Witch’s fingers: you are still in time for a creepy but cool Halloween treat!

Although I usually have a lot of Halloween spirit (no pun intended!) 😉 this year I have been quite indifferent to it all, a little bit as if I still lived in Italy. I think it is because we’ve been seeing Halloween decorations, costumes, and candy in the stores since the day after “unpack your backpack” night at the kids’ school. Lucky my little girls brought me back to reality, reminding me that in the next few days there will be Halloween parties at schools and daycares.  And although treats are not expected, they’re definitely welcomed!

img_2560

So, I decided to give this very popular recipe a try (I bet you have  already seen these cookies in  Halloween articles, blogs or magazines.)  After picking this one from my favorite Italian cooking blog (giallo zafferano),  I created these (BELIEVE ME!) super fast, easy, and awesome creepy butter cookies! Well, truth to be told, I should not take all the merit, since Letizia (6 years old), Livia (almost 4 years old) and Lorenza (almost 2 years old) helped a lot! Because this recipe requires very few steps, and the modelling part (I mean to give the dough a finger shape) is really easy, the kids loved helping! Plus, the pastry doesn’t need to rest in the refrigerator before to be worked: you can start making the cookies right away!

If you’d like to to refresh your memory on how Italians celebrate Halloween, take a quick look at my past post about Black cats and Ghosts Halloween pastry cookies.

img_2556

INGREDIENTS FOR ABOUT 20-22 FINGERS

1 stick of butter (cut into pieces)

14 oz. (or 1 and 3/4 cup) all purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 medium sized egg

3/4 cup powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla or almond extract

1 pinch of salt

22 blanched almonds

1 Tbs. light colored preserve (apricot, orange or peach) to attach the almonds to the cookies

strawberry preserve for the pretend “blood”

DIRECTION

In a big bowl, mix the sifted flour with the baking powder, powder sugar, butter pieces, egg, salt, and vanilla or almond extract. USE YOUR HANDS!

Once the dough reaches a compact and uniform consistency, form a loaf and make small balls of dough, using about 0.8 (25 gr.) of dough for each one. I have to be honest: since it was the first time I’ve tried this recipe, I use the kitchen scale to make balls of the right weigh/dimension.. ERGO, my daughters helped me ONLY in the next steps.

Now, you (and your kids!) can start rolling the dough balls into fingers. With the palms of the hands, roll each ball until it creates a tube shape of about 4 inches (10-12 cm). I have to be honest again: I didn’t have the patience to take out the ruler, so I used MY index finger as a model! To make the fingers look lifelike, I suggest making them thinner just before and after the knuckle joint and then, to add detail, using the dull edge of a knife to create the wrinkles in the knuckles. Again: I used my index finger as model. You can do the same!

To finish the fingers, take one of the peeled, blanched almonds and dip one side in the light colored preserve of your choice, and apply it to the tip of the cookie finger with a little pressure: it will look like a fingernail.

Pre-heat the oven to 365 F. (180 C.).  Cover a baking sheet with parchment and arrange the fingers at least one inch apart.

Cook for no more than 12 minutes…. and before serving, dip the end of the fingers in strawberry preserves to make it appear even more horrific!!!

HOW COOL! YOUR KIDS WILL ADORE THESE COOKIES!!! Now it will be even more fun deciding how to present your cookies… Arranged next to a skeleton skull? Covered with creepy spiders? Your choice!

LEARN IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

img_2557

 Tip: – These cookies can last a week if stored in a cookie jar or in a dry and cool room.

          – My favorite way to enjoy these cookies is soaking them in warm milk or tea, for a perfect SPOOKY HALLOWEEN TEA PARTY!

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, and subscribe to receive a new recipe each week for free,

and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

The 10 funny (but true) reasons why you are a disastrous cook :-)

How could it be possible- every. single. time? You try a new recipe, and no matter whether it’s complicated or not, you follow it systematically, and end up with a disaster? Baking and cooking are not for the faint of heart, and it’s true, some recipes are terribly written. (Not mine, of course!!) But you can’t always blame the recipe… especially when you have these major malfunctions on a regular basis!

So here are the ten (funny, but true) reasons you are a disaster in the kitchen…

1)  YOU HAVEN’T READ THE RECIPE, FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, AT LEAST TWICE: Novice or seasoned pro, if you start cooking before you have a clear idea of all the steps involved in the recipe, you will discover in the middle of cooking that you’re completely out of- or do not have enough of- some ingredient, or that the ingredient you THOUGHT you had is covered in fuzzy green mold, or that the oven had to be preheated, or the butter at room temperature, or suddenly realize you lent out your Kitchen Aid to your best-friend’s sister, or forgot to get your cake pan back after that potluck at your neighbor’s. To be sure a recipe you have never experienced previously will turn out well, it is always good practice to review it at least twice. Reset the danger of drawbacks and failure; assemble all ingredients and equipment BEFORE you start.

2) YOU APPROXIMATE: Behind the recipe’s directions of quantities and steps, there is always one or more hidden “chemistry” reasons, usually unbeknownst to the common cook. If you follow the precise amounts indicated, in the order instructed, the probability that the chosen dish succeeds rises exponentially. A kitchen scale is a great help (sometimes essential) for following recipes gracious enough to have ingredients listed also by weight, not just cups or quantities.

3) YOU DON’T RESPECT INDICATED COOKING TIMES (also known as, “YOU APPROXIMATE -PART II”): Cooking requires certain timing. If you forget to set the kitchen timer, and have to guess on doneness, you will likely misjudge. If you do not respect the importance of cooking times given in a recipe, or you attempt to alter the temperature of the stove or oven to hurry the recipe along, a mess is your guaranteed result! Soggy pie crusts, singed tops, dry crunchy edges and an undercooked goopy center, mushy pasta, meats as tough as shoe leather… any of this sound familiar to you???

4) YOU ARE NOT FOCUSED ON COOKING: TV on, phone pinging alerts of new emails and texts, kids either running through your legs or asking you something every 3 minutes (depending on their age), a husband asking when dinner will be ready… I don’t know why you can’t concentrate on following that recipe! 😉 These things are real life, but ALL enemies of a successful plate. It’s actually a wonder that MORE recipes don’t end as house fires! 😀

5) YOU ARE DAZED AND CONFUSED: Often this issue is presented in conjunction with the reasons listed above, but sometimes it’s just you. Those discombobulated days when your head is in a fog, it’s risky to cook at all, let alone expect perfection in the kitchen. You’ll forget to read the recipe in advance, most possibly you’ll miss a step or forget to add an ingredient (Ever have pumpkin pie without sugar? Ha!), or misread the indicated quantity, then you’ll forget to set the kitchen timer and burn whatever you’re making. Who do you think will eat that crap?!?

6) YOU ARE CREATIVE (presumptuously): Do not misunderstand, culinary intuition is great, and creativity in the kitchen is appreciable as in any other kind of art, BUT the important distinction is to only exercise your creative liberty altering recipes you’ve already tested, and liked -but didn’t love- the first time around. If you improvise on a dish you’ve never attempted to prepare before, failure is lurking around the corner!

7) YOU ARE A CALORIE-PHOBIC HEALTH NUT: Does it always seems to you that the amount of oil/butter indicated is exaggerated? Or do you think, “Wait a minute, I don’t think all that sugar is necessary!” or, “Instead of whole milk, better to use 1%, or skim”….  Well for sure you will have saved calories, but do not expect an explosion of goodness.

8) YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT THE QUALITY OF THE INGREDIENTS: There’s really nothing more to add to this. If you pick fresh, quality ingredients, you’ll have a higher probability of achieving a culinary success. Sometimes, it takes a little research and cooking experience to learn about better alternatives, too.

9) YOU NEVER TASTE WHILE COOKING (especially directed to the calorie-phobes): It is only a legend that good cooks never taste while cooking. Or rather, it’s true only after years and years of experience. In fact, here in the U.S. I have heard the phrase, “Never trust a skinny cook!” Maybe better advice! 😉 So, before serving a sauce without salt (or extra-salted) … why not taste it? A few calories, to save you the embarrassment of serving another unpleasant dish.

10) YOU COOKED DURING YOUR PERIOD: REALLY!?! You didn’t know that cooking while having your period makes foods sour? HA, ha, ha, ha!! There is this old belief that women should avoid things like canning pickles or tomato sauce, or that a woman’s period would ruin the leavening of bread or pizza dough. I’m not kidding! It’s based on  some religious beliefs or traditions in Nepal, Bali and also in some regions of Southern Italy. Now you have a scapegoat for your cooking fails every month! And even if you’re not so religious, what a great excuse to get out of cooking one week each month!!

Spaghetti alla CARBONARA: one of the most famous Italian pasta dishes

Although the target audience of this blog is intended to be Americans and those not already familiar with Italian cooking and customs, a consistent part of my audience is, in fact, Italian! And it has been a while since my Italian followers made fun of me because I haven’t yet published the recipe of Carbonara Pasta. You see, together with “Spaghetti al pomodoro, bucatini all’amatriciana, e tagliatelle al Ragu”, Spaghetti alla Carbonara is one of the most famous pasta dishes in Italy! So now that the taunting has subsided, 😉 I will share with all of you the recipe for this Italian classic!

Like many other popular Italian dishes, this pasta dish requires just few fresh ingredients (bacon or better- pork jowl, eggs, spaghetti and parmesan cheese).  It’s super-easy, quick to prepare (ready in 20 minutes), and would be perfect for any kind of occasion. It is absolutely “kid friendly” (my daughters love it), appealing to even the pickiest eaters. I mean, who- especially in the U.S.- doesn’t love bacon and cheese?!?

Just like the Spaghetti all’Amatriciana, the main ingredient of this sauce should be pork cheek or jowl (“guanciale”). However, it could be hard to find or a bit expensive. So since bacon here in the U.S. is really DELICIOUS, you have my blessing to go ahead and make it with bacon! Even Italians often make it simply with bacon! Whichever you choose, I assure you that by making this spaghetti sauce you will for sure bring a breeze of Italy to your table!

Since this recipe is pretty popular, before writing my post, I pried on some American cooking websites to see how knowledgeable the American audience is of how to make an authentic Carbonara. Well, no matter what you may read, Italians don’t use any parsley, onion, peas or tomatoes in this recipe. The only variant I’ve known (typical from Rome’s area) is that you can use Pecorino cheese instead of Parmesan.

IMG_3177

4 serving INGREDIENTS

1 package spaghetti

3 egg yolks (of medium-sized eggs)

1 medium sized egg

about 10 slices bacon (approximately half a pound)

1 tsp. black pepper

3 handfuls of parmesan cheese

DIRECTIONS

Start heating a pot of salted water to cook the spaghetti (if you want to be sure to cook your pasta in the authentic Italian Style, follow these easy directions).

In the meanwhile, cut the bacon into small cubes.

When the water reaches boiling, toss the spaghetti in to cook. Then move the bacon into a pan (no oil or butter, just let the bacon cook in its own grease) and saute at medium heat for about five minutes, or until it looks crisp and the fat is rendered.

Drain the fat from the bacon, throwing away the grease.

IMG_3768

 

In a good sized bowl (you will need to fit all the spaghetti and bacon in it) beat the yolks and the egg. Add the parmesan cheese and the black pepper and mix altogether, stirring very well. Honestly, when I cook for my family, I avoid the black pepper at this stage, and instead my husband and I just add it on top of our spaghetti once it’s plated.

When the spaghetti is cooked, drain well. Then, while the pasta is still very hot, mix it into the bowl with the egg mixture using a fork. The heat of the pasta will cook the raw eggs into a creamy sauce. (Be sure you do NOT do this in the pot or on the stove or you will be eating “Spaghetti alla Frittata” 😉 instead of Carbonara!) Add in the bacon and continue mixing quickly, until the eggs thicken.

That’s it!

Serve your Carbonara with some extra parmesan cheese and black pepper on the table (in case somebody would like to add a bit more) and Enjoy!

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

Tips:

– Prepare the dressing while the pasta is cooking,  to ensure that the spaghetti will be hot and ready at the same time as the dressing.

– It is very important that the pasta is still very hot when you add it to the egg mixture, so that the heat of the pasta cooks the raw eggs, and just as important, that the beaten eggs are never combined with pasta on the stove because the eggs would cook too quickly on the bottom of the pot, ruining the creaminess of the sauce. The eggs MUST be mixed with the drained pasta, in the bowl where they were beaten.

– This pasta is very rich- both in taste and calories- so it would work perfectly as a complete meal.

– If you enjoy having a breakfast of bacon and eggs, this could also be considered as a “parachutes” choice when you have no idea what’s for dinner, or a way to use some leftovers.

 

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, subscribe, and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

 

Baked Salmon and potatoes, let’s give this Easter a different taste!

I know Sunday is going to be Easter, so many of you have probably already chosen the menu for this special holiday. So why am I suggesting to you a different option?

Colomba Pasquale
Colomba Pasquale

To begin with, I should inform you that, in Italy, the typical Easter meal is a baked lamb (as a Catholic tradition), with many side dishes and a special dessert called “Colomba Pasquale” (Easter Dove). It’s no wonder that, every year at this time, many animal rights associations start advertising against this practice, and suggest vegan or vegetarian alternatives.

When I moved here I learnt that a typical Midwest Easter meal is a huge baked ham, which I had the chance to taste at a friend’s house- it was definitely delicious!!! And I have to admit that, so far, I haven’t heard any kind of animal rights association protest in defense of piglets’ rights. (Why in the world would they inspire less pity than lambs?!?!) Anyway, I am curious- is baked ham also part of the Easter tradition in your area?

Since both the dishes I’ve listed above require many hours to be prepared, they could jeopardize the time you get to spend celebrating the holiday with your family. So perhaps, instead of missing all the fun of Easter morning so you can cook, you could opt for a quick but fancy lunch!

This baked salmon and potatoes will be ready in about one hour, will make a colorful and festive impression to your family, and for sure will make everybody happy (the potatoes will turn out as chips, but more healthy!).

Just one suggestion: when it is time to pick the salmon, consider spending a little more for a “wild caught” instead of a “farm raised” (7 reason to avoid farm raised salmon), so you’ll be sure to eat food which is good for you!

IMG_3098

INGREDIENTS FOR 4 to 6 SERVINGS

1 big salmon fillet (better if fresh)

4-6 medium red potatoes (I usually consider 1 potato per person)

1/2 medium sized white onion

2 tbs. canned diced tomatoes (drained)

2 tsp. thyme (fresh or dry)

3 tsp. rosemary (fresh or dry)

1 tbs. crushed red pepper (optional)

4 tbs. olive oil

sea salt to taste

DIRECTIONS

 Marinate your salmon by brushing it with a couple tbs. of olive oil, dusting it with the herbs (2 tsp. thyme and 2 tsp. rosemary) and if your family likes spicy food, add also the crushed red pepper. You can cook the whole filet or cut in in slices. In a separate bowl, drain the diced tomatoes from all their water.

In the meanwhile,  peel the skin off the potatoes and cut them very thin (I would say about 0.3 inch). If you want them to be perfectly the same thick, use a slicer.  Peel and cut the onion into very thin crescents.

IMG_2996

In a big bowl, combine the potatoes with the sliced onion, 1 tsp. rosemary, a couple of pinches sea salt, the diced tomatoes, and the remaining olive oil. (I’ve suggested you a quantity but of course, the more olive oil you use to dress your potatoes, the more crunchy and tasty they will be.)

Heat the oven to 420 F. Cover a baking  sheet with parchment and arrange the potatoes as spread-out as you can on the sheet you have, leaving a spot for the salmon (you may need a second baking sheet for the extra potatoes, if the salmon takes up a lot of room).

IMG_3004

Since the potatoes take longer to bake, you will put the trays with *just the potatoes* in the oven and cook them for about 35 minutes first. After 35 minutes they should look golden on the top, so take them out of the oven, flip them upside down (for cooking them also on the other side) and then place the salmon in the spot you left for it.

IMG_3006

Cook in the oven for about another 20 minutes. Here two pictures with the whole filet or slices, the first with no herbs at all (how I have to cook it to get my kiddos to eat it!!!), the second marinated as suggested!

Doesn’t it look delicious?! I promise IT IS delicious!

IMG_3099

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

TIPS:

– Don’t overcook the salmon or it will become dry and tough. You can tell that the salmon is ready when it changes shade of pink, and form a kind of white coating. If you picked a frozen salmon, you may check it after 15 minutes because it could cook faster than a fresh one.

– If you want to be sure that your potatoes get super crunchy, the last 15 minutes of baking use the “broil” option of the oven if you have it.

– Be sure to serve your salmon with some extra sea salt (if somebody would add a bit), and serving it with some sauces aside like mayo or cocktail sauce would be a nice touch, as well.

– Just to be completely informed about Italian Easter Tradition, you should know that (brace yourselves!) we don’t have an Easter Bunny and we don’t do Easter Egg Hunts. I know, what a waste of fun!! Nevertheless, kids receive from parents and relatives huge chocolate eggs, with a surprise hidden inside (usually a toy). Italian Easter Eggs look like these:

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, subscribe, and help support my blog!

Much thanks, and have a Happy Easter!

Silvia

Italian bruschetta: make your SuperBowl red and green!

I was recently approached by Nuts.com to join in on the 1st Annual Healthy Snack Bowl!

Nuts.com has an awesome healthy snacks page full of delicious and nutritious snack options for kids, vegans, and for those of us on-the-go.  You’ll be sure to find a yummy snack over at Nuts.com.

Since, typically during Super Bowl parties, a day’s worth of calories are often consumed in greasy and fried food, I wanted to contribute to the promotion of healthy eating, sharing with you and with Nuts.com a healthy snack alternative to enjoy during the most famous American Sport Event, with a touch of “Italianity”!

IMG_3559

I hope it does not come across predictable, but I want to share with you a recipe for the most famous and popular Italian Appetizer: Bruschetta! It’s a delicious combination of a handful of healthy ingredients, for an explosion of taste and freshness that appeals to almost anyone! And at just 128 calories per serving (50 gr. of bread, 10 gr. olive oil, and a 200 gr. tomatoes)  it’s full of powerful antioxidants (lycopene), healthy mono-unsaturated fat, protective oleic acid, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. It is also super easy and fast to prepare, and quite inexpensive. Italian diets (often referred to as Mediterranean diets) are notoriously full of fresh foods and recipes made from natural ingredients- bruschetta is the perfect example! Italians enjoy bruschetta at all sorts of venues, from the most casual meals at home, to even the most fancy meals at expensive restaurants.

Just to share with you a little about Italian habits, you should know that we eat Bruschetta in two different ways: either toasted bread, rubbed with a peeled garlic clove and brushed with virgin olive oil and dust of sea salt, or toasted bread rubbed with a peeled garlic clove and covered with chopped red tomatoes (dressed in Italian dressing, of course). If I should be asked to choose, I wouldn’t be able to pick, they are both my favorite!!!

I will give you the approximate quantities, per person, for the version with tomatoes, but obviously you can use the same quantities (without tomatoes), to make the plain version of Bruschetta.

Ingredients per person

1 slice fresh baked bread (better if Italian Style)

1 medium sized red tomatoes (ripe but hard, in this season my favorite are on-the-vine tomatoes)

1 peeled clove of garlic

2 leaves of basil (one for the dressing and one for decoration)

1 pinch of sea salt

1 tsp. virgin olive oil

1 tsp. red wine vinegar

DIRECTIONS

 Cut the bread in slices, and peel the garlic. Wash and core the tomatoes, and chop them in small cubes.

Move the tomatoes into a bowl and dress with sea salt, virgin olive oil, vinegar, and the basil leaf, cut in few pieces. Stir the mix and let it rests at least ten minutes for the flavors to mingle.

In the meantime, toast the bread in the oven (at 365 F for about 5 minutes each side), or in the toaster (faster and as good as in the oven).

Now arrange your bruschetta:

a) for the plain version: just rub the warm bread with the peeled clove, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and enjoy!

b) for the tomato dressed version: rub the warm bread with the peeled clove, cover the slice with chopped tomatoes, and if you like, decorate it with a basil leaf.

Delicious, healthy, fast and easy… so you can ENJOY YOUR SUPERBOWL NIGHT!

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

TIPS:

  • If you are planning to make more than a serving, consider that with a couple of garlic cloves you can rub more that 10 slices of bread;
  • If you like the idea, you can add to the tomatoes dressing a tsp. of crushed red pepper (I love a little bit of spice!);
  • Bruschetta of course tastes better if eaten warm, but as an appetizer can be served even when the bread has cooled off;
  • for other healthy idea for your Super Bowl buffet, check my appetizer page, or visit nuts.com:
  • If you think that it would be even healthier to add some protein to this dish, why not serve it with some fresh Burrata! Here how your dish would look:

IMG_3611

 *I was not paid or sponsored for this post.  All content and opinions are my own.  This post is affiliated with Nuts.com to simply provide healthy snack alternatives for the 1st Annual Healthy Snack Bowl/Super Bowl.

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do,

share it, like it, leave a comment, subscribe, and help support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia