Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dressing Bites with Cranberry and Pepper Jelly Dipping Sauce

This year we had a lot of leftover dressing. For a real treat, use your leftover dressing for these delicious treat. Callie has requested for this to become a tradition at Quail Hollow! Serve with a Hot Pepper Jelly Cranberry Sauce for dipping. Unfortunately, there is no picture of the Dressing Bites, we ate them before I got a chance to take the picture!

Dressing Bites with Hot Pepper Jelly Cranberry Sauce

Dressing Bites
Leftover dressing
1/4 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
Panko bread crumbs

Form the dressing into 1-inch balls. Dip in flour, egg, and panko bread crumbs. Fry until golden brown.

Hot Pepper Jelly Cranberry Sauce
1 can cranberry sauce
1/4 cup hot pepper jelly

In a small saucepan, heat cranberry sauce and hot pepper jelly to combine. Serve warm with the Dressing Bites.

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is a staple for Thanksgiving. Making the sauce is a breeze.

Cranberry Sauce
1 package fresh cranberries
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 20 - 30 minutes. Mash with a potato masher and chill.

Thanksgiving 2008

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The day is one for remembering the many things we can be thankful for and enjoying a great meal with family and friends -- what a great combination! This year we had two Thanksgivings. Our first was at Quail Hollow with family members that would be traveling during the holidays. Our special guests were Mary and Larry Nelson from California and Shelia and Herman Peterson from Maryland. Mary Evelyn is a childhood friend of Peggy and Kenny and it was wonderful having them join us this year. The meal was delicious, thanks to every one's contributions. The main star was the turkey accompanied by dressing and giblet gravy, green beans, sweet potatoes, Brussel sprouts, cranberry casserole, cranberry sauce, cole slaw, rutabagas, pecan pie and pumpkin pie.
This year we all had a lot for which to be thankful. For me, I am thankful for my wonderful husband, family and friends.
Our second Thanksgiving was with Terri's family at their home. I can't even begin to name all the dishes, but the carrot cake and Italian wedding cake were outstanding. Thanks for including us in this wonderful family celebration.
Now, what are we going to do with all those leftovers!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sweet Potato Bread

I found a great sale on sweet potatoes so I decided to buy some and try out a couple of recipes for Sweet Potato Bread. I tried two recipes and my stitching friends selected this one as the best. Thanks to Closet Cooking Kevin for the inspiration!

Sweet Potato Bread
1 3/4 cups self rising flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cups sweet potato, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cream the butter and brown sugar. Add the honey, eggs, buttermilk and sweet potato into the butter and sugar. Stir the sweet potato mixture into the flour mixture. Stir in the pecans. Pour the batter into a 9x5 inch greased loaf pan. Bake in a preheated 350F oven until a tooth pick pushed into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Pour the praline sauce on and and let cool.

Praline ToppingIngredients:
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup pecans, roasted and chopped
1 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons water

Cook the butter and brown sugar in a small skillet until caramelized, about 5 minutes. Stir in the pecans. Pour the mixture onto a piece of parchment paper and let cool. When the praline mixture is cook, break with a rolling pin. Mix the powdered sugar into the water. Mix the praline and sugar water together.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cake Decorating

I have enrolled in Cake Decorating 101. After watching Ace of Cakes, I decided it was time to try my hand at cake decorating. After 4 classes, I have decided this is not my calling. My biggest challenge was getting the right consistency for the icing. Thank you Deena for your patience and guidance in the process!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Vatican

This morning we toured the Vatican with Roman professor, Enrico Bruschini. On our first trip to Rome, Enrico led us through the Forum, the Coliseum and the Vatican. When we began planning this trip, we immediately contacted Enrico to see if he was available for a second tour of the Vatican. Enrico is an expert on the history of the Vatican and its contents. He worked on the cleaning of the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. The museums in the Vatican are incredible. You will see sculptures, frescoes, paintings, tapestries, and relics of the past. You can rent one of the audio tours, but it is nothing like having Enrico making the contents come to life.

One of our first stops was to see the replica of the Pieta. This original is house in the Basilica of St. Peter. In the museum, you get a chance to look at the replica up close and see the details.

For me and my love of textiles, the tapestries are truly amazing. Their size and detail are unbelievable. No pictures can do the tapestries justice. It is one of those times when you have to see it to believe it.
As you look at the many treasures in the museums, nothing is like seeing the Sistine Chapel in person. Enrico brings the frescoes to life. His knowledge is incredible.

After the museums, we head for the Basilica of St. Peter. There you will find the tomb of St. Peter and the Pieta by Michelangelo. Once again, we are astounded by the enormity of the Basilica.

After leaving the Vatican we stop for a pizza before boarding the "Hop On, Hop Off" bus for a tour of the city. This is a great way to see the city. But next time we will do a little research to determine the best bus line for the tour. Unfortunately some of the route was closed and we were unable to do a loop of the city.

Our evening ends with a delicious dinner at La Buca di Ripetta, a delightful trattoria close to our hotel. The food was not only tasty, but beautifully presented.

What a great day in Rome!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


We left Cortona early this morning for Chuisi to catch the train. Keith gave us excellent directions and the trip took less than an hour. The car rental office is within walking distance to the train station. For anyone taking the train to Rome, do not exit at the first Rome station, wait until you reach Termini.

The train station is extremely hectic. With luggage in tow, we headed for the front entrance and the taxi line. Beware! There are many men there to quickly offer you a ride to your destination, but work your way past them to the taxi line!

Once we hit the streets, it didn't take long to find our way to Hotel Forte. Hotel Forte is located on Via Margutta, a quaint street just off the busy thoroughfare between Piazza del Spagna and Piazza del Popolo. After checking in, Kenny and I take off to find lunch. We stop at the Osteria Margutta. The Osteria Margutta was featured in an issue of one of the foodie magazines as a great place to eat. The atmosphere was wonderful, but the food was not. We both had pasta and it reminded me of that terrible stuff you get in the mall - pasta that is overcooked with tomato sauce. And the wine was the same, tasting like someone had watered it down.

But the caffe continues to be excellent. I know I have said it before, but I do wish we could get coffee at home that is as good as it is here. Or maybe not! Kenny tried caffe and chocolate gelato at a cafe at the Piazza del Popolo and the two together were delicious.

For those of you who have read Angels and Demons, the Piazza del Popolo is where the adventure begins. There are 3 churches in the piazza - the Santa Maria dei Miracoli, the Santa Maria and the Santa Maria del Popolo. I love the churches. The architecture and the frescos are amazing. It is hard to leave a church in Rome and not feel the hand of God. The Santa Maria del Popolo is home to works of Bernini and Caravaggio and is spectacular. Today there was a film crew filming the Caravaggio masterpieces. This was a rare opportunity to see the details of the paintings brightly lit.
For dinner tonight we try the Trattoria dal Pollarolo. It is a "mom and pop" type of restaurant with tables set closely together for intimate dining. I had Spaghetti Carbonara and it was extremely tasty. For dessert we try the panna cotta and tiramisu, both great endings to a wonderful meal.
Another "must see" in Rome is the Trevi Fountain. It is a nice walk from the Hotel Forte and a very big tourist attraction. You know you are close to the fountain when you can hear the water. The fountain is massive, the largest of the Baroque fountains in Rome. The legend is that is you throw a coin into the fountain you will return to Rome. I know for a fact that it works. Two years ago we tossed the coin and here we are, back in Rome at the Trevi Fountain. Hopefully we will return again!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cooking in Tuscany

Nan and I spent the day with Alessandra, shopping and cooking. Alessandra owns a beautiful shop in Cortona, il Girasole , and she conducts cooking classes in her home. We started the morning in Cortona with a cappuccino and Alessandra sharing her love and knowledge about Italian cooking. As she talks, I can't help but see so many similarities with our southern cooking. Alessandra described Italian cooking as a simple cuisine of the poor people who made do with whatever was available. Farm workers were given a place to live and a spot of land to grow their own food, much like the sharecroppers in the South. Alessandra's style of cooking was passed down from her grandmothers and her mother who grew up in the Cortona area.Shopping in Cortona is a real treat. Our first visit was to the fruit and vegetable stand. This is not a self-service market. Signs request that you not touch the food for sanitation purposes. What a great idea! Alessandra tells the shop owner what we want and the owner picks out the freshest for our approval.
Our next stop is the wine store before going to the small super mercati. Check out the picture above. Yes, that is a UGA sign. Cortona is the location for UGA's Study Abroad program. Here we purchase the staples for the meal.

The butcher is our last stop. I love butcher shops in Italy. The smell is earthy and the selection incredible. The chickens are sold with their heads and feet so you can see the freshness. We buy a beef roast, fresh sausage and a chicken breast.

Alessandra lives in a charming house built in the 1500's. Her kitchen is the center of her home. We put on our aprons, a gift from Alessandra, and start to work. This is not a "sit back and watch" type of cooking school, but a chance to create classic Italian dishes under the watchful eye of an accomplished cook. During the day we cook, clean, eat and drink while enjoying the conversation. Kenny, Edwin and Keith join us for a wonderful dinner. The menu included:


Polpettine Ascolane
a delicious meatball with beef, pork, chicken and olives

Fiori e foglie fritte
fried squash blossoms and sage leaves

Pecorino fresco con pere e confettura
pecorino cheese drizzle with honey and red pepper flakes

Bruschetta con olio nuovo
bread with freshly pressed olive oil
Primi Piatta

Ravioli al radicchio di Treviso e zaffferano
ravioli with radicchio and leeks

Risotto ai porcini e zafferano
risotto with porcini mushrooms, sausage and saffron

Secondo Piatto
Involtini alla salvia
beef roast and sauce

Carciofi saltati
artichokes with pancetta

Sorry I don't have a picture, I was too busy eating!

Limoncello and Grappa


Rossi e Bianchi di Cortona

When we were planning our trip, the one thing I really wanted to do was cook. Thank you Alessanda for the perfect day. I now have a friend in Italy! Ciao!


Today we leave Florence and drive to Casa bel Posto, an apartment just outside Cortona. The drive through the countryside is filled with farmland and abandoned buildings. The buildings are beautiful, mostly made of stone, and look like they are begging for renovation. It is hard not to dream about how life would be in one of these old buildings, farming the land and enjoying the Tuscan life.
Our hosts, Keith and Tania, have done just that. They decided to leave their home in California several years ago and move to Italy. They lived in an apartment in Cortona before buying Caso bel Posto, a rustic farmhouse surrounded by fields of sunflowers. The young couple has created a cozy retreat for travelers and their hospitality is as warm as the apartment.

At Caso bel Posto we are greeted by our host, Keith. Keith is the perfect host. During our stay he provided us with directions, suggestions for dinner and "must see" places as well as wine and Scotch. He was even there to help Kenny and Edwin buy freshly pressed olive oil from the local mill.

After unloading our car, we take to the hills for Cortona. This landscape is hilly and heavily planted with olive trees ready for harvesting. We park close to the escalator and begin our trek upward to the city. Our timing is lousy once again. Most of the businesses are closing for lunch so we quickly grab a table overlooking the piazza at the Ristorante La Loggetta. The food here is very innovative. We share a Mixed Plate full of delicious antipasti. My favorite is a pesto cheese thingy, served warm. The Zuppa di Pomodoro was delicious. I can't believe I didn't take a picture of it! The soup was served piping hot in a white bowl garnished with fresh pesto. It looked as good as it tasted. After lunch we stop for a cappuccino before heading back to the apartment to crash.

For dinner we take Keith's suggestion and go to Bastian Contrario. Leo, the owner, greets us at the door with a big smile. He quickly realizes we don't speak Italian and he doesn't speak English, so he gives us a warm handshake and shows us to a table. From here on out, Leo is in charge of our delicious meal. The antipasto platter included fried onion rings, fried cauliflower, fried artichokes, chicken liver pate (or whatever the Italian version is), ragu on crostini, mozzarella, proscuitto, melon slices, and more. This should have been enough for our dinner, but Leo wanted us to try more.For the second course, we followed Leo's recommendation for pizza and it was delicious - thin, crispy crust, tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and toppings of artichokes, olives, ham, and mushrooms.
Leo was soon back offering dessert, but we said no. Leo left the table only to return with a plate of panna cotta topped with strawberries that was light and tasty.
Just when we think we can't eat another thing, Leo returns with what Kenny thinks is a bottle of Chivas Regal scotch. Leo pours us all a glass and Kenny is the first to take a drink. The look on his face tells me this isn't scotch. Leo smiles and tells us it is vinsanto, a sweet Tuscan dessert wine, the perfect ending to a perfect evening. Thanks to all our new Italian friends for giving us a night we will always remember. Buona sera!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Trattoria Icche C'e C'e

If you are looking for a great place to eat in Florence, check out Trattoria Icche C'e C'e. This quaint trattoria is located on an isolated alley between Piazza Santa Croce and Piazza della Signoria. We arrived early and looked inside to see the owner Gino and his family enjoying a meal before opening. We were soon joined in our wait with a mother and daughter traveling together from Arkansas. It was good to hear another southern accent.

Gino's menu is full of classic Italian dishes. We started with Pappa al Pomodoro and Ribolitta. Both were full-flavored and thick with bread. For entrees included Veal and Artichokes, Grilled Porkchops and Chicken with Lemon Sauce with the pork chops my favorite. Limoncello completed the meal.

As we were finishing our meal, the couple sitting at the next table asked where we were from. As we talked, we soon discovered we had common friends in Newnan. It was another of those "small world" moments.

Caffe Riviore

Tonight after dinner we went on a chocolate hunt. Our destination was Caffe Riviore in the Piazza della Signoria. This upscale cafe is beautifully decorated with pink tablecloths and walls of beautiful art. And there is plenty of art in the displays of chocolate as well. This is a chocoholics dream. Nan and Edwin opted for some chocolates, served on napkins on white plates. Kenny and I went for the Cioccolata Calda, a thick, dark, not too sweet hot chocolate drink topped with whip cream. We made the big mistake of sitting down and paid the price - $24 euros for the drink! You see, the price you pay increases drastically if you sit at a table. Next time we will be standing at the bar enjoying this decadent treat!

Exploring Florence

Today we have nothing planned except to walk the streets and explore Florence. The streets are full of locals and tourists enjoying this wonderful fall day. At the Duomo, a military band is performing. They are dressed in uniforms with feathered hats. Their music fills the piazza.

It is Sunday morning and the Duomo is closed until 13:30. San Lorenzo Market is just around the corner and it is a perfect place to shop. This is the major shopping area, full of sidewalk vendors selling leather, scarves, toys and gifts. After shopping, we grab a pizza at an outdoor cafe before walking to the Duomo.
The line at the Duomo is relatively short. The exterior of the Cathedral is ornate and massive. As we enter the cathedral, you are first hit by the enormity. It is hard to comprehend how this building was erected without our modern day machinery. We light candles for loved ones while standing in line for what we thought was the Duomo Museum. The line moves quickly and we soon realized we were waiting to enter the gift shop. As we exit, a guard informs us that the museum is closed and will reopen on Monday. I am disappointed that we will not be able to visit the Duomo Museum, home to one of Michelangelo's last sculpture, the Florentine Pietà. This will be at the top of my list on our next visit.
After the Duomo, we take the City Sightseeing bus and make the loop around Florence. Views from the south bank high atop the hill, overlooking Florence are breathtaking. For those of you planning a visit, this is a great way to see the city but is very expensive, 20 Euros for a 24-hour pass.

Lunch at Il Castagnolino

The Saffron Crocus
During our tour of Tuscany, Rebecca arranged for us to have lunch at Il Castagnolino, a working farm and B&B about 2 km from San Gimignano. Carmela Cristiano was our hostess and she gave us a tour of her small farm. Il Castagnolino produces saffron and olive oil and she was harvesting the saffron when we arrived. I had no idea that saffron grew in Italy. The blossoms from the crocus plant are picked in late October and early November. The stamen are carefully removed from the flower and allowed to dry. Carmela and her friend, Alessandra, treated us to a Tuscan lunch seasoned with saffron and fresh pressed olive oil from the farm. This is exactly the kind of experiences I wanted while in Italy - to be see how Italians garden, cook and eat. Thanks Rebecca for making this happen!
Broccoli Souffle
Aubergine and Veggies
Cheese-filled Crepe
Fresh Carrots, Celery and Fennel
Freshly Pressed Olive Oil

Primi Piatti
Fresh Pasta with a Saffron Cheese Sauce

Saffron Cookies and Ice Cream

Saturday, November 1, 2008

il Pizzaiuolo

It is Saturday night and the streets of Florence are crowded with locals looking for a place to eat. A block from our apartment we find an osteria with a pizza oven and an interesting menu. Il Pizzaiuolo at Via de' Macci 113/r is known for its Neapolitan-style pizza. The pizza was delicious. The fresh mozzarella is complimented with proscuitto, tomatoes, olives and basil and has a wonderful smoked flavor. Now we know where to eat good Italian pizza in Florence!

A Day in Tuscany

Today is All Saints Day in Italy and many of the businesses are closed. Thanks to Rebecca, our guide for the day, we are traveling through Tuscany. We leave Florence and head south to the Superstrada, a non-toll highway, similar to our interstate highways, minus the emergency lane. When we exit the Superstrada, we head for the mountains and the beautiful countryside. The roads are winding and Rebecca blows her horn as she enters the tight curves, just to let oncoming traffic know we have the right away since there is no room for two cars. Rebecca is a master at the wheel, a true Italian!

Rebecca has arranged for us to tour the winery at Villa Caffaggio in Panzano in the Conca d'Oro. the Chianti Classico region. Villa Caffaggio grows two types of grapes, approximately 85% of which are Sangiovese and the remaining 15% are Cabernet Sauvignon. Villa Caffaggio produces Chianti Classico and Super Tuscan wines. We were treated to 4 wines, 2 Chianti Classicos and 2 Super Tuscan. The overwhelming favorite was the San Martino.
This is olive harvesting time in Tuscany. The hills are full of olive trees and as we rounded a curve, we noticed several men along the roadside picking olives. The men we kind enough to show me their technique and try my hand at the harvesting. A net is placed under the trees and a hand rake is used to pull the ripe olives from the trees. Once the olives are harvested they are taken to the olive press in town to convert the ripe fruit to olive oil.

After the wine tour, our next stop was a saffron farm for lunch. More about that later.

To end our tour of Tuscany, we visit the hill town of San Gimignano, known for its Medieval towers. We climb to the top of the town for a spectacular view of the countryside. The Duomo is a fine example of Tuscan Romanesque architecture. The exterior is plain but the inside is full of beautiful frescos. After a cup of cappuccino and a tour of the shops, we drive back to Florence.
If you are planning a trip to Tuscany, I would highly recommend you check out Rebecca Christphersen's web site Tuscan Wine Tours. She is very knowledgeable about the wines and history of the region and will make sure you experience the heart of Tuscany.

Thanks Rebecca for giving us the chance to be Italians for the day!