Ciao, amici! Unless we’re connected on social media, I know, it’s been a while. But I’m happy to be back in the kitchen with every good wish for 2020. We’re buzzing up something new in the blender that’s creamy, dreamy, coconutty, alcoholic and downright delicious! WOOOOW! I’ll give you a personal update after the recipe, OK?

First, let’s talk about coquito. Some say it’s Puerto Rican eggnog. And some recipes do include egg. But not this one. It’s coconut, cinnamon, two delightful cans of dairy–sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk–and a generous pour of our ol’ friend the Captain. That’s Captain Morgan to you. Oh, and drunken raisins. It’s fine if you want to leave them out. But damned if they don’t add a special something! Let’s get this party started right! Right on!

COQUITO
Adapted from The Novice Chef

1/2 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum
2 cinnamon sticks
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup cream of coconut (Coco Lopez)
1 (13.5 oz) can organic coconut milk
12 oz can evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
4 tablespoons shredded coconut

Note: this recipe yields just a bit more than a half gallon of deliciousness.

In a large pitcher with a lid, add raisins, rum and cinnamon sticks. Let sit for one hour.

In a blender, add the remaining ingredients. It won’t all fit at once, so blend in two batches, then pour into the pitcher. Shake to combine with the rum, raisins and cinnamon sticks.

Chill for at least four hours. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month (as if!). Shake it like ya mean it before pouring. Use a ladle to dish out the yummy drunken raisins and add to each glass. Sprinkle with cinnamon, if you like (oh, we like!). Cheers, cheers, cheers to coquito! Careful now, this stuff goes down way too easy.

A personal update

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wanted to let you know something important about the real star of this page, my precious April Katt. Sadly, I lost her last fall (April 1, 2000 – October 30, 2019).

My sunshine girl was the best friend, companion and little caretaker anyone could ever ask for. She made our little townhouse a happy home with her warm personality, caring gestures, curiosity and funny antics. She loved being part of whatever I was up to–including in the kitchen. You’ll remember those bright green eyes and shiny coat making an appearance in many recipes! She was always right by my side and often held hands with me. Saying goodbye to her was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Many tear-filled days passed before I decided April wouldn’t want me to be sad and alone in a place that felt so empty without her. In her honor, I found a handsome gentleman from PAWS (Pet Animal Welfare Society)–the same shelter where I found AK almost 20 years ago. Mishu, Polish for “teddy bear” or “Sweetheart” came home November 9th. This charmer has done his best to brighten each day and make me laugh ever since. I’d swear April Katt either left notes or is in direct contact to guide him. How lucky I am to have two special soul kitties like these!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, I know we’re just four days into 2020, but I feel good about the year to come. And I really hope you do, too. Onward and upward, amici–we got this!

We’ll be seeing you sooner next time.

Love,
Hope, Mishu and the ever-present spirit of Ms. April Katt

Spring has sprung … and so has asparagus! Time for a new twist on caprese. We’ve still got the colors of the Italian flag–red, white and green, y’know what I mean? I actually combined yellow and red tomatoes. But we’re roasting the vegetables here. And, though you can certainly add fresh basil, I didn’t. I figure one flavor of something green keeps it simple.

ROASTED ASPARAGUS CAPRESE
inspired by delish.com

1 pound asparagus, snap off woody ends
Extra-virgin olive oil to coat the vegetables
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 oz. ball fresh mozzarella, sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Your favorite balsamic vinegar to drizzle (I used Seven Barrels’ Prickly Pear)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange asparagus spears on one half of a large, rimmed baking sheet. On the other half, spread out the tomatoes in an even layer. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, toss to coat. Sprinkle with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bake till asparagus is tender–about 20 minutes. To plate, arrange a portion of asparagus, and top with tomatoes. Add a layer of fresh mozzarella slices, then a few more tomatoes. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Enjoy!

strawberry sugar cookies Are you making

Are you making strawberry sugar cookies? Why, yes, I am! And you should be, too. What’s not to like about berry delicious little sugar cookies, loaded with vitamin C?

I halved the recipe from my mom’s handwritten version from the Women’s Home Companion Cookbook and dialed back the vanilla just a bit to let the strawberries shine through. These were originally roll-and-bake cookies. Now, they’re no-fuss little jeweled discs instead! Just take care not to let them fly off the baking sheet into the oven! Don’t ask why I mentioned, because stupid things never happen to me in the kitchen or anyplace else, ever. Really.

STRAWBERRY SUGAR COOKIES
Original recipe halved from the Women’s Home Companion Cookbook

1 3/4 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, well-beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2½ tablespoons freeze-dried strawberries, ground to a powder (you can buy the at Whole Foods and buzz them up in a food processor)
colored sanding sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat sugar and butter together until creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat egg and vanilla in a separate bowl; add to butter mixture. Add strawberry powder.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Add to strawberry mixture. Mix until flour is completely incorporated into dough.

Use a small cookie scoop, roll dough into a walnut-sized ball, then roll in sugar. Lightly press each dough ball down to flatten. Bake at 350 degrees F for 6 minutes, then up-the-river-down-the-river: switch from top rack to bottom rack, back to front for another 6 minutes.

Pro-tip: be careful putting these little discs into the oven. In all my years of baking, I never recall anything flying off the baking sheet, but there’s a first time for everything! Yup, that was today.

strawberry sugar cookies

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Ciao, amici and lemon lovers! Come stai? How about an easy, versatile dinner you can throw together quickly on a weeknight? You might not even need to make a special trip to the store if, like me, you usually have all these ingredients on hand.

CREAMY LEMON PASTA
Adapted liberally (how else?!) from The New York Times

12 ounces egg noodles
zest and juice of 1 and 1/2 lemons
1 cup heavy cream
1 clove garlic,  pressed or finely minced
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced (more if you like)
4 oz. spinach (more if you like)
2 tablespoons butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Here’s where I think the possibilities are fairly endless. Don’t like mushrooms and spinach (what the hell is wrong with you?!), how about arugula and prosciutto? Or maybe cubes of peppered ham and peas? Or stick to the basics, if you like, and keep it simple. It’s a dish that can go in so many tasty directions.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook egg noodles according to package directions; drain.

Meanwhile, in a sauté pan, melt butter, add mushrooms and cook till they begin to get some color. Add garlic, stir around about a minute. Add spinach; cook till it wilts. A few minutes before the noodles are done, add lemon juice, zest and cream to the mushrooms and spinach. Cook until cream begins to boil (a couple of minutes or so), then stir into noodles. Dinner is served!

 

 

 

 

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Challenge: maple syrup (#challengemaplesyrup) is on! My hometown buddy Matt, @thebuddingkitchen on Instagram, suggested an online game of tag using a particular ingredient. I’ve been in a maple mood lately, so I adapted my salted caramel budino–Italian for pudding–to create a seasonal maple variety. So, let’s go maple–and let’s go, Middletown! You’ll be sure to fall (HA, autumn humor) for this tasty treat!

SALTED MAPLE BOURBON BUDINO
adapted from my Salted Caramel Budino recipe

Combine:
4 Biscoff cookies, crushed
1/4 cup pecans, chopped coarsely
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. In a small bowl, whisk and set aside:
½ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch

2. In another small bowl, whisk and set aside:
3 egg yolks

3. In a small saucepan, combine and heat over medium-high heat, just to a simmer; then set aside:
½ cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
scant ½ cup maple syrup–I bought mine locally from Durham Sugarhouse
½ vanilla bean, scraped

4. Get ready to add at the end:
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1½ teaspoon Maker’s Mark

Now, here’s where we start moving quickly and combining the previous steps.

Slowly whisk eggs into hot milk mixture.
Whisk milk/cornstarch into milk/eggs.
Cook over medium-high heat until it thickens, about 3 minutes.
Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1½ teaspoons Maker’s Mark.
Pour through a fine-mesh sieve.
Evenly divide budino (about 1/2 cup each) into four small serving dishes.
Top with chopped Biscoff cookie/pecan mixture.

Chill. Enjoy. That’s as good a plan as any for a Sunday, wouldn’t you say?

And if you’re up for joining #challengemaplesyrup, make something maple-y and tag us (@kattyskitchen and @thebuddingkitchen) on Instagram!

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lemon lamb with mushrooms

Some of my favorite dishes feel more like good ideas than actual recipes. Here’s one I made tonight I’d like to share. If you don’t think you’re a lamb fan–I spent most of my life in that category until recent history–this might change your mind! It’s so flavorful and tender, not to mention it comes together quickly on a weeknight. Add oven-roasted potatoes and you can heat up the house a bit, too!

LEMON LAMB WITH MUSHROOMS AND SUN-DRIED TOMATOES
a recipe/idea for two

about 3/4 pound lamb leg chops (you can find these locally at Gardiner’s Market in South Glastonbury)
zest and juice of one lemon
1 clove garlic, pressed
about 1 tablespoon sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
fresh rosemary, chopped
5 oz. mushrooms, sliced
fresh parsley to garnish

Ready for how easy this is? In a shallow dish large enough to hold the lamb, combine zest and juice of the lemon, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, salt and rosemary. Marinate the lamb as you prep your potatoes (or other side dish of choice) and slice your mushrooms–about an hour is nice, but you can get away with less time. Just keep turning it over when you think about it. Whatever flavor doesn’t seep in is going straight into the pan, anyway–not to worry.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, add some olive oil and butter. Add mushrooms and flip till you’re starting to get nice color on both sides. Make room in the middle of the pan and add the lamb and all the marinade. Cook on both sides (about 3 minutes per side, depending on thickness and your stove) if you like it nice and rare. Garnish with fresh parsley. Prepare to be impressed! It’s that easy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Italian breakfast cookies

Is it because I share a birthday with my spirit monster, Cookie, that I’m such a cookie monster myself? Or is it simply the idea of eating cookies for breakfast that’s so appealing?

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Quite frankly, cookies don’t need a special time slot in my world. I happily dispense them as needed to brighten the day, provide a bit of sweetness, fill a gap between meals–or even to act as a meal when the need arises!

So, allow me to introduce to you, the sweet, delicious and lovable little treat–Italian breakfast cookies. They’re crispy outside, soft within, and have all the delicious flavors of an Italian bakery–or this kat’s kitchen!

ITALIAN BREAKFAST COOKIES

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 cup granulated sugar (plus more on the side for rolling)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup corn oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Adjust racks to lower and upper thirds of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, beat together egg and sugar till light. Add milk, oil, lemon zest, juice and extracts; beat well. Add dry ingredients gradually to wet, stirring with a wooden spoon. The dough will be a bit sticky.

I used my trusty Zeroll Universal EZ Disher scoop (#60, pink) to portion the dough. You can roll it into balls or logs–I did both. Then roll in granulated sugar and bake for a total of 12 minutes. Swap the baking sheets at the 6-minute mark (top to bottom/front to back), then bake for 6 minutes more.

Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for a few minutes to make it easier to move them from sheet to rack to cool. Makes enough cookies to fill a whole rack–lost count, busy eating! AHM GNAM GNAM GNAM!