Sunday, April 24, 2016

Lucca, Italy

Last week, during our Spring Break, we went to the Western coast of Italy.  We spend a few days on the beach in the Livorno region, and then went to Cinque Terre for 3 days.  I'll post about that later. We took a day trip one day to Lucca.  It's a beautiful walled city where you can walk along the old city wall.  The walkways are HUGE!  About twice as big as the roads for cars up by my house.  We rented a big pedaled buggy thing (that fit all of us) and cycled around the whole wall.  Then we got focaccia bread with different toppings, and then strolled through the old town (within the wall) and took pics.  And got gelato, of course!  I'll just leave a bunch of pics here.  The wisteria was gorgeous!

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Risotto di Bruscandoli

I was at my friend's Frutteria a while ago and spotted this plant that looked like tiny asparagus.  I asked what it was, but didn't really understand.  My friend mentioned it was good in risotto and told me what to do.  So I bought some, took it home, and made risotto with it.  It wasn't until the next week that I was at a supermarket and spotted it again.  (Pic above of the supermarket stuff.)  I took a pic of the name so I could come home and look it up online.  Turns out Bruscandoli is a kind of wild hops plant!!  It's tender and mild; perfect for risotto.  You snap off the rough ends like asparagus.

Risotto di Bruscandoli
adapted from here

4 cups (1 quart container) chicken broth
2 cups water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 bunch Bruscandoli, washed, tough ends snapped, chopped into bite-size pieces
Salt, to taste
1 ½ cups Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice
½ cup dry white wine (I used Pino Grigio)
Black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
⅓ cup freshly grated Parmesan

1.  In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken broth and water to simmering.  (I combine them because I find just broth to be too salty, even reduced-sodium.)  Once simmering, lower the heat to the lowest possible heat.

2.  In a large stockpot (I like not-stick for risotto), heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and chopped Bruscandoli and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the rice and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add the wine and let evaporate completely.

3.  Begin adding hot broth, a couple of ladles at a time. Broth should just cover the rice and should be bubbling. Stir often. When broth has just about evaporated, add another ladle or 2 to just cover rice. Continue to cook in this way until rice is al dente, about 20 to 25 minutes. (I cook a few minutes more so it's not too al dente, but not mushy either.) Add a little pepper, taste and adjust seasoning.  (If you run out of broth/water, you can use hot water.  Will need to add salt to taste probably.)

6. Add another ladleful of broth to the rice. Stir in butter and Parmesan and remove from heat. Mixture should be creamy. Serve right away.
Special risotto rice grown locally.  I like using Vialone Nano or Carnaoli vs. Arborio.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Chicken Tikka Masala Soup

This isn't really traditional Indian food, but a soup based on the dish Chicken Tikka Masala.  I liked it, but I kind of missed the rice.  It was still good though, especially with homemade Naan bread for dipping.  I used a rotisserie chicken and simmered the carcass to make the 2 cups of broth.
Chicken Tikka Masala Soup
adapted from The Modern Proper

2 tbsp coconut oil
1 small onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 Tbsp garam masala
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups chicken stock
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
salt, to taste
1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and shredded for the soup

1.  Heat coconut oil over medium-high heat in a heavy soup pot.  Saute the onion for a few minutes and then add garlic for a few more minutes.  Add the spices and saute for 3 minutes longer.  To the pot, add the chicken stock, tomatoes, and coconut milk.  Simmer for 30 minutes, covered.  Using an immersion blender, puree soup until smooth and creamy.  Add shredded chicken and season with salt.
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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Overnight Cinnamon Sugar Sweet Rolls

We had these for Easter breakfast.  I made the dough the morning before, let it rise in the fridge all day, then formed the rolls that night before bed.  On Easter morning, I just had to remove them from the fridge while the oven preheated, then make the icing as they were baking.  They were well-received, but I think my kids wanted more icing.  I thought they were perfect though.  Especially on a holiday like Easter where there's lots of chocolate floating around.  This recipe is from Mel's Kitchen Cafe, and she has another version using strawberry jam that looks really good.  For step-by-step photos on how to form these into rolls, head over to Mel's website, which is really helpful.

Overnight Cinnamon Sugar Sweet Rolls
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

4 1/2 cups (22.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons instant yeast
1/3 cup (2.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs (7 ounces)
1 1/4 cup hot water
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) butter, melted

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) butter, melted
1/2 cup (3,75 ounces) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 cup (4 ounces) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 tablespoons milk, plus more if needed
Splash of vanilla extract

1.  In a large bowl (to allow for about 7-8 cups of dough to double in bulk), whisk together the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

2.  In a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, whisk together the eggs and pour them into the well. Use the same measuring cup for the hot water. Pour it around the edges of the well (not directly on the eggs) and then add the melted butter to the bowl. Use a large spoon to mix the ingredients together until a soft, rather wet dough is formed. It won't look like traditional cinnamon roll dough; it will be much softer and it's ok if it looks a bit lumpy.  Cover the bowl with greased plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for 8-10 hours.

3.  Using about 1/4 - 1/3 cup flour (more or less), dust a clean countertop. Lightly punch down the chilled dough and roll it out on the floured counter to a long, skinny rectangle (about 24-inches long and 7 or 8-inches wide).

4.  Spread the 4 tablespoons melted butter on the rectangle. It will solidify and be easier to work with as you spread it on the chilly rectangle of dough. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and spread it on top of the butter, lightly pressing it in.

5.  Fold one long edge of the rectangle up to meet the other long edge so the dough is folded in half. Use a pizza cutter or knife and cut the dough into 1-inch strips. With each strip, hold an end in each hand and twist it up several times and roll it around the center into a circle (see pictures below for a visual). Place on a large, rimmed baking sheet (11X17-inch) lined with parchment paper (about 12 per tray).

6.  Cover the trays with greased, plastic wrap and let the rolls rise until puffy and doubled, an hour or so.

7.  Bake at 375 degrees F for 12-14 minutes until just barely golden on top (don't overbake or they'll be dry).

8.  For the glaze, whisk together the powdered sugar, butter, milk, and vanilla. Add more milk as needed until the glaze is thick but pourable. Let the rolls cool for 5 or so minutes before drizzling with glaze.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2016


We visited the little town of Citadella recently.  It's a walled medieval town where you can walk around the whole wall.  It's very cool.  The wall was erected in 1220!  Of course, some of it has fallen since then and had to be re-constructed.  We really enjoyed the walk and the little town inside.  We walked the wall, then got gelato (of course) afterward.

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter!

We love the sweet breads available here in Italy for holidays like Easter and Christmas.  They are very similar to Portuguese Massa Sovada, which I was sad to leave behind when we left the Azores. We get it here once in a while and make delicious french toast with it.   This particular bread we used this time is Fugassa Venetian- or a type of sweet, high-rising bread from the local Veneto region here.

Sweet Italian Bread French Toast

1 loaf Italian sweet Easter bread
6 eggs
1/2 cup milk
vanilla and almond extracts
pinch sugar, if desired

1.  Preheat your griddle or pan on the stove.  Slice your bread a little on the thick side, but not too thick.  Mix the eggs, milk, extracts, and sugar together.  Grease your griddle or use non-stick spray. Dip the bread into the egg mixture, one by one, and place onto the griddle.  Cook pieces until browned on one side and flip over.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Thai Massaman Curry with Beef

I've had a container of Massaman Curry sitting in my pantry for a few months now, unopened.  I finally put an end to that the other week when I made this beef curry.  It was very good!  Massaman Curry is Thai, but inspired by Indian flavors.  You can make your own curry paste but why would you, when you can buy really good stuff and save yourself so much work?  ;)  (I have made my own yellow curry paste before, but I wouldn't again.... I have some of that (storebought) in my pantry now too.)  This recipe braises for a while, so you can use a tough cut of meat.  I think I used chuck steaks and they were great.
Note: This uses tamarind paste.  I have some my Thai friend gave me from Thailand.  :)  (Thanks!) I've heard you can use lime juice as a sub, to get that sourness, or just leave it out.

Also- this recipe needs to cook for at least 1.5 hours, so plan ahead.
Thai Massaman Curry with Beef
adapted from the Kitchn

For the braise:
1 pound beef chuck roast, cut into large bite-sized chunks
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup chicken or beef stock

For the curry:
1 tablespoon coconut or neutral oil
4 tablespoons massaman curry paste (storebought or homemade)
1/2 cup coconut milk, stirred (just use the rest of the can)
2 large potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/4 teaspoon tamarind paste (or 1 tablespoon tamarind water), plus more to taste
Sugar (or palm sugar), to taste
Fish sauce, to taste
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts
Cooked rice, for serving

1.  Braise the beef: Place the beef in a heavy Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. Pour the coconut milk and stock over top. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-high heat, then turn the heat down and cover. Braise on very low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the beef is tender and just holding its shape.

2.  Lift the cooked beef out of the braising liquid. Strain the liquid into a bowl and reserve.

3.  Finish the curry: Wipe out the pot used for braising the beef and replace it on the stove. Heat the oil over medium-high heat and add 4 tablespoons of massaman curry paste. Sauté the paste for a couple of minutes, until fragrant.

4.  Add the coconut milk and the braising liquid to the curry paste. Bring it up to a gentle simmer, then add the beef chunks and potatoes. Season the curry with the tamarind, a few splashes of fish sauce, and some sugar. Bring back to a low simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

5.  Taste and adjust seasonings in the curry, adding more fish sauce, sugar, or tamarind, until the curry is a perfect balance of gentle spiciness, saltiness, tanginess, and sweetness. Stir in the peanuts and serve with coconut rice.
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