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Monday
Dec152014

Eat Like a Iaciofano - Christmas Cookies!

Season's Greetings, readers!

How's everyone's holiday shopping coming along? That good, yes? Excellent.

I've managed to make more cookies than purchases this year, and that's been a conscious effort. I've been finding it fascinating to focus on my family's eating habits, especially as they revolve around holiday traditions.

You know when you have a group of caged animals at the zoo? Like lions? And then a zoo keeper throws in some raw meat and CHAOS ensues? Welcome to Christmas cookie time at Iaciofano HQ.

Russian Tea CakesI talked about some of these habits before. It does seem that for a family of four, the Iaciofanos make and consume an inordinate amount of cookie. So much so, at least on the consumption side, that Marmo has taken to hiding them. I detailed some of her favorite places here, and indeed, when I returned home this weekend for baking, she whispered in my ear, "There are biscotti in the laundry room."

Close up pizzelle actionI don't think she is fooling anyone anymore, because as baking commenced on Sunday, one or other male Iaciofano crossed the path from TV room to laundry room, emerging cookie-laden (cue Marmo, exasperated, shouting: STOP EATING THOSE!!!).

This post, recipes and corresponding flip through book (link below) stem from both my amusement at these family habits and my own cookie-making frenzy.

This weekend, Marmo and I made three types of cookie: The Russian Tea Cakes (probably my all-time favorite), Pizzelle, and some iced-gingerbread cookies. 

The iced-gingerbreads were not initally on the menu. They're not a traditional "Iach" cookie. But I had a plan.

Usually, when I have a plan the Iaciofano parentals brace themselves against said oncoming idea as one might tape down the house windows in preparation for a hurricane. It's not encouraging behavior. However, I must press on and will not be dissuaded by exasperated looks, sighs of defeat, moans of exhaustion or other nonsense.

My plan this year was to ice the gingerbread cookies to look like...wait for it....mini margherita pizzas!!

Yes? YES! 

I had first played with icing Christmas cookies here, and had much fun with it. But this time, I had an icing agenda: to make the sugary medium look like tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil. 

To prep, I ordered a few things from Amazon (since I signed up for Prime, I can't stop ordering things from Amazon. I think I need a support group). I had this decorating kit, this icing mix (oh yes, I was cheating), and this pack of food coloring shipped to Iaciofano HQ.

For the recipe, I used this gingerbread cookie recipe that I had made previously, here. It's super-fantastically easy and tasty.

The cookies came out even better than I thought they would. They really looked liked pizzas! In cookie form!

I even made a pizza oven out of gingerbread.So thrilled was I, that I began excitedly snapping photos of said cookies and then everything else, including what Marmo was making for dinner: her special Lasagna Bolognese (recipe at end of post).

Marmo prepping the pan.My favorite shot of the day - steam from freshly boiled pasta.Filling in the layersReady for the oven!I have to say, her lasagna is really a masterpiece. It sports a beef-based Bolognese sauce complemented by a smooth Bechemel that is both velvety and decadent. She translates the recipe from the Harry's Bar cookbook. We added a salad, some California Merlot, tree decorating and more cookies as sides.

Some of my take-aways from the day were:

1. The light in the dining room is Northern light and much better for food photography. I've been taking photos in the kitchen like a fool (Western light) for too long.

2. Toby's new jingle-collar is really dashing.

3. John prefers to play the "foreman" instead of actually decorating the tree. This apparently involves very half-assed art direction as to which ornament should go where. And wine drinking. It involves that too.

3. I do not know the difference between the Shuttlecraft and the Enterprise (we own both as Christmas ornament representations, and I can't tell the difference much to The Box's horror and dismay).

4. Our TV has only one channel: The Golf Channel.

Here any and all Iaciofano Family Christmas Cookie Recipes for your enjoyment (and one lasagna recipe)

Pizzelle

Russian Tea Cakes

Iced Lemon Knot Cookies

Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti

Gingerbread Cookies

Lasagne Bolognese

Ingredients:

1 box of no-boil lasagna

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (as much as you like)

For the Bolognese Sauce
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
1 small onion or large shallot
2 T butter and Olive oil each
¾ lb of ground beef
¾ lb ground veal
2 Tbsp of tomato paste
2 Tbsp of flour 
½ cup of white wine
4 cups of chicken broth
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 Tbsp rosemary
1 Tbsp thyme 
salt and pepper to taste


For the Bechemel Sauce:

1/4 cup of butter (1 stick)
2 cups of milk
1/4 cup of flour
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
Process
For the Bolognese Sauce:
Process the carrot, celery and onion in a food processor until fine.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sauté the processed vegetables in the skillet until soft—about 10 minutes.
Then, add the ground beef and veal and cook thoroughly.
Next, add the tomato paste and flour to the skillet and stir until well combined.
Now add the white wine, and simmer until most of the liquid has reduced.
Add the chicken stock and all the herbs. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for about 45 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste!
For the Bechemel Sauce:
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat.
Add the flour and stir constantly until the mixture starts to turn a golden color.
Add the milk and stir until it starts to thicken. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste!
Assembly:

Bring a large stock pot filled with water to a boil. Salt the boiling water and add in the lasagne noodles. Boil for about 3-4 minutes. You don't want to cook them, you just want to get them started. Even though we indicated no-boil pasta, boiling them for a short amount of time prevents a dry lasagna. You don't have to pre-boil, but if you don't, add a bit more sauce to the dish for extra moisture.

Grease a 9x13" oven-proof dish with butter. Add a row of the lasagna noodles.  Layer Bolognese sauce on top of the noodles, then dollop a little Bechemel on top of that. Continue layering until all the noodles have been used.

The top layer should be a Bolognese layer with Bechemel around the edges (as seen in the above photo). Dust the top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes at 350°F degrees.  

 

 

 

Tuesday
Dec092014

Papa John's Frito Pizza. Yes, this exists. 

I admit I'm a bit late to the game on this, as this topic has already garnered some attention from the interwebs, but, Elana and I are just a small sister-bro operation here; so cut us some slack.

Still, I suspect many of you are unaware as to what the title of this blog post actually references.  You're probably thinking, "Is Frito-Lay making their own Pizza?"  Or, "John, are you talking about Fried pizza?"  It's not about either, actually.  Let's just cut to the chase here: recently, I ordered a pizza from Papa John's - an act of likely stupidity perhaps it its own right.  Yet this wasn't just any ol' Papa J's pie... this was a pizza that was purposefully topped with, among other things, Fritos. (Read that sentence again).

Everyone here should be familiar with Papa John's and their skeptical but seemingly everywhere "Better Ingredients. Better Pizza. Papa Johns!" advertising campaign that it rams down our throats every other day and twice on NFL Sundays (which, actually, is the only way I could ever eat this pizza again.  If it was literally rammed down my throat). Hey, even Peyton Manning has shamelessly offered his support behind the brand, which really means jack shit of course, unless however you think you should be taking food and lifestyle advice from a dad-jeans wearing country boy who spends 4 hours every Sunday with his hands pressed firmly up against a 300 pound dude's sweaty grundle. 

On a recent day at work, I mustered up the courage to actually go out and buy one of these pizzas.  Notice the unintentionally funny "pizza maker/play maker" box.

For the first time, I was actually scared to eat a pizza; on one end of the spectrum, I might have a gag reflex or spend the rest of the afternoon in the men's room.  On the other end, what if I actually liked the pizza?  What would that even say about me as a person?  As a man?  As an Italian son?  I closed my office door, sat down at my desk, and took a deep breath.

Opening the box was bit like the immediate aftermath of the Con Edison shut down of the Ghostbusters' containment unit.  Indescribable scents were attacking my poor nostrils. I couldn't believe what I was  experiencing. I may have coughed, I can't remember.  I may have blacked out, too. 

(Newsflash, only dingbats douse their pies with needless goop like ranch dressing or, in this case, garlic sauce)

I'm going to be honest: whatever lunatic dreamed up this pizza is an asshole.  Ditto for anyone who likes it.  Getting behind this pizza in any way shape or form essentially tells me you are a tactless imbecile. Never mind that this pizza makes an otherwise innocent bystander (Fritos) guilty by association, but it is amazingly bad. Let's discuss. 

The Fritos, most of which fall off, are stale.  I mean, I could not even pick the Fritos off the pie and enjoy them separately (although I'm not sure I would even want to anyway since they just spent the last few minutes wading in this mess).  The tomatoes have no tang or sweetness.  The cheese, if i was to place them on taste's hierarchical ladder, would be somewhere below ice cubes drizzled with novocaine.  But where this pizza really starts to go bunny-in-the-pot crazy is in its application of bbq sauce which - if we are going to be honest with one another, has as much business being on pizza as garden mulch - is way too strong and salty.  Thankfully, the geniuses at Papa-John's offset the alkaline nature of the sauce with ground beef/taco meat.  Except I'm being sarcastic.  I'm not thankful for this.  I'm horrified.  This only expedites the pie's tumble down its spiral of spectacular shittiness.

Who put thought into creating this? Fraternity pledge-masters? Stoned 1st graders? Guantanamo interrogators?  It's really that bad, I'm not exaggerating.  And, look, I am a man who both needs and appreciates the occasional detour down roads of unrationalizable fun.  Funnel cakes, McDonald's fries, beer pong, Rocky IV - these are all harmless, Americana-born lapses in judgment that can nonetheless be enjoyed with mere modest suspension of belief or awareness. But this... this is something far worse. This is a speeding runaway train that is on fire, transporting toxic waste, while Rebecca Black blares on its loud speakers

I finished my lone slice (which, actually, featured somewhat fresh, spongy dough I should disclose) and contemplated our country's future. Really. How did we get to this point?  I mean, it's 2015 (almost). Aren't we supposed to be getting smarter with our foods and what we put into our body? Isn't America in the midst of an artistic/lifestyle comeback of sorts? It's a bit demoralizing to be honest. 

I suppose there will always be idiots in this world; climate change deniers, snake wielding preachers, the Kardashians, New York Jets fans (of which I'm one), etc.  The expression of such foolery is a part of the American way and, occasionally, can even ultimately yield masterful creations, like the cronut or cornhole.  But, I don't envision the Frito pizza heading down this path. 

Now, excuse me while I watch the new Expendables movie.

Sunday
Nov302014

Eat Like a Iaciofano – for Thanksgiving

Above is a tiny cookbook recapping the Iaciofano Family Thanksgiving 2014. We all hope you and your family had a fantastic one. If you're curious about how it all went down at Iaciofano HQ amidst the snow, Aunt Emily's malfunctioning hearing aid, and The Box's over-portioned servings of pie...well, have a look!

The recipes and (bonus video) are below!
Thursday
Nov202014

Pizza Class & A Come-to-Jamie (Oliver) Moment

I spent the past week and will spend the next one teaching classes on the book I wrote for Colavita, Top Your Pizza.

Yes, I teach people how to make pizza. We cover homemade dough, four different kinds of toppings and a salad for balance. I talk about how to caramelize onions and wax poetical about mozzarella cheese. People actually listen. They pay attention and ask questions. They even laugh at my jokes (sometimes). I'm finding the process rewarding, energizing, fun and definitely exhausting and challenging.

I am aware that my students are a self-selected population — they've signed up and have an interest in the subject matter — and that I'm not imparting life-saving information. This is pizza making...or is it??

Buy a man a pizza and he has a meal for that day. Teach a man to make a pizza and... 

...he has apps for every Super Bowl Sunday??

Along those lines, I touch on the topic of nutrition in class, as I believe pizza can be a healthy, balanced meal depending on your topping choice and application. Now, I'm not suggesting we can improve the health of the nation with pizza (or am I??), but during my trip, I had a come-to-Jamie moment when I stopped at a roadside IHOP restaurant.

To clarify, I meant Jamie Oliver.

I've been a fan of his since I first watched his TED talk and saw how passionate he seemed about food education, nutrition and helping people change their diets in order to change their lives.

That IS life-altering information, folks. As I watched Jamie show a few clips from his show Food Revolution, I thought, "Damn, that's gotta be HARD."

And I mean a serious challenge, as it's hard to change people's minds about anything, and that is no less true with their diets. Consider my efforts with The Box. Part of the problem, as Jaimie addresses, is that people just don't know. They're not education on the topic of nutrition, so you can't really blame them for making poor choices. That's fair.

So it becomes a two-fold problem:

1. Education

2. Changing people's taste

I'm here to suggest that the latter might be the more difficult of the two.

On my class tour on the road from Boca Raton to Jacksonville, my driver and I decided to stop at an IHOP nestled snuggly on the side of Route 95 for lunch. Also known as The International (which other nation?) House of Pancakes.

I assumed I could get something moderately healthy like a veggie omelette, and in fact IHOP has about two "Simple and Fit" entrees, one of them being a veggie omelette, which is made with egg substitute. How a chemical combination made to resemble the taste and texture of eggs is healthier than the real thing, I do not know.

All the "Simple and Fit" entrees were listed as under 600 calories, which lead me to believe that the other dishes on the menu were all well over that number, including Dulche de Leche Pancakes featuring what resembled large tubes of icing sandwiched between pancakes.

Time out. 

I like pancakes. In fact, at the end of this post, I'm going to list all the pancake recipes I've posted on this blog. However, I recognize that I'm what some would call, "a healthy eater." I like vegetables. Even kale. I'll go out of my way to eat them. I exercise. Maybe more than some. Definitely less than others. I watch my food intake, not by counting calories, but by trying to make good choices and recognizing when I'm full. 

But I'm not perfect. I've attacked a carton of ice cream with a spoon. I've eaten more than my share of pizza. I've come home late at night and ransacked the fridge like a racoon in the trash. This is life.

I also realize I'm lucky. I live in a city that has more food choices than most with access to farmers' markets, classes, independent food producers, locavore/organic restaurants and the like. I'm able to take advantage of these options. I'm very grateful for this, and I know this is not the case for many who are struggling to feed themselves and their families. This is a topic for another essay, and it's financial and access issue that I didn't list in my two-fold numeration above.

But I take issue with places like IHOP that are continuing to serve nutritionally negligent, over-portioned sugar delivery systems. Yes, there are "Simple and Fit" offerings on the menu, but like my pizza class attendees, only a self-selected group are going to look for them and then actually order them (and also try not to feel like a total ass when you say, "Yeah...I'd like the Simple and Fit Egg Substitute Omelette").

Additionally, the resulting egg substitute omelette looked so sad and watery in comparison to its fluffy, whipped and stacked neighbors, that who, indeed WOULD choose that option. It didn't look good. And, in fact, it was probably the worst omelette I've ever had. And IHOP isn't the only one. There are many more, as you know. John has a post coming up about Papa John's Frito Pizza that will alarm you.

This makes me sad. It makes me sad because I want to be able to convince people that healthy food is delicious. I cook for myself, my friends, and now complete strangers frequently, and manage to make delicious dishes that are nutritionally redeeming. And I know I'm not making a positive difference in the nutritional education system of this country, but I'd like to.

I want to think that the way to stop having items like this on restaurant menus is for people to stop ordering them. But that requires a change in taste. HOW do you change people's taste? How do you convince people that beets are tasty? Or that a quarter pound of sugar-laced lard has no place between pancakes?

I don't know. But I'd like to make an attempt with this blog post. With pancakes. Here are some recipes that I think are both nutritionally redeeming (in moderation, people) and delicious. I created them for Colavita and I'm reposting them here in the hopes that they might inspire you to think of pancakes, food and nutrition in a different light. And, uh...Jamie? If you're listening, I'd love to talk.

Pumpkin Pancakes

Recipe here and video below:

7 (ish) Grain Pancakess.

What You Need:

1/2 cup rolled oats (the real stuff)
1/2 cup millet flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup cooked farro
4 tablespoons chia seeds
4 teaspoons ground flax seeds 
1 cup almond or soy milk (you can use regular milk if you like)
2 eggs, beaten
a few swirls of agave syrup for sweetening (you can also use honey)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sea salt 

Butter, oil or non-stick cooking spray for you frying pan or griddle.

What To Do:

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl (don't forget the salt and cinnamon!). You can even use a food processor if you like. 

Add in the milk, eggs, vanilla and agave syrup. 

Blend until well incorporated. If the mixture appears too dry or sticky, you can add more milk.

Heat up your frying pan or griddle and grease with oil, butter or spray.

Ladle the batter onto the griddle in 1/4 cup sized scoops. Keep in mind, you might like to make mini pancakes, or HUGE BIG AS YOUR FACE ones. Go nuts, I'm not gonna stop you.

Cook for about 1 1/2 minutes on one side. Break out your spatula and give those suckers a flip. Let them toast up on the opposite side for about 2 minutes.

Flop them onto a plate and serve with cinnamon butter (I used Ronnybrook's) and more agave or maple syrup. You can also store these in the frigde for quite some time and use them as pre or post-workout energy pancakes.

Feel free to add fresh fruit and nuts!

Blueberry Oat and Polenta Pancakes

Recipe here.

Oat and Whole Wheat Waffles (<-- Loosely Related to Pancakes!) with Fruit and Nuts

What You Need:

A waffle maker (gifted by your boss or bought by your own self. Either works)
2 1/2 cups warm (about 100 degrees) almond milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup shredded coconut
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 egg whites
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup slivered almonds for garnish

What To Do:
Mix the almond milk, sugar and yeast in a medium bowl. Let it stand until it becomes foamy (this is the yeast working its magic) - about 10 minutes.

Mix both flours, oats, coconut, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl.

Add the yeast mixture and stir to blend it all together. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. You can also leave it to chill overnight so you will be ready for hungry brunchers in the morning.

Separate the eggs, setting aside two of the egg yolks. Mix these two yolks into the batter.

Put the three egg whites in large bowl and with a hand held mixer beat them until they are white and foamy and peaks form (ex: when you lift up the beaters the egg foam will stand up).

Fold the egg whites into the batter with a spatula.

Heat up your waffle iron and spray it with a non stick spray (you can also use butter). When it is hot enough, pour the batter into the iron. Cook until the waffle iron gives you the green light (literally). Your waffles should be golden brown.

Serve with extra blueberries, slivered almonds and maple syrup.

 

Monday
Nov172014

Zaza's Slice of Life and Pizza - Los Angeles

Zaza's returned from the West Coast and has her pizza report ready! Check it out on Issuu here:

And on Tumblr here!