Day 75: A Tuscan-themed birthday dinner

This is what my day looked like:

Go to bed at 1am (I have to count this detail, because it technically was part of my day)

7am: get up, make hazelnut-apricot scones and chocolate-espresso-hazelnut shortbread for event at Willow Park. (Sidenote: they called yesterday to ask if I could help cook for customer appreciation day.)

9am: arrive at Willow Park and start cooking like a madwoman. Cooking at customer appreciation day is actually really fun, if your idea of fun is going through the fridges (they have one designated only for cheese), freezer and cupboards and coming up with things to make, like Gordon Elliott’s Door-Knock Dinners. (I do consider this a blast.) Except on a much larger level – they had over 1000 people over to eat. One of the best creations was roasted carrot hummus – Friday night we roasted a bunch of beautiful carrots, beets, purple potatoes and Yukon golds for the organic wine festival, and ended up with a sheet of leftover roasted carrots. They were cut in half lengthwise, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted until they were soft with golden bits. I threw a few of them into the blender with the usual chick peas, garlic, tahini, lemon and olive oil to make hummus, and added a big pinch of toasted cumin. It was a beautiful color, and a total hit.

4pm: run home, unload the car, reload the car, change.

4:45pm: rush out the door, stop at Bite to pick up a fig log imported from Italy (I should make these things – they are a blend of figs and nuts and aniseseed, shaped into a log and wrapped in plastic and then dried leaves – and sells for $25).

5:30pm: and arrived to do a private hands-on cooking class/demo Tuscan-themed dinner for the 50th birthday of a wonderful lady and her husband and friends.

6:30: guests arrive, have peach bellinis and some antipasti I picked up at the Italian Supermarket, the aforementioned fig log, and nubbly bite-sized chunks of Parmesan-Reggiano cheese, drizzled with honey and white truffle oil and sprinkled with fresh pepper. This is one of the easiest appetizers you can do – it takes about 2 minutes. Bob Blumer taught it to me.

7pm: we start cooking.


Parmigiano-Reggiano drizzled with White Truffle Oil & Honey
Balsamic Mushroom Crostini (one of my favorites)
Prawns wrapped in Prosciutto (at Willow Park yesterday the guys from Escoba came and did the same thing with capicola ham) and served with pesto
Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi with browned butter
Grilled Lamb Chops with olive oil, lemon, garlic and oregano
Forest Mushroom Risotto
Courgettes & Carrots a Scapece

Mascarpone Panna Cotta (an experiment, and a definite winner)
Chocolate, Hazelnut & Espresso Shortbread

The host did some fantastic wine pairings with each course.

12:30ish: Leave

1am: arrive home and crawl into bed.

So here I am, finally, in bed with my laptop. And here’s a recipe from tonight’s feast:

Chocolate Hazelnut Espresso Shortbread

Recipe link


March 16, 2008

If your hazelnuts are whole, coarsely chop them in the food processor first, then transfer them to a bowl and blend the rest, adding them back in at the end.

  • Makes: Makes about 2 dozen wedges.


1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup cocoa

3 Tbsp. cornstarch

1 Tbsp. instant espresso or coffee (or finely ground espresso beans)

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup butter, cold and cut into chunks

1 tsp. vanilla

3/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional, to drizzle)


1Preheat oven to 350°F. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, brown sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, espresso and salt. Add butter and vanilla and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add nuts; blend until finely chopped. Transfer dough to floured work surface. Knead just until dough comes together.

2Divide dough in half and press each into an 8" or 9” round cake pan, or tart pan with removable bottom. If you like, press around the edge with the tines of a fork. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until set. Cool on a wire rack, then cut each shortbread round into 12 wedges.

3If you want to drizzle your shortbread with chocolate, put the chocolate chips into a zip-lock baggie and seal. Place in a bowl of very warm water and let sit until melted. Knead the bag a bit to make sure there are no chunks left. When smooth, snip a tiny corner off and drizzle chocolate over cookies. Let stand until chocolate sets.

Makes: Makes about 2 dozen wedges.



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5 comments on “Day 75: A Tuscan-themed birthday dinner

  1. Meena
    March 16, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    I would love some of the chocolate-espresso-hazelnut shortbread for breakfast! My, my, you had a rough day. Now go off to sleep so that you wake up fresh to type up those recipes for us! :)

  2. Buddiegirl
    March 19, 2008 at 12:47 am

    Just thought I would help you out; it was Gordon Elliot who did Door Knock Dinners, not that foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsay.

  3. JulieVR
    March 19, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Ah yes! thank you! My brain isn’t working so well these days…

  4. VicCook
    March 18, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Please tell me you have a recipe for Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi with browned butter on here somewhere!!!

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