Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The making of taralli...a dying art

I was invited to spend Sunday morning at my Italian relative’s home. I'm not related to this family by blood, but by a long history of friendship between our families that has spanned over half a century. They were going to make taralli, and asked me to join them. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to witness this old Italian tradition.

Taralli is a cross between a pretzel, a cookie, and a biscuit. It was first introduced many centuries ago in the Puglia Region of Italy. It gets it’s unique flavor from a combination of flour, white wine, olive oil, and anise or fennel seeds.

Making taralli is not an easy undertaking. It takes time, patience, experience, and the cooperation of many hands working together. Great-grandpa Nick was the head chef and did the vast majority of the work, but the rest of the family was quick to jump in to help when needed, or to banter back and forth to keep things moving along.

There seemed to be an unspoken understanding in the kitchen while Nick worked… he was teaching his family how to carry on this beautiful cultural tradition. While watching this labor of love, I realized I was witnessing the passing of the torch. I think everyone sensed it because even amid all the ribbing, there was a reverence and respect for Nick, the tradition, the knowledge, and the job at hand. It was beautiful, and I feel blessed to have witnessed it.


2 tsp. dried yeast
1/2 cup white wine, warmed
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 cups LaPina flour
1 Tbsp. crushed anise (or fennel)
2 tsp. salt

Stir yeast and ½ tsp. sugar into ¾ cup warm water (110 degrees) and let stand until dissolved. Stir to mix.

In a large bowl stir together flour, crushed anise, and salt. Add remaining water, wine, oil and yeast mixture and stir until soft dough is formed. Place on a floured surface and knead until elastic. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes.

Divide dough into small pieces. Roll a piece into a long strip, about the thickness of your middle finger. Cut into lengths of 7-inches and cross the 2 ends over and press loop together gently with a quick tap. The taralli should be in the shape of the pink breast cancer bow.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cover oven racks with chicken-wire to prevent taralli from falling through racks. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, over medium high heat. Add the taralli, a few at a time. When they rise to the top, remove with a slotted spoon and place them on a clean counter or cookie sheet to dry slightly. Repeat with rest of taralli. After 10-15 minutes, turn the taralli over on dry surface to allow them to dry on the other side.

Place boiled and dry taralli on chicken-wire covered oven rack and place in preheated 375 degree oven. Bake until golden and crisp, about 40 minutes.

Let them cool gradually. Serve at room temp.


Taralli is great when served with a salad or soup. But the flavor of taralli is at it's absolute peak when paired with a glass of pinot grigio and shared with friends that feel like family.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pass the Pepperoni rolls... touchdown

Football season is back, and it’s time to share some easy snack recipes for game-watching. This recipe is so simple. It can be put together in ten minutes at half-time, as long as the dough is previously thawed and risen. It only has two ingredients… bread dough and pepperoni.


1 loaf frozen Bridgford Ready-dough bread dough
1 package, 8 oz. sliced or stick pepperoni

Thaw one loaf frozen bread dough and let rise in warm place until doubled, approximately 5-6 hours. Cut pepperoni stick into 15 pieces (if you are using thinly sliced pepperoni, stack 5 pieces together and fold over once. Pinch off golf ball-sized piece of dough and wrap it around chunk of pepperoni, sealing all seams very well. Place rolls on greased cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Let rise 15 minutes. Place cookie sheet in 375 degrees preheated oven. Bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool slightly (10 minutes). Serve hot.

Makes about 15 rolls.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's now officially autumn....

YOO-HOO! It’s officially autumn and that makes me want to do somersaults. Fall is such a welcome change from the heat of summer in the San Joaquin Valley. Even though the weather here today is still in the triple digits, the calendar says it’s fall and I’m going with it.

I’m ready to enjoy one of the foods of autumn….apples. Not only do I love the flavor of apples, I love them because they are so versatile. They can be eaten fresh, cooked, baked, canned, pureed, and fermented. Apples can even be used to make wine!

According to Wikipedia, popular Christian tradition holds that the forbidden fruit Eve tempted Adam with was an apple, but in reality it was really never named in the Bible. As a result of the Adam and Eve story, the apple became a symbol for knowledge, immortality, temptation, evil, and the fall of man into sin.

Does that mean eating apples is a sin? I certainly hope not. But even if it is, I’m willing to take my chances. Besides… they can’t be all bad if they do such a great job of keeping the doctor away.

This recipe is a twist on the traditional Waldorf salad, and was created by my trusty friend, connoisseur and follower, Cyren. It adds Bleu cheese to the salad and creates a phenomenal pairing of flavors. Apples don’t get much better than this… except when baked with cinnamon, sugar, and a crust.


-1 large crisp red apple ( Fuji,Gala ) cut into bite-size pieces
-1 large crisp green apple (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious) cut into
bite-size pieces
-Juice of one fresh lemon
-20-25 seedless red flame grapes, halved
-2 ribs celery, finely diced
-2-3 strips cooked, cooled, crumbled bacon
-1/4 cup Bleu cheese dressing of your choice
-½ cup grossly chopped walnuts or pecans
-3 Tbsp. sugar
-Crumbled Bleu cheese

Place bite-size pieces of red and green apple in medium bowl and squeeze juice of lemon over the top. Stir to coat apples with juice. This will keep apples from turning brown. Add celery, grapes and bacon to apples, and stir to combine. Add Bleu cheese dressing and refrigerate.

Add 3 Tbsp. sugar and chopped nuts in dry non-stick frying pan. Stir constantly over medium heat until sugar caramelizes and sugar sticks to nuts. Remove from heat and cool.

When ready to serve, garnish with sugared nuts and crumbled Bleu cheese.

Serves 4

Pair this salad with a crisp Sauvingnon Blanc.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Time for a trip to Central Coast wineries

Not too long ago, we took a weekend trip to Pismo Beach on California's Central Coast, and decided to spend part of the time tasting wines in this bustling wine region. You can't beat the scenery and the wines are winning medals in competitions across the globe.

Most of the wineries offer recipes using their wines and they suggest wine pairings that complement your meals. Tastings are generally $10 per person. If you are planning to go, check with the wineries or go online and search for special events. Festivals are big on the Central Coast, and you may be there for one of the fun events.

One of the most gorgeous tasting rooms is at Edna Valley Vineyard in the San Luis Obispo area. As you stand in at the bar in the tasting room, you look out on the rolling countryside through a dramatic wall of glass. Wow. The vineyards are everywhere you look.

There are dozens of wineries in the Paso Robles/San Luis Obispo area. In Edna Valley, southwest of San Louis Obispo, a beautifully restored historic one-room school house built in 1909 serves as the tasting room for Baileyana Winery and Tangent Winery. Robert Hall Winery sits on a hill on Highway 46 near Paso Robles. This beautiful brick building is surrounded by breathtaking rolling vineyards and has an amphitheater and a large patio for special events.

I can't wait to return to the Central Coast and explore more of the other unique wineries this area of California has to offer.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Eat soup instead of exercising

I have been gaining weight ever since I started this blog. That's because I feel I have to eat everything I make. I know that needs to change, and I know exercise needs to be added to the mix. However, the exercise thing is easier said than done.

My daughter makes a delicious vegetable soup that helps us always lose weight…as long as we don’t eat a loaf of French bread and butter with it. This is her vegetable soup recipe for losing weight.

Like any vegetable soup, you can throw in anything in the refrigerator that’s still fresh. Same goes for the spices. Create your own soup that you can put your name on.


1 large onion
4 celery stocks, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 quarts water
5 carrots, peeled and sliced
16 oz. frozen green beans
1 (28oz.) can diced tomatoes
½ small head of cabbage coarsely chopped
3 Tbsp. chicken bullion
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp. dried basil leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Sauté onions until soft. Add celery and garlic and sauté until aromatic. Add water, bullion, carrots and spices and boil for 10 minutes. Add green beans and tomatoes and bring to boil. Add cabbage last. When cabbage is cooked, season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The best of the best...

In my research on origin of Cioppino, I found that this wonderful fish stew began in San Francisco in the late 1800s. This city with a heavy Italian influence had many Italian fishermen. They would return from fishing and throw part of their catch into a community pot, and that was the beginning of Cioppino. Soon the Italian restaurants of North Beach were featuring Cioppino on their menus. Wikipedia says the word "Cioppino" comes from Italian for "chopped," "chopped fine," which describes the "process of making the stew by chopping up various leftovers of the day's catch."

Most of us have had variations of Cioppino and we have favorite restaurants where we claim they make the best "Cioppino." Some have mastered this fish stew at home, and their Cioppinon rivals the best. It's hard to get bad Cioppino so everyone can make the case for their favorite place to find it.

I like Phil's Fish Market in Moss Landing on the Central Coast. The Cioppino at Phil's was featured on the Food Network earlier this year when celebrity chef Bobby Flay came out to tape a segment of "Throwdown With Bobby Flay." Phil's Cioppino won the Throwdown. Click here for a video of the Throwdown.

There are many recipes for Cioppino, but I like this one from


4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 Turkish bay leaf or 1/2 California bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 (28- to 32-ounces) can whole plum tomatoes, drained, reserving juice, and chopped
1 cup bottled clam juice
1 cup chicken broth
1 (1-pound) king crab leg, thawed if frozen
18 small (2-inch) hard-shelled clams (1 1/2 pound) such as littlenecks, scrubbed
1 pound skinless red snapper or halibut fillets, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 pound large shrimp (16 to 20), shelled (tails and bottom segment of shells left intact) and deveined
3/4 pound sea scallops, tough muscle removed from side of each if necessary
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

Garnish: shredded fresh basil leaves and small whole leaves
Accompaniment: focaccia or sourdough bread
Cook garlic, onions, bay leaf, oregano, and red pepper flakes with salt and pepper in oil in an 8-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring, until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in bell pepper and tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and boil until reduced by about half, 5 to 6 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice, clam juice, and broth and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

While stew is simmering, hack crab leg through shell into 2- to 3-inch pieces with a large heavy knife. Add crab pieces and clams to stew and simmer, covered, until clams just open, 5 to 10 minutes, checking every minute after 5 minutes and transferring opened clams to a bowl with tongs or a slotted spoon. (Discard any unopened clams after 10 minutes.) Lightly season fish fillets, shrimp, and scallops with salt and add to stew, then simmer, covered, until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf, then return clams to pot and gently stir in parsley and basil.

Serve Cioppino immediately in large soup bowls.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The best coconut thing I ever ate

OMG! I just ate a piece of coconut cream pie that made me think I had died and gone to heaven. It's called triple coconut cream pie because it has flaked coconut, coconut milk, and coconut extract in the filling. Even the crust is laced with coconut.

You might think this is a coconut overkill, but it isn't overpowering at all. The filling is very light and fresh-tasting.

I saw this pie on the food network show, The Best Thing I Ever Ate. In this show celebrity chefs talk about… well, the best thing they ever ate. This coconut pie recipe was created by Tom Douglas at Dahlia Bakery in Seattle.

This pie is more time consuming to make than most of my recipes, but if you have the time and like coconut, you've got to try this pie.


Pastry Shell
• 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
• 1/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut
• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and frozen for 10 minutes
• 1 1/2 tablespoons sour cream
• 2 tablespoons ice water

• 1 (13 1/2 ounce) can coconut milk, well stirred (NOT cream of coconut!)
• 1 cup whole milk
• 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
• 1 vanilla bean, split (can substitute 1 tsp. vanilla extract)
• 2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 5 large egg yolks
• 1/4 cup cornstarch
• 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract (optional, but highly recommended)
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

• 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, well chilled
• 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 teaspoons dark rum (optional)
• 1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted
• 1 ounce white chocolate, shaved


For Pie Shell:

Process flour, salt, sugar & coconut together in food processor until combined, about 3 seconds. Add butter and pulse until butter is size of large peas, about five to seven one-second pulses.

Using fork, mix sour cream and ice water in small bowl until combined. Add half of sour cream mixture to flour mixture; pulse for two 1-second pulses. Repeat with remaining sour cream mixture.

Pinch dough with fingers; if dough is floury, dry and does not hold together, add 1 to 2 teaspoons ice water (start with less), and process until dough forms large clumps and no dry flour remains, two to three one-second pulses.

Flatten into 4-inch disk; wrap in plastic and refrigerate until firm but not too hard, 1 to 2 hours, before rolling. You may also place wrapped disks in freezer bags and refrigerate for up to two days, or freeze up to six months. Simply bring to a pliable (but cold!) temperature before rolling out.

Place in 9-inch pie plate, trim and flute edges, and cover with foil. Fill foil to top rim with pie weights or dry beans.

Blind bake pie shell at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, reduce temperature to 350. Remove pie weights and foil, and bake at 350 an additional 10-20 minutes, or until shell is golden brown--not just "blonde." Let cool completely.

For Filling:

Bring the coconut milk, milk, coconut, vanilla bean, 1/3 cup sugar and salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally witha wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar.

When the mixture reaches a simmer, whisk the egg yolks to break them up, then whisk in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and cornstarch until well combined and no lumps remain.

Gradually whisk the simmering liquid ino the yolk mixture to temper it, then return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula. Vanilla bean can be discarded at this time.

Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until 3 or 4 bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened, about 30 seconds.

Off the heat, whisk in the coconut extract (and vanilla if you're subbing) and butter. Pour the filling into the cooled crust, press a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the filling, and refrigerate until the filling is cold and firm, at least 3 hours.

For the topping:

When ready to serve, beat the cream and sugar in the chilled bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed to soft peaks; add the vanilla and rum, if using. Continue to beat to barely stiff peaks. Spread or pipe the whipped cream over the chilled filling. Sprinkle the toasted flaked coconut and shaved chocolate over the whipped cream. Serve.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

She's a smart little cookie

Calico, my sous chef, told me she wanted to play with me in the kitchen some more. It warms my heart when she wants to spend time with me and I don’t want to pass up any opportunity, so today we baked.

She wanted to make some cookies. Of course, that's only because she knows that when we make cookies she gets to lick the beaters, clean the bowl with her fingers, and eat lots of cookie dough. She gets her three-day sugar quota in twenty minutes and gets to have fun doing it. That’s why she likes to make cookies.

Oh wait....Isn't that why we all like to make cookies????

We have a wonderful time in the kitchen together, but I know that in about an hour her sugar-rush will turn into a sugar-crash. It's not fair to her mom that I pump her full of sugar and take her home before the crash... but that is one of the benefits of being a grandma. That... and all those precious hugs and kisses.


2 cubes butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners'sugar
1 tsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla
2-1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup pecans or walnuts, finely chopped
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add water and vanilla. Mix in flour until combined. Stir in nuts. Roll into walnut size balls or shape into crecents and place 2" apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Roll in powdered sugar or dust lightly with powdered sugar immediately after removing from oven. Roll or dust again with powdered sugar after cookies have cooled for 10 minutes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard

Last night my daughter, Katie, and I were craving something sweet and chocolaty and decided to bake some chocolate chip cookies. When we gathered up the ingredients,we quickly realized that we didn’t have any butter. . . or shortening. Then we remembered a chocolate cookie recipe that calls for vegetable oil. Good thing. Our chocolate craving was getting intense.

I got this recipe from my friend, Cyrhen. These cookies are pretty and can satisfy a chocolate craving in an instant. The hardest thing with this recipe is waiting for the batter to chill. That delays actually eating them, and that is what this exercise is all about -- eating the finished product. Chilling the batter, however, makes it easier to roll it in the powdered sugar.


½ cup vegetable oil
4 squares (1 oz, each) unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
powdered sugar

Combine oil, chocolate and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time. Stir in vanilla. Add flour, baking powder, and salt and stir until evenly blended.

Chill batter 30-60 minutes, or until it is firm. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll batter into walnut-size balls and roll each ball in powdered sugar, covering all sides. Place sugared balls 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes. Cookies will not look done. Cool slightly and remove from cookie sheet.


If you don’t want to take the time to melt the chocolate you can substitute ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder and 4 Tbsp. oil for the 4 squares of chocolate. It's much easier.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


Have you ever gone to the Olive Garden Restaurant and had the Hot Artichoke and Spinach Dip? Did you love it so much that you wished you had the recipe? Well, stop looking... I found it.

I stumbled across one day and have been a follower ever since. is a recipe site that has many famous recipes from some of the most popular(and not-so-popular) chain restaurants.

There's an upside and a downside to knowing what goes into our favorite restaurant recipes. The upside is knowing the ingredients and being able to duplicate it at home. The downside is knowing how much fat is actually in those delicious dishes.

Oh well. Some things are worth a few extra miles on the treadmill...


1 8 oz. package cream cheese, room temperature
1 (14oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach (well drained)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (do not use Miracle whip)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup Romano cheese (you can use all Parmesan if you like)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. dry basil (1 Tbsp. fresh basil)
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
salt and pepper to taste

Toasted Bread
1 sourdough baguette
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. olive oil

Cream together softened cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, Romano cheese, garlic, basil, and garlic salt. Mix well. Add the artichoke hearts and spinach (squeezed of excess water), and mix until blended. Store in a container until ready to use. Spray pie pan with Pam, pour in dip and top with mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the tip is browned.

Saute minced garlic in olive oil for one minute. Cut baguette crosswise into 1/2 inch slices. Brush olive oil on each piece and place on cookie sheet. Broil in oven until lightly toasted, watching closely. Serve with hot dip spooned on top.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A quest for the perfect sweet potato biscuit

My friend and coworker, Sylvia, asked me if I had a good recipe for sweet potato biscuits. I didn’t, but thought, “How hard could it be to find one?”

I made the these biscuits two weeks ago, but was disappointed because I expected more sweet potato flavor. The next week I tried a different recipe, which had more flavor but the biscuits were as hard and dense as hockey pucks.

I then realized that finding a recipe for a light flaky biscuit with great sweet potato flavor is going to be a lot harder than I thought. But, I’m not giving up! I’m not posting a recipe for sweet potato biscuits until I find one that fits the bill.

I have two more recipes to try, so be patient Sylvia. I’ll keep you posted.

Wish me luck!