Jim’s Hawaiian Guava Cake

October 25, 2017

“Aloha Mr. Van Sant.”

So began a 2003 email from Simon Rusconi, the Hotel Manager of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider Resort on Oahu.

Mr. Van Sant, Jim to the rest of us, had complimented the resort on its guava cake and Mr. Rusconi was writing to share the recipe.

Jim printed out the email and affixed it to an index card and put it in his recipe box. Late in 2016, the subject of the guava cake came up somehow at a dinner party at Jim and Bill’s house. Jim offered to share the recipe with me if I was interested.

I was, and I said that I’d make it for him. Shortly thereafter, the original recipe arrived in the mail still affixed to the index card. Not wanting to keep his original, I scanned it into my recipe database and returned the hardcopy.

Since Jim and Bill rent a home in Palm Springs just steps from our house, and since baking cakes at nearly 8000 feet where I live in New Mexico is an iffy proposition, at best, I said I’d bake the cake in Palm Springs. Every winter they rent the Oscar Mayer House. Yes, that Oscar Mayer!

We had a delightful luncheon at tables set up around their pool with guava cake for dessert.

The back of the Oscar Mayer house in Palm Springs, California
Inside the Oscar Mayer House
The front of the Oscar Mayer House

But that’s jumping ahead.

Receiving the recipe from Jim was merely the beginning. I became fascinated by guava cake without having even made one. Almost any recipe with the degree of cultural significance that guava cake seemed to garner grabs my attention. I did internet searches and combed through my Hawaiian cookbooks (of which I have a goodly number).

It appears that there are basically three variations of guava cake in Hawaii: Guava Chiffon Cake, Guava Spice Cake, and (plain old) Guava Cake. Recipes for the last often start with a box of cake mix and use Cool Whip in the cream cheese frosting.

From what my research has revealed, the original was a Guava Chiffon Cake invented by Herbert Matsuba, owner of the Dee Lite Bakery, in the early 1960s.

The popularity of the cake no doubt led to multiple copycat recipes, including those using a box of cake mix and Cool Whip aimed at the home cook.

The recipe from the Moana Surfrider was a Guava Spice Cake. I followed the recipe closely the first time except that I needed to find a substitute for frozen concentrated guava nectar which I was unable to find after scouring 10 grocery stores in Palm Springs and nearby desert towns.

I ultimately was able to source pure guava puree at a market catering to Hispanic shoppers. It had no sweeteners so I thought I might need to add sugar to the batter in a subsequent trial but for the first round I used the guava puree as a direct substitute for concentrated guava nectar.

Frozen Guava Puree, a much easier to find substitute for frozen concentrated guava nectar

The cake was good but everyone who tasted it failed to taste any guava. It really just tasted like a spice cake. Certainly it was not worth hours of searching for guava concentrate only to have the flavor masked by spices.

Other than guava chiffon cake, which was definitely not the same genre as the cake that Jim had at the Moana Surfrider, I could not find a recipe for plain guava cake that did not start with a box of cake mix. I decided to make the original recipe without the spices.

That did it! The guava flavor came through but something told me that Herbert, a professional baker, might have used something to amp up the guava flavor.

That started me on a search for natural guava extract. I found a wonderful extract made by Amoretti.

You can do without the Amoretti Guava Extract but not the red food coloring.

The next time I made the cake, I added a tiny bit of guava extract to the batter. I believe it enhanced the flavor but if one is not going to make a lot of guava cakes I would consider omitting the guava extract as it is expensive and very concentrated so a little bottle will last a long, long time.

For an everyday cake, I suggest baking it in a 9” x 13” x 2” rectangular pan. For a more special presentation, make a layer cake by dividing the batter between two 9” round pans. If you are doing the latter, make a double batch of cream cheese frosting. You’ll have a little left over but a single batch will not be enough. You could always whip up half a batch of batter and make guava cupcakes to use the extra frosting!

In honor of Oscar Mayer, in whose house we all came together over Jim’s Hawaiian Guava Cake, I recommend the following tribute. Who knew there were so many variations on the Oscar Mayer Wiener theme?


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Jim's Hawaiian Guava Cake
Because frozen, concentrated guava nectar is not readily available except in Hawaii, I standardized this recipe using frozen guava pulp which should be easy to find in large supermarkets or in markets catering to customers from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. It is important that the cream cheese frosting be level so that the guava gel forms an even layer. If you are making a rectangular cake this means there will be a bit more frosting at the edges than in the middle. If you are making a round two-layer cake, I suggest cutting off the tops of the cakes to achieve a perfectly level appearance. Put the cakes cut side down to avoid having lots of crumbs working their way into the cream cheese frosting. Guava nectar can be purchased in cans or refrigerated. Guava pulp is frozen.
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Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Guava Gel
Cream Cheese Frosting (make a double batch for the round cake)
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Guava Gel
Cream Cheese Frosting (make a double batch for the round cake)
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
Cake
  1. Butter and flour a 9 x 13 x 2 inch metal cake pan or two 9 inch round cake pans.
  2. Combine flour and baking soda. Reserve.
  3. Combine guava puree, guava nectar, guava extract and red food coloring. Reserve.
  4. Cream butter until light. Add sugar and cream until light and fluffy.
  5. Beat in eggs, one at a time, creaming well after each addition.
  6. On low, add dry ingredients alternating with wet ingredients, starting and ending with dry ingredients.
  7. For the rectangular pan: pour the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top. Rap the pan on the counter to release any air bubbles.
  8. Bake 350°F 40-45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
  9. Cool the cake in the pan then refrigerate.
  10. Frost with cream cheese frosting being careful to make the top of the frosting level. Refrigerate several hours to firm up the frosting.
  11. Top with guava gel and smooth out to the edges. Refrigerate several hours to set the frosting and gel.
  12. Bring the cake to room temperature before serving.
  13. For the round pans: Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Smooth the tops. Rap the pans on the counter to release any air bubbles.
  14. Bake 350°F 30-35 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
  15. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
  16. Wrap the cakes and refrigerate until cold, or up to one day.
  17. Slice the rounded tops of the cakes off to make them level.
  18. x
  19. Put one layer, cut-side-down on a platter.
  20. Put a layer of cream cheese frosting on the top of this layer.
  21. Pipe a rim of frosting around the edge to hold the guava gel. This does not need to be fancy as it will be smoothed out.
  22. Put just under ½ of the guava gel on top of the frosted bottom layer.
  23. Smooth the gel out to the piped edge.
  24. Top with the remaining cake, cut side down.
  25. Generously frost sides and top of the cake with cream cheese frosting.
  26. Pipe a decorative border around the edge of the top layer.
  27. Pour the remaining guava gel on top and smooth out to the edges.
  28. Refrigerate several hours to set the frosting and gel.
  29. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Guava Gel
  1. Put the cornstarch in a small heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
  2. Stir in the guava nectar, a little at a time, to dissolve the cornstarch without forming lumps.
  3. When dissolved, add the remaining guava nectar and sugar.
  4. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a full boil.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in red food coloring.
  6. Put a cloth on top of pan before putting cover back on to keep moisture from dripping back into the gel.
  7. After the gel reaches room temperature, refrigerate until cold.
Cream Cheese Frosting (make a double batch for the round cake)
  1. Chill the bowl and beaters for the whipped cream.
  2. Cream the cream cheese until light.
  3. Sprinkle in 1/3 cup of sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Mix in vanilla.
  5. In chilled bowl, beat the whipping cream until thick.
  6. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat until the cream forms stiff peaks.
  7. Fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into the cream cheese to lighten it.
  8. Carefully, but thoroughly fold in the remainder of the whipped cream.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake

August 25, 2017

Mike Abramson says his carrot cake is the best ever.

Janet Carlson doesn’t necessarily agree.

For now, the controversy will need to simmer as I only have Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake recipe, though I have suggested to Janet that she and Mike have a carrot cake bake-off.

Mike makes no apologies for having stolen the recipe from Tom Grier, originally of Grier, Georgia.

The story goes something like this…

In the 1970’s a group of four friends from San Francisco bought a weekend house, they named Aros, near Sebastopol, California. The four owners rotated use of the house, each getting it for a week at a time but also sometimes showing up there together to host parties as in the photo below.

Mike Abramson, second row far right

Over the years, ownership of the house shifted as some individuals sold their interest and others bought in.

At one point, Tom Grier was the youngest owner.

The group met on a quarterly basis in San Francisco to discuss maintenance issues related to the house. As with use of the house, these meetings were held in rotation at the owners’ homes in San Francisco.

Whenever Tom hosted the meeting, he served carrot cake, which Mike believes originated as a Grier family recipe. Tom shared the recipe with Mike and the rest is history. Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake was born.

But for Janet’s assertion that Mike’s might not be the best carrot cake in the world, well, we’ll just have to wait for the bake-off.

From left to right: Janet Carlson, Richard Valantasis, and Gino Barcone

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Mike's (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake
This is almost a cross between a spice cake and a carrot cake. The frosting is generous and could easily be reduced by one-third. This recipe is for sea level. If there is interest in adjustments for high altitude, let me know and I’ll post them.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
Cake
  1. Butter and flour a 9” x 13” baking pan.
  2. Grate the carrots on the tear-drop holes of a box grater.
  3. Coarsely chop the nuts.
  4. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with the paddle.
  5. Add the oil and eggs to the flour mixture. Blend until combined.
  6. Add the carrots and crushed pineapple with the juice. Mix thoroughly.
  7. Add the walnuts and raisins. Stir to combine.
  8. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes or until the center springs back when lightly touched.
  9. Cool completely in the pan before frosting.
Frosting
  1. Beat cream cheese and butter until light using the paddle of a stand mixer.
  2. Beat in all other ingredients.
  3. Frost cake when cool.
Recipe Notes

For recipes that call for solid vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, I use coconut oil is due to concerns about the negative health effects of hydrogenated fats.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Frittata con Cipolle (Frittata with Onions)

July 10, 2017

American chefs frequently do not understand Italian food.  Many can produce technically excellent dishes that lack the Italian sensibility.

One common error is putting in too much.  Too much of most anything into most anything.  To be sure, there are many restaurants headed by American chefs that serve excellent Italian food but there are far more that just don’t get it.

The usual culprit is what Italians would call the First Course, Il Primo Piatto.  This is soup, pasta or rice that is served as a separate course before the the Second Course, Il Secondo Piatto (usually meat, fish, or other protein), which is usually accompanied by side dishes, Contorni, in Italian.

Pasta “specials” are quite prone to this phenomenon.  There are many otherwise excellent restaurants that think that if a little is good, more is better, when it comes to their pasta “specials.”  Because I love pasta, if I’m at a restaurant that has a pasta special I always ask what it is.  More often than not, I start yawning (well, not really) part way through the list of ingredients added to the pasta.  After more than 2 or 3 main ingredients (not counting things like garlic, olive oil, and a few herbs) it’s too much.  You don’t need shrimp, artichoke hearts, chopped tomato, diced onion, roasted peppers, capers, and olives.  It’s simply too much.  The distinctiveness of the ingredients is lost.

I’m ragging on pasta because that is the most common culprit at American restaurants featuring “Italian” food.  Risotto and polenta are prone to the same phenomenon, however.  The most common offense is that both of these dishes are turned into vehicles for butter, cream, and cheese.  That is not what an Italian would do.  In a typical Italian household, polenta is cornmeal, water and salt.  That’s it.  There’s not usually a pat of butter or a spoon of cheese in sight unless added at the table to the diner’s preference but even that is rare.  The polenta is a foil for whatever is served with it.  It is not meant to scream, “Look at me!”  That doesn’t mean it isn’t supposed to, or doesn’t, taste good.  It’s not intended to be so rich and filling that it tries to steal the spotlight or dampen one’s appetite for the rest of the meal.

Unlike polenta, which is meant to accompany other dishes, risotto is meant to stand on its own as a First Course before the Second Course.  Risotto alla Milanese is the only exception.  Traditionally Risotto alla Milanese accompanies a veal cutlet (in Milan, of course).  No other risotto would be served with the second course in an Italian meal.

I realize that most of the time we do not eat a formal Italian meal, even in a restaurant.  Most of us have either what would be the first course (pasta or risotto, usually) or the second course (meat or fish plus a side dish or two), preceded by some sort of antipasto (appetizer), which literally means “before the pasta.”  Even so a risotto that is a fat “bomb” overly laden with butter, cream and/or cheese, might be American but it is simply not Italian in its sensibility.

Frequently, the issue is clouded even more but the addition of too many ingredients to the risotto.  Look at the asparagus risotto from a few weeks ago.  There are no competing flavors:  a light broth to add some savoriness, a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano, and a dollop of butter.  This is a classically Italian risotto.

I guess I’m really beating this one.  I clearly have strong feelings about Italian food and what passes for Italian food in America.  Think purity of flavor and simplicity of ingredients.  If an ingredient doesn’t support the main ingredient it shouldn’t be added.  I believe Italian food is the original “ingredient-driven” cuisine.

Ok, off my soap box an on to a recipe; one that is the essence of simplicity.

I’m going to guess that most of you have not had a frittata.  It is a fluffy but firm egg dish, usually with some sort of vegetable included.  Sometimes a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese is added but only if it supports the vegetable that is the star of the show.

Today’s frittata is onion.  That’s it, onion.  Plus a little olive oil and salt and pepper.  The onion is cooked slowly until it caramelizes.  The onion in this recipe was cooked for 50 minutes.  You should plan on 45-50.  It is mostly hands off, though you do need to stir every few minutes.

Once the eggs are added, they are cooked slowly.  Unlike a French omelet where the eggs are barely set and there isn’t (supposed to be) a touch of brown, a frittata is intended to be firm, slightly brown, and puffed up and airy from the cooking style.

Although I have converted to making, almost exclusively, a classic Italian frittata, when I was in college I did it the way my Italian Grandmother did.  She included a pinch of baking powder and a bit of flour.  It was a little firmer than a classic frittata; more like a savory eggy cake.

That frittata, alternating with sandwiches of butter, onion and blue cheese on homemade bread (not on the same day), constitute my lunchtime memories from my junior year in college.


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Frittata con Cipolle (Frittata with Onions)
I recommend NOT finishing the frittata under the broiler as called for by a number of food writers. First, it isn’t traditional. Second, if the frittata doesn’t slide out of the pan easily so that it can be flipped, you won’t be able to get it out of the pan to serve it after putting it under the broiler. I like using a good quality, heavy-bottomed, non-stick pan though a well-seasoned cast iron pan would work too. It is easier to get the frittata out of the pan if it has sloping sides rather that sides that are completely vertical. You can caramelize the onions several hours in advance and then complete the frittata later.
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Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
Servings
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Ingredients
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Slice the onion in half from top to bottom then across into 1/8 inch thick half-rounds.
  2. Warm the olive oil in a 12 inch heavy-bottomed sauté pan with sloping sides.
  3. Add the sliced onion and ½ teaspoon of salt.
  4. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until the onions are soft and caramelized. The onions should take on a uniform golden, then light brown, color. There should not be any dark brown or dry spots. This will take between 45 and 50 minutes. If it takes longer don’t worry. If it seems to happen in less time, the heat is probably too high.
  5. This picture was taken 15 minutes after the onions were added.
  6. This picture was taken 30 minutes after the onions were added.
  7. This picture was taken 45 minutes after the onions were added.
  8. This picture was taken 50 minutes after the onions were added. They are appropriately caramelized.
  9. While the onions are cooking, beat the eggs with a fork. Do not use an egg whip. The idea is not to beat in air but to uniformly combine the whites and yolks. Season with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  10. When the onions are fully caramelized, be sure there is an even slick of oil in the bottom of the pan. If not, add a tablespoon or so more.
  11. Turn the heat to medium high and evenly distribute the caramelized onions on the bottom of the sauté pan.
  12. Pour the beaten eggs on top of the onions, being sure to distribute the eggs evenly. DO NOT STIR THE EGGS once they are added to the pan. Immediately cover the pan and turn the heat to low.
  13. Cook until the eggs are just set in the middle and golden brown on the bottom, approximately 30 minutes. Move the pan around so that the heat is evenly distributed, including putting the pan off-center occasionally so there is heat directly on the edges of the pan, not just concentrated in the middle.
  14. When the eggs are just set in the center, the frittata should release easily from the pan. Sometimes it is helpful to run a silicone spatula around the edge of the frittata to help it release.
  15. Slide the frittata out of the pan and onto a large pizza pan.
  16. Invert the pan over the frittata.
  17. Grasp the sauté pan and pizza pan with both hands and flip them over in one quick motion.
  18. Put the sauté pan, with the now-upside-down frittata, back on the heat, uncovered, for about 5 minutes until the bottom of the frittata is golden brown.
  19. Slide the frittata onto a serving platter.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Aunt Ann’s Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie

June 30, 2017

I grew up at a time, and in a town, where people just dropped in, unannounced, to visit family and friends.

Some evenings we’d stay home.  Some evenings we’d go to town.  This was pretty much every Monday and Thursday when the stores were open until 9:00 PM.  And, mind you, we dressed to go to town!  Other evenings we’d visit family and friends.

Around the age of 5 or 6, when we went to Aunt Ann’s, I’d play with food.  Really.  And not at the table.  I don’t honestly know how this got started but Aunt Ann would spread out a vinyl tablecloth on the beige wall-to-wall carpet in her living room.  (Remember, this was around 1960!)  I would pull pots and pans and mixing bowls and other equipment (like box graters and spoons) out of her kitchen cabinets and haul my stash to the living room.

Aunt Ann circa 1965 at Grandma and Grandpa’s house

Then I’d raid the refrigerator for things like carrots, celery, and so forth.

I’d sit in the living room, on the tablecloth, grating vegetables and mixing things in the various pots and bowls.

My love of cooking has deep roots.

My love of peanut butter not so much.

For some reason, I despised peanut butter at that age.  (I know, that’s almost un-American!)  But just to keep things from being too quiet, Uncle Jano would sometimes walk towards me holding a jar of peanut butter and I would run like a vampire running from a wooden stake.

I don’t know what I thought was going to happen, but I had to escape from the peanut butter.

The ordeal usually ended with me face down on the sofa until Uncle Jano retreated…sometimes only to start again after I pulled my face out of the pillow.

Aunt Ann and Uncle Jano were great fun.  But they were only Aunt Ann and Uncle Jano if you were related to them through Uncle Jano.  If you were related to them through Aunt Ann, they were Aunt Honey and Uncle John.

From left to right: Uncle Jano, my Grandfather, Uncle “Booty” and my Dad, circa 1965 on a Sunday at my Grandparent’s house

Aunt Ann was a great cook.  She was ethnically Russian and made lots of Russian and Eastern European food like mushroom soup, potato soup, kielbasa, chicken paprikash, pierogi, stuffed cabbage, and so forth.

She also made Italian food, which she learned from the wife of the local Mafia Boss who lived down the street.  (I had a colorful childhood.  What can I say?)

There were the occasional American dishes, like Rum Balls and Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie, too.

Years after those episodes of “cooking” on Aunt Ann’s living room floor, when I was in my teens and twenties, I was always on the lookout for pineapple cream cheese pie when we went to visit.

In an attempt to keep this manageable, I am not posting a recipe for pie crust just yet, but I will at a future date.  If you have a favorite pie crust recipe, by all means, make your own.  If not, buy prepared pie crust from the grocery store.  But whatever you do, give this recipe a try if it appeals to you.  It’s always a hit!

This one is just for fun: Aunt Ann (far left), Aunt Margie (in the back), my mom (far right), my sister and my cousin “Rocky” circa 1950

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Aunt Ann's Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie
If you don’t have a favorite pie crust recipe, or if you aren’t comfortable making pie crust, buy prepared pie crust. Be sure to purchase NINE INCH DEEP DISH pie crust, however. If you are making your own pie crust, you can use a standard nine inch pie pan, deep dish is not necessary. The cream cheese filling is easier to make in a food processor though an electric mixer works, too. If you are using a mixer, the cream cheese will be much easier to mix if it is at room temperature. This is not critical if you are using a food processor.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
pies
Ingredients
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
pies
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Chop the nuts and reserve.
  2. If making your own crust, prepare and line two nine-inch pie pans. Refrigerate the crust-lined pans until the fillings are prepared.
  3. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the crushed pineapple, cornstarch, and 1/2 cup of sugar.
  4. Stir until the lumps are gone. The mixture will become cloudy from the cornstarch but will become clear once cooked.
  5. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
  6. Boil for approximately one minute, until thickened.
  7. Take the pan off the heat and allow the pineapple mixture to cool slightly.
  8. In a food processor or electric mixer, beat the cream cheese well.
  9. Add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, milk, eggs and vanilla. Mix until the cream cheese is thoroughly combined, all the sugar is dissolved, and there are no lumps.
  10. Divide the pineapple filling between the two pie-crust-lined pie pans.
  11. Top each pie with half the cream cheese mixture.
  12. Scatter the chopped nuts on the pies.
  13. Bake at 350°F for approximately 60 to 65 minutes until the tops of the pies are just beginning to turn golden and the filling is set.
  14. Cool to room temperature before serving. The pies will sink somewhat as they cool.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Croquetas de Jamon (Cuban Ham Croquettes)

May 1, 2017

In early 2014, my husband and I were lucky enough to go to Cuba with two close friends.  This was prior to the loosening up of restrictions on travel by Americans to the island nation.

Because of the guidelines governing such travel, we had to spend a significant portion of our time interacting with Cubans, not being tourists.  We visited a schools for the arts and music, toured cultural sites, attended lectures, saw a cigar factory, and met with some Cubans in their homes, among other activities.

All of Cuba is divided up into small units that are under the watchful eye of a trusted local who reports any unusual activities to the authorities.  These units could be a section of a street, for example, or a multi-unit building.  What turned out to be one of the most memorable events was meeting with the residents of one such building one evening in Cienfuegos.

The children put on a small performance, we had refreshments, then spent several hours chatting with the building’s residents.  It seemed to us that everyone was quite open, talking about the challenges, as well as the benefits (such as free education and health care) of life in Cuba.  In fact, while it seems that most Cubans we met were in favor of a more open society they were understandably very protective of their access to education and health care.

One man, seemed particularly open about the difficulties of life in Cuba.  This was surprising to us as his wife was the designated party operative responsible for overseeing this particular building.  Our suspicions seemed to be confirmed when he disappeared into their apartment shortly before the evening ended after his wife gave him “the look.”  As our vehicle was pulling away from the building, he ran out and waved us good-bye.  Clearly he had been banished from the meeting but kept a watchful eye from his apartment, exiting at just the right moment.

In addition to spending the major portion of our trip interacting with Cubans we were prohibited from actually going to the beach!  This was supposed to be an educational and cultural interchange, not fun.

Even more interesting is that, at the time, Americans were prohibited from buying Cuban cigars and rum.  Mind you, I’m not talking about bringing these items back to the United States which was definitely forbidden, but buying and using them while in Cuba.

This would seem to be a singularly difficult rule to enforce and I can’t say that anybody paid particular attention to it.  One of our most pleasant experiences was sitting at a park on the waterfront in Cienfuegos sipping rum (from plastic cups) smoking cigars and watching the sun set.

We ate a lot of croquetas in Cuba and drank a lot of rum punch, mojitos, and cariocas.  After we got back we pulled together a Cuban dinner with a few other friends.  I made the traditional finger-sized croquetas—seven dozen of them, actually!  Here is a picture of me frying them as well as a platter full of cooked ones along with some plantain chips and mojitos.

For this post, since I was cooking them as an entrée rather than as a nibble with cocktails, I made them larger.

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Croquetas de Jamon (Cuban Ham Croquettes)
Instead of ham, croquetas can be made with cooked fish, salted cod, or potatoes among other ingredients. Cracker crumbs are the standard coating used in Cuba but fine dry breadcrumbs will work fine. I really like using plain panko crumbs whizzed in the food processor to finely pulverize them. They give an amazing crunch! If you are making these to serve as nibbles, you should get seven dozen. If you are making larger croquetas to serve as a main course, this recipe will make 16. Two or three of the larger croquetas will serve one person depending on what else is being served.
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Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 9 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 9 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. If the ham was cooked with a sweet glaze, rinse the glaze off using warm water.
  2. Cut the ham into one-inch cubes.
  3. Finely grind the ham in a food processor or meat grinder. Reserve the ground ham.
  4. Over medium heat, warm the milk in a small saucepan.
  5. Meanwhile, in a two-quart heavy bottomed pan, sauté the onion in butter on medium heat until soft, approximately 4-5 minutes.
  6. Add the flour to the onion-butter mixture and cook for about two minutes, stirring constantly. Do not brown the flour.
  7. Note, the flour will appear golden from the combination of the butter and the onions.
  8. Add about three tablespoons of the warm milk to the flour mixture. Stir well to fully incorporate. Continue adding about three tablespoons of warm milk at a time, stirring well after each addition, until all the milk has been incorporated. The mixture will form a rather heavy dough.
  9. Continue to cook the dough for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, without browning.
  10. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the ham. Keeping the mixture warm makes it much easier to blend the ham into the dough which would otherwise seize up with the addition of cold ham.
  11. Off the heat, stir in the nutmeg and parsley. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
  12. Spread the mixture into a small oblong pan. Cool to room temperature uncovered.
  13. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, about six hours or overnight.
  14. Form the croquetas. If making small ones, roll portions of the dough into ½ inch diameter cylinders. Cut the cylinders into pieces about 2 inches long. If making larger croquetas, divide the mixture into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball then flatten into a patty about ½ inch thick. Put the croquetas in a single layer on a cookie sheets. Refrigerate the croquetas until very cold.
  15. To bread the croquetas, beat 3 eggs seasoned with ½ teaspoon of salt. Dip the croquettes in the beaten egg then roll in crumbs.
  16. Put the croquetas onto cookie sheets once again. Refrigerate until cold.
  17. Repeat the egg and crumb coating a second time. The second coating is necessary to get the traditional crunch. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
  18. Cook the croquetas in a deep fryer at 350°F until deep brown. Alternatively, put ½ inch of oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan. Bring the oil to 350°F. Fry the croquetas, turning once, until deeply browned. Drain briefly on absorbent paper. Keep the croquetas warm in a low oven until they are all fried.
  19. The croquetas ready to serve.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Slovak Caraway Soup

April 26, 2017

Growing up with an ethnically Italian mother and an ethnically Slovak father, we mostly ate Italian food with Slovak food appearing on the table every week or two.  On Sundays we usually went to visit my father’s parents and got a bit more Slovak food.

There were some classic American dishes that appeared on our table, too.  But, honestly, not that often.  The only thing my mother made that I didn’t like was hamburgers.  Well, that and liver.

But even my mother didn’t like liver.  She made it because my father liked it.  There was never the expectation that anyone else would eat it.

When she made liver…and that process involved running from the living room, through the dining room, to the kitchen to turn the liver as it sautéed and then running back to the living room to avoid the smell…she always made something else for the rest of us.  Well, that wasn’t so unusual either.  Remember…Southern Italian mother…food is important…everyone needs to eat.  There were nights when she would make one meal for my father, one for my sister, and one for me.  She would eat one of the three.

We always ate dinner together as a family and, despite the comment above, we usually at the same meal.  Sometimes, though, we each got individually catered food.

But back to hamburgers for a moment.  My mother was a great cook.  I know she used really good beef for her hamburgers.  She usually picked out a whole cut and had the butcher grind it.  She never bought ground beef that I recall.  I still follow the basic blueprint of her hamburger recipe today and enjoy it.  So, I can’t really tell you why I thought her hamburgers were awful.  But I did.

Soup was a big deal in our house.  My father really liked soup.  Interestingly, I don’t remember having Caraway Soup more than a few times while growing up.  I do know, however, that while I was in college I got the recipe from my mother after it appeared on our table one day.  It seemed like a revelation.

It has been a regular on my table ever since.

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Slovak Caraway Soup
This is a light, refreshing soup based on a vegetable broth for which the ingredients are almost always on hand. I like serving it as a first course though it works equally well for lunch or as a light supper. Grating the vegetables on the large holes of a box grater was one of my mother’s tricks. It makes fast work of prep and the small pieces quickly flavor the broth.
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Cuisine Slovak
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cuisine Slovak
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 45 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Shred the carrots on the teardrop holes of a box grater.
  2. Shred the celery on the teardrop holes of a box grater.
  3. Thinly slice half an onion.
  4. Combine carrots, celery, sliced onion, 2 teaspoons of salt, ½ teaspoon of black pepper and 2 quarts of water in a stock pot. Cover. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Add the caraway seeds. Cover and simmer another 25 minutes.
  6. Strain the broth. Discard the solids.
  7. Return the broth to the stock pot. The soup can be made several hours ahead to this point.
  8. When your ready to finish the soup, return the broth to a bare simmer.
  9. In a heavy-bottomed stock pot large enough to hold the soup, sauté the minced onion in butter until soft but not brown, about 3-4 minutes.
  10. Add the flour to the sautéed onions and cook until lightly colored, about 2 minutes, stirring almost constantly.
  11. Stir the hot broth into the onion-flour mixture a ladleful at a time, stirring well while adding the broth to avoid lumps.
  12. After about one-third of the broth has been added, the remainder can be added all at once.
  13. Bring to a boil and boil gently for 1-2 minutes to thicken. Adjust salt and pepper.
  14. While the soup is boiling, beat the eggs with 1/3 cup of water. Season the eggs with salt.
  15. While constantly whisking the stock, drizzle in the eggs to create shreds of egg.
  16. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Sformato di Spinaci (Spinach Casserole)

January 13, 2017

The word sformato in Italian means deformed or shapeless.  When applied to food, standard Italian-English dictionaries often translate it as pie or soufflé. It is none of the above.

A sformato is most definitely not deformed or shapeless.  In fact, a food historian described a sformato as “something that was cooked in the mould [sic] and then extracted from it” (Alexandra Grigorieva, Naming Authenticity and Regional Italian Cuisine in Authenticity in the Kitchen: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2005, edited by Richard Hosking).  Nor is a sformato really a pie or a soufflé as those terms are usually used.  It has no crust of any sort, as would a pie.  It is not puffy like a souffle.  Sometimes it doesn’t even contain eggs.

A sformato is most often made of vegetables, usually bound with some combination of eggs, cream, cheese, and/or béchamel (balsamella in Italian), and cooked in a baking dish.  I think the best English translation of the word is casserole.

Sformato di Spinaci, spinach sformato (or, reluctantly, spinach casserole), is one of those dishes that has iconic status in my husband’s family.  Like Merluzzo in Umido, the recipe came from Italy with his grandmother whom we called Nonni.  Nonni is one of those made up words that sometimes take hold in a family based on mispronunciations of little kids.  The Italian word for grandmother is Nonna.  However, Nonni is to Nonna as Gramma is to Grandmother.

Just as Pasta Ascuitta has only one meaning in my family, Sformato has only one meaning in my husband’s.  If you simply say “sformato,” everyone knows you mean spinach sformato, and not, for example, cauliflower sformato.

I first had sformato at Christmas Dinner at my in-law’s house in 1989.  Although I had been cooking northern Italian food since 1973 based largely on Marcella Hazan’s wonderful cookbooks, that Christmas was really the beginning of my learning to make some of my husband’s family’s northern Italian favorites.  It’s really a whole different taste profile from the southern Italian dishes I grew up with.

I’ve actually taken a heretical twist with my interpretation of Nonni’s sformato. I’ve added a little balsamella for moisture. This was most definitely not in the original, though it is not an uncommon addition to sformato. If you want to make the original version, just leave out the balsamella.  It will be a little drier.  You might want to not squeeze the spinach quite as tightly if you don’t include the balsamella.

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Sformato di Spinaci (Spinach Sformato or Spinach Casserole)
Nonni always made this with ground beef but Italian sausage, casing removed and crumbled, works really well (a bit of southern Italian heresy creeping in!). It can also be made without meat, but the amount of spinach should be increased by an additional 10 oz. to a total of 30 oz. I have occasionally used fresh spinach but, honestly, frozen chopped spinach works just fine. I doubt you could reliably tell the difference in a side-by-side comparison of fresh vs. frozen spinach in this dish.
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Course Vegetables
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
For the spinach mixture
For the balsamella
Course Vegetables
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
For the spinach mixture
For the balsamella
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Instructions
For the spinach mixture
  1. Cook the frozen spinach in a heavy bottomed sauce pan tightly covered until thawed, breaking up the spinach from time to time.
  2. As soon as the spinach is thawed, pour the contents of the pan into a fine mesh sieve and allow the spinach to drain and cool.
  3. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze small handfuls of the spinach to remove excess water.
  4. Cut through the mass of squeezed spinach about eight or ten times with a knife then rub it through your fingers to loosen it. It will be pretty tightly wadded up from squeezing out the liquid.
  5. Brown the ground beef or sausage in olive oil over medium heat. You want to get some really browned bits of meat for the flavor. Don't make the mistake of just cooking the meat until it is no longer pink.
  6. When the meat is nicely browned, add the onion and cook until golden and soft. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
  7. Combine the meat mixture and spinach in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cool briefly.
  8. Meanwhile, make the breadcrumbs by removing the crusts from a slice of two-day old home-style white bread. Tear the bread into pieces and whiz in a food processor until processed into evenly sized crumbs. Reserve.
  9. Melt the butter and toss with the breadcrumbs. Reserve.
  10. Make the balsamella (see directions below).
  11. Add the balsamella to the cooled meat and spinach mixture. Stir well, loosening up the spinach. When well combined, stir in the eggs. Be certain that the mixture is not so hot that it cooks the eggs.
  12. Reserve two tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese and mix the remainder into the spinach-meat-balsamella mixture.
  13. Pour the spinach mixture into a buttered 9-inch round or 8-inch square baking dish. Sprinkle top with the buttered crumbs and reserved Parmesan cheese.
  14. Bake at 350°F for approximately 60 minutes or until golden brown.
  15. Cool about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
For the balsamella
  1. Heat the milk in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan until bubbles begin to form around the edges. Do not bring the milk to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour when the foam subsides. Cook for several minutes without browning.
  3. Add the milk, approximately two tablespoonsful at a time, mixing well after each addition. Adding the milk in small amounts should allow you to stir out any lumps before adding the next bit of milk.
  4. After all the milk has been added, bring to a boil and cook for one minute, until thickened.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg.
Recipe Notes

This recipe doubles well.  If you want to cook a double recipe in a single pan, use a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish.  Bake at 325°F rather than 350°F as it will brown too much around the outside before the inside is cooked.  If necessary, raise the heat to 375°F at the very end, and put the sformato on the top shelf of the oven, to brown the top.

If you want to use fresh spinach, use 2 pounds instead of the 20 ounces of frozen spinach.  Remove the stems.  Wash the spinach, shaking off most of the water.  Put the spinach in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven with just the liquid clinging to the leaves.  Cook covered, over medium heat till fully wilted.  Drain and proceed as above with the exception that you will need to do much more chopping of the cooked and squeezed spinach than the eight to ten cuts suggested above.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Panettone (Italian Sweet Bread with Citron and Raisins)

December 10, 2016

I have been planning the launch of this site for several years.  It’s going live shortly before Christmas, a time when Italians traditionally enjoy panettone.  Panettone for breakfast.  Panettone as a gift.  Panettone as a snack.  While there are wonderful commercially produced products, I prefer to make my own.

The fact that the site is going live now feels like a gift…to myself!  So, I’m making panettone!!!  One for me, and half-a-dozen for friends.

I’ve been making Panettone for almost 30 years.  This year I’m using candied citron from Italy.  I plan to try making my own candied citron from the wonderful Buddha’s Hand fruits available from the farmers’ market in Palm Springs, California where I spend time each winter using this recipe from David Lebovitz.  For now, though, I’ll be using the citron from Italy.

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Panettone
Panettone is a sweet bread from Italy, traditionally served around Christmas. It is enriched with eggs and butter and contains raisins and candied citron.
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Course Sweet Breads
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 14 hours
Servings
loaves
Ingredients
Course Sweet Breads
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 14 hours
Servings
loaves
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. This is candied citron from Italy. The flavor is superior to the diced candied citron sold in supermarkets.
  2. If using large pieces of citron, cut them into batons approximately 1/4 inch on a side.
  3. After cutting batons of citron, or if using citron that is already diced, slice the citron into thin slices.
  4. Beat salt, sugar, eggs and egg yolks together. Reserve.
  5. Use a mixer with a dough hook. Put 1200 g flour in the bowl of the mixer. Add yeast and begin to mix. Add warm water and mix. Add egg mixture and mix. Slowly with the mixer running, add 225 grams of melted butter and orange oil or zest. Knead for approximately 10 minutes, scraping the side of the bowl a few times. Add citron and raisins and continue mixing till incorporated. The dough will be sticky.
  6. Butter the inside of a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of the softened butter. Place dough in the buttered bowl and be sure to butter the top with some of the melted butter. Cover dough with waxed paper and place a kitchen towel on top. Refrigerate overnight. It should have at least doubled by morning. In place of a large bowl, you can use a food-service container of approximately 7 quarts with a tight-fitting lid.
  7. Punch the dough down by hand. Cover again with waxed paper and towels and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk.
  8. Butter 3 cylindrical baking pans, approximately 7 inches in diameter, using 3 tablespoons of softened butter. Set the pans aside.
  9. Knead the dough by hand until smooth and the air bubbles have been worked out. Form into 3 balls and place each into one of the baking pans. Butter the tops with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter.
  10. Cover with waxed paper and a towel. Allow to rise at room temperature until doubled (or a little more), approximately 45-60 minutes.
  11. Cut a deep cross in the top of each loaf. Bake at 350° F for 55-65 minutes. Use a cake tester to be sure that none of the dough clings to tester.
  12. Place on a cooling rack. Cool slightly and remove from the pans. Cool completely on the rack. Wrap tightly until ready to use.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2016 by VillaSentieri.com.  All rights reserved.

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