Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking


January 8, 2017

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I realize that empanadas are not at all Southwestern (more Latin American), but I thought that it would be nice to have a little hand pie before our posole dinner last week. Various countries have their own version (think Cornish pasties or Italian  panzerotti) and you can certainly put your own spin on this recipe.  There are endless possibilities for fillings. I wanted mine to be vegetarian, but I could have added chorizo or chicken or spiced ground beef to these rather than mushrooms.

The empanadas can be served warm or at room temperature and although it’s not traditional, we enjoyed them with a little bit of salsa. I think that next time I’ll use this same buttery dough with an Italian type filling-maybe with ricotta, tomato and sausage. I’ll keep you posted!


Mushroom and Potato Empanadas

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg
1/3 cup ice water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.
Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.)
Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.


8 oz. crimini mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup crumbled Panela cheese
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 pound yellow-fleshed potato such as Yukon Gold (1 large)
Empanada dough
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Add onions to saucepan and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and very soft, about 15 minutes. Add mushrooms, garlic, red bell pepper, salt, and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, until peppers are very soft, about 15 minutes.

Peel potato and cut into 1/2-inch pieces, then stir into onion mixture and cook over moderately low heat, covered, stirring frequently, until potatoes are just barely tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool filling to room temperature, remove bay leaf and add crumbled cheese.
Form and bake empanadas:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces and form each into a disk. Keeping remaining pieces covered, roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 5-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick).
Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling onto center and fold dough in half, enclosing filling. Press edges together to seal, then crimp decoratively with your fingers or tines of a fork. Transfer empanada to a baking sheet. Make 11 more empanadas in same manner, arranging on 2 baking sheets.
Lightly brush empanadas with some of egg wash and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer empanadas to a rack to cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.





December 31, 2016


Burnt Caramel Pudding


After many years in both retail and in the food business I am not really much of a holiday person. When most people have extra time off, I have to work additional hours and it’s hard to get into the holiday spirit. That being said, I still love having friends over for dinner at this time of year.

We’re having a little get together tonight and serving posole  which is just the right dish for  our rainy evening. It’s spicy, heartwarming  and a great do-ahead dish. It’s actually better made the day before, which I love. When your guests arrive all you’ll need to do is serve some hors d’oeuvres and dish up bowls of this flavorful Southwestern stew.

I thought about making flan for dessert and for a very brief moment I even considered making the famous butterscotch budinobut remembering the many steps involved in that recipe, I opted for this simpler pudding. Yes you do have to make caramel (take care when doing this as you can go from a lovely dark color to burnt in a second) and there is the tempering of eggs involved, but all in all it comes together fairly quickly. The end result is a dessert that is rich and creamy and if you happen to have one leftover, I dare say that you you might be tempted to eat that one too!

Happy New Year everyone and thank you so much for stopping by my blog.

Burnt Caramel Pudding

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks, room temperature
Fine sea salt

Heat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Pour the cream into a small saucepan. Split vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the cream; toss the scraped pod in there too. Turn the heat to low to gently warm the cream.

Reserve 2 tablespoons of the sugar; pour remaining sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons water into heavy-bottomed saucepan and set over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Then crank the heat to high and let the liquid bubble away — don’t stir; just swirl the pan occasionally — until it turns dark amber. This takes about 4 minutes, but watch closely because it happens fast.

Moving quickly, fish the vanilla pod out of the cream and save for another use. Slowly stir the warm cream into the caramel over medium heat. Once it comes to a boil (it will fast), turn off the heat and let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Whisk a little of the cream/caramel mixture into the egg yolks. Gradually add the rest, until it’s all incorporated. Strain the mixture into a pitcher or large measuring cup and pour into four ramekins. Place the ramekins in a shallow pan half filled with cold water. If you like your caramel a bit salty like me, sprinkle a few extra grains of sea salt on top of each one.

Cook at 300 degrees for about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. Chill for at least 3 hours, but it’s best if you can chill it overnight. Serve with whipped heavy cream.

December 24, 2016


Buon Natale

I’ve never been to Lucca during the winter, but I’d like to make believe that I’m there right now sending this Christmas greeting out to you.

Form the historic anfiteatro with its gorgeous tree lighting the piazza, to the view from the top of the Guinigi Tower (maybe next time I’ll make it all the way up)…

…to a stroll beside the canal that runs along the eastern side of the city…

… and to stopping at the city’s many charming shops for those last minute gifts and eating my way through town…

Buon Natale to my friends, followers and to you lovers of all things Italian. May there be a Christmas in Italy in our future!


December 10, 2016


Bake Sale!




Every holiday season my co-workers organize a “holiday boutique” featuring their homemade arts and crafts. The shop is open for a month and is a great place to do a little Christmas shopping without having to run from store to store.  Last year they asked me to participate, but I declined.  My craft is perishable and to be honest I don’t have time to be baking and cooking all month long.

This year I decided to join in the fun for one day only, selling two types of cookies-Pecan Delights and Chocolate Whoppers (also known as Charlie’s Chocolate Cookies). You can read all about the chocolate cookies here and once you try them, you too will be a fan. Sorry that the photo doesn’t do the cookie justice, but you can get an idea what they look like if you click on the link. The pecan cookie, well that’s another story. It’s a recipe from my mom and it’s become my trademark cookie and the only recipe I keep to myself. If you live in the San Diego area I’d be happy to whip up a batch for you!



December 2, 2016


Mozza At Home-Braised Chicken Thighs


Over cocktails on Thanksgiving Day I had the pleasure of thumbing through Nancy Silverton’s latest cookbook-Mozza At Home. I’ve been a fan of hers for years, beginning with her well known La Brea Bakery. At the time it was one of the only places around southern California to get what you might call artisan bread and whenever driving through LA we would make a detour to stock up on baked goods.

Years passed, the bakery was sold, but Ms. Silverton continued to delight her fans with the  restaurants-Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza-that she opened with partners Mario Batali and Joe Bastianch. I’ve had many a meal happily sitting at the pizza bar watching the cooks do their thing. Although the menu  also features entrees, I could never seem to break away from ordering pizza. I did get take out one afternoon and I think  it might have been this dish. I made something similar before, but Nancy’s rendition takes it to a new level. The recipe may seem like it has a lot of steps, but it’s certainly worth the time as the finished dish is packed with layers of flavor.

Chicken Thighs with Italian Sausage and Spicy Peppers

8 bone in, skin on chicken thighs

1 tbsp. kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

3 tbsp. canola oil

1 lb. (about 3 links) Italian sausage

10-12 medium garlic cloves peeled & grated online microplane

12 spicy pickled peppers

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup red wine vinegar

1-1/2 cups chicken stock

3 bunches broccolini

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lay the chicken thighs, skin side up on a baking sheet and season the skin with 1-1/2 teaspoons salt and a light grinding of pepper. Pour the canola oil into a large cast iron or heavy bottomed skillet and put on the stove over low heat. Before the oil heats up, put the sausage links in the pan and cook them until they are deep brown all over an cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. It’s crucial that you cook them over low heat to prevent the casings from breaking. Remove the sausages to a plate.

Increase the heat to high and heat the fat in the pan for 1 minute. Put half the chicken thighs skin side down into the pan and sear until the skins are golden brown, about 8 minutes, adding more thighs to the pan as those already in the pan shrink and make room for more. As the thighs are done use a thin metal spatula to carefully remove them from the pan, taking care not to tear off the skin and transfer them skin side up to a plate.

Reduce the heat to low and drain and discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan.Tilt the pan so all the fat is in one area. Add the garlic to the area with the fat, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until the garlic is golden and fragrant but not browned. Add the pickled peppers  and cook for 1 minute.

Increase the heat to high, add the white wine, and use a spatula to scrape up the cooked bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook until the wine has completely evaporated, about 3 minutes.  Add the vinegar and the pickling juice. Add 1 cup of the chicken stock and stir to combine the ingredients. Return the chicken thighs to the pan, skin side up and add any juices that collected on the plate. Nestle the sausages between the chicken. Add enough stock  to just some up to the top of the thighs without submerging the skin.

Increase the heat to high and return the stock to a boil. Turn off the heat and put the lid on  the pan. Put the pan in the oven and cook for 1 hour. Remove the pan from the oven, remove the sausages to a plate to cool. While the chicken is cooking trim and discard the dry ends from the broccolini.

Increase the oven to 450 degrees and return the chicken to the oven, uncovered until the skin is dark and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and place the pan on the stove top.

Using tongs remove the chicken from the pan and put it skin side up on a plate. Add the broccolini to the pan completely submerging in the liquid. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat and cook the broccolini until it is tender but still al dente and the liquid has reduced to a thick, saucy consistency. If the broccolini is done and the liquid needs to reduce further, remove the broccolini from the pan and continue to cook the liquid to the desired consistency.

Place broccolini on a large platter and pour sauce over. Lay chicken thighs over the broccolini and nestle sausage slices around.  Serves 6-8.


November 24, 2016

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Happy Thanksgiving


An old favorite-pecan pie from the Silver Palate.

Pecan Pie

4 eggs

1 cup dark brown sugar

3/4 cup light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup melted sweet butter (1/2 stick)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups shelled pecans, chopped

9″ unbaked pie crust

1-1/2 cups shelled pecan halves (or however many you need to cover the pie)

Preheat oven to 400°. Line a 9″ pie pan with the pastry.

Beat eggs well in a large bowl. Add brown sugar, corn syrup, salt, melted butter and vanilla to the eggs, and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle chopped pecans in pastry-lined pan, pressing gently into bottom and sides of pastry. Pour egg mixture over pecans. Place pecan halves over pie.

Set pie on the middle rack of oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 325° and bake for 25 to 30 minutes longer, or until set. Remove from oven. Cool on rack and serve topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Happy Thanksgiving!




November 19, 2016


Baked Frittata


It’s been quite a while since I made a frittata. Seems like I just forgot about how easy and satisfying they could be. Back in the day when I had a cafe I used to make them every week for our Saturday breakfast service. Not wanting to be standing over a stove making them at the last minute when I had a million other things going on, I started making baked frittatas. You can saute your vegetables ahead of time, grate whatever cheese you choose, throw it together and pop it into the oven.

The beauty of a frittata is that you can change them up as easy as one two three. Have mushrooms but no peppers, go ahead and use them. There’s broccoli lurking in the crisper but no zucchini,  just steam and chop. Same goes for the cheese- mozzarella, cheddar, swiss-they would all work. You get the picture-you probably have all the ingredients you need in your fridge right now. Frittatas aren’t only for breakfast-pair with a green salad and warm crusty bread and you have the perfect lunch.



Baked Frittata

12 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 cup grated sharp cheddar or jarlsberg

1  zucchini, sliced into 1/4″ rounds

1 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 medium onion, sliced

3/4 cup diced fresh tomato

1/3 cup fresh basil, shredded

3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Spray a 9″ non-stick springform with cooking spray.

Pour olive oil into large skillet. Put onions, peppers and zucchini into skillet, season with salt and pepper and saute  over medium heat until vegetables are softened. Remove from heat and let cool. In a large mixing bowl beat eggs with milk. Add grated cheese,  sautéed vegetables, chopped tomatoes and basil. Mix together until well blended.

Place springform on baking sheet and pour egg mixture into pan. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes. Unmold pan, slice and serve warm. Serves: 8 (I like to serve with salsa)