Friday, April 11, 2014

Traditional Italian Easter Pie with Eggs (Pizza Rustica)

If you were raised in an Italian household, you'll know what this is, as it is traditionally made and served during Easter.

My family's name for this is "canescione", but that is probably the name for many other types of similar creations, as there are many names for frappe, for example.

Now, most of you won't have home cured Italian sausages on hand, and I don't usually either, but my mother had made some and this is how we decided to use them. Instead of using cured Italian sausage, you can use bacon or pancetta, which are both perfect in the egg mixture.

Here is the way my family makes this delicious filled bread.

serves 6


pizza dough (click here for my recipe)

9 eggs
2 tbsp water
1 1/2 tsp Kosher or sea salt
black pepper
1/2 cup (1 oz) grated Parmigiano Reggiano
3/4 cup (6 oz) cooked cured Italian sausages (not fresh) bacon or pancetta pieces (measurement is not critical)
2 tbsp fresh Italian parsley, chopped

extra virgin olive oil for pie dish and to brush on top of dough

Preheat oven to 475º F (250º C)

 Roll out part of the dough for the bottom, and place in an oiled pie dish (leave some overhang).

 Beat the eggs, water, salt, pepper, Parmigiano cheese and parsley, 
then add the cooked sausage, bacon or pancetta. 

Partially cook this mixture in a non-stick frying pan, you can actually cook it a bit more than I did,
as it makes it easier to work with. 

Pour the mixture into the lined pie dish.

Roll out pizza dough for the top. Wet the edge of the bottom pie dough with water, 
then place the lid on top, pressing slightly to seal.
Try to get another pair of hands to help, so that the dough doesn't fall into the egg mixture.

Cut off the extra dough with a sharp knife.

Pour some olive oil on top and brush it over the top.

Make a slit in the center of the pie and bake for about 30 minutes or until it is a deep, golden brown.

 Allow to cool slightly, or completely before cutting. I prefer mine warm, but it is still perfectly delicious when cold, too, making it perfect for serving when you have company and want to have things made ahead of time.

The red you see in the slice is a bit of cayenne pepper from the sausages. 
Feel free to add some hot pepper to the egg mixture if you like a little spiciness.


Here are some other traditional Italian recipes~

LA Living...

the "lone fig" on my tree.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Traditional British Butterfly Cakes or Fairy Cakes (Cupcakes)

If you want to have an ex-pat Brit begin to wax nostalgic, just mention Butterfly Cakes or Fairy Cakes. However, mention "butterfly cakes" or "fairy cakes" to a non-Brit and it they will probably give you a tilt of their head and look of confusion.

As a child growing up in the UK, these were standard fare at birthday parties, and practically everyone's mum made Butterfly Cakes; it was just a given. These are another example of a classic yet simple favorite food of many Brits which, like so many other creations "across the pond", never caught on in the US.

Each time I've made these delicate, fairy-like creations, they are met with gasps of delight. And if you think they're just another "pretty cupcake", think again, because inside is a bit of raspberry jam hiding below a dollop of freshly whipped cream! The flavor is beyond fabulous!

Please don't think that Butterfly Cakes are difficult to make as they are truly one of the easiest cupcakes to decorate; even children can make them. You can use any flavor of cake, but I think they look the nicest when using a white or vanilla cake (light colored).

makes 3 dozen cupcakes
cake recipe adapted from Good Housekeeping Illustrated Book of Desserts


1 3/4 cups (14 oz) sugar
1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, good quality at room temperature
3 cups (16 oz) flour, good quality
1 cup (8 oz) buttermilk, room temperature
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs, room temperature

raspberry jam, good quality (I like Bonne Maman)
1 cup (8 oz) heavy whipping cream, whipped
powdered sugar for dusting

Prepare cupcake tins with paper liners. Preheat oven to 350º F (175º C)

Place the flour, baking soda and salt in a large bowl; set aside.

In a large bowl (preferably in a stand mixer), cream the butter and sugar, slowly for 2 minutes. 
Increase to high and beat for another 8 minutes, or until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl occasionally.

Add the 2 of the eggs, one at a time, clearing after each addition, then add half of the flour mixture,
scraping the sides with a spatula if needed.

Add half a cup of the buttermilk and mix well, then add another egg. Continue to mix; then add the remaining milk, egg, vanilla and flour. Mix on high for 2 minutes, scraping sides with a spatula at least once.

Fill the cupcake liners half full with the batter and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when placed in the center of a cupcake. Place on cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

When ready to decorate, cut out the center of each cupcake, angling the knife at a 45º angle
(see the photos below), then cut the pieces in half to resemble butterfly wings.

Place a small amount of jam in the center, 

followed by a dollop of cream (or buttercream, if desired),  
then place the "wings" on top.

As you can see, I piped some buttercream into the center of a few of the cupcakes, just because I had some on hand. This also works, and tastes good, but the authentic way (and my favorite way)
to make Butterfly Cakes is to use cream. 

Repeat with all of the cupcakes, then dust each one generously with powdered sugar.

Serve immediately, especially if using fresh cream, as it can spoil quickly, 
especially in warm weather. Keep refrigerated if you do not serve them right away.

NOTE: it appears (from comments on Facebook), that in England these are called 
"Fairy Cakes", whereas in Scotland, Fairy Cakes are cupcakes with plain icing on top. 
Let me know if you have more insight on this in the comments below. Ta!

Other gorgeous cakes you can make~

Life in LA...

flowers on a wall at a gas station.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

French Onion Soup ~ the way Julia made it, sort of...

I recently went to Santa Barbara and had lunch with my mother and daughter at a lovely little French restaurant on State Street.

I ordered the French Onion Soup, which I haven't had or made in a long time, and it made me think how deplorable that was. I adore French Onion Soup and everything about it: the beefy broth, the glorious caramelized onions, and of course, the incredibly tasty, melty Swiss cheese on the crispy, crusty, soup-soaked bread! What's not to love?

So as I often do, when I came home, it went on the "to-make" list. And I made it. And it was awesome.

As the title suggests, I didn't follow Julia Child's recipe to the letter. Although Julia claims if you don't use homemade beef stock, you may as well buy onion soup, I say you're still better off making the onion soup and using whatever stock you have on hand, as long as it's good quality. I also don't like fighting with full-sized pieces of French bread covered in cheese, floating in my soup, so I suggest bite-sized toasted pieces of bread instead...they are much more manageable.

This is not a five minute soup, so just be prepared to caramelize some onions for a good 45 minutes or so. The rest of the soup making process is easy, and the results are truly worth the time and effort.

FRENCH ONION SOUP (almost like Julia's)
adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
serves 6-8


1 1/2 lbs or about 5 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions (do not use sweet)
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp sugar
3 tbsp flour
2 quarts (64 oz) beef stock (or water with beef bouillon)
1/2 cup (4 oz) dry white wine or dry vermouth
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp cognac or brandy (optional, Julia's recipe has 3 tbsp, but I prefer less)

French, Italian or rustic loaf bread, cut into bite sized croutons, toasted
1 to 2 cups of grated, real Swiss Cheese (Julia used Swiss or Parmesan) I used Gruyere

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, put the butter and oil and add the sliced onions. 
Cook slowly, with the lid on, for about 15 minutes. 

Remove the lid, turn the heat up to medium, add the salt and sugar, 
and stir often for about 40 minutes (mine took 45),
until the onions are a deep golden brown.

Add the flour and continue to cook and stir for another 3 or 4 minutes.

Remove from heat and add the stock/water/bouillon and wine/vermouth.

Add salt and pepper to taste and return to the cooktop, and simmer for an additional 30 to 40 minutes.
Just before the soup is ready, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

When the soup is ready, add the brandy/cognac, if using and check for seasoning; 
ladle it into ovenproof bowls, and top with the cubes of toasted bread.

Now, don't go and ruin the soup by using cheap cheese! 
Use the best, real Gruyere from Switzerland, please.

Sprinkle the cheese on top of the toast, as desired. I like everything in moderation 
(the cheese on the bowl in the photo above, from the restaurant in Santa Barbara was a bit "much" 
for me) so this might be a wimpy amount of cheese to add more, if you like.

Repeat to make about 6 bowls, place on a try and put into the center of the oven for about 15 minutes.
Reset the oven to broil (grill) and place the tray of bowls closer to the top to get a nice golden color on the cheese, which should be watched carefully as it can burn quickly.

Serve immediately.

As I said...well worth the effort!

Some other delicious soup recipes you can try~

LA Living...

flowers in a fountain.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Aunt Rosa's Very Best Rhubarb Fool

Happy April Fool's Day!

What else could I post but a recipe for Rhubarb Fool, not only because it's April Fool's Day, but because my Aunt Rosa, who makes the most incredible rhubarb fool in the world, is celebrating her birthday very soon! April is her month, and she's truly laid claim to this dessert as her own, because I've never tasted anything as good.

My Italian-born Aunt Rosa (or Zia Rosina, as I sometimes call her) lives in England and grows her own fabulous rhubarb, along with every other vegetable and fruit known to man. To say she has a green thumb, is like saying Einstein was smart. Seriously, she can take a piece (not even a cutting) of a plant, tree, flower or whatever is growing, stick it in a pot, and it will grow; no, it will flourish and multiply! If I do the exact same thing, it will be wilted and dead within hours. Aunt Rosa even grew a palm tree in her English garden!

Aunt Rosa and me crossing the English Channel, many years ago; Auntie in her youth; Cousin Dario and the palm tree!

So you can imagine, Aunt Rosa's's awesome, and I always say: "start with the best quality ingredients", but unfortunately for me, California isn't the best place for growing rhubarb.  I have a few of my own plants, but as you can see, it's a pretty sad sight.

My pathetic California rhubarb :(

I have the hardest time finding anything tasting even close to the flavor of British rhubarb. I found some fresh European rhubarb at Gelson's (a local grocery store), but alas, it was still disappointing. As a little girl in Scotland, I would eat the stalks raw, simply dipped in sugar, and just thinking about it makes my mouth begin to salivate. If you are lucky enough to live in a "good rhubarb area", I hope you'll try this dessert. It's so simple to make, and is ready in just a few minutes, but there's no sacrifice in flavor (given that you find good quality rhubarb).

Sidenote: if anyone within the LA area knows where I can find really good rhubarb, I beg of you, please let me know!

serves 4


Amounts are flexible as this is easy to make "to-taste"

2 cups or a few stalks of fresh, rhubarb, chopped into pieces 
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 cup (4 oz) sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup (2 to 4 oz) sweetened, condensed milk

heavy whipping cream, to serve

In a heavy bottomed frying pan, place the chopped rhubarb and lemon juice.

Add the sugar and cook gently over medium heat.

 Simmer until the rhubarb is completely soft, the sugar has melted, and the juices start to evaporate.

Remove from heat and place into a container to blend with an immersion blender, 
(or into a food processor), along with the sweetened condensed milk, and process until smooth
(make sure to be careful when blending hot liquids).
Taste, and add more condensed milk, if you prefer it sweeter.

Pour into bowls or serving glasses and serve with fresh cream.

Swirl cream with a toothpick or thin tool, if desired.

Another side note: the color of this rhubarb fool is very strange to turned out very purple, which I've never seen before. Hmmm...rhubarb problems...

Some other quick and easy, fruity desserts~

LA Living...

Hollywood and Highland Shopping Center.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Crème Brûlée with Raspberries, No Baking or Kitchen Torch Required

I have seen many crème brûlée recipes which require baking in a bain marie in the oven. I prefer the recipe below, because it's solely made on the stove-top, which is a huge plus for me in the summer when I don't want to turn on the oven. If you don't have a kitchen torch, you will need to put on the broiler (grill, for UK peeps) for a short time to make the topping of the crème brûlée (which means "burnt cream", in case you always wondered). Do I really need to explain that it's well worth it?

Besides how it tastes, the other thing I love about this dessert is that you can also make it ahead of time if you're having company. Once they are made, there will be nothing left to do except accept your accolades once the  guests crack into this incredibly luscious and flavorful dessert!

adapted from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Book of Desserts
makes 6 servings


2 cups (16 oz) heavy whipping cream
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (2 oz) sugar
1 vanilla bean, split or 1 tsp vanilla extract

raspberries for the bottom of the ramekins (substitute another fruit, or omit completely)
sugar, white or brown, for sprinkling on top

In a small pot, heat cream and vanilla bean over medium heat until tiny bubbles 
form around the edge of the pan. Remove vanilla bean.

In a larger pot (off the heat), whisk egg yolks and sugar until well-blended. 

Slowly stir in the hot cream, while continuing to whisk.

Place the pot on a burner, and cook over medium-low heat,
constantly stirring until the mixture thickens and coats a spoon well, about 15 minutes
(the temperature of the custard should be about 170º to 175º F, but do not boil or it will curdle.

 If not using the vanilla bean, stir in the vanilla extract at this time.

Place a few raspberries in the bottom of 6 ramekins.
Pour the hot custard over the raspberries; cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 6 hours.

Just before ready to serve, or a few hours beforehand, sprinkle the tops of the desserts
with some sugar; natural sugar (Sugar in the Raw) works best if using a torch.
If you have a kitchen torch,  heat the top of the custard to melt the sugar for the brûlée topping.

If not using a torch, place the ramekins on a tray under the broiler
(brown sugar works best for this method), until the sugar melts and forms a crust.
It will taste just as good, but isn't quite as pretty as using the raw sugar with a torch.

Serve immediately or within a few hours (keep refrigerated) so the crisp shell doesn't turn soggy.

Some other magnificent desserts which can be made ahead for company~

Individual Lemon Raspberry Trifles

Summer Berry Meringue Roulade

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce

and of course, Creme Brûlée's very close relative,

Real Homemade Custard

Life in Los Angeles...

Brand Library at night.