold a delicious filling. I don't know why I wanted to do this, maybe because I had wonton wrappers in my freezer after buying them on sale during the Chinese New Year celebration at the grocery store.

I decided on a more Mediterranean filling than an Asian. So I started with chicken tenderloins cut into bite size pieces. I browned them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper.

From there I added a thawed box of frozen chopped spinach. Be sure to squeeze out the spinach after it thaws. It's very very wet and will make the dish too wet too. Or just use fresh. I also added sundried tomatoes that I cut into strips. I usually use sundried tomatoes packed in oil and that would be fine with this, but the ones I used this time were pliable, not hard, but not packed in anything either. You can eat them right out of the bag if you wanted to!

While all that is cooking, take a muffin pan and fill each one with a wonton wrapper. I actually used two in each, since they are very thin.

You can either lightly brush them with oil or butter or spray with cooking spray. And then bake at 350 for about 8 minutes. Watch them, they brown fast, and hit the point of no return even faster!

Once the cups are done the filling should be done as well. Take them out of the pan and straight to the plate. Then just load them up with your filling and top with Feta cheese. I served them with my famous roasted vegetable rice on the side.

And because there is a lot more filling than there is wonton (I only made 6 wontons, three each for Nick and I and then froze the rest to make something else with), I made pasta the next day and added the filling to it!

Just in case you're wondering what those things are on the side of my pasta dish, they are sandwich wraps. I bought them and found this particular wrap to be far too thick and kind of dry. So I put them on a cookie sheet, brushed with olive oil, garlic powder, and a little thing I picked up at Penzey's called Tuscan Seasoning (Italian seasoning will do). Then cut them into triangles with my pizza cutter and then baked for a few minutes until they got crisp. They were so much better this way!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I love you my new pot!!

My new pot is the most beautiful thing ever. And it's perfect for this dish... cabbage and noodles. It's the ultimate in comfort food. I make mine a little different than the norm, because I like to make into more of a one pot meal. But if you want this meat free, it's a great side dish to pork chops, just skip the meat step. If you make it my way, start off by browning a pound of ground meat (I always use turkey, but you can use beef or pork or whatever you like) in about two Tablespoons of olive oil. If you don't have the glorious pot that I do, you can use a very large frying pan for this dish.

Once the meat is browned and crumbled, remove it from the miraculous pot and add a sliced medium sized onion. I generally use whatever large sweet onions are available and use half of it. But any onion will do. If there isn't enough oil left in the bottom of the pan from browning the meat, add a little more olive oil. Salt if desired.

While the onions are cooking, it's time to shred your cabbage. If you have a nice medium to small head of cabbage, you can use the whole thing. If it's larger, only use half. I shred with a large chefs knife but this step can be done on a box grater, in a food processor or on a mandolin.

Add cabbage to the bodacious pot and stir around so the cabbage gets coated with the oil and the onions. It will take a little while for the cabbage to soften and to help it along I add about two cups of chicken broth. Give it a little stir from time to time. It should take about half an hour for the cabbage to cook completely. Most of the broth should have cooked out. You don't want this soupy, but just moist.

In the meantime boil water for egg noodles. Any egg noodle will do. This recipe is easy breezy. Just do whatever the heck you want! Cook your noodles and when the cabbage is done, put the meat and the noodles back into the wondrous pot, stir with about 2 Tablespoons of butter. Yes you can leave the butter out, but everything is betta with butta! Cook together for a few minutes so the meat can get reheated. And you're done!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Covered in Crystal

Say what you will about winter. I enjoy it for the most part and today was one of those magical days. I was taking my weekly drive to my parents house. It's about 45 minutes on a good day and today was a good day. Despite the ice storm we had yesterday, roads were clear. In fact, everything was clear. And as I drove, I became mesmerized by the scene around me. I drive through a parkway and the trees and bushes were all covered in crystal. It was breathtakingly beautiful. See you for yourself (be sure to click each photo to make them bigger and get the full effect).

This is in my backyard.

These are all on the drive. I probably annoyed some people on the road, by stopping to take photos, but I don't care. How often do you get to see a layer of crystal on everything you drive by? For me, not often!

Experiences is like this, this is how I find God. These are the ways God touches me. By seeing the beauty in nature. It comes from somewhere beautiful and I today I got to experience it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Italian Sausage 101

There are a few things I've been wanting my Grandma to teach me. One of them is how to make her incredibly delicious homemade Italian sausage. That day came yesterday. Did I know what I was in for... yes and no. Grandma doesn't go small, ever! She had my cousin Ray take her to the store on Sunday to buy the meat.... 50 lbs of meat!!! You see, when Grandma is making sausage, everyone wants some and no one can be left out. So she called me and said we had to make it on Monday. When I arrived we started washing the things we needed to use. And soon after, my mom arrived to help too. Thank goodness!! Making sausage is a big job, especially when you are making 50 lbs! Grandma can help some, but at 99 years old, her participation is more about telling us what to do and how to do it. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean it in the nicest possibly way. Hey, she's 99! She knows what she's doing and when she tells me how I should cut it, or how I should mix it.. I listen!

We started out by trimming some of the fat off the pork shoulder that she bought. You cannot trim all the fat off, this is sausage we're talking about. Some of the really thick areas were taken off, but most was kept on.

We cut the meat into strips as opposed to chunks. Grandma said that she used to always do it in chunks but has found that the strips go into the grinder better. Makes sense to me. As we cut up five 10 lb pork shoulders, we put the strips in a very large pan where Grandma would season and marinate the meat.

Her seasoning contains salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, fennel and parsley. Oh and don't forget the bottle and a half of red wine! After all this is added, Grandma and I dug our hands in and mixed it all up. With this quantity, only the hands will do! Then we left it to marinate and enjoyed some asparagus and eggs that Grandma cooked for us.

Grandma would have liked for it to set for two hours, but mom and I both had time constraints so she only left it for one hour. So after we ate we went back down to the basement (having another kitchen in your basement is an Italian requirement) and started to weigh out and separate the meat, assigning each pile to a specific relative (that's my pile in the middle back).

While Mom and I were weighing out the meat, Grandma was opening up the casings so they would go over the funnel on the grinder. Grandma uses her Kitchen Aid mixer with the grinder attachment. She has had her Kitchen Aid for well over 50 years. Probably more like 75 years. Her grinder and funnel attachments are metal (mine, which are newer, are both plastic except for the mechanism inside and the actual grinder). Casings are, in case you didn't know, hog intestines. Grandma takes an end and blows into it to make sure there are no holes and to make it easier to get on the funnel. Then hands it to mom, who has to find the opening all over again! lol

Once the casing is on the machine, it was time to start grinding. While mom held the casing and made sure the sausage came into it tightly, I fed the meat into the grinder. Once we got into a rhythm, this process did not take nearly as long as any of us thought it would.

And the result is some of the most delicious sausage you have ever tasted! I brought my 10 pounds home last night and was putting it into separate freezer bags so I can take it out as needed. I had a small piece, about 3 inches in size so I decided I would cook it up and give it a taste. PHENOMENAL!

The moral of the story is get in that kitchen and learn your family recipes. Write them down and never lose them. They are a part of your heritage. If you don't, who will?