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Chocolate Salami

Looking for an easy treat for Valentine’s Day? You’ve got plenty of time to make this chocolate “salami” that requires no cooking, and comes together lickety-split, using ingredients you may already have in the house. I used amaretti cookies to simulate the bits of fat running through a real salami, but you could use graham crackers, digestive biscuits or even chocolate chip cookies.

Crumple them up and mix them in a bowl with nuts and dried fruit of your choice. I used pistachios, hazelnuts and dried cherries and it was a winning combination. But if you like almonds or walnuts instead, or dried cranberries or dried apricots, those would be delicious too.

Melt some chocolate. You could use milk chocolate, but I prefer dark chocolate and used Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate. If you want to spring for a more expensive chocolate, go for it, but Hershey’s Special Dark won a blind taste test on America’s Test Kitchen years ago and I’ve been using it since then for nearly all my recipes requiring dark chocolate. It costs a lot less than the specialty brands, so that’s a nice plus too. Mix the melted chocolate with all the above ingredients and add some liqueur. It’s not strictly necessary, but it does add another layer of flavor.

Some recipes for chocolate salami ask you to add raw eggs, but I thought I’d try it without, since so many people have health concerns about using raw eggs in recipes. The risk is miniscule, but still, why take any risk, I thought.

Next, dish out the chocolate into a log shape. It will be too soft to shape at this point, so put it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, or until it firms.

Once firm, roll it into a log shape to make it more “solid.”

Then roll into confectioner’s sugar to simulate the white “bloom” that appears on aged salami.

If you have some butcher’s string, tie it across the chocolate salami to mimic a real salami.

Slice it and watch the surprise when people realize it’s not really cured meat, but a delightful chocolate treat. Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Chocolate Salami
 
 
Ingredients
  • 12 oz. chocolate, melted (I used Hershey's Special Dark)
  • 1 stick (8 ounces) butter
  • ½ cup crumpled amaretti cookies (or graham crackers or "digestive" biscuits)
  • ½ cup pistachios
  • ½ cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped (or other nuts you prefer
  • ¼ cup dried cherries
  • 1 T. Cherry Marnier (or any liqueur you like)
  • powdered sugar for exterior
  • twine (optional)
Instructions
  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.
  2. When it is nearly melted, add the butter in pieces and melt it.
  3. Chop the amaretti cookies and nuts (I left the pistachios whole) and put in a bowl with the cherries.
  4. Pour the melted chocolate over the nuts and cookies and add the liqueur.
  5. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for about 15-20 minutes until it firms up, but keep checking because you don't want it so firm that it's too hard to roll.
  6. Dish out the chocolate onto a piece of plastic or waxed paper.
  7. Roll into a log and place it back in the refrigerator until very firm, maybe an hour or so.
  8. When it's firm, sprinkle powdered sugar all over.
  9. Tie up with butcher's string if desired, and slice to serve.
 

Hazelnut Shortbread Cookies

Hazelnut Shortbread Cookies

 I don’t care if you’re married, single, in a relationship or not. Unless you live as a hermit, there’s always someone (co-worker, mailman, teacher) whose Valentine’s Day can be brightened by a gift of delicious and pretty heart-shaped cookies. Deliver a random act of kindness to someone with a batch of these rich and buttery cookies. What goes around, comes around, as the saying goes. 

They’re even good just plain after they’ve cooled a bit.
But if you dip them in dark chocolate, they’re even more delicious. Sprinkle a little more of the finely chopped hazelnuts on top.
By the way, if you overwork the food processor trying to get the hazelnuts chopped very fine, they might clump together, so add a little flour to the bowl and “pulse” it rather than leave it on continuously.
For a really special someone, top with a bit of gold leaf. I bought mine online here.
Pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee and share the goodness with a neighbor.
Spread the love on Valentine’s Day – or on an ordinary Tuesday.
Hazelnut Shortbread Cookies


printable recipe here


1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts (I used already peeled hazelnuts that I toasted lightly in the oven, but you can used hazelnuts with the skins if you want dark flecks in your cookies)
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter, plus 1 T.
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
10 ounces dark chocolate

Place the hazelnuts, sugar, flour and cornstarch in a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add the butter, vanilla and egg yolk and pulse until the mixture starts to bind together, scraping bowl at leaf once. Take the dough out of the food processor and knead it on a board a few times until it forms a mass. Chill it one or two hours, then let it rest for 10 minutes after taking it out of the refrigerator.
Roll the dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface and cut out the heart shapes with a cookie cutter.
Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake about 12-14 minutes until edges turn a pale golden color. Cool on a rack before decorating.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over low heat and dip half of each cookie into the chocolate. Place on parchment paper then sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts (optional). For a special occasion: top with a small piece of gold leaf.
A Valentine’s Day Love Story

A Valentine’s Day Love Story

They met in Austria during World War II – Frank, an Italian-American soldier and Maria, a young Italian woman trying to find her way home from Czechoslovakia with a group of other displaced persons.
It had been a harrowing time for both of them: He fought his way through Europe following D-day, including the brutal Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. She endured untold indignities and fear, after being snatched from an Italian factory and sent to work in a labor camp, sewing uniforms for the Nazis.

 

But they found each other after his unit entered Linz, Austria, shortly after the war ended in Europe in May 1945. The attraction was instant, and three months later on August 15, they married in Nussdorf-am-Attersee,  a beautiful lakeside town in Austria.
After reciting their vows, they thought the bells pealing throughout the town were in celebration of their nuptials, but in reality, it was to announce Emperor Hirohito’s surrender of the Japanese to the Allies. Either way, it added more joy to their already happy day.

 

Eventually, they made their way back to her hometown near Piacenza, Italy. Her father had long since died, but her mother was still alive and jubilant when her daughter returned in the arms of an American soldier who was now her husband.
Shortly afterwards, Frank returned to the U.S. to start the process of procuring documents to patriate his new Italian wife. During their separation, letters flowed back and forth across the Atlantic, with Frank writing in Italian, the language of his parents.
“Mi sono innamorato di te dal primo giorno che ti ho vista.”
“I fell in love with you from the first time I saw you,” he writes in one letter.
The letters contain many more romantic declarations, that will be left to the readers’ imagination to ponder. I wouldn’t want to infringe too much on Maria and Frank’s privacy since Maria was my mother and Frank is my father. This is my story as much as theirs and I will never know all the background because when my mother died in 1986, she took those wartime details with her. For her, those war years were too horrifying to describe to anyone, even to my father, who had seen his share of war time atrocities.
But after my mother died, my father let me keep those treasured letters that she saved. Letters that speak  not of war, but of love and longing and separation and being reunited in the future. When I read them, I feel as though I’m secretly peering backwards into the lives of two young lovers in a steamy novel, except that they were real and they were my parents.
I can only imagine how many countless stories exist similar to my theirs – including that of my father’s brother Sam, who met his wife Irene in a small village in France during World War II. Thankfully, a professor and researcher from L’Università degli Studi in Milan, Silvia Cassamagnaghi, has written a book called “Operation War Brides,” detailing the history of this fascinating subject, including a part about my parents. The book will be available in Italian bookstores at the end of February, and I can’t wait to read it. Especially since the book jacket features two people who are very near and dear to me – my mother and father as they appeared on their wedding day.

 

You may not have a story as dramatic and romantic as my mom and dad’s, but that doesn’t mean you can’t surprise the ones you care about, whether it’s your lover, your spouse, your parents or your neighbor down the street – with a special treat on Valentine’s Day.

 

Love is our true destiny.  We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another. – Thomas Merton
 
Who, being loved, is poor? – Oscar Wilde
 
To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. – Pablo Neruda
 
Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity – Henry Van Dyke
 
How did it happen that their lips came together? How does it happen that birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that the dawn whitens behind the stark shapes of trees on the quivering summit of the hill? A kiss, and all was said – Victor Hugo
 
Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers.
Buttery Sugar Cookies (from lifesafeast.blogspot.com)

printable recipe here

2 sticks unsalted, softened to room temperature (1/2 lb., 225 g)
3/4 cup sugar (150 g)
2 large eggs
1 T. Amaretto, optional
1/2 t. vanilla, increase to 1 t. if omitting the Amaretto
3 1/2 cups flour (525 g)

To decorate:
1 lightly beaten egg
colored sugar crystals or sprinkles

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating briefly after each addition just to incorporate.
Beat in the Amaretto and vanilla and then about a third of the flour until smooth. Gradually beat in as much of the remaining flour as possible using the electric beater, then stir in the rest with a wooden spoon or a spatula.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead quickly; if you haven’t stirred in all of the flour you can knead in the rest quite easily. Once you have a smooth, homogeneous dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees c.)

Working with about half the dough at a time, roll it out to a thickness of not less than 1/8 inch (no less than .3 cm.), being careful that the dough is very evenly rolled out. Carefully cut out shapes with your cookie cutters. Gently transfer to a cookie sheet (I use unlined, ungreased cookie sheets with no problem at all). If you want to decorate, just gently lift the cookies one by one, brush around the edges with a beaten egg, then dip in the decorative sugar before placing on the cookie sheets.

Bake for about 10 minutes. They will be set and appear cooked but they will NOT brown. You’ll know they are done because they will slide right off the cookie sheet when just nudged with a spatula. Remove from the oven and gently lift each cookie off of the baking sheet and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely.

Conversation Heart Cheesecakes For Valentine’s Day

Conversation Heart Cheesecakes for Valentine’s Day

Do school kids today still exchange valentines? I sure hope so. If they do, they probably don’t cover shoeboxes in construction paper and cut slits in the top like we used to do. They probably have some fancy plastic cases purchased just for the occasion. Or maybe they just send electronic valentines these days. If so, too bad. The fun was coming home from school and poring over colorful cards and reading all the corny messages.

 

The candy was nice too but I don’t remember the enormous selection that you see now. We either got red hots — tiny, deep red hearts that tasted like cinnamon — or we got these little sugary conversation hearts with silly little sayings on them. The only people who got chocolates were adults, and heart-shaped boxes in red and pink satin were as popular back in the dinosaur ages as they are now – maybe even more so back then.

When I saw these cheesecakes  on the blog “Hungry Happenings,” made to look like those little conversation heart candies from my youth, I knew I would have to make them.
  The timing was perfect too, since my Italian chit-chat group is scheduled at my house today. Naturally, I had to write the sayings in Italian, rather than English.

 

  In case you don’t speak Italian, and want to whisper some sweet nothings into your loved one’s ear this Valentine’s Day, I’m including the translations below.

 

      Italian sweet sayings for Valentine’s Day
  •   Per Sempre – for always
  •   6 Bella – (A play on the word “sei” which in Italian means “You are.” It’s also the same word for   the number 6. Both are pronounced the same way – namely like the English word “say.” Hence “6 Bella” translates to “You are beautiful.”
  •   Baci – kisses
  •  Mi manchi – I miss you.
  •  Ti adoro – I adore you.
  •  Dolce amore – sweet love
  •  Pazza di te – crazy for you
  •  Tesoro mio – my treasure
  •  Solo tu – only you
  •  Primo bacio – first kiss
  •  Ti amo – I love you
Join me for a week in Italy at the end of May and live like an Italian – sightseeing, cooking and eating in a villa located in the Alban Hills near Rome. There’s still time to enroll. For details go to:
 
 

 Basic Cheesecake Recipe


For full directions on how to make the heart cheesecakes, go to Hungry Happenings website here.

printable recipe here

Conversation Heart Cheesecakes (makes 12-18)
          recipe adapted from Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Cheesecake recipe
 

 

Ingredients:
 
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (15 squares)
pinch of cinnamon
1/2 stick butter (melted)
16 ounces (2 blocks) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
food coloring – pink, purple, blue, green, yellow, and red
 
Mix graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon and butter and place a tablespoon full on the bottom of each heart of a silicon heart-shaped mold. Pat down and refrigerate. Mix the remainder of the ingredients (except food coloring). Divide into equal portions and tint each portion a different color, mixing well. Pour over the graham cracker crumbs and place the molds in a hot water bath in a baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees about 25 minutes. Cool completely in refrigerator. I found it easiest to remove the cheesecakes from the mold if I freezed the cheesecakes overnight. Paint the sayings using a paintbrush and food coloring.
 
For more complete directions and photos, go to Hungry Happenings website here.