Monday, May 30, 2005

my little kitchen is 1 year old today

Leo and I plan a quiet celebration at home.

(Best wishes to Santos at the scent of green bananas, which is also one today!)

Mondays with Maida - Hawaiian Pineapple Cookies

Page 52 in the old book / page 85 in the new book

My mom used to make a pineapple and coconut cookie that I always loved. When I saw the name of this week's cookie, I had visions of a Maida Heatter version of my mom's cookie. However, with an emphasis on the pecans and brown sugar, this cookie is quite different. The pineapple almost seems like an afterthought.

I had just one problem making these cookies - I didn't have enough crushed pineapple. I have had a suspicion in recent years that the pineapple to juice ratio in canned crushed pineapple has been shifting in favor of the juice, and now I have proof. In this 1977 recipe, Maida Heatter calls for an 8 ounce can of crushed pineapple. She instructs you to drain it and says you should have 2/3 cup pineapple. Well, I had less than half a cup. I don't know if the amount I was missing would have made a difference, but I felt the pineapple in these cookies was barely noticeable.

I had high hopes for these cookies, so I felt a little let down by the results. They were good, but not unusually so. I may have to dig up my mom's recipe and make some of those to console myself.

Suzanne gave these cookies a perfect rating, but I think she was just terribly relieved to have a cookie with no dried fruit in it. Here's the cookie panel...

Suzanne: "Great cookie! I love the pecans. The cookie was pleasing to the eye with a large pecan on the top. Perhaps it was the combination of the sweet pineapple, the spices and pecans that made this a really good cookie. Rating - 5"

Denny: "I liked them but they were a little non-descript except for the pecan. Didn't taste much pineapple though. Rating - 3.5"

Laura: "The name of these cookies intrigued me this Monday morning. I couldn't wait to sample them and I was not disappointed! These were very flavorful and moist, with just the right amount of crunchy pecans and tangy pineapple. Rating - 5"

Phil: "Just in time to impress new management during the federally designated Asian/Pacific Islander month these cookies were both topical and tasty. The pineapple did not dominate but offered some added sweetness plus a little moisture to the cookie. Rating - 3.5"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.3

Next week - Pumpkin Rocks

Nutrition Facts

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Souvenirs: Belli e Brutti

These aren't souvenirs as you'd normally think of them. I just made them tonight, but I made them with Maria Grammatico's recipe. As you may recall, we visited her pasticceria while in Erice. I happen to have a copy of the book she coauthored with Mary Taylor Simeti, Bitter Almonds, which is part autobiography, part cookbook. It appears to include recipes for just about every confection offered in the pasticceria, including the ones we tried during our visit.

Our favorites were the Belli e Brutti, which were translated as "Beauty-Unsightly" at the Pasticceria Grammatico, but as "Good and Uglies" in the book. Ugly though they may be, mine did not turn out as they should. They should have maintained their shape, but instead they spread into very flat cookies. They taste much as I remember the one I ate in Erice - very sweet, lots of almond flavor, and a little lemon.

I cheated a little since I was doing this on a weeknight. I didn't grind my own almonds. Instead I purchased a bag of almond meal. It's possible this was partly responsible for my misshapen uglies, but I'm more inclined to think it has something to do with egg size (which is not specified in the recipe) or the leavening. In any case, the almond meal probably doesn't provide the same almond flavor that freshly ground almonds would, but it made these cookies super easy.

I confess I haven't read this book yet, though it was purchased long before our trip, but I look forward to reading it soon!

Pasticceria Grammatico

The Cookbook Exchange


I'm a cookbook junkie and I'll bet many of you are too. Books are probably my number one impulse buy, and more often than not they're cookbooks. I love going through a new cookbook from cover to cover for the first time. Problem is, once the honeymoon is over and I start looking for recipes that I'm really going to make, some of those gorgeous-to-look-at-but-take-all-day-to-make recipes start to lose some of their appeal.

Santos recently came up with the brilliant idea of starting a blog that would serve as a trading post for cookbook lovers who are looking to swap their under-loved cookbooks. In addition, The Cookbook Exchange will host cookbook reviews. If you're interested in posting a book you'd like to swap or a cookbook review, email a request and you'll be made a contributor lickety split.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Monreale and Erice

View from Erice

Tuesday we left Palermo and headed towards Erice with a stop in Monreale. The day would bring some wonderful surprises.

As we came into the town of Monreale, the congested little streets became even more difficult to navigate because, of all things, a marching band! There were other signs that this was a feast day of some sort. As we hunted for a spot to park, we saw some women walking away from the center of town holding candles and decorative grids of little electric lights arching over several streets. We had apparently arrived in Monreale on the Feast of the Holy Crucifix. We had another opportunity to see the band perform, though we missed the procession that would occur later that evening. It was fun, though, to experience a little of the excitement associated with the day.

Monreale Cathedral - interior

The reason we had come to Monreale was to visit its cathedral with its amazing mosaics and beautiful cloister. The interior of the cathedral is absolutely gorgeous. It is very much like the Cappella Palatina in Palermo but on a much grander scale. There are intricate mosaics on just about everything but the ceiling and the seats. The painted wood beamed ceiling is equally beautiful.

Monreale Cathedral - cloister

The cloister is a pleasant escape from the crowds inside the cathedral and beautiful in its own right. The paired columns are each topped with elaborately carved capitals depicting bible stories and other scenes. You could easily spend an hour just taking these in.

Monreale - Tuna

After leaving the cathedral we did a little shopping and then strolled among the stalls that lined the piazza. We came upon a seafood vendor that stood in startling contrast to the neighboring stalls selling refreshments and souvenirs. On their table were displayed a large octopus and parts of a very large tuna. We three landlubbers watched, fascinated, as they hacked away at the tuna.

Lunchtime was approaching and we had a full afternoon planned, so we made our way to our hotel in Valderice, checked in, and then piled back in the car. We zigged and zagged up the mountain to the medieval walled town of Erice. Erice is definitely a tourist destination and is accordingly well supplied with many interesting shops.

Erice - Marzipan

Erice is renowned for its pastries, and one of the shops that I was interested to see was Pasticceria Grammatico. I had read about its owner, Maria Grammatico, in the book she coauthored with Mary Taylor Simeti called Bitter Almonds. The pasticceria did not disappoint. The array of almond pastries and marzipan was stunning. It was hard to pick just a few to try.

Erice is also know for its ceramics and colorful rugs. Bob and Chuck were interested in purchasing at least one rug, so we had been keeping an eye out for them at the various shops we stopped in. We finally came upon Pina Parisi's shop. Her son, who apparently mans the shop while she works in back on the loom, was very helpful and spent quite a bit of time showing us numerous rugs. Pina had heard us laughing and talking (her son speaks English quite well) and emerged from her workshop to greet us. With her son translating, she proudly showed us a scrapbook of articles written about her and her rugs. She also took us back to her workroom and showed us her loom. When we left there were kisses all around!

Erice - Pina Parisi

As evening approached, we enjoyed a glass of wine at a small bar near the town wall. There are spectacular views all around Erice (and that is reason enough to visit this beautiful little town), but the view from here was particularly interesting. We could see the salt flats of Trapani which we would be visiting the next day.

View from Erice - Trapani salt flats

Next time - Segesta, Trapani and Selinunte

Dining with the Bloggers - May 25th

French. This is the theme I've been biting my nails over. I know nothing about French cuisine and would be hard pressed to describe it. What exactly qualifies as "French"?

True to form I put off finding a recipe until the last moment, at which time I wrote Zarah in a panic. Dear Zarah wrote back with a bunch of suggestions including Puy lentils, " doesn't get much more French than Puy lentils!", she said. Did someone say lentils? I can do lentils.

Not only did Zarah steer me towards Puy lentils, she specifically pointed me in the direction of Moira's blog, Who Wants Seconds?, and her Puy Lentil Salad with Feta Cheese. I remembered this salad from IMBB 11 and thought it was a fantastic idea. If you're not already familiar with Moira's blog, it is definitely worth a visit - in fact it's worth a regular visit. Who Wants Seconds? has gorgeous photos and well-written posts. When I first visited it (in late January, while doing the IMBB 11 round-up) it looked so polished I was shocked to find out that it was a mere 11 days old!

Moira's Puy lentil salad is a cinch to throw together. I'm pretty pokey in the kitchen, but I had dinner on the table in under an hour. The salad consists of lentils, carrot, celery, onion, green beans, feta, and cilantro and is dressed with toasted sesame oil and rice vinegar. The feta cheese really pulls this salad together and makes it a meal. It is delicious and light, but still very satisfying. Thanks Moira (and Zarah)!

So did Zarah find some great French food? Mais oui! Pay her a visit and see for yourself!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Mondays with Maida - Indian Figlets

Indian Figlets - oh, and guess where the plate came from!
Page 51 in the old book / page 84 in the new book

These cookies are an interesting combination of spice, lemon and figs. I thought the combination of lemon and fig sounded really good, but I felt that the lemon was overpowered by the spice and I think I prefer an uninterrupted dose of fig (as in a fig bar) rather than bits of fig scattered within the cookie.

I had no difficulties making these cookies. They went together easily and there were no unusual ingredients. I found that Sunmaid sells packaged figs now, so I had no trouble finding those either.

The cookie panel had lots to say this time, so without further ado, here they are!

Suzanne: "Not much to say about the "Indian Figlets". You could definitely taste the ginger and other spices. Walnuts would have been a good addition. I don't think children would like this cookie since you could feel the seeds from the fig when you bit down on the cookie. I guess I'm not going to get excited until we get back to chocolate cookies. Rating - 3"

Denny: "They were good but lack crunch. Raisins instead of figs maybe, but definitely would be better with nuts. Phil steered me toward the raisins. The hint of lemon added to their flavor. Rating - 3.8"

Laura: "Moist and yummy figgy cookie with a delightful hint of lemon! Rating - 3"

Phil: "A cross between a Fig Newton and a Post-it. Chock full of fig chunks with a hint of lemon (interesting contrast) mixed in with a puffy cookie filling. The tactile challenges this gooey, fig endowed cookie poses, however, makes it quite unsuitable for returning to work at a computer keyboard any time soon. Rating - 2.9"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.2

Next week - Hawaiian Pineapple Cookies

Nutrition Facts

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Souvenirs: Pesto alle Noci

One of my souvenirs from the Vucciria market in Palermo was a small jar of walnut pesto. Its contents were listed as walnuts, extra virgin olive oil, sunflower oil, and natural flavorings. Actually, when I purchased it I didn't have my dictionary with me and though I knew it contained nuts and olive oil, I mistakenly thought they were hazelnuts and assumed that the unrecognized ingredients would make it akin to what I know as pesto. In reality, it was more of a nut paste.

When I got home I googled about and found a recipe for Pasta With Walnut Paste and Pancetta. I substituted my Pesto alle Noci for the walnuts and olive oil, reduced the amounts of pancetta and parmesan to assuage my conscience a little, and replaced some of the pasta with chicken and brocolli. The results were delicious!

Chicken, Brocolli and Shells with Walnut Pesto

Jar of pesto alle noci (about 3/4 cup)
OR 1 cup toasted walnuts and 1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and cut into eighths
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1 - 2 ounces pancetta or bacon, finely diced
1 1/2 pounds brocolli, cut up
1 whole chicken breast, cut into one inch chunks
1/2 pound small shell pasta
salt and pepper to taste

Put garlic, jalapeno pepper, and walnuts, if using, into food processor and process until finely chopped. If using walnuts and oil, with motor running gradually add the olive oil through the feed tube until smooth paste is formed. If using pesto alle noci, add the pesto and process for a few more seconds. Add the parmesan and pulse a few times.

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil.

Heat a large non-stick saute pan. Add the pancetta and cook a few minutes until starting to brown. Add the chicken and cook until slightly browned and opaque. Remove from heat and cover until pasta and brocolli are ready.

When water is boiling add pasta. During the last two minutes add the brocolli. When done, drain and add to pan with chicken. Add pesto and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

More of Palermo

Palazzo Abatelles

After leaving Villa Giulia, we headed over to Palazzo Abatelles, not really expecting to find it open. Happily, it was. Palazzo Abatelles houses the Galleria Regionalle della Sicilia, a beautiful little museum with a really great collection. Our ticket for Palazzo Abatelles also included admission to Palazzo Mirto, an 18th century palace that still has many of its original furnishings. Shortly after entering the Palazzo, I noticed a man in dark glasses and got the sense that he was following us. I wasn't sure what was going on, but Chuck thought that the other people visiting had "escorts" as well. Unfortunately, I was so preoccupied with what this guy was up to, that I didn't pay very close attention to the Palazzo itself.

Lunch on the grill

We had a fantastic lunch at Antica Focacceria San Francesco, a restaurant recommended in all the guide books, the Art of Eating, and Chowhound. It is a part of the "Slow Food" association and known for its panelle (fried chickpea flour patties), pane ca' meusa (spleen sandwiches), and other Palermo street food. We sat outdoors and had their fixed price menu. Chuck and I both had the carne menu and Bob had the pesce menu. The best part was that we got a sampling of many of those Palermo street foods. We had a couple different arrancini (deep fried rice balls stuffed with meat or cheese), panelle (that little chickpea thingy), sfincione (almost like a little slice of pizza), some caponata (an eggplant relish), and the infamous pane ca' meusa (the aforementioned spleen sandwich). Bob and Chuck each dutifully ate the whole pane ca' meusa. One bite was enough for me. We were already filling up and we were just getting started! Next to arrive were huge plates of pasta, which were followed by plates of grilled meats and vegetables (or fish and vegetables for Bob), and finally dessert.

Antipasti rustico

After lunch we walked up Via Maqueda to take a look at Teatro Massimo and Teatro Politeama and window-shopped along the way. We ate dinner at Pizzeria Bellini and though they have a full menu, we all chose to get pizza. I had a Schiacciata, which is sort of a stuffed pizza with salami, ham, tomato and cheese inside. It was delicious!


The following day brought visits to the Catacombe dei Cappucini, the Cappella Palatina, and the Vucciria Market. The catacombs at Catacombe dei Cappucini are strange and ghoulish, yet at the same time a little sad. Like the ruins we would see later, but on a more personal level, here we were confronted with the remains from hundreds of lives. It was a surreal experience. Our next stop was the amazing Cappella Palatina where nearly every surface is covered in gorgeous mosaics. The first mosaics I saw were so detailed I thought that they were tapestries!

Cappella Palatina

Vucciria market

After two earlier attempts, we finally found our way to the Vucciria Market. What we found was smaller than I expected, occupying one short street. The stalls were more like little shops that spilled into the street. Bob and I each purchased jars of pistachio pesto and walnut pesto (more like nut pastes than what we think of as pesto). There were many other tempting items that wouldn't have made it through US customs, but it was fun to look. If anyone knows what these squash are, do let me know!

Maybe Cucuzzi?

Next time - Monreale and Erice

Friday, May 20, 2005

Sugar High Friday - Baked Ricotta Puddings with Lemon Syrup

I'm still scurrying to catch up with things at work and home since my return from vacation, so though I do remember seeing the SHF announcement some time earlier, it wasn't until today I realized - it's today! But with such a great theme (citrus) and Alice hosting it, I just had to participate.

I knew I would make something lemon - I just made one cookie recipe and will be making another in a couple of days and each uses the zest of two lemons. That means I've got some lemon juice to use up! I had recently noticed Lyn's recipe for ricotta cheese on her blog, Lex Culinaria, and was curious to try it. Lemon and ricotta seemed like a good match, so I googled around until I found this recipe for Baked Ricotta Puddings with Lemon Syrup. Perfect!

Making the ricotta was easy, though it took me over an hour to bring the milk to the proper temperature. I was also ill-equipped to remove the curds from the pot. I didn't have a large slotted spoon and tried to make due with a small strainer (which got clogged by the cheese) and a small slotted spoon (slow going). In the end though all worked out and the cheese was wonderful. It smelled and tasted fresh and rich. I used all but a spoonful of it in these puddings, so I'd love to make it again and try it in lasagna or something similar.

The pudding went together easily. The recipe has a typo that makes it a little confusing - just above the list of ingredients it says "Serves: 4", but in the instructions it says to prepare 6 ramekins. Based on the size of the ramekins (150 ml), it appears that the correct number of servings is 6. I used regular granulated sugar in both the puddings and the lemon syrup and I used 3 large eggs in the puddings since my grocery store had no medium eggs. I boiled the syrup 5 minutes, but maybe I should have boiled it longer. Once I added the lemon juice, the syrup was very thin. It does not resemble the syrup shown in the photo that accompanies the recipe at all. I expect the difference in color is due to the fact that I used regular white sugar, but the syrup in that photo is also very thick.

Even if my syrup is thin, it is sweet and very lemony and a perfect accompaniment to the puddings. I ate one warm and really enjoyed it. The recipe says that they can also be served chilled. I imagine this recipe would also be good with other citrus juices substituted for the lemon.


Villa Giulia

Oh where do I start? Can you tell I’ve been having trouble figuring out the answer to that question? I’ve decided my general approach will be chronological and so my first posts will be about our first stop – Palermo – but even narrowing my focus in that way has not helped. It was such a great trip…and I saw and experienced so much…

So I will just start.

Palermo – a big, noisy, bustling city. In many ways it is like other big cities. We stayed at Centrale Palace which was just steps from Quattro Canti (four corners), the center of old Palermo. Quattro Canti is at the intersection of the roads now known as Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Maqueda, and divides the old city into four quarters. At one time the people of Palermo were born, lived and died in their home quarter, seldom if ever crossing over into another.

Palermo Cathedral

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and after settling into our hotel, walked down Corso Vittorio Emanuele towards the city gate, Porta Nuova, stopping to visit the Cathedral along the way. We were not yet adjusted to the time change, nor recovered from the long flight, so by around 6:00 we were in need of dinner and a good night’s rest. Finding dinner at that hour turned out to be problematic since most restaurants do not open until later (8 or 8:30), but we finally found a bar that served sandwiches. It was not the most auspicious start to our culinary adventures in Sicily (what was that white stuff floating in the vinegar?), but it was enough to see us through until morning.

La Martorana

Sunday was not only Sunday, it was a national holiday (Labor Day), so the city was much quieter and many sights were closed. We managed to find plenty to occupy our attention though. We visited several churches, including one of my favorites – La Martorana. We had hoped to visit the botanical garden, but found it closed. The adjacent public garden, Villa Giulia, was open, so we stopped in there. I liked this garden very much – better even than the botanical garden which we visited the next day. The gardens were beautiful and not at all crowded. There are also some rather run-down monuments, but I think that is part of their charm.

Villa Giulia

Yikes, it’s late (it’s amazing how long I can sit here agonizing over a measly four paragraphs). Stay tuned – Sunday turned out to be a fantastic day food-wise, and we also had a rather spooky visit to Palazzo Mirto.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Dining with the Bloggers - May 18th

Back in Sicily, Chuck and I hatched this little plot... Chuck is always inquiring about my little kitchen and we were talking about the upcoming Dining with the Bloggers. The theme would be beverages and I felt that the hardest part would be finding the recipe. The topic came up for discussion several times and both Bob and Chuck would suggest things that I could make for the occasion and I would always remind them that it had to be a recipe posted on another food blog. Then when we were in Taormina, we had this wonderful, lemony concoction at the San Domenico Palace, and I decided to break all the rules.

Originally, I was thinking that I would ignore the most basic "rule" of Dining with the Bloggers and tell you about a beverage that (as far as I knew) had not been posted on any blog, but then my co-conspirator Chuck decided he would post about this beverage on his blog. My honor was saved! Well, almost. Actually, I'm still cheating some - I've never made this myself and I'm going to post photographs.

We were having lunch at the restaurant by the pool, when we saw this beverage being prepared for someone else. It is prepared tableside, which I've decided is a fantastic marketing tool. The moment they run the zester over that lemon, the scent captures the attention of each neighboring table. You sit, mesmerized, watching as the drink is prepared. Before you know it, you're ordering it for yourself. I may not remember its name, but I do remember its ingredients: lemon sherbet, prosecco, vodka, and lemon zest. Chuck has a great description of the preparation and here are a few photos...

As Bob said, "simple and elegant". With warm weather coming, I can't wait to try making this myself. Hope you'll enjoy it too!

I'm sure Zarah has found a wonderful beverage to try that really was posted on a food blog. Stop by and check it out!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Sicily Tidbits

I'm still jet-lagged and haven't accomplished a darn thing today. I'm not sure where to start with telling you about my trip, so here are a few random thoughts...

I lost my heart to... No doubt about it - Mount Etna.

Best meal... I think the consensus was Ai Lumi in Trapani. There were lots of good meals, so this is a close call, but the selection of local olive oils brought for our salads (but used to dunk their wonderful bread in) made this meal especially memorable.

Ickiest moment... When our car ran into a swarm of some kind of insect. I was looking out a side window so I only heard the splat and saw the aftermath on the windshield. It looked and sounded as though someone had dropped a bucket of water from above.

Fashion forecast... Chuck noticed an awful lot of people wearing orange. We decided orange must be "the new black". Our hunch was confirmed one day when we noticed that every single mannequin in a trendy Taormina shop was dressed in orange. Our trend-spotting abilities were called into doubt the following day when the mannequins in that same shop were all dressed in blue.

Best hotel... San Domenico Palace in Taormina. This is an unbelievably beautiful hotel (a former monastery) with spectacular views of the sea and Mount Etna. It is the most peaceful, comfortable, and luxurious hotel I've ever been in.

Scariest moment... When we lost the keys to our rental car in Agrigento.

Biggest relief... When we found them. Thankfully, someone had turned them into the ticket office.

Most exciting moment... When our bus got stuck in a snow drift on Mount Etna. This was also the biggest pile of snow I've every seen - it was well over my head. Everyone had to get out of the bus while the guides struggled to free it.

Biggest thrill... Holding my hands in steam from Mount Etna.

Favorite ruins... They're all pretty great, but I think I'd have to say Segesta.

Most thought-provoking ruins... The tumble of column pieces in Selinunte really gets you thinking about time, mortality...

Best souvenirs... Ceramics of course!!

Best reasons to visit Sicily in the spring... The wildflowers are spectacular, as is the weather.

Most beautiful church... Another tough call. The ones that impressed me most were the ones with gorgeous mosaics. The three best were the Capella Palatina in Palermo, the cathedral in Monreale, and Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio (also known as La Martorana). The cathedral in Monreale is probably most impressive because of its size.

Biggest brain teaser... Figuring out how to flush the toilet at the restaurant where we ate in Lingua on Salina (one of the Aeolian Islands). I must have studied that toilet for five or ten minutes, pushing and attempting to turn various protrusions without success. I finally realized there was a pedal on the floor.

Most fun... Our day on the Orione, the small boat with its two young guides (I'm guessing 16 and 10 years old - their father was there for the beginning and end of our ride, but for most of the day we were in the capable hands of these youngsters) that took us on a tour around Lipari and Salina.

Favorite dessert... I had a delicious cannoli and some pretty yummy cookies, but this one is a no-brainer - GELATO!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

I Love Sicily

Now I understand the title of Ronald's blog. What a beautiful place - how could you not be utterly charmed by the people, the wild flowers, the historic ruins, the amazing churches, Mount Etna, the gelato, and all the other wonderful food? What a fantastic trip... I have so much to tell you, but it will have to wait until tomorrow. I'm having trouble keeping my eyes open!