The Tucci Table | Around The World With Cookbooks

Remember the first time I cooked my way through a cookbook? It was The Tucci Cookbook by Stanley Tucci. I got it for Christmas one year, along with a few others, and came up with this grand idea to cook my way through (almost) every recipe. It was a way for me to connect with my ethnic roots and improve my kitchen skills at the same time. It was also timely. I had recently left a corporate gig that led me into a low period in my life and I needed something to feed my creativity and restart a passion. Sound familiar? If you are one of the many people who read or saw Julie & Julia, I am only now learning that it’s a similar story.

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Before you call me a copycat, hold on a second. People have been cooking their way through cookbooks for a long time. Second of all, while I had known about Julie & Julia when I started, all I knew was that it was a movie about a woman who cooked her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking while also sharing a look into Julia Child’s life. I still have not seen the movie, thanks to my stubbornness of wanting to read the book first. I am about 100 pages into the novel though and loving it. The beginning dives into Julie's life at the moment. She's disappointed in her job and where she's at versus where she thought she'd be. It was at that time she started to cook through MTAOFC. It gave me serious flashbacks to when I decided to cook through The Tucci Cookbook. There were a lot of parallels in our lives emotionally. I find it interesting now as I look back. Like MTAOFC and Julie, The Tucci Cookbook saw me through lots of challenges. Cooking mussels for the first time, angrily rolling gnocchi, re-rolling pasta dough about five times until finally getting it right, and much more. It was a journey that I needed at the time and one I’m glad I took.

A week ago, I shared the first of four original recipes in our “Around the World with Recipes” series. I mentioned it was only half of a two-part series we were doing this month celebrating foods from different cultures around the world. The second part which I haven't introduced yet is four different cookbook features. While I won’t be sharing any original Italian recipes, I did want one of the posts to embrace my roots. Who better to do that than Stanley Tucci?! I received his second cookbook for Christmas back in 2016, The Tucci Table, and I’ve been slowly cooking through it since (along with about 11 other cookbooks!). The dishes in today’s feature are classic dishes you’ll most likely recognize along with simple ones you can make in a flash.

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Bistro & Green Salad with Simple Vinaigrette
For the most basic of salad recipes, this is it. Butter lettuce gets drizzled with a simple vinaigrette that lives up to its name. Most of the ingredients you’ll find in your pantry: shallot, white wine vinegar, salt, Dijon mustard, olive and vegetable oils. This is the kind of vinaigrette to whip up whenever company descends unexpectedly for dinner or you need a quick and easy vegetable side. It coats the lettuce well so that you get great flavor in every single bite.

Bolognese is one of those dishes I always find myself explaining to people. It’s not a red sauce with meat but it’s also not to be mistaken with carbonara which is egg, cheese, pepper and ham. Bolognese is a straight up meat sauce and by that I mean a lot of ground beef cooked with wine and cream or milk. It’s a heavy, hearty dish made for bone-chilling winter nights. It takes all day to whip up for maximum flavor and you feel about ten pounds heavier after eating it. Even so, it’s worth every single calorie. Bolognese is closer to a ragu than an actual sauce or gravy. You’re essentially eating fettuccine with meat and tomatoes. Amazing, right?

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Another misconception about Bolognese is that it’s hard. Erase that thought immediately. Bolognese is simple. It just takes several hours to simmer. You are free to go about your day as it simmers though. I don’t get why it’s gotten such a bad rep. Because Bolognese is such a hearty dish, I recommend letting it stand on its own for a meal. The Bistro & Green Salad was the perfect complement providing a fresh, light accompaniment to a rather hearty dinner.

TIP: Don’t make the same rookie mistake that I did the first time I made this recipe. Stanley does not drain the meat in his recipe and it’s cooked after the celery, carrot, garlic and onion. He must have been using an extra lean ground beef. I used about 80/20 and the beef definitely needed to drain. Play it safe and follow my lead. Brown the beef first. If it doesn’t need to drain, remove to a plate until the veggies have softened. If it does need draining, do it carefully and then remove the cooked beef to a paper towel lined plate. The result if you have greasy beef? An oily, greasy Bolognese and no one likes that.

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Strawberries in Prosecco
As if the Bolognese and salad weren’t enough, here comes dessert! Strawberries in Prosecco is exactly what it sounds like...strawberries in a glass of prosecco. Do you know bubbly wine is my favorite? It makes no sense because I don’t enjoy carbonated drinks but wine with bubbles does the trick. Here’s a fun tip to make this even better. Let the strawberries sit in the prosecco for at least an hour before serving. The prosecco gets infused with the strawberries, drawing out not only more flavor but the color. By the time you serve, it looks like you’re serving rose prosecco and it takes berrylicious!

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So far, we’ve visited Mexico and now Italy. Come back tomorrow as we venture to a whole other continent courtesy of one of my favorite ladies, Chrissy Teigen. Stay tuned...

Looking Back On Cooking With Stanley

January 14, 2015 I embarked on a journey to cook through The Tucci Cookbook by Stanley Tucci. There has been blood, tears, screaming, but most of all an overwhelming sense of success. I fell in love with cooking my junior year of high school. Food had always been a part of my life growing up with a strong Italian influence. Some of my fondest memories are intertwined with scents like gravy cooking on the stove and pizza on Christmas Eve. However, it was Rachael Ray every day at 2pm that I would run home from school to watch. I started cooking dinner for my family, using almost all Rachael Ray recipes and began to get comfortable with ingredients. I guess you could say that if it weren't for her, I would have never had such an appreciation for being in the kitchen. 

In college and afterward, I was never able to get comfortable cooking for one. I had a blast experimenting like crazy but I always found myself making way too much food for only me. I guess you can take the girl out of the giant Italian family but you can't take the giant Italian family out of the girl. Moving back home, I was rewarded with the opportunity to cook for several people again. I received The Tucci Cookbook for Christmas in 2014 along with several other cookbooks and decided that I would make my way through each recipe. I wanted to get into the nitty gritty of Italian cooking and push myself outside of my comfort zone. I honestly believe that the journey, no matter how frustrating at times, has made me a better cook. With that said, here are a few of my favorite menus and dishes throughout the series:

Ponticello's Orange Cookies: These were delicious. Simple, buttery and perfect paired with chocolate. The orange can easily be swapped out with other flavors or left out completely for a simple cookie.

Week 26: Summer Vegetable Soup, Spareribs and Fresh Tomato Salad. This menu screamed summer and was so flavorful. The soup was delicious and filling, the spareribs tender and also packed with flavor and the tomato salad was great as a bruschetta. The spareribs had an Asian flare that was amazing. 

Week 27: Mediterranean Pasta Salad with Arugula and Tomatoes, Egg Tart with Spinach and Potatoes and Kate's Banana Bread. I don't even know where to start with this one. The pasta salad I ate for days without even being hungry it was so good. The egg tart was such an accomplishment for me and the first time I used a cast-iron skillet. The banana bread has an unusual ingredient that makes it out of this world. This is the perfect brunch right here. This is probably my favorite meal from the series overall.

Pasta Casserole & Arugula with Prosciutto, Pears and Parmesan: These two dishes were part of Week 34. The salad was refreshing and bright. I loved the prosciutto. It's one of my favorite Italian meats. The Pasta Casserole was pheomenal. The flavors were so beautiful. Creaminess, brightness, fresh from the vegetables. So much cheese! I was eating this hot and cold for days without a complaint.

Warm Individual Chocolate Souffle: This could pass as either my favorite dessert or favorite accomplishment. It was rich, almost too much so. It paired perfect with vanilla ice cream. I stored these individually in the freezer and warmed them in the oven for a few minutes when I was craving a bite.

Basil Pesto: This was potentially my favorite sauce in the cookbook. I love pesto so much and this recipe just made it impossible for that to ever change. 

Mamma's Little Fritters: I think we'll make the souffle my favorite accomplishment because these fritters were my favorite dessert. Similar to beignets, they're basically just fried dough. Nothing more perfect was ever created. I could eat these for days!

Rosemary Foccacia: This bread was unforgettable. Not only was it simple to whip up, it was delicious. If I had the patience to bake, I'd make it every weekend. 

Did you have a favorite meal, dish or dessert from Cooking With Stanley? Have you ever cooked through a cookbook before?

Cooking With Stanley 57

What better way to end an incredible journey than with a few sweets? To wrap up a long but rewarding 16 months of massive cooking, I'm sharing three desserts that you'll want to try for yourself. I know I've talked about how it's hard to imagine that Cooking With Stanley would be ending soon but now that it's over, it's more odd than I had previously imagined. Making time for family dinners each week had become a staple in my family so that I could spend the whole day cooking a lavish meal we'd have far too many leftovers from. Before I reflect too much, let's get into these desserts. There will be time for that later.

Ricotta with Fruit
Peaches & Wine

The Ricotta with Fruit reminded me of Peaches and Cream only with berries. The raspberry sauce that half this recipe consists of was delicious. It's fantastic to serve on top of cake, ice cream, anything really. I must have made a mathematical error in cutting the recipe when it came to the Ricotta because it was very thin. It didn't taste bad, it was just too much of a liquid which is why this reminded me of peaches and cream. I feel like it would have been just fine with whole berries and fruit. 

I could kick myself when it comes to the Peaches & Wine. I could have sworn I took photos of this dessert but I can't find them anywhere. The only one I have is of them on the table for Mother's Day. It turns out exactly as it sounds. Peeled and sliced peaches are soaked in wine and a little sugar for a few hours before served. I used a Grenache wine but I think it would have been even better served with a sweet red like Red Moscato. It was fantastic on top of the cake you see in the picture which is coming up in a blog post in the next few weeks. 

Tiramisu is a dessert that I love but have never attempted to make. It has several steps that are critical to how it turns out, one of which includes dunking cookies in an espresso rum mixture. Here's a tip, dunk the cookies very quick so they don't get too wet. Otherwise you'll have what I like to call drunk Tiramisu, strong but soggy. It turned out pretty good for my first try. I wish I would have grabbed better photos but I guess it wasn't in the cards for this guy.

How do these desserts sound to you? Stop by later this week to read my reflection on the entire Cooking With Stanley series and find what my favorite moments and meals were.

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Well ladies and gentlemen, this is the final meal in the Cooking with Stanley series. Next week I will have a few desserts to share but this is the home stretch! It has been one wild 15 months and I am grateful you've all stuck along for the ride. I'm beyond excited to share some new plans moving forward. There's only more great stuff ahead. Until then, let's dig in to our final meal.

Roasted Pork Loin (substituted for Rabbit)
Rice with Sage
Eggplant and Zucchini Casserole with Potatoes
Weekday Extra: Basil Pesto

There's a recipe for Roasted Rabbit that sounded delicious. As much of a carnivore as I am, I could not even think about eating a poor bunny though. The guilt was killing me just thinking about it. Stanley included a note in his introduction about how pork loin is fantastic prepared the same way. Lucky for me, I had two pork loins in the freezer. He was right, it was equally delicious prepared with pork. I left it in a bit too long so the pork got a little dry but the flavors were fantastic. I would not recommend eating the prune in the middle if you're not a fan of them. My cousin did and turned the lightest shade of gray I've ever seen. It made for good entertainment, that's for sure. 

The Rice with Sage was very simply prepared and paired perfectly with the Eggplant and Zucchini Casserole. The Rice with Sage used Arborio rice like you normally use in risotto but was prepared with much less labor involved. Just make sure you don't forget about it and burn the bottom. The Eggplant and Zucchini Casserole with Potatoes was fantastic, possibly my favorite dish of the night. It was so light yet packed with flavor, especially from they marinara. I had it for lunch the next three days. The casserole prepares pretty easy. There are a few steps though that require a decent amount of attention so smoke doesn't start coming out of the oven. It's well worth it and makes for great leftovers.

I made the Basil Pesto on a weeknight for a quick supper. Pesto is incredibly easy to prepare and requires no cook time. All the work is done in the food processor. All you need to do is boil the pasta. I definitely recommend this for nights when you're short on time or simply too tired to cook anything. If you have allergies, omit the pine nuts. I love a pesto with pine nuts but our nut allergy keeps me from using nuts in main dishes.

Have you ever had roasted rabbit? I've read it's very tender with a mild flavor but I just couldn't make myself.

Cooking With Stanley 55

What is the most challenging thing you've ever cooked? I thought that it would be the Drum of Ziti from a few week's ago for me but I think crepes officially top that list. The fact is, if you don't have the proper tools and don't really know what you're doing, you're pretty much doomed from the start. However, with a little improvisation and a lot of resourcefulness, I managed to create enough crepes to make this week's main dish. 

Stuffed Crepes
Stewed Beans Tuscan Style
Simple Ricotta Cake
Weeknight Extra: Maria Rosa's Sauce

The Stuffed Crepes weren't terribly hard to make. Making the actual crepes was the hardest part. They're supposed to be paper thin but getting them to that point is hard without the special tool because they immediately begin cooking as soon as the batter hits the pan. After managing enough to feed my family, I was able to assemble them and bake. They were delicious with a cheesy, spinach filling. I wouldn't recommend these for a weeknight but definitely for a Sunday night dinner.

Stewed Beans Tuscan Style was much different than I thought it would be. It was basically an Italian bean salad. Delicious, flavorful and packed with nutrition, this would make a great side to many things like sandwiches, burgers, meat dishes, etc. I would add a little extra liquid to cook the beans longer. They turned out a bit too al dente for my preference.

The Ricotta Cake was something I put a lot of love into. It gave no love back though. Maybe it's because I used a different pan then is required? I still haven't managed to get myself a spring form pan. What was supposed to be light and decadent turned out do be dense and wet. It looked like a stick of butter when you cut into it. Needless to say, this heavy baby went straight into the trash bin. There was no salvaging the 2 pounds of Ricotta cheese that went to waste with this science experiment.

Maria Rosa's Sauce is one of my favorites in The Tucci Cookbook. It was used many times already throughout the series in other recipes but never on its own. This is a great option for weeknights. It cooks up fast and gets lots of veggies in a kid favorite, pasta. If you want to mask the veggies, simply puree the sauce. It's packed with flavor and easy enough for busy nights.

Only one more regular menu left for Cooking with Stanley! Can you believe that we're almost done?

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This week's menu on Cooking With Stanley is nowhere near as dramatic as last week. However, it is equally tasty. One of the things I'm most grateful for from this journey has been how it pushed me to experiment with ingredients and try things differently. This week in particular, I made two rather large changes to the recipes. I don't think I would have had the confidence to do that before I started cooking through The Tucci Cookbook. 

Stewed Veal Shanks with Mushrooms
Milanese Risotto
Rice with Tomatoes

Several people in my family are not fans of veal. It's also quite pricey so instead of using veal shanks for the main dish, I substituted short ribs and went along with the recipe as is. The trick when substituting one meat for another is the difference in cook time. This recipe starts on the stove and moves to the oven. I did bake the dish for the amount of time required but it took a bit longer to cook them on the stove at first. Short ribs are a great alternative to veal shanks and maybe even better because the meat was falling of the bone. The flavor was incredible. The sauce that the short ribs cooked in added an extra element to the dish that was outstanding, especially with the meaty flavor from the mushrooms.

Milanese Risotto calls for an important ingredient that I unfortunately had to live without, saffron. Yes, I did find saffron threads in the store. No, I did not buy the vial. Why? It was a whopping $15. I doubt I would ever use saffron again and I could not justify the purchase. So I went forward with the risotto recipe sans saffron and it turned out just fine. It was a simple, plain risotto but still quite tasty. It was best this way because the sauce from the short ribs paired beautifully with it. The risotto pretty much anchored the rest of the meal.

The Rice with Tomatoes was not part of the above two dishes. I made this for an easy, quick weeknight dinner that everyone loved. It's such a simple dish and a great go-to for busy nights. Add a little extra cheese and you've got yourself a mighty comforting bowl of rice. You could up the nutrients by substituting rice for quinoa, couscous or farro. 

Have you ever made any big substitutions when cooking before?

Cooking With Stanley Week 53

Today's single item menu for Cooking With Stanley is one of my greatest achievements in the kitchen. I pushed this particular recipe off till towards the end because it looked so difficult and complicated. In other words, I was terrified. Even in the photo demonstration, Stanley has at least one person helping him. He talks about there being an assembly line at family events to put this together. I would be braving this all on my own. Introducing, the great Drum of Ziti and Great Stuff.

Drum of Ziti and Great Stuff

Let me begin by mentioning that I halved this recipe and omitted quite a few ingredients. This enormous stuffed something includes hard boiled eggs, salami, several cubed cheeses, meatballs and pasta. The sauce used had to be made in advance separately, as did the meatballs. A smart person would spread this heavy workload out over two days. I did not. I also left out the hard boiled eggs and salami because it did not sound appetizing. Maybe pepperoni would have been good but I'm the only one in my family who likes it.

My first concern was getting the dough right to actually fit in the pan. Once I accomplished that feat, I moved on to stuffing the dough. I had lots of pasta and meatballs left over even though I halved this recipe. It made for a good lunch a few times that week. The final step before letting it bake is to fold over the edges to completely enclose the filling. I honestly thought this would turn out to be a disaster. I was waiting for the thing to not bake, fall apart or even possibly explode.

But none of those things happened. In fact, it was such a success that I almost dropped the whole thing showing it off around the house. The even larger surprise, everyone liked it! My family, consisting of several people that have an issue of food being mixed together, enjoyed it. I was able to pull the entire drum out of the casserole successfully without breaking any of the crust. I cut it into wedges without it falling apart. This dish, to me, is the cooking equivalent to building a pyramid and I did it. Saying that I'm proud is a gross understatement. I will never be making this again though. If I do, it will be with an army to help me out.

Cooking With Stanley Week 52

There are a lot of things that are rough to cook. A whole chicken is one of them. This week's Cooking with Stanley menu required a whole chicken and I hope I won't need to again for a long time. I will say this, everything was delicious. I was eating the chicken as it was cut up it was so good. This week, we've also got an extra weeknight meal included. There are several recipes within The Tucci Cookbook perfect for weeknight dinners I'll be sharing over these last few weeks. 

Cauliflower, Herb and Anchovy Timbale
Roasted Chicken with Vegetables
extra: Ziti with Broccoli

The Cauliflower, Herb and Anchovy Timbale was like a broccoli casserole. Confession: I omitted the anchovies. I hate dealing with them, even if they do cook out during the process. It grosses me out and this dish turned out just fine without them. The top had a nice cheesy crust that melted in your mouth. This is a great dish to make for a holiday or potluck. It's not too complicated and comes together fairly quick finishing in the oven.

No one tells you before dealing with a whole chicken that you need to deal with the cavity. It might just be part of the process but it's not pleasant. The cavity is stuffed with diced onion and herbs and the outside seasoned with salt and pepper. The chicken lays in a baking dish with a bunch of root veggies tossed in olive oil and extra herbs. The end result is quite tasty. The skin of the chicken is crispy but practically melts in your mouth and man was it delicious. This is a great Sunday night dinner. If you want to simplify it a bit, use a whole cut up chicken instead. Stuff onions and herbs underneath the skin to keep the extra boost of flavor.

Ziti wit Broccoli is one of the easiest dishes you can make for a weeknight. There are 3 ingredients and it comes together fast. Cook the broccoli in boiling water. Remove the broccoli. Boil your pasta in the same water. Drain. Mix pasta with a few tablespoons of olive oil and toss with broccoli. You may also add some parmesan cheese for an extra punch of flavor. It's simple, fast and not labor intense by any means. 

Just a few more weeks of planned meals left! Have you had a favorite Cooking with Stanley dish or meal so far?