Category Archives: Christmas

Stuffed Calamari for Dinner!

It’s hard to believe that the holidays are already behind us. I feel like the last month just flew by, from Thanksgiving right through Christmas and now waiting for New Years Eve. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday filled with friends, family, and of course, great food!ChristmasAfter we hosted 24 for Thanksgiving, we had a pretty simple Christmas Eve dinner with only 11. Being an Italian family, Christmas Eve always meant seafood. Some of you may be familiar with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian tradition of a big Christmas Eve dinner consisting of, you guessed it, seven fishes. There is some debate as to why seven, but most agree it represents the seven sacraments. Traditionally, dinner included shrimp and white fish, bacala (salted cod) and smelts, and always calamari. Sure, like many, we had fried calamari, but my favorite was always the stuffed calamari. I’ve come to find out that this is a bit unusual, however, both of my grandmothers made it, and they are delicious.

This year, with the small crowd, we decided to have a smaller menu. We didn’t come close to the seven fishes, but the meal was great. We started with a shrimp butter and mussels for an appetizer, and for the main course, spaghetti and crabs, and, yes, the stuffed calamari. As always, they were a huge hit, and I keep getting requests for the recipe, so here goes.

To make the calamari, you need about 3 pounds cleaned calamari. You want a bulk of it to be the whole tubes, however, the tentacles work great in the stuffing. To make the stuffing, saute 1 medium onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft and golden in color. To the onions, add about 1 cup chopped tentacles. Cook for a few minutes until cooked through. Remove from heat and allow to cool then add about 1 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, and 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir to combine.sauteed onionstentacleschoppedcookedbreadcrumbsparsleyaddedcheeseTo complete the dish, you also need about 4 cups tomato sauce, toothpicks, and a casserole dish. For the sauce, I used the sauce from the spaghetti and crabs before I added the crab meat. It’s just a simple marinara with basil. sauceYou want to use the largest tubes you have to stuff. Hold them in your hand while you carefully spoon the filling in. Push the filling down so you make room for more. Once full, use a toothpick to seal the edges. Add 2 cups sauce to the casserole dish. Set the stuffed, sealed calamari in the dish in neat rows. Once you’ve stuffed them all, cover the calamari with the remaining sauce. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes until bubbling and cooked through.tubestuffingsealedcompleteready for the ovenI know some are a little nervous when it comes to calamari, but they really are delicious. If you’re willing to try, you won’t be disappointed. We finished off the Christmas Eve meal with another one of my favorites, chocolate chip bread pudding. Even if you’re hesitant with the calamari, you please make the bread pudding. 🙂

Enjoy the rest of the holidays, and a very Happy New Year to you! Here’s to 2016!

It Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without Homemade Pizzelles!

recipeI think I’ve mentioned this before, but I come from an Italian-American household. And, as you can imagine, there are a lot of traditions, and, specifically, a lot of food traditions. There was always the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, soup and pasta always made an appearance with the turkey on Thanksgiving, and, for almost any celebration, pizzelles took center stage. Thankfully, pizzelles still take center stage for Christmas.

In case you aren’t familiar with pizzelles, they are a delicate, waffle-like cookie, usually flavored with anise seeds, anise extract, or anisette. They are made in a pizzelle iron, similar to a waffle iron, cooking 2 at a time, and they are delicious.

Once again, for the recipe, my great-aunt isbutter and sugar the winner. My mom has a lot of different recipes. If you look in her file box, you’ll see cards for Mommom Phil’s pizzelles, or Aunt Antoinette’s pizzelles, or Mommom Bobbie’s pizzelles, but, I have to admit, Aunt Angie’s is the best. You may remember her as the excellent baker with the killer pie crust recipe!

To start, cream 1 cup softened butter with 1 1/2 cup sugar. Next, add 6 eggs, 1 at a time, mixing to combine before adding the next. Then, add 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 1 teaspoon anise seeds. eggsoilvanillaanise seedsAnd now, a note about anise seeds. For my mom and most of my baking relatives, there is no question, anise seeds are the way to go with pizzelles. They give the cookie a subtle liquorice flavor. However, if you prefer, you could use anise extract (although use it sparingly) or anisette. You could also add more anise seeds if you prefer, but I find the teaspoon works well.

baking powder and flourOnce the wet ingredients are all combined, add 4 teaspoons baking powder and 4 1/2 cups flour. I usually add the flour in 2 stages so I don’t make a huge mess, but feel free to combine however you prefer.

That’s the recipe. It’s very easy, and comes together very nicely. For the next part, you need a pizzelle iron. If you have never used one, they are very easy to use, but it does take some time to cook the pizzelles.

batterStart by plugging in your iron to heat it up. Once it’s hot, add about 1 teaspoon batter to the middle of each form. Press down, and allow to cook for just under a minute. You want the pizzelles to be light in color but cooked through. When you open them, the pizzelles sometimes fall right out. If they stick a bit, just use a fork.

pizzelle ironopencookingdoneThis recipe makes about 90 pizzelles, and trust me, you’ll fly through them.

I hope you enjoy your holiday desserts as much as I’ll enjoy these pizzelles. I’m sure there’s a tradition or two out there…feel free to share. And have a very Merry Christmas! Enjoy the time with family and friends…I know I will!ready to eat

A Great Holiday Gift…Homemade Butter!

readyAs the holiday approach, every year I try to think of homemade gifts I can make. I love to cook, and it just seems that sharing of yourself in that way is the perfect way to say you care. Years ago, I made pizzelles for several people who helped me throughout the year at work. They were a huge hit, and people were generally touched at the gesture, and the thought and time that went into the gift. However, I’m always trying to find something different, not your average cookies or candy. This year, I found an absolute gem, homemade butter.

I know, I know, you’re thinking you need tocream and buttermilk take out the butter churn, and travel back in time about 200 years. But it’s really very easy, and absolutely delicious. The recipe I found was in Martha Stewart Living a few years ago (May 2013), and it comes from Diane St. Clair, dairy farmer extraordinaire! Not only does she have a beautiful farm in Vermont, but she also supplies butter to Thomas Keller and the French Laundry! When I saw that, I knew I had to try this recipe.

The recipe takes some planning, because the cream and buttermilk mixture need to sit for spinup to 24 hours, but it’s worth it. And, those essentially are the only ingredients (ok, and a little salt). The butter is creamy, rich, and delicious, with a bit of a tang. Giving someone butter you made yourself…it’s perfect!

To start, pour 4 cups heavy cream into a medium saucepan. Warm on medium heat until it reaches 70 degrees. Make sure you stir while it’s warming so it doesn’t burn. Pour the cream into a bowl with a lid along with 1 cup buttermilk. Stir, then cover tightly. Leave out overnight or up to 24 hours, and make sure the temperature stays around 70 butterdegrees. That was the temperature in my kitchen, so it worked out really well. And I know this seems strange, but just leave the container right there on the counter. It will be fine.

The next day, stir the mixture. It should be thick. Pour the cream mixture into a food processor and process for 3 to 4 minutes, until small grains of butter form. I have a small food processor, so I had to do it in a few batches, but it still turned out great. You could probably use a blender as well, but again, you’ll need to use small batches. You’ll see the grains of butter and buttermilk separate, then you know it’s done.

removing liquidPour the mixture through a fine strainer. You can save the buttermilk that separates if you like. You’ll be left with delicious butter in the strainer. Put the butter on a clean surface and gather it together into a large ball. I did this in a bowl, just to make sure I didn’t lose any pieces. Rinse it under cold running water. You want to knead it and fold it to remove as much liquid as you can.

I added in a little bit of salt, maybe 1/8-1/4 teaspoon, to enhance the flavor. Now you can pack the butter in small glass jars, and you’re ready to give your gifts. This will make probably 4 small jars. Just be ready to explain the process, as many people will ask if you spent hours churning. I guess you could say you did! 🙂

Happy Christmas Gift Making/Buying!butter

Hot Chocolate…Adult Style!

oh Christmas treeThe halls have been decked. The weather outside is frightful. And I’m ready for Christmas. After a wonderful Thanksgiving, I got right on it and decorated the house for Christmas. We’re very festive over here, and the holiday spirit is running over.

We’ve also been experiencing some chilling rain and messy weather. So, during those days, the perfect drink is hot chocolate, and nothing is better to warm you up than a “grown up” hot chocolate!

chocolate chipsFor this recipe, I took inspiration from Sandra Lee. It’s a creamy, peppermint hot chocolate, with a nice little kick. It’s also incredibly easy! Sandra’s recipe is a slow cooker recipe, but I just made it on the stove.

To start, combine a 12 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips with 3 12 oz cans evaporated milk in a sauce pan. Heat on medium-low heat, stirring, until the chips melt and everything is hot and combined. You’ll want to get a little simmer.

liquorOnce you have a creamy mixture, take the pan off the heat. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/2 cup white chocolate liquor (I used Godiva), and 1/4 cup peppermint schnapps (Dekuyper). Stir to combine, and you’re done.

It’s warm, creamy, and delicious. Give it a try one of these cold nights, and enjoy the Christmas season. Before you know it, it will be gone!hot chocolate

 

Pumpkin Pie for the Holidays

Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. It’s a great way to end the holiday meal.  And, if we listen to the songs, pumpkin pie works for Christmas as well:

I met a man who lives in Tennessee
And he was heading for Pennsylvania
And some homemade pumpkin pie 

shellSo, it’s no surprise that I’ve made my share of pumpkin pies. I’ve also made several for friends and family. After tasting the pie, many people have asked me for my recipe, and I always chuckle. For me, the tried and true recipe is Libby’s. That’s right, I use the recipe right off the can, but it works! This year, like every other, I made Libby’s famous pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

To start, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon cloves in a large bowl. Add 2 large eggs to the mixture and whisk to combine. Add 1 15 oz can pure pumpkin. Next, add 1 12 oz can evaporated milk and whisk to combine.sugar and spiceeggspumpkinevaporated milkall combinedFor the pie crust, I use my standard pie crust recipe. I roll out the crust the crust before making the filling.  Line a greased 9 inch pie plate, and crimp the edges. Place in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

ready for the ovenPlace the pie plate on a cookie sheet close to the oven. Pour the filling into the shell, and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, and bake 40-50 minutes longer until a knife comes out clean from the center. Oh, and one trick to cover up the knife holes, cut out some extra pie dough using a festive cookie cutter (leaf or pumpkin), and bake for about 10 minutes until golden. Just place it on top, and your pie looks perfect.

If you haven’t tried this simple recipe, give it a try. It’s so easy, and so good. I’ve also tried making the pie from fresh pumpkin, and it just wasn’t worth it. Go for the can, and enjoy.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and are ready for a fabulous Christmas season!

Amaryllis, the Perfect Flower for…Valentines Day???

I will admit, I love amaryllises (and yes, I got the plural right…but I’ll admit, I had to look it up).  Those giant bulbs, the perfect green spears, and finally, that amazing, huge, showstopping bloom!  It’s the perfect flower, and, like many others, I love to use them at Christmastime.  But, I’m sure you’re wondering, why am I talking about it today, Valentine’s Day?  Well, sadly, I didn’t have much luck this year…my amaryllises are just blooming now!

Kitchen WindowIn my kitchen, I have a perfect spot for flowers.  The sink is angled and in the corner, and above the sink are two huge windows.  There is a perfect triangular spot for flowers, and I love to swap those out during the year for the seasons.  A few years ago, I had the brilliant idea of planting amaryllis bulbs and paper whites.  I ran to my local Home Depot, color coordinated the blooms, planted, and waited for them to come.  Sure enough, they were perfect!  I had some buds showing by Thanksgiving, and by Christmas, they were in full bloom. Needless to say, I was proud!

Buds StartingSo, being the optimist that I am, I thought, I need to save these bulbs, because I can do it again next year!  And I did just that.  I cut the leaves and stems off, shook off the dirt, and put them in my shed.  And then, come October, I potted them up (as I had read, about 8-10 weeks before you want them to bloom).  They started to sprout right away, and I was thrilled.  Those leaves shot up, and more leaves, and more leaves, and, well, that was it, just leaves.  No buds ever came.  Realizing I had either underestimated the re-blooming process or overestimated my gardening skills, I did some research.  What I found out was you have to keep them growing and feed them into late winter, spring, and summer.  So last year, after the holidays and my sad leaf display, I re-potted the bulbs (after all, I had to rotate in some spring flowers for my kitchen display), kept them watered and fed, and eventually, when it was warm enough, I moved them to the porch.

Making ProgressI can proudly tell you, after following these guidelines, I was the only house on the block that was sporting huge amaryllis blooms in June!  That’s right, after I re-potted them and once they started growing, several sent up blooms.  I’m sure it was because I didn’t give them the nutrients they needed to develop the buds, but once I kept them going, they finally had blooms.  So, keeping with my research, I read that you should keep them going all summer, then, in mid-August, stop watering and move them to a dark, cool location.

AlmostBeing the rule follower that I am, I did just that.  I moved them to a cool, dark part of the basement and stopped watering them.  It lasted for 8 weeks.  After that time, in October, I re-potted them and began to water.  Sure enough, there was growth, and I was thrilled.  But the problem was, my timing was still off.  While I had growth, and eventually buds, I was a few months off.

I’ve watered these buds, and talked to them, coaxing out a bloom, but I wasn’t rewarded until now, about 2 months after I wanted the show.  But, I have to say, I’m still relieved that they bloomed this year, and not in the summer.  Maybe this year I’ll move my timing up a bit, but hopefully the bulbs are now getting back into the routine after I messed with them for a while year.  We’ll see!  Hopefully you have more luck.  I’d love to hear how you’ve succeeded (if you have).

So, for Valentine’s Day this year, we have beautiful amaryllises.  Hopefully you have some lovely flowers today also.  Happy Valentine’s Day!Blooms

Simple Holiday Decorating Idea…in January!?!

OrnamentI know, I know, it’s January 10th, why am I talking about holiday decorations?  But as I think about taking down the Christmas decorations (and yes, I said “think about” not “start” or even “remember” because I keep delaying and delaying, I hate the take down part), I wanted to share a simple decorating idea I did last year.  I think it’s really easy, but I can’t tell you how many people commented and complimented!

The first thing I did was search for the branches.  Even though I thought this would be the easy part, this actually took some work.  The yard failed me…nothing was right.  I wanted something think to showcase the ornaments, and it had to be stripped of leaves.  So then I thought I would just buy them, but after going to Michaels, A.C. Moore, and Jo-Ann Fabric, with no luck, I was starting to give up. Finally, a neighbor cut down a huge old tree, so I snipped some branches off the top and was all set.  Honestly, I think finding the branches was the most difficult part.

SuppliesThe next hunt was for a vase. I needed something that would hold the branches in place.  I settled on an old vase that was my grandmothers.  You can see how small the opening tapers to from the picture.

For the balls, I had these 24 ornaments for years.  I used to put them on the tree, but figured I’d try something different.  And I felt like I had too many ornaments for the tree anyway!  I like the matted finish of these too.  But use whatever you have or whatever you like.  And if you are like me and think 24 is way too many…you’re wrong.  In the end it was barely enough.

Bare BranchesOnce the supplies were together, the tricky part was getting the sticks in place.  It took some trial and error, and probably cursing, but in the end, it worked. Then just get those ornaments up and you’re set!

Like I said, pretty easy and great results.  You could even spray paint the branches white, or use ribbon instead of the hooks to hang the ornaments, but hey, I went for easy!

So…January 10th with a tree up, lights, everything.  I guess I should start taking things down.  I mean it is after the Feast of the Epiphany…the official end to the Christmas season…or at least that’s what I remember from my 12 years of Catholic school!  When do you take you’re stuff down? Or did you already…don’t judge me!