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!!

FRESH TOMATO FETTUCCINE: Bring on the tomato bounty!

Summer is coming to an end, which means two things: the kids are back in school, and gardens are overflowing with a favorite Italian staple-tomatoes! If you have your own garden, or have a kind friend or neighbor who shares their garden bounty with you, right now you probably have more beautiful, meaty, red tomatoes than you know what to do with! It can be an overwhelming blessing when all those tomatoes ripen at the same time- especially if canning is not an option, or an option you prefer. ITALIAN GOODNESS TO THE RESCUE 🙂 !!

Just a few days ago a dear friend gave me a bag of fresh organic tomatoes so perfect, I couldn’t help but take a picture! So I decided to make one of my favorite pasta recipes- one that calls for up to a pound per person of fresh tomatoes, and creates a delicious, nutritious, inexpensive, and family-friendly dinner. If you think you may like my idea, harvest your tomatoes and get ready to cook!

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Just two warnings: 1) if you want this dish to come out best, use only fresh, firm tomatoes (just picked very recently)  2) this recipe requires just 30 minutes to create, but tomatoes need to be cleaned and drained at least *three hours* before cooking.

INGREDIENTS for 2-3 servings

2/3 pack of fettuccine or spaghetti (about 300 gr.)

about 2-3 lb. fresh tomatoes

1/2 finely chopped medium sized white onion

1 clove garlic

1 pinch of crushed red pepper

2 tsp. rosemary (fresh or dry)

2-3 leaves fresh basil (or a couple of pinches dry basil)

              olive oil (enough for the pan)

              sea salt (to taste)

DIRECTIONS:

At least 3 hours before cooking:

Wash the tomatoes, take away any green parts, cut them in two, and squeeze them to eliminate all the seeds. Put the tomatoes in a drainer until it is time to cook the pasta. I know, it will look like a tons of tomatoes, but believe me, after few minutes on the stove they’ll halve their volume.

At dinner time:

Cut the tomatoes in cubes. In a big pan (the biggest you have, so all the tomatoes will touch the olive oil at least on one side), pour enough olive oil to evenly cover the bottom of the pan, and at medium heat, brown the onion and the clove of garlic. In the mean time put the water pot for the spaghetti (or fettuccine) on the stove to boil.

As soon as the onion become translucent, add the fresh tomato cubes. The best sauce will be obtained if the tomatoes saute’ in a single layer, not stacked upon each other. If they don’t touch the hot oil directly, they will instead become boiled. Keep the tomatoes at high heat: they should release their water which will prevent them from burning. In about ten minutes the tomatoes should start getting dry. This will be about the time the pot of water for the pasta starts boiling and you are ready to add in the pasta and salt. And, about this time, you will be inebriated by the appetizing smell the sauce will emit all around your kitchen! 😉

At this point, flip the tomatoes cubes upside down, and let them cook (always at high heat) until all their water is absorbed. You’ll notice that once you’ll flip the tomatoes cubes, they will release water again which will prevent your tomatoes from burning to the pan. It will take about ten more minutes.

Switch off the heat, sprinkle with sea salt, and stir in the crushed red pepper, rosemary, and basil.

Once the pasta is cooked and drained well, add it to the pan of tomatoes, and stir gently to distribute the sauce evenly.

  And that’s it!! Your colorful, aromatic, extraordinary dish is ready to be enjoyed! So easy, and SO delicious!

 LEARNT IT, MADE IT, LOVED IT!

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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

Tips:

– In my personal experience, this recipe appeals to all the family members’ tastes…but it can happen that the kids eat just the spaghetti and push the tomatoes cubes aside. That is fine: you can use the leftover to make a special bruschetta!

– As I already mentioned in the recipe, spaghetti and fettuccine are perfect for this kind of dressing, but almost any noodle would be ok. However, I personally would avoid short shaped pasta like maccheroni and penne, because they wouldn’t give justice to the taste of the sauce.

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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

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