Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Beginning a New Decade--YES!!

"Ten in 10"
I'm not wishing away my time, but I am so ready to wave bye-bye to the first decade of the 21st century! As I told my son's principal when we finished 3rd grade with a horrible teacher (we prayed for her every night), OK--we made it through, but please don't ask me to put up with crap like that again.
Whatever comes, I'll deal. My plan is to be better prepared personally and I've already begun.
There are many, many books, blogs, programs out there to help us get a better start, but I found one that really appealed to me. 'Ten in 10' from The Recipe Girl:
This isn't about things that will magically happen overnight, when the calendar turns to January 1st. It's about making a personal plan to become a healthier person in 2010, and taking the first ten weeks to work on ourselves. Ten weeks is not too long--it's not too short--it's just right! So, come on Goldilocks, let's get started!
Check out the website, and then work on your own thoughts.
Here are mine:
There are a ton of ideas out there about beginning the New Year with a plan...but your Ten in 10 idea really appeals to me for several reasons. First, it's not an 'all or nothing' sort of attitude. I really believe life changes happen gradually, and while I'd like things to be different TODAY, I know that's not going to happen. Also, Ten Weeks is a good amount of time to really implement good changes...make them become good habits, and hopefully a real part of 'the rest of our lives'. But it's also not an overwhelmingly long amount of time. My first thought was, 'Yes! I can devote ten weeks to making changes that will improve the rest of my life.'

So, I'm Annelle Williams, Martinsville, Virginia. Sixty years old with high blood pressure, high cholesterol (both controlled by meds), twenty pounds overweight, and family history that says: lose the weight and move more!
My passion is cooking...I'm a retired pharmacist, wannabe really good cook! And I also enjoy writing about it all.
I play tennis a couple of times a it! But need to add a good doggie walk every day (for me and the dog!)
I've tried to convert to healthy cook, but that did not satisfy, or interest me...I'm sorry!
I love to use fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, but I also love meat, cheese, butter, sauces, olive oil, fresh pasta, homemade breads---good food.
My plan is: 1) Write everything down in a food diary. My sweet daughter-in-law who is very successful with a healthy lifestyle taught me the importance of the food diary. She also taught me about working out, but that lesson didn't stick quite as well as the diary. Now we're going to do yoga, which is very appealing to me!
2) Get control of portions, with more fruits and vegetables, less meat, bread and pasta.
3) Take the dog for a walk every day.
4) Incorporate yoga classes.
That's it for now, but I like holding the thought that I can change as I go.
I'll keep you posted on my progress.
If you're interested, check out The Recipe Girl--I think you'll like her!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Our Favorite Holiday Cake

Spiced Pumpkin Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
My daughter spotted this cake in the November Bon Appetit and baked it for our Thanksgiving Feast. It was such a hit that we requested another for Christmas, and then I baked a couple as Christmas gifts.
It's an amazingly easy cake, very moist, with a taste that leaves you wondering...

Note: I had to double the frosting recipe to have enough icing for four layers, and I used Pecans* rather than walnuts to decorate.

Bon Appétit | November 2009

by Carolyn Beth Well

Chinese five-spice powder adds a complex, spicy note to this cake.

Yield: Makes 12 servings


Nonstick vegetable oil spray

3 cups all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder*

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups (packed) golden brown sugar

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin

1/3 cup whole milk


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature

1 tablespoon finely grated orange peel

2 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Chopped walnuts or walnut halves, toasted

For cake:

Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 350°F. Spray two 9-inch cake pans with 1 1/2-inch sides with nonstick spray. Line bottoms with parchment; spray parchment.

Whisk flour and next 4 ingredients in large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in another large bowl until smooth. Beat in brown sugar. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat in pumpkin. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 additions alternately with milk in 2 additions, beating to blend between additions. Divide batter between pans.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool in pans on rack 15 minutes. Run knife around cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto racks. Remove parchment. Using tart pan bottom as aid, turn cakes over onto racks, top sides up, and cool completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap cakes in plastic and store at room temperature.

For frosting:

Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until smooth. Add cream cheese and orange peel; beat until smooth. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until smooth.

Trim rounded tops from cakes. Using long serrated knife, cut each cake horizontally in half. Place 1 cake layer, cut side up, on large platter. Spoon 2/3 cup frosting atop cake in dollops; spread to edges. Repeat 2 more times with cake and frosting; top with remaining cake layer, cut side down. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake (layer will be thin). DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover with cake dome; chill. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.

Decorate cake with walnuts and serve.

*Sweet Toasted Pecans (Martha Stewart)

1 pound unsalted pecans

3 tablespoons butter, melted

4 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon light-brown sugar

1 teaspoon coarse salt


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine. Spread nut mixture in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a nonstick baking mat. Bake, stirring frequently, until browned, 12 to 15 minutes; let cool. Pecans can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container up one week.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Daring Baker's Gingerbread Tale

Memories of Gingerbread Town

It was a humble home, filled with love, and always an extra crumb or two for hungry friends or strangers. We welcomed the stray birds, animals and even the poor snowmen who were alone and forgotten after a few days of fun and frolic.
Peace and harmony reigned in Gingerbread Town. One for all, and all for one was our motto.
Sadly, it was our very own goodwill that put an end to our little town.
As time went by, more and more strangers wandered in, hungry for just a bite--a crumb from roof timbers, a smidgen from the door. Over the years the little house became drafty as cracks turned into large holes, and the roof began to slide--one thing lead to another, and finally it all fell DOWN!

There is a good side to this story. After our home fell, we all moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and became huge music stars!
All's well that ends well!

Anna's Recipe:
Spicy Gingerbread Dough (from Good Housekeeping)

2 1/2 cups (500g) packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups (360mL) heavy cream or whipping cream
1 1/4 cups (425g) molasses
9 1/2 cups (1663g) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoon(s) baking soda
1 tablespoon(s) ground ginger


1. In very large bowl, with wire whisk (or with an electric mixer), beat brown sugar, cream, and molasses until sugar lumps dissolve and mixture is smooth. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and ginger. With spoon, stir flour mixture into cream mixture in 3 additions until dough is too stiff to stir, then knead with hands until flour is incorporated and dough is smooth.

2. Divide dough into 4 equal portions; flatten each into a disk to speed chilling. Wrap each disk well with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, until dough is firm enough to roll.

3. Grease and flour large cookie sheets (17-inch by 14-inch/43x36cm)

4. Roll out dough, 1 disk at a time on each cookie sheet to about 3/16-inch thickness. (Placing 3/16-inch dowels or rulers on either side of dough to use as a guide will help roll dough to uniform thickness.)

5. Trim excess dough from cookie sheet; wrap and reserve in refrigerator. Chill rolled dough on cookie sheet in refrigerator or freezer at least 10 minutes or until firm enough to cut easily.

6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (149C)

7. Use chilled rolled dough, floured poster board patterns, and sharp paring knife to cut all house pieces on cookie sheet, making sure to leave at least 1 1/4 inches between pieces because dough will expand slightly during baking. Wrap and reserve trimmings in refrigerator. Combine and use trimmings as necessary to complete house and other decorative pieces. Cut and bake large pieces and small pieces separately.

8. Chill for 10 minutes before baking if the dough seems really soft after you cut it. This will discourage too much spreading/warping of the shapes you cut.

9. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until pieces are firm to the touch. Do not overbake; pieces will be too crisp to trim to proper size.

10. Remove cookie sheet from oven. While house pieces are still warm, place poster-board patterns on top and use them as guides to trim shapes to match if necessary. Cool pieces completely before attempting to assemble the house.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ricchiarelli for The Cookie Crawl

Well, it's official! If they say it on twitter, it must be so: Congratulations to @Annellini Winner of GGM's Cookie Crawl and to @BigButzBBQ runner up. Thank you to everyone who voted!! Now we can move on to something else--And my congrats to BigButz!

I am participating in Gourmet Girl Magazine's Virtual Holiday Cookie Crawl!
This wonderful little antica in Siena is where I discovered Ricchiarelli. They are traditional Siennese Christmas cookies, a little like an amaretti macaroon, but softer, with powdered sugar and a little orange zest flavor. Melt in you mouth delicious!
The first time I walked into Pizzecheria de Miccoli I was holding a piece of panforte (another Siena specialty, sort of a dense fruitcake), and Antonio De Miccoli, owner and proprietor, came around the small counter, took it out of my hand, threw it in the trash and sliced me a piece of his freshly made panetone. He said something about what a shame for me to think that what I had been eating was real panetone when it actually tasted like bubble gum compared to his. He was right. And I was forever hooked on his shop, and everything he served!
On that particular day he had just taken biscotti out of the oven and sliced it, ready to return to the oven. I was begging for a taste before he put it back into the oven, but he refused, and made me wait! And while I was waiting he introduced me to Ricchiarelli.
This shop is a food lover's paradise. I've returned each time we travel to Italy. While everybody else visits the Campo, and the Duomo, I hang around Antonio's counter. I've even taken part in his pesto making (Mondays, when basil is in season) in a HUGE mortar. He laughed when I said I used a food processor, and let me take a turn with the pestle.
I've never figured out how much anything costs. When he's really busy, I think he just feeds people until they can't eat anymore, and charges them whatever he thinks appropriate. That includes the never empty wine glass.
I always leave with fresh pecorino, sometimes flecked with black truffle, cookies, porchetta, prosciutto made from cinghaile (wild boar) and a food buzz that keeps me daydreaming until my next visit. I would return there right this second if I could. It's one of those wonderful experiences that IS as good the second, third and fourth time as it was the first.
Thank you, Antonio De Miccoli!
This recipe is a compilation of what I could find on google, and what I could remember!




8 oz. pure almond paste

Zest from one orange


6 oz. sugar

1/2 cup water


2 oz. powdered sugar

2/3 cup flour


2 ounces powdered sugar

2 egg whites

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. baking powder

Wafers to put the Ricciarelli on (unflavored edible rice paper will work as a substitute--I used a plain rice cracker)

Place almond paste in mixing bowl with orange zest.

Dissolve the sugar of 2) in the water and heat to obtain a thick syrup--about 275 degrees.

When a drop of the syrup pressed between the fingers which are then separated forms threads mix it into the almond paste, together with the powdered sugar and flour of 3). Add a tablespoon or two of whole milk, if needed to form soft dough.

Let this dough rest covered with a damp cloth for about 8 hours.

Whip the whites to soft peaks with the vanilla and sugar 4) and incorporate this mixture into the dough along with the baking powder.

Drop the dough onto the crackers, dust with more powdered sugar, and bake at 320 degrees for about 15 minutes. Don't let the cookies brown.

Buon Appetito! and Buon Natale!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Cookie Party

And decorating parties!

With Mommies, and Daddies and Children of All Sizes!
And Lots of Cookies!!

Sugar Cookies (Martha Stewart)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

  • 2 tablespoons brandy, or milk

  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar; add dry ingredients, and mix until incorporated. With mixer running, add egg, brandy (or milk), and vanilla; mix until incorporated.

  2. Transfer dough to a work surface. Shape into 2 discs, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.

  4. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes, and transfer to prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch in between. Leftover dough can be rolled and cut once more. Bake until lightly golden, about 10 minutes; do not allow to brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

  5. Decorate with Royal Icing

Merry Christmas!

The Daring Cook

I'm not bragging about the way this looks, but it is a great recipe! If I had researched the pastry a bit more, I think it would have been perfect. I didn't let it chill long enough, and consequently, I couldn't roll it into the smooth pastry it needed to be. Next time, and there will be a next time, I'm pretty sure I can make this work.
Looks can certainly be deceiving, because this was really delicious, even the crust!
Salmon en croute:

Mascarpone or creamcheese 5.2 ounces/150 gr
Watercress, rocket (arugula) and spinach - 0.6 cup/4.2 ounces/120 gr
(I used a little olive oil, one chopped onion, one minced garlic clove, 9 oz. baby spinach-cook til onion tender, then add spinach, and cook until wilted--add1/3 cup shredded parm, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, dash Worcestershire, and dash of tabasco as my filling.)
Shortcrust pastry - 17.6 ounces, 500 gr. Use a butterversion such as Jus-rol which is frozen or dorset pastry. or... make your own!
Salmon fillet (skinless)- 17.6 ounce/500 gr
egg - 1 medium sized

1.Heat the oven to 200°C/390 F. Put the mascarpone or cream cheese in a food processor with the watercress, spinach and rocket and whizz the lot until you have a creamy green puree. Season well.

2. Roll the pastry out so you can wrap the salmon in it completely (approx. 2-3 mm thick) and lay it on a buttered or oiled baking sheet (it will hang over the edges). Put the salmon in the middle. If it has a thinner tail end, tuck it under. Spoon half of the watercress mixture onto the salmon. Now fold the pastry over into a neat parcel (the join will be at the top, so trim the edge neatly), making sure you don’t have any thick lumps of pastry as these won’t cook through properly. Trim off any excess as you need to. Make 3 neat cuts in the pastry to allow steam to escape and make some decorations with the off-cuts to disguise the join if you like. Brush with the egg glaze.

3. Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and browned. To test wether the salmon is cooked, push a sharp knife through one of the cuts into the flesh, wait for 3 seconds then test it against the inside of your wrist; if it is hot, the salmon is cooked. Serve with the rest of the watercress puree as a sauce.

Shortcrust pastry
While this is not mandatory to do, I highly recommend making your own shortcrust pastry as it is very simple to do! As mentioned in the notes; please make sure to not add too much water as that is the key to having a successful shortcrust pastry. Watch this video to check the correct consistency of the dough Making shortcrust pastry
450 gr (15.8 ounces or 3.2 cups ) of plain all purpose flour
200 gr ( 7 ounce) cold butter
pinch of salt

Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. If you have a food processor you can use that as shown in the above video.
Stir in the salt, then add 2-3 tbsp of water and mix to a firm dough. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a floured surface. Wrap in cling film and chill while preparing the filling.
For best results make sure the butter is very cold.
I garnished with lemon slices and crisp bacon pieces.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Jamie Oliver's Chicken Tikka Masala


Need a little something to warm you on these cold nights? Add as much 'heat' as you like!

This is another dish I'd never eaten, but after watching Jamie Oliver prepare Chicken Tikka Masala on Martha Stewart, I had to try it! A little google research quickly confirmed my instincts: a 'must try'! It's quick, very easy and so delicious. The flavors compliment to achieve quite a pleasurable full culinary experience. If you could smell the fresh paste, and then see the dish cooking, I promise you would want more than a bite!

The paste ingredients make roughly a cup, which is enough for two recipes. Make the paste ahead, store in the frig, and you can have this on the table in little more than thirty minutes.

The Cilantro Rice cooking technique alone is reason enough to give the recipe a try. If you like fluffy, non-sticky rice, this is the recipe for you!

I served it all with a couple of spears of broccoli cooked right in the pot with the rice. It doesn't get much easier!

FYI: the word Tikka means pieces, chunks or bits; a masala can either be a combination of dried (and usually dry roasted) spices, or a paste made from a mixture of spices and other ingredients—often garlic,ginger, and onions. It is used extensively in Indian cooking to add spice and flavor. (Straight from Wikipedia.)

Chicken Tikka Masala (Jamie Oliver)
Serves 4-6
2 T peanut oil
1 T butter
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 fresh red chile, thinly sliced (I used 1 tsp. dried red chili flakes)
1 (2 inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small bunch fresh cilantro, leaves removed, stems finely chopped
1/2 cup Tikka Masala Paste* (you can buy this prepared, but make your own!!)
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 3/4 inch strips
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (14 oz.) can coconut milk
1 cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup slivered almonds
Cilantro Rice **
1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving
Heat peanut oil and butter in a large straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, chile, ginger, and chopped cilantro stems. Cook, stirring occasionally until onions soften and begin to golden, about 10 minutes.

Add masala paste and chicken; stir to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes and coconut milk. Fill an empty can with water and add to skillet (I'm holding off on the can of water--my sauce was thin with the water); stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook, checking occasionally to make sure it does not begin to dry out and add water, if necessary, until chicken is tender and cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Top (garnish) with yogurt and sprinkle with almonds and cilantro leaves. Serve with rice and lemon wedges.

*Tikka Masala Paste
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. cayenne
1 T smoked paprika
2 tsp. garam masala
1 (2 inch) piece peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 T peanut oil
2 T tomato paste
2 fresh red chiles (I used 1 tsp. red chile flakes)
1 small bunch cilantro
1 T unsweetened shredded coconut (I used sweet, because I had it)
2 T almond flour (I used 2 T slivered almonds)
Toast cumin and coriander in small dry skillet until fragrant. Transfer to food processor, along with all other ingredients. Process until a smooth paste is formed. (I had to add just a little more peanut oil.)
**Cilantro/Lime Rice
Sea Salt
1 1/2 cups basmati rice
1 large bunch fresh cilantro, leaves removed and stems chopped
Zest and juice of 2 limes (I used only zest and juice of one lime)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Rinse rice in colander under running water until water runs clear, about 1 minute.
Add rice to boiling water. When rice begins to boil, boil for 5 minutes. Drain rice in a colander. Fill pot 1 inch high with water. Bring to a boil over hight heat. Reduce heat to a simmer. Set rice-filled colander over simmering water. Cover with foil or lid and steam rice 8-10 minutes. Transfer rice to a large bowl. Add cilantro leaves, stems, lime zest, and juice. Stir to combine. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.