Sunday, October 31, 2010

Can I remodel my kitchen?

This is a kitchen design studio in Rome, near the Medici gardens.

Sleek and shiny. How long would it stay shiny in MY kitchen? But it sure is flashy, isn't it?
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Wonderful Latino-Style Cake

A few weeks ago, I was a little under the weather due to emergency surgery. As one might expect, friends came through with tasty treats to keep me nourished. One of the treats was a wonderful cake, a rich chocolate cake topped with a flan typical of Latino cooking.

Although I’m not much of a sweets eater, or maker either for that matter, I found this so good I had to ask for the recipe. My friend told me she’d gotten it from an out-of-town newspaper a good while back. I went online looking for it, and found that there are various recipes for it, from many sources, but I didn’t find this one, using Coke instead of water to make the cake.

I’ve not specified the eggs and oil, if needed, for the cake mix since different brands use different amounts. Just use what the box calls for, substituting Coke (not diet) for the amount of water called for.

Most of the recipes called for cajeta. This is a Mexican caramel sauce made with goat’s milk. I couldn’t find it, and used Smuckers caramel ice cream sauce instead, with excellent results.

Once made, it is essential to chill before turning out onto a plate. And be sure to use a plate with a rim, because the caramel will run down the sides of the cake and pool around the edges. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as we did!


1 cup Smuckers caramel sauce
1 devil food cake mix, made as directed, using Coke for the liquid called for
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk (not skim)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (I always use Eagle brand)
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Coat a 12 cup bundt cake pan heavily with cooking spray. Pour the caramel sauce in the bottom, spreading evenly. Pour the prepared cake mix on top.

In a large bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients until very well blended. Pour down one side of the cake pan. Some of it may float on top but most will sink. Don’t worry if it looks weird.

Place the cake pan in a larger pan and pour about an inch of hot water into the larger pan. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until cake layer tests done.

Cool to room temperature, then chill completely. A couple of hours before you plan to serve it, take from the fridge. Place a large plate with a rim over the top of the pan. Carefully turn it over, and let set with the pan on top. When ready to serve, lift the pan off. Most of the caramel will have run over the top and down the sides of the cake.

Cut into slices to serve, and refrigerate any leftovers. Makes 12 generous servings.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Not so pretty but oh so tasty!

For the second week of our Italian vacation, we used the charming town Radda in Chianti as our base for exploring the hill towns of Tuscany. We would be tourists during the day, but in the evening would return to our "home town" Radda for our apero and dinner.  One evening, we dined at the Ristorante Botte di Bacco.

For my main course, I chose a primo piatto, Blueberry Pasta with Cinghiale-Chianti Sauce. Now you can see from the picture that it was not the prettiest dish I've ever had put in front me, bless its little heart, but I gotta say, it was one of the best, if not the very best dish I had in Italy.

I had seen the blueberry pasta in another nearby town, but hadn't ordered it. It must be a VERY local item. I asked my friend (and Tuscan cooking instructor) Judy Witts Francini about it, and she had never heard of blueberry pasta. This isn't unusual in Italy (or France or Spain either, for that matter). Some menu items are just VERY local.

Cinghiale is the wild boar that populates the hills of Tuscany and during the fall can found on pretty much every menu around, perhaps as a sort of stew. Or it might be in a tomato-based pasta sauce, usually served on pici, a regional thick and chewy spaghetti.

For this sauce, the ground boar meat was simmered with Chianti wine and herbs.  Then a very reduced drizzle of Chianti wine was drizzled around the edges, garnished with sangiovese grapes warmed in the reduction.

I'm going to try to reproduce this (although I'll have to use ground pork for the wild boar) and if I'm successful, I'll share it with you!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dinner as a culinary experience...


In Florence, we went to Cibreo. It is considered one of the most creative kitchens in the city, and with good reason. The chef, Fabio Picci, has three establishments side by side (well, two are back to back). I'd eaten in the trattoria twice before, and enjoyed it immensely. There's also a cafe across the little street with a bar and snacks.

We went to the "real" restaurant, hoping we could get in without reservations (legend has it that one can NEVER get in without them). We lucked out. We were among the early comers at 8:00 and got a good table with as good as view of the kitchen as there is. Our first hint of the price level was that there were four fine stemmed glasses at each place.

One interesting note: Cibreo serves no pasta. The chef is reputed to have said "It's cheap and we all eat it at home. Why go out for pasta?"

So here's how it works: You don't get a menu. You get a card saying first courses (primi) are E20 and main courses (secondi)are E30. A handsome young man came to the table, pulled up a chair and listed the first courses. I chose a yellow bell pepper soup that had been recommended to me by a friend who'd been there. Tom got a "spicy fish soup."

For our main course, Tom got "coda de vacca," an oxtail dish cooked sort in a stew. I got pigeon with mostarda, a tangy fruit confit. Once we'd ordered, the sommelier came for wine ordering we asked for a light white wine, and were happy with the selection although in retrospect, a light red would have been better with our main course. He didn't suggest that to us. Hm...

Then came a lovely selection of antipasti: a tomato/basil aspic, a spoonful of marinated zucchini, a square of zucchini mousse, one crostini each of liver pate and another of sundried tomato, and tender, delicious marinated tripe, with a roll of the home-made potato bread they are known for. Tom even ate his liver. I didn't tell him what the tripe was until he'd eaten it. He liked it.

Then came the soups. I'd say the serving was around 6 ounces. My yellow bell pepper soup was good, and beautifully served, drizzled with a very fine flavored olive oil, with a couple of tiny slightly cheese-flavored croutons. Tom's spicy seafood soup was just that. A similar sized serving, it was dark and dense and delicious, with a little more than a hint of hot pepper.

My pigeon was wonderful. all dark meat but tender, and the waiter encouraged me to use my fingers (a real no-no for most Italian rules of etiquette) to get every bite. As my contorno (side dish) I was brought a ramekin of potato puree, lightly toasted on top. Tom's ox-tail was, well, boring. The sauce was a little on the sweet side, it was hard to eat, and, well, boring. And he doesn't remember if he got a contorno. So it must not have been memorable.

We pretty much never order dessert, and didn't there either, but they brought us a nice tasting slice of a very dense, very chocolatey tart. The bill was E180 with the wine, or somewhere around $250. Was it an interesting experience? For sure. Did I enjoy my food? Absolutely. Am I sorry we went? Definitely not. Will I ever go back? No. Am I recommending that you do? No.

Go to the trattoria, it's half the price for many of the same menu items and a LOT more fun!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A delightfully delicious martini

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My dear sister Cindy came from Knoxville a couple of weeks ago for a visit. Tom was out of town for the week, so we had a "Girls' Night In." Leave it to my sister to come up with a delicious contribution: Blood Orange Martinis.

She had brought Blood Orange Elixir, available online at Earth & Vine, and maybe at Fresh Market or Whole Foods.

I must admit to being a bit of a wimp, hard-liquor wise, so I cut the amount of vodka in half. I rimmed the glasses with regular orange juice and sugar, and we poured. Delicious!

Now I just have to order some for myself. She took her bottle home with her!


4 oz vodka
2 oz Concentrated Earth & Vine Provisions Blood Orange Beverage Elixir
½ oz Triple Sec or flavored orange liqueur (I used Grand Marnier)
Crushed ice

Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice; shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with orange twist. Makes two.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Tasty Winter Squash Pizza


A couple of weeks ago, my husband had a work assignment out of town. So I decided it was time for a "Girls’ Night In." Several of my friends came over and we ate chips and dip, and cheese and crackers, and had a glass of wine or two. And we made pizzas.

I got several 12" pre-baked crusts. I had thought about making them from scratch but just didn’t have the time.

I have a pizza stone that lives in my bottom oven which makes for a nice crispy crust. If you don’t have one, just put a baking sheet in the oven while preheating and transfer your pizza to it when ready to bake.

I made one—Pizza alla Zucca--using acorn squash. A small butternut squash would be equally good. (The Italian word "zucca" refers generally to any of the hard-skinned winter squashes.)

The easiest way to peel either is to cut into slices with a heavy knife, and then cut off the skin around the edges of the slice. Then it’s easy to grate for this recipe.

You could cut this into 12 thin wedges for an appetizer, or into 6 wedges for larger servings. We had a little green salad to go along with it, and it made the perfect dinner for our girls’ get-together.


2 tbsp. good fruity olive oil
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 plump cloves garlic, peeled and minced
½ cup onion, finely chopped
2 to 3 cups peeled and grated acorn (or other winter) squash
2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 12-inch pre-baked pizza crust
4 oz. gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
4 oz. mozzarella, grated

Preheat the oven to 450-degrees. In a heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir about 30 seconds. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add the squash and rosemary and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Lift the squash mixture from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving behind any fat or liquid that drains off. Spread on crust to about ½" from the edges. Sprinkle first with the gorgonzola and then the mozzarella.

Put on preheated pizza stone or baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes, until topping is melted and lightly browned. Let set for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges to serve.
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