Saturday, December 25, 2010

Buon Natale

Merry Christmas!

I am home in Naperville for the holidays and here for a week.

Every year I make my dad's favorite cookies: oatmeal raisin. A few Christmases ago, I tried to make them with white chocolate chips and dried cranberries. He wasn't now we stick to tradition.

Might I add, that they were particularly awesome this year.

We go to the Mertzes every Christmas no cooking for me. Lynn makes Italian Wedding Soup from scratch.  It's great - but last year my mom added something to the meal that everyone fell in love with: Italian sausage bread. It  came from a cookbook that I also own, Rosalie Cooking Italian. Check out the recipe here. (Ironically, her blog looks EXACTLY like mine!) It uses a basic yeast-based pizza dough recipe that you roll out, and then line with sausage and roll up into a crescent shaped bread, like so:


On Christmas Day, my dad had planned ahead to make a bruciuloni (it has several other names such as: braciole, involtini, and rollatini - all of which just mean rolled up stuffed meat in Italian).  He had asked that I share the recipe, so here goes:

Jimmy B's Bruciuloni

1 lb flank steak, or round steak
(preferably VEAL but beef works because veal flank steak is tough to find)
enough bread crumbs to line your steak (1-2 cups)
extra virgin olive oil
shredded Romano cheese
sliced provolone or mozzarella
3 hard boiled eggs, cubed
prepared red gravy (tomato sauce to most people! 
make your own, or buy it in a jar ---but we make our own!)
2-3 leaves fresh basil

1. Have your butcher run the steak through the tenderizer once or twice. When you get your steak home, pound it out with a handheld meat tenderizer.
2. Add breadcrumbs and cheese to a large mixing bowl. Add olive oil until the mixture clumps together. line breadcrumbs over steak, but leave a little room around the edges so that when you roll your meat, you don't lose your filling out the sides. Drizzle olive oil over the breadcrumbs to keep moist.
3. Layer prosciutto, cheese, 1/2 cup sauce, and eggs on top. 

4. Then, roll it up like so (notice we have kitchen twine underneath the meat already):
Make sure your knots are tight, and be sure to tie it lengthwise as well, as to keep all the stuffing inside.

5. Sear it in olive oil on all sides.

6. Cover with your sauce, Romano cheese, and a sprinkle of fresh basil.

7. Roast it low and slow - 275 degrees for ~3 hours.
8. Cut horizontally and serve with extra sauce and cheese.

And then, if you're in the Brocato house, you have pecan pie for dessert! 

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with family and friends! 
Buon natale from the Brocatos!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Our Way

Tonight was d-day for the ravioli.

I made sauce last night because I wanted to cook it for a looooooooooooong time. The secret to a good marinara is carrots. I cook them down with garlic and the onions just to add some sweetness. Then I add: tomato puree, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes (Italian style), and tomato paste to thicken. I also wash out the cans with some water and add that to the pot.

Another thing that makes a good sauce: cook it as long as possible. After it simmered on the stove for a few hours, I transferred it to the Crock Pot and went to bed. And then I let it cook all day while I was at work. So almost 24 hours later, all the flavors and seasoning (salt, pepper, basil, oregano) married together beautifully.
The other rule to live by...
When you're cooking Italian, keep it simple. That's true Italian -- cheese, tomatoes, carbs of some sort. There's always garlic, and there's often basil or oregano - but there is not much need to add several spices to your sauce. Simplicity is perfection.

Moment of truth (drum roll please):
The ravioli were....ok. Really doughy. I know it takes a lot of practice, but I'm also blaming this on Colorado. The dryness at this altitude sucks. I think it turned my dough into cardboard. They were not inedible - but they weren't Ethel's. Jon says by the time I'm a grandma I'll have it down to a science. I hope I don't have to wait that long!

We opened presents, too. I'm spoiled. It's ridiculous. Jon got me SO MANY cooking gifts, I think I'll just have to make a career out of this. A spring form pan, Bon Appetit's cookbook, Bon Appetit's DESSERT cookbook, a cookbook called "Bon Appetit Y'all" - a gourmet take on Southern food, a ceramic baking dish (PERFECT for lasagna), individual ceramic soup pots (great for French onion soup and individual pot pies!), and a cookbook stand. (note: this does not include the perfume, the Bath and Body Works Ensemble, and the amazing bath robe set --- I told you. I'm spoiled.)

The children did not go unnoticed.
 This thing made him crazy. He tried to kill it. Look at that handle, it's like I'm fishing and caught the big one.

Santa stopped by and left some coal in Jack's stocking. Much deserved. 

Zeus got several toys, but this is just my favorite picture. He's technically not supposed to be on the couch. You try to resist him and get back to me.

So then, it was time for dessert. Last night I made a peppermint pie, a recipe that was ALMOST guilt free and stolen from Hungry Girl. Click here so you can steal it too.

I served it up with some REALLY rich hot cocoa. The recipe for the pie includes sweetened condensed milk and I had some left over. So I thinned it out with some skim milk, added some milk chocolate, whisked it together with some cinnamon and vanilla and topped it all off with whipped cream and crushed candy canes.

mmmm GOOD.

So that's all for Megan and Jon's Christmas Celebration 2010. Stay tuned for a Brocato family Christmas post including my dad's famous bruciuluni (braciole, to all your main stream Italians - bruciuluni is the Sicililan pronunciation). 

I'm off to Chicago tomorrow - hopefully Jon has enough to eat! 

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jon's Enchiladas

These are named after Jon because they're his favorite.
I'm making a huge batch tonight because he has to fend for himself for the next week while I'm in Chicago for Christmas. Ironically, I am sure he will eat all of this before Christmas Day even arrives.

This is no adventure for me...I make them all the time. So I'll share the recipe.

It's a different take on enchiladas. No red sauce. No green chili. Tons of fat. Oh, and I don't roll up my enchiladas in tortillas. So it is more of a casserole. I love corn tortillas for enchiladas, not flour. But they always fall apart on me, so I adapted my recipe.

Jon's Enchiladas
For filling:
1 lb chicken breast
1 onion, chopped
8 oz cream cheese, room temp
chile powder (I've been using ancho chili powder lately, it's awesome)
1 cup cheddar cheese

For sauce:
1 cup milk
8 oz sour cream
1 small can of green chiles
1 can cream of chicken soup

corn tortillas
cheddar cheese to top
other optional toppings: black olives, green onions

1. Cook chicken however you'd like - grill, bake, boil, etc. Crock pot works great. I've cooked my chicken and onion together in my crock pot with chicken broth and chile powder all day before - the chicken falls apart so well.
2. Shred chicken. Mix together with onion, cream cheese, and seasonings.
3. For sauce: bring milk to a boil. Add other ingredients, simmer 10 min.
5. Line bottom of casserole dish with corn tortillas. Spoon in chicken filling. Cover with corn tortillas. Pour sauce over casserole.
6. Bake 20-25 minutes at 350 or until bubbly.
7. Remove from oven and top with cheese. Bake 10 min.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Tutti Mangia

Tonight's challenge: my grandmother's ravioli.

First of all, I don't plan on eating this ravioli until Wednesday 12/22 when Jon and I celebrate Christmas together. So, obviously another meal was in order to eat tonight. I made lemon chicken pasta: mini farfalle (piccolini), lemon juice, chicken, basil, and parmesan cheese. Really simple and light.

Maybe I just made myself something easy because I knew what was coming: a huge ravioli headache.
First and foremost, let me share with you my grandmother's recipe (well, not the whole thing. Because then I'd have to kill you) 
That Ethel.  She's so cute. I love the "little garlic" and "little onion" and "little salt" that I'm supposed to add. And that I'm supposed to wait "a little while". Very precise measurements. The filling was easy. It tasted perfect, just like I remember. 

I'd just finished the filling when Erika came over. Unfortunately, Jon had to work tonight and was not available to be my muscle like I was counting on. :( But Erika and I had a good laugh trying to roll out that dough. First it was too dry. Then it was too sticky. Then I added more flour and it was too dry again (thank you, 5280 feet). Finally, I decided it might be easier to just work with smaller portions of dough at a time. And finally, I got it rolled out thin enough so I smacked on some of the ravioli paste, folded the dough in half and got to cutting.

This is where I had a near nervous breakdown. My mom has a pretty handy rolling pin with squares on it that cuts the ravioli perfectly and evenly, and seals them tight. She also has a fluted ravioli cutter (the one that Maw Maw speaks of above). I realized last night that I didn't have these gadgets, but I thought I could wing it.


My first batch looked like this:

You see, when you fold over the dough and just use your average pizza cutter, this is what happens. I obviously knew this in the back of my head, but doing the smart, practical thing would have made it way too easy.

So then, I decided to just cut the dough into squares, and individually fill the ravioli and seal them tight with a fork and some egg whites. By the time I'd had this "genius" plan, Jon came home and dove right in (Thank God! My arms were getting tired from all that rolling pin action) So our finished product looks like this:

Pretty cute, right? I was pleased with them by the end. The bad news is: these look nothing like they're supposed to. My mom's are always much smaller and prettier. The other bad news is for all of you who asked for some: sorry, but since they're so big, there's really not enough to share! Maybe I will get the correct tools and make them another time (my birthday is March 28th, if you're wondering).

Also, since Jen read my blog today and discovered my little blurb about fudge, she was a little miffed that she hasn't received any and also conveniently mentioned that she likes chocolate peanut butter swirled fudge. In light of little Christmas gifts being passed around the office...

So I made dinner, I made ravioli, I made choco PB fudge, and now I'm exhausted. So feel free to come on over and take care of this...

Buona notte.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Strawberry Shortbread Cobbler

This one has a back story.

It started last night when, in the spirit of Christmas, I decided to do something really nice for Jon. He loves anything that is maple flavored: candy, ice cream, syrup, and...fudge. Given my recent obsession with making fudge, and the fact that I'd already made chocolate fudge and peanut butter fudge, maple fudge sounded pretty darn good.

So we bought some 100% pure maple syrup at Whole Foods (read: not Aunt Jemima and expensive), and I  found a recipe online. I even got a candy thermometer to make sure they syrup reached the right temp, and it seemed pretty simple: 2 cups maple syrup, 1 tablespoon light corn syrup, 3/4 cup heavy cream. I mixed all of the above together, and the recipe said to whisk until it reached a rolling boil and to let it boil until the temp was 240 degrees. The problem was, I left the thermometer reading up to the boyfriend. I'm sure that he read the thermometer correctly, but, maybe it was at 240 degrees too long. Apparently when you overcook maple syrup and heavy cream, you get caramel. I decided that it couldn't hurt to continue with the recipe and see what would happen...

The next step was to pour the mixture into a Kitchen Aid mixer and beat for 10 minutes until the fudge was more opaque than glossy. Ha, try doing that with overcooked maple syrup. We did, however, make some really tasty caramel goop. 

I had already buttered a square Pyrex dish for the fudge. And honestly, why waste a perfectly good buttered pan? So I decided to make chocolate dipped shortbread. Had I ever made shortbread before? NOPE! And it definitely showed. This was another disaster. While the buttery cookies tasted delicious, when I tried to cut them into sticks so they could be dipped into chocolate...they crumbled. I was pretty sad to have wasted 3/4 lb of butter!

The good news is my boyfriend is a genius. "Why don't you get some strawberries and make it into a crumb topping?" he says. I was sold. After Erika's parents' Christmas party, we stopped at the store and picked up a pound of strawberries. I cut them in half, sauteed them in butter and sugar, and poured them into a square dish. I got out the trusty Kitchen Aid and beat the shortbread cookies to crumbs, while adding brown sugar and cinnamon, topped it with a few pads of butter, 350 degrees for 20 minutes. And voila - Strawberry Shortbread Cobbler was born.

While I admit that it wasn't very pretty, it was so buttery and delicious. Not bad for something that all started with ruined maple fudge.

I also made dough tonight for ravioli. We'll be making them tomorrow to eat on Wednesday for our early Christmas celebration. I've never made it on my own, so we'll see how this goes! Hopefully I'll make my Maw Maw proud.

Until then...


PS- if you do need to look at something cute after seeing that pile o' sugar and butter above, look at this guy who came to visit me today! Luckily I woke up this morning feeling so much better after the cold I'd been battling, so I was OK to give this guy some kisses. The last time I'll see him for a while...sweet little Bentley!


Last night I decided that I need a project.

I remembered that around this time last year I was reading Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. Her book is based off her blog, The Julie/Julia Project, in which she invites her readers to follow her on an adventure through Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book is full of her trials and tribulations of cooking French food.

The book is a great story. Julie Powell was looking for a challenge. Her government job was boring, her biological clock was ticking (albeit-she was not ready for kids), and her neuroses in this book are downright out of control.  Amongst many kitchen disasters, Julie learns that Mastering the Art of French Cooking isn't all that easy. But she finds the humor in it all - and makes her ordinary life a lot more interesting. 

Now, I do not intend to cook French food. I don't like it, I can't pronounce it, and I don't want to copy Julie Powell. But I do intend to use her project as a platform. I cook meals for my boyfriend and myself nightly, and I almost always find the urge to bake. I have my trials and tribulations and come up with many ruined pies, cookies, etc, but it's a part of my routine that I wouldn't trade for anything.

That word is a problem, though: routine. On the cusp of turning 25, I've realized that routine has become a large part of my life. The sad part is: I crave the routine. I like when life goes as I expect it to. After almost 3 years in the working world, at a job that means little to no pay raise or promotion, yet endless amounts of stress and responsibility, I'm going to finally put my foot down. 

Routine is crap. 

Yes, I just said that I crave it. But there's something wrong with that! Who wants to spend the rest of their lives with "Same Shit, Different Day" Syndrome. I might as well change that while I'm still young.

So here I go. I will blog about my nightly meals, my baking blunders, and little tidbits of my ordinary yet busy daily life. I'm not really sure where this is going but - isn't that the point?

Stay tuned.


PS- Why "Onions & Garlic", do you ask? Not only is it the best smell in the world, but they're the beginning of almost every savory dish. So that's it - onions and garlic - amazing aroma and foundation for all...