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, April 30, 2008

The Fruits of my Labor Part II

In early March, you may recall, my 99 year old Grandmother showed my mother and I how to make her incredible homemade Italian sausage. I still have several pounds in my freezer because I try not to eat it too often. I want to savor it and it's not exactly figure friendly. I can't say enough how delicious it is and since it's been several weeks since we've had any, I pulled some out today and roasted it in a 350 oven for about 25 minutes.

I had been to the farmer's market again this week and picked up one of my favorite things, broccoli rabe, otherwise known as rapini.

I made it tonight with some of our homemade sausage and pasta.

Once you clean, cut off the hard stems and chop the rapini, blanch it in a pot of boiling salted water, just to let some of the bitterness escape. It doesn't have to be in the water for long. Then in a big skillet, saute some chopped garlic and add the rapini.

Our grocery store was carrying this delicious brand of pasta from Italy called Castellana that I never bought because it was pretty pricey at about $5 for a little over a one pound bag. But the store discontinued it and marked it down half price. I tried it, LOVED it and then was sad that the store discontinued it. I would imagine they were having a hard time selling it at full price when you can get Barilla for 99¢. Then one week I'm shopping and there is a grocery cart full of the pasta being clearanced out at 50¢ a bag! I bought them all!!! And now, after today I only have one left. This particular one I made today is flavored with artichoke and poppy seed.

Back to the recipe. Once the sausage is done, slice and add to the sauting garlic and rapini. Add some pasta water if the pan is starting to dry out.

Once the pasta is done, add it to the pan and toss. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil over the top and some freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Or better yet, some crumbled feta.

Forgive me Nick

No, not my Nick. Nick Malgeri. His Supernatural Brownies are the best. But yet, I keep playing with them, messing with them, and otherwise embellishing them. It's a compulsion I have. I got a bee in my bonnet to make Cheesecake Brownies. And as often happens, I am never satisfied with one recipe. So I combined a few. I started of course with Supernatural Brownies. I have no need to go anywhere else for my brownie base. It would be foolish to mess with perfection. So let's start there.

You know the drill. Grease your 9 x 13 pan. Preheat your oven to 350.

Start out by making the cheesecake mixture. I used one 8 oz. block of cream cheese (softened), 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, one egg and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Mix together with a mixer and set aside.

For the brownies you will need 8 oz. of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate and two sticks of butter. Melt them together and set aside.

This time I did the recipe by hand instead of the Kitchen Aid. So whisk four eggs, then add 1 cup of granulated sugar, 1 cup of packed dark brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of vanilla.

Fold in one cup of flour and you are done! That's it. Simple ingredients that turn into deliciousness. Pour the brownie batter into prepared pan and then take the cheesecake batter and drop dollopfuls into the brownie batter. You can try and smooth it, but it's not real easy because the cheesecake batter is rather thick. I tried, but I think swirling it with a wooden skewer would probably work better.

Bake for 45 minutes and enjoy!

These are SO good. And quite honestly, I think two packages of cream cheese would be even better. What's odd is that a lot of the recipes I looked at only called for 4 oz. of cream cheese. I guess a lot of people feel that less is more, but I am of the more is more school of thought!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The PT of my Dreams

After 4 long months of my being carless, and Nick and I haven't to share our 1996 Prizm George, we bit the bullet and headed out to buy the PT Cruiser we have been dreaming of owning for 7 years. From the moment they were introduced by Chrysler in 2001, we've wanted one. We have a remote control one. We have Matchbox PT's and now, we were finally going to have a real one!!!

Friday morning we went to a local credit union and got pre-approved for a car loan. We weren't going to go shopping right away, but we decided to go to one place and take a look. They advertised having fourteen used PT Cruisers on the lot. That is what we wanted. A 2-3 year old car with low mileage. We went to Fred Martin Superstore in Barberton, Ohio. If you live in the area you know them because they are The Fred Martin Car Guys!!! They know cars! We were immediately met on the lot when we arrived by salesman Steve. He asked what we were interested in and I told him we'd take the Viper that was sitting right there in front of us. Yeah right! When we told him what we really wanted, we all hoped into a golf cart and started looking. This place is HUGE, but we found a 2007 black (exactly what I wanted) PT with chrome strips on the grill (exactly what Nick wanted) pretty quickly. Steve wasted no time getting us in that car and on the road.

You know when you have a vision of something and build it up in your mind for a really long time and then you get to experience it and the reality is a huge disappointment? This was NOT one of those times!!! The car, er... technically it's a van, drives beautifully. I started out driving it and then halfway back to the dealership Nick and I did a Chinese fire drill and he took over. We were smitten. BUT we also knew that Steve was going go in for the kill. He showed us the best one they had on the lot that met our criteria. Nick decided we should keep looking so Steve showed us a few others. A 2006 silver. A 2005 purple. Neither held a candle to the first one. That gorgeous black car that I knew I wanted more than anything the first moment my foot touched the gas peddle. It was love.

While driving the silver car, Nick and I decided that we were going to hold out, not buy today. Then I suggested a price that was $2,000 less than asking price for the black car or $2,000 less than asking price for the silver one. All he could say is no. Well in typical salesman fashion, Steve asked us those very pointed questions... "If the terms were what you wanted, would you buy today?" Nick didn't want to commit to that question and kept answering him with things like, "It's really nice." Steve would kind of chuckle and then ask him another question with similar results. When he left us alone for a little while we discussed between ourselves that we were not going to buy a car at the first place we went and buy the first car we drove. So we had to back each other up and make sure the other didn't cave. I told Nick that we have to be prepared out walk out the door no matter what he says!

It became very clear to Steve that we wanted the black car so negotiations began. We were not going to budge. We wanted the car, sure, but we thought we should shop around to other dealers too. Steve told us about their guarantee, that we weren't going to find a better car for a better price anywhere and if we did they would refund the difference plus 10%. So Steve went back and forth between us and his boss... so he says. I suspect that they just go into another office, chat with whoever is in there for about 5-10 minutes, then come back with a revised offer. This went back and forth many times. We wore him down, he wore us down. Finally the offer we couldn't refuse was given to us. They came down over $2700!!! We HAD to take it! Not only that, the car comes with an 8 year/80,000 mile warranty and 12 free oil changes. We'd be fools to walk out that door. We didn't. We made the deal!! And Steve sighed a huge sigh of relief to finally get a definitive answer from us.

Even though we got pre-approved, we had to go to the finance department and sign all the paperwork. OMG, what a trip this was! The finance guy, Kam was hilarious! He was friendly and funny, personable and fun. We talked and talked and talked, oh and eventually signed papers. We talked about everything, where he's from and how he's going back home for his father's 80th birthday. He asked how we met and how long we've been together. When we told him we have been together 20 years and married for 14 he asked what the hold up was! Funny thing is, HE has been engaged for 12 years!!! I couldn't believe he asked us what the hold up was after finding out that piece of info! And then, every once in awhile he would say something like, "I really like those colors in your hair." Why thank you. lol He asked me if it was done professionally (it's not). He told me I remind him of Cyndi Lauper (LOL). He said I look like I belong behind the wheel of a PT Cruiser (I do!). I swear, if my husband hadn't been sitting next to me, I'd think he was coming on to me. Don't get me wrong, he talked to Nick too. But we kept coming back to me, what I do for a living (Nick of course pitched him hard on hiring me for a catering job... ever the PR guy, my Nick), and on and on and on. I never laughed so much during a tense signing away of all our money! He really liked to talk, so much so that we were in his office for well over an hour and half and by the time we were done, Steve had left for the day and we never got a chance to thank him that one last time. But we have our car and I couldn't be happier!!!!! We have decided to name him Eddie (as in "... and the Cruisers"). All he needs is that kick ass yellow and orange flamejob!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The pie quest continues!

When I got my copy of A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman recently, it came with a little book, also by Marcy, called Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate. There are several things in it I've been meaning to try and this pie is one of them. And then, as I was perusing other food blogs I saw almost the exact recipe on Bakerella and knew I had to try it. I can't stand it anymore!! It looks too good not to try.

Since the recipe itself calls for a frozen pie crust, I don't feel like I cheated by not making my own. Hey I was just following the recipe! All you do is whisk the batter ingredients together, then fold in the nuts and chocolate chips, pour into the crust, bake and you're done!

It's so good and not nearly as sweet as I thought. But you may want to serve it with some vanilla ice cream as Marcy recommended. Enjoy!

Blondie Chocolate Chip Pie
(recipe by Marcy Goldman)

2 large eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 frozen 9 inch deep dish pie crust

Preheat oven to 325. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs with flour, both sugars, butter and vanilla. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts. Pour filling into pie crust. Place pie on the prepared baking sheet. (Do this to avoid unfortunate mishaps like these). Bake for 1 hour. Serve with ice cream and hot fudge sauce if desired.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More from the Farmer's Market

Oh yummy yummy, I bought a fennel bulb this week at the farmer's market. Back in the days when my Grandma (who is now 99!) still cooked for all our family holidays, she always had finocchio, as she called it, on the table between courses. It's considered to be a digestive. So basically it helped settle your stomach so you could eat even more!

If you've never had fresh fennel you are missing out! It has the feel kind of like a celery, but it's so much more flavorful. It has a licorice flavor raw and is a wonderful addition to salads, or on it's own. But I love it even more roasted.

Just cut off the top and save the fronds if you wish, for garnishes or a nice addition to salads. Slice the fennel and put into a baking dish, drizzle with some olive oil and then sprinkle with salt, pepper and some of the chopped fronds.

Roast at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes. It should be slightly caramelized. It's a wonderful side dish to just about anything. If you don't like a licorice flavor then you will probably like it cooked. Mmm... fennel.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Farmer's Market fun

I recently went to one of my favorites places, Beilers Penn Dutch Market. It's half farmer's market, half Amish bulk store. Quite possibly the most perfect store on the planet! This was an especially good day and I got so much wonderful produce. I made today's dish with ingredients that were all bought at the market. It's a roasted garlic, grilled zucchini orzo side dish.

I started off with some wonderful zucchini. It's usually a lot smaller this time of year, but in a few months is larger and extremely plentiful. But check out these beauties!

So I started off with zucchini, sliced on a diagonal, drizzled with olive oil and then grilled. Then took one whole head of garlic, sliced off the top, drizzled with olive oil, wrapped in foil and put it on the grill. In the meantime, I cooked some of the bulk orzo I bought.

When everything was done, I chopped the zucchini and then mashed the garlic with some olive oil, salt and pepper and then mixed both with the orzo. I then added a large amount of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley.

This was absolutely delicious. And I think it would be even better with a different herb. I'm thinking mint. I served it warm on the side of some grilled turkey thighs.

If springs bounty is this good, I cannot wait for what summer will bring!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"It's risotto Vyv."

I have been wanting to make risotto for a long time. I don't know why I never do. Well that's not entirely true. I did once. I made butternut squash risotto and I wasn't all that enthused with it. I don't remember why because I love butternut squash. I guess I just didn't make it right. Well the same cannot be said of the Asparagus Risotto I made recently. I have to say it was probably one of the best things I have made in quite some time. I used a combination of recipes. I looked at several and they had elements I liked, but none had put all the elements I liked together, so I did it myself!

I started out with some beautiful fresh asparagus. It's still available at a pretty decent price.

I always prefer my vegetables roasted so that's what I did with the asparagus. All you do is break or cut it into bite sized pieces, drizzle with olive oil and put in a pan to roast in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20-30 minutes. I should be browned but not overly so. While it's roasting, heat 5 cups of chicken stock in a pan (I use Kitchen Basics). Then, in a good heavy pot place 2 Tablespoons of butter and 3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in the bottom. Add one small onion, chopped. As you may already know, I generally use whatever sweet onions are available. It was large so I used about a third of the onion.

Once the onion has sweated a little, add 1 1/2 cups of Arborio rice. Now, if you have never made risotto make sure you have the correct rice. It must be a short grain rice like Arborio. Stir the rice with the onions and butter/oil mixture for a couple minutes. Generally most would add salt and pepper after each additional ingredient is added but since I'm using a boxed chicken stock for this, I am waiting to see if it will need additional salt.

Once the rice is well coated, add 2/3 cup of white wine. Stir until most of the wine is cooked in. Now it's time to start adding the stock. You do not need to keep the heat on under the pot with the stock, but it should be warm. A ladle full at a time, add the stock to the rice and stir until each ladle full is completely absorbed. This is kind of tedious but so well worth it! Don't leave the pot. It needs to be stirred often. Keep doing this, one ladle at a time until all the stock is gone. When you get close to the end, add the roasted asparagus to the pot.

You will be amazed at how this simple pot of rice turns into risotto! Before serving, stir in 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Check and see if it needs any more salt and add some pepper. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Pesto Bread Deliciousness

Did you ever get one of those flyer's in the mail advertising a new cookbook? They make them sound so and the pictures are so gorgeous. I fell for it. I ordered A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman. I wasn't sorry. It's a wonderful book chock full of amazing recipes. The first one I tried was Pain Pesto.

Start by putting a Tablespoon of rapid rise yeast in the mixing bowl with 1 and quarter cups of warm water and whisk them together. Let that set for a few minutes so the yeast can dissolve.

Add one cup of flour and stir. Then add 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 5 teaspoons of sugar (I actually only used 3, I'm not big on sugar in my savory breads), 2 and 3/4 teaspoons of salt and three more cups of flour (there should be 4 cups total).

Start by just adding 2 and half cups. Depending on the flour, the weather or any number of variables, 3 cups may be too much. It's better to add more flour than it is to add more water. This recipe calls for bread flour but I didn't have any so used AP.

With the dough hook knead the dough for 6-8 minutes.

This dough turned out absolutely perfect. After it all pulls together, form the dough into a ball and put into an oiled bowl, cover in plastic and let rise for about 90 minutes until dough doubles in size.

Gently deflate dough and remove to a lightly floured surface. Let set for 10 minutes. The dough is perfectly soft and pliable. Oh it was just so wonderful to work with! Don't you just love when something comes together so perfectly? Roll it out to a 20 x 20 inch shape and then drizzle with a little olive oil. Then spread the pesto over the dough.

I did use store bought pesto, but come summer when my basil plants are going crazy, you can bet that I will making my own pesto and making this bread again! For now, the Buitoni worked just fine. After the pesto is spread you then roll the dough jellyroll style. Then shape it into an "S" shape (or "U" shape as I did) and put on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush with a little olive oil and then sprinkle with salt, pepper, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Let the dough rest for about 45 minutes, until it looks puffy.

Then bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until the bread is well browned. It actually only took about 30 minutes.

This bread is amazing! It's soft and chewy, herby and delicious. I had to force myself to stop eating it. It's going to be a wonderful accompaniment to the Asparagus Risotto that I'll be making for dinner tonight.

Pain Pesto
(courtesy of Marcy Goldman)

1 1/4 cups warm water (100 to 110 degrees F)
1 Tablespoon rapid rise yeast
4 cups (give or take) bread flour (remember, I used AP and it was fine!)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 teaspoons sugar
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 (10 oz) jar of prepared pesto (about a cup - my container was 7 oz. and it was plenty)

Olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley and Parmesan cheese for the top.

Stack two large baking sheets together and line top sheet with parchment paper.

In a mixer bowl, hand whisk water and yeast together and let stand 2-3 minutes to dissolve yeast. Add 1 cup flour and stir briefly. Then stir in oil, sugar, salt and most of the remaining flour. Mix ingredients and then attach dough hook and knead on lowest speed 6-8 minutes until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if needed.

Remove dough hook from machine and spray dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover entire mixer with clear plastic bag (this step seemed so odd to me that I just did what I usually do and took the dough out, formed it into a ball and put it in an oiled bowl, covered in plastic and set aside to rise). Let rise for 45-90 minutes or until almost doubled.

Gently deflate dough on a lightly floured surface. Let rest 10 minutes and then roll out to a 20 x 20 inch shape. If dough resists, let it rest a few more minutes then roll out gently. Drizzle some additional olive oil on the dough and then smear on pesto all over dough's surface. Roll up jellyroll style. Shape into an "S" shape and put on prepared baking sheets.

Drizzle oil on top and dust with salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese and parsley. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy, about 45-60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350.

Gently press bread down slightly before it goes into the oven (I did not cover it, nor did I press it down before I put it in the oven). Bake until it is well browned, about 35-45 minutes. Cool to warm on baking sheet before cutting. I dare you to try and wait that long!!!

The Queen of PB and Chocolate Strikes Again!!

Here I go again. It's a peanut butter and chocolate compulsion. It's an obsession. A fixation I tell you!!! I just can't help myself.

I think the best brownie recipe I have ever found (and believe me, I've tried many!) is Nick Malgeri's Supernatural Brownies. Why mess with them? Am I so arrogant to actually think I can improve upon this great recipe from one of the best chocolate chefs out there? Well no, of course not.... but I kind of did. I couldn't do it without Nick's fabulous recipe to begin with though!

You will need a 9 x 13 pan for this recipe, greased or greased and lined with parchment. Then preheat your oven to 350.

Take two sticks of unsalted butter and melt them with 8 oz. of bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate cut into small pieces. You can do this in a double boiler, you can do this in a microwave. Then set it aside for a few. Mmmm melted chocolate.

In a mixing bowl, take four eggs and whisk for a moment.

Then add a cup of granulated sugar, a packed cup of brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons of vanilla and mix well. To this, add the chocolate mixture and mix with a spoon until incorporated.

Fold in 1 cup of flour.

We're talking brownie deliciousness right here. I would usually add nuts to these, but I just had to do it. I had to up the ante. I decided to add those fabulous mini buckeyes that I found not too long ago and have been using in my Buckeye Cookies.

I added about a cup and a half, maybe two cups of them. If you can't find them in your area (check Mr. Bulky's if you have one in your area. I have found them there as well the store mentioned in the cookie blog), fear not!! You can use Reese's Premier Baking Pieces.

Bake the brownie goodness at 350 for about 40-45 minutes. I prefer my brownies on the medium rare side and 45 minutes was just about perfect. They will get this nice shiny top to them.

Let cool for as long as you can stand it and then, devour!

Supernatural Brownies
(courtesy of Nick Malgeri)

16 Tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 large eggs
teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

One 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan, buttered and lined with buttered parchment or foil. Set a rack at the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and turn off heat. Combine butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set over pan of water. Stir occasionally until melted.

Whisk eggs together in a large bowl, then whisk in salt, sugars, and vanilla. Stir in chocolate and butter mixture, then fold in flour.

Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for about 45 minutes, until top has formed a shiny crust and batter is moderately firm. Cool in pan on a rack. Cut, enjoy!