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Sweetheart Panna Cotta

In Desserts, Creams & Sauces, Fun Foods, Holidays On February 6, 2015 0 Comments

Wanna treat your Sweetheart to something special? Try this panna cotta recipe which is made with maple syrup and agave nectar (no sugar). Garnish this Sweetheart Panna Cotta with whipped cream (contains sugar) and your favorite candies!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Prep time: 20 minutes
Serves: 6

Ingredients:
1/4 cup cold water
2-3/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup agave nectar
1-1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
1-1/3 cups Half N’ Half cream

Directions:
1. In a six-ounce glass or cup, combine the water and gelatin. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in a 4-quart sauce pot, bring the maple syrup and agave nectar to a boil.

3. Simmer the syrup and nectar for 8 to 10 minutes, until it reduces by half.

4. Stir in both creams.

5. The agave syrup may solidify. If this is the case, whisk the mixture over low heat until the agave syrup dissolve.

6. Remove sauce pot from heat and stir in the gelatin with a whisk (make sure it dissolves completely into the liquid panna cotta).

7. Divide the liquid panna cotta into six 4-ounce ramekins.

8. Cover the ramekins with foil and transfer to refrigerator to set for 2 hours or overnight.

9. At serving time, garnish the panna cotta ramekins with whipped cream and candies.

Text and Photograph ©2015 Nancy DeLucia Real

Halloween R.I.P. Carrot Cakes

In Cakes & Cupcakes, Fun Foods, Holidays On October 18, 2014 0 Comments

This year, for Halloween, I transformed my traditional carrot cake into spooky R.I.P cakes. They’re topped with buttercream frosting and, of course, tombstones.

These Halloween carrot cakes are fun to make, especially if you include the kids. Happy Halloween!

Prep time: 20 minutes (for the cupcakes) and 20 minutes (to mix the frosting and decorate cupcakes)
Bake time: 25 minutes
Makes: 12 cakes* (cupcakes)

Ingredients for Carrot Cakes:
2 cups finely-shredded carrots – do this first and set aside in a bowl
1-1/2 all-purpose, unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Make the Carrot Cakes:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In a 3-cup bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon; set aside.

3. In a 2-quart mixing bowl, combine the eggs, vegetable oil and vanilla.

4. Beat the mixture until it is uniform.

5. Fold in the shredded carrots and walnuts and mix well. The batter will be firm.

6. Line a muffin pan with 12 cupcake papers and divide the batter evenly among them.

7. Transfer the muffin pan to a rack positioned in center of preheated oven.

8. Bake the cakes for 20 to 25 minutes.

9. After 20 minutes, insert a sharp knife in center of one cake. If knife comes out dry, the cakes are done. If not, bake the cakes for an additional 5 minutes.

10. When the cakes are done, transfer the muffin pan to a kitchen counter; set aside to cool for 2 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare the buttercream frosting:

Ingredients for Buttercream Frosting:
One package (16-ounces) confectioner’s sugar (this is powdered sugar)
One stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1/4 cup milk
6 drops red food color
9 drops yellow food color

Prepare the Buttercream Frosting:
1. In a mixing bowl and using a hand mixer, cream the sugar, butter and milk together. Alternatively, stand-mixer fitted with a bowl can be used.

2. When the buttercream frosting is creamy and uniform, mix in the food color. This will convert the white frosting into a light orange frosting.

3. When the frosting has turned orange, using a spoon, transfer it to a frosting bag fitted with a star tip.

4. Using a swirling motion, pipe the buttercream frosting onto the cakes.

5. Add a Halloween decoration of your choice to each cake.**

PREPARE CAKES ONE DAY AHEAD: These Halloween cakes can be baked a day ahead, cooked and transferred to a platter. Cover the cakes with plastic wrap and refrigerate them until the next day.

FROST THE CAKES ON THE DAY OF SERVING: Prepare the buttercream and frost the cakes up to 2 hours ahead. Cover them with tented foil and refrigerate until ready to serve.

*Alternatively, you can use a standard loaf pan. This will result in a carrot cake or bread.
**For this recipe, the R.I.P. cupcake kit was purchased at CVS Pharmacy® in Los Angeles.
Text and Photograph ©2014 Nancy DeLucia Real

Grape Focaccia (Schiacciata all’uva)

In Breads, Crêpes, Pancakes & Puddings, Fun Foods On September 19, 2014 0 Comments

Tuscany (a region in Italy) and California have similar terrain and weather. Although we are thousands of miles away from Tuscany, in the last couple of months we’ve been enjoying the grape harvest.

During this time of year, Tuscans make an exquisite schiacciata all’uva (Italian, pronounced “SKEE-YA-CHATA”), also known as grape focaccia. Although preferred grapes for this recipe are the Muscat or Concord variety, white or red grapes work just as well.

Ingredients:
1-3/4 cups lukewarm water (warm up the water in a small sauce pot)
1 teaspoon active, dried yeast
1 teaspoon granulated, unbleached sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup light olive oil (plus a little more for oiling the baking sheet)
4 cups all-purose, unbleached flour
1 pound fresh grapes (Muscat, Concord, White or Red varieties)
5 to 6 tablespoons granulated, unbleached sugar
powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Prepare the Focaccia Dough:

1. In a 2 to 3-cup metal bowl, combine the yeast, 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 cup of the warm water by SWIRLING THE MIXTURE AROUND – DO NOT MIX IT WITH A SPOON.

2. Cover the yeast mixture and set it aside on a warm surface such as a wooden board (do not set it on cold marble, granite or tile – it will not rise).

3. Let yeast mixture rise for 10 minutes or until it has puffed up.

4. After yeast mixture has puffed up, gently transfer it to a 6 or 8-quart mixing bowl.

5. Using a wooden spoon, GENTLY stir in the remaining 3/4 cup water, salt and 1/3 cup olive oil.

6. Gradually (one cup at a time) stir in the flour, working it in with each addition.

7. Each time you add the flour, make sure it is all absorbed and the batter or dough becomes uniform.

8. Keep adding flour in 1-cup increments until a smooth, elastic dough has formed.

9. With lightly-floured hands, transfer the dough to a floured wood or plastic board (do not transfer it to marble, granite or tile).

10. Gently knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic.

11. Lightly oil the mixing bowl (there is no need to wash it).

12. Return the kneaded dough to the oiled bowl.

13. Cover the dough in bowl with a clean cloth; set it aside to rise for 45 minutes to one hour (or until it has doubled in volume), away from drafts.

Assemble the Focaccia or Schiacciata:

1. Wash, dry and separate the grapes from their stems; set them aside in a bowl.

2. When dough has risen, oil an 18 X 12-inch rectangular baking sheet.

3. Preheat oven to 425°F.

4. Meanwhile, divide the dough in half and shape each half into a ball;
lightly flour each dough ball.

5. Set one dough ball aside in the same bowl.

6. Working with one dough ball, roll it out on a lightly-floured wood or plastic board to roughly the size of the baking sheet and to not more than 1/2-inch thick.

7. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet, stretching it to fit (if needed) in corners.

8. Using a fork, make scattered holes in dough.

9. Divide 2/3 of the grapes over the dough in sheet.

10. Sprinkle half of the granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over the grapes on dough.

11. Repeat the rolling-out instructions for the second dough ball.

12. Carefully lay the stretched-out dough (in one quick sweep) over the grapes in baking sheet.

13. Roll up the edges of dough from underneath to the top of the focaccia or schiacciata.

14. Slightly push down top of dough to create dimples all over.

15. Scatter the top of the focaccia or schiacciata with remaining grapes.

16. Sprinkle the grapes with remaining granulated sugar and olive oil.

17. Bake the focaccia or schiacciata 15 to 25 minutes or until it looks golden brown and grapes look cooked or caramelized.

18. To test doneness, lift bottom of schiacciata with a spatula. If it is golden brown, the schiacciata is done.

19. Cool the schiacciata to room temperature.

20. When ready to serve, cut the schiacciata into square servings and dust with powdered sugar.

Text and Photograph ©2014 Nancy DeLucia Real

Tuna Empanadas (Empanadas de Atun)

In Appetizers / Starters, Fish & Shellfish, Fun Foods On September 3, 2014 0 Comments

For those of you who are following my posts on a regular basis, you must have figured out that I’m maintaining that “Spanish” state of mind. Last April and May, as we explored the culture of Spain on a daily basis, we’d walk far distances. Since this made us very hungry, our noses always followed the exquisite aromas of warm breads baking.

As we walked into a panaderia or bakery, we could immediately spot the freshly-made empanadas de atun or tuna empanadas. Each one cost only one Euro -that’s USD $1.40. Of course, I ate at least three at every sitting. (BTW, I ate anything I wanted in Spain and lost 4 pounds at the end of that trip!)

Here’s my delicious recipe for tuna empanadas. They can be made ahead of time, cooled and frozen in double freezer bags for up to two weeks. Serve these tuna empanadas as a starter for a dinner or a party – they’ll steal the show!

Prep time: 45 minutes to 1 hour
Bake time: 12 to 15 minutes (per baking sheet)
Makes: 24 to 30 (3-inch) empanadas

Ingredients for the Pastry:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash ground black pepper
1 large egg, beaten with 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold water in a bowl
1 large egg
1 teaspoon cold water

Prepare the Pastry:
1. In an 4 to 6-quart mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt and black pepper.

2. Make a well in center of flour mixture; add the beaten egg-and-water mixture to the center of the well.

3. Using a fork, gradually (a little at a time) mix in the flour from sides of well until a soft dough forms.

4. With one hand holding the bowl, use the other hand to pick up the mound of dough.

5. Gently knead it inside the bowl, grabbing a little flour at a time.

6. When dough has amalgamated and it is smooth, set it aside on a smooth, floured surface.

7. NOTE: The flour surface should be either a clean granite counter or a wood board used exclusively for doughs (due to contamination, a previously-used chopping board is NOT advisable).

8. Cover the dough with an overturned bowl and set it aside while you prepare the tuna filling.

Ingredients for the Tuna Filling:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium brown onion, finely chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes (pulp and seeds discarded)
1/3 cup tomato puree
1/4 cup roasted red bell pepper, finely chopped (the jarred variety can be used)
One 7-ounce can tuna in oil, drained and oil discarded
3 tablespoons minced, fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Prepare the Tuna Filling:
1. In a 12-inch skillet, heat the oil on medium-high heat.

2. When the oil is hot, stir in the chopped onion and bell pepper.

3. On medium-high heat, stir-fry the onion mixture until it is translucent, about 2 minutes.

4. When onion mixture is translucent, add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and roasted bell peppers.

5. Stir-fry the onion-tomato mixture for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened.

6. When the mixture has thickened, add the drained tuna and, with a wooden spoon, break it up.

7. Cook the tuna mixture for about 2 to 3 more minutes, or until it has heated through.

8. After 2 to 3 minutes, stir in the minced parsley, salt and pepper, to taste.

9. Transfer the tuna mixture to a glass or porcelain bowl; cover it and set aside to cool while you roll out the pastry.

The tuna mixture should look like this:

Image.TunaFilling.Empanadas

Roll Out the Pastry:
1. Lightly and evenly flour the granite counter or wood board.

2. Divide the pastry dough in half. Set one-half of the pastry dough aside, underneath an overturned bowl.

3. Using a rolling pin, gently roll out the pastry dough to 1/8-inch thickness. From time to time, as you roll out the dough, you will need to lift it and flour the underside as well as the top.

4. When dough has been rolled out to a 1/8-inch thickness, using a 3-inch cookie cutter, cut circles into dough.

5. After cutting circles into dough, preheat oven to 375°F.

6. Line two 12X18-inch baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

7. Fill a 1-cup bowl with cold water; set aside.

Assemble the Empanadas:
1. Carefully lift one dough circle off surface and hold it in the palm of your hand.

2. Place scant 1 teaspoon tuna filling in center of dough.

3. Dip index finger in cold water and run it along edges of dough. You may need to repeat this so that entire perimeter of dough is moistened.

4. Fold the dough in half, creating a half-moon. Slightly press the edges closed.

5. Place the raw empanada on a lightly-floured surface.

6. Beginning at one end of the empanada, curl up the dough edges to create a scalloped pattern all the way to the opposite end of the empanada.

7. Place the empanada on parchment-lined baking sheet; set aside.

8. Repeat assembling the empanadas, lining them up on the baking sheet as you go along (each baking sheet will hold 12 to 15 empanadas).

9. When the first dough has finished, roll out the remaining dough as instructed above.

10. After you have assembled ALL the empanadas and placed them on baking sheet, they will look like this:

Image.EmpanadasonSheet

Make the Egg-Wash & Bake the Empanadas:

1. Separate the egg yolk from egg white. Discard the egg white.

2. In a 1-cup bowl, combine the egg yolk with 1 teaspoon cold water.

3. Beat together with a fork until mixture has amalgamated – this is the egg wash.

4. Using a basting brush, baste each empanada with egg wash.

5. Place baking sheet with empanadas on a rack positioned in center of preheated oven.

6. Bake the empanadas for 12 to 15 minutes.

7. After 12 minutes, using a spatula, lift the underside of one empanada.

8. If the underside is light golden brown, the empanadas are done. If it is still white, bake the empanadas for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.

9. When empanadas are done, set them aside on a counter to cool slightly (in baking sheet).

10. Serve the empanadas hot.

NOTE: Tuna Empanadas can be made up to 2 weeks ahead and frozen in double freezer bags. To freeze the empanadas, make sure they have cooled completely after baking. When empanadas have cooled completely, carefully place them in double freezer bags, seal and freeze.

TO THAW AND REHEAT: Three hours prior to serving, remove the empanadas from freezer bags and place them on a platter set on a counter to thaw. At serving time, preheat oven to 350°F. Place empanadas on a parchment-lined baking sheet, set on a rack positioned in center of oven. Heat the empanadas for 10 to 12 minutes. After 10 to 12 minutes, cut an empanada in half and taste it to make sure it is heated through.

Text & Photographs ©2014 Nancy DeLucia Real

Olives Stuffed with Marinated Anchovies & Piquillo Peppers

In Appetizers / Starters, Fun Foods On July 22, 2014 0 Comments

Although I’ve been back from Spain for weeks, I’m still craving its exquisite gastronomy.

I discovered this wonderful tapa (appetizer) in Madrid – green olives, stuffed with marinated anchovies and piquillo peppers. The piquillo pepper is a variety of chile that is sweet and is void of heat. It’s absolutely exquisite in this appetizer.

Here’s how to start your next Spanish dinner – serve Olives Stuffed with Marinated Anchovies & Piquillo Peppers alongside Sangria – the Spanish Cooler (previously published on this website).

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes
Makes: 20 pieces

Ingredients:
20 large green, pitted olives from a Spanish or Italian specialty foods stores (sold by the pound, in brine)
20 marinated Spanish anchovies (sold at Spanish or Italian specialty foods stores)
One 6-ounce jar of marinated, whole piquillo peppers
20 toothpicks

Prepare the Ingredients:

1. Working on a cutting board, cut each olive in half, lengthwise; set aside.

2. Remove marinated anchovies from package and drain them; set aside.

3. Remove piquillo peppers from jar and drain them in a colander.

4. Pass the peppers under cold water in colander and drain completely.

5. Transfer piquillo peppers to a cutting board; pat them lightly with a paper towel.

6. Cut the piquillo peppers in half or in fourths (cut them in the way they will best fit inside olives).

Stuff the Olives:

1. Take one anchovy and one piece of piquillo peppers; place them inside two olive halves.

2. Secure the olive with a toothpick; place it on a plate.

3. Continue stuffing the remaining olives.

4. Serve immediately or, alternatively, cover the plate of olives with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

5. This starter can be refrigerated up to 4 hours prior to serving.

6. Serve this starter on the same day you have assembled it. Leftovers can be covered in plastic wrap and enjoyed the next day.

Text & Photograph ©2014 Nancy DeLucia Real