Friday, September 28, 2012

meyer lemon pasta with fresh herbs and toasted walnuts

Since creating A Glorious Summer Pasta in early August, and receiving so many delightful messages from my readers who have tried it, I've been on a mission to create and share another pasta dish with the same attributes: delicious, simple to make, quick enough for a week night meal - yet, dinner party worthy as well!  This fresh Meyer Lemon Pasta absolutely fits that description!  In addition, with a very low fat content, and incorporation of whole grain pasta, if desired, you've got healthy too!  If you crave light and fresh pasta dishes any time of the year, like me, you are going to love this!

I was going crazy with the scent of the lovely ingredients coming together while this dish was sautéing.  The diced shallot and minced garlic softening and becoming fragrant in the hot olive oil and butter, then the addition of just the right amount of sweetness from the  juice and zest of the meyer lemon, you can probably imagine what I mean!

For the fresh herbs, I chose Italian flat leaf parsley, because I love the slight peppery taste it exudes, and tarragon, which imparts a bit of spiciness.  They harmonized so well with the meyer lemon; however, feel free to use any of your favorite herbs.  Although this is a delicious meatless pasta, with some protein added from the toasted walnuts - grilled shrimp or chicken would compliment it beautifully.

Pick up some fresh herbs, a couple meyer lemons…you'll probably have the other lovely ingredients on hand - and in about 30 minutes, you'll be enjoying this aromatic, savory, pasta creation!  …and don't forget the wine!  :)

On Monday, come on by a cup of mascarpone for a scrumptious pumpkin dessert!  Have a beautiful weekend!

Until next time…mangia!  xox


Meyer Lemon Pasta with Fresh Herbs and Toasted Walnuts
Serves 2 generously as an entrée or 4 as a side


8 ounces spaghetti (I used whole wheat)
1 teaspoon salt for water
1/2-cup of reserved pasta water
1 extra large shallot, finely diced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
zest of 1 meyer lemon
juice of 1-2 meyer lemons or equivalent of 1/4 cup
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
salt and ground pepper, to taste, if desired
small handful of fresh herbs of your choice, finely chopped (I used Italian flat parsley and tarragon)
freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano, if desired
1/3 cup of walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Create the pasta:

Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions, just until it's al dente.  Once pasta has finished cooking, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, before straining.  Strain pasta and set aside.

Heat olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan over high heat.  Once the butter has melted, reduce heat to medium-low and add the shallots and garlic.  Sauté one minute, stirring continuously, then reduce heat to low.  Continue sautéing for about 5 minutes, or until shallots are soft and fragrant.

Add the black pepper, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Continue to cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for one minute.

Add the reserved pasta water, increase heat to medium-low, and cook for about one minute.  Toss in the pasta, mixing well.  Taste and add salt and additional ground black pepper, if desired.

Remove from heat and toss with chopped herbs and garnish with toasted walnuts.

Lovely recipe adapted from Feast on the cheap.

Carol's note:
To toast the walnuts, I've always followed the baking directions from the professionals at California Walnuts, found here.  I cut back the toasting time to about 7 minutes, however.

Friday, September 21, 2012

dark chocolate cupcakes with chocolate mascarpone buttercream

The wager I had with Sam was who would  win the inter-league series between Sam's Baltimore Orioles and my Washington Nationals.  Sam is a 2010 graduate of Clemson University, who works with me.  With our beloved ACC teams - Sam, the Clemson Tigers, and me, VT Hokies, along with our baseball teams, we became quick, friendly rivals with one another.  We've bet all kinds of things over the past couple years when our teams played one another, but this time, cupcakes were at stake!  If he won, I had to make him cupcakes of his choosing, and if I won, he had to pay me two times the cost of the cupcakes I chose to make for the blog! Somehow, I think Sam had a win-win, because he would have gotten cupcakes either way, since he's my favorite taste-tester for a cup of mascarpone!  Anyway, I lost, the birds won the series, and Sam received his box of freshly baked cupcakes, at my expense, and to his enjoyment! :)

I decided on a decadent, dark chocolate cupcake using Hershey's Chocolate - yep, the recipe right off the cocoa can!  This was my first time trying the Hershey's "Special Dark" blend, and can I just say, it will satisfy any chocolate lover's craving with the richness and perfectly moist crumb it produced!  Unless I find something better along my journey, this will be my go to chocolate cupcake from now on, and I've tried many!  The deep, dark chocolate flavor and color was enriched by the addition of a cup of hot, freshly brewed coffee, in place of the called for cup of boiling water.  This was the only recipe change I made -  a favorite baking tip that intensifies the dark chocolate flavor!

An incredible, light and creamy chocolate mascarpone buttercream completes the decadent cupcake!  Again, I used the "Special Dark" Hershey's Cocoa, that superbly enriched the chocolate flavor and sophistication of the mascarpone buttercream, without making it heavy or overly sweet.  I fell in love with this frosting, and I'm confident that you will too!  I can't wait to make a cake using it!

Did I mention how uncomplicated this recipe is to make?  It's created in just one bowl, so in addition to the simplicity, you won't have a lot of dishes to clean up afterwards!  The batter will be very thin, almost watery - but don't panic!  It will rise and bake up beautifully!

Enjoy today!!!

Until next time…mangia!   xox


Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Mascarpone Buttercream
Makes approximately 30 cupcakes


for the cupcakes:
2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey's "Special Dark" Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water or 1 cup hot brewed coffee

for the mascarpone buttercream:
4 ounces (1/2 of an 8 ounce tub) mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup Hershey's "Special Dark" Cocoa
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 16 ounce box powdered sugar, sifted

Create the cupcakes and buttercream:

make the cupcakes:
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line muffin pans (2-1/2" in diameter) with paper baking cups.  Set aside.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large  bowl.  Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of hand mixer for 2 minutes.  Stir in boiling water or hot coffee (batter will be thin).

Fill cups 2/3 full with batter.  Bake 22 - 25 minutes.  Place on wire racks and remove from the pans as soon as they're able to be touched without burning yourself.  Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.  (I only bake one pan at a time and turn the pan half way through the baking cycle.)

make the mascarpone buttercream:
In a large mixing bowl, beat the mascarpone cheese, butter, cocoa powder, milk and vanilla with an electric stand mixer on medium to high speed until creamy.  Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until smooth.  Beat in enough additional milk (only if needed), 1 teaspoon at a time, to reach consistency needed for cupcakes.  Makes 3 cups.  (Midwest Living was the inspiration for this delicious frosting.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

blackberry goat cheese and honey tartlets

Kitchen gadgets and cookbooks are a gigantic weakness of mine!  Ok, there I said it.  It always makes me feel better when I confess an area in my life that I lack restraint.  While browsing through Williams-Sonoma recently, I found a new gadget I just had to have.  It was the cutest little tartlet baking set, found here.   It would be perfect for my homemade lemon curd and mascarpone cream for a girlfriends get together coming up soon, I surmised without question.  Or maybe something savory?  So many choices running through my head.  Did I need to have this particular pan for mini tartlets?  Absolutely not!  I could just free form the tartlets in a mini cupcake pan - but, like I said, I lack willpower with certain things! :)

After changing my mind a million times on what I wanted to create, I eagerly decided on a wonderful recipe adapted from Driscolls Berries - goat cheese tartlets with blackberries, drizzled with honey!  Simple - yet gourmet, savory - yet sweet, and something I felt confident would be new to everyone.

The combination of flavors in this recipe were meant for each other!  A nice kick from the goat cheese  mixed with fresh minced thyme, makes up the delicious savory filling, baked in a perfectly golden cream cheese crust.  Add the sweetness of the blackberry and drizzling of honey, and oh my, the result - the perfect sweet and savory appetizer!   I created 24 tartlets, as the recipe is written, but don't hesitate doubling it for a larger party, due to the ease of the recipe.  …and, you absolutely don't have to run out and buy the mini tart pan, like no willpower me. You can use a mini muffin/cupcake pan, or even create a larger tart.  Improvise!  That's the beauty of cooking and baking - you can always make it your own, by using a little creativity!

Until next time…mangia!  xox


Blackberry Goat Cheese and Honey Tartlets

(makes 24 tartlets)

for the filling:
5 ounces rindless goat cheese, at room temperature (use a good quality)
3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons honey
24 blackberries (most supermarkets carry blackberries all year round)
fresh thyme leaves, removed from their stems, for garnish

for the cream cheese tart crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, but into tablespoons, at room temperature
3 ounces cream cheese, cut into tablespoons, at room temperature

Create the tartlets:

Combine flour and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade and pulse to combine.  Add butter and cream cheese and pulse about 10 times, until mixture begins to clump together.  Gather up dough and shape into a thick disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled and easy to handle, about 2 hours.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.  Have ready two 12-cup, or one 24-cup mini muffin pan(s), or mini tartlet pan as I used.  The cup should measure 1-7/8 across x 7/8 deep, preferable nonstick.  If the pans aren't nonstick, spray with baking spray, or lightly butter them.

Divide dough in 24 equal pieces.  Place one piece in each muffin cup.  Using fingers, press dough firmly and evenly up sides to make a pastry shell.  A wooden tart tamper can help the job go quickly, but not necessary.  (If using the same mini tartlet pan I used, follow the manufacturers directions for making the tart shells.)  Freeze 5 minutes.

Mash goat cheese and cream cheese together in a medium bowl until smooth.  Add egg, yolk, minced thyme, salt and pepper and whisk until combined.  Spoon equal amounts of filling into the chilled pastry shells.

Bake tartlets until crust is golden brown and filling is puffed, about 25 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes in pan(s). Remove tartlets from pans and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Just before serving, lightly brush tops of tartlets using about 1 tablespoon of the honey.  Arrange berries on top as desired.  Drizzle with the remaining tablespoon honey.  Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and serve!

Carol's note:
If you don't have a food processor, just use a hand pastry blender and continue with directions above.

If you only have one 12-cup pan, or use the tartlet set 12-cup pan, just divide the dough and ingredients in half, make the first 12, keep the other half dough and filling refrigerated, and once the pan cools, create the next 12 tartlets.  By the way, just my opinion - creating them in the mini cupcake pan gives them a lovely, rustic look, which I absolutely love!  Just want to re-emphasize that the tartlet set isn't necessary.

If desired, prepare the tartlets up to a day ahead of time and refrigerate until ready to use.  Bring to room temperature and finish off with the honey and thyme.

Friday, September 07, 2012

five-layer afternoon delight

"Sex in a Pan."  That's the given name to this incredible dessert - at least the current name in vogue.  I remember this five-layer dessert from the 70's!  I can't remember what it was called back then, but I do know, it wasn't Sex In A Pan.  I would have definitely remembered that. :)  Don't get me wrong, I love the name - it TOTALLY fits; however, I just can't imagine my sweet 3 year old grandson walking up to me and asking, "Nonna, can I have more Sex in a Pan?!"  So, I decided to rename it - Afternoon Delight!  I really don't know if that's much better, lol; however, Afternoon Delight (as I sing the song) makes me smile and think of the 70's, and a much simpler time, like the dessert! :)

What is it about nostalgic desserts like this - they disappear for a time, only to resurface years later, to be discovered again by a new generation.  I think it's because they are incredibly delicious, quick and easy to make, and lend a bit of comfort, as well!  Afternoon Delight is truly timeless!

I just love watching friends take their first bite into the crunchy, sweet bottom crust with the four creamy layers upon it, and see the expressions on their faces.  The usual explanation is - O.  M.  G. !!!  Then, amazingly, they don't say another word, and just go about finishing it in total silence, savoring each scrumptious forkful.

Have fun creating this divine dessert to serve to your friends and family!  …and feel free to name it what you like best! :)  Whatever name you choose,  have my blog name ready, because this will be one of those desserts that everyone will want the recipe for!

Happy Friday - have a beautiful weekend!

Until next time…mangia!  xox


Afternoon Delight
Serves 12 plus


layer 1 - for the crust
1 cup pecans, chopped
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup butter (room temperature, but not too soft)
1 cup flour

layer 2 - for the cream cheese layer
1 - 8 oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped

layer 3 - for the chocolate pudding
2 - 1 oz packages of instant or cook & serve chocolate pudding (I used sugar free/fat free)
3 cups milk (I used 2% milk)

layer 4 - for the vanilla pudding
2 - 1 oz packages of instant or cook & serve vanilla pudding (I used sugar free/fat free)
3 cups milk (I used 2% milk)

layer 5 - for the whipped cream topping
2 cups heavy whipping cream, whipped
chocolate shavings for garnish

Create the Afternoon Delight:
  • Preheat oven to 350F degrees.
  • Lightly spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan or glass dish with baking spray.
  • With a hand mixer, mix all the crust ingredients until they all come together.  Press the mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Bake for 18 - 20 minutes.  Let cool.
  • Prepare the chocolate pudding according to package directions.  Set aside in refrigerator.
  • Prepare the vanilla pudding according to package directions.  Set aside in refrigerator.
  • Whip the 3 cups of heavy whipping cream.
  • In another bowl add the cream cheese, powdered sugar and one cup of whipped cream.  Mix until light and fluffy.
  • Spread the cream cheese layer over the cooled crust evenly.
  • Spread the chocolate pudding evenly over the cream cheese layer.
  • Spread the vanilla pudding evenly over the chocolate pudding layer.
  • Top with whipped cream and refrigerate a few hours to set up nicely.
  • Garnish with shaved chocolate of your choice before serving.
Carol's notes:
I always use heavy whipping cream and whip all 3 cups needed at one time in a stand mixer.  After  the cream is whipped, it makes a larger amount than needed for the recipe, so I just use it for my coffee, or add a little more to the top layer, but want to be sure I whip up enough.  No sugar is needed in the whipping cream, with the other sweeter layers, it lends the perfect balance.  You can always substitute cool whip, if you'd like, but since it takes literally another few minutes for the real whipped cream - go for it!

When I made Afternoon Delight last weekend, I used vanilla instant pudding, and chocolate cook & serve pudding.  They both set up equally well; however, I did find the cook & serve a bit thicker, and actually think I'll use cook & serve from now on for both the vanilla and chocolate layers.

I like to add my garnish after I cut the slices, so it looks freshly shaved. 

Afternoon Delight keeps nicely for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator, so feel free to create this a day or two in advance.

Recipe adapted from JoCooks.

Monday, September 03, 2012

strawberries-marsala tarts with mascarpone whipped cream

Happy Labor Day!  Is it really September 3rd already?  Where has the summer gone - or for that matter, the last eight months!  A friend of mine asked this same question this morning, because another Saratoga Race Track meet is ending today in our hometown.  He was wondering if it was because we were getting older.  Is the time really flying because we're getting older - as in our case, soon leaving our fabulous fifties and entering a new age decade next year?  Nah - I think time just flies when you're living life to its fullest!  Did someone just give away her age? ;)

Early this morning while sipping my hot cup of coffee, and enjoying this beautiful day off from work, my mother called from Saratoga.  With excitement in her voice, she told me my hometown newspaper, The Saratogian, had featured "a cup of mascarpone"!  My fingers were shaking as I typed the keys on my Mac to enter The Saratogian website and read the online version.  I am humbled and speechless by this lovely article about my new blog!  Who knew that in six short weeks, so many wonderful things would come from just wanting to share my recipes and photos in a blog?  I have truly met so many wonderful people, and learned so much - I feel so blessed!  Thank you to all those who are following my blog, leaving all the thoughtful comments, reading through news feeds, or subscribed to email updates - I love and appreciate all of you!  …and trust me, I still have so much more to learn about blogging, and photography - but what a fun journey!

I'm sure you want me to quit blabbering now and introduce you to these luscious strawberries-marsala - created three different ways!!!  You make the decision - quick and simple, or a relaxing couple hours creating!  Whichever way you choose - these bright red, sweet, juicy strawberries are made even more delicious by macerating them in a sprinkle of sugar and marsala wine, and topping them, of course, with mascarpone! :)  As promised, my last two posts:  tiramisu cupcakes, mushroom marsala bruschetta, and now, strawberries-marsala, all use that same bottle of marsala - and if you're only making one or another of the recipes, the marsala will last a long time, so no fear of wasting it.

I originally made these scrumptious tarts in August to post on a California Strawberry Contest.  The contest had to be something original, and be made with California Strawberries.  I went all out and created the third version, a crispy almond-graham tart shell lined with a bittersweet, dark chocolate ganache, then filled with the strawberries-marsala and topped with the mascarpone whipped cream. Although I consider myself somewhat computer literate, I'll be darned, I can't figure out how to enter the contest!  Seriously.  I have until September 10th to enter, so I'll keep trying. :)

In the meantime, I created them again to serve in parfait glasses, rather than the tart shells - a delicious, light evening dessert!  I used an ice cream scoop for the mascarpone whipped cream, and made it look like a scoop of ice cream - a fun touch, I thought!

Which way would you like to enjoy this late summer strawberry treat?  The simplicity of a parfait glass showcasing the beauty of the strawberries - a tart shell filled with the strawberries and mascarpone - or a tart shell lined with the richness of chocolate ganache, then filled with the strawberries and mascarpone?  I can attest, they're all divine!

In closing - Go Hokies!  Their season opener against Georgia Tech is on ESPN tonight! :)

Until next time - mangia!!! xox


Strawberries-Marsala Ganache Almond-Graham Tarts with Mascarpone Whipped Cream
4 – 6 servings depending on tart size, or parfait glass size


1-1/2 lbs. California Strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sweet or dry Marsala (I used dry Marsala)

Hull and core the strawberries.  Quarter the strawberries into uniform sizes.  Place the strawberries into a bowl, and sprinkle with the sugar and add the Marsala.  Gently mix together until the sugar is dissolved.  Set aside to macerate for at least 30 minutes, or until juices are released, tossing occasionally.  The macerated strawberries can be made up to one day ahead, covered and refrigerated.

Almond-Graham Tart Crust:

1-1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup slivered almonds toasted and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons sugar
7 tablespoons butter melted

Combine graham crumbs, toasted slivered almonds, and sugar in a bowl and stir in the melted butter until thoroughly combined.  Pack almond-graham mixture firmly and evenly into the bottom and sides of tart pans.  Bake in 350F oven for 8 minutes, and cool.  I used four - 4-1/2” tart pans.  You can also use six - 3-1/2” pans.

Chocolate Ganache:

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Using a serrated knife, finely chop chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl.   Bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Immediately pour  the cream over the chopped chocolate, and stir slowly with a rubber spatula until all the chocolate is melted, smooth and glossy.

Mascarpone Whipped Cream Topping:

1/2 cup mascarpone
1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar

With an electric mixer, whisk cream until it forms stiff peaks.  In another bowl, whisk together the mascarpone and confectioners sugar until smooth.  Gently fold in the cream into the mascarpone mixture until completely incorporated, and use immediately.  You can also make this up to one day ahead, cover and refrigerate.

Creating Strawberries Marsala 3 Ways:

1)   Strawberries Marsala and Mascarpone Whipped Cream - Make the Strawberries-Marsala and the Mascarpone Whipped Cream.  Position the Strawberries Marsala in parfait glasses.  Top with Mascarpone Whipped Cream and serve.

2)   Strawberries Marsala Almond-Graham Tarts with Mascarpone Whipped Cream - Make the Almond-Graham Cracker Tarts.  Add the Strawberries-Marsala into the cooled tart shells.  Top with Mascarpone Whipped Cream and serve.

3)   Strawberries Marsala Almond-Graham Ganache Tarts with Mascarpone Whipped Cream - Make the Almond-Graham Tarts.  Set aside to cool.  Make the Chocolate Ganache and let slightly cool.  Pour a tablespoon or less (depending on tart shell size you’re using) into the bottom of the cooled tart shell.  Take the back of your spoon and spread the chocolate across the bottom and slightly up the side edges of the tart shell.  Let  it cool and set up.  You can set the chocolate lined tart shells in refrigerator to cool, if preferred.  Add the Strawberries-Marsala to the ganache-lined tarts.  Top with Mascarpone Whipped Cream and serve.

Carol's notes:
While using a lot of mascarpone and cream over recent months, I've discovered a couple things. Galbani Mascarpone, imported from Italy, is the thickest and richest I've found.  That's not to say that all brands aren't delicious, it's just an observation (not an endorsement) depending on the consistency you are looking for.  Galbani was used in the glass of strawberries-marsala with the scoop of mascarpone.

Another observation, when using heavy cream to whip, you will obtain a creamier, smoother look to your mascarpone whipped cream, as on my tarts, or as on my rosemary-mascarpone post here.  When using heavy "whipping" cream, a more formed look will be attained - as in the mascarpone topping on the glass of strawberries.