Holiday family celebration

This past weekend was wonderful in so many ways that I am thankful for. My husband, youngest son and I traveled back home to celebrate Easter with both sides of our family. The only negative was that my oldest son couldn’t make it home but we will see him next month.  We did talk daily though so that helped.

The weather was perfect, not too hot and not cold! We were able to wear shorts and only needed a light jacket at night, a far different scenario than home where it was 23° when I woke up this am, and still have to wear a winter coat.

Because I had so much to do in a short amount of time I had a game plan in place. The first thing was to get the shopping done. I always cook for my husband’s side of the family; and because we were going to visit with my family in the afternoon; I knew I would have to pre-cook the ham and roast the day before.  There were only going to be 7 for dinner but when we sat down to eat there were 12 of us. No problem because there is always way too much food. In addition to the ham and roast I made sweet potatoes,  yams, squash,  green beans, broccoli and cauliflower with carrots, corn and mashed potatoes.  As you can see we do like vegetables! Dessert was an egg shaped chocolate cake with a variety of ice cream.

On my side of the family everyone brought a dish to pass. Because we traveled early and with a big shedding dog, I brought the Tom Tucker mint gingerale.  It was a request and brought back so many memories of our Sunday dinners at our grandparents.

Us grandkids are now the “old” ones. Our kids are grown now and some have kids of their own. But it was a beautiful time. The food was phenomenal.  My one cousin made pasta,  sauce,  meatballs and braciole-just like we had at grandma’s. My sister brought a ham and asparagus with a lemon sauce. One cousin brought his homebrew ale, and another made cream of asparagus soup. There was homemade bread with bruchetta,  and assorted other appetizers. 

But the best part of the weekend was getting to spend time with the family.  It was the first time most of us were together in the last 3 years. After the rough year I’ve had I really needed this time with my family. We reminisced, laughed and had a great time. Pictures were taken and plans made to do this again soon.

The desserts were homemade beauties. My cousin’s daughter made gourmet cupcakes ( carrot, s’ more, chocolate caramel,  lemon berry and several other flavors), all were divine. My sister made a lemon ricotta cake that was heavenly,  and my cousin who hosted made strawberry shortcake with whipped cream.  If anyone walked away hungry it was their own fault!

Whenever meals are made to be shared with others we all try to have vegetarian and regular items so nobody is excluded.

We had 20 at my cousin’s that afternoon and it was a beautiful time. Good food, family and memories. That is the best. These are the times we carry with us forever.  We carry on the tradition our grandparents and parents started hoping our children will continue on also.

Needless to say when we got back to my sister in law’s house I had to get the ham in the oven and roast on. I had the meal on the table 2 1/2 hours later. It was a busy exhausting day and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

These special times we get to share with our children and families are carried through our lives.  They bring us joy and happiness and provide a strong binding bond that lasts a lifetime.

Please feel free to comment.  Feedback is always appreciated.  Hope all of you had a wonderful week and look forward to the next time.

Mangia  and enjoy!

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New take on an old recipe-ratatouille

My family got tired of having salmon on Fridays,  so I decided to go a different route.  With Easter being this weekend I know we will be eating more food and deserts we don’t usually eat, so I’m trying to go light and healthy leading up to it. I hope you try and enjoy my take on an old meal.

Ratatouille
————–
1 lb extra firm tofu
1eggplant, peeled and chunked
2 zucchini,  cut in half and chunked
1onion diced
1stalk celery diced
2cloves garlic,  diced
1 lb asparagus,  cut bite size
10 ounces mushrooms, slice
1 red pepper diced
1 yellow pepper diced
15 ounce can diced tomatoes
6 ounces tomato paste
Salt and pepper
2sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 cup fresh basil and cilantro
1 1/2 tbsp oregano
Olive oil
Fresh grated Perino romana cheese
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Crepe
——–
1cup flour
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
1/2cup milk
1/2 cup club soda
3tbs melted butter +2 tbs more

Place flour and salt in bowl. Make a well and add rest of ingredients except butter. Stir till mixed well. Batter should be thin, add more milk as needed.
Add butter, stir, then let rest at least 30 minutes.

Heat small skillet.  Add butter to coat.
Place 2 ounces batter, tilting to coat skillet. When sides start to curl up away from pan; flip and cook additional minute.
Remove from pan to plate.
Repeat to cook rest of batter.
Use parchment paper to separate crepes.
___________________________________

Place olive oil in 12inch skillet to coat.
Heat skillet, add eggplant,  peppers, celery and onion. Sauteed 5 minutes.
Add diced tomatoes and paste. Stir and cook about 7 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients except for fresh herbs.
Cover and cook for about 15 minutes.
Add herbs cook 1 minute.
Remove from heat and serve.

I made crepes and served it in the crepe with sauce and cheese on top.

Scoop ratatouille into crepe.  Wrap, add sauce and cheese on top.

Choices we make

Everyday we have to make choices. Like I still tell my children, you always have choices. You my not like them but you do get to choose and pay the consequences for the choice you pick. This goes for everything in our lives, be it the food we choose to consume to the choices we make in life, love and the friends we have, and the attitude we face life with. I’m working on being more optimistic. Between the health issues I’ve had and the harsh brutal winter, I let myself get down. I don’t like myself when I’m like this- so I’m actively changing my outlook. It’s going pretty well. I really didn’t and don’t like how I was treating my family. I was nitpicking and obsessing over things that really weren’t important. I joined a gym to get active and fit again. I’m feeling better and can blow off steam. Meeting new people and getting to socialize helps my mental outlook. Exhausting myself physically is helping me get my sleep cycle back which in turn is making me have a better outlook. Things are looking up. The weather is improving. I bought some fresh herb pots for my windowsill so now I use fresh cilantro, basil, arugala and rosemary now. Looking for more. I can’t wait to get out to the garden and start. I’m hoping to see the tulip and daffodils soon.

This has been a busy week, we’ve been spring cleaning, getting rid of old things, and I’ve been experimenting with different recipes. I love to tweak recipes I come across. As I’ve said before, we like spices and some heat, so most food gets an added shot of spices and hot peppers of some sort. The other day I needed a quick meal, I had about a pound of sirloin strips for fajitas, but did’t feel like making them so I created my own recipe.

1 lb sirloin strips cut into bite size pieces, olive oil
1 lb asparagus cut into bite size pieces, 2 garlic cloves chopped finely
1 medium onion chopped fine, salt and pepper
worchestershire to taste, basil
10 ounces mushrooms slices, smoked paprika
cayenne(optional), parsley for topping

make rice for 2- 4 servings

I sauted the strips in the olive oil, added garlic and onion for about 3 minutes, add asparagus, mushrooms and the spices. Cook for about 5-7 minutes. Don’t overcook or the veggies will be soggy! Done! Serve over a bed of rice. What a quick, easy and healthy meal. You start it and you’ll be eating inside of 30 minutes. Again, I really like 1 dish meals. I got tired of the meat, veggie and carb dinners from the winter. Now I can’t wait to get grilling again. Once the nice weather comes, if I can’t grill it I don’t cook it. My family prefers it that way too. The house bakes in the spring and summer, even if it’s just the burners on, because the sun shines right into the kitchen windows from around 4pm to sundown.

To give us more options for in between meals; in addition to the celery, carrots, peppers and cukes, I’ve been keeping whole wheat mini pitas and hummus on hand and hard boiled eggs. Both provide a lot of protein which helps keep the belly full. For fruit I’ve been keeping cantelope on hand along with grapes and now strawberries are starting to go on sale.

I hope everyone is enjoying the weather and taking care of themselves. Hope you enjoy the recipe and try it. Let me know please. Feedback is always appreciated and if you enjoy this please share it with others. Until next time. Mangia20140316_13355220140316_132254

healthy living

We got a quick tease of spring weather the other day! What a tease, it was followed by freezing rain, ice and about 9 inches of snow!

That’s alright, I know by June(I hope) nice weather will be here. Now that the calendar has turned to April, it got me thinking about healthier living. I don;t know about you, but during the winter months I hibernate. Due to many circumstances, I didn’t get out much, and because the weather was so brutal my cooking was heavier, heartier fare. Great for keeping you warm and meat on your bones but not so good for the rest of you.

 

I’m so excited for spring to get here. I can’t wait for my herbs to start growing and to get my garden started! There is nothing like going out and picking just what you need for the meal of the day. If I lived by the Strip district in Pittsburgh, or anywhere where the have fresh meat, produce, cheese and other products; I would shop everyday like that. During all the seasons but winter My meals are heavy on the veggies and fruits, a decent amount of protein, and lighter on the grains. I use my grill for just about everything. I remember my grandpa going to the market everyday. Grandma stayed home and rarely shopped- that was grandpa’s job and he controlled the money. (Being and Italian man- I thing grandpa liked the looking at women, as much or more, than the shopping!) When I stayed with them grandpa would sometimes send me to shop. Along the way I would pick up a glass bottle or 2 of coca-cola or pepsi. Those bottles were worth 2 cents back then. That would get you 2 handfuls of penny candy in a little brown bag. I learned quickly not to use grandpa’s money on candy or anything else. He knew to the penny what things cost and how much change he should get back! 

 

In the summer we didn’t have to buy hardly any vegetables because my grandparents front and back yard was wall to wall gardens. I loved to help with the garden and sneak fresh tomatoes, beans and anything else I could get a hold of. Sometimes I got hosed (by accident) by grandpa. Rather than yell at me and tell me to get out of the garden, he would get the hose and tell grandma he was going to water the garden. I could see him chuckling to himself but I would just crouch down, hide and just get watered.

 

I’ve been getting ready for spring by working out at home and I joined a gym to participate in some classes with other people. It helps to motivate me seeing others keep going when I’m ready to quit. I need that sometimes! I thought for sure my body would be in pain after my first boot camp, surprisingly it wasn’t. I must be doing something right this year! What a relief. Now I’m waiting for the weather so I can get out for my long walks. They really help me physically, but more importantly- mentally.

 

So on to the food. Contrary to what many think, Italian and Meditaranean food goes very heavy on the vegetables. They also have a long life expectancy because of their diet and lifestyle. I’ve been trying to emulate that lifestyle the past few years. Jay and I have never been healthier. We get out for and hour or so and go hiking and running with the dog. We really enjoy the outdoors. We both work out and really strive to stay physical.  I try to always keep celery, carrots, peppers and cucumbers cut up and ready for snacking. Instead of reaching for crap we reach for good and refreshing food. I like to make or buy hummus to use as a dip or spread. Hummus is a really easy food to make. It’s  just chickpeas with olive oil, garlic, lemon and other spices. The beauty of it is the combinations of flavors you can get. Hummus is low calorie and extremely healthy for you. Try it on a sandwich in place of mayo or whatever spread you use. We also like to make wraps with hummus. Just spread it on a wrap and add your lettuce, tomato, cukes or whatever to it. Try it you’ll like it!

 

Taboule  and couscous are some other foods that are light and healthy for you. These Eastern foods are very tasty and go well with most dishes. These two are grains that are good substitutes for rice, noodles or potatoes. Variety adds to the spice of life! Again, they are simple to make and you can by prepackaged so it’s ready to eat in 15 to 20 minutes. It’s all about ease and convenience these days. With schedules being what they are, these foods and ready to go at any time and can be refrigerated for days to use at ease. But be prepared- they probably won’t last 48 hours before they’re gone! I prefer that anyway. I really don’t care for leftovers unless I’ve planned the meal and have need for the leftovers.

 

I love to do stir-fries too. What’s great about a stir-fry is that your imagination is your only limitation. You can throw any kind of combination into a stir-fry and try out different spices and herbs to see what you like. If I’m going eastern, I use seseme oil and hot chili oils as the base. If I;m going more Italian or American I stick to olive oil or for a different kick try grapeseed oi. Go very light on the oil, just to coat the pan to keep for from sticking. Use medium high heat and keep stirring. You don’t walk away from the pan or you’ll scorch the food. If your going to use a meat, dice and cook that first. Remove from the pan and move on to the food that will take the longest to fry. You don’t want to cook the vegetables all the way. You want some snap and crunch to them. Experiment to see what turns you on. 

 

Please let me know what you think. Feedback is always appreciated. If there is a topic or recipe you’d like me to cover just drop me  a line.

Stay healthy. Mangia!ImageImageImage

Springtime?

So we’re heading into April, and like a good portion of the country, it’s still winter!  Everywhere I go and everyone I talk to feels the same way. What did I do to deserve this. I’ve got cabin fever. I feel like a spoiled brat, it’s become personal.  Mother nature has a problem with me. I’m not sure what I did,  but I ticked her off.

The more I try to avoid the weather forecasts,  the more I hear,  and it’s not good. They tell us it’s going to be 12° out, brrr! Then they have to tell us it’ll feel like-2 with the wind chill. Really? Really?  C’mon people!  Must they do this to us? We get it, it’s freaking cold. Must they make it more difficult,  painful for us. Is this some sick joke I don’t get?

Even my son, who likes the cold, asked me when it would end. Like I control the weather. It’s to the point where you just can’t warm up. This cold weather just permeates everything.  It seeps into your bones,  the ground and your soul. No matter how I dress I shiver. I’ll get in my van (after I’ve heated it) and drive around with the heat blasting to get warm!

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Mid March 2014

Making Bread

024There is nothing like kneading dough. It’s like being a kid again. You get to play with your food and create a wonderful treat. The aroma of fresh baking bread can’t help but put a smile on your face.

My best friend wanted to try making bread. She asked for my recipe. I told her she she had to come over and watch and learn. That’s how I learned. Grandma didn’t have a written recipe, it went by feel and texture. Now you have to understand that everything Betty does has to be fast. She likes things done 5 minutes ago! So, when we started to make the bread, knead it and then I told her it had to rest for a while then we’d repeat this process 2 more times- I thought she would pass out! She thought I was kidding. Although she loves my bread and the end result, she doesn’t have the patience for it. She got a bread machine! She admits it isn’t as good, but she said she’d never spend the time making it herself, although she comes over to keep me company and assist when needed. (I really think she comes for my sparkling personality. Lol.)

First thing Saturday-after coffee of course, I started my yeast to incorporate into the flour. Because my kitchen is small and I have a huge dog and 2 cats I make my dough in bowls. This way I contain the mess and keep animals and hair out of it. I love my pets, but supposedly spring is here, and they are starting to shed the winter coats. It seems like no matter how much I brush them out the hair just keeps on coming! After the yeast has risen I add it in the center of my flour and start working it together with water till it all binds. Then the kneading begins. I find if I coat the bowl and my hands with olive oil the flour won’t stick much. If you want a heartier loaf, add an egg into the mixture. You’ll want to knead the dough for about 7-10 minutes, cover it and let it double in size. Then you want to punch it down and re-knead the dough. I do this twice. Now it’s time to place your dough into the loaf pans or bun pans. I use a sharp knife to slice off the dough I need. Knead the piece of dough then place in you pan, cover and let it rise. Make sure to coat your pans.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or golden brown. I tap my loaf to ensure its done. It will have a hollow sound to it.

Once my bread is out of the oven the race is on. My family loves it right out of the oven. I make them wait til they cool down and I finish dinner. But oh how good is fresh piping hot bread with butter on it! I’m salivating as I write this. Needless to say, you can never make enough. They would each eat a loaf, so I only put 1 out.

When my kids were little they would help. By the time we were done everything and everyone was white. It was a lot of fun. I remember going to grandma’s, that’s where I learned to make bread, pasta, ravioli, etc. All my italian recipes started with my grandparents. Some I’ve adapted over the years and created different and healthier fare, but some things you don’t mess with. One thing that is nice now is the convenience of ingredients. It doesn’t have to be so labor intensive, and with our lives being so busy, it makes it a lot quicker to get food to the table.

the kitchen table

homemade french onion soup

homemade french onion soup

In some homes the living room is the focal point for families, not so in Italian homes. The kitchen table is where all the action is. Meals get planned,  made and eaten there; world crises resolved; love problems discussed and everyday problems talked over and solved. The kitchen is my solace.

I start the day with a fresh pot of coffee,  and once the weather warms up, friends drop by for an early coffee and talk. It brings back memories of my grandparents house. I remember waking up to the aroma of Italian coffee and hearing my grandparents talking with the neighbors. That is something I miss. My grandparents lived in a community of Italian immigrants. Everybody knew their neighbors.  We visited and spent time on each others porches.  There was the walk to the corner store,  made daily to pick up meat or milk or cheese. After dinner we took a walk to visit with others. It was nice and safe for kids. Everybody watched out for you. The adults knew you and if you did something, your family knew before you got back. But you never worried,  we knew we were safe and that someone was always watching.

It would be nice to go back to those days.I think it would be wonderful to know all my neighbors and to walk and sit awhile to visit. But we all lead such hectic busy lives,  with erratic schedules, we hardly see anyone unless they’re coming or going.

Remember going for the day and being told be home when the street lights come on?  Our parents didn’t grill us over who, what, where or why we were going. We just went on foot or bike for the day to play.

Now picture our kids and the ones growing up now. Do you let them take off on their bikes and just go? Hell no. We want to know where they’re going, who with and when they’ll get there. Then we either follow them,  ride over with them or have them call as soon as they get there. It’s so wrong but necessary..

An additional bonus of getting to know your neighbors is developing new friendships and socializing.  In this day and age it seems everyone goes about their day alone. I think it’s healthier to be with other people.  I would really like to hear what you think about this.

Now as promised,  my take on French onion soup. 

I use 1 huge onion per person. So for 4 servings. 

Slice 4 onions into 1/4 inch slice

Preheat heavy pan with 2 Tbsp butter and 

1/4 cup olive oil. Medium high heat. 

Finely dice 2 garlic gloves. 

Add onions and garlic to pan. Add Tbsp of sugar. 

Caramelize the onions. They’ll turn golden brown. 

Add 1/4 cup red cooking wine. That will deglaze the pot and add flavor.

2 Tbsp Worcester sauce

Salt and course black pepper to taste

Add 6 cups beef stock ( can use vegetable) for best flavor.

Simmer 15 minutes.

Place soup into dishes that can go into the broiler.

I place them on a foiled lined baking sheet for easy cleanup. 

Top each bowl with a slice (or cubed) of thick bread.

Top with cheese of choice. I use mozzarella with some parmesan.  Sometimes provolone. 

Place in broiler for 5 minutes.

Finite!

You’ll find it was worth the time to make. Caramelizing the onions seems to take forever,  but it is the secret to creating a fantastic onion soup.

Let me know how yours turns out.

 

 

 

 

I wanted to get this out before I forget.
Is it just me, I seem to get brain freezes. I start to do something then stop and can’t recall what the hell I was going to do. I’ll stop and start laughing at myself. Must keep a sense of humor! Anyway- my next post will be back to my Italian ways. I decided to make homemade italian bread, fresh raviolis, my grandma’s sauce and braciole. My husband woke up at 7am to the delicious aromas brewing in the kitchen. I decided to do this when I heard the forcast-yuk. Knew it would heat up the house and smell wonderful. Again. it brings back the memories. Love it!
Please feel free to contact me- follow me- and give me feedback. Mangia

march madness

20140316_14004720140316_13225420140316_13420320140316_140047March madness is usually a great time of year for me. It means spring is on its way and my mindset totally changes. Not this year! This long harsh winter has taken a toll on me. If it was just the weather I probably could’ve handled it, but I’ve had health issues, we had weather damage to the house(still not resolved with insurance), and a multitude of other problems. When it rains it pours. I’m sure most of you know what I’m talking about. The hits just keep on coming, but we endure and know better days are coming.

March madness caused me to shake up my cooking. I was tired of the usual. So on Sunday I made a turkey breast. Keeping it Italian- I did an olive oil rub infused with garlic, pepper, basil. tarragon. and cayenne. The breast came out golden brown and oh so tender. The smells were fantastic throughout the house. I also made herbed homemade stuffing and gravy for my hubby. Fresh garlicky green beans and corn for vegetables. The start of the meal was fresh strawberries, watermelon and cantelope. It was so refreshing. By this time of the year we are so tired of apples, oranges and bananas that I break down and get some melons and berries. Gets me so excited for the upcoming season.

I made sure I made a big enough breast so there’s plenty for another meal. Turkey clubs and a fresh coleslaw for Wednesday. With Monday being St. Patrick’s Day my family expected the traditional corned beef, cabbage, carrots and potatoes. I delivered, and made sure to have enough corned beef leftover for reubens on Tuesday. Two days out of the year they get corned beef. Thursday will be a steak dinner and Friday salmon. Easy week, but I’m looking forward to making homemade pasta and bread this weekend!

I like to shake up our meals and I create and try out alot of different recipes on the family. Luckily they are easy to please and rarely do they not like what I make. In fact my son told me- mom, I’m just so glad that you cook for me. Made my heart melt, and made me feel so good. I do create many one pot meals because of the schedules the family has. It makes it very easy to serve everyone at whatever time they need without the food drying up. The more elaborate meals are saved for when I know everyone will be at the table at the same time.

Eating together is such an important part of family life. Growing up it was traditional to eat together as a family. When Jay and I started our family, we decided to carry on the tradition. It was important to both of us. It was and still is a way to connect. You find out what’s going on in everyones life; talk sports, politics or whatever may be on their mind. The dinner table is a protective nesting area where your kids can feel safe and open up about anything. Through the years many a problem was resolved at the dinner table.

Even if you can’t sit down everyday, try to set aside at least a couple days a week to spend together. It’s march madness. why not start now?

Until we talk again. Mangia, stay safe and healthy.