Tag Archives: Italian

Cannoli battle in East Village delights

It was Friday night in New York City. We had been out late the night before fighting the crowds on Broadway to see the powerhouse performance of Idina Menzel in the musical If/Then. We were ready for a slower evening enjoying the neighborhood.

We picked a good neighborhood. The East Village is a vibrant, eclectic neighborhood with a mix of beautiful tree-streets and remnants of the old Alphabet neighborhoods that were once a last bastion of affordability in Manhattan. The park had a comfortable mix of transients, revelers, seniors, kids and those just passing through like us.

We ate hot dogs from the acclaimed Crifs in the park.

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(Can’t really miss the sign, now can you?)

Then we went hunting for Italian pastries. In my mind, a true city can’t claim elite food status unless it has its own signature Italian pastries (or at the very least, an Italian market complete with homemade pasta like San Francisco’s Lucca’s).  After wandering around a bit we ran first into De Robertis Pasticerria. The family-owned business had cases of delicacies filled and on display. The family sat out front, talking and watching the neighborhood. We bought one cannoli and let our daughter be the taste tester.

She raved about it. We went around the corner to the brighter, glitzier and older business (they claim to be the oldest bakery in America) called Veniero Pastry.

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From the first impression, we assumed this would be the winner, so we bought three cannolis. They didn’t disappoint, the classic italian flavors coming through. But our daughter gave her review.

“It’s good but the other was better,” she said simply.

Our gold standard for cannoli’s is Mike’s from the North End neighborhood in Boston. Veniero’s was good, but not Mike’s. Our daughter insisted De Robertis was better. We went back around the corner and returned.

“She said you guys won the taste test,” I told the owner.

He was clearly pleased, even tossing in an extra cannoli on the house.

“Mangia,” he said.

“Prego!” I said.

We went out on the busy street and dug in. The delicate back notes of the classic flavors came through better than Vaniero. It was decadent. My sugar fix pumped me up. The Bride raved about the cannoli. Both were great. But De Robertis was better.

“Still not quite Mike’s,” the Bride said.

True, but second to Mike’s is Effin Artist worthy indeed.

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Alfredo you can count on at the last minute

After you’ve spent a few hours nurturing and crafting your homemade pasta, the last thing you want to do is labor over the sauce.

That never seems to stop me, because I forget how I don’t want to labor over the sauce. So it is usually the last thing I do. As a result, I’ve developed a fairly straight-forward, very flavorful alfredo that I can whip together — last minute — and not ruin the homemade pasta-making effort.

Here’s the recipe:

Fettuccini Alfredo

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp. of nutmeg
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¾ cup grated mozzarella
  • Splash of fresh lemon
  • Freshly chopped Italian Parsley, basil and sage
  • Salt to taste

Directions

  1. Melt butter in medium pan
  2. Add the garlic, chili powder, nutmeg and sauté for 2 minutes
  3. Add cream and bring to a simmer, stirring often
  4. Add parm cheese and let thicken, about 8 minutes
  5. Stir in mozz cheese, until blended smooth and thick, if too thick add a tbsp of milk
  6. Finish with splash of lemon; fold in fresh herbs until blended. Serve over pasta immediately

Notes: the mozz isn’t essential. It thickens it and gives a soft contrast to the harsher parm, so I use both. But this sauce is pretty good no matter what you toss in it. For example, you can skip the folded herbs and just mix in pesto into the spices before the cream is added and make a creamy pesto. You can use sun-dried tomatoes. You can use chopped green olive. It’s really fun to experiment.

Enjoy.

WeBromance — Olive tree adoption both global and local

I’m not a global citizen. I’m a local citizen. Always have been really. For years I’d get gifts where people would make donations to causes in my name and I’d be bummed because I don’t really do global causes. That’s for folks like Bono and Angelina Jolie, I reasoned. One year I got a donation for a cow or a goat, I can’t remember, to a farmer in West Virginia. I lived back East at the time. I liked this better because it felt closer. But still, I wanted it more local. I used to joke about going to West Virginia and getting my goat, damnit. It’s mine, after all, right?

When I worked in newsrooms this used to completely annoy my staff of writers because by definition, reporters are usually global thinkers. They dream about working for the New York Times or serving as a war correspondent. Nobody grows up thinking about breaking city council news. So the banter would always lean toward some global issue or story line. I’d shoot them down like an expert at a skeet shooting range.

“I don’t care about Bosnia unless Bosnia invades this town, right here,” I’d yell out.

“Iraq, Iran? I don’t give a damn. I care about this town, right here.”

It made me a great editor, if not necessarily a great person. But the trend stuck. Now, it turns out, I’m in fashion. Local is in. Localvore is a word. (really?!) I’ve always been local-centered and suddenly I’m fashionable. Cool, right?

Well, that’s why today’s WeBromance goes — once again — against the grain, because its all about giving back to farmers in Italy. It’s called NudoAdopt.com. Not exactly local, but I can at least claim that my people hail from there. It’s in my local roots at least, even if Lucca is local to this farm like Atlanta is local to the nation’s capital. Why quibble about details, right?

The site shows you how you can adopt an olive tree and get regular shipments of olive oil. It’s local farming at its best, even if the local is across the globe and involves shipping across the globe. Basically it’s the olive farmers’ answer to free trade coffee.

I use a lot of olive oil. I use a lot of Italian products, like OO flour, Buffalo Mozzerella, San Marzano Tomatoes, etc. I love local farming, even if its not exactly local to me. For all these reasons I love this web site. Besides, unlike my West Virginia goat that they kept protected from me, these gracious hosts will let me come hug my tree anytime I want!

I’m doing that. Count on it.

Sign up to adopt a tree. The italian locals will love you for it. Hey, if you say I referred you, I think I win a prize, too, so this WeBromance is truly a win/win, even if its not the most local thing on the globe.

Cronuts are yesterday: Today is Italian Nonuts

We put in long hours in the test kitchen in search of Doussaint artistry this week. Yes, yes, in case you noticed, we are no longer trademark infringing on the C-word trademarked by the genius from New York. We’ve seen the light. His mastery is to be commended and we’d dare not infringe (nod to lawyers… ok? great. Whew…) Besides, now we are a big BELIEVER in trademarks, as you will soon see.

Our goal was not to re-invent or improve the doussant/C-word thing. Just by reading up on it and watching the video of preparation, we set out with two goals. First to emulate its quality and artistry, and second to twist it some way in flavor or presentation to make it our own, which is why the Test Kitchen exists frankly. It’s the journey, man. It’s the journey.

This journey started off pretty decent after our dough went off to “have a sleep.”

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The dough woke up rested and ready.

Next we plotted our plan. First we’d emulate the actual doussant/ C-word as best we could. Then not liking the idea of wasting the doughnut hole, we went with the traditional jelly doughnut shape. Next, getting a bit more expansive in our confidence and creativity we busted out the old ravioli cutter. Excitement filled the air, and our phone lines filled with energy to our lawyers.

“What’s involved with a trademark?” we asked.

In typical hoof to head fashion we used every last bit of the dough including the final scraps which we tossed into the oil to make sure the temp was right and enjoyed a tasty friend dough treat when finished.

Finally, we came up with what a truly American version of this french-inspired idea. We cut the shapes into teddy bears for….

TEDDY BEAR CLAW CROISONUTS(TM)!*

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Now pumped about this whole trademark thing, we doubled-back, thought of our dear Nonie Mary who inspires our kitchen to this day and named our ravioli version….

Italians Nonuts (TM)!*

This made great sense because at the core of this whole endeavor is fried bread. That’s really what all this fuss is about. This is wonderfully layered bread, delicately fried and topped and filled and brushed with all kinds of sweetness and light. But its’s still fried bread and we’ve been doing this for decades. Nonie taught me how to make fried bread when I was little. Now, she’s trademarked forever and ever Amen!

Who would have thought this trademark thing would be such a blast?!

For the Nonuts(TM), the only filling that made any sense was a decadent custard filling.

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This custard just danced to life.

We finished frying the bread, and the real work set in: trying to pump these things full of creams and top them with icing.

Each needed its own flavor and twist. Here’s the final product:

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Clockwise starting with the classic C-word/Doussant topped in pink icing is a Meyer Lemon Cronu..err. Doussant. Next is a custard Croissonut topped with dark chocolate. Then a Teddy Bear Claw Croissonut(TM) with cinnamon cream filling. Bottom center is an Italian Custard Nonut(TM) and, finally, another Teddy Bear Claw Croissonut (TM) with happy-face frosting.

And on the seventh day, Effin Artist rested.

Effin Artist’s bride, however did not:

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Can’t say I clean as well I create. Oh well, I can’t be everything. Remember, I told my bride, “it’s the journey, man.. it’s the journey.”

*Trademarked name, patent pending… do not use without permission — we prefer small bills — or we will sue you for everything you got!

Dough thoughts: a time to pause

I must have needed the time to think.

It was Christmas Eve, the final few moments before the family’s arrival and the previous few frenetic days of to-do lists, Christmas carols and relative quiet would explode in the bustle, noise and complicated wonderfulness of family. I looked around my kitchen and bowls of dough were everywhere. Literally, everywhere.

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I hadn’t thought about all this when I planned my Christmas menu. Now, as I looked around, I realized I’d spent hours working with dough. There were pizza doughs, and pasta doughs and doughnut doughs and bread doughs.

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Dough was rising and baking and evolving around me as I slipped away into kneading thoughts of my own. Dough is my Zen Garden. I went there without ever really knowing why, like a well-trained horse wandering back to the ranch house without the need of a pull on the reins.

I think somewhere in the back of my mind I realized that this would be my family’s first completely non-alcoholic holiday. I think it worried me, though I never connected with that until a couple of days of later. I’m sure this is why I gravitated to the dough.

Later the family arrived and we ate pizza and doughnuts and bread and all the treats I’d been busily making. We crammed into our little house and played games and likely annoyed each other but I felt … congruent. I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be. I felt OK, and I think those moments lost inside my head, my forearms flexing and straining, my grip twisting and smooshing the flexible life in my hands had a lot to do with it. Nobody seemed to care they were drinking sparkling water instead of Pinot Noir. What a gift.

My yoga teacher likes to say, “the body knows what it needs.” My doughworks were my body’s way of asking the overbearing mind to step aside and let it have it what it needed.

Breakfast: all that it’s cracked up to be

I love breakfast.

The thought occurs having just finished it, which I do virtually every day and never grow tired of doing, nor do I grow tired of thinking how much I love it. Breakfast is the gift that keeps on giving.

My bride knows this, which is why she took me out recently for my birthday breakfast — not dinner.Her, coffee, the San Francisco Chronicle and a big breakfast equals WHALLA! Perfecto.

Think about it. Breakfast usually costs half of dinner. You can take your time, read the newspaper, drink copious amounts of coffee and nobody complains. You also don’t have to worry about the cocktail menu or the wine list seductively vying for your attention.You don’t have to worry about some jackass wanting your table. Even the wait staff are more laid back, like “take all the time you need…” instead of “eh hem.. will you need anything else this eeeveening…” Only at breakfast do servers call me “honey.” I like that.

And of course, unlike most any other nutrition and diet advice that has the shelf life of a slab of tuna, breakfast has staying power as the best meal of the day. Think about it… again: Calorie counting has risen and fallen from favor and risen and fallen again, as have low-fat diets, protien-diets, fasting diets, superstar diets, and on and on and on. But most every diet says eat breakfast. What’s not to love about these:

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I lost 100 pounds and have kept it off (eh… most of it) for more than two years. I learned a lot about weight control and read enough to test out of graduate degree program. I treated myself like a human lab rat, and still do to find what works for me. I’ve tried most everything. But there are only two things I’d cement into any other thing I do to stay healthy and they are this: 1) Eat right and exercise. 2) Eat breakfast.

Now listen to me, because have you ever noticed all the people talking about diets and stuff look like my buddy Ed here:

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I love Ed, but he really isn’t the best guy to empathize with a fat guy, you know. I am. I’m a fat guy… its in my Italian DNA even if I’ve got the belly beat back. So listen when I tell you, we’ve been conned.

Think about it…really this time… We spend billions a year on weight loss and we are fatter than we’ve ever been. My entire life span has seen diet and fitness dominate the conversation since my Italian mother went “healthy” on us and rid our house of Hostess and General Foods (the memory lurks from a dark place… shudder…). The only cereal we could have that wasn’t like eating bark off a tree was Honey Combs because we convinced Mom it was made of honey, not sugar.

This was nearly forty years ago. And the diet and fitness craze just keeps on coming with no tangible results to show for it. We spend billions and its a fraud. Weather forecasters do a better job. So does Congress, and that’s saying something.

Still thinking? Think about this: Food permeates every culture… even a place where food is terrible, like this book talks about. In our culture, we get it all wrong almost all of the time. For all we know, we haven’t learned a thing.

You don’t need to spend billions of dollars. Everything you need to know I just said — see rules 1 and 2 — and I’m living proof because I’m the rare breed that lost the weight and kept it off.

I still work at it everyday I watch it everyday. I blow it everyday. But overall, it works, because I keep it simple. Eat right and exercise… and eat breakfast.

Now, one final thought on breakfast (think… think… think). Stop giving breakfast short thrift. It seems tough at first because there doesn’t seem to be as much variety as dinner, nor do we make time like we do for dinner. But change your thinking. If you plan breakfast like you plan dinner, it will come alive. Get up a bit earlier… enjoy it!

Also, you can reduce carbs and sugar and still keep a lot of flavor. I’ll write a lot more about this in days to come because after all, I love breakfast. (And please reply below with any questions you’d love to see address in future posts) But here’s a simple example:

Yogurt and granola are not great for you. They are loaded with sugar and high on the GCI. So too are bagels and donuts (of course… doesn’t mean I still don’t love em) and cereals in general and toast and pancakes and waffles and… you get my point. But you can eat more carbs in the morning than you can later in the day, so you have some flexibility built in. More importantly you don’t have to eat like Ed, who thinks breakfast is chicken and rice. Ed, that’s not breakfast. That’s Sunday dinner in the state pen.

Also, with a little creativity you can redress those issues and still enjoy it. For my granola and yogurt, I don’t eat it more than a couple of times a week. When I do, I eat plain instead of flavored yogurt, add a scoop of vanilla protein instead of sugar, use a small amount of fruit instead of a whole piece of fruit, and use whole grain and fiber granola. Add a piece of oat bran toast and non-hydrogenated peanut butter, and whalla! Breakfast of champions!

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Of course, my omelette’s rule too, but that’s another topic for another day… speaking of another topic for another day, I just figured out what next week’s test kitchen ingredient is! Oooh…. that will be a good one, but I digress.

Think about it: Love your breakfast. Or as the old adage says, “Eat like a Republican for breakfast, a Democrat for lunch and a green part member for dinner….” or something like that.

Take a this poll… why not?

Bitter pill doesn’t have to be bitter

For all our wonderful culinary stylings, Italians eat some weird shit. Yes, the food is exceptional… full of flavors and aromas and mostly full… as in you get stuffed. We really don’t do light. Still, we live long lives. My Nonie, who I mentioned in my last post, lived until she was the vibrant age of 95. She never really had an ailment until the final sickness that checked her into the hospital and a week later took her away. I knew then that God needed her. After all, who was going to lead the others in cooking the wedding feast of the lamb?

Still, all that being said, Italian food isn’t all sauces and cheeses and breads and olive oil. It’s also using every bit of the turkey including the neck, wings and heart. It’s shots of annisette that is about the only alcohol I don’t miss now that I’m sober. It’s a ridiculously pungent lettuce called Radicchio that tastes a bit like a foot… one that kicked you in the cheek. But why do I ramble and digress and filibuster so? Because this week the test kitchen took up one of the bitterest Italian treats, popular this time of year as a cultural-chic-ey thing that folks buy each other to be cultured and unique until they actually taste it. It’s an Italian sweet bread called Panettone. And frankly, its awful. My son once wrote that only panettone would be served at his funeral so everyone would be sufficiently sad. A family email chain jumped the shark three times and just kept on going with all the discussion about the origins of this godforsaken “treat.” But my mother loves it and I wanted to make her some for her birthday. I also wanted it to be edible. Hence, the test kitchen challenge.

I began with some research, starting with my Nonie’s recipe:

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Suffice to say, this is direct from the old country. (If you need help translating the Italian, let me know). But too often the fruits in the panettone are from the old country as well, or at least taste 100 years old. And that distinct, bitter flavor — anise — simply had to go in my version.

I made up a loaf, cut it into slices and mailed samples of it to relatives in three states, most of whom had spent the week before deriding anything panettone. The reactions are in from most everyone and I haven’t heard a complaint. My wife actually tried it, knowing it was panettone. My son actually liked it, but that took some deception! Getting both to judge proves nothing is beyond the artistry of this Effer… uh…you know.

“I like it because it’s more like bread than a scone. Yumm,” my son wrote.
After I told him it was panettone he wrote back “uh… what makes it panettone.”
Skeptic that he is, I confirmed I used all the required ingredients, including dried fruit (in this case cranberries with pomegranate juice) and citrus zest. I did not use anise, which as I said, I find to be the most disturbing of ingredients. Stylistically I used low pans, like pie pans instead of the prototypical tall panettone mold, which I don’t have (though I am going to use a metal tin can as a mold for display next time I make one for a present… more on that in just a sec) Why anyone would buy a mold, let alone the bread itself, is distinctly for this is beyond me.

The finished result won the seal of approval from a family of Italians and their non-Italian significant others. Unlike many of my test kitchen creations, this one actually scores high on the artistry.

Next I made my mother’s present, the true — and truly rare — lover of panettone. I wrapped it up pretty and gave it to her at family brunch:

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But the final verdict came a couple days later. My mom said it was wonderful. What more can a test kitchen effort hope for?!

Favorites from the Panettone email chain:

“I think we found a winner for the annual panettone giveaway”…

“I think I just threw up in my mouth…”

“Wasn’t it the wedding he wanted it served at???”

“Considering I am a small, but mighty, part of the wedding, panettone will have no place on the menu. Sorry not sorry.”

“Maybe it was supposed to be a wedding gift?!”

“You are uninvited if you bring that rat poison around…”

“What if you pick out all those little dried fruit things?  What exactly are those?  How long ago could it actually be considered fruit?”

“NNNOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“If you remove the century old fruit and find a cake that’s light and fluffy, that’s called bread. It’s definitely not panettone.”

Effin Arist: “Just last night, I was organizing my four notebooks of various recipes that I have (I know…. I need help. organizing four notebooks? and who spends nearly six hours over two nights organizing while ignoring his beautiful wife??? Sigh…) and what did I find???

Wait for it…

Wait for it…

GRANDMA NONIE’S RECIPE For PANETTONE! It’s like she was the judge, ruling from heaven to all the panettone haters out there (yes, I mean all of us!) to say, “Eh… it’s goooood.” (dismissive wave of the age-spotted hand)… “you should tryyyyy it.”

“Can’t argue with nonie!”

“Oh, to think that Nonie was looking down on this conversation.  Maybe I was channeling her like the Long Island Medium.  Oooo, that would be cool.  I was thinking about how it could be that the non-Italian in the family actually liked an Italian specialty while all of you with strains of Italian blood running through your veins were such downers on it.”
“I think the Panettone thread has “jumped the shark” when the pastor’s wife is becoming the Long Island medium.  just sayin…”
But no it didn’t jump the shark… it went on and on… nothing stirs up the family like the weird shit we eat. I told you…
Then much later… the final words (for now):

“I happily concede the panettone challenge. That bread was freaking tasty!!
Effin artist indeed.”

Indeed!