Tony is in Dubai and I am making a mess in the kitchen.
Unfortunately, I am one of those people who just CANNOT eat alone. I get anxiety just ordering food by myself in English so going to a restaurant and sitting by my lonesome is out of the question… However, Louie makes an excellent date for our morning cappuccino, which I am more than grateful for! Anyway, with Tony out of the house it means I have a lot of free time on my hands to explore new recipes and I also have to cook for myself and I have found the most perfect meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner that can easily be adjusted for individuals and groups alike!
Shakshuka seems to be on everyone’s mind lately according to my Instagram and Pinterest accounts and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s an Israeli, one-dish meal of eggs poached in a spicy and flavorful tomato, pepper, and onion sauce and it is simply delicious. I’ve always been a big fan of eggs baked in tomato sauce and this just takes it one step further. Plus, if you like your eggs runny, I find this method of cooking is much more ideal for getting the consistency you want.
I personally go the traditional route when I make shakshuka and only use the typical combination of vegetables, but I’m thinking of adding some spinach next time. However, for people who need their meat intake for every meal, I think it would be delicious if you browned ground turkey or beef and then added all your vegetables and tomatoes, but that might not be shakshuka anymore either.
Shakshuka recipe by The Bite-Sized Baker:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
28 ounces peeled tomatoes
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
½-¾ cup feta cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
- In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add chopped onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Add bell pepper and sauté for additional 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Pour in tomatoes and season with paprika, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Let simmer until tomatoes begin to thicken, approximately 20 minutes. Stir in crumbled feta cheese.
- Gently crack eggs over skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cover with lid and cook until egg whites have set and yolks have reached your desired consistency.
- Remove from heat and sprinkle with additional feta cheese and chopped parsley. Serve with hot sauce or bread, if desired
Makes four servings.
So, funny story about this cake. I made this cake for my birthday back in December and I forgot to post it… and then I thought it was much more fitting for Valentine’s Day anyway, which I then forgot to post again… So here it is, a week or so late, and still insanely rich, moist, and indulgent.
It’s not that this cake isn’t memorable because let me tell you, it’s a mayonnaise-based chocolate cake and that’s prettttty memorable. In fact, the first time I saw this recipe was in February 2013 while watching the “Chocoholics” episode of Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” series. Chef Alex Guarnaschelli described this cake so deliciously that a year later, I was still thinking to myself, “I got to have that cake,” and since it was my birthday, that’s exactly what I did.
The original recipe calls for a White Meringue Frosting, which I think would be a nice and light balance for the moist chocolate cake, but I was in the mood for a decadent chocolate cake, Matilda style, complete with chocolate ganache frosting. I am also a huge aficionado for chocolate and raspberry together and I thought it might be a nice tart offset to add a raspberry jam in between the cake layers and chocolate ganache.
The end result was beautiful and the cake itself was probably one of the best and most moist chocolate cakes I’ve ever tasted. Whether you want a decadent and rich chocolate-chocolate cake or a SOLID chocolate cake with another frosting, I strongly urge you to try this recipe. The mayonnaise might be scary, but it adds a moistness to the cake that will blow your mind and quickly make you forget you’re eating mayonnaise with your cake.
Childhood Chocolate Cake recipe by Alex Guarnaschelli:
1 ½ cups plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 ¼ cups mayonnaise, such as Hellmann’s
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant coffee, optional
½ teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups hot water
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put parchment paper in the bottom of the 2 cake pans and use nonstick spray (or a little butter) to thoroughly grease the sides and bottoms. Set aside.
- To make the cake batter, combine and beat the eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, on high speed until light, fluffy and lemony-colored, 5 to 8 minutes
- Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder (sifted over the other ingredients), coffee (if using) and salt. Gently stir in the hot water, the egg/sugar mixer from the machine and whisk in the mayonnaise mixture until smooth. Mix until all of the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Pour half of the cake batter into each of the prepared pans. Place the pans in the center of the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Test the cakes to make sure they are cooked in the center. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- Assemble the cake as desired.
The Mercato Centrale in Florence is a beautiful and wonderful place for foodies and non-foodies alike. You can spend hours exploring different vendors offering the freshest produce, meats, fish, pastas, breads, cheeses, and desserts, as well as packaged Italian souvenirs, spices, oils and made-to-order food and coffee. As an observer, who is soaking in all the action, it is quite an enjoyable experience.
But I was there on a mission– I wanted to make an outstanding Spaghetti Bolognese using the freshest and highest quality ingredients I could get my hands on… and oh, my gosh… it was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. Yes, I’ll admit that back in Chicago, my version of Spaghetti Bolognese is ground beef, specialty pasta sauce (I like to get fancy with Mario Batali), and spaghetti squash… And I have a food blog, HAH! Call me crazy, but I just do not love pasta and I rarely cook big meals during the week… especially, when there are carbs involved. I save all my carbs for dessert… But when in Italy, you do as the Italians do– a real Spaghetti Bolognese and maybe some not so authentic Italian gluten-free pasta.
Prior to visiting the market, I made sure to study all of my ingredients in Italian so I could shop with ease. Although the vendors were more than helpful, I’ve never been so overwhelmed! The sheer number of vendors is enough to stress someone out, but when you take into account that you’re speaking in another language, using a currency you’re not used to, and making your way through a big crowd? I thought I was going to sit in the middle of the market and just start crying; and I LOVE going grocery shopping when I have a recipe on my mind! It’s no surprise it took me three additional trips to different local markets on my way home… And I caved and I went to Eataly to grab some spices– so sue me!
In the end, the preparation, the fight, and the stress was well worth it. The final result was a rich, creamy, and deep Bolognese that consisted of carrots, celery, onion, ground pork, beef, pancetta, porcini mushrooms, and milk. The secret to a rich and indulgent Bolognese is harvesting the caramel, which is a brilliant technique I discovered from the always entertaining blog, Lady and Pups, that gives the Bolognese a deeply rich flavor.
From the girl who calls store-bought pasta sauce and ground beef Bolognese, I am so happy I took the time to create an authentic Bolognese! Now I just need to eat it with real pasta.
Spaghetti Bolognese Recipe by Lady and Pups:
1/3 cup (75 ml) (or slightly more if your ground beef is very lean) of extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup of finely diced pancetta
21 ounces (600 grams) of fatty ground pork
23.6 ounces (670 grams) of ground beef
¼ heaping cup (10 grams) of dried porcini mushrooms
7 cloves of garlic, minced
10 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoons of minced rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon of chili flakes
2 medium stalks of celery
1 large onion
1 small carrot
4 dried bay leaves (or 2 fresh bay leaves)
4 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 piece of (2″x2″) of Parmigiano rind
7 ½ cup (1250 ml) of whole milk, divided into 1 1/2 cup or 375 ml for each addition
4 cans (400 grams for each can or 1600 grams in total) of good quality Italian peeled tomatoes (I used crushed tomatoes and it worked out perfectly since I have limited kitchen supplies at the moment)
Coarse sea salt/grey salt and freshly ground black pepper to season along the way
Any type of fresh thick-cut pasta, such as tagliatelle
Little nub of unsalted butter for each serving
Aged Parmigiano cheese to grate
Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
- To prepare the ingredients, finely mince the celery, onions, and carrots and set aside. Wash the dried porcini mushrooms to get rid of any sands and impurity and set aside. Blend all the canned tomatoes with the juice inside until smoothly pureed, and set aside.
- To brown the meat and vegetables, heat up the pan over medium-high heat and add 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Add the pancetta and cook until slightly browned, then add the ground pork and ground beef. Season with 1 teaspoon of sea salt/grey salt and 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Continue cooking until all the liquid has evaporated, and that there’s a layer of browning at the bottom of the pan, approximately 15 minutes.
- Add the porcini mushrooms, minced garlic, fresh thyme, minced rosemary and chili flakes and cook until fragrant. Add celery, onions, carrots, bay leaves, tomato paste and Parmigiano rind, and season again with 1 teaspoon of sea salt/grey salt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. The vegetables will release juice/liquid which is going to “loosen” the browning on the bottom of the pan. Scrape the brownings with a wooden spatula and keep cooking until all the juice/liquid has evaporated and that there’s A BRAND NEW layer of browning forming at the bottom of the pan, approximately 15 minutes.
- To reduce the milk and harvest the caramel, add 1 1/2 cup of whole milk once all the meat and vegetables have browned. Keep the heat on medium-high, and stir to evenly mix all the ingredients together. The milk will loosen the brownings and you will scrape it off with your wooden spatula to let it melt and become part of the sauce, then let it cook and the milk will completely evaporate and form ANOTHER NEW LAYER of brownings, approximately 20 minutes. Add the next 1 1/2 cup of whole milk and repeat this process until there is no more milk left. If your stove tends to heat unevenly, move around the pan to “maximize” the brownings. Don’t be afraid to let it get deeply rich and dark brown, as long as it DOESN’T BURN/BLACKEN (moving the pan also prevents partial burning due to centralized heat). You will harvest the caramel (the brownings!) in each of the 5 additions of milk, and by the end of it, you should have a pot of meat sauce that’s rich and brown with intense flavor. This will take approximately 2 hours.
- Once the last addition of milk has been added, reduced and browned, you can now add all the pureed tomatoes. Season again with sea salt/grey salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir to evenly mix the ingredients and scrape the brownings on the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat down to medium-low and partially cover the pan with a lid. Let the sauce reduce down by 1/3 to almost 1/2. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
- Serve over pasta and sprinkle with more freshly grated Parmigiano cheese.
Well, guys, I’ve officially survived my first week in Florence and I’m not ready to move home yet! Major accomplishment in my eyes.
I am not going to lie, the adjustment of moving to a foreign country is slightly more shocking than I originally anticipated. But then again, I was still in denial that we were actually moving until we landed in Italy. Yes, I expected the major things like the language barrier, time change, cultural differences, climbing 83 steps to get to my apartment, and different electrical voltages, which I’ve done an OK job adjusting to (learning Italian isn’t a walk in the park!)… But in all honestly, it’s been the tiniest, perhaps most vain, adjustments that have put me in a tizzy.
My first major freak out occurred when I went to the grocery store. Tony and I didn’t really have a plan when we walked in, but my hangover from the night before kicked in immediately. I was just walking down every aisle looking for organic products SANS gluten that I felt comfortable eating, 2% milk, Advil, and a pasta sauce that I didn’t have to cook from scratch. Fortunately, we found a few organic products at that grocery store and a lovely woman helped us choose our milk. Unfortunately for my hangover, I found nothing that resembled Advil and the only pasta sauce to be found was a 16-ounce can of Barilla. I guess everyone makes their own, which I’m not going to complain about, it’s just different! And maybe this is the hangover talking again, but I got in such a funk because I couldn’t eat Chipotle and when I looked for Haas avocados to make guacamole of my own all I found were an Israeli variety. But enough about the grocery store.
My next major freak out was at the nail salon. It wasn’t as much as a freak out as a silent pledge that I will be sticking to DIY manicures from now on and saving quite a few euros on mani/pedis while I live here. Again, not complaining, saving money is always good!
I don’t want to sound ungrateful and let’s give me credit, I did preface this rant as “vain,” but these are just a few things that smacked me in the face in the short week I’ve lived here. I am very excited about this adventure and I can’t wait to get into the swing of things, especially now that all my kitchen supplies and equipment have finally arrived! In the last week, Tony, Louie, and I have spent more time outside and exploring than ever, walked up at least 8,000 steps going to our apartment, shared some amazing meals, wine, and gelato (of course), and my Italian has already improved significantly. Eventually, when we finish unpacking all of our belongings and decorating the apartment, I’ll post pictures of our new place as well as some new recipes, but until then– Ciao!
Croissants. Croissants are intimidating. More intimidating than Cinnamon Rolls? Definitely. More intimidating than macarons? Yes! More intimidating than your boyfriend watching The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show? Possibly.
Tony was in Paris this past week for business while I was stuck in Chicago with the pleasant ZERO degree weather… And I thought to myself; if I can’t be in Paris eating croissants and drinking espresso, then I should probably spend an entire day slaving over homemade croissants…
Let me tell you, croissants are tricky little things! I spent three days reviewing and comparing recipes in hopes to uncover the secret of the perfect, flaky, and layered croissant and it took me two days to actually finish the recipe! I dare not admit how quickly I shoved them in my mouth, which is a big downside of cooking at home alone; no one is there to eat homemade croissants straight out of the oven with you… and no one is there to stop you from eating that second… and third… serving.
I was slightly disappointed with my first batch of croissants, as the exterior was a little darker than I was hoping for. Although I kind of enjoyed the extra crispy exterior and soft and flaky interior, I wanted more of a golden brown crust, if only for aesthetic purposes. After adjusting the oven temperature and cooking time I was able to make a successful second and third batch with a golden brown crust… However, one of the blogs I referred to, Home Cooking in Montana, suggests to place a piece of aluminum foil lightly over the croissants halfway through baking to insure the crust isn’t overly browned.
If you do find your first batch of croissants is getting overly crispy in the oven, simply reduce the temperature and/or place a piece of aluminum foil to avoid excess browning. Oooor you can just sprinkle powdered sugar over the final product, because no one will ever know the difference! Powdered sugar is kind of the answer to all of my kitchen mishaps. If you suddenly start seeing all my desserts dusted in powdered sugar its most likely because I got impatient and messed something up in the kitchen.
Look at all those flaky layers! Totally worth the 24+ hour process and $20 worth of European-style butter…
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can drizzle chocolate over your croissants… or just break open a hot croissant and place a square of chocolate in the middle… You can just gobble them all up!
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ¾ cups whole milk
4 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
4 ¼ cups King Arthur all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ cups unsalted European-style-butter, very cold
1 large egg
1 teaspoon cold milk
Pinch of salt
- For the dough, melt the 3 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Remove pan from heat and immediately stir in milk.
- When the temperature is lower than 90 degrees F, whisk in yeast and transfer milk mixture to bowl of a stand mixer.
- Using the dough hook attachment, add the flour, sugar, and salt to the bowl with milk mixture on low speed for 2-3 minutes until a soft and cohesive dough forms.
- Increase speed to medium-low and continue to mix for 1 minute.
- Remove the bowl from mixer and cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in room temperate (68-70 degrees F) for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, transfer the dough to the refrigerator and let dough rest for 2 hours.
- For the butter block, fold a 24-inch length of wax paper in half and then fold the sides to form an 8-inch square. Crease folds firmly.
- Place 1 ½ cups of cold butter on a clean counter and beat with rolling pin until it is flatter and fold the butter on itself,
- Unfold the wax paper square and place the butter inside and refold the creases of the wax paper to enclose the butter. Use a rolling pin to gently roll the butter until it fills the entire 8-inch square.
10. Refrigerate the butter for at least 60 minutes.
11. To laminate the dough, remove the dough out of the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a 12-inch by 12-inch square.
12. Unwrap the chilled butter and place in the middle of the dough.
13. Fold the corners of the dough over the butter and gently roll seams together with a rolling pin to seal edges.
14. Roll the dough into a 12-inch by 18-inch rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds, like a letter and refrigerate for at least 60 minutes. (You will do this three times in total)
15. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll the dough into a 12-inch by 18-inch rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds, like a letter and refrigerate for at least 60 minutes.
16. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll the dough into a 12-inch by 18-inch rectangle. Fold the dough into thirds, like a letter, and cover tightly with plastic and refrigerate overnight.
17. The following day, place refrigerated dough into the freezer for 30 minutes.
18. Remove dough from freezer after 30 minutes and transfer to a lightly floured surface.
19. Roll the dough into a 20-inch by 30-inch rectangle and then fold the rectangle in half, into a 10-inch by 30-inch rectangle.
20. Using a ruler, mark dough with a knife every 5 inches. Using a knife, cut along marks to form 6 rectangles.
21. Cut diagonally across 6 rectangles to create triangles.
22. For crescent-shaped croissants, cut a ½-inch slit in the center of the short side of the triangle. Roll the triangle gently and curve into a crescent shape , if preferred. Repeat with other triangles.
23. Place the croissants on a parchment-lined baking sheet at least 3-inches apart and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature (68-70 degrees F) for 2-3 hours, until nearly doubled in size.
24. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. (Original recipe calls for 450 degrees F, but I found 375 degrees F worked best for my oven)
25. To make egg wash, whisk together egg, milk, and pinch of salt. Gently brush croissants with egg wash and sprinkle with raw sugar, if preferred.
26. Place croissants in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through. (If you find your croissants browning quickly, lightly place a piece of aluminum foil over croissants)
27. Transfer croissants to wire rack to cool then devour.