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 :)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lasagne, oh yes it's that good!

I guess by now you're getting the idea that when I have a big pot of sauce, I make a lot of other stuff too. I could freeze the sauce, as I said in that blog. But I rarely do that. No when I have sauce, it's almost mandatory that I make lasagne!

I have tried the Barilla no boil noodles. But I much prefer the boil first variety. But that's your call. You use whatever you like.

While the noodles are boiling, I make my assembly line. I start with the ricotta. Nothing makes me more violently ill than the mere idea that someone would put cottage cheese in lasagne! I saw Paula Deen do it and I absolutely shuddered in disgust! Ricotta is what goes into lasagne. To one pound of ricotta, add about a handful of chopped fresh parsley or two Tablespoons of dried. Also add one beaten egg. Mix well.

You will also need your pot of sauce, some grated Parmesan and of course, your noodles. Start with sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. It should cover the bottom but you don't want your noodles swimming in it. Then put in one layer of noodles. Spread the noodles with a thick but not too thick layer of the ricotta mixture and then sprinkle with Parm.

Start the whole process again, starting with sauce and then layering everything else as stated above. You don't have to put the ricotta on each layer, but if you have enough go for it!

When you come to the end of your noodles, finish off your ricotta on top (if you haven't already used it all), a sprinkling of parm and more sauce. Then top the whole thing with a pound of shredded mozzarella or provolone cheese. Make that layer thick! Gooey cheese rules!!

Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for about an hour. You may want to put a sheet pan under it, in case there is bubble over.

When you take it out of the oven, take off the foil and let the whole thing rest for about 15 minutes. If you cut into it too quickly the layers will just fall apart and you don't want that to happen.

This is a very hearty lasagne and is definitely a crowd pleaser! You don't need much more with it except a nice salad and maybe some garlic bread. Enjoy!

Chicken Parmeseano - mangiare!

Mmmm Chicken Parm. It's one of my favorite things and strangely enough, not something I make very often. Mental note... make chicken parm more often! Since I made sauce this week, and then saw someone on TV making Chicken Parmesan, I got a bee in bonnet and decided I had to have it.

Start out with boneless skinless chicken breasts. You can buy already flattened chicken cutlets if you don't want to do the added step of flattening out the breasts yourself, but this really is not a difficult step. Lay a chicken breast on a cutting board vertically. Hold down with one hand (I'm a righty so I hold down with my left and cut with my right). Take your knife and slice right through the middle of the breast. Note dorky watch tan line on my left arm. This is what happens when you stick your arm out of the car window when driving. Sheesh, I look like Hank Hill!!

Take sliced chicken breast and place on a piece of plastic wrap and then cover with another piece of plastic wrap. Then with a meat mallet or a heavy bottomed pan, pound the chicken breast until it is all the same thickness. Don't beat the hell out of the breast, but pound it hard enough to flatten it. It doesn't take much.

Now set up your breading station. I use pasta bowls but if you have three pie plates, they work very well. The first will have flour. You can season the flour, or not. That's up to you. The second will have beaten eggs. The third is bread crumbs. I use a combination of regular bread crumbs and Panko. To the bread crumbs I add my own seasonings.... Italian seasoning, dried parsley, salt, pepper and the secret ingredient Grandma taught me... ground fennel. I actually buy fennel seed and grind them myself. I can hear you asking me measurements already. I'm going to have guess so I'll say, a cup of flour in the first. Two large eggs in the second. One cup of regular bread crumbs and 3/4 cup of Panko in the third. The seasonings are up to you, but a good ratio would be two Tablespoons of Italian seasoning, three Tablespoons of dried parsley and about one Tablespoon of ground fennel. The fennel really brings something special to the breading but if you don't like that flavor, you can always use sesame seeds instead. And about a quarter cup of grated Parmesan cheese.

Place the chicken breast in the flour and make sure all of it is covered then shake off the excess. From there it's into the egg, dip it in and make sure the whole thing gets coated. And from there, into the bread crumbs. Same deal, make sure the whole thing is coated. My Grandma taught me that if you do this step the night before, and refrigerate the chicken, the coating will not fall off in the pan. She's right, I've tried it. This time, I didn't think ahead, but the coating did adhere pretty well anyway.

Heat two Tablespoons of olive oil and two Tablespoons of butter in a pan. When heated, add chicken to the pan. Don't overcrowd the pan. Lightly brown on each side. You won't cook it all the way through. You just want to get the meat browned.

Remove to a sheet pan and place in the oven for about 20 minutes at 350.

When I'm not making huge amounts, I clean the pan after each batch because the breadcrumbs that fall off in the pan start to burn and can stick to your next batch of chicken. That's not yummy.

After 20 minutes in the oven, place cheese (you can use mozzarella or provolone) on the chicken breasts and put back until just melted. Serve with spaghetti and sauce on the chicken.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Not your Mama's Braicole

Even though I made sauce this week, I decided not to use it for my braicole. Oh by the way, I believe braicole means stuffed and rolled meat. I used very thin beef, which even actually says braicole on the label.

Lay the meat out flat and then brush with a nice Dijon mustard. To that, sprinkle with seasoned bread crumbs and herbs. I have an enormous amount of sage in my garden, so I chose to use that. Just chop it up and sprinkle it over the bread crumbs.

The next step is to roll up the braicole. Start at the short end and roll. When you get the end, affix with a toothpick to hold them together.

With about two tablespoons of olive oil heated up in a pan, place braicole into the pan and sear on each side. The meat is very thin and won't take long to brown on each side so watch it carefully and turn after a few minutes. Lift carefully so you don't tear the meat.

When completely browned, remove from the pan and set aside. Take the pan off the heat and add 1/2 cup of white wine and then put pan back on the heat. You've seen chefs on TV do this a million times. Stir the wine around the pan and pick up all the browned tasty bits. After a few minutes, add a cup of stock to the pan. If you have beef, use beef. But if you only have chicken, that works too. Then add two cloves of sliced garlic and then add the braicole back into the pan. Cover and let the braicole cook in the sauce for about 20 minutes, then add more chopped fresh sage.

If you like a thicker sauce, you can continue to cook it down or help it along with a little slurry of corn starch and water (about a Tablespoon of each, mixed and added to the pan slowly while it simmers). Or you can leave it as is. I prefer my sauce thickened.

It's tender and delicious. Serve with pasta, or potatoes or even over egg noodles. You can't go wrong. Just remember to take out the toothpicks!

Spaghetti Sauce just like Grandma and Mom make

I'm sure most Italians have a good sauce recipe handed down through the generations and my family is no exception. The traditional way I learned it is to brown neck bones, pig's feet and sausage, then add them to the sauce. I do make it this way (minus the pig's feet, I never did develop a love for those!) from time to time. But mostly I make it the way I am posting about today.

Start with a pound of bulk Italian sausage. If you can't find bulk, buy links and just remove the sausage from the casings. With about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan at medium high heat, add the sausage and crumble.

When it's just starting to brown, add one chopped onion (should be medium to large - if small, use two) and five cloves of chopped garlic. Oh relax, this is a big pot of sauce, 5 cloves isn't that much! Hell I use more than that usually.

Let this all cook together for about five minutes and then add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of red wine. Stir it up and let the wine pick up all the flavor off the bottom of the pan. Let this cook for about another five minutes. Now it's time to add the tomatoes. I use three 6 oz. cans of tomato paste and two 28 oz. cans of tomato puree. For each can of tomato paste you will add three cans of water. So that is nine (6 oz) cans of water. We do it this way so we can clean out as much of the tomato paste out of the can as possible. Then after you add the tomato puree, add a half a (28 oz) can of water each (again to clean out the can).

I guess it may sound convoluted this way, but this is the way I was taught and it works! Stir the sauce occasionally while the tomato paste melts down and so the sausage doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. When it is all melted, add your seasonings. You can adjust these to your taste. I use a palmful of Italian seasoning (ends up being about 4 Tablespoons), half that amount of dried parsley, two bay leaves, two Tablespoons of salt and one Tablespoon of pepper. Stir that in. If you want to use fresh herbs, I would suggest you add them at the end of the cooking process or they will lose all their flavor.

When the sauce just comes to a boil, it's time for the secret ingredient. One teaspoon of baking soda. This cuts down on the acidity of the tomatoes. Take the baking soda and put it on your wooden spoon or whatever spoon you are stirring your sauce with. Dip the spoon into the sauce and immediately start to stir it around. The sauce is going to foam up some.

Now, I'm going to only say this once, and please if you decide not to take my advice, do not tell me about it. DO NOT PUT SUGAR IN MY SAUCE!!!! I cannot emphasize this enough. This sauce does not need sugar. In fact, it's my humble opinion that no tomato sauce ever needs sugar. If you want the sauce sweeter, add more onion or add grated carrots. Nothing ruins a beautiful sauce more than sugar. I am very very passionate about this.

OK, feeling better now. Turn the temp down so the sauce is at a simmer. Take your lid and lay it on top the pot, you don't want to completely cover it. The lid should not be sealed, but should be partially open. Then let the beautiful pot of sauce cook for as long as you can stand it! I usually let mine cook for between four and five hours. The longer it cooks, the better it will taste. The beautiful aroma will drive you crazy, mark my words. So the day you make the sauce, make sure you have a good loaf of crusty Italian bread nearby. I'm sure you'll want to taste the sauce as it's cooking and see how the progress is, right? Take some of your crusty bread and dip it in the sauce to see how it is.

Once it's done, serve over pasta. Make a lasagna. Do whatever you want with it! You can even freeze it. Enjoy!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Homemade Chicken Stock

I've always been kind of intimidated by making my own stock. I'm not sure why, it just seems overwhelming to me. But I had two rotisserie chickens that I used to make my famous chicken salad (recipe is not found here, and other than the rotisserie chickens, I'm not sure I'm ready to give up the whole recipe!), and after pulling off most of the chicken, I was left with two pretty nice looking carcasses. I couldn't see throwing them out, so I gave it a shot. I decided I wanted a rich chicken stock so I was going to roast the carcasses with the vegetables.

I used onion, celery and carrots. The classic combination to use. There isn't much prep. Just cut them all into big pieces and toss them with a little olive oil. Make sure you use those celery tops! I roasted them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes. Once everything was nicely browned, I took them out and put them in a pot with enough water to cover everything. Then I added about 5 peppercorns.

What did I forget to do? Add salt. Add herbs. Duh.

I let it simmer on the stove for about 3 hours or so. After that amount of time, the broth looked delicious! It was so rich in color. I let it cool for a little while then strained out the bones and the vegetables. You can do whatever you want with that stuff, most people just discard it. Then pour it into containers to store. I use containers that I have kept from Chinese take out.

After you refrigerate it for awhile, you can remove the grease that will harden at the top, and discard. Or not. If you're going to use it soon, you can refrigerate it. But if not, then freeze it.

I did taste it and it was pretty bland because of forgetting the salt, but I added some before it cooled too much and I'm not worried about how the final product will be when I use it. I think it's going to be great!

Yummy Buttermilk Biscuits

When I have leftover buttermilk from a recipe, I go straight to biscuits. I've tried several recipes. Some use shortening. Some use butter. But for some reason I always thought the ones with shortening would taste better. I was proved wrong with the last recipe I tried. Unfortunately I can't remember where I got it. But oh yes... these are a winner!

I started out by whisking together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Then take the cold butter and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers. You can use a pastry cutter if you want, but hands work best in my opinion. You want to break up the butter until the pieces are the size of peas.

Then stir in the buttermilk. Mix it together until all the flour is just moistened. Take the dough out of the bowl and knead it on a floured surface until it all comes together. Then you can roll it out, or pat it out to about one inch thick.

If you have a biscuit cutter, by all means use that. I use a glass dipped in flour. Be sure NOT to twist the cutter/glass into the dough. By doing that, the dough will not rise the way it should in the baking process. Re-roll or pat until all the dough is used.

Place the biscuits on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet. When all are placed, brush the tops with more buttermilk.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. The biscuits should be a nice light golden brown on top. These biscuits break apart perfectly. You can serve how you like, with just butter, with just honey, with honey butter! Oh, the possibilities are endless!

Southern Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. butter, chilled and cut into pieces
1 cup buttermilk, plus more for brushing

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Rub in butter with your fingers until mixture resembles coarse crumbs of varying sizes, but none larger than a pea. Stir in buttermilk until dough comes together.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead or roll out until dough has been folded 4 or 5 times. Roll dough out until it is one inch thick. Using a 1 1/2 - 2 inch round cutter, push straight down through dough (do not twist the cutter!) and place biscuit onn a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat. Any biscuits made from the scraps will not be quite as flakey as the first pass, but will still be good.

Brush biscuit tops with buttermilk and bake for 15 minutes, until tops are a light golden brown.