Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Happiness!

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My baking bloggers are posting all their fantastic creations, and then there is me.  No loving from the oven here.  I finally got the thing fixed, and I will have to reconsider my next oven when I move. But the world of retail has been taking up a fair amount of time, and just spending time with my family has seriously been my priority.  So instead, today, I decided to go back in the vault, and post one of my favorite Christmas pictures.  These sweet kids are in college now, and my daughter still bristles at the sight of Santa.  She was never much of a fan.  It has to do with a Big Barbie that did not make it on to the sleigh one year.  This kid can hold a grudge!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


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I would love for you to go to the Smithsonian Magazine blog called Inviting Writing to read the story I wrote for them about schart'llat.  But here it is in a nutshell, if you insist.  The invite to write was a call for stories about Christmas cookies that mean a lot to your family.  We have many family recipes, and schart'llat is so unusual in many ways.  First of all the spelling is likely found only in Faeto, Italy.  The pronunciation and description of the pastry is similar to other southern Italian regions where they call it scallidde. But I don't have anywhere to reference this recipe, other than my dad, Pasquale.  He remembers them from his childhood, and I remember them from mine.  With the advent of the internet I was sure one day to find them.  But it wasn't until I was back in Faeto and asked my new friend Peppino and he know what they were and provided the spelling, but no secret family recipe.  Here is the way I made them, and there is room for changes for sure.  If I am ever lucky enough to go to pastry school I would know what to do, but for now, they get very puffy.  I suspect it is the large quantity of baking powder.
schart'llat a.k.a. Pasquale's Italian Wonders

Pasquale's Italian Wonders

7 eggs, beat well
add 2T sugar while beating
add 1 teaspoon salt, 2 heaping teaspoons baking powder and
4 1/2 cups flour
Knead in 7 Tablespoons melted Crisco until dough is smooth.

Rest the dough covered for 5 minutes, and cut in half.  Roll out as thin as possible and cut into long strips with a fluted pastry wheel.  The strips should be no wider than 1/2".  Roll it into a spiral, pinching as you go, because when it hits the hot oil it will puff and unwind.

Fry in hot oil (about 338 degrees) until browned and flip them over to cook evenly.

Drain on paper and you can store them covered.  When ready to serve make topping.

1 cup honey
1/2 sugar (I don't usually add this)
1 T water
1T lemon juice
Stir on stove until thick and slightly amber colored.  Drizzle over schart'llat and sprinkle with chopped nuts.  Traditionally they are stacked in a pyramid shape before the topping.  I like them in a smaller group on a plate.

These take me back to another time, another house and my dad standing over the hot oil trying to make them look like his mom's.  And here I am, all these years later, a different house, trying to make them look like his.  Full circle.  Merry Christmas.  Pull out an old family recipe and get in there and bake!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pasquale's Italian Wonders on the Smithsonian Magazine

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So I have been working some loooong retail days, and my oven is still on the fritz.  But I am hoping to get these little Italian Pastries made.  I hope you will head over the the Smithsonian Mag online and read about a family tradition of ours, Pasquale's Italian Wonders.  I am hoping to make them on Tues or Weds, so stay tuned for photos and a blog post.  Ho ho ho!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Green Tomato Appetizer

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Green Tomatoes never had it so good!
So I may have bragged a little about my puny garden this summer, herbs, peppers and cucumbers galore.  Tomatoes?  Well, not so much.  Thankfully my friend Rosalie planted tomatoes, and although she didn't get big red, juicy ones in the heat of the summer, she had a bumper crop of green tomatoes this fall. And being in the South and all, ya'll know we kind of covet green tomatoes.  The first thing that comes to mind is Fried Green Tomatoes, and they aren't bad.  But, ever since I pulled out the fryer for the most amazing fries, I have been toying with what to fry next. This dilemma too is a bit of a Southern stereotype, "Ya'll, what am I gonna fry for dinner?"  Which really is a bit of a joke, it isn't really like that here!  Since I am not a fan of the whole cornmeal breading, I decided to borrow a better idea for these green gems.  The best part, I made them ahead and froze them until I was ready to serve!

Rosalie's Green Tomato Appetizers

Green Tomatoes
Goat Cheese
Cream Cheese
Fresh Herbs (or dried)
Eggs (just a couple)
Balsamic Glaze

So basically, I sliced the green tomatoes (about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick)  and let them dry out a bit on paper towels.
Mix goat cheese and cream cheese with the herbs.  Any combination, the cream cheese is really more of a binder for the goat cheese which tends to crumble a bit.  I don't measure this kind of stuff, and honest, you can't really go wrong.  I would have chopped up garlic, oregano, basil and chives, but I used Penzey's Tuscan Sunset instead.  I love this stuff.

Then I piled a little mound on top of each tomato and put the pan in the freezer.

Take the frozen tomato and cheese, and dip them in beaten egg and then coat well in Panko.  Place them back on cookie sheet (not on paper towels) and freeze again.  When they are froze, peel them off the sheet and place in a baggie or freezer container until you are ready to use them.

Preheat oven to 350, and bake the tomatoes on a cookie sheet for about 15 minutes.  They should be browned and the cheesy mound should be very soft.  Serve with a drizzle of Balsamic glaze and a glass of wine.  So, what are ya'll waiting for?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Getting In the Spirit

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I admit my weaknesses. Goat cheese, Pinot Noir, 71% Dark Chocolate, (preferably all on the same night), and Christmas decorations. I have 3 trees in full regalia. The family tree choc full of all those ornaments I pick up on trips, given to us at parties and those made in grade school. The second tree is in the dining room and is white and covered in snowmen. Note: Never tell people if you intend to collect something. I have more damn snowmen than I know what to do with! And the last tree is my favorite. It's only about 5', fills a corner of my kitchen and is covered in kitchen stuff. Cooking chefs and santas, copper pots and pans, whisks, silverware, petite fours and glass cheese. I love it! One friend brought me Christmas okra, a huge okra, like 6" and it's painted like Santa. How funny is that?! I also have a huge assortment of Williams Sonoma ornaments from years past. No big surprise there. The most beautiful is a glass Waterford chef Santa.
Years ago when we lived in Atlanta we started the killer dessert party tradition, Lance and Sue brought us a German Baker Nutcracker ornament. I love the ones that stir great memories!

And, instead of a star on top, there's a chef's hat!
Because I work retail in a business driven by food holidays (think Thanksgiving here), I have a pass to get Christmas up early. And since my oven is on the fritz, I am decorating instead of baking!  So, what are you waiting for?

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Foodie Kind of Christmas

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I think I am like a lot of foodies out there, where the Christmas list involves all kinds of things that friends and family can't imagine I don't already own.  Just because I work in the greatest kitchen store ever, and rarely come home without a bag, does not mean I have everything!  A few of my things are found at WS,  I work there because I am addicted to kitchen stuff.  I have been reading lots of blogs and magazines with chef's, foodies, and expert's top picks for the holidays.  I am almost a little embarrassed that I own so much of what they think we need. But there are other things on my list, I think they are things everyone will love!  So here's what's on my list:

Ultimate Cookies by Julia Usher
I don't own a single book about cookie decorating.  I am thinking this could be a good place to start!

The Merchant of Sonoma by William Warren
This is the story of Williams Sonoma founder Chuck Williams.  I really want a signed copy, but I don't think Mr. Williams is doing any book tours in his 96th year.  But he is certainly my idol of good food, good wine and kick ass kitchen stuff!

Big Green Egg
I have wanted to buy this for Scott for years, but he never seemed too interested.  Now we keep thinking we should wait until we move.  But since we keep putting off the move, I really want one.  My mover extraordinaire can move the massive Green Egg...

VitaMix 200
So I have been wanting this for awhile, but I am holding out until my other blender dies.  Unfortunately, the other blender is no ordinary blender, my Waring Blender is 18 years old.  Way back, when my sweet baby girl was on her way, my hubby decided we needed a good blender for margaritas.  (A parenthood requirement I guess)  It is Williams Sonoma green and will not die.  It has high and low speeds and a glass container, and although sometimes it seems to be smoking and smells like it is going to die, it keeps on going.  We rarely drink margaritas, but I do make salad dressing and smoothies in it.  Since I am the daughter of Pasquale, we do not replace anything that has not yet expired.

UGG Boots
I have the original high kind, but my daughter will be the first to tell you, if you are not 5'8", you ought not wear the high ones in jeans.  They make you look shorter.  So I would like a pair of cute boots I could actually wear in icky weather, without socks (I HATE SOCKS).  I think these would do nicely.

Shearling Flip Flops
I don't know why UGG has not mastered this one yet.  I have an old pair of no-name shearling flip flops that I have worn out.  I like something on the bottom of my feet, but not necessarily the top.  These are a little more "athletic" looking, but I kinda like them.  But no faux shearling for me, and there must be shearling on the top straps too.

Pink Jacket
I am training for the Avon breast cancer walk, a marathon and a half, to take place this spring.  I need something warm and water resistant to train in.  Plus, it's pink, what a happy color!

I love cotton Pjs for sleeping, and these are so darn cute!  I love everything I have ordered at Garnet Hill. And since I am a friend of theirs on Facebook I get lots of great promo offers.

Sunglasses do double duty for me.  They have to cut the glare of course, and they have to sit properly on top of my head.  That's where I keep them.  These are polarized and the colors are so true in bright daylight.  Truly the best glasses I have ever owned.  My old ones ruptured at the bridge, probably from pulling them up on my head, but they were well worn.  Time for new ones Santa!

Gadgets I don't need but would be fun to have
A gnocchi board.  Never made them, but it's made of wood and looks like something from an old Italian lady's kitchen.
Silicone oven mitt.  I have burn tracks all over my arms, I think this would be a good idea.  Plus, Scott could use it on the new Green Egg.
Hard Boiled Egg Design Molds  Okay, these are really silly, and I don't have little kiddies around, but I am intrigued...and I do love hard boiled eggs!
Cool Utility Knife  I do not need this, but I think it so cool.  My utility knife now is from Cutco (not a fan) and the handle melted.  Not cool.
Stump  I have made Bouche de Noel before, and when we got this pan in the store we joked this was the Southern version, a stump!  I am planning on getting it on clearance after Christmas.  It is not exactly flying out of the store, and I know I would love making it!

So that's it!  I honestly don't care if I get a single thing.  Really.  Well, I would like the pink jacket.  But I am really just so happy to have the kids home, bake, watch movies, have all their friends hanging out.  It is all about family for me.  I hope you get what is most important this holiday.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nuttier Than A Fruitcake...Still!

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So yes, I used this clever title a year ago here , and even the same old elf in the photo.  But just because I changed my friend's original cookie recipe once and loved it, does not mean I will leave well enough alone.  So you can get the original back last year at the link, but I have updated it once again.  I love the elf, he must be 50 years old at least.  I wish he was a little more flexible (must be male, hahaha!) because I could envision him all over my kitchen this Christmas! But, he does appear in most of the shots, so appease me, please.  It may have been that soaking liquid I nipped on, but I had an exceptional time baking these delicious cookies!

As I stated before, I find that mixed dried fruit available at Christmas a little nasty.  No cherry I have ever seen is that red or, gasp, green.  There are so many chemicals in preserving the other fruits, I just couldn't go there.  And don't even get me started on the whole repackaged bulk stuff.  I know it comes in enormous boxes and a nice employee is scooping the fruit into plastic containers and weighing it.  I have seen them doing this in my little market while shoppers pass by, achooo, just sprinkling their germs about.  I know, I am a little nuts, so fruitcake seems like a good idea.

 Fruitcake Cookies

1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2 eggs, well beaten
3/4 cup whiskey
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 1 1/2 Tablespoons milk
1 # pecans, chopped
1 1/2# mixed dried fruit (I use raisins, dried cherries, cranberries and blueberries, and dates)
1, 11oz bag chocolate chunks
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups whole wheat flour

Soak the dried fruit (not dates) in whiskey for an hour or so, stir them often so they all plump up.  Measure off 1/2 cup of the whiskey for the cookies, set any remaining liquid aside.  In stand mixer bowl, beat butter and sugar.  Add all other ingredients and sip that leftover whiskey while you mix this all up.

Drop by tablespoon on greased sheet and bake at 350ยบ.  Cool on pan and move to rack to cool completely.  Store in covered container.  
Way better than fruitcake, and really, fruitcake-like all the same.  So, what are you waiting for?  Get in there and bake! 
Just a little nip....

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Give Thanks

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One of my favorite days of the year.  We'll sit around the table as a family and hold hands and pray for those who need our prayers and give thanks for our amazing gifts....count your blessings and give thanks!

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Happy Birthday Away From Home

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So this summer on my journey around the Midwest, I caught up with my cousin Joyce and her husband Alain from Canada.  At our many cousin reunions over the years I had met their children, but we haven't had a reunion in years.  So when Joyce asked me to send cookies to her daughter, in graduate school I said sure, but where did the time go?!

She originally wanted something that would reflect Elise's love of Chinese Art and Antiquities, so Joyce got lost on the cookie cutter web sites, "Who knew?" was her response!  Tell me about it, it is amazing what is out there.  But no Chinese soldiers or Buddhas, so we went with the more traditional birthday fare!

Happy Birthday Elise!  I know your Mommy misses you....

Friday, November 11, 2011


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So volleyball has finished, and work has begun!  Tis the season, and things really ramp up at work, so life takes a different twist!  I have been baking pretty regularly, and have a few cookies to share.
First some Alabama Alpha Phi cookies for a neighbor.

Then I helped out with the Chi O bakes sale fundraiser.  I did some Chi O cookies and I wanted to make the blue swirl cookies to be like the Make A Wish star, but they aren't pretty enough to share...of the dozens I made I shot a picture of a bad one!  The cookies were pretty simple, I made a lot, hopefully they raised some good money for a great cause!  I have been buying up the Greek letters for the sororities and frats, and some of them I dislike in a mean way.  That omega (farther down) is a real beast to unmold, and the design is thin and fragile after baking.  I opted for some fat letters from an old set, since these particular cookies were in a bake sale, I knew fragile would not be good!
And then I did a few birthday surprises. An 18th for my friend's daughter who was almost a Halloween baby! And hopefully Meghan's cookies were okay because Priority Mail took almost 10 days to get to her!  I experimented with a new meringue powder, and the dark green was kind of blotchy.  I was not terrible pleased.  But the taste was actually better than the other meringue powder I use!
And finally a few cookies for Thanksgiving.  I will be baking up more of these in the last week and change before turkey day!  And then it is all about jingle bells and elves!  I can hardly believe the season is upon us!

So, what are you waiting for?  Get in there and bake!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Secret Recipe Club: Short Ribs and Truffle Parmesan Fries

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It's time for another Secret Recipe Club!  My last two Secret Recipe blogs have really been pretty easy for me to choose what to make, but this month I was really overwhelmed!  First off, Barbara from Barbara Bakes  is yet another long lost soul mate, and stalking, er, reading dozens of posts on her blog, was really quite fun.   She is a  Mass Comm major, (me too) obviously a cook, baker, blogger and her photo shows her in a Tuscano apron.  I may own one very similar to that!

She had some great things to choose from, but when I read her post on Short Ribs, I knew I found my recipe.  Her husband raved about them, and after our amazing dinner at Bottega I knew Scott would appreciate my attempt at short ribs.  She used a recipe from Simply Recipes and served hers with caramelized onion mashed potatoes, but I decided to make Parmiagiano Truffle Fries like we had at Bottega.

The first big change I made in this recipe was that I brined the ribs first for about 4 hours.  If you have never brined your meat, you are missing out!  I am no chemist, but I look at it like this, after you drink too many margaritas and eat too many chips and salsa, you retain water...sort of the same idea.  Brined meat is amazingly juicy and tender.  If you choose to brine just one thing, brine your Thanksgiving turkey.  You will thank me later!  I used a half cup of the Williams Sonoma brine dissolved in enough water to cover the short ribs.   I only cooked 6 ribs instead of 12, and my other change was that I first served them right from the oven instead of chilling the cooked ribs overnight and skimming the fat off.  My hubby works at home, and if I had these braising all day and he came down from the think tank for dinner, and I gave him a turkey burger, well, he'd be a little unhappy.  To compensate, I upped the baking time and lowered my oven temp.  We took a walk after dinner to keep the cholesterol moving!  To be fair, we ate the leftovers the next day after taking off the hardened fat, and warmed them stovetop.  Scott decided they were even better. Here is the recipe.

Short Ribs
from Barbara Bakes, that she got from Simply Recipes!

6 bone in beef short ribs
salt and pepper
¼ cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped ( I love carrots and added more than her recipe)
1 bottle good, dry red wine (I went Spanish Grenache)
3 cups beef stock (does anyone actually sell veal stock?)

Preheat oven to 300°.  Over moderate heat, heat the olive oil and brown the short ribs (patted dry) on all sides.  Work in batches so the pan is never crowded.  Remove from pan, and saute the onion, celery and carrot in pan until browned.  Remove, and deglaze pan with the wine and reduce liquid by three quarters until thick and syrupy.  Return short ribs and veggies back to pan.  Add the stock to cover the ribs.  Bring to a boil, cover and bake for about 3½ hours.  They should be fork tender.

Truffle Parmesan Fries
From Napa Style, Michael Chiarello

Russet Potatoes
Ice Water
Peanut Oil
Truffle Salt
Fresh Grated Parmesan

So this is new for me, I don't fry often.  I followed the Napa Style recipe pretty close.  I sliced the potatoes thin, like match sticks, a perfect job for a mandoline. Then  I soaked them in ice water because this apparently makes them crispy.  I am not a frying expert, so I took his word for it.  I fried them first in 325° oil and drained them.  Then before serving I fried them crispy in 375° oil.  I do not keep truffle oil on hand, which is what they drizzle on the hot fries at Bottega. So I used Truffle & Salt which worked beautifully.
 Top with the cheese and serve with the short ribs and a nice glass of red wine from Chiarello Vineyards.  Ahh, reliving my vacation!

Thank you Barbara Bakes, I am coming back to make Mardi Gras King Cake which looks delicious and is a great Mardis Gras staple in this part of the country, but I have never made my own!  Also check out the other reveals in the Secret Recipe Club below.So, what are you waiting for?  Get in there and cook!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day of the Dead Cookies

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So Halloween is just a memory, and I have no candy to rummage through.  No Take 5 Bars, no Hundred Thousand Dollar Bars, no Dark Milky Ways.  Oh well, my new blue jeans will be thankful.  So growing up we had this day off school, All Saints Day.  It is the day to remember the loved ones who have passed.  In the Mexican culture, it is Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead.  This day, you tap people on the shoulder to remind them that dying is a part of living.  All a little creepier than Halloween if you ask me.  But while I was baking Halloween cookies, I decided to do a few skulls.  I had a limited amount of colors made for the cookies and just went with them.  I would have loved to add some blue and red and really went to town, but I am decorating cookies between volleyball tournaments and work.  So, here we go, I guess we officially kick off the holiday season.  Time to make the Thanksgiving menu and order Christmas cards....what are you waiting for?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Happy Halloween!

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Wouldn't you be disappointed if I didn't make Halloween cookies?  I did it rather last minute, and I have to say I am a little sad to not have a group of teenagers around this weekend to cook for and help with costumes.  I was truly that crazy, crafty mom who planned the costumes every year.  We had some good ones, and lots of great trick or treating memories.  It was so fun when the kids were little because I could sort of talk them into costumes.  Nic always loved to dress up!  My favorite Halloween picture is this one.

They are both wiped out after trick or treating, and Nic had been a pirate with those eyebrows and mustache! Christina was only about 6 months old, but she was strollered all over the neighborhood anyway!

Christina refused any kind of costume until she turned 2.

Then I took advantage of the boy girl thing and made them cowboy and cowgirl.  She was all for it because she got boots, and Nic got a gun!

Even as teenagers, we would try and come up with great ideas.  The 50's girl in a poodle skirt is a classic, and one year all the girls went as athletes and ref.  Easy and not terribly embarrassing at a coed party.  My favorite of Nic was the John Belushi character Bluto from Animal House.

Okay, I have embarrassed my kids enough...I probably don't want to know what they are dressing up as this year!

So I didn't do a lot of cookies, but I really like the sparkly pumpkins which might make an appearance at Thanksgiving as well.  I used the smaller gingerbread man cutter for my mummies this year, but I think I like them bigger.  And the ghosts are just basic, you can't really mess with the simplicity of a ghost.

I bought the witches hat cutter this summer, and I like its crooked design.

The spider on the web at the blog header are a favorite of everyone.  They are large, but they are a show stopper.
So hopefully we'll get a few kids here, and hoping you all have a great Halloween!