The time-honored way of showing love in an Italian family is to offer food. Whether we're celebrating, mourning, happy, sad--if we're breathing, there's a table filled with great things to eat. Life's too short, so eat what you love and love what you eat.
My mother was a great cook. When she baked, she baked well, but she definitely preferred cooking. One dessert she did make frequently was ice box cake. It was quick and easy and inexpensive. While I enjoyed her chocolate and vanilla pudding layered with graham crackers, this icebox cake takes the concept to another level. Remember that icebox cakes taste better after the cookies have had a full day to soften.
Serves 8 - 10 Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups cold heavy cream
1 1/2 cups mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (I prefer Nutella)
20 whole chocolate graham crackers
Beat 1 cup heavy cream, 3/4 cup mascarpone, the confectioners' sugar, and vanilla until combined, then increase speed and beat until stiff peaks form (1-2 minutes) --I used my stand mixer, but you can use a hand mixer as well.
In another bowl, combine 3/4 cup heavy cream, 3/4 cup mascarpone, and the Nutella until combined, then increase speed and beat until stiff peaks form (1-2 minutes).
Line the bottom of an 8 inch springform pan with about 4 graham crackers in a single layer, breaking them into pieces to fit any fill any gaps (seriously, this is the hardest part). Spread half the vanilla whipped cream over the graham crackers, then top with another layer of graham crackers. Spread half the chocolate-hazelnut whipped cream over those grahams then repeat with another layer of grahams, another layer of vanilla, another layer of grahams, and finish up with the other half of the chocolate-hazelnut whipped cream.
Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.
Uncover the cake and run a thin knife around the edge to loosen. Remove the springform ring and smooth the sides of the cake using an offset spatula (the second hardest part). Put the remaining grahams in a large resealable bag and crush them into fine crumbs. Press the crumbs around the sides of the cake and sprinkle the remains over the top.
Oh, my, how can I get across just how incredibly delicious this simple dessert tastes? I don't often "lick the bowl" or the beaters, but I could not resist after tasting the creams. I've already decided that the next time I make this--and there WILL be a next time--I'm going to replace the vanilla layer with an espresso one for a tiramisu and hazelnut icebox cake. I'm sure the cake would be equally delicious made with the Famous chocolate cookies.
A month ago I tested a new recipe, one for shrimp and corn fritters. While they tasted good, they would not hold their shape and they were nowhere near as good as the fritters I normally make. I decided to try again, this time using my tried and true recipe from the Good Housekeeping cookbook, the first real cookbook I ever bought. I simply added the shrimp to my usual recipe, as follows:
Yield: 18 fritters
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp vegetable oil (more for frying)
1 (11 0z) can Green Giant yellow corn niblets, well drained)
1/2 lb shelled, deveined shrimp, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt. Beat the eggs; add the milk and vegetable oil. Stir in the flour, then the corn, then the shrimp. Heat enough oil to cover bottom of a frying pan and fry by heaping tablespoonsful into hot oil ( use a 1/8 cup measure for each fritter). Fry 3-5 minutes, turning once. Drain on paper towels. Keep warm in a 250 degree oven. Serve plain or with a remoulade sauce.
What a world of difference using my usual fritter recipe made! While the recipe I tried sounded good--it used yellow corn meal--the batter was too wet and didn't hold together. These fritters were light and crispy on the outside. They could be the star of the show or they could serve as a very substantial side to a grilled London broil, which is how I served them. I know I would love them with crab instead of shrimp and that will be the next round.
One of the blogs that I've followed for some time is Barbara Bakes (www.barbarabakes.com). As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew I had to try it. Intended for my guild meeting, I must confess that a few cookies "fell off the tray." They are ooey goeey right out of the oven, but equally delicious when they cool off. Check out Barbara's site for a photo as well as other great recipes.
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 (10 oz) pkg peanut butter chips
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350°. Line cookie sheets with parchment or silpat liners.
In large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla and mix until well blended.
Add the dry ingredients and mix until just blended. Stir in peanut butter chips and chocolate chips.
Using a small cookie scoop, drop by rounded spoonfuls on to cookie sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until edges are set but the center is still be soft.
Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
Despite good intentions, I never got to blog on Christmas. I hope all my foodie friends and readers had a very Merry Christmas. As always, we had too much food (thank heavens for freezer bags). New Year's Eve will be quiet, dinner out, then home to try to stay awake to watch the ball in Times Square come down. I know it's after the fact, but I wanted to share our Christmas dinner and wish everyone a Happy New Year.
I'm sure you've all got your own recipe for sausage and peppers. My tried and true comes from a 1983 issue of Bon Appetit and marks the first time I roasted red peppers over an open flame. When I'm lazy, I simply fry the peppers and onions. Wandering around the Food Network site, I came upon a recipe from Giada for sausage and peppers. What caught my eye was the Marsala listed in the ingredients. I decided the wine would be an excellent addition. Here is the recipe as I tweaked it.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lb sweet or hot Italian sausage (I actually used Italian turkey sausage this time)
3 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced
2 Vidalia onions, sliced
1 tsp Kosher salt
ground pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbs tomato paste
1 cup Marsala wine
1 can (15 oz) diced petite tomatoes put through a food mill
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, optional
4-6 Italian sandwich rolls, optional or 1 lb. cooked pasta
Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausages and cook until brown on both sides, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and drain.
Keeping the pan over medium heat, add the peppers, onions, salt, and pepper and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the oregano, basil, and garlic and cook 2 more minutes.
Add the tomato paste and stir. Add the Marsala wine and chili flakes, if using. Stir to combine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release all the browned bits. Bring to a simmer. Add the tomatoes.
Cut the sausages into 4 to 6 pieces each, about 1-inch cubes. Add the sausage back to the pan and stir to combine. Cook until the sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes.
Serve in bowls over pasta. Or, serve as a sandwich., *************************************************** TASTE NOTES It took incredible will power to eat just one sandwich. I think that this preparation is every bit as good as the one with the roasted red peppers. I do not like chunky tomatoes, nor do I like my sausage, peppers, and onions with a heavy tomato sauce, which is why I pressed them through a food mill. The resulting "sauce," which is greatly reduced, just adds a wonderful flavor. This is definitely going on the Christmas Day menu.
A lot of people turn up their noses at meatloaf--I used to be one of them. Then I discovered the meatloaf sandwich and all that changed. I've tried any number of recipes for meatloaf, some more successful than others. My favorites taste just as good lukewarm as they do hot, have a bit of sweetness, and have a consistency that holds together but is not dense. This recipe had an almost perfect proportion of beef, pork, and veal. Serves 6 - 2 slices per serving Ingredients
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tbs nonfat milk
1/2 cup ketchup, divided
2/3 lb extra lean ground beef
1/2 lb lean ground pork
6 oz lean ground veal
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1 tbs Dijon mustard
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
2 egg whites
Preheat oven to 350°.
Place bread in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until coarse breadcrumbs measure 1 1/2 cups.
Combine breadcrumbs and milk in a large bowl; let stand for 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons ketchup and remaining ingredients except cooking spray.
Shape meat mixture into a 9 x 5-inch loaf on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Spread remaining 6 tablespoons ketchup over top of meat loaf. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a thermometer registers 160°. Let stand for 10 minutes. Cut the loaf into 12 slices.
I enjoyed this for dinner with mashed potatoes and glazed carrots, but I enjoyed it even more on a soft kaiser roll with some BBQ sauce. Meatloaf shouldn't just be ground beef baked in a loaf and this combination of beef, pork, and veal was far more flavorful than just beef alone. I'm sure there'll be other meatloaf recipes to try, but, in the meantime, this one has a star next to it that says "make again soon."
Fall is my favorite season. I love the cool, crisp air, the changing leaves, and the wonderful root vegetables and squash that form the basis of so many hearty soups and stews. I may have come late to the party, but since I discovered butternut squash, it has become one of my favorites. My usual method of preparation is to peel it, cube it, drizzle it with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast it at high heat until it carmelizes.
I've ordered butternut squash soup at a number of restaurants and I'm almost always disappointed. What I've been served has been sweetened artificially, which is totally unnecessary. When roasted in a hot oven, the natural sweetness of the butternut squash is much more delicious. I decided to make my own soup, roasting rather than boiling the squash and the result was fantastic.
Makes 10 cups soup
2 1/2 poundsbutternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 " pieces
1 tbs olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small Vidalia onion, chopped
1 medium apple, peeled and chopped
1/2 tsp dried sage
4cups vegetable broth (chicken broth may be substituted)
1 1/2 teaspoonskosher salt, plus more as needed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
2 tbs. sour cream
OPTIONAL: 1/2 cup toasted seeds, for garnish
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Place cubed butternut squash in a large bowl; drizzle with the olive oil; season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast 30 minutes. Turn pieces over and roast an additional 30 minutes.
Place tablespoon of butter in a large pot. Add onion, butter, and sage and saute for 5-7 minutes. Add vegetable broth and water and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add roasted butternut squash to broth mixture. Use an immersion blender to puree. Add sour cream and combine. Serve topped with toasted pumpkin seeds, if desired.
This soup is a wonderful appetizer course for dinner or a stand-alone lunch. It is creamy, yet not too filling. A bonus is that it freezes beautifully. I toasted my own seeds to use as garnish (forgot to photograph them), but often swirl a teaspoon of sour cream into the hot soup for a nice counterpoint to the sweetness.
Coffee cakes don't get the same respect as, say, a three-tier, buttercream frosted cake or a flourless chocolate torte or a cream cheese encased carrot cake. I just think that's wrong because a cinnamon laced coffee cake
with a streusel topping fresh from the oven is one of the best uses of butter, eggs, and sugar that I know of. It may explain why I have so many coffee cakes on my blog and why I still have a number of dog-eared recipes torn out of magazines and newspapers waiting to be tested.
Having volunteered to bake for the annual meeting of a volunteer group I belong to, I decided to try something new. Among the many bookmarks on my laptop I found this copycat recipe for Starbuck's classic coffee cake. Reading through the ingredients, I knew this was the kind of cake I needed to bake and hurry out of the house--3 sticks of butter!
I decided to double the topping as was suggested and use half to create a ribbon of cinnamon streusel through the cake to augment the streusel on top of the cake. You can never have too many crumbs on a coffee cake after all. This cake yields 18 good-sized pieces.
OPTIONAL: To get that ribbon of cinnamon through your cake, double recipe for the topping topping and reserve half (minus nuts if you like). Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan--batter is thick, sprinkle half of doubled recipe over that making sure to cover entire cake,hen spread the rest of the batter and top the cake with the other half of the topping mixture.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Make topping by combining 1 cup flour with brown sugar, a stick of softened butter and 1 teaspoon cinnamon in a medium bowl. Mixture should have the consistency of moist sand. Add 1/2 cup chopped pecans.
In a large bowl, cream together 1 cup butter, 3/4 cup light brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add this dry mixture to the moist ingredients a little bit at a time. Add half n half and mix well.
Spoon the batter into a 9 x 13-inch baking pan that has been buttered and dusted with a light coating of flour.
Sprinkle the crumb topping over the batter. Be sure the topping completely covers the batter.
Bake cake for 50 minutes, or until the edges just begin to turn light brown. Cool and slice into 8 pieces.
I was convinced that this cake was going to be a dismal failure. There was no mention in the recipe of the fact that the batter is very, very thick. So thick, in fact, that I had to spread it on the bottom of the pan and drop it, like biscuits, over the middle layer of streusel. Imagine my delight when it baked up perfectly after 50 minutes. My half of a piece--I cannot post about something I haven't tasted--made me want to open up a quart of milk and take a spoon to the entire pan. This coffee cake is not for the faint of heart. It is a rich tasting, buttery cake with a bit of sweet crunchiness in each bite. It is going to be hard to say good-bye, but I might just give up dinner tomorrow night and have a whole piece. It's that good. Make it soon!
I am never shy about requesting recipes because I think it is a compliment to that person that you enjoyed their dish so much you'd like to replicate it. That's how I feel when someone requests one from me. These bars were baked by a friend of mine who brought them to one of our volunteer training sessions last year. They are delicate and delicious, but very simple to make. I added some tips to the directions I'd received to make sure you get the perfect bars.
I'm sorry to report that I was only able to get a bite for quality control purposes since they were baked for someone else. I plan to make them again for a guild sew-in, so perhaps I'll get a whole one all to myself then.
Makes 16 squares
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8 inch square pan/glass dish and line with greased foil. I used a glass baking dish and it worked fine.
Combine the brown sugar, flour, baking soda, salt, and oats in a large bowl. Mix in the butter using your hands. Your objective is to distribute it throughout and form a crumbly mixture. Measure out 2 cups and press it evenly into the prepared pan/dish. It's important to get it as even as possible (especially in the corners). Spread the jam to within 1/4 inch of the edges. Do not be tempted to add more jam or your bars will not hold their shape (trust me on this one, though I did need a "tester" and the center was perfect since I had increased the jam a wee bit). Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture evenly over the top and lightly press it into the jam.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until lightly browned and set. Allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.
******************************************** TASTE NOTES
I am truly impressed with the taste of these bars. Rarely does something with so few ingredients taste this complex. They are buttery, crumbly, and have just the right amount of sweetness. The smoothness of the jam is the perfect complement to the crumbly cookie. These bar cookies remind me of Linzer tarts. In fact, I may like them better since many Linzer tarts that are commercially prepared tend to be dry. I have a Christmas cookie I've made for years that have that same Linzer tart taste, but they are much more complex to make, so I think this is going to become one of those "go to" recipes.
Farro is a whole grain that has been getting a lot of attention in the foodie world of late. It's prized for its nutty flavor, delicate chew, and versatility. Many cooks shy away from it because of its long cooking time, but if you use semi-pearled farro (in which some of the bran has been removed), it speeds up cooking considerably. If I had to describe the taste of farro, I'd have to say it comes close to barley, but it is milder. When I found a recipe that relied on the slow cooker to produce this risotto-like dish, I knew I had to try it. I did, however, feel the need to make some changes to the recipe. While it may be convenient to toss everything into the slow cooker "raw" and forget about it, I don't like grey meat and vegetables. It's worth using a skillet to develop some flavor before turning things over to the slow cooker. Here's my revised recipe:
Serves 4 - 6
2 1/4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup semi-pearled farro
1 lb button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, carefully cleaned, halved, and sliced
1 piece of Parmesan rind plus 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tbs unsalted butter, cut into pieces (plus 1 tbs for sauteeing vegetables)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Melt 1 tbs unsalted butter in a large nonstick skillet and slowly brown the mushrooms, 5-7 minutes. Add the sliced leeks and cook for another 5 minutes.
Mix chicken broth, farro, 1 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper, bay leaf, and pinch of nutmeg in slow cooker. Add sauteed mushrooms and leeks and mix well. Place chicken thighs on top and cook on slow for 5-6 hours. (or on high for 3 - 4 hours)
Discard the rind and the bay leaf and use 2 forks to shred the chicken into large pieces. Stir in the butter and grated cheese. Sprinkle each serving with the chopped parsley.
*************************************************** TASTE NOTES
I enjoyed the flavors in this dish, but was surprised that the farro had none of the "bite" usually associated with risotto. I would think the cooking time could be reduced by an hour, though the chicken was just perfect after 6 hours. Farro is far healthier than rice so I would make this dish again.
When you order shrimp or chicken Francese in a restaurant, you're really taking your chances. Too often you're served cornstarch and egg encrusted protein swimming in a cornstarch-enriched sauce redolent of bottled lemon juice. I am not a fan of gravies and sauces that overwhelm the star of the show. While I've made shrimp Francese at home before, I've always had to adjust or correct the sauce. When I saw this recipe in Martha Stewart Living, it looked like something I would enjoy "as is."
1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined (tails can be left on for presentation)
3 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese
all purpose flour for dredging
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 lemons, 1 juiced and 1 sliced
1 tbs extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1 tbs unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Slice each shrimp along the back to butterfly slightly. Whisk together eggs and cheese in a shallow dish. Place flour in another shallow dish. Dredge shrimp lightly in flour, then coat completely in egg mixture.
Whisk together broth, wine, and lemon juice; set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Swirl in oil, then butter. Cook shrimp in 2 single-layer batches, adding more oil between batches, if needed. Cook until golden, about 1 1/2 minutes on each side. Transfer each batch to a plate when done. Pour broth mixture into skillet and cook, swirling skillet, until reduced by half, one to two minutes. Remove from heat, add lemon slices and parsley, and pour over shrimp. Serve immediately .
**************************************************** TASTE NOTES
I prepped all the ingredients the morning I was going to serve these, which made the cooking time literally 5 minutes from start to stop. This preparation was perfect for me. There was sauce, but the shrimp weren't swimming in it. I served it with rice, but it would be as delicious over pasta. I will definitely make this again and, while it's certainly "company worthy," it is simple enough for a weeknight meal. I plan to try it with chicken as well. I actually preferred the taste to that of my favorite Italian restaurant's version.
Last week I took a field trip to NYC to see a quilt exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum and two fashion exhibits at FIT. Along the way I visited Mood, M&J Trimming, Mokuba, and the City Quilter. Never one to miss a little retail therapy, I came home with some beautiful silk ribbon, some picot ribbon, and a copy of Cristen Brown's Ribbonwork Gardens. Today was a perfect day to sit in front of a roaring fire and create some flowers to embellish my latest crazy quilt.
When I was young and a very finicky eater, my mother used to make a beef soup that I didn't eat. What I did eat, though, was the shredded beef she took out of the soup and fried along with green peppers and onions. I think she'd add a bit of tomato paste (or ketchup?) to the mix and I'd eat it on a buttered roll. It is one of my strongest taste memories. Sadly, I never got the recipe for her soup and I've tried to replicate it several times without success. I had thought she used shin beef, but that never came close to the taste.
This month's Prevention magazine had a vegetable noodle soup with beef that called for using short ribs. I decided to give the recipe--with a few small changes--a try.
Serves 6 For the broth:
1 tbs olive oil
2 lbs short ribs
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 carrots, coarsely chopped
4 celery ribs, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 dried bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
1 tsp salt
3 qts. water
OptionaL: grated cheese
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy 6 quart pot. Sear the short ribs until well browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook until vegetables are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add the bay leaves, thyme, salt, and water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and partially cover the pot. Cook for 1 1/2 hours, skimming off foam as needed. Remove the meat to a cutting board, shred it (discarding fat and gristle), and refrigerate. Strain the stock and refrigerate. When fat solidifies, use a spoon to carefully remove it.
For the soup:
2 onions, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 parsnips, chopped
2 tbs. fresh thyme, chopped
1 dried bay leaf
4 oz tubettini (or other small pasta, cooked and drained)
Simmer the stock with the onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, and bay leaf for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add reserved meat the last 10 minutes of cooking. Remove the bay leaf, adjust for salt, and add the cooked pasta. Serve with grated cheese.
N.I. per serving: 276 cal.; 21 g prot; 27 g carb; 4 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 9.5 g fat
*************************************************** TASTE NOTES
I recommend doing all the chopping at one time, separating what is needed to finish the soup. While there is a bit of prep work, the results are well worth it. This soup, though still not the one I remember my mom making, is delicious. It's amazing how sweet the broth becomes from the addition of the carrots and parsnips. The recipe makes a great deal of soup; the servings are quite generous. With some toasted ciabatta, this was a wonderful fall meal.