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There are many venues for parties. Being a water lover, boats are definitely among my favorites! This will be the site for an event in June that I will be making appetizers for. I’m looking forward to feeding  around 20 people for a three hour sail to Bainbridge Island.

I met Glenn, the owner of this beautiful boat at my Italian Meet Up. He kindly agreed to help out with the auction I took part in a couple months ago. He generously donated this ride along with drinks. Of course, I had to be part of the deal, providing moral support and food! So that is what I will do. 🙂

 

 

“There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others.”
Mandy Hale

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I relate this quote to hospitality, because many times people are intimidated by that word. We think that in order to “entertain” the right way, things have to be perfect. We make ourselves the center of attention, and forget the beauty of relationship is in making others feel welcome and safe, thus creating beauty for others. We put off ever having people into our homes, because our kitchens don’t look like something out of a magazine, or maybe we have kids who leave piles of endless toys everywhere, and we feel embarrassed.

I can relate to this very well, as my house is almost 100 years old. It is anything but modern. It has “character,” which is another word for cute, and it doesn’t have a very open floor plan. When I have friends over, everyone crowds into my tiny kitchen, and I can hardly think straight. As I am cooking, my awareness shifts to the paint that is chipping off of my old cabinets, and the crumbs I didn’t have a chance to clean up before everyone arrived. I could think of endless excuses not to have people over, due to the imperfection of my surroundings.

Sometimes when I ask myself what it means to make life beautiful for others when it comes to hosting, and why I should keep inviting people into my space when I feel so imperfect, my mind goes to the times when I have enjoyed being with someone so much that time passes without my even realizing it. Sometimes the beautiful surroundings feel significant, but mostly the memories resonate because of the people I was with.

What does it mean to be a great host? Whether you are preparing a five course meal on your own, or having me cater it for you, (which in my opinion, the second option is definitely the way to go…sorry, couldn’t resist!), being a great host implies making your guests feel important.

Everyone wants to feel known and accepted for who they are. Of course they will remember the food, and beautiful setting, but none of that matters if they don’t leave your event feeling in some way connected or valued.

Some people are just naturals at making people feel like they are the only one in the room. The people that come to my mind do certain things causing me to feel immediately at ease. They do the following:

When I come to their door, they stop what they are doing and answer. Even if their significant other or child gets to the door first, they still make a point of  greeting me. This feels important.

Secondly, there is some type of physical touch that is appropriate to everyone’s comfort level. For me, since I am part Italian, I can’t get enough kisses. One per cheek is grand, and with my French friends, there is another bonus kiss! Some people do hugs only, and for others, (Swedes like my hubby and lots of other friends), a firm handshake or pat on the back will suffice. No judgment here..the main thing is to know what your guests are comfortable with. Just to connect in some small way feels welcoming.

Something else I like is when the person I am talking to maintains eye contact, and their body language is open and engaging. My brother is an example of someone who not only does these things, but he excels at turning the conversation away from himself to others. Every time I see him, his first words are always something to the effect of “What’s new with you?” Open ended questions like this along with his undivided attention to my answers speaks beauty into my life, because it expresses his desire to really know what is happening. Listening intently is such a gift to others.

I am still learning not to feel like everything has to be perfect before I can have friends over. People feel honored when invited to share life with you. If it feels daunting, just make a list of maybe two people you would like to have over this month. Then enjoy every minute getting to know them. The rewards far outweigh the risk of not seeming altogether perfect.

It may seem ironic that a caterer whose job it is to create an idyllic environment is telling you to focus on more than just the exterior, but I think there is a healthy balance. Perfection is a myth at best. True community is based on transparency and authenticity. Houses get messy, but so does life. That being said, there are so many ways to make someone’s life beautiful using your own gifts!

 

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Last year, I donated some pastries to an auction for a school in Renton for children with learning disabilities. This experience was so amazing that I decided to do it again this year.

Through this event, I met some of the most wonderful people with incredible, generous hearts. They give countless hours and resources to raise money for kids who have a different way of learning and processing information. It was such an honor to participate again this year.

Instead of making the types of pastries I am used to making, my dear friend Tami who is in charge of the auction asked if I would make a trifle. I think she fell in love with the picture on the box the dish came in of a beautiful trifle, and asked me to replicate it. I was a bit reluctant on the inside, because I had never made one before, however Tami is the kind of person that I can never say no to, so, of course I said yes!

I began to research recipes. It was difficult to find any one recipe that resonated with me on it’s own, whether it was the way it looked, or perhaps the ingredients just didn’t seem like they would produce the desired taste, so after combining three recipes, and finding something close to the look I wanted to replicate, it came together in about three days. Yes, I like to take my time when I bake.

Due to the way it is made, I couldn’t just stick a spoon down into it and sample it, so I had to taste each component, and imagine how everything would taste when it came  together. Without going into too much boring detail, I will tell you some things I did to make this trifle special.

First of all, I made a “pan di spagna” for the cake instead of using a store bought cake. It’s not completely necessary, but more fun for me. This type of cake is thought to have originated in Spain, and typically uses beaten eggs to make it rise. It is a simple cake made with flour, sugar, butter and eggs. It is a sponge cake that originated during the Renaissance.

I made two round cakes, and cut them through the center to make four. I then cut them to fit the dish, keeping the round shape.

Secondly, I made homemade “sauce” by bringing fresh strawberries and sugar to a boil, and cooking it for about ten minutes. Many recipes called for jelly, and I just couldn’t imagine plopping Smuckers jam into a dessert with fresh fruit, cream, and homemade cake! It just seemed wrong to me.

The last thing that I believe made this trifle nice was making homemade lemon curd, and adding it into the whipped cream, so there was a delicious lemony taste that was unexpected.

I look forward to making this one again. If you are interested, let me know, and I will whip one up for you. Just give me a few days notice!

 

 

 

IMG_2159.JPGThese three little tartlets represent a day of sheer fun for me! I can’t think of many more things I enjoy more than getting my hands into some nice soft dough, and forming it into little mini tarts.

These little gems originate from the Amalfi Coast in Italy, where you can find plump juicy cherries. They are filled with a delicate custard, topped with cherries, and wrapped in pastry.

I gave these to one of my Italian students today, and couldn’t believe it when he told me his wife was allergic to cherries! I have never met anyone with that allergy before. He assured me that he would not let them go to waste.

I have said it before, and I will say it again. Food is such a beautiful means of bringing people together. Just the thought of preparing a beautiful table with some candles, fresh flowers, and simple place settings. Add quality people to that equation, and that’s what memories are made of!

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Last week, I made some cookies for an auction. I made three different kinds, and it was really fun.Lately, baking has been my preferred way of passing time. As long as things are happening in the kitchen, it’s all good!

The auction was fun, and they were able to raise a lot of money to help kids with learning challenges. I met so many amazing people, and look forward to keeping in touch with them in the future.

I donated appetizers to pair with wine at a local winery. I can’t wait to look at recipes for that!

 

 

I’m hoping to write more often in the coming weeks. I have hardly had a chance to stop and catch my breath lately, but it feels so good to sit and write for a bit, even if it is just to ramble on…

Thank you for visiting, and have a great day!!

 

 

 

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Hello, and welcome back! If you would like to know how I make my tiramisu, I would love to share it with you.  Again, I would say that even if you like it the traditional way, just try my way for fun. You really have nothing to loose!

Here are the ingredients you will need, and as far as special equipment, a mixer is a must! I shared this recipe with a friend, who was in New Zealand temporarily and did not have a mixer. Let’s just say the consistency will not turn out right if you try to mix it by hand. You can whisk it all day, but you will end up with a soupy mess! So if you don’t have one, borrow one!

You will also want an espresso maker a 9×9 square dish, unless you would like to make individual cups like the one pictured above. (Not my picture, by the way) That is a fun option for a small dinner party!

Freshly brewed espresso in a large espresso maker (I use Illy)

6 egg yolks

8 Tbsp. sugar,

Mascarpone -I use Three 8 oz. tubs. Galvani or Belgioso are good brands, or one that specifically says to use for tiramisu. One bit of advice…Once I used Whole Food’s  brand, and while it may be fine for other things, the consistency is all wrong for this dessert. It should be firm and dense, and this brand is much too runny.

@ 1 shot of glass of sweet marsala, or as the Italians say, “quanto basta,” which means as much as you need. I like more subtle flavors, but you may like to intensify the flavor using a bit more. Just don’t go overboard!

About 1/2 package of Leibniz butter biscuits. They come in a bright yellow package, and may not look fancy like lady fingers, but trust me on this…more rantings on that in my next post. 🙂

Unsweetened cocoa powder (qb) for dusting the top at the end. I like to use dutch cocoa powder.

Now for the fun part.

Start making your espresso.  Use an espresso maker that holds between 4-6 small cups. While it is brewing, open the biscuits, and make two layers in your dish. You may have to split the cookies in half for them to fit in the pan.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, beat egg yolks and sugar until combined, and very creamy. (About 5 minutes) Don’t rush this step. The mixture should look like a creamy custard.  Add the mascarpone, and combine for another minute until smooth.  Keep an eye on your espresso. Once it is done, remove from heat, and allow to cool a bit.

Once the espresso has cooled down some, but not too much, pour over the biscuits until both layers are saturated. Don’t pour all of the espresso on the biscuits, as you don’t want them to be soggy. As you pour, look for dry spots, and try to avoid leaving areas dry. There is a very fine line. If your butter biscuits are floating, you have crossed the line!   Pour custard mixture over coffee soaked biscuits, and spread evenly.  Cover with saran wrap, and allow to sit overnight.  It should be nice and firm, and the flavors have time to blend the longer it is left to sit.

Right before you are ready to serve the tiramisu, dust with cocoa powder.

Enjoy!!

PS If you do try this recipe, I would love to know your thoughts 🙂

 

 

 

 

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Many years ago when I was living in Rome, I was introduced to Tiramisu for the very first time, and I was hooked! I had to have this recipe, so I asked my friend Simona who introduced it to me if she would share it. Thankfully, she agreed, and I have been making this version for decades. Now, before I go any further, I know exactly what you are thinking as you are looking at the picture. Where is the middle layer of ladyfingers?

Well, at the risk of being disowned from all of my Italian friends and family, I am just going to get this out there. I feel like ladyfingers tend to absorb too much of the espresso, making the consistency kind of mushy, and rendering the taste slightly bitter. Having tried it both ways, I feel very partial to my version. It all comes down to preference, though, so please don’t take offense if you prefer the more traditional tiramisu.  If, however, you are remotely curious about my twist on tiramisu, and want to try making it differently than everyone else, I am going to reveal my secret ingredient. Are you ready?

They are called “Leibniz Butter Biscuits.” I used to dip them in my cappuccino for breakfast when I lived in Italy, so perhaps the combination of espresso and these little biscuits remind me of those days. For whatever reason, I am partial to them!

I have been using them for 25 years, and my recipe has been wildly successful. Since I am only part Italian, I feel like I can deviate a bit from the norm. Although, I did learn this recipe from an Authentic Italian, so maybe there are a few other people out there who do it this way as well. While these little butter cookies are flat, and they may not give you the extra layer of fluffiness in the middle that makes the more traditional tiramisu, just hear me out. You could see that as a drawback, or you could focus on the perfect consistency that happens when the espresso is absorbed just enough into the bottom two layers of these buttery biscuits, providing a lovely vehicle for the delicious custard, instead of the espresso taking over entirely through the ladyfingers. I know I am treading on sacred ground here, but in contrast, with these biscuits, the espresso brings out their buttery taste, so you are able to enjoy all of the flavors without the soggy middle. (Again, just my opinion!)

Lastly, in addition to using these biscuits, only the best ingredients should be used for the tiramisu to be a success. I think that even if my fellow Italians have shunned me for questioning the use of the sacred ladyfinger, they would agree you must never use an inferior brand of espresso, which is why I recommend Illy. Don’t cut corners on the espresso part of this recipe. Always use a high quality one. If you use the best ingredients, your tiramisu should be a big hit!

So, for those of you who are interested in taking the road less traveled, I will post my beloved Tiramisu recipe next time!

 

 

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Ciambella Marmorizzata  (Large Marbled Donut Cake)

This is a cake that is not meant to be eaten for dessert, as it is not overly sweet. It is a wonderful snack for everyone from kids to adults, and is also perfect for breakfast with your cappuccino! I found this on one of my favorite Italian websites called giallozafferano.it. You can look it up and search for the above title. The thing I love about this website is that there are pictures to follow! You can also have the option to translate the recipe into English, but sometimes the translations are not the best.
Ingredients for the base dough for a 24 cm. ciambella

200 g. butter softened to room temperature
16 g. baking powder
5 eggs at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
455 g. Flour (type 00)
300 g. sugar
1 pinch of fine salt
250 g. whole milk
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For the white dough
45 g. Flour (type 00)
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For the black (chocolate) dough
30 g. powdered bitter cacao
15 g. whole milk
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Powdered sugar to dust
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To prepare the ciambella marmorizzata, begin adding the soft butter in pieces together with the sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer, using the whisk attachment. Add the pinch of salt, and the vanilla. Begin mixing, until the mixture is white and creamy.
In another bowl, crack the eggs, and beat them lightly. Add them a little at a time into the mixer, as you continue to mix, until the mixture is combined without lumps. This will take around five minutes. In another bowl, sift the flour and baking powder together. (Chef’s secret that you may already know… I sift the flour 3 times, and no less! Your cake will be lighter and fluffier). Add the flour and baking powder mixture into the mixture one tablespoon at a time, always continuing to mix, adding only when the preceding mixture is completely absorbed into the dough. Finally, add 250 grams of milk. When the milk is completely incorporated into the mixture, turn off the mixer.
Divide the mixture into equal parts (around 745 g. each), putting them into two separate bowls. In the one that will be the white dough, sift (just once) 45 g. of remaining flour, into mixture, adding it gently. In the other bowl, that will be the chocolate one, sift 30 g. of the bitter powdered cacao into the mixture, and add the 15 g. of whole milk that is left. Add these ingredients gently, as well. Now you have obtained both the white and chocolate dough. Now, transfer the two colored doughs into two separate sac-a-poche. Insert both sac-a-poche into a third one that is larger or that holds both, and bring the three points together, cutting them with a pair of scissors. Grease and flour a fancy bundt cake pan that is 24 cm. and distribute the bi-colored mixture in zigzags. {This is where the picture is really helpful!}

Once the dough is in the pan, use a fork, and drag it through the mixture as necessary to combine the dough well. Cook the ciambella at 170 degrees (Celsius) for around 55-60 minutes, or in a convection oven at 150 degrees celsius for 45-50 minutes, covering with foil after thirty minutes if you see that it is browning to much on the top. Test for doneness with a knife or toothpick, and when done, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once it is completely cooled, sprinkle with powdered sugar. (optional)
I have found that this cake tastes best the day after it has baked.

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Aside from cooking, I love sharing tasty recipes that I think you might enjoy. I thought it would be most appropriate to feature this as my first one, as it is from my cousin Charlotte Muia’s cookbook called Dishing It Out {Recipes That Work}. I am making it for an event at the end of next week.  I did a little practice run on it, and was thrilled with the results!

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Almond Short Dough With Limoncello Lemon Curd

1/4 cup almond flour
1 1/4 c. flour
1/3 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. chilled, chopped unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
2 Tbsp. lemon zest (optional)

Combine dry ingredients in mixer using paddle. Slowly add butter pieces until it looks like bread crumbs. Add yolk and softly mix just to moisten. It should look dry. Press lightly into pan or other container and prick bottom with fork and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until golden. Cool.
Fill with lemon curd or other filling.

Lemon Curd Filling:
1/2 c. sugar
1Tbsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 c. limoncello (If you like the limoncello to be more subtle, use a smaller ratio of limoncello to lemon juice. This ratio is quite strong)
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tsp. unsalted butter
3 beaten egg yolks in a heat proof bowl.

In saucepan stir together sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, lemon juice, butter, and cook until thick and bubbly. While stirring, SLOWLY add 1/2 cup of this to the beaten egg yolks to temper them. Then pour the yolk mix back into the saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Take off heat and cool slightly, then pour into the short dough pie or other container. Cover surface with clear plastic wrap to keep skin from forming on the surface. Chill for a few hours. This makes about 1 cup and will store in refrigerator for about a week.
Although this is for a small pie, it can also be formed into tarts, espresso cups or any small container. Let your imagination take over!
Original recipe by my cousin, Charlotte Muia from her cookbook Dishing It Out {Recipes That Work}