Happy 8th Blogiversary

Hi everyone,

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I hope your 2023 has started out well and you are all enjoying the new year.

I am proud to say that DishingwithDiane is celebrating our 8th Anniversary of posting tablescapes, recipes, and family stories and it has been a highlight of my life.

I consider all of my members extended family and I wish I could host an event someday to meet you all in person since I speak with you via comments and texts and I feel we have been friends for years.

I deeply appreciate all the communication that we have had over the years and thank you for your support of the blog.

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This year I got the idea for the theme of the 8th anniversary in a very unusual way while visiting my son this past Fall.

Let me explain how this happened… Early one morning while we were all sitting around the table having breakfast, my son had the TV on in the background and a show came on one of the cable channels about food from South Africa.

The show caught our attention and after the chefs were preparing various entrees, the host decided to make a very popular classic South African dessert called “Malvapoeding” or “Malva Pudding”. It looked quite interesting and resembled the British sticky toffee pudding.

The dessert comes with a story about one of the fruit trees of South Africa and a folklore legend that this particular fruit makes elephants drunk. Scientists over the years have proved this theory wrong and it is just a myth for tourists.

This tree is called the Marula tree and once a year at the peak of summer, the tree bears a yellow fruit with white flesh the size of a plum.

The Marula tree is a member of the same family as the mango and grows widely in Africa. Its sweet, yellow fruit is used for making jam, wine, beer, and a liquor called Amarula.

Some African communities use the marula bark as an antihistamine and as a prevention for malaria. Marula fruit can even treat stomach aches.

In African folklore legends, the tree is also known as the “Elephant Tree or the Marriage Tree”. Many tribes have acknowledged that the tree and its fruit have aphrodisiac qualities. Believed to be fit for royalty, this tree is protected by African law, just like the elephants.

The magical scent draws the elephants from miles around to the trees and that is when the locals know it’s time to harvest the ripe, yellow fruit or the elephants wouldn’t leave any fruit for anyone else.

Marula trees are incredibly popular for elephants – they eat the bark and devour the fruit, then spread marula seeds around their habitats. The seeds are evenly spread through elephant dung. 

The Marula fruit is then distilled and matured in aged (French) oak barrels for two years before being blended with fresh cream to make the popular liquor “Amarula”

So after the show, we all decided we wanted to try this infamous Amarula Liquor and during our afternoon outing, we went to a local liquor store in town and inquired.

The salesman had the liquor in stock and knew of the myth about the elephants getting drunk and we bought two bottles (one for us and one for my son).

We stopped on the way home for a dessert to pair with the Amarula after dinner, and we tasted Amarula on the rocks with dessert. Delicious!

Amarula is a South African liquor made of sugar, cream, and fruit from the marula tree. This creamy and citrusy liquor tastes great on the rocks or mixed in a cocktail drink. Some of the most popular drinks include Amarula with coffee, coconut or fruit cocktails, and an Amarula milkshake.

In my opinion, it tastes like Bailey’s Irish Cream with a little more caramel.

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Now I had to make the pudding that originally intrigued me. When we got home from our weekend, I searched for a recipe. Some were very complicated with long ingredient lists with and without the Amarula liquor. So I continued to search and finally found a recipe that wasn’t too complicated and I was off to baking and the result was delicious.

It is a sweet pudding made with a yellow sponge drenched in a decadent sauce. It contains apricot jam, which is a classic ingredient in South African cuisine.

The other ingredients include baking soda and balsamic vinegar which caught me by surprise for such a sweet dessert. The vinegar and baking soda are added together to make it rise. The more I read about this pudding, the more interested I became.

The batter is very liquidy and I never thought it would come together but this is my cake straight out of the oven and it was a perfect consistency.

(I poked small holes in the cake to make the sauce saturate the cake and topped it with sanding sugar for a light crunch).

So after my test batch, I made the pudding once again today to celebrate DishingwithDiane’s 8th anniversary and I served it with caramel ice cream, whipped cream, a few fresh raspberries, and of course some Amarula liquor to celebrate.

I want to share the recipe with all of you below.

To complete the theme of Amarula & elephants and South Africa, I am using my safari dishes- one of my favorite sets.

Starting out with a centerpiece that I thought would look perfect with the dishes.

Some cordial glasses for the Amarula, themed candles, coasters, cutlery, and the coordinating sugar and creamer set.

My place setting

And a few random photos of the anniversary tablescape….

I hope you find this as interesting as we did and buy a bottle of Amarula and make the pudding and indulge in a little South African culture for dessert.

Malva Pudding (Malvapoeding)

Author: Mike Benayoun

Cuisine: South African, Vegetarian Servings: 8 people

Ingredients

For the batter

  • 1 tablespoon butter (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon apricot jam
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup brown vinegar (e.g. malt or balsamic vinegar)
  • 1 cup AP flour, sifted
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

For the sauce

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup Amarula liquor – added after the sauce is taken off the heat.

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 F / 180 C.
  • Whip 1 tbsp of butter with sugar for 2 minutes. Then, add the eggs one at a time, and continue to whip well after each addition.
  • Add the apricot jam and mix well.
  • Then, add the milk and the baking soda, then the brown vinegar.
  • Add the sifted flour gradually and continue to mix.
  • Pour batter into a 9-inch ( 22 cm) square greased baking pan.
  • Bake for 45 minutes in the oven or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
  • While the malva pudding is baking, mix all the sauce ingredients in a saucepan on medium/high heat.
  • Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Cover. ( I added the Amarula when cool.)
  • Remove the pudding from the oven, then pour the sauce on top. Set aside for 15 minutes before serving so that the cake has time to absorb the sauce to saturation.
  • Cook Note: I poke small holes in the cake to help with the sauce saturating the cake.
  • Cook Note: You can use a cookie cutter to make individual portions
  • Serve with custard (like creme anglaise), vanilla ice cream, or whipped cream

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This was a wonderful celebration for us and now we start a new year at DishingwithDiane.com I am so excited about what is ahead…

Again, thank you for your support and comments. Please continue to tell your friends about this blog and ask them to join and become part of the family.

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Until my next post, make every day a celebration!

Stay well,

Diane

Sweet Potato Brownies- the unexpected treat…

Hi Everyone,

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Good morning! I have to share this with all of you. It seems I accidentally purchased a large number of sweet potatoes- don’t ask. I bought a bag and so did my husband.

Well, after I made mashed sweet potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, and sweet potato fries I was stumped for something different to make with the remaining sweet potatoes and I started my google search.

I stumbled upon a few recipes for….wait for it…..”Sweet Potato Brownies”. I never had them before and I was completely intrigued. I read a variety of recipes, some with flour some without, some with lots of ingredients, and some with minimal ingredients and after reading I selected a recipe from the website, The Almond Eater.

This recipe seemed interesting to me with only 4 ingredients (5 if you counted additional chocolate chips) and I had everything in the house so I gave it a try.

Very easy to put together and I have to say for me and my husband I gave it 5 stars. It is fudgy, with no eggs or flour, and quick to put together. If you follow a vegan-friendly or paleo diet, you are in luck because this recipe follows those guidelines.

Of course, I had to tweak the recipe to my liking a little and I’ll let you know what I changed but I recommend giving this recipe a try. We were quite surprised and yes we did use the extra chocolate chips. I don’t think you will be disappointed and if you want to give your children a healthier brownie it’s worth a try. I hope you try this recipe and enjoy it.

I topped them with a little Maldon-flaked salt.

Recipe courtesy of “The Almond Eater” website.

Flourless Sweet Potato Brownies

These Flourless Sweet Potato Brownies are made with just 4 ingredients and are a healthy, paleo, vegan-friendly dessert that everyone will enjoy!

Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes Servings: 16 brownies Author: Erin

Ingredients

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes (1 cup, mashed)
  • 1 ⅓ cup almond butter ( I used 1 cup of Kirkland mixed nut butter).
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup chopped chocolate or more (I used 1/2 cup of chocolate chips).

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Use a fork to poke holes into the sweet potatoes, then place them on a microwave-safe dish and microwave for 6-7 minutes until soft. Then, slice them down the center and wait a few minutes for them to cool off before scooping out the sweet potato flesh and discarding the skin. Alternatively, you can peel and roast the sweet potato in the oven for 30 minutes.
  • Use a potato masher to mash the cooked sweet potato and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk almond butter and syrup together; then, add the cocoa and the mashed sweet potato. Last, stir in the chopped chocolate.
  • Line an 8×8 baking dish with parchment paper (or grease with coconut oil) and pour batter into the pan. Bake brownies for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Wait 20 minutes before cutting the brownies and enjoy!

Notes

Storage: store these brownies in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to 4 days, or freeze them for up to 3 months.

The recipe says to microwave the sweet potatoes, but if you don’t own a microwave, you can cook them over the stovetop or roast them in the oven instead. 

These brownies are both vegan AND paleo, as long as you use dairy-free chocolate chips/chopped chocolate. 

Nutrition

Calories: 197kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 18mg | Potassium: 294mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 4008IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 97mg | Iron: 1mg

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Until my next post, make every day a celebration!

Stay well,

Diane

Baked Rigatoni- Comfort Food at its Best…

Hi Everyone,

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I hope your January is going well. I can’t believe we are two weeks into the new year already and time just flies by.

I am enjoying the long holiday weekend with Bob and we are rearranging the kitchen cabinets. I do this every January, especially after the cooking frenzy from the holidays.

I make sure I am fully stocked on dried spices, pasta, and all canned goods that I use often and re-stock my baking supplies.

On days like this when the kitchen will be turned upside down, I like to have an easy meal to prepare that won’t take too much of my time. And that meal would be my Crusty Baked Rigatoni. Always a crowd pleaser.

This is my son’s favorite dish and he always requests this when he comes home for a visit.

It is also a good potluck meal and my official “New Mom” meal. I can’t tell you how many times I have dropped off a baked rigatoni, tossed salad and a loaf of Italian bread along with a baby gift for a new mom that comes home from the hospital and the last thing they need is to cook dinner. (PS- it freezes well too).

So, I wanted to re-post this recipe in case you have one of those days when you want something simple or even a lazy Sunday where you don’t want to fuss too much with dinner and have nice delicious comfort food.

I hope you try the recipe and enjoy it……

CRUSTY BAKED RIGATONI

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 lb rigatoni
  • Olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 ½ lb. ground beef or ground turkey
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 TBSP dried oregano
  • 1 TBSP Italian seasonings
  • 1 large can (28 oz) peeled tomatoes
  • 1 8 oz can of “no salt added” tomato sauce
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Cups whole milk mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the rigatoni, stir well, and cook according to package directions. Drain the rigatoni, place in a large bowl, and toss with a little olive oil to prevent sticking. Set it aside.

In the same pot, heat approx 2 TBSP olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, and garlic and cook, stirring until soft (approx. 5 minutes)

Add the meat and cook stirring to break up the meat, until no pink remains (approx 10 minutes). Drain off all of the fat (I use a large colander and then return to the pot).

Add the parsley, oregano, Italian seasoning and tomatoes, and tomato sauce and stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the tomatoes break down (approx 20 minutes)

Stir in the heavy cream, raise the heat, and return to a boil. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper. Return the rigatoni to the pot and toss well.

Oil the bottom of a shallow 3 qt baking dish. Spread half of the pasta mixture on the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle half the mozzarella. Top with the remaining pasta, the remaining mozzarella, and all of the Parmesan cheese.

Bake until the pasta is crusty and golden brown (approx 30 minutes). Remove from the oven, let stand for 5 minutes and serve. (Serves 6).

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Until my next post, make every day a celebration!

Stay well,

Diane

I

The Feast of the Epiphany- La Befana

Painting by James Lewicki, from “The Golden Book of Christmas Tales” 1956

Hi Everyone,

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Today is the Feast of the Epiphany or La Befana.

In Italy, January 6th is a national holiday and is a big part of the Christmas celebrations. It commemorates the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men arrived at the manger bringing gifts to Baby Jesus.

In Italy, this day is especially significant for Italian children who wait for the arrival of La Befana, the old witch. La Befana (formerly called Stria – hag or witch) is the name of an old peasant lady. She had lost her husband, she had never had a child, and she lived in a tiny house alone in the hills of Italy spending her days cleaning and cooking.

One night she noticed a bright light in the sky but she ignored the light and went back to sweeping her home.

According to the Italian legend, La Befana was approached by the three Wise Men (Magi), Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar, who asked her how to get to the road to Bethlehem and they asked her to join them on their journey to bring gifts to the Christ child.

She initially refused to join them because she was too busy doing her housework,

When she started to regret her decision a few hours later, she then filled a bag of cookies and dried fruits and went to look for them. But she never found the Magi, despite her relentless search. This is why Befana is always seen with worn-out shoes from her search.

After failing to find baby Jesus, she decided to offer the presents she had planned for him to all the other children she met. Italian children leave out their shoes or put up stockings for La Befana to fill on Epiphany Eve or January 5th. 

The legend states that every Epiphany Eve, the old witch covered in soot and tattered clothes flies around the world on a broomstick and comes down chimneys to deliver candy and presents to children that have been good all year.

For those that haven’t been good, La Befana leaves coal. (some shops in Italy sell black rock candy to represent the coal so even the naughty children can still have a sweet treat.

I have included a recipe for coal cookies if you are interested at the end of this post.

The arrival of La Befana is celebrated with traditional Italian foods such as panettone and marks the end of the holiday season in Italy. In honor of the Three Wise Men, Italians go to church and enjoy spending the day with family.

In my home, it was also the day to take down the tree and all the holiday decorations.

Panettone is an Italian cake that is recognized by its tall domed shape. It is a sweet dough with raisins and candied fruit and today there are many varieties on the market and you can buy chocolate, pear, and chestnut to name a few.

Growing up, we would have panettone for breakfast on the morning of January 6th, which was a great sweet treat for us to have cake for breakfast.

My grandmother would make special cookies on January 5th to leave for La Befana called Befanini – they are traditional shortbread cookies in honor of La Befana. The original recipe included rum but I don’t have my family’s original recipe. Italian housewives would prepare these cookies for La Befana to nibble on between her deliveries.

When I was a child, we followed tradition and left a plate of Befanini cookies and a glass of wine for La Befana (this is similar to leaving milk and cookies for Santa). The cookies were always in the shape of a star to signify the Star of Bethlehem that La Befana saw through her window.

These are my cookies this year.

I have posted the recipe for La Befana cookies below that I have been using for years and I don’t remember where I copied it from so I am sorry to the author of the recipe that I can’t mention your name for full credit but it is not my recipe or my grandmother’s recipe- it is a typed copy from an article but very good.

This recipe doesn’t use rum but vanilla and anisette with orange zest- delicious!

La Befana Star Cookies

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ cups unbleached flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons anisette
  • Freshly grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Multicolored sprinkles

Instructions

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.

In an electric mixer (the paddle attachment), cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until creamy and light.

Beat in the egg and egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides after each addition, followed by the vanilla extract, anisette, and orange zest. Beat in the dry ingredients at low speed to form a stiff dough. Remove the dough from the bowl, flatten it into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and chill until it is firm enough to roll for about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray or line them with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces; work with 1 piece at a time, keeping the remaining pieces refrigerated. On a floured surface, roll the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Using a floured 2-inch star-shaped cookie cutter, cut the dough into stars. Place the cookies ½ inch apart on the baking sheets.

Gather the scraps together and repeat rolling and cutting until you have used all the scraps; it may be necessary to refrigerate the scraps until they are firm enough to roll again.

To make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk with the cream. Using a small pastry brush, lightly brush the surface of the cookies with a bit of glaze and decorate them with sprinkles ( I use confetti sprinkles).

Bake the cookies until they are lightly golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking time.

Allow the cookies to cool slightly on the baking sheets, then gently remove them with a spatula to a wire rack to cool completely.

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If you are interested in reading the story of “La Befana” to your children or just want to have the book as a keepsake, the classic story is told by author Tomie dePaola and is sold on Amazon.

Bob and I will enjoy these cookies tonight with some espresso with a touch of anisette and lemon rind.

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Lump of Coal Cookies – Courtesy of PassionforSavings.com

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. of Oreo Cookies
  • 4 Cups of Miniature Marshmallows
  • 1/4 Cup of Butter
  • Plastic Bag

Instructions

  1. Place Oreo Cookies in a Large Gallon Size Ziploc Bag.
  2. Using a rolling pin or measuring cup crush the Oreo Cookies into small pieces.
  3. Place Butter and Marshmallows in a bowl and heat in the microwave on high for 1 minute.
  4. Stir marshmallows and butter until smooth.
  5. Add in Crushed Oreos and stir well.
  6. Roll into Small Cookies and flatten to create a “Coal” Shape.
  7. Allow them to cool completely before storing.
  8. Store in an airtight container.

Until my next post, make every day a celebration!

Stay well,

Diane

Happy La Befana and I hope it brings a peaceful and joyous end to your holiday season.

photo courtesy of BottegaDellaNonna.com

New Year’s Day Tradition

Hi Everyone,

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After Bob and I spent New Year’s Day out and about in the beautiful 53-degree weather (unheard of in the Northeast in January), we came home and had our traditional Italian “good luck” foods to bring in the first day of the new year.

The Italian food tradition for Good Luck in the New Year all comes down to eating lentils and some sort of pork product. Pigs symbolized prosperity so my family would eat “cotechino” which is a traditional pork product for this holiday.

Cotechino is an Italian, large pork sausage requiring slow cooking. Usually, it is simmered at low heat for several hours. It is made from pork, lard, and other spices but was never a favorite of mine because it is very fatty.

This is what cotechino looks like if you have ever seen it in a grocery store or Italian butcher and wondered what it was.

New Year Traditions Italy
Courtesy of google.com

As I said, not a favorite of mine so I substituted it with another pork sausage- this time a pork sausage ring mixed with cheese and parsley as the spices.

I roasted the pork sausage with red grapes- a fabulous combination. A fantastic recipe was given to me by my friend Marie Renello (from Proud Italian Cook- great website, check her out ). She is a fabulous chef and I will post her recipe below.

Lentils are the next good luck food and they are supposed to bring good luck and prosperity so we had our traditional lentils & honestly, I love this dish so much, I could easily eat it every day (recipe below).

The shape of lentils represents a coin and they say that each lentil is a penny so the more you eat the more money comes your way. In addition, I added broccoli rabe (spinach can be substituted) which also brings good luck and prosperity because it is the green color of money.

I made lentils this year with another pork product for extra good luck and that is pancetta made from pork belly.

Not to be confused with prosciutto which is made from the hind leg. Pancetta is similar to bacon but is not smoked.

There are a few other traditions that we followed.

On New Year’s Day, Italians make sure they start the new year right by having some money in their pocket or wallet. This tradition is based on superstition.

Apparently, if you leave home with money in your pocket on the first day of the year, you’ll always have something in your pocket to spend every day of the year. 

My grandmother would give each of her grandchildren five dollars on New Year’s Eve to carry in our wallets. She wanted to make sure we had enough cash in our wallets at all times.

I know it sounds odd but even today after all the years that have passed since grandma gave us cash on New Year’s Eve, I always tuck the New Year’s Eve money in a compartment in my wallet and I call it the “emergency fund”. I make sure Bob and my son still have extra cash in a compartment in their wallet for their emergency fund and we carry it for the entire year. Some family traditions just don’t go away even after years and years.

The next tradition that we followed when my grandmother was alive was to ” Frighten away spiteful spirits”.

Some Italian families have fireworks for this reason (especially true in Naples, Italy where my maternal side is from). Instead of fireworks, we went out into the streets in front of our homes banging pots and pans with wooden spoons to scare away evil and spiteful spirits that were supposed to be lurking in the shadows during the transition from the old year to the new year.

As children, we loved to just make lots of noise and not get in any trouble for 20 minutes or so (it helped that grandma was front and center)….ahh, the good old days.

The last tradition that was introduced to us as children by my grandmother was to wear red undies on New Year’s Eve to bring good luck to you for the full year to come.

I had to research the reason behind this (courtesy of google) because grandma stopped at “it brings good luck”.

“Lots of market stalls and shops in Italy sell red underwear on the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Apparently, in order to get the most out of this good fortune, Italians only wear red underwear on December 31st.”

“For the red underwear to be really lucky, it should only be worn on NYE and thrown out the next day. The reason behind this New Year’s tradition dates back to the ancient Romans who wore red tunics during battle which represented blood and strength and instilled fear in their enemies”.

I know there are so many more Italian traditions but these are the traditions that my family practiced.

Have a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous Year with all the Good Fortune your heart can hold…. and thank you for being so supportive of my blog all year. I love sharing recipes, stories, and life’s ups and downs with you. Enjoy the recipes…

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Italian Sausage with Grapes

courtesy of Marie Renello from Proud Italian Cook

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. Italian sausage, sweet or hot, good quality with fennel spice kept in a ring or rope style
  • red seedless grapes, 2 to 3 cups, stems removed, rinsed, dried, and left whole
  • sprigs of thyme
  • olive oil

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Skewer your rope of sausage together using 1 skewer through one end and out the other so it stays held together while cooking.
  3. Heat a 10 or 12-inch oven-proof skillet, medium-high, drizzled with a tiny bit of olive oil on the bottom of the pan.
  4. Add sausage ring and don’t move it until it forms a nice deep golden color, then flip it over carefully and continue cooking for 1 minute.
  5. Remove from heat and sprinkle grapes around, be careful not to crowd them in because as they cook they release their juice, and if you have too many it becomes too liquidy and all will not caramelize like it should. I would say a good rule of thumb is to leave some space between the placing of your grapes.
  6. Drizzle with olive oil and scatter some fresh thyme leaves around.
  7. Place the whole pan into the oven, uncovered to finish cooking the sausage, ( keep checking for doneness, it depends on thickness) during the process your grapes will wrinkle and begin to release their juices.

Lentils

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1 medium red onion, chopped

3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

3-4 garlic cloves, chopped

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

1 (14 ½ oz.) can of diced tomatoes with their juices

1 bag of lentils (usually 16 oz.)

8 cups low sodium chicken broth (2 boxes) or homemade broth

4- 6 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1 cup grated cheese

Cooks Note: I always make lentil soup when I have the bone of a spiral ham. You could use a ham hock, bacon, or pancetta, or skip this ingredient entirely.

Directions:

  • Sort lentils for any stones, rinse with cold water – set aside
  • Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. If you are using the pancetta render the pancetta in the pan and then remove and set aside.
  • Add the red onion, celery, carrots, and a pinch of salt to sweat the vegetables.
  • After 2-3 minutes add the garlic and pinch of red pepper and sauté until all the vegetables are tender about 5-8 minutes
  • Add the tomatoes with their juices
  • Simmer until the juices evaporate a little and the tomatoes break down, stirring occasionally for about 8 minutes
  • Add the lentils and mix well to coat. Sauté 1-2 minutes
  • Add the broth, bay leaf, thyme springs
  • Bring to a boil over high heat
  • Cover and simmer over low heat until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes
  • Discard the bay leaf and add the pancetta back to the pot.
  • Add salt and pepper and taste for seasonings
  • When serving, you can drizzle the soup with a little olive oil and serve it with grated cheese

Cook’s Note– salt the lentils at the end of cooking, rather than the beginning, so that they don’t remain hard.

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Until my next post, make every day a celebration!

Stay well,

Diane

New Year’s Eve Celebration!

Hi everyone,

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I hope you all enjoyed your New Year’s Eve celebration.…. saying goodbye to the old year and welcoming in the new year.

You now have 365 days of blank pages for the next chapter in your life and I hope it is your best year yet.

Bob and I had a small celebration filled with friends, finger food, and fun, watching the ball drop on TV and welcoming in the New Year 2023.

We enjoyed a variety of hors d’oeuvres and shrimp cocktail plus an assortment of different styles of chicken wings and some chips and dips – strictly fingers foods.

Included in some of my finger foods was a favorite recipe of mine for a 5 ingredient “Apple Jalapeno Chicken Wings” which is so delicious and easy with the help of a jar of jelly from Stonewall Kitchen and a little bourbon.

I wanted to repost the recipe (see below). I hope you give it a try.

And of course, we had to end the night with Prosecco and an Italian cheesecake- simply delicious. A little denser than a NY Cheesecake and has the flavor of anisette.

I hope your celebration was the start to a healthy, happy, and prosperous year to follow…… stay well!

Until my next post, make every day a celebration!

Stay well,

Diane

Apple Jalapeno Chicken Wings

This is a 5 ingredient recipe that I learned how to make back in 2014 when I took a cooking class at the Stonewall Kitchen headquarters in Maine. Simply delicious and works for a barbecue, Superbowl, or any time you need an easy delicious chicken wing recipe. I hope you try it and enjoy it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Stonewall Kitchen Apple Jalapeno Jelly
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼- ½ cup bourbon (I used 1/2 cup)
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 pounds of chicken wings

Directions:

  1. In a food processor, puree the Stonewall Kitchen Apple Jalapeno Jelly.
  2. In a large skillet place the Stonewall Kitchen Apple Jalapeno Jelly, water, bourbon, and butter over medium heat. When melted stir until uniform.
  3. Add the chicken wings. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another 30 minutes, turning the wings several times. The sauce should thicken, but do not allow it to burn.
  4. Remove wings and finish under the broiler until golden brown. Serve hot with reserved sauce from a skillet.

2022 in Review

Hi Everyone,

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Wishing you a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and the beginning of a year filled with love, health, happiness, and many, many blessings in 2023.

May the new year be your best year yet and thank you for being a member and extended family of my blog. And thank you for your support in my health journey as well.

Your comments make my day and you are all so special to me. Let’s enjoy many more days together in 2023

Below is a recap of 2022…..

Until my next post, make every day a celebration!

Stay well,

Diane

Christmas Eve menu

Hi everyone,

I just wanted to post a recap of the 2022 Christmas Eve dinner at my home and if you are interested in any of the photos below, all the recipes are in the files.

I hope you had a fabulous, safe, and wonderful Christmas with your loved ones, family, and friends.

Now we prepare for 2023 and I hope all of your goals and dreams come true.

Thank you for being a part of my blog and I plan on posting more fun tablescapes and recipes in the new year…

Please ask your family and friends to join and they will never miss a post.

One more week to the end of the year- hard to believe how fast time is passing us by and I wish all of us a prosperous and happy, healthy future

Until my next post, make every day a celebration!

Stay well,

Diane

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Now on to the menu recap:

I changed up the ordinary shrimp cocktail appetizer by putting both shrimp cocktail and some fried calamari in a paper French fry cup that I had in the house and made it a charcuterie cup and added a mini bottle of tabasco sauce. The cocktail sauce was served tableside with lemon wedges.

Our next course is always linguine with seafood sauce

This year’s seafood sauce was made with crab, clams, tuna and stuffed calamari…

The finished 2nd-course dinner plate

Now the additional seafood dishes to complete all seven required fishes. We had 1. shrimp, 2. clams, 3. mussels, 4. calamari, 5. scungilli, 6. crabs, 7. tuna in the stuffing, and a bonus of #8. anchovies in the seafood sauce.

Stuffed shrimp with crabmeat.

Seafood salad served chilled with calamari, shrimp, scungilli, celery, and olives in a lemon and olive oil dressing.

Mussels and Clams Fra Diavolo with a spicy Calabrian chili addition.

Baked clams oreganata

Fried Calamari

I did not take a pic of our vegetable side dishes and they were cold broccoli salad with garlic and lemon & fried artichoke hearts.

I hope your Christmas Weekend was all you thought it would be and you made some treasured new memories.

EggNog Muffins

Hi Everyone,

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I just wanted to wish you all a very Merry Christmas Eve. I am so thrilled to have all my members as part of my extended family. I love reading your comments and private messages all year. Thank you for being part of the family…. Have a glorious day!

Bob and I had eggnog muffins this morning for breakfast to put us in the holiday mood. This is a quick and easy recipe I wanted to share. It’s great if you have some leftover eggnog or what to try something new for Christmas morning… (Omit the rum if you are serving children).

I hope you try this recipe and enjoy it!

Eggnog Muffins
(Makes 12 muffins)

Serve these muffins with butter or jam … very yummy! If you plan on serving them to children, leave out the rum, increase the amount of eggnog, and add vanilla extract.

Ingredients:

2 cups flour
2/3-cup sugar
1-tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup prepared eggnog
1/2 cup dark rum
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, beaten to blend
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Grease one 12-cup muffin pan or use cupcake papers

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Stir in the remaining ingredients.
Spoon into prepared pan.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the tester comes out clean.
Cool slightly before serving.

Until my next post, make every day a celebration!

Stay well,

Diane

Mussels and Clams Fra Diavolo (Christmas Eve)

Hi everyone,

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With Christmas Eve only two days away here is another dish we usually serve on Christmas Eve. It is another favorite of mine (I have so many favorites for this holiday, I can’t choose which one I love the most.)……

Mussels and Clams Fra Diavolo

You can make this as hot and spicy as you can handle. I use Calabrian chili peppers to bring on the heat and if that is too spicy for you, substitute it with red pepper flakes. That will give you just enough heat without having too much spice. I love spicy so I use the Calabrian chili peppers…..

Ingredients:

For the Sauce

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small shallot, diced

1/2 medium yellow onion, minced

2 basil sprig

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tsp of crushed Calabrian chili peppers (or more if you like the heat)

Kosher salt

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon tomato paste

One 28-ounce can of tomato puree or crushed tomato

 Black Pepper

 For the Mussels & clams * – see Cook’s note

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup minced shallot

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 cup dry white wine

1 tbsp butter

3 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded

2 DZ. Cockles or little neck clams, scrubbed and cleaned

Chopped parsley, for serving

Crusty bread, for serving

Cooks Note:

How to Clean Clams

  1. Prepare a large bowl. To purge clams of sand, fill up a large bowl with a mix of cold water and sea salt. …
  2. Soak the clams. Let the clams soak in the salted water for 20 minutes to an hour. …
  3. Remove the clams from the water. …
  4. Scrub the clams clean. ...
  5. Rinse the clams.

How to Clean Mussels

Place your mussels in a colander or bowl in the sink and run them under cold water. Rinse them to get rid of any debris or seaweed on their outer shells. If you feel any muddy spots, rub them off under the water, but you’re very unlikely to with farm-raised mussels. Mussels sometimes have small, fibrous “beards,” which you should pinch off.

Instructions:

Make the Sauce first…

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion, shallots, basil, oregano, Calabrian chili peppers, and a pinch of salt and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, add the minced garlic and continue to sauté until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add tomato paste and sauté for a minute to toast the tomato paste.

Add the white wine and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the tomato puree and bring just to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced, about 20- 30 minutes. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

Prepare the Mussels and Clams

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil until shimmering, and add 1 tbsp. of butter. Add the shallot, garlic, and crushed red pepper and cook over high heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the wine and boil until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat and stir in the tomato sauce from step 1 and bring to a simmer.

Stir in the clams first (they take longer to open), cover, and cook until they start to open then add the mussels, cover again and cook until the mussels open, 3 to 5 minutes; discard any mussels & clams that do not open- they are dead.

Season lightly with salt, then transfer the mussels and sauce to a platter. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve right away with crusty bread.

These are the Calabrian chili peppers I use...

Until my next post, make every day a celebration!

Stay well,

Diane