Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Waiting for Santa

xmas cookiesObserving those chubby hands while they work their way through stars and dough is truely entertaining. Questions arise on Santa.... How big is he?  Will he fit down the chimney? Shall we make more cookies for his elfs? Where does he park his sleigh? Each question leads to another and they are all of a certain importance. Christmas through the eyes of a child is magical!

This little man is waiting for Santa.
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Recipe - GINGERBREAD COOKIES 
(makes about 50 cookies)

250gr softened butter
175gr brown sugar
450gr molasses
740gr flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
2 tsp cinnamon* 
2 tsp nutmeg* 
2 tsp cloves*
pinch of salt
* all spices freshly grounded

In a mixer beat the butter and sugar until you reach a fluffy consistency.  Add all the other ingredients and beat until you form a dough. Roll out the dough on waxed paper, lightly dust with flour is necessary.  Place another piece of waxed paper on top and put the dough in the freezer for 5 minutes.  Remove from the freezer and with a few favorite Christmas cookie cutters make as much shapes as you can.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180ºC for about 8-10 minutes.  Allow the cookies to cool before decorating with icing sugar

Friday, December 13, 2013

Smile, there's wine

Mulled Wine
Mulled WineMulled Wine
Here's a classic for these festive days.  The aroma of cinnamon, anise, cloves simmered in wine with a citrus zest makes this a drink you will enjoy especially during the Christmas season.

The procedure is simple and straightforward.  

Open a bottle of good wine, I used cabernet sauvignon, and pour it in a high edged saucepan, add the juice of an orange, the zest of a lemon and orange, a few whole cloves, a whole cinnamon stick, 3 star anise, 5 tablespoons of brown sugar and cook on the stove for about 30 minutes.  

The wine will reduce, the spices will flavor, the aroma will intensify.  

Serve warm.  

At this point, grab a good book, sit in a big cozy chair next to a fireplace and sip, sip, sip and sip...  

Happy Friday!!

XXOO A presto!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Do it yourself Christmas wreath

Christmas Wreath
A small collection of Santas are lined on the fireplace, a star made of twined branches stands on the bookshelf and at last, the tree is up and sparkling bright, decorated with ornaments collected throughout the years.  A string of cardboard gingerbread men, which my son and I made when he was four, a small nest of birds that my mother had bought when I was a child, some wooden toys, ceramic snowflakes, glittered stars, many pretty pieces from my sister's trips abroad and the list goes on and on. The tree literally grows each year at the same pace of memories and intimate moments.

When it comes to Christmas decorating, an evergreen wreath can't be left out. It puts you straight in the mood and fills you with warmth just looking at it. This year I made a fragrant bay laurel wreath which hangs in my kitchen, it's sweet fragrance fills the house and when it dries out I can use the leaves for cooking.  You can also use any other soft greenery, such as rosemary stems or olive tree branches.  Twist a few branches to shape a circle, overlap the extreme ends, secure and tie with metal wire, that's how simple it is.  

A wreath will give that Christmas touch to your home, it's pretty placed in any corner and when it's handmade it's always better.

XXOO A presto!
Wreath
Christmas Wreath
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wreath

Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Italian Traditional Cookie, Canestrelli

CANESTRELLI & TEACANESTRELLI & TEA
These cookies were my favorite snack when I was in high school, they sweetened the hours spent on books making the sacrifice bearable.  Canestrelli hold an insane amount of butter, but less just wouldn't be right, because the buttery fragrance is why canestrelli are what they are. 

Don't expect them to be the type of cookie you would dip in milk, nor the type you would eat for breakfast. They're soft, fragrant, with a light scent of lemon and a delicate touch of rum. Fine tea serves them best. Good company serves them better. A sip, a bite, a chat, a friend, a sip, a bite and before you know it,  they're gone, not a crumble left.  So don't let their innocent daisy shape fool you, because they have nothing innocent and everything makes them dangerously addictive.

Shall we mark them as the bake-off start of the holiday season? I say yes. They are perfect for gifting. Place them in a pretty tin box, wrap with a ribbon a give them out to your precious friends and neighbours.  May the Christmas season begin!
CANESTRELLI & TEA
Inspired by Sara http://www.fiordifrolla.it

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Monkfish

monkfishA
Monkfish can be recognized by its huge head and mouth, it's ugly and looks like a monster. Judging by the looks it is probably a fish you wouldn't buy at the market.  Going beyond the looks, this fish will conquer your palate for its lean meaty texture, similar to lobster.

It cooks beautifully when steamed, all nutrients, flavor and texture will remain intact and for the sauce ...well, that's a different story.  A couple of anchovies, olives, capers and a scent of rosemary will do the trick and will make one heck of a fish!

A presto! XXOO
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Monday, November 18, 2013

Kale & Potato Fritters

CAVOLO NERO 
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The queen of greens. Kale.    

I think I may be the only person left on the web that hasn’t posted a recipe on kale yet.  So here you go, kale & potato fritters.  Simple and delicious, actually so delicious that these little fritters might not make it to the table.  Usually, they never make it to the table and the reason is because they taste best when they are piping hot, but you won’t be disappointed if you eat them cold.  In other words, there will never be any leftovers.  Yield: a big batch!

….and here’s a tip for you.

We all know how much kale stinks when you cook it.  The smell invades the house for several hours, but don’t let this hold you back from eating it. If you want to avoid that annoying smell, all you need to do is add a potato in the same water where you boil the kale.  Same thing for any other cabbage that has a strong scent, just throw in a potato, everything will smell good and render justice to this fantastic vegetable. 
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Monday, November 11, 2013

In the Woods

The WoodsThe WoodsThe WoodsThe Woods
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The WoodsThe Woods
The colors in fall bring warmth on these sharp brisk weather days. They stand strong in the rain and make their way through fog and mist.  The browns and oranges, blues, greens and grays embrace me as I walk through the woods.  The rainy damp weather is there, I don't feel it, nor see it. I'm delighted as I watch a falling leaf that softly floats and now twirls fast at the pace of the whistling sound of wind.  It dances its way to the ground elegantly and silently.  I'm distracted as I watch my steps on wet leaves,  I'm about to slip, and a tree is there to assist.  It's young and strong and doesn't bend, dressed in a vivid green moss it holds my hand and I'm back up straight.  I may seem out of sort and insane, but I love to walk in the rain.

These are the surroundings in my area while my family and I scroll through the woods in search of those mushrooms we yet need to find.  

The pancakes? That's the breakfast we happily enjoy on Sundays.  I like to mix several flours together, usually the base will be whole wheat, then I might add some rice and buckwheat flour.  In this recipe, I added all of the above, plus a new entry, lentil flour.  In addition, I added some poppy seeds, which I love for the tiny crunch.  It's how food would say...wake up!  Do you trust me if I say they are damn good?!

For the wholewheat-buckwheat-rice-lentil flour pancakes in the picture up above, refer to the basic recipe I use here, and simply substitute the amount of flour used with an equal dose of each of the here mentioned flours, plus 2 teaspoons (or more) of poppy seeds.  Top them off with a dollop of crème fraîche, some maple syrup and have a lovely rest of the week! 

Friday, November 8, 2013

In Season: Pomegranates

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In French the word pomegranate literally means pome = apple and grenate = many seeds. Although a pomegranate may be vaguely similar to an apple, the difference is soon revealed the moment you bite into one, which is not quite like biting into an apple. The many seeds are annoying and in spite of the many ways there are to de-seed pomegranates, after a while I die of boredom and give up. Personally, I find that the real sense and essence of this fruit is found by extracting its juice.

Therefore, I drink it.

POMEGRANATE

Believe it or not, pomegranate juicing is quicker than juicing an orange.  You don't need a fancy juicer, use your hands and make sure to wear rubber gloves if you don't want to end up with stained hands for a week (I speak for experience).   Work in a big bowl with high edges, it keeps the mess in the bowl and not all over the kitchen counter (walls and drawers...). Start by slicing the pomegranate in quarters. Small portions make it easier when squeezing. While you squeeze, press your fingers in the pomegranate and against the seeds (known as arils) so to extract as much juice as possible.  The piths and pieces of membrane will float and all you need to do now is pour the juice, through a sieve, in another bowl to obtain a ruby, sweet, tangy, citric beverage, full of Vitamin C and antioxidants. 

Now that you know how to easily juice pomegranates, you will find it even easier to make molasses. Pomegranate molasses is a delicious condiment and complement for many recipes. Pour a few drops of this nectar over salads, meats, cheese, fruit, ice cream, panna cotta, scones, muffins and pancakes. You can store it in the fridge for a couple of months or you can freeze small portions so that you have some all year long. 

Pomegranate Molasses

Pomegranate MolassesMelograno

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mushroom Hunting

potato pie1potatopie-coverThere’s a beautiful stretch of woods just around the corner from where I live.  The trees stand tall on hilltops and overlook Rome on one side, lakes on the other, the papal summer residence and the sea in the far distance.  The scenery leaves you jaw-locked-open, but what I love most as I walk through paths of fallen leaves and scattered chestnuts, are the tiny wild sowbreads that struggle to poke their pink flowers from beneath the earth, the mystical rays of sun that filter through trees leading to who knows where up above and the smell of earthy mushrooms.  Mushroom hunting is a must here and you can’t leave the woods without bringing some home. The other must, is that you need to be sure you are choosing the right ones, you don’t want to die after eating bread and “deadly” mushrooms.  It goes without saying that you need some mushroom knowledge before you go picking, that’s why we always stick to just two varieties, the ones we are sure of and can’t get wrong.   
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Time runs fast when you go mushroom hunting, there's lots of walking...searching...hoping, as you look right there, next to that tree, under those leaves and it may happen to be, that someone beats your same path leaving you empty handed and disappointed. This is when all the lunch plans fall apart. The funghi porcini that you were dying to have?  Well that’s not going to happen now.  Unless, you decide to go buy them :)

And that’s what we did.  We bought lovely porcini mushrooms from an old lady that was selling some just off the road on our way back home.  The mushrooms that were supposed to fall in our basket were on her stand and were being sold by the weight of gold! 

This potato and porcini mushroom pie paid off in not finding the mushrooms ourselves and rewarded our effort in trying to do so.

RECIPE – POTATO AND PORCINI MUSHROOM PIE

4 medium size porcini mushrooms
4 medium size potatoes sliced 5 mm thick
2 garlic cloves
Salt
Pepper
Breadcrumbs
Parsley
Extra virgin olive oil

In a preheated pan add 3 tbsp. of olive oil and 2 crushed garlic cloves, add the diced porcini mushrooms, some salt and pepper.  Saute’ the mushrooms for 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat, add some parsley and leave aside.  Slice each potato 5mm thick.  Oil an oven proof dish with some olive oil and coat with breadcrumbs.  Place the potatoes in a circular manner to cover the bottom of the dish, season with salt and pepper.  Add  some of the cooked porcini on top of the potatoes.  Start building layers by alternating potatoes and mushrooms.  Finish the last layer with potatoes, brush with olive oil and coat with breadcrumb.  Bake in the oven for 50 minutes at 180ºC.  Leave in the oven some more, if necessary, to form a nice crispy gold crust.  Serve warm.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Parcel Wrapped Carrots

NOT A RECIPE A METHOD CARROTS_cover
Carrots have been growing abundantly in my garden lately.  I've had them in salads, soups, baked in cakes, juiced, pickled, added to stocks, roasts, frittata, oven roasted, boiled...phew! I've eaten so much of them that if what they say is true, that carrots improve your eyesight, then I should be seeing through walls by now!  

With so much abundance, my imagination goes wild exploring different ways to cook.  As much as I try to find a unique way to make things taste and look different, I always tend to go back to simple because that's how I enjoy my food best. What's there to complicate in a carrot when the taste is right there and then. The very moment you bite into it raw you've already explored the essence of its flavor.  So, today, I'd like to share with you the method I use to cook my carrots, which I find is slurpy good and I'm sure bugs bunny would agree too.  
carrots
Wash and clean the carrots, leave them whole and put them in a bowl.  Add salt and fresh herbs, i.e. parsley, chives, marjoram, sage or any other type you prefer and some extra virgin olive oil.  Mix so that all the carrots are coated and shiny.  Set down a couple of sheets of parchment paper, one on top of the other, and place the seasoned carrots in the middle, add a splash of water or white wine and a couple dollops of butter.  Wrap the carrots with the parchment paper to form something like a package.  It shouldn't be airtight, but puffy and the edges sealed so that the liquid remains inside.  Bake in the oven at 180ºC for 40/45 minutes. Simple is best!  
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Monday, October 14, 2013

Roasted Lamb Leg

ROASTED LAMB ENHANCED WITH A ROSEMARY GRAPE SAUCE
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I don't know how this recipe dawned on me, I must have saved it in the back of my head from the many magazines, books and blogs I constantly read and accumulate.  I certainly didn't invent something new, nonetheless I did put together a meal that has become one of the best roasted meats I've ever done in my entire life.  The good news is that the oven does most of the work!  To start, you need a good piece of meat and it needs to have some healthy fat on it.  For "healthy" I mean a nice white healthy looking fat.  We all know that fat, especially saturated fat, is not good for you,  but we're talking every once and a while, plus, we don't want a dry roast. We want it juicy and tender.  My philosophy is,  you either eat it right or you don't eat it at all.  For this recipe, I chose a lamb leg, but I'm sure beef, pork or chicken will probably work just as good.

Rub some salt and pepper over the meat and place it directly in a preheated oven at 220°C. As soon as it starts to brown, remove from the oven, drizzle with some olive oil and put it back in the oven, lowering the heat to 200°C.  It will cook in approximately 50 min. to 1 hour,  depending on how big the meat is.  I suggest you use a meat thermometer it takes the guesswork out of cooking.

While the roast it cooking away in the oven, prepare the rosemary grape sauce.  I used a mix of black and green grapes, that's what I had handy and, I must say, it does give a nice chromatic look to the dish, but you don't necessarily need to do the same, especially because there's no change in taste.  Use any kind of grapes, as long as they are sweet and ripe.  In a preheated wide pan, add 3 to 4 tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil, 3 whole garlic cloves, skin on, crushed with the palm of your hand and a couple of rosemary stems. Let the garlic and rosemary sizzle to flavor the oil, for about 1 minute, add a cup and a half of halved grapes.  Make sure you deseed the grapes if you have picky eaters.  If, instead, you are like me, leave the seeds and enjoy the extra crunch.  Toss and swirl the sauce constantly so that flavors mix.  Cook for about 5 minutes.  Now add a cup of grape juice. Cook another 5 minutes and remove from the stove. 

*Make your own grape juice by simply blending grapes. Pour the liquid in a cup through a sieve or cheesecloth so that the seeds and skin remain behind. 

When the meat is done, remove from the oven, let it rest for 5 minutes.  Collect the meat's juice from the pan and add it to the sauce.  Put the sauce back on the stove and cook for a couple of minutes so that flavors blend.  Serve the meat sliced on a platter covered with the rosemary grape sauce, leave some of the sauce on the side for extra serving.

It takes more to explain the recipe than to actually cook the whole meal, but trust me, this recipe is effortless.  You must try!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Celeriac and Potato Soup

COMFORT FOOD WITH JUST A FEW INGREDIENTS
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If you follow me on instagram you may have noticed some pictures from the train station in Rome.  That's where I end up at least 2 times a day, going and coming from work.  Needless to say, it's the coming from work the part of the day I take that train most willingly. Just to give you an idea, the station in Rome is exactly how you would imagine Dante's inferno, people rushing, running, climbing, sometimes climbing on you...it's all fast pace, noisy, chaotic, everyone seems to have atomized motions, thoughts wander, people are distracted. 

If, in all of this confusion, you take a moment to stop and observe, you will notice some incredible things.... 
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Usually my train is never on time, never means completely unreliable...unless I'm late, that's when the train will leave precise on the dot.  It happened to be that I missed my train that day and I had to run across the station to catch another one on the opposite side, which was leaving in 10 minutes.  Another misfortunate in front of me runs to catch his train too and while doing so, something falls out of his pocket...his wallet.  Not too far from the wallet was a bench with a homeless man sleeping.  Next to him, a cart with his entire home stacked and tied up in ropes.  On top of all of that, what would be the roof of his home, was his dog, snoopy style, wide awake and alert.  My pace gets faster towards the wallet, with the intention to give it to the guy who, by now, was far and camouflaged in the middle of the crowd.  I knew that anyone else behind me would have picked up that wallet to keep it or give it back to the owner.  I did something else.  I kicked it to the side of the man sleeping on the bench.  His dog, jumped down from Mount Everest, fetched the wallet and put it in his owner's hands.  At this point, I was walking backwards, the man woke up, opened the wallet, looked at the dog, looked at the wallet, back at the dog...he then made room on the bench and had his dog join him.  The dog wrapped his paw around the owner and they slept some more.  A few days later, I saw that man and dog again, they were both eating some food that seemed to be decent, the man had a good pair of running shoes on his feet.  There was an incredible empathy between them.  I like to believe that, that kick towards their side did some good, even if on the expense of the man who lost his wallet, he must have been really pissed that day, I know I would be, but in Dante's inferno, life can be rough for some.  I think luck should go to those.

The recipe today is humble and simple, actually it's just a matter of boiling 3 ingredients, adding some salt and pepper, a few croutons and some crispy prosciutto bits.  All of this together will give you an excellent creamy soup that rewards in taste and comfort.  Something that requires the least of effort and gives a whole lot of warmth inside. 

CELERIAC AND POTATO SOUP
Ingredients
for 4 people

4 medium size Potatoes
Celeriac, also called turnip-rooted celery or knob celery
1 garlic clove
1/2 litre water
a pinch of salt
pepper
some diced bread to make croutons
some thinly sliced prosciutto (or bacon) 
some fennel leaves for extra flavor
good extra virgin olive oil

In a pot, add cold water, chopped potatoes, chopped celeriac, 1 garlic clove and some salt.  Bring to a boil.  In the meantime, dice some bread, making little cubes, drizzle with some olive oil and place under the grill in the oven until golden brown. Place the thinly sliced prosciutto in a non-stick pan and cook until crispy.

When the vegetables have softened (poke with a fork to check) remove from heat and blend all of the ingredients to form a creamy consistency.  Serve in each bowl, add the croutons, the crispy prosciutto, some pepper and drizzle with olive oil.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Blackberry Buns with Warm Vanilla Sauce

FAREWELL SUMMER
blackberry buns
Fall is slowly approaching in Rome. The scorching heat and melting asphalt roads are replaced with cool mornings and decent warm days.  Swimsuits and shorts are back in the closet for some, others still lay out on beaches enjoying a less pinching sun bath.  Autumn colors are starting to make their way, some leaves are found on sidewalks, a gentle breeze accompanies morning walks and finally, nights are soundly slept wrapped in the cuddle of a comfortable blanket.

Tomatoes have been jarred, the last eggplants picked, cucumbers pickled and zucchini are no longer on their plants.  Chestnuts fall from trees, mushrooms release their earthy fragrance, grapes are ready for harvest. There's a change in the air, an in-between feeling that doesn't want to let go to summer, yet is ready for fall. These fine buns portray in food this summer nostalgic sentiment and crisp rosey cheek awakening feel.
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blackberry buns
The last plump and ripe blackberries that summer has to offer are snuggled in the warmth of a dough that grows light and soft. A generous amount of icing sugar to snow on their surface and a smooth, luxurious, vanilla sauce that entangles flavour and seasons.

I learned this recipe from the talented Kathreinerle, with just a slight change in flours, using half regular flour and half rice flour. I then used dried yeast instead of fresh, the rest is exactly as Kathreinerle shows on her blog.
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