Holiday Baking Series: Assorted Biscotti

As I mentioned in a recent post, in order to give responsible and sustainable gifts this year, I am making gifts to send to family this year. Cookies immediately came to mind, and since I know from my Italian upbringing that biscotti keep well, and are easy to ship, I went with those. Biscotti are so versatile, as they can be flavored in a variety of ways. Plus, who doesn’t love a nice crunchy biscotto dipped in hot coffee, tea or cocoa?

When making gifts for others, I always use the best ingredients, including organic flours and sugars, fair trade chocolate, organic nuts and farm fresh butter and eggs. Although I do not eat cane sugar or wheat flours, it doesn’t mean the recipients of my gifts don’t. So I found a good balance in creating these biscotti – using the best ingredients that I could, but creating cookies that my recipients would love without question. After all, these cookies are gifts to them.

If you don’t have any food allergies, you can easily use this recipe as a base and use whatever you have on hand to accent them with. I have listed some of my favorite combinations below. I also imagine these recipes would lend themselves well to gluten free flours, like oat or coconut flour and maple sugar would also be a fine substitute. I will soon share with you gluten free Venetian style biscotti, made with polenta, my personal favorite.

This recipe I adapted from my favorite cookbook for a sweet tooth – Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina De Palma, of Babbo fame. This book is fantastic, covering everything from cookies to cakes, budini (custards) and fruit. Gina has such a wonderful way with Italian inspired ingredients and this book has many wonderful surprises and flavor combinations to tempt your palate. I recommend getting yourself a copy or put it on your wish list this year! I hear Santa is very obliging when it comes to cookies and sweets. He is an expert and I know for a fact that he likes biscotti dunked in his milk.

Anyway, these biscotti are simple to make, and make a lot – about 4 dozen a batch. So whip up a few batches for some of your favorite people this holiday season!

I have a few more cookie recipes to share with you this year like Limoncello-Lavender La Befana Stars, gluten free Venetian Biscotti and gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free fruit and nut drops with rum!

For more Holiday cookie ideas, from years past check out these posts:

Cuccidata, Sicilian Fig Cookies

Pizzelle, Italian Waffle Cookies

Yule Log Cookies

No Bake Apricot-Coconut Balls (gluten free, dairy free and egg free) + Egg Nog Cookies

Night Before Christmas Mice

Not Cookies, But Certainly Festive:

Yule Log Cake

Limoncello Cupcakes filled w/ Lemon Curd
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Basic Biscotti

INGREDIENTS:

3 ½ cups organic all purpose or spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
4 large farm fresh eggs
2 large ff eggs, plus 1 ff egg white for glaze
½ cups pure granulated cane sugar, plus 1 ½ TBS for glaze
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Optional:

12 oz. (or about 1 ½ cup) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped or coconut, or dried fruit
2 TBS pure, fair trade cocoa powder
4 cups nuts, coarsely chopped – pistachio, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, macadamia – mix and match

Some combinations I made were: Chocolate-Pistachio-Hazelnut, Maple-Walnut-Cranberry, Coconut-Macadamia

METHOD:

In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt – set aside.

Using an electric mixer beat together eggs, egg yolks and sugar on medium speed until pale and thick – about 2 mins. Beat in the vanilla, followed by the dry ingredients (about ½ cup at a time). Then fold in the optional ingredients, until dough is thoroughly mixed.

Preheat oven to 325 F and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Using floured hands divide the dough into 5 equal portions. On a floured surface shape each portion of dough into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter and about 10 inches long. Place logs on baking sheet a few inches apart.

In a small bowl beat egg white until frothy. With a pastry brush, brush each log with egg white and sprinkle with cane sugar, maple sugar, coconut, crushed nuts, etc.

Bake the logs until lightly golden and firm to the touch – about 20 – 25 minutes. Rotate the sheets 180 degrees halfway through baking, to ensure even baking. Allow logs to cool on baking sheets on a wire rack until they are cool to the touch – about 45 minutes.

With a sharp, serrated knife, slice the biscotti slightly on a bias into ¼ inch wide slices. Lay the slices on the baking sheets in a single layer. Return to the oven and bake about 20 minutes more. Gina suggests reducing the heat to 200 F for this second toasting, but I found it took much longer than 20 minutes at 200 for the biscotti to firm up and become crispy and dry.

Cool biscotti completely. Can be stored in an airtight container in a cool dry place for 2 weeks.

Makes about 4 dozen biscotti.

If you would like to join a fun cookie exchange this holiday season, please check out Cynthia over at Cupcake Provocateur!

Baking The Gluten-Free Way: Scones

Before I get into this post, I would ask that if you haven’t read my last post on what you can do to save small farms and the local food movement, please read it! Important legislation is about to be passed that will allow the FDA to have greater control over the ability to execute raids, seize products and force recalls on small farms and artisan food producers. The bill can be used to strategically drive small producers out of business all in the name of food safety! So please read the post and see what you can do to help!

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When I first announced that I was doing a gluten-free experiment, I got a lot of emails and facebook inquiries about baking gluten-free. People wanted to know if I was going to un-lock the secrets to gluten free baking. Many in this world are addicted to bread and baked goods, and so it is a reasonable first reaction – how will you bake if you are gluten-free?

For me, I have never been a huge eater of bread, and have been eating gluten-free about 80% of the time over the past year. The other 20% accounts for the occasional times we go out to eat, or when I was making sourdough spelt pizza dough once a week, or enjoying a sprouted wheat roll a few times a month. So although I do enjoy a croissant or a crepe once in a while or crave a sandwich sometimes, bread is not a staple of my diet. However, I am married to someone who has very different needs than I do – growing up in Italy, a day with pizza, pasta AND bread, is just not a good day. Without some good carbs at every meal, my husband feels tired. So I had to find a way to fulfill his needs while at the same time being able to eat some too if I wanted to because honestly, I don’t have time to bake 2 different types of bread each week.

Creating a gluten-free bread that can satisfy someone who is used to artisan Italian bread, is a difficult task. Anyone who has ever baked a sourdough or yeast bread knows that there is an art and a science to it. Introduce gluten-free flours to the mix, and it becomes even more of a project. For anyone who doesn’t know, gluten is the agent in wheat that makes bread and pizza dough stretchy and elastic. This creates that fluffy and wonderful texture present in artisan bread baking.

I am not ready to tackle gluten-free sourdough baking just yet because it is just too complicated and too much of a commitment in time and ingredients, until I make my decision, on whether or not gluten free is going to be a way of life for me. I am still on the fence about it. After almost 2 months of GF eating, I haven’t noticed much difference in the issues I was hoping to make a difference, and many of the gluten-free flours are giving me problems. As I write this I am beset with stomach pains.  I also am not happy that many of the gluten free flours are full of starches that convert to sugar quickly – rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, etc. Nor am I comfortable with all the gums – guar and xanthan that seem to be a part of every gluten free baking mix. I am however excited to announce that I have found a fantastic source for gluten-free sourdough baking, and I will be sharing that source soon and likely trying my hand at it as well because I will tell you, this is artisan style bread! It is truly revolutionary!

Anyway, to make a long story short, I decided to start with something simple – scones. Scones are very versatile, because you can make them sweet or savory. They are a little more “bready” than my normal bread substitute, oat cakes and therefore, a nice change of pace. I used the recipe here from the back of the Bob’s Red Mill Sorghum Flour package as inspiration, but adapted it to fit in with my soaking flour methods. The soaking in yogurt, buttermilk or kefir allows enzymes and other friendly organisms to break down the phytic acid, an organic acid found in all grains (and legumes) that may make the digestion of grains (and legumes) harder for some people, like me!

I made a sweet version, and then a savory version using oat flour and oats. These were the best gluten-free baking attempts I have made to date, when it comes to “bread”. It is nice for a quick breakfast or great with a cup of tea as an afternoon snack. Whether gluten-free or not, I think you will enjoy these scones!

“Sweet Version”

INGREDIENTS:

1 ¼ cup sorghum flour
½ cup tapioca flour
2/3 cup of plain yogurt
1 ½ tsp cream of tartar
¾ tsp baking soda
1 tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp salt
4 TBS maple sugar
4 TBS butter cut into ½ inch slices
1/3 cup chocolate chips
2 tbs milk

“Savory Version”

1 cup gf oat flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup sorghum or tapioca flour
2/3 cup of plain yogurt
¾ tsp baking soda
1 tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp salt
4 TBS butter cut into ½ inch slices

METHOD:

In a medium bowl combine flours and yogurt, let sit on counter overnight (you can skip the overnight step if you are not into soaking, and can just can combine ingredients in the food processor immediately).

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In food processor combine flours and other dry ingredients. Pulse on and off to combine ingredients. Add butter and pulse 15-20 times until dough resembles large curds. Scrape dough into a bowl and fold in the chocolate chips, if making the sweet version. Pat the dough onto the baking sheet into an 8-inch circle ¾ inch thick. You can brush the top with 2 TBS of milk, if desired. Bake 12- 15 minutes or until lightly brown. Cut into 6-8 wedges.

Muesli Chip Cookies

Since we are on the subject of easy to make, super good for you foods, I wanted to share this cookie recipe with you as we head into the weekend. These cookies are simple to make, and they are a million times better for you than anything you could ever buy at the store. Honestly there is no comparison. Plus, there is nothing more comforting than the smell of cookies baking in your oven on a cold day, right?  And I am not talking about the roll of plastic dough from the refrigerator section either…those aren’t real cookies.

The temperatures sure are dropping here in Northern Vermont, and today I have the baking bug. So I am whipping up a batch of these as soon as I post this.

Don’t get me wrong though, these are certainly all weather cookies. I made sure we always had a fresh batch on hand this summer. They are super satisfying and packed with delicious flavor and nutrition. Perfect for those busy summer days in the garden, working for hours with no time for a sit down lunch. These came in perfect and really kept us going through many busy days like that this past spring and summer. I daresay these are better for you than those energy bars out there, but taste like a cookie! Add a kefir smoothie and you have lunch on the go when it was too hot to think about putting food together. These cookies have also been kid-tested and they are highly portable. It is really hard to find fault with these cookies.

I haven’t even told you the best part either. The BEST thing about these cookies is that you can switch up the flavors and use what you have on hand – add some nuts, or dried fruits. Once I made these with a cut up bacon-chocolate bar, and they really rocked my world. You can substitute applesauce for half the yogurt, or try pureed pumpkin and add some ginger for a fall classic! If you have leftover egg whites from making the aioli on my Homemade Condiments post from earlier this week, use them instead of one whole egg. The possibilities really are endless! So join me, and whip up a batch of these this weekend! C’mon, they are totally guilt free, and actually beneficial to your health! Everyone has time for cookies!

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup muesli (or just plain oats – but muesli is way, way better). I use Bob’s Red Mill.
¾ cup spelt or whole wheat flour, make these gluten-free by using a gluten free flour. I bet coconut flour would go great!
2/3 c. kefir/yogurt/buttermilk
¼ cup rapadura sugar
1 egg, or two egg whites
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
½ cup organic baking coconut
¼ cup chocolate chips

METHOD:

Mix muesli, flour and dairy in a large bowl and let stand on counter top overnight (or at least a few hours for the muesli o get soft). Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix in sugar, eggs, baking soda, salt, vanilla and spices – make sure all is evenly combined. Then add the coconut and fold in the chocolate chips. On a prepared cookie sheet, drop batter by the tablespoon full on the cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies are browned. Makes about 12 cookies.

Versatile Sourdough – Bread, Cake and Pretzels

Culturing_loq

One of my latest kitchen experiments has been baking with a sourdough starter. I have been baking all our breads, pizza doughs, pastries, cookies, cakes, etc from scratch now for over 2 years. One of the many ways in which I vote for better food with my money daily. Not only is baking from scratch cheaper than buying, but most recipes whether bread, cake, or pretzels, three of the recipes I am going to share with you today, have under 10, and more often, under 5 ingredients, no preservatives, corn syrup, or weird chemicals. I challenge you to find that at your grocery store!

I had also heard that many people with gluten sensitivity (not Celiac) did better eating baked goods made from true fermented sourdough than baked goods leavened more commonly with yeast. I waited until our big move to experiment with sourdough, as once you have a starter, you have to feed and maintain it to keep it healthy and alive. So now, besides 2 dogs, a cat, 10 chickens, kefir – both dairy and water, kombucha, and yogurt, I have added sourdough culture to my feeding schedule! I can’t say with certainty if it is the sourdough or the spelt flour I have switched to that allows me to enjoy breads and the like without feeling like I have a hangover the next day. I still eat all of these things sparingly, although my dear husband, who is a major carb addict, seems to be enjoying his daily bread without any side affects. It took eating this kind of bread, for him to realize that he was having a bit of a problem with the other kinds.

Anyway, sourdough is extremely versatile, and not all sourdough starters are created equal. You can try to capture your own, or you can purchase one. I decided to start by purchasing one from Cultures for Health. Several weeks later, I got another one from Erik a friend who sells hand roasted coffee at our local farmers market. He traded me sourdough starter from Ischia, Italy and kombucha for some Viili culture. I think I got the better deal.

sourdoughbread-ring

I started experimenting by baking bread from the book Baking with Sourdough by Sara Pitzer, from Storey Publishing and then tweaked it a bit, to make it more to our liking. After I figured that out, I started playing around with various herbed breads, which is how I came up with the Za’atar Spice Bread Ring.

sourdough_chocolate_cake

After I had that under my belt, or better yet, in my stomach, I wanted to try something I had never heard of – Sourdough Chocolate Cake, from the same book, which I also tweaked. This cake was really fantastic and probably one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever had. We are not big cake eaters in this house, so I can affirm that it froze well, and also lasted in the fridge for about 2 weeks. I am sure you could have a lot of fun with this recipe, including making various kinds of icing. Roberto liked spreading nutella on his, and I enjoyed mine plain or sometimes with a schmear of almond butter.

sourdoughpretzel_onplate

Most recently I tried making Sourdough Pretzels, all the same ingredients (except honey in place of sugar) but tweaked the method a little bit to allow all the flour to ferment. The pretzels turned out being more like pretzel shaped bread, than actual pretzels. I got a lot of helpful suggestions on facebook like adding sparkling water or lemon juice for better rising. So I think I will have to try again. Although Roberto likes them, since he can grab one, kind of like a roll to have with meals, without needing to slice anything.

I have continued on experimenting with making sourdough spelt pizza dough, buckwheat pancakes and crepes, as well as muffins. The pizza dough, pancakes and crepes have become staples in our house (look for these recipes soon), while the muffins still need some work. But the wonderful thing is, each week I have to feed my starter, which means at least once a week I should bake something and so I am trying to keep creative. I have been yeast baking free for almost 3 months! I definitely encourage you

to try your hand at it too. If you would like to try and catch your own starter, my blogging buddy Michelle over at Big Black Dog has a great post about it!

I am going to share THREE recipes with you today. For one, I want to show you just how diverse sourdough is – it is not just for bread! And also because my mom is coming to visit for a few weeks, and my posting rate may be a bit slower these next few weeks – so I wanted to keep you busy while I on vacation! :)

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Chicken Mole, My Way…

Mole_on_plate

I love Dark Mole – it is one of those sauces that captures the imagination and has an almost mystical quality to it– chock full of colorful, luxurious and delicious spices, chilies and chocolate. Whenever I see it on a menu, I can’t resist ordering it. I have never made it before, and it has been on my kitchen “to do” list for a long while. A series of events happened that made this the perfect time to make Mole, my way. This is not a traditional Mole, made by a Mexican Matriarch, but I do feel it encompasses the flavors and spirit of the dish.

Mole_Chilies

As I said, this dish was inspired by several things – a recent shipment of samples from my foodie friend Justin, at Marx Foods (these guys are awesome!) of various dried chilies that we will be giving away on The Foodie Blogroll soon. I used two mild varieties – Mulato and Pasilla Negro. The Mulato is described as having a chocolate and licorice flavor, which I thought would go well in the Mole. The Pasilla Negro said it was “good in moles” on the package, so I trusted the Marx Foodies on that one.

Mole_Spices

This dish was also inspired by a chocolate bar I bought for the trip from Florida to Vermont. On road trips, we always like to treat ourselves to some dark chocolate. This time I chose Dagoba’s Xocolatl bar – dark chocolate with cocoa nibs, chilies and cinnamon. It was wonderful on its own, a perfect pick me up during a long day of driving. As I was eating the chocolate, I knew it was destined to be cooked with – as it was not very sweet (which is the way I like my chocolate) and full of the flavors described on the package.

I also wanted to use some Calabrian pepper powder, I received as a recent sample from Scott at The Sausage Debauchery for a giveaway on The Foodie Blogroll last month, that I hadn’t had a chance to cook with yet. This hot pepper powder is very reminiscent of hot smoked paprika. It is a gorgeous bright deep orange, and smells wonderful. A little goes a long way though, and I didn’t need much to add a kick to the dish. I also used some Mexican Mole Seasoning that I got at the Saint Augustine Spice and Tea Exchange. A store I frequented in Saint Augustine when we lived there, and that I am very thankful has a website, so I can continue to order their amazing, top quality spices.

I was very pleased with the result of my first attempt at Mole. The sauce had a lot of depth, and all the flavors really complemented each other in a cohesive unit. Not bad for the first time!

queadillas 004

The leftovers make amazing quesadillas with some cheddar cheese and plain yogurt on top, or you could put some of the sauce over your morning eggs (fried or poached) for some Mole Eggs.

mole breakfast 020

This is definitely a diverse sauce that can be used to turn the ordinary into something extraordinary. I love that this recipe makes enough for either 4 people, or several meals for 2, making this not only tasty, but cost effective, which is always a bonus. Especially because sauces like this taste doubly better the next day and your efforts in the kitchen can be extended to several meals.

INGREDIENTS:

4 chicken drumsticks
olive oil
salt & pepper
1 1/2 TBS Mexican mole seasoning – fresh pepper, chocolate, cumin, coriander, chili pepper, garlic, onion, salt, etc. From The Spice and Tea Exchange
½ tsp Calabrian Hot pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
6 sticks Dagoba Xocolatl bar, melted
1 dried mulato chili (chocolate/licorice, mild)– reconstituted and scraped – reserve about 1 cup of water used to reconstitute.
1 dried pasilla negro chili (Good in moles) – reconstituted and scraped
juice of one lemon
1 cup strained tomatoes
5 carrots, chopped
4 small onions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced

METHOD:

Wash the drumsticks while the chilies are reconstituting in hot water (this takes about 10-15 minutes for them to soften). In a bowl drizzle olive oil over the chicken and sprinkle spices over top. Add the chili flesh and massage everything into the chicken. Then add the lemon juice and stir all together. Let marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 300F. In a dutch oven, drizzle olive oil and brown chicken on all sides. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in a double boiler, and pour over chicken. Add the reserved chili water, and strained tomatoes to the bowl the chicken was marinading in. Whisk together and pour over the chicken, de-glazing the pan. Add the potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic, then stir the whole pot. Place the lid on the pot, and cook in the oven for 3 hours. After the 2nd hour, reduce heat to 200 F. Check for liquid every 45 minutes, and add water if necessary.

Serve on top of sprouted tortillas, if desired. Serves 2 – with leftovers for 4 small sprouted corn tortilla Quesadillas and 2 servings of Mole Eggs.

My Sweetie’s Birthday – Lasagna Rolls and Tiramisu Ice Cream Cake

b-day_lasagna_eating

Ooey Gooey Cheesy Lasagna!

In this household we like to indulge in The Birthday Week(TM). This means that when either Roberto or I are celebrating a birthday, each day of our birthday week, we get to pick out some little thing to do – whether it is to go to the movies, to the beach, out for ice cream or a treat of some kind, and one of those days, have a special meal made. Not expensive things, just fun little things to keep the celebration going. For Roberto’s actual birthday, I took him to a favorite restaurant here in Saint Augustine and gave him a very special and personal gift – after almost 2 years of marriage and a very long story, I am now officially Mrs. Campus!

easter_gang

Roberto and I with Mom at Easter – at the table where we were most of the weekend! EATING.

So to close out the week of birthday festivities, this past weekend, my mom came to visit and so we of course had to have another celebration for Roberto. I asked him for his menu of choice, and not surprisingly he came up with Lasagna. It is his favorite, after all.

As for a cake, he was looking for something Tiramisu inspired. I know Roberto is a huge fan of ice cream, so I asked him if he’d like me to make him a Tiramisu Ice Cream Cake – and he was game!

b-day_cake_ready-to-eat

Tiramisu Ice Cream Cake

I spent a few days looking online for Tiramisu flavored ice cream, and a sponge cake or lady fingers to make the cake. We happened to be celebrating his birthday with my mom the day before Easter, which meant we would be baking with my mom too. So I had to plan ahead to make sure all this baking wasn’t going to wreak havoc on me with my wheat issues. Therefore, I modified some Easter bread recipes to include my soaking techniques, and looked for recipes to make cake and bread that was more eggs and less flour. The sponge cake recipe I found for the ice cream cake ended up being more like a big crepe than a cake due to my egg whites not cooperating, but it was perfect for the cake.

b-day_lasagna_preparing

Preparing Lasagna Rolls

As for the lasagna, I decided to make baked lasagna rolls, so I didn’t need to use as many noodles. I used whole wheat noodles and I used a mixture of mascarpone, homemade goat cheese, parmigiano, basil paste and spinach as the filling and I made a simple sauce using a jar of organic tomato sauce, a can of tomatoes, some wine and spices. Roberto loved these rolls, and declared it the best lasagna he has had in the US. So I was pretty happy with that! We served it with a nice bottle of Cannonau, a Sardinian wine, known for its beneficial antioxidant properties :)

This weekend was a very Italian food centered time, which is always great.

To see our Sicilian Easter Dinner with my mom, please check out her blog for the recipes and photos.

Lasagna Rolls:

b-day_lasagna_preparing-2

Cheesing it UP!

INGREDIENTS:

1 package of whole wheat lasagna noodles (12 noodles)

filling:
8 oz. mascarpone cheese
4 oz. homemade raw milk goat cheese
2 inch piece of parmigiano cheese, grated
3 oz. fresh baby spinach
3 TBS fresh basil paste
salt & pepper to taste

sauce:
2 TBS olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
28 oz. can of fire roasted tomatoes
½ jar of organic tomato sauce
¼ cup red wine
oregano, thyme, and basil to taste

12 round pieces of fresh mozzarella

METHOD:

Bring water to boil for pasta, and cook according to package directions, except cut the cooking time by half. Drain and set aside.

Prepare the sauce. Sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil, until translucent. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, wine and spices. Mix together and cook over a medium-low heat for about 35-40 minutes.

While sauce is cooking preheat the oven to 350F. In a bowl mix all the filling ingredients together. Then divide and spread the filling over the length of each noodle, and roll up. Place noodle rolls into a prepared baking dish – place a little of the sauce on the bottom of the pan before laying the rolls on top. Then place a piece of mozzarella on top of each roll, and pour the rest of the sauce over top of the whole dish. Then grate extra parmigiano on top. Bake for 45 minutes, and then remove the foil, and bake for another 10-15 or until cheese is browned. Serves 6.

Tiramisu Ice Cream Cake

b-day_cake_ready-to-eat-2

One recipe of Tiramisu Ice cream from Desert Candy Blog
(the only thing I changed about the recipe, is that I used a tub of tiramisu marscapone, and 8 oz. of sour cream, as well as sweetening with maple syrup instead of sugar)

One recipe of Sponge Cake Roll Recipe
(again I sweetened with maple syrup)

METHOD:

b-day_cake_preparing

Preparing Components for Ice Cream Cake

Prepare the ice cream base the night before, so it has a chance to chill. In the morning, bake the cake according to the recipe – don’t forget to roll it in a towel before it cools. While it cools for about 20-30 minutes, churn the ice cream according to the manufacturer’s directions.

b-day_cake_preparing-2

Rolling Ice Cream Cake Roll

Smear the cooled cake with the soft, just churned ice cream, and sprinkle with cocoa powder. Roll up and place in the freezer. After about an hour, sprinkle the cake with some more rum, and then let freeze for about another hour. To serve, slice, and sprinkle with cocoa powder and powdered sugar – and extra maple syrup for those with a sweet tooth. Serves 10

Pasqua Night 032_pets_1

Cute Pets, thrown in for good measure! Everyone deserves a treat!

Brunello Aperitivo

Brunello-Tasting_bottle

Brunello di Montalcino is a very special wine variety made in the Tuscany region of Italy. It is known the world over as being a very good wine. Our friends Erin and Chris, who lived for a year in Florence, had a bottle that they wanted to share with us. They had fond memories of a night in Florence that they spent with friends savoring a bottle of this wine, and wanted to spend another evening like that with us! So of course we were game and very excited to taste wine from a very different bracket than what we are used to.

Since they were bringing such a nice bottle, I offered to find some tasty morsels to go along with the wine, so we could have a proper Aperitivo – or the Italian version of Happy Hour! If you would like to learn more about Aperitivo, please check out Ms. Adventures in Italy. Sarah has a great passion for Aperitivo and has great tips on how you can have your own – or where to go for the best ones in her hometown of Milano!

I knew this was a special wine, so I enlisted the help of a professional to come up with food ideas to compliment it. With the help of my buddy, Vince DiPiazza (no known relation – though I am sure there is one somehow, not many of us DiPiazza’s in the world) from D’Italia – an online specialty store of food products from Italy, we came up with a menu of aperitivi, or small plates:

Brunello-Tasting_snacks

Variety of cheeses of different flavor profiles served with Rosemary Grissini and Garbanzo Crackers

Parmigiano-Reggiano is Italy’s most famous cheese, known as Parmesan in the English language. We know it well as a cheese for grating on top of pasta. However, if you eat it in cubes, it is a whole other experience. The cheese is made from raw cow’s milk, it is then put into a brine bath for 20-25 days to absorb salt, and then aged for 12 months. My favorite part (and Erin’s too) are the little crunchies you get in a good Parmigiano – the crunchies are bits of crystallized salt.

Morbier is a raw cow’s milk cheese from France. It is a Gruyère-like cheese with a vein of ash running through its middle. The two layers of the cheese originally came from two milkings, one in the morning and one in the evening, over it with a protective thin layer of tasteless ash, both to prevent it from both drying out and to keep away the flies. The next day, they would add the leftover curd from the morning milking and production. The result was a two-layered cheese.

Goat Fromage Blanc is from a batch of the pasteurized goat milk cheese that I made recently. I added some basil and a little dried dill – as well as a few sun-dried tomatoes (Vince said they pair well with Brunello) stirred in.

Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar is one of our favorite cheeses, and we decided to add it at the last minute. It never tastes the same from one batch to the next. It is the cheese variety that Cabot used to sell to hunters and truckers…on their way out of town. Chris said it tasted like ham to him, which as a vegetarian, was a weird experience. This cheese is amazing paired with a sweet bread and butter style pickle.

Miscellaneous Treats

Sautéed Mushrooms
Hummus
Assorted Nuts
Assorted Olives
Pickles

Dessert

French Truffles
Chocolate covered mint cremes

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Brunello-Tasting_sipping-wine

The Tasting :

When Erin and Chris arrived we opened the bottle to give it about 20 minutes to breathe. We decided to do the tasting in two stages, the first without food, and then one with food. We each had a piece of paper and a pen. We spent about 5-10 minutes sniffing and tasting the wine, and individually writing our impressions of both the nose and the taste without sharing.

NOSE:

Erin: cheese – brie, sweet chocolate, metal
Chris: robust, dank – wet wood or earth, finishes smoky
Roberto: cherries
Jenn: woody, tannins, blackberry/cherry

TASTE:

Erin: milk chocolate, cheddar, old smoke – like what your clothes smell like after a BBQ or fire
Chris: pungent, truffles, finishes with citrus (mild burn, fruity end) and something like ginger, but not quite ginger
Roberto: old fermenting cherries, blueberry and ends with citrus
Jenn: black pepper, herbal/smoky, cherry

After we shared our observations, we found it interesting that both the guys had noticed a citrus end, while the ladies had both noticed a smoky taste. Is it coincidence, or do males and females taste wine differently?

Once we headed over to the food, and had a second glass with food, we all agreed that the wine tasted much sweeter, and it was at that point that Erin and I noticed a bit of a citrus taste.

It was a really fun night. I can’t say that I have ever really enjoyed wine in this way, and I think it is a really great way to spend the evening with friends. We decided we had so much fun, that we definitely need to do it again, with different wines and food pairings.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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Halloween is my second favorite holiday, after Thanksgiving. They are the two holidays that fall in my favorite season of the year, Autumn! So I guess it makes sense. Even though I am traveling during All Hallows, Halloween, Samhain, etc. this year, I am looking forward to spending the holiday with our friends Nicki and Lisa in Vermont :)

I would like to re-post something from a few years back, early in my blogging career, some special treats I made a few years ago for a Halloween Party! Enjoy! Have a safe and happy Halloween everyone!

Spindly Spiders:

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I thought I would make these guys using black licorice gumdrops and black shoestring licorice. However, according to the manger at the Publix grocery store we went to, black licorice is not popular in Florida, therefore they do not carry it, even at holiday time. Bah! So I had to come up with a different plan!

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You Will Need:
Dried Plums
Blackberry Fruit Leather
Toothpicks
Red Tube Icing

METHOD:

To make the spider, roll the plums in the palms of your hands to form them into balls. Cut the fruit leather into very thin strips (using the shortest side). Using toothpick make 4 small holes on each side of the plum (spider body) and poke the fruit leather strip into the holes. Spiders have 8 fruit leather legs in total. Then using the tube of red icing, place two eyes on the top of the spider! Great for decoration and a very healthy fruit snack!

Kitty Kupcakes:

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Cupcakes with character. I have a black kitty and I had to pay homage to her especially on Halloween – so she is my inspiration for these cupcakes! You could change it up and do orange kitties if you prefer.

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You Will Need:
Halloween Cupcake Wrappers
Cupcake Baking Pans
Chocolate Cake Mix
Chocolate Icing
Pastry Bag
Star Tip
Dark Chocolate M&M’s or Reese’s Pieces
Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
Chocolate Chips
1 cup Chow Mein Noodles
1 TBS Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder
1 TBS Sugar
Red Tube Icing

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METHOD:

Prepare the cupcakes according to the cake package directions. Once they have cooled put the icing in the pastry bag using a star tip. Pipe the icing on the cupcakes.

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In a small bowl combine chow mein noodles, cocoa powder and sugar. Place two small pieces or blue corn tortilla chips as ears, M&Ms for eyes, chocolate chip for nose , chocolate covered chow mein noodles as whiskers and a red mouth.

Dark Chocolate Pretzel Wands:

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Bring a little magic into Halloween with these delicious dark chocolate pretzel wands!

You Will Need:
1½ package of Ghiradelli Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
Package of Pretzel Rods
Halloween Sprinkles
Microwave Safe Mug
Parchment Paper
Cookie Sheet

METHOD:

In a microwave safe mug melt the chocolate chips (you want to use a mug so that when you dip the pretzel rods, the chocolate will go about 1/3 way up the stick).

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Dip pretzel rods in chocolate and sprinkle them with sprinkles over parchment paper (you can also roll the sprinkles if you prefer, but you will use a lot more). Lay on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper until chocolate has hardened.

Eerie Eyeballs:

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These were a HUGE hit at the party! Everyone loved the peanut butter surprise inside! Yum!

You Will Need:
Mixing Bowl
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1½ Cup Creamy Peanut Butter (I used Organic and did not mix the oil in, that way the PB itself is harder)
3 TBS Unsalted Butter, softened
Parchment Paper
Cookie Sheet
1½ Lb. White Candy Coating (like Dolci brand for covering fruits)
24 Dark Chocolate M&M’s
1 TBS Water
¼ to ½ TSP Red Food Coloring (I had less and my icing turned out pink, so I used the leftovers of the red icing from the cupcakes).

METHOD:

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In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, peanut better and butter. Shape into one inch balls. Place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Chill for 30 mins or until firm.
In a microwave safe bowl melt white candy coating and stir until smooth. Be careful not to burn. Dip PB balls into coating and place on parchment paper. Immediately press M&M (M side DOWN) on top of each ball for a pupil. Let stand in fridge for 30 mins or until set.
In a small bowl combine water, food coloring and remaining confectioner’s sugar. Transfer into a re-sealable bag and poke a small hole into the corner of the bag. Pipe wavy lines downward from pupil creating the look of bloodshot eyes. Store in fridge until ready to serve.

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