Sunday, May 24, 2009

Biscottis for a Party

Mr. T is notorious for throwing himself a surprise party each year for his birthday. He does all the cooking and all the inviting so when it came time to decide what dishes I wanted to bring, I needed an ok prior to the party. No surprises here! Fortunately for me Mr. T. was down with my smoked salmon potato cakes and homemade biscottis. But surprise! This post isn't about potato cakes, its about the creamy, crunchy, confection that is the biscotti.

This batch was my first attempt at this Italian favorite, so I turned to the trusty Internet for some guidance. is always a first-stop for me when searching for recipes and lucky for me I found Laria Tabul's Anise Biscotti. I know biscottis can take on a bazillion flavor profiles, but since this was my first time going into that dark night I stuck to the anise and almond flavors. is also super helpful because of the recipe reviews. Others that have come before you really take the time on that site to review how the recipe went for them as well as what changes they made for better or for worse. I found the reviews for this recipe is what made my biscottis such a hit at the party. Below, follow the recipe (along with my changes in blue) and photos of my progress.


  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup brandy - substituted 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons anise extract - used 2 tsp. of anise an 1 tsp of almon d extract.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup almonds - uped this to 2 1/2 cups
  • 2 tablespoons anise seed - doubled this. wish I did more.
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or foil.
  2. In large mixing bowl, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a ti me, beating well after each addition. Combine brandy, anise extract and vanilla in a small bowl or measuring cup. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Alternately add dry ingredients and brandy mixture to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Stir in the almonds and aniseed. Change: I ground the almonds up in a food processor and added the almonds to the dry ingredients.

    Above-All 3 parts of dough mixed together alternately.

  3. Drop dough by spoonfuls onto prepared sheet, forming two 2 x 13-inch long strips on each sheet. Smooth dough into logs with moistened fingertips.

    Above-My dough loaves.

  4. Bake about30 to 35 minutes or until golden and firm to the touch. Place cookie sheets on racks and cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.

  5. Cut cooled logs on the diagonal into 3/4-inch thick slices using a serrated knife. Place slices on cookie sheets.

  6. Bake for about 20 minutes, turning after 10 minutes, until dry and slightly brown. Remove to a rack and cool.

    Above-The finished product!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kinda Chicken Curry

It will be a truth until the end of time that I love curry. More specifically I am addicted to Thai coconut milk curries. I was telling a friend recently that I think my love for curry is akin to the childhood craving for cereal. The creaminess, the grain, the sweetness are all similar qualities these two opposite-ends-of-the-earth dishes share. While I love curry so much, I have yet to attempt to make it in my own kitchen. That is until I picked up the new College Inn Thai Coconut Curry Chicken broth. Up until my Kinda Chicken Curry dish, I used a bit of the broth to braise some fresh vegetables and the result was nothing short of awesome. After that it was only a matter of time before I created a curry dish of my mine own. Of course, I had no coconut milk or curry powder in the cupboard. How did I manage a curry you ask? If you're intrigued read on for the recipe:


2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup of Jasmine Basmati Rice
2 carrots
1 zucchini
8-10 asparagus spears
½ sweet onion
half carton of College Inn Thai Coconut Curry Chicken Broth
½ cup milk
2 tblsp butter, divided
ground ginger
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp thyme
1 ½ cups flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp pepper
3 tblsp extra virgin olive oil

Cut chicken breasts into 1’x1’ bite-size pieces.
Cut asparagus spears into 4 pieces; cut in on an angle.
Thinly slice carrots length-wise or use the shave blade on the stand-up grater.
Chop onion and zucchini into 1’ bite-size pieces.

Combine flour, salt, and pepper. Put the mixture in a bowl with a sealed lid. Add chicken breast pieces to the flour, put the lid on, and shake the bowl until the pieces are covered. Set aside.

Melt 1 tblsp. of butter in a medium saucepan. Add 3 tsp. of ground ginger. Add 1 cup of uncooked rice. Mix rice into butter mixture to cover all grains. Cook about 3-4 minutes more. Add 1 ¼ cup water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. When the rice is done, take it off the heat, leave the lid on, and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, heat 2-3 tblsp of olive oil. When oil is hot, start to add chicken pieces with tongs. Sear on one side to a desired browness and then sear on the opposite side. Sprinkle each piece of chicken generously with ground ginger. When all the chicken pieces are seared, put on a separate plate with paper towels to drain excess oil and set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat the Thai Coconut Curry Chicken Broth, milk, and 1 tblsp of butter over high heat. When you see steam, add all the cut vegetables. Flavor with red pepper flakes, thyme, ground ginger, and sea salt. Let simmer uncovered until the liquids reduce by more than ½ but not by ¾, or about 8-10 minutes. Add the chicken pieces for 2 more minutes, take mixture off heat.

Serve the kinda chicken vegetable curry mixture in a bowl and the rice on a separate plate.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Old School Love-Sending Care Packages

This past week I sent four care packages to four separate destinations. My brother, mother, my friend David, and the annual USPS Stamp Out Hunger Drive are the sum total of my recipients. The decision to send a gift of comfort in the form of food was such an automatic response to people and issues I care about that it wasn't until after the packages were sent did I start to contemplate my actions deeper than the immediate satisfaction of giving and doing something good. For a bit of back story to frame why I am so introspective at this moment I have recently picked up and began reading 1000 Years Over a Hot Stove by Laura Scheone. Oddly enough I didn't purchase the book because of the noted James Beard Foundation/Kitchenaid Book Award on the cover, I bought because when I flipped through the pages I caught glimpses of American food history that I have been wondering about since I could wonder. And to think this is the author's first book! She gives all us would-be-someday-oneday writers hope. Now, I have only just begun reading the book so please don't spoil it for me.

Currently the chapters I am just simply involved with are about the traditions of the Native American tribes whom lived on this continent before my immigrant European family members crossed the pond, and the cross-culturalization of the first European settlers' traditions for nourishment with the current residents indigenous, natural North American foods. Most of us now know the European and Native American story of survival makes Shakespeare's saga look sheepish, yet the some beloved, signature, current American foods come from this time of colonization and revolution. Cereal, for example, is rooted in an adapted form of porridge made by English. When they 'set-up shop' in the Northeast, the English had no oats to make their porridge with so they improvised with the Indian's sacred grain, corn. Long story short, this early part of history brought us corn flakes and the bazillion other types of cereal we all love to eat today. (I promise this will make sense later in the post!)

What was this post about? Oh yes, care packages and why I felt compelled to recently construct and send some. First, for Mother's Day I really did not want to send my mom flowers, again. I was faced with another dilemma of this situation; it's incredibly tough to send gifts of love to a person nearly totally disabled in care twenty-four hours a day. Long sigh. Trying to shake the gloom and doom I remembered my aunts and my cousin Sarah remarking how she still has an appetite for sweets, and it hit me with a ton of bricks-cookies. She can eat cookies and she can enjoy them! Eureka! With the utmost love and care I made a batch of her favorites chocolate chip cookies as well as the traditional chewy sugar cookie.

Cinnamon-Sugar Topping Sugar Cookie

Nonpareil Topping Sugar Cookie

I don't know the verdict yet because my Aunt Karen is visiting my mom tomorrow for Mother's Day. If she receives the cookies in time she is going to bring the batch. I hope she really enjoys them, so fingers crossed.

The second recipient of a special cookie delivery is my friend David. David is the younger brother of my dear friend Lauren who I met freshman year at UCF, or 9 years ago (yikes). David is in his early twenties and was recently diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. David is receiving treatment in Houston, TX. His family members have been travelling from Florida and California to be with him during his full-time recovery. To know David is to know fierceness. The definition of a firecracker, this redhead will shoot you straight and make you double over in laughter. Thinking about this poison in his body makes you angry that such a great young soul has been hampered on his way to a fabulous life. Yet, you have to know life is a strange bird and anything is really possible so he and his circle know David will survive cancer. During a phone conversation with Lauren I asked her if wants to or can he eat sweets. She said, "Oh yeah!," and I knew my mission-David must have cookies. Today he received his mixed batch and sent me the loveliest thank you text message.

My third care package was delivered to my older brother Jeremy; a one-of-a-kind soul. He is the definition of one who walks to the beat of his own drum, and because he takes chances in life, sometimes he doesn't always eat good. As his sister this worries me from time-to-time so to calm mine own nerves and to send a little vegetarian love his way in New York City, I sent him a care package containing:
  • Flax Cereal
  • 2 Boxes Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Whole Wheat Tandoori Nan Bread
  • 1 Bag of Pumpkin and Sunflower Seed Granola
  • Peanut Butter & Jelly
  • Canned Squash and Onions
  • Canned Olives
  • Oatmeal
  • Dried Fruit
  • My homemade peanut butter granola bars
I had to track him down to see if he received it because of the constant melee that is his life, but in the end he was happy to receive the comfort food and I was more than happy to give it. I find this is an awesome way to stay connected to family when you live far apart.

That leaves the annual USPS Stamp Out Hunger Drive. This food drive is so easy to give to. If it creeps up on you, just empty out your cupboard to help feed those who struggle to feed themselves. This way, you get to shop to fill up your entire pantry again so everybody wins! Truly, I want to involve myself more in such things as food drives because hunger is an issue near and dear to my heart. I write a lot about my mom (A LOT) and one of the reasons is while we were very young children we were very, very poor. Yet Mom was very, very proud. She didn't ask family for hand-outs, but after church on Sundays we would return on our bikes for the free food the Parrish of Assumption B.V.M was generous enough to give. Following my parents divorce, we would shop for food only once a month and the church's weekly offering of:
  • Ham
  • White Rice
  • Powered Milk
  • Bread
  • Peanut Butter
  • Honey
feed us for a few years. With the rice my mother would make rice pudding, with the ham-split pea soup, and from the peanut butter and honey came her infamous granola bars. My mom taught us to be grateful for whatever we have and make the best of any situation. Not only did I get my cooking knack from her, but I know how to make a mountain of a meal out just a few meager ingredients. I cook and I survive. Again, it is for these lessons that I am eternally grateful to my mother.

With all of this personal history and good karma swarming me this spring, I started to question the origin of care packages. I mean, if cereal can be hallmarked to a moment in American history then care packages had to come from a particular time and place as well. It turns out that CARE Packages are trademarked by CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere), but the term is so homogeneous that nobody pays to use it (including me!). Care packages started as a relief effort from Americans to surviving Europeans facing starvation after WWII. Everyday Americans could purchase surplus US Army food packages for $10 and send it overseas (see the first image of the post). While I am sure sending food supplies is not uniquely American nor is it unique to WWII, it makes me feel connected to my family then and now by participating in sending love, hope, and health to those who need it. Take a moment to recall if there is anyone in your life who could use a little care that comes in a package because there is no written description that could properly identify the kind of joy it brings.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pillsbury Bake-Off Experiment-Apricot Brownie Granola Tort

Ever since I saw the double peanut butter cookie that won the $1 million dollar prize at the 2007 Pillsbury Bakeoff, I resolved to use all of my creativity to create the greatest, most un-deniable of all possibly Pillsbury Bakeoff recipes. There was one majorly glaring problem-I barely if ever ate Pillsbury products. But, I always want $1 million dollars so entered this year's contest I did. Because of my un-familiarity of the main product, most of my brilliant concepts ended up as failed experiments. I tried all kinds of dreamed-up dishes:
  • crab rangoon pizza
  • baked jalapeno poppers with ham
  • jelly-filled zeppoles
  • capicola and basil calzone
  • artichoke, bacon, and roasted red pepper pie
  • peanut butter and jelly granola bars
  • mocha hazelnut bread pudding
  • and a few others I can't recall (or am too embarrassed to admit to)
All of these experiments captured a few of the qualities of a qualifying recipe, yet they all lacked a certain overall awesomness to win a contest of this caliber. It wasn't until I thought I perfected the Apricot Brownie Granola Tort did I have a worthy Pillsbury Bakeoff Recipe. It is no secret that I love to make granola bars. I do it probably once a month because me and everybody I've given them to just love them. I wanted to incorporate my family recipe into a bakeoff submission, and since a brand of peanut butter was an optional, second, mandatory agreement I thought give it the old college try.

Below is my first incarnation of the tort I made for a Triolo family party:
I made the granola and the brownie separately and baked them both part way. The brownie was mixed just like the Pillsbury box says plus I added some nutella for flava. The brownie was baked in a 9'x4' round cake pan and the granola in a long baking sheet. My granola recipe is pretty standard, but I almost always change up what fruits and nuts I add. In this version, I added apricot halves from a can and a dried tropical fruit mix. I also added apricot real fruit spread to the melted peanut butter and honey mixture that holds the whole shabang together.

When the granola baked halfway, I took it out of the oven and started spreading a layer of the mixture on top of the partially baked brownie. Once I had an even level (or so I thought), I put it back in the oven for another 8 minute or so. The first incarnation pictured above I left the granola on top. In the second version, I used a larger amount of brownie and flipped the tort so the granola was on the bottom and acted as a crust. Instead of mixing the apricot real fruit spread into the granola, is the second version I spread it in between the brownie and granola to help the two stick together.

Also in the round 2, instead of just a flower of apricot halves on top I covered the tort because when eating the first version of this I kept wanted more fruit than just the itty-bit on top. I also toasted hazelnuts, chopped them in the food processor and sprinkled them on top.

In the end, I learned so much lusting after that $1 million dollar prize that I don't care about winning anymore (mostly because I am sure I won't). This final dish is complete in flavor, ease of preparation, and has an awesome overall visual appeal. Its different for a dessert because it incorporates a lot of healthful foods and hardly any unhealthy fats. The flavor is suprising with the sweet chocolate, tart apricots, and velvety peanut butter and honey of the granola. Even if this dessert doesn't make me rich, it made me happy to create and really that's prize enough.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

W00T! Check Me Out on :D

Mother's Day is coming up and while I usually end up down-in-the-dumps because of my mother's condition, I gotta say I just double, triple heart her this year for being my first cooking teacher. This past Thanksgiving I posted about her signature Sweet Potato Dish in my Post Thanksgiving Post which I and many other members of my family make every year since she has been disabled with Alzheimer's so we can still share in having her in some form at our holiday table. Well, I have just been informed that my mother's recipe has been featured on Key! We got a badge and everything! If she hadn't taken the time to teach me and my two older brothers the joy of making food to share with family then I wouldn't have this recognition. I wish more than anything in the world that I could call her up and rejoice with her over this good news, but alas, we don't have that luxury anymore. I will simply have to write it in her Mother's Day card and have one of my aunts read it to her this Sunday. This Mother's Day if you are lucky enough to spend time or even speak on the phone with your mom, please don't waste that opportunity because you will truly miss it when it's gone. I love you Loretta, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.

Happy Early Mother's Day Everyone!
(From left to right: Me, Jeremy, Mom (Loretta), and Nate circa 1989ish)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Involtini di Maiale - translation : Herb-Stuffed Pork Chops

Among one of the gifts Mr. & Mrs. T gave me this past Christmas is an extremely information cookbook called Italian Family Cooking Like Mama Used to Make by Ane Casale. I seriously love this cookbook simply because I use it.

Pause for happy dance. Happy, happy, joy, joy :D!

Considering myself an intermediate cook, I am learning skills and techniques all the time all the while putting pretty good food on the dinner table. Italian Family has been textbook for a lot of my recent culinary education experience. In Anne Casale's book there are detailed illustrated instructions for the at-home butcher and pasta maker as well as loads of four-to-five course, Italian-style dinner menu suggestions all from the inards of recipes. Have I mentioned the recipes because its about flipping time. Here is the blunt recommenation; if you love food but have an adoration for Italian cuisine beyond what most people would define as 'rational,' this is a must have cook book. There are traditional and flavoful, updated old county recipes ranging from appetizers, to rice, to vegetables, to sauces, to homemade desserts! So go buy it already :). This past Tuesday night I turned to my trusty favorite Italian cookbook after buying some boneless, skinless pork chops. Of course I find the perfect dish for the night,

Involtini di Maiale or Herb Stuffed Pork Chops

Many times when a home cook turns to a cookbook they go in with full knowledge that they are not going to have all the written ingredients in their kitchen. For me (and probably a lot of cooks), this is one of the most rewarding and fun parts of making the meal. For the homemade stuffing I had some leftover Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix so I used that along with 2 gloves of chopped garlic, 1 carrot, and 1/2 a medium sweet onion cooked in butter and chicken stock. When the stuffing is soaking and fluffing in the veg/stock mixture is when the addtion of oodles and oodles of herbs occurs. In my freezer I had some fresh sage and thyme so I added about 1-2 teaspoons of each of those, teaspoon of dried basil, teaspoon of dried parsley, salt, red pepper flakes, and an Italian seasoning mixture. If I had any nuts in the house, I would've toasted and chopped some up as well like Casale does with pine nuts, but alas, I was out!

Since I bought some pre-butterflied, boneless pork chops all I had to do was stuff the chops, secure with toothpicks, dredge in flour flavored with salt and pepper, and put them in a preheated pan with 2 tblsp. of extra virgin olive oil and 1 tblsp. of butter to brown on all sides. Next following Casale's instructions I took the chops out once they browned leaving drippings in the pan and then deglazing it with some white wine while scraping the goodness that has cooked onto the bottom. At this point, Casale advises adding back-in the chops and rest of the cup of wine, covering the pan and putting the whole thing in a 300 degree oven for 20 min. basting about every 15 min. However, I did not use an ovenready pan on the stove so I used a glass casserole pan putting the chops and all the juices in the dish in a 350 degreee oven for 20 minutes, uncovered, basting when I could. This adaptation worked out just as beautifully as the published one and made for one satisfying night in!

Ok, so enough about the chops already! How about them gorgeous twins the side dishes? The rice is an herb basmati rice with many of the same flavors as the stuffing without the heat. I dont't really know why but I am especially proud of my seasoned balsamic vinegar zucchini because like Iron Chef Cat Cora this veg dish came right from hip! It was so simple to put together and so incredibly easy to make, this dish should be illegal for real. For Pete and I one medium zucchini was enough so always figure that as the base ratio of serving sizes. In a medium sauce pan over medium high heat bring extra virgin olive oil up to temperature so the veg sizzles once dropped in the pan. While the oil is heating, cut 1 1/2 inch pieces of the zucchini leaving the skins on. Add balsamic vinegar to the hot oil and then start putting in the zucchini letting them lightly brown on all sides. Here is the only tricky part-don't overcook this veg because it cooks very quickly! 1-2 minutes on each side for the color and that's it. When you've got the color, have a papertowel over a regular bowl ready to receive the hot and fresh pieces of the zucc. In the papertowel I seasoned my veg with a creole blend, flipped over the towel into the bowl, and voila! Finito. Delicate, delicious, flavorful, perfectly cooked zucchini makes me so happy I should tell Anne Casale about it!

(sorry there isn't much variety in the pics! It's tough to take pics of dinner when you are ready to eat!)