Italian Fig Cookie Day & A Very Happy New Year

Let me start by saying: 2011 was a fabulous year! It was full of family, food, travels, love and happiness. We got to go to New York, Connecticut, San Diego, Northern California on two occasions, Venice, Florence, Verona, Tuscany and Paris.  I acquired my first crock pot, pasta and ice cream maker in 2011, along with a wide range of smaller, nifty appliances. We moved into a bigger apartment with a bigger kitchen!  And there was generally a lot of cooking, new experiences, traveling, restaurants and fun. I hope 2012 treats us even half as well.

I hope you all had a wonderful and tasty December. I ate so many rich and delicious things. I’m definitely ready to shift to the obligatory post-New Year’s healthy eating and Weight Watchers counting. But for now, let’s reminisce:

 

Last month I did a lot of cooking for the end of the year celebrations: I made a nifty beef stew, my first calzone, lots of cookies, lemon bars, crepes among other things. In the middle of the month I went to my Aunt Marie’s in Huntington Beach, to join her, my Nana, Papa, Uncle Ron and cousin Keith in making our families’  annual fig cookies, also known as cuccidati. Growing up I remember my Nana making these every year! I didn’t like them as a kid (how many kids truly love dried figs?) but now I love them and the nostalgia they conjure up. The fig filling, which consists of nuts, spices and dried figs (or apricots in some cases), is made well in advance- I remember my Nana making it in November long before Christmas. This is not a “I-feel-like-a-cookie-in-30-minutes” kind of cookie.

My Aunt Marie gave me the recipe but insisted that I keep it secret. Normally I would go ahead and share any recipe I stumble upon on here, but I’m going to honor her wish and keep it in the family.

A simple google search led me to quite a few good recipes that are pretty similar though, just in case one of you wants to try them:

Food Network’s Recipe

Anna Maria Volpi’s Recipe

My Nana and Aunt Marie both made their own dough and filling, and in the spirit of friendly competition they kept their ingredients and tools segregated. Aunt Marie’s filling was denser, less sweet and chunkier, but her dough was a little easier to work with. Nana’s filling was sweeter (and thus, as a sugar addict I liked it more), but the dough was a little heartier and tougher to roll.

Both of their cookies turned out fabulous though and nearly indistinguishable.

Me, Papa and my mom’s cousin, Keith, joined in and helped roll, fill and sprinkle  (and of course, we ate a few cookies in the process). Aunt Marie also made a big spread for us, consisting of a pomegranate and persimmon salad, some pizzas and an eggplant and zucchini caponata. You gotta be well fed before working a cookie assembly line.

They blasted Frank Sinatra for a while and we had a great time. This will definitely be a tradition I pass down to my kids and grandchildren someday, and these photos and memories will be cherished for a long time! Next year I am going to start ahead of time and make my own batch to bring to the party!

What I personally love about assembling these is the creativity you can employ! You can make them bite-sized, larger, and roll them into different shapes and styles. Some people also drizzle icing on theirs, which I plan to do next year with mine. 

Aunt Marie & Nana

Hope you all had a very happy December, a Merry Christmas and a beautiful New Year!

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Weekend of eating & reviews

I’ve already talked about my stint with the infamous coconut cream pie, but didn’t cover the rest of last weekend, which was just as delicious and sinful. I figure I’ll use the cheating as an opportunity to post a couple of reviews, especially since I won’t be frequenting these places for a long while. My eleven year-old brother, Christian, came to stay with me and Dhiren overnight, and we had a really fun time tasting our way around Orange County.

Review # 1: The Original Pancake House

The Saturday morning started at our favorite spot, The Original Pancake House in Anaheim. My mom is actually the one who introduced me and my brother to this place years ago. On the way back from trips to San Diego, we would often stop at the OPH in Aliso Viejo. That specific chain makes an incredible, and I mean incredible, Eggs Benedict.

Anyhow, back to last Saturday. Christian wasn’t impressed with the Western Omelette, but I liked the signature sherry mushroom one that I split with Dhiren. It came with their famous buttermilk pancakes, which I barely touched because of this bad boy:

Meet the notorious Apple Pancake. Oh. My. God. This photo can’t begin to explain how decadent this is. We ordered it with extra cinnamon and sugar, which was a good choice. Totally made the obnoxious 45-minute wait worth it. I also highly recommend the Dutch Baby, which is a lighter (but huge air-filled) pancake served with butter, powdered sugar and lemon. Though on the pricey side for eggs and pancakes, it is worth the extra money for the specialties that you can’t get anywhere else. I recommend going during the week, because who wants to compete with the aggressive and hungry church crowds?

Review #2: Sprinkles Cupcakes & Gelato Paradiso

Ok, we all know about Sprinkes and all the annoying press coverage its gotten. I personally think waiting in the sometimes-long line is totally worth it for the plain dark chocolate cupcake and the dark chocolate with coconut frosting. But, I am not a fan of red velvet cake in any form, including Sprinkles’ famed version. Since childhood I’ve always associated red velvet with the nasty Southern Armadillo Cake, which makes me gag. I don’t understand the hype over red velvet and think that a normal chocolate cupcake smothered in cream cheese frosting is far superior than one drenched in red-dye 40.

Christian is a huge red velvet fan however, and I won’t fault him for it, but even he thought that the red velvet tasted odd this time. I tried a bite and it left a horrible, metallic after-taste. Sure, he finished the cupcake because it’s $4– why let that money go to waste? But something was wrong. I don’t know if these cupcakes are losing quality because of mass production, or if someone tricked us and accidentally slipped in one of their vegan cupcakes, but it left much to be desired.

Looks pretty though!

Below is my favorite Sprinkles: the dark chocolate.

If you are visiting the Newport Beach Sprinkles and are discouraged by the long line and scary Newport housewives in their white SUVs, I highly recommend visiting Gelato Paradiso instead. Their Panna Cotta and Stracciatella are my favorite. It’s a better option all around, boasting a shorter line, lots of interesting and creamy flavors, similar prices for less calories and bloat.

I wanted to include a review of Natraj Cuisine of India, where Christian and I ended our foodventure (below), but that place deserves its own spot on my blog. My favorite dish, paneer masala, won Christian over though.

Thanks for being my partner in crime!