Blackberry Wine & Coconut Cakes
and a Contest Winner!

We have had a wonderful and eventful month of June thus far. Relatives in town for my daughters graduation plus an extended holiday has left us with the feeling of exuberance and excitement, but also a little sad knowing it will soon come to an end as my sister and her family head back to there little parcel of land in the Northern part of California. While my sister was hear we had a fun time of food, fellowship and shopping for fanciful items at the antique market. *Below are some pretty spoons and linens I picked up for literally pennies on the dollar.

This is a simple dessert I made with fresh, sweet blackberries and blackberry wine to make a syrup and then baked it into a yummy coconut pound cake batter. It was so delicious!

On our free time I captured some shots of new growth and foliage in the yard. This is a single pedal from a purple Agapanthus plant.

I also want to thank all of you who commented on my blog as well as on my Facebook page giving me some great ideas for my kitchen remodel. Using the Random Number Generator website the number chosen was 2. Lynn from Blue Skies is the winner of the $60.00 gift certificate to CSN Stores. "Congratulations Lynn"!!!! xoxo

Blackberry Wine Syrup

1 -1/2 cup Blackberry Wine
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 Pint cleaned and dried blackberries

Combine the wine, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low; cook for 10 minutes or until the liquid becomes syrupy and has reduced by about two-thirds. With heat on low add the blackberries stirring just till they begin to soften but keep there shape.

Coconut Pound Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut (6 oz), toasted and cooled

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter 6 ramekins and dust with flour, knocking out excess flour.

Whisk together flour (2 cups), baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes with a stand mixer or 8 to 10 minutes with a hand held mixer. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in extracts. Reduce speed to low, then mix in flour mixture until just combined. Fold in coconut gently but thoroughly with a rubber spatula.

Spoon batter evenly into individual ramekins around 3/4 of the way up. Place ramekins on cookie sheet. With a large spoon, carefully place blackberries and syrup over cake batter not skimping on berries.
Bake until golden and bubbly and a wooden pick or skewer inserted into side comes out clean, 20 - 25 minutes

Cool individual cakes on a rack 15 minutes. Top with whipped cream and enjoy!!
Buon Appetito!!

"Orange Molasses"
Raisin Cookies

Summer started with a flurry of activities and the excitement of a graduation. Our oldest daughter is now on her way to a collegiate course that may take another 8 years or so depending on whether or not she sticks with her plans! We are so proud of her and a little overwhelmed emotionally too.
Can you relate? :)

And now that their vacation has begun, I'm already realizing that with the kids home, writing and posting favorite recipes will probably come few and far between. This simple recipe was a perfect choice to start the kids' summer off with and to also share with visiting family in for the festivities. It may look like a simple Oatmeal Raisin Cookie..
but my play with ingredients gives it a complex flavor and texture.

You may have read my holiday cookie post a few years ago called the "Italian Filled Cookie". This cookie is my families version of the traditional Sicilian cookie called a Cucidati. It is so delicious and filled with yummy goodness in the form of chocolate, apple butter and rum soaked raisins. If you have never poached pears or soaked fruit.. you really need to try it. I don't normally enjoy raisins straight from the box, dry and shriveled, they, like prunes, really only remind me of growing old and "not so gracefully". :) So if I can help it.. smooth, plump and hydrate is my adage!

With this Oatmeal recipe I plump and hydrate the raisins. I was intending on using Rum or Marsala. I love those flavors together, they are a match made in heaven. But with none on hand I decided to improvise with what I did have. I had an assortment of juices.. apple, orange, pear.. but I also needed to have something that would intensify the flavor as the liquid and the raisins simmered. Molasses and raisins.. and with that, orange juice for the liquid became the perfect choice!

I wish I could bottle my husbands enthusiasm.. he is so kind and wonderful and gave these cookies the highest rating he has given any of my cookies before! I thought they were pretty good too, not so overpowering or bitter with molasses, but yet in my opinion not to sweet either. I say in my opinion, because my mom did say they were a little too sweet for her, but normally she adds very little sugar to anything. :)

As far as a recipe goes.. I took a generic oatmeal cookie recipe from one of my favorite wedding gift cookbooks and added my improv on ingredients from there. Chocolate pieces, coconut and walnuts were also added to my orange molasses soaked raisin oatmeal cookie batter. :) For a more intense orange flavor, I would add some zest of an orange. It all melded together so wonderfully! 

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats
**1/2 cup raisins simmered in molasses and orange juice, then drained (read up above)
3/4 cups chocolate chips
3/4 cups chopped walnuts
1/2 cup coconut (optional but yummy)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees f. 
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and, if desired, cinnamon and cloves. Beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined. beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Stir in rolled oats, drained raisins, chocolate chips, walnuts and coconut. refrigerate for 1 -2 hours.
Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto un-greased cookie sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are golden. Let stand on cookie sheets for 1 minute. Transfer to wire racks and let cool. Makes about 48 cookies.

**You can either soak your raisins and molasses in a jar for 1 day or over night, or you can speed up the process by simmering them on low in the orange juice and molasses till they are plump. I used 1 cup of orange juice to a 1/4 cup of molasses. When they were done I drained them in a sieve before I added them to the cookie batter.

Buon Appetito!

Simple as an
"Olive and Anchovy Crouton"

You've heard the phrase, "Less Is More", well this is a concept that applies here to a dinner salad simply prepared with a few ingredients. The star, being the crouton is so infused with flavor that it wows the taste buds. The trick here is to minimize flavors that would compete with the olive and anchovy in the crouton. Sunflower seeds, very mild and small, tomatoes, not too fruity or aromatic and mild Gorgonzola.. a smooth and mild cheese unlike a Blue or Roquefort that may steal the show.

I had the idea for this crouton when my leftover Kalamata Olive loaf was beginning to get stale and my leftover anchovies from my Gallette were sitting alone in the refrigerator. I hate to waste food.. waste not want not. So I gathered the anchovies and pulsed them in my mini food processor with a fruity olive oil, added some red pepper flakes and black pepper for a spicy infusion. Cubed the remainder of the olive loaf and tossed them in the oil mix to coat. I set my oven to 300 degrees. Any lower and they get too crisp for my liking. I like a bit of a chewy but dry texture to my croutons.. although if you like them extra crunchy I would definitely lower the oven temperature to 250 degrees.
While in the oven check every ten minutes turning them over repeatedly till they are a nice golden brown.

To dress up this salad I drizzled a nice fruity olive oil and a "little" red wine vinegar over it, and sprinkled a little sea salt on top. Growing up I remember my Calabrian grandmother preparing salads dressed with a simple dressing of olive oil, salt and a little red wine vinegar. I loved it this way. It really brings out the flavor and freshness of your salad ingredients.

Don't forget to give me your "Kitchen Remodel" ideas and enter my Kitchen Remodel contest for a chance to win a $60.00 gift certificate. You can enter here. Grazi!!

Buon Appetito!

Summer Vegetable Soup

There really isn't anything difficult or spectacular about this soup, except for the fact of it's deliciousness and healing ability it seemed to have on my family! Soup is one of those meals that I crave all year long. I love rich broth's infused with fresh vegetables, onions, garlic and wine. I love starches in a soup because they are natural thickeners and even enhance flavor. Potatoes take on such beautiful flavor from stewed ripe tomatoes and bouillon seasonings, and corn still on it's cob is so yummy to munch on after it has cooked in the soup broth. So when my husband over the weekend needed something light and healthy after being inundated by restaurant and to-go food during his business week, I quickly ran out exited to purchase vegetables for a nice pot of hot summer soup!

Large Stock Pot filled 3/4 way up with water
2 -3 Tablespoons Vegetable bouillon to taste depending on your liquids
Red Pepper Flakes
Fresh Ground Black Pepper to taste
1 Large onion thinly sliced
2 Large garlic cloves crushed
1 1/2 cups White Wine
2 cups crushed tomatoes or cored and diced very fine
2 Large Carrots diced small or sliced into diagonals
2 Celery Stalks finely diced
2 Ears of Corn on the Cob cut into three pieces each
1 Large Plantain Banana cut into 1 inch slices
2 Potatoes cut into small chunks
2 Zucchini sliced
2 Yellow Squash sliced
2 Cups Fresh Green Beans cleaned and cut
Fresh Parsley finely chopped
Fresh Basil Leaves finely chopped
1 Lemon cut into slices

This really is an easy preparation! Scrub and cut all your vegetables and set aside.
Bring pot of water to a boil. Add vegetable bouillon.
Add crushed tomatoes, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes, plantain and corn on the cob.
Let cook for 20 minutes.
Add the white wine, the yellow and green squash, green beans, parsley and basil. Add 1/8 of a teaspoon of red pepper flakes plus around 1/8 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Let cook for half an hour more. Check the seasonings and adjust flavor if necessary with pepper, bouillon and wine. The soup will start to thicken a bit with the breakage of the potatoes. The plantain bananas will still be firm but this is normal and they are still good! When soup is finished serve in bowls with crusty bread and slices of lemon. Let each one squeeze their own amount of lemon to taste. Decorate with fresh basil and enjoy!

Ciao and Buon Appetito!

A Savory Galette
Gruyere, Anchovies, Arugula
Olives and Capers..
and a Contest!

*Be sure to read the bottom of this post for the contest details!

I have had the hardest time posting this.. the picture doesn't do the end result justice. But if there is any time you are going to trust me.. now is it!

This Savory Gallete with the mix of olives, capers and anchovies.. plus the addition of lots of garlic and shallots had the most beautiful aroma and set the house a whirl. Talk about an intoxicating bouquet! Then enter in the arugula and Gruyere cheese.. so much flavor and texture that it will be a "tart recipe" worth keeping in the front of your recipe box.

The title of this recipe also limits some of the star ingredients for this Gallete, I used three different cheeses. Besides Gruyere, I used Fontina to blend with it and then topped the tart with Chevre goat cheese before putting it in the oven.

I started by making my dough. I love to add fresh herbs to my dry ingredients in the processor. They really impart beautiful aromas. This especially works well with a delicate and mild cheese tart when you want to make it a little more savory. Here is another recipe where I incorporate basil into my dough.

Crust Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cleaned and dried arugula leaves
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons chilled non hydrogenated solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Crust Preparation
Mix flour, sugar, and salt in food processor. Add arugula and pulse to incorporate. Add butter and shortening; pulse until coarse meal forms. Add 2 tablespoons ice water; pulse until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dry. *DO NOT OVER MIX YOUR DOUGH. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk and wrap in plastic. Chill 2 hours. Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes before continuing.

I love all of these ingredients!

You don't want to add salt to your saute. There is plenty of flavor in these ingredients. For myself, I like to use olives cured in oil to eliminate some of the saltiness. If you can't find any or if you have olives and capers in a brine solution on hand I suggest you rinse them. The anchovies are very salty and will impart much flavor!

3/4 cups Manzanilla and Kalamatta Olives sliced in half and seeds removed (rinse well if in brine solution)
2 Tbp. Capers (also rinse)
Red pepper flakes
Fresh ground black pepper
1 large (or two small) shallots finely chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
5 anchovy fillets cut into small pieces
1/4 cup Olive oil
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
1 cup grated Fontina cheese
3/4 cups crumbled goat cheese

1 egg white
3 tablespoons milk for washing your pastry (whisked together)

Saute garlic, shallots, red pepper flakes and fresh ground black pepper in olive oil till golden.

Add olives, capers and anchovies. Saute for 3 minutes and turn heat off.

Add arugula and blend well. Set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 350°.
Roll out dough and transfer to a round cookie sheet lined with non stick foil or parchment.

Sprinkle with grated Gruyere and Fontina blend.

Top with the arugula anchovy olive blend.

Dot on top with the crumbled goat cheese.

Fold up your dough in a non uniform rustic style. Brush with egg white/milk mixture. Bake in 350° oven for approximately 40 minutes - 50 minutes until dough is golden.
Buon Appetito!

Now for the contest..

This last week being the memorial weekend we had all sorts of cooking tools, utensils and small electrics out on the counter. We were a busy family cooking and grilling! It had me thinking of all the items I still don't have.. and things I could still use. We are in the process of a house remodel. There are some things staying.. and many things going! Currently we have "can lighting" in my kitchen but are considering a new lighting system. Candice Olson, designs some of the beautiful rooms utilizing beautiful light fixtures like track lighting, sconces and hanging lights. What to do!!

We are also changing out the cabinetry and back splashes. I'm going all white! Woohoo.. I might regret it later, but we currently have stain grade and it's time for a change. Instead of white marble behind the stove though I think I'm going to use stainless as a back splash along the oven wall. We have all sorts of ideas.. but I can never have too many!
So your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is #1. To comment to this post with a link to a design element that would make my life in the kitchen much easier! :) That includes storage ideas and accessories too!

Also #2.. "link love" my friend! If you can just mention the contest with this link on your blog, twitter, or Facebook and leave me a message as to where I can see it, you will automatically be entered into the contest with a chance to win a $60.00 gift certificate to CSN Stores. That's it.. two things! The contest will last two weeks from today. The last day to submit a comment and a link to this post will be June 17th! If you enter anonymously be sure to add your name and email address to your comment.

*For the Winner.. with your purchase you will be expected to pay all tax, shipping and handling costs, so please take that into consideration when making your purchase choice. The winner will receive the certificate via their e-mail from
CSN Stores.

Thank you so much for taking my "remodel challenge".. so let the games begin!
P/S. The next contest will be a pasta and risotto exchange!

Ciao, abbracci e baci!