Superbowl Party Foods

This Sunday, not only will Punxatawney Phil determine how much longer we have to endure this realm of the never ending, deja-vu-Groundhog-Day-esque Arctic winter, but a little thing called the Superbowl is also happening. Which means that it’s time to party!

We could go on and on about football, Peyton Manning, Denver, Seattle, and even Omaha (huh?), but since I’m not really up on any of that we’re going to cut to the chase and give you a list of our top recipes for Superbowl Sunday. (It’s not that I don’t like football, but Tony, a.k.a. “The Lost Italian” – although lately I’ve taken to just calling him “Lost” – is a Dolphins fan, so I am never aware of what’s happening with the winning teams.)

Also, be sure to check out our Party Dip Recipes section for a ton of great recipes from last fall’s recipe contest in search of the Perfect Party Dip.

Cranberries Gone Wild Dip – This was the winner of our fall party dip recipe contest, and was ever-present on the holiday party circuit. Fresh cranberries are now out of season, but frozen will also work. Serve this with a lime margarita and lime tortilla chips to make it extra festive!

Hot Beef Taco Dip – This hearty ground beef dip is full of the classic taco flavors and will help keep you warm and happy throughout the game.

Jalapeno Popper Dip – It’s hard to believe, but this party dip tastes exactly like a jalapeno popper, and is almost embarrassingly delicious.

Cincinnati Chili – We serve this regional specialty 4-way or 5-way over spaghetti or Coney style over hot dogs, but it’s so good you can even eat it on a spoon.

Italian Sausage, Peppers & Onion “Sangwich” – Serve it up like they did in Tony’s old Toronto neighborhood. In Fargo, we like to use Mexican Bolillo rolls or Portuguese hard rolls for this sandwich, er, sangwich.

Gio’s Meatballs – Keep these Italian-style meatballs warm in a crock pot and serve with our Easy Tomato Sauce over spaghetti or in sandwich form on ciabatta rolls or a French baguette. Easy to make and mild in seasoning, this is a great recipe for kids to make and eat!

Blackened Sirloin with Horseradish Cream Sauce – Super easy to make, this sirloin is served chilled and can be prepared well in advance. Every time we serve this we get asked for the recipe – and the horseradish cream sauce is so good you’ll find yourself looking for reasons to make it. (It’s also great with bison, roast tenderloin, grilled sirloin roast, potatoes, on a spoon…you get the idea.)

Sicilian Arancini Balls – These little, fried golden orbs are filled with risotto, green peas and ground beef, and they are heavenly when served with our Easy Tomato Sauce for dipping.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Crostini – We can all use a mid-winter splash of summer, and this Italian tri-colored appetizer does the trick. Forza Azzurri! (I know, I know, that only works for FUTBOL, not football, but I’m justItalian-by-Marriage after all…)

Easy Vinaigrette Potato Salad – Easy to make and always a crowd pleaser, this simple salad consists of Yukon Gold potatoes, green onions, cider vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper.

Honey Gorgonzola Hearts of Romaine Salad – We love to showcase North Dakota whenever we can, and this salad is the perfect way to do it since ND is the #1 producer of honey in the nation! We also know a thing or two about football…

Basil Pesto Pasta Salad – This colorful, delicious pasta salad can be made in advance and served at room temperature. And it makes me happy to see flowers again, since I’m pretty sure this winter is never ending. Did I already say that or am I having deja vu?

Tiramisu – Because every party deserves a little Italian “pick me up.” Need we say more? (Phil, if you promise not to see your shadow on Sunday, I’ll save some tiramisu for you.)

Buttermilk Brownies – Skip the peppermint extract and festive candy cane topping for this occasion and enjoy the wonderful deliciousness of these moist and airy brownies with their incredible cooked chocolate frosting.

We hope you find this list fun, festive and helpful. We would love to know what’s on YOUR menu this Superbowl Sunday, so be sure to leave your answer in the Comments section below.

Cooking Video: Cream of Parsnip Soup

This week on North Dakota Today, Tony shares his recipe for one of our favorite winter foods: Cream of Parsnip Soup. I wrote about this soup in our weekly column a year ago, and I’ve included that post for your reading pleasure here again today.

Click HERE or on the photo below to watch Tony’s demonstration, and let us know if have any questions!

Below is the full content of our column which appeared in the Wednesday, December 12, 2012 edition of “The Forum” To view the recipe click HERE.

While we don’t often think of winter as a season of fresh produce, there are some wonderful options that spring to life this time of year. Root vegetables such as beets, carrots, and sweet potatoes have a long storage period, are an excellent source of nutrients and minerals, and can be enjoyed throughout the season. This week we’re going to share our passion for an often-overlooked and, in our opinion, underrated root vegetable: the parsnip.

“In my opinion, the parsnip has great diversity and is the tastiest root vegetable,” Tony says. “You can serve a parsnip puree instead of mashed potatoes. Or roast some parsnips in the oven to jazz up a salad. But whatever you do, keep the preparation simple and allow its flavors to be fully appreciated.”

Years ago Tony and I hosted a pre-opera dinner party for eight of our friends. I was on the board of directors at the time, and I was hoping to cultivate more supporters for the Fargo-Moorhead Opera. We had never done anything like this before, and I wanted to dazzle our guests with our food and hospitality. Everything had to perfect.

On the day of the event, Tony told me that he had changed the soup for the evening to Cream of Parsnip. At the time I wasn’t very familiar with parsnips. To say that I was skeptical about this change is an understatement. In fact, we actually argued about it. I wanted the menu to reflect foods of luxury – the main course was a duo of beef tenderloin and sea bass, after all – and in my mind, lobster bisque was the only option. The paltry parsnip was simply not up to the task.

But Tony was adamant, and I was surprised by his zealous defense of the parsnip.

“Trust me,” he said. “Everyone expects lobster bisque at a dinner like this. We need to keep it simple and focus on what’s in season. Let the food surprise our guests, and we will exceed their expectations.”

I relented, but remained a skeptic. Our guests arrived, and we cruised through the first course. The soup was up next, and I held my breath as we served the Cream of Parsnip Soup. Several of our guests commented that they had never tried parsnips in a soup before. I sat and waited for their reaction as they tasted the soup. At first, no one said anything – they were too busy eating. So I took a spoonful myself, and was immediately converted.

The parsnip soup was heavenly. Warm and comforting, the parsnip embraced me with its subtle sweetness and nutty flavor. There were tones of butterscotch, and a hint of spice, too. And, with its pretty ivory color and velvety smooth texture, the soup was naturally elegant.

True to Tony’s word, our guests were positively gushing with praise, almost giddy in the excitement of this new discovery. The Cream of Parsnip was the hit of the evening, and several of our guests continue to support the Fargo Moorhead Opera to this day.

After nineteen years of marriage, I have learned to admit when I’m wrong about something. Tony was right about the parsnip, and I’m happy to eat crow on this one. As long as it’s served with parsnip soup.

CLICK HERE for the Cream of Parsnip Soup RECIPE

Heavenly Angel Food Cake…From Scratch

Don’t tell anyone, but today is Tony’s birthday. Tony is very (very) low-key about birthdays so let’s just keep this between you and me. Still, I’m going to bake him a cake, because it’s his birthday and I love birthdays.

Ever since I’ve known him, Tony has mused that he was sent to me as an angel. In our twenty-year marriage there have been days that have definitely put that theory to the test, but we’re still married – to each other – so who knows? If Tony really is an angel, then there’s only one dessert that can rise to this occasion: Angel Food Cake.

Most people shy away from making angel food cake from scratch, wrongly believing that they are not up to the task. Sifting flour and separating egg whites might be a little fussy, but I find that angel food cake is much easier to make than sponge cake. You just need the right equipment, a little advance preparation, and patience.

Before getting started, carefully review the recipe and prepare all of your ingredients and equipment. For this recipe, you will need a ten-inch tube pan, four inches deep, with a removable base. It is possible to make angel food cake without this special pan, but if you’re going to take the time to make it from scratch, it’s worth the investment (about $12 to $15 dollars).

If you need to buy a pan, look for one that is aluminum versus non-stick. Angel food is a foam cake which receives most of its body from egg whites, and it needs to be able to climb up the walls of the pan. I have used both, and my grandmother’s old aluminum pan produces a much higher cake than my non-stick version. Your pan should also have little legs which swing out from the side so that once you remove the cake from the oven the pan can stand upside down until completely cool. (The feet from my grandmother’s pan have worn off over the ages, so I use my non-stick pan as a base to invert it over.)

After testing several different recipes over the years, my favorite is from the classic Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook. I have my grandmother’s copy from 1950, and the recipe differs from the one currently available on the Betty Crocker website, which I have not made.

Betty doesn’t call for superfine sugar in her recipe, but she does refer to angel food cake as “light as air…fluffy as a cloud,” and I think superfine sugar makes all the difference. I make my own by blending the sugar in a food processor for two minutes. Not only is this cheaper than buying pre-made superfine sugar, but I think it’s better in quality, too.

Egg whites are the main ingredient in angel food cake, and they won’t whip properly if there is any bit of yolk mixed in. As the sugar is being processed, separate the egg whites, one at a time, into a small bowl. Check to make sure there is no yolk, or shell, in the white before pouring into a measuring cup.

Sifting is the next step before combining the ingredients together, and you can use a sifter or a mesh sieve to mix the (sifted) cake flour and sugar together, three times. Don’t skip this step, as the sifting will give the cake air and help it rise better.

To serve, we keep it simple with real whipped cream and fresh berries. While not difficult to make, angel food cake is a labor of love. If you use these tips and follow the recipe’s instructions, the result should be a heavenly dessert for the angel in your life. Happy Birthday, Tony!

UPDATE: We had a terrific response to this article, with several questions being asked repeatedly by our readers. We posted our replies in a new blog post called “Angel Food Update,” which you can find by clicking HERE.

Stay up-to-date with the latest happenings at Home with The Lost Italian. Be sure to SUBSCRIBE via email on the right side of this page, and FOLLOW us on Facebook, Twitter @TheLostItalian or @SarahNasello, and Pinterest.

Angel Food Cake
Gently adapted from the 1950 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook

1 cup sifted SOFTASILK cake flour
7/8 cups granulated sugar (200 grams), processed for 2 minutes until superfine
1 ½ cups egg whites (10 to 12 large or extra large eggs)
1 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract
¾ cups granulated sugar (160 grams), processed for 2 minutes until superfine

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set out, but do not grease, a 10” tube pan, 4” deep.

Sift the cup of cake flour first, then sift it, three times, with 7/8 cups (200 grams) of the superfine sugar. Set aside.

Measure into a large mixing bowl the egg whites, cream of tartar, salt, vanilla and almond extract. Beat with a wire whip on high until foamy, then gradually add the ¾ cups of superfine sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time.

Continue beating until the meringue holds stiff, straight peaks when the wire whip is pulled up. Sift the flour-sugar mixture, 3 tablespoons at a time, over the meringue. Use a rubber spatula to cut and fold the flour in gently, until it disappears each time.

Carefully push with rubber scraper into deep tube pan, and even up surface of batter. Pull a table knife gently through the batter, in widening circles, to break any air bubbles.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until cake is golden brown and no imprint remains when finger lightly touches top of cake. Immediately invert the cake and let hang until cold, or overnight.

To remove from pan, use a serrated or very sharp knife and gently scrape along the sides, and then the base. Serve with real whipped cream and fresh berries.

Sarah’s Tips:

  • Any amount of egg yolk will prevent the whites from whipping. To prevent this from happening, separate the egg whites first into a small bowl before adding to the measuring cup, and discard any that have yolk in them.
  • Save the yolks to use in another recipe.
  • Room-temperature egg whites will whip better than cold ones.


Serving up Winter Comfort with Roasted Fennel Soup

Happy New Year! After a very indulgent holiday season filled with our favorite foods and sweets, we are ready to welcome 2014 with renewed intentions for clean living and eating. At least until Valentine’s Day, when the lushness of aphrodisiac food and drink lures us into decadence once again.

But, for now, we are embracing a simpler palate by seeking out foods that are rich in flavor, of the season, and somewhat on the lighter side. It doesn’t hurt if they can also be warm and comforting; Tony’s recipe for Roasted Fennel Soup hits all of these notes.

Fennel, or finocchio in Italian, is a winter vegetable rich in potassium and fiber content, and is also a good source for a multitude of vitamins and nutrients. It is high in an essential oil called anethole, which provides potent antimicrobial activity to benefit smooth digestion. In fact, fennel was a staple in Tony’s family when he was growing up, and would often be served in raw slices after a meal to relax the stomach. I just love how the Italians are so intentional with their food and diet – every ingredient seems to serve a purpose.

When served raw, fennel has a crunchy texture similar to celery but a little smoother. In flavor it is cool and refreshing, with notes of the soothing, liquorice sweetness of anise. Fennel pairs wonderfully with citrus, and is a featured ingredient in our blood orange Sicilian Winter Salad. When cut into slices, this winter vegetable is also a great addition to a crudité platter, and is the perfect dipping item for our Sicilian Bagna Caoda recipe.

But when roasted, fennel transforms into a savory, mellow vegetable, full of warmth and flavor. Roasted fennel is perfect for this soup recipe, but is also delicious on its own as a side dish for meat, poultry and seafood.

To roast, begin by removing the stock and fronds, leaving only the bulb. Cut the bulb into six wedges, then toss these lightly in olive oil, sea or kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Transfer the fennel to a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil and roast at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, until golden brown and fork tender.

For this recipe, we roast the fennel with yellow onion, a sprig of fresh rosemary and a couple garlic cloves to enhance the aromatics of the soup. Once roasted, we remove the rosemary and transfer the ingredients to a stock pot. Add the chicken stock, bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer for 30 minutes.

Use an immersion blender (if you don’t have one yet, get one!), food processor or liquid blender to puree the soup until smooth. Because fennel is high in fiber, we recommend that you pour the pureed soup through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any fibrous grains and achieve a smooth consistency.  Return soup to the stock pot, add heavy cream (optional), and cook over medium heat for another five minutes. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper according to your taste.

This simple soup is surprisingly savory, rich, elegant and comforting, and very pretty when garnished with dried cranberries and toasted hazelnuts. We have also enjoyed it with homemade croutons, crumbled sausage, and a dollop or drizzle of crème fraiche or sour cream. Serve and enjoy!

 Roasted Fennel Soup

Serves: 4 to 6

4 fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into six wedges each
1 large yellow onion, trimmed and cut into wedges
1 large sprig rosemary
2 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
About 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock (may substitute vegetable stock)
½ cup heavy cream (optional)

To garnish:
¼ cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
¼ cup lightly toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped (walnuts are good, too)

Pre-heat oven to 350°F.

This recipe begins by roasting the vegetables. Place the fennel, onions, rosemary, garlic and olive oil in a large mixing bowl and season generously with salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables well to ensure an even coating. Transfer the mixture to a baking sheet (you may wish to cover the sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper) and roast vegetables for about 40 minutes until golden brown and fork tender. If the fennel seems to be browning too much before it is ready, cover it with aluminum foil and continue to cook until fork tender.

Remove the rosemary and transfer mixture to a stock pot. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer for 30 minutes.

Reduce heat to lowest setting and use an immersion blender to puree the mixture, making sure to keep the blade immersed in the liquid the entire time. Once a completely smooth consistency has been achieved, pour the soup through a fine-mesh strainer into another pot or bowl.

Return the pot to burner, add heavy cream (optional) and cook over medium heat for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, garnish with dried cranberries and toasted hazelnuts and drizzle with a touch of olive oil.

To Store: Pour into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week, or freeze for up to two months.

Tony’s Tips:

  • Do not skip the straining step when making this soup – it is critical to developing the right consistency and texture.
  • Other ideas for garnish include homemade croutons, crumbled sausage, or a dollop or drizzle of crème fraiche or sour cream.

A Year of Food…In Review

It’s finally time to say goodbye to 2013, and although it’s been a generally good year we are nonetheless perfectly happy to see it come to an end. As former sailors (albeit on luxury cruise vessels), Tony and I could never really get comfortable with the idea of spending an entire year mired in the number “13.”

You see, every vessel we sailed on, with the exception of one, was free and clear of this number. Cabin numbers would skip from 112 to 114, crew and passenger manifests would do the same, as would dining room table numbers, muster assignments, etc. The one ship that didn’t follow this mariner’s tradition was plagued with a series of unfortunate events, and we were relieved that our contracts that season were on the shorter side.

However, many good things did happen this year, and we’d be remiss to send 2013 off without at least a little fanfare. So, here are a few of our favorite 2013 moments at Home with The Lost Italian:

1) Blogging is a fluid process, and over the past twelve months we have come to know our readers better. We know that you love chocolate desserts, as proven by the number of visits to the post “Classic (and Amazing) Flourless Chocolate Torte.” which is the #1 most-visited post on our site. This dessert is decadence at its most refined, and it’s also gluten-free which means virtually everyone can enjoy this chocolate cake. Cut it into slices for an elegant after-dinner dessert served with a lovely Tawny Port. Or, cut into small bars topped with a dollop of Real Whipped Cream and fresh berries, served with a glass of cold milk.

2) While you enjoy decadence, you’re also health-conscious, as evidenced by the #2 post on the site, “Tony’s Tuscan Bean Salad.” But don’t be fooled by the super-healthy nature of this side dish: with the right ingredients receiving an extra kick from balsamic vinegar, this salad is big on flavor and pairs well with seafood, poultry, pasta and even beef. It’s the perfect way to kick off your healthy-eating ambitions for the New Year.

3) Our #3 post for the year was for such a simple dish, but one that Tony predicted would become popular after enjoying it himself: Our “One-Pan Fried Egg Sandwich” was a post that surprised us with its following, but who can resist a recipe with good toasting bread, Canadian Bacon, aged Cheddar Cheese, sauteed Spinach, and of course, a Fried Egg? Not us, and apparently, not you either.

4) In the fall of 2013, Tony joined the team at KVLY-TV’s new lifestyle morning show, North Dakota Today, as a featured guest each Monday morning. This new experience is the perfect complement for his talents, and Tony loves bringing new recipes and food ideas to Andrea and Chris each week. What a fun new adventure this has been for our family!

5) Our #4 post in 2013 was “Thanksgiving 101: Turkey Day Tips & Guidelines” where we shared Tony’s Top Ten Turkey Tips, Thanksgiving Wine Pairings, Turkey Thawing Guidelines and a whole host of recipes perfect for this harvest holiday. We received a terrific amount of questions over this holiday, with many of them focused on our recipe for Sarello’s Perfect Whipped Potatoes, which prompted us to create another popular post called, “Whipped Potatoes Q&A…”

Congratulations to Jean Eppler and her Cranberries Gone Wild Dip!

6) We hosted our first recipe contest last fall, “In Search of the Perfect Party Dip,” and with the traffic that has been generated by Jean Eppler’s (now-famous) Cranberries Gone Wild Dip, we’d say that the public definitely chose the right winner. We bumped into Jean’s dip at nearly every holiday party we attended this season, and we even enjoyed it on Christmas Day, with lime chips and a lime margarita, just as Jean recommends. Jean’s recipe has been posted on our blog for less than three months, but in that time it has catapulted itself into the #5 most-viewed page on the blog, for the entire year. Now THAT’S a winner!

7) Our year ended with our Holiday Heritage Recipe Contest, our second big recipe event, and we were thilled to have three amazing recipes and heritage stories in the finals. Neither Tony, Gio, nor I were able to agree on one favorite among these three, and we were happy to turn the decision over to the public, who chose Astrid Axtman’s Great-Grandmother’s Swedish Spritz Cookies as the winner, making 12-year-old Astrid the happy new owner of a brand-new Kitchen Aid Mixer sponsored by Sarello’s. We are predicting that kids will emerge as a big trend on the culinary scene in 2014, and Astrid’s win definitely supports this theory.

8) Our theory on the Kids’ Culinary Invasion may be somewhat homespun, as our nine-year-old son, Giovanni, has really begun to come into his own in the kitchen this year. Last winter Gio and I decided to create our own recipe for meatballs, which we promptly named “Gio’s Meatballs.” We shared this recipe with our newspaper readers, and here on the blog, and Tony and Gio had a blast making the DEMONSTRATION VIDEO together.

9) Tony and Gio created another one of my favorite food moments from 2013 when they demonstrated how to make our family’s favorite holiday treat – Peppermint Bark – on North Dakota Today. You’d think the pressure of LIVE TV  might have gotten the best of Giovanni, but, as the saying goes, the olive doesn’t fall far from the Sicilian. Or something like that. 🙂 It makes my heart sing to watch the two of them cooking together, and you can watch the video RIGHT HERE.

.At the start of 2013 this blog was just one month old, and our goal for the year was to double our monthly traffic numbers by the end of the year. The results are far beyond our expectations, as we have seen our web traffic increase more than ten times over from the first month to the twelfth, and we are delighted that many of you have chosen to interact with us either by entering one of our contests, leaving your comments for us, or emailing us with questions about our recipes.

We absolutely love having this opportunity to connect with our readers through our shared passions for food, fun and the good life, and we are so glad you have found us here at Home with The Lost Italian. We can’t wait to share our vision, and recipes, for 2014 with you, and wish you a very happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year! Bring on 2014!

Tony, Sarah and Giovanni, in the Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

We have a WINNER in our Holiday Heritage Recipe Contest!

Merry Christmas! We can’t believe we’re here already, about to announce the winner of our Holiday Heritage Recipe Contest. Over the past month we have received 39 entries from 15 states and two Canadian provinces, and narrowing down our contestants to just three finalists was a difficult task.

Tony, Gio and I spent an entire weekend poring over each recipe and its heritage story to determine our top five favorites. We then made those five confections for a round of tasting by a panel of volunteer judges, who tightened up the race by determining which three entries would advance to the final round, where the public would vote online for the winner. We were relieved at this stage, as the three of us could not have reached a consensus on our own.

Giovanni was a fan of the Swedish Spritz cookies and was championing the only entry from a fellow kid in the entire contest…until he tried the chocolate-coated Joy to the World Balls, a recipe submitted by Donna Kelly of Provo, Utah. Donna’s heritage story pulled our heartstrings with images of faraway family members being comforted at the holidays by the familiarity of tradition. After savoring this sweet, coconut confection, Gio followed his taste buds and declared this decadent treat the (symbolic) victor.

My favorite entry was the Belgian Lukken Cookies, a family recipe submitted by Suzanne LaPalm of Oakdale, MN. I enjoyed reading her heritage story nearly as much as the wonderful photos she included. And then there are the cookies themselves, made with a special lukken or pizzelle press which we ended up buying so that we could make Suzanne’s cookies for the semifinals. It was worth every penny because these cookies are to-die-for. To me, Suzanne’s entry embodies the very essence of this contest, and her story and photos are evidence that this sweet treat will remain a holiday tradition for generations to come.

But, in the end, after four hundred and two votes were cast over two days of online voting, only one finalist could emerge the winner, and that honor goes to twelve-year-old Astrid Axtman of Fargo, ND, with her Great-Grandma Elsa’s recipe for Swedish Spritz cookies.

Of course, Tony claims bragging rights, too, as the voters  agreed with his top pick, but who can blame him? Astrid was the only youth to enter our contest, and she was competing against some seasoned competitors, as well as two food bloggers in the finals.

Before tasting the cookies, Tony was rooting for Astrid because he is a tender-hearted dad who loves to cook with his son. Spritz are an old-world favorite for many of us with Scandinavian heritage, but they were new to Tony, who kept poking fun at their name. But after Gio and I made our first batch with our brand-new cookie press, Tony knew he’d picked the winner. He loves a sweet treat that isn’t too sweet, and these Spritz cookies are right up his alley. Besides, who can resist a story with names like Elsa, Elvie and Astrid? Not many, especially in our region.

You can find all of the contest recipes on our blog right HERE. We wish to thank everyone who participated, either by sharing your heritage recipe with us, or by voting. Congratulations, Astrid, and Merry Christmas! We wish you a happy new year filled with wonderful goodies made in your new Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.

Astrid Axtman’s (Great-Grandmother’s) Swedish Spritz Cookies

My Great-Grandma Elsa immigrated to the United States (from Sweden) in 1920. She taught herself English by reading the back of sugar sacks and comic books.  I’m fortunate that one ten-pound sack of sugar has made an impact on the following generations. With that sack of sugar, my Great Grandma Elsa started a tradition of making spritz cookies, dying wreathed shaped cookies green, and garnishing them with red icing, or sometimes even sugar dyed red!

My Grandma Elvie remembers how these cookies were a staple around the holidays. As my grandmother shares, this was passed down and by the time she started making them, sprinkles had become popular thus the icing was replaced. My mother says they go back as far as she can remember; sometimes her mother would even shape them as trees.

Grandma continues to make them for us grandchildren, and that’s where I come into the picture. Even though I’m only 12, I have enjoyed learning family baking from my Grandmother. I would really enjoy making many batches of cookies with the KitchenAid mixer and passing on this tradition!

Astrid Axtman’s (Grandma’s) Spritz Cookie Recipe

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ½ cups sifted flour (all-purpose)
green food coloring
red sprinkles

In a stand mixer or large bowl; cream butter. Gradually add sugar; cream well. Add egg, salt, almond extract, and vanilla. Beat. Gradually add food coloring until it turns a nice green color. Blend in flour. Once it forms a dough, put the dough through a cookie press.

Bake to a delicate brown at 400 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes. Makes 6 to 7 dozen.

Festive Sicilian Christmas Salad

Tony’s featured recipe this morning on North Dakota Today is Sicilian Christmas Salad, featuring blood and navel oranges, fresh fennel, mint, red onions, green olives and extra-virgin olive oil. This is a salad that can be enjoyed throughout the blood orange season, but is especially festive at the holidays. We featured this recipe in our newspaper column last December, and have re-posted this article on the blog today. Enjoy!

The following is the unedited copy of our column from the December 26, 2012 edition of The Forum. Our column appears every Wednesday in the SheSays section.

We celebrate Christmas Eve with my family and extended family from my mother’s side. Our tradition has always been to feature a large buffet of holiday appetizers, showcasing family favorites which often include pickled herring, lefse, clam dip, crackers, cheese, olives, smoked oysters, chips, and onion dip. And of course, the famous Green Jello Christmas Wreath.

When my Uncle, Tom Hance, joined the family back in 1982, he brought his family’s tradition of Christmas Ribs to our holiday buffet. This shift in tradition was met with some skepticism, but the ribs were so good that everyone decided they were a welcome addition to the menu. Tom passed away in April 2007, but his daughters have continued to make the Word’s Best Ribs for us ever since.

For the past nine years, Tony, Gio and I have hosted Christmas Eve at our home. During the first couple years, we made very few, if any, changes to the menu. However, as Gio grew beyond the baby stage, Tony and I wanted to bring some Italian flair to our Christmas Eve buffet, something that would reflect his heritage. We wanted to create a dish that our guests would look forward to year after year, just like Tom’s Ribs, or the Famous Green Jello Christmas Wreath. But what would we serve?

After studying what’s in season this time of year, we decided that our signature dish would be a salad. We took particular inspiration from the arrival of blood oranges in our local grocery stores, and wanted to make them the star of our recipe. I had never eaten a blood orange before, but Tony was very familiar with this special fruit. Blood oranges are commonly grown in Sicily, and Tony’s Uncle Pepe even grows them in his orange groves near Rosolini.

To make this dish truly Sicilian, Tony suggested adding fennel, mint and olives to the recipe, and our Sicilian Christmas Salad was born. It’s been a favorite on our holiday buffet ever since.

“I love this salad,” Tony says, “because it showcases what’s in season: the citrus and fennel, which are just so Sicilian together, and the mint, which is also common in Sicilian cooking and adds some holiday flavor. It just sings.”

The blood oranges are dynamic in this salad, not only for their beautiful crimson color, but also because of their unique flavor. With terrific bursts of citrus, a blood orange is typically sweeter than other oranges, and even offers notes of raspberry.

The slightly sweet, anise flavor of the fennel is a perfect complement to this fruit, and its white color provides a nice contrast to the crimson and orange on the platter.

To make this salad, we use both Blood and Navel oranges, and sometimes throw in pink Cara Cara oranges, too. On a large platter, place a layer of oranges over the entire surface, alternating between red and orange slices and overlapping each other. Next, evenly distribute the sliced fennel and red onion around the oranges, then do the same with the mint. Randomly place green olives around the salad, season with salt and pepper, and complete by drizzling the salad with the very best extra virgin olive oil you can find. Serve and enjoy.

For the recipe, click here: Sicilian Christmas Salad Recipe

Christmas Dinner with Wow-Factor: Horseradish Encrusted Roast Tenderloin of Beef

We have featured several  baked goods and side dish recipes this holiday season, so this week we’re shifting our focus to the main event. Whether you celebrate with your family and friends on Christmas Eve or Day, or are hosting a dinner party in the weeks leading up to the holiday, this is the occasion to step up and serve a main course that is elegant, decadent, and crowd-pleasing.

Horseradish Encrusted Roast Tenderloin of Beef is our favorite choice to meet these criteria. Lean, tender, and with little fat, tenderloin is a naturally elegant cut of beef, and when perfectly cooked you should be able to cut it with a fork. Regrettably, beef tenderloin is decadent in both its richness and price, but the oohs and aahs you’ll receive from your guests will be worth the extra expense.  Let’s be honest:  There are few foods more satisfying to our local palates than a great piece of perfectly cooked red meat.

Don’t be intimidated by the spectacular promotion of this recipe, or its fancy name, because it is surprisingly simple to prepare. From start to finish, Tony’s recipe takes about an hour to complete, and even less time if you sear the roast a day ahead.

Tony loves this roast, which is coated in a mixture of prepared horseradish, panko breadcrumbs, garlic, fresh parsley and thyme. He uses Dijon mustard as the binding agent for the coating to adhere to the roast, which provides a lovely tanginess to the meat. This recipe is a contrast in textures between the tender, juicy steak and the crispy-crunchy breadcrumb coating, and is beautifully balanced in flavor.

In spite of the strong flavors used in the coating, the horseradish and mustard mellow out during the roasting process. The flavors are present but not overwhelming, thus allowing the tenderloin to be the only star in this taste experience.

This dish has definite wow-factor, right down to its gorgeous presentation. The green of the herbs stands out so beautifully among the golden coating of the roast, that it’s almost a shame to slice into it. So before you do, have your guests be seated and enjoy a little parade around the table with your culinary achievement. Consider it a victory lap.

Tony’s recipe is more detailed than usual this week, which we hope will result in reduced time in the kitchen and a perfectly cooked, unforgettable roast.

When purchasing a tenderloin roast, plan for six to eight ounces per guest. The tenderloin will roast in a 400-degree oven for about 35 to 40 minutes until it reaches the medium-rare zone of 130 to 135 degrees (the beef will continue to cook as it rests). Oven temperatures will vary so always use a meat thermometer for accuracy. Once ready, allow the meat to rest for at least ten minutes before carving to preserve the internal juices.

For added flourish, Tony recommends serving the sliced tenderloin with a generous dollop of our horseradish cream sauce, accompanied by a big, dry, red wine like a Cabernet  Sauvignon, Red Zinfandel, or go Italian with a Super-Tuscan red like Chianti or Brunello. Then sit down with your family and savor your success.