Easter Celebrations and Festivities

Easter is a time for new beginnings and celebrating the wonders of Spring.  It’s about getting together with loved ones and sharing with others.  It’s about rejoicing and being thankful and grateful for what we have.  And, it’s is also about food.  Lots of it.  One of the reasons for so much food at Easter is people are coming off their fast from Lent and can now eat all those things they gave up.  I did all of the above.  My dear friend Priscilla, whom I have known all my life,  and I co-hosted our Easter festivities, bringing together friends, both new and old, to help us celebrate the day.  Between the two of us, we created a very festive feast that was enjoyed by all.  We all ate too much, but thoroughly enjoyed all the great food and even better company.

I hope a good, Happy Easter or Passover was shared by all.

I prepared a chicken, asparagus, mushroom quiche; avocado bruschetta; patatas bravas; my Italian mascarpone cheese cake; and the glazed lemon-rosemary drops.

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Priscilla’s very elegant table setting.  This was the “grown-up table”.  We also had one other table for the “under 30” crowd that was just as beautiful and elegant.

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The main attractions, consisting of Priscilla’s Spring salad, a honey-baked ham, smoked turkey, stuffed French toast, patatas bravas, avocado bruschetta and chicken, asparagus and mushroom quiche.

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Our dessert table

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Cassata Alla Siciliana or Italian Mascarpone Cake with Toasted Almonds

This cake is a labor of love, but definitely worth the effort.  It is one of my favorite cakes, if not the favorite one.  Don’t bother counting calories for this one either.   Fortunately for my waistline, I don’t make this one too often.

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Layering the cake and filling it with Mascarpone, pistachio, chocolate filling.

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The cake is layered and ready to set in the fridge over night.

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The piece de resistance.

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The Sponge Cake

2 cups cake flour, sifted

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

8 large eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup melted butter

 

Preheat the oven to 350* F.  Prepare (2) 8 1/2 ” cake pans and line with parchment paper.

Sift all the dry ingredients together and set aside.   Mix all the egg yolks and sugar together, for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture is light yellow.  Add the vanilla and melted butter and mix well.  Fold in the dry mixture.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites, with a pinch of salt until they form firm peaks.  Fold in egg whites with other mixture, and pour half of the batter into each of the prepared caked pans.  Bake until golden brown, for about 45 minutes.

Remove and let cool completely.

 

Rum Syrup

2 cups sugar

3/4 cup cold water

1/2 cup of rum.

Put everything together into a sauce pan and over a medium flame, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Set aside and let cool.

Once the cake is completely cooled, cut each cake in 1/2, making 4 pieces.  Brush the rum syrup over one piece, then fill with the mascarpone filling, and continue until you have your last piece of cake on the top.  Generously brush the rum syrup over the top of the cake.  Once the cake is layered, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but I usually leave mine in overnight.

 

Mascarpone Filling

3-4 oz mini chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate shavings

3/4 cup pistachios, chopped fine

3 cups mascarpone cheese, or soft cream cheese

1 cup powdered sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp orange zest

Mix the mascarpone, powdered sugar and cinnamon in a mixer until well mixed, then add the chocolate and pistachios and mix until just blended.

 

Icing and Finishing Touches

2 cups powdered sugar

1 large egg white

2 TBSP water

1/2 tsp almond extract

toasted almond slivers

Clementine orange slices (optional); sometimes I also use pomegranates

 

Mix the first 4 ingredients together and spread over the sides and the top of the cake.  With your hand, pat the almonds along the sides of the cake.  Top with orange slices, then chill again for another 3-4 hours.

The results is pure deliciousness.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

Making Caramels

Some of you have been asking me for the recipe to my caramels that are featured on my cover page.  So here it is.

My friend and I have a tradition of making caramels every year.  Normally we just made the traditional caramels, but this year we also added the chocolate pecan version as well.  For this season, we are thinking of making a new version too,  but we are not sure yet.  Although it is safe to say that both the traditional and the chocolate pecan versions will be made on an annual basis, however, by popular demand, we might actually start making them more frequently.

Making the caramels is very easy.  But they do require a lot of patience and time.  And once you start the process, you have to remain there, stirring them constantly, until you pour them into the greased baking pan, or they will stick and burn.

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Traditional Caramels

Prepare a 9×13 baking pan by really spreading butter all over the sides and the bottom.  Set aside.  You will also need a candy thermometer and a large pot.

1 lb butter

4 cups heavy whipping cream

4 cups sugar

4 cups Karo dark syrup (2 bottles)

Put everything together in the pot, except only use 1/2 the cream.  On a medium heat, you need to stir constantly, in a slow, steady figure 8 motion.  This is going to take awhile, so be patient.  You want the temperature to reach between 230-250*F or a soft ball stage on your candy thermometer.  It will be a light caramel color and will be very bubbly.  Once it reaches temperature, add the rest of the cream, and bring to a second boil, once again, between 230-250*F or 110-125*C.  The reason for the temperature variation is altitude.  I live in Colorado, and we are at a higher elevation than people at sea level, so it affects the boiling time and temperature.   But if you live at sea level, and you want it more like a toffee, then cook it until it reaches the higher temperature.   It will be more like a toffee, and will be a little harder and crunchier, rather than the soft, melt in your mouth caramels.   Once it reaches the desired temperature, immediately pour into the prepared baking dish. and set aside to cool.  It needs to set for at least 6 hours, but I usually leave mine over night.  I leave it uncovered while it sets.  Have no fear though, if it still does not set, just put it all back in the pot and re-boil it until it reaches temperature.  You can also use the softer version for a cake or ice cream topping or a filling.   Once the caramels are set, cut them to your desired size and wrap individually in parchment paper.  The cutting and the wrapping takes a lot of time and patience.  Hang in there.  They are well worth it.  They also make great gifts.

 

Chocolate Pecan Caramels

It is the same recipe and procedure, except when preparing the baking pan, chop pecans to a small chop, or whatever nuts you like, and place them on the bottom of the baking pan.  When your caramels get to the second boiling stage, also add 1 1/2 bars of baking chocolate and incorporate well with your caramel mixture.

 

 

Glazed Lemon-Rosemary Cookie Drops

Lemons and herbs are so much a part of  Spring cooking.  I love this combination of freshness, and I use lemons and herbs a lot when I cook spring meals, but I would have never thought of combining them together in a cookie.   It is a winning cookie combination though.   They are like a little bit of Heaven.  When you first bite into the light crispiness of the cookie, and get a slight, delicate crunch and then they instantly melt in your mouth – WOW!!!  They look so innocent, but they are really decadent because you can’t stop at just one.

Before baking, when they are shaped into logs.  Refrigerate the logs for at least one hour before cutting and baking.  They can last in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap for about 3 days.

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The finished cookie

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Glazed Lemon-Rosemary Cookie Drops

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter

1 cup sugar

2 large egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp lemon extract

2 tsp grated lemon zest

1 1/4  tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary – You cannot use dried rosemary for this one  unless you want to be eating pine needles.

 

Sift all the dry ingredients together and set aside.  Mix the butter and sugar together until creamy.  Blend in the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Add about half the flour mixture and blend well, then add the rest of the flour mixture.  Cut the dough in half and roll into logs about 11″  long, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Make the glaze and set aside.

Slice the cookies and roll into little balls, then flatten out and bake at 350* for about 11 minutes or until just slight golden brown around the edges of the cookies.  Ice immediately after removing from the oven.

 

Lemon Glaze

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 TBSP softened butter

3 TBSP heavy whipping cream

1 tsp lemon extract

1 tsp finely grated lemon zest

pinch of salt

 

Combine everything together in a mixer and mix thoroughly.  It will be a thick glaze.  Immediately spread over the hot cookies.   Enjoy, but I dare you to eat only one.

 

 

Bacon Wrapped Chicken and Shrimp

Sometimes some of the best things I make are made by the food items I just happen to have handy at the time.   And when time gets tight,  the things that are handy make cooking much easier.  We always have chicken and bacon, and I did not use all the shrimp from when I made the Pasta di Mare.  So …… Bacon wrapped chicken and shrimp.  I made a lemon vinaigrette to marinate the chicken and shrimp (marinate separately to avoid cross contamination).  I served it with red lentils, cooked with rice and peas, and asparagus.  To complete the meal, a nice crisp chardonnay from one of our local vintners, Bookcliff Winery, in Boulder, CO.

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Lemon Vinaigrette

lemon juice

olive oil

garlic

honey

basil

oregano

red pepper flakes

black pepper

chopped parsley

Mix all the ingredients together and enjoy.  I heated up and cooked the left over sauce to top my chicken and shrimp for a little extra flavor and pizzazz.

 

 

 

The Flavors of the Mediterranean

I love all kinds of foods, and all different types of ethnic foods, but my favorites are the foods from the Mediterranean.   They are very comforting foods to me.  I can just close my eyes and within seconds I am whisked away to the turquoise blue waters and the warm sunshine of the Mediterranean region.  With tonight’s meal of lamb kebabs marinated in a balsamic vinaigrette, vegetable kebabs in a pesto sauce, cous cous, and pita bread with hummus, I felt like I was dining at a little outside bistro in either Santorini or Mykonos.   I make my own sauces, however, you can use whatever store bought brands  you like just as well.  Our wine choice for the evening was a bold Crimson Ternion, to really bring out the bold flavors of the lamb.

After dinner, reality hit, and I was home once again, where it was snowing in Colorado.  C’est la vie.  At least my imagination allowed me a little mini vacation and a Mediterranean escape for time enough to enjoy my meal.

My kebabs before cooking.

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The end result.

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Balsamic Vinaigrette

Dijon mustard

black pepper

basil

oregano

garlic

balsamic vinegar

olive oil

 

I cubed the lamb and marinated for several hours before skewering.  A lot of people don’t like lamb because it has a very strong taste, almost a gamey taste, like elk or venison.  But if you marinate in something acidic for a few hours, most of those heavy flavors dissipate and the meat is also gets tenderized.  Your end results will be a very tender, mildly flavored meat.  YUM!  Enjoy!

 

A Dog’s Life

Lucie, Vinnie and their little buddy Fritzie eat just as well as their mommy and daddy do.  Mommy makes their food about once a week, and they get a wide variety of yummies for their tummies.  After they have eaten as much as we allow (because they will certainly eat, and eat, and eat until they pop if we don’t control it), they follow it up with a good nap on the couch.

This week, the “kids” are dining on pork loin mixed with sweet potato, spinach, peas, a little yogurt and a dash of cinnamon.  YUMMY!!

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