Chocolate Covered Peanuts
Coconut oil works well with chocolate because it will prevent the candy from softening, as butter or oil would do.
Makes about 18 clusters
2 cups unsalted peanuts
1 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon coconut oil or shortening
3 tablespoons powdered sugar or powdered sugar-free sweetener
Combine the chocolate, coconut oil and sugar in a microwaveable glass bowl or in a double boiler.
Melt the chocolate mixture in a microwave at half power, for 1 minute, stir and then heat for another minute or until melted, stirring several times.
You can also melt the chocolate in a double boiler over hot water.
Stir in the peanuts, completely covering them in chocolate. Using a 1 inch scoop or tablespoon drop the mixture into wax paper. Cool completely before serving
One-Layer Heart-Shaped Carrot Cake
For the Cake:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large room-temperature eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup grated carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts
For the Frosting:
4 ounces room-temperature cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 cup heavy cream
To Make the Cake
Heat oven to 325 F. Cut parchment to fit heart pan (or 8 inch round cake pan) and coat with cooking spray. Set aside.
Measure flour and add to an electric mixer bowl along with the sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, oil, eggs and vanilla.
Blend for 1 minute on low-speed.
Stir carrots and nuts into the batter. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack. Remove from the pan to a serving plate.
For the frosting:
Place all the ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. With a hand mixer beat the ingredients until the cream forms stiff peaks.
Frost the top of the cake and refrigerate the cake until serving time.
Easy Frozen Chocolate Mousse
1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream, well chilled
8 oz good quality chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chocolate sprinkles, garnish
In a double boiler or in a bowl set over a saucepan, melt chocolate over simmering water. Remove from the heat to cool slightly.
Pour the cream and vanilla into a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream on medium speed until slightly thickened, about 30 seconds.
Add sweetener to taste if you want. I did not because I think the chocolate makes it sweet enough
Continue beating on medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.
To test, turn off the mixer and lift the beaters. If the cream makes soft little peaks that flop over slightly, it is ready.
Add the warm chocolate to the cream and mix in slowly until incorporated.
Spoon into 4 dessert dishes. Chill in the refrigerator to serve as mousse or place in the freezer overnight to serve as frozen mousse.
Garnish with chocolate sprinkles before serving.
8 large strawberries with tops
6 oz good quality chocolate, chopped
Gently rinse strawberries and dry on paper towels (berries must be completely dry). Line cookie sheet with waxed paper or set out muffin paper cups.
In 1-quart saucepan, melt chocolate chips and shortening over low heat, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. You may also microwave the mixture.
Dip the lower half of each strawberry into the chocolate mixture; allow excess to drip back into the saucepan.
Place on the prepared cookie sheet or muffin paper cups.
Refrigerate uncovered about 30 minutes or until the chocolate is firm, or until ready to serve.
Store covered in refrigerator.
The University of Oregon defeated Ohio State University 46–33 in 1939 to win the first-ever NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The Final Four, as the tournament became known, has grown in size and popularity since then. Today, the NCAA basketball tournament has become the most popular sporting event, after the Super Bowl.
For the first 12 years of the men’s tournament, only eight teams were invited to participate. Today, the tournament breaks into four regions of 16 teams. The winning teams from those regions comprise the Final Four, who meet in that year’s host city to decide the championship.
The NCAA held its first women’s basketball tournament in 1982. The women’s tournament started with 32 teams, but now the women’s format echoes the men’s, with play in four regions culminating in a Final Four held in a single location. The championship is played the day after the men’s, concluding the college basketball season.
Yesterday was Selection Sunday and the madness begins on Thursday. Here are some recipes to help you cheer.
4 large sandwiches
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
Half a green bell pepper, finely chopped
8 very thin sandwich steaks (usually sirloin)
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 slices American cheese or your favorite cheese
4 long hoagie rolls, about 8 inches long (I like Martin’s for these sandwiches)
To make the toppings:
Heat a griddle or a large, heavy frying pan, over medium heat. Add oil to the pan and, when it begins to shimmer, add the garlic, onion and green peppers and stir to combine.
Cook, stirring every so often, until they begin to soften, approximately 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove to a bowl and set aside.
To make the steaks:
Place the steaks between pieces of plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet until uniformly thin.
Turn the heat to high until nearly smoking. Season the meat aggressively with salt and pepper.
Place the steaks on the griddle, working in batches if necessary, and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until well browned but very rare. Remove to a serving platter and allow to rest.
To make the sandwiches:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Place the sub rolls in the oven to warm.
Return sliced steaks to the griddle or frying pan, over medium heat, and place the onions and peppers on top of the steaks. Turn heat to low and cover each steak with sliced cheese.
Remove the rolls from the oven and fill each sub with a mixture of 2 steaks, vegetables and cheese. I usually cut these sandwiches in half and arrange on a serving platter.
If serving to guests, keep them warm on a hot plate.
Deviled Eggs and Smoked Salmon
6 large eggs
¼ cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup olive oil mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
6 oz smoked salmon slices
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Place the eggs in a saucepan just large enough to hold the six eggs. Cover with cold water and place the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and cover the saucepan.
Let the eggs rest in the hot water for 12 minutes. Drain the water from the pot and add some ice cubes and cold water to cover the cooked eggs.
Let them cool until you can handle the eggs without burning your fingers.
Gently tap the eggs in several places and remove the shells. Place the peeled eggs on paper towels to dry.
Cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Carefully remove the yolks and place in a mixing bowl. Mash the yolks with a fork. Add the onion, celery, mayonnaise, mustard and salt and pepper. Mix well.
With a spoon fill each egg where the yolk had been with some of the mixture.
Place the eggs on a platter and chill.
Arrange the eggs and salmon on a serving platter. Sprinkle chives over both and serve.
Let the package of fillo dough sit in the refrigerator overnight to defrost. Any remaining dough can be kept in the refrigerator well wrapped in plastic for four weeks or be refrozen, so don’t worry that you are not using the entire package.
Makes about 16 triangles
One 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 scallions (green onions), minced
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 cup Feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
48 sheets Fillo Dough, thawed
Tzatziki, recipe below
In a mixing bowl, combine the spinach with the scallions, parsley, dill, cheeses, eggs, salt and pepper until smooth.
Keep the fillo dough not being used, covered with a damp cloth to prevent drying, while you work on the triangles.
Spread one sheet of the dough on a cutting board and brush with some olive oil. Place a second sheet of dough on top and brush with oil. Repeat with a third sheet.
Cut the layered fillo in half lengthwise. Place one tablespoon of filling about 1″ from the corner of each strip. Fold one corner of fillo diagonally across to the opposite edge to form a triangle.
Brush lightly with oil. Continue to fold the triangle onto itself. Brush the outside of the triangle with oil and place the triangles seam side down on parchment covered cookie sheets at least 1” apart.
Repeat until all the filling is used up.
Bake in a preheated 350ºF oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Rolls can be made ahead and reheated just before party time.
Serve hot with Tzatziki Sauce.
1 cup peeled and seeded cucumber, finely chopped
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Place the chopped cucumber in a fine mesh colander and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of salt. Place the colander over a bowl and let the cucumbers drain for one hour.
Turn the cucumbers over on paper towels. Squeeze all the water out.
Combine the cucumber and remaining ingredients in a small bowl; cover and chill at least 1 hour.
Quick and Easy Almond Bark
16 ounces slivered almonds
16 ounces high quality baking milk or dark chocolate (such as Valrhona )
Toast the almonds in a 9″x 13″ baking pan at 350 degrees F for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove to a bowl and cool.
Line the same baking pan with a piece of parchment and set aside.
Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl with a cover in the microwave on high for about 2 minutes. Uncover and stir the chocolate with a spatula until smooth.
Stir in the nuts, a little at a time, until they are all incorporated and covered with chocolate.
Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Spread the mixture to the sides of the pan and press down with a spatula until smooth.
Cover with another piece of parchment and press down to flatten. Chill in the refrigerator until hardened.
Cut into serving pieces and store in a cool place.
Treat family and friends to homemade candy this holiday season with these recipes adapted from King Arthur Christmas Candy recipes.
Cranberry Nut Chocolate Bark
- 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
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
- 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.
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.
- 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
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.
- 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
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.
- 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
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened baking cocoa
- 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
- Wooden sticks or stir sticks
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.
When it comes to giving this holiday season, be creative and make a truly personal gift for your friends and family. Homemade mixes are also one of the best Christmas gifts. There’s nothing like a homemade food gift, beautifully packaged along with recipe cards, to add warmth to the holidays.
Makes about 8 cups
- 1 cup pure maple syrup
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
- 3 cups raw almonds, sliced
Adjust the oven rack to an upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, salt and cinnamon in large bowl. Whisk in oil. Fold in oats and almonds until thoroughly coated.
Transfer oat mixture to prepared baking sheet, spread across sheet into a thin, even layer (about 3/8-inch thick). Using a stiff metal spatula, compress oat mixture until very compact.
Bake until lightly browned, 50 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking. Remove the pan from the oven and cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 1 hour. Break into pieces of desired size and package in decorative containers for gifts.
Apple Tea Mix
- 2 tablespoons loose green tea
- 2 tablespoons snipped crystallized ginger
- 1 teaspoon whole allspice
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 6 dried apple slices
- 6 3-inch cinnamon sticks
In a small bowl combine tea, crystallized ginger, allspice and cloves. Divide tea mixture and dried apple slices among six paper tea filters. Tie the tops of the filters with kitchen string, tying a cinnamon stick at the top of each. Place filled tea filters inside six decorative heat-proof mugs.
Attach the following directions for serving:
To Make Spiced Apple Tea: Add 6 to 8 ounces of hot water to one mug. Add a tea bag and let steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove and discard the tea bag. Place cinnamon stick in the mug and serve.
Hazelnut Brownie Mix
- 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 ounces milk or dark chocolate, chopped
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts
- 1/3 cup mini marshmallows
In a 1-quart decorative jar layer sugar, cocoa powder and chopped chocolate. In a small bowl stir together flour, baking soda and salt. Spoon over chocolate in the jar. Top with hazelnuts and marshmallows; fasten lid.
Attach the following directions for making brownies.
To Make Brownies:
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 9x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over the edges of the pan. Grease the foil; set pan aside.
In a large bowl whisk together 2/3 cup melted butter and 3 eggs until well combined. Add the contents of the jar to the butter mixture; stir until well combined. Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 35 minutes. (Moist crumbs will remain attached to wooden toothpick inserted near center of brownies). Cool brownies in the pan on a wire rack. Use foil to lift uncut brownies out of the pan. Place on a cutting board. Cut into bars.
Coconut-Pecan Muffin Mix
Makes: 1 gift (4½ cups)
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- One 7-ounce package sweetened shredded coconut (2 2/3 cups)
- 3/4 cup pecans (chopped)
- 12 muffin paper cup liners
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugars and salt. Mix in the coconut and pecans.
Transfer the mix to a resealable decorative paper bag. Wrap with ribbon and affix with a label and a gift tag with the baking instructions.
Copy the following instructions on a gift tag or label to include with your gift:
“Heat oven to 350º F. In a large bowl, whisk together 3 large eggs and ¾ cup canola oil. Add the muffin mix and stir just until combined. Divide among the cups of a 12-cup muffin tin lined with the paper liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.”
4 dozen truffles
- 1/2 pound semisweet chocolate
- 1/2 pound good-quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup heavy cream or whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
- 2 tablespoons coffee flavored liqueur
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
Coarsely chop both chocolates and set aside.
Heat the cream and instant coffee in a saucepan, stirring to blend. When bubbles start to form along the edge of the pan, remove from the heat. Scatter the chocolate over the cream, stirring gently until melted. Set aside for 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the liqueur and vanilla. Stir gently, just until evenly blended. Scrape the chocolate into a shallow bowl. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours or up to 1 week.
Using a teaspoon or a melon baller, scoop up enough chocolate to make balls 1 inch in diameter. Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Thoroughly combine the cocoa and powdered sugar in a bowl, making sure all the lumps are removed. Roll the balls in the cocoa mixture, shaking off the excess, then transfer to wax paper. Place each truffle in a candy paper cup and package in a decorative gift boxes.
Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) was a crafter, like no other, of string instruments, violins, cellos, guitars, violas and harps. He created about a thousand Stradivarius instruments and about 650 survive today, mostly violins. The violin was originally designed to imitate the human voice and was used for ballet and dance music. It became the most prized instrument for orchestra and melody.
Stradivari or Stradivarius?
Both are used regularly and they actually mean exactly the same. The famous maker’s name was Antonio Stradivari, but it was customary at the time to latinise names, hence Stradivarius. He used Stradivarius on his violin labels and, therefore, it has become almost customary to refer to a violin made by Stradivari, as a Stradivarius. In fact it has almost become a superlative expression, meaning the absolute best, i.e. to be the “Stradivarius” of any field means “to be the best there is”.
Antonio’s ancestry goes back to the 12th century in Cremona, Italy, the capital of violin makers, since the 16th century. Antonio’s parents were Alessandro Stradivari and Anna Moroni. Stradivari likely began an apprenticeship with Nicolò Amati between the ages of 12 and 14, although a minor debate surrounds this fact. One of the few pieces of evidence supporting this is a label in his 1666 violin, which reads, “Alumnus Nicolo Amati, faciebat anno 1666”. However, Stradivari did not usually put the master’s name on his labels, unlike many of Amati’s other students. M. Chanot-Chardon, a well-known French luthier, asserted that his father had one of Stradivari’s instruments with a label stating, “Made at the age of thirteen, in the workshop of Nicolò Amati”. This label has never been found or confirmed. Amati, though, would have been a logical choice for Antonio’s parents, since the master was from an old family of violin makers who were far superior to most other luthiers in Italy at the time.
An alternative theory is that Stradivari started out as a woodworker because the house he lived in from 1667 to 1680 was owned by Francesco Pescaroli, a wood-carver. Stradivari may even have been employed to decorate some of Amati’s instruments, without being a true apprentice. This theory is supported by some of Stradivari’s later violins, which have elaborate decorations and purfling ( a narrow decorative edge inlaid into the top plate and often the back plate of a stringed instrument).
Assuming that Stradivari was a student of Amati, he would have begun his apprenticeship in 1656–58 and produced his first decent instruments in 1660 at the age of 16. His first labels were dated from 1660 to 1665, which indicated that his work had reached a quality sufficiently high enough for him to sell directly to his patrons. However, he probably stayed in Amati’s workshop until about 1684, so as to use his master’s reputation as a launching point for his career.
Stradivari was first married to Francesca Feraboschi with whom he had 5 children. After her death, he married Zambelli Costa with whom he had another 5 children. He lived on what is now Piazza Roma 1, where other famous violin-maker’s families lived at the time. Two of his sons, Omobono and Francesco, became violin makers.
Though the violins’ construction was influenced by Amati, Stradivari soon developed his own style. His carved heads showed what a skilled craftsman he was and his violins became very popular throughout Europe. It was said that his secret formula for the varnish gave his violins their unique sound. He experimented with the shape and design of the violins and, in the 1690s, the Long Stradivarius with a larger pattern, flatter form, reclined sound holes and a darker, richer varnish emerged that all proved to be a crtical modifications. There were ornate violins, such as the collection made for the Spanish court in 1687, inlaid with ivory and with scrollwork round the sides. In 1688, Stradivari outlined the heads in black, one of the famous features of a Stradivarius’ violin from that period. Noblemen of the time commissioned him to make instruments for them and, as a result, Stradivari became famous during his own lifetime. Violins were considered fashionable and when the virtuoso violinist, Niccolò Paganini, played a Stradivarius, he was treated like the equivalent of one of today’s rock stars!
Some of the earlier violins are referred to as “Amatise” and the later ones as “Long Strads” or “Grand Pattern.” They are all better known by their interesting names which they acquired due to the fame of the owner and by their appearance and sound. In 1698 Antonio began making a slightly shorter model and, between the years 1700-1720, which is considered his “Golden Period,” the violins had higher quality curves, rich varnish, gracefulness and a number of variations.
The violins themselves are like characters, each unique, each having a name and a history, each with its own beauty – names like “Sleeping Beauty,” “Firebird,” “Lincoln,” “Spanish,” “Emperor” and “Leonardo da Vinci”. The “Davidoff” Stradivarius cello is owned by YoYo Ma, the “Barjansky” Strad belongs to Julian Lloyd Webber and “Soil” to Itzhak Perlman. The “Dolphin” is with the Nippon Music Foundation. The “Mendelssohn” sold in 1990 for £902,000, the “Kreutzer” sold in 1998 for £947,500. “Lady Tennant” sold for an enormous $2 million in 2005 through the Christie’s Auction House and “The Lady Blunt” (dated 1721) raised $15.9 million for the Japan Earthquake fund in 2011. The well-known “Molitor” was bought by Anne Akiko Meyers in 2010 at the Tarisio Auctions for $3.6 million, the “Hammer” (1707) sold in 2006 for $3.5 million and in 2012 the “Baron van der Leyen” Stradivarius sold at the Tarisio auction for $2.6 million.
It is not surprising that because of the great value attached to the violins there are a number of forgeries, so these instruments must always be authenticated before purchasing. Museums and orchestras own and house many of the violins and violas but not all the violins are in use. However, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra owns several that are in use. The Library of Congress, the Royal Palace of Madrid, the Royal Academy of Music, the Musée de la Musique (Paris), the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Music Museum (South Dakota) all have instruments safely kept in good condition. The “Messiah” Stradivarius is not played but is housed at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.
Antonio Stradivari was a master of his trade and for over sixty years he produced suburb instruments. The last recorded violin was produced in 1737 the same year he died at the age of 93. Both Stradivari and Guarneri instruments are highly regarded today and judging by the value placed on them by society, these instruments are considered a treasure. George Eliot, the poet, captured this sentiment in a line from the poem, “Stradivarius” (1873): “When any master holds twixt chin and hand a violin of mine, he will be glad that Stradivarius lived, made violins and made them of the best’’.
The city of Cremona is situated in Lombardy, on the left bank of the Po River. It is the capital of the province of Cremona and the seat of the local city and province governments. The city is especially noted for its musical history and traditions, including some of the earliest and most renowned luthiers. The Province consists of vast plains broken up by woods and large meadows that, thanks to the canals built by inhabitants in centuries past, has been transformed into an extensive, fertile countryside ideal for agriculture. The cuisine of Cremona brings the characteristic tastes of local farms to the table. Cured pork and sausages, including garlic-scented salami, cotechino with lentils, culatello ham and all types of pork that are important ingredients for local recipes.
Pickled fruit (mostarda), made here since the Middle Ages, has become well-known. Large slices or whole candied fruit are mixed with mustard and cooked until thick. Mostarda is served with the rich, boiled meat dishes of the region.
A typical Cremonese pasta is filled with boiled meats, mortadella and liver and it is served in broth. Tortelli are also a popular dish, as are Salva cheese, Bertolina (a sweet focaccia with egg) and the local dessert, Spingarda.
From the ancient origins of this area comes torrone, nougat candy. Torrone was first made in 1441 to celebrate the marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti (the daughter of the Duke of Milan) and Francesco Sforza.
Mostarda di Cremona
- 12 ounces (300 g) pears
- 8 ounces (200 g) quinces
- 6 ounces (150 g) cherries
- 8 ounces (200 g) apricots
- 10 ounces (250 g) figs
- 8 ounces (200 g) peaches
- 3 tablespoons powdered mustard seed
- 3 1/2 cups (800 g) sugar
- 2 cups white wine vinegar
Preparing the fruit:
Keep the individual kinds of fruit separate. Wash and dry the cherries and figs. Wash the apricots and remove the pits; do the same with the peaches and cut them into halves or quarters if they’re large. Peel, core and quarter the pears and quinces.
Heat a quart of water in a large pot and when it begins to simmer slowly stir in the sugar. When it has dissolved, add the quinces. Simmer 20 minutes, then add the pears. Then the peaches, apricots, cherries and figs, at five-minute intervals. When you’ve added everything, simmer the mixture for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the mixture cool.
In the meantime, heat the vinegar and stir in the mustard. Let the mixture cool.
Transfer the fruit from the syrup to sterile jars with a slotted spoon. Mix the syrup and the vinegar mixture, pour the combined sauce over the fruit, seal the jars in a processing bath and store them in a cool dry place.
Tortelli di Zucca
For the filling:
- 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) squash (butternut, pumpkin or sweet potatoes)
- 4 ounces (100 g) amaretti (almond macaroons)
- 4 ounces (100 g) raisins
- 4 ounces (100 g) Mostarda di Cremona, recipe above
- 2 cups (100 g) grated Parmigiano cheese
- A little (1/8 teaspoon) freshly grated nutmeg
For the pasta:
- 3 cups (350 g) flour
- 2/3 cup (100 g) semolina
- 4 whole eggs
- 1 tablespoon milk
For the sauce:
- 2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
Peel and cube the squash and roast in a hot oven until it’s fork-tender.
Grind the amaretti in a food processor and mince the raisins. When the squash is done, blend or process until mashed. Combine the pulp with the amaretti, raisins, cheese and nutmeg; mix well. Cover the filling with a damp cloth and let it sit in a cool place for several hours.
Prepare the pasta:
Using an electric mixer with a dough hook, mix the ingredients to obtain a firm dough. Knead quite well, for 10-15 minutes or more.
When you are ready to make the pasta, roll the dough out very thin with a rolling-pin or with a pasta maker (about 1 mm) and cut it into 4-inch (10 cm) squares.
Put a tablespoon of filling in the middle of each square and top with another pasta square tamping down with a fork along the edges to seal them.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and then salt it. Cook the tortelli, a few at a time, for a few minutes, (usually they rise to the surface when cooked al dente) and then remove them with a slotted spoon or spider. They’re delicate and will break if you pour the pot into a colander to drain them. Put them in a serving bowl, sprinkling them with melted butter and grated cheese, as you add more cooked pasta to the bowl.
Boiled Beef With Fruity-Mustard Sauce
- 2-3 lb piece of stewing beef
- 2 onions, diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 stalk rosemary
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- A few dill and parsley stalks, chopped
- “Mostarda di frutta” to taste
Put the whole piece of meat into a pan with water to cover. When the meat starts to boil, add some salt and the diced onions and carrots. Add the rosemary, oregano and bay leaves.
Cook the meat, until tender, about 2 hours over low heat.
Add the fresh parsley and dill. Turn the heat off and leave the meat in the pan for another 15 minutes.
Remove the meat and slice it. Put some meat slices on each serving plate and top with some fruit-mustard syrup and slices of fruit.
Torrone, the classic Italian nougat. This traditional recipe is scented with honey, orange and almond flavors. As with many egg white-based candies, nougat does not do well in humidity, so try to choose a low humidity day to make this candy. Traditionally, nougat is made with edible rice paper, to make it easier to slice and serve. If you cannot find any, line your pan with foil and spray it thoroughly with nonstick cooking spray. Smooth the top as best you can and skip the compacting step described below.
- 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
- 1 cup honey
- 1/4 cup light corn syrup
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon orange extract
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 cups toasted almonds
- Edible rice paper
Prepare an 8×11 inch pan by lining it with plastic wrap that extends over the sides of the pan, then spraying it with nonstick cooking spray, taking care to spray the sides well. (For thinner nougat, a 9×13 inch pan can be used instead.) Place the edible rice paper in a single layer on the bottom of the pan—you may need to cut the pieces to fit the pan.
Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of a large stand mixer that has been thoroughly cleaned and dried. Any traces of grease on the bowl or whisk will prevent the egg whites from beating properly.
Combine 3 cups of sugar, honey, corn syrup and water in a large, deep saucepan over medium heat. The mixture will foam up as it cooks, so be sure your pan is large enough to safely handle the rising mixture. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then brush down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to remove any stray sugar crystals. Insert a candy thermometer and cook the syrup, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 290 degrees Fahrenheit (143 C).
When the syrup reaches 270 F (132 C), start beating the egg whites and salt with the electric mixer using the whisk attachment. When the whites form soft peaks, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, a little at a time, until the whites are shiny and can hold firm peaks. Ideally, this stage should be reached when the sugar syrup reaches 290 degrees F (143 C), but if the whites are at stiff peaks before the syrup is ready, stop the mixer so the whites are not overbeaten.
Replace the whisk attachment with the paddle attachment. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour the sugar into a large 4-cup measuring cup or similarly sized heat proof container with a spout. With the mixer on medium speed, slowly and carefully stream the hot syrup into the egg whites. (If you don’t have a container with a spout, be very careful when pouring the hot sugar syrup directly from the saucepan into the mixer.)
Increase the speed of the mixer to medium-high and continue to beat the egg whites for 5 minutes, until very thick, stiff and shiny. Add the three extracts and beat briefly to incorporate them.
Add the toasted almonds and stir until they’re well-incorporated. The candy will be very sticky and stiff.
Scrape the candy into the prepared pan, then use an offset spatula or knife sprayed with nonstick cooking spray to smooth the top. Cover the top completely with another layer of rice paper, cut to fit. Place a pan of the same size on top of the nougat and place a large book or other heavy object in the pan to weigh it down. Let sit at room temperature for several hours.
When you are ready to cut the nougat, lift it from the pan using the plastic wrap as handles. Spray a large sharp chef’s knife with nonstick cooking spray and cut the nougat into small squares. If the knife gets too sticky, periodically wash it with hot water, dry it between cuts and re-spray.
Nougat can be served immediately or stored in an airtight container at room temperature. It is sticky and will gradually lose its shape once cut, so for storage purposes, wrap individual squares in nonstick waxed paper.
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