No More Cooking Block For Me

Yesterday, I went on a baking and cooking rampage. No more cooking block for me, no sirree, not me. Let's start with the baking. I made a cream cheese pound cake, two loaves of focaccia, supervised Nancy and Katie make dark chocolate chip cookies. For dinner, we had Ziti with Tuscan- Style Cauliflower from Mario Batali's The Babbo Cookbook.

Ziti with Tuscan- Style Cauliflower

Serves 4 (I double the recipe)

kosher salt

1/4 extra- virgin olive oil

1 red onion, finely chopped

1/2 bunch of fresh mint, leaves only (I never have mint on hand and always forget about buying it. It's good with or without it.)

1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 heads of cauliflower, cut into 1 inch chunks

1 pound ziti

pecorino romano cheese, for grating

Bring about 6 quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt.

In a saute pan, heat olive oil over high heat until almost smoking. Add onion, mint, pepper flakes, and garlic, and saute over medium- high heat until the garlic is just golden, 1-2 minutes. Add cauliflower and cook until tender, about 7 minutes.

Cook ziti in the water according to the package directions , until tender yet al dente. Drain pasta and add to the pan with the cauliflower. Toss over high heat for 1 minute. Grate cheese over each serving.

A couple of notes. It's not kidding about getting that oil almost smoking and salting the water. The dish tastes very bland otherwise. In Bill Buford's book, Heat, he writes about cooking at Mario Batali's Babbo kitchen and those two things are made very clear in the book, pasta water should taste like ocean water and Mario Batali likes HOT oil. Oh and one more thing, on page 130 it says ignore the Babbo cookbook. Go Figure.

To go with the pasta, I made focaccia bread.

4 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 package of yeast

olive oil (I'm begging you, please, use good olive oil)

2 cups warm water divided

Dissolve yeast in one cup warm water.

Combine flour and salt. Add yeast liquid and the other cup of water. Mix with floured hands until dough is damp and sticks together. Form into a ball and cover. Let rise for up to 24 hours at the minimum 1 1/2 - 2 hours. On a cookie sheet pour enough olive oil to cover bottom. Spread dough on the cookie sheet and punch holes in the dough. Let dough rise again for 30-45 minutes. Sprinkle with olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bake at 475-500 degrees for 15-20 minutes on the top shelf of oven.

Side note: if you want seasoned focaccia, of course rosemary works well. So does cracked pepper or Italian seasoning.

Dessert was a cream cheese pound cake with a raspberry sauce. Next time, my little sous chefs want a lemon glaze on top of the cake to cut down on the richness of this dessert.
Cream Cheese Pound Cake

1 1/2 cups butter, softened

1 (8 ounce) package of cream cheese, softened

3 cups sugar

6 eggs

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

3 cups cake flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease And flour a 12- cup Bundt pan.Combine all ingredients except flour and beat until smooth. Add cake flour 1/2 cup at a time. Stir together until smooth. Pour into pan. Bake 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

For the raspberry sauce, I cheated, I committed a culinary sin, but it worked. I took my favorite jam named ironically, Favorit. It is a Swiss preserve that doesn't have anything artificial in it. It's not overly sweet, it just tastes like really good raspberries. I heated the jam in a saucepan over low heat, then strained it to remove the seeds, and poured it over the pound cake.

See, I didn't have to hide the cauliflower, everyone ate it, even the really picky ones. That's how good it was. Also, you now have a different dish to serve if you have any vegetarian friends or family. We have a couple in my family and I'm always struggling to find them something good to cook.

I forgot about the dark chocolate chip cookies! Use the Toll House recipe just substitute dark chocolate chips for the Toll House morsels. As in any typical house in America with 4 kids, the cookies have already vanished.