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!