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Workasaurus Lives. Send Help. Or Doughnuts.

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If you’ve been around these parts before you’ll know all about Workasaurus.

It’s back. And it’s angry.

And it’s preventing me from baking … and blogging.

All I want is to mix some dough and fry a doughnut.

Is that too much to ask?

Sigh.

Ciao!

The Daring Bakers: Panna Cotta

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The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies.

Daring Bakers! How are you?! It has been awhile, my goodness.

I am attempting to correct my wayward Daring Baker ways in 2011 and I begin with this lovely panna cotta from Mallory.

Over the years, Daring Baker’s challenges have spanned a wide variety of difficulty levels. Some challenges have been complex and others have been more straightforward.

Straightforward or not, it’s always fun to try a challenge that you haven’t made at all or perhaps have not made very often.

This would be the case with panna cotta. While I’ve made panna cotta a few times, I haven’t made it often and I can’t say that I’ve ever made it particularly well.

Mallory’s challenge has changed that. She used a panna cotta recipe from Giada De Laurentiis as the base for the challenge and added a twist by asking people to make florentine cookies to accompany the panna cotta. While I didn’t get to the florentines, I did make the panna cotta and my goodness was it delicious.

It’s sweetened with honey and sugar and I loved the flavour of the cream and honey.

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I went with a very simple panna cotta so as to increase my chances of success with this one.
I made a quick strawberry-cranberry jam to use as a colourful (and delicious) layer.

I’d like to thank Mallory for being such a great hostess and for helping me to make my first DB challenge of 2011 a success!

Ciao!

February 2011 Daring Bakers’ Challenge recipe.

For the Strawberry-Cranberry Jam:

1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup frozen cranberries
1/4 cup water
2 tbsps. sugar
1 tsp. grated orange zest

Place the strawberries and cranberries in a saucepan. Add the water and heat over medium heat until boiling.

Add the sugar and orange zest and stir.

Lower the heat but be sure to keep the fruit at a steady simmer.

The fruit will slowly cook down and form a thick jam. This could take 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove the jam from the heat and let cool completely.

Note: To use this as a layer in a panna cotta, fill your container partway with the panna cotta mixer and then place it in the freezer until it’s set enough to hold a layer of fruit (20 to 30 minutes). Spoon on a layer of jam and then return to the freezer for 15 minutes to help set the jam. Top the jam layer with the remainder of the panna cotta liquid and then refrigerate as indicated in your recipe.

My One and Only

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If you have an Italian background and grew up in a household where Italian food traditions were maintained, I’m willing to bet pastina was a big part of your formative years.

For me, pastina refers to the soup dish that we were all fed as children: chicken broth with tiny pasta in it. Most often, the pasta shape we used is what we would call acini di pepe. But we just referred to the dish as pastina.

It was a code word for comfort.

It didn’t matter what part of Italy your family came from, every kid knew what pastina was.

We had it once a week, at least, and your mother’s pastina was always better than anybody else’s mom’s pastina.

I miss those days.

Chicken broth, or brodo di pollo, is near and dear to my heart. In fact during the fall and winter months, if I don’t have it at least once a week I feel like I’m missing something.

Now that I’m a grown up (when did that happen?!), we experiment with other pasta shapes like stelline or tubetti. But truth be told, what I really love to see floating in my chicken broth are quadrucci.

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Quadrucci are squares of fresh pasta. Once you make a batch of fresh pasta, you roll it out and then run it through the pasta cutter to form fettuccine. Once formed, you gather the strands of pasta and cut them into tiny squares.

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The squares of fresh pasta are spread out on a tablecloth or on a large pan covered with a cloth and allowed to dry. You can then use the squares right away or you can freeze them and use them in soup as you need them.

Last summer, when I was in Italy, my aunt made ravioli and then used the leftover pasta to make quadrucci. I asked her if she minded if I would take pictures and she was thrilled.

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For 2011, I set some goals for myself and one of them was to make fresh pasta at least once a month. Last month, I made a batch of fresh pasta and used it to make quadrucci, which we enjoyed in a steaming bowl of chicken broth.

I can’t help but wax poetic. If it’s possible to love a dish, then this is one that I feel an actual physical love for.

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It’s my one and only.

Ciao!

I have tried many fresh pasta recipes but I still stand by my mother’s. I first published it on my blog here.

To make the quadrucci, gather the pasta strands after you’ve run them through the pasta cutter or cut them on your own with a pastry cutter, and cut them into tiny squares with a sharp knife.

To use the quadrucci in soup, bring a pot of water to boil and salt it generously. Add the quadrucci and boil for a few minutes, until tender (al dente). Add the quadrucci to your soup. Enjoy!

Magazine Mondays: Chocolate!

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When it came time to bake for Valentine’s Day, I had a tough choice between Red Velvet Shortbread Cookies and this luscios tart from Food & Wine.

Ever the diplomat, I made both! For last week’s edition of Magazine Mondays, I featured the cookies but for this week I’m sharing with you a most delicious and delectable tart.

If this is setting the standard for tarts I bake this year then the tarts to come in 2011 have a lot to live up to!

It’s interesting because almost everyone that tried the tart kept asking me, “What’s in that filling?!”

And when I would say, “Milk chocolate and heavy cream” the answer was inevitabley, “That’s it?!”

Yep. That’s it! A spectacular ganache filling made with heavy cream and milk chocolate. Of course, as with all things cooking and baking, it’s all about the quality of the chocolate you use.

I used milk chocolate pieces from Ghirardelli, one of my preferred baking chocolates.

While so many people focussed on the filling, I think it’s the crust that allows the filling to shine. If you can believe it, the crust has crushed pretzels.

The saltiness of the pretzels gives the crust a certain edge that’s perfect against the sweet filling.

I will be making this one again!

As always, I’m joined by some brave folks who kicked their magazine piles in the pants this week:

Wandering Coyote of ReTorte made Three Seed Biscuits from the November 2010 issue of Canadian Living.

Ranjani of Four Seasons of Food made Feta and Radish Toasts from the March 2011 issue of Food & Wine.

My sweet friend Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking made a Yeasted Chocolate Coffee Cake from the March 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Recipe Sleuth from Eye for a Recipe made Roast Pork Tenderloin with Apricot-Miso Glaze from the January 2011 issue of Bon Appétit.

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Tartes aux Pommes from a 2009 issue of Better Homes and Gardens.

Jamie of Life’s a Feast made an Espresso Chocolate Cake with Mocha Mascarpone Frosting from the April 2009 issue of Bon Appétit.

For those of you that want to participate in the February 28th edition of MM, please note that Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor has very graciously agreed to host for me (thanks, Tina!). If you send me your entries, I’ll pass them along to Tina.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Click here for the recipe for Milk-Chocolate Tart with Pretzel Crust.

Hey There, Red!

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Cream Puff is sending you lots and lots of love and I’m doing it with Red Velvet Shortbread Cookies from Better Homes & Gardens.

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On this very special Valentine’s Day edition of Magazine Mondays, my entry is from a holiday magazine I bought in the fall of 2010. I had bookmarked this recipe to give it a try over Christmas but that didn’t happen.

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As I was considering recipes to try for Valentine’s Day, I remembered this one and I thought how perfect it would be! It’s a shortbread cookie tinted red and flavoured with cocoa powder. I drizzled mine in melted bittersweet chocolate for the perfect final touch.

It’s been a few weeks since my last edition of MM so I have a few entries to get through today:

Wandering Coyote of ReTorte made Quinoa & Chickpea Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette from the March 2011 issue of Canadian Living.

Carla from Recipe Addict Shrimp in Garlic Saffron Broth from an issue of Martha Stewart Living from 2000.

Jamie from Life’s a Feast made Fondants Châtaigne Ganache Chocolat (Chestnut Fondant Bundlets with Chocolate Ganache) from the February 2001 issue of the French Saveur.

Janie of Panini Girl made Porchetta from the June 2010 issue of La Cucina Italiana.

Nicole of Sweet Tooth made Malted Chocolate Cookies from an issue of Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies.

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Chicken and Rice from the September 2007 issue of Ladies Home Journal.

Recipe Sleuth from Eye for a Recipe made Classic Chocolate Truffles from the December 2002 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

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Have a lovely Valentine’s Day, everyone!

And have an amazing week!

Ciao!

Nutella: The World Needs You

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There are times when I feel like an ostrich.

It’s like I have my head buried so deeply in all the minutia of daily life that when I stick my head out into the world I’m shocked (and often appalled) and what’s going on.

I’ll be honest. When I do stick my head out mostly I just want to curl back into my little life with a blankie and a warm cup of tea.

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With all the uncertainy around us, it is nice to have some things that remain simple and pure, regardless if you’re 7 or 37.

And that’s Nutella.

No matter what, that thick layer of Nutella that I slather onto a piece of bread always tastes the same and always brings back that pleasant feeling of chocolate and sugar and hazelnuts and fresh bread.

And for all those that mock Nutella’s claims of being a healthy snack I’m sending a big dose of “shush” your way.

Just shush.

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Nutella makes people happy. Happy is healthy.

So in honour of World Nutella Day, if you don’t mind, I’m going to curl up here in my little corner of the world with some Nutella Meringues to be followed by a piece of bread slathered in Nutella to be further followed by spoonfuls of Nutella straight from the jar.

I said shush.

Ciao!

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World Nutella Day was started in 2007 by Sara of Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle of Bleeding Espresso. And for this we are eternally grateful!

Nutella Meringues
Yields 15 to 20 meringues (depends on how big you make them)

3 large egg whites, at room temperature
a pinch of cream of tartar
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon, granulated sugar
1/4 cup Nutella

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Make sure you have one oven rack in the bottom third of your oven and one in the upper third of your oven.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Set up a double boiler (a pot with another pot on top or a heat-proof bowl on top) and put the Nutella in the top of the double boiler. Warm the Nutella through and then set aside while you make the meringue. (You could warm the Nutella in a microwave but I don’t own one so you’re on your own if you do use one.) Let the Nutella cool as you make the meringue.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, place the egg whites. Beat on medium-high speed until they are completely foamy.

Add the cream of tartar and the salt and continue whipping at medium-high speed until when you lift the whisk attachment, soft peaks form. This should take a few minutes.

Once you have reached the soft peak stage, increase the speed to high and begin adding the sugar a few spoonfuls at a time (this should take a few minutes).

Once all the sugar is in, the meringue should be very thick (almost stiff) and when you left the whisk firm peaks should remain.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and drop in all the Nutella. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the Nutella into the meringue three or four times. You’re aiming for a swirled effect so don’t overmix. This will also help avoid deflating the meringue.

Using two spoons, drop the meringue onto the parchment-lined baking sheets in large dollops.

Place in the oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, immediately lower the heat to 200 degrees F. and rotate the trays. Bake for an hour.

After an hour, check the meringues. If they are completely dried out then turn the oven off and leave the meringues in the oven for a few hours to cool with the oven. If the meringues still look a bit “wet”, then continue baking for another 20 minutes or so. Either way, once fully baked, turn off the oven and leave the meringues in there for a few hours.

When you remove the meringues from the oven they should be completely dry and cool and will sound hollow when you tap the bottoms.

The meringues will keep in an airtight container for a week.

Enjoy!

Magazine Mondays: Banana! And an Apology!

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Let me begin with the painful part and end with the banana part because the banana part is sweet and will make the pain go away.

Painful part:

I lost all my e-mail.

All of it.

Don’t know how. But last week, on Thursday evening to be exact, my e-mail went kaput.

Everything. Gone.

So painful. One of the most painful parts was that I lost some Magazine Mondays links sent to me by you … the lovers of MM! Sowwiee!!!!

Okay. Here’s the sweet part to take away the pain:

I made a delicious Chocolate Banana Swirl Cake!

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One bite and the e-mail pain disappeared. This delicious cake is from Fine Cooking (Issue #54). Unfortunately the recipe is not available on-line but it’s essentially a banana bread with some melted chocolate stirred into part of the batter. You then alternate the regular batter and the chocolate batter in a bundt pan before baking.

So good!

Remember that to take part in Magazine Mondays, all you have to do is send me a link to a post on your blog based on a magazine recipe. For those of you that sent me links that I managed to lose, please resend!

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

While the Fine Cooking recipe is not available on-line, here are some other really good chocolate banana recipes:

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips and Walnuts

Banana Coffee Cake with Chocolate Chip Streusel

Chocolate Chip and Banana Muffins

Banana-Walnut Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I Bring You Flowers.

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Here in Toronto, we’re in winter’s blustery grip and I have to say I’m pretty happy about it.

I love winter. Not as much as I love fall, but still, I love winter.

I’m a very good Canadian girl that way.

I do realize, however, that there are many of you out there who hate winter. While I do not understand your hatred of winter, it makes me sad that you’re in pain.

So I am bringing you flowers.

When it come to cake decoration, I have to say I just don’t go for it. I’ll take a simple buttercream over a blanket of fondant any day. And while I can admire the often mind-boggling achievements of cake decorators, I’ll be honest, nothing makes my heart go pitter patter more than a moist cake, simply frosted.

Having said that, I understand that sometimes life calls for a little pizazz. Case-in-point: last fall I was asked to bake cupcakes for a baby shower. The person throwing the party didn’t want to go for the “blue or pink thing”, but she did want pretty cupcakes.

While I am most often described as “the girl with two left hands” when it comes to cake decorating, one thing I do know is that if you can master at least one decorating trick, you’ve got it made.

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My trick is “flowers”.

A few years ago, I followed a very basic recipe on the Wilton site for Royal Icing. Using a piping bag and a pastry tip (all available at your local cake supply store), I have mastered the all-purpose “flower”.

I think the first time I tried to make flowers, this was the flower I was aiming for. And somehow it evolved into my all-purpose “flower”. You can use Royal Icing in lots of different colours and it still looks like … a flower. And when you put it on a cupcake or on cakes or on a pie or on a cookie, it looks … nice.

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Believe me when I say that if I can manage the dexterity it takes to put the icing in the bag, hold the tip up and pipe out some petals, then anyone can. And you don’t just have to make flowers. You can make all sorts of fun shapes!

So for all you folks “suffering” through winter, remember that the flowers are not far off.

Ciao!

The recipe for Wilton’s Royal Icing is here. This is a very versatile icing that you can use to make all sorts of decorations. It’s also great for gingerbread houses.

Wilton has a great section on decorating basics.

These are the instructions for a basic Swirl Drop Flower.

When I decide to make decorative flowers, I make up a batch of Royal Icing and make hundreds of flowers. Once dry, they last for months. I pipe them onto small pieces of waxed paper (I cut large sheets of waxed paper down) and then pipe one flower onto each piece of waxed paper. I store them in airtight containers.

Magazine Mondays: Going to The Taste Space!

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My apologies for the silence on my end. I started in a new position at work this month and it’s been amazing but hasn’t left a lot of time for baking.

Thankfully for Magazine Mondays, I have a lot of folks out there willing to help host.

The lovely Janet of The Taste Space is hosting the January 24th edition of Magazine Mondays. You can read all about it here.

If you have an MM entry, please e-mail it to Janet at saveur11 AT yahoo DOT ca.

See you soon!

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: Farro!

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Have you ever heard of farro?

I sometimes try to think of how I went so long without ever trying this delicious grain! I was introduced to farro by my family in Italy. One of my aunts, in particular, uses it quite a bit and I have been the lucky recipient of many of her dishes featuring farro.

When cooked, farro has a chewy texture that is so good. You can eat it in hot dishes like soup, but you can also eat it at room temperature or even cold. My aunt makes a delicious salad every summer with farro as a base for lots of summer vegetables, olive oil, vinegar and a sprinkling of herbs.

This past summer, I significantly increased the weight of my luggage upon my return from Italy thanks to the packages of farro that I had stuffed in there. For some reason, I’ve found it difficult to find Italian farro here in Toronto. I’ve noticed it in a few stores but it’s not always in stock so I made sure to lug as many packages as I could with me upon my return.

I was so delighted when I saw that Issue 107 of Fine Cooking had a recipe for Roasted Broccoli and Farro Salad with Feta.

This salad is like a gift from the lunch gods. You know … the ones you pray to every day when you find yourself staring into the depths of your refrigerator whilst you wonder, “What am I going to bring for lunch?”

The recipe for this salad yields almost six cups, which makes for a perfect dinner accompaniment and lots of leftovers for lunch.

Most importantly, though, it’s delicious. Between the chewy farro, the feta, the roasted broccoli and the spicy dressing, I had to resist eating all the salad in one sitting.

And best of all, it’s full of all kinds of nutrients. If I haven’t convinced you to make it by now, I never will.

This is my entry for this edition of Magazine Mondays. Here’s who else joined me in attacking that magazine pile:

Tamy of 3 Sides of Crazy made Bacon Cheddar Cheese Balls.

Karen of Mignardies made Macaroni and Cheese from Food Network magazine.

Recipe Sleuth from Eye for a Recipe made One-pot Chicken with Sausage and Potatoes from the September 2010 issue of Everyday Food and Lamb Chops with Red Onion, Grape Tomatoes, and Feta from the November 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

Remember that Magazine Mondays is a very informal event. Just send me a link to a magazine recipe that yo upost on your blog and I’ll link to it in the next round-up.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

My 11 for 2011

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Just before the end of the year, I put up a post about eleven things that I could do without in 2011.

It was an exercise that I read about on the blog the little red house and I found it a tremendously helpful one as it made me really sit and think about my year and what I envisioned for 2011.

In light of that exercise, I thought I’d come up with a list of the 11 things that I want more of in my life in 2011 or that I want to accomplish in 2011.

Here’s my list:

1. No more food magazines (except for the ones that I receive by suscription).
2. Can only buy one cookbook/month.
3. For every cookbook that comes in, one goes out.
4. Swim more.
5. Pay credit card bill every month.
6. Make fresh pasta, at least once a month.
7. Walk every day, rain or shine, for at least half an hour.
8. Read more.
9. Take at least one course that’s not work-related. Any course.
10. Use sunscreen every day.
11. One Saturday lunch or dinner date per month with Mamma Cream Puff.

I’ll let you know at the end of the year how I did! If you feel like it, why not come up with your own list and let us all know about it!

In the meantime, one thing that isn’t on this list is baking more because that’s not necessarily something I need to motivate myself to do.

However, the fact is that in 2010, I didn’t bake nearly as much as I did in previous years.

In an effort to refocus my energies on the things I enjoy, I decided to bake a cake for New Year’s Day dessert. I baked a Chocolate Pistachio Orange Cake from Bake!: Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking by Nick Malgieri.

It was just a lovely old-school type of cake with a delicious pistachio-flecked sponge (soaked in a Grand Marnier syrup), ganache and whipped cream.

And this leads me quite nicely into some great news for the new year. I am so proud to be a finalist in the Best Baking and Dessert Blog category for the 2010 Canadian Food Blog Awards! You can check out all the categories and nominees here. I am so proud to see how many incredible Canadian blogs there are out there and I’m just honoured to be considered among them!

Have a great 2011 everyone!

Ciao!

SHF #72: The Round-Up

Well it’s finally here! Yes today is the first official day of 2011 but it’s also the official round-up for SHF #72.

I chose the theme of holiday trifle and I must say you all surpassed my expectations! Thank you so much!!!

Without further ado, here are the participants:

My dear friend Recipe Sleuth from Eye for a Recipe made a pretty Cranberry Trifle, which is just perfect for the season. Thanks, Recipe Sleuth!

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Nina of Prêt à Gourmet made a trifle featuring a poppy seed cake and a creme anglaise. Thanks, Nina!

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Veena of Veg Junction made a luscious Black Forest Trifle. Thanks, Veena!

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Zoe of Z’s Cup of Tea made individual Blackberry Pear Trifles that are so cute! Thanks, Zoe! By the way, Zoe is hosting SHF #73 … good luck!

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Katie of Level 2 Mommy made a stunning Tiramisu (which is definitely a form of trifle) and my mouth is watering. Thanks, Katie!

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Kimberly of Couple in the Kitchen made her own version of Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Cherry Trifle. All I can say is yum! Thanks, Kimberley!

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Stacey of Views from my Window made Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle. I can only imagine how delicious this smelled. Thanks, Stacey!

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Jenn of Cookies, Cupcakes and Cardio made Gingerbread Eggnog Trifle … does this say holidays or what! Thanks, Jenn!

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Jen of Team Rose made a Berry-misu Trifle which looks so fun that I would love to dig right in. Thanks, Jen!

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Caffettiera of La Caffettiera Rosa made a Zuppa Inglese (an Italian take on trifle) that is simplicity at its finest.
Grazie, Caffettiera
!

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Melissa of Cute Kitty Punk made Gingerbread and Apple Pie Trifle. Seriously. Two of my favourite things in one bowl. Thanks, Melissa!

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Caitlin of La Casa Inspirada made a S’more Trifle. All I want to know is where can I get s’more? Thanks, Caitlin!

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Vicki of Flavors of the Sun made a gorgeous English Berry Trifle with Cointreau … yum! Thanks, Vicki!

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I would like to thank everyone who participated! I was truly blown away by the incredible trifles that came my way.

As always, I would like to thank Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess for creating SHF and for allowing me to host!

I hope that 2011 is a year of great desserts for all of you!

Ciao!

Take a Moment

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Around this time of year, I have certain tasks I like to complete and these include cleaning out the photo file on my computer.

Inevitably, I find myself looking at the pictures I’ve taken over the last year and marvelling at what I did (and didn’t) make. Naturally I think about what I liked best and what I didn’t end up liking very much at all. Some pictures make me proud and some make me laugh because I know I was just rushing to get through the picture-taking so I could just eat.

But of all the pictures I took in 2010, the one above is my favourite.

It was taken on Sunday September 5th in Rocca Monte Calvo, Italy, which is the town that my father’s family is from in Le Marche.

Sometimes I think that to call Rocca Monte Calvo a town is to perhaps overstate it. The fact is that at its busiest, when the town was still inhabited by families that had been there for generations, I doubt it would have numbered more than even 1,000 inhabitants.

Like many of Italy’s hill towns, La Rocca (that’s what we call it) was impacted dramatically by industrialization and by war. By the time the second world war was over, more and more people were leaving the town to move to nearby cities, other parts of Italy or as in the case of my father, to Canada.

For many, many years now, the town stands almost empty as virtually no one lives there on a permanent basis any longer.

In the summer, however, the warm winds breathe life into La Rocca as many of the old-timers return to their shuttered houses to escape the heat of the city. Along with them they’ll bring their grandchildren who are sent up into the hills to spend summers with nonno and nonna while parents are busy working in the city.

In recent years, though, there have been some additional people returning to La Rocca and I count among them. We’re the children of La Rocca’s immigrants: all those folks who left home and sailed to other countries to build a new life. We’re the ones that go back to a place we weren’t born in, but yet somehow feels like home.

We return to our ancestral homes that have been renovated or are in the process of being renovated and we literally step into the embrace of a town of people who wait for us.

It’s the most beautiful thing.

This past summer, myself and another family that’s from Montreal, decided that we would say grazie (thank you) by throwing a party for the whole town.

On Sunday August 5, 2010, we invited all the summer inhabitants of the town, along with their families and with any other La Rocca descendents that we could get a hold of, to come and celebrate.

Our day started early in the morning when we gathered in front of the town church. A blessing was said and we then embarked on a 7 kilometre walk that took us up to the town of San Gregorio.

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On our way, we stopped for a sosta (a break) amongst the chestnut trees that provide all the chestnuts the families of La Rocca enjoy during the holiday season (my family owns chestnut trees, too!).

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After reaching San Gregorio, we stopped for water and then made our way back down to La Rocca where we all quickly went home to shower and change.

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And then the party started with the centrepiece being a beautiful porchetta (roast suckling pig).

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There was lots of wine, lots of sweets and a lot of love.

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Some of my aunts and uncles were very emotional that day because they said it had been a long time since there had been any festivities in the small piazza in front of our house. They said it reminded them of when my grandfather was alive and the doors of our house were open to everyone.

Of all the nice things that ever been said to me, this was one of the nicest. It has warmed me from the inside out and made me so proud to know that a simple gesture of thanks has made my family and so many others so happy.

There is nothing that money can buy that could possibly have made me as happy as those simple words made me.

And that picture at the top of this post makes me almost as happy. It’s a photo of a group of people enjoying a communal meal. It was a day of simple bliss as everyone shared and enjoyed together.

On this New Year’s Eve, this moment is what I’m thinking about. I hope that 2011 brings us all more moments like this.

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Buona fine e buon principio! (Have a happy ending and a happy beginning!)

Ciao!

Focus

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Focus.

I know. It’s hard to look at a stack of pancakes without just thinking, “Ooooooh…pancaaaaaaaaakes.” It’s made even more difficult in this case because the picture of the stack of pancakes isn’t particularly good.

That’s because I couldn’t focus.

But I want you to really try and focus. Avoid the pancakes. Look at the sea of liquid the pancakes are swimming in. You probably think it’s maple syrup and you’re half right.

It is maple syrup … maple syrup with butter.

Let me explain. While I have never visited the Clinton St. Baking Company, I’ve certainly heard of it so when I noticed that DeDe Lahman and Neil Kleinberg had a book out, I snapped it up if only for the precious biscuit recipe.

Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook: Breakfast, Brunch & Beyond from New York’s Favorite Neighborhood Restaurant is wonderful. What’s even more wonderful (besides the legendary biscuit recipe) is the pancake recipe.

I’m partial to buttermilk pancakes but I was more than pleasantly suprised by the recipe in the book. These pancakes are buttermilk-free but are set apart by the fact that whipped egg whites are beaten into the batter just before cooking. It makes for a light, moist pancake.

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But the part that put the pancakes over the top was what we put on top: maple butter.

Basically, you take warm maple syrup and slowly beat in cold butter until you have a thick syrup.

Unbelievable.

It got so we were looking for things to pour it on. To be honest I could have poured it on cardboard and would have happily eaten it.

The ratio of syrup to butter is two to one. The key is that you the butter is cold and that you cut it into small pieces and then take your time beating it into the maple syrup (which should be in a pan over low heat).

Oh, by the way. The rest of the cookbook is really good, too.

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: The Last One for 2010!

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Every year, at about this time, I always ask, “Where in the world did this year go?”

2010 is no different.

While I continue to marvel at how time passes by, I also find myself looking back and wondering at the year that was and the year that will be.

For Magazine Mondays, 2010 was a great year.

While I didn’t post as many MM’s as I would have liked, I sent the event on the road with great results. Look for MM to be on the road more in 2011. If you’re interested in hosting, let me know!

My entry for this final MM of the year is what I consider to be one of the best recipes I tried this year: Homemade Yogurt from the April/May 2010 issue of ReadyMade. Unfortunately, I’m not able to find the article on-line so I can’t link to it and even worse … I can’t find the magazine. Yikes! Basically, though, it’s just milk with a bit of yogurt added to get it started (make sure the yogurt you use has active cultures).

The yogurt was so easy and delicious. While it was a bit more liquidy than I’m used to (I like thick yogurt), I found that if I drained it overnight in a colander lined with cheesecloth (you could also use paper towels), it was so nice and thick. It had a lovely tang to it and it really was easy!

I adore yogurt. In fact not only will I often have it for breakfast, I’ll sometimes have a big serving of yogurt with granola and fruit at lunch!

If you’re interested, there’s a great site called How to Make Yogurt, which walks you through the process.

Here’s who joined me for the last MM of 2010:

Tia of Buttercream Barbie made White Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Blossoms from Cook’s Country magazine.

Mary of Caramels, Bonbons et Chocolats.com made Crisp Maple Shortbread Cookies from the November 2010 issue of Chatelaine.

Nina from Prêt à Gourmet made Grasshopper Squares from the December 2005 issue of Gourmet.

Ranjani from Four Seasons of Food made Sweet Potato and Black Bean Empanadas from the December 2010 issue of Cooking Light.

Lynn of I’ll Have What She’s Having made Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti from the December 2010 issue of Food & Wine and Pear & Cranberry Hand Pies also from Food & Wine.

Margaret of Tea and Scones made Tacoritos from the February/March 2010 issue of Taste of Home.

Remember that Magazine Mondays is about taming that pile of clipped magazine recipes. You can send me a link to a magazine recipe you’ve posted and I’ll link to it in my round-up.

Have a great week, everyone! And Happy New Year!

Ciao!

Sugar High Fridays #72: Get Your Trifle On!

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I know, I know. After all the sweet indulgences over the past weeks you’re probably thinking … more sugar?

The answer is yes!

Don’t forget that I’m hosting SHF #72 and the theme is trifle.

The deadline for entries is December 31st so if you’re hosting a New Year’s Eve party or a New Year’s Day get-together, consider making a trifle for dessert!

Here’s some inspiration for you:

Black Forest Trifle
White Chocolate Tiramisu Trifle with Spiced Pears
Caramelized Pumpkin Trifle
Decadent Trifle
Zuppa Inglese

The round-up will go up on January 1st.

Ciao!

Buon Natale!

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From Cream Puff and family, we wish you the most beautiful of days!

Merry Christmas! Buon Natale!

Ciao!

One. More. Sleep.

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One more sleep to Santa!!! Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!

I have been up since 5:00 with Mamma Cream Puff and we’ve been busily cooking away.

Actually, to be completely accurate, she’s been cooking away and I’ve been watching in awe.

Seriously. My mother is a tank. She’s knocking things off like it’s nothing while it’s taken me almost three hours to wash two heads of lettuce.

When I grow up I want to be just like her!

Right now she’s working on those lovely ravioli you see above. They are filled with a chestnut paste and are the most delicious bits of heavinliness ever. Soon they will be fried and then sprinkled with sugar and then they will be mine. All mine.

This being Christmas Eve, we only eat fish and seafood and here’s what the menu features:

We’ve got oysters on their way.

We’ve got an amazing octopus salad.

We’ve got olives stuffed with a fish paste and then breaded and fried.

We’ve got salt cod waiting to be stewed with potatoes.

We’ve got more salt cod (that’s baccala’ to us Italians) waiting to be cooked with tomatoes, hot peppers, green onions and olives.

We’ve got a whole variety of other fish waiting to take a skinny dip in the deep fryer.

We’ve got artichokes. Oh, my. Artichokes dipped in batter and fried. Next to the ravioli di castagne these are probably my favourite.

We’ve got enough rapini to feed Canada.

We’ve got cactus pears and persimmons and fennel and chestnuts and dried figs.

And we’ve got a croquembouche. From here.

In between tracking Santa and “taste-testing”, I’m just trying to not lose my mind thinking about all the goodies.

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I love Christmas!

Ciao!

11 Things I Don’t Need in 2011

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As the year winds down, I’ve been taking some time to actually sit and read the blogs I really enjoy. One of these is Sheena’s blog the little red house.

Sheena’s site is like a breath of fresh air. It’s sweet and peaceful and funny and always such a joy.

Sheena recently put up a post called 11 Things. The post is about how a site called Reverb 10 has inspired her to reflect about 2010 … and 2011. On Reverb 10, on December 11th, the prompt was put out to consider 11 things you don’t need in 2011.

I was so inspired by Sheena’s list that I decided to make up a list of my own.

Here are 11 things I don’t need in 2011:

11. Television. While I don’t think I will ever completely give up watching television, I’ve come to realize that I spend a lot of time watching television simply because I’m bored. I won’t be able to give up watching certain things like hockey or Nigella Lawson food shows, but I can give up a lot of other time-sucking television programs. So that’s what I’m going to do!

10. Gossip. I like to think of myself as a good person but I’m human and I’m guilty of gossip. As I get older, I find that I feel worse and worse when I spend time talking about others because let’s face it, gossip is never positive. The time I spend gossiping I could be spending doing so many things that are more fulfilling. Gossip just makes you feel empty. If I don’t have anything positive to say, I’m going to try my best to not say anything at all.

9. Paper. My house is full of paper. Unopened envelopes. Recipe clippings. Magazines. Wrapping paper. Enough. I’m going to resolve to make 2011 a year of less paper.

8. Saying no. I say no a lot. It’s not a problem if you’re saying no to bad things but I say no to a lot of good things because sometimes I get nervous or scared of change. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve missed some really good opportunities because of the word “no”. I don’t want to look back and say that I lived a life of fear. In 2011, less no and more yes.

7. Store-bought cookies. Here’s my dirty little secret: as much as I like to bake, I haven’t baked nearly as much as I would have liked in 2010. Because cookies are my most favourite, I’ve been buying them an awful lot. Have you ever looked at the ingredients list on a package of cookies? Not pretty. I don’t need to put that stuff in my body. Less store-bought cookies. More homemade goodies.

6. Wasting food. Lately I’ve noticed is that we waste a lot of food. At the grocery store, we seem to have the best of intentions. That cauliflower was supposed to turn into the most delicious gratin and that romanesque … well … I don’t remember what I was going to do with it. And the same goes for the sardines packed in salt and the specialty mustard that cost … well … lets not talk about how much it cost. The fact is that almost all of this stuff ends up in the food bin. What a terrible, terrible waste! No more. In 2011, I’m going to try to be more realistic at the grocery store.

5. Food magazines. I think I could probably start my own magazine stand. Seriously. Do I really need all these magazines? What’s the point of buying them if I’m just going to toss them out a year later never having even read them? This is just more wastefulness on my part. It’s going to be tough, I’m not going to lie. But in 2011 I don’t need to buy all these magazines!

4. Being embarrased by the Leafs. I am a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. End of story. I can’t change that and no matter how bad they are I don’t want to change that. I’m an old-school kind of girl. I’m loyal to the end. So you know what … go ahead and make fun. Laugh. Crack all the Leafs’ jokes you want. They’re my team and I’m not embarrassed to say that. In fact, I am liberating myself from embarrassment. My name is Cream Puff and I love the Leafs! There!

3. Lattes from that famous coffee shop … you know the one. A few weeks ago, in the middle of the afternoon, I went out to the local famous coffee shop and bought a latte with a double shot of espresso. You know how much it cost? $4.04. Do you have any idea how much milk I can buy with $4.04?! I’m not cheap and like everyone I like the occasional treat, but really … $4.04?! I’m starting to realize that if I ever want to achieve certain goals in life, like my very own AGA, I’m going to have to start being a bit more financially prudent. And lattes that cost $4.04 a pop do not fall into that category. I think in 2011 I’m going to focus on becoming the best home barista possible and forego the purchased lattes!

2. Bad doughnuts. Where have all the good doughnuts gone? Now that I have this book, I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I’ll just make them myself (Based on the photo at the top of the post you thought I was going to say I didn’t need more doughnuts … ha … fooled ya!).

1. Cookbooks. It was pretty hard for me to write that. Cookbooks. I love cookbooks. This year, however, a suspicion that I’ve had for a long time has begun to transform into more of a certainty. While I buy some cookbooks because I genuinely want them and will use them, I also buy an awful lot of cookbooks just to make myself feel better and I don’t think that’s good. I think I should be getting to the source of the issue and resolving that, rather than buying something to gloss over whatever the problem is. Sometimes it’s something as basic as a stressful day at work. But sometimes it’s other things and I end up with piles and piles of cookbooks everywhere. The fact is while I may have had a moment of pleasure when I purchased those books, those piles aren’t making me happy at all. In 2011, less cookbook buying and more figuring out what’s bothering me when I get the urge to buy a cookbook to make myself feel better.

Take some time and consider the 11 things you don’t need in your life in 2011. Time to make a clean start. Go for it!

Ciao!

Don’t Forget the Brownies!!!

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Before Santa arrives, there is still time to buy cookbooks, people! Do not fear!!!

Here’s another one that you might be interested in: Fat Witch Brownies: Brownies, Blondies, and Bars from New York’s Legendary Fat Witch Bakery.

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Check out my review over at The Daring Kitchen.

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: Nigella Lawson

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I love Nigella.

Like I really really love her. I love her food and her attitude and her eyebrows.

I love her eyebrows.

I wish she would publish a new cookbook every week because I would totally buy it. And I wish she would be on television more, not less. More.

Just sayin’.

Naturally I scooped up her new cookbook, Nigella Kitchen: Recipes from the Heart of the Home.

I kept giving her cookbook adoring looks but hadn’t tried anything until I received the November 2010 issue of Food & Wine and saw the recipe for Caramel-Croissant Pudding.

Hello!

Immediately my incredible spidey cookbook senses started tingling as I realized I’d seen this recipe before. Ah, my sweet Nigella!

So technically I am doing away with two birds by using only one croissant (I don’t believe in throwing stones at birds). I am both telling you about Nigella’s book and giving you my submission for this week’s edition of Magazine Mondays.

This pudding was extravagant and amazing. While it’s best eaten warm, I brought it to work the day after making it and it was still delicious. Trust me, though. The first time you make it dig into it while it’s warm. It’s like a crispy, caramelly trip to heaven.

It could only have been better if my eyebrows looked like Nigella’s. But I digress.

It being the holiday season I’m guessing that folks are pretty busy because I only have one MM submission this week. That’s okay. But remember, anyone can take part. All you have to do is send along a link to a magazine recipe that you’ve posted. This week I’m joined by:

Melissa of Baking Makes Things Better made Christmas Cookies from Issue 24 of Donna Hay. She also made a Roast Tomato and Broad Bean Salad with Haloumi from Issue 56 of Foodtown Magazine.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Honourable Mentions

I really enjoyed my 12 Days of Cookbooks series! Having said that, I could have easily done the 31 Days of Cookbooks because there have been a lot of really great cookbooks published this year.

While I’ve mentioned some of them already, there are quite a few that I haven’t mentioned and I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge them.

If you’re looking for some last minute gifts, do not forget these books!

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The Geometry of Pasta by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy

What a quirky book! I love it! The cover alone (which transforms into a poster featuring the varuios pasta shapes) makes the book worth it. If that isn’t enough, the meticulously researched information about every pasta shape known to man plus all the recipes makes this perfect for the carb lover in your life!

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D.I.Y. Delicious: Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food from Scratch by Vanessa Barrington

Such a fabulous cookbook! For those of you out there that are passionate about making food from scratch, buy this book. It’s fun with lots of great recipes and pictures.

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Cinnamon, Spice, & Warm Apple Pie: Comforting Baked Fruit Desserts for Chilly Days from Ryland, Peters & Small

As if you needed another reason to stay home and make apple pie during the cold-weather months, this book will make you want to stay close to the oven. And it’s not just about apple pie. It’s a beautiful book that will make a lovely gift for the baker you know.

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My Sweet Mexico: Recipes for Authentic Pastries, Breads, Candies, Beverages, and Frozen Treats by Fany Gerson

A comprehensive look at the sweet treats of Mexico, this book is delightful. It’s worth it just to read about the vibrant and complex sweets that are part of Mexican culture. The picture of churros being fried is mouth-watering.

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Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequist

A thoughtful look at life lessons with a bit of food thrown in, this is a beautiful, touching book. I was honoured to be given the opportunity to read Shauna’s book. Hope you’ll take a look at it for yourself!

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Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts by Michel Richard

What a cute book! I hate to overuse the word “cute” but really … it’s so cute! And you can never have too many dessert cookbooks. I started to earmark recipes and realized I was earmarking all of them. So worth it!

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Crazy About Cookies: 300 Scrumptious Recipes for Every Occasion & Craving by Krystina Castella

I got such a sweet e-mail from the very talented Krystina Castella introducing herself and her beautiful sites. She very kindly arranged for me to get a copy of this book and also A World of Cake. I cannot tell you what a fan I have become. Her sites alone are brilliant but her books are the icing on the cake (pardon the pun). If you’re a cookie baker (as I am) you cannot go wrong with literally hundreds of recipes to choose from. While I haven’t been able to try any cookies (yet), I’m looking forward to giving a few recipe a whirl in the kitchen. In the meantime, you check out both books!

So many cookbooks! So little time! Hope you get to check out all of these and add a few to your shopping list.

Happy shopping!

Ciao!

I Poached an Egg. More Importantly, I Ate an Egg.

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Jenn and Jill have challenged The Daring Cooks to learn to perfect the technique of poaching an egg. They chosean Eggs Benedict recipe from Alton Brown, Oeufs en Meurette from Cooking with Wine by Anne Willan, and Homemade Sundried Tomato & Pine Nut Seitan Sausages (poached) courtesy of Trudy of Veggie num num.

Confession time.

I’m not a big fan of the egg.

This may sound strange coming from a passionate home baker, but it’s true. I have no issues with using eggs in baking.

But put a plate of scrambled eggs in front of me and the reaction will not be pretty.

I grew up eating “uovo fritto” or fried egg. It was a childhood staple. I remember my grandmother frying up eggs for us as a snack. She’d generously salt them before serving them to us with bread so we could soak up the lovely yolk.

I’m not sure when, but at some point my stomach revolted.

While I had never liked scrambled eggs (blech!), something about the sight of runny yolk just didn’t sit well.

For the most part, I’ve managed to make it through my adult life avoiding the egg (outside of in baking). But with this particular Daring Cooks challenge, I was stumped.

I have ALWAYS wanted to learn how to poach eggs.

After some soul-searching, I decided it was time to be a big girl and at least try to put my egg issue behind me.

To be on the safe side, I decided to also self-medicate with generous portions of bacon on the side.

You know what? It wasn’t that bad! Poaching the egg was pure fun. It’s like watching a magic trick as the raw egg slowly cooks and the white solidifies.

The egg itself tasted light and the yolk was almost buttery (maybe it was all the butter on my toast?).

While I can’t say I’m going to start consuming eggs every morning for breakfast, I’m committed to giving them a try more often.

Thanks to Jenn and Jill for a great challenge!

Ciao!

Back to our Regularly Scheduled Programming

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Hello all! I have to apologize for the unexpected delay in completing the 12 Days of Cookbooks series. My site was down over the weekend but all has been rectified and we are back in business!

I had planned a Magazine Mondays post today, however, that takes a back seat to the 12 Days of Cookbooks!

My Day 11 choice was none other than the brilliant Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies. Cookies are my very favourite thing in the world to bake so she pretty much had me at cookies.

However, if that isn’t enough to entice you, then pick up the book and you’ll understand why you should buy it.

I love when I come across people in life who are doing what they were born to do and that is Alice Medrich. Her cookbooks do more than just present recipes, they teach on a deep, deep level in the way that natural born teachers are able to do.

What I also love about Alice’s recipes is that they always have a slight little twist. A little something to just give each recipe a bit of a twinkle.

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I plan on trying a few more recipes before the holidays but the first one I tried was the recipe for Snicker Doodles. I have never made Snicker Doodles before.

I’m not sure why because one would think that anything covered in cinnamon and sugar would be right up my alley but this is the first time that I ventured into Snicker Doodle territory and boy am I glad I went there.

If you know or love (or both) a baker, please buy them this book. Buy one for yourself while you’re at it!

And finally, for the twelfth book in the 12 Days of Cookbooks series I give you Tonia George‘s Things on Toast.

A few days ago at work, I was having a discussion with some colleagues about foods that we couldn’t give up. People threw around a lot of foods like chocolate and eggs, but I immediately said bread.

I could not live without bread. Sorry. No can do.

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Things on Toast struck a chord as soon as I picked it up. You might think it’s strange to buy a book about all the things you can put on toast but then you start looking at the pictures and reading the recipes (why have I never put lemon curd on toast before???) and it makes perfect sense.

I took the simple route and slathered my toast with a mixture of butter, cinnamon and Demerara sugar. So. Good.

This one is for all the toast lovers. Cheers to them!

Thank you so much for following my 12 Days of Cookbooks series! I have a few honourable mentions, which I’ll discuss a bit later this month. We’ll do it again next year!

Ciao!

The 12 Days of Cookbooks: Day 10

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As part of my ongoing desire to have more bread baking in my life, I’m delighted to bring you my choice for Day 10. That’s Elinor Klivans’ Fast Breads: 50 Recipes for Easy, Delicious Bread.

Elinor Klivans is an accomplished baker and cookbook author. I’m happy to say I own many of her cookbooks and this one is another winner.

Fast Breads is about getting delicious bread and other treats onto your table quickly without sacrificing flavour.

I just really like this book. It has everything from breakfast breads to sandwich breads. All the recipes are clear and concise so even an inexperienced baker can handle them.

It’s not a biggie, but it’s a goodie.

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I have to give credit to Mamma Cream Puff for helping me out with this one. She made the scrumptious “Lots of Cheese Bread” you see pictured above. It was easy, definitely had a lot of cheese and it was delicious!

Hope you put this under the tree for someone!

Ciao!

The 12 Days of Cookbooks: Day 9

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Don’t be afraid.

What you see at the top of this post is not a science experiement gone wrong. Trust me.

It is the beginning of what I hope will become a beautiful loaf of bread.

If you have ever dreamt of baking delicious bread at home, join me.

I give you Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson and Eric Wolfanger.

While I wouldn’t say I’m a novice when it comes to baking bread, I certainly have very little experience compared to other types of baking. Like seemingly everyone else in the civilized word I became a fan of the No-Knead bread phenomenon.

As a huge fan of the Tartine pastry book, I could not resist picking up a copy of the bread book.

Wow.

Impressive and ambitious, the book is about making your own bread with your own natural starter.

And that’s what you see up top.

I’m only just starting my bread journey with this book so I will keep you posted on how Sherwood (that’s what I named my starter … will explain at a later date) and I are doing.

In the meantime, if you are a bread baker, bread eater, bread lover or if you just spend your day dreaming of bread, please pick up this book!

Ciao!

The 12 Days of Cookbooks: Day 8

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Let me just say this: if you wanted to fill up my Christmas stocking with these Sage Biscuits, I would not object. Whatsoever.

They come from Amanda Hesser‘s incredibly satisfying and enthralling The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century.

I cannot believe the amount of work and effort that must have gone into this cookbook!

It features some of the most famous recipes published in The New York Times. It’s jaw-dropping. And it makes your tummy rumble.

Again, if I had the time, I would have tried so many more recipes but The 12 Days of Cookbooks wait for no one so I tried the Sage Biscuits because our lovely sage plant is still (can you believe it!) thriving, even in the cold the late Canadian fall.

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These are some of the best biscuits I’ve ever made.

This book will definitely not fit into a stocking, however, it will look lovely with a big red bow on it. Give it to the cook you love!

Ciao!

The 12 Days of Cookbooks: Day 7

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Of all the months in the year, December is the one with the most parties. Sometimes it’s a relief when Christmas finally arrives because it means we can settle down to some beautiful meals and then … relax!

Don’t get me wrong. I love the parties! I especially love the planning of the parties and the planning of the food and I think that’s why I fell in love with Jennifer Joyce‘s Meals in Heels.

This is just a fun, fun book that makes you want to break out the party dresses (or buy a beautiful party dress), break out the stilettos (or buy those stilettos you’ve been eyeing) and polish those champagne flutes.

It’s just plain fun.

The recipes are all designed to be served for festive occasions (although you can most certainly serve them any night of the week to jazz up any family meal) and they all feature the wow factor. Kaffir Lime Leaf Chicken Skewers. Mini Beef Wellingtons. Persian Chicken with Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce. Profiteroles with Salted Caramel Sauce.

I had some eggplant in the fridge and some feta so I chose to try the Smoky Eggplant and Feta dip for my first go at the book. Simple, delicous and perfect for a party appetizer.

This is perfect for the person who loves to entertain. Don’t forget to pick up a copy for yourself!

Ciao!

The 12 Days of Cookbooks: Day 6

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Wow … we’re already at the halfway mark of the 12 Days of Cookbooks … hard to believe!

There is never a shortage of Italian-themed cookbooks, especially at this time of year. Unfortunately, I find that many of them often disappoint for various reasons.

Not so with Julia Della Croce‘s Italian Home Cooking: 125 Recipes to Comfort Your Soul.

I swear as soon as I opened this book I could almost smell a pot of tomato sauce bubbling on the stove.

It’s lovely. In every way. It’s filled with recipes for so many comforting Italian dishes. It’s nothing complicated; the recipes in this book are very straightforward and are meant to make the preparing of meals as enjoyable as the result.

It’s just a nice, comfy book on Italian home cooking.

I wanted to try a number of recipes but so far have only time to make the warm and bright Orange-Almond Ring Cake with Orange Glaze. The cake batter is augmented with ground almonds and that gives the cake such a texture! It’s delicious!

If I hadn’t already bought a copy, I’d want one in my Christmas stocking!

Ciao!

The 12 Days of Cookbooks: Day 5

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While almost all of the cookbooks that you’ll see in my 12 Days of Cookbooks feature are books that are new to me in 2010, that is not the case with all of them.

Case-in-point: Stonewall Kitchen Favorites: Delicious Recipes to Share with Family and Friends Every Day.

This cookbook has been on my shelf for many years and is one of my favourites. On many a Friday night after a long week at work I have pulled this book off the shelf and let the comforting pictures and recipes relax and inspire me.

While it holds many recipes that I cherish, the one that is all splattered, dog-eared and covered in greasy fingerprints is the recipe for “Fruit and Nut Maple Granola”.

Much like pancake recipes and muffin recipes, I have yet to meet a granola recipe that I don’t want to try. I love granola.

But time and time again, it’s the Stonewall Kitchen recipe that I turn to because it’s so satisfying.

The recipe has the perfect balance between oats, nuts and a delicious maple flavour that’s hard to beat.

I prefer to eat fresh fruit with granola so I leave out dried fruit add-ins. I also love a cinnamon-flavoured granola so I have doubled the cinnamon punch from the original recipe.

Other than that, my version of the granola stays true to the original: oats, coconut, nuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, canola oil, vanilla extract and lots of natural maple syrup.

You know how good your house smells when you bake apple pie? Your house smells just as good when you make this granola.

But don’t think that’s the only reason to pick up this book. It has everything from salads to sandwiches to desserts for all occasions. And the recipes are very straightforward and will yield results that make you happy and that comfort you.

One of my all-time favourites!

Ciao!

The 12 Days of Cookbooks: Day 4

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While I’ve been to New York City several times, I have never been to Sarabeth’s.

I was enormously pleased to find out that Sarabeth Levine was coming out with a cookbook called Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours.

I don’t know if it’s made things better or worse that I own this cookbook because after purchasing it and drooling all over it, I now really regret the fact that I’ve never had brunch at any of Sarabeth’s locations in New York.

This is a big, heavy gem of a baking book. It starts from the basics and covers all the major baking topics with well-laid out recipes and lots of nice pictures.

You basically just want to turn your oven on and keep it on and just bake and bake and bake.

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Once again Mamma Cream Puff came to the rescue on this one. She tried the recipe for “Margaret’s Espresso Cake”. We served it at a family function and everyone immediately wanted the recipe. Delicious!

This one is most definitely for the baker in your life!

Ciao!

The 12 Days of Cookbooks: Day 3

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Ah, cookbooks! Where would we be without you?!

Today I bring you a cookbook that I was anticipating for more than a year: Rosetta Costantino’s My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South.

I first heard about Rosetta through her blog, Calabria From Scratch. My mother is a native of Calabria, born in the province of Reggio. Naturally, I found it so pleasing to read such a wonderful blog that highlighted the impressive food of Calabria.

When Rosetta’s book was finally published, I presented my mom with a copy and she loved it. It’s been very interesting to look through the book and recognize so many dishes that are a part of my family’s cooking tradition.

Rosetta’s book is a wonderful cookbook first, but it’s also a book that has much to say about the food culture of Calabria. It’s passionate and thorough, and the perfect gift for anyone of Calabrian descent or anyone who is interested in southern Italian cooking.

My mother, as it is her book, had the honour of trying the first recipe and she chose to make Insalata di Polipo (Octopus Salad). The octopus was tender and delicious – a simple recipe that yields a refreshing result.

My congratulations to Rosetta on a truly wonderful accomplishment!

Ciao!

The 12 Days of Cookbooks: Day 2

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Sometimes, if my day isn’t going so well or if I just need to relax a little, I’ll visit the big, shiny bookstore that is very close to my place of work. Or I’ll go here.

Both very dangerous places.

But what’s a Cream Puff to do? Sometimes I just need that thrill of walking to the cookbook section and browsing. Of course this can also be a bit of a disconcerting exercise especially when I realize that I own most of the cookbooks that I see.

Occasionally, though, I will come across a book that I haven’t heard of before and of course it will have to make its way home with me.

Such is the case with The Commonsense Kitchen: 500 Recipes Plus Lessons for a Hand-Crafted Lifeby Tom Hudgens.

First of all, this is a beautiful cookbook. Every recipe is an example of the purpose of this book: to encourage everyone to cook the foods they love from scratch.

In every way, the book is proof that what you make in your own kitchen with your own hands will be far more delicious than anything you can buy on a supermarket shelf. The book has more than 500 recipes so you can imagine that it covers everything from breakfast to dessert (my two favourite food groups!).

I’m probably not explaining it very well but I just adore the tone of the recipes. It’s a peaceful, calm cookbook that is meant to encourage and inspire, not intimidate.

I plan on trying many recipes but the one I had to try first was the “recipe” for Steel-Cut Oats. What drew me to the instructions for the preparation of this breakfast staple was the direction to toast the oats lightly in some melted butter. This made me think of risotto. When we cook risotto, we will cook the rice grains in olive oil for a minute or two to toast them. This seems to add a bit of a deeper almost nutty flavour to the dish and the same is true for the oatmeal (you can do this step with regular oats or steel-cut oats).

I really did feel like I was making a breakfast risotto. The oatmeal was so delicious!

I hope you pick this book up and look at it. It’s worth it.

Ciao!

The 12 Days of Cookbooks: Day 1

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It’s December 1st. For Cream Puff, that means Christmas is here.

Christmas in all its glory, all its baking, all its music, all its cheer and all its splendor!

I. LOVE. CHRISTMAS.

Last year, come December, I had so many cookbooks to tell people about that I decided to talk about twelve of them in twelve days and it was a tremendous success.

So this year, I’m doing it again. If you’re looking for the perfect gift to share with the cooking enthusiast in your life, stay tuned to the next twelve days!

On Day 1, I start with a book that has spent the past few months holding the place of honour on my night table: Dorie Greenspan‘s Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours.

The sweetness of her cookbooks is matched only by the sweetness of her person! I had the pleasure of meeting Dorie several years ago and I can tell you that she is a doll. Her latest cookbook is a warm and affectionate look at the delicious French dishes that grace her table.

I’m sure it’s been said many times before by many other people but Dorie’s cookbooks are impeccable and this one is no different.

While it may not exactly fit in a Christmas stocking, it should definitely make an appearance under the tree for the cook in your life!

When I first leafed through the book, the recipe that immediately caught my eye was a recipe for “Anne Leblanc’s Pistachio Avocado”. What caught my eye was the mention of the luxurious oils sold at Huilerie J. Leblanc. When I was in Paris in June, I spent a lovely hour in that story drooling over all the incredible oils. As luck would have it, I came home with a precious bottle of pistachio oil, which just happens to be the star of this dish.

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Essentially this is half an avocado sprinkled with lemon juice and sea salt. What makes this dish superb, is the touch of avocado oil that nestles in the avocado cavity.

So simple and so unbelievabley glorious! I think I’ve made this about ten times since receiving the book.

The pistachio oil and the texture and taste of the avocado marry in a way that is sublime.

Try it!

See you tomorrow for Day 2 …

Ciao!

SHF #72: A Trifle for the Holidays

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It’s hard to believe, but this December I will celebrate five years of blogging. That’s five years of some pretty amazing food adventures.

I will certainly always remember one of the very first food events that I took part in: Sugar High Fridays.

Created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess, SHF is a celebration of the sweet life.

You can imagine how proud I was when I got to host SHF #35 in September 2007. My theme was figs and the results were tremendous.

So here we are again. More than three years later and I am once again honoured to be hosting SHF. It being December, I’ve chosen a dessert that has fascinated me for a very long time: trifle.

I must have been a teenager the first time that I heard of trifle and I remember learning that it was a very “English” dessert. At the time, my baking horizons were limited to what my mother, grandmothers and aunts baked and so you can imagine that in our very Italian household there wasn’t much trifle to be had.

Always a lover of anything creamy, I was endlessly fascinated by the idea of a bowl full of cut up cake covered in booze and cream.

Endlessly. Fascinated.

It wasn’t until December 2008, if you can believe it, that I finally made my very first bona fide trifle.

I had a tremendously busy October and November so I didn’t get to make a new trifle for this special announcement. Instead, I dug up a picture of my first trifle and share it with you here.

It is an Italian Trifle, made from a recipe featured in Food & Wine. It was delicious.

So for SHF #72, I’m asking you to think trifle, to go into your kitchens, to create and to share.

Jennifer very graciously allowed me to make my announcement today (instead of December 1st) as I have another special blog announcement on that day.

It being December, and as such a very busy month, I’m giving everyone until midnight EST on December 31st to submit their entries. Here’s what I need from you:

Your name.
Your blog name and url.
The name of your trifle and the source of the recipe.
The url of your post.
One picture (and one only) of the trifle you prepared.

Remember, the deadline is December 31st and the round-up will be on January 1st, 2011.

To keep you company, I will be taking part in SHF right along with you. Since I didn’t make a new trifle for this post, I’m going to hit my cookbooks and find the perfect holiday trifle recipe to share.

As we embark on the holiday season, please take time to enjoy being in your kitchen and making all the sweet things that this time of year calls for. Watch your favourite holiday movies. Listen to your favourite holiday music. Spend time with your loved ones.

Ciao!

A Daring Crostata

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The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

This month’s challenge for the Daring Bakers is one that’s near and dear to my heart: crostata.

Simona, our hostess, was truly dedicated to this challenge and went to great lengths to create a truly memorable crostata recipe. Thank you, Simona!

I’m lucky I managed to find the time to do this one so I kept it very simple with a raspberry jam filling. I did take some liberties with the crostata top by twirling some of the dough ribbons and cutting out some stars with the leftover dough.

I found this crostata to be more tart-like than what the crostata from my father’s family looks and tastes like. It was still very delicious, though.

Visit The Daring Kitchen for the recipe and to see what other Daring Bakers produced!

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: Gnocchi!

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Whew!

The past four weeks have been tough, to say the least. I had a big work assignment that pretty much meant almost no baking or cooking for me and that of course translates to almost no blogging.

Now that the project is done, I am slowly readying myself for the greatest baking time of the year: Christmas.

While I adore Christmas, I do not adore starting the celebrations too early. So I’m ignoring all the decorations everywhere and the music that’s already bombarding you everywhere you go.

It’s. Still. Too. Early.

Right now I’m focussing on returning some order to my disordered life. I’m opening mail, going through long-abandoned books, tidying up around the house and generally just wiping the slate clean so I can start December prepared for the baking that lies ahead.

I’ve missed quite a few Magazine Mondays over the past couple of months and I thank all the great people who stepped in to host for me. MM is a lot of fun but it’s also a lot of responsibility and I plan on sending it on the road more often to help me cope and also to give MM fans the chance to share hosting duties.

As we approach the final editions of MM for 2010, I turn to a recipe that I tried about a month ago, with mixed results.

I should start off by saying that I adore Lidia Bastianich. She is a teacher to the core and the fact that food happens to be her subject is a blessing to all of us.

I own most of her cookbooks and find them to be thoughtful, detailed and serious. You will always have good results with Lidia’s recipes.

For this reason, I was a ever-so-slightly disappointed by the Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Butter from the October 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

While the end result was quite good, I found the method for this recipe a bit confusing. I admit that I changed the method in several instances to be more in line with what I’m used to when it comes to gnocchi.

I grew up in a family where gnocchi were made frequently. I’ve made gnocchi myself many times and while I would never call myself an expert, I’m familiar enough with the process.

The first thing that stumped me in this recipe was the instruction to roast the squash but boil the potatoes. If you’re going to roast the butternut squash to cook it, why not also roast the potatoes along with the squash to save yourself the step of boiling them? To avoid that extra step, I threw my potatoes in along with the butternut squash to bake until done. Once cooked, I peeled the potatoes and passed them through a ricer.

What really stumped me was that once the butternut squash is cooked, the recipe instructs you to puree the squash in a food processor and then cook in a saucepan until the puree thickens.

I have roasted butternut squash many, many times and it has never been exceptionally liquidy or even moist. I could not figure out why I would have to dirty the food processor and then dirty another saucepan when all I had to do was pass the cooked squash through a ricer, as I did with the potatoes? Again, I saved myself several steps there.

The rest of the recipe proceeded nicely right up until cooking time. After forming the adorable little dumplings I chilled them for an hour as instructed. Prior to cooking, I brought a large pot of salted water to boil and that’s where I did the double-take.

Cook for 15 to 17 minutes?!

I don’t think so.

I have never ever seen anyone who makes gnocchi at home cook them for that long unless you’re aiming for some sort of paste-like substance.

I was always taught that when you put gnocchi to boil, you should allow them to come to the surface and then cook for a few minutes, at most.

Against my better judgment, I decided to cook the first batch for about 15 minutes and I knew almost immediately that I’d make a mistake. My gnocchi were mushy and in some cases had fallen apart altogether.

Don’t get me wrong. They were delicious and once you covered them with butter and sage, it was all good.

It’s just that the recipe had me scratching my head a few times and that’s not what I’m used to from Lidia Bastianich.

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I would definitely try this recipe, but I would save myself some effort (and cleanup) by roasting the squash and potatoes together and then passing the flesh of both through a ricer.

And when cooking the gnocchi, I wouldn’t boil them for more than 5 our 6 minutes.

I managed to put a very small dent in my food magazine pile this past weekend and here are some other folks that did the same:

Melissa of Baking Makes Things Better made Caramel Brownies from the October 2010 issue of ‘recipes+’.

Sue of Couscous & Consciousness made Moroccan Chermoula Fish Kebabs with Couscous from the November 2007 issue of Delicious magazine.

Janie of Panini Girl made Baked Orrecchiette with Pork Sugo from the October 2008 issue of Food & Wine.

Janet of Taste Space made Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa Salad from the 2007 issue of Gourmet.

Melissa from It’s the Way She … made a Golden Brown Butter and Praline Tart from the November 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

Valerie of Sex, Food, and Rock & Roll made Eggplant, Fontina and Tomato Pizza from the 2004 issue of Gourmet.

Remember that Magazine Mondays is your chance to take control of that magazine pile and all those clipped recipes!

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Cjalsòns: Something New.

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As much as I like to think I know a lot about “Italian food”, the fact is that the older I got and the more familiar I become with Italian life, the more I realize that I actually know very little about the astonishing variety of dishes that fall under that umbrella.

Case-in-point: this past summer I was contacted by the lovely Rossella of the blog Ma che ti sei mangiato?. She asked me if I wanted to participate in a blog event dedicated to a specialty of the northern Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. The specialy in question is a type of stuffed dumpling known as cjalsòn.

I’m always eager to learn about new Italian dishes so of course I said yes. In due time, Rossella sent along an information package that included numerous cjalsòn recipes that we could try, as well as some background information about the dumplings.

Rossella decided to organize the blog event after reading the biography of Gianni Cosetti, a renowned Friulian chef.

Of all the recipes provided, I chose to make one called Cjalsòns Rustìcs.

What is especially interesting about this dough used for these dumplings, is that it’s made with potato and flour. In fact, while making the dough, I almost felt like I was making gnocchi-dough. However, instead of cutting and rolling gnocchi, I rolled out the dough and cut out rounds to be filled.

The cjalsòns were stuffed with a sausage filling and topped with a sauce of ricotta.

While they were good, for me the most remarkable part of this recipe was definitely the dumpling dough. The texture of the dough, once cooked, was very supple. The cjalsòns were deceptively light, though. While I felt like I could eat a plate full, the potato/flour dough make these little lovelies quite filling.

I’m very thankful to Rossella for including me in this event. As I watch another year slowly come to an end, there is no question that learning about cjalsòns has been of my favourite food lessons of 2010!

Ciao!

Cjalsòns Rustìcs

Note: This is one of the recipes included in the package that Rossella sent me and the one that I used when I tried these dumplings. I made a few alterations, noted below. I also revised the directions slightly to reflect what I did when making the cjalsòns

For the dough:
300 g. potatoes
200 g. flour
1 large egg
a pinch of nutmeg (I did not use nutmeg)
some parsley ( used 2 chopped tablespoons of parsley)

For the filling:
100 g. sausage (or fresh lung) (I used spicy sausage)
½ glass of white wine
1 large egg, beaten

For the dressing:
200 g. fresh ricotta
1/4 cup heavy cream
pepper (I did not use pepper because I used spicy sausage)

Directions:
1. Boil the potatoes with the peel on. Once cooked, remove from the water and allow to cool until potatoes can be handled. Peel the potatoes and put them through a ricer. Add the egg, flour, nutmeg (if using) and parsley. Mix until the dough comes together into a ball. Set aside and cover with a cloth while you prepare the filling.

2. To make the filling, in a pan saute the crumbled sausage (or fresh lung), moisten with white
wine and and cook until the wine evaporates. Let the filling cool slightly. Meanwhile, place a large pot of water to boil. Salt the water generously once it boils.

3. Roll out the dough onto a floured surface. If necessary, be generous with the flour so that the dough doesn’t stick. Cut out rounds that are roughly 6 centimetres in diameter. Place at a spoonful of filling at the centre of each disc.

4. Fold the discs in half and close them by pressing the edges well. (If necessary, wet the edges before sealing to help form the seal.)

5. Cook the dumplings in the boiling salted water for several minutes, then drain. (I cooked the dumplings for about 4 minutes.)

6. In a large pan, over low heat, warm the heavy cream and ricotta. Whisk the sauce gently to break up the ricotta and ensure that you have a smooth consistency. Allow the sauce to simmer for a few minutes and salt to taste.

7. Once the cjalsòns are cooked, drain and add to the pan with the ricotta sauce. Serve immediately and enjoy.

Magazine Mondays: Life’s a Feast!

I will post again. I will bake again. Soon. Very soon. I will return to my blog. Soon. Very soon.

Promise.

One more week and my work project is done and I can throw myself headlong into baking. I have literally been itching to bake. Seriously.

In the meantime, I am eternally grateful to the devoted Magazine Mondays followers who have been saving my bacon by hosting for me.

Today’s edition was hosted by the lovely Jamie of Life’s A Feast, who is an absolute doll!

Here’s the MM round-up!

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays … On the Road Again!

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Wow. Feels like forever since I posted! I have to apologize for my absence but I am in the middle of a big work project and by the time I get home at night there’s not much left in the tank for blogging (or baking).

Just wanted to drop you a note to say that tomorrow’s edition of Magazine Mondays is being hosted by Lynn of I’ll Have What She’s Having. For those of you that have already sent me MM entries, I’ve passed them along to Lynn. For those of you that want to send along a link, there’s still time!

Send along your link and I’ll forward it to Lynn!

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Even though it’s Sunday, I’m sharing my own MM submission. This is a Peanut, Caramel, and Chocolate Tart from the October 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to make it and it was every bit as good as it sounds. I made it for the Thanksgiving potluck that we had at work in October. The picture isn’t great but believe me when I say it was delicious!

Thanks to Lynn for hosting MM and I hope you all have a great week!

Ciao!

Daring Doughnuts.

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The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

You might as well just declare October 2010 the month of doughnuts. Between my birthday, Lara Ferroni and The Daring Bakers, it’s doughnut central here.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

I’m especially not complaining about the amazing challenge that Lori put before us. Between birthday celebrations and family stuff, I only got to try one recipe but it was the one that I most wanted to try: Bomboloni.

Bomboloni are basically the Italian version of doughnut holes. They’re rolled in sugar and often filled with a pastry cream, or other delicious filling like jam or chocolate.

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Almost as soon as the bomboloni were fried I was pumping them full of Nutella like you wouldn’t believe.

Not only were these doughnuts plump, soft and tasty, they were filled with Nutella.

What more do you want?!

Thanks to Lori for a great challenge! Check out what all the other Daring Bakers did!

Ciao!

Doughnuts: The Blog Tour

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You may already be familiar with Lara Ferroni via her beautiful blogs Cook & Eat and Still Life With.

Whether you’re just finding about Lara or already a fan, you are sure to fall in love with her first cookbook – Doughnuts: Simple and Delicious Recipes to Make at Home.

I’ll admit, it takes very little effort for me to get excited about the prospect of fried dough covered in some form of sugar.

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But when a book all about doughnuts comes out that happens to be written by someone that I admire very much, well, you can’t blame me for being a bit stalkerish in my behaviour.

When I found out last year that Lara was publishing a book on doughnuts, I unabashedly contacted her in the hopes that come publication time, I’d be remembered. And sure enough, when I saw that the book was on the market, I was fortunate enough to be included in a blog tour for Lara’s book.

The tour started at Cakespy.com. It then headed over to Wasabi Prime before making it’s way to The Sophisticated Gourmet. From there Lara’s book meandered on over to Cannelle et Vanille before finding a home at Use Real Butter.

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Happily, today Lara’s book finds it’s blog tour stop here at Cream Puffs in Venice.

What to say about this precious little book? Well besides the fact that it has the most beautiful photographs and that it’s so straightforward and easy to follow that even if you’ve never ever tried doughnuts before you’re bound to be successful, leafing through the book makes you want to eat it.

How’s that for a review?!

Seriously. I wanted to eat every page, even the pages that had recipes that I may not normally try like recipes for Vegan Raised Doughnuts. That’s part of the beauty of the cookbook: there are doughnuts for everyone!

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I was a very lucky girl because I got to have my doughnuts for breakfast on my birthday! My mother and I made Raised Doughnuts with a Maple Glaze and … swoon … Crème Brulée Doughnuts. Wondering how that works? Basically after you fry the beautiful dough you stuff the doughnut full of custard. Then you cover the top in sugar and brulée it so that it crackles when you break into it.

Did I say swoon yet?!

If you are a doughnut lover or if you want to become one (and why wouldn’t you?), I cannot recommend this book more.

Thank you, Lara, for creating such a beautiful book!

Ciao!

In case you missed the blog tour, here all the stops:

Cakespy.com
Wasabi Prime
The Sophisticated Gourmet
Cannelle et Vanille
Use Real Butter

Magazine Mondays is on the Road Tomorrow!

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Just a quick note to let you know that tomorrow’s edition of Magazine Mondays is being hosted by Wandering Coyote of ReTorte.

For those of you that have already sent me entries, I’ve passed them along to my buddy Wandering Coyote.

For those of you that want to enter, there’s still time! E-mail your entries to wandering_coyote{@}yahoo{dot}ca.

MM will be going on the road once or twice a month for the next little while. If you’re interested in hosting, let me know!

Ciao!

Happy Birthday to Me!

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What?! Another year gone by already? It doesn’t seem possible!

But it’s true. I’m a year older and hopefully a year wiser.

It’s been a great year with lots of good things and lots of opportunities to learn.

Today, my birthday celebration got off to a very sweet start with dougnuts (made by Mamma Cream Puff) from this little treasure. Come back in a few days and you’ll hear more about it.

In the meantime I’m trying to decide between maple-glazed and creme brulée.

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Decisions, decisions.

Have a wonderful day! And to all of you who have left me messages and called, thank you!!!

Ciao!

Crostata. A Revelation.

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Today is six weeks to the day that I returned from Italy.

That is stunning to me because in my mind, I still feel very much there. In the mornings, in particular, I can recreate my time in Italy with such clarity that I swear I’m sitting at my kitchen table in our little house waiting for the espresso to come up so I can have colazione (breakfast).

I can hear someone filling a container from the fontana (fountain) just steps outside our front door.

I hear someone’s boots on the ground as they walk past our door, on their way to one of the many trails that lead up to the castagne (chestnut trees). It’s that time of year, you see. It’s time to go and inspect the trees and clean any weeds or bushes that are growing nearby.

Our neighbour across the way is standing on her front step talking to her daughter on a cell phone (every Italian has a cell phone). I can hear everything she’s saying.

My uncle, next door, is in the back using the zappa (hoe) as he breaks up some hard-packed earth in his garden.

I hear it all until, with a start, I realize that I’m not actually there. I’m in Toronto, on a subway, on my way to work. And I love Toronto and my family and my home and my friends, but sometimes I just wish that I could stretch my hand out and touch that scene of me at the kitchen table in a house in Italy pouring espresso into a hot cup of milk.

I know, as completely as I know my own name, that those scenes flashing in my mind are as real and solid and as part of me as my daily subway rides to work.

It is a revelation to me, but it is so true, that as you get older the truth becomes clearer.

You really do learn who you are and what you are. You really do understand what is important and what is worth it.

Perhaps it has taken me longer than most, but I’m getting there. I get it. I understand.

I had many revelations on my trip.

Some good. Some sad. Some inspiring. Some funny. Some difficult.

But perhaps one of the most memorable was that it was revealed to me how to make a truly great crostata.

You may find that funny, but I think crostata-making is a life skill. For years, I have yearned for the recipe used by my oldest aunt.

My aunt has a presence that looms large over all off us. Her booming voice rings out constantly in my mind. She is the epitome of woman. Strong. Capable. Supportive. Hard-working. Graceful. Generous. Determined.

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And she makes the best crostata ever.

So finally, after so much time, I got to watch her and her daughter make crostata one day. Like all things, it was so simple. And that, you see, is the key.

It’s never the complicated stuff. It’s always the simple stuff that makes the difference.

Within days of being home, I went into the kitchen and made a simple crostata.

It was a revelation.

Ciao!

Before I get to the recipe, I wanted to give you some background information on the exact nature of my aunt’s recipe for crostata. The ingredients are flour, eggs, sugar and butter and something she calls “medicina”. It is a substance that she buys at the pharmacy that is formulated to be used when making pastry dough. I asked about what exactly it was and the answers I got were exceedingly vague. As far as I can tell, it’s a cross between flavouring (our pharmacy sold medicina that had essence of vanilla or essence of lemon) and baking powder. But don’t quote me on that. If anyone has any information on what exactly medicina is, I would be grateful!

While I did not use medicina when I made this after returning to Toronto, I did use a product called “Lievito Vaniglinato Bertolini”. Toronto has a huge Italian population and thankfully we have easy access to many Italian products, including Bertolini products. This lievito is a powdered product (with the essence of vanilla) that as far as I can tell helps your baked products to get a good rise. I would compare it to a form of baking powder. I figured that it was as close to the medicina that my aunt buys as I could get.

The other key to my aunt’s crostata is the filling. She uses homemade jam (always) and she likes to mix in melted chocolate. While this may sound a bit odd, somehow it works as the chocolate gives the fruit jam a depth of flavour. The bitterness of the chocolate brings out the sweetness of the fruit. For my own versions, I used Italian prune jam and cherry jam.

In Italy, when baking, measurements are always by weight. Everyone has a scale and weighs out ingredients. While I plan on converting the measurements in this recipe to cups (one day), I have not done this yet. For those of you that are going to want conversions, my first piece of advice is to invest in a scale. If you’re a baker, it’s a key piece of equipment in the kitchen and nowadays you can buy good scales without spending a fortune. If buying a scale is out of the question, there are a lot of conversion tools on the internet but use them with caution. I’ll try to do conversions the next time I make this crostata but until then, I have only weights to offer you.

Crostata with Jam Filling

This recipe will yield two 9-inch crostatas. I baked them in a 9-inch cake pan.

500 grams (1/2 kilo) unbleached, all-purpose flour*
200 grams granulated sugar
1 package of Lievito Vaniglinato Bertolini
3 large eggs, room temperature
180 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 cups jam or preserves (you can use any type of jam you wish)

*Extra flour for dusting your work surface

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar and lievito. Mix well.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and then pour them into the flour mixture. Add the butter and mix well until you have a dough that comes together. If the mixture is dry, add a bit of milk or cold water, a tablespoon at a time, until your dough comes into a ball.

On a well-floured surface, knead the ball of dough a few times until it’s smooth. Don’t knead for too long or your dough will be too hard.

Divide the dough in half. Wrap one half of the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make the first crostata.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and lightly butter a cake pan.

Divide the ball of dough you’re working with in half (half is for the crust and the other half is for the lattice top).

Place one half in your cake pan and gently flatten the dough until it covers the bottom of the pan evenly.

Take one cup of jam and spread evenly over the top of the dough.

With the other half of dough, break off one small piece at a time (pieces should be slightly bigger than a marble but not as big as a golf ball) and roll the pieces into ropes.

Carefully use the ropes to create a lattice top to the crostata. Some of the ropes may break but don’t worry about it. Patch them together. Once the crostata bakes you won’t be able to tell and even if you can, it’ll just make your crostata more “rustic”!

Once you’ve created your lattice top, bake the crostata in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes.

The crostata will rise slightly and the lattice top will be golden. If the crostata is not cooked after 25 minutes, keep baking, checking every five minutes.

Remove the crostata from the oven and let cool before slicing into wedges. My aunt would slice crostata into diamond shapes and serve them on a pretty tray.

Enjoy!

Magazine Mondays: Bulgur!

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Before I went to Italy, I bought a special issue of Vegetarian Times dedicated to taking advantage of all the incredible produce at farmers’ markets.

While I am not a vegetarian, I would say that probably about 70 per cent of what I eat is vegetable, legume or grain. That’s just the way that we were brought up to eat. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy Vegetarian Times so much. I don’t buy every issue, but the ones I do buy tend to be full of great recipes.

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This is Tabbouleh with Mint and Pistachios, which are one of my favourite nuts. This dish was so good that we were fighting over the leftovers. What I love most about it is that you can make loads of it on the weekend and then pack it for lunch during the work week.

I followed the recipe exactly and I certainly hope you’ll give it a try.

Before I get into the MM entries for the week, I just wanted to let you know that in the coming months Magazine Mondays will be going on the road. I’m entering a busy time at work so I’m counting on MM contributors to host at least one edition of MM per month. I have a few people lined up already but if you’re interested, send me an e-mail!

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

Recipe Sleuth of Eye for a Recipe made Roasted Rosemary Potatoes from the October 2010 issue of Food & Wine; Roman-style Braised Chicken with Roasted Peppers from also from the October 2010 issue of Food & Wine; Mussels in Black Bean Sauce from the October 2010 issue of Canadian Living and Pumpkin Pecan Bundt Cake also from the October 2010 issue of Canadian Living.

Grace of La Mia Vita Dolce made Chocolate Mud Cake, Dark Chocolate Ganache and Sweet Glazed Cherrires from Donna Hay.

Lynn of I’ll Have What She’s Having made Shrimp Fra Diavolo from Food & Wine and Saffron Scented Pear Upside Cake from the October 2006 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Wandering Coyote of ReTorte made Pumpkin Pecan Bundt Cake from the October 2010 issue of Canadian Living (obviously a popular cake!) and Pulled Pork from the December 2005 issue of Canadian Living.

Sue of Couscous & Consciousness made Thai Green Curry Chicken Pies from the August 2004 issue of ABC Delicious.

Janice of Kitchen Heals Souls made Butternut Squash Gnocchi from the October 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

Mary of Caramels, Bonbons et Chocolats.com made Bourbon and Orange Pecan Pie from Real Simple.

Natalie of Seattle Lunchbox made Brown Sugar Maple Chip Bundt Cake from the October 2007 issue of Bon Appétit.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Hockey. An Event: The Round-Up

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So I’m a little bit late with posting the round-up from my hockey event. I think I forgot about Thanksgiving and the eating which, by the way, still isn’t over.

Turkey leftovers are awesome. For real.

Anyway, my little hockey event did well in it’s first go-round. It’ll be back next year and here’s hoping it’ll be bigger and better.

In the meantime, though, here’s who showed their hockey love:

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Angie of The Sausage Link (great name) made Giant Bavarian Pretzels which, everyone knows, are perfect for hockey games! Thanks, Angie!

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My girl. The one who truly knows how much I love hockey. The one who I can complain to about hockey at any time! The one who is such an awesome baker! Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody got her booze on with a Gingerbread Stout Cake with Caramel-Ale Sauce. Yes. Beer and Hockey go. Thanks, Peabody!

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Kara of Happy When Not Hungry made Pumpkin Spice Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting. The beginning of hockey season is pumpkin season. Perfect. Thanks, Kara!

Vicki of Heavenly Cake Walk knows what kind of a sweet tooth you can work up during a hockey game. She made Apple Dippers with Caramel Sauce! Thanks, Vicki!

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Koko of Koko’s Kitchen made Canuckcakes. Did you guess she’s a Vancouver Canucks’ fan? I hope they recognize that she’s their greatest fun! Thanks, Koko!

I met my good friend Penny in a baking class. She is a sweetheart through-and-through. Her blog is called Sweet Sadie’s and the for the last Daring Bakers’ challenge, she made a sugar cookie tribute to The Toronto Maple Leafs … Love! Her photo graces the top of this post. Thanks, Penny!

Thank you to all of you for participating. For the rest of you, go watch a hockey game and enjoy the season!

Go Leafs Go!

Ciao!

I am thankful for …

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… many things.

I am thankful for my mother and my brother, and my papa, who is always with me.

I am thankful for my friends, both near and far.

I am thankful for my little house in the hills in Italy.

I am thankful for pumpkins.

I am thankful for leaves that change colour.

I am thankful for hockey.

I am thankful for books. Especially cookbooks.

I am thankful for measuring spoons. And flour. And sugar. And butter. And eggs.

I am thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Ciao!

And So It Begins.

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The 2010-11 NHL season begins today for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

How am I feeling? Nervous. Excited. Worried. Optimistic. Hopeful.

And hungry.

Hockey makes me hungry.

That’s why I decided to host a little hockey event for all the food bloggers out there that love their hockey.

On Saturday nights, when we’re watching Hockey Night in Canada, I love to make chili with nachos.

Sometimes I have little arguments with myself about which I like more: the chili or the nachos.

I would say it’s a tie and fortunately we don’t have to settle this tie with a shootout.

We can eat both.

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Here’s to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Here’s to a hockey event celebrating food bloggers that love hockey. Here’s to a great season.

Go Leafs Go!

Ciao!

Remember, you have until midnight EST Friday October 8th to e-mail me your entries at creampuffsinvenice{@}gmail{dot}com.

This is my most favourite chili recipe.

For the nachos above, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Spread your favourite nachos on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Top with thinly sliced jalapeno and as much cheddar and monterey jack cheeses as you like. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese has melted and the nachos have turned crispy. Enjoy!

Magazine Mondays: Apricots!

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If you live somewhere where apricots are still in season that I am insanely jealous of you.

I adore apricots, and yet, I find it more and more difficult to find really good apricots in the summer time. Some of our family members have apricot trees so I try to be extra nice to them during the summer in the hopes they’ll grace me with some of the bounty from their trees.

When I saw the pie on the cover of Issue 106 of Fine Cooking, I literally took the magazine, went straight to the kitchen and started baking.

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Brandied Apricot-Almond Slab Pie. That’s the name of the deliciousness that I baked. Just tell me when it’s apricot season again so I can have another go at it!

This is my entry for this edition of Magazine Mondays. Here are all the other wonderful bloggers who joined me this week in taking a shot at that magazine pile:

Mary of Caramels, Bonbons and Chocolats.com made Chocolate Chip Cookies from Cook’s Illustrated.

Mama Bear of Suitable for Consumption made Versatile Vanilla Cake from Everyday Food.

Janice of Kitchen Heals Souls adapted Cherry Pepper and Goat Cheese Hush Puppies from the September 2010 issue of Bon Appétit and Brown Butter and Pumpkin Cupcakes from Fine Cooking.

Brenda of Brenda’s Canadian Kitchen made Pastitsio from the August/September issue of Saveur and Almost Famous Chimichanga from Food Network magazine.

Tia of Buttercream Barbie made Honey-Spice Apple Butter from the 2004 issue of Fine Cooking.

Tina from Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Chicken Florentine Artichoke Bake from Better Homes and Gardens.

Ranjani of Four Seasons of Food made Roasted Turnips with Parsley-Mustard Vinaigrette from the September 2010 issue of Food & Wine.

Fallon of Fallon’s Cucina made Turkey-Ricotta Meaballs from the September 2008 issue of Cooking Light and Tex-Mex and Bean Dip, also from Cooking Light.

Recipe Sleuth from Eye for a Recipe made Chicken with Olives and Prunes from the October 2010 issue of Canadian Living; Stir-fried Pork, Green Geans and Red Bell Pepper with Gingery Oyster Sauce from the January 2003 issue of Cook’s Illustrated; and Old-fashioned Potato Salad from the July 2002 issue of Gourmet.

Grace of La Mia Dolce Vita made a Chocolate Buttermilk Layer Cake from Donna Hay.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Hockey. An Event.

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On Thursday October 7th, do not bother me.

Don’t call me. Don’t e-mail me. Don’t text me. Don’t tweet me. Don’t facebook me (is facebook a verb yet???). Don’t knock on my door.

Do. Not.

I will be engrossed in every way by the beginning of yet another hockey season.

Finalllllllllllyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!

After my family, baking and Italy, there are few things that I love more than hockey.

My hockey team … the Toronto Maple Leafs.

I will pause for a moment while you laugh/joke/point/giggle/smirk.

Pausing. Pausing. Pausing. Pausing.

Okay. Where was I? Oh yes. Thursday October 7th is the first game of the 2010-11 NHL for the Toronto Maple Leafs. As is customary for the first game of the season, they play the Montreal Canadiens.

One of the things that I’ve learned surfing the never-ending sea of blogs is that there are a lot of hockey fans out there and rightly so … hockey rules.

So to honour the start of another season, I thought it would be fun to host a hockey event.

Don’t worry. This one doesn’t have a lot of rules. Basically, if you want to participate, all you have to do is send me a link to a post you’ve put up featuring something savoury or sweet that you would serve during a hockey game.

E-mail entries to creampuffsinvenice{@}gmail{dot}com. Include your name, blog name, name of your dish, blog url and post url. The deadline for entries is midnight EST on Friday October 8th. I will post a round-up on Saturday October 9th, just in time for the first Saturday broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada broadcoast of the season.

Remember. Make whatever you’d eat or serve to your hockey buddies during a game.

Impress me!

Go Leafs Go!

Ciao!

The Daring Bakers: Falling for September

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The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

Well, it has been a looooooooooooooooooooong time since I’ve done a Daring Bakers’ challenge. I guess I can only claim the “I-didn’t-have-time-don’t-bother-me-i’m-a-founder” excuse so many times before it starts to get a bit old.

I got my act together enough this time around to complete the September 2010 DB challenge hosted by Mandy.

Decorated sugar cookies. Been there. Done that. And not very well, either.

Still, I couldn’t let Mandy down so I got to it.

Part of Mandy’s challenge was that we had to create cookies that represented what September means to us.

As far as I’m concerned, what September means to you depends on how old you are. If you are school age, then September means school. For everyone else, September means fall (unless you’re born in September and then it’s your birthday!).

I’m a fall baby so it’s all about chilly mornings, the harvest and fall colours for me.

I’ll be honest, I knew right off the bat that I wasn’t going to go in for anything very refined and precise because I just don’t have the steady hand for it. Instead, I went for a, shall we say, more “natural look”. I used sprinkles and food colouring to transform my sugar cookies (cut into leaf shapes) into a colourful display.

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Then, remembering an idea for a cookie wreath that I saw in a book once, I made a sugar cookie round and used the royal icing to attach my decorated cookies to it. I added some ribbon to finish the wreath.

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I love my cookie wreath so much that I’m bringing it to work to bring some autumn spirit to my office.

Thanks to Mandy for an inspiring challenge! Please take a moment to check out what all the other amazing Daring Bakers have created!

Ciao!

Endings.

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I have been thinking about endings lately. As I looked at the calendar and noted that today is the last full day of summer, I thought that the end of another season has come with a new one to begin.

Today was also another ending of sorts. My mom and I attended the funeral of a close relative, a sweet and dear man who was a tremendous father, grandfather and even great-grandfather.

All these endings got me thinking that just as one thing ends, another begins.

Some might be sad to see summer go today, but I’m not because that means that fall starts tomorrow. But just as quickly, you’ll see, it’ll be summer again. And so it goes. And so it goes.

For those of you that are summer lovers, you might pick up a copy of Sunny Days & Easy Living: Relaxed Food to Enoy Outdoors by Lindy Wildsmith.

This is a pretty little cookbook filled with recipes that take advantage of summer’s opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. The book also takes advantage of all the beautiful produce that we have access to in the summer.

It will also make good company during the long fall and winter ahead, especially all the beautiful photos.

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Before I went on vacation, I took Ontario blueberries and peaches and made these little frangipane tarts based on a recipe for Blueberry Frangipane Tart from the book.

As we drove home from the funeral today, I thought about how it was a fitting day for the last day of summer. It was sunny and warm. And I thought about the funeral we attended and the family and how in the aftermath of saying goodbye to a loved one, they were warm and funny and accepting of the fact that they must go on.

Everyday there are endings of some sort. But also beginnings.

Ciao!

Blueberry and Peach Frangipane Tarts
Yields four 4-inch tarts.

Frangipane filling
1 batch of sweet pastry dough
2 cups blueberries, rinsed and dried
2 large peaches, peeled and chopped into small pieces
1 tsp. cinnamon
icing sugar (for dusting)

I used the frangipane recipe from the cookbook, however, you can try one of your own like this one.

For the pastry, I used this recipe.

Once the dough has chilled, roll it out to a thickness of about a 1/4-inch. Cut out circles to fit into four tart shells with removable bottoms. Any leftover scraps can be frozen for another use. Alternatively you can make one large 9-inch tart.

Once you placed the pastry in the tart shells, trim the pastry and prick it all over with a fork. Refrigerate for half an hour.

In a bowl, combine the blueberries, peaches and cinnamon and set aside while the dough is chilling.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the tart pans from the refridgerator. Divide the blueberry filling among the four tarts. Top with the frangipane filling.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the crust is golden and the frangipane is set. Let cool and dust with icing sugar if desired.

Enjoy!

Magazine Mondays: Ricotta!

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I would like to thank Tia of Buttercream Barbie; Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor and Janie of Panini Girl for guest-hosting Magazine Mondays while I was away. Thank you, ladies!

While I was in Italy, I was fortunate enough to enjoy some really delicious and fresh ricotta. For my MM post, I give you this easy, elegant and delicious Lemon-Ricotta Tart from Martha Stewart.

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The flavours are so clean and fresh, it’s a handy tart to have in your repertoire. Please give it a try!

As usual, I’m joined by a number of people who are taking control of those food magazine piles once and for all:

My buddy Wandering Coyote of ReTorte made a Brown Sugar & Chocolate Chip Pound Cake with Maple Espresso Glaze from the October 2007 issue of Bon Appétit.

Ranjani of Four Seasons of Food made Toasted farro, green bean, and shiitake salad with tofu from the September 2010 issue of Cooking Light.

Lynn of I’ll Have What She’s Having made Salmon with Coriander Rub and Lime Cream and Pear and Butternut Squash Soup from the October 2006 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Janice of Kitchen Heals Souls made a Tangy Courgette and Rice Bake from BBC Good Food.

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Marinated Flank Steak from Southern Living.

Janie of Panini Girl made Summer Vegetable Casserole from the August 2010 issue of Food & Wine.

Margaret of Tea and Scones made Sunflower Oatmeal Bread from the September 2006 issue of Country Home.

Karen at Mignaride made Feta-Stuffed Peppers from Saveur.

Remember, all you have to do to take part in Magazine Mondays is send me an e-mail linking to a post you did on a recipe from a magazine article.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Pause. Return.

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I have been back from Italy for exactly nine days, not including today.

There are moments when it is unfathomable to me how easily we can slide from one life to another. A month ago yesterday I slid into Italy, landing in Pescara and then driving (yes, I drove a car in Italy) out of Abruzzi and into Le Marche. Sliding up, up, up into the hills outside Ascoli, Piceno.

And that night I slid into my bed in the house where my father and all my aunts and uncle were born. They were actually born in there. In that very house. And it looks like a completely different house now but it’s still that very same house.

And just like that, after three weeks, I slid right back into Toronto. I remember thinking, the afternoon after I returned, that today I am walking on University Avenue in Toronto on my way to Bloor Street and yesterday morning I was driving on the Autostrada Adriatica (A14) on my way back to the airport.

It is breathtaking and confounding and thrilling how easy it is to slide from one city to the other, from one country to the other, from one life to the other.

I have many stories to tell about my trip. Most of them I won’t tell because they are mine and they belong to me and I will gather them to me and hold them dear. Not all things are meant to be shared.

But some stories I will tell, just not today.

Today I want to tell you about a few words. Have you ever heard a word, a new word, and then suddenly you hear it all the time?

In Italy, for the first time, I heard the word ristoro, which means restoration. I heard it used during a running race that I watched one night in Castel di Lama. After the race, the runners could go to the restauro for much-needed liquids and food. (Note: Thanks to Chamki of La Mia Cucina in India who corrected my use of the word “ristoro”!!!)

I also heard the word sosta, which means stop, but can also be used to in the sense of stopping for a break.

And suddenly, for three weeks, I heard the words ristoro and sosta everywhere. I remarked how funny it was that at 36, and after having been to Italy many times, it was so strange to suddenly know these words for the first time.

One day, I thought to myself that these were good words to know because that is what my trip was for me.

Una sosta. Un restauro.

We all need to pause sometimes. My pause was a beautiful one. And now I’m back.

Ciao.

Sugar High Fridays #68 (Round-Up)

As many of you know, the August 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge hosted by Elissa of 17 and Baking was a collaboration between The Daring Kitchen and Sugar High Fridays, created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess.

While the Daring Bakers’ portion of the collaboration was revealed on August 27th, I’m pleased to announce that the round-up for the SHF portion of the colloboration is taking place today.

I’m giving Elissa a hand with the round-up so you’ll find part of the round-up here and part on Elissa’s blog.

On behalf of The Daring Kitchen, I’d like to thank everyone that participated! The theme for SHF #68 was Beurre Noisette or Browned Butter. Here are the entries:

Rachael of Dessert All The Time made Browned Butter Blueberry Boy Bait.

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Lauren of Celiac Teen made Brown Butter Panna Cotta.

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Melissa of Sweet Rolls That Rock made Browned Butter, Saffron and Succade Sweet Rolls.

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Stephanie from Rocky Cape Tasmania (Australia) made Browned Butter White Chocolate Macadamia Cookies based on a recipe from Joy The Baker.

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Jackie made Cupcakes with Browned Butter Frosting.

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Sally of Sally in the Galley made Browned-Butter Cupcakes with Amaretti Icing.

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Natalie of Seattle Lunch Box made Brown Butter M&M Brownies.

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Kirsten of Beezer’s Bites made Browned Butter Almond Cake.

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Mihaela of De prin lume adunate made Blueberry Muffins using Browned Butter.

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Veena of Veg Junction made Mysore pak.

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Jen of Team Rose made Baked Alaska with Browned Butter Pound Cake and Butter Pecan Ice Cream.

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Thanks to all the participants! And don’t forget that you can see the rest of the entries on Elissa’s blog.

Ciao!

Home Is Where the Heart Is

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I’m leaving for Italy today for three weeks.

I’m going to our house in the town of Rocca Montecalvo in the hills outside Ascoli Piceno in Le Marche, which is where my father was born.

The past few years I’ve been able to go back during the summer where I’ve spent my days and nights basking in the glow of a way of life that is about as different from Toronto life as you can imagine.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Toronto. I couldn’t do without Toronto.

But my goodness it’s beautiful to step back into the world that my father was born into.

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I will see you in three weeks.

Ciao!

Dolce

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The Italian word for sweet is dolce.

While the word is used to describe pastries and dessert, it’s also used as a form of endearment.

Sei dolce means you are sweet!

Blogging has many rewards including the opportunity to express a shared passion, in my case baking.

But one of the rewards of blogging that I would never have imagined when I started my blog, way back in 2005, is the opportunity to meet people that I would have otherwise never have met before.

This past week I met up with a lovely (very dolce) woman who had contacted me about the subject that is near and dear to the hearts of all cooks and bakers: cooking equipment. A friendly e-mail about corzetti stamps turned into an e-mail exchange that turned into a meeting over coffee and the realization that the world is actually a small place full of kindred spirits.

It was such a pleasure to meet my new friend and I just wanted to say thank you very publically. I also wanted to highlight one of the many shared pleasures my new friend and I have: Rosetta Costantino’s Calabria from Scratch.

This beautiful blog is an homage to the cuisine and customs of Calabria. Since my mother is Calabrese, I loved Rosetta’s blog from the first and am really looking forward to her upcoming cookbook.

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One of Rosetta’s recent posts feature an Italian dolce called Bocconotti (little mouthfuls). While I have heard of Bocconotti, I never realized that there was a version of the cookie attached to Calabrian sweets. I asked my mom if she knew of these cookie and she wasn’t familiar with them.

My new friend also told me that she hadn’t heard of them before (in relation to Calabrian baking) but that she was on a quest to discover a recipe that would recreate the Bocconotti that a family member of hers used to make.

In the spirit of adventure, my mom and I decided to try these cookies one Sunday afternoon and the result was quite nice. Not only did I get to bake with my mom but we turned out some cookies that were very good.

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While I don’t consider these a traditional family cookie, I really enjoyed trying them. It was a reminder of something that I sometimes forget when it comes to blogging: my blog is about baking.

I started my blog because I love to bake. Because I love dolci. While my blog is an avenue for many pursuits, it makes me happiest when I’m baking something sweet.

I want to thank my new friend for meeting up with me. I’m looking forward to many dolci adventures!

Ciao!

You can find the recipe for Bocconotti Calabresi here.

Magazine Mondays: On the Move!

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Before I get to these week’s edition of Magazine Mondays, I have some big news about MM for the next few weeks.

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I’m going on vacation soon and while I’m gone, MM will be hosted by three long-time contributors: Tia of Buttercream Barbie, Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor and Janie of Panini Girl.

In the past, the lovely Wandering Coyote of ReTorte has hosted for me when I’ve been away. I decided this time, though, it was time to send MM on the road. Here’s how the schedule will work:

Tia will host on Monday August 23rd (e-mail entries to starrysugar{@}hotmail{dot}com).

Tina will host on Monday August 30th (e-mail entries to hexandkobe{@}yahoo{dot}com).

Janie will host on September 6th (e-mail entries to jtray4{@}mac{dot}com).

If you have an MM entry for any of those weeks, e-mail it to the appropriate hostess and she’ll include you in the round-up.

I’ll be back for Magazine Mondays on October 13th.

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As for this week, I must tell you that if you have not picked up the latest issue of Saveur, you simply must do so! The magazine features the cuisine of Greece and there are some incredible recipes including this delicious recipe for Peppers Stuffed with Feta (Piperies Gemistes me Feta).

I cannot tell you how delicious this recipe was! It was a huge hit with everyone and very easy to make. The salty/creamy filling was the perfect foil for the roasted peppers. My mouth is watering just thinking of them. That’s my MM entry for the week.

Here’s who joined me in this week’s edition:

Joanna of Go Ahead and Snicker made Sweet and Sour Pickles from the August 2010 issue of Southern Living.

Melissa of It’s the Way She … made Chocolate Icebox Cake from the August 2010 issue of Real Simple.

Wandering Coyote of ReTorte made Pasta with Shrimp and Cilantro-Lime Pesto from the July 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

Ranjani of Four Seasons of Food made Green Beans with Mustard Crema from the August 2010 issue of Cooking Light.

Jan from Kitchen Heals Souls made Mussels with Ditalini from Delicious, Volume 7, Issue 5.

Carla of RecipeAddict made Chicken Pot Pie with Chanterelles from the September 2009 issue of Bon Appétit.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Two For One

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I’m going on vacation in a few weeks and I’m trying to work my way through as many cookbooks as I can because I have so many to tell you about!

One of the blessings of having a food blog is the opportunity (the honour!) to have a peek at the amazing cookbooks that are being produced.

First and foremost, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed Giada de Laurentiis’ latest: Giada at Home: Family Recipes from Italy and California.

Thanks to the kind folks at Clarkson Potter and Random House, I was able to take part in a conference call a few months ago were several bloggers got to ask Giada some questions about her new book.

Believe me when I say she’s just as charming in person as she is on the air! She answered everyone’s questions and made some really good points about the importance of fresh ingredients. Another great point she made was how easy it is easy to marry the ideas of Italian cooking and Californian cooking. In many ways, that’s what Giada at Home is about.

If you’re familiar with Giada’s previous books, the usual hallmarks are all here. Beautiful photos, well laid out, lots of recipes that work. Giada at Home is no different. Hope you give it a look if you haven’t already.

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I made the Pea Pesto Crostini, which were easy and delicious!

The second cookbook I wanted to share with you today was Mario Batali’s latest: Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking.

I own all of Mario’s cookbooks and this one will happily take its place beside its siblings. The idea behind this book was to give the home cook the chance to make a lot of the great food served at Batali’s Otto Enoteca Pizzeria at home. If buying it for all the pizza recipes isn’t tempting enough, then buy it for all the ice cream recipes.

I tried the Pennette with Cauliflower Ragu (opening picture) and loved it. Actually, sous chef honours must go to Mamma Cream Puff who helped me out by making the pasta dish. I photographed it! Much like Giada’s book, Batali’s book is filled with lots of great photos and easy instructions. Another keeper!

Okay. That’s two books off my list.

So many more to go!

Ciao!

The Buttercream’s The Thing

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There is nothing more disappointing than disappointing buttercream.

It doesn’t matter how tremendous the vehicle is, if the buttercream isn’t top notch, you and your baked goods are going nowhere in a hurry.

While I wasn’t planning a buttercream post, especially in the thick of summer’s heat and humidity, I decided this was as good a time as any to mention this particular buttercream as a segue to a particular blog I wanted to introduce you to (if you haven’t already been introduced).

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I’m baking cupcakes for a baby shower and the party hostesses asked me if I could bake a small batch so they could taste them. They asked for chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream and my go-to recipe is Tish Boyle’s Silky Chocolate Buttercream from her tremendous book: The Cake Book.

This particular buttercream is made with egg yolks, into which is beaten a hot sugar syrup. Once the mixture is cool, you slowly work in softened butter and finally, melted chocolate. What you end up with is a luscious buttercream that tastes deeply of chocolate, first and foremost. The chocolate flavour is rounded out with a butteriness that’s never greasy. Best of all, it’s not too sweet.

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For those of you that are long-time readers, you’ll know that I am a huge Tish Boyle fan. In fact, her cookbook The Good Cookie is one of my prized possessions.

Tish has a blog called Tish Boyle: Sweet Dreams and it’s a delicious place, let me tell you. I hope you’ll take a moment and visit and maybe even drop her a line or two.

As for me, I’m trying really hard not to eat the leftover buttercream sitting in the fridge.

Trying …

Ciao!

Note: The cake part of these cupcakes is from this recipe. For the Silky Chocolate Buttercream, check out the recipe on Tish Boyle’s blog.

Magazine Mondays: Focaccia!

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I picked up a copy of a special publicaton by Vegetarian Times called the Farmer’s Market Cookbook featuring some of the magazine’s best summer recipes. I immediately bookmarked the recipe for Oregano and Asiago Focaccia, which originally appeared in the April 2008 edition of the magazine. This is probably the easiest focaccia you will ever make. It’s delicious and fast and it will go very quickly. Trust me.

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Word to the wise: use finely grate the Asiago. I used coarsely grated cheese and it didn’t quite all melt into the focaccia (not that anyone is complaining, mind you) but if you want your cheese fully incorporated, use finely grated.

As always, this is my entry for Magazine Mondays. That’s the “non-event” I started as a way of forcing myself to use those clipped magazine recipes that were piling up everywhere. I can’t believe it but in October, MM will be three years old! Wow!

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Anyway, if you post a magazine recipe (doesn’t have to be posted on a Monday), just send me the link and I’ll include it in my next round-up. Details about Magazine Mondays are all here.

Here’s who’s joining me for this week’s edition:

Melissa of It’s the Way She… made Goat Cheese and Roasted Corn Quesadilla from the March 2009 issue of Cooking Light.

Andrea of New Holistic Guide made a Garden Tomato and Goat Cheese Dip from Viva.

Recipe Sleuth from Eye for a Recipe made Creamy-Cilantro Lime Slaw from the July 2010 issue of Bon Appétit; Pasta Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Green Olivada from the July 2010 issue of Bon Appétit and Tender Zucchini Fritters with Green Goddess Dressing from the August 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Buttermilk Pecan Chicken Cutlets from the June 2010 issue of Cooking Light.

Janie of Panini Girl made Mostarda di Pomodori from the August 2010 issue of La Cucina Italiana.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

An SHF and Daring Kitchen First!

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August 2010 is going to be a big month in baking land as Sugar High Fridays is joining up with The Daring Kitchen to bring you a joint event!

SHF #68 is being hosted by the talented Elissa of 17 and Baking (her blog is gorgeous!). The theme is Browned Butter or Beurre Noisette. Elissa has all the details on her blog.

SHF is an event started by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess and it’s an honour for The Daring Kitchen to be part of this month’s edition. So how does the DK figure in, you ask?

Simple. If you’re a Daring Baker, then when you check the private forum today, you’ll see that there’s a very special challenge for August.

The world won’t know what it is until reveal day on August 27th, but it promises to be big!

If you’re not a Daring Baker already, no worries. You can always join The Daring Kitchen and while you won’t be able to participate in this month’s DB challenge (the deadline for joining in time for this month is passed), remember you can still take part in the SHF challenge!

Ciao!

Note: To catch up on this event and other food events, check out a great site called The Food Blog Diary run by Jacqueline. You can submit any events you like to Jacqueline at tinnedtomatoes{@}gmail{dot}com.

Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing

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For as long as I can remember, I have detested store-bought mayonnaise. It doesn’t matter the brand, the very sight of that off-white, jiggly stuff in a jar (or worse … squeeze bottle) is enough to make my stomach turn.

While I am generally a card-carrying member of the condiments appreciation club, I cannot do store-bought mayonnaise. Sorry.

This aversion to mayo unfortunately extended to the real thing as well. While I have tonnes of cookbooks that feature mayo recipes and while I have thumbed through many a magazine article extolling the virtues of making your own mayo, I have never even batted an eye.

Until Paris. And Alice WatersIn the Green Kitchen.

While in Paris, without even realizing it, I enjoyed a sandwich on some crusty french bread that had been slathered with mayo. “What is this glorious sauce?”, I thought.

Mayonnaise. Homemade.

And then not too long ago I was perusing the heart (and stomach) nourishing In The Green Kitchen and I came across a recipe for Garlic Mayonnaise and I experienced the most urgent desire to make mayonnaise.

If you aren’t familiar with In the Green Kitchen, you should become so quickly. What a beautiful book! When I say it’s “heart-nourishing” I mean it has a quality that strikes the heart right through the stomach. It is a deep and lovely affirmation of simple cooking.

It has all the hallmarks of an Alice Waters book: fresh ingredients, responsible cooking, local food, ambitious but never inaccessible and most of all, delicious.

The book is a gentle stroll from making a beautiful salad all the way to cobbler, with stops at biscuits, peperonata and roast leg of lamb.

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As for me and my homemade mayonnaise, well, it was a revelation.

It was creamy and lemony and luscious. I spread it on anything that wasn’t nailed down.

I ate it all up.

Ciao!

If you’re interested in making mayonnaise at home, consider these recipes:
Aioli, Lemon-Dijon Mayonnaise and Olive Oil Mayonnaise.

It’s Daring Bakers’ Day …

Just a reminder that it’s the 27 of the month, which means it’s the Daring Bakers’ reveal day for July! As you can see I have nothing to reveal … my DB challenge is a bit late. But don’t miss out on what all the other great Daring Bakers did!

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: Cake!

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This is a very quick Magazine Mondays post. But it’s a goodie! If you’re like me and have a tonne of jam jars in the fridge, all half full, this is the perfect recipe: Jam Crumb Cake from the December 2007 issue of Bon Appétit.

I think it takes a total of 15 minutes to pull this cake together and the results are irresistible: a buttery and sweet treat that’s perfect for afternoon tea or coffee.

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Remember, if you have a magazine recipe that you’ve posted on your blog, send me the link and and I’ll include it in my next Magazine Mondays post.

Here’s who’s joining me this week:

Valerie of Sex, Food, and Rock & Roll made Sloppy Joe on Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits from the September 2004 issue of Gourmet.

Margaret of Tea and Scones made Indian Chicken Curry from an old issue of Cooking Light and Seafood Fettuccine from Cooking Light.

Brenda of Brenda’s Canadian Kitchen made Puffed-Rice Bars with Peanut Butter and Chocolate from the July/August 2010 issue of Everyday Food.

Recipe Sleuth made Piri-Piri Chicken from the July 2010 issue of Bon Appétit; Grilled Steak and Summer Vegetable Salad from the July/August issue of Everyday Food; and Green Beans and Zucchini with Sauce Verte from the June 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

Janet of the taste space made Muhammara (Syrian Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip) from the December 1993 issue of Gourmet; Orzo Salad with Pan-Fried Chickpeas, Dill and Lemon from the August 2002 issue of Cooking Light; and Carrot Soup with Ginger and Lemon from the June 1997 issue of Bon Appétit.

Lynn of I’ll Have What She’s Having made Summer Vegetable Casserole from the August 2010 issue of Food & Wine.

Tia of Buttercream Barbie made Tomato Quiche from Taste of Home.

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made BLT Bread Salad from Cooking Light.

WI from Wine Imbiber made Upside-Down Berry Cornmeal Cake from Better Homes and Gardens.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

A Dish Best Served Cold

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It is, perhaps, the greatest slap in the face of all.

Just as Summer presents you with a dazzling array of berries and fruits, all of them inspiration for your deepest baking desires, Summer also slaps you in the face with heat and humidity.

The very idea of turning the stove on makes me shudder and that’s saying a lot for a committed home baker such as myself.

It’s just not fair.

For a solid two weeks now, to step outside your front door is to be immediately met with a muggy, heavy, moist and stifling Summer kiss. Shudder.

Central air-conditioning be damned. We live in a small, older home and even with central air, as soon as you turn that oven on, our house is a sauna.

So for two weeks, I have been freezing berries like a madwoman, all the while fuming.

Every single time I hear someone say how much they love the Summer and the heat, I’m pretty much casting eye daggers their way.

What is the point of Summer if you cannot bake and use all the beautiful fruits and vegetables around you?

Sitting and stewing has led to many elaborate revenge fantasies. While I’m still working on that machine that will allow us to skip straight from Spring to Fall, I have settled on something a bit more realistic.

Vichyssoise. Zucchini vichyssoise, to be exact.

I was initiatied into the vichyssoise club several years ago during a leisurely lunch at the home of a family friend. It was a hot (of course) summer day and after the appetizers were cleared away, our hostess pulled out a tall, glass jug from the refrigerator.

The jug appeared to be filled with a thick cream, but I soon discovered that it was a cold potato and leek soup known as vichyssoise. Just before serving, our hostess mixed in a healthy dose of cream and then poured the soup into pretty litle cups.

As I had my first taste of vichyssoise I remember thinking, “This is gold. This must become a part of my life on a regular basis.”

Vichyssoise is very easy to make. Cook down some leeks (or onions) and potatoes with chicken stock. Once it’s all cooked, season to taste and then puree and refrigerate. Just before serving, mix in some cream and then serve with snipped chives for a bit of bite.

From Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris, I got the idea of making a zucchini vichyssoise.

Perfect. Now I can thwart summer on two fronts. Not only can I enjoy a delicious cold soup, I can also make another dent in the zucchini mountain growing outside our door.

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This soup is so refreshing, it almost makes up for the pain of not being able to bake.

As an added “painkiller” and hopefully another salvo aimed at Summer, I’ve been topping the zucchini vichyssoise with … what else … more zucchini.

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These fried zucchini strips are a common side dish in our house. It’s a very fast way to use up some zucchini and I have yet to meet the person that can resist them.

So I bide my time. Summer has to end sooner or later. Cooler temperatures will usher in the days of baking once again.

I just hope the freezer holds out.

Ciao!

Zucchini Slivers

2 zucchini, medium-sized
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
corn oil or canola oil, for frying
sea salt, to taste

1. Cut the ends off the zucchini and discard. Slice the zucchini into the finest slivers you can by first cutting the zucchini into long, thin slices and then cutting the slices into long, thin slivers. Set aside.

2. In a large frying pan, pour in enough oil to come about an inch up the side of the pan. Heat the oil over medium-high heat.

3. While the oil is heating, place the flour in a large bowl and in several batches, dredge the zucchini slivers in the oil. Once dredged, shake off the excess flour and place the slivers in a plate.

4. Once the oil is hot, fry the slivers in batches. Do not overcrowd the pan. The slivers will fry for about 4 to 5 minutes, at which time they should be golden. Using tongs, turn the slivers so that they become golden and crunchy on all sides.

5. Once golden, remove the zucchini slivers to a plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle with sea salt right away.

6. Serve the zucchini while hot.

I’m Nuts. True Story.

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Forgive the hyberbole, but I am truly nuts about nuts.

Groan, if you must.

Seriously, though. I love them. You can imagine how thrilled I was to discover that the July 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was to make a nut butter and then use it in a savoury dish.

I’m not exactly batting a thousand when it comes to DC challenges. This is naughty, naughty of me especially since I’m a Daring Kitchen co-founder.

I got my act together, printed off the amazing recipe from hosts Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies and got to it.

With a ridiculous amount of almonds lying about the house, I knew it was going to be almond butter for me. I got to whizzing the almonds in the processor and before I knew it I had the most delicious almond butter.

So I had a few spoonfuls. And then a few more. And a few more … and a few more … and … well … no more almond butter.

Not a problem!

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I hauled out some more almonds and made another batch of almond butter. Deciding that I wanted to use my almond butter in some sort of dressing, I decided to get it all “savoury-ied” up so I added some salt and pepper, some parsley and thyme, some green onion and some paprika. I tasted my concoction and oh my wasn’t it good.

I spread some on a cracker and ate it. Then I spread some more. And some more. And then I just abandoned the crackers and attacked the almond butter with a spoon.

And then … no more almond butter.

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So at this point I’ve consumed about two cups of almond butter, practically on my own, with no savoury dish to show for it.

I think I should quit while I’m ahead.

Margie and Natashya, thanks for an amazing challenge!

For the rest of you, check out all the amazing Daring Cooks’ creations with nut butters.

Ciao!

Almondish, Slightly Herby Spread and/or Dip
A Cream Puff Original

Note: You’ll have to forgive the incredibly vague recipe that follows. I was basically just throwing stuff in the food processor. What came out was very good.

2 cups whole almonds
some olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
roughly chopped green onions or chives
some fresh herbs (i.e., parsley and thyme)
some paprika

1) Whizz your almonds in the food processor until they are paste-like (takes 3 or 4 minutes).
2) Add in enough olive oil to make it creamy (not too much).
3) Add salt and pepper to taste.
4) If you like, add in some green onion or chive. Also add in some fresh herbs and some paprika. Whizz until it’s all creamy.
5) Spoon into a bowl and enjoy.

My Mother’s Garden

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My parents moved into the house we live in two weeks before I was born. For as long as I can remember, we have always had a vegetable garden.

Our garden runs the length of our backyard. It’s a raised garden that, when in full bloom, crowns the backyard.

When my father was alive, he was the main gardener in the family. After he passed away, my mother took over.

Her garden is a thing of beauty. Lush, full and alive, it’s a peaceful strip of heaven in the middle of a very typical Toronto neighbourhood.

The other day I was home from work, not feeling well. I went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea and as I waited for the water to boil, I did what I’ve done probably a thousand times: I stood by the sink and looked out the kitchen window directly at my mother’s garden.

I do this so often that most of the time I don’t even think I notice what I’m seeing. But on that day, maybe because it had rained shortly before, it’s like I really noticed the garden for the first time.

It was so beautiful and it made me feel so much better.

I’m so proud of my mom and her garden that I grabbed my camera and went out to snap these pictures.

I don’t have a lot of experience taking nature photographs so I apologize in advance to my mom as the pictures don’t do her garden full justice. Still, though, I hope you enjoy them.

What I love most about my mother’s vegetable garden is that while it is orderly, it’s not overly orderly or neat. I love gardens that are a bit unstructured. In this picture, you can see the sweet pea in the back, framing the zucchini and the parsley. It’s hard to see in the picture but in the bottom, righthand corner you can see a bit of lavender peeping out. That’s a Cream Puff addition to the garden:

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This is cicoria. It’s funny but I actually don’t know what this lettuce is referred to in English. It is without question my favourite lettuce and my mother grows it especially for me because she knows I love it. It’s bitter and hearty and I can’t imagine summer without it:

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Being Italian, the majority of our garden is dominated by tomato plants. We’re still at least a few weeks away from our first tomatoes but they’re getting closer. And where would we be without basil for out tomatoes:

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My mother is especially proud of these particular tomato plants because they actually grew from the seeds of last year’s tomatoes. When we make our tomato sauce in August, we bury the tomato peels and seeds in the garden. Well some of those seeds will bear fruit this year:

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This is bietola, or swiss chard. Again, this is something that has to be in the garden every year! We enjoy our bietola in my mother’s super delicious minestrone, which is an Italian vegetable soup. My mom doesn’t waste any space in the garden so we snuck in some chives just in front of the bietola:

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We love our hot peppers:

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At the other end of the garden, my mother works on her beans, cucumbers and my strawberries. I first planted a strawberry plant years ago and since then, its multiplied into numerous plants. We don’t get a lot of strawberries but the ones that we do get are so flavourful. My mother loves beans so there’s lots of those, too:

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There’s no such thing as wasted space in my mother’s garden and that includes containers. This particular container is filled with cucumber plants. I’m sure this barrel has a story behind it … if only it could talk:

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If there is one thing about the garden that my mother and I disagree on, it’s sage. I love it. She doesn’t. Still, she lets me keep one sage bush that is so full and beautiful. Those yellow flowers peeking around and through the sage bush are more cucumbers:

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The garden also includes a number of containers that my mom uses for herbs and lettuce:

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I get one container for all the herbs that I love like thyme, tarragon and oregano:

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And last, but certainly not least, rosemary. My very favourite:

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I hope you enjoyed the pictures of my mother’s garden as much as I enjoyed taking them. Even though it’s a small garden, it’s a beautiful one. My mother deserves so much credit for creating such a lovely space. It’s a pleasure to enjoy the fruits of her labours.

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I hope that you take whatever space you have and plant a garden, too!

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: Chickpeas!

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Growing up, chickpeas were a big part of our diet. While my mom would often make dishes with dried chickpeas that had been soaked overnight and reconstituted, she would just as often open up a can of chickpeas and use them in salads and soups, in particular.

I was going through a pile of magazine clippings recently and I come across a recipe for Spicy Toasted Garbanzo Beans and Pistachios from the February 2003 issue of Bon Appétit.

I’m always looking for quick and delicious appetizer recipes to serve with drinks whenever we have get-togethers. I find these types of recipes better for the type of entertaining we do because they offer a quick nibble and people are less likely to fill up on a dish like this as opposed to a more substantial appetizer.

These roasted chickpeas (garbanzo beans are chickpeas) and pistachios are so addictive that I often have to double or triple the recipe. And they’re fast and easy to make, to boot.

This is my entry for this week’s Magazine Mondays. Hope you give them a try!

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

Wandering Coyote of ReTorte made Roasted Lemon Cake from Taste magazine. Awhile ago, she also made Everyday Granola from the June 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

Claire of Chez Cayenne made Lemon Pulihora from the April 2006 issue of Vegetarian Times.

Brenda of Brenda’s Canadian Kitchen made Triple Cheese Spirals from the April 2010 issue of Food Network magazine.

The prolific recipe sleuth made the following recipes from magazines: Spicy Grilled Shrimp from the June 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living; Grilled Buttermilk Chicken from the June 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living; Grilled Pork Tenderloin and Garlicky Potato Salad from June/July 2010 issue of Cook’s Country; Spiced Strawberry Shortcake from the Summer 2010 issue of Homemakers; Roasted Red Pepper Bocconcini Pops from Holiday 2006 issue of Food & Drink; Quinoa, Garbanzo and Spinach Salad with Smoked Paprika Dressing from the July 2010 issue of Bon Appétit; and Linguine with Shrimp and Cilantro-Lime Pesto from the July 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

Carla of Recipeaddict made Pork Chips with Tarragon Sauce and Cornichons from the November 2008 issue of Bon Appétit.

Remember that anyone can take part in Magazine Mondays. If you post a recipe from a magazine, just send me the link and I’ll include it in my next round-up.

Have a great week everyone!

Ciao!

Okay. I Get It.

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Have you ever had the experience where a million people will come and ask you if you’ve seen a movie that you haven’t seen and then they will proceed to tell you why you should see it?

Everyone around you is talking about the movie, raving about the movie, asking you why in the world you still haven’t seen the movie so much so that you decide not to see the movie because even though you haven’t seen it, you already know you’ll hate it.

Simply by virtue of the fact that everybody else loves it.

Ever had that happen?

That’s what happend to me and the movie While You Were Sleeping.

And also, shortcakes with strawberries.

The entire world saw and loved While You Were Sleeping in 1995. Except for me.

The entire world has had shortcakes with strawberries (or at least it seems that way). Except for me.

This morning my mother and I went strawberry picking and I swear it was the last straw.

As we walked to the car with our pails of strawberries I think I heard about 4,000 comments about strawberries and shortcakes.

Enough is enough. Even I know when to throw in the towel.

I came home, cleaned strawberries for hours, made jam and then I did it.

I made shortcakes with strawberries. To be perfectly accurate, I made biscuits with strawberries and cream.

Okay. I get it. I finally get it.

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Strawberries + shortcakes + cream = deliciousness.

Happy now?!

By the way, somewhere between 1998-2000 I finally saw While You Were Sleeping and loved it.

Happy now?!

Ciao!

Strawberries with Cream and Biscuits

Note: I’m going to do a separate post about the biscuits that I used for my version of this classic. If you don’t have a great shortcake recipe, try this one or this one.

1 cup sliced strawberries mixed with a bit of sugar and lemon juice
1 cup whipped cream
4 biscuits

Split the biscuits in half and put them on a plate.
Pile one half of the biscuit high with cream
Spoon on some strawberries and top with the other biscuit half and serve.
Enjoy!

Happy Canada Day!

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To all my fellow Canadians, have a Happy Canada Day!

Ciao!

In the Divinest of Kitchens

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I’m not ashamed to admit it.

When it comes to “social media”, I’m just a tad behind the times. I’m still trying to figure out Twitter and while I have a Facebook account, let’s just say I’m apt to forget about it for weeks on end.

It’s not that I don’t like interacting with people, it’s just that I’m a Cream Puff and my thing is baking. I’m in the kitchen … a lot.

Perhaps one day I will graduate to a laptop that I can have in the kitchen that will allow me to bake and tweet and facebook and who-knows-what-else but I’m still having a hard time accepting the end of VCRs so give me time.

Give me time.

Having said that, I do acknowledge the deep and significant influence that social media have had on all of our lives.

Since I became a blogger in 2005, I have come into contact with countless people whom I probably would have never met, much less heard of.

One of these people is Judy Witts Francini of Divina Cucina.

To be honest, I don’t recall exactly when I first heard of Judy but I suspect that it was years ago and it was probably through David Lebovitz’s site. I do remember visiting her blog and thinking, “Here is a great teacher of cooking.”

In a day and age when we’re inundated with words and images about food, when food bloggers must number in the thousands (if not many, many more), in my opinion there are surprisingly few people whom I would consider genuinely capable of teaching others about food.

It’s one thing to have a blog and bake or cook and take pictures. That is certainly a worthy endeavour that many, myself included, find fulfilling.

But just because I make a great cake, it doesn’t mean I have what it takes to teach other people how to do it.

Judy knows how to teach people how to cook. I’ve never met Judy in person, but I know this. I know this as certainly as I know that fresh basil is a gift from heaven, butter is is my middle name and chocolate is a basic human right.

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Not too long ago, Judy contacted me via Facebook and asked if I would like a copy of her cookbook, Secrets From my Tuscan Kitchen.

Would I?!

Shortly thereafter I came home to a little bundle waiting for me. I unwrapped it and immediately fell in love with a cookbook that’s a throwback.

Printed on beautiful paper, the book is akin to taking all those handwritten recipes, written my your mother, or grandmother or aunt, hidden away somewhere, and binding them together in an homage to the home kitchen.

It’s simple, honest, direct and authentic. Just like the best teachers.

Judy … grazie!

Ciao!

Note: I bought a spectacular bunch of spinach from the farmer’s market. A day or two later, I bought some fresh ricotta and the idea to make Judy’s Crespelle alla Fiorentina (ricotta and spinach-filled crepes) was born. Smothered in a delicious besciamella (béchamel sauce) and fresh tomato sauce, this dish was delicious. You can buy a copy of Judy’s book here. Please take a look. It’s so worth it.

Summer … Is That You?

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Well hello there summer!

Welcome back! I know you’ve been around for a few days already but I thought I’d give you a proper welcome.

With lemons.

With ricotta.

With pretty flowers.

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With moist, sweet cake bursting with the brightness of lemons and the fragrance of Fiori di Sicilia.

I hope you stay with us for awhile, Summer.

And I hope you bring us many bright days and many warm and delicious nights.

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Ciao!

Lemon Ricotta Cake
Based on a recipe from BBC Good Food.
Serves 8 to 10.

Note: I love this cake. I adore it. I would bake it everyday if not for the fact that I would eat the whole thing everyday by myself. I have a kitchen scale so I weigh the ingredients for this recipe as in the original. Fortunately, self-rising flour is readily available in Toronto but if you can’t find it, you can use all-purpose flour. Simply use the same amount of all-purpose flour as self-rising flour but add 1-1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt for each cup.

I love to use Fiori di Sicilia in this cake. Fiori di Sicilia is an essence availabe from King Arthur Flour. It’s like heaven in a bottle. It has a strong citrus flavour that settles into baked goods and somehow enhances them without overpowering them. It’s delicious. Fiori di Sicilia translated means “flowers of Sicily” and honestly, if I could imagine the scent of Sicilian flowers then this would be it. Be careful, though, as a little goes a very long way. If you can’t find this product, then simply follow the original recipe and use the full amount of lemon zest (or use orange zest).

The original recipe uses caster sugar and I like to use superfine sugar. It’s also labelled as quick-disolving sugar. If you can’t find it, simply put some granulated sugar in a food processor and process for a few minutes until very fine.

If you have a small springform pan (i.e. 7-inches in diameter), use it as you will end up with a very high cake. I use an 8-inch springform pan as it’s the smallest that I have.

150 grams unsalted butter, softened
150 grams superfine sugar (also known as quick-dissolving)
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia
3 large eggs, separated
1/8 teaspon salt
250 grams ricotta (if the ricotta is fresh, be sure to drain it or your batter will be too liquidy)
125 grams self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour your springform pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar for 4 to 5 minutes at high speed. The butter should be pale in colour and very creamy.

Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and Fiori di Sicilia and beat for one minute on medium speed.

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each yolk is added. Add the ricotta and mix at low speed until combined.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until you have stiff peaks (I use a separate bowl with a handheld mixer but you can also beat the egg whites by hand if you’ve got the elbow grease).

With a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Immediately fold in the flour and baking powder. Be gentle as you mix so as not to deflate the mixture too much.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. Check to see if the cake is done by inserting a cake tester or toothpick in the centre of the cake. It should come out clean. If not, bake for an additional 5 minutes or until the cake is done.

Remove the cake from the oven and let cool on a wire rack before releasing the cake from the springform.

Serve at room temperature.

Enjoy!

Magazine Mondays: Cherries!

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Cherries.

How I love thee, let me count the ways!

Of all the stone fruits, cherries are my absolute favourite. One of my dreams is to have a house with a beautiful cherry tree (or two) in the backyard.

Growing up, we had a beautiful cherry tree but eventually my father had to take it down. That was such a sad day.

Every summer, no matter the cost, I make sure to get my fill of cherries.

While in Paris, I had a lovely dessert of cherries fried in butter and topped with ice cream. Since returning from my trip, I’ve been thinking a lot about french desserts and as luck would have it, the most recent issue of Fine Cooking has a feature on cherries.

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Lo and behold, there is a recipe for Cherry-Almond Clafoutis.

I haven’t had much success in the past with clafoutis, but this recipe has erased past failures. It was heaven. One word of advice: serve it warm from the oven. While the flavour is still good the next day, the texture isn’t as lovely as when you first take the clafoutis out of the oven.

This is the first edition of Magazine Mondays for quite awhile so I have a lot of participants this week:

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Squash Casserole from the May 2010 issue of Southern Living. Earlier Tina made Crockpot BBQ Ribs from the June 2009 issue of Family Circle.

Tamy of Always Eat on the Good China made Cream Cheese Peppermint Cookies.

Tia of Buttercream Barbie made Strawberry Cake from a June 2005 issue of Martha Stewart Living. Earlier, Tia made an Oatmeal Apple Cookie Cake from the August/September 2006 issue of Taste of Home.

Janet of The Taste Space made Blueberry Rhubarb Cranberry Crisp with Pistachio Crust from the June 1999 issue of Gourmet. Earlier, she made a Miso Glazed Black Cod from the July 2008 issue of Food & Wine.

Carla of RecipeAddict made Vietnamese Beef-Noodle Soup from the April 2010 issue of Cooking Light.

Brenda of Brenda’s Canadian Kitchen made Herbed Flatbread from the June 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Recipe Sleuth from Eye for a Recipe made Grilled Asian Chicken and Vegetables with Ginger Cilantro Rice from the June 2010 issue of Bon Appétit, Jerk Pork Tenderloin with Pineapple Salsa from the June 2010 issue of Food & Wine, and Wine Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Rosemary-Orange Dressing from the June 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

Jamie of Life’s a Feast made a Zucchini Ricotta Feta Tart from the June 2010 issue of Saveurs.

For those of you that are interested in participating in Magazine Mondays, just send me a link to a magazine recipe you’ve tried and I’ll include it in my next round-up.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

For the Almond-Cherry Clafoutis recipe, click here.

Happy Cake

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Life is tough, sometimes, isn’t it?

Making it through the work week. Paying the bills. Taking care of the family. Mowing the lawn. Scrubbing the toilet (blech).

But you know what?

For all the not-so-fun things we have to do, there’s lots of things that make up for it.

Watching the garden grow. Taking a walk. Visiting a friend. Eating some cherries.

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Baking a Happy Cake.

A Happy Cake is any cake that makes you smile and makes you feel happy.

I have many Happy Cakes but this week my Happy Cake is this one.

I’ve made my Happy Cake a little happier with the addition of rum. (But that can be our little secret.)

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Bake a Happy Cake. Have a Happy Weekend.

Ciao!

Happy Cake (with Cream Cheese Frosting and Sprinkles)
Based on Ina Garten’s Flag Cake.

Note: You can bake this cake in a variety of pans but if you have a sheet pan that’s at least 18 inches by 12 inches, that’s the easiest way to bake the cake. Do as Ina Garten does and seve it directly from the baking sheet.

For the Cake:

1-1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
2-1/2 cups granulated sugar
6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

For the rum glaze:

1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons, unsalted butter
1/4 cup rum

For the frosting:

2 cups unsalted butter, softened
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 pound icing sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour your baking pan really well.

In a the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar for 3 minutes on high speed. The mixture should be fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium and carefully add the eggs, two at a time. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the sour cream and the vanilla and almond extracts. Mix for another minute on medium speed.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda.

With the mixer on low speed, carefully add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake on the middle rack for 20 minutes. Check to see if the cake is done by inserting a toothpick into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, it’s done. If not, bake for another five minutes or until the cake is done. Remove the cake to a wire rack.

While the cake is cooling, prepare the rum glaze. Place the water, sugar and butter in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiled, remove from the heat and add the rum. Stir to combine.

Using a thin knife or a skewer, poke holes over the top of the warm cake. Carefully brush with as much of the rum glaze as the cake will take. Let the cake cool completely.

To make the icing, place the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat at high speed for four minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract. Refrigerate the frosting until ready to use.

Once the cake has cooled completely, pile on the frosting spreading it evenly with a spatula. Top the frosting with decorative sprinkles and serve.

Enjoy!

Take a Bite. A Big, Big Bite.

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I love cheeky cookbooks.

This is probably what first attracted me to the charming, shameless and utterly delicious cookbook Bite Me: A Stomach-Satisfying, Visually Gratifying, Fresh-Mounthed Cookbook.

I remember it well. It was a Friday night, after work. I had taken my weekly trip to the local bookstore and was cruising the cookbook section for my latest conquest, er, I mean cookbook.

My eyes were immediately attracted to Bite Me after seeing it piled high on a display table. I flipped through it, fell in immediate love with the humour and funny recipe titles and purchased it right then and there.

Not too long after, I was looking for some information about the authors, Julie Albert and Lisa Gnat, when I came across their site for the book. Pure delectable fun. I’ve rarely seen cookbook authors that approach the sale of their cookbook with the humour and gusto that these authors do.

And they’re pretty sweet too since, after I contacted them, they kindly arranged for a copy of their book to be sent along for review at The Daring Kitchen (you can read the review here).

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After spending months perusing the book, it was high time to try a few recipes and my goodness were they good!

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I tried the recipe for Mona Lisa’s Fontina and Arugula Pizza (except I used Asiago instead of Fontina) and loved it. Lightly dressed arugula on a hot, cheesy pizza is hard to resist.

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But the recipe I really and truly loved was the Chocolate-Crusted Creamy Caramel Cheesecake. Apparently if you drench unbaked cheesecake with caramel sauce it bakes up all sugary and golden and delicious and crunchy and I should probably just come clean and tell you that I ate the entire cheese cake myself.

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Don’t judge me.

Bite me.

Ciao!

You can check out some of the great recipes from Bite Me here.

Merci, Paris!

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I have returned from Paris!

What a grand week we had! The return home was a bit of an adventure but we made it back safe and sound and we’re left only with memories of a fascinating, delicious city.

While we put in due time visiting all the sites, the reality is that that I spent most of the week eating my way through the city, arrondissement by arrondissement.

I can’t tell which was most delicious.

But I fell hard for Paris after dinners at Mon Vieil Ami and Les Bouqinistes. I got a little tipsy here, but don’t tell anyone.

I took the Ladurée/Pierre Hermé macaron taste-test challenge and I still can’t decide which I prefer. That was part of a tremendous Chocolate Walk that we signed up for through Context Travel. If you go to Paris, I highly recommend their tours!

I watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle and I’m not ashamed to admit I teared up a bit.

The Musée d’Orsay stole my heart. It was a reminder to me that we should all do whatever is necessary to encourage the creation and protection of art.

Speaking of art, I had to actually walk out of Gérard Mulot because I was going to cry. It is a living and bustling monument to the beauty of pastry and baking.

And on the subject of pastry and baking, I was charmed out of my mind by Coquelicot. If I could ever own a bakery, that’s exactly what it would like.

I immersed myself in butter. I ate it all up. Everywhere.

I inhaled the delicious air at Eric Kayser and I paid my respects at Poilâne. The amount of bread I ate is not even measurable.

And I spent my fair share of time gawking at the French. There should be a picture of the map of France under the definition of “elegance” in the dictionary. I don’t know if it’s the tap water or just being born there but people seem to have this innate chicness that you just can’t buy off a hanger.

I want to live in the St. German des Prés district.

I tasted chocolate that reaffirms why bad chocolate is a blasphemy.

I was presented with the most stuning millefeuille at L’Arpege. And I knew, as my fork shattered the perfect pastry, that good food is worth anything. Anything.

This post doesn’t do the week justice. Every day was a lesson in the history of Paris and the ways of the Parisians. It was a whirlwind, and at times it was overwhelming.

But it was so worth it.

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Merci, Paris!

I Leave You with Strawberries!

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I’m going to Paris!

Paris!

I can’t believe it. I am getting on a plane and going to Paris.

With so many preparations and plans, I haven’t had much time to blog so I’m leaving you with these pictures from our garden: the first strawberries of the season!

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Enjoy … and I’ll see you in a little over a week!

Au revoir!

Magazine Mondays: Happy Victoria Day!

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Happy Victoria Day to all my fellow Canadians!

Even though the first day of summer is still roughly a month away, for me, Victoria Day has always been the unofficial beginning of summer.

Barbecue season is underway, my strawberry plants are on the verge of yielding some sweet berries and I can now officially wear white pants without incurring the ire of the fashion police!

While we use the barbecue virtually year round at our house, for many Canadians Victoria Day is the first opportunity of the year to have a big barbecue.

If there’s one thing that I love at a barbecue, it’s potato salad. Much like pancakes, I’ve probably tried a thousand recipes for potato salad. And I believe I’ve loved every one!

For our Victoria Day celebration, I tried a recipe from the July 2005 issue of Canadian Living: Warm Potato Salad. The only change I made was to omit the green bell pepper, which never sits well with me for some reason.

It was a lovely salad and a perfect accompaniment to our meal.

This is my entry for this week’s Magazine Mondays. And here are some other entries to intrigue you:

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Cherry Tomato and Prosciutto Focaccia.

Wandering Coyote from ReTorte made Chocolate-Orange Brownies from the March 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

Brenda from Brenda’s Canadian Kitchen made New York-Style Crumb Cake.

Recipe Sleuth of Eye for a Recipe made Harissa Chicken with Green Chile and Tomato Salad from the June 2010 issue of Food & Wine.

Carla from RecipeAddict made Braised Chicken Stew (Pollo Guisado) from the April 2010 issue of Everyday with Rachel Ray and Risotto with Spring Greens from the June 2009 issue of Oprah magazine.

Valerie of Sex, Food, and Rock & Roll made Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives and Lemons from the May 2009 issue of Bon Appétit.

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I wanted to end off by sharing a delicious treat made by a family member. I have lots of little cousins and they’re all sweet but my “little” cousin J (she’s 21), made this delicious cheesecake for our family barbecue. So you can see the baking gene runs in the family. So sweet!

There won’t be a Magazine Mondays next week (May 31st) so we’ll see you in a few weeks.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Forza. Inter.

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Today, Inter (FC Internazionale Milano) defeated FC Bayern München by a score of 2-0 to win the UEFA Cup.

My papa was a huge Inter fan.

Huge!

I know he’s in Heaven celebrating with all the other Inter fans.

Forza Inter!

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: More Rhubarb!

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Hot on the heels of my delicious baked rhubarb, I bring you Rhubarb Tartlets from Issue 9 of Jamie Oliver’s magazine.

I am a huge fan of tartlets. This is mainly due to the fact that I can pretend that I am eating a pie all by myself (a dream of mine) and I don’t have to share it with anyone.

What can I say? I can be a selfish Cream Puff when it comes to the matter of sweets.

While these took a bit of work to make the pastry shells and the custard, they were completely worth it. I overcooked my rhubarb ever so slightly but in the end it was all so delicious.

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This is my entry for this week’s Magazine Mondays, the non-event I created to give everyone the opportunity to at least tempt to tame the pile of clipped magazine recipes I know we all have.

Before I get to the list of participants for this edition of MM, I want to introduce you to a lovely new blog recently started by a kindred spirit. It’s called Eye For a Recipe. I’m happy to say that Sleuth is participating in her first Magazine Mondays with a submission from the April 2010 issue of Food & Wine: Chicken Sukiyaki!

Here are all the other lovely entries for this week’s edition of Magazine Mondays:

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Mini Baked Potatoes.

Lynn of I’ll Have What She’s Having made Mini Tomato Chèvre Tarts from the April 2010 issue of Chatelaine.

Dawn of Doable and Delicious made Cauliflower Souffle with Brown Butter from the May 2008 issue of Gourmet and Barley Salad from Cooking Light magazine.

Wandering Coyote of ReTorte made Curried Pork Burgers from Canadian Living.

Remember, anyone can take part in MM. Just send me a link to a magazine recipe that you posted. Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Click here for the Rhubarb Tartlet recipe from Issue 9 of Jamie magazine.

Getting to the Fruit of the Matter

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I always heed Cath’s call.

Whenever she asks if I want to participate in a book event, I’m there.

Especially when the author of the book is someone like Deborah Madison. Some people are born to write cookbooks and Deborah is one of those people.

Her latest cookbook, Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm, and Market, is another example of Madison’s ability.

The hardest part for me was getting over the unfairness of not being able to try so many of the tempting berry recipes because we are nowhere near berry season here.

The book covers all fruits, but I have pretty much had my fill of apples. Thankfully, though, Ontario rhubarb has begun to make its appearance this spring so I didn’t feel too badly.

What to say about the book?

It’s beautiful. It’s imaginative. It has depth.

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I am relatively new to rhubarb but I love it. The recipe for Baked Rhubarb with Vanilla, Orange, and Clove immediately caught my eye so I couldn’t resist.

I cannot explain how happy I was as the gentle perfume of baking sugar, rhubarb and vanilla filled the kitchen.

I was even happier when I enjoyed the baked rhubarb alongside some five-grain cereal for breakfast.

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The rhubarb will keep me happy until the berries arrive.

The book will make me happy every time.

Ciao!

Enchiladas. I love Saying That Word.

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Our hosts this month, Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Food have chosen a delicious Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada recipe in celebration of Cinco de Mayo! The recipe, featuring a homemade enchilada sauce was found on www.finecooking.com and written by Robb Walsh.

The sad truth is I almost never cook any other type of cuisine besides Italian. The biggest obstacle to trying different ethnic recipes is that I inevitably find myself with a long shopping list of ingredients that I know I’ll only use once or twice. With cupboards that are already full of bottles, jars and various other packages that I rarely dip into, I’m reluctant to add to the clutter.

Deep down, though, I have a huge thing for Mexican food. I love it and it’s certainly not easy to find great Mexican food in Toronto (although it’s getting better).

I was so happy when I saw what the May 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was because I have always wanted to make enchiladas. I should also confess that I just love saying that word.

It makes me feel happy and hungry all at the same time.

The best part of this recipe was hunting down the ingredients for the Green Chile Sauce. Having never tried tomatillos, or purchased them for that matter, I thought I’d give it a try and locate them. My search took me to Toronto’s Kensington Market, which is home to several food stores that sell ingredients used in Mexican and South American cuisine. While I was successful in procuring tomatillos, I could not find Anaheim chiles so instead, I bought poblanos.

I had no idea that poblanos were as spicy as the ones that I bought were. It definitely gave the sauce a special “kick”. Luckily, we love our spicy food in the Cream Puff household so it worked out. I made a fresh salsa, however, and mixed in some of the chile sauce to take a bit of the edge off.

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Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly and ended up with a most delicious enchilada dish. Everyone loved it and there were no leftovers. I’m looking forward to using the rest of the chile sauce and corn tortillas and making this dish again.

I’d like to thank Barbara and Bunnee for doing such a great job of hosting!

For a copy of the challenge recipe, visit The Daring Kitchen recipe section.

Ciao!

Every Kitchen Should Be So Sweet!

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I have been fortunate enough to have a few brushes with the pastry world.

I have had the tremendous honour of having lunch with Dorie Greenspan and many, many, many years ago, shortly after completing my university degree and enrolling in a publishing certificate program, I had the opportunity to talk to Regan Daley.

For about 30 seconds.

I was working on an internship with a publishing company and it was around the time that In The Sweet Kitchen, Regan Daley’s tremendous baking book, was being produced.

I no longer remember the circumstances, but I do remember being asked to call her to confirm a few details.

I believe the entire conversation lasted about 30 seconds. Or at least I was so nervous that it seemed like 30 seconds.

What I do remember was how sweet Ms. Daley was, especially when talking to a most nervous intern fresh out of school.

When In The Sweet Kitchen was published, I wanted it immediately. Strangely, though, over the years I have never picked up a copy. Do not take that as a sign of the book’s merits.

This is a tremendous baking book. It’s thorough, detailed and innovative without being intimidating.

What is particularly unique about the book is that the recipes don’t actually begin until more than halfway through. The first half of the book is an exhaustive look at everything from ingredients to baking methods.

I don’t care if you’ve never turned your oven on in your entire life, there is no way that you cannot come away from this book with a basic understanding of baking and more importantly, inspiration to start baking.

The recipes themselves are gems. Daley doesn’t go for the run-of-the-mill recipes but rather builds the recipe chapters with some really interesting recipes that are destined to become favourites.

The recipes are meticulous and the head notes to the recipes are both informative and often entertaining.

Once again, had I all the time in the world I probably would have baked my way through this book.

Instead, I settled on shortbread.

But not just any shortbread. Butter-Toffee Crunch Shortbread.

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In the recipe directions, Daley writes, “I should warn you, at this point, that this dough now smells better than any cookie dough you have ever experienced. Restrain yourself …”.

She’s not kidding, people.

I have to confess that I was in very short supply of retraint and ate a significant portion of this dough. Raw.

These were quite simply the best shortbread cookies I have ever eaten or baked. And then eaten.

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For good measure, I thought I should try another recipe and I settled on The Ultimate Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies only because I happened to have a bag of chocolate chunks lying around.

I can confirm that the cookies were the ultimate, were definitely soft and were also chewy.

Another winner.

If you already own In The Sweet Kitchen, then you know the joys this book has to offer.

If you don’t own it, what are you waiting for?

Ciao!

I ♥ My Mommy

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I love my mommy.

Even though I am fully grown, I still call her mommy.

She’s the best mommy a Cream Puff could have.

Happy Mother’s Day, mommy!

And a Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there. Hope it’s so sweet!

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Ciao!

The Best French Toast
Serves 3 (or 2 very hungry people)

Note: This is my base recipe for french toast. You can amend the recipe based on what flavours you want to produce. You can add all sorts of extracts to the base, you can add liquor to the base, you can add flavoured sugars to the base, you can double the base or triple it easily and you can even make the base savoury for a french toast dinner. If you prefer an eggier french toast, add an egg and reduce the amount of dairly by a quarter cup. For the bread, I like to use thick slices of brioche or a good quality sandwich bread. You can keep the French Toast warm while you cook all the bread by placing it in a 200 degree F. oven in an oven-proof dish.

The Base:

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup half-and-half cream
1/2 cup whole milk
a pinch of salt

To the base, for the recipe pictured here, I added:

3 tablespoons vanlla sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon

6 slices thickly sliced brioche or sandwich bread
Melted butter (to grease the griddle or sauté pan)

Combine the beaten egg, cream, milk and salt in a wide shallow bowl. Add whatever additions you like to the base (in my case I added vanilla sugar, vanilla extract and cinnamon).

Either heat a griddle or a large sauté pan and grease the bottom with a bit of melted butter. Regulate the heat accordingly so you don’t burn your French Toast (I generally keep it at medium-low once the pan has heated up nicely).

Dip one slice of bread in the egg and cream mixture. Don’t dip for too long (I like to dip about 5 seconds per side). Carefully place the bread in the griddle or pan and cook on each side for three to four minutes. The bread will be golden when you flip it. Transfer the slice to a plate and keep it in a warm oven while you cook the rest.

Once you’ve cooked all the French Toast slices, serve with whatever garnishes you like including: powdered sugar, strawberries, cream, maple syrup and butter.

Enjoy!

Magazine Mondays: Pasta!

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Sometimes I’m convinced that I have some sort of internal navigation system that activates as soon as I see a recipe I simply must try.

The navigation system kicks in and directs me home, as fast as possible, to try said recipe.

This can be a problem when you’re … say … at work.

Thus ensues a lengthy inner monologue between myself and navigation system on why I can’t leave work early to go home and cook.

Ah, the dilemmas of a cream puff!

The navigation system kicked in big time when I caught a glimpse of this recipe and read the accompanying article, from Saveur.

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Published in Issue 120, I actually have the magazine and when I caught a glimpse of the article on-line, I remembered that I had bookmarked it.

After reading about the history of this much-abused pasta dish, I realized that I’ve basically been eating my mother’s version of “alfredo” for as long as I can remember.

The traditional pasta dish consists of pasta, Parmigiano Reggiano and butter. In my family, pasta with butter and Parmigiano has been a staple of quick family dinners. The difference between my mother’s version, and the original, is that my mother would use just enough butter and cheese to flavour the pasta. The technique of twirling the pasta in a warmed plate and slowly building a sauce, using nothing more than the bond of butter and cheese, is unique to the original.

I went ahead and followed the recipe, carefully slicing pats of butter and laying them in the bottom of a large warmed bowl. I twirled my pasta carefully working in the Parmigiano Reggiano, and I did it all with the bowl sitting on top of the pot of boiled pasta water (that kept the bowl extra warm!).

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The end result was delicious. Navigation system fully satisfied!

This is my entry for this week’s edition of Magazine Mondays, the “non-event” I created to finally put all those magazine recipes to good use.

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

Wandering Coyote of ReTorte made Lemon Buttermilk Pudding Cake from the November 2009 issue of Canadian Living.

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Coffee Sirloin Roast from the August 2009 issue of Taste of Home.

Tia from Buttercream Barbie made a Chicken Bacon Ranch Pizza using a pizza dough recipe from a May 2007 issue of Canadian Living.

Tamy from Always Eat on the Good China made Apple Raisin Noodle Pudding and Imperial Pudding.

Carla from RecipeAddict made Tomato Jam from the July/August 2000 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Janet from The Taste Space made Chilled Soba with Baby Bok Choy, Snow Peas, Spinach and Tofu from the July 2008 issue of Gourmet.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Look Who’s in the News!

All you Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks, that’s who!!!

Check it out … The Independent published a piece on The Daring Kitchen.

Take a bow!

Ciao!

Damn Good Show

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Have you ever felt, with every fibre of you’re being, that you love a place even though you’ve never been there?

I have never set foot in New Orleans but I know, just about as well as I know my own name, that I love that city.

One day I will get there and my love will be confirmed.

I just know it.

Before Katrina, I was actually been planning a trip to New Orleans but my plans were scuttled by a combination of work and other commitments. Along with just about everyone else, I was shocked, saddened and so angry to see what happened during and after the storm.

And always, I would think about New Orleans and wonder, “When will I get there?”

I’m still asking that question, but I feel a tad closer ever since I started watching an amazing show called Treme.

I’m not one to talk about much beyond baking, cooking and cookbooks on this blog, but I just have to tell you about this show because it is brilliant.

Not only does it feature several of my favourite actors (hello, John Goodman and Wendell Pierce!), I cannot even tell you how brilliant the music is.

The name of the show comes from a neighbourhood in New Orleans and the show features numerous storylines all of which follow the men and women of Treme as they put their lives back together in the months after Katrina.

The star of the show is the music, though. Without a doubt.

As I watched last week’s episode and I found myself wondering about a trip to New Orleans, I rememberd that many months ago I picked up a copy of DamGoodSweet: Desserts to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, New Orleans Style by David Guas.

I started to flip through the book and had half-convinced myself to start making beignets, even though it was very late, but then I thought why not try something a little more manageable for the evening. Having remembered a post from Molly of Orangette about caramel corn, I decided that I would go for it.

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That was damn good caramel corn! Damn good like the show … hope you watch it!

Ciao!

Click here for Molly’s version of the recipe.

Daring Bakers Get Steamy … Sort of.

Today is Daring Bakers day and as you can see I am delinquent yet again.

But do not the judge the Daring Bakers by the negligence of moi … please. There are some daring, daring people out there and none moreso than Esther of The Lilac Kitchen who challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using … suet for the April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge.

That girl is daring!

I will dare myself to make this challenge … just not yet. In the meantime, please do visit The Daring Kitchen blogroll to see how steamed up Daring Bakers can get.

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: Fresh Produce!

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Or lack therof …

I had to smile when I read a post on Smitten Kitchen about how some bloggers in parts-not-here are enjoying all sorts of beautiful and fresh spring delights from the garden. I feel her pain. While here in Toronto we are still dealing with cold and windy weather, it’s hard not to be jealous when you know that some people in the world are already eating the first strawberries of spring.

Not fair!

While my strawberry plants are at least a month away from bearing any fruit, I thought I had resolved to grin and bear it. I’m a big girl. How hard can it be to wait until spring fully arrives and all of Ontario’s wonderful produce with it?

Alright. I caved.

It’s not my fault, though. I blame it all on the February 2010 issue of Woman & Home Feel Good Food. I don’t think I’ve ever made a recipe from this delightful magazine for a Magazine Mondays edition, but that’s entirely may fault. What a pretty magazine! I encourage you to pick up a copy if you can.

While I was flipping through the issue, I saw a recipe for Mozzarella and Tomato Brioche that looked so appetizing, I decided that I would make it immediately even though I’m months away from my first fresh garden tomato. I threw together some cherry tomatoes, green onion, chopped olives, thyme, basil, fresh mozzarella, olive oil and salt. I let the whole mixture marinate for a bit and then I fairly plunked it on some warm ciabatta bread.

I sat down at the table and inhaled it. While I’m sure I did not make for a pretty sight, it appeased (momentarily anyway), my craving for fresh food from the garden.

So for now, I’m okay. But I have to tell you, summer can’t get here soon enough!

As you know, Magazine Mondays is my “non-event” that gives all of us a chance to finally try those magazine recipes we’ve been clipping religiously.

Look who joined me this week in digging into that magazine pile:

Tia from Buttercream Barbie made an Apricot Braid from Taste of Home.

Jamie from Life’s a Feast made Quinoa Risotto with Asparagus and Parmesan Tuiles from the May 2010 issue of Saveurs. Jamie also made a Strawberry Shortcake from a 1989 issue of Chocolatier.

Janet from The Taste Space made Moroccan Carrot Soup from the April 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

Diana from Di’s Kitchen Notebook made the Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes from Cook’s Illustrated.

Lynn from I’ll Have What She’s Having made Spicy Chickpea Tomato Soup from the Novemer 2007 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Tina Marie from Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Indoor Pulled Pork from Cook’s Illustrated and Feta Chicken Bundles from the December 2009 issue of Family Circle.

Jannett of Canadian Baker Too made Summer Berry Shortcakes from the Summer 2009 LCBO magazine.

Have a great week, everyone!

Ciao!

Smile. Have a Cookie.

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In the moments when baking seems most impossible, I think of cookies and I smile.

That’s because I know that as soon as I can get back to baking, I will be baking cookies.

Is there anything more perfect in baking then a warm cookie, fresh out of the oven?

How about a heart-shaped warm cookie, fresh out of the oven, smothered in creamy goodness and then sandwiched with another heart-shaped cookie?

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Come on! You can’t resist that. Not even the most hardened soul could be immune to that kind of baking firepower.

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As I ease my way back into baking after a prolonged (for me) period away from the kitchen, I give myself over to the will of the baking fairies who clearly wanted me to bake these cookies.

They’re from Nigella Lawson’s Feast: Food to Celebrate Life. The baking fairies had their way with me on this one.

Not a day after I found myself pondering what to do with a mostly full canister of Bird’s Custard Powder (left over from this Daring Bakers’ challenge), I happened to be flipping through Nigella’s book and came across a recipe for Custard Cream Hearts which uses, you guessed it, Bird’s Custard Powder in both the cookie and the cream filling.

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I bow to the wisdom of the baking fairies.

I went into the kitchen and engaged in the beautiful act of baking cookies.

I mixed and rolled and cut out and baked and mixed some more and filled and sandwiched and ate.

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And I smiled.

Ciao!

Butter Cookies with Custard Cream à la Nigella
Based on a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Feast: Food to Celebrate Life.

Note: I used a roughly 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter and was able to get about 20 sandwich cookies out of this recipe (that means I made about 40 heart-shaped cookies). I altered the original recipe by making it more of a butter cookie and adding some cinnamon for flavour. Store the cookies in an airtight container. They should keep for a few days.

For the cookies:

1-½ cups all-purpose flour (you will need extra flour to roll out the cookies)
3 tablespoons Bird’s Custard Powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 tablespoon whole milk (you may need a bit more)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Put all of the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the flour mixture. Pulse 15 to 20 times, or until the butter has been cut into the flour mixture so that it looks crumbly.

Mix the egg and milk together in a small bowl.

With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the egg/milk mixture until a dough forms around the blade of the processor. You may not need to use all of the liquid. If you use all the liquid and the dough is still dry and won’t come together, drizzle in a tablespon or so of extra milk.

Once the ball of dough has formed, stop the processor and remove the dough. Shape it into a round disk and then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour (you can refrigerate it for up to a day).

Once the dough has chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and roll it out on a floured surface. You can roll it out to whatever thickness you like. I prefer thicker cookies because they remain a bit more tender after baking.

After rolling our your dough, begin cutting out cookies and transferring them to the baking sheet.

Bake the cookies until golden (I rolled my cookies out to about a 1/4 inch thickness and baked them for about 18 minutes). Once baked, remove the cookies from the oven and let cool for about five minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the cream filling:

1 tablespoon Bird’s Custard Powder
¾ cup icing sugar
¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperaute
Hot water (you’ll need a bit to help cream the mixture together)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

You can make the filling in a bowl using a wooden spoon or with an electric mixer.

Place the custard powder and icing sugar in a bowl and mix. Add the soft butter and using a wooden spoon mash it into the powder/sugar mixture a bit.

Add a few tablespoons of hot water to loosen the mixture. Continue beating with the wooden spoon.

If it’s too dry and not creamy, add a few more tablespoons of hot water and keep beating with the wooden spoon. Continue doing this until you have a creamy and light mixture.

Add the vanilla extract and cinnamon and mix well.

To assemble the cookie:

Take one heart cookie and spread about a teaspoon of cream filling on one side. Take another heart cookie place on top of the cream filling to form a sandwich.

Enjoy!

Magazine Mondays: Salad!

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Every since my trip to New York City in January, I’ve been on the losing end of the weight gain battle. Just as fast as you can say City Bakery’s pretzel croissant I’m suddenly about 10 pounds heavier.

Eeek!

I’m as vain as the next cream puff and with bathing suit season on the horizon, it’s time to right the ship.

Generally speaking, I try to eat a very balanced diet. I eat everything, I just try to make sure that I eat in moderation and that I get lots of fruit and vegetables. This has served me well in recent years as I’ve turned the corner on weight gain and slowly found myself looking more and more the way I want to look and feeling the way I want to feel.

Having said that, lately I haven’t been eating the greatest of lunches. I’m either grabbing whatever is available (usually not something good) or even worse, skipping lunch.

My favourite sort of lunch has a little bit of everything: some dairy, some carbs, some protein and some vegetables and the vegetables are almost always salad in some form.

But I have to be honest, as much as I like my lettuce it does get a bit boring after awhile. I decided it was time to try some of the kabillion salad recipes I’ve had bookmarked from various magazines. I finally got around to trying this salad recipe from the April/May 2006 issue of Body + Soul magazine.

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I had to make a few changes to the recipe, the biggest being no strawberries. We’re at least a few months away from strawberry season here in Ontario and I don’t care how beautiful they look, those monster strawberries you see in the grocery store have absolutely zero flavour. What’s the point?!

Instead of frisee, which isn’t always available, I used arugula, red-leaf lettuce and Belgian endive. I loved this salad! It was refreshing and the walnuts and goat cheese gave the salad a nutty, creamy angle that was so flavourful. I cannot wait to try this salad again, especially when strawberries are in season.

For those of you that don’t know about Magazine Mondays, it’s the non-event I created to give all those of us with stacks of food magazines everywhere the chance to finally try some of those recipes we’ve bookmarked! There are no rules for this event and the only requirement is that you send me the link to a magazine recipe you’ve posted on your blog. I’ll include it in my next Magazine Mondays‘ roundup.

Here’s who has joined me this week:

A regular contributor, Janie of Panini Girl made a Berry Tiramisu with Lemon Curd from the June 2009 issue of Bon Appétit.

Margaret of Tea and Scones made Peanut Butter Cupcakes from Taste of Home She also made Pasta with Chicken and Squash using another recipe from Taste of Home.

Another regular contributer, Tia of Buttercream Barbie made a Quick Raspberry Cream Cheese Brioche Ring from the Sept./Oct. 1995 issue of Cook’s Illustrated.

Tamy of Always Eat on the Good China made Banana Raisin French Toast.

Erica from the beautiful blog Cooking for Season made Green Tea Shortbread Cookies from the December 2001 issue of Martha Stewart’s Holiday Cookies.

Nova of Raining Potatotes made Poblano, Potato, and Corn Gratin from the April 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.

Dawn from Doable and Delicious made Asparagus Ravioli in Parmesan Broth from the April 2008 issue of Gourmet.

Debbie from Cafe Chibita made Linguine with Seafood Sauce from the March 2010 issue of Food Network magazine.

Needful Things from the blog Needful made Dark Chocolate Dipped Apples from a lost magazine recipe (I feel your pain!).

My buddy Wandering Coyote from ReTorte returns with Chocolate Peanut Butter Pudding Cake from the January 2009 issue of Canadian Living and Marmalade Cake from Food Network magazine.

Tina from Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made BBQ Shrimp from Southern Living magazine.

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

Ciao!

“Pick-Me-Up” … The Daring Bakers’ Way

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The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

In my ongoing and valiant efforts to catch up on all The Daring Kitchen challenges I’ve missed over the past year, I now bring you the February 2010 challenge presented by Aparna and Deeba, two most enthusiastic Daring Bakers. They chose the Italian dessert Tiramisu as the challenge.

Tiramisu, literally translated, means pick-me-up and in theory, it isn’t the most complex of desserts. However, when your hostesses challenge you to make all the components from scratch, including the mascarpone, well, let’s just say it changes things.

Yes. You read that correctly. The Daring Bakers are now also cheesemakers, among other things.

Even though my background is Italian, tiramisu is not my favourite. It’s not that I don’t like it – how could one not possibly like such a creamy, boozy dessert that packs a coffee-kick to boot?

It’s just that growing up, tiramisu became the ubiquitous dessert. Every birthday, every family dinner, every baptism, every confirmation, every wedding party dinner and just about everything else inevitably showcased a tiramisu.

To make matters worse, in the 80s and early 90s, mascarpone was not the easiest ingredient to find in Toronto. And even when you did find it, it was ridiculously expensive, moreso than it is even today. As a result, people (and I’m ashamed to admit some of my own family members) resorted to some very strange mascarpone substitutions the worst of which was fake “whipped cream”.

Ugh.

I prefer not to think of those horrible days! Happily, we have all seemed to move on and on the few occasions when we do make Tiramisu, it’s mascarpone all the way.

Over the years, I have shared my family’s Tiramisu recipe with numerous people and it remains my standard for the dessert.

However, Aparna and Deeba laid down the gauntlet and in the spirit of the Daring Bakers, I accepted the challenge.

There were two elements to this challenge that really intrigued me and that I enjoyed tremendously, even though I wasn’t all that successful with them.

The first element was the recipe for homemade mascarpone. I would have never attempted this on my own but Aparna and Deeba pointed everyone to a post on the blog Baking Obsession that belongs to Vera, a most talented baker. Even if you don’t make the mascarpone, you have to visit her site to see how beautiful her creations are!

The making of homemade mascarpone involves heavy cream, heated to a certain temperature, and the addition of lemon juice. The mixture is then allowed to drain in the refrigerator for a period of time after which you should end up with a thickened cream that is, in essence, a form of mascarpone.

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My lack of patience reared its ugly head again and I did not allow my cream to heat to the right temperature before I added the lemon juice. I’m not sure what the issue was but after more than 40 minutes in the double boiler, my cream seemed to stop heating up. Finally I got so tired I mixed in the lemon juice and proceeded with the recipe.

My end product was delicious, but not nearly as thick as it should have been. Still, though, I wasn’t complaining. It was so good that we could all just imagine eating it in the summer over fresh berries. I cannot wait to try it again!

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The second element of the challenge that I found most intriguing was the making of the savoiardi biscuits. Savoiardi (often referred to as Ladyfinger cookies) are an Italian biscuit that form the base of Tiramisu. However, savoiardi are quite popular beyond this dessert and are used for many other sweets and are also enjoyed on their own.

I have never actually made savoiardi so I was more than pleased to try them.

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Like the mascarpone, things didn’t go perfectly for me. I’m not sure if I didn’t whip my egg whites enough but the biscuits didn’t quite rise as much as they should have. Still, though, the cookies were delicious and I can’t wait to try them again.

The rest of the challenge was quite involved. We had to make a zabaglione and a pastry cream, as well as prepare the espresso and whip up some cream to finish off the filling.

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The end result was a very detailed dessert with lots of components. It was delicious, but also a lot of work. In Tiramisu’ world, this to me was the equivalent of a “supermodel” Tiramisu. For a very special event, I would consider trying it again, but for a Tiramisu’ fix, I’d probably stick with my family’s recipe.

For me, what distinguished this challenge was the unabashed enthusiasm displayed by Aparna and Deeba. They were the very embodiment of the spirit of The Daring Bakers. They cut no corners and pushed everyone. I have to admit sometimes I get a little lazy with these challenges, but not this time. Faced with the efforts that Aparna and Deeba displayed I could not, in good conscience, do anything but my very best.

Ladies, I thank you for being an example to us all and picking me up for an awesome challenge!

Ciao!

For a copy of the challenge recipe, click here.

Buona Pasqua!

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Buona Pasqua. Glad Påsk. Pask Seder. Felis Påsgua. God påske. Vesele velikonočne praznike. Joyeuses Pâques. Buine Pasche. Frohe Ostern. Prospera Pascha sit.

However you say it, Cream Puff and family wish you and yours a very Happy Easter!

Ciao!

Rice is Very Nice

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The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

In my efforts to catch up with The Daring Bakers’ and The Daring Cooks’ challenges that I’ve missed, I bring you the March 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge: risotto.

Rice is a major comfort food for me. There are a number of rice dishes that I associate with meals made for me as a child by my grandmother and by my mother.

Case-in-point: I can get all misty eyed if I start to think about rice with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano, which was a staple of my growing years.

While I have made risotto many, many times, it’s always a pleasure to make it again so I was pleased to see that Eleanor and Jess had chosen it as the challenge for March 2010.

While risotto is quite basic to make, it’s surprisingly easy to mess up, especially if you overcook it. A beautiful risotto can very quickly turn into a pasty and clumpy mess if you’re not careful.

But as long as you watch (patiently) over your risotto and as long as you use a flavourful cooking liqued (i.e., homemade broth), risotto is a dish that once mastered, will provide endless opportunities for new combinations.

The first part of this challenge was to make a homemade chicken broth, which is my cooking liquid of choice when it comes to risotto.

I mean this in the humblest sense but I could probably make chicken broth with my eyes closed. It is one of the very first things that my mother taught me to cook (right after tomato sauce) and I’ve probably been making it since I was about 12 or 13.

Chicken broth (brodo di pollo in Italian), has been a weekly dinner for us and for most members of my family. Typically, we will make a chicken broth and then serve the boiled chicken meat as the main course. I have many fond memories of my parents generously leaving the chicken neck aside so I could happily suck on it as a child. That’s love, people!

I could go on and on about chicken broth but suffice to say that homemade is a million times better than anything you can buy in the store (organic or not). In addition, homemade chicken broth opens the gateway to about a million other dishes that you can prepare. It’s a staple of cooking, cheap to make and, I am convinced, has restorative and therapeutic properties. A bowl of chicken soup is like a liquid hug.

After cooking up a batch of broth, I decided to make the risotto with a very simple and clean flavour combination.

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As my risotto was about partway cooked, I added some tomato puree to add colour and flavour. Just prior to the risotto being done, I mixed in pieces of fresh mozzarella and at the very end I added a handful of fresh basil. I stirred the risotto until the mozzarella began to melt and then served it immediately.

It made for a light and delicious Sunday lunch dish.

The fact is that there are about a million different ways that you can prepare risotto. Once you’ve mastered the art of cooking it slowly, you can’t go wrong.

You can find a copy of the challenge recipe here.

Please do take some time to see what the other Daring Cooks did with their risottos.

Ciao!

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Risotto alla Margherita

Note: Pizza Margherita is a pizza made with tomato, mozzarella and basil. I thought I’d use those same elements to create a risotto. This risotto will serve 4.

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup Arborio rice
4 to 6 cups chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup tomato purée
salt to taste
1/2 cup cubed fresh mozzarella
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
a handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a large and wide pan that you will cook the risott in.

Add the Arborio rice and cook in the oil for a minute or two, stirring constantly. This step will add a nutty flavour the risotto as the grains toast in the olive oil.

Add enough broth to completely cover the risotto by about half an inch. Make sure the heat is on medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice has soaked up most of the broth. The key to risotto is patience. If you cook it too vigourously you will use up all your liquid and the rice grains will still be hard. You also risk burning the rice.

Once most of the liquid has been soaked up, add another cup or of chicken stock/broth. Continue to cook stirring occasionally to ensure that the rice does not stick or burn.

When most of the liquid is absorbed, add another cup or two of stock and proceed as in the step above.

Add the tomato puree and mix well.

Once almost all of the stock is absorbed, taste the rice. If it is cooked (the rice is cooked when it is al dente which means that it’s firm to the bite but soft once you start chewing. If it tastes hard while you’re chewing it, it’s not done), add the Parmigiano Reggiano and mix well. Taste for seasoning. If it’s not salty enough, add some salt.

Remove the risotto from the heat and immediately add the fresh mozzarella. Stir a few times to incorporate and then add the fresh basil. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Colour The Daring Bakers Orange

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The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris.

The busy past few months have meant that I haven’t been able to fully participate in the Daring Bakers’ or the Daring Cooks’ challenges.

That’s okay. I’m allowed. Foundership (not just membership) has its priviledges!

Having said that, however, I don’t plan on slacking off and the first order of business was to complete the March 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge hosted by Jen of Chocolate Shavings.

Jen chose a dessert called Orange Tian as the challenge for the month.

The dessert consists of a pastry base, orange marmalade, a cream (stablized with gelatine) filling and segmented oranges in a caramel sauce.

To be quite honest, I’m not sure I would ever have tried this dessert had I come across it on my own.

It’s not that it was difficult, just time-consuming. And while I do like orange, I don’t necessarily like desserts that are predominantly orange-flavoured.

Plus I really dislike orange marmalade. I’m just not a fan of candied orange and the marmalade was too reminiscent of that.

Nevertheless, I am a Daring Baker so I perservered with all elements of the recipe, including the marmalade, and knocked out a fairly nice dessert if I may say so myself.

Actually, I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought. The frozen cream part of the dessert definitely has potential. I imagined making something similar in the summer with fresh berries.

For those of you interested in giving the recipe a go, you can find it here.

Be sure to check out the other Daring Bakers’ and their efforts with the Orange Tian.

Ciao!

Magazine Mondays: Bread!

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As March draws to an end I find myself slowly emerging from the last two months. I can very clearly recall the beginning of January, but everthing between that first week of 2010 to now is a blur.

Work. Work. Work.

It’s been challenging, fun, stressful, difficult, exciting and so very busy. As always, I feel so happy and relieved at this time of year (biggest work project of the year is done), but I also feel tired and a bit drained.

As much as I enjoy winter, I was so very happy to answer the door when Spring rang the bell.

Bring on the warm weather, the flowers, the open-toed shoes and of course, the return to baking and cooking for me.

Prior to this weekend, I had not baked in over a month.

Ridiculous!

As I contemplated another Monday with no post, I remembered that I had one Magazine Mondays recipe in the bank: Classic White Bread from the February 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living.

While I have certainly had my issues with some Martha Stewart recipes in the past, this one was a winner from start to finish. And best of all I had the pleasureable experience of kneading bread dough.

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This is a sturdy, delicious bread that can be used for numerous purposes. My own favourite was to smother it with salted butter and cherry jam.

It’s been awhile since my last Magazine Mondays post so this is just a little reminder that if you post a magazine recipe, send me the link and I’ll include it in my next MM round-up. Here’s who joined me for this edition:

Tia of Buttercream Barbie made Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies from Bon Appétit and Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars from a 2001 Issue of Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies and she also made Blueberry Peach Yogurt Muffins from Canadian Living.

Tamy of Always Eat on the Good China made Blend in the Bayou from Taste of Home.

Dawn of Doable and Delicious made Herbed Balsamic Chicken with Blue Cheese from Bon Appétit.

Janie of Panini Girl made Hazelnut Cinnmaon Crescents from Bon Appétit.

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

Ciao!

Soon … Very Soon …

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I shall be back to baking!

Ciao!

Note: Pictured above is a Marbled Bundt Cake from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.

Magazine Mondays: Where in the World Have I Been?

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My goodness I don’t even know how long it’s been since I’ve updated my blog! Two weeks? A year? I no longer remember.

I’ve been a busy bee thanks to a work project and some other events. However, I could no longer bear to hear my blog weeping in the corner as the days of neglect stretched into weeks. I’m back for a very quick Magazine Mondays post that perfectly captures my eating habits of late: lots of fat, lots of carbs and almost no fruits or vegetables (long workdays and even longer work nights do not make for healthy eating …).

Having said that, if I have to indulge once and awhile, I’m happy to do so with these ridiculously good chicken wings. I made them for a family dinner we had that happened to fall on Super Bowl Sunday. While lugging out the deep fryer wasn’t exactly the most enjoyable exercise (nor was cleaning it afterwards although the credit for that goes to Mamma Cream Puff), I have to say these were ridiculously good and worth every calorie and gram of fat.

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Just try them. They’re worth it.

Here are some folks who have joined me in the ongoing and epic battle to control that stack of food magazines we all have:

Dawn of Doable and Delicious made Turkish Coffee Pudding from Bon Appétit and Gnocchi with Tomato, Onion and Pancetta from Gourmet.

Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Creamy Parmesan Polenta from Cook’s Illustrated.

Margaret of Tea and Scones made Crawfish and Chicken Étouffée from the Food Network magazine.

The Food Hunter made Veal Stew with Vegetables from La Cucina Italiana.

Wizzy of Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner & Punch made Cornmeal Rosemary Cake with Pine Nuts and Orange Glaze from The Best of Fine Cooking (Fall 2007).

Have a great week everyone!

Ciao!

This recipe is from Sunny Anderson of The Food Network. I saw a program where she prepared chicken wings three separate ways. I made the wings with the Spicy Butter Sauce. Delicious!