Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Old-Fashioned Blueberry Coffee Cake



Blueberries are finally starting to taste good again. For months, they've been tasteless and mealy but with the advent of spring, they're back in markets with a much better flavor and texture -- just in time for a coffeecake.
The recipe is from Bon Appétit magazine and was just the thing for serving warm from the oven when three of my high school friends came visiting earlier this week. It holds up well too at room temperature, even for a couple of days. That is, if you can keep from eating the whole thing right away.

(My notes in red.)
Ingredients
Servings: 8–12

Crumb Topping

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (I'd use just a pinch of table salt here next time.)
  • 1/4 cup pecans, toasted, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

Cake

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (I would use just a pinch of table salt next time)
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups fresh (or frozen, thawed) blueberries (about 10 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) (not necessary - the Panko doesn't really stick to the blueberries anyway)

Instructions:


  • Preheat oven to 350°. Coat 8 x 8 inch pan with nonstick spray. Line bottom with parchment paper; set aside. (I used a buttered cast iron skillet.) Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
  • Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat 3/4 cup sugar and butter in a medium bowl until light and fluffy, 3–4 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions and occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until mixture is pale and fluffy, 3–4 minutes longer.
  • With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients to bowl in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Pour half of batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Whisk remaining 3 Tbsp. sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl; sprinkle evenly over batter in pan. Spoon remaining batter over; smooth top.
  • Toss blueberries with panko in a small bowl; scatter evenly over batter. Sprinkle crumb topping over blueberries.
  • Bake cake until top is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 55–65 minutes. Let cool completely in pan. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature. 
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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Chicken Meatballs in White Wine Sauce



I'm back with another recipe from Katie Parla's latest book, "Tasting Rome," and the winner of the cookbook giveaway.
 The lucky winner, chosen by a random number generator on my computer, was Pat, from the blog, Mille Fiori Favoriti. Congratulations, Pat.
For those of you who didn't win, here's another great enticement to get the cookbook.
It's a recipe for chicken meatballs and I can just hear you saying, "But chicken meatballs aren't Italian." Well, you'd be right, kind of, but not if you factored in the Libyan Jews who migrated to Rome following the anti-Semitic violence in Tripoli and Benghazi in 1967.
As Katie explains in her book, about 4,500 Libyan Jews live in Rome today, making up about a third of the city's Jewish community.
Their cuisine highlights the flavors of North Africa, with spices like cinnamon, cumin, caraway, paprika and turmeric. 
That's what intrigued me to try these chicken meatballs in white wine sauce, spiced up with cinnamon, nutmeg and pistachios. Forget the tomato sauce for this one, and pull out a nice bottle of white wine to use in the sauce instead. I made my meatballs about the size of golf balls, and got about 20, rather than 30 to 35 polpette if you make them the size of walnuts, as the recipe states.
I made a couple of adjustments to the recipe too, adding double the amount of pistachios (because I can't get enough of pistachios). I also removed the shallots from the pan after they were softened, since I was concerned that they might burn if I kept them in while the meatballs were browning. I returned the cooked shallots back to the pan after the meatballs were browned, then added the wine and broth, adding more of those too, so I could have more sauce. I wanted enough sauce to spill over to the farro I served alongside the meatballs, but I think these would be equally delicious with a pasta or rice side too.

Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 


Polpette di Pollo in Bianco
Chicken Meatballs in White Wine Sauce
From "Tasting Rome" by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill


3 slices day-old bread of any kind, crusts removed
1 cup chicken broth or water, plus more for cooking, warmed (I used about 1 1/2 cups)
1 3/4 pounds ground chicken
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more as needed
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 
3 tablespoons pistachios, chopped (I doubled this)
2 packed tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium shallots, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used about 3/4 cup)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)

Soak the bread for a few minutes in 1 cup warm chicken broth. When it has softened, squeeze out the excess liquid and place the bread in a large bowl.
Add the ground chicken, eggs, garlic, salt, pepper to taste, cinnamon, nutmeg, pistachios, and half the parsley. Mix thoroughly by hand. Form the mixture into balls roughly the size of walnuts and set aside.
In a large frying pan or cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook until soft, about five minutes. (At this point, I removed the shallots and browned the meatballs, then put the shallots back in and added the wine and the broth, etc.)
Meanwhile, lightly dust the meatballs all over with flour (a mesh strainer works well for this) and shake off any excess. Add them to the pan and brown all over. Add the wine, scraping up any browned bits from the sides and bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. When the alcohol aroma dissipates, about a minute, add enough broth or water to cover the meatballs about halfway. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and cook, covered, until a creamy sauce has formed, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Season with lemon juice, garnish with the remaining parsley, and serve the meatballs warm or at room temperature with the sauce spooned over.

tip: If the meatball mixture is sticky, wet your hands with warm water before rolling.

Recipe reprinted with permission from Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City. Copyright (c) 2016 by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers,  an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Interview with Katie Parla and "Tasting Rome" giveaway


If you're interested in Roman cuisine or tourism and have done even a little bit of research, you've no doubt come across the name Katie Parla. A New Jersey native, Katie has been living in the Eternal City since 2003 and is the quintessential source for anyone planning a trip there. She's an expert on the city's food, restaurants, markets, wine and cocktail bars and so much more.
She's not just another tour guide or cookbook writer spewing out perfunctory recommendations or recipes. Whether she's taking visitors on a tour of the Testaccio neighborhood, or explaining the history of a recipe from Rome's Jewish ghetto, Katie brings to her work a deep knowledge of the city's traditions and culture. Not surprising, given that in addition to her degree in art history from Yale, she received a master’s degree in Italian Gastronomic Culture from the University of Rome and a sommelier certificate.
This latest enterprise (and she's got many, including her blog, katieparla.com and apps not only for Rome but Istanbul as well) for this 36-year-old dynamo is the new cookbook, "Tasting Rome," filled with some surprisingly contemporary interpretations of traditional cuisine, and some nearly lost recipes as well.
I hope you take a few minutes to read my interview with Katie and buy her cookbook. I know cooking from it and talking to her made me yearn to be back in Rome. I'm giving away a copy to one of my readers. All you have to do is leave a comment at the end of the post, telling me what is your favorite thing to do in Rome - whether it's visit a museum, stroll its cobbled streets, linger over a gelato, shop the outdoor food markets, eat at a favorite restaurant, or prepare a classic Roman recipe. And if you haven't been to Rome, let me know why you'd like to go. Make sure to leave your email address or some way I can contact you if you win the book.

Ciao Chow Linda (CCL): Given all the cookbooks that have been published about Roman cuisine, what else is there to say about it?'
   Katie: I think what hasn’t been said is the way that people eat in Rome today - some of the perhaps less well known, minority dishes that haven’t been covered.  I wanted to do a deeper dive into some Roman novelties - not novelties in the sense of modernist cuisine, but the sort of portable or fast food form that has evolved because of the tragic economic crises that have really dramatically changed the way people eat. Roman cuisine (cucina Romana) has a pretty strict definition. It's a set of ingredients and dishes and techniques that coalesces in the 1960s and 70s -- and  there are wonderful, spectacular books that recount old school classics. But I wanted to also give importance to trattorias and historic places, like Armando Al Pantheon, and newer places like Cesare Al Casaletto or Flavio Al Velavevodetto. 
   What’s really wonderful about these places is that they’re doing old dishes that have fallen off of menus. So I wanted to pay respect to the traditions and address traditional flavors but also acknowledge that the cuisine of Rome, like all cities, changes. It has to in the 21st century, because the lira has gone away, there is 43 percent youth unemployment, very low wages, and a high cost of living.  People shop differently, they eat differently and there are a lot of terrible foods in Rome right now and I wanted to focus on the delicious things and the people dedicated to making them with respect for tradition.
   
CCL: I've known about Rome's Jewish food and eaten in restaurants in the ghetto there for decades, but I never knew about Libyan Jews in Rome and their cuisine until I read your book. Can you talk about that?
Katie: The Libyan Jewish tradition is one that most people don’t know about because so many of the restaurants in Rome that people associate with Jewish cuisine serve the local Jewish classics - deep fried artichokes, pezzeti fritti, which are battered and deep fried vegetables, aliciotti con l'indivia (anchovies with endive), the classic Roman Jewish dish, which is not even that well known outside of Rome. 
   But the Libyan Jewish cuisine is something you either find on home tables or hidden in the back of the menu at restaurants in the Jewish ghetto, because all but one of the kosher restaurants in the ghetto is owned by Libyan Jews.
   If I were doing a classic survey of Roman cuisine, I would have to exclude the Libyan tradition because there’s no critical mass there, but I didn’t want to ignore the small features of the local cuisine that don’t get much attention. 
   That led the cocktail culture to be introduced in the book, including craft beer. I also talk about labor in kitchens not being Roman, but South Asian or North African. So I think there’s so much in this book that hasn’t been written before because so much of the canon of Roman cuisine has been so traditional for so long and Rome-centric for so long without acknowledging that the city’s cuisine has been influenced by outsiders -- Abruzzesi in particular, Calabresi, and people coming from all over Italy and beyond.

CCL:What is the biggest misconception people have about Roman food?
Katie: That it's always delicious, that you can’t get a bad meal in Rome, when actually, Rome, like all cities, really does build its restaurant tradition on the tourist trade. Tourists have been coming to Rome since antiquity, through the middle ages and Renaissance as pilgrims.  People have been complaining about mediocre meals or feeling ripped off in restaurants for centuries. Rome is a place where it feels really good to be eating in a trattoria. There are elements of it where maybe people think the food tastes better in Rome and when you’re on vacation, but when you devote your life to inspecting ingredients people are using or systematically tasting all the carbonaras in town, it’s clear that certain venues emerge as being a cut above and other places rest on laurels, to use a Roman term.


CCL: Are there restaurant recommendations in Rome that you keep completely to yourself and friends, and don’t share with the public?
Katie: There are none that I keep completely to myself. I don’t believe in keeping those details private. There are places I endorse more than others because I know that when visitors go to Al Moro for example, they’re going to be treated like garbage and they’ve been there for 60 years. I love Al Moro. I think it’s a wonderful experience, but you might be treated really badly and you might be stuck in the room with all the foreigners. And you might have some tricks played with your bill. Something negative could easily happen, and it’s such an expensive place, which really diverges from the trattoria price point, that I can’t in good conscience tell people go there, because they’ll go and they’ll often feel over charged for an experience where they’re marginalized as foreigners.

CCL: What are some of your favorite restaurants in Rome?
Katie: My favorite is Cesare al Casaletto. That’s a place run by two rather young Romans who worked in fine dining and were really bored with the novelty and the whole fine dining scene and they wanted to go back to the flavors of their parents and grandparents. They do really exceptional trattoria food, the place feels incredibly warm, and there’s a natural wine list which most trattorias don’t have, which is perfectly suited to the cuisine. Natural wines are those made with the least possible intervention in the vineyards and cellar. There’s a limited use of sulfur or sulphuric compounds. They often ferment with native yeast from the grape skins, rather than introducing lab yeast. It’s sort of an old school traditional approach to winemaking that’s becoming popular again.


CCL: You have a section in the book devoted to cocktails and other drinks. Has ordering cocktails instead of wine become a really big thing in Rome?
Katie: Cocktails are having a moment. Most of the cocktail bars in Rome serve undrinkable nonsense - like really bad knockoffs. But there a few spots doing awesome cocktails, with Italian spirits, and Italian liqueurs, including red bitter liqueurs. In Rome, being a mixologist is somewhat like being a chef. You can get a certificate and you can call yourself a mixologist or call yourself a chef, but having the skills and the knowledge to craft something that is actually delicious - that requires a lot of  practice, and not that many people have that yet. 
   Places like the Jerry Thomas project, or Caffè Propaganda are staffed by people who are really dedicated to the drinks culture. And although a lot of their training started in the American craft cocktail movement, or was influenced by the American craft cocktail movement, in the past few years, the really good part of Roman cocktail culture has started to embrace the flavors of Italian aperitifs, Italian vermouths, and amari (bitters) that are used in cocktails rather than as a digestivo at the end of a meal. So it’s something super new by Rome standards, but the cocktails in the book, most of which were contributed by mixologists, are really fun. 
   There’s an awesome bay laurel recipe that was donated by an eel fisherman who’s been fishing on the Tiber River for about 87 years. No one fishes for eel anymore. If you were writing about Roman cuisine, you would never mention someone like that, but I think it’s a moment when the sort of smaller, minority factions of Roman cuisine deserve to acknowledged because the more mainstream things have already been covered.

CCL: I noticed you included a recipe for nervetti, something I've only recently seen and eaten in Italy in all the years I've been traveling there. Are there any other recipes you wanted to include but couldn't, for space or other reasons?
Katie: I was really psyched that nervetti ended up in it. It’s like a cartilage in salad. Nobody makes them anymore. You have to get knuckles and kneecaps and boil them forever. It’s not a food that people bother making, especially in Rome. There are only a few restaurants that make it - Tacchino and Flavio, and Augusto also makes it. There were a lot of offal dishes that I wanted to include, but you can’t obtain the intestines of milk fed veal in America, so we couldn’t have the famous Roman pagliata dish in the book. 

CCL: What's your favorite food in the world?
Katie: My favorite food is pizza. I’ll have pizza from Naples, I’ll have pizza from Rome. One of my favorite foods in the Roman category is pizza by the slice -- sheet pan pizza. I love so many cuisines. There are features of the Roman cuisine that I dream about. When it’s artichoke season, eating simmered artichokes is the biggest joy in life. When Catalonian chicory comes into season, eating that with anchovy dressing is a ritual that I crave. But I find elements of British food, Turkish food, Syrian food, Lebanese food, and American food, especially from the American South, to all be deeply satisfying in its own way.

CCL: If you could eat only one more meal in your life, what would it be?
Katie: That would be the pizza tasting at Pepe in Grani, a pizzeria in Campania. The pizza tasting consists of ten pizzas. You almost die at the end of it anyway.

CCL: Anything else you'd like to tell us about the book?
Katie: Well, a lot of people fancy themselves Rome experts because they live in Rome, but understanding the cuisine requires more than just being surrounded by it or growing up in it. So I’m really proud of the academic approach and the research-based approach that I apply to Roman food.  It’s super rewarding to be able to tell people not just how to produce recipes, but also why they’re important, why we should preserve them, and why these flavors deserve to be celebrated, even if they’re nerves with parsley sauce.
*************************
Katie is currently traveling through the U.S. on a 22 city book tour. If you want to see whether she'll be near you, check out www.katieparla.com/events.

 Sorbetto di Pesche e Vino (peach and wine sorbet)
printable recipe here

2 cups diced peaches, plus 1 whole peach
3 T. fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1/2 cup plus 1 T. sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 T. dry white wine 
2 sprigs fresh mint (optional)

In a medium bowl, combine the diced peaches and lemon juice and set aside.
Combine 1/2 cup of the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Transfer the syrup to a food processor, add the diced peaches and lemon juice, and process until smooth. Add 1/4 cup of the wine and process again, then chill the mixture in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. 
If you don't have an ice cream maker, pour the chilled mixture into a gallon-size freezer bag and lay it flat on a tray. Freeze until solid, then break up the mixture into large chunks and blend in a food processor until smooth, working in batches if necessary. Transfer the mixture to a container with a lid and freeze until firm.
Meanwhile, peel and dice the whole peach and combine it in a small bowl with the remaining 1 T. sugar and 2 wine. Allow to macerate for at least 30 minutes. Serve the sorbet garnished with the wine-macerated peach and mint (if using). 



All photos and recipes reprinted with permission from Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City. Copyright (c) 2016 by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Photographs copyright (c) 2016 by Kristina Gill. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers,  an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Ham and Brie Mac 'N Cheese


OK, so you can only serve ham sandwiches and bean soup so many times before you have mutiny on your hands. So what's a gal to do with all that leftover ham from Easter after the kids have taken some home? 
Well, how about combining it with that brie that's lingering in the fridge from a party two weeks ago -- too ripe to serve raw, but great for cooking. And maybe use up those caramelized onions you intended for the flatbread that got burned and tossed out when you stepped away from the oven for a few minutes?
Put them all together with a bag of artisanal pasta that's been sitting in your pantry for a couple of months, and you've got a stellar mac 'n cheese.
The pasta -- chubby, twisted strands in an embrace -- was appropriately called "fidanzati" -- or "betrothed."
 I couldn't resist.
After making a béchamel sauce, I added the cheese, then tossed the sauce with the ham, the onions and the rest of the ingredients. Keep that cheese sauce very loose -- about the consistency of a thin crepe batter, not a pancake batter, because the pasta always absorbs so much of the sauce after it cooks in the oven a bit. Otherwise, you could be left with a very dry mac 'n cheese.
I sprinkled the pasta with a mixture of bread crumbs, parmesan cheese and herbs, then baked it in a hot oven for about 10 minutes to crisp the top a bit.
 Serve it to friends and family, who undoubtedly, will be grateful not to be eating another ham sandwich again. 
Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 


Ham and Brie Mac 'N Cheese

1 pound pasta, cooked 
about 2 cups leftover cooked ham, cubed
1 onion, sliced and caramelized in 1 T. olive oil

2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 cup milk (I used skim)
1 cup chicken broth (optional - you could use more milk instead)
about 6 ounces good melting cheese, cut into chunks (I used brie since I had it leftover, but fontina or cheddar would work too and if you have more or less than 6 ounces, it won't matter much. If using brie, remove the rind first)
salt, pepper to taste
1/4 t. dry mustard
several gratings of nutmeg
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour, cooking over low heat for a minute or two. Add the milk slowly, whisking all the while to eliminate any lumps from the flour. Slowly add the chicken broth, and stir, then add the brie and the seasonings, and cook until the brie melts. Turn off the flame and add the parmesan cheese. If it seems to thick, add more milk or chicken broth.

Mix the pasta, the ham and the caramelized onion with the cheese sauce and the parsley. Spoon everything into a buttered casserole dish and sprinkle the crumb topping over all. Bake in a 450 degree oven for 10 minutes.

crumb topping:
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 T. butter, melted
1/4 t. dried basil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the bread crumbs and basil. Toss for a minute or two, then turn off the heat and add the parmesan cheese. Sprinkle on top of the pasta.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Breaded Chicken Cutlets




Everybody seems to love breaded chicken cutlets, young and old. They take a bit of last minute effort, but they're worth it. They're a far cry from the chicken "nuggets" you get a fast food places, especially if you add some parmesan cheese to the bread crumb mixture. The cheese adds so much flavor and crunch after they're fried. Look at that crispy crust. Don't you want to dive in? 

I don't make them that often, but when I do, I don't skip any of these three steps -- dredge the chicken first in flour, then egg and last breadcrumbs. 
I always pound the chicken breasts first to make them a uniform thickness. Then coat them in the flour, shaking off any excess. Dip into the beaten egg, and finally coat them with the breadcrumbs. Use panko - the Japanese shredded bread flakes - or regular bread crumbs. 
I fry my cutlets in a cast iron skillet, using a layer of shallow layer of vegetable oil. But I've also been known to use a mixture of olive oil and butter too.



Whichever you use - slip the cutlets carefully into the skillet. Give each side a few minutes to brown and cook. 
They're always a hit, whether you're serving children or adults. If you want to gild the lily, you can top it with some tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, then run it in a high oven (400 degrees) for a few minutes to let the cheese melt.
But I like mine just plain, with a squirt of lemon and a salad on the side.

or serve them with a platter of green veggies for a nice color contrast.

And here's another way to make them, where they're brined first, then baked in the oven and served with a lemon/garlic/parsley sauce. I may try this the next time. They look delicious.
Even if you don't want to make chicken cutlets this way, do yourself a favor and watch the loving interaction between a young man and his 90-year-old Sicilian grandmother, living in Brooklyn. It will bring smiles to your face. Stay with it to the end and it will bring tears to your eyes.




Breaded Chicken Cutlets

3-4 chicken cutlets
1 cup flour
2 eggs
1 cup seasoned panko, or regular bread crumbs, or more as needed (I season my own bread crumbs with salt, pepper, dried basil, and garlic powder)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup cooking oil (or a mixture of olive oil and butter)

Pound the chicken cutlets to make them a uniform thickness. Beat the eggs with a couple of tablespoons of water. Place the flour in a plate and do the same with the beaten eggs and the panko.
Dredge the chicken cutlets first in the flour, then shake off any excess. Dip it into the egg, then the panko. Heat the skillet (I use a cast iron skillet about 10 inches in diameter) and add the oil (and /or butter.) Fry the cutlets in the mixture and turn once, when golden brown. Remove to a platter. Use more oil as needed to fry remaining cutlets. Serve with lemon wedges.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake


Have you decided on your Easter dessert yet? If you haven't got one of these adorable Easter lamb molds, how about a good old fashioned chocolate cake?
Years ago, I found a delicious chocolate cake recipe in a magazine. It used boiling water and cocoa and was easy to make. More importantly, it was so moist and tender that it always wowed anyone who took a bite. It became my go-to chocolate cake recipe. So when I decided to bake a chocolate cake for a dinner party not long ago, I scoured my bookshelves for the decades-old tattered magazine that contained the recipe. Unfortunately, it was missing in action -- not to be found anywhere I looked.
At the same time however, Jamie, author of "Life's A Feast" blog, posted a chocolate cake recipe that looked and sounded delicious - and very similar to the one of my memory. Except that she substituted hot coffee for the boiling water called for in the recipe I remembered -- an inspired decision since the coffee makes the chocolate flavor even more "chocolate-y."
Since then, I found the original recipe, not in that magazine that seems to have disappeared -- but from Hershey's Chocolate Company's website. It's called the "Perfectly Chocolate" chocolate cake.
I would have to agree -- and I'll bet you will too.
Make it with the chocolate frosting they suggest. Or with Jamie's Chocolate Mocha Mascarpone Frosting recipe here.  I love chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Especially when there's a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
But this time, I wanted to make a chocolate mousse filling and a white buttercream frosting for contrast. If you want the chocolate mousse filling recipe, click here.  For the buttercream icing, I don't even use a recipe per se. I just dump a box of confectioner's sugar into my mixer, add about 1/4 cup of softened butter and mix. Add enough milk (and 1 teaspoon of vanilla) to bring it to spreading consistency.
Just to shake things up (and cover up any imperfections in frosting) I smeared the sides of the cake with chocolate Jimmies (maybe you call them sprinkles in your neck of the woods). 
The top decoration is easy to do too. Just pipe parallel lines in chocolate over the white frosting, then run a toothpick back and forth in the other direction to create the design.
Give it a try. Even if you're a beginning baker, it's a cinch to make and the taste is dreamy.
Speaking of dreamy, isn't this a gorgeous place? You could be here too in September, if you enroll in our writing retreat on Lake Como, Italy. We've just had to change the dates to make it a week earlier because of a government meeting that will take place during our original week. But the good news is that Villa Monastero, (in the photo below) where we'll be staying, has given us a price break because of the change, and we're passing that on to you. So click onto Italy, In Other Words to find out more, or contact me via the blog.

Check out Ciao Chow Linda's Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. You can also connect with me on here on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, here for my Twitter feed.
Happy Easter.

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake
printable recipe here

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup Hershey's cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water (I use a cup of hot coffee instead)

  • 1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans. (I used three pans.)
  • 2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (or coffee) (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.
  • 3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.
  •   
  • "PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE" CHOCOLATE FROSTING
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
  • 2/3 cup Hershey's cocoa
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.
  • Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

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    Wednesday, March 16, 2016

    Lasagna Roll-Ups for a crowd


    The invitations are in the mail and now you've got to figure out what to feed the crowd.
    It has to be something you can make ahead of time. It has to be something you can heat without standing over a stove at the last minute. And most importantly, it has to be something delicious.
    These lasagna rolls are the perfect solution.
     I mean, who doesn't love lasagna? 
    (OK, maybe they're not for the gluten intolerant folks.)
    The key to enjoying your own party is getting things done ahead of time as much as possible. For this party, held last Saturday afternoon to celebrate my son's engagement and to introduce my cousins to my daughter-in-law-to-be (oh, how I love the sound of that), I made the marinara sauce on Wednesday.
    I boiled the lasagna noodles and assembled the rolls on Thursday. If possible, I don't like to wait until the day before a party to do everything since something unexpected always happens -- or I get a bad night's sleep and can barely pour a bowl of cereal the next morning, much less make 60 lasagna rolls.
    Besides, on the day before the party there were plenty of other things to do, like set the table, arrange the flowers, roast the peppers, prep the meat, wash the lettuce, enjoy a massage, etc.
    (Just kidding about the massage part unfortunately). 
    It may seem daunting, but once I got going, it got a lot easier and went a lot faster. Working alone, it took me about 2 1/2 hours to make five pans of lasagna rolls, with 12 in each pan. If you had someone helping you, it would not only be quicker, but more fun too.
    The harder part was figuring out not only where to store all these, but also how to find room to cook all of them the day of the party, while roasting about twelve pork tenderloins too!
    After boiling the noodles (actually undercook them by a minute or two, since they'll bake again in the oven), spread a little of the filling along the strip, then dab with some tomato sauce. Leave a little space at one end of the strip, because some of the filling with bulge forward and fill in the gap at the end when you start rolling.
    These were meatless but you could easily add meat, either to the sauce or to the filling. I have a few vegetarians in the family, so I kept this batch meatless, adding some spinach for more flavor and bulk. 
    I actually prefer the meatless marinara here, because the lasagna noodles soak up a lot of the sauce, and a lighter, looser sauce means you won't end up with a pan full of cooked lasagna noodles that have absorbed all the sauce.
    I did actually have another batch that included with the ricotta mixture, some leftover cooked and ground chicken from homemade chicken broth. But that's for another post. My friend Claudia, in fact, just posted a recipe for lasagna rolls using chicken and a béchamel sauce instead of marinara sauce. 
    Place the rolls in aluminum foil pans for easy clean up. Spread some marinara sauce on the bottom and top of the rolls. You can stop here if you prefer no mozzarella and parmesan on top. Make sure you cover with more aluminum foil and they'll keep well in the refrigerator for four or five days.
    I opted for a sprinkling of cheese on top and some minced basil too.
     Of course, they look more attractive served in a nice casserole.
     I wish I had thought to take a photo of a whole tray full of lasagna rolls as they were taken from the oven, but I was too busy getting the other food on the table, not to mention the fact that people were starting to dig in before I had time to reach for my camera.
    But here's a cross section of an individual one for you.
     If you're wondering whether these freeze well, the answer is "yes," but as with all things, fresh is better.
    Still, that didn't keep me from tucking some in the freezer for those nights when I don't feel like cooking. If you do freeze them, just make sure you defrost them overnight, or allow A LOT of extra time in the oven.
    The lasagna rolls turned out to be a huge hit with my cousins and other family members, including the engaged young couple front and center.
    Congratulations you two. 


    Lasagna Roll-Ups for a crowd
    (makes about 60)
    This recipe can easily be cut in half, or in thirds, to make smaller amounts

    3 1-lb. boxes dried lasagna 
    2 3-lb. containers ricotta cheese
    6 cups grated mozzarella cheese
    2 cups grated parmesan cheese
    6 10-ounce boxes frozen chopped spinach, drained
    6 eggs, slightly beaten
    2 T. salt
    2 t. black pepper
    1/2 t. grated nutmeg

    -homemade marinara sauce - you'll need about two quarts of sauce for this amount of lasagna roll ups

    -extra mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top

    Cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions, undercooking them by a minute or two. Drain and rinse with cold water to keep them from sticking to each other.
    In a large bowl, mix the mozzarella, parmesan, drained chopped spinach, eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Blend thorough. 
    Spread the lasagna noodles out on a cookie sheet and place some of the cheese mixture along each length. Dab with a few dribbles of tomato sauce and roll up.
    Spread a light layer of tomato sauce in a casserole, then place the roll-ups on the sauce. Spread a little more sauce on top, then sprinkle with a small amount of mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
    Bake, covered with aluminum foil, at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour-45 minutes or until bubbly and cooked through.
    If you're storing in the refrigerator, bring them out about an hour before baking to let them come to room temperature before placing in the oven.

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    Thursday, March 10, 2016

    Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onions



    Although Italian food is my food of choice, and my cookbook shelves are lined predominantly with books from authors like Marcella Hazan, Lidia Bastianich and Domenica Marchetti, I am also a big fan of other types of cuisine - including Middle Eastern.
    Cookbooks from Yotam Ottenlenghi and Sami Tamimi also feature predominantly on my shelves for their flavor combinations that are so distant, yet so wonderful, from what I grew up eating.
    Someone brought this dish to a dinner party I attended a few months ago, and I found myself going back for seconds (I would have gone back for thirds, but didn't want to appear greedy!)
    When I asked for the recipe, I was told it was from Ottolenghi's book, Jerusalem, one of my favorite cookbooks, and one that was sitting on my bookshelf all along.
    I've since made it several times, with a slight variation. Instead of using the pine nuts called for in the original recipe, I used hazelnuts - a less expensive alternative to the costly pine nuts from the Mediterranean (for those of us who won't buy Chinese pine nuts for various reasons - see here). Gustiamo.com sells wonderful pine nuts from Tuscany, but fair warning - they don't come cheap.

    The sweetness of the onions and squash is hard to resist after they've emerged from the oven, but wait until you drizzle the sauce, the nuts and herbs all over it to get the full effect. Zatar, a middle Eastern herb blend, features predominately at the end. I can find it locally at a shop in my town called Savory Spice, or at Williams Sonoma, but they'll also sell by mail order.
    The first time I made this dish, the tahini in the sauce was overwhelming to my palate, so I toned it down by adding some yogurt. In fact, I made it subsequently using only Greek yogurt and lemon juice, giving the sauce a nice tang.
    It may well become your go-to vegetable dish for holidays or dinner parties.

    Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Onions
    from Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

    1 large butternut squash (around 1.1kg), cut into 2cm x 6cm wedges 
    2 red onions, cut into 3cm wedges 
    50ml olive oil
    Maldon sea salt and black pepper (don't worry if you don't have Maldon sea salt - use kosher salt instead)

    3½ tbsp tahini paste (or 1/2 cup Greek yogurt)
    1½ tbsp lemon juice 
    3 tbsp water 
    1 small garlic clove, crushed 
    30g pine nuts (I used about 1/2 cup hazelnuts, chopped)
    1 tbsp za'atar
    1 tbsp roughly chopped parsley

    Heat the oven to to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Put the squash and onions in a large bowl, add three tablespoons of oil, a teaspoon of salt and some black pepper, and toss well. Spread, skin down, on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes until the vegetables have taken on some colour and are cooked through. Keep an eye on the onions: they may cook faster than the squash, so may need to be removed earlier. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

    Put the tahini in a small bowl with the lemon juice, water, garlic and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Whisk to the consistency of honey, adding more water or tahini as necessary. (I prefer a smaller amount of tahini, or sometimes eliminate it, adding about 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt to the mix)

    Pour the remaining oil into a small frying pan on a medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts and half a teaspoon of salt, cook for two minutes, stirring, until the nuts are golden brown, then tip the nuts and oil into a small bowl.

    To serve, spread the vegetables on a platter and drizzle over the sauce. Scatter the pine nuts and oil on top, followed by the za'atar and parsley.

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      Thursday, March 3, 2016

      Pasta e fagioli soup



      Just when you think Spring might be right around the corner (crocus in bloom, artichokes in the market), along come a couple of gusty, chilly days to bring you back to reality. March is holding true to its reputation of "coming in like a lion." 
      Well, it has, but this pasta e fagioli soup offers some comfort.
      It's different from the pasta e fagioli I posted in the past, but there are more varieties of this dish than there are regions of Italy. You can make it a hearty pasta dish, or soupy, like the recipe in this post or any number of variations in between. They're all good, so it just depends what you're in the mood for.
      In this case, it was soup, and as I do with many soups, I throw a leftover parmesan rind into the pot. Don't toss those precious rinds when there's no more cheese to grate. Instead, wrap those leftover rinds and store in the freezer for soups and stews. 
      It really adds so much flavor.
      I used chicken stock as the base, but you can use vegetable stock and keep it completely vegetarian,
      making it a perfect meal during the Lenten period too, with a few slices of crusty grilled bread and maybe a hunk of cheese (oh, and don't forget the red wine.)
      Sprinkle a little parmesan cheese on top and dig in. Before you know it, warmer weather will be here.

      Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, here for my Twitter feed and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I'm cooking up each day.

      Pasta e fagioli soup

      1 T. olive oil
      1 cup diced onion
      1 cup diced celery
      1 cup diced carrots
      1 parsnip, diced (optional, but I had one on hand)
      3 cloves garlic, minced
      4 cups chicken stock
      1 parmesan cheese rind
      3/4 cup tomato sauce
      1 bay leaf
      1 t. dried basil
      salt, pepper to taste

      1 15 oz. can cannellini beans
      1 15 oz. can red kidney beans
      1/2 cup ditalini pasta, cooked in water, then drained

      Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add the carrots, celery, parsnips and garlic and sauté for a few minutes. Add the chicken stock, parmesan rind, tomato sauce, bay leaf, basil and salt and pepper. Cook everything together for 30 minutes. Remove the parmesan cheese rind. Drain the beans from the can and rinse them. Add the rinsed beans to the pot, along with the cooked ditalini. Serve with grated parmesan cheese, and crostini on the side.

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