Friday, February 25, 2011

Teriyaki glazed salmon

Oh. My. Goodness.

This is one of the best things I have cooked, no, had lately.  And it took me under 10 minutes to make (excluding the salmon's cooking time) without buying any new ingredients. Who knew teriyaki was so easy?

Thanks to Hunger and Sauce, I discovered my new favorite way to make fish, meat or whatever else I can smother in this delectable sauce. It is perfect for a week night meal (like ours) but just as good to impress guests.

Hunger and Sauce also suggested using the left over sauce, diluted with some water, to dress up some vegetables, rice or noodles. Too bad F practically licked off every last drop from the baking dish there were no leftovers to speak of...but hey, maybe next time?

Today I am giving it another try: I took the day off from work so ciao, off to have me some girly fun! Have a great week end, possibly in the company of this dish. You won't regret it.

a large salmon fillet (or other fatty fish)
a pinch of sesame seeds, toasted

4 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Mirin
a thumb-sized knob of fresh grated ginger
4 tbsp brown sugar

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small sauce pan (I was out of fresh ginger so I used dry ginger instead) and start mixing over a medium flame until the sauce reduces to a syrupy consistency. Brush over the fish and bake in the oven. We prefer to undercook our salmon so I did not leave it in long. Also, do not forget the sauce is hot when you brush it on and that that will start cooking the fish before you even put it in the oven. Before serving sprinkle over some previously toasted sesame seeds.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lasagne al pesto, love and throats

My heart has been bursting these past couple of days. With love for my children.

Of course I always love my children.

But my love for them is like my throat. Yes, that is exactly what I meant to write, I am not hallucinating. You know  how certain parts of your body are just there, a given, even if you don't feel them, like your throat or your spleen? And then sometimes you are aware you have a throat, because it is sore or scratchy. That is like my love for my kids today, not that I want to compare them to an ache or a pain. It is just that they are normally fully integrated into my body, my soul, my life, my heart. But yesterday I woke up actually feeling my heart in my chest and it has been throbbing ever since with a feeling of constant, overpowering love for them.

Am I making any sense? At all?

I think it all started on Monday night, when I went into the childrens' room to tuck them in and dim their night light. As I walked over to my son's crib, I noticed something pink clutched in his dimply little hand. At a closer glance I noticed it was Piggy, my daughter's favorite stuffed animal, the pig she has been sleeping with since she was a wee babe. I don't know if he had been sniffling or complaining or if they were playing together in the semi darkness once their door was shut. All I know is that at some point after the lights went out, my little girl got out of her bed and gave her little brother her most prized posession to sleep with. And he took it and fell into a serene, thoughtless slumber.

That is when I know we did right.

That is all.

I just needed to share. I feel like when I write about my offspring it is more to vent about illness, baby sitter disasters, craziness and lack of time or sleep then to talk about what it really all boils down to. And now that I have started using cooking analogies, I know it is time to give you my recipe.

This is just another way to enjoy the gloriousness of pesto. Sure, you could just smear some on a piece of toast or put some on a toothbrush and brush your teeth with it, but if you want to be a little more refined or make dinner for a large group or a meal that you can freeze in portions for a rushed day in the future, this is the recipe for you. You can use freshly made pesto, or that jar you have in the freezer or you can even buy ready made pesto. I will not judge you. However, I do suggest you make your own bechamel, because it is so fast and really does make a world of difference. I know the measurements are not precise, but they really are up to you and your personal taste.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sour cream & honey pound cake

I thought long and hard whether I should post this recipe or not and decided I would, because the end result was worth it. Or rather, because I wanted to let you decide whether you thought it was worth it.

Personally, I should have known from the start that this wasn't going in the right direction.

It all started when I dropped by my local supermarket the other day and discovered they carried sour cream! That may not be a big deal for most of you but it was a huge thing for me. Sour cream is almost impossible to get here. Sure, they sell it in a couple of specialty stores and in a healthfood chain here in Milan, but it isn't the kind of ingredient you can count on, that you can plan a meal around. Basically, if in the past I just happened to be in the area of that specific store and they happened to have sour cream that day and the alignment of stars and planets was just so, then lucky me. And I am aware that there are about 100 ways to substitute sour cream in a recipe but hey, sometimes a girl just wants sour cream! So, yes,  I was excited and immediately bought some.

Cut to the next day. The baby sitter called me in the office to tell me she also had the flu, like my son, so I had to rush home to take over from baby sitter number one. Not much time to find a recipe for my precious tub of sour cream. I quickly googled and the first thing that came up was a sour cream pound cake recipe which I printed before biking home whilst changing into my Florence Nightingale uniform.

Pound cake is sort of boring if you ask me, one of those cakes I don't think of making too often but that always turns out to be just right for week end family breakfasts. Also, I was intrigued by the addition of honey.

I set off to work and immediately got frustrated. The amounts seemed exaggerated...why would any cake need so much sugar and honey? Six eggs? 

As I proceeded, my annoyance grew. To me, pound cake equals quick and easy. Not that is was complicated, but it just seemed like there were an awful lot of specific steps to take for such a plain jane. Hmph!

Then I realized I had once again forgotten to buy a Turks' head mold or similar, so I had to make do with my invention of a little while back. In went the humungous amount of batter...silly me, I should have known. I put it into the oven to bake and got distracted by other things until I turned and noticed the batter had just started puffing up and pouring out all over the oven like The Blob. Thereafter, I had to constantly take out the stuff dripping onto the baking tray beneath before it burnt. My daughter was watching and decided she wanted to taste the gooey, caramelized lumps of almost cooked through batter. We tasted it and boy was that chewy, warm, sugary mess good. I had hope yet.

I decided I would let it bake less, since at least half of the content had dripped from the pan, but it kept looking undercooked. I waited and waited until the original baking time had come and gone. I decided to pull it out and noticed that the weirdest thing: three quarters of the cake had baked perfectly and one quarter of the ring had remained half raw. How did that happen? At this point I was so angry about the cake, the waste and the thought of having to scrub every inch of my oven that I just set it aside to cool and then chopped of the raw part.

All of this to say that despite the initial doubts, the irritation and the baking disaster, this turned out to be a pretty tasty cake, with a certain depth added by the honey. It was dense yet moist and light. So, despite my ranting and raving, if you are a pound cake kinda person, this is a pretty darn good recipe. And there is no need to explain why there is not a picture of the whole cake.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons

I don't think I have ever baked with coconut before. I don't know what posessed me to buy a bag of shredded coconut at the supermarket the other day. I am sure I had probably read a post somewhere on a blog, so I blame one of you for sending me subliminal messages to "buy coconut", but for the life of me I don't remember that recipe.

I like coconut as much as the next person. I have childhood memories of coconut that take me back to tropical beaches. My dad used to buy me virgin Pina Coladas when we spent Christmas together in the Carribean. I remember drinking coconut water out of the fruit in a little fishing boat in an atoll in the Indian Ocean. The fisherman then cracked it open and showed me how to scrape out the still-tender pulp. Coconut reminds me of disco days in the '80s and Batida de Coco (no, I am not that old, there is simply no drinking age in Italy). It reminds me of boarding school. There was a glass-panelled room equipped with vending machines where students were allowed to smoke. It was freezing, but we spent many an afternoon looking out onto the snow-capped mountains, chatting about boys and sharing a cigarette between five of us, nibbling on Bounty bars.  

Nowadays my coconut consumption usually involves curries and soups and we always have some coconut milk stashed away in our cupboards. But what to do with shredded, dry coconut? I started looking for recipes and was all too excited to find out that you needed condensed milk to make coconut macaroons. I had had an open jar in my fridge for ages (I don't remember what I used that for either of course) and couldn't get myself to either dispose of it or use it. I mean, with the insanely high sugar content, it couldn't really go bad right? That is why it is used during wars and in hot climates, no?

When I realized my coconut/condensed milk ratio was exactly right, I knew I had to make these. I could even finally use up some of the egg whites that piss me off every time I see them in my freezer because I never use them and they take up precious space I had so diligently stored in my freezer! I threw together the few ingredients required, felt pretty darn good about myself and my efforts to avoid waste, and made these little treats that help you forget you are in the middle of a wet winter with every bite.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Olive oil, lemon zest and Greek yogurt cake

Today was supposed to be my day.

F. left yesterday on a business trip. He is usually in charge of taking the children to kindergarden and daycare since I go to the office shortly after 7AM. Since I had some paid leave hours I had to use up by the end of the month before they expired, I decided I would drop the children at school and take a day off all for myself. This was a first in the five years I have been a mom.

I would take the kids to their classrooms, I would meet up with a friend for coffee in a café near school and have one of their amazing nutella croissants. I would then go to the Tuesday market 10 steps from my front door to buy large amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables, some mozzarella di bufala perhaps, maybe some olives from large overflowing buckets. I would then go home and  have a few luxurious hours to cook something for my blog without any interference. I could even try something a little more complex and time consuming. I could take pictures in daylight, try to improve my technique. Then off to a sushi lunch with my friend and just a few more hours to get some things done in the house that I never get to do when the kids are running around. A quick trip to a neighborhood fabric store to pick up something to make with my daughter for her carnival costume and then off to pick up the kids early for once. The perfect day.

But as we all know, no plan is perfect, especially when it involves a mother with children younger than 20 taking a few hours for herself. Moms all over the world, you hear me, right? You know what I am talking about, don't you? Just thinking words as harmless as 'haircut' or 'manicure' or even just 'book' is asking for trouble. And so no sushi and Nutella for Mommy, no vegetables and fruit in the fridge, no time to finally make something a little more intriguing for you my friends...
In the middle of a thereafter sleepless night, my little boy got a fever. He is not sick enough (fortunately!) that he can't play, but just sick enough that he is whiney and clingy and needs constant entertainment. As I was writing the first paragraph (while he was suddenly - finally - incredibly busy playing with his car in the kitchen sink, standing on his Stokke chair), I turned to find him pouring dish soap all over the counters and floor and noticed some suspicious looking bubbles on his lips. I now write as he sleeps.

So instead of the confit de canard and the multi-layered cakes I had been envisioning, here is a recipe for a cake that is the essence of the sunny Mediterranean at its simplest. Olive oil, lemon zest, Greek yogurt. I have been seeing this recipe bouncing from blog to blog in different versions lately and admit my curiosity was piqued. What would a cake made with the lovely Tuscan extra virgin olive oil I have taste like?

The result was moist, not overly sweet, with a slightly citrusy taste and a suttle yet distinct fruitiness from the olive oil. It is what I consider a perfect breakfast cake, or fitting to eat with a cup of tea on a rainy day with a sweet, feverish bundle asleep in your arms.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Nutella brownie muffins and e-mail

Ok, I know, I am SOOOO last week.

Truth is, I had no idea it was World Nutella Day on Saturday. I was wrapped up in my little crazy world of reading, checking, double checking, revising, mumbling, pulling at my hair, rocking back and forth, nervously chewing on my nails the editing of my files and not reading my usual blogs. So it was totally random that I decided to bake something on Friday night involving Nutella (for the first time ever by the way). I could pretend that the blogging world and I share a certain vibe, convince you that I am particularly empathic, that when it comes to all things foodie I have a sixth sense...but no, the truth is I wanted something satisfying but simple and fast to make so that I could crawl quickly back into my corner to work. A total coincidence.

This recipe had caught my eye a while back on Life's a Feast for several reasons.

First of all, what is there not to like about Nutella, the luscious, creamy, chocolatey, nutty spread sold all over the world? When I was a child living in New York my mother used to buy it for me in a specialty store in Germantown, thus my belief growing up that it was of German origin. Imagine my surprise when we moved to Italy and I found out I was living in the country that produced this marvellous treat! You can actually smell Nutella when you drive by the factory in Alba, giving you a kind of Charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory experience.

And I still can only buy it once in a while, such is the danger of me eating it up in spoonfuls in a matter of days.

But let's stay focused, back to my reasons.

Secondly, I was intrigued by the fact that this recipe only had four ingredients. Just four? Three actually, if you leave out the chopped hazelnuts for decoration. The end result won't be quite as pretty, but your muffins will turn out pretty good all the same. 

These muffins are such a cinch, it really is worth it to whip them up as a last minute dessert or treat for your family and friends. They are nutty and chocolatey with a soft and chewy heart. However, if I have to be 100% honest with you, I still think the best way to eat Nutella is thickly spread on a crusty piece of farmer's bread.

Before you read the recipe: many of you (especially non bloggers) have asked me to get update notices via e-mail. If you look at the top right corner of the page, I have added a subscription form. Just write in your email address and you will get a notice in your mailbox every time I post a new recipe. Ciao!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

No-coffee tiramisù

I did it, I finally handed in the last pages of the job yesterday and can start breathing again. I admit I have been feeling tired and a little overwhelmed. I also admit my kids and husband got snapped at more than once last week end. The last few days before my deadline I was waking up at 5:00a.m. with my mind racing, thinking about what I had to revise, what I had to finish translating, what I had to look up.

Tiramisu (literally, pick me up) was just what I needed, minus the coffee. First of all, my family would agree, I didn't need to add caffein to the adrenaline already coursing through my body. Secondly, I made this on Sunday for a get-together with a bunch of friends and lots of kids and didn't want to make separate desserts.

Feel free to use coffee instead of chocolate milk, like the original recipe suggests, to dip your lady fingers in. And a drizzle of Marsala, or any other sweet wine, if you are so inclined. You can make it in single portions for a fancy dinner party or as a cake.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ossobuco alla milanese (or braised veal shanks)

He sat on the scaffolding suspended from the cupola and shook his wrist for a few seconds, trying to ease the cramping of his fingers. He had been working on this window depicting St. Joseph for an hour, or maybe more he decided looking through the beautiful stained glass at the sun, which had moved considerably higher since he had last checked. Vincenzo had arrived from Leuven, Flanders with many others from all over Europe to work in the Venerable Factory of the Duomo, the construction site for the enormous gothic cathedral that was being built in the wealthy Duchy of Milan. The colors of his glass were renown because they were particularly striking, especially the yellow inserts. His secret was that he always added a touch of saffron when preparing the glass.  He decided to stop for a quick lunch, suspended in the air because there was always much to do and little time to climb down and chat with the others. He had brought a bowl of rice, which grew plentiful in the countryside surrounding the city and was cheap to buy, to work. He untied the knot in the cloth that he had wrapped his lunch in and just as he was moving his work utensils to the side, a fellow worker hollered from the scaffolding above.
"Perfundavalle! Buon appetito!".

Startled, he knocked over a tiny jar of the precious saffron he carried with his tools at all times and a little fell into the wooden bowl of rice. Vae! he mumbled in Latin, this was not good. So much waste of prized saffron and a ruined lunch! His stomach grumbled as he thought about what to do. He decided to taste the rice anyway, he was too hungry to wait till sunset and he had some wine to wash it down with. After all, saffron was a plant, how bad could it be? He stuck his fingers in the bowl, took a few kernels of rice, closed his eyes and stuffed them in his mouth. He chewed slowly, ready to spit out the offending bite. He chewed some more and sides of his mouth turned up into a big smile. This was delicious! Who would have ever thought saffron was so good? And the rice looked as beautiful as it tasted, with its yellow hue.

That is how the legend goes, regarding the birth of Milan's most famous dish, risotto giallo or allo zafferano. It is a versatile dish that can be eaten many different ways, as a first course or as a main course served with ossobuco, like the recipe I posted. It is always good to make in abundance so you have leftovers for riso al salto the next day, a crunchy, thin, pan-fried version of the rice beloved to all Milanese.

As you may or may have not have noticed, it has been a while since I last posted. I was offered a very interesting work opportunity last week that I couldn't turn down, despite the deadline being atrociously near, the amount of work being quite daunting and the fact that I have a full time job and pretty noisy children. This job involves writing, translating, researching to a certain extent. I am reading a lot on historical and artistic facts about the Duomo, Milan's cathedral.

It just so happened that when I received the file on the Duomo in my mailbox, I had 4 ossobuchi defrosting in my fridge. The more I read and wrote about the past glory of this town and the immense human and artistic effort made for decades, even centuries, to build the cathedral, the more I was excited to be preparing this dish for my family. Besides being one of F's favorite dishes, it somehow just made sense with its perfect timing, it made me feel connected to this city that often seems unattractive but that has some beautiful hidden secrets if you are willing to scratch a little beneath the surface. And so here is my ode to Milan, Oss bus a la milanesa con gremolata.