Mom’s Strawberry-Banana Pie

Strawberry Pie 1

I really cannot explain why this recipe was overlooked for so long. Granted, it wasn’t one that Mom prepared frequently — we were a strawberry shortcake family — but she did make this pie at least once a year. And how I loved it! I was walking around the farmers market, looking at all the fresh strawberries, when I remembered this treat. After buying a quart of strawberries, I rushed home, stopping along the way at a grocery to buy the rest of the ingredients. It wasn’t very much later that I had a strawberry-banana pie chilling in my fridge. A few weeks more and I prepared another while visiting Zia. Now, several months later and with my birthday looming in the near future (it’s Sunday, you know), I thought this the perfect time to share the recipe for Mom’s strawberry banana pie — and my personal favorite. Happy birthday to me!

The recipe I’m sharing is memory-based, for there is nothing written to follow. As you’ll soon see, however, the recipe is easy enough to reconstruct, although I did make a couple of changes. In the first place, I believe Mom used a pudding mix — sometimes vanilla, other times banana — and I do not recall her make pudding from scratch for this pie. The recipe I initially followed was printed in the recipe book that came with my first microwave, bought after I moved to Chicago in 1980. Never throw away a cookbook.

Then again, there are times when maybe you should toss a cookbook. When I prepared its vanilla pudding recipe, it was far too thick and not nearly as creamy as remembered and, therefore, not worthy of Mom’s pie. So, I made a couple of adjustments. I cut the amount of cornstarch, used 3 egg yolks instead of 2 whole eggs, and used less vanilla. The result was a pudding fit for Mom’s pie, just thick enough not to be runny yet creamy enough to wash over your palate. I, like the pudding, was all set.

I could not recall what, if any, glaze Mom used with the strawberry topping. I chose strawberry flavored gelatin, thinking it would both set the berries in place and prolong their shelf life. I did consider making the pie without the strawberry topping, using fresh berries to garnish each piece when served. If you prefer to do that, you should cover the pie with plastic wrap to prevent a film forming on the pudding.

It’s my idea to add a thin coating of chocolate to the pie crust. Living alone, my pie will not “disappear” as quickly as Mom’s did. The chocolate coating will prevent the pie crust from getting soggy as the pie sits. (I can say, with some certainty, that from my earliest days I have never liked a soggy bottom.)

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Strawberrhy Banana Pie

Dessert at Zia’s

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Strawberry-Banana Pie Recipe

Ingredients

for the pie

  • 1 pastry crust large enough to cover a deep, 9″ (23 cm) pie dish – store-bought may be substituted
  • ⅓ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • vanilla pudding, recipe follows
  • 12 oz (340 g) fresh strawberries, cleaned, hulled, and halved or sliced
  • strawberry flavored gelatin, instructions follow
  • whipping cream for serving
  • shaved chocolate for garnish (optional)

for the vanilla pudding

  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla

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Directions

to prepare the vanilla pudding

  1. Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt before adding ½ cup of milk. Continue whisking until fully combined.
  2. Add remaining milk and microwave on high for 5 or 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pudding should be smooth and thick.
  3. Temper the eggs by adding a few ounces of the hot liquid to the eggs, stirring all the while. Begin stirring the hot liquid as you add the egg mixture to it.
  4. Microwave on high until the pudding just begins to boil, about 1 minute.
  5. Add the butter and vanilla to the pudding, stir well, cover with plastic wrap (see Notes), and set aside to cool.

to prepare the pie crust

  1. Pre-heat oven to 450˚ F (230˚ C).
  2. Use whatever type of pasty crust that you prefer — homemade or store-bought — and use it to cover a deep, 9 inch (23 cm) pie plate/pan.
  3. Use a fork to puncture the pie crust before baking for 10 to 12 minutes in the pre-heated oven. Crust should be golden brown. Remove to cool.
  4. Once the crust has cooled somewhat, melt the chocolate chips and warm the milk.
  5. Add the milk to the melted chocolate and whisk to create a ganache (see Notes.)
  6. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the bottom of the pie crust with the melted chocolate.

to prepare the gelatin

  1. Follow the package directions to quickly prepare the gelatin using both boiling water and ice cubes.
  2. Once the gelatin is dissolved and the ice cubes have melted, add the halved/sliced strawberries and gently stir.
  3. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

to assemble the pie

  1. Once the pie crust has set and the chocolate coating hardened, coat the chocolate with a bit of pudding.
  2. Evenly space the sliced bananas across the pie’s bottom.
  3. Use as much pudding as is necessary to coat the sliced bananas. Be sure to leave room on top of the pudding for the strawberries. Use an offset spatula to even the top of the pudding.
  4. Use a slotted spoon to place the strawberries atop the pudding. Carefully pour the gelatin to cover the pudding and coat the strawberries.
    • Place excess gelatin and strawberries into serving bowls. Once set they may be served to those poor unfortunates who do not like pie.
  5. Refrigerate at least 2 hours to let the pie fully set. The longer the better.
  6. Serve garnished with freshly whipped cream and shaved chocolate (optional).

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Strawberry Banana Pie 6

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Notes

You can make this pie any number of ways, from the very simple — use store-bought pastry and instant pudding mix — to the more involved — make your own pastry, pudding, and strawberry glaze. No matter how you choose to prepare it, you’ll find this pie makes a fine dessert.

I bet that a few of you gasped and clutched your pearls when you read that I had prepared the pudding in the microwave. Release the pearls! Martha Stewart’s vanilla pudding recipe is a good one and is prepared in a more traditional way.

Whatever type of pudding you prepare, be sure it is on the firm side so that the pie doesn’t collapse as the runny pudding fills the empty place left when you serve a piece of the pie.

Although I like the chocolate coating for the pie’s crust, you’ll create new problems if the chocolate is rock-hard when solid. Remember you’ll have to cut through it to serve the pie. Use enough milk to make a ganache that will stiffen without getting too hard. Either that or make the chocolate coating as thin as possible.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Blueberry-Lemon Slice copy

Since today’s recipe was a dessert, why not end this post with another? This Blueberry-Lemon Slice is the perfect combination of tart and sweet and not at all difficult to prepare. It’s also a tasty way to use some of those blueberries if, like me, you freeze a couple quarts every summer. You will see the recipe when you click HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Zucchini Pesto Pasta Preview

Zucchini “Noodles” with Walnut Pesto

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New York Style Cheesecake

Zia gets her book

No caption needed

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I can almost hear you already. “You said you don’t bake!” Well, I still say that, today’s dish being the exception that proves the rule. I have been preparing this cheesecake for well over 30 years. Its origins have long since been forgotten. At one time, this was my go-to dessert or potluck contribution. It was definitely a crowd pleaser. After all, who doesn’t like cheesecake?

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NYC Cheesecake 4

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Over the years, potlucks fell out of favor within my group and this recipe was prepared fewer and fewer times. Of course, my want to offer something other than cheesecake for dessert had something to do with it, too. The truth is, I cannot tell you the last time I made the cake. Now, that’s a shame because it is a great cheesecake, dense and heavy like the best New York style cheesecakes.

NYC CheesecakeWhen I first prepared the cake, I would arrange sliced kiwi fruit on top, the perfect camouflage for an unsightly crack. Soon the kiwi were joined by a raspberry sauce. Little did I know that the sauce was a “coulis”. That revelation would come several years and many TV cooking shows later.

If there is a complaint about the recipe is that there is no crust. My favorite cheesecakes all have a crust of some sort. Every time I bake this cake, I tell myself that the next time I’ll experiment and make a crust. Then, when it comes time to make the thing, I read over the instructions and realize that a bad crust could ruin an afternoon’s efforts — and I put it off the experiment until next time. As you’ll soon see, the cheesecake I prepared for this post is crustless but I really do think I’ll make a crust next time. Really.

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NYC Cheesecake 2

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New York Style Cheesecake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 16 oz (453 g) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 lb (453 g) cottage cheese, creamed
  • 1½ c (330 g) sugar
  • 4 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp four
  • 1½ tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ½ c (113 g) butter, melted
  • 16 oz (453 g) sour cream

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 325˚ F (160˚ C). Thoroughly grease a 9 inch (23 cm) springform pan.
  2. Using a stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese and cottage cheese at high speed until well combined and smooth.
  3. Gradually add the sugar and then the eggs.
  4. Reduce the speed to low before adding the corn starch, flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla.
  5. When well-mixed, add the melted butter and sour cream and beat until combined.
  6. Pour the batter into the greased pan and place on the center rack of the pre-heated oven. Bake for 70 minutes or until cake is firm around the edges.
  7. Turn off the oven and let the cake stand in the oven for 2 hours.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a counter for at least 2 hours more.
  9. Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving.
  10. Garnish with fresh berries or sauce of your choice.

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Fresh Raspberries

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Raspberry Coulis Recipe

  • 12 oz (340 g) fresh raspberries
  • 3 oz (85 g) sugar
  • 2 tbsp water
  • splash of Framboise (optional)
  • pinch of salt

Place the ingredients in a small sauce pan over med-low heat. Cook until the sugar is melted and the berries have dissolved somewhat. Place mixture into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Strain mixture through a fine sieve. Discard solids and refrigerate the covered coulis before use. Should keep in the fridge for 3 or 4 days, 30 days if frozen.

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NYC Cheesecake Whole

What crack?

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Notes

Do not rush combining the cream and cottage cheeses (Step 2). The more time you take, the creamier the cheesecake.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Pappa al Pomodoro

Summer’s late start in this area meant that my tomatoes seemed to take forever to ripen. When September rolled around, I had a glut of tomatoes to contend with. One of my favorite ways to deal with this “problem” is to make Tomato with Bread Soup, Pappa al Pomodoro. Using little more than some day-old bread and the ripest of tomatoes, this soup is a wonderful way to celebrate the tomato harvest. This simple recipe can be found HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Salsa Preview

Ground Cherry Salsa

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By any other name …

Double Delight

The last two winters have been hard on my girls. “Helen Hayes”, “Marilyn Monroe”, and “Judy Garland” didn’t make it. Luckily I was able to locate their twins and each is doing quite well. No such luck with “Elizabeth Taylor”, however, and in a move reminiscent of All About Eve, “Double Delight”, a hybrid tea rose, has taken her spot.

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Crostata

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.” (Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet”)

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About 3 years ago, I shared a recipe for the Apple Thingamajig, the name resulting from the inability of Zia and myself to remember the dessert’s correct name. In the Comments, some suggested calling it a “galette”, still others called it a “crostata.”, and I’ve even heard it called an “open-faced” or “rustic” pie. We would never have called it a crostata, however, for reasons I had intended to reveal shortly thereafter. You see, I had planned to share today’s recipe that Christmas (2011). Having missed that opportunity, crostata was to be featured the following December (2012), and, having failed that, last December (2013) would most certainly see a crostata recipe published.  And, so, here it is 2014 and the crostata recipe is finally making it to the big time. Even so, and to get back to my original point, say “crostata” to my family and we think of a jam-covered tart very much like the ones pictured throughout today’s post.

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Mom's Crostata 1

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So why share the recipe now? Well, recently a good friend of the Bartolini Kitchens, Stefan of Stefan’s Gourmet Blog, shared his crostata recipe. (If you’ve not visited Stefan’s site, this is your chance. His is a fantastic blog filled with many wonderful recipes and you’ll find his Italian dishes as well-researched as they are delicious.) Seeing his crostata recipe lit a fire under me and I decided this would be the year to finally share the recipe for the benefit of the rest of the Clan. This time, though, I’d publish it ASAP, so, that there would be little chance of it being forgotten again in the rush towards Christmas.

We could always count on Mom preparing several treats for the Christmas holiday. Though she started making chocolate candies in her retirement, she always made sure that there were plenty of biscotti and a crostata for Christmas Day. For me, it wouldn’t have been Christmas without either being present, no matter what else she had prepared — the platter of ravioli notwithstanding.

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Crostata 1

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Not having any tart pans, Mom prepared her crostata on a small baking sheet. (In professional kitchens, it would be called a “quarter baking sheet”.) She would use 2 types of jam, with half of her crostata being coated with either strawberry or, very rarely, cherry, and, the other half peach. Mom didn’t start making jam and preserves until her retirement, so, she used store-bought jams for her crostata. She served it in little pieces, like those I’ve shown, presumably because the last thing we kids needed was more sugar on Christmas Day. Using a three-tiered serving dish, she was able to control how much we kids ate. When it was empty, there’d be no re-filling it for hours. Of course, when company was expected, the contents of that serving dish were strictly off-limits. Don’t worry. We still had our fill — just not from that tray.

With regards to this post, I didn’t feel right calling it “Mom’s Crostata”, for it really isn’t. Mom didn’t leave us a true cookbook. Yes, she gave us kids our own cookbooks but none were a complete listing of all of her recipes. I do have a couple of her notebooks but the recipes listed are in varying stages of completion. Some are fully written, while others are nothing more than a few notes. Today’s recipe falls into the latter category, though I remember watching her spread the jam over the pastry crust, my mouth-watering the entire time. The only real question that remained was what recipe to use for the shortbread crust — and Mom’s notes did specify a “shortbread crust”. The answer came from a surprising source.

Good Cooking CookbookDuring my last visit with Zia, she mentioned that she possessed a “Five Roses Flour” cookbook from 1938 that once belonged to her Mother-in-Law — the woman I’ve referred to as “Nonna” in earlier posts. While paging through it, I came across a shortbread recipe. Now, this is no ordinary shortbread. The recipe’s name is listed as “Prize Shortbread” and it’s noted that the recipe “has won many prizes at Fall Fairs and Exhibitions.” There was certainly no need to look any further for a shortbread recipe. Here, I’ve shared the recipe as it was originally written, although when I prepared the shortbread, I used my food processor and the resulting crust was quite good. (See below for a possible use for extra shortbread dough.)

Unlike Mom, I used my own jams for today’s crostate. In the first photo, strawberry jam with balsamic and black pepper, and, peach jam with white balsamic were used. The addition of balsamic vinegar is why both jams appear unusually dark in the photos. The 2nd crostata was made with tart cherry jam, to which a little bit of almond extract was added. Feel free to use whatever jam(s) you prefer.

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Crostata Recipe

Ingredients

for the pastry

  • 2 cups all-purpose (AP) flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • an egg yolk and water wash

for the filling

  • jam/preserves, amount depending upon the crostata’s size and whether 2 flavors are to be used.

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C).
  2. In a mixing bowl, use a spoon to mix the sugar, butter, salt, and egg yolk. Slowly add the flour and continue to mix until the spoon can no longer be used.
  3. Turn on to a lightly floured board and begin kneading, adding more flour until the dough begins to crack.
  4. Reserve a small portion of dough to be used for the lattice.
  5. Roll the dough between 2 sheets of wax paper until about 1/8 inch thick and slightly larger than the tart pan or baking sheet.
  6. Carefully remove one sheet of wax paper and place the dough on to the tart pan, dough-side down. Remove the remaining sheet of wax paper. Gently press the dough to fit the contours of the pan. Trim the excess dough and add to the reserve.
  7. Use an offset spatula to spread the jam, evenly covering the pastry dough.
  8. Roll out the reserved pastry dough as you did for the crust. Cut the dough into strips.
  9. Starting at one end, diagonally place the strips across the tart. Once completed, work from the other side placing strips diagonally in the opposite direction, creating a lattice in the process.
  10. Use the egg wash to lightly coat the lattice and any of the exposed crust.
  11. Bake in the lower third of a pre-heated oven for 30 minutes or until crust and lattice are lightly browned.
  12. Allow to cool before cutting. Serve at room temperature.

Shortbread pastry dough recipe found in “A Guide to Good Cooking” by the Five Rose Flour Co. (1938)

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Cherry Crostata 5

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Notes

The first time I prepared this crostata, I “blind baked” the tart shell for 8 minutes before filling it. This was a mistake, as you can see when looking at the first photo. The lattice is considerably lighter in color than the crust. After that attempt, I’ve no longer blind baked the crust and the finished tart’s shortbread appears more evenly baked.

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So, you’ve made a crostata and still have a little extra dough to burn …

I just couldn’t bring myself to discard the excess shortbread dough, nor was there enough to make another crostata. I was going to make a few shortbread cookies, a personal Shortbread Sandwichesfavorite, when I had an epiphany. Using a very small ice cream scoop, make equally sized balls of dough, placing them on a small baking sheet. Once the sheet was covered with evenly spaced dough balls, use the bottom of a glass to press each ball into a flat cookie. Bake in a pre-heated 350˚ F (175˚ C) oven until the edges just start to turn brown, about 15 minutes. Once cooled, use 2 cookies with a bit of Nutella in-between to make a single sandwich cookie. (You could just as easily use jam for the filling.) Like the crostate, these cookies were well-received by the taste testers that live above me. So well-received, in fact, that now I’m considering making a Nutella crostata.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

lumache-con-farfalle-1

This past Saturday is known as All Soul’s Day and in Marche, the Bartolini ancestral home, snails, lumache, are traditionally served.  I won’t say much more, for fear of stealing the post’s thunder, other than to mention that you can learn all about preparing this delicacy by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Osso Buco Preview

Osso Buco

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Oatmeal Cookies with Two Chocolates, Dried Cherries, and Almonds

Cherry Choc Chip 1

Despite today’s post and a few more on the schedule, I am no baker. I do not bake. It is a classic catch-22. I don’t bake because I make mistakes and I make mistakes because I don’t bake. My experience with today’s recipe is a perfect example.

Although I’ve prepared these cookies a number of times, I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes. Some weren’t so bad, like grabbing dark brown sugar instead of light or forgetting to add the salt. I wasn’t always so lucky, however, like the time I forgot the baking soda. Those little nuggets were tasty but hardly the cookies I had envisioned. Perhaps the worst, though, was the time I forgot to add the flour. Who forgets flour? You wouldn’t but I sure did. You can rest assured, knowing that I’ll never do that again. Even so, there has to be a better way to learn something without nearly ruining 2 baking sheets.

My lack of baking prowess — a.k.a common sense — aside, these are great cookies that freeze well. That’s important for me because if I don’t stash cookies in my basement freezer as soon as they’ve cooled, they’ll be gone within a day. I’ve absolutely no will power when it comes to freshly baked anything. (Yet another reason I so rarely bake.)

This recipe can easily be modified to suit your own kitchen and preferences. I’ve made these cookies using my food processor, as the original recipe directs, but I’ve also prepared them with my stand mixer. I’ve used dried cranberries instead of the cherries, and omitted the white chocolate altogether, doubling the amount of dark chocolate in its place. And if you like almond flavoring, try using almond extract instead of vanilla. In short, feel free to make whatever substitutions you like, just don’t forget the flour!

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Announcing …

It’s time once again for the Honey Man to open shop in Michigan’s Thumb. This means I’ll be closing the Kitchens so that I can make the yearly honey run. Normally, I’d reopen the Kitchens in 2 weeks but not this year. You see, honey won’t be the only precious cargo that I’ll be bringing back to Chicago. I’m very happy to say that I’ll be playing host to a most special Guest and the Kitchens will be closed for the entire visit, known affectionately in these parts as “The Visitation.” Rest assured, the Kitchens will reopen once I’ve returned my Guest to her Michigan home.

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Cherry Choc Chip 3*     *     *

Oatmeal Cookies with Two Chocolates and Dried Cherries Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup AP flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 2/3 cup dried cherries
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375˚ F (190˚ C). Place 2 oven racks on the top and bottom thirds of the oven.
  2. Cream together the butter, 2 sugars, and vanilla in a food processor
  3. To the processor bowl, add the egg, baking soda, and salt. Process until combined.
  4. Add the flour and again process till combined.
  5. Add the oats and pulse a few times. The object is to mix without pulverizing the oats. Empty the contents of the processor bowl into a large mixing bowl.
  6. Add the almonds, cherries, and both chocolates to the mixing bowl and use a spoon to mix the contents.
  7. Use a large ice cream scoop or tablespoon to create evenly sized cookies. Place scoops of dough on 2 large, parchment-covered baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.
  8. Bake for 6 minutes before turning and switching racks. Bake for another 6 or 7 minutes. Cookies should be lightly browned.
  9. Remove from oven and place cookies on a rack to cool.
  10. Store in an airtight container.

Adapted from a recipe on Epicurious

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Cherry Choc Chip 2*     *     *

Notes

Like the fried chicken of 2 weeks ago, these cookies are good for long car rides. Very good.

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The Colosseum and Forum of Rome

Just down the street from our flat was the Colosseum, one of the World’s few arena’s older than Wrigley Field. It is usually one of the first and last sights I see when I’m in Rome. As I’ve told my friends — ad nauseam, I’m sure — I’m a tactile person and only when I touch the Colosseum do I truly feel that I am in Rome.

(Click to enlarge any/all photos)

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Right outside of the stadium lie the ruins of Ludus Magnus, the best of the gladiator schools. Tunnels once connected it to the “basement” of the Colosseum, which housed everything from wild animals and gladiators to their unfortunate victims. The amphitheater itself is huge with seating estimates that surpass 45,000 people. Yet, it could be vacated in as few as 5 minutes in an emergency. Located around the arena are thick cement posts, of a sort. These were used to support a retractable roof that provided shade from the hot Roman sun, while the arena floor could be flooded to permit mock naval battles to be performed. When not flooded, the stadium floor featured numerous trap doors, allowing for the “introduction” of fierce animals into the arena. Like so much of Rome, history comes alive as you walk around the Colosseum.

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Inside the Colosseum    *     *     *

The heart of the ancient city, the Forum, was where Romans came to conduct business, shop, talk politics, and worship. On one side lay the Colosseum, easily the largest amphitheater of its time. On another, atop Palatine Hill, is where the emperors lived, as well as the Republic’s wealthiest citizens. Being slightly elevated, it was believed to be a bit cooler than the surrounding area and it gave the inhabitants the opportunity to literally look down upon the masses milling about the Forum. Following the main path through the Forum, the Via Sacra, you’ll pass the ruins of numerous temples, basilicas, and the Curia, where the Roman Senate met and where Julius Cæsar was assassinated. Speaking of which, you’ll also come across the altar used for Cæsar’s cremation. (The first time I visited the Forum was on March 17th quite a few years ago and red roses were strewn about the altar.)

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If you are at all interested in the Roman Empire and find yourself in Rome, you really must see the Colosseum and Forum. Words and photos cannot describe the sensation of walking along the Via Sacra, tracing the steps of people like Julius Cæsar, Tiberius, Augustus, and every Emperor that was to follow them, not to mention countless notables of the ancient civilization. It was, for me, the perfect way to end my holiday and this series.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Aglio e OlioToday’s blast form the past isn’t at all a seasonal dish, at its core, but you could make it one, if you wanted.  Aglio e Olio is so simple to prepare that it is a “late home from work” dish; a “we spent the night out with friends and need something quick to eat” dish; and/or a “my cupboard is bare and I’m hungry” dish. Aglio e Oilo can be all these things and so much more. You can learn all about it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Roast Duck Ravioli PreviewRoast Duck Ravioli

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Pistachio Gelato

Gelato di Pistacchio

Pistachio Gelato 3Those of you that have followed this blog for a while will know that August means 2 things around here. First, it’s a birthday month for quite a few Bartolini (Mom would have been 90 on the 15th), as well as for many of the tasters and friends of the Kitchens.  Second, I normally schedule a visit with Zia sometime during the month but more about that later.

Mom really enjoyed ice cream and so, every August, I post at least one recipe in her honor and that of the rest of the August babies. Now, with so many memories of strolling about Florence, gelato in-hand, still-fresh in my mind, I decided that this month’s frozen treat would be a gelato, and, since Mom loved pistachio ice cream, deciding to make pistachio gelato was a no-brainer. Once I’d settled on the flavor, I knew exactly where to go for the recipe.

Last year, while in the middle of my moratorium on buying cookbooks, a blogging friend posted an ice cream recipe and referred me to a great book, Linda Tubby’s “Ices Italia.” I love this book but there is a problem. Although I remembered the book through the remainder of the moratorium, I’d completely forgotten the person who recommended it to me. Please identify yourself so that I might credit — and thank you — for leading me to the book and today’s recipe. The book is fantastic and the recipe a keeper, as you’ll soon see.

ETA: Since this recipe was posted, my friend and long-time supporter of this blog, Elaine, Le Petit Potager, has reminded me that it was she who introduced me to “Ices Italai”. We pistachio gelato lovers all thank you.

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As for my visit with Zia, I had intended to leave in the next day or two but my car had other plans. I will not bore you with the details but suffice it to say that my departure has been postponed until some time next week. The kitchens will be closed for the duration, reopening on Wednesday, August 27th.

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Pistachio Nuts

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Pistachio Gelato Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 heaping cup (160 g) pistachios, unsalted, roasted, skins removed  (see Notes)
  • 3/4 cup castor sugar (see Notes)
  • 1.5 cups (350 ml) whole, full-fat milk
  • 1.25 cups (300 ml) heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • additional pistachios, crushed, for garnish — optional

Directions

  1. Place shelled, roasted pistachios into a large food processor and grind until sand-like.
  2. Add sugar and continue to grind until very fine.
  3. Place milk and heavy cream into a medium saucepan and heat slowly until just before boiling. Small bubbles will appear where the dairy meets the pan’s side.
  4. Add some of the hot milk to the ground nuts and process until smooth.
  5. Continue to gradually add hot milk to the bowl, processing after each addition, until no more milk remains (see Notes).
  6. Add vanilla and salt, process to combine, and then add mixture to a large bowl
  7. Refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours.
  8. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for preparing ice cream.
  9. Place gelato in a freezer-proof container and store in the freezer. Ms. Tubby recommends waiting for 3 hours before serving.
  10. Garnish servings with optional crushed pistachios.

Recipe may be found in Linda Tubby’s excellent book “Ices Italia“.

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Pistachio Gelato 1*     *     *

Notes

According to Ms. Tubby, unlike ice cream, gelato isn’t meant to be served when frozen solid. Once frozen, place the opened container in your fridge for about 30 minutes before serving. This will result in a gelato just like those served in your favorite gelateria.

I was unable to find raw pistachio nuts and had to resort to using those that were already roasted. I found that a 12 oz (340 g) bag provided me with a little more than I needed for the recipe, once I shelled them and rubbed off the skins. I used the excess for garnish.

For this recipe, you want to use a finer sugar so that your gelato isn’t grainy, as may be the case if regular, white sugar is used. Castor sugar is that finer sugar but there’s no need to buy it if you haven’t any. Just place white sugar in your food processor and grind it until it is fine, like castor.

This recipe will produce a very smooth gelato. If you prefer a little more texture, just process the nut and sugar mixture for less time (Step 1) and/or add all the heated dairy to the processor bowl at once and process only until the mixture is combined.

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Variations

Raspberries*     *     *

Raspberries PureedI’ve a friend was recently released from hospital and faces some mighty tough dietary restrictions, while being told that he shouldn’t lose any more weight. Now, in the past, I would have delivered a tray of lasagna and a loaf of garlic bread to my friend, and that would have gone a long way towards at least maintaining his weight. Well, as incredible as it may sound, lasagna and garlic bread are not permitted on his diet. (I told you the restrictions were “mighty tough”.) He can eat ice cream, however, and that’s all I needed to know.

His favorite gelato flavor is raspberry, lampone, so, I took 12 oz (340 g) of raspberries, blitzed them in a food processor until broken down, and then strained the purée through a sieve to remove the seeds. For the dairy portion of the recipe, I reduced the quantity of whole milk to 3/4 cup (175 ml) and increased the amount of heavy cream to 2 cups Raspberry Gelato(475 ml). (There shall be no weight loss on my watch!) With no nuts to grind, I just added the heated dairy mixture to the sugar in the food processor, blitzed it long enough to melt the sugar, and then added the sieved raspberry purée, processing until blended. The mixture was chilled for 4 hours before my ice cream machine took over.

All who have taste it agree: this is one very good gelato.

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Piazza della Signoria, Florence

Like cities and towns throughout Europe, Florence’s cityscape is peppered with public squares, piazze. Some are so small as to be little more than some free space at the intersection of 2 minor streets. Others, Like the Piazza dell Republicca, are relatively vast spaces, lined on all 4 sides with cafes and trattorie. As a tourist, though the prices are high, there’s no better place to people watch than at one of these “ringside” establishments. Of all the piazze in Florence, however, the Piazza della Signoria is the grand dame of them all.

The city’s heart since Roman times, the Piazza serves as Florence’s civic center and political hub. When Zia and I visited Florence 12 years ago, there was a transit strike on the day of our departure from Florence. The Piazza was jammed with people carrying banners, placards, and bull horns. I thought we’d never get through the throng. This visit, things were quite a bit different, though there were more tourists about than I’ve ever seen in Florence. It seemed whenever I stopped to take a photo, suddenly an umbrella, pennant, or hat would appear in front of my lens, as a tour guide gathered his/her charges to explain one of the Piazza’s many features — and there are many features.

When you enter the Piazza, you cannot help but notice the massive structure and tower near a corner. This is the Palazzo della Signoria but is known as the Palazzo Vecchio, Old Palace. As if it’s not impressive enough in its own right, the entrance is flanked with 2 larger-than-life statues. This is the site where Michelangelo’s “David” originally stood and where a replica now stands guard. Joining him is a statue of Hercules. Moving around the Piazza, you’ll see a bronze statue of “Cosmo I” de Medici atop his steed. To Cosmo’s side, you’ll find the bronze and marble fountain of Neptune. (Sorry, I couldn’t get close enough to get a photo worth publishing.)

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To my eye, the most praiseworthy section of the Piazza is the Loggia dei Lanzi, so beautifully designed and constructed that Michelangelo urged the city to repeat the facade on all the Piazza’s buildings. (Be sure to take the link to see the entire structure.) It is home to some stunning pieces of sculpture, though be prepared for some obstructed viewing – and not just because of the crowds. In all the times I’ve been to the Loggia, I’ve yet to enjoy a completely scaffolding-free view. Even so, the Loggia dei Lanza is one site that you must see if you find yourself in Florence. Here is some of the statuary on display there. To begin, there are the Medici Lions on either side of the steps leading into the Loggia – now a restricted area, by the way.

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That concludes our tour of Florence. When I return, we’ll do a little touring in Rome

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

La BombaSince I shared a gelato recipe today, I thought it best to send you back to the Granddaddy of all of my ice cream recipes, the Spumoni Bomba. Yes, it’s spumoni but so much more. You can see step-by-step instructions for making this show stopping dessert simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming not too soon to a monitor near you …

Roast Duck PreviewRoast Duck

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Gluten-Free Chocolate Torte

Flourless Chocolate Torte 3I’ve made no secret of my inability to bake. I have burned sheet after sheet of misshapen cookies and pulled countless cakes from the oven that failed to rise. A few years ago, after yet another bundt cake that had somehow been Super Glued to the pan, I threw both pan and cake into the trash — a very liberating experience.

Then there was the Fall that I was going to teach myself to bake my favorite cake, the Black Forest Cake. Yum, right? The first attempt quite literally made me sick. I couldn’t get that thing to the trash quick enough. The next week brought another attempt. That “cake” was better — it wasn’t life-threatening — but was certainly nothing to be proud of. The third cake proved I was on the right track, though it was in no way good enough to share with anyone. I hit pay-dirt with my 4th and, what would prove to be, my last attempt. That cake was a delight. Good thing, too, because that was 6 years ago and it was the last Black Forest Cake that I’ve tasted. Oh, I’ve been tempted to have a piece but, when I am, there’s a rumble down under that convinces me that now is not the time.

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Perhaps it was my success with this torte that gave me the mistaken opinion that I could bake, leading me to the Black Forest Cake debacle. I first saw Jamie Oliver prepare the torte when he was known as The Naked Chef, so, this recipe has been around for some time. I’ve made it a number of times since without any problems whatsoever — not counting a misguided attempt to make it as a bundt cake with that accursed pan. Never mind that. Believe me. If I can bake this torte anyone can.

Now, a word about the recipe before proceeding. If you go searching for it on the web, you’ll find it titled a number of ways. Jamie Oliver’s: “Chocolate Torte”; “Flour-less Chocolate Torte”; and, “Two Nut Chocolate Torte”, are the most popular. Bear in mind that this recipe was demonstrated in an episode that aired in 2000, some time before most of us were aware of gluten-related issues. In fact, I’ve even see the recipe called “Flour-less” yet you’re instructed to grease and flour the pan before filling it with cake batter. Not to worry. This torte is gluten-free, hence the name change, and I coat the pan with powdered cocoa, not flour.

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Chocolate Torte X

As Jamie intended

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Gluten-Free Chocolate Torte Recipe

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 oz (155 g) shelled and peeled almonds
  • 5 1/2 oz (155 g) shelled walnuts, finely ground
  • 11 oz (310 g) semi-sweet chocolate (separated – 2/3 & 1/3)
  • 1 heaped teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 9 oz (255 g) butter
  • 3 1/2 oz (100 g) sugar
  • 6 large free-range eggs, separated
  • butter
  • cocoa powder
  • salt
  • powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375˚ F (190˚ C). Use butter to grease the bottom of an 8 to 10 inch spring-form pan before lining the bottom with a piece of parchment paper. Butter the paper and sides of the pan. Use cocoa powder to coat the greased pan.
  2. Place the almonds into a food processor and grind them until finely ground.
  3. Add the walnuts and continue processing until all are finely ground. (See Notes)
  4. Add a pinch of salt and 2/3 of the chocolate and process for 30 seconds. Remove the nut-chocolate mixture to a large mixing bowl.
  5. Add the butter and sugar to the food processor and run until the mixture is a pale yellow and fluffy.
  6. Add the egg yolks, one by one, and process until well-blended.
  7. Add the egg mixture to the bowl with the chocolate mixture and stir until well-combined.
  8. Add the egg whites to a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt.  Using a whisk, hand mixer, or stand mixer, beat the eggs until stiff peaks form. (See Notes)
  9. Take 1/3 of the beaten egg whites and fold them into the bowl with the eggs and chocolate. Once blended, add the remaining 2/3 of the egg whites and fold into the batter. Do not over mix. (See Notes)
  10. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
  11. Place the remaining chocolate chunks into the top of the torte’s batter. Press them slightly into the batter, though no need to cover them with batter.
  12. Bake on the center rack of a pre-heated oven for about an hour. After 55 minutes, use a knife to check to see if the torte is finished. Place the knife into the center, wait a few seconds, and remove. The blade should be relatively clean.
  13. Once cooled, remove from pan, invert to remove the paper, and place on a cake platter. Dust with powdered sugar.
  14. Serve as-is or with a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraîche.

This is a recipe from Jamie Oliver, The Naked Chef

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Oven Ready

Ready for the oven

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Notes

Be sure to keep an eye on your nuts when using the food processor or you may end up with almond-walnut butter.

To remove the almond skins: Add raw, shelled almonds to a small sauce pan filled with boiling water. Remove from the water after 3 minutes, placing the blanched nuts into an ice water bath. Strain and wipe dry. Squeeze each almond between your thumb and index finger to easily remove the skin.

This is how I beat egg whites:

  • Bring eggs to room temperature before separating. Be sure no yolk remains in the whites.
  • Place the whites in a mixing bowl. Whether whisking by hand or using a mixer, begin slowly at first. After about 30 seconds, continue beating at medium speed.
  • Once the eggs begin to color, beat at a higher rate until beaten to the recipe’s needs.

The beaten egg whites provide lift for this torte. If they aren’t folded into the batter correctly, the torte will not rise. Here’s a quick video demonstrating the proper technique for folding egg whites into batter.

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For the chocoholics among us

Make a simple ganache.

  1. Place 8 oz (225 g) of chocolate pieces in a heat-resistant bowl – use whatever type of chocolate you prefer
  2. Heat 10 oz (300 ml) of heavy cream to the point of boiling.
  3. Pour the heated cream over the chocolate and let sit for a couple of minutes before stirring until smooth. As it cools, the ganache will thicken.
  4. If you prefer your ganache to be flavored, once the ganache is fully mixed, add 2 or more tbsp of:
      * Framboise for raspberry flavoring;
      * Grand Marnier or Cointreau for orange;
      * Amaretto for almond; or
      * Kahlúa for coffee.
  5. Either pour the ganache over the entire cake or each piece as it is served.

I usually make half the amount listed here and store the remainder in a sealed container in the fridge. I’ve no idea how long it will last because kitchen elves snack on it until it’s gone, usually within 48 hours — within 72 hours when Girl Scout cookies are atop the counter.

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Chocolate Chocolate Torte

As John wanted

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Carnivale ends today in Italy, as it does round the World. In the days leading up to Ash fiocchetti1Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, celebrations of all kinds take place, each with its own particular sweets and confections. In New Orleans, it’s King Cake. In Chicago, it’s fried donuts called Paczkis. In the Bartolini kitchens, it was fiocchetti, which we called angel wings. These fried dough crisps, in one form or another, are made throughout Italy this time of year and go by a number of names. You can learn how to make them just by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Pork Tenderloin - Plums 1

Pork Tenderloin with Plum Sauce

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See Quince? Make Jam First Then Jelly

OK. I’ll admit it. I didn’t know a thing about quince. I certainly didn’t hear about them while growing up, let alone see any of them. When I finally did see one, not all that long ago, I thought it to be a very odd-looking apple — and expensive, at that.

Things began to change, however, once I started blogging. Every Fall, quince jelly recipes began to circulate. Then, last August, my friend Celia posted her recipe for making quince jelly on her wonderful blog Fig Jam And Lime Cordial. (If you’re not familiar with her posts, this is your chance. Celia’s blog is one that has a little something for everyone and all of it good.) At the time, I told her that I wanted to make some and would let her know when I did. So, “Hey, Celia! I made quince jam & jelly!”

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Quince 1

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Once I purchased the quince, I searched for a recipe. Since quince has a high level of pectin within it, I decided to go without adding any more. This, unfortunately, ruled out Celia’s recipe. (Sorry, Celia.) I soon learned that the web is full of quince recipes, all pretty much the same. Quince, sugar, lemon juice, and water combine to eventually produce jelly. Well, I like jelly but I prefer jam. Looking a little further, I came upon a recipe that suited my needs. I settled on a Greek recipe for quince jam called Marmalatha Kythoni. Unlike all others, this one had 2 things going for it.

In the first place, the recipe gave a ratio of quince to sugar (2:1). This is so much more convenient than stating that 1 quart of quince is required. Just how many quince does it take to make a quart? With this ratio, you just buy the quince, peel, core, chop, and then weigh them. Whatever the weight, you’ll need half that amount in sugar. (You’ll note that in the recipe, I stated the quince amount in ounces (grams) to make the math easier.)

Secondly, water used to boil the quince in this recipe may be used to make quince jelly. Granted, you won’t be making a lot but you will get a little over a cup for your efforts. The same ratio (2:1) applies when making jelly, too. The difference being in this case, you use measures and not weight. So, I had 4 cups of quince liquid and used 2 cups of sugar to make a pint of jelly. It could not be easier.

The amount of lemon juice to be used is up to you. I like things a little tart, so, I added both lemon juice and zest when making the jam. For the jelly, I used lemon juice only. It’s my “control” and I’ll taste the jelly to determine whether I overdid the lemon when making the jam.

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Quince Jam 3

*     *     *

Quince Jam Recipe

Ingredients

  • 52 oz (1474 g) quince, peeled, cored, and chopped (see Notes)
  • 26 oz (737 g) sugar
  • 1.25 cups (300 ml) water, divided
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

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Quince Jam 2

*     *     *

Directions

  1. Place chopped quince in a large pot with a lid and add enough water to cover (see Notes). Place the lid on the pot and bring to a hard boil over high heat. Reduce to medium heat and continue to simmer for 30 minutes. Keep covered, shut off the heat, and let sit for another 30 minutes.
  2. Strain, reserving the liquid for the Quince Jelly Recipe, and place the chunks in a food processor, along with 1/4 cup (60 ml) of water.  Process until the quince is the consistency you prefer.
  3. Place the now-processed quince in a thick bottomed sauce pan along with the sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Bring to a boil over med-high heat before reducing to medium and simmer, stirring almost constantly to prevent scorching.
  4. Continue to simmer and stir until the jam is the consistency you prefer, from 30 to 60 minutes, maybe longer.
  5. Place jam in still hot, sterilized jars, place lids and seal — though not quite as tight as you can.
  6. Place jars on a rack in a boiling water bath deep enough so that there’s at least 1 inch of water over the top of the tallest jar. When the boil returns, process for 10 minutes.
  7. Remove jars from the pot and place on a baking sheet or counter, out of drafts. Be sure to cover the surface with a cloth to prevent the hot jars from shattering when they touch a cold surface. Do not move for at least 12 hours, though 24 is best, to give the jars a chance to seal and the jam to fully set.
  8. Preserved quince jam will keep for one year, though some degradation of taste and color may begin to occur after 6 months.  Best to enjoy your jam before that. (Source: Pick Your Own)

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Quince Jelly 3

*     *     *

Quince Jelly Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 cups (1000 ml) quince water reserved when making quince jam, recipe above.
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

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Quince Jelly 1

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Directions

  1. Place the reserved liquid, sugar, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan over high heat.
  2. Stir constantly until the liquid reduces by about 2/3, developing a syrupy consistency. (it took mine about 40 minutes.)
  3. Use a large spoon to quickly remove any foam before filling the still-hot, sterile jars to 1/4 inch from the top. Follow canning instructions listed in the Quince Jam Recipe above, processing this jelly for 5 minutes in the hot water bath.
  4. Store jelly on a cool, dark shelf.

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Quince & Queso Manchego

Crostini with Quince Jam & Queso Manchego

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Notes

It took 8 quince that, after peeling, coring, and chopping, rendered the 26 oz used in the Jam recipe.

It is best to use ripe quince for this recipe. To check for ripeness, sniff either end of the fruit. Ripe quince will have a floral scent.

When cut, quince will brown. To prevent this, place the pieces in a large bowl of water. When ready to start cooking the quince, I used this water to cover the pieces in the pot, as indicated in step 1 of the Jam recipe.

If you plan to make jelly using the cooking liquid, you will need to strain it through a few layers of cheesecloth or, if none is available, muslin or coffee filters will work, too.

As you can see in the pictures, my jam is lighter than most. Granted, it darkened a bit as it cooked but never reached the deep color that I associate with quince jam. I was a bit concerned until I compared mine to the photos accompanying the original recipe. In that light, mine is quite similar to the original. Whew! My guess is that this jam recipe doesn’t cook the quince as long as the others, and that deep pink color needs a long cooking time to develop. As it was, my jam was thick enough that I had no choice but to pull it off the heat.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Baccalà

With Christmas approaching fast, for the next few weeks I’ll devote this section to some of our favorite holiday recipes. To kick things off, I thought we’d take a look back to our traditional Christmas Eve dish, Baccalà alla Marchigianna. In this preparation baccalà, once rinsed and rehydrated, is cooked in a tomato sauce with potatoes. Serve it with a chunk of bread and you’ll forget all about Santa’s coming in a few hours — well, at least until you’ve cleaned your plate. You can learn how to make this flavorful dish just by clicking  HERE

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Uova da Raviolo - Preview

Uova da Raviolo

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Aunt Mary’s Apple Cake

Torta di Mele di Zia Mariolla

Apple Cake

This is one of the recipes I brought home with me following my last visit with Zia but its path to this blog is nowhere near as direct as that statement makes it sound.

While having coffee with Zia, I mentioned that I baked a wonderful apple cake two years ago but have since lost the recipe. Try as I might, I can neither find nor duplicate that cake. My story reminded Zia of a slice of cake she was once served at her Daughter-in-Law’s home. She complimented my Cousin and asked for the recipe. Surprisingly, the recipe came from the other side of my family, my beautiful Zia Mariolla, who’s married to my Dad’s youngest Brother, Zio Leo. I’ve no idea how the recipe got to my Cousin’s cookbook but, lucky for us, it found its way into mine.

Perhaps what I like most about this cake is that it isn’t overly sweet and, in that regard, its lack of icing is a big plus. If you or your guests prefer a dessert that’s not too sweet, than serve them a piece of Zia’s cake just as she intended, with a dusting of powdered sugar on top. If, however, someone at the table would prefer something a bit more sweet, then have I got the thing for you, a salted caramel sauce. Within this post, I’ve included the recipe for the sauce  and you’ll find it the perfect accompaniment for Zia’s cake. See? With or without the sauce, you really can have your cake and eat it, too.

Now, as for the recipe itself, the original doesn’t specify the kind of apples, raisins, nor nuts to be used. Having just visited the Honey Man in Michigan, I had fresh Cortland apples and black walnuts at my disposal. I used golden raisins simply because I had them on-hand. That’s it. The rest of the ingredients are quite common and you should have little trouble preparing this cake.

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On the road again …

I’m leaving for this year’s last visit with Zia. The Kitchens will be closed while I’m gone and will be re-opened on Wednesday, November 20th.

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Apple Cake -2

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Aunt Mary’s Apple Cake Recipe

Ingredients

Apple Cake

  • 1-3/4 c sugar
  • 3/4 c oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cup AP flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 or 5 Cortland apples, peeled, cored, sliced thin
  • 1 cup chopped black walnuts, divided — any nuts may be substituted
  • 1 cup golden raisins (pre-soak in warm water for 30 minutes)
  • confectioners sugar (optional)
  • salted caramel sauce for serving (optional)

Salted Caramel Sauce

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tbsp butter, cubed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, room temperature
  • 2 tsp kosher salt (see Notes)

Directions

To prepare the cake

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C).
  2. Place all ingredients — except apples, raisins, and nuts — in a large mixing bowl. Beat with a spoon until well-blended. Batter will be stiff.
  3. Add apples, raisins, and half the nuts to the bowl and stir till evenly distributed.
  4. Pour batter into a well-greased 9 X 13″ baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the remaining nuts.
  5. Bake in pre-heated 350˚ oven for 45 minutes. A toothpick inserted into center should be clean upon removal.
  6. Allow to cool before dusting with confectioners (powdered) sugar and serving.

To prepare the salted caramel sauce

  1. Pour the sugar into a medium sauce pan (see Notes) over med-high heat.
  2. Stir the sugar as it begins to melt and continue to do so until it begins to boil. Stop stirring the moment it begins to boil. (see Notes)
  3. Once boiling, look for it to change to an amber color. If necessary, swirl liquid in the pan but do not stir.
  4. Once the sugar has turned amber in color, reduce heat to medium, add the butter and whisk vigorously until melted and fully blended.
  5. Remove from heat, gradually add the cream, whisking all the while. Once blended, add the salt and continue to whisk until fully mixed.
  6. Set aside to cool for a few minutes before pouring into a sealable container for storage in the fridge, where it will keep for a couple of weeks.
  7. Warm before serving with your favorite dessert.

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Apple Cake Preview

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Notes

The recipe will prepare salted caramel sauce. If you’re not a fan of salted caramel, reduce the amount of salt used, but do not eliminate all of it. A bit of salt is usually recommended with sweet preparations. I’d suggest using 1/8 or 1/4 tsp instead of the amount listed in the recipe.

Be sure to use a large enough saucepan. The sugar will boil and could boil over if your pan is too small.

You may stir the sugar as it melts but must stop stirring the moment it begins to boil. Failure to do so may result in sugar crystals ruining the texture of the finished sauce. Once almost all the sugar is melted, it’s best to put away the spoon and swirl the pan’s contents until all is melted, boiling, and begins to turn amber-colored.

Do not, I repeat DO NOT catch a dropped spoon that was used to stir the melting sugar. I can tell you from personal experience that the momentary joy you may feel for actually catching something with your left hand will be obliterated by the searing pain that only sugar burns can deliver.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Lumache ShellsLast Saturday, All Souls’ Day was observed in a number of Christian churches. In Marche, where the Bartolini are from, it’s traditional to serve snails, lumache, on that day. Although my family never observed that custom, we did, on very rare occasions, prepare and serve lumache. If you’re interested in learning how it’s done, just click HERE

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Green Tomato Relish 3

Green Tomato Relish

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Today’s Jam is a Real Plum, Damson Plum with Cardamom

My poor Damson plums. Way back in September, I bought 2 overflowing quarts of the diminutive beauties, planning to make and freeze cobblers. Yum, right? Well, this was the Saturday before I was to leave for Michigan and, as luck would have it, there was no time for making cobbler before I left. No problem. I’d bring them to Michigan with me and make cobblers for Zia. The night before I was to leave, I placed the bag of plums on my dining table, along with some of the parts to my ice cream machine. A few hours later, I finished loading the car and left for Michigan. Once there, I realized I had left everything on the table. Poor Zia. She got neither cobbler nor ice cream during my last visit.

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Damson Plum Jam 2

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Upon my return home, as I unpacked the car I passed by that bag of plums a few times. I really wasn’t in any hurry to look inside, figuring it would be an unsightly mess, at best. So, once everything was unpacked, and with my laundry going, I decided to brave the bag and have a peek. Unbelievably, they were pretty much as I had left them. I dumped them into a colander and, though a few were smashed, none were spoilt. I discarded those that were smashed and rinsed the rest. Now, what to do with them?

Sadly, the cobbler idea had lost its appeal. Having brought home plenty of apples, there were pies and apple cake (recipe forthcoming) in my future and I just wasn’t interested in making cobbler anymore. (A decision I’m sure to regret this Winter.) That meant my long-neglected plums would be used to make jam.

Damson plums are smaller than others and their peel ranges from dark blue to black, some with a hint of deep purple. (Sorry, I forgot to photograph them fresh. See? Neglected.) The flesh is greenish-yellow and the pits adhere to that flesh, something you’ll need to consider when using them in a recipe. When it comes to taste, the flesh is somewhat sweet while the skin is a bit tart. For me, this makes Damson plums perfect for jam. Use a little sugar for a tart jam, more for a sweeter taste.

Today’s recipe is a basic jam and no pectin is required. The only questionable part is the addition of the cardamom pods. If you want, you can just toss them into the pot and fish them out of the plums when you remove the pits. Personally, I don’t like that method. It’s far too likely for one to slip past me and, guaranteed, it will be in a jar that I give to a friend or family member. I much prefer to tie the pods in cheesecloth before placing them in the pot. Depending upon how much cardamom flavor you like, the pod package can be put back into the pot after the plum pits have been removed, an option not available if your use the pods alone. Other than the use of the cardamom pods, you’ll find the recipe to be straight-forward.

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Damson Plum Jam - 1

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Damson Plum with Cardamom Jam Recipe

Ingredients

  • 36 oz. (1 kg) damson plums
  • 3 c sugar
  • 1 c water
  • 5 cardamom pods (refer to above commentary and Notes)
  • pinch of salt

Directions

  1. Rinse the plums, removing any stems in the process.
  2. Place the plums, cardamom pods, and water in a thick-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about an hour. Remove from heat and allow to cool to touch.
  3. Using your hands, squeeze each plum to remove the pit. Discard the pits as well as all the cardamom pods. Reserve everything else.
    1. Alternately, a food mill may be used to remove the pits and pods.
  4. Place the broken down plums back into the thick-bottomed pot. Add sugar, salt, and cook over medium to med-high heat until a temperature of 320˚ F (160˚ C) is reached.
  5. Test to see if jam is ready (See Notes).
  6. If your plums are jamming, place in sterile jars and seal.
    1. They may be refrigerated and will keep for about a month.
    2. They may be frozen and will keep up to a year. Once thawed, use within 3 weeks.
    3. If preserved/canned (see Notes), jam will keep up to a year if stored in a cool, dark place. Once opened, use within a month.
    4. Source: Home Center For Home Food Preservation
  7. Serve as you would your favorite jam and may be used to flavor roasts, particularly pork.

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Damson Plum Jam 4

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Notes

According to a number of sites, 5 cardamom pods would equal about 3/4 tsp of ground cardamom. I have not prepared this jam using ground cardamom, so, I’ve no idea whether it will have a stronger taste.

Though there are a few methods of testing to see if your fruit is jammin’, I prefer to use the plate test. While the fruit/berries are boiling on the stove top, place a dish in your freezer. When you think the jam is ready, take about a half-teaspoon of jam and place it on the now chilled plate. Allow the jam to rest a few minutes before using another spoon or your fingertip to see if the jam has set or is still too runny. If the latter, continue to simmer the jam while returning the plate to the freezer to await the next test.

Canning this jam is simple and not unlike other jams & jellies. Once the jam is ready, fill the sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Place lids on top of each jar, tightening until not quite as tight as possible. (I tighten mine fully and then unscrew the lid slightly.) Place each jar on a rack in a large pot of boiling water. Jars must not sit directly on the kettle bottom. Once the pot returns to the boil, begin timing. This jam will need to be processed (boiled) for 10 minutes, if using half-pint or smaller jars (235 ml or smaller). After 10 minutes, remove jars to a cloth-covered counter or baking sheet, away from any drafts. Do not move for at least 12 hours — 24 hours is best — so that the jars fully seal and the jam sets.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Roast Loin of Pork

Roast Loin of Pork

When our temperatures start to drop, I begin to think of preparing roasts for dinner. The oven brings welcome warmth to the kitchen and my house soon fills with the heavenly aroma of a roast in that oven. About a year ago, I posted a recipe for roast loin of pork that was butterflied, slathered with fig preserves and wrapped in pancetta before roasting. The result was a dinner fit for a holiday. You can see the recipe, along with step-by-step instructions, by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Roasted Arctic Char 3

 Roasted Arctic Char

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Blueberry-Lemon Slice

Blueberry-Lemon Slice

As many of you know, I spend some of my spare time watching a variety of cooking shows. (Note that I didn’t say the Food Network. Since they’ve gone to the dark side of broadcasting — a.k.a. “reality” TV — I watch that network far less.) Since I can not always watch them when broadcast, many of these programs end up recorded on my DVR. Then, on some rainy day or sleepless night, I’ll clear my DVR of these recordings, zipping through the programs hoping that something will catch my eye. That’s how I found today’s recipe and it was quite a catch, even if I do say so myself.

If you’re at all like me, you enjoy the combination of blueberry and lemon flavors. After all, a blueberry muffin without a hint of lemon is just a muffin. These slices have an abundance of both ingredients and the result is one delicious treat. It’s ridiculously easy to prepare and there are no exotic nor hard-to-find ingredients. If you don’t have fresh blueberries, go ahead and use frozen. In fact, I always buy and freeze blueberries at the peak of their season, so, that I can enjoy blueberry pie when the cold weather hits. This Winter I’ll have a slice, too. If you try this recipe, I bet I won’t be the only one.

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Blueberry-Lemon Slice Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose (AP) flour
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp water
  • zest & juice of 1 lemon
  • 10 tbsp butter, cubed and placed in freezer for about 30 minutes
  • 3 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen may be used
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • pinch of salt

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Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F (177˚ C)
  2. Place flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest in a food processor. Process the ingredients till thoroughly mixed. Add the egg mixture and continue to whirl until combined.
  3. Place the very chilled butter cubes into the food processor. Pulse the ingredients, repeatedly, until the mixture looks like little pearls,
  4. Reserve 2 cups of the crumble mixture and use the rest to cover a greased 9 X 9″ baking dish. Press it down to form a crust.
  5. Meanwhile, place the blueberries, remaining sugar, lemon juice, corn starch, and a pinch of salt into a large bowl. Gently stir until everything is evenly coated.
  6. Once the bottom crust has been formed in the baking dish, pour the blueberries into the baking dish, covering the crust.
  7. Use the reserved crumble to cover the blueberries.
  8. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 35 to 45 minutes. Blueberries should be soft and the crumble browned to your satisfaction.
  9. Allow to cool and set before cutting into squares.
  10. Serve as-is or with optional Lemon Cream & Limoncello Syrup. (See Notes)

Inspired by Clinton Kelly’s Blueberry Pucker Bars, on The Chew

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Blueberry-Lemon Slice

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Notes …

The sharp-eyed among you may notice that I used an 8 X 8″ baking dish and not the 9 X 9″ dish indicated in the recipe. My 9 X 9″ dish met an untimely end when it crashed into the floor. It was empty, thankfully.

Although I’ve never done so, it’s suggested these slices be served with a Lemon Cream & Limoncello Syrup. Here’s that recipe, also from The Chew:

Ingredients

1 cup limoncello
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup lemon curd

Directions

  1. In a small sauce pan over medium heat, reduce limoncello by half. Refrigerate until well-chilled.
  2. Meanwhile, whip together heavy cream with sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold in lemon curd.
  3. When ready to serve, place a dollop of the lemon cream mixture atop each slice, accompanied by a drizzle of the limoncello reduction.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

PuffballBack in our part of Michigan, it’s puffball season. Well, it’s supposed to be but you never really know until your find them. Sometime during October, these large, oblong-shaped funghi appear in areas that are mostly shaded from the sun. Up until a few years ago, 1 to 3 of them could be found behind Zia’s garage. Now, for reasons known only to Mother Nature, they’ve moved to its side. You needn’t worry about that, though, for you can find some, as well as learn how to prepare them,  by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Preview

Something Special to Commemorate Columbus Day

Octopus

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