Skip to content

Candy Cane Biscotti

December 17, 2014

imageBefore I get started on this, let me share with you that I’ve lost all track of time.  Seriously, during a casual conversation yesterday, it was brought up that next week is Christmas and I was in total surprise!  It’s not that I haven’t been preparing….decorating, baking and shopping, but more so that I have been so immersed in all the holiday activities I honestly thought I had at least two more weeks to go!

image

Thankfully, my baking is done; at least the Christmas cookie baking that I share with family and friends.  This year I decided to only bake biscotti.  For a couple of reasons…1) it’s my favorite and always in my cookie jar year round…2) I felt this year I didn’t need to tempt and tease myself with loads of cookies, though not overly sweet, Italian cookies are truly best made with all the real ingredients – white flour, sugar, butter….

cookie-trays_2Those were my past Christmas cookie trays filled with every type of Italian cookie possible!!

Biscotti are generally low in fat; easily being able to use coconut oil in many of my recipes, a small amount of sugar, again, easily able to switch to using coconut sugar and as biscotti is a crisp, harder cookie, swapping out the white flour to a wheat blend or in some recipes, almond flour and oat flour, work well.

This year’s holiday biscottis included Gluten-free, date sweetened Almond Biscotti, Gingerbread Biscotti, Cinnamon Raisin and Pecan Biscotti, Pistachio Cranberry Biscotti, a last minute decision to add butterscotch chips to another batch and these Candy Cane Biscotti.
image

The peppermint flavor and candy cane crunch enhanced these biscotti to holiday happiness and added a pretty touch to my cookie tray. I truly wanted to test out using beet juice instead of the red food coloring but didn’t have enough time because, as you know, Christmas is next week!!

Candy Cane Biscotti

2 ¾ cup white/whole wheat flour

½ cup coconut or turbinado sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1/2 cup crushed candy canes

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 large eggs

For the glaze:

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 drops red food coloring

1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

1/4 cup crushed candy canes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or Slipat. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and crushed candy canes. In a separate bowl, mix together the vanill, coconut oil and 3 eggs. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and mix together. The dough will be crumbly at first; empty the bowl onto a floured board and knead 7-8 times until dough is smooth. Divide into two and form each into a long log. If dough is sticky, wet hands lightly. Place logs on baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Allow logs to cool for 10 minutes and then slice diagonally. Place slices back on baking sheet standing upright. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove and cool on rack. While biscotti are cooling, combine the confectioners’ sugar, red food coloring and peppermint extract. To reduce lumps, warm the glaze slightly in the microwave. Brush or drizzle the glaze on biscotti when still warm, sprinkle on additional crushed candy canes. Allow to dry. Store tightly covered.

 

Product Review: Arctic Chill Stainless Cocktail Muddler

December 9, 2014

image I just received a great little gift idea for the hostess or cocktail lover on your shopping list!  A few weeks back I was contacted by Rizzi at Artic Chill to do a review for their Cocktail Muddler.  I took a quick look at the product on their website and knew instantly this would not be just another gadget cluttering up my kitchen drawer, but one very useful and uniquely designed tool.  The Arctic Chill’s muddler is made from stainless steel and features a grooved nylon head.

In my home, mixed cocktails are pretty much limited to dinner and holiday party entertaining when I like to offer a festive cocktail for the occassion.  On a more daily basis, we love to make tea using fresh herbs, such as mint, rosemary or basil.  So to test out this product, we made a cranberry, mint and ginger tea.

imageWhen muddling, you want to crush the cranberries and ginger yet gently bruise the herbs to release the flavor.  The grooved rubber end worked so much better than the wooden dowel we normally use and the handle is sturdy with a comfortable grip.  To continue to prepare the infused tea, bring water to just a boil and pour about 1 cup water to 1 crushed tablespoon of herbs per serving and let steep for 5-7 minutes.  The portions you use and the allowed time to steep can vary depending on your taste.

imageAfter steeping, pour the tea through a strainer and discard the herbs.  We have these cute tea cups with an infuser and lid; however, using a french press is another  way to muddle the herbs in the beaker, allow to steep and then gently press down the plunger to separate the herbs and hold them at the bottom.

image

So good…but now I’m thinking it’s time to test muddle a mojito!

 

Moroccan Carrot and Garbanzo Bean Salad

November 30, 2014

imageAs I mentioned in my previous post with the Pomegranate Walnut and Apple Salad, I have been so fascinated with Moroccan foods, particularly with these salad plates. The display of colorful, healthy salads, for me, would be a meal in itself.

The salad to the right of the platter is my take on the Cinnamon Dusted Butternut Squash with Candied Pecans and Cranberry my daughter and I spotted at Whole Foods.  For that salad I diced the butternut squash, sautéing it in olive oil until crispy on the outside and soft inside, adding in thinly sliced green onions, toasted pecans (not candied for my version) and dried cranberries.   The seasonings were lightly flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, salt and fresh chopped parsley.  So very good!

image

I found my inspiration for the Moroccan Carrot and Garbanzo Bean Salad from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks. I always love how she takes what she finds in the fresh markets and creates intriguing dishes always so beautifully photographed.

imageI seasoned the salad with my version of a Moroccan blend, not in any way authentic as I wasn’t sure my guests would want their long awaited holiday meal to be too out there and unusual for their taste.  It was just enough to enhance this to being full of spice flavor without being extreme in any way.  In fact, I love this blend so much, I mixed up a jar full to surprise season other dishes.

Moroccan Carrot and Garbanzo Bean Salad

1 lb carrots, organic preferred, peeled and coarsely grated

1 15 oz can Garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

2 green onions, thinly sliced

1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup mixed fresh mint and parsley, chopped

For the dressing:

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, with grated zest (choose organic when zesting)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon honey – add more to taste

1/2 teaspoon Sea salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

In a large bowl, combine all the salad ingredients.  In a small jar, combine the dressing ingredients.  Shake well. Mix into the salad, taste to sweeten and season as necessary. Flavor improves when allowed to sit at room temperature or refrigerate if making the day ahead. Serves 6 as a side salad.

Pomegranate Walnut and Apple Salad

November 23, 2014

imageI’m trying really hard this year to slow  down and enjoy the holiday season, eat light and healthy and enjoy every day. I seem to do fine with eating healthy because it’s just the way I eat, but the hard part for me is in slowing down my pace.  It’s just the way I am.

I get so excited about the holidays, tons of ideas for decorating, tablescaping and gift wrapping. Holiday food to make, festive cocktails, Christmas cookies and desserts…my head is spinning with ideas.

This year I am making an effort to simplify the holidays. Going back to the basics and enjoying my time with my family. Oh, and also adding a  Moroccan feel to the festivities because come on, I can’t dial down my creativeness all the way.

imageImage from Abigail’s Moroccan Cuisine

As soon as I saw this presentation of colorful Moroccan salads it became the inspiration for my Thanksgiving menu this year.  Along with a Moroccan Spiced Turkey, my platter will include this Pomegranate Walnut and Apple Salad, Moroccan Carrot and Chickpea Salad, Green Bean Salad, Sweet Potatoes with Ginger, Spiced Brussels Sprouts Salad and Roasted Acorn Squash with Pecans.

Oh, and wild rice, quinoa and sausage stuffing, cauliflower purée, cranberry maple cornbread and cherry port cranberry sauce.  Yeah, just keeping it simple…

Pomegranate, Walnut and Apple Salad

1 cup walnut halves, lightly toasted

1 cup pomegranate seeds

1 cup celery, thickly cut, leaves included

1/4 cup red onion, chopped

1 cup apples, diced, I prefer a green tart apple

1/4 cup parsley, roughly chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice and the zest, about 1 organic lemon

3-4 tablespoons  olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Keep it easy on yourself…combine all the salad ingredients in a bowl, drizzled on the lemon juice, olive oil, toss, taste, season.   Can be made 1 day ahead.  Serves 4 as a side salad.

 

How to Make Ahead Gravy for Thanksgiving

November 9, 2014

image

As that big day comes closer, turkey talk increases, to brine or not to brine debates ensue and worries over making the gravy creep in.  As there are so many recipes for turkey, the same seems to go for the gravy.  I have switched up my recipe over the years as well, but no matter the recipe there are a few basic steps.

Making the roux is based on equal amounts of fat and flour.  Cornstarch can be used instead of the flour, taking into consideration of what type of gravy I’m making.  If I want to have a darker roux, I use flour as cornstarch will not darken when cooked longer.  Also, if cooked too long, cornstarch will break down and the gravy becomes thin.

Because this post is about making gravy ahead of time and freezing, using flour is a better choice.  I usually make my gravy when the turkey is resting, whisking away as I’m multi-tasking several dishes to get the Thanksgiving dinner on the table in perfect timing.

This year I’ve decided to prepare not just my turkey stock ahead of time, but also the gravy.  In testing this out, freezing gravy is definitely a timesaving option.  Defrosting the gravy a day ahead, it will look a bit odd, but slowly heating and whisking the gravy will pull it back together.  As I note in the recipe below, if it seems a bit thin, making a slurry of cornstarch and turkey broth, then adding it in and whisking quickly will thicken it back up.

If making the gravy ahead and freezing is a bit overkill, I get it.  But without a doubt, making the turkey stock is a must for my Thanksgiving.  I will use the stock to flavor the stuffing, baste the turkey, and of course make the gravy.  And leftover stock for next day turkey soup is rich and flavorful.

Herb Infused Turkey Gravy

Leftover Turkey Dripping, about 2 – 3 tablespoons

1/2 cup red wine

imageIn a small saucepan, combine the turkey drippings, about 3 tablespoons and red wine.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer.  Simmer for approximately 7-10 minutes till reduced halfway.  Pour into fat separator and set aside.

1 shallot, finely chopped

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons olive oil

6 tablespoons flour, I used white/wheat blend flour

4-6 cups turkey stock

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 sprigs fresh oregano

2 bay leaves

imageIn a medium saucepan, heat the butter and olive oil.  Add in the shallot and sauté a few minutes.  Add in the flour and whisk briskly to make a roux.  Continue for about 3-5 minutes as the mixture becomes thick and smooth. 

image

Begin to pour in the turkey stock slowly, 1 – 2 cups at a time, whisking to incorporate well.  Add in the herbs.  Bring gravy to a boil, reduce to a simmer, whisking occasionally about 10 minutes.  Stir in the dripping/wine reduction and continue to whisk and cook to desired consistency.  Remove herbs and discard.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  If freezing, allow to cool and freeze. 

Defrost gravy one day before.  The appearance will not look right, but gently warm the gravy, whisking to blend well.  If the gravy appears thin, combine 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 1 tablespoon turkey broth to create a slurry.  Add slurry to simmering gravy, whisk quickly to thicken gravy.  Taste and season again to taste.

Pumpkin Minestrone

November 2, 2014

image

We are having some beautiful fall weather in South Florida!  When fall comes to Florida, it’s more of a pretend season.  It will be 80 degrees and locals will pulling out their boots, light sweaters and scarves…pretty silly looking to the vacationing Northerners who are walking around in their shorts and sundresses.  When you live here for awhile, you feel the change of seasons and get very excited.

This weekend, we hit some low temps.  The humidity is gone and just the most wonderful breezes are blowing through my open windows.  The morning air is brisk, almost to a chill as my Chihuahuas make it short, quick walk.   My morning walk is at a faster pace, my hands curled up in my sweatshirt to keep warm.

imageThe skies were clear and the bluest blue, while the sun gently warmed the breezes creating the picture perfect day.  As evening came, the temperature dropped further and as I planned for all day, a warming soup would be just what we needed to fully experience this Fall weather.

imageBasing this on my mom’s minestrone recipe, I just swapped out the potatoes for pumpkin.  I kept it simple and did not add in any beans.  The pumpkin seeds were a last minute thought while I was cutting the pumpkin.  The seeds added an interesting bite and salty taste.

Pumpkin Minestrone

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 cups raw pumpkin, about 1/2 small pumpkin, cubedubed

2 large carrots, peeled and cubed

2 cups zucchini, cubed

1 small bunch spinach, washed, trimmed and roughly chopped, about 2 cups

4 – 5 cups vegetable or chicken broth

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Toasted pumpkin seeds and Parmesian cheese, grated for serving, optional

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil. Add in the onion and sauté till tender. Add in the pumpkin and carrots and cook for about 8-10 minutes. Add in the zucchini and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add in the stock to just cover the veggies. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 30-35 minutes.  Add in the spinach and parsley and turn off the heat. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes.  Serves about 4 as a main dish.  Serve with toasted pumpkin seeds and grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Bloody Halloween Red Lentil and Beet Soup

October 26, 2014

imageI bloody love Halloween.

And I love this soup.  In fact, it will make a reappearance in December for a gorgeous red Christmas soup, minus the drips and fake bloody hand.

Halloween wickedly crept up on me this year.  I’m usually all decorated for Halloween by now.  Pumpkins, skulls, skeletons, witches and brooms tastefully decorating my home.  Thousands of ideas, too little time.

Since Halloween falls on a Friday this year, I already know pizza will be on my menu.  I’ll probably oddly shape it and let the sauce seep over the sides of the crust and top it with sliced pimento stuffed olives for a few creepy eyeballs…. just because.

Beets will always turn any dish the brightest red; including countertops, hands and dishtowels.  They added the perfect compliment to this simple lentil soup.  A bit of extra spiciness was needed for me, but my son loved it just as it was.

image
Red Lentil and Beet Soup

1 teaspoon butter and 1 teaspoon olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

3/4 cup red lentils

1 cup diced beets

4 cups vegetable broth or chicken broth

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Dash of Sriachi Sauce, optional

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter and olive oil.  Add in the onion and cook for about 8 minutes until softened.  Add in the red lentils, diced beets and broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and allow to simmer for about 35 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to cool.  Pour the soup into a blender to cream.  Can be made ahead, gently rewarm to serve.  Season to taste again and depending on your preference for spiciness, add a dash of hot sauce.  Makes about 4 servings or 8 shot glasses of bloody soup.

 

Baked Eggplant with Tomato and Mozzarella

October 19, 2014

image

How quickly time passes… last week I was vacationing in the beautiful surroundings of Italy and now…well, it’s all a cherished memory as I work my way back into the daily routines of my life.  Yet, I brought back a different me from this trip.  A woman who once feared venturing out alone, pretty low on the confidence pole and decision doubting, to a renewed, refreshed, totally in awe of life and beauty, humbled by my inner strength and a new amore la vita, love of life! Read more…

Arrivederci Positano!

October 11, 2014

imageMy heart is breaking…I’m waiting for my driver to take me to Rome,  desperately trying to capture every sensual pleasure I see around me.  The aromas that fill my villa from freshly baked bread from a not so far away bakery, the distant soft clatter of activity of the awakening city and these breathtaking views I want to never forget. Read more…

In the Cucina

October 9, 2014

imageHow I spent my vacation in Italy…in the kitchen!  I’m the woman who gets excited over receiving a kitchen appliance for Christmas. Wrap a big bow on a Viking range and I will kiss you all over.   Remodel my kitchen to look like this…with everything included, and I will love you forever. Read more…