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Archive for the ‘Food Links’ Category

…bring July babies? Or June. We’ll see.

Last weekend brought me up to Haverhill for my friend Marcy’s baby shower, which was a lovely affair hosted by our friend Monica, replete with tasty food, apple blossoms and dahlias, gorgeous table linens, 50 or so charming guests, and a prolific amount of pink onesies. I’m embarrassed to say that, despite the beautiful decorations and lovely guests, I came home solely with pictures of food on my camera. I have issues. I should forewarn you that while I did finally find my camera (yay!), I’ve been a little obsessed with Hipstamatic, so the photos are all from my iPhone. I’ll get over it, I’m sure, but you’ll have to indulge me for a while.

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Marcy is my partner-in-crime for all things catering-related. Together over the years, we’ve manned several lobster bakes, bartended a celebrity wedding of sorts, thrown birthday bashes for crowds, put together dessert bars, Christmas parties, anniversary celebrations, humble dinner parties…large scale affairs and quiet picnics. The list goes on and on. As a pair, we’ve always just clicked in the kitchen, seamlessly moving back and forth without ever getting in the other’s way, speaking in half sentences that don’t need finishing, dividing labor intuitively and efficiently. It’s always mildly unsettling to me when I have to prepare for an event without her puttering alongside me in the kitchen. Over the years, we’ve picked up on each other’s trade secrets: she can now put together my grandmother’s Pepper Clam Dip more quickly than I, and I’ve become well-versed in pinwheel sandwiches, Kahlua dipping sauce, and the ever-present cheese board, which is put together just so.

For her shower, then, I insisted on taking cheese board duties, because there had to be a cheese board, and it had to be put together just so, and had to be displayed on the Italian tile serving tray with white handles (that I made her poor aunt dig out from the very bottom of a teetering pile of heavy serving platters, because clearly no other platter would do.) While I do love my local cheese shops (Bacco’s and Formaggio Kitchen), I found myself at Whole Foods this time, where I’ve always been happily pleased with the cheese selection.

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I’m afraid I didn’t stop and get a picture until after the cheese board had been picked at a bit. You get the gist, though. I had a bit of a curveball thrown at me for this particular platter, being for a baby shower and all: I needed to pick only pasteurized cheeses for our expectant guest of honor. In the end, I opted for the following:

  • Wensleydale with Blueberries (I’ll never, ever, be able to eat Wensleydale without thinking of Wallace and Gromit. Anyone else?)
  • Young Fontina Fontal
  • UnieKaas Reserve Gouda, aged 18+ mos.
  • Ford Farm Coastal British Cheddar with Sea Salt
  • Cordobes (a Manchego-like Whole Foods exclusive)

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Other highlights of the shower included Vichyssoise shooters, a pair of cool spring salads, chicken salad sandwiches, pinwheels, and a serve-yourself cocktail bar with champagne, black cherry juice and apricot juice. I may have had one too many glasses of the champagne/cherry juice combo — absolutely irresistible.

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The pièce de résistance, however, was the cookie bar. Marcy has never had much of a taste for things like chocolate, or cake, or any other sweets, really…except for cookies. In particular, Aunt Josie’s Cookies, which are traditionally made by Aunt Mary (Makes sense, right? I love family traditions. And aunts. And being an aunt. But I digress.) This culminated in the tempting array below, with Aunt Josie’s Cookies reigning supreme over the cookie kingdom from up high on their multi-tiered pedestal.

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The cookies, clockwise from top, are: Aunt Josie’s cookies, Marsha’s chocolate frosted cookies, chocolate pistachio brittle, molasses whoopie pies, peanut butter sandwich cookies, lemon-lime basil shortbread cookies, potato chip cookies, a second container of pistachio brittle, and blackberry jambles.

My contributions were the potato chip cookies and blackberry jambles. The potato chip cookie is a prized and guarded recipe in my files, handwritten by Marcy’s mom (I believe it came attached to a chicken-head cookie jar, but that’s another story). If I may be picky for a moment, I will say that I didn’t do them justice this time around, though — the texture wasn’t quite right. They really do need cheap-o store-brand grease-bomb chips as an ingredient — the Whole Foods sea-salted organic chips just didn’t work, probably because they didn’t have enough bad-for-you oils. I’ll bypass the full rant about how loving good, quality natural foods and loving Diet Coke and Lays are not mutually exclusive. My kingdom for a Whole Foods with a soda machine out front.

The blackberry jambles, on the other hand… oh. my. God. Marcy, take note: this is now officially part of our ongoing repertoire, and I already have plans to make an apricot version for the next shower we bake for.

Without further ado, a recipe for you all. As you might deduce from the obscene amount of butter involved, these are ridiculously and sinfully good.

Blackberry Jambles
from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth, by Jill O’Connor, Chronicle Books 2007

  • 1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 c. firmly-packed light brown sugar
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 2 t. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 t. salt
  • 3 3/4c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. almond flour
  • 1 1/2c. blackberry preserves
  • 1/2 c. slivered almonds
  • confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Beat the butter and sugars in a large bowl at medium-low speed until creamy. Add vanilla and salt; beat until combined. Add flours one cup at a time, beating on low speed, just until a smooth, soft dough forms.

Spray a 9″x13″ baking pan with nonstick cooking spray, and press one-third of the dough evenly into the pan to form a bottom crust. Wrap the remaining dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold and firm, at least 30 minutes. Position a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 325 F.

Bake the bottom crust until it is firm and just beginning to turn pale brown around the edges, about 20 min. Remove the pan from the oven, and spread the preserves over the crust. Crumble the remaining dough over the jam to form a pebbly, crumbled topping. Sprinkle with almonds. Return the pan to the oven and continue baking until topping is firm and crisp, about 30 mins. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature.

Use a sharp knife to cut bars evenly (or not evenly, in my case), into 15 large squares, then cut in half on the diagonal to form 30 triangular bars. Remove bars from pan with metal spatula, dust with confectioners sugar (using a sifter or mini-strainer), and serve.

Bars will keep, covered tightly, for about a week at room temperature, or up to one month in the freezer.

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EDIT 12/16/11: GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED — WILL ANNOUNCE THE WINNER IN A NEW POST TOMORROW. THANKS FOR STOPPING BY!

Hooray, it’s here! Today is the annual December Giveaway Day at Sew, Mama, Sew! A hearty welcome to all SMS readers. I won’t keep you long today, but do take a look around and, if you like what you see, I’d love to have you as a subscriber (links upper right). I typically post a couple of times a month and share my adventures in food and craft, offering up recipes, lots of food photos, sewing project pics, and discoveries/lessons learned along the way. I try to keep this a happy, thoughtful, appetizing(!), and occasionally funny place. For a taste of what this blog is all about, check out this post: Carefully Edited Slices of Life

For now, let’s get on with the giveaway! Up for grabs is a nice little assortment of goodies: 2 mini embroidery hoops, 2 flour sack dish towels (for embroidering!), and a jar of 20+ colors of floss. Then for some handmade goodness, I’ve added a little needle-felted sheep, along with some fabric-covered clothespins (leftover from the photo booth at my wedding). Lastly, in another piece of post-wedding craft supply overflow, a little spool of green bakers twine. The wooden chopping block stays with me… 😉

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For a chance to win, leave a comment and answer me this question: What would you name the sheep if he were to go home with you??? (I’ll give an extra entry to anyone who can guess the name *I* would give him. And yes, I realize that, not having horns, the sheep is more likely a she. But look at that face. Clearly a boy. A confused sheep perhaps. I digress.)

Details: Winner will be chosen by the random number generator. Giveaway is open until December 16 at 5 p.m. PST, and international readers are more than welcome to enter!

Be sure to go back to Sew, Mama, Sew! and check out all the other wonderful giveaways taking place today. Thanks for stopping by!

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You should know that I am an unabashed homer. Give me the Jerry Remys, the Andy Brickleys of the world — I am not looking for fair and balanced reporting. I want reporting with passion, and I want folks on my side. (My former journalism professors are no doubt developing an odd twitch somewhere off in academia right now).

With that preface, I must confess a somewhat irrational love for the eateries in my office building and the vendors at the farmer’s market on the square. There are notable exceptions, of course, and my equally irrational disdain is felt with similar passion. For what is food without passion (says the good little Italian)?

Please understand that this means I will make brazen claims that Narragansett Creamery makes the best mozzarella you can buy stateside (they do), that tasting Burdick’s hot chocolate will change your definition of cocoa (it will), and that Iggy’s sliced Francese makes the world go round (it does…or at the very least makes my midsection round).

These small businesses sustain me — both literally and figuratively — throughout the workday and beyond. Who’s to say what is more warming: the hot cup of coffee in my hand from Croissant du Jour, or the familiar wave and smile of the gal who, with a nod, has already filled my cup with my usual order before I get to the register?

All of which is to say that I have a massive crush on Bacco’s Wine & Cheese. At the risk of sounding like a complete wino, let’s just say that I was singlehandedly able to wrap all of my wedding centerpieces in recycled Bacco’s bags to ensure safe transport to and from the venue. So I may or may not frequent this particular shop regularly. They may or may not know me on a first name basis. Sigh.

Aside from the well-curated, rotating selection of wines, Bacco’s boasts an above-average selection of domestic and imported cheeses, with a modest accompaniment of charcuterie, condiments, and chocolates. (Not to mention the rather addictive and hard-to-find blood orange San Pellegrino.) If that weren’t enough, they carry daily special entrees from Pigalle, and a “bento box” lunch of two daily cheese selections, salami, bread and condiments. And the bread is, yes, from Iggy’s.

The best part about Bacco’s is hands down the staff, however. As an explorer in the world of food (read: painfully indecisive, but adventurous), there’s nothing I enjoy more than recommendations. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go to jot down foods I’d like to try, wines I’ve enjoyed, and favorite cheeses (see the To Eat section of this blog, for example). In addition to daily — yes, daily! — wine and cheese tastings, the staff at Bacco’s never fail to offer suggestions, and are happy to share their food knowledge with you.

Which brings me to today’s recipe. I had the idea kicking around in my head that I’d like to try making a riff on a saltimbocca using Spanish ingredients. The idea started with the rather mundane thought to make saltimbocca using Serrano ham in place of the prosciutto. Then an amontillado in place of the madeira, perhaps? But what of the Fontina? Enter the advice of Em, Bacco’s resident “cheese wiz,” who pointed me towards their Drunken Goat cheese. No amontillado on hand, so with the help of the wine guy, we settled on a Pedro Ximenez dessert sherry, with the understanding that I would cut it with chicken stock. (As an aside — oh, wine guy with the dark hair and proclivity to wear sunglasses on top of your head — I’m sorry! Why don’t I know your name? You know mine! You were the first employee I met there! Bad customer…)

Drunken Goat, unsurprisingly, is a goat’s milk cheese that has been soaked in wine. Unlike the wine-imbued Umbriaco del Piave we served at my sister’s elopement, the wine doesn’t seep into the cheese itself, but instead colors the rind and adds a lovely depth of taste that is quite unlike wine itself. In other words, this isn’t a supermarket port wine cheese spread… More importantly, it was FANTASTIC with the saltimbocca. It kept its own unique, mild but tangy flavor while standing up to the other strong tastes quite handily.

I also enjoyed how the Serrano ham contributed a meatier, less salty flavor than the usual prosciutto. And the sherry? I had my doubts about the sweetness, but it ended up being brilliant. I didn’t have any fresh sage on hand, so, with a guilty conscience, I grabbed my dried sage and added that to the pan sauce instead. In the end, the savory sage helped further counter the sweetness of the sherry, and made for a beautiful and tasty sauce.

Spanish-inspired Chicken Saltimbocca
original recipe by The Hungry Crafter

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1/4 lb. drunken goat cheese, sliced
  • 6 slices Serrano ham
  • 1/2 c. Pedro Ximenez sherry
  • 1/2 c. chicken broth
  • butter
  • dried sage

Pound chicken breasts to 1/4″ thickness; season lightly with salt and pepper. Layer 3 slices of Serrano ham on each breast.

In large frying pan, heat 2 T. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken breasts, ham side up, and cook until bottom is golden brown, about 3 minutes, then flip and cook another 2-3 minutes.
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Flip again, so that the ham is facing up again, and layer slices of cheese on top. Cover the pan with a lid to trap the steam and melt the cheese; remove chicken to serving dish as soon as cheese has melted sufficiently and chicken has cooked through (just a few minutes).

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Deglaze the pan with sherry, then add chicken broth and a few pats of butter. Measurements for the pan sauce are all approximate — taste, taste, taste! Add sage to taste (I used about 1 t.), adding more sherry or broth to increase or decrease the sweetness to your preference. Let sauce reduce by half, and spoon generously over the chicken.

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Quick, easy, but by no means mundane — dinner for two is served!

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Baby W was born at 11:57 pm last night, after 42 hours of labor. There was time to make cake as well.

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Mini Blueberry Bundt Cakes

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup 2% low-fat milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Lemon Icing

  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons 2% low-fat milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

In a small mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in the egg, milk and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; stir into creamed mixture. Fold in blueberries.

Pour into three 4 inch bundt pans coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 350 for 25 to 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

For icing, in a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, milk and lemon juice; drizzle over cakes. Garnish with additional blueberries if desired.

NOTE: If using frozen blueberries, do not thaw before adding to batter.

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There’s nothing like the anticipation of a new baby.

We had a baby shower for my sister a few weeks ago, and as expected, it was full of food, handmade gifts and more onesies than you can shake a stick at. By special request, I made his and hers diaper bags from Anna Maria Horner’s book, Handmade Beginnings. Erm. Have I mentioned that I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew when it comes to special occasions? (You’ll notice that there’s been a distinct lack of posting regarding my ongoing wedding planning. Suffice it to say that there will be several posts in September/October forming a grand unveiling of the sheer extent of my event-planning mania).

Point being, these were not easy patterns, at least not for me. On the upside, I learned so much more about my sewing machine, zipper installation, and why it is a bad idea to substitute poly/nylon strapping for 100% cotton strapping if you have any intention of ironing your work. Ditto for the plastic zipper. I also learned to despise working with Peltex II ultra-firm interfacing, while simultaneously falling in love with the little zippered pouch. And did I ever form a close relationship with my seam-ripper…

First up: “The Dad Bag,” for stylish metropolitan dads-on-the-go.

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I used an upholstery weight fabric for the outside (Also polyester. Really, what was I thinking? Let’s just say this bag is not flame retardant). For ease of sewing, I’d recommend actually reading and following the book’s instructions, and use a cotton home deco weight. Don’t even get me started on the interfacing. I think my sewing machine is still trying to forgive me.

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The bag is lined with a grey print from Robert Kaufman’s “Metro Living” collection, which I was very happy with. Inside the bag is a series of elastic loops for holding bottles and whatnot.

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Also included is a matching changing pad — a nice good size — that can be folded and stored in the front zipper pocket.

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Next up: the “Here We Go Bag” for Mom

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For my sister’s bag, I used an assortment of prints from Sandi Henderson‘s Meadowsweet line. Prior to picking out fabrics, I put together a quick fabric “style quiz” for my sister to help determine her tastes in modern quilting fabrics. Sandi was a hit, along with Jennifer Paganelli. Hmm, wonder if I can figure out how to make an online version of the quiz, just for fun. Why exactly are quizzes so irresistible, anyway? Another mystery of life…

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The design features box-pleated pockets on the outside (another successful learning experience for me!), a divider on the inside (less successful), and then I added a couple of simple inside pockets.

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This pattern also comes with a changing pad, although much smaller than the one that went with the Dad Bag. Hopefully not too small to be useful? I improvised piecing together a couple different fabrics for the front — mostly wanting to stretch out the brown print, which I only had a fat quarter of!

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The bag has an elastic loop in the upper left corner to hold the changing pad, but I decided to make a changing pad/diaper/wipe pouch as well, following this tutorial from Craft Buds. I liked the all-in-one aspect that allows you to just pull out the pouch and run to the ladies room without bringing the whole bag, if need be. I picked up a little plastic baby wipe holder for the inside pocket, so she can take just a small amount of wipes out with her. I might make it just a tad larger next time around (1/2 inch extra would do), as it’s a little snug once it’s fully loaded.

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By this time, I was in a full-on accessory crafting fury, and decided to try my hand at a zippered pouch to hold Desitin and the like. A quick Google search turned up a super simple tutorial by Skip to my Lou, and I was on my way. This was by far the easiest, and therefore most instantly rewarding, part of the whole sewing adventure. (Although piecing the front of the changing pad was fun too…) I see many more zippered pouches in my future — in fact, one for me is already in progress.

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And one more gratuitous shot of the full suite:

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Moving on to the shower itself: On Saturday, I hosted an informal BBQ shower for friends, featuring asparagus wrapped in prosciutto (a new family favorite), Italian and barbecue chicken style strombolis, Italian sausages with peppers and onions, hamburgers with Vermont cheddar, fruit salad, tortellini salad, and of course, cake and beer. I was, of course, a bit preoccupied with managing all the food, so didn’t get any photos, unfortunately. My mother and aunts threw the formal family brunch the next day, and while I can’t take credit for the food at that event, I was free to snap photos that are well worth the look! They truly outdid themselves:

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Olive Cheese Balls. These things are truly addictive. I think I single-handedly ate half a tray.

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Lemon-Parsley Gougeres

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Tomato Stuffed Peppers

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Simple green salad

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Prosciutto, mozzarella, and fruit salad

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Roasted Potato Tart with Fresh Tarragon, Sautéed Mushrooms, and Melted Gruyere, from Once Upon a Tart

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Chocolate Crackle Cookies

And finally, the pièce de résistance:

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Lady Baltimore Cake

Yeah, that whole getting carried away thing? It runs in the family.

And then…

And then your sister goes into labor, and the real meaning behind her pregnancy starts to hit home. A new life is making its way into the world. There’s going to be a new member of the family you already love so much.

But then time drags on, and nothing happens. You wait. You do what you always do, and keep your hands busy. You make a lasagna to take to the hospital. Seven in the morning crawls into seven at night, and you find yourself pacing, impotent to help. You eat the lasagna. You chat with family on the phone, send anxious text messages to the hospital. Bedtime comes, and you finally fall asleep, waking every two hours to glance with blurry eyes at your phone to see if a message notification has popped up. You wake up the next morning, and find yourself deliberating on whether you should write a blog post, or bake a little birthday cake. Blog or bake cake, blog or bake cake. And you realize that both options seem silly in the context. You decide that blogging at least lasts longer, and has less chance of being incidentally eaten. You find yourself reminiscing about your childhood, remembering your sister by your side through every step of your life. And you think of her in the hospital, in pain, and maybe, just maybe, shed a tear or two while you write.

I cannot wait to meet my new niece. I’ve been beset by a single image of holding her and feeling her wrap her hand around my finger for the first time. I love you already, Baby W. But for now, I wait.

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Chicken Galliano

Chicken Galliano

I must start with an apology. No, not for dropping off the face of the planet for the month of April — I reserve the right to do that occasionally as the wedding-planning gods see fit. However, I apparently did not take step-by-step photos of the preparation of this meal. So, you’re just going to have to take my word that this dish required painstaking preparation, carefully honed culinary skills, blood, sweat, tears, and a promise of my first-born.

OK, not really. It’s actually a relatively unfussy dish. The most difficult part was obtaining the Galliano. It’s not the type of ingredient they carry at my usual  townie liquor store attached to a Tedeschi’s. Nor is it the type of thing that you can find in nip-size bottles, so be prepared to spend a good $30+ on a specialty ingredient.

A bit of a forewarning for those of you who, like myself, have not experienced Galliano prior to this recipe: the stuff is odd. Galliano is an Italian liqueur that is made from a blend of no less than 30 herbs and spices, and is best known as one of the key ingredients in the classic mid-century cocktail, The Harvey Wallbanger. It’s BRIGHT yellow and comes in a nifty bottle (these things are important, you know).

According to Wikipedia, “Galliano is marketed as an ‘ideal marrying ingredient’, which adds no intrusive flavor, but serves to deepen and give character to other ingredients, both ordinary and exotic. ” I personally could not disagree more. It added an unusual, quite distinctive taste to the recipe — strong anise flavor, and floral vanilla overtones. You may like it, you may not. Caveat emptor.

Fortunately for me, Mr. Manly liked it. Phew. Remember the “Mikey likes it” Life cereal commercials from the 70s/80s? Yeah, Mr. Manly is kinda like that.

I did, however, make one concession to Mr. M’s palate. My big discovery this year is that oftentimes his dislikes have less to do with flavor as they do texture. Seriously, this was a huge discovery for me, because texture is much easier to manipulate than flavor, which can often only be changed by way of outright omission. My kingdom to be able to cook something with peas in it! So, to avoid the dreaded rubbery wormlike texture of (gasp!) mushrooms, I minced them. Crisis averted. Have I mentioned how much I love mushrooms? This is groundbreaking, indeed.

Finally, can I point out the similarity to Chicken Saltimbocca? Chicken, prosciutto, cheese, pan sauce with alcohol… I love the way minor variations on a theme can create a totally new dish while using familiar methods of preparation.  Needless to say, the difference in cheeses and sauce and the addition of mushrooms drastically changes the taste of the dish. Chicken Galliano has a very complex flavor due to the Galliano, an earthy depth brought on by the mushrooms, and an extra richness due to the creamy goat cheese. It tastes like nothing I’ve eaten before. So why don’t you try it and let me know what you think? I’ll be at the bar drinking a Harvey Wallbanger…

Chicken Galliano
from Saveur Magazine, issue 131

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded 1⁄8″ thick
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 12 tbsp. herbed goat cheese, softened
  • 6 thin slices prosciutto
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, chilled
  • 10 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced (or minced)
  • Flour, for dredging
  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 1⁄2 cups chicken broth
  • 1⁄4 cup Galliano liqueur
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
  • 4 cups cooked rice, for serving

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Working with one breast half at a time, spread one side with 2 tbsp. goat cheese and top with one slice prosciutto; roll into a tight cylinder. Using kitchen twine, tie chicken roll 1″ in from each end. Snip off excess twine.

Heat 3 tbsp. butter in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, without stirring, until browned, 4–5 minutes. Stir mushrooms and continue cooking until softened, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate; wipe out skillet. Put flour on a plate; dredge each chicken roll in flour. Heat 2 tbsp. butter and the oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, turning, until browned and cooked through, 12–14 minutes. Transfer chicken rolls to a plate. Add broth and Galliano to skillet; boil, stirring, until sauce has reduced by a third, 4–5 minutes. Return mushrooms and chicken to skillet; cook, turning to coat in sauce, until warmed through, about 5 minutes.

Transfer chicken to a platter. Remove skillet from heat; swirl in remaining butter to make a smooth sauce. Spoon sauce over chicken; sprinkle with parsley. Serve with rice.

SERVES 4 – 6

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This post is part of an ongoing series on Italian cookery, affectionately known as “The Spaghetti Capers.”

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You may remember that I previously professed my love for Barbara Lynch, with promises of more posts to come. I don’t remember when I first took a special interest in her career — I want to say it was after Sportello was featured in Saveur magazine, and I learned of her Italian venture? I was already an avid fan by the time she was featured on the cover of the Boston Globe magazine (great article — I encourage you to read it!); and was therefore thrilled when I stumbled across her segment on the Cooking Channel where she walks the viewer through the recipe for Ricotta Gnudi.

Ricotta Gnudi! What, you may ask, is ricotta gnudi, anyway? From what I’ve read, gnudi is, much like it sounds, the Italian word for nude. Can’t wait to see what kind of readers are going to stumble across my blog now that the words “nude Italian” are on here… Essentially, gnudi are akin to ravioli filling…with nothing enclosing them; instead, you roll them out like gnocchi. However, unlike gnocchi–or “little sinkers” as my grandfather always calls them–gnudi are absolutely pillow soft and light. It’s like eating happy little Italian clouds (channeling my inner Bob Ross).

The best way to make ricotta gnudi, of course, would be to make your own ricotta. My cheesemaking party plans have been stymied for the past year, however, so I was more than happy to use the fresh ricotta from Narragansett Creamery instead (see prior raves here and here).

Shall we kick off this gnudi party, then? Start by mixing together your ricotta with some flour, an egg, parmesan, salt and white pepper.
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Your dough will be super sticky and a little tricky to work with. This is a good thing — this is why the gnudi will be light and airy.
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Next, gently roll out your dough by hand into a log and cut into bite size pieces. Hard to work with = messy. This is OK. Embrace the mess. (That’s actually one of my mantras for the year…but that’s another story).
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Roll the pieces into balls and use a gnocchi board or back of a fork to make ridges on each piece. Note: I tried the fork method, and was highly unimpressed. I have since bought a gnocchi board and look forward to using that for future batches.

Once all your gnudi have been formed, place them on a tray and freeze them.
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In the meantime, start your sauce. I must say, like most Italians, I’m partial to my grandmother’s sauce. Disregard the fact that it’s actually my grandfather, not my grandmother, who is of Italian descent. Doesn’t matter. It’s my Noni’s sauce we’re talking about! That said, Barbara Lynch’s sauce is so easy and most excellent. And since the recipe is, well, a recipe and not a splish-splash of this, that, and the other, I expect I can make it with more consistent results. This may be my new go-to sauce.

Start by sautéing your veggies in olive oil. Note that it’s killing me a little inside not to add carrots, because I always add carrots to my sauce.
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Next, add your tomatoes and wine and simmer.
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Time to cook the gnudi! Carefully lower the gnudi into a pot of boiling water; I used a slotted spoon to avoid splashing. They don’t take long to cook at all, and the cool part is that they float to the surface when they’re done — it’s like nature’s turkey timer: POP! Done!

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I had to cook them in batches, so I just transferred the cooked gnudi to the pan of sauce to stay warm while I cooked the rest of the batches. Nothing left to do after that but spoon into bowls, top with some fresh basil and parmesan, and enjoy. It’s so good and well worth the mess. I’ve actually got a smile on my face just thinking about them.
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Ricotta Gnudi
from Stir: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition, by Barbara Lynch

  • 1 lb. fresh ricotta
  • 1 c. flour + additional
  • 1 lg. egg
  • 1/3 c. finely grated Parm-Reggiano
  • 1 T. kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 c. Odd Fellow Marinara Sauce

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, 3/4 cup of the flour, the egg, cheese, salt, and pepper. Use a wooden spoon to mix ingredients together well. Lightly flour your work surface and a baking sheet for holding the shaped gnocchi. With floured hands knead the ricotta mixture briefly; it will be quite wet and sticky at this point. Dump the mixture out onto your work surface.

Cut off a piece of the gnocchi dough and try rolling it into a 3/4-inch thick log. If you can’t get it to roll, add a little more flour to the dough and try again. You want as little flour as possible to keep these together so the resulting gnocchi will be light and ethereal. Cut the log into 1-inch pieces and then into little balls. If you have a gnocchi board, hold it at a 45-degree angle over your floured baking sheet and roll each ball down the length of it to give the gnocchi grooves. As the gnocchi nears the end of the board, let it drop onto the baking sheet. If you don’t have a gnocchi board, hold a fork, tines facing down, and roll the ball down the length of the tines. Repeat until all of the dough is rolled and cut. Freeze the gnudi, about 1 hour. (Because they are so soft, they are much easier to handle so do this even if you plan to use them soon.)

To serve, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a gentle boil. In batches, drop the gnocchi into the water and cook until they float, about 1 to 2 minutes. As each batch cooks, remove them with a slotted spoon and keep them warm or transfer them directly to the sauce they are being served with.

Odd Fellow Marinara Sauce
also from Stir

  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ½ t. crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • 1 (28-oz.) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • ½ c. dry white wine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2-3 basil leaves

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is just tender but not browned, about 8 minutes.

Add the wine, increase the heat to moderately high and cook for a few minutes longer, until reduced by half. Add the tomatoes with their juice and ½ teaspoon salt. Simmer for 5 minutes, stir in the basil and season with pepper and additional salt, if needed. The sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days.

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Cookie Winner!

(drumroll)…the winner of the blogiversary cookies was chosen by the random number generator:

#4, Katie!

Seems like fate is on the side of the birthday girl — everyone wish Katie a very happy birthday tomorrow! Katie, I’ll send you an email shortly to get your mailing address and see what kind of cookies you’d like 😉

 

And because a). I like to include a fun photo in every post, and b). Zoe has been regrettably absent from this blog for quite some time, let’s all take a moment to acknowledge that I have the cutest cat in the world:

 

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I mean, really — aren’t all dinner parties “parties with benefits” in the end? You get to eat the great food AND keep the leftovers. Which is particularly nice when the leftovers include a bottle of Bailey’s. But let’s start at the beginning…

I invited my sister and her husband over for dinner last night, and presented them with the following menu options to pick from:

Menu 1

Menu 2
*Recipe is the same as the one in the link, with the following alterations, made by my grandfather: Omit fennel seeds & Sambuca. Double amount of pistachios, and substitute 1 c. chopped dried apricots for the figs. Increase the amount of flour to 2.5 c. Can substitute orange zest for lemon zest.

Menu 3
Unanimous prize-winning “Jo’s is the best” Brownie Pudding & homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

Menu 4

Can you tell I had asparagus that needed to get used up?

And the winner…

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MENU #1!

Except…oh, except…that french bread recipe did NOT work out at all. Two attempts and 12 CUPS of wasted flour later, I moved on to Plan B, which was orecchiette pasta with some homemade pesto I put in the freezer at the end of the summer. Save! I’m afraid the asparagus appetizer got eaten up before I thought to bring out my camera, which is probably the finest testimony to the success of that recipe you can get. So let’s just look at those gorgeous scallops again instead.

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The salsa was great, the scallops good, and the pasta heavenly, especially in the middle of this dreary winter. I still need to refine my scallop searing technique (I found a great tutorial here that I need to reread before my next attempt). I couldn’t find satsuma oranges, so I substituted tangerines for the juice and zest, and used blood oranges for the whole segments, because, well, they’re just so gosh darn pretty to look at, don’t you think?

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As for the cupcakes….they were AMAZING. And I clearly need to take a cake decorating class. Let’s recap: The recipe starts by melting two sticks of butter in Guinness. I pretty much don’t see how anything that starts like that can end badly. This eventually turns into Guinness Stout Cupcakes, which I made extra chocolatey by using an extra-dark cocoa powder. Next, you scoop out the centers (technically you should use a 1″ cookie cutter or an apple corer, but not owning either, I made do with a small melon baller).  After (ahem) “disposing” of the centers, you fill it with a chocolate whiskey ganache, made with Jameson’s of course. Next up? Yup. Top it off with Bailey’s frosting. My only edit to the recipe is that it calls for 3-4 cups of confectioner’s sugar for the frosting, and I probably only got through 2 cups before the frosting hit its saturation point.

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My sister thought the stout/yeasty beer flavor in the cupcakes was strong; the rest of us wanted it even stronger. The ganache filling was TO. DIE. FOR. I may or may not have eaten it by the spoonful while in the process of filling the cupcakes. The frosting was definitely on the sweet side (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”), and the Bailey’s flavor was perfect. In making these, I, of course, always went with the higher suggested amount of booze whenever it gave you an option in the recipe. And drank the leftover stout. And ate the leftover chocolate. And disposed of the cupcake centers in my stomach. And licked lots of wooden spoons and spatulas and paddles and fingers and… I’m going to change the name of my blog to “The Hygienic Chef.”

So, which menu would you pick if you were coming over to dinner? I’m pretty much dying to try them all, myself…


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How is it possible that I don’t yet have a tag for “chocolate” after 10 months of blogging? Consider that remedied with today’s post, and hopefully many future posts will follow suit. Before I get into the Mexican Chocolate Tart, though, I thought I’d do a pictoral recap of Thanksgiving. Credit where credit is due — the ONLY thing I contributed to Thanksgiving dinner was the chocolate tart — the rest of these lovely photos showcase my amazing aunt’s efforts.

For starters, we had a crudite of radishes, celery and black olives; my grandmother’s famous Pepper Clam Dip; and crostini topped with goat cheese and orange-fig preserves (below). The crostini were fabulous, easy…and therefore highly recommended for your next party!

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For me, the star of the show this year was the turkey itself. Incredibly moist with perfectly golden skin…Yum.

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And then there’s the stuffing. Stuffing will ALWAYS be my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner. This year, my aunt shook things up a bit, and in addition to her usual sausage and water chestnuts, added a medley of dried fruits — cranberries, blueberries, cherries, and plums. Delicious!

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On to potatoes. Rules for good mashed potatoes:

1. Use cream. If you’re gonna do it, do it all out.
2. Use a ricer. No more gluey potatoes!
3. Use horseradish. Yum.

Rules for FANTASTIC mashed potatoes:

1. Do all of the above…then add pancetta. Oh wow.

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For the artistic component of the program, may I present Bobby Flay’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranates and Vanilla-Pecan Butter.

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There was, of course, also gravy, squash, creamed onions, and (ahem) cranberry sauce, but those don’t make for nearly as exciting photos, so let’s move on to the pies, OK?

My family generally likes to go for a minimum 1/2 pie-to-person ratio, and I think we outdid ourselves this year. All the usual suspects were there: pumpkin, pecan, chocolate, pumpkin cheesecake….

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…and apple. Second only to blueberry in my personal hierarchy of pies.

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Finally, I brought my spicy Mexican Chocolate Tart, featuring Taza Chocolate from Somerville, MA. I originally made this tart for a holiday pot luck last year, and fell in love with the recipe. A forewarning: while it’s amazingly and utterly delicious, it’s also very rich. So this recipe gets filed in both the “Impress Your Guests” AND the “Eat Only Once A Year” categories of my mental recipe box.

We start by preparing our pecans for the top of the tart. Mix the sugars and spices with an egg white, and stir in the pecans.

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Place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake for about 20 minutes (or less). The recipe says 30 minutes. It LIES!  Once toasted, we just put the pecans aside for later and start in on the crust. It’s a simple crust of cookie crumbs, a hint of cinnamon, sugar, salt and melted butter pulsed together in a food processor. Here’s what mine looked like after being mixed up.

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Pat it into the pan (recipe calls for a tart pan with a removeable bottom — I don’t have one so here we go! No big thang.) Bake for 20 minutes. Here it is cooling. Notice how super neat and perfect my edges are 😉 Again, it doesn’t matter. It’s chocolate and it tastes good. And THAT matters.

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Prepare your filling while the tart cools. The recipe calls for an imported Mexican chocolate like Ibarra, but I simply couldn’t resist trying to incorporate a more local ingredient, so I headed down to Formaggio Kitchen to pick up some of Taza Chocolate’s Mexicano Chocolate Discs. The recipe calls for 3.1 oz., but Taza’s bars come in 2.7 oz packages, so I had fun playing a little mix-and-match, and used 2.7 oz of the cinnamon discs and the guajillo chili flavor for the remaining 0.4 oz.

Once you’ve made your filling, you just pour it into the pie and chill for 20 minutes or so for it to set. Now it’s decorating time! Use your pecans to create a pattern of concentric circles on the top of your pie. I start off by dividing the pie into quadrants as shown and then fill it in from there.

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Now comes the hard part. You need to chill your pie for 4 hours before serving. Oooh, waiting is hard. The worst part is, once you unveil your pie, you will very quickly only have this remaining:

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It really is wonderful…and popular. The cayenne in the pecans gives it a subtle kick, while the cinnamon in the filling and crust adds a spicy warmth to the tart. The texture of the filling is a cross between a truffle and fudge — dense, chocolately, melty. I’m really sad it’s all gone.

Mexican Chocolate Tart with Cinnamon-Spiced Pecans
from Bon Appetit, Feb 2007

Pecans

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1 T. light brown sugar
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/8 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 c. pecan halves

Crust

  • 1 c. chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (about half of one 9-ounce package cookies, finely ground in processor)
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 t. salt
  • 5 T. unsalted butter, melted

Filling

  • 1 c. heavy whipping cream
  • 4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 (3.1-oz.) disk Mexican chocolate (such as Ibarra), chopped*
  • 1/4 c. unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, room temperature
  • 2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. salt

* If you can’t find Mexican chocolate, you can substitute semi-sweet chocolate and cinnamon, 1/2 t. cinnamon per each oz. of chocolate. I did this the first time I made this recipe and it came out great!

For pecans:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Whisk all ingredients except pecans in medium bowl. Stir in pecans. Spread in single layer on sheet, rounded side up. Bake until just browned and dry, about 30 minutes (*OR LESS! I did 20 minutes). Cool on sheet. Separate nuts, removing excess coating. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

For crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Blend first 4 ingredients in processor. Add melted butter; process until crumbs are moistened. Press crumbs into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom, to within 1/8 inch of top. Bake until set, about 20 minutes. Cool on rack.

For filling:
Bring cream to simmer in medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolates; whisk until melted. Add butter, 1 piece at a time; whisk until smooth. Whisk in vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Pour filling into crust. Chill until filling begins to set, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Arrange nuts in concentric circles atop tart. Chill until set, about 4 hours. DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover loosely with foil and keep chilled.

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