Saturday, August 29, 2009

Spaghetti with Creamy Zucchini Sauce

Paoletta, the very talented author of Anice e Cannella, invited her readers to join in a summer game (Giochino d'estate). The idea is to replicate or reinvent this dish, and send her a photo of the final creation. She will then select three photos and publish them in her blog.

Since I have zucchini coming out of my ears (typical Italian expression, mi escono dalle orecchie), I decided to try this delicious sounding pasta sauce today. Plus I am having so much fun discovering blogs in Italian, so perche' no (why not)?

Below is a closer look at the tomato topping, one word-DELICIOUS! I made only minor changes to the recipe. Since I can't have too many tomatoes I cooked more than the recipes called for, I also used sliced almonds since I had them and thought that they would look nicer. The original recipe sounded perfect but I decided to add some chili flakes to the tomatoes just as I turned off the heat. The added spiciness worked perfectly to add a little more zest to this otherwise perfect dish. This was a great dish to have in this super hot summer evening.

For non-Italian readers here is the recipe, with my changes, in English:

Spaghetti with Creamy Zucchini Sauce
Four Servings

one shallot
three zucchini, cut in small cubes
Salt and Pepper
3 TBS grated Pecorino cheese
40 grams of sliced almonds, toasted
a handful of small tomatoes
pinch of chili flakes
320 grams spaghetti

Sautée the shallot in olive oil. Add the zucchini, the herbs, salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes. Puree the zucchini, adjust with more salt and pepper if desired, and add the Pecorino cheese. In another sautée pan, cook the toasted almonds in a little oil, add the sliced tomatoes and cook at high heat for 5 minutes, set aside. Cook the pasta al dente, drain and mix it with the zucchini puree. Plate the pasta and add the tomatoes and almonds on the top. Add more freshly grated Pecorino and some julienned basil.

Ho fatto solo delle piccole variazioni alla ricetta originale. Ho usato piu' pomodorini perche' non mi stanco mai di mangiarli e ne ho a bizzeffe, e ho usato le mandorle tagliate sottili. Ho anche insaporito con un pizzico di peperoncino i pomodori e le mandorle dopo averli tolti dal fuoco, e li ho aggiunti sopra gli spaghetti invece di mescolarli con il sugo di zucchine.

Buon Appetito!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers' August Challenge-Dobos Torte

I found myself doing this at the last possible minute, actually a day late now, and obviously the heat in the Bay Area decided not to cooperate for the second month in a row, and it was brutal! I missed the deadline yesterday because of serious time mismanagement so I decided to make the cake for a birthday celebration which means that I only could take pictures with the flash, but I have a miniature cake waiting for me tomorrow to be finished.

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

The cake we were challenged to make is called The Dobos Torta, a five-layer sponge cake, layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with cake wedges covered in caramel. The cake first appeared in 1885 created by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker. The recipe, kept secret until Dobos retired in 1906, was donated to the Budapest Confectioners' and Gingerbread Makers' Chamber of Industry, with the provision that it could be used freely and obviously publicly. The recipe is very long so you can find here.

The original cake is round, each layer made individually as a disk, but to save time, and to give a spin to the classic round cake, I decided to make a rectangular one. We are supposed to be daring, but since I like chocolate I make the original chocolate butter cream from the recipe but instead of the classic hazelnuts, I paired it with pistachios since I love the green of pistachios against the dark chocolate color. The cake was easy to make, but I ended up over baking it so I think that the 400F baking temperature is an over kill, especially when the cake layers are so thin. The other big problem I encountered was with the butter cream. The execution was simple, and it looked very velvety, and it tasted ok (note here, just okey). The problem lied in the consistency, made worse by the heat. Even chilling the butter cream didn't help, as soon as the cake was out of the fridge the butter cream started running, and the weight of the nuts brought the cream down the sides! The cake looked nice, but it was not one of those cakes that knocks your socks off in my opinion, in fact I don't think I will try it again unless I try another recipe.

I was intrigued to try a new butter cream recipe that calls for whole eggs, instead of the butter cream I normally make which has only whites, sugar and butter. I wasn't impressed at all by this recipe, it is too sweet and it tastes too rich. I think that it works well as a filling but as a glaze is way too soft, and I know it was not just my mistake, other DBakers had the same problem. I had fun making the pistachio star decorations with the extra caramel. To make them, warm up the pistachios slightly so they won't cool the caramel too much. Add the pistachio pieces to the hot caramel, and pour the hot and still liquid caramel onto a silicone mat, or an oiled parchment paper. When the caramel is setting but still soft, score it with a wheel or a cookie cutter. When the caramel is cooled, separate the pieces and let cool completely until hardened.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Julia Child, Fougasse, and Another Award

August is a very important month for Julia Child. She was born on August 15th, and died in the month of August of the year 2004, two days shy of her 92nd birthday. There are many people I wished I had met before they left this earth, Julia Child being among them. I have gotten to know her through the legacy of her books, her television appearances, and the lives of the many people she touched. I would have wanted to cook along with her, in her kitchen, and laugh with her.

The first time I heard about this amazing person was when I bought the book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I don't use as much as I should (note to self!). I was intrigued by this woman who is by far responsible for changing the way Americans eat, who introduced weird ingredients to a populations used to frozen TV dinners, in the land of processed food.

Many people are celebrating her life this month, and the movie Julie and Julia came out on the 8yth. I read the book Julie and Julia as part of my book club, it wasn't one of my favorites, but the movie was better, which is usually rare, and Maryl Streep did an amazing job playing Julia Child. Next I would love to read My Life in France to learn more about Julia, through her own words.

Michael Pollen, the clever journalist that he is, wrote a great article on Julia Child and food in the New York Times.

Dorie Greenspan collaborated with Julia Child in the wonderful book Baking with Julia and she also wrote a nice post on Julia in the form of a tale.

Julia at Melanger dedicated a basil lemon tart to Julia.

I have written many praises to the book Baking with Julia, here, and here , for its amazing array of wonderful recipes. The book was the product of a PBS series hosted by Julia Child, and the recipes are from contributing chefs, so consider it the crème de la crème of baking recipes and styles. For this month Bread Baking Day, an event created by the talented Zorra, I decided to try to make Fougasse since the theme is to bake something you have never made before. I had wanted to make Fougasse for years, since seeing the beautiful picture in Julia's book, but never managed to make it, so now was the time. While reading the recipe, I had a DUH! moment when I realized that Fougasse is the same as Focaccia, but shaped differently, not sure why it didn't occur to me from the name, a DUH! moment indeed.

from Baking with Julia

Makes 2 large or 3 small breads

2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups of tepid water
2 TBS active dry yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tsp salt
EVO oil
fresh herbs

-Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup of water and let it bubble for 5 minutes in the bowl of an electric mixer.
-Add the rest of the ingredients and mix for 10 minutes at low speed with a hook attachment.
-Transfer the dough onto a floured counter, let rest for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, pull the dough and fold it like a letter to develop more gluten. Repeat one more time after 30 minutes. -Let proof until double, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. When doubled, punch the dough down, and let it rise a second time. After the second rise, punch the dough again and chill it overnight.
-On the second day, divide the dough in two or three pieces depending on the desired size of the final fougasse. Shape the dough into a tear drop shape and cut slits with a sharp knife so it resembles a leaf. Transfer the dough onto a paper lined baking pan and enlarge the holes so they will stay open during proofing. Brush the dough with olive oil.
-Proof the fougasse in a warm, draft free place until doubled. When the bread is proofed, sprinkle it with some salt and fresh herbs of your choice and bake it at 450F, until the internal temperature reaches 190F. I made three mini leaves that were 8 oz each, and two big ones that were about 1 pound each.

Lastly, I want to thank Lien, a blogger whom I feel very connected to, for surprising me with this award. I feel very flattered to be included in the group of talented bloggers Lien gave the award to, and to receive my second award in a week.


The rules, copied a pasted from Lien's blog are the following:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.

Like Lien, I don't like to talk about myself too much, and to pick 7 things is hard, but here it goes....

1. I am an advanced skier, but blew my left ACL, so now I ski like an old advanced skier.
2. I am a very messy house keeper, and have piles of documents everywhere. My drawers, on the other end, are very organized.
3. Chocolate is my drug of choice ;o)
4. I used to swim a mile a day for a while, until I hurt my left shoulder, now I am very out of shape.
5. Genetics was my favorite subject in College, followed by Biochemistry and Botany.
6. I find Politics really boring, a fact I am ashamed of.
7. Ironically, I failed English twice in High School (studying was not my priority back then I guess).

I am passing this award to 7 creative food bloggers :
*Anna of Kitchenlander, a very creative fellow Daring Baker and Italian blogger.
*Lisamichele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives, where you can find great recipes and wonderful photographer.
*Lolo of Vegan Yum-Yum, who takes beautiful pictures of her vegan creations.
*Marika of Madcapcupcake, another vegan Daring Baker who takes wonderful pictures as well.
*Tuki of La Ciliegina sulla Torta, who writes in Italian and takes great pictures of her wonderful creations.
*Philomena of O pistachio who has wonderful recipes and mouthwatering pictures.
*Y of Lemonpi, an incredible artist and very creative when it comes to dessert, also a Daring Baker who has saved my #@& three times on the challenges because she is a day ahead in Australia so her posts had alerted me that I was in trouble.

Go ahead, spread the love.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Spreding the Gratitude and a Recipe for Zucchini Bread

Jill of Jillicious Discoveries surprised me with a "one lovely blog" award. I am relatively new as a blogger, but have been reading many blogs for a long time. I find the blogging community so amazingly talented, and one day I hope to meet some of the people I have gotten to "know" through their blogs. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Jill during one of her trips to the Bay Area where she once lived. I was surprised when I realized that I felt like I had known Jill for a long time. If it hadn't been for her two friends who joined us for dinner, we would have talked dessert non stop. Jill is very bubbly and super nice, she loves what she does and she is very creative. Please visit her blog for fun posts and recipes.

To thank Jill for her recognition I am passing along the Zucchini Bread recipe she published in this post. Like Jill, and thanks to three gardens I was watering this past week, I now have too many zucchini to possibly use in our family, and some are huge so I knew something needed to be done (besides begging everyone I know to take some). Since I don't have a trusted recipe for zucchini bread I tried Jill's because it sounded great with not too much sugar, tons of zucchini and the nuttiness of the pecans. The recipe takes more time than a regular quick bread thanks to a step where you let the zucchini release some of their water, but in all the recipe was easy to execute. I actually ground the pecans almost to a flour since I know some picky eaters who hate nuts, but leaving the pecans in bigger pieces would have worked great as well. The resulting bread is very moist, not too sweet, and really yummy. I will be making more soon to give it away to the many people who make my life sweeter.

I am not sure who started this but the idea is to pass this award to thirteen other bloggers, so you can imagine how hard it was to choose with so many talented people out there. Some blogs are in Italian, but that is one of the many reasons I love them. Some bloggers I read have been given this award already so you know who you are, some others are already amazingly recognized that I feel too little to give them this award. I would like to extend the gratitude for all the amazing people that inspire me on a daily basis to the following bloggers:

Cindy of Cindy Star
Elena of Comida de Mama
Elra of Elra's Baking
Enza of Da Grande
Ilva of Lucullian Delights
Lien of Notitie van Lien
Natalia of Gatti Fili e Farina
Nicole of Pinch my Salt
Paoletta of Anice e Cannella
Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums
Simona of Briciole
Susan of Wild Yeast

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Five Brand New Baby Chicks

Our new Chicks arrived on Wednesday, via express mail. We picked them up at the post office and immediately checked them out, with the heat on full blast (they need to be at 95F the first week!). All five were standing and moving, they had all survived the trip, which is really lucky since they are so tiny and could die easily in the first few hours. One chick, later identified as the "Bandit" tried to escape from the box, so we knew that all was well. As soon as we put them in their brooding box they started eating and drinking, what a relief. All looked healthy and active. The two older chicks, Speck and Cloudy, now 3 weeks old, were super nice and not aggressive at all, another big relief. We have been rewarding them with little insects, they love them!

Here are some photos of our new flock (photos were not edited at all, so some are too dark, but I've got to work on the coop!), they are totally adorable, who knew that I could have feelings for chickens.

She is super calm and a beautiful red tint
She is a Red Star, a great layer supposedly.

She is also super calm, and totally fuzzy and round.
She is an "Easter Egger", and as the name implies she will lay colored eggs.

a.k.a. The Bandit because she is an escapee and she has an eye mask. She is the most active and crazy of all. She is a Light Brown Leghorn, a breed originated in Italy, probably the most beautiful. We tried to switch her with another chick after hearing that Leghorns are nervous and not friendly, but we couldn't. Time will tell...

I think that she totally looks like a crook in this picture.

Another very active but beautiful chick.
She is a Black Australorp, supposedly very calm and a good layer.
She seems to be wearing make-up.

She is also very calm, not much of a personality yet, but cute as a button.
She is a Barred Plymouth Rock.

Napping in our friends' hands

One of the most amazing things is to hold a tiny chick in your hands and have her immediately fall asleep. They must feel like they are under their mother hen.


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