Thursday, April 22, 2010

Organic Biscotti for Earth Day

Long before organic was trendy, or 'slow food' even existed, my friend Val was extolling the virtues of organic and whole unprocessed foods to anyone who cared to listen. She was environmentally conscious in every way, the only person I knew back then who made the effort to recycle kitchen waste into a large compost pile in the backyard (and yes, it was often smelly). Many of my earliest taste memories were experienced at Val's house, where I spent many afternoons with her daughter Palma (still one of my best friends to this day). It's where I first tried organic yogurt (so rich and flavorful it didn't even need the 'fruit on the bottom'), learned what REAL cheese tasted like (no, it doesn't come in individually wrapped orange squares), tasted caraway seed for the first time (is this why I'm so obsessed with Irish soda bread?), was fooled into thinking carob was chocolate (pretty cool to a nine year old), and where I would ruin my dinner filling up on rye crispbread slathered with sweet local butter (a revelation, especially when you were used to margarine from a tub and wonderbread). They also had their milk delivered - creamy local organic milk, housed in smooth glass bottles, lined up neatly on their doorstep. It was a brand new world every time I stepped foot into their house and I often found myself overstaying my visit, hoping that if I hung around long enough, they'd agree to adopt me.

I can't even begin to thank Val and her family for all those happy memories. Those experiences shaped my life in so many positive ways (not only foodwise, though it's probably why I became a foodie...did I mention that they also introduced me to sushi?) Through example, Val's family taught me to always to respect the earth, never to be wasteful or take things for granted, and that ultimately, life is not about material possessions, but rather, the people you love and hold dear.

Many years have past since those childhood afternoons, but I still keep in close touch with Val and her family. Decades later, I still get that feeling of wonderment whenever I visit Val's home (different house, but same magical aura). And she's still introducing me to new taste experiences. On our last visit to Vancouver we met up for an early dinner at
Aphrodite's Cafe, a neighborhood eatery/pie shop that specializes in organic, seasonal, and eco-friendly comfort food.

Clockwise from top left: 'Portobello Belle' thin crust pizza; vegetable pot pie; spinach, apple & pecan salad; apple & cheddar sandwich with meadow side salad; ricotta cheesecake with fruit coulis; strawberry rhubarb pie.

When I told Val that I blog about food, she generously offered to share her recipe for organic Biscotti all'Anice (
Anise Biscuits). Val swears her biscotti are virtually identical to her Italian mother-in-law's secret recipe from Abruzzo. I should warn you that these are not the giant biscotti 'on steriods' you would typically find in coffee shops. These petit old-world Italian biscotti are completely unadorned (no chocolate coatings or crazy ingredients) allowing you to appreciate the simple flavor and tender buttery crumb. A hint of sweet licoricey anise makes these truly addictive!

I've been saving Val's delicious organic recipe for Earth Day, but trust me, you'll want to make these more than once a year. Enjoy!

(makes 24 big ones or 36 smaller ones)

1 cup sugar (organic)
1/2 cup butter (organic unsalted)
2 large eggs (organic, free range)
1 egg, separated (organic, free range)
1 Tbsp anise seeds, lightly crushed with a mortar & pestle
1 Tbsp baking powder (organic)
3 cups unbleached flour (organic)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp milk (organic)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Cream sugar and butter till fluffy; beat in the 2 whole eggs, 1 egg white and anise seeds till blended.
Stir together flour, baking powder and salt.
Blend flour mixture into egg mixture.
On floured surface (or in a large bowl), knead dough 1 minute or till smooth.
Divide dough in half.
On greased baking sheets, form dough into 2 long, flat loaves, 3/4" thick, 2" wide and 14" long.
Beat egg yolk with milk; brush over top and sides of loaves.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes or till pick comes out clean.
Cool slightly. Cut loaf diagonally into 3/4" wide slices. Lay slices on sides on a baking sheet and bake 5 - 10 minutes, turning over once, till golden and lightly toasted.
Cool on racks.

Serve with coffee (great for dunking) or tea.

Phyllis' Notes:
I have dark coated non-stick baking sheets so I lined them with greased parchment paper so the bottoms wouldn't burn. Since I couldn't cut directly on the baking sheet, I used the parchment paper to gently transfer the loaves to a wooden cutting board. I cut the loaves when they were still warm into 5/8" vertical slices (totally forgetting to slice diagonally!) resulting in approximately 36 petit biscotti (minus the two I ate before the second baking). During the second bake, I toasted the slices for about 5-7 minutes on each side but they didn't get much darker in color, resulting in an emergency phonecall to Val. She said the recipe is pretty forgiving and to "play around with them to find the size you like, and the level of doneness". Toast them for a few minutes longer if you want them extra hard for dunking.

How are you celebrating Earth Day 2010? For more ways to get involved, check out:


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

First Time Tiramisu

The first tiramisu I ever made. Looks yummy, right?

I brought it over for Easter dinner at my in-laws' house a couple weeks ago (and of course I forgot my camera that day so I had to get my brother-in-law Kevin to email me his photos - thanks Kev!)

Also a big thank you to our friend Bob for recommending his favorite tiramisu recipe (from Cooks Illustrated). I found the same recipe online,
Tiramisu Without Raw Eggs, at America's Test Kitchen (requires free registration). There's also a version with the traditional raw eggs, but I chose the cooked egg version since I was feeding it to a crowd.

Making the tiramisu was very straightforward but required me to finally take my brand new KitchenAid mixer out of the box after 9 long years (I know, the SHAME). I also experienced some sticker shock when shopping for ingredients - 1 1/2 pounds of mascarpone cheese is expensive! But this recipe feeds a huge crowd, making 10-12 generous servings. I also followed Bob's advice and substituted Kahlua for the rum (but you might want to stick with the rum if you prefer more of an alcoholic 'kick'). And I topped it off with both cocoa powder and chocolate shavings (you can never have too much chocolate).

I probably could have divided the mascarpone filling a little more evenly to get perfect-looking layers, but the tiramisu sliced up beautifully, with very clean-looking edges, just like what you would get at an Italian restaurant. The end result garnered a lot of 'oohs' and 'ahhs'. And the taste? A-MA-ZING! Not too shabby for my first time.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday foodie news...

2010 International Food Blogger Conference is taking place in Seattle from August 27th - 29th. This year's keynote speaker is James Oseland, editor-in-chief of Saveur Magazine (Top Chef fans also know him as a judge on Top Chef Masters). Registration will be open to the public starting this Monday, August 19th. The $350 ticket price sounds steep but apparently the generous goodie bag will make it worthwhile. There's also a special room rate being offered by the host hotel, Hotel Monaco.

And for all you poutine fans out there,
Smoke's Poutinerie and Major League Eating are hosting the first World Poutine Eating Championship in Toronto on Saturday, May 22nd. Despite the recent controversy about the contest being closed to Quebec participants (Quebec is the birthplace of poutine, afterall) I think it'll still be a fun time. I met Ryan Smolkin (owner of Smoke's Poutinerie) in Drummondville, QC last year (we were both there to attend the Festival de la Poutine) and he seems to take his poutine very seriously, taking the trouble to import authentic squeaky cheese curds from Quebec for his 20 varieties of poutine.

Professional registration
for the championship is now closed but they are still accepting entries for amateurs. Just submit your "I once ate..." or "I love poutine so much..." story here and Smoke's Poutinerie will select 3 amateurs to compete with the pros. You have till May 15th to enter and you must be 18 years old and a resident of Canada (excluding Quebec). Pity I'll be in Vancouver on May 22nd, I think I'd be a shoe-in for this contest (see my posts for 12 poutine in 12 days & Poutine-Palooza: Festival de la Poutine). I guess there's always next year :)


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Minestrone For Allergy Sufferers...

Strange that I'm making a hearty soup during the springtime. But while most people are outdoors enjoying the warmer weather, I'm stuck inside, battling seasonal allergies (just call me the 'bubble girl'). I was craving something warm, comforting, and soul-satisfying...and minestrone fit the bill. Chock-full of vegetables, beans and pasta, it would definitely satisfy my voracious appetite (could sneezing a thousand times a day be burning a ton of calories?)

Once upon a time I wouldn't have dreamed of making soup from scratch. Flashback to my 9 year old self... as a latchkey kid, I would often heat up a can of Campbell's chunky soup when I got home from school. On rainy weekends indoors, I watched cooking shows on PBS, scoffing at the chefs (notably Julia Child) who would go through the trouble of making soup from scratch. I wondered whether Julia knew about my beloved chunky soup in a can.

Obviously a lot has changed since then. I finally realized that you can't get that homemade slow- simmered taste from canned soup. So despite my itchy eyes, runny nose, and labored breathing, I happily peeled, diced, stirred, caramelized, and simmered ingredients for hours last night. And you know what? It was all worth it.


(adapted from Winter Minestrone, Gourmet Magazine Jan 2009)
printable version
Serves 4-6
Time required: 2 1/2 hours


2 oz chopped pancetta
1 1/2 red onions, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 15 oz can of Italian style diced tomatoes (w/ basil, garlic, oregano)
6 cups of low sodium chicken broth
1 lb of escarole, washed thoroughly and roughly chopped
1 15 oz can of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 piece parmesan rind
8 oz (1/2 box) of ditalini pasta (or similar sized pasta)
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine pancetta, red onions, celery, and carrots in extra virgin olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Season with salt and black pepper. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in garlic. Continue to cook over medium heat for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to caramelize and stick to the bottom of the saucepan.

In the meantime, cook ditalini pasta according to instructions on the box. Drain and toss with some olive oil to prevent pasta from sticking together. Set aside.

Push softened vegetables to the side of the saucepan and add tomato paste. Cook for 3-4 minutes, letting tomato paste slightly caramelize (be careful not to let it burn). Stir tomato paste into vegetables and cook for another 2 minutes.

Add canned tomatoes and chicken broth, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the saucepan. Bring to a boil, add in 1/2 of escarole and parmegianno reggiano rind and reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.

Add remaining escarole and cannellini beans, cook for another 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding additional salt and pepper as needed. Remove parmesan rind. Stir in cooked ditalini right before serving.

Serve with a crusty piece of bread. Enjoy!

p.s. Looks like I'm not the only one making soup this week - for more springtime soup inspiration, check out Justin's
curried lentil soup at Justcook nyc.


Sunday, April 11, 2010


Got a picky eater at home? Or someone who likes to play with their food?

FOOD FACE was too cute to pass up, just bought two of them for my nieces.

You can find it online