Tag Archives: tradition

it’s good to be back in the neighborhood

After a long hiatus (due to computer sickness, a hellish finals week, and Christmas festivities) Basta Pasta is back and better than ever. My computer isn’t totally revived, but I think it’s going to be up and running soon(ish). Nevertheless, I musta been a good girl this year because Santa brought a lot of kitchen goodies. I got  three new knives, a whole mess of spices, no less than FOUR cookbooks (one by Padma the TopChef hottie about Indian cooking) and a wok! In the words of my four-year-old cousin upon opening a package of Spiderman undies, “Its just what I always wanted!”

So I’m coming back in style with TWO wonderful baked goods recipes: a poppy seed loaf and a decadent cranberry ginger chocolate tart.  No pictures with these recipes unfortunately. But that’s a new years resolution: pictures with every Basta Pasta entry!! Food porn for everyone! Okay, now getting back to the issue…I gave my grandparents the poppy seed loaf as a Christmas gift. They like breakfast breads and my heating bill just arrived so it qualified as cheap Christmas gift. I ended up making 2 loaves, one for the grandparents and one for my family. I found the recipe in the Joy of Cooking cookbook and the loaves turned out okay. This bread needs to be eaten in the first 48 hours otherwise its hard as a rock and pretty much inedible. Any suggestions on how to lengthen the life  of this bread are appreciated.


This recipe makes two loaves

7 cups all-purpose flour, sifted |||| 3/4 cup sugar |||| 1 tablespoon salt |||| 1 package active dry yeast |||| 1/2 cup shortening |||| 3 eggs |||| 2 cups poppy seeds |||| 1 cup honey |||| 1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. In a large bowl, combine 3 cups of flour, sugar, salt, and the entire package of yeast. In a seperate bowl combine, 2 1/2 cups of hot water with shortening.

2. Gradually add the water to the dry ingredients and beat for 2 minutes with an electric mixer. Then add 1 beaten egg and another cup of flour. Beat for 1 more minute.

3.  Add the additional 3 cups of flour to make the dough. It is easiest to combine all the ingredients with your hands at this point. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, for about 10 minutes. Then place the dough in a flour covered glass bowl and cover with a dry dish towel. Allow the dough to rise for about 45 minutes.

4.  Meanwhile, grind the poppyseeds in between towels with a wooden mallet (or just buy already ground poppy seeds at the store). Then combine the poppy seeds with 1 egg, 1/3 cup honey, and lemon juice. You can add nuts or dried fruit to the poppy seed filling if you wish.

5. After the dough has been allowed to rise for 45 minutes, divide into 2 pieces. Roll each piece into an oval shape about 1/4 of an inch thick with a rolling pin. Put 1/2 of the poppy seed filling in the center of the dough.

6. The Joy of Cooking cookbook has an excellent illustration of the technique to give the loaf a braided effect. Essentially, cut the dough on the sides of the filling into 1 inch stripes. Then alternate folding the stripes over the top of the filling. Brush the top of the loaves with 1 egg white.

7. Transfer the loaves to a greased cookie sheet. Bake the loaves in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, until the bread is a nice golden brown color.

Yay for holiday baking! I decided to make this Cranberry Ginger Choclate tart for dessert after a Christmas dinner of honey baked ham, sweet potatoes and broccoli…a humble but delicious holiday feast.

This tart was quite an ambitious project spanning over two days of preparation. I ended up having to make two crusts because I cracked the first one while taking it out of the oven. But the result was well worth the effort. The cheese filling is very light and not too sweet. The tartness of the cranberries is so refreshing after too many super sweet Christmas cookies. The crust was only okay. Even on the second try, my crust was too hard. I like a soft pastry-like crust on pies and tarts. This crust ended up like an Oreo cookie. I would make this again, but possibly with some adjustments to the crust.

Some of my family liked the ginger flavor and others would have preferred the tart better without it. Personally, I love candied ginger (especially when its dipped in chocolate) but my family members are not the most adventurous of eaters and this was just a little too much. There were little leftovers though, so no one was too offended.


Cranberry Topping:  1/2 cup cranberry juice |||| 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin |||| 1 12-oz bag of fresh cranberries |||| 3/4 cup sugar |||| juice of 1 lemon |||| 1 teaspoon lemon zest |||| 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root |||| 4 tablespoons chopped candied ginger

Crust: 1 1/4 cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs |||| 1/4 sugar |||| 6 tablespoons unsalted butter |||| pinch of salt

Filling: 1 8-oz container of mascarpone cheese |||| 1/2 cup powdered sugar |||| 1/2 cup whipping cream |||| 1 teaspoon vanilla extract |||| 2 tablespoons candied ginger

1. First make the cranberry topping because it needs to chill for at least 8 hours. Pour 1/4 cup cranberry juice and gelatin into a small bowl. Let it stand while you make the rest of the cranberry topping.

2. Combine 1/4 cup cran juice, fresh cranberries, sugar, lemon juice and zest, and fresh ginger in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Simmer until cranberries are plump but still tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Strain into a bowl and set cranberries aside. Stir gelatin mixture into the cranberry juice mixture until the gelatin dissolves. Then stir the cranberries back into the juice. Chill cranberry mixture for at least 8 hours (I chilled it overnight).

4. Next make the crust. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grind about 3/4 of a package of chocolate wafers in a food processor to make crumbs.

5. Combine cookie crumbs, sugar, salt, and melted butter. Crumbs should feel moist when pressed together. You can add another tablespoon of butter if mixture is dry or doesn’t stick together.

6. Press crumb mixture into the bottom and sides of a 9 inch greased tart pan with removable bottom.

7. Bake chocolate crust for about 15 minutes. Transfer tart pan to a rack and cool completely before adding the filling.

8. To make the mascarpone filling, use an electric mixer to beat all the ingredients together. Only beat the mixture for a minute because over mixing will cause the filling to curdle.

9. Spread filling on to the cooled crust. Then spoon the cranberry mixture over the filling. Chill for another 2-6 hours. Garnish with 4 tablespoons chopped candied ginger before serving.


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top five best meals ever

What are the top 5 best meals you’ve ever had?

I’ve asked this question to pretty much everyone I know at sometime or another. For some reason I find the topic of ‘best meals’ very interesting. A meal is such a fabulous part of human interaction and day-to-day life. For all of history, people have always shared meals together. I truly enjoy sitting with friends or family, eating good food and having a solid conversation. Dinnertime is a beautiful thing and it doesn’t receive the attention and appreciation that it deserves. Usually, the best meals have some sort of story behind them. There is some other reason that a meal makes the top 5 besides the food. It’s really the story that I am after when I ask anyone about his or her Top 5 meals. So if you’re interested, here are some of my favorite meals and why they are so memorable.


Antipasto in Italy
When I was 16, my family took our first vacation to Europe. We started in Rome for 3 days before boarding a cruise ship and sailing to Greece, Malta, Spain and France. The trip was full of memories, but one of the best was our last night in Rome. We went to a small, family owned restaurant. I don’t remember what the place was called, but there couldn’t of been more than 5 tables in the whole place. We ordered the antipasto to share and separate dinners for everyone. This was no average antipasto, with a few olives and cheese on a platter. The waiter brought us bowls of different types of olives, melon with prosciutto, five different kinds of sausage, roasted vegetables, and some of the most delicious cheeses I’ve ever tasted. We canceled the orders for dinner and just feasted on the antipasto.


Christmas Eve
There is no specific Christmas Eve that sticks out. Instead this meal makes the list because it has been exactly the same for as long as I can remember. That’s what I love about Christmas Eve in my family, the tradition. My great-grandmother used to cook the traditional Polish meal and have everyone (about 25 people) at her house. When she was too old, my grandmother took over. Every year, the meal is exactly the same. Grandma makes pierogie, sauerkraut, mushroom soup, fried white fish, pickled herring, and fruit compote. The food is homey and comforting and cooked with lots of butter. After dinner we open gifts and then return to the huge table for cookies, nut roll, and coffee. I love my family’s traditions and take pride in them. And someday, I might be the one cooking this same exact meal for my grandchildren.


Family Dinners at Kiawah
The reasons for cherishing the family dinners during our summer vacations at the beach are very similar to the reasons for loving Christmas Eve dinner. Whereas Christmas Eve is always celebrated with my mom’s side of the family, summer trips to the beach were always with my dad’s side of the family. All of the aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents stayed in the same beach house and each person was in charge of making dinner for everyone one night of the week. After a long day of playing in the waves, building sand castles, and flying kites, there was always a big plate of spaghetti or barbequed chicken shared with all my family to look forward to at the end of the day.


Backyard at Mickey’s
Last summer I had a few friends, Jamie, Alyssa and her roommate, and Dave, over for dinner at my aunt’s house when they were out of town for the weekend. I made a spinach salad and ravioli for dinner. And we had lots and lots of wine and rum. We sat for hours in the backyard drinking and talking and enjoying each other’s company. It was exactly what a good meal should be: good friends and good food. Everyone stayed late and some of the guests hooked up later that night, but that’s another story completely.


Picnic in the Park in Madrid
Jamie, Jordana and I traveled to Spain and visited with Amy in Madrid. Amy was a great host and gave us a full tour of the city. We spent Sunday afternoon in the park, eating our picnic, dancing in the drum circles, drawing by the lake and smoking jays. The picnic was a feast of tomato and cheese sandwiches, pistachio nuts, corn nuts, chocolate covered raisins, grapes, strawberries, and cheap wine mixed with coke. It was a great afternoon and one of the highlights of the whole vacation.


Honorable Mentions:Maryland crabs at Mickey’s lake house, the best seafood I’ve ever had in New York City, Indian food in Amsterdam, Rasta at All Good Festival, Samrat and dude lunches, corn on the cob on the backyard bonfire, Saturday morning pancakes with Kath.


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