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

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!

Christmas, Tablescapes, Uncategorized

Holiday Tablescapes

With so much to do before the holidays, if you are hosting Christmas dinner, there is still the table setting, and the centerpiece to consider. There’s more to setting a table than knowing where the knives go. There’s your imagination, and creativity. When you add a pop of color or a special detail, suddenly, the holiday meal becomes a fun, festive, and elegant family gathering that is remembered, and talked about long after the fact.

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I have always believed we eat with our eyes, first. If the food, and the presentation are appealing to our eyes, we know it will be pleasing to our palate, and it’s the same with your table setting. Your table can be a perfect reflection of who you are. All it takes is a handful of personal, imaginative, and creative details. Maybe your personality is shimmery or festive or traditional or simply fun.

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Holiday gatherings, and dinner parties are an important part of the holiday season, and it’s the hustle, and bustle that sometimes make it difficult to create a beautiful holiday table setting. Believe it or not, you can still effortlessly decorate your table, and provide a festive mood to make your guests feel special, and it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive.

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Over the years I have collected many items, and each Christmas I try to change it up or add something new. For me the table setting is not only the “wow” factor but it makes my guests feel welcomed, and special. Creative ideas can come from your own imagination or by observing what you see in stores or on the internet or in magazines. Someone once taught me the best ideas are sometimes the borrowed ideas. It doesn’t have to be an exact replication, just take the idea, run with it, and put your own twist on it. Take a risk but have fun with it, and don’t stress about it.

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It doesn’t have to be expensive either. Some of my greatest treasures were found at bargain prices. You just have to be willing to search, and put the time into it. I am from New York so I am not sure these stores are in everyone’s hometown but my greatest finds, and inexpensive at that, were found in Home Goods, Michael’s Arts and Crafts, and Pier 1. Look on the clearance racks, I always find treasures, and who doesn’t like a bargain. Use your imagination, and let your creativity flow. Lastly, Amazon is an amazing place to find some of the best deals, and speaking from my own personal experience, they provide the most outstanding customer service that I have ever experienced.

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Using an elegant or a cheery holiday table runner is equally easy, and it’s a high impact idea to update your Christmas table. Your table can be bold, or simply use a classic glass hurricane vase as a centerpiece all by itself. You can fill it with a colorful candle, nuts or pile it high with glass ornaments.

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Using a white rectangular plate makes a nice base for Christmas tree greens, and pears. They can be placed directly on the table or on a runner with the greens tucked under the fruit. You can use any greens, even from your own Christmas tree. If you don’t have or can’t find miniature Christmas balls, consider buying a bag of quality chocolate balls wrapped in pretty green, and silver foiled papers instead.

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What could be simpler than using a plate, lined up with peppermint scented votive candles, and surround them with peppermint candies. A nice elegant, warm touch, and one that is very inexpensive.

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Place settings can be very elegant, and more involved for those who are more creative or they can be as simple as using twine, tied around a sprig of rosemary, and place a simple, colorful glass Christmas ornament on the side to finish it off.

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Nothing could be simpler or more inexpensive, but yet warm, and welcoming than a serving dish lined with tea lights surrounded by fresh cranberries, and some Christmas tree greens.

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You can choose dinnerware, stemware, table linens, napkin rings, and centerpieces that have bold details, and are elegant at the same time. Don’t feel compelled to stick to certain styles…be creative, and make it more interesting by blending elements.

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Using tinted glassware, and brightly colored dinnerware, you can mix things up for a fun surprise. Table linens can be colorful, and anything that looks like it was discovered at an antique store or something from your grandmother’s attic will probably make a perfect table setting.

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When it’s time to set the table, remember to keep things cozy. Even the stemware can be casual. Picking up a simple, white set of matching dinnerware, along with simple linens is all it takes for a great, classic place setting. The centerpiece can be as understated as a row of white candles,  and it can be even a little unexpected.

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In my growing family, we now have a children’s table, and as much detail, imagination, and creativity goes into creating their table, too. They love it, and they feel extremely special while they are sitting at their very own table. As a special gift, there is always something on the table that each of them can take home, and add to their own Christmas tree.

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Another thought or idea are place card holders. They add a special touch to your table, and can get the dinner conversation started, and after dinner, they make great gifts for your guests.

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I hope this holiday season, your home is filled with joy, and that you find the time to do the things you love with family, and friends. For me, each Christmas season is unique providing long standing family traditions, and making new memories of our own.  It is my favorite time of year, a time of creativity, gratitude, family, and joyous celebrations. And if you need help or advice with  planning or decorating your holiday table, I am only an email away at divinedelectables@aol.com.

Merry Christmas!