happy mother’s day!

Back Camera

I think this is the first time that I have been apart from my mom on Mother’s Day in my entire 23 years as a daughter. I wish that I could be home right now, making my mom some delicious brunch, and spending the day together having fun, watching movies, and probably cleaning out my dresser drawers (I WILL GET TO IT, MOTHER).

But although I can’t actually be there, I can use this blog post to talk about all of the things that make my mom awesome.

Let’s talk about how, even if I were at home right now, it would be impossible to arrange a Mother’s Day surprise that would be nearly as elaborate and well-executed as the surprises that she puts together for us every Christmas, birthday, Valentine’s Day, or any other celebratory occasion. This is the lady who BROKE INTO my apartment on my 21st birthday (while I was in class), covered everything in streamers and confetti and left Diet Coke, chocolate pizza, and an assortment of mini liquor bottles on my desk. Slightly amazing.

IMG_0076There is one very upsetting thing about my mother, though. You know that omniscience that is granted to mothers to allow them to know things that the rest of us just can’t? My mother’s got it in spades. The lady is ALWAYS RIGHT. Even if it takes me 6 years to realize it (looking at you, ugly prom dress), she is always, always right. And it only took me 23 years to figure it out.

Her resumé includes raising two daughters who, in addition to being a little stubborn, a little melodramatic, and a little crazy, are also incredibly photogenic.

DSC01349 DSC01174 DSC01831This blog is actually the perfect place to talk about my mom (and I do mention her frequently), because she is really the one who taught me how to cook and bake. She makes the most delicious food you will ever eat, and I hope I can one day do the same, and make it look as easy as she does. She’s always the voice of reason when it comes to eating well and being healthy, advocating for everything in moderation and depriving yourself of nothing. Everything I know (and lots of things I don’t know!) about food and love come from her, and I wish that I could be home right now, watching her scowl and surreptitiously remove some of the butter from whatever dough/batter I’m in the process of making.

I love you Mom also give me the Reporter Bag you never use it.

molten chocolate cake

close upThe last time I did this (all the way back in July), I had just moved to New York City and I was consuming alarming amounts of pastries. Fast forward 5 months, and I’m doing much the same thing. But now at least I’m baking them first.

Given the responsibility for Thanksgiving dessert, my mind started wandering into the realm of pumpkins and apples and spices and pies. But in the name of appeasing a picky cousin, I turned away from these happy autumn treats and steered towards an even happier star ingredient: chocolate.

ingredientsIt took all of 30 seconds for me to settle on these dangerous little cakes – I’ve made the recipe several times before and it has never failed to make people continue reaching for more bites even when there is simply no more real estate available in their stomachs.

I’m happy to say that this time was no different, and even after a delicious dinner (during which unspeakable amounts of mashed potatoes were consumed), no one could turn down at least a few bites of dessert.

chocolate butter meltingThis dessert starts by melting chocolate and butter together. Don’t worry if you don’t own a double-boiler, any heat-proof bowl placed over a saucepan filled with boiling water will work. The basic idea is that the chocolate/butter shouldn’t come into direct contact with the heat source.

combiningI’m slowly trying to get into the habit of baking and taking pictures again, but time is becoming an increasingly rare and precious commodity in my life. I begin to fear I’m turning into an adult.

ramekinsIn the name of staving off adulthood, dinner tonight will be Diet Coke and jellybeans.

Molten Chocolate Cakes recipe (adapted from Joy of Baking)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Prepare 8 individual ramekins by buttering the bottom and sides. Set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler (or in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water). Once the mixture is completely melted and smooth, set aside to cool.

Using an electric mixer or hand mixer, beat the egg yolks and granulated sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla stir until blended.

Combine the chocolate mixture and the egg yolk mixture in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form.

Using a rubber spatula, incorporate egg whites into the chocolate mixture GENTLY – do not overmix or this will deflate the batter.

Divide the batter evenly between the ramekins. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the outside of the cakes are done but the insides/middle remain a little wobbly. If you want less “lava” in the middle, bake the cakes a few minutes longer.

Remove from oven and let rest for a minute or two. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, or just by themselves.

Makes 8 individual ramekins.

two score and ten years ago

Exactly half a century ago, the world got a little smarter, a little funnier, and a little cooler. It got a little boy named My Dad. Today is his 50th birthday, and since I can’t be at home making him a birthday cake, I’m going to make you all listen while I tell you how awesome he is!

My dad is smarter than you. He just knows everything – a Renaissance Man, if you will. He reads (and owns) too many books and knows the answers to too many Jeopardy questions. He loves music (especially jazz), but he doesn’t discriminate – he listens to everything. I’m sad that I won’t be able to listen to The Puzzlemaster Presents with him tomorrow morning, but he’ll figure out the answer long before I do anyways.

If his cooking were artwork, it would be classified as “abstract”, with one exception. Eggs. The man makes omelettes like it’s his job, always sneaking in a little butter on the pan when my mom isn’t looking. I still can’t manage to make an omelette without the whole thing breaking in half, but his never do.

My dad is also the guy who couldn’t decide what flavor of boxed rice pilaf he wanted, so he made three different ones at the same time. I believe there is a word for that, and I believe that word is “genius”.

My dad also loves to travel, see new places and learn new things. Before any trip, he does tons of research to make sure that we don’t miss anything important, and don’t waste any time. Whenever I talk to him, he reminds me to make the most of my time here in Rome, and take full advantage of this amazing opportunity. When it’s noon on a Sunday and I have yet to get out of bed, it’s his voice in my head that talks me into getting up, going out, and exploring this amazing city. After 4 months of living here, my favorite restaurant is still the place he took us to 5 years ago, on our first visit to Rome.

If there is fun to be had or jokes to be made, he is there. If there is a dance floor, he’s always the first one on it and the last one off it.

Happy, happy birthday Dad! I’ll be eating Spaghetti alla Carbonara tonight and wishing you were here too!

a very belated thanksgiving round-up

Remember last week, when I said I would put up pictures of Thanksgiving dinners from home that my friends and family were kind enough to send to me? I believe I threw around words like “tomorrow”, which is a laughable promise for me to make. Here we are, one week post-Thanksgiving, and I’ve got so many pictures to share!

My family, in order to make up for the zero dinners that I was attending, went to two Thanksgiving dinners. This meant twice the normal amount of mashed potatoes for my sister, but also twice the amount of vegetable-dodging. Green things are not welcome on her plate. Both dinners were at the homes of close family friends who also happen to be amaaazing cooks.

Here we have A Very Husseini Thanksgiving, which, I’m sure, was full of delicious food, lots of laughs, and probably a few too many urology jokes. (It’s not as weird as it sounds, my dad and Dr. Husseini are urologists. That being said, it’s still not ok when I’m trying to eat, capiche?) As you can see, no turkeys were pardoned around here. The food is always wonderful, as is the company…

…all the company.

The second part of my family’s Thanksgiving took place at the home of Benny and Giuliana Campagnolo. Benny and Giuliana moved here from Italy when they were young – I think Benny is originally from Fondi, and Giuliana hails from Monte San Biagio. Ironically, my parents had a more Italian thanksgiving than I did! Giuliana’s cooking has served to ruin every other lasagna, potato pizza, or bowl of pasta e fagioli for me forever. Even here, in Italy, nothing is as delicious as what comes out of her kitchen.

In the picture above you can see the tiramisu that my mom made! It’s the best. Again, I wrote that from Italy, so don’t question it.

But what would Thanksgiving be without the people we spend it with? A lonely, sad food coma. There is a time and place for solitary food comas, but it’s not the last Thursday in November. I’m sad that I missed spending Thanksgiving with all of these people that I love,  but thank you all for tolerating my mother’s incessant photo-snapping at my request!

Even though Thanksgiving is generally a holiday spent with family, I still needed to know what my friends were eating. Especially this year, I had to live vicariously through everyone. In exchange for sending me photos of their dinners, I promised them the fame and status that comes from being featured on MY blog (check it, over 11 readers every day).

Li Guo. A nice boy. The boy who watches endless amounts of Food Network and Whose Line Is It Anyways with me, and (sometimes) washes all the dishes when I cook him dinner. The Guo Thanksgiving featured the traditional turkey, as well as some vegetables, and SHRIMP. This is a major plus point, especially for people like me who don’t like turkey. I am way more thankful for shrimp than turkey. Li’s mom is another amazing cook – she makes the best dumplings on the planet, and, yes, I know that me writing that from Italy means nothing, but take my word for it anyways. At Chinese New Year dinner, she hides coins in some of the dumplings, and if you find a coin, it is supposed to be lucky. This is the only occasion where I am sad to accidentally find money, because then I can’t eat that dumpling.

Jumping over to the west coast, we have Thanksgiving with the Family Lawless. Sean was my best study-buddy in college, probably due to the fact that we always ended up in literally all of the same classes. I guess he was as sick of me as I was of him, because the minute college ended, I headed to Italy and he made a beeline for California! With regards to his Thanksgiving meal, the turkey was cooked with brown sugar, brine, orange and spices and stuffed with rosemary, and was “un-freaking-believable”. The pies are apple and pumpkin and they look gooood.

Last, but not least, we have Thanksgiving the Abowd way. As you can see, my friend Danny took my request for “a few pictures of your dinner” and ran with it, and I didn’t even have room for all the photos he sent me! Included here are all the usual suspects; sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, stuffing, The Bird (sans dignity), the pies (after Danny took his slices) and the booze. By his own admission, Danny did not contribute much to the cooking process, leaving that task to his parents, sisters and brother-in-law. I forgive him, because when the world tires of discussing Harry Potter with me, Danny never does. And if the pictures are any indication, the meal was a roaring success anyways!

Thank you so much to everyone who sent me photos, I love you and miss you all!

p.s. Next weekend my friends and I are doing Harry Potter Weekend. All 8 movies. Lots of rewinding and re-watching the Harry-Hermione dance scene. And, of course, some yummy things to eat. It will be the exact opposite of our Thanksgiving dinner, in that it will actually happen. So excited!

home sweet rome

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything new, I know. I have a good excuse. I was home for a whirlwind ten days that, in reality, felt like 10 seconds. I got to see my family, whom I had not seen in 3 months, including my little sister, who I had not seen in 4 months, since she spent part of the summer in Oxford being brainy and fabulous, rather than staying home, being bored and helping me pack for Italy.  She is growing up entirely too quickly for my taste, and it has gotten to the point where I can no longer help her with her math homework, because I barely understood that stuff when I had to do it. It feels like only yesterday she was learning about binomials and I was screeching terms like “FOIL” at her constantly, throwing crumpled pieces of paper at her when she messed up (please note, my tutoring services are available for hire).

I took advantage of my brief time at home to hit up as many of Ithaca’s Greatest Gastronomic Hits as I could, excluding all the Italian joints (with one notable exception*). I made it to Wegmans, Boatyard Grill, hibachi at Kyushu, multiple pizza bagels at CTB/Ithaca Bakery, Tamarind, arancini at Ciao*, and, of course, the heavenly deep fried potato wedges at my favorite restaurant:

I didn’t bring my camera home with me, and what we have here is a picture hastily taken with my phone. It had been three months since I’d had those potato wedges, and I wasn’t about to waste time taking a decent picture of them. Sorry I’m not sorry.

I did do some baking at home, taking advantage of long-forgotten luxuries like counter space and convection ovens and food processors and measuring cups. I made three (yep, three) key lime pies using this recipe that has never failed me. I made homemade poptarts filled with Nutella (post coming soon), and chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting for my sister’s bake sale.

Even though I couldn’t pack up my friends and family and bring them back with me, I was able to smuggle a little bit of home into Rome, in the form of a few comfort foods:

The cast of characters includes Annie’s mac&cheese (because everyone keeps saying it’s so much better than Kraft, but so far I just don’t see it), Kraft Easy Mac (in case I still don’t see it), Reese’s peanut butter cups, Lipton cream of chicken cup-a-soups (in case Rome ever does remember that it is almost November, and starts cooling down accordingly), Heath toffee bits for baking (and snacking while baking), apple pie spice, and real cheddar cheese so that I can make my own mac&cheese once I run out of the offending Annie’s and conciliatory Kraft.

I also brought back a measuring cup, measuring spoons, a zester, a mini cake pan, and my pastry bags and tips. Oh, and my old electric hand mixer that will be ready to retire soon, because I’m sure it (much like myself) would rather retire in Italy than in Ithaca anyways.

Ciao!

happy birthday mom!

This past Thursday was my mom’s birthday, so I was going back and forth trying to decide upon which dessert to unleash my oven mitts. My decision was made a lot easier when my mom requested chocolate chip cookies with walnuts. So then it was settled. Such is the power of a birthday girl.

Honestly, I don’t think you can call something a “birthday dessert” unless it can be sliced. Cakes, of course, fit this criterion. Pies and tarts are fair game too. Regardless,  requests trump rules, and that is how the birthday chocolate chip walnut cookies were born.

Like any other baker, I’ve searched long and hard for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. I’ve looked all over the internet, I’ve looked on the back of the chocolate chip bag, and I’ve stood in Borders and browsed through cookbooks, all to find a cookie that’s not too salty, not too sweet, not too chewy, not too crispy. Not too picky, right?

This is my favorite recipe so far. Like so many other delicious recipes, it comes from Deb at Smitten Kitchen. My only modifications were to slightly decrease the amount of chocolate chips, and to add walnuts. Other than that, I’m not messing with it. “If it ain’t broke” and all that.

For the recipe, head on over to Smitten Kitchen