Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: cookies

For the past two weeks I have seen more articles on how to prepare corned beef and cabbage than I could ever want to see. Well it is a tradition. Don’t worry I am not going to tell you how to cook corned beef, no – I am going to skip right to dessert. How about making some Shamrock cookies? Don’t forget to have some tasty rye bread on hand for leftover corned beef sandwiches. I have a great recipe for you.

Sugar Cookie Dough

Makes about 2 dozen

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for rolling out the cookie dough
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 inch shamrock cookie cutter
Glaze for the cookies, recipe below

Directions

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until smooth.

Add the egg and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.

With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated (the dough will be stiff).

Shape into a disk and refrigerate, wrapped in plastic wrap, for at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.

Heat the oven to 350° F.

Divide the chilled dough into four pieces. Work with one piece of dough at a time and keep the rest covered in the plastic wrap.

On a floured surface, roll out one piece of dough to a ¼ inch thick. Using a 4 inch shamrock cookie cutter, cut out the shapes and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets.

Roll up the scrapes and place in the plastic wrap.

Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough and re-rolling the scraps until all the dough is used.

Bake until just beginning to brown, about 12 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets on the oven racks after 6 minutes.

Let the cookies rest on the cookie sheets for 5 minutes before removing them from the pan.

I usually just slide the parchment paper with the cookies on it onto the kitchen counter and let them cool.

When thoroughly cool, frost the cookies.

Glaze

I use the corn syrup in this recipe, so that  the glaze will set and not stay sticky.

Ingredients

1 cup powdered/confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1-2 tablespoons water
6 drops green food coloring
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Whisk together the sugar, corn syrup, vanilla and 1 tablespoon water.

Stir in the food coloring a few drops at a time until you reach the color desired. Add additional water, if you want the glaze a little thinner.

Yield: 1/2 cup of glaze.

Homemade Sourdough Sandwich Rye Bread

Makes 1 large, 2-pound loaf

Ingredients

1 cup sourdough starter
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1 3/4 cups rye flour
1/4 cup potato flour
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons regular salt
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups lukewarm water

Directions

Combine all of the ingredients in the large bowl of an electric mixer using the paddle attachment until the dough comes together in a ball around the paddle.

Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough until smooth, soft and somewhat sticky. Remove the dough from the bowl and grease the bowl with oil.

Return the dough to the bowl and cover the bowl. Let it rise until puffy, 60 to 90 minutes.

Lightly grease a large bread pan (or other 2-pound capacity loaf pan). A 10″ x 5″ loaf pan; or a long covered baker or 13″ pain de mie pan, without the covers, all work well here.

Gently deflate the dough and shape it into a log the length of your chosen pan. Place it in the prepared pan, and let the dough rise until it’s just about doubled in size, 60 to 90 minutes.

The dough should crown about 1/2″ over the top of the pan. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the bread for 40 to 45 minutes, loosely cover with aluminum foil after about 20 minutes to prevent it from getting too dark.

The bread should be golden brown when finished, and its internal temperature should register at least 200°F on a digital instant-read thermometer.

Remove the bread from the oven, turn it out of the pan, and allow it to cool completely before slicing.

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Where I grew up in the US, one could get authentic, great tasting Chinese food. Where I live now – not so much. So I have taken to making my own. Most of the time I can recreate the flavors I remember and make some delicious tasting Chinese food – like the dishes below. Yes, I know, it is not Italian but every once in a while change is good.

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Corn & Chicken Egg Drop Soup

Ingredients

4 cups chicken stock
One 5 oz boneless chicken breast
2 cups corn
1 tablespoon regular soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
2 eggs, whisked
Salt and white pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons chives, chopped
Sesame oil

Directions

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the chicken breast and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook the chicken for about 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken to a plate to cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut it into small pieces or shred it.

To the broth in the saucepan add the corn, soy sauce, Chinese cooking wine, ginger, garlic and cornstarch mixture.

Bring to boil, then turn down the heat to medium. Cook for 5 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally.

Adjust the seasoning with salt, turn off the heat and slowly whisk in the eggs so it cooks in “ribbons” throughout the soup. This also helps to thicken the soup.

Add the chicken and chives and season with white pepper. Heat until hot throughout but do not boil. Drizzle with a little sesame oil before serving.

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Beef & Broccoli

Ingredients

½ pound beef tenderloin, sliced very thin
Salt and pepper to taste
10 -12 oz fresh broccoli florets
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 cups fresh Chinese noodles
1 tablespoon peanut oil

Sauce

1 cup beef broth
1 teaspoon chili paste
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (chili)
1 ½ teaspoons regular soy sauce
1 teaspoon packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Directions

Sprinkle the sliced beef with salt and pepper and set aside while you make the sauce.

Place the noodles in a medium bowl and pour in enough boiling water to cover the noodles. Let sit while you prepare the stir fry.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk all the sauce ingredients together. Set aside.

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Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet or wok. Add the garlic and ginger, stir and then add the beef slices. Stir fry for about a minute and then remove the beef from the pan and place on a plate.

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Add the broccoli florets to the skillet and stir fry for about three minutes. Pour in the sauce, mix into the broccoli and stir fry for another minute.

Drain the noodles and add them to the skillet. Add the browned beef and stir fry for about two minutes. Serve immediately.

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Chinese Almond Cookies

Makes 32, if you measure with a cookie scoop.

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups almond flour, lightly packed
1 cup of unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
Pinch of kosher salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup + 2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Thinly sliced almond

Directions

Place the almond flour, salt and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for three minutes.

Add one of the eggs, reserving the other for later, and the almond extract. Mix on low speed until just incorporated.

Sift together the flour, sugar and baking soda then add to the butter mixture at low speed. Mix until just combined.

Flatten the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place it in the refrigerator for two hours to chill.

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Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the second egg into a small bowl and beat it.

Divide the batter into 1 inch balls. This is very easy to do with a cookie scoop. Place cookies 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Flatten the balls of dough with the bottom of a glass dipped in flour.

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Brush the top of the cookies with the beaten egg and sprinkle almond slices on top of each cookie.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 22 minutes or until the cookies begin to turn golden brown. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and allow to cook completely before storing in an airtight container.


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Venice (Italian: Venezia) is a metropolitan city in the Veneto region of Italy. It is situated across a group of 117 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by bridges. These are located in the shallow Venetian Lagoon, an enclosed bay that lies between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. Parts of Venice are renowned for the beauty of their settings, their architecture and artwork. The lagoon and a part of the city are listed as a World Heritage Site

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The name, Venezia, is derived from the ancient Veneti people who inhabited the region in 10th century BC. The Republic of Venice was a major financial and maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance and a staging area for the Crusades, as well as a very important center of commerce (especially for silk, grain and spices) and art. Venice is considered to have been the first real international financial center and this made it a wealthy city throughout most of its history.

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In the 14th century, many young Venetian men began wearing tight-fitting multicolored hose, the designs indicated the Compagnie della Calza (“Trouser Club”) to which they belonged. The Venetian Senate passed laws banning colorful clothing, but this merely resulted in changes in fashion in order to circumvent the law. Dull garments were worn over colorful ones, which then were cut to show the hidden colors that resulted in the wide-spread use of men’s “slashed” fashions in the 15th century.

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Today, Venice is a major fashion and shopping center, not as important as Milan, Florence, and Rome, but on a par with other fashion centers. Roberta di Camerino is a major Italian fashion brand to be based in Venice. Founded in 1945, it is renowned for its innovative handbags featuring adornments by Venetian artisans. Many of the fashion boutiques and jewelry shops in the city are located on or near the Rialto Bridge and in the Piazza San Marco. There are Louis Vuitton and Ermenegildo Zegna flagship stores in the city.

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Venice is known for its ornate glass-work, known as Venetian glass. It is world-renowned for being colorful, elaborate and skilfully made. However, by the 14th century, the center of the Venetian glass industry moved to Murano, an offshore island in Venice. The glass made there is known as Murano glass. Despite efforts to keep Venetian glass-making techniques within Venice, they became known elsewhere and Venetian-style glassware is produced in other Italian cities and other countries of Europe. Some of the most important brands of glass in the world are still produced in the historical glass factories on Murano. They are: Venini, Barovier & Toso, Pauly, Millemetri, Seguso. Barovier & Toso is considered one of the 100 oldest companies in the world, formed in 1295.

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Festivals

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The Carnival of Venice is held annually in the city and It lasts for around two weeks and ends on Shrove Tuesday. Venetian masks are popular during the festival.

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The Venice Biennale is one of the most important events in the arts calendar. In 1895 an Esposizione biennale artistica nazionale (biennial exhibition of Italian art) was inaugurated.

The Festa del Redentore that is held in mid July began as a feast to give thanks for the end of the plague of 1576. A bridge of barges is built connecting Giudecca to the rest of Venice and fireworks play an important role.

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The Venice Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the world founded by Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata in 1932 as the Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica. The festival takes place every year in late August or early September on the island of the Lido. Screenings take place in the historic Palazzo del Cinema on the Lungomare Marconi. It is one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals and is part of the Venice Biennale.

Cuisine

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Venice cuisine has a centuries-long history and it is significantly different from the other cuisines of northern Italy. Venetian cuisine is characterized by seafood, but also includes vegetables from the islands of the lagoon, rice from the mainland, game and polenta. Venice combines local traditions with influences stemming from age-old practices. These include: sardines marinated to preserve them for long voyages; bacalà mantecato (a recipe based on Norwegian stockfish and extra-virgin olive oil); bisàto (marinated eel); risi e bisi,( rice, peas and pancetta); fegato alla veneziana, Venetian-style veal liver; risòto col néro de sépe (risotto with cuttlefish, blackened by their ink); cicchétti (tapas); antipasti (appetizers); and Prosecco, an effervescent, mildly sweet wine.

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The most common dish is polenta, which is cooked in various ways within the local cuisines of Veneto. It is very popular to serve grilled meat (often by a barbecue that includes a mix of pork, beef and chicken meat) together with grilled polenta, potatoes or vegetables. Other popular dishes include risotto, rice cooked with many different kinds of food, from vegetables, mushrooms, pumpkin or radicchio to seafood, pork meat or chicken livers. Bigoli (a typical Venetian fresh pasta, similar to Udon), fettuccine (hand-made noodles), ravioli and the similar tortelli (filled with meat, cheese, vegetables or pumpkin) and gnocchi (potatoes-made fresh pasta), are fresh and often hand-made pasta dishes (made of eggs and wheat flour), served together with a meat sauce (ragù) often made with duck meat, sometimes together with mushrooms or peas, or simply with melted butter.

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In addition, Venice is known for the golden, oval-shaped cookies called baìcoli, and for other types of sweets, such as: pan del pescatore (bread of the fisherman); cookies with almonds and pistachio nuts; cookies with fried Venetian cream, or the bussolài (butter biscuits and shortbread made in the shape of a ring or of an “S”) from the island of Burano; the galàni or cróstoli (angel wings); the frìtole (spherical doughnuts); the fregolòtta (a crumbly cake with almonds); a milk pudding called rosada; and cookies called zaléti, whose ingredients include yellow maize flour.
The dessert tiramisù is thought to have been invented in Treviso in the late 1960s and is popular in the Veneto area.

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Venetian-style Capesante

Scallops are popular as a hot fish appetizer.

Ingredients

4 servings

8 sea scallops
⅛ oz garlic
½ oz parsley
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Large scallop shells for serving

Directions

Heat the oil in a pan, add the finely chopped garlic and the scallops. On high heat, add parsley and dill. Season with salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes.

Rearrange each shell by placing two scallops inside and pouring a little of the cooking liquid over each one. This dish can also be served with hot croutons brushed with garlic.

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Bigoli With Duck Sauce

This is a typical first course. The “bigolo” is a hard wheat pasta, which had made its appearance in the area in the eighteenth century. It was produced using the special “bigolaro”, a press featuring a brass drawplate which permitted the pasta to be formed into a rough-textured “bigolo” shape. In the Veneto region, the name “bigoli” is also given to large spaghetti or “bucatini” because of their slender elongated shape, also a kind of “bigolo”.

Ingredients

4 servings
1 lb bigoli-a hard wheat pasta
3 ½ oz liver
3 ½ oz duck meat
1 oz butter
¾ oz extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
2 oz ripe tomatoes
2 oz onion
3 ½ oz red wine
Thyme to taste
Marjoram to taste
1 bay leaf
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to taste
Parsley to taste

Directions

In a pan combine the oil and butter and brown the onions, add the liver and duck meat and brown that also. Mix thoroughly.

Pour the red wine over the mixture, allow to evaporate, and then salt to taste. Add the broth and cook until the broth has reduced to only a few tablespoons. Add the herbs, the bay leaf and the tomato.

Cook the pasta in abundant boiling and salted water. When the pasta is cooked, when it is still “al dente”, drain it, put it in the pan with the sauce and toss it. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with freshly grated cheese, finely chopped parsley and arrange on a serving dish.

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Torresani allo Spiedo (pigeons on the spit)

Ingredients

Serves 4

4 terraioli pigeons (also known as toresani)
120 g bacon, in large slices
Extra virgin olive oil
10 Juniper berries
2 Bay leaves
Rosemary – a large sprig
Salt and pepper

Directions

Preparation for plucking pigeons: flame it to remove the hair, clean the entrails, wash well and dry them.

Grind in a mortar the juniper berries and two bay leaves, put the mixture into a shallow dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper and add plenty of extra virgin olive oil.

Dip the sprig of rosemary into the mixture and use the rosemary to brush the seasoning on the pigeons.Then wrap them in slices of bacon, with a kitchen string to tie them, putting them on the spit and after ½ hour of cooking brush with the remaining mixture prepared with oil.

After 40 total minutes of cooking, remove the pigeons, remove the string and served with grilled polenta.

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Zaleti

This is a traditional cookie from the Venice area. They are often enjoyed together with a glass of sparkling wine like Prosecco.

Ingredients

¾ lb cornmeal
3 ½ oz sugar
½ lb all-purpose flour
5 oz butter
3 oz raisins
2 ½ oz pine nuts
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup milk, fresh
1 pinch vanilla
Lemon zest, grated

Directions

Mix the flours with the baking powder in a separate bowl. Combine the butter and sugar. Add the flour mixture, raisins, previously soaked in warm water, the pine nuts, milk, grated lemon zest and vanilla, to form a dough mixture.

With your hands, shape the mixture into small oval cakes about 3.2 inches long. Place them onto a lightly buttered baking sheet and bake in a hot oven. Cooking time is generally 20-25 minutes, but it can vary according to the size of the “zaleti”.


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Butter Cookie Cutouts

Yield: about 4 dozen cookies

I have been making this recipe since 1986. It is an heirloom recipe brought from Europe and published in The Holidays by cookbook author, John Hadamuscin. It is perfect for cutting with traditionally shaped cookie cutters. When my children were young, they use to love to help me make these cookies. These cookies are also their favorite cookie of all the cookies I make for Christmas. I have been making the same cookies every year since they were small. That is how they like it – no deviations.

Ingredients

1 cup sugar
2 cups butter ( 4 sticks)
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups flour
Powdered sugar icing (see below) and red and green colored sprinkles for decoration

Directions

In a large electric mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and smooth.

Separate 3 of the eggs; Beat the 3 egg yolks and the remaining whole egg into the butter-sugar mixture. Set aside the eggs whites and use for another recipe, such as the Pignoli cookies below.

Beat in the vanilla. Gradually add the flour and mix well. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours or overnight.

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Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cover the baking sheets with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into four equal parts. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one-fourth of the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out shapes with floured cookie cutters.

Transfer cookies to baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough and re-roll scraps until all the dough is used.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned. Cool.

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Frost the cookies lightly with the icing and sprinkle with colored sprinkles.

Store in tightly covered containers for up to one month in a cool place, or freeze for up to 6 months.

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Powdered Sugar Icing

Ingredients

1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon milk

Directions

Mix together to make a thin icing.

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Pine-nut (Pignoli) Macaroons

Use only almond paste, not marzipan or canned almond filling.

Makes 2 dozen. I usually double the recipe.

Ingredients

8-ounces almond paste, cut in small pieces
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg whites, from 2 large eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
Pine nuts (pignoli)

Directions

Heat the oven to 325°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In mixer bowl beat almond paste, sugar, egg whites and almond extract with an electric mixer until smooth. Drop heaping teaspoonfuls pf dough 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheets.

Sprinkle with pine nuts to cover, then press them gently to adhere.

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Bake 20 minutes or until the tops feel firm and dry when lightly pressed. Cool completely on cookie sheet on wire rack. Store airtight at room temperature.

(Cookies are best eaten within 2 weeks, or they can be frozen.)


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

Watermelon Basil Sorbet

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3-4 servings

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brown Sugar Shortbread Rounds

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32 cookies

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

Add the remaining ingredients. Mix until thoroughly combined.

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

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

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

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

Easy Oatmeal Cookies

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Makes 18 large cookies

Dry Ingredients

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

Wet Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peach Almond Sundae

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4 servings

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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Grilled Porterhouse Steak

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Grilled Corn and Grilled Squash Boats

First Course

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Tomato Salad with Herbed Ricotta Cheese

Serve with crusty Italian Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
  • 2 pounds tomatoes, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves

Directions

Combine oil, vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and garlic in a bowl, stirring with a whisk.

Combine ricotta and 2 tablespoons minced basil in a bowl, stirring with a whisk. Arrange the tomato slices on a platter; sprinkle with the remaining salt, pepper and torn basil leaves.

Drizzle oil mixture over the salad. Dollop ricotta mixture evenly over tomato slices. Serve.

Second Course

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Grilled Porterhouse Steak

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 porterhouse steak, about 1 1/2 pounds and 1 1/2 inches thick, trimmed of excess fat
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon steak seasoning (I use Pensey’s Chicago seasoning), divided
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions

Brush both sides of the steak with olive oil and rub in ½ tablespoon of steak seasoning on each side of the steak. Allow the steak to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling.

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Prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking over high heat (450°to 550°F).

Brush the cooking grates clean. Sear the steaks over direct high heat for 6 to 8 minutes, turning once.

Continue grilling over indirect high heat until cooked to your desired doneness, 4 to 6 minutes more for medium rare (125 – 130 degrees), turning once or twice.

Keep the lid closed as much as possible during grilling. Remove the steak from the grill and place the butter on top if the steak. Let rest for 5 minutes.

Cut the steak across the grain into ¼-inch slices

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Italian Frying Peppers

These are delicious as a side dish for grilled steak. Extras will be great in a sandwich.

Ingredients

  • 2 dozen whole Italian frying peppers
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • Salt and Pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (chili)

Directions

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Combine all the ingredients in a large skillet with a cover. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook the peppers until they soften and develop brown spots.

Turn the peppers over after they are browned on the bottom side. Cool to room temperature and store in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

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Grilled Yellow Squash Boats

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 medium yellow squash
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 4 tablespoons shredded cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, etc)
  • 4 tablespoons Italian seasoned dried bread crumbs
  • Olive oil

Directions

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Cut the necks off the yellow squash and reserve for another recipe. Cut each squash in half and scrap out the seeds with a spoon making a hollow in the shell.

Sprinkle the shells with salt and pepper. Fill each squash with 1 tablespoon of cheese followed by 1 tablespoon of bread crumbs. Drizzle each with olive oil.

Place the squash boats on the grill and close the cover. Cook until the shells are tender and the crumbs begin to brown, about 12-15 minutes.

Grilled Corn on the Cob

Recipe

Dessert Course

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Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

Makes about 30 cookies

I purchase hazelnut pastry and cake filling from the King Arthur.Flour Company. If you prefer, you can substitute Nutella for the hazelnut filling in this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup hazelnut pastry /cake filling or use Nutella
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Chocolate Frosting

Directions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer add all the ingredients except the flour and the water. Beat the ingredients until smooth and creamy. Add the flour and water and beat until smooth.

Form balls of dough with a tablespoon or a small melon scoop. Roll until rough with your hands. Place on parchment lined baking sheets. With a fork, press down on the dough balls to flatten slightly.

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Bake the cookies for 12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Remove the cookies to the counter or a wire rack to cool. When completely cool, frost the top of each cookie with a teaspoon of your favorite chocolate frosting.

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The Aosta Valley is a mountainous area in northwestern Italy. It is bordered by the Rhône-Alpes in France to the west and Switzerland to the north. it is the smallest, least populous and least densely populated region of Italy. It is the only Italian region that no longer has any provinces. The province of Aosta was dissolved in 1945. However, the region is divided into 74 comuni (communes) and Italian and French are the official languages. The population density of Aosta Valley is by far the lowest of all the Italian regions.

aostamountains

The region is very cold in the winter, especially when compared with other places in the Western Alps. This is probably due to the mountains blocking the mild winds from the Atlantic Ocean. Places on the same altitude in France or western Switzerland are not as cold as the Aosta Valley. In this climate the snow season is very long, as long as 8 or 9 months at the highest points. During the summer, mist occurs almost every day. These areas are the wettest in the western Alps. Temperatures are low, between −7 °C (19 °F) and −3 °C (27 °F) in January and in July between 10 °C (50 °F) and 13 °C (55 °F).

Roman Theater Remains

Roman Theater Remains

The first inhabitants of the Aosta Valley were Celts. Rome conquered the area around 25 BC to secure the strategic mountain passes, and they went on to build bridges and roads through the mountains.

hydroelectric dam

Hydroelectric Dam

The Aosta Valley remained agricultural until the construction of hydroelectric dams that brought the metalworking industry to the region. Agriculture has become increasingly specialized, retaining only a small output of cereals, potatoes and fruit. Animal feed crops supply the region’s dairy herds which are pastured in the high Alps during the summer period.

The region’s cheeses are renowned throughout the world. Fontina cheese has been made in the Aosta Valley, in the Alps since the 12th century. It has a milk fat content around 45% and can be identified by a Consorzio (Consortium) stamp of the Matterhorn including the label, “FONTINA”.

As with many other varieties, the name “Fontina” is also known as “Fontinella”, “Fontal” and “Fontella”. Although the version from Aosta Valley is the only original and the most famous, a derivative production occurs in other parts of Italy, as well as Denmark, Sweden, Quebec, France, Argentina and the United States. The original Fontina cheese from Aosta Valley is fairly pungent and has an intense flavor. The Swedish and Danish versions are often found in US grocery stores and can be distinguished from Aostan Fontina by their red wax rind (also prevalent in Argentine Fontina).

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Aostan Fontina has a natural rind due to aging, which is usually tan to orange-brown. It is noted for its earthy and woody taste and it pairs well with roast meats and truffles. Its rich and creamy flavor gets nuttier with aging. The interior of the cheese is pale cream in color and riddled with holes known as “eyes”.  Fontina produced in the Aosta Valley must be made from unpasteurized milk from a single milking, with two batches being made per day. Young Fontina has a softer texture (and can be suitable for fondue or for a table cheese board). Fonduta alla valdostana (in Italian) or Fondue à la valdôtaine (in French) is a traditional dish of Fontina whipped with milk, eggs and truffles. Mature Fontina is a hard cheese used for grating.

To make Fontina Cheese, cow’s milk is heated to 36 C (97 F.) Calf’s rennet is then added to curdle the milk. The milk is left to sit for 1 hour as is, then it is heated to 47 to 48 C (116 to 118 F) and left to sit for another two hours held at that temperature. This is why you’ll sometimes see this cheese called “semi-cooked” (or “semi-cotta”, drawing on the Italian phrase.)

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The curd that forms is cut and drained in nets, then put into round molds for 12 hours. When the cheese is taken out of the molds, it is salted and, then, rested for two months in a cool place. At the end of two months, the cheese is taken to caves where it is aged for a further 3 months (The aging apparently still happens in caves or grottoes, on pine shelves.) During this period in the caves, the rind is washed with brine every other day and, on the alternating days, it is brushed to take away any mold that forms on it.

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Wines of high quality are produced in small quantities in the Aosta Valley. All are entitled to the Denominazione di origine controllata (Valle d’Aosta DOC / Vallée d’Aoste DOC) label. The wine making region is generally divided into three areas. In the northwest, the Valdigne area south of the commune of Courmayeur is home to the highest elevated vineyards in Europe at 3,937 feet above sea level. The white grape Prié Blanc (also known as Blanc de Morgex) is the main production grape in the area and is used to produce the wine, Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle in both a still and sparkling wine style.

The Central Valley is the region’s most productive area and is further sub-divided into four areas: Enfer d’Arvier, Torrette, Nus and Chambave. The Enfer d’Arvier is a red wine producing area around the village of Arvier. The wines from this area are blends made primarily from the Petit Rouge grape with lesser amounts of Dolcetto, Gamay, Neyret, Pinot noir, and/or Vien de Nus. Previously Enfer d’Arvier had its own DOC designation but was subsequently incorporated into the Valle d’Aosta DOC.

aostawine

White wines are made in this area from a Pinot Gris clone known as Malvoisie including a sweet passito straw wine.The red wines made here are composed of at least 60% Petit Rouge with some Dolcetto, Gamay and/or Pinot Noir. The white wines made here are from the Moscato Bianco grape. The Lower Valley is known primarily for two styles of wine: a medium-bodied dry red wine made from at least 70% Nebbiolo with some Dolcetto, Freisa, Neyret, Pinot Noir, and/or Vien de Nus and a wine made from at least 85% Nebbiolo with some Freisa, Neyret, Pinot Noir and Vien de Nus.

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Church in the village of Saint-Jacques. Aosta Valley, Italy.

Church in the village of Saint-Jacques. Aosta Valley, Italy.

The cuisine of Aosta Valley is characterized by simplicity that includes “robust” ingredients, such as potatoes, polenta; cheese, meat and rye bread. Many of the dishes are made with Fontina cheese. It is found in dishes, such as the soup à la vâpeuleunèntse (Valpelline Soup). Other cheeses made in the region are Toma, Seras and Fromadzo (which  have been produced locally since the 15th century and also have PDO statu).

Regional specialities are Motzetta (dried chamois meat, prepared like prosciutto), Vallée d’Aoste Lard d’Arnad (a cured and brined fatback product with PDO designation), Vallée d’Aoste Jambon de Bosses (a type of ham, likewise with the PDO designation) and a black bread. Notable dishes include Carbonnade, salt-cured beef cooked with onions and red wine and served with polenta; breaded veal cutlets called costolette; teuteuns, salt-cured cow’s udder that is cooked and sliced; and steak à la valdôtaine, a steak with croûtons, ham and melted cheese.

Grolla Coffee

aostacoffee

Grappa is an Italian brandy distilled from the fermented residue of grapes after they have been pressed in wine making.

Ingredients

For 4 people:

  • 4 cups Italian brewed coffee
  • 2 small glasses grappa
  • Zest of one lemon zest
  • 4 teaspoons sugar plus extra for the pot

Directions

Pour the coffee into a small saucepan. Add the grappa, half of the lemon peel and the 4 teaspoons of sugar.

Stir the mixture over the heat and bring to a low boil. Turn the heat off and remove the lemon zest.

Pour the coffee into the grolla pot or friendship cup having sweetened the openings or mouths of the cup with extra sugar. Then light the mixture with a match or lighter and you will see a blue flame. After a short time, put out the flame and add the remaining lemon zest. Drink from the grolla, together with the other diners passing the cup around.

If you don’t have a grolla or friendship cup, use a fondue set. Place the coffee ingredients in the fondue pot and bring it to a boil. Boil and light the liquid with a flame. Serve the coffee in individual cups sweetened with sugar.

Pasticcio di Penne alla Valdostana (Baked Penne Aosta Style)

aostapasta

Ingredients

  • 1 lb mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1 whole garlic clove, peeled
  • 4 tablespoons butter, plus extra for the baking dish
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 oz penne (about 2 1/2 cups dry pasta)
  • 3 oz Italian Fontina cheese, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream or half and half

Directions

Saute’ the mushrooms with the whole garlic clove in 2 tablespoons of the butter over a high heat. Add salt and pepper, lower the heat and cook for 3 minutes. Discard the garlic.

Cook the pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain and dress with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.

Butter an ovenproof dish and cover the bottom with a layer of penne. Distribute about a quarter of the mushrooms and the sliced cheese evenly over the pasta and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese. Add another layer of pasta and cover with mushrooms and cheese as before.

Repeat until you have used all the ingredients, finishing with a layer of sliced cheese. Pour the cream over the pasta layers, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake, covered with foil, in a preheated oven at 400° F for 10 minutes.

Bake uncovered for a further 10 minutes, or until a light crust has formed on the top. Remove the pasta from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Fontina-Stuffed Breaded Veal or Pork Chops (Costolette alla Valdostana)

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Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 veal or pork chops, bone in (1/2 inch thick)
  • 1/4 pound Fontina from Val d’Aosta, rind removed, cut into 4 slices
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions

Cut a horizontal slit in each chop, leaving the meat attached at the bone end. Open the two flaps of each chop and place 1 slice of Fontina over the bottom flap; lay the top flap over the cheese to close. Using a meat mallet, pound each chop gently to seal the pocket. Season both sides with the salt and pepper.

Place the flour on one plate, the beaten egg in another and the breadcrumbs on a third. Dredge the veal chops in the flour and shake off the excess; dip into the beaten egg, coating both sides well; finally, dip into the breadcrumbs, pressing on both sides to help them adhere.

Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the chops and cook until golden on both sides, turning once; it should take about 5 minutes per side. Serve hot.

Twisted Cookies from Val d’Aosta

aostacookies

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm water, about 110 F
  • 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into tablespoons
  • About 2/3 cup granulated sugar for rolling out the cookies

Directions

Combine the water and yeast in a small bowl, stir to dissolve the yeast. Cover and set aside while you get the other ingredients ready..

In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse the flour and salt a couple of times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is finely mixed in but the mixture is still powdery.

Add the yeast mixture all at once, and pulse until the ingredients form a ball.

Put the dough into a greased bowl, turning the dough over so that the top is greased as well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until it is doubled in bulk, about an hour.

After the dough has risen, press it down to deflate it. Chill for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

Cover two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Set aside.

When you are ready to form the cookies, remove the dough from the refrigerator and press it into 8-inch square. Scatter some of the 2/3 cup of sugar on the work surface.

Cut the square of dough into eight 1-inch stripes, adding more sugar as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Cut each strip into 6 equal pieces, to make 48 pieces total.

Roll a piece of the dough on the sugared surface under the palms of your hands to make a pencil-thick strand about 5 inches long. Form a loop by crossing over the ends about 1 inch up from the ends of the dough.

As the cookies are formed, place them on the prepared pans, leaving about 1 ½ inches space around the cookies. Let the cookies stand at room temperature until they puff slightly, about 20 minutes.

Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 325 F. Bake the cookies, in batches, until they are light and the sugar has caramelized to a light golden crust, about 25 minutes.

Turn the cookies from back to front after the first 15 minutes of baking. Cool the cookies on a rack. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

aostamap



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