Dreaming of Christmas! 
 Buon Natale , Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you and yours from all of us at Cooking Vacations. 
Our kitchen is cozy and warm as we prepare bundles of recipes for Santo Stefano on December 26. Oversized platters of biscotti, zeppole , struffoli, Christmas cakes, and chocolate truffles have been made, glazed and wrapped!   Soon we’ll be rolling out the home-made pasta and ravioli, and baking and flash-frying calamari, alici , vongole and baccalà.  Good food and wine on the table with family and friends together is the very best gift of all. 
Congratulations to Cooking Vacations' Gemma!
In addition to celebrating Christmas and New Year, we are celebrating Germaine Stafford’s (best known as Gemma) newly released book, The Curious Kilt, A Loch Ness Mystery, on Amazon . Gemma is Scotish, has lived in Italy for over 20 years and is part of the team at Cooking Vacations where she works her magic on guests’ reservations, recipe writing and test kitchen cooking, baking and tasting. 

When she is not working, gardening, or caring for her better half, precious dogs and kitties, she is writing. She just returned from Scotland where she and her Aunt Gerry co-wrote their first book. This cozy mystery is set on the banks of Loch Ness in Scotland and also includes their delicious Scottish recipes. For a copy of the recipes from the book, Subscribe to Jemima Wallace's newsletter.

Grazie Mille!
Thanks to all our guests, those who visited for the first time and also for those guests who return each year. We are thrilled guests arrived as strangers and departed as fun-loving foodie friends. Most of all, we thank you for cooking, baking, sipping and swirling with us and hope your recipes will be used for the holidays! Peace on Earth!
Buon Natale~
 Traveling through Italy at Christmas time is truly one of the most uplifting experiences you can have. No matter where you are, tiny villages and bustling towns are decorated and lit up to celebrate the festive season, some with picture-perfect Christmas trees in the main piazza decked with lights and glitter. Then, there’s also the presepe, nativity scenes, complete with mangers, donkeys and wise men, and in some instances, there are even real people playing out the roles. Vias and piazzas are filled with artisans and their hand-crafted gifts (ceramics, honey, leather goods – to name a few), and jolly vendors selling roasted chestnuts in brown paper cones. Stroll along, admire the magic or slip into a cozy wine bar for some vin brulé, warm spiced wine, to keep everyone cheerful and cozy.  

And of course, the windows of the pasticcerie are a true Aladdin’s cave of all that is sweet and good – mountains of chocolate-fig panforte next to trays of snowy white ricciarelli and logs of Christmas torrone . In the north you’ll find pandoro and panettone, while further south you’ll find everything from mounds of struffoli and susamielli to serpentoni di Natale – Christmas snakes - and Sicilian cassatas. And behind every sweets, there is often a story, like the one for buttery panettone. 
Panettone is a sweet Christmas bread that was first created in Milan in a small bakery for love. Noble man, Ugheto Atellani, had fallen in love with the poor baker’s daughter, Adalgisa. In order to win her love, he disguised himself as a peasant and offered to work in the bakery. With his wealth, he added lots of butter and candied fruit to the recipe and before you knew it, the simple Medieval bread became a hit. Word of mouth spread, and soon there was a line around the small bakery for panettone. Eventually the baker, Ugheto, confessed what he had done, asked for Adalgisa’s hand in marriage and the couple set their engagement. The duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, arranged the wedding and even Leonardo da Vinci attended. Panettone was served as the wedding cake and the couple lived happily ever after.

Table Talk
This month we travel to Milan, Tuscany, Siena, Naples and beyond, sharing traditional sweets and Old World Christmas cookie recipes from little ole nonnas and grand chefs. We've enjoyed testing each recipe and have, ahem, gained a few pounds along the way - but our Italian Christmas cookies and desserts are the best gift you can give to one and all.  
It’s easy to get caught up in the commercial aspect of Christmas and we forget that oftentimes a handmade memento or time spent together brings more joy than a shop-bought gift. The Italians seem to understand this well, and dedicate the weeks running up to Christmas dreaming up personalized gifts for friends and family, and often these gifts are created in the kitchen. It may be a small bottle of fennel or bay leaf liqueur with a handwritten label, dried figs stuffed with almonds and chocolate, Prosecco truffles or a box of homemade biscotti or cantucci .
At Cooking Vacations we still get a kick from the simple things in life and nothing could please us more than a gift made with love. We hope the recipes that follow inspire you to head into the kitchen and cook up a sweet gift for your family and loved ones. 
Celebrate Christmas
& New Year In Italy
We Are Cooking Up A Storm For
Christmas and New Year

Our New Year’s trip around Italy takes us to Tuscany, the Roman countryside and the Amalfi Coast. What better way to start 2019?

Celebrate New Year with Francesco & Family in Tuscany
Join Fabrizio at the family estate, a beautiful farmhouse villa located in the heart of the Tuscan countryside. The Tuscan cooking classes, held in the villa’s private kitchen, feature typical recipes from the Florence area under the direction of Chef Melina. She will lead you through making Tuscan antipasto, pasta, main course and dessert. Melina’s energetic personality, along with her talented cooking skills make this class our best seller for Tuscany. The entire staff, along with Fabrizio and his family, welcome you for a fun-filled cooking experience in the heart of Chianti!

Ring in the New Year with Signor Carlo Countryside Rome
Join us in a hidden part of Italy, South of Rome, in a hilltop town with your hosts Chef Stella and Signore Carlo. The village was home to my great grandfather, Costanzo who left Italy and sailed to New York for a new life. We invite you to our kitchen here to share our traditions with our family. In the heart of the Ciociaria Region, this charming Medieval town is known for their famous cheese Marzolina, Porcini mushrooms, artisan made salami, olive oil, and hearty foods of the land.

New Year with Irma on the Amalfi Coast
Join Irma La Dolce and her family for a fun week in her Christmas Kitchen cooking, baking and celebrating the holiday season.

Recipes From Our Kitchen

Panettone is a typical Christmastime sweet from Milan, and as we mentioned above, there’s a really sweet story behind its inception.

This Moscato d’Asti offers up aromas of fresh citrus fruits, dried and candied fruits as well as honey. Vivacious and well-balanced, its good acidity makes it eminently drinkable. Enjoy with panettone and all manner of dry pastries, tarts and dried fruits.
~ Christmas Fried Dough

All over Italy, different versions of these zeppole will be fried up and enjoyed at Christmas, with every family guarding their own secret recipe. Some doughs are made with just flour, yeast and water, others are enriched with butter and eggs. Some are flavored with aniseed or cinnamon, and these ones have grated citrus zest. However you make them, they’re always a favorite!

While you could pair various types of passito or vin santo with these zeppole, this award-winning Prosecco would certainly do the job just as well. With its intense perfume offering aromatic notes of apple, pineapple, peach and even some flowers, this Prosecco is classic party fare!
Biscotti di Natale
~ Christmas Cookies

These Christmas cookies are deliciously light and can be left plain or cut into different festive shapes and decorated as desired.

A good passito di Pantelleria will go well with many types of sweets and desserts, but we like it especially with cookies and biscotti. Ben Ryè offers a rich bouquet with notes of apricots and candied orange peel. Very fresh and intense on the palate, the sweetness followed by a long and satisfying persistence. Also good with cheeses and artisan chocolate.
~ Christmas Fried Dough In Honey

It is said that the Greeks brought struffoli to the Gulf of Naples back in the times of the Siren Parthenope, and still today, they are the emblem of a true Neapolitan Christmas. In the 1600’s, the nuns in Naples offered out them as small Christmas gifts to the people, but this delicious sweet soon became known throughout the south and center of Italy .

Golden yellow in color, this passito from Campania offers up notes of dried apricots and white flowers. Silky soft on the palate, this wine nevertheless has a good dose of acidity and minerality. The finish is persistent and recalls candied citrus fruits, cinnamon and white peach. Great with all manner of Christmas pastries.
~ Christmas Spicy Cake fromSiena

The first documentation of this sweet dates back to the year 1000 when it was made, not by bakers, but by the spice merchants who had access to the then very exclusive ingredients. (The cocoa was clearly a later addition.) As such, it was once a sweet to be enjoyed only by the wealthiest families. Sliced thinly, this specialty from Siena is a perfect accompaniment to small cups of potent black espresso or a glass of vin santo .

A great dessert wine from the countryside north of Siena, this vin santo is amber in colour, with notes of almond, honey and spices. It is nevertheless fresh on the palate and has a measured sweetness that makes it the perfect accompaniment to this rich panforte and even some cheeses.
With Love From Italy
Handcrafted Luxury Leather Bags
Cuoiofficine is the brainchild of two Florentine brothers, Timothy and Tommaso Sabatini, who decided to use their combined experience in both leather techniques and the family restaurant business to create high quality, one-of-a-kind artisan leather goods. Fusing Timothy’s artisan background with Tommaso’s penchant for presentation, the brothers have brought an innovative artistic approach to age-old leather techniques. The result? Fabulous leather bags in myriad styles and colors – the perfect Christmas gift!

Bold & Beautiful Jewelry
Rossana Fani is an award-winning Florentine designer who started out in graphic arts , creating brand labels in both the fashion and home furnishing industries. In her latest project, Rossana discovers the versatility and preciousness of leather , combined in an unusual way with resin beads or metal chains. Her collection uses materials that are exclusively made in Italy , and all production takes place in Italy too. Her statement pieces are bright, bold and colorful, and add a polished touch to any outfit.
Venetian Glass Decorations

Pearly white, Santa Claus red and Christmas tree green, these exquisite Murano Glass Christmas tree ornaments and figurines are crafted in much the same way as centuries ago and continue to impress the world with the unmatched beauty and opulence that instantly conjure up visions of Christmas-time in Venice. Every tree deserves one!

Cooking Vacations
Gift Certificate

What better gift or stocking stuffer than a Cooking Vacations Gift Certificate that the receiver can spend however they like? Available in increments of $50, certificates can be put towards Cooking Vacations programs all over Italy, for one-day classes or week-long programs, from Milan to Palermo. So, make the cook in your family happy this Christmas!

Italy On A Plate
Flavors Of The Season
By Germaine Stafford  
Germaine continues her roundup of what's happening in the culinary world in Italy and gives you her list of seasonal foods for winter.
What's in Season?
Sea Bass
Red cabbage

Cavolo Nero & Kale
Pumpkin Cranberries
Dining in Florence

V ia dell’Oriuolo 3/r, 50123 Florence
Reservations ~ +39 055 24 56 26

If you’re lucky enough to be staying in Florence over the holiday season, make sure to make time to eat at this hidden gem of a restaurant. In the center of town, just off the tourist path, is San Michele all’Arco who serves up traditional Florentine dishes in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Ingredients are sourced almost exclusively from their countryside property just outside Florence where the proprietors make their own wine, award-winning olive oil, honey, raise Cinta Senese pigs in a semi-wild state, and have a sizeable organic vegetable garden that supplies the restaurant with fruit and vegetables year round.

The restaurant’s philosophy is to serve simple, traditional dishes with top quality ingredients, so you’ll find favorites such as porcini mushroom soup with toasted bread with sesame seeds, pumpkin risotto with Muffone blue cheese, homemade fettuccini with radicchio and taggiasche olives, pennette pasta with Cinta Senese bacon and Chianti or even tortelli pasta stuffed with potatoes and ragù of Chianina beef. For a main dish you might try the ‘ stracotto’ beef with sautéed chicory, meatballs in tomato sauce with mini chickpeas, or you may just prefer to opt for a fabulous Florentine steak, perfectly cooked and accompanied by local piattellini beans dressed in olive oil. Finish with one of the daily offerings of sweets, be it torta della nonna , apple cake, chocolate mousse, or of course, traditional cantucci served with a glass of vin santo. For a table over the festive period, booking is advised.

Book Corner

The Curious Kilt
Jemima Wallace
(Germaine Stafford and Gerry Cameron!)

The Curious Kilt is a cozy mystery set on the banks of Loch Ness in Scotland. Together, this aunt and niece team write as Jemima Wallace, and anyone looking forward to curling up with a light-hearted read full of food, fun and delicious Scottish recipes might want to indulge. This is the story of what happens when you mix a dead body, imperious womanhood, a nostalgic Scottish setting and a well-developed sense of the ridiculous - armchair travel at its best!

For a free copy of the recipes from the book, just click below: 

Cooking With Nonna:
A Year of Italian Holidays
Rossella Rago

We think everyone should have an Italian nonna, but if you don’t have one, then this book is the next best thing. Many of author Rossella Rago’s most precious memories are centered around celebration meals at her nonna’s table, and she tells the stories of Christmases past and present where extended family cram into her nonna’s basement kitchen around assorted tables that snake across the floor, and where the most important thing is the feeling of family meeting and eating together. While the book doesn’t cover just Christmas and New Year, you will find plenty of festive offerings for the holiday season, like fried baccalà, savoury fritters with cinnamon and cloves, seven fishes seafood salad and cotechino sausage with lentils. To finish on a sweet note, why not try Calabrese honey balls, almond spice cookies with chocolate (mostaccioli), Sicilian fig cookies or even a Pandoro Christmas tree cake. But just as Rossella says, wherever you are, whatever you eat, it’s family that is the real heart of Christmas.