Sunday, January 29, 2012

Keep Warm & Cozy With My Mom's "Ricotta Ball Soup" Recipe

Last weekend it was cold and snowy here on Long Island. We didn’t get to much snow, but it was definitely cold. We really have had a balmy winter so far, so we can't really complain. As the end of January comes to a close, let’s get cozy and have a bowl of delicious warm soup. Did you know that January is “National Soup Month“? Make sure you have a bowl of soup before January is a memory.

Soup is usually warm and it is homemade by combining ingredients such as meat, with vegetables, stock, and water. The flavors are extracted and this then forms a broth. Traditionally, soups are classified into two main groups; clear soups and thick soups. Broth is made from cooking vegetables, meat or fish in water. This is also called bouillon. Consommé, is a clear meat or fish broth, served hot or cold. It is often used as a base for other dishes and soups. Then there are stews, which is a thick soup-like broth containing meat and vegetables. Soups have generally more liquid than stews. Bisques are made from pureed shellfish or vegetables and cream is added to make it thicker. Stock, is a liquid that is strained after cooking vegetables, meat, or fish, and other seasonings in water.

In 1897, a chemist named Dr. John T. Dorrance, with the Campbell Soup Company, invented condensed soup. Condensing, allows the soup to be packaged into a smaller can and sold at a lower price than other canned soups. This soup usually doubles in volume by adding a “can full” of water or milk. Today Campbell’s Tomato, Cream of Mushroom, and Chicken Noodle are the three most popular canned soups in America. Canned Italian style soups, such as Minestrone or Italian Wedding Soup, are also among the most popular. Canned soup has added a convenience to today’s way of preparing an easy warm soup for your family. Microwaveable bowls have expanded the ready-to-eat canned soup market, by offering an easy way to have a flavorful lunch especially in the workplace.

January 1968 
From left standing, myself, my mom & dad,
 my brother Chris & my grandmother Julia
Memories of enjoying a warm bowl or cup of soup was like a big hug of comfort food on a day of rain, snow or just being cold. In my Italian family my mom would always make some form of soup or stew for our dinner, whether it was homemade chicken soup when we were sick or a cup of soup after we were out in the snow, building snowmen. There is nothing like that warm aroma of steaming soup to melt all your troubles away. One of my favorite soups that my mother made when I was young and still does today is called Ricotta Balls Soup. When any of my family members hear that she is making this, our mouths water and it brings back memories of when I was young, living at home. It is really a feeling of warmth, family, plus food, which of course brings much love. So I would love to share this recipe with you, my readers. Once you have had this soup, you will be hooked and want to make this creamy, yummy, Ricotta Balls recipe over and over again. Enjoy!!  

My mom's Ricotta Ball Soup
 "Ricotta Balls Soup"


2 lbs of Ricotta Cheese (Polly-O)
4 cloves of peeled whole garlic
Fresh cut parsley / a handful
1 cup of bread crumbs (unflavored)
3/4 cup of fresh Pecorino Romano grated cheese
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
3 to 4 quarts of water


Put water in a wide but not deep pot. (Dutch Oven) After water is boiled put in 4 cloves of peeled garlic. Add about 1/4 cup of oil to water. Then add fresh parsley and about 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Lower water to a simmer; meanwhile prepare the Ricotta Balls mixture.

Mix together in a large bowl, ricotta, eggs, grated cheese, salt, pepper, and the bread crumbs. After combined, roll the mixture into small balls, (like meatball shape) make sure they are small, they will expand when cooked. (Like golf ball size) Once they are shaped into balls, place carefully in simmering water to cook. Cook them for about 20-30 minutes. Turn them very carefully in the pot as they will break apart. They tend to puff so do not overcrowd them. The water which becomes the soup, turns a little creamy from the cheese of the ricotta balls, and has the flavor as well. This recipe makes about 30-35 balls depending on how big you make them.

Till Next Time…………

Copyright © 2012 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

It’s My "1" Year Anniversary Of My Blog, Let’s Celebrate!

It is official, today January 18th, “Family Plus Food Equals Love”, has been online for “1” whole year! 365 days ago today, I wrote my first blog post. I had no idea how this blog would impact so many people, including myself. Since I have started this blog, I have learned an awesome amount from my research, other bloggers, friends, and family. Thank you to my readers and all who have stopped by to read my blog. Every one of you have made me feel that I have something important to say and share. I am not sure where year "2" will take me, but I do know that I will continue to write stories of my family. I am looking forward to new experiences and new recipes to share. I hope that you will continue to comeback for year two! So let’s celebrate! What better way to celebrate my blog’s anniversary is with some tea and some sweets. January just happens to be, “National Hot Tea Month”. A cup of tea is my very favorite beverage to drink. It is like a warm blanket comforting me and a drink that I can indulge in without feeling guilty.

Tea is packed with antioxidants, flavonoids, and has even been proven to improve the body’s natural defenses against bacteria or viruses. Many tea drinkers find the beverage soothing, a remedy for sore throats, and upset stomachs. Tea is the world’s second most popular beverage consumed, second only to water. It is easy to make, affordable, and offers a variety of flavors. In Italy, coffee or espresso is the drink of choice after a meal. Tea is rarely consumed. 

The traditional method of making a cup of tea is to place “loose tea leaves” in a tea infuser or a teacup and pour hot water over the leaves. After a couple of minutes of steeping time, remove the leaves and strain while serving a perfect cup of tea. The “tea bag” was invented by an American tea merchant Thomas Sullivan in 1907. He began distributing samples if his tea in small bags of Chinese silk with a drawstring. Many people noticed that they could simply leave the tea in the bag and reuse it with fresh tea leaves. Another form of a tea bag was introduced by Lipton in 1996, which has a unique design. It is called the “pyramid tea bag,” or “sachet bag,” because of its three-dimensional shape which allows more room for tea leaves to expand while steeping.

“Afternoon Tea” or “High Tea” is still practiced all over the world. Afternoon Tea involves manners, lace, and finger foods that include, crust less cucumber sandwiches, baked scones served with jam, biscuits, and an assortment of loose teas. Afternoon Tea was considered to be a ladies’ social event. High Tea on the other hand was a working class meal served shortly after five P.M. It was a heavy meal of meat, fish, vegetables, baked goods, and other foods. Today, the tradition of the “afternoon tea” continues as many people love to celebrate a birthday, holiday time, or other special events with a “tea party”.
When I turned “50,”my best friend, Mary Ann, gave me an afternoon tea party to celebrate my birthday. She prepared crustless tea sandwiches, scones with jam, and an array of flavored teas. She made me a beautiful hat cake, surrounded by petals of roses and a silk ribbon around the brim of the cake, just like a Victorian hat. Thanks to Mary Ann, it will be a birthday that I will never forget.

So, as we celebrate my “1” year anniversary of my blog, my recipe this week is called “Favorite Scones”, Courtesy of And don’t forget to enjoy a cup of hot tea with these delicious baked goodies. 

Favorite Scones
1/3 cup of unsalted butter

1 3/4 cusps of unbleached all purpose flour
3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup of raisins or currants, optional
4 to 6 tablespoons half & half or milk
1 egg, beaten for brushing on scones

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut butter into flour, sugar, baking powder and salt until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in 1 egg, raisins and enough half & half so dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead 10 times. Roll 1/2 inch thick; cut with round or heart shaped cutters. Place on un-greased cookie sheet; brush with beaten egg. Bake until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove immediately. Split scones and serve with butter, jams, and jellies. Serves: 15 Enjoy!

Till Next Time……… 

Copyright © 2012 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Nanni's Broccoli Rabe" Recipe & Story By My Guest Blog Writer

Hi readers! This week’s post is written by my guest writer, Vincent, who is my cousin Ellen’s husband. He wrote this story about his visit to my grandmother’s apartment and her recipe for Broccoli Rabe. I have written about my Nanni before in earlier posts as she was a mentor to me in many ways. She definitely had a flare and her style was very unique. I remember when I was younger, she never used a recipe to cook. She would usually add whatever she had in her pantry and fridge to create a meal that was very satisfying.

My recipe this week, is called “Nanni’s Broccoli Rabe,” which she taught Vincent how to cook. Broccoli Rabe is a common vegetable in the cuisine of Southern Italy, especially in Sicily. This vegetable is described as having a nutty, bitter, and pungent flavor. Broccoli Rabe is also a great source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium, calcium, and iron.

 Ellen, Vincent, & Nanni
So, please enjoy Vincent’s story as well as trying “Nanni’s Broccoli Rabe” recipe. I also want to thank Vincent for writing such a memorable and colorful story about our Nanni.

“The apartment was really from a different world. The baby Jesus sat in a glass shrine in the bedroom. The ceilings were high, there were antique molding on the walls and the rooms were filled with dark old world furniture. I was visiting my girlfriend’s 82 year old Sicilian grandmother at her apartment in Queens, NY. The midday light struggled to filter into the rooms past the heavy ornate draperies. Nanni was not like any 82 year old woman I had ever met. She had manic energy, flitting about her apartment showing us memorabilia and photos from her younger life, talking non stop, simultaneously sizing me up and whispering her assessments to Ellen. She was wearing a blue patterned housecoat, but she wore it like it was a dress from a fine store, and carried herself upright and proud. At some point we all became hungry and she mentioned she had some Broccoli Rabe, which she offered to cook. I think she knew, that her energy and youthfulness at her advanced age was amazing, so every once in a while she would throw in some detail of her regimen as if she was trying to offer advice about how to live as long and as well as she had. The Broccoli Rabe was spoken of not only as a delicious dish but also as a life prolonging medicine.

I had been cooking with my mother in her kitchen since an early age, and by reflex I started to help her clean and trim the vegetable--I picked up a knife to cut the tough lower stalks. She gave me a look, and stopped me. “No you never cut them,” she said, “the stalk will break where it is tender.” Then she demonstrated, taking one of the florets in one hand and the stalk in the other, bending it slowly, until it just broke, and then throwing the good part into the bowl, the tough part into a waiting brown bag to discard. In a skillet she put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat, and sliced a few cloves of garlic into the warming oil. While the oil was still warming she put the Broccoli Rabe in the skillet and turned up the heat to high, continuing to stir with a wooden spoon. After the pan was getting quite noisy from the searing Broccoli Rabe she poured in about a cup of chicken stock, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and let the mixture come to a boil. Then she lowered the heat to a simmer, put a cover on the pan and let it cook for about 10 minutes.

My Grandmother "Nanni"
We sat at her ornate dining room table, the three of us, and enjoyed the meal and the continuing conversation. She looked at me closely and said she thought I looked like a young Gregory Peck. I did not know what to say, so I just thanked her and smiled, that seemed to be enough. Soon the meal and conversation was over, we said our goodbyes, and left her apartment. Though she lived many more years, that was the first and last time I had a chance to spend time with her cooking. I found out recently, that very few people in the family had ever been able to get her to share information on her recipes. This took place about 25 years ago and I still make Broccoli Rabe the way she taught me, simple, with family around, and a lot of bantering conversation to season the dish.”

Nanni’s Broccoli Rabe

2 bunches Broccoli Rabe (about 2 pounds)
2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup of chicken stock
A pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt to taste

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add sliced garlic to heated oil, cook until just beginning to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add Broccoli Rabe, toss to combine and sauté. Now add chicken stock carefully and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook, till boiled on high heat. Then lower heat to simmer, cover pan, cook for about 10-15 minutes. Season to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves: About 8 people.

Till Next Time……………

Copyright © 2012 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Feast of the Epiphany & Citrus Butter Cookies

This weekend is the “Feast of the Epiphany”. In the Catholic religion the teaching of the word “epiphany” means “manifestation”. This is the day when the Magi (Three Kings) reached the Christ child and He became known to the world as Jesus. There were three manifestations of Christ’s divinity, one, the birth itself, the Adoration of the Magi is the second, and the third is Jesus’ baptism. In some regions the Feast of the Epiphany is also called the Feast of the Holy Kings. The Kings names were Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. They followed the bright five pointed star in the heavens which brought them to Bethlehem, and the stable where Mary, the Mother of Jesus, had just given birth. The Three Kings presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby in the stable in honor of Him being born. The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus follows the Epiphany, as the last in the Christmastide celebrations, which are from January 6-9 in the Roman Catholic calendar.

There are various customs and traditions on how to celebrate The Feast of the Epiphany all over the world. In southern Italy, especially Sicily, they celebrate by their children looking forward to a visit from the Three Wise Men themselves. A sign of the region’s historical ties to Spain. In Tuscany and other region’s of Italy on January 5th, there is the tale of La Befana. A witch with her clothing worn to rags, she flies through the Italian skies on her broomstick during the night, and fills stockings with toys, and sweets for the children who were good, and coal for the ones that were naughty. According to the legend, the night before the Three Wise Men arrived at the manger, they stopped at the shack of an old woman to ask directions. They invited her to come along but she replied she was busy cleaning her house with her broomstick. Later that night, she saw a great light in the sky and decided to join the Three Wise Men, bearing gifts that had belonged to her child who had died. She got lost and never found the manger. As the legend continues La Befana flies around on her broomstick each year and brings gifts to children in hopes that she may find the Baby Jesus.

The blessing of the home is also a popular Epiphany custom, using blessed white chalk. Many households mark their entrance door with the year and the inscription CMB, the initials of the Three Wise Men. This inscription also stands for “Christus Mansionem Benedicat” which means “Christ, Bless This Home”.

There are many traditional foods that the Italians prepared for the Epiphany. The Magi came from the Orient, so many of the foods served on this day are spicy. Spice cake is often prepared to adorn your festive table for dessert. Sweet breads made with dried figs, anise seeds and candied fruits are always a favorite. These breads or cakes are made in the shape of a circle or crown, to honor the Three Wise Men. Everyone drinks the local wine and eats a special fig and raisin bread baked in a wood-burning oven. The flavors of oranges, and tangerines, are included in many dishes, which represent sunlight. (Epiphany is also known as the holiday of light) Meats such as lamb and pork are rubbed with good olive oil, rosemary, and garlic, which add a festive fragrance to your table.

When I was growing up my parents would leave the Christmas tree up until the Epiphany. As a child and even now, I really never wanted Christmas to be over. So, as I try to keep the spirit of Christmas going all year, I would love to share a favorite recipe with you called, “Citrus Butter Dipping Cookies”. This recipe is so delicious and has the fragrance of the citrus orange zest flavor. This recipe is courtesy of Melissa d’Arabian of the Food Network. Hope that you enjoy!

Citrus Butter Dipping Cookies


1 cup unsalted butter, cool but not straight from the fridge
4 ounces cream cheese, cool but not straight from the fridge
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all purpose un-bleached flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Dash of salt
Finely grated zest from 1 orange


Preheat oven to 350° F. Add the butter, cream cheese, sugar and vanilla to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour; baking powder and salt. On the lowest speed, gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture, just until blended. Gently stir in the zest. Scrape batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4 inch tip, or a sturdy plastic bag with the corner snipped off. Pipe 2-inch long strips, about 2 inches apart, on a cold unlined baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven, and let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before removing with a spatula to cool completely on baking rack. Serve with chocolate sauce for dipping, or with coffee, tea, or just nibble.
Makes: about 60 cookies (depending on the size you make them.)
Till Next Time…………………
Copyright © 2012 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved.