During my recent trip to Italy, I resisted (slightly) temptation to bring things back home with me. I visited a food lover's dream, Mercato Centrale, while in Florence. That's where I bought the massive wedge of Parmigiano, that caused me to be very ...


Hazelnut Biscotti and more...

Hazelnut Biscotti

     During my recent trip to Italy, I resisted (slightly) temptation to bring things back home with me.  I visited a food lover's dream, Mercato Centrale, while in Florence.  That's where I bought the massive wedge of Parmigiano, that caused me to be very selective in anything else I purchased.  Scouring groceries and food emporiums was close to the top of my list of things I wanted to do while in Italy. 

     At the Mercato Central I almost purchased a small bag of Biscotti di Prato, but in the end I convinced myself that the cookies, most likely, would be mere crumbs by the time I returned home.  Plus, biscotti are easy cookies to bake!  I'd search for a recipe that closely resembled what I ate in Florence.

     This recipe is from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.  I'm also planning on making another version, next time, from The Il Fornaio Baking Book.  Not because I didn't like Tartine's biscotti. I did They're FANTASTICI'm only curious how some slight differences between the two will change the final product.  
     Great for dipping in a glass of Vin Santo... and also in a glass of cold milk!

adapted from TARTINE, by Elisabeth M. Pruitt and Chad Robertson
• 1/2 cup hazelnuts, peeled (follow a fool-proof method by My Baking Addiction HERE)
• 1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 1 teaspoon aniseeds
• 4 teaspoons Grand Marnier
• 2 teaspoons orange zest, grated
• 2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 large egg for wash, optional
1.  Preheat oven to 325˚F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick liner.
2.  Chop the skinned hazelnuts.
3.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium speed, or by hand with a wooden spoon, cream the butter until light and creamy, about 2 minutes.  Slowly add the sugar and beat until light in color and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add the eggs and beat until the mixture is smooth.  Beat in the aniseeds, liqueur, and orange zest.  Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until just combined.  Stir in the chopped nuts.
4.  On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into 2 equal portions.  Shape each portion into a log about 2-inches in diameter.  Set the logs on the baking sheet, spacing them about 2-inches apart.  If you want to glaze the biscotti, whisk the egg and brush over the logs (this is optional - I didn't glaze my logs).
5.  Bake the logs until set to the touch and browned on top, about 25-30 minutes.
6.  Place the logs on a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes.  Transfer logs to a cutting board and using a serrated knife, slice the logs diagonally 1/2-inch thick.  Return the sliced biscotti to the parchment-lined baking sheet cut side down.
7.  Bake the biscotti until the edges are lightly toasted.  My cookies took about 10 minutes, but start checking yours at 5 minutes.  Cool biscotti on a wire rack and transfer to an air-tight container to store.

Tuscan Horse


Somewhere Other Than France...

    This month, for the first time, I traveled to Italy; visiting Venice, Florence, and Rome.  It was just what I needed to refuel my imagination.  I'm happy to say, this trip was good for me, and I am eager to cook, bake, and paint again!

    Beauty abounds in Italy and it felt good to be behind my camera lens again, capturing the images that inspire me.

     The food I enjoyed in Italy was everything I hoped it would be, except for one disappointing meal
     The Spaghetti Carbanara was eaten in the shadow of the Rialto Bridge in Venice; our table just inches from the canal.  The Cacio e Pepe is a favorite of my daughter, Claire, and insisted I have some in Rome.

Spaghetti Carbonara

Cacio e Pepe

     I hauled back a conservative load of food items from Italy -- an enormous wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano, a small bottle of balsamic, and olive oil.  Also, ingredients for Tagliatelle with Truffles (my best meal in Florence), but that was it.  And when I use those ingredients in the coming weeks, it will make me happy.
     Before I left for Italy, I read an article by a Venetian writer on her love of Orecchiette Pasta with Pistachio Pesto.  I found the recipe below and have made it twice.  I absolutely love it, as does my family.  Purchasing shelled pistachios make this an easy and quick pasta to prepare.  Please try it and let me know how you like it!

    Recipe by Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo
• 7 ounces unsalted roasted shelled pistachios (1 1/2 cups)
• 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tablespoons chopped mint
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 1/2 cup finely shredded pecorino cheese, plus more for serving
• 2 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths and julienned
• salt
• 1 pound orecchiette

1.  In a food processor, chop the pistachios. Add the olive oil, mint and garlic and pulse to combine. Transfer to a bowl, stir in the 1/2 cup of cheese and the scallions; season with salt 
2.  In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente; drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the cooking water and the pesto and cook over low heat, tossing, until coated. Serve, passing more cheese at the table.


Bread Pudding with Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce

     In my attempt to keep up with the bounty of strawberries and rhubarb in my garden, I revisited a recipe I've had for 35 years... Did I just write 35 years?  That's almost impossible to believe.  But it's been even longer that I've been clipping, writing down, bookmarking, copying, and tearing out recipes and filing them away -- into BIG files.  And maybe that's why this recipe for bread pudding with strawberry-rhubarb sauce has gotten overlooked the past few years.  Six years, to be exact, since I last made this recipe.  But thanks to the abundance of strawberries (some days yielding 5 pounds) and my endless supply of rhubarb (good thing I like it so much), my attack plan has been to default to a super easy strawberry-rhubarb sauce.  And that reminded me of this simple bread pudding.  When served warm, or at room temperature with the chilled sauce, it is heaven.

     I have so many strawberries, I added some to the top of the bread pudding before baking.  A sweet little addition.  
     And don't limit the strawberry-rhubarb sauce just to bread pudding... cornmeal waffles, vanilla ice cream, french toast, and yogurt all benefit from a serving of this sauce, just to name a few... 

Country Living Magazine | 1982

• 12 to 14 slices from a French Baguette, 1/2-inch thick
• 3 to 4 tablespoons soft butter
• 3 large eggs
• 2 cups whole milk, or half milk-half cream
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• Pinch of sea salt
• Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce, recipe follows
1.  Heat oven to 350˚F.  Butter a 10-inch round or other shallow 2 quart baking dish.  Butter each slice of bread on one side and arrange, buttered side down, in the dish with sides of the bread touching or overlapping slightly.
2.  Beat together the eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and salt until well-blended.  Pour over the bread slices.  Allow the bread to soak up the custard for about 10 minutes.
3.  Bake on the shelf just above the center of the oven for about 40 minutes, or until golden brown and slightly puffed and crusty.  Serve hot or warm with the Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce.


• 3 1/2 cups fresh rhubarb, 1-inch pieces
• 1 pound fresh strawberries, sliced in half (quartered if large)
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1 tablespoon finely grated organic orange peel
1.  In a medium-sized enameled saucepan, combine all the ingredients and let stand 10 minutes.  Stir again, cover, and bring to a simmer over low heat.  Increase heat and bring to a gentle boil, uncovered, over moderate heat.  Cook until rhubarb is tender, but not mushy.



Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream

     There are three birthdays in our family during the months of April and May.  When my girls were little, their birthday cakes were almost always chocolate, filled with sweet cherries, and frosted with whipped heavy cream.  But lately, I ask what I should bake them for their birthdays.  They never reply with a flavor or a type of cake.  They do research for days, if not weeks, for a recipe they like, never taking into consideration the complexity or the availability of certain ingredients.  I guess I should be flattered that my daughters have faith in my ability to pull off whatever it is they choose.

     The recipe for this lemon layer cake appeared in my inbox, sent to me by my lemon-loving daughter about a week before her birthday.  I made the lemon curd filling and the lemon cream cheese buttercream three days ahead and the cake layers the day before I planned to assemble it, making it seem less labor intensive.  If you love lemon, this cake's for you.  It really was fabulous and I liked it even more after a couple of days when the flavors merged and became more intense. 

     I received an Ateco 612 Revolving Cake Stand this year and it makes all the difference in frosting a cake.  If you bake a lot of cakes and don't have one of these... get one!


     The big candied violet on top was purchased by my sister on a recent trip to Germany.  Loved it!  I suppose I need to start growing organic violets, too...     

Lemon Layer Cake

Recipe, slightly adapted, from the website, MyCakeSchool.com

Lemon Curd
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• 1/4 cup cornstarch
• 1 cup water
• 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (preferably organic)
• 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1.  Combine sugar, cornstarch and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir constantly, until mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Boil, stirring, for 1 minute more.. Remove the pan from the heat. Spoon about 1/2 cup of the hot mixture into a small bowl with egg yolks and stir quickly until combined. Continue stirring, while pouring the egg mixture back into the saucepan. Return pan to medium heat and cook, stirring, until the curd is thickened (1-2 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the butter, lemon juice, and lemon zest.  Let the lemon curd cool, then press plastic wrap onto the surface, this will prevent a skin from forming on the top. Refrigerate.

Lemon Cream Cheese Buttercream
• 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, slightly softened but still cool to touch
• 2  8oz packages full fat cream cheese, slightly softened
• 2 teaspoons lemon juice
• 1  1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
• 1  teaspoons lemon extract
• 6 to 6 1/2 cups powdered (confectioner's) sugar, adding more if necessary
1.  Cut butter into 1/2 inch slices and place in the bowl of your mixer.  Beat until smooth.

2.  Cut the cream cheese into pieces and add to the butter.  Beat until blended.
3.  Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, and lemon extract.
4.  Gradually add the powdered sugar and beat until well blended.
5.  Refrigerate frosting until needed.  Allow frosting to soften slightly and remix before using.  Do not microwave to soften.  There will be enough frosting for a 3 layer, 8 or 9-inch cake.

Lemon Cake Layers
• 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional butter for greasing pans
• 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
• 4 large eggs, room temperature
• 3 cups cake flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 cup milk
• 1/4 cup lemon juice
• 1/4 cup canola oil or vegetable oil (preferably expeller pressed)
• zest of 2 lemons
• 1 tablespoon lemon extract

1.  PREHEAT OVEN to 350 degrees.
2.  Grease three 8-inch cake pans.  Line the base of each pan with a round of waxed paper; grease the paper and dust the interior of the pans with flour, tapping out any excess flour.
3.  In a medium bowl add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and zest of 2 lemons.  Whisk to blend and set aside.
4.  In another bowl, add the milk, canola or vegetable oil, lemon juice, and lemon extract.  Whisk to blend and set aside.
5.  In the bowl of a mixer, beat the softened butter until smooth.  Gradually add the sugar and mix on medium speed 3 to 5 minutes until it is light in color and fluffy.
6.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until the yellow of the yolk disappears.
7.  Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture alternately, beginning and ending with the flour (3 additions of flour and 2 of milk).  Mix on medium speed until combined and smooth.  Do not overmix.

8.  Pour the batter into the prepared pans, smoothing the tops.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out.

1.  Pipe a dam of lemon cream cheese buttercream about 1/4-inch inside the edge of the first layer.  Spread a thin layer of lemon curd inside the buttercream, then pipe and spread a layer of buttercream on top of it.  Repeat with the second layer.  Top with the third layer cake.
2.  Crumb coat the entire cake with a thin layer of the buttercream frosting.  Refrigerate the cake for about 30 minutes, remove from refrigerator and finish frosting the cake with the lemon cream cheese buttercream.  Refrigerate the cake if not eating immediately.  Pull the cake from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving.  And as I said earlier, I really think it tastes even better the next day.



Farro with Orange, Avocado, and Arugula

     I've become a farro fanatic.  I have been making salads lately with farro and whatever  fruits, vegetables, and nuts are available in my kitchen.  Last night's dinner consisted of farro with Cara Cara oranges, avocados, arugula... etc.  I will show -- with approximate amounts used -- my recipe below.  It's hard to go wrong creating your own signature salad.  Just fill it full of combinations you love.  From January until spring, my diet contains large amounts of citrus.  I just crave it this time of year.  If I'm eating a green salad, it most likely contains oranges (blood orange + CaraCara being my favorites), very thinly sliced red onion, and almonds... and a vinegrette using the juice of the oranges and a peppery olive oil; basically how I made my farro salad. Tonight, possibly a farro risotto!

Feel free to change the amounts of the ingredients to your liking...
• 1 cup farro
• 3 cups water
• Salt & pepper
• 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
• 3 large oranges, supremed, and any juices (from the cutting and squeezing of supremed oranges) reserved
• 2 avocados, sliced
• 1/2 cup (more or less) thinly-sliced red onion
• 2 handfuls arugula
• Good quality extra-virgin olive oil
• 1/2 cup toasted, slivered almonds
• 3/4 cup Feta cheese, crumbled

1.  Toast the farro in a dry saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until it smells nutty, about 3 minutes. Add the water and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover partially, and cook until the farro is tender but still chewy, about 40 minutes.  Drain farro in a colander.
2.  In a large serving bowl, combine the farro, chicken, orange segments (see above to learn how to supreme an orange), avocados, red onion, and arugula.
3.  Using the reserved orange juices, make a vinegrette with equal amounts of juice and olive oil whisked together.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add vinegrette to the farro mixture and toss gently.
4.  Top the salad with the crumbled Feta and toasted almonds.