Wednesday, July 1, 2015


This was one of those rare times when I delayed the cooking from my blog. We had to drive to Chicago to attend the memorial service for one of my husband’s childhood friends on the day that I normally cook. Not to mention that I got slammed with work at the same time, trying to beat a deadline. But here I am ready to cook today. 

I loved this a lot and was surprisingly good.
Actually last week, I couldn’t wait to cook Italian food, so I made one of my recipes for dinner. Now let me preface this by this: over the years, my husband has had a lot of difficulties with the acidity of tomatoes, so he was slightly worried about Italian food since it relies heavily on this fruit we call a vegetable. My challenge was to find non-tomato recipes. I failed. But at least I did find recipes where the tomatoes were in chunks, and he could pick them out. So, I only sort of failed. That being said, the first recipe I made was spaghetti, anchovies, and cherry tomatoes. For most American palates, it doesn’t sound pleasing at all. But my daughter is obsessed with anchovies, so that’s why we’re here. I started this by cooking the spaghetti according to the package, but turning the heat off just before you get to al dente (an Italian phrase meaning “to the teeth,” or more or less, tasting the pasta to see if it’s done). In a large skillet, I poured in some oil and sautéed my garlic. Then I added in some crushed red pepper (which everyone complained about) and then the anchovies, breaking up the little fishes into smaller pieces and constantly stirring. Being careful not to burn the food or myself, I added in some of the pasta water into my skillet, enough to cover the bottom of the skillet and then some. Then I added in my cherry tomatoes that my daughter cut in half and stirred everything up. The starch in the pasta water was supposed to thicken up the longer I kept stirring, but for some reason it wasn’t thickening up fast enough (maybe I wasn’t stirring enough?). I did add in a little flour to help it along. Once it became thicker, I drained what pasta liquid was still in the pot and poured in the spaghetti, tossing it for a couple of minutes to make sure everything was coated evenly.  The recipe didn’t say, but I topped this with parsley flakes and grated parmesan cheese.  I absolutely loved this. The anchovies were definitely not overpowering in any way and only had a mild fishy flavor to it. But my family couldn’t handle the miniscule (like one teaspoon) of crushed red pepper flakes. (Wimps. All of them.) 

Baked perfection. That's all I can see.

The bread I decided to make is ciabatta bread. This bread has actually become quite popular in the US, and even fast food chains have used it in making sandwiches and such. To make this, I had to make the sponge last night, which consists of 1 c flour, 1/8 tsp yeast, and ½ c lukewarm water all mixed together until it forms a clump of dough. Then I covered the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on the counter over night (minimum 8 hours, maximum 24 hours). Then today, I added to my sponge 2 c flour, 1 ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp yeast, ¾ c lukewarm water, and ¼ c milk. I mixed all of these ingredients together until it pulled away from the sides, and then I kneaded the bread with the spoon for another ten minutes.  After this, I tightly covered it with plastic wrap to let it rise for about an hour. I took some cooking spray and sprayed down my rubber spatula, using it to pull the dough from the sides and fold it toward the middle. Turning the bowl 90 degrees, I repeated this process seven more times. Then I covered it with plastic wrap again, but this time it only rested for 30 minutes. At the end of this time, I repeated the whole folding step again, letting it rest for another 30 minutes. Then, being careful not to deflate my dough (Tom Brady would mess up at this point), I moved my dough to a floured work surface. It was really a lot harder than it seems because it was so sticky. I liberally covered the top of the dough with flour and then cut it in half. Turning the cut sides up, I dusted this side with flour as well, pressing it into a 12”x6” rectangle. Then I folded both of the short ends in as if I were folding a letter into thirds. I did this for the other half of the dough as well. When this was done, I transferred each of these to some cut parchment paper that was dusted with flour and covered them with plastic wrap for another 30 minutes. The recipe called to put the parchment paper with the loaves onto a pizza peel, but I don’t have one. Nor do I have a pizza stone (yet). And because I was doing a couple of things at once, I forgot to poke the entire surface of each loaf to make it slightly larger, spraying the loaves lightly with water before putting it into the oven. I also forgot to sprinkle it with water a couple of times during the first five minutes as well. But, it baked at 450º for around 24 minutes. And it was wonderful. The crust wasn’t too hard, and it was soft inside. The crumb was perfect. I absolutely loved it. 

Let's take a bet this will be gone in less than 48 hours.

Then I made dessert. Because, why not? And what better dessert than the iconic tiramisu. I started this out by separating the whites from the yolks for five eggs into two different bowls. In the bowl with the egg yolks, I added in sugar and beat it with an electric mixer until it was creamy. Then I added in my mascarpone. (Now I couldn’t find mascarpone, but I did find a recipe to make a decent substitute: softened cream cheese, heavy whipping cream, and softened butter all mixed together.) Then I beat my egg whites until it looked almost like whipped cream. Carefully, I folded my egg whites into the yolk mixture. Then in another bowl, I mixed a couple cups of espresso with some sweet vermouth (which I forgot to buy, so I mixed in some white wine. I’ve not had vermouth before, so I’m not sure if it’s close or not, but I read it’s related to white wine). Then it comes time to assemble this by dipping the lady finger cookies into the espresso mix and placing them closely together on the bottom on my dish. (And of course, I couldn’t find lady finger cookies, so I used dried out pound cake cut into rectangles for the bottom layer and dried out angel food cake for the middle layer.) Once I laid all of the espresso-dipped pound cake on the bottom, I poured about half of the mascarpone mix on top of that. Then I spread a layer of the dried out angel food cake rectangles and poured the remainder of the mascarpone mix on top. Then I covered this with the lid and put it in the fridge for 3-4 hours. Just before I served this, I shaved some bittersweet chocolate for decoration. I tried my first piece after only two hours in the fridge, and although it wasn’t quite as set up as I’ve had in the past, the flavor was still really good. I could definitely taste the espresso, and I think I liked the consistency of the angel food cake better than the pound cake. Overall, it was very good and quite divine. 

This will definitely get made again. So simple, yet full of flavor.

Then came the main dish for today: farfalle with spinach and pancetta. (Farfalle is sometimes called bow-tie pasta in the US.) I cooked the pasta according to the directions, but stopped just prior to al dente. Then in a skillet, I heated my oil and sautéed my garlic. Then I added my pancetta (I couldn’t find pancetta itself, but a close substitute is American-style bacon. I think pancetta has a less smoky flavor in comparison from what I read.) I cut about four strips into smaller pieces before I put it in the skillet. Then I added in the white wine to the bacon-garlic mix. After lowering my heat, I added in the baby bella mushrooms and some salt, letting it cook until the mushrooms had softened. Then it comes time to add in the spinach. Once the spinach starts to look wilted, it’s time to add in the pasta and fold it all until everything is coated and mixed well. Just after I turned the heat off, I added in the parmesan-romano cheese on top, stirring to coat and melt the cheese. I really liked this. Even my finicky son who hates mushrooms liked this dish (although I noticed he picked out most of the spinach). 

Surprisingly good, especially with the fresh herbs.

And to go with all of this is Mozzarella alla Caprese. This simple dish makes for the perfect appetizer. I bought a block of mozzarella although I couldn’t find it in a log in order to make disk-shaped slices. But after I cut slices of cheese, alternating it with slices of tomato, I sprinkled it with chopped basil, olive oil, salt, and oregano. My daughter is not a huge fan of mozzarella for some reason, but after a little coaxing, she agreed that this was a much better way to eat it. And I fully agree. I enjoyed this very much. I think I’ll put this on my ciabatta bread and make a kind of open face sandwich out of it. 

One of the better meals. Those Italians know how to eat.

I’d say overall, this was a really good meal. And I mean really good. But I expected that. And these were dishes I had never eaten before (minus the tiramisu and ciabatta) and certainly have never made before. I was definitely trying to avoid an Olive Garden interpretation of Italian food. I wanted something more authentic, and I think I came close (even with all of my substitutions). Although I was delayed slightly because life gets in the way sometimes, that’s how it rolls. Last week, I downloaded the PBS app to my Kindle and watched some episodes of Rick Steves’ Europe when he was in Italy. One thing I noticed is that even though the people may have stressful days at work or life doesn’t hand them the best, they always make a point to gather with their friends for some food and drink. The Italians love to gather over food and talk about their food. And I can see why.

Up next: Jamaica

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