Saturday, December 25, 2010

A new tradition?

A few weeks ago, I asked on Facebook if anyone had ever eaten Panettone. I have seen it everywhere in stores since my childhood, but as Italian as we are, no one in my family ever made or brought it to Christmas. For those unfamiliar with it, panettone is a tall, sweet, fruit-riddled Italian bread usually enjoyed at Christmas time.

Predictably, a lot of Italians responded that the had indeed had it and loved it. So I bought one for my Christmas party... and no one ate it. Oh well.

Rather than have it go to waste, I got creative. Since my family comes over to our house in the evening on Christmas Day, I thought I'd turn the panettone into a little dessert/comfort food treat -- bread pudding.

The verdict is still out -- they haven't arrived yet -- but if they like it (and if I like it!) I'll post the recipe tomorrow. If it is a success, who knows, maybe I'll have started a new tradition! In any event, here's a picture of my creation. Can't wait to try it.

*Update* We tried it and OMG. Delish! Even my dad, who said he "can't get bread pudding down" loved it. So the recipe is definitely forthcoming! Hurry out and get those panettone before they're all gone for the year!

Wishing you and yours the merriest of Christmases and the happiest of new years!

Cookie Swap -- We have a winner!

The winner of my "C is for Cookie, G is for Giveaway" contest to win a copy of Julia Usher's "Cookie Swap" is...

Let's Dish!

Congratulations, Danelle!

Check out Danelle's blog, Let's Dish, where she posts her fabulous recipes. In fact, Let's Dish was the source of the Decadent Brownie Pie "Just Have to Share" post I did earlier this year.

Congrats again, Danelle. I hope it gives you some inspiration!

Thanks to everyone who entered!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

'C' is for 'cookie,' 'G' is for 'giveaway'!

It takes a heck of a lot for a book to make my mouth water.

The pictures must be enticing and vivid, the writing concise but descriptive, and the content... enthralling.

Take a look at Julia M. Usher's new book "Cookie Swap: Creative Treats to Share Throughout the Year" -- check, check and check.

The book -- 160 pages of pure DELIGHT -- is part cookbook, part guide to entertaining, all at its most elegant.

If you've ever found yourself in need of ideas for holiday or occasion cookies, look no further. Not only does Usher showcase beautiful ideas for seasonal treats, she lets you into her personal stash of recipes and tips for decorating cookies for any swap or event, from weddings, to baby showers, Halloween to Christmas, and everything in between.

One treat in particular that caught my eye -- the "Under Her Thumb(print) Cookies" will certainly be gracing my Christmas party this year. Not only is the recipe (like many in the book) easy and do-able even for cookie novices like myself, the finished product is beautiful and professional-looking with minimal effort required.

Julia has a fantastic website with tons of ideas, recipes (not just cookies!) and entertaining advice, and I highly recommend you check it out. You can visit her at

In the past few weeks, I've blogged about how excited I am to be hosting my own swap with some of my amazing followers. In the spirit of giving, Julia sent me a copy of "Cookie Swap" to give away to one of my lucky readers!

Would you like to win a copy? Here's how!

Mandatory entry: Leave me a comment on this post telling me your favorite kind of cookie. Is it your mom's sugar cookies? Your own peanut butter? Grandma's oatmeal raisin? Tell me! Please be sure you include a valid email address so I can contact you if you’re the lucky winner! Please note – you do not have to be a blogger to win!

Extra chances to win – each is worth another entry. Please leave a separate comment for each extra...

- Follow Madame Menu on Google Friend Connect

- Become a fan of Madame Menu on Facebook

- Blog about this giveaway and link back to this post

- Tweet the giveaway (once a day -- leave a link to your status)

You can enter immediately, up through midnight PST on Wednesday, December 15, 2010. The winner will be chosen December 16th, 2010 -– via Random Integer Generator -- from all entries submitted, and notified immediately through email. I apologize to my non-US friends, but this giveaway is only open to all legal residents of the United States.

Christmas is almost upon us! Why not beautify your holiday table with some amazing new recipes from Julia? Enter now!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Reminder: Sign up for the cookie swap!

It's almost that time!

Hard to believe that we're already a week into December! Between Christmas parties and gift exchanges and shopping and decorating… it's all so much fun but time really does fly.

One of my favorite (who am I kidding -- everyone's favorite) parts of the holiday season is the food, especially the sweets.

As I announced a couple of weeks ago, to celebrate the season the best way I know how, I'm hosting a cookie swap. As much as I'd like to have you all over to my house, it'd get kind of expensive with airfare, so we're doing the swap through the mail. You don't have to bake a dozen cookies per person -- 3 or 5 or a dozen (if you wish!) is just fine. They can be any kind you like, be it gingerbread men (yes please), sugar (yes please), chocolate chip (yes please), or your own personal specialty. All I ask is that you include a recipe card with each package so people know exactly how you made your treats! I'll also be posting some very cute ideas from around the web for packaging and sending those cookies to make sure they get where they need to go in as few pieces as possible.

I will be partaking, and you can too! All you have to do is respond to this post or email me using the link above and let me know you'd like to participate. You do have to be in the US, and must be comfortable with others having your mailing address (not publicly -- I'll be keeping a spreadsheet of participants and it will only be available through me once it's time to send the cookies out).

You can sign up for the swap through the end of the day Thursday, December 9th. I want to make sure everyone has time to bake and send out their cookies before Christmas.

If you're not much the baking type, that's OK too. I'll be hosting a giveaway a little later this week, and potentially more before Christmas! Also, I'd appreciate if you were willing to RT this on Twitter (I'm @madamemenu) or repost it on Facebook so we can get as many people to share in the fun as possible.

Hope you'll be joining in!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Boozy Pumpkin Madeleines

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and as a last minute dessert, I decided to do something a little different. My husband and I are heading to my mother- and father-in-law's house for dinner, and I hate showing up empty-handed. Instead of the usual cookies or cake, I wanted to go a different direction, and since I'd recently bought a madeleine pan, I figured this was a good opportunity to try it out.

In case you're not familiar with madeleines, they're a spongy French butter cake. They're tiny (about cookie-sized) and look like shells. You need a special pan to make them, here's mine --

...which I assumed would be expensive, but I was able to buy off Amazon for just over $10.

Being that it's autumn and the perfect time of year for pumpkin, I decided to put a little New England fall twist on these, and flavor them with pumpkin. I also put a glaze on them just for a little extra sweetness (hence the "boozy" in the title), which you could skip, especially if you're making them for kids.

Boozy Pumpkin Madeleines
Makes 16

1/2 cup salted butter (1 stick), melted
2 eggs
1 cup flour
2 1/2 tablespoons canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the glaze:
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon canned pumpkin

Grease pan with butter and flour or Pam cooking spray, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and set aside until completely cool.

In a mixing bowl, beat sugar, eggs and vanilla together. When combined, add pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg and mix until smooth -- there should be no visible chunks/lumps of pumpkin.

Pour in melted butter slowly, and mix to well-incorporate. Add flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing just to incorporate each time. Do not overmix or the cakes will be too dense.

Spoon a heaping tablespoon of batter into each mold, careful not to overfill.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until tops and edges begin to turn golden brown.

Allow pan to cool before attempting to remove the cakes -- which should slide out easily -- or you WILL burn yourself! Set the cakes on a cooling rack.

For the glaze, melt butter and sugar together in a pan on medium-high heat, continually stirring. Once they are melted together, add brandy and pumpkin, and continue to cook until bubbly (about 3 minutes) and frothy. Set aside for 2 minutes for mixture to settle, then drizzle over the cakes.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Make your holiday memories

Just taking a quick little break from the recipes to tell you about an awesome opportunity for bloggers!

Anyone who's been on the receiving end of almost any invitation from our family over the last few years is very familiar with Shutterfly.

We've used them for almost every creative project we've done since getting married three years ago… And I mean everything: We used our wedding photos and put together an album for ourselves and our parents (like these), and made Christmas cards with some of our wedding pictures on it to send to our guests.

Last year with the help of Shutterfly, cuteness in our house took on a whole new meaning. When our son was born in July 2009, we immediately turned to Shutterfly (and my newfound photography skills) to put together a photo-clad birth announcement, and we couldn't have been more thrilled with the results. We were able to include some precious pictures of our newborn, but also weren't forced to choose between photos or a cute design -- we got both!

Check out dozens of other adorable birth announcements here!

Then during the holidays, we turned Johnny's first time meeting Santa into a holiday card that our families still talk about (or, what we like to call, the cutest Christmas card in existence).

This past July, the little guy (not so little anymore) turned the big "1". To commemmorate the occasion, we found the perfect album-style birthday invitation for his party, and one still sits on our hutch in a frame today.

We love Shutterfly because their designs are clean, fresh and creative. Regardless of the product -- from photo albums to calendars, from mugs to photo enlargements -- Shutterfly has a variety to fit any style or budget.

This weekend, we took our son for his (now) annual Santa picture, and while the results weren't quite as angelic as last year, they will make for an equally memorable card. I won't be posting the photos until after we send out our cards, but I assure you, they are worth the wait. And of course, this year's memories will be captured on cards by Shutterfly.

To see some of the festive holiday cards at Shutterfly awaiting for your personal touch, click here! Can't wait to see what you come up with!

But besides cards, Shutterfly has tons of other products -- some of which I just discovered and OMG CALLING CARDS! -- to suit your holiday and every day needs.

Even better -- if you're a blogger and you love Shutterfly as much as we do, why not have 50 of your holiday cards ON THEM?

Click here for details!

Disclosure: I am receiving 50 holiday cards in exchange for this post. But trust me -- if I didn't REALLY love Shutterfly, I wouldn't have so many past projects to show off! :-)

Monday, November 15, 2010

New design and a big announcement!

First off, check out my new design! Isn't it fabulous? I am in love with it, and I hope you like it too. I can't take credit for this beauty though -- all the work was done by Jessica at The Frilly Coconut. She could not have been sweeter or more accommodating, and she got my design done in a week! If your blog is in need of a face-lift, I HIGHLY recommend Jessica! Please visit her!

Secondly, the holidays are upon us (sort of)! It's very hard for me to believe that Thanksgiving is next week, and we all know that as soon is that day is over, Christmas will be here before we know it.

So, in honor of my awesome new look, I wanted to announce something exciting...

Besides presents and trees, I know the first thing I think of when I think of the holidays is the food. So many parties, so many tidbits, so many desserts, and most importantly, so many delicious cookies!

To participate in the swap, you must be willing to commit to sending out containers of your cookies to other participants. You must be comfortable with others having your address (nothing will EVER be posted publicly. Until the it's time to start sending out the cookies, I will maintain the list privately) to send you your own stash.

The number of people who want to participate will dictate whether we'll send cookies to everyone or to a few selected people. In other words, if 20 people tell me they'd like to join the swap, I'm not going to make anyone send out 20 packages (unless they want to), I'll divide up the list into groups.

You don't have to be a blogger to participate, but it would be great if you participated in social media -- Facebook and/or Twitter -- and followed me on one or the other (not trying to limit the pool... just want to make sure I can know everyone and properly thank all the participants!). If you are a blogger, I would really love to see a post about the swap! It could be a recipe of the cookie(s) you sent out, or a rundown of what your received in return. All of the swaps I've ever done also asked that participants include a recipe of what they made in the package.

If you would like to participate, you can comment on this post, @reply me on Twitter, leave a post on Facebook or email me directly using the links on my header. Please let me know if you have a food allergy!

I would also appreciate any publicity, through a tweet or a post or anything in between! It would be great if you could take the image above and post it somewhere on your sidebar!

Looking so forward to tasting some of those delicious cookies!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Heavenly Roasted Garlic

My family is loud.

When I was a kid, we would occasionally (for a birthday or no reason at all) go out to dinner all together -- me, my sister, our parents, my uncle, cousin, and our grandparents. We always had a blast.

The only trouble we ever had was finding a restaurant that could contain the GINORMOUS personalities seated (at least sometimes) at the table. My dad and uncle tell stories that cause uproarious laughter, my grandfather inevitably gets carried away joking around with our waitress (or waitressES -- we're what servers call "needy"), my grandmother and mom get into heated political discussions and too many desserts get ordered.

There were a few restaurants that could (would?) accommodate us, and while my sister and I didn't care where we went, we definitely had our favorites. One of which was a place in Mansfield, Conn., called Angellino's.

They served hearty Italian food and have HUGE portions. Their menu is a mix of classics, inventive and seasonal dishes, and has been for as long as I can remember. We never had a bad meal, and I've been back since childhood and it was just as good as it's always been.

We'd pile in, check out the menu and order, and like many carb-craving Italians were just as excited for the bread basket to arrive at the table as we were for the main dishes. That's because Angellino's serves a special little gem with their bread -- fresh oven-roasted garlic.

I'm not talking about a little clove in your olive oil, I'm talking BIG TIME. An entire head of garlic was included with your bread. You'd take a slice of bread, use the spreader to finagle a clove out of the papery wrapping and smear it onto the bread in all its fragrant goodness. It was magical.

It goes without saying -- check any entree recipe on this blog -- that I am a huge fan of garlic. Raw, cooked, minced, chopped, powdered, doesn't matter. I love it all. But as hot as the tawdry love affair has been... I do realize that there are people who DON'T like garlic. I call them "traitors," but for the sake of inclusion, we'll call them anti-garlicites. I won't pretend I understand it, but I'll accept it.

This is something even anti-garlicites may enjoy. It's not that it doesn't TASTE like garlic, but it's not the same texture. The oven-roasting brings out a sweetness and full-bodied flavor that raw and even sauteed garlic doesn't usually have.

I concede that cooking with garlic can leave your hands smelling of the stuff for days. It can get under your fingernails and sting a little. If you burn it even slightly, the smell and taste of it are horrid. It can cause less-than-pleasant breath. On the other hand, it keeps vampires away. I digress.

What was so awesome about Angellino's roasted garlic was that as much as I had loved the flavor my entire life, I'd never seen it become spreadable. I had to figure out how to do it, and once I did, I couldn't believe how simple it was.

A head of roasted garlic goes great with Italian bread, on a focaccia, or with pita bread. I've even used it to flavor hummus before. It takes a little time but minimal effort, and it is so unbelievably worth it.

Preheat oven to 425. Take a large head of garlic and cut the top off, exposing the tops of all cloves (leave the paper on).

Sit in a large piece of aluminum foil, and crunch it up to form a little package.

Before pinching the top closed, drizzle about two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over the top of the garlic head. Seal up package and sit directly on oven rack.

Allow to roast for 45 minutes. Use caution when removing the package from the oven as the foil will be the same temperature as the oven -- definitely use tongs. Allow the package to sit somewhere and cool off for about 10 minutes. Unwrap, serve with bread and a spreader -- enjoy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Pumpkin Fudge

This is a simple and fun treat to make on a weekend afternoon, especially if you do it on Halloween like I did. You get LOTS of fudge from it, and family and friends will be more than happy to help take it off your hands!

Pumpkin Fudge

1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar (light)
2 cups sugar
6 ounces evaporated milk
12 oz. white chocolate chips
7-ounce jar Fluff*

9x9 pan

First, my assistant was working with me for this recipe -- he served as taste-tester later on and I assure you this exceeded his rigorous quality control standards. ;-)

Cover a 9x9 baking dish with foil. Doing a double layer will help make it easier to lift the fudge later. Press the foil into the corners as much as possible without tearing a hole.

Heat milk and sugar until they boil over low-medium heat. Stir from time to time to keep from scalding.

Add pumpkin, nutmeg, salt and cinnamon. Mixture should still be boiling. Carefully add Fluff, butter and vanilla -- be VERY careful, the sugar mixture could burn you if it splatters, and it will if you put spoonfuls of the fluff in from too high up. Try to stay as close to the saucepan as possible during this step. Once Fluff has been added, mix to combine -- this will take a minute or two, as it breaks down. Once smooth, cook, stirring frequently, for 25 minutes. Mixture will darken in color.

Remove from heat and add white chocolate. Stir continuously until all chips have melted. Some small pieces may remain, but most should have broken down.

Pour into 9x9 pan, and allow to set for 2 hours. Do NOT refrigerate or mixture will not set properly. Remove fudge from pan (once set, you should be able to overturn the pan onto a cutting board and have one large solid piece of fudge).

Cut into squares using a sharp knife to prevent crumbling, store between layers of parchment paper to avoid sticking. Fudge should be eaten within 4-5 days.

*Fluff: Fluff is the name brand of marshmallow creme. It was invented in Massachusetts, and I'm going to be elaborating on its many (delicious) recipe possibilities in a future post. I'm not sure if the brand name is available nationwide, but if it isn't, just look for a jar/container of "marshmallow creme" in the same section as peanut butter and jelly in the supermarket.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Easy Chicken Cacciatore

Both my husband and I work full-time. We have a toddler (15 months today... woot!). We have a house, three cats, and an hour commute, each way, to and from work. So sometimes, I don't have the energy to be a gourmand.

I came up with this recipe because I almost always have the ingredients on hand, and because it only takes about half an hour from start to finish. I also tailored it to feed two because my son doesn't always eat what we do for dinner. The flavors are bold and it's the perfect quick and satisfying meal for two after a long day.

Easy Chicken Cacciatore
Serves 2
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

3/4 pound boneless chicken breast tenders, pounded thin
1/4 large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon capers, with liquid
1 tablespoon shaved or shredded parmesan cheese
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons salted butter
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
salt and pepper to taste

Chicken should be pounded into very thin filets. Season each side of chicken with salt and pepper.

Chop onions and pepper into approximately one-inch pieces (same size as they have about the same cooking time).

Heat oil in large pan/skillet. When hot, place chicken in pan. Turn after 2 minutes, toss in onions, peppers and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, capers, small amount of liquid from jar and butter, cover, allow to cook for 15 minutes. When finished, top with parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper and serve immediately.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gamberi e mitili in brodo del vino (Shrimp and mussels in wine broth)

Growing up, I was willing to try pretty much anything, especially when it came to seafood.

My dad and I could have eaten some type of seafood everyday, and whatever he was having, I was having. I remember sitting down with him to share a lobster when I was about 8, just because I wanted to try it. I ate shrimp by the handful and steamers by the bucketload. If it was seafood, I was IN.

So as an adult at a restaurant, I'm instantly drawn to the seafood section of the menu. At a particular Italian eatery, my husband and I love a dish of mussels and broth. We end up eating it very quick and using our bread to soak up the buttery broth every single time.

But since we can't afford to go out to eat every night, I had to figure out a way to make the dish at home. And since mussels, while delicious, aren't all that filling as a dinner meal, I tossed in some shrimp. Next time I'd also like to add some scallops; I think they'd add even more flavor to the dish.

You can serve the broth separate like I did here, or pour it over the shellfish. I've done it both ways, but separated it here to show you what it should look like. I highly recommend serving this with some bread -- once you try the broth, you won't leave a single drop in the bowl.


Gamberi e mitili in brodo del vino (Shrimp and mussels in wine broth)
Serves 4-6

2 pounds of live mussels (approximately 75 shells), scrubbed, debearded*
1 pound of peeled, deveined raw shrimp
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup minced onion or shallot
4 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup white wine
3 tablespoons garlic*
1 tablespoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

wire/bristle brush
large sautee pan with lid

With sautee pan on medium heat, melt butter, then add lemon juice, salt, pepper and wine (carefully). Toss in onion and cook until translucent. Add half of the garlic to the broth and watch to make sure it doesn't burn. Cook until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.

Toss mussels into pan, distributing as evenly as possible around the pan. Spoon remaining garlic and olive oil over shells and cover. Cook for 15 minutes.

Remove lid and toss shrimp on top of mussels, cover. Cook for additional 5 minutes or until shrimp turn pink. Remove from heat.

Spoon shrimp and mussels onto large platter.

Before serving, ensure all shells have opened -- discard mussels that remain closed. Top with broth from pan or serve with broth on the side (you can add any other flavors you like -- parsley, red pepper flakes, basil, etc., at this time).

Mussels -- At our supermarket, you can buy a 2 lb. bundle of mussels in the seafood department. Though it won't look like it at first, this is about 75 mussels.

The tricky thing about mussels, and the reason many people don't cook with them, is that they do require a fair bit of preparation. When you unbundle them, you have to scrub them, as they accumulate a fair amount of dirt/sand on their shells. Then, and if you're squeamish, look away -- you have to "de-beard" them. What's a beard you ask? It's a group of fibers the mussel has used to hold on to rocks in the ocean.

You have to grip the beard and yank it out of the shell. The creepy thing (for some, I'm past it!), is that as the mussel is live, you may feel it... "tug" back a little. Certainly, once you begin to pull the beard and let go, you will see a portion disappear back into the shell. In any event, you want to remove this beard, or as much of it as you can, because what you don't clean off the shells and out of them is going to end up in your mouth.

The other tidbit about mussels... you have to quite literally trust your gut. The LAST thing you want to eat is bad shellfish, and so you have to apply the open-closed theory of discarding the "bad" ones -- if you see shells OPEN before you cook the mussels, throw them out. If any remain CLOSED after you cook them, throw them out. If any shells have chunks mussing or exposed mussel showing, throw them out. Trust me on this one -- better safe than sorry!

Garlic -- Just to restate what I've said in almost every recipe I've made using garlic, you can feel free to use jarred or fresh garlic. I prefer to use the jarred as it keeps longer, I don't have to cut it up, and it seems to be more flavorful. If you use the jarred garlic, use 3 tablespoons. If you use fresh garlic, use 4-5 cloves, depending on their size.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pumpkin ice cream and affogatos

I have a confession to make: As much as I enjoy laying out in the sun and getting (my VERY LIGHT shade of) tan, as much as I enjoy my hair being blonde, as much as I enjoy the heat... I adore the fall.

Having grown up in New England, I was born and bred with an addiction to autumn. I love the sights, the sounds, and the tastes of fall. So naturally once the calendar page flipped to October, I ran right to the store and picked up one of the most classic fall flavors -- pumpkin.

I wanted to do something different with the pumpkin besides the standard pumpkin bread or pumpkin roll, so I decided to go in a different, chillier direction with ice cream. To take the fall flavor even deeper, I went with an affogato, made with cinnamon Starbucks coffee.

Before about two years ago, I'd never heard of an affogato. I tried one on our trip to the Berkshires, and was instantly in love. "Affogato" is Italian for "drowned," and this ice cream treat is literally drowned in espresso. In place of espresso, I used coffee, but trust me -- it may sound odd, but once you combine the raw coffee flavor with the sweet creaminess of the ice cream... yum. You won't regret it.


Pumpkin Ice Cream and Affogatos
Yields about 10 half-cup servings

Ice cream

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean (pod and beans)
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 15-ounce can of pure pumpkin
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar

Starbucks cinnamon coffee
cinnamon stick (garnish)

Cuisinart ice cream maker
medium saucepan
mixing bowl
glass bowl (for chilling)

In saucepan, combine milk and cream. Cut open vanilla bean, toss seeds into cream mixture. Once seeds are removed, add pod to mixture. Heat cream on medium-low for 30 minutes and remove from heat.

In separate mixing bowl, combine egg, pumpkin, sugars, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and sugars. Beat with whisk until smooth.

Using a ladle or spoon, add a small amount of the heated cream to the pumpkin mixture. Mix until combined, then add another spoonful. This will temper the mixture so the egg doesn't scramble when exposed to heat.

Pour all of the pumpkin mixture into the saucepan with the cream, and mix until smooth. Pour into glass bowl, and allow to cool completely in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, up to overnight. At the same time, place bowl of ice cream maker into the freezer -- the liquid in the bowl (what chills the ice cream) must freeze before ice cream can be made.

Once bowl is frozen, assemble machine and turn switch to on. Pour cream mixture into bowl and allow to mix for 25-30 minutes or until desired texture is reached.

You can freeze the mixture for longer if you want firmer ice cream.

To create affogatos, scoop some ice cream into a glass, and top with prepared coffee. Garnish with cinnamon stick. Enjoy!

Vanilla bean -- This is the first time I've ever actually used a REAL vanilla bean for flavoring. I'm not going to lie, they aren't cheap -- for this ONE in a jar, it was $7.49 at the grocery store -- but they are so worth the flavor.

In case you've never seen a vanilla bean pod cut open, here's what the inside, complete with itty-bitty seeds intact looks like.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Heirloom tomatoes

For the longest time, I've tried to find good quality heirloom tomatoes. I've never seen them at either of our local supermarkets, and really never even at farmer's markets in our area.

But in the last month, I've had a revelation. I've discovered Whole Foods.

Upon my most recent (I say "most recent," because much to my husband's dismay, I now go at least twice a week) visit, I discovered Whole Foods' selection of heirloom tomatoes. There were yellow and red and orange and green... and I had to have them all.

Though there hasn't been a clear consensus on what defines an "heirloom" vegetable, it's generally accepted that they are open-pollinated, "heritage" or old varieties that have been around for a long time. "Open-pollinated" means they're naturally "created," or in other words, they aren't man-made. The characteristics of one tomato will be very similar to those of its parent -- baby tomato is going to look just like his mama.

Some agriculture experts consider only seed varieties that existed prior to 1951 to be of the "heirloom" variety, but other use different cut offs -- no real clear-cut definition exists. Some species can be traced back as far as 100 or 150 years.

The major difference I noticed between the heirloom tomatoes I bought and your standard plum or hothouse tomato (besides price -- the heirloom varieties at Whole Foods ran $4.99/pound) was taste. It's not so much a STRONG or different tomato flavor as it is a FRESH one. They taste earthy and tangy, and depending on the variety, can even have a citrus or slightly bitter flavor to them.

While I tasted each of the varieties uncooked and could definitely distinguish between the types, I knew that cooking each would bring out their own individual flavor even more. I didn't want to muddle the flavors with too much else, so I took a simple approach.

I had also picked up some capricho de cabra (an uber-creamy goat cheese) at Whole Foods, and had made some naan*, so I had a perfect base for an heirloom tomato naan pizza.

I sliced up some of the tomatoes, brushed the naan with olive oil and topped it with a few tablespoons of crushed tomatoes. I piled on the tomatoes, threw in a little garlic, and topped the pizza with small pieces of the goat cheese (I used about two ounces total), then set it on the pizza stone and baked it in the oven for about 15 minutes on 450. When I took it out, the cheese had begun to brown perfectly, and the tomatoes had just started to "wilt" a bit.

Though it would have been just as delicious as it was without having cooked at all, baking the pizza brought out all the flavors of the tomatoes.

A little pricier but a lot more flavorful, I'm thinking of attempting to grow a few of my own heirloom tomato varieties next year. Though some varieties have a few troubles during the growing seasons -- some are very attractive (more so than 'regular' tomato plants) to bugs and bacteria while others actually grow so fast their rapid increase in size causes the skins to split -- the yield, even if I only get a small crop, will be worth it.


Naan: While I made my own naan, you can use the store bought version. In case you've never tried it, naan is a levened middle-eastern bread made with a flour base. It's usually grilled but can also be baked. The recipe I used was this one, and I can't say enough about it -- it's absolutely fantastic and as good, if not better, than any I've had at any Indian or middle-eastern restaurant. The recipe is easy to make and even with rising time figured in, only takes ABOUT two hours from start to finish. It's flavorful and is amazing with the tomatoes.