Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking


November 30, 2015


Carrot Cupcakes


I don’t know about you, but I’m drawn to anything with cream cheese frosting. Red velvet, coconut and of course carrot cakes would be nothing without that topping of sweetened cream cheese. I dare say that the frosting is more important to me than the cake. The beauty of cream cheese frosting is that it’s simply four ingredients whipped together. What could be easier?

This carrot cupcake is moister than most other cupcakes so it definitely can be made a day ahead. I baked these, refrigerated them overnight and frosted them just before serving. Should you have leftovers pop them into a covered container and keep in the fridge. They’ll be good for three days, if they last that long!

Feel free to add chopped nuts to your batter if you prefer a little crunch in your cupcake. By the way, the cream cheese frosting would be the perfect complement to pumpkin or gingerbread cupcakes. ‘Tis the season…

Carrot Cupcakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups finely shredded carrots (from about 6 medium carrots)

Cream Cheese Frosting

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar (8 ounces)


In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter with the cream cheese until smooth. Beat in the vanilla and confectioners’ sugar, then beat at high speed until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Preheat the oven to 350° and line 14 muffin cups with paper liners. Spray the liners with vegetable-oil spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the cinnamon, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the canola oil. Gradually beat in the sugar at medium-high speed and beat until thick, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Fold in the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula, then fold in the carrots.
Spoon the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcakes comes out clean. Let cool slightly, then transfer the cupcakes to the freezer to chill.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip with the Cream Cheese Frosting. Pipe the frosting onto the carrot cupcakes and serve. Alternatively, use a knife to spread the frosting on the cupcakes and serve.

November 25, 2015


Happy Thanksgiving!


As much as I love to cook, I am happy to say that this year I am only contributing two side dishes to the Thanksgiving celebration. I’ve been making this cranberry sauce for years and I yesterday I whipped up an extra large batch because I love having it around. Try it on your leftover turkey sandwich or serve it alongside a pork roast.

The sweet and sour onion confit is a recent addition to the holiday table and I think it’s definitely a keeper.

And since I’m not responsible for more than these few dishes, I have a little extra time on my hands and I think I might throw together these savory blue cheese bites. I think they would be quite nice with a glass of bubbly before the feast. Don’t you?

A very Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Photo was from last fall at Campo de Fiori, Rome.

November 21, 2015


Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Tart


As much as I am seduced by a counter chock full of vine ripened tomatoes, I am happy to let go of summer produce and jump right into fall and winter vegetables. The squash varieties (delicata, pumpkin, acorn, kabocha, spaghetti and butternut) that are now readily available at the market can be turned into side dishes, soups, main courses and even desserts. I must say that I cooking enjoy all of them, but have a real fondness for butternut.

Last weekend I had friends in for lunch and knew that I wanted to serve a vegetable tart and a salad. My thoughts turned immediately to using butternut squash, the sweetest of the winter squashes. This recipe from Epicurious was exactly what I had in mind. The creamy filling bursts with the flavor of the caramelized onions and fresh herbs. Don’t even think of foregoing the bread crumbs as they lend a little bit of crunch to the tart.

Take a look at Ciao Chow Linda’s Mac n Cheese with Butternut Squash for a wonderful winter meal and here are a few of my favorite squash recipes:

Kabocha Squash and Fennel Soup
Butternut Squash Soup
Butternut Squash Gratin
Pumpkin Panna Cotta

Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Tart

Pastry dough
1 small butternut squash (about 1 pound)
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil plus about 2 teaspoons for brushing squash
1 small onion
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 whole large egg
1/2 large egg yolk (1/2 tablespoon)
1/3 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup grated Italian Fontina cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan (about 1 ounce)
1/4 cup crumbled mild soft goat cheese (about 1 ounce)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and marjoram leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 stick ( 1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup ice water


Cut butter into pieces. In a food processor blend flour, sugar, and salt until combined. Add butter and pulse until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with remainder in small (roughly pea-size) lumps. Add 2 tablespoons of water and pulse just until incorporated. Test mixture by gently squeezing a small handful: If it does not hold together, add enough remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing and testing, until mixture just forms a dough. Form dough into a disk. Chill dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface roll out dough into a 12-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick). Fit dough into an 11-inch tart pan with a removable fluted rim. Freeze shell 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Line shell with foil and fill with pie weights or raw rice. Bake shell in middle of oven until edge is pale golden, about 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights or rice and bake shell 10 minutes more, or until bottom is golden. Leave oven on. Cool shell in pan on a rack.

Halve squash and scoop out seeds. Lightly brush each cut side with about 1 teaspoon oil and on a baking sheet roast squash, cut sides down, in middle of oven 40 minutes, or until soft.
While squash is roasting, thinly slice onion and in a heavy skillet cook in 1/2 tablespoon butter and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Cool squash and scoop out flesh. In a food processor purée squash. Add whole egg, egg yolk, and cream and blend well. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and stir in cheeses, herbs, onion, salt, and pepper to taste. Pour filling into shell, smoothing top.

In a small skillet melt remaining tablespoon butter and stir in bread crumbs until combined well. Sprinkle bread crumb mixture evenly over filling. Bake tart in middle of oven 40 minutes, or until filling is set. Cool tart in pan on rack 10 minutes and carefully remove rim.

November 16, 2015


Cabbage Stuffed Cabbage Rolls


Let me say right up front that I try not to share a recipe without a photo of the finished product. I’m doing it today because this recipe is just that good. I struggle with taking photos once it gets dark and now that the sun sets at around 5 pm it’s always dark when I finish cooking. I apologize…

Once again I came across this recipe in the Off Duty section of the Wall Street Journal. Every Saturday morning I tear into the paper searching for this part of the paper knowing there’s a good chance I’ll find a recipe to try. Take a look at some of my favorites:

Almost Confit Chicken
Apple Cake with Cinnamon Sugar
Baked Ziti with Lamb
Lemon Angel Pie
Pasta with Cabbage, Bacon and Tomato
Pappardelle with Pancetta, Tomatoes and Cream

Adapted from well known chef April Bloomfield’s latest book “A Girl and Her Greens”, today’s recipe puts savoy cabbage center stage. It’s not your usual stuffed cabbage with ground meat and rice, rather the stuffing is sauteed cabbage along with carrots, onions and bacon. Savoy cabbage is a milder and somewhat sweeter variety of cabbage. Combined with bacon and Parmesan this cabbage roll is packed with flavor. You could certainly omit the bacon for a vegetarian version, but it lends a nice smokiness to the dish.

I had some of the filling leftover so I spooned it over top of the rolls before popping it in the oven. Serve with a salad and some crusty bread for a simple wintry supper.

Cabbage Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

½ stick unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pan
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
5 ounces thick-cut smoked bacon, cut into ¼-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
¼ pound carrots, cut into ¼-inch cubes
1 medium yellow onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2½ teaspoons flaky sea salt, plus more for garnish
2 Savoy cabbages (about 1½ pounds each)
1 cup chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated, plus more for garnish
Lemon wedge, for squeezing

Melt butter and oil in a wide, heavy lidded pot over medium heat. Add bacon, carrots, onions and 1½ teaspoons sea salt to pot. Cover and cook, without stirring, until bacon looks a bit translucent, 5–7 minutes. Stir and continue cooking, covered and stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft but not brown, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove and discard outermost leaves of cabbages. Carefully remove 12 large leaves and set aside. Halve, core and thinly slice remaining cabbage, setting aside 10 cups chopped cabbage. Reserve any extra cabbage for another use.

Add chicken stock to pot with onions, increase heat and bring liquid to a boil. Once boiling, stir in sliced cabbage and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Cover pot, reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender but not mushy, about 7 minutes. Remove pot from heat.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Season water generously with kosher salt. Working in 2-3 batches, boil reserved cabbage leaves until soft enough to fold without breaking, 3-4 minutes per batch. Use tongs to remove from water, drain well, let cool and pat dry.

Assemble stuffed cabbage: Heat broiler. Generously butter a large, heavy baking dish. Place boiled leaves on a work surface, concave-side up. Stir cabbage-onion mixture, then use a slotted spoon to portion mixture evenly among leaves, leaving a ½-inch border. Reserve cooking liquid for basting. Sprinkle Parmesan over bacon mixture. Roll each leaf over the filling to form a fairly snug cylinder with open ends, then transfer, seam-side down, to baking dish.

Place baking dish under broiler and cook cabbage rolls, basting occasionally with reserved cooking liquid, until lightly browned on top and heated through, 3–5 minutes.

To serve, garnish rolls with Parmesan, sea salt and pepper to taste. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

November 6, 2015


Crumb Cake Muffins


I had a craving for a crumb cake, one of those little cakes that they used to sell in the cafeteria at my high school. Individually wrapped in plastic and similar to a Drake’s cake, they had a little bit of cake and a lot of crumbs. As far as I’m concerned there can never been too many crumbs.

I could have just made a crumb topped coffee cake, but I wanted something that I could hold in my hand. I searched through various cookbooks and websites and finally came up with this recipe which was exactly what I had in mind. It’s the grown up version of my high school treat.


Crumb Cake Muffins (slightly adapted from Table for Two)

Crumb topping
⅓ cup granulated sugar
⅓ cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp. salt
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1¾ cups flour

1¼ cup cake flour
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, slightly softened
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
⅓ cup buttermilk or ⅓ cup plain yogurt (I used yogurt)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. You’ll need to use those deep muffin cups because the batter puffs up and your crumbs will fall off if you don’t. Spray liners lightly with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, mix together sugars, cinnamon, and salt. Pour the butter over top and using a wooden spoon, mix until incorporated. Add the flour and mix until mixture resembles a thick dough. With your fingers pinch dough together to form large crumbs. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt on low speed to combine. With mixer at low speed, add butter one piece at a time; continue beating until mixture resembles moist crumbs, with no visible butter chunks remaining, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla extract and buttermilk or yogurt and mix until batter is light and fluffy.

Using a ¼ cup measuring cup, divide up batter into prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle a good amount of the crumb topping over the batter. Do not press the crumb topping into the batter. Just let it sit on top. The original recipe said this makes 12 muffins but when using 1/4 cup measure to portion out the batter I only had enough for 8. Next time I would use a little less than 1/4 cup and make 12. You want the finished product to have a small amount of cake with a lot of crumbs.

Bake for 20 minutes or until crumbs are golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. If you want your crumbs to be a little darker place under the broiler for about 3 minutes. Do not walk away-you don’t want them to burn.

Let muffins cool for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Eat one immediately!

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Serves: 12

October 31, 2015


Falling Around


Quite some time ago I spent four years in Massachusetts. As you can well imagine autumn is an incredible display of brightly colored trees and farm stands selling all sorts of apples, mums, pumpkins and gourds. I have fond memories of driving from my suburban neighborhood outside of Boston into the countryside armed with clippers so I could pull over and snip bittersweet (my fall favorite) growing on the side of the road.

I do miss the northeast at this time of year, December through March when the snow piles, up not so much.


These photos were taken by my great friend L. who keeps me in the loop with scenes from her area. A few years back she even sent me a huge box of bittersweet. Thanks L!

October 23, 2015


Apple Cake With Cinnamon Sugar


It’s finally fall and with cooler temperatures comes more time in the kitchen. That crispness in the air brings to mind comfort food-pot pies, stews, braises and anything baked with apples. I’ve tried various apple recipes over the years and these are some of my favorites:

Crumb Topped Pie
Custardy Apple Squares
Apple Cake with Meringue Topping
Italian Apple Cake
Apple Almond Tart
Autumn Apple Cake

The recipe that I tried this time came from the Saturday “Off Duty” section of the Wall Street Journal. The article was titled “This Apple Cake is the Creamiest of the Crop” and once I saw creamiest, I knew I had to read further. This recipe employs a technique that was used when cakes were cooked in pots over an open flame. Cream was poured over the cake near the end of baking to ensure that the cake didn’t burn.

In this version the cream is poured over the cake before it is placed in the oven. The cream seeps down to the bottom of the pan and creates steam which makes the cake very moist and the apples very tender. Baked in a 10″ pan this cake rises almost 2″ high. Take care when you unmold the cake as it is somewhat heavy. I had planned on serving this topped with whipped cream but after tasting the crumb and realizing just how creamy this cake is, I decided against it. I did however break out the vanilla ice cream!

Super Moist Apple Cake With Cinnamon Sugar

2 cups sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 large eggs
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon cake flour
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
¾ cup whole milk
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 medium baking apples, peeled, cored, halved, and thinly sliced
¾ cup heavy cream
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

with sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch round, 2-inch-deep cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat 1½ cups sugar and butter until light in color, 3-5 minutes. Scrape down bowl as necessary and continue beating until mixture is very light in texture and color, several minutes more. Beat in eggs one at a time, scraping bowl between additions.

Sift together both flours, baking powder and salt. Alternate between mixing milk and dry ingredients into butter mixture, stopping to scrape bowl as necessary. Add vanilla and mix batter just until smooth. Do not overbeat.

Pour batter into prepared pan and spread with a rubber spatula to evenly cover pan. Arrange apple slices in overlapping concentric circles on top of the batter, taking care to completely cover it. Pour cream evenly over apples.

Stir together remaining ½ cup sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle mixture over top of cake. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 minutes. Remove pan from oven, transfer to a rack and let cool completely.

finished 2


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