madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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brown sugar steamed custard

lovely light and easy to make custard cook it as you like, stovetop or baked

lovely light brown-sugar custard, cook it as you like, stove-top or baked

Cooking for me is all about sharing. I have never been alone as long as I have been able to share a meal. That’s in fact how I made most friends in my life, around the stove-top and around the table.

And so it is that after publishing more than 100 recipes I have taken the courage to share two ways.

It’s time to ask what you, my readers, like. Of course I can read the blog stats, but I am not interested in soulless numbers, I am interested in people. Would you please help me? I need suggestions.

You know when you are making a search on a website and you click on the “find more like this” button? Please “click” on “write more recipes like this“.

Here is how to do it:

Please go to my recipe list, open your favorite or browse and find one that you intend to prepare. Please post in the comments which one you like and how you would like another similar one.

For example would you like more pasta sauces with vegetables? More simple puddings? More techniques? Why is one of my recipes a favorite of yours?

Please help, I will treasure your suggestions and try to work on recipes that I know you can use and enjoy for special occasion and – even better – for your everyday life.

Today’s recipe is for my friend Sandra who presently lives in a place that does not have an oven. As a consequence she can’t bake cakes. This is compensated by living at walking distance to the Colosseum, poor girl.

This is a delicious pudding that can be cooked on the stove-top in 20 minutes. It’s not only suitable to those who pursue their dreams in small city apartments but to various other occasions.

For example you can prepare it when your oven is full with other dishes or when it’s so hot that you don’t want to heat up the kitchen any further. Or you wish to save energy because you’re cooking for two.

However the recipe can be as easily baked in  the oven in which case you can double it or triple it for a crowd.

Recipe

Pudding

  • 300 ml heavy cream
  • 100 gr dark brown sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sauce

  • 2 organic oranges
  • 3 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brandy

If baking, pre-heat the oven to 150°C / 300°F. If cooking on the stove-top prepare a shallow saucepan that can hold the pudding in its containers, e.g. individual ramekins.

individual custards cooked au bain marie

how to arrange the individual custards in a pan

In a small pan, warm the cream, brown sugar and salt over a medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. I actually microwave the cream/sugar mixture until warm enough to desolve the sugar.
In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and slowly whisk in the hot cream mixture. Get read of the foam which has formed by straining it into a jug. This improves the custard’s structure.
Pour into 4 x 120ml (1/2 cup) ramekins or heavy custard cups. Cover tightly with a double layer of foil.
Transfer in a shallow pan lined with a kitchen towel as in the picture above. Fill the pan with boiling water until it comes to about a half way up the sides of the ramekins. Cover with a lid and simmer over low heat for 20-25 min. The custards will just set but still wobble slightly in the middle (they will set further on cooling). Remove from the pan.
If baking, transfer the ramekins into a deep roasting tin. Fill the tin with boiling water until it comes to about a half  way up the sides of the ramekins. Put it in the oven for 20 min. Remove and let it cool.
Chill for at least 3 hours before serving.
Sauce
You can make the sauce in advance as well as at the last minute but make sure to add it to the custards just before serving. If you add it too early its acidity will melt the surface of pudding in a quite unsightly way (I have done it :) ).
Halve the oranges and slice thin, less than 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Arrange in one or two layers in a shallow pan, sprinkle with brown sugar and with a few tablespoon to cover. Cover and simmer on very low heat until the slices are soft. Add brandy. Serve at room temperature or heat up slightly before serving.
you can also make una single pudding and serve it with the soft orange slices on top

you can also make una single pudding and serve it with the soft orange slices on top

In the first picture I have chopped the orange slices before piling it on the custards. Then I have topped them with one piece of my homemade candied peel and curls of dark chocolate.

Serves 4


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how to cook artisan polenta (with sausages)

creamy and comforting, stone ground polenta with a pork sausage ragu

creamy and comforting, stone-ground polenta with a pork sausage ragu

Quick? Did I say quick?

No, I didn’t.

I do however say divine, comforting, luscious, creamy, heart warming.

Making a good polenta is a bit like making love. Slow and careful is generally better than plasticky and prepackaged. Tubes are for losers. I mean, polenta tubes. I hate them, they taste like soap.

I do occasionally use instant polenta as an emergency gluten-free meal. However, once you try the rustic, custardy flavor of organic stone-ground polenta there’s hardly a way back.

You will say:  it takes at least 40 minutes! I have lost count of the times I have heard “I don’t make real polenta because I have to stand forever by the stove “.

The truth is that with a bit of planning you can have a life and get two dinners out of it. I always cook twice as much so I can make baked polenta with the leftovers. It’s delicious and freezes well.

To minimize the chance of polenta sticking to the pan and therefore the continuous stirring, you need a tall pan with a heavy bottom. You also need to cook it over the lowest possible heat. Use a heat diffuser if your stove is too hot.

This way you need to stir it every 5-10 min which allows you to clean the kitchen, do laundry, make phone calls, play with FB, anything which would keep you home on a rainy evening. Even better, make a party of it. Polenta is ideal to feed a crowd and even your most clumsy non-cooking friend can take care of it.

Polenta with sausages

From top left: soffritto, sautee sasages, deglaze, add tomato and herbs, add salt and water to polenta, simmer, polenta before cooking (watery) and after (creamy)

 

Recipe

  • 400 gr (approx 1 lb) coarse polenta cornmeal, organic and stone-ground if possible.
  • 10-12 sausages (Umbrian sausages are flavored with garlic and black pepper, but the classic Italian style fennel sausages would be acceptable)
  • 1 each of the following: onion, carrot, celery stick, fresh bay leaf, sprig of rosemary, clove
  • 1/2 cup red or white wine
  • 3 lb canned peeled or crushed tomato
  • grated pecorino or Parmesan to taste
  • good quality, fresh and peppery olive oil

Make the sauce:

Using a pan which can accommodate the sausages in a single layer, saute onion, celery, carrot and sausages in 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. When the sausages start to brown, deglaze with wine.

I generally use white wine but in the picture above you can see that I have used a generous amount of red wine. This is simply because today I had a bottle which had been open for a couple of days and needed to be finished.

Note that red wine makes your sauce more acidic so you might need to correct it with 1-2 teaspoon sugar. This is generally not necessary if you use white wine. Just taste your sauce before serving to make sure.

Once the wine is evaporated add tomato, bay leaf, clove and a sprig of rosemary bound with kitchen string. Simmer over very low heat for at least 1 hour or until thick and velvety.

Make the polenta:

You need approx 1 lt (1 quart) water per 100 gr (3.5 oz) polenta. Mix the polenta meal with 2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 lt ( 2 cups) water at room temperature. This will soften the polenta and will avoid lumps.

Bring to the boil the rest of the water (3.5 lt / 14 cups) in a large pot then reserve 2-3 cups of it in another container. Different brands of polenta will absorb different amounts of water so you might not need it all. Pour the softened polenta in the boiling water, lower the heat to minimum and cook for 40-50 min. Stir as explained above, making sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the pan. If the polenta becomes too thick before 40 min add the reserved warm water by the cupful so it will not stick to the bottom of the pan.

The polenta is ready when it comes easily off the sides of the pan. This might not be clear the first few times you make it, so please taste it which will also help you to decide if you need more salt.

Serve:

Ladle the polenta into deep bowls, cover with a generous layer of sauce, one or two sausages, a drizzle of a fruity/peppery extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan or Pecorino.

Leftovers:

Keep the polenta covered while you have dinner. If it becomes too cold it will be difficult to remove it from the pan. Transfer the leftover polenta in an oiled baking dish. Top with leftover sauce, sliced sausages and sliced mild cheese as mozzarella or caciotta. You can also add sautee mushrooms or a few handfuls of cooked, chopped spinach. Sprinkle with more grated cheese and put away or freeze for another dinner. When needed, bake at 200 °C/390°F for 30 min or until lightly golden on top. Defrost before baking.

Baked leftover polenta a great dinner made with no efforts!

Baked leftover polenta a great dinner made with no efforts!

Serves 8 or makes 2 dinners for 4.


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broccoli meatloaf

broccoli meatloaf

oh-so-yummy and full of goodness

Every time I make meatloaf I have to think of my friend AnnMarie. A sophisticated American-Italian from New York, she told me that her mum would serve meatloaf only to family.

Apparently she did not consider it presentable to guests due to its lack of elegance. The remark caused a certain level of worry as the dish had been ruthlessly celebrated in my house – and with pride – as one of the best inventions to be placed on a dinner table.

This was a long time ago, more than 20 years. Meanwhile something must have happened as the meatloaf has been voted in 2007 the seventh-favorite dish in the US. Someone must have decided to stop keeping it to themselves.

This is our official family meatloaf, stuffed with fragrant broccoli which  are in season now. You can of course use other veggies like asparagus or green beans. It’s actually a fabulous dish for entertaining as you can prepare and cook it a day ahead.

Slice it one hour before serving and pop it in the microwave for a few minutes just to soften it. Don’t over-warm it though. It will fall apart and lose its good looks.

Recipe

  • 600 gr ( 1.3 lb) minced pork, beef or a mixture of both
  • 120 gr  (1/2 cup) seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 3-4 tablespoon milk
  • half a teaspoon salt
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • 100 gr (3.5 oz) mild cheese like caciotta or provola, diced
  • 60 gr (2 oz)  guanciale (sub. with pancetta if not available)
  • 300 gr broccoli (about 1 small head) cleaned and divided into florets
  • 1  garlic clove, finely minced

Blanch broccoli in plenty boiling water for 5 min. Drain and sauté in 1 tablespoon olive oil and garlic for 1 min or until just fragrant. Season lightly.

Preheat oven at 200 °C (390 °F).

Combine meat, egg, milk, black pepper and salt with bread crumbs. Mix with your hands until the mixture is cohesive.

Butter generously a 1.2 lt (5 cups) terrine or loaf mold. Reserve about 1/4 of the meat and use the rest to fill the bottom and sides of the mould, making a 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick compact layer.  Line the ground-meat case with slices of guanciale (or pancetta) overlapping edges slightly and leaving a 2 cm (1 inch) overhang on the sides.

Note: in a classic French terrine the fat is used to line the mould. In this recipe the fat is used inside the meat case to give flavor to the filling.

Now fill all the rest of the space with broccoli and diced cheese. Press down the filling to avoid gaps. Cover the filling with the overhanging pancetta followed by the rest of the ground-meat. Brush the top layer of meat with a small amount of melted butter and bake uncovered for 40 min or until starting to become golden around the sides.

Cool off completely. Slice and serve as explained above.

Serves 4-6

PS. Please don’t ask me a sauce. If you must have tomatoes, serve the meatloaf with a mound of cherry tomatoes dressed in fruity olive oil piled over toasted crusty bread. Or over mashed potatoes. I promise you, it’s enough for a glorious meal.

the beautiful slices

the beautiful slices


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chunky Italian-style sweet orange marmalade

a beautiful display of oranges at Bastia Umbra Friday market, near Assisi

a beautiful display of citrus at Bastia Umbra Friday market, near Assisi

I have made a scientific study of making marmalade with sweet oranges. Bid deal – you will say – the whole world makes marmalade!

Indeed, but the “famous” British-style marmalade is made with bitter oranges.

However, there are no bitter oranges in rural Umbria. We grow no oranges at all actually, it’s too cold.

Try to ask an Umbrian greengrocer for bitter Seville oranges. He’ll think you are crazy. Then, with a bewildered look, he will proceed to offer you some fantastic Sicilian sweet oranges.

I also have a problem with marmalade making. It’s fussy. I make massive amounts of jams mostly based on the principle of chopping the fruit, adding sugar and pectin, boiling and voilà, all ready. This is a no go with oranges. The variation in  marmalade making methods is head spinning. Why?

The problem, my friends, is in the rind. Citrus rind is bitter, but it’s full of essential oils. The rind of lemons and of bitter oranges is particularly rich of lemonene, an oil which smells like oranges. That’s why it makes magic when added to food and marmalade.

Extract those oils in your marmalade and you will have captured the stupendous orange-yness of a perfect marmalade.

After much research and experiments I have adopted this is old recipe from Artusi’s The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well published in 1891. It’s still popular in Italy as it’s simple to make and the results are wonderful.

As a plus is based on my favorite chopping-everything-and-voilà-method. Almost :) .

I have slightly modified the proportion of ingredients and included explanations of the important steps.

Recipe

  • 10 large sweet oranges (I used about 2.5 kg /5.5 lb, organic, unwaxed Washington Navels)
  • 3 organic unwaxed lemons
  • sugar: same weight as oranges after soaking
  • water: 1/2 of the weight of oranges after soaking

Method:

1. Pierce oranges all around with the prongs of a fork. Alternatively score them lightly with a very sharp knife. Don’t pierce or score through the flesh or you will loose flavor.

Place oranges in a large bowl and cover with water. Place a plate on top of the oranges to keep them completely under water. Soak for 3 days changing the water twice a day. This will tenderize the oranges and dissolve the bitter taste of the zest as well as preserve  the essential oils which are insoluble in water.

Soak oranges in a large pot or bowl

Soaking the scored oranges in water. The plate has been removed for the picture.

2. on the 4th day, drain the oranges, quarter them and cut into chunks. This is a quite messy operations particularly if you like small chunks. I quartered the oranges and pulse-chopped 2 at a time in the food processor to obtain smaller pieces. Then I quickly transferred them into a bowl to avoid loosing precious orange juice all over the kitchen.

If you don’t mind bigger chunks just quarter the oranges and slice them 1 cm / half-inch thick. Try to collect all the juice dripping off the slices.

3. weigh the chopped fruit and juice – I will call this pulp –  transfer it in a tall pan and add water. For every kg/lb orange pulp you want to add half kg/lb water. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 min.

Always use a tall pan to make jam to protect yourself from hot splatter. Use low heat and a heavy bottomed pan so you won’t need to stir too often to prevent burning.

Don’t be tempted to reduce the amount of water. In fact, adding water increases the cooking time so the zest will be tender at the same time the marmalade is ready.

4. After 10 min add sugar. For every kg/lb orange pulp you want to add 1 kg/lb sugar. Bring to the boil again, then lower the heat and simmer very slowly stirring occasionally.

5. After 1 hour start working on the lemons. Making marmalade with chunks of rind involves caramelizing the rind before the jam gets too thick. You can’t really use pectin to make this jam as it will set too fast without cooking the rind.

Adding lemons will relatively increase the speed of setting because they contain pectin. In addition it brings out the flavor of the oranges and preserves the color of the marmalade.

Zest the lemons.  I grate the zest directly into the marmalade pan using a microplane. Remove the white part of the rind, then chop the flesh roughly and transfer it in the marmalade pan. Simmer for approximately another hour.

6. Cooking time of this marmalade will vary depending on size of oranges, level of heat and thickness of the pan.

To test if the marmalade is at setting point use the classic frozen dish method. When the mixture has thickened, place a small plate in the freezer for 5 minutes or until chilled. Drop 1/4 of a teaspoon marmalade on the frozen plate, the jam will cool instantly. Turn the plate sideways at 45°. If the jam is thick enough to set it will wrinkle up in little folds. If it is not yet thick enough then the jam will spread without having the top of the jam wrinkle. The thicker the wrinkles, the harder the jam will set.

If you are unsure, switch off the heat, cover and wait until the next day so it will cool off completely. If the marmalade looks good at room temperature  bring it back to the boil for at least 5 min. It will become liquid again. Pour into sterilize jars, top, and place upside down on a worktop until cool.

Let it rest for at least a month before using. It is gorgeous on toast but it’s so intense you can use it to flavor puddings, make a crostata or a sauce for pannacotta by mixing it with a little brandy and a sprinkle of dark chocolate curls.

Makes ten 0.5 kg/ 1 lb jars.

Chunky, aromatic, utterly orange-y Italian style marmamalde

Chunky, aromatic, utterly orange-y Italian style marmalade


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the chicken whisperer

view of my hometown Perugia from my parent's place (photo T. di Luca)

view of my hometown Perugia from my parents place (photo T. di Luca)

CHICKEN ALLA CACCIATORA a.k.a HUNTER STYLE or  CHICKEN CACCIATORE.

I spent my youth in a huge house overlooking my hometown Perugia. My parents where civil servants and in their free time took care of the large garden, the olive trees and the pets.

To be precise, my father took care of breeding the pets and my mother fought against the proliferation of pets. We had a dog and a cat and the occasional gold-fish of course. Even a guinea pig once.

That was fine with my mum.

The dog and the cat were actually treated to pasta al ragù just like us. Even with a sprinkle of Parmesan on top.

The problem was, my father had pet chickens. They were allowed to do anything they wanted. He talked to them.  They kept each other company. They – the chickens – ravaged the geraniums.

We never ate them. You don’t kill your pets do you? Occasionally he would deem one of the oldies suitable for a meal. They were so tough they were invariably only good for stock. For a roast or a stew like this one, she went to the market and bought a good freeranger from her favorite butcher.

And planted new geraniums.

Recipe

  • 1/2 free-ranging chicken cut into serving pieces
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon capers,
  • 4 tablespoon spoon good quality olives, not pitted
  • 1 sprig rosemary,
  • a handful sage leaves
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • zest of 1/4 lemon
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil

Using a large thick bottom or non stick pan, sear chicken pieces in one tablespoon olive oil until golden on all sides. Good quality chicken should not produce any fat, but if it does drain it and wipe clean the pan before proceeding.

Turn heat to low, return chicken to the pan, add onion and stir frequently until caramelized.  Add minced garlic cloves, capers, olives, rosemary and sage leaves.

Please don’t use the inexpensive, pizza style, bland black olives. They are generally unripe green olives that have been dyed with iron salts (ferrous gluconate) after artificial ripening.

Season with just a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.

When everything is fragrant add one cup of wine, cover and simmer very slowly until the chicken is tender. This might take 45 min to 1 and 1/2 hours depending on size and quality of the bird. Add some water if the sauce gets too dry while simmering.

When ready to serve add the lemon juice and zest and balsamic vinegar. Taste and add more lemon if desired as it brings out the flavor of all other ingredients.

This dish is lovely with a side of steamed greens dressed with a fruity extra virgin and a splash of lemon juice if you like. If you need your starch, accompany it with homemade potato puree or polenta. Italians would never serve it on pasta or rice.

Serves 3-4 depending on initial size of chicken.

 

add the wine at this stage, when all other ingredients are fragrant

add the wine at this stage, when all other ingredients are fragrant

 

This recipe is submitted to the #TuscanyNowCookOff  competition


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savory cauliflower crostata

savory gluten free crunchiness, so delcious, so light.

savory gluten-free crunchiness, so delicious, so light

Does cauliflower count for detox? That’s what we are supposed to do for at least one week in January, isn’t it? Have you done the salad treatment and figured it’s bad for you since there’s a foot of snow outside? It’s too cold for self-inflicted punishment.

I am so glad is not bikini time yet. That’s even worse than New Year detox. Lucky me I don’t even wear a bikini anymore.

As a consequence I can have this wholesome, gluten-free food which is every bit as good and crunchy as any gluten equivalent. Not bad for a healthy dose of veggies and – as an added bonus – is wonderfully easy to digest.

Recipe

  • 1 cauliflower, cleaned and separated into florets
  • 1  garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 eggs
  • 5 tablespoon grated parmesan
  • 200 gr (7 oz) young Pecorino or Asiago, diced
  • 125 gr ( 1 and 1/8 cup) tapioca flour
  • 125 gr ( 1 and 1/8 cup) glutinous rice flour
  • 125 gr (1 stick) butter

Preheat oven to 200° C/ 390° F.

Using my food processor method for sweet pastry, make the savory shell using the tapioca and glutinous rice flours, 2 eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoon Parmesan and enough cold water to obtain a firm dough. I have tried to make pastry with various gluten-free flours but this is by far the easiest and most consistent in terms of structure and flavor.

Line a 10 inch ( 25 cm) tart pan with parchment paper. Roll the dough into a 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thin disk and transfer into the tart pan so to make a case with shallow sides. I roll the dough onto a clingfilm sheet and then I flip it into the lined tart pan.

Cover with the clingfilm and transfer in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 an hour and up to half a day. This crucial step will give you a crispy shell.

Blanch the cauliflower florets in plenty boiling water, drain.  Saute 1 finely minced clove of garlic in 2 tablespoon olive oil until fragrant. Add cauliflower florets and saute briefly to infuse in the garlicky oil. Season to taste with salt and black or red pepper. Set aside.

While the cauliflower is cooling, whisk 3 eggs with 1/2 cup milk and the rest of the grated parmesan. Transfer the cauliflower into the pastry shell and top with diced Pecorino cheese making sure to push the cubes in between the florets.

Pour the egg mixture over the tart and transfer into the oven.

Bake the crostata in middle of the oven 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden. We love it hot from the oven but it’s still good at room temperature.

Serves 4 as a vegetarian main, 6 as a side or appetizer.

PS. If in a hurry, using good quality store-bought puff pastry is a quick alternative to the pastry shell. In this case it’s obviously not suitable for a gluten-free diet.


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Assisi’s apple and olive oil strudel

Rocciata is a rustic apple strudel from Assisi

Rocciata is a rustic apple strudel from Assisi (the red is a sugar and Alkermens glaze ;) )

No. You are not pretty my dear, not even in that red dress. Before baking you, I asked “frog, will you please turn out into a princess?”.

I know frogs are supposed to turn out into a prince, but this one wasn’t promising. Besides, in the fairy tales princes tend to be clad in white. So you stayed frog, thank you very much.

You’re flavorful though, and full of fruity goodness, spices and texture. Slightly crunchy outside with a soft, squishy heart. You are Christmassy as well as Umbrian in your own peasant, medieval, rustic way.

You are not even made with butter, how healthy it’s that at this time of the year?

Recipe

Pastry:

  • 300 gr (3 cups) cake or Italian 00 flour
  • grated rind of 1/2 lemon
  • 5 tablespoon good quality extra virgin olive oil + extra for oiling the pastry
  • 1 tablespoon sugar + extra for sprinkling
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup cold water

Filling:

  • 4 large apples, diced small
  • 12o gr (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon anise seeds
  • 150 gr (5 oz ) chopped nuts of your choice
  • 150 gr ( 5 oz) rasins or sultanas
  • juice and rind of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoon alchermens liqueur.

Alchermens is an Italian speciality which contributes a floral scent and the bright red color to the pastry. Read here to learn how to substitute and here about it’s tradition.

Make the pastry by mixing all ingredients to obtain a firm dough. Cover and let it rest at least 30 min so it will be easier to roll.

Peel and dice apples, transfer into a bowl and add all other ingredients. In contrast with the dough, make the filling just before you need it to avoid release of juices wich will break the pastry while baking.

Now roll the dough into a long rectangular shape wich must be about 25 cm (10 inch) wide. The pastry must be as thin as possible but it should not break otherwise the filling will pour off the gaps. Brush the pastry sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle lightly with 1 additional tablespoon sugar.

Spread the fruit down the length of the pastry to within 1 inch of the edges.  Roll up from a long edge. Brush lightly with olive oil. Shape the roll into a coil and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoon extra Alchermens for decoration.

Bake at 180 °C (350 °F) for 45 min or until slightly golden. Brush with 1 tablespoon sugar mixed with a little water to make a soft paste and cook another 5 min.

Serve at room temperature.

happy holidays from Umbria!

happy holidays from Umbria!

PS. Sometime I cut the dough in 4 pieces and make 4 smaller strudels rather than a large one. They are easier to serve as a dessert for a large party. This way it makes 14-16 portions.

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