Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dolly muffins and breaking the muffin rules


I know I recently posted about muffins, but I had to tell you about these anyway. They were a total baking mishap yet turned out quite delicious. I kid you not. They are extremely humble, not vain and dressed up like so many of their berry or nut-encrusted cousins. They are not studded with chocolate chips, there is no surprise swirl of tasty delight, not even the delectable presence of tangy cheese or vegetables reserved for their savory counterparts. These are plain Janes, but in a good way. Not in the 'you get what you see' way, because there is so much more to them than you expect. They have a depth of flavor that knocks your socks off. Perhaps it is the butter in them or their crumb, I really don't know, but the flavor is so complex in its simplicity, that I found them 'simply' irresistible.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cowboy meatloaf

It has been raining a lot and the air has gotten chillier. It is the kind of weather that makes you think of cups of smokey Lapsang Souchong tea, wrapping up in a warm blanket on the couch to watch a movie and hearty comfort food. It isn't quite autumn yet and the weather is far from cold, but it is these first tiny whispers of fall and winter in the air that suddenly make you crave all those things you gladly tucked away last spring. So when I came across the Pioneer Woman's recipe for meatloaf, the one she cooks for her very own cowboys and cowgirls, I knew it was what I wanted.

Poor meatloaf. So scorned, so mistreated. It is not a beauty to photograph and it certainly is not refined fare, but it is filling, complete, tasty and comforting. It is cheap, it will feed a whole family and still make excellent leftovers to be eaten cold with a light salad or tucked away in a crusty sandwich smothered in dripping sauces and any other thing you care to add. And the other great thing about this recipe is that you will pretty much have all the ingredients you will need right in your kitchen. What more could you possibly want from a meal?  

Friday, September 24, 2010

My MIL's torta di ricotta, or ricotta cake

It is fashion week in Milan. That is synonymous of total chaos. It means the traffic, which is already pretty bad here, is horrendous. It means scooters, bikes and pedestrians weaving dangerously in and out of the aforementioned traffic. It means stressed out people everywhere ready to snap. It means bored looking models invading the city. It means double and triple parked Ferraris and Maseratis and papparazzi scurrying around photographing "It people". It also means me desperately trying to get from work in the smack center of Milan to pre-school and back faster than the hours it seems to be taking each way. Because each time I ride my bike down the pedestrian roads of the center I get stuck for about a half hour in the hordes of people craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the catwalk behind the 6-foot tall bouncers in sleek suits and sunglasses they built about 100m from my office. It also means that I will never in a 100 years get a reservation in that restaurant I am planning to go to for my birthday.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Orecchiette con le cime di rapa - R.E.R. part 2 (ridiculously easy recipes)

I'm still here. It has been a crazy few days, as you know from my previous post. Life these days is all about interviews, new nannies (please note the plural), biking in a sweaty haze from work to day care and back, guilt pangs. Cooking is not a priority these days. I did get around to some baking on the week end, but I have not had time to download the pictures yet. Forgive me.

Luckily I have that emergency file I mentioned the other day. This almost seemed too simple and obvious a recipe to post, but it is a great dish, a fantastic way to cook healthy greens and, most of all, a typical dish from the Apulia region of Italy many of you may not be familiar with.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Maple-glazed chicken thighs and bad days

Yesterday was a bad day. Or rather it started bad, got worse and then actually got better. 

As many of you know, being a working mom leaves you no other choice than to entrust people you don't know very well with what is most precious to you. I went through this with my first born and it was excruciating. This time it was a little easier. I knew I wouldn't miss out on the important things, I knew I would still be his number 1. And both times I was lucky to find people who cared. A few weeks ago emergency struck, so enter a new person. Not the perfect fit, I was aware at the time, but comfortable enough to help until day care started in a month. Or so I thought.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chocolate-chip banana bread muffins

I had 2 ripe bananas. Two very ripe bananas. No more and no less.

I wanted to make banana bread but you can't make a great banana bread with two average sized bananas and I certainly couldn't go out and buy more overripe bananas. Still, I had to get rid of those two and quick, before they stood up and jumped into the trash can without my help.
Also, I needed something healthy and filling to eat in the car on Saturday morning on our long drive up to Piedmont to visit our dear friends Y&A. Something that wouldn't get little hands too sticky or the car too dirty. Muffins!
And that is how the banana bread muffins were born (I actually thought I was being creative until I googled those words and came up with about a million recipes). I added a little chopped up 72% chocolate I had left over from the chocolate brownies I made last week and some chopped, pealed almonds too.

They were fast (man were they fast!) to make and they were good.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Spaghetti con guanciale e fiori di zucca (pork jowl & zucchini blossoms)

Guanciale is pork jowl: the cheek (guancia in Italian) of the pig, rubbed in salt and pepper and cured for a few weeks. It is not smoked, it has a stronger flavor than pancetta but it is more delicate in texture.

Guanciale is traditionally used in Roman dishes (or recipes from Latium region in general) such as amatriciana and carbonara. Purists and Romans insist on using it in their recipes, claiming it is essential for the perfect turn-out of the dish. However, since guanciale is not to be found everwhere that easily, even here in Italy, you can use pancetta (cured bacon, the not-smoked kind, called pancetta dolce) instead.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Farro with green beans and garlic

There I was, getting ready to post about this dish that can be a healthy, light main course or an original side dish, when I realized I wasn't quite sure what to call farro in English. I was pretty sure it was spelt and was surprised when I read the correct translation is emmer wheat, although it is often confused with spelt. They are actually cousins, the difference presumably being that emmer wheat needs to be soaked (although some say it is optional), spelt does not. I did not soak my farro, so perhaps it was spelt, but it distinctly said farro on the label. Oy vey! At this point my level of confusion kept growing and I went on researching. It turns out that a variety of hulled wheats (whose kernels retain their hull during the harvest and are dehulled afterwards, before further processing) are called farro in Italian: emmer wheat, spelt (or Dinkel in German) and einkorn. At times the distinction between farro piccolo, medio and grande will be made (small, medium, large), but not always. It seems that the largest cultivations in Italy are of emmer, but spelt is usually the easiest to find in most places.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pork, pork and more pork: fennel rubbed-pork tenderloin with fig sauce & pork chops a la Vera

Today I am posting what I had originally planned to post about yesterday, before being sidetracked by chocolate and butter and the way those brownies just melt in your mouth...I wish I had just one teeny one left to nibble on right now...oops, there I go again...sorry.


Today's post is about meat, more precisely pork tenderloin.

Rewind again.

Remember the Sunday family lunch I wrote about the other day? Well, I knew exactly what I didn't want to make as a main course: no roasts, too obvious (mother-in-law territory). No chicken, made that last time my mother-in-law stayed with us. No foreign recipes (for those of you who didn't read that post, it is not that we don't like foreign food. I just always end up making it for F's family in the effort to prepare something different). No fish (we all just spent a lovely vacation on the island of Elba and had tons of fish). It had to be tasty, simple, yet not obvious. It needed a special touch. Wait... September = figs. Figs = prosciutto. Prosciutto = pork! That's it!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Nigella Lawson's irresistible brownies

I already had my new post all worked out in my mind last night, when I awoke to a grey and rainy morning with a distinct autumn chill and thought nothing could be more comforting than rich, chewy, chocolatey brownies on a day like this. Too bad the stash I made on the week end just finished!

I got this recipe from Nigella's How to Be a Domestic Goddess and have never turned back. I know, it is so chock choc-a-block full of butter, chocolate, sugar, eggs and nuts there is no way it could be less than delicious. But if you are going to have it, you might as well go the whole way, right? So I prefer to make these morsels of chocolatey heaven a little less often than I am tempted to but to enjoy every buttery crumb, each nutty bite to the end.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Risotto al pomodoro and how to make risotto (and tomato sauce)

My in-laws are in town so we had them over for lunch yesterday.
You remember my mother-in-law? The Sicilian cooking goddess who made one more fabulous dish after another during our stay in Elba? The woman who has been cooking non-stop for the past 50 years and never writes down a recipe? The mamma of my DH?

Sunday lunch is a big deal in Italy, a family event, especially in the south. For years we had regular Sunday lunches with the family at my in-laws'. Then recently my sister-in-law moved to Rome and my in-laws spend less and less time in Milan. So, now that there are not so many of us and we are really the only milanesi, I have started inviting them over. It is still very new for me, hosting the Sunday get-together. The few times I have done it I usually played it safe and made something a little, er, exotic, just to  muddy the waters if you know what I mean. So m-in-law couldn't really judge my cooking skills because she was eating something she had never tasted before. But the time to cook Italian had come: there are only so many curries, meat pies and Marrocan lamb you can serve your Italian in laws. The day comes when your mother-in-law will find out if her son and grandchildren are eating decent Italian fare...

Friday, September 3, 2010

Panino Giusto, Milan

Jolly: prosciutto crudo di Parma, brie, tomatoes and tartar sauce

Italians, especially the Milanese, know Panino Giusto. So this post is for all of you who don't and who may be lucky enough to stop in a place that has one (there is one conveniently located at Malpensa Airport now if you stop over or even places Tokyo).

Tartufo: prosciutto crudo di Parma, brie, rucola, tomato and truffle oil

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Scary omelettes and R.E.R. (ridiculously easy recipes) part 1

A perfect, comforting Sunday night dinner

In Italy when you say someone doesn't even know how to cook an egg (non sa nemmeno cucinare un uovo) it means they have absolutely no idea about cooking. Implying that cooking an egg is the easiest thing in the world. So why is it that when you google or search on youtube for the words 'soft-boiled egg' or 'omelette' or 'eggs benedict' you get page after page of tips on how to do it?

Cooking the perfect egg is no simple task and I have seen more than one chef on TV give away his/her secret to obtaining egg nirvana: salting sunny-side-up eggs by sprinkling salt directly on the bottom of the pan so the grains do not ruin the perfect aesthetics of the orange yolk nestled in a bed of white fluffiness, timing techiniques to keep a soft-boiled egg yolk runny but to get firm whites and even what I have nicknamed the 'Roman bath technique' to hard boil an egg (those eggs move from the caldarium to the tepidarium to the frigidarium with more professionalism than an inhabitant of Rome in 50 BC!). 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fluffy, moist yogurt pancakes


It is only half the way through the week and I am already dreaming about the week end.
First of all I get to sleep in. Not until past 11:00am like I did in the old, disco days. Not even until 9:00am with a 14-month old and a 4-year old. Usually these means we get to sleep till 7.30-8:00am, not bad with kids. I am not an early morning person, don't get me wrong, but considering I am usually at the office by 7.10am, by my standards it is a luxury.
Second, it means I have two whole days to spend with my family, starting with breakfast. During the week my whole family is still sleeping when I leave the apartment so sitting around a table sipping coffee, giggling with my daughter and just enjoying each other's company is a real treat.
Last, but not least, I have time to cook. In daylight, so I can take some halfway decent pictures. Without little hands grabbing at my legs in my baby's attempt to stay in an upright position (yes, 14 months and still not walking) while I am handling hot pots and pans and constant "Mooooommyyyyys" from the other room. It is all happening anyway, but F is there to save the day while I sift flour and get my hands greasy.

Breakfast+week end+cooking+flour= pancakes

You don't need to be a genius to figure out that equation. I know it is a staple American breakfast, I know it is so simple you don't need a recipe and you don't want yet another blogger publishing one. But I stumbled across this recipe with yogurt in it on One Green Generation, attracted by its title. And a food blog cannot be considered a food blog in its own right without a pancake recipe on it, n'est-ce pas? So forgive me and skip ahead, if I am boring you. Or read more if you are already dreaming of that sweet-salty-buttery fluffines on your tongue.