Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Almonds, almonds and more almonds!

Almonds go back in history to 1400 BC. In ancient societies the almond had a symbolic value. The Romans showered newly weds with almonds as a fertility charm. Later travelers ate almonds as they traveled the Silk Road between China and the Mediterranean. The almond was first brought to California in the mid 1700's by the Spanish missionaries. Today almonds are not only a healthy food but a valued source of trade.
Almonds are eaten whole, in slices, slivers, chopped, as flour or meal, as paste or butter, as an oil and an extract. It can be used in sweet or savory applications or simply as a snack food. Almonds are a healthy food. They are a good source of vitamin E, fiber, plant protein, calcium & are cholestrol free. Healthy and delicious!
I use almonds in many forms in many of the sweets I prepare. Two in particular that quickly come to mind is: almond biscotti and pignoli cookies. It is the almond version of my biscotti recipes that I go to and are requested the most. The almonds are coarse chopped before adding to this dough. I have found that if whole almonds are used as some recipes suggest the log will crumble when sliced. I also use some almond oil &/or almond extract in this dough. Not only do they taste incredible but the aroma in the house is unmistakable.
Pignoli cookies have just a few ingredients and is simple to prepare. The most important ingredient for success, the ingredient that disdiguished this cookie from all others is the almond paste. Although it is possible to make your own I opt for the commercial version and always have some in my freezer.
Well, that's two of our favorites. What are yours?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Opera Cake

It was over one year ago (yes, that long) that the Daring Bakers featured Opera Cake. I must admit it was delish looking and landed on my "must try" list. Sounds like a challenge? Yet, it took me this long to give it a try. However, I finally broke down and set my sights on a taste of said cake. The recipe I used was from "The Cake Book" by Tish Boyle. Opera Cake has quite a story behind it. It seems in the late 1800's a parisan pastry chef created this cake in honor of the grand opera and its great singers. The classic opera is a work in six acts. Thus, we have three layers of cake. A wonderful moist and light cake made primarily with almond flour and eggs (of course there is more). The layers are also brushed with a coffee syrup as they are assembled. Then there are three layers of delicious, smooth, creamy buttercream; in chocolate, coffee, and mocha. All topped with a smooth, glossy chocolate glaze. Traditionally, the word "Opera" is written across the top. And a piece of edible gold leaf is added for just the right bling. The cake is cut into rectangular slices for serving. Although a large piece would have been just fine with me, the small piece was really enough. The buttercream gave me a problem and I had to do it twice. Overall the recipe was easy to follow and the results were very pleasing. The testers were happy so I was happy! If you are interested in the recipe leave a comment and I will write it out. Enjoy!!!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Alas spring...........

Spring is slow to arrive here in the northeast. Crocus usually the first to peak through the snow, are seldom seen here. It is the daffodil & the forsythia, slightly longer & slightly warmer days that make the first appearance. Ah,.....welcome spring I hope you can stay for awhile!
What are the first signs of spring in your area?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hazelnut Cream Tuiles

I'm always looking for something different to try out. Although I prefer a challenge I don't always have the time needed. So when I come across a recipe that is not too time consuming I set it aside for those times. Then there are the favorites that I must occassionally purchase at the grocery store because I haven't yet figured out how to replicate nor have I found a recipe for them. Well, happily now I have come across a recipe for cream filled tuilles that satisified all my criteria! IThis came to me via email from
These Hazelnut Cream Tuiles consist of a tasty vanilla tuile that I easily made on my under-used pizelle maker. The hazelnut cream is quick, creamy, delicious and easily made in a food processor. I included the recipe for this gem below to share with you. We brought a tray of these with us on Easter and they flew off the plate in spite of very full bellies! Hope you enjoy them as much as we did!
For the Tuiles:
1/4 c butter, softened
3/4 c Powered Sugar
2 Egg Whites
1/2 tsp Vanilla extract
The seeds from 1 Vanilla Bean
1/2 c Flour
pinch Salt
For the Hazelnut Cream:
1/2 c Hazelnuts, toasted, skins rubbed off
10 tbs Butter, softened
3/4 c Powdered Sugar
2tbs Heavy Cream
pinch of Salt
Make the tuiles:
Put butter & sugar in the bowl of the mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium high until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in egg whites, extract, and vanilla seeds. Reduce speed to low. Add the flour and salt; mix just until combined.
I used my pizelle maker at this point to make the tuiles. Then wrapped them around a 1/2" dowel until cooled. If you don't have a pizelle maker continue on to use the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Spoon 1 1/2 tsp catter onto a baking sheet lined with a silicon mat. Spread to about a 4" round. Bake until golden , about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven; working quickly remove 1 cookie and wrap around a 1/2" dowell Hold until cooled. Continue with the other three. Repeat until all the batter is used.
Make the cream:
Process nuts in a food processor until they resemble coarse meal. Add butter, sugar, cream and salt; stir until smooth. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a star or round tip the will fit into one end of the cookie. Fill both ends of the tuiles both. Repeat with remailing tuiles. Serve immediately. Thank you Martha Stewart for such a wonderful treat!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pasta & Chickpea Soup

Soup is one of our favorite courses. They come sweet or savory, hot or cold, with or without meat, as an appetizer, a single course or main course. The options and combinations are endless. This is why we love soup. As I was recently flipping through one of my cookbooks; The Italian Cooking Encyclopedia there was a very interesting, main course with meat soup. We love it so now I must share.
The ingredients are simple here's how it goes:
1 cup dried Chickpeas
3 cloves Garlic, peeled
1 Bay Leaf
6 tbd Olive Oil
pinch of Pepper
1/4 cup Bacon, diced
1/2 cup Ham, diced
2 1/2 cups water or Chicken broth
2 cups Pasta, small
1.- Soak the chickpeas in water overnight. Rinse well and drain. Place the chickpeas in a large saucepan with water to cover. Boil for 15 min.
2.- Return the chickpeas to the pan. Add broth or water to cover, 1 garlic clove, the bay leaf, 3 tbs olive oil, and the pepper.
3.- Simmer until tender, about 2 hrs, adding more water as needed. Remove the bay leaf. Pass about 1/2 of the chickpeas through a food mill or food processor with a few tablespoons of the liquid. Return the puree to the pan with the liquid and remaining chickpeas.
4.- Saute the bacon, ham and garlic in the remeiaing oil just until the meat starts to carmelize and the garlic is golden. Discard the garlic.
5.- Stir the meat mixture into the chickpea mixture.
6.- Add more liquid (broth or water) for desired thickness, and bring to a boil. Add cooked pasta and sprinkle with parmesan cheese if desired.
I have made this soup now several times.I hope you enjoy this as much as we do.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Absent but not forgotten

I've not been here but, I really am here just not here. Got all that! Life has gotten in my way these past few weeks and used up all my spare minutes. But I have lots of ideas and will make it up in the near future. For today I want to introduce my silent observer (no not taster or tester). This guy just uses his eyes or the tilting of his head and the raising of his eyebrows to state his opinions. He is though always at my side whether it be awake or asleep. He name is Riley (sometimes we call him Monster), this diva's favorite four-legged friend!
Opps, back to work.