November 19, 2009

pasta al forno

One of the things I like best about autumn (and there are many) is that the cool days signal a return to comfort food and nothing spells comfort to me like pasta al forno, or baked pasta.

Like so much of my cooking, this dish brings me back to my childhood when every Sunday, rain or shine, snow or scorching heat, our extended family would set out on a picnic. But no sandwiches for us, thank you very much, and pasta al forno made a regular appearance on our picnic table with us kids fighting over who would get the corners with the crusty bits!

So when I was invited to a potluck recently there was no question as to what I would bring!

I decided to use paccheri, a large tubular shape which is traditionally Neapolitan. You want a large pasta shape for this dish so that it holds up to the heat of the oven and, while you can use rigatoni or even penne, paccheri maintain a nice chew after baking.

I parboiled the pasta and added it to a simmering pot of tomato sauce with tiny meatballs. While the pasta was cooking I made a béchamel sauce - this is totally optional but it adds a nice creaminess to the finished dish and it's a cinch to make.

After that, all that was left was to layer - first the sauced pasta, then the béchamel, finally a little grated mozzarella (not too much) and repeat.

Bake in a 375°F oven, covered with foil, until hot and bubbly (30-45 minutes depending on the size of your dish). Remove the foil and increase heat to 425°F until the top is browned. Don't scrimp on this last step because the crusty bits around the edges are the best part!

Allow to stand for at least 15 minutes before serving then stand back and reap the praise!

Pasta al forno is my contribution to this week's Presto Pasta Nights hosted this week by Kait of Pots and Plots. Visit Kait's blog on Friday for some weekend pasta inspiration from this week's roundup.

November 17, 2009

changing the face of famine one cookbook at a time

The BloggerAid Cookbook

A few months ago I joined Blogger Aid - Changing the Face of Famine, a wonderful group of bloggers coming together to make a difference. The members of BloggerAid have now published a cookbook where 100% of the proceeds target children and education through the World Food Programme's ("WFP") School Meals.

The WFP is the United Nations frontline agency mandated to combat global hunger and the WFP's vision for the School Meals programme is that no child should be hungry at school. According to the WFP's site:

❖ School meals can be used to effectively tackle hunger, nutrition, education, gender inequality and broader development issues. They transfer much needed income to food insecure households.

❖ Just US$0.25 will fill a cup with porridge, rice or beans and give a monthly ration to take home. With US$50 a child can be fed for an entire school year.

❖ WFP now provides meals to an average of 23 million children in school, about half of whom are girls, in 70 countries, at a cost of almost half a billion US dollars.

Food bloggers from across the globe have contributed their favourite recipes, truly making this cookbook an impressive international endeavour:
Through these recipes they share their traditions and insatiable curiosity about new flavours. They pay tribute to the home cooking of our grandmothers, while celebrating the exoticism and richness of a world brought closer together by their hopes to make a difference. With recipes such as Tomato-Cheese Ravioli with Eggplant Sauce, Spicy Serundeng Tuna and Peanuts, Serrano Ham Paella with Oyster Mushrooms, Raspberry Mascarpone Bites and Triple Layer Orange-Passion Fruit Tart we are doing our part to say that bloggers can change the face of famine.
If US$50 can feed a child for an entire school year, just imagine the possibilities if we all unite together to support this worthy cause! If you would like to purchase the cookbook and do your part to change the face of famine please click here.

November 15, 2009

breakfast in rome

Pizza BiancaImage by scottpartee via Flickr

When in Rome, do as the Romans. This is especially true when it comes to the breakfast sandwich of choice: pizza bianca con la mortadella (or "mortazza" as its affectionately known to the Romans).

I have very fond memories of staying with my uncle and his family in Rome and waking up to the smells of fresh "white" pizza from the bakery down the street and mortadella sliced so thin you could see through it, the fat melting into the hot dough. Oooooh, so good.

But my mortadella consumption was not limited to my stays in the Eternal City. The sandwich of my youth was mortadella and a mild semi-soft cheese on a crusty roll. I like Havarti even though it's not very Italian but provolone or Friulano (a Canadian cheese similar to Montasio) is just as good. You could always pick out the Italian kids in the cafeteria at school where mortadella made a regular appearance and there wasn't a slice of white sandwich bread in sight!

My cousins used to love to torture me with stories of mortadella being made of donkey meat. In fact, mortadella is a large sausage made with finely ground pork, spiced and shot through with whole lardons (traditionally from the neck) and peppercorns. Other ingredients can also be added to the sausage and I am particularly partial to pistachios. The flavour is incredibly delicate and it's best when sliced as thin as humanly possible.

Next time you're in Rome do as the Romans and order the pizza bianca co' la mortazza!

October 19, 2009

back to blogging and back to nature

After many weeks of (often painful) acupuncture and acupressure treatments administered by an incredibly talented Chinese doctor I am finally optimistic that I have beat my severe tendinitis into submission and it feels good to be back!

A few weeks ago I received a lovely basket full of Kraft Canada's Back to Nature products - different varieties of nuts, fruits and seed mixes from Edelman as part of BloggerAid's wonderful View and Review program.

I love nuts and snack on them all the time but I tend to stick to unroasted and unsalted varieties for health reasons so I was intrigued by the claims that these products contain no additives or preservatives.

The first thing that caught my eye was the list of ingredients - it was relatively short for most varieties and I could actually understand it, which is a very good thing in my book! Next I turned to the dreaded sodium content (I am the low sodium girl after all) and, again, was very pleased to see that several varieties contained no added sodium, not an easy thing to find in the supermarket.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating so I eagerly ripped open one of the bags and munched on a delicious combination of raisins, almonds, pumpkin seeds, pecans and apricots. Then G opened the cranberry, chocolate covered almond and vanilla almond combo and practically ate the entire bag in one sitting!

Nuts are full of nutritional goodies such as fibre, protein and healthy oils and we would all do well to add a handful to our daily diet. I applaud Kraft Canada for making healthier snacks delicious and accessible! Keep 'em coming!!!

Here are the six available varieties from the Back to Nature site:

Made with premium almonds, plump California raisins (sun-dried with no added
sugars or preservatives), jumbo and large grade pistachios, and cranberries that
are dried with their natural juices intact. This premium trail mix is 100%
natural—no preservatives, no additives, all delicious.

We start by meticulously selecting the highest grade of almonds commercially available: Nonpareil almonds, prized for their superior size. Then we gently dry roast them, and then steep them in sea salt to create delicious almonds—100% natural with absolutely no additives or added oils.

A delicious blend of Nonpareil almonds, jumbo cashews and California pistachios that are either USDA Fancy Grade or US # 1 graded. Our premium nuts are roasted by nut type to bring out their optimum flavour and crunch, without any additives, preservatives or added oils. After roasting, the nuts are blended together to create a 100% natural Sea Salt Roasted Cashew, Almond and Pistachio mix—four simple ingredients, one great taste.

A perfect combination of taste and texture. We begin with crunchy pecans thatare sourced from Southwest US and Mexico. They’re USDA Fancy Grade and juniormammoth in size, roasted in expeller-pressed oils to retain their natural flavour. Then they’re mixed in with our sun-dried and premium-grade California apricots, delicious pumpkin and sunflower seeds, highest-grade almonds and plump raisins to create a delicious, 100% natural trail mix that has no additives or preservatives.

Only jumbo cashews make the cut for Back to Nature. USDA Fancy Grade whole
cashews—no pieces or picked-over remains. We dry roast them and then gently
steep them in sea salt to preserve their natural taste and crunch—creating a
100% natural mix without any additives, preservatives or added oils.

We start with plump cranberries from bogs in Quebec and eastern Canada that grow cranberries exclusively for drying, not juicing. Then we dry them with their natural juices intact, creating a “juicy” dried cranberry. Then we add premium almonds that have been slowly tumbled in dark chocolate of over 50% cacao. Then we finish this perfect recipe with almonds coated in vanilla from Madagascar. The result is a 100% natural, 100% delicious snack.

September 27, 2009


The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

When this month's challenge was revealed I was ecstatic and terrified in equal measure. I have always wanted to try puff pastry but never had the courage. So thanks Steph for pushing me out of my comfort zone - the challenge was awesome, the pastry was out of this world and I had a blissful weekend making it.

The dough was so simple it was laughable - water, flour and salt blitzed in the food processor then rolled out to a rough square with a thicker pad in the centre. The dough was silky and smooth, like playdough, and a joy to work with.

Next came the butter - a full pound - and my first thought was holy butter batman! I had trouble with my photos but despite the blurriness I wanted to include this one to remind me of the shocking amount of butter in this dough.

As you can see, the butter has to be pounded into a rectangle and placed over the dough. I had visions of pieces of butter flying all over the kitchen but it was surprisingly easy and incredibly therapeutic at the same time.

The edges of the dough are then folded over the dough and it is rolled out to a long oblong, folded into an envelope, and then the process is repeated for 6 turns of the dough. Here I had a bit of trouble with butter oozing out but this dough is very forgiving and all I had to do was to refrigerate the dough between each turn.

I really can't get over how simple and pleasurable making puff pastry was. With each turn the dough became smoother and silkier and I fell in love with the whole process. By the final turn the dough was as silky as a baby's bottom and I could barely keep my hands off it.

Once I made the dough my head was filled with so many ideas for using it (chief among which were mille-feuille) but Steph had challenged us to make vols-au-vents so that's what we had for dinner. The filling was a classic chicken pot pie filling - a velouté with chicken and veg - but it was lifted into the category of the sublime by the pastry. It was incredibly buttery and light and almost melted in the mouth.

The rest of the dough is in the freezer but I have a feeling that it won't be lasting very long in there! I have no illusions of being a master pastry chef and I'm sure that my puff pastry would probably fall short in a French cooking school but even so it was so much better than any packaged dough I've ever tasted and I am pretty sure there's no turning back at this point.

You can find the recipe on the Daring Kitchen site where you will also find the incredible creations of my fellow Daring Bakers.

Bon apétit mes amis!

September 18, 2009

presto pasta night #131 roundup

I am absolutely thrilled to be hosting Presto Pasta Night for the first time and it was so much fun to meet so many wonderful fellow food bloggers. As usual, we have a great array of pasta recipes this week so, without further ado, I will leave you to find some inspiration for your weekend menu!

1. First up is Tea and Scones, encouraging us to eat more chicken by making chicken marsala this week. As a bonus, she also made buttermilk baps with fresh oregano and basil to sop up even more of that wonderful sauce.

2. Deborah of What's In My Kitchen made pasta with shrimp in tomato cream sauce. It may have taken her a little longer to make than she had planned but it looks as though it was worth the wait!

3. Little Corner of Mine was inspired to combine two everyday ingredients to create Special Peanut Butter & Ketchup Noodle for her family's Friday noodle night. I'm sure that there were a lot of happy faces around that table when she served up this winning combination.

4. Mrs Ergül is a fellow fan of aglio olio pasta and served it up with a twist this week, adding flank steak, veggies and some heat in this beautiful beef aglio olio pasta dish.

5. Next up is a gorgeous lasagne with pumpkin and cilantro cream from radha of Urban bites: delizie da Hong Kong, chronicling the adventures of an Italian in Hong Kong. This is a perfect dish for those crisp autumn days which are just around the corner.

6. Val of More Than Burnt Toast gives us her orzo pasta salad which looks deliciously cool and refreshing, perfect for hot summer days and makes me nostalgic for the summer that never was (at least this year here in Toronto).

7. There's nothing like eating seasonal and, with her zucchini carbonara, Joanne of Eats Well With Others gives us a novel way to use the zucchini that seem to pop up everywhere this time of year.

8. Using more seasonal vegetables, Mansi of Twist to the Taste made a lovely late-summer pasta salad featuring tomatoes, corn and bell peppers. As she says, this dish is perfect for a picnic.

9. SnoWhite of Finding Joy in My Kitchen made a roasted red pepper and tortellini bake this week. Roasted red peppers always signal the end of summer to me and this is another perfect dish for those cool autumn nights.

10. Kait of Pots and Plots used her favourite gourmet chicken sausage in her penne with roasted garlic and mozzarella sausage. Makes me wish we had a Sam's Club in Toronto so I could try some!
11. Deb in Hawaii from Kahakai Kitchen brings us rigatoni with buffalo meatballs from her "beach kitchen". Deb likes buffalo as it's grass-fed, lean and delicious - a great alternative to beef.

12. Kristine of My Sweet Cheap Life relied on her Sweetie to finish her poppyseed pappardelle with mushroom-sweet pepper ragout while she shared a pint and onion rings with a friend. In the interests of full disclosure, I am that friend and, had I known that she had such a tempting dish on the stove, I would have invited myself over to her place for dinner instead!

13. Amy of Very Culinary shares her creamy fusilli with mushrooms and asiago. It may not have been non-dairy or low cal but sometimes a girl just needs to splurge and what a great way to do it!

14. A different twist on creamy pasta from HoneyB of The Life and Loves of Grumpy's Honeybunch: creamy shrimp and bacon linguini. Hard to believe that this luscious dish doesn't contain any cream!

15. Another great baked pasta: Sweet and Savory took her inspiration from a herb and parmesan baked potato and created a "potatoes turned pasta" dish.

16. Little Inbox of Eating Pleasure's contribution to this week's roundup are braised yee-fu noodles. Also known as yee mein, yee-fu are egg noodles that are deep fried and Little Inbox paired them with chicken, prawns and fish balls for a tempting treat.

17. Kristin over at Sogkonnite Living made stained glass pasta from scratch using fresh lime basil, one of her very favourite herbs of all time. I've never heard of lime basil but I am tempted to go out and try some right now.

18. And finally a dish contributed by yours truly: spaghetti with oven-roasted tomatoes and garlic from one of my pasta idols, Biba Caggiano. The roasted tomatoes are so sweet I've been popping them like candy all week.

Thank you Ruth for the opportunity to host this week's Presto Pasta Night and thank you everyone for participating in this week's roundup and for making my first hosting experience so much fun. I hope to see you next week when Sara of I'm a Food Blog will be hosting.

September 16, 2009

indian dosas

This month's Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Debyi from The Healthy Vegan Kitchen. She chose Indian dosas, inspired by a dish at one of my favourite casual places to eat in Toronto, Fresh.

The food at Fresh is largely vegan, although some dairy options are available, and made from scratch with fresh ingredients. More importantly to a non-vegan like me, the food is absolutely delicious. If you find yourself in Toronto you could do much worse than to grab a bite at Fresh.

The dosas were very tasty, filled with a curried chick pea mixture and topped with a coconut curry sauce, both equally delicious over rice. The filling and the sauce were straightforward and relatively easy to make, filling my kitchen with delicious aromas as they simmered on the stove. The dosa pancakes, on the other hand, were not quite as cooperative.

The dosa batter is quite similar to crepe batter and the cooking method is virtually identical but it took me many tries before I got a dosa that was not grossly misshapen and that's the one that made it into the photo. Luckily, it's easy to ignore the messy pancakes when the finished dish is as tasty as this one!

Visit the Daring Kitchen for a peek at the dosas created by the many talented cooks who participated in the challenge where you will also find the recipe for these yummy dosas there as well.

Thanks Debyi for choosing a dish from this fantastic eatery!

P.S. A reminder of Thursday's deadline for submissions to this week's Presto Pasta Night. If you want to join the fun, the guidelines for participating are here.

September 13, 2009

hosting presto pasta nights: spaghetti with oven-roasted tomatoes and garlic

After a long absence from blogging I am thrilled to be back and hosting Presto Pasta Nights this week. PPN is a weekly pasta blogging event created by the delightful Ruth Daniels of Once Upon a Feast.

If this is your first time participating in PPN, the guidelines for submitting a dish couldn't be any simpler:

1. Blog about a pasta dish (it doesn't have to be traditional Italian type pasta, as long as it has some sort of noodle in it) and include a link to Presto Pasta Nights and to this blog.

2. Send me an email (the DOT sweetkitchen AT yahoo DOT ca), copying Ruth (Ruth AT 4EveryKitchen DOT com), with a link to your post by midnight Thursday September 17. If you can, please include a jpeg or other image file of your dish in your email.

3. Check back here on Friday evening for the roundup and some delicious pasta inspiration for the weekend!

My contribution this week is from Biba Caggiano's fantastic cookbook Italy Al Dente, which focuses on pasta, risotto, gnocchi, polenta and soup. Her recipes are always authentic and delicious and, if you're not familiar with Biba, this cookbook is a great place to start.

You may have noticed that the tomatoes are finally here and they're absolutely gorgeous! When my mom brought over a lovely basket of her home-grown tomatoes I jumped at the opportunity to make spaghetti with oven-roasted tomatoes and garlic with her bounty. Everything in the sauce, other than the capers, is from her garden!

You will need several hours to complete this recipe but it is virtually all walk-away time while the tomatoes and garlic are roasting in a low oven. Oh, and you may want to roast a few extra tomatoes while you are at it because I couldn't resist popping them like candy, they were that sweet!

Spaghetti with oven-roasted tomatoes and garlic
FromItaly Al Denteby Biba Caggiano

serves 4 to 6

1.5 kg (approximately 3 pounds) ripe tomatoes, sliced
4 to 5 garlic cloves, peeled
salt to taste
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp capers, rinsed
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
hot red pepper flakes to taste
450 gr (approximately 1 pound) spaghetti

Preheat oven to 250°F. Place sliced tomatoes and garlic cloves on 2 baking sheets lined with lightly oiled parchment paper and sprinkle with salt. Bake until shrivelled and dry, approximately 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and allow to cool then roughly chop.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over low heat and add diced tomatoes and garlic, capers, parsley and hot pepper. Heat through.

Cook pasta according to package directions and toss with sauce.

August 30, 2009

a light at the end of the tunnel

There is a light at the end of the TunnelImage by lonesome:cycler via Flickr

I have been MIA lately due to health reasons and it's been driving me insane. But now there is a light at the end of the tunnel!

The tendinitis in my right forearm has evolved from a dull roar to a piercing scream, preventing me from typing anything more than a couple of words at a time.

I had lost all hope of anything working when I was referred to a wonderful doctor of Chinese medicine. While the treatment itself is quite painful, my arm is finally healing.

Thanks to everyone for your support and I am really looking forward to being back soon!!!

August 16, 2009

rice with shrimp and mushrooms

This month's Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Olga of Las Cosas de Olga and Olga's Recipes and was an awesome Spanish rice with mushrooms, artichokes and (in my version) shrimp.
After the complexity of last month's challenge I was a bit anxious about what might be in store for this month. The tendonitis in my right arm has been excruciating lately and is keeping me away from the computer and the stove. I thought I'd have to pass on this month's challenge but this recipe kept calling out to me so finally I decided to give it a try. It was so simple that I was able to make it with one hand, literally!
The recipe starts with a sofregit or sofrito - tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and spices cooked down into a luscious paste - which is then used to flavour the rice. The original recipe calls for cuttlefish but I have never been a big fan so I used shrimp instead.
Thank you Olga for an amazing recipe - it is just what I needed this month and I will come back to it again and again! You can find the recipe and photos from the talented Daring Cooks here.

August 3, 2009

ciambottola: traditional italian summer stew

Ciambottola, a traditional summer stew from the region of Campania, has been a staple in our household for as long as I can remember.

Despite our atrocious weather this summer, my mum's garden has begun to bear fruit and it looks like she will have a bumper crop of zucchini. True peasant food at its simplest, ciambottola takes full advantage of the fresh produce available at this time of the year.

While you can certainly make this with supermarket zucchini, it is so much better with farm fresh, which are so much more fragrant and delicious. Redolent of tomatoes, fresh zucchini and basil, it fills the house with the intoxicating aroma I associate with lazy summer days as it bubbles away on the stove.

Ciambottola is so ubiquitous in Campania that the traditional ingredients vary from town to town and each cook has her own favourite recipe but the constants are zucchini, potatoes and tomatoes. Some like it more soupy, others prefer it to be more like a stew. I'm in the latter camp and this is my version.


Serves 4 - 6

3 tbsp olive oil
2 medium zucchini, sliced into half moons
2-3 Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) cubes
10-15 cherry tomatoes
5 leaves of basil
salt to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. Add, in layers, the potatoes first, then the zucchini and finally the tomatoes. Add 3/4 cup of water, salt to taste and tear the basil leaves over the top. Do not stir.

Cover and bring to a simmer, lower heat and cook on a slow simmer until the potatoes are tender (approximately 15 minutes). Stir all the ingredients together and serve with crusty bread and grated parmesan cheese.

July 27, 2009

blast from the past

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

This is my first Daring Bakers challenge and it was definitely a blast from the past, or at least half of it was. I've never had a Milano cookie but the marshmallow puff was a childhood staple.

We used to live across the street from my grandparents when we were growing up and we could always be assured that they would have a box of marshmallow cookies in the cupboard. Our absolute favourites were wagon wheels but good old viva puffs would do just fine too. So I was very excited at the prospect of making my own.

I decided to make the Milan cookies first. My first batch was disappointing - like many other Daring Bakers, my cookies spread more than I anticipated and I ended up with gigantic blobs. I managed to salvage a few from my second batch and, frustrated by my failures, for my third batch I decided to use my madeleine tins. I'm not sure if I didn't bake them enough but these cookies were quite cakey and soft where I was expecting something more crisp although, never having tasted a Milano cookie, I don't know why I thought that would be the case. Oh well, they weren't very pretty but they were still tasty.

Then I tackled the mallow cookies. OMG! Where to begin? The base was similar to a crumbly shortbread with a hint of cinnamon, topped with a cloud of homemade marshmallow and coated with dark chocolate. A grown-up version of the viva puff!

And this is why I love these challenges - quite frankly it would never have occurred to me to make mallow cookies at home. Now that I have I've been spoiled forever because once you've had the homemade version there's no going back!

Thank you Nicole for taking me on this nostalgic trip back to simpler times!