Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Decembre 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was brought to us by Anna of Vey Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge th edaring bakers everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenging recipes.

I was really excited by this challenge as it seemed like a great idea for holiday decorations, and I couldn´t wait getting started. In fact, this time I had it ready three weeks before due date. I chose Y´s recipe for no other reason that I didn´t have whipping cream on hand and didn´t want to go out shopping to get some. The recipe turned out okay, even though the dough did puff up a bit and I ended up baking two houses, rolling the dough for the second one slighly thinner to facilitate "construction". My "glue" of choice was royal icing that hardened up really fast and tasted good, too (and I liked up quite a lot of it from my fingers while trying to make things keep together). The decoration part was fun, too, melting candies for stained-glass windows and gluing silver drops to the roof, even if in Italy, as usual, it´s difficult when it comes to colourful candies ... I have this problem all the time when using recipes that are heavy on candies or other colourful stuff.

Anyway, the challenge was really fun to do, and I think it would be a great baking project with kids :)

Oh, and by the way - it was tasty, too! I wish I could live in a gingerbread house, waking up in the morning and taking a bite out of wall fro breakfast :) But I think it would make me homeless sopn ....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Just wanted to share .... She's Areta, our "Sleeping Beauty" Maremma Sheepdog

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One more week has passed and it's time again for the "Hot or Not" list. So, what's been happening here in Morsasco all week long?


- New chicken coop finally built and happy chickens moved into their new home, far away from the bedroom window to not to hear the rooster crowing at odd times. Aren't they supposed to have an inner clock or something? Ours apparently doesn't have one, as he starts whenever he feels like it.

- A picture published on Craftgawker!

- New (for me) blog discovered today - loads of gorgeous stuff for printing, like the Carnivorous Plants Calendar

- Christmas presents problem solved, thanks also to Luana's helpful link

- Ordering books from Amazon, inlcuding Julia Child's "French Cooking" - it was too much talked about to be ignored

- Making lists

- Ticking things off lists - very satisfying :)


- Loosing a baby chick to an unknown beast just one day before moving into the new coop - very sad :(

- Bad hair days ....

Pass at Loobylu's for more Wednesday Hot or Not lists

Monday, December 14, 2009

This month is my first Daring Cooks Challenge, and it's been quite a challenge, really. I've completely forgotten about the deadline until, well .... until this morning. Fortunately this month's recipe, brought to us by Simone from Junglefrog Cooking, is quite last-minute friendly. Shopping, cooking, taking pictures and eating - it all took no more than 2 hours. I cheated on the pastry, using store-bought puff pastry, and had to chop the spinach instead of pureeing it given the lack of the necessary equipment. The spinach-arugula-cream cheese-mix got some dill and lemon to spice it up and made great leftovers, too, baked in individual ramekins. (I love dill and suffer tremendously the fact that it rarely can be found in Italy and doesn't grow well here, every time I go back home I bring a huge bunch of dill, freeze it and use on very special occasions only :))

The salmon en croute turned out to be quite delicious, and rather photogenic, too. You can get the the recipe here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

This weekend was dedicated to pre-Christmas baking. Gingerbread-baking, to be exact. Coming from Germany, I am completely spoiled when it comes to gingerbread, as in Germany (like in most Nordic countries) gingerbread for Christmas is really a BIG hit, and there are thousands of different styles. Virtually each city has got its own recipe, and the supermarkets offer further temptations, like chocolate-covered jam-filled gingerbread hearts. I decided to try a recipe for soft molded gingerbread that I've cut out of a magazine years ago, wanting to use once again my new shortbread pan.

Like most gingerbreads, also this one calls for baking soda and for an overnight refrigeration before baking, so plan ahead accordingly. The results are well worth waiting - the resulting gingerbread is soft and kind of fudgy in the middle, with a nice spiciness from ginger, nutmeg and cloves, but not overly so. The glaze gives it a nice touch, but according to me is more of a visual addition than a taste-wise one.

All in all, definitively a keeper. And a beautiful one, too.

Soft Molded Gingerbread Recipe

1 cup butter
3/4 cup + 2 tbs sugar
1 gg
1/2 cup molasses
2 tbs honey

3 3/4 cup AP flour
1 tbs cocoa
4 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp cinnamon
a dash a freshly ground pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp soda

Cream butter with sugar, add the egg, the molasses and the honey, beat well until fully incorporated.

Mix together the dry ingredients, add to the egg mixture, mix well first with a spoon, then with hands until a dough pulls together.

Wrap dough in clingfilm, refigirate overnight.

Take out of the fridge and let sit at room temp for 15 min. Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease the gingerbread pan, put the dough into pan and pat with your fingers until distributed evenly. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the top appears dry (not overbake it! It should be still soft inside!)

Let rest in the pan for 5 - 10 min, in the meanwhie mix 1/4 cup of confectioner's sugar with about 2 tbs of water to make a glaze. Take the ready gingerbread out of the pan, brush with glaze, cut into slices and let cool. Enjoy!

You can roll the dough and cut cookies out of it, as well. Adjust the baking time accordingly to about 10-15 min.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


The good thing about living in the country is that beautiful things are just around the corner. This time, I found this particular "flower" in the stack of fire wood in our backyard.

Another week, another hot or not list following Loobylu's thread.


- My first ever Nativity. It comes from Peru :) Love Maria and Joseph with the traditional Peruvian caps and capes and the baby Jesus in his nutshell-crib. Have discovered it at a fair-trade market in Genoa, along with other Nativities from all over the world and tasty mango fair-trade jam.

- Two more weeks till Christmas - means two more weeks till I can go to Germany to visit my parents and grandma+grandpa. Means lots and lots of cooking and baking and trying out all kind of new recipes.

- Our dogs. One (or rather three) of the most beautiful things when I come back home after 1,5 hours of commuting. How could I eve live without them before?!

- A very long weekend due to the two days of holidays yesterday ("bridge") and today (The Immaculate Conception) - lots of time to indulge in knitting by the fire, making long walks outside and finally building the new chicken coop.

Not hot

- Two more weeks till Christmas - and no idea about presents to make ...

- A nasty landslide that has blocked the (already slow) commuter train line for most of the last week. Means - 2 hours to go to work and other 2,5 to come back home .... And it's only December! I'm wondering what it's gonna be like when real winter comes?

Fortunately, only 2 Not's this week - against 4 Hot's. Definitively a good week :)

I love cooking, but I don't have a lot of cookbooks. Usually, I prefer internet as a source of inspiration instead of spending 20-30 euros for a collection of recipes, most of which I never come around recreating. With Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson it was a different story altogether. I first discovered her wonderful blog and loved virtually any recipe I tried. From there, it was only one step to buying Heidi's book that is chock-full not only with gorgeous pictures and tasty dishes, but also a ton of useful information on healthy cooking. Till then, I had only a very blurred idea about what "Healthy cooking" was about, and considered health food stores as the reign of people wearing Birkenstock sandals throughout the year (WITH socks, if the weather conditions should require it) and feeding their children sugar-free dusty muesli for breakfast. After reading Super Natural Cooking, the things have changed. I'm no more afraid of buying whole grains and flours, trying different kinds of browns sugars (and yes, they ARE all different!) and turn to the book and to the blog anytime I need inspiration or am in doubt about some "healthy" stuff.
The following recipe for Gingery Shortbread is from Heidi's book, though there are variations to it on her blog, too. I changed the original recipe a bit, using buckwheat flour instead of the amaranth one, and adjusting baking time and temperature as i was dieing to try my new shortbread pan and figured that freezing the dough inside the pan and then putting it straight into hot oven, as instructed, would do the ceramic pan no good.

Was I satisfied with the results? Well, given the fact that I've never had any shortbread before, this one was delicious, with a hot spiciness from the ginger and a tenderness from the butter that I've never met in a cookie :) I will definitively try all the variations of the recipe (rosemary and pine nuts seem so good!), hoping that a less chunky dough (due to minced candied ginger) will result in a more defined pattern.


Gingery Shortbread Recipe

(adapted from "Super Natural Cooking" by Heidi Swanson - I give full dose here, though I halved the recipe to fit my pan)

1 1/2 cups white whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbs ground ginger
1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
2/3 cup natural cane sugar (I used Demerara sugar)
1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger

Mix flours, salt and ground ginger in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, cream butter with sugar, then add the dry ingredients and the minced ginger and mix until just combined and crumbly. Gather together and wrap tightly into cling film, refrigerate for 20 min.
Preheat oven to 160 ° C. Spay the shortbread pan with non-stick spray and pat the dough into the pan. Prick entire surface with a fork and bake for about 25-30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before releasing the gingerbread from the pan. Eat.

Alternatively, you can roll the dough and cut cookies out of it. In this case, I would follow Heidi's suggestion to freeze the cut cookies for 10 minutes before baking, and reduce the baking time to about 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies.

Do you remember my post on the cardigan knitting project from about 2 weeks ago? The chunky cozy gray alpaca knitting? Well, the things did go on quite slowly, mainly for the lack of time, but I'm about 1/3 through. The surprising thing is - what you see here is not the front of the cardigan, and neither the back , but - the sleeve! Yes, this one is started from the sleeve, which is quite unique in my experience. The only problem with this project - which I think is the problem of all the chunky knits - it's HEAVY! By now it weights around 300 grams, and the wool destined for it is a total of almost 1 kg ... Stay tuned for more - there are still 700 grams of top-quality knitting to be posted :)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Incredible, one month has passed since the last challenge. This month the recipe chosen by Lisa Michelle was quite familiar to me - after all, living in Italy has the advantage to getting to eat fresh-made Cannolli as often as one wishes to. It was quite exciting to made them from scratch and results were very satisfying, even though frying in my small kitchen was quite a challenge in itself: I added orange water and orange-scented chocolate to the ricotta-filling and decorated the filled cannolli with candied orange peel. What do you think can i be proud of them? :) Check out what fellow bakers did here!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What’s hot on a Wednesday?

Yes, it’s that time of the week again. Following Loobylu’s thread here it comes again – what’s hot and what’s not on a Wednesday?


- Four baby chickens that have successfully survived the 600 + km of us changing home

- The Sharon fruit tree and the pomegranate tree in my new garden that provide me with sweet tasty fruit for my lunchbox

- The wood-burning stove in our living room – never had such a cosy warm winter

- Kimmi dolls – have just discovered these gorgeous Japanese wooden dolls last week. Still cannot decide about to whom of them to give a shelter on my library shelf.


- A Skorpion in the bathtub - these are the disadvantages of living out in the "wild"

- 2 weeks of continuous fog around here

- Commuter trains that are always late

- The last part of “Un medico in famiglia”
- an Italian tv-format adapted from the Spanish Médico de familia - went on air yesterday, only 2 weeks after I have first discovered this beautiful a bit naïve but good-hearted piece of Italian cinematography. And I have just started loving all of them!

What is hot or not at your place this week?

Knitting Projects
Can you believe that this gorgeous scarf is only two hours of work? Made of pompom acrylic wool, it’s so soft and fluffy I’d like to wear it all day long. The colour combination is really nice and is available in many more colours (greens, pinks, turquoises …..) .
By the way, if you like it, you can buy it here!

Inspired by Bakerella’s gorgeous mini cakes on a stick, I finally got around to making some myself for my office-leave in Rome. I adopted the recipe a bit to the things I had on hand, and was quite satisfied with the results. The mini-cakes are tasty and give a full blast of intense chocolate flavour in one perfect bite. They are lovely to look at, too :)

5 cups cake crumbs (I used chocolate)
½ cup fresh cream
Chocolate (I used white)
Food colourings
Mix the cake crumbs with the cream to create an even mixture. Refrigerate until workable. Make nut-sized mushroom-shaped bites with a chunky “stem” and a rounded “cap”. Stick on skewers, dip the tops in melted chocolate (coloured to your liking if using white), and decorate to make them look like cupcakes. Store in a cool place.

Knitting Projects
Having lots of time to spend on the train to and from Genoa going to work and back, the options are three – sleeping, reading and knitting. My newest knitting project comes from the Italian magazine “Maglia” that is available at the newspaper stand once a week and comes with about 10 new patterns and a skein of wool. The wool comes in “natural” colours and is intended to create a knitted blanket made of different-patterned squares, not unlike a quilt. The blanket is too much (and a bit too boring) for me, I’d rather use the knitted squares to make pillows (follow the next posts for the evolution of this idea), but the patterns are really beautiful. Unlike most of the knitting stuff available in the magazines, these ones don’t look like from my grandma’s closet. The project I am currently working on is a chunky braided cardigan, knitted all in one piece out of alpaca-merino wool taken as a double thread. The results till now are lovely – thanks to the double thread the work goes on fast, and I am quite intrigued by the fact that it’s all a one-piece.
I will keep posting about the progress. For today I leave you with the result of an hour’s work:


It’s been a really long time since my last post, and I apologise with all my dear readers who came along to find nothing new. In the meanwhile, lots of things happened. Two weeks ago, me, my wonderful BF, our 3 dogs and 5 chickens + 4 baby chickens moved house. As I told in my last post, I have changed office and am working in Genoa (Liguria – think sea, foccaccia and Pesto) , while living in a rural house in Morsasco (Piemonte – think hazelnuts, gianduia and lots of wine), a teeny-tiny village of 700 inhabitants. Even though the miracle of the modern communication technology has long ago reached this place, we still don’t have internet at home, so that’s the reason for the delay.

These days have been busy with packing and unpacking stuff, building the new coop for our chickens and doing numerous trips to IKEA – officially to get 4 (FOUR) Billy libraries (follow their fate in one of the next posts), unofficially to get these marvellous ginger-spiced caramels:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Following the thread on Loobylu’s page (which, by the way, is one of my favourite blogs, and the first one I started reading, either) I decided to participate in this week’s Hot or Not series.

So, what’s hot on a Wednesday?

The last beautiful Indian Summer days in Rome are definitely hot

Going to the Vatican Museums tomorrow – Hot! I am ashamed to say that after more than a year in Rome I still haven’t been there. Tomorrow is my last chance…Why? See the “Not so Hot” part :)

The Feijoa tree that’s growing in our backyard. It bloomed beautifully all summer long, and yesterday I tried my first fruit – it’s fantastic! It tastes like a mix of wild strawberry and kiwi, sweet and tangy and intense. I think I’m hooked on those ….

Shopping – hot hot hot!!!! I did quite a bit of online-shopping lately and am currently waiting for:

These gorgeous Japanese crafting books bought from here, which is the best source when it comes to Japanese books.

A book full of scarf knitting projects from here – winter, I’m ready!!

A shortbread mold with a beautiful butterfly pattern.

Lots of fabrics and other pretty little things from Dawanda – the German equivalent of Etsy (by the by, I’ve got a shop on Dawanda – come to visit me soon ;)

Waiting for baby chicks to hatch – incredibly hot! Our sitting hen is currently hatching 16 eggs which should be due in 3 days. Last time we scored 5 out of 10 and kept her. She’s quite a beauty by now:

What’s not-so-hot?

I am leaving Rome. Like, next week already. I am moving to Genoa, which is a cool city, and I will do a nice job, which is cool as well, but I will be missing Rome. Things like stepping out of the metro and finding the Coliseum right in front of you, or strolling along the Fori Impreriali – my favorite part of Rome, stopping for a piece of pizza in San Giovanni or going to Porta Portese flea market ….It’s just the usual story – you think you still have a lot of time to do everything, and then the time is over, you move on and leave things undone. Oh, I’m getting too melancholic here…

Angry neighbors in general – not hot

Angry neighbors that don’t like dogs and keep on complaining – so not hot

Packing, cleaning, fighting with Italian bureaucracy for moving house – not hot at all.

Monday, October 26, 2009


If you would like to have a beautiful white puppy of Italian maremma sheepdog, take a look here.

Oh yes, I'm a Daring Baker and this month's challenge was making Macarons. "Macaron" is french for "Damn much work for this neat little cookie". I've been dying to try them from the first time I saw them last year on internet. Cute little cookies with different fillings and in rainbow colors - that was quite intriguing.
For the challenge we were supposed to use the french technique. I started full of enthusiasm, grinding my own nuts, letting the eggwhites age on the counter and putting high hopes into the result. Suffice to say that I failed competely at that. The macarons came out flat and brittle and I felt defeated. Fortunately after reading the comments on the forum I realized that I was not the only one. Many fellow bakers did have problems with the recipe and some have suggested trying Tartellette's recipe. It worked like a treat! For my Pesto-inspired macarons I did sub half of the almonds for pine nuts and prepared basil-infused white chocolate ganache. The macarons came out quite pefect, cute little feet and all, even though I wish I had made smaller circles. The flavors played toghether nicely and the cookies were gone whithin an hour :)
Would I make them again? Not on a day-to-day basis, but for some fancy party surely yes!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

One of my last year's projects - a soft woolly bolero with matching mittens. It makes me think of Little Red Riding Hood, Heidi and other heroes of my childhood :)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Magic Tree

Come with me to the fairy land to see my little shiny Magic tree ....

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pizza pizza

Living in Italy, one would suppose that I'm surrounded by innumerate occasions to eat good pizza. Unfortunately, Rome is full of mediocre pizza, and finding a really good one is quite an challenge. You're best off buying it at the small standing-in pizzerias where they sell lot of types by weight. Spending around 8 euro, you can sample around 4 pieces with different toppings.
But when I'm not into eating out, I like making pizza at home. It's cheap and tasty, and good girl as I am I will even share my treasured never-fail pizza recipe with you.

You start with this:
325 ml water
4 Tbsp olive oil
500 g bread flour
1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 packet dry yeast

Dump it all into the bread machine choosing the pizza-sycle (1,5 hours). (of course you can make it without bread machine, too. Dissolve yeast in a bit if warm water knead all the ingredient for about 10 min, until you've a smooth elastic dough. Put into a lightly oiled bowl, cower with a towel and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour)

Go on to prepare the toppings and the sauce.
For the sauce, you will need about half a liter of plain tomato sauce, in Italy it's called "passata di pomodoro", basically it's just pureed canned tomatoes with a bit of salt. Add some olive oil, salt, a bit of sugar and a bit of dry oregano. Done.

Now shred your mozarella. You don't want to waste your good stuff on the pizza - it will be too watery. Use the dryest kind you can find, and pat the moisture with a paper towel. Shred it or cut into little cubes.

Preheat your skillet.

By now your dough shouldbe ready. Pour it onto your well floured working surface and divide it into 5 pieces (makes medium-sized pizza).

Roll out the dough to fit your skillet. Dust the skillet with flour, put the dough disk inside, smear with the sauce, top with mozarella.

It will look like this:

Put lid on top and lower the flame:

Cook for about 5-7 minutes, taking care not to burn the undreside too much (a bit charred is ok, though, it gives it the "real" pizza touch.

When it's ready, put other toppings - here I used basilikum and prosciutto - and enjoy :)

Long Greek-goddess style dresses were all the hype this summer. This one I made of light jersey. I really like the neckline of this one - it shows off the shoulders and the back nicely :)

Oh, and by the way - if you like this dress, you can buy it here!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Meet the tofu

In my last post, I've been speaking about the Japanese ability to anthropomorphyze everything. Browsing through the web today, I came along a great site selling Japanese kawaii stuff - bento boxes, stationary, cell phone charms...And guess what I found there?! A plush toy figuring a...tofu cube....dressed as a wolf...TOFU?! Dressed as a wolf? I mean, really? Anyone who has ever seen a block of silken tofu know that it kind of ... lacks personality ... But despite my firm resolution not to like it, I fell in love immediately... making me want to spend cold winter evenings cuddling this squishy adorable cube of ...whatever ... Just judge for yourself:

And if apple-pie tofu isn't quite your thing, there is also a green bean that looks like a dog that looks like a bean.

To top it all, here is a triplet of algae....It kills me thinking that this is what my sushi-wrapper really look like.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Does it remind you of someone famous? No? Unfortunately me neither.... Inspired by Panda Bread and this cutie, both examples of Japanese capacity to turn everything from bread to domestic animals into icons of cuteness, I wanted to try my own version of it....Well, from the aesthetic point of view the experiment failed. The bread was still tasty and made great breakfast toasted and slathered with butter and honey :)

...a hand-knitted warm fluffy jumper is your best friend. This one is from soft mohair wool and is the result of last year's cold weather stay-in. The attached scarf and the belt come from the Roman flea-market "Porta Portese" and are actually a silk shawl divided in two.

Got milk?

I love breakfast. I would happily skip lunch and dinner for having breakfast 3 times a day. It's been only recently though that I have discovered granola. The good, homemade type of it, not the store-bought chock full of sugar and fat. Today, I will share with you my favorite granola recipe with olive oil, honey and pistacchios. Topped with some milk or homemade yogurt (thanks to my new yogurt-maker!) it's the best way for me to start the day :)

Olive Oil Granola Recipe
(adopted from The Kitchn)

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup salted roasted pistachios, hulled
1 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
1 cup dry grated coconut
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup mild extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
Dried fruit like cherries or cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large bowl, combine oats, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, coconut, honey, olive oil, salt, cinnamon and cardamom. Spread mixture on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until golden brown and well toasted.

2. Transfer granola to a large bowl and add dry berrries, tossing to combine. Serve with cold milk or yogurt.

Yield: About 9 cups.


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