Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: December 2012

Bari, Italy, the second largest city of Southern Italy, is capital of the Apulia (or Puglia) region, located on the Adriatic Sea. Named the fifth largest province in Italy, Bari carries a population of about one and half million. The area is composed of limestone hills, near the edge of the Bari basin, a depression formed when the underlying limestone is eroded by underground water and collapses.

As a very prominent seaport, Bari’s port faces the Adriatic Sea and connects to other Adriatic ports via railways, boats and roadways. Bari has become one of the top commercial and industrial leading areas in Italy.

Believed to be originally Illyrian, Bari was controlled by Greeks, and then later, Romans. During the Roman era, Bari was a connection between the coast roadway and the Via Traiana, and was thought to be valuable as a seafood asset. As early as 181 BC, Bari’s harbor is noted in recorded history.

Bari was conquered and ruled, at various times in history  by the Goths, Lombards, Byzantines and the Normans.  Crusaders often sailed from Bari and during the Middle Ages, Bari was ruled by lords such as Hohenstaufens and the Sforzas of Milan. All these influences created the culture of Bari.

The city suffered damage in World War II. Through a tragic coincidence intended by neither of the opposing sides in World War II, Bari gained the unwelcome distinction of being the only European city to experience chemical warfare in the course of that war.

On the night of December 2, 1943, German Junkers Ju 88 bombers attacked the port of Bari, which was a key supply center for Allied forces fighting their way up the Italian Peninsula. Several Allied ships were sunk in the overcrowded harbor, including the U.S. Liberty John Harvey, which was carrying mustard gas; mustard gas was also reported to have been stacked on the quayside awaiting transport. The chemical agent was intended for use, if German forces initiated chemical warfare. The presence of the gas was highly classified, and authorities ashore had no knowledge of it. This increased the number of fatalities, since physicians—who had no idea that they were dealing with the effects of mustard gas—prescribed treatment proper for those suffering from exposure and immersion, which proved fatal in many cases.

On the orders of allied leaders Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Dwight D. Eisenhower, records were destroyed and the whole affair was kept secret for many years after the war. The U.S. records of the attack were declassified in 1959, but the episode remained obscure until 1967. The affair is the subject of two books: Disaster at Bari, by Glenn B. Infield, and Nightmare in Bari: The World War II Liberty Ship Poison Gas Disaster and Coverup, by Gerald Reminick.

The Basilica of St. Nicola 

Bari is divided into parts which include a modern area called “quarters”, which was developed in 1820, and an ancient district, located on a peninsula to the north, which contains many beautiful Romanesque-Pugliese structures and churches where tourists can relive history, such as the Cathedral of San Sabino (dating back to 1035). There is also a major shopping district: the famous Via Sparano and Via Argiro are located there.

Via Sparano

Via Argiro

Besides being a major seaport in Italy, Bari also has much to offer from an industrial point of view. Chemicals, machinery, printed materials, petroleum and textiles are among the city’s economic contributions. Agriculture is notable in Bari, which includes cherries, tomatoes, artichokes, grapes, table wine, olives and almond production. Bari also takes great pride in its seafood industry, which provides delicious local cuisine.

The ancient district is the place to visit for a historical perspective. Chiesa di San Giacomo is a church which is worth seeing. Other great sites in this district are the Lungomare (promenade), a railway station which was constructed in 1875, the Fiera del Levante, which is one of the largest fairs in Italy. The fair takes place in September and is located close to the shore. The ancient seafaring center is located here as well. On the more modern side of Bari, there are villas and supermarkets. Buses are available for travel in the city. There’s plenty to do during every season: from spending a day at the beach to going horseback riding through the countryside. Cinemas, theaters, museums and churches are abundant in Bari, combining modern entertainment with a taste of history. Winter days are filled with festivals and nativity scenes.

Beach in Bari Italy

The Cuisine of Bari

Potato, Rice and Onion Casserole

Bari offers many creative dishes with colorful vegetables such as turnip tops with orecchiette pasta or cavatelli. Red-yellow peppers stuffed with meat or rice and baked in the oven are another specialty. The cuisine also includes seafood, such as, bass, clams, cuttlefish, mussels, oysters, cod, prawns, sea bream, lobster, anchovies and sole, which are cooked in a variety of methods. There are pizzerias for every type of pizza.

Pizza with Prosciutto and Sage

Pasta is made with simple ingredients such as water, flour and salt and is the star of most  main courses. Handformed orecchiette, cavatelli and fricelli have the right shape and consistency to absorb the traditional sauces of the area based on vegetables, fish or meat.

Tiella of Gaeta

The artisanship of bakers here is evident in the preparation of pizza, focaccia, spicy taralli and the famous Altamura bread (see recipe below), protected by its DOP label and delicious when seasoned with the area’s extra virgin olive oil, Terra di Bari DOP, and garnished with the famous Apulian vegetables and greens.

Among some of the other treats are barattiere, small vegetables, to eat raw in salads, table grapes and sweet Termite olives, seasoned with salt, vinegar, olive oil, spices and natural herbs.

Make Some Bari Inspired Recipes At Home 

Pane di Altamura

Yields 2 Loaves

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1¾ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2–3 cups bread flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal

Directions:

To create the sponge:

Combine in large bowl of electric mixer: 1 cup water and yeast, stir to dissolve, and let stand 5 minutes. Add all-purpose flour and beat for 1 minute. Cover and let stand at room temperature 8–12 hours.

To make the bread:

Add to the sponge 1 cup water, olive oil, semolina, salt, and enough bread flour to make a soft dough. Mix with the paddle attachment until the ingredients come together in a ball. Switch to the dough hook and knead 8–10 minutes. Add more flour to reduce stickiness. Dust with flour, cover the dough in the bowl with plastic, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Punch dough down, fold it in half, and let it rise again, until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment, and sprinkle with cornmeal. Turn risen dough onto a floured surface, and divide into 2 equal portions. Shape into round loaves, place on prepared pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and set aside to proof for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Dust the top of the risen loaves generously with flour. Using a serrated knife, cut decorative slash marks into the surface of the dough, about ½″ deep. Place a pan of cold water at the bottom of the oven to create steam. Bake until golden brown and hollow sounding, about 30–40 minutes. Cool completely on a rack before serving.

First Course

Pasta With Sardines, Bread Crumbs and Capers

Ingredients:

  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs, ideally made from stale bread
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound long pasta, like perciatelli
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 2 cans sardines packed in extra virgin olive oil (about 1/2 pound)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish.

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.

Put half the oil (2 tablespoons) in a medium skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant, less than 5 minutes, and then remove. Add the remaining oil and the onion to the pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until just tender; drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Turn the heat under the onions to medium-high and add the lemon zest, capers and sardines; cook, stirring occasionally, until just heated through, about 2 minutes.

Add the pasta to the sardine mixture and toss well to combine. Add the parsley, most of the bread crumbs and some reserved water, if necessary, to moisten. Taste and adjust seasoning, garnishing with more parsley and bread crumbs.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Second Course

Pork Chops Pizzaiola

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 center-cut loin pork chops, cut 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • ½ bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup drained canned tomatoes pureed through a sieve or food mill
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ pound green peppers, seeded and cut in 2-by-1/4-inch strips (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • ½ pound fresh mushrooms, whole if small, quartered or sliced if large

Directions:

In a heavy 10-to 12-inch skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil until a light haze forms over it. Brown the chops in this oil for 2 or 3 minutes on each side and transfer them to a plate. Add the garlic, oregano, thyme, bay leaf and salt to the pan and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the wine and boil briskly to reduce it to about ¼ cup, scrapping in any bits of meat or herbs in the pan. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste and return the chops to the skillet. Baste with the sauce, cover, and simmer over low heat, basting once or twice, for 40 minutes.

Heat the remaining oil in another large skillet. Cook the green peppers in the oil for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the mushrooms and toss them with the peppers for a minute or two, then transfer them to the pan with the pork chops. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes longer, until the pork and vegetables are tender and the sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon heavily. (If the sauce is too thin, remove the chops and vegetables and boil the sauce down over high heat, stirring constantly). To serve, arrange the chops on a heated platter and spoon the vegetables and sauce over them.

Braised Peas with Prosciutto

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ¼ cup finely chopped onions
  • 2 cups fresh green peas (about 2 pounds unshelled)
  • ¼ cup chicken stock, fresh or canned
  • 2 ounces prosciutto, cut in 1 by ¼ inch julienne strips (about ¼ cup)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

In a heavy 1 to 2 quart saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat and cook the onions for 7 or 8 minutes, stirring frequently until they are soft but not brown. Stir in the green peas and chicken stock, cover, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. When the peas are tender, add the strips of prosciutto and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes more, or until all the liquid is absorbed. Taste for seasoning, Serve the peas in a heated bowl.

NOTE: One 10 ounce package of frozen peas may be substituted for the fresh peas. Defrost the peas thoroughly before using them, and add them to the onions without any stock. Cook the peas uncovered, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, then add the prosciutto, heat through and serve.

 


Entertaining, especially during the holiday season, can be challenging. Not only do you need to spend time wrapping gifts, baking cookies, getting the house and yourself ready, but you need to make meals! A dinner menu can be expensive. Just look at the cost for a beef or pork roast; you can easily spend more than $20.00 – $30.00 just on the entree. Save money and time by making several pasta sauces before the holidays, freeze them and defrost them, as needed, for entertaining over the busy holiday season.

You can make Italian pasta sauces with or without meat ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator for up to a week or frozen for many months. Pasta cooks quickly. Toss it with one of these great sauces, below, and you have a quick delicious meal your guests are sure to appreciate. All you need to round out the menu is a simple appetizer, a bottle of wine and an easy dessert.

I keep an assortment of dry pastas and frozen fresh pastas, on hand, to help with stress free entertaining during busy times. You just need to decide what type of pasta you want to make for a dinner party and fit the sauce to the pasta type. The texture of pasta will often determine the type of pasta sauce that can most effectively be used — thicker or shaped pastas can withstand heartier sauces, while thin pastas have better results with lighter sauces.

Good pasta sauces enhance the delicate flavor of the pasta without overpowering it. There are many types of pasta sauces, from the light and simple marinara sauce to the thick and rich Alfredo sauce. Traditional sauces are made from a base of tomatoes, vegetables, herbs, cream, meat or cheese. Some types of pasta sauces combine several ingredients to make a more complex sauce. Bolognese sauce, for example, includes meat, tomatoes, cream, wine and fresh herbs.

Types of Sauces

Marinara

Marinara sauce is a simple, basic sauce made from tomatoes and olive oil. The tomatoes are seasoned with garlic and fresh basil. Some recipes also add other ingredients, such as onions and parsley. Fresh tomatoes are ideal, but you can use canned, peeled tomatoes instead.

Bolognese or Meat Sauce or Ragu

Bolognese sauce is named for its origin in Bologna, Italy. Traditional Bolognese sauce includes two or more types of meat chopped into small pieces. When cooked, the meat blends in with the other ingredients, seasonings and herbs. A variety of vegetables, including onions, celery and chile peppers, can be added to the tomatoes and olive oil. Seasonings include nutmeg, basil, oregano and bay leaves. Some cooks add cream or milk to give the sauce a rich flavor.

Alfredo

Alfredo is a rich, creamy white sauce. You can use heavy cream, or substitute half and half or whole milk for a lighter version. The cream is mixed with butter and grated Parmesan cheese. The sauce is seasoned with pepper and, sometimes, nutmeg. Alfredo sauce is usually served on fettuccine noodles.

Puttanesca

Puttanesca is a strong, spicy red sauce. The spicy flavor comes from the garlic, dried chili peppers, anchovies and capers added to the tomatoes. You can make the sauce hot or mild by adjusting the amounts of spices.

Pesto

Pesto is a delicate sauce made from a paste of ingredients such as olive oil, pine nuts, fresh basil and garlic. Pesto sauce can be served with grated cheese. Pesto is a more healthful sauce because it contains only unsaturated fats.

Alcohol-Based

Some types of alcohol, including wine, are a flavorful ingredient for certain pasta sauces. Madeira sauce, for example, uses Madeira wine. Marsala sauce includes the namesake wine as a key ingredient. Its base is made from tomatoes, mushrooms or fruit.

Here are some of my favorite prepare ahead sauces for entertaining:

Pork and Sausage Ragù

Yields about 2 quarts

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 lb. boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt)
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped (2 cups)
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3 cups strainedPomi tomatoes
  • 3 dried bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 lb. sweet Italian pork sausage (3 links)

Directions:

Heat the oil in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Season the pork generously on both sides with salt and pepper and sear the meat on all sides until well browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer the pork to a deep platter.

Reduce the heat to medium low and add the garlic and onion to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent, 7 to 8 minutes. Return the pork to the pot, raise the heat to medium high, and add the wine. Let it bubble for a minute or two and then add the tomatoes, Italian seasoning and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium low to maintain a gentle simmer.

Remove the sausages from their casings and break the meat apart over the pot, allowing it to fall into the sauce in small clumps. Cover the pot and simmer gently, adjusting the heat as necessary, for 30 minutes. Uncover and turn the pork shoulder; then re-cover and continue to cook at a gentle simmer, turning the meat once or twice more, until very tender, about 1-1/2 hours.

Transfer the pork to a cutting board with tongs and let cool for a few minutes. Using two forks, shred the meat and return it to the sauce. Cook over low heat until the meat and sauce are heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chill the sauce overnight and, the next day, remove any fat that has congealed on the surface of the sauce. The ragù can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Reheat gently before tossing with the pasta, such as pappardelle.

Mushroom Ragu

Makes 6 cups

This is a great vegetarian sauce, very complex and satisfying, It’s excellent for pasta, baked in a lasagna or poured over polenta, cooked into risotto-or as a condiment for grilled steak or fish. The mushrooms you can buy at the supermarket will make a fine sauce-if you have access to fresh wild mushrooms, it will be even better. In either case, dried porcini provide an important flavor for this sauce. I like to serve this over fettuccine.

Ingredients

  • 2½ pounds fresh mixed mushrooms, small and firm
  • 1/2 ounce dried porcini, soaked in 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, a tender stem about 4-inches long
  • 1 sprig fresh sage, with 4 big leaves
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry Marsala
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups hot beef or vegetable broth

Directions:

Squeeze out the soaked porcini and slice them into pieces about 1/4-inch wide. Strain the soaking water and keep it in a warm spot.

Clean, trim and slice the fresh mushrooms into moderately thin slices, barely 1/4-inch wide.

Tie all the fresh herb sprigs together with piece of kitchen twine or enclose the leaves in cheesecloth.

Sauce

Put the oil and butter in the big skillet (or other saucepan) and place over medium heat. When the butter melts, add the onions and shallots and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and stir well. Heat the onions to a slow sizzle and cook for 6 minutes or more-stirring often-until they’re soft, wilted and shiny, without any browning.

Pour all the mushrooms into the pan-both the chopped porcini and sliced mushrooms; spread and toss them in the pan. Sprinkle in another 1/4 teaspoon salt, drop in the herb bouquet, toss briefly, raise the heat a bit and cover the pan. Cook covered for about 3 minutes,shake the pan now and then, to sweat the mushrooms.

Uncover and continue to cook over fairly high heat, stirring frequently, as the mushrooms shrink and the liquid evaporates, 5 minutes or more. When the pan is dry and the mushrooms begin to brown, clear a hot spot, drop in the tomato paste and heat it, stirring, for a minute or so, then stir it into the mushrooms.

When everything is sizzling and browning again, and just starting to stick, pour the Marsala all over. Stir constantly as the wine thickens and evaporates. When the mushrooms again start sticking to the bottom, pour in the warm mushroom water and 2 cups of the hot stock. Bring to a boil, stirring up any caramelization on the pan bottom. Lower the heat to keep the sauce bubbling gently all over the surface and cover the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes, occasionally stirring and adding stock to keep the mushrooms nearly covered in liquid; expect to add 1/2 cup or so. Adjust the heat to keep a steady bubble but not too rapid.

Uncover the pan and cook for another 20 minutes, maintaining a simmer and adding stock as needed. When mushrooms are thoroughly tender and the saucy liquid thickened-but not too condensed-the sauce is done. Remove the herb bouquet and discard it (after you scrape off all the good sauce). Taste and add salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Use the sauce immediately or let it cool. Store it in the refrigerator for a week or freeze, for use within several months.

Italian-American Meat Sauce

Makes 8 cups

Ingredients:

  • 3- 28 oz.containers Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • salt
  • 3/4 cups dry red wine
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 4 cups hot water

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4 to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Make a little room in the center of the pot, add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the ground beef and pork and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until the meat changes color and the water it gives off is boiled away, about 10 minutes. Continue cooking until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves, basil and oregano then pour in the wine. Bring to a boil and cook, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the pot, until the wine is almost completely evaporated. Pour in the tomatoes, then stir in the hot water and tomato paste until dissolved. Season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, adjust the heat to a lively simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the sauce takes on a deep, brick-red color and thickens, 2 to 3 hours.

The sauce can be prepared entirely in advance and refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. This sauce works very well with spaghetti or short pasta, such as penne.

Spicy Tomato Sauce                                                                  

Makes enough for 2 lbs. pasta. Good over bucatini pasta.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 oz. pancetta, small dice (leave out if you have vegetarian guests)
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, minced
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red chili flakes
  • 2- 28-oz. container Pomi strained tomatoes
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Directions:

Heat oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta; cook, stirring, until lightly browned, 6–8 minutes. Add pepper; cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Increase heat to medium-high; add garlic, carrots, and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 6 minutes. Add chili flakes; cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens and flavors meld, about 1 hour. Season with salt; keep warm. Store in the refrigerator or freeze.

Lasagna Sauce with Little Meatballs                   

This is a favorite in our family, especially for Christmas. Prepare the meatballs in advance and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 days, or freeze in a ziplock bag for up to 1 month. Use this sauce in place of your regular tomato sauce in your favorite lasagna recipe.

Ingredients:

Meatballs:

  • 1 lb ground beef or turkey
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup Italian dried bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt & pepper

Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-28 oz container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1-6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

For the meatballs:

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degree F. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In large bowl mix together the ground meat, cheese, oregano, bread crumbs, egg, water, salt & pepper. Pinch off small grape-sized pieces of the meat mixture and roll into balls; arrange on prepared baking sheet. Bake just until cooked through, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer meatballs to paper towel lined platter to drain excess fat.

For the sauce:

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant (30 sec-1 min). Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and whisk until thoroughly combined. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened. Take off the heat and add the meatballs to the pot, cover and keep warm while pasta is cooking.

 


They are convenient and tempting  — those mixes packaged in envelopes in the grocery store. Adding a pouch to some water and having gravy or a seasoning packet for chili is easy to pick up and makes you feel that you are saving time.

But what if you had these things in your own home and for a lot less money?

Have you ever thought about it? Have you ever made your own mixes? There are many recipes available, from Hearty Bean Soup Mix to Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk to Spice Mixes. Make a flavored coffee creamer or your own hot roll mix. With a little organization, some tightly sealed containers and labeling equipment you can have a pantry full of fabulous mixes in no time and you don’t have to run out to the store before making your favorite casserole. It’s also wonderful to have recipes for seasoning and herbs blends that may be difficult to find in some parts of the world, like Beau Monde seasoning or Herbs de Provence. 

Many consumers are concerned about fat and sodium content in many recipes that call for condensed soups and seasoning mixes. Make your own mixes and you control the sodium and fat content in the foods you eat. On a low sodium diet? Just leave out or reduce the salt or salty products. Want to eat low fat? Substitute low fat ingredients for higher fat ones. As a bonus, you can customize each mix to your taste. And you’ll save money too! You can add, subtract, or substitute for just about any herb or spice in these recipes.

All of these mixes should be stored tightly covered in a cool, dry place. I have found that large Tupperware containers or large glass jars with screw-on lids work best. Most mixes will stay fresher longer if stored in the refrigerator. Just like purchasing a commercial mix with directions on the package, you will need to have the directions (stored with the mixes) to use the mixes that you make.

Time Saving Convenience Mix Recipes

The ingredients in these recipes can be doubled or tripled.  These mixes are great to have during the busy holiday season, so that you can make a quick dinner on those nights when you have a “million” things to do.

Cream-of-Something Soup Mix

A commercial brand lists 13 ingredients including corn syrup, vegetable oil, and sugar. This version has half that number and no mystery ingredients. If your recipe calls for cream of mushroom – add sauteed mushrooms to the reconstituted mix or for cream of celery soup add celery, etc.

Makes 3 ½ cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dry milk powder
  • 1 1/4 cups cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup chicken bouillon granules
  • 2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil

Directions:

Combine all ingredients and store in a covered container.

For soup: combine ½ cup of the mix with 1 cup of water. Stir until smooth, then bring to a boil and cook until thickened.

For use as a condensed soup: combine 1 cup of the mix with one cup of water. Stir until smooth and bring to a boil and cook until thickened.

Note: There is no salt added; the bouillon has plenty.

Homemade Onion Soup Mix

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup instant minced onion
  • 4 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1/3 cup beef-flavored bouillon powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar

Mix all the ingredients and store in an airtight container.

To use: add two tablespoons mix to one cup boiling water. Cover and simmer for fifteen minutes.

Homemade Rice Seasoning Mix

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup chicken bouillon granules
  • 1/2 cup dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill weed
  • 2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt, recipe below
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
  • 1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped (optional)

Mix together and store in an airtight container.

To prepare white rice:  combine 1 cup white rice, 2 cups water, and 3 tablespoons of the seasoning. Bring water to a boil and add rice & seasoning. Reduce to simmer and cook for 18 minutes.

To prepare brown/ wild rice: combine ½ cup long grain brown rice, ½ cup wild rice, 2 cups water and 3 tablespoons seasoning mix. Bring water to a boil and add rice & seasoning. Reduce to simmer and cook for 50 minutes.

Seasoned Salt

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt or garlic powder
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon dill weed
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt

Put all ingredients into a mini food processor or small blender container and blend on low. Store in an airtight container.

All-Purpose Biscuit Mix

Makes 12 cups

Ingredients:

  • 9 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups dry milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 cup baking powder
  • 3/4 cup trans fat free solid shortening, such as Spectrum

Combine the dry ingredients and cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Store in a airtight covered container. It is not necessary to refrigerate.

To make 10 biscuits: combine 3 cups of the mix with ¾ cup water. Stir just until the dough comes together.

Pat out on a lightly floured surface and cut into rounds or squares. For soft biscuits, place in a round cake pan with the biscuits touching. For crisp biscuits, place the biscuits an inch apart on a cookie sheet.

Bake in a preheated oven at 450 degrees F for about 12 minutes.

Muffin Mix

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup instant nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1/4 cup baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Mix in large bowl and store in airtight container.

To bake muffins: place 2 cups mix in a large bowl. Add 2/3 cup water, 1 slightly beaten egg and 1/4 cup canola oil and mix only until dry ingredients are moistened. Fill 12 paper lined muffin cups 1/2 full. Bake at 400 degrees F for 10-15 minutes until muffins are puffed and firm.

Taco Seasoning Mix

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup instant minced onion
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons crushed dried red pepper flakes
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon instant minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and blend thoroughly with wire whisk. Spoon mixture into a tightly closed container and label as “Taco Seasoning Mix”. Store in a cool, dry place. Use within 6 months. Makes 6 packages (about 2 tablespoons each) of mix. 2 tablespoons equals 1.25-oz. pkg. purchased taco seasoning mix.

To make Taco Filling:

Brown 1 lb. lean ground beef or turkey in large skillet over medium heat; drain grease. Add 1/2 cup water and 2 tablespoons. Taco Seasoning Mix. Reduce heat, cover pan, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Makes enough filling for 8 to 10 tacos.

Brown Gravy

French's® Brown Gravy Mix - 6/.75 oz. packets

You can’t taste the coffee but it gives the sauce its dark brown color. Great money saver for frugal cooks. Low sodium bouillon can be substituted.

Yield: 11 batches gravy

Ingredients:

  • 1  2/3 cups cornstarch
  • 6 tablespoons beef bouillon cubes
  • 4 teaspoons instant coffee crystals
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container.

To make gravy: measure 3 tablespoons mix into a saucepan. Add 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer 1 minute.

Individual Oatmeal Packets

Homemade oatmeal packets are handy and cheaper.

For each packet: fill a sandwich bag with 1/2 cup of oats, 2 teaspoons brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, a handful of dried fruit and another handful of nuts. Repeat for each bag. Store the bags in a large ziplock storage bag.

When needed, just add ½ cup hot boiling water and let sit until it’s absorbed. Add milk, if desired.

Italian Salad Dressing Mix

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon Garlic Salt
  • 1 tablespoon Onion Powder
  • 1 tablespoon White Sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dried Oregano
  • 2 tablespoons Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Dried Basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Dried Thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon Celery Salt

Mix to combine. Store in an airtight container.

To make the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup Wine Vinegar
  • 2/3 cup Olive Oil
  • 2 tablespoons Water
  • 2 tablespoons Dry Mix

Place all ingredients in  a jar with a lid and shake to combine.

Quick-Fix Healthy Mix contains over 150 dry and liquid mix recipes to stock your kitchen using easy-to-find basic ingredient, allowing you to choose how much and what types of sugar, fat and flour goes into your finished food.

http://www.amazon.com/Quick-Fix-Healthy-Mix-affordable/dp/1440203857


 

Flour that is used in baking comes mainly from wheat, although it can be milled from corn, rice, nuts, legumes, and some fruits and vegetables. With so many types of flour to choose from-spelt flour, soy flour, quinoa flour, rice flour, organic bread flour and even gluten-free flour-your head may begin to spin. If you want your recipe to be a success, you’ll need to understand what each type does and whether it’s right for your recipe’s need.

There are two different types of wheat in the descriptions below: hard and soft. The difference is in the protein content, with hard wheat having a higher level of protein than soft. Wheat is milled and processed in slightly varying ways to create the different flours, for example whole-wheat flour will be darker in color than all-purpose flour because it contains the whole kernel (the bran, germ and endosperm) rather than just the endosperm (the center of the wheat kernel).

The type of flour used will ultimately affect the finished product. Flour contains protein and when it comes in contact with water and heat it produces gluten, which gives elasticity and strength to baked goods. Different types of flour contain different amounts of protein. Therefore using a different type of flour than what is called for in a recipe (without compensating for this change) will alter the outcome of the baked good. A cake flour is used to make a white cake where a delicate tender crumb is desired. Bread flour is used to make a chewy bread and all-purpose flour makes a delicious batch of chocolate chip cookies.

What Mario Batali says about using different flours in Italian cooking:

Soft wheat flour produces the tender pasta used in Emilia-Romagna’s cuisine. Hard wheat flour, conversely, is lower in starch and higher in protein and gluten, producing firm and resilient pasta and bread. Durum wheat is high in gluten and is usually ground into semolina, a slightly coarser flour used in pasta production, particularly in the South of Italy. When purchasing flour, look at the nutrition panel for the protein content, which is listed in grams per pound.

Essentially, for thin tender pasta, I’ve found the pastry flour in the bulk bins to be perfect. For everyday pastas I just use all purpose. For rustic pastas with a rougher texture and thicker noodles, I mix in 1/3 or even 100% semolina, again from the bulk bin. Sometimes I experiment with hard winter wheat Durum (bulk bins), which I think is similar in protein/gluten to semolina but more finely ground if I want a finer texture.

How To Store Flour:

Flour must be kept cool and dry. All flours, even white flour, have a limited shelf life. Millers recommend that flours be stored for no more than 6 months. The main change that occurs over time is the oxidation of oils when flour is exposed to air. The result of this is rancid off flavors. During hot weather, store flour in the refrigerator.

Flour should be stored, covered, in a cool and dry area. This prevents the flour from absorbing moisture and odors and from attracting insects and rodents. Freezing flour for 48 hours before it is stored will kill any weevil or insect eggs already in the flour. It is better not to mix new flour with old if you are not using the flour regularly.

Do not store flour near soap powder, onions or other foods and products with strong odors.

If freezer space is available, flour can be repackaged in airtight, moisture-proof containers, labeled and placed in the freezer at 0 degrees F. If flour is stored like this, it will keep well for several years.

Keep whole wheat flour in the refrigerator the year around. Natural oils cause this flour to turn rancid quickly at room temperature.

Throw away flour if it smells bad, changes color, or is infested with weevils.

Flour is always readily available so it should only be brought in quantities that will last a maximum of two to three months.

Put a bay leaf in the flour canister to help protect against insect infections. Bay leaves are natural insect repellents.

Following are the flours I use on a regular basis with a description of how I use them. The brands I use are also depicted in the pictures but use the brands that are sold in your area. Recipes follow with the type of flour I use in the recipe.

Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Ideal for the full range of your baking repertoire. All-Purpose is strong enough to combine with whole grains for higher-rising loaves, and tender enough to make beautiful pie crusts, scones and muffins.

Unbleached Bread Flour

High-gluten bread flour, milled from hard red spring wheat, is perfect for yeast baked goods-bread, rolls, pizza, and more. The higher the protein level, the stronger the rise. Excellent companion for whole grain flours, such as rye or whole wheat.

Ultragrain All Purpose Flour

Ultragrain All Purpose Flour contains 9 grams of whole grain per serving and twice the fiber of other all-purpose flours. Use it in place of standard white flour in all of your favorite recipes. Recipes made with Ultragrain look, cook, bake, and taste like recipes made with white flour, but have the added benefit of whole grain nutrition. I like the convenience of the whole wheat flour added in with the white flour, especially for baking muffins and other coffeecake types of bread.

Self-Rising Flour

Self-rising flour, a blend of flour, baking powder, and salt, is a Southern staple. Milled from a lower-protein wheat than all-purpose flour, it produces softer, more tender baked goods, including biscuits, pancakes, cakes, cookies, muffins, pastries, and more.This convenient flour eliminates two steps in many of your favorite recipes: adding the baking powder, and adding the salt. Both are already in the flour.

White Whole Wheat Flour

100% white whole wheat is a lighter whole wheat, with 100% of the nutrition. Makes lighter-colored, milder-tasting baked goods. Perfect for cookies, bars, bread, muffins, pancakes… all your favorite baked goods.

100% Whole Wheat Flour

Traditional Whole Wheat Flour, features the classic flavor of red whole wheat. Its fine grind and 14% protein content produce whole-wheat breads with a hearty texture and higher rise.  Excellent for yeast bread.

 

 

Unbleached Cake Flour Blend

A flour blend that produces a medium-fine texture cake, moist and flavorful, with no artificial colors or chemicals added. It is a good flour to use for baking birthday cakes and cookies, especially Christmas sugar cookies.

 

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

Pastry Flour (both white and whole wheat) is milled from soft wheat and has a level of protein between all-purpose and cake flours (at about 8-10%). That medium level makes it great to use in recipes where you want a tender and crumbly pastry (too much protein would give you a hard pastry and too little protein would give you a brittle dough). Try pastry flour in recipes for biscuits, pie dough, brownies, cookies and quick breads. Do not use it for making yeast breads.

I prefer to use the whole wheat version and I have great success with it in all my pies and cookies.

Whole wheat pastry flour is milled from low-protein soft wheat, producing a flour with 9% protein. Use it in cookies, pie crusts, and scones to incorporate whole wheat into your pastries while retaining the tenderness these pastries need.

 

Semolina Flour

Semolina–a coarse grind of high-protein durum wheat–gives gorgeous color and great flavor to breads, pizza crust, and pasta. Substitute semolina for some (or all) of the all-purpose flour in your bread recipe.

Makes wonderful pasta.

My favorite way to use the semolina flour is mixed into pizza crust – it really just helps make a superior crispy product. I just replace about a cup of the regular flour with semolina and mix it in.

 

Italian-Style Flour

Italian-Style flour makes an extremely supple dough, smooth and easy to work with. The “00” refers to the grind of the flour, and how much of the wheat’s bran and germ have been removed, not to its protein level. There are low-, high- and in-between 00 flours. The one sold in the US is a lower protein one. Try it for crackers or pasta, tender pizza, focaccia, and bread sticks or crisp grissini.

Instant Flour

Wondra is an instant flour, low in protein and finely ground. It has been treated, so that it will dissolve instantly in water and not require the same long cooking process as non-instant flour to dissolve in a liquid and thicken it. The process is called pregelatinization and it involves heating a starch (flour) with very hot water and/or steam, then drying it out, so that it has essentially been cooked already. Because of this, instant flour is unlikely to form lumps when mixed with water or broth. Wondra also has some malted barley flour mixed into it, which acts as a dough conditioner in many breads. This quick-mixing all-purpose flour is the perfect solution for lump-free gravies and sauces and for breading fish and poultry.

 

Fluffy Pancakes

These pancakes taste like they are made with buttermilk and are light and fluffy with minimal fat.

Makes: 5 servings (2 pancakes each)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fat free milk
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1-1/4 cups Ultragrain All Purpose Flour
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup Egg Beaters
  • No-Stick Cooking Spray

Directions

Pour milk into small bowl and whisk in oil and lemon juice; set aside. Place flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in medium bowl; blend well. Form a well in center of dry ingredients; set aside.

Add Egg Beaters to milk mixture; whisk together. Pour mixture into the center of dry ingredients. Gently whisk together just until combined; a few lumps will remain. Do not overmix.

Spray large nonstick griddle or skillet with cooking spray. Heat griddle over medium heat until hot. Pour four 1/4 cupfuls of batter separately onto griddle.

Cook about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes or until large bubbles form on top and bottom is golden brown. Turn with wide spatula; cook 1 minute more or until second side is golden brown. Keep warm. Repeat until all batter is used. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar or serve with pancake syrup, if desired.

Whole-Wheat Scones                                                                     

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese, cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 cups Whole-Wheat Pastry Flour
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit, your choice
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk, divided
  • ½ cup chopped pecans, divided

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly oil a large baking sheet or coat it with nonstick spray. Place cream cheese and butter in freezer to chill, about 10 minutes.

2. Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut cream cheese and butter into flour mixture using a pastry blender or your fingers until it resembles coarse meal. Add dried fruit, 1/4 cup pecans and orange zest and toss to incorporate. Make a well in the flour mixture. Add 2/3 cup buttermilk, stirring with a fork until just combined.

3. Transfer dough to a well-floured surface and knead gently 7 or 8 times. Divide dough in half. With floured hands, pat each piece into a circle about 1/2 inch thick. With a floured knife, cut each circle into 8 wedges. Transfer to prepared baking sheet. Lightly brush tops with remaining 1 tablespoon buttermilk and sprinkle with remaining pecans.

4. Bake scones for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden and firm. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.

Fresh Whole-Wheat Pita                                                                                                          

Stuff with your favorite salad or sandwich fixings. Leftovers make tasty baked chips.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water (100° to 110°)
  • 10 ounces bread flour (about 2 1/4 cups)
  • 4.75 ounces White Whole-Wheat Flour (about 1 cup), divided
  • 2 tablespoons 2% Greek-style yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Directions:

1. Dissolve sugar and yeast in 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add bread flour, 3 ounces (about 3/4 cup) whole-wheat flour, yogurt, oil, and salt to the yeast mixture; beat with a electric mixer paddle attachment at medium speed until smooth. Switch to the dough hook and knead dough until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes); add enough of remaining whole-wheat flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to the bowl (dough will feel sticky). Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

2. Position the oven rack on the lowest shelf.

3. Preheat the oven to 500° F.

4. Divide dough into 8 portions. Working with one portion at a time, gently roll each portion into a 5 1/2-inch circle. Place 4 dough circles on each of 2 baking sheets heavily coated with cooking spray. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, at 500°F for 8 minutes or until puffed and browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 1 pita)

Golden Semolina Biscotti                                                                                                                                                       

You won’t need a mixer to make these crunchy biscotti; the dough is easily stirred together by hand.

Ingredients:

  • 5 tablespoons (2 1/2 ounces) melted butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 to 4 drops flavoring of choice; e.g., butter-rum, almond, hazelnut, etc.
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/3 cup Semolina Flour
  • 2 cups diced dried fruit, chocolate chips or chunks, or nuts

Directions:

Grease a baking sheet. Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Stir together the melted butter, sugar, salt, baking powder, flavor, and vanilla, mixing until blended. Add the eggs, then blend in the flour and semolina. Use a spatula or your hands to mix in the fruits, chocolate, or nuts.

Scoop the dough onto the baking pan and shape it into a 10 1/2 x 4-inch log.

Bake the log in a preheated 350°F oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool for 1 hour.

Slice on the diagonal into 1/2- to 3/4-inch wide pieces. Place the biscotti back onto a baking sheet.

Bake in a preheated 325°F oven for 22 to 26 minutes, until golden. Turn them over halfway during the baking time.

The biscotti will become crisp as they cool; allow them to cool right on the baking sheet.

Store in an airtight container when totally cool. Yield: 14 to 18 large biscotti.

 


3.2.3_2A_Antipasti Salad

By shopping early and using make-ahead recipes, you can throw a fancy, fuss-free cocktail party at a moment’s notice. Your guests will be sipping holiday punch and popping savory homemade appetizers, while you sit back and admire your handiwork. As you plan a party, appetizers likely will play an important role in the party menu. Because hosting a party requires many last-minute details, take care of the appetizers well in advance. When you make and freeze your appetizers, you can cross this important job from your list. Depending on the type of appetizers, you can then defrost them in the refrigerator for immediate serving or warm them in the oven before serving. Tackling the prep work in advance gives you breathing room for all the other fun cooking when company’s coming.

Your free time may be in short supply during the holidays, as one event after another fills the calendar. And the gatherings you host are naturally the most demanding. But a little planning can ensure success.

Following are a variety of simple, delicious hors d’oeuvres you can prepare and freeze days, weeks, or even months before your company comes. Some of these dishes don’t require thawing and can be reheated straight from the freezer, making them ideal for impromptu gatherings. Round out these offerings with a ready-made crudité platter from the supermarket and a selection of cheeses and breads, and your party food concerns are covered.

Facts on Freezing

To ensure your food doesn’t suffer during freezing and thawing, follow a few guidelines:

Freezer temperature should be below 0° to freeze foods safely. You can check the temperature with a freezer thermometer.

The faster foods freeze, the less they will be affected by the process. Slow freezing allows large ice crystals to form, which damages the food’s cell structure during thawing.

Chill freshly prepared foods in the refrigerator. Then, before freezing, wrap or package them tightly-with freezer-safe plastic wrap, zip-top plastic bags, or airtight plastic containers-in small portions, which will freeze faster than larger helpings.

Label each bag or container with the date and contents. Also include instructions for reheating on the label, if desired, as a reminder for yourself and others.

To avoid food safety problems, always thaw frozen appetizers in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.

Keep a running total of what’s in your freezer and rotate foods often.

Using Frozen Appetizers

To reheat foods: Bake in the oven at 350 degrees F, reheat on the stove top on medium low heat, or cook in the microwave oven at 60-70% power. Foods generally need 1/3 to 1/2 more cooking or baking time than the original recipe called for.

To reheat on the stove top: add a few tablespoons of liquid to the frozen food and heat with the cover on, stirring occasionally.

Baked goods can stand at room temperature, in the freezer wrapping, until thawed

Some general ideas for make ahead appetizers

Seafood

Mini crab cakes can be made and frozen ahead of the party time and when you are ready to serve them, reheat in the oven.. You can also freeze seafood soups ahead of an event and cooked shrimp for a shrimp cocktail.

Vegetarian

Make stuffed mushroom caps filled with spinach and cheese. Small button mushrooms are most appropriate for hors d’oeuvre-size portions. You can freeze mushroom caps for up to two weeks and bake them from the frozen state. You can also bake olive, pepper and asiago pinwheels straight from the freezer. They hold up frozen for two weeks. Frozen puff pastry is convenient to have in stock for any last-minute or freeze-ahead appetizers due to its fast-baking nature. Brie, apple and walnut phyllo triangles freeze to perfection and can last up to two weeks in the freezer.

Meats

Meatball appetizers are a simple appetizer to freeze days or weeks in advance. Freezing meatballs in the sauce easily allows you to warm them all at once in one, no-fuss at the time when you need them. If you do not eat beef or pork, substitute turkey or chicken. Chicken wings can be prepared and frozen several weeks before the party.

Baked Appetizers

Pre-made dough makes your party appetizers a cinch. Bake pie crust tarts in a miniature cupcake holder sprayed with cooking spray, so the tarts release easily. Fill the tarts with a custard-based mix that includes onion, spinach and mushroom or smoked salmon. Freeze the tarts after you’ve baked them and defrost at party time. Roll biscuits from the refrigerator case into bread sticks about 8 inches long and 1/2-inch thick. Brush with egg white and roll in nuts, dried herbs or seeds. Freeze after baking and then defrost at party time. Serve with various flavored dips.

Spinach Balls

These little balls freeze very well, so make some ahead of time and be ready for company.

Ingredients:

  • 2 (10 oz.) pkgs. frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 2 cups crushed crumbs made from herb seasoned stuffing mix
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion or garlic salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • pinch nutmeg

Directions:

Drain spinach well by pressing in colander and squeezing paper towels to remove excess moisture.

Crush enough of the herb stuffing cubes to make 2 cups of crumbs. Mix with the spinach and remaining ingredients in large bowl. Roll into 1″ balls.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place balls on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for 10 minutes. Makes about 50 appetizers.

To freeze ahead, make appetizers and freeze unbaked. Bake, frozen, in preheated 350 degrees F oven for 14-18 minutes until hot and crisp.

Crab & Cheese Crostini

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup crab (frozen or fresh)
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup parsley , minced
  • 1/2 cup sour cream 
  • 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

At least 32 thin slices baguette. 

Combine all filling ingredients in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Bake the bread slices in a 250-degree F oven in a single layer for 10 to 15 minutes. Cool.

Mound about 1 tablespoon of filling on toasted baguettes slices. If serving right away, bake in a 425-degree F preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

To freeze: Place prepared crostini on a baking sheet and slip into the freezer for at least an hour. Once appetizers are frozen, place gently in an airtight container with parchment or wax paper between layers. They will keep about 3 months in the freezer. Bake frozen for 10 to 12 minutes at 425 degrees F.

Makes at least 32.

Blue Cheese-Walnut Cheese Twists

Ingredients:

  • 2 (9- by 9 1/2-inch) sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup minced walnuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lay 1 sheet of thawed pastry dough on lightly floured surface. Sprinkle evenly with blue cheese, walnuts, salt and pepper. Place remaining pastry on top. Using a floured rolling pin, press the sheets together and roll into a 10-inch square.

Using a sharp knife, cut the square into 12 equal strips, then cut those strips in half. You will have 24 (5-inch) strips.

Gently hold each strip at the end and twist. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper about 1 inch apart. Bake until golden brown; about 10 minutes.

To freeze: Place the baking sheet with the twists on it in the freezer for at least one hour. When twists are frozen, store in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or wax paper, for up to three months. Add 2 to 3 minutes to the cooking time for frozen twists.

Makes 24.

Variations

• Cheddar-Adobo Cheese Twists: 4 ounces (1 cup) shredded cheddar, 1 tablespoon minced chipotle chile in adobo sauce, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

• Parmesan Twists: 2 ounces (1 cup) Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

• Everything Cheese Twists: 2 ounces (1 cup) Parmesan, 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, 1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds, 1/2 teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds.

Chicken Nut Puffs

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups ground chicken, cooked
  • 1/3 cup toasted and chopped almonds
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon seasoning salt
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs

Directions:

Combine chicken and almonds and set aside. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

In a large saucepan, combine the chicken broth, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, parsley, seasoning salt, celery seed and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil. Add flour all at once; stir mixture until a smooth ball forms. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Beat until smooth. Stir in chicken and almonds. Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls onto greased baking sheets. Bake in preheated oven for 12 to 14 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Serve warm.

To freeze: Cool completely and store in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or wax paper, for up to three months. To reheat, place in single layer on baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes.

Makes 36.

 

Peppery Ham Pate

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 pound baked ham, sliced thin
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Cognac or Brandy (or use brandy extract)

Directions:

Blend the pepper, butter, garlic and onion powder in a food processor or blender for 1 minute or until smooth. Add the ham slices one at a time and process until minced, about 15 seconds after each addition.

Add the mayonnaise , mustard and Cognac/Brandy or extract . Transfer to a freezer proof container and freeze for up to 3 months.

When ready to serve, defrost overnight in the refrigerator and serve at room temperature with party pumpernickel or french bread or crackers.

 


Bay of Naples

The recorded history of Naples begins in the 7th. century BC, when the nearby Greek colony of Cumae founded a new city called Parthenope. Precisely why the inhabitants of Cumae decided to expand is not known for certain, but the Cumaeans built Neapolis (the “New City”) adjacent to the old Parthenope. At about the same time, they prevented an invasion attempt by the Etruscans. The new city grew thanks to the influence of the powerful Greek city-state of Syracuse in Sicily and, at some point, the new and old cities on the Gulf of Naples merged to become a single inhabited area.

Naples became an ally of the Roman Republic against Carthage. The strong walls of Naples held off Hannibal’s attack. During the Samnite Wars the city, a bustling center of trade, was captured by the Samnites. However, the Romans soon took it from them and made Neapolis a Roman colony. Neapolis was respected by the Romans as a place of Hellenistic culture, where people maintained their Greek language and customs and where elegant villas, aqueducts, public baths, theaters and the Temple of Dioscures were built. A number of Roman emperors, including Claudius and Tiberius, maintained villas in or near Naples. It was during this period that Christianity came to Naples and the apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, are said to have preached here.

Naples, a Crowded City

Beaches in Napoli

In the sixth century Naples was conquered by the Byzantines and it was one of the last territories to fall to the Normans in 1039. In 1266 Naples and the kingdom of Sicily were given by Pope Clement IV to Charles of Anjou, who moved the capital from Palermo to Naples. In 1284 the kingdom was split in two and stayed that way until 1816, when they would form the kingdom of the Two Sicilies. In between, Naples had been under the rule of Spain, Austria and the Bourbons and, briefly, a Jacobin republic. Finally, in October 1860, it became part of the new Italy.

Stock Photo: Herculaneum excavations 9, Naples, Italy. Image: 948150

Herculaneum excavations, Naples, Italy

The Neapolitan painter Massimo Stanzione poses a woman in festive local costume (ca 1635) with a market chicken: only the rich ate chicken on an ordinary occasion

During World War II, Naples was more heavily bombed than any other Italian city. Although the Neapolitans did not rebel against Italian fascism, Naples was the first Italian city to rise up against German military occupation and achieved liberation by October 1, 1943. The symbol of the rebirth of Naples was the rebuilding of Santa Chiara which had been destroyed during an Allied air raid. Special funding from the Italian government helped the economy to improve somewhat, including the rejuvenation of the Piazza del Plebiscito and other city landmarks.

Naples is rich in historical, artistic and cultural traditions with its own distinct cuisine. Neapolitan cuisine was influenced by Arab, Norman, Spanish and French cultures since all ruled Naples at some point in time. What has resulted is a unique half-sophisticated, half-folk cuisine. Many Neapolitan recipes are elaborate, take time to prepare and use seasonal produce. New World food imports added potatoes, peppers, beans, coffee and, especially, tomatoes to the cuisine. The pizza originated here and is eaten, like so many other delicious local foods, out on the street.

Selling Pizza on the Street

Flattened flour cakes — early pizzas — were made out of wheat flour, olive oil, lard and herbs and garnished with cheese. As for a much later ingredient, the tomato: after the Spanish colonization of the Americas, Spaniards brought them to Europe. In southern Italy tomatoes were easy to cultivate. The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692.

Considered a peasant’s meal in Italy for centuries, modern pizza is attributed to Raffaele Esposito of Campania, Naples. In June 1889, Esposito baked a pizza in honor of visiting King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy. The Italian flag inspired Esposito’s recipe and contained green (basil), white (mozzarella) and red (tomatoes). Moistened with splashes of extra virgin olive oil, it was named Pizza Margherita to flatter the Queen, and it set the standard for pizzas to come. Consequently, from 1889 on, Naples became the “pizza capital of the world”.

Naples isn’t only about the pizza. With delicious food that ranges from fried treats to decadent desserts, the food of Naples can satisfy any food lover. The fertile volcanic soil of Campania combines with a perfect climate to produce the best fruit and vegetables in Italy. Dishes like eggplant parmesan, stuffed peppers and pasta e fagioli have been around for hundreds of years. Rich sauces like Neapolitan Ragu have been used to create some of the best pasta dishes in Italy. Like most of Italy, though, pastas mixed with vegetables, instead of expensive meats and seafood, helped feed people during hard times.

Zucchini alla Scapece

Seafood Pasta

Eggplant

Regular red and yellow peppers are widely used, and a local variety of small green peppers (not spicy), peperoncini verdi, are usually fried.

Salad is a side dish, especially seafood ones. Lettuce, and more often the incappucciata (a local variety of the iceberg lettuce but more crispy), is mixed with carrots, fennel, rucola and radishes, traditionally the long and spicy ones, which today are more and more rare; almost completely replaced by the round and sweeter ones.

Black olives used in Neapolitan cooking are always the ones from Gaeta.

Meat is not used as frequently in Neapolitan cooking as in the cuisine of Northern Italy. The most common kinds of meat used in Neapolitan cooking are:

  • sausage or pork liver, rounded in a net of pork’s fat and a bay leaf
  • trippa (tripe) and other more humble cuts of pork or beef, like pork’s foot and cow’s nose
  • braciole, pork rolls stuffed with raisins, pine nuts and parsley, fixed with toothpicks and cooked in ragù
  • lamb and goat are roasted, usually with potatoes and peas, typically around Easter
  • rabbit and chicken, often cooked alla cacciatora or pan-fried with tomatoes
  • beef or other red meat with tomatoes, cooked for a long time to tenderize an inexpensive piece of meat, as in Carne Pizzaiola

Neapolitan cooking has always used an abundance of all kinds of seafood from the Tyrrhenian Sea. Recipes use either less expensive fishes, in particular anchovies, or fishes of medium and large size, like spigola (European seabass) and orate (gilt-head bream), presently sold mainly from fish farms. 

  • Cicenielli, baby fishes, very small and transparent, prepared either steamed or fried in a dough
  • Fravagli, few centimeter long, typically fried
  • The baccalà (cod) and stockfish, imported from northern Europe seas, are either fried or cooked with potatoes and tomatoes.
  • Octopus, squid, cuttlefish, as well as crustacea (mainly shrimp).
  • Shellfish cozze (mussels), vongole (clams), cannolicchi, sconcigli are used in many seafood meals.

And let’s not forget the desserts. Struffoli, sfogliatelle and pastiera cheesecake all come out of Naples.

Make Some Neapolitan Inspired Recipes At Home

Cauliflower, Olive and Caper Salad                                                                                                                                    

A traditional Neapolitan Christmas Eve dinner always begins with a family version of the following salad, which is actually an antipasto.

It can also be made with any of the following: tuna, pitted black olives, mushrooms, artichokes packed in oil, capers, peppers and cornichons, and a dressing made with lemon juice and olive oil.

Ingredients:

  • Coarse salt
  • 2 lbs. whole cauliflower, washed and drained
  • 3/4 cup pitted, oil-cured black olives
  • 1/3 cup capers, rinsed and dried
  • 3/4 cup pitted green olives
  • 1/2 cup red peppers packed in vinegar, rinsed, dried, and sliced into julienne strips
  • 8 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained and cut into pieces
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

Fill a large saucepan with water; add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil. Lower the cauliflower head gently into the water.

Simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes.

Test the cauliflower – it should be al dente, not overcooked.

Drain, cool, and break into flowerets.

Put the cauliflower in a large bowl and add the black olives, capers, green olives, red peppers, anchovies, and pepper to taste.

Mix together the lemon juice and olive oil and pour over the salad.

Toss gently, being careful not to break the flowerets.

Taste for salt and add more, if necessary.

Note: This may be prepared in advance and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.

Pasta Caprese with Tomatoes, Basil and Mozzarella                                                     

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs. fresh, ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, washed, dried and shredded
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 lb pasta, preferably penne
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
  • A pinch of hot red chili pepper 

Directions:

An hour before your meal:

Using a wooden spoon, mix the mozzarella, tomatoes, oil and vinegar, garlic and hot pepper in a deep bowl. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover with a clean dishcloth and let it sit at room temperature for an hour.

Cook the pasta, al dente, drain the pasta and return to the warm pasta pot.

Add the basil to the tomato mixture, toss well and pour the tomato mixture onto the pasta. Mix well. Check again for seasoning, pour into serving bowl and serve.

Spicy Neapolitan Fish                                                                            

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 lbs. fish fillets
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry crushed red pepper
  • 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup kalamata olives or cracked green olives, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 1 tablespoon chopped capers
  • 1 cup chopped artichoke hearts

Directions

Heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat.

Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper.

Add half the fish to the skillet and sauté until just opaque in the center, about 3 minutes per side.

Transfer fish to a platter.

Repeat with the remaining fish.

Add parsley and crushed red pepper to the skillet; sauté 1 minute.

Add wine, tomatoes, olives, garlic, capers and artichoke hearts; sauté until tomatoes are soft and juicy, about 2 minutes.

Season sauce with salt and pepper; spoon over fish.  This dish is often served over spaghetti.

Neapolitan Rum Baba

Ingredients:

Cake:

  • 6 eggs
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons of baking powder
  • 8 oz. (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup of milk, warmed

Syrup:

  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup white rum
  • 1 teaspoon of rum extract

Cake Directions:

Beat the eggs and sugar until fluffy.

Add the flour and baking powder sifted together.

Beat in the butter and milk

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Pour the ingredients into a greased and floured bundt pan.

Bake for 30-40 minutes.

Syrup Directions:

In a small saucepan cook the sugar in the water until syrupy.

Remove from the heat and stir in the rum and rum extract.

Unmold the cake and spoon the rum syrup, slowly, all over the cake until all the syrup soaks into the cake. You can also brush the syrup on with a pastry brush.


12-Days

Homemade Christmas gifts are a great way to add a very personal touch to your gift giving during the holiday season. We have all heard this sentiment that “the best present is a homemade, personalized gift”. With homemade gifts, you don’t have to pay for the advertising, packaging and transportation costs of items you purchase from stores or online. Instead, you have better control of the gift budget, since you can readily choose materials or components for making gifts that are well within your budget.

Many of the mass-produced gift items are things that your gift recipients actually do not need. How many times have you received off-the-shelf Christmas gifts that you simply stash away in a corner of your closet after the festive season is over? With homemade Christmas gifts, you get to customize your gifts to what your gift recipients might like or use. Though it may sound troublesome, it is actually this preparation that makes the gift really special, and it helps build up the excitement to Christmas when the gift is ready.

Another great item you can find in your garden or at the farmer’s market for homemade Christmas gift ideas is dried herbs. Such herbs gifts are especially great for those who love to cook. You can reuse a small or medium fancy jar, or buy one anytime throughout the year when they are on sale, and prepare this unique gift for your loved ones as Christmas gifts. Include tags that suggest a recipe for each herb on the jar. You could even include personalized labels on the jars, such as a reminder to give thanks, smell the roses and smile. These personalized messages are bound to help bring smiles to your gift recipient as he or she cooks.

I really appreciate gift containers of pancake or cocoa mix on a busy morning, so I have put together some suggestions for gifts that you can make in your kitchen. I am sure you can think of many more.  Happy Gift Giving.

1. Marinated Olives With Rosemary And Orange Peel                                                                              

Makes 1 pint

This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled to fill as many pint jars as needed. Store them in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Package for gift giving.

Ingredients:

  • 2 (5.3 ounces) jars black or green olives, with pits (scant 2 cups)
  • 1 large sprig rosemary, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • Zest of 1/2 orange, removed in thin strips
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

In a large bowl, toss together olives, rosemary, zest and pepper flakes, and then pack mixture into a 1-pint glass jar. Pour in enough oil to just cover the olives (about 1/2 cup), and then seal tightly and chill for 1 to 3 days.

2. Homemade Mustard Sauce                                                                            

Makes 2 cups

  • 2 ounces yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 cup brown mustard seeds
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Chardonnay wine
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 2 the lemons, juice and zest of
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black peppercorns, to taste
  •  2 pint sized jars

Using a coffee grinder, grind the yellow mustard seeds until they are powdery and resemble coarse meal.

Place in a food processor and add the remaining ingredients.

Process until very smooth. Spoon into 2 pint sized, sterilized jars. Store in the refrigerator.

Note: This mustard improves dramatically over time. Its flavors will mellow, becoming milder and less sharp.

3. Pickled Peppers with Shallots and Thyme                                                                                           

These pickled peppers are great as a pizza topping or served with bread and cheese.

MAKES 1 QUART

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sweet or mild mini bell peppers, sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, seeded
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced, separated into rings
  • 2 cups white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 5 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • Pinch of coarse kosher salt

Directions:

Place peppers and shallots in medium bowl.

Mix vinegar and next 6 ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove brine from heat; carefully pour over peppers and shallots. Cover bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Uncover; cool to room temperature. Transfer to pint-sized jars, pressing peppers into brine. Cover; chill at least 4 hours and up to 10 days.

4. Wild Mushroom, Bean and Barley Soup Mix                                                                                  

This mix makes 6 (1-pint) jars or 12 (1/2 pint-1-cup) jars.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups dried red lentils
  • 6 whole bay leaves
  • 3 cups pearled barley
  • 1 1/2 cups dried porcini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups dried yellow split peas
  • 3/4 cup mixed dried vegetables for soup, such as Just Veggies
  • 2 tablespoons dried dill weed

Place ½ teaspoon black pepper in the bottom of 6 (1-pint) jars. (If making in 8-ounce jars, half all ingredients.) Pour ¼ cup red lentils into each jar.

Place one bay leaf in each jar, vertically against the inside of the glass, anchoring the tip in the lentils. Pour ½ cup barley into each jar, holding bay leaf against jar until the barley keeps it in place.

Place ¼ cup mushrooms in each jar. Press down to eliminate air pockets.

Pour ¼ cup split yellow peas in each jar, followed by a heaping 2 tablespoons of vegetables in each jar (see picture of dried vegetables).

Top each jar with 1 teaspoon dill weed, and place lids tightly on jars. Makes 6 (1-pint) jars, each jar serves 8.

Attach to jars: Directions for making the soup:

Combine 1 pint soup mix, 4 cups water and 2 cups vegetable broth in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil. Stir well, cover, reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes. Stir in 2 more cups vegetable broth and 1 teaspoon salt.

Bring back to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 40 to 50 minutes, until barley and peas are tender.

5. Holiday Trail Mix                                                        

Makes 8 cups, enough for about 16 servings

This healthful, colorful trail mix is ideal for gift giving. You can use raw green pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas) or choose roasted salted nuts for a light salty note in your mix.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cup cinnamon cereal squares (such as Puffins) or other cereal
  • 1 1/4 cup green pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup date pieces
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss. Divide mixture between gift bags or jars and package for gift giving.

6. Cranberry and Orange Granola                                                                      

Makes 4 Cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon hazelnut or grapeseed oil
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup candied orange peel, sliced into long, thin strips

Note: Candied orange peel can be found seasonally at most supermarkets and purchased year-round online.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300°F.  Spread oats on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toast, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and fragrant, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof bowl; add almonds and let cool slightly. Coat same baking sheet with nonstick spray. Whisk maple syrup, butter, and hazelnut oil in a small bowl to blend. Pour syrup mixture over oats; stir thoroughly to coat. Spread mixture on prepared sheet.

Bake granola, stirring occasionally, until light golden, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cranberries and raisins; bake for 10 minutes longer. Remove granola from oven and let cool slightly. Stir in the orange peel. Let cool completely, then break into pieces.

DO AHEAD: Store airtight at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

7. Better Than Nutella (Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread)                                

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (heaping) hazelnuts, preferably skinned (about 10 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Four clean 8-ounce jars

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Spread nuts on a rimmed baking sheet or in an ovenproof skillet. Roast, shaking sheet once for even toasting, until deep brown, 13-15 minutes. Let cool completely. (If nuts have skins, rub them in a kitchen towel to remove.)

Grind hazelnuts and sugar in a food processor until a fairly smooth, buttery paste forms, about 1 minute.

Place chocolate in a medium metal bowl. Set bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water; stir often until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over saucepan; add butter and whisk until completely incorporated. Whisk in cream and salt, then hazelnut paste. You can also use a double boiler.

Pour sauce (called gianduja in Italian) into jars, dividing equally. Let cool. (Gianduja will thicken and become soft and peanut butter-like as it cools.) Screw on lids.

DO AHEAD Gianduja can be made up to 4 weeks ahead; keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature for 4 hours to soften. Can stand at room temperature up to 4 days.

8. Candied Espresso Walnuts                                                                                             

Serve dinner with coffee.

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely ground espresso coffee beans
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 large egg white
  • 4 cups walnut halves (about 12 ounces)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Whisk sugar and next 4 ingredients in small bowl. Whisk egg white in a separate large bowl until frothy. Add walnuts; toss to coat. Sprinkle walnuts with espresso mixture and toss to coat. Spread coated walnuts on prepared sheet in single layer.

Bake 5 minutes. Slide spatula under walnuts to loosen from baking sheet and stir, rearranging in single layer. Bake until walnuts are dry to touch, about 5 minutes longer. Loosen walnuts from sheet again; cool on sheet.

DO AHEAD Candied walnuts can be made 2 weeks ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.

9. Chocolate Sauce                                                                           

About 2 cups 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 (15-ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 2 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Whisk brown sugar and cocoa powder in a large heavy saucepan. Gradually whisk in milk until a smooth paste forms. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking constantly, for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and add chopped chocolate; stir until melted. Stir in vanilla. Pour into pint or half pint sterilized jars. Let cool. Store in the refrigerator. Should be heated before serving.

10. Chocolate-Walnut Cookie Mix                                                                 

Yield: 36 Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 wide-mouth Mason jar (1 quart)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Directions

Dry Mix:

1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

2. Spoon flour mixture into bottom of the jar and press down hard to compact (a small spice jar works well for compacting). It needs to be at about the 1-1/4-cup mark on the jar to insure that there is enough room for all ingredients. Continue layering with cocoa powder and granulated sugar compacting each layer. Add chips and nuts. Close jar tightly. Store up to 2 weeks at room temperature.

3. Write the following recipe on a gift card and attach it to the jar with ribbon.

4. Decorate lid of jar with fabric and tie with ribbon and bows. Makes 36 cookies.

Chocolate-Walnut Cookies Directions

In a large bowl, combine 3/4 cup cooled, melted butter with 3 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Stir in contents of this jar until just mixed. Refrigerate dough for 1 hour. Drop by rounded tablespoons, 2 inches apart, onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 13 to 15 minutes or until firm. Cool on baking sheet for 1 minute before removing to wire rack to cool completely.

11. Cinnamon Pancake Mix In A Jar                                     

Makes enough for 2 or 3 gifts

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon

Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Use a whisk to incorporate the ingredients evenly. Divide in half or thirds and package for gift giving.

Directions for Making Pancakes

  • 1 cup Cinnamon Pancake Mix above
  • 3/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 large egg whites or egg substitute
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter

Whisk pancake mix with cottage cheese, milk, eggs, almond extract and butter. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Brush lightly with oil. Drop 1/4 cup batter onto skillet. Cook until pancakes until bubbles appear. Flip and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer. Repeat with remaining batter.

homemade-gifts-hot-chocolate

12. Hot-Chocolate Mix      

  • 3/4 cups Quality Unsweetened Cocoa, such as Valrhona
  • 6 ounces Quality Semisweet Chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1 teaspoons Ground Nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoons Ground Clove

Make the mix:

Place all ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process just until mixture is powdery — about 30 seconds. Be careful not to over process. Store in an airtight container.

Directions for a gift: Fill jars with the mixture, cover the lids with a festive swath of fabric, and include peppermint “stirring” sticks for added flavor and color.

To make hot chocolate, combine 1 cup of milk and 2 tablespoons of this mix in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until chocolate is incorporated and mixture is warmed through. Serve immediately.


The Italian version of fruitcake is panettone, and although it does contain the candied fruits that can make fruitcake something to avoid, its airy texture and light sweet flavor make it more appealing than other fruitcakes. Traditional panettone, (yellow in color because it has butter and egg yolks in it) is studded with raisins and the candied peels of lemons and oranges. It’s cooked in a cylindrical paper and, when it rises, it puffs out of the top of the paper so that the end product looks like a muffin. While some fruitcake varieties incorporate alcohol into the recipe, panettone does not – but it goes quite well with a glass of sweet wine!

Panettone is more than just a Christmas bread. It is also a good story – or two – depending on whom you’re talking to. The legends behind the origin of this cake differ slightly, but all agree as to where it comes from – Milan. While the Ancient Romans were known to make sweetened bread, the origins of this particular recipe don’t go back quite that far.

The most commonly quoted legend behind panettone says that in the 15th. century, a man fell in love with the daughter of a baker called Toni. In order to win her heart and prove his love to her father, he came up with a bread recipe that included dried and candied fruits and called his creation “pane de Toni,” or Toni’s bread. Another story says the Christmas banquet given by the Sforza family had no dessert until a young kitchen hand baked up a sweet bread, thereby saving the meal – and yes, the kitchen hand’s name was Toni. Whether there is any truth to these legends is immaterial – the bread remains a part of the Christmas season in many Italian households.

Although panettone comes from Milan, it is now found throughout Italy. During the Christmas season look in any Italian bakery window and you’ll see brightly-colored packages ready for sale. You’ll even find mass-produced panettone in shops around the world, although the quality of these isn’t great. If you’re not in Italy and don’t have access to a good Italian bakery, you’re probably better off making your own panettone – especially since you can control exactly what goes into it.

Resource: Under the Tuscan Gun

In the weeks before Christmas, hundreds of millions of panettone are sold all over Italy, and throughout Europe, as well as in North America. That famous brightly colored box—oversized, festive and elegant—is an immediate cue that the holidays are here. Before industrialization, panettone (literally, “big bread”) was made in local bakeries or at home, and it was a laborious, time-consuming task. Traditionally, the father, or head of the household, would mark a cross at the top of the tall loaf of sweetened bread before it was placed in the oven, as a good omen for the coming year. And, still to this day, panettone retains a special aura, bringing a feeling of love, luck and joy whenever it is offered.

The special dough, similar to sourdough, slowly ferments and rises for at least 12 hours, but the leavening process can last much longer. Panettone ingredients are usually flour, eggs, butter, yeast, dried raisins, candied oranges, citron and lemon zest. Throughout Italy, bakeries still prepare it daily during the Christmas season for their customers. The quality of bakery-made panettone is usually excellent and is reflected in the price.

Panettone is eaten during the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations—which last for 10 days or so in Italy. Like the Christmas fruitcake so commonly offered by relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbors in the U.S., it is not uncommon for an Italian family to receive as many as ten or twenty loaves of panettone during the holidays. Many of these cakes are then passed on to other neighbors, or donated to less fortunate households or charities. Yet, like a favorite family relative who appears every Christmas, familiarity does not diminish the appreciation most people feel when panettone is offered—often brought along as a gift when invited for lunch or dinner during the holiday season, and presented with a good bottle of Spumante or Prosecco.

Traditionally, panettone is served after the enormous Christmas day feast or on Santo Stefano (that is, December 26th, a national holiday in Italy)—but also on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. However, very few have any room left for dessert after these feasts, so panettone is saved to be eaten in the morning with caffe latte or cappuccino, or as a snack with an afternoon espresso. In the U.S. French Toast panettone is a breakfast favorite during the Christmas season.

The traditional dough for panettone is quite rich and contains plenty of butter and eggs. The addition of all the fat to the dough gives it a very tender texture. It can also weigh the dough down, so the bread is given a very long rise to ensure that it is fluffy, not dense, and rises up very high. Traditionally, the bread is baked in octagonal or hexagonal pans, but just about any shape or size can be used, even a bundt pan. Aside from the butter and eggs, most of the flavor of the panettone comes from the add-ins. The most traditional recipes have dried fruits, candied citrus, lemon and/or orange zest. These days, there is more variety and you might see chocolate chip panettone, or panettone soaked in rum for something a little more grown-up.

Making your own panettone gives you the liberty to include whatever fruits and nuts you like – including candied fruits if that’s to your liking. You can find the traditional papers that are used to bake panettone in specialty kitchen shops like Sur la Table or online (there’s a variety of sizes on the Amazon and King Arthur sites). This Christmas enjoy fresh sliced panettone with a sweet wine after dinner and the next morning have it toasted with your coffee.

The Traditional Recipe for Panettone

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups flour, divided
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons apricot jam
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast, divided
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 12 tablespoons softened butter, divided
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons good quality vanilla
  • 3/4 teaspoon orange extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped fine

Icing:

  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1-2 tablespoons milk

Directions:

Make the sponge: Place 1 1/2 cups flour, 2/3 cup water, 2 tablespoons apricot jam, and 1 teaspoon yeast in a small bowl and whisk together. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rest for 3 hours.

Make the dough: In the bowl of an electric mixer, add the sponge, 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon yeast. Use the hook attachment to knead the dough until the mixture is smooth and stretchy, about 3-5 minutes.

Add 3 egg yolks, one at a time, and knead until dough is smooth, shiny, and stretchy.

Cover dough with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Return dough to the mixer, and add salt, vanilla, lemon and orange flavoring, honey, and 1 teaspoon yeast. Knead for 1 minute.

Add 3 egg yolks and knead until incorporated. Add the 12 tablespoons of softened butter, one tablespoon at a time. Knead until dough is soft, shiny and very stretchy, about 5 minutes. Dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Toss the chopped raisins, cherries and pecans with 2 tablespoons of flour. Add them to the dough and knead briefly, until just mixed in.

Place dough in a oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape into a ball. Place dough inside of a 6 inch diameter panettone mold, or use a clean, buttered coffee can lined with parchment paper. Make a small cross in the top of the dough with scissors.

Let dough rise in a warm place until triple in size, which may take several hours since the dough is cold from the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

Place the panettone in the oven, and lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Bake the panettone for about 1 hour, until it has risen high and springs back a little when pressed on top (like a muffin).

Let panettone cool in the pan on a rack.

Make icing (optional): Melt 2 tablespoons butter, and whisk into 1 cup powdered sugar. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, a pinch of salt, and 1-2 tablespoons of milk until desired consistency is reached. Drizzle icing decoratively over top of panettone.

Store panettone wrapped in plastic for up to 1 week. 

Note: Traditional Italian panettones are made with a special flavoring called “fiori de sicila”, which you can purchase at gourmet stores and online. Use in place of the lemon and orange extract.

Here’s my healthy, quick and easy recipe for Panettone.

Panettone was not a popular sweet bread in my family. If someone gave my father a gift of this bread at Christmas, we would all groan. We didn’t even try to eat it and my mother would throw it out. Packaged panettone from Italy was the usual way this bread was given to us and it was not very good. Homemade can be a different story. I experimented on my children in the past and I changed many of the traditional ingredients to meet my children’s “sophisticated” tastes. The bread I developed probably shouldn’t be called panettone.

  • 3 packages active dry yeast or 2 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast (SAF-see photo)                                                                                                        

    SAF Instant Yeast

  • 1/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • ½ cup blanched slivered almonds.

Directions

In a large bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the yeast, warm water, sugar, eggs, vanilla, lemon, almonds, salt and butter; beat well. Gradually stir in the flour, adding just enough flour to make a soft dough. Transfer to the dough hook and knead, adding more flour if necessary, until dough is smooth. Place dough in a well-greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Punch dough down, place on well-floured work surface and shape the dough into a ball.  Place in a well-buttered 2-quart casserole dish. Set aside to rise until doubled in bulk, 30 to 45 minutes.

Bake panettone in a preheated 400°F oven (375°F oven if using a glass pan) for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F (325°F for a glass pan), and bake an additional 30 to 40 minutes. Cover panettone with aluminum foil if it begins to get too brown.

 



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