Vermont Concert & Zeppole

March 31st, 2011 / comments 7

We had plans with our Vermont friend, Jim, when we returned to Ortigia on Friday. Jim leaves Thetford every January to spend four months in Ortigia. He had guests visiting from Norwich, Vermont and they arrived at our apartment at six for music, conversation, wine and tasty bits from the market. Marcia Cassidy and her son David Horak brought their violins and treated us to a concert of Vivaldi, Bartok and other classical violin duets. The music was divine.

I suggested that they play for the vendors at Cappuccio’s fish stall on Saturday. Angelo Cappuccio, a Sicilian with a warm smile, a cigarette in his mouth and a huge cleaver in his hand, loves music. I promised David a bowl of Italian donuts if he played at the market. He said, “Sure. Why not?” We agreed to meet in the market at noon for a Vermont Violin Concert.

Vermont concert1 Vermont Concert & Zeppole

Angelo Cappuccio in yellow apron enjoys Violin Duets

David and Marcia were splendid, Angelo beamed, the crowd applauded and cheered. It was a perfect time at the market and there were zeppole to follow.

zepole ingredients Vermont Concert & Zeppole

Ricotta, egg and orange rind ready to mixed together to make zeppole.

Here’s how I made sweet, puffy, ricotta based, deep-fried Italian donuts for the after the concert treat:

… read more

Cinnamon Memories

February 17th, 2011 / comments 2

Cinnamon is nearly everywhere. In bakeries, donut shops, food courts along interstate highways and hints for selling a house include putting an apple pie in the oven when prospective buyers are expected. Cinnamon reminds people of home, mom and apple pie.

house c egbert Cinnamon Memories Cinnamon reminds me of Saturday’s spent in a neighbor’s kitchen when I was ten. Ruby and her husband Russ lived next door and their home was my Saturday haven. Their house was identical to mine but, since they had no children, the second bedroom was the violet room. The two tables in front of the window were covered with pots of African violets. Ruby showed me how to water them without getting the leaves wet and how to create a new plant with a single leaf. She made pies from scratch, mostly apple, and when she finished making the pie she would gather the extra bits of dough into a ball and put it into the fridge to chill while we took care of the violets. When we returned to the kitchen, she would tie an apron around my waist, so that I could make cinnamon treats that we would share as a mid-afternoon treat. Here’s how I made them: … read more

Yeast Raised Donuts

February 9th, 2011 / comments 4

Donut is one of those words that brings smiles.

coffe pot c egbert Yeast Raised DonutsThe promise of a twist of dough, a disc of dough or an iconic donut shaped piece of dough, fried and filled or dusted was tempting enough to pull twenty-five people from their cozy warm beds to an early morning meeting. Last Saturday was the second breakfast meeting at our church for slow conversations to talk about how we engage with one another and the wider community.

We arrived early to help get breakfast ready so that the meeting could begin at eight. Charles suggested that the tables be put together to form a square donut.  Perhaps it was the bowl of donut dough we had brought that had inspired the table arrangement. We covered the tables with an assortment of table cloths including a couple that had been embroidered by my Nana and then went to work on the promised donuts.

I had put the donut dough together the night before so that the yeast would have enough time to grow and make the donuts rise. Here’s how I did it: … read more

Cardamom Buns – Better than facebook!

January 12th, 2011 / Comments 0

The first time I tasted cardamom, it was the spice that scented sweet breakfast bread that a friend had baked. I was twenty-four, living in a fourth floor walk-up apartment on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, D.C. My nearest neighbor and close friend Char and her husband, Rob, lived  next-door. Our kitchens opened onto the same fire escape.

capu mug c egbert Cardamom Buns   Better than facebook!

Char had a way with spices. She brought whole cloves, allspice and cardamom across the fire escape and into my kitchen. When my apartment was filled with the smell of burned popcorn, Char suggested that I simmer a tablespoon of mixed pickling spices in a saucepan of water to get rid of the smell. She served hot tea with lime slices that were dotted with whole cloves. Slow cooked, steel cut oats topped with heavy cream and brown sugar tasted even better when she sprinkled freshly ground allspice on top. I have whole cloves, allspice and mixed pickling spices in my pantry and use them all, but it was the scent and flavor of cardamom that made me remember Char when I made a batch of cardamom buns last weekend. Here’s how I did it: … read more

Vanilla Sugar & Label to Download

December 8th, 2010 / comments 2

This has been vanilla week in my kitchen. Often, vanilla is used as an adjective to describe something that is plain, ordinary or uninteresting, but vanilla week has been creative, exciting and tasty. I’ve made vanilla sugar and vanilla extract to give as gifts this Christmas. They both need time for the flavor to develop so the timing was perfect.

vanilla sugar Vanilla Sugar & Label to Download

Vanilla begins as the seedpod of an orchid native to Mexico. Conquistador was my sister’s favorite word, and I remember when she told me that it was a conquistador, Hernan Cortes, who brought both chocolate and vanilla to Europe in the sixteenth century after observing Montezuma drink a mixture made with cocoa beans, vanilla and honey.

Vanilla grows as a vine with white flowers. The Melipona bee, the only insect that pollinates vanilla, is native to Central America, and so when grown in the tropics anywhere else in the world, vanilla must be pollinated by hand. Vanilla flowers last only one day and growers inspect their plantations every day for open flowers. The beans, actually seedpods formed by the pollinated flowers, are harvested by hand and then cured in a four-step process. The first step, wilting the vanilla beans, is done either by a quick dip in hot water, by freezing, or by heating in an oven or in the sun. Step two, sweating, consists of wrapping the beans in woolen blankets and baking them in the tropical sun. The beans are then dried to prevent rotting and to lock in the aroma. The final step, conditioning, is achieved by storing the beans in closed boxes for a few months. The intensity of labor required to grow and cure vanilla makes it the second most expensive flavoring after saffron.Vanilla sugar brings flavor and aroma to coffee and hot chocolate, is delicious when used to sweetened oatmeal, can be sprinkled on fresh berries or on fruit before it is baked. It’s an easy way to add flavor to meringues, marshmallows or custard and is a gift that makes both cooks and non-cooks happy. The six jars I made will be ready by Christmas. Here’s how I did it: … read more

Not a Reddi Wip Chocolate Birthday Cake!

December 1st, 2010 / comments 7

When I was a child, a red and white aerosol can of Reddi-wip often appeared with dessert. White fluff spurted out when I pushed the nozzle. It was fun to dispense it directly from the can into my mouth, it was great ammunition in a food fight and its appearance promised that dessert would be either an ice cream sundae or a slice of pumpkin pie.

reddi wip Not a Reddi Wip Chocolate Birthday Cake!

Invented in 1948, it uses nitrous oxide as a propellant for a mixture of cream, sweeteners and stabilizers and was a definite step up from its predecessor, a cream substitute made with vegetable oil, called Sta-Whip.

The chocolate whipped-cream cake I chose from an upscale bakery for my seventh birthday was my cream epiphany. It was covered with real whipped cream, without nitrous oxide, corn syrup, artificial flavor, monoglycerides, or carrageen. I’m not implying that at seven I was an informed foodie, however, even then I knew that heavy cream, beaten until stiff with was sublime.

pink beater c egbert Not a Reddi Wip Chocolate Birthday Cake!

Since that birthday, if a chocolate cake isn’t frosted with real whipped cream, I don’t think it deserves to be called a birthday cake. As a young cook, the birthday cakes I made began as a cake mix, but as a young mother I decided that my sons deserved birthday cakes made from scratch. Our family’s traditional birthday cake is a rum infused, dark chocolate cake, slathered with whipped cream. The cream is still whipped by hand, but now I use a wire whisk instead of the hand-cranked mixer I used as a child.

Sunday will be my younger son’s birthday. If Matthew were living on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, I would make his birthday cake rather than sending this to his wife.

Dear Alison,

Here’s the recipe for Matthew’s birthday cake: … read more

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