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 :)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

All local (almost), all yummy salad

Local flavors are in abundance more and more with each passing day. This was a very good day! The lettuce that I started from seed has grown like crazy! I couldn't wait to have a salad with it. All day long I planned on picking enough for a nice salad for Nick and I. But I had a lot of errands to run. At long last I was on my way home, but still had stops to make. First was the farmer's market that is in the square in Richfield, OH every Wednesday from 3:00 pm to 7 :00 pm. It doesn't have many vendors just yet, but it had enough this week that I stopped. I bought a quart of the most gorgeous home grown strawberries.

After that stop, I continued on my way to Szalay's market. They just opened for the season this week. Most known for their corn, they have expanded to carry a lot of produce, not all local, but most is. I picked up some locally grown beets and radishes.

Home at last! I took out my Ohio chicken and marinated it in my very un-Ohio balsamic vinegar. Then headed outside to pick my lettuce. Oh I'm so excited!!!! Look at this lush and beautiful pot of lettuces!!

I had plenty and tons more to pick for another day. After grilling my chicken, I then made my salad. Lettuce, radishes, those beautiful strawberries, and the grilled chicken. I even had New York brand of croutons which are, ta da, made in Ohio! My feta cheese, ok...not from Ohio. My olive oil and strawberry balsamic, also not from Ohio. But I felt great about this salad! It was delicious and tasted even better knowing how many local farmers helped me make it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Chocolate Cake Part II

After my last chocolate cake blog, where I used a recipe that purported itself as "the best chocolate cake you ever ate" I knew I had to keep searching. It so was not the best chocolate cake I ever ate. The cinnamon in it was a bit off putting and the glaze/frosting was insanely sweet (and I even cut down on the sugar it called for!). I continued my search and found a recipe that sounded more like what I was going for at Epicurious.com. I was right. This recipe is a keeper!!

You start by sifting together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Then in another bowl, take 3 oz. of a good semi-sweet chocolate and pour one and a half cups of hot fresh brewed coffee over it. Let sit for a few minutes, stirring occasionally until mixture is smooth. Set aside. Since I was testing the recipe, I didn't go all out with fancy chocolate and just used Nestle's chocolate chips and you know what, it was great! You will need two bags for this recipe.

Now, in your mixer, beat the eggs until they start to thicken and turn a lemony color. It doesn't take long in a Kitchen Aid stand mixer but may take a little longer with a hand mixer. Slowly add the other wet ingredients: oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to the mixer and beat until combined. Then add flour/sugar mixture and beat on medium until just combined. I put the whole bowl of flour/sugar in all at once. Once it's all combined, divide batter between pans. Your pans should be greased and lined with wax paper. The recipe calls for 10 inch cake pans, but I used my 9 x 3 inch cake pans. DO NOT use a regular 9 inch pan or it will spill over the sides and cause a mess in your oven like this. But if you want to make three layers instead of two, I think the regular 9 inch pans will work.

Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Then cool the cakes completely in their pans on wire racks. When cooled, turn out onto the racks and remove wax paper.

While the cakes are baking, make the ganache frosting. Oh ganache. Is there anything better?? I don't think so. It's simple but enhances whatever it is on. The recipe calls for a few more ingredients than I used, but you can do it how you want. I prefer to stay away from corn syrup as much as possible so I left it out. And I also don't think ganache needs any added sugar. I did however use the butter it called for. You will need one pound of semi-sweet chocolate in a bowl and one cup of heavy cream. Heat the cream and then pour over the chocolate. Let sit for a couple minutes then whisk until smooth. Add the butter slowly in pieces and whisk until completely smooth. You may have to refrigerate the ganache to get it to a spreadable consistency.

This cake is VERY moist. I got the first layer on the plate easily, spread some ganache on it and then when I went to put the second layer on, it broke right in half. Frosting covers many flaws so I wasn't worried about it at all, but hopefully it won't happen again. The picture shows that the cake was pieced back together, but I'm not sure you can really tell.

The ganache frosting is a beautiful consistency and a great cake topper. It's terrific! It spreads nicely, doesn't leave a ton of crumbs behind and looks glossy and beautiful. Just for kicks, I put chocolate cookie crumbs on the side of the cake.

This is by far, closer to the best chocolate cake I ever ate! Even my Nick loved it and he's not much for cakes. In fact, whenever I make a cake that he likes, he gets mad telling me I'm trying to change him into a cake lover!

Monday, June 9, 2008

First Time Smoker!

Ahh smoking. It seems like such a guy thing. But this girl has been wanting to try it for a long time and when I acquired a smoker, I just had to find my nerve. What's the worst that could happen? The planets were aligning... the smoker was ready, charcoal was bought, wood chips were ready and pork shoulder was $1.09 a lb at BJ's. I'm in!

The first thing to do is make a spice rub. I've watched enough BBQ shows on Food Network to know the basics of making a spice rub so I just winged it. Here is my recipe:

1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup paprika
1/8 cup cumin
1/8 cup garlic powder
1/8 cup dry mustard
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup salt (you can go half a cup with the salt if you want)
and a touch of cayenne

Rub it all over the meat. Do not leave a spot unrubbed! Believe me, the pork is so happy to have this massage of flavor it almost just sighs into the dish.

Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

Get an early start the next day because this is an all day affair. The work is minimal, but the process is long. Follow your smoker's instructions (and then, if you're anything like me, call your brother in law who has a similar smoker and ask him what the hell you're supposed to do!) Start your charcoal in the bottom. It needs to burn for about 20 minutes before you do anything else. While that is getting read, soak your wood. I went with hickory. You need to soak the wood chips for about 20-30 minutes.

Once the fire is ready, drain your wood chips and then put them on top of the coals. If your smoker has a water pan, make sure it is filled. And then, place your beautiful hunk of pig on the grill.

Put the lid on and then DO NOT REMOVE IT. My lid is a little off kilter so we wrapped foil around it to keep in the heat and smoke as best we could. After about 3 hours, add a few more coals to the fire and then a little after that, add more soaked wood chips. Check your water pan. You do not want it to dry up. Add water if needed.

I let my pork cook for about 7 hours. The hardest part was not lifting the lid off, but I didn't. Not even once!

It was absolutely delicious! It wasn't fall apart soft like you often see pulled pork in TV, but it was amazingly good. I think another 2 hours would give it that fall apart texture but neither Nick nor I complained about this juicy tender pork. The rub gave it a very nice crust with a bit of a kick. I'm not sure what it was from, the black pepper, the dry mustard or the cayenne. Maybe a combination of them since I used such a scant amount of cayenne.

For my first time, I'm very pleased with the result. You can even see the pink smoke ring around the top under the crust!

Best Chocolate Cake Ever? That's Debatable.

I've gotten a request for a chocolate birthday cake. I've made chocolate cakes before, but I want something special. Something that is moist and delicious. I want the best chocolate cake ever! So that's what I searched for. And I found a recipe that was called just that... The Best Chocolate Cake You Ever Ate. OK, I'm in!

Making this cake is easy enough. You start off with 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of flour sifted together.

Then in a saucepan bring the butter, oil, water and cocoa powder up to a boil.

Make sure all the butter is melted, remove from heat and add to the flour/sugar mixture.

In another bowl (here we go again, so far two bowls and a saucepan!) dissolve the baking soda in the buttermilk then mix that with eggs, salt, cinnamon and vanilla.

Mix into the flour/cocoa mixture and the pour into a greased 9 x 13 baking pan. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes. It took about 27 minutes for mine to be done. Start at 20 minutes though and then check.

When you have about five minutes left of baking time, start the frosting. In a saucepan combine butter, cocoa and milk and bring to a boil.

Remove from the heat and whisk in confectioner's sugar. The recipe calls for 4 cups, which I thought was excessive, so I cut it down to 3 cups. It's still plenty sweet! After all the sugar is whisked in, stir in pecans. By now the cake should be done and removed from the oven so pour the frosting over the hot cake.

The glaze does seep into the cake and make it very very moist. As a non cake lover, Nick really loved this cake. But to me, I found it too sweet and rather unimpressive. I will definitely cut back the cinnamon next time or leave it out completely and add instant coffee. I think that would be better. Also, I found the pecans unnecessary, and that is coming from a nut lover! All in all, the cake is good, but the best chocolate cake I ever ate? No. And the search continues!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Rhubarb is a vegetable

My neighbor across the street, who is sadly moving away, has a huge rhubarb patch in her back yard. She's given tons of it to me every year and I promptly gave it all to my Grandma. Well Grandma hasn't been well lately and doesn't have much desire to cook. But the rhubarb is still there and my neighbor still wanted to give it to me. So I thought this year, I'd give it a go. I wanted to make something that utilized buttermilk because I had some left from making carrot cake. I did a search and found a recipe I thought sounded good, here at epicurean.com.

Start with two bags of frozen strawberries (the picture is showing ice on the strawberries, not sugar).

Add two pounds of fresh chopped rhubarb and lemon juice. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

In a small bowl combine your cornstarch and 1 cup of the sugar then slowly add to the pot of strawberries and rhubarb. Stir constantly for 4 minutes, until bowling. Then set aside and let cool slightly.

Make sure your oven is heated to 350 and your 13 x 9 is greased and ready to go. In a large bowl take 3 cups of the flour, 1 cup of the sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and combine. Then with a pastry blender, two knifes, a fork or your hands (I use my hands) cut the butter into the flour mixture until it is the consistency of course crumbs (you can enlarge the photo by clicking on it and getting a better look at the consistency.

In a small bowl beat together the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla then stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour/butter mixture and mix only until combined. Then spread half of the mixture into the bottom of your 13 x 9 pan.

Then pour in the strawberry rhubarb mixture. Drop the rest of the cobbler batter by Tablespoonfuls over the strawberry/rhubarb mixture. In a small saucepan on low heat, melt remaining butter and then stir in remaining flour and sugar, stirring until the mix resembles course crumbs. Sprinkle this mixture over the cobbler. Bake for 40 -45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the bubbly. Be SURE to put a cookie sheet under your pan or you'll have a mess in your stove!

Cool for about 10 minutes or so, then serve with vanilla ice cream! YUM

Nick and I absolutely LOVED this. It really was delicious but if I had to pick a nit, I would say that it uses far too many bowls and pans!! Yikes.