Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Creativity/Arancine Maki

On occasion, I amaze myself. Usually I don't see myself as very special or different from the rest of the world; I mean, yes, I am a kind and warm hearted person, but so are many others (thankfully). When I decided to write this blog I really hesitated, because like I say in the description, I'm still trying to figure out what differentiates me from others on many levels. First, as a person and secondly as a foodie, what makes my passion, skills and talents different from the next persons? Sometimes I am reading restaurant menus and I come across a creative dish and the whole thing seems so obvious, but then I started to doubt myself and wonder why, if it is so obvious, I wasn't able to come up with it myself.

But Like I said, on occasion I amaze myself and today I did so by making what I like to call Arancine Maki. Essentially, this is the classic sicilian dish Arancine, a fried, stuffed ball of risotto. Rather than shaping it into a ball and formed a log which I then friend and sliced in rounds like the Japanese Maki. Arancine means little oranges, this dish is called that way because of its shape and the orangey golden color it takes on when it is fried. Traditionally, you can either get an arancina rossa or arancina bianca depending on what they are filled with the rossa is filled with meat sauce and peas and the bianca with ham and mozzarella and some bechamel.

Because I was working on my creativity (and dealing with limited ingredients in my fridge) I used zucchini and goat cheese. The green zucchini emulated the seaweed used in traditional sushi and the goat cheese added a perfect tang to the sweet risotto and zucchini. Garnished with some reduced balsamic vinegar (soy sauce) it was the perfect balance of creamy, smooth and tart. I was so pround of this dish because not only was it delicious, but it was different, something that I had never seen before. And now that I made it, I can only think of a other variations, sweet, savory, traditional, untraditional. The funny thing about creativity is that the more you use it the more creative you feel. After this experiment, I just keep coming up with more and more great ideas (which I promise to eventually share), I am totally loving it!
Arancine Maki
makes 8-12 pieces

1 c. prepared saffron risotto (slightly overcooked, make sure it is thick and sticky)
2 tbsp. grated parmiggiano reggiano or grana padano
1 zucchini ribboned with a vegetable peeler
2 tbsp. soft goat cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
1 egg beaten
oil for frying
syrupy balsamic for garnish

1. Sprinkle a sushi roller with some of the bread crumbs and spread the risotto into a 7" x 7" square. Lay the zucchini strips overlapping on the rice square, make sure to trim any overhang.
2. Crumble goat cheese across the middle and roll up like sushi. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 mins.
3. Heat up oil for frying. Dip roll in egg and then in the bread crumbs. Fry until deeply golden.
4. Drain on paper towels and then slice in rounds. Serve hot.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Great Chefs/Tuna from a Can

I know better than almost anyone how spoiled I have been in my life. Which at least, takes out the "brat factor." Spoiled, yes. Brat, never. Given my interest in food, I have no doubt that my favorite part of being spoiled is the unbelievable food that I have had the opportunity to eat. From 4 star restaurants to homemade dinners in Italy every meal has been a journey, a story to tell and analyze.

In the words of my beloved Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn't help but wonder...what is it that defines a good chef from a great chef? I mean its easy to tell apart someone who knows how to make mediocre food from exquisite food, but really when you start to think about la creme de la creme. I don't know if I think it's fair to say that one is better than another. Lets look at David Chang and Daniel Boulud, why is it that Boulud gets 4 NYT stars, but Chang only 3? For me, Chang's food is more star-worthy than Boulud's. I guess, I just want food, nothing fussy, nothing over the top, dishes where the ingredients are showcased in their ideal forms, and at the end of it all, it just tastes good.

Based on that, today, I was a great chef. A can of italian tuna in olive oil, a few cracks of black pepper, a drizzle of thick balsamic vinegar. And a fork of course. Let me tell you, when you can get your hands on the best ingredients, it doesn't take much to be a great chef. Not that I would be able to serve this to guests of course, even though I would kind of like to...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring is Here/Berry Butter Cake

Although I have been feeling spring for a few weeks now, today is the first official day of Spring. And with a dinner party to go to, I decided to jump ahead a season and make a summer cake. It is Spring after all, the time of new beginnings, and these possibilities seem endless. I hate (slash love) to be cliche when I talk about Spring, but there is just something poetic about it. Winter blues turn turquoise, the 65 degrees that felt cold in the fall now feel just right, and waking up in the morning with the sun shining feels like pleasure rather than penance.
So to celebrate, I decided to make a summer berry cake with lemon curd filling. The first time I made this cake was in the 7th grade, Memorial Day weekend in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. I was there with my then best friend who also loved to bake and we unanimously picked this recipe out of that month's Gourmet. I don't know why, but I never forgot about this slightly pink cake; a moist spongy gem studded with raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. Today, I decided to give this recipe a face lift by slicing it in two and filling it with tart and creamy lemon curd.
It's always interesting to cook such "American" desserts for my Italian friends. Italian's are not always an easy bunch to please, they have their ways and they like to stick with them. In some ways, I would almost say that making such a sinful dessert for them may leave me with a disadvantage, I have finally made it onto the facebook message roster, it seems that people might actually (gasp) want to hang out with me. So what am I doing? Well I guess I am just doing what I love, following my heart when I feel comfortable doing so. And also, I have an advantage, as an Italian I know that even the finest most high brow Italian could never say no to this cake. Just look at it, isn't it pretty?

• I used an 11" round pan instead or the rectangular one suggested, it does lead to thinner layers but I like round cakes.
• I also could have easily doubled the curd recipe, it would have definitely given the cake an extra something.
Make the curd first and let it cool in the fridge while you assemble the cake.
• Make sure the cake is completely cooled before you cut it in half, if not it will fall apart.

Lemon Curd (from Martha Stewart Living, January 2002)
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, (2 lemons)
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
Combine yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a small saucepan. Whisk to combine. Set over medium heat, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure to stir sides and bottom of pan. Cook until mixture is thick enough to coat back of wooden spoon, 5 to 7 minutes.

Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to avoid a skin from forming; wrap tightly. Let cool; refrigerate until firm and chilled, at least 1 hour.

Store, refrigerated in an airtight container, up to 2 days.

Three Berry Butter Cake (from Gourmet, July 2000)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 6 cups mixed berries (1 3/4 ponds) such as raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 13- by 9- by 2-inch metal baking pan, then line bottom with wax paper and grease paper.

Heat butter with cream in a small saucepan over low heat until melted, then cool.

Beat eggs, granulated sugar, and salt with an electric mixer on high speed until mixture is thick, pale, and forms a ribbon when beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes with a standing mixer or about 12 minutes with a handheld. Add zest, baking powder, and vanilla and mix on low speed until blended.

Add 1 1/4 cups flour and half of butter mixture and mix on low speed until blended. Mix in remaining butter and 1 1/4 cups flour in same manner. Increase speed to medium and beat 1 minute with a standing mixer or 2 minutes with a handheld, or until batter is thick and sticky. Add berries and carefully fold in with a rubber spatula until barely combined. (Raspberries will begin to fall apart, and batter will look slightly pink.) Spoon batter into baking pan, gently smoothing top. Bake in middle of oven until springy to the touch and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack.

Run a knife around edge of cake, then invert rack over cake and flip cake onto it. Remove wax paper and reinvert onto a platter.

Just before serving, dust with confectioners sugar.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Trying New Things/Tripe Sandwiches

Every time I start to write a new entry, I shy away, something stops me. It might be the little voice in my head telling me that I am not talented enough or maybe that fact that I haven't told anyone about my blog, so at least I feel like the only person I'm failing is myself. I guess that should be my greatest concern, but in this life, in the day to day, well I can easily find a million reasons not to do something. I also guess that because no one (not even my family) knows about this blog, I really keep it under wraps. For the past 3 weeks I have had non-stop visitors and therefore I have had constant justifications not to write.

No longer.

My stepsister was here for the past week and she and I decided to go to Florence for the weekend, neither she nor I had ever been and we are both always dying to discover new places. The beauty of Italy is the the differences in regional cuisine, its unbelievable, a two hour train ride and bread no longer had salt, crostini implies pate, and cantuccini (the italian name for what we know as biscotti, in Italian biscotti just means cookie) are served from dawn to dusk. So after sifting through my guidebook and reading that lampredotto sandwiches are a Florentine specialty, I had no choice but to try that. Over time, I have decided that I must taste everything and anything I can, I need to expand my palate and take culinary risks. I do, however stick to the three bite rule my mother instilled in me.

Lampredotto is considered tripe, but it comes from the cow's fourth stomach. We went to get our delicacies at the street cart that has been serving these sandwiches to locals for decades. When we got there, an overwhelmingly large swarm of people were waiting hungrily, no one seemed to want to wait their turn. When I finally had my sandwich in hand, I took a fearless bite. The second bite was more reserved, the third, barely a nibble. So I guess I didn't like it, but at least I tried it right? I couldn't overlook the chewiness and the grissly fattiness. As I shamefully snuck my sandwich into the garbage, I smiled widely and proudly, I may not have liked it, but I gave it a shot.

Luckily, after the lampredotto pseudo-fiasco we went to the Mercato Centrale, the most exquiste food market I have ever been too. No, it is not the Green Market in Union Square; but if you want to spoil yourself with the best salumi and cheeses, fresh cut tagliatelle and tuscan wine look no further. The pictures I have added throughout this post can possibly give you a vague idea, but truly while I was there I could feel the heart of Tuscany beating. Going strong and sharing its wealth with anyone who is willing to take a risk.