Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Zucchini carpaccio with feta cheese, mint and toasted pinoli nuts


In the the past weeks F has been playing soccer on Monday nights and coincidentally, on the same night they have started showing a cycle of old Dustin Hoffman movies. Last week it was Kramer vs. Kramer, yesterday it was Tootsie's turn. 
Considering I hadn't watched either movie in about 30 years, I wasn't surprised I had missed out on a lot of the humor and drama. When I first saw Kramer vs. Kramer I was a child approximately Billy's age with recently divorced parents and I was moving to another continent with my mom. It was all pretty matter-of-factual to me. Now, as the mother of a daughter that age, I watched it with renewed interest and much more involvement than the last time. As for Tootsie, I had natually completely missed out on the sexual subtext, which is surprising considering the whole comedy revolves around it. I also realized with a little gasp that Dustin, Meryl and Jessica were probably all younger than I am today when they starred in those movies. Finally, I smiled when I realized Michael's roommate in Tootsie is Bill Murray, who only became a noteworthy presence in my life after Ghostbusters. Or that Tootise marked Geena Davis' first movie appearance.

Generally speaking I am not usually one to watch old movies, it just isn't my thing. I am not that person with a huge collection of dvds that I see over and over again. But something about these two movies just sucked me in, something more than just purely enjoying good acting by a younger, softer version of the stars they are today. The truth is they bring me back to a different time of my life. A time that I can now see with much more awareness than I did as a kid. They portray the NY of my younger years, a time when I had still lived most of my life in the city instead of Europe. The years of the Russian Tea Room, the Twin Towers and of a seedy but truer version of Times Square.

Tootsie imp.jpg
Source: Wikipedia
I felt a twinge when I saw a NY bus drive by in a scene that was advertising the hit musical Evita. I remember every minute of those summer nights in the early Eighties when I played that record over and over again. I sang of a new Argentina, the chains of the masses untied, and had not a clue what it meant. I sat in a Broadway theater mesmerized while Magaldi admonished Eva of the perils of Buenos Aires. Those tunes were the soundtrack of several years of my early life and every note brings back a memory. My family still roll their eyes at the mere mention of the Argentine rose.
And what about mocassins? Did you have a pair? I had completely forgotten about my white ones until I watched Lange's slow-motion twirl last night.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Poppy seed explosion muffins

Yesterday, while we were having lunch with a bunch of friends (it was a national holiday - although lucky me, I got to go to the office from 7 till just before noon anyway!), my daughter managed to swallow a tooth while eating her sandwich.
At least we think she swallowed it because it was there (and not even that loose for all I knew) before the sandwich and gone after it. She looked all around her plate, in her lap and under the table, for reasons you will understand shortly, and there was no sign of it.
How do you eat a tooth and not realize it?
While I was obsessing about that gross detail, how it would be coming out on the other end soon and how my baby is already eight lost-teeth into adulthood and will be leaving me soon to go and live her own life, she was obsessing about il topino dei denti, the mouse.
Yes, the mouse.
In Italy - and other countries in Europe I believe - it is the tooth mouse that shows up at your child's pillow to take his/her tooth and leave some money in its place. I am partial to the tooth fairy myself, being a girl and all, but I guess the mouse is more gender neutral and who am I to complain anyway?*
So, all my kid could think of was whether the mouse would leave her any money if she didn't have a tooth as evidence. Would the mouse know , the way Santa and Co. know that kind of stuff? I assured here it probably does but we would have to wait and see.
A heated debate ensued at the table with various suggestions. My daughter decided she would just sleep with her mouth open, like she normally does, she stated.
I, the advocate's devil, whipped out my phone to prove her wrong. Just the night before I had snapped a picture of her sleeping (yes, I am the crazy mama who constantly takes pictures of her sleeping children) and the evidence showed the contrary.
So perhaps she could draw a picture of her mouth with a gap where her tooth once was or write a note to the mouse?
Well, by the time she went to bed last night after a 5km walk in the park, she had forgotten all about the tooth she was so exhausted.
And although I was back in the office this morning, I know for a fact that the mouse dropped by. Or actually, the tooth fairy.
*Turns out I actually do have a right to complain since I am the bank and the messenger...

Who collects teeth in your country?

This is a a simple, homey, comforting snack from the lovely Monet. Something to share with a loved one at the kitchen table or curled up on the couch. A recipe for those everyday moments of your life, the ones you know you will cherish the most in the future.

These are for my little girl, who delights in the burst of every single poppy seed between the few teeth she has left right now.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Vegetarian ragù

Big changes at work these days again, not good ones for a lot of people involved.
Among the many bad areas to work in, the finance sector is still one of the worst these days. In a time of change and worry, it is reassuring that the level of conversation by the coffee machine is still incredibly low. We need these certainties in our jobs at a time like this.
Here are a few snippets of everyday convesations (thank me for editing soccer talk and dirty comments):
"You know those days when you just feel uncomfortable about how you are dressed, like your clothes are not matching, or your pants feel too short or you have a spot on your shirt that you didn't notice was there? That is how I feel this morning."
"Yeah, I have those days. And have you noticed how they usually coincide with bad hair days?".
"You do really good imitations, but your dance moves suck".
"Did you see xyz (boss) in the formal photo?"
"Yeah, the whole team looks good except for her".
"Well, what do you expect? I mean, she's turning 50".
"I won't be handing in that report on the 10th of May, because they will be letting me go before then..."
"Oh come on! Enough already! Dude, that is all you ever talk about!"
"I know, I realize I'm going out of my mind".
"No, you have always been out of your mind. Now you are going insane".
New father: "Little boys are much more energetic and physical than girls, right? My kid never stops moving."
"Yeah, they are pretty physical. How old is he? Three?"
"No, four months".


But on to food now, another one of those certainties in life we are so lucky to have.
We have been acquainted long enough for you to know I have no qualms about eating meat (or pretty much any ingredient) in most forms. I try to not to eat meat daily and try to limit my intake of red meat for health reasons. I also try to consume meat responsibly and ethically, as in I am a nose-to-tail kinda gal.
Although I (often unintentionally) make a lot of vegetarian recipes for our week-night meals, I have recently come to realize that when I am planning a menu for a dinner party, it usually involves meat/fish in one form or another.

As a result, I am trying to come up with more recipes catered towards my vegetarian friends, meat/fish free recipes with a little more effort put into them than the 10-minute vegetarian dishes I make on any given day of the week for my family.
I first saw this recipe years ago, way before Pinterest, on a vegetarian blog and filed it away in the deep recesses of my brain, where it got lost of course. After a google search I came up with a variety of similar recipes and borrowed a little from each to make my own version. I have made it twice in the past month for two different vegetarian girlfriends (hooray for large batches and freezers!) and both gave me a thumbs up.

The lentils and mushrooms give it the hearty richness and texture of a meat based sauce and although I still personally prefer a meat ragù, this sauce was a worthy meat sauce substitute and a tasty sauce in its own right.

As you may already know, Nuts about Food has moved to a new Facebook page (same name - see side bar), so if you befriended or liked me in the past, come on over to my new place and hit the "Like" button.

I have also set up a spam filter in my comments section because the problem was getting way too out of control to take care of manually. It'll just take a handful of extra seconds to comment, so keep 'em coming. I read and enjoy each and every comment you leave. Unless you are trying to sell me a used car or real estate in broken English.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lemony sardine pâté

 Sardines are an extremely underrated fish. Unless you are Portuguese of course. Or Mediterranean.
The truth however, is that sardines are cheap, tasty, healthy, nutritious and a perfect pantry item.
I will not lecture you about the importance of eating certain kinds of fish for nutritional and environmental reasons. Suffice it to say write that this recipe is a new winner in my book.  
Before you get down to making this, a few fun sardine facts from the web.

The word “sardines” is actually a common name used to describe the immature fish of a variety of species all around the world. So when you are eating a sardine you are actually eating one of many kinds of fish, such as herring, smelts, brislings and pilchards, that get caught in nets during fishing.
Sardines are named after the Italian island of Sardinia, where they were seemingly abundant in past times.
Omega 3 fatty acids, highly present in sardines, reduce the likelihood of Alzheimer's disease, dementia and heart disease and lower blood sugar levels.

Canned sardines are however high in cholesterol, also because of the oil they are preserved in.

If you eat the whole sardine, including the tiny bones, the canned variety also ensures a good calcium intake.

Napoleon greatly helped in spreading the popularity of sardines: tinning the fish was an idea of two Frenchmen, Appert and Colin, but he started the canning industry at the beginning of the 19th century to feed the growing population and military. Sardines perished easily, so canning them was a way to ensure that the inhabitants of the farthest reaches of his Empire had a cheap and plentiful protein source.

Canned sardines have been known to hold up to 30 years.
Have you ever heard of the South African sardine run? Between May and July billions of sardines spawn and then move along the eastern coast of South Africa in shoals, which are often more than 7lms long, 1.5km wide and 30 meters deep and are clearly visible from the surface.
In the early 1900s Maine counted large numbers of canneries, producing up to more than 4 cans per American at that time, but now there is only one sardine plant left.
During the Cold War, sardines were extremely popular in the US. The US government apparently bought great quantities in the bomb-scare years and they became the number one convenience food for Americans. Now the average American does not taste a sardine before the age of 40.
Many expressions have arisen from the sardine canning industry: “packed in like sardines” originated in the 1800s from the practice of close packing this fish, describing any situation where people/things are crowded together. Then there is Alan Benett's "...Life, you know, is rather like opening a tin of sardines. We are all of us looking for the key..."


This is one of those examples of Pinterest actually being useful and not just a huge waste of my free - and not so free - time. I saw this idea ages ago on Food52 and loved it, pinned it and forgot about it. Until now that is.
It is so fast it won't take more than five minutes to make (and for half of that time, it is actually your food processor that is doing all the work). It is quite delicious and much cheaper than pate.
It is creamy yet tangy, and not very fishy at all (if that worries you) and the contrast of this cool, buttery spread on a slice of warm toasted bread will make you swoon. Guaranteed.


Adapted from HalfPint

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hummus and spring in Milan

After a week of rainy, cold weather the visitors of the yearly Salone del Mobile of Milan were blessed with absolutely beautiful weather for the closing week end, allowing them to leisurely stroll through the Fuori Salone attractions spread out all over the city under crisp blue skies, a warm sun and cool breeze.
For us it was a perfect excuse to get out our bikes and ride through the city to discover some of the new, fun ideas designers from all over the world came here to present.
Fuori Salone Lambrate Ventura
Food design at Fuori Salone Tortona
Fuori Salone Lambrate Ventura

Monday, April 8, 2013

Marinated raw broccoli salad

Last night I had a really stange dream that involved hanging out with the Rancics.


For the entire dream, that believe it or not was interrupted by my son's crying and resumed after a visit to his room, I acted like a starstruck idiot and humiliated myself in front of husband and wife (no sign of baby Duke) acting like an overeager lab pup. They kept rolling their eyes with smug looks on their faces while I desperately tried, and greatly failed, to convince them I was totally cool and not at all impressed by fame. 


Something is telling me that the amount of food and alcoholic beverages consumed over a week-end filled with engagements is taking its toll. Although I will admit that the dream was probably triggered by one of Giuliana's retweets.

So whether you are spending your nights partying with the Kardashians or having coffee with the housewives of NY or OC, it is time to start making this salad.

Although I strongly suggest you make this in any case.


This salad has a lot of things going for it: it is packed with flavor and crunch; eating broccoli raw boosts its anti cancer properties; it is low in calories; you can pretty much use any combination of ingredients you like; it is vegetarian and vegan.

Use raisins or dried cherries instead of cranberries or skip the dried fruit altogether if you are not partial to it. Throw in some toasted pine nuts for added crunch and melt a few anchovy filets into the olive oil for that extra umami. Sprinkle over some bonito flakes, some grated parmigiano cheese or chili flakes. Perhaps add a tablespoon of light miso paste and substitute the balsamic vinegar with rice vinegar? Whatever way you decide to make this, just do it. Kardashians or not.
Oh, before you read the recipe, just wanted to inform you that Nuts about Food has moved to a new Facebook page, so if you are a follower or have liked my page, please move over with me. I am in the process of moving over my content as I write.

Friday, April 5, 2013

School project and banana bread


We are back home from our Easter holiday, which was filled with snow, skiing, friends, laughter and more eggs (in all forms and shapes) than I care to discuss. There was also a fair share of homework to be dealt with between one ski lesson and the next, but now we just have one more project to complete for Monday and then we are done.  

We have been asked to make and write out a recipe and background story of our child's/family's favorite recipe, one we possibly normally make together. We then must proceed to take pictures and/or the children must draw the end result or the recipe step by step. All the recipes will be published in a book that will be sold to raise funds for our school. A great idea, we can all agree on that. And I am a food blogger, so easy peasy right?

Not exactly.

This is a random picture of a banana bread past that I made using chocolate chips.
My daughter's first suggestion was roast chicken, which we do all love, but handing in a paper that reads we-all-love-roast-chicken-because-roast-chicken-is-delicious-and-what-we-do-is-preheat-the-oven-season-the-chicken-and-stick-it-in-said-oven-for-xyz-minutes-and-then-take-it-out-and-devour-it seemed sort of pointless, given she does not ever help me roast the chicken in the first place. Plus, pretty much everbody has their own way to roast a chicken. I know I do.


Eyeing the brown and spotted bananas in our fruit bowl I counter-proposed banana bread. After all, it is a simple recipe, beloved by most kids, that I make quite often and that a child can easily help with. Also, I needed to get rid of those bananas. And some of that Easter chocolate lying around.

You may, if you knew us intimately, retort that my daughter doesn't help  me bake that either (her initial objection by the way). But to be honest, she is usually too busy drawing, coloring, cutting out or gluing something at the kitchen table while I cook, to help me with any of my cooking. Granted, she is a good eater, she thinks about food during her day more than most kids do and enjoys the finer pleasures of life like crisp chicken skin and briny olives but she never helps me in the kitchen for more than a handful of minutes. She is enthusiastic for about 60 seconds and then gets sidetracked by all the more fun things her immagination is willing her to do. She can wax lyrical about the pleasant contrast of warm cocoa and cold butter and jam on bread she has for breakfast or about caramelized onions or the smell of toasting spices and gnaw nibble on bones just like her mama, but we are not really a cooking team.

This banana bread was made with 1 cup wholewheat flour and 1/2 cup oat flour
Her second objection was that she didn't know what to call it in Italian. Ok kid, you have a point: pane alle banane does not sound particularly enticing. But the humble loaf makes a good background story about our heritage and how "us Americans" make it to use up those overripe bananas that families with kids seem to be plagued with. And it would certainly be unique in a book filled with roast chicken, tiramisù and various lasagna recipes. We might even start a fad. And hey, we can just call it... banana bread!

So banana bread it was. And the cool part is that half the work is already done: I just have to copy the recipe and pictures off of my blog!


...I do not have a recipe for banana bread on my blog.
Sure, I have written about wholewheat, oat and banana muffins, chocolate chip banana bread muffins and sour cream and olive oil banana muffins (enough with all these banana muffins already!) but there is not ONE. SINGLE. RECIPE. FOR. BANANA. BREAD. An American blogger without a recipe for banana bread... shame on me. And barely a picture I can recycle for my daughter's school project because all the banana concoctions I ever used for my blog are friggin' muffin shaped!

So here, at long last, is my recipe for banana bread, adapted from the Joy of Cooking.