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 :)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Original Steaks and Hoagies... O.M.G

I've been to Philadelphia and I had some amazing food there.  Truly.  In fact, I have no qualms about saying that the roast pork and broccoli rabe sandwich from DiNic's in the Reading Terminal Market is by far the best sandwich I have ever had in my life.

But I also went to the famous Pat's for cheesesteak and thought it was just kind of meh.  Not bad mind you but I didn't think it lived up to the hype.  So when I started to hear about Twinsburg's Original Steaks and Hoagies, I just kind a shrugged and said, "yeah so?"  But the more I heard about it, the more intrigued I became.  And then I hear they do a version of the pork/rabe sandwich and that was that!  I had to go.   The first time I went, thinking the roast pork was that days special (they don't make it daily), they didn't have it.  I opted for an Italian hoagie:  Proscuitto, Genoa salami, capicola with sharp and mild provolone.  It was pretty damn stellar, especially with their special Bay Fries (fries seasoned with Old Bay).  Killer!

I don't find myself in Twinsburg all that often, but my vets office is practically right across the street from Original Steaks and Hoagies at 10735 Ravenna Road (330-998-6586) and my kitties had an appointment this past Saturday.  OK, I'm going! 

I arrived around 5:30 pm and was a little sad and a little surprised to find that there was practically no one there.  But I was there, so I ordered an original cheesesteak with onions, sweet peppers and Cheez Whiz.  Cheez Whiz isn't something I would normally consume but that is the traditional way to have a Philly Cheesesteak so I decided to give it a go.  And of course, Bay Fries.  While waiting for the sandwich, you could hear the cook in the back slamming away at the grill with his spatula, cutting up the meat.  You can actually watch him if you want.

And then it arrived at my table....

Just look at that for a minute.   You can get the small for $7.25 or the large (pictured here) for $8.50.  Do you even see a reason to ever order the small when it's only $1.25 more for the large?  I don't either.  And the first bite was heaven!  I couldn't believe how incredibly delicious the sandwich was.  And an absolute mess!  But who cares.  It was so good I couldn't believe that I actually got something else the last time I was there.   The meat is so full of flavor, the onions sweet and the sweet peppers are a nice burst when you hit one.  The traditional Amoroso roll is soft and absorbs all the meat juice.  And the Whiz, the Whiz melts into the meat so beautifully.  And the best part of ordering a large is getting a half to take home and have later or the next day.  Although it really took every ounce of willpower I had to not start snacking on it on the way home!

In addition to the sandwich, Bay Fries of course (although I have to admit, the sweet potato tots were a consideration).

These are some seriously good fries.  Crisp outside, fluffy inside and seasoned perfectly.  The serving is definitely generous too.

While eating the cook came out and asked how everything was, and I told him right then and there that this sandwich blew Pat's in Philly away.   Sorry my Philly friends, but it's true!   He said that was no the first time he's heard someone say that.  I'm not surprised. 

I asked about the roast pork sandwich and was told that it isn't ever a scheduled thing, just when the mood hits, so I got myself on an email mailing list to be informed of when they will make it.  I don't think they can top DiNic's but I'm willing to give it a try.  If it even comes close I'll be one happy girl!!

The owner, Billy from Philly, owned three Laspada's Original Steaks and Hoagies in the Philadelphia area, so he knows his stuff!  The shop features other Philly specialties as well, like Herr's chips and Tastycakes for dessert.  It's so worth to go give them a try.  As for me, I think I may find myself in Twinsburg a little more often :)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sweet Basil

I had heard good things about Sweet Basil Pizza in Westlake, OH here and there.  Billing itself as Neopolitan style pizza, I've been wanting to give it a try since I don't think I'll be heading to Naples any time soon, much to my dismay.  So I asked my friend and occasional partner in food crime, Tom over at Exploring Food My Way, if he wanted to give it a try with me.  He did, so we did :)

Sweet Basil Pizza is located at 26235 Center Ridge Rd., Westlake, OH.  It's not exactly around the corner from where I live, but a good pizza should be worth the trip.  When we walked in we were immediately drawn to the specials board... one in particular really, the goat cheese, roasted red pepper sauce and spinach pizza.  Hmmm.... we'll keep that in mind.  The decor is minimal but you can see the dough being hand tossed from any seat in the place.  That was pretty cool.  Oh hell, the fact that it's an actual pizzeria, one where you can go in and sit down, order, have a drink and enjoy your pizza there was pretty fantastic.   It seems that the art of the pizzeria is dying in favor of take out.  Everyone is always in such a damn hurry anymore.  I loved that we could just go in and enjoy the atmosphere, talk (because it wasn't too loud even though the music choices left much to be desired in my opinion!) and enjoy dinner. 

We decided to order two 12 inch pizzas, the goat cheese one we were eying earlier and the meat lovers (sausage, ground sirloin, bacon and pepperoni).  But first we wanted to try the bread sticks and I am SO glad we did!

They were delish and piping hot from the oven.  Four bread sticks were perfect for the two of us and we pretty much devoured them in no time flat.  In fact, I am shocked we even got a photo!   They were definitely garlicky, but in my world that is not a bad thing (sorry Mom).  The marinara that was served with them was also pretty tasty and I usually skip it.  It was chunky and complimented the bread well.  I honestly could have made a meal out of these chewy, yummy breadsticks.

And then it was time for the pizza.   It is thin to win and does not take long to bake so it doesn't take long for it to arrive, and bubbly hot from the oven.  Let's start with the goat....

The sauce is good and again, garlicky.  In fact, maybe they should change then name from Sweet Basil to Aromatic Garlic.  They were not shy with it and that is not a complaint.  I very much enjoy garlic in large (but edible) quantities.  I'm not exactly sure what the spice was in this pizza, perhaps red pepper flakes in the sauce, but it wasn't too hot.  It was just a nice bit of spice.  I loved the crust.  Thin to win with just the right amount of crunch and the right amount of chew. 

Next up is the Meat Lovers...

Looks yummy doesn't it?  Well it was!  It was.  The meats were all thinly sliced and crisped up nicely.  The sauce was nice.  There wasn't a lot of cheese, but that didn't matter with all that tasty meat on it.  You can't get much better than crispy pepperoni and crispy bacon.  

All in all, I think Sweet Basil was definitely worth the drive and I would definitely go again.  Who's in?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Pesto is the Quiche of the '80s

Last week when I received my bi-weekly farm share I was thrilled to see a big bag of basil.  Now, I grow my own basil but for whatever reason, no matter what variety I buy, I don't get those big luxurious pesto making leaves.  I get a lot of small leaves, tons in fact, but not those big succulent leaves that I really equate with pesto.  So when I saw that bag pesto was the only thing I had in my mind for it.

First step, wash it. 

Isn't it gorgeous?  It's washed, spun and then stems removed and then it doesn't really look like as much as I thought it was going to be.  So I went out and picked some of mine to add to it, and also in this weeks basket I also got some sage so I put that in.  Hey why not huh?  

So into the food processor it goes.  And to it I added four big cloves of garlic (also in the basket).  I didn't have any pine nuts so I added almonds, which I did have (about a handful)

And then set the thing a whirrin!  Once all the ingredients are chopped nicely I began to drizzle in the olive oil with the processor running.  I would say all in all, about three quarters to one cup of extra virgin olive oil was used.

In total, I got about a cup of pesto.  Maybe a little more. You're probably wondering where the Parmesan is.  Well, I forgot it!   I totally forgot to put it in so when it was done I stirred some in. 

Now, what do with this pesto now that it's made?   Of course you can also make pasta.

But I have also used it on grilled chicken...

And I even put some in the calzone I made (broccoli rabe, sausage, leeks and provolone with a little pesto mixed it)


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Patience and Caramelized Onions

Patience is definitely not one of those qualities that I possess.  I'm kind of a "want it when I want it" kind of gal.  So I guess it would come as no surprise that I have never been able to make caramelized onions.  Not that it's difficult, it's just one of those things that takes time and patience to make.  I've told myself several times, "OK, this time I'm going to make them and do them right!" and I end up with crispy grilled onions instead. 

But this time... this time I really REALLY told myself I would make them and make them right.  I had the time, and I really wanted to see if I could do it.  So I started with a heavy bottomed stainless steel pan and some Vidalia onions.  I used three small to medium onions and about 2-3 Tablespoons of olive oil. 

They did kind of crowd the pan but I wasn't worried.  I know they cook down a ton so I just let it go.  I had the heat on high just to get the oil going then turned it way back to medium low.  I stirred the onions around to make sure all of them had some a little coating of oil  Once the onions started to soften a little, I added a bit of salt.  And then I pretty much let them go.  I came back to stir them once in awhile but for the most part I didn't do much except watch.

After 20 minutes... (and now the heat on low)

After 35 minutes.... (and at this point the aroma is amazing!)

After 45 minutes....


And at this point I turned off the heat completely and took them out of the pan.  You can see how much they have shrunk down.  They smelled so good I think I could have just eaten them with a spoon and been happy!  

But alas, I had some DiRusso's turkey Italian sausage ready for sammies.  Don't scoff at my turkey sausage!   If you haven't tried it, you don't know how good it really is and when you're watching your calories and still want those flavors, yeah it works for me.

Sausage, caramelized onions and some quick sauteed spinach.  It was delish.  And now I know, I can make caramelized onions!  Here's my tips if you have found yourself having a hard time with caramelized onions too.... use a stainless steel pan, not a non stick.  Low low low heat is your friend.  I may have gone to the extreme of low, but I'd rather do the low and slow thing than the fast and burnt thing.  Don't forget the bit of salt.  And if the pan is getting too dry, add more oil.  

Enjoy the yumminess!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Down on the Farm

This year, for the first time in my life, I've gotten a farm share.  If you don't know what that is, its where you pay a certain amount of money up front and, depending on how much you pay, you get a share of the crops from the farm.  My friend Lynn and I split the share and we get it every other week.  We got our first one this past Friday.

Isn't it gorgeous?  What we have here is spinach, kale, red leaf lettuce, cilantro, dill, scallions, spring mix, another red lettuce that I don't know the name of, pea shoots and garlic scapes.  Oh seriously, this stuff is gorgeous!  And I will be getting something every other week until November 8!  The possibilities are so exciting.

So what did I make first?  Well a salad of course, with the beautiful red lettuces.

I dress my salads simply... extra virgin olive oil (one half cup), balsamic vinegar (one quarter cup) and honey (2 Tablespoons).  I didn't use to add honey, but one day I decided to try it out and loved it so much I always do it now.

The second thing I made was Israeli couscous with sauteed pea shoots and garlic scapes.  I have come to really love Israeli couscous.  My go to small pasta had always been orzo.  And I do still love it, but there is something about the Israeli couscous I simply adore.  It may be the texture I love so much.  It has great texture.   The one I use is Bob's Red Mill Tricolor Pearl Couscous.  And if you live in Northeast Ohio, you can get this very product at Marc's for $2, which is much cheaper than you will find anywhere else.

I started out with the gorgeous garlic scapes and pea shoots, two products I have never used before in my life, but was so excited to try out.

Everything on the pea shoots are edible, the stems, the leaves, the little peapods and even the flowers so all I did with these was peel the leaves off the harder bottom stems then chop up the rest.  I then sauteed them for a short amount of time, it did not take long for them to wilt, and then added the chopped garlic scapes afterward because I didn't want them to cook too much.  Then added a little salt and pepper.

There is really not as much oil in the pan as it looks here, oh wait... I added a little chicken broth.  That's why the pan looks like it's drowning the veg!   I added the broth just to slow down the cooking process because the couscous wasn't quite done.

After it was done, I added it to the pan with the shoots and scapes.  And gave it a good toss (and a little more salt and pepper).

I served it with roasted chicken breasts with lime and ginger.  To make that I simple put two large chicken breasts in a baking dish, squeezed the juice of one lime over the top of the chicken, then sprinkled with salt and pepper and then grated some ginger over the top (probably about a little less than a teaspoon on each piece).  Bake uncovered for about 45-55 minutes depending on how thick the chicken is, at 350.  The meat was juicy and succulent while the skin was crispy perfection.   Simple, easy and tons of flavor!


Monday, May 21, 2012

Graeter's Ice Cream - O.M.G.

Graeter's Ice Cream has always been one of those elusive ice creams you hear about but never really buy.  Not because of any other reason than it wasn't readily available in the area.  You had to go to specialty stores or be in Cincinnati, where it's made.  But alas my Cucina loving pals, Graeter's Ice Cream is now available at Giant Eagle stores! 

The  five generation family-owned business since 1870, has pioneered the French Pot process of making only 2 gallons of ice cream at a time with all natural ingredients and it shows.  I have been lucky enough to taste the insanely delicious black raspberry chip as well as the super rich chocolate chocolate chip, vanilla chip and mint chip.  All are so dreamy and wonderful, but for me, being the chocoholic that I am, it's chocolate chocolate chip all the way (with a little bit of black raspberry chip mixed in for good measure).  The chocolate chips used are the best I have ever tasted.  They are more like shards in different sizes and shapes and quite frankly some of them are huge!   Good news for me!   The more chocolate the better. 

It's important to support smaller companies and Graeter's qualifies... and the fact that it's an Ohio based company is something that appeals to me too.  It doesn't hurt that it's freakin amazing ice cream.  Next time you're in Giant Eagle, check it out.  I know you will not be disappointed. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Stuffed Peppers

**Listening to The Misfits**

When my friend Mike asked me to lend him a hand at the Cleveland's Finest Hors D'Oeuvre Contest, I have to admit, I was a little intimidated.  I'm just a little guy, doing my own thing and now I'm going to be playing with some big guns.  Mike and I discussed what he wanted to make, but was open to suggestions for something different so I set out to make something that fit into his concept of "Garage Cookin."  What is that concept?  Well if I had to describe it simply I'd say, guy food.  I have some experience in this area, I have a smoker after all! 

I decided I wanted to make a stuffed pepper and I had a plan.  My first thought was to use sausage in the stuffing.  But I ended up deciding against that.  Why?  Because I wanted to wrap the pepper in bacon and it seemed like it would be just too much fat.  So I switched gears and decided to use just ground pork instead of sausage.  Did I cut back on the fat by much?  Probably not.   But that's besides the point.  I bought two different kinds of peppers to try... Poblano's and Hungarian.  I wanted something with a mild spice to it, but not something that would send you into hot pepper orbit.  I know Hungarian peppers are hit or miss, but I liked out with the ones I got.  They were a hit, just the right amount of heat.

I rubbed the peppers with a little olive oil and then put them in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  This is just long enough to soften them, but not really cook them too much.  While they cooked/cooled, I started on my filling.  I apologize in advance for not having a lot of photos.   I apparently got so involved with what I was doing that I forgot to take them.  I started with leeks.  I cannot extol the virtue of the leek enough. I love them and I believe they enhance whatever they are in.  So that is where this recipe starts.   Leeks, cleaned well and sliced thinly.

Take the cleaned, sliced leeks and saute them in about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil until just softened.  Don't let them brown too much.  Remove them from the pan and add the ground pork.

This is one package, which is about a pound... give or take.  Brown and crumble the pork.  Once it's completely cooked, add the leeks back in and saute together.  Are you remembering to salt and pepper as you go?

Now, what else should I put in this stuffing mixture?  I decided on quinoa.  Quinoa is a grain that also happens to be a good source of protein.  It's small and almost looks translucent when cooked.  It has a nice nutty taste and I thought it would be a nice accompaniment to the leeks and pork.  I was right.  It worked out perfectly.  So once the quinoa was cooked, I added it and the leeks to the pork mixture and cooked them together for just a few minutes to marry the flavors and that was it.

While the stuffing mix cooled, I cut the tops of the peppers off and scooped out the seeds, being very careful not to tear the peppers.  When the stuffing had cooled, I chopped some smoked white cheddar into bite sized or a little smaller pieces and mixed it with the stuffing.  I was once very skeptical about smoked cheeses and really not at all interested.  But the more I have them, the more I like them!   Smoked cheddar is really quite delicious on a burger.  Anyway, very carefully take some of the stuffing mix and put it in the pepper.   You want to fill them, but you want to do it carefully.  Don't tear the pepper!  Just take your time, use the back of a wooden spoon if you are having trouble getting the filling all the way down to the tip of the pepper.

Once they are all filled, very delicately wrap the whole pepper in bacon.  It doesn't stay on very well, but you can adhere the bacon with toothpicks.  Use as many as you need to keep the bacon wrapped neatly around the pepper.   Place on a baking sheet and bake the peppers at 375 until the bacon is completely cooked (about 30-35 minutes).  After about 15 minutes, if you dare, gently turn the peppers so the bacon cooks evenly.  If you don't, you may end up having to put the peppers under the broiler for a minute or so to completely cook the tops.

Once the peppers are out of the oven, let cool for a few minutes then remove all the toothpicks.  Some will probably still fall off, but some will look nice and perty, like this one...

These peppers were a hit with all who tried them... that being the resident taster in the house, and my mom.  Oh and me too.  The smoked cheese plays off very well with the bacon.  The pepper was nice not too hot.  The quinoa and pork were hearty.

Alas, we didn't use them for the contest, but it was nice to be challenged and come up with something pretty damn delicious!


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Edamame Risotto

This time of year, as asparagus comes into season I love to make asparagus risotto.  But I'd already made it twice in the past month, so I was looking for something else to put in my risotto.  Then the light bulb went off, I had some edamame in the freezer!  It was actually the first time I had bought edamame frozen but decided to give it a go. 

The edamame I bought was still in the pod, but you can buy it already out of the pod too.  I cooked the edamame according to the package instructions which is pretty much standard for most frozen veg. 

Once it's cooked, let cool for a few minutes until you can handle it and then pop those beans right out of the pods.  I thought this was going to be a long and tedious process but it was very quick.  They slip out pretty easily.

They look like lima beans don't they?  Well as a bona fide lima bean hater, I can tell you they do not taste like them!  Once they're all shucked, set aside and start making the risotto.

I have a pretty standard recipe that I use for all my risotto's, and this time was no different.  Start by heating up five cups of chicken broth in a pan.  Don't boil it, just heat it.  And in another pot, put in three tablespoons of olive oil and two tablespoons of butter.  To that added 2 chopped shallots (or you can use a medium onion or a leek, whichever you like and have on hand) and a little salt and pepper. 

Once the shallots are soft and translucent, add one and one half cups of Arborio rice.  Stir to coat the rice and cook for about a minute or so.  Add half a cup of white wine and stir until the wine has been absorbed. 

Now it's time to get down to business.  Add stock to the rice a ladlefull at a time.  Stirring until all the stock is absorbed.  Use your judgment on adding more salt as you go.  It really depends on whether you're using bought stock or homemade.

After about half the stock has been absorbed, add the edamame to the pot and continue with the stir stir stir of it all.

I know all the stirring and stirring is kind of a pain in the ass.  But it's so worth it.  I've tried the Ina Garten baked risotto, which is much less hands on, but honestly, I didn't really like it as much as I like it the traditional way.  But that's just me.  I always say I prefer to do things the hard way.  And trust me, if you will be rewarded!

Once all the stock has been absorbed and your risotto is looking yummalicious, stir in half a cup of Parmesan cheese.  Right before your eyes the risotto becomes even more creamy and delicious looking.  All that's left is to enjoy!

Buon Cibo mia Amici

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Broccoli Rabe Calzone

I've been grooving on the calzone's lately.  They are so easy and so yummy.   Generally speaking I would make my own dough from my Grandma's tried and true, never fail recipe.  But since Marc's started carrying Corbo's pizza dough, and I can get a ball of dough for a buck, I can't resist it!  And when I pick up that buck ball of dough, my mind starts to wander and I think of all the goodies I can fill it with.  This time, as I continued my shopping I saw some gorgeous, extremely fresh broccoli rabe (or rapini if you prefer).  I knew that rabe was going to be the star of my calzone. 

Take the rabe and wash it, then chop it coursely, getting rid of the really thick stems.  Then blanch it in boiling water for a couple minutes.  Not too long, you just want to start the cooking process.  While you're doing that, in another pan brown about a half to a quarter of a pound of Italian sausage.  I've mentioned before that my preference is for Lou's which is a local Cleveland brand and delish.  But you can use whatever kind you want and in fact, when I'm feeling like I should be more health conscious, I use DiRusso's turkey sausage... also regional.  Anyway, you want to take it out of the casing and crumble and brown it.

On this particular occasion, I had leeks in the house so I decided to use them too.   Make sure you clean leeks well and then chop thinly and saute with the sausage, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go.  When both the sausage and the leeks are done (leeks should be soft and maybe just starting to brown a little, sausage will no longer be pink and starting to brown), add the blanched rabe to the pan and mix it all together.

If there is as much moisture in your pan as I have here, keep cooking it until all of it gone or carefully dump out the liquid.  You don't want all that in your calzone or it will be soggy.

Now take your ball o' dough and flatten it out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The dough may stick a  little but it's no biggie.  Once you have it flattened, put your rabe mixture over the dough.

Make sure you leave room all around the edges so that you will be able to close the dough and not have the filling leak out.  Then top with about a cup of shredded mozzarella or provolone.  I'm using provolone.

Carefully pull up one side of the dough and connect it to the other, then tuck in the ends.  With a sharp knife, cut a few vents in the top of the calzone to allow the steam to escape.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Check on it at 15 to make sure it's not browning too fast.  But it should be a nice golden brown color when you pull it out.  Depending on your oven, it could be less than 15 minutes, it could be more.

Just know you want it to look like this...

And then to look like this...

Dough done all the way through, cheese melty and delicious.   Mangia!