Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mom's Famous Cookies

Who doesn't love homemade chocolate chip cookies? There is something very comforting about warm chocolate chip cookies and glass of cold milk. In the past, whenever my family would crave cookies, which was quite often, I would always use store bought refrigerated cookie dough. I admit it was pretty good, but I really hate not knowing what is in the food we eat, so every once in awhile I would make chocolate chip cookies from scratch. They were never as good as the store bought cookies.

When we moved to a new neighborhood a couple of years ago, my neighbor brought us the most delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies I had ever eaten. They were so gooey and soft. When I complimented her cookies, she modestly explained that she simply tweaked the cookie recipe printed on the bag of chocolate chips. As much as I fished for the recipe, she would not share. She did eventually give me the recipe when we moved, but I am sworn to secrecy and can't share it with you. 

After trying her delicious cookies, I really wished I had a good cookie recipe. I came across a recipe for chocolate chip cookies in Southern Living magazine, and knowing that SL recipes do not disappoint, I decided to give it a try. They were really good! They were just as good, almost as good as my neighbor's cookies! Everyone that tried them loved them. So I started baking all my cookies from scratch. One day my son Collin, asked me to make my famous cookies, and that's how the cookies become known as Mom's Famous Cookies.

Here are a few tips to ensure your cookies are as good as Mom's.

  • Use an oven thermometer. Since all ovens cook differently, an oven thermometer will let you know when your oven is at the right temperature for baking.

  • Make sure your cookies are all the same size. I use the medium scoop (2 T.) from Pampered Chef.

  • Bake cookies until they no longer look wet on top. They may not appear to be done but will cook a little more after removing from the oven.

  • Bake cookies on an aluminum baking sheet or stoneware. If you use a dark baking sheet, the cookies will tend to burn. 

  • Let cookies sit for 2 minutes after removing from the oven, and then move to a cooling rack to cool.

  • Cookie dough can be frozen. Form dough into balls and let freeze on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, balls can be put into a freezer bag. When ready to use, thaw completely and bake as directed. If baking frozen dough, add approximately two minutes to the baking time.
All-Time Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

Prep: 30 min., Bake: 14 min. per batch, Cool: 15 min. Bake 10 minutes for a soft and chewy cookie or up to 14 minutes for a crisp cookie.

Yield: Makes about 5 dozen


• 3/4 cup butter, softened
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 1/4 cups plus 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 1/2 (12-oz.) packages semisweet chocolate morsels

• Parchment paper


1. Preheat oven to 350°. Beat butter and sugars at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until creamy. Add eggs and 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, beating until blended.

2. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl; gradually add to butter mixture, beating just until blended. Beat in morsels just until combined. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

3. Bake at 350° for 10 to 14 minutes (I bake them 12 minutes) or until desired degree of doneness. Remove to wire racks, and cool completely (about 15 minutes).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Best Ever Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Whenever I have bananas that are too ripe to eat, I will usually bake banana bread. A few months ago I had some ripe bananas, but decided to try something different. I went to one of my favorite recipe sources, http://www.food.com/, and found a recipe for Best Ever Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting. Almost 800 people had given it a five star rating so I anticipated it would be really good. I was not disappointed! It was delicious!

I usually make a 9 x 13 inch cake but a couple of weeks ago decided to try a layered cake. My icing skills need some work so I simply covered the cake in graham cracker crumbs. It covered up the sloppy icing and the graham cracker went nicely with the banana and cream cheese flavors. 
Best Ever Banana Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Serves: 16 , 9x13 pan

• 1 1/2 cups bananas, mashed, ripe
• 2 teaspoons lemon juice
• 3 cups flour
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 cup butter, softened
• 2 1/8 cups sugar
• 3 large eggs
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
• 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

• 1/2 cup butter, softened
• 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 3 1/2 cups icing sugar
• chopped walnuts

Prep Time: 15 mins
Total Time: 1 1/4 hr
1. Preheat oven to 275°.
2. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan.
3. In a small bowl, mix mashed banana with the lemon juice; set aside.
4. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
5. In a large bowl, cream 3/4 cup butter and 2 1/8 cups sugar until light and fluffy.
6. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in 2 tsp vanilla.
7. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.
8. Stir in banana mixture.
9. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for one hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
10. Remove from oven and place directly into the freezer for 45 minutes. This will make the cake very moist.
11. For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth.
12. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla.
13. Add icing sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed until frosting is smooth.
14. Spread on cooled cake.
15. Sprinkle chopped walnuts over top of the frosting, if desired.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Brickle Bit Fruit Dip

I received this recipe from my bff about 15 years ago. I always think of her every time I make it. It is a nice change from the typical marshmallow cream fruit dip and is always a hit whenever I take it to gatherings. 

 The recipe calls for brickle bits which I can't get here in Italy, so I crushed up a few Heath candy bars instead. It was delish!

Brickle Bit Fruit Dip

8 oz. cream cheese (I use 1/3 less fat)
1/3 cup brown sugar
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 oz. brickle bits

Combine cream cheese and brown sugar and let set for 15 minutes. Combine rest of ingredients and chill for 8 hours to allow the brickle bits to soften. Serve it with any fruit, but I prefer to serve it with apples.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


You have heard the saying "have your cake and eat it too", but how about "have your coffee and eat it too"? Well, you can when you indulge in one of my favorite Italian desserts, Tiramisu. Tiramisu means "pick me up", because it contains espresso as well as a lot of sugar. Unlike many traditional Italian recipes, Tiramisu is a fairly new food. According to my research the earliest known written recipe of Tiramisu was dated 1981, but most likely was enjoyed several years before that. The simplicity of this recipe definitely qualifies it as an "everyday cooking" recipe.


1 lb. Mascarpone Cheese (for my friends in MS this can be found at Schnucks in the deli)
5 Eggs
1 quart whipping cream
2/3 cup Sugar
Unsweetened cocoa
Pkg. Ladyfingers
1 cup espresso

1. Prepare espresso and let cool to room temperature.
     Most Italians do not own espresso machines. They make their espresso at home using a Moka Pot. They come is several sizes. We have a 1 cup, 3 cup, and a 6 cup Pot. The one pictured is a 6 cup pot.

Moka Pot
 To make the espresso, first unscrew the bottom section and add water up to the steam valve.
Next put on the filter and fill with espresso tapping gently so the coffee can settle. Once the filter is full, top it with a mound of espresso grounds and replace the top.

Place on the stove and heat. The water will boil and espresso will percolate to the top of the Moka Pot. The pot makes very good espresso.

2. While the espresso is cooling, separate the egg yolks and whites. With an electric mixer, mix the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale. Whip the whipping cream until soft peaks form. Fold in the mascarpone cheese and egg whites to the whipped cream and mix until smooth.

3. Quickly dip the ladyfingers in espresso. Dipping too slowly will cause the ladyfingers to become very soggy. Layer a 9 x 13 inch dish with ladyfingers and half the cream. Layer again with ladyfingers turning them the opposite direction of the first layer. Spread with the rest of the cream. Top with a generous coating of cocoa powder. Refrigerate for about four hours prior to serving.

Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sarde a Beccafico

I am so excited to share this dish with you! I first learned of this dish while at the Italian cooking school. This dish is served as an antipasto and the main ingredient is sardines. Yes, I said sardines. I know you are probably turning your nose up about now. I did too, until I tasted it. It was surprisingly delicious! I always assumed sardines were disgusting since the only type I was familiar with were canned. This recipe uses fresh sardines which is nothing like canned sardines.

Sarde literally translates Sardinia. Sardines were named after the island of Sardinia, Italy, where they once lived in abundance. Sardines are a popular ingredient in Sicilian cooking.
Another very popular Sicilian recipe is Pasta con Sarde, Sardine Pasta.

Sarde a Beccafico
(with commentary)

2 pounds of sardines cleaned and open like a book -At the cooking school the chef demonstrated how to clean them. With his bare hands, he pinched of the head, and then with his finger split the fish open pulling out the backbone. I was totally disgusted!! I had never cleaned a fish in my life, and I was about to have to do it without any utensils! My saving grace was that they had some latex gloves that I wore. I don't think I would have been able to do it without the gloves and some deep yoga breathing! At first I was so creeped out, but it became easier with each fish. A couple of weeks ago I made this dish at home and went through the same emotions again, but by the time I finished cleaning the last fish it was no problem.

This is what the fish look like after being cleaned and opened.

5 ounce bread crumbs
4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
3 T. grated Pecorino cheese- Pecorino cheese is a hard,strong tasting cheese made from sheep's milk. In South Italy it is very traditional to add black peppercorn to the cheese.

3.5 ounces anchovies in oil- I didn't use the anchovies. They smelled awful.
Parsley bunch
1 clove garlic
1 ounce pine nuts
2 ounces Raisins- soaked in warm water approximately 30 minutes, then squeeze out water
breadcrumbs for dipping
2 eggs
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat a little oil in a pan and then toast the breadcrumbs. Add the raisins, pine nuts, garlic, chopped parsley, pecorino cheese, parmesan, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix in enough olive oil to make the mixture wet.

Wash and dry the sardines.

Place a small amount of the breadcrumb mixture onto half of the sardines. Place the rest of the sardines on top of each breadcrumb covered sardine. Next dip in egg and then dredge in plain breadcrumbs. Fry in oil (olive, peanut, or sunflower oil). Drain on paper towel.

There are other ways to make these. Another version is after placing the breadcrumb mixture on the filet, roll it and dip it according to the directions. Instead of frying, place them in a baking dish and bake until done.

Fresh sardines are hard to find in the states, but if you ever get a chance to try them I recommend you go for it!! Or better yet, make a trip to Italy and try some authentic Sicilian Sarde a Beccafico for yourself. Free lodging available!!

Buon Appetito!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chicken Enchiladas

This Chicken Enchilada recipe is another dish that, before moving to Italy,  I would cook often and freeze. To freeze simply assemble as instructed in directions, but before pouring on the cheese, wrap in aluminum foil and place in the freezer. When ready to cook, let thaw 24 hours in the fridge before baking. Pour on cheddar cheese soup and bake according to the directions.

This recipe calls for chicken cooked and chopped. I usually use a whole chicken instead of boneless skinless chicken breasts. Using a whole chicken is cheaper and gives the dish more flavor. Lately, whenever I boil a chicken I make chicken broth at the same time. It is so easy to make and tastes better than store bought. When boiling the chicken simply put a few stalks of celery, a cut onion, and two or three cut carrots in the water. Salt and pepper to taste. Once the chicken is done, remove from broth. Then put the broth in the fridge overnight so the fat can solidify. The next day skim the fat off the top and strain out the vegetables.  Then pour the broth into ice trays and freeze. After they are frozen, put broth cubes in a ziploc bag and keep in the freezer. It is so nice to have chicken broth on hand whenever you need it.

Chicken Enchiladas
Serves 6
This dish goes nicely with a side of Spanish rice, refried beans, or a salad.

4 cups cooked and chopped chicken
16 oz. sour cream, divided
1 can cream of chicken soup
¼ cup chopped onion
8 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 small can green chilies, drained
12 soft flour tortillas
1 can cheddar cheese soup
1 cup salsa
Preheat oven to 350°. In a bowl combine chicken, half of sour cream, cream of chicken soup, onion, chilies and cheese. Divide mixture evenly among the 12 tortillas. Roll the tortillas tightly. Place in a 13x9x2 inch baking dish. Pour cheddar cheese over all. Bake in oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly. Top with remaining sour cream and salsa.

Buon Appetito!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Blueberry Streusel Muffins

I do not like buying store bought muffins. Just about everytime I take my son Collin to the grocery store he begs me for Hostess miniblueberry muffins. I can not bring myself to buy them. Number one, they are expensive and number two, they contain way too many preservatives as well as lots of sugar and fat. By baking muffins from scratch, I know exactly what is in them, and they are alot cheaper. Not to mention, way more delicious.

These are the best blueberry muffins I have ever had! I think the grated lemon rind is what makes these muffins so good. Although, I have made them several times without the rind simply because I didn't have any lemons, and they were still delicious. When possible, I use fresh blueberries. Using frozen blueberries will turn the batter blue. Here in Italy I haven't seen fresh blueberries so I unfortunately am forced to use frozen. You can freeze leftover muffins. When ready to eat simply let them thaw, or warm them in the microwave for a quick breakfast or snack.

Blueberry Streusel Muffins
from: The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook

Prep: 14 minutes Cook: 18 minutes
A sugary streusel caps these berry-filled breakfast muffins.

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 ¾ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
½ cup sugar
2 tsp. grated lemon rind
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¾ cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed and drained*
1 T. all purpose flour
1 T. sugar

¼ cup sugar
2 ½ T. all purpose flour
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 ½ T. butter or margarine

• Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture. Combine egg, milk, and oil; stir well. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened.

• Combine blueberries, 1 T. flour, and 1 T. sugar, tossing gently to coat. Fold blueberry mixture into batter. Spoon batter into greased muffin pans, filling two- thirds full.

• Combine ¼ cup sugar, 2 ½ T. flour, and cinnamon; cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture is crumble. Sprinkle over batter. Bake at 400° for 18 minutes or until golden. Remove from pans immediately. Yield: 1 dozen.

*If using frozen blueberries, thaw and drain them, and pat dry with paper towels. This will prevent discoloration of batter.

Per muffin: Calories 219, Fat 8.9g

Beef Noodle Supreme

This recipe is one that I used to cook often when I did a lot of  freezer cooking. I used to plan my meals two weeks to one month at a time. Then I would prepare and freeze them. Whenever I needed a dish, I would simply pull it from the freezer, let it thaw, and then bake according to the directions.  Before moving to Italy, we got rid of our deep freeze, and since our freezer space here is so small I have not done much freezer cooking in a while.

Our whole family enjoys this casserole and I think you will too.

This recipe makes 2- 9x13 inch  or 4- 8x8 inch casseroles.

Beef Noodle Supreme

2 lbs. ground meat
4 T. margarine
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar
4-8 oz. cans tomato sauce
2-8 oz pkg. cream cheese
2 cups sour cream
12 green onions, including green part, chopped
2-8 oz. pkg. noodles
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated

In a skillet brown meat in margarine (I never use the margarine). Add garlic, salt, sugar, and tomato sauce; simmer about 10 minutes. Soften and blend thoroughly cream cheese and sour cream. Add onions and set aside. Boil noodles until tender; drain. In baking dishes, layer noodles, cream cheese mixture, and meat sauce. Repeat Layers. Sprinkle cheese on top. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

To freeze-skip baking step and freeze unbaked. Unthaw and then bake. Makes several freezer meals depending on your size family.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sweet and Sour Chicken and Chocolate-Peanut Bars

I love church cookbooks, especially southern church cookbooks! These cookbooks include recipes that are tried and true. The recipes are compiled from women in the church and you can trust that almost any recipe from a church cookbook is gonna be good. 

This recipe is from Carriage Hills Baptist Church Women's Ministry Cookbook. I attended Carriage Hills while living in Southaven, MS. The recipe is super easy and really good!

Sweet and Sour Chicken
serves 4-6

2 to 3 lb. chicken breasts
12 oz. jar apricot preserves
1 pkg. dry onion soup mix
8 oz. Russian salad dressing

Place chicken in a shallow baking pan. Mix soup mix, dressing, and preserves and pour over chicken. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Serve with white rice.

Chocolate-Peanut Bars
This second recipe is one that I have had in my recipe binder for over a year, and finally got around to making. I had everything on hand except the vanilla wafers so I substituted crushed graham crackers instead. This recipe is also super easy and really delicious!!

Chocolate-Peanut Bars
Yield: Makes about 4 dozen

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups vanilla wafers, crushed (about 45 cookies)
1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate morsels
1/2 cup whipping cream


Beat butter and peanut butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended. Add powdered sugar and vanilla wafer crumbs; beat until blended. Press mixture evenly into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking pan lined with wax paper.

Stir together chocolate morsels and whipping cream in a medium saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Spread evenly on top of peanut butter mixture. Chill 1 hour or until firm.

Remove from refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature 10 minutes or until slightly softened. Cut into 48 bars.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tomato and Basil Bruschetta

Bruschetta (pronounced brusketta in Italian) is an appetizer that originated in central Italy and consists of toasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. The most popular variety outside of Italy is topped with tomatoes, garlic, basil, and sometimes mozzarella.

I discovered this easy recipe a few weeks ago. It is especially good using garden fresh tomatoes you can find this time of year. Also, using fresh basil instead of dried makes a huge difference in taste. The smell and taste of fresh basil is divine and I have thoroughly enjoyed cooking with it.

Tomato and Basil Bruschetta
6 roma tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
8 slices Italian bread, cut about 1 inch thick
2 tablespoons grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Directions:Prep Time: 10 mins
Total Time: 45 mins

1 Whisk together chopped garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, and basil.
2 When combined slowly drizzle in oil.
3 Add tomatoes and let sit for 20 minutes at room temp.
4 Meanwhile, toast the bread.
5 This can be done either in the toaster (if it's got really wide slots) or under the broiler (if using this method watch closely so it doesn't become a brickette).
6 When the bread is toasted rub each piece, on one side, with the whole garlic pieces.
7 Place the bread on a cookie sheet and top with tomato mixture.
8 Sprinkle on a little cheese and broil till the cheese melts (you can skip that last broiling bit and it's equally as wonderful).
9. Serve immediately.
10. The tomato mixture also makes a wonderful vinegrette for an antipasto salad.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto

Risotto is a very popular Italian dish. I had never heard of risotto until we moved to Italy. There are many variaties of risotto dishes and they are all delicious. It is easy to make, but does require a lot of attention while cooking, but it is so worth it!

Here is a pic of uncooked risotto. As you can see it is different than long grain white rice.

Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto
Serves 4

(the cubes are frozen broth)

 1 3/4 cup  Carnaroli rice (400 gr)
1 1/3 cup  sliced mushrooms (300 gr)
7 oz. cut into pieces asparagus (200 gr)
1/2 cup chopped onions (100 gr)
3/4 cup chopped ham (170 gr)
 1/2 cup grated Parmasan cheese (100 gr)
1/2 cup butter (100 gr)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley (15 gr)
 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (57gr)
Vegetable broth
Chop the onion and fry in a pan with extra virgin olive oil add the rice and toast.
Add mushrooms, asparagus, and ham to rice. Add broth a little at a time while stiring constantly until soaked in  rice. Continue the process until rice is cooked.

Lastly stir in butter and Parmesan.

Buon Appetito!!