Monday, December 29, 2008

No DB Yule Log, but I did Make My First Timpano!!!!

Recently, I joined the amazing Daring Bakers community. The first month challenge of my membership was a French Yule Log complete with a creme brulee, mousse, frosting, ganache and praline crisp; all of which I have never made before. While this 14 pg. recipe did intrigue me and I even prepared for it, there was another beast I HAD to tackle this Christmas season: THE TIMPANO! So alas, there was no Yule Log but there was Timpano. :)


When I was a pre-teen a movie called Big Night produced by Stanley Tucci was released. Many people whom have made a Timpano reference this film as their inspiration and I am no different. Big Night was one of my mother's favorite movies so I often remember how much this movie about the love and passion of food and family made her smile, so in her honor (and because I couldn't see her or even speak to her this past holiday) I embarked on the Timpano for Christmas Eve dinner for the Triolo family party. Just a note: timpano is named after its similar shape to that of a timpani drum.

I wish I had pictures of my two-day endeavor, so in lieu of photos here is a list of my cooking and prep steps:

Day 1
  • 2 qt. of Homemade Marinara from fresh plum tomatoes, some canned puree, onions, garlic, olive oil and spices. Simmer for 4 hours.
  • 1.5 lbs of Peppers and Onions Sausage, cut and cooked in the marinara.
  • 2 lbs of Pork and Beef Meatballs cooked in pan
  • 2 large Red Bell Peppers chopped
  • 1 large Sweet Onion chopped
  • 1 cup chopped Flat Leaf Parsley
  • 8 Hard Boiled Eggs
  • 1.5 cups of cut Provolone Cheese
  • 1 lb of Fresh Mozzerella sliced
  • 1 cup of Pecorino Romano Grated Cheese
Day 2
  • 1.5 lbs. of Penne Pasta cooked halfway
  • 2 large Fresh Pasta Sheets mixed and rolled out very thin (holy arm workout!)
  • Pasta Shells put into a 9"x4" round cake pan and a loaf pan, generously greased
  • Mixed Penne with Marinara
  • Started the Layering in both pans: Penne first, marinara, meatballs and sausages, three cheeses, red peppers, onions and parsley, eggs, poured in 3 beaten eggs, more pasta, more marinara.Fold pasta sheet ends on top.
  • Bake at 375 degrees for 45min-1hr or until they are golden brown.
  • Let rest in pans for 30mins.
  • Take off pans and let rest another 30 minutes before cutting and serving!!
The Timpano's Guts!

Seeing the entire Timpano was a crowning achievement for me. I really feel like I would have made my mom proud if she could see what I could do in the kitchen. This next sentence is filled with corn, but it felt like I am ready to take my cooking to the next level in 2009. What that means exactly, I have no idea but I am excited to follow my passion to whatever direction its going to take me.
Let's not forget about the cookies for dessert! Mrs. Triolo holds up my cookie plate on my mother's amber antique serving plate. Miss you so much mama!! Even though we are apart know that you are in everything that I do.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ch. 3 - Cookies for Santa to Cookies for All

Now that the truth of why we bake for Santa has been revealed exclusively on LaptopsandStovetops, let's demonstrate one such offering. Namely the cookie spread created by yours truly not only to appease the great Santa Claus but also as gifts for to appease others. Myself and many others applied the theory that if cookies bring luck and survival from Santa, than the same gift could bring the same thing from others.

First, remember the ginger breads from Chapter 1 of the Origins of Christmas Cookie Baking. Second is St. Nick's personal favorite, the almighty Chocolate Chip. Third is a Festa family tradition of Peanut Butter Cranberry Granola Squares. Fourth is a new delight from Eastern Europe, a Cream Cheese Apricot Thumbprint that is less sweet than most Christams cookie offerings. Fifth and final in the offering chain is the Italian delight, the Pingoli.
The final outcome is a mega offering for Santa and co-workers alike! HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND I HOPE WE ALL LEARNED SOMETHING!

Ch. 2 - From Fiery to Fat Santa

Since we have come to know the origins of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus to be an amalgamation of stories from the Greek Orthodox Saint who left coins in the shoes of his worshippers through the English's' adoption of the Dutch Sinterklass to the American commercial star whom brings retail to us revelers each and every December, it is no surprise one of St. Nick's incarcerations has been left out of the historical accounts. And I am here to recant the tale of the fat, French St. Nick.

Many years ago a French Santa made a monumental and destructive move that would change Christmas forever. During the dawn of the French Revolution Santa was about to enter the home of a farm family just outside of town. Upon peering into the front window, he sees a family gathering of shoes signaling their belief in the tradition so Santa systematically tried the front door. Drat! This family has sealed the door shut. This unforeseen mishap happened home after home this year in a new move to secure against nightly revolutionaries gone astray from their aristocratic targets making this December evening a bumbling breaking and entering event one after the other. Santa was furious! All he wanted was to leave coins-out of his own pocket mind you-and he has been foiled, toiled, scratched, and bruised. Instead of trying a cumbersome chimney or window, Santa Klaus broke the front door down and in a hurry and threw the treasured coins onto the ground not even trying to fill the shoes. As he turned to leave and storm out in a huff, his winter wear sleeve caught on the wooden hat rack . With a violent shake, he threw it to the floor and the garments hung to dry flew into the fire catching ablaze instantly, spreading to the rack, and quickly throughout the entire house. Santa fled the scene terrified of what he had done in frustration leaving the family to fend for themselves. Flames engulfed the entire home of wood and hay in merely moments.

When the smoke cleared in the morning, three of the family burned to death while the two youngest picked through the ashes to save any remnant of their full lives the day before. What they found was little but when shrill cries streamed through the air it came to be known that the young children came upon St. Nick's coins forever sealing his myth of devastating homes he visits.

The following year homes all over France left sweets and small gifts to appease the crazed Saint and deter his anger for another year for there was no rhyme or reason why he let fire loose in the good farm family's home. Maids and mothers picked berries and bartered for sugars so that their children and livelihoods were protected. Fathers and sons brought in buckets and buckets of milk to be churned into butter. Pounds of flour was acquired and the wood-burning stoves burned for hours on end. It is said that the fear of St. Nick's fiery rage was so great, women baked for weeks on end to create the most delightful of dishes in the most copious amounts that they could. Eventually, succeeding generations of Santas were men not only drawn to the spirit of holiday giving but also of receiving-more specifically, the offering of free homemade, delicious scrumptious treats resulting in Santas getting fatter and fatter each year. This French ritual made its way to America and has been shared by the citizens and immigrants to the New Land ever since. Over time coins turned to presents and while not another suffered like the French farm family, legend tells pieces of coal are left as a diabolical reminder of what hell fires of death could be if St. Nick starts to not meant to feel jolly upon entering a home on Christmas morning.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stuffing Acorn Squash with Feta Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Acorn squash is one of those seasonal ingredients that makes me so giddy I want to do a jig in store when I see them. The subtle, sweet and mildly nutty flavor of this squash plus its fun shape make it my hands down favorite squash. Earlier this year I posted the acorn squash dip passed down from the Goddess herself, my mother Loretta Festa (did you know 'Loretta' means laurel as in the wreath or the tree? kinda sweet). This time the recipe is all my own. I still wanted to use the squash as a container just like dip, so the obvious idea is to stuff it. But with what? With what morsels of deliciousness will pair well with my lovely, light squash? Why, mashed freakin' potatoes of course!

In my last pizza post, I stated that pizza is a great cupboard cleaner. Well, the same goes for mashed potatoes. The flavor possibilities are literally endless. Here's how this little ditty all came together:

1 medium acorn squash, halved and de-seeded
light brown sugar
Olivio spread (or butter, margarine or olive oil)
5 white potatoes
1/2 cup Feta Cheese
2 garlic cloves
5-6 Basil leaves
1/4 heavy cream
1/8 cup butter or Olivio
coarse ground pepper

Heat the oven to 375.
Half and de-seed the acorn squash. I steam mine first for 7-10 minutes to help with the halving.
Rub butter, spread or olive oil inside and out of the squash halves.
Sprinkle salt, pepper, and light brown sugar inside and out.
In a glass baking dish, but halves flesh side down, cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 12 minutes.
While the halves are microwaving, bring water to a boil in medium saucepan.
Cut up potatoes into large bites and add to the water. Salt the water.
Let potatoes boil until a piece is easily pierced with a fork.
Minced 2 cloves of garlic and chop up basil leaves.
Drain the potatoes, add to mixing bowl.
Add cream, butter, Feta cheese, garlic, basil, salt and coarse black pepper.
Using a potato masher, combine all ingredients until silky smooth.
Take acorn squash out of the microwave and flip the halves over using tongs.
Fill each half with mashed potato and put in the oven.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until the squash starts to brown.
Garnish with a basil leaf, and TA DA YO!

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Feta Garlic Mashed PotatoesI served mine with lemon pepper chicken breasts and it was a fine pairing. You could eat this alone for lunch of have it with a pork chop or even make up your own stuffing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Myth of Christmas Cookie Baking : Ch.1 Origins & Gingerbreads

Ever year at Christmas time, myself and many others are overcome by a trance like state-nay a duty-to make as many cookies as humanly possible. Some of us even work into a hysteria wearily baking for hours on end, covered in flour, with burn marks from our fingers to our forearms striving to not only make the greatest tasting cookie but also to make gluttonous amounts of the little confections. I wonder where this infectious, unavoidable need to bake at Christmas time comes from? In my world, cookie baking would have started as a ritualistic offering to the mighty and powerful St.Nick. If cookies aren't waiting for the great Santa on the eve of Christmas, he will set my house ablaze and fill it with smoke and flames instead of presents and holiday cheer!! However, if Santa receives his wanton cookies than my family and I are free from a fiery death this Christmas and have wrapping paper to tear apart to fill into many trash bags signaling that we live to survive another year. This myth of course has not validity but really puts the pressure on to turn those cookies out! ;)

This year, I am taking part in the cookie ritual and am planning on turning out 9 varieties a'la cookie: chocolate chip, gingerbread, pignoli, Italian sprinkle cookies, cream cheese apricot thumbprints, honey balls, Russian tea balls, granola squares, and chewy sugar cookies. I'm thinking about a tenth for another chocolate cookie because screw Santa and his sack'o'fireballs, I love chocolate!

The first cookies of the year are gingerbread and chocolate chip since both those doughs need refrigeration before baking. I have never ever made gingerbread before so I followed a Soft Gingerbread Cookie from I tried a bite and thought, "Ehh." I want whhaayy more spice so I will at least double up on the ginger and all spice next time. The fun of gingerbread is obviously the decorating. See if you can tell which ones I decorated and which ones Tattoos by Pete decorated?

Given that these cookies are definitely short of glorious, they will not be given to Satan-I'm sorry Santa, as an offering. Instead, we will probably drown them in tea or milk and give them a soggy end. Next time, chapter 2 is chocolate chip cookies : How St. Nick got so fat - STAY TUNED!

Tha Pizza Cutta Presents: Creamed Onions and Spinach Pesto Pizza

Pizza is one of those dishes that is great for cupboard cleaning. "I got a little of this, a bunch of that, and I better use this cheese before it goes bad," and so on until you've got a new and awesome pizza dish that is quick and easy for dinner. And hey, I gotta live up to my name so for the Cream Onions and Spinach Pesto Pizza, I had a bunch of, you guessed it, spinach and onions that needed to be eaten sooner rather than later. I was thinking of side dishes but nothing was WOWING me until I checked up on one of my favorite blogs: Proud Italian Cook and her (Marie's) latest recipe of Roasted Parmesan Creamed Onions. As soon as I read about this dish I knew instantly I was going home to make it for something to do with dinner. Looking back, I wish I had pics of just the onions because their flavor and visual was nothing short of stunning-Thanks Marie!!

Creamed Onions and Spinach Pesto Pizza with Dates and Dry Salami
Once I was in the kitchen cutting up the onions, all the pieces to my pizza starting falling into place like a really fun puzzle. I had spinach, walnuts, and parmesan reggiano so I was going to make a pesto! I had mozzerella and asiago cheese so I had a great melter of a cheese and a great taster of a cheese. I had dry Bianco D'ior salami and dates so I had a variety of toppings for a more full flavor profile and extra texture dimensions. Plus of course I had the package of 2 small Boboli pizza crusts which I honestly always pick up when I am out food shopping. It's like having bread in the house-it's a staple plus they have been fail-safe for me years, and to be honest I haven't gotten that homemade pizza dough just right yet. O_0

Pizza in the back = Dates, Pizza in the front = None, and Featuring our Graffiti Coffee Table Customized by Pete!

Here's my 10 Steps to the Creamed Onion and Spinach Pesto Pizza Pie:
  • First, I followed Marie's recipe exactly only scaling down because it's just me and Pete eating here!
  • Second, I made the spinach pesto. I am sure everybody has their go-to pesto recipe on hand so I wont' bore you guys with mine. However, I will mention that I add lemon juice for zing and to thin out the sauce a bit.
  • Third, preheated the oven to 375.
  • Fourth, laid down the pesto on the Bobolis.
  • Fifth, laid down 2 pieces of deli cut asiago cheese.
  • Sixth, creamed onions went all over the place.
  • Seventh, sprinkling of shredded mozzerella cheese making sure to take it all the way to the edges so it binds all the toppings together.
  • Eighth, placed the chopped dates and salami.
  • Ninth, baked for 35-40 minutes.
  • Tenth, let it cool, did my pizza cutta thing and devoured it!!
And in keeping with the terrible stereotype, BadaBing-BadaBoom, Rachel 'Tha Pizza Cutta' Joyce delicious pizza pie!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Post Thanksgiving Post

While most of the foodie blogging universe has posted their Thanksgiving creations, I dove right into Christmas preparations following the holiday of giving thanks and am just getting to the 'showing' off part. :) For our dinner, I made four dishes: my mother's sweet potato and walnut casserole, cranberry sauce. homemade apple pie, and white chocolate bread pudding. To be clear, my portion paled in comparison to Mr. T's spread of: turkey, homemade gravy, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, string beans and bacon, sauteed mushrooms, and cheddar biscuits plus appetizers of Italian meats and cheeses. Can you say, Mangia!?!?By the way, there was only 5 of us at dinner. Also, you will see the quality of the pictures jump up about 1000% from the sweet potato casserole on. That's because Peter my boyfriend picked up an early Christmas present of a Nikon D90 SLR camera so hooray!

Cranberry Sauce

What is Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce? I know with so much cooking a lot of us opt to buy the pre-made stuff. I had heard that making your own cranberry sauce was incredibly easy so this year I took the plunge and made the following recipe:
  • 12oz of fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup orange juice (no pulp)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/8 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • dash of salt
  • Heat orange juice in medium saucepan over medium heat. Dissolve sugar in orange juice. Stir in spices and cranberries. Cook cranberries, they will begin to pop, so watch those eyeballs! Let simmer 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a container and let cool. The sauce will thicken as it cools. If the sauce isn't smooth enough for you and your guests, take a potato masher or even a fork to your sauce. That's it ! See? Easy...

Sweet Potato Walnut Casserole

Every year since I can remember my mom made a sweet potato walnut casserole. It has become the star of our Festa family Thanksgiving meal. This year, my Aunt Annette called me in a panic Thanksgiving morning because she couldn't find the recipe and didn't want to disappoint the rest of the family expecting this side dish/dessert delight. To be sure, this is a popular dish and I've read many, many variations including the marshmallow topping and pecan streusel topping. Here's how we do it (keeping a few things secret):

Sweet Potatoes
  • 2-3lbs. sweet potatoes - peeled, cut, boiled, and mashed
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 1/2 pint regular whipping cream
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar

Molasses/Walnut Topping
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed walnuts
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 4 Tblsp. Molasses
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9"x 13" casserole dish or 2 smaller but total equal in size dishes with a cooking spray to grease. Peel, cut in quarters and boil the sweet potatoes until a fork easily goes through the largest pieces. Drain and put in medium mixing bowl. Add cream, beaten eggs, sugars, and spices and mix until smooth. Transfer contents to greased casserole dishes.
  • In a small saucepan on low heat, heat molasses. Put flour into a small mixing bowl, set aside. Add brown sugar and melt into the molasses. Add butter, cut into tabs and slightly soften. Don't melt the butter all the way down! Pour the molasses mixture into the bowl with flour and add 1 cup of the crushed walnuts. Combine together just enough, don't over mix! Spread the mixture over your sweet potato dish or dishes. Take the remaining 1/2 cup of crushed walnuts and sprinkle evenly on top. Bake for 35 minutes and I promise this will not disappoint!

White Chocolate Bread Pudding (pictured cold here)

For desserts I wanted a challenge so I made two dishes I've never made before: white chocolate bread pudding and homemade apple pie with a cream cheese crust. Both came out much better than I expected but due to the amount of cooking, I didn't get any snaps of the pie! When I read's recipe for white chocolate bread pudding, I just had to try it! The only difference is I did not make the ganache to go on top because I simply ran out of time. However, I am proud to say that not only were both desserts a big hit (Peter couldn't get enough of the bread pudding), but there were also tons of invaluable lessons learned. And that is something I am truly, utterly thankful for!