Posts tagged ‘Festive’

April 10, 2012

Roasted pineapple and almonds tart

Pineapple and almond tart

I have quite a name for being easily disappointed by desserts. It has happened to me more than once to have a wonderful dinner in some restaurant, only to be let down, and quite badly, when it comes to the dessert department. Too sweet, too fat, not really fresh, just plain boring: wasted calories, really. I recently had a nice dinner in a place where they prepare dishes with tens of vegetables, each cooked to perfection with its own technique. Intrigued by such precision, and curious about the (inevitable) ‘Michelin-star trained chef’, we ordered pudding. They brought us a treacle tart so chewy that it is still hanging from the work of my dentist, tasting only of sugar, covered by an ice cream ball sized scoop of clotted cream, and a stale vanilla sable’; all probably worth the calories I normally consume in a day. When I decide to indulge, I want to get bangs for my calorie investment. I want flavours and textures so exciting I cannot stop eating.

This is one of those desserts worth each and every of the calories it contains, and there is quite a lot of them. Many of the cakes in this group have been inspired by this book of recipes from Laduree: it is, after all, one of the most famous patisseries in the whole world for good reasons. On the other hand, again, the recipe on the book was not quite right: not such a bad thing, if you think that I had to make the recipe twice just to confirm that my changes were working. Ah, the hard life of a dedicated food blogger. This is the version of the recipe I’m going to make from now on, hopefully many times.

January 13, 2012

Tortelli di zucca

Tortelli di zucca

I always feel a bit disappointed when January comes and spring is not already here. The days are still grey, the nights are still deep and long, vegetables are still cabbage and roots, and I’ve already had my fair share, thank you: I’m ready for spring. Not that it is cold, not here, and not that I expect spring or summer to be any less rainy – if anything, I know from experience they will be more.

Christmas day this year was just like that. A grey, overcast day, warm, short. We woke up suitably late, opened our presents, had pancakes for breakfast, and then we got to work. Our family was in Italy, we were here all by ourselves. It felt unusually quiet and intimate. We spent the morning making roasted squash tortelli. We ate them for lunch, and they were like little pockets of sunshine.

January 6, 2012

A brand new year, and a few festive bits

Sea in Plymouth

.. It’s been quite quiet around here lately, hasn’t it? I have barely opened my computer – any computer – in the last two weeks. I needed time, I’ve been needing it for quite a long time: time off, simple as that.

It’s been two long weeks of taking time. I stayed here in my new home or quite close by, alone or with my partner, or with some friends. I’ve been missing my family, an inevitable feeling at Christmas. But all in all, it was a great time. I had time to talk it over and to think about what I want to do: although I have not taken any decision yet, I feel more confident and in control. I had time to explore the surroundings with the leisurely lazy pace of the local, not the frantic-holidaymaker-who-ticks-all-the-boxes pace I usually have. I had time to sleep, to start taking care of my garden, to read books.

October 27, 2011

Birthday cake: pear mousse, walnut biscuit, chocolate icing, praline

60 Birthday cake

I hope you’ll bear with me. I have no camera, or rather, I brought my point and shoot, but of course, since I neglected it so badly after the arrival of my wonderful DSLR, the point and shoot is stubbornly refusing to work now. The picture of the cake I took with my phone is nothing short of awful,  however this cake is so good it makes up for an ugly picture; in real life, it was also very pretty, almost professional looking.

I don’t want to forget about this cake. The primary purpose of this blog is for my own reference. I like to have all my favourite recipes here, tried and tested, and go back to it when I need them. Besides, not only is this cake fantastic as is, it contains no less than four distinct elements that turned out perfect, useful building blocks for future dessert projects.

It gives me great pleasure to have all the special things I cook gathered here, a sort of diary: I do now and again remember that awesome something I did on that occasion before I started with this blog, and of course I don’t recall the recipe details. Being with my parents when they turned sixty is definitely a moment I want here. I also want to celebrate the exciting news about one of my closest friends being pregnant – I can’t be with her chatting and spoiling her with cake, but she’s in my mind so much these days.

The recipe itself comes from an idea of Laduree’s book, a chestnut and chocolate delight called duchesse. I changed the recipe completely, using it as a starting point, because of two reasons: I did not have the equipment to try the original meringues (and the guts! meringues have always been my biggest kitchen failures), and the recipe called for four different chestnut based components without explaining what they were supposed to be, and what ratio chestnut to sugar they were supposed to have. That was so annoying, I decided to ditch chestnuts in favour of another autumn treat, pears; I replaced the meringues with chopped praline on the sides of the cake. The result was a beautiful layered mousse cake that was rich and festive without being overwhelming, a rewarding project easy to adapt to a busy schedule, since it is made of several steps, but none of them takes very long. A make-ahead dream.

May 19, 2011

As a starter a cappuccino, please

Asparagus cappuccino with cinnamon air

Would you start your dinner with a cappuccino? If you are Italian, of course you won’t even finish your dinner with a cappuccino, let alone have it as an amuse-bouche.

However, this is what I did tonight. And I can’t advise you strongly enough to do the same, asap.

It all started with a restaurant.

I have already told you about my favourite restaurant here. When I lived in Wales my favourite restaurant was exactly the opposite type: posh food, made only with local, seasonal  ingredients, run by local people, in a stunning location. The restaurant was renown to be among the ‘fine dining’ ones in the area, thus we waited quite a while before trying it: posh places ended up all too often in the same ol’ barely edible food and a double price tag.

When we did go there eventually, we were truly sorry for not having eaten there before. We were truly sorry for having previously wasted our money in other restaurants, posh or not. The dining room had just a few tables and was set in a stone cottage, immersed in an ”area of outstanding natural beauty”, in front of the ocean. Part of the charms was due to the cozy, homely atmosphere given by the huge stone fireplace in that tiny, dark room. We knew the food was different the moment we were served home-made bread of two types, both really good: finding good bread in Wales was harder than finding the Holy Grail. The menu was seasonal, local, well thought after, and cooked with skill . You see, eating out in Wales was an adrenaline sport: we tried a new place not much with the expectation of getting good food, but more with the hope of avoiding food poisoning. On the other hand, I have cooked some of my most amazing meals there: local produce was nothing short of stunning.

March 13, 2011

Millefeuille – the French way

Raspberry Millefeuille

I had a very special birthday to celebrate this weekend, so a very special dessert was in order. As you can imagine, turning to my Ladurée book was almost inevitable. Shining among the complex pastries, I was immediately attracted by the gorgeous millefeuille with raspberries. Millefoglie (a thousand leaves) is one of my favourite desserts ever, maybe because it is difficult to find it really good. When I was a child there was one place to go in Padova, Graziati. Made with thick, but not too thick, crema pasticcera, filling a generous, buttery puff pastry, I loved it very crunchy, of course, but there was a twisted pleasure in the puff pastry starting to get soggy and melting into the cream, leaf by leaf. I loved it as much as I disliked the really soggy version you’ll find in most places, with the too dense, chemically tasting filling.  In Milan there are a couple of places where they’ll fill it to order. In Southern Italy they make a lighter version, filled with creme chantilly, and with the puff pastry higher and fluffier, often with a layer of sponge in between. Also this one can be lovely. When I moved to Wales I thought that a custard slice was a local equivalent – huge mistake!  It is the closest equivalent, but it is like comparing tinned ravioli with hand made agnolotti. I basically lived years without millefoglie, and even here, where there is an abundance of gorgeous cakes, it is not a common dessert. Laduree version spoke of French luxury, with the puff pastry not only compressed while cooking, but also caramelized, and the filling being made by a small amount of very rich crème Mousseline (pastry cream mixed with butter) and plump, tart raspberries.

February 5, 2011

Nutella truffles: spending time in the kitchen

I’m back to Germany, and it is starting to kick in. These days the trees outside have been incredibly beautiful. The world is wrapped in a blanket of fog, which freezes and makes each little branch of the tree sparkle, covered in ice crystals. Blissfully, there is no snow, making it possible to lead an almost normal life.

However I am not in the mood for appreciating this place. I won’t blame it, I know it is me, mainly. I just feel out-of-place, and I feel as if my efforts to fit in have been useless so far. I find it more and more difficult to make plans, to find something fun to do. And when I feel this way, so purposeless, I know there is only one thing that can help me: cooking. I never feel out-of-place in the kitchen.  I do feel more than a bit cheesy, like Nigella happily declaring: “whenever I am in the kitchen, I am happy”, but there is some truth in it.

December 26, 2010

English Trifle, Sicilian Way


Trifle

And finally, trifle time. I was intrigued by Ivonne’s choice for the next theme of Sugar High Friday.  In Italy we have a pudding called ‘zuppa inglese’, literally English soup, and I was quite curious to find out what the English name for it was, if there was any. It turned out the closest dessert is trifle.

Zuppa inglese is a dessert prepared in most restaurants and in many homes, in the Northern region called Emilia Romagna, and neighbours. A concoction of lady fingers or sponge cake, soaked in the typical bright red sweet liquor called alchermes; a thick layer of custard, heavy with egg yolks and cream, often in two versions alternating – chocolate and cream. The visual impact is definitely tacky, with its red, yellow and black striped effect; it has its rustic charms but it is as heavy as a stone, particularly after a proper meal from Emilia – from salumi, among the best in Italy (think culatello and prosciutto di parma, but don’t forget mortadella, just to name a few), to meat-filled tortellini or lasagne, to finish off with some meat dish like roasted pork or boiled poultry.

I have eaten my share of zuppe inglesi, and wanted to go the opposite way with this challenge. I decided I wanted to turn to the most English version I could find. And in order to do that, I turned to the most English of my sources – Jane Grigson, ‘English food’. I did think of Nigella first – you know I have a weakness for her fantastic accent – and there are indeed many nice ideas of hers in form of a trifle. Nigella, being the sensible woman that she is, is of course a fan of this good-looking, easy and versatile dessert you can effortlessly assemble with store-bought ingredients. But I was charmed by the original recipe. Ms Grigson laments that trifle is often tacky  with its glaced cherries decorations, and rarely ‘a pudding worth eating’. Her recipe would bring the joy back to eating it. Macaroons, soaked in fortified wine and brandy, a layer of totally unflavored custard, a layer of raspberry jam, and on top, the ‘Everlasting Syllabub’ by Elizabeth David. I was bound to try it. The recipe is so old fashioned, so imprecise, and it totally works. Just the kind of recipe I love.

December 23, 2010

Celebrations

 

Kiwi

Locally grown kiwi, in season now

I am so deeply into cooking that I don’t even have the time to think about blogging, and I am sure I am not the only one. I am a lucky girl: I feel well enough to cook up my usual storm and I can’t wait.

This year everything will be different from my usual celebrations. We are spending some time far away from Germany and its snow. We are in Reggio Calabria, the tip of the Italian boot, and we are going to spend some time there. Temperatures are up to  15-20 degrees but when the sun is shining, it feels warmer. Healing. I felt as if I spent the last two months (since Palermo) in total darkness. And the smell of the sea is everywhere, the wind and the occasional rain smell of it, and they are warm.

December 17, 2010

Go. Bake. Now.

whole wheat cookies

I know it is baking season. You already have a year-long list of ‘to do’. But these cookies have very serious arguments to jump a few places ahead and just be the next thing you bake.

Since when Molly published them, I was keen to give them a try. When reviews about ‘Good to the grain’ started to appear everywhere, I was seriously curious. And when I discovered that this book even surpassed my darling ‘Plenty’ in this competition, well, that means the book must be just too good to ignore, I guess. I still don’t own the book – shame! I kind of wait for Santa to bring it to me (wink wink). But after these cookies I am sure I need to have it.

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