Friday, November 30, 2012

fashionable wine garb - a knitted hat & scarf

My post today is obviously not about food! :)  I'll explain what happened to all my new food photos next time.  In the meantime, since wine is the perfect accompaniment for many of us with our delicious foods, it's kind of ok to post...right? :)  I thought it would be fun to share some gifts I knitted this year (including the pattern), which will go along with my favorite homemade gift bags of biscotti for friends this Christmas.

While watching the Giada Christmas Special last season, she was in a relative's home in Colorado.  In the kitchen scene, there were wine bottles adorned with red and white hats and scarves, which I fell in love with!  I immediately paused the show (thank goodness for technology), and took a quick photo with my iPhone, so I wouldn't forget exactly how they looked. (see photo captioned below)

iPhone photo from the Giada Christmas Special I took from the TV screen. :)

My google search began for a knitting pattern that could replicate the charming wine bottle hat and scarf.  The pattern  I found was called "Chilled Wine Garb."  The adorable knitting pattern was courtesy of Lisa Valentino of Knitsburgh: where steel meets wool.  Although slightly different from the ones displayed on the Giada TV Show, I thought the set was just as lovely!  Actually you can achieve the look of Giada's by using a lighter weight yarn and a smaller size needle.

The only changes I made were to lengthen the scarf, and shorten the ribbing on the hat.  With the extra length, I could wrap the scarf in different ways, and since I didn't want to fold over the ribbing on the hat, I limited it to fewer rows.  You can choose the lengths you like, or follow the pattern as written...either way, it makes the cutest gift anyone would cherish!

Red and white traditional colors, pink and green girly/preppy colors, or your favorite sports team colors...there are so many possibilities to customize this fashionable wine garb!  For the fluffy mini pom poms, I used an extra small pom pom maker just like this one on Amazon.  You can find it at any craft or knitting store.

Hope you enjoy this impromptu post, and that all you knitters out there will find it a delightful gift to knit, not just for Christmas, but for any occasion throughout the winter season!  If you're not a knitter, maybe this easy gift idea will inspire you to learn how to knit! :)

Until next time...mangia...or in this case - salute (cheers)!!! xox


"Wine Bottle Garb" Knitting Pattern

Yields about 12 sets


worsted weight or DK yarn (3 skeins - colors of your choice)
#6 / 4mm double point knitting needles
tapestry needle for sewing in ends

Create the Hat & Scarf:

PDF free download pattern found here from Knitsburg: where steel meets wool.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

colonial williamsburg indian corn muffins

When we first moved to Virginia in the early eighties, every summer for years we visited renowned historic Colonial Williamsburg, which was only about 2 hours from our home in Northern Virginia.  My son, Ryan, was only 7 years old when we first started making our yearly summer treks.  Even at  an early age, Ryan was in absolute awe of the enormous history of this colonial area of Williamsburg, that spans over 301 acres, and includes over 88 original 18th-century structures.

At the end of a delightful day of walking all over beautiful Colonial Williamsburg, taking a step back into the 18th-century, we would relax and enjoy dinner at one of the many charming historic taverns, filled with famed Virginia hospitality.

The servers, dressed in period attire, would set a basket of Indian Corn Mini Muffins on our table as soon as we were seated.  The crispy exterior was hot and buttery, and biting into the corn sweetness of the moist interior, was one of our relished courses of the meal, especially Ryan's. :)  Delicious, steaming hot muffins, served straight from the oven, originally baked in a fireplace or over an open fire.

On one of my early memorable visits, I purchased the cookbook published by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, The Williamsburg Cookbook, containing a traditional array of recipes initially compiled and adapted by Letha Booth.  My copy is now 30 years old, and I cherish it to this day.

Indian Corn Muffins are one of my favored recipes to create from the cookbook, with fond memories of Colonial Williamsburg.  Sitting upon your Thanksgiving table, or alongside a spicy chili or steaming soup - this time of year couldn't be a more perfect occasion to savor them.  Baked in a mini muffin pan, they rise beautifully to look plump and much larger than the mini cup they begin in.

I'm sure you'll delight in these muffins as much as my family has over the years.

Until next time…mangia! xox


Colonial Williamsburg Indian Corn Muffins
Makes 18 - 20 mini muffins


1 cup white cornmeal (I use Indian Head self-rising stone ground white cornmeal) (a little extra for "flouring" the cupcake pan
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted (a little extra for buttering the muffin tins)

Create the Indian Corn Muffins:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Butter and flour (using cornmeal) the mini muffin pans, 1-1/2 inches in diameter cup size.  Shake and move the pan around so the cornmeal adheres to the sides and bottoms; then remove the excess cornmeal by patting the pan upside down.

Sift the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl.

Combine the lightly beaten eggs, milk, and melted butter and add to the dry ingredients, mixing just until blended. Do not over mix.

Spoon batter into the buttered muffin tins, filling each tin completely full.  Bake at 400 degrees F for 18 - 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Do not over bake.

Remove from oven and turn pan upside down so muffins drop out onto your serving piece.  Serve hot from the oven!

Carol's note:
For buttering the tins, I put a pat of butter between my fingers, and smear all over the tins, then use the cornmeal to "flour" the tins.  Don't overdue the butter by leaving chunks, just be sure they are fully greased up. This gives a delicious buttery, crisp taste to the outsides of the muffins.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

sparkling sugar cranberries

Bags containing fresh, multi-red shades of this little super-fruit are decoratively piled high all over the produce department of grocery stores from October through early December.  For years, I've made cranberry sauce, breads, muffins, strung them with popcorn for Christmas trees, but I had never just popped a fresh, crisp and tangy cranberry in my mouth…until now!  This may sound ridiculously naive, but I thought they needed to be cooked first.

Aren't these sweet, twinkly, sparkly cranberries the cutest things?!!  When I found the recipe for my last post, Chocolate Cranberry Fudge Cake, on the Ocean Spray Cranberry website, the cake was garnished with these sparkling jewels, along with mint leaves - it was so beautiful and festive!  I was determined to find out how they were made, since my cake was not going to be as pretty without them!  

My source, 101 Cookbooks, offered a wonderful recipe!  They are simple to create; however, plan ahead, since they need to "marinate" in a simple syrup overnight, then a couple sugar tossings the following day.  Once the sugar is dried and crunchy, start munching away.  They have an awesome sweet and sour flavor, almost candy-like.  The Sparkling Sugar Cranberries can be used for garnishing your Thanksgiving food platters, on crackers or crostini with a creamy cheese, twinkling on your Christmas cookie trays, or just placed in a pretty bowl to eat!

A few fun cran-facts:  raw cranberries are loaded with nutrients and anti-oxidant qualities.  Fresh cranberries will last up to one month in your refrigerator, or freeze them right in their bag.  When freezing, do not rinse them first. According to Ocean Spray, they will keep in your freezer for one year!  It will then be time for the new fall's fresh ones to be in the grocery stores again.  Use the cranberries frozen in your recipes, do not thaw - just rinse them off when ready to use, and add them to your breads or muffins in a frozen state.  Ok, I've persuaded myself to freeze a bag or two for my favorite "orange cranberry and walnut streusel muffins throughout the year." :)

Until next time…mangia! xox


Sparkling Sugar Cranberries
Makes 2 cups

Ingredients for simple syrup:
2 cups cranberries (rinsed and picked over)
2 cups water
2 cups granulated sugar

Ingredients for coating:
turbinado sugar for first coating
granulated sugar for second coating

Create the Sparkling Sugar Cranberries:

Place the cranberries in a medium glass bowl and set aside.

Make a simple syrup by bringing the water and sugar just to a simmer in a medium saucepan.  Let the syrup cool for a couple minutes and then pour it over the cranberries.  If the syrup is too hot the cranberries will burst, so be careful.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, drain the cranberries (don't rinse) and toss them with the larger grained sugar until they are well coated.  Use small amounts of sugar and cranberries at a time, so the sugar doesn't get too damp.  Use another bowl or cookie sheet for tossing.  Place the coated cranberries on a clean baking sheet (I lined it with parchment) to dry for a few hours.

Do a second toss with the granulated sugar, this typically takes care of any sticky spots on the cranberries.  Let dry another hour.  I actually did my second toss right on the parchment lined cookie sheet (picture 3 above).

Carol's note:
For my first time creating these, I used the turbinado sugar for the first coating.  The larger grain gives a bit of a crunch.  If you don't have turbinado sugar, it will work just fine to use granulated sugar for both coatings. Experiment. :)

Don't put the sugared cranberries in the refrigerator after making them.  This will cause them to get wet and sticky.  Mine were used up in two days, but they should be fine for up to 3 or 4 days.

Monday, November 05, 2012

chocolate cranberry fudge cake with chocolate cranberry ganache

Today is the first Monday of a new month, which means "Chocolate Party" time again!  Last month the lovely ingredient to accompany chocolate was pumpkin.  I created the Pumpkin Pie Chocolate Bars, which were so well received.  Thank you so much for all your wonderful feedback!  November's ingredient, to be combined with chocolate is "cranberry!"  Cranberries reach their peak and are harvested from mid-September through mid-November, so what a perfect time to use them in our recipes.  A big thank you once again to Roxana's Home Baking for hosting this fun Chocolate Party!  Don't forget to check the bottom of my post, where all the Chocolate Party members will be featuring their scrumptious Chocolate and Cranberry recipes!

Although I love cranberries, and actually have two exciting cranberry creations to be posted soon, I was having a hard time coming up with a recipe I felt was worthy enough for our Chocolate Party, embracing both chocolate and cranberries together.  It had to be something rich and decadent, a dessert for this cherished time of the year. A time of year that we reminisce over what we are truly thankful for.  I'm convinced once you savor the first heavenly bite of my Chocolate Cranberry Fudge Cake with Chocolate Cranberry Ganache, you will have one additional food in your life to be thankful for!  :)

This may be the best kept secret in Ocean Spray Cranberry's history, my recipe source.  Why did I not find this chocolate gem sooner in my life?  Most likely because I wasn't participating in a Chocolate Party that required I use the two ingredients together.  :)  This is pure elegant baking, yet simple as can be.  One bowl, one spoon, and no mixer required.  The cake is deliciously dense, yet incredibly light at the same time.  The ganache is rich, creamy and beautifully flavored with the hint of cranberry.  A descriptive word for Chocolate Cranberry Fudge Cake with Chocolate Cranberry Ganache - OUTSTANDING!

One last thing.  See those sweet little sugary cranberries garnishing my cake?  Stay tuned to my next post on how to create them!

Until next time…mangia! xox


Chocolate Cranberry Fudge Cake with Chocolate Cranberry Ganache

Serves 10


for the cake:
2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate powder (I used Trader Joe's)
1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baked powder

for the ganache:
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup jellied cranberry sauce
mint leaves and cranberries for garnish, if desired

Create the Cake and Ganache:

prepare the cake:
1) Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Line an 8-inch or 9-inch round cake pan with aluminum foil.  Coat foil with baking spray.  Dust pan with flour, tap to remove excess.

2) Microwave 2/3 cup chocolate chips, butter and unsweetened chocolate powder in large microwave-safe bowl on high for 1 minute.  Stir until smooth.  Microwave for 30 more seconds longer, if necessary to melt chocolate.

3) Add cranberry sauce and sugar; mix well.  Add eggs, vanilla, flour and baking powder; mix well.  Pour batter in prepared pan.

4) Bake for 38-40 minutes or until center is set and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool at room temperature in pan 30 minutes, then refrigerate in pan for additional 1 hour, or until cold.

prepare the ganache:
1) Microwave cream and chocolate chips together in medium microwave-safe bowl on high for 30 seconds.   Microwave for 30 seconds longer if necessary to melt chocolate.  (Mine took approximately 45 seconds total.) Stir until smooth.  Add cranberry sauce; mix well.

2) Turn cake out onto serving plate; remove foil. Spread glaze over top allowing some to drip down sides of cake. Chill 1 hour or until glaze is firm.  Garnish, if desired.  Can be made a day ahead.  Store at room temperature, or refrigerate.

chocolate party logo
Chocolate Party Badge

Saturday, November 03, 2012

kelly's apple crisp

As promised in my previous post - Baked Salmon Stuffed With Mascarpone Spinach, this is the dessert I created for my daughter Kelly's pre-marathon race training event - her favorite!  We've loved this apple crisp forever, and it's one of those dishes that you may just want to eat dessert first, and not even feel guilty about it!  Piled high with fresh apples, crispy oats and graham cracker cinnamon crumb topping - it's all healthy goodness, right? :) There are hundreds of apple crisps out there, but I've yet to find one that I enjoy more!  It's quick, easy, and absolutely scrumptious!

When Kelly was a young girl, around 10 years old, she attended a Pampered Chef Party with me.  It was the mid 90's, and this was a new home party that involved cooking, so we were excited about attending for the first time. For anyone who has never attended a Pampered Chef party, the demonstrator always creates a food item using multiple kitchen gadgets the company sells, of course. :)

A beautiful memory of a fun time with Kelly, the demonstrator made apple crisp that day! Kelly was in awe of all the gadgets surrounding us!  Smiling from ear to ear as she was asked to try out the apple peeler - which peeled, cored and sliced the apple - her eyes met mine with that look - Mom, we need this!!  Her eyes became even wider when she tasted the incredible apple crisp!

We left the party ordering the apple peeler (for Kelly), the deep dish stoneware baker, and the best food chopper ever.  Of course, we were also given a copy of the Pampered Chef recipe, which eventually made its way to the online world here. :)  Except for the apple peeler, which I've donated since (I prefer a paring knife), I still have the gadgets I bought 17 years ago, and can't even tell you how many times I've made Kelly's Apple Crisp, named for Kelly after being asked so many times, "Mom, will you make my apple crisp?" :)

Perfect for a cool fall day, your home will be filled with the lovely fragrance of the steaming, hot baking apple crisp.  Enjoy as a dessert, brunch, or an accompaniment to your Thanksgiving pumpkin pies!

Until next time…mangia! xox


Kelly's Apple Crisp


4 - 6 (about 3 pounds) granny smith apples (or any preferred cooking apple - I use honey crisp apples)
8 graham crackers (2 1/2 x 5 inch size), finely chopped
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick or old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
whipped cream or ice cream (optional)

Create the Apple Crisp:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Peel, core and slice apples.  Place in deep dish stoneware baker, or pie plate.

2) Finely chop graham crackers, place in a medium size bowl.  Add brown sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon and nutmeg; mix well.  Add melted butter; mix well.

3) Sprinkle graham cracker mixture evenly over apples and pat down into place.  Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Bake 45 minutes; uncover and bake an additional 5-10 minutes or until apples are tender.  Cool slightly; serve warm topped with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Carol's note:
Although baking in the oven gives a crispier topping, this is also delicious cooked in the microwave, especially if you're in a hurry.  Microwave on high 12-15 minutes or until apples are tender, rotating dish after 6 minutes.  As above, cool slightly; serve warm topped with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.  I've baked it both in the oven and microwave, they are equally as delicious!

Prepare apples, mix ingredients, bake and mangia!!!