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17 Dec 2009

Let’s cover it up, it is cold outside.

Another month, another challenge; for the month of December the Daring Cooks challenge was host by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking who chose the Salmon en Croute from Good Food Online.
Even if a bit in delay, I managed to join the caravan also this time. Tonight’s dinner was easily set, does not matter if I ended up eating at 10pm; fish is easy on your stomach.
The recipe was quite simple actually and the result very tasty! Here you are the instruction to follow if you want to reproduce this tasty parcel for your family, why not for Christmas lunch.

Salmon en croute:

14 Dec 2009

MacTweet #1: The return of the sad shells

As some of you might know already, more or less one month ago Jamie and Deeba, decided to draw us in a periodical macarons challenge; the point being to overcome our fear of these little delights.For this reason they have created a proper reception point for all macarons fans: MacTweets blog.
I have already reported about my first attempt at baking macarons for a past Daring Baker challenge; this is my second try at them the results being not much different actually.
This time I decided to follow a recipe published in Pierre Herme’s book “Macarons” this just because I have tried his macarons when I was in Paris last month and I have more or less an idea of what I “should” look for on them.

8 Dec 2009

Food Bloggers Connect 09: Huggs and kisses in red, blue and piggy slippers

After few days spent digesting and reminiscing the events of last week, now it is time for me to finalize and consolidate memories that will be cherished forever.

It was more or less 2 weeks ago when I started my trip to London for the first ever European based Food Bloggers Connect conference.
When I stepped out of my bed, the day was clear, dark as a chocolate ganache but getting brighter as time went by prepping my suitcase and gathering the last pieces of equipment; making myself ready for the first train. As it is typical for these latitudes (and my luck) on the way to the station it started drizzling. What do you know, in 5 minutes the light drizzle became a huge storm! I have never experienced such a strong wind; I am not a lightweight but it felt definitely hard to walk straight (I even slipped on the sidewalk and had my light beige trousers bare the marks of the accident for the whole weekend). But I was determined; all the weather difficulties of this world couldn’t stop me from reaching my friends in London I had to swim through the Channel!

27 Nov 2009

Daring Fryer at work!

A month is already passed by since the last Daring Baking (remember the sad macarons? ) and it is again time for a new challenge.
This time Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives spared us from using our ovens announcing the challenge with “Sorry all, we’re not baking this month…” at which point the eyebrows of many of us shot up (while others probably exhaled a sigh of relief). No worries, we will not have a month without challenge! The point was that this time we had to prepare a fried dessert: cannoli.
I was again very excited while reading the announcement.
A very crispy, at the limit of toughness, cylindrical shell filled with a sweet ricotta cream spiced with cinnamon and sometimes complemented with some bittersweet chocolate bits. The sides, cut on a bias, are decorated with toasted nuts (either almonds or pistachios) or, in some cities, with candied fruits (usually a cherry and a sliver of orange peel).

26 Nov 2009

Prices & Awards

It was almost 2 weeks ago when, come back from my coffee hopping afternoon dedicated to menu developing, I found this tweet from my friend Jamie (lifesafeast): “@mowielicious @RecipeTaster @sippitysup @glamah @DailySpud @MeetaWFLH Hop over to my blog to collect your awards!”.
On doing as directed, I found this.
She has been awarded with the “Over the Top Award” ribbon by Connie at W Va Fur and Root and Simone of Junglefrog Cooking and she decided to pass it down to some friends:
• Mowie of Mowielicious
• Meeta of What’s For Lunch Honey?
• Her Royal Spudness of The Daily Spud
• Greg of Sippity Sup
• Courtney aka Glamah of Coco Cooks
• and me
I was pretty excited at the news, it is the first award my blog receives and coming from a competent friend like Jamie feels like receiving a gold medal with the national anthem playing in the background!

25 Nov 2009

Paris 09 - a weekend of passion: Day 1

It is time for me and Paris to meet up again. Does it ever get bored of me? I do not think so, each time the welcome is very warm (this time also temperature wise); chattering people, laughter, shopping bags, shops, bistros, metro rides with its aquarium experience of human variety, are always there to welcome anybody.
This time I visited the city with two good friends (a shopaholic and a witty one, the latter joined us on the second day); goes by itself that it was great fun!
The trip started on a dark Thursday morning; the first train was at 7am when the city is still under the blanket of the starry sky, starting to move from its nocturnal bed. We reached Cologne on time and hopped onto the Thalys on our respective carriages. The voyage prospected to be fairly good and relaxing: no many crying babies on sight. As usual, I popped out of my bag the book I wanted to pretend reading along the cruise (this time it was “Du Fait de Cuisine – Traite de Gastronomie Médiévale de Maitre Chiquart”) and got comfy in my seat while the guy sitting beside me was trying to connect to the WiFi network.

14 Nov 2009

Daring Sushi

This is my first attempt at tackling another of the monthly daring challenges; this time we talk about Daring Cooks and Sushi!As with the Daring Bakers, the Daring Cooks virtually meet once a month to share their results on a chosen dish to realize following a specific recipe. This month it was the turn of sushi.
It was not the first time for me, since I already had a go at it when I was in Florence 5-6 years ago. As with Macarons, this recipe is a lot about skills and technique.
It is always said, at good reason, that the heart of a good piece of sushi is the rice. The short grained Japanese rice has to be slightly sticky so to keep its shape but loose enough to crumble once in your mouth. The rice itself doesn’t leak much starch when cooked, even because it is carefully rinsed beforehand; so to supplement it with taste and stickiness, a syrup made with water, rice vinegar, sugar and salt, is added to the rice during the cooling process. The rice keeps its loose identity, each grain recognizable and not smashed into a pulp but still quite sticky to give you trouble in laying it out on the sheet of nori seaweed (to avoid this you keep on wetting your hands when you handle the rice).

12 Nov 2009

TweetPost #3: Cuban Picadillo

Few nights ago I was browsing the website of my friend Bren Herrera when I stumbled upon a video tutorial on how to prepare a staple Cuban dish: Picadillo.

Watching it I found that the combination of ingredient can easily be mistaken for a Sicilian dish; I was particularly struck by the use of green olives and raisins (that we use also in Sicily for a recipe calling for salted cod). So tonight I decided to give it a try and here you are the first draft of its recipe.

Cuban Picadillo

11 Nov 2009

Prague: the third day.

On the third day finally it was Jewish quarter time. Got up as usual around 9am we had our Lucullan breakfast (note the sarcastic tone) and then decided to hit the road. To reach the traditional Jewish quarter in Prague you most probably have to pass through its main square, this means that again today we ended up doing the same way downtown as the previous days and had again the opportunity to assist at the automaton show at the astronomical clock. Well, no way… There were far more interesting things to do eheh.
This time we turned into the right way and started looking around. This street was also the fancy shopping street of the city with all the glamorous brands of haute-couture and jewelry creations. In face of us, on the other side of the river and on the top of a hill, was standing a huge red metronome ticking the time (this image was quite fixed into my mind since my first trip here in my young and effortless high-school years).

10 Nov 2009

Cupcakes galore – Episode 1


The time has finally come to try my way at cupcakes.
It was Wednesday when, just arrived at my afternoon coffee place, a very excited friend sat beside me and starts telling me of this new store in town that sells only cupcakes and for which people go simply nuts! In effect cupcakes are quite a novelty here in Europe, I guess that after doughnuts it was time for them to come in (conversely, watch out over-sea cousins, macarons will soon colonize even your country!) Talk talk, talk talk, taste here and taste there pondering the possibility of trying my hand at them. No big difficulties in effect, I have been experimenting with muffins since few weeks and really like the texture I got from a recipe I found in Shirley Corriher’s “Bakewise” book.

27 Oct 2009

French Kiss: Keep on trying babe! (next time using a mint)

First trial, first failure…No, naturally not at kissing! I’m a master in that, but in making French macarons.
Those little creatures can be really evil! A nice crunchy embossed shell protecting a soft and moist heart of meringue; have two of them and a buttery/chocolaty spread at hand and you are in even. Just like a kiss, you cannot stop at just one. Why showing me the pleasure of sinning if afterwards I have to sin only once, no way! Give me the whole box and look the other way.
These delicate and flavourful flying-saucer like biscuits are a big fashion hit lately. Why? Well, does anybody figure out the reason for fashion craves? My idea is that since they are small and cute everybody fall for them (yes, you are right they are like a kitten but if you find a hair on it oh well… report it to the animal protection).

23 Oct 2009

The pistachios post

We in Sicily are quite blessed by the production of yummy almonds and pistachios. The city of Agrigento has a festival for the blossoming of the almonds tree that grow in its countryside and in the Noto http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noto valley. Pistachios are instead grown on the sides of the Etna volcano in the city of Bronte. We use both nuts quite a lot both in savory and sweet recipes but while almonds are more assertive, pistachios are quite subtle in taste (and more expensive too).
Almonds are omnipresent in my pesto sauces but I have not worked extensively with pistachios before; I have then decided that it was due time to face the nut.
In this post, you will find a series of experiments I made with them, mostly savory with a great classic as sweet. Let me know what you think of them.

Double potato salad with green onions and pistachios

22 Oct 2009

Mac&Cheese aux trois oignons

Sometimes I am cheesy I know but who isn’t? I love cheeses wherever they are from whichever is their smell; the important thing is that they should not move by themselves on the plate. Often I make pasta with cheese (parmesan is almost in each and every of them, I just cannot get enough of umami I suppose). This time I went orange with some Old Amsterdam cheese http://www.hollandsbest.com/cheese/_popup/old_amsterdam.htm . It is such a nice cheese, firm in texture, orange in colour, fully flavoured like an aged Parmesan but creamy in texture without any discernible crystals.
To compliment its savoury nature I chose to use caramelized onions in the sauce. A sprinkle of lightly toasted black onion seeds (nigella seeds) added some crunch and an aromatic bitter note to the dish while fresh julienned spring onions bring a nice herbal spicy notes to keep the palate interested.
So here we go:
Mac & Cheese aux trois oignons.

17 Oct 2009

TweetPost #2: Baking Playlist

Here we are my friends, a new baking session a new playlist. When I bake or cook I usually like to plug my iPod into my ears and listen to some shuffled music. This evening I chose to listen from my favorites and here you are what the black&silver machine chose for me:
  1. Touch & Go: Straight to number one;
  2. 49ers: Move your feet;
  3. Mina: Ma che bontá;
  4. P.Lion: Happy Children;
  5. S-Express:Theme for S-Express;

15 Oct 2009

Prague: the second day

During this day we wanted to visit the Jewish quarter so, woken up as usual around 9am we had our nice breakfast and headed toward town. Wondering around in the small streets and galleries of the historic centre, we spotted various interesting souvenirs shops; the most interesting being those selling glass items ranging from modern sculptures up to replicas of medieval/antique glasses. When we reached the Old Town Square, it was almost 11am so we decided to wait and admire the automaton spectacle at the astronomical clock. Oh well, we had to see it once no? (it was actually the 2nd 3rd time for me).




12 Oct 2009

TweetPost #1: Chickpeas & Mussels; a couple made in Heaven!

So here we go with the fast post composed, posted and eaten without much fuss :P
The first one is about tonight's dinner. It was long time since I last had chickpeas with rice so today I decided to swig that way. This is what I came up with:
Chickpea Risotto with Tarragon and Mussel

8 Oct 2009

29 Sep 2009

Dark Tones of Flavors

Yesterday night I thought of pushing my sauce experimentations using some Zinfandel from California. During my last catered dinner, I came in touch with Shiitake mushrooms for the first time and I thought that their decisive taste could compliment well the red wine. So here we go:

Zinfandel-Shiitake cream sauce

Ingredients:
- 1cup Zinfandel wine;
- Few pieces of sliced cooked ham;
- 1 three fingers pinch of sugar;
- 6 dried Shiitake mushrooms;
- Ca 1tbsp heavy cream;
- Few drops of Worcestershire sauce;
- Salt and pepper.

Procedure:
To start with, soak the mushrooms in 1 cup of warm water, cover and let them aside. In the meantime, start reducing the wine with the ham and the sugar. When the wine would have reached 1/3 of a cup in volume, discard the ham from the saucepan, add the cream and let reduce slightly. By now the mushrooms should be ready, chop them in quarters. Add the mushrooms and the sifted soaking water to the saucepan and reduce back to roughly 1/3 cup of liquid; season with the Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper (and a splash of fresh wine).

19 Sep 2009

Fast and furious: Dining for a lazy mood.

Tonight it was one those nights. You know what I mean:
"Honey, what's for dinner?"
"Sweetie, do you the red or the green tin?"
That's it, laziness... I wasn't feeling like staying behind the fires for long so I opted for potato croquets but, since I am not so easy, I wanted to couple them with a dip. There we go again, interrogating my brain... Ok, tuna and parsley with some wine and spiciness. Dip done!
To summarise:  Potato croquets with parsley and tuna dip.

Parsley-Tuna-White wine Dip

17 Sep 2009

It’s ShowTime: Alexander’s birthday dinner.

Last Saturday, the 12th of September, I was asked to prepare the birthday dinner for a friend of mine, Alexander. The location was the same as the last times and only one of the guests was new to me. This time I felt the menu preparation a bit differently, probably for laziness I pushed it almost to the last minute. That did not feel right while cooking at all... Still having doubts about the interplay of the different dishes featured in the dinner can feel like a weight and impede you in the movements. Anyhow, I managed to deliver the dinner and the guests seemed pleased with the food, which is what counts.

As inspiration this time, I opted for going in Asia and be influenced by the Chinese culture. In my usual potpourri, I even added a Mexican and Italian touch to some dishes. Long story short, the menu read like this:
Spicy pineapple salsa over whole-grain crackers;


31 Aug 2009

TGRWT #18: Plum and blue cheese: Reconstructed Plum Tatin with Blue Cheese Butterscotch sauce and Lavender

The food blogging event “They Go Really Well Together” (TGRWT) was initiated by Martin of the Khymos.org blog in April 2007 to explore unusual flavour pairings suggested by the theory of the key odorants.
As we know, each food has a specific aroma and taste; this means that they release chemical compounds that either fly off to our nose (generating then their aroma) or they are detected directly by our taste buds (creating then their taste). These compounds are called odorant compounds and create all the fine nuances often found for instance, in wines or teas.
Successful food combinations have fascinated chefs since ever since no real scientific or objective reason has ever been found supporting this or that pairing. Lately a new theory has been proposed that hopes to shed some light onto this topic: if two foods share one or more key (major) odorants it might be that they go well together and perhaps even complement each other.
Every month, in order to test this theory a couple of ingredients are chosen, presented in a blog and given to the public to test via the use of new or already established recipes.
This month has been the turn of Aidan of “Aidan Brooks: Trainee Chef” blog to make the choice and this was: Plums and Blue Cheese.

This is my trial in exploiting this pairing in a dessert dish:
Reconstructed Plum Tatin with Blue Cheese Butterscotch sauce and Lavender.


Reconstructed Plum Tatin with Blue Cheese Butterscotch sauce and Lavender


27 Aug 2009

The weight of a foodie

Since one year or so, I have opened the door that conduct toward the world of the conscious foodie world. Up to now, it has been a great journey; many books have been my compass along the way still allowing me to peek at the far landscape of the gastronomy world. The way is still long (thank God, I must say) and I will dedicate myself to it. The bad sides of this path of knowledge is that it applies to so many occasions during the day that you can end up criticizing every single bit of thing you put into your mouth.

Dining with friends can become a nuisance for them; with every mouthful your face going perplexed and analytic and afterwards all the blabla and critics. I think that sometimes it can be useful so, personally, that is why I do it; Ok, often I just cannot control my mouth.

What do we critic mostly after all? Is it taste profiles or techniques? I believe that it is mostly technique since in matter of taste there are no real absolute reference points. For instance, when is something too salty or too sweet? I guess it is matter of who tastes the food, but this can be topic for another post.
The doneness of the meat, the temperature of the items on the dish, the cooking point of starches and sometimes garnishes; none of these are so subjective but just a matter of technique and care for the dish. This is what upset me mostly. An extra thought, a simple touch, can change the dish or just make it right.

It is quite hard to contain the disappointment in these situations. Therefore, I feel like I have to apologize to my friends for being so annoying sometimes.

How do you behave? What disappoints you mostly in a restaurant experience?

Dinner Experience: Restaurant Basilico, Bonn

Tonight was a special night. A very good friend of mine invited me and other four friends out for dinner. She chose the Basilico restaurant by the Hotel Dorint in Venusberg, Bonn.
The hotel is situated in a great region around Bonn. High on the hill of Venusberg, surrounded by woods (and hospitals) the Dorint hotel has a terrace with a great look over the city of Bonn and the Rhine river.
The outside of the building reminded me of a mountain chalet; quite a different feeling from the marble and alabaster covered lobby. The restaurant has gone a restyling lately and the new look is quite appealing with its basil green wall, dark wood furniture and big copper light fixture on the roof.

When we arrived, we were greeted by our maître at the reception and he escorted us to the best table on the terrace. We could look directly at the city without being disturbed by the gorgeous trees.
Once sat down, we started choosing our meal (I have to stress that I do not remember the exact name of the dishes, so what I will write as such is based on what I had on the plate).

21 Aug 2009

Working around Rice Noodles

Since when I decided to avoid wheat, I started experimenting with rice noodles.
What is great about them? They do not need to "cook" just soak in warm water and since they do not leek much starch, they do not clump together if soaked in a tight environment (see glue like pasta in this same condition) you can directly soak them in their sauce!

Recently the guys from the blog Ideas in Food (aka Chef Aki Kamozawa and Chef Alexander Talbot) have translated this soaking method also to wheat pasta.
Their point of view is that, when you cook pasta you are just re-hydrating it and swelling the starch granules. Now, the hydration part does not need heat so it is possible to soak dried wheat pasta in a cold solution (for some hours actually) before cooking its starches (once soaked the cooking will take a matter of few minutes).
From here, the great new versatility of the pasta medium.

Here there are a couple of my experiments (one has already been posted extensively):

- Rice noodles in clove scented oriental soup with chicken, fava beans and peas (read past post);

20 Aug 2009

Dining in Prague - 1st day (02/08/09)

We are in Prague! Well, I was more or less 2 weeks ago.
Arrived at the airport we looked and looked and looked and, guess what?, looked again for our name on a piece of paper hold by the guy of the shuttle service sent from our hotel but we couldn’t find any. Too bad, we took one of those taxi-vans that can fit up to 8 people and we even spent less than thought.
The ride was great! It was such a warm day, too warm probably. The land on which Prague was built is quite varied (it goes from 100/328 to 400/1312 m/ft above the sea level) and the airport is built on the highest plateau. The taxi brought us trough a bit of the countryside and near what seemed to be a lonely McDonald standing in a desert road. At a closer looks we noticed few people with beach-towels. Most probably behind the McDo there was a lake of which we could perceive part of the surrounding wall: a nice cut in the bare rock otherwise covered with luscious green vegetation.
Traveling downhill, we started seeing villas that once should have been almost in the countryside; the German architectonic heritage was evident in some of them.
All of a sudden, tourism buses appear to queue on the right side of the road; we later understood that that was the location of the famous Castle of Prague. Going still downhill through almost now desertic streets (did I mention already that it was a Sunday?), we reached the Vltava/Moldava river. We crossed it on one of its Art Nouveau bridges that brought us directly into the heart of the city: the Old Town Square (astronomical clock anyone? ). We got even a tour through the old city included with the taxi ticket, yuppie!!
Gosh, is Prague beautiful or what? Not always suited for car travels though, some streets have tiny steps along them for instance.

17 Aug 2009

Tonight’s Dinner: Clove scented Oriental soup with chicken and glass noodle

Welcome back! Tonight it has been my first self-cooked dinner since a couple of weeks; my family come over to visit me and, you know, mommy does it better! I managed to put together a nice lasagne for them and friends a couple of days ago though ;). Anyway, back on track for tonight’s dinner I decided to put together a soup oriental inspired. It has been quite some time since I ate glass noodle and today while shopping at my grocery store I got inspired by them. So, this is what I ended up doing:
Clove scented Oriental soup with chicken and glass noodle.

24 Jul 2009

It’s ShowTime!

The show went on yesterday night. Starting 4pm the ponytail was in place, the hat was on and the apron wrapped around me (do you get the tacos look?). Part of the shopping was delegated to a friend of mine (also guest for the dinner) that kindly performed it with success (only the mint was missing, no big deal compared to my forgiveness of the precision scale and small pots at home).
All started from the cookie dough: butter and brown sugar creamed together, egg in, then the roasted sesame seeds, oatmeal and flour. Once the sweet sausage was shaped, it was time to let it firm up in the fridge.
Time to prep the carrots! After peeling them (with a lefty-peeler) they were cut in a bias in chunks and braised in some butter and brown sugar.
By then it was the good time to move to the canapés and appetizers (did I tell you already that I was preparing a 4 courses dinner? actually 5...). The kalamata olives caviare was the next one on the list. Oh man, isn’t pitting a boring job?? But you get so much more taste! So pitted kalamata and fresh thyme leaves ended their journey under the blade on my sharp knife RIP.
The cookies were then ready to be shaped and baked.
To continue with the appetizer, the next ones on the list were the chocolate-cilantro rolls. So cut the big sheet of the bric dough, brush them with butter and fill them up with fresh cilantro, chocolate, red chillies and mascarpone. Roll them up brushing them with a bit more butter and voilà!
Second on the line of the appetizers were the salmon pouches. This time I needed rice paper. After having moistened it a bit (it comes in brittle hard round sheets) they were filled with diced salmon fillets, some red currants berries, mascarpone cheese and a pinch of Melange Noir from Ingo Holland. All is ready for the oven!
Once all the guests were arrived, I served the cocktails canapé: Sesame-Oatmeal Cookie with Kalamata Caviare and Strawberry.
 
Time to start putting together the main course.

11 Jul 2009

Poached Salmon salad

Unlike most of my recipes posted so far, this is quite light and refreshing. Perfect for a summer evening!

Ingredients (enough for 2 servings):

• Ca 20 parsley branches;
• 1/2 red onions, sliced;
• 1 l of water;
• 1 lime, juiced;
• Few black peppercorns;
• 1 shallot, sliced;
• Half of a small leek, chopped;
• 250 g salmon fillet;
• 1 big eggplant, sliced and grilled;
• 1 tbsp of capers;
• Olive oil;
• Salt and Pepper.

Procedure:

Wash the red onions, place them in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Set them aside. Wash the parsley and pick the leaves from the stems. Poor the water in a pan wide enough to contain the salmon fillet but not too much, so it will be well covered by the water. Add to the pan the parsley stems, the shallot, the leek and half of the lime. Bring this broth to a boil. Lower the flame and when it will reach a bare simmer throw in the peppercorns and the salmon.
Poach the fish for roughly 5 min or till when it will be properly cooked (when pressed on the sides using your thumb and second finger it should result slightly springy). Fish it out and set aside to cool down.

Wash off the capers the brine or the vinegar and place them in the salad bowl with the parsley leaves roughly chopped and the shredded grilled eggplant.
Rinse the onions and squeeze them well before adding them to the salad.
Coarsely crumble the salmon with your fingers and add it to the salad bowl
Dress the salad with the lime juice and a splash of olive oil and enjoy!

As a variation you can try adding to the salad some cottage cheese.

9 Jun 2009

What's for dinner? Same old, same old??

Have you always been looking for a good source to improve your Culinary Art know-how? Then stop your search! Chef Jacob is developing just what we need:
The Free Culinary School Podcast .

In his periodical podcast episodes, Chef Jacob Burton shares with us his knowledge about culinary arts. In his clear, concise, friendly and honest style he gives us a way to feel more secure of ourselves when concocting our creations and brings our cooking style to the next level. Added to this, the bits of food science he throws in are like gilding the lily.
From Knives Skills (Ep1) to Stocks (Ep2), from how to treat the main staple grains (Ep4) to the main techniques for cooking proteins (Ep5, Ep6, Ep7) he brings us through the basic part of the course that will allow us to level our knowledge preparing ourselves for the more advanced part of the course.
Particularly worthy are the episodes on the five mother sauces (Hollandaise, Velouté, Béchamel, Tomate and Espagnole ) where he explains us the how and whys of these foundations of classical French cuisine, indispensable to every cook repertoire.

The advanced part of the course opens with a four episodes on Garde Manger or Cold Cuisine where we learn how to deal with salad greens and vinaigrettes, the basic of the classical salads and of creamy dressings and the main constituents of composed salads and canapés. Every now and then we can even find him in his kitchen explaining us how to plate with sauces and set up salads.

Moreover the interaction among the members of the community is quite intense and valuable. The forum connected to the website is quite active and Chef Jacob himself answers the questions and problems of the different members (each podcast has also a questions segment).

So what are you waiting for?? Wear your apron, the lesson is starting!

28 May 2009

Starting Training....

A very good friend of mine gifted me a book on Cake Decorating Techniques (you will find it on my list on the left). Unlikely all my other culinary training books, this is not so easy to read tout court since it is very nicely arranged in lessons. Actually I really like this feature, feels like being in classroom. I felt compelled to start practising.
Sunday I woke up quite early (by chance actually) so I made a batch of Swiss Meringue Buttercream Icing and today finally I start piping!
This is what I got….








Not exciting but I cannot complain ;) For being the first time some of my shells had a nice volume. Not so satisfied of the rosettes, too much like a whirlpool than a flower. The star flowers even had an empty centre! Didn’t have much icing left on my paper cones to experiment on reverse shells, just one try….
What do you think?

There is always a first time…

It was few days ago when I had the pleasure to try what I would like to be my future job; but let’s start from the beginning.
Some time ago a friend of mine told me about the birthday of a friend of his, nothing peculiar so far; the nice part came when he told me that he was thinking of gifting him a dinner. Nice idea, no? You get to sit with your friends, drink good wine, chitchat, listen to good music and eat a meal especially prepared for you. The bottom line is that he wanted me to prepare that meal.
Pointless to say that I was very happy of this opportunity; my first dinner as a cook! I, in the kitchen cooking, plating and so on; them enjoying the results in the living room.
It was a very nice experience indeed. The kitchen was quite well equipped in tools and space but a cook’s knives are irreplaceable, don’t you think so too? Thankfully I already learned to travel with some of my equipments whenever I have to cook at a friend’s place.
It took me a couple of days to figure out the menu to prepare. I opted for a combination of traditional, regional and seasonal elements.
It’s asparagus time and Germany is quite a good producer of them (especially the white ones but I prefer the green). Strawberries are another hit of the season. The specimens coming from Bornheim are a nice orange read, roundish and of a wonderful smell; so aromatic, they are amazingly good!

7 Apr 2009

And the winner is…..

It’s already 1 week since when I got that email.
The story begins though some months ago, in September. After reading my first book written by Herve This “Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor”, I decided to look for more information about his academic activities and the possibilities to follow some of his lectures.
Through his web-page at the INRA I found information about his monthly seminar at the Ecole Supérieure de Cuisine Francaise. At that time, I had enough money to allow me a trip to Paris to follow the course of September.
Along with testing the effect of freezing on the growth of baked layer pastry (btw not many differences between the frozen and the fresh specimen were observed), madame Renaudin announced the 4th edition of the Rencontres Science Art et Cuisine. I decided to participate. My first gastronomical competition!
The theme of this year was: Modernize our Tradition, with a second module on innovation centred on the use of the Methylcellulose.
It took a couple of months to finally sketch the projects that I wanted to develop as submissions. Naturally I wanted to focus on my Italian origins but more precisely I wanted to research a bit of Sicilian cooking traditions.
I decided to submit two savoury dishes:

Rosemary Tiramisu with Pink Pepper and Caraway-Chocolate Rose Window shards

Rosemary Tiramisu


Meat and Ricotta Cassata cake with Almonds glaze, Candied Orange peels and Eggplant Cracklings.

Meat & Ricotta Cassata Gateau


Indian Kebab with Roasted Hazelnuts and Dried Apricots

The past week-end I was invited for a friendly dinner at friends place. Since they just came back from a trip to India, the theme of the night were: Indian Kebabs. I made a batch of meat mixture to bring along, here there is the recipe.

Ingredients:
(make roughly 30 kebabs)

• 125g chickpeas flour
• 2 eggs
• 1 tsp salt
• 500g mixed minced meat
• 4 black cardamom
• 1 handful of green cardamom (ca 15 pods)
• 4 cloves
• 1 tsp caraway
• 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
• Ca 20 hazelnuts, roasted
• 5 dried apricots
• 1 carrot, grated
• 2 shallots, finely chopped
• 1 tsp red chilli flakes
• 50cl brandy
• 2 pinches of freshly grated black pepper

How to:
Using a spice grinder or a mortar, grind the spices together: the seeds from the cardamoms, the cloves, the caraway seeds and the cumin. Crush the hazelnuts in small pieces but not to flour.
In a bowl put all the ingredients together and mix well to combine. Let the mixture rest in the refrigerator for 1h.
When ready to grill your kebabs, oil a bit your hands and form elongated patties with the meat mixture. Grill till ready and the outside is nice and browned.

2 Mar 2009

Oh boy! Whatta week-end….

Everything started on Friday…
After a nice day spent studying my new cookbook it was time to drive, with some friends, to the location of Classical Indian music concert.
The way wasn’t as long as expected but it brought us in the middle of the German countryside through dark streets and sparse houses (thankfully we had a GPS system :P).
The location was the workshop of an artist friend of us.
The old farmhouse from the end of the 19th century newly restored was concealed in the dim light of few lamp posts and the main door lighting. The house, on three levels, was bright, fresh and welcoming; the many paintings of our friend were covering the walls with coloured figures barely sketched, as just come out of a dream. After a small chitchat we headed toward the 3rd floor and workshop.
Waiting us were the musicians. As just looking at a TV-screen, the beautiful lady was sit in a yoga position, covered by a dark green sari and holding a nicely carved Sitar; beside her was the Tablas player in a light brown robe.
The concert went on for almost two hours with a few breaks. It seemed like 5 minutes.
The music was totally hypnotic; I could barely hold the camera and take a few pictures. My heart pounding at slow motion and me scratching my shoulder even slower :P.
Colourful paintings were all around us, inspiring the musicians and lifting up our moods.
By 23h we were home and I was hungry and what do you do when you reach home, you are late, hungry with close to nothing in your fridge? Pasta!

Third fastest Italian Pasta

Ingredients (makes 2 servings):
• 150g Pasta
• Olive oil
• 3-4 cloves of garlic
• 1/2 anchovy fillet
• 1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
• 3 black olives
• Grated Parmesan Cheese

Procedure:
While the water for the pasta is on the fire, skin and slice the garlic cloves. Put a fare amount of olive oil (it will be the body of the sauce) on a small saucepan, add the garlic, the chilli flakes and the anchovy fillet and let warm over medium heat. Be careful not to burn the garlic, it shouldn’t take much colour while cooking.
After 2 minutes that the garlic is sizzling add 2tbsp of water to the pan and sprinkle lightly with a pinch of flour. Shake the pan to combine well. Slice and pit (if it’s the case) the olives and add them to the pan.
Now it should be time to cook the pasta, don’t forget to put salt in the water. Let the sauce reduce while the pasta is cooking.
When the pasta is ready, drain it well, transfer it into a bowl and toss with the sauce. Serve it sprinkled with some parmesan and enjoy.


All this was before I checked my business email.
Let’s say that I had finally to write down what was going on into my mind since a few months. Hard stuff.
Saturday went still under the weight of those few words; I even turned down a few friends invitations for the evening. I wasn’t really social material that night.
Let just say that I ended up making myself cinnamon pancakes that night.

Sunday has been a bit better. After having massaged my chicken with the orange marinade, I left for a walk with some friends.
It was a nice relieving afternoon completed by a hefty dinner:
Roasted Chicken in Orange-Garlic marinade.

Ingredients (makes from 2 to 4 servings):
• 1 whole chicken of roughly 1kg
• 4 garlic cloves
• 2 oranges (possibly red)
• 1/2 lemon
• 1 tbsp dried rosemary
• 1/2 tbsp dried sage
• 2 tsp horseradish
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• Splash of red wine
• 1 pinch of flour
• Salt
• Pepper

Procedure:

Cut the backbone out of the chicken using a carving scissor or a serrated knife and wash the bird thoroughly.
To prepare the marinade, skin and slice the garlic. In a bowl combine it with the herbs and the juice of one of the oranges and the lemon. Add the horseradish, 1 tsp of salt and the olive oil. Mix the marinade well to combine.
Flatten down the chicken and make four incisions to it, two at the conjunctions of the thighs with the body and the other two at the conjunctions of the wings with it; this will help speed up the cooking process (technique courtesy of Jacques Pépin). Rub well the marinade over the chicken and let it infuse in your fridge for a couple of hours before cooking (you might want to do it directly in the baking tin).
When ready to bake the chicken, heat the oven to 220 deg C; spread the chicken on a baking tin, if it’s not there yet and when the oven will be at the desired temperature, bake for 35-40 minutes.
To make the gravy, transfer the chicken on a dish and keep it warm into the oven covered with a lid. You should have around 2tbsp of fat in the tin, if there is too much of it just spoon it out. Put the tin directly over medium fire and deglaze it with the red wine. Scrape well the bottom of the tin and let reduce for a few minutes before adding the juice of the other orange. Sprinkle a pinch of flour over the tin and let the gravy reduce over the fire till you obtain the desired consistency. Taste it and regulate of salt and pepper and pass through a sieve pressing well.
Enjoy the chicken with its life partner: mashed potatoes! :D

24 Feb 2009

Tonight’s Dinner – Penne rigate with creamy-spicy Tuna sauce

Here we are, at the end of another day; the last day of Carnival somewhere but here, the day of sleepiness. :p Carnival finished yesterday night and today the mood in the city was very relaxed, quiet, melancholic… Well… I am not such a big fun of the Carnival as it is declined here in Bonn; but it is nice to see people having fun (as long as you don’t have to pick up all the barrels of beers emptied every day).
What did I have for dinner tonight? Yesterday, before falling to sleep, I realized that it was quite long time I did not cook Italian “cotolette” (breaded and fried slices of beef) but, naturally, I forgot about them again this evening only for being reminded by my mother (they were also having cotolette for dinner, what a coincidence!); I was already planning of cooking myself some pasta in tuna sauce. This time I wanted to try some creamy tuna sauce. So here you are the results (sorry, no picture today… just forgot about it :P)

What do you need?

21 Feb 2009

Tonight's Dinner – Penne rigate with Pork Belly in Spicy Tomato sauce

Here we go! Just finished dinner :) Tonight I had a quintessential Sicilian pasta!

How to proceed if you wish to try this at home? Nothing more simple.
Have a nice piece of pork belly in your fridge (my piece had bones and weighted roughly 300g), cut it in thick slices (removing first the bones if there are any, but do not throw them away!!). Take away the skin from the meat and put it with the bones in a hot pan to roast for a while.
While skin and bones are browning, cut the meat in chunks and add them to the pan. Sear well the meat and add some olive oil. Add then 1/2 teaspoon of red chilli flakes (depends how spicy you want your sauce) and stir. Skin and chop a few garlic cloves (more or less 1 per person) and add to the meat. Be careful not to burn the garlic, the oil in pan is fairly hot, so stir the mixture carefully.
After a few minutes add some tomato purée (250ml for 2 people) and the same amount of water. Lower the heat, cover and let reduce. In the meantime boil some salted water for the pasta (I always taste my water to judge how much salt I need). When ready, cook the penne.

20 Feb 2009

Tonight's Dinner – Duck Panzerotti with Juniper Hazelnut-Butter and Bitter Almonds

Yesterday, a very good friend of mine gave me a few fresh Panzerotti pasta filled with duck. What’s best for tonight’s dinner! I had to cook them.
I decided to use Bitter Almonds and Hazelnut-Butter, I had only to figure out how these things were going to work together.
Time to start cooking! :D
Once put the salted water for the pasta to boil, I started browning a nice chunk of butter over low heat.
In a small saucepan, the butter started melting, the milk solid create an opaque white mass that floats inside the clear yellow liquor. Foam starts forming, the smell becomes warmer and more complex and slowly the whole turns a nice hazelnut color. When the temperature reaches 145deg C the hazelnut butter is ready!

18 Feb 2009

Trip to Paris (Jan09)

It's been already almost a month since I've returned from my last trip to Paris (I guess you are going to hear me talking quite often about this wonderful city, I simply adore it!!); this time the trip was for professional reasons.
A friend of mine and I went for the Molecular Gastronomy course held by Prof. Hervè This at the AgroParisTech but here I will concentrate on the fun side of the trip: the meals!!!.

1st day – Friday
After a nice long walk of roughly 4 hours, we were ready to taste some good Parisian food.
While walking through the Quartier Latin admiring the showcases of the antiques shops, we remembered having spotted a very nice Vietnamese restaurant in the same neighbourhood during our last trip (the Parisian White Night of 2008; a great night!). It took us a while to find it again but once there, we realized how impossible it was to miss it. It is the the “Pho 67” just behind the nice small church of St Julien le Pauvre overlooking Notre Dame.

6 Feb 2009

A Night Project....

Mmmm... What to do this evening? Ah right!!





Et voilá!

Une rosace de chocolat!!

23 Jan 2009

Let's start!!!

Well, well, well... it is time to start! To start thinking, sharing and naturally tasting. Sharing common knowledge is the way to go, if we want to develop.

In this light, it's my intention to share with you what I learn through theoretical studies and experiences in the world of food and cooking.

The recipes I will be posting will mostly be my dinners with full menus for special occasions every now and then.

If you are about to prepare a recipe for Your special occasion or just for a cozy Sunday lunch but you are still uncertain about its outcome, why don't you drop me a line?? I will try it for you (well, let's say I will try to do my best considering my objective limitations of what's in my pantry, finances and time :P) and post here the results of the experiments (along with pictures of course).

So let's start our trip and see where it will bring us. :D

Have fun reading guys!!