Easy Berry Cake with shaken whipped cream

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I love this time of year, when fresh seasonal berries make the best desserts. I grow gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries, tart cherries and currants in my yard and I love being able to use them in a dessert. This recipe fits that bill nicely, because it works well with so many summer fruits. You can change the recipe up easily to highlight the fruit you are using. For example, I have added 1/2 tsp of almond extract to the batter when using tart cherries, or some lemon rind when using blueberries. Make it your own and play a little! I recently brought this to our friends’ house for pinochle night. I wanted to make fresh whipped cream, but did not want to bring a mixer with me, so I tried the shaken jar method, where you just shake the cream up in a mason jar and it worked great! Just mix the cream with sugar and vanilla and shake the jar until the whipped cream is the consistency you desire. It was fun too, but be careful… the next time I tried it, my husband shook the jar a little too vigorously and we ended up with sweetened butter. It was great with biscuits! Just another example of a disaster turning out kind of fun! I hope you enjoy this recipe!

Easy Berry Cake
serves 8 people

1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 T unsalted butter, softened to room temp
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 lb washed berries Example: strawberries (hulled and sliced in half), or 2 pints raspberries, blueberries or pitted tart cherries.
2 T sugar for sprinkling the berries before going into the oven.
Slivered toasted almonds if desired

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 in pie plate with butter, and lightly flour it. Remove all excess flour. Beat the butter and 1 cup of sugar on medium speed of a mixer until light and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the egg, milk and vanilla. Stop the mixer and add the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir the dry ingredients a little with a fork to loosely mix them up before starting the mixer again. Mix on low until all is incorporated. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and cover the batter completely with the fruit. (If using strawberries, place them cut-side down) Sprinkle the fruit thoroughly with the 2 T of sugar, use a bit more sugar if you are using a tart fruit like the cherries.
If desired add the slivered almonds. (Great with the cherries!) or use pecans with the blueberries.

Topped with strawberries, ready for the oven

Topped with strawberries, ready for the oven

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temp to 325 degrees and bake for one hour, or until it is golden brown and firm to the touch.

Let cool, and serve with shaken whipped cream (recipe below) or vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

The cake with tart cherries and almonds

The cake with tart cherries and almonds

Shaken whipped cream

In a jar with a lid add ½ cup heavy cream, and 2 T confectioners sugar and 1/4 t vanilla. Shake vigorously until the whipped cream is the stiffness you desire.
Be careful though, it will turn to butter if you are not careful.

Italian Almond Paste Cookies

Italian heaven

Note:  This is a special post requested by my sweet niece, Anglea who is a new Mom to Anthony!  Congratulations, Angie and Joe!   – Love, Tia

At Christmas every year I like to make a large variety of cookies.  There is nothing like having people drop over and having a freezer full of cookies to make a quick cookie tray with.  I like to have lots of different tastes and textures with my cookie trays.  I make marshmallows, sugar cookies, spice cookies, several types of chocolate cookies and especially anise cookies (a family favorite).  But this cookie… ah, this cookie is one that most people come back for.  It is satisfying in so many ways.  Crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, the crunch of toasted almonds and the scent of it will make you smile.   If you are Italian, you will know this cookie well, your Nona will have made it for you with love!

One thing I noticed about this cookie this year, was that all my gluten-free friends can enjoy it too!  No flour at all.  Plan on making pudding or ice cream or mayo when you make this cookie as you will have some leftover egg yolks to use.

I hope you enjoy and remember to hug Nona!

    Italian Almond Paste Cookies

2-8oz. cans of almond paste (not marzipan)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 egg whites, beaten lightly with a fork until frothy (use the yolks for something else)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 pinch kosher salt

Pine nuts or Slivered toasted almonds

Confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling.

getting ready to go in the oven

getting ready to go in the oven

Arrange your oven racks to divide the oven in thirds. Preheat the oven to 325F. Line two cookie sheets with a silpat or parchment papers. There is no fat in these cookies. Put the almond paste and the sugar in your food processor and pulse until there are no chunks of almond paste left. Pour the almonds and sugar into a bowl and add the three egg whites, mixing until combined. Add the vanilla and salt. Scoop about 1 Tablespoon of batter onto the sheets, until you have 12 on each cookie sheet. Put 4-5 pignoli or slivered almonds on the dough and press in slightly. Sprinkle powdered sugar all over the dough in both pans place the pans in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, take out both trays, and switch their spots in the oven for even heating. Bake for 10-15 minutes more or until lightly golden on the edges.

Let cool for quite a while before removing from the sheets

Explosive Mixture, a labor of love!

In the next week, I will be blogging about two completely different things that have one thing in common: They both take more than one day to make. Today, it is all about Explosive Mixture! I was introduced to explosive mixture by my brother, Rick… a Renaissance Man to the nth degree. Rick had made a batch of this amazing mixture and the entire family went nuts! It was everything you want a good appetizer to be: Salty and sweet, with a bite of vinegar. And as a bonus it is quite healthy to eat. Sadly, the family fought over all the remaining jars, going so far as to sneak some into their cars before anyone noticed… (AHEM: JUDY!) Whenever Rick made explosive mixture, we all waited patiently hoping to get a jar or two. One day I found a jar at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor and paid a whopping $11.00 for it. Rick’s was 10 times better, however. Eventually I gave in and asked Rick for the recipe. He sent me a couple photocopied pages from a book entitled, Preserving the Italian Way by Peter Demaio. This is the neatest book ever! Peter has collected awesome Italian recipes from all over that should be loved and cherished! Get the book if you are interested in making something you have not seen unless you visit sweet little Italian ladies frequently. Explosive mixture is delicious on crackers, bruschetta or a chunk of toasted bread, mixed into cream cheese as a spread or on an Italian sandwich with meats and cheese! You will love it, I guarantee it!

A labor of love:

So as far as the labor of love goes, this recipe takes three days to make. I gotta tell ya, it is SO worth it though! Once you get your mouth around a spoonful of this, you can never go back. So without further ado, here is the recipe and the process with all of the tips I learned along the way. Mangia!

We start with this:

Wash up all your vegetables and chop them up. Put them all in a large container and mix them up with 300 grams of salt. (About 1 cup) Mix it up, weigh it down with something. I used some plastic food containers with large cans of tomatoes for weight. Cover the container and put it in a cool cellar for 24 hours.

After your 24 hours is over you will have a container of salty soft vegetables in a lovely brine liquid. Place all the mixture into a large colander and drain all the liquid off. Rinse the vegetables very well with water and drain well. Put the veggies back into your container and cover them with white wine vinegar. I learned that you wanted to completely cover the vegetables with the vinegar in order to get the remaining salt out of the vegetables. Weight the mixture down again, cover it and let it hang out for another 24 hours.

When you are ready, get the container out and taste a chunk of something. It should taste salty, but not TOO salty and vinegary too. If it is too salty, you can rinse the veggies a second time, cover them with more vinegar and wait another 24 hours.

Drain the veggies VERY WELL. Press them down against the colander and get as much liquid out as you can. Put them back into a clean large bowl and add the rest of your ingredients.

It should look like this:

At this time you can either grind your vegetables in a meat grinder with a small disk. (I used my kitchen aid meat grinder attachment with the smallest disk) or whir it up in your food processor. Be careful to not over process. You do not want a paste.

Get all your jars sterilized. I used 1/2 pint jars and boiled the jars, lids and rims for 10 minutes. Fill your jars with the mixture leaving a little room for olive oil at the top. The olive oil is going to preserve your mixture, you do not need to process the jars.

Check your jars the next day and add olive oil if you need to. You should not have ANY vegetables above the surface of the oil. Keep your jars in your cellar, if you can… you may find people secreting them away in their cars!

Recipe for Explosive mixture

2 large eggplants
2 small zucchini
2-3 red peppers
10 dried tomatoes
20 green olives in brine that have been pitted
1/2 kg green tomatoes (about 5 or 6)
10 fresh hot chilies depending on your heat level. (I used 10 hot cherry peppers and it had a mild heat)
5 cloves of garlic (crushed)
2-3 tsp oregano
300 g of salt ( a little under 1 cup)
500 mls white wine vinegar (more if veggies are not covered after weighting)
about 2 cups of olive oil

Procedure:

Cut all the fresh veggies into small chunks, place all in large plastic container, add salt, mix thoroughly, weight and cover and let sit for 24 hours. Drain well, rinse the mixture with water and press down to get all the liquid out. Put the mixture back into the rinsed container, cover the the mixture with the vinegar and weight and cover again. Wait for 24 hours and drain well, pressing as much liquid out of the mixture as you can. Put the mixture back into the container and add the chopped dried tomatoes, the olives, the crushed garlic, the oregano and 1/4 cup of olive oil and mix well. Ready your sterilized jars. Pass the mixture through a meat grinder or food processor until it resembles a coarse spread. Put a couple of Tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of each jar and fill with the mixture. Top up with the oil when the jars are full. Check after 2-3 days to make sure that you do not have to top up with more oil. If the mixture comes into contact with the air because the oil level has dropped it will turn dark brown instead of it’s multi-colored hues. Discard if this happens. Store your jars in your cellar, but they won’t last long enough to spoil! Enjoy, and don’t tell Judy you made it!

Gooey Ice Cream Cake

Have you ever been stuck with bringing dessert to a party, but just don’t have enough time to impress the crowd with your amazing baking skills? Well honey, are you gonna thank me for this one! This recipe is super simple, make-ahead and loved by adults and kids alike! It transcends your basic ice cream cake with the one homemade component of the recipe, your own awesome hot fudge sauce! Hot fudge sauce is so easy to make, but truly does bring a simple dessert into the limelight. This cake is just store bought ice cream sandwiches and coolwhip, but becomes gooey and chocolatey with the layering of your own hot fudge sauce! You can make it the day before, or even the morning of the event. Just freeze well, and thaw for 5 minutes before serving. I think you will be the star of the party if you bring this cake!

This is seriously easy and good!

Gooey Ice Cream Cake

2 boxes of ice cream sandwiches, unwrapped! :) (you will have a few left over)
1 large container of Coolwhip
Recipe for cooled hot fudge sauce (below)
Chopped peanuts, pecans or toffee bits for garnish (I used toffee bits in the photo)

In a 9×13 glass dish place 1 layer of ice cream sandwiches, if you have extra space, break 1 apart to fill the layer out. Layer 1/2 your hot fudge sauce over the sandwiches, smoothing across the entire cake. Next layer 1/2 your coolwhip over the fudge. Repeat with a second layer of all the above. Smooth the top of your coolwhip and sprinkle with the topping of your choice. I like chocolate sprinkles, curls, nuts or any candy you like!

Microwave Hot Fudge Sauce

1 and 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
1 cup heavy cream or milk
6 tbsp butter
1 T vanilla
1/2 tsp kosher salt

In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine sugar, cocoa and cream. Cook on high 2-3 minutes, until sugar dissolves and mixture boils.
Stir in butter and cook on high 2-4 minutes more, watching closely and stirring every 30 seconds or so, until mixture thickens. Stir in vanilla and the salt.
Cool slightly to allow to thicken. When cool, refrigerate and reheat in the microwave before using.

Enjoy!

Old School Sausage Risotto

Sausage risotto

Comfort food. Food Mama made. The tastes and smells of a day gone by. These are the things that keep me coming back to an old, but dare I say it, incorrect recipe. Growing up with six brothers and sisters really made for interesting family dinners. My mother was adept at fixing good, wholesome food her family loved without a lot of fuss. This is one of those recipes. I will admit, the foodie in me cringes on this fast method of risotto making, but I tried it once the correct way, using arborio rice, hot broth and a lot more effort. The result? It didn’t taste right. It was good, but no longer fit my memory of one of my favorite foods growing up. So, snobbery be gone, and hello convenience!

This is an oft requested recipe at our house. Everyone loves it and it comes together in under 40 minutes.
I serve it with a big green salad, and sometimes garlic bread with amoglio sauce. I hope it becomes a family favorite for you too!

Ingredients:

1 pound Italian sausage (your choice.. I like hot or fennel)
2 T tomato paste
1 tsp hot pepper flakes
3 tsp dried rosemary, rubbed in your hands until broken up.
2 cups of white rice (like Uncle Bens)
1 splash of white wine (2 -3 T)
1 carton of chicken broth (4 cups)
2 T tomato paste
3/4 cup of good parmesan, grated
salt and pepper to taste

Process:

Take the sausage out of the casings and fry it in a large frying pan, breaking it up as you go into small pieces until it is all browned.
(If you have a lot of fat in the pan, drain most of it away.) Add the spices and tomato paste and saute a few minutes. Add the rice and
stir into the mixture well. Add the wine and cook for a few minutes. Next, add the carton of broth and saute until the liquid comes to a boil.
Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 22 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes more.
Add the parmesan and some black pepper. Taste and add salt if needed.
Enjoy.

Summer Grain salad

Its Father’s Day and I am already sick and tired of potato and Macaroni salad!  Dad wanted burgers for dinner, but I needed to come up with an interesting side…   I got some inspiration from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten and threw together this amazing couscous salad!  It has some bold flavors, is served at room temperature and does not have any fatty mayo in it.  Sounds like a winner, right?

I did not have any couscous but I did have a harvest grain blend from Trader Joes.  If you  do not have access to this, just use couscous.  It is so tasty!

Summer Couscous salad

1/2 package of Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains or 1 and 1/2 cup couscous prepared using the instructions on the package
1/4 cup greek plain yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp curry powder or 2 tsp curry paste
1/4 tsp ground turmeric (optional)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds or pecans

Prep the grains or couscous according the the package directions.  Fluff with fork.  Set aside to cool.  Mix the olive oil, yogurt, vinegar and lemon juice well with a whisk.  Add the salt, pepper, curry and turmeric and mix well until combined.  Pour the dressing over the cooled couscous.  Add the onion, parsley, dried cranberries, carrots and almonds. Taste and adjust for salt. Mix well and serve at room temperature.   Note:  You can do in morning, keep in fridge and take out 1 hour before dinner.  Enjoy!

Memories of Italy

My brother is the original renaissance man.  He makes his own beer, sausage, bacon, pickles…you name it!   On my last visit to his house, I tried a batch of his homemade cavatelli.  It was so good and sent me on mental trip back to an Italian trattoria.   A few weeks after the visit, my brother sent me a gift.  I opened the box and, lo and behold -  it was a machine that cranks out homemade cavatelli, just like his. Cavatelli can certainly be made by hand, but this machine cranks them out beautifully. My brother recommended a recipe he found in a book by Frankies Spuntino. Ricotta Cavatelli

I eagerly made up a batch and invited my very Italian friend to dinner.  The cavatelli were amazing!  Everyone loved them and I highly recommend the recipe.  Alongside the pasta, I decided to indulge in another of my favorite Italian foods:  Sausage!  I made some homemade Italian sausage and served the grilled patties on a crusty roll with fried peppers and onions.  Squisito!

Thanks to Rick, for his inspiration and sharing his mastery of all things culinary!  (And Rick:   My oven is still broken!)

Homemade Cavatelli with quick tomato sauce 

(Cavatelli Recipe from The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual by Frank Castronovo, Frank Falcinelli, and Peter Meehan (Artisan, 2010)

Homemade cavatelli  (Either make your own,  cavatelli recipe, or purchased)

Quick tomato sauce:

1 can of crushed tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped fine
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 handful fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp hot pepper flakes
2 T olive oil
1/2 cup dry white or red wine
1 T kosher salt
2 tsp ground black pepper

Heat saucepan with olive oil, when oil is hot, add the onion and saute until softened, add the garlic and the pepper flakes and saute for 2 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and cook on medium/low heat for 20 minutes.  Serve over hot pasta.

Homemade Hot Italian Sausage patties

3 lb Pork Butt Ground (I had the butcher grind a pork butt on a course grind)
2 T Fennel Seed, toasted in a hot pan until fragrant
3 tsp Cracked Black Pepper
3 tsp Sea Salt
2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 T paprika
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of Fresh Italian parsley, chopped fine
1/2 cup red wine
1 T balsamic vinegar

Mix all the above together well with your hands.  Refrigerate for at least two hours.  Form into patties and grill or pan fry.  Serve on Italian rolls with fried peppers and onions.