Chocolate Peanut Butter Ball Cookies

As a youngster I loved the story of the spoiled young prince who traveled far and wide in search of the best tasting food in the world. Coming upon a woodchopper in the forest who assured him he could give him that food, he agreed to spend the day working with him. At the close of the day the woodchopper handed the prince a chunk of coarse crusty bread which the tired, famished prince eagerly consumed. Beaming with satisfaction he loudly proclaimed, “At last, I have found the best food in the world!

On the morning of the 9th day of Christmas, without any effort or searching abroad for it, I found the best cookie in the world! It was a scrumptious little chocolate peanut butter creation on a little plate on my desk with an attached note signed, “from a Christmas angel”… I felt just like the spoiled young prince.

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Ball Cookies
SERVINGS
2dozen
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
dozen
COOK TIME
24minutes
PREP TIME
30minutes
READY IN
54minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, beat the brownie mix, butter, cream cheese, and egg. The dough will be a little sticky.
  2. Scoop the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet, making about 24 cookies.
  3. Smooth the edges of each to form a round cookie.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the powdered sugar and the peanut butter until it is completely combined.
  5. Form the mixture into about 1 inch balls. Make sure you have one ball for each cookie. Set aside.
  6. Bake for the cookie dough 12 minutes, keeping an eye out to make sure the cookies doesn't overcook or undercook.
  7. As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, press a peanut butter ball lightly into the center of each cookie.
  8. The peanut butter mixture will soften slightly, but that is OK. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. Melt the chocolate chips in a microwavable bowl for 45 seconds. Stir the chocolate and melt for additional 15 seconds or until the chocolate is completely melted.
  10. Spoon about 1/2 a tablespoon of melted chocolate on top of each cookie so it covers the peanut butter ball.
  11. Let the chocolate set. Store in an airtight container.

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Italian Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats

Beautiful zucchini and yellow summer squash continue to come in from the gardens every day, and while they do it would be a shame not to have a nice stuffed zucchini boat meal before the season slips by. This is what last night’s convent cook thought as she prepared to make our dinner. She wanted to do something a little different from what we usually do and she turned out a meal that brought applause from the entire sisterhood even though we have had quite a few zucchini meals this summer. Using a combination of sweet and hot Italian sausage and a generous mixture of favorite Italian cheeses she succeeded in satisfying even the most discriminating pallet that evening.

The two things, I think, that put this dish over the top was the combination of cheeses (she used Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, Asiago and Gorgonzola) any of which give a distinctive taste, and then the generous use of fresh garden herbs like basil, oregano and Italian parsley.

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Italian Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats
SERVINGS
2people
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
people
COOK TIME
25-30 minutes
PREP TIME
15 minutes
READY IN
40-45 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Blanch the zucchini in a large pot of boiling water, 7 minutes, then place in cold water 5 minutes. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, then scoop out all but ¼ inch of flesh. Brown the sausage in a small skillet, breaking the pieces into small bits, 5 to 6 minutes, then remove the meat from the skillet.
  3. In the same skillet, on medium heat, add the onion and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté 1 additional minute (add a little bit of olive oil if the pan is dry). Add the meat back to the skillet along with the cream cheese, zucchini pulp and bread crumbs and stir until the cheese has melted. Taste and add salt and pepper or other seasonings as desired; fresh basil, oregano and parsley are nice.
  4. Place the zucchini boats on a small sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then fill with the meat mixture. Top with tomato halves and grated cheese.
  5. Place in oven and bake 25-30 minutes until the cheese melts and starts to brown. Garnish with basil.

zuc-tomatos

Crepes filled with Zucchini Puree and Topped with Squash Blossoms​

I’ve had the great joy of working side-by-side with an Italian chef over these last few weeks. The other Sisters who have lived and worked at Via Sacra have also had the tremendous privilege of learning from her. Chef Laura has been so generous with her time and energy as we try to absorb all that we can about Italian cooking. Below is one of her recipes that she taught me this past week and I went home and made it for the villa. These crepes are so delicious and light! Chef Laura serves this as a first course at her restaurant, but we enjoyed it as a light supper served with a fruit salad and a tossed green salad on the side.

All Chef Laura’s recipes are in her head, so I tried to reproduce it here by just observing her. If the quantities seem a little off, just adjust them to your liking! We can still get squash blossoms in the market this time of year in Italy. If you have any zucchini plants in your garden, just pluck the blossoms off and you are all set!

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Crepes filled with Zucchini Puree and Topped with Squash Blossoms​
SERVINGS
4people
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
people
COOK TIME
5min
PREP TIME
1hour
READY IN
1hour

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. ​Make the filling: ​​​O​ver low heat, melt your butter in a saucepan and add the zucchini and red onion. Cook, stirring occasionally​,​ until both vegetables are very soft. Continue cooking ​until most​ ​all ​of the moisture is removed​ (the zucchini will let off a lot of water while it cooks).​ While the​ zucchini mixture is cooking, prepare the crepes.
  2. Make the crepes: ​In a blender, combine all the crepe ingredients​ above​ and blend until smooth. Let rest about 5 min.
  3. Heat a lightly oiled ​Teflon frying pan ​(omelet size pan) ​over medium heat. Pour or ​ladle​ the batter ​into the pan, using approximately 1/4 cup for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly.​ Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side​ for 1 minute. Remove to a plate, put a square of wax paper on top and repeat until all the batter is used up. This recipe should make 8 crepes.
  4. Remove the filling from the heat and mash with a potato masher. Let cool slightly and add the cream cheese and stir until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. This mixture should be the consistency of pesto or a little thicker.
  5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. (or broiler)
  6. To assemble, in one quadrant of your crepe place a heaping tablespoon of the filling and spread to fill that quadrant. Fold the crepe into quarters and place into oblong serving ramekins (2 per person) or a casserole dish. Repeat, until all the crepes are filled.
  7. Dot each crepe with butter and lay the squash blossoms over them to cover the crepes. Again, dot butter over the squash blossoms and sprinkle the grated cheese over the entire crepe.
  8. Place the crepes in the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and golden, about 5 min. If you prefer, you can also broil them at this step.
  9. Remove from the oven and serve. Andiamo mangiare!​

Hummingbird Cake

I was recently introduced to this classic southern cake through one of my friends from the Deep South. I was intrigued by the name as my mom keeps a dish of grape jelly on her porch to attract hummingbirds and has regular visitors. The Hummingbird Cake is a very unusual one; it’s made with oil rather than butter, and contains more fruit than flour. The mix doesn’t need beating, is wonderful with a cream cheese frosting, and is flavored with interesting spices and pecans. Contrary to the name, there are no birds in this particular recipe! The giveaway to the Hummingbird Cake’s birthplace, however, is in the key ingredients – bananas and pineapple. It’s thought to have been invented in Jamaica, probably in the late ‘60s, and introduced to society through Southern Living magazine by a Mrs. L.H. Wiggin in 1978.

Since it’s a dessert made for ladies, we thought it would be a crowd pleasing addition to our weekly Harborside Teas. We always offer two choices of dessert, and it was fun to have a whole new recipe and an unusual one at that. It was so popular that we thought it warranted giving away the recipe. A thin slice will do you – this cake is rich!  And oh, so good…

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Hummingbird Cake
SERVINGS
12people
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
people
COOK TIME
25 minutes
PREP TIME
15 minutes
READY IN
1 1/2 hrs (with cooling time)

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Prepare three 9-inch cake pans by spraying with baking spray or buttering and lightly flouring.
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and ground cinnamon in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. Cream together the eggs, oil, vanilla extract, pineapple, mashed bananas, and finely chopped pecans in another large bowl.
  4. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Evenly divide the batter between the three prepared pans and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Turn cakes onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely before frosting with cream cheese frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
  1. Cream the cream cheese with an electric mixer.
  2. Add in butter and cream together with cream cheese until light and fluffy.
  3. Add confectioners’ sugar, ½ cup at a time. After each cup has been incorporated, turn the mixer onto the highest speed setting and for about 10 seconds to lighten the frosting.
  4. Add in vanilla and cream until well-blended, light and fluffy.

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Triple Lemon Cheesecake

My hopes for spring were dashed this week when the Northeast was blasted with a chilly snowstorm.
Monday morning. April Fools? No less!

Well, a little chilly weather and white dust on the ground weren’t going to hinder our plans this week. We are hosting Lumen Christi: Easter Encounters with Art with art historian Msgr. Timothy Verdon and artist Gabriele Wilpers. This is a unique opportunity for artists and those who love art to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. A festive dinner to welcome our guests was on the docket.

Our opening celebratory meal was a Cape Cod theme with clam chowder, coleslaw, fresh cod with salty and buttery crumbs, corn pudding, and vegetables. We featured a luscious triple lemon cheesecake for dessert. Doesn’t just the word lemon conjure up images for springtime? This was probably the best cheesecake I ever put in my mouth — delightfully creamy, and just enough of that citrusy tartness to whet your palate for another bite.

Read more about Lumen Christi here:

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Triple Lemon Cheesecake
SERVINGS
12people
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
people
COOK TIME
70minutes
PREP TIME
30 minutes
READY IN
100minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

Toppings:
  1. 1/2 cup lemon curd, heated over a double boiler until warm and easy to pour (I used Stonewall Kitchen Lemon curd)
Directions
  1. ​Position rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
  2. ​Butter the bottom and side of a 9" spring form pan. Have a ready roasting pan. Put on a kettle of water to boil for the water bath.
  3. Stir together crumbs, melted butter and sugar with a fork in a medium bowl until combined. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan (not up the sides). Bake 8-10 minutes or until crust is set; let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.
  4. ​Process sugar and zest in a food processor until zest is finely ground.​
  5. In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, beat cream cheese beginning on low speed and​increasing to medium-high​speed, until light and fluffy. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP; IT IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR A LUMP-FREE, FLUFFY CHEESECAKE.​
  6. Gradually add sugar mixture, scraping down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula, continue beating until smooth.
  7. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add sour cream, ricotta, salt and lemon juice; beat until well blended.
  8. Wrap the outside of the spring form pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, then pour the filling into the pan; set it in the roasting pan. Place the roasting pan in the oven and carefully pour in enough boiling water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the side of the spring form pan.
  9. Bake for 70-75 minutes or until the center is almost firm and set. DO NOT OVER BAKE. The cheesecake will firm as it cools.
  10. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and water bath, turn off the oven. Return the cheesecake to the oven (keep door cracked slightly) to let rest for about 5 hrs. or until firmly set.
  11. ​Remove the foil and run a table knife around the inside edge of the pan; remove the pan's sid​e, wrap in plastic and freeze until ready to use. I find freezing the cheesecake makes it much easier to slice. Slice and thaw the cake as needed - return unused portions to the freezer, well covered with saran wrap.​
  12. When ready to serve, heat the lemon curd slightly over a double boiler or in the microwave and drizzle over the top of your slices. Let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.  ​Enjoy!​
  13. ​**PLEASE NOTE, once the cheesecake has been in the freezer overnight, you can then remove the bottom of the pan from the cheesecake more easily, and then re-wrap the cake well in plastic wrap and return to freezer.​

​​Mascarpone Cheesecake

Cheesecake is one of those “back pocket” desserts that I always like to have on hand.  It freezes well, and you can even slice it frozen and re-freeze what you don’t use.  I have my favorite NY Cheesecake recipe that I’ve used for years, and it’s a no-fail,  but when I was living in Italy, I didn’t have the same access to graham crackers and cream cheese as I did at home, so I had to do a little improvising.  That’s when I stumbled upon this recipe for a Mascarpone Cheesecake.  This was something I always had on hand  – mascarpone is pretty much a staple in Tuscan homes, and much less expensive than it is here.  But if you’re looking for something different,  give this a try.  It is light and delicious, and lovely served with fresh berries tossed in sugar!

A few tips to making a successful cheesecake:

  • Always start with room temperature cream cheese and beat the cream cheese ​until very smooth and ​before ​adding any other ingredients.
  • Have your eggs at room temperature
  • Using the zest from fresh limes, oranges or lemons is what will give your cheesecake a flavor boost.  Zest contains the essential oils, which adds the depth of flavor without the tartness and “liquidity” of juice.
  • Wrap the bottom of the pan in aluminum foil and cook the cheesecake in a water bath to prevent cracking, just make sure you have a tight fitting springform pan to do this, otherwise the water will leak in. You can also bake cheesecake without a water bath, but use a lower temperature oven.​
  • When the baking time is up, turn off the oven and let the cheesecake just sit for an hour or so​.  This helps​ the cheesecake to set up well.
  • If not using right away, remove the spring form pan sides and wrap ​tightly in plastic wrap, leaving ​the bottom​ of the pan on​, and freeze.
  • After a day, you can remove the pan bottom and re-wrap the cheesecake.
  • Slice your pieces while still frozen and put the rest back in the freezer.

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​​Mascarpone Cheesecake
SERVINGS
12people
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
people
COOK TIME
110min
PREP TIME
15min
READY IN
180min

Ingredients

Instructions

For the Crust
  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Butter the inside of a 9-inch springform pan, and wrap the bottom of the pan with a double layer of aluminum foil. Place the prepared pan on a baking sheet.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and salt. Add the butter and stir well to moisten all of the crumbs. Pour the crumb mixture into the prepared pan and use your fingers to press gently into an even layer on the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan. If you are having trouble getting the layer even, use a straight sided glass or measuring cup to gently press the crumb mixture onto the sides and into the corners. Freeze the crust for 10 minutes while the oven heats.
  3. Slide the pan into the oven and bake until the crust is lightly browned and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 325º.
For the filling
  1. Using a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer, beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until it is light and very smooth, about 4 minutes.
  2. With the mixer running on medium low speed, slowly pour in the sugar, then the salt. Beat for 3 more minutes. Add the vanilla extract and lemon zest.
  3. Add in the eggs, one at a time, and beat for a full minute after each egg. Scrape down the bowl, reduce the speed to low. Add in the mascarpone and mix thoroughly. ​ Wrap foil around the outside of the pan (see picture below) and pour the mixture into the prepared crust. The batter will come to the top of the springform pan.
  4. Place the springform pan into a roasting pan​ and fill the roasting pan with enough (very) hot tap water—or boiling water—to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan​ ​and place on the center rack of the oven. ​Close the oven door and bake the cheesecake until it is lightly golden on top and the filling is set, but still slightly wobbly in the center, about 90 minutes.
  5. Turn off the oven and prop the door open slightly with a wooden spoon. Let the cheesecake cool for one hour in its water bath. After an hour, gently remove the roasting pan from the oven and lift the springform pan from the water. Carefully remove the foil from the bottom of the pan and set the pan on a cooling rack. Run a knife around the top edge of the cheesecake to release it from the pan. Let the cheesecake cool to room temperature, then cover the top with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before slicing—an overnight chill is best if you have the time.​

Andiamo Mangiare!​