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, November 30, 2010

Lunching at One Red Door

Getting together for lunch with my friend Cindy always proves to be an exercise in delicious.  Rarely do we ever end up at a place where I think, "no way, never again" and this was no exception.  We decided on one of the newer places at First and Main in Hudson, Ohio called One Red Door

It's a really nice looking place, somewhat masculine with all the wood and brick, but really nice.

Dare I say, when we started looking at the menu, we went a little crazy!   There was so much on it we both wanted.  So for starters we settled on the Warm Marinated Olives for $4.00 (I had these at a restaurant in Philadelphia last month and went crazy for them!) and the Butternut Squash Soup for $7.00. 

Warm olives.  Who would of thunk it!   I love olives anyway, and they aren't much different tasting when they are warmed but they are soft and warm and oh so lovely.   And the soup.... are you kidding me?   The Butternut Squash Soup had just the right amount of sweetness with some smokiness from the bacon that was cooked in it.  And then it had these sort of gingerbread croutons on top.  Delish!  In fact, we ordered one bowl and had them split it in half so we could share it and it was just the right amount that way.

Cindy couldn't decide between a pizza and a salad so she got both!  The salad of poached Bartlett pears with field greens, blue cheese, spiced hazelnuts and a hazelnut vinaigrette had me at spiced hazelnuts.   I'm not generally a fan of blue cheese, and they certainly did not skimp on it in this salad, made me a believer.  The salad was a very generous size for $7.00

And then the pizza.   Cindy chose a Lobster pizza... butter poached lobster with wilted spinach, pearl onion confit, fontina cheese and tarragon for $14. 

I'm not a seafood person and I really hate tarragon, but look at that!  I had to try it.  I just took one little bite because I have an entree coming too and we'd already had bread, olives, soup and salad.  The pizza was out of this world!!!   The crust was perfect, the balance of flavors insane and happily I didn't even taste the tarragon.   

And now, my lunch... Chef's Burger for $11.  I love a burger.  I can eat a good burger anytime, anywhere.  And the best burger I have had to date was from Michael Symon's B-Spot.  It's still the best burger, but this one is not to be dismissed!   The Chef's Burger is Ohio grass fed beef cooked however you want it (I always chose medium) with crispy shallots, melted brie cheese with date and applewood smoked bacon aioli on the side.  It's served with house made chips and has lettuce and tomato on the side.  

This burger was a thing of beauty.  I cannot say one bad thing about it.  The meat was juicy and flavorful, the brie and crispy shallots were just different enough from regular old onions and American cheese to make this burger different and that date and bacon aioli!  Fuggedaboutit!!   I've died and gone to burger heaven!   I would so go back for that burger.  Even though there is so much more on the menu I want to try, I might not be able to resist the allure of this, the only burger on the menu.  Honestly, they don't need another. 

Can you stand it!?   Damn, when am I going to be in Hudson again?    One Red Door is located at 49 Village Way, Hudson Ohio.  The phone number is (330) 342-DOOR.  
Buon Cibo mia Amici.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Russo's Part Creole Part Italian All Good!

It was a long time coming.  Nick and I had been wanting to go to Russo's for some time.  We even had a $25 gift card burning a hole in the sock drawer.  So we finally bit the bullet and decided to go on October 30, our 17th anniversary.  Russo's reputation has been great from the get go and it's really close to where we live.  Why had it taken so long for us to go!?  It doesn't matter now, it's all in the past.  Russo's we love you!

We had a 7:00 pm reservation in the dining room.  Russo's offers bar seating but they go fast because right behind the bar is the kitchen and you can watch the chaos and magic happen right in front of your eyes.  So since we were unable to get a bar seat, we got a table near the bar and were able to see some of the magic.  
I knew before we even got there that I had to have the Arancini appetizer.  I had them last year when Russo's had a booth up at Taste of Hudson and they were incredible!   In fact, it's a dish I've been wanting to make myself but have never gotten around to it.  Someday!   In case you're unfamiliar, arancini are balls of saffron risotto with either a meat or cheese filling in the middle, then they are breaded and deep fried.  Russo's describes their arancini as follows:  Rice Balls Flavored with Saffron and Stuffed with Mozzarella, Meat and Vegetables, then Breaded and Fried.  Served with Pomodoro Sauce.

Oh, I can feel your jealousy!   And yes, they are as good as they look!

But I have to admit, $8.99 for 3 arancini seems a bit steep to me, delicious as they are.  But while perusing the menu and the specials, I happened upon something that I love far too much and had to have.  Right at the top of the nightly specials, there it was... roasted garlic heads served with a basket of bread and at $3.50, this was the bargain of the night!   I had this before, many years ago when I was in Massachusetts for a friends wedding.  The restaurant we went to for the rehearsal dinner, Vinny Testa's, served roasted heads of garlic floating in a seasoned olive oil and a basket of bread.  I swore that if I ever owned a restaurant I was going to do this!  It's the best thing ever.  So I was more than thrilled to see this on Russo's menu.   You get your roasted garlic with a little shrimp fork so you can dig the cloves out of the head and spread them on your bread.  Oh yes, I died and went to garlic heaven!

Quite honestly, I could have made this my meal and been perfectly content.  But alas, more deliciousness was to come!  We both ordered specials that night and started off the main event with a simple salad that was beautifully and perfectly dressed. 

I ordered half an almost fully boned roasted chicken in a tangy sauce with garlic mashed potatoes and twice dipped onion rings for $22.99.

It was incredibly delicious.  Seasoned and sauced to perfection, tender, juicy and full of flavor.  I seriously don't think I ever had as succulent a piece of chicken as this.  And after the arancini and my bread coma, I ended up bringing most of it home.  Mmmm Russo's leftovers.

Nick also ordered a special, his was a large cut grilled pork chop on a bed of squash puree with collard greens in a sugar cane sauce for $26.99.

Everything was gorgeous and perfect.  The collards were tender and flavorful.  The pork was cooked to absolute juicy perfection.  The squash puree was delicious and beautifully balanced.

Our final bill without any drinks, just water, was $66.53.  Russo's is not a place we will frequent, but oh yes we will be back!   Sadly, Russo's no longer serves lunch, but if you're in or around Peninsula, Ohio at dinner time, I highly suggest you give them a try.  Russo's is located at 4895 State Road
Peninsula, OH 44264 and their phone number is (330) 923-2665.

Buon Cibo mia Amici.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


A long time ago, I made Spanakopita.  It was good and all, but I never made it again.  For some reason I got the idea in my head that I needed to make it again and I just couldn't rest until I did.  Well, ok, I could rest, but it did fester.  In case you don't know, Spanakopita is a Greek spinach and other good stuff, stuffed into phyllo dough.  I started out with a half of a sweet onion.  My onion was really big, so I think I probably actually used a third of it.  Chop the onion and cook slowly with about a Tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.  You don't want them to brown, just to cook through until they are translucent and fragrant.

I used two packages of frozen chopped spinach.  You can use fresh and cook it, but for my money, frozen is the way to go.  Just defrost them, and then squeeze squeeze squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can.  The best way to do this is to take a clean dish towel (I used one that is already green, pretty smart huh?  ha).  I put the thawed spinach in the middle of the towel and then pull the ends up and start twisting and squeezing.  A ton of water will come out.  Make sure you get as much as possible or your Spanakopita will be soggy and who wants that?  No one.  After you get it all squeezed, put it in a bowl and fluff it up with a fork.

To the spinach add a half cup of chopped flat leaf parsley.  I still have it in my garden, going strong!

And about two Tablespoons or so of chopped mint.  Also still going strong in my garden!

Then add a cup of crumbled Feta cheese.  Mmmm, feta!   Feta is kind of salty so you probably don't want to add too much extra salt to this mixture.  But add some.  Maybe about a teaspoon.  

I also added about 5 grinds from my pepper mill and a good 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg.  It definitely makes a difference so don't skip the nutmeg!

Mix it all with one beaten egg to hold it all together and now it's time to for the phyllo dough.  I'm not going to lie to you, phyllo is a giant pain in the ass. It's so fragile and delicate and needs special care.  When you unwrap your thawed out phyllo, make sure you have a damp towel to place over the top of it while you're not using it.  Phyllo will dry out in seconds and as soon as it does, you're done.  There is no going back.   Take the sheets and cut them down the middle, lengthwise.  Brush the dough, carefully, with melted butter and then place about 1/3 cup of the spinach mixture at the top of one of the rows and off to one side.  Either side, it doesn't matter, we're just going to fold these babies up anyway. 

I used between 2 and 3 sheets of phyllo each.  One was too thin.  Fold them end over end, kind of like a flag is folded, so they end up looking like a triangle.

Brush the outside with melted butter and then bake for 20 minutes at 350 or until golden brown.

Enjoy!!!   They were really really good.  And quite frankly, I don't love spinach cooked.  I'd rather have it raw.  So who knows why I wanted to make them so bad.  But I'm glad I did!  They rocked!

καλά τρόφιμα οι φίλοι μου

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Fab Food Show is Coming!

It's only a few short weeks away so don't forget to get your tickets for the Fabulous Food Show!  This year the show has added a new seminar on food writing and Laura Taxel (author of one of my fave books, Cleveland Ethnic Eats) wrote in to tell me about it.  Laura, along with writing coach Dianne Jacob (author of Will Write for Food) are leading workshops on both Friday and Saturday morning, November 12 and 13.  The seminar will teach you tips and give you guidance on getting started, doing it well and how to not only get readers but how to get published.  Each session is 2 hours, with a cost of $50 (that includes all day admission to the show).  Tickets must be purchased in advance.  Friday's event is for chefs and professionals.  Saturday's event is for the general public.  For more information, check out the Seminar website.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Chocolately Peanut Buttery Goodness

The two most perfect foods, together.  I do it a lot.  I can't resist.  Peanut butter and chocolate need to be together in any way, shape or form.  In this incarnation, it's chocolate cupcakes with a peanut butter cream cheese frosting. 

Start out with any chocolate cupcake recipe you like.  I happen to have buttermilk in my fridge and wanted to use it up, so I used a standard buttermilk chocolate cupcake recipe.  Start with a stick of butter, softened and 1 1/2 cups of sugar in your mixing bowl and cream together until light and fluffy.

Once it's fluffy, add 2 eggs, one at a time and beat well after each addition.   Then beat in 1 teaspoon of vanilla. 

In another bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour, 1/2 cup of cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

You will also need to combine 1/2 cup of buttermilk with 1/2 cup of water.   Then add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, alternating with the buttermilk mixture.  In other words, add some dry then some wet, some dry and some wet, until all ingredients are incorporated.  Then fill your cupcake cups 2/3 the way full and bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes (make sure your toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean). 

Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and let cool completely on a rack.

While the cupcakes cool, it's time to make this kick ass icing!  You will need an 8 oz. block of cream cheese and a stick of butter, both softened, to start.

Beat until smooth and creamy.  When you have a nice smooth butter/cream cheese mixture, add 1/2 cup of peanut butter.   You can use creamy or chunky, but natural is probably not a good idea because of the oils.  Beat in the peanut butter then add 1 1/2 cups of sifted powdered sugar.   Beat until fully incorporated.

Ice cupcakes however the heck you want, but I suggest you load it on!   This frosting is all kinds of yum and you don't want to short change yourself.  Although, I suspect the leftovers might be pretty yummy on just about anything... toast, a bagel, a spoon, a hubcap, whatever.  And feel free to add a bit extra peanut butter if you want.  Personally, I think next time I make it I'm going to up it to 3/4 cup.

Money shot!

Buon Cibo mia Amici.

Ingredient lists - Cupcakes:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup water


1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 (8 oz) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup peanut butter

Monday, September 27, 2010

Squashy Risotto

It's getting to be risotto weather.  Or am I crazy?   Fall just seems kind of risottoey to me.  Kind of like pot roast or stew.  And when you're making your risotto with butternut squash, well it just screams autumn.  I've tried making Butternut Squash Risotto before and the result was not what I had hoped for.  But this time, I had a new plan.  The previous time I made it, I peeled, seeded and diced the squash, tossed with a little salt, pepper and olive oil and roasted it.  Then I made a basic risotto and folded the roasted diced squash into it.  I'm not saying it was bad.  But what happened was, when I took the squash out of the oven, I had to taste it.  It was good.  So I had to taste it again.   And well, just to be sure, I had to taste it a few more times.  Quality control is very important.  So by the time I finished tasting and testing, there wasn't much left for the risotto.

This time I'm starting with an around 2 lb butternut squash.  Butternut just happens to be readily available, inexpensive and darn tasty.  But my fave of the winter squashes is by far, the kabocha squash.  But they are not readily available and they are not inexpensive.  But they are delicious.  So either way.  Hell if you want to use acorn or delicata, by all means, feel free.  Cut your squash of choice in half, take out the seeds and place cut side down on a baking sheet with either a little cooking spray or a light coating of oil.

Roast in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  These suckers are hard and they take a long time to cook.  When you take it out the cut side should be caramelized and all kinds of delicious.

Let it cool for a little while.  When it's cool enough to handle, scrape out all the yummy and discard the skin.  Then just mash it up with a fork.  You can puree it in a food processor if you must dirty this annoyingly difficult to clean appliance, but a fork or even a potato masher will do the trick.  And then set aside until later.  It might get watery while it's stilling there waiting to be added, no worries.

Now for the risotto.  It's pretty much standard.  One small onion or two shallots, diced.  I'm using a vidalia onion today because I was *gasp* out of shallots.  How could this be!  No worries, it won't happen again.  Add the diced onion to a heavy glorious pot that already has two Tablespoons of butter and three Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil heating up.  Cook the onions gently on medium heat, just sweating them out.  You don't want to brown them.

While the onions are sweating, in another pot you should have 5 and a half to 6 cups of chicken stock heating up.  If you make this yourself, bravo!   I don't always have time or inclination to make my own, but when I do I freeze it and us it as needed.  This time I'm using my favorite stock in a box, Kitchen Basics.  It's by far the best, has the least amount of sodium and is made right here in good old Cleveland (actually Brecksville) Ohio.

When the onions start to turn translucent, it's time to add the rice.  You will need 1 and a half cups of a short grain rice, preferably Arborio.  Add it straight to the butter/oil and onion mixture and stir it around to coat the rice.

Cook the rice for about 2 minutes on medium heat and then add 1/3 cup of white wine.  Stir the rice and wine until the wine has all but evaporated.  Now it's time to add your heated stock.  You don't want it to boil on that burner, but just come up to heat.   I use a large soup ladle and ladle in one or two each time.  After adding that amount, stir the risotto while the stock gets cooked in.  You don't have to stir constantly.  I know a lot of recipes say to do that, but I don't stir constantly and it turns out beautifully.  You want to stir a lot, don't get me wrong.  And you don't want to walk off and leave the risotto unattended.  But you don't have to give yourself that Tommy John elbow ailment from making risotto.

Don't forget to season as you go.  You know how much sodium you have in your own stock or in whatever store bought stock your using so be as aggressive or passive as necessary based on that.  This whole process should take about 20-25 minutes, adding another ladleful or two of stock after the last ones have cooked in.  And when you're down to your last ladle of stock, add it in and then add in your mashed butternut squash and stir it in.

Thinking about this dish had me going straight out to my garden and picking a nice big bunch of sage.  What says fall more than sage?   And it's a beautiful accompaniment to butternut squash.

Look how pretty my hand looks holding this gorgeous sage.  You would think I was in a commercial for sage the way I'm holding it.  I feel so Vanna.

Clean and chop the sage into ribbons and add to the risotto just about when it's done.

And then as the final step, add three quarters of a cup of grated Parmesan cheese to risotto and stir it in.  Now there is nothing left to do but enjoy it.  Buon Cibo mia Amici.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Food Feuds Comes To Akron

This past week, Michael Symon brought his new Food Network show Food Feuds to Akron and to Barberton.   I didn't hit any of the Barberton festivities but when I heard that the final scenes of the big burger battle between Swenson's and Skyway was taking place at Highbridge Glen park, literally five minutes from my house, I was so there!  So I made a quick call to mom around 9:30 am that went something like this:

Me:  Hey what are you doing?
Mom:  Sleeping.
Me:  Well get up!   Michael Symon is filming his show down the street and I'm coming to get you so we can go.
Mom:  OK!!  OK!!  I'm up, I'm getting ready!
Me:  Be there as soon as I can.

So, five minutes from my house turned into 40 minutes to go pick up mom, 40 minutes back. But she loves Michael so I had to take her.  Supposedly people were going to start gathering at the park around noon, with filming to take place at 2:30 pm.  We got there right at noon and there were maybe 10 people there.  A fireman stopped us and said that the time had moved to 2:00 pm.   I asked him what did.. the filming?  The time to show up?  What?   He had no clue.  So we hung out a little while, then decided to head back to my house and grab a quick snack then head back.  When we went back, there were a few more people than when we had left, but not a lot.  Foolishly, we didn't bring chairs so we had to sit on the grass while we hung out and waiting for something to happen.  Slowly more and more people started to filter in.  But it really wasn't looking good for a big crowd to show up. 

Some of the folks from Swenson's were around, putting up signs and handing out homemade signs to hold up during the show.

We sat there and waited and it seemed like nothing was going to happen.  There were no TV vans, no one was here to set up for a taping.  Nothing.  Then suddenly, Michael Symon was suddenly there, things were happening and it was on!  The crowd had suddenly grown too.

The crew took Michael down to the river where, presumably, they were filming some shots of him most likely introducing what the show as going to be about.  After about 20 minutes or so, we started getting instruction from various people and Michael Symon himself so we found a good spot to stand while the show was being filmed.

Michael is awesome.  I can't say that enough.  He's funny and personable and entertaining.  And come on, that laugh?  Who could resist that laugh. 

It's getting down to the nitty gritty in the battle between Skyway and Swenson's, to Akron institutions of burgerdom.  But first, crowd reaction is needed so we were instructed to cheer and clap on cue, then boo on cue, then act surprised on cue.  We did these takes several times, and then it was Michael's turn to do his.  He has to film each take a minimum of 3 times (more if he messes up, which they all assured us was very likely).  During one of the takes, he got it done absolutely perfectly, they called cut and said, "Perfect!  Let's do it again."  Michael's response to that was, "welcome to television!" 

Michael finally crowns the winner and that's a wrap!  All in all, it was a pretty fun day.  If you want to know who won, you'll have to wait to watch the show.  It airs sometime in October of November.   And if you already know who won, because I do know those beans were spilled already, don't post it here! 

Saturday, September 4, 2010


I'm always looking for new ways to dress up chicken breasts or pork chops.  I marinate.  I grill.  I roast.  I saute.  But more, more!  I want more.  I want more flavor.  I want more variety.  I want it all.   And a gremalota is a sure fire way to have an amazing amount of flavor.  You can put it on steaks, on pork chops, on chicken, on lamb...whatever you want.  It's all good.

So on this day I had averagely thick pork chops to slap on the grill.  And thinking about what I had on hand to dress them up lead me to gremalota joy.  I have tons of parsley in my garden.  I still have garlic from my garden and I always have a pretty big supply of lemons on hand.  And that my friends, is all you need to make a delish gremalota.  It's traditionally served with veal, but why discriminate.  Use it on anything.

Start with a large bunch of flat leaf parsley.

This was a big bunch and when chopped finely, which is what you want to do, it ends up being about half a cup of parsley.  Everything is going to be chopped very finely.   I suppose you can put it in a food processor but if you have a good knife why dirty a food processor?

You will also need the zest of two lemons.

If you don't already have a microplane, I highly suggest you get one.  It's not just for zesting (although it's worth it just for that), but you can also grate cheese, garlic, fresh ginger.  It's a great tool to have in the kitchen.

Then chop the garlic fine.  I used three cloves.  Gremalota is essentially a raw sauce so this garlic is not going to be cooked.  The finer you can chop everything the better.

Mix it all together with about two Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, the juice of half a lemon and salt and pepper to taste.  This is not a very drippy sauce.  In fact, I kept it drier on purpose.  The lemon zest already adds a lot of lemon flavor so it doesn't need much more and I don't want it too oily.  Just a touch of oil.   When you take your meat off the grill or out of the broiler or out of the pan, whichever method you use to cook it, spoon the gremalota over the top, and enjoy. 

And enjoy you will!   It is such a huge burst of flavor it will definitely wake up your taste buds!  Buon Cibo mia Amici!!