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.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Quest Concludes Victoriously...

I knew Whole Foods couldn't let me down! Just 3 feet from the entrance, what do I see but an iced barrel full of mascarpone cheese on sale! It's as if the Whole Foods gods looked down at me from their tree-huggin' temples and threw me a bone. I got some odd stares from my overly excited reaction to this cheese. I even saw one woman walk over to it after I moved on to inspect what was so arousing. Needless to say, she wasn't as impressed.

So with my genuine mascarpone cheese in hand I can finally make some GDL fruity desserts including Grilled Peaches with Mascarpone Cheese.

It's a beautiful presentation for such a simple preparation. You start by juicing a lemon and combining it with sugar and brandy. In another bowl, the coveted mascarpone cheese gets mixed with a hint of vanilla. These get set aside while you brush a grill or grill pan with olive oil. Pitted and quartered peaches are grilled until golden with obvious grill marks. Add the peaches to the lemon mixture to coat. White wine is poured over the sweet lemony peaches and topped with a dollop of the mascarpone topping.

The textures of this dessert are so sensual you could melt. It's creamy coolness over soft warm fleshy peaches with a slight tingly buzz from the alcohol... mmmmm. I feel like I'm writing a harlequin romance novel. But seriously, it's that good. Enjoy it with someone you love! Bow chick-a bow-wow.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Quest for Mascarpone Cheese...

Richmond has quickly become one of my favorite places. As a big-little city, it offers quiet quirky neighborhoods with all the conveniences of a large metropolis. One thing it doesn't have... Mascarpone Cheese!!

What is wrong with this city? How can you deprive yourself of this cool creamy sweet cheese? It's not right and to be honest, I'm a little pissed off. Yeah, I'm talking to you Richmond! You're on my list!

It all started with my decision to make GDL's Grilled Peaches with Mascarpone Cheese. Sugar, check. Lemon juice and vanilla, check check. White wine, please- it's a staple in my kitchen. So out I go for the remaining ingredients- fresh peaches and mascarpone cheese.

My first attempt was the little market behind my apartment building creatively called The Market. No go. Mealy peaches and not a hint of mascarpone to be found. Bummer. A short car ride and I'm at my favorite Kroger that is the most "gourmet" and "organic" of all the Kroger's in Richmond. Trust me, I've been to them all. As loyal readers know, I'm quite particular about my supermarkets and the right store can make grocery shopping an absolute thrill for me (see Organic Heaven post from February).

But alas, no mascarpone cheese. I even go so far as to ask the bakery if they have some in the back that maybe they could just package up for me. But you would think I asked for them for the oven itself and they shooed the crazy cheese lady away. At least they had nice peaches.


OK, Whole Foods has never let me down. I drive across town to the one and only Whole Foods in Richmond. I walk out of the 100-degree heat and through the glass doors. A cool fruity breeze greets me and I get a burst of confidence- I will find my mascarpone here! I fly past the rows of colorful organic produce and round the corner to the dairy/soy case. Vegan cheeses, organic varieties, tofu this and soy that but no go on the mascarpone.

Over to the deli/bakery/prepared foods area that has the big refrigerated case with the most expensive and most pungent cheeses in the store. I look and look, sniff and sniff, debate just buying brie for dinner to make me feel better after this cheese debacle but eventually walk out empty handed with a growling tummy.

No Grilled Peaches with Mascarpone Cheese tonight. Maybe not ever while in Richmond. But one silver lining came today. Googling 'Mascarpone Cheese' generated a mere 364,000 results one of which led me to a mascarpone substitute! It sounds a little heavy and I'm sure it won't compare to the cool silky smoothness of mascarpone but I'm giving it a whirl.

This weekend, I will whip up one 8-ounce package of softened cream cheese with a quarter cup heavy cream and 2 tablespoons softened butter. You will get my full report next week. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Biscotti Calling...

Last weekend on a rainy Saturday afternoon I suddenly got ‘all about Italy.’ Roman Holiday was on and I was making GDL’s Citrus Biscotti. Biscotti meaning, “twice baked” were popular long before individually packaged ones were sold near every Starbucks register. Their dry consistency means they can easily be stored for long periods of time. Biscotti came in handy during long journeys and wars and were a staple food of the Roman Legions.

My grandmother makes biscotti at Christmas and though nothing compares to Mimi’s baking, I’d say that Giada’s citrus biscotti come in a close second as the best biscotti I’ve ever tasted. Made with orange zest and lemon juice the dough is baked in two long loaves, cut into finger long cookies and baked again. And when dunked in coffee, they are absolutely delicious. But don’t take my word for it- my best review came when I found Jared in my kitchen after work one day this week making coffee saying he was craving my biscotti all day.

That same night I made GDL’s Pasta Primavera. I had fresh summer squash from a friend’s garden and though I usually prefer raw crispy vegetables, these fresh veggies baked in olive oil, herbs and salt and pepper were so melt-in-your-mouth-fantastic. Added to bowtie pasta it was a delightful summertime meal.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my biscotti are calling me.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Americano Italiano...

These last two weeks were full of summer fun with good friends. Between my good friend Jamie coming to visit from Boston and Fourth of July weekend with Jared and Virginia friends, I had many opportunities to cook, eat, drink and be merry.

My girls weekend with Jamie had much on the agenda. From a mani pedi to a wine tasting to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, we managed to do it all and fit in some great meals. One sandwich shop fueled my obsession with panini- Baker's Crust is basically a step up from Panera Bread but the sandwich and salad I got were so decadent that I've recreated them for lunches in the past week. The salad they called "Wine Country" and had greens paired with strawberries, grapes, pears, candied pecans with raspberry vinaigrette and topped with a goat cheese crustino. Thankfully we were headed to a vineyard later that day because the salad beckoned the vino. My sandwich crammed mixed greens, tomato, cucumber, grilled squash and goat cheese into a grilled sourdough slices. Heaven between rustic bread!

But my Italian panini took a back-seat on Fourth of July weekend and mostly ate veggie burgers while my meat-eating loved ones downed steaks and barbeque chicken legs and bratwurst. Although one GDL recipe did make a reappearance Saturday night when I served Orzo with Parsley and Tomatoes at my courtyard July 3rd dinner. Perfectly fresh and cool on a 100 degree evening.

With entertaining and the holiday weekend behind me, I promise that new GDL recipes are in store! Overdue in fact. So stay tuned!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Greatest Thing Since Stuffed Peppers…

Stuffed Tomatoes! Stuffed Tomatoes! Please, do yourself a favor and stuff a tomato tonight! Why have I gone twenty something years thinking peppers were the only stuff-worthy vegetable. Not so. Tomatoes!

So it starts with my nemesis, good ol’ rice. But once that’s cooked and cooled, it’s easy peasy. Just cut off the top of the tomato and scoop out the innards. The hollowed tomatoes get placed on an oiled baking dish. The cooled rice gets combined with the tomato innards, basil, parsley, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and Parmesan cheese. The mixture gets stuffed into the tomatoes and their lids get popped back on. The stuffed tomatoes bake in a 350 degree oven for just twenty minutes and can be served hot or cold or room temperature.

Somehow the whole thing doesn’t fall apart into a delicious mess on your plate when you cut into it. Perhaps that’s thanks to the cheese (cheese, is there anything you can’t do?). Instead you get perfect little bites of tomato chunks and flavorful rice and it’s all so light while at the same time filling.

This is a new staple in the Julie recipe repertoire. Sorry peppers but you can’t hold a candle to these GDL stuffed tomatoes!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Light & Fresh...

My most favorite adjectives are fresh, crisp, light, clean– and all of them can be used to describe the meals I made last week. It is all a part of my quest for bikini glory on my September Caribbean Cruise with Jared. That’s right, kiss the Fettuccini Alfredo goodbye because we’re on the fast track to a better bod by the boat!

First up was GDL’s Farro Salad with Tomatoes and Herbs along with a Steak Salad and Cantaloupe, Strawberries and Grapes with White Wine and Mint for dessert. The Steak Salad was a cinch. Romaine lettuce and arugula, cherry tomatoes and red onion, all topped with Gorgonzola cheese, steak (or Morning Star Farms Meal Starters) and a red wine vinaigrette. The flavors combined beautifully and was much more filling than one would think.

The Farro Salad was the big shock of the night. Unable to find Farro in my local supermarket, I opted for Orzo, which is similar in size, shape and texture. The Orzo gets cooked and then combined with mashed garlic, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. Once combined, chopped tomatoes, sweet onion, chives, and parsley are added. I’m in love with this dish. It’s perfect for summer and will accompany me to any summer barbecues or picnics I happen to be invited to.

To end the evening, balled cantaloupe, strawberries and halved green grapes are served with mint leaves and sweetened white wine. A perfect cool sweet thin-dulgence! 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Good Food, Good Wine, Good Friends...

Virginia isn’t just for lovers- it’s for wine lovers. There are so many vineyards all a short drive from each other. And this past weekend I planned a wine tour with Jared and his friend Jon (a.k.a. my cousin), his girlfriend Cindy, Jon’s friend Matt, and his girlfriend Samantha.

The plan was to visit five vineyards and do a tasting at each. If the typical tasting serves 6 to 10 wines and a sip of each that amounts to about one and a half glasses, I guess you could say… we were in for a lot of friggin vino.

Always up for an opportunity to play hostess, I packed a stylish cooler filled with Stewarts sodas for my non-drinker boyfriend, cheese and French bread, cherries, cookies and cool water for the 90+ degree day.

After an hour in the car we were itching to get into the first winery. Delightfully quaint, Flying Fox was as welcoming and comfortable as the large greyhound lounging in the corner of the tasting room. I could’ve chatted with our lovely server all afternoon over their crisp Chardonnay but alas, we had four more to go and the afternoon was already upon us.

Next up was Cardinal Point, which looked alternative and modern compared to the Granny’s cottage vibe of the last vineyard although they did have a charming fat cat. The wine was delicious and we indulged in some cheese and bread on their beautiful property.

Veritas was an entirely different experience. This established vineyard featured a grand tasting room with a sprawling property. Service was slow due to the popularity of the place but we enjoyed each other’s conversation on the oversized leather couches while we waited for each savory sample.

Our next stop featured more gorgeous scenery complete with a shimmering lake and commanding mountains. I wish I could say we took it all in and relished in the moment but us greedy, tipsy bastards forged on to the last vineyard of the night before closing time.

King Family Vineyard was one I had stopped at on a previous wine tour but crowds sent us packing quickly. This time we stopped, took photos, ogled the goodies for sale and savored the wonderful wine.

It was a memorable day that made Monday morning hard to face. I do have multiple GDL recipes that I made last week to share with you but for now, I’m going to leave you and go sip my Flying Fox souvenir Viognier and dream of my carefree sunny wine tour with friends.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Evaluating and Evolving...

It's been six months since I started this project. Back then, I was in a long distance relationship, trying to move closer to Jared and had just been rejected for a position I interviewed three times for. I was at a job that provided no intellectual stimulation and even less creative inspiration. I related to Julie Powell and was excited by this challenge.

Things have changed. I'm happy and wish to remain in this contented state. I give this project a lot of credit for that but I also give myself credit for this major life change of a move and a new job and a committed relationship. What am I getting at?

The Julie Giada Project is undergoing a small change. I adore having this project- cooking and trying new things and getting to write and hearing that my family and friends love reading it. It's a great gift and I would never abandon it. However, my life is much more full than it was in Connecticut and finding the time to shop, cook and then write is becoming a burden rather than a joy.

So after reflecting with Jared during a hike in the woods a la Walden Pond, I have concluded that rather than completing every recipe in Everyday Italian I am giving myself permission to skip some. And yes, it makes most sense to skip a lot of the meat recipes since I cannot describe what they taste like anyways.

It is difficult to not look at this as a failure- I set out to complete every recipe in a cookbook in a year just like Julie Powell did with Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It was considerably less work with almost 400 less recipes. To be honest, I have no idea how Powell did it without losing a lot of sleep, gaining a lot of weight and throwing a ton of money into groceries.

I'm not Julie Powell. I don't eat meat, I am the biggest neat freak you will ever meet and I have no intention to cause myself or my boyfriend additional and unnecessary stress by having to do anything. I love simplifying and I'm applying that mentality to this project.

I cannot thank my family and friends enough for reading this blog week after week. I hope I will continue to entertain you. And as for myself, I hope I enjoy this project even more as I free myself from rules and deadlines and simply cook my way through my favorite selections in Everyday Italian.

Monday, June 7, 2010

New Family Member & a Familiar Recipe…

I just want to take this opportunity to welcome into the world my second nephew Caleb. In Italian, the literal translation of “to give birth,” is to give to the light. My dearest Caleb, dare alla luce, welcome to the light. And because I can’t mention one nephew without the other, to my little Noah who turned two last week, buon compleanno mio caro.

OK, on to the food! This week I made a dish that is near and dear to my heart. I have previously mentioned my childhood best friend Jeannette and the fact that she comes from a big Italian family including her Mama, my preschool teacher and later my high school Spanish teacher, who we always referred to as Senora. In true Italian Mama form, Senora cooked a lot. The house always smelled of tomatoes and garlic and was warm from a boiling pot of pasta or warm olive oil.

And the one dish that I will never forget is Senora’s Arancini. While all the little girls in the second grade lunchroom were munching on their Wonder bread Fluff n’nutters, Jeanneatte was crunching on perfectly round and golden brown rice balls. I remember peering into her Tupperware and seeing gooey rice and bright green peas and wondering what the hell her mother was feeding her?

My American taste buds were not so adventurous and I don’t think it was until we were in high school that I was brave enough to try Senora’s golden spheres. I remember the warmth and the stick-to-your-ribs-ness of them. It was comforting and filling and made with love.

So last Friday night, I attempted to bring this Italian memory of mine into the present. GDL’s Arancini di Riso sounded simple with very basic ingredients but I had to, of course, add peas to give it a more Senora edge.

You start with basic risotto, which I have now mastered thank you very much. And when cooled, combine it with breadcrumbs, Parmesean cheese and two eggs. You then get messy, which was surprisingly fun for a neat freak like me, by forming the mixture into little balls around a cube of mozzarella cheese. The ball gets coated with more breadcrumbs and placed into vegetable oil that’s been heated to 350 degrees. Word to the wise, try not to hover over the boiling oil when the balls first go in- they will pop and shoot burning oil at you once in a while. I have the ruined t-shirt but luckily no permanent scarring to prove it.

Anyways, the Arancini sit in the oil for just four minutes before cooling on paper towel. The outside is delightfully crispy and crunchy while the inside is ooey gooey with extra goo from the mozzarella. And when I brought in my leftovers in Tupperware today and sat in the cafeteria at work, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the other women were munching on their turkey sandwiches on whole wheat and thinking, what the hell is she eating?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Catching Up and Slowing Down…

This week I tried to squeeze in as much Giada as possible. I watched Giada at Home on DVD, I On-Demanded Giada in Paradise and I made four Everyday Italian recipes! The GDL overdose has to do with the fact that on Friday I am flying down to Florida to see my whole family including my brother’s second baby (if he’s on time!). This mini-vacation is long overdue and I’m so so excited.

So the four recipes included Milanese Sandwich, Roasted Asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto, Brown Butter Sauce with Ravioli and Affogato. The Roasted Asparagus was boring. I’m sure it would be fabulously elegant at a dinner party but using left over prosciutto from the Prosciutto Purses and forcing Jared to eat even more Prosciutto when he’s not a huge fan, it just felt blah.

On the other hand, the Milanese Sandwich was fun and casual. Even though it wasn’t perfectly true to the recipe (I eighty-sixed the pork) it was delicious. I used an asiago cheese baguette toasted with mashed up avocado, tomato, arugula, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper. The perfect quick weeknight meal.
Then last night I went all out for the LOST series finale. Brown Butter Sauce was extremely decadent. Butter, basil leaves, salt, pepper, nutmeg and Parmesan goes over a stuffed pasta like the mushroom ravioli I used. So rich and creamy and delicious. For dessert I made espresso for the first time which was super cool and I got a kick out of Jared holding those mini cups. After espresso we had Affogato which Giada describes as an Italian hot fudge sundae. Gelato with espresso poured on top and homemade whipped cream. YUM! Big yum! I’m a fan.

So now I’m off to Florida for some rest, relaxation and fun in the sun with the fam. Kinda like Giada in Paradise. Arrivederci! 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Simply Serene Sunday...

Yesterday I had a quality Julie Day. Nowhere to be, nothing to do, absolutely blissful! I got to clean my apartment (which is not a chore for me but greatly enjoyable for this neat freak), I went to the gym, I lazily flipped through magazines by the pool and then after a long bath Jared came over and I made a big pasta salad with GDL's Prosciutto Purses for dinner and a cool melon ball salad with honeydew, cantaloupe and watermelon for dessert.

Now obviously I didn't taste the prosciutto purses but they looked adorable and Jared seemed very impressed. It may sound like an odd combo but all this dish contains is melon balls (honeydew and cantaloupe) wrapped around a thin piece of prosciutto. It took minutes to make and when arranged on a platter with little toothpicks sticking out, they looked delightful. Plus, on a hot day I never had to stand over a hot stove!

OK, now after a completely relaxing Sunday, Monday has jolted me back to reality and my three postings aka just three recipes in May thus far has sent me into Julie Giada Project panic mode! I know I will make my deadline! This just happened to be another busy month. I really hope to knock some meaty recipes out over the summer but I am getting nervous.

Hopefully my loyal readers can keep me motivated. But after five months of this I can't help but wonder, is anyone out there? Anyone besides my relatives?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lazy Mushroom Monday...

Last night I made GDL's Mushroom Pesto Crostini. When I ran down the ingredient list, everything was a staple in my kitchen so I just needed to run out for the mushrooms. The recipe calls for 8 ounces of white button mushrooms and just one ounce of porcini mushrooms.

At Whole Foods on Saturday, I grabbed my typical button mushrooms and scanned the shelves for whatever the heck porcini mushrooms are. Bingo! Leave it to Whole Foods to carry thirty varieties of mushrooms. Just one problem- they're $19.99 a pack and I only needed one ounce and even if I could separate the pack, no way in hell I'm paying 2 dollars for one friggin’ mushroom that probably doesn't taste all that different from all the other mushrooms anyway! Sorry Giada but maybe when I have four cookbooks and three TV shows and a line of Target products, then I'll start including these crazy expensive vegetables that still smell like dirt no matter what price tag is on them. So I eighty-sixed the porcini and went with my perfectly priced white button mushrooms.

I was feeling extraordinarily lazy last night, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the whole operation took no time at all. The mushrooms soften in hot water for 15 minutes and then get thrown into the food processor along with fresh parsley, garlic and toasted walnuts. OK I didn't toast them, I was tired... enough with the third degree!

Anyways, the mixture gets pulsed with a little olive oil and then poured into a bowl with Parmesan cheese. During this process the perfect little pieces of baguette got toasted in the oven until crispy and golden brown. A dollop of mushroom pesto on each slice and I was done! The mushroom mixture appears slightly dog-food-esque if it wasn't for the beautiful bright green parsley flakes and the shards of white Parmesan. And on the crostini it looked like a gourmet appetizer. I was quite pleased with myself.

Most importantly, it was delicious. The earthy mushrooms with the creamy parm, the fresh zing of parsley and the crunch of the baguette was a heavenly little bite. And my lazy self was able to crash on the couch for the remainder of the evening. Perfecto!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Summer Nights...

It's been hot here the last couple nights. In New England, May hits and everyone gets spring fever- puts on the sun dresses and short sleeves and then gets sick because it's still friggin' cold. But in Virginia, May started out ninety degrees and humid. I'm talking surface of the sun, sitting in a sauna, breathing through a straw, wrapped in a Snuggie- HOT!

You get my point.

So last night as the humidity dropped and the cooler breezes drifted in bringing more seasonal seventy degree days for the rest of the week, I decided to make a fresh, cool, summertime GDL dinner- Caprese Salad on a thin whole wheat crust and for dessert Grilled Pineapples with Nutella and Chopped Hazelnuts. And BONUS! For beverages I served cool sparkling water with lemon and fresh mint (thank you AeroGarden) mine with a splash of Vodka.

Caprese Salad is always delicious but I bulked up the meal by adding a whole wheat crust. Giada made this sort of Caprese Tart on an episode of Giada at Home. The crust bakes in the oven for just 15 minutes. If you prick it with a fork first the dough won't rise and bubble, it will stay nice and thin and crisp. Then I layered alternating big beefsteak tomato slices and fresh mozzarella slices on top, cut some basil (again, thank you AeroGarden) strips on top and drizzled with a mixture of lemon juice, salt and pepper and extra virgin olive oil. The presentation was gorgeous and so Italiano! And most importantly, it tasted so so good.

Next up was GDL's grilled pineapple with creamy Nutella drizzled on top. My kitchen was transported to Hawaii as I chopped up a whole pineapple into perfect little rings and Kate and Sawyer ran past the palm tree jungle on LOST. As the rings sizzled on my grill pan (only three minutes on each side for beautiful golden grill marks!) I whipped together Nutella, heavy whipping cream and vanilla and microwaved for a minute. The warm mixture was poured over the pineapple slices and topped with chopped hazelnuts. It was sweet with a nice crunch and so satisfying.

All in all, a lovely summer night in Italy... errr... Hawaii... um...  VIRGINIA!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Misery Loves Company Crostini...

These past two months in Richmond have been fabulous. Really fabulous. I've had actual moments of euphoria thinking- how did I get this lucky? But I swear that sometimes the universe decides you're just too damn happy so it brings you down a dark alley and beats the shit out of you.

OK, maybe it's not that bad but this week has been filled with so many little annoyances that I would really love to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head and not come out until Friday... evening. From traffic being rerouted around my apartment so my 10 minute commute takes 40 minutes to adapting to the bass ackwards processes at work to having to take the elevator back up to my apartment every morning because I forgot my lunch, my ID badge, my cell phone, my freakin' mind!!

And then there was Monday when I rushed home to make Jared and me GDL's Sweet Red Pepper Crostini only to skim down the recipe and see - "Let peppers marinate in oil and garlic for at least 5 hours or preferably one day." Not really wanting to eat at midnight, we moved Tuesday Subway Night up to Monday and had the time-consuming crostini last night.

For being in such a crappy pessimistic mood, I do have to say they were really really tasty. I've said it before and I'll say it again- crunchy, toasty, crusty bread is one of my most favorite things on the face of this earth. No exaggeration. If someone came out with a new diet that included cibatta bread and Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, I would pay anything to go on that!

So that's the last recipe of April. I'm sorry to say that there's been only six posts this month and will definitely have to step things up to get through the rest of the book. With 84 recipes to go and 35 weeks left in the year this one recipe a week thing cannot last and the seafood and veal recipes are looming. Wish me luck! I need it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Holy Garlic Overload Batman...

Back away from your computer screen! Please, back away! I fear my garlic aura might be so strong that it has permeated cyberspace and you could possibly faint from my stench. While I fear for those deep breathers around me, I have to admit- it was totally worth it!

Welcome to the week of sauces! I've been pounding out GDL sauces all week. It all started when the basil in my Aero Garden was about ready to get up and walk away- it was huge. Big, beautiful basil leaves just begging to be pesto-tized!

GDL's Basil Pesto was a simple recipe I've used before. Basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and Parmesan get combined and slathered over pasta. In my case I used some gorgeous ravioli from Whole Foods and the pesto diluted with a spoonful of pasta water was absolutely divine.

I woke up in the middle of the night with garlic still on my palate but since I was sleeping alone that night, I wasn't offending anyone. And I could only hope those double tooth brushings and five Listerine gargles would keep my coworkers from scattering.

The next day I basically repeated the pesto-process but this time with arugula leaves creating GDL's Arugula Pesto. Picture the same process but with crispy arugula leaves rather than basil. Another garlic fest but this time with an interesting tangy-ness to it. An interesting alternative when you happen to be sans basil leaves.

And then last night GDL's Spicy Tomato Sauce was on the agenda. Another simple recipe involving canned crushed tomatoes, onions, capers, garlic (less potent this time) and red pepper flakes. I doubled (maybe tripled) the amount of pepper flakes fearing my spicy connoisseur aka Jared. I brace myself whenever I serve him anything that Giada deems "spicy" just waiting for the inevitable response of "it's not spicy, did you use the wussy organic red pepper flakes?"

Anyways, I think it's kinda spicy but the critic has yet to sample.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Six Degrees of Giada de Laurentiis...

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you should know that Giada de Laurentiis has been popping up everywhere! She launched a product line for Target (yes, I own several pieces including a cast iron pot, silver serving spoons, a large heavy bamboo cutting board and even the official GDL apron!), a new cookbook (Giada at Home) and she’s been touring the country signing books and greeting fans. All fans except me, that is.

I could not be more disappointed to have missed out on the book tour. And my disappointment accelerated into devastation when I learned that Giada herself was at my neighborhood Stew Leonard’s in Norwalk, Connecticut on March 19th. March 19th! Eleven days after my move from less than a mile from Stew’s to about 450 miles away! Oh the terrible timing of it all!

To think that all those eager soccer moms were waiting in line, wanting nothing more than a brief brush with celebrity when I who have basically spent four months bonding with the woman was miles away, unaware. It’s a tragedy.

Perhaps a new GDL whisk or wooden spoon or espresso maker will ease the pain!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Calling a Truce...

The war is over! As many of you know, I've had a long-standing battle with rice. It's been an all out war really.

I think it all started in college when I attempted to make instant rice only to learn a minute later that it wasn't meant to be instant. My microwave was covered with rock hard black bits of rice like an army of tiny charred ants attacking my Kenmore from the inside out. And the smell haunted my roommates and me for a good four days.

Then there was the Rice Pilaf Massacre of 2004 when the Zatarain's that was supposed to just steam up plump and moist in the covered pan, instead stuck to every inch of it forming a coating that looked like those beaded seat covers that taxi cab drivers and 80-year-old men sit on.

I know that rice isn't supposed to be challenging. Hell, the first season of Survivor had nothing but rice and managed to make that over a fire on a beach. And still every attempt made by yours truly has been absolute pasty mush or charred black rocks that ruin my Calphalon and my appetite. So try to understand how it took me about a week to gain the confidence to attack GDL's Mushroom Risotto with Peas.

I came home from work on Friday ready for battle. With an auxiliary frozen pizza standing by, I had low expectations for this dish or shall I say, my ability to complete this dish successfully.

While chopping an onion and garlic cloves, the mushrooms get softened in simmering veggie broth. They then come out and you dice the soft mushrooms and deliver all choppings into a large pot with melted butter on the bottom. When your boyfriend says it smells good and looks hopeful for a good meal, it's time to man up and add the rice!

After a swig (or seven) of white wine, a cup of it gets added to the pot. All the liquid gets absorbed or burned off fairly quickly and visions of burnt rice start dancing in my head causing a quick panic followed by more wine gulps. Veggie broth to the rescue! Adding a cup every ten minutes or so, a half hour later I was left with… (pause for dramatic effect)... creamy, fluffy risotto!

It was a glorious day for rice and me. And as the Uncle Ben Gods smiled down on me, I ate my Mushroom Risotto with Peas slowly, enjoying and savoring each victorious bite.

I have concurred rice. The war is over. And the villagers celebrated with root beer, more wine and reruns of Weeds.