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, November 20, 2008

2008 Fabulous Food Show!

This was Cleveland's and my fourth Fabulous Food Show. We are so lucky that we get to have this event every year (minus 2005 when there was no show) and every year I have the best time. It's a big highlight of November. The way it works is that you buy a ticket for the event and with that ticket you get to see one celebrity chef appearance. The first year, when it was called The Great Big Food Show, we saw Rachael Ray. The second year, when it became and remained, The Fabulous Food Show, we saw Paula Deen. Last year we saw Alton Brown. And this year, we saw Cleveland's own Michael Symon!

We had our choice of Paula Deen, her son Bobby Deen, TLC's Take Home Chef Curtis Stone, Guy Fieri, or Michael Symon. Having bought our tickets this year at the door, we didn't have much choice but we were all thrilled to get tickets to see Cleveland's Iron Chef! But that comes later. Let's back up.

When we first arrived, we immediately saw the gorgeous cakes that White Flower Cake Shop displays every year. I absolutely loved the Cheeseburger cake:

And the Halloween cake. Unfortunately I cut this picture off at the top so you can't even make out that the top is a black cat! SO cute though!

After looking at the cakes we started walking. The place is huge and it's packed with vendors all wanting you to sample their food. You really need to have a plan or you'll miss something so we try to go up one aisle and down the next. We don't always succeed but we try. We had some really delicious samples from broccoli cheddar soup, to delicious olives, to pulled pork, to chocolate covered potato chips, to freshly squeezed juices, to Ohio grown apples, to cheesecake, to lasagna, to one of my fave things that I always buy... Sunbutter, to OMG, stop me!!! It's a giant food fest. You may think, "it's just a sample, how full can you get?" But believe me, getting full happens! Some samples are huge and generous, some are just a taste. Thank goodness we're walking the whole time or I'd have to be rolled out of there. It's just amazing.

We walked and ate, walked and ate, until around 4:15 pm when we had to get in line for the 4:45 Michael Symon show. It was the last show of the day, on the last day of the food show. The line was SO long. It snaked around and around. And since the show would be ending at 6:00 pm, we thought we would have just enough time after Micheal Symon to hit the booths one more time and see what people were trying to get rid of. That is the best part of going on Sunday, the last day of the food show. A lot of vendors don't want to pack up what they have not sold so they just start to give it away. While we were in line waiting to be let into the theatre, a woman came from one of the booths that was sampling olives. They gave her a container and told her to take as much as she could fit in it! Wish I had be there then!

While we were moving through the line though, the Del Grosso booth gave us all full sized jars of pasta sauce (I chose the puttanesca). And then finally the line moved and moved fast! We got into the main area and found our seats and then it wasn't long before Michael Symon came out!

He was wonderful! Fun, funny, personable, hilarious. And because it was the last show of the last day of the food show, he had a few surprise guests... Curtis Stone and Guy Fieri!! They came out and tried to steal stuff that he was going to be using. They were so cute and so funny. Once they left, Michael said that when he went to bed the night before he prayed that he would wake up looking like Curtis Stone! lol I can see why, Curtis is scorching hot!

Michael told a funny story about the previous night. He said that Guy wanted to go out on the town so Michael told him, "sure I'll go out for a beer." Then five tequila and six Jagermeister shots later, he finally was heading home. While he was on his way, Guy called him and said, "hey, you ditched me!" Michael replied, "Guy, it's 3:30 in the morning!" It was pretty hilarious.

On to the cooking demo. Michael roasted dates and then topped them with a balsamic glaze with almonds. It looked and sounded yummy! I nice little starter course. Then he made cocktail meatballs that I know I will have to try. He didn't have recipes available, but he said they would be on his blog at some point, so I'll keep looking for them. But from what I remember they had ground meat (of any kind or combination), sauteed onions and garlic, milk soaked bread (squeezed out), parsley, lemon zest, mint and flour (flour... weird, I've never put that in meatballs). Then you shape them and fry them and when they are done, top with feta cheese. Sounds amazing!

Once Michael finished his recipes and was done taking questions, it was time to head out and hit the booths one more time. Unfortunately, the show went over and it was after 6:00 pm by the time we got out. We tried to get to some booths but the security was trying to lead us out of the center. We managed to duck them and get over to the huge Giant Eagle booth (Giant Eagle is a regional grocery store chain). There we were given full jars of Nature's Basket (their own organic line) salsa, and tons of samples of Revolution tea. I've tried the tea so far and it's outstanding!

All and all, it was another fun day at the Fabulous Food Show!

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's Risotto Season!

My sister in law has some relatives in Pennsylvania that grow mushrooms. So whenever her father goes to PA to visit them he comes home with so many mushrooms they have to give them away. I am often a lucky recipient of said mushrooms. I got a bee in my bonnet to make mushroom risotto and that is where a good portion of those mushrooms went!

In a large skillet, heat 3 Tablespoons of olive oil and then add a mixture of chopped mushrooms. I used button, cremini and shitake. Saute until well cooked, but not browned. Add some wine or broth to the pan if it's too dry, plus salt and pepper. I added tons of fresh thyme because I still have tons in my garden. But dried will work just fine too.

In a heavy bottomed pot, melt two Tablespoons of butter in three Tablespoons of olive oil. Add one medium sized shallot, chopped.

In a saucepan, heat (but don't boil!) five cups of chicken broth or stock. You can use homemade or store bought. Just adjust your added salt if you're using store bought. It can be salty already.

When the shallot is softened but not browned, add 1 1/2 cup of Arborio or other short grained rice. Stir to coat rice and then let cook for two minutes. The heat should be on medium. After the two minutes, add 2/3 cup of white wine. Stir until all the wine has been absorbed into the rice and then start to add your broth. You do not need to keep the heat on under the pot with the broth, but it should be warm. One ladle full at a time, add the stock to the rice and stir until each ladle full is completely absorbed. It takes patience, but your efforts will be so worthwhile!

When all the broth is gone and the rice is done, stir in your mushrooms and then stir in 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately. Nick went crazy for this last night so I think I'll be making it again!

Zucchini Boats, the Fall Version

OK, so it's not really zucchini boats, it's Acorn Squash Boats. They are very similar but a very different experience. Start with a medium sized acorn squash. You will need one half for each person you are serving. Cut in half and dig out all the seeds. Brush flesh with olive oil, then salt and pepper. Place on a cookie sheet, cut side down and bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. The flesh should be starting to caramelize.

In the meantime, take one leek, cleaned thoroughly, then chopped. Put it in a saute pan with about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. Add about half a pound of sausage, crumble and cook. Add salt and pepper, and herbs if you wish.

You want to cook this mixture thoroughly because it is not going back into the oven. Make sure the mixture is not too liquidy, it should just start to brown and the pan should be dry of liquid.

When sausage mixture is done, mix in about 1/2 cup of feta cheese. Take squash out of the oven and invert one half onto each plate then fill with the sausage mixture. YUMMY!

The Lost Blog (Part II)

Zucchini Boats! Oh how I love zucchini boats. They are one of my go to meals in the summer time when zucchini is abundant. Well, abundant everywhere but my garden. I try and try and still, I just don't get the zucchini explosion that so many people I know do. I don't know why, but it is what it is. I just happily accept zucchini handouts from anyone who is willing to give them to me.

You need one half of a medium sized zucchini for each person. This recipe is for two whole zucchini's, you'll have to adjust if you are making more than that. Cut off the tops and bottoms of the zucchini and then slice in half the long way. Then drop zucchini into a pot of boiling water for about 5 minutes. You don't want to cook them completely, you just want to soften them up some.

In the meantime, in a large skillet, saute in about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, a red pepper, chopped; a medium sized onion, chopped; and several cloves of garlic, chopped.

When the vegetables are just starting to soften, add about half a pound of Italian sausage and crumble into the pan. I am using turkey sausage for this. But use what you like. If you have big chunks like this, make sure you break them up.

When the zucchini are semi soft and slightly cooked, remove from the boiling water and cool until you can handle them. When you can handle them, scoop out some of the flesh, but make sure to leave enough behind. It should look like a cucumber with the seeds dug out. Add the zucchini pulp to the skillet with the sausage and veggies.

Add your salt and pepper and if you have fresh herbs, add them. If you don't, add whatever dried herbs you like. I have grown very fond of Tuscan Sunset from Penzey's. But today I have fresh thyme from my garden.

Line up the zucchini in a pan and then fill with the sausage mixture.

Bake at 350 for about half an hour. In the last five minutes, if you want to add some shredded mozzarella cheese to the top, that is lovely!

Serve with a simple pasta (a nice aglio olio - spaghetti with garlic and oil) or, like I did on this day, serve with my famous Roasted Vegetable Rice.

The Lost Blog (Part I)

I found a bunch of photos I had taken of things I've made and realized that there are a bunch of blogs I never wrote. They were taken right before Grandma got sick and I totally forgot about them. The first one is Peanut Butter Cookie Cupcakes. The recipe is from Martha, and the idea is that it's like a peanut butter cookie, only a cupcake. You probably got that idea from the title of the recipe.

You may recall that Nick is a big peanut butter fan, so when I saw this recipe I knew I had to make them for him. You start by sifting (or whisking) together 1 3/4 cups flour, 3/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.

Then in a mixer fitted with the paddle, cream 3/4 cup softened unsalted butter with 1 1/3 cups sugar, until pale and fluffy.

Reduce speed to low, then mix in 2/3 cup natural creamy peanut butter. I use chunky. I always use chunky unless I'm making peanut butter cups. Then add 3 eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla after that. Then add the flour mixture and mix until well combined.

When that is all mixed, add 1/2 cup sour cream and mix until blended. You will want about three Tablespoons of batter in each cupcake cup. It's about three quarters of the way full.

They bake at 375 for about 13 minutes. Then transfer to a wire rack and cool.

The icing. These cupcakes are all about the icing! Back in your mixer with the paddle, mix 12 ounces of cream cheese (softened), 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and 3 Tablespoons of softened unsalted butter. Make sure you start very slow or you'll be wearing that powdered sugar! When it's all mixed together nicely, take the bowl off and mix in 1 1/2 cups of creamy peanut butter by hand. I used chunky again.

When the cupcakes are completely cooled, spread about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of frosting onto each cupcake. Martha says to refrigerate for 10 minutes so the frosting can firm up and then make the crosshatch pattern on the top with a fork like you would with a peanut butter cookie. I say, spread that frosting on and dig in!

Peanut Butter Cookie Cupcakes

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup natural creamy peanut butter
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream


12 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered (confectioner's) sugar
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 3 standard 12 cup muffin tins with paper liners.

Whisk flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Mix in peanut butter. Mix in eggs, one at a time, and then vanilla. Add flour mixture, mix until combined. Mix in sour cream.

Spoon scant 3 Tablespoons batter into each muffin cup. Bake until pale golden and cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 13 minutes. Transfer to wire rack; let cool completely.

For the icing, put cream cheese, powdered sugar and butter into cleaned bowl from your mixer fitted with cleaned paddle attachment.; mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy (remember what I said, start it on low or you'll be wearing that sugar!). Stir in peanut butter by hand with rubber spatula.

Spread 1 1/2 Tablespoons of icing onto each cupcake. Refrigerate until frosting is firm (about 10 minutes). Using tines of a fork dipped in powdered sugar, score each top in a crosshatch pattern. Cupcakes can be refrigerated in single layers in airtight containers up to two days.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Lone Craft Show of the Season

Trying to get in craft shows when your craft is food is not real easy. Most of the craft shows we called to try and get into also were hosting their own bake sales so they didn't want the competition. But we got into, Radiant Life Church in Wadsworth. As it turns out, it was their first foray into the craft show game. I don't think I would have ever known that though, unless someone told me.

Quite honestly, I don't think I was ready mentally or physically to do this so soon after Grandma's passing. I can't lie and say I'm healed. I'm not. I miss her every day. I think of her all the time. But I had already committed to being there and I don't think she would want me to let people down or let myself down. So I forged ahead. My sister in law Patty, who is the crafter of the family, came over to help me design my table. She threw a beautiful table together in all of five minutes with things I had and things she brought over. I never could have done this. I'm just lacking the crafty gene. I took photos of the table from every angle so that come show day, Nick and I could recreate it as best we could since Patty was unable to attend.

Thursday I made candy. We decided on milk chocolate covered pretzels with fall colored sprinkles, milk chocolate covered pretzels with chopped nuts and then more chocolate drizzle, dark chocolate covered pretzels with espresso chips, and caramel pecan turtles.

On Friday, I baked. We decided on peanut butter brownies and red velvet cupcakes. At the last minute I decided to add in cheesecake brownies. All of these are tried and true recipes.

Saturday is show day. We need to be there early to set up for a 10:00 am start. We got there a little after 8:30 am. The venue was small but very nicely put together. We found the spot that was reserved for us and started bringing in our supplies and product. By 9:15 or so, we were done setting up.

Some things didn't work out. For instance, Patty had brought us some black aprons and then used a tracing pencil on them to trace my logo and then left them for me to paint. Well, as previously mentioned, I am missing the crafty gene and the aprons were a disaster!

There were several others there selling food products as well. One lady near us had a braided bread with cream cheese filling. And a very nice man was selling nutrolls. I asked him if it was a family recipe. He was an older gentleman so I wondered what his story was. The recipe was his mother in laws. His wife used to make it and 3 years ago she taught him how. Two years ago, she passed away. To honor her, he makes the nutrolls and sells the at farmer's markets and craft shows. It was so moving and the nutroll is outrageously delicious!

The morning had a pretty good flow of customers and my last minute addition of cheesecake brownies turned out to be the best idea I had. I ended up selling out of them! I have about five peanut butter brownies left. I sold merely two cupcakes. My products were beautiful, if I do say so myself, and priced to sell. So I don't really know why they didn't. People were buying $6 cream cheese bread (she sold out) and $6.50 nutrolls (almost sold out) all day but I didn't sell out of $1 brownies and didn't come close to selling out of $1.50 cupcakes. Candy sold very little too. These shows are so hit or miss. There's no way of knowing how much you should make.

But many people took cards and/or brochures. And it was kind of fun actually, made so our new bud, Lily, who had the table next to us. Lily is a rep for Tastefully Simple. We laughed and joked around all day. So that made the day fun. Hey how can you miss when you make a new friend! And the venue provided both breakfast and lunch for the vendors at no cost. I thought that was a really nice touch.

Each show is a new learning experience on what to do and what not to do. Maybe by the next one we'll have people fighting to get to our table. And I know just how to make that happen. I just thought of it too late this time. Next time, my table will include the chocolate fountain!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Anniversary Dinner #2, LeFever's River Grille

For the third delicious year in a row, Nick and I went out for our anniversary dinner at the wonderful LeFever's River Grille. It's become our tradition I guess. I wrote about it last year and this year was just as delicious.

Our reservations were for 7:30 pm and we arrived exactly at that time. We were seated in almost the same spot as last year, a raised booth with just the right amount of light, near the windows. LeFever's is on the river, obviously by the name, but we cannot see it because it's too dark by this time. But the ambiance is there.

Our waitress Samantha brought us their delicious bread with whipped butter (that I detect a slight, very slight garlic flavor in). Nick isn't much for butter so since they have a bottle of olive oil on the table, I put some in one of the small plates and added some fresh ground black pepper and we dipped our bread instead. It was delicious. The olive oil was so rich and fruity.

We both, once again, had our salad with the restaurants delicious homemade Romano peppercorn salad dressing. The salad doesn't have much in it, just some fresh mixed greens, carrot strips and red onion. But when I say fresh, I mean fresh. The greens were so crisp and flavorful. The dressing is stick to your fork thick with just the right amount of pepper.

And then it was time. Time for our other tradition.... the calamari appetizer. Just look how excited Nick is as it arrived at our table!

This is by far, the best calamari I've ever had. Not only are the calamari themselves tender and succulent, but after its quick fry, it is then sauteed with kalamata olives, sun dried tomatoes and scallions, then sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. A squeeze of lemon over the top completes it. Incredible!

As usual, we both had trouble deciding on an entree. The menu was mostly different from last year (save for the calamari, and some other standards). I ended up choosing pork rib chop stuffed with cornbread dressing, served with sweet potato mash and sauteed spinach. The large pork chop was done to juicy perfection with delicious grill flavor with the dressing added just the right touch. The sweet potato mash was generous and delicious. Sweet, but not overwhelmingly so like you so often get in restaurants. And the spinach melted in my mouth.

My Nick is a pork guy. More often than not, he chooses the pork on the menu. But this time his eye kept going back to the seafood. He was not disappointed. He chose Seared Scallops with Prosciutto Risotto and Zucchini Frites. For me, I'm not a seafood fan but I tried it and it was tasty. Not my thing, but the risotto and zucchini frites were to die for!

And now, our dessert. The choice was clear from the moment we saw the dessert menu. Molten Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Need I say more?

Anniversary Dinner #1, Chicken Paprikash

I know when you think "Cucina" you don't think Chicken Paprikash. But it's one of my favorite dishes of the non-Italian variety. I learned it from my mother and when I was a kid it was Chicken Paprikash that I chose as my birthday dinner. Granted, if my birthday were more in the middle of the year (it's mid January), I might have chosen differently. We just had the huge Italian feast less than a month ago on Christmas. So this was my choice. And it is a crowd pleaser!

I usually make this dish with bone in, skin on chicken thighs and if I am having guests, I will add in some bone in, skin on breasts. But on this day (October 30, my 15th wedding anniversary), I didn't have any thighs. I thought I did, but I didn't. I only had a package of breasts. So breasts it is! Start out by melting some butter in a large skillet. Oh I hear you all already, "can I use oil instead of butter?" Use what you want, but know that it won't come out the same. So, melt some butter in a large skillet (about 2 Tablespoons) and then brown the chicken on both sides.

When browned, remove to a deep baking dish. Back in the skillet, drippings and all, add half of a large onion chopped (I always use whatever sweet onions are available, but use what you like) and four medium sized carrots roughly chopped. If you have large carrots, two should be enough. A couple weeks ago, mom and I went to Beilers Market and she bought these ginormous carrots! I used two of them in this dish. Saute the carrots and onions in the pan drippings. There shouldn't be a lot of drippings, but just enough to get some good color on the carrots and onions.

Then dump them over the chicken in the baking dish (and set that pan aside, you still need it!). Add about 2 cups of broth or stock. Homemade, store bought... either way. Cover with foil and bake for about an hour for just the thighs, an hour and a half if you have breasts too.

Traditionally, Chicken Paprikash is served with spaetzle. And well I am a traditionalist so spaetzle it is. The dough is simple enough:

1 egg, beaten
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/3 cups flour

Beat the egg in a large bowl with the water. Add salt and flour, and mix together. Batter may look a little lumpy but it should not be runny.

You will need a large pan of boiling salted water. Mom used to put the dough on a plate and cut off about three quarter inch chunks with a butter knife and drop them into the boiling water. I use a spaetzle maker. You put the dough in the top of the spaetzle maker, lay it on top of your pan of boiling water and then run the top back and forth until there is no dough left. You will most likely have to do this several times because all the dough won't fit for just one go round. It's kind of like grating the dough into the water.

When the spaetzle start to float, they are done. This takes but a minute. It's very fast. Take them out of the water with your handy dandy spider and into the pan that you didn't dare clean after you browned your carrots and onions! Keep them warm but be careful not to dry them out. Keep it on low heat and add broth if the pan gets too dry.

When the chicken is done, drain the yummy goodness of broth and drippings into a saucepan (there should be a good amount, two cups about. If you don't have that much, add more broth to it). Put through a gravy seperator first if you wish. Without putting the heat on yet, add about two Tablespoons of paprika to the sauce and then whisk in about one cup of sour cream. If you need to cut back and use a low fat sour cream, don't make this dish. It will really not be the same. I generally use Yoder's, which I believe is a regional product, but is by far the best tasting sour cream I have ever had. It's available at Marc's as well as Acme stores. But certainly use what you like.

Turn your heat on medium and when it comes to a boil, thicken with a slurry of two Tablespoons of corn starch and two Tablespoons of water (make sure you mix them together before adding to the sauce). Stir it in slowly and then turn off the heat. Your sauce should be thickened beautifully.

Serve and enjoy :)