Tag Archives: chocolate

Sofia’s first birthday and a pinch of Halloween

Sofia in the Fall

This post is way overdue. After I terrified half of the blogosphere last January telling my blogger friends stories about my neurosis during the first weeks of my life with Sofia, I haven’t written another post to let you know how things have been working out in the following months (well, except Stefano’s very quick note back in April). I thought it was time for me to break the silence.

People say that puppies are like babies. They are absolutely right. After Sofia turned 6 months (about 3 years old in human terms), my domestic life got much easier and quite enjoyable.

Sofia in the Fall

Sofia is a sweet, cheerful and happy dog. She is great at playing with children and other dogs and everybody ends up liking her and petting her. Some chewing is still there, but it is getting better and better. Is she the most disciplined dog? Of course not! I find myself being less strict with Sofia than I am with Her Majesty. Every time I am about to put her in timeout, she looks at me with those begging eyes as if she wanted to ask me “are you seriously considering to put me in timeout?…” Well, that look is too adorable to resist, even for me! 😉

What I really learned and discovered during the past months can be summarized in two words: unconditional love. Unconditional love is such an unattainable feeling. It is the purest kind of love. I believe it is what Sofia feels for the members of her family. She is happy for me and with me when I’m in a good mood and she is sad when my day is not so great and I feel kind of blue. She tries to comfort me: she licks me and lays down with one of her paws on my foot as if she was telling me “don’t worry. Everything is going to be fine. I’m here for you”. Sometimes I feel that she can read my soul. All this without saying a word. Only with her body language. And most importantly, without asking anything in return.

Sofia in the Fall

When did I find out that I had fallen in love with Sofia? It happened this summer. One afternoon, I was home by myself (Stefano was on a business trip). She started feeling very sick and I had to rush her to an emergency hospital. Thank goodness my friend and neighbor was home and she was kind enough to drive me and Sofia to the hospital. I’m a very bad driver and, under the circumstances, I couldn’t think straight. When the doctor told me that she had no idea why Sofia was sick and that it would have been better to hospitalize her for the night, my heart missed a beat. I cried all my way home, I barely slept a couple of hours that night and I found some peace again only the next morning, when I got a phone call from the same doctor telling me that Sofia was much better and I could go to pick her up. You see, that night I realized that I cannot imagine my life without Sofia.

So the message that I would like to send to those who dislike dogs (like the previous version of myself) and those who are undecided whether or not to join the dog lover camp is simple. Sure, a dog is a huge commitment. Sure, a dog can be messy and the cleaning is virtually endless. Sure, life with a little puppy is a nightmare. However, if you are patient enough and willing to surround your dog with love, tenderness and care (yes, and the right amount of discipline!), it is only a question of time before this wonderful furry creature starts to fill your heart with infinite love and joy.

Banana and Nutella sandwich

Enough with this! It simply does not sound like me and people can get scared. 🙂 Only a few more words on the photographs of this post.

Her Majesty was really excited about Sofia’s first birthday. She made one of her own favorite treats – a banana and nutella sandwich – and prepared the shooting set for Stefano taking care of every single detail. The last photograph was taken by Her Majesty herself and Stefano is really proud of his pupil! 🙂

Halloween decorations

As you can see from the image below, she also decided to give you a sneak peek of her Halloween dinner menu: who could ever resist bat eyes, skeleton stake and ghost gloup? If you are wondering what ghost gloup is, Her Majesty told me that it is a new ice-cream in her fantasy world. Maybe a variant of glop?… Care to join us for dinner that night? Anyone? 😉

Francesca Xx

Halloween decorations

So little time in the kitchen: peach and chocolate chips mini tarte tatins

Mini peach tarte tatinsHello everyone!

Hope you are having a glorious summer!

As a food blogger, I know I’m expected to share recipes, tips and culinary adventures that I have experienced during my stay in Italy, but I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed … or maybe not! 😉

As I said on several occasion, cooking is just one of my passions. There are so many other things I tremendously enjoy. One of these things is resuming my royal role of daughter every time I go back to my country. 🙂

You see, I was a very lucky, spoiled girl who never had to deal with any domestic chore for as long as I lived at home with my parents. When I left that house to play the role of an independent woman and a wife, I realized that real life was quite different from the one I was used to and it was kind of shocking to me but that’s another story! 😉

Anyway, truth to be told I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I entered my mother’s kitchen to cook something during my stay.

I happen to have made the recipe I am going to share with you today during one of those miraculous times (as my mom likes to put it! 😉 ).

It was a Saturday of a very hot Italian summer and I had terrific plans for the day: taking Her Majesty to her swimming class, having lunch on the terrace of the yacht club and spending the entire afternoon on the beach reading, swimming and sun bathing. That morning I was daydreaming in my bed when my mother announced me that she had invited twelve guests for dinner that night and asked me if I could take care of the dessert.

Now, you can understand my predicament! I didn’t want to change my plans, not even a bit, but I didn’t feel like not helping my mom either. While brushing my teeth (I get a lot of ideas brushing my teeth 😉 ), the thought of a very simplified version of mini tarte tatins came to my rescue.

These little treats are very easy to make, even ahead of time if you have a busy day, and they look and taste wonderful. The combination of peach and chocolate is one of my favorites and I still have to meet a human being that doesn’t go for it.

So how did it go? Dinner was scheduled for 9:00pm (yup, that’s how we roll at my parents’ house!). I came back from the beach late afternoon and I had plenty of time to make the tarte tatins and be ready to help my mother serve the aperitivo to her guests. Our guests devoured the mini tarte tatins and I had exactly the day that I planned. In other words, those little beauties saved my day and, hopefully, they may do the same for you! 🙂

Mini peach tarte tatins

Ingredients:

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
2 peaches
1/3 Cup, chocolate chips
1 Cup, confectioner’s sugar
1 yolk
1 Tbsp, milk
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Place some parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Peel the peaches, slice them and set them aside.

Mini peach tarte tatinsLay the sheet of pastry on a floured surface and roll over so that you have a smooth sheet. Following the same technique to make linzer cookies, with a large round cookie cutter (of course you can pick the shape you like best), cut the pastry into rounds and place half of the rounds on the parchment paper. Using a smaller round cookie cutter, cut out the center from the other half of the rounds, put the outer edges of the circles aside and discard the centers as scrap. Combine such scraps, roll and cut again until you have used all your pastry.

In a small bowl, whisk the yolk and the milk.

In a non stick pot, combine sugar and about 1 Tbsp of water to make caramel. Bring the mixture to boil and cook until the mixture has thickened and turned amber in color.

Using a spoon (be careful because the caramel is very hot and it’s super easy to get burnt), place some caramel on the pastry solid rounds and add a couple of peach slices and some chocolate chips on top of the caramel.

Press the circle cut rounds on top of the solid ones and brush the edges with the egg wash.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the tarte tatins are golden brown.

Remove them from the oven and let them cool. Dust the tarte tatins with some confectioner’s sugar before serving them.

I’m heading over to Italy again this weekend. My first cousin is getting married and, according to my aunt, this wedding will be remembered as much as that of William & Kate. 😉 Plus, after two months of vacation, it is time for Her Majesty to come back home in time for the first day of school.

I wish you all to enjoy the rest of August. Talk to you soon,

F. Xx

Sofia – An Update

Sofia

Sofia

Just in case you were all chewing your nails wondering how Sofia is doing, she is now 6 months old and I am happy to report that she is doing great, growing up just fine both physically and mentally. She is sweet, sociable, smart and occasionally hyper as only a lab puppy can be 🙂 And of course, she is cute! 😀 Most importantly, we are all very happy.

Of Puppies, Peppers and Potatoes

I want to thank all of you for your words of encouragement about my first steps into puppyhood. I think Chef Mimi is the one that best described what I was about to go through. She said “You are about to experience the worst times in your life, as well as the best times in your life“. She was absolutely right! Only, in my opinion, the worst times outnumber the best times by far!!! 

Let’s not talk about Sofia’s bathroom accidents or the every hour or so that we have to walk her out in this freezing cold weather or the sleep deprivation because she doesn’t sleep through the night. Let’s talk about the chewing and the nipping instead. Just a few descriptive adjectives: constant, unstoppable, devastating. My once lovely and perfect kitchen is a total mess and my once beautiful and spotless hardwood floors are always dirty. Sofia is a bundle of energy that needs constant supervision and training. Every evening, after a seemingly endless day, when she finally falls asleep and I use my last drops of strength to vaguely tidy up my once perfectly organized house, I can’t help but notice a new “gift” left by Sofia’s sharp baby teeth on a piece of furniture. Needless to say, most of the times, it is a piece of furniture that I am particularly attached to because either it is fairly expensive or it took me forever to find. So I go to bed every night with this physical pain in my chest, in a kind of mourning for my cabinet or a chair’s leg, as the case may be, repeating to myself “try not to think about it because Sofia will be up in the blink of an eye”. 

Potato and Pepper Side

When I got pregnant with Her Majesty, I did not read any books about babies and/or motherhood nor did I attend any preparatory class. I entered that hospital labor room thoughtless and clueless. Same thing with Sofia. That sneaky husband of mine did all the puppy reading and disclosed to me only 10% of what he had learned, knowing that, had I been well informed, I would most likely have changed my mind again.

So if I may, let me give a word of advice to anyone of you that is considering getting a puppy: make sure you know exactly what you are getting yourself into. Beside the workload that is required of you which, believe me, is humongous, I have come to the conclusion that your heart must have a special disposition to sacrifice yourself, your time and your things for the sake of the happiness of your puppy. Does my heart have it? The jury is still out on that! 😉

Potato and Pepper SideI guess by now and with the above being said, you have started realizing that cooking has not been one of my priorities lately. I simply cannot afford to devote more than 30 minutes to make a dish. Like this peppers and potatoes side dish. As you may notice, it is a pretty basic one, with only few ingredients. When I want to spice it up, I add some tomatoes and harissa, but I cannot do it when my mom is around because my family recipe does not call for them and my mom does not like when I… “tamper” with her recipes. Once again, the quality of the ingredients is paramount in this dish as there is no seasoning other than salt. 

Ingredients:

1 cup, extravirgin olive oil
5 potatoes
5 peppers
8/9 cherry tomatoes (optional)
1 Tsp, harissa (optional)
Salt 

Directions:

Peel the potatoes and slice them (about 1/4 thick). Cut the peppers into halves and slice them as you would with an apple.

In a large skillet, pour the olive oil, add the potato slices, the pepper slices and some salt (to taste). Cover with a lid and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10/15 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the harissa and keep cooking for another 10/15 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Et voila! Ready by the time of one of Sofia’s naps! 

I wish you all a super fun and relaxing Super Bowl weekend! 

A little furry addition to Flora’s Table Home

Hello Everyone!

I decided to barge into your houses on this lazy Sunday late afternoon to share some… news (I don’t even know which adjective I should be using here! I guess for lots of you, it would be “great”).

As you may know, I’m not a people person. I love to spend time with myself, I like to keep to myself and I’m very, seriously – very bad at small talk. To make you like me even more 😉 let me add that I’m not an animal person either. I have never wanted a pet when I was a child and I have never dreamed of taking care of any living being who is unable to go to the restroom and flush the toilet.

Needless to say, the idea of having a dog never even crossed my mind until… did you notice that kids almost invariably so to speak reshuffle the cards in their parents’ lives? 😉

When I got pregnant with her majesty, Stefano came up with the “brilliant idea” to get a puppy so her majesty and the puppy could grow up together. Only a man could come up with such a cute and, at the same time, dumb idea!!! So of course I ruled that out right away…

Since then, I have been dodging the “puppy bullet” for seven years! Seven wonderful pet-free years! I could always come up with a different reason not to have a dog: her majesty was too little, we didn’t have a yard, we were about to change home and city and it wasn’t the right moment. I was pretty sure that sooner or later they would get tired of asking and forget all about this idea and I would be saved forever. I couldn’t be more wrong! Those two just kept conspiring, regrouping and changing their battle strategy.

Stefano is well aware that sleeping is – by far – my favorite activity. My bed is my reign and my heaven and, for me, there is no other place like that. One late morning this past fall, I was still sleeping (of course!) when my daughter, pushed by my sneaky husband, asked me for the countless time if she could have a dog.

In that specific moment, I made an unforgivable mistake. I said “maybe”! The battle was over and lost for good because they hung on that maybe which eventually turned into a “yes” in the next couple of weeks. Next thing I know I was in the car with the two conspirators to go check a few breeders out across New York State and Connecticut.

To make a long story short, our “English type” chocolate labrador puppy, that her majesty decided to name Sofia, set her paws in our house on December 16, turning our house and our lives into complete chaos.

To sum it up, Stefano and her majesty are over the moon, my dad (who is a dog lover) is very happy, my mother is complaining and driving everybody crazy every time Sofia has a “bathroom” accident in the house and… as for me? I have never been big in the feelings department and it takes me a very long time and quite some effort to express them so, for now, I only feel like conceding that she is one of the cutest thing I have ever seen, isn’t she?

Well, please wish me luck and stay tuned! 😉

Francesca Xx

PS: Thank you very much for all those who checked in to make sure we were alright as a result of winter storm Hercules: we definitely are and honestly it has not been that bad where we live – we got about one foot of snow (much to Sofia’s delight!) and the temperatures dropped to 1 F (or -18 C!) but we have been coping just fine! 🙂

Merry Christmas!

Shrimp CocktailHere we go! Christmas Eve… for my family, it is even more important than Christmas Day. We have been talking about this night for weeks. We have invited friends, my mom and I have decided the table setting and selected the dishes and Stefano has chosen the bubbly and the still wines for tonight.

My parents brought delicious treats from Rome and Stefano brought traditional sweets from Milan and Genoa.

To make you understand how much work and planning went into the preparations for this magical night and to give you a flavor of an Italian Christmas Eve, we decided we would share with you the pictures of some of the food that will be served. We follow the Catholic tradition, so you won’t see any meat around!

Smoked Salmon CrostiniWe’ll start with a shrimp cocktail, some eggs au gratin, a broccoli quiche, a potato frittata, smoked salmon crostini, blue cheese puffs with fontina sauce and cauliflower au gratin. With these, Stefano is going to serve a Ferghettina, Franciacorta Brut DOCG S.A., a Classic Method Italian spumante aged 24 months on its lees.

We’ll continue with spaghetti with clams and a truffle risotto. Afterwards, we’ll serve branzino fillets with vegetables. The wines that Stefano paired with these main courses are an Argiolas, Vermentino di Sardegna Costamolino DOC 2011 and a Vigneti Massa, Colli Tortonesi Timorasso Derthona DOC 2009 for the truffle risotto.

Black TrufflesFor dessert, we’ll have some fruit (grapes and cherries) and lots and lots of sweets: panettone (a traditional Christmas sweet bread loaf originally from Milan), pandolce (a traditional Christmas cake from Genoa), dried figs, chocolate-coated torrone and chocolate torrone with hazelnuts that my mom bought in Vatican City, marrons glacés from Cova (one of the most famous patisseries in Milan), chocolate orangettes, marzipan fruits and chocolates, all hand-made, from Viganotti (one of the oldest and best chocolate stores in Genoa, who make all their chocolate and marzipan masterpieces in the workshop adjoining the store, using only the best, freshest ingredients: if you are ever going to be in Genoa make sure you pay them a visit – you will not regret it). With the dessert, Stefano is going to serve Le Colture, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG, a Charmat-Martinotti Method spumante, and for the chocolate a Lustau, Pedro Ximenez Sherry San Emilio – Solera Reserva DO.

Collection of Christmas sweetsHopefully, after all this food and wine, we are still going to function!  😉

Chocolate-coated torrone, chocolate torrone with hazelnuts and marrons glacésAll of us at Flora’s Table wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas! May Santa make your dreams come true tonight!!!Milanese panettone with chocolate-dipped orange wedges

Chocolate Cake

Francesca's Chocolate CakeMy parents will be arriving today from Rome to spend the holidays with us. They will be at our house at around 4 pm and the first thing my mother is going to ask for is an espresso macchiato and something sweet to eat. She is chocolate crazy like my daughter. I truly believe that the sweet tooth skipped a generation with me! 🙂 Am I the only one who would choose pizza or nachos with cheese cream (for the record, I go totally crazy about those that are sold at movie theaters) over a slice of cake or a little chocolate without even thinking about it? Anyway… since Christmas is upon us and at Christmas anyone should be on their best behavior, I decided to bake a chocolate cake to make her happy and celebrate her arrival.

Before we talk ingredients and procedure, let me just thank my mother-in-law, Laura. This delicious recipe comes from her and she was gracious enough to share it with me. Thank you, Laura! 🙂

Ingredients:

4 eggs
3/4 of 1 cup, sugar
11 Tbsp, butter, softened
6.5 oz, dark chocolate
1/3 of 1 cup, flour
Powdered sugar for dusting

Directions:

Fill a medium-sized pot with hot tap water and put it on a very low heat on the stove. Put the chocolate in a small pot or a heatproof bowl (if you are using a chocolate tablet, reduce it to small pieces). When the water is about to boil, fit securely the small pot or the bowl over the larger pot. Let the chocolate melt, stirring occasionally and being very careful not to let the water come into contact with the chocolate, until you obtain a smooth sauce.

In the meanwhile, separate the egg yolks from the whites and put the latter aside in a separate bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the sugar and the egg yolks and mix until they are perfectly blended. Add the butter and beat until the butter is completely blended with the egg mixture. Add the melted chocolate and mix for a few minutes. Add the flour and mix until well blended. Stop and scrape the bowl.

With a hand mixer, start beating the egg whites that you previously set aside. Start at a low speed and gradually increase the speed of the hand mixer until you obtain a thick and foamy mixture.

With the help of a spatula, slowly add the foamy mixture to the chocolate mixture, moving the spatula from the bottom to the top.

Pour the mixture into a greased and floured 10-inch round baking pan. Bake for 25/30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake completely cool and remove it for the pan. Put the cake on a big round serving plate and dust its top with the powdered sugar.

Enjoy! 🙂

Francesca's Chocolate Cake