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Fanatical about Pecorino in Tuscany and Candied Ginger Biscotti Recipe

Fanatical about Pecorino in Tuscany and Candied Ginger Biscotti Recipe
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Incredible cheese platter served at Podere il Casale in Tuscany

 

I’ve been researching all the cool places my husband and I went to while in Tuscany last month. It’s been fun revisiting these photos and reading my diary of our time in a villa in Castiglione di Fiorentino with Famiglia Buccelletti 

We couldn’t have had a better experience. Weeks before our visit we communicated via email with Renee who perfectly planned excursions along with our travel agent and friend Nancy Solomon with #OrindaTravel. Worth mentioning is Ristorante Da Muzzi where we shared an enormous steak cooked over a fire. My husband also loved his pasta shaped like a snail which was served with a tomato cream sauce. The waiter was a little annoyed when I asked for the bill, but I can ignore those moments after tasting their Brunello di montalcino Castello Banfi 2013. It went perfectly with the medium rare steak which they cut off the big hunk of meat before grilling. Awesome. 

 

Besides our amazing Villa, we were directed to Podere il Casale where we had a tour of their farms meeting the many sheep, donkeys, chickens and pigs. Then they took us on a tour of their dairy and shared how they make their sheep and goat’s milk cheeses, specializing in pecorino. I’ve never tasted a bite of cheese better than this in my life. The pecorino was sweet and salty and chewy and hit the taste buds in your tongue in ways I can’t begin to describe. Just go and experience it for yourself. 

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Here are our new friends Julia and Tanna adoring the gorgeous view at Podere il Casale in Tuscany

We met two adorable young professional women Julia and Tana who had joined us on the farm tour for the day. We ate, drank great wine, laughed and shared stories of our time in Tuscany. This farm was their last stop before heading to the airport and flying home, so they were making the most of this experience. 

 

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eggplant parmesean at Podere il casale in Tuscany

 

We ordered one of everything practically, including the eggplant parmigiana appetizer served on toast with ricotta cheese and anchovies. Delish! And our poor waiter could barely understand our order. Eventually, he brought the cheese platter which he didn’t realize our friends had ordered and that was my favorite. It was presented spectacularly with flowers like lavender and herbs, marmalades and fresh organic honey. This restaurant at Podere il Casale is an experience to remember. I highly recommend it. It’s a must see when traveling to Tuscany. Here is a glimpse of their cheese making process.

We had to order all three desserts. They served a goat milk pudding with caramel sauce, an apple cake with ginger and vanilla sauce, and homemade biscotti to die for. Just scrumptious! Here’s my biscotti recipe.

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Here I am with the goats at Podere il Casale in Tuscany

The view is stunning, the setting picturesque and the story of their farm is similar to and reminded me of Apricot Farms on Instagram and “The Biggest Little Farm” Movie. They sell olive oil, wine, cheese, pasta, sugo, pesto and spreads and much much more. You feel like a queen sitting in an outdoor patio drinking wine and relaxing with new friends. Of course, I’ve invited these ladies back to California to stay with us in case they want to go wine tasting in Napa. Since Julia lives in Chicago and Tana lives in Vegas, I’m not sure how soon they will organize a trip. My single son’s Curtis and Andrew can show them around town and we hope they will come.

 

Every day was different because we drove to new towns such as Montalcino, Montepulciano, Siena, and Florence. We ate absolutely everything (the scale doesn’t lie) and walked through piazzas, bottegas (shops), and drank to our hearts content.

 

I’m still learning how to upload movies and photos from Googe Drive. It’s a process writing these blogs. After all , I took over 2000 photos and videos in the two weeks we were in Italy.

Thanks for stopping by and please follow me. I’m honored that so many friends ask me for recommendations on places to stay in Italy, including my doctor at Kaiser Permanente who is going to Tuscany next month. Thank you Dr Young for taking great care of me.

Next time I can share more of our trip, or write about my recent day at Wente Vineyards and restaurant with my niece Marie. We walked through the organic gardens which were chock full of fresh vegetables like green beans, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes. Plus we saw a rattlesnake! It was a sight to see and he wasn’t happy about being put into a large Rubbermaid garbage can to be relocated over the hills in Livermore California. Poor guy.

Enjoy time with loved ones. I’m on my way to my book club which will be held in my friend  Bonnies’ lovely garden patio. It’s truly right out of Sunset Gardens Magazine. Can’t wait. We read Ruth Reichl’s Save me the Plums and I absolutely loved it. Until next time…

 

Teri:)

 

 

 

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Tastes Like Vacation in Carneros and Biscotti

Tastes Like Vacation in Carneros and Biscotti
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Grapes just picked at Heirs of my Dream Winery Sonoma

 

Took a vacation day trip out to the Sonoma area last week. I’ve been wanting to check out the new Hanson Distillery along Hwy 12 in the Carneros Valley for some time. I’ve been passing this place and dying to go in, but I usually have my Dad in the car and he doesn’t want to stop at these places. While out and about, I also had the pleasure of walking around Homewood Winery, Troika Wines, and Ceja Vineyards. Of course I took advantage of checking out Domaine Carneros,  Napa’s Stanly Lane Smokehouse Deli, their pumpkin farm next door, and Starmont Winery and Vineyards.

 

Today’s drive was spontaneous and last minute. Never enough time to schedule a pal to go along with me, so I decided to go by myself. It’s so much fun to explore these hidden gems especially this time of year. The colors are changing on the vines, the weather is cooler, and there is a crisp breeze which makes me want to drive to the wine country.

First was a tour of Heirs of my dream Winery by Ellie. She showed me around the quaint property letting me get a glimpse into her world. I was attracted to this property because I heard a man singing loudly while cleaning out wine barrels. This property is perfect for weddings and parties. Have I mentioned it is brand new? Their website is barely up, but they are doing exciting things.

 

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Gorgeous venue.

 

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Krzystof and Hanson’s vodka

 

Next was a mango, habanero vodka cocktail at Hanson’s Distillery carefully prepared by a Polish guy named Krzystof. I learned all about the Hanson family who are passionate about vodka and originally from Marin. They are the first non-GMO distillery in the US and make their vodka from grapes. They have many flavors: cucumber, ginger, mandarin, habanero, and limited varieties of espresso and boysenberry. The drink was delicious, a bit spicy too because of the habanero vodka and their Tajin Clasico Chili Lime Seasoning rimmed glass. The espresso had a bold rich flavor with notes of chocolate. The property is adorned with a pond and gorgeous romantic trees. It’s quite an experience if you are looking for a fun getaway.

 

On the same estate was Ceja Vineyards, but they were closed. Troika Wines were right next door and were offering tastings, but I had to decline since I was at my limit after drinking the cocktail. Across the road was Homewood Winery, but I chose to move on.

I’ve always wondered what the enormous breathtaking beautiful chateau was that is along Hwy 12 on the hill, and was pleasantly surprised to find Domaine Carneros. Reservations were required, but I was happy enough to walk around the premises. It seemed a bit stuffy for my taste, but I’m sure well worth the tasting if you are looking for sparkling wine and pinot noir.
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Fancy Pumpkins in wheel barrow

On the way back to Hwy 29 on the left was Stanly Lane Smokehouse Deli and I was getting plenty hungry by then. The family run business owned by Wilcoxson’s are best known for their authentic pit smoked meats. Pulled pork, chicken, tri tip and brisket sandwiches are served just to name a few. I didn’t stay, since I was intrigued by their pumpkin farm adjacent to the restaurant. I’m quite the farmer, and appreciate what goes into growing these crops. This atmosphere is family friendly and a must see for locals and travelers alike.

My last stop in the Carneros Valley was paying a visit to the 50 acres of  Starmont Winery and historic Stanly Ranch. Gargantuan eucalyptus trees grace the property which draw you in and make you want to see more. It was quiet yet inviting and a nice place to spend a couple of hours. Since I was driving, I didn’t partake in their tastings, but will go back someday.

I enjoyed my day trip to the Carneros Valley. The habanero vodka cocktail is something I’d like to make for friends in the future. I will probably make one of my famous cheese platters to go with them as well. Included will be my pineapple pepper jelly from my homegrown organic serrano peppers. I also enjoy my blenheim apricot jam to accompany the brie and blue cheese.

So I hope I’ve inspired you to make a trip to the Carneros Valley with a few friends or loved ones. I know I will be finding my way back there soon also. But until then, here is my recipe for ginger, apricot, pistachio biscotti. They are chewy, not like an ordinary biscotti and a real treat.

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Candied Ginger Apricot Pistachio Biscotti

 

Ingredients:

2 C All Purpose Flour

1 C Granulated Sugar

1 tsp Baking Powder

3 eggs

2 T Sambuca (an Italian Licorice flavored liquor)

2 T Grand Marnier

1 tsp Vanilla

1 tsp Anise Extract

1 C whole Pistachios

1 T fresh Orange Zest

1/2 t  Saltverk Licorice Salt (found in iceland) or substitute 1/2 t Kosher

½ C chopped Crystalized Ginger

¾ C Mariani Dried Apricots

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Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line baking sheet w parchment paper or a silpat.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder together in a large size bowl. In another bowl whisk eggs, both liqueurs, vanilla, anise, orange zest and salt.

Add egg mixture to flour mixture and stir until combined. Fold in pistachios, ginger and apricots.

Divide dough in half and transfer onto parchment paper into two 2.5 inch wide logs with floured hands.

Bake until golden in color, firm and dry about 20 minutes.

Remove from pan and slice loaf on a diagonal into ¼ in to ½ in thick slices. Arrange cookies cut side down onto a sheet pan and bake again for about 8 to 10 minutes.

Enjoy! Do you have a favorite biscotti recipe? This is one I’ve adapted from a culinary class taken at Diablo Valley College’s pastry program.

And here is a terrific recipe for scones dipped in dark chocolate.

 

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My Guilty Pleasures: Dark Chocolate Truffles, Magic Cookie Bars and Biscotti

My Guilty Pleasures: Dark Chocolate Truffles, Magic Cookie Bars and Biscotti

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As I’m sitting here writing I decide to check my purse for a little something sweet. I usually have dark chocolate on me at all times. It’s insane, I know. But who doesn’t love chocolate? Instead of eating the Dove miniature that I usually embibe in, I was happy to discover I put some home made chocolate truffles in my purse this morning. My dark chocolate truffles are the perfect treat when you need a little pick me up. They are my “go to” guilty pleasure in a pinch. Recipe here for Ganache

 

Some folks require ice cream to satisfy their cravings, and I’m not opposed to that at all.In fact, a scoop of coffee ice cream with chocolate chunks is just the right amount of sweet and a nice boost in the mid day if you like coffee.

 

Speaking of desserts, I met a few friends last month at a nearby restaurant called Parada. Sharon, Elyse, Linda and I were celebrating Lisa’s birthday during lunch on a quiet Saturday afternoon. I’ve known these women for over 20 years since our kids attended the same elementary school and swim team. We spent time at boy scout outings together camping and hiking. It was nice to get together and share stories, lunch and get caught up.

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The food at Parada was delicious. We shared the roasted chicken, had a few salads and a couple of appetizers. The only disappointment was finding out that they didn’t offer dessert for the birthday girl. What’s up with that? Why would I go back to this restaurant again knowing they choose not to surprise their guests with a little something sweet at the end of their meal? Luckily, I brought everyone individual servings of my magic cookie bar that I had made the night before. You see, my family is not big on chocolate. Hard to believe, huh? So I happened to have a huge pan of these delicious treats to share and celebrate Lisa’s birthday. And I like to get these wonderful goodies out of my house before I eat them myself. Lisa was thrilled!

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Here’s Elyse and Lisa entering the Peruvian Restaurant Parada.
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Magic Cookie Bars

Ingredients:

2 Pkgs of Graham Crackers crushed in food processor

1 stick unsalted butter melted

1 tsp cinnamon

½ C sugar

 

2 Cans Sweetened Condensed Milk

2 C Chocolate Chips High quality like Ghirardelli, Valrhona

1 ½ C Shredded or flaked coconut

1 C toasted and chopped Walnuts

Directions:

Melt butter in small saucepan. Place graham crackers in food processor (or crush in a extra large ziplock bag with a rolling pin). Add sugar and cinnamon to crushed crackers and blend. Add melted butter and blend again.

 

Place mixture in a foil lined or parchment lined 13 X 9 pan. I used a slightly larger pan my Pampered Chef Bar Pan. Smooth. Sprinkle chocolate chips, coconut and walnuts over crust. Pour 2 cans of condensed milk over the top. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30- 40 minutes until brown and bubbly. Cool. Cut into squares and serve warm if possible.

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Bonus Recipe:

My friends on Instagram are waiting for my cranberry orange and pistachio biscotti recipe. I made these crunchy and tart cookies to bring to Tom my step Dad. He has been suffering from the lousy cold that is going around so these cookies are sure to cheer him up. Here’s the recipe:

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Cranberry Orange and Pistachio Biscotti

 

2 C All Purpose Flour

1 C Sugar (Plus 2 T to sprinkle on at end)

1t Baking Powder

3 Eggs

2 T Brandy

2 T Cointreau Liqueur

1 t vanilla

1 t Anise extract

Zest from 1 large Orange

1 C whole fresh cranberries (Can substitute dried)

1 C toasted Pistachios

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix flour sugar and baking powder together in a large bowl.

In medium size bowl, whisk eggs, brandy, cointreau, vanilla, and anise.

Add egg mixture to dry ingredients until combined. Mix in pistachios.

Transfer dough to a prepared lined sheet pan. Shape dough into a 5inch wide and ½ inch high loaf. Sprinkle on 2 T granulated sugar.

Bake until firm and dry about 30 to 35 minutes when it is golden brown.

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Remove pan from oven and slice loaf on a diagonal into ¼ to ½ inch thick slices. Arrange cookies cut side down onto the sheet pan and bake again until golden brown about 7 or 10 minutes. I prefer them not too crunchy, so I don’t bake them too long during the second bake only 7 minutes.

If you have any questions for me or you want to talk about your guilty pleasure, leave me comments below. I’d be honored.

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Day Trip for Bread and Cheese in Freestone California

Day Trip for Bread and Cheese in Freestone California

Spent time up north a few weeks ago at my favorite bakery and cheese shops. I had been there once before with my girlfriend Marie, but this time Ken came with me. I love day trips, and this day out in the country about an hour and and 45 minutes away was perfect.

These are the cheeses I selected. Sooo gooood.
Many fantastic cheeses to choose from at Freestone Artisan Cheese

We headed North West and stumbled upon Valley Ford Creamery first. Ken was reluctant to stop, because it wasn’t our true destination. These are the excursions that I love the most, because you find new fun places to visit. I was excited to see they offered tuna melts, fried cheese curds, grilled cheese served with house pastrami and kimchi, crispy fried chicken and salads. There were beer, wine and cheese flights for sale which I have never heard of. And of course, I missed out on the ice cream cause I didn’t want to spoil our lunch. I ran around and purchased a salami sandwich on ciabatta and various cheeses to go as well as a bag of ice to keep everything cold. The atmosphere was fun and I will definitely go back. Oh. And I saw they sold chocolate and two kinds of biscotti- Dark chocolate and pecan, and almond anise biscotti. Here is my recipe for biscotti

It was delightful to stop at a tiny roadside stand called B-Side Farm. It’s the second time I have come across places to buy fresh flowers along a country road. If you want to buy something, you put the cash or check into a metal cash box and write what you took. Great idea. I grow flowers also, so I realize the skill and patience and love that goes into gardening and farming. Sometimes things don’t grow the way we want them to. I chose two flower arrangements, one for me and one for my mom. They were so beautiful and I was able to put the gorgeous flowers into our water bottles so they wouldn’t dry out.

Offerings at Wild Flour Bakery in Freestone California

Next up was Wild Flour Bread. This place is so popular that they have lines out the door. We were lucky to find they hadn’t yet run out of everything. We purchased their Gouda Flat Bread made with aged gouda, onion and herbs. We also bought Dragon Bread made with jalapeno oil, garlic, cornmeal and polenta. The cookies were all sold out, and they no longer make scones because they can’t find enough employees to make them. So sad. And you must know that they are open limited hours, so check before you make the drive. Of course, everything is sold as “take out” since we are still in the middle of the pandemic. Now the Delta variant is spreading to many parts of the United States, and even though we have been vaccinated, we may become infected. Enough about that.

Off we went to explore Freestone Artisan Cheese which is just around the corner. And yes, by this time we were starving. This place is everything. They have many cheeses for sale along with fancy olive oils from Capay Valley. I picked up the Point Reyes Toma Truffle, the 2019 Arbequina Olive Oil here. I was able to meet the owner Omar Mueller who gave me a map which directed me to many more foodie places to eat at the next time we visit. (I need to find that map!) I got a Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Juice for my husband and a bottle of their sparkling wine, a 2015 Blanc Des Blancs from the Santa Maria Valley in Northern California. It was much cooler there than the East Bay where we live and we were happy to be able to sit at the table behind the shop. We broke open the loaf with gouda, and ate the salami sandwich from Valley Ford Creamery and had a lovely time eating and enjoying the flower and herb garden around us .Isn’t life grand? We saved the cheese for later when I would make pizzas with the basil pesto curds. Curds are like mozzarella and go great with bread.  I made toast with the farmers cheese and served with my apricot jam on the Dragon jalapeno bread and fresh scrambled eggs from the chickens. So yummy.

Thank you for reading my blog and stopping by. I hope you are staying cool in this end of July heat. Until next time.

 

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Year in Review and Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Recipe

Year in Review and Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Recipe

Here’s the latest on what’s going on in my life lately, and I will share a delicious Millionaire Shortbread Bar recipe. My husband is still working from home. It has been a year and a month since the pandemic hit and the world changed. I will attempt to describe how things have been during this challenging time and how life has changed, maybe for the better.

Here are my girlfriends waiting for me to come say hi.

First of all, I have chickens. They are five months old now and quite a handful. I’ve enjoyed spending mornings and evenings with them just hanging out with them in their chicken run. They like to be cuddled and love it when I’m around bringing them treats. They have been my saving grace while stuck at home.

Last week’s hike up Bollinger Canyon “Devils Hole” Part of Las Trampas Regional Wilderness in California

As far as the community goes, I hike occasionally with friends, and love every minute of it. In fact, I should be out there on Las Trampas with them now, but decided to hang back and write a blog instead. We don’t entertain as much, but when we do, we really love having people over. I love to cook and bake, so sharing meals has been a passion and a gift I love to give to others. 

Some people are more careful than others as far as Covid 19 goes. One friend wouldn’t hike until she was fully vaccinated, yet others are more comfortable getting together in groups. When my hiking friends celebrate birthdays, we meet at a park, bring our own food and visit. It is lovely to interact and see people more. 

Yesterday, I met two hiking friends in Benicia for lunch. Suzette initiated it and also invited Marianne to join us. We ate inside in a large dining room and I felt fairly comfortable. Tomorrow, it will be two weeks since my second Pfizer vaccination. My husband gets his second Moderna vaccination today. Lunch at Ciao Bella was lovely and I’m grateful for days spent outside my house. 

Mostly, I’ve been working in my garden the last year. I experimented with growing corn, composting, vermiculture, and growing seeds and cover crops.  I chose not to hike today because I have about 20 more tomato and vegetable plants that I need to get into the raised beds. It stresses me out to have them waiting for me. I know. It sounds crazy, but these plants are like my babies. My hikes can wait.

After lunch yesterday, I drove to REI to buy new hiking shoes. I have so many holes in my current ones, that I have no choice but to get new ones. The whole experience was anxiety provoking. First, you are met at the door and asked to use hand sanitizer. Then there are arrows on the floor showing where you are allowed to walk. The nice greeter told me the shoes were located up the stairs, so I headed in that direction. Instead of picking up a shoe and choosing which one I wanted to try on, the whole area was roped off. An employee was guarding the shoes and asked me qualifying questions to see what kind of shoe I was looking for. 

Seriously, this guy was trying to visit with me and ask me personal questions while I was trying on shoes. So awkward. I just wanted to get the damn shoes and get out of there. It was strange to have this guy watching me try on every shoe. I kind of wanted a little privacy, you know? Maybe that’s weird. But anyway, I have bad feet and having the correct shoe is important, so it’s a serious matter for me. And I really didn’t want to tell the guy my kids ages. It always freaks people out when I tell them that I have a 36 year old son and a 28 year old son. Then I feel old because they are grown men now. Ugh. In any case, of course they never have my size, blah blah blah. Eventually, the two of them, yes now there was another salesman, brought me a pair that fit. Of course, they tried to get me to sign up for the club, so I could get a 10% discount and be able to return my shoes if there is a problem. No thank you. I hate sharing my email, so they can send me spam.

Of course, I had to check to see if Krispy Kreme Donuts drive through had any warm out of the fryer yummies. Nope. So I passed on that. 

So maybe it wasn’t that unusual of a shoe buying experience, but it feels weird getting out and leaving the house. Other than shopping for food, and getting my hair done, I rarely go anywhere. My husband Ken and I like to hike or go on bike rides into Danville. Sometimes we get food to go, but I usually cook. Last night, I heated up leftover beef pot roast, roasted carrots and potatoes for dinner. We watched a little TV and called it a night.

This morning, I will get the rest of the tomato plants into the ground before it gets too hot. It’s only mid April, but Northern California weather can change quickly and become hot and dry. In case you wondered where I buy my plants from, I go to the Contra Costa Master Gardeners website and buy from The Great Tomato Sale. Each plant is $4.00 each and they have a wide variety of peppers, herbs, squash and tomatoes. I always get extra, since they don’t all survive. I bought 17 tomato plants, lemon cucumber, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, basil, 3 types of kale, two types of lettuce, 6 pepper plants. We have critters that eat everything around here. My husband routinely traps moles, gophers, rats and mice. The owls and frogs sing to us at night. It truly is a magical place. Here’s a post about a farm in Tuscany

Here is one of my favorite treats that you can make ahead. They are rich and decadent and you only need a small piece to satisfy your sweet tooth. This recipe makes a lot, so you can share with neighbors and friends.

Millionaire Caramel Shortbread Bars

Shortbread Ingredients:

1C. Cold Unsalted Butter cut into chunks

¼ C (32g) Cornstarch

1 ¾ C (219g) All Purpose Unbleached Flour (could substitute rice flour to make gluten free)

1/3C (73g) Granulated Sugar 

⅓ C Light Brown Sugar

1 Lg egg yolk

¾ t vanilla extract

½ t Maldon Salt

Caramel Ingredients:

2 14oz cans sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated)

14T (198g) Unsalted butter cut into chunks

1 C (200g) Light Brown Sugar (Packed)

⅓ C (80ml) Light Corn Syrup

1 t vanilla extract

¼ t Maldon Salt

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients:

2 C (340g) SemiSweet Chocolate Chips

½ C Heavy Cream

1 t Vanilla extract

½ t Sea Salt (to sprinkle over bars)

Shortbread Crust Directions:

Preheat Oven to 350 degreesF (180degreesC).

Line a 17X11.5 Pampered Chef Bar Pan or Sheet pan with parchment paper. Can use a square baking pan. Bars will be thicker.

In a Cuisinart or large bowl Mix sugar, flour,cornstarch, butter, egg yolk, vanilla and salt until combined.

Press into the pan until even. 

Bake for approximately 20-30 minutes or until light brown.

Set aside to cool.

Caramel Directions:

In a medium size heavy pot, place 2 cans sweetened condensed milk, butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and whisk continuously on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes until caramel reaches 230 degrees with a candy thermometer. This process takes time. Don’t walk away or stop stirring. Add vanilla and salt and pour onto the shortbread crust. Spread evenly. Place in the fridge or let cool a bit before topping with ganache.

Chocolate Ganache

Heat heavy cream in a heavy small to medium size pot until almost boiling. Add chocolate and vanilla and stir until melted.

Pour onto caramel shortbread and spread evenly. Sprinkle with sea salt and cool in the fridge.

Cut the bars into squares and serve. This recipe can be made ahead and the bars will freeze for up to 3 months, but they won’t last that long. 

Enjoy!

Thanks for reading and I appreciate your feedback. How has this last year been for you? Have you had a similar shopping experience that you want to share? 

Teri

 

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Lifetime Pursuit of Gelato While Touring Italy and an Apricot Shortbread Recipe

Lifetime Pursuit of Gelato While Touring Italy and an Apricot Shortbread Recipe

 

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The best part of visiting #Venice is riding on a gondola

I’m excited to write again. I’ve been traveling in Italy for the past couple of weeks on vacation with my husband. We celebrated our thirty year wedding anniversary there and I didn’t bring my computer to write a new blog while away. But don’t worry, I did plenty of research eating and drinking my way through Venice, Rome, and Tuscany. Today, I will share a story or two about the Italian people we met, the food we ate, specifically the gelato, and reveal my apricot sable cookie recipe.

It’s honestly so hard to decide where to begin. We ate the best gelato, pasta, pastries and coffee of our lives. I had to stop in just about every patisserie or chocolate shop wherever we walked. My poor husband would wait outside and fiddle with his camera or people watch while I was picking out the best treat to fill our bellies so we could keep up with the next destination.

Can I first give a shout out to our travel agent and friend Nancy Solomon with Orinda Travel? Nancy led our last trip to Iceland which was phenomenal and was instrumental in making our anniversary in Italy memorable. We can’t thank her enough for the perfect itinerary, excellent hotels, delicious food and farm tours, and making all the plane reservations and Vatican, Statue of David, and Colosseum tickets. We basically handed over our credit card and she planned every detail for us. Nancy asked all the right questions and I wouldn’t hesitate to use her services again.  This adventure was personalised so that we could relax and enjoy each other. It was a trip of a lifetime and ultimately the most romantic vacation that we’ve ever been on.

My husband and I agree that we ate the best breakfasts at the Michelin rated restaurant at  Hotel Ai Reali in Venice and we ate the best pizza and gelato in Rome. Since this was our first time in Venice, we were blown away by all the superb breakfast options to choose from. There were mini pancakes which popped out of a machine made on the spot and all of the different toppings like crema di nocciole (hazelnut spread), sciroppo d’acero (maple syrup), miele di acacia (acacia honey), jams from every fruit possible like orange marmalade, triple berry, strawberry, apricot and sour cherry my favorite. Delish.

 

Ai Reali Restaurant served many baked goods like a plum cake, crostata, heart shaped gingerbread cookies, orange cake, donuts, muffins, croissants, and freshly baked breads of all kinds. There was a cheese and charcuterie platter, fresh greens with olive oil and balsamic, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage, fresh fruit, yogurt and more. I had a glass of prosecco and cappuccino before we left for the day with coppa, salumi, ham and cheese croissant sandwiches which sustained us when we got hungry in the afternoon. 

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The sandwiches I made from our breakfast spread at Hotel Ai Reali in Venice.

The art in our hotel in Venice was colorful and inviting, many pieces made with murano glass from Vetreria Artistica a Murano Glass Factory in Venezia. Spectacular.

 

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Poli Distillerie in Venice

We also made it to Poli Distillerie where I sampled  grappa, sambuca (a licorice liquor), limoncelli and who knows what else. This place was cool and trendy. I had never sampled grappa before, so why not embibe in Venice before exploring St. Mark’s Square and Basilica?  I couldn’t stay long because my husband was yet again, waiting outside, but had time to purchase a few gifts for my boys. Ken doesn’t drink, so it was not the best time to learn about Poli and what they offer. I’ve never seen it sold in America, but that’s not saying much since I don’t shop for hard alcohol and liqueurs often. I’m known for stopping at distilleries in Sonoma

 

Can we talk about the worst experience we had in Venice? This happened after our gondola ride. We finally had our fabulous gondola ride, which I had to talk my way into  because my husband always wanted to save money and walk everywhere. The gondolier warned to only eat at the restaurants that had small menus. He was from Venice and seemed to know what he was talking about and it makes sense after all. So after he recommended Hosteria Al Vecio Bragosso and we saw the extended menu, I was perplexed. 

 

This waiter didn’t like me in the least and came back 6 times in 10 minutes, which just pissed me off. He acted irritated with me the whole evening, and eventually had another waiter check on us. He even brought me Chardonnay after I asked for Pinot Grigio! I was afraid of having frozen fish, like the gondolier had warned us about, so I eventually ordered pasta with Bolognese sauce and it was just fine. 

 

We even had a guy selling roses at this same restaurant who came by the table and asked me if I wanted a rose. I said, “no” and he scurried away. A little later, the same guy basically handed me the rose, then came back later and asked my husband for money to pay for it. Such a scam. But we had experiences like this in Thailand, which tainted our time there, and yet we completely understand that these locals have to make a buck and see us Americans as easy money.

 

On the fourth day, we took a train to Rome and made it to the Palazzo Navona Hotel to settle in. We had dinner at Lion, a contemporary Italian Restaurant and Cocktail Bar located across the street. Lion was the swankiest restaurant we have ever eaten at. It was bright cobalt blue with geometric floor tiles, fancy cocktails and a smart vibe. We ate oysters, grilled octopus, beef tartare, and a puffed polenta with cod cooked perfectly. Their country style bread, olive oil and balsamic didn’t disappoint. We ended our meal with a caffe corretto cappuccino, chocolate and peanut truffle and a passion fruit gelee which I think was complimentary. It was quite the culinary experience being in extraordinary Rome, Italy for the first time. 

 

But that meal wasn’t our favorite while tasting what Rome has to offer. Grano Frutta e Farina had the best pizza. I had the funghi porcini-tartufo and Ken had zucchine pesto pinoli. We were always starving after walking for miles around the Colosseum, the Sistine Chapel and we went into every basilica we walked by. Incredible.

 

 

On to the gelato. My very first experience tasting gelato was at Venchi in Venice near St. Mark’s Square. Oh my! I was so excited to see this chocolate gelato shop also known as #cioccogelateria in Italian. I was asking Tomazzo questions about his favorite chocolates to get the inside scoop. My husband and I shared a cup with two different flavors and I honestly can’t remember which flavor I had. I do remember how they line the paper cup with the most delicious liquid dark chocolate and dessicated coconut before they add the gelato. And it’s the dreamiest sweet treat after walking for hours in the humidity and 90 plus degree weather. I can’t understand why the US hasn’t picked up on this concept. Because after you hold the cup of gelato in your warm hands, the chocolate on the bottom of the cup melts, and after your last taste of the cold gelato, you get this incredibly rich spoonful or two of dark melted chocolate and coconut. It’s my all time favorite treat, and that is saying a lot.

 

I will end today’s blog with these pictures and fond memories of our time in Venice and Rome. There is much much more to share, but this will suffice for now. I think I took over 1000 photos, so it has been somewhat overwhelming getting my ideas and photos in order. Now it’s time to find a good gelato spot in  Northern California. Help a girl out here. Any one know of one?

 

Thanks for stopping by and reading my latest post. I’m honored to be able to share by travel and food experiences with you and am happy to leave you with my shortbread recipe. 

 

Shortbread Cookies

Ingredients:

2 Cups Unsalted Butter

1 Cup granulated Sugar

4 Cups Bread Flour

1 Cup Cake Flour

½ teaspoon vanilla bean

¼ teaspoon Kosher Salt

1 Tablespoon Saltwerk Licorice Salt (Bought in Iceland)

 

Directions:

Cream butter, add sugar gradually and cream well. Add both flours, vanilla, and salts and mix well in a standard mixer. 

 

I use round cut outs used for biscuits in varying sizes to get desired outcome. 

 

Bake on a parchment lined sheet pan in a preheated oven at 350 degrees until done and slightly browned on edges about 9 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

 

Fill with apricot jam, or whichever filling you prefer. Serve right away with your favorite tea or coffee.

 

 

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Smoke This, a CBD Donut you can’t Resist and a Buckwheat Blueberry Pancake Recipe

Smoke This, a CBD Donut you can’t Resist and a Buckwheat Blueberry Pancake Recipe

Today’s blog will be all about Portland’s popular #cannabis scene and everything I learned about edibles. I will also explain how I was inspired to apply to a baking competition. Blogging is my all time favorite past time, but my first love has always been baking. That’s why I include some of my favorite recipes here. Just last week I saw a post on Paul Hollywood’s Instagram about an amateur baking show looking for someone who can bake exceptional cakes and perfect pastries. That’s me! Included is a #Buckwheat Pancake Recipe which I know you will love.

https://letsmakemudpies.wordpress.com

My son Andrew’s version of BCP Banana Cream Pie and here is him singing at his Taekwondo School

 

So I put my priorities in place, and applied to the #GreatAmericanBakingShow. I’m so excited, even though I haven’t been contacted yet. The possibility of being on TV and baking in front of judges blows my mind. I decided it was time to extend myself and try something a little out of reach. Why not do what scares you most?

 

Everyone who knows me has tried convincing me to bake  professionally, yet I’ve never listened. I’ve always enjoyed baking as a hobby. Well, now I’ve gone and put myself out there. Who knows what will happen next?

In the meantime, I will write about my surprise visit a few weeks ago to Electric Lettuce Recreational Dispensary in Portland Oregon.

Here’s the story-

After I parked my rental car, I walked towards Woodblock Chocolate where my Nines Hotel concierge directed me too. I had every intention of walking into the chocolate factory, but this other attractive building caught my eye. The outside sign said “Electric Lettuce,” and as an avid gardener I had to check it out.

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Colorful Artsy building attractive to newcomers

You can imagine my surprise when I found a cannabis dispensary inside. It couldn’t hurt to look around, take a few photos and see what all the hoopla is all about. I had to show my license before I stepped in to make sure I was over 18 I guess. The employees were welcoming and helpful answering any questions I had. Looking back, my siblings and I were always surrounded by second hand smoke, especially on long car rides to visit our grand parents. So I never took up smoking as a teenager. And I still can’t stand being around some one who is smoking.

Electric lettuce sold everything from T Shirts and hats, to tinctures and tonics. They sold a probiotic soda called Gold Dragon Ginger Ale, a sparkling beverage called Legal Hybrid made with cannabis-infused Rainier Cherry or a Lemon Ginger, Magic Number Ginger Beer and Gentle Giant– a type of weed that you drink. Or you could buy edibles such as Titan’s Kind Chocolate Chunk Sandwich Cookies, or Wyld edible gummies in raspberry, huckleberry, marionberry, pomegranate and strawberry flavors. They sold tart cherry, lemon ginger, strawberry basil, triple berry, or spicy passion fruit Gumdrops made by Serra that were infused in cannabis. Each variety had a description of how many milligrams of THC and CBD were in each candy. They also offered easy, groovy, cosmic or mellow as descriptions as to how each candy would make you feel after consuming it. There were so many tempting options to choose from.

 

I could have tried their bean to bar Chocolate bar made exclusively with Woodblock Chocolate, CBD and THC but I didn’t feel adventurous enough. If chocolate wasn’t your thing, you could buy cannabis filled Caramels. The Stumptown Coffee Caramel candy had 50mg THC and was made by Serra. Woodblock Chocolate Caramels had 50mg CBD and 25mg THC and another variety was even stronger and sprinkled with Jacobsen Sea Salt another local Portland Company.

 

 


This is what I learned from one of the flyers on display:

CBD (Cannabidiol) is known as a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. It helps balance the psychoactive effects of THC, offers antioxidant properties, helps ease inflammation, reduces anxiety, can promote cardiovascular health and can comfort effects from neurological disorders.

 

THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is responsible for the psychoactive or “high” feeling a person gets from using cannabis. The most common effects felt will be euphoria and relaxation. The benefits of THC include relief from chronic pain, inflammation, insomnia and migraines. This drug suppresses nausea yet encourages appetite. Some suggest it helps patients with their mental health. People  that suffer from depression and PTSD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder might benefit from this drug.

The Entourage Effect is a synergistic reaction in the body when a person consumes THC and CBD. Even though it isn’t clinically proven this combination can help people experiencing anxiety.

The Cannabis plant consumption can be dated back to  2700 BC in China and India. They believed this plant could be used for its anti inflammation properties and to treat disorders such as nausea, seizures, pain and spasms.

 

I kept taking pictures of my surroundings while plenty of customers made purchases and knew exactly what they wanted. I was still trying to figure out what everything was. Avitas and PRUF Cultivar make cartridges filled with extracts like Lemon Meringue, Oregon pinot, Orange Thai, and one named ACDC. I also saw varieties called Timberline Haze, Tangie Biscotti, Blue Dream and G Krush all made with different percentages of CBD with or without THC. It’s all a mystery to me, but it sure sounds like dessert. These guys are marketing geniuses!

I have to admit it was tempting to bring some home to gift my mom who has cancer, but it wasn’t worth the risk getting thrown in jail trying to get on a plane back to California.

A few more interesting pot company names worth mentioning are Geek Farms, White Label Extracts, and Willamette Valley Alchemy but I think I’m just scratching the surface.

Remember pop rocks? Well now Leif Goods makes a product called Junk Dynamites which is a watermelon flavor exploding candy that sizzles in your mouth. Yuck! I can’t stand watermelon candy. I ate a ton of watermelon gum at a baseball game when I was little and now feel sick to my stomach whenever someone is chewing that flavor of gum around me. Leif Goods also makes a vegan friendly confection called Junk Marshmallow Bon-Bons. Anything with marshmallow in it sounds like the perfect treat. They have thought of  everything!

 

Portland has seen a huge revival in small craft distilleries as well as taking the lead into bringing cannabis into plain sight. I was surprised to see Blue Star Donuts proudly displaying weed in their breakfast treats.

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I’m thinking. Should I eat a donut with CBD in it? Yes I should

My first time experiencing a Blue Star CBD chocolate hazelnut custard donut was the next morning when I went to visit the Multnomah Village in Portland. I made sure that I didn’t drive right away after I ate it just in case I was feeling different. To be honest, I didn’t feel remarkably different which was a good thing. The flavor was outstanding and the crumbly crunchy outside was so good, you wanted another. Good thing I bought three more (without CBD) which included an orange olive oil one, an apple cider fritter and a lemon poppy buttermilk donut. And believe me, I wanted to eat all of them, but I saved a few tastes for my husband when he came back from work.

 

Even Prosperity Pie Shop advertised adding 10mg of CBD to any drink for $3.00. You could try their peanut butter chocolate, banana chocolate, key lime, chocolate cream or the gluten free vegan, nut free chocolate bliss pie. I had my fill of sweets for the day, but it was a nice place to hang out.

Let me conclude by neither condemning or condoning the consumption of cannabis. It’s a personal choice just like drinking alcohol is. I can’t say I’m a huge fan since my experience is limited, but either way I got an education on the subject for sure and I hope I’ve entertained you a little at least.

 

So if you are ever planning a trip to Portland, make sure to check out all of these interesting places. Whether you decide to try an edible at Electric Lettuce, or eat a CBD filled donut at Blue Star,  or hang out at one of the 50 craft distilleries, I know you will have a good time. Or go visit  Powell’s City of books megastore. The kids will be entertained at Finnegan’s Toy Store where you can buy anything from kites to nerdy science kits. They have it all.

 

Be sure to check out my next post which will be all about ice cream in Portland. Yes, I tasted those too and I can share the scoop on the best boozy ice cream cocktails like cherry bourbon at Fifty Licks.

 

I need to get this blog posted, so I will add the recipe for banana cream pie a little later. Hope you enjoy and thanks for reading. Please follow me by subscribing to my blog. You will get an email when I post my next write up. And hopefully you will see me on The Great American Baking Show. Keep your fingers crossed.

Here’s a new Buckwheat Blueberry Pancake recipe I made last week for my family. It was a huge hit and I will be making them again soon. Love trying new recipes and making healthy breakfasts. You will want to make it too! Buckwheat flour was found at Berkeley Bowl Grocery Store in their bin section. Now that I have purchased a grain mill from #Mocksmill I will be making more baked goods.

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Buckwheat Blueberry Pancakes with butter and maple syrup

Buckwheat Blueberry Pancakes

 

Ingredients:

1 C Buckwheat Flour

1 C All Purpose Unbleached Flour

1/4 teas Baking Soda

1 teas Baking Powder

1 teas Kosher Salt

⅓ C Granulated Sugar

 

1 T Molasses

3/4 C warm Milk

3 T Plain Yogurt

1 t Active Dry Yeast

1 t Honey

½ C warm water

4 T Melted Unsalted Butter

2 Whole Eggs

1 C Fresh Blueberries

½ C Sourdough Starter

1 teas Vanilla

Canola Oil for frying

Extra butter for Serving

Maple syrup

 

Directions:

In a medium size bowl, mix buckwheat flour, all purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt,and sugar.

In a small bowl, mix warm water, dry yeast and honey and let sit on the counter until bubbly. 

 

In a small pot on the stove, warm milk and melt butter together. Cool. Add molasses and yogurt to the pot and set aside.

 

Crack eggs into a small bowl and stir.

 

Place dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, pour cooled milk and butter into the bowl. Add eggs, add bowl of bubbly yeast, sourdough starter and mix until combined, being careful to not over mix. Fold in blueberries.

 

Heat a large non stick skillet on medium heat. Pour a tablespoon of canola oil into the pan. Using a measuring cup, scoop batter and pour onto a hot pan. Flip when bubbles disappear and the pancakes are light brown.

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Buckwheat Pancakes with blueberries. They are sweet and nutty

Heat oven to 200 degrees. Place a sheet pan in the oven with a wire rack on top. Put cooked pancakes into the oven as they are ready. Serve with butter and maple syrup. Makes enough for 3-4 people. 

Thanks again for reading my blog. Hope you get a chance to comment below and share this blog with your friends and family. Maybe you will run across buckwheat at the store and be inspired to make pancakes. Love to you all.

Teri:)

 

 

 

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The Power of Family, Long Lasting Friendships and Cheesecake

The Power of Family, Long Lasting Friendships and Cheesecake

I am touched beyond belief at what my cousin’s best friend did for her wedding in Kona Hawaii this week. Sandy made 35 individually wrapped gorgeous cheesecakes to give out as thank you gifts for the guests attending the wedding. The thoughtfulness does not go unnoticed by someone like me who appreciates what goes into baking a decadent dessert like this. They also served Sandy’s prize worthy cheesecakes instead of a traditional wedding cake and they were divine!

She prepared three flavors: an orange ginger, a liliko’i (passion fruit) and coconut, and a rich dark chocolate Valrohna https://www.valrhona-chocolate.com/ variety as well. Sandy has perfected these recipes over several years and has wanted to start her own cheesecake business. And she should. These are incredibly rich, yet light and they each have their own special flavored graham cracker crust.

The wedding took place near bungalows right next to the ocean. You felt like you were on a movie star’s back yard lawn that had the perfect view of the ocean. One of my cousins walked down the black lava rock to get a closer look of the sea turtles who had found a cozy spot in the reef below us. During the ceremony you could see two turtles floating around like they were listening to us up above. It was the most romantic and beautiful evening that I have ever experienced.

The yard was adorned with hanging lights which kept us aware of our surroundings as well as the gorgeous table decorations that included white lily’s and jade flowers and candles. The open bar was serving beer, wine, Mai Tai’s and mouth watering margarita’s.

The food was a surf and turf: Pan seared kampachi a local fish,  Maui onion mashed potatoes, mac nut crusted local catch, a braised beef tenderloin and chimichurri and ginger miso sauce. The food was delicious and exciting.

Yet, I am still in disbelief at the care and compassion that went into these cheesecakes. It was the perfect wedding dessert. Linda and Sandy have known each other for 34 years, meeting when they were 24 years old. This long time friendship is easy to relate to as I have friends that I have known for the same amount of time. The most adorable thing to observe from a distance.

My husband was unable to be here with me this trip because of his work schedule and I am grateful that he convinced me to come without him. The wedding was extra special also because the brides father, my uncle Joe was here with us as we almost lost him a year and a half ago when he had a hernia surgery. Here is my uncle Joe explaining how the mafia got it’s name. Also, my mother was able to be here in the fragile condition that she is in surviving a multiple myeloma diagnosis 3 years ago.

My heart is full of gratitude for my family and the love we share, long lasting friendships and the ever so thoughtful gift of cheesecakes. And here is my blog about my recent trip to Tuscany and a biscotti recipe.

Aloha and Mahalo

 

Check out this previous post that includes a blueberry cheesecake bar recipe

http://letsmakemudpies.blogspot.com/2014/08/need-vacation-avoid-als-icebucket.html?m=1

 

Also please leave comments below about your favorite wedding experience and if you have been to Kona Hawaii. Would love to hear from you!

 

Teri:)

 

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