This December I had the good fortune to travel to Manhattan to enjoy some of the city’s Christmas magic and splendor. This included a much anticipated visit to Little Italy, perusing Mulberry Street establishments for some of the sights, tastes, and smells that cue Christmas in my heart.
After picking up a tray of traditional Italian Christmas cookies, we enjoyed a cozy lunch complete with Chianti. Back on the street, I spied a huge, glass jar of Nutella on the shelf of an Italian market and deli. Made in Italy. The good stuff. I bought it. So excited!
Throughout December and January many spoonfuls were consumed unadorned, straight from the beautiful glass jar, but Valentine’s Day presented the perfect occasion to bake its silky goodness into something special: Poundcake with Nutella Swirl (from foodandwine.com). The result was a dense, and buttery, vanilla cake, laced with rivers of chocolatey, hazelnutty, Italian flavor. A perfect Italian American fusion.
Since fancy was what I wanted, I used a 6 cup bundt pan. But, a loaf pan would give equally appealing, chunky slices of this rich and golden confection (see the picture in foodandwine.com!). I had planned to dust the top with powdered sugar before serving it to my valentine, but we kinda just dug in, after adding scoops of vanilla ice cream.
So perfect and delizioso when a special day comes around!
Poundcake with Nutella Swirl
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 large eggs at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 sticks (1/2 lb) unsalted butter at room termperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup Nutella, warmed in microwave oven about 20 seconds and stirred to loosen
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, or 6 cup (small) bundt pan.
In medium bowl, whisk flour with baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
In small bowl lightly beat eggs with vanilla. Set aside.
In mixer bowl beat butter with sugar at medium – high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down sides and bottom of bowl as needed. With mixer at medium speed, gradually beat in egg mixture until incorporated. Scrape down sides. At low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until just incorporated. Scrape down and beat for 30 seconds at low speed.
Spread 1/3 of batter into the prepared pan. Spread 1/2 of the warmed and loosened Nutella on top. Repeat with another third of the batter and the remaining Nutella. Top with remaining batter. Lightly swirl with a butter knife. Do not overmix.
Bake about 1 hour – 1 hour and15 minutes, until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cake cool in pan for 30 min. before inverting onto a wire rack. Let cool completely about 2 hours before serving, or freezing for future use.
- We ate it for breakfast the next morming with cups of hot coffee. Amazing all over again!
- Warming the Nutella and having ingredients at room temperature prevents the Nutella from sinking to the bottom, as some reviewers have noted.
- Original recipe calls for serving it with coffee ice cream.
- Dust with powdered sugar for lovely presentation.
Here is a longtime family favorite, much loved for its simplicity and fabulous flavor. This salmon and its tasty sauce come together in the same skillet with bright flavors of orange, ginger, garlic, and green onion. It is packed with protein, antioxidants, and healthy omega 3’s. But most importantly, it tastes really good! Serve with brown rice (to soak up pan sauce) and a green vegetable (you know why) and please enjoy.
Simple Skillet Salmon (2 servings)
2 Salmon fillets, skin removed, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon minced, fresh, ginger
1-2 Cloves minced garlic
2 Green onions, sliced
1/4 Cup orange juice
1 Tablespoons soy sauce
In heavy skillet, heat olive oil over med-hi heat. Add seasoned salmon fillets to skillet to sear. You should hear a sizzle if the skillet is hot enough. After 2-3 minutes when salon is seared, loosen with spatula and flip salmon to other side. Reduce heat to medium. Add green onions, ginger, and garlic, and salute over low heat for 1 minute. Add orange juice and soy sauce to skillet. Cook approximately 3-5 more minutes, until salmon is cooked through, and sauce is bubbly and has reduced to sauce consistency. Serve salmon atop brown rice (if desired) and spoon sauce over.
- Amounts of ginger, garlic, and green onions can be increased or decreased according to personal taste.
- The salmon and sauce are great over rice, but couscous, quinoa, or mashed potatoes are also great.
- A quick saute of snap peas is also a good accompaniment. Finish the snap peas with sesame oil if you have it.
The “Christmas Spirit” descended with a vengeance this year, causing temporary insanity, whilst shopping at tony Williams Sonoma, downtown Charleston. Foregoing all logic and reason, in an out of body experience, I watched myself plop down $40 for a train cake – excuse me, “cakelette” – pan, thinking “Won’t the grandkids just love it!”
By mid December I was starting to panic and buyers remorse was creeping in!
A week before Christmass, still unsure how this cake would happen, it was timAll American Chocolate Butte for a division of duties and some serious time management. Using Jane Brody’s recipe for All American Chocolate Butter Cake (delicious!) from her book The Cake Bible, the cake (I mean cakelettes) were baked, then summarily placed in the freezer.
Pastry bags of buttercream icings were used to embellish the cakelettes about three days prior – and back into the freezer they went.
A few hours before Christmas dinner, Mike arranged the cars and locomotive on a platform and deftly added candy decorations to complete the “Chew Chew” Train.
Sweetgrass Basket of Deliciousness
One cold and dreary day last Winter, I found myself – once again – hungry, yearning for something hot and tasty from the oven, yet healthy! Perusing Pinterest, I noticed this roll recipe from An Oregon Cottage, a charming and beautiful blogspot http://www.anoregoncottage.com Reading the recipe, I could almost smell the butter, honey, and yeasty aroma of bread baking in the oven. With the promise of a healthy, soft, delicious, yet easy roll recipe, I was completely won over, and approximately 3 hours later I pulled a beautiful pan of finished rolls from the oven.
After brushing their golden tops with softened butter, I could see and taste how special these rolls are. They are soft and fluffy. They melt in your mouth. It is hard to eat just one!
No special bread baking experience is needed to make these soft and delicious rolls! The mixer does most of the work, and actual hands on time in the kitchen is minimal. It would take about as much time to get into your car, and buy a package of rolls from the store.
The recipe makes 24 ample, heavenly, rolls, which can be frozen in ziplocks to stay fresh for the weeks to come. Just thaw, freshen in the oven or the microwave, apply butter, and enjoy. Then repeat!
Soft and Delicious Whole Wheat Rolls
2 Tablespoons active dry or instant yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter, salted or unsalted
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup lukewarm milk or buttermilk
4 1/2 – 5 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 -2 teaspoons salt (1 1/2 if you use salted butter)
Warm a 1 cup glass measuring cup under warm water to take any chill of, then measure in the warm water and dissolve the yeast over the water. Set aside.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, honey, and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the sides. Add the lukewarm milk and yeast mixture.
Add 4 1/2 cups flour and salt and mix to combine. Change to dough hook and knead for 3 – 5 min. until no longer wet and sticky, You can add a few tablespoons of flour if needed.
Cover bowl and let sit to rise for approximately 1 hour. Turn out onto floured surface (you can use a cutting board, towel, or counter top) and knead a few times. Let rest for 3 minutes.
Butter a 13 x 9 inch baking dish or 2 – 9 inch baking dishes. Divide dough into 24 pieces, shaping each piece into a ball. Place each finished dough ball into the baking dish(es) with sides touching.
Let rise approximately 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake for 20-25 minutes till golden brown. Remove from oven and (optional) brush tops with more softened butter. Let cool approximately 15 minutes before eating.
The basket pictured above is a treasured gift from my children and their spouses for a milestone birthday. It is an authentic Sweetgrass basket, woven by one of the local Charleston “basket ladies” using sweetgrass and palmetto leaves. The baskets have their origin in West African culture and are a local treasure.
The Bluebird Cafe in Charlottesville, Virginia, sadly no longer exists. For many years, it was a go-to place for food that was casual, creative, and freshly prepared. Their wonderful menu included new takes on pasta, and decadent desserts such as Chocolate Ruffle Cake.
Invariably I settled on one of the daily pasta offerings. This particular dish – Pasta with Feta, Shrimp, and Snow Peas – was a regular on the menu. Strands of pasta are bathed in olive oil and a touch of garlic, with chunks of feta, beautiful pink shrimp, and crisp green snow peas. The dish is as beautiful to look at, as it is delicious to eat.
Timeless, and festive….. in a Bluebird sort of way!
3/4 cup olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, crushed and minced
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
8 oz. snow peas, (if fresh remove strings, if frozen, thaw and blot)
1 lb shrimp, cleaned and deveined
12 oz. favorite strand pasta
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley (optional)
1/4-1/2 cup reserved pasta water
Set prepared snow peas and shrimp in large colander.
In a medium bowl add the olive oil, crushed or minced garlic, salt, pepper, and chopped parsley if using. This is your “sauce.”
In a large pot of boiling, salted water add your pasta. 2 minutes before it is done cooking, throw in the shrimp. A minute later throw in the snow peas. When done (approx 1min later) drain pasta, shrimp, and snow peas in colander, remembering to reserve some pasta water. Add contents of colander back into the cooking pot (which you have taken off the heat). Add in 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water, and the garlic sauce. Stir and toss to coat the pasta, adding a few more spoonfuls of pasta water if needed to get the consistency you like. More olive oil can also be added. Taste for seasoning at this point and adjust. Throw in the crumbled feta and toss again.
To serve, pour about a third of the pasta mixture into a serving bowl making sure to include some of the shrimp, snow peas, and feta. Continue to layer in the rest of the pasta mixture in this way so that ingredients are evenly distributed throughout your bowl or platter of pasta. Scrape the sauce from the bottom of the pot onto the top of the pasta in the bowl. You can garnish with additional parsley. Just make sure it looks pretty!
- This pasta does not have to be served hot. Room temperature is good, too.
- Spaghetti, thin spaghetti, linguini are all good choices. But you could really use whatever shape you like or have on hand.
- Frozen shrimp can be used in place of fresh. Just clean and thaw before using.
- As always, use more or less garlic to taste. Use more or less olive oil and pasta water to get the sauce consistency to your liking.
- I prefer greek feta. Presidente is a good brand as is any feta from Greece. It is nicely creamy and tangy.
This recipe from Landini Brothers Restaurant in Alexandria, Virgina, was featured in a 1997 issue of Bon Appetite. In this dish, the Italian flavors of fennel laced sausage, tomato, basil, and white wine are finished with cream for a silky and elegant pasta sauce. It is easy to make for a few or a crowd, and truly tastes like a special restaurant dish.
A family favorite, it has found its way to our table on many special occasions. It’s debut was a post Christmas dinner with friends, and it was just the thing after all those holiday roasts! When my daughter brought our future son-in-law home to meet us for the first time, she strongly suggested we serve this pasta, and a wedding quickly followed. (It’s that good!) Recently I prepared it for some new friends for a casual Friday night dinner where, once again, it was enthusiastically devoured. I am very pleased to share it with you.
Rigatoni with Sausage, Tomato, and Cream (6-8 servings)
1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil
1 onion thinly sliced
2 fat cloves minced garlic
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1 1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage, casing removed, crumbled
1 cup dry white wine
15 oz. can tomatoes, diced or crushed (see note below)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper (at least 1/4 teaspoon of each)
1 lb. rigatone or other pasta of your choice
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup, plus more for garnish, chopped fresh basil or parsely
In large skillet, melt butter and olive oil. Add onion and optional red pepper flakes and saute 7-8 minutes, adding garlic the last 2 minutes. Add sausage to skillet and saute 8-10 minutes. Add wine to skillet and boil uncovered 5 minutes, until most, but not all of liquid evaporates. Add can of tomatoes and sugar and boil another 5 minutes. Add cream and simmer gently till sauce is thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in 1/4 cup basil or parsley. (Sauce can be prepared to this point 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
When ready to serve, cook pasta in boiling salted water until very al dente, as it will continue cooking in the sauce. Drain pasta in colander. Bring sauce to simmer. Add pasta to sauce and toss to coat. Remove from heat. Add 3/4 cup grated cheese and toss to coat. Turn into warmed, large serving bowl, scraping sauce from bottom of pan onto top of pasta for best presentation. Sprinkle with additional 1/4 cup cheese and chopped basil or parsley. Serve immediately.
- Use the Italian sausage of your choice, sweet, hot, or a combination. I drive about an hour to Kiawah where Frank the NY butcher makes beautifully fragrant italian sausage. It is worth the drive.
- Use canned tomatoes of your choice, diced, crushed, sauce, whatever. If they are very watery such as with whole plum tomatoes you might have to reduce them down a bit longer.
- If you want to make a dinner party out of this dish may I suggest making the sauce a day ahead and serving it with:
Quick antipasto of salami and olives drizzled with olive oil
Big platter of roasted broccolini, italian bread
Limoncello Tiramisu (made a day ahead) for dessert. A bit of work – but so worth it! Heres the link: http://www.pbs.org/food/recipes/limoncello-tiramisu/
(Okay. Greeks make this, too!)
Easter – a time of renewal, rebirth, and Springtime euphoria! Roast lamb, baked ham, artichokes, asparagus, coconut cake and chocolate eggs. Such wonderful food traditions connect us to our past, to memories of loved ones and joyful celebrations.
I remember eating this Easter Bread as far back as I remember Easter. It is a delicious sweetbread perfumed with orange and anise. Rich with butter and eggs, it is similar to brioche…..but with rainbow sprinkles! With a smear of soft butter it can be dessert, and it is superb toasted (tastes more like cake!).
With its golden and shiny crust and colorful eggs braided into the dough, it makes a lovely, edible centerpiece for the Easter dinner or brunch table.
The wreath shape symbolizes the crown of thorns, and the eggs represent birth and life. What a beautiful way to break bread.
Happy Easter Everyone!!!
Italian Easter Bread
2 teaspoons active, dry yeast
3 – 4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons soft, unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk , warm to touch, but not hot
3 large beaten eggs at room temperature (1 is for glazing)
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (lemon can be substituted)
1 tablespoon anise seed (optional)
3 colored eggs (you don’t need to hard boil them before coloring, as they will cook in the oven)
Stir salt into flour and set aside.
Sprinkle yeast over warm milk.
In large bowl using electric beater (or large paddle if using a stand up mixer such as Kitchen Aid), beat sugar and soft butter with warm milk/yeast mixture. It does not need to be smooth. Add half of flour, then 2 beaten eggs then remaining flour and mix at low speed, scraping sides of bowl as necessary to combine all ingredients. Mix in citrus zest and anise seed. Dough should not be too wet and sticky. If so, add in up to 1 more cup of flour.
For stand mixer, switch to dough hook and process for 3 minutes. If using electric mixer, turn dough out onto floured surface and knead by hand until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Turn dough into greased bowl, cover and let rise until close to double in bulk, about 1 hour or possibly more. Punch down dough and turn out onto floured surface. Let rest 10 minutes before shaping.
Meanwhile prepare a large cookie sheet by lightly oiling or lining with parchment paper. Divide dough into 3 equal portions and roll out to form 3 – 12 inch ropes. Braid dough and form into a ring. This and be done on the cookie sheet so that you won’t have to transfer the ring of dough once it is shaped. (Don’t worry if it is not perfect looking. The next rising, baking and decorating will take care of imperfections.) Nest 3 colored eggs in the dough. Cover and let rise till nearly doubled, about an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush surface of bread with remaining beaten egg and cover liberally with rainbow sprinkles. Bake in center of oven for 35 minutes or done. Cool on sheet for 1- min before removing to rack for final cooling.
I was five when I experienced my first food epiphany. Circa 1959, I awoke from a long nap in the tiny Jersey City apartment where my great grandmother and grandfather lived. I remember being very hungry, but happy to see my parents and great grandparents beckoning me to the table, cajoling me in Italian to (what else?) come and eat. The aroma was heavenly! Beyond their smiling faces I could see the roasting pan of golden chicken, along with cremini mushrooms, potatoes, and onions, that had been lovingly and deftly prepared. A bowl of black grapes, edible still life, rested on the kitchen table.
Its hard to describe just how wonderful the food tasted or how happy I felt as I finished my meal with those beautiful, black, still life grapes. Was it the delicious chicken, bathed in olive oil and falling off the bone that filled me with contentment? Was it the deeply flavored mushrooms, or the crisp roast potatoes and carmelized onions? Or was it the abundant love in the background?
Happily, Great Grandmother Perrone shared her cooking wisdom as well as the method for making this wonderful roast chicken on to her daughter who was my grandmother who taught my aunts and my mother who thankfully taught me how to do it as well! It has been enjoyed many times through the years in our families, and it never fails to taste as wonderful as it did that Sunday afternoon in Jersey City. (P.S. With this blog post I hereby pass it on to the next generation of cooks in the family!)
Roast Chicken Great Grandmother Perrone
1 chicken cut into 8 pieces
8 oz cremini mushrooms (white mushrooms work too)
4-6 potatoes, enough for 5 people
1 large onion
4 large cloves garlic, crushed and minced
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Dried oregano, salt, and pepper
Pat chicken dry with paper towels. If breast pieces are large, cut these each in half, making 4 smaller pieces. Salt and pepper both sides of chicken.
In a roasting pan large enough to hold the chicken, whisk together 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, and the garlic. Sprinkle in about 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper. Add the chicken pieces, turning to coat, finishing skin side down. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 (see note) and up to 24 hours.
Remove the pan from the refrigerator and turn the chicken pieces skin side up. At this point you may need another roasting pan to hold all ingredients. If so, remove half of the chicken pieces to the second pan. Peel the potatoes and cut into large chunks and add to pans. Peel the onion and cut into 8 wedges and add to pans. Make sure all potatoes and onions are well coated with marinade adding more oil and vinegar if necessary. Sprinkle all with salt, and pepper.
Roast at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven. Add mushrooms and baste all ingredients. Continue roasting another 1- 1 1/2 hours, basting every 30 minutes. Turn the oven up to 375 degrees for the last 30 minutes to intensify browning. Let rest 15 minutes before devouring.
- The chicken and marinade can be prepped in the morning or even the night before you plan to serve it. If you started late and don’t have time to marinate, it will still be delicious.
- Alternatively, you can keep the chicken and mushrooms in one roasting pan and use the other pan for the potatoes and onions.
- A simple, crisp, green salad and some bread are great accompaniments. And don’t forget the still life grapes
If you love BIG, CHEWY chocolate chip cookies, this very popular version from Allrecipes, hits the mark for both taste and appearance. The edges are slightly crisp, while the center bakes to a chewy, butterscotchy perfection – just like the cookies at your favorite bakery!
Several key ingredients such as melted butter, lots of brown sugar and vanilla, and an extra egg yolk, give these cookies their chewy texture and great flavor. Chilling the dough and baking on ungreased cookie sheets prevents too much spread.
You can make them smaller than the suggested 4 inches , or add nuts. But I found the original, untampered recipe to be quite divine.
Did I mention how good the cookie dough is?
16 Bakery Style Chocolate Chip Cookies:
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 whole egg plus 1 extra egg yolk
2 cups chocolate chips, divided
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (optional), otherwise leave sheets ungreased.
Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together and set aside.
In medium bowl, cream butter with brown sugar and white sugar till blended. Beat in vanilla, egg, and egg yolk till light and creamy. Stir in flour mixture until almost incorporated, then stir in 1 1/2 cups of the chocolate chips. If dough appears too wet to scoop (maybe your butter was too hot), chill in refrigerator for an hour.
Roll scant 1/4 cup balls of dough into balls that are taller than wider, spacing 3 inches apart. Stud the tops and sides of the cookie balls with reserved chocolate chips. Chill sheets in refrigerator at least 15 minutes, till cookie dough and sheets are thoroughly chilled. You should have enough dough for 16 cookies – unless, of course, you have eaten several cookies worth of dough!
Bake about 14-17 minutes. Cookies should be light golden, with edges starting to harden, and centers are still soft and puffy. Cool cookies on sheets at least 10 min, until you are able to lift without breaking. Transfer to rack to finish cooling.
- Parchment paper results in cookies with a rolled, professional edge. I did not use parchment paper. I used ungreased sheets.
- Bleached flour is said to reduce spread when baking cookies. I used what I had on hand – unbleached.
- If cookies still appear underdone/raw in center after cooling for a few minutes, they can be returned to the oven to continue baking until done with no ill effects.
- Recently I baked these cookies using scant tablespoonfuls of dough to yield 40-48 miniature cookies, resulting in a very attractive gift bag of cookies!
This is not your run of the mill, grocery store, two bite brownie. This chocolate brownie batter is filled with mini chips for an extra chocolate thrill, and the marshmallow buttercream on top is pure fun. It can be dyed to suit the occasion – just like prom shoes!
I first made this recipe (from Keep It Sweet Desserts blog) to send to my daughters ballet class. The petite size and the ballet pink marshmallow buttercream were just the ticket. Another time they attended a ladies cocktail party on a gilded plate. Pink again! But, the possibilities are many. And sprinkles on top of the buttercream would certainly be pretty.
Most importantly, they taste as good as they look. Rich, fudgy, and fabulous!
Brownie Bites with Marshmallow Buttercream (18 brownies)
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chops
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 small jar (7 ounces) marshmallow fluff
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 drops food coloring of your choice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease or line 18 mini muffin pans.
In small bowl whisk together the flour and salt. Melt butter and unsweetened chocolate in saucepan over low heat. Stir in sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla until smooth. Gently whisk or stir in flour mixture. Fold in chocolate chips. Distribute batter among muffin cups. A cookie dough scoop works well for this.
Bake for 15-18 minutes until tops are slightly puffed up and knife comes out clean. Cool. Remove from tins.
For the buttercream: Beat butter with mixer till light and creamy – several minutes. And marshmallow fluff and beat till creamy. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and food coloring and mix on low to incorporate sugar, then on high for several minutes till light and fluffy. Pipe or spoon buttercream onto cooled brownie bites.
- These would be perfect at a tailgate party, decked out in team colors!