Saturday, December 13, 2014

Hard Tack Biscotti

Every Christmas I make a variety of cookies for the holiday but I always make biscotti. The twice baked Italian specialty, that you can find in any Starbucks, has become commonplace in the US but could only be found in Italian bakeries when I was young. This recipe from my mother follows the tradition of a hard biscotti that is excellent when dunked in wine, hot chocolate, or espresso. It is definitely one of my all time favorite cookie recipes.

1 TBS Crème de Cacao 
    (or 1 tsp. chocolate extract)
1 dozen Large Eggs
2 Navel Oranges
6 C Flour (sifted)
4 C Sugar
1 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 TBS Nestle Quick
1 lb. Whole Almonds
1 lb. Walnuts or Pecans

Preheat oven to 375o F.  Beat 11 eggs with Crème de Cacao in a separate bowl.  Grate peel from 2 navel oranges and mix in a large bowl with flour through Nestle Quick.  Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until thoroughly incorporated.  Mix in nuts.  The mixture will still be slightly sticky.  On a floured board, divide mixture into 8 balls.  Roll each ball into a log and place two 
logs on a parchment covered cookie sheet (see photo).  Beat remaining egg and brush logs 
with egg.  Bake for 40 minutes.

Remove biscotti from the oven and cut logs on a diagonal into 3/4 inch slices (see photo) while 
log is still warm using a serrated knife.  Put the slices back on the cookie sheet on end and put 
them back in the oven for an additional 15 minutes to toast. Cool completely on a cooling rack.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Hard Tack Biscotti.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Octopus Salad

Long a staple of cooks in Italy, octopus is usually on the menu during the Feast of the Seven Fishes. While octopus is found in many restaurants, it is not usually prepared by home cooks in America. I have been intimidated by this multi tentacled denizen of the deep but this year I decided to overcome my fears and try it. I watched dozens of of youtube videos and combined the cooking techniques I learned with a salad that my mother used to make. The result was an exquisite dish that I’m sure my guests will enjoy. After you master a few simple techniques, you to will be able to easily master this at home and reap the rewards.

Makes 8 Side Servings.
Octopus Before and After Tenderizing

Broth Ingredients
4 Quarts Water
2 Cloves Garlic (peeled)
1 Lemon (quartered)
1 TBS Mild Paprika
2 Stalks Celery (cut into 1” pieces)
Handful of Fresh Parsley
1 Medium Onion (quartered)
1/2 tsp Ground Black Pepper
1 tsp Kosher Salt

Salad Ingredients
1 Frozen Medium Octopus ~3lb. (cleaned)
1/4 C Red Onion (diced small)
1 15oz. Can Cannellini Beans (drained)
2 TBS Fresh Parsley (chopped)
1/4 C Kalamata Olives (pitted & diced)
1/ C Fennel (diced)

Place all of the broth ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for one hour.

I recommend using a frozen octopus for this recipe. They are easier to find, are more tender, and are usually precleaned. I was able to find mine at a local Asian market, or have your fishmonger get it for you. If you are able to get a fresh octopus ask your fishmonger to clean it, otherwise watch one of the many videos on

Fully Cooked Octopus
After the broth has cooked for an hour it’s time to cook and tenderize the octopus. Grab the head of the octopus with a pair of long tongs and gently dip the tentacles of the octopus into the simmering broth for 5 seconds then remove and let cool for 10 seconds. Repeat this 4 more times. The tentacles will curl up during this process (see photos) and help tenderize it. Put the octopus back in the broth and simmer for 1 to 2 hours or until a paring knife is easily inserted into the thickest part of the tentacles.

Removing Skin with Back of Pairing Knife
Place the cooked octopus on a cutting board and cut off the hood (top of the head, and the tentacles. Discard the area just below the head and the mouth. Peel the skin off of the tentacles (see photo) and the hood using the back of a paring knife. Just scrape the skin off and you will be left with clean white flesh. Dice the octopus (see photo) and place it in a medium bowl with the remaining salad ingredients. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Octopus Salad.
Diced Octopus

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Due Formaggi A Tale of Two Cheeses E-Cookbook

Starting with a simple mixture of creamy Fontina and salty sharp Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses blended with fresh herbs and extra virgin olive oil you can create a variety of dishes ranging from breakfast to appetizers to mac & cheese to chicken and fish. 

To download a copy of this free e-cookbook, go to Due Formaggi E-Cookbook.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Parmesan Tilapia

Tilapia is a great renewable white fish that cooks quickly. The only problem with it is that it basically has no taste. To step up the flavor I’ve applied a Parmesan spread that gives it a salty, creamy and savory flavor that elevates tilapia to gourmet.

Makes 8 servings

ParmesanSpread Ingredients
¼ C Freshly Grated Aged Parmigiano Reggiano
¼ C Freshly Grated Fontina Cheese
2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 leaves Fresh Basil (minced)
1/8 tsp Dried Parsley
2 cloves Roasted Garlic

8 4oz. Tilapia Filets*
Cooking Spray


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place all of the parmesan spread ingredients in a small bowl and stir vigorously. This can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance, covered and refrigerated until used.

It’s critical that you freshly grate the cheese. The preshredded cheeses you buy in the grocery store are coated with corn starch to keep it from sticking. This will give you a gritty layer of cheese.

Spray a rimmed cookie sheet with cooking spray and lay out the 8 tilapia filets leaving at least 3 inches between them. Top each filet with one level spoon of the parmesan spread.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the fish is flaky and serve immediately.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Parmesan Tilapia

Parmesan Spread

This dish was inspired by a spread that I purchased at an upscale store in Napa. My combination of salty Parmigiano Reggiano, creamy fontina and roasted garlic come together to make a rich spread that is both sharp and creamy on the tongue. This versatile spread can be used as a dip for crackers, spread on baguettes and broiled, or spread on tilapia and baked. The uses are only limited by your imagination.

Makes 1 C Spread

½ C Freshly Grated Aged Parmigiano Reggiano
½ C Freshly Grated Fontina Cheese
¼ C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
8 leaves Fresh Basil (minced)
¼ tsp Dried Parsley
4 cloves Roasted Garlic


Place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir vigorously. Refrigerate until served.

It’s critical that you freshly grate the cheese. The preshredded cheeses you buy in the grocery store are coated with corn starch to keep it from sticking. This will give you a gritty dip.

Serving Suggestions
  • Parmesan Spread - Serve with crackers
  • Parmesan Crostini - Spread on baguette slices then broil until the cheese melts and just starts to turn a golden brown
  • Parmesan Tilapia - Spread 1 tablespoon on a piece of tilapia and bake for 15 minutes at 350
To print a copy of this recipe go to Parmesan Spread.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Strawberry Balsamic Spritzer

If you would like a drink that reminds you of summer, this simple spritzer will fit the bill. It’s fruity, tangy and refreshing.

Makes 12 Servings

1 C Frozen Strawberries (defrosted) *
 ¼ C White Balsamic Vinegar
1/3 C Honey
Club Soda
1 shot Vodka (optional)

Place the defrosted strawberries, balsamic vinegar, and honey in a blender and puree until smooth.

Fill a glass ¼ full with the strawberry balsamic puree then top with club soda and ice. You can also add a shot of vodka.

* Pronto Substitutes

Frozen Strawberries – I use frozen strawberries but you can use any other frozen fruit that has been thawed and pureed in a blender. You can also use a variety of fresh fruit such as fresh ripe peaches (peeled).

To print a copy of this recipe go to Strawberry Balsamic Spritzer.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette

Makes 12 oz. of Vinaigrette

1 C Balsamic Vinegar de Modena
½ tsp Table Salt
½ tsp Black Pepper
2 TBS Sugar
½ C Frozen Strawberries Defrosted & Pureed
2 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil b

Whisk, until smooth, one cup balsamic vinegar, ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 cup of frozen strawberries that have been defrosted and pureed. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil.

Storage: Store in the refrigerator. Olive oil thickens in the refrigerator so you will need to leave the prepared dressing at room temperature for 5 minutes then shake it well.

* Pronto Substitutes

Vinegar – I prefer a good quality Balsamic Vinegar de Modena but you can use red wine, cider, or any other vinegar depending on what type of taste you are looking for.

Fruit Puree – I use frozen strawberries that have been thawed and pureed in a blender. You can use a variety of fresh fruit as well such as fresh ripe peaches (peeled).

Olive Oil – You can use any oil, such as canola, but extra virgin olive oil tastes best and is the healthiest.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Brasciole Rapido

I've always enjoyed this savory meat dish of thin beef rolled with parsley, garlic and cheese then simmered in tomato sauce. This quick version was inspired by my son’s experience as a short order cook in an Italian restaurant. It’s a makeover that’s quick, easy and tastes great. You can serve with pasta, as an appetizer or as an entrée with a vegetable and salad.

Makes 8 servings

3/4 Lb Thick Cut Roast Beef from the Deli (8 slices)
2 C Fresh Italian Parsley (tightly packed)
4 Cloves of Garlic (peeled)
2 TBS Olive Oil
¼ C Grated Parmesan Cheese
¼ C Pine Nuts (Optional)
8 C of your favorite Tomato Sauce

Place the parsley, garlic, olive oil, and cheese in a food processor and pulse until it forms a paste.  

Spread 1 tablespoon of the paste over each slice of roast beef then sprinkle with 1 ½ teaspoons of pine nuts.  

Starting with the short end, roll up the roast beef with the filling in the center.  

Secure the meat with tooth picks or string.

Place the prepared brascioles in enough tomato sauce to completely cover them in a large covered pot.  Place it on the stove over medium high heat just until the sauce comes to a boil. Lower the heat to medium low and simmer for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Stir frequently. Serve immediately.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Brasciole Rapido.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Restaurant Review: Bouchon Bistro

California Wine Food Country

Restaurant Review: Bouchon Bistro $$$$ ★★★★★
Location: 6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599, 707-944-8037

Thanks to my sister, I’ve discovered some of the gastronomic delights of the Napa-Sonoma region of California. One of the most inspiring cookbooks in my collection is Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc. This is one of my go-to books for dishes that are different and exciting. On a recent trip to Napa I was lucky enough to dine at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro and I was not disappointed. Each course provided me with a unique and outstanding taste sensation.

Wheat Stalk Bread
PAIN WHEAT STALK BREAD: Growing up in New York, I always enjoyed crusty Italian bread. Bouchon serves a bread that looks like shafts of wheat where the crust is crisp and the interior soft and chewy. Think of it as individual crusty rolls baked into a loaf. Top that with some butter and you are in bread heaven.

HORS-D’OEUVRE: I grew up eating Jewish style chopped chicken liver spread which was rich, chunky and thick. Bouchon’s Terrine de Foie de Volaille (Chicken Liver Mousse) was light, creamy and was served in a crock along with toasted baguette, raspberry jam and gray sea salt. The combination was pure excitement. The contrast of the light creamy mousse, the raspberry jam and the sea salt all came together into a taste experience like I have never had before.  
Chicken Liver Mousse with Raspberry Jam & Gray Sea Salt

PLATS PRINCIPAUX (Entrée): The Pates du Jour (Pasta of the Day) was a ravioli like pasta stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella. Unlike Italian ravioli it did not have the crimped edges and looked like a round pillow. It was topped with a cream sauce that contained bacon, corn and black truffles. This was my first experience eating truffles (the little black specks on the dish) and they had an earthy, mushroomy perfume that just lifts the dish to a new level.

If you get to Napa make sure you go to Bouchon. They only take reservations two months in advance and reservations are required.

If you get the urge for something sweet
Pates du Jour (Pasta of the Day) 
during the day, be sure to visit Bouchon's Bakery right next door to the restaurant. I stopped by the next day to savor an almond chocolate croissant. 

For additional restaurant reviews and Italian-Fusion recipes go to

Cuisine: French
Rating: ★★★★★
Prices: $$$$ Entrees more than $25
Atmosphere: Elegant Casual
Service: eager to please
Open: lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: Required
Almond Chocolate Croissant

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Almond and Jam Cake

This has to be one of the best cakes that I have ever made. I sandwiched fluffy white cake layers with fig jam and a lightly sweet almond butter icing coated in toasted sliced almonds. The combination blended perfectly with a profusion of almond flavors contrasting with the sweetness of the fig jam.

Makes 12 servings

1 Duncan Hines White Cake Mix *
3 Lg. Eggs
1 C Water
¼ C Vegetable Oil
½ lb Unsalted Butter (cut into 16 pieces, softened)
1 C Smooth Almond Butter (no sugar added style)
2 TBS Heavy Cream
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
½ tsp Almond Extract (optional)
2 C Confectioners’ Sugar
1 ¼ C Fruit Jam (you can use fig, raspberry or strawberry) *
1 C Toasted Sliced Almonds


Preheat oven to 350°F. Adjust oven rack to middle level. Grease 2 8-inch square baking pans with shortening or oil spray (you can substitute 8-inch round pans). Lightly flour both pans.

Using an electric mixer, blend the cake mix, eggs and water in a large bowl on low until mixed. Beat at medium speed for an additional 2 minutes. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans. Place in the oven until the cake is a light golden color and a toothpick comes out clean, about 22 to 27 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake. Invert the cake onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Place the sliced almonds on a cookie sheet in the 350°F oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool completely.

Place the cut up butter, extracts, heavy cream and the almond butter into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk. Whip on medium-high until combined, about 30 seconds. Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the confectionary sugar until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to high and beat for 5 minutes. If the frosting is too thin, place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

To assemble, cut each cake in half horizontally. Spread half of the jam on the first layer. Place the second layer on top and spread with 1 cup of the almond frosting. Place the third layer on top and spread with the remaining jam. Place the last layer (I usually save a bottom layer for this) on top and spread with 1 cup of the frosting in an even layer. Spread the remaining frosting on the sides of the cake. Press the toasted almonds into the side of the cake. Serve. This cake can be made up to 1 day in advance if kept refrigerated.

* Pronto Substitutes
White Cake Mix – you can substitute yellow cake mix.
Jam – You can use fig, raspberry or strawberry

To print a copy of this recipe go to Almond and Jam Cake.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Chocolate Napoleon

Just imagine buttery, crispy puff pastry layers spread with sweetened mascarpone cheese, and enrobed with a rich semisweet chocolate coating. This dessert takes napoleons in a completely different direction. This dessert is easy to make and will really impress your guests—especially since each guest gets their own separate dessert. If you really want to impress them serve it with a scoop of good quality vanilla bean ice cream topped with a sprig of mint.

Makes 6 servings

1 sheet Frozen Puff Pastry (defrosted)

8 oz Mascarpone Cheese *
½ C Powdered Sugar (divided)
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
4 oz Semisweet Chocolate
½ C Heavy Cream


Remove 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, wrap it in plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator overnight to defrost. Wrap the second sheet of puff pastry that usually comes in the package and put it back into the freezer for some other use.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Place the defrosted puff pastry on a lightly dusted cutting board. Cut it into 9 equal pieces, using a ruler to measure out the squares. I use a pizza cutter to do this.

Place the cut pieces of puff pastry on a large cookie sheet that has been sprayed of covered with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minute until golden brown. Remove from the cookie sheet and place them on a wire rack to cool.

While the puff pastry is cooling place the mascarpone cheese, ¼ C powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Put back into the refrigerator.

Chop the semisweet chocolate into small pieces on a cutting board. In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream over medium heat until bubble start to form at the edges, stirring frequently. Do not let the cream boil. Remove the cream from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir with a rubber spatula until thick and smooth. Let it cool to room temp.

When the cooked Puff Pastry Squares have completely cooled cut them in half using a serrated knife. Assemble the napoleon by placing a cut pastry half topside down and spread 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture evenly over it. Place a second layer, top side down on top and spread another tablespoon of mascarpone cheese mixture evenly over it. Place a bottom layer of puff pastry (the bottom of the puff is flat and will give you a better looking dessert), brown side up on top and push down slightly. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Place the chilled desserts on a platter and pour about 1 tablespoon of cooled ganache over the top of the pastry letting it flow down the sides until you have used all of the ganache. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve it.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Chocolate Napoleon.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Couscous & Eggplant Salad

This summer salad is the perfect side dish to everything from grilled lamb chops to hamburgers. You have the sweet creamy taste of the eggplant contrasted with the tartness of the sundried tomato vinaigrette and the acidity of the tomatoes complimented by the fresh herbs. This salad is ideal for picnics since it has no mayonnaise.

Makes 8 servings

1 1/4 C Water
1 C Israeli Couscous *
1 ½ tsp Kosher Salt
1 Large Purple Eggplant
1 oz Pancetta (fried & crumbled) *
1 Dry Pint Grape Tomatoes
1 tsp Fresh Thyme (minced)
1 TBS Fresh Parsley minced (Optional)


Peel and dice the eggplant into ½ inch cubes. Place on a large microwave safe dish covered with two layers of paper towel. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of kosher salt over eggplant and cover with another piece of paper towel (this will steam the eggplant instead of drying out). Cook in the microwave on high for 10-14 minutes until tender. Place in a large bowl.

Bring 1 ¼ C of water to a boil in a small saucepan and add ½ teaspoon of salt and 1 cup of Israeli couscous. Cook for 8 minutes over a low simmer, stirring occasionally. Place in the large bowl with the eggplant.

Dice the pancetta and fry it in a small frying pan over medium heat until it browns and crisps. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in the bowl with the couscous and eggplant.

Slice the tomatoes in half and add them with the vinaigrette and thyme to the bowl with the couscous and eggplant. Mix well and top with the minced fresh parsley. Serve warm or chilled.

* Pronto Substitutes

Pancetta – use 2 slices of Bacon.

Sundried Tomato Vinaigrette – You can use any other vinaigrette.

Israeli Couscous – You can substitute 1 cup of orzo cooked in 2 quarts of salted water.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Couscous and Eggplant Salad

Sundried Tomato Vinaigrette

Sundried Tomato Vinaigrette

Makes about 1 cup of vinaigrette.

Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette Ingredients
1/3 C firmly packed Sun Dried Tomatoes (drained, oil reserved ~3 TBS)
3 TBS Aceto Balsamic Vinegar de Modena
1 Clove Garlic (minced)
¼ tsp Table Salt
1/8 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
2/3 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 TBS of reserved Sun-dried Tomato Oil


Place all of the ingredients, except the oils, into a blender and process on high until combined and the sun-dried tomatoes are finely chopped. With the blender running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and sun-dried tomato oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Refrigerate in a tightly closed container for up to 2 weeks.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Sundried Tomato Vinaigrette.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Balsamic Vinegar

I often buy flavored balsamic vinegars from several local stores. However this is not always necessary since you can make several varieties of flavored balsamic vinegars at home and much cheaper. Today’s recipe only used two ingredients, balsamic vinegar di Modena and a chocolate hazelnut spread like Nutella. When you first put it in your mouth you taste the sweetness of the Nutella then you get the tang of the balsamic on the back of your throat. I pour this over ice cream or serve it on the side with a dessert such as the ricotta 
cake shown here. By varying the 
amount of Nutella you can vary the 

Makes ¼ cup

2 TBS Balsamic Vinegar di Modena (Use a good balsamic, like Colavita)
2-3 TBS Chocolate Hazelnut Spread (such as Nutella)

Place the two ingredients in a small container and shake very well.

Room Temperature – If you serve it immediately it will have a saucy consistency.

Refrigerated – If you refrigerate it for at least 1 hour it will firm up and spread like peanut butter.

·         Pour over fruit
·         Pour over ice cream or parfaits
·         Spread on waffles
·         Serve with cake
·         Spread on a sandwich with raspberry jelly
·         Spread on crackers with an apple slice

To print a copy of this recipe go to Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Balsamic Vinegar.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Ricotta Cake

This afternoon I had the privilege to give a cooking class to a wonderful group of seniors at Carolina House in Wake Forest NC. We started off with Rigatoni with Sausage, Asparagus, And Artichokes fro Giada De Laurentis’ Everyday Pasta cookbook which was fantastic. Then came the dessert. I made a ricotta cake that was a cheese cake surrounded by a yellow cake. It just melted in your mouth and brought a smile to my face. The creamy ricotta filling was surrounded by light moist yellow cake studded with chocolate chips and a hint of lemon – and it was easy to make.
Makes 12-18 Servings
1 box Yellow Cake Mix
2 lb Whole Milk Ricotta
¾ C Sugar
4 lg Eggs
¼ tsp Almond Extract
½ tsp Vanilla Extract
Grated Zest of 1 Lemon
½ C Mini Chocolate Chips

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Balsamic
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour a 13-by-9-inch cake pan or a 9 inch round cake pan.
Prepare the cake mix according to the directions on the box, and pour it into the pan smoothing the top.
In a large bowl, blend together the ricotta, sugar, eggs, almond and vanilla extracts and lemon zest until well mixed. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Pour the ricotta batter gently over the cake mix, but don't mix it into the batter. Smooth out the top.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake sit about 30 minutes before slicing so it can firm up a bit. Place a spoonful of the optional Chocolate Hazelnut Balsamic Vinegar on the side of the cake for dipping.