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!!

Home made fresh pasta: My Secret Family Recipe Revealed!

One of the most vivid memories of my youth (of course, it’s concerning food!) is watching my mom and grandmother making fresh pasta for lasagna and fettuccine. A kind of ritual they repeated for every festivity or special occasion, it was a tradition where all of us rediscovered the joy of sharing and working together.

What I realized as a grown-up is that my mother has unfortunately never given me the right quantities to make the dough (my grandmother and she always eyeballed the ingredients!), and so I was worried I wouldn’t ever be able to recreate their awesome (and quite simple) recipe.

Thank goodness in these days my mom came from Italy to visit, so I forced her (;-)) to make her fresh pasta for me, and I watched carefully, not only paying attention to the process, but even more to the quantities, so I could share with you the most clear and exact recipe possible. At this point you should feel very privileged, since I’m revealing to you our precious secret family recipe!

What I’ve learned for sure is that you can dare to make the dough- even with kids around! They will love playing with the dough machine and leaving floury fingerprints all around the kitchen! But for your sanity, and the best results, it is better if you call a friend or relative to help you, because the faster you follow the recipe’s steps (in particular during the “cooking phase”), the better the fresh pasta will turn out.

Here are some shots of my daughter having fun helping us (the little half body on the left is my youngest daughter, that wanted to be in the pic, but just half of herself, ha ha!).

Lastly, (and perhaps obviously) the thing I would add is that you will definitely need a pasta rolling machine, which is quite easy to find in any kitchen supply shop.

 

Ingredients

4 medium eggs

about 4 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tbs. olive oil

1/4 cup water

1 Tbs. coarse salt (to salt the water)

A pasta roller

DIRECTIONS:

(You will notice the pictures show 7 eggs and not 4, but this is because my mom is an expert and she can handle making 7 eggs of fresh pasta in a row!)

 In a large bowl, put 3 cups flour (the remaining 1 cup you will need to work the dough), and make a well in the center. Break the eggs inside the well, add the olive oil and the water.

Knead first with a fork until the eggs are no longer runny. Then move the mixture onto a clean counter or table top, lightly dusted with flour, to begin kneading.

Knead the ball of dough by hand as you would bread dough, folding it over, and pushing it down with the heel of your hand.

Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and satiny, homogeneous and no longer sticky (about 5-7 minutes).  If the dough feels sticky, add small quantities, a little at a time, of the remaining 1 cup of flour. Be aware that it is not mandatory to use all the flour, but just enough so the ball is no longer sticky. The consistency of the dough is affected by many factors such as the air humidity, the weather, and the density of the eggs. Shape the dough into a loaf.

In the meantime, clear off a good amount of space to be able to lay out the many pasta sheets you are about to create. You will also need to fill a big pot with water (I would say, the more the better, but at least a half-gallon), begin heating it to a boil, and add the coarse salt.

Now take the loaf, cut it into half-inch slices, and dust both sides of the slices with a pinch of flour (so they won’t stick to the machine).

Use a pasta roller to make long sheets of pasta 1/8 inch thick.

Using my pasta machine, I roll the pasta slices out progressively, beginning with the dial on the first (thickest) setting, then put it through again on the third, the fifth, and finally one last time through on the sixth (#6) setting. If the slices become too long, just cut them in two before you proceed to the next setting.

When you have all the slices n. 6 thin, cut them all about 5 inches long.

As you can see, this pasta-making process requires lots of room!

Fill a big bowl with very cold water and set aside. (You will use this to cool the pasta once it’s cooked.)

As soon as the pot of water comes to a boil, you may place the dough slices, not more than 9-10 at a time, into the pot. Return to a boil, then cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Using a slotted spoon, lift the pasta out of the pot, and into the bowl full of cold water. When the pasta is completely cooled off, lay it neatly over the edge of a colander to drain. Be sure to change the bowl of cold water each time, so it is ready for the next round of cooked pasta.

To know if the pasta dough is cooked properly, keep in mind that when it is over-cooked, it crumbles, when it’s too raw, it is thick and hard.

Once all the pasta is cooked, you can start making your lasagna or arrange the fresh pasta in a dish, cover with plastic wrap, and keep refrigerated until you are ready to make your lasagna.

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I would suggest preparing the lasagna as soon as possible (if not immediately) to avoid the pasta sheets sticking to each other.

I promise, making home made pasta is way easier than explaining it, but I can understand that the first time you try to make it you’ll feel nervous: that is exactly how I felt my first time!

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

Tips:- If instead of lasagna pasta you would prefer making fettuccine, just use the specific setting on your pasta roller, and arrange the rows of fettuccine on a clean cloth to dry, keeping in mind they will expand. When they look dry, you can cook and enjoy them or store in a plastic bag in the freezer.

– Since we only make our lasagna from scratch with fresh ingredients, my mom usually prepares the ragu’ sauce and the porcini stew a day ahead. So on the day she makes the fresh pasta, she can also arrange the lasagna.

– When I mentioned that having a helper makes this process easier, I was expecially referring to the moment when you have to cook the dough sheets. You have to be very quick in cooking the pasta, moving it into the cold water, then to the colander, and at the same time be ready  to cook the remaining sheets and change out the warm water with fresh cold water.

– Now that you know how to make the pasta sheets, stay tuned for next weeks when I will post all the steps to put together the perfect Italian Lasagna!

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

 

Potatoes Gnocchi: sometimes even Italians get sick of pasta!

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Hi everybody! I’m glad to be back in my writing activity since the past two weeks has been crazy!

But even if my family got hit by a tremendous stomach bug, I didn’t stop cooking,  and one specialty I made during these past days has been Gnocchi.

“Gnocchi” (pronounced: NYOH-kee) are similar to what Americans call “dumplings.”  They are an ancient food which can be prepared with different kinds of starch: wheat flour, rice flour, potatoes, dry bread, potatoes or vegetables.

gnocchi-alla-romana
Gnocchi alla Romana

In Italy, the most common gnocchi prepared today are made with potatoes, but also widespread are those prepared by a simple mixture of flour and water. Others are prepared with semolina, like the Gnocchi alla Romana. Still others are prepared using cornmeal or various other ingredients which vary with regional tradition.

You can also find colorful gnocchi thanks to the use of ingredients which lend their various colors. For example, “Zanzarelli” green are mixed with beet and spinach, and “Zanzarelli” yellow are made with the addition of pumpkin or saffron. More are whte “Malfatti” when they’re mixed with minced chicken meat, or orange when they are prepared with carrots.

It is funny to observe that different Italian regions have a special day for Gnocchi in their tradition. For example, Lazio (the region around Rome) has “Gnocchi Thursday” (Giovedi’ Gnocchi). In Campania (the Naples region), Gnocchi are the typical dish of Sundays. In Verona (the city of Romeo and Juliet), Gnocchi are instead more typically a Friday meal (Venerdi’ Gnoccolar).

In my family, Gnocchi as always been the special meal of Sundays, and the Gnocchi recipe my great-grandmother taught me is the simple one made with potatoes. It is a frugal dish, absolutely delicious, and most of the time, loved by everybody without age distinction. What you will need to prepare these Gnocchi are just a few ingredients: potatoes, eggs, flour, and the sauce in which you prefer to dress them.

Considering that you need boiled potatoes, to make Gnocchi it takes about one hour to cook the potatoes, five minutes to mix the ingredients, ten minutes to obtain the little gnocchi and few more minutes to cook them.  About 90 minutes in total.

4 servings Ingredients

2.2 lbs red potatoes  – 1 kg. di patate

1 egg – 1 uovo

10.5 oz. all purpose flour – 300 gr. farina

a big pot of water (for cooking the gnocchi) – una grande pentola d’acqua per cuocere gli gnocchi

a handful of coarse salt (to salt the water) – una manciata di sale grosso per salare l’acqua

Parmesan cheese  – parmiggiano

any sauce you prefer for dressing – un sugo per condire

DIRECTIONS

Boil the potatoes in their skins (normally it will take about an hour). It is  important not to cook them too much ’cause if they break in the pot, they’ll absorb the water which can ruin the texture of the dough.

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Peel the potatoes, and mash with potato masher. Put the mashed potatoes into a bowl, form a hole in the center using your fingers, then add the egg and flour, and mix with a fork. As you will notice, I used two eggs in these pictures, because my family LOVES gnocchi, so each time I have to make double quantity! 🙂

When the mixture is combined enough to stick together, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until you get a smooth texture. Have the foresight not to knead the dough too much; kneading too long leads to Gnocchi which are too soft.
Being careful to keep the work surface floured, form a loaf, cut into slices, then roll each slice into long, thin rolls about 1 inch wide.

 

Cut the rolls into 1/2 inch long pieces, and then create streaks by rolling the dough over the tines of a fork. This is not only for an aesthetic reason, but also because the Gnocchi will better absorb the sauce this way.

While you are preparing the gnocchi, put a big pot of salted water on the stove to boil.

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Once the water is boiling, cook the gnocchi by dropping them in the water a few at a time, cooking in small batches so they will not stick together. I would suggest cooking about 20-25 Gnocchi at a time.

You will know they are cooked when they become afloat. They will come to the surface of the water within a couple of minutes.

Take them out of the water with a slotted spoon as they come to the surface, and continue cooking the other Gnocchi. Remember to keep the heat high enough to keep the water always boiling.

 

Once all the Gnocchi are cooked, drain them thoroughly- until the surface is no longer shiny. Then dress them with the sauce of your choice and parmesan cheese. Be careful not to stir them too much or the texture will become mushy. Serve still warm.

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  LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

 

Tips:

– Since you have to cook the Gnocchi in multiple small batches, to keep those already cooked warm, I usually dress each batch with the sauce and parmesan as soon as they have dried. Each time, I put the newest batch of drained gnocchi over the ones already dressed, dress that batch as well, and so on.

– You can easily freeze Gnocchi when they are still uncooked. Just put the gnocchi on a baking sheet, well-separated from each other, and freeze them. After a couple of hours, when they are frozen, take them from the baking sheet and put them into a bag, and keep them in the freezer until you are ready to cook.  When you need to use them, cook without thawing.

– As you can guess from the last picture of this post, my favorite Gnocchi dressing is Ragu’ sauce, but I know that many people love them dressed with tomato sauce or melted blue cheese. Parmesan, however, is not an option; to get the best taste from Gnocchi, you should use the original Italian Parmesan!

 

I really hope you like this recipe, and please, if you do, share it, like it, and support my blog!

Much thanks,

Silvia

MAKING ESPRESSO AT HOME – Authentic, easy and cheap

ESPRESSO MAKER

I know, I know, the “Espresso Coffee” is one of the most famous product related to Italian culture.

And I also know that to find a good espresso here in the US, you should be in a big city in a fancy café, or in a popular coffee chain (where they will make you spend a fortune just for one shot!), unless you are among the few lucky people who owns a very expensive espresso machine.

But what if you would like to enjoy an espresso every day? Or what if you love tiramisu’, and for making it, each time you’ll need (give or take) 2 cups of espresso?

Well, from now onward, the only price you have to pay is the one to buy the “Espresso Maker” (in Italy we call it “Moca“) which is the most common tool you can find in every Italian’s kitchen cabinet, and it is used at least three times a day to make espresso.

I found the “Moca” easily in a kitchen shop at the mall, and its price was pretty fair.

So, go purchase one, and then come back to this page, and I’ll teach you how to make the best espresso in the world, directly from your kitchen!

And don’t forget to have with you some finely ground coffee!!!

 DIRECTIONS

First of all, your brand new coffee maker has to be unscrewed. At this point you should have an upper part, a base, and a filter. (I’m attaching the pictures of two coffee makers, different from each other only in size).

moca smontata

Fill up the base with water until you reach the screw (to get a very strong Espresso) or until the water reach the filter’s line (to get a lighter coffee).

Then position the filter inside the base and fill it up with the coffee grounds.

BE CAREFUL not to press the coffee ground too much. You have to fill up the filter without pressing the coffee ground and without going out from the edges.

At this point just screw on the upper part, and put the coffee maker on the stove for few minutes.  Be sure not to turn up the flame so high that you melt the handle!

As the water begins boiling inside the base, the coffee will start to come out into the top chamber. You will hear a weird sound, like a jabber or a whistle, and at that point, YOUR ESPRESSO IS DONE!!!!

Pour your espresso in a cup, add a little bit of sugar (or milk), or just leave it plain like espresso connoisseurs do.

LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

Believe me, it is for sure harder to explain how to use the coffee maker than to make the coffee itself!!

TIPS:

– To obtain a good espresso, your coffee maker needs to absorb the coffee’s aroma.  So before you can enjoy a good espresso, you have to make coffee at least 4 or 5 times and throw it (and the used coffee grounds) away.  After that, each time you use the coffee maker, your espresso will be better than the time before!

– Remember! To clean up the coffee maker, you have to unscrew it, throw away the coffee ground in it, and rinse JUST WITH WATER.  The use of any detergent will ruin the coffee’s aroma.

BEAUTY TIP: You are right! This blog is supposed to be just about food! But let me tell you that instead of throwing away the used coffee grounds, you can mix a cup of it with 1/2 cup of sea salt and obtain a very effective body scrub!