Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Buon Natale! Christmas Italy Inspired

“The essence of Christmas Day in Italy is family, love and food, la famiglia, l'amore e il cibo.”


Hey all! How’s your week treating you? Can you believe it’s the last week of the year? I am still working on coming up with a New Year’s Resolution, so I’ll be sure to share it when I do!


If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile, you know my family is mostly all Italian. My grandma’s parents came straight from Italy, and I still have relatives over there. (A good excuse to visit I'd say!) I’ve always been a big lover of all things Italian, especially the food! I am still deciding if Italian or Mexican cuisine is my favorite, but I am leaning towards the Italian side. I mean really, who can pass up baked ziti, fresh baked breadsticks, and all other things smothered in homemade marinara sauce? I didn’t think you’d argue! :-)

So when coming up with a menu for this Christmas back in November, somehow all the recipes I had in a folder were Italian-inspired. So I thought, “Hey, why not have an official Italian themed Christmas dinner?” Nobody obliged, so that was that, and our Italian meal was planned, prepped, cooked, and eaten(the best part obviously)and enjoyed by everyone!

The meal was compliments of the two family chefs:


Grandpa and myself


My grandpa prepared the roasted chicken cattiatore & the wild rice stuffing.

I prepared everything else! To say my Christmas day was spent cooking and baking would be an understatement! ;-)


Tossed Italian Salad—mixed greens, sliced cucumber, fresh basil, diced tomatoes, Italian dressing. Toss & enjoy!


Roasted Chicken Cattiatore

6-8 servings


  • 1 chicken (6-8 lbs)
  • 1/2 c fresh chopped basil leaves
  • 4 garlic gloves, peeled
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 jar roasted red bell peppers
  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
  • 1 c chicken broth


  • Remove giblets from chicken and reserve for other uses.
    Pull off and discard lumps of fat.

  • Rinse bird well inside and out; pat dry.

  • If desired, fold wing tips under first joint.

  • Set bird breast up on a V-shaped rack in an 11- by 17-inch pan.

  • Push 1/3 of the basil  under skin and spread evenly over breast.

  • Place  garlic cloves  in body cavity.

  • Sprinkle chicken lightly with salt and pepper.

  • Distribute peppers, and tomatoes around chicken in pan; spread level.

  • Roast in a 425 degree regular or convection oven until vegetables begin to brown and a thermometer inserted through thickest part of breast to bone reaches 170 degrees, or 180 degrees through thickest part of thigh at joint, 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours.

  • Insert a carving fork into chicken cavity, piercing carcass.

  • Lift bird and tilt to drain juices into pan.

  • Set chicken on a rimmed platter; let rest in a warm place about 15 minutes.

  • With a slotted spoon, transfer vegetables to a shallow bowl;  keep warm.

  • Skim and discard fat from pan; add vinegar,  broth, and remaining herbs.

  • Stir often over high heat, scraping browned bits free, until reduced to 3/4 cup, 6 to 8 minutes.

  • Pour through a fine strainer into a small pitcher or bowl.

  • Carve chicken and serve with vegetables.

  • Add pan juices and salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe courtesy of my grandpa


Rosemary Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots

Serves 6 (1/2 c)


  • 2  tablespoons  plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3/4  cup  thinly sliced shallots (about 2 large)
  • 2  teaspoons  brown sugar
  • 2  pounds  sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1  tablespoon  finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2  teaspoon  coarse sea salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon  black pepper


1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet over low heat. Add shallots to pan, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with sugar; cook 20 minutes or until shallots are golden, stirring occasionally.

2. Place potatoes in a medium saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil; cook 8 minutes or until tender. Drain. Place potatoes in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add rosemary, salt, and pepper; beat until blended. Spoon into a bowl; top with shallots, and drizzle with remaining 2 teaspoons oil.


Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Apples


  • 1/2  cup  diced apple
  • 8  ounces  Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
  • 2  tablespoons  apple cider
  • 2  teaspoons  olive oil
  • 1  teaspoon  minced fresh thyme
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/8  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Combine apple and Brussels sprouts in an 11 x 7–inch baking dish. Add apple cider, olive oil, minced fresh thyme, salt, and freshly ground black pepper; toss well. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until sprouts are tender.

Roasted Baby Red Potatoes

Serves: 6


  • 1 1/2 pounds baby red potatoes, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

  • Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss potatoes, oil, and rosemary on a rimmed baking sheet. Spread out potatoes in a single layer; season with salt and pepper. Roast, stirring once halfway through cooking, until potatoes are golden brown and crisp outside and tender inside, about 30 minutes.
  • CIMG0288

    Italian Focaccia Bread

    Serves: 16


  • 1 cup water (70° to 80°)
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dill weed
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast

    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1/2 teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/8 teaspoon pepper


    • In bread machine pan, place the first 11 ingredients in order suggested by manufacturer. Select dough setting (check dough after 5 minutes of mixing; add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water or flour if needed).
    • When cycle is completed, turn dough onto a greased baking sheet and punch down (dough will be sticky). With lightly oiled hands, pat dough into a 9-in. circle. Brush with oil; sprinkle with the cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.
    • Bake at 400° for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cut into wedges; serve warm. Yield: 1 loaf (1-1/2 pounds, 16 slices).


    Chocolate Peppermint Cheesecake

    Serves: 14-16 servings


    • 12  ounces  creme-filled chocolate sandwich cookies, such as Oreos, broken into pieces
    • 3  tablespoons  melted butter
    • 3-8 oz  pounds  cream cheese, at room temperature (I used 1 fat free, 1 reduced-fat, and one regular)
    • 3/4  cup  sugar
    • 1/3  cup  sour cream (fat-free works fine)
    • 4  eggs
    • 2  tablespoons  all-purpose flour
    • 1  teaspoon  vanilla
    • 1/2  teaspoon  peppermint extract
    • 1/2  teaspoon  salt
    • 1 bag Hershey’s peppermint kisses
    • 1 tub of Cool Whip


    1. Place cookies in a heavy zip-lock plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. Pour into a buttered 9-inch round springform pan and pour melted butter over crumbs; mix to coat, then press evenly over bottom and about 1/2 inch up sides of pan. Bake in a 300° oven until crust is slightly darker and looks a bit dry, about 10 minutes (leave oven on).

    2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, with a mixer on medium speed, beat cream cheese and sugar until well blended. Beat in sour cream. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend after each addition. Beat in flour, vanilla, peppermint extract, and salt until smooth. Pour cream cheese mixture into pan over baked crust.

    3. Bake until edges are just golden and center jiggles slightly when pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour. Run a knife around edge of pan rim. Place pan on a wire rack and cool cheesecake completely in pan. Cover and chill until cold, at least 4 hours or up to 2 days. Run a knife around rim again, then release rim. If any liquid has pooled on surface of cheesecake, blot dry gently with a paper towel.

    4. Decorate top of cake with candy cane kisses and dollops of Cool Whip—I piped it using a Wilton pastry bag/tip.

    Recipe by me



    What was your favorite dish you ate or made this Christmas?

    Monday, December 27, 2010

    Christmas Past

    Oh the days of Christmas past--

    How I wish them here again:

    Sitting in Mom’s lap,

    holding Daddy's hand.

    The tree, the gifts, the food, the joy,

    all of us together back then--

    Off to college and back again--
    there always was home.

    There always was family.

    There is always Christmas.


    Hope you all had a few wonderful days filled with Christmas cheer!

    Come back tomorrow for the food recaps!

    Saturday, December 25, 2010

    Merry Christmas 2010!


    Hope you all are enjoying your family, friends, and good food!

    I have one last festive cookie to share for the Christmas season.


    Cinnamon Candy Cane Cookies

    48 servings


    • 1 cup butter, softened
    • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
    • 1 egg
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 3/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 cup red-hot candies, crushed
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • Red food coloring, optional
    • 2 tablespoons coarse sugar


    • In a large bowl, cream butter and confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine flour and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Divide dough in half. Mix red-hots and cinnamon into one half; tint with food coloring if desired.
    • Shape 1-1/2 teaspoons plain dough into a 4-1/2-in. rope. Shape 1-1/2 teaspoons red dough into a 4-1/2-in. rope. On an ungreased baking sheet, place ropes side by side; press together lightly and twist. Curve top of each cookie down to form handle of cane. Repeat with remaining plain and red dough, placing 2 in. apart on baking sheets. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.
    • Bake at 375° for 7-10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool for 1 minute before removing to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Yield: 4 dozen.

    Friday, December 24, 2010

    Community Ed Cookie Swap

    Continuing on the theme of all things cookie related…


    Last Thursday was the date that I taught my monthly cooking class for Community Education. (Check out my November recap here) I debated on doing some sort of “How to Make Your Christmas Meal Memorable” class, but then I got the brilliant idea of hosting a cookie swap instead, where I not only teach how to make a few of my favorites, but have every student bring 2-3 dozen of their own favorite Christmas treat and recipe cards to swap. I wasn’t quite sure how it’d go over being that so many people are already overwhelmed by all the to-do’s during the month of December, but luckily I had a great handful of students sign up. I love the group of people that keep attending, they are some of the nicest people I’ve met, and definitely make teaching enjoyable!


    I finally got some pictures of where the classes are held and how things are set up!




    I really like having one volunteer to help out with each recipe too—it keeps things more interactive!



    I really enjoyed not only sharing my 3 top Christmas recipes of 2010, but it was so much fun to see all the goodies everyone else brought—they blew me away in both presentation and taste! Some people made more than one kind, and I am planning on featuring each recipe in the coming months, so keep an eye out for those—you won’t want to miss them, trust me!

    Here’s the trays for everyone to fill…


    All the goodies brought by the students..


    Loading up their trays…


    And now a drum roll for the final results..


    What a great selection, huh? I told you that you’ll want to stick around for the recipes!!

    And I suppose you’re wondering what recipes I chose to make/share with the class. Two of them you’ve already seen..

    • Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies (recipe here)


    • Cinnamon Roll Popcorn (recipe here)


    And the third recipe I decided on is new to the blog—short, sweet, and simply stunning on cookie platters!


    Holiday Gift Package Cookies


      • 1 cup butter, softened
      • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
      • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
      • 1 teaspoon vanilla
      • 2 1/4
        cups Gold Medal® all-purpose flour


      • 2 cups powdered sugar
      • 1/3 cup butter, softened
      • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
      • 1 to 2 tablespoons half-and-half or milk
      • Food color
  • Line 8-inch square pan with plastic wrap. In large bowl with electric mixer, beat all cookie ingredients except flour at medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally, until creamy. Reduce speed to low; beat in flour, scraping bowl occasionally, until mixture forms a dough. Press dough firmly and evenly in pan. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
  • Heat oven to 350°F. Using edges of plastic wrap, lift dough from pan. With sharp knife, cut into 8 rows in each direction to make 64 squares; carefully place squares 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  • Bake 13 to 17 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool 5 minutes; remove from cookie sheets. Cool completely, about 10 minutes.
  • In medium bowl, mix all frosting ingredients except food color until smooth, adding enough half-and-half for desired spreading consistency. In small bowl, mix 1/3 cup of the frosting and enough food color until desired color and well blended; place in small resealable food storage plastic bag and partially seal.
  • Spread uncolored frosting over cooled cookies. Cut small hole in bottom corner of bag of colored frosting. Squeeze bag to pipe frosting onto each cookie to resemble bows

    And here’s a behind-the-scenes shot after all is said and done.


    I think it’s time to call it a night!

    Have you ever attended/hosted a cookie swap?

  • Wednesday, December 22, 2010

    Santa Won’t Be Delayed


    Santa won’t have any trouble getting to Minnesota this Christmas if the weather we’ve had continues.


    I woke up to this winter wonderland  for what seems like the 10th time this December. Is it really not even considered winter yet? Oh, help me. 


    But there is one, yes only one good thing about being snowed in—it is a great excuse to stay snuggled up inside and turn on the warm oven, bake cookies, and the necessary taste-testing session as well. So I guess if all this snow is coming the week before Christmas, it’s ok, I had baking on my agenda anyways!


    3 days to go!


    Santa Graham Cookies


      • Red food color, I used Wilton red food coloring paste
      • 1 1/4 cups vanilla frosting (from 16-oz. can)
      • 12 (2 1/2-inch-square) graham crackers
      • 1 cup (about 75) miniature marshmallows, halved crosswise
      • 6 small red gumdrops, halved crosswise
      • 24 red cinnamon candies, I used mini red and green M&M’s instead



    1. Line cookie sheet with waxed paper. In small bowl, stir 1/4 teaspoon red food color into 1/4 cup of the frosting; blend well. In separate bowl, stir 1 drop red food color into remaining 1 cup frosting; blend well.
    2. For each cookie, frost 1 inch of one corner of cracker with dark red frosting for Santa's hat. Place 1 marshmallow piece in corner for pom-pom.
    3. Frost remainder of cracker with pink frosting. Place marshmallow pieces on pink frosting around 2 sides for beard. Add gumdrop for nose and cinnamon candies for eyes. Place on waxed paper-lined cookie sheet.

    Directions In Pictures:


    CIMG4584 CIMG4585 CIMG4586 CIMG4587

    Ho ho ho!”

    How much snow do you have where you live?