Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Carnevale in Venice

Last Saturday, my friend and I went took the train down to Venice for the day.  We took the water bus down to St. Mark's square and took pics of all the people in costume.  Then we meandered back toward the train station (walking this time).  Venice was very crowded, as it was the last Saturday of Carnevale for this year.  Crossing the Ponte Rialto (Rialto Bridge) took about 30 minutes!  It was a solid wall of people, shuffling forward every minute or so for about a foot.  It was incredibly crazy. We stopped once for a hot panini, and on the way back for a pastry break, partaking in the famous Carnevale treat- Fritelle.  We bought ones stuffed with "Eggnog" (zabaione) flavored cream, and they were very boozy! (With rum).  Btw, I forgot to buy a little mask for myself to take home!  Next time.

 My pressed panino from a tiny sandwich stand.  
 Traditional Carnevale pastries- both above and below.  The ones below are my favorite!  (Crostoli.)

Trying to cross Rialto Bridge.  The people you can see coming are not moving at all; that whole street is a solid mass of people.  Also a solid mass of people on the bridge itself.  It took us forever to cross! We were standing still for most of the time.  Took about 30 minutes.  Just to cross the actual bridge.

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Arancini (with Broccolo Fiolaro)

The batch of Broccolo Fiolaro risotto made quite a bit, so we had leftovers.  We warmed some up in the microwave and ate it that way, but it wasn't as good as fresh.  So I decided to form it into balls and fry it up- or make Aranicini!  I stuffed these with fresh Asiago cheese (that we bought a week or so before on a trip up there).  I also coated them with Panko- Japanese breadcrumbs.  Those are the only breadcrumbs I keep around and they're delicious.  These were very good! A wonderful way to enjoy leftover risotto.

Arancini (with Broccolo Fiolaro)
basic method from here

leftover risotto
1egg, beaten
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
4 ounces soft (not aged) Asiago cheese, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup dry bread crumbs (I used Panko)
1-2 cup oil for deep frying (I used sunflower)

1. Stir the beaten egg into the risotto. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining egg and milk with a fork. For each ball, roll 2 tablespoons of the risotto into a ball. Press a piece of the cheese into the center, and roll to enclose. Coat lightly with flour, dip into the milk mixture, then roll in bread crumbs to coat.

2.  Heat oil for frying in a small skillet (uses less oil) to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Fry the balls in small batches until evenly golden, turning as needed. Drain on paper towels.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Risotto con Broccolo Fiolaro

 A few weeks ago, some neighbors had us over and made Risotto con Broccolo Fiolaro.  It was SO good.  Our neighbor's uncle makes his own cheese, and it's like a Parm-Reg mixed with Grana.  It was so good.  He put a lot in the risotto.  Then, they said my kids could have as much of the cheese as they wanted, which got a little out of hand and I had to cut them off, a bit embarrassed by how much they were eating.  Anyway, the risotto that night was so good and this was my attempt at re-creating it.
I had never made risotto before, and only eaten it a handful of times (and only since arriving in Italy), but I love it and wanted to make it.  I asked my neighbor and she said "Just make regular risotto and cook the Broccolo and add it".  I don't "just know" how to make risotto, and all the Italian recipes I looked up for Broccolo Risotto said the same thing: "Make the risotto in the traditional way....." etc. So I just looked up a basic risotto from Fine Cooking and added Broccolo and Speck (a kind of dry-cured ham from Northern Italy; our neighbors also used it).  It worked out SO well.  I loved it!!  It made quite a lot and some of my kids didn't eat much.  But we ate our fill and with the rest, I made Arancini another day.  That will be posted another time!
Broccolo after being washed
Boiling the Broccolo for a few minutes to soften it (it wilts a LOT).
After boiling, drain and chop pretty small. At this point, you can also sautee with garlic and olive oil for extra flavor.  I skipped that this time.
Chopped up; ready to add to the risotto.
A small slab of Speck: I chopped this and cooked it with the onions.
Onions and Speck sauteing in olive oil.
The Risotto after adding the Broccolo.

Risotto con Broccolo Fiolaro
Adapted from our neighbors, Fine Cooking and Kucinare

a few large bunches Broccolo Fiolaro (it will cook way down)
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
one thick slice of Speck or Prosciutto, cut into small cubes
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
14-1/2 oz. (2 cups- about 377 grams) arborio, vialone nano, or carnaroli rice (I used carnaroli)
1 oz. (2 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 oz. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana (2 cups using a rasp grater)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1.  Rinse the Broccolo in a colander.  Cut it up from the core.  Just cut length-wise and up so it's kind of like matchsticks, but thick.  The core is the only thing that needs to be cut because the leaves don't.  We'll cut it more later.  Bring a large pot of water to boil, and salt the water.  Add the Broccolo and boil for 5-10 minutes, or until the "stalks", or thickest parts, are crisp-tender, but not too soft.  Drain in the colander.  When cool, transfer to a cutting board and chop into bite-sized pieces.

2.  In a wide heavy-duty 5- to 6-quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and chopped Speck and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, 5 to 8 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, in a 3-quart saucepan, bring the broth and water to a bare simmer over medium-low heat.

4.  Add the rice to the onion and stir with a wooden spatula until the grains are coated with oil, slightly translucent around the edges, and opaque in the center, 2 to 3 minutes.

5.  Using a large ladle, add about 3/4 cup of the broth. Stir, mixing any rice sticking to the pot’s sides back into the mixture, until most of the broth is absorbed, the rice no longer seems loose when you shake the pot, and a wide trail forms when you run the spatula across the bottom of the pot.

6. After about 10 minutes, add your cooked and chopped Broccolo Fiolaro.  Continue to add broth in 3/4-cup increments, stirring constantly and scraping around the edge of the pot, until the rice is al dente (still a bit firm to the bite but without a hard or crunchy center) and most of the broth is absorbed, 18 to 22 minutes. (You may or may not use all of the broth; if you run out, use hot water.)

7.  Immediately turn off the heat. Add another 3/4 cup broth and the butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and salt and pepper to taste, and stir quickly. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir again and serve. (Mine was a little too al dente at this point; so I just turned the heat back on "low", added about 1/4- 1/2 cup of broth, and cooked and stirred until that was absorbed.)
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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Predjama Castle & Postojna Caves, Slovenia

I just realized that I had never posted the pics from the very first time we went to Slovenia, back in May 2015!  We loved our first trip; Slovenia is so gorgeous with so much to offer.  For our first trip, we just went the the Predjama Castle & Postojna Caves.  They are close together, a few kilometers. This  castle is amazing; it's sticking out of a rock face/cliff/cave.  The pics don't really do it justice. Inside it's kind of cold and gloomy, but it's so worth seeing still.  Here are some pics from both inside and outside.

PS.  Eight years ago today I started this blog!  So crazy!

Bathroom break, anyone??!
These two pics (above & below) are the view from inside the castle.  Gorgeous!  If you go, get the guided audio tour (headphones) to learn interesting facts as you walk around inside.
Right before seeing the castle, we went to the famous Postojna Caves.  They are beautiful but very touristy.  You get to ride a little train to the inside though, which is cool.  (We went to the other caves, called Skocjan Caves, the next trip to Slovenia and those ones are a lot less touristy, and just as cool, if not cooler! But no pics permitted of that one.)  Anyway, here are some pics of the Postojna Caves.  It's hard taking pics inside; I think these are all without flash so that's why they might be a tiny bit blurry.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Peanut Butter Balls

I know that in some parts of the US, these are called Buckeyes and made around the Christmas season.  I've never made them before, but wanted to after sampling one around Christmas time.  We had too many sweets at Christmas, so we never ended up making them then.  About two weeks ago, though, my daughter begged and begged to do these together, so I gave in.  I used Joy the Baker's Recipe.  I like her method of only dipping half the ball; it's easier and less messy that way.  These are SUPER sweet. Addicting, though.  Good for every once in a while.  (BTW I loved using coconut oil while melting the chocolate.  It made everything so smooth, even though I used chocolate chips (semi-sweet mini.)
Peanut Butter Balls
adapted from Joy the Baker

1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
6 cups powdered sugar
12 ounces semi-sweet mini chocolate chips (one bag of mini's)
1 tablespoon coconut oil

1.  In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine peanut butter, butter, vanilla, salt, and half of the powdered sugar.  Blend on low speed until the mixture begins to come together. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the remaining powdered sugar. Mix until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be very thick, but not dry. The powdered sugar should incorporate easily.

2.  Remove the bowl from the stand and use a small cookie scoop (about one tablespoon; smaller than a standard cookie scoop) to scoop dough and roll peanut butter balls between your hands to make a tight, round ball. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.

3.  In a heatproof bowl (or double boiler) combine chocolate chips and coconut oil. Place the bowl over a small pot of simmering water and let sit until chocolate begins to melt. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and reduce heat so the water is just at a low simmer.

4.  Remove the balls from the refrigerator and using your fingers, dip half of each ball into the melted chocolate, and return to the parchment lined sheet. Repeat until all balls are dipped and place in the refrigerator to chill and harden the chocolate.

5.  Keep peanut butter balls covered and stored in the refrigerator.  They last up to 2 weeks if covered well and cool.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Sautéed Broccolo Fiolaro

This is the way I usually do Broccolo Fiolaro: boil in salted water for about 5 minutes, or until tender, then drain, chop up coarsely with clean kitchen scissors, and saute with garlic and olive oil for a few minutes, and then add the juice from a fresh lemon.  I asked at the local Frutteria last year, when I first bought it, about how to prepare it.  I did everything they told me; adding the lemon juice was my idea and I really love the flavor it adds.
Sautéed Broccolo Fiolaro
local method; with my touches

1 large bunch of Broccolo Fiolaro*
garlic cloves, minced
olive oil
one fresh lemon

1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Keep in mind the amount of Broccolo will displace some of the water. Rinse the fresh Broccolo Fiolaro and cut off any bottoms of tough stems.  When the water is boiling, add it to the pot.  Push down into the water with a metal slotted spoon.  You can add a lid to the pot as well.

2.  Let simmer about 5 minutes.  Stick a fork into a thick part of the stem and if it's tender, drain the broccolo into a large colander in the sink.  Using a clean pair of kitchen scissors, cut the cooked broccolo up right in the colander.

3.  In a large skillet over medium heat (or use the same large pot you used to boil it in), heat olive oil. Add minced garlic and let cook for about 30 seconds.  Add the Broccolo into the pot and saute for a few minutes.  Taste and add salt.  Juice the fresh lemon and add the juice to the pot, stirring it in with the Broccolo.  Taste for salt.  Serve.  Goes well with pasta, grilled sausages, etc.
*If you buy this at a local Frutteria (the best way, the supermarket won't be as good, I think), and you don't know how much to buy, tell them how many people you are cooking for.  "Per due persone, tre persone, quattro persone," etc.  The amount they give you looks HUGE but it really cooks down a LOT.  And the leftovers are good.  Broccolo is not bitter.  Even half of my kids love it!  Lol.)

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Fudgy Coconut Oil Brownie Bites

I LOVED these brownie bites.  They are so, so good.  The texture is perfect- chewy and fudgy, moist (I said MOIST), chocolaty, with slightly crisp edges.  And a good way to use up coconut oil.  They're so easy to make that my daughter mostly made them by herself, actually.  She just needed a little help lighting the gas stove (but can now do it alone), and some other things, because I was in there anyway making something else.  I need to make these again, soon.  The recipe comes from Mel's Kitchen Cafe, and she mentions that to dress them up a little, she'll pipe a star of cream cheese frosting on them, and then top each with a raspberry.
Fudgy Coconut Oil Brownie Bites
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe
makes about 48- easily halved

1 cup coconut oil (8 ounces)
2 cups semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips (12 ounces)*
1 cup packed light brown sugar (7 ounces)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour (5 ounces)

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin (24-capacity) with cooking spray. (The recipe makes 40-48 so you'll bake two batches.)

2.  In a heavy, medium-sized saucepan, or a double boiler over low heat, melt the coconut oil and chocolate chips stirring often, until the mixture is smooth. Don't overheat the mixture, just heat and stir until the chocolate melts and it comes together - it shouldn't be overly hot.  Remove the pot from the heat.

3.  Stir in the brown sugar and granulated sugar. (Right into the pot.)  Whisk in the eggs and vanilla extract, mixing well.  Stir in the salt and flour until combined.

4.  Fill the mini muffin cups about 3/4 of the way full (you can get pretty near the top and still be ok). Bake for 10-14 minutes until just barely cooked through. The edges will be bubbling lightly with coconut oil; that's ok. As they cool, they'll set up perfectly.
*I almost always use mini semi-sweet chocolate chips in baking, and especially for melting.  They melt beautifully because of the small size, and the bag is also exactly 12 oz.  Regular size choc chips come in 10 oz bags.  
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