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The 12 Treats of Christmas
Dec 17th, 2012 by

A few of these recipes are misfits, but still very good.

A few of these recipes are misfits, but still very good.

There are some foods I make every year around Christmastime. They are tried and true classics that continue to make taste buds happy year after year. And each year, I also try some new recipes. Some stick and become a classic, others fade away either because they didn’t deliver on their promise or simply because of neglect: like a broken doll on the Island of Misfit Toys in the “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special.

Here are a list of winning recipes. Most I make every year. But there are a few neglected misfits too that are worthy of a new chance in a New Year. We’ll start with the desserts because this time of year is so sweet:

DESSERTS:

This is more of a snack than a dessert but anytime you eat it, it's delicious.

Chocolate Bread is more of a snack than a dessert but anytime you eat it, it's delicious.

1.) Pane alla Cioccolata (Chocolate Bread)This lightly sweetened bread is great with a cup of coffee or a glass of red wine. You can spread cream cheese over it, but Mascarpone cheese is better.

2.) Chocolate Bark (Christmas Gift): The only thing that would be easier than making this sweet treat would be going out and buying it.

3.) Cenci (Florentine Rags): Cenci are a deep-fried Florentine winter treat, made from Epiphany to Mardi Gras.

4.) Christmas Befana Cookies: My grandmother, Bruna, made these Befana cookies every Christmas.

5.) Chocolate Kahlua Rum Balls: Another quick and easy treat to make. Makes a good gift too.

APPETIZERS:

Ribollita is a hearty soup for a cold December day.

Ribollita is a hearty soup for a cold December day.

6.) Ribollita Soup: One of the most loved recipes in the RootsLiving collection. Who knew, Tuscan Bean Soup, would be such a crowd pleaser?

7.) Asian Shrimp Salad: Trish found this recipe in an old cookbook a previous tenant left in her apartment about 30 years ago. It has become a traditional Christmas Day appetizer.

SIDE DISH:

8.) Nan’s Mashed Potatoes (with Cream Cheese and Sour Cream): No Christmas Roast Beast would be complete without a side dish of this. It puts the “comfort” in comfort food.

ENTREES:

Shrimp Saute can be served as an appetizer or as the main dish.

Shrimp Saute can be served as an appetizer or as the main dish.

9.) Shrimp Saute (For the New Year): I made this for the first time last year, but it’s a keeper. From Joshua’s Restaurant in Wells, Maine.

10.) Best Lobster Stew Recipe, Ever!: The recipe is from Morrison’s of Portland, Maine. It’s even easier to make if you have your lobsters steamed when you buy them.

11.) Pizza: Cheese and Fig & Proscuitto (from Figs Restaurant): My grandmother made pizza every Christmas Eve. This recipe is a combination of her pizza, Julia Child’s pizza, and Todd English’s pizza.

12.) Breakfast for Dinner: Gingerbread Pancakes: In these last, short, dark days of December sometimes it’s nice to stay in your pajamas all day and have breakfast for dinner. Here’s a suggestion in keeping with the holiday spirit.

What’s Cooking This Christmas
Dec 25th, 2011 by

Homemade macaroni with bolognese sauce was served on Christmas Eve.

Homemade macaroni with bolognese sauce was served on Christmas Eve.

So here’s what I cooked up this holiday season.

  • I started by making a couple of hundred Befana cookies, a traditional Italian Christmas cookie with flavors of sugar, orange, lemon, almonds and anisette.
  • I then moved on to try something new: chocolate bark with orange peel and walnuts; and white chocolate bark with cranberries and pistachio nuts.
  • On Friday night I had my brother-in-law and his wife over for dinner. They flew in from Florence, Italy (their Fall home) by way of Florida (their permanent residence). And so I made them something very Florentine, Ribollita soup, followed by a main course of roasted vegetable napoleons with a side dish of parmesan cups filled with porcini flavored orzo. I’ll post the recipe for the latter sometime this week.
  • Then, last night on Christmas Eve, I had my brother’s family over along with my friend Danny and his daughter (my God daughter) Dani Siobhan. For that dinner I made fried calamari, roasted pepper shrimp saute, and homemade macaroni with meatballs. For the homemade macaroni guests had their choice of a bolognese sauce or an all vegetable red sauce made with carrots, celery and tomatoes. Recipes for this dinner will also be posted later in the week.

And now, today on Christmas Day, I can rest. But there’s no rest for Tricia who is obligated to make her Asian shrimp salad to bring over my brother’s house. It’s a great recipe that she found in a cookbook that a previous tenant left in an apartment she lived in years ago. It’s a crowd pleaser and now has become a Christmas Day tradition.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good meal!

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Cookie Cutters Just In Time For Christmas
Dec 17th, 2011 by

My old star-shaped cookie cutter fits in well with the playing card suit cutters I bought on eBay.

My old star-shaped cookie cutter fits in well with the playing card suit cutters I bought on eBay.

These vintage babies arrived in the mail this week.

Every Christmas I make Befana cookies and look for cookie cutters in the shape of the four playing card suits (that’s how my grandmother made them) but had no luck until this year. Last week, I found them on eBay and today I got to use them.

They’re vintage cookie cutters, from the 30s or 40s and they work better than what is made today. These cutters pick up the dough when you use them and the wooden handles allow you to pop off a cookie with one shake, keeping the shape in tact.

Up until now, I only had a vintage star-shaped cookie cutter with a wooden handle and a newer spade-shaped cutter that didn’t work as well.

If you don’t have vintage cookie cutters in the shape of playing card suits, don’t fret. A Befana cookie by any other shape would taste as sweet.

Here’s the recipe. Enjoy!

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Christmas Befana Cookies
Dec 16th, 2009 by

My grandmother used cookie cutters shaped like the four suits on playing cards. All I have is the spade cutter, which I use along with a star-shaped cookie cutter.

My grandmother used cookie cutters shaped like the four suits on playing cards. All I have is the spade cutter, which I use along with a star-shaped cookie cutter.

La Befana is an old woman who visits children in Italy on Jan. 6 in celebration of the Epiphany. Similar to Santa Claus, she enters their homes through the chimney in order to deliver gifts.

Small towns throughout Italy celebrate her arrival each year, including Barga, in northern Italy, near where my family is from. Many people from Scotland have settled in this area and this year the local school put on an outdoor show, featuring Father Christmas and La Befana.

My grandmother, Bruna, made these Befana cookies every Christmas. Requiring 8 cups of flour, her recipe made enough of these biscuit-like treats to last well past Valentine’s Day. Here, I’ve cut her recipe in half, which still makes about 100 cookies.

This recipe is pretty easy as you just dump all of the cookie dough ingredients in a bowl and stir.

This recipe is pretty easy as you just dump all of the cookie dough ingredients in a bowl and stir.

Ingredients For the Cookie:

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 sticks of butter
  • Skin of 1/2 orange, grated
  • Skin of 1/2 lemon, grated
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • Milk, just enough to work with (about 1/4 - 1/2 cup)
  • Crisco shortening (enough to grease a few cookie sheets)

The egg white makes the filling expand in the oven.

The egg white makes the filling expand in the oven.

Ingredients For the Filling:

  • 1/2 cup of almonds
  • Sugar (1/4 cup plus 1/8 cup)
  • Skin of 1/2 orange, grated
  • Skin of 1/2 lemon, grated
  • Vanilla (1/2 tsp.)
  • 1/2 ounce of Anisette or Whiskey
  • 1 drop of red food coloring
  • 1/16 tsp. of cinnamon
  • 1 egg white (beaten until foamy)

Keep a close eye on the cookies while they cook, so they don't burn.

Keep a close eye on the cookies while they cook, so they don't burn.

What I did:

To make the cookie dough, put all cookie ingredients in a bowl and stir well to blend ingredients.

Put flour over your hands and over a flat surface. Take dough from bowl and knead a few times until all ingredients are blended well.

Take large chunks of the dough and roll it out on a floured surface with a rolling pin covered with flour. Roll it out to about 1/4-inch thickness.

Grease a couple of cookie sheets by spreading Crisco shortening over them and then flouring them.

Take your cookie cutters and cut out cookies. Put on a greased baking sheet and with your index finger, make a small indentation in each one (This is where the filling will go.)

Here, even Santa celebrates La Befana!

Here, even Santa celebrates La Befana!

To make the filling, put almonds and sugar in a food processor and mix until very fine.  Empty into a small bowl.

Add the rest of the filling ingredients, except for the egg white, and mix well. Then fold in the egg white.

Put a small drop of the filling on each cookie and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes, until the cookies turn a dark golden brown on the bottom. (Note: You only need about a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of filling for each cookie as the egg white makes the mixture expand during cooking.)  (Warning: If the cookies are too thin, they will cook quickly and could burn if you don’t watch them.)

Let them cook on a rack and bake the rest in batches.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Secrets of a Food Photographer
Dec 14th, 2009 by

Russell French helped bring the "Slow Food" movement to Portland, Maine.

Russell French helped bring the "Slow Food" movement to Portland, Maine.

OK, so I admit it: my food photography skills need improvement.

Since I started writing about food more than six months ago, my main effort has gone into choosing exceptional dishes that are worth the effort to make and then presenting the recipe in an easy-to-follow, simplistic way. Although I’ve required every recipe to contain a photo of the dish, I haven’t spent the proper amount of time setting up the photo and getting the right lighting. And what I’ve learned since then, is that it’s unlikely I ever will.

That’s because professional food photography takes time: sometimes as long as four to eight hours to get a perfect shot of a dish. I learned that from professional food photographer Russell French — my cousin-in-law (he’s married to my cousin, artist Mary Anne Lloyd) — who I interviewed for the “Book of Odds” site.  And although I know my images will never be as good as his, he has inspired me to try to do a better job.

This is something I intend to work on in the new year. Until then, I hope your holidays are happy ones and that you are inspired by some of the special Christmas treats I plan to make and photograph over the next couple of weeks.

Merry Christmas,

Mark Micheli
Founder, RootsLiving.com

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