19 December 2011

Casa Fiore #63: Published, Posted, and in the Mail!

This month's offerings include:
  •  From the Realtor:  Valuable Real Estate Links for You
  • From the Chef:  Easy Standards, Part II ~  Crock Pot! 
  • Invitation to Attend "Casa Fiore's Cucina" Cooking Class
  • 2012 Planning, Referral Thank-yous, Letters to the Editor 
Stay tuned to CasaFioreOnline.com for the web release of selected articles.  Care to join the hundreds who receive the old-fashioned, snail mail version of Casa Fiore at their door step?  Send along your address and let me know!
 
 

Crock Pot!

From the Chef ~ Easy Standards, Part II 
Crock Pot!
Great any time of the year for “no fuss-no muss” ease and economy, the crock is a star just as the weather turns cold and the days get short.  Prep your meal the night before, plug it in when the coffee percolates the next morn, and enjoy a hot and nutritious one-pot meal the moment you walk through the door (and if you get to stay home, enjoy a wonderful aroma all day long!)  The combos are innumerable, but I start with a cut of meat—a humble cut at that, as slow cooking will render it tasty in time.  These days I am tending toward pork, but beef and lamb are great as well.  Then load up on any combo of fresh veggies, legumes, herbs, spices, sauces and condiments.  You’ll be out just 10 minutes for a weeknight masterpiece—cozy, comfort food at the end of a cold day.  With your leftovers at work, you’ll be re-fortified and the envy of every co-worker. 

For tonight’s 10-minute masterpiece, I chose a 2 lbs. roast of better-than-average pork shoulder butt from Whole Food.  I trimmed off excess fat and cut into large chunks and set aside.  Next, I layered the crock pot from bottom to top, first with firmer ingredients (chunks of potatoes and carrots) and then softer ingredients (chunks of celery, onion, poblano peppers—so good with pork—and a can of precooked beans with the liquid drained off).  Salt and pepper everything.  My herb for this batch will be bay leaf, one of my favorite aromas in the plant kingdom.  I prefer fresh, but dried would have to do this time.  I added bay leaves at various junctures so as to completely infuse the dish with its aroma.  Over goes some tomato paste diluted with a good-sized dose of red wine.  Plug in and you’re done.  Just return 8-10 hours later and enjoy with hardy bread, a green salad, and maybe some cheddar on the side.

12 December 2011

You are invited to... Casa Fiore’s Cucina!

Back by popular demand and with some old favorites!

Casa Fiore's Cucina
Saturday, January 28th, 6pm

Spaghetti allaPuttanesca
Grilled Prawns "al Limoncello"
Killer Super Fudge Brownies
and more!!!
Please join me as we prepare together some of my favorite recipes while having a fun and tasty meal.  You will leave with new "hit" dishes, a full stomach, and a happy smile!  Material costs:  $55. 

Register with me:      
           206.355.1919     
           pignataro@windermere.com

Valuable Real Estate Links for You

Here are a range of valuable links relevant to our current real estate environment.  You can find all of these links on line at CasaFioreOnline.com

More Options for Homeowners with Mortgages “Underwater”.  Recent changes to the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) make is easier for homeowners who owe more on their mortgage than the current value of their home to refinance at the fantastic rates of today.


King County Affordability Index.  As Seattle Times recently reported, “thanks to declining prices and record-low interest rates, houses in King County are more affordable now than they've been in at least 17 years.”  Check out the article for yourself.
Interest Rates Still Super, Super Low.  Low interest rates are one of the key reasons for increased affordability.  Check out how low they are today.


How to Improve a Credit Score.  For many, the first step towards homeownership or refinancing is repairing and improving credit scores.  The following link offers some steps one can take.










16 November 2011

Casa Fiore #62: Published, Posted, and in the Mail!


This month's offerings include:
  •  "Real Estate 101:  Seller and Buyer Basics", November 30th, 6:30pm.  Join me or send a friend!
  •  Fiore Cooks Pasta alla Polpa di Granchio on "KCTS 9 Cooks Dinner"!
  • From the Chef:  Easy Standards, Part I  ~  1 Chicken, 3 Meals
  • From the Realtor:  How to Winterize Your Home 
  • Referral Thank-yous
Stay tuned to CasaFioreOnline.com for the web release of selected articles.  Care to join the hundreds who receive the old-fashioned, snail mail version of Casa Fiore at their door step?  Send along your address and let me know!

14 November 2011

Best From-Scratch Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, so I wanted to share my version of an old-time favorite.  I originally got this recipe from a Saveur magazine several years ago, but I've tinkered with the spice ensemble and the star ingredient to make it my own.  I like to use fresh, heirloom pumpkins and squash (yes, you heard that right) from my garden.  This year I planted the following members of the curcubit family, both sourced from Territorial Seed Company out of Cottage Grove, Oregon:  Rouge Vif D'Etampes, aka Cinderella, pumpkin; and Sugar Hubbard winter squash.  Having pitted them head-to-head this fall, I've confirmed my hypothesis:  Sugar Hubbard tops even the fanciest pumpkin for producing rich and dense pumpkin pie.  I know, I know, I can hear what you are saying... "Really???  Squash?!  That's sacrilege!  That's treason!  The Pilgrims are rolling over in their graves!!"  But follow the pictorial and written recipe below and you'll become a true believer.

And don't forget other Thanksgiving faves from my family posted under January 2010 under Blog Archives in the far right column.  I can't wait for this year's batch of Dad's Minestrone Soup and Joe's Turkey Pot Pies!

"Who wants to make pumpkin pie!"


Shall we call it sacrilege or simply superior?
Sugar Hubbard winter squash makes a superior pumpkin pie.


Rouge Vif D'Etampes "Cinderella " pumpkin steaming away...

Now puree it and you are ready to assemble the pie.


Beat together both wet and dry ingredients.


Pour pumpkin custard into pie shell.


Where would I be without my sweeties, Fiore and Fiona, in the kitchen?


Ready to eat.

From the Kitchen
Pumpkin Pie—from Scratch!
Casa Fiore #18 - October-November 2005
It’s pumpkin season, and here is the pie recipe you’ve been seeking. Forget about the canned stuff, this version is from scratch—I even grow my own. What’s the trick to a superior pumpkin pie? Yep, you guessed it, HUBBARD SQUASH! No joke—this winter squash is denser and more flavorful. It’s well-documented that the key to success in pie-making is in the crust. I’ve got my old-stand-by version—if you are interested, just give me a jingle. A nod to Saveur magazine for inspiring this recipe!

1. For the crust:  Begin with your favorite crust recipe.  Prepare the dough, roll into a ball,  and refrigerate for an hour at least. When dough is chilled, roll out onto a floured surface into a 12” round, then ease into a 9” pie pan. Trim edges, allowing a 1/2” overhang, then fold under and crimp.
2. For the filling:  cut 1.5-2 lbs. of fresh Hubbard squash or pumpkin into large pieces, discarding seeds and pith. Put 8 cups of water into a large pot fitted with a steaming rack and bring to a boil over high heat. Put pumpkin on rack, cover, and steam until pulp is soft, about 30 min. Transfer pumpkin to a bowl and set aside to cool.  (Alternatively, you can bake your squash or pumpkin in the oven until soft, which adds a roasted flavor.
3. Preheat oven to 425º. Scrape pulp from skin into a food processor, discarding skin, and puree until smooth.  Transfer puree to a large bowl and add 1/3 cup white sugar, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. ground ginger, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, a pinch each of mace, ground clove, and cardamom, 1.5 cups evaporated milk, 2 lightly beaten eggs, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix well.
4. Put filling into crust and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350º and continue baking until filling is set, about 30-40 min. Cool then serve with whipped cream.

Join Fiore for "Real Estate 101: Seller and Buyer Basics!"


02 November 2011

1 Chicken, 3 Meals

From the Chef ~ Easy Standards, Part I

1 Chicken, 3 Meals

Have you ever been over
to a friend’s house
and the food just ain’t no good?

I said the macaroni’s soggy,
the peas are mushed,
and the chicken tastes like wood!


I hear you, Sugar Hill Gang!  Sadly, it’s true:  that’s how chicken usually tastes.  Unless prepared just right, chicken is just really, really hard for me to do.  When it’s not too dry, it’s too greasy, too much of nothingness, or even slightly yucky.  But then I discovered whole roasted bird and some of the standard spin-off dishes that come with it.  I never took home economics, but with this thrifty triumvirate of time, effort and budget, I attempt to make Betty Crocker proud.  This is basic stuff, but a worthy reminder that it takes just one bird to fill out a huge chunk of your weekly menu.

Meal #1:  Roasted Chicken.  Buy a whole chicken.  A 4-5 lbs. free range bird will still only set you back $10 or so.  Rinse, pat dry, and salt and pepper the cavity.  Chop an onion and some fresh herb (I like celery greens or parsley and thyme or bay or sage), pack the cavity, and seal both ends with wooden skewers.  Salt and pepper outside, set in an oven on pan that will catch drippings for 1.5—2 hours (visit CasaFioreOnline.com under Nov. ‘11 for exact cooking times).  When leg moves freely, bird is done.  Carve and serve with some of the drippings.  Roast a few potatoes and enjoy!

Cooking times (taken from Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book):

2-2.5 lbs.     375 degrees     1-1.25 hours
2.5-3 lbs.     375 degrees     1.25-1.5 hours
3-4 lbs.        375 degrees     1.5-2 hours
4+ lbs.         375 degrees     2 hours

Meal #2:  Chicken Soup.  Brown the innards that come with a chicken, cover in a cup or two of water, and let simmer for 1-2 hours.  Cut up leftover bird, sauté some carrots, onion, and celery, add broth and seasonings, throw in some potatoes or noodles or beans, simmer a bit, and let it warm you up. 

Meal #3:  Chicken Enchiladas.   Shred leftover chicken.  Fill tortillas (I like corn) with chicken, shredded cheese, and store-bought enchilada sauce.  Ladle more enchilada sauce on the bottom of a baking pan and fill with enchiladas.  Top with more sauce and cheese, bake at 350º for 15 minutes, and serve with sour cream and a Negra Modelo or a Bohemia.











27 October 2011

Fiore to Cook on TV!

Yep, it's true!  I will cook live on Channel 9 on Saturday the 5th of November!  Should be a lot of fun.  I get to cook my rendition of a dish I ate once in Corniglia, the middle hill-top town of the Cinque Terre along the Italian Riviera.  Here is a link that illustrates some of the rustic, rugged beauty of one of my favorite places in Italy.  http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotos-g187818-w4-Corniglia_Cinque_Terre_Italian_Riviera.html#23232528

Below is my blurb with all the detail.  And check out Jan. '11 under blog archives (in the right hand column of this screen) for the recipe and for the story behind the recipe!

 

Fiore Cooks on TV!

Pasta in a Rosè Crab Sauce
(recipe at CasaFioreOnline.com under Jan. ‘11)
will be featured live on

KCTS 9 Cooks Dinner!
Saturday, November 5th

Expected appearance time is between 2:00 & 3:00pm. 
This dish is my take on a dreamy dishful once enjoyed along the Cinque Terre.   Check out the full line-up of chefs at
kcts9.org/kcts-9-cooks/kcts-9-cooks-dinner


06 October 2011

From the Chef ~ Antipasta!

Like the opening of a great opera, antipasti sets the stage for the proper Italian feast to come.  It precedes the primo piatto and it’s still today an integral part of our Sunday night dinner at Grammy and Baba’s.  A great excuse to try something new or be creative, an ambitious antipasta can even steal the show.  Here are some guidelines I follow when preparing antipasti.





Pick a theme.  A theme provides a unifying element that tells a story of flavor, place, or season.  Our parish auction item, La Sagra di Limoncello, or The Feast of Limoncello, in which we make limoncello with our patrons, featured a mammoth “Antipasti di Terra e Mare”, or Antipasta of Land and Sea:  cured meats and cheeses, fresh veggies, delicacies of the sea.
 
Pick a range of flavors.  Mix some homemade items with fine store-bought products.  Unless you can make killer coppa cola and smoked fish, concentrate on marinated vegetables or other do-able preparations.  Want some ideas?  Give me a call!

Presentation and plating.  This is your opportunity for artful composition.  Intersperse different colors and textures for aesthetic appeal.  Decorate the plate with greens of all kinds and other items like a sprinkling of capers.  Some antipasti won’t make great neighbors; for instance, I try to keep cheese from briny marinated items that may make it soggy or alter flavor. 

Antipasta as a meal.  Prepare many “small plates”—after all, antipasta is one of the original “small  plates” courses—and serve them together family-style as one big, casual meal.

05 October 2011

Be a Successful Seller Today! Hints for a Victory in Today's Real Estate Market, Part II

We all hear about how tough it is today to enter the real estate market, yet buyers and sellers are closing on sales everyday.  While there is no single formula to attaining success in the real estate market, there are attributes to a successful purchase or sale.  Here are some general rules of thumb for buyers and sellers in today's market.

SUCCESSFUL SELLERS...
  • Pick a Realtor That Can Prepare an Appropriate Marketing Campaign.  Sellers need every advantage they can get, so picking a skilled, full-service Realtor is essential.  A savvy agent helps a seller pick a price that will get more bona fide buyers through the door, understands how and when to react once on the market, and considers on a daily basis how to better position the listed home.  Ask a lot of questions and let your Realtor know what you want, as a veteran Realtor is ready to go to the mat for you.
  • Get Their Home Market-Ready.  If you have a few weeks or months before you must list, knock out many of the little things that will make a home inspector and a buyer take pause:  slow drains, leaky faucets, furnace servicing, etc.  If you have several months and some financial resources at hand, address bigger ticket items, again leaning toward structural and mechanical issues over aesthetics.  Sometimes a fresh and jazzy coat of paint can strike the imagination of buyers, but often the new furnace and water heater make them feel as if they have made the safer bet and that they can tackle the painting themselves later.
  • Pick a Reasonable Price...and then consider listing $10-20K lower.  The point is to understand that buyers are looking for fantastic, even ridiculous value when they purchase in today's market.  They want to feel like they got a great home for a great, great price and that they have "hedged their bet" against potential future depreciation.
  • Attend to the Details.  Buyers these days are calculating every detail and therefore a seller must as well.  So, lights on, heat up, lawn mowed, front door freshly painted, home neat and tidy, and door open pronto to any and all shoppers. 
  • Are Realistic.  Even if it is day three and your have three offers in hand, let's not forget that it is clearly a buyers market. Congratulations!  You've have interested parties!  You have hit the mark.  Now is not the time to get cocky and instead dust off some valuable adages:  "Your first offer is usually your best offer."  "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."  "More market time equals less money."  To get a home sold today, a seller must follow an aggressive path throughout the process.  Keep the big picture in mind:  a battle lost over $5000 or an inspection negotiation can still lead to a victory at the end.  So, take a deep breath, say yes, follow the wave of momentum, and you will get your home sold and move on to the next chapter in your life.

04 October 2011

Be a Successful Buyer Today! Hints for a Victory in Today's Real Estate Market, Part I

We all hear about how tough it is today to enter the real estate market, yet buyers and sellers are closing on sales everyday.  While there is no single formula to attaining success in the real estate market, there are attributes to a successful purchase or sale.  Here are some general rules of thumb for buyers and sellers in today's market.

SUCCESSFUL BUYERS...
  • Have a Clear Idea of What They Are Seeking.  Make a top 10 list of what you are seeking.  Creating an old-fashioned prioritized list of wants and needs is essential to sorting out which homes have potential and which are just not a fit.  Periodically revisit your list as you see more homes.  Seeing homes "in the flesh" will start to clarify what you want or feel you need in a home.  Sometimes we start with a one set of criteria and end with a total different set.  If you will be sharing your home with your life partner and/or family, having a concrete list to refer to can keep everyone on the same page even during tricky conversations.
  • Pick a Lender They Trust.  Early on in the process, even before they start to look at homes, smart buyers compare loan packages and lenders and find out exactly what they can comfortably afford.  There are still many different loan packages out there, and thankfully, the level of quality in loan officers and mortgage brokers has risen.  The job for buyers is to find a lender that will find the loan package best suited for them, but who will also attend to the details of the loan and be proactive so as to avoid late hurdles that can postpone, or worse yet, prevent final loan approval.  I have many great lenders I can recommend - just let me know.
  • Pick a Realtor That Can Get the Job Done.  Your Realtor is much more than your personal home-shopper.  In one shape or another, a good real estate broker will be your work horse, confidant, details guy or gal, field general, expert, resource broker, insurance policy, and advocate.  Skilled Realtors get regular updates from legal experts, understand the latest contract updates in their MLS, understand values and trends in a given area, and most importantly are watching your back as you travel from Point A to Point Z in what is often a treacherous real estate transaction these days.
  • Are Realistic.  Yes, we are in clearly in a Golden Age for buyers.  We have unparalleled interest rates, fine homes available at great prices, and motivated sellers.  However, apart from the reign of Genghis Khan, no unilateral victory exists.  Buyers do not get to wipe out entire villages, leverage the seller into saying yes to everything, and get 30% off the listing price at the drop of a hat.  Even in today's buyers market, it's unusual that a buyer gets a perfect 10 in a home.  Even the builder of a custom home often pays a bit more for the job or wishes they had one more bathroom at the end.  Remember your end goal:  getting a home that fits your needs.
  • Have Imagination.  If you have not found a perfect 10 out of a 10, consider a seven, eight, or nine out of 10.  By using some imagination and thinking outside of the box, you may find a reasonable way to reconfigure a room or re-landscape a yard to make it the home you were seeking.  Sometimes some minor lighting improvements, a can of fresh paint, and a new appliance or two can make a world of difference.  Given where prices, interest rates, and leverage stands, you should have a some financial resources available to put your own personal stamp on your new home.