Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Crab cakes

Crab meat has been on my mind lately and it is all Design, Wine and Dine's fault. She has posted a couple of very tempting recipes on her blog in the past months and I have been dying to make them. They are quick, easy and inexpensive (she suggests using cheaper claw meat in them) yet utterly satisfying and sophisticated enough to make for guests. I had bookmarked them and got home the other day set to make her crab cakes.

Lo and behold, I went to turn my computer on to get the recipe and had no signal. No Internet?? Well, I was disappointed to say the least, but by then I had to get my crab meat fix, I had to have me some crab cakes. I used some of the ingredients I remembered, added in some other things I found in various cookbooks, et voilà, in 10 minutes tops I made these deliciously creamy yet crunchy cakes and served them with a little tartar sauce. They make a perfect snack to serve with drinks in a smaller version but are an excellent starter or main course too.
Next time I will remember to sautee some shallots or onion to put into the mix and I am thinking a little corn wouldn't hurt either. And some horseradish perhaps for an adult version.

A side note/useful tip: when I had already mixed the crab meat with the cream cheese I realized that the jar of breadcrumbs I was sure I had seen just the other day was gone! What to do? I happened to have some rusks at home (fette biscottate in Italian and better known as twice baked bread or zwieback) and mashed up 6 of those in a bag with a rolling pin. They saved the day.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chicken (or why not turkey?) pot pie. On Thanksgiving and giving thanks

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day and as much as I would like to celebrate it with those I love spread around the world, it is just any other day here. F and I will go to work, my kids will go to school, we will get home way after dark and with very little time to cook dinner, let alone roast a turkey. F has soccer night and although he very kindly offered to cancel it to spend the evening with us, I didn't have the heart to accept. After all, the kids go to bed at 8:15, especially on school nights, and he only gets back after 7:00. So even if I had been extremely organized and planned a menu ahead (which I didn't), there is actually no time to make a big deal. Normally we celebrate with our American friends on the week end but this year we have a wedding in which F. is best man, so it just won't be happening.

Thanksgiving Day Parade - NYC 2009

The first and most important thing about Thanksgiving (yes, together with the food of course, I know!), however, is stopping to think for a moment about what we are thankful for in our lives.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fig & cream cheese bars

While people all over the US are in a baking, cooking, organizing frenzy for Thanksgiving, here Christmas is on its way. This morning, as I was riding my bike through Piazza Duomo, I was pleasantly surprised to see they had lit up the big Christmas tree to test the lights. It is still pitch black at 7am and the effect of the illuminated white marble Duomo and golden Madonnina statue on its highest spire and the hundreds of lights on the majestic tree in front of it were enough to make me momentarily catch my breath and feel that first tingle of excitement that accompanies me throughout December. Despite the torrential rain and floods pretty much all over the country on the week end, I noticed people had been at work putting up Christmas lights to decorate the streets. They were still off, but they were hanging in their more sober attire in the shadows, patiently waiting to turn into Cinderella at the ball.

As is traditional in Italy, the stores and supermarkets have started putting copious amounts of frutta secca, dried fruit, on display. Frutta secca not only includes fruit, preponderantly dates and figs in all versions (stuffed with nuts, covered in chocolate, plain); it also comprises all the members of the nut family (walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, peanuts, cashews etc.). I couldn't help buying a few bags of dates and figs recently and wanted to bake with them, something I hadn't done yet.

This dessert can be made for your Thanksgiving feast or you can file away the recipe for your Christmas holidays.

It is reminiscent of fig newtons, but the cream cheese topping adds a whole new dimension. The bars got better and better with the passing of time, so I actually suggest making them a day or two ahead, perfect when you are hosting a large gathering and want to prepare early. I also personally think you can skip adding sugar to the fig filling, as it is sweet enough from the rich honey flavor of the dried fruits, and you can also play around with it, soaking the figs in alcohol for a more grown up version or in juice if you want to add an interesting note.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Goatgonzola and pureed broccoli tart, which rhymes with broken heart (as my daughter would say)

This post is more about motherhood than food, so if you have already started yawning, skip right ahead to the recipe, if you can even call it that, or see you next time.

For you moms and dads and the one or two who don't have kids (don't say I didn't warn you) still sticking around, here goes.

I always considered myself a pretty cool mom. Not as in 'I am a smokin' hot mama', more as in 'I try to be pretty relaxed when it comes to my kids'.

I am not one of those overly anxious, overprotective, overconcerned or overly nosey moms.
If my kid falls, I usually wait a second before I run over to scoop him/her up in my arms, I try to gauge how badly he/she may have gotten hurt before going all dramatic (except for that one time). When my kids play with other children, I am usually all for letting them settle their little disputes, unless I am aware that my child is greatly at fault or that my kid is being bullied. In the latter case I actually want to go over there and smack the bully in his/her snotty little face try to not interfere unless my child really cannot handle it and if I do I try to be neutral and objective. Ultimately, I think they need to learn to fend for themselves early on because it is a tough world out there and as long as they are in a safe environment under parental control, nothing that bad can happen to them. I am also not the kind of mom who needs to know every single detail about what is going on in their school, who said what, who did what and why.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Italians do it better

It was 1987, Madonna had short, peroxide blond hair and she was telling her Dad in song and dance that her poor but fantastic boyfriend, the one her widower-father-who-raised-her-by-himself had warned her all about, had gotten her pregnant. You of course remember her t-shirt (if you don't or were not even born in the fabulous Eighties, I will pretend I am not at all jealous and checking my  crow's feet right this minute and suggest you watch the link above for some real pop culture history) and how it boosted Italians' reputation worldwide. Now of course I could confirm or deny this statement since I happen to be married to an Italian, but I am a lady and this is a food blog, so I will abstain from this kind of information.

I can however vouch that when it comes to making a cup of hot chocolate, Italians do do it better.

But I must digress and explain a few things.

First of all, in Italy you go to a bar to have hot chocolate. An Italian bar being a very different concept than a bar pretty much anywhere else in the world. It certainly serves all sorts of alcoholic beverages, but it is first and foremost a coffee sanctuary, the place where the average Italian has his/her breakfast, traditionally a coffee with a brioche (an Italianized version of a croissant). But don't think for a second you can go in and just order a coffee. This action requires expertise. The coffee can be anything from a caffé espressoristretto (a concentrated espresso for those who do not like watery and weak espresso, hah!), lungo (a watered down version of espresso for those who don't like strong and creamy espresso), decaffeinato, americano (a large cup of black coffee, just like those Americans are always drinking in movies),  macchiato (an espresso with a small drop of frothy milk), marocchino (a sort of miniature cappuccino in a small cup with a sprinkle of unsweetened cocoa powder beneath the frothy milk and another on top), corretto (for those who need a shot of grappa/acquavite in their coffee to get going), d'orzo (barley coffee, for healthnuts and people with gastiritis or other ailments who just cannot kick the habit), cappucino, cappucino decaffeinato, shakerato (the Italian version of ice coffee, an espresso shaken with sugar and often a dash of coffee liquer served in a martini glass) or a latte macchiato (a large glass of warm frothy milk with an espresso into it). While I am doing this, I will go as far as to tell you that if you are Italian, you never order cappucino after 12pm (unless you are having a late breakfast after a night out on the town) and you do not sprinkle cinnamon (cocoa powder is allowed) or put whipped cream on your cappucino .

Monday, November 15, 2010

Cinnamon crumble coffee cake and TMI


It is a dark, wet Monday morning. A steady drizzle is falling from the sky and I need coffee, badly. F. and I were up all night, our sleep interrupted intermittently by the yet uninterpreted crying of our youngest. I realize that whenever I mention my kids, I describe some form of malady. Case in point, on our drive to Piedmont on Saturday morning, my older one revisited the below described recipe in the car (I promise it was good, although I will admit it did not seem quite as appetizing the second time round, when I was cleaning it off the seats). I however just wanted to point out that they are actually healthy, energetic, happy children, so please do not feel obliged to leave nice, caring comments about their health conditions. Temperatures, snot and digested food in various forms are unfortunately just a part of having darling children, as so many of you know. Ok, I realize this is much too much information for a food blog (or any blog actually), so if anybody is still reading, forgive this digression.

Back to the dark, wet morning...I would not mind a steaming hot cup of coffee and a piece of that cinnamon crumble coffee cake I made on Friday evening. It only requires ingredients you already have at home if you bake every so often and makes a darn good breakfast. I realize I am on a cinnamon roll, but I can't help it. Cinnamon equals fall and the holidays to me and there is nothing that smells quite as good when it is baking away in your oven, so bear with me.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Work, work and little play... Pasta with butternut squash, kelemata olives and feta

It is that time of the year again.

...3Q10 revenues were higher than expected...the bottom line fell -3.5% QoQ, below our and consensus' estimates...loan loss provisions increased vs. FY09 and are expected to continue growing in 4Q10e...prices bottomed out...

...bottom schmottom...

Yup, quarterly results. Quarterly results of the gazillion companies listed on the Stock Market that all announce their results in the same few days.

Needless to say, things are crazy here at the office. Stress levels are high, our schedules have shifted into overdrive and by the time I get home (after two pit stops to pick up my kids from day care/kindergarden) I have a vacant stare, I see double and my brain isn't functioning very well.

Cooking is the perfect thing to do to relax and shake it all off. To let my mind rest while my hands fall into a well-known routine of chop-chop-chop and mix-mix-mix, the famililar rhythm numbing my mind.

Except...when I open my fridge it is empty. So empty that the milk echoes as it splashes around in its carton when I swing open the door. I can almost see tumbleweed rolling across my kitchen floor. Who's had time to go to the supermarket this past week?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A true revelation: celeriac soup

I'm a gal who loves her vegetables. I like them raw, I like them roasted, I like them stir fried, I like them steamed, I even like them boiled. I like 'em bitter, I like 'em sweet, I will pretty much eat 'em all, except for the grass growing on your front lawn. Maybe.

Of course I have my favorites, but there are none I really dislike. Some, however, have been filed away in my brain in the boring category. Celeriac or celery root was one of those. I didn't despise it, I just was not inspired by it, is all. I am not crazy about its mild celery flavor and it is not something I would normally buy, because honestly I wouldn't really know what to do with it.
A while back my vegetarian friend A. made it for me and I ate about four portions thought "hey, this isn't too bad!" and so when I saw it staring up at me in the fresh vegetable isle at the supermarket last week, I threw it in my cart on an impulse.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fall in a bite: pumpkin cinnamon rolls with maple icing

It is grey and rainy, chilly but not really cold. Leaves are falling from the trees, even the sidewalks of this not-very-green city are carpeted in browns, yellows, reds and oranges. When I ride home from work on my bike, I smell the first roasted chestnuts of the season and all I want to do is sit in front of a blazing fire and peel them, quickly moving them from hand to hand to avoid burning myself and getting my fingers all black and sooty.

I like the fall, when it starts getting dark early and you look forward to getting home and putting on your comfy loungewear; when you eat soup every evening and you still want more; when you start planning for the holidays and making lists, only to end up doing everything last minute anyway and promising you will get it right next year.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Victory! Double crust, shortcrust raspberry pie

Remember I mentioned I was having trouble uploading photos in my last post? Well, what happened was I had used up my available memory so I had to buy more memory space. This and the fact that it coincided with my facing one of my biggest fears (along with baking bread, de-boning a bird and... well, a million other things), baking a pie, made me think. I started this blog in the summer and in no way realized I had already uploaded more than 750 photos until blogger notified me. That is 4 months of recipes, photographs, thoughts, followers and new friends. And a pie.


I am still new to this blogging world, but I have already gotten so much out of this experience. My photographs have gone from bad to better to worse again (thank you autumn light and evening cooking!) but I still learned much more about photography and food styling than I ever thought I would.  I have "met" blogging companions from all over the world and been graced by their encouraging comments, their daily support in this endeavour and their creative ideas. I have found an outlet for my creativity, a space that is all my own, a place were I am plain old me and not an employee or a mother. Last but not least, this blog has pushed me out of my comfort zone, making me try things I probably never would have attempted before, even in the privacy of my own kitchen...and here I am reporting and photographing my disasters and failures for all to see! Life is funny that way...

Thank you for being there with me step after step.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Oops...I made it again!

I hope you all had a Happy Halloween or a Happy All Saints Day or even just a nice week end with your family & friends.

We had a bunch of friends over for a brunch/buffet, not after the usual slight drama having small children provides.

On Saturday evening our little boy, S., came down with a pretty high fever. I cannot begin to tell you how disappointed our daughter M. was (and us too, if truth must be told). Our pumpkin was carved, the seeds were roasted, the fridge was stuffed with food, Halloween activities for the kids had been printed... Sunday morning, however, S. woke up in great spirits and not a hint of a fever. You know how kids are, they sometimes get these spot temperatures that come and go in a matter of hours. Luckily, our guests all have children and have experienced the same thing with their children. Excessive drooling on S.' side further convinced us that it was all just a matter of teething. So we decided to have our friends over anyway and what a great decision that was. We had a lovely day and the children had a ball!