Baking · Dessert

Chocolate Peppermint Brownies

This recipe actually derived from an accident. I was attempting to make a chocolate peppermint cake, and added way too much chocolate. At the time, I should have realized melting chocolate and adding it to a cake would make brownies, but I was busy, and in all honesty, I still have much to learn! So, what follows is my happy accident that I found absolutely decadent and delicious.

This recipe proves that even if you have some experience and knowledge, we still can make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are actually better than what you were intending in the first place. What I have come to love about this recipe is that it is fairly easy, and not much longer to put together than a box mix; however, the flavor is so much better.

You will need:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 16 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/2 tsp peppermint extract

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9×13 pan. Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder.
  2. Use a double boiler (or the bowl/saucepan method) and warm butter and chocolate until completely melted. Stir to combine.
  3. Whisk sugar, peppermint and vanilla until combined with butter/chocolate mixture. Whisk in eggs and buttermilk until combined. Fold in flour mixture.
  4. Pour cake batter into bans and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for an hour on wire racks before topping with whipped cream.

Italian · Mediterranean

Sunday Sauce

Sunday sauce is a rich meaty traditional sauce to serve for a big family meal. It is best cooked low and slow for several hours. You can also add Italian sausage and or meatballs to the sauce, depending on the size of your meal. This makes a very double portion. I use it for a meal for 5-8 people, and freeze the rest for another meal in the future.

You will need:

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided 
  • 4 pork short ribs (around a 1lb)
  • 1/4 pound pancetta
  • several Italian sausage links, spicy or sweet depending on preference*
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium onion chopped 
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 5-6 fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/3 cup red wine
  • Two 28-ounce cans whole peeled Italian tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • Two 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes.
  • 2 pounds penne, ziti or pasta or your choice (one that can support a hearty meat sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste* if needed
  • 1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
  1. In a large enameled cast-iron pot, heat 2 Tbs olive oil until shimmering. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper and add them to the casserole in a single layer along with the sausage links. Cook over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until browned, around 10 minutes. With tongs, transfer the short ribs and sausages to a plate and set aside..
  2. Pour off all but 1-2 tablespoons of fat from the pot. Add 2 more Tbs of olive oil. Add the onions & carrot, and a generous pinch of salt; cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, 7-9 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, pancetta and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Deglaze the vegetables and pancetta with 1/3 cup red wine until the liquid is evaporated.
  3. Add the tomatoes with their juices. Be sure to rinse a little of each can with some extra water to get all the bits, swirl it around and add to the pot. Season with red pepper flakes and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil.
  4. Return the short ribs, sausages and their juices to the pot, cover partially and simmer over low heat, turning the short ribs occasionally, until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thick, about 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
  5. 30 minutes before serving: Set a large pot of salted water to boil for your pasta. For your Sunday sauce – add fresh basil leaves 30 minutes before serving. Add more oregano or salt as needed. If necessary, add tomato paste in the last half hour to thicken the sauce as needed. Finish off the sauce with fresh grated parmesan cheese.
  6. 20 minutes before serving: In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. and set aside
  7. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Transfer the pasta and toss well with some of the sunday sauce and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add some of the reserved pasta water and work it in. Top with additional cheese and pieces of meat from the sauce.

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Italian · Mediterranean

Bolognese Sauce

You need a lot of time to make a proper Bolognese sauce, as it is best left to simmer for around 3-4 hours. As a result, this is a perfect Sunday sauce – leaving it to simmer all day and fill the house with good aroma:) What sets a Bolognese apart from other meat sauces is the sofritto (onion, celery and carrot) and the addition of milk or cream. You can use wine here two ways – deglaze the vegetables before you add the meat, or deglaze the meat before you add tomato. I have done it both ways, but this recipe will be incorporating the wine with the meat. This portion should make a double batch for a family of 5-6. We use half, and then freeze the other for a day we don’t feel like cooking. Always serve with a great loaf of bread and pasta.

You will need:

  • 3-4 Tbs olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup small onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • Salt, 3-4 tsp (divided)
  • Black pepper, 1 tsp
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Fresh basil (7-8 leaves)
  • 1 pounds ground beef (85 or 90% lean)
  • 1 lb ground sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 quart or large can (28 oz) peeled tomatoes (I prefer Cento San Marzano)
  • 1 quart or large can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup milk or cream
  • 1 pound wide pasta – Pappardelle or Tagliatelle
  • ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

Steps:

  1. In a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic for 5 minutes until softened. Add celery and carrot, sprinkle 1 tsp of salt and saute for an additional 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add meat and break up with a wooden spoon, stir and mix the sofritto (onion, celery, carrots) until browned. Season with another tsp of salt. Add red wine and cooked until it is reduced and the liquid is mostly evaporated (around 7 -8 minutes).
  3. Add tomatoes, breaking them up and incorporating them into the mixture. Add remaining salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Fill one of the tomato cans with water (getting all of the tomato juice mixed in) and add to the pot. Fill the other tomato can with water and set aside, in case you need to add more liquid to the pot later on.
  4. Reduce and simmer the sauce for 3 and 1/2 hours. The goal is that the water should be almost evaporated and the sauce should be thick* (use extra water if needed as it simmers) or if it is too liquid, add some tomato paste to thicken it up. After 3 and 1/2 hours, add the fresh basil on top and stir into the sauce.
  5. In another pot, heat salted water and cook your pasta until al dente. Before you strain it, reserve one cup of pasta water and set aside.
  6. After four hours, your sauce should be thick enough that when you move the wooden spoon across the bottom of the pot, you should see it the bottom. Taste the sauce and add more salt, if needed.
  7. To finish, add 1/2 cup of milk or cream, and cook for several more minutes.
  8. Using a clean large sauce pan, heat it over medium-high heat. Add half of the portion of Bolognese sauce and cooked pasta and incorporate. Add 1/2 cup pasta reserve water and work it through – add more if needed. Incorporate the Pecorino Romano cheese and serve.
Baking · Dessert

Orange Almond Ricotta Cake

This is a lovely pound cake – you can use sour cream or yogurt in place of ricotta, as cheaper alternatives, or if you prefer a bit of tang in your sweets.

For the cake:

  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup ricotta, at room temperature
  • 2½ cups cake flour OR 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tbs orange zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice (1-2) oranges
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly roasted
  • For the glaze:
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tbs orange zest
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Step one:

Heat the oven to 200 degrees and arrange slivered almonds on a baking sheet. Cook for 5 minutes or until lightly brown. Cool. Turn up the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

Step two:

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla, ricotta, and orange juice. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, orange zest, and salt. With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Finish stirring with a spatula to be sure the batter is well mixed.

Step three:

Spoon the batter into the pan and spread it out with a knife. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow to cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Carefully transfer the cake. Whisk the confectioners’ sugar, milk, vanilla and orange zest together, adding a few drops of water, if necessary, to make the glaze thick but runny. Drizzle the glaze over the cake with a small spoon. Top with roasted almonds and powdered sugar. Serve at room temperature.

Notes: If you don’t have cake flour, you can substitute 2¼ cups all-purpose flour plus ¼ cup cornstarch.

If the eggs are cold, place the whole eggs in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes before cracking them.

Side dish

Cucumber Limeade

This is a refreshing batido or agua fresca that is absolutely delicious when it is hot and humid outside. The cucumber pairs well with the lime, and the drink is very hyrdrating and restorative. Of course, there are some people out there who might want to add a little alcohol to this, as well. I think it would pair well with a light rum.

You will need:

  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, deseeded & chopped
  • 6 cups water, divided
  • 2/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup sugar

Steps:

  1. Peel the cucumbers and remove the seeds using a spoon. Chop cucumbers into chunks and place into the blender.
  2. add 3 cups water and blend until smooth.
  3. Strain the liquid into a pitcher and discard the pulp.
  4. Add the lime juice, remaining water and sugar. Mix well.
  5. Serve chilled over ice and garnish with mint, if desired.
Baking · Dessert · Mediterranean

Pistachio Cardamom Cake

This recipe is recipe based off one from Martha Stewart, although I strongly doubt she was intrinsically versed in Middle-Eastern baking. Pistachio is ever-present in Southern Italian baking, and rosewater to a certain degree, but most likely those are due to the influence of the Moors and Middle-Eastern traders.

The more I learn and read about baking and cooking, the more I believe it is important to be aware of ingredients and their origins and give credit where it is due. i.e. I can’t pretend I just “discovered” cardamom or these flavor combinations. Rather, I am already a pistachio lover and come by it honestly, but have really been enjoying baking new recipes and exploring cardamom in my desserts.

You will need:

  • 1 cup unsalted pistachios
  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • Topping
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp milk
  • 1/4 tsp rose water

Steps:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a bundt pan. In a food processor, grind pistachios until finely ground.
  • Prepare dry ingredients: Whisk pistachos, flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cardamom in a bowl and set aside.
  • Prepare wet ingredients: Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well.
  • Reduce mixer speed to low and add flour in two batches, alternating with buttermilk. Pour batter into pan and bake for 45-50 minutes.
  • Cool cake pan on a a wire rack set over parchment paper. After 30 minutes, turn cake out onto rack and cool completely. While the cake is cooling, whisk confectioner’s sugar,milk and and rose water until smooth. Use milk to adjust desired consistency. Pour over the top of the cake.

Dessert · Mediterranean · Spanish

Almond Cake (Tarta de Santiago)

This is a flourless almond cake that we love with coffee or tea, or in the evening after a rich meal. The appeal is how very easy it is to make, and how it is so simple and yet so decadent at the same time. The recipe was given to us by a dear friend of the family, and we have been enjoying it ever since.

Tarta de Santiago has origins in the middle ages in Spain, where it was often topped with a cross in powdered sugar for St. James.

You will need:

  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 6 eggs, separated.
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • zest of 1 small orange
  • For the topping:
  • dusting of confectioners sugar
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, slivered or sliced.
  1. Roast slivered almonds for 4-6 minutes at 200 degrees in a pan, and then set aside.
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. You can use either a greased springform pan or a greased 9 inch cake pan. Dust with flour.
  3. Whisk vigorously or use a mixer to blend sugar and eggs yolks until creamy. Beat in zest and extracts. Add almond flour and salt and mix well. With a clean whisk or mixer, beat egg whites until stiff. Gently fold egg white mixture into the almond flour mixture until well-combined. Pour batter into the pan and bake.
  4. Bake until deeply brown (40-45 minutes). Let it cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes on a rack. After, turn the cake out and let it cool completely on the plate before serving. Top with confectioner’s sugar and roasted almonds.

Baking · Dessert

Chocolate Coffee Cake

According to my mother, chocolate cake recipes are always better with coffee as an enhancing ingredient.  I think the coffee in this cake is perfect, as the flavors enhance each other and make it somehow even more chocolatey. This recipe is adapted from Barefoot Contessa, and I’ve yet to find a better recipe for rich, intense, chocolate cake than this one. If I have ever made chocolate cake for you – this is the recipe. We have used it for years, without fail.

Because it so rich, you may want to consider using minimal icing. I usually bake this in a bundt, and either top with powdered sugar or simple chocolate ganache. This is also a great chocolate layer cake, in which you may want to consider a chocolate buttercream frosting.

You will need:

  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¾ cups cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
  • Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (recipe follows)*

Steps:

  1. Preheat – preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease & Flour two 8-inch round cake pans or one bundt pan.
  2. Prepare dry Ingredients-  Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
  3. Prepare wet Ingredients – In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ones.  With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. Bake – Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans. If using 8 inch cake pans, bake for 26-28 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. If using a bundt pan, bake for 42-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  5. Decorate – After the cake is completely cooled, you can decorate in a variety of ways:
    1. Simply dust with confectioner’s sugar
    2. Chocolate ganache – whisk 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate and 3 tbs of cream over low-medium heat. This is good for a bundt cake.
    3. Chocolate buttercream frosting – see instructions below. This is ideal for layers.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting:

  1. 6 ounces good semisweet chocolate
  2. 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
  3. 1 egg yolk, room temp
  4. 1 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
  5. 1 Tbs instant coffee

Steps:

  1. Melt chocolate in a double broiler or in a pyrex bowl over simmering water.
  2. Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes.
  3. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed until smooth and creamy.
  4. Dissolve the coffee in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t overwhip. Spread immediately on the cooled cake.
Italian

Spaghetti Carbonara

Full disclosure. I did not grow up eating this – that said, once I went to Italy and had it, I understood why people love it so. This has become a favorite of our children. While using pancetta or other Italian meats is preferable, bacon is absolutely fine. Of course in Italy or NYC, you can get your hands on those ingredients and fresh pasta, but for most of us here we have to make do. One thing I think makes a big difference is the use of fresh grated, quality cheese.

I think another element that many American cooks miss is the importance of reserve pasta water. I’ve seen many non-Italians cook the sauce and pasta separate. The ideal is to add the noodles al dente to the pan, and finish cooking them off use a little reserve pasta water. This makes a big difference.

On a side note, I much prefer this with bucatini (my favorite long noodle); however, it is not always available at the grocery store – spaghetti, however, is universal:)

You will need:

  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 packed cup grated pecorino Romano
  • 1/3 packed cup, grated Parmesan
  • 3 ½ ounces of pancetta or bacon, sliced into pieces about 1/4 inch thick by 1/3 inch square
  • 1 box bucatini, spaghetti or linguine
  • Salt & Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Steps:

  1. Place a large pot of lightly salted water over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, and pecorino and Parmesan. Season with a pinch of salt and generous black pepper.
  3. Add pasta to the water and boil until al dente.
  4. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the pancetta/bacon, and sauté until the meat just begins to crisp. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. Just before pasta is ready, reheat pancetta/bacon in skillet, if needed. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, then drain pasta and add to the skillet over low heat. Stir for a minute or so, working the olive oil and meat through the pasta. Add in some reserved pasta water and work through the noodles until creamy.
  6. Stir in cheese mixture. Serve immediately, dressing it with a bit of additional grated cheese and pepper.

Asian · Central American · Side dish

Stewed Plantains in Coconut Milk

This is riff off a recipe from the cookbook: My Two Souths by Asha Gomez. This cookbook is a delightful and interesting approach as it fuses southern cooking with south Indian cuisine. We tested this recipe out as great appreciators of plantains and coconut milk, and it quickly became a favorite because of flavor and how easy it is to make.

One thing about food that never ceases to amaze me is how so many cuisines are connected; for example, plantains and coconut milk feature in a multitude of cultures: Central America, India, Africa and south Asia. It is fascinating to investigate how other cultures interpret the same ingredients. In the end, we are all winners:)

This is a simple recipe, but it is incredibly flavorful. It is also very easy to make even during a busy work week for a satisfying, comforting treat. It can be a side dish, but frankly, I have eaten it as a sweet comfort when it is cold outside, after a meal.

You will need:

  • 3-4 very ripe plantains (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) well-shaken and stirred unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3/4 sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom or 8-10 crushed green cardamom pods

Steps:

  1. In a 4-quart saucepan, bring 3 cups of water, the cardamom, the salt, vanilla and the sugar to a boil. Add the plantains and cook over medium heat until the plantains are fork tender, about 15 minutes. Add the coconut milk and bring just to a simmer to prevent curdling. The stewed plantains will have the consistency of a chowder. Remove from heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.