Thursday, October 29, 2009

Spicy Pumpkin Seeds: A Halloween Treat

homemade pumpkin seeds -
the delicious byproduct of a carved pumpkin

Among my fondest Halloween memories (aside from the embarassing disaster that was dressing up like uncle fester) I cherish moments of gorging myself on delicious treats that only come at that time of year: copious amounts of orange, yellow, brown and black candy in a plastic jack-o-lantern with a handle on it, bottomless bowls of candy corn, impossibly sticky caramel apples with peanuts all over, and freshly baked pumpkin seeds, fresh from the pumpkin.

The latter are probably my favorite (despite having a professed weakness for almond joy and three musketeer bars) because they are something that not only conjure spooky Halloween memories, but also the flavors of Mexico. (image credit)

Pumpkin seeds or "pepitas" are an unofficial national
snack in Mexico**. As a child I was known to constantly carry a bag of them in my backpack, snacking on them secretly during class, recess or after school. You can buy them in tiny home-made bags on any corner in Mexico City, perfectly toasted and heavily salted. Maybe it's the salt I crave more than the actual seeds, or maybe it's the special un-shelling technique I developed over time (look mom, no hands!) that I take so much joy in, but either way, there's something about "pepitas" that still inspires childish glee in me.

This year's pumpkin; inspired by Roman's big brown eyes :)

But back to Halloween. I am a devout pumpkin carver (partly because of the hidden snack inside) and this year was no exception. After I wooed Matt one year with my (not-so) secret "pepita" recipe, which converted him from a pumpkin-seed-ambivalent to a bonafide pepita-lover, he has harassed me to make it every year and last night as I carved the Roman-o-lantern, insisted I write a blog about it (flattering, yes).

Here is my recipe so you too can enjoy pumpkin seeds with a kick. It's not Mexican, but it sure is Halloween for

* * *

Las Pepitas de Brenda
(Brenda's Pumpkin Seeds)

Serves 4 mere mortals
but only 2 greedy-pepita-eating-monsters

I like this recipe because it involves a couple of my favorite flavors, is quick, easy and also aesthetically appealing. The Paprika gives the pumpkin seeds an orange Halloweeny look, and the lemon juice balances out the salt. And after they're baked, they leave a lovely orange-black Halloween residue on the foil. :D

You can eat them whole or peel the shell off (after you suck all the tastiness off of it, of course). Feel free to adjust spices to your liking. I love sour, spicy things -
you've been warned. Amazingly, these seeds are probably the healthiest thing you'll eat the whole 31st. :)

* * *

Pumpkin seeds from 1 large pumpkin
1 tbsp salt
2 tsps paprika (or cayenne pepper if you're brave :) ), plus extra for sprinkling
1 lemon (not lime, mom!), juiced
a sprinkle of pepper (optional)

1. Preheat your oven to 375F / 175C. Once you have removed the seeds from inside the pumpkin, put them in a bowl and rinse them thoroughly with cold water until all the pumpkin membranes come off.

2. Pat the seeds dry with paper towels and transfer to a small bowl. Add all the ingredients and mix until all seeds are thoroughly coated.

3. Transfer the seeds to a cookie sheet lined with foil. Make sure the seeds are in a single layer
and not overlapping each other. Sprinkle with extra paprika for more color.

4. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until dry and toasty. The seeds should be somewhat crunchy. Allow them to cool and transfer to an air-tight container for storage or eat immediately!

These make a great Halloween party snack. :)

Happy Halloween!

**Not to be confused with
Argentinian "pepitas" which are cookies,
Pepitas are also used in widely in Mexican cooking in dishes such as Pipian, or Papadzul, and they are used to make a variety of desserts as well as ground up to thicken or make sauces or garnish dishes.
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Monday, October 26, 2009

My Very Own Homesick Texan Chili

Chili, our Chili, God Bless the mighty stew!

We're back from Malta! And posts on the delightful Maltese culture and food (or lack thereof in the latter case) are forthcoming. But for now, a post I was inspired to write shortly before leaving for our little autumnal vacation on a subject near and dear to my little Texan heart: chili.

* * *

One of the first food blogs that inspired me to start writing my own is a wonderful site written by a fellow Texan who is also homesick. Having once been a "Homesick Texan living in NYC" myself, I
immediately identified with Lisa. Her recipes are authentic, interesting and generally pretty darn delicious.

The dreary fall weather in London has been getting me down, and so I figured it was high time I finally got around to trying one of the many recipes I'd bookmarked on Homesick Texan:
Seven-Chile Chili.

chiles de arbol - my stash

Rather a purists' Texan, the above recipe involves a huge variety of spices and chiles - stuff that probably most people would not have regularly in their pantries. A lot of it, despite being familiar to me through my own Mexican heritage, was not typical chili fair for me. I grew up with a fairly clear sense of what chili is and what it's not, and after perusing many recipes, I realized I had a rather boring and somewhat tame recipe.

So it was tough for me, at first, to alter that holy-chili-image in any way, but I made some tweaks and came up with my own recipe based on my own tastes and my own pantry or "bodega" as I like to call it. The moment I tasted my very own Homesick Texan chili recipe I realized that for once, and in the famous words of country-pop-whatever singer Sheryl Crow, some change had done me good.

* * *

What Chili is and is not.
In my humble opinion, as usual.

4. It is the Texas state food.
Among the many indoctrinating facts and songs I was taught as a young child living in the Lone S
tar State is this gem. I can also tell you that the Texas state tree is the Pecan tree, the bird is the mocking bird, the flower the bluebonnet (which is illegal to pick), that we have the right to fly our flag at the same height as that of the US, and I can sing entirely from memory the "Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Texas our Texas." (Yes, I am proud of all of this. :) )

Chili is in every Texan's veins. Everyone has their two cents on what should be in it or not and how hot or tomato-ey or not it should be. The variety and individual character of every family's chili is part of the charm of having it as the official state food. It reflects the diverse nature of a state so big and full of good food. :)

3. It is NOT Mexican.

But it is Mexican-inspired. Whether you make it with actual chiles or you just use good old Gebhardt's Chili Powder, the reason you're making chili at all has a lot more to do with authentic Mexican and Native American food than the cliched name might imply. This guy can tell you a whole lot more than that about Chili's Mexican (and otherwise) origins right here.

2. It is a labor of food love.

Chili is not something that can be whipped up in a few minutes. It is a stew, which by nature, takes time to, well, stew (no matter what Rachael Ray and her "stoups" have to say about it). A short-version chili will take you a good 45 minutes to an hour to make. Anything less zips right past the conditional and into the present affirmative case: it IS uncivilized. Chili is evocative of years of people on the range melding flavors, combining comforting, hearty ingredients to make a fulfilling meal for family and friends. It is worth choosing right and letting it simmer.

1. It is NOT one clear-cut thing.
Chili is as varied as the cowboys who first cooked it.
I bet you didn't know that there are actually "technical" definitions for chili out there - well, there are. How can you really define chili?

The Brits like to call it "chili con carne" (and yes, they do nauseatingly pronounce it "carn-EE" as if it had small hands and smelled like cabbage), but actually it's anything but "chile con carne" which is a Mexican dish and very different.

There's white chili, vegetarian chili, chili made with every kind of chili pepper, tomato and type of bean out there. People in Cincinatti eat their chili served over spaghetti (won't even get into the Italian-sacrilege that is), and the guys at Sonic (America's Drive-in!) serve their chili over a giant American hot dog, put cheese on it and call it a "coney dog."

Who is right? What is authentic and real? Tomatoes or no tomatoes? Kidney beans or pinto? The intricacies of the chili purity are many and complex, but in my book I think it's worth overlooking these differences in the name of chilian unity. After all, I did just take the liberty to make up a brand new (for me) chili recipe today after years of eating my mom's chili, and if that's not sacrilege and yet exciting in one way or another, then I don't know what is.

* * *

My Very Own "Homesick Texan" Chili
Serves 4

Chiles Mexicanos
left to right: guajillo, morita, ancho, arbol

I'd never made chili with real chiles before, but having just returned from our trip to Mexico with bags (literally) of delicious, smokey Mexican chiles fresh from the mercadito, I just couldn't resist the mouth-watering temptation.

Rehydrating chiles and making a simple salsa from them is a typically Mexican way to start a guizado (roughly translated: stew) which usually involves a tomato base. In this recipe, the deliciously unadulaterated salsa is combined with other Mexican flavors (coffee, cinnamon, chocolate) to create a Tex-Mex delish. The addition of crushed coriander seeds
evokes the Mexican predeliction for cilantro. The tomato paste gives the chili more substance and the flour thickens what would otherwise be a complex but runny beef soup.


- 2 anchos
- 4 chiles de arbol
- 2 chiles morita
- 2 guajillo
- 2 pasilla
- 2 chipotles en adobo

1 lb ground chuck (lean meat will not do!)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
1 can kidney beans, drained
3 or 4 tbsps tomato paste
1 cup brewed coffee
1 bottle or can of beer (preferably darker)
2 cups water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsps flour, mixed into 1/4 cup water

Spices (more or less to taste):
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp crushed coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp cayenne pepper / chili powder
- 2 tbsp ground Mexican chocolate
- salt & pepper to taste

1. Bring water to boil in a small pot (approx. 3-4 cups) then turn off the heat and add the dried chiles. Cover and allow to sit for 20 minutes. When chiles are rehydrated, put into the blender with approximately 1/2 to 1 cup of the chile-water and blend until smooth. Set salsa aside.

2. Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Brown meat and then add the garlic and onion and sweat until translucent. Add the tomato paste and salsa and mix for 1 minute.

3. Add the coffee, beer, water, spices and beans then cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.

4. After one hour, correct seasoning and add the flour-water mixture. Mix thoroughly, cover and allow to simmer for another hour.

5. Serve sprinkled with grated cheddar cheese and tortilla chips.
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cheesy Apple à la mode.

what are you waiting for?
go make
yourself the one you love some cheddar cobbler crust

Tomorrow we leave for our original honeymoon of choice (3ish years ago): Malta. This throwback to our newlywed days got me to thinking: Life's too short not to do sweet things for the ones we love.

To this tune, it is a well-known fact that Matt loves baked goods. And lucky for him, it is also apple season and therefore the perfect reason for me to pick up some nice cooking apples - B
ramley apples to be exact.

* * *

Some Quick Necessary Info on Bramely Apples

- Originally cultivated in the UK, in Nottinghamshire by a nice (no doubt)
British lady by the name of Mary Ann Brailsford (quite a nice appley-
name, wouldn't you say?)

- Specifically used for cooking because of their naturally sour taste
(we're talking Granny Smiths on serious steroids)

- When cooked they become pale and fluffy in texture,
making for ideal pies, crumbles, you name it

* * *

Nothing like a cool fall day to inspire you into baking. Being the sweet wife I am, I decided to whip up a quick apple cobbler while making Roman some of his favorite apple, pear and strawberry sauce to eat with his shockingly bland baby rice cereal in the mornings.

And so we come to my clever-clever double-double entendre title: The Cobbler is Cheesy for two reasons and à la mode for two reasons. Can you figure them out? I'm going to assume that's a negatory and roll into my highly anticipated list for today.

* * *

An Explanation in List Form of Brenda's
Clever-Clever Double-Double Entendre Title

with a focus on cheesy and à la mode

Cheesy Reason 1: The Literal One

Matt and I are big cheese eaters. Actually, Matt is a much bigger cheese eater than me, and a die-hard purist. He eats all kinds of cheese - from the most pungent to the freshest, from traditional American in slices to chunks of Danish blue - in their true unadulterated form. He might use a cracker now and then, but most days I find him in the kitchen after work slicing up some Brie or biting off large pieces of parmiggiano reggiano, straight up.

I, on the other hand, like to pair sweet with my cheese. I am a devotee on chutnies, jams, spreads and pastes - especially Quince Paste. And when I eat cheese it's because I've made a cheese plate with an assortment of cheese, crackers, and dried and fresh fruits to go with them. I have a very hard time eating cheese alone.

For this reason, I felt that a Bramley Apple Cobbler that somehow incorporated the delicious chunk of British Cheddar sitting in the fridge would be a perfect way to combine my taste and Matt's.

Cheesy Reason 2: The Cheesy One
I have few escapes from routine these days. For the sake of The Master, a routine is something we have to keep and cling to. It gives him structure, predictability and consistency. It also ensures that he doesn't starve, get over-tired, or feel entirely unsure of what the heck is going on around him. Sadly, it also makes for a somewhat predictable and often kinda boring daily life. The glamour of being a young beautiful mother (yes, I did just take that liberty) has worn off somewhat, and now I'm slowly starting to remember that I had hobbies and interests outside of changing diapers.

I love taking care of Roman, but in order to make sure I'm the best mom I can be, I make sure to take time during my week to cook something utterly unnecessary and delicious. Involved, new, and exciting. This keeps me very happy indeed.

And naturally, I love to keep the husby happy. So I thought I'd surprise him with a warm delicious dessert on a day he'd been traveling all day and I knew he'd be tired and looking for a comforting meal. Cheesy, I know.

"à la mode" Reason 1: The Literal One
According to one dictionary "à la mode" is an adjectival French phrase meaning: "According to the prevailing style or fashion."

It's not a stretch to say that because apples are in season they are also the prevailing style in terms of cooking. Ok, maybe it was a stretch.

"à la mode" Reason 2: The Pretentious Culinary Jargon One
Who doesn't love showing off their repertoire of pretentious culinary jargon?

Ok, fine, probably a lot of people could care less, but I figured I'd throw in an oldy-but-goody on this one. According to one dictionary, "à la mode" is an adjectival French phrase also meaning: "Something served with ice cream, for example, apple pie."

I don't think using it with cobbler is much of a stretch. And even if it is, it tastes damn good. :)

* * *

Cheesy Apple Cobbler
inspired by this recipe

Serves 6

Finished Cheesy Cobbler, A La Mode
I have a serious weakness for Häagen-Dazs

In case you were wondering, it did the trick. Not only was Matt surprised and rather pleased to be eating warm apple cobbler with ice cream, but it kind of made me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside too (and not because I served it warm).

I chose this particular recipe because I love the savory with the sweet and to me a cobbler sounded a million times improved with cheddar cheese in the crust. I finagled with the original recipe found on (by adding Calvados, for one thing) and ended up with something I will be making for years to come. The crust isn't
crumbly - it's more like a light, cheesy cake that compliments the sweet apple filling.

My version is slightly heavier on the sugar used in the filling because Bramley apples are, as previously stated,
seriously tart. If you're using Granny smiths or other sweeter varieties, cut the sugar in half. And be sure to get a pint of good ice cream to accompany it - or the clever-cleverness of it all just goes down the drain. :)


For the Filling:
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
4 large Bramley apples, peeled, cored,
chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1-2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup whipping (single) cream
1/4 cup Calvados (Apple Brandy)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the Topping:
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup (packed) shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
1/2 cup whole milk
1 large egg


For the Filling:

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pot or pan large enough to hold the apples over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the Calvados and cook for 30 seconds.

2. Add the apples and sauté until they are soft, stirring occasionally and not allowing them to get mushy. Mix the sugar, flour, ground cinnamon, and nutmeg into the fruit. Then stir in the whipping cream and immediately remove from heat.

3. Transfer the filling to a baking dish of choice (I used an oval shaped ceramic dish - medium, smallish size.

4. Bake filling at 375°F for 10 minutes before adding the topping.

For the Topping:

1. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

2. Add the chilled and chopped butter and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Stir in the cheese.

3. Beat the milk and egg in a small bowl to blend and then mix the liquid into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon (the dough will be stiff).

4. Drop the dough by the heaping tablespoonfuls onto the filling, spacing evenly and covering the entire surface.

Before and After

5. Bake the cobbler until the crust is golden and a skewer inserted into the topping comes out clean, about 45 minutes.

Little Known Fact:

Ed Gein, diabolical necrophiliac and the original inspiration for both Psycho and Silence of the Lambs, required one thing of the police in order to cooperate with their investigations - a slice of apple pie with cheddar cheese on top. At least this infamous cheesehead had good taste in something.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Fat Italian Part II: The Zabagli-- err,Tiramisù

lady fingers soaked in coffee and Marsala

I don't know what made me believe that it was a good idea to try to make tiramisù with a sick five-month old child and an impending family visit hanging over my head. Roman was in fine finicky form, the house was still only half-way decent, and I had about a million other things to take care of in my half-over day, and yet, I decided to increase the level of chaos in my life by making a somewhat time-consuming dessert that involves lots of dirty dishes, lots of machinery, and lots of messy mixtures. (Hey, you only live once right?)

I was about 45 minutes in to my method. Roman had been ok so far, though he was starting to fuss and punch his teddy bear (never a good sign), and I only had an hour before the dry cleaner closed. I was feverishly whipping the cream to put into the zabaglione and I was, admittedly, getting frantic - but I kept telling myself: only a few steps left before I could start assembly!

I finished whipping with the mixer, grabbed the glass bowl full of cream and started to run to the kitchen island to mix the zabaglione, neglecting the fact in a moment of cranial-gas that I did NOT let go of the plugged in mixer. Yes. I was immediately yanked back by the mixer's chord - cartoon style - and dropped the glass bowl. In slow motion I watched as the glass shattered, the cream
splattered, and Roman immediately began to wail. Grande.

a whippedy mess

I had no shoes on and was surrounded by glass shards and covered in whipped cream. Amazingly enough, Roman seemed kind of amused. Realizing that was the last of my cream, I, for one insane moment, asked myself if there was any way I could salvage some of it for the zabaglione and if anyone would notice. Then I slapped myself and surrendered to the reality that not only would I have to run out and buy more cream, I would also have to sweep and mop the entire kitchen and deal with my now hysterical and neglected sick baby before cleaning the rest of the house. Ah, the things we do for culinary dalliances. :)

* * *

In my last post I recounted how I was overcome with culinary rapture upon tasting the Fat Italian's tiramisù and how said rapture prompted me to re-learn to properly to make my own. But first, a bone to pick:

The Picking of a Bone On the
Subject of Pronuncing Tiramisù:

As you may or may not have heard, tiramisù is a running together of a couple of Italian words that translate loosely into "pull / throw me up." The accent is on the last syllable, the "u" and evokes an exclamatory, metaphorical pick-me-up thanks to the chocolate and espresso in the recipe.

I find it really annoying when people mispronounce the name. I'm not sure why besides my tendency to obsess over language and have an admittedly unreasonable sense of entitlement to correct peoples' pronunciation in any language I happen to speak. So get it right or pay the price. There are others like me lurking around this crazy world.

* * *

Having lived in Italy for several years, I'd been taught before, but never bothered to really commit the recipes to memory or write them down, because as a teenager, everyone has something better to do than cook dessert. But now, as an adult, I regretted those fleeting moments of puerile (or should I say "puellile?") forgetfulness. I needed to find a good recipe for tiramisù - one that approximated Fabio's - and it wasn't going to be easy. But nothing great is every easy is it? :) I perused the internet for longer than is appropriate for a woman with a 5 month old baby, and finally came across three versions I thought I could combine to my liking (this one, this one, and this one).

They all had different things I did and didn't like about them but they all helped me refine what I thought would make the ideal Tira. With these things in mind, I set out to create a delicious dessert to serve to my mom and step-dad who would soon be visiting us in London. It was time to quell the zabaglione-eating beast lurking within.

* * *

Top 3 Ingredients for an Ideal Tiramisù
mess included.

3. The Individual Serving Cup.
One of the things that always put me off about tira is having to cut it out of a giant rectangular pan. If the zabaglione-to-lady-finger ratio is to my liking, you always end up with a ridiculous, soggy, soppy mess on the plate. No perfect little square with dusted cocoa neatly sprinkled - not unless you're some kind of magical tiramisu wizard.

The first recipe I mentioned offered up the possibility of individual cup servings, something I'd been toying with, but feared because I didn't know how to change ingredient proportions. Suddenly it was very possible, and opened up a plethora of non-messy, classy-looking serving options that I knew were right up my alley.

2. The Dipping Alcohol of Choice.
Apparently -- and I don't know if I buy this because there's much disagreement on the origins of this dessert -- the original Tiramisù was aimed at children and old people and therefore did not contain alcohol. Sounds pre-tty darn suspicious to me knowing the penchant Italians have for their tasty liqueurs. If they're giving babies wine to try as soon as they're able to eat, why fuss over a couple of tablespoons of coffee liqueur? But I digress...

The Epicurious recipe and the Giada recipe both brought to my attention the fact that as far as tira goes, there does not seem to be any kind of consensus with regards to what alcohol should be used for dipping the lady fingers. Yes, you use coffee, good Italian espresso ideally. But beyond that you generally either combine some kind of coffee liqueur or other alcoholic beverage with the dipping coffee or drizzle it over the lady fingers as you layer the dessert.

Let's examine the choices:

Some say Tia Maria, a Jamaican drink, is best, but personally I can't see how a caribbean coffee liqueur could possibly be authentic. Others advocate for Kahlua, the Mexican version of Tia Maria, older, better known and also, like Tia Maria, owned by that pesky own-it-all Pernod Ricard, this coffee liqueur offers up the same syrupy sweet, coffee-vanilla taste as Tia Maria, but none of the Italian essence I was looking for. Others still suggest rum. While I'm a big lover of rum in desserts, I simply couldn't pass up the last option offered up: Marsala wine. Sicilian, sweet and delicious - it's authentic, a staple in my cupboard, and a great way to spike the lady fingers. If you don't have Marsala in your cupboard -- what the hell is wrong with you? Go get some! RUN!

1. The Zabaglione. Zabaglione. Zabaglione.
If all this yummy-talk isn't a good enough reason for you to get off your toosh and make tiramisù then ZABAGLIONE! is. Not only is it the funnest word to pronounce ever (equal only to besciamella!) - and it's pronounced ZABAHYOWN if you're American, ZABAHLEEOHNEH if you're Italian - but it's also the secret to the delightful deliciousness of tiramisù.

Zabaglione is a sweet, impossibly light, Italian custard, thought to have originated in my favorite Italian city, Venice. It was originally made by beating air into raw egg yolks (though I think people generally do it over a baine marie now) combined with honey, sweet wine and whipped cream or beaten egg whites. These days it is made with sugar instead of honey, and Marsala or prosecco instead of the original sweet wines from Cyprus imported through Venice.

hand-whipping the zabaglione:
the workout to justify the indulgence

Whatever wine or sweetener you choose, I am confident that you will agree that a better more satisfying custard is hard to come across. Zabaglione has a mildly sweet, soft, smooth texture that is anything but gooey and gelatinous (unlike most custards). You won't find this stuff slapped on nilla wafers or poured over a cheap sticky toffee pudding. Traditionally served over fresh figs (they're in season - go for it!), it is far too delicate a flavor for that. Plus, it's too much work to waste on a sloppy product of pop-culture.

Making Zabaglione, like most labors of love, takes a little more effort than the average modern-day semi-homemade deal. Sure, you can pull the mixer out of the cupboard for the job and whizz it out in 2 minutes, but why do that when you can, in true Italian-casalinga style slave over a semi-hot baine marie and whip it by hand? :) Hey, if nothing else, you can truthfully complain about the work and sacrifice it took to put dessert on the table. Anything for a couple of extra brownie tiramisu points, right? :)

* * *

This Fatty's Version of the
Fat Italian's

Serves 6

the art of tiramisu-ing

So you've decided to try out this recipe - no doubt you've shopped around for other ones too. Well, I hope my couple of pointers have convinced you already that mine is head and tail above the rest.

Other thoughts: I tried making my zabaglione with egg whites and then another time with cream - the egg whites give it too much of an eggy taste. I do not recommend it. The cream, on the other hand, gives it a subtle, much lighter richness. If you're a cream lover like me, you'll understand.
Also, get good semi-sweet cocoa powder for this. It gives the whole thing a more grown-up taste and cuts the sweetness of the zabaglione.

Lastly, if you're looking for something that will impress without TOO much fuss, this dessert is perfect for a dinner party. It has to be made ahead of time and chilled and the flavors actually meld better the longer it is kept in the fridge (though I wouldn't recommend keeping it for longer than 3 days). It is easy enough to dust fresh cocoa powder on each cup when you're ready to hand them out and nobody will be the wiser.

Serve with freshly made espresso (Illy, of course) and sink into a delightful, temporary, zabaglione-induced coma. You'll thank me and the other fatty for it. :)

1 cup brewed espresso, cooled

2/3 cup Dry Marsala Wine (or coffee liqueur of choice), separated into two 1/3 containers
4 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 cup chilled heavy cream
12 soft ladyfingers (savoiardi biscuits) cut in half
unsweetened or semi-sweet cocoa powder for dusting

6 1/2 cup containers (coffee cups or ramekins work well)


1. Mix the cooled (freshly brewed) espresso and 1/3 cup of Marsala Wine and set aside in a small bowl. Have ready the six 1/2 cup containers you will be using.

2. For the ZABAGLIONE!
Over a baine marie (double boiler, look it up!) with barely simmering water, with a whisk (or electric mixer, if you must), beat the egg yolks with 4 tablespoons of the sugar in a metal bowl, until the mixture has tripled volume (4 to 5 minutes). Remove from heat and fold in the mascarpone gently, until fully combined.

Mixing the egg yolk mixture with the mascarpone

3. In a glass bowl, with an electric mixer on high speed and clean beaters, beat the cream with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar until stiffish peaks form. **Do NOT overbeat the cream or it will not mix well into the zabaglione!!!** Lightly fold into the mascarpone mixture.

peaks that are stiff :)

4. Snap or cut the lady fingers in half to fit the six containers. Dip the sliced ladyfingers, 1 at a time, into the espresso. Line the bottom of each container with one lady finger (two pieces).

5. Spooning generously, cover the lady fingers with approximately 1/4 cup of the mascarpone mixture.

6. Repeat steps four and five once more, making another ladyfinger and mascarpone layer in each container.

7. Sprinkle with cocoa powder and leave in the refrigerator to set for at least 3-4 hours and up to 2 days. Serve cold.

zabaglione-y goodness

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Friday, October 9, 2009

The Fat Italian Part I: La Bottega

My Americano with his Americano.

Back when I was a high-powered career woman (ha!), there was one thing I could always count on and look forward to during my work day: lunch. :)
Naturally, there were some days when it was better and some days when it was worse (read: grabbing a Subway Grilled Thai Chicken sandwich as I ran back to the office), but it was always there - a little escape and a little indulgence. Because, let's be honest, nothing makes me happy
like spending money on food.

Alas, those days are over for me, but not so for the good old husband. He goes to the same place almost every single day, and he calls that place "the fat Italian." Everyone else calls it La Bottega. How boring, right? But then again, everyone else doesn't have nearly as good a sense of humor about these things as the husb (no, I'm not biased, just really blunt).

Let's cut to the chase here: sometimes I crawl out of the proverbial cave and make my way with The Master to Chelsea, where I generally love to hang out pretending I can afford all those ridiculously nice boutiques on the King's Road and all those ridiculously beautiful houses everywhere else. On those days, hubby and I meet for lunch. He crawls out of his slightly posher cave (read: in conspicuous proximity to both Tiffany's and Cartier in Sloane Square) and takes me to eat some damn good Italian food with our favorite leather-apron-toting-fatty, Fabio the fat Italian (no relation to you-unfortunately-know-who).

Once there, sitting at our tiny wrought iron table, Italian servers zipping by in the impossibly small locale with immaculately conceived macchiatos and espressos galore, we generally have a meal that both satisfies our mutual and primordial hunger for all things Italian. And besides being culinarily, aesthetically pleasing, La Bottega also provides us with some much needed comic relief and an excuse to flaunt our pathetic-used-to-be-fluent Italian skills. Onto the list. *flash of the hand*

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5 Reasons to Go Meet The Fat Italian
yep, that about says it.

London's (really) Little Italy
The thing about London is that there are probably more foreigners than actual English people in it. Surprisingly, one of the larger immigrant populations is that of the Italians who make their way to the better-paying, job-filled capital of the north en masse. Fabio makes it his business (literally) to hire many of these newly-arrived at his cafe/deli and so your server is guaranteed to always been Italian. No really, always.

Not only are the food and coffee authentic as can be, but the tiny size of La Bottega - the way you have to crowd in, squeeze by other patrons, and are likely to come out with a piece of porchetta stuck to your jacket, is part of the real Italian charm. There is a counter with every imagineable Italian deli meat, cheese, and lots of homemade cold Italian salads. There's another counter full of real Italian pastries and desserts. And the walls as lined with shelves brimming with a million different artisanal Italian products (all for sale, of course), making for a nice decoration.

The pastry section at La Bottega;
nutella-filled sfogliatelle here I come!

And on top of that, it's in the middle of one of the nicest areas in London, right at the end of Lower Sloane Street (a hop skip and jump from a great chocolate shop). What's not to like?

4. Illy. Just another Word for Perfect Coffee.
If you love Italian coffee then you know that it is really hard to replicate a well-made, non-acidic, velvety-smooth epresso at home, much less find one in a restaurant or caffe. And in Anglo countries, it is pretty damn well near impossible. Not so at La Bottega.

First off, they use Illy, which I maintain is the best Italian coffee out there. A full flavor, plenty of natural-sugar schiuma, and none of that Starbucks-esque bitterness I've come to know and hate.

NB: Yes, I know nobody buys it for coffee at home in Italy, but I'm not a big fine of Lavazza, to be honest, and frankly, I also don't care. Because I'm convinced that the reason Italians don't need to buy Illy in Italy is because there's some kind of magical fairy dust in their water that makes the espresso come out perfect every single time.

Secondly, the Italians who make and serve the coffee have been raised making and knowing what a good latte, cappuccino, macchiato, caffe etc. look and taste like. None of this serving a latte with foam, or a cappuccino with steamed milk. They know what you want when you ask for it, and correct you if YOU don't know what you're asking for. And for once, in a world of too much bad service and WAY too much bad coffee, I find that just a little refreshing.

3. Carb-overload: A delicious way to die.
The reason my better half fell in love with La Bottega to begin with is their daily pasta special. Every single day of the week they make and offer-up two fresh, simple Italian pasta dishes. You can get one or the other or a combo plate if you're really a glutton (yep, that's what I always get).

The Italian deli at La Bottega;
order your combo plate from Fabio here.

The pasta is always perfectly cooked, and perfectly paired with the right kind of sauce. Whether it is bolognese and fusili, or orrechiete in a cream and ham sauce, the dishes are painfully simple, the sauces unpretentious and cooked on the premises. When they run out, they run out. They give you bread, are not stingy with the parmiggiano, and let me tell you, as fat and full as you may feel
afterwards that pasta is worth every single pound. Pun intended.

2. To Meet the Fat Italian.

You'll know who he is when you walk in. He's the fat cat in town, so to speak (and weirdly he actually kind of looks like Tiger from Fievel).

He's the only one behind the counter proudly donning a manly, brown leather apron. He's jolly and friendly and loves his Italian food. He makes the rounds constantly, greeting regulars (and there are lots of them) and gossiping with other compatriots. He's the louder more jovial half of the La Bottega partnership (the other guy works at their Knightsbridge location) and loves to show it.

May I be so bold as to draw a cheesy metaphor?

Fabio the Fat Italian is like the chunk of Parmigiano you secretly throw in while slaving over a home-cooked batch of Bolognese sauce: rich in flavor, spice, and local color -- without him, the dish is nothing but a commonplace, overdone Italian dish that everyone's heard of and has eaten a million times. With him, the dish is complete and one of a kind, a sacred staple recipe that everyone begs for. Like I said, it's worth going just to get a glimpse. :)

1. The
Fabio and his crew make a meeeeeeeeann (and I mean mean) Tiramisù. And for the record, the emphasis is on the last vowel, not the "i" (as most Americans seem to annoyingly think and therefore pronounce).

Having eaten the infamous Italian dessert on many an occasion, it took a fat Italian man with a leather apron and his cronies to finally make me realize what really makes Tiramisù work (you know, work. Pop. Hit the proverbial umami spot): lots and lots of zabaglione!

At La Bottega, you get an individual to-go dish when you order tiramisù. In it you will find all the predictable musts: lady fingers soaked in delectable espresso and coffee liquer, powdered cocoa, and that yellowish brown creamy stuff with a hint of marsala wine. The appeal of this particular dessert, however, is that in the case of the Fat Italian, the lady fingers are literally swimming in the creamy stuff. I always thought tiramisù was stiffer, more biscuit than cream. How wrong I was!

oh for the (Fat, Italian) love - the zabaglione!

The superior quality and copious quantity of zabaglione is what makes the Fat Italian's
Tiramisù stand out head and shoulders above the rest. It was good. Good in that sinful, takes-me-back-to-Italy kind of way that I rarely experience in this freaking-fracking country. So good, in fact, that I decided to whip a batch up myself thereafter.

Stay tuned for results...

* * *

La Bottega
65 Lower Sloane Street
London SW1W 8DH

Tel: +44 (0)20 7730 8844

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Eggs of the Ranch Persuasion, take 2.

Major foodie props to my very good and rather fearless friend Kristine who sent me this picture this morning inspired by my recent post (yes, I do feel the need to shamelessly promote my past dalliances):

Love the touch of cilantro (or coriander, as the English would erroneously (IMHO) call it).

Her foray into the world of huevos rancheros was met with praise and much licking of lips.

Yay for Kristine helping me change the world one huevo-ranchero convert at a time!
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