Perfect Panettone

How this came out as perfect as can be will always be one of life's great mysteries...

For the last two years, I've actually made a pretty darned good panettone. The previous years - not so good.

Using the same recipe each time, I kinda figured out what I was doing wrong - usually not allowing it to proof properly or refusing to believe it really is a fairly wet, sticky dough and adding too much flour.

This year, I started off as always, but when I mixed the flour with the milk, it kinda lumped together. It was like a mixing bowl of orzo.

I considered tossing it and starting over, but decided to go for it. I added the eggs - too quickly, I'm sure - and I ended up with a lumpy wet mass. At this point, I should add that I had six eggs in the carton and added all six. Not a smart move.

Knowing it was too loose, I started adding more flour by the tablespoon. I knew I needed a sticky dough, so I set the timer for 10 minutes and walked away - letting the mixer run,.  came back to a pretty decent looking dough - lumps gone.

Time to start adding the butter.

Even though the butter had been out for several hours, it wasn't quite as soft as it should have been. "Room Temperature" is a subjective term - ours is probably colder than many. Anyway... I started adding the butter and it took forever for it to mix in. Where the recipe states "Total mixing time will be about 10 minutes – maybe a bit more." it definitely took more - it was easily 20 minutes of non-stop mixing.

30 minutes of pretty much non-stop mixing. It was silky and satiny.

I scraped it into a bowl, added a lid, and into the refrigerator it went. The following morning I followed the instructions for adding the fruit and rolling it into a ball and placing it in the buttered panettone paper mold. (I placed the paper mold into a 7" springform pan for added support.)

I then let it rise for a full three hours at 95°F on the proofing setting of our oven. I then pulled it out, heated the oven to 350°F, and into the oven it went. The result was perfection!

Panettone

Fruit

  • 300gr mixed dried fruits (currants, raisins, cranberries, candied lemon and orange peel, dried cherries, or any combination)
  • 6 tablespoons brandy

Dough

  • 1 1/2 tbsp rapid-rise yeast
  • 5 ounces 98°F milk
  • 50gr (1/4 cup) sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp Fiori Di Sicilia extract
  • 500gr (4 cups) bread flour
  • 5gr salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 255gr unsalted butter, at room temperature

Place dried fruits in bowl, add liquor, cover and keep at room temp overnight.

Mix sugar with barely warm milk. Add yeast and set aside.

Mix flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add yeast mixture and mix to combine.

Add the eggs. Mix on medium speed until the dough begins to smooth out.

Cut the softened butter into 1 tbsp chunks and add the butter a few pieces at a time, mixing it in fully before adding more. Total mixing time will be about 10 minutes – maybe a bit more. It should be glossy and satiny. It will be sticky.

Butter a large bowl and scrape dough into it. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The following morning, strain the soaking fruit.

Place dough on a lightly floured counter and spread out into a rectangular shape.

Place half of the fruit onto half of the spread-out dough. Fold the dough over the fruit and fold over, again. Pat out, again, add the remaining fruit, fold several times and then form into a ball.

Butter a 7″ panettone mold or paper.

Add the dough ball, lightly cover, and allow to rise for about 3 hours – or until the dough is rising above the rim.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 300° F and bake for an additional 45 to 55 minutes.

Cool completely before slicing.

 

The baking gods were definitely watching over me on this one.


Welcome 2023

Out with the old, in with the new...

Here's a reprint of my take on New Year....

If my mom ever cooked anything special for the new year, I really don’t remember it. The first time I recall hearing about good luck New Year’s foods was when I was in the Navy. Working with lots of guys from down south, Hoppin’ John entered my vocabulary. As I got older and moved around the country, more traditions arrived.

When I lived at Lake Tahoe, working for the Hyatt, I worked with a lot of Mexicans. They made tamales and brought them in for everyone to share. Somewhere, I remember King Cake – that was probably Boston. Black-eyed peas and cornbread followed me around the USofA, and landing in Pennsylvania, it became Pork and Sauerkraut. Victor would divorce me if I ever made pork and sauerkraut – so much for good luck.

After years in the restaurant and hotel business, the very last day I want to be out is New Years Eve. It’s even worse than Mother’s Day. I don’t know if you can even imagine the horror of delivering pizzas on such a night, or dealing with drunks throwing glasses in the general vicinity of a casino fireplace. We were still finding shards of glass for weeks after that one…

Other than a few small house parties, First Night in Boston was probably one of the more fun of the New Year festivities I’ve experienced. Definitely the most unique. Outdoors in a cold, snowy Boston with performances ranging from classical to contemporary in a score or more different venues. And the crowds were relatively well-behaved.

We had bullets raining down on us when we lived in San Leandro – why people think it’s a good idea to shoot guns into the air boggles my mind. We flew across the country on New Year’s Eve 1999 to bring in the year 2000 with Victor’s family – on a near-empty flight in deserted airports – remember Y2K?!?. And, as 2003 turned into 2004, being locked out of Times Square after seeing The Producers with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick less than a half-block away was pretty aggravating. We ended up heading back to our hotel and had a champagne toast with the bartender, the Beverage Manager, and a couple from Norway as the clock struck twelve.

Normally, I eschew crowds – especially the throngs out on a New Year’s Eve – but I do think I’d like to ring in the new year in a European city, Rome, London, Paris, Florence, Barcelona… I dunno… Outdoors in a huge plaza, somewhere – and within walking distance of wherever we were staying. The biggest stipulation being within walking distance of where we would be staying. I wouldn’t want to have to deal with any sort of transportation. And I could definitely envision a moonlit walk through Paris at 3am

So... New Year's Eve 2022 was fun and quiet. My brother and sister-in-law came over for homemade pizza and Aperol Spritzes.

Mike and I bored Victor and Debbie with antics from our Navy Days... We were both in The Gulf of Tonkin around the same time - he on the Saratoga (CVA-60) and me on the Ranger (CVA-61). Mike was an Airdale - working on the flight deck. I was a Commissaryman working mainly in the Bake Shop working 12 hour shifts 7 days a week baking thousands and thousands of loaves of bread, rolls, cakes, pies, donuts - you name it. I had the easy job.

The bars of Olongapo City in The Philippines, the Wan Chai district in Hong Kong, going through typhoons - all of the trouble a 20-year-old and a 23-year-old could get into 7000 miles from home. And there was a LOT of trouble to get into! That we survived is a testament to our good upbringing.

I spent New Year's Eve 1972 drinking homemade apple wine in the forward bake shop with a couple of buddies. The Navy recipe was to open a case of canned apple juice, add a pinch of yeast to each can, and let it sit behind the ovens until ripe. It was pretty nasty, but it did its job.

I had been dressed as Santa the week before... Love those Navy-issued glasses!

It just dawned on me that the apple wine was fifty years ago, last night! That really is several lifetimes ago. At least my taste has gotten a bit more sophisticated - last night was Laurent-Perrier La Cuvee Brut with Aperol!

And just in case you might want to make a pizza, this year... this really is a great dough. It's a 2-day rise, so plan accordingly.

Pizza Dough

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (100º to 105º)
  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 4 cups “00” flour or unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for bowl

Sprinkle yeast over warm water in bowl of mixer fitted with dough hook. Let proof about 5 minutes.

Mix together flour and salt. Add to yeast mixture. Mix on low speed about 4 minutes or until dough forms a coarse ball. Stop mixer and cover bowl with a towel. Let dough rest about 5 minutes, then remove towel and continue mixing another 2 minutes or so.

Lightly oil a large bowl. Form dough into a ball, transfer to bowl and turn to lightly coat with oil. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes, then refrigerate overnight.

Punch down dough, re-roll, and return to bowl. Tightly cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.

Divide dough into 2 pieces; shape pieces into balls and place on a lightly floured work surface. Loosely cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled, about 2 hours.

And Happy New Year!


Christmas Dinner - 2022

 

Phoebe and Nancy pulled out all the stops. An outrageous meal with some outrageous people.

Fun, Fun. And More Fun.

We started off with an hors d'oeuvre remake from Christmas Eve.

And then we moved on to the main event - Prime Ribs. Yes, plural. They made two!

Perfectly cooked. of course!

And then it was the side dishes... Mashed potatoes, of course

And a vat of gravy. Phoebe makes good gravy!

Green Beans with chopped garlic

Creamed Spinach

A fabulous salad

and the obligatory dinner rolls

Because we definitely didn't eat enough, we had desserts - yes, plural, again.

Brownies with a mint frosting in homage to Mom..

An Orange Apple Cake

Lots more cupcakes

And Pumpkin Snickerdoodles that I didn't get a picture of.

It was an entire weekend built on excess, and we realize just how fortunate we are that we are able to do so. No one is rich, but we're definitely doing better than so many others. No one has to worry about where their next meal is coming from or in danger of losing their home. We were able to buy presents - and a lot of really good food!

It's a great feeling.

Since my feelings on New Year's Eve are fairly common knowledge, a raucous Christmas is going to morph into a much quieter New Year's Eve.

Stay tuned...


Traditional Fruitcake - Sorta

There are so many variations on a Fruitcake, that it's nigh-on impossible to call one traditional. I mean... traditional from the 1600s? Traditional from a can?

The only thing really traditional about this is it has fruit and nuts - and it's dark.

As I have stated before, I like fruitcake - in all its guises. Homemade is the best, but I'll settle for a slice from a can if that's all there is.

Today's fruitcake is a mishmash of recipes from lord knows where... I have no fewer than six fruitcake recipes on the site, and all of them have been tweaked at least twice.

 

Fruitcake

  • 2 cups mixed diced glacéed fruits
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 3/4 cup brandy
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped assorted nuts
  • 1/4 cup peach jam mixed with 1 tbsp brandy

In a large bowl combine all of the fruits with the rum and let macerate several hours or overnight.

Line the bottom of a well-buttered 9 1/2-inch springform pan with a round of parchment paper and butter the paper. Into a small bowl sift together the flour, the baking powder, and the spices.

Cream together the butter and the brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy and beat in 4 of the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Drain the fruit mixture well and mix the juices into the batter.

Stir the flour mixture into the batter, one fourth at a time, stir in the fruit mixture, the almond meal, and the nuts, stirring until the mixture is just combined, and turn the batter out into the prepared pan.

Put 2 loaf pans, each filled with hot water, in a preheated 300°F. oven and put the springform pan between them. Bake the cake for 1 hour, brush the top with the remaining egg, beaten lightly, and bake the cake for 1 hour more. While the cake is baking, in a saucepan melt the peach jam with the remaining 1 tablespoon rum over moderate heat, bring the mixture to a boil, and strain it through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on the solids.

Cool cake in the pan on a rack for 30 minutes.  Remove from pan. Brush the top of the cake with glaze.

Wrap in cheesecloth and soak with brandy. Store in a cool, dry place.

I have made this with rum, whiskey, and brandy. Today was brandy. I have also switched out the dried fruits and nuts. Today's nuts were pistachios and walnuts.

As soon as it cools, it will get wrapped and sit in a nice cupboard waiting for Christmas Eve...

Unless we decide to dive in earlier, that is...

 


Apricot Macadamia Nut Fruitcake

I started a bit of holiday baking, today...

A bit, because we do not do the insane baking of years past.

We had a lot of fun doing it, but, at the same time, it was all we did for weeks before Christmas.

It's more fun being retired and doing a few things...

Today, was Apricot Macadamia Nut Fruitcake.

The original recipe came from Bon Appetit magazine years and years ago. It's totally untraditional and totally delicious.

I made just one - gone are the days of making 4x the recipe - and set it off to age in some brandy.

 

Apricot Macadamia Nut Fruitcake

adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons apricot brandy
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cups flour, sifted twice
  • 1 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup macadamia nuts, lightly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 275°F. Grease and flour a 6 cup Bundt pan or 8″ round cake pan and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat yolks in small bowl and add to butter mixture. Mix well.

Combine milk, brandy and vanilla and add alternately with flour in 4 batches, mixing well after each addition. Stir in apricots, raisins and macadamia nuts.

Whip egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and continue beating until stiff but not dry. Gently fold into batter. Spoon into prepared pan and bake until tester inserted in center comes out clean (about 2 1/4 hours). Cool completely in pan.

Sprinkle a bit of apricot brandy on top and serve. Cakes can also be made in advance, wrapped in apricot brandy-soaked cheesecloth, wrapped in plastic and aged. YUM!!

 

 

I'm also going to make a traditional fruitcake, this week. I'm just about the only person I know who likes it, but that's okay...

I think we may start the Christmas Decorating tomorrow... Back in our youth, it was always the day-After-Thanksgiving-Decorate-A-Thon. We've slowed down there a bit, as well.

On a positive note, we did get the Christmas cards in the mail.

 


Food, Glorious Food

226.4lbs the morning after Thanksgiving. Not bad, considering it was non-stop eating from 2pm until sometime past 8pm. And what glorious eating it was! It’s really great to be a part of a family that really knows how to throw a holiday feast!

I’m definitely not beating myself up for gaining a pound this week. We ended up going out to dinner twice in 4 days, to start. Our other meals were realistic, so only a pound is pretty good, considering. Besides… I can lose the weight. What I never want to lose is the fun we have when we get together – it’s worth a bit of over-indulgence!

We started off at 2pm with hors d’oeuvres… Naturally, I didn’t get any pictures of the table-full of fabulous finger foods.

Italian sausages braised in white wine… olive cheese puffs, cheese toasties, a cheese board with cambozola, gouda, and another – my mind is blanking… stuffed mushrooms… I know there was more – I wish I had taken pictures.

I did take pictures of the dinner table, though.

We had two turkeys, garlic mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, scalloped potatoes, corn pudding, brussels sprouts with onion and bacon, bacon-topped macaroni and cheese, a fantastic salad, homemade and canned cranberry sauces, and homemade dinner rolls.

And then – when I could barely waddle – we started on desserts.

Wednesday was Finley and Elise’s 2nd birthday, so we also celebrated them with Birthday Cake and Birthday Cupcakes.

Then we had mini pumpkin tarts, mini walnut tarts, and ginger cookies.

Two-bite delights!

And speaking of delights, here’s Grandpa reading a story to Finley with a Birthday Bow on his head.

A perfect day.

And I only gained a pound!


Cranberry Stilton Salad with Pumpkin Dressing

Ruth Pearson

This salad shows the genius of my dear friend, Ruth! After seeing a salad with Pumpkin Dressing at a local salad place, she created this, blending Fall flavors in a hip, contemporary way!

The dressing recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups and any leftovers (not that there’s likely to be any!) may be refrigerated.

For the Salad:

  • Baby Spinach (or a hearty mixed greens)
  • Cranberry Stilton Cheese, crumbled
  • Nut mix of your choice

For the Pumpkin Dressing:

  • 3/4 cup Grapeseed oil (or other light, neutral oil)
  • 1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Pumpkin Butter
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.

Crumble Cranberry Stilton cheese over baby spinach and mix.

Whisk dressing ingredients together, adding salt and pepper to taste. Pour over salad and mix well.

Top with nut mix and enjoy!


Lithuanian Krupnikas

This comes from an old TJ customer circa Christmas, 2001.

  • 2 cups water – cold
  • 1 lb sugar
  • 1/2 lb honey
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 10 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 4 tsp lemon juice
  • 4 tsp orange juice
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 1 liter grain alcohol

In pot: cold water, sugar, and honey – heat slowly until dissolved. Then add the next 5 ingredients (spices) and simmer with frequent stirring for 1 hour.

Remove from heat, add the boiling water.

Let cool to room temperature and add the alcohol.

Filter through cheese cloth (or coffee filter). Bottle, let stand a few days to settle and clear, then carefully pour into a clean bottle without disturbing the sediments.

Store in a cool place to age & mellow.

SKOL!


Marie's Pineapple Bread Dressing

Marie Martorano

Marie only makes this at Easter. I think it’s good enough for year-round eating!

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 slices bread, cubed
  • 1 20 oz can crushed pineapple, well drained

Cream together sugar and butter. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each.
Fold in bread and pineapple. Bake in 1 1/2 qt casserole at 350ºF for 1 hour.

Marie usually doubles the recipe and uses a bit less sugar and butter. A double recipe fits perfectly into a standard 9×13 pyrex dish.


Easter 2019

Easter 2019

Another day of fun times and fun food! We started off with drinks and appetizers. Naturally.

Appetizers:

Uncle Rudy's Easter Pie

Easter 2019

Sweet and Spicy Shrimp

Easter 2019

Date and Pecan Pesto with Homemade Ricotta

Easter 2019

Along with Brie, Hummus, chips an pitas...

And then we moved on to the Main Event:

Ham with Apricot Mustard Glaze

Easter 2019

Baked Cod with Salsa Verde

Easter 2019

Roasted Potatoes

Easter 2019

Roasted Asparagus with Lemon

Easter 2019

Roasted Beets

Easter 2019

Lentil Salad

Easter 2019

Bean Salad

Easter 2019

5-Grain Salad

Easter 2019

Hot Cross Buns

Easter 2019

And the Desserts:

Limoncello Tiramisù

Easter 2019

Chocolate Nests

Easter 2019

Pastina Pie

Easter 2019

Anise Biscotti and Pistachio Biscotti

Easter 2019

Lots of food, fun, and laughter.

The highlights - other than the company - were the desserts... They're the things we don't eat very often, anymore. The Pastina Pie and the Limoncello Tiramisù were excellent - and the biscotti were perfection.

The Hot Cross Buns were another surprise. I had never made them before and they were surprisingly good - they're going to make good ham sandwiches for lunch.

All in all, a very successful day!


Beef in Guinness

Lá Fhéile Pádraig, Cuid a Dó

Our Beef Braised in Guinness took a turn to the better, this evening. This is a dish I've been making for years and haven't really varied much from the basic. Tonight, we varied!

It started with Victor not knowing what I was planning for dinner, tonight, so he went into the kitchen and made a batch of pasta. Our meals are pretty flexible - either of us can just go in and decide to do dinner without fanfare or consultation. It works for us.

I said, great, I was going to do Beef in Guinness but nothing had been prepped. He said he'd freeze the dough. I said No... make wide noodles. I had a plan...

Fresh Pasta

Instead of doing my typical large pieces of beef and potatoes, I did stew-sized pieces - sans potatoes - and made a bit of a different dish. A stew-like dish with noodles. Same rich, delicious flavor - just a different final presentation.

Part of the fun of cooking is switching things out - being creative. Tonight, we were creative.

Beef Braised in Guinness

  • 16 oz beef, in cubes
  • 1 large leek, diced
  • 8 shallots, halved
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 1 pound assorted mushrooms
  • all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 2 bottles Guinness
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • Fresh pasta noodles

Cut the meat into cubes. Peel the shallots and slice in half. Chop the leek. Slice the carrots into rounds.

Place the flour in a dish and mix in 1 tsp of salt, pepper, and a bit of garlic powder. Heat the butter in an oven proof pan with lid.  Dredge the pieces of meat in the seasoned flour and brown. Set aside as the pieces are cooked. Add the leeks and shallots and cook until soft. Add the carrots and mushrooms and cook until mushrooms have wilted.

Add the Guinness. Allow to boil for a minute or two, then add the basil and honey. Add the meat. Taste and add salt and pepper, as needed.

Cover the dish and bake at 325° for about 90 minutes.

Right before taking out of the oven, cook pasta noodles. Drain well and add to the stew.

Beef in Guinness

Flexibility really is key in cooking. Hell, it's key in life. We ended up with a perfect meal that both of us contributed to and exceeded what either of us had thought about making individually. We added a couple of slices of the Soda Bread with Cayenne I had made earlier in the day.

It does not suck to be us.


Honey and Oat Loaf with Cayenne

Soda Bread with Cayenne

Happy Saint Patrick's Day. Or... Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona as they say in Munster...

My plan for the day was to make my Beef Braised in Guinness for dinner. Victor's still not much of a cooked cabbage person, so there's no real reason to cook it just for myself. Besides... I like the Beef in Guinness!

I then thought of making a soda bread. I have a recipe I've used for years, but thought something new might be fun. I went to an Irish newspaper - The Irish Examiner - to see if there was anything promising. I'm glad I took the time to search!

I found a recipe - Honey and Oat Loaf with Cayenne - that sounded so different I knew I had found today's bread!

Honey and Oat Loaf with Cayenne

adapted from the Irish Examiner

Ingredients:

  • 250g of brown flour
  • 250g of plain flour
  • 1 tsp of bread soda
  • 1 tsp of cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp of cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp of sea salt
  • 4 tsp of honey
  • 420mls of buttermilk
  • 20g of porridge oats

Method

Heat your oven to 200 degrees. Mix the flours with the bread soda, both peppers and salt in a large bowl. Mix until they are completely combined.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the honey and buttermilk. Bring everything together with your hands. Add in the oats and kneed them into the dough. Form a neat ball.

Turn the dough onto a floured baking tray and pat into the shape of a round loaf. Cut a cross in the top of the loaf and if you want to let the fairies out, prick each quarter with the knife.

Bake for about 40 minutes until it is golden on top and hollow sounding when you tap the base.

 

Honey and Oat Loaf with Cayenne

I have made many loaves of soda bread in my time, with varying degrees of success. Some have been too dry and crumbly, others a bit dense. Others, still have been more cake-like than bread.

This one is bread. Real, honest bread. Bread with a bit of a kick you don't notice right away - it sneaks up on you and then lingers gently on the tongue. A soda bread with all of the qualities and characteristics of a yeast bread.

I can see more of this happening - and not just on March 17th!