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, July 24, 2009

The 4th Annual National Hamburger Festival!

Nick and I look forward to Hamburger Festival weekend all summer. And not just for the Barney Fife impersonator. Seriously, they have a guy who impersonates Barney Fife there every year. I didn't get my picture taken with him this year, but I have in the past. Here's the proof. This was the 1st Hamburger Festival back in August of 2006:

So anyway, no I didn't hang out with Barney this year. Instead Nick and I met up with my new friend and fellow Akron area food blogger, Tom from Exploring Food My Way. Armed with black shirts, red hair (his very real, mine not so much) and cell phones, we found each other quite easily in the big crowd and very quickly started to scope out what we wanted to sample first. We had a little time before the Best Amateur Burger contest was to start, so Tom decided to try Midway Oh Boy Burger from Elyria, Ohio. As sweet as can be, he opted for 3 small sliders so we could each try one. Well Nick took one look at it and declined. I tried it though, as did Tom. The burger was all mayonnaise. Really, it was dripping in it and I actually like my mayo. But it was too much. It overpowered anything else that was on the burger. In fact, other than a very thin, oddly textured burger patty, I have no idea what else was even on the burger other than the mayo.

My first purchase was Metro Burger.

I've heard good, I've heard neutral about Metro Burger. It's so close to where we live and we've yet to try it, which is just plain wrong. So I knew going in that I was definitely going to try them. I decided on the half a cheeseburger.

In the words of Jules Winnfield of the great movie Pulp Fiction, that is a tasty burger! The meat was moist and flavorful, the toppings were fresh, the pickles were crisp. I added the ketchup and mustard myself. I was very happy with this burger, which only drove home the fact that we need to make a trip to the actual restaurant very soon!

Nick wasn't quite ready to delve into burgerness just yet so he opted to get some of Metro Burger's freshly made potato chips.

Delish! There is just something about a freshly made potato chip that cannot be beat. They are never overly salty and rarely ever too greasy. At least not the ones I've had. Maybe I'm just lucky, but those two facts send me to freshly made potato chip stands like a beacon!

So with a nice little taste of a burger and chips, we headed to the tents to watch the competition. Basically the competitors had been cooking already and they were just to present their creations to the four judges. There were two categories, traditional (meaning beef) and non-traditional (meaning anything but beef). Brad from Canal Fulton, Ohio won the beef burger category with a burger that had a combination of jalapenos, hot sauce and was topped with fontina cheese. Victoria of Silver Lake won the non beef category with a salmon and shrimp burger that drew on Asian flavors and was topped with guacamole.

Now, it's time to get back down to business... eating more burgers! Once I saw the menu for Crave, I knew I was getting a burger there. I had to, it said Muffaletta Burger! There was no way I was passing that up.

The burger was whole, not half, but it was a smaller version. Basically you buy tickets at $1 each and then you pay vendors with tickets. Half burgers were 3 tickets, whole were between 5 and 6 tickets. This burger was 3 tickets. I think Tom got his second burger there too, but I can't remember which one. What can I say about the Muffaletta Burger other than YUM! I loved this burger. The meat itself was juicy and delicious, on top of the burger was a chopped olive salad and then the smoked mozzarella was melted over it to keep it in place and then a slice of grilled salami was put on top of the cheese, with Italian mayo (whatever that might be) on the top of the bun.

It was, in a word, incredible and you can bet your ass I'm going to try and recreate it! The people at Crave really paid attention to details and it showed. The salami didn't overpower. In fact, nothing overpowered. It was a perfect marriage of flavors coming together. I honestly can't say enough about it. It was amazing!

It was here we parted company with Tom. Check his blog out, his Hamburger Festival review is coming soon! Nick was still undecided but finally settled on the Steel Trolley Diner from Lisbon, Ohio. Truth be told, he saw someone walking by with a great looking burger, asked them where it was and made a beeline to the stand.

I don't remember exactly what the burger was called, but it had barbecue sauce on it, grilled onions and shredded cheddar cheese. Nick opted for the whole burger since he didn't partake in any before we sent to watch the competition.

Your eyes are not deceiving you. This burger was HUGE. And extremely messy. It was served with a plastic knife sticking out of the top. Good thing too, this burger was begging to be cut in half.

I gave it a try, after pushing the onions off to the side. It's not that I don't like onions. In fact, I like them very much. They just don't like me unless they are thoroughly cooked. These were definitely only partially cooked. I try keep my distance if they aren't completely cooked. But sometimes I just have to take one for the team too... like when I'm at Hoggy's and can't resist their insanely good onion rings. But I digress. So, other than the slop factor, Nick liked this burger a lot.

We decided that we would get some dessert with our remaining tickets and weren't exactly sure what we wanted. They had gelato, chocolate covered cheesecake on a stick, funnel cakes, waffle ice cream sandwiches as well as other yummy treats. Of all things we decided on a cheesecake funnel cake with blueberry topping. It's your basic funnel cake but then it has a cheesecake topping on it and on top of that, blueberry fruit topping.

We weren't disappointed! We were covered in powdered sugar by the end of it though. That's just how it is when you eat a funnel cake. It looks like it just snowed all over you. And it was a festival, so funnel cakes are mandatory.

So that's another year at the National Hamburger Festival in Akron, Ohio. I'm already looking forward to next year!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

This Blog is Not for Diane!!

Don't read it Diane! I'm warning you right now. The pictures alone will probably make you woozy. My friend Diane, for those who don't know her, has as big an aversion to bananas as I do to oranges. For everyone else, this Banana Bread is A.Maze.Ing! Probably the best I've ever made or had.

Start out by taking a non-stick loaf pan. Butter and flour the bottom and sides well. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Banana bread is one of those things I make when I have overripe bananas. (Look away Diane!)

I happen to have had four of them. The recipe (which I believe is from Cook's Illustrated) calls for three bananas, but using four only made it better in my opinion. So take your bananas, peel and then mash them up well.

Leave them a little lumpy though. You don't want them smooth or you might as well just use baby food! To the bananas, add 2 eggs (beaten), 6 Tablespoons of melted butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/4 cup of buttermilk.

In another bowl, mix your dry ingredients: 2 cups of all purpose flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts (Nick's crazy for nuts so I often add more, this being no exception. I probably used 3/4 cup or even more), 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Pour your wet ingredients into your dry ingredients and gently fold the mixture until the flour is thoroughly moistened.

Then pour the mixture into your prepared loaf pan.

Bake for 45-50 minutes.


Now, in the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that I got the whole thing into the loaf pan and had forgotten to add the eggs. How did I do such a thing? Well I blame Madonna. No not the singer. My friend Madonna happened to call me while I was making the bread and I lost track of the ingredients. Luckily for me, after putting it in the loaf pan I looked down at the recipe and realized I did not add the eggs. So I took it out of the loaf pan, back into the bowl and mixed in the eggs. The bread was no worse for the wear!

This bread is really moist and delicious. I think though, if I were to change anything it would be to add some nutmeg. Otherwise, I wouldn't change a thing!

Ingredient List:

2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, beaten
6 Tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup buttermilk (or plain yogurt)
3 ripe bananas, mashed

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thank You Jane Snow!!!

I have to admit, as a big potato-aholic, I don't really love potato salad. It generally seems like some over cooked potatoes in mayonnaise. Nothing special. I don't even try to make my own because I had a ho hum attitude about it. That was until I read about Jane Snow's Potato Salad with Lemon Herb Dressing in her newsletter. If you don't subscribe to this newsletter, what the heck are you waiting for? Sign up now!

The recipe intrigued me so I decided to give it a try. Oh. My. God. This is the best potato salad ever! I didn't follow the recipe to the letter, mainly because I didn't have everything on hand. But I did a pretty damn yummy version of it, if I do say so myself.

Start out with a good firm potato. I used a type I had on hand called Klondike Rose. They are firm red skin potato with a golden interior. They are pretty excellent potatoes. The recipe calls for eight pounds of potatoes, but since there is only two of us, I decided to go a little smaller and made about five pounds. I should have made the full eight. I peeled them and cut them into bite size pieces. A little bigger than bite size actually. Then boiled them so that they were still firm but thoroughly cooked.

The dressing should go on the potatoes while they are still warm, but not hot. So after draining them, put them in a large bowl and make that dressing. You will need lots of fresh herbs! The recipe calls for sprig of rosemary, several sprigs of thyme, about six basil leaves, about five mint leaves and a small handful of chives. I used a sprig of rosemary, a few sprigs of thyme, some basil, mint and parsley.

In a food processor (or as I used, a mini chopper), place two cloves of garlic and your washed and stemmed herbs to the garlic and process until fine (I used a shallot instead, since I had them). Add one Tablespoon of lemon juice. Since I really love lemon in most anything, I used the juice of one whole lemon. It could end up being about a Tablespoon or more, depending on the size and juiciness of the lemon you're using.

Now the recipe calls for about a quarter of a cup of Parmesan cheese. I actually didn't use this and I had it on hand! I forgot to put it in. It also calls for a Tablespoon of pine nuts to be added to the food processor. I can't afford pine nuts ever, so I left this out. But I did add the 1/2 teaspoon of salt (grey, because I love it!) and the 1/2 cup of olive oil. This should be processed together until the mixture is pureed. Then add 1/2 cup of mayonnaise and process until mixed.

Pour over warm potatoes and gently fold.

Add 1/2 cup of chopped, toasted walnuts and mix well.

Chill for at least an hour before serving. It's insanely good! If there was one thing that could maybe improve on it, I'd say that one thing is bacon!



• 8 medium potatoes (fist-sized)
• 1/2 cup chopped red onion
• 2 cloves garlic
• 6 fresh basil leaves
• 6 fresh rosemary needles
• Sprig of fresh thyme
• 4 or 5 large mint leaves
• Small handful of chives
• 2 1-inch cubes of fresh Parmesan cheese (or about 1/4 cup fresh grated)
• 1 tbsp.fresh lemon juice
• 1/2 tsp.salt
• 1/2 cup best-quality olive oil
• 1tbsp.pine nuts
• 1/2 cup mayonnaise
• Coarse sea salt to taste
• 1/2 cup toasted walnut pieces

Scrub potatoes and boil in water to cover until tender enough to pierce easily with a fork. Drain. When cool enough to handle, peel, cut in halves and cut the halves into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place in a bowl with the red onion.

While potatoes cook, peel garlic and drop through the tube of a food processor while the motor is running. Add fresh herbs, then Parmesan and process until ingredients are minced fine. Add lemon juice, salt, olive oil and pine nuts and puree. Remove processor lid, add mayonnaise and process until mixed.Pour dressing over warm potato slices and gently fold. There will be too much dressing at first, but the potatoes will eventually absorb it. Season to taste with sea salt.

Cover and chill for at least an hour before serving. Stir in toasted walnut pieces just before serving. Serve chilled or at room temperature, garnished with snipped chives if desired. Makes 4 servings.

And Still Another Foccacia Bread

I've written about foccacia bread before. Several times. And now, I have another. A real crowd pleaser I might add. I always said that nothing could top the Rosemary Garlic Foccacia, but I'm not so sure about that anymore. Shallot Thyme Foccacia is pretty darn yummy. I start out by roasting the shallots. It's really the same process as roasting garlic. I cut off the tops and the bottoms of the each shallot (I use about 6-8 shallots for this recipe), place them on two sheets of foil and then drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the shallots up and place in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes. When they come out, they look like this and smell insanely divine!

I'm not going to go through the whole bread recipe again, since it's already on here twice. You can get the ins and outs of making the bread down at here or here. We'll just fast forward to the dough being ready to be baked.

Take your shallots and chop them up rather fine. Then take a good bunch of fresh thyme and add it to the shallots. You'll need to take the leaves off the stems. It's a little tedious, but I find herb aroma rather soothing so it doesn't bother me to strip these stems of their lovely little leaves.

To the shallots and thyme, add about a teaspoon of salt and about a quarter cup of olive oil. Mix well and then spread the mixture over the top of the bread. Then bake at 400 for about 20 minutes. The edges should be just starting to brown a little and the top will be golden.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Impromtu Manicotti

Manicotti normally wouldn't really be an impromptu meal, but I had some sauce in the freezer so suddenly it becomes a lot easier and faster to make. And as I've said before, I've been known to get a bee in my bonnet about things and lately the urge to make manicotti started buzzing in my head.

I decided to make spinach/ricotta manicotti. I already had the frozen spinach so all I really needed to buy was ricotta and the manicotti shells themselves. While I waited for the big pot of water to boil, I went ahead and defrosted the spinach in the microwave. Once that is done, make sure you drain it well. I either squeeze it out with my hands or put it in a few layers of paper towels in a ball, then squeeze the ball of spinach between the paper towels. Either way, you want it to not be watery at all. When that is done, put the spinach in a medium sized bowl and add your seasonings.... salt, pepper, red pepper flakes if you want. On this particular day I happen to have a huge bundle of fresh oregano from a friends garden, so I added that to mine.

Then add your one pound of ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and one beaten egg. Stir well.

When the manicotti shells are very al dente, as in about only half cooked, take them out of the water and run under cold water so they stop cooking and they are easier to handle.

Take a 9 x 13 baking dish and put a good layer of sauce down on the bottom.

Coming off my cake decorating class high, I decided to use a pastry bag to fill the manicotti shells. I put quite a bit in the disposable bag and then cut a good sized hole in the tip. The hole needs to be a little bigger than you would normally make for icing a cake since you don't want spinach to get stuck in the bag. And if you don't have pastry bags, disposable or otherwise, you can always use a good sized plastic food storage bag. Just put the filling in, squeeze it to one side of the back then cut a hole in. Easy peasy :)

This made quick work of filling the shells so as each was filled, I lined them up in the pan in one layer. There was room for all of them in the pan.

Cover with more sauce... use more than you think you need. This is why we cooked the shells only half way. The sauce will cook them the rest of the way. Then top with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 45 minutes at 350. When you remove them from the oven the sauce is soaked in and they are bubble and gooey and oh so yummy!

You can certainly add mozzarella to the top. That will just add even more cheese goodness!

Eat your hearts out!