Monday, January 19, 2015

Italian Sausage Gravy & Biscuits

This sausage gravy recipe is an Italian version of the southern classic, redeye gravy. It has the unique flavor combination of spicy Italian sausage and the kick of espresso. Make it with a waffled biscuit and you will have a breakfast where the guests will lick the pot – that actually happened when I served this to my nephew.

Makes 8 single biscuit servings

2 tsp Olive Oil
8 oz Italian Sausage (casings removed, hot or sweet)
1 Clove Garlic (minced)
1/8 tsp Allspice
1 tsp Espresso Powder *
¼ tsp Table Salt
¼ tsp Ground Black Pepper
1 TBS All-Purpose Flour
1 C Whole Milk
½ C Low-Sodium Chicken Broth
8 Rounds Large Store-Bought Biscuits (I used Grands®) *
2 TBS Fresh Parsley (chopped)

Optional – Waffle Iron

Heat the olive oil over a medium high heat in a large skillet. Remove the casings from the Italian sausage (I used a mixture of hot and sweet) and add them to the hot oil. Break up the sausage using the back of a wooden spoon or if you are lucky, you have a Mix N Mash from Pampered Chef, which does a great job breaking up the sausage. Cook until the meat is browned and fully cooked. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 30 seconds.

Add the allspice, espresso powder, salt and pepper – stir for 30 seconds. Add the tablespoon of flour and stir until the flour is totally cooked, about 1 minute. Add the milk and chicken broth and stir until thickened, about 4-5 minutes. Cover and keep over very low heat.

Biscuit Preparation
You have two choices when preparing the biscuits. You can bake them according to the package directions or you can cook them in a waffle iron like I did. If you choose to make them in a waffle iron, heat the iron as per manufacturer’s directions, spray with non-stick spray and place 1 biscuit in each square of the waffle iron. Cook until they are a golden brown.

Pour the Italian sausage gravy over the cooked biscuits and top with some chopped parsley.

* Pronto Substitutes
Espresso Powder – use instant coffee.
Biscuits – Use your favorite homemade biscuit or frozen biscuits.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Italian Sausage Gravy with Biscuits

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Homemade Ricotta Salata

Ricotta, one of the most popular cheeses in America, is a moist fresh cheese that is used in many Italian dishes like lasagna, and cheesecake. Ricotta Salata is a variation of ricotta that has been pressed, salted and dried. Ricotta Salata is hard and white and has a mildly salty, nutty and milky flavor. It can be shaved or grated over salads, pastas and vegetable dishes or served on crackers or crostini.

Makes 1 block of cheese
2 Quarts Whole Milk
2 C Buttermilk
¼ + Table Salt
Kitchen Twine
2 Plastic Containers from Grape Tomatoes

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
1 Loaf Italian Bread (sliced & lightly toasted)


Line a large colander with two layers of cheesecloth and place it in the sink.
Pour the two quarts of whole milk, 2 cups of buttermilk and ¼ teaspoon of table salt into a large pot over medium high heat. Stir frequently to prevent the milk from scorching.  As the milk heats curds will slowly start to rise to the top. When the milk starts to steam and the mixture has reached 185°F, turn off the heat and let sit for 10 minutes. The whey will look like cloudy water under the curds. This can take 20-30 minutes.

Carefully ladle the curds into the cheesecloth lined colander – do not pour it over. Taste the curds to see if they are salty enough. Ricotta Salata has a slightly salty taste but you can adjust the salt level to your own taste by adding extra salt. If adding the second round of salt, remove curds from muslin, add salt, mix and return to the cheesecloth. Gently press the top of the curds down. When the ricotta has stopped dripping, pull up the sides of the cheese cloth and tie the top. Holding the ball of cheese in one hand, and the top of the cheese cloth in the other, squeeze out as much whey as you can – then hang it in the sink for 30 minutes to continue to drain (see photo).

Cut off the top of a plastic container from grape tomatoes and line it with a 10” x 12” piece of cheesecloth and place it in a larger container to collect the whey that will drip out. Place the drained ricotta into the container and fold over the cheesecloth to cover the cheese (see photo). Place the second grape tomato container on top of the cheese and place a 14oz. can of vegetables on top to weigh down the cheese (see photo). Place in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours to dry out.

Optional Way to Serve
Remove the cheesecloth and place the Ricotta Salata on a plate. Pour good quality extra virgin olive oil on top them sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper. Serve with crackers or lightly toasted slices of Italian bread.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Ricotta Salata.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Asian Sausage & Spinach Soup

I’ve recently acquired a taste for Vietnamese cuisine, especially “Pho”. The broth of this soup is incredible but it takes hours to make. I incorporated some of the spices used in “Pho” to enhance the flavors in this healthy weeknight soup to give it an incredibly rich and fragrant taste. This gluten-free soup is full of rich tastes, from the savory broth, to the spicy sausage, the bite of the barley and the creamy cannellini beans.  

Makes 4 main servings or 8 first course servings

1 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Medium Yellow Onion (diced)
1 lb Chicken Sausage (sliced thinly) *
64 oz Low-Sodium Chicken Broth
½ C Pearl Barley
16 oz Fresh Spinach (cleaned)
1 14 oz can Cannellini Beans (drained) *

Bouquet-Garni *
8" Square Cheese Cloth Doubled
Kitchen String
1 Star Anise Pod
1 Stick Cinnamon
3 Whole Cloves
8 Black Peppercorns

Put 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large Dutch oven and heat over medium heat. Add the diced onion to the heated oil and sauté for 3-5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add the sliced sausage and continue to sauté for 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring up to a rolling boil.

While the broth is heating prepare the bouquet-garni. Place the star anise, cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns in the middle of a double layer of cheese cloth. Close it into a sachet and tie with a string (see photo). Place it in the heating chicken broth.

Once the broth has reached a rolling boil add the barley and reduce the heat to medium low. Cover and cook for 40 minutes.

Remove the bouquet-garni and add the spinach and cannellini beans. Raise heat to medium high and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Taste to make sure the barley is cooked. Adjust the salt and pepper as needed.

* Pronto Substitutes
Chicken Sausage – use can use any variety of chicken sausage in this soup. I used an Asiago chicken sausage or you can use chicken or turkey Italian sausage. The choice is yours.
Bouquet-Garni - a group of herbs tied together in a cheese-cloth bag for the purpose of cooking them with an item to season which makes it easy to remove them when they are done.
Cannellini Beans - you can substitute navy or white kidney beans.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Asian Sausage & Spinach Soup.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Savory Balsamic Glaze and Onions

Savory Balsamic Glaze over Parmesan Baked Eggplant
This glaze and onion recipe was inspired by a segment of Lidia’s Kitchen. I created my own  
spin and used the onions that were cooked with the balsamic vinegar and gave them a second life as an  incredible spread for crositini. The glaze has the sweet flavor of caramelized onions, the savory notes of spices mixed with the acidity of the balsamic. The onion spread is sweet and tangy with a hint of spice.

Makes 1.5 Cups of Glaze

Savory Balsamic Onions Pureed and Spread on Crostini
2 C Balsamic Vinegar
2 Large Yellow Onions (sliced)
3 Cloves Garlic (peeled)
2 Bay Leaves
2 Whole Cloves
5-6 Whole Fresh Sage Leaves
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 Sprig Rosemary
1 C Dry White Wine
1.5 tsp Kosher Salt

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower to a low boil and cook for 30-45 minutes or until reduced by half. Strain and reserve the onions.
- Pour over meat and vegetables.
- Mix with equal part of extra virgin olive oil as a dip for bread.
- Use with vinaigrettes, in place of plain balsamic, for a savory note.

Remove the cloves, basil, sage leaves and rosemary from the cooked onions. The onions have a deep caramelized flavor mixed with the acidity of the balsamic vinegar and the savory notes of the spices. You can serve the onion whole or pureed.

Whole - Serve the onions whole on top of  a toasted crostini or place them on sliced Italian bread, topped with shredded mozzarella and placed under a broiler until the cheese is bubbling and turning brown.

Pureed - Place the cooked onions in a food processor or blender with 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and process until smooth. Spread on toasted crostini or spread on a sandwich.

To print a copy of this recipe go to Savory Balsamic Glaze and Onions.

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.