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Caribbean Rum Cake

If you were baking in the 1970s, no doubt you came across the rum cake recipe from Bacardi’, the well-known rum company from Puerto Rico. I made plenty of them back in the day, and they were always a big hit and easy to make, using a box mix. On a trip to the Cayman Islands a couple of weeks ago, where Tortuga rum cakes are as ubiquitous as fish tacos, I naturally had to try their version. For a packaged cake, it was remarkably good, but I knew there had to be a made-from-scratch recipe to duplicate the cake, reminiscent of those Bacardi’ cakes I enjoyed decades ago.

A short search online turned up a recipe from the King Arthur Flour website, a company whose products and whose recipes are always reliably good. While the King Arthur cake doesn’t include walnuts, the classic Tortuga cake is dotted with them inside the cake. I prefer the walnuts crowning the cake, as the old Bacardi recipe calls for, so that’s how I made it, and I’m glad I did.

The cake, which also contains a full cup of rum, has a moist, tender crumb and a delicious buttery flavor, almost like eating a rummy butterscotch lifesaver – only better. I’ve never tasted hot buttered rum, but I imagine this must be the cake version of that drink. It’s definitely not for tea-totalers.

The rum cake isn’t the only reason to recommend a visit to the Cayman Islands. Just to give you an idea of what the beautiful island of Grand Cayman is like, (there are three islands in the Cayman Islands, and Grand Cayman is the largest) here are a few pictures from our recent vacation there. The main attraction is the beautiful Caribbean sea, in various shades of blue. This is the famous “seven mile beach” with soft, pale sands and shade in many places. You’ll find world class hotels along the beach, as well as condos for rent. It’s easy to rent a sailboat, paddle board or other water vehicles right from the beach.

Need a respite from the sand and sea? You could easily spend a couple of hours visiting the Queen Elizabeth Botanical Garden, with its beautiful flowering plants and historic exhibits.

The grounds of the botanical gardens also contain a preserve for the blue iguana lizard, found only on the Cayman Islands. They nearly became extinct, with only 12 of the animals recorded in 2004, but through conservation efforts, about 700 have been bred and released in the sanctuary since then.

If you drive to the northern part of the island, you’ll come to a place called “starfish point,” where the beautiful sea creatures are omnipresent.

Speaking of sea creatures, Grand Cayman is a great place for snorkeling, as you can see in the photo below. They were swirling all around me and I felt like I was in the midst of an aquarium!

You can even swim with sting rays if you’re so inclined. They come right up to you in the clear turquoise waters off a certain part of the island.

The food there is really delicious too, which is why the island is sometimes referred to as “The Culinary Capital of the Caribbean.” The cuisine runs the gamut – from a food truck’s barbecued chicken and ribs to break-the-bank refined elegance at Eric Ripert’s “Blue” restaurant in the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

There’s so much more to see and do in the Cayman Islands, including fishing, shopping, and visiting museums. We hope to go back next year and I hope you get a chance to visit sometime too. Until then, I’ll be dreaming of those beautiful beaches and content myself with another piece of Caribbean rum cake.

Click here to find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more).

Caribbean Rum Cake
 
A rum-soaked cake with a tender, moist crumb.
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE CAKE:
  • 2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3.4-ounce box instant vanilla pudding mix (not sugar-free)* (I used a smaller box of 1.5 oz)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup milk, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup rum, plain or spiced (I used Bacardi gold rum)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon butter rum flavor (I omitted this)
  • ⅓ cup chopped walnuts
  • FOR THE SYRUP:
  • 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup rum, plain or spiced
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Place the flour, sugar, pudding mix, baking powder, salt, butter, and vegetable oil in a mixing bowl, and mix at medium speed until everything is thoroughly combined and the mixture is sandy looking.
  3. Beat in the milk, then beat in the eggs one at a time.
  4. Scrape the bowl thoroughly, and beat briefly to recombine any sticky residue.
  5. Stir in the rum, vanilla, and butter-rum flavor, if using.
  6. Generously butter a 10- to 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray, then spritz with cooking spray.
  7. Sprinkle the inside of the pan with the chopped walnuts.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread level with a spatula.
  9. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes.
  10. When done, a cake tester, long toothpick, or strand of uncooked spaghetti will come out clean when inserted into the center.
  11. Remove the cake from the oven.
  12. Leave the cake in the pan to cool slightly while you make the syrup.
  13. In a medium-sized saucepan combine the syrup ingredients, except vanilla.
  14. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce to a simmer and cook (without stirring) for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly.
  15. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  16. Use a long skewer to poke holes all over the cake.
  17. Pour about ¼ cup of the syrup over the cake (still in the pan). Allow the syrup to soak in, then repeat again and again until all the syrup is used.
  18. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and allow the cake to sit overnight at room temperature to cool completely and soak in the syrup.
  19. When ready to serve, loosen the edges of the cake and invert onto your serving plate.
  20. If the cake won’t release, don't force it.
  21. Place it in the oven, turn the oven to 350°F, and warm for about 10 minutes, to soften the sticky syrup.
  22. (If your oven is one that preheats by making its upper element red-hot, place the cake on a lower rack and tent it with aluminum foil to protect it.)
  23. Remove the cake from the oven, and tip it onto the serving plate.
  24. Serve with hot coffee or tea.
  25. The cake is very moist, fragrant and potent.
  26. Wrap securely (or place under a cake cover) and store at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage, up to 1 month.
 

Beet Ravioli with ricotta and goat cheese filling

 Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and this recipe is perfect for winning over the hearts (and stomachs) of your loved ones. Or just treat yourself to a special home made meal. You deserve it! The ravioli dough is made with beets, although it hardly retains any of the beet flavor. But it does look rather festive, and was a good way for me to salvage some of the beets I had dreadfully overcooked this past weekend. You see, I planned to make pickled beets and I placed the beets to cook atop the stove in a pot of water. I like to undercook beets since they get cooked a bit more in the pickling process, and I prefer some “bite” to the finished product. But I left the house to see the HD performance of “Carmen” live from the Met, and forgot about the pot simmering on the stove. I didn’t realize it until nearly three hours later, well after Carmen entices Don Jose with her guiles, but before he gets his revenge on the alluring gypsy.

You know it’s verboten to phone or text in the theater during a performance, but I covered by head and torso with my jacket and texted my husband to ask him to immediately drain the water from the beets. Thank goodness for husbands who are loyal to their alma mater and stay home to watch the basketball game on TV. Go Pirates!

I know it could have been avoided had I roasted the beets, but I always have trouble peeling beets when I roast them. Besides, I might have forgotten them in the oven and come home to dehydrated, or worse, burnt spheres of my favorite root vegetable.

So anyway, here I was with lots of mushy beets to use up. I’ve always wanted to try making pasta with beets so this gave me the perfect excuse. Let’s get started.

Whiz the beets in a food processor until smooth.

Add the eggs, flour and other ingredients. I used 00 flour, the kind that Italians traditionally use for making pasta. If you don’t have it, use regular flour, or add some semolina flour to regular flour. However, it’s easy enough to find 00 flour online, if you don’t have an Italian grocery store, or specialty food shop near you.

The dough is stickier than normal pasta dough – possibly because of those darn overcooked and water-logged beets of mine. So I had to knead in a little more flour on the wooden board. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least an hour.

I placed the dough through the pasta machine, spreading a little more flour over the dough each time I passed it through a different thickness. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out the heart shapes.

Place a tablespoon of filling over each heart and then using your finger, or a small paint brush, brush a little water around the perimeter of each one. By the way, the goat cheese adds a nice tang to the ricotta and the lemon zest brings a nice “brightness” to it. Don’t skimp on the fresh thyme or the grating of nutmeg either. It’s a delicious combination of flavors.

Cover with a second piece of the pasta, and crimp the edges with a fork.

This dough recipe makes enough for about four dozen ravioli, but frankly, I was getting hungry and wanted to get moving with dinner. So I stopped at about two dozen ravioli and made fettuccine with the rest of the dough. I had some leftover filling, but I’ll use it in a frittata.

Boil the ravioli in abundant, salted water. These were ready in only three or four minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter, and add the thyme and hazelnuts. When the ravioli are cooked, transfer them with a slotted spoon or spider to the pan with the butter and hazelnuts. Don’t drain the pasta really well; It’s good if a little water comes along to add to the sauce.

Carefully spoon the pasta into a heated dish and sprinkle some parmesan cheese over everything.

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!

 

Click here to find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more).

Image result for hearts

Beet Ravioli with ricotta and goat cheese filling
 
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta - First Course
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 3-4 dozen ravioli
Ingredients
  • FOR THE PASTA:
  • two medium beets (or about 8 ounces pureed beets)
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 large whole eggs
  • about 2½ cups 00 flour
  • salt, to taste
  • FOR THE FILLING:
  • ¾ cup ricotta cheese, drained (preferably overnight)
  • 5 ounces soft goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • salt, pepper and the grating of a bit of fresh nutmeg
  • FOR THE SAUCE:
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • ⅓ cup roughly chopped hazelnuts
  • parmesan cheese, for sprinkling
Instructions
  1. TO MAKE THE PASTA:
  2. Cook the beets, either by boiling or roasting.
  3. Once they are cool, remove the skin and puree the beets in a food processor until smooth.
  4. Add the salt, and eggs to the beet puree in the food processor, then start adding the flour a little at a time, until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the food processor bowl.
  5. Remove it onto a well-floured board and knead until smooth and it loses its "stickiness."
  6. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least an hour.
  7. TO MAKE THE FILLING:
  8. Drain the ricotta overnight or at least an hour, to remove some of the water.
  9. Place the cheeses and other ingredients in a food processor and mix.
  10. MAKING AND ASSEMBLING THE RAVIOLI:
  11. Cut the dough into four parts and work with one of the pieces, keeping the rest covered.
  12. Run the dough through the pasta machine, flattening and flouring each piece as you go along. Start with the widest setting , dusting the dough each time you feed it through a narrower setting.
  13. On my KitchenAid pasta machine, I stopped at the number four setting.
  14. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out heart shapes, then fill with a tablespoon of the cheese filling.
  15. Moisten the edges of the pasta, then place another heart shaped pasta piece on top of the filling.
  16. Crimp the edges with a fork.
  17. Drop into boiling, salted water and cook until the pasta is al dente. For me, this took only about three to four minutes.
  18. TO MAKE THE SAUCE:
  19. Meanwhile, melt the butter in another saucepan, add the thyme and the hazelnuts.
  20. When the pasta is cooked, using a slotted spoon or "spider" drop them into the pan with the butter and hazelnuts.
  21. Don't worry if the pasta is not totally drained. A little water is needed to help make the sauce.
  22. After all the ravioli are in the saucepan, gently toss them to disperse the butter, nuts and thyme.
  23. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve.

Drum Roll For Timpano!

 

To my readers: I’m ceding the Ciao Chow Linda reins this week to my son Michael, a journalist who also knows his way around the kitchen.  He’s made this dish several times in the past few years, and with the Super Bowl fast approaching, he agreed to write about it for my readers. It’s an ambitious project no doubt, but gather some friends and work on it together, then sit back and watch the big game on Sunday. 

From Michael:

My friend Garrett and I first heard about the timpano when watching the film Big Night, starring Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub as two brothers who own a restaurant in the 1950s in New Jersey. The “big night” in question is a magnificent dinner prepared in anticipation of Louis Prima, the main course of which is the timpano.

We watched with amazement as the two brothers unveiled this showstopper of a dish, a large “drum” of pasta filled with ziti, meatballs, provolone, mozzarella, hardboiled eggs, salami, and tomato sauce. It’s not a dish for the faint of heart. Literally.

After seeing it on screen, we knew we had to recreate it in person. Garrett found the recipe in Stanley Tucci’s cookbook, which we then adapted a bit. You can add in meats and cheeses as you see fit.

The timpano is baked inside a large ceramic or metal pot; when it’s time to serve, you flip the pot over so that the timpano slides out, much like an upside-down cake. When it works, it’s impressive. When it doesn’t, it’s disastrous. If any sticks to the pot, the whole thing will disintegrate, leaving you with a delicious mess.

Another word of warning: A full-size timpano is enough to feed an army. We made one for the Super Bowl, and even with 20 people over (and helping themselves to seconds), we still had half of it left by the time the Eagles beat the Patriots last year.

This recipe calls for a bowl that’s about 6-8 inches deep and about 12 – 14 inches in diameter. Obviously, if you use a smaller or a larger bowl, the amount of stuff you’ll need to fill it will change. You could conceivably use a casserole dish, too.

While this recipe isn’t overly complicated, it involves a number of steps, so it will take some time. 

You’ll need a large table or pasta board for rolling out the dough. This pasta board belonged to my paternal grandmother, and is probably at least 75 years old. The wide strips of dough are pinched together to make one large piece of dough that becomes the outer shell of the timpano.

Be sure to have all the ingredients ready to go before you start assembling the timpano.

The ziti is tossed with tomato sauce and placed into the dough-lined bowl. Be sure to undercook the ziti, since it will bake more in the oven.

Top with half of the eggs, meatballs, mozzarella, salami and provolone. Add sauce on top, then more pasta and repeat with the other ingredients, finishing up with sauce. Pour the beaten eggs over everything.

Cover the bowl with the pasta that’s hanging off the side, making sure the timpano is completely sealed. Trim the excess dough and place in the oven, following the directions below.

After letting it rest for 30 minutes, flip it out of the bowl and you’re ready for the reward. All you need is a good glass of wine and a salad and you have enough to feed an entire football team.

 brioschi optional.

Brioschi Effervescent 8.5oz Bottle The Original Lemon Flavored Italian Effervescent

Timpano
 
A huge pasta and meat filled extravaganza fit for a crowd.
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: feeds multitudes
Ingredients
  • FOR THE FILLING:
  • 2 cups genoa salami, cut into ¼-inch to ½-inch cubes
  • 2 cups sharp provolone cheese, cut into ¼-inch to ½-inch cubes
  • 8-10 hard-boiled eggs, quartered lengthwise, then
  • cut in half
  • About two dozen little meatballs ½ inch in diameter
  • 8 cups spaghetti sauce (not too thick)
  • 3 lbs ziti pasta, cooked very al dente (you’ll probably end up with plenty of extra ziti)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2⁄3 cup pecorino romano cheese, finely grated
  • 8 large eggs, beaten
  • FOR THE DOUGH:
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1⁄2 cup water
Instructions
  1. THE DAY BEFORE:
  2. Make about two dozen meatballs; they should each be the size of a grape tomato.
  3. Have the tomato sauce ready.
  4. It should be room temperature.
  5. Make the hardboiled eggs.
  6. THE DAY OF:
  7. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  8. Boil the ziti.
  9. It should be on the harder side of al dente, as it will cook more in the oven.
  10. Thoroughly grease the inside of the bowl you plan to use for the timpano.
  11. While the ziti is cooking, roll out the pasta dough to the thinnest possible setting.
  12. Take the strips and lay them next to each other lengthwise so that their edges are touching, and seal them together to make one large sheet. You’ll want it to be big enough so that it not only completely lines the bowl, but that there’s enough overhang to completely cover the middle of the bowl.
  13. Carefully take the sheet of pasta and line the bowl. There should be a lot of overhang.
  14. Toss the drained pasta with two cups of sauce.
  15. Pour about 6-7 cups of pasta into the bottom of the timpano.
  16. Top with half of the salami, provolone, eggs, meatballs, and cheese.
  17. Pour another two cups of sauce on top.
  18. Pour in another 6 cups of the pasta.
  19. Add the rest of the salami, cheese, meatballs, and eggs.
  20. Top all that with the remaining sauce and pasta, so that it comes to nearly the top of the bowl.
  21. Pour the beaten eggs into the bowl, making sure to distribute them evenly.
  22. Fold over the dough and seal it completely.
  23. Trim away any excess dough.
  24. Bake for about 1 hour until the top is lightly browned.
  25. Cover with aluminum foil and bake another 30 minutes or so until the internal temperature is 120 degrees.
  26. Remove from the oven and let rest 30 minutes.
  27. At this point, the timpano should be able to move freely; try shaking the bowl clockwise and counterclockwise gently to see if it moves.
  28. Now the fun part: Get a large pan or dish (one that covers the entire diameter of the bowl), and place it on top of the bowl. Holding the two tightly together, flip the bowl upside down.
  29. Carefully lift the bowl. The timpano should come out cleanly.
  30. Let the timpano rest for another 30 minutes, then use a long thin knife to slice it like a cake.
 

Lemon Chicken With Olives and Capers

So many of our dinners come about simply because of grocery items that have been lingering too long in my refrigerator and need using before they go bad. Such was the case here, where I had some olives nearing their toss out point, and a bag of lemons that I’d never get through unless I whipped up lemon meringue pies for the whole neighborhood. Now, I do cook for my neighbors from time to time but in this case, I wanted something savory and less caloric for dinner, and something that included those lemons and olives.

This recipe, adapted from one I found in Food and Wine’s website, by Lidia Bastianich, fit the bill perfectly. I halved the amount of chicken, to serve only two people, but since I wanted more sauce, I kept the proportions for the sauce ingredients as if I were preparing the recipe with a larger amount of chicken. To see the original recipe, click here.

The original recipe asks you to drizzle the lemon slices with olive oil, salt and pepper and bake at 375 degrees, but to get that browned edge, I found that broiling them works best. Keep a close watch on them so they don’t burn. I didn’t bother with the salt, pepper or olive oil either, because there is plenty of seasoning in the recipe itself.

DO NOT buy thin chicken breast slices for this recipe. They’ll cook too quickly and dry out. Buy a boneless chicken breast. It will be too lumpy and uneven to cook as is, so you’ll need to slice through the thickest part to open it up and make it flatter, pounding a bit with a food mallet (the flat side, not the spiky side). Season with salt and pepper and dust lightly with flour.

Cook the chicken pieces in olive oil at high heat for a few minutes until they’re golden, flipping once, to brown the other side.

Make the sauce while the chicken is in the pan, adding the chicken broth, olives, capers, the lemon slices and the rest of the ingredients.

The original recipe doesn’t call for it, but I added some lemon juice at the end as well, to give it a really fresh taste, and increase the amount of sauce.

It’s a dish that’s fairly easy to prepare and good enough to impress company too.

When you slice into it, the meat is still juicy and tender, and picks up all those flavors that blend so well together. This was a recipe I’ll be making again and again, and next time I won’t wait until I have leftover olives and lemons sitting around.

Click here to find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more).

Lemon Chicken With Olives and Capers
 
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • 1 lemon, sliced ¼-inch thick
  • Two 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour, for dusting
  • ¼ cup pitted olives, sliced (I used Kalamata olives, but you could use green olives as well)
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • ¾ cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small dice
  • 1 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Instructions
  1. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Arrange the lemon slices in a single layer.
  3. Broil for about five minutes, keeping a close eye on the lemons so they don't burn.
  4. Remove from the broiler when the lemons begin to brown around the edges.
  5. In a deep medium skillet, heat ¼ cup of oil.
  6. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust with the flour, shaking off the excess.
  7. Cook the chicken over high heat, turning once, until golden, about 6 minutes.
  8. Add the olives, capers and stock and bring to a boil.
  9. Cook over high heat until the stock is reduced by about two-thirds, about 5 minutes.
  10. Add the roasted lemons, the lemon juice, butter and parsley, season with salt and pepper and simmer just until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 minute.
  11. Transfer the chicken to plates and spoon the sauce on top.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Upside Down Pear Gingerbread Cake

 

I’ve made dozens and dozens of gingerbread cookies, and baked and decorated many gingerbread houses when my kids were little, but a gingerbread cake? Well, I’d never made one, and if truth be told, had never eaten a slice of one until a few years ago. It wasn’t a flavor that I’d grown up with or ever had the yen to seek out on my own. But I have to say, I was a convert after tasting that first slice of gingerbread cake a few years ago at the house of friends.

Those same friends who served the gingerbread cake – Jan and Dave – also send us a box of Harry & David pears each Christmas. Last year, I made an upside down pear walnut cake with some of them last year here. We loved the nuttiness of this cake, but I wanted to try something different this year.

Eureka! I found a cake recipe combining gingerbread with pears in an upside down cake crowned with a luscious caramel-y top. It turns out pears and gingerbread were made to party together!

Although I’ve made many upside down cakes, with fruits of all kinds, most of them (not the walnut cake) have a basic white or yellow cake batter as the base. Like the walnut cake though, this gingerbread cake recipe is a welcome change from the standard upside down cake batter.  Lay the pear slices in a cast iron skillet (or a 9″ cake pan) and pour the brown sugar/butter mixture on top.

Then make the batter, which is very dark since it contains molasses and many spices.

It comes out of the oven looking like this. Run a butterknife around the edge, then using two pot holders, place a large platter (a wider diameter than the pan) over the cake and flip it over. Careful, don’t burn yourself on the pan or the hot syrup.

Top it with whipped cream or ice cream. Of course, the topping is not strictly necessary, but the coolness of the cream with the spiciness of the cake is divine. Besides, what are a few more calories when bathing suit weather is still months away?

This cake is best eaten warm from the oven, but it tastes delicious the next day too. Unlike most white or yellow upside down cakes, whose texture get denser the next day, this gingerbread cake maintains its tender crumb and moist texture even a few days after baking. The pears and the brown sugar topping do soften somewhat if you don’t eat it all the day it’s baked, however. It serves at least eight people, so plan on taking some to a neighbor as I did, or invite some friends in for coffee and cake.

 

Upside Down Pear Gingerbread Cake
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
moist and flavorful upside down pear gingerbread cake
Author:
Recipe type: dessert
Serves: 9-12 servings
Ingredients
  • TOPPING:
  • 4 firm medium pears
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • ⅛ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • GINGERBREAD CAKE:
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1½ tsps. ground ginger
  • 1⅓ tsps. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¾ cup unsulphured or dark molasses
  • ¾ cup hot water
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • ⅓ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • whipped cream, to serve (optional)
Instructions
  1. Prepare the topping: Lightly grease a 9" square or round baking pan (I used a cast iron skillet).
  2. Peel, core and slice pears into thick slices.
  3. Tightly layer the pears in the prepared pan. Set aside.
  4. Whisking constantly, heat the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon together in a small saucepan over medium heat.
  5. Once butter has melted, vigorously whisk to ensure the butter is not separating from the brown sugar.
  6. Once it comes together, pour evenly over pears.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  8. MAKE THE CAKE:
  9. Whisk the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and slat together.
  10. Set aside.
  11. Whisk the molasses and hot water together. Set aside.
  12. Beat the butter and brown sugar together on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
  13. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  14. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract on high speed until combined, about 1 minute.
  15. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl as needed.
  16. Turn the mixer off and add the dry ingredients and molasses/water.
  17. Turn the mixer on low and mix just until combined.
  18. The batter will be a little thick.
  19. Carefully pour/spread batter on top of pears.
  20. Bake for around 35-45 minutes or until the cake is baked through (I put a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil on the rack below the cake to catch any butter/brown sugar that might spill out).
  21. To test for doneness, insert a toothpick into the center of the cake.
  22. If it comes out clean, it's done.
  23. If you notice the edges or top browning too quickly, tent the cake with aluminum foil.
  24. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate
  25. Best served warm.
 

Polenta Breakfast Bake

I don’t know about you, but when I have overnight guests, I don’t generally leave them to fend for themselves when they wake up. At a minimum, if they’re early risers, I’ll show them where to find the coffee and cereal, of course, and have bagels and cream cheese, muffins or croissants available. More often than not, however, I’ll be up earlier than my guests, preparing pancakes, French toast, or eggs and toast for them.

But for special occasions, like Christmas Eve morning, when we knew we’d be eating only one other meal in the day, (albeit a Lucullan feast), I splurge and make a casserole like this polenta breakfast bake recipe from The New York Times. It’s hearty enough to hold everyone until the big meal later on and much of it can be ahead of time. The bacon can be cooked and polenta can be made on the stove top the day before, leaving only the assembly and final baking to be done in the morning while guests are pouring coffee or tea.

To make it easy for yourself,  buy instant polenta (please – NOT the already made polenta in a roll), and cook the bacon on a baking sheet in the oven. You can cook both of these the night before (or even two days before.) Just lay out the bacon strips on a baking sheet and cook at 400 degrees F. for about 10-15 minutes, or until it reaches the crispness you like. After you’ve made the polenta and added the cheese, pour it into a buttered casserole, and using a spoon or the bottom of a small bowl, carve out indentations for the eggs that you’ll crack into the spaces the next morning. Cover with plastic wrap or foil, and put everything in the refrigerator overnight.

Just before you’re ready to bake the casserole, scatter some spinach leaves and bacon pieces here and there, and drop the eggs into the little spaces you created in the polenta. Sprinkle it all with parmesan cheese and bake until the desired level of doneness you prefer your eggs. I prefer the yolks to be slightly runny, but it’s difficult (at least for me) to get the whites thoroughly cooked without nearly overcooking the yolks. If you have a solution to that, let me know.

When you remove the casserole from the oven, scatter a few fresh basil leaves all around, and enjoy. We loved this as a breakfast treat, but I wouldn’t mind sitting down to this for lunch or dinner either.

I hope all my readers had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or whatever holiday you celebrate. All my best wishes to you all for a healthy and delicious 2019.

Click here to find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more).

Polenta Breakfast Bake
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Easy and delicious, make-ahead, cheese polenta breakfast bake
Author:
Serves: serves 6-8
Ingredients
  • 2 T. unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the casserole
  • 1 cup quick cooking polenta (NOT the kind already made in a tube)
  • ½ t. sea salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup/2 ounces fontina or mozzarella cheese (I used about 3 oz. of a herbal Boursin cheese)
  • 5 ounces cooked bacon (or sausage, salami or ham) - optional
  • 1 cup spinach leaves
  • 6 large eggs (or 8 if your casserole is large enough)
  • ½ cup/2 ounces parmesan cheese
  • ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup basil leaves to scatter
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Generously butter a 9 x 13 inch casserole and set aside.
  3. Cook the bacon in the oven on a baking sheet at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes or until crisp. (This can be done the day before.)
  4. Pour 4 cups of water in a large pot and gradually whisk in the polenta and salt.
  5. Cook, switching from a whisk to a wooden spoon, stirring constantly until the polenta bubbles and pulls away from the pan, about 3 minutes.
  6. Vigorously stir in the milk, butter and cheese until smooth and creamy. (It will seem loose.)
  7. Spread the polenta onto the bottom of the prepared pan.
  8. Using the back of a spoon, or a small bowl, make indentations in the polenta for the eggs.
  9. (The polenta can be cooked the day before.)
  10. When ready to bake, scatter some of the spinach over the polenta and crack the eggs into the wells.
  11. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake until the eggs have reached the doneness you prefer.
  12. After 20 minutes, my whites were just cooked and the yolks appeared a bit runny. I would have preferred them runnier, but the whites took longer to set than the yolks.
  13. Sprinkle with black pepper, scatter some basil leaves over everything, and serve, with buttered toast made from good, sturdy bread.

 

Sugar Cookie Christmas Tree

I know you’re all frantically trying to get everything done before Christmas, and may not have time to make this cookie Christmas tree, but you might want to tuck away this idea for next year, especially if there are kids in the family. This “Christmas tree” is composed of delicious sugar cookies, covered in royal icing, which acts as a sweet “glue” keeping the tower from toppling over.

I made a similar tree last year with the grandkids, cutting out templates for each size of the cookie layers with scissors and paper templates. Even though it was a little tedious to cut using a knife around pieces of paper instead of real cookie cutters, it all came together, and they were eager to dig into it, decorated with green frosting and red candies.

This year, however, I ordered cookie cutters online made just for such a project,  and it sure made things a whole lot easier. I decorated it only in white, using royal icing, and sparkly edible crystals to simulate the feeling of snow. I made the cookie cake in steps, so the job wasn’t so onerous, baking the cookies ahead of time and freezing them, then frosting and assembling the towering tree weeks later

Here’s a closer look at the layers, which you swivel to alternate the points, as you’re building the tree. The royal icing, made of egg whites and sugar, dries as hard as cement, but you might need to just steady each layer for a moment before moving to the next. Start by “glueing” the bottom layer to the plate so it doesn’t slip.

Before you know it, you’ll have a towering edible tree, that adults and kids alike will love. It may be hard to dig in and break up this beauty, but hey, you’ll be making a lot of people happy, and you can always make another one next year. 

I’m so fortunate to have so many family members sharing in the joy with me at Christmas time, including my 97-year-old father,  who still enjoys a good glass of wine (and still plays golf!),

and the newest and youngest member of our family – my two month old granddaughter, Aurelia. And we have another new granddaughter coming any day now, from my husband’s side of the family!! Our family has really grown in the last couple of years. I count my lucky stars every day!

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas holiday too, surrounded by good friends and family. Thank you to all my readers who followed me this year. I really appreciate your support. See you in 2019!

Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo!

Sorry for the formatting of this recipe, but WordPress updated and the icon for the “Easywrite” recipe (that allows you to print the recipe without printing the entire post) is missing. I’ll try to figure it out for the next post, but if any of my readers, who are also food bloggers and who also use WordPress, can clue me in, please drop me a line and let me know. 

Cookie Christmas Tree Recipe

5 cups flour

1 1/4 tsp. salt

3 sticks butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

2 tsps. vanilla

Beat the butter and sugar together at a medium high speed until pale and light, then beat in the eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low, then add the flour, mixing until well combined.

Form dough into four balls and flatten into disks. Keep each disk wrapped for about 1/2 hour or so.

Roll out a disk of dough onto a well-floured surface, about 1/4 inch thick. I found it easiest to roll onto parchment paper, especially for the large shapes, so I could easily transfer the parchment paper to the baking sheet without risk of ripping the dough. Cut the largest shapes first, and remove the excess dough from the parchment paper. Set that dough aside to reuse with other pieces later.

Keep cutting out the stars, using the largest shape cutters two or three times each, and some of the smaller shape cutters two or three times each, until you run out of fresh dough. Make more cookies, gathering the remaining scraps and reroll them, but try not to reroll more than once, or you’ll get a tougher cookie. 

Bake in a 350 degree oven about 10 to 12 minutes.

Royal Icing

3 egg whites

1 tsp. vanilla

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

Whip egg whites until frothy and add the vanilla, then the confectioner’s sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. Beat on high speed until the mixture is glossy and thick.

Pipe or spread some of the icing on the plate to secure the first star. Then pipe or frost some of the royal icing on the tips of each layer, sprinkling with decorations immediately. Once the icing dries, you won’t be able to sprinkle anything on top. Pivot the next cookie “star” so that the tips are in a different alignment than the layer below, frosting each tip and decorating with sprinkles. Continue doing the same until you reach the top, saving the smallest star for the top. You may have to hold the cookie tree at various levels for a few minutes if it feels like it’s going to topple, until the icing sets a bit. Once the royal icing sets, it is very secure.


Easy and Delicious Pandoro “Christmas Tree”

If you follow this blog, you know I’ve posted a recipe for a Pandoro Christmas tree dessert in the past, filled with either a chocolate mousse filling, or a lemon curd/mascarpone filling. You can view it here. They’re as easy as can be, since the cake itself –  a traditional rich, buttery Italian Christmas treat – is purchased. All you have to do is slice it, drizzle it with some liqueur (or a simple syrup), make the fillings, and assemble the cake.

Making the filling is the hardest part. But this year, I’m making it really easy on myself with a filling made from whipped cream and a boxed vanilla pudding mix. That’s right, I’m taking a shortcut, and I have to confess, I think it’s my favorite of all the ones I’ve made in the past. After all the work that’s required for the Lucullan fish feast we enjoy on Christmas Eve, this easily prepared dessert is a much needed way to present a delicious showstopper without too much fuss.

And while we’re talking about Christmas Eve, I was recently contacted by a local newspaper, whose reporter interviewed me for a feature on holiday food traditions. As a former journalist, I’m used to being the one doing the interviewing, but this time the tables were turned and the reporter asked me lots of questions. He wrote a really nice article about my family, that includes my recipe for stuffed squid, and a photo of my dad and husband, that you can read here. But little did I know that my photo would be plastered on the front page – bad hair day, wrinkles and all! Where’s Photoshop when you need it?

Anyway, back to regularly scheduled programming – and the easy Pandoro Christmas tree. Slice the cake into about seven even layers. If you’re serving it right away, dust the cake first with powdered sugar. It’s easiest to sprinkle on the sugar before you layer it and add the filling, so you can roll it on its side and get better coverage. But if you’re holding it to serve it a day or two later, it won’t matter because the sugar will dissolve into the cake.

Make the simple syrup and add the liqueur. I divided the simple syrup solution and in one I added rum. In the other I added Sambuca. I alternated flavors with different layers. If you don’t want to add liqueur, you can just the simple syrup without alcohol. The cake isn’t particularly dry, but I think it really benefits from some moistening, so don’t skip this step.

Make the instant pudding mix by mixing milk with the mix (using less milk than the box calls for, since you’ll be adding whipped cream. You don’t want it so soft that it pours out of the cake layers.) Fold in the whipped cream.

Spread some of the filling on each layer, placing each layer at a different angle from the prior one, so the tips are in different orientations.

Decorate the edges with berries and slice.

You can see, it holds together very well, even after it’s sliced. Naturally, the bottom slices will be larger portions than the top, so you’ll want to split those in half (or maybe not!)

I’m getting hungry for some again. Time to make another one.

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Easy and Delicious Pandoro Tree
 
Author:
Serves: at least 12 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 large pandoro cake
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons sambuca or anisette
  • 2 Tablespoons rum
  • 1 5.1 oz. box instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • berries to decorate
Instructions
  1. Slice the pandora cake horizontally, in six or seven layers.
  2. Make a simple syrup by heating the water and sugar together until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Let the syrup cool, then divide in two and put the sambuca in one half, and the rum in the second half.
  4. Make the box of instant, mixing it with only 2 cups of milk instead of the 3 cups per instructions on the box.
  5. Whip the 1 cup of cream until soft peaks, then fold the whipping cream into the instant pudding.
  6. Drizzle some of the simple syrup on each layer of the cake, following by some of the pudding/whipped cream mixture.
  7. Continue with the rest of the layers, pivoting each slice so that the points are arranged in a star-like fashion.
  8. Finish by sprinkling with powdered sugar, and decorating the tips with berries.
  9. Optional, find a nice star at a craft shop for the very top.

Turkey Roulade

Maybe you’re “turkeyed-out” after the Thanksgiving holiday, but not me. I didn’t have the traditional bird on the big day. Instead, I was tempted by too many other offerings at Commander’s Palace, a landmark restaurant in New Orleans. My husband and I spent a few days in New Orleans during the holiday week, visiting relatives and expanding our waistlines. (Those of you who follow me on Instagram saw photos of lots of the food we ate, plus the wacky hats and costumes people wore at the racetrack on turkey day).  We ate so many delicious meals at so many wonderful restaurants each day, recommended by my husband’s son and wife, who moved there from New York a couple of years ago.

As much as I love dining out, I also missed the smells and tastes of a good old-fashioned turkey dinner. So after returning home, I restocked at the grocery store yesterday and made a scaled-down version of a Thanksgiving meal for the two of us last night. Instead of a full turkey, I bought a boneless turkey breast and stuffed it with a sausage/dried cherry/pecan stuffing. It was a lot easier to prepare than you’d think (and way easier than cooking a whole turkey) and would make a great meal for company around the Christmas holiday too.

Start out by preparing the stuffing. I used a mixture of bread cubes, cooked and crumbled Italian sausage, dried cherries soaked in rum, toasted pecans, eggs, plus some fresh herbs and spices. If you don’t like dried cherries, use whatever dried fruit you like – cranberries, apricots, or figs for instance.) Don’t like pecans? Then use walnuts, pine nuts or hazelnuts instead.

This is the turkey breast I bought. It was about 1 1/2 pounds and when stuffed, could easily serve four people (maybe five, depending on appetites). Make sure you buy a breast with the skin still attached.

Here’s what it looks like when you flip it around. Obviously, it’s too thick to stuff this, so you have to do a little prep work. It’ll take you only five minutes to complete.

Slice the breast parallel to the counter surface, so that the meat opens like a book. It’s still too thick at this point, so use a mallet (first cover the meat with plastic wrap) and pound it flatter.

This is how mine looked after pounding, and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Be mindful that the skin that was on the meat before you started pounding it, will now be on only a small part of the meat after you’ve pounded it. Here you can see it sticking out at the bottom of the meat. So when you start rolling it up, start from the side that doesn’t have the skin.

Spread the filling around the surface and dot with a little bit of butter.

Roll it up, starting with the length of meat that doesn’t have any skin attached to it. You’ll want the skin to end up on the outside, so if you started with rolling up where the skin is, you’ll have the skin inside the meat, which you don’t want. I hope that’s not too confusing.

See, the skin is right where it should be when you flip it over.

Tie it up well with butcher’s string so that it stays together when roasting.

Then season with with salt, pepper, paprika, some thyme and rosemary (the fresh herbs actually burned midway through the roasting, so I’m not sure I’d do that again). Scatter some onions all around, then pour in some white wine (I would have added some chicken broth too, but I didn’t have any). Drizzle some olive oil over the onions and the meat and roast at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 150 degrees. Actually, when the thermometer reads 140-145 degrees, take it out, since it needs to rest about ten minutes and the temperature will continue to rise a bit when it’s resting.

Remove the twine and slice.

Enjoy! Happy Belated Thanksgiving. Hope you had a wonderful time with family and friends.

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Turkey Roulade
 
A boneless turkey breast, rolled and stuffed with sausage, pecans and dried cherries.
Author:
Serves: serves 4-5
Ingredients
  • 1 boneless turkey breast, with skin on (about 1½ pounds)
  • ¼ cup dried cherries
  • rum, to cover the cherries
  • ½ cup toasted pecans
  • 1 link of Italian sausage
  • about ½ cup diced onion
  • ¼ cup diced celery
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups bread cubes
  • about 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • salt, pepper
  • fresh sage and parsley, minced
  • 2 onions, cut in large chunks
  • olive oil to drizzle
  • 1 cup white wine, or chicken broth, or a combination of the two
Instructions
  1. Start by soaking the dried cherries in rum.
  2. Melt one tablespoon butter in a sauce pan and add the onions and celery.
  3. Sauté until wilted, then add the sausage and crumble with a spoon.
  4. When sausage is fully cooked, add it and the onions to a bowl.
  5. Drain the cherries from the rum and discard the liquid.
  6. To the bowl with the sausage, onions and celery, add the cherries, the bread cubes, the eggs, the toasted pecans and seasonings.
  7. Melt the remaining butter and add to the bowl and mix well.
  8. Slice the turkey breast open like a "book."
  9. Using a mallet, pound it flatter, using plastic wrap to protect the meat.
  10. Spread the stuffing over the meat , adding a couple of pats of butter.
  11. Roll up the meat, making sure you end up with the skin on the outside.
  12. Tied it with butcher's string to hold everything in place.
  13. Place in a roasting pan and roast at 400 degrees for 50 minutes to one hour, or until a thermometer reads about 140 - 145 degrees.
  14. The temperature will continue to rise for a short while and should reach 150 degrees.
  15. Let the meat rest, covered with aluminum foil, for at least ten minutes.
  16. Slice and serve.

 

 

Eggplant Parmigiana

I’ve been making eggplant parmigiana for decades, and if you’re like me, you’re making it the way most people (and cookbooks) instruct you to do, that is, frying the eggplant after coating the slices separately in flour, beaten eggs and then bread crumbs. The eggplant tastes great when it comes out of the fryer, with its crunchy coating and makes a delicious side dish as is.  But why fry it crispy, only to coat it in layers of tomato sauce and cheese, that will in essence, render the crispy eggplant completely soggy?

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve said “arrivederci” to the three step process of coating eggplant slices for parmigiana in favor of grilling eggplant for this classic casserole instead. You don’t have to  use an outdoor grill – a stovetop grill pan works just fine.

This method of making eggplant parmigiana is easier, and much lighter, and closer to the way it’s served in Italy. I recently made a couple of casseroles of this for a party, and everyone went back for seconds. I don’t think I’ll go back to the triple coating and frying method again – unless it’s to serve them straight out of the fryer as a side dish.

Place some tomato sauce on the bottom of an ovenproof dish (I use a very basic marinara – no meat, and it’s better if it’s a little on the thin, or runny side since it thickens up when it bakes with the eggplant and cheeses). Layer with slices of eggplant, shredded mozzarella and parmigiana cheese. Continue for two or three more layers, depending on how much eggplant, sauce and cheese you have. When you’ve used the last of your eggplant slices, cover them with more tomato sauce and cheese and place in the oven.

Bake at 375 degrees until bubbly hot and browned on top. If needed, crank the oven temperature to 425 degrees for the last five minutes, but keep a close watch on it because it can easily burn,

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Eggplant Parmigiana
 
Grilling eggplant, instead of breading and frying, leads to a much lighter eggplant parmigiana.
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • Two large eggplant
  • about 1 - 2 cups tomato sauce (on the thin side because it will thicken in the oven)
  • olive oil to coat the eggplant slices
  • salt, pepper
  • seasoned salt
  • dried basil
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Peel the eggplant, but not entirely.
  2. Peel "stripes" in the eggplant, so some peel remains.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over the slices, and season with salt pepper, (herbed salt if you have it) and dried basil.
  4. Use an indoor grill pan to grill the eggplant slices (I don't like using an outdoor grill for this recipe since I don't want a "smoky" flavor).
  5. Remove the eggplant slices when cooked through, and set aside.
  6. Spread some tomato sauce in a casserole and place a layer of eggplant slices over the sauce.
  7. Spread with a layer of the mozzarella cheese, then a layer of the parmesan.
  8. Repeat with more sauce, another layer of the eggplant and cheeses
  9. If you have enough eggplant, make a third layer, even if it's only a partial layer, in order to use up the rest of the eggplant.
  10. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese is golden.
  11. If the top is still not golden, turn the heat up higher to 425 degrees, but keep a close watch so it doesn't burn.