Pasta Fazool !!!!

During the cold winter months, Nana made a lot of her wonderful peasant dishes. These meals usually consisted of pasta, beans and vegetables to not only fill you up but also were meant to feed an entire family. These dishes were nourishing for the body and the soul. Two of my favorites were peas and macaroni (pasta e piselli) and bean and macaroni (pasta e fagioli). This recipe is for pasta e fagioli, or as we called it when we were growing up-Pasta Fazool!!!

It’s so easy to make and lends itself to variety. For example, you can add kidney beans or garbanzo beans, potatoes or orzo to change it up. Something Nana did a lot.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 carrot – diced
1 stalk of celery – diced

1 medium onion – sliced 
1 teaspoon chopped garlic 

1 large can of crushed tomatoes
8 oz chicken broth
Fresh Italian parsley and basil – chopped
1 bay leaf

1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans juice and all

1 1/2 cups ditalini pasta (you can also use small shells)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup grated Italian cheese (I mix parmigiano reggiano and locatelli romano together)

Directions

  •  Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute carrot, celery and onion until soft. Add garlic.
  • Stir in crushed tomatoes, chicken broth, pepper, salt, parsley and basil and simmer for 20 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the ditalini pasta and cook for 8 minutes or until al dente, then drain.
  • Add beans to the sauce mixture and simmer for a few minutes.
  • When the pasta is done, stir it into sauce and bean mixture.
  • Add the bay leaf and some of the Italian cheese to the mixture to thicken it a bit.
  • Serve in bowls with warm Italian bread for dipping in the delicious sauce.

* This recipe will serve about 4 people or two really hungry people!

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First Solo Recipe with Jeffrey

I know I mentioned before that when I was seven years old and Jeffrey was 10, we moved from Brooklyn to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. What I didn’t tell you was that it was there that I started cooking solo. Prior to our move, I’d help Nana at the stove, but she was the captain of that endeavor and I was her first-mate!

Since Mother and Daddy were working long hours, Jeffrey and I were preparing easy recipes on our own for dinner. One time, my mother found a recipe for sausage, peppers, onions and potatoes that you prepare in one pan or in the oven. It was very easy; the hardest part was slicing the onions as tears streamed down my face. It was the kind of recipe that could be changed easily just by adding or removing ingredients.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:
1 lb. Italian-style sausage
1 med.-size yellow onion, sliced
1 lg. sweet green pepper, cored, seeded and sliced
1 1/2 lb. small new potatoes, sliced
1 large can crushed tomatoes
salt, pepper, garlic, Italian spices to taste
Preparation:
Brown sausage in a 12 inch skillet over medium heat for about 10 minutes.
Drain off all but 2 tbsp. of the drippings and save to the side.
Add onion, green peppers, potatoes, and spices.
Reduce heat to low, cover, cook for 10 to 15 minutes until potatoes are tender.
Stir occasionally to ensure all of the ingredients are cooking and not sticking- you may need to add some of the reserved drippings.
Add the crushed tomatoes and let simmer about 10 minutes more.
At this point, I add some grated cheese (locatelli and parmigiano reggiano) for extra flavor.
Transfer to a serving bowl
Serve with warm Italian bread.
* If you want to cook it in the oven, put everything in a 9×12 roasting pan and cook in a 350 degree oven for about 40-50 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Micro-wave Cooking

For the last few weeks I’ve been renting a cottage near downtown St. Petersburg in Florida while waiting for my next residence to be ready. This cottage has a tiny kitchen with a sink, mini-fridge (probably stolen from an old hotel) and a micro-wave. There isn’t even a hot-plate with which to cook.

Since I can’t use a stove to cook, and the fridge can only hold a few items, I’ve found myself using the micro-wave to prepare meals. Most of the food items are semi-prepared.

I bought Perdue prepared chicken strips from the refrigerated section along with a package of Uncle Ben’s 90-second rice. To my surprise, the prepared chicken was tasty! It had just enough flavor and not-too-much sodium. The same goes for the rice. It was long-grain and wild rice, and it too tasted better than I’d imagined it would.

I also bought Jack Daniels brand pulled pork, pulled chicken and pulled beef to have as sandwiches. Of the three, the pulled beef was the worst. It was fatty and had too much barbecue sauce. The pulled chicken was my favorite; it was moist and had just enough Jack Daniels sauce on it to give it good flavor, but wasn’t swimming in it.

The other micro-wave items I’ve purchased were the Barilla pasta dishes found in the pasta aisle of the supermarket. I bought the penne with marinara, and as a pasta snob, I have to admit it was decent.

During this time here, I’ve eaten enough peanut and jelly sandwiches to choke a horse! I like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but this is ridiculous! I’ve had it for breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner because my appetite is just not there. Now, Ive switched to salami and tuna fish.

Soup has also become a staple. I only like Progresso soups; my favorites are Lentil, Minestrone, Onion and Tomato. They go well with a salami and provolone sandwich, or just a cheese sandwich; not so much with tuna fish.

As soon as I move into my new place, I’m cranking up that stove and cooking fresh, the way I used to. I don’t want to see another prepared micro-waveable meal again; at least until I make my next move, which hopefully won’t be for another five years!

Cranberry-Orange Relish

Last Thanksgiving, instead of cranberry sauce I decided to try something different with fresh cranberries. I searched the Internet for fresh cranberry sauce recipes and happened upon a cranberry-orange relish. So I decided it was worth a try.

All it called for was 1 lb of raw cranberries chopped finely; 3 oranges, wedged and sugar to taste.

It turned out very well, but I felt it needed something. So, I decided to fool around with it.

Here’s what I came up with:
1 lb. cranberries, washed and chopped finely (you can pulse it in your blender).
1 orange, peeled, seeded with the wedges cut in half.
1 orange-juiced and zested.
1 small lemon, juiced and zested
A dash of orange liquor (such as Gran Marnier)
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl and place in the refrigerator to marinate for about an hour.

This is a great fresh, refreshing relish that will go with more than just turkey~

Some recipes called for chopped pecans, walnuts, cinnamon – whatever you want to experiment with – go for it!

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Attitude Adjustment

I just returned from visiting my mother for her birthday. We had a great time together going shopping, to the beach and just relaxing. For me, the beach and the relaxing part were much needed.

Every morning as we were having coffee, my mother asked me what I wanted to do. We’d talk about options and then head out. When we’d return to the house, we’d have an early dinner and then go into the living room and relax. We’d read, watch a movie, or watch one of our favorite shows. Because we both like most of the same TV shows, it was easy to pick one to watch.

After the year I’ve had, this was a much needed and welcomed respite. Now that I’m back home with a more clear outlook and plan for my future, I can focus on the task at hand to make my plans come true.

This mini-vacation gave me a complete attitude adjustment. Instead of being happy to get five hours of sleep and being tired each day, I’m sleeping as much as seven hours and I’m waking up feeling refreshed. Instead of going to sleep dreading the next day, I go to sleep excited about the possibilities of the next day.

The events of the last few weeks have given me a new lease on life and my future. It’s a little daunting, but exciting as well. Because of the events and the changes it’s brought to my life, I find that I’m smiling and laughing more, sleeping and eating better as well as more focused.

We get so bogged down on the daily grind of working to earn a living, we’re forgetting to live. Life is about more than just working 12 hour days just to pay bills. It’s also about enjoying all that is around you; friends, family, pets and nature. Things like hiking in the woods and admiring the changing of the colors, going to the beach and finding interesting shells, eating a simple dessert such as the one my mother wanted for her birthday; these are important things in life, and should not be put on the back burner.

For my mother’s birthday, she wanted a simple chocolate pudding pie made with Jell-O chocolate pudding. So, in honor of my mother’s birthday and my attitude adjustment, here it is:

1 pre-made graham cracker pie shell (I like the Oreo crust)
1  box of Jell-O chocolate instant pudding (3.9 oz)
1 1/2 cups of cold milk (I use whole milk)
Whipped cream (you can use Reddi-whip or make your own)

In a mixing bowl, mix together the milk and the pudding mix until completely mixed and creamy.
Spoon into the pie crust
Top with whipped cream
Let chill in the refrigerator about 2-3 hours

OPTIONAL: I add shaved chocolate to the top of the whipped cream for more chocolatey goodness.

Chocolate pudding pie

Absent for a while

I realize that I’ve been absent in posting to this blog. Somehow life got in the way. 

I’d been so immersed with something that should not have taken so much of my energy. How I let that happen is beyond me, but it’s not going to happen again.

What would have been Jeffrey’s 60th birthday happened on August 30th and what was Nana’s second anniversary happened on September 18th. Both of these milestones were met with sadness and gratitude at the same time. 

On October 18th my mother will be 81 years young and I’m heading to St. Thomas to celebrate with her.  I know Nana and Jeffrey will be with us in spirit.

To properly celebrate a birthday, in addition to having loved-ones there, you need a good birthday cake. Not one of those factory-made ones that can be purchased in a grocery store; no, you need a real Italian cake.

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ITALIAN CANNOLI CAKE

INGREDIENTS: CAKE

  • 6 large eggs, separated into two separate bowls
    1 cup sugar divided into two separate bowls (1/2 cup in each bowl)
    3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons water
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

RICOTTA FILLING

  • 1-32 ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese
    1-8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 cup confectioners’ sugar
    1/4 cup small semisweet chocolate chips (Nestles or Toll House)
    1/3 cup semisweet chocolate shavings for on top of the cake

CAKE FROSTING

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
    3 tablespoons whole milk
    1 and 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar – sifted
    3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    2 cups heavy or whipping cream (I prefer whipping cream)

PREPARATION: CAKE

  • Preheat oven to 375°F
  • In small bowl, with mixer at high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form
  • Gradually sprinkle in 1/2 cup sugar- continue beating until sugar completely dissolves and whites form peaks.
    In a separate large bowl, now at low speed, beat egg yolks, flour, baking powder, salt, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
  • Now add 2 Tablespoons water until blended.
  • With rubber spatula, gently fold beaten egg whites into egg-yolk mixture, one-third at a time.
    Spoon batter into UNGREASED 10 inch by 3 inch spring-form pan.
  • Bake 30 to 35 minutes until cake is golden and top springs back when lightly touched.
    Invert cake in pan on wire rack; cool completely in pan.

CAKE LAYERS

  • Brush the cakes with orange liqueur or light rum.

FILLING

  • In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat ricotta, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract until smooth.
  • Stir in 1/4 cup semisweet-chocolate chips.

FROSTING

  • In small bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat 3 tablespoons of softened butter, 3 tablespoons whole milk, 1 3/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, and 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract until smooth.
  • If needed, add a little more milk (1 teaspoon at a time) until mixture has an easy spreading consistency.
  • In large bowl, now at medium speed, beat 2 cups heavy or whipping cream until stiff peaks form; fold confectioners’-sugar mixture into whipped cream.

ASSEMBLY

  • Once cooled – loosen cake from edge of pan; remove pan side. Loosen cake from pan bottom; remove pan bottom.
  • With serrated knife, cut cake horizontally into 2 layers.
    Place bottom cake layer, cut-side up, on cake plate.
  • Brush orange-liqueur or rum on the bottom cut cake layer.
  • Spoon ricotta-cheese filling on center of cake layer.
  • Spread evenly filling out to edge of the cake.
  • Brush orange-liqueur or rum on the top cut cake layer.
  • Place top cake layer on top of the filling cut-side down.
  • Spread frosting over top and down side of cake.
  • Sprinkle shaved chocolate on top of the cake.
  • Refrigerate 2- 3 hours until cake is set.