Monday, August 31, 2009

Filling the blanks - Award(s)

So, I had told you about my cooking teacher coming for dinner.
That was the day after the Berry Fair so, foreseeable enough, I put together a mainly-berry-themed menu.
If you have read me this month, you have seen pretty much all I served that night:

- Rasperry/Blueberry and Lard Crostini
- Blueberry Cjarsons
- Roastbeef and Yogurt Nests
- Raspberry mousse

Appetizers, first course and dessert were berry based. I didn't want to go all the way with it, and the second course was a light and fruit-free dish.
It was the easiest to put together, and as sometimes happens, was the most appreciated.

These are Roastbeef and Yogurt Nests, I found the recipe in a special issue of La Cucina Italiana (Italian edition); 4 times a years they print a monographic issue, could be about eggs, potatoes, chocolate, pasta... this was focused on healthy food.
They are basically rolls of a very light potato salad and roastbeef.

For 4 servings, you need 12 slices of roastbeef (store bought, they have to be thin).
For the filling:
- 2 medium sized potatoes, boiled
- 4 pickles
- 4 tablespoons of greek yogurt
- parsley

I put a lot more than 4 tbsp of yogurt, about 3/4 cup, and added a good 1/4 of minced chives.
Dice the potatoes and the pickles, mix the vegetables with all the other ingredients and then roll about 1 tablespoon in a roastbeef slice.
They are called "nests", so I made a base on one side of the roll and stuck a toothpick in it to keep it in shape, then served them on a bed of green salad and cherry tomatoes.

Quick, easy, and really, really appreciated!

Now, the award(s).
I actually got two in the last two weeks, and I was really surprised, amused and flattered.
When you get an award you're supposed to spread the joy and pass it to other people you think deserve it.
The problem is that, as it often happens to me, I took things backwards with this blog thing.
I opened this blog to be able to join the Daring Kitchen Challenges, then I ran away with it and THEN became involved in reading other blogs.
So I didn't open a blog because I was enjoying the blogosphere, but it was the other way round for me.
Being still a newbie, I feel like I'm still opening a thousand doors a day, with all the remarkable blogs out there, but still feel a little lost and have a hard time remembering who wrote what.

That's why when Jill from JilliciousDiscoveries awarded me with the "One Lovely Blog" award I was quite overwhelmed to see that I had to pass it on to 13 other people, with all that she was already awarding 90% of the blogs that I knew!

This is to thank Jill very much, it's not that I didn't appreciate your gift!

I was thinking and researching for the list, when Laura of Tiramisu gave me another award. But this time I would have to nominate only 7 blogs, so thank you Laura, and here I am to spread the joy of the Kreative Blogger Award.

The rules, copied a pasted from Laura's blog are the following:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.

7 things about me:

- My weight at birth was 10lbs sharp (4.550kg).
- I stay up late for no reason, I'm just one of those kids who never wants to go to bed, I easily stay up until 2 or 3 am. I repent every morning, then every night is the same old story.
- I never wanted to study history at school. Obviously, for the Law of Large Numbers, I married a guy who is totally into history and tries to pull me into conversations where I just smile and try to divert the topic.
- Said guy first held my hand while we were visiting a Museum of Torture. We are oh, so romantic!
- My Italian teachers were never that thrilled about my essays (keep in mind I ended up studying Chemistry, I wasn't a total failure at school!); which is funny, considering that now I'm taking so much fun writing this mini essays in a language that's not even mine. I told you, I hardly take things the easy way!
- I'm a procrastinator.
- I'm the only woman on the planet who thinks that shoes are just something you use to protect your feet.

And now, the 7 blogs (some of them are in Italian, and they are worth the use of an automatic translator):

- Audax of Audax Artifex: he blogs mostly about his Daring Kitchen Challenges, but he treats the given theme in so many different ways, it just blows my mind!
- Alex of Ombra nel Portico.
- Julia of Melanger to mix: I love the way she looks at things.

The next 4 I find connected, in some way; they are assertions, on how applying a principle (healthy diet, intolerance to gluten, or having to go most locally possible because of a remote residence) do not necessarily stop you from living a full and enjoyable life.

- Angela of Isolated Foodie
- Em of Kitchen M; she's a dietitian and food photographer.
- Jeanine of The Baking Beauties
- Petula of La Cuoca Petulante, a macrobiotic blog. I'm particularly grateful to her because it was through her blog that back in 2007 I discovered . I have never told her, now she knows.

That's all, folks!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers August 2009 - Dobos Torte

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caff├ęs of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.
You will find the detailed recipe at their blogs.

Boy, you do have to love eggs, when you have this torte!!
Between the dough and the buttercream you will find 10 whole eggs. And little else: this dessert, despite the rich appearance has a lot to do with fluffy stuff and incorporating air.

The fun thing about this cake is that the layers are not cut from a one cake, but are baked separately, oven-pancake style, and then trimmed to the same size and shape to be assembled with the buttercream.
This scared me a lot, every layer has to be baked just a few minutes, so you basically have to stay around the oven for about an hour. Not exactly thrilling when the weather is hot and humid and the thermometer scores 43C/110F! I took advantage of one afternoon when it "chilled" down to 39C/102F and did my duty of Daring Baker.

The weakest link for me in this recipe was the caramel part. I suck at caramelizing, I always seem to miss the right moment (or never get there, that is).
This time it was not so bad. Not perfect, I could have waited a little longer because the sugar was a little too liquid and soaked in the cake instead of building a layer of its own on top, but it's good enough for me!
By the way, I have to thank Angela for the suggestion of cutting the top layer before pouring caramel: as things went, I would have never been able to have those nice triangles!

I hadn't any whole hazelnuts at hand, so I used bits of chocolate as (not quite) hidden support.

The only problem is, my kids are a bit disoriented; they keep asking whose birthday is it, and won't accept a "Nobody's" for an answer.
They have cut about 20 construction paper sheet into confetti, and are waiting for daddy to come home to start the party.

You will find a lot of other Dobos torte and lot of rivisitations at the Daring Kitchen website.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What happened to the Blueberries

And now, here's what happened to those 5lbs of blueberries.
Let's get out of the way the classic stuff:

a handful of blueberries, a banana and 3/4 cup of milk became a much appreciated and colorful fresh smoothie.

A couple of breakfasts were cheered up by blueberry pancakes, "with the happy face!" as a long time favourite of my kids, "Curious George makes pancakes" teaches to do:

Besides, I had still some buttermilk that I had bought in Germany (can't find it here), so those pancakes were really a hit!

We didn't go without some blueberry muffins and minimuffins (with the recipe from Shirley Corriher's "Bakewise" ):

Which were also well liked.

In the "Oh Berry Day" post, I mentioned the blueberry cjarsons, a kind of savoury wraps/ravioli with a blueberry filling. That day at the fair there was a kiosk serving them, but by the time we wanted to have lunch, they were momentarily unavailable, and we didn't want to wait too much, with two hungry kids under a hot hot hot sun. So we went for something less typical, and I came home with no idea of how blueberry cjarsons were made.

Did it stop me? Nope.

Knowing a little of the local cuisine, I knew that they couldn't be ALL that exotic, so I decided to improvise and make my own filling with ingredients that made sense:

3oz/100gr blueberries
12oz/350gr mashed potatoes
7oz/200gr ricotta
1 or 2 tbsp breadcrumbs

I first whisked blueberries alone, than mix them with the potatoes and breadcrumbs, then whisked the ricotta in the unwashed blender, so that I could take the most of blueberries, that's why you see different tones of purple.

As for the wrap, I decided for a touch of fusion, and went back to a tecnique learned through a Daring Cooks Challenge, making potstickers...

... which were served with butter and poppyseeds.

Despite of all the salt that I had put in the filling, these potstickers were really too sweet to be a savoury dish.
Beside that, I still had a lot of leftover filling, having used barely 1/6 of it, so I had to think of a way to use it.
I decided to convert it in gnocchetti (small gnocchi).

I took what was left of the filling, added two eggs, 3 tbsp of flour, put all in a pastry bag, and as they were showing in that video I had linked, cut the gnocchetti into a pot of boiling (and SALTED, that made the difference!) water, waited for them to come to the surface, and served with butter and some parmigiano.

This time the savoury-sweet balance was alright, though the color may not be.
Nobody's perfect!

And after all this, came the round of jams.

Again, I didn't want to stop at "only blueberries", so I picked these combinings:

pineapple, redcurrant and yellow kiwi.
Plus one, not portrayed, with pure frozen maracuja pulp.

Again, as with the raspberries, I made a big batch of blueberry jam and at the same time small batches of fruit jam, always keeping a sugar/fruit ratio of 0.6/0.7.

Just two handfuls of berries were saved for freezing.
Frozen blueberries is another thing you don't find easily here, so I hoped to save a little more for the hard winter, but I guess we will have to do with our jams.

And now you know what happened to the berries.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What happened to the Raspberries

This is the chronicle of what happened to those raspberries I bought at the Blueberry/Raspberry Fair.

I won't be long on how much I love raspberries, just long enough to explain that many were eaten as they were, those plumpy, tangy, fragrant, luscious rubies.

Some were used as appetizers, on a toasted little square of bread with some mildly heated lard

About 1 lb went for a raspberry mousse, which is very similar to a Bavarese, only without gelatine.

There are a lot of recipes for a raspberry mousse on the Internet. They are basically all the same, only with varied proportions of ingredients. So I went with my own doses, according to what I like and what I had at hand.

500gr /1.1 lbs raspberries
3 egg whites
120 /4 oz sugar
500ml /2 cups heavy whipping cream

Blend the raspberries with the sugar,
whip the cream,
whip the egg whites.
Incorporate the cream and then the egg whites in the raspberry sauce.
Keep in the freezer. This does not contain gelatine, so it can (and it should) be frozen.
About 30 - 40 minutes before serving, pull it out of the freezer.

I added some shaved chocolate for a raspberry-stracciatella

It was good, and everybody loved it.
Yet, feel free to half the doses, because good as it is, I still have a lot of that in the freezer, and I would like to use that space without putting on 10lbs!

The rest (about 1kg/ 2.2 lbs) went for jams.
I can buy a plain raspberry jam every day, so when I make one, I like to match different tastes.

I chose fox grape, peaches and banana (this last just because of a silly Italian song that was very popular in the '90s).

What I did was cook the big batch of raspberry jam and small separate batches (about 1 cup, which came from 5oz of fruit and 3 oz of sugar) of other fruits' jam. Then I would take 1 cup of the raspberry jam and cook it 5 to 10 minutes together with its "mate jam".
Of course I kept some raspberyy-only jam.

And that was it.
I had some sad and crashed leftover berries, which were blended and frozen, for one or two future endeavours (looks more like one than two, I got only 7 icecubes)

Coming up - What happened to the Blueberries.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Oh, Berry Day!

In these days between the Big Holiday Trip and the beginning of school, we are enjoying sleeping till late, a lot of do-nothing and quite a few daytrips.

Today, we went to a tiny town, Avasinis, about 30 miles from where we live. Even if it is pretty near, no wonder we had never heard of it before (please note we've been living here for less than a year!): the place counts only about 350 inhabitants, and it sits in a narrow corner of a narrow valley in a group of high mountains.
The reason why we were there today is a fair they hold annually, the Fair of Raspberries and Blueberries.

(Welcome to the town of Raspberries and Blueberries)

You could taste a lot of dishes made with these gems in the kiosks spreaded on the main (and only) street: blueberry gnocchi, blueberry cjarsons (a kind of local ravioli), raspberry beer and a whole parade of desserts.

And if you are not impressed by this, just think that they are all wild!
In the week prior the fair, about 40 people climb the side of the mountains around, which is forbidden to non residents. The area is so rich of berries that the loot is enough to provide refreshment for a three days' celebration. This year they were expecting 30 thousand visitors!

Of course, you could buy the bare berries, which I did.
Being a girl with no half-measures, I am now the proud owner of 5lbs of raspberries and 5 lbs of blueberries!

Tomorrow my 3 men will be visiting grandpa and grandma the whole day, my Ipod is already charged and filled with the backlist of "This American Life" and "Stuff You Should Know" podcasts, and I'll be spending the whole day jamming, baking, freezing and cooking to try and make some of the summer taste last for a good part of the next cold season.

Oh, and tomorrow night my cooking teacher will be here for dinner, so wish me luck, and I'll keep you posted on the outcomes!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Daring Bakers July 2009 - Marshmallow Cookies

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

I will send you to her for instructions, because in this moment I'm on vacation, touring Europe on an RV, with little time to spend writing, I'll merely upload the pics of my marshmallow cookies, to show that I met the challenge.
July has been a very busy month, but it was just my luck that the challenge was considered complete with just on kind of cooky baked.

Having no light corn syrup in Italy, I used this recipe for a substitute, as suggested by the almighty Audax Artifex:

* 2 cups granulated sugar
* 3/4 cup Water
* 1/4 tsp. Cream of Tartar
* dash of salt

Combine all ingredients in a heavy, large pan (stainless). Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and put cover on it for 3 minutes to get sugar crystals off the sides of the pan. Uncover and cook until it reaches soft ball stage, 238 -240 degrees F.

Cool syrup and store in a covered container at room temperature. It will keep for about 2 months.

Also, I substituted two tbsp of rose water for the same amount of cold water in the recipe.

Here we go with the pic parade:

As for the Milano cookies, as I said July has been a very busy month, and I didn't make it.
The funny thing is that Milano is my hometown, and in all the things I did in July, one was to go there to visit my parents.
So I'm posting a couple of pictures of our recently restaurated cathedral, the Duomo, because it's kind of in topic ;-)

Milan's coat of arms, in a mosaic on the floor of our beautiful covered Galleria: