Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Simplicity of Italian Cooking - with recipes

The beauty of Italian cooking is in its simplicity. Much of Italian cooking is based on the idea that a few carefully chosen ingredients is all it takes to make a delicious dish.

This is what we had for dinner tonight, and while none of the recipes are specifically Italian, they do follow that philosophy.

Cannelini Bean Soup

Small onion, chopped

Olive oil

Sage - 2-3 leaves

2 cups cooked cannelini beans


Method: saute the onion in a little olive oil until translucent. Add the sage, beans, and a cup of water. Simmer until the beans are falling apart and the onions very well cooked. Puree with an immersion blender (or in a standard blender). Add additional water if the puree is too thick. Add salt to taste.

Mushroom Garnish for Soup

Olive oil

1 cup mushrooms (or half a small package) sliced

Basil - a handful chopped fine

Method: saute the mushrooms in a little olive oil. Add salt and basil. (I actually make this with an "ice cube" of basil frozen in olive oil.) Spoon over individual bowls of soup.

Wilted Spinach Salad

6-8 ounces baby spinach, washed and dried

1/4 cup olive oil

6-8 black olives, pitted and sliced

Half an apple, peeled and cut into small chunks

Half a cup of crumbled feta cheese

Red wine vinegar, a few splashes


Method: put spinach in a bowl with the vinegar. Heat the oil in a pan until almost smoking. Pour the oil over the spinach, while mixing. Add the rest of the ingredients and adjust the salt and vinegar.

Bread and Cheese

Any sort of bread you like will do, and cheese is optional. This evening we found the cheese in the salad to be enough. I had pizza dough in the fridge, so I made a simple flatbread with olive oil and salt.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mmmmmm dinner

I don't often attempt such an involved meal during the week, but this is what we had for dinner tonight.

Mini Pork Meatloaves

1 lb ground pork (serves three, make a pound and a half to serve four, upping the other ingredients)

3 plum tomatoes, peeled and diced (about a cup's worth)

1 onion diced and sauted in a little olive oil

2 slices of whole wheat bread, toasted and broken into little bits

Parlsey, a handful chopped

Salt and pepper

Method: mix the above together in a bowl. Lightly grease a muffin tin. Pack the meat mixture into the cups. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 170 degrees.

Rice with Pureed Pumpkin

Half an onion, chopped fine

Sage and thyme

Salt and pepper

1-2 cups pureed pumpkin (or butternut squash)

2 cups leftover rice

Method: saute the onion in a little olive oil. Add the other ingredients and cook until hot.

Green Vegetable

My mother believed that a meal should include two vegetables and that the vegetables should be two different colors. Tonight I made wax beans to compliment the pumpkin.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Decluttering the House

I read a couple of blog posts recently on stuff. The first (on Get Rich Slowly) was specifically about making decisions based on the life we lead everyday and not on the life we used to lead, the life we lead a couple of times a year, or the life we hope to lead. Applied to stuff the goal is to purchase and maintain only the stuff that relates to our everyday life. The others (on The Really Good Life) were about decluttering.

All of this got me thinking about my various stashes around the house. I have craft supplies for crafts I don't do anymore and probably won't ever do. So why am I keeping them, especially when I don't have space for my sewing supplies which I do use? I have clothes for special occasions that are going to be very out of date by the time my pregnant body and life are in a place where I might actually have reason to get dressed up. So why am I keeping them? And lastly, I have kitchen tools and gadgets galore. My kitchen storage is very cluttery, and basement storage really is a blessing and a curse in this case. If I don't remember if I still have that fondue pot, why am I keeping it?

I spent the morning tackling the first two categories. These were easy. Clothes went into a pile to go to a thrift shop. Craft supplies went into another pile. I'm going to offer those to friends of mine who work with children.

It's the third category that's really hard for me. I love my kitchen tools. I know I only used that bundt pan once, but if I find the perfect recipe for a bundt cake a year from now and...... You get how the reasoning goes here. So I am going to go through the drawers and cabinets in the kitchen and take out the stuff that I really think I could live without. These are going into the basement in a tub. If in the next couple of months I need something from the tub, it can come and live in the kitchen again. Next fall anything in the tub that still hasn't been touched goes out the door.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Alessia at 15 Months

Alessia's growth right now amazes me. A few weeks ago she finally let go of the coffee table and started walking. It took her so long to work up to it (she's been cruising since she was 9 months old), that there haven't even been that many all out disaster spills. She's so proud of herself, toddling around the living room and dining room picking up toys, lugging around large objects, chasing the cat. Her language development has also exploded. At a year she said daddy, kitty, yes, and no. Now she adds a new word everyday. Yesterday it was "sit down" and the day before it was apple. She has partial words for again, more, cracker (which unfortunately sounds like caca), and a dozen other things. Whenever she first learns a word she says it over and over again, as if she's savoring how it feels in her mouth and trying not to forget it. It was so funny this morning to watch her walk around the living room intently repeating "popper" to herself.

Nighttimes are rough, because of all this. With the walking has come a new wave of mother hugging and stranger danger, and the talking means her brain is on fire again, but the days are so much fun, that it almost makes up for the lack of sleep.



Monday, February 13, 2012

Fast Bread Baking - The Process

This is the process for making the basic boule in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day:

Measure and mix warm water, yeast, salt, and flour in a large tupperware container or dough bucket. (I started with the former, but fell in love with the process so fast that I bought one of the latter.)

Cover the container, making sure it is not airtight. (With the tupperware containers I didn't click the lid completely into place. I have put a small hole in my dough bucket's lid.) Leave it on the counter to rise for a couple of hours. Then stick the bucket in the fridge. This boule dough is good for 14 days.

When you want to bake a loaf of bread, cut off a chunk of dough. Shape the dough by pulling the it from top to bottom 4 or 5 times turning it as you go. This creates a smooth top and arranges the gluten.

Let the ball of dough rest for 40 minutes on a piece of parchment paper. Preheat the oven with a pizza stone or dutch oven inside. I use a dutch oven.

Flour the top of the dough and cut slashes in it. Plop the dough with the parchment paper into the dutch oven. Bake for 15 minutes with the top on, and 20 minutes with the top off.

This is what you get:

And here it is with soup and cheese for dinner:

I really recommend the book to anyone who is looking to make homemade bread, but doesn't have the time or inclination to make it the traditional way. If you want to learn more, the authors have a website: www.artisanbreadinfive.com.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Silver Baby Cup

Silver baby cups have become a very fashionable baby present. For my husband's family, it is a long standing tradition however.  In my in-laws china closet sits cups that belonged to my husband Adam, both his parents, at least one grandparent, and even a great-grandparent.

Today we tend to think of them as keepsakes, something pretty and precious that will last a long time. My mother-in-law had to explain to me that traditionally they were meant to be used, and not just for when the baby learns to drink out of a cup. The cups in her china closet have the dents to prove it. So when it came to start feeding Alessia solids, I pulled out her silver cup.

I have to say it's incredible practical. Silver conducts heat very well, which makes it easy to warm or cool food simply be putting the cup in a small bowl of hot or cold water.  Silver is very easy to clean and doesn't stain. Now that Alessia wants to "do it herself" we're finding the cup is the perfect size for her to hold in one hand with the spoon in the other. Its small size also makes it easy to throw in my diaper bag when we go out to dinner, and I can wrap it in a bib to get it home again.  It's also relatively indestructible, perfect for being banged on a high chair tray or dropped on a tile floor, and when Alessia does finally manage it to dent it, it will be a sign of love and use, like the generations of cups sitting in my in-laws' china closet.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Really Fast and Delicious Bread Baking

On and off for the last couple of years I've tried to get into bread baking. I don't have enough strength in my hands to knead bread effectively, and I just got sore hands and poor results when I tried traditional recipes. I got a stand mixer for my birthday last year. I found this to be very effective for pizza dough, but not as effective for whole wheat. My machine is just shy of being strong enough for large batches of whole wheat dough, and I had such mixed results when it came to the amount of rising, that I got frustrated and stopped trying again.

I then started to hear more about "no knead" bread recipes. I tried a white flour recipe with pretty good results, but the whole wheat bread recipe from the same author was incredibly dense. I found a book in the library that promised to be simple, but there were multiple steps with precise numbers of hours specified in between each step, and it just seemed like a scheduling nightmare.

Then I came across Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I thought it sounded incredibly gimmicky, but the reviews all insisted that this was the real deal, and I have to say that I agree.

This was my first attempt:

It's only gotten better from there. I've made pizza, flat breads, crusty boules, rustic breads with a touch of rye or cornmeal added, and whole wheat bread.

This is the whole wheat bread that I made yesterday and have been eating for breakfast:

I'll be mixing up another batch of dough this weekend. So I'll post photos and more info on the process then. In the meantime, I'll be making pizza for dinner with the dough that I mixed up last Friday. Yum.