Friday, November 30, 2012

Cookie Cutters and an "Anise Cutout Cookie" Recipe

Welcome, I hope that everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend filled with family, friends, food, and fun. Now that Thanksgiving is behind us for another year, it is time to prepare for my favorite time of the year, which is Christmas! Have you decorated and put up your sparkling tree yet? Were you one of the many people that went Christmas shopping on Black Friday? Did you get all of your gifts on your list? Have you even thought of what to serve for Christmas Eve or Christmas day dinner for your family? I know, here we are and it is December 1st already and it is overwhelming. So many things to do, places to go and not enough time to really enjoy the season. Well, I have one solution for you!

It is time to bring out the cookie cutters! December 1-7th is "National Cookie Cutter Week," just in time for your holiday baking. This may be one thing that you can cross off your “Holiday To Do List“. Do you know what other day is celebrated on December 4th? It is "National Cookie Day". So what better way to honor one of the most loved desserts in the world? By making cookies with cookie cutters. What a delightful way to bring in the holiday season!

“National Cookie Cutter Week” was started in the mid 1990’s by Paula Mullins from KY. She designed a cutter for each year for the “Cookie Cutter Collector’s Club”. Lyn Linder took over in 2007 when Mullins decided she no longer wanted to be involved. The English word “cookie” is derived from the Dutch word “Koekje,” which means little cake. Bakers used to place a small amount of cake batter in the oven to test the temperature. They soon discovered that these little bits of cooked batter were quite tasty on their own, and the “Cookie” was born!

The holiday season means lots of goodies, especially cookies. In the next few weeks many people will be searching their kitchens, pantry, and drawers for the cookie cutters, which may have been passed down through their family generations. Cookie cutters come in many shapes and sizes. At this time of the year, you see Christmas Trees, Santa, Snowmen, Bells, Stars, Snowflakes, and Gingerbread people to name just a few. Choose simply shaped cookie cutters that are open in the back. If you have cookie cutters that are closed in the back, it is more difficult to work with as the dough warms up, they stick sometimes. Before you make your shape on the dough with your cookie cutter, dip the cutter in a small amount of flour. This prevents the cookie cutter from sticking on the dough. Any dough that you use cookie cutters with should be chilled before baking. Cookies can be classified into 3 categories. Drop cookies, Rolled and pressed cookies. They can have nuts, cranberries, raisins, and be decorated with sugar icing.

There is nothing more fun and relaxing than making home made cookies with my cookie cutters that have been passed down from my mom to me. It is a wonderful way to bake with your family and make memories that will last a lifetime. Let this be the day that you buy a new cookie cutter and start your own tradition. Enjoy your home made cookies with a tall glass of cold milk or hot chocolate. Remember 'tis the season to be merry!

My recipe this week is called “Anise Cutout Cookies”. This recipe I found in the “Taste of Home” magazine. What drew me to this recipe were the anise seeds which my family uses not only in baking, but also cooking, and eating raw. Fennel or Anise (Finocchio is the Italian word) is a vegetable like a celery. It has a fresh, sweet flavor. I bet you can’t just have one of these delicious cookies!

Anise Cutout Cookie Recipe

2 cups of shortening
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons anise seeds (crushed)
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 Teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of apple juice
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 Teaspoon ground of cinnamon

In a bowl, cream shortening and sugar until fluffy; add eggs and anise seeds. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to the creamed mixture. Add the apple juice and mix well.
On floured surface, knead until well blended, about 4-5 minutes. Roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Now, use any shape cookie cutter and cut into 2-inch shapes. Place on greased baking sheets.
Bake at 375° for 12-16 minutes or until lightly browned. Combine sugar and cinnamon; roll cookies in the mixture while still warm. Cool on wire racks.
Yield: about 4 dozen, depending on what size cookie cutters you use.

Till Next Time………………

Copyright © 2012 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Italian Style & Two Italian Recipes

My wish for you, my readers is a festive Thanksgiving holiday filled with family, friends, and all the fixings. I, among everyone else, have many things to be thankful for, especially to you my readers from coast to coast and across the seas. May your day be filled with past blessings and prayers for a bright future! Thanks for coming back and enjoying my stories and my favorite family Italian recipes.

Italians love any holiday that brings family, friends, and food together. Every Italian family has traditions and recipes that are unique and make their Thanksgiving special. As well as turkey and the trimmings, Italian Americans will often add to their Thanksgiving dinner an antipasto, a pasta or soup course, and then the desserts come. The desserts are not only your typical pumpkin pie, but sweets and pastries that Italians have been baking for years. I have two recipes this week to share with you my readers. The first one is called “Ricotta Pancakes with Honey and Raisin Sauce”. What a light, fresh, and sweet dessert for after your Thanksgiving meal. A delightful accompaniment with a cup of tea, coffee, or an after dinner drink.

“Ricotta Pancakes with Honey and Raisin Sauce”
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 2-3 minutes
Serves: 4 people

4 tablespoons of clear honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon of raisins
1 tablespoon of Pine Nuts

8 ounces of whole milk Ricotta Cheese
Grated rind of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons raisins
1 tablespoon of Pine Nuts
8 small, (8 to 10 inch) pancakes. The pancakes should be sweeter and thinner than a pancake but thicker than a crepe.

To make the sauce, put all the ingredients into a small pan and warm through gently. For the filling, beat the cheese and lemon rind until soft; mix in raisins and pine nuts. Divide the filling among the hot pancakes and either roll them up or fold into triangles. Arrange the pancakes on a warm plate spoon the sauce over the top and decorate with twists of lemon. Serve immediately warm or hot.
The second recipe is one that my mom has used for Thanksgiving for many years. It is so delicious that we ask her to cook this dish even if it is not a holiday. This recipe has been passed down from my great-grandmother Sofia. It is called “Rice Stuffing: Rice, Sausage & Onions” My family loves this stuffing as it is made in a baking dish and not stuffed inside the turkey. The flavor is sweet from the onions and sausage plus has that savory taste from the cheese. It is a perfect marriage to have along side of your turkey dinner.

Sofia, great-grand mother
  “Rice Stuffing: Rice, Sausage & Onions”

1 1/2 lbs of sweet sausage bulk (out of casing)
2 cups of rice (uncooked) Uncle Bens
3 large eggs
2 large onions (sliced thin)
3/4 cup of Pecorino Romano grated cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté sausage in pan with a little oil. Before sausage is totally cooked add onions and finish cooking. While sausage is cooking cook rice. Drain rice and put in a large bowl. Next beat eggs in a small bowl. Then mix together cooked rice, raw beaten eggs, grated cheese, and cooked sausage with onions. Put in a baking dish. Bake in a 350° for about 40-45 minutes until mixture sets.

So, as we say in Italian, “Abbondanza!!” (Plentiful & Abundance) “Happy Thanksgiving” to everyone…..

Till Next Time…………………………

Copyright © 2012 “Family Plus Food Equals Love”
All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 16, 2012

"Winter Salad With Pears and Pomegranate Seeds"

Long Island is coming back slowly but surely after hurricane “Sandy”. Everyone has a story to tell or knows someone that has lost their homes to this horrible tragedy. My thoughts and prayers go out to all that are still without electric, heat, and homes. They still need your help. Please go to your local Red Cross Center and give blood, your time, and food which are still needed. Here is where you can go to help. American Red Cross Phone: 1-800-HELP-NOW (1-800-435-7669) Online: Go directly to the Red Cross Donation page. Thank you to all who have helped.

As I walk down the aisle in my supermarket, I can see that one of my favorite winter fruits are being displayed. The Pomegranates have arrived! I remember when I was young my grandmother (Nanni) was the first person to show me a pomegranate and how to eat them. She loved them and would always tell me stories of when she was young and how she learned about this colorful sweet, tart, juicy fruit. Mostly at holiday time is when she would visit and bring the pomegranates. We would pull up our sleeves as not to get them stained and start opening them. Sometimes we would eat the seeds as we were opening them, but other times we would not touch one and fill a big bowl. Then we would take a spoonful and pop them in our mouths. We would giggle as we could see our lips turn red from the seeds that we just squished in our mouths. This time of the year brings back many wonderful memories of pomegranates and more so of my Nanni.
The season for Pomegranates runs from September to February. They grow on shrubs or small trees and are considered a berry. The seeds are edible and can vary from 200 to about 1400 seeds in each depending on the size. Italians love them and consider them “Royal” fruit because they appear so much in Renaissance paintings. Pomegranates were also thought to be the “apple” that Eve plucked in the Garden of Eden. Many cultures have used the pomegranates throughout the world for symbols, health benefits, and religious reasons.

Nutritional benefits of eating a pomegranate include vitamin C, vitamin B5, potassium, fiber, flavonoids, unsaturated oil, and micronutrients. The rind of the fruit and the bark of the pomegranate tree are used as a remedy against diarrhea and dysentery. The seeds and juice are considered a tonic for the heart and throat. The astringent qualities are also good for a variety of purposes from stopping nose bleeds to skin aliments.

This sweet, juicy, and ruby red exotic fruit can be intimidating to anyone that has not tasted it before. However, opening a pomegranate and removing the juicy red seeds (actually arils) is quite simple. With a sharp knife, cut off the crown top of the pomegranate. Make a spiral cut in the skin around the fruit. Holding with both hands, pull the pomegranate apart to break into half, then into quarters. Invert each quarter by pushing the skin with your thumbs to let the seed fall out. There still may be remaining seeds, take them out with your fingers. You should be able to get 1 cup of seeds. Remove any white pith as they are bitter in taste.

You can use pomegranate seeds and juice for a number of recipes, from adding them to warm or cold soups or to creating scrumptious desserts. My recipe this week is called “Winter Salad with Pears and Pomegranate Seeds”. Hope that you enjoy!

Winter Salad with Pears and Pomegranate Seeds

Depending on how many people you are serving will determine how much salad greens you need. So, I am giving you just the names of the ingredients. You can decide on how much you need.

Ken’s Steak House Lite Raspberry Pomegranate Vinaigrette Dressing
Red Bartlett Pears (ripe) cored and cut into thin slices
1 Pomegranate (seeds)
Toasted and coarsely chopped walnuts
Combination of salad greens:
Baby Spinach, Romaine, Red Leaf, Endive, Radicchio, Boston or Bib Leaf, Arugula, Frisee, and Iceberg Lettuce
Cucumber slices (thin)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Wash and clean all salad greens, then pat dry. Tear the greens gently and place in a big bowl. Add the cucumber slices and then pour on the Raspberry Pomegranate Vinaigrette. Gently toss to coat. Salt and Pepper to taste. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and toasted walnuts. Place salad on a plate or in a bowl and then add your Red Pear slices on top of the dressed greens. Beautiful, colorful, and delicious too!

Till Next Time………………………

Copyright © 2012 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” Rights Reserved

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hurricane "Sandy" and "Pasta Spirals With Bacon & Spinach"

It was a tough week for the entire East Coast especially New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York/Long Island where I live, as “Hurricane Sandy's” destruction left an unforgettable imprint on the lives of millions. I did not post last week due to the fact that I did not have electric and was staying with family. I finally was able to get my power back but my parents, brother, and my sister-in-law did not. As last week progressed my parents did get their electric back but the rest of my family has not. I apologize to my readers, but Mother Nature seems to be in charge lately and it can not be helped. I am very grateful to the powers that be, that my family and I have been OK and we did not have floods, lose our homes, or lose lives. So we just have to be so thankful for “Sandy” sparing us from total devastation. I look at photos from this major super storm; I can’t believe that this is New York, Long Island. As I watch the news and I see the damage across the East Coast, it reminds me of another world, or another country. I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime and pray that I never will again. Now as if what has happened was not enough, I have heard that another nor’easter is on the way towards the New York, New Jersey area on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Pray that those of us that have our power back stays on and we don’t go backwards instead of forwards due to this storm. My prayers and thoughts go out to all of those people who have lost family members, lost their homes due to floods and fire, and to everyone that has been affected from this horrible nightmare called “Sandy”. My heart goes out to the young, the elderly, the sick, and many pets that have been misplaced. This tragedy will have touched our lives for many years to come. We are a strong nation these “United States of America” and it just seems to me that everyone comes together when there is a catastrophe from one coast to the other. People from all over the USA and the world have been helping in one way or another to ease the pain and upheaval of the East Coast. Thank you everyone!

With that being said, it is important that the victims of Hurricane Sandy get the help they need now. The Disney/ABC Television Group will donate $2 million to those severely impacted by “Sandy”. They call it a “Day of Giving”. During the network programming of daytime, news, primetime, and late night the message of giving and hope will be flashed on the TV screen. Please help out the victims of Hurricane Sandy by donating to the American Red Cross not only today but any day. Here’s how you can help:

Text to Give: Text ABC to 90999 to give $10.00 to the American Red Cross
Phone: 1-800-HELP-NOW (1-800-435-7669)
Online: Go directly to the Red Cross Donation page.

Our prayers and the little things that we can do for our family, friends, and neighbors will I’m sure be a blessing to all whom have been effected.

PS: Please don’t forget to VOTE, it is your right as an American!

My recipe this week puts a twist on an Italian favorite with this classic spiral pasta (fusilli) dish. The spiral shape provides lots of nooks and crannies to hide all of your delicious ingredients. This dish can be doubled and tripled to feed many people. So let’s make a big batch to be shared with others that need the food, warmth and company.

Pasta Spirals With Spinach and Bacon

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4 people

1 red pepper
6 oz of sliced mushrooms
1 onion
6 pieces of uncooked bacon
1 red chili
1 lb of pasta spirals (fusilli pasta)
1/4 cup of olive oil
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 (9 oz) bag of fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1/2 cup of Pecorino Romano grated cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash the spinach, remove the stalks and roughly chop. Core and seed the pepper and slice finely. Peel the onion and chop finely. Chop the bacon into small pieces. Now remove the seeds from the chili and slice finely. Cook the spirals (fusilli) about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Now drain when the pasta is al dente. Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a large heavy pan over medium heat. Add the garlic till fragrant about 2-3 minutes, do not burn. Now add the onion, bacon, chili, mushrooms, and red pepper. Sauté for 3-4 minutes. Then add the spinach and sauté for 3-4 minutes until it wilts, while stirring. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When all is cooked together toss with the pasta spirals. Top with Pecorino Romano cheese and serve immediately.
Till Next Time…………………………

Copyright © 2012 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved