Thursday, March 26, 2015

Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate

It's been rainy, windy and chilly here lately, and this drink was the perfect thing the other day.  (Last week we had beautiful spring weather, so hopefully this rain passes soon.)  Recipe like this are popular on the internet, and I've never been to Starbucks and had theirs.  I mainly wanted to use up the last bit of store-bought caramel sauce I had in the fridge after making this pie for Pi Day.  This was so good as it was- I can't even imagine how good it'd be with homemade caramel sauce.
I only had enough caramel sauce to make one serving, and my three-year old practically stole this out of my hands and drank most of it.  He really, really enjoyed this.  Lol.

I used some of our homemade Azorean Sea Salt in this, and it added the perfect flavor.  It doesn't taste salty; rather, it brings out the flavors of chocolate in this.
Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate
idea from the Internet; this is my version

1 cup whole milk
1 oz. good quality dark chocolate (I used Ritter Sport)
1-2 tablespoons caramel sauce
1/4 teaspoon good sea salt, or to taste
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped (save pod for other use; vanilla sugar or extract)
whipped cream, optional

1.  In a small saucepan on the stove, heat everything together over low heat until everything is melted and incorporated together and hot.  (Add 1 Tbsp. of caramel sauce first, then taste and see if you need the rest.)  Serve with whipped cream, optional, and extra caramel sauce drizzled over the top.
**This post and photos are property of**/

Monday, March 23, 2015

Pasta e Fagioli

This soup didn't turn out perfect, but it was still very good.  My beans had a hard time cooking all the way through; I should have started just an hour earlier and all would have been fine.  The soup had great flavor.  I have many Parmigianno, Grana, and aged Asiago cheese rinds in my freezer.  This is the first time I've used one in a recipe.  I simmered a Parmigianno-Regianno rind in here the whole time.  It gave the soup great flavor, and I got to eat some of the melty cheese off the rind. I understand that one can throw a cheese rind into any simmering soup or dish that you'd garnish with a hard cheese.

This recipe uses Cranberry (Borlotti) beans.  These beans are not my fave- they were used commonly in the Azores, as well, and I used them there.  They don't cook very fast and remain mealy.  I'd use pinto beans next time; they're so much creamier and also have a faster cooking time.
Pasta e Fagioli
adapted from Cooking with Lucas

½ Box Ditalini or other short pasta (250 grams or 1/2 lb.)
1 pound dry borlotti (cranberry) OR pinto beans (I soaked overnight)
½ onion
2 potatoes
1 1/2 cups smoked, diced pancetta
3 quarts meat broth
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus a cheese rind, optional
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 slices bread
1 clove garlic

1. Peel potatoes.  Finely chop onion and rosemary.  Heat 1/3 of the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Lightly brown onion and finely dice pancetta.  Add beans, broth, diced potatoes and rosemary.  Add the cheese rind if you have it.  Cook (at a low simmer) for 1-2 hours or until beans are tender.  Stir occasionally so beans don't stick to the pan.

2.  Remove pot from heat.  Remove and puree about 1/3 of the beans and potatoes.  Or, use an immersion blender to blend a portion of the soup right in the pot.  Bring everything to a boil, add pasta and cook according to package directions.  (If your soup is very thick, you may want to boil the pasta separately and then add; this is what I did.)

3. Remove pot from heat.  Finish with chopped parsley and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and the rest of the olive oil.  Serve in individual soup bowls with slices of toasted bread rubbed with a clove of garlic.
**This post and photos are property of **

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spring in Italy

I'm so excited to experience spring here.  There are tons of blossoming trees everywhere, daffodils on the side of the roads in town, and in my own yard, there are flowers and blossoms everywhere.  These pics are all from my yard.  There's also a rogue chicken and rooster couple hanging out in my yard. They moved in about two weeks ago and haven't left since.  It's fun to chase them around the yard. Anyway, lots of pics to follow!

These daffodils were mad at me; kept their faces away and facing down.

Hydrangeas leaves budding!  Yay, I can reminisce about the Azores.  

What are these? (above)
Yay, strawberry plants!!
**This post and photos are property of **

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mint Brownies II

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  I've made similar mint brownies in the past, but wanted to try these, as the base used melted chocolate instead of just cocoa powder, and I thought they might be chewier.  There is also cream cheese in the filling, unlike the other ones. And a bit less butter in this recipe.  I love the old recipe, though!  These are really good, too.

Mint Brownies 
adapted from Cooking Classy

6 oz bittersweet chocolate chips - 50 or 60% cocoa (or chopped bittersweet chocolate)*
1/2 cup unsalted butter, diced into tablespoons, plus more for baking dish
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
2/3 cup all-purpose flour

Mint Cream Filling:
1/2 cup salted butter, softened slightly
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 tsp mint extract
5 drops green food coloring, or more/less as desired (optional)
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Chocolate Topping:
9 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 Tbsp salted butter, diced into tablespoons

1.  For the brownie: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 13 by 9-inch baking dish with 2 sheets of aluminum foil (one going each direction) and leaving a two-inch overhang on all sides. Brush foil with melted butter (about 1/2 - 3/4 Tbsp), set aside. (I always skip the foil and just grease the pan.)

2.  Add bittersweet chocolate chips and butter to a microwave safe bowl. Heat mixture on HIGH power in 15 second intervals, stirring well after each interval until melted and smooth. (Or just melt this in a large saucepan on the stove, remove from heat, and continue the recipe in the same pan.) Pour mixture into a large mixing bowl and using a rubber spatula (for entire mixing process), mix in granulated sugar and salt. Blend in eggs one a time, mixing just until combined after each addition and adding in vanilla with last egg. Sprinkle cocoa powder into an even layer over batter and fold in just until combined. Add half of the flour and fold several times then add remaining flour and fold just until combined (batter will be thick). Pour and spread mixture into an even layer in prepared baking dish. Bake in preheated oven 20 - 23 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool completely on a wire rack.

3.  Mint Cream Filling: In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter and cream cheese until smooth and fluffy. Blend in mint extract and green food coloring if desired, then with mixer set on low speed slowly add in powdered sugar, and mix until smooth and fluffy. Spread mixture over cooled brownies into an even layer. Transfer to refrigerator and chill 30 minutes.

4.  For the Chocolate Topping: To a microwave safe bowl, add semi-sweet chocolate chips and butter and heat mixture on HIGH power in 15 second intervals, stirring well after each interval until melted and smooth. Let cool a few minutes.  (Or just melt in a small saucepan on the stove.)  Remove brownies from refrigerator and spread chocolate topping into an even layer over brownies. Return to refrigerator and chill 30 minutes longer, or until chocolate has set. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container.  
*I used almost 2 whole 50% cocao Ritter Sport bars, chopped.  Measured 6 oz. on the scale.

**This post and photos are property of **

Monday, March 16, 2015

Blood Orange Lemonade

Lately, we've really been enjoying the blood oranges we can get from southern Italy.  Arance rosse, or Tarocco Oranges, are everywhere here right now.  I first tried them from my local Frutteria in town here.  I buy them wherever I have the chance though, because my family eats them like crazy. I usually get large ones, and my kids and husband can eat 2-3 a day (each!).  We'll definitely miss these when the season is over.  We got a huge box of them a few weekends ago and they only lasted a few days.  We used oranges from that huge box to make this Blood Orange Lemonade.  It was a hit with everyone, of course. I want to buy some Arance Rosse just "per il succo"- for juice.  At cafes everywhere right now, you can order a glass of fresh-squeezed blood orange juice.  It is so good!!  

Blood Orange Lemonade
adapted from A Cozy Kitchen

Simple Syrup:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water*

1 cup fresh blood orange juice, 5-7 oranges
1 cup fresh lemon juice, 3-5 lemons
3 cups water
1/2 blood orange for garnish

1.  In a medium saucepan heat sugar and water for about 5 minutes until all the sugar is dissolved and it becomes a syrup consistency. Set aside to cool, about an hour.

2.  Juice blood oranges and lemons in separate measuring cups. In a pitcher, add the blood orange juice, lemon juice, water, and simple syrup. (*DO NOT add all of the simple syrup at once.  Instead, add half and then add more to taste.  I added all at once and it was too sweet.) If you don’t like pulp, just place a sieve over the pitcher and run it through that. Pour over ice and serve with blood orange slices and mint as garnish.  Keeps in the fridge for 3 days.
**This post and photos are property of**

Friday, March 13, 2015

Garlic Cheddar Biscuits

 Pi Day is tomorrow!  I don't have any pie recipes for you, but you can check out my Pi Days of Yore, of just regular Pie.  I'm not planning on making any new recipes; just sticking with old favorites. (The same stuff from last year, except Pizza Hut copycat pizza instead of the thin-crust one.)

Anyway, I made these biscuits last Monday and they were SO good.  Also easy.  And of course they were delicious, they're exploding with butter and cheese.  I won't make them often, but I'll enjoy them when I do.  These made more than 20- but I made small ones, using a regular-sized cookie scoop.  The leftovers were just as good, warmed up in the oven (not microwave) for a few minutes.
Garlic Cheddar Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 Tbsp garlic powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted* butter (divided)
1 cup  milk
1 (8 oz) package shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter (can use salted here; omit salt if you do)
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried parsley

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put 1 stick (½ cup) of butter to a small microwave safe mixing bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds or until butter is melted. Set aside.

2.  In a large mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, sugar, garlic and ½ tsp salt. Whisk until well combined. Add melted butter and milk and whisk just until flour is all wet, do not over mix. Add cheese and fold in with a spoon.

3.  Drop heaping spoonfuls onto baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until biscuits are golden brown.

4.  Meanwhile melt remaining (¼ cup) of butter in small mixing bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds or until butter is melted. Add ¼ teaspoon salt and parsley. Stir with pastry brush.  Remove biscuits from oven, brush with melted butter mixture. Serve.
*If you use salted butter, these will be way too salty with all that cheese.
**This post and photos are property of**

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Creamy Broccoli Chicken Shells and Cheese

My whole family loved this recipe, even my child who can be a bit picky.  It was like a delicious creamy broccoli-infused mac and cheese dish.  Some reviewers on the original recipe were complaining that it was too bland, but I didn't feel that way.  I added some Dijon mustard, which I always do for any mac and cheese recipe, and it really ups the flavor.  One could also add a dash of Worcestershire sauce.  And make sure to use sharp cheddar.  Another thing I did was use the meat of a store-bought rotisserie chicken; that's usually pretty flavorful.  This recipe will use 3 pots on the stove, but I think it's worth it.
Creamy Broccoli Chicken Shells and Cheese
adapted from Cooking Classy

9 oz dry sea shell pasta
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded into small bites size pieces (I used the meat from one small rotisserie chicken)
1 large head broccoli, cut into bite-size florets
2 1/2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups low-fat milk
1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 oz Parmesan cheese, finely shredded (about 1/3 cup)

1.  Boil pasta according to directions listed on package.  Drain well (reserve 1/4 cup pasta water, just in case you want to thin pasta sauce).

2.  Meanwhile, steam the broccoli on the stove top in a steamer basket for 4-8 minutes, or until done to your liking.  Remove from heat and remove lid.

3.  Meanwhile, in a large stockpot, pot melt butter over medium heat then stir in flour. Cook mixture stirring constantly for 1 minute. While whisking vigorously, slowly add in milk, then season with onion powder, garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste. Add Dijon mustard.  Increase heat to medium-high, cook mixture, stirring constantly until it starts to boil and thickens. Remove from heat, add in cheddar and parmesan cheese and stir until melted. Add drained pasta and cooked broccoli and chicken and toss to evenly coat. As it sits it will thicken, you can thin it with a few tablespoons pasta water if desired.
**This post and photos are property of**