Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Traditional Christmas: Citrus Cookies and Ricotta Cookies

"Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang "Cherry Ripe," and another uncle sang "Drake's Drum." It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird's Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed. 
Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept." - Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas is Wales
There's comfort for me in the phrase "Always on Christmas night..." After a ridiculous number of courses (plus some scotch or whiskey, wine and cognac), my Italian and Uncles would indeed start singing around the "adult" table while my cousins and I (at the cousins table) watched in horror. I am so glad for those days.
My husband had oyster stew ever Christmas Eve in honor of his father who was born on Christmas Eve. When my father-in-law's first grandchildren appeared, he was Santa for over a quarter of the century every Christmas Eve. Every grandchild sat on his knee. Even when the knee was giving way. I'm grateful for those days, also.

My son waited for Santa by the door and would fly into his arms. I'm very grateful for those days. And grateful that the uncles have kept the tradition for my grand-nieces and nephews (two new grand-nieces arrived this year). Grateful.
This year, I have found comfort and strength in looking back to go forward. My baking is a combination of traditional American cookies and the old Italian ones. I have shared the Italian ones before but I am revisiting them for memory brings comfort. Christmas Past, Present and Future coexist is my kitchen. Funny what a cookie can do.
Citrus Cookies (my son-in-law's favorite)

And ricotta cookies (my favorite and judging by the fact I need to make them a few times during the holiday season - it's a favorite of others).

Citrus Cookies (makes about 24)

3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter - softened and cut into pieces 
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
zest of 1/2 orange
juice of 1/2 orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 baking pans. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar and mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add the zest and juice and briefly mix. Add the flour in 3 additions and mix well. If dough is too sticky, refrigerate for an hour.

Pinch off a two-inch piece of dough. Form into a ball and then a log - about 8 inches long and  form into a lose knot or simply cross the ends. Space them about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes (just until the edges look like they are browning). Can cool in pan. But I cool on a wire rack after a few minutes. 

Ricotta Cookies (makes about 30)

Ricotta Cookie Ingredients - about 30 cookies
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Ricotta Cookie Glaze (optional)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-4 teaspoons milk
Ricotta Cookie Preparation
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Set aside baking sheets. No greasing required. 
  2. In a medium bowl combine flour, baking soda and salt. 
  3. In a large bowl or stand mixer, combine the zest and sugar. I add the zest for a brighter flavor - the cookies will not be lemony. 
  4. Add the butter in chunks and the ricotta cheese and beat till smooth. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat till combined. Slowly add the flour mixture. Beat until all is combined. Dough will be soft and a bit sticky. 
  5. Form into 1-inch balls and place on baking sheet. 
  6. Bake for fifteen minutes - until bottoms are browned but cookies are not. If desired, glaze immediately while warm and cover with sprinkles (immediately - the glaze dries quickly) or just use the glaze. Cool and serve.
Combine powdered sugar, vanilla and milk in saucepan. Stir over medium heat till the mixtures turns liquidy and into a glaze. Brush tops of ricotta cookies as soon as they come out of the oven and cover with sprinkles. 
These are not an overly sweet cookies, so if you like your cookies sweet, the glaze is a good idea. If you like a not-so-sugary cookie, simply cool.
Quedlinburg: Where we visited Matthew in September and this week - Matthew comes home for Christmas. Grateful.

We visited the castle and he visited the Christmas Markets. There's at least one more trip to that medieval city in my future. Grateful.

Pino (mostly) stays under the tree these days. The bottom third of the tree remains undecorated.

And he still rings the bell every day. Many angels have gotten their wings.

Wishing you bell ringers and cookies in 2017. Say some words to the close and holy darkness before the New Year. Wish the world well.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I Will Feed You Pasta

I'm not going to lie. It's been a tough week. I have been writing Antigone in Munich about Sophie Scholl and The White Rose Society. Sophie practiced and preached passive resistance in Germany in the early 1940's. It's a play for young audiences and it is filled with heart and heartbreaking. I find it interesting that I started this play the day I got home from Germany. Maybe there are no coincidences.

I have spent a few years fighting carbs. This week, I caved in. These are dishes that feed everyone - everyone and bring comfort. It's right up there with warm blankets and purring cats. (From Bon Appetit, October 2016) Need some comfort? Here we go.

Ingredients (4 servings)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 ounces prosciutto (about six slices)
1 pound mixed mushrooms, sliced
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon thyme leaves plus more for serving
Kosher salt, ground pepper
1 cup chicken broth
12 ounces pappardelle or fettuccine
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter

Heat 1/4 olive oil in heavy pot (a Dutch Oven works) over medium heat.
Cook prosciutto in a single layer, turning till crisp.
Transfer to paper towels and drain.
Heat remaining two tablespoons of oil in same pot. Cook mushrooms 5-8 minutes until brown and tender. Turn heat to lmedium-low, add shallots and 1 teaspoon of thyme, a little salt and pepper and cook (constantly stirring) until shallots are translucent. Turn heat to low. Add chicken broth and simmer until there is only a thin layer left.
Cook pasta in another pot until very al dente - about three minutes less than recommended cooking time.  Using tongs, transfer pasta to to pot with mushrooms. Add 1 cup (I added less) of cooking liquid. Crumble half of prosciutto into pot. Increase heat to medium, cook stirring until pasta is finished (mine talk one minute, Bon Appetit says 2 minutes). Add cream, simmer and cook until pasta is coated. Remove from heat, add butter. Adjust seasonings. Put pasta in dishes (or one big dish dish), crumble the rest of the prosciutto on top and serve. Garnish with thyme. I always serve with Parmiggiano-Reggiano.

From start to finish, I was at the stove about twenty minutes. Fast, easy, fresh.

Food is nurture.  want to nurture. The body. And the soul.

This is first and foremost a food blog but I should let you know who I am.

I am the granddaughter of Italian immigrants. Grandma and Grandpa were from southern Italy so were marked "brown" at Ellis Island while northern Italians were marked "white."

All are welcome at my table. All. Every race, every religion, those with no religion, LGBT, immigrants. There are no walls. There never will be.

From Leonard Cohen, who has provided solace for me through the years.

"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Simple Season

You know this season - the season of no-cook. Sometimes the season of take-out. Hazy, hot days. Butterflies and bees. An abundance of zucchini - and if lucky - too many tomatoes. (Take my zucchini: please.)

It's a good time to picnic. Even when you picnic somewhere inside where there's air conditioning!

And at least once a year, we pack these babies up and go stare at a lake or a river.

The thing about the muffuletta sandwich is - anything goes. Italian bread, ciabatta bread, sourdough bread - pick your favorite. Slice almost in half - take out some of the bready dough (I know, people always say "and reserve for another use." But do you? We feed it to the birds.) And then add what you will. I like roasted red peppers and an olive salad slathered on the bottom and top. And a good dousing of oil and vinegar. And I'm partial to a mixture of salami, provolone, prosciutto - but really - any of your favorite meats and cheeses will do. I slam that sandwich together and put a weight on it and let it press together and we're good to go. Sometimes, I warm it in the oven to melt the cheese a bit and cement it that way.

It's always good. Always. We left the low-carb bandwagon for awhile. (And gained weight.) But you know when you saute some shrimp and zucchini (did I mention I have a lot of zucchini?) and toss it with pasta and tomatoes, life looks really good on that side of the pasta bowl.

My tomatoes are on steroids - all of them: the Plum tomatoes, the San Marzano, the Early Girl, the Beefsteak. They were diced and mixed with a large handful of basil, some Italian parsley and some warmed garlic in olive oil. I salt and pepper lightly - because at the table it's topped with fresh Parmesan and that's usually all the salt it needs. The bowl is covered and sits on the counter for the rest of the day. When we're ready to eat, we cook up some pasta and done.

I don't even warm the sauce.

My new favorite appetizer is a spreadable or softened cheese on toast. It's topped with a little radish and favorite herbs. It takes five minutes. And I get compliments. Which is sweet. (I should probably add some zucchini - because - did I mention - I have a lot of zucchini? From two plants. About sixty zucchini thus far and more coming.)

It's the season of "Fast, Easy Fresh" and it leaves you time. To gaze at whatever summer-scene strikes your fancy. For me - it's usually water. I am a Cancer and if there's anything to that astrology-thing, they have me pegged. I am a water-baby. I can look at this all day.

And then sometimes on a patio, overlooking a lake - there's beer.
 Happy August.

Friday, July 8, 2016


Love is ...

- the natural world.

Love is...

- daisy days.

Love is ...

- all creatures great and small.

Love is...

- work.

Love is ...

- color.

Love is ...

- breaking bread with others.

Love is ...

- cooking for loved ones.

Love is ...

- them.

- and them.

And you. And me. And us.

"We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger.
We rise and fall and light from dying embers.
Remembrances that hope and love last longer.
And love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
I say that as symphony. Eliza tells her story. Now fill the world with music, love, and pride."
- excerpt from Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony acceptance speech

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Artichokes - Roman Style

Roman Artichokes or Carfiofi alla Romana. I was going to post this one month ago - but then "life" happened as it often does.

Straight forward and easy (yes, cleaning the artichokes takes a little time. Put on music and go to your zen place) but once that is done, it's smooth sailing.

Traditionally, the recipe calls for about one tablespoon of fresh Italian parsley and three tablespoons of fresh mint. My early spring garden had Italian parsley, oregano and a touch of mint so that's what I used.

Ingredients - serves 3-6
3 artichokes - halved, trimmed
4 tablespoons fresh chopped herbs (Italian parsley, mint, oregano, basil)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
3/4 cup boiling water

Trim artichokes and remove choke. "How to instructions" can be found here and here. Plunge each one into lemon water as you continue trimming.
Combine minced herbs, garlic and olive oil. Put herb mixture into the cavity of the halved artichoke.
Fit them all snuggly into a deep pan so that they don't fall over. Pour the white wine and boiling water over them and simmer for about an hour until tender.

Hunger is a great motivator. I often wonder when someone pulled up their first artichoke and declared, "A thistle! Let's eat it!" I think that's what I love about the "cucina povera." The frugal, peasant recipes of Italy will always call to me. It's a bond with past generations.

And that's about the amount of cooking I have managed in the last two months because...

... in April I was at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah working on my play Almost, Mary (about Mary Anning, the first female paleontologist).

And then I was in Evanston, IL with the Purple Crayon Players for my play Bound by Stardust - my quirky Otto Schmidt/North Pole/physics play.

And then I was fortunate enough to be in Independence, Kansas at the William Inge Festival of New Plays with my one-act A Paper Forest (about climate change).That's William Inge's home above - I am a great fan of that playwright - he wrote so eloquently about small town America.

And because we needed more excitement - Matthew successfully defended his PhD in plant pathology in May. Ironically, his degree will confer on May 31 - the same day that Kirsten's AuD will confer. (They're a little competitive.) So ladies and gentleman - may I introduce Dr. Haas and Dr. Haas!

AND...thirty years ago today, I began an adventure ...

The adventure continues today. The "kids" took us out for a celebratory dinner (Italian) and tonight - we will do Chinese take-out. How's that for a journey of an Italian cook? And because we weren't busy enough this spring, we will be hosting a farewell barbecue for my eldest who moves to Germany on May 30th. (It's getting real.) Happy Spring, all.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Chicken Spinach Lasagna Roll-Ups

One year ago, I posted a lasagna roll up recipe with spinach, ricotta and tomato sauce. They were a hit - mainly because it is super-easy to exercise portion control and very easy to serve. Last December, I saw a similar recipe with alfredo sauce and loved the looks of it. But of course, when I went back to find it - all I could find were fillings that contained cream cheese, ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan. And I thought: "Mama-Mia! - that's a lot of cheese!" If you weren't lactose intolerant before the meal, you might be afterwards.

This is rich - but it won't send you into a coma. It's filled with chicken, spinach, mozzarella and parmesan. Plus - you can devise the amount in the filling to suit you. I've seen some with broccoli, others with just cheese. You just can't mess this up. I made this early in the day, refrigerated it and popped it in the oven when the guests arrived. It's a nifty, 30-minute coking time.

Ingredients - serves 6-8 depending on appetites (the three females at the table had a serving size of one; the three males took 2-3)

2 cups your favorite alfredo sauce
15 lasagna noodles
2 cups cooked chicken
1 10 oz package frozen spinach - well drained (of course, you can use fresh spinach)
1-1/2 - 2 cups shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup Parmesan
Italian seasoning (or fresh Italian parsley)
A little garlic is nice

I didn't over stuff-them. Just adjust the filling amount to what works for you.

Get out all the moisture in the frozen spinach. (I drained over night.)
Cook lasagna noodles. Drain on paper towels.
Mix cooked chicken, spinach and cheeses in a bowl. Season to taste. I just used some Italian seasoning and pepper.
Thinly spread some alfredo sauce in the bottom of your lasagna pan.
Thinly spread about 1 tablespoon of the alfredo sauce on the drained noodles. Add about 3 tablespoons of the filling and spread thinly. Roll up the lasagna noodles and place seam-side down in the pan. Repeat. And repeat. Dollup each roll-up with 1 tablespoon of the alfredo sauce.

When you are ready to cook them, preheat oven to 350 degrees F and bake for thirty minutes. Serve. Tada!

I needed two pans.

I has leftovers. Everyone rejoiced and took some home.

We've had a mild winter. I walked most of the winter. I also gained weight. (I think the two cookbooks: French Comfort Food and Winter Cabin Cooking had something to do with it. I meant to post the recipes all winter (very good). Winter Cabin Cooking is also too pretty - makes you fall in love with winter. So as I look at my jeans that I do not fit into, I am reminded how comforted I was this winter!

We barely need the fireplace. March has been warmer than usual. But Matthew's cat is here now and Puck loves it so it goes on for a bit.

And the three cats are mostly getting along.

The theatre work (the stuff I am supposed to be doing when I am not cooking) has gone well. I am flying to Salt Lake City in April to develop a youth play about the first female paleontologist, Mary Anning. Then, I go to Chicago to develop my arctic-physics play Bound by Stardust. Then I come home for a day and do laundry and then go to Independence, Kansas for my one act play about climate change. I had to laugh - I finally get into some places that I have targeted for years - and all happens in April. So, April won't be the cruelest month. Just a busy one.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Easy Kalamata Olive Bread

I wrote a play. And started another. As I try to increase my writing output (while I still have something resembling a brain), I look for ease in the day-to-day stuff. This kalamata bread is as easy as bread gets. Briny, crusty and pliable - this is what you want in January. It's not a boon to my waistline but it certainly elevates the mood as we watch the thermometer plummet.

Paul and I simply spread butter on slice after slice after it came out of the oven (who needed to wait for dinner?). But someone mentioned that this would be tasty with some olive tapenade. And I agree. Next time. This is from The Wanderlust Kitchen and I would keep most everything as is - except maybe increase the salt and garlic powder a wee bit.

It needs only two rises, so you don't have to decide at 6 a.m. that you would like fresh bread. The mixer does the kneading and you don't need specialty flours - so even if you're snowed in, you can make this. No more standing on line for the requisite bread and milk every time the weather promises a blizzard. (Yes, East Coast - I did feel for you.)

Ingredients for Kalamata Olive Bread
1-1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup lukewarm water
1/2 teaspoon salt (I would increase that a bit)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (go whole hog and use a teaspoon)
1/2 cup pitted, chopped kalamata olives (can use more)

1. Combine first six ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Roughly combine the ingredients. Let rest for fifteen minutes to activate the yeast.
2. Fold in the olives. Attach the dough hook and mix (knead) for five minutes. If the dough isn't releasing from the sides of the bowl, you can sprinkle in a bit more flour (I didn't need to).
3. Transfer kneaded dough to an large, oiled bowl. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for sixty minutes. (I actually put mine on the stovetop where I had the oven on very low because it was one of those Polar Vortex days.)
4. Punch dough down and transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet. Shape into a loaf and let it rise for another 60 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place a second baking sheet on the bottom rack. Dust your dough with some flour and make three shallow cuts on the top of the dough.
6. Place the baking sheet with the dough in the middle o the oven. Pour 1/2 cup of water in the baking sheet below. Bake for thirty minutes.
7. Supposedly you let it cool on a wire rack before slicing. Let me know how that works for you.

White Bear Lake finally did freeze over and the ice fisher-people rejoiced. I manage a winter walk on most days (because: bread and waistline). One of my resolutions that I made last July was to try and embrace winter. I love the looks of it. I love the rosy-cheeked glow. I am good with winter white. And I spent three years working on a play that went back and forth to the arctic. Somewhere around Draft 12, the arctic got into my system and I said, "All right. You can stay."

And below - is a cat - for no reason. Except he's kind of cute. Happy January!