I Heart Espresso S’Mores

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With Valentine’s Day around the corner, how about some S’Mores for your love bunnies? Although I’m into showing my love year round, I do enjoy making special heart-shaped treats at this time of year. And not just because it’s Valentine’s Day. It also happens to be my Emma’s birthday. Her birthday is the 15th and she is constantly reminding me that she is my Valentine’s present. Oh, what a precious gift!

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I don’t know anyone who does not love S’Mores. So I thought I’d add my own twist to this classic. An Italian twist, of course! Heart-shaped graham cookies and espresso marshmallows! Oh yeah, you got that right. Espresso marshmallows! Dipped in dark Belgian chocolate, and then dipped again in crushed Amaretti cookie crumbs! Oh man, it doesn’t get better than this. Words cannot describe how scrumptious these Espresso S’Mores are. Now if this doesn’t tell them you love ‘em, I don’t know what will!

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Graham Cookies       adapted from Brown eyed Baker

1½ cups of flour
1⅓ cups of graham flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
½ teaspoon of salt
1 cup of unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup of dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons of honey

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In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, or in a stand-mixer bowl, combine butter, brown sugar and honey. Beat at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until blended and the dough comes together, about 30 seconds.

Transfer the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, press into a 7-inch square, and wrap tightly. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness and cut into heart shapes. Transfer to baking sheet, spacing the cookies about a 1/2-inch apart. Once on the baking sheet, decorate the cookies with the initials of your loves, small hearts, or any design that fancies you. Gather any scraps, re-roll, and cut out more cookies.

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Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are dark golden brown and just firm to the touch. If adding both cookie sheets at the same time, rotate them after about 8 minutes and bake an additional 4 or 5 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for a minute on the baking sheets, then transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool completely.

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Espresso Marshmallows

4 teaspoons of powdered gelatine
⅔ cup of water
½ cup of freshly brewed espresso coffee
1½ cups of sugar
1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
powdered sugar, to sprinkle on finished marshmallow
vegetable oil

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Lay some plastic wrap on the bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish or pan, and lightly brush with vegetable oil. If you prefer a thinner marshmallow, use a bigger pan or dish.

Stir the gelatin into the water and let sit until ready to use.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm up the espresso with the sugar and vanilla. When warm, stir in the gelatin and water and cook for 3 or 4 minutes, until the sugar and gelatin dissolves. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the espresso-gelatin mixture until it resembles a soft meringue, about 15 minutes. You really need to start this with the mixer on low for the first 5 minutes. It is a very hot liquid and it will splatter. After 5 minutes, increase the speed to medium, and then to medium-high/high for the last 5 minutes. Pour into the prepared pan and let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Sprinkle some powdered sugar onto a cutting board and invert the pan onto it. Peel off the plastic wrap.

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Cut the marshmallow with the same heart-shaped cookie cutter used for the graham cookies. At this point, you can dip the marshmallows in some powdered sugar and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

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Assembling Espresso S’Mores

Dark Belgian chocolate
Amaretti cookies

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Melt some dark Belgian chocolate using the bain marie method. Crush some Amaretti cookies until you have fine crumbs.

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Brush the underside of each graham cookie with the melted chocolate.

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Dip half of an espresso marshmallow into the melted chocolate, and then dip again into the Amaretti cookie crumbs. Place on a heart cookie and cover with another heart. And there you have it. Heart Espresso S’Mores!  Happy Love Day!

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The left-over marshmallows can be gobbled up as is, cut into smaller hearts and served on just 1 graham cookie, or cut into even smaller hearts and plopped into some luscious hot chocolate.  Enjoy!

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Charlotte’s Chocolate-Toffee Popcorn

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I’m invited to a party over at The Novice Gardner. I LOVE parties! Angie is hosting Fiesta Friday, and what fun is a party without popcorn? And not just any popcorn. I walked into the kitchen last Sunday and found my girls making this sweet treat. It was Charlotte’s idea and of course where popcorn is involved, Emma is sure to be there! Foraging through the pantry, Charlotte came across some Belgian milk chocolate and toffee bits. She told Emma her idea and off they were, making a mess in my kitchen. Do you recall when I mentioned that all I wanted for Christmas were little elves to follow me around all day, picking up after me? I neglected to mention that I’ve already got my little elves, only instead of cleaning up the messes, they create them! So, drop by Angie’s Fiesta Friday #2 and enjoy the party!

Charlotte’s Chocolate-Toffee Popcorn

Popcorn kernels

Belgian milk, or dark, chocolate

Toffee bits

Sea salt, optional

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Pop the kernels and spread the popcorn onto a couple of baking sheets. Melt the chocolate using a hot water bath, or bain marie. Using a spoon, pour the melted chocolate over the popcorn. Immediately add the toffee bits, so that they can adhere to the chocolate as it cools. Sprinkle with sea salt for a sweet and salty popcorn. Oh! So yummy! Perfect for any party. Have a great weekend!

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Beef Stroganoff

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I love the Olympics! LOVE! Ever since I was a young child, I remember thinking how special they were. Was it because they only happened every four years? Or was it because it seemed like the whole wide world had their eye on this one special event, together, united. Wasn’t it the Beijing Olympics whose theme was “One World, One Dream”? Perhaps this is why I always seem to shed a few tears as I watch the Olympics. Including the Opening Ceremony! It never fails. For this one moment, the world comes together as one, ignoring all boundaries, regardless of race, religion, social class or political stance. Yes, we support our country, but we also unite, in search of that one outstanding performance. We’re all waiting with baited breath for that elite athlete to do the unthinkable, no matter what country they represent. I remember during the Summer Olympics two years ago, my cousins were visiting from Italy. They knew the exact day of the men’s 100 and 200 metre race. That day, everyone was running in and out of the cottage, glancing at the TV screen, making sure not to miss the event. We all wanted to see that one man, just as the entire world did as well, Usain Bolt. Oh, and what a day that was! And of course, I cried. My girls don’t get it. “But mama, they won! Why are you crying?” So in honour of the Opening Ceremony this Friday of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, how about a classic Russian dish to celebrate the occasion.

Seeing as I have quite the stash of dried porcini mushrooms, I thought I’d add some to this dish, along with its soaking liquid. An extra depth of flavour wouldn’t hurt this one bit. If you haven’t got them on-hand, no worries. You can do without.

Instead of using just cream and making it super rich, I lightened it up a tad with some thick yogurt. The egg noodles could be any variety. Egg tagliatelle or linguine would work beautifully. I chose what I knew my girls would like best.

Beef Stroganoff 

large handful of dried porcini mushrooms, about 1 oz.

2 lb. of stewing beef

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons of butter

salt & pepper

1 large Spanish onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of Hungarian Paprika

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard

2 or 3 Bay leaves

3 cups of beef stock, or 4 if not using dried Porcini mushrooms

Porcini liquid, about 1 cup

½ cup of red wine

½ lb. of button mushrooms, cut in ½

½ cup of thick yogurt

½ cup of 35% cream

½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

1 lb. of egg noodles

sour cream for serving, optional

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Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in hot water for about 15 minutes. Chop the porcini and reserve the liquid.

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The stewing beef usually comes in pieces that are way too big, and not always evenly cut. Cut them in half, perhaps even more, so that you have pieces that are more or less 1 to 1½ inches all around. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a large casserole over medium-high heat and add the olive oil and butter. When hot, brown the meat in 2 batches, for about 3 or 4 minutes. Remove and transfer to a plate.

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Reduce heat to medium and add the onions. Cook for about 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the porcini and cook for 1 or 2 minutes. Add the beef pieces and any juices in the plate. Add the paprika and stir.

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Add the porcini liquid, beef stock, wine, tomato paste, dijon and bay leaves. Give it a good stir, bring to a simmer and cover. Let it cook for 2½ to 3 hours, until the beef pieces are nice and tender. Mine was ready after 2½ hours. At that point, add the button mushrooms and allow them to simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the cream and yogurt. Turn off the heat and stir in the parsley.

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Cook the egg noodles. When ready, strain and return to its cooking pot. Add some butter to the noodles, stir, and set aside until ready to serve.

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When ready to serve, add some noodles to a dish or bowl and ladle the beef stroganoff over the top. If you like, you can add a dollop of sour cream and garnish with additional fresh parsley. Priyatnogo appetite! That’s Bon Appetit in Russian. I think! Go Team Canada!

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Dinner on the Table with a Little Help from my Blogger Friends

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This past week has been somewhat challenging for me in terms of getting dinner on the table. If it were up to me, I’d be happy with a bowl of cafè-latte and some toasted baguette slices slathered with some salty butter to dunk into my hot drink. I’d even settle with a bowl of cereal topped with banana slices or berries. But what kind of mother would I be if that was indeed what I served my girls? Oh, not to mention hubby’s reaction! So, I turned to my blogger friends for some inspiration. The only criteria was that there were few ingredients involved, and it had to be simple and quick.

The week started off with this fast and simple Beef and Broccoli, thanks to Conor over at One Man’s Meat. This is a favourite of both my girls when we do take out. His recipe is actually called Easy Oriental part 8 – Take out the take-out with Beef and Broccoli. And Conor delivered. Served with fragrant Jasmine rice, it was easy indeed and oh-so-better than take-out any day!

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The next evening featured Caramelized Onion Herbed Chicken from Bam’s Kitchen. I have to admit, Bam had me at caramelized onion! Served alongside some mashed potatoes, this chicken was tender, juicy, delicious, and so simple! How good does that look? And it tastes even better!

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Hump Day was a real bummer. Being out and about most of the day, I came home with a chill I just couldn’t shake. A lie down under a warm and cozy blanket didn’t do it. So I turned to Sandra, over at Please Pass the Recipe, and her Cheesey Cauliflower Soup.  Served with broiled baguette slices topped with sharp cheddar, this flavourful soup was cheesy, velvety, comforting! Oh, that did the trick all right. All warmed up after that yumminess!

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On the menu for last night’s dinner was Spezzatino di manzo alla birra, pere e mostarda. Oh all right! I’ll give you the English version, although I think it sounds fabulous in Italian. Beef stew with beer, pears and mustard. You will even find the French version of Margherita’s stew over at La petite casserole. I used that gorgeously black Guinness beer for this stew. Served with smashed red and yellow baby potatoes with a little butter, this out-of-this world stew was fantastic! Oh-so-flavoursome and just perfect!

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So, thank you my friends for helping me feed my family in a proper manner. And now you must be wondering what I’ve got planned for dinner on this final day of a most difficult week? Why, left-overs of course. After all, it’s Friday! Have yourselves a wonderful weekend!

My Dad’s Risotto con Porcini

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Having been pretty much raised by my dad, most of what I know about Neopolitan food comes from him. My mom passed away when I was 8 years old, which left my father to raise 3 children on his own. Having lived most of his life being cared for by either his own mother or his wife, he suddenly found himself on the other side of the table. Not knowing much about cooking, he had no choice but to jump in blindly and make sure we were fed. And fed we were!

He was an amazing cook. Truly. I can clearly remember his oh, so delicious stuffed peppers, which to this day I cannot seem to recreate. Perhaps I’m chasing a futile memory. And his lasagne. He would wake up early Sunday morning to make his tomato sauce. Then he would patiently roll tiny little meatballs to fill his lasagne with. Out of this world! I’m not sure how he managed to make such delicious food and I was too young to realize at the time what an undertaking this must have been for him. Fortunately, he was able to retire in his early 40′s to take care of me. I say fortunately, but it did come at a price. Having left Italy after World War II to work in the coal mines of Belgium, he was able to receive a substantial Belgian pension all because of his sick lungs.

One of my favourite dishes that my dad made was his Risotto con funghi Porcini. Porcini mushroom risotto. I’m not sure how he came to make such a delicious Northern Italian dish, but oh man it was good! So much so that I would request that dish as my birthday meal time and time again. It was the last birthday meal he made for me, when I was pregnant with my first, before he passed away. In my mind, I never imagined my dad not being there. I took it for granted that he would always make his risotto for me and therefore I never learned how he made it. Lucky for me though, my hubby did. Hubby would sit at the kitchen table and watch my father make his risotto. He watched and took notes of everything my dad did, timing his every move. And I am ever so thankful. It was hubby who took over with the making of this favourite dish of mine. There were many birthdays that I requested this dish and hubby came through every time. Funny thing is, I never made this dish myself. I can’t explain why. It’s my comfort dish. And I think it was all the more comforting because it was made by my dad, and then my hubby. Last night, I finally came around and decided to have a go at it. And you wouldn’t believe what hubby said. “Wow! It’s better than the one I make. Your dad would be really proud!”.

My Dad’s Risotto con Porcini

4 or 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, minced

2 or 3 shallots, minced

Dry porcini mushrooms, a small handful

2 cups of Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice

½ cup or so of white wine

6 to 7 cups of chicken stock, warm

1 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano, maybe a little more

Salt & pepper to taste

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A few notes on the ingredients. You can use frozen porcini if they’re available, although I found them to be nowhere as flavourful as the dried porcini. If you’re lucky enough to have fresh porcini where you live, by all means use them.

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I mentioned 6 to 7 cups of warm chicken stock. Because I use the soaking water of the porcini mushrooms, which I encourage you to do seeing as all the mushroom flavour is in there, I really only needed about 6 cups of stock. My theory when it comes to cooking with wine: use one good enough that you would drink. Trust me when I say there’s nothing better than having a glass of wine while making this risotto as you pretty much need to hover over it and constantly be stirring. It’s really not that bad if you’re sipping a good wine! My dad made his own wine and therefore used his, which was a heavy-bodied wine. I use whatever white wine I have on-hand, which this time around happened to be a BC Chardonnay from the Okanagan Valley, Mission Hill.

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Begin by soaking the dry porcini mushrooms in a small bowl with about 3/4 cup to 1 cup of warm water. Let soak for about 15 minutes and then chop the mushrooms, reserving the mushroom water.

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In a medium-sized pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion and shallots. Sauté for about 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, and then add the rice, stirring, ensuring that it gets coated with oil.

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After about 3 minutes, add the white wine and stir. Wait until it has been absorbed by the rice, and then add the mushroom water. Once that has been absorbed, begin to add the warm chicken stock, ½ cup at a time. My ladle holds about ½ of liquid so it worked out perfectly. As you add your ½ cup of stock, you do need to keep stirring. I mean you need to constantly keep stirring, until the liquid has been absorbed. Continue to add ½ cup of stock at a time, stirring constantly, until the rice mixture is creamy and al dente. This will happen after about 6 cups of stock, but do check it after 5 ½ cups.

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Once it’s done, al dente, remove from heat and stir in the parmesan. Check for salt and season with pepper. Serve immediately, sprinkled with freshly grated parmigiano over the top. Oh, so cheesy-creamy yummy! Mmmm!

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Wheat, Sugar & Dairy-Free Banana Porridge

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It is the start of a new year. And with the start of a new anything, we all like to begin things on the right path. Right path might not be the appropriate word here, perhaps more like a different path. I don’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions. They don’t work for me. And rather than make some and then feel like I’ve failed, I just don’t make them. I also believe that every day of every year should be no different than New Year’s day. Every day should be a new beginning, one where I try my very best.

Then the New Year rolls in. And like it or not, I do feel like it’s a chance to start fresh. Forget the past year, time to move on. And without making those impossible-to-stick-to resolutions, I tell myself that I will try my best. Try my best to be a better person. Try my best to find my way. To make different choices. To make healthier choices.

Making healthier choices usually involves food, and with the help of a new cookbook which I received as a Christmas gift, I look forward to making different choices with my meal planning. Not all the time, just sometimes. Against all Grain, by Danielle Walker, is a book consisting of gluten-free, grain-free & dairy-free recipes. After a quick glance at most recipes, I also noticed that they are sugar-free, with natural honey being the sweetener of choice. Danielle also blogs at againstallgrain.com, where she posts lovely recipes and chronicles her recovery from an autoimmune disease.

So, talking about new beginnings and starting fresh, I would like to share with you from Danielle’s book a delicious start to your day. Banana porridge. Both my daughter Charlotte and I just loved this porridge, welcoming its warmth and richness on the arctic mornings we’ve been having.

Banana Porridge

½ cup of raw cashews

½ cup of raw almonds

½ cup of raw pecans

Pinch of sea salt

2 cups of coconut milk

1 ripe banana

2 teaspoons of cinnamon

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Place the nuts in a large bowl and sprinkle with sea salt. Add enough cold water to cover the nuts by at least 1 inch. Cover and let soak overnight. Drain the nuts and rinse 2 or 3 times, until the water runs clear.

Add all the ingredients to a food processor and process until smooth. Pour the porridge into a saucepan and heat over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until warm and slightly thickened. You can eat as is. Or you can add some sliced banana, a sprinkle of cinnamon and drizzle with some honey. Oh, how yummy!

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Giving Thanks – Part II & Buon Anno!

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As the year is quickly coming to a close, there is one more thing I really need to do. I wish to give thanks to all of you for the support you’ve given me this past year. And I particularly want to thank those of you have taken the time in honouring me with awards in 2013.

With every award that was bestowed upon me, I was always grateful and appreciative. So much so that I always wanted to pay that person back in my own special way. I could have just stuck to the awards tradition and followed the rules. You know, answer the questions, nominate other bloggers. But I don’t like to follow rules. Just look at the way I write. Starting sentences with “and”. Or “but”. Or even “or” for that matter. That must be the biggest rule-breaker in the English language. What I meant to do was make that person feel special by cooking up one of their fabulous recipes and showing you all how wonderful they are.  And I did recreate some of their recipes. Some of which I documented with photos, and some of which I did not.

Such as this finnish strawberry pancake from Seana over at Cottage Grove House.

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Or her absolutely fabulous fresh corn soup.

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And if you haven’t tried Fae’s cabbage rice, over at Fae’s Twist and Tango, you don’t know what you’re missing!

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Oh, and how about Shanna’s Curls and Carrots spiced whole-grain pumpkin bread, to which I added chocolate chunks!

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And I did mean to get their yumminess on this blog. But time ran out. Or rather, time is running out. I remember years back overhearing a young woman saying the oddest thing. It was New Year’s eve and her hair was all done up. She said that every New Year’s eve since she was a little girl, her mom would tell her that she needed to start off the New Year with her hair looking fabulous. This way, she would be starting the New Year looking fab and would continue to do so throughout the year. As strange as that comment may have sounded, it stuck with me. I actually believed that if I ended the year with my home one big, disorganized mess, that is exactly what I had in store for me throughout the new year. Well, I have yet to prove if this theory makes any sense as I could never get my home tidy and organized by New Year’s eve! And so I continue to live as I do.

All this to say that I do not want to start the new year with things I should have done in the past year. Perhaps this will set me on the right path for 2014, thus getting things done in a timely manner. We’ll see about that!

So, thank you so much for deeming my blog worthy of an award. It was truly an honour!

The lovely Fae over at Fae’s Twist and Tango for awarding me with numerous awards:   Shine On Award & Best Moment Award; Awesome Blog Content (ABC) Award; Versatile Blogger Award; I’m a part of the WordPress Family Award; Blog of The Year 2013 Award.

The always sweet Tasty Treats 13 for awarding me with:  The Kreativ Blogger Award; The Versatile Blogger Award; The Dragon’s Loyalty Award.

The wonderfully creative Elamb over at Food Daydreaming for awarding me with:  The Sunshine Award and Blog of the Year 2013 Award.

The ever-so-sweet and always-there-for-me Shanna over at Curls and Carrots for awarding me with 4 awards:  The Liebster Award; The WordPress Family Award; The Dragon’s Share Award; Blog of the Year: 2013.

The super-nice Dimple over at Shivaay Delights for awarding me with:  The Versatile Blogger Award.

The wonderful Seana over at Cottage Grove House for awarding me with:  The Kreative Blogger Award.

As for passing on the awards, I deem ALL OF YOU worthy of them! Truly, I do. All of your blogs that I follow are held in the highest esteem. And instead of answering some of the questions associated with these awards, I will direct you to some blogs that I quite enjoy. I hope you have a look. They might tell you a little more about who I am and what I enjoy. After all, I’m not just a foodie!

Now At Home Mom  The oh-so-sweet Ingrid has a flare for home decor and DIY crafts that leaves me quit envious!

Christopher De Voss  The ever talented Chris has that twisted sense of humour that I really quite enjoy! He’s too funny!

Ambling & Rambling  Jackie has a way of telling stories that has me, every now and then, bursting out loud with laughter late at night, while reading her blog in bed!

thebestdressup  Because everything she shows me is just fab and I absolutely LUV!

Una Mirada B  Rosa is an absolutely fabulous artist and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! I’m just waiting for the day that I am able to own some of her artwork. For my friends and family who might be reading this, if you had to choose one for me, then let it be Oro. Or El deseo de volar / The wish to fly. Or any of them really. And for you Beatrice, I would give you this, The sewing machine!

And on that note, I wish you all the very best in 2014. Happy New Year! Buon Anno! ¡Feliz año nuevo! Baci a tutti! Ciao!   xoxoxoxo

Panino con Salsiccia

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I hope you all had a wonderful holiday with your loved ones, filled with good cheer, lots of laughter and loads of great food! I am slowly getting my mojo back. In the kitchen, that is. I seem to be having a difficult time getting back into the groove of cooking. I’m afraid that all the pre-Christmas preparations have left me knackered. I just had to use that word! It’s all good though. I’m hanging out with my girls, reading, watching movies, listening to music. We are eating, just not long, thought-out meals. Simple foods. Like this panino with Italian sausage. Oh, not just any sausage either. It’s the Bartolini sausage. I referred to this sausage briefly in the Orecchiette con Rapini e Salsiccia post. It was a side-note in that dish, with rapini the real star. This time, the star is the Bartolini Sausage.

Ages ago, I received the Kitchenaid attachments for making sausage. Hubby was hoping I would follow in my Italian ancestor’s footsteps and make some homemade sausage. All of those attachments have yet to be unwrapped from its packaging, let alone used for making sausages. But then I came across John’s recipe over at from the Bartolini kitchens. Simple, delicious and, most importantly, no casings! How great is that? Pork, spicy pancetta, garlic infused white wine, salt pepper and fennel seeds. I gotta have fennel seeds in my sausage. And that’s it. You’ve got yourselves some delicious makings for Italian sausage.

I had used some of it for my orecchiette dish and then froze the remainder into various shapes. And was I ever thankful to find them in my freezer once my mojo in the kitchen had gone.

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As I look at that photo with the sausages laid out, I can’t help but be reminded of an Eskimo Inukshuk. I grilled them on the BBQ, with big, light snowflakes falling down upon me from the sky. Sipping a glass of wine. It was a lovely evening for my first-ever barbie in the wintertime.

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Foraging through the fridge, I came up with a few goodies to add to these tasty little sausages, making this panino a meal in itself. Bumba Calabrese, a spicy sauce with Porcini mushrooms from Calabria, gorgeous spicy marinated eggplant from Italy, and my all-time favourite panino filling, rapini. Eat as is or grill it, it’s up to you. Now how’s that for a simple dinner?

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Foodie Gifts

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I want to show you a glimpse of the madness that has been going on in my kitchen of late. Not including the mess. Do you know what I want for Christmas? A little elf, following me around all day, picking up after me. So every time I turn around, poof! All clean! Wouldn’t that be something?

And if I can’t have an elf, how about one of these Holiday Baskets? Filled with oh so yummy treats. I know I would love it!

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Like this small basket which has: white chocolate bark with pistachios, cranberries and dried roses.

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A huge gingerbread Smores. Yes, huge homemade smores filled with dark Belgian chocolate and gingerbread marshmallows! Oh baby!

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Oh so yum Salted Caramel Sauce. You know, for drizzling on your ice cream. Or pound cake. Or anything really.

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And Hot Chocolate on a Stick. Made with dark Belgian chocolate. Some with cinnamon. Some with hot chill pepper. Perfect for melting into a hot cup of milk.

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Or would you prefer the medium basket? With all of the above plus the addition of two of my specialty jams. Bacon jams, that is! Bourbon Bacon Jam (which almost took me to Recipe to Riches), and Apple Bacon Jam with Cider.

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Personally, I would choose the large basket. With everything in it plus Chorizo & Port Jam, spicy Bourbon BBQ Sauce, and some superlicious Momofuku Cookies.

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Orecchiette con Rapini e Salsiccia

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It’s been mad around here lately.  Has December been crazy for you too? Please forgive my blatant neglect with regards to your blog posts.  Between preparing foods for a dinner party of 24 people, cooking a light lunch for 100, baking cookies and goodies for bake sales, organizing a book fair and a holiday lunch for teachers and staff at my daughter’s school, planning a cookie exchange party, cooking and baking for gift baskets, and a health issue which sometimes leaves me bedridden, life has been somewhat overwhelming for me lately. And I’ve left out a number of things.  Who else has been suffering from all this craziness? My family.  Not being able to cook up some homemade goodness has left us all grumpy.  Oh, how I wish some of you lived close by!

Well, I did manage a meal here and there, and with a little help from my friend John over at from the Bartolini kitchens, I made Italian sausage for the first time ever.  And not just any sausage. Simple and yummy Bartolini Sausage.  It doesn’t get any easier than John’s recipe as there aren’t any casings involved.  How great is that?

I added strong pancetta rather than mild to the meat mixture, to give it a little zing.  And I also added whole fennel seeds.  I just love the taste of fennel in Italian sausage.  I used this recipe in two ways and in this post I will show you how I used it in my Orecchiette and Rapini dish.

First, rapini.  LOVE!  One of the most popular greens in Italy.  Also known as broccoli rabe in America, if you’ve never tried it, you really should!  Rapini comes to us from the mustard family, with some referring to it as mustard greens.  With spiked leaves and little green buds that resemble broccoli, it is not at all related to broccoli.  It is a close relative of the turnip family and its flavour is characteristically pungent and bitter.  Not only is it yummy, it’s good for you too.  It has amazing health benefits such as cancer-fighting properties, keeping bones strong, lowering the risk of heart disease, and improving insulin sensitivity.  A cool weather vegetable at its best in the Fall, Winter and early Spring, when buying rapini look for leaves and buds that are crisp and dark green.  You don’t want any yellowing leaves nor yellow flowers on the buds.

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My dad always prepared rapini simply.  Sautéd with olive oil and garlic. Served with steak or liver sausage, or added to cooked orecchiette pasta. My fave!  So this time, because my caveman is constantly demanding where the meat is if I should present a meatless dish, I served it up with crumbled sausage.  Here’s how you can do it too.

Ingredients

1 package of Orecchiette pasta

1 lb. of sausage, casings removed if you haven’t made your own

2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 package of rapini, rinsed under cold water

Salt

Cook the sausage meat in a fry pan until done.  Set aside.  Boil some water and cook the “little ears”.  That’s what they resemble, no?  And that’s exactly what orecchitte means in Italian.

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Prepare the rapini.  The stems are rather tough and I remove about 1/3 to 1/2 of them.  With the remaining stems, I crush them with the side of my butcher’s knife, to bruise them all up and render them tender after cooking. Otherwise, the rapini will be perfectly done but the stems will remain tough.

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Over medium heat, add olive oil to you frying pan and when hot, add the garlic.  Cook for about a minute and then add the rapini.  Your pan will be rather full, but only for a few minutes.  It will wilt down to almost nothing. That’s why I always prepare two batches.  Add some salt and toss. After a few minutes, once they’ve wilted down quite a bit, add a lid and allow the water from the rinsed rapini to help cook them.  If they begin to dry out, add a splash of water.  They should be done after about 5 minutes.

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Once your pasta has been drained, return to the pot and add the cooked sausage and rapini.  Give the whole thing a good toss and serve.  Sprinkle some Pecorino Romano on top and Buon Appetito!

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