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, May 30, 2008

Braised Short Ribs, Batali Style

Short ribs are not something I make often. OK, ever. Nick is not fond of them, mainly because they are so fatty. He's right of course, they are fatty. But fat equals flavor and braised short ribs are packed with it!

I acquired a package of short ribs and contemplated how I should make them for a little while as they sat in my freezer. When faced with the dilemma of how to prepare something there are several people I go to... Martha, Mario, Lidia, and Marcella. Mario won out. The recipe is simple but contains lots of flavorful ingredients. It can't miss!

OK, OK... you caught me. Really I'm making them this way because I'm always looking for an excuse to use my glorious Chantal pot!

In your own glorious pot or equally heavy bottomed skillet, heat olive oil over high heat until it starts to smoke. Sprinkle short ribs with salt and pepper and then place them in one layer on the bottom of the pot and brown on all sides.

This takes a good 15 minutes or so to do, if you do it correctly. DO NOT skimp on this step. It is very important to the outcome of the dish. Let those short ribs brown baby brown! And when they are browned on all sides, take them out of the pot and set aside.

To the pot add chopped carrots, celery, onions and garlic. I always use the celery tops. If you don't, I highly suggest you start. They are packed with flavor.

Cook the veggies until they start to brown and soften, season as you go. As those are cooking, take a can of whole tomatoes and crush them by hand. Mario says to use a 16 oz. can, but truth be told, I don't think I have ever seen a 16 oz. can of whole tomatoes. Whole tomatoes are usually in 28 oz. cans so I used a 28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes.

You will also need about 3 sprigs each of fresh thyme, rosemary and oregano. You can tie them together if you like, but I didn't bother doing that.

When the veggies have sufficiently browned and softened, add wine, broth, tomatoes (with juice) and herbs to the pot. Stir with wooden spoon and be sure to get all the browned bits up from the bottom of the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and then add the short ribs back into the pot.

Then cover and place into a 375 degree oven and cook for 2 hours.

The meat is so tender and succulent. I served mine with crispy baked potatoes. But the next day I made orzo and served it with the meat and the sauce... Delish!

When you dream, do you dream of carrot cake?

Whenever my father in laws birthday rolls around I am asked to make him a cake. And whenever I ask him what kind of cake he wants, he tells me he wants something dense with a lot of nuts and stuff in it. Carrot Cake certainly fits that bill. In fact, IMO, you cannot get a better cake (that isn't chocolate of course) than Carrot Cake. The recipe I use comes from Southern Living Magazine and is far superior to any other recipe I have tried. I don't make it often because it is a rather expensive cake to make and is a bit time consuming. But the results are so worth all the effort put in!

You will first need three 9-inch cake pans lined with wax paper. The way I do this is to put a sheet of wax paper on the counter, put the pan on top of it and then trace the pan with a pencil or with a knife. The knife goes through the paper, but not hard. You still may have to cut around it. Then put the wax paper round in the bottom of the pan, then lightly grease and flour the pans. I make mine in two layers instead of three.

Grate 2 cups of carrots and set aside. You can use a food processor shredding blade for this if you like, but I just use the regular old box grater. Believe me, with all the bowls and things you use to make this cake, cleaning a food processor will become a very low priority!

Take your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon) and stir them together.

Then in a mixer, beat the eggs, sugar, vegetable oil, buttermilk and vanilla at medium speed until smooth. A little tip... measure the oil before the buttermilk. When you then go to measure the buttermilk, none will be left in the measuring cup!

Add the flour mixture to the mixer and beat at low until blended. Then you will take the bowl off the mixer and fold in all the goodies... carrots, crushed pineapple, coconut, and nuts. The recipe calls for canned flaked coconut, but I've never used that and just use the kind in the bag. For nuts, I always use pecans with carrot cake. When well blended, pour batter evenly into pans.

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean). Mine took a bit longer because I did two cakes instead of three.

Now comes the interesting part. The Buttermilk Glaze! While the cake is baking you can make the glaze. It is to go over the top of the cakes as soon as they are out of the oven. In a saucepan on medium-high heat, bring sugar, baking soda, buttermilk, and butter or margarine to a boil. The recipe, as you will see, calls for corn syrup but I leave it out. The cake is plenty sweet enough without it and it add nothing to the party except more calories. In fact, I only use about 1/2 cup of sugar in the glaze as well. When this mixture comes to a boil, take it off the heat and stir in vanilla extract.

When the cakes are done, drizzle the glaze over the cakes evenly. You do not have to poke holes in the cake at all. It just drinks it all in without them.

And now, the best part. That delicious cream cheese frosting that is signature Carrot Cake. There are lots of recipes for cream cheese frosting and this cake has it's own as well. I use it as a guide but use my own measurements. For me, cheesy is better than sweet. Take two 8 oz. packages of cream cheese (softened) and one stick of unsalted butter (softened) and beat together in a mixer until creamy. Slowly add 2 cups of sifted powder sugar and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. Beat until smooth and creamy. It does happen, I promise!

This cake must be completely cooled, or even chilled, before you begin to frost. Be sure to line your platter or serving plate with wax paper before you begin. As you can see, I forgot to do that here (although I was able to lift each side up slightly and get the paper under it before I started to frost the cake completely). Don't put it totally under the cake, you want to be able to pull it out when you're done frosting.

The recipe makes a lot of frosting so be generous with the filling. Then just spread it over the top and the sides.

Even if you don't think you frost cakes well, this is a very forgiving cake and mistakes are easily hidden, especially the way I decorate it.

And finally, here it is on my in laws counter after we all devoured it!

Friday, May 16, 2008

On top of Spaghetti

I've been hankering for some spaghetti and meatballs and just haven't had the time or the inclination lately to make that long simmering sauce. You know, the kind that takes 5 hours to cook but is so worth the time?

So what does one do when in that situation? Order in? Yeah, I guess that would be the obvious solution. But mine was to have a chat with my grandma and ask her how she makes her meatballs. After that discussion, my yen for the dish got even stronger. What to do!!! Then I remembered Ina Garten made spaghetti and meatballs on her show and she didn't make a long simmering sauce. What was I afraid of! Just make sauce you moron. So I did.

For the meatballs I used 2 lbs of ground turkey. Grandma never ever uses ground turkey but I like to use it and she'll never know I did it so shhh! To that I added bread crumbs, dried parsley, Italian seasoning, two eggs, half of a large onion (grated), and 5 (yes five!) cloves of garlic, grated.

Mix with your hands, they are natures best spoon. LOL who said that? I can't remember. Maybe Sara Moulton. Anyway, mix it all up with your hands and form into meatballs, about the size of a golf ball, especially if you're not using turkey because they will shrink up on you.

Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. Or you can shallow fry them (which means to put about an inch of oil in your pan and fry them, turning to get each side browned). I did turn mine about midway through the cooking process, but you don't have to.

Now the sauce. Start out with that other half of onion, chopped in a big pan with about 3 Tablespoons of olive oil. When it's starting to look translucent, add another 5 cloves of chopped garlic. Oh come on! You know you love garlic! It's not that much. Really. Add some salt and pepper. Do not let the garlic brown! If the pot is too hot, turn it down. After a few minutes, add 1/3 cup of red wine.

Let it reduce a little then add a 28 oz can of tomatoes. I use puree, but you can use crushed or whole (and crush them by hand) or whatever you like. Bring it up to a boil then turn it down to a simmer and add some salt, pepper and Italian seasoning (if you have fresh basil use it, but add it closer to the end of the cooking process).

When the meatballs are done, add them all to the sauce, cover and let simmer for at least half an hour, more if you want. But make sure you stir so the meatballs don't stick to the bottom the pan or they may burn.

Boil your pasta. When it comes to long pasta I generally go for linguine. I like shape a little more than regular spaghetti. Add the pasta to the sauce and serve.

Add some grated Parmesan or Romano if desired.