Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Craft

In many Catholic traditions, Epiphany (January 6th), symbolizes the last day for Christmas celebrations. Epiphany Eve (January 5th), in the Italian culture, "La Befana" goes out to visit the children of Italy. In this folklore, the Befana is a witch-like lady who fills the socks of good boys and girls with candy and gifts (usually chocolate, nuts and oranges). It's a cute little tradition that is very similar to the gift giving of the more familiar Santa Claus.

Given that the Christmas celebrations are still being held in some cultures, there is rather simple and crafty idea that you can do during this time. It has turned out to be a holiday tradition in my home.

The sight and smell of certain foods can conjure up memories of times past. For me, there are particular smells that remind me of the winter holiday season.

Begin with an ordinary orange.

You will also require a handful of cloves. Pierce the orange with the cloves all the way around the surface of the fruit. (You can also get craftier by creating patterns around the orange.)

The orange and cloves together will create a natural air freshener which will leave your home smelling spicy and warm.

Also, don't worry about the orange going bad. The cloves will actually petrify the fruit and turn it into a hard ball.


Every Christmas, I do a load of baking. One of my specialties is a cookie I like to call marroni (chestnut cookies). This is the third recipe in my series of gluten-free and dairy-free nut cookies. (To view my previous recipe for amaretti, click here and to view my recipe for pecan pie cookies, click here.)

Chestnut flour can now be readily found in specialty supermarkets and in bulk food stores. It imparts a wonderful flavour, reminding me of winter time.

For this recipe you will need 1 cup of chestnut flour, 1 cup blanched ground almonds and 1 cup of white sugar.

Mix the dry ingredients together.

For the wet ingredients, you will need to start with the whites of four eggs (8 tablespoons of egg whites). I said "start", because the chestnut flour can be a little temperamental, depending on its moisture content.
Whip the whites to stiff peaks.

At this point, blend in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Add the vanilla egg whites to the dry ingredients.

Fold in the egg whites to form a dough. If a dough cannot be formed, because the ingredients are too dry, feel free to add more whipped egg whites. (I have, on some occasions, used up to six egg whites or 12 tablespoons of egg whites.)

Drop teaspoon sized balls onto a greased, aluminum foil-lined baking tray. Be sure to leave approximately 1 inch of space between each cookie.
I liked to top each cookie with a slivered almond.

Bake the cookies in a 350°F oven for approximately 15 minutes. Be sure to let them cool prior to removing them from the baking sheet.

These cookies have a dense, chewy texture. They can be easily made ahead of time and frozen. Marroni are always a hit during the holidays!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pecan Pie Cookies

Using the basic recipe for amaretti can be a great jumping off point for making other nut cookies. The basic premise is always there: whipped egg whites + sugar + ground nuts = great cookies. (To view my recipe for amaretti click here.)

The second recipe in this series is for pecan pie cookies.

I picked up a package of pecan meal the last time I was in Florida. The Sheffield Pecan Company carries some fantastic pecan products. I would highly recommend them.

You will need 2 cups of pecan meal and 1 cup of golden-brown sugar. I decided to use this type of sugar, because it adds a little bit more flavour than regular white sugar. Brown sugar contains molasses, giving it an enriched taste. (By the way, the darker the brown sugar, the more molasses it contains.)

Mix the dry ingredients together.

You will also require the whites of four eggs (8 tablespoons of egg whites).

Whip the whites to stiff peaks.

Add the egg whites to the dry ingredients.

Fold in the egg whites to form a dough.

Drop teaspoon sized balls onto a greased, aluminum foil-lined baking tray. Be sure to leave approximately 1 inch of space between each cookie.

These cookies don't really need any type of topping. However, I had some candied orange peels in the fridge, so I decided to use them.

Bake the cookies in a 350°F oven for approximately 15 minutes. Be sure to let them cool prior to removing them from the baking sheet.

These light cookies taste like little bites of pecan pie! Also, they are completely gluten and dairy-free.


Christmas is around the corner, so I've started my holiday baking. I like to start early with some nut-based cookies, because of their ability to hold well in the freezer.

This post will be a series of three recipes, all involving nuts of some sort. By the way, all of these cookies are gluten-free and dairy-free (in case you were wondering).

The first type are amaretti, a classic Italian cookie. Traditionally, the nut portion of the ingredients came from the almond-like inner pits of apricots. Nowadays, almonds are used. I have made this recipe with different type of almonds. You can use almond flour, blanched almond meal, ground whole almonds, or even the left over almond mulch from making almond milk (which is what I've used today). (For my recipe for homemade almond milk, click here.)

Whatever type of ground almond you decide to use, you will require 2 cups.

Note: If using almond mulch from almonds that were previously soaked in water, you will yield a thinner and flatter cookie.

To the almond mulch, add 1 cup of sugar.

Next, you will need the whites of four eggs (8 tablespoons egg whites) poured into a mixing bowl.

Whisk the whites until they make stiff peaks.

Now it's time to inject some flavour. I like to add 1 teaspoon of almond extract to the egg whites and give them a quick stir. Believe it or not, that's it for the wet ingredients!

Place your almond extract-infused egg whites on top of your dry mix.

Fold all of the ingredients together, until a dough is formed.

Drop, teaspoon-sized balls onto a greased, aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Be sure to leave approximately 2 inches of space between each cookie, as the amaretti tend to expand quite a bit when they bake.

I like to add an espresso bean to the center of each cookie. Coffee and almonds are always a good pairing.

Bake the amaretti in a 350°F oven for approximately 15 minutes. Wait for them to cool completely before removing them from the baking sheet.

The end result will be a light and airy cookie with a pleasant roasted coffee surprise.


While at a market in Chinatown today, I was able to find some Ramfal. After reading my blog entry about Sitafal, you will know that Ramfal is it's "counterpart" fruit. (To read my entry on Sitafal, click here.) This fruit may also be known as "soursop" or "guanabana".

It is a larger fruit compared to the Sitafal; this one being approximately twice the size. As you can see, the outer skin is somewhat different, in that it is not compartmentalized. The outer layer is also smoother and shinier than the one of the Sitafal.

Getting to the inside of this fruit is also much easier. It simply needs to be cut in half.

Once cut, the fruit can be eaten right off the skin. The texture is kind of a combination of 'banana meets bread'. In any case, it still has its characteristic custard-like flavour (as does the Sitafal).

This fruit contains many smooth, brown seeds, which are not meant to be eaten.

Ramfal goes very well with mixed drinks, smoothies, yoghurt and ice cream.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


All this cold weather is making me crave exotic fruit. It's probably because my body really wants to be in a tropical climate and not in the Great Cold North.

Next time you are looking for exotic fruit, step away from the mangoes and papayas. Try a Sitafal instead.

I am using the Indian name for this fruit. Sita was the wife of Ram (both being Hindu deities). The name Sitafal literally means "Sita fruit".

In case you were wondering, there is a Ramfal as well. Looking relatively similar, the Sitafal has a bumpier exterior, where her husband has a smoother outside texture.

Sitafal may be otherwise known as a "sweetsop", "sweet-apple" or "custard-apple", among others. This and other apple-suffixed fruit are known all over the English speaking world. To my understanding, the word apple was used, at one point in time, to name newly discovered fruit. Think of a pineapple. It's neither a pine nor an apple, but it somehow works.

In any case, the fruit somewhat resembles an artichoke. (I'm sure the name "artichoke-apple" didn't sound very appetizing.)

When ripe, the fragile and almost crumbly exterior can be removed easily with a little pressure.

Once all of it is removed, the Sitafal will be ready to eat.

The fruit is made up of tiny sections or pockets containing smooth, black seeds. (The seeds are not edible.)

Seeing the fruit in this form, it becomes obvious why some call it a "custard-apple". Each little pocket of fruit has a custard-like quality. It is sweet and milky; an unusual flavour in fruit.

These fruit can be found, somewhat easily, in grocery stores catering to the Asian market in and around the Greater Toronto Area.

Take a good look, because it could be called just about anything! Just make sure to pick one that is a bit soft and has a little give to ensure that it is ready to eat.