Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mushroom "strudel"

  • So what are you all doing for New Year's Eve? 
  • I feel like it's finally time to ask you. I hate people that start asking in November... I mean, are they insane? I usually don't even know what I'm doing the following weekend, let alone the following month. Plus, I've never been a fan of New Year's Eve. There's that moral obligation to have the time of your life that to me is such a buzz-kill. What if I don't have fun? Does that make me a big fat loser? 
  • Apparently yes.
  • And then there's more. Overpriced prix fix menus, grumpy waiters, slow service. And all the amateur drinkers, getting wasted on two glasses of sparkling wine, the pukefest in the bathrooms, people sitting at a table sending Happy New Year text messages to everyone they know instead of wishing it to the friends they are sitting with. The list is endless.
  • So, as you might have imagined, I'm not going out tomorrow night. I opted for the lesser evil, which is throwing a house party. I was even excited about it up until everyone started being a pain in my ass about it. But that's another story. It must be some kind of NYE curse I have. 
  • Anyhow, if you are throwing a party and don't know what to serve as a vegetarian appetizer, here's an idea. It's easy to make and it'd delicious... just what you need if, like me, you can't wait until this whole NYE thing is over on Saturday.  
  • Adapted from Cooking Light

  • 3/4  cup  dried porcini mushrooms (about 3/4 ounce)
  • 1  pound  button mushrooms
  • 1  large onion, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 8 ounces)
  • 2  tablespoons  olive oil
  • 1  teaspoon  dried oregano
  • 3/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4  teaspoon  freshly grated nutmeg
  • 6  ounces  1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2  cup  finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 24  (18 x 14-inch) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
  • Olive oil-flavored cooking spray

  • Cover porcini mushrooms with boiling water in a bowl. Let stand 15 minutes. Drain well; chop.
    Place half of button mushrooms in a food processor; pulse until finely chopped. Remove from processor. Repeat procedure with remaining button mushrooms. Add onion to processor; pulse until finely chopped.
    Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes. Add button mushrooms; cook until mushrooms are tender and liquid evaporates (about 10 minutes). Stir in porcini mushrooms, oregano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg; cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add cheese; stir until cheese melts. Stir in parsley.
    Preheat oven to 375°.
    Place a few phyllo sheets on a large work surface (cover remaining phyllo to prevent drying). Spread mushroom and cheese filling evenly on the phyllo dough, leaving a half inch boarder. Roll up jelly roll style. Lightly coat top with cooking spray.
    Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas 
from my kitchen to yours!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Christmas cookies)

More cookies coming your way! I've never been much of a cookie baker, to be honest, but this year I've baked quite the selection of sweet treats. The main reason is that being unemployed I actually have the time to bake cookies. Also, being unempoyed means that this year I don't have the money to spend on Christmas presents, which led me to the idea of baking cookies and giving them to my friends as gifts. The third factor that tranformed into a cookie baker is the fact that when the weather outside is snowy and cold, warming up the kitchen with the oven sounds like a good idea. So here's the recipe for some vanilla cookies that are popular in Austria —where they originally come from— Germany and Switzerland. 

For the cookies:
2 oz. ground almonds 
3 1/2 oz. cold butter
6 1/2 tbsp. icing sugar
1 egg yolk
the pulp scraped from 2 vanilla beans
2 1/3 cups flour
A pinch of salt

For the finishing
1 to 1 1/2 cups icing sugar
vanilla powder
  1. Brown the ground almonds in a hot skillet and allow to cool.
  2. Quickly knead the butter, icing sugar, egg yolk, vanilla pulp, flour, almonds and salt into a smooth dough. Let the dough rest in a cool place for 2 hours.
  3. Form the dough into about 30 crescents and place them on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 200°C / 400° F oven for about 10 minutes.
  4. Roll the still-warm crescents in the vanilla icing sugar. Store the crescents in a cookie tin, each layered separated by parchment paper.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Brunsli (Swiss cookies)

This is going to be my first "Swiss" Christmas, so I thought it would be nice to publish a typical Swiss Christmas recipe. I am very much enjoying the cold weather, the lights, the snow and the winter foods I've experienced so far, but most of all I'm re-discovering the pleasure of drinking hot tea in the afternoon, which inevitably brings you to want some good cookies to go with it. Brunsli are usually rolled out and cut with cookie cutters, but can also be rolled into pralines, which is what I decided to do to give them somewhat of a different look. Out of all the different cookies I've made for Christmas (yes, there is more to come!) these were my favorite ones. Maybe it was the dark chocolate. Maybe it was the spices. Maybe it was the fact they are soft and decadent and bite-sized. Whatever it is, they are definitely something to try.

  • 5 ounces sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 9 ounces ground almonds
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 pinch of clove powder
  • 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 2 fresh egg whites 
  • 3.5 ounces bitter chocolate
  • 2 teaspoons of rum
  1. Mix sugar, salt, almonds, cinnamon, clove powder, cocoa powder and flour in a bowl.
  2. Add white of egg and stir until ingredients are evenly distributed.
  3. Cut chocolate in real small pieces, pour hot water over the chocolate, let rest for about 5 minutes, then pour off all water except about half a tablespoon, stir until even. Now immediately proceed with the next step.
  4. Add melted chocolate from the previous step and the kirsch, knead to a soft dough.
  5. Roll out dough on a flat surface (it may be slightly covered with sugar), approximately 10 mm (0.4 inches) thick. Put out different shapes and put them on a baking sheet covered with baking paper.
  6. Let them rest for about 5 to 6 hours or over night in a dry place.
  7. Bake for about 4 to 6 minutes in the center of the pre-heated oven at 250 °C (480 °F).
  8. Let cool completely before serving.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Roasted cauliflowers with herbs and Parmesan

I've said this before, but I'll say it again: I think that the fact that I now like cauliflower is a sign that I have aged and grown up quite a bit. But what can I say? Now I like it. A lot. And for once I like something that is incredibly good for me —unlike coffee, wine, beer, vodka, cured pork, etc.— so I'm trying to cook it in as many ways as possible. I discovered this recipe as I was looking for healthy side dish ideas for Thanksgiving. The dish was such a success with my friends that I started making it on a regular basis also for family gatherings and weeknight dinners. It's easy, it's fast and cheap to make and it's good for you. There isn;t much more you can ask for in a side dish, right? 

From Cooking Light

12  cups  cauliflower florets (about 2 heads)

1 1/2  tablespoons  olive oil
1  tablespoon  chopped fresh parsley
2  teaspoons  chopped fresh thyme
2  teaspoons  chopped fresh tarragon
3  garlic cloves, minced
1/4  cup  (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
2  tablespoons  fresh lemon juice
1/2  teaspoon  salt
1/4  teaspoon  pepper

Preheat oven to 450°.
Place cauliflower in a large roasting pan or jelly-roll pan. Drizzle with oil; toss well to coat. Bake at 450° for 20 minutes or until tender and browned, stirring every 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley, thyme, tarragon, and garlic. Bake 5 minutes. Combine cauliflower mixture, cheese, and remaining ingredients in a large bowl; toss well to combine.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pepparkakor (Swedish ginger cookies)

As I'm writing this post the snow is coming down like crazy outside my hotel window in St. Cristina, Val Gardena, Italy. I'm here for a few days with my parents, back to the magical town in Sudtirol where I learned to ski when I was a child of three, when we used to come here every weekend of every winter. It's one of those places that don;t change much throughout the years and when they do, they only change for the better. The skiing is still amazing and, yes, I can still ski, even after 9 years in Florida. So people who were telling me that skiing is like riding a bike were right —I felt like only a few minutes had passed between the last time I had skied in 2001 and yesterday. My legs... not so much. Let's say they are a little sore. But today I went skiing again and loved it like I used to love it when I was a teenager. There are many other things, mostly food related, that I still love like when I was a teenager. Eggs, bacon and fried potatoes. Hot mulled wine. Bread dumplings. And, of course, Christmas cookies. Don't ask me why Swedish ginger cookies are popular here as well —I'm guessing that people who live in cold climates just cannot get enough ginger—but they are, and they are delicious both with hot tea and with wine.  


3/4 cups of butter
1 cup of sugar
1 egg
4 tablespoons of molasses
2 cups of flour
3 teaspoons of baking soda
1 teaspoon of ginger
1 teaspoon of cloves
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Mix all the "wet" ingredients (up to molasses) in the order given. Mix separately the dry ingredients. Slowly incorporate the two. This will make the baking process smoother.
Chill the mixed ingredients overnight in your refrigerator.

Remove the the chilled cookie mixture from the refrigerator when ready to bake the cookies. Roll out the dough about 1/8 of an inch thick. Cut cookies with cookie cutters. 

Bake them at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes until lightly browned. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Barbara's "Southern Italian" lasagna

First things first: my friend Barbara is NOT from Southern Italy. She's not from Italy, period. She's from Lugano, Switzerland, land of sharp cheeses, decadent chocolate and very precise (and expensive) watches. Definitely NOT the land of lasagna, if you know what I mean. 

Still, Barbara makes a mean lasagna —one of the very best I've ever had. She learned to make this particular recipe from the mother of her ex boyfriend who is from Naples, hence the "Southern Italian" in the title. It differs from regular Bolognese style lasagna because it has layers of ham and mozzarella added to the usual meat sauce and bechamel layers —which makes it delicious, but not too light in the calorie department. 

Oh well. It's cold outside. I guess we can all use the extra calories to keep warm, right? 

Serves 8

1 package fresh lasagna sheets
4 cups meat sauce
2 cups bechamel sauce
12 slices of ham
3 cups shredded mozzarella
2 cups grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Spread a little bechamel sauce on the bottom of a 13x9 baking dish. Make a first layer with lasagna sheets, then cover it with meat sauce, bechamel, ham slices. Sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan. Repeat with another layer of lasagna sheet, meat sauce, bechamel, ham and cheese. Repeat until you run out of ingredients, finishing with a cheese layer.

Cook in the preheated oven for about 35 minutes or until bubbly.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Roasted chestnut soup

  • Happy December everyone! Can you believe that November has already come and gone? Seriously, if I think of Halloween it seems just a few days ago and now here I am, sitting in the kitchen with the snow coming down and the first window of my Advent calendar already open. Soon I'll start baking all kinds of Christmas cookies and I guess I should be posting all kinds of Christmas related recipes, but first I wanted to share one that I had made for Thanksgiving dinner —only I ended up forgetting about it so I didn't serve it to my guests. I'm a notoriously chaotic person, you see, and I tend to be easily distracted so no one was too surprised when, once dessert was served and already eaten, I realized the soup was sitting in its pot on the stove, simmering on low. 
    Since it was too late to serve it to my guests I ended up eating the leftovers for days —good thing the soup was delicious, comforting and thick as a winter soup should be.

    Adapted from Cooking Light
    3  cups  whole roasted and peeled chestnuts
    2  cups  chopped yellow onion
    3/4  cup  thinly sliced carrot
    1  tablespoon  olive oil
    6  cups  beef broth
    Salt and pepper
    1/3  cup  heavy whipping cream
    1 1/2  teaspoons  chopped fresh thyme leaves

    Combine onion, carrot, and oil on pan; toss to coat vegetables. Bake at 400° for 1 hour or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add to chestnuts; stir in broth. Pour half of broth mixture into a blender; blend until smooth. Pour pureed mixture into a Dutch oven. Repeat procedure with remaining broth mixture. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Place pan over medium-high heat; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. 

    Place cream in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; beat at high speed until stiff peaks form (do not overbeat). Ladle about 3/4 cup soup into each of 10 bowls; top each serving with about 1 tablespoon cream. Sprinkle with thyme. Serve immediately.


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