Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Italian flag" mahi mahi

Green, white and red... get it? The colors of the Italian flag. It's ok if you didn't, neither did my boyfriend at first. He was too busy connecting and ohhhhing and ahhhhing over our new blue ray dvd player (courtesy of my mom and dad). In the mean time I was concocting this Italian flag inspired mahi mahi dish which turned out beautiful to look at and very yummy. The red is a sweet and spicy homemade tomato jam, while the green is a very healthy broccoli puree, both of which go together well with a mild fish like mahi mahi. I poached the fish in vermouth and garlic, mostly because I realized I didn't have any white wine on hand and it was way to late to go to the store. Vermouth gives food a pleasant sweetness so I use it often as a substitute for wine. I also use it often to make martinis, but that's another story.

Speaking of booze, since party season is coming up I will start posting some cocktail recipes soon, maybe as soon as tomorrow, but in the mean click here to read a story I wrote for today's paper with some recipes and ideas for Halloween parties.

Serves 2

For the green:
1 steam-in-bag bag of broccoli
1/4 cup broth
Crushed red pepper and salt to taste

Steam broccoli in their bag in the microwave for 3 minutes. Using a food processor bland them until you have a puree, pour in a saucepan and season with salt and crushed red pepper. Keep warm over low heat.

For the red:
3 large tomatoes
1 small onion
1 jalapeno, minced or 2 tablespoons jalapeno jelly
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Grate onion and tomatoes in a saucepan, add jalapeno, sugar and salt and simmer until tomato water evaporates, about 10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and keep warm.

For the white:
2 mahi mahi fillets
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 clove of garlic

Season fish with salt and pepper, place in a pan with two cloves of garlic and a half inch of vermouth. Simmer gently, flipping once until vermouth is almost all evaporated, about 10 minutes. Serve with broccoli puree and tomato jam.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pork and sweet potato goulash

I know. Goulash isn't made with pork and usually you don't see sweet potatoes anywhere near it. But as it often happens with me, I had decided that that's what I wanted to cook last night and -dammit- nothing was going to stop me from having a delicious bowl of goulash. Not the fact that I didn't have beef in the fridge. Or potatoes in the pantry. Or pink paprika, for that matter. I decided that pork, yams and hot smoked paprika would make wonderful substitutes and well, they did. Of course my goulash had little to do with the stew I used to eat in the Italian Alps near the border of Austria. It was thicker and spicier, and at the same time sweeter because of the sweet potatoes. In one word, it was good, just the perfect way to end an almost flawless weekend. I served mine over egg noodles, but I'm sure it's very good by itself or, if you are feeling creative, with rice.


1 1/2 pounds pork loin, cubed
2 yellow onions, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cipolle bionde, tritate
3 tabelspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 carrot, sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat a little oil in a casserole, add the onions and sautee for a few minutes, until tender. Add garlic and pork, season with salt and pepper to taste and stir well. Lower heat to low. Stir in paprika and cumin, mix well and pour in a cup of water. Simmer on low for about 45 minutes.

Add potatoes, carrot, bell pepper and more water, enough to cover the stew. Cook for ten minutes more, then add the tomatoes. Adjust salt and pepper, cook for ten minutes more and serve over egg noodles.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Concord grape muffins

When I was a kid we had concord grapes growing over our back porch -quite a curious fact since we lived in the middle of a big city. But the grapes grew plump and perfect and in early September I started noticing that day by day they would slowly change from green to dark purple. The anticipation almost killed me. I would beg my parents to harvest "just a few grapes", but we usually had to wait until the end of the month, when they were all of the sudden ripe and ready to eat. Of course my mother was presented with the problem of what to do with baskets and baskets of concord grapes and she usually started a campaign to give most of them away to friends and family members. It was a desperate endeavor, of course, because you know how hard it is to give away mounds of produce to people that already have tons of it at home. I wish she had known that concord grapes are amazingly good in muffins, something I discovered this morning after finding out that my grapes were getting dangerously close to that point where you have to throw them out. I made a big batch so that I can give some to her and make her, too, wish she had known about this recipe when we had our annual grape invasion.

Anyways, back to the muffins. I usually make them with bananas and today I thought I'd have to put something thickening in the batter instead of the bananas, something with a similar consistency that would help with the binding. So I thought, why not ricotta? Well... wow! What a discovery. It made them incredibly moist and fluffy -better than all the other muffins I've ever made put together. Yes. That good.

Makes 12

9 ounces ricotta
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup flour
3 ounces almonds, pulverized in a food processor (or you can use almond flour if you can find. I couldn't. Not even at Whole Foods)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups concord grapes

In a large bowl beat the eggs into the ricotta until smooth. Slowly add the sugar, flour and almonds, baking soda and baking powder. Stir with a spoon until just mixed. Fold in grapes.

Cook in 350F oven for about 25 minutes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Two squash soup

I've been incredibly lazy lately. I had all these grand ideas for the blog and was determined to post on a daily -or at least regular- basis. And then it happened. I got slammed at work and have been writing so much that when I get home the last thing I want to do is write some more. And I have also been distracted by many different problems and thoughts, the biggest of all being that I'm seriously thinking about starting my own business and doing so in Italy. I know, I know. That's why I've been distracted: I have been wrecking my brain, trying to understand what I want and what I need.

Anyways, I was sitting at my desk this morning and all of the sudden I realized that it's October 22nd and that I'm not ready for Halloween. I have no costume ideas and no parties to go to, except for my parents' party where, I'm hoping, I won't have to cook too much. Crazy, right? For some weird reason I'm not even in the mood to cook these days. Maybe it's the weather. After a couple of beautiful, cooler days the temperature has gone up again and I abruptly stopped dreaming of stews and soups and turned the a/c on again.

But, before I got preoccupied, before I got lazy and before the temperature went up I made this lovely squash soup and I have to say that I can't wait for winter to start for real so that I can make it more often. It's absolutely delicious.


1 acorn squash, halved and seeded
1 butternut squash, halved and seeded
1 tablespoon olive oil
Cooking spray
2 sliced yellow onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
4 cups water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of ground allspice

Preheat oven to 400°.

Rub the insides of each squash half with olive oil, place squash halves cut side up on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray and bake at 400° for 30 minutes or until tender.Scoop pulp out.

Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion; sauté until tender. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add squash, 4 cups water, and remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

Blend until smooth with an immersion blender.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Potato gnocchi

This is probably the recipe that most reminds me of my paternal grandma, Mina. She used to make gnocchi for me every Wednesday for lunch and let me tell you, they were the best. They were soft, but not too soft, and she made them with melted butter, cheese and sage. They were simple, yet the most delicious dish in the world.

Needless to say, my grandma didn't have a proper recipe for her gnocchi. Like most cooks of her generation -class 1908- she knew how to make them by heart and never knew the right doses. When asked how much flour we needed, her reply was "Enough." Enough for the gnocchi to bind, but not so much that would make them doughy and hard.

So the other night my mom and I made gnocchi to celebrate my belated birthday. While we were making them we talked about grandma and when we tried the first one we all agreed that she would have been very happy with the result.

For 4

2 pounds russet potatoes
1 egg
about 1 cup all-purpose flour

Boil the potatoes, with their skin on, in abundant water until tender -about 45 minutes. Remove from water and peel. Using a potato ricer mash the potatoes in a mound on your working surface. Sprinkle with salt. Beat the egg and place it on top. Slowly add the flour as you work the dough with your hands. Work the dough until moist but not sticky.

Cut the dough into thick slices. Grab one slice at the time and roll it on your working surface (sprinkled with flour) until you have what my grandma called "dough snakes", as thick as our thumb. Cut each snake into 3/4 inch long gnocchi.

Holding a fork in one hand gently but firmly roll each gnocchi down the fork's tines, giving it a "C" shape and impressing the tines on one side of the gnocchi.

Heat a large pot of water and salt it as if for making pasta. When it boils cook gnocchi in batches. When they float on the surface they are cooked, remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm in a serving bowl until all gnocchi are cooked. Serve with your favorite sauce.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Baked chicken with fennel

More poultry recipes? Well yes. I'm broke and chicken was on sale for a while, so now I'm living off what's in the freezer. I grew up in a family were poultry never ranked very high. To this day, every November, my dad asks full hope:
"Can we have ham for Thanksgiving?"
To which I reply:
"Absolutely not. Americans have turkey for Thanksgiving and we are going to follow the tradition!"
"But we are Italian..." Nice try. That's the only occasion when he conveniently forgets that we have both passports.
Anyways. Needless to say my mom never made chicken when I was a kid, with two exceptions: her famous and delicious chicken curry and her Sunday toasted chicken.

So I find it amusing that nowadays I cook chicken several times a week and that I actually enjoy eating it. When it comes to chicken I was a late bloomer (I was late bloomer for many other things, culinary and not, but that's another story). I started exploring chicken recipes when I was 22, living on my own for the first time -no parents, no roommates, no boyfriends. At the time I owned one cookbook, a hard cover binding copy of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, the red and white checkered one. I flipped through it from cover to cover and found out that chicken can be made in a million different ways, many of which only include my favorite part of the bird: the breast. It was all downhill from there. Once I started I couldn't stop and seven years and 130 cookbooks later I still cook chicken like it's my job. This one, inspired by a Weight Watchers recipe, is really simple to make and it has a wonderful fennel flavor -granted that you like fennel of course.


1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt to taste
Crushed red pepper to taste
1 red onion, sliced
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 425F.

Season both sides of chicken breasts with salt and crushed red pepper to taste. Place sliced onion and fennel on the bottom of a pyrex or roasting pan, place chicken on top, add wine and broth and cook for 30 minutes.

Remove chicken from pan and shred or cut into slices. Set aside. Keep cooking the vegetables for about 30 minutes more. Put chicken back in the pan and cook for 5 more minutes. Drizzle with a little olive oil if you like.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bon Roll, turkey meatloaf extraordinaire

When I lived in Italy there was this amazing pre-packaged food, the Bon Roll. It started out as a pretty basic turkey meatloaf with a ham and cheese filling and then, year after year, they started making more exciting, different ones like speck and radicchio or tuna and capers. The original of course remained my favorite -simple, super easy to make and incredibly good to eat for lunch or dinner. You could find the Bon Roll at any grocery store, in the refrigerated section. All you had to do was take it our of its box, put it in a pyrex with a glass of white wine and a little olive oil and bake it in the oven for about an hour. The result was moist and amazing, especially if you took the time to collect the browned wine from the pyrex and use it as gravy.

To make a long story short, I miss my Bon Roll dearly. There is a long list of ingredients and dishes that I miss from my home country and it might sound a little crazy that a pre-packaged meatloaf would make it into the top 5 -but it does. So I looked it up on the Internet and found several forums discussing the ingredients and how to make one at home. Now, I'm not sure why someone who can go to the store and buy it would muse about how to replicate it home, but I'm happy that they are because thanks to their discussion I was able to make mine in my kitchen 5000 miles away from Italy. It turned out amazingly good and, even better, it tasted just like the real deal. I loved it so much that soon I'm going to try and make all the variations!

1 1/4 pounds ground turkey breast
3 small potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed
2 eggs
Bread crumbs (quantity depends on starchiness of the potatoes)
2 tablespoons minced parseley
4 ounces ham, minced
4 ounces grated white cheddar cheese or provolone
Salt and pepper
Cooking spray
A small glass of white wine or broth

In a large bowl mix the grouond turkey breast with two of the mashed potatoes, one egg, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Add enough breadcrumbs so that the mixture is easy to handle and doesn't fall apart. Set aside.

In another bowl mix ham, cheese, one egg, one mashed potato and a little bread crumbs. Mix well and set aside.

Place the turkey mixture on a large piece of parchement paper and cover with plastic wrap. Using your hands or a rolling pin, roll out the mixture so it has a shape that resembles a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Remove and discard plastic wrap. Take ham mixture and place it in the middle of the rectangle, shaping it with your hands in a brick shape. Using the parchment paper wrap the turkey mixture around the ham mixture so that the ham filling is completly enclosed and not visible anymore. You should now have something resebling a meatloaf in fron of you.

Spray a Pyrex with cooking spray, pour a glass of white wine in it and gently roll the loaf into the pyrex. Discard parchment paper. Cook at 350F for about an hour or until golden brown.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cabbage & apples

Man, am I getting old. First I start eating cauliflower (and liking it!), then all of the sudden I'm yearning for some cook cabbage. I'm getting old -that's the only explanation. I grew up loathing both vegetables, as my mother patiently said "One day you'll grow up and like them." I couldn't believe her. I was pretty damn sure that she was wrong and that never in my life I would consider cabbage a treat.

Well, now I do. It started off innocently enough with making -and loving- cole slaw. The next natural step was trying it cooked, something that I put off as long as possible. But the idea of eating slaw for the tenth time in a row convinced me that something had to be done. It was time to tame the red monster and cook it into submission. And that's just what I did. The idea of having cabbage with apples came from an old magazine of mine, Cooking Light of course, that suggests that mixing cabbage with apple is a great way to get kids to eat it. And since I'm a big baby about my vegetables I thought it would be a great way for me to approach it as well.


1 onion, chopped
1/2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon honey
1 apple, chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a little bit of oil in a large skillet.

Sautee the onion until soft, then add the cabbage, honey and 1/2 cup of water. Cover and simmer until the cabbage is crisp tender, about ten minutes. Add apple, vinegar, salt and pepper. Cover again and cook for about 5 minutes longer.

Pasta with pumpkin and sausage

Did you know that canned pumpkin doesn't exist in Europe? Or at least, if it does, is not something you can find at any old grocery store. So whenever you want to make something with pumpkin you have to buy an actual pumpkin, take your chainsaw out to cut it, roast it, puree it and all that. Not that it's impossible to do, but it requires a certain level of commitment and makes pumpkin one of those ingredients you can't use on the spur of the moment. You have to plan ahead and have time for it.

Imagine my joy when I found out that in the U.S. you can buy canned pumpkin and that it tastes great. It was one of those discoveries that made me giddy with excitement, kind of like when I saw a slow cooker for the first time. But that's another story. The canned pumpkin makes impossible to make recipes very possible. Even on a week day, even if you are tired. This pasta i a perfect example -using the canned stuff cuts the preparation time down to nothing and the result is finger licking good.


For 4:
3/4 pound short pasta such as rotini or penne
2 links fresh hot Italian sausage
1 onion, minced
1 sprig rosemary, minced
A pinch of sage
1/2 can of pumpkin
Good quality vegetable or chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta in abundant salted water.

In the mean time crumble sausage in a large skillet and brown in its own juices with the minced onion and rosemary. When the sausage is brown add pumpkin and dilute with stock until it reaches a creamy consistency. Season with salt, pepper and sage. Cook for a couple of minutes, until warm. When sauce starts to boil stir in 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and remove from heat.

When pasta is ready and drained add it to the skillet, return it on the stove and cook for a bout a minute, stirring constantly until pasta and sauce are well mixed. Serve with extra cheese on the side.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Chicken stuffed with sundried tomatoes and cheese

So where's the chicken, you might ask? It obviously didn't make it into the picture, the main reason being that I was hungry and impatient and I butchered it in such a horrible way it wasn't much of a sight. Also you might notice that the recipe -even the title actually- calls for sun-dried tomatoes, something that isn't in the picture either. Well, here's the thing: I had a bag of sundried tomatoes in my pantry and I knew it, so I obviously didn't stop by the store to get more. Little did I know that the little buggers can go bad. Oh, yeah. Who knew? I certainly didn't. I thought they were indestructible, both because they were dried and because they were in an airtight bag in a dark pantry.

Well, I was wrong.

As soon as I opened the bag I figured that there was something weird going on. The tomatoes were... black. Still dried, but black. And didn't smell like tomatoes anymore. Further investigation led me to discover that they also didn't taste like tomatoes, but more like tar. So I had to improvise and make my own sun-dried tomatoes, or maybe I should say "oven-dried tomatoes". They turned out good. I cut them in halves, sprinkled them with salt and drizzled them with EVOO and a little balsamic vinegar and in they went, with a couple springs of rosemary to dry up. Try them, they are pretty damn good.


2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted
3 tablespoons soft cheese, such as Rondele or Aluette
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
1 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
A few leaves of basil

In a small bowl mix together the tomatoes, cheese and thyme and set aside.

Use a sharp paring knife to cut a horizontal slit through the thickest part of the chicken breast halves to create a "pocket". Stuff each pocket with the tomato and cheese mixture. Season chicken with salt and pepper to taste and dredge in flour.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet, add chicken and brown it on both sides. Remove it from pan and keep warm.

Add vermouth and bring to a boil. In a small bown stir together cornstarch and a couple tablespoons of stock, then add to the pan together with remaining chicken stock and tomato paste.

Return chicken to pan, bring to the simmer and cook covered over low heat for about 10 minutes, basting occasionally with the sauce.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pumpkin and smoked paprika soup

Although the folks at and Weather Channel have clearly lied about the temperatures and the humidity dropping, I'm still cooking as if it were fall for real. So pumpkin it is again, this time used to make soup. In the near future, if it ever does cool off I want to make pumpkin risotto and pumpkin ravioli, but for now soup it is because this one is great served both hot or cold.

Either way it's incredibly easy to make and the results are definitely worth it if you like a nice combination of sweet and smoky flavors like I do.


Makes 4 servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
2 carrots
1 onion
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 quart good quality chicken stock (or veegtable stock if you want to make it completely vegetarian)
Salt and pepper
1 15-ounce can pumpkin

Chop vegetables and heat oil in a dutch oven casserole. When oil is warm add chopped vegetables, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook everything on medium high heat for about 10 minutes.

Add paprika and garlic and toast for a minute, stirring vigorously.

Process soup with an immersion blender or in a regular blender, then put the pureed vegetables back in the casserole. Add remaining broth, pumpkin, and more salt, eppper and paprika if you'd like. Warm, stirring frequently , for about 10 minutes.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tuscan cannellini salad

This has been quite a week and I'm mighty glad that it's almost over. Of course I still have to deal with today and of course today will be the busiest of all days, but I'm trying to stay positive and collected. Really. Last night I was leaving the newsroom at around 6:30 when I suddenly remembered that downstairs they were hosting something along the lines of the first annual health fair, a quick screening that can reduce the monthly medical insurance payment. After making sure that they wouldn't force me to take a flu shot (I seriously rather have the flu), I filled a million forms with my information and off I went to get the first part of my screening done. In a little less than 20 minutes they poked my finger for blood, weighted me (I had boots on, but the nurse mercifully subtracted 3 pounds to the total), calculated my BMI, my cholesterol levels and my blood pressure. Then I was sent off to sit down with a head nurse "to discuss my health problems and find solutions together." Well, apparently I have none. My blood pressure is on the low side, my bad cholesterol is low while my good one is high, my BMI is on the low portion of the normal range and so is my body fat percentage. In other words, the head nurse had nothing to talk to me about and when she assumed out loud that I must have a hell of an exercise routine I didn't dare tell her that I've never set foot in a gym. But when I got home and it was time to decide what to make as a side dish to my fennel crusted pork tenderloin, I decided to do the healthy thing. I put away the instant mashed potatoes and I made this Tuscan bean salad from scratch. So much healthier and much more satisfying!


1 can cannellini beans
1 bayleaf
Salt and pepper
1 tomato, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup black olives, pitted and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
A bunch of basil

In a small pot gently heat up the cannellini with salt, pepper, bayleaf and a little water. Cook for about 20 minutes, until most water has evaporated. Place beans in a bowl and let them cool down.

When the beans are warm but not too hot anymore add tomato, onion, garlic and olives.

Whisk together oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and pour over salad. Mix gently with a wooden spoon and sprinkle with freshly chopped basil.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pumpkin bread

Happy first day of October, everyone! I was pleased to find out that this morning the temperature was below 75F and the humidity was almost gone. I'm sure it's just a tease and we will get some more gross, over 90 degrees days, but it's a start. It's a remainder that in less than 4 weeks summer will be gone for good, even in Florida. To celebrate the beginning of my favorite season I made pumpkin bread, an obvious choice, I agree, but see... I've been itching to make it since the middle of July, so I couldn't resist anymore. Eating the first slice with coffee was the highlight of a day that is already turning out to be a pain, so I'm exceptionally glad that I've baked it.


8 ounces all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil or applesauce
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/3 cup water
1/2 can pumpkin

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine flour, baking powder, bakind soda, salt and spices in a bowl.

Place sugar, oil, milk, and eggs in a large bowl and beat with a mixer at high speed until well blended. Add water and pumpkin, and beat at low speed until blended.

Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Spoon batter in a greased loaf pan.

Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.


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