Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mushroom "strudel"

  • So what are you all doing for New Year's Eve? 
  • I feel like it's finally time to ask you. I hate people that start asking in November... I mean, are they insane? I usually don't even know what I'm doing the following weekend, let alone the following month. Plus, I've never been a fan of New Year's Eve. There's that moral obligation to have the time of your life that to me is such a buzz-kill. What if I don't have fun? Does that make me a big fat loser? 
  • Apparently yes.
  • And then there's more. Overpriced prix fix menus, grumpy waiters, slow service. And all the amateur drinkers, getting wasted on two glasses of sparkling wine, the pukefest in the bathrooms, people sitting at a table sending Happy New Year text messages to everyone they know instead of wishing it to the friends they are sitting with. The list is endless.
  • So, as you might have imagined, I'm not going out tomorrow night. I opted for the lesser evil, which is throwing a house party. I was even excited about it up until everyone started being a pain in my ass about it. But that's another story. It must be some kind of NYE curse I have. 
  • Anyhow, if you are throwing a party and don't know what to serve as a vegetarian appetizer, here's an idea. It's easy to make and it'd delicious... just what you need if, like me, you can't wait until this whole NYE thing is over on Saturday.  
  • Adapted from Cooking Light

  • 3/4  cup  dried porcini mushrooms (about 3/4 ounce)
  • 1  pound  button mushrooms
  • 1  large onion, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 8 ounces)
  • 2  tablespoons  olive oil
  • 1  teaspoon  dried oregano
  • 3/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6  ounces  1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2  cup  finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 24  (18 x 14-inch) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
  • Olive oil-flavored cooking spray

  • Cover porcini mushrooms with boiling water in a bowl. Let stand 15 minutes. Drain well; chop.
    Place half of button mushrooms in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Remove from processor. Repeat procedure with remaining button mushrooms. Add onion to processor; pulse until finely chopped.
    Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes. Add button mushrooms; cook until mushrooms are tender and liquid evaporates (about 10 minutes). Stir in porcini mushrooms, oregano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg; cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cheese; stir until cheese melts. Stir in parsley.
    Preheat oven to 375°.
    Place a few phyllo sheets on a large work surface (cover remaining phyllo to prevent drying). Spread mushroom and cheese filling evenly on the phyllo dough, leaving a half inch boarder. Roll up jelly roll style. Lightly coat top with cooking spray.
    Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas 
from my kitchen to yours!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Christmas cookies)

More cookies coming your way! I've never been much of a cookie baker, to be honest, but this year I've baked quite the selection of sweet treats. The main reason is that being unemployed I actually have the time to bake cookies. Also, being unempoyed means that this year I don't have the money to spend on Christmas presents, which led me to the idea of baking cookies and giving them to my friends as gifts. The third factor that tranformed into a cookie baker is the fact that when the weather outside is snowy and cold, warming up the kitchen with the oven sounds like a good idea. So here's the recipe for some vanilla cookies that are popular in Austria —where they originally come from— Germany and Switzerland. 

For the cookies:
2 oz. ground almonds 
3 1/2 oz. cold butter
6 1/2 tbsp. icing sugar
1 egg yolk
the pulp scraped from 2 vanilla beans
2 1/3 cups flour
A pinch of salt

For the finishing
1 to 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
vanilla powder
  1. Brown the ground almonds in a hot skillet and allow to cool.
  2. Quickly knead the butter, icing sugar, egg yolk, vanilla pulp, flour, almonds and salt into a smooth dough. Let the dough rest in a cool place for 2 hours.
  3. Form the dough into about 30 crescents and place them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 200°C / 400° F oven for about 10 minutes.
  4. Roll the still-warm crescents in the vanilla icing sugar. Store the crescents in a cookie tin, each layered separated by parchment paper.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Brunsli (Swiss cookies)

This is going to be my first "Swiss" Christmas, so I thought it would be nice to publish a typical Swiss Christmas recipe. I am very much enjoying the cold weather, the lights, the snow and the winter foods I've experienced so far, but most of all I'm re-discovering the pleasure of drinking hot tea in the afternoon, which inevitably brings you to want some good cookies to go with it. Brunsli are usually rolled out and cut with cookie cutters, but can also be rolled into pralines, which is what I decided to do to give them somewhat of a different look. Out of all the different cookies I've made for Christmas (yes, there is more to come!) these were my favorite ones. Maybe it was the dark chocolate. Maybe it was the spices. Maybe it was the fact they are soft and decadent and bite-sized. Whatever it is, they are definitely something to try.

  • 5 ounces sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 9 ounces ground almonds
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pinch of clove powder
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 fresh egg whites 
  • 3.5 ounces bitter chocolate
  • 2 teaspoons of rum
  1. Mix sugar, salt, almonds, cinnamon, clove powder, cocoa powder and flour in a bowl.
  2. Add white of egg and stir until ingredients are evenly distributed.
  3. Cut chocolate in real small pieces, pour hot water over the chocolate, let rest for about 5 minutes, then pour off all water except about half a tablespoon, stir until even. Now immediately proceed with the next step.
  4. Add melted chocolate from the previous step and the kirsch, knead to a soft dough.
  5. Roll out dough on a flat surface (it may be slightly covered with sugar), approximately 10 mm (0.4 inches) thick. Put out different shapes and put them on a baking sheet covered with baking paper.
  6. Let them rest for about 5 to 6 hours or over night in a dry place.
  7. Bake for about 4 to 6 minutes in the center of the pre-heated oven at 250 °C (480 °F).
  8. Let cool completely before serving.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Roasted cauliflowers with herbs and Parmesan

I've said this before, but I'll say it again: I think that the fact that I now like cauliflower is a sign that I have aged and grown up quite a bit. But what can I say? Now I like it. A lot. And for once I like something that is incredibly good for me —unlike coffee, wine, beer, vodka, cured pork, etc.— so I'm trying to cook it in as many ways as possible. I discovered this recipe as I was looking for healthy side dish ideas for Thanksgiving. The dish was such a success with my friends that I started making it on a regular basis also for family gatherings and weeknight dinners. It's easy, it's fast and cheap to make and it's good for you. There isn;t much more you can ask for in a side dish, right? 

From Cooking Light

12  cups  cauliflower florets (about 2 heads)

1 1/2  tablespoons  olive oil
1  tablespoon  chopped fresh parsley
2  teaspoons  chopped fresh thyme
2  teaspoons  chopped fresh tarragon
3  garlic cloves, minced
1/4  cup  (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
2  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice
1/2  teaspoon  salt
1/4  teaspoon  pepper

Preheat oven to 450°.
Place cauliflower in a large roasting pan or jelly-roll pan. Drizzle with oil; toss well to coat. Bake at 450° for 20 minutes or until tender and browned, stirring every 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley, thyme, tarragon, and garlic. Bake 5 minutes. Combine cauliflower mixture, cheese, and remaining ingredients in a large bowl; toss well to combine.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pepparkakor (Swedish ginger cookies)

As I'm writing this post the snow is coming down like crazy outside my hotel window in St. Cristina, Val Gardena, Italy. I'm here for a few days with my parents, back to the magical town in Sudtirol where I learned to ski when I was a child of three, when we used to come here every weekend of every winter. It's one of those places that don;t change much throughout the years and when they do, they only change for the better. The skiing is still amazing and, yes, I can still ski, even after 9 years in Florida. So people who were telling me that skiing is like riding a bike were right —I felt like only a few minutes had passed between the last time I had skied in 2001 and yesterday. My legs... not so much. Let's say they are a little sore. But today I went skiing again and loved it like I used to love it when I was a teenager. There are many other things, mostly food related, that I still love like when I was a teenager. Eggs, bacon and fried potatoes. Hot mulled wine. Bread dumplings. And, of course, Christmas cookies. Don't ask me why Swedish ginger cookies are popular here as well —I'm guessing that people who live in cold climates just cannot get enough ginger—but they are, and they are delicious both with hot tea and with wine.  


3/4 cups of butter
1 cup of sugar
1 egg
4 tablespoons of molasses
2 cups of flour
3 teaspoons of baking soda
1 teaspoon of ginger
1 teaspoon of cloves
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Mix all the "wet" ingredients (up to molasses) in the order given. Mix separately the dry ingredients. Slowly incorporate the two. This will make the baking process smoother.
Chill the mixed ingredients overnight in your refrigerator.

Remove the the chilled cookie mixture from the refrigerator when ready to bake the cookies. Roll out the dough about 1/8 of an inch thick. Cut cookies with cookie cutters. 

Bake them at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes until lightly browned. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Barbara's "Southern Italian" lasagna

First things first: my friend Barbara is NOT from Southern Italy. She's not from Italy, period. She's from Lugano, Switzerland, land of sharp cheeses, decadent chocolate and very precise (and expensive) watches. Definitely NOT the land of lasagna, if you know what I mean. 

Still, Barbara makes a mean lasagna —one of the very best I've ever had. She learned to make this particular recipe from the mother of her ex boyfriend who is from Naples, hence the "Southern Italian" in the title. It differs from regular Bolognese style lasagna because it has layers of ham and mozzarella added to the usual meat sauce and bechamel layers —which makes it delicious, but not too light in the calorie department. 

Oh well. It's cold outside. I guess we can all use the extra calories to keep warm, right? 

Serves 8

1 package fresh lasagna sheets
4 cups meat sauce
2 cups bechamel sauce
12 slices of ham
3 cups shredded mozzarella
2 cups grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Spread a little bechamel sauce on the bottom of a 13x9 baking dish. Make a first layer with lasagna sheets, then cover it with meat sauce, bechamel, ham slices. Sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan. Repeat with another layer of lasagna sheet, meat sauce, bechamel, ham and cheese. Repeat until you run out of ingredients, finishing with a cheese layer.

Cook in the preheated oven for about 35 minutes or until bubbly.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Roasted chestnut soup

  • Happy December everyone! Can you believe that November has already come and gone? Seriously, if I think of Halloween it seems just a few days ago and now here I am, sitting in the kitchen with the snow coming down and the first window of my Advent calendar already open. Soon I'll start baking all kinds of Christmas cookies and I guess I should be posting all kinds of Christmas related recipes, but first I wanted to share one that I had made for Thanksgiving dinner —only I ended up forgetting about it so I didn't serve it to my guests. I'm a notoriously chaotic person, you see, and I tend to be easily distracted so no one was too surprised when, once dessert was served and already eaten, I realized the soup was sitting in its pot on the stove, simmering on low. 
    Since it was too late to serve it to my guests I ended up eating the leftovers for days —good thing the soup was delicious, comforting and thick as a winter soup should be.

    Adapted from Cooking Light
    3  cups  whole roasted and peeled chestnuts
    2  cups  chopped yellow onion
    3/4  cup  thinly sliced carrot
    1  tablespoon  olive oil
    6  cups  beef broth
    Salt and pepper
    1/3  cup  heavy whipping cream
    1 1/2  teaspoons  chopped fresh thyme leaves

    Combine onion, carrot, and oil on pan; toss to coat vegetables. Bake at 400° for 1 hour or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add to chestnuts; stir in broth. Pour half of broth mixture into a blender; blend until smooth. Pour pureed mixture into a Dutch oven. Repeat procedure with remaining broth mixture. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Place pan over medium-high heat; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. 

    Place cream in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; beat at high speed until stiff peaks form (do not overbeat). Ladle about 3/4 cup soup into each of 10 bowls; top each serving with about 1 tablespoon cream. Sprinkle with thyme. Serve immediately.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Classic herbed roasted turkey

So yesterday I had my first "European" Thanksgiving in a long time and, let me tell you, it was a blast. I had never hosted a dinner party for sixteen people before. It was hard but it was fun and everyone was so helpful we didn't have any big problems. Well, except the fact that I forgot to serve my chestnut soup I had worked so hard to make... guess I'll be eating a lot of it in the next few days. 
Other than that we all gathered around the dinner table and we ate, and ate, and ate
As I watched my guests chowing down turkey, mashed potatoes, roasted cauliflower, stuffing and whatever else they could get their hands on, I realized that this year I have many things to be thankful for. There's the old friends I can now see on a regular basis without having to cross an ocean. There's the new friends that welcomed me into their lives. There has been a few wonderful trips —Madrid, Barcelona and the Amalfi Coast come to mind— and the plan to take a few great ones in the near future. There's the fact that this year I didn't break my knee while cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I mean, I want to take that one as a good omen. There's snow coming this way and there's ski trips and snowmen and hot mulled wine and all the wonderful wintery things I've missed so much in the past nine years. 

So yes, I have a lot to be thankful for and only a few things that I seriously need to change in my life. But I'm content. And calm. Which, if you know me well, you'll know it doesn't happen very often. 

  • Adapted from Cooking Light

  • 1  (12-pound) fresh or frozen turkey, thawed
  • 4  thyme sprigs
  • 4  sage leaves
  • 4  garlic cloves
  • 1  medium onion, quartered
  • 4 tablespoons  butter, softened
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons  kosher salt
  • 3/4  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1  cup  chicken broth

Preheat oven to 500°.
To prepare the turkey, remove giblets and neck from turkey; reserve for gravy. Trim excess fat. Stuff body cavity with 4 thyme sprigs, sage leaves, garlic, and medium onion. Tie legs together with kitchen string.
Starting at neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat. Combine butter, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Rub butter mixture under loosened skin over breast and drumsticks. Lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under turkey. Pour 1 cup water in bottom of a roasting pan. Place roasting rack in pan. Arrange turkey, breast side up, on roasting rack. Bake at 500° for 30 minutes.
Reduce oven temperature to 350° (do not remove turkey from oven).
Bake turkey at 350° for 1 1/2 hours or until a thermometer inserted into meaty part of thigh registers 165°. (Shield turkey with foil if it browns too quickly.) Remove turkey from the oven; let stand 20 minutes. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stuffed round zucchini

Growing up I was taught never to throw away any food. Leftovers were sacred, even when we had so many of them that we had to eat the same thing over and over again. I have to say, though, that there are some ways to make leftovers interesting —sometimes even more interesting that the original dish. Take fried risotto, for example. I like it even more than risotto itself. Same goes with my mom's meatballs —I definitely like them much more than her boiled dinner, which I actually don't care much for.

Last week I cooked like a maniac, mostly to gear up for cooking Thanksgiving dinner this week. I had to make room in the fridge because our little Swiss fridge here is so tiny I'll have to pick up the turkey on the same day I'm cooking it because there's no way in hell I'll be able to stick in the fridge. And of course I ended up with lots of leftovers, which I had to use ASAP because, you guessed it, I needed the tupperware and I needed the fridge to be as empty as possible. So I came up with this recipe... I figured that by combining great ingredients the result would be great too. And I was right.


For 3:
3 round zucchini
1 cup leftover saffron risotto (or one cup cooked rice)
3 hot Italian sausage links
1 onion, chopped
1 cup tomato sauce (I used the leftover from my ossobuco recipe)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup broth

Cut the top of each round zucchini off, then scoop out the pulp with a spoon. Mince it, mix it with the chopped onion. Crumble sausage and saute it with onion and zucchini mixture, stirring to crumble. When the sausage is browned, add rice, sauce and cheese, stirring well to mix.

Fill each zucchini with sausage mixture and place in a baking dish. Pour broth into the baking dish (so the zucchini won't stick to the bottom of the dish) and bake in a preheated oven at 350 F for about 25 minutes.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The 2010 Thanksgiving challenge... cooking the meal in a small European kitchen (without breaking any of my bones)

So yes, this year Thanksgiving is going to be a bit of a challenge. A double challenge, actually. First of all, I have to cook the whole meal by myself —which I know from experience can be extremely tricky. Also, I'd like to cook my Thanksgiving dinner without breaking a knee, which I managed to do last year. Thank God I broke it towards the end of the cooking process, so all there was left to do was making the gravy. So when I slipped and fell and broke my left knee my first words were "Who the hell is going to make the gravy now?" So despite the fact that my knee had swollen to double its size, despite the pain, and despite the fact that my mom wanted to take me to the ER, I braved it. They sat me down in the kitchen with ice on my knee, my leg up in the air and a vodka martini in my hand to ease the pain. From there I barked orders to the rest of the party, which won me the nickname "kitchen nazi". 

Dinner was fabulous, by the way, and I truly enjoyed it even with my broken knee. 

But this year, I'll try to make my Thanksgiving dinner a little less eventful. I've invited about 12 people. If they all show up it will be my biggest Thanksgiving so far, so I have a lot of planning to do, especially because this tiny kitchen was not meant for big gathering. But, well, who cares? I hope I can pull it off. 
So here's the official menu I've decided to make. Brace yourselves. 

Homemade pate'
Creamy mushrooms phyllo triangles
Clams Casino

Roasted chestnut soup

Roasted turkey with truffle gravy
Cranberry sauce
Stuffing with sausage, fennel and apples

Mashed potatoes with goat cheese and chives
Sauteed carrots with sage
Roasted cauliflower with fresh herbs

Apple pie

Just writing it down is scary. The thought of actually cooking it... well, it's scary. And exhilarating. We'll see what happens...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ossobuco with risotto Milanese

This is embarrassing. I hail from Milano, the mother land of ossobuco, and I had never eaten it before Tuesday night. When I used to work at Bice Ristorante in Naples, Florida, there were customers who would happily dish out more than $40 to eat an ossobuco with risotto. I used to think they were crazy. Turns out, I was wrong. I was the crazy one. Because, my friends, ossobuco with risotto is an amazing dish, one that I now want to prepare over and over again to make up for all the ones I haven't eaten before.

See, the thing is that for the longest time I dreaded eating meat cooked in tomato sauce. It has something to do with a childhood trauma of having to finish a particular meat and tomato dish I didn't like in preschool. It happened in 1984, but for many years afterwards I just couldn't bring myself to eat any type of meat that had touched a tomato. So no meatsauce. No meatballs. And no ossobuco.

And while I got over the meatsauce and meatballs phobia during my teenage years, the ossobuco remained a pariah in my book —mostly because I had this absurd idea that the shanks would be incredibly expensive. Well, the other day I bought four for less than 8 Euros, so I guess I was wrong on that too. What can I say? You live, you learn. Anyhow, not only were they cheap, they are also incredibly easy to prepare —and outstanding once they are served over freshly made risotto with saffron. You can find my risotto recipe here. Buon appetito!


For 4 people:
4 veal ossobucos
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 glass white wine
1 can chopped tomatoes
Salt and pepper
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons minced parsley
2 tablespoons grated lemon rind

Pierce the sides of the ossobucos with a knife, so they don't curl up when they cook. Dredge them in white flour.

Heat up oil and butter in a large casserole. Add onion and sautee until translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove onion form pan, but leave the butter and oil mixture in the casserole. Add the meat and sautee on both sides until browned.

Pour wine over meat, add reserved onion, season with salt and pepper, add tomatoes and cook, covered but leaving the lid slightly open, on very low heat for about one hour and a half.

MInce parsley and garlic together, stir in grated lemon rind.

When the meat is ready sprinkle with parsley mixture and serve over polenta or risotto Milanese.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Veal roast with mushrooms and potatoes

The other day I was thinking about things that I'm thankful for and things that make me happy about my new (or not-so-new-anymore) life here in Switzerland. The list is very long and, knowing me, you can guess that a lot of the things that make me happy have something to do with food and wine. But there's one in particular that makes me incredibly happy, which is cooking for a crowd. After years of cooking for two or, once in a blue moon, four, I now find myself cooking for eight or ten on a fairly regular basis —and I love it. I just love seeing a bunch of people scarfing down the food I've prepared, smiling and telling me that it's really good. And when it's a recipe I've never done before, like in this case, I like it even more. I'm a bit of a show off I guess, but I like to see the look on their faces when I tell them I had never made the recipe before and that I'm glad it turned out to be a keeper.
Which is what this roast is. Definitely a keeper.


For 4:
2 pounds veal roast
2 tablespoons butter
a few rosemary sprigs
1 pound wild mushrooms, washed
2 garlic cloves, sliced
a glass of dry white wine
2 cups beef broth
4 potatoes, cubed

Using a sharp knife pierce the roast on both sides and insert a slice of garlic in each cut. Tie the rosemary sprigs to the meat, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Melt butter in an oven safe casserole. Add meat and cook on high heat until browned on every side. Add potatoes to the casserole, pour the wine and one cup of broth over the roast and cook for 20 minutes in a 350F oven.

Add mushrooms and broth (if needed) and cook in the oven for another 30 minutes.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Crepes with zucchini

I'm far from being a vegetarian. Every once in a while, when I'm really bored, I entertain myself by imagining my life as one. First I imagine living without eating poultry, which would be by far the easiest to give up. Then I try to focus on a life without fish, which would also be pretty easy to five up. Then it's steak's turn. Fine. I can live without steak and burgers and meatballs. And then I stop, because there are two things that I could never, ever give up: pork tenderloin and steak tartare. End of story.

Regardless, I do enjoy vegetarian meals here and there. I actually eat at least one vegetarian meal a day, or more if my best friend —who's a vegetarian— happens to be over for the weekend, like this past Halloween weekend. We had a little dinner party in costume on Sunday night and I thought crepes would be a great idea mostly because
a) everyone loves crepes
b) you can make the whole dish ahead of time, put it in the fridge and then stick it in the oven when your guests arrive, so you are not stuck in the kitchen while everyone else is having fun. And, boy, did we have fun...

Makes 8:

For the crepes:
5 oz. all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
1/2 ounce melted butter

For the filling:
10 ounces zucchini, cubed
1 small onion, sliced
10 ounces whipped cream cheese
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

To make the batter mix flour, milk and eggs in a large bowl until smooth. Add melted butter, stir and let rest, covered, for half an hour.

Heat up a little butter in a large skilled. Add onion and zucchini, season with salt and pepper and sautee until crisp tender. Remove from heat, add cream cheese and half the Parmesan and mix well.

To make crepes heat a little butter in a small skillet. Pour a ladle of batter in the hot pan, swirl to cover the bottom of the skillet and cook for about a minute. Flip and cook the other side for about 30 seconds. Fill each crepe with filling, roll them up and place in a baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and cook for about 20 minutes in a 350 F oven. Serve immediately.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Skinny" apple pie

By now you all know I'm not a dessert kind of person. I don't like to eat dessert, which of course means that I'm not overly good at preparing it. The thing is, I love all things savory and harbor a strong indifference towards sweets. There are of course exceptions. Not many. But there are some. This apple pie is one of them. My mom invented the recipe to get rid of some apples that were lingering on the kitchen counter a little too long for their good and decided to try and make pie with one of those ready-to-bake pie crusts. She just rolled out the crust, cut the apples real thin, so they would cook evenly, placed them on the crust, sprinkled them with brown sugar and cinnamon and cooked the whole thing in a preheated oven (350F) until the pie was ready —which wasn't very long since the pie is so "skinny". That's it.
Easy right? Makes me wish other things in life were this easy. But they aren't. And today I'm so grumpy I didn't even feel like posting a recipe, which is why I reverted to this almost non-recipe.
Oh well. I guess I'll get over it. In the mean time I'll have a slice of apple pie. And a glass of wine.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Best pumpkin recipes

I have a confession to make. It's almost the end of October and I haven't cooked one single pumpkin recipe yet. You might wonder what is wrong with me. The answer is nothing. It's really not my fault. The problem is you cannot find canned pumpkin in Italy nor in Switzerland, a fact that makes cooking with pumpkin suddenly a lot more time-consuming. Because let's face it: dealing with a whole pumpkin is a giant pain in the ass. I'm not saying I'm not going to do it all —pumpkin is one of my favorite ingredients after all— but surely I won't be cooking as many pumpkin recipes as I used to when I lived in the United States. That said, here are five great pumpkin recipes that I absolutely love. In fact, I love them so much I'm going to go through the pain of cutting up a whole pumpkin.

PUMPKIN BREAD I'm not a morning person, which also makes me a generally anti-breakfast person. There are, of course, exceptions and this bread is one of them. Spiced pumpkin bread and a cup of coffee turn me into one of those annoying persons that smile and talk at 8 a.m.

PUMPKIN AND SMOKED PAPRIKA SOUP It's no secret that I'm a soup freak, especially when the weather turns a little cool. This one is made with pumpkin, yellow peppers and smoked paprika... sweet and smoky and thick. What else couold you ask for?

PASTA WITH PUMPKIN AND SAUSAGE Who knew that spicy sausage, sharp cheese and sweet pumpkin were a match made in heaven? Well, they are. This pasta dish explodes with flavor and if that isn't enough to convince you, it's also very easy and quick to make, perfect for weeknights.
ITALIAN STYLE PUMPKIN "PIE" This isn't your mother's pumpkin pie. First of all it's savory —which makes it a better pie in my book. Second, it's best enjoyed with slices of prosciutto and Italian salami, and any excuse to gorge on prosciutto is a welcome one. 

FALL VEGETABLES STRUDEL This recipe is awesome. A play on the classic apple strudel, it's the perfect way to get rid of whatever leftover vegetables you have in the fridge. Plus it looks really sharp, so you can serve it as a vegetarian dish if you have people over for dinner.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Pickled peppers

October is here. Cooler weather. Morning breezes. Cloudy skies and all that. I've been so busy partying like a rock star to celebrate my 30th birthday and having fun with Tommy and my good friends Dayna and Zac visiting from Colorado that I have completely ignored my poor blog —mostly because between all the traveling and drinking we very seldom cooked or ate at home.

But now everyone's gone, so here I am, feeling a little (ok, a lot) melancholic and having plenty of time on my hands to finally update the blog, post some pictures and even some recipes. The shorter days and chillier temperatures inspired me to try canning —something I never thought of when I used to have a full time job or in the summer. I have to say that, for some strange reason, I find canning sort of a soothing activity, as much as some crazy people enjoy ironing or doing the dishes. I hate both. But canning? It's fun. And it ends up tasting a lot better. Since I am no canning expert I had to do some research to find out exactly how to can food and not kill people. Here's a link to the website I've used. I tried bell peppers first because I had bought way too many, but used a recipe by David Lebovitz that originally called for jalapenos, which also sounded great, but hey, I had to work with what I had, right?

(adapted from David Lebovitz)

1 pound fresh bell peppers, washed and cut into strips
2 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons coarse salt
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons black peppercorns

Place peppers in a large glass preserving jar.

In a non-reactive saucepan, bring the other ingredients to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes.

Remove from heat and pour the brine over the peppers. Place the lid on the jar and let cool. Once cool, refrigerate for at least a week before using, if possible.If you want to preserve them for longer, follow canning instructions above.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Polenta with wild mushrooms

Polenta. Fresh wild mushrooms. No need to add many more ingredients, for this dish is so good because it's so simple. And it taste like the beginning of autumn, cool mornings and falling leaves, and all the other lovely things we associate to early fall. Some find the fall sad and don't welcome the cooler air and the shorter days, but I've always loved the fall —maybe because I was born in the September  (yesterday as a matter of fact!)— and I'm very excited about the fact that this year I'll be spending it near the woods, the lake and the mountains of Switzerland.

Other than the yellow and red leaves and the brisk lake breezes, I'm looking forward to the fragrance of wood burning in the fireplace, and to the stews, polentas and roasts one only eats when the temperature drops. I'm also looking forward to the year ahead of me and to see if being 30 is all it's cracked up to be. Yesterday my birthday was one of the best of my life so far and if that is an indicator of the year that lies ahead, I think I will enjoy a pretty great year.

Serves 4

1/2 cup instant polenta
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound fresh porcini mushrooms, stemmed, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound fresh finferli mushrooms, trimmed
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup Madeira or Marsala
Cook polenta according to package directions. When it's almost ready, stir in Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and butter. Keep warm.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over high heat. Add mushrooms, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in parsley and thyme. Add Madeira, and cook, stirring to scrape up browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until liquid is almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Taste, and adjust for seasoning.

Spoon warm polenta on the bottom of each dish and top with mushroom sauce. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pasta with zucchini and saffron

There's been an almost imperceptible shift in the weather around here, one that made me at the same time a little happy and a little sad. I think it's safe to say that summer is pretty much over and the high temperatures are now lurking around the 76 degrees mark at best, while the Northern winds make the evenings and nights a lot chillier. 

My last 'real fall' was the fall of 2001, a mere couple of months before I moved to Florida and said goodbye to well definite seasons. Sure, the weather changes in the Panhandle too, but the end of summer doesn't come in September and it surely doesn't make you melancholic. On the contrary, by the time November rolls around most Floridians are so ready for the heat and the humidity to be over they can barely stand the excitement of wearing a sweater for reasons other than trying to survive the a/c at the grocery store or at the post office. 

Around here, though, things are different. People throw 'end of the summer' parties and they mean them as in 'let's have one last party outside before the weather turns to shit', not as in 'finally the stupid summer is over'. They also do things like swimming one last time in the lake before season is over or they already start talking about summer with nostalgic tones, which I like, because I always thought best to start being nostalgic in advance. 

The season is changing at the grocery store as well, where they are literally giving away tomatoes and zucchini and other summer staples, which is how I've found myself with the vegetable drawer of my incredibly small fridge filled with zucchini. So I had to come up with a few ways to use them up before I live for France tomorrow and this, my friends, is one of ways I came up with. Easy and fast, very end-of-the-summer like. 
Serves 4

1 pound spaghetti
4 large zucchini, cut into matchsticks
1 shallot, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cups vegetable broth
2 packets of ground saffron
Salt and pepper

Cook pasta according to directions.

In the meantime, heat a little olive oil in a large skillet, add shallot and saute until fragrant. Add zucchini, season with salt and pepper and saute for a few minutes, until slightly less crunchy. Add saffron to hot broth, then slowly add broth to skillet and let it cook until most liquid has almost evaporated.

Add cooked pasta to skillet, stirring to mix. Season with fresh ground black pepper and serve.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thai chicken with basil

The first time I had chicken basil I was at a small Thai restaurant in Naples, Florida, a place called Siam Thai. Although it was a stone's throw away from glitzy, snobby 5th Avenue South —Naples' downtown area— the place was  family-ran a hole in the wall that featured the right dose of depressing Asian decor, including a couple of posters of Thailand that had seen better days and a mismatched cutlery. Needless to say, it was one of my favorite restaurants in the area. 

It also happened to be literally a minute away from my office, which is how, on a fall afternoon in 2006, my friend and coworker Dan and I ended up sitting at one of the tables in the dark dining room. Since basil is one of my favorite ingredients and Thai basil sauce happens to be one of their spiciest, I feel in love with the dish immediately. In the following four years I ordered chicken basil at every Thai restaurant I went to, although the one from Siam Thai —much like first love— was hard to forget and remains to this day my favorite.

Enter Tommy. Whenever we eat something at a restaurant, even when it's delicious and flirting with perfection, he always says the same thing. "I bet you can make this better at home." Which is sweet, really, although not always true. Or at least I don't think it's true. He seriously does, he tells me. Anyway, because he said that, I found myself buying a Thai cookbook to try and make chicken basil at home. It's an easy recipe and I have to admit that I make a killer basil sauce. But better than Siam Thai's? I don't think so.

Serves 2

2 chicken breast halves, cut into strips
1 small onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Bird eye chilies, to taste, sliced
6 tablespoons (or less if you don;t want it fiery) chili garlic sauce, such as Huy Fong
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
A big bunch of basil, washed and torn

In a wok heat up some oil ( I usually use canola), then add garlic and chiles. Stir fry over medium high heat for a couple of minutes, stirring and making sure that the garlic doesn't burn. Add onions, chicken and chili garlic sauce. Stir and cook until chicken changes color.

Add soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar and stir some more, cooking for a few minutes longer. Remove from fire, add basil and serve immediately.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Best of the summer: five great recipes for when it's hot out

Summer is almost over and I realize that a post such as this would have been more useful in, say, June, but I just had the idea last night and thought it would be nice to publish some "best of" round ups every once in a while to be reminded of recipes posted months ago that otherwise will be forever forgotten. So here's my first one. Five great summer recipes for you to enjoy before the fall begins. 

SPICY CORN ON THE COB: Corn is a summer classic. It's good any way you make it, but when you grill it... the grilling adds a certain something to it. Doesn't it? And in this case, there's more to it than just corn and that delicious grill flavor. There's a savory and spicy paste made with butter and all kinds of good spices that make it to die for. Click here to find out how to make it!

BASIL GELATO: No, I have not lost my mind. Trust me. Basil and gelato go hand in hand much more than you would guess. I won't lie to you and tell you that on top of being delicious it's also easy to make, because it isn't. It's kind of a pain in the ass, but it's worth it. I served it with strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar and everyone, even a very difficult-to-please guest, loved it. Wanna try it? Here's the recipe.

KILLER RIBS: Of course I had to include at least one main dish to make on the grill, and these ribs are by far the best I've ever tried. The recipe originally comes from Roy's Restaurant, where my mom liked them so much she asked how to make them at home. Ever since then, this are the only ribs that can be found at out table. Sweet, savory, spicy, they have it all. And, of course, they are juicy and tender. To try them, find the recipe here.

ZUCCHINI BOATS STUFFED WITH COUSCOUS: I invented this recipe on a whim, last Labor Day weekend, when we were trying to put together some type of lunch we could enjoy on the boat at White Trash Beach in Bonita Springs, Florida. I had made a batch —a very large batch— of couscous and I had a truckload of zucchini. So why not use the two together? It turned out to be a refreshing, healthy dish, which is what we needed to go together with the massive amounts of beer we consumed that day. Here's the recipe.

LOBSTER AND AVOCADO CEVICHE:  no cook meals are a must in the summer. This ceviche won't increase the heat in your kitchen and it's so delicious you can serve it either for lunch or for dinner if you have company. Lobster can be substituted with big, plump shrimp if you prefer. You can find the recipe here.


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