Easy Friday Night
Meatball Sandwiches

The ease of sandwiches is how quick they can be prepared.. but there's nothing quick about meatballs so when I want Friday night easy I prepare my meatballs in the crockpot. This isn't my traditional preparation but this way allows me to take care of my day's chores and driving about without concern of leaving a pot unattended.

I mix the meatball ingredients and roll them the night before. Early Friday morning I fill the crockpot with tomato sauce, wine, paste, salt and pepper and saute my soffrito, onions, garlic, carrots and celery and then add that also to the pot. I toss in the prepared meatballs without cooking them first. I know this is really odd to many people, but traditionally in Italy a good sauce is created by incorporating a large piece of uncooked beef in the sauce and allowed to cook all day. It really makes a wonderful sauce. I put my crockpot setting on low and cook it usually till 4:30 pm. At that time I add my bay leaves, fresh basil, & oregano. If need be I add more wine, salt and pepper and continue to let it cook till around 6:00 pm.

The cooking process as well as your ingredients make for a super tasty and tender meatball. The meat; I use three different meats, ground sirloin, ground pork and ground veal. Eggs. Bread crumbs; I like to use fresh french bread that I season and dry out in the oven then grate to a medium consistency. Fresh herbs, finely minced onion, the best grated parmesan you can find.. VERY IMPORTANT! Of course red wine, salt and pepper to taste.

Early Friday evening have your rolls and provolone ready. Slice cooked meatballs and put them on the rolls, ladle some sauce on top and sprinkle with a healthy portion of grated cheese, bake in a preheated 450˚ oven till bread is golden and cheese is melted. Enjoy with a salad.
Buon Appetito!


A sweet and spicy gourmet treat for the adventurous chocolate lover….

Who doesn’t like chocolate.. rich and creamy decadent morsels of fine truffles or the traditional hot cocoa beverage, it is given as the gift of love or taken as a monthly medicinal concoction to enhance moods. Always satisfactory and hardly ever leaving the mind for a quick sweet pick me up. So to say the least, an opportunity to review chocolate is by far the easiest task I may ever have!

My first reaction was delight! I hadn’t even taken a bite of the truffles but was so charmed by the beautifully decorated red box with the black ribbon tagged with tiny silver cowgirl boots. It is a keeper and it's not even the keepsake box that is specially fitted in leather that you can see on the Cowgirl Gifts page on their website. I really think they marketed this product well, those in the industry know, there are certain desired characteristics you want to achieve in selling any product, first impressions count like curb appeal or a house with the scent of fresh baked cookies. You want to buy!

Inside the box were confectionaries wrapped in colorful foil, which if I had first read the leaflet I would have known these to be color codes. But instead, I impatiently unwrapped the first sweet which happened to be the Buckin’ Hot Habanero Caramel. Don’t let this be the first candy you try. I was a bit shocked and not ready to make the same mistake twice. I gave myself some time to recoup before I set out to give the rest a go.

Instead of being the lone taste tester of these treats I decided to recruit my family and friends. The color coding was separated into two categories, spicy and mild. Under the mild category are, Double Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate, Ivory Orange and Raspberry Lemon.

I tried the Double Dark Chocolate and the Raspberry Lemon. The dark chocolate was smooth in texture and just a hint of cayenne pepper. This was an unmistakable flavoring. It gives a tiny bite but doesn’t leave an after taste. You barely experience the heat with the mild chocolates, which allows you to really experience the quality of the chocolate. The creamy texture reminds me of a Lindt Lindor chocolate but not as buttery. I liked it. The second mild chocolate I tried was the Raspberry Lemon. The lemon flavoring overpowered the raspberry and left a bit too much twang for my preference and could just be the cowgirl kinda thing. My daughter tried the Ivory Orange, her comment was, “I love the tangerine taste!” This is good in itself because my daughter is very picky and the most finicky eater of us all. My son enjoyed the milk chocolate and was looking forward to his next experience. The consensus for the mild flavored chocolates was good and just a small underlying flavor of spice.

After my experience with the Habanero Caramel, I approached the Spicy chocolates with caution. No need to though, it turned out that the Buckin Hot Habanero Caramel was by far the spiciest and most intimidating.
Even the Habanero Dark Chocolate didn’t leave my mouth burning. It could be the combination of the butter solids that temper the heat and leave a more enjoyable experience. The Hazelnut and Cappuccino were enjoyed by our friend Twyla who has quite a bit of experience with hot and spicy Asian cuisine. She savored it slowly and came to the conclusion if served these at a party she would definitely go back for seconds. Her observation was that the heat was tame and mild. I wish she could have been the one to have tried the Buckin Hot Habanero Caramel! ☺

I looked forward to trying the Raspberry Dark Chocolate. The combinations of berries with chocolate usually draw me every time. Again, there was the unmistakable flavor of lemon. I don’t know if this is a misprint and it should have read Raspberry Lemon, or if it is a flavoring substance that leaves a sharp and acidic undertone, but this one wasn’t my favorite.

My favorite though has to be the Double Dark Chocolate Spicy Truffle. It had the right combination of heat and flavor with a creamy smooth texture. It is one of those chocolates that in the right mood would be the only thing to satisfy a craving for a very unique and deliciously sweetened delight.

I would most definitely buy these chocolate confections for an adventurous friend or a Foodie with a Spicy fetish. I applaud Marilyn Lysohir for her creativity and talent! I hope good fortune and cowgirl fame for her, she is also a very talented ceramicist.. my other passion, which makes her a mud slinger and painter of fine chocolates!

Congratulations Cowgirl Chocolates and Good luck to you!

Laurie M. Vengoechea

Onion, Olive & Anchovy
Focaccia Pizza Pie

"Focaccia alla Barese"
Christmas Eve Onion Pie by Nick Malgieri

I wish I could take the credit for the recipe creation of this Pizza Pie, but alas.. it didn't have my name on it at all! There are very few recipes that I repeatedly make preparations for without altering them a tad. Pastry recipes really need to be followed accurately, but they all seem to come out differently. So when it comes to finding the right pie crust or dough that tastes great and comes out perfectly flaky I stick with Nick Malgieri's. Surprising though, he isn't just a great pastry and dessert chef, he's Italian, so that makes him an all around fabulous cook! :)

I recently found this recipe for Focaccia alla Barese by Nick Malgieri. I usually use a basic pizza dough but was looking for something a little different when I came upon this Onion Pie. Everything about it is wonderful! I did rinse the anchovies though and lessoned the amount of salt in the dough by 1/2 a teaspoon because my preference is a little bit less salty. But everything else was perfect! Besides the Onion, Olive and Anchovy pie, I have a Basil and Fresh Mozzarella pie pictured here also. Speaking of pictures.. my husband was breaking ground on a new project this past week and took our new camera with him out of town.. have you ever seen two adults playing tug o war! I really didn't want to post these photo's at all, the quality and clarity is so different. I took a million photos trying to have at least one worth posting. There is one picture below from my new camera.. it was a photo I took the first time I made this recipe a week and a half ago but the pizza was a little overdone
so I never used the pictures, except one! :)
Ciao and Buon Appetito!

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups warm water, about 110 degrees
4 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for sprinkling the top of the focaccia before baking
3 or 4 medium (about 2 pounds) white onions, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
Very little salt
Freshly ground pepper
2-ounce can of anchovies packed in oil, drained and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup black Gaeta olives, halved and pitted
1/3 cup green Barese olives, halved and pitted
1 teaspoon Kosher or other coarse salt for drizzling the top of the focaccia before baking

1 10 x 15-inch jellyroll pan brushed with 3 tablespoons olive oil

For the dough, stir together the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk the yeast into the water and then whisk in the oil. Use a large rubber spatula to mix the liquid into the flour. Continue stirring vigorously until the dough is fairly smooth and there are no longer any dry patches. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature until it doubles in bulk, about 1 hour.
While the dough is rising, cook the onions. Put the 4 tablespoons oil and onions in a wide sauté pan and place over medium heat. Season very lightly with salt (the anchovies and olives are both salty) and grind over about 5 or 6 turns of the peppermill. Once the onions start to sizzle, decrease the heat to low and cook until the onions are very soft and translucent, about 20 to 30 minutes. Scrape the onions into a bowl and set aside to cool.
When the dough has risen, scrape it into the prepared pan in one piece. Lightly oil your hands and press the dough into the pan to cover it completely. If the dough resists, wait 5 minutes, then pull the dough into the corners of the pan. Cover the dough with oiled plastic wrap and set it aside until it puffs a little, about 20 to 30 minutes. (It does not need to double in bulk.)
As soon as you cover the dough, set a rack in the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
When the dough has puffed, use a fingertip to indent it at 1 1/2-inch intervals all over the surface, pressing firmly but without piercing the dough through to the bottom of the pan.
Mix the anchovies and olives into the onions and spoon the topping in mounds all over the top of the dough. Use a medium offset spatula to gently and evenly spread the topping on the dough. Drizzle the topping with 1 or 2 tablespoons of oil and sprinkle with the Kosher or coarse salt.
Bake the focaccia until it is well risen and the bottom is well colored, about 30 minutes. Lift a corner of the focaccia with a large metal spatula to check that the bottom is well done.
Use a wide metal spatula to slide the focaccia from the pan to a rack to cool.

Italian Filled Cookies

In my last post I mentioned spending time with my mom baking cookies. This Italian filled cookie is our half Calabrian, one quarter Abruzzi and a quarter Roman rendition of the Sicilian cookie called a Cucidati. The traditional Cucidati is a fig filled cookie with three different nuts, pistachio's, almonds and walnuts, chopped dried and soaked figs, raisins and apricots, orange and lemon peel and many more amazing ingrediants. It's a wonderful cookie and well worth the time it takes to make. We altered it quite a bit and wouldn't even think of taking the Cucidati name for the original, so we just call it an Italian Filled Cookie. This more simplified version is my favorite though, with the bulk of the filling being apple butter, soaked raisins and chocolate pieces, infused with cinnamon, cloves and rum. The memories of Christmases past all rushed back to me with the first bite. Buon Appetito and Happy Holiday Baking! Ciao and Hugs, Laurie
Laurie's Filling 2 1/2 - 3 cups Apple Butter 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate, chopped 1/2 cup dark raisins soaked in rum or marsala then drained 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped 1/4 cup dark rum or marsala 1 tsp. ground cinnamon 1/4 tsp. ground cloves 1 tsp. grated orange zest Mix ingredients together. Mixture should be thick so it doesn't seep out of the pastry dough when sealed. Taste and adjust to your liking. Pastry Recipe by Nick Malgieri 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour 1 cup sugar 1 tsp. baking powder 12 Tbsp. butter (1 1/2 sticks), cold 2 eggs 2 to 3 Tbsp. milk pinch salt Combine the flour, sugar, and baking powder in a bowl and stir to mix. Rub in the butter, creating a powdery mixture. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and 2 T. of the milk and stir this into the flour mixture to form a dough. If the dough is too dry add the extra T. of milk. Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly a few times. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill while preparing the filling. There are a few styles of preparation I use but I am going to give you the most simple procedure here. Flour the work surface and the dough lightly. Divide the dough in 3, with rolling pin roll out each into a cylinder around 1/8 of an inch thick. Cut out discs with with orange juice sized glasses, egg wash inside edge. Fill with around a teaspoon or so of filling, fold over and crimp with a fork to seal. Place around a 1/2 inch apart on parchment lined baking/cookie sheets. Bake the filled cookies in a preheated 350˚oven for approximately 20 minutes, or until they are light golden in color. Cool on racks. Store in tins between layers of wax paper. Sugar Glaze Cookie Topping 1/2 cup powdered sugar Milk Colored Sprinkles Drizzle milk 1 tsp. at a time over powdered sugar whisking well. Glaze should be thin but not watery. Thick enough to brush on with a pastry brush but thin enough to be translucent. Sprinkle confetti on cookies immediately after glazing.

Butterball Cookies

It's not very often that I'll say I can't wait till all my kids are home from school.. believe me, they are a busy and loud crowd! But this past Thanksgiving holiday I had them home for a whole week.. and "I didn't go crazy", do in part to my husband taking a week off his busy schedule and I not having to drive four kids to three different schools and childhood activities! We had so much fun playing family games and sporting activities (my idea of sporting these days is Wii), baking, cooking and sipping warm drinks by the fire, because we finally had some holiday weather!

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving, very busy, very filling and I'm happy to say we don't have Turkey for Christmas! :)
So this past week began the season of cookie baking and decorating. Tuesday I spent the day at my folks house making some family favorites and reminiscing with my mom of Christmas' past. As my mom had ingredients to go and her arms in dough.. as my dad had said, we had a day filled with holiday cheer.

This cookie recipe is a favorite of not just my Italian family, but there are renditions of these all over the world. This is where I might hear from my Italian amici (friends) that I am calling them by something there not. My mom and sister's call them Butterball Cookies.. so that is what I call them. Although, I found myself wanting to declare them as the perfect snowball.. not like the wet and hard packed kind.. these melt in your mouth and you won't want to toss them!

Please let me know what you traditionally call them and we can all enjoy these butterballs with hot cocoa, tea or espresso!
Ciao and saluto to the holiday season!

1 cup butter at room temperature
½ cup + 4 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ¼ cups flour
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cups blanched and chopped almonds

Cream the butter and 4 tablespoons of the powdered sugar together. Add vanilla.
Mix together flour and salt. Blend with a wooden spoon into the sugar and butter mix. Mix well. Add the almonds and mix.
Chill dough for half an hour. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350°. Roll dough into walnut sized balls. Place on cookie sheet about a ½ inch apart. These cookies do not expand so you can get many on a sheet.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.
Roll immediately in powdered sugar. When cookies are cool roll in powdered sugar again.

"Get Juiced" Dinner Rolls

These are "a variation on a theme" dinner rolls. The recipe calls for pretty classic dinner roll ingredients with the difference of replacing amounts of liquid with juice, subbing some of the flour with a light corn flour and adding a dash of spice to, well...spice it up! "Experiment with different juices and spices", I think you'll find that these rolls will stay in your recipe box for generations. *Just remember to brush the rolls with juice during the baking process!


6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup corn "flour" (NOT corn meal)
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 packages yeast
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup pineapple juice at room temperature
3 eggs


In a large bowl, combine 3 cups flour, corn flour, sugar, salt, ginger, vanilla, and yeast. In medium saucepan, heat milk, water, and butter until very warm (120-130F). Add warm liquid, pineapple juice, and eggs to flour mixture. Blend with electric mixer at low speed until well moistened; beat at medium speed for 4 minutes.

By hand, stir in 3 cups of flour to form a stiff dough. On a floured surface, knead in 1/2 to 1 cup flour until smooth, about 5 minutes. Place dough in a greased bowl. Cover with clean towel. Let rise until doubled in size, about 90 minutes. Punch dough down.

This is a very light and tasty dough. It can be shaped into dinner rolls of any shape. After shaping the dough into desired forms, let it rise until doubled in size. Bake dinner rolls in a 350F oven for 15-20 minutes (until golden brown). *During baking process brush rolls with an extra amount of pineapple juice, this gives the rolls a beautiful glossy finish.

Basil & Fontina Custard Tart

Over the summer I bought these darling little tart tins, but you know how it goes, a cupboard full of kitchen nick nacks they soon got pushed to the side and disappeared amongst jars, bottles and tupperware. It wasn't till recently when reading a post by Cynthia from Tastes Like Home that it dawned on me that I hadn't even once used mine. After seeing her beautiful tarts, I quickly rescued my tins and took out a recipe from one of my favorite cookbook collections, "Recipes From A French Herb Garden".

These tarts are a rendition of the recipe Tarte Aux Herbes. Although I added Fontina cheese and lessoned the amount of herbs, all of the other ingredients pretty much stayed true to the recipe.. except for my dough, I used the leftover basil laced pastry dough from my Terrine and it was perfectly perfumed for these Herb Tarts! My family loved these herb and cheesy custard tarts and they were quite satisfying for a Sunday brunch.

Basil Laced Pastry Dough

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
6 basil leaves clean and dried julienned
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2-teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons ice water
5 tablespoons cream or half and half

Add julienned basil to flour. Blend together flour, butter, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.
Stir together cold water and cream.
Drizzle 5 to 6 Tbsp ice cold liquids evenly over mixture. Gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated. Squeeze a small handful of dough: if it doesn't hold together, add more liquid, 1/2 Tbsp at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough. Turn out onto a work surface and divide into 8 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one. Press into a ball, then flatten into 2 (5-inch) disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill until firm, as least 1 hour.

Tart Filling Ingredients
2 Tablespoons shallots (sauteed)
4 eggs
2/3 cup half and half
1 cup shredded Fontina cheese
1/2 cup fresh chopped Basil and Thyme
Sea Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper

Filling Directions
Beat the eggs, add the half and half and continue to beat. Add sauteed shallots. Mix well. Add shredded cheese, continue to mix and add herbs. Stir till well blended. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Making The Tarts
Press 2 teaspoonfuls of pastry dough evenly onto bottom and up sides of each prepared mini tart tin. Pierce tartlet dough's all over with fork. This can be done ahead 1 day. Cover and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake until crusts are cooked but not colored around 10 minutes. Dough will puff up a bit but will go back into place when filled. Turn down oven to 375°F, fill with basil, Fontina custard and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes till custard is baked through and golden on top.

Transfer to rack and cool 10 minutes. Carefully loosen from tins and pop out. Transfer to serving platter and enjoy!

These are great to make ahead. On the morning of Thanksgiving heat them up in the oven so your family has something to munch on while your preparing dinner. I often forget to feed my family during the morning hours because I am so busy in the kitchen. They'll love you for these!

Ciao and Hugs!

Pumpkin Bread with a Cheesecake Swirl

When I first thought about this idea, reversing the pumpkin cheesecake and creating a pumpkin bread with a cheesecake swirl I thought I was brilliant! I hadn't been served it before nor had I seen it at Marie Calenders or other restaurant bakeries. Now how could that be, such a wonderful idea that no one else came up with? Well, I was wrong and as I did some online research I found a slew of recipes with this idea of reversing the Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe and making a moist delicious rich and filling Pumpkin Bread with a Cheesecake swirl.

I decided to use my own recipe for cheesecake, which is a New York Style and also my favorite pumpkin bread recipe with a blend of flour and almond meal and Marsala Wine as part of the wet ingredients. I made the cheesecake but instead of using vanilla I used the Marsala. I set that aside and then mixed the ingredients for the Pumpkin Bread recipe. I took a prepared, oiled and floured loaf pan and poured the pumpkin bread ingredients 1/2 way up. I then spooned dollops of the Cheesecake filling and swirled lightly through so as to leave large dollops of cheesecake filling. I then poured more pumpkin filling on top of that leaving around a 1/4 inch room at the top for expansion.

I loved the way the cheesecake rose through the pumpkin bread, it was so pretty and the taste and texture were perfect! We had a slice pretty soon after removing it from the oven, this I wouldn't recommend, you really can't appreciate the different flavors in the bread when it is too hot. I whipped up some fresh cream and added raw sugar and a dab of liqueur. It was just the right topping for the bread. I also sprinkled a dash of cinnamon on the whipped cream. That also was tasty too!

I still had ingredients left from both recipes and decided to make a Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Ginger Snap Cookie Crust.
This was a winning combination but the recipe would have to totally be altered to make this work next time around. The sugar and flavorings were perfect, but the cake came out much to dense. Alone, the New York Style Cheesecake recipe was perfect, but swirling the Pumpkin Bread ingredients through made it much too heavy. When making a true Pumpkin Cheesecake the flour is eliminated from the pumpkin and you are left more with light swirls of pumpkin custard through the cheesecake filling. It makes for a very light Pumpkin Cheesecake.

All in all, the cheesecake was definitely tasty and edible but you wouldn't want to go for a swim afterwards! :)

Pumpkin Bread with a Cheesecake Swirl

Pumpkin Bread Ingredients
2 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 1/3 cups flour
1 cup ground blanched almond meal
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 ½ tsp salt
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup Marsala wine
15oz pumpkin, canned

Cheesecake Filling Ingredients
1 pounds Philadelphia Cream cheese at room temperature*
(*Very important for smooth filling)
½ cup sugar
1-½ tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons marsala
1/2-cup sour cream
2 eggs

Cheesecake Filling Directions
Mix cream cheese, sugar, flour, and Marsala with electric mixer on medium speed setting until well blended. Blend in sour cream. Add eggs, mixing on low speed just until blended.

Pumpkin Bread with a Cheesecake Swirl Directions

Make Bread
1. Grease and dust with flour the bottom and 1/2 way up sides of 2 loaf pans; set aside.
In a very large mixing bowl beat sugar and oil with an electric mixer on medium speed. Add eggs and beat well; set aside.

2. In a large bowl combine flour and almond meal, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cloves. Combine Marsala and water. Add flour mixture and marsala/water liquid alternately to sugar mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined. Beat in pumpkin. Spoon batter 1/3 of the way into prepared pans.
Put dollops of cheesecake filling onto pumpkin batter till around half way in pan. Swirl around to marbleize. Pour more pumpkin batter on top to around ¾ of the way up pan.

3. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 55 to 65 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near centers comes out clean. Cool in pans in the oven with door ajar. When cool, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Best if prepared a day ahead of serving. Cool completely before removing from pans.

Serve with whipped cream topping.

Ciao and hugs!

Beurre Manié

Beurre Manié, French for "kneaded butter" is a dough consisting
of equal parts of butter and flour used to thicken soups and sauces.
By blending the flour and butter together, the flour particles are
coated in butter. When the beurre manié is whisked into a hot or warm
liquid, the butter melts, releasing the flour particles without creating

I always have a crock of this on hand in the refridgerator as well as
stock in the freezer.

Beurre manié is the cousin to Ruex which is also equal parts
of flour and butter cooked on heat to which hot liquids are then added
to create a smooth sauce.

1 Stick unsalted butter
1/2 Cup pastry flour

Cut butter into chunks. Add to 1/2 cup flour and blend in food processor
or kneed by hand.

A "Baked Alaska"
& Lessons Learned

Posting mishaps isn't my usual mode of operation, but I came out of this baking experience hopefully a little wiser and
feeling like part of the joy of the foodie community is learning from each other, mistakes and all! Can I share some of my misfortunes with this cake..and also some of the things I would repeat?

First of all I'll start with the repeats, since there are less of them I'll get them out of the way first! For the cake I used a typical sponge recipe that I have used many times before. It is a recipe from the book, "The Harry's Bar Cookbook". Arigo Cipriani states that he uses this recipe in most of his pastry cakes. It has worked well for me and holds syrups and fillings wonderfully. Second, I used the left over rum syrup from my Pisatchio Trifle Genoise. It tasted great as it melded with the cake and ice cream after defrost! Wow, that's about it for what I'd repeat!

Now the lessons learned! :) Contrast with cake and ice cream colors. My son chose the ice cream flavor for this cake because it was for his 15th birthday last weekend. It tasted really good, but it doesn't give the WOW factor when cutting into it! Baked Alaska's are traditionally made with ice cream such as Spumoni or Pistachio. These would be more preferable and much more aesthetically pleasing to the eye! Next, I was horrified at how my meringue turned out, arghh! No gloss at all and it deflated quickly! I am not sure what went wrong, I was trying to retrace my steps but the only thing I could think of was that I didn't let the eggs come to room temperature. They were whipped right out of the fridge! Also I couldn't find my large star tip for the meringue! The last time I made it the meringues looked nice and fluffy, I had used a large tip that I make meringue cookies with! Lastly I would have to say the over all shape didn't thrill me. I made the cake three layers. Two of the layers I sliced to make them even and flat across. The top layer I left alone with a slight dome on top. Well, it really should look full domed or no dome at all. I would have preferred the top being sliced flat and getting the dome look with the meringue!

I'm really looking forward to making this cake again, but totally different next time! If you have made a Baked Alaska before I would love to hear your success stories...or even your flops! :) Ciao and Buon Appetito! Laurie

Sweet Filled Ricotta Cookie

Biscotto Dolce Di Ricotta

The filling for this cookie comes by crossing a Sardinian Pardula Easter cookie with a filled Sicilian Cannoli. Pardula's are a holiday traditional cookie that look like the sun and are made with very little sugar but at the end dusted with confectioners sugar. They have a flavor and cookie texture that grow on you and make it very hard to eat just one or two! Cannoli's as you all know are probably the most delectable filled dessert with it's crisp fried cookie horn filled with sweet ricotta, candied fruit and chocolate pieces. Yumm!

I make this cookie using a sweet tart dough and then fill them with ricotta taking components from the pardula's and canolli's and then coming up with this! These too are quite addictive and hard to pass with just one, and they go wonderfully with coffee..or tea! :)

Ricotta Filling

9 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 cup confectioners sugar (powdered sugar)
3 1/2 Tbsp. Flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of saffron
3 tsp zest of 1 orange
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. Marsala Wine
1/2 cup finely chopped dark chocolate

Press the ricotta through a strainer into a large bowl.
Sift the confectioners sugar into the ricotta.
Add the flour, baking powder, saffron, orange zest, egg yolk and Marsala.
Mix until smooth. Gently fold in chocolate pieces.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to fill cookies.

Sweet Tart Dough
recipe by Nick Malgieri

1 cup all-purpose Flour
3 Tbsp. Sugar
1/4 tsp. Baking Powder
1/8 tsp. Salt
1/2 stick Cold Butter (unsalted)
1 large Egg

* I really like this dough recipe, it is very soft (sometimes a little messy to work with), but I always have good results. Tart and pastry dough's can get stiff by over handling. When Making cookies with my kids, this recipe seems to bounce back from all their kneading and re-rolling!

Instructions for Sweet Dough
To mix the dough by hand, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl and stir well to mix. Cut butter into 1-tablespoon pieces and add to dry ingredients. Toss once or twice to coat pieces of butter. Using your hands or a pastry blender, rub the butter into the dry ingredients by breaking it into tiny pieces, continuously pinching and squeezing it into the dry ingredients. Be careful to keep the mixture uniform by occasionally reaching down to the bottom of the bowl and mixing all the ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse-ground cornmeal and no large pieces of butter remain visible. Beat the eggs in a small bowl and pour over the flour and butter mixture. Stir with a fork, continuing to stir until the dough begins to hold together, but still appears somewhat dry. Scatter flour on the work surface and scrape the dough into it. Press and knead the dough quickly 3 or 4 times, until it is smooth.

To mix the dough in a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in work bowl fitted with metal blade. Pulse 3 times at 1-second intervals to mix. Cut butter into 1-tablespoon pieces and add to work bowl. Process, pulsing repeatedly at 1-second intervals, until the mixture is fine and powdery, resembles a coarse-ground cornmeal and no large pieces of butter remain visible, about 15 pulses in all. Add the eggs to the work bowl and pulse ten times or so, until the dough forms a ball. Scatter flour on the work surface and knead the dough into it.

Press and knead the dough quickly 3 or 4 times, until it is smooth. Press the dough into two equal disks. Sandwich the disks of dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and press it into a 6-inch disk. Refrigerate the dough until firm, or until you are ready to use it, at least one hour.

Extra dough for the princess

Preheat oven to 350
Prepare your work surface and sprinkle with flour. Roll out the dough to the same thickness as you would for a pie or tart base. Using a small disc around the size of a half dollar, cut out as many rounds as you can. I use a shape cutter from my finger sandwich set. Keep enough flour on your surface so the dough almost slides around and makes it easy to transfer after filled and sealed. Count out your circles. When it comes time to filling them, you want to make sure you reserve half of them to use as cookie tops.

For filling the cookies I use a pastry bag without a tip. Moisten the outside of the pastry circles with an egg wash. Fill the circles with ricotta filling. Remember to reserve pastry circles for the tops. Place another pastry circle on the top of the fillings. Press to seal all cookies. For an added decorative touch crimp around the edges the a fork.

Bake in a pre-heated oven for around 20 - 25 minutes until light golden. Remove cookies from sheets onto wire racks. When cookies are completely cool, dust with confectioners sugar.

Buon Appetito!

Pancetta, Fig & Arugala Pizza
With Roasted Tomatoes,
Garlic & Vidalia Onions

The wonderful Daring Bakers blogged pizza this past week, but not any kind of pizza, an authentic piziolla style pizza with high flying tossing and flipping, the way the pro's do it. Did you know there are major pizza tossing competitions in America as well as Italy? I was looking forward to this challenge and I thought with how often I make homemade pizza it would be a breeze. I should have taken pictures long ago but I kept putting it off and thought to myself I'll do it next week. This past week when it was posting time I was still getting over a cold and wasn't up to playing with the dough, let alone tossing it, so I unfortunately passed on this months challenge. :( So here it is Friday night, pizza night in our household! I had already planned on the types of pizza I was going to make for the challenge so I went ahead and made those tonight. Besides pizza, I made Panzerotti's, little folded pizza's, simply with cheese and sauce. For one of the pizza's I made my kids' favorite of pepperoni.. my little American traditionalists, and for my pizza I made Pancetta, Fig, and Arugala with Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic and Sweet Vidalia onions. The house smelled so wonderful with the roasting of the vegetables! For some reason I still haven't been able to get fresh figs in my area, so I used some dried figs I have on had and reconstituted them in Madera wine. Madera has undertones of raisins, it was a wonderful choice for soaking and softening the figs. I had my Italian butcher slice the pancetta around 1/2 inch thick and then I cut them into cubes. After browning them slightly they were a perfect size. They continued cooking in the oven while the pizza's were baking. I left the arugala in semi large and whole pieces. Arugala is a peppery leafed salad type green. Very similar in spice to a red radish or horseradish. Very common in Italian cuisine. I also used fresh buffala motzarella medalions. I did try tossing my pizza'a but that didn't go well. I prefer draping my pizza dough over my hands and then pressing them into the dish. I'm definitely not pizziola pro material. I also pre bake my dough for 15 minutes. I know this is so not normal, but when I use heavy ingredients it it works better to get an evenly baked pizza. Here in the picture below you can see the little Panzi's.. very traditional in our home. I make panzi's in different shapes and sizes often in my home. On Christmas eve night, we make large Panzerotti's (as well as sea food) and stuff them with sausage, vegetables, sauce and cheese. I still need to get caught up on reading everyones Daring Baker Challenges! Have a great weekend Y'all! Ciao and Buon Appetito! Laurie

Lentil & Sausage Soup

Lentil and Sausage Soup

Fall is peaking through here on the West Coast State of California. Though we still have days of 85 degree temperatures and experience the flash of heat know as Indian Summer, our evenings are cooler and the tree's are beginning to glow with burgundy red, orange and yellow. It's always been my favorite time of year! For some it's the beginning of winter when melodious carols roll off the tongue and favorite tunes hit the radios, but for me it's the ushering in of a cooler season which promotes beautiful growth of apples, pumpkins, pomegranates and persimmons, the sweet smell of spice and the cheery warmth of a hearth glowing with happy faces sipping hot spiced cider and whipped cream topped cocoa. Soups abound at our house starting about now. I have been drooling at all the wonderful recipes from my favorite sites, taking notes and tagging recipes that I hope to try. But there are still the favorite recipes handed down from mom and created by family members which some have traveled the continents to come back with only a degree of a difference and maybe just a slight hand of alteration in ingredients. It's so fun to look at ancient recipes noting even the change in vernacular. This lentil soup recipe is so simple but hearty and delicious. In the Italian tradition many of our soups and stews as well as other tasty concoctions start with a Soffritto, a term used to describe a marriage of three, but literally sotto friggere a "sub-frying" or "under-frying" (sauté) of onion, carrots and celery (odori). This is the Italian form, whereas in France they call it Mirepoix and Spain a Sofrito. To get an adequate soffritto you aren't limited to onion, carrots and celery, I often include garlic or shallots as well as replacing the celery with fennel bulb. My preference! But this is the base to a good soup, stew or sauce.

Soffritto Recipe
1 large flavorful onion (in this soup I used cipollini) 2 large carrots 2 ribs of celery with their leaves or 1 celery and 1 fennel stalk 3 Tbs. or more of good extra virgin olive oil (it shouldn't be too dry) 1 Tbs. butter Finely chop all ingredients. Heat pan, add oil and butter,then add ingredients and sauté on low heat until soft and just turning color), about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Spicy Lentil and Sausage Soup
I bag dry lentils picked through and cleaned 3 1/2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock 1 recipe Soffritto (above) 1 Pkg. Spicy Italian Sausage (sweet, medium, chicken.. it's all o.k.) 2 Zucchini cut in to small chunks 1 cup dry white wine *Freshly Ground Black Pepper *Red pepper flakes to taste 2 Fresh Thyme Sprigs 3 Fresh Sage leaves **2 tsp. Beurre Manie Good Quality Parmigianno Regiano Cheese Directions In separate pan brown the sausage, when done slice to 1/4 inch thickness. Set aside. Make Soffritto in the soup stock pot. Add the stock and simmer. Add the cleaned lentils plus the sausage. Cook till lentils are tender. Add the chopped zucchini, thinly sliced herbs and the white wine. Add freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. *Depending on the sausage you use, you may need a very small amount of heat. (pepper) That's why you add your seasonings at the end of cooking process. Cook for around 12 more minutes. **This is where you use your cooking intuition, if you would like a thicker soup add a few teaspoons of beurre manie. I don't always do this, I allow my lentils to break down enough to thicken my soup so as not to add too much more fat and starch. But when I do want a thicker soup I often add the Beurre Manie.


Baked Salmon and Fingerling Potatoes
with Roasted Garlic, Caper
and Lemon & Thyme Aioli

The secret to this dish is really the Aioli, a garlic mayonnaise which occurs by blending the egg yolks with a thin stream of oil slowly added during processing. Aioli is a common cooking additive in Italy as well as Provence France where yearly they celebrate the Aioli festival. The salmon is baked here in a foil pouch with a good spreading of Aioli and thyme sprigs in a 400 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes. I use a foil pouch for each separate piece of fish. This timing is pretty acurate, but check periodically for oven temperatures vary. After spreading aioli dressing, seal pouch. When fish is done, open the pouch to reveal the top of fish. Bake till a little golden on top. *This doesn't always look very pretty, but the taste is outstanding! For the fingerling potatoes I first boil them in a pot of salted water and I add a few cloves of garlic. Can I use too much garlic? :) When easily pierced with a fork, I remove the potatoes and slice in half lengthwise. I toss with a half of a cup of prepared Aioli and lay in a roasting pan. I cook in a 400 degree oven till glazed well with aioli dressing and golden in color.
Roasted Garlic, Caper and Lemon Thyme Aioli 2 Cloves garlic Extra-virgin olive oil 2 -3 sprigs of Thyme 1 tablespoon water Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper 1/4 cup Capers 2 egg yolks 3 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1/2 cup light olive oil (*not extra virgin) 1/4 cup mayonnaise Take paper off cloves of garlic and put in a foil pouch with olive oil, thyme, water, salt and pepper. Seal the pouch around the edges and roast in the oven till garlic is tender, around 15 minutes. Process eggs, lemon juice, capers, salt and pepper in a blender, add the roasted garlic and thyme from pouch and process. Pour in the light olive oil in a slow, steady stream until the aioli emulsifies. Fold in mayonnaise and lemon zest, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with thyme.

Use Aioli on pastas, as dips, topped on scrambled egg in brioche.. the uses are endless! Buon Appetito, Ciao and hugs to you!! Laurie

Orange Roughy with
Sauteed Olives, Capers & Tomatoes

"This is my entry into the event supporting
"O Foods for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month"

I applaud our community of food bloggers with hearts open wide to the needs and concerns of fellow foodies so dear and close Globally! In this day and age, in a world so "Me" focused, it is an honor and privilege to say yes to the call to support a cause like Ovarian Cancer Awareness! Thank you to Jenn of "The Leftover Queen", Michelle of "Bleeding Espresso" and Sarah of "Ms Adventures in Italy", for hosting this event!

And with a special prayer of support for Gina DePalma and her family;
"The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace".

This recipe is adapted from a recipe I found in an old Bon Appétit magazine by Chef Candida Sportiello. The modifications I made to this recipe were a reduction of the red pepper flakes eliminating some of the heat, and adding capers and white wine at the end of the saute period! It is such a fabulous and tasty dish I didn't feel it needed much in the way of change at all.. She is quite the chef and restaurateur!

1/4 cup olive oil
2 Orange Roughy fillets
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup Kalamata olives or other brine-cured black olives, whole
1/8 cup Capers
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbs. Sauvignon Blanc

Heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Add half of fish to skillet and sauté until just opaque in center, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer fish to platter. Repeat with remaining fish. Add parsley and crushed red pepper to same skillet; sauté 1 minute. Add tomatoes, olives, capers and garlic; sauté until tomatoes are soft and juicy, about 2 minutes. Spash a few tablespoons of wine and season with salt and pepper as needed; spoon over fish.

I had made saffron rice with this but while I was pre paring to take photo's I completely forgot to plate it. :) It also was yummy!

Fresh Fruit Marsala
with Chantilly Crème

This is a fresh and easy treat for a quick brunch or an afternoon pick me up. My husband loved how wonderfully dense and creamy the whipped topping was compared to that which comes from a can. It's even more economical to make this fresh and the wow factor from your family doesn't hurt either!

1 Cup Heavy Whipping Cream
2-3 Tbsp. Sugar
1 Tsp. Pure Vanilla (or Marsala)

Freshly washed and cut up fruit of your choice
1 Tbs. Sugar
2 Tbs. Marsala

Prepare fresh fruit. Drizzle Marsala Wine over fruit. *Sprinkle a few dashes of sugar only if needed on your fruit. Refrigerate till Chantilly Cream is ready.

Whip cream in blender till soft peaks form. Sprinkle sugar over cream. Continue whipping till stiff peaks form. Add vanilla or Marsala, whip gently till just incorporated.

I used a pastry bag with a star tip for this, but a spoon will do just fine! Spoon cream into bottom of serving glasses, evenly distribute fruit and top off with more Chantilly Cream!
Buon Appetito..

Canary Melon Sorbet

I went to the Farmers Market today and met a sweet couple who grow all sorts of Tropical and Asian fruits as well as the typical California fruit trees. They introduced me to Goji Fruit, which is a small, round, red fruit that is sweet and has a crispy texture. Very interesting. They also had beautiful mangos and melons. I sampled a melon called Canary Fruit. It has a bright yellow skin with an interior of white flesh! It was also sweet and crispy. They told me the best time to eat it is when it is crisp like an apple. So I walked away from their stall today educated in new fruit varieties and placed on a mailing list for tropical fruit tree's.

My friend Celine from Celines Cuisine posted a wonderful recipe for Strawberry Sherbet on her blog. I decided to use her recipe substituting the strawberries with the canary fruit. The color and texture so surprised me, it was so light and white, fresh and delicious. Celines equivalencies were right on! Check out her recipe and also her wonderful post on her trip to San Francisco and her review of the famous Chez Panisse Cafe.

Canary Melon Sorbet
4 cups Fresh Cubed Canary Melon
¾ cup water
¾ sugar
few drops of lemon juice
Mint leaves optional

Cut in half and seed the Canary fruit. Cube in small enough pieces to process. Puree them with water and sugar. Taste and adjust the flavor with a few drops of lemon. Freeze according to instructions for your ice cream maker. When finished, pack down in container for at least an hour. Scoop into bowls and serve.

For Minted Canary Sorbet, boil water, make a tisane by dropping 5-7 mint leaves in a quart of the hot water. Let steep for 24 hours in the refrigerator. When it is time to make sorbet, follow instructions above utilizing 3/4 cups of mint tisane.

Ciao and Buon Appetito!

Minestra Degli Spinaci

More simplified.. "Mineste"

Don't walk away from the table when you look at this dish,
I know it looks unappetizing, but it tastes sooo good and the
kitchen smells so fragrant during it's preparation.
Another classic Country Italian Soup handed down to me from
my nonna and my mom, quick and easy to prepare, perfect on
a cold afternoon!

*Serve this dish with fresh grated Parmesan Cheese
and Garlic Cheese Toast. These are a must!

2 lrg bags of Chopped Frozen Spinach (or Escarole)
2 cans Cannellini Beans (Great Northern White beans can be used if Cannellini can't be found)
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 lrg Cloves Garlic finely chopped
1/2 cup Water
Salt to taste
*Fresh Grated Parmesan or Romano Cheese (or blend)
*Garlic Cheese Toast

Saute finely chopped fresh garlic in olive oil till translucent and golden.
Do not brown! Add frozen spinach. Cook until spinach is warm and
all ice has melted. Add cans of Cannellini beans, including the liquid. Add water and salt to taste. Let Mineste cook for aproximately a half hour or more. The cooking time is very important, the longer it cooks the more the beans soften and break down making a smooth texture compared to a more watery base.

Serve in large bowl with plenty of *Parmesan Cheese and Garlic Cheese Toast.

Buon Appetito,

Risotto with Caramelized Baby Brussel Sprouts
& Crimini Mushrooms

I was looking through old Gourmet Magazine recipes and found a recipe for Roasted Baby Brussel Sprouts with Pecans. It is on my holiday list of side dishes for my Thanksgiving table.. it looks beautiful and with the promise of these not being your ordinary big brother brussel sprout with all the bad rap he gets, I couldn't wait till November to prepare these. I had planned on a Risotto for dinner last week and had quite a bit of Gruyere cheese left as well as Crimini mushrooms, so I incorporated the baby brussels into my dish.

Olive Oil
Arborio Rice
Saffron Threads
Pinot Grigio White wine
7 cups Hot Chicken Stock
Sage leaves finely chopped
Baby Brussel Sprouts
Crimini Mushrooms sliced
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Cayenne Pepper
Gruyere Cheese

Par boil the brussel sprouts in lightly salted boiling water, just for around three minutes. Drain and lay on paper towels. The real small ones don't need to be cut at all, for the ones that are medium size, cut in half.

Heat saute pan on medium, add 2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 rounded tablespoon of butter. Toss brussel sprouts in to coat. Cook slowly till golden and caramelization begins. Add around 1/8 of a cup of white wine. Raise heat to medium high and continue cooking till wine is evaporated. Take brussel sprouts off heat and set aside.

Dry clean with a mushroom brush the Crimini's. Slice and saute in pan with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Toss to coat and cook till slighty wilted. Set aside.

I love the depth of sage. It is so aromatic and for this dish I needed something with a little more complexity than parsley or basil.

Take around 5 leaves of sage, 1 whole shallot and 3 cloves of garlic. Mince the garlic and shallot and set aside together, finely chop the sage leaves and set aside.

This is Italian Arborio rice. It is not rinsed before cooking, but do go through it and take out any dark colored rice or particles. I never find this rice to have stones or really much discoloration at all! For this dish use around 3 cups of rice.

In a very large pan on medium heat melt 2 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sauté garlic and shallots just till they start softening. Pour in all of the Arborio rice and stir, coating all sides of the rice. Continue cooking and turning the rice so it doesn't darken, but cook long enough so the rice kernels evenly turn golden on all sides. Add white wine, approximately 1 1/2 cups and around 1/4 tsp. saffron threads. This will sizzle vehemently.

Add caramelized baby brussel sprouts, sliced crimini mushrooms and chopped sage. Keep heat at a temperature so that there will be a constant simmer (medium low should do it). Cook rice stirring till wine has dissipated.

Add a ladle full of pre-heated chicken stock. At this point season rice with freshly ground black pepper and red cayenne pepper. Continue stirring. Let cook stirring constantly till rice again is dry. Repeat this process of ladeling in broth and drying out rice until risotto is swelled and creamy but still has a bite (it should take around 30 minutes).

When risotto is ready fold in approximately 1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese.

Serve in a large platter and drizzle a bit of white wine on top for keeping moist. Decorate with sage leaves and enjoy..
Ciao and Buon Appetito!

Fried Eggplant Gruyère

Eggplant is one of those hearty vegetables that does well on it's own and can be capitalized as a main attraction! I use it in so many applications, from sauces to sautes, to hors d'oeuvres and main meals. It is available year round and so easy to cook up quick. Here I simply slice into medallions, dip into an egg batter and breading, fry and bake with a hefty amount of shredded Gruyère cheese. It makes a beautiful side dish with veal, buttered haricots and a lettuce leaf salad.

Simple Ingredients and Directions

1 large eggplant sliced 1/4 inch thickness, circular
1 loaf stale french bread
1/4 cup Pine Nuts
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried parsley
2-3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
Olive Oil
2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese

Slice eggplants. In large shallow bowl, mix eggs with milk. Season with 1/4 tsp. salt and fresh ground black pepper.
In a food processor, blend 1/2 of the stale french bread, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper, (just around 1/2 tsp. of salt). Pulse till a nice bread crumb consistency. Add dried herbs.
Put bread crumbs into another large shallow bowl.
Heat a large skillet on medium. Add around 1/4 cup olive oil. Start by dipping eggplant in the egg solution and then dip in the bread crumbs to coat on each side. Put in pre heated pan and brown on both sides. Remove from pan to a dish lined with paper towels. Repeat process till all the eggplants are cooked.
In a large baking dish, arrange eggplants side by side. Sprinkle shredded Gruyère on top, covering well.
Bake in a 450 degree pre heated oven till cheese is melted and bubbly.

Buon Appetito!