Sunday, March 27, 2011

Family Customs For Lent

Spring may not have made a commitment to New York just yet, but regardless of the weather, it’s that time of year again: Lent. Looking for a fish dish for Fridays? Fish or a meatless meal has always been a tradition during Lent.

In memory of the Crucifixion of Christ, Friday became a day of abstinence. One day of the week was to be set aside by early Christians to link themselves with the tragic death of Jesus, which was on Good Friday.

My family was a good model of a Catholic household. My brothers went to Catholic School. I was in the choir of our church and also taught religion to the second grade Communion class. Went to Church on Sunday with the family and received all of our Sacraments. We always participated in holy days of obligation. And we always managed to eat fish or a meatless meal on Fridays.

When I was young, much to my dismay, this meant that a tuna fish or egg salad sandwich was in my lunchbox, which the smell permeated everything including any cookies or fruit. I hated this part of Lent. But, of course, Lent is about penance. Lent is also about giving, but I tried to give up my sandwich but none of my classmates wanted my tuna or egg salad sandwich either.

It was not always fish on Fridays. Sometimes my mother would change the menu on Fridays and we would have for dinner English Muffin pizza’s, or grilled cheese sandwiches with a tomato salad. Which the latter was my favorite. Gooey cheese coming out of the toasted bread. The tomato salad was cut up in cubes and mixed with cucumbers, olive oil and oregano. I do remember many a times when Mom would prepare fish and we would be eating it, she would say to my brothers and myself, “do not talk while you are eating the fish”. We always asked her why and she would say that sometimes there might be some small bones in whatever fish she made for dinner and she didn’t want us to swallow them. This really didn’t make much sense when we were young, but now it does. My Mother was very wise. Even today if we are eating fish in her company, we will tease her and say “don’t talk while you are eating the fish”, which gets everyone laughing and memories are made once again.

One of my favorite fish meals that my Mom cooks is her Baked Salmon recipe. It is a very good source of fatty acids like Omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids reduces inflammation of the arteries and digestive system, reduces the chance of cancer of the colon, prostrate and kidneys etc., improves skin texture, adds shining to your eyes, skin, hair and nails and helps in the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon. The fatter the salmon, the more nutritious and healthy it is.

So as Friday’s come and go in this season of Lent, here is my Mother’s recipe for her Baked Salmon. It is really easy and so tasty. It melts in your mouth.

Baked SalmonDirections:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Tear off a piece of aluminum foil a little larger than twice the size of salmon. Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray. Place the salmon in the middle of the foil.
Add your seasonings, (example: lemon pepper, spices) butter or other ingredients you wish to bake the salmon with. Take the two opposite edges of the foil and bring them together over the piece of salmon. Fold the edges down several times, creating a seal.
Take the two remaining open ends and fold to seal together. Place the foil-wrapped salmon on a baking sheet and place in preheated oven. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

" Spring Has Sprung "

We’ve “sprung ahead” for daylight saving time and now Spring begins on March 20th, 2011 at 7:21 pm EDT. The first day of Spring, also known as the Vernal Equinox, is when the Sun crosses the equator from South to North signaling the beginning of our Spring season in the Northern Hemisphere. As Winter leaves us for another year, you don’t have to look far to see signs of Spring. From the trees budding, flowers peeking up from the ground and the temperatures rising, there seems to be a promise of new birth and color in the Springtime air.

Christians celebrate Easter during the Spring season to glorify Christ’s resurrection and a metaphor for rebirth of nature or new life. Eggs are traditionally a symbol of fertility and growth. Which is why Easter eggs are so popular at this time of the year. According to folklore the first day of Spring is the only time of the year that you can balance a raw egg on its end. The egg legend got its start in 1945 when a reporter for Life Magazine wrote a story about a Chinese ritual in which people stood eggs on its end the first day of Spring.
The truth is that you can balance a raw egg any other day of the year. The pull of gravity or the position of the Sun has nothing to do with it. But it is fun to try.
I remember when my brothers and I were young, we tried to balance the eggs one first day of Spring. But we had to balance them at the exact moment Spring arrived. We would look at the clock and take our raw egg to the kitchen table and then try to balance it. Sometimes, all three of us would get real close, but then it would roll the other way. A few times they cracked and raw, gooey eggs would be on the table. Needless to say it really didn’t work, but the fun and laughter we had will be a memory that will last forever.

There are many things that Spring time is known for. It is a prelude for Summer to clean up your garden to get ready for planting and your backyard for relaxing in the warmer weather. There are many events and holidays that fall in Spring time, to name a few Major League Baseball starts, Spring fashions, Earth Day, Easter Sunday, Passover and of course Mother’s Day ( A very important day in our family).

At this time of the year it seems that we all are getting tired of Winter vegetables. Some fruits and vegetables are reaching their peak in the Spring. To name a few of my families favorites which are Artichokes, Asparagus, Fennel, and Beets. I have a recipe that I know you will love. It is a real favorite of my family. It is called Asparagus Soup. Please try it as it is easy and very nutritious for you. Asparagus has a lot of vitamin K. I know that you will enjoy this recipe and make it a favorite in your house too.

Asparagus Soup

1/4 cup of vegetable oil
3 cloves of chopped garlic
1 ½ lbs. of thin asparagus (break off tough bottom part and discard)
some salt
fresh parsley (a hand full)
1 egg (beaten)
some Pecorino Romano grated cheese

Coat bottom of large pot with oil. When oil is warm, put in chopped garlic. Cut up asparagus into 2-3 pieces. Then place asparagus in oil with the garlic. Add a little salt and stir together. Add water to cover the top of asparagus. Then add the fresh parsley. Cook on medium heat for about 15-20 minutes. Once asparagus is cooked then stir in 1 beaten egg. Use a beating motion to stir in the egg as you want it to look like egg drop soup. Serve with small pasta mixed in (optional) or just plain. Also tastes wonderful with some Pecorino Romano grated cheese on top.
Enjoy and Happy Spring !!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

St. Patrick's Day and St. Joseph's Day

Thursday, March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day. Throughout the world the Irish family is celebrating and welcomes all those who become Irish on this day. Every year across the globe to commemorate the death of Ireland’s Patron Saint and to celebrate Ireland's proud Irish history are many parades and events.
St. Patrick’s Day customs came to America in 1737. That was the first year St. Patrick’s Day was publicly celebrated in Boston, Massachusetts. There are many legends associated with St. Patrick. One legend among many others is said that St. Patrick used the three leafed Shamrocks to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. Though originally a Catholic Holy Day, it now has become a holiday to celebrate Irish culture by wearing green, eating Irish food, imbibing Irish drink, and enjoying many other things Irish. Shamrocks, Blarney Stones, Pots of Gold, Celtic Fairies, and even dyeing rivers with green food coloring to name a few are all Irish traditions and legends.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all !!!!

As much as I love St. Patrick’s Day, I also love St. Joseph’s Day, which is on Saturday, March 19th. As an Italian American St. Joseph’s Day was also celebrated in my family. (“San Giuseppe” in Italian) is regarded in Sicily, Italy as their Patron Saint. St. Joseph was the biblical father of Jesus or foster father.
According to legend, there was a severe drought at the time and many people prayed to their patron saint to bring them rain. They promised that if he answered their prayers, they would prepare a large feast to honor him. Their prayers were answered and the rain did come. So the people of Sicily prepared a large banquet for their patron saint. The Fava bean was the crop that saved them from starvation and is part of St. Joseph’s Day traditions. St. Joseph, is the patron saint of the family, and also the patron saint of pastry chefs.
Some traditions and customs of St. Joseph’s Day are to give food to the needy, wear red clothing, make and decorate altars with flowers, wine, fava beans and many breads and sweet cakes. Foods are traditionally served containing bread crumbs to represent saw dust since St. Joseph was a carpenter thus that is why many sweet breads are made. In Italy, the Feast of San Giuseppe is a national holiday. It is Father’s Day in Italy. The sweets that are prepared are pastries that may be fried or baked and are sometimes filled with sweetened ricotta, pastry cream or custard. The most famous of these delicious pastries that are very traditional are called Zeppole, (fried dough). Other treats are called frittelle, sfinci, and cream puffs filled with whipped cream or custard.
Auguri !!! ( to wish you well or luck) to all that were named after St. Joseph.
So to honor St. Joseph and my Father’s mother (my Nanni) who came from a town in Sicily called Castelvetrano, here is a recipe for Zeppole. Hope that you enjoy it.

Zeppole Dough
Makes up to 2 dozen

Enough vegetable or canola oil to fry with
1 ½ cups water ( warm -115° )
1 packet (2 ¼ tsp) active dry yeast
2 cups of all purpose unbleached flour
1 tsp. of salt
Choice of topping, like powdered sugar or honey

Dissolve yeast in warm water. In a medium bowl combine flour and salt. Add water and yeast mixture to dry ingredients and stir until blended.
Dough will be sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set in warm place to rise for one hour.
Heat oil to 375° . Use non-sticking spray on your spoon or ladle. Use your spoon or ladle to put batter in oil. (You get different shapes when you fry them. In Italy they would use their hands to drop the batter in the oil.)
Fry Zeppole for about 2-3 minutes (depending on the size) until golden on the outside and cooked through.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar or drizzle some honey on them. Serve Warm.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Happy Birthday Mom......

Today, is my Mother’s Birthday. My Mom is the heart of our home. She is the one that gets everyone together for Birthdays and Holidays. She loves to cook meals for the family especially her grandchildren (5=2 girls and 3 boys). She exhumes Love, Joy, Faith and has the patience of a Saint. Everyone in the family can attest to her strength, her honesty, and her warmth. My Mom embodies what a Mother should be and shares her wisdom with everyone she meets. Her hobbies include reading, gardening, cooking and spending time with my Dad, her family and friends. I have so many memories of my childhood with my Mom, but these thoughts are a special way to wish my Mom a Happy Birthday !!!

My Mom was a teacher by profession and as they say chief, cook and bottle washer. She did it all. Took care of three children, ran a home, was a teacher and there was always a hot meal on the table at night for dinner. I don’t know how she did it all. She would make us breakfast in the morning and made sure we had very nutritious and satisfying lunch for school. Then in the evening she made dinner mostly from scratch, as in the 50’s,60’s and 70’s they didn’t have much of the prepackaged prepared foods as they do now. Many of my fondest memories was helping my Mom make dinner. The smells of chicken or pork cooking in the oven with potatoes and onions was a wonderful way to grow up. On Sundays, church was always the top priority ( the whole family would go together and get dressed up not like today with jeans) and then we would come home and prepare for dinner which we would eat about 2:00 pm our larger meal. Sunday was not only for church but for family. We always had company over, whether it be my Grandparents, friends, or Aunts and Uncles. Now, this is what I mean about food being centered around our family. The table had to be set just so, with the proper placement of forks, spoons and knives. We had a centerpiece that coordinated with each holiday and we would always use the good china and silverware. Especially before a major holiday, like Christmas or Easter the silver polish would come out and my job was to help clean the silver serving trays. We also polished all of the furniture as everything had to be just perfect. Even now if I smell Gorham silver polish it brings back memories of family gatherings long ago. Now back to the food, my Mom would list on a piece of paper what she was going to make for that Sunday meal which was very important. She always said to make a list so you would not forget to put a dish out on the table. A typical Sunday meal was centered on pasta (macaroni or mac’s for short we would call it) and meatballs as a first dish and then came the entrĂ©e with all the trimmings. Either chicken, pork roast, or a roast beef. Then the veggies were either broccoli, stuffed mushrooms, fried cardoons ( like a celery but tastes like an artichoke) the list is too numerous to mention. Then the starch was either potatoes mashed, baked, in a gratin or rice. A lettuce salad was a must. It contained everything from lettuce of all types, cucumbers, radishes, sweet sliced peppers, red onions, and chunks of carrots or celery. The dressing was made with the best olive oil and always balsamic vinegar. After every one was almost busting out of their clothes came the coffee, demitasse, (Italian black coffee) tea, fruit, nuts, figs and the desserts. Now baking is my forte so I salivated over all of the Italian pastries including cannoli, sfogligtelli, cream puffs, cookies with pignoli nuts, and cheese cakes. We of course do not eat like that anymore, thank goodness or we will have to be rolled out of the house. Things were different then, I think this describes it very well, “ Family Plus Food Equals Love.”

Here is a recipe that my Mom really enjoys. She loves pasta of any kind. If she was on an island and could bring only one kind of food with her it would be Pasta. So this one is for you Mom…Hope that you enjoy your Birthday……
Love your daughter Dottie xx J

This pasta classic is so tasty, you might think you were dining at the neighborhood Italian restaurant. You can serve this with garlic bread and a tossed salad. Enjoy !!!!

White Clam Sauce with Linguini

Ingredients:8 ounces of linguini
2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 / 4 cup of Olive Oil
2   6 ½ oz chopped clams (each), drained, reserving liquid
1 8 oz. bottle of clam juice
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
Dash of pepper

Cook pasta as directed on package.
In medium sauce pan cook garlic in oil till tender
Add reserved clam liquid and remaining ingredients
except clams. Bring to a boil; and reduce heat and simmer
for 5 minutes. Add clams and heat thoroughly. Serve over
hot linguini.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Celebrate Carnevale !!!!

It’s Carnevale time !!! Being an Italian American, Carnevale is celebrated much like Mardri Gras, but with an Italian flare to it. Carnevale which means in Italian “ goodbye to meat” is celebrated about a week before the beginning of Lent. It is the last chance to party-hardy before six weeks of abstinence. Traditionally during Lent, people refrained from eating, meat, dairy, fats and sugars. So to dispose of these types of foods and drinks they involved the whole community to consume this food many years ago. You could say a giant party -thus became Carnevale.
Carnevale is a festival traditionally held by Christians, but many cities and regions worldwide celebrate with large events leading up to Ash Wednesday. Which is when all the fasting takes place for 40 days till Easter Sunday.
The most famous Carnivale in Italy to name a few are held in Venice, Viareggio, Ivrea, Acireale, Milan, Verona, and Putignano. They have a variety of celebrations which include floats, parades, stilt walkers, throwing confetti, and masquerade balls. Masks are worn to allow people of the lower class to be mixed and undetected with the aristocrats.
The traditional colors of the masks are purple, green and gold. These colors capture the essence of the Holy Trinity. In the Christian faith it is related also to the Three Kings of the Orient. The colors represents purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power.
So, come with me and lets cook up a sweet dessert for Carnevale !!! This recipe is called in Italian “ Cenci ” which means “rags/ribbons”. When I was young I remember my grandmother “Nanni” used to make this type of Italian cookie. Instead of long strips sometimes Nanni would take up the two ends and make a knot in the middle before frying them up which would look like bow ties. As a young girl I remember calling them bows or bow ties, but we knew what they were and how sweet and yummy especially with some powdered sugar or honey on them. Sooo good !


3 eggs
3 Tablespoons of sugar
½ teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract
½ teaspoon of salt
2 cups of all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons of unsalted softened butter
Oil for deep fat-frying
Confectioners sugar or honey

In a bowl, beat eggs, sugar and salt until frothy. Stir in vanilla or almond extract. Sift flour with baking powder and gradually add to batter. Add butter and mix well. Turn out on a floured surface: knead for at least 10 minutes. Divide dough into half; then roll each as thin as possible (noodle thickness) Cut into 5” x 1” strips with a knife or scalloped pastry wheel.
Preheat oil to about 375° ; then fry cookies until golden brown about 1 minute per side. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with confectioners sugar or drizzle honey on top. Cookies are best served the same day.
Enjoy with tea, coffee or your favorite drink.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Facts of Rice....

Rice consumption is on the rise. In fact, Americans eat twice as much rice now than they did 10 years ago. People have been growing rice for almost 10,000 years.
Rice has many health benefits such as being rich in fiber. Rice reduces blood pressure due to its low sodium content. It also has the presence of potassium. Rice will stimulate the elimination of liquids and reduces the pressure and risks of heart problems. Brown rice is the healthiest and white rice is the least nutritional but it is not considered particularly unhealthy.
Rice is high in complex carbohydrates, contains almost no fat, and is cholesterol free. Rice is also gluten free which makes it easily digestible.
If you have walked down the rice aisle lately at the supermarket, you’ve no doubt been surprised at the number of options available for the consumer who needs to purchase this very common staple. These days, rice is no longer just a few select varieties.
Worldwide there are more than 40,000 different varieties of rice. There are about 20 rice types grown in the US. They are classified as Long, Medium or Short grain. California grows, short and medium grain. While Arkansas produces medium and long grain varieties. Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas grow long grain rice with some production of medium grain varieties in each state.

Long Grain: perfect choice for side dish, main dish or salad recipes.
Medium grain: ideal for dessert, casseroles, bread and stir-fry recipes.
Short grain: great for stir-fry recipes and puddings.

Please join me in cooking this recipe which is a favorite of my family. It is made with long grain rice. The recipe is called “ Rice with Campbell’s Onion Soup. This rice dish can be a tasty side with either meat, chicken and or fish which would go great with any vegetable as well. I know that your family would love it just like mine does.

Rice with Campbell’s Onion Soup

1 cup of uncooked long grain rice (Uncle Bens)
½ stick of unsalted butter
2 cans of Campbell’s Onion Soup (10 oz size)
10 oz of water (in each of the 2 cans from the soup)

Melt the butter in a pan. I usually use a large skillet. (Do not burn) Then add the cup of uncooked rice, mix with butter till golden brown. Now add the cans of soup and the water.
Stir till all mixed. Put on low heat and cover for 20 minutes. Stir frequently.
Then serve while hot with your meal and enjoy.