Every Day Chef Challenge – Pumpkin Pie Parfaits

Every year, I tell myself I should challenge myself and enter some recipe contests. There is nothing I enjoy more than spending a day, or more a week testing recipes in my kitchen. I see so many of my fellow food bloggers entering all kinds of cooking challenges, and it looks like so much fun! But I always find an excuse not to do it, usually it relates to not having time to test recipes in the kitchen. Last year, my friend Aggie, from Aggie’s Kitchen was part of the Every Day Chef Challenge created by Pacific Natural Foods. So this past weekend, I spent all day Sunday creating two recipes for the Every Day Chef Challenge!

The nice thing about Pacific, is that they have all natural, preservative free, some organic and some free range meat broths in their offerings. So it is a good brand for people who are moving over to healthier ways of eating, but still like the convenience of store bought stocks, broths and milk alternatives.

I entered two recipes, this dessert is based on the Coconut Milk Panna Cotta Parfaits I made a few weeks ago. They were such a hit at our dinner party, and I had so much fun making them, I wanted to try some other flavor combinations. Plus, everyone loves a dessert made from pumpkin over the holidays and I wanted to create a pumpkin pie alternative for people who might be facing a family or group dinner where guests might have food allergies. This dessert is delicious, dairy, gluten, soy and refined sugar free. If you skip the graham cracker layer, you can also make it grain free. But this is perfectly delicious for those not suffering from allergies as well! My husband loved them, and he doesn’t even like pumpkin!

Recipe ingredients:
For Pumpkin Puree Layers:

1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 tablespoons 100% pure maple syrup

For Panna Cotta:

2 ½ cups Pacific Hazelnut Non-Dairy Beverage
¼ cup 100 % pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
½ cup of graham crackers, crushed (I used gluten-free graham crackers)

Cooking instructions:
Looks long and complicated, but once you get the layering down, that is really all there is to it! It will be totally worth it!
1) Make the pumpkin puree layer. In a medium bowl mix well the pumpkin, vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spice and 2 tablespoons maple syrup. Set aside.
2) Pour the hazelnut beverage into a small pan and heat on the lowest setting until small bubbles form on the edges of the pan.
3) In the meantime, in a small bowl pour the quarter cup of water and add the gelatin, whisking briskly until thoroughly combined. Set aside until the hazelnut beverage has started to bubble.
4) Then add maple syrup, vanilla extract and spices to the hazelnut beverage once it has started to bubble slightly.
5) Remove the hazelnut beverage mixture from the heat and add a quarter cup of it to the gelatin whisking briskly to incorporate, making sure there are no lumps.
6) Add gelatin mixture back to the pan with the rest of the hazelnut beverage mixture, whisk to combine and then set pan on the lowest heat setting, so that it doesn’t start to cool and gel.
7) Using ½ pint mason jars, place about 1/3 cup of the hazelnut beverage mixture on the bottom.
8) Put the mason jars in the freezer for about 30-40 minutes, until softly set.
9) Remove jars from freezer and let the jars come to room temperature. You want to make sure that you aren’t adding hot liquid to frozen glass, as this will cause the glass to break.
10) Then add about 2 tablespoons of the pumpkin puree and smooth over top as best you can with the spoon or your clean fingers.
11) Then add a little crumble of the graham crackers.
12) You will repeat this process until you have the following: 3 layers of hazelnut milk mixture, 2 layers of pumpkin puree and 2 layers of graham crackers. Always let the hazelnut beverage layer gel before adding the pumpkin puree, etc.
13) Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours before eating.
14) Serves 4.

Here is a link to the recipe! I feel really weird about self-promotion…but here I go. If you like it, please vote for it on The Every Day Chef  Challenge website! You don’t have to register to vote or anything, just check out the recipe, and vote!  AND, you can vote for it every day, up until November 14th.  I would very much like to win a kitchen aid mixer. Something that I have been dreaming about adding to my appliances for years. If you really love the recipe, please feel free to share the link on your social media outlets. Thanks so much for supporting this blog!

Homemade Nutella for Norway


I really wish I had a Norwegian recipe to post today. I have been really saddened by the tragic events in Oslo on Friday. As many of my readers know, I spent a year in Norway as an exchange student, in between high school and college, and I have very fond and vivid memories of my life there. The people, culture and independent spirit of Norway all have a very special place in my heart. I formed many long lasting friendships that year and still have many good friends and loved ones that live there, and a lot of them currently reside in Oslo. So  Friday and Saturday were scary days waiting to hear from everyone.

Photo Courtesy


I have been comforted these past few days by these words by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg:

“You will not destroy us. You will not destroy our democracy, or our commitment to a better world. We are a small country nation, but a proud nation. No one shall bomb us to silence, no one shall shoot us to silence, no one shall scare us out of being Norway. We must never stop standing up for our values. We must show that the Norwegian society can stand up to these testing times. We must show humanity, but not naivety.”

I keep reading this over and over and praying for the truth in those words. As an American, experiencing 9/11 and seeing the aftermath of such events and in many ways the loss of our many freedoms and our independent spirit, I can only hope that the Norwegians will keep that alive.

Although I know this does nothing, other than feebly lend support and love to my Norwegian friends and Norwegians all over the world, you can check out some of my Norwegian and Scandinavian inspired recipes from the past. Comfort food really is a comfort and can aid in feeding our spirit during trying times.

I spent all of Friday sweating over steamy vats of curds and whey and fluffing cheese curds at The Cellars at Jasper Hill – that is something for another post though…so when I got home that night, I hadn’t heard anything about what was going on in Norway. One of my best friends lives in Oslo, and so Roberto really was worried about telling me what had happened, but luckily she had posted on my facebook wall that everything was OK, and like a lot of other Norwegians, she and her husband were out of the country on holiday.

So in lieu of posting a Norwegian recipe, I am going to post about making homemade Nutella, because the first time I ever tasted Nutella it was in Norway. The first time I had it, I thought it was a Norwegian invention, and I was hooked! When I returned to the US, after my year in Norway, I was lucky to be able to find it in the grocery stores here, and so it has always been a staple in my house. Then I married an Italian (Italy is the actual birthplace of Nutella) and we just always had a jar in the pantry…until we noticed the ingredient profile had changed and it now included soy lecithin and vanillin – artificial vanilla …so we stopped buying it. We have found and tried several organic and more healthy versions, but they never really tasted that good, and were expensive.

In comes The Spunky Coconut blog. I am an avid fan of both the blog and the cookbook – The Spunky Coconut has really changed my life in a lot of ways, her baked goods are all gluten and grain free and don’t contain weird fillers and gums, like a lot of gluten-free baked goods do. I have tried several of her recipes, and they have all been fantastic – perfect taste and texture every time – and they don’t require any tweaking, which makes my life so easy!

So when she posted a recipe for homemade Nutella on her blog, I felt like our prayers had been answered – especially for Roberto.

The only thing I changed about the recipe was by adding a bit of maple syrup at the end to taste. Roberto, the official taste tester felt that it wasn’t sweet enough. I probably ended up adding a little shy of ¼ cup of it after all was said and done. The recipe makes 3-4 small mason jars full, and she says in the comments that she actually froze one jar of it – but I am not sure if it turned out OK.

Roberto’s tasting notes: Regular Nutella is now way too sweet for us (we have cut down on a lot of sugar and don’t use any refined sugar products), and it has more of a bitter dark chocolate taste than regular Nutella, however because it is less sweet, he says it is more versatile. He has been enjoying it spread on The Spunky Coconut’s Boulder Banana Bread (minus the walnuts, I usually add about 2 TBS of almond butter).

Holiday Baking Series: Assorted Biscotti

As I mentioned in a recent post, in order to give responsible and sustainable gifts this year, I am making gifts to send to family this year. Cookies immediately came to mind, and since I know from my Italian upbringing that biscotti keep well, and are easy to ship, I went with those. Biscotti are so versatile, as they can be flavored in a variety of ways. Plus, who doesn’t love a nice crunchy biscotto dipped in hot coffee, tea or cocoa?

When making gifts for others, I always use the best ingredients, including organic flours and sugars, fair trade chocolate, organic nuts and farm fresh butter and eggs. Although I do not eat cane sugar or wheat flours, it doesn’t mean the recipients of my gifts don’t. So I found a good balance in creating these biscotti – using the best ingredients that I could, but creating cookies that my recipients would love without question. After all, these cookies are gifts to them.

If you don’t have any food allergies, you can easily use this recipe as a base and use whatever you have on hand to accent them with. I have listed some of my favorite combinations below. I also imagine these recipes would lend themselves well to gluten free flours, like oat or coconut flour and maple sugar would also be a fine substitute. I will soon share with you gluten free Venetian style biscotti, made with polenta, my personal favorite.

This recipe I adapted from my favorite cookbook for a sweet tooth – Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina De Palma, of Babbo fame. This book is fantastic, covering everything from cookies to cakes, budini (custards) and fruit. Gina has such a wonderful way with Italian inspired ingredients and this book has many wonderful surprises and flavor combinations to tempt your palate. I recommend getting yourself a copy or put it on your wish list this year! I hear Santa is very obliging when it comes to cookies and sweets. He is an expert and I know for a fact that he likes biscotti dunked in his milk.

Anyway, these biscotti are simple to make, and make a lot – about 4 dozen a batch. So whip up a few batches for some of your favorite people this holiday season!

I have a few more cookie recipes to share with you this year like Limoncello-Lavender La Befana Stars, gluten free Venetian Biscotti and gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free fruit and nut drops with rum!

For more Holiday cookie ideas, from years past check out these posts:

Cuccidata, Sicilian Fig Cookies

Pizzelle, Italian Waffle Cookies

Yule Log Cookies

No Bake Apricot-Coconut Balls (gluten free, dairy free and egg free) + Egg Nog Cookies

Night Before Christmas Mice

Not Cookies, But Certainly Festive:

Yule Log Cake

Limoncello Cupcakes filled w/ Lemon Curd

Basic Biscotti


3 ½ cups organic all purpose or spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
4 large farm fresh eggs
2 large ff eggs, plus 1 ff egg white for glaze
½ cups pure granulated cane sugar, plus 1 ½ TBS for glaze
2 tsp pure vanilla extract


12 oz. (or about 1 ½ cup) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped or coconut, or dried fruit
2 TBS pure, fair trade cocoa powder
4 cups nuts, coarsely chopped – pistachio, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds, macadamia – mix and match

Some combinations I made were: Chocolate-Pistachio-Hazelnut, Maple-Walnut-Cranberry, Coconut-Macadamia


In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt – set aside.

Using an electric mixer beat together eggs, egg yolks and sugar on medium speed until pale and thick – about 2 mins. Beat in the vanilla, followed by the dry ingredients (about ½ cup at a time). Then fold in the optional ingredients, until dough is thoroughly mixed.

Preheat oven to 325 F and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Using floured hands divide the dough into 5 equal portions. On a floured surface shape each portion of dough into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter and about 10 inches long. Place logs on baking sheet a few inches apart.

In a small bowl beat egg white until frothy. With a pastry brush, brush each log with egg white and sprinkle with cane sugar, maple sugar, coconut, crushed nuts, etc.

Bake the logs until lightly golden and firm to the touch – about 20 – 25 minutes. Rotate the sheets 180 degrees halfway through baking, to ensure even baking. Allow logs to cool on baking sheets on a wire rack until they are cool to the touch – about 45 minutes.

With a sharp, serrated knife, slice the biscotti slightly on a bias into ¼ inch wide slices. Lay the slices on the baking sheets in a single layer. Return to the oven and bake about 20 minutes more. Gina suggests reducing the heat to 200 F for this second toasting, but I found it took much longer than 20 minutes at 200 for the biscotti to firm up and become crispy and dry.

Cool biscotti completely. Can be stored in an airtight container in a cool dry place for 2 weeks.

Makes about 4 dozen biscotti.

If you would like to join a fun cookie exchange this holiday season, please check out Cynthia over at Cupcake Provocateur!

Fruits and Nuts of the Forest Kefir Ice Cream

Kefir Ice Cream

We have had some really scorching days lately! The past several of them have been in the 90’s! I thought I left Florida to get away from the heat, but it looks like it must have followed my mom up here. She arrived on the coolest day we’d had in weeks, lending credence to her idea that we live in The Great White North, but in less than 48 hours, it became an absolute inferno. She loves the heat, so she’s not complaining, but the rest of us are lethargic, even the pets!

So naturally this kind of weather calls for ice cream! But really, we love ice cream and have it quite often no matter what the weather. When I was in Italy, I fell in love with what I called my perfect combination of gelato – one scoop of Frutti di Bosco and one of Nocciola – “Fruits of the Forest” or mixed berries and hazelnut. Such a dreamy combination. Light yet rich at the same time. So I decided to make my own perfect flavor at home, using kefir, a fermented, probiotic dairy drink as the base. We make kefir here at the homestead fresh every day and I love finding new uses for it, beyond a glass straight up for breakfast! So I can now confirm it makes a really delicious ice cream! Next time I will probably add an egg or two to the mix, for a more creamy consistency. But there was nothing lacking in the taste department here! So if you are as hot as we are, or just looking for a different kind of ice cream flavor to cool off on a hot summer day, give this one a try! I promise you will love it!


4 cups of plain whole organic dairy kefir
1/3 cup of fresh organic heavy cream
¼ cup Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
½ cup of raw hazelnuts, toasted
1 cup frozen or fresh organic raspberries
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 tsp ground cinnamon


I have a Vitamix, so I placed all the ingredients, in order listed into the Vitamix and blended just until the nuts were pulverized. I was looking for a creamy consistency. Then I placed all of it, in my ice cream maker and made it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can serve it before placing in the freezer for a more “soft serve” texture, or freeze for a harder consistency. I have also found that adding a ¼ cup of alcohol also lends to better scoopability.

Decadent Chocolate Cake and Goat Milk Ice Cream


How good does that sound? Unfortunately I did not serve these items together, but I wish I had! They would have been perfect together. I have been meaning to post the cake recipe for over a month now. I made it for my cousin Michelle’s birthday. She is a well known chocoholic, and so I knew I wanted to make a super chocolate birthday cake for her to celebrate! Sweets for the sweet!

The recipe was based on one from Peanut Butter and Julie’s Blog (thanks Julie!).


The recipe calls for melting chocolate in hot strong coffee! What a revelation! This was a perfect way to really up the ante and flavor profile of the cake. I used nothing below 75% cacao chocolate and I substituted extra virgin coconut oil and blood orange salt to add to the underlying flavor as well . I made a 9-inch round cake and layered the cake with leftover cream cheese icing that I had frozen when I made too much for the wedding cake and then topped it with crushed hazelnuts. It was totally a success! I am not much of a chocolate lover, but I really loved this cake. I reduced the amount of sugar from 3 CUPS to 3/4’s of a cup – resulting in a deep chocolate flavor without an overly sweet taste.


As for the ice cream, I mentioned in my last post that I have switched over almost exclusively to goats milk. My friend Judy at No Fear Entertaining told me a long time ago that she had made an awesome chocolate pudding using goats milk, so it inspired me to try goats milk in my desserts. Normally when making ice cream, I don’t put eggs in the base as a shortcut and time saver. But this time I decided I really wanted a creamy custard, so I used both goats milk and cream, as well as eggs. I added a bit of crushed cardamom pods while the vanilla bean was steeping in the milk/cream. It added a really rice flavor and I think enhanced the vanilla flavor of the ice cream. The consistency was good, but it was very rich. I think next time, I will skip the cream and just go with the eggs and goats milk.

Recipes below the cut…

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Ice Cream From Leftovers: Very Pistachio Cherry Ice Cream and Baileys Hazelnut-Gateau Ice Cream


I have really so enjoyed my ice cream maker since we got it back in March as an early wedding present from my mom. Ice cream is a big passion of mine, it is something we eat almost everyday, in small amounts (sometimes!) and I find that it has been a really fun and creative outlet for me! But…we have been making so much ice cream since we got the maker, that I literally have a backlog of recipes to share with you all. So consider the next few days, the ice cream chronicles, as I share with your our creations!

I am always looking out for new and great recipes for ice cream, gelato (although you can’t really make true gelato without the proper equipment), sorbetto and slushies. I hoard little bits of this and that away in the freezer for future ice cream endeavors, especially from Daring Bakers Challenges.

This is the inspiration for today’s two recipes!


For the Pistachio-Cherry, I broke down and went with an egg base, something I have been avoiding. However, I had 6 leftover egg yolks in the freezer from a Daring Bakers challenge that needed using. So I decided to finally do an egg based ice cream to remember what the difference in texture is. Texture has been the most difficult thing for me to perfect in past attempts. I was really frustrated to see that there really is a difference. This ice cream was so creamy, its nuts! And this ice cream TRULY was nuts because we went a little nuts with the pistachios! But I was really struggling with the consistency issue and not using eggs. I was determined to find something that will work besides eggs, and I believe I found my answer …in BOOZE (see more on this farther down)…

Roberto loves Pistachio gelato, or ice cream. It is his absolute favorite. Second runner up, Amarena, otherwise known as black cherry. So we decided that this ice cream should incorporate these two flavors making the Ultimate Roberto Ice Cream. Unfortunately, we did overdo it with the pistachios, which means that flavor really overwhelmed the sweet cherry flavor. But it was still good, just not very cherry.


I had a lot of fun getting the cherries ready for this endeavor. I really enjoy cutting into rich red fruits, like pomegranates and cherries and watching their juices stain everything from the cutting board to my fingers. I can’t explain it, but it makes it fun. I guess it is the kid in me.


The second “leftover ice cream” was made from the cake remnants from the last DB challenge – the Hazelnut Gateau which was kind of a disaster for me. So I had a LOT of remnants. I had it stuffed in the freezer and had pretty much forgotten about it until I asked Roberto what kind of ice cream he wanted next. We had recently gotten a bottle of Bailey’s to experiment with making cocktails and so we decided to make a Bailey’s ice cream. That night, I DREAMT about adding the gateau pieces to it (this is how obsessed I am about ice cream!) and I am telling you guys, it is worth making the gateau, to put in this ice cream! I feel so validated now! Ben and Jerry’s really needs to buy this recipe from me to mass produce! LOL! The Bailey’s, since it is alcohol, doesn’t freeze so it made this ice cream so soft and scoopable and creamy!

Click through to see how we made them.
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You Say Filbert, I say Hazelnut…A Schitzoid Daring Baker’s Gateau…with some serious issues…


Let me just start this off by saying that I love the word Gateau, and the more times I can use the word Gateau in a post, the happier I feel. Why? Because I just love the sound of the word rolling off my tongue. There is a sophistication to the word, something refined, that “cake” just doesn’t quite measure up. I mean just look at it. A Gateau is something posh people eat, at an upscale bakery, after a nice dinner out that a super talented pastry genius prepared. Gateau gets washed down with a nice strong cup of quality coffee or espresso if you will, and it is meant to be savored. Cake is something that comes out of a cardboard box or even worse a plastic container already baked and smothered in plastic icing. Unfortunately my particular monstrosity, or Franken-cake really has no place being called a gateau, now does it?


That first photo? The only salvageable piece of gateau-ness I could muster. The rest, mushy disaster.

This DB challenge started off with issues. There is the whole Filbert vs. Hazelnut deal. Lemme give it to you straight, they are not the same nut. First of all, Filbert sounds like the the guy in that comic about the world of cubicles- Dilbert. Ever since they started with this Filbert thing, I have been against it. Its like the checkers at the grocery store who look at my cilantro and ring it up as parsley. Or call a honeydew, cantaloupe. I was lulled into the lies too- thinking Filberts and Hazelnuts were the same. Unfortunately my mouth and tongue did not agree, when I bought a very expensive Filbert cake at Whole Foods years ago for my birthday (back when I didn’t bake) and my mouth itched the whole night immediately after taking one bite. Something that never happens when I eat something with “hazelnuts” in the ingredients. So what gives? I have had this discussion many times with different people and my conclusion is that Filbert is American and Hazelnut is European and that there must be a genetic variation somewhere!

That wasn’t the last time I was lulled into a false sense of security regarding these nuts as we will soon see….I was really excited about this gateau challenge because I just love anything with hazelnuts. I am a real sucker for them – I love them in chocolate, just plain as a nut, and my favorite way in gelato. I also love apricot so things were looking up. The only way I significantly changed the recipe was instead of using hazelnuts for the praline paste, I used pistachios. Roberto’s favorite nut – so it was a marriage between the favorite nuts in the family (pun totally intended!). I also had to add some white chocolate to the ganache, because I didn’t have enough regular. I was feeling pretty smug, not only was the cake coming along but, I also had a little leftover apricot preserves after making the glaze, so I made a simple syrup with that as a base for a fabulous cocktail –

Apricot – Hazelnut Gateau in a Glass (you’ll have to read through the rest of this, to get to that) 😉

I was feeling pretty good about things. All until last night when it came time to put the gateau together.

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Recipe: Tiella di Cozze (Mussel Casserole) and Yogurt Carrot Cake redux


Recently we had my family over for an open house. We have been in our new place for a while now and not everyone had been here to see it. So we decided to do a luncheon. I had two ideas going into this party – I wanted to make something rustic and old-school hearkening back to the times that Italians stopped what they were doing to enjoy a nice lunch spread together out in the fields, on a big slab of wood turned into a table. Also along this theme, I really wanted to make something using ingredients that we already had at home.

Too many times when preparing for a party, I decide on a menu and then go and buy all the ingredients. This time, I wanted to challenge myself more and use what was around. We had been to the Farmer’s market the day before and had gotten our staples: potatoes, tomatoes, squashes, onions and beautiful bread. We also had a bag of frozen mussels in the freezer. So I decided to make a regional dish from Puglia, called Tiella di Cozze or Mussel Casserole – it is said to have descended from Spanish Paella. Since we were having a crowd, I also added some shrimp to the dish, which was topped off with a delicious bread crumb and parmesan topping! It was wonderful.


We served it with a nice green salad,Garlic-Rosemary Foccacia from Maria, the bread lady at the Farmer’s Market and finished with a


Yogurt Carrot Cake with Toasted Hazelnuts . Keep reading for the recipes.
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