Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Meatloaf Tonight

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Italian Style Meatloaf

This dinner can serve 8. Less and you have plenty of leftovers or the makings for a few sandwiches. I add lots of vegetables to my meatloaf and, of course, lots of Italian flavors. Meatloaf freezes well and I usually cut extra slices off the loaf to freeze individually to use at a later date. Just defrost overnight in the refrigerator.

Ingredients

  • Half a sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups tomato (marinara) sauce, divided
  • 2 pounds lean ground beef (I use grass-fed beef)
  • 1 cup Italian flavored dried bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, beaten slightly
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the beef, eggs, vegetables, bread crumbs, 1 cup of the tomato sauce, seasonings and parsley with your hands until thoroughly mixed.

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Form into a loaf and put into a rectangular baking pan with 2-inch high sides.

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Bake the meatloaf in the oven for 1 hour. Pour the remaining 1 cup of tomato sauce over the meatloaf and sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese.

Return the dish to the oven just until the cheese melts.

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Oven Roasted Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs small red potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

Spread the olive oil out on a baking sheet. Add the diced potatoes, salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary. Toss well and spread the potatoes out into an even layer.

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Bake in the oven at the same temperature and for the same amount of time as the meatloaf.

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Sautéed Zucchini and Fennel

Ingredients

  • 2 zucchini, halved and sliced
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and cubed
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat the oil in a small skillet. Add the garlic and fennel and saute until lightly brown.

Add the zucchini, Italian seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the zucchini is tender.

Cooking the Italian Provinces – Padua

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Padua University

Padua is a province in the Veneto region of Italy. It is home to some of the masterpieces from the Medieval and Renaissance art and architecture period and the towns of Cittadella and Montagnana are famous for their well-preserved Medieval city walls. There are also many ancient and historic villas in the countryside. The hills offer a relaxing naturalistic site often covered with woods, while the eastern slopes offer ancient spa sites, such as Terme Euganee, Abano Terme, Montegrotto Terme, Galzignano Terme and Battaglia Terme. There is a small part of the Venetian Lagoon lying inside the province, the Valle Millecampi (“one-thousand-fields valley”) that includes naturalistic routes for cycling or horse-riding.

Padua Basilica

Padua Basilica

The University of Padua was founded in 1222 and was one of the most prominent universities in early modern Europe. It is among the earliest universities of the world and the second oldest in Italy. In 2010 the university had approximately 65,000 students and in 2013 was ranked “best university” among Italian institutions of higher education with more than 40,000 students.

From the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, the university was renowned for its research, particularly in the areas of medicine, astronomy, philosophy and law. During this time, the university adopted the Latin motto: Universa universis patavina libertas (Paduan Freedom is Universal for Everyone). Nevertheless, the university had a turbulent history, and there was no teaching in 1237–61, 1509–17 and 1848–50.

Botanical Garden of Padova

Botanical Garden of Padova

The Botanical Garden of Padova, established by the university in 1545, was one of the oldest gardens of its kind in the world (after the Hanging Gardens of Babylon). In addition to the garden, the university also manages nine museums, including a History of Physics Museum.

The University began teaching medicine from the day it was founded and played a leading role in the identification and treatment of diseases and ailments, specializing in autopsies and the inner workings of the body. The university houses the oldest surviving permanent anatomical theatre in Europe, dating from 1595.

Padua's anatomical theater

Padua’s anatomical theater

Since 1595, Padua’s famous anatomical theater drew artists and scientists studying the human body during public dissections. Anatomist Andreas Vesalius held the chair of Surgery and Anatomy and in 1543 published his anatomical discoveries in De Humani Corporis Fabrica. The book triggered great public interest in dissections and caused many other European cities to establish anatomical theatres.

The university became one of the universities of the Kingdom of Italy in 1873 and, ever since, has been one of the most prestigious in the country for its contributions to scientific and scholarly research. In the field of mathematics alone, its professors have included such figures, as Gregorio Ricci Curbastro, Giuseppe Veronese, Francesco Severi and Tullio Levi Civita. On 25 June 1678, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, a Venetian noblewoman and mathematician, became the first woman to be awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

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Paduan Hens

Padua’s cuisine has its simple roots in the vegetable garden, the farmyard and the vineyard, Farmyard products include: the well-known Paduan hen, Polverara hen, goose, guinea-hen and capon.

All varieties of chicory are cultivated in the countryside of Padua and include the Variegated Castelfranco, Early and Late Red Treviso, Red Chioggia or Red Verona varieties, are always present in the cooking proposals of the restaurants of Padua. Their soft and slightly bitter taste is particularly appetising in risotto dishes.

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Padua is a producer of both the white and of the green species of asparagus. Boiled eggs and asparagus or risotto with asparagus are part of the springtime cuisine.

Like the rest of the Veneto region, Padua is a land of well-known vineyards. DOC wines are produced in five areas of the province.Wines events and exhibitions are usually organized for spring and autumn.

Since Pre-Roman times olive trees have been cultivated in the Euganean Hills. The Extra Virgin Olive Oil produced in the area is under the protection of the Association of the Regional Park of the Euganean Hills. The color of the oil is typically golden green, obtained by using cold-pressing techniques and bottling after careful decanting without filtering.

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Montagnana is renowned for its ham, a tradition rooted in the rural population, called, prosciutto crudo dolce di Montagnana, by the locals. The sweet taste, the tenderness, the pink color and the unmistakable smell guarantee the identity of this product, so much so, that these properties were granted by the Protected Designation of Origin (DOP) seal and are now safeguarded by the Consortium of the Prosciutto Veneto Berico Euganeo, based in Montagnana. On the third Sunday of May, Montagnana organizes Piacere Montagnana, the festival of sweet ham.

In summer Padua produces its excellent cheeses in the northern grazing areas and among them are Grana Padano, Montasio and Asiago.

The cooking traditions of Padua are passed on to the generations that follow with only slight changes to adjust to more modern tastes and likes, while preserving the old recipes.

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Tramezzini

Tramezzini are very common in Padua. They are stuffed triangular sandwiches made of chewy white bread and usually served with a glass of Prosecco.

Ingredients

  • 1 can mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Slices of Prosciutto crudo dolce di Montagnana
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 8 slices bread

Directions

Remove the crust from the bread.

Chop the mushrooms.

In a bowl, stir together the mushrooms, cream cheese, parsley, lemon juice and pepper until creamy. Spread a layer of mushrooms on each slice of bread.

Top four pieces of bread with some ham. Turn the other four slices upside down on top of the other one. Press and cut diagonally.

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Risotto con gli Asparagi

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 5-6 cups homemade or purchased low sodium broth
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 lb asparagus
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups rice: Carnaroli, Vialone Nano or Arborio
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup Grana Padano grated cheese, divided
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Pour the broth into a pot and heat. Keep at a simmer.

Trim and discard the tough woody stems of the asparagus (usually about an inch). Slice the spears crosswise into 1/4 inch pieces. Leave the tips intact.

Place 1 tablespoon of butter and the extra-virgin olive oil into a heavy-bottomed 5-quart pot.

Add the onions and cook over med-high heat for a couple of minutes, until transparent.

Add the sliced asparagus (reserve the tips for later use) and salt.

Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8-10 minutes, until the asparagus are soft and slightly golden in color.

Add the rice and “toast”, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes, until the rice acquires a light golden color.

Add the white wine and stir for one minute, letting it evaporate. Add a couple of ladles of hot broth to the rice and lower the heat to medium. Add the asparagus tips.

Stir every 30 seconds or so. Keep adding broth, ladle by ladle, as soon as the liquid is absorbed, slightly covering the rice each time, until the rice is cooked.

You will need approximately 5 cups of broth, but it depends on the rice variety, so be prepared to add more or less.

Cooking time for the rice will be 14 to 18 minutes, depending on the rice variety used. The final consistency of the risotto should be creamy.

Turn off the heat and add 1 tablespoon of butter, 1/2 cup cheese and heavy cream.

Rest for one minute and serve with freshly ground black pepper and the reserved cheese.

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Paduan Chicken Cacciatore

Authentic Chicken Cacciatore doesn’t use tomatoes. It was a traditional Italian dish that hunters could easily make in the field if they needed to cook a meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 Padua chicken
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 20 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup Prosciutto crudo dolce di Montagnana, diced
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 1 sage branch
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • Dash red wine vinegar
  • Chianti red wine
  • Chopped parsley for garnish

Directions

Cut the chicken up into smaller pieces.

Season well with salt and pepper.

Brown in a hot skillet with some olive oil. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and set aside.

Add the onion, garlic and mushrooms to the pan and brown gently. Add the diced prosciutto and place the chicken back in the pan.

Add the herbs and vinegar and allow it to evaporate.

Add enough red wine to cover the chicken. Simmer over low heat until the chicken is tender and falls off the bone.

Serve with either polenta or slices of bread and with steamed or roasted vegetables on the side. Garnish with chopped parsley.

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Family Favorite Dinner

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This has always been my family’s favorite meal. This is the most asked for menu for birthdays and special occasions, after homemade pizza.

Antipasto Platter and Italian Bread

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bread

Ingredients

  • Stuffed Peppers
  • Roasted Tomatoes
  • Prosciutto
  • Salami
  • Olives
  • Cheese

Spaghetti and Meatballs

  • 1 lb to 2 lbs spaghetti (depending on how many you are serving)
  • Parmesan cheese, grated

For the Sauce

  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 53 oz (1500 g) imported chopped Italian tomatoes (Preferably without salt or sugar added)
  • 6 oz can (170 g) tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (chili)
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt  
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 or 4 basil leaves

For the Meatballs

  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 slices sandwich bread, crusts removed
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

To make the sauce:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is soft. Add the tomato paste and fill the empty can with water and add it to the pot.

Stir well and cook the paste a minute or two. Add the chopped tomatoes and the remaining ingredients. Bring the sauce to a boil, lower the heat to low.

Place the lid on the pot but leave it ajar and cook the sauce until thick, about 2 hours. When the meatballs are browned, add them to the sauce after it has been cooking for 1 ½ hours.

Stir the meatballs carefully so they do not break.

To make the meatballs:

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Combine the bread cubes with the milk in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Heat the oil in a small skillet and add the onion and garlic.Cook until the onion is soft. Remove the pan from the heat and cool the onion to room temperature.

In a large  mixing bowl combine the beef with the cooled onion, the bread and the soaking liquid with the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and form the mixture into 12 meatballs.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Place the meatballs on the baking sheet and bake the meatballs until brown all over, about 20 minutes

Italian Mixed Green Salad

  • Mixed baby lettuces
  • Cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • Red onion, sliced
  • Italian vinaigrette

Italian Ricotta Cheesecake

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This quick-and-easy dessert is lighter than traditional cheesecake, since it calls for ricotta instead of cream cheese and my children love it. They always ask for it.Serves 8-10.

Ingredients

  • Soft butter for the pan
  • ½ cup crushed Amaretti Cookies
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds ricotta cheese, drained
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon  amaretto liqueur
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Set an oven rack in the middle of the oven.

Butter a 9 inch springform pan. Sprinkle the pan with amaretti cookie crumbles to cover the bottom and sides of the pan.

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Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the ricotta, orange zest and sugar. Mix to combine. Beat in the flour.

Add eggs, 1 at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add the amaretto liqueur and salt.

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Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the center of the oven for about 75 minutes, until a light golden color. Make sure the center is firm and the point of a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator until chilled, overnight or at least for 2 hours. Remove the sides of the pan and serve with fresh fruit on the side.

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Easy Clean Up Dinner

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A quick dinner isn’t so quick, if you’re stuck washing a dozen pots and pans when you’re through. To me, nothing is worse than facing a mountain of dishes in the sink when dinner is over.

However, here is one solution – cook everything on a foiled-covered baking pan. This method ensures you won’t get stuck in the kitchen and it produces a great tasting dinner.

Orange Flavored Baked Chicken, Onions and Potatoes

The recipe is easily doubled or tripled depending on how many diners are at your table.

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 orange
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon. dried chili flakes
  • 4 small potatoes, peeled and halved
  • 1 small onion, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • One large sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves minced
  • 4 boneless chicken thighs (about 6 oz. each), trimmed of excess fat and skin removed
  • 3/4 to 1 cup panko bread crumbs

Directions

Heat the oven to 425°F. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.

Finely grate 1 teaspoon orange zest and squeeze 1 tablespoon of orange juice from the orange. Stir together the juice, zest, oil, salt and the chili flakes in a small bowl.

Place the potatoes and onions on the baking sheet and brush them, on all sides, with some of the orange mixture.

Place the chicken in a medium bowl and pour the remaining oil mixture over the chicken thighs. Turn to coat well. Dredge the chicken in the panko crumbs, pressing the crumbs into the chicken.  

Place the chicken on the foiled-lined baking sheet and sprinkle the thighs and vegetables lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the vegetables and chicken with the minced rosemary.

Note: The recipe can be prepared ahead up to this point and refrigerated until time to cook dinner.

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Place the pan in the preheated oven and roast for 20 minutes. Turn the potatoes and onions over. Continue to roast about for 20 minutes more, until the chicken is crisp and golden and the potatoes are lightly browned in spots.

When the chicken is done, remove the potatoes and onions to serving plates and top with the chicken.

Remove the foil from the pan, carefully, and guess what……no pan to wash tonight.

Cucumbers in Sour Cream Dressing

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Note: Salting the cucumbers draws out excess moisture and helps keep the salad from getting watery.

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 scallion, white and green parts, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Directions

Scoop out the seeds from the halved cucumbers with a spoon and slice into ¼ inch thick half-moons.

Place cucumber and scallion slices in a colander; sprinkle with salt, tossing to coat. Let stand for 15 minutes, then rinse and pat dry with paper towels.

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Combine the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add the cucumber and scallion slices and toss to coat.

Let salad stand for at least 5 minutes before serving, or chill in the refrigerator until serving time.

Sprinkler dish washing.

When you have too many dishes.

 

Seafood On The Grill Tonight

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Tips On Grilling Shellfish

The flavor of shellfish benefits significantly from grilling. Removing the shellfish from the grill before they become too well done and rubbery is the biggest challenge. Watching closely for shellfish to turn opaque (non-transparent), removing them from the grill and serving them immediately are key to delicious tasting fish.

Prepare scallops for grilling by cutting off the curved shaped appendage that is attached to the side of the body, if still intact.

Prepare shrimp by removing the shell and the vein that runs along the back. Personal preference dictates whether to leave the tail on or off.

Marinating shellfish in a flavorful oil will help to prevent the tendency of the scallops and shrimp to dry out.

Two skewers work best to prevent the seafood from spinning or turning on the grill.

Grill shrimp on each side for 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the shrimp. Cook scallops for 2-3 minutes on each side, depending on their size.

Tips On Grilling Vegetables

Make room on the grill for vegetables. The caramelized, smoky flavor that comes with grilling does wonders for vegetables. A lot of veggies do well on the grill, but some really stand out — asparagus, corn, eggplant, squash, mushrooms, peppers and onions.

Most vegetables cook better and are less likely to stick if they’re marinated first or brushed lightly with vegetable oil.

For added flavor, sprinkle grilled vegetables with chopped fresh herbs. Cut the vegetables all about the same size for even cooking.

If you use wooden skewers, soak them in warm water for 20 minutes.

Marinade for the Shellfish and Vegetables

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

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Whisk all the marinade ingredients together in a measuring cup. Divide in half. Use one half for the shellfish and one half for the vegetables.

Grilled Shellfish Skewers

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For 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 medium sea scallops
  • 6 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Marinade, recipe above
  • 2 double skewers
  • Green Goddess Dressing, recipe below

Grilled Vegetable Skewers

For 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 of a Fennel bulb, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1/3 of a Red Bell Pepper, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 small Zucchini, cut into 2 inch slices
  • Marinade, recipe above
  • 2 double skewers
  • Green Goddess Dressing, recipe below

Directions

Marinate the shellfish and vegetables separately for 30  minutes. Drain and thread the scallops on one double skewer and the shrimp on a second double skewer.

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Do the same with the vegetables. Save any marinade left in the bowl to use as a basting sauce.

Preheat an outdoor grill to high and grease the grill grates with oil.

Place the vegetable skewers on the grill first, since they will take longer to cook. Cook until the vegetables are tender, turning and basting them with the olive oil mixture occasionally, about 15 minutes.

After the vegetables have cooked for 10 minutes, place the shellfish skewers on the grill.  Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side.

Serve the grilled shellfish and vegetables with the Green Goddess Dressing.

Green Goddess Dressing

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This may be used immediately or stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. This dressing is also delicious drizzled over hard-boiled eggs.

Makes 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup snipped chives
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Place the chives, parsley, anchovy fillets, tarragon and vinegar in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine.  

With the motor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream, scraping down the sides, and process until pureed. Add the sour cream and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Store in the refrigerator until serving time.

Brown and Wild Rice with Pecans and Thyme

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup brown and wild rice mix, without seasoning. (I use Lundberg rice)
  • 3/4 cup chopped, toasted pecans
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken stock

Directions

In heavy saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, saute the onion in oil until softened. Add rice and saute 2-3 minutes, stirring so it does not get too brown.

Add the bay leaves, thyme, salt, pepper and chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Turn the heat to very low, cover and cook for about 50 minutes. (Check your rice package to see what the recommended cooking time is.)

After 50 minutes, check the rice. It should be slightly chewy with all the liquid absorbed when it’s done. Stir in the toasted pecans.

Turn off the heat and let stand, covered, 10 minutes. Serve hot.

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How To Make Delicious Rye Bread and English Muffins at Home

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The comforting and inviting smell of home-baked bread should be reason enough to try baking at home. Home-baked bread also offers more nutrients than commercially manufactured breads and, of course, there are no preservatives in this bread. Although baking bread takes some time, the taste and nutritional benefits of baking your own bread makes the effort worthwhile.

No-Knead Sourdough Rye

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I came up with this recipe for rye bread based on the process for no-knead breads developed by Jim Lahey at the Sullivan Street Bakery. Plus I often think about how I can use my sourdough starter that I always have available in my refrigerator. So I combined the two and the results were a delicious rye bread that goes really well with soup or a salad.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups rye flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant rise yeast
  • 1  teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 1/2 cup sourdough starter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey

Directions

You will need a Dutch Oven or a Cloche Baker (round or long) for this recipe.

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Mix the flours, salt, yeast and caraway in a large bowl. Combine the honey, starter and water in a measuring cup and, gradually, add the liquids until the dough comes together into a wet dough.

You may need a little more water, 2-3 tablespoons more, if the dough seems dry. The dough should be fairly moist.

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Cover the bowl with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for 12-18 hours.

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Flour a work surface and gently turn the dough out.  Fold the edges in and pinch them to form a ball.

Let the dough rise on a well floured towel or parchment lined bowl.  

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I like to line a round bread basket with parchment paper, cut to fit the basket, because the bread does not flatten out too much, as no-knead doughs can sometimes do.

After 1-2 hours, the dough should have fully risen.

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During the last 45 minutes of the second rise, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F with the cloche baker or dutch Oven on a low rack.

After 45 minutes, remove the baker from the oven and turn the oven down to 450 degrees F. Use well insulted pot holders, as the baker will be very hot.

Using the parchment as a sling, gently lower the dough with the parchment  into the preheated baker.

Be careful to not touch the baker as it is very hot! Slash the top of the loaf with a sharp knife.

Place the lid on the baker and put the baker into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on.

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After 30 minutes, remove the lid and bake an additional 15 minutes, until the bread is deep brown in color and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers about 205°F.

To keep the crust crackly, turn the oven off, crack the door open, and let the bread cool inside the oven for 30 minutes.

Sourdough English Muffins

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There are many recipes for English Muffins but this one is a favorite in my family. It is easy to make and tastes great for breakfast, especially with homemade jam. I like making my own English Muffins because they have a fresh, clean taste, that store-bought muffins do not seem to have. Adding a little whole wheat flour gives the muffins some added nutrition. You do need to buy English Muffin rings to make this recipe, but the process I use won’t make a mess from cooking the muffins on the stovetop.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup dry milk powder
  • 1 1/3 cups lukewarm water
  • 3 tablespoons soft butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/4 ounces) potato flour (not starch)
  • 2 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 cup sourdough starter, set out on the kitchen counter, covered, overnight
  • Semolina flour or cornmeal

Directions

Combine all of the ingredients except the semolina in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Mix and then beat at high speed using the flat beater paddle for 5 minutes.

The dough will be soft, sticky and glossy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover it, and allow the dough to rise for about 90-120 minutes, until doubled in bulk.

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Grease the rings with cooking spray.

Place 16 rings on two parchment covered sheet pans and sprinkle a little semolina or cornmeal in each muffin ring,  

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Fill each ring almost to the top. I used a small muffin scoop to make it easier. Pat the dough a little to get it to the sides of the rings.

Place a sheet of parchment paper that has been coated with cooking spray on top of the rings and lay another sheet pan on top. This step helps the muffins retain their shape. Let rise 30 minutes.  

Remove the top pan and parchment and sprinkle the tops of the risen muffins with semolina. Replace the parchment paper, sprayed side down, and the baking sheets.

Forgive the view but my pans are very old and have seen a lot of baking.

Forgive the view but my pans are very old and have seen a lot of baking.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 400°F.

Bake the muffins (with the baking sheet on top) for 10 minutes. Flip the pans over and rotate the pans on the oven racks. Bake 5 minutes more.

Remove the top pan and parchment, and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the muffins are a light golden brown and the interior of one registers about 200°F on a digital thermometer.

Remove the muffins from the oven. Remove the muffin rings (they will slide right off) and transfer the muffins to a rack to cool.

Cookies and Ice Cream

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The desserts below are perfect for summer. They are refreshing and keep well in the freezer. I like to make these types of desserts to have on hand in the freezer for family and company. They can be made on cooler days and they taste so good on a hot day. Of course, what could be better than a cookies and ice cream combination.

Watermelon Basil Sorbet

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3-4 servings

Ingredients

  • 5 cups yellow watermelon cut into small cubes (outer skin and seeds removed)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large sprig of fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons meringue powder plus 2 tablespoons water

Directions

Cut up the melon and place in a big ziplock bag. Freeze overnight.

Whisk together the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium/high heat until the sugar dissolves.

Remove from the heat, add the basil and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Remove the basil and chill the syrup.

In a small bowl, whisk together the meringue powder and water. Whisk until you create a lot of foam.

This is an egg white substitute. You could use egg whites if you prefer, but since they are not cooked in this recipe, it is safer to use the substitute. This adds a creamy texture to the sorbet.

IMG_0001

In a food processor, combine the frozen fruit, chilled syrup and egg white mixture. Blend just until smooth.

Sorbet is ready to serve right out of the food processor. If you don’t plan to consume it right away, be sure to store it in the freezer.

Brown Sugar Shortbread Rounds

IMG_0013

32 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of ground cinnamon
  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup finely ground pecans (pecan meal)

Directions

Heat to oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar.

Add the remaining ingredients. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Place a large piece of plastic wrap on the kitchen counter. Turn the dough out onto the plastic wrap. Form the mixture into a log on the plastic wrap.

Wrap the dough in plastic and roll the dough a few times to make an even log. Refrigerate for an hour.

Cut the log into ¼ inch slices and place on the prepared baking pans an inch apart.

Bake the cookies 20 minutes, switching the pans on the racks after 10 minutes. Let the cookies rest on the pans ten minutes and then remove them to a cooling rack.

Easy Oatmeal Cookies

IMG_0012

Makes 18 large cookies

Dry Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, cherries)

Wet Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the dry ingredients (flour through fruit) in a large bowl.

Combine the wet ingredients (butter through egg) in a measuring cup.

IMG_0010

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry until combined using a wooden spoon or spatula.

Using a small muffin scoop or 3 tablespoons for each cookie, form into a ball and place on the prepared baking sheet. Flatten the cookies slightly.

IMG_0011

Bake 10 minutes, switch the pans on the racks and bake for 10 more minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Peach Almond Sundae

IMG_0008

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 cups vanilla frozen yogurt, softened
  • 2 cups chopped peaches, peeled 
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur
  • 8 amaretti cookies, crushed
  • 1 cup whipped cream

Directions

 Cut the peaches into 1/2-inch-thick slices and cut the slices in half.

In a mixing bowl, combine the peaches, brown sugar and amaretto. Cover and chill until serving time.

In each of four dessert dishes, layer the ingredients in the following way: 1 cup frozen yogurt, ¼ of the peach mixture and 1/4 cup whipped cream. Sprinkle a crushed amaretti cookie on top. 

IMG_0014


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