Monday, December 19, 2011

Lasagna = Love

We Love Lasagna. There are so many different ways to make it. Our favorite is the traditional way with ricotta cheese between the layers of Lasagna sheets.
If I had the time I would have liked to have made my own lasagna sheets, but this time of year, unless I really plan ahead it's not going to happen. I used Barilla Lasagna sheets. The ones that you boil. I do not like the no cook sheets. I'm not saying that they are  bad, I just don't like them.
After boiling the lasagna sheets in a huge pot of salted water I run them under cold water and then lay them out on dish towels to dry them.
When they are dry I layer my noodles, starting with sauce on the bottom of the pan and then a layer of lasagna sheets. I cooked some Sweet Italian sausage, out of the casing, and crumbled it up and sprinkled some of the sausage meat on the first layer and added some more sauce.
This is the first layer of my lasagna
If I am really ambitious I will make tiny meatballs and put them into the layers of lasagna too. I was serving meatballs on the side and decided not to add the meatballs this time.
Keep layering the lasagna sheets with the cheeses, meat and sauce until you don't have any Lasagna sheets left.
all layered and ready to go into the oven

I like to top off the whole pan with a generous amount of shredded mozarella cheese and some grated Reggiano Parmiagano.
Bake in a preheated 350 - 375 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour until nice and hot and some of the Lasagna noodles get crispy! (That's my favorite part!)
I forgot to take a picture when it came out of the oven. You'll have to trust me on this one, it was beautiful!

Here's what I used to make this lasagna.

2 pounds of lasagna sheets
3 pounds of Ricotta cheese, either whole milk or skim
2 cups grated parmiagano cheese
2 pounds shredded mozzarella cheese
2 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
a small bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Sunday Gravy sauce that my meatballs, sausage and pork have been simmering in for hours.

Mix all the cheeses together, reserving some of the shredded mozzarella to top the lasagna. Add the eggs, salt, pepper and flat leaf parsley. Mix well so all gets incorporated.  This is what you will use in your layers of lasagna.
Add some meat if you want. We like the flavor of sausage, which was cooked prior to adding it. I took the sausage meat out of the casing and cooked it through and crumbled it.
You can also cook the sausage whole and then slice it and add it to your lasagna. You may also add meatballs, either tiny ones or sliced. It doesn't matter...add what ever you want to your lasagna, it will taste great.
Just do me a favor and make your own sauce! That's the one thing that you should never cheat on!

Buon Appetito

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Octopus Salad

My family loves Octopus. This is something I never had as a kid growing up. My mother's idea of seafood had nothing to do with Octopus. I can't recall the first time I had it, it might have been while dining in a Greek restaurant and all I can say is that it was love at first bite.
My sister Marlene stayed away from Octopus each time I served it. I don't know how I got her to try it, but she did. After she tasted it, she looked at me and said, "This is what I have been missing all these years!" OMG!
Yes, Marlene, that is what you have been missing all these years! lol We told you so!
The above is 2 large octopi, aboutt 5 pounds between the two of them. They are going to go into a pot of salted water with a bay leaf.

 After bringing  to a boil, lower the heat and cover and simmer for at least 2 hours. I usually know when it's done because it's tender and the head pulls off!
 They are out of the water and ready for me to clean. It's easy to clean them. I just run them under cold water and take off all the slimy stuff. What's letf is a clean white meat.
 After cleaning, slice the octopus up. I like to slice them on an angle.
 After all is sliced add some olive oil, chopped garlic, lemon juice, chopped parsley, salt, pepper and to taste and add a pinch of hot pepper flakes.

 Toss all together and serve!
The Octopus is absolutely so tender and so sweet. This is going to be such a tease for my family! I should have bought more!

Buon Appetito

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cranberry Pound Cake

Looking for a new desert for the Christmas? You should try this! It will be a hit! Promise!
This recipe was given to me by my friend Irene. Many years ago she served this at one of her holiday parties. I took just a sliver, thinking nothing is that good, and as soon as this cake went into my mouth,  I went back to the table and added a very large slice to my dish! It was delicious. It has a sweet taste, but is also a little tart from the cranberries. As far as I am concerned, it's perfect! This is such a festive looking cake. Perfect for this time of year!  It's a favorite of many of my friends and is requested quite often. I love serving this with some fresh made whipped cream or even better,  vanilla ice cream.
1 stick of unsweetened butter (1/2  cup or 1/4 pound) softened at room temperature
1 cup of sour cream
2 cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs

1/4 cup of flour
1/4 cup of butter
1 tsp cinnimon
3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 bag of fresh cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Make strussel by combining all of the ingredients together with a fork. It will become crumby. Set aside.

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla together until light and fluffy, add eggs one at a time. Mix in the flour and the sour cream alternating each. Mix well until the flour and sour cream are fully incorporated into the batter. Add salt, baking soda and baking powder. Mix well.

Prepare a 10" round spring form pan by buttering the bottom and sides. I like to put a piece of parchment on the bottom of the pan. This way, when the cake is done, I can easily remove it from the baking pan.
Spread a little less than half of the cake batter on the bottom of the pan. Then sprinkle with half of the strussel and half of the bag of cranberries. The next layer is a little more difficult to spread the cake batter over the cranberries, just keep working it and it will get there. Sprinkle the rest of the strussel on top of the batter and add the rest of the bag of cranberries.
Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Buon Appetito

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Arancini Again!

The other day I posted about making Arancini with my friend, Mariann.
Some of you have asked for a more specific recipe.
This is the recipe I use when making my own Arancini. And the only reason I used this recipe is because I didn't have the one from Mariann's mother. I didn't know how to make them, just looked up a recipe on the internet, looked in some cook books and took what I liked from different recipes.

The following recipe makes approximately 18 Arancini.

For the Filling
2 Tbs olive oil
1 onion chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pouind of ground beef
1 1/2 cups chopped canned Italian peeled tomatoes
salt and pepper  to taste
1/2 cup or more to taste frozen peas

For the Rice
2 cups of rice, I like Carolina's for this recipe.
5 cups of water
2 Tbs butter
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano
4 large eggs yolks

To Assemble
3 cups of seasoned bread crumbs, I like 4C
4 large egg whites, or more as needed
flour for dredging
1/2 pound of sharp  provolone cheese, cut into small pieces
Vegetable oil for frying

Make your sauce using the onion, and garlic with the olive oil. When the onion and garlic is soft add the beef and cook until browned. Drain excess fat and then add tomatoes and seasoning. Bring sauce to a simmer and then reduce heat and cook on low for about 30 minutes.
Add the peas and cook another 5 minutes.
Let cool.

Add the rice, water , butter and salt to a large pot that can hold all the rice. Bring to a boil and cover and cook on low for 20 minutes. Do not lift the lid while cooking. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes before removing the lid.
Let the rice cool slightly before adding the egg yolks and the cheeses. Mix all together and taste and then adjust seasoning.

Here's my assembly of the Arancini.
Beat egg whites in a bowl and set aside. Sprinkle the bread crumbs on one sheet of wax paper and the flour on another sheet of wax paper.
Dip your hands in cool water, and then take about 1/3 cup scoop of the rice and form a pattie in your hand, making a dent in the middle, but not a hole. Put your filling in the the indentation and cover with more rice and work it in your hands to make a ball.
Roll the ball in the flour and then the egg whites and then roll in the breadcrumbs. When made the other day we did not use the flour or the egg whites and they came out fine. So if you'd like you can skip that part and go right to the breadcrumbs.
I like to set the Arancini on a baking rack after they are rolled in the breadcrumbs and let them rest before frying them.
I like to deep fry them, they cook evenly and have a beautiful color. If you don't have a deep fryer you may pan fry them, or use a small stock pot and put about 3 inches of oil in the pot and cook them in the heated oil that way!

Buon Appetito

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Arancini with Mariann and Diandra

Today I had a fabulous day with my goomara, (Italian slang for really good friend)  Mariann and her daughter Diandra.
 Mariann and I have been friends since we were in grade school at East Memorial, in Farmingdale, New York. I say we met when we were in Kindergarten, Mare say's it was First grade. She has recently found pictures of herself while in Italy in uniform attending Kindergarten, so I stand corrected. We've been friends since 1st grade. In any case, that's 45 + years.  I could write pages about our friendship and try to describe Mariann's inner and outer beauty and I wouldn't come close to doing justice to her, or our friendship...Mariann I love you!!! I'll just move on to the tradition of the Arancini!
When ever there was a major event or any special occasion, Mariann's mother, Concetta and her Aunt Gina would get busy in the kitchen. These two tiny woman with huge personality and cooking talent were amazing!  They would make hundreds of these rice balls, Arancini, for any special occasion especially at Christmas and then turn around and make another 100 for New Year's Day. If there was a party there was always a huge platter of Arancini. I was never disappointed, and I always looked for them.
They never tired of cooking for their loved ones and extended family. I am so blessed to be one of many of the beneficiaries of the extended family!

The first thing you have to do is make a sauce of peas, chop meat, onion, garlic and tomatoes. Mariann sauteed 12 pounds of chop meat to make this recipe, which I have to say made a gigunta amount of sauce. Most people are not going to make 100 Arancini, so most people don't need that much sauce. We didn't need that much sauce!
I would start with one onion, chopped a clove or two of garlic chopped and saute them in a little olive oil in a large pan. Add your chop meat, crumbling it as you add it to the cooking onion and garlic and cook until your meat gets browned. Remove excess oil and add tomato sauce, salt, pepper, and bay leaf, a nice bunch will do. Let the sauce start to simmer and add sweet peas (one bag of frozen) and a little romano cheese.
Let your sauce cool.

Step 2
Make the rice. Mariann likes Carolina brand rice for this recipe. She used one medium size bag of rice and cooked it according to the directions on the bag. It's a sticky kind of rice. Let the rice cool at room temperature, or at least so you can handle it.  Once the rice cooled Mariann added Parmesan Cheese, Romano Cheese, salt, pepper, a little chopped parsley and a few whole eggs and mixed it all together. Once she got the taste and the texture she wanted it was time to start making them into delicious orbs better known as Arancini.

Diandra is the master at making the Arancini. She has sculptors hands and has a magic way of working the rice in her hands while filling them, and I mean filling them up with the meat and pea sauce!

Once we all started to help Diandra we had a few made and into the deep fryer they went.

After 2 - 3 minutes we checked on them, and when they had a beautiful golden color we took them out of the fryer and let them sit.

The first few we made came out huge. The more we made the more uniform in size they became, but not without a few's always about size, isn't it? lol And to Mariann's surprise I had a little trick up my sleeve.

I know each time we make something we always say, these are the best ever! Take a look at the inside of this baby! Doesn't this just look delicious? YUMMM!

I hope you get an idea from this on how to make an Arancini.  Good luck and email me, or leave a comment and I'll get back to you and assist you in any way I can.

There are hundreds of recipes out there on the internet for Arancini.  Each one is different and I'm sure delicious. It's fun to try all new recipes and then decide which one you like best.

Thanks for visiting me today. This post was a little different with all the videos added, and may be a little discombobulated. Please be patient with me during my growing pains!

Buon Appetito

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's not me for MasterChef 3!

This weekend it was my pleasure to go into New York City and audition for MasterChef Season 3.
I had fun standing in line, meeting new people who are passionate about cooking and want to have fun while doing it. That's what this is supposed to be, fun!

One of them F.M. is going to go all the way, I can just tell!
I met Joe Bastianich and had a short on camera interview with him. I told him that he made a mistake last year by not picking me to be on the show. We had a little debate, but it was all in fun.
This year, I had many reservations about the audition process for the show. Last year I knew my food was great, the producers liked me, they called me adorable and yet I was not picked to be one of the "100 best cooks in the country"! Those are their words, not mine!  Yet, the lady with string beans got on and my osso bucco and homemade ravioli took a back seat to her? Come on, REALLY!
I was crushed when I wasn't picked. I never expected not being picked! How naive was I?
Osso Bucco with homemade meat ravioli

Veal Spidini with a salad of argula, fennel, tomato and red onion

You can start to understand why I was on the fence about auditioning again.
While in Florida, I got a phone call from one of the producers of MasterChef asking me to come to the audition. I told him all of my reservations. I told him I didn't have a "story" I have an excellent life with a really great family who love and support me. If it were just about the food I knew I would have a shot at this game, but there are so many other aspects that come into play here. The producer assured me that it was primarily about the food...yes, but after all it is a tv show and they do need ratings, but the food is really important.
I discussed all of my reservations about the interview process. I told the producer I felt like I was just spinning wheels. I was told to be myself and put my best dish forward. That's what I did. That's who I am, and I'm not what they wanted.

I should have known that it would be the same thing all over again. I was actually almost past up after the tasting. The woman who came around the table was like a pit bull. She came after us and told us, don't talk to me about your food. I don't care about your food. I want to know about you! Bark! Bark! How are you supposed to answer someone when they ask you, "so tell me about yourself. "  What do you want me to say?  I'm kind of sassy,but all my friends love me anyway!  Then another BARK! "Tell me quick, cause I don't have all day!!!!"  grrrrrr  "So What's your story?"  I wanted to rip my hair out. I don't have a story!!!!! Well, I do have a story, we all have a story, but I don't have a story that you want.  Pit Bull PASSES!!!
When my name wasn't called and I wasn't asked to move on I saw one of the tasters step up and put my application in with the ones who would move on. He knew my dish was one of the best of the day!  OK, now I get to go in with the producers, but the crazy person asking us those stupid questions told me I had better be bad and give them some attitude. So I did, and I think that's what got me in trouble. Lol!  I told them that they made a big mistake last year! They didn't care. I didn't have a story. But I do have a story, it's just not the story they are looking for!
So that's it. I'm done! and I'm not really upset this time. I knew what to expect. I'm really in a good place. The only way I would audition again for MasterChef is if they invited me to LA to cook for the 3 judges and let them judge me based on the food I prepared. I want someone to tell me, I'm sorry your food is not good enough and send me home. Don't send me home because I wasn't crazy enough in your interview process.
So there, you have it all, and I have got this off my chest! Whew! Done! Gone! Yippee!
I just had to get it out of my system.
 I know that my dish was the best in the room. One woman asked me for my left overs after she tasted the osso bucco and ravioli. She said she wanted to bring them to her husband because she knew that he had never tasted anything so delicious in his life. Now that was real! It kind of says something too, doesn't it?
All I wanted was a chance to be one of the 100 to go to the real judges, the people who will judge you based on your food. My passion and my talent would have taken me all the way!
For those of you who know me, you know that I am real. I tell it like it is, and usually don't back down.  This is what I sent to the MasterChef production team.
Do you think they'll call me after that? lol
You know what? I really don't care!
Thanks for letting me vent!
My next post will be about the food. Arancini's are coming up!


Monday, December 12, 2011

Ricotta Gnocci with Sundried Tomato Pesto

I love Gnocci, when it's made right they should be nice and light, not little lead balls.  My family likes them made with ricotta cheese instead of the potato. They are very easy to make, don't really take that much time and usually when I make them I get lots of yums. Isn't that what it's all about when cooking? Making the people who are eating a happy bunch? If you'd like to try to make these follow the recipe that I used here, just omit the sweet potatoes, brown sugar and nutmeg.
Tonight I made these with a sundried tomato pesto. The pesto is relatively an easy thing to make.
Here's what I did
1 head of parsley cleaned, big stems removed
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
a bunch of basil, cleaned and stems removed
salt and pepper to taste
10 sundried tomatoes
***a handful of pine nuts or walnuts- these are very optional
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup romano cheese, grated
extra virgin olive oil to blend

I just put everything in the blender adding the oil a little at a time until everything is nice and smooth and blended.
Toss the Gnocci with the pesto and serve with a little more grated parmesan cheese.
You'll enjoy the Gnocci and the yums that come with it!

Buon Appetito