Cioccolata Calda – the Italian Hot Chocolate I Fell in Love with on our Trip to Italy

One sip of Italian hot chocolate – Cioccolata Calda – and you will be having a MOMENT. The world will slip away as you indulge in this thick, rich, dark, liquid velvet in a cup.

Cioccolata Calda - cups of Italian hot chocolate

Italy is so easy to fall in love with.

view of Rome in Piazza Venezia

view of Rome from the Vittorio Emanuele II monument in the Piazza Venezia

We are back from three glorious weeks of eating our way around that wonderful country, and I don’t even know where to start describing the adventure. We arrived in Rome and had four nights there to explore the city.

crowds at the Trevi Fountain, Rome, 2016

the Trevi Fountain in Rome

gelato near the Trevi Fountain, Rome, October 2016

of course you need a gelato stop on a hot day (near the Trevi Fountain, Rome)

ornate ceiling of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican

amazing ceiling of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

toes of a statue in the Vatican, Italy

toes in the Vatican

bride and groom on Spanish Steps in Rome

Raymond having a rest on the Spanish Steps while a bride and groom twirl and dance on a sunny day in Rome

After Rome, we rented a car and drove to Sorrento where we spent another four nights exploring Naples, Pompeii, and surrounding area, then headed off down the spectaular winding road of the Amalfi coast.

street in Naples

a quiet street in old Naples

cars in back street in Naples

this one’s a little busier. we were always in awe of how drivers maneuvered vehicles down these narrow backstreets (Naples)

young soccer stars in Naples

no wonder Italy produces such great soccer players. we saw young soccer stars playing with cheap plastic balls in empty church courtyards or streets in every town (here in Naples)

original fast food counters in Pompeii, Italy

the original fast food counters – large urns kept foods hot or cold. Citizens in early Pompeii did little cooking in their homes, instead buying prepared foods daily from vendors like these

My new friends, below, are kinda quiet (at the ruins of Pompeii)

ruins of Pompeii, Italy statue ruins at Pompeii

view of Positano

the hillside town of Positano along the spectacular Amalfi coast

We did a loop inland to see several small towns in the ‘heel’ of the Italian boot, circling to the ‘toe’ of the boot and taking the ferry to Sicily.

'trulli' homes in Alberobello, Italy

the town of Alberobello is famous for its ‘trullo’ homes with conical roofs of stacked stone, a Unesco World Heritage Site

old trullo farmhouse in Alberobello

an old trullo farmhouse in the countryside around Alberobello

cave dwellings of Matera

Matera is home to the second oldest civilization in history, with cave dwellings which were dug out and inhabited from the paleolithic era right up to the 1950s – another Unesco site

cooking in sassi home in Matera

cooking would be different in one of the preserved ‘Sassi’ cave dwellings of Matera

We explored Sicily for a week, then headed back up the coast for a last lovely couple days in Rome.

platter of the fresh day's catch

the chef brings out the day’s catch (hours old) to let us choose what we want for our dinner in Cefalu, Sicily. (we chose a cuttlefish ink pasta dish and a platter of mixed grilled fish … mmmm)

rolling countryside driving through central Sicily

the vast rolling hills in central Sicily – my favourite views in all of Italy

citrus fruits in the market in Sicily

the fresh scent of citrus perfumes the air whenever you are near a market or citrus grove

Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte in Caltagirone, Sicily

in the town of Caltagirone, Sicily, each of the 142 steps of the Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte is decorated with different handpainted ceramic tiles (this town is famous for its ceramics)

baroque church in Modica

one of the beautiful baroque churches in Modica, Sicily

Large cacti grew everywhere, on roadsides and in huge agricultural groves, producing sweet cactus fruits (full of prickles if you tried to pick the roadside ones – ask me how I know!)

Cactus bush in Sicily cactus fruits and oranges at market in Sicily

singers in Taormina, Sicily

street crooners in the square in Taormina, Sicily

lots of fresh fish at the market in Catania, Sicily

the crazy chaos of the fish market in Catania, Sicily

driving in flash flood on Mount Etna, Sicily

we hit a severe tropical storm and flash flooding while driving down the side of Mount Etna (largest active volcano in Europe). in spots, fog was as thick as cotton wool, and some puddles were so deep Raymond would shout, ‘hang on!’ and we’d have no visibility for a few seconds as a wall of water splashed over the windshield. SCARY!

Heartfelt thanks to our Italian friends, Nicoletta and Loreto, who write the lovely blog SugarLoveSpices, for giving us many useful tips on what to see in Rome and Naples. Rosciola was a favourite stop (had the amazing pizza there twice!).

pizza at Rosciola in Rome

at Rosciola in Rome, you point to the size of pizza slice you want and they hack it off with a huge cleaver

Besides fantastic fresh food, there were two things to be seen everywhere in Italy:

cats:

ginger cat by steps Tabby cat by green door

and motorcyles or scooters:

colourful scooters in Rome red scooter in Cefalu, Sicily

Raymond at Ponte Sisto graffit staircase

back in Rome for our last days, Raymond hidden by the graffiti-clad staircase down to the water at the Ponte Sisto of the Tiber (Tevere) River

Our adventure ended with us on the express train to the airport at the exact time the devastating earthquake hit Italy, just an hour and a half out of Rome on Sunday morning. I only realized later that the bout of dizziness I had felt on the train was not just exhaustion and train jiggle, but the residual tremors that even cracked some ancient buildings in Rome, in addition to the tragic damage to several hilltowns in central Italy.

We saw and did so much on our trip, that I have just given an overview (tried to keep it short, but wasn’t successful) in this post and will break our trip into smaller chunks to share separate parts of it in later posts. But to put it all into context, I need to tell you about my other love affair – the one with Cioccolata Calda (not a tall, dark, handsome Italian guy, but a deep, dark, rich Italian drink).

thick rich cioccolata calda, Italian Hot Chocolate

The day we arrived in Rome, bleary and exhausted from a day of travel and the night before with little sleep, it was raining. I dozed on the half hour ride in the shuttle from the airport to Termini Station, my head banging against the window. I remember opening my eyes once and looking through the rivulets of rain running down the glass to see the Colosseum as we stopped at a traffic light, but sleep sucked me back in.

Colosseum at dusk, Rome

Termini Station is the main station in Rome where all buses, trains, and subways converge – a massive building spanning several city blocks and teaming with shops, people, and activity 24 hours a day. We lugged our bags across the street to check in at the hostel where we’d booked a room for our Roman stay (graffiti on the outer door and garbage bins inside the entrance courtyard not exactly welcoming in our bedraggled state, but a traipse up the worn marble stairs produced a double room with domed, painted ceiling, spare but clean furnishings, and updated private bath). We dropped off our luggage and headed back to the station to get our bearings for traveling the city and to purchase Roma Passes and Sim cards for our electronics.

Even though it was late afternoon (and the middle of the night to our internal clocks) we needed a jolt of something to stay awake. I knew if I had a coffee I’d have trouble sleeping later on, so I ordered a hot chocolate – something I don’t normally care for that much, but I was chilled and tired and it was still raining out.

One sip of that thick, velvety molten chocolate decadence and I sat up straighter. This tasted nothing like the hot chocolate mix we stirred up with hot water at home. It was as if someone had melted a luxuriously rich bar of dark chocolate into a cup, and it was served with a spoon, which you needed – to scrape every last bit of that thick comforting nectar from the bottom of the cup.

Cioccolata Calda - Italian Hot Chocolate In Naples

this one in Naples was heavenly, especially with a cannoli and a traditional Neapolitan pastry

Thus began my quest for more of this addictive indulgence. Our first trip to Italy eight years ago, we had a gelato every day. Well this trip, it was a Cioccolata Calda every day for me (and sometimes even twice a day). Our morning stop for cioccolata and a pastry became an anticipated routine, even on the hot days, but especially welcome on the handful of rainy days we encountered. I found the cioccolatas weren’t all the same as that first one in Termini Station. I had cioccolatas that were much sweeter and had more of a milk chocolate base (still delicious), and some that were as thick as chocolate pudding, so I learned to ask for extra hot water (agua calda) on the side. Some cioccolatas had tiny bits of ground hazelnuts or pistachios in them. But all were the same deep delicious chocolate drink and all were memorable.

Cioccolata Calda - Italian hot chocolate in Matera, Italy

this one in Matera was sprinkled with chopped pistachios

Cioccolata Calda - Italian hot chocolate in Positano

this one in Positano definitely needed some hot water to thin it out

Cioccolata Calda - Italian hot chocolate in Caltagirone, Sicily

this one in Caltagirone, Sicily, so dark and rich, is served on a painted ceramic table the town is famous for, and with a delicious ricotta tart

I brought a couple mixes home to try, but have been experimenting this week to make a drink that is the same as the best ones I had in Italy. Cocoa powder alone didn’t do it. Melting in some good quality dark chocolate provided that last little touch to produce the intensely chocolaty bliss-in-a-cup I found in Italy.

So I make myself a cup, cradle its warmth in my hands, take a velvety sip and close my eyes, reliving all those wonderful Italian memories.

I know what I’ll be doing often this winter when the snow outside makes me long for a dose of liquid Italian sunshine.

* * * * *

Kitchen Frau Notes: I love using dark chocolate (like Lindt 70%) in my Italian Hot Chocolate, but you could substitute a good quality milk chocolate to make a milder drink that would be just as delicious, and might be more popular with kids or milk chocolate lovers.

*40 grams of chocolate is  equivalent to four squares of chocolate if your 100-gram/3.5-oz. bar is divided into 10 sections, or five squares if it is divided into 12. If using chocolate chips, 40 grams is a scant ¼ cup.

Italian hot chocolate - cioccolata calda

 

Italian Hot Chocolate (Cioccolata Calda)

  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons natural evaporated cane sugar or granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • pinch of salt (as much as you can pick up between your thumb and forefinger)
  • 1¼ cups (300gms) milk, divided
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 40 grams good quality dark chocolate (70% cacao) *see notes above

In a small saucepan, whisk together the cocoa powder, sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) of the milk, one tablespoon at a time, to make a smooth paste. Add the rest of the milk, the vanilla, and the chocolate (broken into smaller pieces).

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes just to a boil.

Pour into small cups and serve immediately. Provide sugar if guests would like to add some to taste, though I find it just sweet enough as is.

Close your eyes and pretend you are in a small café in Italy.

Serves 2.

Guten Appetit!

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

You might also like:

Energy Boosting Power Coffee

A Trio of Warm Milks

Cashew Milk

Hot Honey Lemon Ginger Tea

taking photos from the car on the drive up Mount Etna

taking photos on the drive up Mount Etna

Posted in Chocolate, Drinks, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 20 Comments

Wild Mushroom Risotto (and we’re off to Italy!)

The rich earthy flavour of wild mushrooms in this mushroom risotto makes it a wonderful belly-pleasing comfort food on a cool autumn day. (Forget the notion that risotto is too time-consuming – it’s on the table in 30 minutes and you can get the rest of dinner ready in between stirring.)

Italian wild mushroom risotto

I am so excited!

We are leaving in two days on a holiday – heading to Italy for three weeks.

It finally feels real. As the first swirls of icy snow blast through our bare and brown gardens and yards, I am thinking of that warm Italian sun with such anticipation. Rome, the Trevi fountain, the Colloseum, gelato, pizza, Napoli, limoncello, the Almalfi coast, Sicily, ripe cheeses, wine harvest, seaside towns . . .

It’s been a whirlwind around here. Our baby (who turns 20 today – we officially have no teenagers left in our house – I’m shedding a tear) is leaving for a three-month backpacking trip through southeast Asia with his two cousins, on the same day that we’re leaving for Italy.

Getting him ready and organized (why would you renew your passport ahead of time when you can leave it to the last week and have much more excitement in your life?) plus getting ourselves organized, and the garden put to bed, and flowerbeds cleaned up, and tons of applesauce canned, and lesson plans made ahead for my German School classes, and a birthday/Thanksgiving celebration to prepare for tomorrow, plus a wedding to attend, social obligations, and feeding these three hungry almost-not-teenagers-anymore while they frantically shop and pack (and party with friends) and decorate the house with their backpacks and supplies – it’s been a blur.

Last weekend I made a heavenly risotto with some of the wild honey mushrooms from our mushroom picking adventure. As I spooned the creamy rice into my mouth, I thought about Italy, and totally blanked out all the chaos and busyness that often comes before a trip. In my mind, I was there already, basking in the Mediterranean sun as I savoured one of Italy’s humble-but-so-wildly-delicious comfort food dishes.

As soon as we get our youngest delivered to the airport, and ourselves on a plane a few hours after that, I know I will forget the craziness, and whatever jobs didn’t get done will stay undone – life will go on.

creamy wild musrhroom risotto

So I leave you with this wonderful wild mushroom risotto. Use whatever mushrooms you can find and enjoy a little taste of Italian comfort.

Ciao, my friends.

* * * * *

Kitchen Frau Notes: Risotto is one of our family’s comfort foods. Many people think risotto is complicated and time-consuming, but it really is a fast food, on the table in about 30 minutes. If you use the right type of rice, the rest is easy. Unlike it says in some books, risotto does not have to be stirred constantly – just frequently. So you can be chopping the onion, mincing the garlic, and getting the stock on to simmer while you are cooking the mushrooms. You can be making a salad and setting the table in between stirring the rice every minute or two.

It is important to use the right rice for risotto – you need a rice with a high starch content and a firm short grain, like Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, or Baldo. The frequent stirring rubs the starch off the rice grains and it absorbs into the sauce, thickening it into a creamy consistency, but keeping the centers of each rice grain with a slight chewiness (not mushy). So never rinse the rice you are using for risotto, as you want that starch.

*To make this risotto dairy free, use additional olive oil instead of the butter, and either omit the Parmesan cheese, or use a combination of half almond flour and half nutritional yeast flakes plus extra salt to taste, adding as much of this combination as you like, to taste.

a plateful of wild mushroom risotto

Wild Mushroom Risotto

  • 5½ cups (1.32 litres) mushroom stock or chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 lb (454gms) mixed mushrooms (chanterelles, morels, shiitake, oyster, cremini, portobello, or even all button mushrooms, if that’s all that’s available)
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme or 1½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 1½ cups (300gms) arborio or carnaroli rice
  • ½ cup (120ml) dry white vermouth or dry white wine
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 cup (100gms) grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Pour the mushroom or chicken stock into a saucepan and set onto the stove on low heat to bring it to a simmer. Keep it simmering while you make the risotto.

In a large heavy-bottomed dutch oven or high-sided sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Tear the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Add them to the oil with ¼ teaspoon salt, and sauté until they’ve released their juices. Then keep cooking them, stirring occasionally, until all the juices have cooked off and the mushrooms are starting to brown in places. Scrape the mushrooms into a bowl and set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the pan in which you cooked the mushrooms. Add the onion, garlic, thyme, and a sprinkling of pepper, and cook for two minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent. Reduce the heat to medium.

Add the rice. Cook and stir for two more minutes, until the rice turns opaque. Pour in the vermouth and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the simmering stock, one soup ladle full (about ½ cup) at a time, stirring after each addition and not adding the next ladleful until most of the previous stock has been absorbed. Never let the risotto cook completely dry. Stir frequently (but you don’t have to stir constantly).

Continue adding stock, cooking, and stirring until you have used all but the last half cup of the stock. This whole process should take about 15 to 20 minutes, and the rice should still have a firm bite to the center of each grain, but the outside should be creamy and soft. Stir in the cooked mushrooms and cook for another 30 seconds.

Remove from the heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, the parsley, and Parmesan cheese. Taste and add more salt if it needs it (but I find it usually doesn’t, unless your stock was unsalted, as the Parmesan and stock both add enough saltiness). If the risotto is quite thick, add the last ½ cup of hot stock to thin it out. The final texture of the risotto should be loose, with a bit of liquid pooling and visible between the rice kernels.

Serve immediately with additional Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4 to 6.

Guten Appetit!

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

You might also like:

Sprintime Green Risotto

Wild Rice and Mushrooms

Sauteed Mushrooms with Spruce Tips and Chives

Juicy Grilled Mushrooms

Posted in One-Dish Meals, Rice, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Pumpkin Slab Pie – Easy Crust Method

Whip up a pumpkin slab pie in minutes. Just press the nutty pastry dough into the pan, fill with creamy pumpkin filling and bake. No messy rolling of dough, but all the delicious spicy flavour of traditional pie. You don’t need a special occasion to make this one.

img_8247c

But then, again, it would be just the right sweet nibble to finish off your Thanksgiving feast.

Pumpkin pie is really a North American taste. For us, it signifies autumn leaves, and harvest, and the sweet spices of fall. We associate it with the wonderful memories of warm family Thanksgiving dinners and happy Christmas gatherings. A slice of pumpkin pie, either topped with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream is comfort food.

I like nothing better than a wedge of it for breakfast the morning after the feast – after all it does contain squash, so you’re getting some veggies, right?

eggless pumpkin slab pie wedge

We’ve had four different German exchange students live with us as our kids were growing up, and with each one we’d be so eager to share our Thanksgiving food traditions, telling them about the delicious pumpkin pie, turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and side dishes. The turkey – they could appreciate, digging in with gusto. Cranberry sauce was new to them, and they ate it cautiously, enjoying it more with every bite. Stuffing – weird, but tasted good. Sweet potatoes – hmmm, but yum. Other side dishes – great!

Pumpkin pie? There was much anticipation, and then after one bite each student usually made a strange face and either politely left the rest untouched or unceremoniously pushed it away with a gagging sound, rushing for water to wash away the strange taste. This pie hadn’t been at all what they were expecting. We’d always laugh (politely, of course). Europeans love our fruit pies; blueberry, cherry, apple. They love our lemon meringue pies, and even our pecan pies.

wedges of pumpkin slab pie

Pumpkin pie – not so much.

I guess this sweet spicy squash pie is an acquired taste. It’s one that we’ve all acquired and love without reservation. What’s not to love? Smooth creamy texture. Sweet pumpkin richness. Warm autumn spices. Plus it’s that harbinger of warm winter meals and nesting and coziness, of time in the kitchen happily fiddling with pastry and pumpkin and sugar.

Pumpkin slab pie gives you all that, but the fiddling with the pastry part is a breeze. No worries about rolling out reluctant dough – just smush it into a ball and press it into the pan as if it was playdough. Child’s play, really.

Pastry for Pumpkin Slab Pie Pressing pastry into pan for Pumpkin Slab Pie

Then you whiz up the filling, pour it in the pan and bake it. The filling is lightened up with a little extra applesauce, but you could also just add another ½ cup pumpkin puree if you wish. And in case you have someone with allergies in the mix, this pumpkin pie is gluten-free, dairy-free, and egg-free to boot (with silken tofu standing in to provide protein and a velvety smoothness). It’s a real crowdpleaser, easy to serve and eat out of hand while standing around and visiting. Plus, if you’ve filled up on turkey and all the trimmings, a little sliver of this pie still always fits in. :)

Pour the filling into the pumpkin slab pie crust

This recipe is based on my regular egg-free pumpkin pie, with a crust made softer for easy patting into the pan and a touch of oats and pecans added for rustic flavour.

Pumpkin Slab Pie between leaves

Go ahead, cut yourself a big slab for breakfast, too.

* * * * *

Kitchen Frau Notes: For this recipe it is important to use silken or smooth tofu, it has a different texture than regular soft tofu. Silken soft tofu is often sold in tetrapacks in the Asian section of the grocery store. Here in Alberta I can find smooth tofu, which comes with two blocks packed in water in 700 gram packages, at Superstore. One of the blocks is just enough for one pumpkin slab pie. Store the other block covered in water in an airtight container in the fridge for two to three days.

*If you don’t have oat flour on hand, you can grind ½ cup rolled oats in the blender to make oat flour

Pan full of pumpkin slab pie

Egg-Free Pumpkin Slab Pie

dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, vegan & nut-free versions

for the crust:

  • 2 cups (280gms) gluten-free or regular all purpose flour (I use this gluten-free blend)
  • ½ cup (50gms) oat flour*, gluten free if necessary
  • ¼ cup (30gms) finely chopped pecans (omit for nut-free)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (115gms) lard or shortening
  • ¼ cup (60gms) butter (use additional lard or shortening for dairy-free or vegan)
  • ½ cup (120ml) ice water

for the filling:

  • 12 oz (350gms) silken tofu or smooth tofu, soft (or you can substitute 2 large eggs, beaten + 1½ cups/360ml half-and-half or cereal cream for a regular version)
  • ¾ cup (150gms) sugar
  • ½ cup (60ml) applesauce
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch or tapioca starch
  • 1¾ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or 1 tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. ginger, ⅛ tsp. nutmeg, ⅛ tsp. allspice)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 can (398ml/14oz.) pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling (or 1¾ cup + 2 tablespoons homemade pumpkin purée)
  • optional – whipped cream (or coconut cream) and pecans for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

to make the crust:

In a large bowl, combine the flour, oat flour, pecans, and salt. Dice the lard and butter and add it to the dry ingredients. Cut it into the flour with a pastry cutter or two butter knives until it you have pea-sized chunks.

Add the ice water and stir with a wooden spoon, then use your hands to quickly knead the mass into a ball that sticks together. Try not to overwork it – if you can still see some lumps of butter and lard, that is what you’re aiming for, because as those lumps melt during baking, they make pockets in the dough, producing a flaky crust.

Tear the dough into small pieces and spread them out in a 10×15 inch (26x38cm) baking sheet pan. With your fingers, press the pastry dough pieces into the bottom of the pan and about ½ inch (1cm) up the sides to form an even crust. Make sure to push the dough out so it’s not thick along the crease where the sides of the pan bend upwards. Use your fingers or the bottom of a metal measuring cup to push the dough neatly into the edges.

to make the filling:

In a blender, or in a bowl using an immersion blender, puree the tofu, sugar, applesauce, cornstarch, spices, vanilla, and salt until smooth.

Stir in the pumpkin puree by hand (in order to preserve the texture of the pumpkin).

Place the pastry-lined baking sheet on the very bottom rack of the oven. Pull the rack out part way and carefully pour the filling into the crust. Smooth the top with a spatula and carefully slide the rack back into the oven.

Bake for 35 minutes, or until the top is slightly puffed. If your pan is aluminum or light-coloured, you may need an extra five minutes of baking time to brown the bottom. Cracks in the filling just add to this pie’s rustic charm.

Allow to cool to room temperature, then chill for 3 to 4 hours, uncovered, before slicing.

Cut into 24 squares, or 12 larger squares, slicing each square diagonally to make 24 triangles. If cutting triangles, cut each corner piece diagonally into the corner, rather than across it, so that no piece has two sides with a crust edge.

Keeps chilled, lightly covered with foil, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Makes 24 squares or triangles. You can garnish each piece with a dollop of whipped cream and a pecan half or a sprinkling of chopped pecans if you wish.

Guten Appetit!

How to cut the pumpkin slab pie

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

You might also like:

Pumpkin Pie (gluten, dairy, & egg free)

Pumpkin Granola (and how to bake a pumpkin for purée)

Pumpkin Freezer Fudge

Gingered Pumpkin Soup with Crunchy Creamy Toppings

Posted in Pies & Tarts | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Apple Beet Juice – Good for your Gut

Fresh apple beet juice has healing properties for digestive problems, plus it just tastes good. It’s like the sweet, earthy essence of the summer garden in a glass.

fresh apple beet juice

Thirteen years ago I had a mysterious and debilitating medical issue. Quite suddenly, and for no apparent reason, every bite of food I ate caused me severe abdominal pain – the kind that had me curled up in a ball on the couch, clutching my stomach and moaning as the pain washed over me. It started with stomach aches and cramps while we were visiting at my parents’ remote cabin in B.C. at the end of the summer. At first I thought it was just some kind of flu and that I had to tough it out. But as the days went by, the pain got worse instead of better.

After we got home from the cabin, I went to my doctor and she did all kinds of tests and sent me for an emergency ultrasound, speculating gall bladder issues. Everything came back negative. There seemed to be no medical reason for me to be experiencing this type of pain. Meanwhile, I had a family to cook for; husband and four children between the ages of 6 and 16 plus a teenage German exchange student. It was all I could do to get meals on the table and then go lay down on the couch. The only food I could tolerate was oatmeal cooked into a thin soup-like gruel, which didn’t cause too much pain to sip on slowly. I lost 13 pounds in 14 days, and none of the medications the doctor prescribed helped in the slightest. I remember laying curled up in pain on the deck swing outside, with tears rolling down my cheeks, terrified of what was happening to me.

Apples and Beets for Beet Juice

I was desperate. I read everything I could find in the health books I had (wasn’t doing much computer research at the time), and I kept coming across the benefits of beets for healing digestive issues. I read somewhere that a three-day fast of apple and beet juice helped some people with stomach problems, and a Swiss friend of mine told how they were always given a raw apple to eat when they had stomach aches as a child.

Well, it was September, and we had a ton of organically grown beets in our garden. I bought a few bags of organic apples at the health food store and began juicing. I mixed up equal quantities of fresh apple juice and beet juice and started sipping that. My stomach seemed to tolerate it. I felt hopeful.

Juicing beets for apple beet juice

After one day of only drinking this apple beet juice all day long, I started to feel slightly better. By the third day I was almost feeling like myself. But I was so scared to try eating regular food and triggering my symptoms again that I kept up the beet juice fast for three more days.

Apple Beet Juice for Tummy Troubles

As I slowly started reintroducing food, I was elated to find that I was my same old self and all the pain was gone.

I have no idea to this day what was happening in my system at the time.

The symptoms came back once more about a year later, though milder this time. I immediately started my apple and beet juice protocol, and was able to have the pain all gone within a few days.

beautiful pink apple and beet juice

I’ve never experienced those awful symptoms again, and still don’t know what they were all about, but I do know that the beet juice cured me.

I know that sounds like a trumped up testimony, but it is the truth of what happened to me. I now make up a few batches of apple and beet juice every fall, and drink it with such gratitude. The humble and earthy beet and sweet apple, fruit of antiquity, will always make me think of healing.

An apple (and a beet) a day really does keep the doctor away!

 

* * * * *

Kitchen Frau Notes: I make no claims for any specific healing properties of these juices and can only offer my personal story. The apple beet juice seemed to heal my digestive problems, although I don’t know what the medical condition was. Aside from that, raw fruit and vegetable juices promote good health in general because of the vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and enzymes they contain. They also just taste good!

mug of fresh apple beet juice

Apple Beet Juice

  • raw organic beets
  • raw organic apples

Wash and trim any blemishes from the apples and beets. Cut the tops and roots off the beets, then peel off the woody skin around the top of the beets with a paring knife. You can leave the rest of the peel on. Leave the peel and cores on the apples. Cut the beets and apples in halves or quarters, small enough to fit into the feed tube of the juicer.

Juice the apples and the beets separately in an electric juicer appliance, then combine equal amounts of the two juices. Keep refrigerated for up to 3 days. Stir before using.

It tastes best when chilled, or served with a few ice cubes.

Guten Appetit!

 

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

You might also like:

Headache and Migraine Tea

Hot Honey, Lemon, and Ginger Tea for a Cold

Power Coffee

Homemade Natural Deodorant

a pitcher full of apple beet juice

Posted in Drinks, Fruit, Health & Body Care | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Mighty Mushroom Hunters (and Some Giant Puffball Recipes)

Giant puffballs make some mighty fine eating! If you’re lucky enough to find one in a field or forest’s edge, try whipping up a few of these delicious puffball recipes.

Puffball Recipes: giant puffball out in the meadow

This has been the autumn of puffballs in our house. We have been finding these giant alien-looking mushrooms in our friend’s field and I have had a blast experimenting with all kinds of puffball recipes.

A couple weeks ago my friend Alex called me up saying, Hey, wanna go mushroom hunting? There’s tons of honey mushrooms out in our forest! 

Mushroom hunting in the fall

alex looking for mushrooms at the path’s edge

Well, I couldn’t resist an adventure, and went with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation. I am not a mushroom hunter. I’m actually a big chicken when it comes to wild mushrooms. My parents told us too many stories of people who’d died a lingering, agonizing, painful death after just one bite (I’m sure that was to keep us kids from eating wild mushrooms willy-nilly). But I trusted Alex. (That’s her, in the photos above and below.) She’s been foraging for this type of mushroom since she was a child, and it was about time to put my mushroom fears to rest.

Puffball Recipes: Honey Mushrooms on Tree cluster of honey mushrooms

Besides, it was a beautiful fall day, and I just longed to get out into the leafy forest.

That first time we went, I came home with a half pail of lovely honey mushrooms and a few little puffballs, which I fried up with butter and they were delicious. Then last week we went again and hit the giant mushroom jackpot! We found the right spot in her forest and after a glorious afternoon of mushroom hunting I came home with leaves and twigs in my hair and four 5-gallon pails full of honey mushrooms, plus 3 giant puffballs.

The mushrooms, I cooked and canned and froze (35 pints of canned mushrooms plus a half dozen bags of frozen ones).

But it’s the puffballs I want to talk about.

Oh, my, the puffballs . . .

I’d never eaten them before (my mom has cooked them, but I was never home at the time). I have now developed an intense love affair with these giant mushrooms. One of the monsters weighed four pounds, one weighed seven and a half pounds, and the biggest one weighed fifteen pounds!

If you’ve never eaten a puffball – you have missed out. I’m not talking about those round bombs of dusty spores that you stomped on as a kid to release the plume of purplish haze. No, if you harvest the puffballs when they are still young and immature and the inside is one even mass of dense, white flesh, they are an absolute mushroom-lover’s delicacy. It’s like finding a gourmet treasure that aliens just dropped into the field. The flesh tastes like mushroom, but is milder and richer, kind of like the cap of a portobello mushroom.

Puffball Recipes: Meredith with 2 giant puffballs

meredith with the two smaller puffballs

Not every year is perfect for puffballs, but this year the conditions have been just right – lots of moisture but warm days. The giant puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) pop up in meadows or at the grassy edges of forests and seem to arrive almost overnight. Puffballs are a good way to start mushroom hunting as they are easy to identify.

There is only one kind of mushroom that can be confused with a puffball when it is still quite small, which is the poisonous amanita mushroom, and it shows the markings of gills in it when you slice it open. So to be safe, when you find a puffball, slice it vertically in half and check that there are no markings of gills or a stem inside. Amanitas also stay small, so if you collect puffballs that are larger than your fist, and the flesh is evenly white inside, you can be assured you have a puffball and that it is safe to eat.

Puffball Recipes: half of a giant puffball

The texture of a puffball is like a very dense damp sponge when you cut into it. Peel off the outer rind (either pull it off or cut it off with a knife), and cut the puffball into slices. The rind can cause gastrointestinal upset in some people. If the inside is any colour other than pure white, don’t use it. Yellow, brown, or purple means the spores are starting to form and it is no longer good to eat.

The puffball will keep in your fridge for 4 to 5 days, but if you want to prepare it for later use, you can also cook it and freeze it. I cubed and sauteed much of my puffball harvest with a little butter and salt until the moisture had cooked out and the cubes started to brown. I then cooled them and packed them into plastic bags and froze them. Can’t wait to pull my treasured stash out of the freezer in the winter to add to soups, stews, casseroles, risottos, stir-fries, scrambled eggs . . .

Puffball Recipes: cubes and slices for cooking

You can also cook up large slices of puffball and freeze them to use as the base for wonderful gluten-free pizzas (see below). Or try the convenience of breading the raw puffball with the parmigiana breading below and freeze them. Pull them out later, fry them and bake them for a quick pre-prepared dinner. Puffball Fries freeze up equally well. Pull them out of the freezer and in 15 minutes you’ll have crispy fries to dip in your favourite sauce – a great appetizer or snack.

Cooked puffball has a texture kind of like tofu, but more soft and melting (a bit like a sugarless marshmallow). You can use puffball just like you would tofu and most other mushrooms in recipes. I still have so many ways I’d like to try it, so I hope I find some puffballs again next year.

Try puffball some of these ways:

  • diced, sauteed, and added to any pasta sauce
  • raw, cubed in salads
  • diced, sauteed, then tossed in with chives and beaten eggs as you scramble them
  • cut slices, dip them in a mixture of equal parts soy sauce and water, plus a dash of sriracha or hot sauce, then pan-fry them in butter or oil until brown
  • cubes, strips, or slices, breaded and fried
  • grill or fry thick slabs and use them as a meatless burger on a bun with toppings
  • toss them in with stir fries
  • sauté cubes of puffball with onions, peppers, tomatoes, and Italian seasoning
  • use thin slices of sauteed puffball instead of pasta in lasagna
  • let your imagination run wild!

* * * * *

Here are six delicious puffball recipes, (yes, we’ve been eating a lot of puffball lately!) All received rave reviews, but the Puffball Parmigiana which I’ve made three times in the last two weeks (once for a dinner party) was the clear favourite in our house.

Puffball Recipes: Puffball Parmagiana

Crisp-crusted slabs of delicious puffball slathered in zesty tomato sauce and topped with oozing melted mozzarella – you’ll love this version of the classic. (Plus you can bread the slices and freeze them to fry up and bake later.)

1. Puffball Parmigiana

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 4 slices of giant puffball, each about ¾ inch thick and 4 x 4 inches square (2 x 10 x 10 cms)
  • ¼ cup (35gms) sweet rice flour or regular all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup (25gms) finely grated Parmesan cheese (the kind that is like a fluffy powder)
  • ¼ cup (40gms) instant polenta or fine cornmeal
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup (240ml) or more of your favourite tomato pasta sauce, bottled or homemade
  • about 1½ cups (150gms) shredded mozzarella cheese

Peel the puffball, then slice it into ¾-inch thick slices and trim them to the size of a chicken cutlet (about 4 inches square).

In one shallow bowl, mix the flour with the salt and ½ teaspoon of the pepper.

In another bowl, beat the eggs well with a whisk.

In a third shallow bowl or rimmed plate, stir together the Parmesan cheese, cornmeal, garlic powder, and remaining ½ teaspoon of pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.

Dip the puffball slices into the flour to coat all sides. Then dip them into the beaten egg. Finally dip them into the Parmesan cheese mixture, making sure all surfaces are completely covered.

Fry the breaded slices in the oil for 2 to 3 minutes a side, until they are a deep golden colour.

Lay the fried puffball slices into a baking pan, leaving at least ½ space between them.

Spoon a generous ¼ cup of the tomato sauce in a row down the center of each puffball slice. Pile a heaping ¼ cup of the shredded mozzarella cheese into a mound on top of the tomato sauce on each cutlet.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and golden in spots.

*To freeze, lay the uncooked cheese-coated puffball slices onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, not touching each other. Freeze them until solid, then store them in a sealed heavy-duty, zip-top bag in the freezer for up to 3 months. Fry the slices directly from frozen, then add the tomato sauce and mozzarella and bake as directed.

Serves 4.

* * * * *

Puffball Recipes: Asian Style Sweet & Sour Puffballs

This recipe is nice and saucy so it goes great over a bowl of cooked rice. You can adjust the heat level to how you like it.

2. Sweet and Sour Asian Style Puffball

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeno pepper (or 1 or 2 Thai chili peppers, or ¼ to ½ teaspoon dried chili flakes)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 pound (450gms) diced giant puffball (8 – 10 cups)
  • 1½ cups (360ml) chicken broth, divided
  • 4 tablespoons (60ml) soy sauce (gluten free if necessary)
  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 -5 green onions (scallions)
  • ½ cup roasted, salted peanuts or cashews (don’t omit these as they really provide a nice crunch in contrast to the soft puffball cubes)
  • plain cooked rice for serving

Prepare the vegetables:

  1. Mince the garlic, ginger, and jalapeno pepper (including the seeds) or chili pepper, if using.
  2. Dice the onion.
  3. Cut the bell pepper into 1 inch (2cm) cubes.
  4. Dice the puffball into 1 inch (2cm) cubes.
  5. Slice the green onions on a steep diagonal slant.
  6. Coarsely chop the nuts.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or dutch oven. Add the minced garlic, ginger, and jalapeno or chili flakes. Cook and stir for 1 minute.

Add the diced onion and red pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the cubed puffball.

Stir together 1 cup (240ml) of the chicken broth, the soy sauce, brown sugar, and vinegar. Pour over the vegetables. Bring to a boil and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir together the remaining ½ cup (120ml) chicken stock with the corn starch, and stir the slurry into the bubbling puffball stew. Add the sliced green onions and cook until thickened, about 30 seconds.

Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the chopped peanuts or cashews.

Serve over hot cooked rice.

Serves 4.

* * * * *

Puffball Recipes, slices of Puffball Pizza

You can prepare the puffball crusts for these pizzas several days ahead and refrigerate them, or you can even prepare them and freeze them to have on hand when the pizza craving hits.

3. Puffball Pizza

  • Several slices, ½ – ¾ inch (1-2 cm) thick of giant puffball, peeled – these can be whole cross-section slices for large pizzas, smaller slabs for individual pizzas, or even smaller pieces for appetizer-sized pizza bites
  • olive oil
  • your favourite pasta sauce or tomato sauce
  • dried oregano
  • your favourite pizza toppings – ham, pepperoni, salami, onions, peppers, tomatoes, etc. (You don’t need to add mushrooms, since the puffball is a giant mushroom and will provide that umami mushroom flavour.)
  • shredded mozzarella cheese
  • grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Cut the required amount of slices from the puffball, and peel or cut off the outer skin. Brush each side of the slice with olive oil.

The puffball slices need to be cooked and dried out slightly before using them as the crust base, to make them firm enough and ensure they don’t give off too much moisture to the pizza. There are several ways you can prepare them:

  1. Grill the slices on the barbecue or cook them in a grill pan until they are nicely browned and you have good char marks on each side. (On our barbecue it takes about 10 minutes per side on medium heat, lid open, rotating the slices on a diagonal halfway through on each side to get a grill mark grid.)
  2. Roast the slices in a 425°F (220°C) oven on a metal cooling rack set on top of a cookie sheet. Roast for 30 minutes, turning the slices over halfway through.
  3. Pan-fry the slices in a skillet. Add a little extra oil and fry them until each side is golden brown. Lay on paper towel to absorb any extra oil.

You can cook the slices several days ahead and keep them refrigerated until needed, or freeze the cooked slices in a sealed heavy duty zip-top bag to make quick pizzas anytime. No need to defrost – top and bake them right from frozen.

Place the grilled puffball slices onto a baking sheet. Spread a thin layer of pasta sauce or tomato sauce evenly onto each slice. Dust with a sprinkling of oregano.

Top with your favourite pizza toppings, thinly sliced.

Cover with a generous layer of shredded mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle lightly with Parmesan cheese, if using.

Bake in a preheated 400°F (200°C) oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and golden in spots.

Let cool 5 minutes and serve.

* * * * *

Puffball Recipes, Sauteed Puffball with Lemon and Garlic

This simple side dish is full of umami flavour. Savoury garlic and bright, tangy lemon dress up the soft pillows of puffball. Serve with chicken, fish, or pork.

4. Sauteed Puffball with Lemon and Garlic

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 pound (450gms) giant puffball, diced in 1-inch cubes (8-10 cups)
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • grated zest and juice of half a lemon
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat the butter in a large heavy-bottomed skillet or dutch oven. Add the diced onion, garlic, and ½ teaspoon salt. Saute for 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally.

Add the diced puffballs and cook, stirring occasionally, until the puffballs have shrunk in size and are golden brown  in spots (5 to 10 minutes).

Add the pepper and lemon zest. Cook for 1 more minute.

Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the puffballs and sprinkle with the parsley. Toss and add more salt to taste, if desired.

Serves 4 to 6.

* * * * *

Puffball Recipes: Parmesan Puffball Fries

Light crispy parmesan puffball fries with a soft fluffy interior are just perfect for dipping into your favourite sauce. They’re low fat, if baked, and full of flavour. These fries make a great appetizer, and can also be coated, then frozen, for convenient use on busy days.

5. Puffball Fries

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Cut the puffball into thick french fry shapes, about ½-inch x ½-inch (1 cm) by 3 inches (7.5cm) long.

In one shallow bowl, mix the flour with the salt.

In another bowl, beat the eggs well with a whisk.

In a third shallow bowl or pie plate, stir together the Parmesan cheese, cornmeal, garlic powder, and pepper.

Dip the puffball sticks into the flour to coat all sides. Then dip them into the beaten egg, tapping off the excess. Finally dip them into the Parmesan cheese mixture one at a time, making sure all surfaces are completely covered.

Lay the coated puffball fries onto an ungreased cookie sheet, not touching each other. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until the crust is golden, or fry them in a skillet in several tablespoons of oil, turning to fry each side until golden brown.

*To freeze the puffball fries, lay the cheese coated puffball sticks onto a parchment lined cookie sheet, not touching each other. Freeze them until solid, then store them in a sealed heavy-duty, zip-top bag in the freezer for up to 3 months. When baking the fries from frozen, they will take a minute or two longer.

Serves 4 – 6.

* * * * *

Puffball Recipes: Cheesy Puffball Pasta Bake

Who doesn’t love pasta, cheese, and tomato sauce? This easy weeknight family comfort food classic is made even better with the addition of little pillows of puffball. You can double the amount of puffball in this recipe for more creamy deliciousness.

6. Cheesy Puffball Pasta Bake

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons butter or oil
  • 1 lb (450gms), 8-10 cups, diced giant puffball (1-inch/2.5cm cubes)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 lb. short pasta – macaroni, fusilli, shells, etc.
  • 3 cups (720ml) pasta sauce (tomato-based or cream-based) – a 650ml (22oz jar) + ¼ cup (60ml) of the pasta cooking water works fine, too
  • 1 cup (100gm) shredded aged cheddar cheese
  • 3 to 4 cups (300-400gms) shredded mozzarella cheese

Set a pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta until almost cooked. Remove it about 2 minutes before it would be done. It should still be somewhat firm in the center. Scoop out ½ cup of the pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta.

While the pasta water is heating and the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the puffball cubes and ½ teaspoon salt. The pan will be very full, but the puffballs will shrink in size considerably. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the puffballs have released and evaporated their moisture and the cubes have turned golden in spots, about 10 minutes.

Toss together the cooked puffballs, cooked pasta, pasta sauce, reserved ½ cup of pasta water, and the shredded cheddar cheese. Tip it all into a greased 9×13 inch pan or casserole dish. Cover with a liberal layer of shredded mozarella cheese.

Bake at 350° (180°C) until the cheese is bubbling and golden in spots, about 30 minutes.

Serves 6.

Guten Appetit!

If you like my recipes, follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. You’d make my day!

 

Here are some additional puffball recipes, from other sites, you might also like:

Puffball Mushroom Burgers

Tempura Battered Puffball

Giant Puffball Mushroom Crust Pizza

Battered & Fried Puffballs

Sichuan Stir Fry Puffballs

Parmesan Puffballs, Chicken with Puffballs, Puffballs with Scallops & Broccoli

Honey Mushrooms cleaned for cooking

a colander of honey mushrooms complete with a camouflaged little critter (kind of like ‘Where’s Waldo?)

Puffball Recipes for Pinterest

Posted in Canadian Food, Miscellaneous, Vegetarian | 4 Comments