Mrs. Field’s Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is the chocolate chip cookie recipe I like best. It came from my mother-in-law who regularly baked them for family and friends. They are soft with a subtle caramel flavor and loaded with chocolate chips. I could never get the cookies to come out as good as my mother in law’s; I knew I was missing something. Recently, we were visiting with one of my husband’s aunts who regularly bakes those chocolate chip cookies. I quizzed her hoping she could help me get them right and, sure enough, I was missing two important instructions – use salted butter and chill the dough overnight before baking. It makes a big batch of cookies, which is great because you can’t eat just one!

Mrs. Field’s Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 lb. salted butter, softened
2 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1-1/2 c. white granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs
6 c. flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. fine salt
2 (12 oz.) pkgs. semisweet or milk chocolate chips
1 c. chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

In a mixing bowl combine butter, sugars and vanilla. Beat on medium speed for 10 minutes until very light, creamy and fluffy. Be sure to stop the machine from time to time to scrape down the dough. Add eggs one at a time then beat for 3 minutes. While the dough is beating, in a separate bowl stir together flour, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until well mixed. Add chocolate chips and nuts, if desired. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill overnight. The dough will become stiff as it chills. The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line four baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a cookie scoop to spoon out walnut-size balls of dough onto the cookie sheet. Place 25 dough balls per cookie sheet. Bake cookies for 10 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. The cookies will look underdone, but remove them from the oven anyway because they will continue to cook on the baking sheet. Place sheet on rack and let sit 5 minutes, then remove cookies from the baking sheet and cool on rack completely. Store in an airtight plastic container. Makes 150 cookies.


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Shredded Carrots with Lemon

This is a refreshingly simple way to prepare carrots. It is a recipe my sister acquired while living in Italy, a nice make-ahead side dish for week nights or holidays. Purple carrots, if you can find them, add great color contrast.

Shredded Carrots with Lemon
10 organic orange carrots, peeled and shredded
2 purple carrots, peeled and shredded
Juice of 2-1/2 medium lemons
1/2-3/4 c. sugar

Shred the carrots in a food processor, then transfer to a large bowl. Add lemon juice and sugar to taste. Stir to dissolve sugar. Taste and adjust sugar to your liking. You want it lemony but not bitter. It should be a bit sweet. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 3-4 hours to develop flavor. Serves 4-6.


Posted in Easter, Salads, Thanksgiving, Vegetables, Vegetarian | 1 Comment

Italian Lemon Cookies

I have been making this recipe for at least 25 years, a simple, cake-like cookie. You can roll the warm cookies in confectioners sugar or you can dip cooled cookies in a lemon glaze. I sometimes bake them for Christmas but they are also good for Easter celebrations with a colorful yellow glaze as in the photo below. You can also dip them in sprinkles. The cookies can be made dairy free by using almond milk in place of regular milk in both the cookie and the lemon glaze.  

Italian Lemon Cookies
3-1/2 c. flour, sifted
2 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. shortening
1 c. milk
2 large eggs
zest of half a large lemon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon extract or emulsion

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add sugar and mix. Cut shortening into the dry mixture until you get pea-size crumbs. In a separate bowl combine milk, eggs, zest, and flavorings. Whisk until well mixed. Gently mix the wet ingredients into the dry until you have a soft dough. Rub some flour on your hands, because the dough is quite sticky, and roll the dough into balls the size of a large marble. Place on baking sheets. Bake for 9 minutes until cookies are puffed and set. They should be pale on top and golden on the bottom. Do not overbake. Remove cookies to a rack. They should still be warm if you dip them in confectioners sugar, or let cookies cool, then dip them in lemon glaze.

Lemon Glaze
1 c. confectioners sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp. milk
1/2 tsp. lemon extract or emulsion
2 drops vanilla extract
1-2 drops yellow food coloring (optional)

In a bowl combine the glaze ingredients and whisk until smooth. Dip cookies in glaze, allowing the excess to drip off. Allow glaze to dry completely before storing in an airtight container. Makes 55 cookies.

Posted in Christmas, Cookies, Dairy-free, Desserts, Easter | 1 Comment

My Grandfather’s Easter Leg of Lamb

This is the leg of lamb recipe that my Sicilian grandfather made, and taught his family to make, for Easter dinner. My Aunt Fran has been preparing her Easter lamb this way ever since I can remember. It is relatively simple, always delicious, and does not involve any marinating, just a bit of chopping. You make slits in the meat and insert small pieces of parmesan cheese, garlic and parsley. The cheese melts into the meat while it is cooking, resulting in a delicious forkful of tender garlicky lamb with a bit of oozing cheese. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

My Grandfather’s Easter Leg of Lamb
1 (3-4 lb.) boneless leg of lamb
6 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
salt and pepper
1/4-1/3 c. small pieces of parmesan cheese or more to taste
4 sprigs fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
sprinkling of garlic powder (optional)
sprinkling of onion powder (optional)
olive oil 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay the lamb cut side up on a flat surface. Drizzle a little olive oil on the meat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and place 3 cloves of garlic cut into slivers on the lamb. Roll the lamb up using kitchen twine. Make slits all over the outside of the roast with a sharp knife, then insert pieces of Parmesan cheese in some of the slits, along with garlic slivers and pieces of parsley into the others. The amount needed will depend on how large a roast you are making. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on the the meat and rub it all over the leg of lamb. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. It is optional to sprinkle with garlic powder and onion powder. Place lamb in a roasting pan and roast for roughly 15 minutes per pound for rare meat or until it reaches 120-125 degrees at the deepest part of the roast. Cook 20 minutes per pound for medium or 130-140 degrees. Cook longer if you prefer lamb more well done. Let rest for 10 minutes or so after removing from the oven. Then slice. Serves 8.

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Italian Ricotta Cheesecake

This is my favorite ricotta cheesecake recipe. It is moist and creamy and I love the subtle citrus overtones. I will occasionally add orange flower water and candied orange peel. It is optional. Variations of this recipe could include chopped maraschino cherries with some chocolate or lemon zest and almond extract or anise with citron. It is a lovely Easter dessert. Bake it the day before you intend to serve it so it sets up well.

Ricotta Cheesecake
3-1/2 c. whole milk ricotta cheese, drain 30 minutes
3/4 c. sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
zest of half an orange
zest of half a lemon
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4-1/2 tsp. orange flower water (optional)
1/4 c. chopped candied orange peel (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil 5 cups water for a water bath. In a large bowl mix together by hand ricotta and sugar until light. Add eggs and the remaining ingredients and mix by hand until incorporated. Do not over mix. Pour into a 9-inch deep dish pie plate. Place cheesecake into a roasting pan. Place in the oven then pour the boiled water into the pan to reach half way up the sides of the pie plate. Be careful not to splash it into the cheesecake batter. Bake for 45-50 minutes until set. Remove from water bath. Cool on rack. Chill overnight then serve. It is optional to sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar just before serving. Serves 8.


Posted in Cakes, Christmas, Custards, Desserts, Easter, Fruit, Thanksgiving | 2 Comments

Pizza Gaina

Pizza gaina (also called pizza chiena or pizza rustica) is a quiche-like Italian savory Easter pie. Traditionally it is made with a bottom and top crust, but I have found that, if we fill up on a heavy savory pie to begin the Easter feast, there is not enough room for the lamb, vegetables, and desserts to follow. I have modified the recipe by eliminating the crust and just baking the filling in a 9×13 pan. It is still rich, but you only need a small piece to be satisfied. If you prefer a more traditional method feel free to encase the filling in a pastry crust.  It is delicious and a great start to celebrate the holiday.

Pizza Gaina

1 (32 oz.) container whole milk ricotta
6 large eggs
1/4 c. milk
pinch of kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
pinch of Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
8 oz. whole milk mozzarella, diced (1-1/2 c. diced)
1/3 lb. thinly sliced and rough chopped boiled ham (1-1/2 c.)
1 c. thinly sliced and rough chopped Genoa salami
1/4 c. thinly sliced and rough chopped pepperoni
1 Tbsp. chopped sundried tomatoes in oil
1/4 c. chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13 glass baking pan. In a large bowl whisk together the ricotta cheese and eggs until smooth. Whisk in milk. Add salt, pepper, and spices. Mix well. Add parmesan and mix. Add mozzarella and cold cuts. Mix well. Fold in sundried tomatoes and fresh parsley. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 40 minutes until set. Serves 12.

Pizza Gaina filling ready for the oven

Baked Pizza Gaina

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Pasta with Breadcrumbs

This is a very simple and fast pasta dish. I make my own breadcrumbs out of stale baguettes, then put the crumbs in jars and freeze.

1/2 lb. angel hair pasta
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c. plain breadcrumbs or more to taste
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
1/4-1/2 c. pasta water

Bring a 6-quart pot full of water to the boil. Add some salt. Add angel hair and cook 5 minutes or until al dente. While the pasta cooks, warm the olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes until soft and fragrant. As garlic begins to turn color stir in bread crumbs and some salt and pepper. Cook 2 minutes. Add 2 Tbsp. of the parsley. Add cooked pasta and enough pasta water to keep it moist. Cook 1 minute. Pour into serving bowl. Top with remaining parsley. Serves 4.

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Zeppole are Italian cream puffs traditionally served on St. Joseph’s Day (March 19th). The dough can be fried or baked, I prefer the baked version. Zeppole can be filled with ricotta cream or with a thick, piped custard filling. Below is the recipe for the thick custard filling, adapted from the blog Ciao Chow Linda. My favorite filling is a lighter custard that you can make by preparing the thick custard filling and then folding in a cup of sweetened whipped cream. The photo below has the lightened custard. You will have more custard than you need for the cream puffs. 


Cream Puffs
1 c. water
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. sugar
pinch of salt
1 c. flour
4 large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a 2-quart saucepan combine water, butter, sugar and salt. Bring to a rolling boil. Stir in the flour, mixing vigorously over low heat until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat and add eggs gently, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth. Pipe dough through a pastry bag or drop walnut-size scoops of dough onto the prepared pan. You should have 12 cream puffs. Bake for 25-30 minutes until puffed and golden. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

Custard Filling
4 c. whole milk
5 (3 inch long) strips of lemon peel (peeled with a peeler)
1/2 vanilla bean
3/4 c. granulated sugar
8 large egg yolks
1/2 c. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. sweetened whipped cream (optional)
Confectioners sugar for sprinkling

In a 4-quart stockpot combine milk and lemon peel. Scrape vanilla bean and add seeds to the milk as well as the vanilla pod. Turn heat to medium low and bring the milk to a simmer. In a separate bowl whisk together sugar and egg yolks until pale and thick. Add cornstarch and flour to the yolks and whisk until smooth. Add about 1/2 c. of the hot milk mixture to the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return the yolk mixture to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly to prevent burning until the mixture has thickened. It will take 5-7 minutes. Remove custard from heat, then whisk in the butter. Stir until the butter has melted. Let sit 5 minutes, stirring a couple of times to prevent a skin from forming. Strain the thick custard using a spatula to force the custard through the sieve. Then add vanilla extract. Place plastic wrap directly on custard surface and chill until cold, about 4 hours. At this point you can fill a pastry bag with custard and pipe it into a split cream puff, or you can fold the sweetened whipped cream into the thick custard and then spoon it into the cream puff. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar. Serves 12.

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Italian Romanesco Broccoli with Pickled Peppers

Romanesco broccoli is a cross between a cauliflower and broccoli. It is quite stunning with its spiky buds and lime green color, and milder than cauliflower with a slightly nutty flavor. It is delicious simply boiled and dressed with a lemon vinaigrette, but if you add a bit of mild, sweet pickled pepper it is even better. I love the pickled cheese peppers that we bottle in the fall. They are wonderful in salads or sandwiches, or served alongside Italian sausage. Recently I have been adding them to vegetable dishes such as this one, where the peppers shine. If you don’t have your own you can buy bottled pickled peppers, sweet or hot, in the grocery store. 

Italian Romanesco Broccoli with Pickled Peppers
1 head Romanesco Broccoli, cut into florets
1/3 c. chopped pickled red peppers

Lemon Vinaigrette
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1-1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring a 4-quart pot full of water to the boil. Add a bit of salt to the water. Add Romanesco broccoli, cover and cook about 7 minutes until fork tender but not mushy. Drain. Place in a serving bowl. In a separate bowl combine all lemon vinaigrette ingredients and whisk until smooth. Pour vinaigrette over broccoli and toss. Add chopped pickled peppers and toss. Taste then add salt and pepper if needed. Serves 4.

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Crumb Cake

Crumb cakes are very popular on the East Coast. We almost always had a crumb cake in the house when I was growing up because my dad and brother loved it. My son, like his grandfather, loves crumb cake and has become the crumb cake baker in the family. This recipe is very moist and flavorful, and is adapted from Carol Walter’s book Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins and More.

Crumb Cake
Crumb Topping
1-1/2 c. flour
3/4 c. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
2/3 c. unsalted butter, softened

In a large bowl combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter to make large size crumbs. Set aside.

1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
1-3/4 c. flour, sifted
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg
3/4 c. milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13 metal baking pan, then line it with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a third bowl mix together the egg, milk and vanilla. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture alternately with the milk mixture. Mix well. The batter will be thick. Pour batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle crumb topping evenly over the batter. Bake 30-40 minutes, rotating pan half way through baking, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool on rack. Sprinkle generously with confectioner’s sugar to serve. Serves 10-12.


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