Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Refrigerator Transitions

Things that currently reside in my fridge until I use them up:

  • Tortillas (only corn right now, and they are soooo handy for making last minute quesadilla lunches! Will the cheddar cheese become a memory, too?)
  • Arepas (in the freezer; they’re little masa and cotija cakes that you fry up. Tasty with black bean soup. Will need to see if there are any Italian black bean recipes, as I heart frijoles negros er, fagioli neri so hard.)
  • Empenadas (also in the freezer. They’re filled with sweet potatoes and pinto beans and make a great quick lunch when you’re desperate.)

Hmm… I’m seeing a Latin trend here. I can’t say that I make a lot of Latin-American food, but it definitely has been a recurring theme in my repertoire. I just recently mastered Mexican rice and I have half a bottle of annatto seeds that’ll just sit for a while, I guess. Unless someone wants them?

  • Potato-cheddar pasty (there we go! On to a different culture! This thing is so poorly wrapped, though, that it's probably freezer-bitten as all get-out. Note to self: consume this week. Thanks.)
  • Coconut milk and curry paste (cupboard and fridge door, respectively. I have been wanting to make a coconut milk-based dessert, so that’ll be easy to use up. The curry? Hmm… not sure what to do.)
  • Udon and rice vermicelli but no other pasta right now! Isn’t that strange? I actually have been out of the habit of cooking pasta because… well, huh. Don’t know why. Now that I’ve got my five quarts of gravy in the freezer, though, I definitely need to be sure to keep a supply on hand.
Stay tuned for next week's post in which one week's planned menu gets turned into two!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Of smoke alarms, mold, and forgetfulness

Sunday: Pizza dough

Plan my meals for the week. Realize that this is turning out to be harder than I thought.

(One, I am way too stubborn. I’ve got my guns to stick to and I’m not quite willing to let go yet. Soon, local tomatoes, bell peppers, and other joyous veggie-fruits will be gone and I will be left high and dry with only canned varieties (or none at all!) to turn to. How do you cook Italian food without the nightshade family? I guess when I get desperate, that’s when my Finnish three months will start. But I gotta put that off long enough for the Finn months to get me *back* to tomato season!

Two, is this going to get repetitive? I feel like right now there’s risotto, polenta, pasta, and that’s not really enough to get through the week. At this point, I can’t afford cooking more meat, even if I wanted to. Gotta find a veg Italian cookbook!)

Then decide to make pizza for dinner. Beg dog park friends to come over. They’ve already got plans. This turns out to be a good thing when the entire apartment fills with smoke from the butter that dripped onto the bottom of the oven after the risotto timbalo from last week. Make calzone instead, since those can be fried. Hope particulate matter doesn’t accumulate too much in bebe’s lungs. Smoke alarm doesn’t go off only because I turned it off when I started. Big dog quivers in her proverbial boots anyway. She knows it's expected.

Monday: Italian enchiladas.

Okay, that’s not what they’re called.  They’re crespelle, but they are essentially Italian enchiladas. You make these little crepes, fill them with a mixture of parm and spinach, cover them in bechemel and bake.

Oh. Yum.

Friends come over and eat them all. As I question whether I will ever invite these two over again, I realize the better option is to make a double batch next time.

Tuesday: Bean and red cabbage soup. More stuffed bell peppers.
Discover cabbage can grow mold inside its leaves. Wasn’t quite sure that it was mold at first, since it was so smoothly integrated and there was no smell. But it was definitely fuzzy. Not surprising, since I think it was in the veggies drawer for almost two months. So, no bean and red cabbage soup.

Instead, I pull out the dozen bell peppers from the farmers market, cut off the moldy bits (will not be keeping them in the “moisture” veggie drawer next time) and stuff them with rice (out of arborio, though), chopped mozzy (soooo much better than shredded!), and BACON. Freeze them for easy dinner later.

Too much filling is left over, so bebe boy and I eat the rest for dinner.

Wednesday: Do Italians make tacos?

The husband cons a friend into bringing us Taco Bell. I don’t mind a day off from cooking.

Thursday: My Italian cookbook from England uses French words.

Aubergine fritters are on my list. Get the idea to make some focaccia as a side, too.

(While the dough is kneading in the mixer, I get on my hands and knees and de-grease the oven. A good scrubbing with baking soda does the trick. I turn the oven on and poof! Or rather, un-poof! There’s no more smoke!)

Slice the eggplant and bake it, but when I check it, it looks like it needs a little more time. So I shut off the oven and walk the woofs.

First rising for focaccia is over after the girls are walked and watered, time to crank the oven to 450 so it’ll heat up nice and hot for baking. I play with the boy for a bit, then decide it’s time to put together the fritters.

But where’s the eggplant?

I look high and low. How do you lose eggplant?!?

And then realize that the burning I smell is not just a little bit of residual butter but THE EGGPLANT.

It’s not quite a charred mess. More like a leathery one.

No eggplant fritters for me.

As I have already assembled the rest of the ingredients for the fritters, I just add another egg for binding and instead enjoy feta/parm/breadcrumb fritters. Delish!

Friday: Today.

Gonna buy another red cabbage for some soup. It’s better soup weather now anyway. And I've got focaccia.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

This week's menu

So a few things y'all should know about this endeaver:

First, we are on a budget. There's an envelope for groceries, and at the beginning of the month it gets $300 put in it. So, this Italian cooking thing is not going to be super high end. But of course, that's not my aim. My aim is to learn how to cook like an Italian does every day, not just on special days.

Also, I put together a menu every week. It's really helped my sanity and our pocketbook to do this because then I'm never caught of guard not having what I thought I needed to cook something and I also never get home after and exhausting day and have to solve the dilemma of what to cook. I just look at my list and pick what looks good. I highly recommend it.

When I plan, I try to get some variety. I like to try for a bean dish, a fish dish ($$ permitting), a bread-y dish (like something in a dough) and often an egg dish. I don't cook non-fish meat very often (in fact the braciole from last night was the first real meat I've cooked in a while! There's only been occasional sausage coming out of my kitchen for a couple years now), so it usually doesn't get consideration in my quest for variety.

And since March of this year I have been keeping a fairly diligent notebook of what I've cooked in the past. It's great because I can always look at past weeks for inspiration! Nothing complicated, but boy does it help my planning.

Right now, all I have is the Italian Cooking Encyclopedia, published by a British company (which is fun when they talk about "aubergine" and "corgettes" instead of "eggplant" and "zucchini"), but I'm going to stop by the library today and pick up a couple other books to try before I purchase something. All of these recipes are from the ICE.

Last night, I made baked cod with garlic mayonaise. Wow! That was delicious! And very easy. Have I told you how much I love anchovies? They are so fabulous and full of flavor. My mayonnaise was not a perfect success, but it was quite tasty indeed. I will try making it in the blender next time (the food processor failed me).

Coming up soon is an egg and carmelized onion frittata which I'm planning to serve with a broccoli soup, a timbalo of rice and peas (think risotto made in to a cake and layered with cheese), and stuffed peppers. Stuffed peppers is an adventure for me. My mom made them growing up, but I didn't really like them. However, I am willing to try them again, and maybe the stuffing I make will do them justice.

I highly doubt I will keep up my current daily pace. Plus, I don't want to just write about the food, but also my thoughts about the food and my culture. I think I'll shoot for a weekly update with my menu and reflection. We'll see!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Gravy's simmering

So I really need to use our real camera rather than my phone. Five megapixels doesn't do you much good when you have neither a stash nor an ultra-steady hand. But here are the tomatoes, waiting to be blended down into gravy!

Of course, that's not all that makes gravy. I bought some milanese cutlets at Whole Foods (I've only recently started cooking meat again, and I like to try to be a little more responsible when I can), pounded them flat, sprinkled on the parm, parsley, salt and pepper, rolled them, tied them, and plop! In went six beautiful braciole!

The sausage is another case. My darling husband, despite ten glorious years together, still has not learned to read my mind! Yesterday, when I bought my cutlets, I did not buy and sausage because they only had hot. Today, when I asked him to pick some up while I tended the gravy, I suggested he go to a different Whole Foods. But I did not specify why. Well, he went to the same store I went to yesterday, since it was close to another errand he had to run and proudly returned with hot Italian sausage. Well, I like spicy sausage. It is definitely tasty. But not what I want my gravy to taste of! So into the freezer wen the sausage and out went the husband again, and this time success was his! I have to say, I appreciate his perseverance. Yes, he's doing it for himself (and his stomach) as well as for me, but it's not like he was gonna get to eat it tonight!

So now the gravy's been simmering three and a half hours. I think I'm gonna pull the meat out and put that in the fridge, then let the pot cool before I stick it in there, too.

Bubble bubble toil and trouble... but boy does it smell good in here!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Here goes nothing!

So, those of you who know me probably know these three things about me: I am Italian. I am Finnish. I like to cook.

To be more precise, though, I am three-quarters Italian (half of it siciliana, the other half napolitana for those of you who like to get that deep and can appreciate the irony), one-quarter Finnish (if we actually spoke Finnish, I could tell you, in one word, that my mother's father was Finnish), and finally, I "like" to cook as in I "like" to breathe.

My heritage has always been important to me. My grandparents were the first of my family to be born here, and I feel like I've been raised with some aspects of the immigrant mentality. I'm working hard to not forget my roots. But growing up across the country from those roots meant that some of our family traditions didn't really get preserved, but hopefully I can re-establish them in my own little family and hand them down to my son. Once he gets old enough to chop, of course.

On the heritage note, I've always liked that my maiden name, when taken together, is three-quarters Italian and one-quarter Finnish, like me! So, I got this crazy idea in my head. Maybe--and we'll see how long this lasts--I will cook Italian food for nine months of the year and Finnish food for the other three. I'm hoping that if I dedicate myself thoroughly, I will be able to absorb each style of cooking as one might absorb a language, and be able to use it fluently to feed my family and share my culture with those who come to break bread in our home.

First thing up is gravy! Noooo, not the brown stuff you put on turkey or the white stuff you put on biscuits. Sicilians call tomato sauce gravy, and I purchased TWENTY POUNDS (yow!) of tomatoes at the farmers market today to make it from scratch. Eek!

So far, I have blanched, peeled (which was much more fun than I was expecting) and cored those mo-fos and they are now in a giant bowl in my fridge, waiting for the next step.

But what *is* the next step? I was thinking of doing some canning, but I'm still a little freaked out about that. All that acidity stuff and botulism totally freaks me out. So methinks we will freeze this. But am I going to go crazy traditional? That would mean making meatballs or getting sausage and cooking them in the sauce, to flavor it. But what I'm really pondering doing to make my very most favorite thing my gramps used to make: braciole.

Now, to my college Italian-trained ear that word looks like bra-CHO-lay. Which is why it took me forever to learn how it was really spelled, since it's actually said bra-- uh, hmm, how do I explain this? bra-ZHOL? Bra-JOLE? Bra-SHOL? the second consonant sound is like the J in "bonjour." You know, you kinda let it slide a little as you say it. Does that help?

But do you really care how it's pronounced? I'm sure what you're really wondering is: What in tarnation is it?

And that, m'dears, is for another day.