Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cena di Natale 2009

After pouring over many, many recipes and researching Italian Christmas menus, I have formulated my own. Ecco qua...

Cena di Natale 2009

Pere con Proscuitto
Fichi cotti al forno con Gorgonzola Dolce

Inverno Lasagna Bianca

Arrostito fagoli verdi e pomodorini

Una selezione di biscotti festa fatti a mano 


Did you cheat and go straight to Google Translator???  Did you learn some new words in Italian?  I did. :)
Okay, sorry, enough of the Italiano...

Here, here...

Christmas Dinner 2009

Pears wrapped with Proscuitto
Baked figs with Sweet Gorgonzola

Main course 
Winter White Lasagna

Side items
Roasted green beans and cherry tomatoes

A selection of handmade holiday cookies

Buon Appetito and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Sure, it's wonderful... if wonderful means being stressed about all the presents you must buy but can't really afford.  Trying to shop in the crowded stores just gives you a migraine.  And the traffic...oh, the traffic...makes you want to pull your hair out and scream as loud as humanly possible.  And don't forget about that lovely, lovely holiday travel- just terrible.  Ask me about last year's travel.  Okay, please don't.  I'll just say it was a pure nightmare.  Check out these articles about travel nightmares turned reality.

An Airport Terminal as Home, With Too Many Siblings in It
Out of Control Crowds at JFK

I'm usually not much of a cynic..actually sounds like Michael took over for this blog post... I actally really enjoy Christmas and the holidays.  But, I just wanted to exclaim to the world that we're so glad we are staying put in Italy this year.  Of course, we will really miss all our family and friends, and it really won't feel the same.  We just want a relaxing holiday vacation that doesn't involve setting foot in JFK airport. 


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Cookies

Baking cookies is one of my favorite holiday traditions.  There's nothing better than a little Christmas music, some kitchen-dancing, and seasonal cookies to 'rouse up my holiday spirit.  Maybe it's the fragrant dough, or licking the sweet icing off my fingers, or the childhood memories in the kitchen.  (Like the time when the dough was so stiff, we broke several wooden spoons trying to mix it.)  Or just maybe it's the "oohs" and "aahs" of friends and family when you present them with your sweet creations.  Whatever it is, it was happening this past Sunday.  It was the absolute perfect day for cookie baking.  Outside, it was a typical cold and snowy winter day, while inside we were warm- rolling, cutting, and baking this year's batch. 

I scoured many baking sites in search of a do-able cookie recipe.  As I have mentioned, I have limited equipment and even limited supplies.  Having no electric mixer is a big hindrance and I had to find a recipe that could pass with old-fashioned elbow grease.  I finally selected one from my favorite baking blog site Joy the Baker..... Chocolate Peppermint Sandwich Cookies!

Our final creation has similar taste and texture to an Oreo, but with a much more superior cream filling (pure white chocolate).  I'm lucky they tasted so good, and here's why...

Michael started out reading me the recipe from the computer.  As I was measuring the dry ingredients into my largest bowl (which happens to be a salad serving bowl), we realized not all the ingredients were going to fit.  I carefully switched them over into my pasta pot, trying to salvage as much as possible.  Michael then called out the last dry ingredient- 1.5 teaspoons of salt.  I filled up the 1 tablespoon with salt and said "Wow, that seems like a lot of salt.  Well, it does bring out the sweetness of the sugar" as I dumped it in to the pot.  Of course as soon as I did, Michael yelled "Was that a teaspoon or tablespoon?"  I frantically dug out the excess salt hoping that I didn't also remove the baking soda.  Michael tried to ease the situation by saying "Ah, it's okay.  It's not really an exact science."  No, actually, baking is an exact science.   Ideally, I would have tossed it and started over, but I didn't have enough cocoa powder for that.  I just crossed my fingers and hoped for the best...

In the end, they turned out way better than expected and received rave reviews from Michael's co-workers. 

I close this post with some reflection...  Most of the afternoon cooking projects I select have two things in common: they always take twice the amount of time I expect and hubby starts helping and then eventually takes over. :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Recipe Hunt

I'm on a mission.  I'm searching out special seasonal recipes with Italian flair.  It's my first time cooking Christmas dinner.  And even though it's only for two, I'm aiming to make it special.  It's also our one and only Christmas in Italy, so I want to attempt something traditionally Italian. 

Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve) is usually meatless and the menu features seafood. My research lead me to the "Feast of the Seven Fishes."  It seems the tradition may have began in Sicily and worked its way across the pond to the Italian-Americans.  The number seven seems to symbolize the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church.  It's questionable if the Italians actually apply this symbolism to their Christmas Eve meals.  I'll have to consult with my Italian acquaintances for further confirmation.  Regardless, in the Catholic faith, no meat is eaten on holy days and I am sure their dinners are laded with seafood.  Midnight Mass follows.  An interesting side note.... This year's Midnight Mass performed by the Pope at St. Peter's Cathedral will be held at 10 pm rather than midnight...I suspect due to the Pope's evening energy level.   
As with non-holiday cuisine, menu specifics for Cena di Natale (Christmas Dinner) vary based on the region. Pasta will definitely be present.  Here in the north, lasagna is a biggie, as is tortellini brodo (tortellini pasta in broth).  A roasted meat usually follows and the type- poultry, pork, or beef varies based on the traditions of the family and region.   

And let's not forget about New Years Eve.  It's also hubby's birthday, so I really want to provoke some shock and awe for that one.  I've found a champagne risotto combo that seems fitting.  I'm thinking of possibly a calamari antipasta to start...  I've already selected the recipe for his birthday dessert, but won't reveal until after the celebration.  I want to keep it a surprise....
New Years Day typically features lentils.  They are thought to bring prosperity and good fortune for the new year. 

Christmas sweets round out the list.  I usually make cream cheese cookies, actually a cookie/cake hybrid- the traditional Christmas cookie for my family.  I'm looking for a new recipe that I can master sans mixer.  (I'm working with very limited baking equipment.  At least I have measuring cups now...)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

December Update

I'm still here. I've just been absent lately.

Thanksgiving has come and gone.  We spent that week in Amsterdam and Brugge.  Friends, Eddie and Julie, met us for a fun-filled and memorable vacation.  Details and more photos of that adventure to come...

Next, after only three days back in Italy, we made a whirl-wind trek across the Atlantic. We were in The States for only three days but managed to fill each one with activities including Michael's commissioning test, a Phish show, and an early family Christmas celebration.

We're finally back in Italy and ready to enjoy the slow, easy pace of an Italian Christmas.