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, November 20, 2009

Broccoli Rice Casserole Redo

I joke sometimes that I like to do everything the hard way. But it's not really a joke. The older I get, the more I prefer to do things that are not necessarily healthier, but that is often a happy coincidence. I just prefer things to be homemade. Not pseudo Sandra Lee style. So by that token it was my mission to make the classic holiday Broccoli Rice Casserole without the Cheez Whiz or Velveeta and Cream of Crap soup.

I started out as the original recipe I have starts out, by sauteing onions and celery in about half a stick of butter. I used half a large sweet onion (if you read my blog regularly you know I pretty much exclusively use whatever sweet onions are in season) and 3 ribs of celery, chopped.

After the onions are starting to get translucent, I added an 8 oz. package of mushrooms, chopped.

Be sure to season with salt and pepper as you go. Since you aren't using processed junk, you need to season more. You want to cook the onions, celery and mushrooms for a few minutes then add a 10 oz. package of frozen chopped broccoli. I don't have a problem using the frozen product here because a) the ingredients listed on the package are "broccoli" and that's it. And 2) it's all chopped and ready for you. Cook the veggies together until all the liquid comes out of the mushrooms and broccoli and evaporates from the pan. You do not want a watery casserole.

In meantime, you can be cooking your rice. I happen to really like the microwave method. The rice comes out perfect and fluffy every time. So in a microwave safe dish with a lid, add one cup of rice and 2 cups of water. Cook on high for 5 minutes then cook on medium high for another 10 minutes. Check it after this time. You may need another few minutes on medium high or you may not. When it's done, fluff it up and set aside to cool.

In another pan, we're going to make a simple bechamel sauce. Don't panic! It's really not any big deal. All you need is one quarter cup of butter and one quarter cup of flour.

On medium heat, whisk the butter and flour together as the butter melts then when completely melted and mixed, cook together, whisking the whole time, for another minute or so. It will give off a nutty aroma. I know, I know, chefs on TV say "nutty" for everything. But in this case it's really true. Then add 2 cups of milk.

Still on medium heat, keep whisking the milk mixture until it starts to thicken. Are you remembering to season? It's at this point that in addition to salt and pepper, that I added about a teaspoon of dried thyme. When the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, then you are ready to add the good stuff.

The good stuff being, not Velveeta. Not Cheez Whiz. Certainly not. The good stuff is 8 oz. of shredded cheddar cheese. Mild, sharp, or extra sharp. You chose. I go with extra sharp.

Stir until smooth. It won't take long, so as soon as it's smooth or even close to smooth, take it off the heat. In a large bowl, combine the veggies and the rice.

Then pour that delicious sauce over the whole thing and stir to combine.

Then put the whole thing in a greased 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Cover and cook at 350 for 30 minutes, then remove the cover and cook for another 10 minutes. The casserole should be browning on the sides and kind of bubbly.


Now, when I figure out how to make this without using so many pots and pans, I'll let you know!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Carolina Comes To Akron!!

Just a note to readers up front, this blog will be peppered with lots of yum's, oh my God's, and as many other euphemisms for delicious as I can come up with.

OK, with that out of the way, Nick and I were celebrating our 16th wedding anniversary this weekend and were looking for a place to go. The past three years we went LeFever's in Cuyahoga Falls. A place we loved but has now changed names and changed hands and well, even though we haven't been there since the change, it just isn't the same. Plus, times are tough and we couldn't really afford the hefty price tag a dinner at a place like LeFever's can run.

I've had several friends recommend Old Carolina Barbecue Company in Canton and in Massillon and hell, I'm always up for some good BBQ. There really isn't any nearby and going to Valley View to Hoggy's is kind of a pain. So I went on the web to find directions to Old Carolina in Canton and was quite thrilled to find that their new restaurant in Akron had opened two days before! We are so there.

Now, I'm used to a place like Hoggy's that is big and loud. I was really surprised when we pulled up to Old Carolina and found that it was a store front in a strip mall. No big deal, just a surprise.

When we walked in, the menu's were on the wall or you could have one at the counter to read.

We were immediately greeted by one of the Old Carolina partners, Tim Hug, and he walked us through Old Carolina's menu and ordering process. There are not a lot of things on the menu and we like that. Do something good and do it right. I don't need a 10 page menu. We came for BBQ and that's what we wanted. Tim told us about the four different sauces that Old Carolina offers, which are all available to try. The sauces are the Original Classic, which is a sweeter sauce (and my fave). The Piedmont, which is a tangier sauce. Original Gold, which has a richer more golden color. And Screamin Beaver, which is their hot sauce. I tried the first three and loved them all. I'd put them in this order for my taste... Original Classic, Original Gold, Piedmont.

He also told us we could see the smokers in the back (through a window) while we wait.

We put in our order, found a table, checked out the smokers and then got our drinks and our sauces. The wait was very short. Before we knew it our platters of piping hot and glorious looking BBQ was at our table. Nick ordered the Carolina which is a combination of four ribs and a generous helping of pulled pork. The meals come with two sides so Nick chose Brunswick Stew and Mac and Cheese.

I ordered the Texas which is a combination of four ribs and a very generous helping of beef brisket. My two sides were garlic mashed potatoes, which I am just a sucker for. When I see mashed on the menu, I'm inevitably getting them. I also got hush puppies.

This is a hell of a lot of food for $13.99. A hell of a lot of incredibly delicious food. I don't even know where to begin. OK, I'll start with the brisket.

Look at that stunning smoke ring. The brisket was so tender, juicy, and just the right amount of spice from the rub. I tried it as is. I tried it with all the sauces. I loved it each and every way. There was so much of it, I ate, gave some to Nick to try and brought home about 5 slices. Incidentally, it was just as good today on a sandwich for lunch.

And how about those hush puppies.

They were a little bit of a surprise. Why? Well I usually think of hush puppies as a seafood accompaniment. But they intrigued me so I decided to give them a try. As soon as Nick saw them he said, "I should have gotten the hush puppies." Not that he was disappointed in his choices, in fact he was quite happy. It's just that those little golden nuggets of happiness looked and tasted so delicious, he wished he had more than just the 3 or so of mine that I gave him. They were crispy, perfectly cooked and just a perfect textural compliment.

The garlic mashed were skin on (my fave) and lumpy (my other fave). They were full of flavor with just the right amount of garlic so as not to overpower.

And now, the ribs.

The ribs. Oh. My. God. The ribs! What can you say about ribs that are so tender and succulent they slide right off the bone? What can you say about smoky hunks of deliciousness? What can you say about a flavor that is so incredible that you don't need to add sauce to them? You can say this... more please!

Oh yes, we will be going back to Old Carolina BBQ and I highly recommend anyone in the area go there too. Old Carolina is locally owned and expanding fast. Support your local restaurants especially delicious BBQ places that come into a town with no BBQ! Get out of that stupid Olive Garden line and help out your neighbors. You will not be sorry. Old Carolina only has one dessert on the menu, Banana Pudding, but they were all out of it on Saturday night when we were there.

Tim, thanks for taking the time to talk to me and my husband on Saturday night. You're place is awesome!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloweeny Cakey Blog!

Now this is far more my style.

Several years ago I was at a garage sale and found a set of skull cake pans.

I had to have them. They were just too fun to pass up. Well they sat in a box for the next few years. But when I came up with an idea on how to ice them a few days ago, I decided to give them a try.

Because I wanted to make them edible, I decided to use my favorite chocolate cake recipe. This recipe makes two very big layers or four smaller layers. The skull pans are kind of small so I decided to make cupcakes with the leftover batter. The very cupcakes mentioned in the previous blog that hit the ground! Thank goodness it wasn't all of them though. I did keep about 10 at home, which Nick ended up taking to work. Aren't they cute!?

So, skull cakes. I used Crisco cooking spray on the pans and that was a mistake. The cakes stuck to the pan and basically were ruined.

Poor skull on the right totally had his face eaten off. The one on the left was OK... but still not great. If I had some actual talent I could have made this a zombie cake with it's face eaten off, but I really had no idea how to pull that off. And I still wanted to implement the idea I had so I baked another cake. I didn't use the original recipe though because I didn't have all the necessary ingredients now. Instead I made a mayonnaise cake because I did have all the ingredients for it. And this time I buttered and floured my cake pans. I melt the butter and brush the pans with a pastry brush, and then sprinkle the pans with flour. I'm not taking any chances for another sticking disaster!

It worked! The cakes came out of the pan perfectly and all the detail was showing. So here's my idea. I would cover the cakes with a white chocolate ganache (12 oz white chocolate, 1/2 cup of heavy cream - heat cream, pour over white chocolate, let set for 3 minutes, whisk until all the chocolate is melted, stir in Tablespoons of softened unsalted butter until smooth). While the ganache was still warm, but not hot, pour it over the cakes so it makes a glaze, covering the cakes in white chocolate.

Refrigerate and let the ganache set. Then, using a store bought black icing, because black is just too hard to make, fill in the detail. I started with the eyes.

From there I did the mouth. To do the mouth I squirted some of the icing out into a bowl and used a toothpick to fill in the teeth.

I don't have the steadiest hand, but I was honestly quite impressed that I did this well!

I contemplated not filling in the nose, but it looks a bit too much like an alien without the nose so I went ahead and did the nose too. But honestly, if you make green icing, this would be a pretty good alien.

Happy Halloween Everyone!!!! Oh and don't worry about the skull cakes that stuck to their pans. See all that ganache glaze in the bottom of the pan above? That was salvaged and gets melted down and poured over delicious hunks of chocolate cake. YUM.

Course Two Final Exam Cake - Don't Judge Me!

Onward and upward to Wilton Cake Decorating, Course Two. If I thought Course One was hard, that was a walk in the park comparatively!

Each class is an exercise in frustration, learning more and more flowers, more and more borders and working with vile buttercream. We were to make flowers each week, keep them and store them and then bring them all back to the final class to assemble our final exam cake. So first up was the chrysanthemum. That was met with absolute failure. So much so that I didn't even keep any. I kept telling myself I would make more later, but later never arrived. Rosebuds were also met with failure. Yeah, I really do suck at cake decorating.

Week two we were using royal icing which is basically just water and powdered sugar with a little meringue powder thrown in. Again, nothing I'd actually want to eat. Speaking of which, a few days ago I was watching Ina Garten on Food Network and she made a buttercream icing for her cake. Let's discuss that she did not use shortening. She did not use meringue powder. She did not use butter flavoring. Hell she didn't even use powder sugar! Nope. Ina's buttercream is made from real egg whites, sugar and water made into a simple syrup and five.... I repeat FIVE sticks of actual butter. That's a buttercream I can get on board with. But I digress...

Royal icing and color flow icing are both used in class 2. Color flow icing is basically royal icing but instead of the meringue powder you use color flow powder. What's the diff? No clue other than another way for Wilton to make more money. We started out making birds where you trace a bird design onto a board using Tip 2 to outline it then filling it in with color flow icing. I didn't take any pictures during any of the classes other than the last one, so you'll see my bird on the final cake picture.

Using Tip 101, we made Apple Blossom flowers. I actually did OK with those. That is until we had to change over to Tip 1 and put the little dots in the center. I don't mind telling this, I hate Tip 1. Tip 1 is evil. You need to be the Incredible Hulk to squeeze Royal icing out of the bag with Tip 1 on it. From Apple Blossom's we moved on to Violet's, using Tip 59 and, yep, you guessed it, that blasted evil Tip 1 reared it's ugly head again. After Violet's came the Violet Leaf using Tip 103. And that brings us to the end of Class 2. So in two hours we did birds, apple blossoms, violet's and violet leaves. That's a lot to cover in two hours.

On to Class 3 again using Royal Icing. We started out making the Victorian Rose. How it's different from a regular rose, I'm not quite sure. The technique is pretty much the same. After the rose came the daisy. After the daisy came the daffodil. After the daffodil came the pansy. After the pansy came the primrose. Seriously! All these flowers were covered in the 2 hours of class 3.

Class 4, the final exam is approaching. Now we need to bring in a cake made in the pans provided with the Course 2 kit. Knowing damn well that this cake would meet with an unfortunate demise when all was said and done, I opted for a box cake mix as I have with previous class cakes. The pans provided are oval shaped but quite frankly, the cakes came out of the oven looking like a couple of footballs. Thank goodness I have that wonderful cake leveler!

Cake... check. Leveled... check. Iced in vile buttercream.... check.

On to class armed with my cake, my flowers from previous weeks, a big bowl of craptastic buttercream and I'm ready! I'm ready to learn basketweave and put this bad boy together. And let me just say, I was in an extremely pissy mood on this particular day. Everything went wrong before I even got to class! But that's another story for the next blog. I will say however, that I decided to bring everyone a little Halloween treat and made cute spider web cupcakes with delicious chocolate cake. Upon arriving and opening my car door to retrieve everything I had to carry into class, the cupcakes hit the ground! No cupcakes for anyone :(

And because I was making a bunch of things that day, I only got one coat of icing on my cake and yes, it's all full of crumbs. I know better. I know to do two coats. I didn't have time and anyway, I was going to be loading this cake up with all kind of craptacular flowers. So in the end it didn't much matter. So here we go. Basketweave is tip 47 and I have to say, once you get a rhythm going, it moves quicker than I thought it would.

There is a specific problem that arises often in class and that is that the vile buttercream gets softer and softer from the heat of your hand as the class moves along. So while my basketweave is not perfect due to hand heat softening and my own less than stellar abilities, I'm actually pretty happy with how that part of the cake turned out. This is on half an hour of practice!

After the sides are completely weaved up, it's time to start placing flowers. There isn't really a rhyme or reason to this. Just make it look good. Hmmm.... yeah, I'll work on that. So I started placing flowers on the top.

I'm sure you've had no trouble distinguishing that the purple flowers on the sides are primose, the yellow flower is a daffodil and the purple flower in front is a daisy.

And here is the final product in all it's sucktastic glory!

I don't think Ace of Cakes or Cake Boss will be calling me any time soon.

Monday, October 26, 2009

O.M.G. Nutella Crepes!

After a morning of shopping at the Howe Meadow Farmer's Market my friend Lynn and I decided to go get some breakfast. We decided to try the Golden Goose on the corner of Broad Blvd. and State Rd. in Cuyahoga Falls.

In the seven years that I've lived in Akron, that restaurant has been several things. It was Leipply's when we first moved here, then it became Chuck and Diane's, and now it's back in the Leipply family and called the Golden Goose. And most recently they've added a bakery to the establishment.

On this particular morning we were just looking for a good cup of coffee and a something to eat. Little did I know that this German owned restaurant would be offering one of my favorite things as part of the daily specials... Nutella crepes! And I didn't even see the specials board but Lynn mentioned it while we were looking over the menu. Game over... that's what I'm having! Lynn decided to get it too. For $3.95 you get one crepe, which was perfect. One crepe with Nutella filling, strawberries and bananas on top and a little whipped cream and powdered sugar.

I have one word to describe it... heavenly! OK, two words, heavenly delicious! *sigh* It was perfect. The crepe was tasty, the filling...well come on, it's Nutella for goodness sakes! And the fruit was a perfect compliment. And the cream balanced it all out. It was not too sweet for breakfast and was just enough quantity. Perfect with a nice cup of coffee. Yum.

Remember though, if you decide to go to the Goose to give this a try, it was a special and might not always be available.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What is That? Celery Pie??

For followers of my blog, you probably already know how deeply I was affected by the loss of my Grandma a year ago. As the anniversary of her death approached, I was suddenly given a great gift by my former neighbor Joanne. A big bag of rhubarb! I know what you're saying.. rhubarb?? This time of year? Well as she explained it, she has a big patch of rhubarb in the yard at her new house and she cut it all down only to have it all grow right back! So with more rhubarb than she knew what to do with, she brought it to me.

In past years when Joanne lived right across the street from me, she had rhubarb in that yard too and she would give me tons and tons of it so I could give it to Grandma. Grandma made jam and cobbler, and pie and anything else she could think of to make with rhubarb. But now, it's up to me. Last year I made a cobbler that Nick and I both loved. But this time I decided to make pie like Grandma's.

I've gone over pie crust before, so if you need that recipe it can be found here. The recipe is either doubled or made twice because this pie has a top and a bottom crust.

You will need one pound of fresh strawberries, cleaned, hulled and cut into pieces. Basically I just cut them in half since they are a lot softer than rhubarb and will break down more when baked.

You will also need a pound of rhubarb, cleaned and sliced into about half inch pieces.

Mix the strawberries and the rhubarb together with the juice of one lemon (if it's a drier lemon, use two).

In a small bowl, mix together 3/4 cup of granulated sugar, 1/4 cup corn starch and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.

After you get your bottom crust in the pie plate, sprinkle about 2 Tablespoons of the sugar mixture on the bottom of the crust.

Then mix the rest in with the strawberries and rhubarb.

Pour the whole mixture into the pie crust. Dot the top with little pieces of butter. About 2 Tablespoons total. All you do is take little pieces of that butter and scatter them around the top of the fruit. You don't have to do this, but hey why not!? Everything is betta wit butta.

Now lay the second crust on top. You're going to have to vent the pie on top so steam can escape so if you want to be decorative, do that before you put the crust on top of the pie. I used a little star cookie cutter to make my vent.

As you can see, my fluting of the edges ability has not improved.

Brush the top crust with cream or milk and then sprinkle with sugar. Now this is imperative. Place the pie on a cookie sheet. DO NOT FORGET THIS STEP or you will have strawberry rhubarb molten lava in your stove.

Place the pie on the sheet in a preheated 400 degree oven. Bake for 30 minutes. If after 30 minutes the crust is getting too brown, then cover the edges with foil. Bake another 15 minutes. I didn't have a "too brown" issue with mine. It baked just fine. In fact, I ended up leaving it in probably for more like an hour total.

Maybe it sounds corny but I felt Grandma with me when I was baking that pie. All the years she tried to get me to eat hers and I was ascared of rhubarb. I have no idea why. But now, Nick and I love it. The pie came out perfect!

Can you see why we call it Celery Pie? =)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

For the Love of Grey Salt

Admittedly, I'm not a big salter. I've really never been into adding extra salt to anything and I am very careful about how much added salt I put in the food I make. I really hate iodized salt, you know that stuff in the cylindrical blue container? I'm OK on kosher salt though. I use it as my go to salt. But when I feel a bit naughty, it's all about the grey salt.

I've only ever bought a special salt once. Well and I didn't even buy the one I was supposed to buy. I saw someone make a cake on Martha that was a salted chocolate cake. Now, I'm a big proponent of the chocolate/salt combo and this sounded really good to me. The recipe called for Fleur de sel. Have you ever bought this? Well, it's about $18 for an ounce or so. Needless to say, I didn't buy it when I saw how much it was. I did make the cake and salt or not, I wasn't real crazy about it. It sounded better on paper. Don't get me wrong, I did buy a fancy French salt for the cake. It just didn't blow me away.

At any rate, being the food show watcher that I am, I noticed that Michael Chiarello exclusively uses grey salt. I got to wondering what the big deal about it was and why he liked it so much. So I did a little research (and if you know more about it, by all means, do tell!) and found that grey salt is also called sel gris or Celtic salt. Celtic salt refers to naturally moist salts harvested from Atlantic seawater off the coast of Brittany, France. It is rich in mineral content, are hand harvested using the Celtic method (thus the name) of wooden rakes allowing no metal to touch the salt. They can be available from very course to very fine. Mine is course.

So, on one of my trips to Penzey's, I saw that they sell French grey salt in manageable, affordable quantities so I decided to give it a try.

Inevitably I find that if I put grey salt in something I have made, Nick will comment and ask what I did differently (in a good way). He's so used to my limited salting that I usually don't even tell him "it's the salt!" and just brag about my culinary expertise and thank him for the compliments.

I find that a little goes a long way. The course texture has a nice hand feel and it's a little moist which I found off putting at first, but now I rather like that feel.

If you haven't tried it, I highly recommend you give it a try. Turns out Michael Chiarello knew what he was talking about.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Patty Pan is not Peter's Sister

Having gone to several farmer's markets this season, I got to wondering about the pattypan squash. I've seen them big and I've seen them small and all of them look like flying saucers.

So you can see the one I bought it kind of big. I really wasn't quite sure what to do with it. It seemed very hard, but was the flesh soft? Is it the consistency of say a butternut squash? What's the deal here!? I constantly several sources and decided I would do what I do best, make it with pasta. It's my go to.

I started out by chopping it in half and then cutting it into thin pieces.

This was a lot of squash. I actually ended up only using half of it because it looked like the whole thing would be too much. So I sauteed it in olive oil with some garlic, salt and pepper. When it started to cook, caramelizing on the edges, I added some Italian sausage that I crumbled.

Then just let it go. Let it all cook together and marry and have a good old time in your saute pan. Add some onions if you like. I have been loving the purple scallions I get at the farmer's market and add those to just about everything. They rock!

If the pan gets dry, add a little chicken stock or white wine. And remember to scrape up those brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Anne Burrell of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef on Food Network often says, "brown food tastes good" and she's absolutely right. So don't waste the good stuff!

When the sausage and squash and all it's goodness are looking done, add some cooked linguine or whatever pasta you like and get ready for deliciousness!

Top with Parmesan or Romano for extra added yummies!