A Tribute to My Brother

Here we go again Matino family. Saying good-bye to another larger than life family member. In a blink of an eye everything changes and nothing will ever be the same at a family gathering. Damn that empty chair. Just breathe.

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My brother Charlie has always been the life of the party. Great dancer and story teller he always had us out on the floor and laughing. Generous of time, energy and his wallet he welcomed all he knew into his circle. In addition to his wife and kids, no one loved him more than his brothers, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, friends, neighbors….oh, wait-EVERYBODY loved Charlie.

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My kids especially adored him. William looked up to the guy who served his country in the National Guard and Caitlin always felt the love in his presence. On our visits to his home William relished the nights he and Charlie would stay up late watching horse races and betting on the trotters.

My brother never went to college, but through back breaking work as a garbage man built a successful business with my dad. He worked hard for his family and never hesitated to  share his success with whoever was in need. His generous spirit lives on in his loving and caring wife, Evelyn, and his amazing sons Jay and Michael.

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Until we meet again big brother. I will always love you and thank you for all you did to care for my family and make me a better person. No sister has ever felt more loved.

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The Best Pumpkin Harvest Torte

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Pumpkin. It’s everywhere this time of year including your appetizer, entree, dessert and coffee. Americans are obsessed with it. Not just limited to canned pumpkin, grocery store aisles are filled with a variety of pumpkin flavored products. It brings to mind falling leaves, cool nights and the smell of warm spices wafting through the kitchen.

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Recently, I tried these cookies called pumpkin spice snaps. Made in Pennsylvania, (love the USA) they are brand new to the market and I got a sneak peak taste. Filled with warm spices like cinnamon, ginger and cloves and sweetened with molasses these cookies have the perfect crispy snap that one would expect from the name. While simply delicious on their own I could not help but want to play with them in some dessert recipes. The first recipe I tried was a cookies and cream pumpkin cake. It was a hit with crispy cookie bits adding a textural contrast to the creamy frosting, but I could not stop there…….

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See those cookie bits on the edge of the cake? I greased my cake pans and then dusted them with finely crushed cookies instead of flour

……because as of today I have harvested 7 sugar pumpkins and there are at least another dozen lying in wait. I only planted 4 seeds! Plant some seeds people! For fresh pumpkin all one needs to do is roast them whole (400F. for about an hour) on a foil lined baking sheet until they feel soft. Cool, peel, seed and puree the orange flesh in the food processor and then drain for an hour or two in a paper towel lined sieve with a weighted plate on top. It’s amazing how much liquid drains out leaving silky concentrated fresh pumpkin behind. It freezes well, so please, completely skip the canned stuff. No garden? Pick up sugar pumpkins at the local farmers’ market.

In today’s featured recipe I really wanted to show these beautiful cookies off and there is no better way than my signature cookie crust. I first featured this idea many years ago in a Southern Living Magazine cook-off. It was such a big hit that even a restaurant out in Colorado asked my permission to use it on their menu. It works with any crisp, wafer like cookie and creates a lovely edge to the dessert.

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Bake off the crust and let it cool. Then fill with the most luscious fresh pumpkin mousse which in my case is “spirited” (I love you, William). If you don’t like the alcohol feel free to substitute fresh OJ or apple juice or even maple syrup in its place. Feel free to play with the spices too, but for me there is nothing better and easier than a quality pumpkin pie spice mixture like this one from King Arthur Flour.

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Make it one day in advance, so the cookies will soften slightly for easier cutting and take the edge off of your party planning. Anything I can make in advance of a holiday like Thanksgiving is a godsend. In fact, it can even be prepared 2 days in advance. Topped with sweetened whipped cream or Greek yogurt, oh, yes, this recipe is waaaaay better than the usual pumpkin pie. You are welcome.

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Pumpkin Mousse Torte

33 Stauffer’s Pumpkin Spice Snaps, divided

4 tablespoons (¼ cup) unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons bourbon or orange juice (for non-alcohol version)

1 (1/4-oz) package unflavored gelatin

½ cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I use King Arthur Flour brand)

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup heavy cream, divided

2 egg yolks

1 ½ cups whole milk

1 cup unseasoned fresh or canned pumpkin, drained on paper towels

1-teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven 350F. Place 18 cookies in food processor fitted with blade. Process until cookies are finely crushed to make 1 cup of cookie crumbs. Add butter; pulse until crumbly. Press cookie crumbs over bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Place remaining cookies around edge of pan slightly overlapping and rounded side out. Gently press each cookie into the bottom crust. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted. Cool crust in pan on a wire rack. In small bowl, combine water and bourbon or orange juice; sprinkle gelatin over the top. Set mixture aside to let gelatin soften. In medium saucepan, whisk brown sugar, cornstarch, pumpkin pie spice, salt and ½ cup heavy cream until smooth. Add egg yolks and milk; whisk until well blended. Cook over medium heat, whisking, until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking another minute being sure to scrape the sides of the pot with a heat-proof spatula. Whisk in gelatin mixture until it is fully dissolved. Remove from heat. Whisk in pumpkin and vanilla. Press a piece of plastic wrap to pumpkin mixture to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours. Whip remaining ½ cup heavy cream to soft peaks; fold into pumpkin mixture. Pour filling into prepared crust; smooth top. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or as long as overnight. Cut into wedges and top with sweetened whipped cream or Greek yogurt.

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My absolute favorite sweet pumpkin

BTW-I receive no compensation for endorsing any products. Last year I won a contest sponsored by Stauffer’s and my prize is a monthly cookie gift package for a year.

It’s All Golden

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Golden Milk Bread

Following my emotional visit to CT two weeks ago I went into full on kitchen therapy Inspired by what was in the garden I made jams, pickles, everything tomato, everything zucchini, breads and cakes. It was all golden.

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Golden Tomato Jam and Dill Pickles

As it often does, grief relief finally came in a vivid dream.  In my slumber I am walking up the driveway to retrieve the morning mail. Waiting at the box, in the golden sun-light, is William. I say, “What are you doing here?” He replies, “I just want to make sure you know I am still here.” Whoosh! I am sure a psychiatrist would have a fun-filled day with my brain, but these dreams are so much better than any happy pills one could prescribe.

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Golden Dreams

I will be missing in action from time to time over the next few months. First and foremost I am super busy having too much fun with these two. Oh, the miracle of life! I did not know my heart could get any bigger, but there certainly is a new chamber filled with love and awe. Besides, Annabelle loves hanging out in my kitchen. Imagine that! I am pretty sure she loves the smell of fresh baked cookies and garlic.

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Golden Days

Second, the test kitchen has officially opened for preparation for the World Food Championships which takes place in November. Once again I am competing in the sandwich category and being sponsored by the fabulous Saucy Mama. Suzy Barhyte is the creative mind behind the delicious sauces, dressings and mustards that I will be incorporating into my sandwiches. Like Suzy’s my recipes must be family approved. I am especially grateful to have Caitlin assist me in sandwich development. She has an incredible palate. The Cubano has been built and now on to my signature dish. Hopefully I do myself, my family and Saucy Mama proud in the competition.

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Golden Mustards

With my game face on I won’t be blogging as much. To keep you occupied I challenge your creativity in the kitchen with this fantastic baking opportunity. The National Festival of Breads is one of the best bake-offs I have ever been privileged to win. Not only will you bake with the best products on the market, but you will learn so much about the wheat industry and the farmers who feed us and the world. Support them. Be inspired by those you love and bake some bread.

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Golden Wheat

The National Festival of Breads is included in the list of best cooking competitions by Delish! Online entries accepted Oct. 1, 2016 – Jan.16, 2017. National competition in Manhattan, Kansas, on June 17, 2017. Amazing recipes, finalists and baking contest for youth and adults! Go to www.nationalfestivalofbreads.com for rules and prizes. Sponsored by King Arthur Flour Red Star Yeast & Kansas Wheat.

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Golden Milk Bread

4¼ cups (18 oz./510 gm) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour

1 (1/4 oz/21 gm) package Red Star Platinum Yeast

1¼-cups milk

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons real maple syrup

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

4 (25 cent size) pieces of fresh peeled ginger

1-teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ cup golden raisins

In stand mixer bowl, fitted with paddle, combine 4 cups of flour and yeast. In small saucepan, over medium low heat, combine milk, butter, maple syrup, salt, fresh ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and pepper; bring just to a simmer, stirring. Remove from heat and let cool for 15 to 20 minutes or until milk mixture registers 120F on an instant read thermometer. Pour milk mixture into flour mixture; mix on low speed until flour is fully incorporated. Remove paddle and replace with dough hook. Knead dough on low speed for 5 to 6 minutes adding additional ¼ cup flour if it seems too sticky. Add raisins to dough during last 2 minutes of kneading time. Transfer dough to a buttered bowl, cover and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Press down dough, divide in half and shape each piece to fit a lightly greased 9-inch loaf pan. Place dough in pans; cover and let rise for 1 hour. Heat oven 400F. Make 3 slash marks diagonally across each loaf. Bake loaves for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and internal temperature registers 200F on an instant read thermometer. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool.