Juicing Update, Part One

Hey y’all!  I updated about a week or so ago… might be longer, because time gets away from me, about hubby and my new project: Juicing.  We have been on the juice fast for one whole week already, and I thought I’d give a quick update.

Since we began last Wednesday, I have lost almost 11 pounds, which is fabulous!  Hubby is doing even better, but he won’t disclose how much he’s lost other than, “Quite a bit.”  I know his hesitation in telling me, but it would be nice to know.  Weight loss right now is a nice benefit for us.  He is the one with the most to gain from improving his health.

I can get into this topic more in-depth if there is a demand for it.  So let me know if you are interested in hearing our travails on the juicing path.  I will leave you with another recipe that I have found that I love for dinner.  It’s a savory juice with all veggies, but it’s not harsh tasting.  In fact, if you like the V8 type juice, or even if you don’t, you might still enjoy this one.  From Reboot With Joe, I present the “Bloody Mary” juice!

Bloody Mary Juice

  • 4 Tomatoes
  • 2 Red Bell Peppers
  • 1 Orange Bell Pepper
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Zucchini (I substituted a green bell pepper)
  • Large Handful of Fresh Herbs (I substituted a jalapeno pepper, seeded)*
  • A dash of Himalayan Pink Salt
  • 1-2 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Wash all produce well.  I remove the stems and seeds from all of the peppers, and the stem portion of the tomato before juicing.  Run produce through the juicer.  Pour into glasses; top with Himalayan Salt and/or Olive Oil before serving.  Makes 2 servings

*If you are working with hot peppers, such as jalapeno and hotter, be sure to wear gloves while seeding and prepping, as capsicum from the seeds can get on your skin and have a burning sensation.  Be especially careful when touching your face and eyes after your hands have been exposed to hot peppers, as the capsicum can injure the eye.  Don’t learn this from experience like I did.  Oops!

Happy juicing!


The Great Cookie Kerfuffle of 2016

Well, before I start out with this story, I want to wish my reader(s) a very blessed Christmas season!  I hope your family is close and your joys are many!

This year hubby and I decided not to pull our Christmas tree out of hiding and set it up.  There are two reasons for this, mostly:  Pixel and Mercy.  Last year, Pixel took great joy in stealing most of the ornaments from the bottom third of the tree and playing with them.  We use cat safe McDonald’s Teeny Beanie Babies to decorate the tree, and I do admit it is quite adorable, but Pixel always chooses one toy in particular to play with from the tree.  Last year, it was one of the lion toys, its name escapes me.  I have no reason to believe that Mercy, in all of her kitten-y goodness, would not be a terror when it comes to having a 6 foot climbing obstacle loaded chock full of toys to play with.  So no, we’re forgoing the tree this year.

One of the other things I usually do to make it feel (and smell!) like Christmas is baking cookies.  It is one of the things I actually don’t mind baking, and the recipes I usually use are foolproof (meaning I can make them with little problem.)  Unlike most folks who have holiday specific cookies they make on a fairly consistent, annual basis, I  have two recipes that I use no matter the time of year.  I have to like the cookies in order for me to make them, and I don’t necessarily enjoy the pressed cookies that come from the old “super shooter” type of press, or ones that I have to spend a lot of time decorating.  I’ve never baked a gingerbread cookie, and sugar cookies are too blah for me.  So my go-to cookies are usually shortbread, because I love it and it’s too expensive to buy in the store, and a variation of a chocolate chip recipe I got from Food Network some years back.  They may not scream Christmas or be terribly festive, but they are good.

I started sometime last week with the chocolate chip cookies.  These are adapted from a recipe from Alton Brown, called “The Chewy.”  I have made these many times before and they are just such a wonderfully decadent and chewy cookie.  I didn’t have the recipe written on a card or my book like I usually would, so I checked the Food Network website for it.  It looked a little strange, as I didn’t remember the dry ingredients being measured by weight instead of cup measure.  But I didn’t mind, because I had gotten a nifty digital kitchen scale over the summer and this would be my chance to try it out.  However, when I got to the brown sugar part of the dry weights, eight ounces looked like a LOT of brown sugar, so I went back and re-checked the video, which was taken from the episode of Good Eats where this cookie recipe was featured.  That is when I figured out that the video measurements were so much different from what the written recipe noted, so I started all over with fresh flour (because I had already sifted 12 ounces of flour with the salt and baking soda,) measuring out 2 1/4 cups instead, 1 1/4 cups of brown sugar, which ironically turned out to be 8 dry ounces, and the other measures in the video.

The cookie dough turned out good.  It was full of chips and nuts for the amount of batter I had, which is good.  Usually, when I make chocolate chip cookies, my last few cookies have very few chips in them because the batter to chip ratio is terrible.  So, following the directions on the written recipe, I baked one tray of cookies at a time, having only one cookie sheet, for the fifteen minutes noted.  Everything was smelling wonderful halfway through, and I switched the sheet from the top rack to the bottom third like I was supposed to.  But at the end of the baking time, the cookies were almost not recognizable as cookies.  By the way, if anyone is looking for some last-minute coal for stockings, message me.

Not deterred, I put my second tray of cookies into the oven and reduced the time for baking from fifteen to twelve.  Again, the aroma of baking cookies filled the air and at twelve minutes, they were almost as charred as the first batch.  A little frustrated at myself for not being able to bake these stupid cookies, I put my third batch into the oven, this time for 1o minutes.  The last batch was still over done, but better than the first two, and spread out like melting ice cream on the sheet.  Not wanting to waste any more dough, I gave up baking that night.  The rest of the dough sat in the fridge for a day while I sulked.  I thought I was losing my touch.

The next day, I decided to give my shortbread cookies a try.  Those are REALLY simple, and only have five ingredients.  I couldn’t screw these up, right?  The dough came together very nicely and after turning it out onto my floured counter, I wrapped the dough in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge to stiffen a bit.  While that dough was resting, I gave the “Chewy” cookies one more shot.  This time, I decided to measure the ingredients using the scale and not let the amounts spook me.  Twelve weighed ounces of flour.  Eight ounces of brown sugar.  Two ounces of granulated sugar.  Like the last batch of batter, it came together nicely but had a bit more body, for lack of a better word.  I’m guessing this was the extra flour, because 12 ounces does not even remotely measure to be 2 1/4 cups.

I was getting tired and bit achy from so much standing, so I decided to just bake the shortbread cookies that night.  The chewy chocolate chip cookies would have to wait at least one more night.  The shortbread turned out beautiful, as I had hoped.  Finally!  A good result.  But it was Thursday night, and I really wanted to have some cookies to bring to John’s therapists on Friday.  But I was pleased that the shortbread baked up nicely.  As luck would have it, we never made it to the therapist on Friday before Christmas.  Achy muscles and cookie burnout were the culprit.

Tonight we went to my Mom’s for dinner and what was supposed to be church services online.  I brought the cookie dough and sheets to her house so I could hopefully finish these cookies, which by this time have become a real thorn in my side.  While our dinner was baking in her counter top convection oven, I worked on the cookies in her big oven.  This time, I lowered the oven temp to 350 from the recommended 375, and checked them at 10 minutes.  They weren’t quite finished at 10, and another two minutes made them a nice golden brown.  Perfection!  I could have cried, but honestly the cookies had plenty of salt in the batter already.

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Finally!  Chewy cookies that actually LOOK like cookies!!

So, here are my recipes, adjusted for what made them work in my kitchen and how I made them.

Shortbread Cookies

  • 3 Sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature*
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar**
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

In the work bowl of your mixer, mix together the butter and sugar until it is just combined.  Add the vanilla.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and salt.  Add flour to butter and sugar mixture; mix on low-speed until the dough starts to come together.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape into a flat disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/2 inch thick.  Using a pizza cutter or cookie cutter, cut cookies into rectangles approximately 3″ by 1″.  Place cookies on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes (I found they were perfect at 20 minutes, but watch the cookies from 20 minutes on) until they begin to brown around the edges.  Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool thoroughly before storing.

*Use real, unsalted butter for this recipe.  Substituting Crisco or margarine will not give the shortbread its classic buttery flavor.  Some things shouldn’t be skimped, and this recipe is one of them. You’ll be happy you didn’t skimp.

**I used fine granulated brown sugar, sometimes called turbinado or raw sugar.  Despite the different color, this does not carry over to the color of the cookies.  So if you don’t use regular white sugar, don’t hesitate to use the brown granulated (not regular brown sugar) in this recipe.  It will turn out as if you had used white granulated.

 

The Chewy (Courtesy of Alton Brown, tweaked by me!)

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 12 ounces (by weight) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 ounces (by weight) light brown sugar
  • 2 ounces (by weight) granulated white sugar
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces (one bag) vanilla chips (white chocolate)
  • 1 cup macadamia nuts, chopped (optional)

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat until fully melted.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda; set aside.  Pour the butter into the mixer’s work bowl and add the sugar.  Mix on medium for two minutes, using the paddle attachment (or on medium with wire beaters on a hand-held mixer.) Lightly whisk the egg, yolk, milk and vanilla together; add slowly to butter and sugar mixture.  Turn the mixer speed to low, and mix until smooth.  Slowly add the flour, scraping the bowl down as needed.  When the flour is incorporated into the batter, turn the mixer speed to “stir” (or fold in by hand) and add the white chocolate chips  and macadamia nuts.  Chill the dough in the bowl for one hour.

Spoon cookie dough by rounded spoonfuls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Allow to cool thoroughly before storing or devouring!

 

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!  Buon Natale!!

Eggplant Parmesan – Heaven In A Bowl

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Eggplant Parmesan, all ready for the oven

A week ago at the local grocery store I found two beautiful, purple eggplants and I couldn’t resist the urge to buy them, and better yet, they were on sale!.  I am not used to seeing these wonderful fruits in the store this time of year, as they are in season in most of the continental US in the late summer to fall.  Sometimes, if I venture to a local farmer’s market I can find them in winter (I use the term “winter” loosely because Florida has a year-round growing season and winter never really visits here) but the grocery store has precious few eggplants in decent shape in June.  I knew exactly my purpose for my purple treasures: Eggplant Parmesan!

Eggplant Parm, the way my family has cooked it for at least three generations, is probably much different from the more traditional way.  I know it is not the healthiest preparation for eggplant, but I only prepare it once or twice a year at the most, so I can easily justify my way into a casserole dish of my favorite meal.  Much goes into the preparation and cooking of this dish, starting right at the market.  When I choose an eggplant, I look for long, slender fruits that are firm, not spongy or soft.  They should be a dark purple-black color with no visible blemishes.  The green “cap” sometimes has some sharp little thorns on it, so caution is recommended.

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Slender and firm, dark purple eggplants are the best for cooking Eggplant Parmesan.

Some cooks prefer to prepare eggplant with the skin on.  I always peel mine before I slice them, mainly because the skin tends to be tough, I don’t believe the skin adds anything to the end result, and because that’s the way Dad did it.  Who is going to argue with my half-Italian father about peeling or not peeling eggplants?  Not I!  So, I peel the eggplants and slice them short-wise (so the slices are round) into slices approximately 1/8 inch wide, sometimes thinner.  I am an “eyeballer” when it comes to slicing things.  My dad, however, had a nice slicer that resembled a deli slicing machine.  As long as my knife is plenty sharp, I can slice them just fine by hand.  You don’t want them too thick, or they will not cook correctly and will be rubbery.  As I slice them, I stack them in layers on a plate, sprinkling salt lightly on each layer.  This helps to sweat the eggplant.  I use Salt Sense for this purpose because it’s not as salty as conventional table salt, yet does the trick very nicely!  Sweating eggplant is essential for this recipe to work.  This process helps to draw some of the natural liquid out of the eggplant so the slices are easier to cook without the bitterness for which eggplant is known.  Once all the eggplants are sliced and salted, I cover the pile with another plate, inverted (like a sandwich) and I place something heavy on the stack, usually a saucepan filled with water.  The eggplant need to sweat at least 30 minutes, though I’ve let mine go for an hour and they’re fine.

Once the eggplant are done sweating, I just grab a few slices (about 10 at a time) and gently squeeze some of the remaining water out of the eggplant.   At this stage, they are ready to be fried.  Here is where my “eggplant makeover” differs from how my family has cooked this dish. My method, which I think is a bit less calorie-dense, requires frying just one time, where my family recipe calls for a double fry in the oil.  I’ll explain both ways, but continue on with how I’m making this batch.

The family recipe calls for the eggplant slices to be fried in oil lightly on both sides, 1-2 minutes on each side.  They are then removed to paper towels to drain.  While the next batch is frying, a quarter slice of American cheese is placed on one of the freshly fried slices and covered with another, making a “sandwich.”  This sandwich is dredged in Italian bread crumbs, dipped in egg and fried again, making the cheese melty and delectable and the bread crumb coating crispy and browned.  At this stage of cooking, fresh from the hot oil, they are hard to keep from eating, even without tomato sauce!  Once all of the eggplants have been fried the second time, they are placed in a casserole dish, starting with sauce on the bottom, then layering eggplant, sauce and Parmesan cheese, one layer at a time until the dish is full. Think of layering a lasagna and you get the idea.

My new way of making eggplant is easier and less time-consuming.  I dip my freshly sweated eggplant slices into an egg bath, then into Italian bread crumbs, and finally into a hot oil “bath” where they cook on each side about 2-3 minutes, or until browned.  They are removed from the oil and drained on paper towels until I’m finished cooking the whole batch.  I use a cast iron skillet with light vegetable oil to fry them on medium heat (5 on our stove.)  They should cook slowly enough so that the coating does not burn or get too brown without cooking the eggplant inside.  The slice is finished cooking when it is tender.

From here on out, the method is the same as the tried and true family recipe with one exception: in addition to the sauce and Parmesan cheese, I add a small handful of mozzarella cheese into each layer (approx. 1/4 cup.) Once your casserole dish is full, bake at 350 degrees until heated through, or about 30-45 minutes, depending on your oven.  Serve with your favorite pasta, or just dish up the slices and place in a hard Kaiser roll and enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Eggplant, peeled and sliced into 1/8″ slices
  • Salt
  • Egg Beaters* I used half of a quart container
  • Italian bread crumbs, have plenty on hand
  • Vegetable or Olive oil, for frying
  • Your favorite pasta sauce
  • Parmesan cheese to taste
  • Mozzarella cheese to taste

*I use Egg Beaters or other whole egg substitute because natural eggs make the oil VERY foamy while cooking.  I have not tried this using liquid egg whites.  If you try this, I’d be curious to know if they worked without foaming, so please leave a note in the Comments section.  Thank you!

Best Gluten Free Pie Crust Recipe – Light, Flakey & Delicious

Recently, my hubby has learned he may have a gluten intolerance so I wanted to make his Christmas dinner a bit more comfortable. Among the adjustments I made to my normal recipes was this yummy recipe for gluten free pie crust.  It was easy, flaky and very good!  I’m pleased to share this recipe with you, from its original source.  Enjoy!

An easy Gluten Free Pie Crust Recipe perfect for Desserts & Pot Pies! The crust is light, flakey, and can be used in your favorite recipe!

Source: Best Gluten Free Pie Crust Recipe – Light, Flakey & Delicious

From The Kitchen: Sweet Refrigerator Pickles

***Originally written in April***
Here in West Central Florida, Spring has sprung. Actually, it seems we’re headed right into Summer without even having a Spring to speak of. It’s been in the 80s since the first of March with no signs of getting cooler again until October. Such is life in the tropics.

The coming of warmer months brings more and more outdoor activities throughout the country. Picnics and barbecues, trips to beaches and lakes, parties and fireworks. All of the above mentioned festivities are usually centered around food and drink, which brings me to today’s recipe.

When I was younger and still lived in Connecticut my family was very active in our church. It was during the Springtime that even the church would participate in the traditional “Spring cleaning” and clear the basement of donated furniture and larger items that would not fit inside the thrift store as they held the annual Spring sale. There were lots of volunteers selling items at tables all over the church grounds. My family was in charge of cooking hot dogs and hamburgers at the food booth. My dad would complain about doing the job every year but secretly I know he loved it.  He loaded up our huge charcoal grill into the car, with 10 pound boxes of Hummel’s hot dogs and stacks of hamburgers, giant steel tubs filled with ice that Mom spent months making in our spare freezer for the bottles and cans of soda pop we would sell, and we would make the trek to church. The annual event was and will always be one of my favorite memories.

Parishioners would make and donate items for the bakery sale, or homemade jams, jellies and pickles with produce grown locally, very often in backyard gardens. The couple that ran the thrift store, the Stockers, usually made pickles to serve at the cooked food table. They were freshly made, crispy and sweet, the perfect accompaniment for a cooked-to-order hamburger and ice cold cola.  The pickles are simple, have just a few ingredients and are so good you’d think they should be illegal.

Just a few weeks ago, my mom and I were reminiscing about all the fun we used to have doing those fairs and I asked her if she still had the pickle recipe. She told me she doubted she still had it any more, but she would keep an eye out for it. Well, just yesterday we were looking through a bag of recipes that she had found in a corner of the counter somewhere behind the knife block and I found my recipe!  You can bet I will be making these mouth-watering sweeties just as soon as I can!


In the meantime, here is my recipe.

Sweet Refrigerator Pickles

  • 7 cups Thinly Sliced Cucumbers, unpeeled. Though any cucumber will work, I prefer to use the smaller, pickling cucumbers
  • 1 cup Thinly Sliced Sweet Onion.  I usually slice them into rings for this recipe.
  • 2 cups White Sugar
  • 1 cup White Vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Salt
  • 1 tbsp Celery Seed

Place the sliced cucumbers and onions together in a large, non-metallic bowl or jar. Mix the sugar, vinegar, salt and celery seed together in a separate bowl. Stir together until “juicy”; pour over cucumbers and onions. Cover and store in the refrigerator.  These are ready to eat in three hours. Keeps well for up to six weeks.

If I never said so, Sylvia, thank you for the pickle recipe, and all the warm, wonderful memories that go with them.
Buon Appetito!

From The Kitchen: Pumpkin Spice Muffins

I will be the first to admit I’m not much into baking these days. It’s messy, I don’t care for sifting dry ingredients together, and clean up can be a hassle. But I know it’s cheaper to bake my own goodies than to purchase ready-made items at the bakery, and we are definitely watching every cent that leaves our pockets. I visit other blogs and Pinterest on occasion looking for easy recipes and ideas to make my excursions in baking easier, and once in awhile I find something that catches my eye.

I can’t remember where I first saw the two-ingredient pumpkin muffin recipe, but it seemed simple enough. The two ingredients were a yellow cake mix and a 15 oz can of pumpkin. Easy, right?  The first attempt at these muffins went so-so; I used a box of spice cake because it seemed to be a better fit with pumpkin, but the batter was very sticky. They were tasty but small and resembled tiny hockey pucks. They weren’t hard, but they weren’t as I expected either. Muffins should be soft and moist, and these were a far cry from either.

Since the first attempt, I’ve been tweaking the mixture to make the muffins better. I do realize that, because I’m using cake mix, the texture will always be more like cake rather than muffins, but I can accept that. This time, I added an egg, two rounded tablespoons of cold-pressed coconut oil, about 1/4 cup of crushed almonds and a splash of homemade vanilla extract.  They came out beautiful and the texture is much closer to how I wanted. Here is my recipe.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Makes 12-15 muffins

  • 1 box spice cake mix, any brand
  • 1 15oz can pure pumpkin (do not use pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons cold-pressed virgin coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until everything is incorporated. Spoon mixture into paper-lined muffin tins. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. If desired, these can be frosted lightly with cream cheese frosting while warm, though I have never done this. I sure would love to try it someday, though.

I don’t quite have the photographer’s eye that others do, but I will say the muffin tins shown in the photo are antique, as they belonged to my grandma, and now my sweet 86 year old mother. She is the lucky recipient of these yummy muffins. I know she will enjoy them, and I hope you do, too.

 
Buon appetito!

From The Kitchen: Slow Cooker Beef Stew

About a year ago, the crock pot that my Mom had given me gave up the ghost right in the middle of cooking a chicken dinner.  Granted, it was probably 10+ years old, but I can almost guarantee Mom had never used the thing.  It looked brand new when I adopted it.  Previously I had used it quite a bit, especially when I was working, to have a hot dinner waiting for us when I was too bone-tired to cook a meal at the end of the day.  I had a few go-to recipes that I used in it, but I really lacked creativity.  So when it was time to replace the crock pot, my husband and I decided on the Ninja 3-in-1 cooking system.  I had seen the commercial and of course was skeptical of the claims it made.  However, despite my initial reservation we purchased it anyway.  Let me tell you, this thing is AMAZING!  Any doubt that crept into my mind was immediately erased by what became my new favorite way to cook spaghetti.  But I digress…

Since we acquired this new handy-dandy cooking tool, I started looking for new and creative ways to use it.  I did find my old tried and true recipes worked just fine, but the same old pot roast and chicken can get a bit old after a while.  On my Internet journey to find new and exciting things, I came across a recipe on Panera‘s website for Slow Cooker Beef Stew.  It looked so wonderfully scrumptious that I saved it and I always had that good intention of actually trying “some day.”  That “some day” arrived when I found a nice lean chuck roast on sale.  Most of the remaining ingredients were already stocked into my pantry and fridge, so today I was good to go when I decided to make this. This takes a little prep, but it’s easy to put together.  My total prep time was about 15 minutes, and I chose to cook at the Low setting on my Ninja for 8 hours.

Photo Courtesy of Panera Bread.

Slow Cooker Beef Stew. Photo credit: Panera Bread

Slow Cooker Beef Stew

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds cubed beef chuck
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbs olive oil (have extra handy!)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onions
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 2 1/2 cups small baby-cut carrots
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 3 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 can (14.5oz) no salt added diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups beef broth and/or dry red wine (the original calls for 1 1/2 to 2 cups.  I used 2 cups of broth)
  • 1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves

How To Put It Together:

  1. Season beef with salt, pepper and thyme.  Coat in flour
  2. Heat oil in Ninja on High “Stove Top” setting.  When hot, add beef in batches and brown on each side.  Remove to bowl and repeat until all the beef is browned.  Set aside.
  3. Discard all but 2 Tbs of fat from the cooker (the meat I used was lean, so I had to use additional olive oil for this step). Add onions and celery to the Ninja and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Chop 1/2 cup of the carrots and add them to the Ninja along with the garlic.  Cook another 2 minutes.
  4. Add the beef, remaining carrots, potatoes, canned tomatoes (juice and all), broth or wine, Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves. Cover and cook on High for 4-5 hours, or on Low for 8 hours.

Credit to Panera Bread for the recipe and the inspiration for tomorrow’s dinner, and one more goody to add to my growing collection of precooked dinners for the freezer. I can’t wait to try this!

Buon appetito!