Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: December 2014

Fireworks cluster

Traditions vary from culture to culture, but there are striking similarities in what’s consumed in different parts of the world for a new year. Whether you want to create a full menu of lucky foods or just supplement your meal, here are the lucky foods to include:

Grapes
New Year’s revelers in Spain consume twelve grapes at midnight—one grape for each stroke of the clock. This dates back to 1909, when grape growers in the Alicante region of Spain initiated the practice to take care of a grape surplus. The idea stuck, spreading to Portugal, as well as former Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador and Peru.

Cooked Greens
Cooked greens, including cabbage, collards, kale and chard, are consumed at New Year’s in different countries for a simple reason — their green leaves look like folded money and are symbolic of an economic fortune.

Legumes
Legumes including beans, peas and lentils are also symbolic of money. Their small, seed like appearance resembles coins that swell when cooked so they are consumed with financial rewards in mind. In Italy, its customary to eat cotechino con lenticchie or sausages and green lentils, just after midnight. In the Southern United States, it’s traditional to eat black-eyed peas in a dish called hoppin’ john.

Pork
The custom of eating pork on New Year’s is based on the idea that pigs symbolize progress. The animal pushes forward, rooting itself in the ground before moving. Pork is also consumed in Italy and the United States, where thanks to its rich fat content, it signifies wealth and prosperity.

Fish
Cod has been a popular feast food since the Middle Ages because it could be preserved and transported, allowing it to reach the Mediterranean and even as far as North Africa and the Caribbean. The Danish eat boiled cod, while in Italy, baccalà or dried salt cod, is enjoyed from Christmas through New Year’s. Herring, another frequently preserved fish, is consumed at midnight in Poland and Germany. Germans also enjoy carp and have been known to place a few fish scales in their wallets for good luck. The Swedish New Year feast is usually a smorgasbord with a variety of fish dishes, such as seafood salad. In Japan, herring roe is consumed for fertility, shrimp for long life and dried sardines for a good harvest (sardines were once used to fertilize the rice fields).

Cakes
Cakes and other baked goods are commonly served from Christmas to New Year’s around the world, with a special emphasis placed on round or ring-shaped sweets. Italy has chiacchiere, which are crispy fritters dusted with powdered sugar. Poland, Hungary and the Netherlands also eat donuts and Holland has ollie bollen, puffy, donut-like pastries filled with apples, raisins, and currants.

In certain cultures, it’s customary to hide a special trinket or coin inside the cake—the finder will be lucky in the new year. Mexico’s rosca de reyes is a ring-shaped cake decorated with candied fruit and baked with one or more surprises inside. Sweden and Norway have similar rituals in which they hide a whole almond in rice pudding—whoever gets the nut is guaranteed great fortune in the new year.

Make your New Year’s Day dinner lucky with these recipes.

Salt Cod in Tomato Garlic Sauce

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Ingredients

  • 1 pound center-cut skinless boneless salt cod (bacala), rinsed well and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 8 large whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 (14-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon water

Directions

Soak and poach cod:

Cover the cod pieces with 2 inches of cold water in a large bowl. Place in the refrigerator and soak, changing the water 3 times a day, up to 3 days (see note, below).

Drain the cod, transfer to a 3-quart saucepan and add 6 cups water. Bring just to a simmer and remove from the heat. (Cod will just begin to flake; do not boil or it will become tough.) Gently transfer cod with a slotted spatula to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Cover with a dampened paper towel and chill while making the sauce.

Cook whole garlic cloves in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately low heat, turning occasionally until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Add tomatoes and sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until tomatoes break down into a very thick sauce, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Mash thebgarlic cloves into the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste. Spread the sauce into a 3-quart gratin dish or other flameproof shallow baking dish and arrange fish over the sauce.

Preheat the broiler.

Whisk together the mayonnaise, crème fraîche and water and spread over each piece of fish. Place the dish under the broiler and broil the fish 5 to 6 inches from the heat just until the mayonnaise mixture is lightly browned, about 2 minutes.

Note: Brands of salt cod differ in their degree of saltiness: A less salty variety may need only 1 day of soaking, while another could require up to 3. To test it, simply taste a small piece after 1 day; you want it to be pleasantly salty but not overwhelming.

Sausage and Lentils with Fennel

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried lentils
  • 4 1/2 cups cold water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, stalks discarded, reserve fronds
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 1/4 pounds sweet Italian sausage links
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar, or to taste
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Directions

Bring lentils, water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are just tender but not falling apart, 12 to 15 minutes.

While lentils simmer, cut fennel bulb into 1/4-inch dice and chop enough fennel fronds to measure 2 tablespoons. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 3 to 4 quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then stir in onion, carrot, fennel bulb, fennel seeds and remaining teaspoon salt. Cover pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, lightly prick sausages in a couple of places with tip of a sharp knife, then cook sausages in remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board.

Drain the cooked lentils in a sieve set over a bowl and reserve the cooking water. Stir lentils into vegetables with enough cooking water to moisten (1/4 to 1/2 cup) and cook over moderate heat until heated through. Stir in parsley, pepper, 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1 tablespoon fennel fronds. Season with additional vinegar and salt, if needed.

Cut sausages diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Serve lentils topped with sausage slices and sprinkled with remaining fennel fronds. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.

Creamy Winter Greens

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Ingredients

  • 1/4 stick unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 3 1/2 pounds mixed winter greens such as collards, mustard greens and kale
  • 6 ounces slab bacon, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch sticks
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, or to taste

Directions

Make béchamel sauce:

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, then add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add milk in a stream, whisking, then add shallot, bay leaf and peppercorns and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Simmer for 5 minutes, whisking occasionally. Strain béchamel sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids and cover the surface with plastic wrap.

Discard stems and center ribs from the greens, then coarsely chop leaves.

Cook bacon in a wide 6 to 8 quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown but not crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then pour off the fat from the pot and wipe clean.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the pot over medium-low heat until browned and fragrant, about 2 minutes, add onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, then stir in greens, 1 handful at a time, letting each handful wilt before adding more. Add béchamel sauce, garlic, red-pepper flakes, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and cook, uncovered, stirring, until sauce coats greens and the greens are tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in bacon, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

Almond Good Luck Cake

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The person who finds the whole almond inside the cake will have good luck during the upcoming year.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2-1/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 whole almond

APRICOT GLAZE:

  • 1/2 cup apricot preserves
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice

Directions

Heat the oven to 350°F. Combine the chopped almonds and 1 tablespoon flour; sprinkle into a well-greased 10-inch fluted tube pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter, shortening and 1 cup of the sugar. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in lemon juice, peel and extracts.

Combine the baking powder, salt, baking soda and remaining flour; add to the creamed mixture alternately with milk.

In a small bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Beat in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until stiff. Fold the egg whites into the batter.

Pour into prepared pan. Insert whole almond into batter.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing the cake from the pan to a wire rack.

For the glaze:

Melt preserves in the microwave or saucepan and stir in orange juice; drizzle over warm cake. Yield: 12 servings.

 


candy

Treat family and friends to homemade candy this holiday season with these recipes adapted from King Arthur Christmas Candy recipes.

Cranberry Nut Chocolate Bark

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup toasted diced pecans
  • 2 2/3 cups chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
  • 2 2/3 cups chopped white chocolate

Directions

Mix the cranberries and pecans together. Set them aside.

Melt the dark chocolate and spread it into an 8″ x 12″ oval on parchment paper placed on a baking sheet.

Allow the chocolate to set, but not harden completely.

Melt the white chocolate and mix it with 3/4 cup of the cranberries and pecans.

Spread this over the dark chocolate.

Sprinkle the rest of the nuts and fruit on top, pressing them in gently.

Allow the candy to cool until hardened; then break it into chunks.

Dark Chocolate Buttercrunch

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 1/2 pound) butter*
  • 1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) diced pecans or slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped or chocolate chips, (you’ll need about 2 2/3 cups)

*If you use unsalted butter, add 1/2 teaspoon salt to the mixture.

Directions

In a large, deep saucepan melt the butter. Stir in the sugar, water and corn syrup and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil gently, over medium heat, until the mixture reaches the hard-crack stage (300°F on an instant-read or candy thermometer).

The syrup will bubble without seeming to change much for a while, but be patient; all of a sudden it will darken and at that point you need to take the temperature and see if it’s ready. (If you don’t have a thermometer, test a dollop in ice water; it should immediately harden to a brittleness sufficient that you’ll be able to snap it in two, without any bending or softness). This whole process should take about 10 to 12 minutes.

Do not leave the mixture unattended – too long on the heat and the syrup will burn.

While the sugar mixture is gently bubbling, spread half of the nuts in a closely packed, even single layer, on a lightly greased baking sheet (a half sheet pan works well here). Top with half the chocolate.

When the syrup is ready, pour it quickly and evenly over the nuts and chocolate. Immediately top with the remaining chocolate, then the remaining nuts. Wait several minutes, then using the back of a spatula, gently press down on the chocolate-nut layer to spread the chocolate around evenly.

While the candy is still slightly warm, use a spatula to loosen it from the baking sheet and move to a piece of parchment paper on the counter top. When cool, break it into uneven chunks. Yield: about 24 big bite-sized pieces.

Salt Caramels

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Ingredients

  • 8 teaspoons (2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (1 pound) unsalted butter
  • 4 cups (1 quart) half & half
  • 2 cups light corn syrup
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Coarse flake sea salt for topping, optional

Directions

Butter two 8″ x 8″ or 10 1/2″ x 6 1/2″ pans.

Measure the vanilla into a small container and set it aside for later.

Cut the butter into 1″ chunks, to help it melt faster.

Combine the cut-up butter, half & half, corn syrup, sugars and salt in a heavy-bottomed, 5- to 6-quart saucepan.
Heat the mixture over medium-low heat until everything has melted, stirring constantly. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan.

Cook slowly, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 248°F, or until a small amount dropped in cold water forms a firm ball.

Remove the pan from the heat and carefully stir in the vanilla; the mixture will bubble and boil.

Quickly pour the caramel into the prepared pans. Don’t scrape any of the residue from the bottom of the pot onto the pans.

Wait 30 minutes, then sprinkle with coarse-flake sea salt, if desired. Cover the candy securely, and refrigerate.

Allow the candy to warm up a bit or it’ll shatter when you bang the pan. Remove the candy from the pan by loosening its edges with a knife or offset spatula and banging the pan on a cutting board until the slab releases from the pan.

Cut the caramel into squares and wrap in waxed paper. Store in the refrigerator for the longest shelf life. Wrapped caramels can also be frozen. Yield: about 10 dozen 1″ caramels.

Panforte

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Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups skinned hazelnuts
  • 1 1/4 cups whole blanched almonds
  • 3 cups candied mixed peel (or a mixture of candied orange peel and candied lemon peel)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for topping

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line an 8″ round cake pan with parchment (or foil) and grease the parchment. Set the pan aside.

Toast the hazelnuts and almonds for 20 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown on separate baking pans. It’s best to do this in separate pans as the nuts toast at slightly different rates and you may want to take one pan out of the oven before the other. Remove the nuts from the oven and set them aside to cool. When you can handle them, chop them coarsely.

Put the nuts, candied peel, spices, salt and flour in a mixing bowl. Stir to combine.

Combine the sugar, honey and butter in a saucepan and place an instant-read or candy thermometer on the side of the pan. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently, until it reaches a temperature of about 245°F. This happens very quickly, so don’t walk away; it should take about 2 minutes (or less) from the time the syrup starts to boil.

Immediately pour the boiling syrup over the fruit and nuts in the bowl. Stir to combine and pour into the prepared cake pan, smoothing the top with a spatula. You need to work fast, as the mixture will start to stiffen up. Place the cake pan on a baking sheet.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes; it won’t seem firm, but will set as it cools. Remove the pan from the oven and after 45 minutes loosen the edges with a table knife or heat-proof spatula. Turn the warm panforte out of the pan onto a piece of parchment or foil. The bottom is now the top.

Sprinkle the top of the panforte heavily with confectioners’ sugar, gently rubbing it in, if desired. Let it cool completely before wrapping airtight.

Store the panforte, at room temperature, for up to 2 months. To serve this rich cake, cut it in thin wedges.
Yield: about 20 servings.

To make chocolate panforte:

Add 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa to the nuts/peel/flour mixture. Melt 1/2 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips; stir them into the nuts/peel/flour mixture along with the honey syrup. Bake as directed in the  recipe above.

Cappuccino Blocks

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup heavy cream, divided
  • 1 tablespoon espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups chopped white chocolate

Coating:

  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
  • Wooden sticks or stir sticks

Directions

Line an 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil and spray lightly with non-stick baking spray.

Place 1/2 cup cream in a medium saucepan. Add the espresso powder, corn syrup, salt and sugar. Stir over medium heat until the espresso powder and sugar are dissolved and the mixture begins to boil.

Cover the pan and let boil for 3 minutes. Uncover the pan and check the temperature; it should be 235°F to 240°F (soft ball stage). If it is, remove from the heat; otherwise let it boil for a minute or two more.

Once the mixture reaches 235°F to 240°F, add the vanilla. Be careful; it will splash and splutter when it hits the hot liquid. Set the mixture aside for about 10 minutes to cool.

Meanwhile, place the remaining 1/2 cup cream into another saucepan. Heat until it’s just beginning to steam.
Remove from the heat and add the white chocolate. Let sit for about 5 minutes to melt. Then whisk vigorously until the mixture is shiny and smooth.

Add the sugar mixture to the chocolate mixture; stir to combine.

Combine the cocoa and ½ teaspoon espresso; sprinkle the chocolate with half the mixture. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, to set.

Turn the chocolate out of the pan and flip it over; sprinkle with the remaining cocoa/espresso powder blend.

Cut into 1 inch cubes. Stack two or three on a wooden stick and wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap to store.
Yield about 64 blocks, 21 servings.


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Christmas is by far the most important holiday of the year in Italy—the festivities lasting from December 24th through January 6th. Family gatherings are the most important part of Natale. This is the time of year when families reunite from whatever corners of the world they may have scattered and, it is around the table or a tavola, that Italian families come together. As we all know, these holidays can sometimes be anything but serene; nonetheless, Natale allows parents and children, siblings and in-laws, friends and sweethearts—and sometimes a grandfather (nonno) or grandmother (nonna), or an old beloved aunt (zia)—the opportunity to see one another after long separations, spending significant time together over festive food and drink.

Natale is one of the few occasions of the year in which family traditions are revered above all else; skills, memories and team work all come together to create very elaborate banquets and fabulous dishes. What will be eaten during the festa is a kind of ritual; very often each single course is prepared in the same way it has been for generations. Days are spent in the kitchen—everyone pitching in—with lots of long, languorous hours between meals, spent relaxing and digesting and chatting—the long-awaited family conversations punctuated by the sound of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts being cracked open and the shells tossed into the fireplace.

Antipasto

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The first course is often preceded by a classic antipasto with slices of cured meat, garnished with olives, cheese and, of course, hearty bread.

First Course

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Classic Lasagna

Tomato Sauce

  • 2 cans (28 oz. each) Italian tomatoes
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Lasagna

  • 1 pound ground beef or Italian sausage, cooked and drained
  • 4 cups Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Parmesan Cheese, divided
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 pound lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
  • 3 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese

For Classic Tomato Sauce:

Drain tomatoes, reserve juice. Finely chop the tomatoes and set aside. In a large saucepan, cook carrot and onion in olive oil until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Add reserved juice, tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, parsley, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

In a medium bowl, combine tomato sauce and cooked beef or sausage.

In a separate medium bowl, combine Ricotta cheese, 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Pour 3/4 cup tomato mixture in the bottom of 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Layer one-third of the noodles, half the Ricotta mixture, one-third of the remaining tomato sauce and 1 cup Mozzarella cheese in the baking pan. Repeat layers. Top with remaining noodles, tomato sauce and 1 cup Mozzarella and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

Cover with foil and bake at 350°F for 50 minutes; uncover and bake 15 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Second Course

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Italian Roast Chicken with Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs chicken pieces
  • 3/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 20 fresh sage leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 cloves garlic
  • 5 potatoes (1 ½ lb), peeled and quartered
  • 1 cup dry white wine

Directions

Season chicken with 1/2 each of the salt and pepper; set aside. Finely chop 4 of the sage leaves; set aside.

In a large ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; saute garlic cloves and remaining whole sage leaves until garlic is lightly browned, 1 minute. With a slotted spoon, set sage aside for garnish. Remove garlic and set aside. Brown chicken, in batches, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add potatoes to the pan; sauté until browned, about 7 minutes. Pour off fat. Return chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add wine, remaining salt and pepper, garlic cloves and chopped sage; bring to boil.

Place pan in the oven preheated to in 425°F (220°C) and roast, basting 2 or 3 times, until the sauce is thickened and juices run clear when chicken is pierced, about 30 minutes. Serve garnished with reserved fried sage leaves.

Italian Tossed Green Salad with Olive Oil Vinaigrette

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Dessert

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Struffoli

Ingredients

For the Dough:

  • 3 1/3 cups (400 g) flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon anise liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • The zest of half a lemon, grated
  • The zest of half an orange, grated
  • 1 pinch salt

For the struffoli:

  • Olive oil for frying
  • 3/4 pound (300 g) honey
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • Colored sprinkles
  • 4 candied cherries, halved

Directions

Combine the ingredients for the dough, knead it well and let rest for at least an hour, covered. It does take a while for the dough to absorb the eggs.

Pluck off a piece, roll it out under your fingers to form a snake about as thin as your pinkie and cut the dough into quarter-inch long pieces. Fry the pieces a few at a time in hot oil until brown and drain them on absorbent paper. Repeat with remaining dough.

In another pot, preferably round-bottomed, put the honey, sugar and water in it. Boil the mixture until the foam dies down and it begins to turn yellow. At this point reduce the heat as much as possible and add the struffoli. Stir to distribute everything evenly through the honey and turn the mixture out onto a plate. Using your fingers shape the mixture into a wreath with a hole in the middle or in a dome shape, dipping your hands frequently into cold water so you don’t burn yourself.

Sprinkle with colored sprinkles and arrange the cherry halves evenly. Struffoli will keep a week or more, if covered, and the dessert improves with age.


'Marys

Mary’s Secret Ingredients is a limited edition culinary surprise box containing unique gourmet, artisanal ingredients along with small kitchen products.

Every season, a limited number of themed boxes are filled with innovative surprises to inspire your cooking and they are delivered right to your door.

I ordered two surpise boxes this past year and enjoyed creating recipes with the ingredients. I also liked the idea that the project supports Feed the Children. The video below shows you the contents of the winter box.

Not only will this box help to feed you and your family, but you will also be standing with us as a proud supporter of Feed The Children. No one should go hungry.

FeedtheChildren

Get A Box and use the following promo code HOLIDAY20 which will give you 20% off on your purchase when you order.

Order now for $25.95
The value of the box will be at least $30.
Includes shipping in the Continental USA.
It makes a great gift!

Choose your seasonal box(es) and Mary will ship to your door!

There are four seasonal boxes available. Please choose your month(s) or choose all four!

winter_box_closeup


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Sponsored Post: THE ART OF CHEESE WITH CASTELLO AGED HAVARTI

Castello Aged Havarti is a creamy, finely textured cheese made from traditional methods dating back over 130 years, when Hanne Nielsen first made Havarti cheese. Castello Aged Havarti is allowed to mature for at least 12 months to encourage a unique and rich flavor. Castello Aged Havarti is the perfect cheese for your cheese board. The taste and flavor standout. As a snack, it is delicious with nuts, fruit and wine.

We are in the midst of the holiday season and I love this time of year with all the fun things there are to do. You only need a few really good ingredients to create festive and delicious holiday food. Go for a mix of shapes and colors and your guests will love how beautiful everything looks.

While overindulgence is often the hallmark of holiday celebrations, your guests will appreciate party food that is nourishing and healthful as well as appealing. I like to arrange an appetizer tray with a mix of foods that can meet different dietary choices: vegetarian, gluten-free, low-calorie, etc.

Whether you want to host a few friends or have a big, open-to-all affair, the best way to make sure your guests enjoy themselves is to enjoy the party yourself—a relaxed, unruffled host makes guests feel welcome and at ease. With this in mind, do a little preparation ahead of time.

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At a recent get-together at my home, I arranged appetizer trays filled with Castello Aged Havarti Cheese cubes at room temperature, homemade crackers, Prosciutto di Parma wrapped pears, mixed green olives, Mission figs/roasted red peppers/Castello cheese kabobs and homemade cranberry sauce for topping Castello cheese squares. What remained after the party were just a few crackers – everything else – gone. I had many compliments on the food and my friends loved the Castello cheese and asked where they could buy it.

Here are my recipes for you to recreate for your next party. I guarantee they will be a big hit.

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Visit the Castello® website by clicking the photo above.

Sweet Potato Crackers

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup of sweet potato puree (from 1 cooked sweet potato)
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped

Directions

Roast the sweet potato in a 400 degree F oven for about 45-50 minutes; then let it cool, remove the skin and purée using a hand blender until smooth. You will need 1 cup of sweet potato purée for this recipe; use any leftover potato for another use. Set the purée aside.

Place the flour, baking powder, rosemary, paprika and salt in the bowl of a processor. Pulse a few times to mix.  Add the butter and pulse until is the size of small peas. Add the sweet potato puree and honey. Pulse until a dough forms.

Roll the dough into a ball and divide it into 4 pieces. For easier rolling, wrap each in plastic wrap and chill for a 1/2 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut parchment paper to fit two jelly roll pans or cookie sheets. Use the paper to roll out the dough.

Roll the dough 1/4″ thick and cut into 2″ squares, using a pizza, pastry wheel, a bench knife or a plain knife. Prick each cracker with a fork.

Lift the parchment onto the baking sheet. Separate the crackers a bit, leaving about 1/4″ between them, so they crisp evenly. If you’re not using parchment, transfer the crackers to the baking sheet, leaving about 1/4″ between them.

Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. You will need to bake a second batch after the first finishes baking.

Bake the crackers for 12 to 16 minutes, until their edges are starting to brown. Switch pans after 10 minutes.

Remove the pans from the oven and slide the parchment onto the kitchen counter. Repeat baking with the second batch of crackers.

Store cooled crackers in an airtight container or tightly wrapped in plastic.

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Sweet Potato Crackers, Castello Aged Havarti Kabobs and Prosciutto Wrapped Pears

Castello Aged Havarti Cheese/Mission Figs/Roasted Red Pepper Kabobs

Ingredients

  • 7 oz block of Castello Aged Havarti Cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • Mission figs, cut in half
  • Roasted Red Peppers, jarred, drained and cut into one inch cubes
  • Toothpicks

Directions

Drain the peppers on paper towels. On each toothpick skewer one piece of cheese, one fig half and one piece of red pepper. Repeat until all the cheese cubes are used.

Arrange the kabobs on an attractive serving platter.

Prosciutto di Parma Wrapped Pears

Ingredients

  • 2 pears, each cut into 8 wedges and cored
  • 8 thin slices (4 oz.) prosciutto di parma, cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Directions

Wrap each pear wedge with a half slice of prosciutto and set on a serving plate. Combine the oil, vinegar and salt. Drizzle over the pears.

100_0865

Mixed Green Olives, Gluten-Free Almond Crackers and Castello Aged Havarti Cheese

Gluten-Free Almond Poppy Seed Crackers

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups Almond Meal Flour (Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur are brands I use)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Sea Salt
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • Cracked pepper
  • Dried Italian seasoning

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Cut parchment paper to fit two jelly roll pans or cookie sheets. Use the paper to roll out the dough.

Mix together the almond meal flour, olive oil and beaten egg whites. This will make a crumbly mix that shapes quickly into a ball.

Divide the dough into two pieces and shape each into a rough square.

Roll out one piece of dough at a time, keeping the piece you’re not working with covered to prevent drying.

Roll out on the parchment cut for the pan.

Roll the dough 1/4″ thick and cut into 2″ squares with a pizza, pastry wheel, a bench knife or a plain knife. Prick each cracker with a fork.

If you’ve rolled out the dough on parchment, simply lift the parchment onto the baking sheet. Separate the crackers a bit, leaving about 1/4″ between them, so they crisp evenly.

If you’re not using parchment, transfer the crackers to a baking sheet, leaving about 1/4″ between them.

Repeat with the remaining piece of dough.

Bake the crackers for 12 to 16 minutes, until their edges begin to brown. Switch pans after 10 minutes.

Remove them from the oven, cool right on the pan and then move to an airtight container to keep crisp and fresh.

100_0870

Port Wine Cranberry Sauced Havarti

This appetizer is great with the Almond Crackers.

Makes about 1 3/4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups port wine
  • 2 packages fresh cranberries
  • 4 long strips orange zest
  • 7 oz block of Castello Aged Havarti Cheese, room temperature

Directions

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and port wine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the wine has reduced slightly, about 4 minutes.

Add the cranberries and the orange zest. Simmer until the cranberries soften and the sauce thickens, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat; remove and discard the zest.

Set aside to cool for a few several minutes. Place the cheese in an attractive serving dish and spoon the warm sauce over the cheese.

Find more pairing ideas and uses for Castello Aged Havarti by following the #CastelloArt hashtag and @CastelloUSA on twitter!


italian-sweet-bread

Recipes updated and reblogged from December 2013.

Italian Breakfast Sweet Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm milk (70° to 80°)
  • 1 egg 
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast                                                                                                                       
  • 1 egg, for egg wash
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Sugar for topping

Directions

Place the first seven ingredients in large mixer bowl with paddle attachment and mix until combined.

Switch to the dough hook and knead dough until smooth and elastic.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and divide in half. Shape each portion into a ball; flatten slightly.

Place each ball of dough in a greased 9-inch round baking pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Beat egg and water; brush over the dough and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Bake at 350°F  for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.

Yield: 2 loaves (16 slices each).

SCHIACCIATA CON ZIBIBBO (ITALIAN SWEET BREAD WITH RAISINS)

Double the ingredients to make two loaves and put one in the freezer.                                                                                                                                                                            

Ingredients

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm (105 to 115 degree) water
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
  • 1 egg
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

Dissolve the yeast in warm water in a large bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment. Stir in raisins, sugar, oil, orange peel, egg and enough flour to make a soft dough.

Switch to the dough hook and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover; let rise in warm place until double, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Shape into a round, slightly flat loaf about 9 inches in diameter. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Cover; let rise 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake until bread is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet; cool on wire rack. 1 loaf.

Italian Braided Sweet Bread

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water ( 110 degrees F)
  • 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted 
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 egg

Directions

Mix yeast and warm water and let sit so that the yeast can react. The yeast should begin to foam.

Mix dry ingredients together.

In a small saucepan, heat milk, butter and egg. Be careful not to let the egg cook and become solid.

Mix yeast/water with dry ingredients in large bowl of the mixer with a paddle attachment. When thoroughly incorporated, mix in milk/egg mixture until a dough is formed.

Switch to the dough hook and knead dough, then cover and let rise about 20 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size. (Times vary depending on warmth of environment.)

Punch down the dough and divide in half to make 2 smaller loaves. Divide each half into three equal pieces and braid the ropes together and tuck in the ends.  Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cover and let double in size. Bake bread at 350 degrees F. for about 20 minutes.

Optional Step:

Rum Syrup:

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon dark rum

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and the water over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture reaches a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 5 minutes more. Remove pan from heat and stir in rum. Let cool to room temperature.

Brush all over bread as soon as it comes out of the oven. Let bread cool before slicing.

Rustic Raisin Walnut Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 2 cups lukewarm water (105° to 115°)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup walnut halves, coarsely chopped

Directions

In a large electric mixing bowl with the paddle attachment, stir together honey and 1/2 cup of the lukewarm water. Add yeast and stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water.

Stir in the whole wheat flour, 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour and salt. Mix until well combined. Keep adding the rest of the white flour until dough leaves the sides of the bowl. 

Be sure not to add too much flour.

Switch to the dough hook and knead 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. 

Lightly oil a large bowl. Place dough in the bowl and turn to coat. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside in warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a large baking sheet. Preheat oven to 425°F.

Punch the dough down and place it on a floured board. Gently knead the raisins and walnuts into the dough. Shape (round, long, square,) into 1 large loaf and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Cover with damp cloth and let rise in a warm until almost doubled, about 30 minutes.

Using a spray bottle, spray loaf with water. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F and bake 30 minutes or until nicely browned. Cool on rack before slicing.

Ricotta Crumb Cake (Italian Breakfast Cake)                                                                                                              

Crust:

  • 2/3 cup toasted almonds, ground
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions for the Crust:

Mix the almonds, flour, baking powder and brown sugar in a bowl. Using a pastry blender cut in the cold butter with the dry ingredients. Pour the egg and vanilla over the butter mixture and toss together just until moistened. Spoon half of the crumb mixture into a 10 inch springform pan and set the other half aside.

Filling:

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup slivered almonds
  • 3 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • 3/4 cup sugar

Directions for the Filling:

Put 1/3 cup sugar and the almonds in the processor and pulse 5 or 6 times to grind the almonds into small pieces. Do not ground too fine.

In a bowl mix together the ricotta, rum and 3/4 cup sugar until blended. Stir in almond/sugar mixture. Spoon ricotta mixture over crumb crust in the springform pan.

Spoon remaining crumb mixture over the ricotta filling and pat down to make top flat.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 45 minutes, Let cool and sprinkle top with powdered sugar.

Sweet Bread from Valtellina (Bisciola)                                                                                               

Makes 1 (8-inch) oval loaf

Ingredient

  • 1 tablespoon grappa or rum
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup rye flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg, for egg wash
  • 15 dried figs, stemmed and roughly chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, roughly chopped

Directions

Heat oven to 350º F with oven rack placed on the middle shelf. In a small bowl combine raisins, grappa or rum and water; set aside.

Spread hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake until fragrant and lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Let cool completely, then roughly chop.

In a small saucepan, heat milk over medium heat until just warm, then remove from the heat. Transfer warm milk to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in the milk. Let mixture stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, all-purpose flour, rye flour and salt. With mixer at medium-low speed, add half of the flour mixture to the yeast mixture. Mix until well blended, then add remaining flour mixture and butter. Reduce speed to low and mix 5 minutes more.

Drain raisins; discard liquid. Add raisins, hazelnuts, figs, walnuts and pine nuts to the dough; mix on low until just incorporated. Switch to the dough hook and knead dough to form a stiff, wet dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On prepared baking sheet, form dough into a 8-inch-long oval loaf. Cover loaf with a lightly dampened clean dishtowel and let rest, in a draft-free place, 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350º F. with oven rack in the middle.

Brush dough with beaten egg, then bake, rotating pan once halfway through, until bread is deep golden, about 30 minutes. Let bread cool completely on pan on wire rack.


 happy-holidays-christmas-trees

Italian Fig Cookies

A sweet dough is filled with fruits, nuts and jam, almost like a Fig Newton. Making them is time-consuming, but the dough and filling can be made in stages and refrigerated for several days before the cookies are assembled and baked. Using a stand mixer and food processor takes some of the effort out of the process.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • Up to 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 cups dried figs
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup orange marmalade
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Make the Dough 

Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the sugar and shortening until light and fluffy. Add the egg, salt and vanilla extract. Mix until smooth.

Sift the flour and baking powder together and then add them to the butter mixture. Mix well. Switch to the dough hook and knead at the low setting for 5 minutes, adding milk as needed to make a slightly sticky, soft textured dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Divide the dough into four pieces, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 45 minutes.

Make the filling:

Put the figs in the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Stir in the honey, cinnamon, marmalade and walnuts.

Form and Bake the Cookies

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Take one piece of dough out of the refrigerator. Roll the dough out into a 12-inch square on a floured surface. Cut the dough into 2- by 3-inch rectangles. Spoon 1 teaspoon of filling into the center of the rectangle.

Fold both of the longer edges toward the center of the cookie and pinch the seam together. Put the cookie, seam side down, on an ungreased baking sheet leaving 1 1/2 inches between cookies.

Make two slits in the cookie with a sharp knife. Start at each open, unpinched side and cut toward the center the cookie, being careful not to cut the cookie in half in the process. The cookie will bake into the shape of an X. (See picture)

Work in batches, keeping dough refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or ice the cookies after they cool with 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar mixed with just enough milk to make a smooth consistency. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Italian Hazelnut Cookies                    

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of hazelnuts, toasted and skinned (see Tip)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Position 2 racks as close to the center of the oven as possible; preheat to 325°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats.

2. Pulse nuts and sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Scrape into a large bowl.

3. Beat egg whites and salt in another large bowl with an electric mixer on high-speed until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the nut mixture. Add vanilla and gently but thoroughly mix until combined.

4. Drop the batter by the tablespoon, 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

5. Bake the cookies until golden brown, switching the pans back to front and top to bottom halfway through, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes. Gently transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. When the baking sheets are thoroughly cooled, repeat with the remaining batter.

Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Tip: Toast whole hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 7 to 9 minutes. Let the nuts cool for a few minutes, then rub together in a clean kitchen towel to remove most of the papery skins.

Espresso Crinkles                                                                        

Lightly coat your hands with flour to make rolling the dough into balls easier. The dough freezes well. Freeze the dough after step 1, thaw in the refrigerator, then proceed with step 2. The powdered sugar-coating gives these cookies an appealing cracked finish. Serve with coffee to enhance the espresso.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 5 1/4 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso granules
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light-colored corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large egg whites

Directions:

1. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, 3/4 cup powdered sugar, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk. Combine oil and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat; heat until chocolate melts, stirring constantly. Add espresso granules to pan; stir until blended. Remove from heat. Pour chocolate mixture into a large bowl; cool 5 minutes. Stir in brown sugar, syrup, and vanilla. Add egg whites, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, stirring gently just until combined. Cover; chill at least 2 hours or overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 350° F.

3. Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Dredge balls in remaining 1/2 cup powdered sugar; place balls 2 inches apart on 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 minutes or until tops are cracked and almost set. Cool cookies on pan 2 minutes; remove from pan. Cool cookies on a wire rack.

Yield: 2 dozen

Mascarpone Fig Jam Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup softened Mascarpone Cheese
  • 2 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Fig Jam or Jam of Choice

Directions:

  1. Beat together the butter and sugar until light.
  2. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix until smooth.
  3. Add the mascarpone cheese, and beat until smooth.
  4. Sift together the dry ingredients, and fold them into the butter mixture, mixing just until combined.
  5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 1 hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  7. Place sheets of parchment paper or silicone baking liners on two cookie pans.
  8. On a lightly floured counter or board, roll the dough into 1/2 inch balls.
  9. Using a blunt round object like the end of a wooden spoon, create an indentation in the center of each cookie.
  10. Place the cookies 2 inches apart, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or just as the cookies begin to color.
  11. While still warm, use the spoon to redefine the circle, and then carefully spoon a little jam into each cookie.
  12. Let sit at room temperature until the jam is set.
  13. Store in an airtight container.

Nutmeg Bites                                                                                                   

Cookie Dough

  • 3 cups unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Rum Icing

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons rum

Directions

1) Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2) In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine all ingredients and blend on medium speed until a soft, smooth dough forms, about 2 minutes.

3) Wrap and chill the dough for 1 hour. Towards the end of the chill time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

4) Drop tablespoon-sized dough balls onto the baking sheet. A teaspoon scoop makes this job easier. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes. The edges will be slightly browned and the cookies will be round and domed.

5) Cool the cookies completely. Prepare the icing by blending the softened butter and confectioners’ sugar. Add rum one tablespoon at a time until you have a spreadable icing. Top each cookie with a dollop of icing and a dash of nutmeg.

Yield: Approximately 3 to 4 dozen cookies.

Hazelnut-Chocolate Cookie Sandwiches                                                     

4 dozen sandwich cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • Granulated sugar
  • White Chocolate-Hazelnut Filling (see recipe below)

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg. Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can. Stir in any remaining flour mixture and the nuts by hand. Cover and chill dough about 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degree F.
  3. Shape dough into 3/4-inch balls. A level teaspoon cookie scoop works perfectly here. Roll balls in granulated sugar to coat. Place balls on ungreased cookie sheets. With the bottom of a glass, flatten balls to about 1-1/4-inch circles.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for 6 to 8 minutes or until tops are just firm. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool.
  5. Spread bottoms of half of the cookies with a rounded 1/2 teaspoon White Chocolate-Hazelnut Filling. Top with remaining cookies, bottom sides down.

Makes 48 cookie sandwiches.

White Chocolate-Hazelnut Filling:

In a small saucepan, heat and stir 6 ounces chopped white chocolate and 3 tablespoons whipping cream over low heat until just melted. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup finely chopped toasted hazelnuts.


hanukkah

The first Jews began arriving in Rome as far back as 160 BC, creating one of the oldest Jewish communities in Western Europe, and with over thirty-thousand Jews calling Italy home, it isn’t surprising that Hanukkah, the festival of lights, is celebrated just as passionately as Christmas. Hanukkah 2014 begins in the evening on Tuesday, December 16.

Hanukkah celebrations last for eight days, with the dates being dictated by the Hebrew calendar. Each night a candle is lit on the nine-branched candle holder called the menorah until all eight candles are burning. The shamash; the ninth candle is raised above the eight others, its purpose being as a flame to light the religious candles below.  On Rome’s via Sacra, near the Coliseum stands the Arch of Titus, built in AD81, shows  a sculpture of a procession following the raid on the Temple of Solomon and, above the heads of the triumphant Romans, a menorah is held aloft. Today, a twenty-foot menorah is erected in Piazza Barberini and this becomes the central focus for Rome’s  lighting ceremony.  In Milan the large public menorah is traditionally set in Piazza San Carlo with the hope that its light will reach the hearts of the people.

While in Venice, following the lighting of the menorah, the Cannaregio neighborhood is brought to life with music and dancing. Once the home of the world’s oldest Jewish ghetto, the five synagogues remain intact and are still used for worship by the local community. Florence’s past is also steeped in Jewish history with the Jewish museum on Via dei Giudei (street of the Jews) where the city’s ghetto once stood. Nearby is Tempio Maggiore, built between 1874 and 1882, and is the  Synagogue of Florence where the city’s Jewish community gather to celebrate and light the Menorah before the feasting begins.

The fried foods that are served during the holiday commemorate the miracle of the one day’s supply of olive oil that burned for eight days after the destruction of the temple. The Jewish communities celebrate with traditional recipes, such as, chicken marinated in olive oil, lemon and nutmeg before being dredged in flour and fried, thin slices of fried eggplant and potato pancakes. Frittelle di Chanukah  (sweet fried dough fritters) are the traditional end to all Italian Hanukkah meals; balls of bread dough are stuffed with raisins and flavored with aniseed, fried and drizzled with hot honey.

hanukkah1

Fennel and Orange­ Scented Challah

By Joan Nathan (New York Times)

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ tablespoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup sugar
  • Grated zest from 2 large oranges plus 1/2 cup of the juice, strained
  • 1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 7 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • 2 teaspoons roasted sesame seeds

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 cup of lukewarm water.

Using the paddle attachment, stir orange zest, juice and oil into yeast mixture, then add 2 eggs, 1 at a time, and remaining sugar and salt. Switch to the dough hook and gradually add 6 cups of flour, kneading for about 5 minutes and adding more flour as needed to make a slightly sticky, smooth and elastic dough.

Grease a large bowl, turn dough into it and then turn the dough over to grease the top. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

When the dough has almost doubled, punch it down, remove it to a lightly floured counter, knead it briefly until smooth and divide it in half.

Roll each piece into a cylinder about 27 inches long, making sure there are no seams in the dough. Bring one end of the dough up to the other and twist to form a spiral. Push both ends together to make a squat 12 ­inch loaf.

Repeat with the other piece of dough and arrange loaves on a parchment ­lined baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. You can also twist the long spirals into a circle if you like; the dough is very malleable.

Beat remaining egg and egg yolk and brush about half the mixture on the loaves, reserving the rest. Let the dough rise uncovered another half ­hour or overnight in the refrigerator.

If dough was refrigerated, bring to room temperature. Heat oven to 350 degrees F and in a small bowl, combine fennel, poppy and sesame seeds. Brush the loaves with egg again and sprinkle with seeds.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden and firm when tapped with a spatula. Cool on a rack.

hanukkah4

Pollo Fritto

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken, cut into eighths
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • The juice of a lemon
  • Flour
  • Olive oil for frying
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

Place the chicken pieces in a bowl, seasoning them well with salt and pepper. Mix the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, nutmeg and the lemon juice in a measuring cup and beating the mixture well with a fork. Pour the mixture over the chicken pieces, turn them to coat on all sides and let them marinate for about an hour, turning them several times.

When it comes time to cook, heat the oil in a pot. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and pat them dry.

Beat the eggs in a bowl, seasoning them lightly with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, then dip them in the egg and slip them into the oil. When they are well browned on all sides, remove them from the pot, drain them well, and serve them.

hanukkah5

Butternut Squash and Sage Latkes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 medium onion, grated
  • 6 cups grated butternut squash (1 3-pound squash)
  • 1/4 cup chopped or slivered fresh sage(more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons oat bran
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Sour cream, for serving

Directions

Place the grated onion in a strainer set over a bowl while you prepare the other ingredients. Then wrap the onion in a dishtowel and squeeze out excess water. Place in a large bowl and add the squash, sage, baking powder, salt and pepper, oat bran and flour. Add the eggs and stir together.

Begin heating a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Heat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Place a wire rack over another sheet pan.

Take a 1/4 cup measuring cup and fill with 3 tablespoons of the mixture. Turn out onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining latke mix. You should have enough to make about 30 latkes.

Add the oil to the pan and when it is hot, use a spatula to transfer a ball of latke mixture to the pan. Press down with the spatula to flatten.

Repeat with more mounds. Cook on one side until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Slide the spatula underneath and turn the latkes over. Cook on the other side until golden brown, another 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to the rack set over a baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm. Serve hot topped with low-fat or regular sour cream.

hanukkah3

Couscous With Olives, Lemon And Fresh Herbs

Ingredients

Servings: 8

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) pareve margarine
  • 6 cups chopped onions
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 1/4 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 cup pitted halved brine-cured black olives (such as Kalamata)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 cups couscous (about 13 1/2 ounces)

Directions

Melt margarine in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add onions; stir to coat. Cover pot and cook onions until very tender but not brown, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes.

Mix in ginger and turmeric.

Add broth, olives, basil, mint and lemon juice. Bring to simmer. Mix in couscous.

Cover pot, turn off heat and let stand until couscous is tender and all the liquid is absorbed, about 12 minutes. Fluff couscous with fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour couscous into a bowl and serve.

hanukkah2

Honey-Glazed Doughnuts With Raisins And Pine Nuts

Ingredients

MAKES ABOUT 32

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (105°F to 115°F), divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil plus more for frying
  • 1 1/2 cups honey
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Combine 1/4 cup warm water and sugar in small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over; stir to blend. Let stand until yeast dissolves and mixture is foamy, about 6 minutes.

Whisk flour and salt in large bowl to blend. Make a well in the center. Add raisins, pine nuts, egg and 1 tablespoon oil to well. Pour remaining 1 1/4 cups warm water over, then pour yeast mixture over. Stir until a smooth dough forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl; cover bowl with plastic, then a towel. Let dough rise in a warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels. Pour enough oil into large deep saucepan to reach a depth of 2 inches. Attach a deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pan and heat oil to 360°F to 370°F. Working in batches of 5 or 6 doughnuts, dip a metal tablespoon into the hot oil to coat and, without deflating dough, gently scoop up a rounded tablespoonful. Drop dough into the oil. Fry until deep golden, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer doughnuts to prepared sheet and drain.

DO AHEAD Doughnuts can be made 6 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm on the same sheet in a 350°F oven about 15 minutes.

Whisk honey, 3/4 cup water and cinnamon in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat until syrup comes to boil. Remove pan from the heat. Dip warm doughnuts into honey syrup and pile onto a serving platter. Pour remaining syrup into bowl. Serve doughnuts with remaining syrup.


lombardy1

One of Italy’s largest regions, Lombardy lies in the north of the country, sharing a border with Switzerland. Lombardy’s northern borders are formed by the Lepontine, Rhaetian and Orobic Alps. It also includes the major Italian lakes: Varese, lseo, Como and the northern part of Lake Garda. The regional capital is Milano. Other important cities are: Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Lecco, Lodi, Varese, Sondrio, Pavia, Cremona and Mantova.

Take a tour of Lombardy through the video below.

The mountain peaks welcome ski and snowboard enthusiasts to internationally-famous ski destinations, like the Camonica Valley and Valtellina. In summertime, the area offers mountain climbing, as well as rafting, trekking and mountain biking, while the Stelvio Glacier offers skiers the challenge and adventure of its slopes, even in the warmest months. Visitors can tour the vineyard-covered terraces and hills, stopping off at wineries and local producers to taste the well-known local specialties.

lombardy4

While the terrain of northern Lombardy can be harsh and sometimes unforgiving, water from snow on the mountains refreshes many of the streams and rivers branching out into other parts of the region, as well as other parts of Italy. Freshwater fish like trout, perch and whitefish are abundant. The mountains tend to shelter the southern parts of the region, which allows for milder and more ideal growing conditions further down into the Po River Basin.

Rice grows well here, so it’s no surprise that risotto dishes find their way onto almost every table. The cattle industry is healthy, providing shanks for the well-known dish, ossobuco. Agri d’ Valtorta, Bagoss, Bitto, Branzi, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Provolone Valpadana are just a few of the many excellent cheeses crafted in Lombardy. Peppers, greens, lettuce, pumpkins, potatoes, onions and tomatoes are all abundant harvests. Lombardy is also the home of the Christmas favorite, panettone (a rich bread made with candied fruits, citrus and raisins). Stews, soups, heavily sauced polenta, hearty filled ravioli and slow-braised meat dishes are all-around favorites.

Lombardy

Recipes From Lombardy

lombardy3

 

 

Milanese Risotto

Makes: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 5½ tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2½ cups carnaroli rice
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 8 cups hot chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Salt

Directions

In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat until melted. Add sage and cook until fragrant. Remove and discard sage. Remove sage butter from heat and set aside.

Heat oil and 1 tablespoon of the remaining butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, until the rice becomes translucent. This process is known as tostatura or toasting.

Add wine, stirring, until it is mostly absorbed, then add 1 cup of broth and the saffron. Simmer, stirring frequently, until broth is almost absorbed. Continue adding broth in ½ cupfuls, stirring often, and allowing each addition to mostly evaporate before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still slightly firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy (you will have broth left over).

Stir in the remaining 3½ tablespoons butter, reserved sage butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano and salt to taste.

Add an additional cup of broth, stir to combine, and serve “all’onda” (a “wavy” or wet-style risotto) immediately.

lombardy5

 

Skillet Perch with Lemon and Capers

Yield: 4 servings

  • 1 1/2 cups each: flour, fine cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 pounds lake perch fillets, skinned
  • Olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup capers, drained
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
  • 1 lemon sliced for garnish

Directions

Heat oven to 300 degrees F.

Sift together the flour, cornmeal, paprika, salt and pepper in medium bowl.

Combine the eggs and milk in another medium bowl. Drench fillets in egg-milk mixture; shake off excess. Coat fillets evenly with seasoned flour; shake to remove excess flour.

Meanwhile, heat large skillet over high heat. Add enough oil to cover skillet bottom. Place perch, one by one, in the pan cooking until golden, about 3 minutes. Turn fillets and cook until cooked through, about 2 minutes. Remove to paper towel-lined cookie sheet to drain. Keep warm in the oven. Repeat with remaining fillets.

For sauce, discard oil from the skillet. Add lemon juice and capers to the skillet; cook about 1 minute or just until bubbles appear. Add chives, salt and pepper to taste. Place fillets on a serving plate. Top with the lemon sauce and lemon slices.

lombardy6

Asparagi al Forno (Classic Roasted Asparagus)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the baking dish
  • 2 bunches asparagus (40 asparagus), woody ends trimmed
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Line an 11-inch x 17-inch baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease lightly with olive oil.

Arrange the asparagus on the baking sheet in a single layer, with the tips facing in the same direction (this will make serving easier later).

Pour the water into the baking sheet.

Drizzle the asparagus with the olive oil and season with the salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the Parmigiano.

Roast the asparagus for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden on top and still slightly crisp. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6

lombardy2

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 (Optional)

  • 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 the 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 continue kneading until the 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 the 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.

Combine 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 an 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 (you can also use a baking dish). 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 F 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 the panettone cool in the pan on a rack.

Make the 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 the top of the 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.


fingerfoods

How did finger foods come about? Ratified in 1919, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned the manufacture, sale and transportation of liquor. Even before the law took effect in 1920, Congress passed the Volstead Act, or National Prohibition Act, which outlawed the sale of “intoxicating beverages”—defined as any drink containing 0.5 percent or more of alcohol.

Of course, no amount of legislation could transform all Americans into teetotalers; instead, Prohibition simply drove alcohol consumption underground. Millions of people in small towns and large cities imbibed at secret taverns and bars called speakeasies. Many were drab, makeshift saloons in basements or tenements located in shabby parts of town. Some, however, were fine restaurants in their own right, including New York City’s swanky 21 Club, which featured two bars, a dance floor, dining rooms on two levels and underground passageways leading to a secret wine cellar.

To help soak up the booze and drive up sales, some enterprising speakeasy proprietors began offering more than just popular cocktails of the day. Rather than heavy meals, customers were offered assorted bite-sized canapés to snack.

It was also during this period that the custom of hosting cocktail parties at home became fashionable. The rise of these parties led to the popularization of an increasingly wide array of finger foods. Hosts paraded out such popular foods as lobster canapés, caviar rolls, crab meat cocktails, shrimp patties, oyster toast, jellied anchovy molds, radish roses, devilled eggs and savory cheese balls. Sweet selections included fruit cocktail cups topped with powdered sugar or marshmallows.

Even after the 1933 repeal of the 18th Amendment, the practice of serving finger foods at restaurants, bars and cocktail parties lived on and quickly became a popular American culinary tradition. Fannie Farmer’s “Boston Cooking-School Cook Book,”  contained many finger food recipes and became widely used in the United States throughout the 1920s.

Care to whip up some Prohibition-era finger foods at your next holiday gathering? Try the easy recipes below.

fingerfoods1

Mini Appetizer Pizzas

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound prepared pizza dough
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella (5 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup pitted olives, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup jarred or frozen and thawed artichoke hearts, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes (chili)

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Coat each of two rimmed baking sheets with olive oil. Divide prepared pizza dough into 32 equal pieces.

On a lightly floured work surface, press each piece into a 2-inch round with the palm of your hand. Transfer to prepared baking sheets, turning once to coat lightly in oil.

Season with salt and pepper. Divide mozzarella, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts among rounds. Sprinkle with red-pepper flakes.

Bake until the cheese is bubbling and dough is crisp and golden brown, about 12 minutes.

fingerfoods2

Marinated Olives

Ingredients

  • 2 cups assorted unpitted olives, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 thin orange slices
  • 3 thin lemon slices
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme or rosemary
  • Red-pepper flakes (chili)

Directions

In a medium saucepan, combine olives, olive oil, orange slices, lemon slices and fresh thyme. Season to taste with crushed red-pepper flakes.

Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer olives, fruit and herbs to a serving dish; reserve oil for salads.

fingerfoods3

Pancetta-Wrapped Figs

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 cup dried Black Mission figs, stemmed
  • 12 ounces pancetta, sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds and cut into 1/2-inch-thick strips

Directions

Bring vinegar, water, sugar, juniper berries, peppercorns, and cloves to a boil in a small saucepan. Add figs, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, to bring to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Transfer figs to a cutting board using a slotted spoon; cut in half. Wrap a pancetta strip around each half. Transfer, seam side down, to a wire rack set on a baking sheet. Bake until pancetta is browned, about 30 minutes. Secure each with a toothpick. Serve warm.

fingerfoods4

Sausage-Cheddar Balls

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups grated cheddar (1/2 pound)
  • 1 pound bulk pork, chicken or turkey sausage
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, grated on large holes of a box grater
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and baking powder. Add cheddar and toss to coat. Add sausage, onion and butter.

With your hands, mix until well combined and roll mixture into 1-inch balls. Place balls, 1/2 inch apart, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until balls are golden and cooked through, 25 minutes. Serve warm.

fingerfoods5

Spicy Roasted Chickpeas

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cans (15.5 ounces each) chickpeas, rinsed, drained, and patted dry
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seed
  • Coarse salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Pour olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven until the oil is hot, 3 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine chickpeas, cayenne pepper, and cumin seed. Season with salt and toss to combine. Place chickpea mixture on hot baking sheet and spread in a single layer.

Bake until chickpeas are crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels and let cool slightly. Serve warm.

fingerfoods6

Artichoke-Parmesan Crostini

Ingredients

  • 8 slices (1/4 inch thick) baguette
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 jar (6 1/2 ounces) marinated artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed, and patted dry
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Make crostini: Brush baguette slices on both sides with a total of 1 tablespoon oil; season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet, and bake, turning over once, until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool.

Meanwhile, make topping: Finely chop artichokes, and combine in a bowl with Parmesan, parsley, and remaining tablespoon oil.

Dividing evenly, spoon topping on crostini and garnish with additional Parmesan, if desired.

fingerfoods7

Shrimp Salad Canapes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
  • Thin crackers, for serving

Directions

Bring water, wine, 1 teaspoon salt, and the bay leaf to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add half the shrimp, and cook until opaque, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to a plate, and let cool. Repeat with remaining shrimp. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces.

Whisk together lemon juice, vinegar and remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Pour in oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until emulsified. Whisk in creme fraiche. Fold in shallot, chives and shrimp. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (and up to 4 hours). Serve on crackers.



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