Saturday, March 27, 2010

Garlic Focaccia-Better not have a Date Tonight!

I believe that in any kitchen, there must be some standard food staples you must have and never be without. Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Parmesan Cheese (not from a jar or can), Onions, Potatoes, Lemons, Tomatoes, eggs, flour and most of all lots and lots of Garlic!

When I started cooking, I made it a point to always have garlic in my kitchen. Not only does it go in almost every dish I cook (except sweets of course), but garlic is super healthy for you. Now most believe it’s not a good idea that if you eat lots of garlic, it’s not a good idea to go on a date with someone, but if that someone loves garlic too, then I think 2 garlics make a right.

So, I’ve been playing with my bread machine again, and the focaccia recipe from the booklet is pretty good, but I’ve taken it a few steps further and mix in some fresh garlic to make the bread even tastier. If you don’t have a bread machine, using frozen pizza dough will work or even if you have your own focaccia recipe just knead in fresh chopped garlic into the dough before your final rise.

Ingredients for Bread
Makes 1 1⁄2 pounds
  • 1 1/8 cups Water, 80°–90°F
  • 2 Tbsp + 1 Tsp Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 1⁄4 Tsps Italian herb blend
  • 1 1⁄2 Tsps Salt
  • 3 cups + 3 Tbsp Bread flour
  • 1 1⁄2 Tsps Yeast, active dry, instant or bread machine
  • ¼ cup Garlic-Freshly Chopped **Mix In**
Place all ingredients, in the order listed or per your machine’s instructions, in the bread pan fitted with the kneading paddle.

Select Dough/Pizza Dough. Select dough size. Press Start to mix, knead and rise. If you have a “mix in” option, make sure this is turned on. When “mix in” option beeps, add Garlic. If you do not have a “mix in” option, about 10-15 minutes into the first cycle, add the garlic. When full dough cycle is completed remove dough from pan, punch to deflate and let rest 10 minutes before continuing.

Ingredients for topping
Makes a 12x8 or 13x9-inch focaccia
  • 3 Tbsp Extra virgin olive oil
  • 3⁄4 Tsp Coarse kosher or sea salt
  • 1⁄3 cup Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1⁄4 cup Chopped fresh herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage)
Brush a jelly-roll pan with olive oil (Optional-sprinkle with cornmeal). After dough has rested, roll out on a lightly floured surface to the appropriate size and place in prepared pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until about doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450°F. With oiled fingertips, press indentations into the dough about 1 inch apart and 1⁄2-inch deep. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle evenly with salt, cheese and herbs. Place in preheated oven and bake until deep golden and puffed with a crispy crust, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Allow to cool in pan for about 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. Carefully remove from pan to cooling rack and cool for another 10-15 minutes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Chocolat Bouchee-It’s Not Your Grandmother’s Brownie

Ok, I realize I might get some flak for doing another brownie recipe, but this recipe is what I originally wanted to make, but thought I had lost it forever. Lucky for me, when I was searching for chocolate pudding recipes in my cookbook library, the recipe fell out of my Joy of Cooking book. I couldn’t believe that I actually saved it and found it several years later.  So of course, I needed to make this!

This is definitely not your Grandmother’s recipe or even your Mother’s for that matter. It’s so rich and decadent, that just one bite is enough to give you that orgasmic feeling, like when you eat a really good dark chocolate bar. I guarantee you will have to give a sex ed class before serving this to your adult friends.

This recipe is originally from B&B Cognac Liqueur.  It originally was part of an ad campaign in most magazines and was posted on Epicurious back in the day, but the recipe is not to be found on either sites as of this post. Today I have used Grand Marnier, but I also think that Crème de Menthe, Chambord and any coffee liqueur would also be fantastic as well as the original B&B Cognac Liqueur. I encourage all of you to use other liqueurs or flavorings, like almond extract or even creating an extract like saffron or curry could work (for those who cannot use liquor).

And YES...I ate one and couldn't finish it, but I did give the rest away to my neighbors and bodega folks. :)  It's all about proper moderation!

Chocolat Bouchee
  • 3 ½ Tbsp Cocoa Powder
  • 1 ¼ C AP Flour
  • ¼ Tsp Salt
  • ¼ Tsp Cinnamon
  • 10 Tbsp Butter (room temp)
  • 3 Tbsp (1 ½ oz) Corn Oil (I substituted Canola Oil)
  • 5 oz Unsweetened Chocolate-Chopped or in Chip form
  • 2 C + 2 Tbsp Light Brown Sugar (Packed) or you can use “Brownulated ®” LB Sugar
  • 3 Eggs + 1 Egg Yolk (room temp)
  • 6 Tbsp (3 oz) Grand Marnier or other Liqueur of your choice 
Butter and flour a 9”or 10” square pan. Sift together cocoa, flour, salt and cinnamon. Melt butter, Corn Oil (Canola Oil) and unsweetened chocolate over a double boiler. Place melted chocolate mixture in a mixing bowl. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Add brown sugar and beat well. Add eggs slowly. Add Liqueur. Slowly add dry ingredients, mixing until incorporated. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 350 Degrees for 20-30 minutes.

**Note: I don’t have a 9” or 10” square pan, so I use a 7”x11” pyrex. If this is all you have as well, the total cooking time is 27-30 minutes depending on your oven.

Take out of oven and cool for at least 30 minutes. Carefully run a knife on the sides of the pan and remove the whole cake onto a cooling rack to cool for another 30 minutes and cut to desired sizes.

For a 7”x11”, I was able to cut 12 approx 2.5”x2.5” decent size pieces, but because this treat is so rich, I would recommend cutting them even smaller.

Chocolate Glaze
  • 9 oz Semi Sweet Chocolate-Chopped or in Chip Form
  • 6 oz (approx ¾ cup) Corn Oil (I substituted Canola Oil)
  • ½ oz (1 Tbsp) Grand Marnier or other Liqueur of your choice 
Melt chocolate, corn oil and liqueur over a double boiler.

Take cut pieces of brownies and place over a cake rack with a pan or parchment paper underneath to catch drippings.

Pour warm glaze to coat each brownie piece.

Chill until glaze sets and serve or you can choose to serve right away, just be aware that chocolate will be dripping down your arm and on the floor!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I swear it was not a "Dis"

Ok, most of you read my blog: Food Traditions-Bodega Style and may have thought based on my comments in the 3rd paragraph regarding my sister's diet, I dissed her in some way or another.

Sorry if my comments alluded to that, but I never meant to "dis" her in any way. My sister is a vegetarian as well as her boyfriend. I fully respect their dietary choice and if you asked them personally, I always, when planning a feast consider them more than the meat eaters in the family or the desire of friends or my appetites.

It just so happened that I mentioned her in a sugary sense.  My sister loves sweets more than an I and I was only reflecting the fact that I knew that she would not want to be tempted by sugar and if I did tempt her, it should be more organic and vegan in nature as a better option.  Not that she would refuse any sweet offerings from me in any sense, I understand that she would rather refrain and go for a healthier version if offered.

The fact that my sister is a vegetarian (will eat fish occassionally), comes as a great challenge to me as a cook.  For a person who always learned to cook meat and meat based recipes, I now have to learn to cook those same family recipes without a poultry or meat base for her and her bo.  I have welcomed this challenge and I hope that in past menus for them, I have succeded to thier food enjoyment.

As a sister, I am proud that she has stuck to her beliefs in food in general. I may be a meat eater, but what my sister has educated me over the years is to understand my food and the food I cook and respect those who choose not to eat meat.

In many years past, vegans and vegetarians were thought of as wacky, free being, communal folks but in today's world, they are exactly what people should be (well maybe not so communal). The rest of us are only slowly learning this through the media in which we are so drawn to and rely on. That's a sad and sorry means to learn something that should be inherent.

Those vegetarians, vegans and macro biotic in years past were so way ahead of the game when it comes to wanting to live a full and healthily life. Being eco friendly and appreciate what mother earth gives them.

We as a crazy American society are just learning what the food we eat, does to our body. I for one do admit that I am not the perfect eater. Again, I love meat, but that does not mean I don't care about the meat I do eventually eat and do not care about my ultimate health.

I've seen the documentaries on the slaughter houses, the mis treatment of animals, but what is at the most injustice is the corporations that are controlling what and how we eat. It is time for us to take back control. The movie/documentary that really opened my eyes was Food Inc. This was a turning point for me as I learned with all the technology we have, we as the consumer should speak up by purchasing the right foods. By purchasing the foods we know where it comes from.

Please start to buy Organic, Pasture Fed and Bred and Free Range.  Add more veggies and whole grains to your dietary appetites. You will live happier and longer and most likely keep you away from the hospital.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Risotto- Done in my Italian way

That’s right, it’s risotto time! I haven’t made this dish in ages and although I only had 2 votes on what to cook next, I am glad that at least one person picked the risotto dish (I secretly picked the other). I’ve got big plans this weekend (big rain storm coming) to cook a few dishes. Keep on the lookout for my Homemade Ravioli and I will be making the Chocolat Bouchee even though no one picked it.

Back in the 90’s I had catered one of my mother’s many X-Mas parties and one particular year, the biggest hit of the evening was my Risotto with Sausage, Mushrooms, Asparagus and Fontina cheese. No sooner did I remove the dish from the stove to a serving bowl, it disappeared in a flash. All 50 guests or so, just ate it all up, coming back to the kitchen and asking me to make more!

I also use Risotto as a deciding factor among Italian Restaurants. If the restaurant serves risotto, I will order it and if it’s not done properly, that Italian Restaurant is off my list of places to eat. Risotto is a long cooking process and if not cooked properly, it can be either too crunchy or too mushy. Ultimately, you really have to love cooking to attempt this dish, it’s all about patience.

Overall, Risotto is pretty easy to cook, except for the fact it is a 45 min process without any prep time for any additions. However, this is a Learned Process. Sometimes, following Risotto Recipes are not enough. I personally learned how to cook this dish from my father, who explained and showed me along the cooking process what is properly cooked risotto. This dish, the rice specifically really comes down to being cooked Aldente and if you don’t know what that really is, you will have to cook this dish a few times before you can feel comfortable serving it to others.

Risotto is also great the next day. You can, depending what you may have added to it, you can make wonderful Risotto Balls. Just like you would make say, breaded chicken, you just ball up the risotto into say a golf ball size or a little bigger, dip in egg, and then roll in breadcrumbs…At this point you can fry them in some canola or extra virgin olive oil for a great treat or appetizer.

After the 5th Ladle
At the 6th LadleFinal with Sausage addedClose up!

Risotto with Sausage, Mushrooms, Asparagus and Fontina cheese
Serves 4 as a main meal-can serve up to 8 as an appetizer
  • 2 c Arborio Rice
  • 1 Medium white onion Minced
  • 2-3 cloves Garlic Minced
  • A few Tbls of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbls Unsalted Butter
  • 3 Links of Italian Sweet Sausage-Casing removed (About ½ pound if not in link form)
  • ½ pound of Asparagus cut into about ½ inch pieces
  • 1 small package of White or Baby Bella Mushrooms sliced
  • ½ c Fontina Cheese Grated
  • 6-8 Cups Broth (you can use Vegetable or Chicken-I have used Chicken for this Version)
  • 1-1/2 c White Wine (Pino Grigio or Chardonnay-Buy what you would drink)
  • S/P to taste 
Make sure you have all your ingredients prepped ahead of time. It will make the process easier.

Step 1: Mince your Onion and Garlic and set aside
Step 2: Cut your Asparagus and mushrooms and set aside
Step 3: Grate your Cheese. Tip: if you are using a food processor, because Fontina is a Soft cheese, place it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Then feed through your processor and set aside.
Step 4: Break up the Sausage into small pieces and sauté on medium heat until fully cooked and set aside.
Step 5: Heat up your Broth in a separate pan and keep it on a very low setting to keep it hot.

***This is now where you should not leave the pan at anytime***

Step 6: Pre-Heat a Large Fry pan or Dutch Oven over medium heat. (for Risotto newbies…I mean a Large. The rice will double in size as its being cooked)
Step 7: Add Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Butter. When butter has fully melted add Onions and sauté for about 2 minutes. Then add Garlic and continue to sauté for another minute.
Step 8: Add Arborio Rice and sauté for another 3-4 minutes. Cook, stirring until rice becomes opaque in color.
Step 9: Add White Wine and continue to stir rice until all liquid has dissipated/soaked into the rice
Step 10: Add 1 ladle or 1 cup of Broth for each interval, continually stirring the rice and liquid…Meaning add 1 ladle or 1 cup of Broth and stir until all liquid has dissipated/soaked into the rice, then add another ladle or 1 cup of Broth…Continue this process until you get to about the 5th ladle/cup. Your rice at this point should start to have a starchy milky look to it. This is good, as Arborio rice should have that starchy milky liquid.


Now for the first taste test…The Rice should be Aldente-“To the Tooth”…Which means that the rice should have a little bit of a bite, but not too much. You want the slightest resistance of the rice. If your rice is still crunchy that you can taste the crunch more than the rice itself, you will need to add more liquid. At the 5th Ladle/Cup, you should start to taste. Make sure you keep on tasting prior to each broth addition from this point on!

Step 11: Add Sliced Mushrooms, more broth and continue stirring. At this point your rice should have almost doubled in the pan.
Step 12: on your second to last ladles of Broth, add your Asparagus. Continue to add the remainder of your broth (you may not need to use all of it) until rice is done and turn heat off.
Step 13: Add Sausage and Fontina cheese…Stir until everything is incorporated and serve!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I'm a Beautiful American Mutt and so is everyone else in the USA

I always knew my sister and I were heretically mutts and possibly nuts ( ;) ).  We do have strong lineages of viking in our blood from Sweden and Denmark.  We are also very English in our family history. We both have the privilege of being decedents of Italy and Lithuania origins as well.

Our English history is the most documented in my family, as we are related in someway to the founders (Roger Smith) of Rhode Island. Not necessarily related by blood, but by efforts and partnerships, but I do not know the relationships fully.

I was told, but sources are not exactly confirmed, because of our English origins and ties to Rhode Island, my sister and I have the opportunity to be a part of the Daughters of the Revolution, but I would say "no way" anyway because why would I want to be a part of a group that is so harsh in ideas and believe they are better than others? This group has acted as if they are the true upper echelon-they should call themselves the first Reich if you ask me. (if I am wrong about the DotR, then my apologies, but as I understand, it's a very restricted club of American Women)

I've also been told that my Swedish lineage goes back to Royalty...This I've got to see!  Even so, it doesn't mean all that much, since I would never sit on a throne in my lifetime or ever get near it. ;)

The biggest memory and values taught in my childhood were mostly about being of Italian descent, when I analyzed the most recent generations of my family, the most prominent and dominant that I can conclude are English, Swedish and Lithuanian. Unfortunately Italian and Denmark are last.

I figured it this way--From the shortest line: 
  • Mom=Sweden, English
    • Nana=Sweden
      • Great Nana and Grandpa=From Old Country-Sweden
    • Grandpa=England
      • Parents=England
  • Dad=Denmark, Lithuania,Italy
    • Nana=Lithuania
      • Nona=From Old Country-Lithuania
    • Grandpa=Denmark,Italy
      • Assume Grandma-Italy
      • Assume Grandpa-Denmark
I grew up believing Italian and am no matter what, proud of being Italian no matter how small my DNA proves. I've been told my family Italian line goes back to L’Aquila. So, even though my Italian Blood is small , it can be traced somewhere to the old country.  However, I am also just as proud as my other blood lines.  It just so happened that Italian was at the forefront in my upbringing.

I love all my heritages.  A little goes a long way when it comes to food. Italian is my favorite cuisine and libations and because of that, I am a true Italian in my heart.  I have also recently learned more about the Swedish side of food, which I was also exposed to as a child, like herring, smorgashborg etc...My hopes are to bring both cuisines to everyone who reads this blog.

Food for Thought:  I do want to say that I am AMERICAN all the way.  A good friend of mine reminded me that no matter your lineage, if you were born in America, your are American.  Just as if I were born in Italy, I would be Italian.  Just beacuse maybe your mother or father were from another country, does not mean your are that true origin, you are now a mix.  That is a fact I cannot and will not argue.  So for anyone out there "fighting" for their country of origin rights...Remember, where you are BORN is what you ultimately are and will always be.  Your lineage is important, but it is not what makes you a whole person.  It only makes you a part of your family history of origin.  You are the start of a new history with a new origin on top of your mom and pop's origins and so on.  So make your life special and move forward while respecting your past lineages.

I am fortunate I have many backgrounds, as I was brought up to love food from many cultures outside my own.  I found in my life that cooking respects the past and continues some form of legacy.  I am a mutt, so I feel lucky that I am able to cook many recipes that respect my family history and my family present.

Be proud of who you are and where you are and COOK ON!