cajun shrimp and artichoke soup

soup in bowlGuess who’s back…back again…

I’ve been cooking up a storm on this beautiful Easter Sunday, and as I lie here on the couch, stuffed full of delicious food, I figure I may as well do something productive (but not that productive) and bloggaboutit. I broke out my Heavy Fancy Camera for the first time in months,  and I’m here to share the fruits (de mer) of my labor.

This soup is creamy. It’s spicy. It’s shrimpy. I can’t even talk about it.

raw shrimpI learned something important about myself today. I have a lot of kitchen-stress. If I’m preparing more than one dish (and today I was preparing three), I become a crazy person, and probably a bad friend. I smack people with spatulas if they put on music that I don’t like. I run with scissors. I use bad words. I use good words badly. I basically break all the rules of kindergarten.

The recipe for this soup originally called for only green onions (scallions). Unstoppable maverick that I am, I used both green onions and regular white onions. We’ve temporarily left the strictly regimented world of baking, and stepped into the free-will realm of cooking. Anything goes. Winter is coming.

soup goodThe cool thing about this soup is that, if you want a broth-y soup rather than a creamy soup (looking at you, Mom), you can skip the roux and half-n-half entirely, and just use the vegetable stock as the base. When I proposed this idea to my friend and fellow Easter feaster, I was greeted with a pained look and a plaintive gesture towards the butter and cream. Either way, you won’t be sorry.

whisking creamThis is me madly whisking half-and-half into a rapidly browning roux. Calm down, lady.

If you feel fancy, you can set aside a few shrimp to sauté with a little butter and cajun seasoning, to use as a garnish. Or just throw them all right into the soup and call it a day.

shrimps in pot

Recipe for Cajun Shrimp and Artichoke Soup (adapted from eRecipecards.blogspot.com)

  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock (you can substitute chicken stock, or seafood stock)
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • quarter of a white onion, chopped
  • 5 artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 1 heaping Tbsp. cajun seasoning
  • 14-16 shrimp, peeled and de-veined
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. flour
  • salt to taste

In a medium saucepan, combine vegetable stock, onions (green and white), artichokes, and cajun seasoning. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

In a separate saucepan, make a roux by melting the butter and blending it with the flour – this will result in a thick, pasty consistency. Once the flour is fully blended, add the half-and half and whisk it together with the roux until completely incorporated.

Once the half-and-half mixture has thickened slightly, add it to the saucepan with the vegetable stock, and stir to combine. Allow the soup to continue simmering for an additional 5-10 minutes.

Add the shrimp to the soup and continue cooking for approximately 3-4 minutes, or until shrimp are pink and curled up.

Note: do NOT add the shrimp until you are ready to serve the soup, as shrimp cook very quickly, and will begin to overcook if left for too long.

Add additional salt or cajun seasoning to taste, and enjoy!

 

 

 

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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.

new city, still hungry

New URL: chowbellanyc.wordpress.com

It has been a while. Last time I was here, I was lamenting about leaving Rome and never seeing the Pantheon again and missing out on all that delicious pizza. Well, it’s about 4 months later and nothing has changed. Except that I just moved to New York City!!! I’m here to get my Masters degree so that I can get a job so that I can be a real person so that I can fund my pizza/pasta/cannoli addiction.

Speaking of cannoli…

What better place to bridge the gap between Rome and NYC than Little Italy? Now really just a few blocks on Mulberry St., Little Italy is packed with restaurants, bakeries, gelaterias, and knockoff handbag stores. All of this is located dangerously close to where I live, perfect for when I get hit with a big wave of Romesickness. I haven’t really started to try out the restaurants yet, but dessert is really more important anyways, right?

I first came to Ferrara years ago with my family, and we haven’t stopped talking about it since. My mom remembers the soft pignoli cookies, my dad remembers the long line, and I remember the cannoli. A crispy, flaky outer shell that is just dying to crumble itself all over your clothing, filled with a sweet ricotta filling studded with mini chocolate chips. Yes, please.

Lest you think Ferrara’s is a one-trick pony, the display case is filled with all kinds of treats. A girl can get overwhelmed when confronted with these kinds of choices! Who can possibly choose??

Not me. Luckily, almost every dessert is available in a mini size, allowing for the creation of a small sampler box, in the event you should find yourself as flustered and torn as I was. The sales ladies are very nice, and extremely patient when you are trying to decided between a regular or chocolate-dipped mini cannolo (get both, obviously). In addition to those, I ordered a mini Napoleon (redundant?), a strawberry tart, and a mini eclair.

I came home, took one bite of each, stuck the box in the fridge, and repeated the sequence each day until they were all gone.

The cannoli were excellent, and I think I’m partial to the chocolate-dipped one because…well…it was dipped in chocolate. The eclair and strawberry tart were both filled with delicious pastry cream, and I would order either again.

For me though, the most delicious was the Napoleon. The flaky layers of pastry are such a perfect contrast to the creamy filling, and the sweet glaze on top complements the whole thing perfectly, and I’d like another, please.

If you’re ever in Little Italy, be sure to stop by and try something! If you do it now, you’ll sweat off any consumed calories just by walking 3-4 blocks. Fa caldo, friends.

Ferrara Bakery and Café
195 Grand St.
New York, NY 10013
(212) 226-6150

let’s talk about the pantheon

I can’t believe I have only a week left in Rome. After that, I’m off to Sicily with my family for a few days, then back to Rome for a couple days to finish packing and then…home. But Rome is home too, and the thought of leaving makes me way too sad, so let’s stop talking about it.

The real issue is that I have only a week left to figure out how to bring the Pantheon home with me. I figure I can disassemble it, pack it, and reassemble it in my backyard (Mom, would that be cool?). Because although I can (barely) live without the pizza and the pasta and the pidgeons, I’m not sure how to go back to living in a place where I cannot see the Pantheon at least once a week.

Rome is not exactly short on beautiful monuments and sights. In fact, one of the things I love most about this city is that all of its beauty and history is laid out in the city itself, no museums required. But out of everything, all the fountains and piazzas and churches, my favorite sight by far is this one.

The name “Pantheon” comes from the Greeks, and means “to every god”. The building was commissioned in the year 126 A.D. by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to the ancient Roman gods. The writing on the front, M-AGRIPPA-L-F-COS-TERTIUM-FECIT, translates to “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, consul for the third time, built it.”

What we actually see today is not Agrippa’s Pantheon, but Hadrian’s. Hadrian rebuilt the structure on the site of Agrippa’s original temple, but retained Agrippa’s original inscription on the front.

Since the Renaissance, the Pantheon has been used as a tomb, housing renowned individuals such as the painter Raphael. The building is still used as a church, however, and masses are still held inside.

Its dome still holds the record for the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, and if you are lucky enough to be there on a rainy day, you can go inside and watch the rain fall through the oculus – it’s magical.

But let’s be real. It rains all the time in Rome, so getting to see the Pantheon in the rain is awesome, but not at all impossible. You know what hasn’t happened in Rome in the past 26 years? A significant snowfall. Not just a little flurry that is over in 30 seconds, but big fat snowflakes that blanket the cobblestones and cause the Romans to behave as though the Apocalypse is imminent.

That happened last Friday. I woke up to the aforementioned big, fat snowflakes, grabbed my friends, and ran to the Piazza della Rotunda to check out the Pantheon in all its snow-covered finery. Amazing.

One of the reasons I love this building so much is because it is simultaneously imposing and unassuming. Unlike the Colosseum, or St. Peter’s, there is no grand thoroughfare leading up to it, announcing its presence. It is more than happy to be tucked into its little neighborhood, thus allowing people to simply stumble upon it and stare in awe. Words just don’t do it justice.

As if this place wasn’t magical enough, the other night I was waiting to meet some friends in the piazza, and saw a lone cellist sitting in the only pool of light between the columns, filling the whole place with music. I’m. Not. Leaving.

24 hours in venezia

This past weekend, my friend Allyson and I decided to head up to Venice, to escape the chaos of Rome, to celebrate her birthday, and also to finally make use of the scarves and gloves that have not yet been necessary in the capitol city. In Rome right now, the weather and the calendar are not presenting a united front. The calendar is telling me that it’s almost mid-January, but the weather is saying “Early September! Back to school! Buy new notebooks!” Not cool. Literally.

Venice, on the other hand, was beautiful. It was around 40 degrees, but sunny, and really, there is nothing more magical than Venice in winter. Just ask Joseph Brodsky. The cool weather, coupled with the fact that we went after the holiday tourism season was over, allowed us to experience a (relatively) uncongested Venice.

Half the fun of visiting Venice is just walking around, seeing all the little canals and bridges, and just letting yourself get lost in the city (you are going to get lost, no matter how hard you try, so don’t fight it!). Because we had such limited time there, this is exactly what we did on Saturday. We were staying in a small bed-and-breakfast in the Cannaregio district, and after checking in and dropping our stuff off, we ventured out with nothing but the vague goal of making our way towards San Marco (the big church and square).

Navigation is a little bit interesting in Venice. In most cities, including Rome, you can look out for street names and, with a good sense of direction and a decent map, you’ll end up where you need to be. In Venice, the most helpful navigational tools are actually the big landmarks themselves, such as the Rialto bridge, or Piazza San Marco. All over the city, there are little signs that say “Per San Marco” or “Per Rialto” or “Per ____ (insert landmark here)”, with, if you’re lucky, one single arrow pointing in the correct direction. It’s not unheard of to see a sign saying “Per San Marco” with a double-headed arrow that forces you to wonder why they bothered to put a sign up in the first place. You use the landmark signs to get to the correct general area, and then you just wander till you find what you are looking for.

We eventually made our way to the stunning Ponte di Rialto, the oldest of the four bridges that span Venice’s Grand Canal (the big thoroughfare, or “main street”). Rialto is always packed with tourists, and on either side of the bridge, as well as along the entire length of the bridge itself, are numerous souvenir and jewelry shops. Near the bridge is the Rialto market, where vendors sell fresh seafood, herbs, fruits and vegetables in the morning.

From here we decided to take a gondola ride. The price for these rides can get up to 100€, even for just two people. Luckily, because this was off-season, we managed to haggle down to 60€ – still ridiculous in my opinion, but we couldn’t just go to Venice and not ride in a gondola.

The ride lasted about half an hour, and to me the most impressive part was how those gondoliers manage to stay so well-balanced while rowing the boat. We saw Marco Polo’s house, as well as Casanova’s palace, and ended the ride right back at Rialto.

We resumed our stroll to San Marco, this time also keeping an eye out for somewhere to eat some dinner. By this time, the sun had set and both the Basilica San Marco and the piazza were beautifully lit.

After wandering around the piazza, stopping to do a little shopping, and gazing into Florian’s cafe and wishing we were fancy enough to eat there, we made our way to Ristorante Marciana, a restaurant just outside the piazza that had looked promising.

My biggest regret of this little whirlwind trip is that we failed to really experience true Venetian dining – we didn’t go to a cicchetti bar, or even have seafood, because by the time dinner rolled around we were both so hungry that all we wanted was pasta. We did have a delicious dinner of ravioloni in cheese sauce (for me) and carbonara for the birthday girl, but next time I go to Venice I will definitely try to eat like a Venetian.

We ate until we could not possibly accomodate any more food in our stomachs, and then we asked to see the dessert menu. One delicious tiramisu later, we waddled out of the restaurant and wandered around some more, eventually making our way back to our B&B.

The next morning, we woke up, grabbed some croissants from the breakfast area, and made our way back to the Piazza San Marco, this time trying not to get lost because we needed to make our 9:50am SECRET PASSAGEWAY TOUR of the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace).

The Palazzo Ducale was the seat of the Venetian government back in the days when this town was a prosperous and important part of trade routes between Asia and Europe. The city was ruled by the Doge, an elected noble, and his council of advisors. In addition to the Doge and his cronies, there was also the eternally feared “Council of Ten”, a body that acted in secret to exact justice upon lawbreakers. As part of our secret tour, we got to see the rooms where the Council of Ten would convene, as well as the places they would interrogate and torture suspected criminals. We also got to see the Piombi, or prison cells located immediately below the attic of the palace. The Piombi take their name from the lead that lined the ceiling of the cells. It was from one of these cells that Giacomo Casanova famously escaped in 1755.

After we finished our tour of the main palace, we crossed the famous Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) to see the rest of the prison cells. The bridge was given the name “Bridge of Sighs” by Lord Byron, because prisoners being lead across the bridge would look out and see their last view of Venice, and sigh. The bridge itself was actually designed by the nephew of the man who designed the Rialto bridge. And, of course, the local legend says that lovers who kiss while riding a gondola under the bridge will be granted eternal love.

We finished our tour of the Palazzo, grabbed a quick lunch, and headed back to our hotel to check out. It was sad to say goodbye to Venice, but so nice to have gotten to spend time there at all. Venice feels like a complete escape from the real world, and it is such a big contrast to Rome. For one thing, there are no cars, so it feels like you are walking in a bygone era. As a result, the city is also very peaceful and quiet, and the whole place feels like it can’t possibly be real – sort of like a Disneyland for adults. I would really encourage anyone who gets the chance to go and visit, and I myself can’t wait to go back!

Go visit quickly! Before it sinks!

buon anno!

Happy New Year! 4 days late I know, but the year is still new, so humor me. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, I visited Barcelona, Granada and Madrid in a whirlwind 5 days, seeing lots of beautiful sights and eating lots of delicious food.

Casa Batlló (Barcelona) - built by Antoni Gaudí, one of the most interesting aspects of this structure is the lack of straight lines - the facade (as well as many of the walls) is curved, and decorated with mosaics. The chimney at the top is fashioned to look like a dragon

Parc Güell (Barcelona) - a park on the El Carmel hill, also designed by Gaudí. The park contains the house where Gaudí lived, which is now the Casa Museu Gaudí (Gaudí Museum).

Gourmet Seafood Paella at Can Majo. Paella is a rice-based dish that is commonly considered the national dish of Spain. In addition to rice, it consists of a variety of proteins including (but not limited to) chicken, rabbit, duck, shrimp, clams, crab and other types of seafood.

After a day in Barcelona, we headed to Granada, a city at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the south of Spain

Granada's most famous monument is the Alhambra, a palace and fortress situated on top of a hill, overlooking the city. The Alhambra was built in the 14th century for the Moorish rulers of the Nasrid Dynasty. The palace is full of beautiful and perfectly-preserved Islamic architecture.

Cueva Venta El Gallo, a restaurant in the Sacromonte quarter of Granada, where we had a delicious dinner and saw a wonderful flamenco dance show. The Sacromonte quarter is home to a large gitano (gypsy) population.

Leaving Granada, we headed up to Madrid for our last few days!

I didn't get too many pictures in Madrid, but this is the Museo del Prado, the most famous Spanish art museum. If you are traveling to Madrid and want to visit the Prado, be sure to check and see when/if free entrance is available (in our case, tickets were free between 6 and 8pm, but I don't know if this changes seasonally!)

I flew from the land of Prado back to the land of Prada on New Year’s Eve, just in time to bid farewell to 2011 and usher in 2012 with my friend Allyson at a small party hosted by Maureen Fant, a cookbook author and writer who lives here in Rome.

The food was as expected: amazing and plentiful. We started with a variety of antipasti, including tuna spread, olives, cheese, crudite, bread, crackers, tzatziki, and paté. From there, we moved on to the main course, which consisted of two delicious baked pasta dishes, one of which was a lasagna that was out of this world (but I failed to get a name or a recipe!). In addition, we had lentils, a traditional Italian New Year’s dish. The lentils (which look like tiny little coins) symbolize wealth and prosperity in the New Year. I ate a whole bunch, so I think I’m pretty much set.

After dinner, we headed up to the rooftop terrace. Maureen lives very close to il Colosseo, which is where the city-sponsored fireworks are held. In addition to the city’s fireworks, however, were about a dozen other private fireworks shows all over town, resulting in a beautiful, deafening, and extremely well-lit midnight!

Because of how close we were to the Colosseum, it was difficult to get a picture with both it and the fireworks in the frame - this was the best I could do!

The area between the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia is Rome's Times Square on New Year's, completely packed with people and covered in discarded champagne bottles and broken glass. This is a shot of the LEAST crowded side of the Colosseum. It was a looong walk home.

Here we are, 2012. May your year and stomachs be filled with delicious food! Happy New Year!

buon natale!

Merry Christmas from Rome! Last night, on the way to midnight mass at the Vatican, I snapped a bunch of pictures of Rome in all its Christmas finery. Enjoy, and have a wonderful holiday!

Nativity and tree on Piazza Venezia (in front of Il Vittoriano)

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Italian flag lights on the via del Corso

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View of Piazza Venezia from via del Corso

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Lights on via dei Due Macelli (leading up to Piazza Spagna)

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Under normal circumstances, the only time the Spanish Steps are this empty is at around 4am. Normally this place is packed with people, both locals and tourists, and is one of the most popular (and, as a result, most inconvenient) meeting places in Rome.

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Beautiful lights on Via dei Condotti, perhaps the most expensive street in Rome. The street, which connects to via del Corso on one end, and the Piazza Spagna on the other end, is named for the conduits that once carried water to the Baths of Agrippa. Modern Italians with addresses on this street include Gucci, Prada, Valentino, Ferragamo, Armani, Fendi and Dolce & Gabanna. I’m pretty sure I get a little poorer just window shopping on this street.

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The via del Corso ends in the Piazza del Popolo

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Christmas tree above Piazza del Popolo

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Here we are! Christmas tree in Piazza San Pietro

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Nativity scene at St. Peter’s (sans Baby Jesus, because it was not yet midnight). I had to do some impressive elbowing and some moderate foot-stomping to make my way to the front to get this picture. Do as the Romans do, right?

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We did not have enough Papal pull to attend the actual mass inside the basilica, so we stood in the square with the masses and watched the whole thing on one of several screens stationed throughout the square. Please notice Santa Claus fleeing the scene!

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St Peter’s nativity scene post-midnight, now with Baby Jesus. It’s officially Christmas!

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View of Castel St. Angelo on my way home – not Christmassy, but still kind of spectacular

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Last, but not least, the tree in the Campo di Fiori

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Buon Natale!

p.s. Tomorrow I am leaving for Spain at the ungodly hour of 6:45 am, and I won’t be back until New Year’s, so my next post won’t be until 2012! Happy holidays!