Friday, March 30, 2012

Palm Sunday & Italian "Braciole" For Dinner

Greetings readers! Now that Spring is upon us and my eyes are not deceiving me, it really is the beginning of April. That means that this year Palm Sunday falls on April 1st, or better known as April Fool’s Day. The last time April Fool’s Day shared a day with Palm Sunday was in the year 2007. The next time Easter and April Fool’s Day will coincide will be in the year 2018.

Palm Sunday, is the beginning of Holy Week, or Easter Week, for Christians all over the world. Christian churches distribute palms to commemorate Jesus’ journey and triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, before he was arrested and Crucified on Good Friday. This last Sunday of Lent is also called Passion Sunday. Holy Week accounts the last few days of Christ’s life, which leads to his Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

The most moving Palm Sunday observance, however, takes place in Rome, Italy. The Pope, is carried in St. Peter’s Chair on the shoulders of eight men, and blesses the palms to all who are assembled in St. Peter’s Basilica. A procession of worshipers with their palms in hand, march from St. Peter’s Square through the Basilica, which symbolizes the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. You will also see many worshipers holding branches of olive trees, as they are symbols of peace. As the procession ends in the Basilica, Holy Mass is then said. All though I have never traveled to Italy, I have heard it said that this solemn and colorful procession of the blessing of the faithful with their palms is truly a sight to see.

I remember when I was living at home, on Palm Sunday we would go to church and hold our palms through the whole mass. Then go back home and I would help to prepare our special dinner for many family and friends. It was like a feast, so many dishes had to be prepared, from soup to nuts. But in my Italian family, it was pasta to sweet creamy desserts, like cannoli. I have many happy memories which I can recall of creating palm crosses and beautiful braided wreaths that my mom and grandmother showed me how to make. During Holy week and in between going to services at the church, we would do all of our Easter baking, and coloring of the hard boiled eggs which we used in making our Easter cakes. So many memories that will last a lifetime.
My brother Chris, Coloring Eggs 1960's

My recipe this week is my mom’s “Braciole“. My mom would add this delicious rolled up beef or pork (she preferred beef) to her meat sauce or “gravy” for our family dinners. My whole family loved this little rolled tasty stuffed meat. The flavor of all the spices and the sweetness of the raisins give it a taste of heaven. Remember, Italian‘s do not need a holiday to have a feast, or have family over. Braciole is an Italian Sicilian dish that has many variations to its ingredients.

So, “Happy Palm Sunday” or in Italian
felice Domenica delle Palme”.
Serves: 4-6

1 - (1 1/2 lbs) of top round beef (thin slices of meat for rolling)
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons of minced fresh garlic
Salt and Pepper to taste
3/4 cup of Pecorino Romano grated cheese
1/2 cup of dark raisins
Vegetable oil for browning
Butchers twine to tie and secure the rolls
Your favorite tomato sauce recipe

Optional: you can add Pignoli nuts, ham, prosciutto, spinach, bread crumbs, hard boiled egg, etc.

Lay the top round on your work surface. Cut into 4-6 pieces and pound to make the pieces thinner, if they are thick. Sprinkle on top of each piece of meat evenly, grated cheese, parsley, garlic, salt & pepper to taste, and raisins. Starting at 1 short end, roll up the steak, like a jelly roll to enclose the filling completely. Using the butchers twine, tie the meat rolls to secure, and then do the same on the long side. The tighter they are the better as you do not want the ingredients to come out while cooking.

Heat some oil in a heavy large flat pot, (like a Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add the Braciole and brown on all sides, about 8-10 minutes. After browned, add to your tomato sauce recipe and cook for about another hour or longer on a low simmer. After cooked, take out of pot and cut off the twine. Serve with your favorite tomato sauce and pasta.
Till Next Time…………………..

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

Thursday, March 22, 2012

“New York State Maple Festival” & “Maple Raisin-Nut Sticky Buns”

Come, taste the Tradition! This weekend is Maple Festival time in New York State. There are so many iconic symbols that illustrate what New York State is known for and Pure Maple Syrup is one of them. New York State is one of 17 states in the USA that produce 100% Pure Maple Syrup. “The Empire State“ has a distinctive climate, its soil and trees are recognized as the finest, and perfect for producing Pure Maple Syrup.

Did you know that New York State is the second largest state in America to produce maple products? Yes, it is true, but Vermont is number one. Canada, although produces more than 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup, and it is mostly produced in Quebec. These dedicated “sugar-makers” take pride in their syrup, and all things made with maple. These Maple Farmers work hard in the forests to continue the tradition of collecting sweet sap for their production of Pure Maple Syrup. That is the way it has been for hundreds of years, and they intend for the tradition to continue for years to come in the future.

It takes more than 40 gallons of maple tree sap to produce one gallon of Pure Maple Syrup. A maple syrup production farm is called “sugarbush” or “sugarwood”. Sap that is collected is boiled in a “sugar house” or “sugar shack”. Maple trees can support between one and three taps, depending upon the trunks diameter. An average maple tree will produce about 9 to 13 gallons of sap per season. Sap is usually tapped during the day, but not at night because the temperatures drop which will restrain the sap flow. Maple Trees can continue to be tapped for sap until they are over 100 years old.

Maple Syrup is often eaten with waffles, pancakes, and French toast. It is also used as an ingredient in baking as a sweetener and for a flavoring agent in many recipes. The United States uses a grading system for their standards of Maple Syrup, which is divided into two major grades: Grade A and Grade B. The grade of syrup not for table use is called commercial or Grade C. Grade A typically has a milder flavor than the Grade B, which is a very dark color but has a very rich maple flavor.

I remember when I lived in upstate New York, there was a wonderful Maple producer called “Sprague’s Maple Farms”. They are located in Portville, New York. Portville is a quaint town in the Southern Tier. Numerous times I have been to their farm, not only purchasing maple products but to have breakfast and dinner at their restaurant. This weekend is their “Maple Festival“. Sprague’s is a year-round, full service restaurant, featuring their own 100% pure maple products. They give tours and demonstrations, plus have many activities for children. Maple cake donuts, maple cotton candy and sugar on snow are very popular with their customers. Sprague’s Maple Farm also has a beautiful gift shop featuring all their Maple products and also you can purchase products from their online store as well. But the best thing about Sprague’s is their “Pure Maple Syrup“. I can’t tell you how amazing it tastes especially on top of pancakes. So smooth, flavorful, and gooey, it brings back comfort foods that you longed for from home. So, experience an old fashioned good time, make Sprague’s a pleasure to visit. They uphold the tradition of generations who came before them, including Native Americans, who were the first to practice the maple trades. It’s Pure Maple Syrup time!
My recipe this week is in honor of our Maple Syrup producers called, “Maple Raisin-Nut Sticky Buns”. These delicious sticky sweet rolls couldn’t be more heavenly. They are a perfect way to start a leisurely weekend or for an on the go weekday breakfast. Tastes great with a cup of hot tea or coffee.

Maple Raisin-Nut Sticky Buns
1 cup coarsely walnuts
1/4 cup of raisins
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
3 cups all purpose unbleached flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 pkg. quick-rising active dry yeast
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of warm water (120 ° to 130° )
6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter, divided
1 egg, at room temperature
1/2 cup of packed light brown sugar, divided
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Grease a 13 X 9 inch baking pan. Spread walnuts, raisins and pure maple syrup evenly over the bottom. Combine 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Stir in water, 2 tbsp. of butter and egg. Beat until smooth; gradually stir in remaining flour until dough forms. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. On lightly floured surface, roll dough to 15 x 12 inch rectangle. Spread with remaining butter. Mix brown sugar with cinnamon; sprinkle over surface. Starting with the 12 inch side, roll up tightly. Cut into 12 slices; place cut side down in prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap; place on wire rack set over large pan of hot water. Let rise until buns double, 30 to 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 ° F. Uncover buns. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool for 1 minute. Loosen edges; invert onto a serving plate. Serve warm.
Yields: 12 Buns

Till Next Time…………..

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

Friday, March 16, 2012

"Girl Scouts" 100th Anniversary! Celebrate With The Green and Cookies

Don’t forget to wear green this weekend, it is a celebration! Yes, you guessed it, The Girl Scouts USA, are wearing green as it is their 100th anniversary! Oh wait, did you think I was talking about some other celebration wearing green. I can’t forget to mention Happy St. Patrick’s Day to everyone as well. But in this post I thought I would write about the Girl Scouts.
Girl Scout Cookies

The Girl Scouts of the USA, was started in March of 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low of Savannah, Ga. Her first meeting had 18 young girls in attendance. Juliette Low, who was called Daisy, encouraged girls to prepare for roles as professionals and for becoming active citizens in their communities. There were no exceptions, and called for all girls no matter what color, creed, economic status, or disability for 100 years. The first African American troop was established in 1917. Her values are only reinforced, as this year's theme is called “The Year of The Girl”. Today, the Girl Scout organization says it is dedicated to developing girls in the 3 C’s - Courage, Confidence, and Character.
Juliette Low

 Juliette Low in the early years supported the organization with her own funds. In 1915 it is said, that she sold her exquisite pearls in order have some money to run the organization for another year. She agreed with the board of the organization to establish a membership fee and institute a fund raising plan. Her friend, Mrs. Macy donated $1000 to recognize the power of the Girl Scouts as well as Juliette’s work. This is how the Girl Scout cookie fund raiser sales began, to help support the organization for the girls. 100% of the cookie proceeds stay with the girls and their local charities. Every cookie has a mission which is, “To Help Girls Do Great Things“.

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts, the US Postal Service will unveil a stamp later this year. In 2012, the Girl Scouts of USA, has a membership of more than 3.2 million girls and adults, spanning 90 countries. There are many living women in the United States today that are Girl Scout alumnae, and I am one of them.
My sash with Badges & Pins
Many years ago, I was a Girl Scout in troop #41, in Queens, New York. I started out as a Brownie, a Junior, and then became a Cadette Girl Scout. I still have my sash which includes all the badges I earned and many pins of excellence.  

I remember when I was a Girl Scout, our troop went camping, in upstate NY. It was in May and I was going to get my Emergency Preparedness Badge. My friends and I were very excited to go on our trip. We planned on hiking, campfires and having fun. That year the weather did not cooperate, as a snow storm occurred in the month of May out of no where. It wasn't just snow, I mean a blizzard! Now remember, we were dressed with shorts, light jackets and camping gear. We all were freezing and had no means to leave the campsite, till the storm ended. So we had to bear with what we had. The pipes to the well water had frozen and there was no water to be had, so I suggested that we get every pot we could find and fill it with snow. Then we put the pots on the fire and it melted. We used the melted water to cook with and keep ourselves warm. Needless to say, I earned my Emergency Preparedness Badge that year with no problems. But it will be a year that I never will forget. 
Girl Scout Uniform /Age 10
I bet you didn’t know that these women were Girl Scouts before they became famous: Vanessa Williams, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Jan Davis (NASA Astronaut), Barbara Walters, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Sandra Day O’Connor (Supreme Court Judge), to just mention a few.

My recipe this week is called “Cookie Sticks” (recipe from “Taste of Home"). These are easy and heavenly delicious. But don’t forget to buy Girl Scout cookies and support your local Girl Scout Troop in your community. Enjoy!!!!

Cookie Sticks

1/2 cup of canola oil
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 - 1/2 cups of all purpose unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (6 cups) of semisweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl, combine the oil, sugars, egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to sugar mixture and mix well. Divide dough in half. On a greased baking sheet, shape each portion into a 15-in X 3-in rectangle about 3 in apart. Sprinkle chocolate chips over dough; press lightly. Bake at 375 ° F for 6-7 minutes. (Bake for 8-9 minutes for crispier cookies) Cool for 5 minutes. Use a pizza cutter to cut each section into 4 large pieces to make them easy to transfer to cooling racks. Use a serrated knife to cut the cooled sections into 1-inch strips.
Till Next Time………. 
Copyright © 2012 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 9, 2012

"Welcome Around My Family Table" with "Caponata" & "Baked Tomatoes"

The Italian people are very serious about celebrating any type of family gathering. But what is even more serious to them is indulging in delicious foods which are prepared for these occasions. Foods that were passed down from generation to generation, are simple recipes made with the freshest ingredients, and you can feel the love that went into every special dish. So, come with me and enjoy the simple pleasures of Italian food. Welcome around my family table.

1950- From left: Grandfather Louis,
Grandmother Julia, Great-Grandmother
Sofia, & my Mom

My parents were both born in Brooklyn, NY to be exact, but some of my grandparents and great-grandparents were born in Italy. As a side note: also want to say a special “Happy Birthday” to my dad, whose birthday was February 9th, and my mom, whose birthday is March 10th. My parents are my heroes. They not only share their love of family and food but also their faith. No matter what life brings, they taught me to be strong and know that family and God is always there with love and support. So, I dedicate this blog post to my parents. Abbondanza!
My grandparent’s families on my mother’s side originated from towns called Caserta and Catanzaro. Caserta is located in the Campania region of Italy. Catanzaro, which is located south, in the Calabria region. The foods of these regions include fresh fish, homegrown vegetables, pastas, and pork.

My grandparent’s families on my father’s side originated from towns called Benevento and Castelvetrano. Benevento is an historic town in the hills of the Campania region, which is near Naples. Castelvetrano is located in the northern part of Sicily. Both regions have products that include wine, olives, tobacco, and fresh grown vegetables.

1952 From left: Grandfather Julius,
My Dad, Nanni, Front: My Mom
As you can see I have quite a colorful Italian background. I was very young when my maternal grandparents were alive, so I never heard any stories from them. My paternal grandfather passed when I was 20, and my paternal grandmother passed away when I was older, so I was able to get some information from her who we called “Nanni”. She would tell me stories of her life when she lived in Bayonne, NJ with her sisters and brothers, even some stories of her father making wine in the basement. Sadly, those times are gone now, but I can always have memories of my grandparents and try to honor them by continuing the traditions of family, food, and love.

I have two recipes this week to celebrate the regions in Italy, of both of my parent’s families. One is called, “Eggplant Caponata,” which is a traditional dish from Sicily. This can be served as a side dish or an appetizer on top of crisp Italian bread. The other recipe originated from Calabria, which my mom was taught how to prepare by her mother. This delicious side dish is called “Mama’s Baked Tomatoes”.
1. “Eggplant Caponata

1 large eggplant diced 1/2 inch cubes
2 1/2 cups of sliced onions
1 cup of diced celery
1 large clove of garlic-minced
1/2 cup of olive oil needed for sautéing
6 black olives & 6 green olives pitted and cut into slivers
3 teaspoons of drained capers
1/3 cup of golden raisins
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 15oz can of diced tomatoes
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon of dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Pine nuts (optional)

Cook your cubed eggplant in a good amount of olive oil in a large pan on medium heat until it gets soft and brown about 5 minutes or so. Next, add some more oil if needed as you sauté onion, celery and garlic, about another 5 minutes. Combine tomatoes, olives, capers, raisins, vinegar, basil, sugar, salt, pepper, and pine nuts. (optional) Stir and let it simmer covered for about 10 minutes, just until all is soft and combined. At this point, chill or serve warm with crusty bread.

2. “Mama’s Baked Tomatoes

6 medium tomatoes (soft ones are better)
2 cups of plain dry bread crumbs (Progresso)
1/3 cup of Pecorino Romano Grated Cheese
3 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons of dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons (plus) olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 350° degrees F. Use a baking sheet and spray with Pam or coat with olive oil so tomatoes will not stick, then set aside. Cut tomatoes after washed in half diagonally. Then squeeze out the juice and the seeds, and place on baking sheet cut side up. Mix the bread crumbs with the basil, minced garlic, grated cheese, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Add some olive oil and mix with hands. When it feels like a sandy consistency then you are ready to fill. If you need more oil, put in a small amount each time until you get the right consistency. Now take your tomato and top each one with your bread crumb mixture, gently packing them down. Sprinkle with a small amount of oil evenly on top of each tomato half. Bake, about 30 minutes uncovered, until tomatoes are cooked, (soft) and mixture is golden brown and crispy. Remove from oven and let sit before serving.
Yield: 12 halves
Till Next Time………….

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

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"Festa della Donna" Celebrate With An "Italian Spinach Ricotta Pie"

“La Festa della Donna, “is also called “International Women’s Day,” and it is celebrated on March 8th, which honors the equality of all women. This holiday originates from ancient Rome to celebrate the first day of Spring and the goddess called Ariadne. It is also a day of remembrance for women all over the world, but especially for those women who perished in a New York cotton textile factory fire. These women were protesting substandard working conditions on March 8, 1908. The owner blocked all the doors of the factory to prevent the workers from going on strike and leaving. There was an arson and all 129 women were trapped inside the burning building and died, mostly they were Italian immigrants.
 Textile Mill

Festa della Donna is also known to commemorate both the social, political, economic achievements, and rights of women all across the world. In Italy, this celebration was held for the first time in 1911. The “Women’s Day” was first celebrated in the United States in 1909. Italy honors women by parades and some political events. It is similar to Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day. But mostly Italian men step up their wishes to any women they encounter. They say with feeling and expression Auguri alle signore! This means “Best Wishes to the Ladies”. With that being said, the men in Italy, (the country of romance and food) prepare special dishes and baked goods for the women in their life. Whether it is their wife, mother, grandmother, aunt, friend, sister or daughter, they celebrate with respect and gratitude towards these women.  

Mom & Dad 1952
There is another custom for this day, which men present flowers to the women in their lives. This custom started in Italy, some sources say, Rome in 1946. The particular flower of choice is called the Mimosa, and was chosen by Italian feminists. It is also said that women have started to give each other the flower as a sign of solidarity and support for many oppressed women in the world. This flower was chosen because of its bright yellow color, fragrant scent, it is inexpensive and it blooms this time of the year. The Mimosa is cultivated for its flowers and honey production. The essential oils are used in perfumes and cosmetics. Its dense growth and spines makes it a good barrier plant, and the wood is sometimes used in bent- wood furniture.

In the United States on March 8, 2011 President Barack Obama proclaimed March to be “Women’s History Month” or “IWD“, and calling all Americans to reflect on the extraordinary accomplishments of women in shaping our country’s history. In 2011 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the, “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges”. Events are scheduled to take place in more that 100 countries around the world on International Women’s Day. 
My recipe this week is in honor of “Festa della Donna” and what better way to celebrate than with a dish my mother makes called “Italian Spinach Ricotta Pie”. It is an easy recipe, but a delectable way to serve for a brunch or a light dinner. It is extremely appealing to look at, as the green color of the spinach gives life to your vase of yellow Mimosa flowers on your table. This can be served with a salad, and a sparkling Mimosa cocktail to add to your celebration.

Italian Spinach Ricotta Pie

1 tablespoon of butter (unsalted)
1 cup of fresh onion (minced)
10 oz package of chopped spinach
2 eggs
15 oz container of Ricotta (either whole milk or low fat)
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
3/8 cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1--9 inch pie shell (deep) (Oronoque is the brand of pie crust)

Follow directions for baking pie shell (unfilled). Drain spinach by using hands to squeeze out moisture, or use a strainer. Melt butter and sauté onions until soft. Add spinach and stir until most of the moisture is gone. Then remove from heat. In a large bowl, add all the other ingredients to the spinach and stir until mixture looks like green and white marble. Pour into baked pie shell and bake at 350° F for about 40 minutes or until top is golden and filling is set.
Yields: 8 slices depending on how large you slice them.

Mimosa Cocktail

8 oz of chilled orange juice (fresh squeezed or in bottle)
4 oz of chilled Champagne or Prosecco
Pour orange juice into a chilled fluted Champagne glass over two ice cubes. Fill with the chilled Champagne or Prosecco, stir gently, and serve with a cherry.

Till Next Time………

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