Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Gioia di Polpette for Foodie Reads

As we inch towards the final quarter of the Foodie Reads 2016 Challenge, I cracked the cover on a copy of Not My Mother's Kitchen: Rediscovering Italian-American Cooking Through Stories and Recipes by Rob Chirico.* I received an advance reader's copy through a giveaway and was excited to dig in.

On the Page
I have to be honest - I had a hard time finishing this book. When I was given the choice of books from the giveaway, I immediately chose this one because it involved Italian food. How could I not devour the book? I lived in Italy. I learned to cook in Italy. I'll read just about anything set in Italy and anything that includes Italian fare. Well, there were two reasons that reading the book was agonizing for me.

First, his tone bordered on disdainful towards his mother's lack of culinary skills. The first line of the introduction read, "My mother was an assassin." He continued, "Left to her own devices she laid waste to spaghetti, hamburgers, and even salad. 'Fresh' was not a word she used...."

Here's one particularly brutal assessment of his mother's cooking. "Eventually my otherwise stoic father asked her to stop making the horrific combination of cubed round steak and brown water. He confided to me that it was like eating rubber bathed in a street puddle. This is not being fair to 'brown,' which is indeed a color."

I think he meant to be funny, but how many times do we need to hear that his mother was a terrible cook? I got the picture after the first three times. Humor is difficult to write and I don't think this was as successful has he would have liked - at least not with me.

Still, growing up with awful meals, inspired Chirico to become an accomplished cook. And he truly is that. You can tell that he loves food and enjoys creating beautiful meals. Unfortunately that brings me to the second reason I struggled with this book: it has multiple personality disorder. It's part memoir, part cookbook, part kitchen manual. But the transitions between those aren't seamless. It feels simultaneously forced, stilted, and preachy.

These comments are all really just about the narrative. Regarding the recipes, Chirico writes succinctly and his expertise is evident. So, where I'd give his story a single star - out of five - I'd give his recipes four and a half stars, again out of five.

On the Plate
We are a huge fans of meatballs. So I decided to adapt his recipe for what he described as the gioia di polpette - "the joy of meatballs...." I made mine gluten-free and used pork and beef instead of pork and lamb.


  • 1 T olive oil
  • 3/4 C onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 C gluten-free panko breadcrubms
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 3 T fresh parsley, chopped + more for garnish
  • 1 t fresh tarragon, chopped
  • 1 C grated cheese (I used a combination of pecorino and parmigiano)
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4 C roasted tomato sauce (my recipe here)
  • 1/2 C red wine
  • gluten-free flour for dusting
  • 1/2 C canola oil

Heat 1 T olive oil in a large, flat-bottom pan. Cook the onions until softened and beginning to turn translucent. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Place all of the ingredients - to the eggs - in a large mixing bowl, including the cooled onions. Mix well, by hand, until everything is well-combined. Place flour in a shallow bowl. Form meat mixture into walnut-sized balls and roll them in flour to coat.

In a large pot, bring tomato sauce and red wine to a simmer.

In the same pot that you cooked the onions, heat 1/2 C canola oil. Brown the meatballs in batches until cooked completely through. Once the meatballs are cooked, place them in the simmering sauce. Simmer together for another 10 to 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning as needed and sprinkle with fresh parsley before serving.

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.

Here's what everyone else read in October 2016: here.

{Gluten-Free} Seeded Soft Pretzels

This is my first time making gluten-free soft pretzels. Since I wasn't sure how the dough would stand up to a preliminary poaching, I opted to do a variation of my dough that goes straight into the oven. These didn't end up being pillowy soft, but they weren't bad - especially for gluten-free! I would make them again.

  • 1 C whole milk
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 T active dry yeast
  • 1 T organic granulated sugar
  • 4 to 5 C gluten-free flour blend
  • 1 to 2 T mixed seeds (I used caraway, sesame, and poppy seeds)
  • 2 to 3 eggs for binding (mine needed 3) + 1 egg for wash
  • pretzel salt or other large grain salt for baking

Warm milk in a small saucepan until it's warm to the touch, but not too hot. Add the butter and swirl until melted. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and granulated sugar in warm milk. Let stand until bloomed, approximately 5 minutes.

Add flour, seeds, and 2 eggs. Form into a dough. If the mixture is dry, add 1 more egg. Knead the dough until smooth, about 7 to 8 minutes.

Roll out tubes of dough and form into pretzels. Place on a parchment-lined or silicone mat-lined baking sheet and preheat oven to 450 degrees F.  Let pretzels rise for at least 15 to 20 minutes.

Brush beaten egg over the tops of the risen pretzels and sprinkle with pretzel salt or other large grain salt.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes until the tops are nicely browned.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Prickly Pear Barbeque Sauce

When I was getting ready to leave my friends' house yesterday, I noticed all the prickly pears on their cacti.

"Do you have plans for all those?" I queried, pointing at all the tunas on the paddles, as I am always looking to cook with things from my friends' yards!

Plans for what? Mike asked.

"All those prickly pears," I answered.

Oh, no, I just let those fall on the ground. Why? Do you want some?


He grabbed tongs, a long, knife, and a paper bag. I followed him out. 

"I heard that I can burn the spines off with a torch. Is that what I should do?"

[insert much laughter] Where did you hear that?

"I read it somewhere," I answered sheepishly. It sounded like a good idea...all except for the fact that I have yet to locate my culinary torch since we moved.

No, you don't need to do that. He cautioned me against touching the prickly pears at all and showed me how to get to the meat without handling the fruit at all.

You slice the ends off. Make a slice down the fruit lengthwise. Then run your knife just under the skin all the way around the fruit. You're left with cylinders of prickly pear that are spine-free and safe to touch!

As we're headed to a bring-you-own meat barbeque on Friday, I decided to make some prickly pear barbeque sauce. I've made pumpkin barbeque sauce and rhubarb barbeque sauce before and figured this would be equally unique. And homemade barbeque sauce is so easy to make...

Prickly Pear Barbeque Sauce

  • 1-1/2 C roasted tomato sauce (my recipe here, or you can substitute with ketchup)
  • 1-1/2 C prickly pear juice and pulp*
  • 3/4 C apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 C Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 T raw honey
  • 1 T organic dark brown sugar
  • 3 T diced onions
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 t curry powder
  • freshly ground salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
*Place peeled prickly pears in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the fruit is completely broken down.

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and simmer until it has reached the consistency that you want. Mine took between 15 and 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning - sugar, salt, and pepper - as needed. Place in sterile jars and refrigerate until ready to use. Use within week.

Product Review: Roasted Beet Hummus with the Oster Pro® 1200 Plus #MomsMeet #Sponsor

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Moms Meet. All opinions are my own.

I'll just start with this: I have an incredibly contentious relationship with blenders and food processors. I love the ease of blenders and food processors and they are so necessary for so many different foods. And, over the past decade, I've own my fair share of them.

One blender had a base that tightened in the opposite direction of 'righty-tighty, lefty-loosey' so, if I happened to forget that, I ended up with blended sludge all over my counter; I always ran that blender in a bin! I had a blender that I really liked - it worked quickly and efficiently - but the jar was plastic and I vastly prefer glass. 

So, I always keep an eye out for my next blender, hoping that I'll find one that does everything I want and is made of what I want. When the opportunity arose - through my association with Moms Meet - to try an Oster® Pro® 1200 Plus, I was thrilled. 

My Enthusiastic Kitchen Elf opened the package before I got home from work. And he already had plans. "Mom," he gushed, "I want to make beet hummus!" Great!

About the Oster Pro® 1200 Plus
'Plus' refers to it being a blender PLUS a food processor and it features...
  • One-touch controls for smoothies, chopping, milkshakes
  • Four one-touch speed controls - low, medium, high, and pulse
  • An all-metal drive provides metal-to-metal connection for more durability
  • 8-cup blender jar
  • 5-cup food processing bowl

What I Loved
The first thing that jumped out at me was its compact footprint. It was no bigger than the blender I have now (which is also an Oster®) and it's much smaller than my food processor. It only takes up a 7" square spot. So, it can stay on the counter...and that makes my life so much easier!

The second thing I noticed, as we were making several dishes this weekend is it's so easy to use. Most blenders and food processors aren't particularly complicated - you press a button and it starts; you press another button and it stops - but this one also sets easily. One thing I disliked about my previous blender is that if I didn't set the jar in properly, the blades wouldn't spin correctly. For this one, there's no wrong way to set it in. It only goes in one way; I didn't have to try to spin it for the blades to align.

What I Didn't Love
Now, if they could only develop a self-cleaning blender...I'd be happy! The only complaint I have: the lid on the food processing bowl is a little tough to unlatch or unlock. Otherwise, in all seriousness, there was nothing else that I didn't love about this appliance.

It was easy to use. It worked well and fast. And it was sleek and good-looking. Well, if an appliance can be good-looking. It can, right?

What I Made
We made several things this weekend in the course of trying out the Oster Pro® 1200 Plus, including a prickly pear barbeque sauce that I will be sharing soon. But the recipe I'm going to share with this product review is exactly what the Enthusiastic Kitchen Elf declared we were making as soon as he saw it: beet hummus.

Next to blended soups, hummus is probably the thing we make the most in our blender and food processor. Unfortunately, my youngest developed a sensitivity to garbanzo beans several years ago, so we get creative with our hummus. He still pines for "the regular, plain old hummus" but it's gotten to the point where he no longer suffers through the stomach pain. So, we make hummus with black lentils, roasted carrots, golden cauliflower, though roasted beet is our favorite.

Roasted Beet Hummus

Roasted Beets

  • 3 to 4 organic medium sized beets, scrubbed, dried, and trimmed
  • olive oil
  • freshly ground sea salt


  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves
  • ½ C tahini
  • 1 C plain whole milk yogurt
  • 4 T freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used Meyer lemon for this batch)
  • 1 t freshly ground sea salt + more for taste
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • olive oil for drizzling, optional

Roasted Beets
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Scrub and trim the beets, then roll them in olive oil and sprinkle them with salt. Lay them on a baking sheet. Roast until they are fork tender. It depends on the size of the beet, but it usually takes about an hour. Once they are cool enough to handle, rub off the skin.

Place all of the ingredients - plus the roasted beets - in the bowl of the food processor. Process until smooth. Adjust seasoning, if needed, with more salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil, if desired. Serve with pita bread, chips, or cut veggies.

A Few More Things...
Oster® has a current offer at Target for $10 off any Oster® Blender $39 and up. Get the coupon: here. And Target also has a Cartwheel app. Oster® will be updating the app with promotions throughout the holiday season. Get the app: here.

You may find Oster®...
on the web

*Disclosure: I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms Meet program,
May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet blogger, I agree to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of this product.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Diminutive Caramel Apples

When I spotted these teeny tiny apples at Whole Foods today, I thought: Caramel Apples! 

I grabbed some organic curly willow to make them look a little witchy. It's not that these are difficult to make...but I was testing to see if I wanted to make fifty of them for the MYP Halloween. Ummm...nope. I considered scaling it back to making enough for a smaller Halloween party. Nope again. But they are wonderfully festive, aren't they?

Ingredients makes 8

  • 8 small apples (I used Lady Apples)
  • curly willow branches
  • 2 T ginger syrup (I used Ginger People)
  • 2 T water
  • 1/2 organic granulated sugar
  • 1/4 C organic heavy cream
  • pinch vanilla salt or fleur de sel
  • 1/2 t pure vanilla extract
  • 2 T butter
  • Also needed: parchment paper


Cut curly willow branches to your desired length. Carefully skewer your apples with the curly willow and set aside.

Place the ginger, water, and sugar into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Once all the sugar has melted, swirl the pan occasionally while the sugar continues to cook.

Cook until the sugar has reached a deep amber color. It should have a slightly nutty aroma and be almost a reddish brown. Add the butter and vanilla extract. Be careful because the caramel will bubble up. Whisk the butter into the caramel until completely melted.

Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the cream into the caramel. Again, take care because the mixture will bubble up again. Whisk until all of the cream has been incorporated and you have a smooth sauce. Add in the salt. Whisk to incorporate. Let the sauce cool for 10 to 15 minutes .

Immediately dip and coat the apples completely. 

Place the dipped apples on parchment paper. Let set for at least an hour before serving. 

Have you made caramel apples? I've heard all sorts of horror stories about making sure they are completely dry. I even read of someone using sand paper to scuff the apple skin before adhering the caramel. These were delicious though. I might make them again. Maybe next year!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Favorite Cheeses, Curdling Milk, and a Tasting #TrainingCaseophiles

This week kicks off my six-week cheese class: The International Cheese Board. No, I'm not taking a six-week cheese class. I wish!! I'm teaching a six-week cheese class - to a dozen fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh graders. Yikes. Wish me luck. Thankfully I have a co-teacher this term; that always makes life much easier. Susan wasn't here this week as she was off leading a teachers' workshop in Los Angeles. But, stay tuned for all our cheesy shenanigans.

As a little ice breaker, I had them introduce themselves and tell us what their favorite cheese is. I was pleasantly surprised to hear: "I like stinky cheeses. Whatever is the stinkiest is my favorite!" But they ran the gamut from goat cheese to brie and more. Thank goodness no one answered, "American" because, well, that's not real cheese.

Milk Curdling
I told the kids that cheese is simply milk that has been curdled, drained, pressed, and ripened. Four little steps. That's it. Today, we curdled...

  • 1-1/2 C whole milk
  • 1 to 2 T lemon juice
  • 1 to 2 T orange juice
  • 1 to 2 T vinegar (we used apple cider vinegar)
  • Also needed: 3 clear jars for observation

Heat milk to the steaming point. Divide the milk evenly into the clear jars. Pour lemon juice into one jar, orange juice into the second, and vinegar into the third jar. Observe what happens.

They discovered that lemon juice produced smaller curds than vinegar. Orange juice didn't curdle at all. And vinegar smelled the worst.

Cheese Tasting

Because we'll be making different cheeses throughout the next five weeks, I didn't do an exhaustive tasting. But they did try: Chèvre, Gouda, Manchego, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, and Taleggio.

We discussed future week's lessons and they requested a week on American cheeses - you know, cheese from America not American cheese?!! - a week on smoked cheeses from different parts of the world, and a week on stinky cheeses. We can do that! 

This was a little bittersweet for me. It's the first time I'm teaching that I don't have R in my class...since he's graduated and off at high school.

During week one, kids are always a little bit shy. I'm looking forward to next week. I think we'll be making paneer. We'll see...

Oh, and I did get lots of comments about my cheesy shirt!!

Vietnamese-Inspired Roasted Pork Ribs

Every time we have ribs for dinner, we chuckle about this story. D was about three-years-old at the time, riding in the cart with me at the grocery store. He asked me about the rack of ribs in the cart, pointing, "Mommy, what are those?" 

Ribs, I answered. 

His chubby fingers went to his side and he declared, "These are my ribs!" 

Yes, that's true. 

Horror contorted his little face and he whispered, pointing into my shopping cart, "Whose ribs are those?!?" 

Not a person's, I assured him. 

"Then who?" he demanded. He knew meat came from a living animal. But, I suppose, ribs were a little too recognizable. Now he loves ribs, but we still tell that story every time they're on our table.

The marinade on these ribs were inspired by the flavors in some of our favorite Vietnamese dishes. Well, it has a lot of Asian-inspired flavors. It was tasty!


  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, smashed and very finely chopped (approximately 2 T)
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1 to 2 T fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 t fresh turmeric, grated
  • 2 T gluten-free soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 T fish sauce
  • 1 T hot sauce (I used our Homemade Hot Sauce)
  • 2 t  salt
  • 2 T organic dark brown sugar
  • 2 t Chinese five-spice powder (You can Blend Your Own)
  • 1 rack baby back ribs
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 t rice vinegar

Slice your rack of ribs in half, if needed. They need to fit comfortably on a rimmed baking sheet.

In a small mixing bowl, place the shallots, lemongrass, ginger, turmeric, soy sauce, fish sauce, hot sauce, salt, sugar, and five-spice powder. Mix well. 

Lay meat on a piece of foil (two, if you sliced the rack in half) and pour the marinade of the top. Let stand for 10 minutes. Flip it over and, using your hands, make sure the rib surfaces are completely covered with marinade. Let stand another 10 minutes. You can let the meat marinate overnight - and that's probably better - but I was pressed for time and the 20 minute-marinade was fine.

While ribs marinate, preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Drizzle the ribs with olive oil and vinegar, then place another piece of foil over the top and make an packet. Roast at 300 degrees for 2 hours. Raise the temperature of the oven to 450 degrees and remove the top of the foil packet.

Return the ribs to the oven to brown and char, approximately 15 minutes. Divide ribs with a sharp knife and pile them onto a platter. Serve immediately.

I served them with an Asian-flavored slaw and baked beans.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fideuà Negra for #FishFridayFoodies

It's time for Fish Friday Foodies' October event. We are a group of seafood-loving bloggers, rallied by Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm, to share fish and seafood recipes on the third Friday of the month. 

This month, Caroline of Caroline's Cooking is hosting. Here was her challenge to the group: "As fall is upon us and winter all too soon, let's create some pasta dishes with fish and seafood. Whether it's a quick midweek meal for a busy school day or a comforting weekend feast, pair together your favorites."

As I was researching possibilities, I came across fideuà which is essentially paella made with pasta instead of rice. Then I came across a Fideuà Negra and I was sold. I am more than a little enamored with anything that includes cuttlefish ink!

Oh, about the name - fideuà is usually made with short lengths of dry pasta called fideus. Since I couldn't find any of that, I opted for some gluten-free spaghetti noodles. I broke them into two-inch lengths. Also, I will be the first to admit that mine is not a traditional fideuà, but it was so, so tasty!

Ingredients serves 4
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 T olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced (approximately 1-1/2 C)
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • ½ t fennel seed
  • ½ t coriander seed
  • 1 to 2 bay leaves
  • ½ pound shrimp, peeled
  • ½ pound squid, cleaned
  • ½ pound fish, cubed (I used a local, wild-caught rockfish)
  • ½ pound mussels
  • ½ pound clams
  • 2 T tomato sauce (I used some of my Roasted Tomato Sauce)
  • 1 to 2 T cuttlefish ink
  • pinch of saffron
  • 1 pound spaghetti broken into 2" pieces (I used gluten-free)
  • 2 C water
  • 2 C stock (I used some homemade duck stock from the bones of my Spicy Braised Duck Legs)
  • lemon wedges for serving

In a large, flat bottom pan with a tight-fitting lid, melt 1 T butter in 1 T olive oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened and beginning to turn translucent. Stir in the fennel seeds and coriander seeds.

Add in the squid, shrimp, and fish. Saute until the the shrimp begins to turn opaque. Stir in the tomato sauce and the cuttlefish ink. Tuck in the bay leaves and sprinkle the saffron over the top.

Top the seafood with the pasta pieces. Pour in the water and the stock. Nestle the mussels and clams into the pot. Drizzle with 1 T olive oil. Bring the liquid to a boil. Cover and simmer for the length it will take to cook the pasta. Mine took 7 minutes, according to the package.

Uncover and cook until your desired soupiness or dryness. I left some broth because we love soup!

Ladle into individual soup plates. Traditionally this is served with a dab of aioli; we went with a squeeze of lemon juice instead.

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