Saturday, March 28, 2009

Daring Bakers ala March

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Although I'd read the new posting directions, I didn't really register the change in the posting date until a friend pointed out this morning, the postings were due yesterday. Sorry!

When I read this month's challenge recipe, I was a little concerned. I've made lasagna so many many times before but this time would be different. Bechamel instead of a seasoned ricotta. Heavy meat sauce paired with fragile homemade spinach pasta. Could it really all come together? Of course. This is a traditional combination, just one that as an Italian-American I am less familiar with. I have made bechamel before, adding it to baked pasta dishes, but I have never totally abandoned my ricotta. So I must admit I was skeptical which might have tainted my reaction to this lasagna.

The pasta recipe was interesting. My combination of spinach, flour and only two eggs proved to be so dry that I improvised and added another THREE eggs, which seemed a little drastic. But the fifth egg really seemed to make the pasta dough the consistency that I had looked for before when I had made pasta. After rolling it out, I looked at several other cookbooks, including Batali and Silver Spoon, only to find that the ratio of egg to flour in these books was much closer to what I had ended up with (five eggs to three and a half cups flour), rather than the two eggs to three and a half cups flour. Perhaps it was a typo in the DB recipe. Or maybe I had especially dry flour. (wink)

In my family not everyone is totally into meat, so in order to get this to go over better I made a vegetarian ragu and layered the noodles with long strips of zucchini and eggplant that I slow roasted in the oven. This combination was fantastic. But my reservation held firm. The bechamel was too smooth, if that makes any sense. I love the way that a ricotta filling grips the noodle. This, on the other hand, had a slimier taste and texture.

Overall I think that if you've never had a lasagna before, this would be fantastic. But lasagna is just one of those comfort foods for me where preferences are so deeply rooted, it's hard to love the experimental version. Or maybe it reveals my anal tendencies to love routine and dislike surprise.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Barefoot of March :: tomato & goat cheese tart

As my second Barefoot recipe, I made tomato goat cheese tarts. They were wonderful, as all other Barefoot bloggers have noted. I made these small - with a glass of 3 inches in diameter. They sat on top of our simple salad of spinach and romaine with a tomato viniagrette. Wonderful as a tart, even better as a crouton. I could have had 10 of them. They were deceptively easy to pop into my mouth.

Aside from making them small, I also substituted fresh tomatoes for oven dried tomatoes that I made with our garden surplus in September. I've been waiting for something to use them for, and this was it!

Note that in the picture the bottom edge looks a bit dark, but they weren't burnt at all. I think it might have been super-caramelized tomato juices.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

hot and spicy

Hey. Do ya love Penzey's spices as much as I do? I bet some of you are nodding. I've never been lucky enough to go to one of the shops in person, but once I made an online purchase I was hooked. These days I'm totally into the cinnamon, ooh and the chile powder. The catalog that I receive in the mail is very descriptive and often includes recipes with which to use the spices. Or I suppose to lure you into buying them... Here's a link to one that I made last weekend for the kids: puffed apple pancakes.

On a similar note, if you want to support a similar and LOCAL merchant, check out this small shop in Kerrytown, called The Spice Merchant. Although the variety is not quite as great as Penzey's online, it is wonderful to walk into a local shop selling an interesting collection of fresh spices. Last year when I was working through the Fork in the Road cookbook by Eric Villegas, one recipe called for tomato powder. The closest thing I could find was a smoked tomato blend at The Spice Merchant. It was also great on top of grilled cedar planked salmon.

Whether you're an Ann Arborite looking for somewhere local or reading from far away, there are definitely better spice options than the small selection at your big box grocery. And believe it or not, they do make a difference.

Monday, March 23, 2009

strong arming you

You might think the day after my KitchenAid ProMixer breaks should not be the one that I decide to make an aoli. No, no, I say, it IS the perfect time. My little girl picked out a beautiful piece of salmon at the market. And I had just read a recipe for Aioli that would go so well with fish.

Look at the striations on this baby...
Farm raised Norwegian salmon from Plum Market in Ann Arbor.

Anyway, I digress. I have made aioli before, but I've used a machine. So I guess some would say that I actually haven't made it, at least not the old fashioned way.

This recipe is based on one found on and a homemade mayonnaise recipe from the Silver Spoon (Phaidon).

  1. Whisk two egg yolks and 1/2 garlic clove finely grated.
  2. Slowly dribble in one scant cup oil. I used 1/2 extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 canola oil, although some recipes call for all olive oil, when I've made it before with all olive oil the taste was a bit overwhelming for me. For the first two tablespoons, whisk in two or three drops at a time. After that a steady thin stream will work.
  3. When the whole cup is Incorporated, add two teaspoons fresh lemon juice, two teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.
Some recipes called for adding a bit of warm water at the end, but I find that the lemon and worc. add enough liquid to thin it out sufficiently.

Disclaimer: my arm was killing me. It is not easy to hold the bowl and whisk and the measuring cup that you're pouring the oil from. Eventually I settled on wedging the bowl in between my body and my large BOOS block cutting board on top of a tea towel. Honestly you really need a third arm. Or a friend. That's what you need, a friend who loves to cook as much as you. Alas, no one like that lives in my house, except my 9 year old, who would not be able to create a steady stream to save her life.

Friday, March 20, 2009


eat dinner before you read this article about Smithfield Pork's farming practices. The article is three years old, but, hey, it's new to me. I came across it reading a great food blog of a fellow Michigander, simmer down!

colcannon italiano :: take two

I can't leave well enough alone. Really I can't - which is why my kids never have real leftovers. I'm talking about honest to goodness leftovers, when the combination of food on your plate looks like a carbon copy of what it did the night before. Maybe I had leftovers too much as a kid, and I'm just working that out. At any rate, when I have enough of a meal left over, I make something new with it. Here's an example:

Colcannon fritters. Yum. Ice-cream scooper fulls of last night's dinner (see prior post) dropped lovingly into bubbling olive oil. Wait until the magic happens. Serve on top of arrabiatta sauce. (from a jar is okay - really it is.) A left-over, not leftover.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

colcannon italiano

Is there such a thing? Who knows? But being both a little Irish and one half italian I thought I'd give it a try.

My recipe includes cavelo nero, otherwise known as latin kale. It's such a great substitute to a thicker leaf kale which although my family loves, might be a bit strong to someone who is not used to eating this wonderfully healthy vegetable.

Colcannon Italiano
  1. In salted water boil four large potatoes that have been peeled and roughly chopped.
  2. While the potatoes are boiling, remove and woody stems from 2 bunches of kale. Chop into large bite size pieces. They will shrink after boiling.
  3. After 15 minutes, when the potatoes are tender, remove them with a strainer. Do not pour the water out.
  4. Add the kale to the salted potato water. Boil for 5-7 minutes until wilted but not totally shapeless.
  5. While kale is boiling, mash the potatoes with 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, and 1/2 cup hot milk. Taste and add season if necessary. Cheese will be coming next, so don't over salt.
  6. Strain kale. Add to potatoes. Mash together. Add 3/4 cup -1 cup freshly grated pecorino romano.
  7. Put into greased baking dish. Top with 1 cup fresh bread crumbs and another 1/2 cup of pecorino romano.
  8. You now have two options. Broil for two minutes and serve immediately. Or if you, like me, have made this earlier in the day you are going to want to reheat it. Bake first for 20 minutes at 400deg, if necessary broil to brown the topping.
It's such an easy side dish and would go with many entrees, roasted sausages, barbecued chicken, brisket, oooh I'm getting hungry. Try topping it with a poached egg. Frankly it would be a meal by itself.

Monday, March 16, 2009

belated barefoot

Last month I joined the Barefoot Bloggers, but time tick tick ticked away and here I am posting my first of Ina's creations four days late.

I have made chicken piccata before. Ina's recipe reminded me how much I love it, especially with the Meyer lemons I found at Plum Market last week.

That, plus a little capellini and an fresh escarole salad make me one happy Italian girl.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

candied citrus peel

Last night I made an attempt at making citrus peels. I say attempt because it was my first go and I think that I boiled them in the simple syrup a wee bit too long. I was expecting the texture of these babies to be pliable, but what I created was more of a crunchy sugared candy peel. Not really wrong, just not what I was expecting.

There are several steps to this process. None of which is particularly complicated.
  • Peel an organic (you don't want candied pesticides, now do you?) orange or lemon removing as little pith as possible.
  • Blanch the large strips of peel in water two or three times to remove any bitterness still in the skin.
  • Slice into whatever size candy you desire. Thin strips would be good for decorating another baked good.
  • Boil in a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) for 20 minutes.
  • Remove with a strainer.
  • Toss in granulated sugar. (optional)

They might take a little bit of effort, but they certainly they seem like they took longer to prepare than they really do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I know nothing about real cigars. Except what I learned from that one Seinfeld episode.

Tonight's side dish was so easy but unusual and yummy.

Cremini Cigars
Saute one shallot and one tablespoon fresh thyme in two tablespoons butter and one tablespoon olive oil. Finely chop three cups of mushrooms (I used cremini and shitake) and four thick slices of bacon. (I actually used a processor here - my goal was to get a thick paste.) You still want to be able to tell the difference between mushroom and bacon. Add this to your sauteeing shallot and cook for 8-10 minutes on med-low.

Coarsely shred 1/2 lb of gruyere. Melt 1/2 stick butter. Take 10 phyllo sheets out of the package, and cover them in a tea towel.

At this point you're basically setting up an assembly line now. Cut each phyllo sheet in half on the long side. Brush butter around the perimeter of the smallest square. Put one tablespoon of the mushroom mixture along the bottom edge. Top with two teaspoons of shredded gruyere. Roll up like you would a burrito. Bottom up, edges in, brush the back edge with butter, roll the rest of the way.

Complete the rest of the cigars. Brush the tops with melted butter. Bake at 425 degrees (convection if you have it) for 15 minutes.

So good. Wait til they cool if you can.

I'll get a picture up tomorrow...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

the sourdough experiment

I am a novice bread baker to say the least. Lately I've been experimenting in the kitchen, checking off culinary techniques that an average home cook would not have accomplished. Last week it was crepes, yesterday, gougeres, today, the beginning of a loaf of sourdough. This last one will take me many days, so I figured I should take advantage of this blog and document the workings of one loaf of sourdough in a home kitchen.

Click the photo in the sidebar to be directed to that stream which will continue until I sink my teeth into that beautiful loaf.

Thursday, March 05, 2009


Granola is something I've been making for a while now. My father-in-law loves the stuff, but he's particular about not liking it with dried fruit. So I searched and searched for an easy recipe, one with few steps, that does not call for fruit. A few years ago Fine Cooking had a piece about making granola for the holidays. I think they even suggested packaging it up for cute little gifts. It's been a hit ever since I made the first batch.

(based on Fine cooking, Dec 2005)
Toss 1 cup chopped pecans with 3 cups oats. (as mentioned in a previous post, I would highly suggest McCann's or another stone ground oatmeal) Add 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp cinnamon to the dry mixture.

Bring 1/2 cup brown sugar to a boil with 1/4 cup water. When brown sugar has dissolved, add 2T vegetable oil and 1 t vanilla to the sugar syrup.

Pour liquid mixture over the dry. Toss until coated. Bake at 300degrees for 25 minutes. Toss after 15 minutes. Warm granola will come out of the oven slightly soft. It will harden as it cools.

*if you like it sweet, you might want to increase the syrup proportions by 50%.
*add 1/4 sesame seeds, flax seeds or other grain that you'd prefer
*add 1 cup dried cherries (just don't tell John)
*add 2 T maple syrup to the simple syrup
*add 1/2 cup white chocolate chips

*sure, breakfast
*toss in your yogurt in the morning or if you're ambitious, yogurt parfaits
*pour over vanilla ice cream with homemade toffee sauce (Nigella's recipe here is to die for)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Boy am I naive.

Reading Gourmet this morning I stumbled upon this article about slavery of tomato pickers. Why does it surprise me? I suppose I live my isolated suburban life, without ever knowing how bad others in America have it. Sure in other non-industrialized countries, but in America? Apparently there is legitimate slavery going on in Florida for those who pick our tomatoes. As the article mentions, what is the point, winter tomatoes don't even taste any good. The author's suggestion? In the winter buy locally grown hydroponic tomatoes (how could you stand it though) and then in the summer grow your own and buy local.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

more inspiration

Here's a link to the UK Times online 50 top food blogs in the world. That is if you have an hour or three...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Musings of a re-energized food blogger.

In order to douse myself in all things foodblog, I've been doing a lot of reading online and have found many favorites ... including this one The Adventures of a Kitchen Girl. It's such a fun blog. Lots of great photos and a few giveaways. So I'm linking to the post so that I can have a greater chance of winning a cookbook about artisanal bread baking.

Also I happened to be quoted by a local Ann Arbor online newspaper called the Ann Arbor Chronicle. I love this news site; it's great for local news tidbits about the community. Today's headline happens to be about maple tree tapping, something I'll blog about later. I have a tapping experiment going myself.

Oh yeah, one more thing. I've recently joined a blogroll called Great Cooks Community. It's a great place to get access to a myriad of food blogs in addition to get exposure for my blog. Check it out. It's a great resource.