Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Happy Thanksgiving" & My Recipe For An Italian Rice Stuffing Made With Sausage & Onions!

My wish for you, my readers are 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 I have learned so much and made so many wonderful friends. I am sending you a big Thank You to everyone for enjoying my stories and trying my families’ favorite recipes. 

While Thanksgiving is a holiday that America celebrates, Italian American's have added a unique flavor to this holiday. Many Italians that have immigrated to America have welcomed Thanksgiving, in their own distinctive way. They love any holiday that brings together family, friends, and food. Every Italian family has their own traditions and recipes that are unique which make Thanksgiving special. Turkey and the trimmings, are traditional, but Italian Americans will often add to their dinner with an antipasto, a pasta or soup course, and the desserts. 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 a 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 could be 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 they are 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 be remised, if I did not mention “Happy Chanukah” to all of my Jewish readers and friends. Chanukah or the "Festival of Lights" is celebrated for eight days. During the Jewish Holiday of Chanukah, many families invite friends and relatives over to light the Menorah, sing songs, play games with a Dreidel, (like a top) exchange gifts, and share traditional food. This year, for the first time in 125 years Chanukah, and Thanksgiving falls together. This will not happen again for another 70,000 years!

My recipe this week is one 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….. 

My great-grandmother, Sofia
"Rice Stuffing: Rice, Sausage & Onions"

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 a 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 © 2013 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 22, 2013

"Eat A Cranberry Day" Plus A Recipe Called "Cranberry Sauce With Walnuts"

Thanksgiving is one week away and everyone is planning their 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 “National 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 enjoying these little berries. There are no formal proclamations for this day, but it is still described as a “National” day.  Join 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 made 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.

Paul, my son in 1986
As we eat cranberries we are reminded that they are healthy and good for you. Their health benefits include nutrients 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.

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 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. 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
Ice cubes or crushed ice
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 © 2013 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Festive Thanksgivng Table And A "Sweet Potato Pie" Recipe

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 has 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. In informal dinners you can even place the napkin on the plate. 

My mom, Madeline
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. 

Our Thanksgiving table at my parents' house.
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.    

Everyone has a favorite recipe they look forward to enjoying a holiday meal with the family. The smell and taste of a special dish can invoke memories from the past or create new ones for the next generation. My recipe this week is a “Sweet Potato Pie”. When you hear the word “Pie” you may think that it is for dessert, but this is not a dessert. Sweet Potato Pie is a traditional side dish in the Southern United States. It is often served during the holiday season, especially at Thanksgiving, and is similar in many ways to pumpkin pie. So please try this delicious and flavorful recipe as you enjoy your holiday turkey.

"Sweet Potato Pie"

2 to 3 sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 to 2 Lbs)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter; softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar (or less to make it less sweet)
1/2 cup of 1% milk
2 large eggs
1/4 Tsp ground pumpkin pie spice
1/2 Tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 Tsp vanilla extract 
1-- 9 inch pie crust 

Boil sweet potato whole in skin for 50 to 55 minutes, or until soft. Run cold water over the potatoes and remove the skin. Blend potatoes in a blender and pulse for about 1 minute to remove all fibers. Place sweet potatoes in a bowl. Add butter and mix well. Using an electric mixer, mix in sugar, milk, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth. Pour filling into an unbaked pie crust. Bake at 350° F for 55 to 60 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with melted marshmallow on top. (optional)

Till Next Time……..

Copyright © 2013 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 11, 2013

“Veteran's Day"..As My Grandfather Was Honored For His Service In WWI

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid, they have earned our undying gratitude…America will never forget their sacrifices.”  President Harry S. Truman 

This Veterans Day we have to say a heartfelt “Thank you” to all service men and women that are with us, and those who have died for us protecting our country so we all can be free. This weekend was a special one for my family. My grandfather was honored for his service at our church on Saturday evening, with a special ceremony to commemorate his service history…….
Louis A. Fiore
He had just enlisted

My grandfather, Louis A. Fiore, died in 1962 from cancer. I was about 7 years old and only remember a little about him. He was a wonderful man, husband, father, and grandfather, but he was also in the Army, and one of the bravest men in WWI. My grandfather was a Corporal in the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division, Company A. He was 17 when he enlisted. (he was under age) He did not tell his mother that he enlisted till after the fact. My great grandmother, Madeline, had 9 children. Five were boys, all of whom were in the Armed Services. One of my grandfather’s brothers was in the Coast Guard, and his other three brothers were in the Army. My grandfather was wounded, (shot in the leg) in the battle at Chateau-Thierry, in France. He was taken to a MASH unit and told the Dr’s to take care of the other soldiers first. He was very compassionate and thought that there were other men that were hurt more than he was. Finally, he had his surgery and was taken with an ambulance to another site. As they were leaving in the ambulance, they looked back and the MASH unit where he had his surgery had been blown up. He received a Purple Heart for his bravery and other medals as well. After his leg healed, he chose to go to Germany and joined the Army of Occupation with his old unit. He wanted to see if any of his Army buddies were still alive and made it out ok. (The Army of Occupation goes into a defeated country to enforce peace and keep order) When he died he was buried with honors in the Long Island National Cemetery, Farmingdale, N.Y. As you can see he was brave, compassionate, and fought for our freedom…………..
Louis A. Fiore (1916-1919)
During WWI

As my whole family entered the church, we were greeted by retired service men in full dress uniforms. Their medals and pins shone brightly displayed on their chests. They handed out some information about our Nation's Flag and how to fold one properly. We looked over to the right, and there was this beautiful small table decorated with a white lace tablecloth. On this table were 2 photos of the two men that were being honored for their service, from two forgotten wars. One of the photos was of my grandfather. My mother was later presented with this blown up photo of her father. 

As the special mass and ceremony at our church, St. Thomas More in Hauppauge, LI started, the honor guard brought up the flags, and placed them on the altar. The honor guard was on behalf of the William F. Taylor Post 9486, of the Veterans of Foreign War. (VFW)  They had their uniforms on, and they were very striking. This beautiful mass was to honor not only my grandfather, but also another man, William J. Finn, a Private in the US Army Battery B of the 5th Regiment Artillery 1898 to 1899 of the Spanish American War. His granddaughter, Maryann DeGaynor, was also present to honor his name as well as my mom, dad, and my whole family. After the mass was over, everyone went outside to the flag pole, and the flag ceremony took place. All the Veterans in uniform surrounded the pole as the bugler played "Taps". They then took the flag that was given to my mom at my grandfather’s funeral and hoisted it up on the flag pole. This will be flying on the church’s flag pole in honor of all Veterans. I am extremely proud to have a grandfather who loved his country and defended it for our freedom. Today I honor him on this Veteran's Day. I want to personally thank all of our service men and women, past and present, for their service today and everyday! I pray for their safety and their determination for our freedom. 
Cake my mom had for the
family celebration after the service

Post script: Last summer my mom found a shoe box of letters my grandfather wrote to his mother when he was in WWI. My mom read them to me, and it was like a good book you couldn’t put down. We stayed up most of the night and read through each one. Some of the letters were very sad, and we cried, but others were interesting on how things worked in the Army. They were very impressive as some of these letters were written in the trenches. One particular letter he wrote, told of him writing to his mother by candle light, and then he said he had to close the letter and put out the candle as the troops were moving in. Another one was when he wrote to his mother to tell her that he had enlisted in the army. There were also papers about his earnings, which he sent back home to his family. It must have been really cold at the time, because in numerous letters he asked for a sweater to be sent to him, and we still do not know if he ever received it. I have to say that that evening as we read the shoebox of letters it bonded my mom and I, plus now I also feel I know my grandfather a little better, a brave soul, for sure!  

I want to thank St. Thomas More, the VFW Post 9486, and Jerry Ferrara for making this a very proud and special day for my family. May God Bless America!!!   

Till Next Time……..

Copyright © 2013 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 8, 2013

"Split Pea Soup" A Warm And Hearty Comfort Food

It’s the beginning of November, and the temperatures are getting colder. It’s that time of year again when the fall season is in full swing. The leaves are falling, and it is a time to be with family in a warm and comfortable home.  

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, which just wraps its arms around you, and makes you feel safe at home. I recently found a photo of my brother Chris and myself when we were very young. 
1964-My brother Chris and myself

These would be the days that comfort foods were definitely 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 that was made with love. Speaking of soups, I just found out that the second week in November is “National Split Pea Soup Week.” So, stay a while and let’s 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. Pea soup is made from dried peas. Many cultures have variations of this soup. The color of many varieties of peas comes 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. This is done by using dried, green split peas. 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. 

6 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 & chickpeas are low in sodium.
 5. Lentils and chickpeas are a good source of iron and potassium. 
 6. Peas, lentils, and chickpeas are all gluten-free ingredients.

My recipe this week, you guessed it, “Split Pea Soup”. 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.

Till Next Time……

Copyright © 2013 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved