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).