An Easy, Cheesy Hors d’Oeuvre, perfect for Non-Chefs!

If you’re anything like me, you are always on the look-out for ways to impress your friends with cheesy concoctions that take little to no effort to make!

A couple weeks ago, I held a now-annual cheese party for all of my fromage-o-phile buddies. This party consisted mostly of cheese boards where I served up big hunks, worthy of being stars all on their own, save for a fresh piece of baguette to eat it with. There was one cheese that I wanted to serve that just couldn’t be eaten on its own: Fresh C’est Bon Chevre. This creamy, tart and delicious chevre is amongst my favourite of all the cheeses that we sell at Taste of Cheese and La Ferme Black River. I eat it often – on toast with honey, on a salad, in pasta sauce – anywhere you could think of! I definitely wanted to share this great cheese with my friends, I just needed to figure out how to do so. I also was looking for a more imaginative way than just spreadin’ it on a cracker!!

I thought back the various trade shows that we have participated in over the years and remembered the little pastry shells that we have used to serve up soft cheeses to all of the people walking by. These little shells are the perfect vehicle to serve any kind of spoonable cheese on, as they are thin, have a great crunch, and don’t have an overwhelming flavour. I decided to make little C’est Bon Chevre Tarts 3 ways, by using 3 different accompaniments underneath the scoop of Chevre. The three that I chose to use for this party were: Heritage Onion Confit with Maple Syrup & White Wine; Heritage Onion Confit with Shiraz & Spicy Bell Peppers; and a Salted Caramel Sauce fresh out of my bag from Paris!

With the help of my sous-chef (AKA my sister), I spooned some of the sauce into the shell, topped it of with a little dollop of chevre, and voila! There you had it! I plated them on some of the metal trays that hide in my kitchen cupboards and served them up to my hungry guests. They were a hit! The Chevre and Onion Confit with Maple Syrup combo was perfect for those who were trying to really taste the chevre without it being overwhelmed by anything else. The onion gave the bite-sized appie a more interesting texture, an almost semi-solid to sit between the crunchy shell and the smooth chevre. The combo of chevre and onion confit with shiraz and spicy bell peppers was the perfect mix of sweet and spicy. The last combination, Chevre and Salted Caramel Sauce was like a tiny, decadent dessert! The chevre and the caramel were both thick, smooth, and creamy. The tartness of the chevre and the sweetness of the caramel combined perfectly together with the crunchy shell for a bite-sized dessert.

Overall, my plan to make something that looked and tasted great, with minimal effort worked out great!!
Here is my recipe:

Find any cup-shaed little pastry shell. The ones I used we buy wholesale. Let me know if you want to know more about these.
Source out your favourite jams, spreads, sauces, confits etc.
Buy a tub of C’est Bon Chevre.
Do lots of taste testing of all possible chevre/sauce combos.
Place a dollop of sauce and then chevre into each shell, as close to serving time as possible to ensure the shells do not get cruchy.
Serve to your guests who will soon be praising your chefly accomplishments!
Don’t tell anyone how easy it was to make them! You have to keep some secrets to yourself.

Until next time, Au Revoir!!

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Life on a Farm: Milking Sheep, Making Cheese. Part 2

My trip to the farm continued…

Thanks for coming back to read the second part of my blog post about my trip to La Moutonniere. Lets continue with day #3!!

Lucille, Straining fresh Ricotta!

Day 3:
I awoke again, super-early to head over to the Fromagerie to make cheese with Lucille. Today we were going to be finishing off the Ricotta started the night before and making the Fromagerie staple, Bleu de la Moutonniere! When I arrived at the plant, Lucille was busy preparing the milk for cheese making and the vat of ricotta was being rapidly heated. Once the vat reached the desired temperature and bubbled about for a little while, it was time to scoop it out and strain it. It was amazing to see the snow-white curd floating atop the vat of excess whey and it came out smelling warm and salty. We scooped away until the whole vat was emptied and the large cloth bags Lucille held open were full as could be!

Cutting Curd for Bleu de la Moutonniere!

Next up was making Bleu de la Moutonniere. This process started similarly to the day before. We waited for the milk to coagulate and once it was done so, the curd was cut. Then came the first change in cheese making. Today, the curd was cut into small cubes as opposed to tiny, uneven spheres. Making blue cheese requires a few changes from the firm cheese we had produced the day before. The curd is cut into larger cubes, then aerated on a large tray and finally packed loosely into moulds, in order to provide spaces where mould growth would be promoted. Once the whole vat had been dissected, I was privy to a new experiment. A new machine  was being test driven to pipe out the curd cubes, air them out along a conveyor belt and the plop them into waiting moulds. The experiment was mostly successful, however, a few required tweaks made us revert back to the hand-scooped method.

Scooping Curd into Moulds

We hauled out the huge amount of curd onto a cloth-covered table and then scooped the curd into moulds. Once we were done and cleaned I was given the task of turning and salting cheese that was residing in the aging cave. I took a tablespoon of salt and rubbed it all over each of the cheeses ready for a flip over! Once that was complete, all that was left was cleaning up!

Day 4:
On day 4 I worked on the farm with Al. There isn’t too much new information to report about the day other than that I got a bit more proficient at milking sheep! During my stay on the farm, I was waiting to see lambs birthed by any of the very pregnant sheep in the barn. Each morning and night we would check out the pen of ready-to-pop sheep and each time I was disappointed to find that no lambs had arrived. On day 4, I took to observing one sheep that seemed to be showing the signs of labour which Al told me to look out for, such as getting up to turn around, finding an isolated spot and not chewing on hay like the other sheep. Unfortunately the sheep didn’t appease me by popping out a lamb, and so I went to sleep knowing that I would be leaving the next morning and it would be my last chance to see a lamb being birthed.

Mama Sheep and Baby Lamb!

Day 5:
I awoke to the sun, bright and early and went down to the barn. To my excitement, Al let me know that the sheep I had been watching the day earlier really was about to give birth. He went over to the sheep to assist it along and before I knew it, a little lamb (which was admittedly kinda gross looking) had fallen out of the sheep – literally it fell out! Al took a look at the sheep and informed me another lamb was on the way. As Al went back to work, I stayed to watch and saw the sheep give birth to the second lamb all on its own!!! And so I felt my trip was complete.I had made 3 types of cheese, milked sheep, seen a sheep give birth.. what else could I ask for! And so, after saying Au Revoir I headed out on the road to drive the 7 hours home, ready to tell the story of my life on a farm to anyone who would listen!

Thanks to Al and Lucille for graciously hosting me and for really letting me get my hands dirty!

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Life on a Farm: Milking Sheep, Making Cheese. Part 1

La MoutonniereAs many of you may know, I love cheese. Recently, I went on a journey that marked a time of momentous learning and growth in my cheesy life. I spent the week at La Moutonniere, in Ste-Helene-de-Chester, Quebec, where I learned to make cheese, milk sheep and most importantly, survive without cell phone reception!! After a quick visit last fall, I knew this would be a great place for me to learn about making my favourite food!

Here is the story, in a few installments, of my adventure!!!

A BIT ABOUT LA MOUTONNIERE:
La Moutonniere is a fantastic Quebec Fromagerie that produces a number of sheep’s milk cheeses, all in their recently-built, state-of-the-art cheese-making plant! Owned and operated by Lucille Giroux and Alastair MacKenzie, this fromagerie is an intimate operation with lots of heart and great cheese. MacKenzie runs the farming operation while Giroux, oversees the cheesemaking. MacKenzie takes great care of their flock of sheep, ensuring production of milk of the highest quality. This rich, creamy white milk is then turned into award-winning cheese by Giroux and her cheese-making team! Check out their website: www.lamoutonniere.com

DAY 1:
I got in my car at about 10am on last Monday morning, drove to a near-by drugstore and stocked up on on-sale Easter chocolate, which would provide sustenance on my 7 hour drive to Victoriaville, QC. By dusk I had reached the town where Alastair Mackenzie, a co-owner of La Moutonniere, lives. Al had invited me to come spend time at the farm and fromagerie and would prove to be a fantastic host! We departed for the farm in Ste-Helene-de-Chester, and I followed behind Al’s car, the worry of losing him growing stronger as my cell phone signal grew weaker. Al, who hails from New Zealand, showed me into the cottage that sits on the farm property. I dropped my stuff and went to be introduced to the other residents of the farm: the sheep!The Barn

DAY 2:
My alarm went off at the unseemly time of 5:50am. I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag as fast as I could and dressed myself in my “farm clothes” and went out to meet Al in the barn. I started to size up my new sheepy acquaintances, and fed them some hay. Next up was feeding little baby lambs milk out of baby bottles. Though animals aren’t always my favourite, the small lambs were pretty cute!! Once the animals were fed, it was milking time. I was introduced to Al’s farm assistant, Joannie, and they showed me the ropes. This morning would be different than the rest. We were going to be testing the milk and grading their bodies and udders for quality. The sheep started to line up on the sides of the milking station and I touched my FIRST udders ever! It was very cool to watch the milking process and I started to help out in no time! The only uncool part? When one of my new friends peed on my hand – I was both grossed out and proud that I didn’t scream out loud! When all the sheep had been tested and milked, I went to take a shower. After lunch, we drove over to the cheese-making plant where I met Lucille, the jovial head cheesemaker at Moutonniere. Milking

That afternoon, I would get my first taste of cheese-making! I slipped into a white cotton uniform, big rubber boots, a hairnet and a plastic apron and joined Lucille and her assistant Martina in the cheese room. The room is clean and sterile, full of huge stainless steel vats, tables and contraptions. Lucille started to empty the pasteurized milk from the huge pasteurizing machine into the large, open vat in the middle of the room. I watched intently at she mixed up the rennet that would be added to the vat to help the milk to coagulate. I was shocked as to how little rennet was added to the large vat, which held dozens and dozens of litres of milk! We set a stopwatch and within an hour the liquid milk had become a gelatinous mass. The large vat of curd was cut into tiny pieces using mechanical and hand-held wires and then came the fun part. That afternoon we were making one of their famous cheeses, Fleur des Monts, and the curd needed to be transferred into the many waiting cylindrical moulds. The whey was strained out into other large vats, where it would later be turned into Ricotta, and we cut up the curds into big blocks and packed it into the moulds. It was hard work!! The moulds were then covered with a lid, tied up and put into a compression machine. I was fascinated by the squeaky little curds, and I couldn’t wait until they became whole cheeses! Next on the agenda was beginning the ricotta-making process. Lucille added salt and vinegar to the whey and left it to settle overnight. I was told that by the next morning, after the mixture was heated that ricotta would emerge out of the cloudy liquid. I couldn’t wait!Making Cheese

After all of the curds were used up, it was time to clean. The most important lesson that I learned that day was that cheesemaking seems to be about 35 percent making cheese, and 65 percent cleaning up!!! We cleaned, and scrubbed and sprayed stuff down for what seemed like hours. Finally, when all was spotless, we closed up shop for the night.

Phew!!! what a day! I headed back to the cottage on the farm and relaxed for the rest of the night so I would be ready to make Ricotta and Bleu de la Moutonniere the next day!

STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT!

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THE CAKE OPERA

I Know it’s not cheese but…..

I wanted to let you all know about a fantastic Cake Design shoppe that has emerged on a relatively low-key (occasionally desolate) block of Eglinton Ave W in Toronto. Not long ago, after a quick visit to the dentist, I walked past a small storefront and did a double take. The store was called Cake Opera and I had often walked past it while it was closed, but this time it was open. I took the opportunity and walked in. I was immediately taken aback by the amazing (and delicious) edible design I was met by. Cakes that can only be described as works of art lined shelves and tables and the open kitchen in the back was shielded by a display case full of cupcakes, cookies, and macarons.

I was greeted by a smiling woman who I started to hound for some information on the store. I turned out to be speaking to one of the owners of the business, Jessica Smith, who is the pastry chef. Jessica graciously took a moment to tell me that she runs the business with Alexandria Pellegrino (Artist and Pastry Chef, respectively). They started out as a custom cake design operation, running out of basements and houses before moving to their current spot on Eglinton W. Since its creation in 2007, Cake Opera has gained notoriety as a boutique cake design studio, equipped to meet every fanciful whim in wedding cake form. Cake Opera now specializes in cakes, confections and most uniquely, Operettas, which are carefully customized sweet tables that look too amazing to eat!

After speaking with Jessica, I wandered around the store, letting the amazing creations wash over me. I may be trained as a designer but making cakes like the ones in Cake Opera seem far beyond my creative capabilities! I snapped some photos and then headed to the counter to decide what to bring home. I chose to try the cupcakes in 2 flavours (which Jessica then doubled, so I could try 4 flavours), a macaron, and a piece of the delicate-looking nougat. I chose to try a Salted Milk Chocolate Caramel Macaron and I couldn’t even make it the 5 minutes to my house to break it out of the little plastic bag it was wrapped in. Without a doubt, it was the BEST macaron I have EVER had!! It was the perfect mix of sweet, salty, crunchy and chewy – delicious!!

Thankfully, I ate dinner that night with about 6 other people so I had help in eating my 4 cupcakes.

Delicious Macarons!

Delicious Macarons!

We cut each into 4 and took little pieces. We tried: The Lady Pompadour (vanilla cake, vanilla icing); The Queen of the Night (choco cake, chocoicing); The Madame Butterfly (coconut cake, coconut icing) and my favourite, a Red Velvet with rich red cake and cream cheese icing. They were the most creative cupcakes I’ve seen in, maybe ever, and they were delicious! The cake was fresh and light, but not so light that they fell apart. The icing was sweet buttercream that wasn’t too heavy. The garnishes were perfectly created and placed. Later that night I also took a bite of the traditional nougat, with honey, vanilla, almonds, and apricot.

I truly don’t think that you could go wrong with anything that comes from Cake Opera, and I can’t wait to walk back in and try everything else! I also wish the duo the best of luck and hope that they stick around in their secretive little space – at least until I need my own wedding cake!!

CHECK OUT THEIR LOVELY WEBSITE

www.cakeoperaco.com

Beautiful Cupcakes!

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The Great Canadian Cheese Festival: Media Event!

Georgs

Georgs, the (cheese)head of the Festival!

On Monday I had the pleasure of attending a media event for the upcoming Great Canadian Cheese Festival! I was very excited to be invited to Chef Jamie Kennedy’s Gilead Cafe to mix and mingle with other cheese-lovers of the area!! The event turned out to be a great collection of short speeches by people involved in both the Cheese Festival, such as Georgs (the big cheese of the festival, seen in the picture!), and renowned cheese educators such as Julia Rogers.

The small restaurant was full of people who loved cheese, and we had a chance to nibble on winners of the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix while sipping
Harwood Estate wine and Mill Street Beer! The main munchie event was when Georgs spoke about the Cooks and Curds cheese gala which will be taking place on the Saturday night of the festival. The Gala will feature a selection of FANTASTIC Canadian chefs who will be cooking tasting dishes using Canadia cheeses. One of the chefs taking part is Chef Jamie Kennedy – which is why we were at Gilead Cafe – to get a sneak peek of what to expect from the chef at the Festival. Out of the kitchen came white bowls filled with one of my favourite foods – POUTINE!! It was a bowl heaping with thin, crispy frites, braised oxtail, Black River Cheddar and thick gravy. It was a great way to end the event. If Chef Kennedy’s dish was a good indication of what is to come, I should definitely arrive at the Cooks and Curds Gala wearing elastic waistband pants!

Chef Jamie Kennedy's Poutine

Thanks again to the organizers of the Festval for the invitation to this event and I can’t wait until Picton in a few weeks!

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A Trip to a Farm

Good Morning Cheese Lovers!

In less than an hour I depart on a week-long journey to learn how to make cheese! I will be driving to Ste-Helene de Chester, QC to spend a few days hanging out with Alastair MacKenzie and his team, working on the farm and learning to make cheese! Today I’ll travel about 8 hours to the small town where Alastair has graciously invited me to come and be put to work for the week.

I can’t wait to report back with pictures and stories all about it!

Have a fantastic Monday and check back for my tales of the farm!

– Stacey

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And The Award Goes To…

Some of the Cheesy Finalists

WHEW, What a night!!! Last night was the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Gala at the Palais Royale where the winners of best cheeses of 2011 were announced. I was lucky enough to have been invited and it was a very swanky affair put on by the Dairy Farmers of Canada! Hosted by TV personalities Ben Mulroney and Anne-Marie Withenshaw, the event was like the Oscars for cheese. I was seated at a table for Media Invitees that was full of bloggers, tweeters, etc, where we could sit with our phones/cameras out and not be considered rude.

The Gala began with a cocktail hour where drinks and hors d’oeuvres created by students at George Brown were served. The awards followed, with tastings of the winning cheeses coming out to the table in groups after about 4-6 awards. In total, we tasted 17 cheeses – which is a lot.. even for me! The categories (there were 17 of them) ranged from Fresh Cheese to Farmhouse to Blue to Cheddar (lots of cheddar!) and it was amazing to be able to taste so many all at once! Each cheese course was served with pairings, such as veggies, nuts and eggs as well as red or white wine to wash the cheese down. CLICK HERE to see the list of all the winners!

One of our 3 cheese courses

And what about the cheese? I was very happy to munch on some of my favourites, which certainly got the recognition that they deserved!! Amongst all of the cheeses were a few that have always stood out to me as fantastic Canadian cheeses, such as the Grand Champion, Louis d’Or, as well as Avonlea Cheddar, Blue Elizabeth, 4-Year Perron Cheddar and Lankaaster! A new surprise was the flavourful and complex Mont Jacob and the rich, velvety Tre Stelle Mascarpone! The big winner of the night was Louis d’Or, which won in 3 different categories, as well as winning the overall prize! Keep your eyes peeled for a blog post all about Louis d’Or, coming soon!!

Overall, it was a great event with lots of cheese to eat, and lots of people to meet! I can’t wait to start putting up some of the winners on tasteofcheese.ca and getting them to people all over Canada. Thanks again to Beatrice for the invitation, I had a great time!

Cheers to Cheese!

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The 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix

Good Afternoon Cheese Lovers!

I have exciting news! Tonight is the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix Gala where the winners of the Best Cheeses of 2011 will be announced… and I’m lucky enough to have an invitation to attend! To a cheese-fiend like myself, that’s like finding one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets inside a chocolate bar!

Tonight, 250 people of the Canadian cheese world will gather at the Palais Royale to find out which cheeses have emerged from the pack to be honoured and admired. As someone who works with cheese every day, in a warehouse/office, its very exciting to get to go to a cheesy event! It should be a great opportunity to shmooze with cheesemakers, store owners and suppliers and meet some of the people who sell me cheese, and who I sell cheese to!

Want to know which cheeses are in the running? CLICK HERE to read the list of cheese finalists for 2011 developed by the Dairy Farmers of Canada. Which cheese am I cheering for? One of my all-time Canadian favourites, Louis d’Or is a finalist in 3 different categories. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it wins at least once!

I’ll be equipped with my iPhone to tweet in real time what’s going on! Tomorrow I’ll come back and let you all know how it went.

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Mystery Cheese!

How brave are you when it comes to cheese? I work at a job where I often hear people tell me, without certainty, that there are certain types of cheese that they absolutely hate! At Taste of Cheese we are often lucky enough to exhibit at trade shows where lots of cheese-lovers come to visit us. At these trade shows we often give away free cheese samples, but when people see a scary looking cheese (like a colourful blue, or an oozy stinker) out on the table, they won’t go near it – even though it’s free!!

My tastes in cheese have changed drastically from only a few years ago, when the only cheese on my radar was Parmigiano Reggiano and good cheddar. Now, I’ll eat any cheese put in front of me, at least once! I try to be adventurous and make sure that smell or appearance never keeps me from giving a cheese a little taste!!

I am getting ready to post on our website a new product that will test people’s sense of adventure – a Surprise Cheese Box! That means I get to select 3 cheeses that I think you’ll love, pack them up and send them right to you!! It is like sending a gift to someone, only the someone is you! For as much as I love cheese, I rarely wander into a cheese store and ask them to recommend cheese and then buy it without any question. I’m wondering how you feel about getting 3 “mystery” cheeses to try… would you let someone choose your cheese?

I am going away to Washington DC this weekend and my goal is to find a store that sells amazing American cheese, have their cheese monger give me some suggestions and try them without hesitation!! I can’t wait to report back with what I taste!!

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Cooking for Dummies? Not this Class!

Happy day-after-Valentine’s day! Are you all loved-out? I went to the gym last night and had a romantic dinner watching tv eating a Subway sandwich and then some cheese.

I am finally getting around to writing about a very interesting cooking class that I went to last Tuesday night that proved to me yet again that I am going to have lots of trouble going from my current cooking/baking capabilities to being even close to competent in the kitchen. It is a good thing I love cheese – I can usually get away with eating and serving it without putting it near any type of cooking appliance.

I had the pleasure of attending a cooking class/demonstration at Romagna Mia Ristorante, a great Italian restaurant on Front St. in Toronto. The class was taught by the delightful Chef Gabriele Paganelli who is as authentic an Italian chef as you will find in our big city! I arrived at the restaurant with my crew (aka my friend, my mom, a colleague and my sister) and we were immediately seated in a cute little alcove of the large restaurant and served sparkling red wine (which was so good!) and various types of charcuterie, which they make at the restaurant. I couldn’t help but fill up a bit on the fresh bread and meats! It was a very small group, just the 5 of us plus 3 or 4 others. Chef Paganelli arrived and warmly introduced himself to us all and then we were off!

The menu for the night consisted of: Real, hand-made Ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach; Quail stuffed with sausage and wrapped in guanciale; and for dessert, authentic canoli filled with sweet ricotta, cream and honey! Chef Paganelli began making the fillings for the ravioli first and then sort of jumped around from one recipe to another based on what needed to be done in order for it to be cooked in time. It turned out to be mostly a demonstration, and not really a hands-on class, which I was a little disappointed about. The chef did most of the work, though he had a helper, whose name we never learned (We referred to her as “Bubbie”) and he deftly moved from recipe to recipe, ensuring our courses would come out in the proper order. I did get to help out a little bit in creating the outer shell for the canoli. My friend and I took on the responsibility of rolling the circles of dough over the greased, metal tubes and pressing them together at the seam. Of course, I pressed too hard and so my shells didn’t expand as they should have when being fried in oil. SEE! I can’t even do what was essentially baking arts and crafts!! (I’m doomed!)

Bubbie and Chef My favourite part of the night – other than eating, of course – was watching Chef Paganelli (and “Bubbie”) make the actual pasta. The firm dough was fed through the hand-cranked roller until it was paper-thin. The long, uncut sheet of pasta looked heavenly!! I regret not being more forward and asking if I could go up and help make it!

After all three recipes were in progress, and some completed, we got to start eating! First, we ate the fresh ravioli which was unbelievable! If I could eat it every day I would certainly do so! The pasta was perfectly al dente, the filling was light and flavourful and the light butter and sage sauce did not overpower the humble flavours of the pasta. This was most certainly my favourite of the three courses. The second course, the stuffed quail wrapped in Guanciale and cooked in a pot of broth was tender but I missed the crispy, flavourful skin of a grilled or baked quail. Dessert was a rich, sweet and full experience! The canoli was filled with the Ricotta cream just before being served which ensured that the pastry shell was still perfectly crisp. The fresh flavours of the cheese filling lingered in my mouth long after I polished off my canoli!!

After many hours, many courses and many glasses of wine we were ready to waddle on home. It was definitely a meal I won’t soon forget! If you are interested in watching Chef Paganelli create, they are holding these cooking classes at Romagna Mia both tonight and next Tuesday night. It looks like only 1 spot is left for tonight – The menu is Garganelli, Grilled Seafood Platter, and Tiramisu. Next Tuesday you could be making Gnocchi, Piadina Proscuitto and Zabaione!! There are still 8 seats left for next week’s class. You can sign up HERE! Happy Cooking and Happy Tuesday

Making Fresh Ravioli

Sausage Stuffed Quail

Yummy, Crispy, Creamy Canoli!

 

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