Tag Archives: cooking

“I’m not so much a cook as I am an artist”

14 Mar

One of my favorite new websites is TasteSpotting.com, an aggregator of food blogs with a beautiful layout and photos that get your salivary glands pumping. For the last couple weeks, Garibaldi has been consuming much of my kitchen time (jobs: what a bummer), but I make time at least once a day to just click through the front page, where the most recent submissions are posted in a smorgasbord of recipes.

I’ve had lots of luck with the handful of things I’ve tried from TasteSpotting, and my list of bookmarked recipes to try grows almost every day. My timid food-blogging attempts are a direct result of this website. I have to say though, sometimes it gets a bit outrageous. Truffled celery root and potatoes puree. Hazelnut, homemade raspberry jam, and white chocolate ganache tarts. Cheesy chive bread with walnuts and white pepper. Almond-pulp crackers (gluten-free). Caramelized bananas and fig oatmeal. Yes, they all sound delicious (except for maybe those crackers). Yes, I admire these bloggers’ creativity. No, I will not be trying any of them.

I’m a simple girl. I’m not above dehydrated pasta and a jar of sauce, even on a weekend night. I have served friends beans knowing the bottom of the pot was stuck half-an-inch thick with charred beans. I don’t think they think any less of me; they have come back around.

I felt quite able to relate to a New York Times’ columnist who signed up for a Brooklyn food exchange and felt her chocolate chip cookies and samoa bars were a little underdressed sitting next to bottles of vodka infused with organic pine needles and jars of candied tangelo peels.

Tonight’s going to be a pasta-and-jar-of-sauce kind of night. I’m under the weather (thanks, babies) and behind on this editing project, Colin has class until 8:30, and Noel arrives tomorrow evening. After that, I plan to be eating quite well—in restaurants all over Italy.


Happy Valentine’s Day!

14 Feb

Chocolate Zucchini Cake adapted from Tracy’s Culinary Adventures

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) vegetable oil
1 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon Kahlua (or vanilla)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (4 ounces) sour cream or yogurt
2 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (2 1/4 ounce) Dutch-process cocoa
2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional)

2 cups shredded zucchini (about one 10″ zucchini, about 12 ounces)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Lighlty grease a bundt pan.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, oil, sugar, Kahlua, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat in the eggs.

Stir in the sour cream or yogurt alternately with the flour. Then add the cocoa and espresso powder, mixing until smooth. Finally, fold in the zucchini.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack.

Tempting Spring

13 Feb

We had absolutely beautiful weather last week in Bologna. Every day had blue skies, and as the weekend drew nearer, temperatures kept creeping up until Friday when we were in the mid-fifties.

As early in the week as Monday, I took Ludo to the park to play, and though I was so happy to be out of the house, it was perhaps a bit premature. There was still a bit of snow on the ground and a whole lot of mud. Darling angel that she is, Ludo would wrap her little legs around me when I would pick her up, smearing mud from her sneakers all over my jeans. Beginner’s mistake on my part.

On Saturday a couple of SAISers, bored with the lack of work in the first week back in class and inspired by the sun, got together and hosted a barbeque. They bought something like five kilos of ground beef and spent the morning making burger patties. Even tucked back into their private courtyard, we were on the receiving end of several curious stares from the Italian neighbors. My Italian instructors told us the Monday following Easter is typically spent going out with friends for picnics, so maybe that’s the unofficial start of the eating-outdoors season, but we’re not trying to fit in anyway.

It’s back to gray skies today, and we’ve got rain forecast for later this week, but the taste of spring and the fun that will be had was enough to get me by until the weather warms up for good.

Round, round, get around

23 Jan

I had the busiest day yesterday without getting too much done. It felt that way, at least.

Having neglected to buy more oatmeal, I made us a polenta breakfast to start the day. Let me tell you: this polenta was super fancy. I know what you’re thinking – polenta is not at all super fancy. Au contraire, dear friends, fried polenta topped with caramelized onions, feta, and honey is super fancy. And delicious. And time consuming.

The rest of my morning was completely absorbed with preparing for my new tutoring gig. One of the Others returned to the States last week, leaving two kids in need of a new English tutor. I volunteered for it and gave my first (ever) lesson yesterday. The two families met me with a burst of energy when I walked in the door; among other things, they were surprised with how different I look from my friend, who is Taiwanese-American.

There’s such a huge difference between working with Ludo and even 5-year-old Mati and working with these two kids, who are 10 and 12 and have really some of the best English that I’ve heard from any Italian. After just 15 minutes, it was clear that these are truly special and intelligent little people, so I’m excited to be working with them. It’s going to be one heck of a challenge to keep up with them every week!

By the time I got home it was late afternoon. After an hour Colin and I were both out the door again to go see about getting a second bicycle. Colin rode the Blue Banshee and I took the bus, as we had to meet the guy on the edge of the outskirts of Bologna, a 6 km ride. But I liked the bike well enough and we got it for a good price, so I’ve got wheels again. Attention potential bike thieves: Mine is the rust-colored one with the disintegrating basket on front and the wobbly wheel in the back. Please don’t steal it.

The Rust Bucket sharing a lock with the Blue Banshee, so named before it had it's brakes fixed. Seriously, what color do you think it used to be?

Cook book

21 Jan

I had what I think is a pretty good idea yesterday. It’s not an original idea or even one that I can take most of the credit for, but I present it here.

I’ve got a couple practically empty journals sitting on my side of the book shelf, and one very important thing in my life here that I’d like to compile: all of the cooking I’m doing. Just last week I tried to go back and collect all the links to cooking blogs and FoodNetwork.com and food52 that I’ve tested in our little white kitchen and put them onto a more permanent (than my memory, that is) Word document. What’s more permanent than that? An actual paper document.

Also, early this week I started going through Federica’s cook books after the baby goes down for her nap. They have this beautiful, only slightly markered-in, 12-volume cooking encyclopedia. English-Italian dictionary in hand, I’ve been sifting through them and scribbling things down. I can’t include those on a list of blog links! Nor can I do that with Jane’s bread and scone recipes, or the things we learned in the cooking class.

And that’s not to mention all the emails requesting recipes from back home. I had a nice little recipe box in Santa Barbara filled with 3×5 cards, but that got left behind in the move. The handful of those recipes that I’ve made here will have a place in the book, and they’ll probably all get there eventually.

I’m going to get back to sharing all of these things with you here; you still don’t know why I have a bag of turmeric! I’ve been making a lot of soups the last couple weeks, because really, what sounds better on a cold night?

A newish fight against cancer

16 Jan

When we were in Taiwan, Colin and I watched TED Talks multiple times a week. They’re often quite fascinating, and the site has a neat search option that not only lets you search by topic, but also allows you to narrow results to only the funny ones, or only those that many viewers found inspiring, or those which are the most informative.

A contact of Colin’s recently forwarded a TED Talk by William Li, the head of the Angiogenesis Foundation, titled “Can We Eat to Starve Cancer?” The first half of the talk explains angiogenesis, which is the growth of blood vessels, and how it can affect different diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, and cancer.

Dr. Li explains that we’re born with pretty much all the blood vessels we’re going to need throughout life. There are exceptions to that, though. Our body knows when we’ve been wounded and need to re-grow damaged vessels; women grow new blood vessels every month in their uterus; and sometimes a cancerous tumor can trick our body into thinking new blood vessels need to be grown, turning a harmless, ballpoint-pen-tip-sized tumor into something to really worry about.

There are several different anti-angiogenesis drugs on the market that inhibit the growth of new blood vessels, slowing or stopping the growth of the tumors. Dr. Li has a chart about midway through the presentation that compares those drugs with a couple dozen foods, oils, and spices that are also anti-angiogenesis. The foods do surprisingly well. He suggests, with some Harvard research to back him up, that by incorporating these foods into our diets, we can better fight against cancer by stopping blood from getting to the tumors, essentially starving the cancer.

My goal is to incorporate more of the foods on this list into our diet more often than I do now. Some of them are easy: olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, red wine—check, check, check, and check. We really got our fill of ginger, bok choy, and green tea last year in Taiwan, but it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a bag of ginger chews to keep in the pantry. I’ve got an artichoke in the fridge (is that where I’m supposed to keep that?) and a bag full of tumeric on the spice shelf (I’ll explain later…), and I will seek out, try, and post about any recipes that use one or more of these ingredients.

Have any dishes I should start with? Any shortcuts like the ginger chews?

Pasta like my mamma does it

21 Nov

Well, not my mamma, but Italian mammas. Allegedly. Jane, who teaches English to a class of Italians, said one of her students told her she makes all her pasta by hand and that other students chorused that that’s how their mothers do it.

So for our Wednesday cooking gathering this week, we attempted lasagna made with homemade noodles. It was only Pei, Jane, and me, but even doing it on my big wooden table and fully-functioning stove, it would have been tight with another.

Pei and Jane made a bolognese sauce for their lasagne, complete with a combined four pounds of meat. Poor Colin would have to be satisfied with my glorified tomato sauce (sauteed onions and garlic + oregano + parsley + splash of wine + 700 gr tomato sauce + salt and pepper).

Then the main event, the noodles. Jane had learned how to make them in a recent cooking class, so once again she played instructor. We built our flour volcanoes and scrambled in our eggs. (Pasta ingredients are easy! For 1 serving, you need 100 grams of flour and 1 egg.)

I got a double yolk! It didn't affect my ratio too much, though.

It got messy fast. You’re supposed to contain your eggs to the flour bowl for as long as possible, but Pei’s broke through right away. Then it’s a race to incorporate the flour and eggs before everything runs off the cutting board.

Knead the dough until it’s quite stiff, then let it rest for about 15 minutes. When you come back to your dough, divide it by servings (I used three eggs, so I made three balls), knead a little more flour in, then go to work with your rolling pin or empty wine bottle.

Roll and fold, roll and fold, roll and fold, roll and fold, rest. Repeat. It’s a real workout! Meanwhile I’ve got a box of no-bake lasagna noodles in my pantry. When your dough gets to noodle thinness, slice it with a sharp knife into whatever width noodles you need.

At this point in the night, we’d been working for three and a half hours, our work areas were a mess, and only one of the three lasagne was built. I had noodles and sauce but no filling, and Pei was still working on her dough. Unfortunately, Colin and I had another cooking activity that we needed to get to, so everyone quickly cleaned up and hustled out the door with whatever lasagna pieces they had.

Colin and I were going to the SAIS cooking club’s brunch for dinner event, and I was bringing the fixings for Mommy’s Pull-Apart Sticky Buns. Mom was unfortunately out of town and unreachable by email, so I got a similar recipe from Grandma and just winged it.

Oh man, were they a hit. With Colin’s help, my dish was the first done, and everyone dug in while the buns were still mouth-burning hot.

The next day I finished building my lasagna with roasted eggplant and zucchini and a ricotta filling, and we shared it with another veggie friend. I used this recipe for pumpkin lasagna, just switching out eggplant for the pumpkin puree. It tasted great, but not because of the noodles.

Colin and I finished the leftover noodles for lunch on Friday, but that was an ordeal of its own—my uncooked noodles had reattached in the fridge after two nights there. With just a simple pasta sauce, it was a lot more noticeable that we were eating homemade noodles, but there was definitely the lingering taste of the hassle of the whole process.

Grandma’s Pull-Apart Sticky Buns
2 cans of biscuits, or 1 bag of premade pizza dough
1 C butter, melted
½ C sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ C nuts, optional

Toss the nuts in the bottom of a bundt pan. Separate dough into ~ping-pong-ball-sized clumps and roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place in bundt pan. Pour melted butter over the whole mess. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Invert onto a plate and serve; do not serve as shown in my picture.