Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pane Toscano (Tuscan Bread) #twelveloaves

Tuscan Bread (Pane Toscano)
Tuscan Bread is one of the things that has been on my to-make list for quite a few years now. Honest to goodness, real, UNsalted Tuscan Bread (or Pane Toscano). Pane Toscano is a particularly large roundish loaf of bread that is traditionally cooked in the wood-fired ovens of Tuscany. Aside from being so large, its main distinction is its lack of salt.  It is made with sourdough or a bit of a starter, which gives it a slight tang, and it has a thick, chewy crust.

The dough is somewhat wet and slack, but the moisture in the dough, combined with a bit of steam (introduced here with ice cubes) and a super-hot oven, gives you that magical, sought-after crust crackle (sometimes called a singing crust) once the loaf is pulled from the oven.  Once you've removed the loaf from the hot oven and it begins to cool, the inside of the bread contracts a bit, which pulls at the crust. That thick, hard crust that was formed begins to form hairline fractures and cracks from the pressure, hence that much desired crackle.

I'll just say, that beautiful singing crust can incite quite the reaction. At one point, my whole family was gathered around the counter oohhing and aahhing over it.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Tuna a la Veracruzana #MazolaDishForTheHeart

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Mazola® Corn Oil. Opinions are my own.
Tuna a la Veracruzana
You know how people start making all sorts of resolutions when the new year rolls in—a good lot of them having to do with being healthier, be it through diet, mind, or exercise? I'm not usually one of those people. I have mentioned it before, but for reference, I'm going to say it again. I live in the Midwest, and the beginning of January is freezing; we have snow on the ground. Boots, mittens, scarves, hats, and snow pants are parked in front of every available heat vent. Sleds, skis, and ice skates are the main (if not only) forms of outdoor recreation going on at that time.

Let's just say that a frozen nose and frozen toes don't defrost with the help of a salad. They get back to normal with bowls of hearty stew, roasts that have become meltingly tender while you played, and steaming mugs of hot chocolate. Yes, as far as I'm concerned, January is time for comfort food, not diet food.

But by the time March rolls around, I'll admit to being ready to lighten up a bit. Yeah, it's still cold around here, but now I'm actively wishing it away. My bones are tired of shaking. I want to feel the sun on my skin again. Which makes me think about shedding the winter layers. Which makes me think about the extra "warmth" around my bones. Now is the time I want to start eating better for me foods.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mixed Seafood Fried Rice #OXOCookware

Mixed Seafood Fried Rice
In case you hadn't noticed—maybe you haven't been here in a while or maybe this is your first time visiting—I'm craving fish and seafood hard lately. I can't seem to get enough of it. While I am happy to eat it absolutely any time of the year, there's something about the Lenten season that brings it to the forefront. I'm sure it's the fact that I watch too much tv, and all the fast food places are advertising their fish sandwiches at every commercial break (because I'm not Catholic). Whatever the reason, I'm taking full advantage of it and working daily to satisfy that craving.

The other day at the market, I was passing a little freezer case, one of the kinds that's open like a table, not shelves enclosed by doors. There amongst the packages of frozen mussels, clams, and lobster tails, there were a few packages of a cooked seafood mix that were labeled as "paella mix". It included individually quick frozen octopus, squid, mussels, shrimp, and surimi (aka fake fake crab legs or pollock). This triggered a memory of seeing Nigella use a bag of frozen seafood to make a speedy seafood supper once upon a time. I remember wanting to make that; into my cart it went. Okay, into my cart went 2 packages, because if you're gonna do it, you might as well do it right.

One package is still hanging out in the freezer awaiting it's seafood supper fate a la Nigella Lawson. The other package made its way into a big batch of fried rice. Does that sound strange?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rhode Island Clam Chowder #ProgressiveEats

Rhode Island Clam Chowder
So, did you know that Rhode Island Clam Chowder was a thing? Until recently, I didn't. You see, lately I've been in the mood for seafood. Well, okay—I'm almost always in the mood for seafood. So how let's just say that I'm craving it even more than usual. This leads to me scouring my bookshelves and the internet for ideas and inspiration. It was on one of these missions that I happened across an article by Sam Sifton called The Clam Chowder Wars, and in turn, Rhode Island Clam Chowder.

Now, I've found myself to be in the minority when I declare Manhattan Clam Chowder to be my favorite type. Manhattan variety has a tomato-based brothy base, with a hint of heat from crushed red chile flakes. It's not only the flavor, it's the brothiness; I tend to prefer brothy soups. It was actually the very first recipe that I shared right here on my blog over six years ago, and I just happened to post an updated recipe less than a week ago.

That said, I do like the creamy New England variety...I think. Yes, I'm ducking right now. I saw that only because I can't remember the last time I ate any. It was probably when I was still working in restaurants. So, it's been at least seven years. You can probably guess where this is going; you'll be seeing yet another clam chowder recipe in this space soon.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Chop Suey inspired by Lady and the Tramp #foodnflix

Chop Suey
For this month's edition of Food 'n Flix, we are watching a beloved oldie, Lady and the Tramp. Since it was made in 1955, pretty much everybody I know, from my mom's generation to my kid's generation, grew up watching Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp. I don't own it on dvd, but I do have it on tape (that would be a VCR tape for you young-uns)...you know the one that all the Disney movies used to come in—big, white, heaven forbid you stepped on a corner or you'd never be able to close it again? This month was the first time I'd actually watched it in quite a few years, though; while I do still have one of those dvd/vcr combo players, I don't dare actually put a tape in it, because it's old and hungry.

Tramp rolling Lady the last meatball
So, everybody knows the story of the unlikely romance between the posh cocker spaniel and the rough-around-the-edges mutt from the other side of the tracks. And I'm guessing that when you think of food in the movie, you think of spaghetti and meatballs. I mean, that is the classic scene—it even graces the most modern movie cover and poster. It's the inspiration for lovebirds sharing a plate of spaghetti worldwide. Although, my favorite part of that particular scene is when Tramp pushes a meatball towards Lady with his nose.

That said, I decided against making a "spaghetti special, heavy on the meatballs". Instead, I decided to watch the movie again with new eyes...eyes on the look-out for a different avenue of inspiration. Turns out, there are quite a few hidden gems. Do you remember when Jim Dear pours coffee into a saucer, then gives it to Lady along with a doughnut? How about the Siamese cats scene? That happens to be one of my favorites. I toyed with the idea of making cat treats that included milk powder (until I found out for the first time in 39 years that milk is not good for cats; no wonder they love it) or fish (remember the goldfish?).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Caramelized Grapefruit Margarita #NationalMargaritaDay

Caramelized Grapefruit Margarita
Guess what day it is! No, not hump day. It's National Margarita Day! Since it's always more fun to raise your glass with friends, that's exactly what I'm doing. I've once again asked some of my food-blogging friends to conjure up a little margarita magic to share. It's selfish, really. I'm always looking for new cocktail inspiration, be it in the glass or on a plate, and this delivers that straight to my door, so to speak.

So, when I was trying to decide what kind of margarita I wanted to celebrate with, I started by looking around the kitchen. I really didn't want to brave the blindingly white outdoors. Fortunately, I had a huge pile of grapefruit just begging to be turned into that (unfrozen) concoction that helps me hang on.

Since I'd originally thought I was going to coat them in sugar and stick them under the broiler anyway, I figured I still would. A little deep caramel flavor never hurt anybody. So, brown sugar, a flame, and a few minutes later, I had some lovely grapefruit juice that was sweetened to taste like that popular breakfast treat.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Manhattan Clam Chowder Redux

Manhattan Clam Chowder
Six years (and nine days) ago today, I hit publish for the first time. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I wasn't familiar with the world of blogging. The number of blogs I'd even seen could be counted on one hand. I'd only recently left the restaurant world and gotten the internet at home, which meant I no longer had to shlep to the library with three young kids in tow in order to connect with the modern world.

The very first recipe I shared was for Manhattan Clam Chowder. I wrote a short, two sentence introduction proclaiming how much I loved soup. The sentiment holds true today, but I like to think I've come a long way since I those days in my tiny kitchen, snapping photos under artificial light with my little pink camera. I like to think that culinary school, an appreticeship, and working everywhere from fine dining restaurants to university test kitchens reinforced my cooking and recipe development chops, but my delivery left a lot to be desired.

I'd always enjoyed writing, but I rarely had the patience to do it well. Like many, I had teachers and professors who told me I had talent. But if I'm being honest with myself, I was just too lazy to do anything about it. The past six years has helped me develop the patience to sit down, form complete ideas, and actually write. I'm not saying it comes easy now, just that I've learned to enjoy and appreciate the process—and the end result, when it comes out as planned.

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