Baking, Bucket List, Christmas, Christmas Eve, Cookies, Dreams, Feast of the Seven Fishes, Foodporn, Italian Cookies, Italian Traditions, Puerto Rican Heritage, Self-publishing, Uncategorized

Another Bucket List Checkmark…✓

 “She believed she could, so she did.” C.S. Lewis

Like so many of us, I have a bucket list too and while I don’t live and die by it, there is this feeling of excitement that comes over you when you can place a checkmark next to something on your life list of desires, dreams and goals. There is also this sense of accomplishment that comes with that checkmark. Actually, mine is not a written list but a mental one and I’ve been fortunate enough to mentally check off a few list items from a dream trip to Paris, to a desire of owning a BMW. Wait, this one should be on the nightmare list. The two best days of owning this car were the day I bought it and the day I sold it. Sorry, I digressed. Back to the list…to dancing on stage in front of an audience of 750 to an event planner to a personal chef…just to name a few.

A big one on that list was writing a book. Well, last year, I finally did it and I was published! After many long hours, along with many days and nights of editing and re-editing, my Christmas cookbooks are done, published and just in time for the holidays.

My original thoughts about writing and publishing a book weren’t really about writing cookbooks but more about my life story. Right now, my memoir is on the back burner but one day it will be written because I am a dreamer. It could possibly be written on the heels of my exit from this life or as I approach 60…ahhh, a new decade of life begins in 2016.

A dreamer I am but honestly, very much a realist at heart. I am well aware of the fact that my books will more than likely never make the NY Times bestseller list but it’s nice to believe, to dream and to always remain hopeful. Even with all my very own personal truths, I still feel accomplished and I can confidently say I tried, I did and I was published. It was more about self-satisfaction, self-accomplishments and responding to the many requests from friends and family, who were asking for my recipes. I also thought why not include a little bit of family history because we all know everybody loves a story.

In my first cookbook, Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies, I share a collection of my family’s traditional and non-traditional Italian Christmas baking recipes that have been passed down for many generations. I also take you on a personal journey of the history behind each recipe and I have included the precise details behind preparing and baking each one of these delectable Christmas treats.

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http://www.amazon.com/Twelve-Days-Christmas-Cookies-Delectables/dp/1490581308/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1450033828&sr=8-1&keywords=twelve+days+of+christmas+cookies

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/twelve-days-of-christmas-cookies-deborah-dematteis/1120806633?ean=9781490581309

In my second cookbook, not only do I take you on another journey of telling the stories behind my family’s Italian-American and Puerto Rican heritage, I also share with you some of the most cherished memories from my childhood Christmas’ and Sunday traditions, along with many of my family’s Italian and Puerto Rican recipes.

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http://www.amazon.com/Feast-Seven-Fishes-Christmas-Delectables/dp/1502498189/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1450033660&sr=1-3&keywords=feast+of+the+seven+fishes

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/feast-of-the-seven-fishes-deborah-lugo-dematteis/1120919738?ean=9781502498182

Self-publishing is not an easy task and it took a small army of supporters to bring it all together. I can’t thank each of them enough for their support, contribution, commitment, guidance and encouragement. A lot of learnings came from this experience and while I am pleased with the end result, along with the reviews and the sales to date, it’s the learnings and the entire experience in of itself that I embrace and know that I will continue to personally learn and grow from.

If you are interested in purchasing one or both, my holiday cookbooks are still available online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Thank you in advance with any and all considerations of making a purchase.

From my home to yours…this Christmas may your home and hearts be filled with the smells, the joy and the miracles of the season.

 Buon Natale

Family, Foodporn, Grandchildren, Gravy, Italian Traditions, Lasagna, Meatballs, Uncategorized

Lasagna…An Italian Love Story

“As you get older, you find out that true happiness is not in how much you make or how many degrees you have or how big your house is or how fancy your car is. It’s finding peace, and joy, and a calmness in your life that will soon become the most important thing to you. Your family is what really matters to you, love is what matters to you. Things that are of quality, not quantity.” ~ Life Lessons Learned

I have been away from writing since before Christmas, and for some unknown reason or maybe one that I am not willing to admit out loud, recovery from the holidays took a little longer, this year. I also allowed the grayness of the long, cold winter take away my creativity, along with being preoccupied with the harsh realities of my life, I, unfortunately, somewhat deviated away from my life passion. With Spring approaching, and with a few days of feeling it in the air, there is this sense of renewal that comes with the season, and I’m back!

Lately, I have been thinking about my all-time favorite Italian dish, Lasagna. A favorite, for as far back as I can remember, and in my research of this rich, and flavorful Italian classic, believe it or not, it comes with a history lesson. There are a few theories, but here’s the Italian one…Lasagna originated in Italy, in the region of Emilia-Romagna. Traditional lasagna is made by layering pasta with layers of sauce, made with a ragù or a béchamel, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. In other regions, it is common to find lasagna made with ricotta or mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, various meats (ground beef, pork or chicken), a variation of vegetables (spinach, zucchini, and mushrooms), and typically flavored with wine, garlic, onion, and oregano. In all cases the lasagna is baked in the oven.

Lasagne calde, calde le lasagne, caldeee! History states that forty years ago, you could hear vendors bellow those words from the busy platform of the Bologna railway station. Though lasagna vendors don’t exist today, Lasagna alla Bolognese remains the most famous recipe in Italy, and throughout Europe. In Italy, there are countless regional variations of lasagna. Ingredients differ according to place, and local custom but the distinctive character of lasagna remains the same…layers of flat or curly noodles, separated by layers of rich gravy or sauces, a focus ingredient like meat, fish or vegetables, all baked up into one glorious masterpiece of flavor. While lasagna was born in Italy, a familiar hot slice of this cheesy, rich comfort food makes it one of the most commonly craved Italian dishes in homes, and restaurants all around the world.

As a child, I was totally addicted to lasagna, and it was a regular dish served on Easter, Christmas Day, and as a special birthday dinner. In between those special occasions, as an adult, it was always my main entrée selection at specific Italian restaurants, who I knew made an outstanding version of this Italian classic, and in my opinion, there were very few restaurants who could accomplish this feat. My first introduction to learning how to prepare, and master an outstanding lasagna was by watching my Aunt Fanny, who besides my father, was one of the first great influences in my life with perfecting my cooking skills. Staying true to our Napolitano decent, her Lasagna Napoletana included layers of curly lasagna noodles, gravy (again, not sauce, gravy!), ricotta cheese, mozzarella, grated cheese, and these tiny meatballs, which were the size of a marble. As tedious as it was to make those tiny meatballs, Aunt Fanny never faltered from putting every ounce of love, and perfection into her lasagna. And as a child, to a teenager to a young adult to a grown up, you couldn’t wait to cut into Aunt Fanny’s lasagna to find those delicious tiny meatballs. A Sunday morning lesson at Aunt Fanny’s always included her masterpiece of a Sunday gravy. Her gravy, more often than not, always included meatballs, Italian sausage, pork, braciole pelle di maiale (pig skin braciole), and beef braciole, which is pretty much what mine is today, with a bit of a variation, and absolutely, no braciole pelle di maiale…only because my children, and grandchildren won’t eat it, and it’s not at the top of the health conscious favorite food list.

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Lasagna Napoletana

Another great cooking influence in my life is Nanny Angie. Honestly, she is, by far, the most talented cook I know. I have watched this woman for over 40 years, turn out food from the smallest to the largest of kitchens that made your mouth salivate just watching it being placed on the table to your mouth humming with absolute pleasure while you ate her food. You walk away from her table completely intoxicated from the experience, and with a belly so satisfied. If I learned anything from Nanny, cooking was about pleasing people. A lot of love is a must, and it will always come through in your food. Presentation was crucial, and sitting back, watching people eat your food with complete, and utter enjoyment would be your reward. She taught me cooking was a labor of love, which took planning, creativity, patience, and precision. Amongst her many masterpiece dishes, her lasagna was right at the top of my all-time favorites. For Nanny, lasagna wasn’t a regular everyday dish, it was saved for holidays, and special occasions. Her lasagna wasn’t much different than Aunt Fanny’s, with the exception that hers did not include any meat. Exact and pure precision went into the amount of ricotta cheese, mozzarella, and grated cheese that was used in her lasagna. You can easily overdo it with the cheese, which would create a runny, cheesy mess on your plate but not Nanny’s…perfection every time. Her lasagna took time, patience, and precision with each layer. It’s hard to describe what it was like watching her make this masterpiece, and the only words that come to mind…it was an artistic creation being prepared right before your eyes. There was a rhythm, a glow, and a sense of pride surrounding her with everything she cooked. Cooking is truly an art, and you have to love it, and have a complete passion for cooking to turn out mouthwatering, and tasteful delicacies, such as Nanny Angie’s lasagna.

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Lasagna

Passing on family traditions is so important to me, and I must admit, with great pride, over the years, my daughter must have been paying attention to the preparation, and skills that went into making a lasagna because she too has mastered the art of making a perfect dish of lasagna. My only hope is that she continues to pay attention, and for as long as I am able, I will continue to teach my granddaughters, too. Cooking together in the kitchen, as a family, and sharing family recipes, along with secrets passed from one generation to the next. may be a lost art for some but not in this Nana’s kitchen.

One of the positive side effects from the labor of making the meatballs, frying the gravy meat, stirring the gravy, and layering the intoxicating goodness of the lasagna noodles, the cheeses, and the gravy on top of each other is the guaranteed knowledge of knowing…there will always be leftovers!

As I have stated many times, it’s extremely hard for me to recite or write my recipes down on paper. I learned from the best of them, and exact measurements were rarely used. I can do all of the recipes below by osmosis but in the spirit of giving back, I have done my best to capture all of the steps, and I hope you enjoy all of them.

Lastly, when in the kitchen, always remember Julia Childs words, “Cooking is one failure after another, and that’s how you finally learn…no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”

Buon appetito!

Lasagna

  • 5 cups gravy (Nana’s Sunday Pot of Love, recipe below)
  • 1 (32 oz.) container whole milk Polly~O Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 cup grated Locatelli Pecorino Romano cheese (my preference but if you prefer, you can use Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 box lasagna (15 sheets, cooked al dente) *see note below
  • 4 1/2 cups shredded Polly~O Mozzarella Cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ricotta, 3/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, and parsley in a bowl. Season, to taste, with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the eggs and mix all together.

Spread 1/2 cup gravy over bottom of 13 by 9 inch baking dish. Place 5 lasagna sheets over gravy, overlapping to fit. Spread half of ricotta mixture evenly over the sheets. Sprinkle 2 cups of mozzarella cheese evenly over ricotta mixture. Then, spoon 1 1/2 cups of gravy over cheese, spreading with spatula to cover. Repeat layering with remaining lasagna sheets, ricotta mixture, 2 cups mozzarella and 1 1/2 cups gravy. Once you have arranged remaining 5 sheets, top with remaining gravy, 1/2 cup of mozzarella, and 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese.

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, and bake for about 40 minutes. Uncover, then bake until hot, and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Let the lasagna stand 15 minutes before serving.

Note: A trick to keep the lasagna sheets from sticking to each other, add a little olive oil to the boiling pot of salted water, and once drained, run them under cold water, and carefully hang over the side of a colander or a pot, without touching each other completely. Another quick option is to use the No Boil lasagna sheets, which also produces a perfect lasagna, and saves a lot of time. Barilla puts out a good quality No Boil lasagna.

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Lasagna

Nana’s Sunday Pot of Love (Gravy)

  • 1 1/2 lbs. Italian sausage (sweet or hot or combination of both)
  • 10 – 12 pork spare ribs (small but meaty)
  • Bunch of fresh basil (stems removed)
  • 1 onion (peeled and cut in half)
  • 2 -3 (35 oz. can) Scalfani Italian Whole Peeled Tomatoes (This is my preference. I find them to be the most consistent canned tomatoes but feel free to use your favorite.)
  • 3  (28 oz. can) Scalfani Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1  (6 oz. can) Scalfani Tomato Paste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil (enough for frying)
  • Sugar (handful)

Season both sides of pork spare ribs with kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper. Heat oil, over medium heat, in an 8 quart Dutch oven or heavy pot. Add pork spare ribs, and fry until there is a nice sear on all sides. Remove from pot, and set aside. In same pan, brown Italian sausage until they are just cooked through (approx. 15 min). Remove from pot, and set aside. Add additional oil, if needed. Prepare meatballs (recipe below), and fry meatballs, in batches (do not overcrowd) until cooked all the way through. Add onion, and brown. Drain off excess oil. Do not wash pot. Reduce heat to low, and add all meat (pork, sausage, and meatballs) back into the pot.

Pulse whole peeled tomatoes in blender for a 5 second count, and add to the pot. Add crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste. Take one empty can of crushed tomatoes, fill it to the top with water, and transfer back, and forth between all cans of tomatoes, including tomato paste. Add water to the pot of gravy, and stir.

Add a bunch of basil leaves (handful, not chopped). Add a handful of sugar, and season with kosher salt, to taste. Stir and simmer on low heat for 3 hours.

Note: Keep in mind, you will need extra gravy for the lasagna. A thought to take into consideration when thinking about how many cans of tomatoes you will need or use.

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Pork Spare Ribs

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Italian Sausage

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Scalfani Whole Peeled Tomatoes

Meatballs

  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground meat (combination of pork, veal and beef)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 6 – 8 large slices of Terranova bread, crust removed and cubed (2 day old bread)
  • Milk (enough to coat bread)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  •  1/4 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
  • 2 large handfuls of Pecorino Romano grated cheese

Place cubed terranova bread in a large bowl, and cover with milk (don’t overdo the milk). Let bread soak for approx. 15 min. Squeeze out bread, and drain off excess milk. Add ground meat, egg, finely minced garlic, parsley, cheese, kosher salt (approx. 1 tsp.), and freshly ground pepper. Mix altogether until well incorporated. To form consistent sized meatballs, I use an ice cream scooper. Roll each scoop into a ball, and fry, as noted above.

Note: The meatball mixture should be a tight consistency, otherwise, the meatballs will fall apart in the gravy, and that’s an Italian cook’s worst nightmare!

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Meatballs

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Nana’s Sunday Pot of Love

Family, Food, Foodporn, Italian Traditions, Life, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Nana’s Sunday Pot of Love

Simply Deborah

Since I was a little girl, Sunday’s have always had a special meaning. When you’re fortunate enough to grow up in a multi-cultural family, like myself, you are born into a world of some magnificent foods, and family traditions that stay with you for a lifetime. My only wish has always been to pass on those childhood memories, traditions, recipes, and for them to be replicated for generations to come. Today, I am going to take you on a journey on how I got to a place that I call…”Nana’s Sunday Pot of Love.”

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My dad was born, and raised in Puerto Rico, and he came to New York at the age of 16. My mother was born in Harlem, and her parents, (my grandparents) were Italian immigrants from Naples, Italy, who eventually settled in Mt. Vernon, New York. Me, an American, born, and raised into a family of Puerto Rican…

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Bacon, Baking, Donuts, Family, Foodporn, Grandchildren, Italian Traditions, Maple Syrup, Uncategorized

Doesn’t Everything Taste Better With Bacon?

During the Christmas holiday school break, my 11 year old grandson spent a few days with me, and he had Nana’s kitchen shaking, and baking for as many hours as he was awake. Once you see the pictures of him, you will understand why I continually ask…”Where does he put all of the food he consumes?” It’s amazing to me the amount of food he can put into his thin frame of a body, and by the end of Day 3, Nana told him, “I would need more than a job just to feed you alone or I might need to rob a bank to keep up with your appetite!(Only kidding!)

After a two day marathon of eating, between Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, along with the holiday excitement, and late nights, I think the exhaustion finally caught up with him, and the day after Christmas he didn’t wake up until around 12:30pm….starving, of course! As usual, the ritual of a typical dialogue between the two of us began, “What do you have to eat, Nana?” As I ran down the endless list of things I could whip up for him, from bacon and eggs with home fries, to challah bread French toast to pancakes to homemade waffles…he proceeds to tell me about this video he watched. Two young guys, who make these Candy Bacon Maple Donuts. The animation in my grandson’s vioce, along with his facial expressions, had captivated this Nana’s undivided attention.

Honestly, though, my first thought, “Are you kidding me, buddy?”…DONUTS! Especially after a Nana marathon of cooking, for days, in preparation of our Italian traditional Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day feast of food! He excitedly ran to get my iPad to show me the YouTube video, “How to Make Candy Bacon Maple Donuts – Handle It” by Epic Meal Time. We watched the video, several times, me with disbelief, and him with pure excitement, and enthusiasm. After the third run through, he asked if I had all of the ingredients, and tools. Being a true Nana, who loves to cook, of course I did! He was so excited, and more surprised than anything else that his Nana had all of the ingredients in the house.

Nana’s kitchen got busy…out came the tools, a large, heavy Dutch oven, a whisk, a cooking thermometer, three mixing bowls, a knife, a slotted spoon, cutting board, baking pan, rolling pin, and a circular cookie cutter. Then the ingredients…cooking oil, flour, bacon, brown sugar, baking soda, vanilla, white vinegar, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, confectionary sugar, milk, heavy cream, shortening (butter), and pure cane sugar. As I pulled out all of the tools, and ingredients, there was this priceless grin on his face, from ear to ear. One that would capture any Nana’s heart, and we were actually going to make donuts!

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This was my first time making donuts, and to my amazement with all the flour flying, oil heating up, bacon being candied, the glaze coming together…it smelled ridiculously delicious in Nana’s kitchen! Honestly now…doesn’t everything taste better with bacon? If you take bacon, and slather it with brown sugar, cinnamon, and bake it in the oven until it is all gooey, and sticky, the aroma in the house is indescribable, and then you cool it in the refrigerator until it hardens like a candy…are you feeling me, yet? It was off the chart delicious!

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As you will see, he enjoyed every moment of rolling that dough, cutting out donuts, and the donut holes, which by the way we fried up those donut holes, too, and dipped them in the maple glaze. They were our taste test, and there was only one word to describe the donut holes dipped in the maple glaze…yum! He tells Nana, “The best donuts I ever had!” I was amazed how easy they were to make, how they puffed up when they hit the oil, and they were cooked to perfection, I might add.

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Once they were done, and cooled down, we chopped up the candied bacon, the maple glaze was ready to go, and my grandson formed an assembly line of all of the completed items. He dipped each cooled donut into the maple glaze, and then carefully placed them on a serving dish because he absolutely gets, and understands presentation is key. After he dipped, and coated each donut with the maple glaze, with complete precision, he covered each donut with the candied bacon. Once completed, the real taste test began, and there were barely any words being spoken, just a lot of humming….mmmmmmm!

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The end result, I applaud the two gentlemen in the video, and my sous chef of a grandson for a job well done, and to quote my grandson, again….”The best donuts I ever had!”, which made the clean-up, and the flour everywhere, along with a sticky, small disaster in my kitchen, well worth it just to see the huge smile on his face!

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If you are anywhere as structured as I am with cooking or baking, pausing the video with each step, can interrupt the creative process. While the video is quite entertaining, and I do recommend watching it, I took the liberty of writing down the recipe for future use.

Tools

3 mixing bowls

Baking sheet

Large, heavy deep pot for frying

Frying thermometer (recommended)

Cutting board

Slotted spoon

Tongs

Rolling pin

Chef knife

Large circular cookie cutter or a plastic container

Small cylinder cookie cutter or a small bottle cap

Whisk (my addition)

Candied Bacon

1 lb bacon

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup cinnamon

Mix the brown sugar, and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Lay the strips of bacon on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil (easier clean up) or use a throw away aluminum pan. Gently, and generously apply half of the brown sugar mixture to one side of the bacon, and bake in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes. Flip the bacon, and reapply the remainder of the brown sugar mixture, and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes. Remove the bacon, immediately, from the cookie sheet to a plate, and place in the refrigerator to cool completely. Once cooled, chop the bacon into small bits, and set aside.

Maple Glaze

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 cups confectionary sugar

1/3 cup maple syrup

Pinch of salt

Using a whisk, mix all of the ingredients, in a bowl, until thickened, and smooth. Set aside until you are ready to glaze the donuts.

Donuts

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1/2 tsp vanilla

2 tbsp shortening or unsalted butter (softened)

2 tbsp white vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

4 cups cooking oil for frying

Mix the milk, egg, vanilla, shortening or unsalted butter (I used butter), and white vinegar, together in a bowl, add the sugar, mix well, and set aside. Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture. Once the dough forms, knead on a lightly, floured surfaced. Let the dough rest in a bowl for 10 minutes.

Flour the working surface, and roll out the dough to about 1/3 of an inch thickness. Cut the dough with a large round cookie cutter or round plastic container. Lift the donuts circles, and set aside on a lightly floured surface. Recombine the excess dough, and repeat the process to make more large circles rounds. Use a small cylinder or bottle cap to cut a hole in the middle of each donut. Save the small circles to make the donut holes.

Heat the cooking oil in large, heavy deep pot, over medium heat, until a frying thermometer reads 375 degrees. Carefully place a few donuts at a time (3 – 4 donuts) into the hot oil. Do not overcrowd. Cook until the donuts are golden brown on one side, and carefully flip them over, once, with a slotted spoon (1-2 minutes total time). Remove the cooked donuts with tongs or a slotted spoon, and place the donuts on a plate lined with paper towels.

Cool the donuts for 10 minutes. Dip one side of each donut into the maple glaze, and allow the excess to drip off. Place the glazed donut on a serving plate, and apply the candy bacon to the top of each donut. Ready to serve, and eat!

NOTE: Carefully place the small saved circles of dough (donut holes), with the slotted spoon, into the hot oil, and fry until golden brown (about 30 to 45 seconds). Drain, and cool on paper towels. Dip the donut holes into the maple glaze. Pop in your mouth!

Donuts! Enjoy!

Believe, Dreams, Food, Foodporn, Italian Traditions, Life, Uncategorized

What Am I Really Suppose To Be Doing With My Life?

I don’t believe there isn’t a one of us that hasn’t dreamt of life being anything less than a smooth ride, and I am no exception. For the past year, I have found myself pondering more, and more about finding my true life purpose, how it would be possible for me to fulfill, and live my life passion, and share it with the world, along with making a difference. There were many days over the last year or more, where my life appeared completely uncertain, confusing, in a disarray, and I just couldn’t sort through the chatter in my head to make any sense of it all. The chatter consumed me, and more often than not it made me completely immobilized. I was scared, alone, and I couldn’t see through the darkness.

To add to my angst, six months ago, I lost my job, and today, I am amongst the millions of other Americans, who are unemployed. During these past months, I have applied to nearly 300 jobs in corporate America, with the hopes of being gainfully employed by year end. I posted my resume, and joined every job seeker website out there. After about a month or so, I was approach by a reputable site, who convinced me to have my resume revamped by a professional resume writer, who would gear it towards my dream job. Every day I spent hours at my desk, searching every employment site imaginable looking for a job. It’s a good thing that over the years, I have developed very strong shoulders because with the continuous flow of rejection letters…they just don’t seem to sting as much as they use too.

Knowing my reputation proceeded me in my former industry, I reached out to every resource available, including former colleagues with pleas for help with any type of introduction, guidance, support, and recommendations. Their quick responses, along with their call to action, and their encouragement were all overwhelming. I felt fortunate, and blessed to have crossed paths with such an amazing group of individuals, who continue to check in on me, and offer additional advise, and suggestions. Unfortunately, to date, any referrals have not panned out but I remained hopeful.

As the days passed, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands, and as humans when this happens a lot of thinking transpires. Some not so healthy, and other times some turned into inspirational thinking. All I wanted was to see clearly, and being such a structured person with very little patience…I needed direction, and answers, today, not tomorrow or next week or next month, but today. I found myself reading more, and more, learning things about myself, and really digging deep with trying to figure out if my life passion could anyway possible come to fusion.

Some of the most disconcerting times, and utter disappointment was the lack of support from a good portion of those close to me. I found myself getting more encouragement from friends, and colleagues on how to make things happen, and how important it was for me to believe in myself, and my abilities. I’m sure most of you are aware of Kid President and his mission to make the world a better place. While reading an article, today, they listed just a few of his thoughts that people should be saying every day. I thought how simplistic, and why is it that I wasn’t hearing these things from those that I dearly wanted to support my dreams, and vision.

  • “Everything is going to be okay.”
  • “You are awesome.”
  • “You can do it.”
  • “Hello…here’s a high-five.”
  • “I forgive you.”
  • “Thank you.”

Then I realized it wasn’t about anybody else, it was about me, and me believing in my passion, and my dream. I thought about what I learned, “What you think, and what you believe is what will come true in your life.” Our thoughts create our life…it’s purely that simple, and when we overcome the self-doubt, release the enormous barriers in our life, and make conscious choices that we understand, and accept them, things start to evolve. You begin to create your very own road map of your vision, step by step, and your instincts come into play. Either it feels right or it doesn’t, and when it feels right, you begin to understand this is your life, you start to take full responsibility, and start to believe you deserve the best life, and you begin to express the gratitude for all the good in your life.

I have been following Deepak Chopra for some time now, and when I listen to him there is such a sense of calmness that overcomes me, and he has helped me develop this sense of awareness about myself that seems freeing. Some might laugh but I truly don’t care…remember, it’s about me, and if it feels good, and stirs enthusiasm in my life…how could it ever be wrong. One thing I know for sure, I want to be excited about what I do every day, and I want to share my gifts, along with my passion with the world because I truly believe that’s how we achieve joy, and abundance in our lives.

Chopra teaches that we all have a calling in life that is as unique as our fingerprint, and it’s that calling that will lead us to our passion. When we find something that we are truly passionate about it feels like our breathing is so natural, and effortless. I discovered, a long time ago, what ignites my passion, and lights me up, and I found a way to share it with others. Cooking has always been a love, and passion of mine. I throw my heart, and soul into it, and it all comes through in the taste, and presentation of all my food.

After a long year of contemplating a business venture, I am finally listening to my intuitive inner voice, and I am pursuing my life passion, and dream. I believe my vast business knowledge, wisdom, along with my level of confidence, and comfort in the kitchen, and my creative ideas are all possessions I am eagerly willing to share. I am a firm believer that taste, along with presentation are the fundamentals with awakening an eclectic palate. I hosted this past Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, and the responses to my food, and presentation just solidified for me…this is what I am suppose to be doing with my life.

christmas20133Christmas Eve Table for 12

christmas20134Christmas Eve Table Setting

christmas20131Christmas Day Table for 12

christmas2013Christmas Day Table Setting

As I enter, 2014, I believe that honoring my life’s true purpose, and passion will lead me on a path of pure happiness, and success. I look forward to sharing my passion with many of you.

Happy New Year and may 2014 be filled with good health, hope, love, abundance, gratitude and promise.

Christmas Eve, Feast of the Seven Fishes, Foodporn, Italian Traditions, Uncategorized

Feast of the Seven Fishes

“What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.” ~ Agnes M Pharo

Christmas is such a magical time of year, and to the Italians, La Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve) is considered the most magical, and joyful night of the year. Italians share a rich culture, a love of food, along with strong religious, and family values. Holiday meals have always been an essential part of my multi-cultural heritage, and while every culture has its own traditions, I am not sure any other culture celebrates any tradition with more passion than the Italians. As far back as I can remember, and till this day, Christmas Eve has always been a special time for my family, and friends to gather together to celebrate, reminisce about the past, create memories, and share a delicious meal.

Growing up in a Hispanic and Italian-American family, it was the Italian-American culture that dominated our celebration with the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner, always to be known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes, (Festa dei Sette Pesci). A meal without meat honoring the midnight birth of baby Jesus. It is by far, my favorite holiday of all, and if you come from an Italian-American family, you are more than likely familiar with the tradition, and its history. If not, allow me to take you on a small journey of its rich Italian history.

The exact origin of this tradition is somewhat arguable, however, history states it’s a custom that originated in Southern Italy, which spread throughout Italy, and around the world.  Others believe it originated with the first Italian immigrants to the New World as a way to celebrate the bounty of the New World. Italians and Italian-Americans alike still celebrate this old-world custom that has been handed down from generation to generation, and in my home, it’s an Italian traditional feast to be remembered, and cherished for many years to come. Just ask anyone that has sat at my Christmas Eve table!

Some may ask why seven fishes? There are several religious philosophies that support the early stages of this symbolic feast but the most common belief is that the seven fishes represent the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church. However, some Italian-American families have been known to celebrate with not only seven fishes but twelve, and even thirteen different types of seafood dishes. While seven may represent the number of the Catholic sacraments, twelve is believed to represent the number of Apostles, and together with Jesus, made a table of thirteen, at the last supper. Whatever the number is, the meal is believed to bring buona fortuna (good fortune) in the New Year. For me, the tradition has always been about family, the abundance, and the variety, as much as being fortunate, and extremely blessed.

There are no rules as to which types of fish are served. However, some of the most popular that have been known to be eaten on this special holiday are prepared versions of calamari, baccalà (salted cod fish), oysters, scallops, eel, clams, and shrimp. The feast always begins with antipasto, and on a typical Napolitano table, this would include broccoli rabe, anchovies, vermicelli with garlic and oil, clams, fried eel, cheeses, eggplant caponata, followed by other fish dishes, and the dinner portion of the meal is typically wrapped up with a caponate di pesce (fish salad). The meal always ended with dessert, which included many mouthwatering, and different types of traditional dolci, such as Panettone, Struffoli, Zeppole, along with assorted fruit, and nuts. After the meal, many Italians attend the traditional Christmas Eve midnight mass. Some also may simply uncover the small baby Jesus figurine in the manger of their Presepe (Nativity scene), in their home, and pray. After midnight, many would celebrate the birth of Jesus with sparkling, and bubbly Spumante or Prosecco, and then open the presents. The moment every child anxiously waited for.

My childhood memories of Christmas Eve were always spent at my aunt’s house (my mother’s younger sister). I have such fond memories of those Christmas Eve’s spent in her home, and this is where it all began for me with learning how to cook the most treasured Christmas Eve traditional seafood dishes, from my Aunt Fanny (Philomena). She was a phenomenal cook, who spent days prepping, and preparing the feast, and everything that emerged from her stove or oven to the dining room table were wonderful dishes, and absolutely delicious. Her Christmas Eve table was always filled with seafood dishes such as, clams on the half shell, fried shrimp, shrimp cocktail, baccalà, fried flounder, stuffed calamari, and a sauce filled with all types fish, from shrimp, mussels, lobster, and calamari, which was served over linguine. I always remember, it was a given that a gallon of Gallo Burgundy wine, a bottle of cream soda was set between my Uncle John and Dad, who each Christmas would mix a tall glass of both with ice, and they would share a holiday drink, together.

Their home always felt warm, welcoming, along with being decorated beautifully, and the fireplace always added an extra touch of warmth to the atmosphere. Hours, prior to midnight, were spent eating, the adults playing cards while the children played, and who also waited with much anticipation for Aunt Fanny’s grandfather clock to make that chime sound as it struck the midnight hour, which always prompted a celebration, the opening of presents, and believe it or not, more eating. Magically, my aunt would appear from the kitchen with a tray of Italian delicacies, which now included cured meats, hams, roasted chicken, and more, and the eating began all over again. You never left Aunt Fanny’s and Uncle John’s house until well after midnight, and it was a given that my sisters and I, always fell fast asleep on the ride home, which was only from one side of Mt Vernon to the other.

It’s those Italian family traditions that I have learned from, which I continue, today, with hopes of them being passed on to my children, and grandchildren. In today’s economy, the traditional meal has become an expensive meal to put on the table, and some tend to believe it is a lot of work (and it is) but for me, a traditional Italian Christmas Eve meal is a given, no questions asked, and an important family gathering, in my home. I will make whatever sacrifices I need to ensure it is nothing less than the standards, and expectations that have been instilled in me since I was a child.

It takes days, and weeks to prepare for, from decorating, to baking, to cleaning fish, prepping, and preparing, along with cooking it all but with everything that goes into it, I wouldn’t change a thing. I have been hosting, and preparing the Feast of the Seven Fishes for as long as I can remember, and it’s a holiday where I am in my zone of complete peace, joy, bliss, creativity, and contentment. There is such an excitement that fills my heart, and it brings me such a sense of pride, love, and without a doubt, a day of unconditional giving to my family. I don’t believe there is one member of my family that doesn’t have a great anticipation, and appreciation of Nana’s Christmas Eve, and my Feast of the Seven Fishes meal.

While the menu has slightly changed over the years, for the most part, some dishes will just never change, and are an absolute giving that they with be on my Christmas Eve menu. First the table, and anyone who knows me, it changes every year, and it is most certainly a focal point, and a “wow” factor, as I am a firm believer presentation is everything, and it starts with your table. This year’s table will be spectacular, and you will have to wait, and see but here is a glimpse of last year’s table.

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The meal begins with antipasto, and some staples are my famous Onion Focaccia Bread, and Pizza Bread, along with Broccoli Rabe, Eggplant Caponata, Little Neck Clams on the half shell, Shrimp Cocktail, Mini Crab Cakes, Mussels with White Wine and Garlic, and my famous Scungilli Salad, which a dear friend always says, “It is by far the best I ever had!” A Baccalà Salad or a baccalà stew with potatoes in a tomato sauce were always a staple on my table until the passing of both of my parents. It remained on my table as a symbolic remembrance of their presence for many years but always wound up being thrown away so I discontinued making it. Christmas Eve was their favorite holiday, and while their presence is sorely missed at my table, it’s the fond memories of Christmas Eve’s of the past that brings a sense of peace to my heart, and a smile to my face.

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Onion Focaccia Bread

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Pizza Bread

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Broccoli Rabe

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Eggplant Caponata

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Little Neck Clams

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Shrimp Cocktail

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Mini Crab Cakes

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Mussels with White Wine and Garlic

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Scungilli Salad

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Baccalà Salad

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Baccalà Stew with Potatoes and Calamata Olives

The second course is always Zuppe di Pesce, which can vary each year, however, for the most part, includes Shrimp, Calamari, and occasionally, Lobster, and is served over linguine. This Christmas Eve, it will include Shrimp, Little Neck Clams, Calamari, and Mussels.

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Zuppe di Pesce over Linguine

The last course, is an array of several fish dishes, which includes Stuffed Calamari in a red sauce, Fried Filet of Grey Sole, Fried Shrimp, and steamed Alaskan King Crab Legs. However, as of last year, the Alaskan King Crab Legs have been removed, and are now a New Year’s Eve meal with Filet Mignon. For Christmas Eve, they have been replaced with Steamed Lobsters. Lastly, there are my ultimate Baked Clams, and rarely are there less than eighty of them on my table. Every year, there is a contest as to who can eat the most baked clams, and one of my sisters always wins, with my son coming in as a close second. Ironically, my sister is the smallest of all the women, and we are not quite sure where she puts all the food she consumes.

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Stuffed Calamari

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Fried Fillet of Grey Sole and Fried Shrimp

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Alaskan King Crab Legs

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Steamed Lobster

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Baked Clams

The meal always ends with dessert, which includes trays of baked Christmas cookies, Struffoli, Zeppoles, Pizzelle (made by daughter in law), and it’s a given that a special surprise dessert is whipped up by Nana. I haven’t decided yet but it could be a Chocolate Cheesecake, Pumpkin Mousse Parfait, Chocolate Truffle Cups, or Mini Lemon Curd Meringue Pies. Whatever it is, it will be a surprise, and most certainly, delicious.

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Cocoa Thumbprints and Apricot and Raspberry Thumbprints

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Tarralles, Double Chocolate Chips and Chocolate Chips

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Arugula, Chocolate Biscotti, Hazelnut and Anise Biscotti and Walnut Snowballs

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Struffoli

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Zeppoles

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Pizzelle

The evening comes to an end, when you finally give in to that relentless question that has been asked by each of the six children, at least every 30 minutes or so since they arrived, “Is it time to open presents?” And the mayhem begins…wrapping paper, Christmas bags, tissue paper, and boxes are flying everywhere. The shrills, and gasps of excitement are heard throughout the house. No matter how hard you try, the excitement is something that you can’t control but the joy it brings to watch this in action is one that you never want to miss nor one that you will ever forget. While the excitement of presents is important to all of them, there isn’t a one of them, if you asked, that couldn’t tell you the true meaning of Christmas, including the youngest, my 4 year old nephews. It’s all about the celebration, the miracle, the blessings, and the birth of baby Jesus.

However you celebrate the miracles of the season, I hope each of you are surrounded by the love of your families and friends, and may the spirit of Christmas fill your heart with peace, joy, and hope for the New Year.

Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo!

Baking, Christmas, Foodporn, Italian Traditions, Uncategorized

Baking Christmas Cookies…Italian Style

“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about? ~ Charlie Brown

Christmas is most certainly about the birth of Jesus, and the baking of Christmas cookies! Some of my earliest memories of Christmas cookie baking are with the same great Italian home cooks, who I learned my culinary skills from. During the days, and weeks before Christmas, as each tray of cookie came out of the oven, their kitchens were filled with magnificent smells of cinnamon, spice, and everything nice. They produced so many cookies during the Christmas season, and each one was made with such patience, attentiveness, and it appeared effortless for everyone of them that I watched, and learned from. There was such precision with each cookie they baked, and as an assistant, it was important to quickly learn how to apply the final touches with exact detail, and not to ever overdo any of it.

I have always said baking is pure science, and they each had baking mastered. While each ingredient was measured, precisely, they had a gift of visually knowing how the look, feel, and texture of the batter or dough should be. This was a telling sign as to whether the end results would be wonderful, and if there were any doubts, adjustments were made accordingly, to ensure they were always wonderful, and they always were.

If you are a baker, and Italian, no less, you know Christmas cookie baking is serious business, and once all the baking is finished, the cookies are either boxed or plated, wrapped nicely with clear cellophane, tied with a pretty ribbon, and then they are given, proudly, to family, and friends as a loving gesture of the Christmas season. Over the years, I have somewhat perfected my baking skills, and learned parchment paper is a gift from the “baking gods”, and yet, there are still some days where a batch may be thrown in the trash. Everyone has a bad day…even eggs, butter, flour, and myself. For me, it’s not only the baking that needs to be perfect but also the presentation, and I spend a lot of time looking for the right packaging (to make it an even more special presentation) to place them in before giving my cookies away as gifts. The boxes are lined with pretty Christmas tissue paper, to protect, and secure the cookies during transport.

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My children grew up with the tradition of watching the baking frenzy of myself, their aunts and grandmother. Today, my daughter is carrying on those traditions with my grandchildren, who look forward to baking Christmas cookies every year. There are so many great memories of us baking all together, and more often than not, there would be more flour on a grandchild than the counter or bowl. I must say my daughter has much more patience than myself with flour being everywhere, and it’s that same patience that comes through with her making my granddaughter’s favorite…Rainbow Cookies. I say, very proudly, she makes them with such precision, and love, and it’s that love that comes through in every bite.

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First up, Biscotti…whether they are plain hazelnut or a chocolate hazelnut biscotti, with a hint of anise, they are a great cookie to have for breakfast with your coffee or an espresso or for dessert with wine. Dipping is truly a biscotti’s purpose.

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This next cookie, I will give you the English version because while I know how to say it in Italian (well, what I think is Italian), I am not sure how to spell it…Italian Lemon Cookies. They are made either in a knot or round, and are topped with a delicate flavored lemon icing, and sprinkles. They are absolutely one of my favorites, and a recipe I have had for a long time on a scrap piece of paper. My daughter laughs at the recipe directions, 5 – 6 cups of flour, and she asks, “Who gives recipe directions like that?” I laugh and say, “Nanny and I do!” Again, it goes back to the look, and the way the dough feels. Sometimes it requires 5 cups of flour, and sometimes it requires 6…it depends on the dough’s mood. I think the entire family has a passion for this cookie, and the harder it gets over the course of days, the better…just dip them in your coffee. Yum! I also have another version of this recipe that includes sour cream. It is a much softer, and a more delicate cookie but just as delicious.

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Up next is probably one of the easiest cookies to make, and there is actually a story behind their history in my recipe file. Many years ago, I was in a full, authentic Italian deli, and sitting on display for the customers to taste were these cookies called Arugula (not Rugelach, which is a Jewish version), and while I stood there, I nibbled on one or two. They were delicious, and were made by the owner’s wife. I purchased a small tray, and on went my mad scientist hat to figure out how she made these delicate, tasty pastry delights. So I proudly call it my very own recipe or version of Arugula, which is made with pastry, apple butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, walnuts, baked, and dusted with powder sugar.

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Walnut Snowballs…interestingly enough, I found this recipe in a magazine at a doctor’s office (back in the early ’90’s), and up until last year, I still had the tattered magazine page. I finally transferred all of my recipes to my desktop. Over the years, I changed the recipe up just a little bit, and it’s a given with every year since the first, a double batch is a must. It’s pretty hard to pop just one of these treasures in your mouth. Years ago, one thing my daughter, and I, learned rather quickly, my grandson, who suffers from a nut allergy, couldn’t touch the dough or be in the same room when we are making these cookies or any nut cookie, for that matter…his eyes would get watery, and then turn red. I can remember him as a little boy, when the tray of Christmas cookies were placed on the table, there would always be someone jumping up to say, “No, you can’t eat that one…they have nuts!” He eventually learned, pointed to each cookie, and asked if there were nuts. As he got older, and began to have an opinion, he asked why there had to be nuts in so many Christmas cookies. We didn’t really have an answer, except, “There just is.” Luckily for him, there are so many others that turned into his favorites, and with him being a chocoholic, I always manage to add more chocolate cookies just for him.

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I make two versions of the thumb print cookie, Apricot and Raspberry Thumbprints, and Chocolate Thumbprints filled with Christmas colors and goodies for the kids. So for the health conscious reading this, yes, there is a lot of butter in these, and many other cookies but again, moderation is key, along with discipline.

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How can you have Christmas cookies without the famous Chocolate Chip Cookie for Santa? It just wouldn’t be Christmas without them. As far back as I can remember, there was always a plate of chocolate chip cookies left out for Santa, along with a tall glass of milk. I have now added a new addition, which is Double Chocolate Chips Cookies…..oh, yes, another cookie you can’t eat just one of.

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The last two Italian Christmas treasures were actually off my Christmas cookie list for a number of years, and reappeared last Christmas. The Pignoli, with that almond flavor, a light, and airy dough, along with a hint of honey. I learned quickly the key is pressing the pignoli (pine nuts) into each cookie, securely, otherwise, they will start popping all over the oven while they are baking.

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What can I say about Struffoli? Just like most Italian families, Struffoli’s are ingrained into the history of my Italian family. I have such childhood into adulthood memories of these delicate, honey drenched, small balls of lightly, fried dough. They most certainly are labor intensive. The size needs to be precise. They use a lot of oil, and a fair amount of honey. You need to be quick with them, and they need to be watched, carefully, to not burn. Lastly, plating, and presenting the Struffoli can be tricky, and very sticky!

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Lastly, a new addition to my Christmas baking list, not a cookie but a candy…Peppermint Bark. The layers of melted semi-sweet chocolate, and vanilla bean white chocolate topped with crushed peppermint candy canes, not only satisfies a sweet tooth but it adds a little festivity to your dessert table.

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While most Christmas cookies have remained the same, some have changed but one thing is certain that will never change…it’s family time in the kitchen, uninterrupted, and with Christmas music playing. Add the sprinkle of laughter, along with a handful of family stories, and a cup of patience. Blend in the young ones excitement, and a pinch of baking experience, and just eat your mistakes with joy. Bake them with love, enjoy the Christmas miracles, and cherish the blessings of making Christmas memories for many, many years to come.

As always, in giving what I love, if you are interested in trying one of my creations, please feel free to contact me, directly, at divinedelectables@aol.com, and I will be more than happy to share any recipe that you choose.

Merry Christmas and Happy Baking!