Happy Spring…I think. Okay so I am pretty pumped about the idea of spring, but I am totally sick of all the “teasers.” You know like warmer temps but then torrential rains…sunshine that quickly changes to black clouds and gusty winds…a day that starts out in the high 50′s but then plummets to the low 40′s by afternoon. AND perhaps worst of all frigging snow at the end of April !!! UGH!!! I know that patience is a virtue,but COME ON ALREADY!!!!! I am chomping at the bit to wear my “Birkenstocks,” and to shed by darn winter jacket until next winter. Oh well, such in life in Michigan…one day you’re happily moving the winter clothes to the back of the closet, and the next day you are begrudgingly digging them out again. Anyway, I have cooked a ton of new things over the last few weeks. Here we go…
First for the Easter holiday, the fam got together at my Dad’s house. I was responsible for the side dish, and the dessert portion of our meal. For the side dish I made cheesy potatoes…YUM. I didn’t take a picture as this was not a new recipe for me. For the dessert portion of the meal, I selected 2 different recipes. The first recipe was for “Ho Ho Cake.” It was an homage to the now out of production “Hostess Ho Ho.” I found this recipe a few months back, but was hesitant to make it as it makes a pretty large cake. I knew it would be way too much for my family of four to eat, so I had to wait for a holiday or other special get together to make it. Easter was the perfect time to try it so I did. It was simple to make, but it was time intensive as all three layers had to be made separately. Also, there needed to be time allotted for cooling and chilling all three layers. That said, it was simple to make and simply delicious! It did resemble the flavor profile of a “Hostesss Ho Ho,” but it wasn’t exactly the same. Here is the link to the recipe that I used: http://www.howsweeteats.com/2010/12/hoho-cake/
The second dessert I made for Easter was homemade “Reese’s Peanut Butter Bars.” Every year, I like to hand-make some portion of what I put in the baskets for my niece and nephew, so this year I selected this copycat “Reese’s” recipe. These are simple to make, and I love the fact that they are a no bake dessert. Since my oven was occupied with the above mentioned “Ho Ho cake,” this worked perfectly. I have made these once before, but it has been a number of years. I had all the ingredients already in the pantry, so this was a no brainer. Everybody really enjoyed them, and there were no left overs, which is always telling. I love love love chocolate and peanut butter together, so this really hit the spot. It doesn’t taste exactly like a Reese’s, but it was pretty darn good. Here is a link to the recipe: http://www.food.com/recipe/reeses-squares-5-ingredients-no-bake-reeses-29679#ixzz1EnwzLH5X
Whilst at my Dad’s celebrating Easter, I mentioned to my family that I had attempted to make an old family recipe, and had failed miserably. My Sito Vicky used to make these “lent friendly” kibbeh balls. They were completely meat free, so they were “safe” to eat during lent. She called them “kibbeh trawheb.” I have absolutely no idea of the correct spelling of that dish, as when my Sito dictated the recipe to me, I wrote the name out phonetically. Anyway, I remember every lent being so excited, because I knew that Sito would make these yummy “lent balls.” They are a meat free kibbeh, and they are stuffed with spinach and chick peas…DELICIOUS!! Since both my Sito Vicky and my Sito Georgia have passed away, I’ve only been able to eat these yummy lent balls once. Last year during lent, I happened to be at “Steve’s Back Room” a middle eastern restaurant in St. Clair Shores. I went there to pick up some “Syrian bread,” and some other delectables for lunch. As soon as I walked in, these “lent balls” were sitting on the counter. They were labeled “lent kibbeh.” I bought a half dozen, and was overjoyed to once again be able to enjoy my beloved lent treat. When this year’s lenten season rolled around, I drove to Steve’s once again to buy more, but sadly they had none. I checked the restaurant several different times during lent, and asked an employee about the lent kibbeh from the previous year, but no one remembered it. On a whim, I called “Emily’s Delicatessan” a Lebanese bakery also in St. Clair Shores, to ask about “lent kibbeh” and they had it! We immediately jumped in the car and flew over to Emily’s. Once there, I was told that their lent kibbeh was made with pumpkin. Pumpkin? Huh? I asked specifically about “kibbeh trawheb,” but they had never heard of it. I bought the pumpkin kibbeh anyway, and much to my surprise, I loved it! It tasted almost like the lent balls that my Sito used to make, and nothing like the rock hard bland version that I had made. I must admit, I feel weird eating the pumpkin kibbeh balls as they are vastly different than the ones my Sitos used to make. However, I obviously did something wrong, but unfortunately I cannot ask her for help. I fear I may have lost the recipe just like I lost both of my lovely Sitos. The recipe passed away when they did. That thought really bothers me. This was the last Lebanese recipe from my childhood that I had yet to replicate. I have been successful with all the others. Initially, I felt pretty confident, as I had made the lent balls with my Sito Georgia in the past, and I did have her recipe. My maiden voyage was a flop though, so there must be some error in the recipe that I copied down so many years ago. Sadly, I have no way to make it right. I have “Google” searched the recipe about a jillion times, and I have consulted any Lebanese/Middle eastern cookbook I can get my hands on, but to no avail. I guess I just have to admit defeat in regards to this recipe. Going forward, maybe I will just have to begin my own tradition of making those pumpkin kibbeh balls at lent. I am sure my Sitos would appreciate the effort. Here is a link to the recipe for pumpkin kibbeh: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/pumpkin-kibbeh-stuffed-with-spinach-chick-peas-and-walnuts-recipe/index.html
On to happier thoughts… When I made the ho ho cake, I had a ton of the cream filling left over. I decided to save it, and use it as the filling in a home-made “Oreo” cookie. I have made “Oreo’s” in the past, and they were good. They didn’t really taste like Oreo’s to me, but they were good nontheless. This time when I made the Oreo’s, I used a different recipe for the cookie. Happily, I liked this cookie better. It has a wonderful depth of flavor in regards to the chocolate cookie, and everyone really loved it. Dan said, “…it sort of tastes like brownies but with a creamy frosting in the center.” I don’t really care for store bought cookies anymore. That said, Oreo’s are 1 of the 2 store bought cookies that I actually still like (the other is Fig Newtons…FYI I have a recipe for those too so stay tuned ☺) These cookies were good, but again they didn’t really taste like Oreo’s to me. That said, they were a yummy sandwich cookie, and I’d make them again if the family requested them. Here is the link to the recipe I used: http://www.mykitchenaddiction.com/2012/02/homemade-oreos/
The last three recipes were made in homage to my Italian heritage. The first recipe was for baked lemon ziti. I saw this recipe on an episode of “Giada at Home,” and knew immediately that I had to make it. I don’t make baked pasta dishes very often, so I was excited to try it. My Dad was coming over for dinner to pick up my niece and nephew after a sleep over, so I decided to try the recipe out. It was pretty simple to assemble and the resulting dish got rave reviews. My Dad, Victoria, Yvonne (my Niece), and Dan really liked it a lot. I, on the other hand, thought it was good, but I didn’t really enjoy the creamy lemony taste as it reminded me too much of a dessert. I like my meals to be savory. I don’t really care for sweet meals, which I guess explains why I don’t like sweet breakfast foods like pancakes or waffles for breakfast. I make the distinction “for breakfast,” because if I have already eaten a savory meal, I can and do like something sweet. Sweet on its’s own though… for a meal?? Not so much. Anyway, I liked the pasta, but prefer something a bit more hearty and savory for dinner. I would make it again though as Dan and Victoria really liked it. Here is a link to the recipe that I used: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/baked-lemon-ziti-recipe/index.html I did make one substitution to the recipe. I didn’t have any ziti, so I used rotini instead.
The same day that I made the baked ziti for dinner, I also made “deconstructed cannoli” for dessert. I had already purchased ricotta and mascarpone as I knew I wanted to make cannoli again. I have only made cannoli once before, and they tasted good, but I didn’t care for the texture. Unfortunately, it was a bit gritty from the texture of the ricotta cheese. So I began a new search for a recipe that used more mascarpone than ricotta, and I came across Giada’s recipe for cannoli cream. She used it in a fruit salad, but I thought I’d try it as a dip. Man oh man am I glad I did, because this recipe is amazing. I know this is one for those recipes that I will use for the rest of my life. It is so easy and tasty, and it totally performed how I hoped it would. It may be a bit too thin if I actually wanted to stuff the cannoli shells with it, but as a dip it was perfect! Instead of deep frying cannoli shells, I used pizzelles. I love love love pizzelles. My Aunt Pat usually makes them for family get togethers, and I always enjoy them. They are delicious and light, and I love the intricate patterns the cookies have. Several years ago, my parents got me my very own pizzelle press as a gift. I have only used it a half dozen times or so, but I totally love it! My favorite flavor of pizzelle is anise. I have made other flavors like almond, vanilla, lemon, and chocolate chip, but anise is still my favorite. When I have used the pizzelles as cannoli shells in the past, I just mold the cookies into little tubes while they are still warm and pliable from the press. This time, I just made the pizzelles like normal, and we used them to scoop up the delicious cannoli cream. This was a great dessert, and I will definitely make it again. Here are the links to both the cannoli cream and pizzelles: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/fruit-salad-with-cannoli-cream-recipe/index.html and http://allrecipes.com/recipe/pizzelles-iii/
My last recipe is for mozzarella fonduta. I saw this recipe on an episode of “Giada at Home,” and I was instantly transported back to my childhood. When I was a kid, my dad owned an Italian restaurant called the “Villanova.” I used to love to go see him at the restaurant, and when I’d visit he’d always make me “baked cheese.” He would layer sauce and cheese in a bowl, and then broil it in his pizza oven. The result was a gooey, delicious, cheesy masterpiece. Just the other day, I asked my Dad how this recipe came to life, and he told me the story. He said that when we’d visit his restaurant, he’d always make me chicken parmesan or veal parmesan (I clearly wasn’t raised a vegetarian ☺). What he noticed was that I’d eat a few bites of the meat, but I’d always finish all of the sauce and cheese. So, one time he just omitted the meat from the dish all together. Well, I loved it, and a recipe was born. From then on, whenever I’d go to the restaurant, I’d request baked cheese. Inexplicably, I never attempted to replicate that dish… that is until now. All it took was me seeing a similar recipe on tv, and I knew I had to make it. I am happy to report that the mozzarella fonduta is delicious. I have made it three times so far, and it never disappoints. I talked with my Dad about it, and he said that when he made it for me all those years ago, he used a blend of 5 cheeses that they used on the pizzas at the restaurant. When I made it, I used fresh mozzarella and parmesan. It is delicious…total comfort food for me. Gladly, Dan and Victoria loved it too. It is really easy to make, and the ingredients are inexpensive. This is another recipe that I am sure I will always keep in the rotation. Here is a link to Giada’s recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/mozzarella-fonduta-recipe/index.html I did make a few substitutions. First, I did not use prosciutto as we are vegetarians. Instead, I made veggie meatballs to add some protein to the dish. Also, I didn’t use Gruyere, I used parmesan instead.
I have noticed that when I blog now, I usually include a bunch of recipes as opposed to just 1 or 2. That is in part due to the fact that I don’t religiously blog every week anymore. I still enjoy sharing my recipes, but it doesn’t feel the same as my “Cookie if the Week” blog. That blog felt more weighty and poignant to me. I know that was due to the fact that my blog usually centered around my Mom, and my feelings surrounding her passing. This blog is different. This is a double edged sword for me. I am happy to be past those really dark days, early on in my grief over her passing, but I miss the cathartic feeling I had when composing those entries. They meant something to me. They were more personal. After some reflection, I feel like those blogs were closer to my heart. I don’t know if it’s possible to sustain that sort of emotive writing over a long period of time, and maybe we shouldn’t. If anything, I think this blog illustrates my way of dealing with stress. Cooking and baking. I have said in the past that my mantra was “do everything you can to make it right, and when all else fails, go bake something.” Well that sentiment still holds true. Part of the reason that I have so many recipes in one entry is that I blog less frequently. The other is that when things get stressful for me, or if I am feeling blue, instead of taking to the bottle or to my bed, I take to the kitchen. Once there, I am hoping to find some solace or comfort that is evading me in life. Most times it works. Over the last few years, I have come to the understanding that I truly LOVE to feed people. In fact, watching people enjoy my culinary creations, is better than me actually eating those creations myself. It makes me feel good to know that I have given even just a little piece of happiness to others via my recipes. It reminds me of the poem that was read at my Mom’s memorial service, “Epitaph” by Merritt Malloy. In the poem Malloy writes “…when all that is left of me is love, give me away…” That’s what I try to do with my cookies, treats, and other yummies…I try to impart a little love. It doesn’t change the world of course, but maybe it offers a temporary respite. Maybe it offers a moment in time, in which, the cares of the world seem a bit lighter. I came across a quote by Jael McHenry author of “The Kitchen Daughter,” that I absolutely love. I think it captures my sentiments exactly. It goes like this …”I want them to bite into a cookie, and think of me, and smile. Food is love. Food has a power. I knew it in my mind, but now know it in my heart.”
Enjoy the recipes! ♥♥