Friday, September 30, 2011

My Seven links

If you are a foodblogger you probably know about the 7 links and you probably also have already participated (or decided not to). Right before I was leaving for vacation to go to a place with no Internet connection I was tagged by Paolo and Pola, two Italian expats and food bloggers. I told them both that I was honored to be tagged and told them that I would participate as soon as I got back. So here I am, as promised. I didn't forget.

One of my main reasons for participating in this challenge is that it forces me to go through my blog and see where I have gotten after a little over a year of blogging. What has improved, what I would like to change, what my readers are interested in. The truth is I am not much of a stats person, I just go with the flow and write what I am inspired by. I often post spur of the moment recipes, quick week night meals for my family. I do not sit and plan what recipe will be more successful and the few times I have planned ahead something usually went wrong. So here I go.

As in the most beautifully written post or the most beautifully photographed? Or both?
There are recipes that turned out beautiful but that my photography did not do justice to. There are photos that got onto the foodporn sites for recipes that weren't even real recipes or for blogposts that meant less to me than others. What criteria should I use to choose?
I decided to link to our cookie decorating session because: a) who doesn't love the holidays, whichever holiday it may be? b) This was a real family effort, with the help of good friends. It was a fun afternoon  and is a good memory. c) There is nothing more beautiful than childrens' creativity.


This was an easy one, all I had to do was check out my side bar.
The decoration on this cake, despite being extremely simple to make, attracts a lot of attention. It is one of the few posts that made it onto both Tastespotting and Foodgawker, so that explains the thousands of views. 

I am not a very controversial person, I generally avoid conflict if possible (I can hear my husband and mother snickering - you guys have the privilege of getting the real deal because you will hopefully always love me no matter what. Hello? Anybody out there?). In general I shy away from controversy, I try to look at both sides, I try to always find the middle stance. Just like in this post. But it was interesting to read the different opinions people have on the subject.

It is hard to choose, because as per Google queries the first of the two is the most helpful. On the other hand, while most people make a decent lasagna, I have had many a terrible risotto. So I personally think the second post is more helpful.

The post that still surprises me for the amount of views it gets daily, despite not being on Tastespotting or Foodgawker, is Teriyaki glazed salmon.
It was one of my rushed week night dinners with bad lighting and no time for real pictures. People are constantly googling that word combination and finding my blog through it. I guess they are on to the secret that this delicious recipe takes just minutes to make from scratch.

There are a lot of posts, epsecially the ones I wrote in my first months of blogging when I had very few readers, that I put a lot of effort and love into. Among these I chose my mother in law's ricotta cake, because it deserves as much attention as it can get.  Not for my sake, but for your sake. I swear. I think it is one of the most asked-for recipes I make. This cake is truly delicious. I have yet to meet one person who tasted it that did not fall head over heals in love with it, it is that good. It so easy, you have to try this.

 There are a few out there that I am pretty proud of because I went out of my comfort zone making them, pushing my limits. Most of them involve baking, because I am not a natural born baker and that is were most of my disasters take place in the kitchen. With savory I always find a way to get by and solve a situation or use up ingredients in a successful way. Baking is a whole different story. I am proud of so many of these: the saragli I made, my first layer cake and many more, but since it is fall I am choosing these. Before reading blogs, I never ever thought I would make these in my own kitchen.

And now that I am done, here is a list of a few bloggers I love reading who I believe have not participated yet. Check out their blogs, you won't be sorry.

My Fiance Likes it so it Must be Good

Oh, by the way, I have been having trouble commenting on Blogger sites these days, mine included, so be patient and I will be getting back to you.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ultimate chocolate birthday cake

You have turned *beep* if:
your first lunch box was the original Star Wars lunch box
you watched Donny and Marie sing "I'm a little bit country/rock'n'roll"
you remember Michael Jackson's nose
you remember when an apple was just a fruit
Orwell's 1984 was still a book about the future
seat belts were optional growing up
shoulder pads were a big part of becoming a teenager

More reasons to feel old:
1. you were born last century
2. you husband remarked during your birthday dinner that your dad wasn't much older than you are now when they first met
3. the language of the country you live in has a different suffix from this decade on

You know you did pretty well your first *beep* years:
1. when you celebrate your birthday dinner with a husband and two children you are head-over-heels in love with
2. tons of people you care about from all around the world call you, text you, email you and write you to wish you a happy birthday

Many years ago my mother-in-law (who is not Chinese by the way) passed on a real pearl of wisdom that I think of every day of my life: never complain about your age because if you are alive to talk about it, you should consider yourself a blessed person.

So true. I am a very lucky girl woman. I am 40 and I am proud of it! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!!

To celebrate, chocaholic that I am, I decided a wanted a dark, moist, rich, chocolate birthday cake. I wanted the kind I can't get on this side of the ocean, with layers and frosting. For the beginning of my fifth decade I wanted the whole shebang.

That is how I came to attempt my first layer cake ever. It was also one of my first frosting experiences. It was fun, it was easier than I expected. It turned out delicious.

It wasn't me, it was the recipe.

It delivers exactly what it promises: the moistest, darkest, most chocolaty cake you could imagine. It is a recipe I have been seeing around a few blogs, it has been handed down through generations apparently. It turns out it is a recipe posted on the Hershey's website. I followed the "Especially Dark" Chocolate cake recipe and used a some coffee as suggested in the Black Magic Cake recipe. 

The batter is very runny. So runny you will think you went wrong somewhere. You didn't. Also, there is no butter or chocolate in the cake, so it is not as heavy as you would imagine. Go on, what are you waiting for? Don't wait until you turn 40. Any day is a good day.

Runny batter. See how runny it is?

Friday, September 23, 2011

10-minute or faux tarte tatin

I am aware that a tarte tatin is a complex affair, a thing to be taken very seriously, whose preparation involves great love and skill.
Then again, as a working mother of two, I am always short on time and so once again I am proposing a short cut. I do however feel the need to point out that this recipe is in no way trying to rival the original, because we all know that is impossible.
Along with pecan pie, tarte tatin is F's favorite dessert. We spent our honeymoon in Paris one cold December many moons ago and tarte Tatin was his way of ending almost every meal. While I stuffed myself silly with molten chocolate cakes and chocolate mousse, he happily spooned creme fraiche onto his tarte tatin.

These days things are a little more crazy than they were back in Paris, but I still like to spoil my husband every once in a while. There is a restaurant in Mallorca that is famous for its paper thin version of tarte tatin that must be ordered at the beginning of the meal because it is baked express in single portions and served warm with vanilla ice cream. I took F there for his second birthday celebration and he looked forward to his birthday cake all evening.

Imagine my delight when I came across Nigella's forgotten (by me) recipe for a tarte fine aux pommes. It looked just like it so I couldn't pass up the opportunity. I made some minor adjustments in shape, exchanging the suggested Granny Smith apples with yellow ones and by adding a light layer of jam. What I didn't leave out was the creme fraiche (now you know why I had my favorite salmon dip a few times this past week), bringing back so many newlywed memories and making it taste close to a tarte tatin.

My husband ended up not having any because he was not feeling well, but everyone else enjoyed it and I guess it is the thought that counts, right?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kitchens of the world and smoked salmon with horseradish & dill dip

Today is all about your food.

I just started a new page (see above) called 'Nuts about Food in kitchens around the world'. Unfotunately I have not been travelling across the globe tasting home cooked meals these past few days (unless my imagination counts in the least). This page is dedicated to all those bloggers (and non bloggers, by the way) who have somehow been inspired by recipes they have found on my blog. In the past year some of you from all corners of the world cooked or further developed ideas I posted and linked back to my blog. It is always nice to be mentioned on someone else's blog, but what I love most is seeing how my recipes are interpreted by different people. So if you every cook anything from here take a picture, whether you are a blogger or not, and I will be happy to showcase it!

And because I cannot leave without a little idea for one of your next meals, here is my favorite way of eating smoked salmon these days (unless of course I am in New York, where I can buy a real bagel). I have to thank my mother for reminding me of this dip, although I added my own little twist. I don't care whether you spread it onto the bread and top it with a slice of salmon or if you dip the salmon into it before bringing the fork to your mouth, just promise you will try it. Smoked salmon will never be the same. And neither will anything else you try it with, come to think of it. Meat skewers, anyone?

2 tbsp craime fraiche
2 tbsp horseradish paste
fresh dill

smoked salmon
bread or crostini 

Mix 2 tablespoons of horseradish with 2 tablespoons or more or less of creme fraiche, depending on how much heat you like. Chop up and mix in a handful of fresh dill. Serve with smoked salmon and bread, toast or crostini. You could also blend the smoked salmon right into the dip, but I personally love the pink slices.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Roasted vegetable lasagna with saffron bechamel sauce

My mother is in the process of moving and while we were visiting this summer, I went through some of her old books and picked a few to take home. I chose one in particular that I had seen in her bookshelves for years but had never given a second glance, not realizing what it was about. Its English title - I have the Italian translation - is Great Cooks and Their Recipes: From Taillevent to Escoffier and was written by Anne Willan, founder of the prestigious cooking school Ecole de Cuisine de La Varenne, back in 1977.

Now, anybody who knows me knows that I am mildly obsessed with history. Not really dates and wars and rulers, more like everyday life in all periods, but particularly the Middle Ages. I have always been intrigued by people's domestic life through time. I love visiting museums that illustrate the lives in cities, towns and homes of the past and have read many books on this subject. In law school, I have to admit to being more interested in the case studies of Ancient Rome than in most other subjects because it gave me an insight on how people actually lived on a day to day basis at the time. My friends tease me because whenever we drive down roads in the middle of nowhere or at night I say things like "I wonder what it would have been like to live here in the Middle Ages, without seeing a soul for months"; or I wonder what life would have been like in one of the many Medieval towns scattered throughout Italy.

It turns out this book, with its yellowed pages, is filled with information and illustrations about food, eating habits and cooking from the Middle Ages on.  Some of these facts were known to me, others weren't, but they are all fascinating. Did you know, for example, that in the Middle Ages people were not served large chunks of meat or whole roasted animals as we like to imagine? Meat in those days was incredibly tough (especially from larger animals), it was often salted, dried, smoked or pickled to preserve it in the winter and most of the time it was way past its prime so it was common to break it down as small as possible, often puréeing it, and to smother it in sauces and spices to cover the unpleasant taste. A meat dish was considered excellent when you couldn't tell what part of the animal it came from and even more so if you didn't even know what animal you were eating. And did you know that sugar was commonly used on savory dishes? Or that banquets were public and subjects were allowed to watch their sovereigns, the rich and the powerful feast as a means of entertainment?

It was also interesting to read that one of the most ancient forms of pasta in Italy were lasagne, already present in Roman times and prepared in one form or the other throughout history. I think all this reading of the Middle Ages unconsciously inspired the dish I made for my guests over the weekend, a lasagna with no trace of meat or tomatoes but rich with the warm color and flavor of saffron.

This lasagna was a first for us and it turned out to be a success, besides being extremely practical.
First of all, you can prepare it ahead of time so you won't have to cook while your guests are in the other room having fun and drinking all that good wine. Second of all, it is the perfect way to use up the various left over vegetables in your fridge. Last and not least, it is a great vegetarian meal.
There are no exact amounts, ingedients or techniques for this recipe. You can use pretty much any vegetable you like and fill the lasagna however you think appropriate. These are just general guidelines.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fresh charred corn salad with radish greens, tomatoes and mint

This post was supposed to be about the last days of summer, the last ears of corn. About discovering new ways to feel good about yourself - yes, after reading about it for months on line, I finally bought some radishes and ate the greens in a salad instead of discarding them. It indeed felt great to use all the parts of the root. And yes, it was good, peppery and fresh.

This post was supposed to be about the many changes of the past weeks. School starting: the excitement and the pride combined with a nighttime need for comfort from Mommy and Daddy in face of all the novelty. The many doubts at work involving a long-procrastinated deal and disposal. The small complaints, the drudgery of our daily lives.

Now this post is now about gratitude, about living life to its fullest. Things happen around us, things that are so unfathomable, so shocking that they jolt us out of our passiveness, our negativity, they shake us to the core. They are a wake up call, an alarm that reminds us to appreciate every annoying nuance of our everyday, normal life.

When, in the span of 24 hours, you discover yet another good friend is in a sterile room fighting against leukemia; that your dear friend who is having a baby girl in three weeks was just told there are problems and they don't know how serious they are. When you read about a fellow blogger's 'first week of school' experience, you realize that shit happens. A lot. You realize you should be thanking your lucky stars. You realize you have to live your life to the max and that you have to tell the people you care about how much you love them. Every day. You have to grasp life and make the best out of every day because disease, loss, hurt are lurking around the corner.

Enjoy the sweetness of every kernel of roasted corn that pops between your teeth. Delight in the peppery sharpness of those radish greens. Feel all the freshness of the mint, the juiciness of the ripe tomatoes and the tartness of the lime. Because life is all of the above, sweet, spicy, tangy and we are lucky to be alive.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Summer tunaloaf

Yesterday I really felt the passing of time, like sand slipping through my fingers, unstoppable. You probably think it is because I am turning *beep* in a couple of weeks. Or because every muscle in my body is killing me after running that extra mile yesterday morning. But that is not it, although come to think of it I feel even older now. That darn sand is slipping way too quickly!

The reason is simple. Yesterday my first child started school. Her career really began when she was barely one and after years of daycare, kindergarden, preschool, summer school - you name it, she went - she is quite the little trooper. But yesterday was the big day, first grade.

I had packed some Kleenex into my bag along with my camera because I have become more weepy than a weeping willow these days but ended up not using it. That however does not mean it was not an emotional day: it actually turned out to be more so than I expected, at a much deeper level. It made me re-examine my life, where I am, where I am coming from and where I am headed. It made me realize that although I feel like a girl at heart, younger generations perceive me as a lady.

Lady, you have a child in school.

I tried not to think about it too much over the summer and only really focused a little last week when I went to buy a backpack and pencil box. By Sunday I was feeling a little nervous and doing my best to hide it, going on and on to my daughter about how big she is, how she will soon be reading and writing, what an exciting time she had ahead of her. When I tucked her in I told her it was ok to feel a little scared, that each and every child would be nervous the next morning. I also told her to remember that to them she was a scary stranger just like they were to her and she giggled and said "Mommy, that's impossible, I am a very sweet girl!". She had been pretty nonchalant about the whole thing for weeks and I wondered how much she was acting excited for our sake and how much she really understood what was happening. I mean, until you've been to school you really don't know what you are getting yourself into, right?

So yesterday she woke up, we took some pictures and set off.

That is when the throbbing began, deep inside my chest. All I could see when I looked at her was a huge, bouncing backpack and little blonde locks sticking out from the top. She was excited and her excitement grew as she found her old friends from last year and they assembled in a squealing group hug. All nervousness was forgotten on her side and I barely saw her for the next 10 minutes. Then a teacher came out and told us to assemble in the courtyard to form the classes. I felt butterflies in my stomach and a cold, little hand slip into mine. In a second I experienced all her anxiety, fear and expectation, I could almost feel her heart thumping in her little ribcage, like a frightened little bird's. I just wanted to protect her, to fold her into my arms and hold her tight. But when it was her turn, she walked right over to her new teachers and classmates without glancing back and up the big stairway they went. By the time us parents followed and reached her classroom she was sitting in the front row with a girl she didn't know instead of choosing an old friend. That's my girl. When we left she was smiling and whispering and comparing pencil cases and I knew she would be fine.

When I picked her up a few hours later I took her out for a special lunch, just the two of us and we both enjoyed the luxury of a week day together. By the evening we were all tired, emotionally drained and in need of a comforting meal. Comfort food in our repertoire is usually hearty food - not really fitting for the last throes of summer. Until now.

Here is a recipe for a summer meatloaf made with pantry staples from a friend and colleague, something most kids will enjoy too. My son had two huge slices, but then again I did watch him down 4 hotdogs (minus the buns) at a BBQ this summer. It is simple but took a little more effort/time than I had imagined to assemble. The thing I hadn't taken into account was the cooling process, which takes longer than you would expect. So give yourself plenty of time to make it. It is a great meal to prepare a day ahead, to bring as a potluck or picnic dish or as an office meal and it gets better as the days pass.

When it has cooled completely, slice and drizzle with some olive oil, a little lemon juice and lots of freshly ground black pepper. I was in a rush and we like grainy texture in our home so I kept it quite rustic, but you can easily process the ingredients to get a smoother texture. There are endless variations: you could add in some mustard or throw in some green beans (keeping them whole) for a Niçoise effect. Let me know what you did with yours.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Markets and more

This is my last post of this summer's Mallorca series. Next week I will be back posting about my little adventures in the kitchen, but if you are anything like me, I know you will enjoy strolling through these crowded markets, looking at the stalls minus the masses of people and the sweltering heat of those days (don't thank me, thank my faithful little point-and-shoot camera).

Our first stop will be Sineu, inland Mallorca, once the island's largest market dedicated to livestock and agriculture. It is held every Wednesday and attracts masses of locals and tourists. Despite it selling everything from food, to clothes to junk odds and ends, it still has a section dedicated to live animals, although it is more a tourist attraction nowadays.

Need a new hammer?

Has your goat had its cup of coffee today?