Recipe of the Week: Chocolate Truffle Peppermint Cookies

6 squares/ounces baker's dark chocolate (I use Ghirardelli brand or dark chocolate chips.)
3/4 cup (organic) butter
1/2 cup (organic) raw sugar
2 (cage-free) eggs
1 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup chopped candy canes

1. Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler or in a glass bowl on top of a pot of boiling water. When melted, stir together with a whisk.
2. Stir in sugar.
3. Whisk in eggs one at a time, mixing well, until blended.
4. Add flour and baking powder and mix well. (Dough will be very soft.)
5. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
7. Roll into 1-inch balls. Place on a greased baking sheet.
8. Bake 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle immediately with crushed candy canes. Cool and remove from pans.


December Menus

Italian Wedding Soup
Baby Greens salad with Asian pears, gorgonzola cheese & carmelized red onions
Sourdough, wheat and cranberry-walnut breads
Pita Piatta pastry

Chinese food out
in San Jose

Christmas leftovers
Twice-baked potatoes
Pot Roast
Maple-glazed carrots

wed - New Year's Eve
Dinner out at Lucy's Lair Ethiopian restaurant
in Fresno

Christmas week has arrived! This is one of our favorite times of year for healthy culinary delights. Dorina's Italian family has lots of cooking traditions like a special family recipe for Fish soup made with Bacalau for Christmas Eve. This soup is a luscious meal in itself and we couple it with homemade breads and appetizers. We also have incorporated some traditions from our brother-in-law Steven's family - homemade ravioli on Christmas Day for the first course of the big meal. We've added our own twist this year by tweaking the traditional ricotta filling. We're trying it with a butternut squash and mascarpone cheese filling. We tried it out for a Cooking Contest a few weeks ago and it was a winner! Yum-o!

Zucchini cakes with Cilantro dressing
Grilled salmon
Corn on the cob
Mashed potatoes

Bok Choy
Green chicken curry over Lemon noodles

Dinner at Mom & Dad's:
Chicken Tetrazzini
Italian Bread

Baked Brie with cranberries & pecans on whole wheat crackers
Italian Fish Soup
Nana's homemade Honey Wheat Bread
Christmas Apple Galette

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls
Savory Amaranth Souffle
Tropical Fruit Salad
Eggnog & Hot Apple Cider

Phyllo Sundried Tomato-spinach Triangles (Armenian Cheese Boereg)
Homemade Butternut squash ravioli
Green salad with Pomegranate seeds, Goat cheese and Sliced oranges
Chicken Marsala
Broccoli with maple walnuts
Mint Holiday Trifle
Christmas cookies
Peppermint Hot chocolate & Sparkling Pomegranate Juice

Chinese Chicken Salad
Wonton soup
Apple-Cranberry Crisp with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

Gift Exchange Dinner at Mom & Dad's:
Stuffed mushrooms
Roast Beef
Turkey bacon-wrapped Asparagus
Grandma's Rice Pilaf
Chocolate Lava Cakes
Pizzelle cookies with Ice cream

As we go into the holiday season, we're looking for that perfect combination of warm, healthy meals that we can get on the table quickly and show-stopper dinner party fare. This week, our menu includes a mix of both. We're gearing up for the Wednesday Christmas Tree Lane cooking contest at our friends' house and the Saturday Cooking Club party at our house with a French flair.
Bon appetit!

Steamed Zucchini & cheese

Green salad with tomatoes, cucumbers & feta
"More-Please" Meatloaf
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranate Seeds

Italian Sausage & Kale Soup
Flaxseed Whole Wheat Bread

wed - Cooking Contest
Butternut Squash Ravioli
with Alfredo Sauce

thurs - Dorina Dinners Special
Teriyaki Salmon with Pineapple Salsa
Brown Rice
Sauteed Bok Choy
Persimmon Cookies

Luscious Leftovers

sat - Cooking Club Christmas Party
Cheese Puffs/Gougeres
French Onion Soup
Endive, Pear & Roquefort Salad
Basque Chicken Stew
Buche de Noel cake

December is here! For our family that means the commencement of a whole season of food and food-creating traditions. The weather here in Fresno still lingers in the 60s but even a little bit of fog and cool air makes me crave comfort foods like soups and stews. This week we're making good use of our turkey leftovers and adding lots of local produce still available at the local farmer's market. Bon Appetit!

Caesar salad with baby greens
Soy-glazed salmon
Michelle's potato casserole
Corn on the cob

Thanksgiving Leftovers:
Turkey & Stuffin'
Green Bean Casserole
Mom's Pilaf

Spiced Apple Cider
Taco Soup
Chips and Guacamole
Harvest Apple Salad

Baby greens salad with gorgonzola, persimmons and dried cranberries
Chicken Parmesan
served over whole wheat rotini Pasta
Chocolate Lava cakes

Sauteed Bok Choy
Teriyaki Burgers
Brown Rice

Roasted Acorn Squash
Wild Rice & Barley Pilaf
Roasted Halibut with vanilla sauce

New World Chili
Italian Foccocia Bread


Homemade Healthy Holiday Gifts

Joan Obra, writer for the Fresno Bee newspaper, shared our Peanut Butter Granola recipe with readers today. We thought we would repost this recipe for all of you as well. We've made it a new tradition to package granola to share with friends and family at holiday time instead of our usual cookies.

Don't get us wrong, we still love cookies and candy but they seem to come in such abundance at this time of year that we thought it would be fun to put a healthy twist on food gifts. The great thing about granola is it can be used as a gift anytime of year. We even packaged it up as granola bars with a "nursing mama" gift for a friend who just had a baby. Oats are supposed to help with milk production.

Meilani, our 2-year-old, loves to help Mama make the 'nola. She gets her hands in the oats, nuts and seeds mix and does her special job of making sure everything is incorporated. When we give the granola away to friends, we encourage them to eat it as a snack or even a cereal with yogurt or milk.


-olive oil spray
-3 cups oats
-1 cup raw peanut butter
-1 cup honey + 1/4 cup honey
-1 tablespoon vanilla
-1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
-1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
-1/2 cup chopped almonds
-1/4 cup flaxseed
-1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries
-1/2 cup shredded coconut

1. Spray rectangle cake pan with olive oil spray. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine peanut butter, 1 cup honey and vanilla. Allow to warm until you can mix the 3 together to form a runny paste.

3. In a large bowl, mix oats, seeds, almonds and flaxseed.

4. Pour peanut butter mixture over oat mixture and mix until clumps of granola form. Mix in raisins.

5. Then pour mixture into cake pan and spread out evenly.

6. Drizzle with remaining 1/4 honey.

7. Sprinkle with coconut.

8. At this point if you just want to make granola cereal or snack, stick it in the oven. If you want bars, then use a large metal spoon to pat granola down lightly.

8. Bake approx. 15 minutes or until golden brown on top.

9. Remove from oven and pat down again to flatten if you want to cut it into bars. Otherwise, cool.

10. Allow to fully cool and then cut into bars. Wrap individually in plastic wrap or just serve out of the pan for a snack anytime. These are also great crumbled with yogurt for breakfast.

**NOTES: These are inexpensive to make especially if you buy your oats and honey in bulk at places like Costco and Winco. We especially like Winco's fresh-pressed raw peanut butter. They have a machine that presses it straight from the peanuts while you wait with no additives. Also, they have local raw honey. Winco sells seeds, raisins and unsweetened coconut in the bulk section. Try to avoid prepackaged seeds or peanut butter with added sugar, salt, etc.


Recipe of the Week: Stuffed Manicotti with Tomato Meat Sauce

Looking for a show-stopper holiday meal for your family or company? Why not serve our famous Italian meat sauce over spinach-stuffed shells. Here's the recipe - and don't share it or one of our mafia uncles might have to kill you...

Maria Lazo's Famous Italian Meat Sauce

1 medium onion, chopped
2 12-oz. cans tomato paste (Contadina, organic)
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce (Contadina, organic)
6-8 cups water
1 lb. ground beef (organic)
1/2 lb ground turkey
1 tablespoon garlic powder or 2 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons basil, chopped or 4 leaves fresh basil
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon organic sugar (important to reduce the acidity of the tomatoes)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup ground flaxseed (optional)

1. Saute onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil in large Dutch oven-style pot.
2. When onions look translucent, crumble meats into pot. (You do not need to brown the meat. It will fully cook while your sauce is stewing and comes out more tender this way!)
3. Add remaining ingredients (water, spices & cheese) and stir.
4. Bring to a boil for approx. 10 minutes.
5. Reduce heat to low and simmer. Approximately 2 hours (especially if you are putting meatballs in the sauce).
6. Serve over your favorite pasta, ravioli or for another dish like lasagna or chicken parmesan.
7. SAVE SOME FOR LATER: Let sauce cool and freeze half in ziplock bags or containers.

Dorina's Spinach-stuffed Shells (Manicotti)

1/2 pot Maria's Italian Meat Sauce
1 12-ounce jumbo shells pasta (could use manicotti shells but they're harder to stuff & don't look as fancy)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground beef or ground turkey, crumbled & sautéed
1 onion, chopped
1 15-ounce container of ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 16-ounce package frozen spinach
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Makes about 3 dozen shells.

1. Boil large pot of water. Add dash of salt and olive oil. Cook shells about 8 minutes (a few minutes less than package says) and cool, running cold water over the top. (Be careful not to overcook or the shells fall apart.)
2. In a frying pan, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, sauté meat and onions.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
4. Mix together ricotta & cream cheeses, spinach and spices. Add meat and onions to the mixture. Blend well.
5. Put a 1/2-inch layer of meat sauce in the bottom of a 13x9-inch pan.
6. Stuff shells with as much stuffing as you can get in there and place them carefully in rows in the pan.
7. Drizzle with more meat sauce.
8. Top with mozzarella & parmesan cheese.
9. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until the cheese turns a light golden brown. Serve with salad and garlic bread.

Buon Appetito!
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