Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Homemade Crayon Rolls

Each year at Christmas we buy and make gifts to put under the tree....but the gift giving doesn't stop on Dec 25th!!

After all, there are 12 days of Christmas and Epiphany wraps up the gift season for us. As goes the Italian tradition, La Befana comes and brings the children goodies in their shoes on January 6th. In our family, we also make small handmade gifts for each other! Usually I will pick one craft project and make a mass produce them for all the kiddos in the family (mine plus nieces and nephews!) This year in my little factory (a.k.a. my kitchen table) I was sewing up a storm with these awesome crayon rolls.

Now, let me warn you that I do not sew very well. I hate patterns and I just can't follow directions!! I can, however, sew a straight line and that is pretty much all you need to know how to do for this project. I got ideas from a tutorial here and then pretty much ignored the directions, channeled Frank Sinatra and did it my way. What can I say, I'm Italian....

I cut these peices of fabric
1.) 16 1/2 inches by 5 inches
2.) 16 1/2 inches by 5 inches
3.) 16 1/2 inches by 6 inches, then folded in half longways
4.) FUSEABLE INTERFACING: 16 1/2 by 5

Then I ironed the interfacing to fabric piece #1. Then I took the folded fabric piece #3 and placed in on top of piece #1.

I lined up the bottoms, so that the folded piece became the pocket. Then I starting sewing vertical lines, starting 1 1/2 inches from the end. Then every 1 inch after that until I got to the other end. These made up the crayon slots.

Then I sewed the two fabrics together (wrong sidees together) flipped it inside out and top stitched around the whole thing!! You can add a button or shoe laces to wrap it up, but the tutorial will be MUCH MORE INFORMATIVE!! I just wanted to give you an idea...

aAd that's how it's done!!! Buona Fortuna!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Italian Christmas & Advent Traditions

This is, hands down, my favorite time of year. There are so many great aspects to the Christmas season - good food, good music, and the special traditions that come along with the "reason for the season." I think you all remember how I feel about the commercialization of Christmas!!

Like many Catholics, our "partying" starts with Advent and ends with Epiphany, since our "Holiday Season" is centered around the birth of Christ. Liturgically speaking, Advent marks the "New Year" of the Church, so naturally our family makes a certain "new year resolution" for the four weeks until Christmas. This helps build up the anticipation for celebrating the birth of Christ (And hopefully distracts the kids a bit from their concern with a full stocking or tons of presents!)

So if our family decides to do some extra work of charity for four weeks, or even simply gives up candy - we are all the more excited for Christmas Day when we can eat our favorite junk food again!

We countdown the days of Advent with an Advent Calendar and the Advent Wreath. This usually begins on the First Sunday in Advent and goes all the way until Christmas Eve.

But the first exciting celebration in Advent is St. Nicholas' Feast Day! On the night of December 5th, our kids make sure the stockings are hung for St. Nicholas to fill with goodies. This comes from the historic tale of the real Saint Nicholas, a Bishop, serving the less fortunate. Nicholas' parents died when he was young and left him a great fortune, which he chose to share with others. Not wanting recognition, he would sneakily leave these riches in a family's left out shoes (hence the stockings) or even through and open window or chimney (hence the Santa comin' down the chimney tale). This was his way of helping out those in need but not getting all kinds of glory for it.

This is a great lesson to teach our children of today...helping others without seeking some kind of earthly reward or recognition makes it truly selfless. So on the morning of December 6th, the feast of Saint Nicholas, the kids get to open their stockings full of goodies, small toys and, of course, some chocolate gold coins!

Another "lesson" we teach our kiddos makes use of a long-standing Italian tradition - Il Presipio - the Christmas Crib. Saint Francis of Assisi (yep, an Italian!) is credited with constructing the first Christmas Crib, a replica of the manger to be displayed during the season to recall Jesus' birth. But you won't find the Infant Jesus in our Nativity scene!! After all, He isn't actually "born" yet! Our Presipio includes only Mary, Joseph, and an empty crib, which the children fill with hay each time they do a good deed.

So if my little ones do an extra chore or obey me without a complaint, they get to put a piece of hay in the crib, thus making a more comfortable bed for the Child Jesus come Christmas morning. This is a fabulous reminder of the reason for the season that little minds can understand!

Then there's Christmas Eve - La Vigilia!! The Feast of the Seven Fishes is celebrated by Italians everywhere! Being a "Vigil Day" - (which basically means it is the Eve of a great Feast Day) the Church has long required fasting from meat on this day in order to prepare oneself for the great feast that is coming. Consequently, Italians have more than risen to the occasion with tons of great fish dishes (usually seven to symbolize the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church). You can read about some great recipes from Dominic Condo and myself from our Seven Fishes Post last year.

Then, of course, CHRISTMAS DAY!! The morning of Christmas, we are all usually pretty exhausted from Midnight Mass - but the kids are excited for their presents from Babbo Natale.

Now, we have a HUGE family an the kids are completely spoiled by all their loving grandparents/aunts/uncles/etc....So My husband and I have chosen to give them only three gifts each from us (reminiscent of the three gifts brought by the Wise Men). They get one special gift and two smaller ones. Any more would frankly spoil them rotten since our extended family spoils them mercilessly already! Oh how I love them for that:)

But before any gifts are opened, the kids - walking in procession led by the youngest - carry the baby Jesus (statue) in and place it in the Manger that they have been filling with hay all Advent long. We are then reminded that Jesus' birth is at the forefront of our Holiday celebrations.

Of course, Christmas Day (and beyond) means a house full of sweet treats and goodies. Struffoli is a festive Italian dessert that my kids love! It's fried balls of dough tossed in honey and sprinkles. You can even use red and green sprinkles to keep it festive!

We also always make a Cornflake Wreath, a kind of Rice Crispy treats. Replace the rice crispies with corn flakes and use green food coloring after you melt the marshmallows. Then place into a bundt cake mold until hardened. When flipped over on to a plate, decorate it with red mini m&ms (to look like holly berries) and a red bow on top. This is what we hand out to our friends and neighbors each year. A Christmas "wreath" that is way too easy not to make!

Our celebrating season comes to an end on January 6th with Epiphany. This is the day the Catholic Church celebrates the coming of the Three Wise Men to the Christmas Crib. So, like any good Italian, we put out our slippers on the Eve of Epiphany (the night of January 5th) for La Befana to fill.

The Story of La Befana is a long standing Italian tradition that my kiddos love! The story goes that this good old Italian "witch" was at home when three men knocked at her door asking directions to the stable where the King was to be born. Engrossed in housework, she neglected to accompany them on their journey and stayed at home to sweep! Later on, feeling remorse, she set out on her own journey trying to find the Newborn King, so that she could leave him a little Birthday gift. Since she was unsure which baby it was, she just left treats for each child she passed, hoping one would end up being the Christ Child! La Befana visits us every Epiphany, and somehow always brings my husband's favorite candy!

These traditions are truly what make the Holiday Season such a memorable time for our family. My husband and I feel it is so important to give our kids these memories to hold on to as they grow older. That way, they learn the true meaning of the season in a fun way, and could even celebrate with their own families one day.

For more explanations and deeper meanings, you can use the links above to reference my original articles on these traditions. Also, you can find my column on ItaliansRUs.com, under "Una Mamma Italiana." Happy Celebrating - and from our famiglia to yours -
Buon Natale!



Monday, November 21, 2011

Italian Thanksgiving Recipes!

Unless you're a Med-e-gone, some kind of pasta on Thanksgiving is just plain normal. So is spending the four days preceding Turkey Day in the kitchen. It's just what you do. This year, we'll be trying some new recipes while sticking to the good old favorites, too. I've decided to pull together some of my favorites in this post for your menu planning pleasure...Click the links for the full recipe:

Mascarpone Mashed Potatoes - Our family favorite - rich & creamy!


















Captain Morgan's Sweet Potatoes - The perfect balance of sweet, salty, and spicy!!


















Thanksgiving Dinner Rolls - Just use this bread recipe but shaped into rolls.














Sunday Gravy - for your Thanksgiving pasta!














And for dessert, be sure to check out Cucina Domenico's latest post: Pumpkin Crisp!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Amatriciana Sauce - Italian Sauce with Pancetta

Since I started blogging here at UMI over 3 years ago, I've noticed that readers really love the sauce recipes. Whether its my family recipe for Sunday Gravy, Vodka Sauce or Arrabiatta Sauce - these sauces are classics that can usually be made with minimal effort and a big wow factor.

Here is another classic Italian sauce recipe that boasts the amazing flavor of Pancetta! It gets its name from the town of its origin, Amatrice (a super small town in Northern Lazio. We're talking central Italy, here - the countryside that literally divides the North from the South.) It is a very rustic style sauce.

Pancetta is Italian bacon that is cured with all kinds of salt and yummy spices. It is most often used in recipes for the flavor you get from the fat (who doesn't love cooking in a good fat!?) on the meat. Some "Med-E-Gones" substitute regular bacon in recipes such as these. I guess you could do the same, but then you run the risk of breaking my heart (and the hearts of Italians everywhere).

AMATRICIANA SAUCE

3 TB e.v.o.o.
2 oz. pancetta, finely cubed
1 med onion, minced
1 TB minced garlic
pinch of dried oregano
1 can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped or hand crushed
1/2 tsp (to start) curshed red pepper flakes (adjust to your liking)
1 TB julienned fresh basil leaves
salt & pepper to taste

Start with only 2 TB of the olive oil. Use it to brown the pancetta. Once browned, add the onions and garlic, saute over medium heat until soft. Stir in the oregano, hot pepper flakes, and the tomatoes. Bring it to a boil. SImmer until sauce has thickened a bit (around 30 minutes)

At the end, stir in the basil leaves and add more hot pepper/salt/pepper as needed. Stir in the remaining TB of olive oil until emulsified.

Toss with your favorite pasta and top with lots of yummy grated pecorino romano cheese! (my fav) And MANGIA!!


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cookin with Lentils: Easy Lentil Soup Recipe

Lentils are a hearty, economical ingredient when feeding a large family!
(Having five children, I've kinda figured 'economical' out)
So I thought I'd share my Dad's recipe for Lentil Soup.
It's very simple and perfect for a rainy day.

LENTIL SOUP

1 small onion, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
2 carrots, minced
2 TB butter
1 - 2 TB e.v.o.o.
2 cups Chicken or Beef Stock
2 cups water
2 cups cooked (very al dente) ditalini pasta
1 cup lentils, rinsed
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in the butter and e.v.o.o. until soft. Do not brown. Add in the lentils and coat. Add in the stock and water. Simmer until the lentils are tender (around 30 minutes or so). Stir in the cooked ditalini pasta. Serve hot with a bunch of grated cheese on top! Buon Appetito!

*Variations: If you want more of a minestrone type taste, add in one can of diced tomatoes after having cooked the mirepoix for a bit. Also a bay leaf is a nice touch. Add a whole leaf while simmering.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Veggie Challenge Results!


After tallying the votes from both Una Mamma Italiana and Dom's Kitchen, the zucchini fritters came out on top! With another food challenge victory under my belt (check out my record here), my Italian Pride is gleaming....

But Chef Condo makes quite an interesting point. With each challenge we do, we have readers vote on both of our individual blogs. Now, as much as we talk trash on the Cucina Chatter radio show, we really are not in this for the money. (I mean, how can we be when there is no actual prize involved in this heated competition!?!) So, we just trust that people will actually vote with their preference.

This time, the fritters were champion on my site, while the Pepperonata clearly took the lead on Dom's. Could we possibly just have very loyal friends? Is Chef Condo paying off his readers to vote for him? Hey - I won't say it, but something smells fishy!!

Okay, okay - all kidding aside - Condo's analysis of this challenge is very true. My zucchini fritters were a fresh, trendy twist on a garden veggie dish, while his Pepperonata was a rustic, home style Italian favorite from the vault! Could East Coast foodies be more old school? Are West Coast readers after those new world concepts? Could be! But it sounds more like a case for a my college Cultural Studies professor that two Italian-food lovers!

This challenge is the first to really expose the fact that we are dueling bloggers from opposite coasts! It just reinforces how very cool this concept is! I am grateful to duke it out with a paisan across the country who loves Italian food & culture as much as I do! Readers get the benefit of two perspectives on the same general topic! And really, our MMC Food Challenges are quite possibly the best, most competitive oonline challenge there is.

If I had to lose to anyone, Dominic Condo would be my pick. But since I won, I'll surely rub it in.....

until the next food challenge, that is!

Piu Tardi!!!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

THE MAMMA MEETS THE CUCINA - Veggie Challenge!


A VEGGIE CHALLENGE!!!!!!!!!
Well, another Mamma Meets the Cucina battle was long overdue. This time we're dueling with veggies.
Cast your vote for your favorite side dish!

Peperonata, in my opinion, is the perfect Italian vegetable dish. The classic combination of onions, garlic and peppers sautéed in olive oil makes for the beautiful fragrance. The potatoes and tomatoes help give a nice, hearty texture to the dish. And the splash of white balsamic adds the delicious, slightly sweet, slightly tart finish. Whether you're serving it as a side dish, as an appetizer or as a meal itself, the hearty and rustic peperonata is a stick-to-your-ribs kind of meal that you will enjoy time and time again.

Many of the recipes that I have found use either fresh tomatoes or canned crushed tomatoes, with the addition of some water or broth to keep the peperonata from drying out. I actually prefer to use canned stewed tomatoes and their juices. The stewed tomatoes are already seasoned, they are soft enough where they will meld nicely with the softened peppers and the remaining ingredients, and the juice is plenty to keep this dish thick but moist (you don't want a soupy consistency). Be sure to use a variety of bell peppers. The variety of pepper colors make for a very appealing presentation. And don't forget the crusty bread for dipping and scooping!

PEPERONATA
1/4 cup EVOO
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 bell peppers (two green, two red, two orange and two yellow), seeded and sliced into strips
2 14.5 oz. cans of stewed tomatoes and their juices
4-5 medium russet potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 tblspn Italian seasoning
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 tblspn white balsamic vinegar

In a large pot saute the onions in olive oil on medium-high heat, and when it is completely softened, and before it starts browning, add the garlic. Saute for an additional couple of minutes, then add the peppers, lower the heat to medium-low and stir well. Partially cover with a lid and let them soften up, about 10 minutes.

When the peppers have settled into the pan, add the stewed tomatoes and the potatoes. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste and the Italian seasoning, stir well over medium-low heat. Add the white balsamic, stir again, cover, cook on medium-low for about 1-1/2 hours or until potatoes are cooked to preference, stirring occasionally. Serve on a platter with crusty or toasted Italian bread.

Zucchini is one of my favorite veggies - especially this time of year. I can remember my Grandma Rose picking the zucchini from her backyard garden, stuffing the flowers with ricotta and baking them. It was such a special treat that I loved when I was a kid. I figured that in an attempt to mimic my Grandma's recipe I could risk shaming the family, so I opted for fritters instead!

Fritters are a fun and easy way to incorporate veggies into a diet - especially for picky little ones. It's fun for kids to mix up a batter and watch them fry up. I made my daughter part of the whole process and she loved the final result twice as much because of it! Presented with a small slice of fresh lemon and parsley, these become a simple yet elegant side dish. They're like a good pair of jeans - you can dress 'em up or dress 'em down and they always look great.

ZUCCHINI FRITTERS
2 medium zucchini, trimmed & grated
1/2 small onion, trimmed & grated
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 eggs, beaten
e.v.o.o. for frying

Before combining all the ingredients, pat the grated onion and zucchini dry with a paper towel. This will remove any excess moisture that might make the batter too wet. Then combine all the remaining ingredients (except for the e.v.o.o.) with a spoon. Season with salt and pepper.

Drop spoonfuls of the batter into a skillet coated with a couple TBSP of e.v.o.o. Flatten them slightly and cook until golden brown on each side. (about 2-3 minutes per side over medium heat)

Drain on a paper towel lined plate and serve hot or warm.
(The great thing about these fritters is they are great party appetizers since you can easily make up a whole batch and reheat them in a warm oven on a cookie sheet.)

Don't forget to cast your votes on either the Una Mamma blog or the Cucina Domenico website. And be sure to 'like' the Cucina Domenico group page on Face Book! Salud!

Friday, September 9, 2011

FRIDAY FIVE! - An Italian Mojito!



This cocktail recipe uses less than five ingredients - and ONE of the five is one of my favorites - PROSECCO!!

I discovered Prosecco while in Venice (so loved the bellini!!). The rest of my family, while on a recent visit to Florence, discovered this drink, which I lovingly call an Italian Mojito!! Just replace the fresh mint with fresh basil and the sparkling soda with Prosecco. Nix the rum; exchange it for scotch & cointreau and there you have it!

Ingredients:
Bunch of Basil
1/2c. Lt. Scotch(like Dewers)
Almost 1/2c. Cointreau
1 bottle Prosecco

Mix Scotch, Cointreau, & Basil together, muddling (crushing) the Basil to bring out the flavor.
Add Prosecco & mix all together. Enjoy!
Above is an actual photo that my aunt took in Rome as this drink was being concocted. It may sound like an odd mix of ingredients, but it's surprisingly tasty! Cheers!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Vote for me! UNA MAMMA ITALIANA for Babble.com's Mom Food Blogger 2011


Una Mamma Italiana has been nominated for
THE BABBLE 100!!


Please take a moment to go to www.Babble.com, where you can vote for my blog to be in the top 100 for 2011's "Mom Food Bloggers!"

It may be a little late in the game (since it's already September!) It takes no signing up just one click! So hurry up and go vote here. You can also search alphabetically for Una Mamma Italiana & Click on the thumbs up! Don't forget to pass on the link to all your paisani!


Ciao e grazie!!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Vodka Sauce

I was in the third grade. The D.A.R.E. program had been educating our class on the perils of drugs and alcohol. Clearly, I hadn't needed such elementary instruction considering my (scandalous) exposure to such addictive substances from an early age. I mean, we were Italian. Limoncello was for "dessert" and scotch was for teething babies.

So imagine my lack of concern when they asked, "Do any of your parents keep alcohol in the house?" Needless to say, I outed my own mother to the D.A.R.E. officers...

"My mom puts vodka in her sauce!" I proudly exclaimed.

Today, I am just as proud to say that I put my very own vodka in my sauce! When I moved out of my parents home at the young age of 19, my mom bought me an enormous jug of vodka (for vodka Sauce) since I couldn't legally buy my own! And really, most of it was used for Vodka Sauce!

All kidding aside, Vodka Sauce is truly one of my top favorite family recipes. All my friends wanted to eat over at my house for Mom's Penne A La Vodka. And it won my husband's heart when we were dating (to the heart, through the stomach!) And so today, I am sharing it with you.

Woo your lovers without intoxicating them with my recipe for Vodka Sauce.

VODKA SAUCE

4 TBSP olive oil (enough to coat the onions)
2 TBSP butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 28 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes (I recommend San Marzano varieties)
1 cup vodka, divided
1 cup heavy cream

Saute the onions in the oil and the butter on medium heat until transparent (Do Not Brown). Add 1/2 cup of the vodka. Cook out the alcohol (about 5 minutes). Add the tomatoes and blend with a hand blender. Add the remaining vodka. Simmer for 45 minutes. Then, slowly stir in the heavy cream (not while boiling). Serve over penne or your favorite pasta! MANGIA!

*NOTE: Should you wish to freeze this sauce ahead of time, do so before adding the cream. Otherwise, when you defrost it for use, the cream will break. When ready to use, thaw your frozen vodka sauce and add the heavy cream just before serving. I love keeping this on hand for nights when a marinara might not sound as exciting:)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

FRIDAY FIVE! Blueberry Iced Tea & a little politics...


With all the heat the Tea Party has been getting lately, I figured I'd pay homage to TEA by posting an easy recipe for a fresh & fancy summer beverage. With five ingredients or less, you can't go wrong serving this at your next tea party! And if you can handle it, I would strongly recommend the addition of a sixth ingredient - perhaps some bacardi limon?!

Berry Iced Tea

4 qts brewed tea, cooled (I usually steep several green tea bags in 4 qts of water, but it will depend on your choice of tea and the strength you prefer)
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 TB lemon juice

In a small saucepan, combine the blueberries, water, and sugar. Cook over medium heat until thick and bubbly. Strain, squeezing all the juice from the blueberries. Add the lemon juice to the strained mixture & allow it to cool. Combine the brewed tea and the syrup (do this a bit at a time, so as to control how much blueberry flavor you prefer in your tea) and chill in the fridge. Serve in a chilled glass over ice. I like to add a couple blueberries to the bottom:) Cheers!


And since I've already opened the can of worms, here's a little political humor for your Friday:)

Why did the chicken cross the road?


SARAH PALIN: The chicken crossed the road because, gosh-darn it, he's a maverick!

BARACK OBAMA: The chicken crossed the road because it was time for change! The chicken wanted change!

JOHN MCCAIN: My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialogue with all the chickens on the other side of the road.

HILLARY CLINTON: When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken to cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure right from Day One that every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road. But then, this really isn't about me.

GEORGE W. BUSH: We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.

DICK CHENEY: Where's my gun?

COLIN POWELL: Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road.

BILL CLINTON: I did not cross the road with that chicken.

AL GORE: I invented the chicken.

JOHN KERRY: Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road, I am now against it! It was the wrong road to cross, and I was misled about the chicken's intentions. I am not for it now, and will remain against it.

AL SHARPTON: Why are all the chickens white? We need some black chickens.

DR. PHIL: The problem we have here is that this chicken won't realize that he must first deal with the problem on this side of the road before it goes after the problem on the other side of the road. What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he's acting by not taking on his current problems before adding new problems.

OPRAH: Well, I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I'm going to give this chicken a NEW CAR so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of the chickens.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access to the other side of the road.

NANCY GRACE: That chicken crossed the road because he's guilty! You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks.

PAT BUCHANAN: To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.

DR SEUSS: Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed I've not been told.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die in the rain, alone.

GRANDPA: In my day we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.

BARBARA WALTERS: Isn't that interesting? In a few moments, we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heart warming story of how it experienced a serious case of molting, and went on to accomplish its lifelong dream of crossing the road.

ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

JOHN LENNON: Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together, in peace.

BILL GATES: I have just released eChicken2011, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and balance your checkbook. Internet Explorer is an integral part of eChicken2011. This new platform is much more stable and will never reboot.

ALBERT EINSTEIN: Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?

COLONEL SANDERS: Did I miss one?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What's keeping me up at night...


L'uccello mattinieo si becca il verme

In other words, (in ENGLISH words) - "The early bird catches the worm."

Lately, "early bird" is a pretty accurate description of this new mamma. I stay up late at night catching up on my "mamma" duties and barely fit in some sleep before those early morning feedings. Now, you might say this isn't my first rodeo, I should have it down pat by now....but even numero cinque has given me a run for my money!! Don't get me wrong, she is a great baby, but she's definitely taken up some of my blogging time! Now, this could be dangerous since clearly.....


I mean, doesn't everybody? But if it isn't one distraction, it's another, and I'll happily accept any excuse NOT to do housework!

But doesn't it make you wonder how our nonnas did it all? They had a bunch of bambini running around and still made homemade gravy every Sunday and the scratch pasta was hanging to dry (NOT in the upstairs kitchen, of course). And forget about drive-thrus - dinner was on the table every night!

How did they do all that, AND keep the plastic covered couches clean? It boggles my mind. But when I need a little inspiration, I go to them. I think of my grandma who had her stuff together on the home front. I remember her gardening, canning, praying, cleaning, cooking, and playing with her grand kids! After all that, I'd be, um, praying for a vacation and that's about it....

So I thought I'd share a past article about my Nonna - just because. And I guess it's about time I share a pic of my new bambina too!!
Giuliana Carmela

This is what keeps me up all night - but I wouldn't change it for the world:)
Here she wears the baptismal gown, handmade by my Aunt Marie, worn by me and now my four daughters!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Homemade Pasta with the kids!




Every time we have a new baby in the house, we seem to spend much of the first few weeks at home. Coming up with fun at-home activities for the other kids is very important to us. We don't want any jealousy and any parent knows that a kid with nothing to do is NEVER a good thing!

Our last go-around involved homemade pizza. It was a great way to get the older kids involved in something and make them feel special despite a new baby getting all the attention! This time, we went for homemade pasta.

Now, we kind of cheated and busted out the old PASTA-MATIC. It's a dinosaur of a pasta machine from my childhood. I kid you not - it is the actual pasta machine we used to use when I was a kid! Now this circa 1980's hunk of plastic did a pretty good job despite it's age! It was a hit with the kids, because they could see the process or making and shaping a dough into the pasta they are used to eating. We chose rigatoni and spaghetti because, well, what grade-schooler doesn't like playing with long stringy dough? (It had nothing to do with the fact that we lost most of the pieces over the years so these were our only choices...)


Anyway, see for yourself it was a blast! It did the trick of keeping the kids entertained - and we got dinner out of it!! My only complaint was the dough texture & taste was pretty basic. We only followed the whole wheat recipe in the instruction booklet but I am sooo looking for new one!! Anyone with experience in homemade pasta is invited to share their recipe here as a guest post. I would LOVE to find a recipe that I can stick to that actually tastes great too!


Homemade anything is fun to our family!!! We'll definitely give this another shot, and hopefully won't wait for another baby to do so!!

Friday, August 5, 2011

FRIDAY FIVE: Brie Panini




How do you feed (and impress) a crowd with minimal effort? Two words:

Brie Panini.

RECIPE**
1 wedge Brie cheese
1 loaf ciabatta bread
1 - 2 lbs sandwich meat of your choice
4 thinly sliced roma tomatoes
arugala (optional)

Evenly slice the ciabatta and spread each slice with some brie. Top with the meat (I used turkey), tomatoes, and arugala. Close the sandwich and grill on an olive oil greased panini maker or grilling machine.

I served this for a crowd alongside pasta salad I love the versatility of pasta salad! If you're looking for a way to spice up your pasta salad, try this recipe or this recipe.


**Obviously, you can go SOOO many directions with this meal. Try different combinations for different tastes. The above combo is perfect for the kiddos that don't have a sophisticated prosciutto and pesto palette quite yet! I personally LOVE fresh mozarella with prosciutto for a mock caprese panino. Be creative and enjoy!**

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Brown Rice with Cherry Tomatoes


This is an easy side dish that mimics the flavor of pasta salad with the health benefits of whole grain brown rice. You can do so many variations with this recipe, but it's super easy. (I love my Barefoot Contessa Family Style Cookbook!!)

My only drawback with this recipe - my garden has been growing VERY slowly, so my fresh basil was not at all ready to be picked and I had to use dried:( It was a bummer, but wow - it would be great with julienned fresh basil, just like Ina Garten suggests. Give it a try:

Brown Rice Salad with Fresh Cherry Tomatoes
1 cup brown rice
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/4 cup White Wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon good olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ripe cherry tomatoes
1 cup packed basil leaves (1 large bunch), julienned (cut into thin strips)

Bring 2 1/4 cups water to a boil and add the rice and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Return to a boil, cover, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the rice is tender and all the water is absorbed. Transfer the rice to a bowl.

Whisk together the vinegar, sugar, olive oil, remaining teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of pepper. Pour over the rice. Add the tomatoes and basil. Mix well and check the seasonings. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, June 13, 2011

St. Anthony's Day bread


Buona Festa di San Antonio a tutti!

Today is the feast of the great Saint Anthony of Padua! Traditionally on this day, Italian Catholics would start the day with Mass, followed by the Priest blessing animals, lilies, and bread in honor of the charitable San Antonio!

Likewise, Italians traditionally exchange loaves or baskets of bread rolls with other families as a token of prosperity and health that they may never go hungry. It is a long standing practice among past generations, and it's something we need more of today. Warm, freshly baked bread makes a great gift for any family, especially when it's blessed! So today, I've got my latest whole wheat bread recipe for all of you.....

Except this one is kind of cheating!! I use my bread machine to do most of the work, and then I take all the credit. The machine mixes, kneads, and rises the dough. Then, when that's all done, I simply roll it out and bake it! Perfect for a pregnant mammarella who won't be caught barefoot in the kitchen for TOO long!

NOTE: Most bread machines can accommodate a 2 lb. loaf (which this recipe's dough capacity is) but if yours does not, simply cut this recipe in half. Also, if you do not have a bread machine, you can always use this recipe with a hand-kneading method (but really, why would you want to?)

Bread Machine Rolls
Pane di San Antonio!

4 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 tsp. salt
1 heaping TBSP. Active Dry Yeast
1 heaping tsp. vital wheat gluten
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup honey
1 1/2 cups very hot water
1 egg, beaten

Add the oil, water, honey, and egg into your bread machine container. Mix the dry ingredients (except for the yeast). Add the dry ingredients on top of the liquid, maintaining the separation of the liquid & dry layers. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Add the yeast. Turn on the bread machine (set on a 2lb dough cycle) and wait patiently!!!!

When the dough is done, remove it from the bread machine. This dough will be wet and sticky. Use enough all purpose unbleached flour to coat it and make it workable.

You can shape it into rolls like this:


OR you can braid it into a
pull-apart loaf like this:




This recipe makes a soft, fluffy dinner roll. If you want a crisper bottom, try baking it on a pizza stone with a water bath in the oven, but it really is not meant to be a crusty loaf, yet it still tastes AWESOME and is versatile enough for almost any meal!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Friday Five: Boursin Cheese Alfredo Sauce


Last week I purchased the three pack of Boursin cheese from one of my favorite places in the universe: Costco!! I served one with my homemade crackers, and used the other in this Fabulous Friday Five recipe!


Trick your family into thinking you slaved over a restaurant style homemade Alfredo, and let the Boursin do all the work.

BOURSIN CHEESE ALFREDO SAUCE

One 5.2 oz. package Garlic & Herb Boursin Cheese
2-3 TB Butter for sauteing
2 TB minced shallots
2 cups Heavy Cream
1 cup grated Romano Cheese

Saute the shallots in the butter until translucent. Add in the Boursin Cheese; gently melt it. Add the cream, stirring often. Add the cheese until incorporated. Simmer until thickened. Season with salt & pepper and pour over your favorite pasta!

Variations:
Add chicken, shrimp, mushrooms......or even add a little white wine after the shallots for a fancier sauce!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Whole Roasted Chickens

My first born turns seven tomorrow (*sniffle*) and as goes family tradition, he gets to pick out what he wants for his Birthday Meal. What does he choose? Chicken Soup!!! Right smack dab in the middle of June!

Oh well, he's gonna get it! Today I roasted two organic whole chickens with this fancy herb oil. This works well with fresh herbs too. Experiment and be creative!

HERB E.V.O.O.
about a cup of extra virgin live oil
8 - 10 cloves minced garlic
salt
freshly ground black pepper
about 2 tsp each of dried:
-parsley
-rosemary
-thyme
-basil

Make this mixture in the morning, or even a day or two ahead of time (if you're that efficient). Let mixture sit in fridge so the flavors incorporate. Rub all over the outside of the whole chickens.

I bake my two birds at 375 for one hour (depending on size and weight). You pretty much want the internal temp to be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

After we eat these beauties for dinner tonight, I'll take the bones and make a homemade stock, from which I'll make his birthday soup!! Even with the six of us eating tonight, we usually end up with some leftover chicken meat. I'll use some in the soup, then I'll save the rest for another whole meal. (I do this roast chicken thing about once a month - I love trying to come up with new ways to stretch a chicken!)

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