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 :)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lentil Soup

It's a great day for soup. A great week for soup. A great month for soup. I actually made the soup yesterday but thankfully there are leftovers because we sure do need it today! The snow has been coming down non stop and the plows have not come down our street. So yeah, Nick got stuck. Unfortunately he didn't get stuck on our street, he got stuck on another side street. He claimed it was about four blocks away. He was wrong! It was about 10 blocks away. As we trudged through the snow covered streets, shovels in hand to dig him out, all I could think about was coming home and having a bowl of soup. I was all set to make that damn pasta tonight, but alas, those plans have changed!

Start with a half of a large sweet onion, chopped.

Saute it in a large pot in about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil. When they start to turn translucent, add a Tablespoon of oregano and one pound of rinsed brown lentils. Saute them together for a few minutes.

Then add six cups of liquid. This could be water with an appropriate amount of instant chicken base added, or chicken broth or stock. You can add four cups of broth and 2 cups of water. However you want to do it, just get six cups of liquid in the pot. And then be careful about how you salt this. If you're using canned or boxed broth, add only a small amount of salt (if any really). If it's water and chicken base, again, very little if any. If it's your own broth, the you know how much salt you have in it and add accordingly. Cook the lentil mixture in the liquid for about 30 minutes. Then add your other vegetables. Carrots, celery, parsnips, whatever you want. I added carrots and parsnips, cut into big chunks.

Cook all this together for another half an hour. Then add your sausage. I used the Slovene that we bought at Al's Quality Market. The sausage you use should be already cooked. So if you want to use fresh sausage, cook it first. The Slovene his mild and a little smoky. It was perfect for this soup. Any mild smoked sausage would do. Or any hot smoked sausage for that matter.

You really only need to cook it another 10-15 minutes after the sausage is added. That's just enough time for the sausage to heat up and release it's flavor into the soup. It changes the whole dish, in a really really good way.

BLT Pasta!

For Christmas this past year, some dear friends of ours gave us a gift certificate to Al's Quality Market in Barberton, Ohio. And what a gift it is! Nick and I went there and loaded up. We got Italian sausage, Hungarian sausage, bratwurst, Slovene, Slovak, and peppered bacon. Then I saw it... Hungarian Paprika bacon.

It looked so good even though I had no idea what I was going to make with it. Then I heard this little voice in my head say, "If you buy it, the recipe will come." Never one to ignore the little voices in my head, I bought it! My friend Madonna suggested using it in my Chicken Paprikash for an added level of flavor. A very good idea. But then, if you can believe it, two days later I got a free promo issue of the magazine Cuisine at Home. I get these sometimes. A random food magazine that the publisher wants you to subscribe to so they send you a freebie. Paging through the magazine, I came across BLT Pasta. That little voice in my head did not lie!

After making sure I had all, or at least most, of the ingredients, I got to work. I decided to spread the bacon out on a rack and bake it in the oven. There is significantly less stove top mess this way and the bacon remains straight, not all curled up. Not that it matters, but it does look prettier.

I baked it a 350 for about 20 minutes then checked back every 5 minutes to see if it had the desired crispness I wanted. Now check out this picture (click photo to enlarge), this is the bacon after it was done. This is what I call food porn.

I tasted it and had a foodgasm! Oh my, it's incredible. I could have just sat down and ate the whole tray with nothing else. But I was on a mission. I had to make this pasta dish. So first you put a little olive oil in a skillet and some finally minced garlic. Then add about a cup of bread crumbs, and brown lightly. This will be the topping to the pasta. When that's done, set it aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt the water and add your pasta. This recipe calls for long pasta, so I used my favorite kind, linguine.

In a skillet with a little olive oil (about 2 Tablespoons), saute a cup of grape tomatoes, halved. The recipe calls for caramelizing the tomatoes with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, but I really hate sugar in any tomato dish so I skipped that step. Actually the recipe wants you to cook your bacon in this skillet then saute your tomatoes in the bacon drippings. That probably would have been pretty darn tasty but my way did save a bit of the added fat calories. So cook the tomatoes until they just start to brown then add a chopped (and cleaned) leek. Saute them together for a few minutes then add 1/4 cup of white wine to deglaze the pan. Let the wine almost completely cook down, then add 1/2 cup of chicken broth and cook for about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of spinach, some thyme and your chopped cooked bacon.

Add your cooked pasta and toss to combine. To serve, put a generous serving of pasta in a pasta bowl and top with the reserved bread crumb mixture. And enjoy!

BLT Pasta
c/o Cuisine at Home
  • 2 strips thick-sliced bacon, diced - ( I used 8 slices!)
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup leeks, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 4 oz dry bucatini or spaghetti
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves
  • 1/4 tsp minced fresh thyme (or a pinch of dry thyme)
  • For garlic bread crumbs:
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 cup French bread, cubed (about one 1/2 inch thick slice)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • salt to taste

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
  2. Mince the garlic for the bread crumbs in a food processor, add the cubed bread, and process until coarse.
  3. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium: add crumbs and toast until golden, 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Season with salt and set aside.
  4. Saute the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat.
  5. Cook until crisp, then drain on paper-towel. Pour off all but 1 T. drippings.
  6. Caramelize the tomatoes and sugar in the drippings over medium heat.
  7. Cook until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.
  8. Add the leeks, saute until wilted, 3-4 minutes.
  9. Deglaze with wine; simmer until liquid is nearly evaporated.
  10. Add the broth, vinegar, and pepper flakes and simmer until reduced by 1/3, about 5 minutes.
  11. Cook the pasta in boiling water according to package directions.
  12. Add the spinach, thyme, and bacon pieces to the sauce.
  13. Transfer the cooked pasta from the pot to the pan using tongs.
  14. Toss to coat.
  15. Season with salt, then transfer to large serving platter or individual plates.
  16. Sprinkle with garlic bread crumbs before serving.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Meatloaf, My Way.

When I was a kid, my mom made meatloaf rather regularly. My dad is what you might call a connoisseur of meatloaf. He orders it out more than anyone I have ever known. He loves it. In fact, if you ever are hanging out with my dad, ask him about the meatloaf at Dan Marino's restaurant. He loves to tell that story! But me, I'm not such a big fan of meatloaf. At least, not the typical way my mom used make it with onions, carrots and ketchup. So when I was out on my own I decided that I would make meatloaf with flavors that I like.

I start with onions and garlic, chopped and sauteed in a little olive oil. I find that sauteing first gives the onions and garlic a better flavor than putting them in the meatloaf raw.

I generally use ground turkey for my meatloaf with a few links of turkey Italian sausage thrown in (squeezed out of the casings), but you can use ground beef. I think adding the sausage gives it a little firmer texture and a nice flavor. Hmmm... my meat picture looks a little obscene!

To the meat, I add about 1/3 cup seasoned bread crumbs (do not use Panko in this, it changes the texture and not in a good way), one egg, the sauteed onions and garlic, two Tablespoons of dried parsley or fresh if you've got it. And one Tablespoon Italian seasoning. Then I add about 1/4 cup of Dijon. Now, I use the mild Hellman's Dijonnaise. If you're using straight up Dijon mustard, I would probably go with less since it's a bit stronger in flavor.

After mixing it all together, and use your hands, a spoon just isn't going to do the job right, plop the whole thing into a loaf pan and shape to fit. Then sprinkle the top with more bread crumbs. I think Panko would be OK here.

Bake for at least 45 minutes. The top should be browned nicely and the sides pulling away from the pan. Let sit for about 5-10 minutes before you slice it. It's great with any side dishes. My darling husband does not like mashed potatoes (can you believe that!?) so I don't make them often. Today we had it with mixed vegetables and pierogi.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Turkey Casserole

Seriously? It's really been since November 20 since I posted a blog?? I can't believe it. Time really does fly. So allow me to apologize for staying away so long, and apologize in advance for the photos that go with this blog. I was just sizing them and noticed how incredibly dark they are. I realized that I had adjusted my flash so my Christmas tree photos with the lights on would be darker, and show the lights more. And apparently I forgot to change it back. I fixed them as best I could. The final product pictures actually turned out OK. It's the rest that are bit dark and weird looking.

So without further ado, this is a casserole I made with leftover turkey from Thanksgiving (actually a week or so after Thanksgiving when I had another dinner). If you shy away from butter, then read no further. This recipe is chock full of it. Everything is betta with butta.

First of all you want to make a pound of pasta or egg noodles. I used rotini pasta for this. At the same time, in the same pot with the pasta, cook a bag of a frozen vegetable medley. I used carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. You will also need about 2 cups of chopped/cubed cold leftover turkey. No bones please.

You will also need about a cup and a half of shredded cheese. I used cheddar.

I'm working from memory here, because like the dork I am, I didn't write down what I was doing. Shame too, because this casserole was really delicious! First you start with a classic white sauce, 1 stick of butter and 1/2 cup of flour in a large pot on medium heat. Cook them together until it's just starting to change color. Don't let it brown though. It should be a golden tan color.

Slowly add 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of chicken broth and stir until it starts to thicken. Stir in about a teaspoon of salt, pepper to taste and about a teaspoon of dried thyme. Then add in your cheese. You can turn the heat off at this point, the cheese will melt from the heat of the sauce.

Add the rest of your ingredients to the pot... pasta, veggies, and turkey. Stir to coat in the sauce.

Pour the whole mixture into a buttered (OK, you can use cooking spray here) casserole dish and top with bread crumbs and if you're feeling like you want to go for it, dot the top with more butter.

Everything is already cooked so it doesn't have to stay in the oven very long but bake it at 350 for about 30-40 minutes. Check and make sure the top is browning and the casserole is bubbly.

This really was delish! So much better than anything you can make with cream of whatever soup! Serve with a salad or some crusty bread or heck, why not both? And enjoy!