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, April 28, 2009

Kalamata Olive Foccacia!

Now we're talkin my language! I love foccacia bread. Garlic and rosemary is my favorite. I've made variations before but I'm always looking for another. I don't know why, because no matter what I put on it, not matter how much I love those ingredients, it still doesn't get better than garlic/rosemary in my book. But I continue to experiment. Hey that's what cooking is all about though right? I knew I wanted to try the bread with kalamata olives. Seriously, how good does that sound?? Kalamata olive foccacia bread. Well damn, it sounds awesome to me!

But what else should go with it? This was my dilemma. I wanted to make sure the olives were highlighted. No other strong flavors. So no rosemary this time. I googled and found that some recipes for olive foccacia had sundried tomatoes as well. No. That wasn't going to work for me. I love them, but they are also a strong flavor. Sundried tomato foccacia would be for another day.

I decided on garlic and then after consulting with my foodie guru Madonna to see what she would pair with garlic and olives. I was thinking an herb, but her suggestion was lemon. Interesting! I decided to give it a go.

First things first. Roast the garlic. I always roast my garlic for foccacia now because the first time I made it, it called for chopped garlic on top and it all burned. Burned garlic is not yummy. So cut the top of a head of garlic. Place it on several layers of aluminum foil and then drizzle with olive oil.

Wrap the garlic up and place in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes. When it's done, remove and let cool.

Now we need to get started on the bread. This bread recipe takes time, so make sure you have a lot of it before you start. Attach the dough hook to your Kitchen Aid mixer. If you don't have one, poor you! Start by making a sponge, which is just another way of saying a dough starter. It consists of yeast, warm water and flour, mixed together with the dough hook on your mixer. The sponge needs to rise for one hour (place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic and then a towel). When it's risen it pretty much looks like a sponge, thus the name.

Before the sponge is done rising, make the actual dough. Again, yeast, warm water, flour, but to the dough you also add some olive oil and salt.

Get the dough well mixed and then add the sponge to the mixer and mix together. When the dough cleans the mixing bowl all by itself, it's perfect. You may have to add more flour to get to this point. I needed to add flour several times yesterday because it was so humid out.

By the way, aren't my mixer action shots cool?

The dough and sponge come together as one and then need to rise as one. You can knead a little before you set it to rise, but with the Kitchen Aid doing all the work for you, you really don't need to knead. Again, place the dough in a oiled boil, wrap with plastic wrap and then cover with a towel. Set it aside to rise for about an hour, or until it's doubled in size.

Once it's risen, spread the dough out on sheet pan, cover with plastic and a towel again and let rise a third time. I said it takes time, but it's worth the efforts so quit complaining! The third rise should only take about 30 - 40 minutes. In the meantime, get your toppings ready. Your garlic should be cool enough to handle by now so squeeze all those lovely little cloves out and into a bowl.

Add about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Then add the zest of one lemon.

With a fork, mash the garlic with the oil and the zest so it resembles a paste. Normally I would add salt here, but since I'm using olives I decided not to. Which leads me to the star of our show, the olives! I bought pitted kalamata's, but you can buy them unpitted and pit them yourself. Then give them a rough chop.

When the dough is done rising, with two clean hands, make dimples in the dough. Don't be shy! Dimple that dough all over!!!

Then take the topping and dump it on the dough, then spread it out evenly with a knife, a spreader, or a brush. I use a brush because I want to make sure that the dough gets a nice shine of olive oil all over it.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Check it and make sure it's browning lightly on the bottom and very lightly on the top. You do not want to overcook it or burn any of the yummy toppings.

It's delish! I still think it could use a fresh herb though. Maybe thyme? I'm not sure. I'll continue to experiment though.

(Full bread recipe can be found here)

Baked Pasta with Spinach, Ricotta and Proscuitto

I've been holding onto this recipe for awhile, trying to decide if I wanted to make it. It sounds good and all, but I'm honestly not that crazy about cooked spinach. I love it raw in salads, but cooked, eh, not so much. But I decided to give it ago. It's a Martha recipe and if you've been reading my blog for awhile you know I run hot and cold with her recipes. Sometimes they're great, sometimes they suck. This one I'd put in between. That could be my own doing though because I do try to reduce the amount of fat that goes into my food (sometimes... don't look at pepperoni pizza meatloaf for an example of cutting calories! lol)

Start by cooking a pound of gemelli pasta. I'm sure you can use a different shape but this is what the recipe calls for, I already love the shape and I found it to be perfect for this recipe. Cook just a little less than al dente. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven. While the pasta is cooking, mix together 2 cups of ricotta cheese, 2 cups of milk, 1 (or 2, or 5) cloves of garlic chopped, about 5 - 6 slices of very thin proscuitto sliced into pieces, 2 boxes of chopped frozen spinach (thawed and then as much moisture squeezed out as possible) and salt and pepper.

Once the pasta is done, toss with the ricotta mixture and put in the 9 x 13 baking dish. Top with a little more proscuitto and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

It really is a very simple dish and I guess if you use whole milk ricotta and whole milk, plus the best (read EXPENSIVE) proscuitto, it might be a bit tastier. As it was, I found it a little bland. I wonder if the addition of kalamata olives would help. I've been thinking that would add another nice level of flavor to it.

All in all, this was not something I would make again unless I change a lot of it. Live and learn!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Grandma's Easter Bread

Pull up a chair, this one is going to take awhile. This was my families first Easter without my Grandma. The reality of it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I don't know why I didn't think it would be hard. I miss her so much. I can hardly talk about her with anyone without crying, even now. But Christmas came and went and while there was some emotional moments, it didn't compare to how much more emotional I got as Easter approached. Maybe it's because I decided this year I would make the traditional Easter bread that she made every year. I promised her that I would keep her traditions going and I would never break that promise. It was important to her and it's important to me.

After she passed away, there were several things that she wanted me to have, that I retrieved from her house. Her very old Kitchen Aid mixer, the notebooks that Grandma kept her recipes in and a newer item, her kitchen scale. They are just regular notebooks that she either wrote recipes in or if she found a recipe she liked, she would glue it into the notebook. There are four of them.

Somewhere in these notebooks is the recipe for the Easter bread. She called it, in her Sicilian dialect, (and phonetically spelled because I have no idea how it would really be spelled), bahs do dee. I've searched online for any reference to anything close to this term, but came up blank. And while it is technically bread, we always called them cookies because Grandma made each family member their own individual bread and it looked more like a cookie.

Here's a picture of my Grandfather in April of 1960, showing all the bread/cookies that my Grandma had made that year to pass out to friends and family.

And here is a picture of our Easter table, 1971. If you click the picture to enlarge, you can actually see that each place setting has a cookie on it's plate. This is how it was every year that Grandma cooked Easter brunch.

So I began to search for the recipe in her notebooks. I found it, about five or six different times, with different measurements. All of them HUGE!

Then again, she made an enormous amount of these cookies every year so of course the measurements would be huge. When I told my mom about these large recipes she said she had one that was scaled down some and she would just give me her recipe. So I took it, and didn't bother to look at it when she handed it to me. When I got it home and actually did look at it, the recipe still was huge, calling for 2 lbs of sugar and a whopping 15 pounds of flour! Clearly the recipe had to be cut down some more. Nick did that, cutting it in half. That still left me with 7 and a half pounds of flour! But I decided to just go for it.

So you start by dissolving three packages of yeast (I buy yeast in bulk, so I used three Tablespoons, probably should have used teaspoons!) in one half cup of warm water.

While the yeast is proofing, scald one quart of milk. Turn off the heat and add one pound of lard and 1/2 stick of margarine to the milk.

Lard. Not shortening. Not butter. But real old fashioned, it comes from rendered pig fat, lard. This was the first time I ever purchased honest to goodness lard.

Gross isn't it? And let me tell you, the smell is really interesting. Because it smells like pork. So while I'm stirring my pot of milk, margarine and lard, the aroma is all pork roast. Freaky!

Once the lard is all melted add 12 lightly beaten eggs.

Then two pounds of sugar and mix well. Add the yeast mixture and 1/3 cup of anise seed.

Now it's time to add the dry ingredients. Four Tablespoons of baking powder, two Tablespoons of salt and (hold onto your hats) the previously mentioned seven and a half pounds of flour!

Needless to say, this is far too much dough for a Kitchen Aid (even two Kitchen Aids as I have now). A regular old mixing bowl isn't going to cut it either. I had to use my biggest stock pot because it's the biggest thing I own that I could mix this much dough in.

And I couldn't use a wooden spoon because it would have broken from the weight of the dough. So I did it how Grandma always did, and put my hands in there and got busy! And I used another one of her tricks. I put the pot of dough on one of my dining room chairs while I mixed it. She was really short and the big bowl on the counter was too difficult for her to mix. Well I'm not giant either, so I tried it this way and it worked out perfectly! And hand mixing worked great! The dough mixed together beautifully and evenly. Once it's all mixed, let the dough rest for 30 minutes with a damp towel over the top to keep it from drying out.

And now the fun part. Time to shape the bread into the classic twist with the dyed egg in the middle. I had dyed my eggs the day before. I did it the same way Grandma does, raw. Since you put the egg in the bread, if you boiled them first, they get overcooked and not very edible. But putting them in the dough raw lets them bake in the oven along with the bread.

You may recall that I said I probably should have used only two Tablespoons of yeast. This is why....

The bread puffed up so big in the oven on the first batch that they looked more like cloven hooves then bread! And then I was really sad to see that the egg dye had run onto the bread itself.

My mom assured me that this always happened to Grandma too, so I didn't feel so bad after that. If it happened the expert too, then it's OK!

I shaped and shaped, some with eggs, some without. Some small, some big. Some huge! The dough never got smaller. The yeast in it made it keep growing and growing and I felt like I was never going to run out! So I made them bigger and bigger.

And finally, the end was near. My back was aching, my arms were sore and I still had to ice them. At least once an hour I looked up to the heavens and said, "Grandma! How on earth did you do this every year!" And a new surge of energy would go through me. All I wanted to do was make her proud and let her know I was keeping her tradition alive.

I got out my old fashioned juicer (you know, the old Pyrex kind because that's what she used) and a few lemons. With that juice and about two pounds of powdered sugar, the icing is made. It's should be thick, but not overly so. It should still run off the spoon easily.

All you do is drizzle the cookies/bread with the icing and then sprinkle with multi-colored nonpareils. Make sure you sprinkle immediately before the icing dries.

When I was a kid, my mom and I would go to Grandma's and help her make them. Grandma had them on a big table in her basement (like the black and white picture above). You do know that most Italians have two kitchens right? The main one and then the one in the basement. Anyway, they were on a white sheet on a big long table and big blobs of icing and sprinkles would dry on the sheet where the run off was. And my favorite thing to do was pick off those bits of icing and eat them. Some things never change.

And so, here they are. All done and ready to be distributed to any and all family and friends. And might I add that they came out absolutely delicious! I, on the other hand, needed to soak in a tub of Epsom salts, take a bunch of Ibuprofin and have my arms rubbed down with Ben-Gay! Here's looking to next year when I do it all over again!

Ingredient list:

1/2 cup warm water
1 lb. lard
1 quart milk
2 lbs. sugar
1 dozen eggs
4 Tablespoons baking powder
3 pkgs. yeast
2 Tablespoons salt
1/3 cup anise seed
1/2 stick margarine
7.5 lbs. flour

Monkey Bread Revisited

Last Easter I made Monkey Bread and everyone (especially Nick) went insane for it. It was really good, but it was made with canned biscuits and that kind of bothered me. I like to try and find the hard way to do something, not the easy way. I prefer things from scratch whenever possible. So as I was looking through some magazines my mom gave me, I found a from scratch recipe for Monkey Bread in an old issue of Cook's Country. I didn't even have to search one out! It just fell right into my lap.

Start out by mixing 1 cup of warmed milk, 1/3 cup of warmed water, 2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted, 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 package rapid rise yeast together.

In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour and 2 teaspoons of salt.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the milk mixture to the flour mixture.

Once the dough comes together, increase the speed to medium and mix until the dough is smooth and shiny, about 6-7 minutes.

Take the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly to form into a ball. Put the dough ball into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise in a warm dry place until the dough doubles in size. That should take about 50-60 minutes.

While the dough is rising, butter a Bundt pan and set aside. Then mix together in another bowl, 1 cup packed light brown sugar, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, and although it's not in the recipe, I added a cup of chopped walnuts.

It's time to set up a little assembly line. You will need your brown sugar mixture, a stick of melted unsalted butter and an 8 oz. block of cream cheese cut into cubes. Then, once the dough has risen, remove it from the bowl and gently pat it out into about an 8 inch square. Then using a bench scraper or a knife, cut the dough into about 64 pieces.

You don't necessarily need the same amount of cream cheese and dough. You can roll some of the dough without the cream cheese middle. Then it's like a little prize when someone gets one with a cream cheese filling.

In your buttered Bundt pan, sprinkle some of the brown sugar mixture around the bottom and sides. Then take your little dough square, place a little chunk of cream cheese in the middle.

Roll the dough into a ball.

Dip and roll in melted butter then start to line them in the Bundt pan.

The original recipe says to roll the ball in the melted butter then roll it in the brown sugar mixture. I didn't do it that way, but by all means, feel free to if you want. I prefer to line up the dough balls in the pan in one layer and then sprinkle the sugar mixture over it. Repeat this until all the dough is gone. It's less messy on your hands and has pretty much the same result.

Once you have finished all the dough, sprinkle whatever sugar/nut mixture you have left on top and then cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in the Bundt pan for about 50-60 minutes, or until the dough rises to the top of the pan.

Now it is finally time to bake! Be sure to take the plastic wrap off and put the Bundt pan on a cookie sheet to avoid a mess of cinnamon sugar in the bottom of your oven. Bake at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes or until brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and let set for 5 minutes. Then turn out onto a serving plate. Serve warm and watch it disappear!

Time to Eat More Greens

I often resolve to eat more greens. They are so good for, loaded with all the good stuff a body needs. But I don't always succeed in my quest. But sometimes I do. While shopping at Krieger's Market in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, I was looking at the many varieties of greens available and saw the most beautiful, fresh bunch of swiss chard I have ever seen.

It was vibrant green with clean white stems like it had just been picked. The bunch was huge, but I knew once it was cooked it would be just enough for Nick and I to share as a side dish. So I cleaned it, chopped it and threw it in my biggest skillet with a little olive oil, about 5 cloves of chopped garlic, a little salt, a little pepper and we're off!

If it doesn't exude enough of it's own liquid and the pan starts to get too dry, just add a little broth/stock. They don't take very long to cook. You just want them to wilt and the stems to get tender. Maybe about 15 minutes or so.

You'll notice that they will shrink down considerably. But they are delectable.