Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Behold the beauty

Happy happy. Last night I bought a gift for myself.

Clothes? No way.

A new CD or DVD perhaps? Nope.

Behold......I got myself a 5.5 quart oven/range pan.

Yes. I am indeed a total cooking nerd. Now, I did have smaller vessels that performed beautifully, but since I am doing some braised meat dishes in my cooking class, I needed a pan that had a larger capacity. I love this so much.
Now let me go on my rant about non-stick pans. I have them, yes, but I only really use them for pancakes and scrambled eggs. Why you ask? Because you MUST NOT BE AFRAID OF STUFF STICKING TO YOUR PAN!
I'm sorry I raised my voice. It is because I love you that I have such passion.
You know those brown stuck bits and residue on your pan from vegetables and meat placed in a normal pan? That is concentrated flavor. Learn to love it, embrace the deliciousness. That brown stuff, or "fond" as the fancy French say, makes any braised meat dish or sauce even more fantastic.
So here's an example. Say you have your new shiny, fancy pan on the stove top all nice and heated up. You place chicken pieces in the pan, and do not touch them until they are golden on one side. Once anything is properly seared (and not touched at all) on one side, it should flip with relative ease. Oh you may have some meat stick, and you will certainly have brown stuff, but we now know that this loveliness is your friend.
When the other side of the chicken is brown, you can transfer the seared chicken to a plate, and have fun with the fond. Add a bit of chicken broth or wine to the fond in the pan, and scrape at the brown bits with a wooden spoon. You will see how easily the fond releases from you pan. No need to use steel wool.... I promise. You can add whatever veggies you like, return the chicken to the pan, and add enough liquid (chicken broth, wine, etc) to cover the chicken. Cook at 350 for 2 hours, and you will have a memorable meal. It's just that simple.
Invest in pans...real pans....that are full metal. No plastic handles please! You need something that can transfer from the stovetop to your oven. You will be rewarded with a kitchen that smells like heaven and fantastic creations!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Saturday Morning Sauce

I'm still in bed, trying to fight the urge to wake up. The bed is so very warm and it's that time of morning when I could easily slip back to sleep. The rain is beating against the roof here on the second floor of my house.

Then I hear the kitchen cabinets closing, and pots clanking. My Dad was never one for quiet mornings.

I'm still scrunched under the covers in my bed. The pot clanking noise dies down. I can steal a few more minutes of sleep right?

But then there's that familiar smell of olive oil, crumbled sausage and onion. The smell is the waking Siren for my nose. I know what the smell is, and I must wake up and get downstairs so I can lose my head in that glorious pot of perfume.

Dad is making sauce. It is Saturday. It is tradition.

The smell dissipates when he adds the tomatoes, and the sauce bubbles and talks to everyone while it simmers all day on the stove top. There is a loaf of bread on the counter, right next to the range. The family rips of pieces of bread and dunks the bread into the pot of sauce whenever the temptation is too great.

It is so good.

That night we will have spaghetti, or baked ziti, or perhaps chicken parmesan. I miss Saturday Morning Sauce, but I am so thankful for the memory.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Battuta is the soul of the Italian dish. Tomatoes? Cheese? They are important, but should be considered the legs on which the meal stands. Roughly translated, "battuta" means "base." Typically, battuta consists of lardo (LARD!), but bacon or pancetta can be substituted if the mere thought of lard makes your arteries congeal into a solid. Along with the fat, onion and garlic are added, making an aromatic Holy Trinity.

It is extremely important that the battuta be watched, and treated with loving care. Once the fat has been release from your, ugh, lard source (there's no sexy way to put that), add the onions until they are almost translucent. At this point, it is safe to add the garlic. Garlic should be added last, and you will understand why this is so important if you have ever experienced the unpleasant taste of burned garlic.

When the garlic has been fully incorporated, and you can really smell the aroma, you can add whatever other elements make up your dish. Crushed tomatoes can be added to make a lovely sauce, or this could be the base for a stew or braised dish.

The moral of this tale? Treat your battuta well, and you will be rewarded with a memorable meal!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sweet Frittura

A frittura in Italian cooking can really mean any sort of "fry up" of crispy delicacies. Mostly the term is known with calimari, a popular dish here in America, but I thought I would introduce you to a traditional Piemonte dessert called "Sweet Frittura."

What is Piemonte you ask? I'm sure you've heard of Romans, Venetians and Napoletan people. Well, the Piedmont region of Italy is in the northwest part of Italy, bordering France and Switzerland. Asti (Asti Spumante anyone?) is the biggest city in the region.

Man I would really dig a flute of spumante right now, but that's beside the point.

On to the recipe. This is from my Nonni (grandparents), and I got it from my mother. You know this kind of recipe. It is the hand written recipe that you have kept in a forgotten home made cookbook, barely kept on the page with an old piece of tape. You pull out the cookbook when you're looking for something different to do, and it's like visiting with an old friend.

But this friend is sweet and fried. That is the best kind of friend folks.

Now, this is not my picture, but is exactly what sweet frittura, or frittura dolce, should look like. The original picture was taken from this site.

Here's the recipe!

31/2 cup mixture of milk and water
1 cup cream of wheat
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
unseasoned breadcrumbs
olive oil and butter for frying

Bring liquids to almost boiling. Cook until extremely thick. Turn out onto foil covered, non-stick sprayed board and let cool. Spread out to 1/2" thickness and let it cool. After completely cook, cut into diamond or square shapes. Dip pieces in egg and unseasoned bread crumbs. Fry until golden in mixture of olive oil and butter.

Trust me, you will love this!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I am so pleased with the response I have gotten to opening January for classes! As of right now, only January 30 is open for four happy and hungry people, so first come first served.

Although this time of year you will be hard pressed to find really wonderful produce, thankfully there are some great brands for canned products. I absolutely adore Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes or Red Gold when it is not tomato season. They always give me excellent results, and it is so easy to keep your pantry stocked with them when you want to make a quick sauce.

Another canned item that is a staple in my pantry are artichoke hearts. They are so delicious ane make every dish special. I am considering making a fabulous recipe for an upcoming class, which involves braised chicken, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and red potatoes. The dish is made extra special by the addition of white wine, garlic and chicken stock as the braising liquid.

This is the very best kitchen perfume folks!

The charge per person per class is $35. Come hungry...I'm serious. There will be a lot of food and fun. If you want to host a class of you and three people, you would get in free, and your group would have the class all to themselves. So if you bring three, you get in free! Rhyming at its best!

February dates will be opening soon, so be on the lookout for upcoming dates!

Monday, December 7, 2009

December 5 class

What a hoot! The class consisted of three friends from here in Nashville: Jane, April and Bess. They had one request - that all of the menu items be vegetarian friendly. Now, they weren't 100% vegetarians, but with the meat fest that is usual for the holidays, they wanted some non-meat ideas for when the holidays were over, and regular eating would commence.

I was happy to oblige!

My appetizer was my favorite white bean dip with white vinegar spiked pita chips (recipe in a previous post), which was consumed whilst I prepared the minestrone. Minestrone is by far my favorite soup, and so versatile, since you can throw whatever veggies in that you might have on hand. My Nonno used to collect various veggies from other dinners and save them in a bowl. Then, at the end of the week, he would make his minestrone, and we would happily eat it, because it was the best soup ever!

The minestrone was accompanied by a thick slice of bread. The bread came from an obliging Panera in my neighborhood, and was placed under the broiler for a quick toasting, and then rubbed with a clove of garlic.

Because garlic just makes everything better folks.

Whilst the soup was simmering and doing its thing, I prepared the mozzarella in carrozza, which are Italian grilled cheeze sandwiches. Except they are fried and not grilled...oh and we of course use mozzarella and not cheddar.

No one cared about these technicalities. They were inhaled!

Dessert was simple and scrumptuous. Strawberries generously slathered with marscapone. Everyone left with full bellies and happy memories. Vegetarian challenge complete!

And now on to my next class. Since it is winter my thoughts again turn to comfort food. I'm thinking polenta with some sort of braised meat, or perhaps a combination of meat piled on top of the soft, cheezy polenta. I have some time to ponder....

Anyhoo if you are interested in taking a class in January shoot me an e-mail! Mangia molto e bene!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cucina di Tina

Oh hi hello! You are probably wondering where I have been. Well, I've been busy cooking and lamentably have been neglecting my blog. But oh boy has there been fun. Starting in the fall, I began offering cooking classes, usually every other week or so on a Saturday.

It has been so awesome. I have met wonderful people and there has been much laughter and of course lots of food to be eaten. Since it has been such a big hit, I have decided to open up my market a bit more.

I will be posting a link to this on craigslist, and marketing it to some groups I belong to. As I said, the classes are on Saturdays, and in particular I in January I am offering January 9, 16 and 23. The cost per person is $35 and the class size is limited to four fun people. The class always starts with the preparation (followed by consumption of course) of an appetizer. Then we go on to the main and side dishes. The menu depends on what is seasonal and fresh at the time, but the recipes are simple, delicious, and easy to replicate in your family home. We start the class at 10:00, and conclude at 12:00 with a lovely lunch.

Let me know if you have any questions. Buon appetito!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Apple Treasure Cookies

This is my favorite christmas cookie recipe. Hope you enjoy it!

I am happy to say that I am now well acquainted with my old friend, the Apple Treasure Cookie. For many years, me and my family would travel upstate to Pomona, New York, and go apple picking. On the way back, we stopped at a country store and picked up pies, and a bag of apple treasure cookies. I have missed those cookies, and recently I found a recipe online that sounded close to what I wanted to create, I just had to tweek it here and there. I substitued shortening for the butter, because the cookie needed to have a cake-like texture, and butter would make more of a crispy cookie. And, instead of buying many jars of spices, only to languish in my cupboard forever, I bought a tin of pumpkin pie spice, and it worked perfectly.
The ingredients.
Raw cookies.

Baked cookies.
Cookie about to go in my belly.
Now, the cookies don't look sexy, but trust me, they are gooooood, and your house will smell awesome, and they freeze beautifully, so make a bunch and freeze them. Here's the recipe:
Apple Treasure Cookies
1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
3 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
6 ounces chocolate chips 1 cup diced apple
1 cup unsalted peanuts, halved
Cream shortening, sugar, molasses and eggs. Mix in dry ingredients. Drop spoonfulls on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 12-15 minutes (or longer depending on how big your spoonfulls are).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Torta di Riso y Spinaci

Just like in other countries, Italy has dishes specifically for certain occasions. For Easter, my family has always made torta di riso. Of course when I was growing up we did not call it torta di riso y spinaci. It was known as "toota," and I hated it. Back then I did not dig spinach, but everyone else chowed down on the cold squares of rice, cheese and spinach.

Of course this is certainly not the time of year for Peter Cottontail hopping down the bunny trail, or Easter egg hunts or getting jacked on all the sugar from jellybeans. But I was craving this dish, so there you go.

With age I now can appreciate spinach, therefore I had to make this recipe...oh yes I did. Now I must tell you that you can eat it hot, warm, or cold. I prefer cold. It is just so refreshing since so many savory rice dishes are served hot.

Yummay goodness straight from the oven.

Woo the corner piece is for me!!! And here's the recipe:

Rice and Spinach Cake
1 box frozen spinach
1 cup Arborio rice
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 eggs
4 tablespoons grated parmesan, or as much as you like
salt and petter
a good pinch of nutmeg

Defrost frozen spinach and squeeze out as much water as possible. Boil the rice in salted water until al dente. Drain rice and combine with the spinach. Fry the onion until golden and add it to the rice/spinach bowl. Add the butter, eggs and cheese, pepper and nutmeg. Mix well and press into a buttered nonstick mold or cake tin.

Bake in a 400 degrees oven for about 25 minutes, or until golden. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

White bean dip

You are probably beginning to see a trend in these recipes.

1. I dig beans, and

2. I dig beans.

What can I say, they are such a good source of good things for your body, how can I hate on them. Let's celebrate the bean!

So here's a delicious white bean dip that I made. I served it with fresh out of the oven tortilla wedges, that were zipped up with olive oil and white wine vinegar. So so good. I want some right now dammit.

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil, plus 4 tablespoons
1/4 cup (loosely packed) fresh Italian parsley leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano

For the tortillas

4 tortillas cut in to pie wedges

Two glugs of olive oil

One glug of white wine vinegar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place the beans, garlic, lemon juice, 1/3 cup olive oil, and parsley in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is coarsely chopped. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Transfer the bean puree to a small bowl.
Dip each tortilla wedge in the olive oil/vinegar mixture. Arrange the tortilla wedges on a large baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, or until toasted and golden in color.
Serve the tortilla wedges warm or at room temperature alongside the bean puree. Be nice and let your friends dip their tortilla wedges in the dip. Do not use tortillas as a dip approaching hand-stabbing device. You can make more dip.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Black Bean Orzo Pasta Salad

With the weather being warm, I'm all about lovely pasta salads, and I love anything that includes beans, because:

1. They are yummy.
2. They are cheap.
3. They are good for you.

I saw the orzo in my grocery store, and it just called out to me. I had to have it, in pasta salad form. I found an easy recipe, and after tweeking here it is:

Isn't she pretty? Now I know the picture isn't so great. I tried .... really. I used a 100 mm lens, but I didn't hold the camera quite still enough. Time to break out the tripod for future pics I guess.

The following recipe is from my favorite, I should tell you that I did not use the bottled italian dressing the recipe calls for, because I didn't have any, and I love making my own vinaigrettes. So there. My recipe is two glugs of a flavorful olive oil to one glug of whatever vinegar you want to use. In this case, I used an aged white wine vinegar, and it was rad.

Also I did not garnish with tomatoes as the below recipe says. Because the tomatoes available for purchase in the market looked like crap. I used a can of well drained tomatoes and incorporated them well into the pasta.

Here's the orignal recipe:


8 oz. Orzo or other sm. pasta shape
2 sprigs fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 c. prepared Italian salad dressing
1 c. (15 oz. can) cooked black beans, drained
1 c. cooked corn, drained
Tomato wedges, parsley sprigs (optional garnish)

Prepare pasta according to package directions, drain. In a large serving bowl, combine parsley, pepper, cumin and Italian dressing. Drain pasta and add to dressing along with beans and corn. Mix gently. Cover and refrigerate overnight for maximum flavor. At serving time, garnish with tomato wedges and additional parsley. Serves 4 to 6.

Oh! And another thing you should consider. Orzo is a small pasta. Apparently too small for the colanders I have in my kitchen. I improvised, and carefully drained the pasta on my steamer basket. It worked pretty well in a pinch. I'm not perfect yo.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Super Easy Buttermilk Bread

I generally don't bake bread unless the recipe is dead simple. This recipe was, and since I had leftover buttermilk that I really wanted to use, this was an obvious choice. I pretty much followed the recipe below, but instead of using the shortening, I substituted Smart Balance 50/50, because um yeah I didn't have any shortening at home.

Oh! And I also brushed buttermilk on the bread before baking. I would recommend doing that!

The recipe is courtesy of

3 c. sifted white flour
1 cake fresh or 1 pkg. dry yeast (dissolved in 1/4 c. of tepid water or buttermilk)
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. sugar
4 tbsp. shortening
1 c. buttermilk (approx.)
1/4 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder

Sift flour into roomy bowl. Add salt, sugar, soda and baking powder to the flour and mix thoroughly. Add shortening to the flour and mix until the flour is like meal; add dissolved yeast and buttermilk. Mix thoroughly. Knead the dough until it is not sticky. (The flour and milk will always vary a little.) Transfer the dough to a clean bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and allow it to rise away from a draft until it has doubled in bulk. Punch down. Roll out as you would in making biscuits. Roll up like a jelly roll, tuck the ends under.

Place in a greased loaf pan. Allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in bulk. Put in an oven preheated to 425 degrees for 15 minutes, turn thermostat to 350 degrees and bake the bread 30 minutes longer.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Cowboy Caviar

Oh hi hello y'all! Here's a recipe that I made for to bring to a party. Each couple was supposed to bring a dish to share. Since the party was a good thirty minutes away from my house, I really did not want to prepare a hot dish, that would be eaten lukewarm at the party. So, I decided to make a cold recipe.


You may be asking yourself.....what is this crazy lady talking about? Is there really caviar in there? No friends. I do not know who came up with the name, but it is a wonderful hearty dish. Here is a picture of the dish before it was devoured:

Isn't it lovely? Here is the recipe, courtesy of Recipezaar:

1 (11 ounce) can white shoepeg corn, drained
1 (15 ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained
2-3 roma tomatoes
2/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1-2 avocados
1/3 cup green onion, chopped
Dressing 1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon garlic (minced, chopped, whatever)
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup garlic red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon cumin


1. Mix all dressing ingredients together and set aside.
2. Mix all veggies together in a large bowl.
3. Add dressing and mix together well.

Since roma tomatoes are absolutely pitiful right now, I used canned diced tomatoes that I drained well, and they were delicious. I also used regular red wine vinegar, and added a can of black beans. I let the beans, corn and tomatoes soak in the dressing overnight before I added the other ingredients. It was served with Tostitos scoops, and everyone loved it! This could also be used as a side dish or as a salsa for fish or chicken. Try it!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Oh hi there!

Greetings and welcome to Tina in the Cucina. This site will feature my favorite recipes, products that I love, and wonderful places to eat here in Nashvegas.

Since we're just meeting, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Tina. I have lived in Nashville for 17 years, transplanted from Long Island, New York. I am American, but my family hails from Italy, and that shows up a lot in my cooking influences. My family is a long line of wonderful cooks, and I like to think that I can throw down in the kitchen too. I hope you enjoy what I share, and hope that you will join in the fun!

This is me....more to come.