All posts by Alicia

Spanish Fig and Almond Cake, the ultimate in fast and sophisticated

There’s nothing like a big box of presents coming from a foreign land to  catapult two little girl’s excitement for Christmas to a much higher level.  Well, maybe it wasn’t quite a foreign land but 55 years ago Puerto Rico was far away and exotic.  Mama’s family was old-world and traditional.  That meant sweet treats, heavy books and gifts from Spain.  And although the presents could not and would not be opened until Christmas morning, Mama always zeroed in on one particular box.  Cutting through the tape and ribbon, she would carefully smooth the festive paper, setting it aside to be reused some other time.  And as older sister, Cynthia, and I watched with huge eyes,  Mama would unwrap the thin, rectangular box deliberately but with enjoyment.  We all knew what was waiting within.  I ran to get Daddy’s one tool, a wooden handled hammer.  Slowly Mama pulled out a buff colored block of Spanish “Turron” or nougat, studded with  savory roasted almonds sweeping in shades from fawn to cafe au lait and swathed between two thin sheets of rice paper.  As if she’d been doing it all her life, Mama took that hammer and wailed on the confection until a fat, chunky corner came off.  Away Cynthia went with her little piece of paradise.  Bang, bang, bang and it was my turn to savor the Turron.  A few more whacks and Mama had her piece.  We had albums of Spanish Christmas carols playing on the record player, a magnificent, artisan made manger and massive family bible, all presents from her father and all from Spain.  Other than that our lives were understated and straightforward.  These were simple times when extravagance was frowned upon.   These were times when hours were spent in front of the Christmas tree practicing handwriting for our letters to Santa.  We always had a real tree but some years it was the size of a shrub as that was all my parents could afford.  Times when money was so tight Mama put our presents on layaway at Woolworth’s, the local five-and-dime store and we received one present apiece.  That was a wonderful Christmas, its essence captured below in that old black and white photo.  We felt an abundance of riches with our gift Mama had scrimped and saved to give her girls.

Look at the joy on Cynthia's face. We received our dollies, matching high chairs and cribs canopied with pompoms!
Look at the delight on Cynthia’s face. We received our dollies, matching high chairs and cribs canopied with pompoms!

These were times when a holiday outing was savoring the manger scene at our church after Mass.  A complete farm was displayed with donkeys, sheep and cows frozen in an Italianate style behind baby Jesus’ cradle.  Straw stuck out from every corner as the magnificently beautiful Virgin Mary gazed down with such immense love at her chubby, new-born toddler, golden curls shining in the candlelight; the angel of the Lord above the crèche announcing to all His birth.  It was heavenly to us, full of wonder and captivating our complete attention until Mama said it was time to leave.  Mama didn’t know how to cook so there was no such thing as baking Christmas cookies or cakes.   No.  We used our imaginations that Mama had so carefully cultivated to wile away the hours.  Our dollies danced ballet to the Spanish carols.  We unwrapped and wrapped the presents we had made in school for our parents…really they were for Mama.  I still have the hand print I made for her in first grade hanging in my kitchen.  I remember fretting and being worried sick that it would break after some classmate spread the vicious rumor that many pieces of pottery explode when fired in a kiln and I would be left with nothing to offer.  And we had the big box that came every year from her family in Puerto Rico making certain we knew our Spanish customs.  Making certain Mama didn’t feel alone in this town of Yankees.  And making certain that until Daddy’s business had taken off we would all have a generous, plentiful Christmas.

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This is one of those great recipes that takes two minutes and you walk away.  I initially purchased dried figs from the bulk section of my Whole Food store.  Before I began snipping off the stems, I ate one of the figs and, boy, am I glad I did.  Hard and tough was what I spat out.  I purchased another pound from my neighborhood Publix.  They were packed in 9-ounce, air-tight plastic boxes and worked out great.  These figs had been dried yet were still soft and moist.  Most recipes call for the ever pricey Marcona almonds from Spain.  Once again, glad I tasted the batch I bought.  I paid way too much to bring home this stale and salty mess.  Again Publix came to the rescue with a 7-ounce plastic box.  They had their skins on but here’s how to get those skins off lickety-split.  Place the amount of almonds you will be using in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover completely.  20 minutes to 30 minutes later, squeeze one almond at a time and the skin will slip right off.  Takes two seconds.  Here’s the most important part of this recipe.  This cake is good as is but served with cheese, preferably Manchego cheese, it will transform your taste buds.  Somehow the Manchego brings out a deep floral flavor from the figs.  The cloves and cinnamon disappear yet their earthy tones let you know they’re doing their part.  Served with hard salami, thick, crisp Cuban crackers, some nuts and a bit of fruit your guests will be amazed.  The cake does taste richer if allowed  to sit 2-3 days before serving but it’s still pretty terrific served the same day it’s prepared.  I hope you enjoy this Christmas treat!

Spanish Fig and Almond Cake or Pan de Higo

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 pound dried black Mission figs
  • 1/2 cup skinless, whole almonds
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 4 tablespoons brandy
  1. Snip the tough stem off the figs and place the figs in a food processor, processing until almost smooth.  You want a little texture.
  2. Transfer the fig paste to a medium bowl and add the almonds, mixing well.
  3. Add the sesame seeds, cinnamon and cloves evenly over the fig mixture and mix well.
  4. Add the brandy and mix until all ingredients have been thoroughly combined.
  5. Line a small pan with plastic wrap.  I used a small, fluted cake pan that holds about 2 1/3 cups.  Transfer fig mixture to the lined pan and pat firmly and evenly in place.
  6. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.  The cake may be served right away but tastes better, more mellow, after resting up to a few days.
  7. This cake will keep well-covered and not refrigerated for weeks.

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Brie, Thyme and Fresh Cranberry Stuffed Bread

I wasn’t planning on serving an appetizer Thanksgiving Day.  The family dinner was at our house this year.  Everyone was in town and coming late in the day.  I couldn’t wait to have all my people gathered together again.  The house was ready, the dining room table glittered.   I wasn’t going to have a starter course because there was going to be so much food… for crying out loud, it’s Thanksgiving!  But then I thought it would be more fun to have a little something to nibble on with champagne and drinks before dinner.  Not wanting to break the bank OR break my back I decided a holiday stuffed bread was in order.  And because my motto is “more is better” I made two.  My husband, Jimmy, looked at me as though I had two heads.  “I know, I know.  It’s a lot of food but if no one eats it, well, we just wrap them up and have them tomorrow.”  He knows not to argue when it comes to food, bless his heart.  Let me just cut to the chase.  When the two loaves had been plated and my nieces began to make their way through the house serving, you have never seen so many faces light up.  My family pounced on them as if they hadn’t eaten in weeks.  Grownups were licking their fingers.  My brother followed the girls with their trays around the house tearing off chunks of warm, cheesy bread and making happy boy sounds.  My son, James,

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was not happy when he saw me tucking fresh cranberries into the cheese but after his first bite was in complete agreement  that the berries were the perfect clean foil against the gooey, richness of the cheese, olive oil and garlic.  Both loaves were gone in minutes.  Minutes!  This recipe is extremely adaptable in that you can substitute the brie for Gruyère, cheddar, mozzarella or the gooey cheese of your choice.  You can tuck in gorgonzola crumbles or shredded parmesan.  Red pepper flakes are wonderful for a little heat.  Not a fan of cranberries?  Try blackberries or raspberries.  I used whole grain boules but white bread would be fine.  Good looking on a table or passed by hand, this starter is perfect for the holidays.  It can be assembled hours ahead, only make certain to wrap it tightly so the bread doesn’t get stale.  Make certain you have plenty of napkins and enjoy!

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Brie, Thyme and Fresh Cranberry Stuffed Bread

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 1-pound boule or round loaf of bread, 6″-7″ diameter works well
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, grated
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste, a healthy pinch of each will do
  • 1/4 pound brie cheese, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup  shredded Italian 5 cheese, I believe I used Kraft but any brand is fine, store brand or whatever’s on sale
  • 1/2 cup or more fresh cranberries or berry of choice
  • thyme sprigs for garnish, optional
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375°.
  2. Making certain not to cut all the way through to the bottom, slice the bread in roughly half-inch slices.  Turn the bread 90° and make 1/2″ slices, again not cutting all the way through.  I find if I hold the bread firmly it keeps it from shredding or tearing too much.  Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl combine olive oil, garlic, thyme leaves, salt and pepper.  Set aside.
  4. Gently stuff the brie vertically in the bread slices.
  5. Pour half of the olive oil mixture as evenly as you can into the open bread spaces.  Set aside remaining oil.
  6. Toss the thyme leaves with the Italian cheese blend.
  7. Gently stuff the Italian cheese horizontally down into the bread.
  8. Pour the remaining olive oil mixture evenly on the bread.
  9. Tuck the fresh cranberries onto the top of the nooks and crannies of the stuffed bread.
  10. Spray a piece of tin foil with non-stick cooking spray and wrap the bread tightly with the foil.
  11. Place on a baking sheet and bake covered for 25-30 minutes.
  12. Carefully unwrap the bread and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
  13. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs and serve immediately.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Simple Pumpkin Pie Spice

Hey, y’all!  This is just a quick post in response to numerous requests for a pumpkin pie spice blend.  I haven’t bought the jarred stuff in years.  I grate my nutmeg on a rasper and make certain all the ground, dried spices are the best quality available.  I’ve found, surprisingly enough, the spices from Costco are fantastic.  Their vanilla extract and beans are from Madagascar, their ground cinnamon from Viet Nam and their Tellicherry black pepper from India.  All are fragrant and sharp…just as fresh as can be.  I buy my nutmeg whole from a small local market and grate it whenever I need it.  You will be surprised how often you’ll use it.  Nutmeg compliments spinach, for example, and think how often you prepare that!  And let’s don’t forget we’re heading straight into eggnog season.  The heady perfume from a dusting of fresh nutmeg gives eggnog a whole new meaning.

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Aside from whole nutmeg you probably have all the other ingredients in your pantry.  The following recipe is assembled in just seconds and can be doubled or tripled.  Use it in place of store-bought pumpkin pie spice for your pies, quick breads, cookies, smoothies, your morning latte, really the list goes on and on.  Just give it a quick stir before measuring it out.

Even in ground form this combination announces the holiday season has begun!
Even in ground form this combination announces the holiday season has begun!

Pumpkin Pie Spice

  • Servings: 5 tablespoons
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1/4 cup ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and  stir well.
  2. Store in an airtight jar or bottle.

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Roasted Butternut Squash Soup Perfection

I had to make room in my hateful, miniscule, dorm-room size refrigerator for the 25-pound turkey, the 10-pound spiral cut ham and all the trimmings that go with Thanksgiving dinner.  On a mission, I threw out THREE, count ’em, three, opened jars of Greek pistachio spoon sweets in syrup.  Keeping one, the thought occurred to me, “Really?   Who needs four OPEN jars of that ambrosial stuff?”  Into the trash went an enormous, almost empty jar of jalapenos in brine, four lonely slices sloshing around the glass.  I found an unopened jar of that fabulous jar of fig in red wine jam I made a month or two ago.  I set in on the counter…in the maybe section.  The plastic container filled with obsidian green spinach, dark and glossy with olive oil and sautéed garlic…out you go.  And then I discovered the leftover butternut squash I had roasted  several nights ago.  It was gorgeous and I knew I couldn’t part with it.  I had run into my friend, Brooke, at Michael’s Craft Store the other day and after laughing and chewing over our personal problems, our children’s problems and our career problems we moved on to discussing dinner.  She asked me if I had a good recipe for roasted butternut soup.  “No”, I answered, “I don’t.  Every recipe I’ve tried has always been a significant disappointment.  Why, do you??”  She did not.  Today I figured I’d come up with my version of a roasted butternut soup that would make me swoon with culinary delight whether it be hot, warm or cold.  I was determined to make those leftovers work for me.  I pulled out every cookbook and recipe I had.  I didn’t want a soup strong with the flavors of ginger, cinnamon or cumin.  No.  I wanted a French-style soup that had the sweet yet savory flavor that butternut squash can be coaxed to share.  You know.  The kind of flavor you get in a $14.00 cup lunching at some stellar museum restaurant.  Well!  This is it.  Silky smooth, it is noting short of perfection.  That bowl that’s in the photos?  I gobbled it down.  You will love this winter soup.  The squash may be roasted specifically for the soup or you can use your leftovers.  It can be pureed with an immersion stick blender, (that’s what I use), a food processor or a traditional blender.  It’s beautiful.  Enjoy!

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Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash
  • 6 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 5 scallions, white and pale green parts chopped
  • 5 stalks celery, chopped, leaves included
  • 6 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 quarts, (8 cups), water
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375°.  Cut squash in half lengthwise.  Scoop out and discard the seeds.
  2. Rub 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the cut side and into the bowl of each piece of squash.
  3. Sprinkle half of the brown sugar over each piece of squash and roast in the oven until fork tender, anywhere from  45 minutes to 90 minutes depending on the thickness of the squash.
  4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool enough to handle.  Set aside.
  5. While the squash is cooling, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a large, heavy bottomed pot.
  6. Add the scallions to the butter, stirring often, and cook until limp and translucent.
  7. Add the carrots and celery and stir well to coat all the vegetables with the butter.
  8. With a large spoon, scoop the flesh of the squash out of the peel and add it to the pot.  Discard the peel.
  9. Add the water and bring to a boil.
  10. Drop the heat down to a simmer and let the vegetables gently cook for 45 minutes or until all the vegetables are soft and tender.
  11. Puree the soup until it is completely smooth.  Add the remaing 2 tablespoons of butter and cayenne pepper and stir until completely incorporated.
  12. Add salt and pepper as needed.
  13. Serve hot, warm or cold.

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Thanksgiving Turkey, The Glorious Bird

Don’t let roasting a turkey stress you out. It’s easy and simple as can be. Take a look and take your time. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Irreverent Kitchen

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I’ve given you a couple of sides and now would like to address everyone’s star of the day…the turkey. I’ll give you more sides but this way you can organize your thoughts, kitchen and schedule and have plenty of time to wrap your head around Thanksgiving dinner if you’ve never roasted a bird before. This is one of the easiest recipes out there and I have to credit the woman who is the all time greatest disaster in the kitchen. Mama.  I know I’ve told you in earlier posts how dreadful she was in the kitchen…heck, she’d tell you!  But I have to give her credit for a most incredibly delicious recipe that even a small child could produce. That said, this recipe will also yield most of the ingredients for some of the best gravy you’ll EVER have. It it truly the most sumptuous, luscious gravy I’ve tasted.  Bar…

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Store Bought Bailey’s, Pecan Pie and Cream Trifle

WARNING:  If you’re not a fan of frozen whipped topping this recipe is not for you.  Quite frankly, there is nothing like freshly made whipped cream.  But you can substitute freshly whipped cream for the fake stuff.

Make it easy is my new modus operandi.  Gone are the days of complicated holidays where I am nothing short of a hag-like harpy swooping through the house on my broom.  Nah.  I’m too old for all that nonsense.  My pies, crusts, heck, all my desserts were completely homemade.  Well, not this year.  This sweet treat is almost completely store-bought and if you buy already prepared pudding, well, let’s say you’ll have plenty of time for a nap before Thanksgiving day.  The pies are best purchased from your grocery store bakery.  The consistency of the filling is a bit thicker than the frozen pies and that’s exactly what you want.   I used a boxed pudding mix but if you’d rather skip that stressful step go ahead and pick up already prepared vanilla pudding.  Frozen whipped topping, I used Cool Whip, is already sweetened so there’s no whipping of cream and confectioner’s sugar.  But let me be perfectly clear if you didn’t see the warning above.  Frozen whipped topping tastes, to me, like a chemically altered sugar foam.  If you like it, go for it.  If not, whip fresh cream and continue with the recipe. This trifle can be put together 2 days in advance and then be left for flavors to marry and chill in the refrigerator.  It’s a total cheat.  A dramatic, rich cheat.  What am I thankful for?  I’m thankful for the easy way out.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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[recipe title=”Store Bought Bailey’s, Pecan Pie and Cream Trifle” servings=”16″ difficulty=”easy”

  • 2 pecan pies, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 3.5-ounce box vanilla pudding mix, preferably not instant
  • 4 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish Cream liquor
  • 1 8-ounce block cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 8-ounce tubs frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped
  1. Prepare pudding according to box directions.  Mix in Bailey’s Irish Cream well and set pudding aside in refrigerator.
  2. Place cream cheese in a medium size bowl and stir until loose and softened.  Mix in 1 tub of thawed whipped topping and vanilla extract.
  3. Place 1/3 of pecan pie pieces in an even layer in the bottom of a 4 quart trifle bowl or dessert bowl.
  4. Sprinkle a small handful of pecans over the pie pieces.
  5. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the pie pieces.
  6. Place 1/3 of the pie pieces over the cream cheese mixture followed by another small handful of chopped pecans.
  7. Pour the pudding mixture over the pie pieces.
  8. Place the remaining pie pieces evenly over the pudding mixture.
  9. Spread the second tub of whipped topping over the pie pieces and finish with the remaining pecan pieces.
  10. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator overnight or up to two days.

No-bake Diplomatico Cake

Part store bought, part homemade, this cake is a winner.  How can you lose when you’re working with coffee, rum, chocolate and cream?  I started making this cake back in the ’80’s and it has never let me down.  Light yet rich and luxurious, Diplomatico cake is typically credited to Marcella Hazan.  I lost my original recipe, however, this one is quite close to hers.  A cheap, store bought pound cake is best as it’s sturdy and will keep its shape.  It’s a super easy going recipe…a little more of this and a little less of that is not an issue.

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I’ve made it with 4 eggs and I’ve made it with 6.  Sometimes I have espresso and at times I’ve only had the morning’s cold coffee available.  It all works beautifully.  The coffee and rum are strong and aromatic.  The intense chocolate mousse inside is…well, it’s chocolate, it’s heavenly.  And that cloud of whipped cream softens and compliments the entire cake.  Keep in mind the eggs are raw, not cooked, so if anyone has allergies or food issues maybe they should have their own little dish of berries.  Hope you’ll try it!

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No-Bake Diplomatico Cake

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1/2 cup brewed espresso
  • 3 tablespoons rum, preferably dark or golden
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 12-ounce store-bought pound cake, cut into 1/4″-1/2″ slices, you’ll need about 16 slices
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Line a 1 1/2 quart loaf pan with plastic wrap and set aside.
  2. Lay the cake slices out flat so they are not overlapping each other.
  3. Combine espresso, rum and 3 teaspoons of sugar in a small bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Using a pastry brush,  paint the espresso mixture evenly over one side of each slice.
  4. Line the bottom and sides of the loaf pan with the cake and the pan and remaining slices aside.
  5. In a medium bowl whip the egg yolks until pale and thick.  Add the remaining 3 teaspoons of sugar and mix well.  Set aside.
  6. Melt chocolate over a double boiler and slowly mix into the whipped egg yolks.  Do not allow to cool completely.
  7. Whip the egg white until stiff peaks form.  Mix a little of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture just to loosen it up then gently fold in the remaining egg whites.
  8. Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared loaf pan and cover with the remaining cake slices, coffee side up.
  9. Cover cake with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator over night.
  10. Prior to serving turn cake onto serving platter and discard plastic wrap.
  11. Pour whipping cream into a medium size bowl and whip until soft peaks form.  Add confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract and continue whipping until stiff, firm peaks form.
  12. Smooth the cream over the cake and garnish with berries, shaved chocolate or nuts.
  13. Store in the refrigerator.

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