Foodie In Training

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


I'm a big fan of the Disney Pixar movies and I just finished the latest to come out on video "Ratatouille." Because of it's popularity I'm sure many of you have seen the movie or heard about the plot. I thought it was a really cute movie and the reason that I am adding it to the blog is because it is food related. I really liked the message the movie portrays which is "Anyone Can Cook" which is also the name of the cookbook of the famous Chef Gusteau and the central theme of the movie because Remy the rat is a wonderful cook. After watching the bonus features with the creators of the movie, they reiterated the theme of the movie well by saying, "Anybody can cook, you just have to have the desire and determination to make something that you are going to feel proud to give somebody." I know it might some corny but that really resonated with me because I (and I can probably speak for Ryan too) really enjoy cooking and trying new recipes and I especially love sharing those recipes with family and friends. And now with Foodie in Training, I feel even more motivated to try more recipes so I can share them on the blog. Ryan and I got few great gadgets and cookbooks that we are going to put to use after the New Year! I hope everyone had a great holiday and if you haven't already, check out Ratatouille, you might get inspired to cook! (and maybe get some rat traps. ) :)


In the world of food, Christmas is a dynamic time for Erin and me. First, since we started to get into the world of food many of our gifts from each other and others are based on things for our kitchen. Second, my grandma makes several of her most incredible dishes every year for my family and it is probably my favorite meal of the year.

As far as gifts go, between Erin and I we got several cookbooks, including and Cooking Light: Italian and Essentials of Italian from Williams-Sonoma. We also got our first food processor! We are both very excited to use it. The possibilities are endless. It seems like most of our favorite cooking shows use food processors each episode, and it just seems like it will save a lot of time chopping and the like. Finally, we got a new digital camera, so you will start seeing lots of pictures here on Foodie in Training.

Now, on to my grandma's Christmas dinner. For appetizers we had pannacunsata (Sicilian cheesy garlic bread, a family dish), roasted sweet red peppers and garlic; and some traditional antipasta meats and cheeses (including delicate and delicious fresh mozzarella). For dinner my grandma made a giant prime rib; lightly breaded baked shrimp; green beans with garlic; broccoli rabe; pazella (green peas with onion seasoned with olive oil and sugar); lasagna.... For desert we had some fresh panettone (pronounced pan-a-ton-eh); chocolates; espresso; and some fruit. We then had some fresh fennel and sparkling water to help us digest the wonderful meal. Each of these dishes probably deserves their own post and as Erin and I attempt to recreate them, we'll write more about them.

P.S. Erin's biscotti were a hit, they were awesome!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Holiday Biscotti

I am not a baker but this year for the holidays I decided to attempt to make biscotti for my coworkers gifts. At first, I was a little intimidated by the recipe and the whole baking process, but after reading over the recipe and the steps for Holiday Biscotti and Chocolate and anise seed biscotti I realized it was easier than I thought and I decided to give it a go. I thought the Holiday Biscotti with dried cranberries and pistachios would be fun and festive for Christmas presents and I chose to make a second batch (assuming all went well with the first) of the chocolate chip and anise seed for Lisa at work who is a picky eater and I knew she wouldn't like the cranberry pistachio combo. For some reason I could not find the recipe for the chocolate and anise seed on Food Network's recipe but I got it from Giada De Laurentiis' cookbook Family Dinners. Basically, you can use the holiday biscotti recipe and replace the pistachios, cranberries and lemon zest with 1 cup chocolate chips and 1 tsp. ground anise seed.

I began by combining the flour and baking powder in a large bowl and in a separate bowl I beat room temperature butter, sugar, and lemon zest with an electric mixer. After mixing the sugar, butter and lemon zest, I beat in the eggs (1 at a time) and then added the flour. Once all of the ingredients were combined to form a sticky dough, I added the cranberry's and pistachios (get it, red and green for the holidays!) and mixed it all together. Then I formed the dough in to a long, flat log on a lined baking sheet and baked at 350 for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Then you have to let it cool about 30-40 minutes and then you cut cookie into diagonal cuts and lay then cut side down on the baking sheet and bake for another 15 minutes. Once they are done, you just set the pieces on a rack to cool completely and you are all done! The great thing about biscotti is that as long as you keep them in an airtight container or ziplog bag they last a really long time. They turned out really well and I had fund making them, so much fun that I made 2 more batches the next evening and I plan on giving them to all my family for Christmas. I hope everyone has a great holiday season with lots of great food and great times!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Simple Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce is one of the fundamental creations of Italian-American cooking. Every Italian family has recipes that have passed down through the generations. My mom's side of the family is 100% Sicilian, my mom's generation being the first born in the US. Most of my interest in cooking and food derives from watching and helping my mom prepare both quick and intriguing food for dinner almost every day while growing up. If we didn't eat at home, we were eating at my Nonno's (grandpa's) restaurant, where I would watch and help my grandpa create all his traditional dishes.

In my mind there was three types of tomato sauce: my Nonno's; my Nonna's (grandma') ;and my mom's. Nonno's sauce is a spicier and more flavorful version, my favorite. Nonna's sauce is more true to the main ingredient: tomatoes- very simple, and perfect for a variety of uses from delicate homemade ravioli to spicy Italian sausage to a plain plate of spaghetti. My mom's sauce is a perfect combination of both: a little chunkier, with a little kick, but toned down from my grandpa's version.

Since moving away from home I have cooked a lot of sauce, but never a real simple classic tomato sauce. Usually my basic sauce was a can of diced tomatoes cooked quickly with onion, olive oil and seasoning: ready in 15 minutes and very simple and spicy- great for a quick dinner. Well, that quick chunky tomato sauce deserves its own post for the usefulness and diversity that you can add 15 minutes before you want to eat dinner. But, I never actually simmered a big pot of smooth tomato sauce, and this past weekend, that changed.

I eventually want to mimic my family tradition, but for this first go round I was going to do it from memory, from my intuition, and a little help from Mario Batali. Consulting his cookbook so I didn't forget anything major, I, as usual, adjusted for my style and ingredients I had at home.

Erin and I started our tomato sauce with a healthy bit of extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan, once that got hot we added about a cup of diced onion and salted them, then three healthy tablespoons of minced garlic (out of a jar). We cooked the onions and garlic on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Then we added some shredded carrots and a couple tablespoons of capers. I added more salt and some crushed red pepper to infuse the oil. We let the carrots get soft and then added 3 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes. The main ingredients we were missing was basil and a bay leaf. Erin's fresh basil had died in the cold weather and we were out of the dried stuff. I seasoned with a bit more crushed red pepper, salt, fresh ground black pepper, parsley, a dash of sugar, a little oregano (not too much). We brought it to a boil, stirring frequently, and then reduced to a simmer for about 40 minutes.

The result: we were left with a huge pot of delicious, smooth, mild tomato sauce. we quickly boiled some pasta and had a beautifully simple lunch. We stored the rest in the fridge and the freezer, ready for us to use in one of our future cooking endeavors. Pizza, soups, breads, sandwiches, sausage, meatballs, pasta, the possibilities are endless for simple tomato sauce.

DIY Popcorn

I will never have a bag of popcorn again...the homemade stuff is just too good!! Ryan and I have recently started making our own popcorn instead of buying the Smart Pop or Orville Redenbacher bagged popcorn. It is so much better and you can add all kinds of different seasonings to make it different every time. And it's a lot healthier for you too. I just buy the cheap popcorn kernels at the grocery (usually located at the bottom of the shelf under all of the bagged popcorn options) for about $2 you can get a bag of seeds that will last a long time because a little goes a long way!
You need a large sauce pan, and pour about a 1/4 cup of oil (vegetable or canola) into the pan. Put in a 3 or 4 kernels at first and once they pop you know the oil is hot enough to pour in the rest. Ryan is usually in charge of the popcorn because the one time I tried to do it I burnt it..he eye balls the amount of kernels to pop, but I think it is about 3/4 a cup. Once you put the kernels in the pan, constantly move the pan back and forth to keep the kernels from sticking to the bottom and burning (that is where I got in to trouble), basically once you stop hearing the popping noise the popcorn is done and ready to eat! We usually just add a lot of salt and parmesan cheese, but last night we added grated asiago cheese on top for an extra kick. It was a great late night snack. Not the most foody-ish thing to make but it's easy, fast and tasty.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Comfort Food

I just got back from a work trip to sunny Jamaica! I has been a long and stressful few days with travel delays and airports so I was really craving some comfort foods. Ryan is also in the middle of finals so I thought it was the perfect time to make home made mac n' cheese, the ultimate comfort food! I found a healthier recipe from Self Magazine's web site. I know I have mentioned the web site before and I definitely recommend it, they have tons of healthy and tasty recipes and they provide nutritional information which is also nice. While at the grocery store, Ryan and I modified the recipe a bit by skipping the Velveeta light because a.) the grocery did not have it, and b.) Velveeta creeps me out..I ended up getting a reduced fat block of Cheddar cheese and then slicing 3 oz. of that in to thin slices. I also added some reduced fat mozzerella. I was in charge of the meal from start to finish, I let Ryan relax, and I think I did a really good job! The only thing I think I would do differently was a let the cheese become a little smoother before adding the macaroni, the consistency was not as creamy as I would have hoped. But it was still was pretty good! I accompanied the meal with pork chops seasoned with some jerk seasoning I got from Jamaica, Cumin and salt and pepper. We bought 4 small pork chops so I seasoned 3 with jerk seasoning and one with lemon pepper seasoning because sometimes the jerk can be too spicy for me. For a vegetable we had peas seasoned with some olive oil, salt and pepper and a little sugar. I'm not usually the chef in charge when we cook and it was fun to cook Ryan a good meal after a long, stressful week.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Restaurant Review- Martini's in Columbus

Friday night I traveled to Columbus to visit my friends Claire, Lauren and Hillary, we had plans to have dinner and go out Friday night and Christmas shop till we dropped on Saturday. Claire picked Martini's Italian Bistro which is located in Columbus' short north, which is a great part of downtown Columbus with a variety of great restaurants, bars and eclectic shops.
When we arrived at the restaurant it was very elegant but with a twist, with beautifully painted murals on the wall and soft lighting to create a romantic atmosphere (great for date night or girls night!). Made obvious by the name, they are known for there martini's but none of us felt like starting off the night with a strong martini (girls nights can get pretty crazy) so we just ordered a bottle of the house Pinot Grigio and began pouring over the menu. The menu is big but not too overwhelming and Claire recommended her favorite that she always gets the Salmone alla Campania, so I decided to go with that and a Martini side salad.
The Martini salad was excellent and a perfect way to start off the meal, not too filling, the salad had field greens lightly tossed in balsamic vinaigrette with sweet sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and gorgonzola cheese. When our dinners arrived, the smell of my salmone alla campania was intoxicating. The salmon was beautifully pan seared with topped with two lemon slices and over a perfect portion of spaghetti, grape tomatoes and sliced asparagus. I immediately dug in and was not disappointed. The salmon melted in my mouth combined with a bite of the pasta, asparagus and grape tomato it was a perfect blend of very simple, yet delicious flavors. The pasta had bits of pancetta which I thought made the dish a little too salty, but the salmon was so good that it didn't make that much of a difference. What I also liked and appreciated about Martini's was that the portion sizes were not outrageous, it was just enough food so I did not feel overstuffed. Everyone finished happy and full and read to continue our night at the bars of Cbus! I definitely recommend Martini's when in Columbus.