RECIPE: Overnight Eggnog French Toast with Cherry Compote

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The holidays are not over.
No sir.
It's not over until we are all hung-over and sleepy this Wednesday, as we enjoy the first day of the New Year.

And you will want to eat something very yummy, but you won't want to work hard making it.

Well, put this on your to-do list tomorrow, before getting all sparkly and pretty. Whip this all up and it will be waiting for your oven the next morning.

You can nurse your headache with some aspirin and a cup of joe while it bakes.

I can't think of a better way to welcome 2014.

Have a safe and Happy New Year!

note: the bread in the picture above was a holiday loaf given to me by one of my Girl Scouts that had green and purple marbling in it for a festive look (a lovely gift). So if you see interesting colors in the bread, it's not mold, just festive food coloring!

Overnight Eggnog French Toast with Cherry Compote


French Toast: 
4 cups of eggnog 
4 eggs, lightly beaten 
1 teaspoon nutmeg 
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon of salt 
1 teaspoon of vanilla 
one 12-14 ounce bread loaf, halved horizontally, then each piece cut in halves 
3 tablespoons of butter, melted 
2 tablespoons of brown sugar for sprinkling

Cherry Compote:
1 bag (abt. 12 oz.) of frozen cherries, defrosted 
2 cups of apple juice 
2 tablespoons of brown sugar 
8 tablespoons of butter 
2 baking apples, peeled and cored, then chopped 
6 tablespoons of corn syrup 
1 teaspoon of vanilla 
1/2 teaspoon of salt 
1/2 cup of sugar 

Spray a 13 x 9 pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. 

Take your sliced bread and lay on a baking sheet. Bake in a 200° oven for about 40 minutes, drying out the bread. Let bread cool while you prepare the batter. 

In a large bowl whisk the eggnog with the eggs. Add salt, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon. Shingle the bread slices in the waiting baking dish. Pour batter over the bread, pressing down with a spatula so that the bread gets completely soaked. Jostle the bread underneath so that the batter goes under the bread as well as over it. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight. Meanwhile prepare your cherry compote. This can be made a day before then stored in the refrigerator. Then reheat before serving the french toast the next day. 

Drain the defrosted cherries but reserve the juice. Combine the juice in a sauce pan with the apple juice. Add the corn syrup, vanilla and brown sugar to the liquid. Whisk and simmer on medium-high heat for about an hour. The juice will get reduced down to 1 cup and be thick and bubbly. 

Meanwhile in a large bowl, cut the defrosted cherries in half. Mix the chopped apples with the cherries. In a large skillet melt the butter on medium heat. Add the cherries and apples and cook until just beginning to soften. Add the half cup of sugar and cook until the fruit and juice is thick and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Take off heat and cool slightly. 

Once the juice in the saucepan is reduced to 1 cup, add it to the fruit waiting in the skillet. Combine together and store until ready to serve. When ready to serve, heat in the microwave for a few minutes so that it is nice and smooth and can be drizzled over the French toast in the morning. 

In the morning let the eggnog French toast sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Take the plastic wrap off of the dish, preheat the oven to 375˚. After sitting at room temperature for 15 minutes, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle the toast with the 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Drizzle melted butter all over the top. Bake on the middle rack for about 45 minutes. Rotate the dish halfway so that it cooks evenly. If things in the center are still not done, kick up the temperature to 400˚, and finish baking. Serve warm with a ladle for your guests to pour the compote. Maple syrup is optional!

RECIPE: Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark Chocolate Crinkles

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My sister and I join my mom annually to have a two day bake-a-thon. My mom is very traditional in our cookie making, and they are the same ones every year (mostly ITALIAN). But lately my sister and I have been trying to get her to expand her baking horizons. My sister wanted to make something with peppermint bark, and we found a ton of peppermint bark cookie recipes online. This is adapted from one of the many. We like this one because there is a whole package of chocolate pudding thrown in. That makes for a dense, tender batter. And we use Ghirardelli peppermint bark, so the cookie is smoother, and you don't have a ton of crunch going on as with other coarser peppermint bark.

We add a garnish of cut peppermint bark on top of the cookie midway through baking. I recommend taking the sheets out of the oven to do this, so you don't burn yourself. And carefully press in the garnish into the half-cooked cookie so it stays put-not fall off and melt into a giant mess.

Happy holiday baking!

Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark Chocolate Crinkles

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 regular sugar
1 package of chocolate instant pudding mix
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups chopped Ghirardelli Peppermint Bark, (set aside 1/2 cup of it for topping)


Preheat oven to 350˚.

In a small bowl, combine flour and soda then set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and two sugars. Next beat in the pudding mix until well blended (scraping sides often with a spatula). Next add eggs and vanilla, and mix until well blended. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stop mixing a few times to scrape the sides again. The dough will be stiff, and will not want to combine but take your time, it will be fine. Just be careful to not overwork it. Stir in the 1 1/2 cup chopped peppermint bark. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. Drop dough by the well rounded teaspoonfuls, 2 inches apart.

Bake 10-12 minutes. But halfway through, pull sheets out and add a sprinkling of reserved peppermint bark on each half baked cookie, gently pressing into the dough. Bake for the remainder of the time, and try putting them back in the oven on different racks then they were originally for even baking.

Once lightly golden on the edges, pull them out of the oven. Let sit on sheets for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.

RECIPE: Cookie round up, my 2013 cookie plate!

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People think I'm crazy, and this year I wondered if maybe I was, making 11 kinds of cookies for holiday plates and tins...some of the recipes I even doubled! My back was in bad shape after I was done. But I am pretty proud of my efforts. In the mix are some of my own recipes, and some old faves from Land O Lakes cookbooks and BHG. I try to have a mix of flavor, shapes and colors (after all I am an art director by trade!)
Here are the links should you wanna try any.
Happy last minute baking!

Double chocolate hazelnut biscotti

Cornmeal lemon blackberry sage

Eggnog bites

Peppermint candy twirl

Nutella bites

Chocolate chip mint sticks

Lemon lavender shortbread

Chocolate coffe ribbons

Pistachio chocolate chips

Spiced bizcochitos

Lime cremes

RECIPES: Italian Struffoli Napoletani and Scartellate Pugliese How-To (Video)

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Every year, for about 20 years, I've taken two days off work and my sister and mom bake all kinds of traditional cookies. I am exhausted after all of it, but it is so much fun. It's always great to just hang out with them, and also learn some very traditional cookies my mom makes. Some of these recipes have been handed down for generations, and are barely written down. And if they are written down, it's in mom's indiscernible handwriting on stained and faded paper, and usually in Italian! So I had the idea this year that I would video tape how to make two very traditional cookies my parents still make. One is from my dad's home town, Mola di Bari. The other is from my mom's, Struffoli.

I wasn't sure if my parents and sister would be up for being on video and helping out with filming, but they were great sports! And they have cute accents to boot. So bring some old school Italian to your cookie plates this weekend!

Buon Natale!

CRAFT: Video How To Make an Upcycled Holiday Wreath using an Old Hula Hoop and T-Shirts

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I spent Thanksgiving weekend, and the following, making a large wreath for our outside gate. I found a beat up hula hoop under our deck, and thought I could make it from that. It was the right size-nice and big!

 I also was able to decorate it with strips of old T-shirts and made lovely felt flowers to decorate it. In this video, I not only show you how to make the wreath, but how to make those lovely felt flowers you are seeing all over Pinterest. Felt rosettes are great to embellish anything! They can be added to topiaries, hats, purses, scarves, pins. You name it. And it's easy to do. This video should help you out!

Happy Holiday Decorating!

RECIPE: Baked Gluten Free Gnocchi Romana

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My husband and I continue to play with gluten free dishes, and I think the hardest thing to give up is hearty pasta dishes. We are not completely gluten free, as you can see by my many recipes. But as we have been addressing my daughter's mild ADHD and tummy issues, we found that cutting back on the gluten has helped her. And if it's one thing she loves, it's warm comfort food and pasta. I mean, really, who doesn't?

I found some really great gluten free frozen pasta in the freezer case last week, and was inspired to make a baked gnocchi dish. Something easy for a weeknight or busy weekend. The best way to cut back on labor is to pre make parts of a baked dish (in this case the meatballs) and buy store bought things here and there. One thing that we sometimes do for baked pasta dishes is buy store bought jar sauce and dress it up easily (please don't tell Nonna.) So after about an hour we had a piping hot, bubbling vat of cheesy meaty deliciousness on our plates. What can be better on a freezing cold Chicago night?

Oh, the meatball recipe is a tried and true one we use from our favorite foodie paradise, William Sonoma, we adapted it to be gluten free for this.

Baked Gluten Free Gnocchi Romana


  • 4-5 slices of gluten free bread, toasted and dried out, then crushed up in a food processor (or 1 1/2 cups fresh GF bread crumbs) 

  • 1/2 cup milk 

  • 4 oz. finely chopped prosciutto 

  • 1 lb. ground beef 

  • 1 lb. ground pork 

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten 

  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 

  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 

  • 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh oregano 

  • 3 Tbs. finely chopped fresh basil 

  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced 

  • 1 tsp. salt, plus more, to taste  

  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more, to taste 

  • 5 Tbs. or more of olive oil for browning, divided

1 jar good quality tomato sauce (we like Barilla Mushroom for this)
1/2 cup minced red or yellow onion
8 oz. sliced button mushrooms
1/2 cup white wine
1 Tbsp. chopped basil
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

1 lb. gluten free gnocchi, cooked according to package directions, then drained
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
about 1/3 of the meatballs (freeze the rest)
1/2 tub light ricotta (8 oz.)
nonstick cooking spray


First make the meatballs. Soak the bread crumbs in milk and let stand for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile in a big bowl, mix the rest of the meatball ingredients up with your hands. Add the bread crumbs and mix some more. Shape into small balls, about 2" in diameter. They need to be roughly the same size as the gnocchi, maybe a touch bigger. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan. Brown the meatballs in batches, adding more oil as you go, until all the meatballs are brown on all sides. Drain on a paper towel. You are going to have a lot of meatballs, so freeze the rest, or plan for a spaghetti and meatball night later in the week. The meatballs can be made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use. Reserve the pan with all that meatball goodness on the bottom for the sauce!

Next cook the gnocchi according to package directions. Drain, and set aside. Spray an 11 x 17 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Add the cooked gnocchi and 1/3 of the meatballs you cooked, and distribute them evenly along the bottom of the pan. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 425˚. Next make the sauce. In a tablespoon or so of olive oil in the same pan you browned the meatballs, saute the onion until beginning to brown. Scrape up any remnants of caramelized meatball juice as you go with your spoon. Then add the mushroom, salt and pepper. Saute until the mushrooms begin to release their juices. Then add the white wine, and simmer until reduced down, about 3 minutes. Next add the jar of tomato sauce. Simmer for 7 minutes, then add the fresh herbs. Mix and cook for another 10 minutes, until thickened and a little darker in color.

Pour the sauce over the gnocchi. With a large spoon, gently jostle and pull up the meatballs and gnocchi so the sauce gets under and around the whole layer. Next, with a spoon, dollop and nestle the ricotta throughout the pan. Cover with tinfoil and bake for about 20 minutes. Then remove the tin foil, sprinkle the mozzarella along the top and bake for another 10 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes, and serve hot with extra grated Parmesan cheese on top.

RECIPE: Savory Turkey Ramen Bowls

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So it's after Thanksgiving and many of you are wondering if you should make some soup with that giant carcass you've been storing in the fridge. Well, ABSOLUTELY you should! Why not? The stove does most of the work. When else can you throw a bunch of stuff in a pot and after 4 hours, VOILA. You have magic!? And cheap magic at that!

I decided to do something a little different this year. I found on Epicurious a great recipe to make some asian ramen bowls. The stock has an asian slant using Ginger and Daikon. I had never done it this way, and was very intrigued. I usually do a simple stock using onions and carrots, maybe celery. Typical stuff. I adapted it to our preferences. I cooked the shitake and tofu a little more than the original recipe called for, and simplified toppings for the palate of an 11 year old.

We found we really liked using ham with the turkey. Whether we do this recipe again next year or not, we probably will always add some pork to the mix. It just richens and sweetens the gaminess of the turkey.

Hope you had a great holiday with family! Now off to the races with the next one!

Savory Turkey Ramen Bowls


For the broth
1 turkey carcass, from a 12 to 15 pound turkey
1 pound of smoked country ham, bone in
1 10'' Daikon radish, peeled and roughly chopped
3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2'' knob of Ginger root, peeled and sliced
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped 1
1 cup parsley sprigs
1 Tbsp. whole peppercorns
half a lemon
32 cups of water

For the Ramen Bowls
8 cups broth from above
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 Tbsp. yellow miso
2 ½ tsp. soy sauce
2 tsp. white distilled vinegar
12 oz. ramen noodles -I used 3 oz. ramen packages and discarded the flavor packets

1-2 cups reserved turkey meat from the carcass
2-4 eggs
¼ cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
10 oz. extra firm tofu, diced
1 cup shitake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
dashes of hot sauce optional


Step 1, make the stock
Get a massive pot, and throw your ingredients in there, including all the water.
Cover and get it to a boil, then lower your heat and simmer gently for 4 hours, uncovered.

After 4 hours, let cool slightly, then strain through a fine mesh sieve after discarding your big bones and meat first out of the broth. At this point you can refrigerate your broth for a few days, or even freeze it. Let it cool down first before covering and storing.

Step 2, make the ramen bowls

In a small saucepan filled with boiling water, gently drop in your eggs using a slotted spoon. Wait until the water comes back to a boil, then time your eggs for 7 minutes. Have iced water waiting in a bowl, and once 7 minutes are up, gently pull the eggs out using a slotted spoon and drop them into the iced water. Once cool enough to handle, crack the shell off and slice the eggs in half to place in the ramen bowls as a final garnish. Set aside.

Measure 8 cups of the stock and heat up in a medium saucepan. Add the miso, soy sauce, fish sauce and vinegar. Heat to a gentle simmer. Next add the tofu and shitake and heat through for about 3 minutes. Next break up the ramen noodles, and add to the broth. Simmer the noodles for 3 minutes. Finally add the reserved turkey meat and cook until heated through.

Ladle the ramen and broth into large bowls, making sure you have generous amounts of tofu turkey and shitakes. Garnish the tops with scallions and cilantro, and nestle in your egg halves. Serve with hot sauce on the side.

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