Miz Chef

Cooking Up a Healthy Life


Leave a comment

Pignoccata al Miele (Honey Cookies)

Calabria

Welcome back to my Regions of Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine).

This week, I stepped away from the middle of the list back toward the beginning, to Calabria, for this sweet treat, Pignoccata al Miele, or Honey Cookies.

As usual, I made some adjustments to the ingredients (for example, I substituted butter for the called-for lard) and the instructions. Most particularly, the original recipe instructed to roll out the dough ½ inch thick. I found this to be too thick when cooked. Not only did the outside cook far too quickly while the inside remained raw, it also resulted in a denser, heavier cookie. So I would go with ¼ inch thick on the dough. At ½ inch thick, it yielded 64 cookies; it will, of course, yield more if you roll it out at ¼ inch.

In the end, these treats reminded me a lot of struffoli, except that they’re square instead of round. The cooking process is the same, the flavor profile is the same, and the texture is the same. (If you don’t know what struffoli are, they’re a traditional holiday treat made up of dough cut up into little balls or nuggets and dropped in oil. Then they’re drizzled with honey and decorated with sprinkles and/or candied fruit.)

Two things I want to note: I thought these cookies were a little too sweet. If that’s your thing, fine. But if, like me, you prefer things not cloying, eliminate the sugar in the honey mixture.

Enjoy.

Pignoccata al Miele

Honey Cookies

2 oranges
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
½ cup orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or Triple Sec)
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Cooking oil
3 tablespoons honey

Grate the zest of one orange. Peel the second orange and cut the peel into strips about ½ inch thick. (Use the flesh of the oranges for something else, or eat it!)

Whisk together the flour, 2/3 cup sugar, yeast, cinnamon, and salt. Add the liqueur and grated zest. Whisk these together to blend. With an electric mixer, combine this mixture with the eggs, melted butter, and softened butter until a dough forms.

Cover the bowl with a cloth and let the dough rise for 1 hour.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Roll it out into a sheet (I recommend ¼ inch thick), then cut it into 1-inch squares.Heat about 3 inches of cooking oil in a heavy-bottomed pot. Line a platter with paper towels and set it by the stove.When the oil is very hot, place a few of the squares into the oil and fry until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and drain them on the paper towels. Repeat this until all the cookies are cooked.Heat the honey with 1 tablespoon sugar (if using) and orange peel in a large skillet. Add the fried squares and stir them around to soak up the honey (do this in multiple batches if necessary).Arrange on a serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature.

 


Leave a comment

Palline di Castagne

Campania

Hello again. Thanks for coming back to see where I am in my 20 Regions of Italy project, based on the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine).

Again, I’m going to take a step back from Emilia-Romagna to Campania. This time, I made Palline di Castagne, or Chestnut Balls. They resemble chocolate truffles in appearance, but have a unique flavor.

I must say that some recipes benefit from a test run and a re-do, and this is one of those recipes, because the first batch I made was inedible, while the second batch was really good and worthy of serving to guests. But I did make one very important modification.

The recipe calls for 1 cup milk, which, as I discovered, was way too much. The resulting confections were much too wet. So much so that they couldn’t be rolled out into smooth balls, and the texture was very off-putting. I must confess that I made half the recipe (in other words, I used ½ cup milk). The ingredients are few enough and simple enough that halving the recipe wasn’t a problem, but I have to wonder if, somehow, it affected the end product. However, I don’t think this was the case. What I did with the second batch was to add a little bit of milk, a little at a time, just until the ingredients held together. In total, I used maybe a couple of tablespoons.

Here’s my personal tip: The original recipe says to pass the cooked chestnuts through a sieve. I tried this method and found that, because of their texture, some of the chestnuts gets trapped in the mesh of the strainer. I found it to be both messy and wasteful. Then I tried grating it, and the result was pretty much the same, if not worse. I found that using a food processor works best. It does the job quickly, with minimal mess, and the least amount of waste. It may not be traditional, but it’s the most effective.

I’m giving half the recipe here because it made 28, and I feel that’s a good number of confections to make. Of course, if you want to make a full batch, just double everything. But be careful with that milk!

Palline di Castagne

Chestnut Balls

Makes 28.

1 pound chestnuts
2½ tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon bitter cocoa powder
2 tablespoons rum or Marsala wine
¼ cup whole milk

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Using a paring knife, cut an “x” in the flat sides of the chestnuts, or cut a little flap in the top part of the chestnuts. Place the chestnuts in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring the pot to a boil; lower the heat and simmer until the chestnuts are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and let them cool. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel them.Pulverize them either by passing them through a mesh sieve, grating them, or pulsing them in a food processor. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl.Add the sugar, cocoa power, and rum or Marsala and stir. Begin adding the milk a little at a time just until the mixture holds together. Mix well.Spread the confectioners’ sugar out on a plate.

Take a tablespoon of the mixture and roll it into a ball. Make a few more and place them in the sugar. Roll them around to coat them fully and place them on a platter. Repeat with the remaining mixture.Arrange them on a plate and serve. You can make these a day or two ahead of time, but wait until the last minute to roll them in the sugar because the sugar will eventually melt.


Leave a comment

Pesche Ripiene–Stuffed Peaches

09

Emilia Romagna

Hello again. Welcome back to my Regions Italy project, based on La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). This week on our journey, we stop in Emilia-Romagna, in northern Italy. The capital of Emilia-Romagna is the well-known city of Bologna, but it’s also home to Modena, which is best known as the place of origin of balsamic vinegar. The recipe I have for you today come, in fact, from that city of black gold (balsamic, that is).

The technical aspects of this recipe weren’t too bad, but there were a couple of points that made me scratch my head. The first thing was the bread. The original recipe called for the “bread of 1 roll soaked in milk and squeezed dry.” What kind of roll? How big? Crust included or just the crumb? How much milk? My conclusions are in the recipe below.

The second thing was in the instructions where it said to whip the egg whites and fold it into the mixture. Well, whip them to what stage? Soft peaks? Stiff peaks? Just until thickened? In the end, I went with soft peaks.

The headnote on this recipe says that in place of the almonds, you can use finely crushed amaretti, which are Italian almond cookies. I haven’t tried this alternative yet, but I’ll bet it’s even better than the original.

Pesche Ripiene

Stuffed Peaches

1 hero roll
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 large ripe peaches
3 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 cup blanched almonds, finely ground, or 1¼ cup almond flour
Confectioners’ sugar

Remove the crumb from the hero and place it in a bowl. Pour the milk over it and let it soak about 5 minutes.(I used the crust as well, but only because it was really soft.)Place the bread in a mesh strainer and press it with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula and squeeze out as much milk as possible.Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Grease a large baking sheet or casserole with the butter.

Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits. Scoop out as much of the flesh as you can, leaving a thin layer, so that you get a shell. Depending on how ripe your peaches are, this may be more or less difficult. If the peaches are very ripe and mushy and you can easily scoop it out with a spoon, then just put the pulp in a bowl. If you have to use a paring knife and the flesh is still solid, place the flesh in a food processor or blender (a mini would be perfect here!). Process until it’s mostly pureed, then transfer it to a bowl.Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and thick, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add this to the peach pulp. Add the drained bread and almond flour. Mix well.Whip the egg whites until soft peaks form, about 4 to 5 minutes. Fold it into the peach mixture.Fill each peach shell with the filling and place them on the baking sheet. Bake until peaches are tender and filling is somewhat firm, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Let them cool slightly. Dust them with confectioners’ sugar and serve warm.

 

 

 


Leave a comment

Ossi di Morti

Basilicata

Welcome back to my Regions of Italy project, based on the recipes of the book La Cucina—The Regional Cooking of Italy by Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). This week I’m still in the home of my family, Basilicata, which is a gorgeous, mountainous region that sits on the “sole” of the boot of Italy.

This recipe is for cookies called Ossa di Morti, or Bones of the Dead. Traditionally made on the Day of Dead, November 2, they are usually meant to resemble bones; however, this recipe instructs that the cookies be shaped into figure 8s, so that’s what I did. But I get the feeling that I didn’t quite get what they were trying to convey.

As I made them, it seemed to me like they were a variation of taralli. One of the reasons I thought they were supposed to be like taralli is that the recipe calls for boiling the dough before baking them, which is what you do to make taralli, pretzels, and other similar snacks. But once I had the finished product, I realized that they weren’t meant to be anything like taralli. They’re too sweet to be taralli, yet the texture wasn’t quite that of a cookie. Furthermore, I did a little research (which I wish I’d done before I made these), they’re usually shaped more like bones (which, of course, makes sense). Continue reading


Leave a comment

Chieti Cookies

Abruzzo

This is the third recipe in my Regions of Italy project. It’s a cookie that comes from the town of Chieti in Abruzzo. It is unique in that it calls for dry red wine.

I really want to say that these cookies are awesome. Unfortunately, this recipe was a complete disaster right from the start. Here’s why.

The original recipe said to make a well with flour, and in the well, to put sugar, oil, and salt. Then, you start adding wine to form an elastic dough. This couldn’t possibly make an elastic dough because it’s basically a sugar cookie. There’s no yeast, no rising, no kneading involved. Bread dough is elastic. Pizza dough is elastic. Cookie dough is not elastic. But I thought, maybe they just used the wrong word in the translation. What they really wanted to say, I surmised, was a dough that comes together, that stays together as a whole. Continue reading


Leave a comment

Cream Cheese-Peanut Butter Wafer Sandwiches

Dessert sandwiches are so much fun to eat. Proof of this is the popularity of ice cream sandwiches, for which the wafers I use here were intended. The wafers are like ice cream cones, only flat. However, you can use them in many different ways.

I decided to try an unusual combination of cream cheese and peanut butter for the filling. It’s extremely easy and delicious, if not low-calorie. While I used regular, dairy cream cheese, you can substitute vegan cream cheese. And if peanuts are a problem for you, substitute almond or cashew butter. Adults and kids alike will love this.

Enjoy!

Cream Cheese-Peanut Butter Wafer Sandwiches

Makes 3 sandwiches.

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup peanut butter (or almond or cashew butter)
2 tablespoons maple sugar
8 oz. chocolate, melted
6 (5-inch) wafers
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachios

With an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese, peanut butter, and maple sugar until well blended. Set aside.In a double boiler or non-aluminum bowl set over a small pot, melt the chocolate over simmering water.Set a wafer on a flat surface.

Spread ½ cup of the cream cheese filling over it. Top it with another wafer. Repeat this twice.Drizzle chocolate over each sandwich, then top each with a tablespoon of the pistachios.


Leave a comment

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

What is it about chocolate-covered strawberries that makes them the perfect St. Valentine’s Day delicacy?

Chocolate is the perfect treat for any special occasion, because it, itself, is special. But it’s particularly popular for Valentine’s Day because, as you may know, it’s an aphrodisiac.

You can cover many things in chocolate but why strawberries? Well, just look at them. They’re red (which represents love and passion), they’re sweet, and they’re luscious-looking.

And, finally, the combination is so incredibly delicious and decadent.

And they’re not as fattening as you might think. If you use dark chocolate, it’s only 57 calories for half an ounce of chocolate and one large strawberry (not including toppings).

Best of all, they’re not as difficult to make as they might seem. In fact, apart from any toppings you put on them, the recipe requires only two ingredients…wait for it…can you guess? Strawberries and chocolate!

Make some for your sweetie, or anyone you care about. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

12 large strawberries
4 oz. good-quality dark chocolate
Colored sugar, chopped nuts, or decorating items (crushed candy, jimmies, sprinkles, crushed white chocolate, etc.), optional

Line a sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and set aside. (I used a cooling rack as well, but it isn’t necessary.)

Wash the strawberries (preferably using a vegetable wash), and set them on a towel. Pat them gently to absorb excess water, then let them sit to fully dry. Do not remove the husks.

Place the chocolate in the top part of a double boiler (or in a non-aluminum bowl set over a pot). Bring an inch or 2 of water to a boil in the bottom pot, then lower the heat to a simmer. Place the chocolate over the simmering water and let it melt. Stir it gently once in a while. When the chocolate has all melted, give it a gentle stir and turn off the heat.

Using the husks to help you, dip a strawberry into the chocolate and rotate it to cover it all. Let the excess chocolate drip off back into the pot. Rest the strawberry on the wax or parchment paper. Coat a few more strawberries and decorate them (before the chocolate hardens). Continue coating and decorating the rest of the strawberries.

Store tightly sealed in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


1 Comment

Delicious Date-Nut Bread

Date-nut Bread is a classic winter holiday treat. In fact, it’s become so popular that December 22 is National Date-Nut Bread Day.

Okay, so it’s January, but the cold winter weather continues to call for hearty, comforting foods, and date-nut bread definitely falls into that category.

Dates originated in the Middle East, and they play a huge role in the cuisines from that part of the world. They made their way to the U.S. via the Spaniards, who were introduced to them by the Moors. They are now a popular crop in California.

The word “date” is derived from a Greek word (dáchtylo), which means “finger.” Dates have been shown to help with constipation; promote bone health and ward off osteoporosis; and aid in intestinal disorders, heart problems, anemia, sexual dysfunctions, as well other health issues. They’re a good source of fiber, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. They also contain thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin K. They’re also a great source of energy, so if you’re doing any kind of physical activity, dates are a great thing to add to your snack pack. Be aware, though, that dates contain a fair amount of sugar, so you don’t want to overdo them, unless you plan on burning them off.

Enjoy date-nut bread for breakfast or a snack, by itself, toasted with butter, or with jam, honey, maple syrup, or anything else you like.

Enjoy!

Date-Nut Bread

2 cups chopped dates
1½ teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

Grease an 8×10-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Place the dates and baking soda in a small bowl and cover them with 1 cup boiling water. Stir. Let them sit until they cool down.In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, allspice, and salt.Add the flour and dates (including the water), and mix with a wooden spoon. Gently stir in the walnuts.Transfer the mixture to the loaf pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.Cool the loaf on a cooling rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn out the bread onto the rack and cool completely.Store the loaf wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator up to 5 days.


Leave a comment

Triple-Flavor Ice Cream Cake with Gluten-Free Cookies

IMG_6127

What do you do when you have a birthday lunch or dinner to go to, and one of the people going has Celiac Disease and can’t have regular cake, but it’s 100 degrees F out and the thought of turning on the oven to bake a gluten-free cake makes you want to cry?

You make an ice cream cake.

Make an ice cream cake? Why not just buy an ice cream cake, you ask.

Well, let me explain it to you this way. I come from an Italian family. My father loves telling stories about how when he was a boy, he would go up into the mountains in his hometown in Italy and pick fresh chestnuts and eat them until he got sick, and how he remembers the cheeses and curing meats hanging in the kitchen of his family home. I have a mother whose idea of a simple meal consists of a minimum of six different dishes—for the second course, mind you—and for whom a “quick” sauce means opening up a jar of home-canned tomatoes. So, you see, buying a Shop Rite ice cream cake won’t do. Even Cookie Puss wouldn’t be able to charm his way onto my parents’ table.

Anyway, back to the cake. I drew the line at making the ice cream from scratch, so I went out and bought three different flavors: white chocolate raspberry truffle, coffee caramel, and pineapple coconut.

I also bought gluten-free cookies, which I crushed to put in between the layers. Each flavor of ice cream was different layer, with the cookies in between.

The end result was a very attractive and definitely delicious dessert that was simple to make and let the house stay unbaked in the middle of summer. Huge plus. Continue reading


2 Comments

Cranberry Bread

IMG_5651

Do you still have cranberry sauce leftover from Thanksgiving? I’ll bet many of you do. Maybe it’s a stray can hanging out in the pantry, or it’s a cup or so in the fridge that you haven’t been able to bring yourself to throw out. That’s okay—cranberry sauce lasts a long time in the refrigerator, but at this point, use it or lose it.

There are many things you can do with leftover cranberry sauce, but making a loaf is one of my favorites. (This is a wheat-free version, but it has spelt flour, so if you have—or are making it for someone with—Celiac disease, this isn’t the right recipe for you. It also contains soy flour, so if you’re avoiding soy, again, this isn’t right for you.)

This is not overly sweet, so it makes a nice breakfast loaf, toasted with some butter or jam. But it’s got enough sweetness and crunch from the walnuts (if you want to use them) that it makes a great snack with an extra dollop of cranberry sauce.Pilcrow & Dagger Cover

I’m happy to say that another version of this loaf (not gluten free) appears in the holiday issue of the literary magazine Pilcrow & Dagger, along with my recipe for homemade cranberry sauce. Check out a sneak preview HERE. And if you’re interested in purchasing a copy, you can do so HERE.

So, rescue that leftover cranberry sauce and make this tasty loaf and enjoy.

I hope you all had a wonderful, joyful holiday season, and may 2016 bring happiness and success, whatever that means for you.

Cranberry Bread

Makes 1 (8 x 4) loaf.

1 cup spelt flour
1 cup soy flour
¾ cup chickpea flour
¼ cup rice flour
½ cup sugar or maple crystals
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 medium eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup cranberry sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 8 x 4-inch loaf pan (or line is with parchment paper).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and salt.IMG_5633In a small bowl, mix together eggs, buttermilk, coconut oil, and ¼ cup water.IMG_5634Mix this into the flour mixture just until all dry ingredients are moistened. If it seems dry, add a bit more water.IMG_5635

IMG_5636Stir in the walnuts, if you’re using them, then stir in the cranberry sauce, but don’t mix it in completely—just run it through.IMG_5639Spoon the batter into the loaf pan. Bake until golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out fairly clean, about 45 to 50 minutes. Some moist cranberry on the knife is okay.

If the loaf starts getting very dark or starts burn around the edges but the loaf isn’t done, cover it with a piece of foil and continue baking.IMG_5645Set pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Turn loaf out onto the rack. Serve warm or cool completely.IMG_5646

IMG_5654