ll Cibo é L'essenza Della Vita....

"The rooms that you use on a daily basis are the rooms people will always want to sit in, because they have soul." --Bunny Williams


"If you want to live forever and ever, drink wine and eat maccheroni." ~~~Sicilian Proverb

Saturday, January 30, 2010

♪ ♪Nothin' could be finer than to be in Carolina, ♪ in the m-o-o-o-o-r-nin'! ♪ ♪
     This is what we awoke to this morning. In North Carolina!! YAY!! For this family of northern transplants, it was a sight for sore eyes. I walked into the family room to find my youngest offspring in boxer shorts, a bathrobe, and snowboots-he was good to go!
We had been warned for the last several days that this was coming (not that we believed it for a minute!). Coming from New York, we find it exceedingly amusing when there's any hint of winter weather even remotely possible here in central NC. We've been told that some years back there was a freak snowstorm that dumped 22 inches of snow. HERE! I can't even imagine. For the last 3 years the kids and I have busily put up Christmas lights wearing t-shirts while the man of the house mowed the lawn. Anyway, this 22 inches apparently completely incapacitated our lovely town. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING-schools, businesses, schools, stores, schools (notice what I obsess about?)- closed down for TWO WEEKS! Now, where we came from 22 inches would have been a 2 hour delayed opening while the roads were plowed. Our school bus drivers were my heroes. Never mind the mailman with his "not rain, nor snow, nor dark of night"- HE didn't take my kids to school. 

And get them out of my kitchen.

 And referee their squabbles.

 But our bus drivers?

 They were my heroes.

   So today, while they all sledded, and slid and tubed and soaked each other with sleety snowballs, I did what any self-respecting Italian mama would do. I locked myself in the bathroom and gave myself a facial cooked. (I can dream, can't I) Somehow, in between cleaning up the nosebleeds (he got hit in the face with the sled), and drying wet jackets every half hour, I decided that today was the day for something warm and substantial. Fresh bread was already on my agenda, pork chops and sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and for dessert- custardy bread pudding topped with meringue and an Italian vanilla bean Torta.

Tomorrow will be my day for making Italian bread. Today I decided to try a new white, sandwich bread. I used the basic soft white bread recipe from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum. Now, I make a LOT of bread. All kinds of bread, although I do, obviously, have a special fondness for Italian breads. But my kids, being American born, and my husband, being too darn picky...ummm, I mean Irish- well, they want the Wonder Bread.

So being the indulgent Italian mama that I am, I am always on the hunt for the perfect homemade Wonder Bread recipe. Rose's is actually quite close to the recipe I've used for the past several years. I'll be doing a bread post in the near future-I'll let you know if this cuts it with my Wonder-loving bambinos.
    This particular pork chop dish is one that my husband, in particular, enjoys. Breaded, pan-fried chops are laid atop a bed of caramelized onions and garlic which has been infused with fresh thyme and a bit of wine. Topped with another layer of onions and baked till fork tender. I top mine with a drizzle of balsamic reduction.
 Husband holds his nose and declares that I've "ruined a perfectly good piece of meat!"
  The bread pudding is an easy way to use up the remains of the bread made 3 days ago, and the Torta is for my youngest who informed me this morning that I "never make anything vanilla". Yes, this is a family of chocaholics, but my son and his grandparents much prefer a non-chocolate option.
First, we gather our ingredients. Fresh, quality ingredients equal memorable meals. Good, fresh pork is an excellent and healthy alternative to beef, yet makes a hearty man-pleasing meal. Historically, meat in Italy (and Europe as a whole) was cooked for far longer than we. as Americans, are accustomed to. Italian immigrants to America found many uses for the fresh and readily available pork they found here.
Onions, garlic, thyme, butter, olive oil, sauerkraut and wine- and of course, some nice, thick pork chops. Boneless is preferable, but not absolutely necessary
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Pat the meat dry and season on both sides with salt and pepper
Set out 3 bowls. In one put some flour. In the second, beat a couple of eggs with a few tablespoons of water. Whisk in some parmesan cheese, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper. In the third, put some dry bread crumbs (I mix regular and Panko crumbs) seasoned with Parmesan cheese, pepper, garlic powder, red pepper, and a bit of seasoned salt.
Dredge the chops in flour, dip in egg mixture, and coat in bread crumbs. Set on a sheet of waxed paper for 10 minutes
Heat a bit of canola oil with a bit of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add chops, without crowding and allow to cook without moving till golden on the bottom. 
Flip and brown, then remove to a rack to drain. Drain excess oil, leaving just a couple of tablespoons of that lovely flavored oil.Toss in a tablespoon or two (depending on how much you're making) of butter and swirl it around there. Slice a couple of large onions and add to pan. Cook till translucent and significant other starts to hang over your shoulder  drooling
Add 2 or 3 cloves of finely minced garlic, lower heat a bit, and allow to caramelize. If you have an Irish husband who claims he HATES garlic but seems unaware that it's in absolutely everything he eats because you can NOT cook without garlic because it's against the LAW- now is the time to distract him.
How can any rational person hate garlic?? Blasphemy!
Here it comes.

The best part.

 Are you ready?

Now pour one for the cook. It's another Law. 
Let this cook for a minute or two till the wine evaporates

By the way, dessert is cooling.. the vanilla bean makes it smell amazing!
Okay, now drain one or two cans of sauerkraut VERY WELL. Everytime I prepare a meal with sauerkraut, I think of my northern Italian Nonna. Every summer when we went for our annual 2-4 month "visit", she would ask what I wanted to eat while I was there. I always asked for the same 2 things. One was a risotto that was a specialty of a particular restaurant that was a favorite of my grandfather's. It was the most AMAZING risotto with truffles. While we ate, my Nonno would entertain me with stories of the various ways the truffles on my plate had been found. 
But this is for another post.
   The other request was for my Nonna's sauerkraut soup. Now I know this doesn't sound typically Milanese, or even Northern Italian, but she was well known for this very special soup. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a recipe before she died and I have spent 30 years looking for a something similar. 
Back to the pork! After draining the sauerkraut, add it to the onion mixture and saute for 3-5 minutes. Add some chopped fresh thyme and cook for another minute. 
Take a deep breath-this is smelling VERY good! 
Put onion/sauerkraut mixture in a greased casserole dish and top with pork chops. Now, I usually top the chops with some caramelized onion that I keep in the fridge. You can saute some onion separately from the sauerkraut mixture for this purpose or you can remove some onions from the pan before adding the kraut.
Of course that's if you're WAY more organized than I am and you can actually remember to save some onions

Bread pudding is ready-YUM. Humidity level is not ideal-the meringue is not happy
Cover pork chops tightly with foil and put in oven for 40 minutes. remove foil and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes. Allow to sit for a minute, then remove chops carefully to another plate. The casserole will have  a lot of liquid from the meat which has released it's juices- and some fat- onto the bed of onions (SO good!) 
But since I AM a trainer and I DO lecture people every day on eating healthy.....
CAREFULLY pour off most (not all) of the liquid, replace the chops, and serve

Torta is ready to chill- the vanilla bean smells SO good

Now - this is where I'm supposed to show you the end result- a platter of fall-apart tender chops, smothered in onions on a bed of thyme and garlic infused onions and kraut. 

And I would be showing you that picture.

 IF I didn't turn my back to wash a plate leaving my beautiful casserole unguarded from the marauding hordes in this house.

"Oh. Were you taking pictures for that blog thing? Sorry. I thought it was DINNER". 

How about a slice of Torta?

As always, 
Buon Alimento, Buon Amici

xoxo Allie and Pattie

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Welcome to Foodie Friday, sponsored by our hostess with the mostest, Michael at Designs by Gollum. 
Yesterday we held a Tea for Two at Tablescape Thursday and today we'll be sharing the recipes for the featured tea time treats.

What's a tea without a scone? A Coconut Hazelnut scone with rich clotted cream complimenting the buttery, sugary goodness
These scones keep wonderfully and are just as good the next day

The Orange Puff Pastry Tart is quick, simple to prepare, delicious and makes a special presentation with it's glistening top and the beautiful orange and cranberry color

Coconut Hazelnut Scones
adapted from Food network magazine

4 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup white sugar
2 cups shredded coconut
3 sticks cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 1/2 cups lightly toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped (I ALMOST grind them)
sugar for sprinkling

2 tablespoons coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon coconut extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2-1 cup confectioner's sugar
milk, as needed
           Whisk together till a smooth glaze consistency

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Line cookie sheets with parchment.
  Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and coconut. Beat in the butter on low speed and then raise speed to high. Beat until it looks like coarse crumbles.  Whisk the coconut milk, eggs, and coconut extract in a bowl. Stir into the flour mixture till just combined. Stir in the nuts; do not overmix. Scoop 2-3 inch mounds (I use an ice cream scoop) onto the cookie sheets and sprinkle with sugar. Bake 15-17 minutes till lightly golden. While still slightly warm, drizzle with glaze
Puff Pastry Orange Puff
adapted from a recipe I've had written on a scrap of paper for years- I have no memory of where it came from

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
5 tablespoons brown sugar
1 large orange
handful of dried cranberries
1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed

Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit into the bottom of a 10 inch pie plate Lightly brush paper with water. Cream the butter and brown sugar together and spread in the bottom of the pie plate. Chill for 1 hour. Slice the orange VERY thinly and arrange on the butter mixture. sprinkle with a few dried cranberries. Roll puff pastry thinly and cut a circle slightly larger than area with bottom of pie plate; cover fruit, tuck edges down, and prick pastry with a fork. Bake for 30 minutes, remove from oven, and wait 1 minute till it stops bubbling. Turn out onto a serving dish and remove parchment. If not well caramelized, you can broil for 30 seconds or so, or brulee with a portable flame. 
Depending on the occasion, I have also done this same tart with apples, pears, and/or figs. 

We hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we enjoy sharing them with you. As always, 

Buon Alimento, Buoni Amici!
xoxo Pattie and Allie  

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


 It's Tablescape Thursday! Our favorite day of the week, when Susan gives us all permission to indulge our passion for plates! I didn't have much time this week and actually didn't think we'd have anything ready. As it happens, I've been asked to plan a ladies Tea and I've been experimenting with recipes. The downside to this is,,, well, there really isn't a downside! I get to cook and create, which I love, and I get to play with dishes. And since I certainly DON'T want all the extra goodies sitting around here, it's always a perfect opportunity to have a dear friend over for "Tea (or coffee) for Two". I get valued feedback on the recipes and we get to catch up on our weeks' activities. And hubby gets to have some alone time to do, well, whatever it is he does when I'm not standing there with a honey-do list for him. So it's a win-win situation! 
      Even though my friend and I might be in our "Mommy attire"- comfy jeans and tees- we can indulge ourselves in a bit of linen, lace, silver, and beautiful china. We Mommies need to feel special sometimes.

      It was a simple setting in our living room

The late afternoon sun casts it's shadows over the setting

I love this small cake plate. The all white color scheme gives a simple elegance to the elaborate garlands of flowers and birds 

A simple orange puff pastry is perfect in the sunlight. It absolutely glistens

Coconut hazelnut scones served with thick cream are a perfect accompaniment to either tea or coffee

The sterling spreaders belonged to my Grandmother. I LOVE the little "star" pattern at the base of the blade.
The plates are an old Syracuse China pattern called Symphony

The sun starts to set...

Every table should have crystal and candles

Buttery, sugary, full of the flavor of coconut and toasted hazelnuts

These tea napkins are a showcase for the intricate hand-done Appenzel and lace work

One of my favorite white pots

It is extremely difficult to photograph the lustreware cups. The fragile porcelain is almost thin enough to see through and the interior reminds me of Mother-of-Pearl

Time for tea and friendship..

Thank you so much for visiting. Make sure to wander over to Between Naps on the Porch, sit with a cup of tea, and enjoy! Thank you, Susan, for hosting this wonderful event.

Join us Friday as we participate in Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum. The recipes for the scones and Orange Puff will be posted

Enjoy your day and be sure to make some time for a special friend

xoxo Allie and Pattie 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tonight's dinner was a mix of some traditional Italian dishes that my Northern Nonna made when I was growing up. Pork tenderloin is frequently on our dinner table in various forms and marinating the pork in a juniper berry/wine mix definitely takes it up a notch. The potato gratin was always a favorite of mine and is a perfect creamy accompaniment to the tenderloin. This is an easy meal to put together and most everything can be done in advance. I layered the potatoes this morning and the pork marinated in the fridge till I was ready for it.

Onion, shallot, juniper berries, thyme, bay leaves, salt, pepper, olive oil, and wine make a simple, but flavorful marinade. Now if you have a picky, Irish husband who won't eat anything but PLAIN meat and potatoes and thinks that the foods you adore are strange and alien, you'll find yourself picking out the juniper berries before putting the platter on the table in front of said husband. But they do add a wonderful, fruity flavor and you'll be glad they're there. And never use the word fruity to describe his dinner. To this husband, fruit means apples and apples do not belong anywhere near his dinner plate. Have I mentioned I cook several meals every night?
Have you noticed those black binders in the background? Those are 2 of my newly organized recipe binders-30 years worth of family dinners, get-togethers with friends, catered events, and just day to day cooking. It has taken me the last 7 weeks and I still have many hours ahead of me. I'm amazed at how much cooking I've actually done and how many of our family memories revolve around it. I told you all about it in our Creamy Chicken Vegetable Soup post. I tried to link it here, but Blogger is not co-operating, so I apologize

Pork tenderloin is also an excellent choice if you're looking for a low fat and delicious source of protein. Isn't it GORGEOUS??

Here's our marinade. It doesn't seem like much, but there's flavor in there. I used thyme tonight, but any of your favorite herbs would work to compliment the junipers. The important thing is to use fresh herbs which will infuse the marinade with wonderful flavor. I know these things.
My Nonna told me. 

LOTS and LOTS of onions. See those little round dots? Those of you with picky husbands will know what to do with them later-but for now, let them work their magic.

While the meat is marinating, start the gratinata. Potatoes are boiled in their skins and set aside to cool. A thick besciamella (white sauce) is mixed with freshly grated parmesan cheese and layered with the potato slices along with ham, ground walnuts, and fontina or mozzarella cheese. Topped with buttered breadcrumbs and baked for the last half hour alongside the pork. 

Pork Tenderloin w/Juniper Berry Marinade

Pork Tenderloin about 2-3 lbs.
1 shallot, minced
1/2-1 onion, finely chopped
about 20-25 juniper berries
a few bay leaves (I think I used 3)
salt and pepper
a few sprigs of thyme
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup white wine
thinly sliced pancetta ( I used bacon this time as I was too lazy to drive to Whole Foods. If you use bacon, trim of almost all the visible fat. You do NOT want the meat floating in grease)

Put the meat in a casserole dish (not too big-you want the marinade to surround the meat). Cover with the shallot and onions. Mix the oil, wine, berries, thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Pour over the tenderloin and allow to marinate for 2-3 hours in the fridge, covered tightly with plastic wrap. Remove the meat from the casserole and drain the vegetables from the marinade. Pat some of the onion mixture around the meat and wrap the slices of pancetta or bacon around the loin. Tie with twine if necessary and roast for app. 1 hour at 400 degrees (time depends on size of tenderloin. Use a meat thermometer to check for doneness) While the meat cooks, combine remaining veggies from the marinade with a couple of tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan and allow to caramelize over medium-low heat. Serve alongside the tenderloin.

The walnuts give this dish a toasty richness that melds beautifully with the ham and cheesy besciamella.

Gratinata di Patate e Nocciole (Potato Gratin with Walnuts)

2-3 lbs. potatoes
1 recipe thick Besciamella
1/2 cup freshly grated 
parmesan cheese
1 TBLSP butter
1/4 lb. ham, thinly sliced and julienned
1-1 1/2 cups shelled walnuts, ground coarsely
6 ounces thinly sliced fontina or mozzarella (you may use shredded mozzarella)
1-1 1/2 cups shelled walnuts, ground
1-2 TBLSP Italian flavored dry bread crumbs

Boil the potatoes in their skin till just tender (20-25 minutes) and set aside to cool. Peel and slice into 1/2 inch slices. Grease a casserole dish (I used a 9 inch square). Place one layer of potatoes in casserole, season with a little salt and pepper,  and cover with a layer of sauce. Sprinkle with the ground nuts. Add another layer of potatoes, then sliced cheese and more sauce. End with potatoes and more sauce. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and dot with butter. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes. 

Have a wonderful week! We greatly appreciate your visit-Molti Grazie!!
Pattie and Allie

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Greetings to all!  Welcome to this week's Metamorphosis Monday hosted by the very gracious Susan at Between Naps on the Porch. 
    When we moved here from New York, our family underwent a metamorphosis of epic proportions. We left family, friends, jobs and home to embark on a whole new adventure here in North Carolina. One of the challenges for me, was making our belongings, and family, "fit" into this new home in this new world. Another major change for us was having my parents retire and join us- living WITH us. Needless to say, organization became a priority. I am, in general, an organized person, but have found that flexibility is key to making our new lifestyle work for us
        Is your day planned? Work, school, kids, furbabies, puttering- do you plan out your days in advance? This is pretty much where I start my day

Ummm...of course this is after I stumble out of bed muttering some well-chosen (but always loving) words at my beloved (who is soundly snoring) because he insists on keeping the thermostat at an ungodly 71 degrees so my toes and eyelashes are frozen ....(honestly, our room is COLD at night)!  The man wears shorts in January! Anyway, you really don't want to see that part of my morning. Trust me. 
    So I should mention that my day starts at 3:15 a.m. that's not a typo- 3:15 a.m. You see, I have to be at the gym between 4:45 and 5 for my first client. Now, I LOVE being a trainer and I am a huge advocate of exercise, but don't you think there's something the tiniest bit wrong with someone who WANTS to do squats at 5 a.m.?? Just sayin'. 
       It's a very good thing that no one is awake to see me at that hour. So, after a quick shower (our bathroom is also FROSTY), I start the coffee, make the kids' lunches, and check email. I know, I know- my children are spoiled rotten. I'm embarrassed to admit that not one of the 6 has ever had to make their own lunch. Shameful. How will they survive when they're out on their own ?? (sssshhhh..that's the plan- they'll NEED their Mama!). I actually have a child who, in his first call home 5 days after being dropped off at college, wanted to know WHERE he should go to FedEx his laundry home.
     But I digress. He learned. He survived. And he keeps a lovely home now. Actually, his lovely wife does, but again, I digress. Hopefully, she won't hate me too much.
    Anyway, right now I'm planning a "Healthy Cooking" class for a local group. They asked me to cover prep and serving of a healthy meal, a pretty tablescape, and how to organize a kitchen efficiently for people looking to start cooking healthy. (in an hour and a half??!!) Sandra Lee, I'm not. But it got me to thinking. What do you consider BASIC necessities in your kitchen? Now, here's my kitchen

which honestly only looks this neat when there's nobody but me home, between 1 and 3 a.m., and with the moon in perfect alignment with the north star. In other words, this was the one and only time. 
       Honestly, I love my kitchen- I really do. Well, it's not the cabinetry I would have chosen....or the counters....and it doesn't have the Fireclay sink I covet, or the cobalt LaCanche range, but it works really well. When we bought this house I wasn't sure, but I've found it to be incredibly efficient and easy to work in. The work area is all on the far side of the island, so it basically works like a galley kitchen-which any kitchen designer will tell you is the most efficient. I love having an 8 1/2 foot island for cooking, serving, parties, demos, and cookie marathons with my grand-daughter. There are 2 MAJOR flaws for me in this kitchen. It's the first kitchen I've ever had with 1 oven- I NEED at least a double oven. I know, I'm spoiled. But we have a lot of people living here and cooking is what I do! The second thing is the pantry. UGH! It's obvious a man designed this space. Any woman knows the value of a large and useful pantry space- personally, I'd love a scullery with floor to ceiling glass-doored cabinets, space for all my appliances, and a huge work island table with a shelf for all my Le Creuset and cast iron. Yes. I know. Spoiled. Fantasizing. Here's the reality:

You would think that in a 4000 + square foot house, someone would have thought to put in a pantry larger than a broom closet. :( 
      We need to be VERY organized here. So, I asked my husband this morning what he thought a well-stocked basic pantry and kitchen should have in it. Uh....Cereal, beer, snacks for the kids, beer, soda, beer, steaks, beer, ground meat, beer. Alrighty then. 
    The sad part is that he'd be perfectly happy with that. How on earth did he end up with ME?

My knives- death to the person that dares put them in the dishwasher! 

Grains, beans, rices- I live for this stuff. Can you tell I don't advocate low-carb diets? :)

Some of my flours. I write the type on top of the container in permanent marker- it makes me feel special. And happy. 
     It occurred to me that while semolina was a staple, I don't ever remember couscous or quinoa in my Nonna's pantry. I think she'd have it now. She was a woman ahead of her time

Spices. I mostly use fresh herbs, but my mother adores her jars and some things are just necessary for family harmony. This goes to the heart of my mantra- there is NO kitchen big enough for 2 Italian women. But an Italian kitchen ALWAYS has more than one woman in it. 

Good quality pastas (I usually use Barilla or DeCecco- the artisanal ones when I have money to spare- homemade when I have the time), good olive oils, vinegars, olives, roasted peppers (for when I don't have any homemade left), anchovies, bouillions, and good San Marzano tomatoes. Sea salt, Kosher salt, Sesame and Canola oils- all have to have a home. There's always a jar of caramelized onions in the fridge. I'm lazy and do them in the crockpot once a month or so. The house smells INCREDIBLE!!! (if you like the smell of cooked onions, which of course everyone I know does) Fresh garlic, ginger, thyme, parsley, cilantro, mint, lemons, limes, and POTATOES (for you, honey!). Allie insists on Nutella and salsa, not to mention hot chocolate mix. The boys look for chips and popcorn (oh, to have their metabolisms!) and, of course, marshmallows. There MUST be good coffee in the house at ALL times. It's a law. Mom's Law.
          The rest of the cabinets are for dinnerware and such

I LOVE transferware! This is the brown set- the blue and the pink sets live elsewhere. I don't mean to segregate- I just have this aversion to pink china residing next to orange pumpkins. Call me strange. 

Everyday stuff kept near the kitchen table-keeps the kids from being underfoot when they set the table and I'm cooking. That was the plan, anyway. I don't actually remember the last time one of them set the  table.....

Salad and dessert plates. One of my more noteworthy addictions. I think I could easily serve salad to 80 people. My mom taught me to always be prepared.

Some of my pottery- I adore the colors. The cherry cups in front are Allie's latest creation in her ceramics class. Watch for an upcoming post about that

Hubby insists on keeping his soda in this cabinet for fear of me filling it with more dishes. I really don't understand him!

Yes, I really do use all these pitchers

I LOVE Depression glass, jadeite, snack sets, china tea sets and anything vintage!

My favorite dessert dishes and bouillion cups

Snack sets. I LOVE snack sets. For ladies' lunches and tea parties and the very rare times I can sit alone with a book and a snack. Whoever came up with the concept of delicate little plates with cups that balance on them and just enough room for a half sandwich or 2 cookies obviously did not live with boys. Snack sets are not meant for serving boys. Ask me how I know. 

My next kitchen will be ALL drawers-they hold SO much more!

About the dishes- yes, my husband is looking for a 12 step program. He insists there MUST be a chapter of Dish-aholics Anonymous somewhere in the area. Delusional Funny guy. It really isn't necessary to bring you into our garage where we have an entire set of kitchen cabinets full of- you guessed it- dishes... My blue and white transferware and my ironstone, and my stoneware are feeling a bit crowded out there. My Waterford is complaining too. We haven't even discussed pots, baking pans,  and flatware storage. All for another day. 
I NEED a new butler's pantry. And a scullery. And a maid. 
     Oh. Right. That's also another post
So, tell me. What's BASIC to your kitchen? And what makes your heart sing?