Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Pasta with cauliflower

Keeping it Simple with Pasta and Cauliflower Recipe

Pasta with cauliflower is so fast and easy to make, and you can still taste every single ingredient in the final product. Simple, fresh, delicious. Perfect.

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Making Easter Calabrian Cuzzupe with Zia Vincenzina

There’s nothing quite like absorbing family history while also learning to make the age-old recipe for Easter cuzzupe with Zia Vincenzina… Read on...


Recipe: When Life Gives You Mandarins, Make Mandarin Jam

Making this easy mandarin jam recipe is not only a great way to use up a bunch of mandarin oranges, it’s also a wonderful opportunity to slow down and reflect on what is truly important in life.

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Homemade apple butter

Face Your Fears with Homemade Apple Butter

Homemade apple butter

Homemade apple butter

I had a love-hate relationship with the basement of my childhood home. I hated that the cellar was always cool, dark, and creepy no matter how many lights I’d turn on. The whole space freaked me out, especially the old coal bin, but nothing made my heart beat faster than those first few steps from the top when the staircase became open underneath.

Goodness only knew what was waiting for me under there.

As it turned out, nothing ever was, but of course I knew what was sitting just behind there up against the wall: shelves and shelves of deliciousness. That’s where my grandmother kept the jarred tomatoes, peaches, “chow chow” (Pennsylvania Dutch-style pickled vegetables), various fruit jams, and so much more.

Enter love — and the requisite motivation to conquer my fear of the cellar.

I wish I could say it got easier after the first time I descended only to find nothing threatening or scurrying about. Nope.

Fears aren’t very formidable opponents if they go away that easily.

It took a while. Years probably. Even writing about it now, I’m right back there, that little girl staring into darkness, heart beating wildly, taking deep breaths as I prepare to run as fast as I can down there, get whatever I was sent for, and run back upstairs. I can proudly say, though, there was never a time I flat out refused to make the trip. Not once. Of course my family never gave me the option of doing so either.

Sometimes you just have to fake the courage and play through the fear.

And sometimes fears don’t get conquered at all. Sure if you’re lucky like me, eventually something gives, and you can walk at a leisurely pace up and down the cellar stairs without an anxious wave sweeping over your body. Calmness and peace isn’t always possible, but the good news is that if you’ve played through the fear, the end result is pretty much the same — you’ll have accomplished what you set out to do, and you should be proud.


Apple butter cooking on the stove

Apple butter cooking on the stove

I had forgotten all about those creepy stairs until I got to thinking about canning and jarring here. As many of you have witnessed, over the past several years I’ve been moving toward making just about everything from scratch. Canning and jarring, though, still hasn’t been on my radar despite having grown up with it.

Could it have been the subconscious scary cellar connotation that was holding me back? Quite possibly, yes, along with a healthy fear of botulism, but whatever the reason, I recently decided it was high time for me to break out the jars and get moving — to play through.

Fake it till you make it.

And I’m in the perfect setting for it. Here in rural southern Italy, seasonal eating and preserving is a way of life for many as we simply can’t find most fruits and vegetables out of season — and believe me, I’m not complaining. Strawberries are an anxiously anticipated treat and the flavors of everything are at their best when we have them. So it makes sense to stock up on your favorites when they’re around and preserve them as best you can for months when you won’t find them fresh. Besides that, preserves are always a great snack slathered on some fresh bread, and they make thoughtful gifts as well.

Best of all, the canning and jarring process simply warms the soul.

If you haven’t done it, you probably think I’m crazy, but if you regularly make preserves, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Allow yourself to really be present during the process, fake that confidence if you must, but be mindful and appreciate each step on the way to the finished product. For me, every stir of the preserves pulls me that much closer to the generations that have come before me. There’s something fundamentally comforting about carrying out an age-old process while I let my iPod Touch lie silent in the other room and the only sounds I hear are the spitting and bubbling of the preserves and our rooster Jimmy crowing in the distance. Seriously, it’s like he does these things on cue.


Face Your Fears with Homemade Apple Butter  on Punk DomesticsApple butter, for those who don’t know, is a Pennsylvania Dutch creation, a spiced apple spread; there is no butter involved unless you spread that on your bread before putting on the apple butter (yum!). Not surprisingly, apple butter isn’t on grocery shelves in Calabria and good homemade apple butter may not be easy for you to find either, but the ingredients aren’t difficult to locate for most of us. So with a desire for a taste from home, I knew I had the perfect Sunday morning project for me when I revisited Mary’s recipe for apple butter (anche in italiano) at The Flavors of Abruzzo.

Although making apple butter is time-consuming because of the stirring on the stove, it’s actually not difficult at all — the apples are handled within a few minutes at the beginning (no peeling or coring), and you can adjust the sugar, salt, and spices along the way, so it’s hard to mess up the flavor as well. I’ve seen recipes that call for specific kinds of apples, but I took Mary’s advice and just used a mix of whatever was at the market that week — worked a charm. Also, you can easily cut in half or double, triple this recipe depending on your needs.

May this apple butter remind us that facing a heart-thumping fear can indeed lead to sweet, sweet reward — figuratively, of course, but also quite literally if your grandmother happens to store all the good food in the dark, creepy basement.


Homemade Apple Butter

(Adapted from Mary’s recipe at The Flavors of Abruzzo)

Homemade apple butter

  • 4 lbs apples
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • Sugar (measurements below)
  • Salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

*NOTE: I got about four pint-sized (average marmalade-sized) jars of apple butter and one small jar of applesauce out of this recipe, but I believe I used slightly more apples than the recipe called for.

Apples through the food mill

Apples through the food mill

1. Wash apples, cut out any damaged parts, and cut into quarters. Leave the skins and cores as you want the flavors from those, and they’ll take care of themselves later.

2. Put apples in a pot and cover with vinegar and water. Bring them to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until they are soft enough to be put through a food mill. To test this, take out a piece, put it on a plate, and mash with a fork. If that happens easily, they are ready, but if there is resistance, let them cook some more.

3. Remove apples from pot with slotted spoon and put in food mill for processing. My technique is to have an empty bowl on the side for the apple remnants from the top of the food mill once it starts to gets messy and crowded up there; save those remnants because you can run them through a few more times and get lots more puree out of them. If you enjoy homemade applesauce, congratulations! You’ve just made some.

Once you’ve churned the apples down as much as you possibly can, you should end up with very little waste — and if you happen to have chickens, well they’re in for a treat that day.

The jar on the right was gone by the next evening.

The jar on the right was gone by the next evening.

4. Add 1/4 cup of sugar for each cup of puree (50 grams of sugar for each 300 grams of puree). Stir through and then a pinch of salt and add spices. I say cloves are optional above because I’m personally not a huge fan of cloves, but do feel free to play around with measurements and spices.

5. Taste and adjust.

6. Put puree in a wide, thick-bottomed pot (you don’t want this to burn, so the thicker the better) and simmer on low heat, stirring constantly. This takes between one and two hours, so do set aside the proper time.

7.  To test if the apple butter is done, put a spoonful on a cold plate. You want the apple butter to remain solid with no liquid seeping out.

8. Put apple butter in sterilized jars, top with sterilized lids, and boil for 10 minutes. Once they’re done, turn off heat, take off lid, and just let the jars in there until they’re cooled off.

For a fuller explanation, see Canning Basics for Preserving Food. And for lots more canning, jarring, and other ideas for at-home preparations of food, be sure to check out the community at Punk Domestics.

Buon appetito!


No-Knead Bread Rolls – No Dutch Oven Necessary

No-knead bread

Success at last! No-knead bread.

The no-knead bread phenomenon has been sweeping the Interwebs for several years now thanks to Mark Bittman, but I haven’t waded into the fun until now. For whatever reason, working with dough intimidates me, so I tend to stay away from it, but all the rave reviews of this no-knead bread had me curious. So I had to try it, which I did in September.

Um, yeah, that didn’t help my Dough Confidence Quotient whatsoever. It was an absolute and utter disaster.

They say this dough should be really sticky; mine was nearly runny after the first rise. There could have been yeast/rising issues, but I think the biggest problem was lack of flour. But everyone says, “Don’t touch the flour! You’ll ruin the delicate balance of ingredients! The measurements must be *exact*!” So I ditched the batch, hung my head in shame, and wallowed in self-pane pity.

Then in November, I visited Diana in Piemonte, and she made an absolutely perfect no-knead loaf . . . and my Bread Envy was off the charts.

So about a month ago, I picked up the flour again, probably feeling confident after making a mean batch of cinnamon rolls around Christmas time (recipe coming). I figured hey, if the dough doesn’t feel right to me (with all my Faux-Dough Authority), I’m adding flour. I don’t care what they say. Who are “they” anyway?

So extremely happy I did. I LOVE this bread, and you will too if you haven’t made it yet, I promise.

It forms a wonderful crisp crust on the outside but is chewy and light on the inside. Simple and perfect — and the best part is, it’s easy as all get out (once you figure out whether you need to make adjustments for your humidity/altitude).

No-knead bread rolls

No-knead bread rolls

I do believe the ridiculously high winter humidity here simply requires the use of a bit more flour in this recipe. I’ll probably be OK with the given proportions come summer when the air is dry, but hey, we’ll cross that wheat field when we come to it.

The reason I’m posting this recipe even though you can find it absolutely everywhere, though, is because of some inspiration from the Panini Girl, who as you might have guessed from her name, decided to make little two-bite sized rolls out of this dough. I decided to give it a go by making six full-sized rolls, and they came out wonderfully — even P grabbed one while it was still warm, and he is very picky about the pane he consumes (paesano only!).

The best part about making the rolls? You don’t need a dutch oven or similar vessel for baking — just grease up a cookie sheet. Thanks so much Panini Girl for showing me the way to these no-knead bread rolls!

No-Knead Bread Rolls

(Adapted slightly from the famed recipe published in The New York Times by Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery)

No-knead bread rolls

No-knead bread rolls

  • 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour (note you can play with the types of flour but make sure you know the proper substitution ratios)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

1. Stir together flour, salt, and yeast in a medium mixing bowl, then add water. Mix together until you have a “shaggy and sticky” dough. I use a silicon spatula for this part after trying both a wooden spoon and hands. The spatula works wonderfully because you can also use it to scrape down bits that have climbed the sides of the bowl.

2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for 12 to 24 hours; 18 hours is the recommended time. Seeing that it’s winter, I put mine in the unheated oven as it’s warmer in there and the most safe from drafts — we don’t have heat in the kitchen, so it’s nowhere near the ideal 78°F (25°C) for dough-rising. Generally people seem to agree that it’s great to whip this dough up in the afternoon or evening, let it sit overnight, and then bake the bread the next morning. Works for me, too.

3. The dough is ready “when its surface is dotted with bubbles.” Dust a wooden board or other work surface with flour, and put dough on it. I do recommend watching the video below so you can see what’s a normal dough consistency at this stage. Add a little more flour and fold the dough over on itself once or twice so that you’ve created a “seam” on top.

4. Put a large cotton towel nearby and dust it with flour (or cornmeal, wheat bran). Put dough on the floured spot in the towel, seam-side down. Dust again with flour before folding up the sides of the towel to cover it. The dough should now sit for another two hours or so before it’ll be ready to go in the oven.

5. Half an hour before you’ll be baking, preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C) and grease a cookie sheet with olive oil.

6. The dough is ready when it has doubled in size and no longer springs back from your touch. Divide the dough into six pieces, roughly shaped into balls and arrange them on the cookie sheet leaving at least an inch between them. They may bake together a bit, but they’re easily separated anyway so long as they’re not touching too much.

7. Place sheet in the oven and bake for about 35 to 45 minutes, until rolls are golden brown.

Buon appetito!

I’m also sharing this video for you visual folks; this helped me greatly in understanding the steps:

Have you made no-knead bread? What did you think?

Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time.

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