Monday, December 13, 2010

The Last Supper...

So here we are! 365 days and just over 100 recipes. The Julie/Giada Project has come to an end.

Last night I made "Beef" and Cheese Manicotti and Chocolate Amoretti Cake for Jared and me. I used my trusty Morningstar Farms Veggie Crumbles in place of the beef but the dish was just as meaty and warm and comforting. During our meal, we talked about this year - the meals, the move, the memories.

When I started this project, I was almost 400 miles away from my boyfriend and 200 miles away from my family and a million miles away from what anyone would call a good cook. I feel like I got to know Giada De Laurentiis pretty well and at the same time, got to know myself.

Apart from cooking, Giada has taught me to be brave. I remember a more timid me in my small Connecticut kitchen in January, nervous to even attempt infused olive oils. I cautiously made casseroles, I nervously boiled noodles and before I knew it, I was accepting a new job and moving my growing stock of kitchen supplies (and the rest of my belongings) to Virginia.

I had found a signature dish (Orecchiette with Spicy Sausage and Broccoli Rabe), I made Easter Dinner for my Richmond Family, I recreated meals during the week with no effort at all and prepared Thanksgiving like a pro.

Maybe I'm not queen of the boardroom yet (yes, I'm still reluctantly living in a cubicle from nine to five each day!) but I rule my kitchen and I have Giada to thank for that.

For anyone that has been reading be it relatives or strangers (I'm sure there's more of the former than the latter) - thank you. Thank you to Shane and Jamie for being such good friends listening to me bitch about Polenta. Thank you for anyone who's clicked on my blog making it the number one Google search when googling "Julie Giada" or "Julie Everyday Italian." And to Jared- you are the olive oil to my crostini, the breath to my life and I love you.

And finally... Ms. Giada De Laurentiis, if you ever happen to stumble upon my little blog please know that I've spent one crazy carb-filled year with you. I've laughed, I've cried, I've learned to cook and most importantly, I've learned the importance of taking chances in the kitchen and in life. Grazie Giada, grazie!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Feeding The Soul...

I have so much to be Thankful for this Thanksgiving and not just that I pulled off a big Giada Thanksgiving Dinner without a hitch! First and foremost, I'm thankful for my family.

Jared and I made the trek home last weekend to celebrate my nephew Caleb's Christening. With my brother's family in Florida and Jared and me in Virginia, coming home to my parent's home just outside of Boston was even more special than ever.

Between playing trucks with my nephew Noah, cuddling little Caleb, trying to win their Boston Terrier Lucy's affection, catching up with my brother and his wife and making sure Jared was enjoying the madness, I've never been so thankful for my mother's cooking. It seemed as though we were eating every two hours but those meals brought everyone around one table and somehow quieted the chaos.

This year and this project has been all about cooking but I've learned that it's so much more than just preparing food. The act of creating something for the ones you love is such a satisfying experience.

Eating may nourish the body but cooking feeds the soul.

In that sense, I was full to the brim on Thanksgiving. It took all day but when Jared and I sat down to GDL's Turkey Tonnato, Aunt Raffy's Turkey Stuffing, Green Beans & Broccoli, and Parmesan Smashed Potatoes, it was all worth it.

The Turkey Tonnato was a little intimidating. I'd never cooked a whole turkey breast let alone thought of topping it with a tuna sauce that included anchovy paste and capers. I know - sounds funky, but stay with me.

The turkey stuffing however was right up my alley. I vegetarian-ized it using soy Italian sausage and vegetable stock. The flavors were incredible! Apples, onions, cranberries, day old cornbread and sausage came together in a warm and heavy and downright satisfying way. Needless to say, it was the "meat" of my meal.

The broccoli and green beans were super simple but lacked the garlicky spicy flavor I was expecting from Giada. The smashed potatoes however were brilliant. Why bother with all the effort involved in peeling and mashing when you can just throw the quartered potatoes in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes? Smash them with a fork and add some fresh Parmesan and you're done!

Though I did miss the big long table filled with nephews and cousins and Aunts and Uncles, I never felt closer to Jared. And as we took a post-dinner digestion walk in the crisp fall air arm-in-arm, I knew that he is a real part of my family. There will be many more Thanksgivings our future and just maybe a few GDL recipes will be a part of that.

Happy Thanksgiving to all and a very merry start to the holiday season!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Negative Nancy Meets Debbie Downer...

I've been neglectful and for that I'm truly sorry - that is, if anyone actually reads this blog. No really, I haven't had any followers join since March and barely any comments. WTF? Even my own Mother hasn't read in months and I've seen Jared skim it at best.

I can't say I blame them. I suppose my participation has dwindled as well. Don't get me wrong, I'm still cooking but the GDL recipes are few and far between. When I started this project I had a lot of time to myself to prep, cook, eat, ponder and write frequent and witty entries. I'm trying to commit to one Everyday Italian recipe a week but then also finding the time to write hasn't been easy.

Part of that is due to the fact that I'm enjoying my life with Jared in Richmond - that's a happy reason at least. But the other part is due to utter exhaustion. I’m recalling an entry from January in which I describe a miserable day at work during ad close. That’s when I worked for a publishing company that produced monthly and quarterly magazines.

Cut to Julie working for a major metropolitan daily newspaper. Yeah, it’s ad close everyday. And on top of that, I work with preprints (those circulars and coupon books that spill out of your paper on Sundays) and we’re approaching Thanksgiving – the largest preprint day of the year – when every advertiser comes out of the woodwork with a 60 page Black Friday/Holiday insert in every newspaper in every zip code.

So lately, I’m a little on edge. A little frustrated with a tedious workload. A little tired of the people I work with. A little drained. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Everyone has bad workweeks and these are mine.

So forgive me if I’m not regaling my dozens (if that) of readers with tales of perfect homemade pastas or sauces gone wrong and I can’t say I’m very optimistic about getting through the entire Everyday Italian cookbook before the end of the year (the original intention of the blog) but for now I’ll leave you with this…

Last Sunday I made GDL’s Classic Italian Lasagna. It was delicious. End of story. Julie’s sleepy. Goodnight.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fabulous Fall Weekend...

I get excited about fall like a pre-teen backstage at a Justin Bieber concert. Like a wino at a vineyard. Like a cop at a doughnut factory. Like a shop-a-holic at a sample sale. Like a... have I made my point? I love everything about fall. And I especially love relaxing weekends spent cooking and baking up the flavors of the season.

With five cans of pumpkin puree in my pantry I got to work on my Great Pumpkin Feast. GDL's Pumpkin Ravioli called for toasted hazelnuts and a butter sage sauce. Simple and delicious. Poured over pumpkin or squash ravioli it was a spicy decadent dinner. That was it for Everyday Italian though.

Next, I pulled out my crockpot for my Curried Pumpkin Soup. It's thick and creamy and quick to assemble. There's something so comforting about lying around the house with a cool fall breeze coming through the window and the smell of a soup or stew permeating the house. If the Pats were playing it could have been any number of fall weekends at my parents’ house. But in Virginia, Jared and I read and walked to lunch and dozed on the couch and it was fabulous.

Finally, dessert was in order. Another fall tradition of mine started with my roommates in college. Every October and for the last five years, we would get together at the Jones Family Farm in Shelton, Connecticut for pumpkin picking, cider and big, flat, chewy pumpkin cranberry cookies. The recipe can be found on their website While they still tasted delicious and were fairly easy to make, mine weren't quite so flat. More scone-like which was fine by me. One bite and I was back on the farm watching kids get their faces painted and dad's carrying as many pumpkins as possible through the cashiers line and laughing with my roommates like 13-year old boys at the unusually shaped gourds.

Not being able to get up to Connecticut or home to Boston this fall kills me but my Great Pumpkin Feast gave me a taste of New England here in Virginia.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Cruising into Fall...

I've returned from the islands of the Caribbean and though I didn't have much contact with Pirates, I'm pretty sure my booty is more bountiful. All the warnings were right! You do eat and drink gluttonously on a cruise. And it was fabulous!

Inspired by so many different delicious dishes last week, after sleep and laundry the next thing on my agenda was cooking! I chose a simple spinach pesto from Everyday Italian and it was like reuniting with an old friend. I chopped and cooked with a cool glass of wine and a smile on my face.

Spinach, toasted pine nuts and lemon juice get combined in the food processor with a touch of olive oil and salt and pepper. It is blended on whole wheat pasta along with Parmesan cheese and my first GDL meal back from vacation is complete.

It was fresh and delicious although I treated it like a basil pesto where a little goes a long way. I could have doubled the recipe for the pasta I made. But all in all, this was a simple no muss no fuss pesto that I thoroughly enjoyed making.

As difficult as it is to see a vacation come to an end, it does give you a whole new appreciation of home. My apartment looks cozier than ever and with the fall coming to Virginia, I am so genuinely happy to be home.

In honor of fall, next up - Pumpkin Ravioli!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Licking my Ladyfingers...

There is a long running Tiramisu joke in my family. After a snooty waiter once described the dessert with his nose in the air as "ladyfingers dipped in espresso" our family has regularly repeated the statement in our best pitchy British accent when we find it on a menu. But me? Make my own ladyfingers dipped in espresso? Absurd!

But not so much! Good ol' Giada takes all the snootiness away and leaves you with a decadent but simple dessert. While brewing my espresso, I whipped my heavy whipping cream with a little added sugar. A whole container of Mascarpone cheese gets folded into the whip cream - but not over stirred. This direction always shakes me to the core. It's almost a threat - "stir - but don't over-stir!" Lord, what would happen?! And when have I reached over-stirring status? I mean give me a number of stirs or appropriate turning pressure or some gauge! I'm stirring blindly over here!

But moving on...

Giada says to next add Zabaglione to the whipped mixture. Now last time I made Zabaglione in my little Connecticut kitchen (see Indulgences post from January), it was OK but a lot of work for basically melted creamy chocolate. So rather than go through the messy process of Zabaglione again, instead I melted some chocolate chips and stirred in a bit of cream and voila- lazy woman's Zabaglione!

So the "Zabaglione" gets added to the whipped cream and Mascarpone and chills in the fridge. Meanwhile, you line a loaf pan with plastic wrap so the edges hang over. Giada says to then dip the ladyfinger cookies into the espresso but my cookies fell apart instantly in the hot cupful so instead I lined the cookies into the loaf pan and drizzled the espresso on top of them. A third of the whipped mouse mixture spreads over the cookies before you add another layer of ladyfingers. Then more mouse and more ladyfingers to top.

Next you test your patience by letting it set in the fridge for two hours! The cool dessert smells absolutely divine. By lifting the edges of the plastic wrap the Tiramisu gets flipped onto a plate, topped with a dusting of cocoa powder and served. My presentation might not have been as lovely as those fancy restaurant Tiramisu but my God does it taste just as good.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Go Big or Go Home...

As you can see, August has been a slow cooking month. I've been totally consumed with our September cruise and all the preparation leading up to it- swimsuit shopping, boot camp fitness classes to make sure I can fit in the swimsuit, etc. I figured if I was only going to cook one GDL meal this month I better go balls to the walls and tackle a challenging one.

When I hear Spinach and Mushroom Ravioli I think Buitoni in boiling water for 8 minutes, sauce from a jar, voila! But Giada has a different plan. The idea of making my own ravioli from scratch sounded like a daunting task but GDL says it's easy when you use frozen spinach, pre-sliced mushrooms and egg roll wrappers as your pasta noodles. Sure! No sweat!

The mushrooms get sautéed in olive oil until the liquid has evaporated. The thawed and dried frozen spinach gets added to the pan and heated through. This smells delicious and I had high hopes especially after the mushrooms and spinach get chopped in the food processor and combined with mascarpone and Parmesan cheese. But then my egg roll wrappers started curling up on me and refused to stick together with my egg wash mixture. And maybe I should have looked harder for egg roll wrappers rather than spring roll wrappers because the see-through factor kinda through me for a loop.

I warned Jared we might be eating mushroom spinach slop with floating spring roll pieces, said a quick prayer to the pasta gods, and threw about 12 "ravioli" in my big pot of boiling water. The result? Basically mushroom spinach slop with floating spring roll pieces. The ones that did stay together had a slimy texture that I could not stomach. Not sure if it was Jared's unwavering love for me or if the man truly will eat anything but he managed to devour not only his bowl but my practically untouched bowl as well. God bless him.

So while Jared seemed satisfied, I was truly disappointed. This recipe was a lot of work, a lot of dirty pots, pans and utensils, an unpleasant presentation and in my opinion overall kinda nasty. But I plan to redeem myself and attack the most impressive GDL dessert - homemade Tiramisu.