Monday, February 27, 2017

Doughnuts!


Doughnuts, doughnuts and more doughnuts. More doughnuts that we could possibly eat in one sitting, but with my decision to abstain from eating desserts for 40 days starting Wednesday (the beginning of Lent), I figured it's time to indulge these last few days. 
The period before Lent that is called Carnevale in Italy is called Fasnacht in Southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Alsace region of France, when doughnuts and other fried foods are traditionally consumed. Many descendants of Germans who live in Pennsylvania, (called the Pennsylvania Dutch - although they probably misappropriated the word Dutch from the word Deutsch, meaning German) also celebrate the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday as Fasnacht Day, and eat doughnuts, which they refer to as fasnachts.
The doughnuts my daughter-in-law and I made weren't fried, but baked, and hopefully contain fewer calories. But no promises here.
 If you want calorie-free doughnuts, take a look at these -- they're painted by Wayne Thiebaud, an American artist known for his colorful paintings of pastries, cakes and other foods. 

Fellow blogger Stacey Snacks gave me the idea to make baked doughnuts after she showed the pan she used when she made them. I quickly ordered one online:
But Thiebaud's art was the inspiration for glazing my doughnuts in a medley of colors and flavors - from cinnamon sugar coated, to chocolate glazed, to powdered sugar coated, to lemon glazed, blueberry glazed and blood orange glazed.
My daughter-in-law Beth piped the doughnut batter into the greased doughnut pan using a pastry bag. If you don't have a pastry bag, use a plastic baggie, cutting off a tip at one corner.

They take only 10 minutes to bake and you might be tempted to leave them in longer since they'll be quite pale on top. Don't. The bottoms are much browner and if you leave them in longer, they'll be overcooked and dry.
You also don't want to fill them too high, otherwise you risk losing the "hole" of your doughnut.
Flip them over to cool a bit, and then go to town with the frostings and toppings. I can just imagine sprinkling some chocolate "jimmies" or chopped nuts on top of this doughnut, couldn't you? Why didn't I think of it when I was frosting them?
 Or maybe some coconut on top of this doughnut glazed with confectioner's sugar and the juice of a blood orange.
Invite a crowd over when you make these (or give some to the neighbors as I did), because this recipe gave me about two dozen doughnuts, even though it said it yields 12. 
But who's counting? You've still got a couple of days left before Lent. Make merry and indulge.
And for those of you who don't observe Lent - you have no restrictions. What are you waiting for? 

Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 


Baked Doughnuts

King Arthur's website says this recipe makes 12 doughnuts, but I got 24! My pan was obviously smaller than what the flour company uses.

1/4 cup butter (4 T.)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
3/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
2 2/3 cup King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup milk


Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease two standard doughnut pans. 
  1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the butter, vegetable oil, and sugars until smooth.
  2. Add the eggs, beating to combine.
  3. Stir in the baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, salt, and vanilla.
  4. Stir the flour into the butter mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour and making sure everything is thoroughly combined.
  5. Spoon the batter into the lightly greased doughnut pans, filling the wells to about 1/4" shy of the rim.
  6. Bake the doughnuts for 10 minutes. Remove them from the oven, and wait 5 to 7 minutes before turning them out of the pans onto a rack. 
  7. For cinnamon doughnuts, shake warm doughnuts in a plastic bag with about 1/4 to 1/3 cup cinnamon-sugar. For sugar-coated doughnuts, shake doughnuts in a plastic bag with about 1/2 cup non-melting topping sugar (for best results), or confectioners' sugar.
  8. For the chocolate frosted doughnuts, place 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, 2 T. butter, 1 T. plus 1 t. light corn syrup and 1/4 t. vanilla extract into a microwaveable bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, then stir until the chocolate is melted and everything is blended. Microwave for a few seconds longer, if necessary. Add extra corn syrup if needed to make a smooth, shiny glaze. Yield: about 1/2 cup glaze.
  9. Linda's note:
  10. For the paler pink glazed doughnuts, I mixed confectioner's sugar with the juice of 1/2 blood orange, adding enough liquid until it reached proper consistency. For the more vibrant pink color, I mixed confectioner's sugar with some blueberry syrup I made by cooking blueberries, water and a little sugar with a little cornstarch and a squirt of lemon.
  11. For the white glazed doughnuts, mix some confectioner's sugar with lemon juice until proper consistency. For the white powdered sugar doughnuts, put some powdered sugar into a small brown paper bag, add the doughnuts and shake.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

No-Knead Ciabatta


The scent of bread baking in the oven and soup simmering on the stove while snow falls outside your window is one of life's pleasures.
Ok, ok, so relaxing on a Caribbean beach with a Planter's Punch while your friends and relatives back home are slipping on icy driveways is pretty high up there, too.
But if you can't hop on a plane to Barbados or the Bahamas, you can at least satisfy your craving for really good bread with this recipe from Jim Lahey.
Lahey, if you recall, is the guru behind the no-knead bread recipe that swept the country (with good reason) many years ago. His first book, "My Bread," contains this recipe for ciabatta that will spoil you for anything other than artisanal bread. 
The only hitch is you need a special clay pot  - a Romertopf - and a pizza stone. 
If you don't have them, or don't want to buy them, make Lahey's original no-knead bread with the recipe here.
My kids bought the clay pot for me a couple of years ago when I first made this recipe. 
I haven't made it since -- that is, until a couple of weeks ago, when snow was falling in the Northeast U.S.
Never mind that it's nearly 70 degrees F. this week in New Jersey. You'll want to bake this any time of year, no matter the temperature.

You have to give it some thought ahead of time, since the first rising takes 12 to 18 hours. Very little yeast is used, hence the need for a long rise, resulting in a dough that's got a great texture - filled with wonderful small and medium sized holes. 
After it's risen to double in size, add just enough additional flour to shape it into a loaf, then let it rise again for an hour.
You'll then cut it in half before placing it in the oven.
You need to stretch out the dough into a flatter shape and place it on top of the pizza stone (don't worry, it seems like you've deflated it, but it will rise a little more in the oven.)
Then cover the dough with the overturned Romertopf pot that's been heating in the oven - careful, it's extremely hot!

Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the pot and bake another 10-20 minutes. Repeat with the other loaf, and you've got two gorgeous, crusty and delicious ciabatta loaves.
I guess you know that ciabatta means "slipper" in Italian, referring to the squat shape of the bread.
If it's not stretched out sufficiently, the ciabatta becomes a little "stouter" in shape, which is fine too. It tastes just as good.
Another time, you might want to try shaping part of it into smaller, sandwich size rolls.
Add some prosciutto and burrata for a delicious panino.
Enjoy with some homemade soup for a satisfying lunch or dinner.
Or skip the soup, open a bottle of good red wine, add a chunk of cheese, slice up the bread and call it a day.
You won't even miss that warm beach and Planter's Punch.

Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 

No-Knead Ciabatta
from Jim Lahey's "My Bread"
printable recipe here

3 cups bread flour
1 1/4 t. table salt
1/4 t. instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups cool (55 to 65 degrees F.) water (I needed more - just add enough until you get a "loose" consistency but not so wet that it can't be shaped)
additional flour for dusting

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.

When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Dust the surface of the dough with flour and, with lightly floured hands, nudge the dough into roughly a 14 inch square. Fold the dough in half, and then crosswise in half again, so you have a square, roughly 7 inches on each side.

Place the dough in a warm, draft-free spot, cover it with a tea towel, and let rise for 1 hour. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, soak the clay baker for 10 minutes.

Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. with a rack in the center. Place the baker on the pizza stone, and put the stone and baker in the center of the rack.

Using pot holders, carefully remove the hot pot and stone from the oven, taking care not to set them on a cold surface. Using a dough cutter or sharp serrated knife, cut the dough in half. Shape each piece into a long flat loaf. Generously dust each loaf with flour (you will bake 1 loaf at a time). Pick up 1 loaf with both hands, quickly but gently stretch it to almost the length of the clay pot (roughly 10 inches) and place it on the stone. Using pot holders, cover the loaf with the inverted pot, and bake for 20 minutes.

Uncover the loaf and place the pot on another rack in the oven, to keep it hot for the second loaf. Continue to bake the first loaf for 10 to 20 minutes, checking the color of the loaf once or twice. It is done when the crust is a light chestnut color. Using pot holders, carefully remove the stone from the oven. Transfer the ciabatta to a rack to cool thoroughly, and bake the second ciabatta the same way.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Penne Alla Vodka


It's anybody's guess whether this dish is really Italian or not. Some claim the dish was invented at Dante's, a restaurant in Bologna, Italy. Luigi Franzese, a chef at New York's Orsini restaurant in the 1970s is also sometimes credited. But other sources relate that a certain James Doty, a graduate of Colombia University, was the originator.
While its origins are murky, the flavor is not.
I've never seen it on a menu in Italy, but it's certainly ubiquitous here in the states and for good reason -- it tastes delicious.
It's also perfect for the home cook owing to its ease of preparation. The whole dish comes together in less than 30 minutes.
It's also perfect for those of you thinking of meatless dishes to prepare for Lent.
So what are you waiting for?
Pour yourself a Bloody Mary, but set aside a little of that vodka for Penne Alla Vodka.



Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 

Penne Alla Vodka
printable recipe here

1 lb. penne pasta

2 T. olive oil
1/2 cup minced onion
3 cloves garlic
4 cups tomato sauce (1 lb. 13 oz. can)
1/2 cup vodka
salt, pepper
red pepper flakes
1/4 cup cream
fresh basil, minced
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for the table.

Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until wilted. Add the tomato sauce, vodka, salt, pepper and a little of the basil, saving some whole leaves to decorate with at the end.
Cook the sauce over high heat until it starts to "sputter," then lower immediately to a simmer for about 15 minutes to a half hour, stirring occasionally.

Bring the water for the pasta to a boil, adding salt. Dump the pasta into the boiling water and cook according to package instructions.

While the pasta is cooking, stir the cream into the sauce at low heat. When the pasta is al dente, drain it from the water and add it to the pot with the sauce. (I like to take out a little sauce from the pot in case it is too much sauce for the pasta. I don't like my pasta to be "swimming" in sauce - just dressed lightly. You can always add it back in if it's not enough).
Stir the pasta into the sauce while you have it over a simmer, until the sauce is permeated through the pasta. Turn off the heat and add 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.
Serve with more grated cheese at the table.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Writing Retreat On Lake Como


 

     Join me for a week on Lake Como, to write about that childhood memory, travel experience, or any other event you've been wanting to capture in print.  Spend the mornings in writing instruction, and afternoons in leisure touring the area, eating exquisite foods and pinching yourself that it's real.
Kathryn Abajian and I hold the writing retreat at Villa Monastero (pictured above) in Varenna, on the banks of Lake Como, Italy. We're scheduled to repeat it September 24-30., 2017.
     Come along with me for an armchair visit to learn about the villa and its origins. Maybe you'll decide you'd like to spend a week here with us too, improving your writing skills, and partaking of the region's foods, wines and nearby sights.
                       
     The villa was founded as a Cistercian monastery in 1208, but its mission foundered in 1667, when the nuns left for Lecco, a city to the south. After three years, the villa was sold to the Mornico family, whose weath came from the iron mining industry in the area. The family converted the monastery to a noble residence, renaming it Villa Leliana. It was held by the Mornico family for nearly three centuries, when it was sold at the end of the 1800s to the German sheep owner Walter Kaas. 
       

     But in the lead up to World War II, Kaas was declared an enemy of the state and was sent back to Germany, while Italy took over the villa. The villa was then used by the elite mountaineering unit of the Italy military called the Alpini, until it was sold in 1955 to biologist Marco de Marchi, who converted the villa into a scientific conference center.
         
     Marchi had no heirs however, and left the villa to the Italian government with the proviso that it be used for conferences of a scientific or artistic nature.        

     We hold daily sessions in a sun-filled conference room overlooking the lake, surrounded by beautiful artwork created by local artists. 
      The villa also has a larger conference room that served as a chapel when the nuns occupied the villa, and is the place where Nobel prize winner Enrico Fermi taught his last lesson.
                                     
     You can see evidence of a religious fresco is a small niche there, dating to the 13th century.

                                 
        Other rooms in the villa highlight both the Germanic artistic taste of Walter Kaas, as well as highly decorative furnishings bought by de Marchi.
                                   
      The villa's extensive gardens, containing thousands of species of plants, are open to the public, but at night, we writers have the beauty of the grounds and the silence of the lake to ourselves.
        Most bedrooms have modern furnishings, some with views of the lake, and a few have balconies facing the lake. Sign up early to get priority for one of these.
     Writing instruction is in the morning, and you can set up your laptop by the lake in the afternoons to soak in some inspiration from the peaceful and lush surroundings.
        
     If you need a break from writing, the town of Varenna has a lot to offer, with inviting shops and cafes.
Can you picture yourself seated along the lake sipping a cappuccino, or a glass of Prosecco?
            
     Come with us if you like, on an afternoon visit to Vezio, and step back to the 11th century and a castle that was once home to Teodolinda, queen of the Lombards.
                                      
       From the castle, you get a magnificent view of the lake and the rooftops of Varenna below.
                        
     We also eat well on our retreats, and taste local wines and cheeses, like this taleggio.
           
    Dinners are all special, and we try different restaurants each night.

                       
     If you'd like to go further afield one afternoon, we'll take you on the ferry to Bellagio, where the streets are as quaint as the shops are prolific.

                             
     You can even try your hand at watercolor, whether you've got experience or not. We can arrange a lesson for you.

     It's not to soon to start thinking about reserving a spot for next year's retreat at Villa Monastero - September 24-30, 2017. Check out our website at www.italyinotherwords.com for more details.
How many times have you heard the phrase "Life is short?" Well, it's not just a saying, it's true.
Live the dream. Now.
It's a week you'll never forget.
  

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Sacher Torte


One of Central Europe's iconic desserts, Sacher Torte was made famous after Austrian Franz Sacher made the dessert for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in 1832. 
Since then, Hotel Sacher has served it to countless visitors, and will even mail its cakes to devotees around the world who aren't able to enjoy it in person in Vienna.
Fortunately, I've had the pleasure of eating Sacher torte in Vienna a few times, including on my honeymoon several months ago when we stayed at the hotel. 
After arriving home, I had to try making it and it wasn't difficult - just a little time consuming.
 I used a recipe from Lidia Bastianich, who knows a thing or two about the dessert since she was born in what's now present day Croatia, once part of the Austria-Hungarian empire.
I baked it in a springform pan, and while the the top of the cake puffs up a bit while baking, it deflates when it cools.
Most recipes call for two layers, but Lidia's called for three, so I split this into three parts, then filled the interior with the traditional apricot jam.
Pour a thick ganache glaze over the top, but save some to decorate with the traditional "S" for Sacher.

It's a really rich cake, so you don't need a large slice to feel satisfied.

But you do need to serve it with a generous portion of whipped cream.
Anything less would be sacrilegious.


Speaking of religious, here are a few photos of the beautiful city of Vienna, including St. Stephen's cathedral, with its multi-colored tile roof.
This is one of the entrances to the vast Hofburg - now home to Austria's president, but once the imperial palace of the Habsburg empire. 
You can visit the palace rooms and even enjoy a performance of the famous Lipizzaner stallions here.
Of course, one palace is never enough, so in the summer the Habsburgs retreated a short distance away to the Schonbrunn palace, with its cozy 1,441 rooms, 
If you're in Vienna during opera season, try to get tickets to a performance. Even if there's no opera or symphony scheduled while you're there, take a "behind the scenes" tour of one the world's most elegant opera houses, or just step inside to gaze at the beautiful architecture.
Lovers of Gustav Klimt's art have myriad venues to view the Austrian artist's work, including the famous Beethoven frieze at the Secession building, and his painting of Judith with the head of Holofernes, in the Belvedere museum.
But don't forget to end the day at the Sacher Hotel, with a slice of their incomparably delicious, eponymous cake.


Even if you can't get to Vienna, you can make the cake at home with the recipe below.

Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 

Sacher Torte
recipe from Lidia Bastianich

For The Torte:
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) butter, plus 1 T. for the cake pan
1 cup sugar
6 large eggs, separated
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and lukewarm
1/4 t. salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 c. almond flour

For filling and glazing the torte:
1 3/4 c. apricot preserves

2/3 c. light corn syrup
6 T. water
2 T. dark rum
pinch of salt
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped in small chunks

whipped cream for serving

Butter the bottom of a 9" springform pan, lined with a parchment circle. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. 
Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of a mixer, using the whisk attachment, until light and smooth. Incorporate the egg yolks, one at a time, and then pour in the chocolate gradually, mixing it in thoroughly and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. On low speed, incorporate the flour. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the batter with a rubber spatula. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan, and spread in an even layer.
Bake until a cake tester come out clean -- or until the top springs back when lightly pressed -- 35 minutes or longer. Put the pan on a wire rack,  cool briefly, then remove the side ring of the springform pan and let the cake cool completely.
Lift the cake off the metal pan bottom, and peel off the parchment. Slice the cake horizontally into thirds, making three thin layers. Take the top layer and place it upside down on your cake plate, so the crusty baked top becomes the base of the torte.  Place narrow sheets of waxed paper or parchment paper, all around the bottom of the cake, to catch drips when you pour the chocolate glaze.
Whisk 1/2 cup apricot preserves with the water and heat, stirring, until the preserves dissolve into a loose syrup.  (I used a stick blender to break down the large chunks of apricot.)Brush 1/3 of the syrup on the bottom layer and let it soak in. Then take half of the remaining apricot preserves and spread it over the apricot syrup. Repeat with the remaining layers, ending with the top layer and the thin apricot syrup.
For the chocolate glaze: Heat the corn syrup, rum, salt and water in a small heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring. Turn off the heat and put the chopped chocolate into the pan, stirring, until the chunks have melted and the glaze is smooth and shiny. Let is cool slightly until it just starts to thicken, then pour the glaze over the top and sides of the cake, smoothing the sides so there are no bare spots. Save a little of the chocolate glaze to make an "S" shape, or to write "Sacher" on top of the cakeif desired. If so, let the glaze solidify at room temperature and for the glaze to become a little thicker. Then use a piping bag to pipe an "S" on the top of the cake. 

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