Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Happy New Year" With "Italian Stuffed Artichokes" And "Stuffed Mushrooms"

As the clock strikes twelve midnight, on December 31st, people all over the world will wish each other a “Happy New Year-2013”. New Year’s is thought of as a time for hope, new goals, and new opportunities. We celebrate by going to parties, drinking champagne, eating, dancing, fireworks, and especially by being with our loved ones. Many cultures believe the key to a Happy New Year is beginning with lucky foods for New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day. There are many other traditions of the season not only lucky foods to eat, but also the making of New Year’s Resolutions.

“First Foot Day” or “First Footer” marks the beginning of the New Year and is said to bring good luck. It is the first male person who enters your home on New Year’s Day, who brings good fortune for the coming year. The First-Foot usually brings several gifts, including coins, bread, salt, coal, or a drink, usually Whisky. This represents financial prosperity, food, flavor, warmth and good cheer. This tradition started in Scotland and England. So watch who steps into your house first! It is also believed that the more you eat on New Year’s Eve the more money you will have for the year.

The Italian people welcome the New Year by tossing old things out of their windows! This is supposed to make room for the new and lucky items to enter their households and lives in the year to come. Some of the lucky foods that are eaten are round fruits such as oranges and pomegranates which symbolize coins and bring a prosperous New Year. Many people make Struffoli which are round little dough balls held together with honey. These are to symbolize the year coming full circle. Lentils and sausage is also a traditional dish that brings prosperity. (cotechino con lentichhie) Many cultures eat Pork because the fatty meat is symbolic of fattening their wallets. Cooked collard, spinach, cabbage and kale are all to symbolize paper money. Black Eyed Peas and cornbread is a traditional Southern dish in the US.

Did you know that if you eat 12 grapes one at a time as each chime strikes at midnight on the clock, it is supposed to guarantee sweetness and fortune in the coming year? Each grapes follows a month, (first grape is January etc.) so if you happen to get a sour grape along the way, it is said to predict that month will be a challenging one in 2013. Fish is also a lucky food choice since most fish swim forward and the scales are believed to symbolize silver. No lobster or crab as they walk sideways and backwards.

So, as I close this post, I want to wish everyone across the world who reads my blog a very “Happy New Year 2013”. May we all have a year filled with Love, Family, Friends, Happiness, Health, Wealth, and Food. This week I have two recipes to share, “Stuffed Italian Artichokes” and “Italian Stuffed Mushrooms”. I guarantee you will not only enjoy these delicious recipes but you will want to make them for your family throughout the year.

“Stuffed Italian Artichokes"


6 medium artichokes
1 1/4 cups of bread crumbs (plain)
1/2 cup of grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
1/2 cup of fresh chopped parsley
2 teaspoons of minced garlic (fresh or jar)
3/4 tsp of salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup of olive oil or vegetable oil


Cut off stem and 3/4 off the top of artichoke. Then remove some of the outer leaves at the bottom. Use scissors to clip off top of side leaves. (That removes the sticky point on each leaf) Then wash in deep bowl. Fill large pot with water and boil. Place the artichokes in pot carefully and lower heat to medium for about 7 minutes. Fork test bottom of artichoke for tenderness. If fork goes in and out easily, they are done. Next drain and run cold water on artichokes let them sit and cool off. While they are cooling down, mix the bread crumbs, parsley, minced garlic, grated cheese and a sprinkle of salt with pepper. Mix in a little oil with hands. When it feels like a sandy consistency then you are ready to fill. Gently spread the leaves a little apart and sprinkle some of the bread crumb mixture between each of the leaves. Place the stuffed artichokes in a glass Pyrex baking dish. (7x11x1.5) Drizzle a small amount of oil on top of each artichoke. Put a small amount of water in bottom of pan about 1/ 4 inch deep. Bake for about 25-30 minutes at 350° The top should be a little browned and crispy. Serve hot.

“Italian Stuffed Mushrooms”

48 oz large white button mushrooms
2 cups of plain dried bread crumbs
1/3 cup of Pecorino Romano grated cheese
3 teaspoons of minced garlic fresh or jar
2 tablespoons of fresh chopped Italian parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup of olive or vegetable oil


Preheat oven to 350 F. Clean mushrooms and take the stem off. Mix the bread crumbs with the parsley, garlic, Pecorino Romano, salt and peeper in a small bowl. Now add some oil (about 2 tablespoons) and mix with hands. If you need more oil put in small amount each time until you are mixing the right consistency. When it feels like a sandy consistency then you are ready to stuff the mushroom caps and place on a large cookie/pan sheet. Now, drizzle a small amount of the remaining oil over the top of each mushroom. (This is so they do not dry out, but do not soak) Bake until mushrooms are browned and tender about 25-30 minutes.

Till Next Time……….
Copyright © 2012 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"Buon Natale a tutti"…. "Merry Christmas"

"Buon Natale a tutti"  …. "Merry Christmas"


From my family to yours, I would like to wish all of my readers a Blessed Merry Christmas. Thank you for your support and visiting “Family Plus Food Equals Love”. I hope that you have enjoyed my stories and recipes. Be sure to come back next week as I have more recipes to share.

Love & Peace,

Till Next Time………………………………...

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

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Biscotti With Cranberries And Pistachios" Plus "Italian Sesame Cookies"

Tis’ the season to be jolly and fill your tummy with some Biscotti! Christmas is less than one week away and it’s time to finish your baking. I have a few more desserts and cookies to bake before Santa comes tumbling down that chimney.

As I go through my recipe file, I am reminded of my favorite Christmas story, “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens. (December 19, 1843) Dickens resurrected the celebration of Christmas. He gave a rebirth to religious beliefs, jubilation, joyous feasts, family, generosity, and good will towards men by writing this beloved tale. Dickens illustrates how self-serving, insensitive people can be. Then transformed them into charitable, caring, and mindful members of society.

The practice of wishing others “Merry Christmas” can be traced back to “A Christmas Carol”. Christmas dinner became a respected tradition with the richness of family and friends. We need to cherish our loved ones every moment of the day and show them how important they are in our lives. This Yuletide season gives us an abundant amount of Christmas joy with friends, family, and the Ghost of Christmas Present! “God Bless Us Everyone!” (Quote by Tiny Tim, from a Christmas Carol)

I have two recipes of cookies to share with you this week. One is an “Italian Biscotti” and the other is an “Italian Sesame Cookie“. The Biscotti is a dry cookie that is twice-baked and traditionally served with a glass of Vin Santo wine after dinner. These crunchy cookies that taste sweet and savory are complemented by coffee, tea, or cappuccino. The Italian Sesame Cookie is also a cookie that reminds me of little Italian bread rolls. The sesame seeds add to the hint of anise flavor in this delightful small cookie. What a way to celebrate the Christmas season!
Buon Natale everyone!

Italian Biscotti with Cranberries and Pistachios

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup dried sweet cranberries chopped

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer beat the sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl to blend. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the flour mixture with cinnamon and beat just until blended. Stir in the pistachios and dried cranberries. Form the dough into a 13-inch wide log on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until light golden brown, about 40 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes. Place the log on the cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log on the baking sheet.
Bake the biscotti until they are pale golden about 15 minutes. Transfer the biscotti to a rack and cool completely. You can also dip one end in melted chocolate and then dip in chopped pistachios. The biscotti can be made ahead. Store them in an airtight container up to 4 days, or wrap them in foil and freeze in re-sealable plastic bags up to 3 weeks.

Italian Sesame Cookies

4 cups of flour
1 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of Crisco Solid
2 eggs
1 /2 cup of milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 teaspoon of anise extract
Sesame seeds

Cut in 1 cup of shortening (Crisco Solid). Beat slightly 2 eggs. Add to eggs: 1/2 cup of milk. Combine dry and liquid ingredients. Pinch off a small amount of dough and roll in your hands. Shape into a size of a finger and taper at each end. (You can also create any shape to make these cookies in example: crescent, star, round etc) Now roll in the sesame seeds. Bake at 375° for about 12-15 minutes depending on your oven and the type of pans you use.
Till Next Time………………………..

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

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Traditions & "Sicilian Rice Balls" Recipe

Family, traditions, religion, giving, sharing, and food. All of these words describe what Christmas is all about to me. As Christmas is almost a week away I sometimes wonder what traditions are really all about? I know that in my Italian family our customs are very important as we celebrate the Birth of Jesus, which is what they say is the "reason for the season". Our festivities include being together as a family, Christmas Mass, plus enjoying all the foods that have been passed down through many generations. We all know about the Christmas tree, Santa, and the Nativity. But do we really know how these customs became traditions?

The word Christmas is derived from the English “Christemasse” which it’s meaning is “Christ’s mass”, hence forth the word Christmas. This day commemorates the birth of the baby “Jesus”. Although no one knows the exact date Jesus was born, Christians have favored December 25th since ancient times. It is the date on which the Romans marked the Winter Solstice.

Modern customs include gift giving, exchange of Christmas cards, various decorations including the Christmas tree, lights, and of course Jolly Old Saint Nick. Santa Claus is also referred to as Father Christmas. It is believed that Santa first appeared in the 19th century and resembles Saint Nicholas. The first Christmas tree was brought to America from the German people that immigrated in the early 1800s. Tradition states that the tree symbolized the cross that Christ died for our sins. The green tree represents new life and the lights on the tree symbolize the birth of Christ, that He is the “Light of the World“. Red ornaments signify the blood Jesus shed for our sins. To top the tree either an angel or a star is used, to symbolize the angels that were there when Jesus was born, and the Star is to guide the Three Wise Men or the Magi to the baby Jesus.

Grandparents, Julia & Louis Fiore & me
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is a time when family and friends enjoy feasting on traditional foods, sweet desserts, and drinks to enjoy the season. Eggnog, Fruit Cake, Gingerbread Men, Candy Canes, and Cookies are very popular at this time of the year. My mom would prepare her menu and guest list many days ahead of time. My maternal grandparents used to live upstairs from my family. I remember when I was young going upstairs, my grandfather would play with me. He loved wood puzzles, the kind that you had to fit the pieces into a ball or square. My grandfather Louis died when I was 7 years old so I can only remember a little of my time with him. But whatever I remember he was a loving man and my grandmother Julia, was a sweet, person who loved her family very much. She died much later in my life, when I was about 20. So I remember many times baking with her and my mother. In Italy, Christmas Eve is called “La Vigilia di Natale” and Merry Christmas is called “Buon Natale”.

My recipe this week I would love to share is called “Sicilian Rice Balls” or “Arancini”. These fried balls of tasty rice are filled with cheese and Italian ham all rolled into one ball of delightful flavor. You just can’t have one.

Sicilian Rice Balls

1 cup of Arborio rice
3 large eggs
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup of grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
1/4 cup of diced mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup of diced Prosciutto or ham (about two ounces)
3 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
2 cups bread crumbs
1/4 cup of tomato sauce
Vegetable oil for deep-frying

Cook rice in 2 1/2 cups of boiling water for about 15 minutes. The rice should be still quite firm. Drain and put in bowl. Lightly beat 1 egg and add to the rice, along with the grated cheese, parsley, 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce and salt plus pepper. Mix well. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. In another bowl, mix the mozzarella cheese, prosciutto or ham and the remaining 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce.
With floured hands, divide the rice mixture into 8 or 10 portions and roll each portion into a ball, the size of a small orange. Poke a hole into the center of each ball with your finger and insert about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mozzarella mixture. Reshape and smooth the balls to enclose the filling. In a shallow dish, beat the remaining 2 eggs. Put breadcrumbs into a shallow dish. Dip the balls into the eggs, coat well. Then coat into breadcrumbs evenly. Let them dry on a plate in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
In deep fry pan, heat oil to 375° F. Fry the balls until they are golden brown on all sides. Drain them on paper towels and serve immediately, with some tomato sauce. Enjoy..Abbondanza!!!

Till Next Time……….

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

Friday, December 7, 2012

“Poinsettia Cocktail” & “Mexican Wedding Cookies” To Get You In The Holiday Spirit!

Christmas is almost here! I am so excited! Christmas is my very favorite holiday. Each year I start to plan my decorating strategy from the summer. Where to put my tree, what decorations should I use, and what new ideas have I learned throughout the year? If I could I would have Christmas all year long, but I don’t think my family and friends would appreciate seeing Santa next to the Easter Bunny. The colors I usually use at Christmas are the traditional gold, greens, and reds. My green tree is decorated with mini white lights and strings of white pearls as a garland that shimmers in between the glowing lights. I use many ornaments on my tree from beautiful sparkling balls to memorable items that have been made or given to me from family or friends. On top of my radiant Christmas tree I place a white Angel that glows just like a beacon of light as she shines on all of the spectacular decorations. One of the last items I will purchase to finish off my magical Christmas is some beautiful red Poinsettia plants that just bring the warmth of family and friends to any room. It just screams Merry Christmas to one and all!

Speaking of Poinsettias, December 12th just happens to be “National Poinsettia Day!” On this day it is a tradition to give a poinsettia plant to someone in your family or a friend, so they can enjoy its colorful beauty for the holiday season. The Poinsettia is also known as the Christmas flower. According to legend a child who couldn’t afford a gift to offer to the Christ child, was told by an Angel to pick some weeds from the side of a road. The tale continues that a humble gift, if it is given with love, would be acceptable in God’s eyes. The weeds turned into brilliant red blooms which we now call the Poinsettia. The Star-shaped pattern of the Poinsettia leaf is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem.
The Poinsettia is indigenous to Mexico and Central America. Its English name came from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the United States in 1825. The plant has dark green leaves and it colored leaves can be in a pale green, white, pink, cream, marbled, and of course flaming red. Poinsettias are also known as the Winter Rose, Lobster Flower, Mexican Flame Leaf, and the Christmas Star. Poinsettias are grown as indoor plants and need exposure to the morning sun and then shade in the hotter part of the day. In North America, Poinsettias are the number one selling potted plant, grossing more than $250 million in sales during the 6 week period before Christmas. 90% of all Poinsettias are exported from the U.S. and California is the top producing state. So, this year be sure to give someone you love a Poinsettia plant. After all it is “National Poinsettia Day!”

This week I have two recipes to share. One is a “Poinsettia Cocktail” that will put you in the spirit of the holiday season. The other is in honor of the Poinsettia called “Mexican Wedding Cookies”. Both are simple and scrumptious that you will add these two recipes to your Christmas celebrations every year. Enjoy! 
Poinsettia Cocktail

1 part of Vodka
1 part of Champagne/sparkling white wine
2 parts of cranberry juice
Some cranberries for garnish

Chill Champagne flutes before serving. First add the cranberry juice and vodka into a glass, mix well. Then just before serving, gently top off this mixture with the bubbly. Garnish with cranberries, even over crushed ice is nice. Merry, Merry Christmas!!!

“Mexican Wedding Balls

1 cup of unsalted COLD butter (2 sticks)
3/4 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of Vanilla extract
2 cups of all purpose unbleached flour; plus more for dusting hands
1 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts
Powdered sugar to coat balls

Preheat oven to 300° F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar at low speed until it is smooth. Beat in the vanilla.
At low speed gradually add the flour. Mix in the nuts with a spatula. With floured hands, take about 1 tablespoon of dough and shape into a ball. Continue to dust hands with flour as you make more cookies. Place onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 20-30 minutes. When cool enough to handle but still warm, roll in confectioners sugar. Cool on wire racks. Yield: depending on the size of the balls you make. This recipe makes about 2 dozen. Enjoy!

Till Next Time…………………………….

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