Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent, Saint Nicholas Day, And A Delicious Escarole Soup Recipe

As I began to write this post, my eyes glanced at the calendar, and as I looked closer, I read that tomorrow is December 1st. It was only Thanksgiving last week. As I get older I learn that each year the days and months get shorter. With that being said, the beginning of December means that Advent is upon us. Advent is the religious countdown to Christmas, which is my favorite holiday of the year. It seems to be a magical time, as I start to decorate my house for this joyous season. Everyday another room gets transformed into what my family calls “Dottie’s Christmas Village“. I have many candles and lots of beautiful angels plus you can’t forget the tree, with jolly old St. Nick under its branches. My Nativity takes a special place on my mantle surrounded by golden angels and branches of pines trees which fills the room with the scent of outdoors. As I unpack all of the decorations and ornaments for the tree, I seem to travel back in time. I am reminded of all my treasured keepsakes and who gave them to me throughout the years. One of the first items I take out is my Advent calendar and place it in a spot that all could see. During the Advent season, Christians all over the world start to prepare for the birth of Jesus. In celebration of his birth, there are many preparations, such as decorating your house and tree, wrapping gifts, cards to write, meals to plan and cook, baking cookies, gingerbread houses and most of all who will be attending Midnight Mass.

Advent is a tradition in my home, when my son was young. My grandmother (Nanni) started giving him an advent calendar every year, so he could understand how many days were left till Christmas Day. Everyday my son looked forward to opening another door and see what was behind it. Sometimes a short poem, a Christmas word, a chocolate kiss, or even something that pertained to the birth of Jesus. After my Nanni passed on, I continued the tradition for my son as well as my nieces and nephews.

Advent wreaths are different. They do not start on December 1st, but this wreath has a liturgical meaning, and starts usually the last Sunday in November for 4 consecutive Sundays till Christmas. This wreath consists of 4 candles. (3 purple and one pink) One candle is lit on each of the Sundays leading up to Christmas. The circle of the wreath means, God’s eternity, no beginning or end. The green of the wreath means the hope that we have in God, and the candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through His birth.

The beginning of December is not only for Advent but on December 6th we celebrate the feast of Saint Nicholas. Whether you call him, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Santa Claus, St. Nick, or any other names that are used for him, Santa is still the hero of millions of children in the whole world. He had a reputation for secret gift giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and that is how he became the model for our modern day Santa Claus, which also comes from the Dutch name called Sinterklaas. St. Nicholas (San Nicola) is the patron saint of Bari, in Italy, where his relics are buried in the Basilica di San Nicola (Basilica of St. Nicholas). So don’t forget to put your shoes outside on December 5th and see what goodies St. Nicholas puts in them on December 6th. 

My Parents Wedding 1951
As I end this post, I have one last event that I must share with you my readers. This year on December 2nd it will be my parents “60th” Wedding Anniversary. As I reflect on many memories, this poem says it all. Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad, Thank you, and I love you both. ©

One by one each year flew by. Since you both said “I do”
60 years of memories, Shared by the two of you.
From big events and holidays, To simple daily pleasures,
Some tearful times along life’s way, Some joys that can’t be measured,
One by one each year now gone, But still they’re yours forever,
Each and every memory. Of “60” Years together!


My recipe this week is my mom's Escarole Soup. This recipe is a traditional dish that is made to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day, on December 6th. Its origin is Italian and you can also add white kidney beans and tortellini to the soup.

Escarole Soup


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pound of escarole, chopped and washed
4 cups low-salt chicken broth
Freshly ground pepper
Grated Pecorino-Romano cheese

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the escarole and sauté until wilted, about 3 minutes. Add a pinch of salt. Add the chicken broth, cover and simmer about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. You can add a can of white kidney beans (washed and rinsed) plus cooked Tortellini. Serve with crusty Italian bread and top with grated Pecorino-Romano cheese.

 Till Next Time……

Copyright © 2011 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Happy Thanksgiving" From Me To You & An Italian "Rice Stuffing" Recipe

My wish for you, my readers is a festive and thankful holiday, filled with family, friends, and all the fixings. I, among everyone else, have many things to be thankful for, especially to you my readers. Since I have started this blog in January, I have learned a lot and made so many wonderful friends. So, a big thank you, to my readers for enjoying my stories and trying my families’ favorite recipes.

While Thanksgiving is a holiday that America celebrates, Italian Americans have added a unique flavor to this holiday. In Italy, the Italians do not celebrate Thanksgiving as we know it here in America. They do have a few holidays called La Festa del Ringraziamento (Festival of Thanks). These are “feast days” referring to religious holidays held throughout the year to honor mostly patron saints. They do have harvest celebrations throughout their fall season. Many Italians that have immigrated to America have welcomed Thanksgiving, in their own distinctive way.

Italians love any holiday that brings together family, friends, and food. Every Italian family has their own traditions and recipes that are unique and make Thanksgiving special. As well as turkey and the trimmings, Italian Americans will often add to their dinner an antipasto, a pasta or soup course, and the desserts are not only your typical pumpkin pie, but sweets and pastries that Italians are known for.

In my family, Thanksgiving has the same menu as any other traditional Thanksgiving dinners, but we always seem to “Italianize” the food. Whether it was a Sunday or Christmas, our dinner starts at about 2:00 pm with maybe 15-20 people surrounding the dining room table. Then there was always a bridge table set up in the living room, for the children. This would insult the older kids as they wanted to sit at the adult table, “not until you are an adult,“ my mom would say. Finally that day would come and your rite of passage was complete. Our actual dinner would last about 3-4 hours, which would include Lasagna and all the other traditional Thanksgiving foods. But most of the time everyone sat at the table between courses, except for a few of the women who would clean up and bring out the next course. There was always conversation of sports, politics and what were we going to have for desserts. As some of the women would be cleaning up, my dad would go and get the penny tin (an old nut can, which was filled with pennies that we could use to play games with) and we would play Pokeno or a game that the children could participate in. Playing games was always fun and the laughter that was heard throughout the house was infectious.

After the games were played, and the children won some pennies, the dining room table began to be transformed into a sweet mountain of desserts. The coffee and demitasse (black coffee) cups were added to the table, plus the nuts, fruits, figs, hot chestnuts, and chocolates. Then in between these delectable treats, the cookies, pies, pastries and cheese cakes were placed on the table to complete our mountain of sweets. By this time, it would be about 9:00 pm and everyone was stuffed like a turkey, after their feeding frenzy. Then the cleanup would begin and everyone would start to go home. But in the far distance I could hear my mother say, “what shall we have for dinner tomorrow”. 

All I know is that every family whether it be of Italian heritage or not, has a different cuisine and tradition to celebrate the holiday. What matters most to me, isn’t what ingredients were used, or who won the game, but the opportunity for families to come together, have fun, and celebrate the season which will be a memory to last a lifetime.

As I end this post, I would love to share a recipe that my mom has used for Thanksgiving for many years. It is so delicious that we ask her to cook this dish even if it is not a holiday. This recipe has been passed down from my great-grandmother Sofia. It is called “Rice Stuffing: Rice, Sausage & Onions” My family loves this stuffing as it is made in a baking dish and not stuffed inside the turkey. The flavor is sweet from the onions and sausage plus has that savory taste from the cheese. It is a perfect marriage to have along side of your turkey dinner. So, as we say in Italian, “Abbondanza !!” (plentiful & abundance) Happy Thanksgiving to everyone…..

Great-Grandmother Sofia
Rice Stuffing: Rice, Sausage & Onions
By Sofia Puzelli (my great-grandmother)

1 1/2 lbs of sweet sausage bulk (out of casing)
2 cups of rice (uncooked) Uncle Bens
3 large eggs
2 large onions (sliced thin)
3/4 cup of Pecorino Romano grated cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté sausage in pan with a little oil. Before sausage is totally cooked add onions and finish cooking. While sausage is cooking cook rice. Drain rice and put in a large bowl. Next beat eggs in a small bowl. Then mix together cooked rice, raw beaten eggs, grated cheese, and cooked sausage with onions. Put in a baking dish.
Bake in a 350° for about 40-45 minutes until mixture sets.
Till Next Time………

Copyright © 2011 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Eat A Cranberry Day" Plus Two Cranberry Recipes

As Thanksgiving is approaching and we are planning our meals for “turkey day“, my thoughts go to cranberries. In doing some research on cranberries, I just learned, that every November 23rd there is a holiday that is called “Eat a Cranberry Day!“ If you really think about it, the month of November is when we eat the most cranberries, since it is a Thanksgiving tradition. Eat a Cranberry Day, was started to encourage everyone to take part in eating cranberries. There are no formal proclamations for this day, but it is still described as a “National” day. There are even greeting cards that refer to this special day. So come join with me, as we have some fun and find out about cranberries.

Cranberry sales in the United States have traditionally been associated with the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. In certain American states and Canadian provinces, cranberries are their major crop. Cranberries are processed into many products such as juice, wine, cranberry sauce, jam, dried sweetened berries, and some are sold fresh to customers. Wisconsin is the leading producer of cranberries, with Massachusetts following as the second largest U.S. producer. A very small production is found in southern Argentina, Chile, the Netherlands, and Eastern Europe.

Cranberries are considered to be sour and bitter if eaten plain or raw. Cranberry juice is a major use of cranberries, but the berry is also used in baking muffins, scones, cakes, and biscotti. They also can be added to soups and stews which adds tartness to them. Fresh cranberries can be frozen, and will keep up to nine months. You can use them directly in recipes without thawing.
As we eat cranberries we are reminded that they are healthy and good for you. Their health benefits include nutrient recognition and antioxidant qualities, giving them the name of a “super fruit”. Other health benefits help the cardiovascular system, immune system, fights off tooth decay, and acts as an anti-cancer agent. Cranberry juice contains a chemical component that helps fight against formation of kidney stones. So, make sure you eat or drink something with cranberries, it will keep you healthy.

Paul, my son 1986
I remember when my son was young, and it was Christmas time, we would use cranberries to string on the tree and use as a garland. We would thread each berry through a needle on the string. Sometimes we would put popcorn in-between the cranberries. But most of the time, there would be more cranberries than popcorn, as my son would eat more than he would string. We then would place the garland on the tree and admire our work. It was a fun activity to do with my son, which I will always remember. Then after Christmas, I would place the garland of berries and popcorn outside in the yard, so the birds and little animals could have a wonderful Christmas too.

I have two recipes this week for you to enjoy. “Cranberry Sauce with Walnuts“, is really easy and you will be the most popular person at your Thanksgiving dinner when you place this on your table. Between the tartness, sweetness, and crunch of the walnuts, this will be a wonderful dish to add to your turkey dinner.
The second recipe is called “Cran-Limoncello”, a drink that will enhance your holiday party.

Cranberry Sauce with Walnuts
Prep: 5 minutes Cook: 35 minutes

2 cups of sugar
1 cup of water
1 package (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup of apricot preserves
1/4 cup of lemon juice
1/2 cup of chopped walnuts, toasted

In a large saucepan over medium heat bring sugar and water to a boil. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in the cranberries. Cook until berries pop, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in preserves and lemon juice. Transfer to a bowl. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled. Stir in walnuts just before serving.
Yield: 3 1/2 cups.
Serves 14

Adapted from Every Day with Rachael Ray

1/2 cup of seltzer
1/4 cup of limoncello
2 tablespoons unsweetened cranberry juice
One small strip of lemon peel, for garnish
3-4 cranberries, for garnish

Stir together the seltzer, limoncello and cranberry juice. Pour into a glass filled with ice. Garnish with the lemon peel.
Serves: 1 glass
 Till Next Time……..

Copyright © 2011 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Festive Table Setting & “Grandma Julia’s Giblet Gravy”

As we plan for our Thanksgiving feast, I thought it might be a wonderful idea to talk about some guidelines that may help you dress your table. I would love to share some ideas about the meal courses that you will be serving and eventually becoming your holiday traditions.

Setting a table is the place where your family and friends gather together for two important things in life, to eat and talk. You can’t go wrong when you use colors of the traditional warm amber hues for Thanksgiving, the blues, whites and silver of Hanukkah, and the classic red, green and white of Christmas. Traditional colors and table settings communicate love to anyone that shares a meal with you in your home.

To choose a tablecloth really depends on your dinnerware. You could use a patterned cloth or a solid color. A nice touch is adding place cards to your table, and be sure to allow enough room for seating. I know that in my family, when we have a holiday or special meal, we sit at the table for most of the day, even after eating. So you want to be comfortable.

Worried about what fork to use? Don’t worry, I am going to give you some guidelines. The basic place setting for your holiday meal will consist of an appetizer, salad or soup, and a main course. In a traditional Italian menu, a dish of pasta is eaten prior to the main course. Following the main course will be dessert and coffee or tea. At this point of the meal, my mom would also put out fruit, chocolates, nuts, and mints. By this time everyone is stuffed and have been at the dinner table for over 5 hours or more. Another Holiday Dinner was a success!

One rule I always follow, is that the utensils are arranged in the order of which a person will use them. In our Western culture, this means that the forks, bread plates, and napkins are to the left, while the knives, spoons, glassware, cups, and saucers are to the right. In many other countries the left-right order is reversed. Often, in less formal settings, the napkin and /or cutlery may be held together in a single bundle by a napkin ring. Napkins rings are very rare in the United Kingdom, Spain, Mexico, and Italy. In informal dinners you can even place the napkin on the plate.

Some final table details, don’t forget the salt and pepper shakers. If you find some room on your table, a floral centerpiece and unscented candles would be a beautiful warm finishing touch to your holiday table. One last item I would love to share, is a little hostess gift that I give to my guests as they leave my home. It can be something small, even a cookie cutter with a lovely ribbon on it, which is a thoughtful thank you for coming to my dinner party.  

My mom's table at Thanksgiving
I think back when I was still living at home, my mother would always have the family over for the holidays. The smells in the kitchen would always give me that warm and toasty feeling, especially the aroma’s that would float all the way up to my room, which was on the second floor. Food is a big part of my Italian family and it always centered around the kitchen. My mom’s dinner table was simple, but beautiful, especially with the proper placement of forks, spoons, and knives. We always had to have a centerpiece with candles on each end of the table. Everything sparkled, from the good china to the sterling silverware. As my family would be seated around the table, I could see how proud my mother was as she would hear her guests, admire her elegant table. My memories of how my mom prepared for her holiday dinner parties will last me my lifetime. 

Grandma Julia

Everyone has a favorite recipe they look forward to enjoy at a family holiday meal. The smell and taste of a special dish can evoke memories from the past or create new ones for the next generation. My recipe this week is, “Grandma Julia’s Giblet Gravy.” This is a delicious gravy to enjoy your turkey with.

“Grandma Julia’s Giblet Gravy”

Chopped cooked giblets
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
1/4 cup of flour
2 1/2 cups of water (saved from boiling giblets)
3 chicken bullion cubes
Salt and Pepper to taste

The giblet bag in the turkey you purchase, usually includes the heart, liver, gizzard and the neck. ( exclude the liver) Boil giblets in water for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and strain water. (don’t forget to save some water for making gravy later) Pick meat from neck and finely chop all the giblets, so you can add to the gravy. Heat oil and add brown flour lightly. Stir in water, bullion cubes, and seasonings. Cook, and continue stirring until thickened. Then add the giblets and reheat gently.

Yield: This recipe makes 3 cups of gravy.
Gravy Master may be added for coloring, a drop at a time.

Till Next Time……..

Copyright © 2011 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"Split Pea Soup" A Rich, Warm, and Yummy Comfort Food

It’s the beginning of November and the temperatures are getting colder. Last weekend Long Island even had some snow! It’s that time of year again when the Fall season is upon us. The leaves are falling and it is a time to be with family in a warm and comfortable home.

My brother Chris & myself
As I look back to when I was much younger, I am reminded that my mom would always have comfort food for dinner, especially when it was cold, rainy, windy or snowy outside. To me comfort food is like a big hug, that just wraps it’s arms around you and makes you feel safe and at home. I recently found a photo of myself and my brother Chris when we were very young. These would be the days that comfort foods were defiantly needed. Some of my mom’s favorite foods that she would prepare for us would be, lentils, chickpeas, and dry peas, plus many other hearty vegetables. These meals were sometimes mixed with pasta, like the lentils and chickpeas, and the dry peas were made into a very thick and hearty nutritious soup. It was a lot of work to cook homemade food, rather than using a can or jar. My mom knew that it was worth the extra time to eat and enjoy a healthy meal. Speaking of soups, I just found out that November 7th-13th, is “National Split Pea Soup Week.” So, stay a while and lets explore some information that you may not know about split peas.

It is a food holiday that is only celebrated in the United States since 1969. But split pea soup recipes in some form or another, are enjoyed all over the world. North Dakota and Montana farmers grow 84% of all the dried peas, making them our top producers in the United States. This holiday is referred to as a “National” day, however, there are no congressional records or presidential proclamations for this day. Many calendar and internet sites share information about this holiday by talking about growing these beans in their garden, plus sharing many recipes.

Pea soup is made from dried peas. Many cultures have variations of this soup. The color of many varieties of peas come in a grayish-green or yellow color depending on the region they are cultivated in. Pea soup has been eaten since antiquity. According to a source, the Greeks and Romans were cultivating this legume about 500 to 400 BC. During that era, vendors in the streets of Athens were selling hot pea soup.

“Pea Soup” usually means a perfectly smooth puree. “Split Pea Soup” is a slightly thinner soup with visible peas, pieces of ham and vegetables (mostly carrots). This is done by using dried, green split peas. Many cookbooks contain a recipe or two, but pea soup has no cultural importance in the United States. It does however play a role in the light-hearted tradition of serving green-colored foods on St. Patrick’s Day.

As consumers become more aware of the tremendous health benefits of peas, we are encouraged to eat this popular staple food and share it with our friends and family. So pull out those cookbooks and try a new bean recipe, or cook a nice pot to share with your whole family.

I have listed “ 7 Reasons To Use Dry Peas, Lentils and Chickpeas.”  
1. Peas, lentils, and chickpeas are excellent sources of fiber.
2. Peas, lentils, and chickpeas are a good source of protein.
3. Peas and lentils are fat-free and chickpeas are low in fat.
4. Peas and lentils are sodium free and chickpeas are low in sodium.
5. Lentils and chickpeas are a good source of iron.
6. Lentils are a good source of potassium.
7. Peas, lentils, and chickpeas are all gluten-free ingredients.

My recipe this week, you guessed it, “Split Pea Soup.” This recipe is what my mom uses and is courtesy of Mary Ann Esposito, “Ciao Italia“. For starters, you need a meaty ham bone. So the next time you buy a ham on the bone, save the bones, or freeze them and when you have enough, make this wonderful rich thick soup, that will leave you warm inside and asking for more.

Split Pea Soup”

Serves 10 to 12 people

1 pound of split peas, washed and sorted
3 quarts of water
1 large ham bone
4 large onions, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon of fresh oregano or dried
2 teaspoons of instant chicken bouillon
1/2 teaspoon of Black Pepper
1 bay leaf
3 1/2 cups of sliced carrots
3 cups of finely chopped celery

In a deep pot, combine the peas, water, ham bone, onion, bouillon and the
seasonings. Simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the ham bone and trim off all the meat, chop it finely and return the meat to the pot. Stir in the carrots and celery and simmer the soup, uncovered, for about 2 1/2 hours or until the soup is thick. Serve with hot crusty bread and a crisp green salad.
***A thoughtful reminder – don’t forget the time change is coming up. Don’t worry, this time change gives you an extra hour of sleep. This weekend, at 2:00 AM, on November 6th, Daylight Savings Time will end, and revert back to Daylight Standard Time in the United States. Remember the saying, “Spring forward, Fall back.”

Till Next Time……
Copyright © 2011 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved