Mock Alfredo- Cauliflower Sauce

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I really swing from two ends of the pendulum, I love my sweets and yet I *try* to eat healthy when not eating sweets, or comfort foods, or sweets. ;) While I don’t always post my crazy healthy concoctions it is usually because I am cooking from available goods in the fridge without a glimmer of confidence that the crazy concoction du jour will be successful. This one held up well, and since it was requested a number of times after I posted images of it, I am finally sharing it now that I’ve written it down in actual measurements.

The night this recipe evolved, I was craving pasta in Alfredo sauce. The best Alfredo sauce, yes even better than the one I make, is served at Alioto’s Restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf. I have the same recipe and yet no matter how many times I make it, theirs is better. But I digress, I wanted to satisfy this flavor craving but not with all of the calories. The plan that night was to make myself a ‘skinny’ version and then prepare the fat-full yummy version for my family. As the cauliflower was cooking, the troops were circling the pot like a flock of seagulls. Despite my explanation of what I was making for myself and what I was going to prepare for them, they unanimously said that they wanted to eat what I was eating, brown rice pasta with a cauliflower sauce. I was skeptical that they would be as pleased, this was not a recipe that I had even tested, but much to my surprise the review was all thumbs up. Now I can say with confidence… if you are looking for that healthy Alfredo pasta sauce that is a bit less rich, this recipe is a crowd pleaser.

The one down side is that once it starts to cool, it does become a bit dried out. Ergo, eat it while it is hot and super tasty and make sure there are no leftovers. And if by chance there are leftovers, well make sure you have some of that pasta water reserved to loosen it up a little. The flavor is just as good the next day, but to get it back to its original consistency reserved past water or broth should be used.

Note: This recipe can even be made dairy free just replace the cream with broth and add 1-2 tsps garlic powder in lieu of the Parmesan cheese; it will just be a bit less creamy.

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Mock Alfredo – Cauliflower Pasta Sauce

Ingredients

1 lb pasta (brown rice or quinoa pasta preferred)

5-6 cups cauliflower florets

6 cups vegetable broth

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 TBS olive oil

1 tsp salt

pinch of nutmeg

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/8 cup heavy cream (optional)

2 cups broccoli florets, can add in additional cauliflower florets (optional)

v1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated

red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

Directions

Remove the cauliflower florets from the body of the cauliflower. In a medium size pot bring vegetable broth to a boil over medium high heat and add florets. Cook cauliflower until soft, approximately 15 minutes. In a large skillet over medium heat add the the garlic and saute for 4-5 minutes or until softened and fragrant.

As cauliflower and garlic are cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve some of the pasta water when draining the pasta, in case it is needed to thin out the sauce. If using broccoli florets, cook in a small pan with scan amount of olive oil. Cover with a lid and allow to cook at medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Once cooked, set aside.

When cauliflower is cooked, transfer to a blender or food processor, along with 2 cups of the broth. If using a blender, this may need to be processed in two batches. Add the sauteed garlic, nutmeg, pepper and salt and puree until smooth. Once the mixture is moving in the blender, add 1 TBS olive oil. If mixture is thick in consistency thin it out with additional broth.

When puree is smooth, transfer cauliflower back to the pan used to soften the garlic. Add the cream and cook over low heat. If sauce is too thick, thin it out with pasta water, using a little at a time. Keep warm until ready to use. Combine pasta with the broccoli florets and mix with Alfredo sauce. Serve immediately with a sprinkle of crushed pepper flakes.

Leftovers? If reheating, add in additional broth or any reserved pasta water.

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Lamb Roast

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Sometimes a simple roast is just what a weekend dinner calls for. Preparation takes hardly any time beyond allowing for the meat to cook. A delicious leg of lamb with garlic, lemon, rosemary, thyme, and other seasonings make this main dish mouthwatering. There is something truly satisfying when the house wafts the smell of a hearty roast. Pairing the roast with a nice vegetable and starch completes the plate. For me this is a meal that conjures up memories.

There were two people in my life that I recall regularly making roasts; my maternal grandmother Antoinette ‘Sis’ Alioto and my father-in-law Bob von Esmarch. They both cooked a roast to a T and while they always claimed it to be easy to make, as a new cook, I considered it daunting.

Antoinette or Nonie as I used to call her was a cook to envy. The Sicilian dishes she made rivaled any I have ever had, and while she didn’t need to refer to written recipes she consistently and effortlessly prepared her innumerable signature dishes. Our birthdays celebrations were one day apart, which is something I have always treasured. Not a year goes by that I don’t think of her on her birthday, remembering her loving personality, wit and fierce determination to achieve anything she set her mind to. She had a way of making dreams come true, like only a grandmother can. I look back fondly on the days that I lived downstairs from her in the garden studio apartment that she had built for my Aunt Michelle. It was there that we shared nightly dinners and I fell ever more in love with the person she was – an independent outspoken woman with a seemingly tough exterior that was at her core indescribably sensitive.

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She gave freely to all of her family, loving each of us in her own special way. And birthday dinners were given for each of us; her four children, their spouses, and seven grandchildren. These special meals that she hosted for all of us, to be enjoyed all together at her enormous dining room table, are forever emblazoned in my mind. Those that knew her still talk about what an incredible person she was. She passed away in 1994, 20 years ago, and yet I can remember her smiling at me as if it was yesterday. I know she would be happy knowing how much I enjoy cooking for my family; to know that in yet another way we are alike. It seems fitting that this post should celebrate her, as it was just a few days ago that we celebrated our kindred birthdays.

Per sempre Nonie.

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(To my left are my paternal grandparents, Virginia and Elios Anderlini and to my right are my maternal grandparents Antoinette and Nunzio Alioto.)

Herb and Garlic Roasted Leg of Lamb

Ingredients

1 leg of lamb, about 5 pounds

juice of 1 lemon, about 2 tablespoons

3 cloves garlic, cut in several slivers

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tsps dried crumbled rosemary

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Rinse lamb with cold water; pat dry with a clean cloth or paper towels. With a small knife, make several tiny slits evenly all over the lamb roast and insert garlic slivers. Rub lamb with lemon juice, then combine the minced garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper. Rub the garlic-herb mixture over the lamb. In a roasting pan, place lamb, fat side up. Insert thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, not touching fat or bone. Roast lamb about 25 – 30 minutes per pound, or until meat thermometer registers 145 -165 degrees, depending upon cooking preference. Once cooked, remove from oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

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Fun Fact: TO A T means exactly, precisely, perfectly, right, as in ‘The description fit him to a T.’ The expression dates from the late 1600s and many sources state that it alludes to the T-square (an ‘exact’ instrument), which is used by draftsmen for mechanical drawing. Meat being ‘cooked to a T’ is a variant that was first recorded in 1780, however, this ‘T’ may have been influenced by the ‘T’ in ‘cooked to a turn.’

The Ultimate Kids Go-To Guide On How To Host A Disney Shindig & Have a Blast!

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When you are summoned by the Mouse, MICKEY MOUSE, you put on your A-game. There is no better way to have a fun day than to say the words Disney around a group of children. When I first received word that I had been selected to participate as a #disneyside host I was eager to break the news to my kids. I had thought they would be happy. but I had no idea just how over the top excited they would be. As the weeks passed I heard more and more conversation around the upcoming party…questions swirled around: What kind of party would it be? Would we have games? What type of food would we serve? How many children would come? Should we pick just one Disney Theme? Could they help plan it?

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Then there were the calls from the guests: Should they bring food? Could the children dress in any Disney Themed costume? Could the parents dress too? Above all EVERYONE of every age (ranging from 2-67 years) was excited.

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We wanted to celebrate all of Disney, so every possible theme was on the table, and we incorporated concepts from various movies by creatively branding our food, games, decor and creating a special music play list. I focused on food (four recipes provided below), my daughter on games and my son helping us both. Everyone pitched in from brainstorming the music list to making something creative to eat and even adding treats to the already abundant goodie bags. From start to finish it was fun!

menu

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One idea I would have like to have offered the girls was a magical hair styling station. My friend and fellow blogger Avanti Morocha did a great post on hair inspired by the movie Frozen. I encourage you to watch it, although she speaks in Spanish on the video, her captions are in English.

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While planning our party I came across some other great themed links that I wanted to share with you because this post just might be your ‘Go-To Guide On How To Host A Disney Shindig’.

Disney Themed Cocktails

Disney Themed Taboo Cards

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Goodie Bags

The #DisneySide folks really did it right, aside from inspiring each host via a group Facebook page, they allowed for multiple interpretations of what the ultimate party would be. Then they managed to ensure that there were take home gifts to give to each family.

- Filled with HP Photo Cards

- Mickey Stickers

- Donald Tattoos

- Crasins

- Disney and ESPN Bumper stickers

- Disney Bracelet

- Minnie Mouse Pen

- Mickey’s Hand Sugar Cookies and Stripped straws

- Minnie Jelly Bellies

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Games & Activities

-Arial’s Treasure Grotto

-Pixie Dust Face Painting

-Pin the Tail on Pluto

-Daisy Duck’s Cupcake Palooza Decorating Station

-The Evil Queen’s Poison Apple Bob

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And for the adults….

-Guess the number of Disney Movies represented (posters, music, food, games) — and we even had a Disney Play List for the iPod (see bottom of post for list of songs)

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Minnie’s White Chocolate Raspberry Bark

White Raspberry Bark Ingredients

1 cup white chocolate chips

1/2 cup red-colored white chocolate chips

1/4 cup Disney sprinkles

4 drops raspberry flavoring

White Raspberry Bark Directions

Line cookie sheet with wax paper.

Place white chocolate chips in medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at MEDIUM (50%) for approximately 30 seconds; stir. Continue microwaving at MEDIUM in 15 second intervals, stirring after each heating, until chips are melted and smooth when stirred. Set aside. Repeat melting procedure with red chocolate chips.

Pour melted chocolate onto prepared cookie sheet; spread with a spatula to about 1/2-inch thickness. Drop melted red white chips by teaspoonfuls onto melted chocolate; swirl with knife for marbled effect. Gently tap cookie sheet on counter top to even out thickness. Before chocolate dries, add sprinkles over surface. Repeat tapping cookie sheet on counter until candy is desired thickness.

Refrigerate approximately 30 minutes or until firm. Break into pieces. Store in cool, dry place. Can be made 3 days ahead of time.

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Chocolate Sugar Cookie Recipe (Pioneer Woman’s Recipe- Modified)

Chocolate Sugar Cookie Ingredients

2 sticks salted butter, slightly softened

1 cup powdered sugar

1 egg

2 tsps vanilla extract

2-1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

3/4 tsp salt

Chocolate Sugar Cookie Directions

In a large bowl, ream the butter with the powdered sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and mix to combine. Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt, and mix together until the dough comes together. Place plastic wrap on the surface of the dough and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheets with baking mats or parchment paper.

Roll out the cookie dough and cut out the cookies using a Disney inspired cookie cutters, re-rolling the scraps in order to use as much of the dough as possible. Place the cookies onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 7 – 9 minutes, in batches if necessary, being careful not to burn. Cookies will remain the same general size and shape after they bake.

Remove from the oven and place the cookies on a cooling rack. Allow them to cool completely.

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Vanilla-Almond Sugar Cookie Ingredients

3 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 cup sugar

2 sticks salted butter, cold & cut into chunks

1 egg

3/4 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp almond extract

Vanilla-Almond Cookie Instructions

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine the flour and baking powder, set aside. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts and mix. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined, scraping down the bowl, especially the bottom.

The dough will be crumbly, so knead it together with your hands as you scoop it out of the bowl for rolling.

Roll on a floured surface to about 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch thick, and cut into Disney inspired shapes. Place on parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let sit a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.

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Lost Boy’s Ants on a Log

Ants on a Log Ingredients

celery

organic peanut butter

raisins

Ants on a Log Directions

Clean celery in cold water and using a knife or carrot peeler, remove as many strings as possible. Cut into 3-inch pieces. Stuff celery well with peanut butter, top with raisins.

Note: for those that are sensitive allergies, another option is to stuff the celery with cream cheese and top with raisins.

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Mickey’s Western Bean Salad

Salad Ingredients

1 (10.5 oz) can black beans, drained

1 cup frozen or canned corn, drained/

1 red pepper, roasted and chopped into small pieces

1/4 cup red onion, chopped finely

3/4 tsp ground cumin

1/2 a lime, juiced

1 TBS olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Salad Directions

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Let stand at least 15 minutes for flavors to combine, then toss and serve. If using frozen corn will no need to refrigerate as it will keep the rest of the salad cool!

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Disclosure: I received free party supplies, goody bag fillers and other products to host a #DisneySide @Home Celebration. The views and opinions and fun I had expressed here are my own.

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Irish Sweet Potato and Cabbage Hash

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If you know me, you know I am anything but Irish. I am by American standards 100% Italian. By Italian standards I am only half Italian. According to my sources, if your family is from anywhere south of Rome you are not a true Italian. (Yes, this an old Italian north/south rivalry – and well while I’ve never met anyone that believes this, my Italian friends always love to tease me about it.) I am 100% proud of my Italian roots but having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area, with strong Irish Italian influences, I can’t help but do my part in celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Who doesn’t love a good party? And the Irish sure know how to throw a party.

I love to cook St. Patrick’s Day dinner but this weekend, much like in past years, I also took the opportunity to explore and create a brunch recipe the weekend leading up to the holiday. This vegetarian recipe is simple, filling and one that I can’t wait to make again. And while the potato and cabbage theme SCREAMS St. Patrick’s Day I think these seasonal items from the Marin Farmer’s Market will draw out your inner skillet chef.

Take a good look at the ingredients list and you will see that my Italian roots crept into this recipe. Oh and for my cousin Rochelle who has been a Paleo stalwart, this recipe can be tucked into your repertoire of delicious recipes.

My Irish Sweet Potato and Cabbage Hash (serves 2)

Ingredients

1/4 cup yellow onion, chopped small

1 1/2 cups white sweet potato, washed and cubed

1/2 cup zucchini, cubed similar size to potato

1/4 cup red cabbage, think sliced and chopped

1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1/8 tsp crush red pepper flakes

cayanne pepper, dash

2 eggs

1 TBS olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Tabasco Sauce (optional)

Avocado slices (optional)

Directions

In a 6-8 inch skillet, cast iron preferred, add olive oil and sweet potatoes. Cook over medium heat; resist stirring for 5 minutes so that potatoes can become crisped. After the first time the potatoes are turned, add in onions and mix well. Repeat and allow to cook without turning for 3-5 minutes. Next time potatoes are turned, add in the zucchini and mix well to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to cook for 5 minutes and then stir, then add in cabbage. Cook for an additional 3 minutes. Add in remaining spices. Using a spatula, make two wells in the sweet potato hash and crack the eggs directly into the pan (Note: if worried about shells, first crack the egg into a small bowl and then transfer into the pan).

Cover with a lid, and cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes depending upon softness of egg yolk preference. Cooking longer will make the yolk dry.

Serve with optional items if using.

Remove with a spatula and serve in small bowls.

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The Season of Green Food Is Upon Us — St. Patrick’s Day Menus

Key Lime Ogre Mini Tarts

The season of green is practically upon us with the likes of green beer, minty milkshakes, and dyed green scrambled eggs. St Patrick’s Day occurs on March 17 and is a day to remember one of Ireland’s patron saints, St. Patrick. It largely celebrates Irish-American culture in the United States. So take this opportunity to pull out your mad green cooking skilz and have fun impressing your friends.

There are no hard and fast rules, and under no circumstances are you required to cook a ‘traditional’ meal of dry corned beef with boiled cabbage and potatoes. It can be your own take on a green themed meal. While there are a lot of ways to turn this typical menu into a delicious meal, anyone from Ireland will be quick to tell you that a typical Irish meal is boiled pork and potatoes. It is mind-blowing when you realize that this meal concept we associate with St. Patrick’s Day is really an Irish-American tradition.

Another revelation: There’s never been any actual corn in corned beef.;) Long before the word ‘corn’ referred to a vegetable, it was an Old English word for any grain still containing the seed. In the original preparation of English corned beef, cooks use coarse pieces of salt the size of grains to cure or preserve the meat.

Whether you want to host a St. Patrick’s Day brunch or a dinner with a new flair, which is always my recommendation, I’ve compiled an undeniably GREEN menu to spark your inner cooking leprechaun.

St Pat Day Brunch

Brunch

Green Eggs & Ham

Leek & Potato Fritters

Green Lemonade

st pat day dinner

Dinner

Chestnut Sage Pesto Bruschetta

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad

Lamb Chops

Mint Tea Julep (adult version)

Key Lime Miniature Tarts

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Mardis Gras King Cake

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This post is really all about seeing an item on my bucket list to fruition. NOLA. The entire town of New Orleans pulsates with a rhythm of delicious happiness — the people, the music, the food. Oh and the food. The food is truly divine. As you might imagine, I ate a lot of food and photographed it along the way. Since returning home I’ve looked over these photos and each time I do, I can practically transport myself back.

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Traveling with friends only made the trip sweeter. Each moment made a bit more special because it was greeted with smiles and laughter. While our days there were few, we maximized every moment. Being the food lovers that we are it was a tour of the palate and my friend Maria took our task seriously. While I could go on about every little morsel, and discovering the first Bloody Mary I’ve EVER liked, I wanted to share my newest discovery. King Cake. This recipe comes to me from the very friends that opened my eyes to the wonders of NOLA. It is a treat to treasure. Or rather, a treat fit for a King.

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If you’ve never had the chance to feast on such a cake, I can share with you that a King Cake is a frosted oval-shaped yeast dough bakery delicacy, crossed between a coffee cake and a French pastry that is as rich in history as it is in flavor. The King Cake tradition is thought to have been brought to New Orleans from France circa 1870. New Orleans bakeries churn out these lovely pastries between King’s Day, January 6th, and Fat Tuesday, the last day of indulgence before Lent. It is one of the wonderful traditions of Mardi Gras, and IMHO probably the most delicious. Spoiler alert: the cake comes with a hidden baby inside. The baby, symbolic of Jesus, has become a fixture of the king cake (galette des rois in France or rosca de reyes as it’s known in Mexico).

The cake is decorated in royal colors of PURPLE which signifies Justice, GREEN for Faith, and GOLD for Power. These colors were chosen to resemble a jeweled crown honoring the Wise Men who visited Jesus on the Epiphany. In the past things such as coins, beans, pecans, or peas were also hidden in each King Cake.

Like the Biblical story, the “search for the baby” adds excitement, as each person waits to see in which slice of cake the baby will be discovered. While custom holds that the person who “finds” the baby will be rewarded with “good luck”, that person is also traditionally responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next party or gathering.

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Note: This recipe yields 2 King Cakes.

Friendship King Cake

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

2/3 cup evaporated milk

3/4 plus 1 tsp granulated sugar

1 tsp salt

2 envelopes active dry yeast, regular or rapid rise

4 eggs

grated zest of 1 lemon

grated zest of 1 orange

6 cups all-purpose flour

4 TBS (1/2 stick) butter, melted

1 egg white, for glazing

one small plastic baby from cake store, approximately 1/2-inch in size (optional)

Cinnamon-Sugar Filling

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Note: Since this recipe makes two cakes, if you want to play around and make the second cake a little different you can add 1 cup confectioners’ (powdered) sugar, 2 TBS flour, and 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 TBS lemon juice, and 1 tsp vanilla extract, in a bowl and mix until filling is smooth. Later, when about to add the filling melt 4 tablespoons of butter in microwave. Spread the cream cheese filling over the dough, it will be important to leave a 1-inch border along each edge for that it can be properly sealed before braiding and baking.

White Icing

2 cups confectioners’(powdered) sugar

2 TBS whole milk

Colored Sugar

3/4 cups granulated sugar

Yellow, green, red, and blue food coloring

Directions

In a large bowl, melt 1/2 cup butter in the microwave. Add the evaporated milk, 3/4 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool.

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water and stir in the remaining teaspoon sugar. Allow to stand for 10 minutes, until foamy. If the yeast does not foam up, start over with new yeast and sugar.

Add the yeast mixture to the butter and milk mixture. Add the eggs, lemon and orange zest and whisk together vigorously, until well blended.

Whisk in the flour, 1 cup at a time, until you have a thick paste- about 3 cups flour. Then switch to a wooden spoon and continue adding flour and mixing well. Once all of the flour is added, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured wooden board and knead it by hand, hands should be dusted with flour, until the dough is smooth and elastic. (Note: After adding 5 cups of flour I found the dough to be too difficult to stir and had to begin kneading the dough by hand.) Dough will be extremely dry. It may not completely hold together until after it has risen.

Place the dough into a large clean bowl, if it is slightly damp, coat bowl with vegetable oil cooking spray. Turn the dough to coat all sides with spray. If it is dry, there is no need to oil the bowl. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Prepare the cinnamon-sugar filling by combining the sugar and cinnamon in a small dish until it is well incorporated. Or if using the cream cheese alternative, prepare that now.

Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in microwave. Punch the dough down and divide the dough in two. With the first half, which will become your first cake, separate the dough into three parts. On a floured surface roll out each half into a 10 x 15-inch rectangle. Brush each rectangle with half of the melted butter and then sprinkle each rectangle with half of the cinnamon-sugar filling mixture. Roll up along the long end like a jelly roll. Pinch the roll together at the seam, close securely with water if necessary, to seal in the filling. Braid the three rolls together, forming one thick piece. On a parchment lined baking sheet, form the dough into a circle and seal the ends together.

Repeat process for the second cake.

Cover the cake with a tea towel and allow to rise in a warm place for approximately 1 hour (when it rises, the center may close up and it will look like a bumpy “cake”). It should almost double in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the egg white with 1 TBS water. Brush the top of the cake with the egg white. Bake the cake for 20 minutes, until it is lightly browned and sounds hollow when tapped.

Make the white icing: Combine the sugar and milk in a small dish and whisk until smooth. If the mixture seems too thin, add a little more sugar. If it won’t drizzle, and a little more milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time.

If making the colored sugar, place 1/4 cup of sugar into three separate cups. Put 1 drop of yellow food coloring into one, then, using your fingers, grind the color into the sugar until all of the granules are colored. Do the same using green food coloring, and in the third cup, blend 1 drop of red coloring and 1 drop of blue coloring to make purple.

Allow the cake to cool for a few minutes on a wire rack. If hiding the ‘baby’ push it into the cake. Drizzle with icing and quickly sprinkle the colored sugar in random patterns over the white icing before it dries. Slice across the width of the cake into think slices to serve.

Lean back, close your eyes and enjoy every bite. This cake disappears quickly, so don’t expect leftovers.

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In case you can’t figure out what this messy picture is with the chipped nail polish. It is the semi-frosting covered hidden baby found in the cake by my daughter.

Once you’ve seen this city it is difficult to get it out of your mind. #stillLovinNOLA

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Chocolate Twist Easter Bread — Mardi Gras King Cake Gets A Chocolatey Makeover

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There is something about Easter that makes me think of bread. My maternal grandmother always used to serve what she called Easter breads. And while this recipe is not anything she would have envisioned I do think if you are searching for that perfect Easter Brunch dessert then this recipe could be one you tuck away for safe keeping. The recipe is nearly identical to the one I previously published in honor of Mardi Gras — Friendship King Cake.


This photo of Ludwig’s Restaurant is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Easter was a time we spent together in the iconic Palm Springs located east of Los Angeles in the California desert. It is a time that I remember all too well. We ate like royalty as my Nonie was always certain to pack one suitcase of clothes and another filled to the brim with Italian foods. At the time there were hardly any specialty markets in Palm Springs, so it all made perfect sense. The contents of her suitcase wafted fragrances of prosciutto, mortadella, sourdough french bread, fontina cheese, Parmesan cheese, and focaccia. It was also loaded with all of the spices she liked to use to make her ‘sugo’; which she would immediately start cooking within hours of arriving. She usually didn’t travel with her prized Easter breads, but I recall sitting at her kitchen table the week before Easter as she would enjoy these treats made by her cousins. Occasionally she would make them herself, but she wasn’t much of a baker. She was a phenomenal cook. I would have liked to have made this bread for her with its hints of citrus and layers of chocolate as I am certain she would have enjoyed it as much as I do.

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Note: This recipe yields 2 Chocolate Twist Easter Breads.

Chocolate Twist Easter Bread

Ingredients

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

2/3 cup evaporated milk

3/4 plus 1 tsp granulated sugar

1 tsp salt

2 envelopes active dry yeast, regular or rapid rise

4 eggs

grated zest of 1 lemon

grated zest of 1 orange

6 cups all-purpose flour

4 TBS (1/2 stick) butter, melted

1 egg white, for glazing

Filling

1 cup Nutella or other Hazelnut Chocolate Spread, divided into two portions

apricot, raspberry or strawberry (seedless variety), of choice (optional)

Note: Since this recipe makes two loaves of bread, if you want to play around and make the second loaf a little different you can add 1 cup confectioners’ (powdered) sugar, 8 oz cream cheese, 2 TBS flour, and 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 TBS lemon juice, and 1 tsp vanilla extract, in a bowl and mix until filling is smooth.

White Icing

2 cups confectioners’(powdered) sugar

2 TBS whole milk

3/4 cups granulated sugar

Directions

In a large bowl, melt 1/2 cup butter in the microwave. Add the evaporated milk, 3/4 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool.

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water and stir in the remaining teaspoon sugar. Allow to stand for 10 minutes, until foamy. If the yeast does not foam up, start over with new yeast and sugar.

Add the yeast mixture to the butter and milk mixture. Add the eggs, lemon and orange zest and whisk together vigorously, until well blended.

Whisk in the flour, 1 cup at a time, until you have a thick paste- about 3 cups flour. Then switch to a wooden spoon and continue adding flour and mixing well. Once all of the flour is added, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured wooden board and knead it by hand, hands should be dusted with flour, until the dough is smooth and elastic. (Note: After adding 5 cups of flour I found the dough to be too difficult to stir and had to begin kneading the dough by hand.) Dough will be extremely dry. It may not completely hold together until after it has risen.

Place the dough into a large clean bowl, if it is slightly damp, coat bowl with vegetable oil cooking spray. Turn the dough to coat all sides with spray. If it is dry, there is no need to oil the bowl. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Prepare the cream cheese alternative if using. Apricot or raspberry jam would also be a nice addition to the Nutella if you don’t feel like preparing the cream cheese mixture.

Melt 4 TBS of butter in microwave. Punch the dough down and divide the dough in two. With the first half, which will become your first bread loaf. On a floured surface roll out into a large rectangle. Brush each rectangle with half of the melted butter and then spread Nutella on each rectangle; if using jam and/or cream cheese filling then add in now. Roll up along the long end like a jelly roll. Pinch the roll together at the seam, close securely with water if necessary, to seal in the filling. About one inch down from the top of the roll make three length-wise slices of equal size width. Braid the three pieces together, forming one thick braid. In a greased loaf pan, fold the ends of the bread under and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Repeat process for the second loaf.

Cover the bread with a tea towel and allow to rise in a warm place for approximately 1 hour. It should almost double in size. (see images below)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the egg white with 1 TBS water. Brush the top of the cake with the egg white. Bake the cake for 20 minutes, until it is lightly browned and sounds hollow when tapped.

Make the white icing: Combine the sugar and milk in a small dish and whisk until smooth. If the mixture seems too thin, add a little more sugar. If it won’t drizzle, and a little more milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time.

Allow the bread to cool for a few minutes on a wire rack. Remove bread from loaf pan and drizzle with icing. Slice across the width of the bread into think slices to serve.

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Pasta With Wild Boar Sauce ~ Penne Al Ragu Di Cinghiale

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Italian Cuisine in Historic Wine Country- The town of Sonoma, located 45 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge, is the region’s largest producer of California wines. It is also acclaimed for its incredible culinary feats. This past month I had the opportunity to attend a cooking class that brought my taste buds back to when I lived in Italy.

My days in Tuscany were filled with amazing wild game dishes ranging from rabbit, to boar, to duck. Fast forward many years later and my career landed me and my then newly wedded husband in New Zealand. Farmed deer, or Cervena as it is commonly known, was typical to find on the dinner menu. I had never had it prepared as wonderfully as I had in New Zealand … until I tried Chef Ghilarducci’s red deer venison loin. Each dish that he and his wife, Gia, prepared was a treat to devour. The recipes while complex in flavor were simple to prepare.

The backdrop for the class was the DEPOT HOTEL RESTAURANT and GARDEN, built in 1870, just two blocks from the Sonoma Plaza. It was originally the local hotel for 19th century passengers arriving on the train from San Francisco. The original owners also opened an Italian restaurant and “saloon” here in 1890 to serve the townspeople of Sonoma and their visitors. Today the kitchen features Mediterranean-inspired cuisine prepared by acclaimed Chef/Proprietor Michael Ghilarducci. In 1987 Chef Ghilarducci and his wife Gia founded the DEPOT HOTEL RESTAURANT cooking school, Scuola Rustica, and have been teaching cooking classes here in Sonoma ever since.

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I couldn’t wait to taste the featured menu for ‘Wild Game – Italian Style’.

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And while I know not everyone will be able to rush out to get a slab of wild boar, another good substitution would be ground lamb. The point is the sauce is lovely; this is a dish that can be done ahead of time and be at the ready when your guests arrive. I am sure it will quickly become one of your new signature dishes.

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Pasta With Wild Boar Sauce ~ Penne Al Ragu Di Cinghiale

Ingredients

3 TBS olive oil

2 lbs wild boar meat, leg meat preferred, coarsely ground (ask the butcher to grind it)

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

1 large carrot, finely chopped

1 large stalk celery, finely chopped

1 TBS garlic, finely minced

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 1/4 cups plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (if not available use 8 oz San Marzano canned tomatoes)

6 fresh sage leaves, roughly cut

2 whole bay leaves

salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 lbs penne pasta

1/2 cup Grana Padano, freshly grated

Directions

In a large pot, over medium high heat add the olive oil and the boar meat. Stir the meat regularly until browned. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook for approximately 5 minutes. Add the red wine and the garlic and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, add the tomatoes, sage and bay leaves. Simmer for one hour and adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

When ready to serve bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and mix with the sauce. Serve with freshly grated cheese.

Note: This recipe serves 8 people as an appetizer. If using this recipe as a main course, use 4 oz of pasta per person or 2 lbs of pasta for 8 people.

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Moulard Duck Breast with Back Pepper Honey Glaze

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Red Deer Venison Loin

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Spiced Chocolate Cream

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Moroccan Preserved Lemon Lamb Tagine with Dates and Almonds

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There is nothing like a hearty meal to shake off the cold winter blues. Fragrant spices — cayenne, coriander, cumin, ginger and paprika perfume this colorful stew. While the traditional dish does not call for browning the lamb before cooking this step tends to caramelize the meat and gives the dish an even deeper flavor. Depending on the cut of lamb used the stew will either appear shredded or chunked. Boneless leg of lamb roast can be used for a more traditional stew (cubed meat, a bit drier in texture) or lamb shoulder (falls apart quite easily) which creates a very moist deconstructed stew.

While preserved lemons need to be made at least a week ahead of time, they can also be purchased in some specialty stores. If lemons are not readily available and you want to make this recipe ASAP, lemon juice can be substituted. That said, I highly encourage you to make some preserved lemons to keep on hand – it takes all of 15 minutes and can keep in the fridge for a few months. I recently made a lovely batch of these with my canning gal pals Madge and Jessica. Below you can find Madge’s recipe which is simple and quick to prepare. A great base ingredient to keep on hand for dishes that call for a nice lemon flavor. If you’ve never had them, you can expect a mellow yet intensely lemony flavor, with none of the nose-tickling high acidic side-effects of the fresh lemon. The peel — which is the part most commonly used — is soft to the touch and satiny in the mouth.

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Moroccan Preserved Lemon Lamb Tagine with Dates and Almonds

Ingredients

4 lbs boneless leg of lamb roast or lamb shoulder, visible fat removed and cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces

salt and pepper

2-3 TBS olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 tsp coriander

1/4 tsp cayenne

2 tsps ground ginger

1 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsps ground cumin

3/4 tsp salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 tsp crushed saffron filaments, steeped in 3 TBS hot water (optional)

2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and seeded, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 large carrots, cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch coins

1/2 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

4 cloves garlic, finely minced

2-4 cups water, as needed

1 cup chopped pitted dates

1 1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds, toasted

1 preserved lemon, pulp removed and chopped, skin finely chopped or juice from one lemon and lemon zest of one lemon

2 cups tri-colored quinoa

1 vegetable bouillon

1/8 cups sliced almonds, toasted

1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

Directions

In a large heavy skillet or dutch oven, over high heat, add 1 TBS oil. When hot, add lamb; salt and pepper. Stir to brown well on all sides. Once browned, remove meat and set aside. Add the remaining 2 TBS of oil. Add the onions and cook over medium heat for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cayenne, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, ginger, paprika, pepper, salt and saffron. Add in garlic and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Add the lamb, 1 lb of butternut squash, lemon pulp, 1/4 cup chopped dates and just enough water to cover the meat. Bring to a slow boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot and cook over low heat until meat is tender about 1 1/2-2 hours. Add in remaining butternut squash, lemon pulp and sweet potato after 1 1/2 hours. Stir to combine. (If you are in a rush, meat can be cooked over medium-high heat, if covered and stirred regularly so that it does not scorch.) Check the liquid level regularly to ensure sauce is not completely evaporated. The butternut squash will break down and make the sauce thick, some may stick to the bottom of the pan.

(If making quinoa, prepare 15 minutes before meal is ready to serve. For this recipe, use 2 cups quinoa with 2 cups of vegetable broth, if using bouillon dissolve in hot water and bring to a boil before adding quinoa. Cook according to package directions. One plated, top with sliced toasted almonds.)

When meat is tender and ready to eat, remove from heat, add the almonds and lemon peel (or lemon juice).

Serve over quinoa and decorate with cilantro and chopped dates, if desired.

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Preserved Lemons

Ingredients

3-6 lemons (depending on the size of the jar you are using), washed and dried

6-12 whole black pepper corns

1-2 bay leaves

1-2 cinnamon sticks

organic lemon juice, bottled is fine (or add more lemons to grocery list and juice filling up jar completely)

salt

Directions

Quarter lemons without cutting all the way through the bottom of the skin so that lemon remains in tact and the pieces are still attached at the stem end. Generously stuff each with a tablespoon or more of salt and squeeze it closed. In a sterilized jar, add in some black pepper corns then add in the lemons pressing each down so that they are squashed together. Once the jar is filled, add in more pepper corns, the bay leaf and cinnamon stick, fill to the brim with lemon juice, add more salt on top. Cover with an over hanging piece of wax paper and close the jar.

Shake jar daily, to move the salt around. Allow to set for 7 days, by which time the lemons will have disgorged some of their juices and the skins will have softened a little. Close the jar and refrigerate or store in a cool place for at least a month. The longer they are left, the better the flavor. (If a piece of lemon is not covered, it develops a white mold that is harmless and just needs to be washed off.) More lemon juice can be added if needed.

Before using, rinse under water. Many like to scoop out and discard the pulp, using only the skin. Depending on the recipe all of the lemon may be used once seeds are removed.

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madge

Valentine’s Day Dinner – Menu D’Amore

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If you’ve got love and romance on your noggin and are looking for a quiet night in, a special dinner should be the prelude to the evening ahead. (What? No love in your life well then, love the one(s) you are with. Why not spoil a friend or family member?) Keeping things delicious and simple is the way to go. Besides so many restaurants are so terribly overbooked on February 14th that I’ve been a long time fan of staying home and enjoying the evening in.

Valentine’s Day Menu D’Amore

* CocktailMandarin Beastie

* AppetizersHot Mess Spiced Bar Nuts & Pesto Parmesan Chips

* Main CourseOrange Marinaded Pork Tenderloin, Carrot Dijon Salad & Potato and Onion Au Gratin

* DessertPassion Fruit Cake or Chunky Krispie Chocolate Cherry Treats

Aside from the adult beverage, a lot of this meal can be done ahead of time. Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday this year so if you are like me and running in a few too many directions it’s important to be prepared. Here’s my Valentine’s Day Meal Count Down to prepare this Menu D’Amore.

February 11 (Tuesday) organize the shopping list.

February 12 (Wednesday) prepare hot messed spiced nuts and store in an airtight container.

February 13 (Thursday) marinade the meat, prepare the carrot salad and dessert (if making the cake it can be frosted on Friday). Then set the table before heading off to bed.

February 14 (Friday) bring the meat to room temperature while preparing the au gratin potatoes and frosting the cake. Prepare the Pesto Parmesan Crackers and while they are in the oven start to mix up a batch of Mandarin Beasties.

Note: All of these recipes appear throughout the Bowl Licker blog but to help you get your grocery list organized I’ve also listed the ingredients on this page. For the full instructions click on the names of each recipe in the list above.

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Mandarin Beastie

Cocktail Ingredients

Ice

3 oz Mandarin orange vodka

1 oz lemonade or fresh lime juice

1 oz club soda

hot mess nuts-in-the-mix

Hot Messed Spiced Nuts

Nut Ingredients

2 3/4 cups assorted nuts (whole almonds, Brazilian nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans)

2 TBS rosemary, coarsely chopped

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

2 TBS dark brown sugar

2 tsps sea salt (if using salted nuts then reduce salt by 1 tsp)

1 TBS unsalted butter, melted

Parmesan crisps

Pesto Parmesan Chips

Chip Ingredients

12-16 wonton wrappers (3-inch squares)

1 TBS olive oil

1 TBS Parmesan cheese

Paprika, dash

2-3 TBS pesto

pork orange marinade

Orange Marinaded Pork Tenderloin

Tenderloin Ingredients

1 cup orange juice

1/3 cup soy sauce

2 TBS fresh rosemary, chopped

3 tsps, garlic, minced

2 (3/4 pound) whole pork tenderloins

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

carrot slaw

Carrot Salad Dressing with Dijon Dressing

Salad & Dressing Ingredients

1 TBS lemon juice

2 tsps Dijon mustard

3 TBS olive oil

1 lb carrots, peeled and shredded

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 TBS fresh parsley, chopped

1 tsp fresh chives, chopped

2 TBS pine nuts, toasted

au gratin

Potato and Onion Au Gratin

Potato Ingredients

2 tsps garlic, minced

2 lbs russet potatoes (approximately 4), peeled

dash Nutmeg, ground

salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 cup Emmentaler, grated

1 white onion, sliced

1 cup milk

1 cup heavy (double) cream

passion fruit cake

Passion Fruit Chiffon Cake

Passion Fruit Filling Ingredients

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 cup passion fruit nectar or puree

4 egg yolks

1 vanilla bean—split, seeds scraped

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into TBS

Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients

1/2 cup of butter (1 stick), room temperature

8 oz cream cheese (I like whipped), room temperature

2 – 3 cups powdered sugar

2 tsps passion fruit nectar or puree (often found in frozen fruit section of Latin markets)

food coloring (optional)

chocolate cherry krispie treats

Chunky Krispie Chocolate Cherry Treats

Krispie Ingredients

3 TBS salted butter

1 (10 oz) bag of large marshmallows

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

5 cups Rice Krispies cereal

1 cup dried cherries, chopped

1/2 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

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