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Boston Cream Pie

  • February 21, 2022

Boston Cream Pie is a classic American dessert that’s really not a pie at all. It’s a sponge cake, layered with a custard center, and topped with a river of chocolate ganache. Its origins hail back to the late 1880s, when a French chef at Boston’s Parker House Hotel created it. Apparently, cakes used to be baked in pie tins back then, hence the name.  I was inspired to try a recipe from Ina Garten’s cookbook, “Modern Comfort Food,” but made a couple of changes. The first was cooking it in a springform pan and cutting it into the traditional two layers, not four as her recipe calls for. I also took a shortcut and didn’t make the pastry cream from scratch, substituting a box of instant vanilla pudding with some whipping cream added in. I took the photos the first time I made it during a big snowstorm, but I’ve made it again several times and it always disappears quicker than a melting snowflake.

I topped it with a little gold leaf just to gussy it up a little, but the taste is so good, it really doesn’t need any help. Please use all the liquid called for in the soak. It may seems ike a lot, but the cakes just absorb it all and the flavor it adds is crucial.


Boston Cream Pie
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE CAKE:
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 extra large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • FOR THE SOAK:
  • ⅓ Cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange flavored liqueur
  • FOR THE PASTRY CREAM:
  • 1 small box instant vanilla pudding
  • 1½ cups milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • FOR THE CHOCOLATE GLAZE:
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon instant coffee granules
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Butter a 8 or 9 inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper, buttering that too.
  3. Sprinkle flour over the pan, then tap out the excess.
  4. For the cake, scald the milk and butter in a small pan over medium heat.
  5. Off the heat, add the vanilla and orange zest.
  6. Cover the pan and set aside.
  7. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
  8. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium high speed for 4 minutes, until thick and light yellow and the mixture falls back on itself in a ribbon.
  9. By hand first whisk in the warm milk mixture and then slowly whisk in the flour mixture.
  10. DO NOT OVERMIX.
  11. Pour the batter evenly into the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  12. Let the cake cool in the pan, then release the sides and place on a baking rack.
  13. Cool to room temperature.
  14. FOR THE SOAK
  15. Combine the orange juice and sugar in a small pan and heat until the sugar dissolves.
  16. Off the heat, add the orange liqueur and set aside.
  17. FOR THE PASTRY CREAM:
  18. Follow the directions on the pudding box, but instead of using 2 cups milk, mix the powder with 1½ cups milk.
  19. Whip the cream until stiff peaks form, then fold into the pastry cream.
  20. FOR THE CHOCOLATE GLAZE:
  21. Combine the havy cream, chocolate, corn syrup, vanilla and coffee in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Stir occasionally with a spoon, just until the chocolates melt.
  22. Remove from the heat and set aside for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is thick enough to fall back on itself in a ribbon.
  23. TO ASSEMBLE:
  24. Cut the cake in half horizontally.
  25. Put the bottom layer back in the springform pan.
  26. Brush half of the orange liqueur soak over the cake.
  27. Spread the pastry cream over the cake.
  28. Place the second layer over the pastry cream and brush with the rest of the orange liqueur soak.
  29. Pour the chocolate ganache on the cake, allowing it to drip down over the sides of the cake.
  30. Place in the refrigerator to firm everything, then serve.
  31. Spread the pastry cream
 

Individual Chicken Pot Pies

  • February 12, 2022

One of my favorite comfort foods to make is a plain old roast chicken, and it provides enough leftovers for a couple of other meals and bones for soup stock too. I usually use the leftover meat for sandwiches, or in a rice and vegetable casserole. But it was high time I made chicken pot pie, a meal my husband loves, but one I hadn’t made in decades. Homemade chicken pot pie is head and shoulders above anything you can buy from the store, not only because you can add more meat than most commercially prepared pot pies include, but also because you can choose what vegetables you want, and the amount of sauce used to bind everything together. Here I’ve used the classic combinations of carrots, celery and peas, eliminating the potato but adding leeks and shallot. You can choose to add or delete whatever vegetables you want — artichoke hearts, broccoli, mushrooms – whatever you like or what’s on hand.

I sautéed the leeks, shallot and celery first, and parboiled the carrots just a little. They’ll cook more in the pie, so you don’t want them to be completely cooked through initially.

Add them in a bowl to the chicken with the carrots. I used small peas straight from the freezer. No need to cook first. Season everything well with salt, pepper and add parsley and/or thyme.

Next, add the béchamel sauce – made by cooking a bit of flour in butter, and adding milk and chicken stock. If you want, feel free to add some grated parmesan, gruyere or other cheese of your liking. I didn’t and we didn’t miss the cheese or heavy cream that some recipes call for. If you want more sauce, increase the quantities in the béchamel, but I don’t like a gloppy pot pie, so I prefer to go easy on the sauce and make just enough béchamel to bind everything together.

Stir everything together until all is lightly coated with the sauce.

I eliminated a bottom crust (it never bakes as crispy as I’d like). I also used individual buttered casseroles, but you can put yours in a pie plate if you like. Top with a small pat of butter. If you want to use a traditional pie plate, double this recipe to get a nice, full pot pie.

I used purchased pie crusts to cut down on the work, but of course, homemade is always best. This crust from Trader Joe’s however, is really good, even though it can easily break while you’re opening from the cellophane, even after it’s thawed completely from the freezer. If that happens, just press the pieces together. Lay your casseroles over the crust, and cut a pattern that’s slightly larger than your casserole, to allow for crimping the edges.

Place the dough over the casseroles, tuck the edges under and crimp using your thumb and forefinger, then prick some holes on the top and brush with beaten egg.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown all over. If they seem to be browning too quickly, cover them with foil.

I had some some leftover chicken skin from the roast chicken, so I crisped it up a bit further in the oven, and added that to the top of my husband’s pie.

Dig in and enjoy some leftover goodness. You don’t even have to roast a chicken and wait for leftovers if you’re not up for it. Buy a rotisserie chicken from the store instead and get a head start.

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Individual Chicken Pot Pies
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • Your favorite purchased or homemade pie pastry (I used Trader Joe's)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup sliced leeks
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • ½ cup celery, minced
  • 1 cup carrots, cut into small pieces
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, cut into chunks
  • minced parsley (or thyme)
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • 2 pats of butter
  • FOR THE BECHAMEL SAUCE:
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 beaten egg, to swish over the top of pastry
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Saute the leeks, shallot and celery in the 2 tablespoons of butter until everything is wilted.
  3. Place the cooked vegetables in a bowl.
  4. Boil the carrot pieces but don't cook completely through.
  5. Drain and add to the other vegetables in the bowl.
  6. Add the chicken pieces and the parsley to the vegetables and season everything well with salt and pepper.
  7. Make the béchamel sauce by melted the butter, adding the flour and stirring with a whisk, then adding the chicken stock and whisking thoroughly.
  8. Add the milk and whisk until perfectly smooth.
  9. Pour the sauce over the chicken and vegetables and mix thoroughly.
  10. Into two buttered casseroles, place the chicken and vegetables mixture.
  11. Top with a pat of butter.
  12. Cut pieces of the pastry slighly larger than the casserole you're using.
  13. Arrange the pastry on top, turning under the edges and crimping them.
  14. Using a fork, prick the top to allow steam to escape.
  15. Brush the top with beaten egg and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.
 

Cannoli Ciambella Bundt Cake

  • February 4, 2022

If you’re looking for a delicious cake that only improves as the days go by, look no further. This recipe, from Rosella Rago’s Cooking With Nonna website, is moist and packed with flavor — and it tastes even better a day or two after it’s baked. That’s because it contains ricotta, orange peel, chocolate chips and pistachios. How’s that for a winning combination? Feel free to substitute almonds if pistachios are not your thing, but they are classic flavors in a traditional cannolo and I love them all.

I made a couple of small tweaks to Rossella’s recipe and you can choose to follow them or leave the recipe exactly as she wrote it. In her recipe she says to put the pistachios in a food processor and process until fine. I found that the pistachios will turn to a paste if you’re not careful, so I added part of the flour to the food processor while processing the nuts. This way, you can be assured they’ll grind to a powdery consistency, just like the flour. For the glaze, I added orange juice to the confectioner’s sugar instead of milk, to give it a light orange flavor. I also didn’t have any candied orange peel (a situation I hope to remedy soon), so I used orange peel shavings to decorate the top, along with some of the mini chocolate chips and chopped pistachios. This is a recipe I’m sure will become a regular in my household.

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Cannoli Ciambella Bundt Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • For the Cake:
  • ¾ cup pistachios, crushed
  • 2¼ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2¼ cups whole ricotta
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¾ cup mini chocolate chips
  • For the glaze and toppings:
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • ¼ cup orange juice or whole milk
  • Candied orange peels, orange zest, mini chocolate chips and extra pistachios for decorating
Instructions
  1. To make the cake:
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Spray a Bundt pan with baking spray, or butter and dust with flour.
  4. Set aside.
  5. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  6. Set aside.
  7. If using whole pistachios, add the pistachios to the bowl of a food processor and process until fine, about 30 seconds.
  8. (I added some of the flour mixture to the pistachios in the food processor. It helps avoid getting a pistachio paste and encourages a texture more like the fine texture of flour.)
  9. Set aside.
  10. In another mixing bowl, combine the butter, sugar, orange zest and vanilla extract.
  11. Beat with an electric mixer until fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  12. Beat in the ricotta until fully combined.
  13. Beat in the eggs one at a time until fully combined.
  14. Beat in the dry ingredients until just absorbed.
  15. Do not over mix.
  16. Fold in the chocolate chips and ground up pistachios.
  17. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  18. Cool completely before glazing.
  19. To make the glaze and decorate:
  20. In a bowl, whisk together the confectioners sugar and orange juice, or milk until smooth.
  21. The glaze will be thick.
  22. Pour the glaze over the cake and top with candied cherries, orange slices (or orange zest) and crushed pistachios.
 

 

Spoja Lorda

  • January 28, 2022

These little squares of stuffed pasta are called “spoja lorda” and are rarely seen outside of Italy. Even in the region of Emilia Romagna, where they’re from, they hard to find outside the province of Ravenna. The name, derived from the local dialect, is from “sfoglia sporca” or dirty pasta, harkening back to times when scraps were used to make the pasta and the stuffing. The stuffing is spread thinly across the pasta, just enough to “dirty” the pasta, and they’re traditionally served in a broth. Some may split open during cooking, “dirtying” the broth as well.

I normally use a food processor to mix my pasta dough, but was feeling the urge to make it all by hand recently. I used a mix of 00 flour, all-purpose flour and semolina flour, but I don’t recommend using all three for this pasta, especially not the hard, durum semolina, which made it very difficult to roll. Semolina is a coarser, more yellow flour that’s also higher in gluten and protein. It’s great for tagliatelle, spaghetti or pappardelle, but not so much for stuffed pasta. Next time, I’m going with the softer, 00 flour that I normally use when making ravioli or anolini.

It’s fun to make the dough the old-fashioned way, creating a “volcano” and incorporating the flour and the eggs.

Start out using a fork until the dough becomes too stiff. Then use your hands to knead it until it’s smooth. Let it rest at least a half hour while you prepare the filling.

The traditional filling is made with a soft cheese like squacquerone or stracchino, nearly impossible to find in the U.S., although ricotta would be fine too. However, I wanted to try it with some mortadella, ground up in the food processor and blended with maascarpone and parmigiano. If mortadella isn’t your thing, or you want a vegetarian version, using a mixture of ricotta and parmigiano.

If you decide to try this filling (and I recommend you do), add more mascarpone if the mixture seems too stiff to spread.

Since I wanted to make these the old-fashioned way, that meant I was determined to roll it out by hand too, instead of using my pasta machine. I soon had to enlist the help of my husband however, because the semolina in the dough made it really resistant to rolling by hand and my wrists and arms were complaining. (It’s also why pasta made with semolina holds up so well in cooking too, instead of turning mushy.) Let gravity help make the rolling easier and let part of the dough hang over an edge of your counter or pasta board, turning the dough a quarter of the way after each roll or two with the rolling pin.

 

When the dough is thin enough to see your hand through, spread the filling over half of it.

Fold the dough over the filling.

Then using a pastry or pasta crimper, cut strips about 3/4″ across.

Then cut the same width in the opposite direction.

They really do remind me of puffy little Cheezits crackers.

Serve them in a homemade broth.

And sit down to a beautiful bowl of spoja lorda.

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Spoja Lorda
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE DOUGH:
  • 3 cups 00 flour
  • 4 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • FOR THE FILLING:
  • 6 oz. mortadella
  • ½ cup mascarpone cheese
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of salt
  • a small grating of fresh nutmeg
Instructions
  1. Make the dough either by hand or with a pasta machine.
  2. Roll out into a large circle by hand or with a pasta machine, until it's thin enough to see your hands through it.
  3. Place the mortadella, mascarpone, parmesan cheese and egg in a food processor with the salt and nutmeg.
  4. Whir until smooth.
  5. Spread the mortadella mixture over half of the pasta dough and then fold the unfilled dough over the filled portion of the dough.
  6. Press dough gently to remove any air bubbles.
  7. Using a pasta cutter, cut into small squares about 1 inch across.
  8. Cook the pasta gently in a chicken broth and serve when done.
  9. Alternately, cook the pasta gently in water, then add to a pan with butter and sage.
  10. Sprinkle with more parmesan cheese.
 

Roasted Carrot Soup

  • January 20, 2022

What could be more warming on a cold day that a bowl of hot soup? Carrots are so ubiquitous and most people use them only as a raw vegetable in salads, or boiled as a cooked vegetable. Sometimes they’re roasted, elevating their flavor a few notches. This soup plays off that theme, with the roasting adding great depth of flavor, and the cumin spice adding a warmth without too much heat. I didn’t add any cream, and you won’t miss it either. To thicken it, I used some leftover cooked brown rice, but if you haven’t got any leftover rice, just add some uncooked rice and simmer the soup until the rice is tender.

A crucial part of the flavor also came from the broth I made using these leftover parmesan cheese rinds. I always have some in my freezer, and I add one or two rinds to nearly every soup or stew I’m making. But this is the first time I made a broth using mostly rinds, with some aromatics thrown in too (carrot, celery, fennel frond, onion, garlic and bay leaf). If you don’t have any rinds, feel free to use a purchased vegetable or chicken broth for this soup instead.

While the broth was simmering, I roasted the carrots, by slicing them in half and placing them on a cookie sheet, tossed with a little olive oil. Roast at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or so. They’ll soften as they roast, so the soup won’t need much cooking. After the carrots are roasted, sauté a shallot in olive oil, then add the roasted carrots, some of the strained parmesan broth, the leftover rice and some seasonings. Cook it for 20 minutes, or slightly longer if using uncooked rice. Pour everything into a blender or Vitamix and purée until smooth. Be careful with hot liquids in a blender. They have a tendency to burst from the top, so pour in a little at a time for blending. Put everything back in the pot and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.

Serve the soup with a smattering of croutons, and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar to take it over the top. You’ll never look at a humble one-pound bag of carrots in the same way again.

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Roasted Carrot Soup
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 pound of carrots, cut in half and roasted in 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 cups parmesan broth (directions below, if not, use vegetable broth or chicken broth)
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ cup cooked rice (I used brown rice, but white is fine)
  • If you don't have leftover cooked rice, add ¼ cup of uncooked rice to the soup instead
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • aged balsamic vinegar
  • home made croutons
Instructions
  1. Cut the carrots in half and roast them in a pan smeared with 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  2. Roast them at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.
  3. Place the minced shallot in the olive oil in a saucepan and sauté until softened.
  4. Add the roasted carrots, the strained parmesan broth, the rice, and the seasonings.
  5. Cook everything together in a simmer for about 20 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and using either a blender or a stick blender, puree everything until silky smooth.
  7. Serve with droplets of aged balsamic vinegar and croutons.
  8. TO MAKE THE PARMESAN BROTH:
  9. -12 parmesan rinds
  10. stalk celery
  11. carrot
  12. clove garlic
  13. frond of fennel (optional)
  14. -7-8 cups water
  15. Place everything in a stock pot and let simmer for one hour.
  16. Strain and use as directed above.
  17. FOR THE CROUTONS:
  18. Trim the crust off some sturdy bread and cut into small cubes.
  19. Cook over medium high heat in about 1 tablespoon olive oil until browned and crispy.
 

Zucchini Crusted Haddock with Orange Salsa

  • January 13, 2022

Just in time for the January “let’s-eat low-cal-but-delicious” comes this recipe from Michele at “Our Italian Table.” As soon as I saw it, with its accompaniment of blood orange salsa, I knew what would be on our dinner table the next night. I made some adjustments, using haddock instead of cod, since my fish market has been selling really fresh wild haddock lately. Halibut would also be delicious here. I would have used the blood oranges called for in the recipe, but I had cara cara instead, and they worked just fine. But I’ll look for blood oranges next time, since they would add even more color. I added a little red onion and parsley, since I didn’t have the thyme the recipe called for, but other herbs would work great too, including chives or cilantro.

Use a mandoline to slice the zucchini very thinly and place the slices atop the fish, which has been seasoned with salt and pepper. Season the zucchini with salt and pepper too, then a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of cornmeal. Don’t try to tuck the slices under the fish or you’ll be asking for trouble.

When the fish comes out of the oven, the slices are then pliable enough to easily tuck them under. A lot of liquid was released from the fish and the zucchini, but cooking the fish over parchment paper makes for easy cleanup.

While the fish is cooking, make the salsa using either blood oranges, cara cara or any other orange you like. Peel the orange with a knife, then cut supremes (no, not the Motown group, but orange sections) in between each membrane.

I served it with some saffron rice and broccoli and it was not only a colorful meal, but a delicious one that was waistline-friendly too.

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Zucchini Crusted Haddock with Orange Salsa
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR TWO PEOPLE:
  • ¾- 1 pound haddock, cod or halibut
  • thin slices of zucchini
  • salt, pepper
  • olive oil
  • cornmeal to sprinkle on top
  • FOR THE SALSA:
  • 2 oranges (cara cara or blood oranges)
  • a slice of red onion, finely chopped
  • minced parsley (or chives, thyme or cilantro)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic (or red wine) vinegar
  • salt, pepper
Instructions
  1. Season the fish with salt and pepper.
  2. Lay the fish on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
  3. Slice the zucchini paper thin, either with a mandoline or by hand.
  4. Layer the slices over the fish, overlapping them like fish scales.
  5. Season with salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of cornmeal.
  6. Cook in a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.
  7. While the fish is cooking, make the salsa by segmenting the oranges and mixing with the rest of the ingredients.
 

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

  • January 3, 2022

Winter is upon us here in the northeast U.S. and that means hunkering down with hearty, comforting meals, including this stuffed cabbage. All the work is done upfront, and then you just sit back and wait for the oven to do its thing. You don’t even need to boil the cabbage first in order to remove the leaves. A really easy trick to separate leaves is to put the whole head of cabbage in the freezer overnight.

The next day, when you want to make the recipe, remove the inner core with a knife.

The leaves will peel off easily. Savoy cabbage is my favorite, but ordinary green cabbage is good too in this recipe.

I like to make a stuffing using three kinds of ground meat – beef, pork and veal. I also like to use brown rice but feel free to use white rice if you prefer – or even farro. Make sure the rice is cooked and cooled before adding it to the meats. Mix all the ingredients well.

Cut out the tough center rib of the cabbage and place some of the stuffing inside the leaf, tucking the excess all around.

Place the rolls seam-side down in an oven-proof casserole that’s been spread with some tomato sauce.

Spoon more sauce over the cabbage rolls, along with a sprinkling of pecorino cheese.

Bake for one hour, or until the cabbage rolls are tender. The sauce may be too liquidy because the cabbage releases a lot of water. If that happens, remove the rolls from the pan and reduce the liquid in a saucepan. Alternately, if you add more tomato sauce and mix it well with the more-liquidy sauce in the pan, that should thicken it too.

I hope 2022 brings you lots of good food, good health and good adventures.

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Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 large head of cabbage
  • 1½ pounds -2 pounds ground meat (I like to use a combination of beef, veal and pork)
  • ½ cup of rice, cooked (I used brown rice, but any kind of rice would work fine)
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • one clove minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup minced parsley
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • ¾ cup pecorino cheese, grated, with aa little reserved for sprinkling on the top
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • homemade tomato sauce (about 2 cups)
Instructions
  1. Place the cabbage in the freezer overnight.
  2. It will be easy to peel the leaves off without having to boil them first.
  3. Peel off the leaves and remove the center, hard rib and discard it (or use it for soup)
  4. Boil the ½ cup rice in water as per instructions. (It takes longer and more water to cook brown rice)
  5. Let the rice cool.
  6. Mix the ground meats, the cooled rice, the egg, the cheeses, the parsley and the seasonings.
  7. Place a small amount of stuffing in the center of each cabbage leaf, and roll the leaf around the filling.
  8. Spread a casserole with some tomato sauce, and place the cabbage rolls into it, seam side down.
  9. Fill the casserole completely with the rolls, then cover with tomato sauce, a sprinkling of pecorino cheese.
  10. Bake for 50 minutes at 350 degrees, uncovered, then remove the cover and bake another ten minutes.
  11. This will allow some of the liquid from the cabbage to evaporate.
  12. If the sauce is still too liquid, remove the cabbage rolls from the casserole and reduce the sauce over a burner until thickened.
  13. However, sometimes just stirring the liuqidy part of the sauce with the thicker part tin the pan, after you remove the cabbage rolls, will accomplish the same thing.
 

Cherry Pound Cakes

  • December 20, 2021

Are you in a baking frenzy ahead of the Christmas holiday? If you’re like me, you’re practically done. Admittedly, I’ve had to be a little obsessive-compulsive this year with preparations, since there was so much going on in my life this month — my dad’s 100th (yes, 100th) birthday party; a three-week-long visit from London by my five-month granddaughter and her parents; and a new addition on the house that has me dizzy with all the decisions to be made. Still, getting organized is the best way not to stress, so I’ve made this large cherry pound cake to tuck away in the freezer for one of the Christmas eve desserts, and these minis to gift to friends and neighbors. I confess, we’ve eaten a few of the minis and they are so delicious, with their tender crumb and subtle almond flavoring, that they’re going to become a regular Christmas tradition. I saw the minis last year on Annie’s blog  and tucked away the idea for the future.

The original recipe is from a 2004 edition of Southern Living, and while it’s not low-calorie by any means, if you limit yourself to a small slice, you won’t burst your waist buttons. And they make such a lovely small gift that anyone would be happy to receive one. I bought these disposable tins at the grocery store and they were perfect for individual cakes.

 

I frosted them right in the pans, which came with a clear, plastic lid that didn’t smush the frosting, and made it easy to deliver them to neighbors.

But for a large crowd, bake the cake in a tube pan. I froze mine, frosting and all, and will remove it from the freezer hours ahead of serving it. I already tested freezing and thawing a mini cake, and that worked well, so I am confident that when we sit down to slice into this beauty on Christmas eve, it will taste as fresh as when I baked it. The holly leaves and berries (made from purchased marzipan and a squirt or two of food coloring) aren’t necessary, but they do say “Merry Christmas” in a most festive way, don’t you think? I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful Christmas and that the Covid menace doesn’t find its way to your house.

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Mini Cherry Pound Cakes
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 10-ounce jar maraschino cherries (or use a 16 ounce jar for more cherries)
  • ¾ cup butter
  • ¾ cup shortening
  • 3 cups sugar
  • FOR THE CAKE:
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • FOR THE CHERRY GLAZE:
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 1 ( 3-ounce ) package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup cherries
  • FOR THE DECORATION:
  • 1 tube marzipan
  • food coloring
Instructions
  1. Drain jar of cherries, discarding juice.
  2. Chop cherries, and set aside.
  3. Beat butter and shortening at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.
  4. Gradually add sugar, beating 1 minute.
  5. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow disappears.
  6. Combine flour and salt; gradually add to butter mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
  7. Beat at low speed just until blended.
  8. Stir in flavorings and ½ cup chopped cherries.
  9. Spoon batter into 7 greased and floured 5¾'' x 3" mini loaf pans. (I used PAM and it worked just fine.)
  10. If using one large tube pan, grease and flour that.
  11. Bake at 300 degrees for 55 minutes (both the minis and the large cake need this time) or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean.
  12. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes.
  13. Remove cakes from pans, and place on wire racks set over wax paper.
  14. To make the glaze:
  15. Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed until creamy.
  16. Gradually add powdered sugar and milk; beat until smooth.
  17. Stir in vanilla and cherries.
  18. Drizzle Cherry Glaze over slightly warm cakes.
  19. Decorate with marzipan leaves and berries, if desired
  20. Refrigerate cakes to let glaze harden before wrapping.
  21. TO MAKE MARZIPAN LEAVES:
  22. Place a few tablespoons of marzipan in a small bowl and mix in some food coloring.
  23. Blend with a spoon until the color is uniform.
  24. Shape into leaves by hand, or with a small cookie cutter.
  25. Make berries by rolling little balls in your hand.
 

Chocolate Rugelach

  • December 13, 2021

Have you been baking cookies this holiday season? Although these rugelach, originally from the Jewish community of  Poland, were never part of my Christmas cookie traditions growing up, they’ve been a favorite of mine for decades. I finally got around to making them this year, and they are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I’m going to have to tuck these away in the freezer or I’ll eat the whole batch before company arrrives for the Christmas holiday.  I followed the basic dough recipe from Ina Garten, but instead of using the traditional raisins, jam and nuts filling, I opted for a chocolate filling. I also lowered the temperature to 325 degrees, and kept them in a little longer, since at 350 degrees, some of the interior dough wasn’t thoroughly cooked.

After chilling the dough, quarter it and then roll each quarter to a circumference of about 9 or 10 inches. Spread the chocolate filling all around, cut into triangles, then roll up each triangle, starting from the wide end.

Place the rolled cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, then brush with some beaten egg, and sprinkle with a little bit of sugar and a pinch of cinnamon.

Bake for about 20 minutes at 325 degrees F., or until lightly golden. Let them cool, then sprinkle with a little powdered sugar (optional) and enjoy.

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Chocolate Rugelach
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE DOUGH:
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½-pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar plus 9 tablespoons
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • CHOCOLATE FILLING
  • 8 oz semisweet chocolate
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ ground cinnamon optional
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • FOR THE TOPPING:
  • an egg, lightly beaten with a teaspoon of water, to brush on top
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • a pinch of cinnamon
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Cream the cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light.
  3. Add ¼ cup granulated sugar, the salt, and vanilla.
  4. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and mix until just combined.
  5. Dump the dough out onto a well-floured board and roll it into a ball.
  6. Cut the ball in quarters, wrap each piece in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  7. While the dough is chilling, melt the chocolate in a double boiler, then stir in the sugar, cinnamon and salt and mix well.
  8. On a well-floured board, roll each ball of dough into a 9 to 10-inch circle.
  9. Spread the dough with ¼ of the chocolate mixture.
  10. Cut the circle into 16 equal wedges, cutting the whole circle in quarters, then each quarter into four pieces.
  11. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge.
  12. Place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  13. Brush each cookie with the egg wash.
  14. Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle on the cookies.
  15. Bake for about 20 minutes, until lightly browned.
  16. Remove to a wire rack and let cool.
 

Farro and Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash

  • December 6, 2021

Fall is squash season, and although I love using all kinds of squash as side dishes, sometimes I let them take a starring role, as in this stuffed acorn squash recipe that makes a great main dish. I love a good bread or rice stuffing, but wanted to give farro a try this time, adding some sausage to give it a little extra oomph. If you’re a vegetarian, you could easily omit the sausage and it would still taste delicious. The recipe contains a number of steps, but if you plan well, you can make it all ahead of time and place it in the oven just before dinner. Start by roasting the squash in the oven, let it cool slightly, then scoop out the cooked squash.

Cut the squash into large chunks.

Add the chunks of squash to the cooked farro, sausage and cheeses.

Spoon the stuffing back into the squash.

Sprinkle grated mozzarella on top. If you have more stuffing than will fit into the two halves (and most likely you will), butter a small casserole and place the stuffing inside.

Bake for about a half hour, then turn on the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top nicely. Be careful, it will burn easily!

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Farro and Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 large acorn squash
  • salt, pepper
  • a few tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 links Italian sausage
  • ¼ cup onion, minced
  • 1 stalk of celery, minced
  • ½ cup farro
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 egg, beaten lightly
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • a couple of leaves of minced fresh sage
  • a small amount of minced parsley
Instructions
  1. Cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, rub the cut ends with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Place in a 350 degree oven, covered with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour or until tender.
  3. Let the squash cool.
  4. Bring the water to a boil, add the farro and a pinch of salt.
  5. Cover with a lid, and let simmer on low heat for about 20-25 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.
  6. Let the farro come to room temperature.
  7. Take the casings off the sausage and break up the sausage into bits, cooking in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.
  8. Add the minced onion and minced celery, and cook until softened,
  9. Scrape the cooked squash from the interior of the squash, cutting into large pieces.
  10. To the cooked and cooled farro, add the squash, the cooked sausage, onion and celery, the beaten egg, the parmesan cheese and most of the mozzarella cheese, keeping some aside to sprinkle on top. Season with salt, pepper and the minced parsley.
  11. Mix thoroughly, then stuff back into the squash.
  12. You will have more than will fit into the squash, so butter a small casserole and place the remaining stuffing inside,
  13. Sprinkle more mozzarella cheese on top.
  14. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.
  15. At the end of 30 minutes, turn on the broiler for a few minutes to allow for greater browning on top, but keep an eye on it since it can burn easily,.