Idyllic Eats in Italy

The clocks have gone back an hour and the temperatures are rapidly descending, and while I’m more than ready to welcome all things cozy in the form of sweaters, soups, and holidays, I still find myself reminiscing about our honeymoon this past June. Our time on the Amalfi Coast was utterly perfect and full of adventure, relaxation, romance, decadence, and plenty of fun.

Amalfi Coat Pride and Polka Dots

Pride and Polka Dots Italy Pride and Polka Dots Positano Pride and Polka Dots Positano City Pride and Polka Dots Capri CoastFortunately, there’s one souvenir  (besides paintings and photographs) from our fun that I can make a fairly regular part of our daily lives, even in the cold. We were lucky enough to have a private cooking class with the incredibly talented women behind Donna Rosa. It was a morning and afternoon packed with food, drinks, giggles and fun. Our new friends are exactly what you would expect of famed Italian hospitality.

When we arrived at their bastion of fine Italian cooking, tucked along Montepertuso, Erika, Rosida and Mama greeted us warmly and led us through their cozy, yet elegant, restaurant. The restaurant is a local (and global) favorite for inventive fine Italian dining, with fans throughout Italy and beyond, like Jaimie Oliver and Ina Garten. Before Jordan and I knew it, we were well equipped with aprons, coffee, and fresh homemade cornetto–the Italian answer to croissants. We learned a ton of fabulous recipes and techniques thanks to Erika’s mastery and Rosida’s rapt but humorous attention. In an attempt to relive just a taste of our fun, I decided to share one of their recipes! Below is a tutorial for a simple dish that could accompany a large dinner or, in my opinion, make a perfectly acceptable main dish for a cozy but easy meal!Pride and Polka Dots Donna Rosa

Involtini Di Melanzane from Donna Rosa

You’ll need:

  • Several long and thin eggplants, tops and outer skin removed
  • Salt
  • Peanut oil
  • Mozzarella, cut into small rectangles and refrigerated to dry a bit ahead of time
  • Fresh basil
  • Fresh grated parmesan cheese
  • All purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 28oz can San Marzano tomatoes, pureed in a food processor


To make the Involtini:

  1. Thinly slice the peeled eggplants using a mandolin slicer. Layer them in a colander and lightly sprinkle salt on each layer to help reduce the water content of each slice. Let the eggplant drain in the sink for about 30 minutes, until the eggplant slices are “limp”. This is an old school trick to keep the eggplant from having a “bitter” taste.
  2. While you wait for the eggplant prepare the sauce. In a medium saucepan, add the extra virgin olive oil and briefly sauté the sliced/chopped garlic. When lightly golden, add pureed San Marzano plum tomatoes. Cook at low heat for 15 minutes and set aside.IMG_4101 IMG_4083
  3. Remove the excess water and salt from the eggplant slices by gently squeezing each slice between two fingers like a squeegee. Dry the slices on paper towels. In a bowl, pour the flour and allow the slices of eggplant to have flour on both sides, removing the excess by moving it with two fingers
  4. In a large saucepan, pour about 1″ peanut oil and heat until it’s very “hot”. Gently drop the slices of floured eggplant in the hot oil, gradually, without crowding the pan and remove the slices when lightly browned, but still pliable. The goal isn’t to make them crispy. Place them on paper towels to drain.
  5. Lay slices of fried eggplant on a working surface. Sprinkle fresh grated parmesan cheese on all pieces. Place a piece of the dried mozzarella and a small piece of basil at one end of each eggplant slice and roll toward the opposite end. Repeat until done, placing the rolls in the baking pan.

    The best husband, ever.

    The best husband, ever.

  6. Heat the oven to 350° F
  7. Spoon tomato sauce over each roll and bake until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbly. Remove from the oven and sprinkle fresh grated parmesan cheese and fresh basil on top of each roll. Serve immediately.

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Ta-da!

It’s really an exceedingly simple dish, but satisfying enough to make a meal! It’s truly rare that a chef shares their best family recipes, so I hope you enjoy this treat as much as we (and all the fans of Donna Rosa) do! If you ever have the opportunity to dine at Donna Rosa, it is undoubtedly worth the time, money and effort!

Also, suggestion: spend the rest of your evening on the balcony with wine….sending helpful snapchats while a little buzzed and full of food!IMG_4039

Let’s Eat: Homemade Pasta

Sometimes you just win at dinner. By win, I mean you make something so excellent and exciting and special, you can’t help but brag. Cue this week’s feature: sweet potato gnocchi with a brown butter balsamic sage sauce. A little more time-consuming and high-maintenance than simply opening a box of “Easy Mac?” Sure. Worth it? Undoubtedly. I have two chef-friends in Italy who would back me up on this…fresh pasta is the BEST.
I decided, partially by popular demand, that this was worth a share and so the recipe is below. If you’re a kitchen novice, this is a good opportunity to learn a few skills–namely how to brown butter properly and an introduction to fresh pasta making.
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My recipe is adapted from Just A Taste 

Let’s start with the gnocchi. You’ll need:
  • Three sweet potatoes, washed and pierced multiple times with a fork.
  • A cup of freshly grated parmesan reggiano
  • 13 ounces fresh ricotta cheese, strained for an hour in a fine mesh sieve
  • A half teaspoon of maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2-3 cups of all purpose flour
1. Roast the scrubbed and pierced sweet potatoes (no oven explosions please!) until very tender. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10-15 minutes, until cool enough to handle.
2. Scoop the flesh from the sweet potato into a large bowl and discard the skin. Thoroughly mash/puree/rice/eviscerate the potatoes until super smooth.
3. Add the strained (we are trying to minimize excess moisture!) ricotta cheese to the sweet potatoes and mix thoroughly
4. Add the Parmesan, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and mix again
5. Now comes the flour. Since the goal is to form dough, but maintain the fluffy-pillowy nature of the gnocchi, which means using the flour only to the extent it’s necessary. Doing this part right will distinguish your gnocchi from bricks of chunky paste. You need to incorporate flour with your sweet potato etc. gradually, thoroughly, and sparingly. We are looking for the bare minimum when it comes to the amount of flour we add.  To accomplish this, add the flour by the 1/2 cup and mix well inbetween each addition. When a dough forms (just a tad bit sticky but malleable) you’re done. For my gnocchi, it took about 2.3 cups of flour…Once you hit the 2 cup mark, it’s time to add flour in even smaller increments.
Next we go from dough to gnocchi!
6. Thoroughly flour a cookie sheet, your work surface, your hands, and by this point…all of your kitchen/clothing.
7. Separate the dough into 6 equally-sized balls. Place on of these balls on your work surface.
8.  Place one piece of dough in front of you and pat it into a rough oblong-shape. Using both hands, in a smooth back-and-forth motion and with very light downward pressure, roll the dough into a rope about a 1/2 inch thick, flouring the dough if necessary as you roll to keep it from sticking. (When you first begin making gnocchi, it might be easier to cut each oblong-piece of dough in half to roll it.)
9. Slice the rope into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Do your best to keep the size consistent as you slice. Sprinkle the little gnocchi babies lightly with flour and roll each piece quickly between your palms into a small, rough, ball. You can flour the dough/your hands  to prevent sticking.
http://daleydish.com/blog/2010/11/homemade-gnocchi.html                  photo by Daley Dish
The next step may feel excessive but keep in mind, the ridges in gnocchi help the pasta absorb and hold sauce!
10. Take a fork and hold the tines so the concave part faces up. Press each ball of dough with you thumb lightly against the tines of the fork as you roll it downward toward the tips of the tines. As the dough wraps around the tip of your thumb, it will form into a dumpling aka gnocchi aka heaven. Set each one on the floured baking sheet.
Homemade-Gnocchi
                            photo by Just A Taste
Gnocchi need to be either made right away or frozen. Set aside what you’re going to make that day, and freeze the rest.
Now to make the sauce….Brown butter balsamic sage sauce!
Before you begin this step, start boiling a large pot of water!
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You’ll need one stick of butter (1/2 cup), give or take, 1/4 cup of chopped sage leaves, 2.5 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 pepper.
  1. Heat a metal (any saucepan will do as long as it isn’t black) saucepan on medium heat. Cut the butter into equally sized pieces and melt them in the pan…
  2. As the butter melts, keep stirring so that it melts evenly. By cutting the butter into even pieces and stirring constantly, you ensure that no milk solids brown before the rest of the butter melts and result in burnt butter (not delicious)
  3. After about 40 seconds, the butter will bubble and foam–good! This is the water evaporating, which means the milk solids will be left behind to brown and get delicious. KEEP STIRRING

As the foam subsides, you should be able to see the butter changing, and the milk solids turning brown. Keep stirring and watching intentlyIMG_5726

  1. Take the pan off the heat when it starts to turn golden-brown…it continues to cook after it’s been removed from the heat, which is why people frequently blacken their brown butter

  2. After a minute, add the chopped sage and wait until it cooks a bit

  3. Add the balsamic, salt, and pepper. Stir and ta-da! You’re nearly done…

At this point, you should have a pot of boiling water. Add your gnocchi and do not crowd the pot…better to make two batches rather than create a giant sticky pasta mess. They are cooked when they float to the top, which takes about two minutes with fresh pasta! Remove with a slotted spoon and toss with the sauce.

You could always add crispy fried pancetta and ribbons of parmesan on top…this is supposed to be decadent! Either way, I’m sure you’ll be entirely happy with the result! Happy eating!

Be Cultured: Let’s Eat Cheese

Put down the Velveeta. Step away from the Kraft singles.

Cheese fraud is a serious crime against your palate, health, and overall well-being.You haven’t been eating real cheese, and it is long past time you were introduced to the good stuff via a cheese plate. It’s possible to rehabilitate and reintroduce yourself to society as a bonafide cheese connoisseur by following a few enlightening cheese suggestions (nay, commandments of biblical proportions).

A cheese plate is a perfect way to reintroduce cheese (the good stuff) to yourself and loved ones. Cheese is impressive–each piece (of real cheese) goes through an aging process, which run the gamut from days, to months, to years. Serving a cheese plate is your way of saying “I know things” while making yourself seem cultured, creative, and clever. Because, let’s face it, once your guests try a pairing of a vintage gouda with a sweet caramel sauce, you’re bound to be a hero.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/cheese

Phase One: The Basics

Let’s say you’re having a small dinner rendezvous with friends. You need to figure out how many people you’re feeding, and when you’re going to bring on the cheese.

  • Suggestions vary, and only you know your crowd, but keep it to around 3-4 oz of cheese per person
  • Decide if this is a pre-dinner cheese course or an after-dinner treat
    • Pre-dinner begs for lighter and savory options, like an herb coated goat cheese
    • Post-dinner is the perfect time for sweet, super-rich and creamy cheeses, like a triple crème goat’s milk brie

Once you know when you’re serving, and who you’re feeding, it’s time to think about what cheeses you’re going to purchase. Your best source is a knowledgeable and local cheese-monger. They can tell you what’s new and exciting, or suggest standby classics that will be an instant hit. A good cheesemonger will also let you sample the cheese, which means you know exactly what you’re getting. Lastly, ask the cheesemonger to slice your wedge of cheese fresh from off the block. This will ensure you get a perfectly ripe (aka not stale) piece of cheese.

Nonetheless, you are an adult (more or less) and can totally manage this all on your own even if you’re lacking a cheesemonger.

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Phase Two: Picking Cheese

  • Pick a theme: U.S. farmstead cheeses? Global cheeses? French or Spanish or Italian Cheese? All cow’s milk or all blue cheese? It’s up to you, but having a plan can be helpful as a guiding principal. However, if you find a cheese that makes you especially happy, there’s nothing stopping you from including it, even if it breaks the theme’s pattern.
  • Try to include a variety of textures and flavors, unless doing a very specific plate that is meant to showcase subtle differences between blues or goat’s milk cheese (not recommended for beginners…)
  • Aim for no less than three cheeses and usually, no more than five
  • Pick from the four main categories of cheese
    • Aged–ie: aged cheddar
    • Soft–ie: camembert
    • Firm–ie:manchego
    • Blue–ie: stilton
  • You can also mix up your cheese selection by the type of milk used
    • Goat
      • IE: the Chabichou du Poitou–a fudgy textured French standout that’s bright with a hint of lemon
    • Cow
      • IE: A comté– similar to Gruyère, is a firm French cheese that has a rich and buttery feel and creamy, nutty taste
    • Sheep
      • IE: The Pecorino Tartufo Riserva–a truffled enriched, aged, Italian cheese that boasts a dense but creamy texture

Cheese plate at Parc

Phase Three: Finding Special Cheeses

The cheese below are exceptional offerings from all over the world. If you’re able to get your hands on any of them, then you are in for a treat.

Note: Shellbark Hollow Farms turn out some exceptional cheese offerings. Their website, found here, is the best resource on where to find and purchase their wares. In particular, the “Sharp 2” is noteworthy.

  • Scharfe Maxx: A cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland. This one is aged 365 days and has a distinct sharp and tangy taste, making it ideal for salty or spicy pairings
  • Vintage Gouda: From Holland, this cow’s milk cheese is a stunner that will appeal to any taste. Aged anywhere from three to five years, it has a subtle sweetness and crumbly texture with a dark amber color.
  • Epoisses de Bourgogne: a cow’s milk cheese by Jacques Hennart from the village Époisses, France. It’s frequently called the most interesting of French cheeses because it has a salty, tangy, sweet and creamy mix of flavors and is exceedingly soft. Napoleon, interestingly enough, was a fan of this particular cheese.
  • Quadrello di Bufala: From the Bergamo province in Italy, made from Buffalo milk (changing it up!. It’s a sweet-but-mild and exceedingly rich mozzarella style cheese.
  • Gorgonzola Dolce: A cow’s milk cheese from Italy, this blue is very soft and spreadable and offers a sweeter, milder, blue cheese flavor that’s ideal for anyone unsure about blue cheese.
  • Pecorino Toscano: a goat’s milk cheese produced in Tuscany. It’s a hard cheese with a delicate flavor that pairs equally well with salty or sweet accompaniments.
  • Capricho de Cabra: A goat’s milk cheese from Spain that’s super flavorful and very creamy
  • Barely Buzzed: a unique espresso and lavender rubbed cheese from Jersey cow milk, made in Utah. It’s a personal favorite and has caramel and butterscotch notes with a full-bodied and creamy texture.
  • Bathed In Victory: A cow’s milk cheese made in Pennsylvania by Doe Run Farm. It’s a buttery and slightly nutty cheese that is made with a beer wash.
  • Purple Haze: this nearly sounds like a strain of something a bit more potent, but it’s a goat cheese from California (that part isn’t a surprise, right?). The cheese is made with a mix of lavender and wild fennel pollen, so it has a distinct taste that’s utterly delicious.

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Phase Four: Accompaniments 

The cheese plate is only half finished by the time you purchase all the cheese. You can’t just stick it on a plate and call it a day! That’s some basic cheese nonsense. What’s missing are accompaniments. In order to take your cheese-on-a-plate to cheese plate mecca, you need to provide accessories to enhance each piece of cheese, and adorn the plate in question.

Your options are as diverse and interesting as the cheese market itself.

  • Bread: you need carbs with cheese, because this plate isn’t about being coy. Nonetheless, this is the simplest addition to any cheese plate.
    • Fresh baguettes (mild enough to go with everything without overshadowing any of the cheeses)
    • Different kinds of crusty bread, sliced into small serving pieces
    • Crackers: they come in a variety of flavors and shapes so you can choose plain multigrain ones, flavored offerings like rosemary, or super crispy-seeded options to mix with a nuttier or sweeter cheese to mix it up
  • Fruit/Vegetables: naturally, you’ll want to pick accordingly, depending on when you serve the cheese plate. Nonetheless, make sure fruit offerings are perfectly ripe.
    • Artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, olives, tomatoes
    • Peaches, pears, berries, nectarines need to be perfectly ripe!
    • Apples and grapes are a safe option year-round for finding a good, sweet, addition to the cheese
  • Jams, Preserves, and Pastes: There are savory and sweet jams aplenty that make an ideal pairing to cheese + bread and ultimately elevate the experience.
    • Apple, Apricot, Blackberry, Black Currant, Fig, Huckleberry and more are all perfect jams to accompany a dessert cheese plate
    • Bacon, onion, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, or tomato jams are all game changers on a pre-dinner cheese plate.
    • Chutney, mostarda, spicy mustards, and quince paste are ideal savory accompaniments.
  • Nuts and bolts: Nuts are a great way to enhance cheese, and look beautiful scattered on the plate.
    • Walnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds
    • Marcona almonds are the best option, and are equally at home with sweet and savory options alike. Check our Trader Joes’s rosemary flavored marcona almonds for an addictive addition.
  • Dried Fruits: since it’s difficult to find fresh fruit that’s perfectly ripe year-round (that’s how nature works folks), dried fruit makes a perfect accompaniment.
    • Raisins, dates, apricots, cherries, apples
    • Medjool dates are a game changer
  • Honey and sweets:  Dessert isn’t the same without sugar
    • Different kinds of honey means different flavors on a cheese plate
      • Clover honey + blue cheese
      • Chestnut and Buckwheat honey + grueyere or Parmigiano reggiano
      • Orange blossom honey + soft cheeses, like brie or goats milk
    • Caramel mixed with salty or nutty cheeses (Or anything, really) is exceptional. Pairing it with an aged gouda will blow your mind.
  • Cured Meats: Ideal for a pre-dinner plate, different meats can add a nice touch to a cheese arrangement
    • Prosciutto, salamis, chorizo

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Phase Five: Finishing Touches

Congratulations on nearly completing one of the best things you’ll ever eat. There are just a few important suggestions to remember when you’re making the final move from jumbled ingredients to full presentation.

  • Remove the cheese from the fridge at least an hour before serving. Cheese shouldn’t be served cold and hard, it needs time to soften and breathe prior to eating.
  • Spread the spread: make sure you’re using a plate or board big enough to sufficiently accommodate all the cheese and accessories. If your cheese is arranged too close together, people will inevitably bump into other cheeses while slicing.
  • Keep pungent cheeses farther apart from other pungent cheeses
  • Provide a knife for each individual piece of cheese
  • Put accompaniments intended for specific cheeses next to that cheese
  • Label the cheese! People deserve to know what you’re serving them, so make sure each cheese (and any information about it you’d care to share) is clearly labeled.
  • White wine pairs best with cheese. The acidity doesn’t overpower the cheese like a red wine does. A great cheese can elevate an OK wine, but a crappy cheese can ruin a great bottle of wine. Invest wisely!

Once you find the good stuff, I doubt you’ll ever go back to your pseudo-cheese ways. Cheese plates are a gateway drug into a whole new way of cheesing, steeped in history and culture from all over the world!

PS: If you’re ever in Philadelphia, visit a cheese expert’s restaurant and shop at Taulula’s Daily. Aimee Olexy is a cheese genius. Cheenius?

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Let’s Eat: Liège Waffles

This post has been a long time coming, but it’s finally here today! What could possibly be worth such a long wait you ask? Well…how about the recipe for authentic liège waffles a la our earlier trip (and blog post) to Belgium? That’s what I thought.

I’ve been wishing for these ever since I had them a few weeks ago, so without any further delay: Waffles!

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You’ll need:

  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 packet dry active yeast
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm (100-110 degrees F) milk
  • 8 oz softened butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 generous tsp vanilla bean paste or regular vanilla extract
  • dash of cinnamon
  • 1 bag of belgian pearl sugar (available at amazon.com)

 

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I figured out why Belgian waffles are SO addictive and amazing…the drugs they put in the batter!

IMG_1543 IMG_1540A little of this stuff makes a HUGE different in all the baking I do…I cannot recommend it enough!

To make all these things turn into heavenly waffles:

  1. Add your yeast to the milk with some sugar to let it proof. When it’s foamy and ready (about ten minutes), add all the other ingredients,except the sugar!!, and mix well.
  2. Let the dough rise for approximately 30 minutes, covered with a towel and set in a warm and cozy spot.
  3. Once the dough has risen, add an entire bag of pearl sugar…this is about to get realIMG_1546
  4. Make sure your waffle iron is heated, I set mine to level 4
  5. Break the dough into roughly 3oz balls, and then pat them down before placing them in the waffle iron to cook. IMG_1551 IMG_1547
  6. They should be a nice brown color by the time you’re finished cooking (5+ minutes). Watch to make sure the sugar melts and crystallizes but does not burn!.
  7. Eat your face off and quote Shrek repeatedly. IMG_1553

They are so delicious and way better than any other waffle I’ve ever tried…I can’t recommend them enough, if you have the energy! When you wish upon a waffle, dreams really do come true assuming you have crack sugar…I mean Belgian pearl sugar.

The extra dough can also be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen until you have a craving at a later date…you never know when the waffle urge might strike!

Under 20 Series: Part I

Call it wishful thinking, but I thought it might be fun to post about things to get you out exploring when the weather turns friendly. Hopefully March goes out like a lamb, and we can all get out and enjoy warmer temperatures and sunshine!

Jordan and I both consider the Philadelphia area our state-side home base, so it’s with a lot of enthusiasm that I wanted to do a series on twenty things you can do in the area for under twenty dollars. First up is one of my favorite places in the city: Magpie.

Magpie: 1622 South St. Philadelphia, PA  19146.
Phone: 267-519-2904
Website: http://www.iluvmagpie.com

I will give you exactly one guess what Magpie is all about….

1922286_629629230424744_2003404272_n                  Photo credited to Magpie, link via picture.

If you guessed PIE you are correct! Fortunately for you, with twenty dollars in your pocket, the wealth of Magpie is essentially yours. You have options!

No piece of pie will cost you more than $10 for starters, which means you can pick from the seasonal menu offerings, both sweet and savory. And get yourself a cup of coffee or tea too!

To sweeten the deal, Magpie offers a special on Wednesdays, where $14 earns you a slice of savory pie, a slice of sweet pie, and a cup of coffee or tea.

1798561_617717594949241_497136408_n                  Photo credited to Magpie, link via picture.

With beauties like these, how could you possibly resist anyways?

1970415_627773120610355_33058205_n                  Magpie’s Banana Nilla Wafer Pie. Photo credited to Magpie, link via picture.

IMG_1414                  Magpie Blackout Pie: a chocolatey pudding pie that is scary good.

20140326-155517.jpg                  Lemon Gingersnap Pie from the winter menu

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My kryptonite: lemon curd pie with rosemary shortbread. About as perfect a bite of food as any person could ever hope to bestow upon their tastebuds.

20140326-155534.jpgPossibly my second favorite pie ever, the pear ginger crumb.

But what about breakfast?! While I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have pie for breakfast, during the weekend, you can also use that money in your pocket to put quiche in your mouth. Yup, you heard it here too. 20140326-155336.jpg

Magpie’s quiche-game is unparalleled. And the store is BYOB so you can make a truly festive brunch out of it!

Sadly, sometimes you can’t find the time to sit and really treasure your piece of pie with the attention it deserves. If you need your pie on-the-go, there’s a VERY appetizing solution: pie milkshakes.

Slice of pie + rich vanilla ice cream + blender = pie à la mode to go.

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Or you can stay in and eat it too. I thoroughly enjoyed the banana nilla wafer pie milkshake. Probably because I’m human with functioning tastebuds.

There is one more major offering to consider from Magpie, and while it does not fit into the realm of ‘under 20’ sometimes things are worth a little extra. In this case? How about a pie-making class with owner, mastermind, pie aficionado, and all around wonderful human Holly Ricciardi? That sounds good to you? Great! Grab a friend or loved one, and sign up for one of their monthly pie-making classes. Info is posted on their facebook page and website as classes are scheduled, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

My mom and I went back in December and it was so, so, so much fun.

We made cranberry apple pies under Holly’s close supervision and learned a lot about pie, and baking in general. But mostly, we had a lot of fun.

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True story: you, as a pie-making class attendee, are fortunate enough to get the real-deal recipe for both the pie filling and the irresistibly good pie crust that separates Magpie pies from regular pie.

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Looking way too good to be made by me….

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Lattice work like a pro…because a pro was watching/guiding/encouraging
20140326-155502.jpgALL MINE.  You get to take your pie home with you, which just makes it even better because you get to share (or not) the goods with everyone.

So that officially concludes the inaugural post in the “under 20” series and I hope you’re motivated to try some pie. The shop is utterly adorable, the staff is wonderful, and Holly has a well-deserved reputation as the best pie-maker (and incredibly sweet and knowledgeable person!) in town. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really need some pie.

 

 

 

Let’s Eat: Extravagantly

I think a (large) morsel of food this extravagant deserves a story and sharing so without any distraction…IMG_1387

There once was a girl who wandered the vast world wide web, seeking answers to the question–what shall I make for our dinner party dessert? Cupcakes were a nice bite but awfully trite…cookies were too casual and brownies were old news, so a cake it had to be…

After searching and sighing in dismay, she came upon a wondrous cake…a truly magnificent looking beauty. “That’s the one!” Said she. A tuxedo cake done up in true black and white, looking strikingly handsome and truly remarkable. IMG_1388

Peering over to investigate the chosen one, her guy said “No! don’t do it! It’s too complicated looking–you’ll be stressed, everything will be a mess, it’s not worth it! Save yourself” (maybe I’m embellishing…)

“Nonsense!” She said, “It’s beautiful and glorious and a sure crowd pleaser, with time and patience it’ll go off without a hitch.” And so the recipe became reality and there was much planning, baking, frosting, ganache-ing, and then clapping when it was presented with much fuss and festivity…and then much eating and more groaning from the cake-eaters.

Here is the recipe that started this extravagant affair. However, I was not impressed with the chocolate cake recipe so I went to my go-to chocolate cake recipe and was much  happier with the results. Her recipe for the vanilla layers is easy and comes out very nicely though!

Instead of the raspberry white chocolate frosting (I associate white chocolate with crimes against humanity, if we’re being honest) I made the simplest vanilla buttercream recipe, which you can double or triple as your heart desires.

  • Beat 1 cup of soft, room-temperature butter until creamy and smooth.
  • Gradually add 3 cups confectioners sugar, until well incorporated.
  • Add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste (my favorite!) and 1-2 tablespoons cream or milk to soften the mixture
  • When smooth and well mixed, slap it on your cake (or pipe it) with a butter knife or frosting knife.

Tips for Tuxedo Cake:

  • Plan–I made the cakes a day in advance so I could freeze them overnight (wrapped in plastic wrap, in a gallon zip-loc bag)
  • Let the chocolate cakes barely  thaw 5-6 minutes before slicing them in half horizontally, they get harder to work with faster.
  • I froze the cake inbetween doing the first four layers (frosting filling, raspberry filling alternating) and the last four, just to keep everything nice and chilly. I also was very deliberate about freezing it after the crumb coat, the first frosting coat, and after the final one that I smoothed out. I think it helps make the cake more stable as you manipulate it.
  • As always, be very careful when making ganache because it’s liable to break (as the recipe creator noted from her own experience). I find that being exceedingly gentle as you mix, waiting 3-4 minutes for the hot cream to melt the chocolate, and working to make sure very little air gets incorporated, is a sure way to keep your ganache smooth.

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Her recipe gets slightly confusing when talking about slicing the cake when cold but serving at room temperature. I found that we had no trouble at all slicing the cake at room temperature right before serving. I poured the ganache over the cake about 6 hours before we served and there was no trouble at all! Plus, we don’t even have a cake stand or serving knife here so you know it can’t be that hard.

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This cake was an absolute crowd pleaser– there was a chorous of delighted eating commentary and praise. If an occasion arises where you want to make a real show stopper, you can never go wrong with a classic tux! It’s almost too pretty to eat…almost.

So in conclusion, they lived happily ever after with full tummies and sugar rushes. The end!

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Let’s Eat: Dumplings

Last night I decided to mix things up and try some new recipes, and I’m very pleased to say that all of them were a rousing success. I made korean beef and shrimp dumplings. While the beef was a crowd favorite (given the fact that this crowd consisted of guys, no surprise there),  the shrimp dumplings seemed to earn a place permanently in everyone’s heart. I’m particularly fond of them because they were deceptively easy, leaving everyone else  impressed with the results while I exerted minimal effort in constructing them. In the spirit of sharing, it seems only fair to spill the recipe so everyone else can enjoy them too!

Shrimp (and other) Dumplings 

You’ll Need:

  • Wonton wrappers (available in the freezer aisle at most grocers)
  • 1.5 lbs Shrimp peeled, deveined, and chopped
  • 1.5 cups, shredded green cabbage
  • 4-5 scallions, finely diced
  • Scant handful of Mushrooms, finely chopped
  • Ginger root, about half an inch, peeled (use a spoon) and finely grated
  • 1 Teaspoon mirin
  • 1 Teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 Teaspoon oil (sesame, olive, etc.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To make:

  1. Combine all ingredients (except wonton wrappers) in a bowl and mix well
  2. Set out a bowl of warm water and clear a clean, dry workspace
  3. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, and a dusting of cornstarch or flour
  4. Lay out your wonton wrapper on the workspace and fill with about a quarter sized dollop of filling20140307-112455.jpg
  5. Wet the edges of the wonton wrapper with water, fold over, and press to seal. Set on cookie sheet. Repeat until you have desired amount of wontons. 20140307-112504.jpg20140307-112514.jpg
  6. Heat up a frying pan with just enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom.
  7. Once the oil in the pan is very hot, place wontons (not touching) in a single layer in the pan and fry until bottom is browned. Flip them and once both sides are brown, removed and set on paper towel lined dish and serve immediately. They’re delicious on their own, with soy sauce or with any asian dipping sauce

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There would have been more pictures, except there was a lot of eating at the time, which left little patience/opportunity for a full photo shoot. Sorry!

However, alternative wonton fillings could include:

  • Crab, cream cheese, garlic, soy sauce
  • All vegetables, add sweet peppers, for example
  • Ground pork, scallions, egg, shrimp, soy sauce, salt and pepper

Instead of frying, you can also bake the filled wontons in the oven at 425 degrees (spray pan with non-stick spray) until lightly browned. Also, you can always make soup with them too: bring broth of your choice to boil over medium heat and add wontons, cook for about 5 minutes and then add other soup ingredients (shrimp, bok choy, you call) and simmer.

In case you can’t already tell, wontons are pretty easy to work with and the results are delicious. I’ve heard you can fill them with sweet fillings too, so stay tuned to see if that experiment ever pans out. In the meantime, happy wontoning and happy Friday!