Monday, December 28, 2015

Baked Brie with Dried Fruits and Nuts

Last year, a baked brie similar to the one in the photo above made an appearance at some point during the holidays - purchased at The Scone Pony in Spring Lake, NJ, a shop selling outstanding scones and other treats. 

But the store's limited opening hours didn't correspond with my availability to stop in this year, so I decided to make my own for Christmas eve. I've got a few vegetarians in the family and the octopus salad, baccala mantecato and shrimp platter just doesn't cut it with them. I couldn't leave them out while we were sitting around embibing on prosecco and appetizers.

The baked brie was a snap to make and was just as good as Scone Pony's - no, better, since it was freshly made. 

Maybe you're having guests at some point in the week, or making merry for New Year's Eve. This would be a perfect accompaniment to those glasses of bubbly you're likely to pour.

I start by slicing off the rind from a wheel of brie, an optional step, but it makes it a lot easier to dig into the cheese without the rind.

 Then smear the top with a fig spread, fig preserves or other type of jam, jelly or preserves that you like. I know I'd also love this with either quince jelly, apricot or orange preserves too.

 Then take some of the same flavor of preserves or jelly and mix it with your choice of chopped nuts and dried fruits. I used dried figs, cranberries and cherries, with pecans and pistachios.

Pile the dried fruit and nut mixture on top, then when guests arrive, bake in the oven briefly or place in the microwave for a minute or two.

 Add some crackers and serve.

 And watch it disappear.

 Buon Anno and a big thank you to all my readers for following me this year, for leaving comments on the blog, for making my recipes and for emailing me with questions, or just to send greetings. I wish you all the very best in 2016. 

 Are you a social media devotee? Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, here for my Twitter feed and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I'm cooking up each day.

Baked Brie with Dried Fruits and Nuts

All amounts are all approximate. Use as much or as little as you like of nuts and dried fruits.

 If you have too much, it keeps well in the refrigerator.

1 wheel of brie cheese

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup chopped pistachios

1/4 cup chopped dried figs

1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries

1/4 cup fig preserves, plus more for smearing on top of cheese.

Carefully slice the top rind of the brie cheese, trying not to take much of the cheese. A little bit of rind on top is ok. Spread some fig preserves over the cheese. Chop the nuts and fruits, mix in the preserves and pile on top. Refrigerate until ready to use, then bake in a 350 degree oven for five minutes, or place in the microwave for one minute. You don't want to melt the cheese, just soften it. Serve with crackers.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pandoro "Christmas Tree"

At this time of year, in every Italian family, there's a decision to be made. Will it be panettone, or pandoro at the table? There are those who stand by their fruit-studded panettone, and those who swear by its plainer cousin, the golden pandoro. Me? I love both of these rich, yeasty cakes, and can't do without a panettone at Christmas. I love to eat it warmed up for breakfast on Christmas morning, but it also makes the best bread pudding on the planet.

Pandoro may be panettone's plain Jane cousin, although its star-shape is anything but.

What's really great about its plainness though, is that you can refashion it in many different and delicious ways, including this dessert that's perfect for Christmas.

I've already made this pandora "tree" twice so far this holiday season, using a chocolate mousse filling.

 Last year, I made it with a filling of mascarpone and lemon curd, as shown in the first photo of this post. Try it with whipped cream, vanilla pastry cream, or a combination of vanilla and chocolate. Pandoro is like a beautiful blank slate, so you're limited only by your imagination. 

Start by slicing the cake horizontally into six to seven layers. 

 Make a simple syrup and add some liqueur - anything you like, from rum, to limoncello, to Grand Marnier. For the chocolate mousse version, I used rum. Drizzle (ok, drench is more like it) each layer with some of the liquid, before spreading the mousse on top. As you add a new layer of cake, swivel the layer so that the points don't line up. You want it to resemble a Christmas tree shape.

 When I was finished, I sprinkled it with some powdered sugar, but it quickly gets absorbed by the cake. I also added some small holly leaves and a star on top made from melted chocolate, using a cookie cutter to get the shapes.

In this chocolate version, I also added pomegranate seeds as decoration, but in last year's version, raspberries and blueberries worked well too.

 It's easy to serve too, slicing from the top. One of these cakes serves a crowd of about twenty.

Once you see how delicious and versatile pandoro is, you'll wish you had a couple stashed away in your pantry to pull out for special occasions.

 I've also used pandoro for making zuppa inglese, (an Italian version of English trifle) a recipe I'll post early next year.

Where I live, pandoro cakes are easily available at supermarkets or specialty food stores. If you can't find them in stores near you, you can order them online.

But hurry, because they disappear right after Christmas.

Even though they contain no preservatives, they last for months, so buy a few for pandoro "emergencies."

Ciao Chow Linda is also on Instagram, as well as Facebook and Pinterest. Click here to connect with me on Facebook, here for my Pinterest page, and here for my Instagram page to see more of what I'm cooking up each day.

Pandoro "Christmas Tree"

printable recipe here

You can make this a day or two ahead of time. In fact, I think it tastes better if you make it ahead, giving the rum a chance to permeate the cake. The hardest part is finding a large enough space in your refrigerator.

Chocolate Mousse Version

1 large Pandoro

1 recipe chocolate mousse 

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup rum

Bring the water and sugar to a boil and cook a few minutes until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the rum. 

Make the chocolate mousse recipe.

Slice the cake horizontally into five or six layers, and starting from the largest slice, take the simple syrup mixture and evenly pour some on the layer of the cake, then spread some of the mousse on top.

Take a second slice and place over the mousse, rotating the cake so the points are not in alignment with the first layer. Sprinkle with more of the simple syrup, then add more of the mousse. Continue doing this until you have used all layers, then spread a little more mousse on top. You'll probably have some mousse leftover (not a bad thing).

Decorate as you like, with chocolate leaves, stars, berries, pomegranate arils. 

Chocolate Mousse recipe

9 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate

1 1/2 tsps. instant espresso powder, dissolved in 2 T. hot water

2 1/2 cups heavy cream

5 egg whites 

1/3 cup sugar

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in a microwave oven at 1 minute intervals, stirring after each interval so it doesn't burn. (If you don't have a microwave, use a double boiler or place the ingredients in a heat-proof measuring cup or bowl set inside a saucepan filled halfway with water, and bring the water to a simmer over medium heat; stir occasionally until the chocolate has melted. While the chocolate is melting, use a mixer to whip the espresso and cream in a large bowl until you have whipped cream, but don't overwhip. Set it aside. In a separate bowl, use the mixer (with clean beaters) to whip the egg whites until they start to look white and creamy. Then add the sugar and whip just to combine. Again, do not over whip. When the chocolate is fully melted, pour it into a large mixing bowl. Add a scoop of the whipped cream and a scoop of the egg whites, and stir them thoroughly into the chocolate. In small alternating batches, fold the remaining whipped cream and egg whites into the chocolate until the mousse is smooth and even. 

Lemon Version

1 large Pandoro

16 ounces mascarpone cheese

1/4 c. confectioner's sugar

11 oz. lemon curd

1 cup whipping cream

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup limoncello 

Mix the mascarpone, confectioner's sugar and lemon curd together. Whip the cream, then add to the mixture.

Bring the water and sugar to a boil and cook a few minutes until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the rum. 

Slice the cake into five or six horizontal layers. Spread some of the simple syrup on each slice, then cover with some of the mascarpone/lemon curd/cream mixture. Continue adding layers in this fashion, rotating each one so the points don't match up. Decorate with berries or other items, as you like.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Brady Bunch Cheese Ball

 Yes, I know it's not an "Italian" recipe. But I depart from Italian recipes occasionally, and it's here on Ciao Chow Linda for a few other reasons. First of all, it's from my new friend Ellen Stimson's latest book, "An Old-Fashioned Christmas," a book filled with funny, heartwarming stories and enticing recipes and photos. Second of all, with the holidays here, it would make a great gift for someone (maybe even you?). 

There are recipes for cookies, cakes and other sweets, but plenty of savory things too, including a  decadent mac 'n' cheese that Ellen personally made for my book club, and a bacon and onion tart I can't wait to try. She hasn't left out your furry friends either, with a few recipes for that special four-legged creature in your life. 

But most of all, the recipe is here on Ciao Chow Linda, because it's just plain good, and has a cool retro vibe. 

Ellen actually calls this "Aunt Loraine's Brady Bunch Cheese Ball," but I modified it somewhat with the addition of brandy.  You don't need to be a slave to the recipe. Ellen sure takes liberties with her cooking, as you'll find out when you read the book. Don't like green olives? Leave them out. Prefer blue cheese instead of cheddar? Then go ahead and switch. I hope Aunt Loraine would approve.

Just be sure to serve with Ritz Crackers and you'll swear you're back in the '70s.

Aunt Loraine's Brady Bunch Cheese Ball

from Ellen Stimson's "An Old-Fashioned Christmas"

(my changes in red)

3 cups grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

8 ounces cream cheese

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/3 cup chopped green olives

3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 dashes garlic power

4 dashes celery seed

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 T. brandy

12 ounces chopped pecans (this was way too much - I used about 4 ounces (1 cup) and it was plenty to coat, as you can see in the photo.

Mix all the ingredients except for the pecans. I used my KitchenAid mixer to get things started, then put everything into the food processor to finish. Alternatively, you could also mix everything using a strong spoon and bowl, along with some "elbow grease." Shape into a ball.

I found it easiest to line a small bowl with plastic wrap, then scoop the mixture into the plastic wrap, shaping it somewhat into a ball, using the plastic wrap to help. 

Place in the refrigerator so the ball can chill and solidify and flavors blend (I left it in overnight, but a few hours will likely be enough). The next day, cover with the chopped pecans.

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Monday, December 7, 2015


I'm a little behind on my Christmas duties having been laid up with a nasty cold for the last week. But one thing I managed to do before I got sick was bake these Anginetti cookies. 

They're a recipe I got in August from Florida-based cook Michael Salvatore Gottuso and I've thought about making them for Christmas since then. They remind me a lot of the sweet taralli cookies my mom used to make, although she made hers in the shape of circles rather than "knots." 

The recipe actually comes from Michael's nonna and I'm so grateful to both of them for sharing this recipe so freely. It makes A LOT of cookies (I cut the recipe in half and got at least four dozen), so it's perfect for shipping off to friends or for tucking into the freezer when company stops by. 

The dough is a breeze to work with - so pliable and easily formed into little knots. I think kids would have fun rolling out the dough into logs and shaping the cookies too, so get your children or grandchildren involved and start a tradition.

As Michael says, there's no right or wrong size -- make them as small as your patience permits or as large as you like.

Bake until they're still pale on top, but slightly tan underneath. (I baked them slightly longer than the recipe called for because I like these cookies to be a little "harder" with some crunch.) 

Then let the cookies cool, frost with the icing, and top with sprinkles right away.  

My friend Marie, of Proud Italian Cook, recently posted her recipe for anginetti and they look delicious too. Hers are flavored with lemon, as are Michael's, but Michael's also contains anise extract, a classic Italian flavoring for cookies. Use whatever appeals to you and your family. 

Once you've tried them, I'll bet they become part of your traditional Christmas cookie repertoire.


Recipe from Michael Salvatore Gottuso (thanks to his nonna)

makes at least 8 dozen cookies.

7 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 t. vanilla extract

1/2 t. anisette extract

juice of one lemon

juice of one orange

1 1/2 t. grated fresh orange zest

1 1/2 t. grated fresh lemon zest

3 sticks melted and cooled unsalted butter

8 cups flour

1 t. kosher salt

8 t. baking powder


juice of 2 lemons

juice of 1/2 orange

4 cups confectioners' sugar

1 t. anisette extract

1/2 t. vanilla extract

1/2 t. grated fresh lemon zest

1/2 t. grated fresh orange zest

Mix together 7 beaten eggs with 1 cup sugar until well blended. Now add 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon anisette extract (make sure to use pure, not imitation), juice of one lemon, juice of one orange, 1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh orange zest, and 1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh lemon zest. Blend well. Add 3 sticks melted unsalted butter (make sure they are cool).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Now sift unbleached flour enough to make 8 cups SIFTED flour. In batches sift together the sifted flour, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 8 teaspoons baking powder (make sure it's aluminum-free) and gently blend into the bowl until it's a soft, not too sticky, pliable dough. You may have to gently knead with your hands. Don't panic if it's still a bit sticky. To get to the right consistency, simply dust a little more flour into the bowl and onto your hands and only add enough until you are at a smooth dough. Then stop and let it rest for a good 15 minutes. Pull out the dough in small balls, like a golf ball size and roll into a rope, then turn it into a knot (like a "wreath"). Place onto sturdy baking sheets. Remember there is not "set" size so no debating on this. Make that your own preference. My family likes them a bit bigger than some other families do. The cookies cook fairly quickly and are NOT supposed to be a dark brown. Bake for 10 minutes, check the bottom to see if it's light brown. When you are done with your last batch going in, it's time to make the icing glaze.
Mix everything together till you get a nice consistency: juice of 2 lemons, juice of 1/2 orange, 4 cups of confectioners' sugar, 1 teaspoon anisette extract, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest, and 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh orange zest. If it appears too loose, in small batches add more confectioner's sugar. Dip the cookies on their tops into the icing and let the excess run off. Grandma suggests that you also dip the bottoms as that will encase the cookies in the icing and keep them fresh longer. Place the iced cookies on racks and top them with small confettini (multi colored non-pareils).

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