March 21, 2015


Custardy Apple Squares-Baking Chez Moi


I don’t think of myself as a baker. I would call myself a cook who likes to bake. I suppose what is hard for me to accept is that when baking I have to follow a recipe, unless I’ve made it countless times. I realize that over the past few years I’ve been baking more and more and feel the need to have some sort of home baked good on hand all the time. Usually it’s cookies (and I do have my favorites) but when it’s not going to be a cookie, I find myself drawn to new recipes.

I kept hearing about Dorie Greenspan’s Baking Chez Moi featuring dessert recipes of French home cooks and when my friend L. (a wonderful baker and former owner of a famous San Diego bakery) sent me an article about the book, I knew it was time to get a copy and start baking.

I love the book and can’t wait to try countless recipes. For my first attempt I tried this wonderfully simple recipe for Custardy Apple Squares that L. and her husband B.(the other half of this famous baking team) recommended. Following my quest for quick and easy dishes for entertaining, this dessert fit the bill. In addition to its simplicity I would call it foolproof and wouldn’t hesitate to tell you to try it.

I made it earlier in the afternoon, reheated and topped it with vanilla ice cream. Whipped cream would be a delicious topping as well.

Custardy Apple Squares

3 medium juicy, sweet apples, such as Gala or Fuji, peeled
1/2 cup (68 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup (67 grams) sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 28 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Slice the apples using a mandoline, Benriner or a sharp knife, turning the fruit as you reach the core. The slices should be about 1/16 th inch thick– elegantly thin, but not so thin that they’re transparent and fragile. Discard the cores.

Whisk the flour and baking powder together in a small bowl.

Working in a large bowl with a whisk, beat the eggs, sugar and salt together for about 2 minutes, until the sugar just about dissolves and, more important, the eggs are pale. Whisk in the vanilla, followed by the milk and melted butter. Turn the flour into the bowl and stir with the whisk until the batter is smooth. Add the apples, switch to a flexible spatula and gently fold the apples into the batter, turning everything around until each thin slice is coated in batter. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top as evenly as you can–it will be bumpy; that’s its nature.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until golden brown, uniformly puffed– make sure the middle of the cake has risen–and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.

Using a long knife, cut the cake into 8 squares (or as many rectangles as you’d like) in the pan (being careful not to damage the pan), or unmold the cake onto a rack, flip it onto a plate and cut into squares. Either way, give the squares a dusting of confectioners’ sugar before serving, if you’d like.

Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat,Laugh & Shop with Panini Girl

March 13, 2015


Baked Ziti With Lamb


If you are new to reading my blog perhaps you don’t know that I love the Saturday “Off Duty” section of the Wall Street journal. As most newspapers seem to have less than exciting food sections, Off Duty continues to surprise me every weekend with its recipes. I’ve written about them here, here, here, here and here. There’s always a few good food related articles, but I would have to say that my favorite column is called Slow Food Fast which includes a recipe from a restaurant chef who is featured for a few weeks. These recipes are for home cooks who don’t have all day to spend in the kitchen but want seasonal food with lots of flavor.

I decided to invite a few friends over for dinner at the last minute and this recipe is everything I love about easy entertaining-you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry, the sauce for the pasta comes together in no time at all and you can make the dish ahead of time and pop it into the oven while you are having hors d’oeuvres. This is exactly what I did and rather than broiling the dish, I baked it at 375 for about a half hour. Serve with a salad, crusty bread and red wine. Serves 6-8

Baked Ziti With Lamb

1 pound dried ziti
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground lamb
½ pound ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small bulb fennel, diced
1 (14-ounce) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes with juice and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
¾ cup French feta, crumbled
¾ cup coarsely grated mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for topping
15 basil leaves, thinly sliced
15 mint leaves, thinly sliced
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add ziti and cook until just al dente. Strain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot, stir in lamb, beef, onions, garlic, carrots, celery and fennel, and sauté until meat is cooked through, about 7 minutes. Pour off all accumulated fat and set pot back over medium heat.


3. Stir in tomatoes, chili flakes, oregano, cumin and cinnamon. Season with salt to taste. Simmer until vegetables soften, about 20 minutes, adding splashes of hot water if dry. Stir in vinegar and simmer 5 minutes more.

4. Preheat broiler. Add cooked pasta and reserved cooking water to pot with ragù, stirring until evenly distributed. Turn off heat. In a small bowl, toss together feta, mozzarella and Parmesan. Stir ¾ mixed cheeses and ½ mint and basil into pasta.

5. Transfer everything to a large casserole dish. Top with remaining mixed cheeses and grate extra Parmesan over top to lightly cover. Slide casserole under broiler and cook until browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Garnish with remaining basil and mint.

Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat, Laugh & Shop with Panini Girl

February 24, 2015


Watch Tower


I recently came upon this photo from a stay in the countryside outside of Lucca. Driving from Sant’Andrea di Compito to Lucca we came upon this tower in the middle of the road. Obviously the tower was there long before the paved road and when the road was built, it went right around the tower. At first we thought it was some type of storage facility for grains. After questioning a local we discovered that this was indeed a lookout post used for signaling other towers with flames.

Just one more thing I love about Italy-you never know what may be around the corner or down that country road.

Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat, Laugh & Shop with Panini Girl

February 15, 2015


Hazelnut Chocolate Cookies


It’s no secret that when it comes to sweets, hazelnut and chocolate is definitely my favorite combination. When I’m at a gelateria it’s hard for me to break away from nocciola and cioccolato and order anything else. Before leaving Italy I always stock up on chocolate bars studded with hazelnuts. Is anyone going over there soon? I’m almost out of my stash…

I apologize for posting this recipe in metric, but I found it on an Australian blog and when I made them I followed the recipe using a scale to weigh the ingredients, rather than converting the measurements to cups and ounces. I’ve gotten used to using a scale and highly recommend purchasing one for baking.

This dough is pretty easy to work with and you can roll the scraps together and use all of it. The cookies are delicate and crumble easily so be sure to let them cool thoroughly on a rack when you remove them from the oven. I dipped half the batch in chocolate and froze the rest of the cookies. I had planned on dipping these too but I’ve been sneaking them from the freezer and eating them as is and they are just as delicious without the chocolate.

Hazelnut Chocolate Cookies

210gr flour
80gr ground hazelnut
200gr unsalted butter, soften and diced
60gr finely ground brown sugar
200gr chocolate for dipping (optional)

In a bowl mix with your hand all the ingredients to form a smooth paste. Let it rest covered in a cool place (not the fridge) for 30 minutes to one hour. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll down the dough on a lightly floured work surface and cut out cookies. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove carefully from oven (they will be still soft) on to a cooling rack. Melt chocolate in a water bath and dip half cookie in it or alternatively just coat with a spatula half of each cookie with chocolate.

Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat,Laugh & Shop with Panini Girl

January 21, 2015




I first fell for this dish when we were on our way up to Piemonte and made a quick stop for lunch in Chiavari on the Ligurian coast. We looked into the windows of various restaurants and felt that they looked a little too fancy for our midday meal. Finally we happened upon Luchin, where we were immediately drawn in by the simple menu and communal tables that were filled with locals having lunch. Of course I had to order pasta with pesto, being that we were smack dab in the home of this specialty, but this vegetable filled tart proved to be the perfect starter.

One of the things that I love about this vegetable crostata is the crust. Made with olive oil it comes together in a snap and is easy to roll out. I’ve made this with both the food processor and also by hand and both were simple to make and successful.

Serve the erbazzone with a salad for lunch or dinner or slice it into smaller pieces and include it in an antipasto platter.



2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup extra-virigin olive oil
1/3 cup cold water

Put the 2 cups of flour and the salt in the food processor fitted with the medal blade. Pulse for a few seconds. Mix the oil with 1/3 cup cold water. With the food processor running, pour the liquid through the feed tube and process about 30 seconds, until a soft dough forms and gathers on the blade. If the dough is not coming together, it’s a little too dry. Add more water in small amounts, until you have a smooth, soft dough. I didn’t need any extra liquid.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead for a minute until it’s smooth and soft. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 1/2 hour. You can refrigerate for up to a day. Let come to room temperature before rolling.


2 large bunches swiss chard (rinsed, stems and tough ribs cut off and discarded, leaves cut into 1″ strips)
1/ 4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1-3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
3 large eggs
1/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs
Freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup drained ricotta cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
small handfull of toasted pine nuts
1 egg beaten with a little water for brushing on crust

Bring water to boil in a large pot and add all the chard, submerging the strips. Boil for about 10 minutes, until the chard is tender. Drain and cool, then squeeze the leaves by hand, pressing out as much water as possible.

Pour the olive oil into a skillet and set it over medium heat. Stir in the chopped onion and garlic and cook until onion is softened (be careful not to burn the garlic). Add the drained chard, 1-1/4 teaspoons salt and mix to coat with the oil and cook for a few minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and cool briefly.

Beat the eggs with the remaining teaspoon salt in another bowl and stir into the warm chard. Add some freshly grated nutmeg, the cheese (ricotta and parmigiano), pine nuts and bread crumbs. Set aside until you are ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough out onto lightly floured work surface, gradually stretching it into a circle. Drape the sheet of dough over a parchment lined baking sheet.

Spread the filling onto the dough-lined pan in an even layer and then fold the flaps over, with the filling exposed in the middle. You could also bake this in a pie dish, making a double crusted pie. Brush egg wash over crust. Bake in the oven (on a pizza stone if you have one) for about 30 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling is crisp on top. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat, Laugh and Shop with Panini Girl

January 8, 2015


Stewed Sausage With Fennel


For years I’ve subscribed to both Bon Appetit and Food & Wine. I have to admit that for the most part I’ve been more partial to Bon Appetit. The latest issue had me rethinking my allegiance. I understand that with the New Year there’s usually a fair amount of ideas for “healthy eating” in the food magazines, but Bon Appetit went a little too far for me. I suppose it’s because I’m all about cooking rustic dishes and eating whatever I feel like, but in moderation.

On the other hand the January issue of Food & Wine had me making lists of all the dishes that I wanted to try. I loved their article on female chefs and the people that inspired them. As soon as I saw that there was an article about Nancy Silverton I knew that I would soon be cooking up a storm, dreaming that I was with her in Umbria.

The first dish I tried was from the well known April Bloomfield whose inspiration was Ruth Rogers, of River Cafe (London) fame. I have a story about dining there with my great friend B., but that’s another post. When I saw fennel and sausage in the photo I went right out to the store for the ingredients. J. wasn’t around when I was in the kitchen cooking and I made him look at the magazine and take a guess as to which dish I had prepared. He knows me well. His first guess was Sausage with Fennel. Buon Appetito!

Stewed Sausage with Fennel

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 sweet Italian sausages (4 1/2 pounds)
3 fennel bulbs—trimmed, each bulb cut into 8 wedges, fronds chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
Kosher salt
One 28-ounce can San Marzano whole tomatoes, crushed with your hands, juices reserved
1 cup dry white wine
3 pequin chiles or 2 chiles de árbol

In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil. Add half of the sausages and cook over moderate heat, turning, until browned all over, 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate; repeat with the remaining sausages.

Add the fennel wedges to the casserole and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds and 1 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring, until the fennel is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the wine and chiles. Tuck the sausages into the sauce. Cover and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Uncover and simmer until the sausages are cooked through and the sauce is thickened, about 45 minutes longer. Garnish the stew with fennel fronds. Serve over polenta or mashed potatoes.

Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat, Laugh & Shop with Panini Girl


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 521 other followers