This is a take on a traditional Italian cake. It is a relatively easy cake to make, and oh so delicious.

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups of sugar
8 ounces part skim ricotta
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 2 large lemons
1 1/2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

How I Made It

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a bundt cake pan with bakers’ spray.

In a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. While that is going, in a separate bowl sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

Add the ricotta cheese to the butter and sugar and mix completely.  Then add the eggs one at a time, mixing completely in between each.  Add the lemon zest and the extracts.

Slow the mixer and add the dry ingredients in three batches, mixing completely in between.  The resulting cake batter is more doughy than most batters.

Transfer the cake batter to the bundt pan and spread it evenly with a spatula.  Bake the cake in the center of the oven for 38 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

How It Turned Out

Lemon Cake

You can serve this lovely cake with a basic lemon glaze, or with berries and whipped cream, or both!!

At some point this Fall, I decided I was going to eat granola and yogurt every morning for breakfast.  Nevermind that I never eat breakfast. Or that I’m not a big fan of granola. Thus, I have several packages of granola laying around and no desire to eat them.  Unless. . .

If you can make oatmeal cookies, can’t you make granola cookies?  That’s not a huge leap of logic, is it?  So, instead of toast and jam this morning I decided to make these breakfast cookies.

Ingredients

1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3 overripe bananas
3 cups of granola (I used Nature Valley Oats and Dark Chocolate)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

How I Made Them

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line 4 cookie sheets with parchment or silpats.

In a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until it is light and fluffy. Reduce the speed of the mixer to medium and add the egg and vanilla.  Add the bananas in pieces (if you are not using a stand mixer, mash them up before adding them to the cookie dough).

In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon together.  Add the flour mixture to the standing mixer and combine on low-medium speed.  Then add the granola, and then the chocolate chips.

Drop spoonsful of the cookie dough onto the cookie sheets, with about 2 inches in between each cookie.

Bake for 15 minutes, until the cookies are done but not too crispy.  Use a spatula to remove the cookies from the cookie sheet to a cooling rack.

How They Turned Out

Yummy!  I was worried that the hard granola would still be hard in the cookies but it softened right up.The banana taste comes right through, and the dark chocolate adds just enough sweetness.

Banana Granola Cookies

Makes 3 dozen plus cookies.

This is one of the very best — though not the prettiest — cheesecakes I’ve ever made. It’s not a mocha cheesecake. It’s an intense espresso cake with a rich chocolate swirl.  Beware, though: it cracks a lot, so you need heaps of whipped cream to cover the flaws.

Ingredients:

10 ounce package of gourmet shortbread cookies
6 tbs unsalted butter, melted
2 tbs espresso powder dissolved in 1 tbs warm water (Medaglia D’Oro is the best)
3 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup of sugar
3 eggs
6 ounces Guittard bittersweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream for the ganache

How I Made It:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare a 9 inch springform pan with baking spray, then wrap the outside of the bottom in foil (in case the butter leaks out when you set the crust).

Crush the shortbread in the food processor. When you have a nice batch of crumbs, drizzle the melted butter over the top of the crumbs. Cover and pulse a couple of times to combine the crumbs and butter.

Press the shortbread crumbs into the bottom of the springform pan.  Place the pan on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for about 5 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and set it aside to cool while you make the batter.

In a standing mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the sugar and beat the mixture until it is fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each into the batter completely before adding the next.  Add the espresso and continue to mix at medium speed.

** I tend to over mix my cheesecake batter, because I like an airier cake.  As long as you have a well-combined batter, you can reduce the mixer time to your taste. **

In a double boiler or heavy bottom saucepan, heat the whipping cream over medium heat.  Be careful not to let it get too hot or to scorch.  Add the chocolate to the hot cream, and remove the pan from the burner.  Whisk the chocolate and cream together until smooth.  Set aside.

Transfer half of your cheesecake batter to the springform pan.  Then, spoon five or six dollops of chocolate ganache on top of the batter.  With a thin bladed knife, swirl the chocolate into the batter. Espresso Cheesecake Part 1

Carefully pour the rest of the batter into the pan, and then repeat the chocolate swirl step.

Put the springform pan back on the cookie sheet and then put it in the center of the oven to bake.  Bake the cheesecake for 36 minutes or just until the edges start to turn a light brown and crack.  The center will not be set.  Turn off the oven and let the cheesecake sit in the oven for another 15-20 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the oven. Gently release the sides of the pan.  If you are not going to serve it right away, put the cheesecake, covered, in the refrigerator until you’re ready.  When you’re ready, top with whipped cream and serve.

How It Turned Out:

Cheesecake Final

VOILA!  Scrumptious!

I love all things Caprese (not just the salad, the island, too!).  Caprese salads are so simple and so tasty.  But, they can also be a bit . . . mundane.

So this year, for my holiday feast (which had an Italian theme) I decided to do something different. But what? And then, while I was watching the Curious George Holiday Movie with my favorite five year old, I saw just the thing — Tomato Snowmen!

The Italian chef on Curious George’s street makes them, and they are the Man in Yellow Hat’s favorite.  Curious George tries to make them as a Christmas gift for him, with disastrous results. Thankfully, mine turned out nicely with no monkey business.

Ingredients:

Cherry tomatoes
Fresh mozzarella medallions
Fresh organic basil
Long toothpicks
Balsamic vinegar for drizzling

How I Made Them:

Just as you would expect — stack the tomatoes, with bites of mozzarella and basil in between, on the long toothpicks to make a Caprese Snowman.  Plate and serve as an easy starter.

Caprese Snowmen

As every Southern woman knows, a casserole can cure everything from a cold to a broken heart.  It’s one of my favorite roles at church, being part of the Casserole Brigade. This lasagna recipe (or a version similar) makes a frequent appearance because it is easy to assemble and deliver, and then your friend can bake it whenever they are ready for supper.

Ingredients

1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbs olive oil
1 jar of fancy tomato sauce — I used Gina Rispoli Arrabiata Sauce
1 28oz can of organic diced tomatoes
2 Mild Italian Chicken Sausages
Barilla No-Boil Lasagna Noodles
1 zucchini sliced into thin discs
15oz part-skim ricotta
1/3 cup shredded parmesan
2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella

How I Made It

Prepare a deep baking dish with a quick spray of olive oil.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, bell pepper, and garlic together until tender. Squeeze the sausage from the casing into the skillet, then break it up with a spoon so that there are no big pieces. Brown the sausage with the peppers and onions, stirring frequently so that the vegetables don’t burn.

When the sausage is cooked through, add the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Cover and bring the sauce to a simmer.

Combine the ricotta and parmesan together in a bowl.

To assemble the lasagna, start by putting a little sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.  Lay the lasagna noodles side by side in the bottom.  Spread a layer of ricotta — not too thin and not too thick — over the noodles.  Top with sauce and shredded mozzarella.  Add another layer of noodles, then ricotta, then the zucchini slices. Top with sauce and shredded mozzarella.  Continue with these layers until you reach the top of the baking dish.

Lasagna

You can freeze or refrigerate the lasagna until you are ready to deliver or bake it.  With these no bake noodles, a little time to settle and soak up the sauce is a good thing.  Also, make sure there is plenty of sauce in your layers, so that there is enough moisture to cook the noodles as it bakes.

When ready, bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes.  I start out with it covered with foil, but uncover it for the last 5-8 minutes so the cheese on top gets brown and bubbly.

Even though it’s cold, and dark by 4:00 p.m. here, that’s no reason not to uncover the grill and throw on a few steaks. Especially when organic grass fed steaks are on sale.  So I whipped up this concoction and let them marinate for several hours.

Ingredients:

1/3 cup reduced sodium soy salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup reduced sodium Worcestershire
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp cracked red pepper
1 tsp Gourmet Garden minced garlic
3 bay leaves
a sprinkle of black pepper

I don’t know if it was the quality of the meat, or the marinade, or the combination of the two, but these were the loveliest, most tender steaks. Just 10-12 minutes on the grill, and they were perfectly medium rare — a rich red without being bloody.  This is now a staple in my repertoire.

Fall weather creates a craving for comfort food — especially hot, creamy casseroles. This easy peasy way to make beef stroganoff results in a lovely jubbly homemade meal while you spend the day outside in the pumpkin patch.

Ingredients:

1 lb organic grass fed stew beef, cubed
2 cups sliced fresh baby portobello mushrooms
1 cup diced onion (frozen or fresh)
16 ounces organic low sodium or no salt added beef broth
1 tbs organic tomato paste
1 tbs Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tsp Gourmet Garden garlic paste
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup organic sour cream
egg noodles or other pasta, cooked al dente

How I Made It:

Rinse and pat dry the beef cubes before putting them in the slow cooker.  Cover the beef with the onions and mushrooms.  In a bowl, whisk together the beef broth, Worcestershire, and little dab of garlic.  Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.  Set the slow cooker to low and go play for 6-7 hours.

About half an hour before you’re ready to eat, dissolve the flour in a bit of water. It should be of a consistency between wallpaper paste and milk paint. Stir the flour mixture into the sauce and let it cook for 30 minutes more.  Cook the pasta and then, right before you are ready to serve, stir the sour cream into the sauce and combine thoroughly.

Serve the stroganoff sauce over noodles.  Add a salad or steamed carrots for a balanced meal.

How It Turned Out:

YUM-MEE!  It is satisfyingly creamy, with big chunks of tender beef and rich mushroom flavor. I used veggie noodles, both for the vitamins and the harvest colors.

Stroganoff

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