Ahhhhh Italy

Italy is Eataly

We traveled to Italy in October. The food was fabulous and the scenery was spectacular.

Bay of Fegina Monterosso del Mare

The Cinque Terre (the five lands) was our favorite destination. Monterosso del Mare has the most beautiful beach of the five towns on the Italian Riviera. We stayed at the Hotel Pasquale, a small family-run hotel in the heart of this ancient village overlooking the Liguorian Sea.

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We were treated to a homemade Italian meal by Felicita, daughter of the original owners, and current co-owner with her husband and children.

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A personal demonstration of homemade pesto using a mortar and pestle.

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 The pesto was very fresh and bright.

lasagne al forno

Lasagne al Forno. Can you believe the amount of pesto atop?

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Our fellow travelers.

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Felicita and me.

The Fearless Cooking Club members gathered and made some of the Italian recipes. Barb and Cindy had been to Europe this past summer and stopped into Italy also.

Fearless Cooker w/fancy oven mitts

We tried our hand at mortar and pestle pesto.

Porchetta

Barb and Joe made this beautiful porchetta, they ate in Italy. It was a WOW!

mortar and pestle

The one in the foreground is marble with ribbed inner edges of the bowl.

presto pesto

Presto Pesto!

Felicita’s Pesto Sauce Recipe

Two servings pesto sauce

Ingredients

  • 80 Basil leaves
  • 1 garlic close
  • 2 TBSP pine nuts
  • Parmesan cheese grated

Directions

Only wash basil leaves and dry on the tea towel.  Add 1 garlic close. Grind. Add 2 TBSP pine nuts. Grind. Mis with two heaping tablespoon parmesan cheese grated. Add olive oil until creamy consistency.  Have a good meal! Felicita.

Patty’s Points

1. Felicita’s pesto had a very loose consistency more like a sauce then a thick paste. We think it had to do with the moisture in the leaves from being so close to the sea nearby. We live in dry Colorado so our pesto was more like a paste.

2. Her recipe differs from most pestos I’ve made. She added no salt and very little garlic. You are tasting the freshness of the basil.

3. Our tour guide, Jamie, a Brit who has a home in Lucca, was quite the foodie. He advised us about only buying pine nuts from Italy and to stay away from the ones from China. My olive oil was from Italy but the pine nuts I found were from Spain. Sorry Jamie.

4. We used two different types of olive oils in each pesto recipe we made. We noticed a big difference in the taste from the olive oils. I pays to taste your olive oil and find one you like. Have you heard of the bug that has destroyed many of the olives in Italy? Olive oil prices will rise over the next year. Eeek!

5. We had two mortar bowls that were quite different. One had ridges on the bowl lining and one without. The combination of the pestle grinding and ridges in the bowl made the grinding process go quickly.

6. You’ll notice in the recipe it calls for 80 leaves of basil. If you have really large leaves then count it as two leaves. The amount of leaves accounts for the pure taste of the basil also.

7. Eataly.com is a global company that promotes Italian products worldwide. When you go to Italy you see  authentic products in local towns. But when you are at home you don’t have access to those authentic products. Eataly.com is one way to find specialty pastas and probably pine nuts too! I saw a pasta in Monterosso that I should have bought. It looked like a communion wafer. When we went out to dinner that night, one of our fellow travelers had that pasta Croxetti. It is specifically made in the the Liguorian areas of Italy. It would take awhile for me to hunt it down and see if it exists in the Italian sections of my city.  So I would have to either make it or buy it through Eataly.com.

8. Lastly, Jamie our guide, said that when we all go home and try to recreate the Italian food, it won’t taste the same. I have to agree. The ingredients may be basil, olives, pine nuts, oranges, or lemons but they are grown in a different location of the world with different sun, water, soil, bugs, and weather conditions.

9. By the way, the lasagne al forno was homemade lasagne pasta sheets with a parmesan besciamella sauce through each layer. With that substantial amount of pesto atop it melted in my mouth. Delizioso! I could never recreate that sensation ever again at home.

10. Lastly, according to Felicita, the true term pesto only refers to the basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese and nuts (pine, walnuts) combination.

Until we meet again Italy! Arrivederci!

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Irish Pub Party

Irish Pub CookbookEveryone claims to be Irish on St Patrick’s Day but I actually am an Irish descendent. My mother let everyone she knew of her heritage and she was quite proud.  Char gave me this great cookbook awhile back and it was time to crack it open. We tried many of the dishes inside and a few others to make up our early St. Patrick’s Day party.

The menu was Guinness Beef Stew, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Potatoes and Carrots, Brown Soda Bread, Irish Soda Bread, Molasses Bread, Traditional Colcannon, Colcannon with Kale, Buttered Kale with chives & lemon, Buttered Vegetables, Apple Cake, Chocolate Stout Cake, Homemade Irish Cream, Irish Coffee, Smithwick beer, Jameson’s whiskey, Kerry butter and Irish cheese.

Since time was of the essence most items were made in advance before the cooking club members gathered. The group project was a soda bread throw down. Before we started working we had to loosen up and make Irish Cream.  Remember when I made it last Christmas? Same recipe. It was a treat to see everyone marvel at how much whiskey and cream went into it!

Now that we were relaxed, we dove into the soda bread. Traditional soda bread has four ingredients. That’s it. The other  had nine.

Irish Soda Bread from The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook  Parragon Books 2012

  • 1 lb  (450 g) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 400 ml (14 oz) buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place parchment paper atop or prepare an oiled baking sheet.

Sift the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.  Make a well in the centre and pour in most of the buttermilk . Mix well with hands. The dough should be soft but not too wet. Reserve then add, if necessary the remaining buttermilk.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly. Shape into an 8 inch (20 cm) round. Place the loaf atop the making tray. With a serrated knife cut a cross into the top. Bake for 25-30 mintes under golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm.

two soda breads

Brown on the left, Traditional on the right.

Brown Soda Bread from Cook’s Country February/March 2013

  • 2 C flour
  • 1 1/2 C whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 C toasted wheat germ
  • 3 TBSP sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 3/4 C buttermilk
  • 3 TBSP melted butter

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, wheat germ, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in large bowl. Combine buttermilk and 2 tablespoons melted butter in 2-cup liquid measuring cup.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until dough just comes together. Turn out dough onto lightly floured counter and knead until cohesive mass forms, about 8 turns. Pat dough into 7-inch round and transfer to prepared sheet. Using sharp serrated knife, make ¼-inch-deep cross about 5 inches long on top of loaf. Bake until skewer inserted in center comes out clean and loaf registers 195 degrees, 45 to 50 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking.

Remove bread from oven. Brush with remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter. Transfer loaf to wire rack and let cool for at least 1 hour.

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Traditional on the left, Brown on the right

Guiness Beef Stew

corned beef

Dessert table\ Irish Coffee

Patty’s Points:

1. General consensus of the party guests were that both breads were good, just different. The brown bread was very hearty. The traditional was lighter. Both were great slathered in butter! I favored the traditional myself.

2. The day before, a couple of members were at another potluck and tasted other soda bread versions. Some with currents or raisins and some with caraway. Soda bread is how your family made it special and traditional for you.

3.  I used bread flour. I think it helps the texture of any bread you make at home.

4. I had never made soda bread before this challenge. Hard to believe? It could have been because my mother’s father was Irish and the traditional foods didn’t get passed down through him. She loved Bailey’s Irish Cream though 🙂

5. This was an European cookbook, so many of the ingredients are in metric. It is always good to have a scale for dry ingredients. I’m a nurse so the liquids are easy for me to convert.

Mary B

Happy St Patrick's Day

How joyful that spring is nearly here. On St Patrick’s Day we Think Green. But as my mother used to say Think Irish!

Pizza pie is amore!

Oh Dean Martin, I wish I had your song playing while we made pizza a couple of weeks ago. The second half of our pie adventure was making pizza with Gabe. It was dough love!

pulling apart the dough

  Gabe Mill’s Neapolitan Pizza Dough Recipe

Makes two pizzas

500 grams unbleached flour

1 teaspoon salt (6 grams)

3 grams yeast

325 grams water

Place all the ingredients in a Kitchen Aid mixer with a bread hook and process on the mix setting of “2” for six minutes. Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a towel and let it rise for about 1-2 hours. Punch down the dough and divide into two balls. Let it rest for 10 minutes on the counter before forming into a pizza.

To form the dough into a circle, grab the edges of the dough and let it hang down (see the top picture of Gabe) and go round and round with your hands on the edges. Slowly a bigger pizza pie dough circle will develop.

the cooking club members

Patty and Gabe

Pizza pointers from Gabe:

1. Measure everything with a scale. Flour is sensitive to humidity and you get a more accurate end-product.

2. The temperature of your oven should be turned up as high as it will go (without going to the broil setting). My oven went to 500 degrees F but I think 450 would’ve been ideal for my little oven. Gabe, being a carpenter, has built his own brick oven kiln in his backyard. The temperature of his kiln can get to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. You can use any type of pan or stone to put the pizza in.  Don’t oil the pan.

4. If you are not using the dough right away, oil the dough and bag it for the refrigerator.  When you take it out of the refrigerator , let it have a chance to come to room temperature for 20 minutes to 1 hour.

5.  You can use Semolina corn meal on pizza peel if you use a stone and a paddle to take the dough in and out of the oven.

6. Put toppings on pizza dough and sprinkle olive oil lightly over top.

7. Check on the pizza after about 8 minutes, then continue to check on it every 1-2 minutes. You can turn the pizza 180 degrees if your oven is not very even in baking.

8. Gabe’s Sauce for Butter knots: minced garlic, butter, white wine, olive oil, and cream.  Combine the ingredients in a pan and heat on the stove top. All the ingredients are to taste. It was fabulous!

9. Use fresh tomatoes with some salt for the pizza sauce. It brings out the freshness of all the ingredients.

10. This dough is great for bread making too. After it rises,punch it down, form it into a baguette then let it rest for 10 minutes before putting it into the oven.

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pizza uno

pizza

I lost track of how many pizzas we made, maybe ten? We had a variety of toppings, feta cheese, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes. We even had a dessert pizza. Bake the pizza dough without anything atop, spread a mixture of marscapone cheese with fig jam and crinkle malt vinegar with sea salt potato chips atop. Sounds weird but it was yummy.

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We all gathered around the table to finish up our pizza, drink some wine and limoncello to cleanse our palate. Julie, our school teacher among the group, read the book below. The Little Red Hen didn’t bake any pizza but she did do the dishes. It was a nice ending to a beautiful day and everyone pitched in to clean up which was even better for me as the host.

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Limoncello New Year

Remember last month when I went to my friend Phyllis’ home and made liqueur? Well the limoncello needed time to ferment. One month later, it has come to fruition.
Rosemary Limoncello

Italy’s Amalfi Coast and adjoining Sorrento Peninsula are the regions most famous for limoncello, an intensely lemony liqueur, traditionally served ice cold as an aperitif or digestive after-dinner drink. Some believe that limoncello  was used in the morning by fishermen and countrymen to fight the cold, since the invasion periods. Others, instead, believe that the recipe was born inside a monastic convent to delight the monks from prayer to prayer.

Rosemary Limoncello from Sunset Magazine December 2007

Ingredients:  18 lemons + 4 to 6 inch rosemary sprig + Two 750 ml 60 Proof Vodka + 4 1/2 C sugar + 5 C water

Directions:

Peel lemons with a sharp vegetable peeler, taking only the zest (top layer) and avoiding any white pith. Put rosemary in a 1-gal. glass or ceramic container with a tight seal. Add zest to jar.

Lemons scrubbed clean

Lemon peel

Pour one bottle of 750 ml vodka over rosemary and zest; seal container. Let sit undisturbed in a cool, dark place for 40 days.

In a saucepan, bring 5 cups water to a boil and add sugar. Cook, stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Let sugar syrup cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Fermenting

Pour syrup and remaining 750 ml. vodka over lemon-vodka mixture, stir, and seal container. Let sit in a cool, dark place for another 40 days.

Pour limoncello through cheesecloth into a large spouted pitcher and divide among gift bottles.

Straining

Rosemary

Phyllis’ and Sunset Magazine Points:

1. Phyllis prefers this recipe to the traditional Italian Limoncello recipes. She likes vodka which she believes is less bitter than ones made with Ever-clear.

2. When peeling lemons do not include the white pith which will make the drink bitter.

3. This rosemary came from a ranch in Idaho and Phyllis gave it to me. It is nearly 3 months old and is as fresh as if it was cut today. This drink was a favorite of her late husband.

4. Either Meyer or Eureka lemons work in this recipe (the fragrant Meyer is especially good, though). To speed up the process, shorten the infusing time in steps 2 and 4 to 1 week each, and you’ll have a fine although less intense liqueur. Limoncello keeps indefinitely in the freezer.

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I can’t believe I made macarons

I first read about the macaron in the December 12, 2011 edition of Time Magazine. The macaron was being sold at a NYC French bakery with lines around the block. It claimed that it was going to overtake cupcakes in popularity. Since that article, I have read and watched numerous macaron blog posts and videos all over the internet.

There are many interesting takes on the history of macarons. The Serious Eats introduction to and history of macaroons is an interesting take on this 500-year-old delicacy and confectionary treat. They are extremely popular in France but originated in Italy.

So in my fearless quest to make to macarons I had to do my research. In Denver D Bar Desserts is one of a few bakeries that make macarons. So I checked it out. Petite, tasty little treats that would be good with a cup of tea or a glass of champagne.

The most comprehensive blog on macarons I found was Food Nouveau. She had step-by-step directions, along with a several of her own posts on trouble-shooting tips.  Four ingredients of almond flour (meal), powdered sugar, granulated sugar, and egg whites. How hard could it be? Six batches later culminated with the Fearless Cooking Club (FCC) members meeting to celebrate all things macaron and Valentines Day.

Macaron ingredients

210 g powdered sugar

125 g almond meal/flour

3 large egg whites

30 g granulated sugar

So with so few of ingredients I learned that this adventure was all about cooking techniques. It’s like playing a sport, you have to have the basic techniques.

Technique #1 -Prepping the dry ingredients.

The dry ingredients are measured in grams, which are important to know when preparing. I actually pre-measured the almond flour and sugars in advance and bagged them to be ready for the next batch to trial.

The powdered sugar and almond flour must be placed in a food processor to bring the ingredients together. Following that the combined ingredients are then sifted to a fine state of powder.

Technique #2 – All about the egg whites

Egg whites must be separated from their shell partner, the yolk, and placed in a sealed container, refrigerated 1-5 days in advance of using them. Before whipping them, they must be brought to room temperature for a couple of hours.  Then place your egg whites in a very cold steel bowl and whip them until frothy. Add the granulated sugar in three stages to the egg whites until they are stiff peaks, which takes about 3-4 minutes. Some recipes I saw indicated that the egg whites should also be measured in grams. I didn’t choose to get that technical, but it is recommended that you use large eggs.

Technique #3 – Folding in the ingredients

If you want pastel-pretty macarons, then this is the time to do it. Many sites say to use only powdered food coloring, which I didn’t have access to, so I used Wilton gel food coloring. I folding in the food coloring so as to not deflate the whites.

Once combined, I then added very small amounts of the almond-powder sugar mixture at a time. I accomplished this in 5-6 portions, again, folding the ingredients until each portion is combined.

Technique #4 – Piping out the macarons

All the mixture went into a piping bag with a 1/2 inch wide tip to pipe out onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Food Nouveau had downloadable templates to place under my parchment paper so I had a guideline for uniformity. That was pretty awesome. Make sure to slide out the template before baking!

Pick up and drop or bang the cookie sheet to get out the air bubbles and let them rest for 20 minutes.

Technique #5 – Baking

Set the oven at 275-300 degrees. This is where practice will tell you the right temperature. Place the cookie sheet into the oven on top of another cookie sheet so as not to burn them.  Bake them for 14-18 minutes, again another point of practicing. I turned my cookie sheet half-way through the baking time for uniformity. I’ll have to read more on macarons whether that is a good idea or not.

So that was the technique, but what did I really think once it was all over and done with? I made six batches of macarons this week. A labor of learning it was.

  • Two of the six batches were tossed in the trash; completely wrong texture.
  • The circumference of the cookie probably determines the adjustment of the time and temperature in the oven.
  • Sifting was tough. I had a very fine sifter which was great for consistency but it took a good 30 minutes to sift the entire mixture.
  • I made chocolate, lemon-yellow and the pink macarons. We had a variety of fillings from Nutella, cherry jam, and lemon curd. But the favorite was the one Sarah brought which was salted carmel!

Now that I have officially made macarons I have an appreciation for pastry chefs. Attention to detail is the key. They were good but I need more practice and a few tips to fully perfect them. But I really think going to France and appreciating them first hand would be a better place to start.

Mangia Pasta!

The July meeting of  The Fearless Cooking Club takes us to Barb’s home. Barb has been to Italy and I’ve seen her fabulous pictures. Barb dusted off her pasta maker, drying rack and pulled out Beard on Pasta cookbook and taught us a thing or two about making homemade pasta.

Barb did her homework and studied the master James Beard. There were several key points that Barb noted.

1. Plan in advance. Chef Beard recommends that the dough rest for 30 to 120 minutes after mixing (the actual recipe is at the end of this blog).

2. It takes time. Homemade pasta is labor intensive. It took two or three of us to hold the dough above the pasta maker, turn the crank and pull dough out for flattening. It takes 3-4 cranks through with the pasta maker to get the thickness for the dough correct. We talked about how the TV chefs make it look so easy. They can hold the dough, crank it through masterfully, and get beautiful flattened dough and  noodles on the other side.

3. Take a break. Whew! That was hard work. Pour the wine and have a snack.

4. Make your sauces. While the pasta is drying on the rack make your sauces. We had four to sample:

  • A basic basil pesto using pine nuts from The New Best Recipe – Cook’s Illustrated (2004)
  • Pesto Trapanese all Anna – A Lidia Bastianich recipe from her website
  • An easy Puttanesca – aka “the way a streetwalker would make it” from The Denver Post Make It Fit series (2010)
  • A creamy alfredo sauce made by Sarah. She used cream cheese and parmesan cheese in it. Interesting twist!

5. Prepare salads and desserts. I made a homemade Caesar salad from my standby cookbook The New Best Recipe – Cook’s Illustrated (2004) We had homemade puff pastry made by Barb. She said they were so easy to make. The filling came all the way from Pat-A-Cake, a cake decorating store in 316 W Norfolk Ave, Norfolk NE 68701, Phone:  (402) 379-2061. And lastly, Char made her famous Pizzelles.

4. Cooking the pasta. Beard recommends to boil the water furiously; the water does not need salt, but a splash of oil is a good idea. I found this to be an interesting tip because most TV chefs I’ve watched only salt the water and never add oil. But they are not making homemade pasta I guess.

5. Fresh pasta cooks quickly. It does not need the standard 8 – 10 minutes; after placing pasta in the boiling water, it is usually ready by the time the water returns to a boil. Test by biting into a piece of the pasta – it should be pliable with no hard core. Drain pasta when done. It is best not to let pasta sit while sauce finishes. Try to have sauce ready to coat the pasta as soon as it comes out of the water.

Voila!

We made fettucine and spaghetti. Turning out the spaghetti was interesting. It was so thin we thought it looked like angel hair pasta. But it plumped up in the water.

The table is ready! We even had pasta bibs to wear!

Clockwise from top left spaghetti with pesto;  fettucine puttanesca; fettucine alfredo, spaghetti al pesto trapanese alla Anna.

Of course, we must have dessert. Plated is fresh cherries, a pizzelle and a cream puff.

And to top off the weekend, celebrating all Italian culture, Joy, my husband and I went to mass at Our Lady of Mt Carmel Church in the Highland neighborhood of Denver. The first Sunday of each month, the mass is said in Italian. It was amazing.

James Beard’s Basic Egg Pasta (serves 3 – 4)
Using Food Processor and Manual Pasta Machine

1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 TBSP oil

Put metal blade into food processor. Measure in the flour and salt, and process briefly to blend them. Drop the eggs and oil through the feeding tube, and let the machine run until the dough begins to form a ball – around 15 seconds. If too sticky, add a tablespoon or more of flour. If too dry add a few drops of water or part of an egg.

COOKS NOTE: Barb misplaced the dough blade for her food processor, so she used the regular blade. She ran the processor 15 seconds per instructions – it did not form a ball. She poured the mixture onto a floured surface and was easily able to form it into a ball.

Turn out dough onto a floured surface. Dust your hands with flour and continue kneading. Work for 3 – 5 minutes, adding more flour if necessary, until you have a smooth ball of dough.

Set to rest under a dish towel or in plastic wrap for a minimum of 30 minutes, but 2 hours is preferable.

After dough has rested, cut it into four pieces. Put three back under the dish towel and flatten the fourth with a rolling-pin or with your palm. Set the manual pasta machine so that the rollers are at their widest opening. We ran it through each setting twice, then narrowed the opening, until we completed setting 5. You’ll know when it is rolled enough because the dough will become smooth and satiny. Pasta dough is not delicate and can not be overhandled – if it tears, you can fold in half and run it through again.

Lay the ribbon of pasta on a dish towel while you roll out the other three pieces of dough.

The dough should rest another 5 minutes after rolling; typically the first ribbon will be ready by the time you finish rolling all 4 pieces of dough.

Place the hand crank into the cutting slot of your choice. Run the ribbons of pasta dough through; it helps to have one person crank and a second person feed and catch the pasta.

Place the pasta on a drying rack of some kind – if you don’t have a pasta rack you can use the back of a chair, a clothesline, etc. Let it dry.

**See you all next month when The Fearless Cooking Club will be celebrating the Spanish culture and making Paella.**