Food – Sweet & Savoury

I find INSPIRATION everywhere – sometimes in the strangest places

cutting up the ginger & getting ready to make cake
chopping ginger & getting ready to make the cake with all ingredients in the background

These delicious recipes came to me just last week when I was lying in my dentist’s chair with headphones on looking up at the TV on the ceiling (anything to divert my attention away from the work at hand) watching the Food Network channel.  Can you think of a better way to spend an hour while having your teeth cleaned? The two recipes that I saw looked so appealing that I made them both on the same day to rave reviews.

The first recipe is sweet and perfect for guests coming over around or on Christmas day, and the second reminded me that I had not made lasagna in ages.  Both were excellent and I was told that the lasagna was the best ever.  I’ve never followed a recipe for lasagna before but this one looked too good not to follow…with a slight diversion as usual.

Gingerbread Jars with Cranberry Curd

You can use different sized jars - fun way to serve
You can use different sized jars – my version
Nancy's original
Nancy’s original – you can decorate as you like

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra butter at room temperature for greasing the pan
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup molasses
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup crystallized ginger
Cranberry Curd:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup cranberry juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 large egg yolks
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pats
Sweetened whipped cream, for serving

Make the gingerbread: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-by-8-inch cake pan with a little softened butter and line with parchment paper, letting any excess hang over the edges of the pan.

Place the orange juice and raisins in a measuring cup and set aside to soak. In a mixing bowl add the melted butter, molasses and sour cream, whisking until well combined. Add 1 2/3 cups of flour, the ginger, baking soday, cinnamon, cloves and salt and whisk together until combined. Drain the raisins, then add them to the batter along with the remaining 1 cup of flour and the crystallized ginger. Combine with a silicone spatula, then pour into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and set aside to cool completely before cutting the cake into 1-inch cubes.

While the cake bakes, make the cranberry curd: Into a saucepan set over medium heat, add the sugar, cranberry juice and salt and whisk until smooth. Once the sugar is dissolved, whisk in the egg yolks, then add the butter. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until the cranberry curd thickens and reaches 170 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat and transfer the curd to a bowl to cool.

To assemble: Place a few pieces of the gingerbread cubes in a small jar, add 2 tablespoons of the cranberry curd on top of the gingerbread and top with *whipped cream.

*TIP: I added a little pure peppermint extract to the whipping cream. You can also make it a lot easier and just slice or cut the cake & drizzle the curd over it.

This Recipe courtesy of Nancy Fuller – Farmhouse Rules (the Food Network)

 Lasagna alla Besciamella20151211_195854Ingredients
Meat Ragu:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, pushed through a press
1 pound ground beef
2 links sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 links hot Italian sausage, casings removed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
Three 26.5-ounce boxes strained tomatoes, such as Pomi
1 cup dry red wine

3 cups whole milk
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

1 pound no-cook lasagna noodles, such as Barilla
2 1/4 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
One 8-ounce package part-skim low-moisture shredded mozzarella

To make the meat ragu: Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Add the ground beef, sausage, salt, basil, Italian seasoning, oregano and pepper to taste and increase the heat to high. Cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned all over. Add the tomatoes. Pour some of the wine into the empty tomato boxes to rinse out the last bits of tomatoes and add to the pot, along with the remaining wine. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the sauce thickens and the flavors come together, about 1 hour. Add a healthy amount of black pepper.

To make the besciamella: Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until just simmering, then turn off the heat. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour to the butter and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and then loosens again, about 2 minutes. Add the hot milk, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil. Add the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, whisking almost constantly, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and use immediately.

To make the lasagna: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread an even layer of the meat ragu over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles over the sauce lengthwise across the short side of the pan. Avoid overlapping or allowing them to touch the sides of the pan because they will expand as they cook. Press down slightly to let the sauce spread around them. Cover with one-quarter of the besciamella and sprinkle with one-third of the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add another layer of ragu. Add 3 more noodles, arranging them in the opposite direction from the first layer and breaking 1 of the noodles in half if necessary to fit. Add one-quarter of the besciamella and half of the mozzarella. Make a third layer of ragu, noodles (alternating directions again), besciamella and one-third of the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add another layer of ragu, then the remaining mozzarella, noodles (alternating the noodles again), besciamella and ragu.

Cover the pan with foil and bake until heated through, about 35 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the top is brown and bubbling, about 20 minutes more. During the last 10 minutes of baking, scatter the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano all over. Let the lasagna stand for 10 minutes before serving.

*TIP – instead of the besciamella (Béchamel) sauce I used old-fashioned Ricotta cheese which Valerie’s mother makes and prefers and I did not use any wine for this (surprised,are you?).

Adapted from “One Dish at a Time” by Valerie Bertinelli

Recipe courtesy of Valerie Bertinelli
SHOW: Valerie’s Home Cooking
EPISODE: Ho! Ho! Ho! Company’s Comin

p.s. I have a thing for wearing aprons while cooking and have a little collection going on.  The one I’m wearing in the photo was a gift from my sister & it came with matching pot holders from a little boutique in Vancouver called “Wishlist”.  I have a vintage “Kenzo” with daisies & pockets that a friend picked up in Japan, animal prints from Africa, original white chef aprons and one that says “Living in Zin” that was a gift from friends I visited Napa with.  They all have a story, they’re all very useful and I feel like I’m getting down to business when I put them on.

Do you wear aprons? 


Simply Satisfying Seder – Passover Lasagna 

matzo-lasagna-0089-md110848_vertPassover begins on the evening of April, 14, 2014.  This unleavened twist on lasagna is a great way to use leftover matzo after the seder.  Substitute layers of matzo for the noodles, then fill them with a mixture of spinach and ricotta cheese.  Look for the “kosher-for-Passover” signifier on all the other ingredients.  I saw this in the Food section of the April issue of “Martha Stewart Living” magazine & thought it would be a brilliant addition to a Passover meal.  See the Seder checklist below for basic guidelines to a seamless seder.  “Mazel tov

Matzo Spinach Lasagna (serves 6)


  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for dish
  • 2 cups ricotta or small-curd cottage cheese
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 1/4 cups grated Parmesan (about 4 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon juice
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound chopped frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess moisture
  • 4 sheets matzo


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush bottom and sides of an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with oil.

Whisk together ricotta, eggs, half-and-half, 3/4 cup Parmesan, zest, and nutmeg. Season generously with salt and pepper. In another bowl, toss spinach with lemon juice; season with salt and pepper.

Place 1 matzo sheet in bottom of prepared baking dish. Pour 1 cup cheese mixture over matzo. Sprinkle evenly with one-third of spinach mixture. Repeat layers 2 more times. Top with remaining matzo and drizzle with remaining cheese mixture. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan. Bake, uncovered, until puffed and golden brown on top, 35 to 40 minutes (cover with foil if browning too quickly). Let cool 15 minutes, then serve.

Recipe for Charoset

This fruit, nut and wine mix is eaten during the seder. It is meant to remind us of the mortar used by the Jews to build during the period of slavery. It should have a coarse texture. The ingredient quantities listed here are at best a rough estimate. The recipe below makes a very large quantity, but people usually wind up making more before the holiday is over. Other fruits or nuts can be used.

  • 4 medium apples, 2 tart and 2 sweet
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup sweet wine
  • 1/4 cup dry wine
  • 1 Tbs. cinnamon

Shred the apples. Add all other ingredients. Allow to sit for 3-6 hours, until the wine is absorbed by the other ingredients. Serve on matzah. Goes very well with horseradish.

Preparing for the Seder Meal Checklist

The Seder is the most important event in the Passover celebration, but there’s more than a few components to this intricate ritual. Use this checklist to keep track of everything from the wine glasses to the prayer books for a seamless Seder.


 Tablecloth and napkins.

Passover is one of the most celebrated holidays in the Jewish faith, so it’s customary to dress up the table with an elegant tablecloth and cloth napkins.

Scatter candles throughout the room and on the table for a warm glow.

Kosher dishes and utensils.

Whether you choose formal china or everyday dishware, don’t forget to keep kosher for the Seder.

Put two glasses, one for water and one for wine, at each place setting.

An extra wine goblet.

Fill an additional wine glass and place it in the center of the table for Elijah, a prophet who is thought to visit each Seder dinner.

 Food and Beverages

 Seder plate.

  • Set the Seder plate, filled with foods that symbolize the story of the Exodus, near the Seder leader’s place at the table. Arrange five items on the plate: a hard-boiled egg; a roasted shank bone; a spring vegetable such as parsley, called karpas; a mixture of fruit, wine, and nuts, called charoset; and either prepared or fresh horseradish, called maror. Some Jews include a sixth item called chazeret, often represented by lettuce.
  • Salt water.
  • Provide each guest with a small dish of salt water to dip their greens into.
  • Additional dishes of karpas, charoset, and maror.
  • To make things more convenient for guests, you can also set small dishes containing each item next to every place setting.
  • Matzah.
  • Put three pieces of matzah on a plate, cover with a cloth or napkin, and place underneath or near the Seder plate.
  • Wine.
  • Make sure there is enough wine on the table for each guest to have four glasses, an amount that symbolizes the four stages of the Exodus. Substitute grape juice for the children and the teetotalers of the group.


Copies of the Haggadah.

  • Lay a copy of the Haggadah, a prayer book that explains the story of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt, on top of each guest’s appetizer plate, under the napkin.
  • Basin and towel.
  • Place a small basin filled with warm water and a towel on the table for two hand-washing rituals that occur during the meal.
  • Pillows.
  • It’s traditional for each guest to recline on a pillow during the ceremony to symbolize the comfort of freedom.

To those of you taking part in this important celebration, Mazel Tov!