Chili Mostaccioli

Mostaccioli, known in Italy as ‘penne lisce’, are a specialty of the Campania Region in Southern Italy, which includes the cities of Naples, Capri and Sorrento. This pasta is smooth in texture, tube-shaped with angled ends cut to resemble a quill or pen point.

Without realizing it, the pasta shape we choose plays an important role in the outcome of the dish. Long or short, smooth or ridged, thick or thin, with or without curves and crevices, different shapes of pasta capture sauce differently.

Shaped pastas pair well with sauces that have some texture. The crevices and twists will give pieces of meat and veggies a place to nestle into.

Short tubular pastas are great for sauces that are thick and chunky.

Long, thin, dried pasta need lots of lubrication. Olive-oil based sauces will coat, but not drown the pasta. The thicker pasta, like fettuccine can stand up to cream sauces and ragus. If your adding vegetables or herbs, cut them string-like rather than in cubes for ease in blending them.

This is a quick, low-cost meal but has good flavor.

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Chili Mostaccioli
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Instructions
  1. In a bowl, combine meat, milk, crumbs, garlic, onion & seasonings; shape into 4-5 oblong patties. In a skillet, brown patties in hot oil. Remove to drain on paper towel.
  2. Drain any liquid from skillet & wipe with paper towel. In the skillet, combine soup with water & bring to a simmer. Add meat patties; gently simmer, covered for about 10 minutes then add drained & rinsed kidney beans. Simmer 5 more minutes until beans are hot.
  3. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Place on a large warm serving platter. Arrange patties over mostaccioli pasta. Pour sauce over meat & pasta; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese & serve.

Peach Cookies or Pesche

It’s that wonderful time of year when there is an abundance of fresh fruit available so why not make the most of it?! Peaches are a favorite of mine, not only because of their great taste but they have such versatility in their uses. Just for something different today, I want to take the peach idea in a whole different direction. These beautiful, old fashioned pastries were very popular in the 1980’s. They are known for their unique look that resembles a fresh peach with a flavor that is delicately sweet and buttery. Traditionally served at Italian wedding showers, Pesche (or peach), are now served at any celebration and may be found throughout many countries in Europe.

Peach cookies are two cookie domes, carved on the inside and paired together to hold a dollop of custard. Once assembled, they are dipped in Alchermes, a crimson colored liqueur infused with a blend of anise flowers, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, jasmine, mace, nutmeg, orange peel, sugar and vanilla. These ingredients are stepped in alcohol, which is then flavored with rose water. Alchermes gives these pastries a vibrant pink hue and a unique, light alcohol flavor that combines custard and cookie beautifully. To further enhance the peach resemblance, they are rolled in a sanding sugar.

Alchermes is a very ancient liqueur of Arabic origin. It’s main feature is an unmistakable scarlet color, which was originally acquired by adding ‘kermes’, a scale insect that eat oak trees. Modern alchermes liqueurs no longer use the kermes insect. Alchermes was created in the Frati’ Convent at Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy.

These peach cookies are an impressive dessert, perfect for special summer occasions. You can use any filling you choose such as a pastry cream, lemon curd, limoncello or just plain nutella spread. Since it is almost impossible to find the alchermes liqueur in Canada, I’ve listed a few substitutes that can be used instead.

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Peach Cookies or Pesche
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Instructions
Filling
  1. In a small bowl, combine filling ingredients; stir in reserved crumbs. Spoon into center holes of cookies & press together to form a peach.
Coating
  1. In a shallow bowl, combine lemon & peach gelatin powder. Place package of strawberry gelatin in another bowl. Place sugar in a third bowl.
Assembling
  1. Working with one cookie at a time, spritz cookie with a bit of water. Dip in lemon mixture, then in strawberry gelatin & then in sugar. Spritz with additional water & add more gelatin as needed to create desired 'peach blush' effect. Place on a wire rack to dry for an hour. Attach mint leaves to top of each cookie with additional preserves. Store in refrigerator.
Recipe Notes
  • Alchermes can be substituted for a peach liqueur or Chambord raspberry liqueur. For my peach cookies, I kept it simple & used a combination of jello powders to replicate the traditional idea.

Spicy Chicken, Bacon & Avocado Pizza

Ever since I made pizza with yeasted potato crust it has become a staple in our meal rotation list. It seems like all it takes to come up with an amazing filling combo is just a little inspiration so the influence of flavors Brion and I tasted in Mexico became a natural choice for me.

Although avocado on pizza may sound weird, if you are a guacamole lover, its glorious. When you think about it, tomato or tomato sauce is a big part of pizza most of the time. Often guacamole is made with tomato, so it compliments pizza well. I used all the ingredients you would normally fit into a tortilla for toppings. Spicy chicken, bacon, avocado, onion, tomato, cheese and GUACAMOLE!

When I make guacamole for pizza, I like to keep it simple: mashed avocados, onion, garlic, lime juice, salt and cilantro. Another thing I found, was that any left over pieces can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and placed in a freezer bag and frozen. When you want to use them, thaw at room temperature then heat slightly in the microwave. Most often pizza is frozen unbaked and needs assembly and baking. This pizza tasted just as good as when it was freshly baked!

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Spicy Chicken, Bacon & Avocado Pizza
Instructions
Pizza Dough
  1. Cook potato, peel, mash & cool. Combine yeast with lukewarm water; whisk until yeast is dissolved. Let stand about 3 minutes until foamy. Add butter, salt, sour cream & potato; mix well.
  2. Stir in flour, one cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a tea towel & allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Chicken Marinade
  1. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine all ingredients. Seal & turn to coat; refrigerate for 1-4 hours.
Guacamole
  1. In a large bowl, coarsely mash avocados with lime juice & salt. Stir in garlic, onion & cilantro. Blend well. Cover & set aside until ready to use. You will have extra for something else.
Pizza Topping Prep
  1. In a skillet, cook bacon until fairly crisp, drain on paper towels & chop coarsely. Wipe skillet with paper towel. Add marinated chicken, stir-fry until cooked then remove to a dish. Add peppers & onion to skillet; sauteing until tender crisp.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. On a large sheet of parchment paper, roll or press dough into a 16-inch circle. Transfer with paper to a baking sheet.
  2. Using some grated cheese, make a ring around the outer edge of the dough. Roll dough once over cheese ring. Carefully spread the 1/2 cup of guacamole over the bottom of pizza, then sprinkle with a bit more cheese. Layer with avocado slices, onion, bacon, chicken, tomato & remaining cheese. If you prefer, brush to top of the outside ring with egg wash.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown, Remove from oven & slice.
Recipe Notes
  • You may choose to prepare your marinated chicken & guacamole before you start making the dough.

Potato Crusted Asiago Sausage Pizza

The customization of pizza crust has undoubtedly been one of the biggest innovations in the (pizza) industry. The crust you choose to make helps to dictate taste, texture, thickness and your selection of toppings.

Pizza has taken on many different forms since its original inception — especially when it comes to the crust. For example:

Thin Crust is characterized by its light, slightly crispy texture. This is the perfect crust for those who want an authentic Italian pizza.

Thick Crust is characterized by its buttery, pan fried taste and texture on the outside, with a soft chewy center.

Flatbread Crust – health conscious people feel less guilty about eating this pizza because it isn’t as filling as other crust types.

Focaccia is a thick, ‘bready’ dough infused with herbs and brushed with olive oil before baking, then covered with cheeses, herbs and spices and minimal toppings.

Wood Fired Crust – it’s characteristics are defined by their deep, smoky taste derived from using real wood to heat the baking oven.

There are endless ways you can create a custom crust for your pizza. Such as using pita bread, English muffins, rice cakes, tortillas, potato slices or chips. I experimented with making a yeast crust with mashed potatoes and sour cream in it. Without trying to sound boastful, it was probably the best pizza crust I had ever made to date. I think I nailed it!

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Potato Crusted Asiago Sausage Pizza
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Instructions
Potato Pizza Crust
  1. Prepare mashed potato. In a dish, combine yeast with lukewarm water; whisk until yeast is dissolved. Let stand about 3 minutes until foamy. In a large bowl, combine butter, salt, sour cream & mashed potato; mix well. Add yeast mixture & stir again.
  2. Stir in flour, 1 cup at a time. When dough is completely blended, turn onto lightly floured surface. Knead dough about 10 minutes, until smooth & elastic. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a tea towel & allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Dijon Mustard Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, saute garlic in butter until tender but not brown. Stir in flour, mustard & crushed thyme. Season with salt & pepper; add broth & cook, stirring until thick & bubbly. Continue to cook 1 more minute the remove from heat & set aside to cool.
Pizza Fillings
  1. In a skillet, saute red pepper & onion until soft; remove to a dish. In the same skillet, scramble fry sausage meat until cooked; drain on paper towel, set aside. Drain, sliced olives & grate cheese.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Remove risen dough from bowl turning onto a large sheet of parchment paper. Press or roll dough into a 16-inch circle. Using some of the grated cheese, make a ring around the outer edge, & fold over to make a 'stuffed crust'.
  2. Carefully spread mustard sauce over bottom of pizza, then sprinkle with another portion of grated cheese mixture. Layer with red peppers, onions, sausage meat & olives. Top with remaining cheese.
  3. Bake for 20 minutes or until crust is golden. Remove from oven & slice.

Stuffed Cod Rolls with Fresh Zucchini Sauce

Even if we are not quite at the peak of zucchini season, is no reason to forget about it. I love zucchini and because its such a mild flavored vegetable, you can find it in recipes from appetizers to dessert. Its versatility lets you steam, poach, saute and fry it but it also makes great cakes, bread, relish and sauce. In Canada, we use it extensively for just about anything you can imagine.

In Mexico, they prefer the flower to the zucchini bulb in soups and quesadillas.

In Italy, it is served in many ways, especially breaded and fried.

In France, it is the key ingredient in ratatouille or stuffed with meat, tomatoes and bell peppers.

In Turkey, zucchini is the main ingredient in pancakes or stuffed with ground meat, rice and herbs.

In Greece, there are numerous uses for zucchini such as fried, boiled, stuffed, hors d’oeuvers and main dishes. Sometimes the flowers are stuffed with white cheese or a mixture of rice, herbs and occasionally ground meat.

In Egypt, zucchini are cooked with tomato sauce, garlic and onions and the list goes on and on—

Today’s blog recipe uses a fresh zucchini sauce to compliment the cod fillets which have an herb and sunflower seed stuffing.

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Stuffed Cod Rolls with Fresh Zucchini Sauce
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Instructions
  1. Saute the garlic & onion in olive oil until softened but not browned. Remove from heat & toss together with the remaining stuffing ingredients. Prepare 6 fish portions in roughly 5 X 7-inch size rectangles. Overlap slightly if using two pieces of fish to prepare the portion.
  2. Squeeze handfuls of the stuffing into sausage shaped portions the width of the fish fillet and place at one end, roll the fillet rectangle all the way around the stuffing.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 F. Lay out bacon slices in 6 portions; place the prepared cod & stuffing at one end. Roll bacon tightly around the cod & place in a lightly oiled shallow baking dish. Do not crowd the portions; allow at least an inch or two between the portions for good air circulation in the oven.
  4. Bake stuffed cod for about 25 minutes. Remove from oven & serve with warm fresh zucchini sauce.
Fresh Zucchini Sauce
  1. In a skillet, saute zucchini, onion & mushrooms until tender crisp. Remove from heat; add flour & spices mixing well. Return to heat & slowly add milk & chicken broth. Cook until thickened & bubbly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat & serve over stuffed cod rolls.

Ravioli di Portobello Casserole

I guess its my German heritage that gives that love for anything that resembles a dumpling. Whether sweet or savory doesn’t seem to matter, filling between two thin layers of pasta or dough is just plain good to me.

Around the world, Italian ravioli has many culinary ‘sisters’ in other cultures. Kreplach, in Jewish cuisine, is a pocket of meat filling covered with pasta. In India, the dish Gujiya, has a sweet filling, rather than savory. There are many similarities between Italian ravioli and certain Chinese dumplings as well.

Although ravioli can come in many shapes, including circular and semi-circular, the traditional form is a square. The word ‘ravioli’ comes from the Italian riavvolgere, which means ‘to wrap’.

Not being someone who enjoys to eat ‘out’, its a rare occasion (when we do), for me to be really happy with my meal. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I cooked a lot of ‘commercial’ meals in the food service industry years back. I guess I just got ‘burn out’ to that kind of cooking you might say.

Nevertheless, whenever we have chosen to go to the Olive Garden Restaurant, there is a meal I really do enjoy. It’s called ‘Ravioli di Portobello’. Today, I am re-creating those flavors in a casserole and adding some ground chicken to make it a little more interesting from Brion’s perspective.

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Ravioli di Portobello Casserole
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Instructions
Ravioli Filling
  1. In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Saute onion until soft. Add mushrooms & saute for two minutes. Reduce heat & let simmer for 5 minutes or until liquid has evaporated & the mushrooms are fully cooked. Add seasonings. Set aside.
Ravioli Dough
  1. In a bowl, combine dry ingredients with eggs. Add water a little at a time, while stirring, until it forms a soft dough. Dough should be soft but not sticky. Roll out the dough, on a floured surface, into a rectangle that is 1/4-inch thickness. Place 1 teaspoon of filling about an inch apart in even columns & rows to cover half of your dough rectangle.
  2. Before adding the top layer of pasta to the ravioli, moisten the dough around the filling dollops. Carefully fold the dough (without any filling on it) over the half with the filling dollops. Using the side of your hand, press the dough together between the dollops, accentuating the pockets of filling in each ravioli. This is very important step to ensure your ravioli will not leak while cooking.
  3. Using a pastry cutter (or a pizza cutter), cut straight lines through the pressed down sections between the filling dollops. In a large kettle of boiling water, drop ravioli in a few at a time, being careful that they do do touch the kettle. When the raviolis float to the top, boil for one minute & then remove them with a slotted spoon. Keep warm in a covered dish, drizzling a tiny bit of butter or oil over them to prevent sticking until you are ready for them.
Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce
  1. In a skillet, melt butter & saute garlic, seasonings, sun-dried tomatoes for a few minutes. Add chicken broth & half & half; bring to a boil & continue to stir until thickened & creamy about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat, set aside until ready to use in casserole.
Assemble Casserole
  1. In a skillet, brown ground chicken until no longer pink; drain & place in a bowl. Add salt, garlic powder & pepper. In the skillet, melt butter, add onion & zucchini; saute until tender crisp. Stir in sun-dried tomato sauce.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a buttered 9 X 13-inch baking dish, spread 1/4 of sauce, layer 1/2 of the ravioli, another 1/4 of the sauce, half of the chicken & half of the cheese.
  3. Repeat again except OMIT cheese. Cover & bake for 35 minutes. Uncover & sprinkle with remaining cheese. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. If you wish to garnish, chopped green onion & diced tomato are nice.

Chicken Parmigiana with Basil Sauce

From what I understand, the global dish called chicken parmigiana is a variation on the Italian entree known as eggplant parmigiana. Simply put, you deep fry eggplant, add cheese and tomato sauce and bake it. At some point in time, various regions in the world with large Italian immigrant populations, realized chicken would be an excellent alternative to the eggplant and chicken parmigiana evolved.

In America, the dish became popular around 1958. Often the name has been simplified to just ‘chicken parm‘. Usually composed of fried or breaded chicken fillets, smothered in mozzarella (or provolone), parmesan and tomato sauce all of which is then baked. Another version is using veal instead of chicken. Parmigiana is traditionally served over hot pasta as the main entree but it has also become a sandwich filling favored in subs, hoagies, etc.

In today’s recipe, I’m using parmesan cheese but omitting the mozzarella-tomato sauce. I wanted to accent the flavor with fresh basil in the sauce instead. We quite enjoyed it.

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Chicken Parmigiana with Basil Sauce
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Instructions
Chicken
  1. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, cheese & parsley. Chop bacon finely & fry until crisp; drain. Add bacon to breadcrumb mixture.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a saucepan, melt butter, add minced garlic, Worcestershire sauce & dry mustard. Mix well. Dip chicken fillets in butter mixture & place in a shallow ovenproof dish. Press crumb mixture on top of each fillet.
  3. Bake, uncovered for 20 - 25 minutes.
Basil Sauce
  1. In a saucepan, combine oil, vinegar, minced garlic, finely chopped basil leaves & cream; stir until heated through. Add egg yolk & stir until sauce thickens. Do not boil. Season with salt & pepper. Serve over chicken parmigiana.

Anise-Lemon Cheesecake Cookies

Spring gives good reason to celebrate the taste of fresh lemon. Next try pairing it with cream cheese and anise in some tender little cookies. Amazing!

Cheesecake itself, has been a dessert many of us have loved for years. Using cream cheese has become so common, it is used in just about any application you can think of sweet or savory. Cheesecake cookies are the perfect back drop to showcase the unique taste of anise.

Slightly sweet, anise has an appealing licorice-like flavor and aroma. It has been a popular herb in holiday and special occasion treats for centuries, around the world. Since it requires at least 120 frost free days to ripen the seeds, anise is difficult to grow in cooler regions. The fact that it has a long tap root also makes it hard to grow in a container indoors. Seeds, extract and oil are all used in cooking, but the leaves can also be tossed in salads or dropped into the water when boiling shellfish.

To complete this cookie creation today, I made an eggless lemon curd to sandwich them with. I found this recipe was best made over two days. Use the first day to prepare the dough, bake the cookies and make the lemon curd. Waiting a day to assemble the cookie sandwiches gives both cookies and curd ample time to cool. This is definitely a cookie designed with flavor in mind.


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Anise-Lemon Cheesecake Cookies

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Course dessert

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Instructions
Lemon Curd
  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine lemon juice, sugar, lemon zest & salt, stirring well to dissolve sugar. Add the cornstarch mixture & the milk, stirring well to combine. Cook until mixture begins to thicken, about 5-6 minutes, stirring constantly until the first few bubbles appear on the surface. Add butter & food color; continue to cook until resembles thick pudding. Transfer to a dish; cover with plastic wrap & allow to cool completely before placing in refrigerator. Chill at least 2 hours in the refrigerator or preferably overnight.

Cookies
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. Beat cream cheese & butter together at high speed until fluffy & smooth; 1-2 minutes. Add sugar & beat until fully incorporated & fluffy; 1-2 minutes. Beat in eggs, lemon zest, anise extract & seeds.

  3. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder & salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Mix ONLY until blended, DO NOT OVER MIX. Batter will be sticky. Using a small scoop, drop cookies onto prepared baking sheet.

  4. Bake for 10-11 minutes. Cookies should be light in color, not browned & just starting to brown on the bottom. Cool cookies on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Assembly
  1. The following day, lay out half of the cookies; spoon 1 heaping teaspoon of lemon curd onto the center of each cookie. Top each with the remaining cookies & gently press together until the filling reaches the edges of the cookies.

Turkey & Hickory Bacon Stuffed Pasta Shells

Pasta shells, filled with a range of flavors and baked in a creamy sauce — what’s not to like? I think my love affair with stuffed pasta shells started somewhere in the 90’s. The versatility of this meal makes it king of the comfort food dinners served family style. Easy to prepare, makes everyone happy and are perfectly portioned for individuals and groups alike.

Another bonus, is that this meal can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated. The concern with reheating pasta is always that the pasta will absorb any additional sauce or liquids as it is sitting in the fridge. In order to make this meal ahead of time, cook pasta and stuff shells but keep the sauce in a separate container. When ready to serve, microwave sauce just until its liquified, pour over pasta shells and bake until hot and bubbly.

Unbaked shells can be frozen for up to one month. To bake from the freezer, first thaw in the refrigerator, then let them stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, uncover; bake 10-15 minutes longer until bubbly.

The hickory smoked bacon in these pasta shells adds such a unique flavor to the turkey filling.

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Turkey & Hickory Bacon Stuffed Pasta Shells
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Course Main Dish
Cuisine American, Italian
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Instructions
Sauce
  1. In a small saucepan, melt butter; stir in flour & cook until lightly browned. Slowly whisk in chicken broth. Add mustard & cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Set aside.
Pasta & Filling
  1. Cook pasta shells in boiling, salted water with a few drops of oil added for 10-12 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water, drain again. Grate Gouda cheese. In a saucepan, fry bacon to a soft crisp stage, blot on paper towel & chop.
  2. In a large bowl, combine ground turkey, onion, garlic, Parmesan, soy sauce, basil, thyme, 1/2 of chopped bacon, salt & pepper. Add a small amount of prepared sauce (to help to hold filling together).
  3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Using a 9-inch baking dish, spread some sauce over the bottom. Divide turkey filling between shells. Place filled shells, single file in pan. Pour remaining sauce over all & top with remaining bacon. Sprinkle smoked Gouda cheese evenly over top. Cover & bake for 30-40 minutes or until filling is cooked.

Cherry Marzipan Cookies

The origins of marzipan, much like many other pastries that contain almonds, cannot be pinpointed to any one place. Some believe it came from Persia, others speak of Germany and Italy, yet others name Toledo, a medieval city southwest of Madrid, Spain. Whatever its history, today marzipan is a fixture of Spain’s Christmas time celebrations.

Toledo’s first recorded marzipan recipe dates back to 1525, and in the hundreds of years since then, it has been traditionally made by the nuns in Toledo’s countless convents. Marzipan is a paste made by grinding and kneading, almonds together with sugar. As well as using it in pastries, it can be shaped into various figures that can be glazed and decorated.

Along with marzipan, Toledo is famous for Swords and Damascene. Brion and I had the opportunity of visiting this quaint, little medieval city one year. It was such an incredible and interesting experience.

The metal-working industry has historically been Toledo’s economic base, with a great tradition of manufacturing swords & knives.

Damascene is the art of inlaying different metals into one another. Typically gold and silver are placed into a darkly oxidized steel background to produce intricate patterns. Traditionally, damascene designs focus on two distinct patterns. Either Renaissance motifs with birds and flowers or Arabesque and geometric designs.

In the spirit of Christmas and Toledo’s marzipan, I wanted to make some nice little cherry marzipan cookies. The vanilla and dried cherries are a trade off for the usual rose water used.

I am adding a few pictures from our time spent in Toledo. It was around Christmas time that year so we saw a lot of marzipan goodies. Take note of the miniature marzipan figurines of the nuns in the bakery scene. This was in a store window display. Wonderful memories!

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Cherry Marzipan Cookies
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, combine almond flour, powdered sugar, extracts & egg whites; stir well. Stir in dried cherries. Scoop mixture into balls then roll in sliced almonds to coat. Place on baking sheet.
  3. Bake for 20 minutes or until JUST done. Let cool & sprinkle with additional powdered sugar.