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The “Third Time is a Charm” Cake

You know that moment, when you’re doing something completely routine and everydayish, when suddenly the light bulb goes off?

Maybe you suddenly remembered where you hid your spare set of keys for “safe-keeping” or in a moment of total spontaneity, decided which pizza place to pick up dinner from.

Or maybe you’re on the subway, stuck in the midst of another interminable delay (I’m looking at you, TTC), and you’re hit with a moment of inspiration so great you want to jump for joy except for the fact you are wedged in so tightly it would take a shoe horn to get you out.

Maybe, in that moment of clarity, you realize that yes … yes … you should make that Twinkie Bundt Cake and you should add in some freshly picked strawberries because that would be amazeballs.

Yeah.

I had Twinkie Bundt Cake on the bake for quite some time, ever since I purchased Shauna Sever‘s Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques. A lovely book dedicated the joys of vanilla (there are many), the book got a bit lost in the pile of cookbooks that I’d been hoping to try out.

But hark! I happened to come across the recipe for Sever’s Twinkie Bundt Cake (from her book) on Leite’s Culinaria.

So there I was, not too long after, languishing during a particularly torturous subway ride when I found myself longing for the end of winter and the first thing my frozen brain latched on to was freshly picked strawberries.

And the next thing you know I’m thinking of this sweet little cake that’s a riff on those popular little snack cakes (that we were never allowed to have as children) and I thought, “Hey. I’m an adult. I can eat Twinkies if I want to. I can bake a Twinkie Bundt Cake if I want to. I can add strawberries to the filling if I want to.”

And thus was born the slightly adapted Twinkie Bundt Cake (with a strawberry marshmallow cream filling).

So why is it called the “Three Times a Charm Cake”? Because it took me three times before I got the strawberry filling just right.

Also. It’s delicious. And I wanted to make it three times. Maybe I ate it all myself one-and-a-half of those times.

Don’t judge me.

In a moment of serendipity, perhaps, I got it just right this past Canada Day weekend. So in honour of the great occasion of Canada’s birthday, I salute my country with this most charmed of cakes!

(The recipe for the cake is here – at Leite’s Culinaria. I would, however, recommend picking up Sever’s book if you can. It’s an ode to vanilla and the recipes are very good. To make the strawberry filling variation, take 3 or 4 freshly picked strawberries and mash them up. Add them to the whipped filling but be sure to not add in too much of the strawberry liquid or your filling won’t be as fluffy and as easy to pipe into the cake.)

Jump Right In

I have been holding on to this post, impatiently, for that right moment. You know that moment when everything is aligned, the timing is perfect, people are waiting with baited breath and you just know the moment is right.

The moment in question is the one where spring arrives, with complete finality. Spring is lovely, if albeit short, and there is nothing quite like those first few days where the temperature is finally not cold anymore, all of nature aligns itself to start bursting forth and you simply know that you won’t have to deal with frost warnings for at least next four or five months.

Yeah, well, it’s May 18 and I’m still waiting for that moment.

And patience has never been my greatest virtue.

Screw it. I’m jumping in anyway.

So, inspite of spring’s inability to commit, I have finally committed to the pavlova.

For those of you that have been fans for a while, you’ll have to forgive me. I am fairly new to pavlova, having only made my first one last year.

For years I admired it from afar, thanks to the dreamy pavlova creations I would regularly spot in Donna Hay magazines and Nigella Lawson baking books. But I was always afraid to try one, which seems strange to me now, given that not a lot scares me when it comes to baking.

But you see, we all have our baking mountains to climb! I put my big girl apron on and climbed that pavlova mountain and haven’t looked back since.

As I recall, I made my first pavlova for Easter 2013 and I’ve made many since.

I simply adore the pristine glossines of egg whites beaten to meringue consistency and there’s something about going to bed at night knowing that you have a dessert tucked away in the oven (I like to leave the meringue in the oven overnight to cool completely) that just makes me happy.

I am especially partial to the pavlova you see pictured here because of the combination of strawberry and rhubarb, which is a quintessentially spring flavour for me (assuming I lived somewhere where spring actually ever arrived).

This dessert is based on this one, from Martha Stewart. I’ve added in strawberries for the pure pleasure of that flavour match.

I know a lot of people are intimidated by the idea of meringue but don’t be. It’s far more forgiving than you think. The keys to successful meringue, and subsequently pavlova, are to ensure that your mixer bowl and whisk are glean and grease-free. The best way to ensure this is to rinse them with water and some lemon juice. The lemon juice will ensure that any lingering grease is washed away. Thoroughly dry your bowl and beater, as well. Any dampness on the surfaces will make it more challenging for the egg whites to build in volume.

When your piping or mounding your meringue on to the baking tray (I use parchment on the tray), add a few dabs of meringue in each corner, under the parchment, to hold it in place on the baking tray. This ensures the paper doesn’t move around as you pipe or mound your meringue on the tray.

What I loved about the Martha Stewart recipe was the idea to create a valley in the centre of the pavlova to hold your cream filling. I use this trick every time.

Finally, keep an eye on your meringue as it bakes to avoid it colouring. Unless your oven is perfectly calibrated (most ovens aren’t), you may have a hot spot or your oven may run at a higher or lower temperature than the dial indicates. Checking on the meringue will ensure that it doesn’t turn golden or colour too much.

If you are a pavlova veteran, my hat’s off to you. If you’re a newbie like me, just jump right in.

Maybe, if enough of us do, we will convince spring to finally commit!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pavlova
Serves 8-10

For the rhubarb/strawberry topping:

1 pound rhubarb, sliced into 2-inch pieces
1/4 cup water
1/2 granulated sugar
1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered

Directions:

I like to quickly stew rhubarb on the stove but it’s important you keep an eye on it as it goes quickly!

In a 10 or 12-inch skillet, heat the water and granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved.

Add the rhubarb pieces and cook covered for 5 minutes. You will note that the rhubarb starts to soften quickly. You should be able to pierce it with a fork but it should still hold its shape.

Remove the rhubarb from the heat and leave it covered until it cools completely.

Once cool, remove the rhubarb from the liquid and combine with the strawberries. Set aside to spoon on to the finished pavlova.

For the pavlova:

1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon), divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.

Combine the sugar and the cornstarch in a small bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together egg whites, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt on low speed until very frothy.

Increase speed to medium-high and gradually add sugar mixture, beating until stiff, glossy peaks form, 12 to 15 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl halfway through.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, either pipe or mound the meringue into a roughly 8 or 9-inch circle. With the back of spoon, create a crater in the centre of the circle (this will hold the cream filling after the pavlova is baked).

Bake the meringue for 2.5 hours (it should be solid on the outside and appear dry). Turn the oven off and leave the pavlova in the oven overnight to cool.

When you are ready to assemble the pavlova, beat the cream and vanilla extract until you have stiff peaks.

Remove the pavlova from the parchment paper and place the pavlova on a serving tray. Spoon the whipped cream mixture into the centre of the pavlova.

Top with the reserved strawberry/rhubarb topping (if you want, you can spoon the juices over as well but remember that this will soften your pavlova quickly so try not to allow too much juice on top of the pavlova).

Serve immediately and enjoy!

Misura Giveaway!

[Thanks to everyone that entered. Contest is now closed. Winner will be announced soon!]

It could be my failing memory or the fact that I’ve been blogging for so long but I do believe that this is my first proper giveaway on Cream Puffs in Venice!

The kind people at Misura Canada contacted me not too long ago to see if I would be interested in offering a product giveaway. We use Misura products in our home (Mammina, especially, enjoys them) and my immediate answer was a resounding yes!

I came home one day after work to find a beautiful package waiting for me by the door filled with Misura treats (pictured above).

For those of you that don’t know, Misura is a company that produces a wide array of products from cookies to pastas with a focus on products that are low in sugar.

Now I am not one to shy away from sugar or fat, in any way, but as I mentioned above, we do enjoy a number of Misura products here at home. In particular we like their cookies as they’re not too sweet and perfect for dipping in your milk and coffee in the morning!

I am also not going to lie. I ate all the cornetti alla crema they sent (crossants with cream filling). Maybe I ate them in one sitting. Maybe I didn’t. You’ll never know.

Anyway – the important point – the giveaway!

Misura Canada is giving away a package of assorted goodies valued at $100. To enter, leave a comment here on my blog and make sure that you like the Misura Canada facebook page.

You can’t win if you don’t enter! I’ll be running the giveaway until midnight on Saturday April 26th. To enter, leave a comment on my blog and remember, you have to like Misura Canada’s Facebook page to be eligible to win.

Good luck! Buona Fortuna!

Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter! 2014 Edition.

From Cream Puff and family, I am sending my wishes for a happy and healthy Easter to all of you. I hope the sun is shining and that the flowers are in bloom, wherever you are!

I’ll be back tomorrow with recipes for all these wonderful treats.

Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!

Small Cookies. Big Dreams.

I’m sure we have all heard the adage that good things come in little packages.

I am managing to survive these still-too-cold early days of Spring by focusing on this concept.

My theory is that if I think of the arrival of Spring as a series of small packages that Nature will give us, one warm day-at-a-time and bit-by-bit, that I will inspire myself to make it through yet another day of wearing my winter coat.

I look forward to seeing tiny buds unfurling on trees (soon) and the colourful heads of tulips peeping out from the ground (soon).

To be added to the list of small and pretty things from which I am deriving so much pleasure, I add the cookbook trEATs: Delicious Food Gifts to Make at Home by the deliciously talented April Carter of Rhubarb & Rose.

It’s actually a baking book, but howsoever you choose to describe it, you should run (not walk) to your nearest bookstore to pick up your copy or your nearest computer screen to order one.

I. Love. This. Book.

It is small and perfect in every way between the wonderfully inspiring recipes, the evocative photographs and the general overall tone of happy.

Yes. It’s a happy book.

Hard to explain in a blog post so you’ll have to pick up a copy for yourself but all I can say is that there is an overall air of happy person to this book. I have never met Ms. Carter but I can tell she is a happy baker and that is good enough for me.

As I flipped through the book for the umpteenth time, I was struck by the recipe for Tiny Lemon Meringue Pie Cookies as I got the overwhelming idea that if I baked them, the weather would change.

What can I say … the happy got to me.

While I used the cookie base recipe from the book, I actually switched the recipe a bit to include a lemon curd and a meringue topping (the original recipe doesn’t call for curd and the topping is a royal icing).

These little sweet bites made me so happy and they made a whole bunch of other people happy.

Good things come in tiny bites, too.

Lemon Meringue Cookies
Adapted from trEATs: Delicious Food Gifts to Make at Home by April Carter.

You will need the following equipment for this recipe:

- baking trays
- a cookie cutter (preferably a small one, no more than two inches in diameter)
- (optional) a piping bag and a star tip

For the lemon curd:
This is one of my favourite lemon curd recipes from Epicurious. I like to make it the day before so that it’s nice and chilled when I’m ready to make these cookies or to use it in a pie.

For the butter cookies:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup superfine sugar (*Also called fruit sugar.)
zest of half a lemon
1 large egg
a few drops of lemon oil or pure lemon extract
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of kosher salt

For the meringue topping:
1/2 cup of egg whites (four egg whites)
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Directions:

The day before you make your cookies, make the lemon curd and refrigerate it so it’s nice and cold when you’re ready to assemble the cookies.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy (about 3 minutes).

Add the lemon zest and the lemon oil or extract and mix for another minute or so. Lightly beat the egg and add it to the butter mixture, mixing for another minute. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl and then add it carefully to the butter mixture (with the speed on low), until it’s fully incorporated.

Gather the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Referigerate for an hour.

Just before you’re ready to bake your cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line two baking sheest with parchment paper.

Have your cookie cutter ready to go.

Roll out your cookie dough to a thickness of a 1/4 inch to just under 1/2 an inch (I like thicker cookies as they’re sturdier).

Use your cookie cutter to cut out as many cookies as you can, placing them on the prepared cookie sheets as you go.

Reroll the scraps and cut out more cookies until you’ve used all your dough.

Place the cookie trays in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm them up. Chilling the dough in this way will ensure that your cookies bake up smoothly and uniformly (and don’t spread out too much).

After having chilled the cookies, pop the trays in the oven for no more than 5 to 7 minutes (depending on your oven). You can rotate the trays as well to help ensure the cookies bake evenly. They should be just ever-so-slightly golden on the bottom. (This took about 6 minutes in my oven as my cookies were very small.)

Once baked, remove the cookies from the oven and make a small indentation in each one (you could use the end of a wooden spoon to do this). This will form a little valley in which to nestle your lemon curd.

Allow the cookies to cool completely on the trays before transferring the cookies to a wire rack.

Once completely cool, dollop a small amount of lemon curd in each of the valleys or indentations you made in the cookies.

To finish the cookies off, make the lemon meringue topping by placing your egg whites in the bowl of stand mixer with the whisk attachment.

Beat on high until soft peaks form and then gradually add in the sugar, beating on high.

After a few minutes the meringue will become stiff and glossy.

You can dollop the meringue on to the cookies or use a piping bag with a star tip.

If you want to go all out, get yourself a kitchen torch to brown the meringue a bit.

If you’re not serving the cookies right away, referigerate them. They will keep for two to three days.

Enjoy!

Let There Be Cake. Beautiful Cake.

In the long, dark and cold stretch that was this past winter (it has passed finally … right?!), cake was the light.

Cookies have always been my joy, but in these past months I have found a new pleasure in baking and decorating cakes.

This desire to make cakes has manifest itself in many, many delicious creations, but the ones I have enjoyed the most, have been the simplest.

I have found no-end of pleasure in swirling cake batter to create the a marbling effect. What Nature does to stone over thousands and thousands of years you can do to cake batter with the lightest touch of a knife.

And I have found true satisfaction in the delicate layers of a simple white cake, encased in pure buttercream.

I can’t quite decide what is most pleasing, whether it’s watching as the butter and sugar slowly cream together to form the base of the cake butter or whether it’s opening the oven to find a warm and soft creation nestled in the baking pan.

But maybe it’s neither of those. Maybe the most pleasing is that careless dusting of icing sugar or even better, that slow and soft slathering of buttercream. It’s like cake has gone to the spa and is getting a massage in butter.

Do you feel that kind of satisfaction and pleasure when you bake? I certainly do. On many a cold Winter day or night, bringing forth a cake has kept the cold at bay.

I keep hearing that Spring is here (at least that’s what the calendar says) and I expect that while it may still be cold, Spring will make itself known shortly.

Soon we will be turning our attention to bunnies and lemons and pretty flowers. That’s all well and good, and right, for you cannot live by cake alone.

Although it can certainly help get you through the Winter.

(The cakes pictured above are the Marble Bundt Cake from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking and the Butter’s Classic White Cake and Butter’s Famous Butter Cream from Butter Baked Goods: Nostalgic Recipes From a Little Neighborhood Bakery.)

World Nutella Day: I’m Late. I Bring Doughnuts to Make Amends.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that there was a time in my life when I could be counted on for never, ever being late.

In fact, I could usually be counted on to arrive early.

I was always the one to get there first and buy the movie tickets or secure the table for the group.

Not so much these days.

Case-in-point: I am seriously (hopefully not inexcusably late) for World Nutella Day.

(Hangs head in shame.)

Before I beg for your forgiveness, let’s take a moment to thank Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso for creating this event. As the World Nutella Day site says: they had a dream and a spoon (and a jar of Nutella – thankfully).

Celebrated on February 5th (yes … yes … I’m very late), this event allows Nutella lovers the world over to rasie their spoons and unite in mutual appreciation of this delicious treat.

Notice I said “spoons”. If you administer your Nutella with a knife, there is no place for you in my life.

To atone for my tardiness, I was hoping that these doughnuts filled with Nutella might suffice.

What say you?

The doughnut recipe is from Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe. You can find the recipe on Epicurious as well.

I piped some glorious Nutella into the warm doughnuts and pretty much never looked back.

Or so I thought.

Once made, I thought to myself: “How can I make these even better to truly say how sorry I am for being late?”

I know! I’ll brulee the tops!

That’s right. A soft, vanilla-infused doughnut, filled with Nutella and with a crackly top of hard sugar.

Do I know how to say sorry, or what?

If you are interested in reading about how to participate (and perhaps also say sorry for missing World Nutella Day), the World Nutella Day site has all the details.

Before I go eat more doughnuts, let’s take a stroll down memory lane to past World Nutella Days here at Cream Puffs in Venice:

World Nutella Day 2013: Thousand (Almost)-Layer Chocolate Chip and Nutella Cookies
World Nutella Day 2012: Nutella Scones
World Nutella Day 2011: Nutella Meringues
World Nutella Day 2010: Nutella Ripple Cheesecake
World Nutella Day 2009: Oven Crespella with Nutella Sauce
World Nutella Day 2008: This was the year that I failed Nutella. So sad.
World Nutella Day 2007: Cheese-Filled Tuiles with Nutella Drizzles

See you next year, World Nutella Day! (I will try to be on time …)

Love Treats

It is almost Love Day (that’s what I like to call Valentine’s Day). I think it’s probably one of my favourite celebrations of the year to bake for.

I decided to get in the mood with one of my very favourite coookies. I have some other treats that I can’t wait to get to as well.

If you’re in the Toronto area and want some last-minute treats for a loved one, let me know! I’m here to help …

Staying In

It is inevitable that at this time of year, my voice joins the chorus of lamenters about the weather.

To be sure, we are justified.

I mean really … minus 25?! Minus 30?!

Come on, Old Man Winter! Enough is enough.

But I would be fibbing in a big, bad way if I didn’t admit on some level that underneath it all (especially those new five pounds I found over the holidays), there is an almost-pleasure to this cold, snowy time of year.

Deep down, secretly, I enjoy it … sort of. The bad weather is the free pass to stay home and stay in. And bake.

Bake. Bake. Bake. Bake. Bake. Bake. Bake.

Of course it’s a double-edged sword. All the staying in does become a bit trying, after a certain point.

But let’s just say I haven’t gotten to that point … yet.

While last weekend I publicly moaned over spending another weekend shut in, the truth is I spent it happily in the kitchen.

And of all the happy moments spent there, these biscuits were among the most pleasurable.

Truly, it is astonishing what you can create from a few ingredients. Some flour, salt, cold butter and the gentle pressure of your hands will yield something so simple yet pleasing.

Pleasing to the bone.

In these cold days of being shut in, I turn again and again to the cookbooks that I have had the longest and that are most dear to me.

In this case it is my well worn copy of the Joy of Cooking.

My fingers easily found the creased and marked page with a recipe that I have made many times.

I wish I could say I demonstrated restraint in the face of these biscuits, but that would be another fib.

I gloried in them. I slathered them in butter and jam, every last one of them, and I gobbled them all up.

Wrapped in blankets with my cookbooks by me, cozy on the couch, with a happy belly, the weather outside seemed a world away.

(Here is a great biscuit recipe that is similar to the one that I used. Enjoy!)

I See Red

I have often remarked that my favourite part of the holidays is the part after the holidays.

Do not mistake me. I looooooooove Christmas. Looooooooooooooooooooooove.

But in my adulthood, I have come to appreciate the days after – after the wrapping paper is cleared away, after the tree has been taken down, after the chocolate is all gone. (Thank goodness it’s finally all gone. We will not discuss where it went. Shhhh.)

And while we have passed the mid-point of January, for me, there is still a lingering glow from the holidays that I am enjoying.

The weekends are still relatively quiet and slow. The evenings are, for the most part, still spent curled up on the couch slumbering or quietly enjoying a book.

To me, this is winter’s quiet time (crazy weather aside …).

In the lingering glow from the holidays, I am seeing red. And by that I mean I am enjoying a snuggly red blanket, a dramatic red lipstick (I had a bold moment) and cranberries.

Yep. Cranberries.

Truth: I went a little overboard at the grocery store over the holidays and bought enough cranberries to keep everyone in cranberry sauce for the next ten Thanksgivings. Maybe even fifteen.

The cranberry extravaganza led me to a book that I bought last year, but had yet to delve into: Nick Malgieri’s Bread: Over 60 Breads, Rolls and Cakes plus Delicious Recipes Using Them.

I own a good number of Nick Malgieri‘s books and I treasure them. What I particularly love about Nick’s style is that while he is awesomely talented and experienced as a baker, his recipes are not daunting, even the complex ones. He understands that home bakers, while they may not be classically trained, are eager, dedicated, passionate and accomplished.

There is a delicious recipe in his book for a Cranberry Pecan Coffeecake. I think we have all become used to coffee cakes that rely on baking powder for leavening but this recipe uses yeast.

What I also enjoyed about this recipe is that it calls for both fresh cranberries and dried cranberries (cause did I mention I also overdid it on the purchasing of dried cranberries too? Yep.).

Polar vortexes, snow, blustery weather, ice storms – whatever. I am enjoying these quiet days of baking. I may start having nightmares abour cranberries, though. Just sayin’.

(Because I want you to be baking, too; I encourage you to check out this cake-baking tutorial by Nick Malgieri on Epicurious.)

It’s the Simple Things

I suppose this is the day in the year when we’re all supposed to shake our heads and say, “Wow. Another year.”

Twelve months. 365 days. This is the day where the year is supposed to become the sum of all its parts.

But really, I don’t know how much I believe this. In the journey that is each year in our lives, there are so many moments, many of them that pass forgotten, that transpire.

It seems almost unfair to to try to sum it all up. It seems almost impossible.

For me, it has been a year like many others. A busy work like. A busy social life. A busy family life. Italy. Baking. So many things the same.

But 2013 is also the year I turned 40. The year I found myself thinking of my Papa’ more than ever. The year I blogged the least ever since starting this little project in 2005. The year I found myself questioning more often than answering.

As I navigate these waters, the one thing I know is that it’s really the simple things that often matter the most and that you often remember the most. Rocca – my little house in the hills in Italy – has taught me this.

So I have found pleasure in these simple things and resolve daily to keep them close. I suppose the best symbol of this is homemade pasta.

Forgive me if I start waxing poetic, but it’s true. Eggs, flour and a little salt. Your hands. So simple and yet so much pleasure. I can’t help but remember my aunts in Italy and the profound joy of watching them make pasta in their kitchens.

I bid this year adieu and am grateful, as always, for my family. Their love is a constant source of comfort. I am thankful for my friends and for the joys they bring.

I wish you many joyful things in the year to come. But don’t forget the simple things – therein lies the most joy, I believe.

(These are pasta bowties made with homemade pasta dough. If you learn one new thing, learn to make pasta. It will never fail you. Here is Mammina’s tried and true recipe.)

Merry Christmas! Buon Natale!

Mammina and I are on the stretch run. A huge Christmas Eve dinner followed by a huge Christmas Day lunch (about to happen).

But I take one moment to wish you all joy and happiness. Wherever you are, I hope you are warm and in the presence of loved ones.

From Cream Puff and Family – Merry Christmas! Buon Natale! Auguri!

(This is the Wintermint Cake from Sweet Paul magazine.)

Consider The Cookie

I have often wondered how many thousands and thousands and thousands of cookies are baked at this time of year. I’m sure there’s some way of mapping it all out; I bet the number is mind-boggling.

In my house alone, hundreds of cookies will be baked over a week or two. With just a few days before Christmas, many of these cookies have been baked (and eaten) but there are still a few more waiting to be born (they’re the little twinkle in my eye).

I think I love the cookies that I make right in the moments before Christmas dawns the most. That’s because those are usually the cookies that I make for myself and my family. I bake for friends, co-workers and customers, but on the eve of the final day or two before Christmas, the cookies are for Cream Puff and family.

There are the Toblerone Cookies to be sure. And ever since I went to Vienna in 2006, there have to be Vanillen Kipferln (Vanilla Crescents). While I didn’t grow up eating ginger, there must be Gingerbread Cookies.

And now I must add these. How I love these cookies. They are subtly sweet meringues, flavoured gently with coffee, and then dipped in bittersweet chocolate and ground nuts.

They are everything that I love at Christmas time: sugar, the fluffiness of snow, the smell of espresso brewing on a cold morning and the brilliant green of pistachios.

The recipe is from the December 2013 issue of Martha Stewart Magazine and let me say that it came not a moment too soon. I don’t always have great success with recipes from Martha Stewart but this one is a winner in every way.

I am happy. I have found a new cookie to add to the Christmas family. I urge you all to try this one, or any cookie. The greatest gifts are the ones you make yourself. I treasure every Christmas cookie and sweet that I receive because someone took the time to make it and give it to me.

To me, that is truly something to rejoice.

Consider the cookie. It’s a beautiful, loving gift.

Here is the orginal recipe: Coffee-Meringue Acorns

Don’t Forget the Bread

I am in my glory at this time of year.

Just the thought of all the baking makes me giddy. And even though I’ve engaged in very little baking to this point (holiday baking doesn’t really start up in earnest for me until December 15th), I am in butter-egg-flour-chocolate-nuts-dried fruits-chestnuts heaven.

I love it.

But I am here today to urge you to not forget about the bread.

I know. I know. Bread times time. Bread takes yeast. Yeast is tricky (it’s not, really). Bread takes patience.

But you know what? Baking bread sends an aroma of heaven through your house. Warm bread takes butter. And does magical things to it.

Baking your own bread makes you happy in the very deepest part of you. Trust me.

Cookies are awesome at this time of year and when it’s all said and done, I will probably make at least four or five hundred cookies to give away (and eat).

But don’t forget the bread. A loaf of bread is is a gift: to yourself as a baker and to the person upon whom you bestow it.

About the bread above:

I dove right into Baking By Hand: Make the Best Artisanal Breads and Pastries Better Without a Mixer because I wanted to be elbow deep in dough. I wanted that feeling of shaping and working dough because it’s exhilarating and tiring and makes me feel accomplished.

I loved this book. There’s an excellent write-up about it here. I made the Oatmeal-Cinnamon-Raisin Loaf (which we are still enjoying thanks to the four-loaf yield, two of which I froze).

Righteous Pie

Every now and then, I like to feed my cookbook habit by checking out what titles will be released in the months to come. I will scour the publisher sites, as well as the big book retailer sites, and augment my already ridiculous cookbook wishlist with even more cookbooks. More more more!

I remember the moment exactly when I saw that the Elsen sisters of Four & Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn, NY, were going to be publishing a book in October 2013.

I (not-so-patiently) waited for publication day and even ordered the book in advance (I received it before it was officially stocked on the shelves of my local bookstore).

I should be clear that I have never met Melissa and Emily Elsen, nor have I ever been to their delightful-sounding store. But from the moment that I read about these marvelous pie-baking sisters in Martha Stewart Living, I have admired them from afar.

All-butter crusts. Handmade. Seasonal fruit. Baked with love. I’m there.

The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop has been my constant coffee table companion since I purchased it.

It is marvelous and happy.

I tried two pies from the cookbook – the Salted Caramel Apple Pie and Lizzie’s Lemon Sour Cream PIe – both to great success.

But it was the appie pie that made me happiest. Pure and delicious.

This has been a tough week with the passing of Lis Cifelli. It has been a week where I’ve been reminded of some old times and happy memories. It has been a week where thoughts of pie have comforted me.

I hope you pick up this book, if you can. It is full of some truly righteous pie and it has lifted my spirits to no end.

(The recipe for the Salted Caramel Apple Pie is here.)

Let’s Be Kind

On November 19, 2006, Lis Cifelli of La Mia Cucina and I put up a post about pretzels. A happy moment between friends, it was also the very beginning of The Daring Bakers.

This week, Lis passed away.

I found out the sad news thanks to the efforts of Kelly of Sass and Veracity and Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict, both of whom contacted me.

To say that I was shocked would be an understatement.

While we had never met in person for a long time Lis and I were close friends. Unfortunately, over the years, some things changed. We had not spoken in a very long time.

When I heard the news, I was shocked and upset and so regretful.

I will remember Lis for so many reasons. She was so darn funny. She was really smart and she was strong. I used to tell her that I could totally tell that she was half Italian even if she would have never told me she was just based on her opinionated and strong character!

But I think I will remember her most for her tremendous kindness to me.

When we first met, I was still struggling with the passing of my father. On many occasions she would cheer up with a funny story or a happy reminiscence of her own father. Where she loved, she loved deeply and fully. She would do anything for her friends.

This is what I will remember. Oh and I will also remember her hilarious use of the word fakkin’, which I had never heard before I met Lis!

The post that Lis and I dreamed up way back in 2006 was about pretzels. Her account of her adventures in baking pretzels is here. It is so Lis. But I also leave you with what is perhaps my favourite post on her blog: her tribute to her father’s famous squid sauce.

Goodbye, Lis. I will always remember you.

#tributetolis #daringbakers

It’s That Time of Year

Autumn is my favourite time of year for many reasons, not the least of which is the happy knowledge that the holidays, in all their baking-imbued glory, are just around the corner.

But another reason that I enjoy this time of year is is that Autumn means cookbook season.

While I maintain a steady diet of new cookbooks throughout the year, the Fall is what amounts to the cookbook harvest in the publishing world. It’s a key part of the publishing cycle as cookbooks position themselves to make their way onto Christmas wishlists.

Not that I have any claims to sainthood, here. As mentioned previously, I’m building my Christmas cookbook wishlist 365 days a year.

Still, though, this time of year always brings with it the anticipation of so many new cookbooks and so many new opportunities to bake and cook.

After receiving copies of One Bowl Baking: Simple, From Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts by Yvonne Ruperti and Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round by Marisa McClellan, I think I can safely say these are at least two books you can add to any wishlist.

Food in Jars is a lovely guide to some resourceful and delicious ways to preserve all those wonderful fruits and vegetables available in the summer and fall.

The book is graceful and undaunting so that you don’t feel like you’ll end up with 500 jars of pickled something-or-other that you’ll never be able to finish. Rather, the book is divided into chapters that focus on unique preserves like fruit butters.

I loved this book. I tried a number of recipes but the one that won my heart was a recipe for peach butter.

We enjoyed it by the spoonful, especially slathered on some homemade croissants. Sigh.

One Bowl Baking is a book I also enjoyed. The cookbook is based on baking recipes and instructions that allow you to bake all sorts of treats using a minimal amount of equipment (i.e., one bowl!).

It’s a dressed-down baking book that aims to present some really solid baking options in a way that seasoned bakers will enjoy and that new bakers won’t find intimidating.

It was a sweet book with some delicious recipes, including the Coconut Bundt Cake that I tried and loved.

I hope you embrace the Autumn, and the delicious load of cookbooks that comes with it!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The turkey is tucked warmly in the oven and all the other fixins’ are being made. It is a beautiful, crisp fall day.

I have many blessings to count and am thankful for all of them.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(The cake pictured above is a Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake from Fine Cooking. The Pecan Pie is based on a recipe from The Pioneer Woman.)

Summer Blue.

As the last day of summer slips by and my very favourite of seasons is about to begin, I find myself reflecting on the summer that was.

It was an interesting one, to be sure.

There was a lot of change. There were a lot of “a-ha” moments and moments of doubt. There were a few head-scratcher moments and also some moments of levity. I met a lot of new people and said farewell to others.

There were moments of clarity, where I thought I had it all figured it out. Elusive though those moments were, they were there.

And in between all those moments, there was Rocca – beautiful, dignified, noble Rocca – where the mind is always so clear and the heart is always so full.

And after Rocca, I returned to home to a summer that was waning and I realized that as summers go, this has been an odd one. A summer of learning, some of it hard, but all of it important.

It was an elusive summer in the way that I have always felt that blueberries are elusive.

Of all the glorious gifts of summer, blueberries have always been the one that is hardest for me to grasp.

I don’t have any fond memories of picking blueberries. I didn’t grow up with blueberry bushes nearby. I didn’t happily stumble upon baskets of them at the local farmer’s market (I didn’t even get to any farmer’s markets this summer …). I missed the sweet surprise of biting into a blueberry – the sensation of such a small thing that packs such a whollop of flavour and juice. Is there anything more evocative of summer than a tiny, perfect blueberry?

I missed it. Or at least I missed a good part of it.

I don’t really know what to say about this summer, except that it is a part of the year – my year – as much as any of the the other three seasons.

It was a warm, long and complex summer. And in its own way, it was delicious.

As were these blueberry scones. A quiet moment when the taste of summer was in my grasp.

The recipe for these delicious scones can be found here.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation. 2013 Edition.

I am back.

After three weeks basking in the glow of family and friends in Le Marche, real life begins again.

Each year, I find it harder and harder to find the words to describe the joy of these vacations.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

At the beach in San Benedetto, dreaming of flying a kite.

Hard-core bingo (tombola).

Hard-core group bingo.

Sweet and savoury.

A favourite spot in Piazza del Popolo.

The always-stunning view of Castel Trosino.

Celebrating Sant’Emidio in Ascoli Piceno.

BBQ. The old way.

Ravioli di Ricotta (ravioli filled with ricotta).

A beautiful view in Ascoli Piceno.

A homemade cake.

Some of the beautiful roses in Rocca.

Getting ready to watch Zia Giuseppina cook.

Trying something new: Frascarelli.

Old places.

Old paths.

Quiet time.

Mammina in Rome.

One of my favourites: Mezze Maniche. (They were spicy!)

Pizza. Lots of pizza.

The views from the house. They never fail to take my breath away.

Pork fat with spices. I ate indecent amounts. Indecent amounts.

Zia Giuseppina’s tagliatelle. Nothing like them.

Mammina lending a helping hand.

The best pesto ever.

The stove I dream of.

The sunrise. Until next year.

See you next year, Rocca. See you next year.

Generosity.

A few weeks ago, I came across a cooking show that seemed to pit home bakers against each other in a baking competition to see who would be the ultimate baker.

One of the contestants was in tears because her dessert hadn’t turned out well at all.

I don’t have much of an appetite for cooking competition so I was about to change the channel when the contestant said something that really struck a chord with me.

She explained that when she bakes at home, she bakes as an act of kindness and love. Baking in a competitive environment obviously didn’t feel right to her.

This person’s words have stuck with me because they express a sentiment that I have found myself uttering over and over again.

I do not understand the appeal of watching people compete to do something that I have watched the men and women in my family do every day, for the sole purpose of pleasing their families.

Sorry. I don’t get it.

For me, baking – especially – is an act deeply entrenched in generosity and care. Sure, you might occasionally bake a cheesecake or a tray of chocolate chip cookies and eat them all yourself after a particularly bad week or hard moment, but how often have you done that really?

Most of the time, when you bake, you do so to share the fruits of your labour.

In my own experience baking, it’s the joy of giving and receiving that give so much pleasure. I have so many happy memories of baking by the sides of my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, my neighbour – the list goes on and on.

Which brings me to this cake. This sweet, lovely cake.

When I was very young, just beginning my love affair with baking, my mother came home from work one day with a photocopy of a recipe that a co-worker had given her. The recipe was for a Blueberry Coffee Cake and came from a place called Wilmot Orchards.

I remember how happy and proud I felt when I tried the recipe and everyone loved the cake.

And that’s just it. The joy came from sharing the cake and watching others enjoy it.

That’s baking.

I no longer remember who it was that shared this recipe with my mother and I’m not sure she’d remember either.

But I am so very grateful for that person’s kindness and generosity. Every time I bake this beautiful, simple cake, I’m quite certain there’s an extra special something that bakes into the batter.

It’s my gratitude.

Blueberry Coffee Cake
Recipe from Wilmot Orchards

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup salad oil (*I use canola oil)
1/4 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen blueberries, drained

For the streusel topping:
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

To make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10 or 12-cup Bundt pan or a 10-inch round cake pan.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add eggs, oil, milk and vanilla. Stir gently until smooth. Carefully fold in blueberries.

Pour into prepared pan.

For the streusel topping:
Combine all of the streusel topping ingredients and sprinkle evenly over cake batter.

Bake for 55 minutes or until the cake is firm to the touch and a cake tester comes out clean when you insert it into the centre of the cake.

Remove from oven and cool on rack for 5 minutes. Remove from cake pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cake will keep for 2 to 3 days at room temperature.

Gnocchi. Apparently the Recipe is Necessary.

After my last post, I got a number of requests for the gnocchi recipe that I used.

Gnocchi is one of those dishes that is highly personal. If you ask five Italian women how they make gnocchi you’ll probably get five different variations of what is essentially a mixture of cooked potato and flour.

The recipe for gnocchi that I like to use follows a roughly two-to-one ration: for every two potatoes you use roughly one cup of flour.

Now here’s where I’m going to irritate everyone. It’s very difficult to give an exact recipe because there are so many variables. How much flour you need, for example, will depend on what type of potato you use, how moist the potato is and even what the weather is like (on a cold, dry day – you’ll probably use less flour).

Having said that, the two-to-one ration pretty much works.

Most of the time I boil the potatoes and then once cool, I pass them through a ricer. I will mix in a bit of salt for flavour and then add the flour. I always add less flour to begin with. If I see that the potato mixture needs more flour to hold together, I’ll add it in a bit at a time. Too much flour will make your gnocchi hard and unpalatable. Too little flour and your gnocchi will fall apart in the water.

This is one of those dishes where you will benefit most by lots of practice. The more you make gnocchi, the better you will get at judging the consistency of your gnocchi dough and how much flour your potatoes need.

In terms of the potatoes that you use, the women in my family have always said that older potatoes are best for gnocchi. To be honest I’ve made gnocchi with all kinds of potatoes and they all seem to work fine. Having said that, I prefer to use what are often referred to as “baking potatoes”. Those are the white-fleshed potatoes with a brown skin. I have also often used Yukon Gold potatoes and they also work very well.

Occasionally, rather than boiling the potatoes I have baked them. Some people believe that by baking the potatoes, you reduce the amount of moisture the potato draws in and therefore reduce the amount of flour required to form the gnocchi. Less flour means a lighter and fluffier dough.

Again, in my experience I haven’t noticed a huge difference so I say boiling the potatoes is just fine.

So here we go, the not-so-exact recipe for gnocchi:

4 potatoes (Yukon Gold our baking potatoes)
2 cups, all-purpose flour (start off with less flour)
1 tsp. salt

Boil the potatoes with the skins on. Once cooked, allow the potatoes to cool before peeling and passing through a ricer.

Mound the potatoes on a clean counter, dusted with flour.

Make a well in the centre of the potatoes, and add in 1-1/2 cups of flour and the salt. Begin mixing the flour into the riced potatoes until you have a cohesive ball.

If the mixture is too wet and doesn’t come together, add in more flour, a few tablespoons at a time. Continue mixing and gathering the mixture together until you have a ball that is firm, but also soft to the touch (if you press the ball with your finger it will leave an indentation).

Divide the dough into 4 smaller balls and roll each one into a longer rope, about an inch thick. You will need to flour the counter frequently as you do this.

Cut each rope into small pillows of dough (about an inch in size).

You can cook the gnocchi as they are or you can run them down the back of a fork (along the tines) or you can run them along a gnocchi board (this is a grooved paddle instrument for shaping gnocchi).

To cook the gnocchi, drop them into a large pot of salted, boiling water. Once the gnocchi rise to the top, let them boil for 2 minutes and then remove them.

Dress them immediately with sauce and serve.

If you want to freeze the gnocchi (before cooking them), arrange them individually on a baking sheet and slide them into the freezer for a few hours. Once frozen, drop them into a freezer bag. Remove all the air and keep the gnocchi in the freezer for up to a month.

Enjoy!

Gnocchi. Words Unnecessary.

The Best Person I Know

My mom is the best person I know.

She is everything to me and even though we’re very different and we sometimes butt heads, she is my hero in every way.

For those that know my mom, they’ll know that she is a white chocolate fiend.

For real. She’ll steal your white chocolate from you and smile whilst doing it.

I made her a special breakfast with a big jug of white chocolate sauce for her to pour over everything.

And she did.

I love you mommy!

Bewitched

I am continuously amazed at how many cookies there are out there that I have yet to discover. As many cookies as I’ve baked, and I’ve baked many, there are always so many more waiting in the wings.

During the course of a day, when some people might stare out the window, go for a short walk or go grab a coffee in order to take a short break, I will take a few minutes to troll my favourite food sites. This always perks me up.

It was during one of these quiet moments, a few months back, that I came across the recipe for Strazzate on Saveur’s site.

I have never heard of these cookies, which are a mixture of almonds, chocolate pieces and a good shot (or two) of a liqueur called Strega.

They are apparently from the Basilicata region of Italy and while not pretty to look at, they were a lovely combination of crunchy exterior and soft interior, thanks to the almonds and liqueur.

While they were on the sweet side, there was a very pleasant herbal tone to the cookies provided by the Strega.

For those that don’t know, Strega is another in a long line of liqueurs that Italians seem to be adept at producing. This particular liqueur is on the herbal side in terms of flavour and taste since it’s made using a number of herbs. The very distinct colour comes from the use of saffron as part of the process of making the liqueur. In Italian, the word “strega” means witch.

Growing up, my parents had a special cupboard in the basement that was the storage place for (what seemed to me) a fairly healthy supply of certain alcohols that seemed to be very important to the family.

My determination that these liquids were important to the family was based on the following: a) we were never allowed to run out of them, b) when going to visit someone or when someone came to visit us, these always seemed to be the gifts of choice and c) my mom used them generously in baking and cooking.

I speak of whiskey, rum, brandy, anisette, cognac, amaretto, grappa (heaven help you if the grappa ran out …), alchermes, vermouth and amaro.

The one that used to terrify me was the amaro. My parents always had a brand called Centerba that was once foisted on me when I had a tummy ache. I was told it would help settle my stomach and make me feel better.

I was lied to.

While Strega was not a liqueur we had in stock, it is one that I’ve warmed up to in my adulthood and I certainly enjoy a sip every now and then.

Mixed with the almonds and chocolate, it makes for a very interesting flavour combination and one worth trying.

I was so happy to come across these cookies. While humble in appearance, they were distinct in flavour and reminded me again that Italy has such a rich and varied sweet tradition.

Also, the cookies helped keep my mind of the Centerba.

Shudder.

You can find the recipe for Strazzate, here.

Lasagne. Words Unnecessary.

I Say Doughnut.

I say doughnut. Sounds just like donut. Except with three more letters.

I love all things sweet but I have my favourites and doughnuts know that there is a special, happy spot in my stomach that is reserved just for them.

That special, happy spot made my buy the March 2013 issue of Saveur based on the front cover photo, alone.

My stomach is the boss so I couldn’t say no.

In typical Saveur fashion it’s a detailed and entertaining read on the tremendous history of fried dough and the incredible people that who have made it their life’s work to ensure that we all have delicious fried dough to eat.

I particularly enjoyed the listing of the best doughnut purveyors in the United States. I’ll be in Chicago next month so Dat Donut, The Doughnut Vault and Old Fashioned Donuts … look out. I’m coming for you.

In the meantime, I contented myself with Vanilla-Glazed Yeast Donuts and a so-so attempt at Berliners.

Go forth and fry, people! Go make some doughnuts!

Buona Pasqua!

To all of you, Happy Bunny Day! Cream Puff and Mammina send Easter love and best wishes to all of you!

Cookie Jar

When I was a kid, we had a big, ceramic cookie jar on the counter. It was shaped like a mushroom, with the jar lid being the mushroom cap and the body of the jar was being the stem of the mushroom.

I have no idea where that jar ended up, or what its fate was, but I remember it fondly as it was almost always full.

My mom always made sure there were cookies in there to dip in your espresso (or, in the case of my brother and I since we were just children, milk with a few drops of espresso).

Of course the cookies in that jar weren’t the store-bought kind but rather the homemade kind. I remember sometimes feeling resentful because I wanted my fair share of Oreos, but now that I’m older, I’m just glad that we had that cookie jar full of cookies.

While I enjoy all baking, I will always enjoy the cookies the most. They’re in my heart and I have such a weakness for any cookie recipe that catches my eye.

It may take me awhile to get to it, but rest assured that I will.

I first saw the recipe for Bow Tie Cookies with Apricot Preserves two Christmases ago. The recipe has been filed away in the cookie book in my mind and I finally got around to trying them.

Love.

The dough for these cookies is a variation on the butter/cream cheese style of dough but interestingly, there is no sugar in the dough. The sweetness comes entirely from the preserves. I enjoyed the cookies because they weren’t too sweet and the tang of the cream cheese pairs well with the sweetness of the preserves.

Like all cream cheese doughs, though, these cookies lose their flakiness after a day or two so it’s best to eat them quickly.

Not that I expect that to be a huge problem.

I hope you try these and I hope you’re inspired to keep a cookie jar on your counter.

Do Play with Your Food. Especially Your Cake.

While I will never lay claim to the title of “world’s best cake decorator”, I must say I do enjoy playing with my cake!

To be sure, the very term “cake decorator” has come to take on a whole new meaning in the world of baking and cake-making. I would argue that in may ways, cake decorators today are akin to artists, pushing the envelope with breathtaking and amazing creations of butter, sugar and flour.

In Toronto, places like Bobbette & Belle and Cake Opera Co. make it heard to have your cake and eat your cake too when it’s so beautiful (trust me … I always manage to eat it …).

All of this is well and good but it can make it a bit intimidating for those of us that just want to make a pretty cupcake or a special occasion cake in the humble comfort and simplicity of our own home kitchens.

Enter Martha Stewart and the special edition publication The Best Of Martha Stewart Living – CAKES & CUPCAKES Magazine.

On newsstands until May 13, 2013, this special edition publication gathers together some of the best and most beloved cake and cupcake recipes, with instructions on how to decorate them in all sorts of pretty and fun ways.

Don’t worry. There are no recipes for building a castle entirely out of sugar or recreating the Statue of Liberty out of rice treats and fondant.

It’s more like a handful of building-block recipes for basic cakes and frostings that you can then use to make cupcakes, layer cakes and some other special desserts.

The edition provides ideas for desserts for pretty much every special occasion during the year from celebrating spring with cupcakes and buttercream flowers to desserts for the holidays.

Myself, I have been hankering after chocolate for quite awhile now and I’ve had chocolate cake on the brain so I settled for the chocolate cake and frosting featured in this recipe.

I got all fancy with my piping bag and star tip (not really) and then got really wild and crazy with some coloured sprinkles.

There was no stopping me.

I followed the recipe for a delicious One-Bowl Chocolate Cake and then made one of the many frosting recipes in the book.

Delicious.

But there were so many recipes I could have tried like this one (images below provided by MarthaStewart.com):

or this one:

I hope you pick up a copy of this fun compendium of recipes from Martha Stewart. There are a lot of really great ideas that are achievable at home and that will give you the satisfaction of having created something delicious and beautiful.

Plus you get to play with your cake!

Nutella: How Do I Love Thee?

I pride myself on remembering certain key dates. I remember the birthdays of loved ones, I remember special anniversaries and I remember those handful of important “dates” in my life – those days that for one reason or another I will never forget.

How is it, then, that I missed World Nutella Day on February 5, 2013 (… by the way, thank you Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso for creating this worth event …)?

What’s particularly irksome about this is that just a few weeks ago I was staring into an almost-empty jar of Nutella and thinking, “Hey … isn’t World Nutella Day around the corner?”

All I can do is apologize to my family, my friends, the amazing people that make Nutella and all the other Nutella-lovers out there.

Truly. I am so sorry.

Throughout the year, I will often muse about what recipe to trot out for the next World Nutella Day. Leading up to 2013′s event I had a number of ideas: Nutella Crostata, Nutella Mousse, Nutella Ice Cream and so on and so forth.

In the end, though, I decided on marrying the enduring suaveness and intensity of Nutella with the solid, always-reliable workhouse of cookies: the chocolate chip cookie.

I had the idea for a Nutella Chocolate Chip cookie as I flipped through a copy of Sarah Copeland’s The Newlywed Cookbook: Fresh Ideas and Modern Recipes for Cooking With and for Each Other.

Lest I lead anyone astray, I am not a newlywed (not even wed) but a girl can dream over her jar of Nutella, can’t she?

But back to my story. I was flipping through a copy of this lovely book and came across a recipe for Thousand-Layer Chocolate Chip Cookies. The recipe is accompanied by a full-page spread of photos that show the technique of layering the cookie dough to create the “thousand layers” (hint: it’s not really a thousand layers but who’s really gonna count?).

Looking at the pictures I had a flash of an idea: why not spread on some Nutella between each layer?

I give you Thousand (Amost)-Layer Chocolate Chip and Nutella Cookies.

Just as a splash of lemon can transform so many dishes, a dab (okay maybe more than a dab) of Nutella simply makes a delicious cookie something even more so.

I hope you will accept this offering as an apology for getting one of the most important days of year.

Nutella: I love you in more ways than I can count.

(The lovely people at Leite’s Culinaria have posted Sarah Copeland’s recipe for Thousand-Layer Chocolate Chip Cookies here. All you have to do is spread a few spoonfuls of Nutella on each layer of dough before you sprinkle on the chocolate. Enjoy.)

Here’s what the Cream Puff did for past World Nutella Days:

World Nutella Day 2012: Nutella Scones
World Nutella Day 2011: Nutella Meringues
World Nutella Day 2010: Nutella Ripple Cheesecake
World Nutella Day 2009: Oven Crespella with Nutella Sauce
World Nutella Day 2008: This was the year that I failed Nutella. So sad.
World Nutella Day 2007: Cheese-Filled Tuiles with Nutella Drizzles

A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo Vale

When I was just a baby Cream Puff, I remember that I was never really into Halloween. I suspect that part of this was due to the fact that Halloween was scary for me, but also because Halloween was not a holiday with which my family was very familiar.

Putting on costumes and eating lots of sweets was something you did at Carnevale.

In Italy, Carnevale refers to the festivities that take place after Christmas and before the beginning of Lent. In some parts of Italy, Carnevale can be a month-long celebration, however, in most places, Carnevale generally falls in the days just before Ash Wednesday.

As the kids of Italian parents, we learned early on about the traditions of Carnevale and the characters that took centre stage. I always wanted to be Colombina. But there were many you could choose from.

The various characters that came out to play at Carnevale were traditional characters seen often and in various forms in Italian theatre and plays. Everybody knows that Arlecchino is a tricky fellow and Pulcinella will always make you laugh.

While people probably associate the idea of Carnevale and elaborate masks with the city of Venice, Italians all over Italy will celebrate by dressing up, dancing and eating.

My own family is celebrating with a costume party and a cenone (a dinner) tonight to be followed by an elaborate lunch tomorrow. My aunts have already made the traditional ravioli with various fillings (meat, ricotta and so on).

Wish I was there. Sigh.

Growing up, we always had a special meal on the Sunday before Lent but as we grew older, that tradition waned. I think we’re still trying to get over Christmas!

This year, however, I decided to do something special to mark the celebration of Carnevale so I made castagnole (“little chestnuts”).

Castagnole are yet another variation on the wondrous and beautiful thing we know as fried dough. They can be served in a variety of ways, including drizzled in honey or rolled in sugar.

In Ascoli Piceno, where my father is from, my aunts will roll the castagnole in sugar and then drizzle on a liqueur called Alchermes. If you’ve never had Alchermes, it can be tough to find. My parents would always bring a bottle back with them from Italy. It’s a red liqueur that has a spicy sweetness to it and is very common in Italian desserts.

The castagnole, piled on high on a serving tray, certainly made for a festive atmosphere and it certainly felt like Carnevale, at least for a brief moment.

I just wish I had that Colombina costume. Sigh.

(I followed the recipe for Castagnole from the wonderful site: La Tavola Marche. You can find the recipe here.)

High Five

Today was one of those days where keeping the oven light on, was truly a great source of comfort.

I attended the funeral of a very young boy, whose father is a friend and colleague.

The one and only time I ever met this sweet little angel was about two months ago and just a few weeks before Christmas. My colleague had brought his little boy to work. They visited me briefly in my office and I was so excited and happy. The little boy was understandably shy, having never met me, so his dad told him to give me a high five.

And he did.

I’ve been thinking about that high five ever since.

After the funeral, I came home and immediately set about baking. As I baked, I took the time to reflect on the day’s events and on the lessons to walk away with. While it was far too brief, I am so grateful that I had the chance to meet my friend’s son.

I was reminded that our loved ones are the greatest gift we have, and we shouldn’t waste a single moment. Ever.

I was reminded that love and faith will see us through.

I was reminded of the best high five I ever got, and that I will never ever forget.

(The recipe for these Peanut Butter Blossoms is here.)

Keep the (Oven) Light On.

It’s the darkness. The lack of light. That’s the worst part of winter.

And this from a girl who likes winter. I like the blustery cold (even when it feels like my face is freezing off) and the snowy piles (even though shovelling that stuff is darn hard work) and the icy surfaces (even though I still don’t know how to skate).

I like winter because you get to wear big, puffy sweaters and you get to snuggle. I like winter because you get to put stews and yummy things in the oven for hours and go take a long, warm nap. I like winter because of hot chocolate and apple cider.

But even I, with all my winter like, find the darkness difficult.

I leave for work in the dark and I return in the dark. It can make for some long days and nights and as I trudge home, in the dark, at this time of year it starts to feel a bit like the light will never come again.

Of course I know that’s not true. As it is the days are already getting longer and I know that not too too long from now, spring will make itself known.

But until that happens, these January days can be a challenge for the heart and for the soul.

I do my best to manage. I always buy a new plant for the office (the greenery makes me happy). This year I’ve left some Christmas lights up and I always light candles at night.

But what helps the most is keeping the oven light on.

In the cold dark of winter, the oven light is like a beacon, both of the deeply comforting dishes that emerge from its depths and of the sunny warmth to come.

It may be months away, but it will come.

One recent dark, cold morning, I got up early and formed these lovely Pains aux Raisins (from Epicurious). Made using a brioche dough base, they are filled with a sweet custard and raisins. Between the yeasty aroma, the creamy custard and the warm and light-filled oven, it was a happy winter morning.

Keep that oven light on.

(The recipe for these sweet treats is here and the recipe for the brioche dough is here.)

And So It Begins.

And so it begins.

Another year. Another year of learning to cook. Another year of baking adventures. Another year of trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.

Whilst pondering these questions, I thought I’d start 2013 with a cake I have long wanted to make: Nigella Lawson’s Clementine Cake from her cookbook How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food.

I remember watching an episode of one her cooking programs where she made this luscious cake (if I remember correctly she made it at night and was wearing a silk robe …). Many Christmases have passed since and I’ve promised myself many times that I’d try this cake and I finally got around to it.

With just five ingredients (no flour among them), this is an easy cake to put together and there’s something supremely seasonal and satisfying about poaching the clementines. The aroma in your kitchen is worth it alone.

Serve it with a dollop of something tangy like Greek yogurt or creme fraiche.

It’s rich and moist and tangy – here’s hoping that 2013 is as well. Happy New Year.

(You can find the recipe for this delicious cake on Nigella’s site.)

On the Eve

Well it’s been quite the year. They usually are.

At this time last year, I was in Italy about to ring in the new year in the hills outside of Ascoli Piceno.

This year, I am home with family, gathered around the table eating and drinking. The comforting things.

While I had my share of New Year’s Eve outings when I was younger, I’ll be honest, I never enjoyed them all that much.

I just wanted to get it over with so I could get home.

On New Year’s Eve, I prefer to be home, with my family close by. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the holiday, it’s just that while there is much to celebrate in what lies ahead, there’s also another year gone by.

For me, this night has always been bittersweet.

This has been an odd holiday season for me. Many of the traditional markers of the season for me have been missed, some unintentionally and some on purpose.

One of the unintentional ones was not baking my Toblerone cookies for Christmas.

I always bake Toblerone cookies at Christmas. Always.

So I baked them for New Year’s Eve.

I hope that wherever you are on this eve, that you are safe and in good company. I hope that whatever wrinkles or worries the year that is almost gone brought to you, that they were far outweighed by moments of laughter and smiles.

I hope that if you did not bake a lot in 2012, that you will bake more in 2013.

Bake more. Laugh more. Love more.

Happy New Year’s Eve.

Toblerone Cookies
(Makes 40 to 48 cookies depending on size)

2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup fruit sugar (also sometimes labelled as superfine sugar)
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour
1 large Toblerone bar, cut into small and large pieces, with large pieces reserved for tops of cookies
icing sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Beat butter with an electric mixer until very light (about 5 minutes).
4. Gradually beat in the fruit sugar (about 2 minutes).
5. Sift together the all-purpose and rice flours.
6. Add flours to butter mixture and mix until combined.
7. With a wooden spoon, mix in the smaller Toblerone pieces.
8. Drop large spoonfuls of dough onto the cooking sheet.
9. Place one large piece of Toblerone on each cookie.
10. Bake for 20 minute (or until lightly golden).
11. Once cool, dust with icing sugar.

Be Joyful.

From Cream Puff and family, we wish you joy and light.

Merry Christmas. Buon Natale.

Magazine Mondays: It’s the Cookies that Put a Twinkle in My Eye

I think my favourite part of the Christmas holidays is the light. At the darkest time of year, there is light everywhere. Christmas tree lights, outdoor lights, candlelight, starlight – the light is comforting and warming.

Amidst the many Christmas traditions that we try to uphold in my family (and happily so), I started my own tradition many years ago, which is that of fairly prodigious cookie-baking.

My mom bakes a lot over the holidays and she makes the most delicious sweets. They are the sweets of her culture and in many respects, they form part of who I am as well.

Having said that, cookies never featured prominently over the Christmas holidays until I started baking for real in my late teens and early twenties.

Over the Christmas holidays, I am the cookie tray maker in my family. While I have some old-time favourites, I happily try new ones every year in the hopes that I’ll find a new member to add to the cookie family.

All baking is delicious, but nothing puts a twinkle in my eye as much as a beautiful Christmas cookie.

I’m fairly new to gingerbread – it wasn’t a baked good that we grew up with in our Italian family. But as I grew up and was introduced to gingerbread, I came to love the spicy comfort that it offers.

This will be the last edition of Magazine Mondays for 2012 and I give you one of my very favourite recipes for gingerbread: Gingerbread Cookies from King Arthur Flour.

As I made these cookies, it was impossible not to feel joyful and happy in the kitchen as the scents of ginger and cinnamon wafted through the air. Pulling these warm treasures out of the oven was a reminder that the act of baking – the act of making something with your hands for your family and friends – is part of the celebration of the season.

These are difficult, strange and yet wondrous times. In the midst of all the beauty of the season, we are reminded in so many ways of how fragile life can be.

I hope you take some time to not go shopping and to not be stuck in traffic and to not be working late and to not be forgetting that things and stuff don’t really matter.

I hope you take some time to bake. I hope you take some time to put a twinkle in someone’s eye.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year … To be a Cookbook!

I believe that if you’re a cookbook, this has to be the best time of the year.

Everybody is talking about you (and in my case sometimes talking to you). You’re front and centre in the bookstore. More likely than not, either you or one of your cookbook friends are being wrapped in pretty paper and stuffed warm and snug under a bunch of evergreen branches strung with lights.

Who wouldn’t want to be a cookbook?!

Needless to say I buy a lot of cookbooks throughout the year and the days of me longing for a cookbook for Christmas are long gone. I just buy them for myself whenever I want.

But for those that do not have a cookbook addiction and who do long for Santa to leave a cookbook, or two, under the tree, here’s a list of my favourite cookbooks of the year (note: some of these may not necessarily have been published this year but I discovered them this year).

Canal House Cooks Every Day by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton.

I’ve been a huge fan of Hamilton and Hirsheimer’s for quite some time. Their cooking oasis at The Canal House is enviable and I love their blog. Their cookbook is a compendium of the sharp, focused dishes they prepare. I’m not sure how others would describe Canal House cooking but to me it’s like elevated comfort food. It’s very simple and clean. In it’s spareness, Canal House food leaves no room for poor ingredients because if the heart isn’t good then the rest of it sure isn’t going to be good either. This is a big book and it’s weight and substance is comforting. It makes me happy to think of all the deliciousness ready to be cooked. I loved this one.

What Katie Ate: Recipes and Other Bits and Pieces by Katie Quinn Davies.

I stalk Katie Quinn Davies’ blog, What Katie Ate, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. As soon as I see a new post up I pounce upon it. As much as I love the recipes and the way she cooks, the visual appeal of her blog feeds the hungry just as well. Her book is an extension of her blog. Her recipes are this perfect cross between stylish but not too fussy (so you don’t have to have an army of elves in the kitchen to actually help you make all this food). More than anything, it’s just pretty to look at and hold.

The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: Sweetness in Seattle by Tom Douglas.

The first time that I heard about the Dahlia Bakery was when I was reading about the best coconut cream pie in America. For those who know me well, they know that coconut cream pie is a bit of a “thing” with me. I’m still on the hunt for the best one. I’ve never tried the Dahlia Bakery version but am planning on it. Besides the recipe for the infamous pie, this is just a plain old good baking book with both savoury and sweet to keep you busy in the bag of flour. This book will also make you want to go to Seattle to visit the actual bakery. You’ve been warned.

Kitchen Coquette: The Go-To Guide for Those Random Life Scenarios When Food Is the Only Answer by Katrina Meynink.

I can’t help myself. I have such a thing for cheeky cookbooks. I am seriously smitten with Meynink and her work, including her blog The Other Crumb. A cook and writer, Meynink produced this gem of a book that has all sorts of recipes that make you lust to be in the kitchen. I imagine that on the cookbook shelf in the bookstore, this is the cookbook that all the other cookbooks wish they could be – smooth, confident, slightly sassy and in love with the world and food. Eat your heart out other cookbooks.

Coming Home to Sicily: Seasonal Harvests and Cooking from Case Vecchie by Fabrizia Lanza.

I’ve had Sicily on my mind for a very long time now. While I have no immediate plans to visit the region, I hope to one day. The book is based on the rich culture of Sicilian cooking championed by the famous Anna Tasca Lanza and her cooking school. Fabrizia is Anna’s daughter. I stumbled upon the book one evening after work and brought it home with me where its pictures of the Sicilian landscape and its recipes promoting the goodness of seasonal produce prepared simply and with care have comforted me on many an evening. It may be awhile before I get to Sicily but this book is a beautiful bridge.

Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones: 90 Recipes for Making Your Own Ice Cream and Frozen Treats from Bi-Rite Creamery by Kris Hoogerhyde, Anne Walker and Dabney Gough.

I’m fairly late to the ice cream-making movement but this book inspired me this summer. While I still didn’t make as much ice cream as I would have liked, I certainly did put that ice cream maker to good use. This book just makes me feel like a kid waiting excitedly for the ice cream truck. It’s just a sweet, sweet book.

The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Cheryl Day and Griffith Day.

When I’m in need of a break, I will stop all else and scour the reading lists of on-line sites to find out what cookbooks are coming down the pike in the next year. While most people are becoming acquainted with the cookbooks on the bookstore shelves, I’m mentally noting what cookbooks I’ll be buying six months, even a year from now. I first read about Cheryl and Griffith Day’s cookbook about six months before their book was published. I knew immediately that I had to buy it. Their story of jumping into the bakery business is inspiring and thrilling. But it’s their honest and pure love of baking that shines through. The book is light-hearted and welcoming to all bakers, but don’t be fooled – these are seriously good recipes. My favourite part of the book may be the opening pages that feature pictures from the actual bakery. I hope I can visit some day!

One Girl Cookies: Recipes for Cakes, Cupcakes, Whoopie Pies, and Cookies from Brooklyn’s Beloved Bakery by Dawn Casale.

This seemed to to be the year of inspiring cookbooks about folks who love to bake and just jumped right into it. Much like the baking book above, this is a sweet book with a lot of really good recipes for those that love their baking. It’s a clean and neat book that will inspire and not intimidate in the kitchen.

My Abuela’s Table: An Illustrated Journey into Mexican Cooking by Daniella Germain.

I fell really hard for this book. It’s the pictures – all hand drawn. Daniella Germain illustrated the book, which features family recipes reflecting her Mexican background. I’m not sure if this is a good way to sell a cookbook but all I can say is that this one gave me the warm and fuzzies – that feeling of happy as I read through the beautifully-illustrated recipes. The fact that I love Mexican food is just an added bonus with this one.

True Blood: Eats, Drinks, and Bites from Bon Temps by Gianna Sobol.

I couldn’t help myself with this one. I’m such a sucker for the show. (See what I did there …). The book is delicious.

Happy cookbook shopping!

Holiday Baking! It’s Here!

I can’t quite believe we are less than 2 weeks from Christmas … how did this happen????

If you’re like me, you’re making that mad scramble to figure out how to fit it all in: the shopping, the decorating, the baking, the visiting and most important … the ENJOYING!

If you love cookies and you trust the Cream Puff, drop me a line because I would love to make some cookies for you. I mean if I’m baking for myself there might as well be some baking for others as well!

In particular, I’d love for you to try this cookie – it comes in bags of 6 ($10 per bag) and it comes prettily packaged and ready to give (or you can keep it for yourself). If you want more than 6, that’s not a problem either (just e-mail me at theoscarcookie{@}gmail{dot}com.

It’s cookie time! I’m here for you!

The Story of Oscar

I love stories, especially around the holidays. A good story takes you somewhere else and makes you wish – wish for a snowy winter night, wish to see a twinkling star or wish to finally catch sight of Santa biting into a cookie you left for him.

In the tradition of great stories, I’d like you to meet Oscar.
Here’s Oscar’s story: Two friends, who love to bake, are ruminating one day about the beauty of cookies and the creamy perfection that is Nutella and an idea is born.

We called it Oscar.

Two salty sweet chocolate biscuits joined by two cream fillings: chocolate hazelnut and vanilla.

Oscar is sweet and deep. Oscar is cocoa and vanilla.

Oscar is a good story.

We think Oscar needs to be shared so we’re offering Oscar to you in the form of these adorable bags of six (or by the boatload – whichever you prefer).

If you’re interested in trying Oscar, or giving him as a gift, Oscar comes with a gift tag. How sweet is that!

Drop us an e-mail at theoscarcookie{@}gmail{dot}com with your questions and your order inquiries. We’re waiting for you … along with Oscar.

Here are some important details:

• You can buy Oscar in a beautiful package of 6, but if you’d like more, that can be arranged. Just drop us an e-mail and we can chat!

• If you’re in the Toronto core, we can bring Oscar to you or you can pick Oscar up at a mutually convenient location. If you’re in the GTA and pickup isn’t convenient, we can deliver Oscar to you (there’s a small small delivery charge). If you’re outside of the GTA, send us an e-mail and we’ll see what we can work out. Don’t worry! We’ll make sure Oscar finds a way to you.

• Oscar is available for two weekends: Saturday December 15 and Sunday December 16 and Saturday December 22 and Sunday December 23. Time is flying by so get your orders in quick!

Oscar is a great story. Make it a part of your holiday story this year.

Remember, just e-mail us at theoscarcookie{@}gmail{dot}com.

Maybe Santa would like some too …

Introducing …

… Oscar.

I’d like you to meet Oscar.

He’s one delicious cookie.

And he’s available … for your holiday cookie platters.

Details to follow … stay tuned!

The First Day

I was telling someone the other day that on my “bucket list” is to one day take the entire month of December off of work. This is so I can finally have time and space to do all the things that I dream of doing at Christmas but never quite can find the time to do.

Visit all my relatives. Make hand-made ornaments. Bake a kazillion cookies. Sit and watch every single one of my favourite Christmas movies with my mom. Walk in the snow. Fly to Vienna for a few days to shop at the Christmas markets. Hang lights on the huge maple tree in our front yard. Make snow angels in the backyard.

All of it. I want to do it all.

While I can’t take all of this December off, I am trying to take time each day to enjoy the season. For the first day of the month, I’m focusing on Christmas cards.

I first read about Minted on Joy the Baker’s site a few years ago. Ever since, I have wanted to order Christmas photo book cards, or any of their cards for that matter, to send to loved ones.

While they offer cards for all occasions, I am smitten with their holiday cards (you can see the huge selection here). Not only do they have so many beauitful cards for the season, they help you step-by-step to design the perfect card and they’ll even show you a proof before your order is finalized (just to make extra special sure your card is perfect).

I have spent quite a few hours the past few days playing around with designs and right now I’m loving the one above but we’ll see what I finally end up with (the cookie picture is one I took and feature’s Alice Medrich’s delicious ginger cookies)!

I hope you take a few moments to visit Minted and consider one of their holiday cards, if you go with the photo book cards please let me know (I love love love!).

The first day of December is here. Bring on Christmas!

Magazine Mondays: The Magazines are Taking Over

I am in the midst of a magazine war and the magazines are winning.

They’re everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

I’ve tried to keep them in check but I’ll be honest, there are days when I think, “Why not just surrender?”

I mean, they’re harmless, right?

In fact, not only are they harm-LESS, I would I argue that they’re help-FULL.

As in all these magazines, clipped recipes and bookmarked tidbits are helping me to discover delicious things like this Sour Cream Chocolate Bundt Cake that I saw on Leite’s Culinaria and bookmarked only to be reminded that the recipe originates in Sam Mogannam’s Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food: A Grocer’s Guide to Shopping, Cooking & Creating Community Through Food (which, incidentally, I own but forgot that I did).

Anyway, all of this is to say that this cake is delicious and worth it and at least I can cross one bookmark off my list for this edition of Magazine Mondays.

It was so good. Usually I share my baked goods with family and co-workers but I ate this one on my own. Slowly.

If you’re looking for a straightforward chocolate cake for the holidays, this is it.

It’s been a very very long time since my last MM post so I want to thank the following folks for their patience. They submitted entries quite awhile ago and have been most gracious in waiting for me to get back to business. Here’s who’s joining me for this edition of Magazine Mondays:

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor made Honey-Sesame Scallops from the February 2012 edition of Family Circle; Hot Nicoise Salad and Pastitsio from the September 2012 issue of Family Circle.

Anuja of Simple Baking made Lemon-Almond Sheet Cookies from the October 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Thanks to Tina and Anuja. Remember, if you post a recipe from a magazine or an on-line source and want to share it, send me the link and I’ll add it to my next round-up.

Have a great week!

Because Everyone Could Use More Doughnuts

Disagree with me if you like, but I think we all need more doughnuts in our lives.

While I love cupcakes, I never fully understood the craze and am ever-so-happy to see that people are now giving doughnuts the respect and reverent attention they deserve.

I am a doughnut fiend.

A fiend.

I will do (almost) anything for a good doughnut including forcing loved ones to traipse through a frozen New York City (on foot) in the early morning of a bitterly cold winter day in my quest to end up at the Doughnut Plant (I actually did that).

Yeah sure they were cold but they weren’t complaining when they were finally stuffing doughnuts in their mouths!

All of this is to say that I feel it’s important that I do my share to spread the gospel of the doughnut.

Case-in-point, I would like to tell you about the deliciously adorable book by Hannah Miles Doughnuts: Delicious Recipes for Finger-Licking Treats.

I think the first thing I loved about this sweet little book is that it’s little. This of course means I can tuck it into my pursue or bag and carry it around me with so that while I’m stuck on the subway (you know you feel my pain people of Toronto) or while I’m waiting for an appointment, I can happily pull my little book out and be in doughnut-land in no time.

Some cookbooks are not conducive to being carried around as reading material and if you’re wondering if I do a lot of this the answer is yes, I do.

Don’t judge me.

But back to Hannah’s cookbook. There are all sorts of doughnut recipes to try, including both yeasted and not. There are even recipes for baked doughnuts, which surprisingly, are quite good.

There’s the prerequisite recipe for doughnuts topped with bacon (I’m not complaining) and there are a lot of really interesting twists and combinations.

If you own as many doughnut cookbooks as I do, it’s nice to see some new variations.

For example, I was pretty excited by the Fall Pumpkin Doughnuts (which were delicious – no picture, though – sorry); the Lemon Ring Doughnuts made me happy; I didn’t try the Doughnut Popcorn but I can’t stop staring at the picture; and I want the Doughnut Croquembouche in my life very soon.

Because I own doughnut pans that I have never used, I decided to test the baked doughnuts and I chose the Coconut Doughnuts as my experiment.

Coconut alone makes me happy and these doughnuts include a healthy dose of coconut rum both in the doughnut and in the glaze.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how good these were. While I will always favour fried doughnuts, the baked doughnuts were light and tender. Plus it was really fun to play with food colouring and shredded coconut.

I hope you’ll make some time for this lovely book if you see it on the bookshelf in your local store.

If you don’t want to do it for me, do it for the doughnuts.

*Note: I don’t have a recipe to share from the book but you can find a lot of recipes for baked doughnuts including this one and this one. If you want to make a coconut version simply make a glaze and add some coconut extract or coconut rum and then sprinkle on some shredded coconut. Enjoy!

The Art of the Cookbook

People ask me all the time how many cookbooks I own (never count them) and do I actually use them all (I certainly use a lot of them).

Inevitably I’m asked which ones are my favourite and that’s a really tough one to answer as so many are near and dear to me.

I’m happy to say that I can add Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery to that list.

I first heard about Thomas Keller in 2005 when I was planning a trip to California. Like many, I embarked on a (futile) attempt to book reservations at the infamous The French Laundry. While I was unsuccessful, I ended up at Bouchon Bistro, another of Keller’s restaurants.

My family and I had a lovely lunch and were thrilled to find the bakery next door. We were going to visit relatives in the afternoon and decided we’d bring some pastries. I stepped into Bouchon Bakery and was immediately smitten. I don’t remember now if we brought cookies or a combination of cookies and tarts, but it was all delicious.

I haven’t been back to a Bouchon Bakery since (much to my chagrin), but I was so excited when, during the summer, I found out that Keller would be releasing a baking book based on the delicious creations at his bakery.

Plus the book was scheduled to be published on my birthday so if that’s not a sign then I don’t know what is …

My first impression was … this book is heavy.

But that’s a good thing because it’s full of incredible recipes, pictures and instructions.

Many of the bakery favourites (i.e., TKOs) can be found in the book, which means you can stop feeling badly if you haven’t made it to a Bouchon Bakery yet.

While the book is accessible to all, I would say that some baking experience comes in handy.

I was very impressed by the detailed instructions but you will need to have some baking equipment handy, most important being a kitchen scale.

While I am a huge supporter of using a kitchen scale for precision in baking, I sometimes feel that it can be a deterrent for folks who might be a bit intimated to start baking.

I’m not going to sugar coat it, you will need a kitchen scale to maximize what you get out of this book.

But it’s totally worth it.

I tried several recipes, the first one being Bacon Cheddar Scones, which were incredible. They were a bit of work and having to freeze them before baking brought out the impatient child in me. Believe me, though, it was worth it.

Golden, slightly puffy, strong flavour with a fluffy interior, it was very hard not to eat all of these by myself.

As I flipped through the book, I came across a recipe for Banana Muffins and as luck would have it I had some ripe bananas and crème fraîche in the refrigerator (the recipe calls for crème fraîche which contributes to a tender crumb). The recipe did not disappoint.

As I like to say, there’s always room for one more cookbook on my shelf and I can’t imagine a better one to take that spot.

Whether you’re an avid baker, a Keller fan or looking for a beautiful book give you the urge to bake, Bouchon Bakery is worth it.

Bacon Cheddar Scones
Makes 12 Scones

¾ cup + 1 teaspoon (107 grams) All-purpose flour
1 ½ cups + ½ tablespoon (196 grams) Cake flour
1 ½ + 1/8 teaspoons (8.1 grams) Baking powder
3/8 teaspoons (1.6 grams) Baking soda
2 tablespoons + ¾ teaspoon (27 grams) Granulated sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons 3.6 grams) Kosher salt
4.7 ounces (132 grams) Cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon (71 grams) Heavy cream, plus additional for brushing
¼ cup +2 ½ tablespoons (89 grams) Crème fraîche
12 ounces (340 grams) Hobbs applewood-smoked bacon, cooked, drained, and cut into
1/8-inch pieces (77 grams cooked weight)
2 cups (144 grams) Grated white cheddar cheese
½ cup (36 grams) Grated white cheddar cheese
¼ cup (10 grams) Minced chives
Freshly ground black pepper

Scones baked in a convection oven will have a slightly higher rise and more even color.

We wanted a savory scone in our repertoire, and because scones are traditionally eaten at breakfast, adding bacon—with its great flavor and power to enrich—was a natural. We incorporated another flavorful fat in the form of cheddar cheese, as well as chives for their oniony note and vivid color. No surprise that this is our most popular scone.

Leftover scones, traditional or savory, can be frozen, then pulverized and used as a crunchy topping for other foods. For instance, the bacon cheddar scone would be great on Corn Muffins. And don’t think of these only as a breakfast treat: they are terrific for dinner. I could make a meal of a good salad and a couple of these scones.

Place the all-purpose flour in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Sift in the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar and mix on the lowest setting for about 15 seconds to combine. Add the salt and mix to combine. Stop the mixer, add the butter, and, on the lowest setting (to keep the flour from flying out of the bowl), pulse to begin incorporating the butter. Increase the speed to low and mix for about 3 minutes to break up the butter and incorporate it into the dry mixture. If any large pieces of butter remain, stop the mixer, break them up by hand, and mix until just incorporated.

With the mixer running, slowly pour in the cream. Add the crème fraîche and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds, until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and the dough comes together around the paddle. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and paddle and pulse again to combine. Add the bacon, the 144 grams/2 cups cheese, and the chives and pulse to incorporate.

Mound the dough on the work surface and, using the heel of your hand or a pastry scraper, push it together. Place the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and, using your hands, press it into a 7-by-9-inch block, smoothing the top. Press the sides of your hands against the sides of the dough to straighten them. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 2 hours, until firm. (See Note to Professionals, page 45.)

Line a sheet pan with a Silpat or parchment paper. Cut the block of dough lengthwise in half and then cut each half crosswise into 6 rectangles (70 grams each). Arrange them on the prepared sheet pan, leaving space between them. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until frozen solid, at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight. (The scones can remain in the freezer for up to 1 month.)

Preheat the oven to 325°F (convection) or 350°F (standard). Line a sheet pan with a Silpat or parchment paper.

Arrange the frozen scones 1 inch apart on the sheet pan. Brush the tops with cream and sprinkle with the remaining 36 grams/H cup cheese and black pepper. Bake for 24 to 27 minutes in a convection oven, 33 to 36 minutes in a standard oven, until golden brown. Set the sheet on a cooling rack and cool completely.

The scones are best the day they are baked, but they can be stored in a covered container for 1 day.

Excerpted from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel (Artisan Books) with permission from the publisher. Copyright 2012. Photographs by Deborah Jones.

Birthday Decisions

What’s a birthday girl to do when she can’t decide what treats to bake?

Well. She bakes them all.

Pistachio Pound Cake.

Apple Cider Doughnut Cake.

You’re all invited for cake.

Happy Thanksgiving!

On this beautiful Thanksgiving Monday, I wish you all the best!

I am thankful for so many things (including these delicious Pumpkin Spice Palmiers courtesy of Serious Eats) and grateful for all my loved ones.

Have a wonderful day!

One Month.

One month ago today, I returned from Italy.

One month.

We devote so much time to departing but the return is so quick. And the time after vanishes at a breathtaking pace.

One. Month.

I never quite know how to describe what I feel like when I return from Italy. I feel happy at the memories created, but I also feel a bit sad, as though I left something behind and it will be many, many months before I can reclaim it.

At times like these, there’s only one thing to do for me and that’s go into the kitchen and bake.

I’m an emotional baker. I like to bake what feels good and lately, almonds feel good. I made an incredible cake with almond meal a few weeks ago and I used more almond meal for these pretty and unusual cookies.

The recipe is once again via Leite’s Culinaria but the original is from Guy Mirabella’s Eat Ate.

A cross between a cookie and a meringue, these biscotti satisfied my almond craving on a very deep level. They were delicious.

While the recipe instructs you to shape them into mounds and then form the mounds into triangles, I wet my hands and rolled the cookie dough into little balls.

When I bake, my mind clears and organizes itself. I breathe deeply. I have ideas. I dream. Sometimes I hum without realizing it.

The making and the baking is just as rewarding as the eating.

When I bake, time is suspended.

One month. Feels like yesterday.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.

Summer, I’m breaking up with you.

It was nice while it lasted but there’s a new love in my life and he’s called Fall. He’ll be here any day now.

We had a good time, Summer. There were the pretty dresses and the flip flops; the nights on the patio and the barbecues; the fruity cocktails and the sweet music of the ice cream truck.

And of course, there was the trip to Italy.

We sure did have some good times.

But Summer, it just can’t last between us. For starters, there’s my hair. No matter what I do, Summer, my hair just doesn’t work with you.

And the humidity. Honestly, what is it with you and humidity?

Please don’t feel bad. We won’t be separated forever. Before you know it you’ll be back and we can see if we can try to make it work again (and maybe I’ll finally figure out how to make sure you and my hair get along).

Look, I don’t want us to leave on bad terms so I made you a pie. I took some late peaches and plums and placed them in a butter crust. I topped them with a crumble topping (I know how much you like crumble topping) and I baked it up for you.

It was delicious. And you helped make this pie, Summer. Your sun and your warmth – they all helped make this delicious pie. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll make it for you again when you come back next year.

I like you, Summer. But it’s time to say goodbye.

And hey, look at this as a chance to do some more travelling and broaden your horizons. I hear the Southern Hemisphere is really nice this time of year.

Remember to pack sunscreen.

I Am Home.

It seems slightly silly to be announcing that I am home more than two weeks after I actually returned home from my summer vacation. But it’s taken me this long to fully grasp the reality that the vacation has ended and that summer is waning.

I’ve said it a million times but I am so lucky. I have a beautiful family in Italy that have come to look forward to my summer trips there as much as I do. I have a house – my very own house – where I can rest my head on my pillows and step out onto my balcony and enjoy the view.

Speaking of which, I’m always slightly amazed that this is the view. Sometimes I have to shake myself and remind myself that it really is real.

Every year that I go my experience is a little bit different. As I become more independent in my time there I find myself broadening my horizons, including nearby towns and places that you’ve likely never heard of or will ever see on a map.

And every year, there are new stories. I crave the moments when my aunts or one of the older folks tell a story from the old days. While our little town lies largely empty now (except for the summer months) with townspeople having long ago moved to bigger cities, other regions and in the case of my family, another country, every summer those same people return and are united by the most incredible stories of a past that doesn’t seem real.

I especially love the stories that involve my father. This is the father that I would have never known – my father as a mischievous little boy and a daring teenager.

I crave these stories. I need them. I find myself prodding and poking sometimes, during conversations, hoping fervently that another funny and amazing story of another life will emerge.

Perhaps my biggest pleasure, though, is that I have come to be accepted by so many of the people that I love and respect. As they often say to me, “It’s like you were born here.”

I cannot tell you the pleasure that gives me.

As the years go by, I have also started to assert a bit of independence when I’m there. I have four incredible aunts but they, each in their own way, are forces of nature in the way that only Italian aunts can be.

While I was raised to always be respective and considerate of my aunts, I’m a grown woman and want to carve out my place as well.

This has led to some battles of will in the one area that is universally important to Italians, no matter where they are in the world, food.

My aunts will have me booked up for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and afternoon snack) for four solid weeks if I don’t put my foot down a bit. This is difficult both because my aunts are brilliant in the kitchen and because I would gain 20 pounds every time I went to Italy. Easily.

This year I drew a bit of a line in the sand (albeit more of a dotted line than anything else – my aunts have my number).

I did insist, though, that I wanted the opportunity to also cook and bake for myself. While this drew some raised eyebrows and caused a few waves, for the most part, my aunts let me have some space.

Still though, I miss them all desperately. While I am always happy to come home to my mother and my brother and my famly and friends here, I miss my father’s family so much.

This is probably why when I return, I have to bake something almost immediately. It’s the best way that I can think of to ease the slight sadness and to capture the happy glow of a beautiful vacation.

All of my aunts have beautiful properties with vegetable gardens and fruit trees. One of my aunts – Zia Filomena – has the most beautiful plum trees. This year, I didn’t get to try the plums, but when I returned from Italy I was on a single-minded mission to buy some Italian plums and bake a cake.

This recipe is from Rustic Italian: Simple, Authentic Recipes for Everyday Cooking by Domenica Marchetti (whom I love – great cookbook author).

This cake is everything that a cake should be: beautiful to look at, moist, flavourful, a gift from the oven. The cake is made with almond flour which gives it a delicious texture and which pairs so well with plums.

You can find the recipe reprinted here.

And so I am home. Happy, but looking forward to Italy again.

What I Did on my Summer Vacation …

I’m back.

It always amazes me how easy it is to spend days and weeks planning a vacation and yet the vacation itself is so fleeting.

I spent three-and-a-half weeks in Le Marche, visiting my family and enjoying our little house in the hills. I swam in the ocean, hiked in the mountains, negotiated the Italian autostradas and once again roamed the streets of Rome and marvelled. It was a beautiful vacation.

As always, it was made so by my incredible family and friends. I am truly blessed. Grazie!

To describe my time in Italy, I give you pictures, not words.

… and I’m off …

Hello there.

I’m sending you a note to let you know that I’m flying away to the little house in the hills. As I like to say, “I’m going to 47 Rocca Street.”

I’m off to visit my beautiful Italian family and will be gone for a little over three weeks.

Take care of yourselves and your blogs and your tummies while I’m gone. Eat, cook and bake lots and lots. Enjoy the fruits of summer. Enjoy the sun and the water.

Be happy.

Wear flip flops and pretty dresses.

Eat gelato.

I’ll see you when I get back!

1 + 1 = 2

Those who know me well know that math and I aren’t exactly the best of friends. There’s something about my general nature that causes me to derive a lot of enjoyment from solving a problem so it’s odd that I wouldn’t enjoy math.

I blame those pesky numbers.

While I adore words, numbers give me the heebie jeebies. People tell me not to be afraid of them but the truth is that when numbers are involved, I start to get nervous. I’m immediately convinced that I’m going to make a mistake. I start to panic and then I freeze a little.

Oh, math. Will it ever work between us?

While I search for the answer to that question, there is one thing I’m certain of – I deeply admire the math-gifted.

The math-gifted are the ones who remind me that math is really about simple principles: like 1 + 1 = 2. Laugh if you must, but for me, that’s manageable and gives me hope that one day, maybe, math and I can be friends.

The idea of 1 +1 = 2 makes sense to me. Take one thing, add it to another and you have two things. Or as I like to see it, take one thing, add it to another and you have one bigger and better thing (okay maybe I’m bending the math rules a bit there).

Nothing demonstrates this idea more to me than cooking and baking. Pasta + Parmigiano Reggiano = Delicious. Coffee + Cream = Happy. Cheese + Honey = Delicious. And so on and so forth.

One of my favourites, though, has to be Strawberry + Rhubarb = Summer. A beautiful, juicy strawberry belongs with the tart and crisp rhubarb.

To prove the accuracy of my equation I made this delicious Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote. That’s math I can handle.

While that equation is accurate and logical, there is a part of the equation that can’t be defined: friendship.

The beautiful strawberries that went into that compote were picked for me by a very dear friend.

Who also happens to be brilliant at math.

I’m fairly certain that her strawberries added something to that compote that can’t be measured in numbers.

Every day, good or bad, I am aware of how lucky I am because I have a beautiful family and some pretty amazing friends.

My friend N, who picked the strawberries that went into the compote, is a blessing to me every day.

Thanks, N! Love you!

Cheesecake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote
(Note: The cheesecake base is from my very favourite cheesecake recipe – Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake.)

1 recipe Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

Crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup butter, melted
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
½ tsp. ground ginger

Cheesecake Filling:
3 packages cream cheese (8 oz each), at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Have a 9-inch springform pan ready for the cheesecake and also a large roasting pan that you can fit the springform pan into (you’ll be baking the cheesecake in a water bath.)

2. Combine all the crust ingredients and mix well. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the springform pan in an even layer. Wrap the bottom of the pan in aluminum foil to ensure water doesn’t seep into the cheesecake as it bakes. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine cream cheese and sugar. Cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream and vanilla and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour half the batter into the prepared pan. Drop dollops of the strawberry-rhubarb compote over the layer of cheesecake batter (about 1 cups of compote). Pour the remaining cheesecake batter into the pan.

5. Place the springform pan into the larger pan and pour in enough hot water (into the larger pan around the springform pan) until the water level comes to about halfway up the side of the springform pan.

6. Bake the cheesecake for 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done. The cheesecake will be set around the edges but will still jiggle in the middle. At this point, turn the oven off and let the cheesecake sit in the oven for an hour as it cools.

7. After one hour, remove the cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath (remove the aluminum folk). Let the cheesecake finish cooling on a rack. Once it’s cool, put the refrigerate the cheesecake before serving (at least 4 hours).

8. Serve the cheesecake with the remainder of the compote and some whipped heavy cream.

9. Enjoy!

Magazine Mondays: Waffles!

I will never get tired of waffles. Never!

Sometimes I have little debates with myself about what I love more … waffles or pancakes.

I love smooth, round pancakes that are fat and fluffy. I love slipping pats of butter between each pancake round and knowing that nestled in its little bed, the butter slowly melting and oozing out the sides. I love watching syrup drip over the edges of a stack of pancakes.

But I love waffles, too. I love how they’re slightly crisp on the outside but soft on the inside. I love watching maple syrup trapped in each pocket on a waffle (every pocket must be full of syrup). I love watching butter mix with the syrup as it slowly melts into it.

For today, I am choosing waffles.

For this edition of Magazine Mondays I bring you Crispy Waffles with Salted Caramel Coulis.

I’m not even going to lie. I made these for breakfast one day, took some pictures and then stuck my face in the plate. Yep. Stuck my whole face in the plate and ate everything.

There’s not much else to say.

I am joined for this edition of Magazine Mondays by the following lovely people:

Janet of the taste space made Asparagus and Tempeh Stir Fry from Vegetarian Times.

Ritu of Sucre Spice All Things Nice made Chocolate Pound Cake with Chocolate Crumble from Pastry & Baking magazine.

A Few Words

I just heard the news that the beautiful Barbara of winosandfoodies.com passed away.

Not long after I started blogging, Barbara was one of the first bloggers that I met and connected with.

She was brave, lovely, talented, generous and kind.

While I never met her in person, I feel blessed to have had the honour and pleasure of knowing her and I will always remember her.

I wish her peace and send my best wishes to her family.

Magazine Mondays: Zucchini!

For me, one of the signs that summer has truly arrived is the opening of the farmer’s market at Nathan Phillips Square. The farmer’s market is part of Fresh Wednesdays, a summer event at the square every Wednesday. It’s a lovely destination for the many people who work in the nearby downtown area – it’s nice to know that over your lunch hour on Wednesday you can help support local farmers and enjoy live music and some delicious summer food.

While it’s not easy for me to get out over the lunch hour I do my best to hit the farmer’s on Wednesday. This past Wednesday’s visit yielded some beautiful asparagus, sweet Ontario cherries and the most adorable little yellow zucchini.

I snapped them up knowing immediately that for this edition of Magazine Mondays I wanted to try a recipe I’d seen in Issue 117 of Fine Cooking: Zucchini Tart with Lemon Thyme and Goat Cheese.

I have tonnes of fresh thyme in the garden so I added lots of lemon zest and lemon juice to the goat cheese mixture to create the lemony flavour imparted by lemon thyme.

I loved everything about this tart: the pastry, the way the thinkly slized zucchini looked … everything.

Hope you get to try it!

Magazine Mondays: Pie. Chocolate Pie.

Wow. It has been a long time between Magazine Mondays!

Whilst I try not to chew off my nails during the Italy-Ireland game at the 2012 Euros, I thought putting up a new MM post might be a good way to relax.

What better way to take your mind of hot, sweaty men in shorts than with a chocolate pie.

Seriously. It works.

The pie in question is the Chocolate Cream Pie from the February 2008 issue of Food & Wine.

Really, what is there to say besides delicious. Creamy, rich and very delicious.

Make it.

Here are some folks who joined me for this latest edition of MM:

Valerie of Sex, Food, and Rock & Roll made Pan-Seared Salmon with Cilantro-Pepita Pesto from the November 2011 Bon Appétit.

Tina of Squirrel Head Manor made Avocado, Mango and Cherry Tomato Salsa from Bon Appétit.

Anuja of simple baking made Vanilla Ice Cream with Balsamic Roasted Strawberries from the May 2012 issue of GoodFood.

Janet of the taste space made Curried Couscous Pilaf with Peas and Currants from a July 1994 issue of Canadian Living.

Tamy of 3 Sides of Crazy made Beer and Cheddar Fondue from Fine Cooking.

Kiss Kiss

Over the course of a week, I see a lot of recipes. Whether it’s perusing the many on-line resources for recipes or flipping through a cookbook late at night, I see a lot of recipes.

I do my best to keep track of the recipes I want to try. It’s hard to find a magazine or cookbook in my house that doesn’t have at least one page that’s dog-eared or marked with a post-it.

Sometimes I’ll make little notes to myself on my iPhone or send myself an e-mail as a reminder of a particular recipe that I want to try (like I said … I see a lot of recipes so it’s easy to forget).

But sometimes a particular recipe will stay with me until I make it and that is the case with the Salt-Kissed Buttermilk Cake from 101cookbooks.com.

I’ve thought about this cake many times over the years but didn’t finally try it until recently.

I think there’s something about “salt-kissed” that just grabbed me. I love salt, especially when used in baking, and the idea of a tender cake covered in berries and sprinkled with just the right amount of salt is just so attractive to me!

When I first made this cake, I followed the recipe exactly and used whole wheat pastry flour. Generally speaking, when I bake, I stick to all-purpose flour or cake and pastry flour, depending on what the recipe requires. I like to use bread flour for breads and pizza and I will occasionally use rice flour in some cookie recipes. Where possible, I try to use unbleached flour.

I do use whole wheat flour for some of the breads I make but I’m pretty new to whole wheat pastry flour. Since it never hurts to expand your baking horizons, I was interested to see how the cake would taste.

Overall, I liked it. There’s no question that whole wheat flour gives the cake a nuttiness and sturdiness that you wouldn’t get with all-purpose flour. The cake was tender, though, and really good.

Not entirely satisfied, I decided to try the cake again using a combination of whole wheat pastry flour and regular cake and pastry flour.

The results were a lot more to my liking. The cake was still tender but with a nice balance between the deeper flavour of whole wheat flour and the more delicate regular cake and pastry flour.

I used homegrown strawberries for the cake. We have harvested a bumper crop of strawberries this year from our own strawberry plants!

We have about 40 plants in our garden and they have produced beautifully. I’ve said it before and I will say it agian, when you’ve tasted a strawberry right from the plant you understand the importance of eating locally-grown, seasonal fruit.

The addition of salt to the top of the cake before baking gives this cake a very special touch. It’s funny that the idea of highlighting the flavour of salt in a dessert still causes some raised eyebrows. The salty-sweet flavour profile is one of my favourite in desserts.

This cake has stayed with me for a long time since I first saw it. I’m so glad that I finally tried it.

Salt-Kissed Buttermilk Cake with Strawberries
Adapted from 101cookbooks.com.

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup cake and pastry flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
zest of 2 lemons
1 cup of berries (I used strawberries)
3 tablespoons large grain raw sugar
1 teaspoon large grain salt (I used Kosher salt)

Preheat oven to 400F degrees, racks in the middle.

Grease and flour one 11-inch tart/quiche pan.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and sugar and salt in a large bowl.

In a separate smaller bowl whisk together the eggs and the buttermilk, whisk in the melted butter, and the lemon zest.

Pour the buttermilk mixture over the flour mixture and stir until just combined – try not to over mix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, pushing out toward the edges. Place the berries on top of the batter, breaking them slightly with your fingers.

Sprinkle with the large grain sugar and then the salt.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until cake is set (or a toothpick in the center comes out clean), and a touch golden on top.

Patience

I am being patient.

Or at least I’m trying.

I am surrounded by new food magazines and new cookbooks literally begging me to start using all the fresh berries and vegetables growing in abundance everywhere I turn.

Oh. Wait.

There are no berries and vegetables growing in abundance everywhere I turn.

Here in Ontario, we are finally learning the joys of spring. The berries and vegetables will be here … they’re just not here yet.

So I’m being patient.

Doughnuts help.

While I steadfastly ignore the stacks of magazines featuring spring and summer recipes, I am instead focusing on Elinor Klivans’ Donuts, one of my very favourite doughnut cookbooks.

In particular, I’m enjoying Old-fashioned Buttermilk Doughnuts. They’re tangy and cakey and there is no yeast required (they are not leavened).

Which is a good thing because I’m running out of patience.

One of the Very Best

When it comes to baking or cooking, I try to avoid using the “best” moniker. In my opinion, there’s always a better chocolate chip cookie recipe, pancake recipe or roast chicken recipe waiting just around the corner.

So when I say that this Almond Olive Oil Cake from Serious Eats is one of the best cakes that I have ever baked and eaten, I’m serious.

I mean it. It’s one of the very best ever.

So what’s so great about this cake?

For starters, it’s a Gina De Palma recipe. I am a tremendous fan of De Palma’s. Her book, Dolce Italiano, is one of my most treasured cookbooks. I admire both her skill and her creativity as a pastry chef. A Gina De Palma recipe is going to be a good one.

But what else makes this cake so great?

Well, the cake batter has a small amount of almond flour in it. I am constantly impressed how nut flours affect the texture and flavour of baked goods. Even though I’ve been baking for a long time I’m pretty new to using nut flours and the more I use them the more I appreciate them.

The almond flour adds another layer of almond flavour but also gives the cake crumb a slight density in texture that’s very pleasant. The cake is tender, but doesn’t fall apart. It’s toothsome and I think the almond flour has a lot do with it.

The cake batter also calls for olive oil as opposed to butter. I am late to the world of baking recipes that rely on olive oil as a fat instead of butter or something else. To be honest, the first time I saw a cake recipe that called for olive oil I thought it was a bit odd.

Olive oil is for savoury, or at least that’s what I always thought was right. When I finally tried a cake made with olive oil, I was blown away. It’s incredible how mellow the olive oil is in the finished product and most importantly, the cake is absolutly not oily.

You could probably forego the almond glaze, although I loved it. A sifting of icing sugar would be just as nice or a dollop of yogurt and some fresh berries on the side would also be lovely.

Bottom line is that I plan on making this cake again and again and again.

It is lovely. It truly is one of the best ever.

Lemon Almond Olive Oil Cake
Slightly adapted from Serious Eats.
Makes 1 9-inch cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup blanched or natural almond flour
1 1/2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract
Grated zest of 1 medium lemon
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

For the glaze:
2 tbsps. unsalted butter
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
3 tbsps. whole milk
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds, toasted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt.

Lightly whisk the eggs in a bowl. Add the sugar and whisk vigorously for about 30 seconds. Add the olive oil and continue whisking vigorously until the mixture is thickened and paler in colour (45 seconds to a minute). Add the vanilla and almond extracts, the lemon zest and the lemon juice. Mix well.

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined; continue whisking until you have a smooth, emulsified batter, about 30 more seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes. Test the cake for doneness by inserting a cake tester or a tooth pick in the centre of the cake (it will come out clean). The cake is also done when it springs back when you press it with a finger.

Remove the cake from the oven and let cook for 10 or 15 minutes before removing it from the pan. Let it cool completely before glazing (you can also serve it as is with a sprinkling of icing sugar.)

To make the glaze:

Melt the butter in a small pan. Once melted, let it cook just a bit more until it begins to brown slightly. Remove from the heat and let the butter sit for a 2 or 3 minutes.

In another bowl, combine the sifted icing sugar and the milk. Whisk until smooth (it will be thick). Slowly whisk in the butter. Add the lemon juice. At the end, stir in the sliced almonds and then pour the glaze over the cake.

Magazine Mondays: Paris in the Spring

Something is going on.

While I have a deep fondness for Paris ever since my trip there in 2010, the past few weeks have been filled with an almost unbearable longing to go back.

Maybe it’s the cover of the latest issue of Bon Appétit. Maybe it’s the promise of spring. Maybe it’s all the French cheese I’ve been eating.

Whatever it is, I want to go back. Desperately.

This longing wasn’t helped when I opened Issue 116 of Fine Cooking only to come across an article by Dorie Greenspan that included a recipe for Vanilla-Bean Sablé Cookies.

Have you ever heard of Punitions? They are buttery-crisp cookies made famous by the ubiquitous Poilâne in Paris. I trekked across the city to buy some of those precious buttery wafers. I carried them home with the kind of care and attention that one would devote to a Fabergé egg.

If you’ve never tried them, do so and you’ll understand.

I seized upon Dorie’s recipe and they, temporarily at least, have eased some of my Paris yearning.

This is the recipe where you want to use the very best butter that you can find. It’s worth it. Buttery, crisp with a melt-in-your-mouth quality and redolant of vanilla, they are quite simply beautiful.

If you can’t get to Paris, bring Paris to you.

Waffling.

It is still amazing to me that there was a time when I regularly skipped breakfast.

It seems almost unfathomable that there was a previous me that had so little regard for what is now such an important part of my day.

The importance of breakfast is often measured in nutritional value; it’s the most important meal of the day, etc., etc.

I measure the value of breakfast in more emotional terms. Breakfast is like my first and biggest meeting of the day: the meeting with myself.

Now I don’t want to give the (mistaken) impression that my breakfasts are grandiose. I’m just like most other people. My mornings are generally an exercise in rushing, scrambling and hurrying to get ready and get out the door. But even if it’s a quick cup of coffee and a piece of toast swallowed in about 15 seconds, I have to have that meeting with myself, however brief.

This probably explains why I spend so much time thinking about breakfast. Once or twice a day, I will think about next day’s breakfast. Should I have yogurt with fruit or yogurt with granola? Do I need to make more granola? Will I feel like a poached egg? Should I make a double batch of oatmeal, to save some for later? Can I get up early enough to make pancakes? What shall I make for weekend breakfast?

Weekend breakfast is special because unlike weekday breakfast, there is more time. Because there is more time, I can entertain more elaborate plans such as firing up the waffle maker.

While pancakes reign supreme, waffles are very dear to me as well. There is something infinitely satisfying about a hot waffle with butter melting into each little pocket. Further filling each pocket with maple syrup is one of my most supremely fulfilling breakfast acts.

It’s worth getting up a little earlier.

Whatever you have for breakfast (or if you don’t have anything for breakfast), I urge you to take a moment and consider it.

First thing in the day, treat yourself first.

(The waffles pictured above are from a recipe out of Serious Eats: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Eating Delicious Food Wherever You Are. They are yeasted waffles, which gives them a bit of heft and substance. They soak up butter and syrup very nicely. There are a number of yeasted waffle recipes available on-line, including this one, which are worth a try. Enjoy!)

Magazine Mondays: Have a Cookie.

I could bake cookies forever. Endless recipes. Endless variations. Endless yummy.

Cookies, in my humble opinion, don’t require a lot of commitment. A cake is commitment. A pie is commitment. Cookies, not so much commitment.

Think of those lovely cookie trays you see at parties or better yet, the mind-boggling tables and tables of cookies you see at wedding showers (that’s how we roll at Italian wedding showers). You don’t have to eat all the cookies on one tray or in one plate. You can pick one from here, one from there and still have room for 20 more.

I love cookies.

In my repertoire, the sugar cookie remains elusive. I’ve tried many a recipe but have yet to find “the one”.

That may have changed with the recipe you see here.

From the November 2010 issue of Cook’s Illustrated, I give you the Chewy Sugar Cookie.

What I like about this cookie is that it is light and has the clean flavour that a sugar cookie should have, but it’s also not insubstantial. And it’s not overly crispy. Sugar cookies are one of the cookies where I do not enjoy a crispy texture. I like my sugar cookies to have a toothsome balance between soft and firm. Whatever the al dente equivalent is for cookies, that’s how I like my sugar cookies.

In my variation, I like to add a touch of lemon oil to the cookie dough. This imbues the cookies with a lovely lemon essense that’s hard to resist. I know because I ate them all.

What’s particularly interesting about the recipe is the addition of a small amount of cream cheese. As the original article notes, the cream cheese helps to give a richness to the cookie.

In closing, in case you haven’t already figured it out, I love these cookies and I encourage you to try them.

This is my entry for this week’s edition of Magazine Mondays, the little event I created back in 2007 (was it that long ago???) to help manage the magazine piles. I’m not sure how successful I’ve been at managing the towers of magazines stacked everywhere, not to mention the endless folders of clipped recipes. However, I am having a lot of fun.

Joining me for this week’s edition are the following fearless MM’ers:

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Chicken with Peach and Bourbon Glaze from from Redbook magazine.

Recipe Sleuth from Eye for a Recipe made Bucatini with Red Clam Sauce Hot Pepper from the April 2012 issue of Martha Stewart Living; and Chipotle Shrimp with Couscous from the February 2012 issue of Chatelaine.

Nicole of discojing made Black Bean Burgers with Pickled Onions from Everyday Food.

Anuja of Simple Baking made Apple and Raisin Muffins from the January 2012 issue of BBC GoodFood India.

Chewy Lemon Sugar Cookies
Adapted from the November 2010 issue of Cook’s Illustrated.
Makes 24 cookies

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, plus an additional 1/2 cup for rolling
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 teaspoon lemon oil (if you can’t find lemon oil, try using 1 tablespoon of finely grated lemon zest)
1 teaspoons vanilla extract (I used less vanilla extract than the original recipe so it wouldn’t compete with the lemon oil.)

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Make sure your rack is set to the centre of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

3. Place 1½ cups sugar and cream cheese in the bowl of your stand mixer. Place remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a shallow dish and set aside. Pour warm butter over sugar and cream cheese and mix on medium speed (using the paddle attachment).

4. Whisk in oil until and then add the egg, milk, lemon oil and vanilla extract (if using lemon zest add that in at this point).

5. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined (don’t over mix your dough).

6. Divide the cookie dough into 24 equal pieces. Roll the balls of dough in the reserved sugar that you set aside. Place the balls of dough on the prepared cookie sheets (12 cookies per sheet).

7. With a drinking glass or mug, gently press down on each ball of dough to flatten it slightly (don’t flatten it too much).

8. If there is any sugar left in the shallow dish, sprinkle it over the flattened cookies.

9. Bake the cookies, one tray at a time (you can put the unbaked tray of cookies in the refrigerator while the first tray is in the oven). Bake the cookies for 11 to 14 minutes (in my oven it took 14 minutes). You want the edges of the cookie to be every-so-slightly golden and the cookies will be nicely puffed.

10. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Once completely cooled, the cookies should be stored in an air-tight container.

Happy Easter! Buona Pasqua!

From my family to yours, I’d like to wish everyone the happiest of Easters!

Our day started with a most delicious Hot Cross Bun Loaf (from this book).

I hope that wherever you are there is sunshine, family, friends and good food!

Magazine Mondays: St. Joseph’s Day Fritters!

March 19th marks the observation of St. Joseph’s Day in the Roman Catholic faith. Growing up in an Italian family, marking saints’ days was a very big deal – especially if you were named after a saint.

My brother and I remember well the annual parade through the streets around our church on St. Anthony’s Day (my brother is named Anthony).

When you are named for a saint, the celebration of the saint’s day is known as onomastico. In fact, to this day, you will often hear people greet you with buon onomastico on the day that marks your patron saint’s celebration.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you. Most of the time a significant amount of the excitement around these celebration days stems from the food you know is forthcoming.

For Italians, the celebration of St. Joseph’s Day means zeppole. If you’ve found yourself in the vicinity of an Italian bakery around this time of year, you have undoubtedly seen Zeppole di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Day Fritters).

Typically, the zeppole are round, filled with cream and topped with glazed cherries.

I should note, however, that as with all pastries, when regarded at a national level, you may not find zeppole in all parts of Italy. You’re far more likely to see these pastries in bakeries in southern Italy, than you are in northern Italy. And even in southern Italy, you won’t find them throughout.

Here in North America, however, Zeppole di San Giuseppe are common at bakeries that carry on an Italian baking tradition and if you have the chance to sample them, I recommend it.

I’ve had this particular version of zeppole bookmarked for exactly a year, ever since I first saw the recipe in the March 2011 issue of Saveur.

These were delicious. The pastry is prepared by heating milk, sugar, rum and butter and then adding in flour. Like choux pastry, you then beat in eggs until you have a thick and glossy batter. If you have a pastry bag, now is the time to break it out. You can certainly make these without piping them (dropping them by the spoonful into the oil is an alternative) but they won’t look as nice.

Once fried, the zeppole go for a dip in cinnamon sugar. Not sure how traditional that step is but hey … I’m not complaining!

The filling for the zeppole is a mixture of ricotta, icing sugar, cinnamon and orange zest. In Italy, these would be topped with preserved sour cherries (amarene). I happend to have candied cherries on hand so that’s what I used.

Really, these were so good. Even though St. Joseph’s Day has passed, I encourage you to give them a try.

This is my entry for this week’s edition of Magazine Mondays. I have one entry to point you to this week for MM: Anuja of Simple Baking made Molten Marshmellow Cupcakes from the October 2004 issue of Sunset magazine.

Have a great week, everyone!

Magazine Mondays: Paris Brest

The very first time I heard about Paris Brest, I had no idea what it was or that it was called Paris Brest.

Some very good friends of mine were waxing poetic about a dessert that their aunt would make for holidays. It consisted of cream puff dough, piped into a around and baked. The resulting ring was then split in half and filled with custard and strawberries.

It sounded foreign and completely delicious to me.

Naturally, being obsessed with all things cream puff, it remained filed away in the little recipe box in my head.

Several years later, I finally came across Paris Brest in a dessert book. Once I realized it was a dessert whose base is made with choux pastry, I put two and two together and figured it out that the little recipe card in my head was one and the same with the recipe I was looking at.

Who says I’m not good at math?!

While I was taken with the idea of this dessert the moment I first found out about it, oddly enough, it was only recently that I tried to make it for the first time.

The November 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated has an excellent article on Paris Brest, with an accompanying recipe (and on-line demonstration video).

Inspired by the article, I decided to finally give this elusive dessert a try.

I was not disappointed.

The Cook’s Illustrated recipe was fun to make and the results were delicious. My favourite part was the hazelnut paste that I made to use as part of the filling.

I can’t wait to try this again in the summer, once strawberries are in season and I can use them in the filling!

Now that I’m (hopefully) back to blogging on a more regular basis, I’m hoping to feature Magazine Mondays more regularly seeing as how those magazine piles seem to always be there!

Remember, Magazine Mondays is the little event that I created to help manage all those clipped recipes we all have hanging around (you know you do!).

Here’s who joined me for this week’s edition of MM:

Victoria of Flavors of the Sun made a Fresh Fruit Tart from Oprah magazine; Osso Buco-Style Chicken from Cooking Light; Cauliflower Steaks with Olive Relish and Tomato Sauce from Bon Appétit; and Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding Cakes from Bon Appétit.

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Light Italian Bread from Southern Living.

Susan of Wish Upon a Dish made Mario’s Italian Grilled Cheese and ham Sandwich from Food & Wine and Polenta Torte with Goat Cheese Sauce.

Poppy of Poppy’s Patisserie made a Fig and Almond Tart from BBC Good Food magazine.

Anuja of Simple Baking made Ham and Bacon Pie of BBC Good Food India magazine.

Nicole of discojing made Sriracha and Wasabi Devilled Eggs from Food & Wine.

Remember, if you post about a magazine recipe on your blog, send me the link and I’ll link to it in my next Magazine Mondays round-up.

Have a great week, everyone!

Well Hello There!

My friends, I have not forgotten you! Nor have I forgotten my blog. I’m in the midst of an exceptionally busy time right now but I had to take a moment away to show you my new look.

So … what do you think?

I’m a bit nervous about it all but I felt like it was time for a change so there you go. There are still a few small kinks to work out but I couldn’t wait to tell you about it anymore.

Let me give you a little bit of the back story.

Almost two years ago, I started to think about the look of my blog and I knew I wanted to change things up a bit. (What can I say … I’m slow …).

What I really wanted was an image or a snapshot, if you will, that said something about me and summed up, in a picture, what my blog was all about.

Various internet journeys brought me Daria Jabenko, a tremendously talented illustrator who designed the lovely image you see at the top, lefthand corner of my banner. She helped “visualize” a look that I was going for and that little image became my inspiration.

While it took me considerable time to actually get going (like … two years), I finally got the ball rolling on a new design when I contacted the amazing folks at Freckled Nest. I was drawn to their spirit, creativity and to the fact that they’re Canadian!

While I enjoyed the previous look of my blog, I wanted something very simple, very pared down and very clean, which is in line with what I’m going for in my personal life right now.

I think I got what I wanted.

I hope you enjoy the new look!

I want to thank Daria Jabenko of Daria Jabenko Illustration and the amazing Zoe and Kyla of Freckled Nest who helped me every step of the way and gave me the blog that I wanted.

Me and Mr. P.

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Folks, I’m in love.

His name is Mr. P. and next to my dear papa’, he is the man of my dreams.

There’s a lot of love in this world and I’m blessed to have a lot of it in my life. I’m blessed with a beautiful family and some pretty amazing friends.

One of my very dearest and sweetest friends (she’s my little sister now because I said so) invited me to her family home to enjoy a dinner prepared by her father, a chef by training.

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Actually. Wait. That’s not right. He’s not a chef by training. He’s a chef by nature, he just also happened to choose to study cooking.

As he rightly pointed out over dinner, cooking is about passion and he’s got it all.

Mr. P. is ADORABLE with capital letters, bold, italics, squiggly lines, exclamation marks and every other punctuation point you can imagine.

And I was his honoured guest.

Here’s what he made for me. Be jealous.

He flirted with me over a sublime lobster bisque with chunks of lobster meat.

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He impressed me with a crisp Ceasar salad (homemade dressing, thank you very much).

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He wooed me with Beef Wellington (with my initial on it … I mean come on!) accompanied by braised endive and spinach-stuffed tomato.

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He had me at dessert – a poached peach with vanilla ice cream and chocolate balsamic reduction.

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When a man poaches a peach for you because he knows you don’t like pears, that’s love people.

Mr. P., thank you for sharing your beautiful food with me. Thank your for raising your two incredible daughters.

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Thank you for reminding me that love is out there and always worth it. In all its forms.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: We Got Buns!

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What’s better than sleeping in on a weekend morning and waking up to the smell of warm, buttery, citrusy buns just coming out of the oven?

Nothing! That’s what … nothing’s better than that!

If you agree with me then I have the buns for you: Saveur‘s Sweet Orange Buns.

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To me, this is the perfect weekend recipe. You mix it all up the night before, leave it in the fridge to rise overnight, and then bake it off in the morning once you’ve woken up and are ready to leave the comfort of bed.

Many times, with yeasted doughs, it feels like you’re a slave to the dough. This dough waits for you, not the other way around.

I could wax poetic for many more paragraphs but I won’t. Just try these buns. Enough said.

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This is my entry for this week’s Magazine Mondays – the little non-event I created a few years back to help tame those food magazine piles everywhere. (Seriously? Where do all these magazines come from?!)

Here’s who joins me this week:

Sweet Liliana from My Cookbook Addiction made Apple Charlottes from Fine Cooking.

Poppy of Poppy’s Patisserie made Chocolate Muffins and Chocolate Custard from BBC Good Food magazine.

Melissa from Baking Makes Things Better made a Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart.

Ranjani of Four Seasons of Food made Bloody Mary Tomato Salad from Bon Appétit.

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Shrimp and Saffron Rice from Real Simple.

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Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Nutella, Buon Giorno!

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I find we all have different ways of measuring the passage of a year. Some people look to their children’s birthdays or particular holidays to pause and remark, “Wow. Another year gone by.”

Me … I measure time according to Nutella.

To be exact, I am fully aware that a whole year of life has gone by every time World Nutella Day rolls around and my reaction is, “Seriously?! It’s already World Nutella Day? Where did the last year go???”

For those of you that don’t know, Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso decided, way back in 2007, that the world needed more Nutella. So began a yearly effort to stop and thank the stars that we have such a delicious treat.

As I considered what to make in honour of this year’s festivities, I contemplated a number of desserts but that meant having to wait until lunch or dinner were over before enjoying my Nutella.

Why should I have to wait?

Instead, I decided to have Nutella for breakfast and I must say there are few better ways to start your morning.

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From the pages of Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented I plucked the Nutella Scones that you see here.

I made a few (very minor) changes, the biggest being that I did not included chopped hazelnuts in the dough and rather than cutting my dough into wedges I cut out tiny little scones.

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My main reason for doing this is the belief that smaller scones means I can eat more scones.

Makes sense. To me.

You’ll have to excuse me now. There’s breakfast to be eaten.

Happy World Nutella Day … Ciao!

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World Nutella Day 2011: Nutella Meringues
World Nutella Day 2010: Nutella Ripple Cheesecake
World Nutella Day 2009: Oven Crespella with Nutella Sauce
World Nutella Day 2008: This was the year that I failed Nutella. So sad.
World Nutella Day 2007: Cheese-Filled Tuiles with Nutella Drizzles

Magazine Mondays: Citrus!

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Welcome to the first edition of Magazine Mondays for 2012!

I have slowly been easing my way back into my work schedule as I’m still trying to come down from the tremendous high of my holiday trip to Italy.

As always, the highlight of that trip was the food. When I’m in Italy and I’m eating (which is pretty much 23 hours a day), I try to be very mindful of what I’m eating and how it was prepared. My aunts are all tremendous cooks and of course they all cook instinctively, having spent an entire lifetime in the kitchen. You don’t see any cookbooks lying around in their kitchens, that’s for sure!

I’m also mindful of the fact that they eat seasonally, without even really thinking about it. Eating seasonally, eating locally – these have all become significant movements in food. But I find that when I’m in Italy, no one really talks about eating what’s in season or what’s grown nearby.

They just do.

Over the holidays, one of the foods that I enjoyed eating the most was the incredible citrus fruit, especially Sicilian oranges.

While I have certainly purchased Sicialian oranges here in Toronto, they’ve never been the same. In fact, in recent years, we’ve given up buying blood oranges from Italy because they’re simply not fresh and often tend to be dry.

Well not the case over the holidays. I pretty much overdosed on citrus fruit.

Now that I’m back, it’s what I’m missing the most (right along with my aunt’s amazing homemade sausages …).

Trying to hold on to that citrus deliciousness, I’ve been enjoying a lot of tangerines and was most happy to see a feature on tangerines in the December 2011 issue of Everyday Food. I was especially happy to see the recipe for Tangerine Cake with Citrus Glaze.

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This cake was amazing! The worst part was squeezing the itty bitty tangerines but beyond that, it was a pleasure. You could certainly make this with oranges or even lemons, but trying it with tangerines is worth it. I hope you’ll give it a try.

I have a lot of MM links to catch up on so here’s who’s joining me for the first MM of 2012:

Janet of the taste space made Lemon Zucchini Cookies from Food52 and Caramelized Onion and Cabbage Chowder with Sweet Potatoes and White Beans from Vegetarian Times.

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Artichoke Risotto from Epicurious.

Bridget of Meals on Winthrop made Turkish Yogurt Dip from People.

Elizabeth of The Law Student’s Cookbook made Broccoli-Cheddar Soup from Food Network Magazine.

Poppy of Poppy’s Patisserie made Brownies from Delicious magazine.

Thanks to everyone that joined me. Remember that all you have to do to participate in MM is send me a link to a magazine recipe you’ve posted on your blog.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

What I Did on My Christmas Vacation …

I am back from an unbelievably beautiful holiday in Italy where my mom, my brother and I spent Christmas and New Year’s with my father’s family in Ascoli Piceno, Le Marche.

We had such a beautiful time, filled with so much laughter and talk and of course … food! So. Much. Food.

Being away from the usual holiday hustle and bustle of a big city reminded me that Christmas is not about buying stuff. Most of our time was spent either cooking or baking or gathered around the table sharing a glass of wine. I feel so blessed. I think my favourite moments, though, were the nights in the city where friends greeted each other with Auguri and everyone had a moment to stop and wish you well.

I want to say grazie to my aunts, uncles, cousins and all my friends who made this such a special time for myself, my mother and my brother.

To all of you, happy New Year! Buon’anno! All the best in 2012!

We ate ceci on Christmas Eve.

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We played with some cute elves.

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We ate nocciata.

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We cooked over the fire.

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We ate timballo.

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We ate olive ascolane and cremini.

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We ate pasta. A lot of pasta.

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We ate prosciutto.

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We went to the Cattedrale di Sant’Emidio.

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We looked at the lights.

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We thought about family.

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We ate fresh sausage.

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We breathed the country air.

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We looked at the mountains …

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… and looked at them some more.

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We opened doors.

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We tried galantina.

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We played cards.

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We used the oven a lot.

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We opened our eyes.

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We went to town.

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We took deep breaths.

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We said Auguri!

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Auguri to all of you!

Ciao!

My Wish For You

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Very soon, I will be boarding a plane for a flight to Rome.

I will be spending my very first Christmas outside Canada. I will be spending my holidays, along with my mother and brother, in the loving company of my father’s family in Ascoli Piceno.

We’ve been planning this trip for months and even though the time to depart is here, it still seems a bit unbelievable to me.

Then again, it’s hard for me to believe that it’s been ten years since my beloved papa’ left us.

Most often, at this time of year, I find myself trying to focus on the year that was and the year ahead. Through it all, though, is the one constant: my wish for all the people that I love and care about.

This holiday season, I wish them all joy, light and warmth.

I won’t be around for the next three weeks or so and this little spot will be fairly quiet.

But my wish for you is that you are surrounded by the ones that you love with much good food and much laughter.

Happy Holidays and all the best to all of you!

Ciao!

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Chocolate Meringue Cookies
Recipe from Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of The American Academy in Rome, The Rome Sustainable Food Project.

2.5 cups sugar
4 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch-processed)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
8 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp. salt
6 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F; line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine sugar, cocoa and cinnamon in a bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Add the salt and whisk at high speed until soft peaks form.

Slowly add the sugar/cocoa/cinnamon mixture, in a steady stream, with the mixer at medium speed. Increase speed to high and continue whipping until stiff peaks form and the meringue is glossy. With a rubber spatula clean the sides of the bowl to ensure that everything is fully incorporated.

Using a pastry bag fitted with a tip of your choice (I used a star-shaped tip), place the meringue mixture in the pastry bag and pipe out cookies in whatever design you like. Be sure to leave a few inches between each meringue cookie.

Bake the cookies for approximately an hour and 10 minutes and then turn the oven off. Let the cookies cool in the oven for one hour. Remove from the oven and transfer the meringue cookies to a wire rack to continue cooling. Leave overnight so that the cookies will dry out completely.

If you wish, you can dip the bottom of the cookies in melted chocolate or drizzle melted chocolate on top for some extra dazzle.

Cookies should be stored in an airtight container and will keep for a week or so.

Enjoy!

Magazine Mondays: Where did 2011 Go?

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Wowza!

What exactly happened to 2011?

I feel like it was just yesterday that I was making all sorts of plans for 2011, imagining what the year ahead would hold.

Well … here we are. Once again I find myself staring out at the horizon as a new year slowly starts to make itself known.

Like every year, 2011 was unique. It had its good moments and bad, it had its ups and downs, it had its highlights and its moments that I’d rather forget. My family is with me and everyone is safe and moving forward so that, in of itself, is a blessing.

I once had a boss who gave me a very helpful bit of advice. She told me that every day, no matter how good or bad, I should always try to make note of something new. She wasn’t referring to anything work-related. What she meant was that each day, as I go about my business, to take the time to acknowledge something new.

I try, very hard, to take time each day to acknowledge new things and to also be aware of what I’m grateful for. We spend so much time rushing through life that it often feels like we’re not actually living. We’re just rushing through.

As I prepare for Christmas in Italy, I’m trying to really focus on the here and now and to be gateful for my family, my friends and my life.

As for my blog, this hasn’t been the greatest of years for Cream Puffs in Venice. It’s not that anything bad has happened it’s just that work priorities and other life priorities have meant that I’ve had less time than ever to blog.

And that’s okay.

I’m still so grateful for this space and for those of you that make it a pleasant place to inhabit.

This will be the last edition of Magazine Mondays for 2011 – I’m hoping that the “little non-event that could” will come back bigger and stronger in 2012.

I’m happy to say that the last MM of 2011 is a great one, with this delicious Maple-Walnut Cake with Brown-Sugar Frosting from the November 2011 issue of Everyday Food.

I’m a maple syrup fiend, and yet I rarely bake with it. Generally, I use maple syrup to lather pancakes and waffles but this time around I used a generous amount to flavour a cake and the end result was so delicious.

I hope that your holiday season is filled with many delicious sweet things!

Here’s the final round-up of MM participants for 2011:

Valerie of Sex, Food, and Rock & Roll made Basic Marinara from a January 2005 issue of Gourmet.

Susan of Wish Upon a Dish made a Raspberry Buttermilk Cake from a June 2009 issue of Gourmet.

Poppy of Poppy’s Patisserie made the Dense and Dark Chocolate Loaf Cake from a February 2009 issue of BBC Good Food Magazine.

Di from Di’s Kitchen Notebook made Triple Chocolate Cookies from Cook’s Country.

Bridget of Meals on Winthrop made Divine Dressing from the December 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

I wish you all an amazing week!

Ciao!

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year!

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December 1st is probably one of my favourite days of the year. Not only does it mark the end of November (always a tough month for my family), but it marks the beginning of the holiday season.

I always give people fair warning. If you’re in my presence from December 1st onward you are more than likely to be exposed to 24-hour Christmas music stations, non-stop discussion of cookie baking, musings about what the best options are for Christmas Eve dessert and incessant calendar-watching as I strategize about what days are best to make the various holiday treats that my family makes every year at this time.

Well … this December is going to be just a little bit different. Oh, there will be non-stop Christmas carols and cookie-baking to be sure, but it’s all going to be taking place on another continent.

For the first time in my life, I will be spending Christmas in Italy with my father’s family.

My mother, my brother and I will all be flying over in a few short weeks where we’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a truly Italian Christmas.

Part of me still can’t believe that this is truly going to happen. I keep looking at our plane tickets and asking myself, “Am I really getting on an airpline in a few weeks to travel to Italy for Christmas?”

While I have had the priviledge of the most beautiful Christmas celebrations with my mother’s family, there has always been a little voice inside that has urged me to spend at least one Christmas in Le Marche. Having lost my father ten years ago this past November, it seems that much more important that I finally make this dream come true.

Last weekend, I called my aunts and uncles in Italy and could barely contain my excitement. While I look forward to seeing what Ascoli Piceno will look like all dressed up for Christmas, and while I can’t wait to see my family again, truly what I am most looking forward to is the chance to be in the kitchen with my aunts and my mother.

As I get older and as I watch my aunts get older, I come to cherish more and more the time that I can spend with them. My favourite moments with them are always in the kitchen, where they are most relaxed and comfortable. It’s there that they feed both my tummy and my soul with their beautiful ways and their incredible stories.

I cannot wait.

But even though I won’t be here for Christmas, that does not mean that I won’t be doing at least a litle baking before I go.

In the spirit of my upcoming Italian Christmas adventure, I got the baking season off to a start with a traditional Italian cookie that I have actually never baked before: Mustazzoli.

I followed the recipe in Francine Segan’s tremendous Dolci: Italy’s Sweets.

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Made with buckwheat honey and flour, this was a most interesting cooking to make. While I have tasted Mustazzoli before, this was my first time making them. The dough was certainly a bit challenging as it was a bit sticky. I shaped it into a log and scored it to make slicing easier once baked.

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The cookie had a spongy, chewy texture and a deep honey flavour. It’s certainly unusual but I’m so glad that I tried the recipe.

While I was preparing to make the Mustazzoli, I decided to look through some of my other Italian cookbooks and happened upon a recipe for Mostaccioli in Gina DePalma’s Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen. Interestingly, in the head note to her recipe, DePalma mentions that the number of variations that she found for this particular cookie was staggering. Her own variation includes spices, nuts and chocolate!

Whether you know them as Mustazzoli or Mostaccioli, I hope you’ll find a recipe that intrigues you and give it a try.

In the meantime, let the Christmas baking begin. After all, it is the most wonderful time of the year!

Ciao!

Here are some Mustazzoli/Mostaccioli recipes that you might be interested in:

Mustazzoli – Honey Bread

Mustazzoli

Mustazzoli – Quanto Basta

Mostaccioli – Canadian Living

Ten Years

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Papa’, I think of you every single day.

(Igino Mellozzi, 1944-2001)

Magazine Mondays: Lentils!

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Back for another edition of Magazine Mondays. It seems that these days the only blogging I can barely muster is for MM – it’s been a busy time to say the least. I am, however, looking forward to having some more free time in the coming weeks before the holidays.

In the meantime, though, I continue to chip away at that magazine pile!

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This time around I bring you a recipe for Lentil & Pasta Soup courtesy of Jamie Oliver magazine.

I love that magazine because it’s like buying a beautiful mini cookbook every time. I justify the purchase by telling myself that I’m buying a cookbook for the price of a magazine.

Yes. I have a problem. What of it?!

Anyway, I love this recipe because a) it’s soup and b) it’s soup with pasta in it and c) it’s soup with pasta and lentils in it. It’s like the trifecta of things I love.

Whenever I do eat lentils, I’m reminded of how delicious they are and how easy they are to make. Together with the pasta and the lovely broth, this makes a most delicous dinner or weekend lunch.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Here’s who joined me for this week’s edition of MM:

Victoria of Flavors of the Sun made Butternut Squash Soup with Green Chile-Coriander Chutney from Gourmet and Roasted Pear Salad with Chèvre and Fig Vinaigrette from Vegetarian Times.

Mary of Bonbons et Chocolats.com made Mini Madeleine Doughnuts from InStyle.

Magazine Mondays: Pizza Pie!

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When they said that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, they did not specify in what form you had to consume the apple. I choose to consume my apple in the form of pie, pie and more pie.

Growing up, apple pie was “the” dessert in our house. My mom baked a lot and at holidays we always had the usual cast of characters that make up the spectacle that is the Italian holiday baking tradition.

In between, however, we had apple pie.

If you think about it, apple pie is easy to make, affordable and most importantly allows you to use a crop that grows in abundance (at least where we live).

My mom’s apple is still my favourite. Her crust is made with lard and her filling is not-too-sweet with just the right touch of cinnamon.

Still, though, every now and then I like to experiment with apple pie recipes because you just never know … that really special one that knocks your socks off might be just around the magazine/cookbook corner.

This would explain how I arrived at the subject of my post. Last week I was happily indulging in a nighttime recipe jaunt around the Internet when I came across Mark Bittman’s Free-Form Apple Tart.

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I would use the terms “free-form” and “tart” loosely here because when I looked at the picture in the recipe I thought, “That looks like a pizza.”

Wait. Pizza with apples on it … genius.

And while it’s true the “dough” is nothing like a pizza dough (no yeast) and while it’s true it’s a tart dough that’s just rolled out flat, I’m stickin’ with my pizza story!

This dessert could not be easier in fact I challenge all of you who fear making pie because of a fear of the dough to try this one.

Simple and delicious, I have now found yet another way to up my daily apple intake.

Sweet!

Ciao!

This is my entry for this week’s edition of Magazine Mondays, the non-event. For those of you new to MM, it’s an opportunity for people to send along a link to a magazine recipe that they’ve posted on their blogs. Consider this a great way to attack that pile of food magazines that you’ve had lying around for far too long!

Here’s who’s joining me this week:

Recipe Sleuth from Eye for a Recipe made Lamb Tagine with Chickpeas and Apricots from the October 2011 issue of Bon Appétit; Cashew Chicken Curry from the Autumn 2011 issue of Food & Drink; Cranberry Pecan Quinoa Pilaf from the October 2011 issue of Style at Home; Sweet Chili Chicken from the October 2011 issue of Canadian Living and Pork Chops with Roasted Beets and Oranges from the October 2011 issue of Real Simple.

Ranjani of Four Seasons of Food made Pasta with Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts and Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Capers, Walnuts, and Anchovies, both from the November 2011 issue of Food & Wine and Macaroni and Cheese with Butternut Squash from Cooking Light.

Victoria of Flavors of the Sun made Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup and Roasted Tomato Soup with Serrano Cream from a March 1993 issue of Gourmet.

Susan of Wish Upon a Dish made Spanish Style Pork Tenderloin from Cooking Light.

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Paella-Style Chicken and Rice from a June 2011 issue of People.

Charlotte of mummy dinosaur made Heirloom Apple Pie from Organic Gardening magazine and Spinach Gunge from Bon Appétit.

Janet of the taste space made Roasted Golden Beet and Lentil Salad with Mint and Cilantro from Whole Living.

Buon Compleanno to me!

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Each and every single one of us is such a special gift. So when it’s your special day, I believe that you should take some time to celebrate.

Today is my special day and I’m seizing the opportunity to have a lovely meal with my family followed by what I can only describe as a smörgÃ¥sbord of dessert.

Some years I know what kind of birthday dessert I want. Some years my mom makes it and some years I’ll order something special.

This year, I couldn’t decide so I went birthday dessert crazy.

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There will be apple tart (pictured here), éclairs (chocolate and coffee), butter cookies, palmiers, a teeny weeny fruit tart and a pastry called a Mirabeau (it’s chocolatey and hazelnutty and crème chantillyesque). All from Rahier.

To those of you that have already made my birthday weekend such a treat, I thank you.

To my family (especially my mommy), I love you!

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Happy Birthday to me and to all the other lovely people born on this fine day!

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: Back with Pie

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My goodness it has been a long time! It’s been far too long between Magazine Mondays posts and for that I apologize. What can I say? I’ve had a lot of busy Mondays since the last one!

I’m back, though, and not a moment too soon. While my efforts to curtail magazine purchases in 2011 were somewhat successful during the early part of the year, I have to be honest, I’ve returned to my gluttonous magazine ways. This means that I must redouble my efforts to get back on track!

Let’s start with one of the best issues of Food & Wine that I’ve seen in a very long time: the November 2011 issue.

I’ve made four or five different recipes from this one and they’ve all been tremendous. Today, though, I bring you the recipe for Old-Fashioned Apple Pie. Much like pancake recipes and chocolate chip cookie recipes, I truly believe that you can never have too many recipes for apple pie.

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When people ask me what my favourite dessert is, I always answer … apple pie.

My mom is an apple pie master. Growing up, she would make it often in the fall and winter months and she would make it with a lard crust. Her filling hit the perfect note between tart and sweet. The apples were never too mushy or too crispy.

While this particular pie doesn’t replace my mother’s, I must say it’s a very good one.

To begin with, the all-butter crust is a winner. Like all pie crusts, you have to be careful not to overhandle this one or it will be tough. Still warm from the oven, though, the crust was flaky and the coarse sugar on top added a lovely caramelly crunch.

I was particularly impressed with the filling. The recipe directions call for a little trick that I also learned in one of my baking classes. What you do is you mix the apples and all the filling ingredients and then let it sit for awhile. Letting the apples sit let’s the sugar dissolve and helps any juices to thicken. I’m convinced that you end up with a better filling.

While I don’t have a photograph of the finished pie (it was long gone before I could photograph it), take my word, it was delicous.

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As always, I’m joined by some folks who are also targetting their magazine piles:

Mary from Bonbons et Chocolat.com made Midnight Madness Meringue Cake from Chatelaine.

Foodfreak made Masala Prawns and Khachumber from Olive magazine.

Valerie of Sex, Food, and Rock & Roll made Smothered Yellolw Squash with Basil from the August 2004 issue of Gourmet.

Janet of the taste space made Skillet-Toasted Corn, Tomato and Anasazi Bean Salad from Whole Living magazine and Roasted Carrot and Lentil Soup with Hariss and Mint from Bon Appétit.

Lynn of I’ll Have What She’s Having made Ratatouille Pizza from Ricardo magazine.

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Tequila-Glazed Grilled Chicken Thighs from Cooking Light, Lemony-Maple Sweet Potatoes from the December 2010 issue of People magazine and Sausage Risotto from Bon Appétit.

Sue of Couscous & Consciousness made Pasta e Ceci from the March/April 2011 issue of Jamie Oliver.

Julia from Café Lula made Monkfish with Crunchy Aubergine and Salsa from the September 2010 issue of Delicious.

Recipe Sleuth from Eye for a Recipe made Thai Grilled-Beef Salad from the July 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated and Pork Souvlaki with Yogurt Sauce from the Summer 2011 issue of Food and Drink.

Elizabeth from The Law Student’s Cookbook made Olive “Pizza” from the June 2009 issue of Cooking Light.

Remember, Magazine Mondays is an informal event. Any time you post a recipe from a magazine just send me the link and I’ll include it in my next MM post.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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What a beautiful, beautiful day! It is sunny and warm and full of fall colours in my neck of the woods – defintely so much to be thankful for!

We are celebrating with a ridiculous amount of food (including the pumpkin swirl cheesecake you see here) but it’s all so delicious and fresh that who could possibly blame us for indulging so much today?!

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To all my fellow Canadians, I wish you the happiest of Thanksgivings!

Ciao!

One Final Goodbye …

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I am an autumn baby and the fall is my time.

I am not, however, completely immune to the allure of summer. It’s hard to not feel right with the world on a beautiful, warm summer evening when the sun is still out and the air is warm and sweet. It’s hard not to feel so alive right at that moment.

But the fall must come. And rightly so.

Still, though, I always feels like I owe it to summer to say goodbye, officially.

So this is what I am doing now. I am bidding summer adieu and saying thank you.

Thank you for the warmth. Thank you for the beautiful fruits and vegetables.

I’ll miss the fresh tomatoes and the warm breezes. I’ll miss open-toed shoes. A lot.

I’ll really miss the peaches.

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And the blackberries.

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Thank you, summer. See you next year.

Ciao!

The peach pie you see pictured above is from this lovely recipe.

The blackberry tart is from Karen DeMasco’s The Craft of Baking: Cakes, Cookies, and Other Sweets with Ideas for Inventing Your Own

Me and My Purple Potato. A Love Story.

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I have been to many a social gathering that has ended in the adult version of a loot bag. While I like receiving gifts as much as the next person, do I really need another salt-and-pepper shaker set? Not really.

This only makes my purple potato that much more special. Let me tell you a story.

A recent dinner outing with a group of some of the most lovely young ladies around ended when one of these young ladies handed out one purple potato to all of the other young ladies in the group.

This tremendous act of generosity was punctuated by the fact that said purple potatoes came from her own small stash of purple potatoes, taken from the contents of her weekly CSA box (how she came to have the contents of her CSA box whilst at dinner at a very posh Toronto restaurant is a story for another blog post …).

Needless to say it was a most enchanting end to a beautiful, late-summer dinner.

I was instantly smitten with my purple potato. I placed it carefully in my purse and cradled it all the way home.

In time, I came to love my purple potato deeply. I loved it’s deep purpliness. I marvelled at its smooth-yet textured exterior. I carefully explored the surface of my purple potato, memorizing every groove, every line and every mark.

After awhile, though, I began to experience some mild anxiety over my purple potato. I worried that we would be accidentally separated or worse, that my purple potato would be lost.

I fretted that someone might try to steal my purple potato. I became possessive; refusing to show my purple potato to anyone.

One day, in a grocery store, I became terrified that my purple potato would be taken from me. I worried that the store owners might think that I had stolen it. I calmed down when I realized that my purple potato was so unique that everyone would know that it had come from a special place where purple potatoes grace the land like stars in the sky (not the grocery store). The other potatoes in the grocery store hated my potato. I could tell (be jealous, bitches).

The defining moment in our relationship, however, came when I nearly dropped my purse. Realizing that my potato could have been irreparably bruised or even crushed, I knew that it was time for us to take the next step.

It was time for me to eat my purple potato.

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After sharing one last quiet moment with my purple potato, I took out my mandoline (no regular knife would do) and transformed my love into a pile of beautiful purple potato slices.

I carefully transferred the slices to a pan of hot oil and fried them until crisp.

After draining the slices, I showered my purple potato with sea salt. I sat down to eat my purple potato with a bowl of garlic and basil yogurt (one of my favourite accompaniments). I used full-fat yogurt and basil from my garden. Only the best for my purple potato.

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It was a bittersweet ending to my love story. While it ended the way it should, I do miss my purple potato.

My one and only.

Ciao!

Garlic and Basil Yogurt
Makes 1 cup

Note: This is perfect as a dip or even as a dressing for potato salads. It’ll keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for several days.

1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspon sea salt
1 garlic clove, minced
4 or 5 basil leaves, torn

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

All the Sweet Things

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As I take on the task of organizing the massive number of photos I took in Italy this summer, I find it’s taking a lot longer than expected and that it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.

This is mainly because every other photo, I pause to wistfully replay the scene captured in the picture.

So many happy memories!

I kept joking to my cousins that about 90 per cent of the pictures I took were of the food we ate and I’m probably not too far off – this has been another impediment to my organization project – I keep getting hungry as I look at the pictures!

Amidst all the photos are many sweet reminders of the delicious things I ate and before I get to them (on this blog), I thought I had better tie up some loose ends from before I left for Italy and one of those loose ends would be these sweet and utterly adorable Ciambelli from the formidable Milk & Cookies: 89 Heirloom Recipes from New York’s Milk & Cookies Bakery by Tina Cadaceli.

I. Love. This. Book.

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I made it my September 2011 Flavour of the Month and am now dreaming of my next trip to New York City so that I can visit the bakery.

The cookbook takes a bit of a different approach in that it offers a series of foundation dough recipes (including a vanilla base dough a and a dark chocolate base dough) from which you can then create any number of cookies. My favourite part of the book, though, is Chapter 7: Family Favourites.

This is the part of the book that features numerous Italian cookie recipes including Pistachio Biscotti and Bride’s Cookies.

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I haven’t had the time to try a lot of recipes from this book but I did try the Ciambelli (you can find the recipe here), which are so cute and so delicious. They are perfect in the morning with your milk and coffee and certainly helped to remind me of many a lovely breakfast in Italy (“colazione“) spent lingering over a steaming mug of latte e caffe’ and a plate of cookies.

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Ah, the memories!

And now back to my photos …

Ciao!

Fortify Yourself

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So it’s that day again … the day Famiglia Cream Puff takes each empty mason jar and fills it with pureed tomatoes.

Part fun, part insane, this is always a day that’s both special and tiring.

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No matter what, though, we always stop to fortify ourselves because “doing the tomatoes” takes a lot of energy.

Buon appetito!

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Ciao!

That’s Just How We Roll.

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Three weeks. Three glorious weeks in my father’s hometown of Rocca di Monte Calvo, just outside of Ascoli Piceno and within an easy drive of San Benedetto del Tronto.

I cannot even find the words to express how blessed I am to be able to step out of a plane into the heat of the Pescara sun, get into a car and in just over an hour be driving up into the Appenines to the small town where my father was born.

And there I find our little house, waiting, warm and inviting. And perhaps even better, my family, always waiting with open arms and smiles and love.

I am so blessed.

I took over 600 pictures and it will take me some time to work through them all but this is just a brief glimpse of the beautiful experience of the past three weeks.

This is my thanks to my family, my friends and Italy.

I go to a place called Rocca di Sotto (Rocca di Montecalvo).

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Where our little house is always waiting.

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Where there is an always an opportunity to sit side by side, shoulder to shoulder …

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Ready to share a plate of pasta.

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Where the charmers start young …

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And the old seem ageless.

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It’s a place that is sweeter than you can imagine.

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Always there are beloved faces …

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You are never alone.

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The table is always set.

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It’s a place where pork fat rules.

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And friendship is forever.

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I go to a place where people still make things from scratch. Beautiful, delicious things.

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It’s a place where everywhere I turn, there is a hero standing before me.

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It’s a place of great beauty. There are zucchini flowers everywhere.

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And plums. My most favourite of plums!

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It’s a place where you watch your aunt make gnocchi outside, on a hill facing a valley that takes your breath away.

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It’s a place where pizza is king (especially if it has tomato and frezh mozzarella on it).

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It’s a place where you dance under the lights, in front of the church.

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And where you listen as marching bands play in front of your house on feast days.

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It’s the place of tiramisu’.

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And other sweet little things.

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It’s where cousins gather to take a picture (look at us … all together!).

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It’s where familiar faces find each other again.

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And where some interesting characters tend to pop up …

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It’s the place where I can sit in my living room, look outside, and watch the sun come up over the mountains to cover all of us in light.

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It’s home.

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Thank you – grazie – to all my loved ones who made my three weeks a time of joy, laughter and peace!

Ciao!

To read more about our town, visit the Rocca di Monte Calvo site.

You can also visit the Circolo Acli La Rocca to read about town events.

Where I Go …

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I am off to Italy for three weeks to visit family and friends.

I leave you with cookies and with the hope that August is warm and beautiful and full of fresh peaches and tomatoes.

See you in three weeks!

Ciao!

Fool Me Once

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Dear Blog,

My my, it has been a long time.

If blog neglect were a crime then I would be guilty as charged.

Although I suspect you can’t really call it “neglect” as you have never been far from my mind.

I think about you all the time, little blog.

It’s just that sometimes there are so many other things that pull me here and there that there just isn’t enough time.

And it’s not that I haven’t been cooking and baking, I have. To be honest, though, activity in the baking department has been minimal thanks to the stunning heat wave we’ve been subjected to.

While it’s subsided somewhat, up until a few days ago Toronto was melting. Melting!

And in that state of unpleasant meltinginess (my new word), I found myself facing a dilemma:
How to make something sweet without turning on the oven?

Fortunately, this is very easy.

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Take some roughly chopped Ontario strawberries and puree them with a bit of water and a bit of sugar and lemon. Swirl the puree into a massive bowl of freshly whipped cream (slightly sweetened with icing sugar).

This is called a “fool“. It’s a dessert of fruit puree mixed into wipped cream. How foolish of me that I never tried it before.

And if you happen to have some meringues lying around, you could crush them and add the bits to your “fool” and then you’d have an Eton Mess.

So this is what I did during the unpleasant meltinginess.

And you see blog, I made it through. And I’m back.

Ciao!

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Simple Strawberry Fool
Serves 4

1 pint strawberries, washed, hulled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice
2 cups heavy cream
1 tbsp. icing sugar

In a small pot, combine the strawberries, water, sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and then cook until strawberries have broken down a bit and you have a slightly thick fruit sauce (about 10 minutes).

Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least an hour (it’s important the fruit puree be cold when added to the whipped cream – you could do this step the day before).

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the heavy cream and icing sugar. Whip on high speed until the cream is very stiff.

Gently add the strawberry sauce to the whipped cream and carefully mix a few times (you want to create a swirl effect). If serving immediately, spoon the strawberry fool into individual serving dishes. Otherwise, refrigerate until ready to serve. (Note: To make an “Eton Mess”, crumble up some meringues and gently mix those into the strawberry/cream mixture and then serve.)

Enjoy!

Magazine Mondays: Strawberries … And Family …

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I hope everyone is enjoying a tremendous holiday season. I certainly had a great Canada Day and as often happens in life, my family got a reminder of what’s important: your loved ones.

This is a short Magazine Mondays post and it’s all about the simple and good things: pastry, hand-picked strawberries, pie and lots of family and friends to enjoy it with.

This particular pie is the Strawberry Pie from the June/July 2011 issue of Saveur.

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As always, I’m joined by some folks who have tackled their magazine piles:

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Tortellini Amatriciana from the October 2010 issue of Redbook.

Jan from Kitchen Heals Soul made a cookie tart with strawberries and basil yogurt from the magazine Ricardo.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Happy Canada Day!

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I want to wish all my fellow Canadians, wherever you are, the happiest of Canada Days!

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I hope it’s full of good weather, smiles, pie and strawberries!

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: Cookies!

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I have a little bit of the Cookie Monster in me. I can’t help it.

Every once and awhile I have to stick my face in a bag of Oreos. Sue me.

This would also explain why when I get that craving to bake, it’s most often cookies that I turn to.

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For this edition of Magazine Mondays, I bring you Peanut Butter-Cup Cookies from the October 2009 issue of Real Simple.

I’m not sure what I love more – the cookie part or the peanut butter cup part. When I made these delicious (and easy) cookies, I froze my peanut butter cups before chopping them. This makes the chopping easier. I also chilled the dough slightly before baking it to ensure that my cookies didn’t spread out too much.

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They were so yummy and for a brief period of time satisfied the monster within … but I still want cookies.

For those of you that are new to this site, Magazine Mondays is an informal event that I created to push everyone to use those clipped magazine recipes that they’ve been saving. It’s my way of attacking the food magazine pile (or piles) that we all have.

Here’s who joined me for this week’s edition:

Recipe Sleuth from Eye for a Recipe made Grilled Vegetable Quinoa Salad from the June 2011 issue of Canadian Living; Chile-Spiced Steak and Green Onion Tacos from the June 2011 issue of Everyday Food; Chicken Skewers with Tarragon-Pistachio Pesto from the April 2011 issue of Bon Appétit and Spiced Roasted Chicken from the May 2011 issue of Everyday Food.

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Oregano Pasta from the January 2009 issue of Gourmet.

Janice of Kitchen Heals Souls made Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Muffins from the March 2011 issue of Delicious (UK) and Cherry and Apricot Focaccia with Rosemary from the July 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Mummy Dinosaur made a Rhubarb Coffee Cake based on a Bonnie Stern recipe from The National Post.

Georgia from Oh Kitchen, What Won’t You Do? made Orzo and Cucumber Salad from the June 2011 issue of Real Simple.

Thanks to everyone who joined me this week. Remember, if you try a magazine recipe and post about it send me the link and I’ll add it to my next MM round-up.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: Strawberries!

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Praise Mother Nature, strawberry season is almost upon us! This weekend I harvested the very first strawberries from my little strawberry patch and they were delicious. In a few weeks, Ontario strawberries will start rolling in full force and I am so excited.

There is nothing like a summer strawberry!

I got into the swing of things for this edition of Magazine Mondays with some organic strawberries from California (I know, I know, not local but I’m only human and can only resist for so long!).

I had my eye on this gorgeous recipe from the June 2007 issue of Bon Appétit: Puffed Pancake with Strawberries by the brillian Lori Longbotham.

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I am not even ashamed to admit that I had this for dinner! I had been planning to make it for breakfast but throughout the day all I could think of was a golden puffy pancake piled high with strawberries. I added a dollop of mascarpone and a nice a generous amount of maple syrup.

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Delicious all around!

For those of you that don’t know, Magazine Mondays is about getting at that pile of magazines and recipe clippings that we all have lying around. Here’s who joined me for this week’s edition of Magazine Mondays:

Lynn of Les Cuilleres made Morrocan Date Bonbons from the March 2011 issue of Food & Wine.

Jan from Kitchen Heals Souls made a Rhubarb and Raspberry Upside-Down Cake from a recent edition of The New York Times.

Danielle from Eating the Screen made Mango Coconut Sherbet from the June 2011 issue of Cooking Light.

Janie from Panini Girl made Ragu’ Bolognese from Gourmet.

Thanks to everyone who joined me! And remember, to participate in Magazine Mondays all you have to do is send me the link to a post on your blog featuring a magazine recipe.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Puffed Pancake with Strawberries from the June 2007 issue of Bon Appétit.

It’s Not That Bad Being Green

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With apologies to Kermit, being green doesn’t have to be all that bad.

Especially when you’re a sweet little cookie made up of gorgeous pistachios that’s gone for a gleeful roll in icing sugar.

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These delicious little cookies reminded me that I have neglected the pistachio in my baking. Walnuts and pecans have top spot in my baking rotation as they will appear again and again in cookies, pies and cakas. But the lovely pistachio has languished a bit.

No more!

It’s hard to resist these buttery nuts that are so vibrantly yellow-green on the inside.

Made of ground pistachios, honey, lemon zest, vanilla extract and egg white, these cookies made themselves known to me thanks to Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of The American Academy in Rome, The Rome Sustainable Food Project, an adorable little book by Mona Talbott and Mirella Misenti.

The recipes are compiled from the kitchens of the American Academy in Rome‘s sustainable food project. That is a kitchen I would like to live in.

Don’t be fooled by the book’s small stature. It is lovely from start to finish and filled with cookie recipes to make every heart happy.

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And as long as the inside is happy, the outside is beautiful.

Kermit would agree, I’m sure.

Ciao!

The recipe for Biscotti al Pistacchio (Pistachio Cookies) is on page 63 of the book. The Academy in Rome site has another delicious recipe from the book available on-line: Brutti ma Buoni. Enjoy!

Magazine Mondays: Waffles!

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When it comes to the choice of pancakes vs. waffles, I will always be a pancake girl.

Having said that, every once and awhile I get a hankering for a serving of light, fluffy, deep-pocketed waffles.

Blessed with a Belgian waffle maker, half the joy is making the waffles and the other half is pouring on the syrup and slathering on the butter so that every single waffle pocket is full (why else would waffles be covered in cavities if not to fill them???).

For this edition of Magazine Mondays, I tried a recipe from a June 2005 issue of Gourmet: Belgian Buttermilk Waffles with Glazed Bananas. I’m usually one to eat my waffles with butter and syrup only. I love fruit and all but I find it just gets in the way of me and my waffle. In this case, though, the glazed bananas were a perfectly sweet and toothsome foil to the light and airy waffles.

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Even if you’re not into the glazed bananas, the waffles are a star and worth trying.

I actually don’t have any MM posts to share with you this week as no one sent any links. Do remember, though, that MM is all about attacking that pile of food magazines and clipped recipes that I know we all of lying around. Post a recipe from a magazine or food article clipping on your blog and send me the link – I’ll post it in my next MM round-up.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Belgian Buttermilk Waffles with Glazed Bananas

Happy Victoria Day!

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To all my Canadian friends out there, have the happiest of Victoria Days!

It’s been a lovely long weekend with lots of celebrations with family and friends.

I haven’t baked in an awfully long time and I got back to one of my great loves with these adorable individual cakes based on a recipe from Emily Luchetti‘s The Fearless Baker: Scrumptious Cakes, Pies, Cobblers, Cookies, and Quick Breads that You Can Make to Impress Your Friends and Yourself.

I used the recipe for Individual Lemon Cakes with Oranges and Vanilla Mascarpone Cream and modified it slightly to make little orange cakes (unbelievably I ran out of lemons!). I also substituted the oranges for strawberries and blueberries.

I couldn’t resist adding a few spring flowers to capture the happy occasion.

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Victoria Day is the beginning of long weekend season for Canadians and it’s always a welcome day.

Happy Victoria Day! Happy Baking!

Ciao!

For those of that don’t know Emily, she is an amazingly talented baker and cookbook author. She has a site and a blog.

Magazine Mondays: Tortelloni!

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Wow. It’s been a long time between regular posts here at my little corner of the food blog world. Many apologies – between work and life in general, there just hasn’t been a lot of time for much blogging.

But that’s the beauty of a food blog – it’s always here waiting whenever you decide to return!

And I am returning with these delicious Ricotta Tortelloni from the May 2011 issue of Bon Appétit.

I wish I had a picture of the finished product, all smothered in butter and Parmigiano Reggiano. Alas, while I made these babies during the day, they were served at night and everyone was so eager to try them I wasn’t about to force guests to wait while I took pictures.

You’ll have to trust me. They were delicious. And for those of you that are intimidated of making pasta dough from scratch, this might be the recipe for you as it’s made in a stand mixer. Now I’m one for kneading pasta dough by hand as you simply cannot underestimate the deeply statisfying experience of plunging your hands into flour and egg and forming something out of that happy mess.

Having said that, it was pretty sweet to have a pasta dough come together in just a few minutes without getting flour everywhere.

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The best part was forming these little babies. It was so much fun to stuff and fold and twist and pull.

This is my entry for this week’s edition of Magazine Mondays, a little event I started awhile back to help apply at least a modicum of control to the magazine piles threatening to take over every corner of the house.

It’s been many weeks since my last MM post and I have been remiss. Here’s to getting back on track!

Remember that anyone can take part in MM. All you have to do is e-mail me a link to a post on your blog featuring a recipe from a magazine or clipping. Here’s who’s joining me for this week’s edition:

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Jamie Oliver’s Zucchini and Garlic from an issue of Food & Wine.

Valerie of Sex, Food, and Rock & Roll made Bacon and Leek Risotto with Poached Egg from the April 2011 issue of Bon Appétit.

Janet from The Taste Space made a Sesame, Edamame and Pea Shoot Salad inspired by the June 1994 issue of Gourmet.

Recipe Sleuth of Eye for a Recipe made Chicken Tagine with Artichoke Hearts and Peas from the March 2011 issue of Food & Wine; Rigatoni with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch from the March 2011 issue of Bon Appétit; and Peruvian Roast Chicken with Garlic and Lime from the March 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated .

Thanks to everyone who joined me for this edition of MM!

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Ricotta Tortelloni from the May 2011 issue of Bon Appétit.

I Love My Mom.

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I love my mom.

I love her because when I was just a wee little thing, and she would make fresh pasta, she’d let me play with a piece and pretend that I was making pasta, too.

And now that I’m not a wee little thing anymore, I love to make fresh pasta.

Moms are the best because they help to make pretend come true.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and to all the mommies out there!

Ciao!

Buona Pasqua!

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Buona Pasqua … Happy Easter!

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Swimming in a sea of Hazelnut Chiffon Cake slices from Nick Malgieri’s Perfect Cakes

He sends his best wishes to you and yours for a lovely Easter and a beautiful Spring!

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: Tapioca!

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Have you ever looked at a dish of lovely sweetness and known, beyond a doubt, that you would love it even before it touched your lips?

This is how I feel about tapioca pudding. I only recently had it for the first time despite knowing for eons that I would love it.

And I did.

I don’t know what possessed me to finally buy it but there I was a few weeks ago in the grocery store gently placing a bag of tapioca in my shopping cart.

While the calendar may say spring Mother Nature is saying something altogether different so this weekend I decided we needed a lovely creamy dessert to keep us warm and fuzzy (on the inside).

I pulled out my bag of tapioca and made the most beautiful pudding.

The recipe I used is from Bob’s Red Mill (maker of the tapioca I purchased).

When I served my pudding, I dolloped on a spoonful of a delicious Italian cherry jam that I am enjoying these days. So. Good.

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This is my entry for Magazine Mondays even though it’s not technically from a magazine. But who’s going to tell on me???

For those of you that don’t know Magazine Mondays is an event I created to help us all deal with those magazine piles that can sometimes seem overwhelming. This is your chance to finally try all those recipes you’ve clipped!

Here’s who joins me this week:

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel head Manor made Quick Mushroom Ragu from the March/April 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated.

Tia of Buttercream Barbie made Sunshine Cinnamon Rolls from Southern Living.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!