November 16, 2009

old school italian favorites

Lately, you could not pay me to eat sweets! I guess because I am baking so much now I almost never want to eat the stuff. This is probably a good thing. A sweet tooth has plagued me all my life, until now. I can totally leave it and I crave savory dishes full of flavor and texture.

So I've been cooking from a new Cook's Illustrated special edition called Italian Favorites. I would link to their website, but they just make you pay for looking at their recipes and that's annoying. You might as well subscribe to the magazine and have something to keep --or better yet, just buy one every once in a while when it looks appealing like I do.

I have a love-hate relationship with the magazine. I love the in-depth recipe testing and they always get everything right. But sometimes making a simple dinner from the magazine makes me feel like I'm doing research on a dissertation (all over again) and I need to read every single word of the two-page single-spaced essay. And that's no way to enjoy yourself in the kitchen.

But the Italian favorites issue is a keeper. My aunt, who is also an avid cook, came to visit me recently and then went on a wild goose chase looking for a back issue because she wanted to make everything in it. I called up the magazine and had it sent to her house. It really is a good one. Some of the 'Italian favorites' I've tried are the above 'Chicken Marsala'. I veered from tradition and made it with Cinzano instead of Marsala, but it was close enough and very good. I also made the Spaghetti Puttanesca, which I make all the time but this one was different. It added anchovies to the usual olives, capers and tomatoes which I thought worked well.

I also made the 'pork chops with vinegar and peppers' and it was surprisingly good. It, like all of the recipes in this issue, reminded me of things I ate in my childhood. My mom made pork chops just like that and the chicken Marsala was probably served in all of the old hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurants we ate in growing up in Las Vegas. There are recipes for Fettuccine Alfredo and Chicken Piccata, Penne alla Vodka and Shrimp Fra Diavolo. It doesn't get any more old-school Italian-American than that!

One dish I am definitely going to make as soon as I find the time is 'braciole': Italian stuffed steak --a Southern Italian classic. My aunt nearly lost it when she saw that. She told me stories of all the wonderful Italian dishes my grandmother (who died when I was 5) used to make when she was young and dating my mom's brother. She told me of nights when she would come to dinner and just watch her cook and then eat the most delicious things. We went through old boxes of my mom's and grandma's recipes while she was here, stopping after each one so she could tell me a story about how they made it.

old italian women (not my relatives) courtesy of

While I may not be able to re-create those family recipes exactly as they were, at least I can attempt some old Italian favorites in my own home and pretend that I was there. Thanks, Cook's Illustrated. You're not so bad after all.

November 1, 2009

baking my brains out

I don't know where the month of October went. It seems like I blinked and all of a sudden the days are shorter, the air is colder and orange, red and yellow leaves blanket my yard in all directions. I have local Tennessee pumpkins and home-grown butternuts on the counter, waiting to get roasted, and most of my time has been taken up with baking.

Ever since I started this great new partnership baking over at dose coffee and tea, it seems my little baking business has kicked into high gear. That may be why I have less time to blog about what's going on in my home kitchen. I now have a commercial kitchen to play in where I'm creating lots of new seasonal treats and having fun testing the market.

The guys at dose really know coffee and have great things planned so I appreciate the chance to work with them. As the holidays approach and my baking heats up even more, I thought I'd share a few of the things I've been up to lately:

For the first Edgehill Village Artisan Fair

marmellata thumbprints, apple spice cakes with cream cheese frosting and (local) pumpkin spice cakes with maple glaze

cinnamon plum coffee cake (now being made with Bartlett pears)

For East Nashville's Walden Artisan Market

lemony semolina cookies

...and apple tort (a family tradition)

For a Fall Fest fundraiser for East Academy

Halloween sugar cookies

It has been a busy, creative Fall and I am enjoying the changes. I have a baby shower and a wedding cake to do in November and then...Holiday baking for special orders and parties. I like this kind of busy when, after hours of work in the kitchen, I can take stock of all I've made, see the tangible results on the counter and feel good about my progress.