Friday, August 27, 2010

Eat Pray Love - Read this while loving this Spaghetti all' Amatriciana - you'll pray to eat more!

My Spaghetti all' Amatriciana

So, I must admit, I read Eat Pray Love for the first time about a year and half ago before it became a popular movie and before the cover of the book changed to the Julia Roberts inspired cover.  I typically like to pick up my books at the bookstore or online, but this was actually one of the first books I read from the library since I was a kid, as I realized there is the most adorable little Library within walking distance from me. I went to check it out one day, and saw this book. When I walked in, I remember saying, "I think I need to like renew my membership," which seemed to really amuse the librarian...they are very serious about ones library patronage apparently. Library books still have that indescribable library smell in case you were curious.  This week, I decided to pick up the book and re-read the "Eat" section of course.  P.S. - still haven't seen the movie as I've heard mixed reviews.

I really liked the book (note: not loved the book) - it's basically about a 30ish woman who goes through a divorce and decides to travel through Italy (Eat), and India (Pray) and Indonesia (Love).  Some of the chapters were a little slow, but overall I would recommend it.  It's fun to ponder the idea of leaving your current life, and responsibilities for a year and just travel the world like the author does, although for most of us fairly unrealistic.  However, you can get a glimpse of several cultures through the author's journey, and it's a worthwhile read. A whole third of the book written about her ability to gain 23 pounds in Italy - can't go wrong with that!

One of my favorite cities to visit is Rome, and I think it is because of the food mostly...hmm...I think I'm ready for a trip back.

You can learn more about the book at:

Throughout the Eat section of the book the author talks about various pizza and pasta dishes of course, and specifically highlights the best pizza she's ever had in Naples, Italy, at L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele as well as Spaghetti all' Amatriciana, which is a pasta dish made with tomatoes, onions and italian bacon.

I researched a few recipes, and decided to go with Anne Burrell's Recipe as I recall that I saw her make this on one of her episodes.

Some new things I tried for the first time:
- The recipe called for San Marzano tomatoes, which come from a certain region in Italy - you can find them at Publix (although I had to go to two stores to find them)

- The recipe also said to put the tomatoes through a food mill - another item I didn't have, so I went to Bed Bath and Beyond and bought one, - definitely a very ancient looking contraption.

This was the food mill I bought
- The recipe also called for Guanciale, which is a cured pig cheeks!  As you can imagine, I didn't find this item at Publix, and bought Pancetta, Italian bacon, from the deli counter instead, which is a good substitute.
- Also, the recipe called for Bucatini, a tubular pasta, but I used Spaghetti Rigati instead, which is basically spaghetti with ridges - helps hold on to the sauce!

Found this at Publix

Overall, everyone really liked it, and they said it was AWESOME! I will definitely make it again.  I took a short cut and ordered the Margherita Pizza from Blue Moon Pizza to go along with the delicious pasta.

Although, I hear that Varasano's Pizza in Atlanta has the best Neapolitan style pizza in the US - at least according to Rachel Ray - I'll have to add that to the list!


Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Help - Read this and Help yourself to a Slice of Southern Caramel Cake

Help yourself to a a slice of my Caramel Cake

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett is AMAZING! You must read this book - so hard to put down! It was easy to read and interesting. It's a fictional story told from the point of view of the maids (the help) that raised the children in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960's and offers a point of view that I've never read anywhere else. The characters in the book are so fun and hilarious, and you will become so wrapped up in their individual stories. At the end, it was hard to believe that it was just a book - it seems like all the characters should be real people, and you really get to know them. I was kind of sad they weren't real when I finished the last page. And...let me just tell you, that the "surprise cake" Minnie makes, is the funniest thing EVER and well deserved.  Don't get mad, get even! It will make you laugh, cheer, and cry in a few parts...and surely give you a perspective you may have never thought about otherwise.  Minnie was known for her Caramel Cake, so I decided to make one!

You can learn more about the book at:

Throughout the book, Minnie, one of the main characters makes all kinds of Southern Cakes. The one that caught my eye that I wanted to make was the Caramel Cake.

I first tried Caramel Cake in Athens, Georgia where I went to college at the University of Georgia.  There are several restaurants in Athens which serve cakes from a local baker, Cecilia Villaveces. She has a bakery in Athens called Cecilia Villaveces Cakes.  I first tried her cakes (and my first caramel cake) at Last Resort Grill and also at Lumpkin Cafe.  I haven't been there in several years, so I'm not sure if they still sell her cakes or not.

The noted Caramel Cake from Cecilia's in Athens, GA
See the gallery of her cakes

I looked online for several Caramel Cake recipes to try. Here were a few I looked at:

I saw on author Kathryn Stockett's website a recipe for the Caramel Frosting from the Memphis Junior League Cookbook. I thought this had to be authentic, and very different from the one on Paula Deens' website.

Apparently, this must be popular because the cookbook was sold out. The Memphis Cookbook, first published in 1952, has the distinction of being the second oldest community cookbook in continuous publication.

Paula Deen vs. the Junior League?  Probably evenly matched, but I think I'll go with Paula as she has the cake, filling and frosting recipe. Also, the Junior League frosting recipe calls for a cast iron skillet - and I realized I don't have one of those.

I used Paula Deen's Recipe, and here is my masterpiece!

My Caramel Cake!
This cake was quite the project and I had to read several of the "reader reviews" of the recipe to make sure I didn't mess it up.
Step 1) Make three cakes from scratch for the layers.  Lot of mixing. Surprisingly, the layers turned out very even and I didn't even have to cut the tops off before assembling.
Step 2) Make the caramel filling and assemble. Boiling sugar and butter to make caramel. Quite the science project.  You must boil/simmer for 3-5 minutes or until it isn't gritty any more.
Step 3) Make the caramel frosting and frost.  Another science project. Let it boil!
Step 4) Add pecans and put in the fridge to set

Here are a few pictures along the way:

Here are the cakes after I flipped them out of the round pans to cool.  They were pretty easy to flip.  I did some serious greasing of the pans with butter and then floured them as well to avoid sticking. 

Right after I assembled with the caramel between each layer on on top.  The trick to making it work is letting the caramel cool to "warm-hot" vs "hot hot" before putting on the cake.  Also, the cake layers should be cool....and don't make the caramel filling until you are ready to assemble.
I cut a slice after letting it sit in the fridge a few hours and it cut perfectly!  The slice looked awesome.  It is very rich and it's hard to eat more than a few bites though. So will I make it again?  Yes...but it will be a while. Time consuming!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Read this with Swedish Coffee and Kanelbullar

Swedish Coffee and Swedish Kanelbullar
Picked this paperback up at Costco before heading to the beach (also picked up the 2 others in the series)
It took me about 200 pages before I really started getting into the mystery of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larson.  I took this book on vacation with me to the Virgin Islands and couldn't put it down.  It was unlike any book that I have read, in the sense that it combined elements of a murder mystery, a thriller, financial journalism (similar to the use of the legal system in John
Grisham books), religion, history and culture.  It definitely was heavier than my normal beach reading, (I will warn you it is a little violent and disturbing in parts) and I found it so interesting to learn a little about the Swedish culture while reading it. 

Throughout the book, almost every meeting between two people is commenced with a cup of strong Swedish coffee. I would venture to say chapter did not go by without discussing the strong coffee multiple times - clearly, this is a big part of the culture.  In Chapter 4 (p. 82 in my edition) it says, "Blomvist took a swallow of black coffee - plainly boiled in a pan in true Norrland style..."
So, it wouldn't be right if I didn't make this coffee as my featured item,  and a Swedish Sweet to go along with it. I found the following recipe for the Swedish Coffee - secret ingredient - egg shells and eggs!

So, I thought maybe someone "punked" with this swedish coffee recipe - I mean, I have never in my life heard of doing this and it sounded like a recipe for salmonella poisening (did I mention I'm food safety certified), but I followed the instructions exactly, except for I strained it though a very fine wire strainer five times to make sure all the grinds and egg bi-products were removed.  I then tasted it:  it was very strong, similar to Starbucks, but very mellow with no after-taste.  I had a few family members try it, and they thought it was pretty good. Will I make it again?   But, that's because it is too much work for me - when I need caffeine, I don't have time to crack eggs and their shells into it...and then strain it out. But  now I know how to made Swedish Coffee.

Of course I made a Swedish pastry to go along with the coffee.  I decide to make Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Rolls) to go along with it.  I used the following recipe:

Some notes: 
1) I halved the recipe. Forty Kanelbullar looked a little extensive.  I made 16 out of the halved recipe.
2) Cost Plus World Market was out of ground cardamom (a spice I have ever used), so I bought a jar of the whole cardamom pods and ground them is a lesson learned.  I put the whole pods into the "Magic Bullet" and ground them up...I was lefty with a then occurred to me that I needed to shell the cardamom before grinding.  So I took about 15 of the pods (to make about 1 tsp), popped them open, and THEN ground them into the "Magic Bullet."  Once ground, it looked kind of like a steak seasoning blend (black, brown, red) and it had a very strong smell kind of like a mix of pepper, cinnamon, ginger and something else.  It didn't smell great by itself.

I also found these at Cost Plus World Market in Smyrna, GA on the spice aisle
3)  The recipe says your dough is supposed to double on the 1st rise, and then again double once you cut into the rounds. I used fast acting dried yeast, but mine never seemed to double either time.  I'm not sure what I may have done wrong, but this is what they looked like before I put into the oven.

4) The recipe says to use Pearl Sugar, which I hear can be found at IKEA or purchased online.  I wasn't adventurous enough to drive out to IKEA today so I used regular granulated sugar, which I think worked just fine.  If you want to know more about it, go to this website:  Also, if you google "where to buy pearl sugar" several different websites come up.

The rolls before I put them into the oven - I did bake a few extra minutes than it said

After they came out of the oven, I sprinkled with more sugar. These are not your typical Sticky Bun - much less sweet, so they need a little extra.

The book weaves in other cultural references to the book that the two main characters eat.

Salander, the leading lady in the book, who lives in Stockholm, has  everyday meals consisting of sandwiches made of eggs and herring or caviar.  It seemed an odd combination, but very common in Sweden. Blomkvist (the leading man) and Vanger have a more formal dinner in freezing cold city of Hedestad consisting of Roast Hare, Currant Jelly and Potatoes.  One day, while he went to Konsum, "he discovered fried sausage with potatoes and beets - a dish he had never been fond of but for some reason it seemed suited to a cabin in the country." After reading this, I wanted to look into Swedish cuisine a little further, as I have never really cooked or eaten it to my knowledge. Trust Wikipedia was a wealth of knowledge:

While I was a Cost Plus World Market looking for my cardamom, I also found Lingonberry jam, which tasted kind of like cranberry sauce.  It might be good on the rolls!

I found this at Cost Plus World Market in Smyrna, GA with the other jellies/jams
Overall, a fun and tasty experience!  I recommend reading the book and trying out my treats!