Macaroni with Zucchini and Mint

Here is another classic Sicilian dish that you can throw together with a few seasonal ingredients and walk away with a satisfying meal, that’s tasty and fresh.  This time of year the mint should be plentiful from your garden and the young zucchini is ripe for the picking. If you don’t grow this yourself, farmers markets and grocery stores have all these ingredients fresh this time of year. My son Joseph was surprised that mint would taste this good in a pasta dish. He learned what many Sicilians have known for generations. Don’t be afraid to try this dish. You will be surprised at how great it taste as well.

Summer is no time to spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals when the weather outside is so inviting. You can whip this up in minuets and sit on your patio sipping a glass of vino and enjoying this macaroni. Mint is a staple in my kitchen during the summer. Besides being a great ingredient for making a Mojito, I use it in everything from side dishes to dessert. What’s a Mojito you ask? I’m glad you asked. It’s a Cuban cocktail made with fresh mint, white rum, cane sugar, lime juice and seltzer (or 7-UP, depending on how sweet you like it). It’s a great way of using up all that mint over growing in my garden, and relaxing for the evening. Here is the formula: In a tall High Ball glass(remember those?) add about 5 mint leaves, the juice of 1/2 lime and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Mull it all together till it’s all mashed up. Add a couple of ounces of light rum and a splash of seltzer. Fill the glass with ice and enjoy. Add more sugar or 7-UP instead of seltzer if you like it sweeter.

Mint. It’s so versatile.

Cooking Italian Comfort Food Macaroni with Zucchini and Mint

Macaroni with Zucchini and Mint

  • 3-4 small zucchini sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • Fresh mint leaves, chopped, about 1/2 cup
  • 1/2 cup regular olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 lb macaroni

Cooking Italian Comfort Food Macaroni with Zucchini and Mint

Slice the zucchini into 1/8 inch thick rounds. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large frying pan. Add the zucchini and cook till slightly browned on both sides and tender.

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Cook the zucchini in batches so they are in a single layer in the pan. Add the garlic to the oil and cook a couple of minuets. Do not brown the garlic.

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Return all the zucchini to the pan and remove from the heat.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook the macaroni till desired tenderness.

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Drain the macaroni and add to the zucchini. Add the chopped mint and 1/4 cup of grated cheese. Toss to coat and serve with extra cheese.

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Pasta alla Norma- Macaroni with Eggplant

This has to be one of my all time favorite macaroni dishes. And it’s pure Sicilian.

When I was 14 years old and traveled throughout Italy with my brother Richard we spent two weeks with my Aunt Angie and Uncle Benny in Sicily. We stayed at a small family run resort near the seaside town of Riposto, not far from Taormina. Riposto was the town my Uncle Benny was from.

A memorable dish they served us for dinner one night was a plate of macaroni with a slice of fried eggplant draped over the top. I never tasted something so wonderful in my life. The macaroni was dressed with a simple light marinara sauce made of fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil. And sitting on top of the plate of pasta was two fried slices of eggplant. It couldn’t be more simple than that. We cut the eggplant into the macaroni and sprinkled on some grated cheese. I’ve been making it that way ever since. And each time I dig into that plate I’m eating a slice of Sicily.

Macaroni with Eggplant

  • 1 medium eggplant sliced in 1/4 inch rounds
  • oil for frying
  • 1  28 ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes, passed through a food mill  OXO Good Grips Food Mill  or mashed with a potato masher
    (Kuhn Rikon Potato Masher)
  • 1 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 6 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 1/2 -1 teaspoon of sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound of  macaroni, ziti rigati  or rigatoni

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Place the sliced eggplant , with the skin on, in a colander and sprinkle each layer with kosher salt. Put a plate on top of the eggplant with a heavy weight on top and allow to sit for at least an hour.

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Pat the eggplant dry with a paper towel and heat a large pan with an inch of canola or vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, fry the eggplant till each side is golden brown. Place the fried eggplant in a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb the oil and set aside.

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In a large sauce pan, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chopped garlic and cook till the garlic starts to turn golden. Add the tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper and let the sauce simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. The longer you cook the sauce the more flavor develops. Make sure you stir often when it thickens so you don’t burn the sauce. Taste for seasoning once the sauce is finished.

In the mean time, in a large pot boil 5 quarts of water. Add the  macaroni and cook till al dente.

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When the sauce is cooked turn off the heat and add the torn basil leaves. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the tomato sauce. Toss the pasta to coat it well.  Place the macaroni in a bowl and top it with two slices of the fried eggplant. Sprinkle plenty of grated cheese on top and enjoy.

Pasta alla Norma


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Biscotti Reginella – Giuggiulena- Sesame Cookies

There was a bakery in my Brooklyn neighborhood  called Termini’s Bakery. The store was at 7615 New Utrecht Avenue. Terminis was baking delicious bread, cookies and Italian Terminispecialties decades before I was born. My grandfather used to get his bread from Terminis all the time. There was a woman there that was his contemporary. Sorry to say I didn’t know her name (other than Mrs. Termini). But on a few occasions when I went to pick up bread for my grandfather she knew I was the “butcher’s grandson” and treated me like royalty. Her daughter, which was about my mother’s age, also knew me. They would give me the bread and rolls my grandfather always got and throw in a Taralli Biscotti, which was a plain vanilla cookie ring, or a Regina Biscotti, which was a cookie rolled in sesame seeds. Once in a while I’d get a Lemon Iced Taralli, which was a cookie knot with lemon flavored icing. Half way home the cookies were gone and I would start to eye the tip of the loaf of Italian Bread. I think my grandparents almost expected a piece of the Italian bread to be missing when I brought it home.

Terminis was located under the El (short for elevated railway), convenient for commuters to pick up bread on their way home.  My father would get off the train after work at night and stop at Terminis to pick up the Italian bread for supper. The local bakeries would increase production during the evening commute because they knew people would be picking up fresh Italian bread for dinner.

Termini made the most delicious Italian bread I have ever eaten. It had a unique taste to it, like no other Italian bread I have ever had. I have not found anything like it since they closed. Their cookies were also unique. They made traditional Sicilian cookies but their cookies had a taste all their own. It’s really a shame  when a bakery this good closes and their recipes are lost forever. If there are any living relatives of this family that might have their original recipes I would  love to know about it.

On Saturday the bakery would make their sausage rolls and Sicilian Pizza. When they ran out, that was it. So you had to get there early so you were not disappointed. Their sausage rolls were simple and delicious. It was noting more than a cooked Italian sausage link wrapped in their delicious bread dough and baked till golden brown. No cheese, no peppers, just the great taste of an Italian sausage. Some things should just be left alone.

Like many other things we remember eating as a kid, these sausage rolls were a treat. My mother would on occasion bring some home from her Saturday shopping run. When I was old enough to cross the street I would go there on my own. When I had an extra 50 cents I’d run to Terminis for a sausage roll and a slice of Sicilian. Both were so good you didn’t even need to heat them up. I would eat them cold right out of their display case. They never made it home.

Biscotti Reginella is a very popular and traditional cookie in Sicily. The Sicilian immigrants that came to America thankfully brought this cookie with them.   It’s a simple cookie coated in sesame seeds and baked to a golden brown. They go great with a cup of espresso or a cafe latte, even a glass of Marsala. One of the simple pleasures of life. That’s what good Italian food is. Simple and delicious.

Biscotti Reginella

Biscotti Reginella

  • 3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups of sugar
  • 11 tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) **
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 pound of sesame seeds (One 16 oz Bob’s Red Mill – Sesame Seeds White)
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract* 
  • 3/4 cup of whole milk

*Flavorings vary from town to town. You can substitute the zest of 1 lemon or 1/4 tsp of saffron dissolved in the milk.

**If you want a crisper cookie you can substitute lard for the butter. I think the butter makes the cookies taste better.

Yields 24 cookies.

If you have a stand mixer (KitchenAid PRO 500 Series 5-Quart Mixers)  use the flat paddle to mix this up. You can also mix this up with your hands, but that will take a little longer. Combine in a large bowl the flour, sugar, and baking powder.

Biscotti Reginella

Cut in the butter until it’s incorporated into the flour mixture. Beat the milk, eggs and salt together. Add the liquid to the flour and mix until the dough comes together. Do not over mix.

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The dough should be soft  but hold together. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for two hours.

Making sesame cookies

Cut the dough into four pieces. On a lightly floured board roll each piece into a log about the thickness of your thumb and 18 inches long. Cut the log into 3 inch pieces. You should get 6 pieces per log.  Brush each piece with milk and roll in the sesame seeds to coat.

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Place each cookie on a parchment lined cookie sheet.

Bake in a pre-heated 425 degree over for 10 minuets, then reduce the heat to 300 and bake another 10-15 minuets, or until golden brown. Rotate the cookie sheet half way through so they brown evenly.

Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minuets before placing them on a rack to finish cooling. Once completely cooled you can store these cookies in an air tight container for at least two weeks. They freeze well for future guests.



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Recipes for Super Bowl Party – MY TOP 10 RECIPES FOR YOUR SUPER BOWL PARTY

 The big game is less than a week away and the party has already started in the New York/New Jersey area. Hotels are booked, both teams are already here and attending events all over the  area. I live and work within miles of Met Life Stadium ( I still call it Giant’s Stadium. Sorry Jet Fans). I’m already starting to notice an increase in traffic and activity surrounding the Meadowlands sports complex. This is a great shot of activity and business in the area that we all can use. I’m happy for New York City and New Jersey. We get to showcase the greatest game in the greatest city. I only wish it wasn’t  5 degrees here.

If you are not going to be at the game then chances are you might be hosting a Super Bowl party. Here is a list of great finger food and snacks you can serve with an Italian flair. These aren’t your usual Buffalo Wing/Pig in the Blanket recipes. We know that the game is the most important thing….but what you serve at the party is right up there.

One of my favorite recipe for a party favorite is Scacciata Catanese.

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This is a stuffed bread that is delicious and filled with pepperoni and provolone cheese and fried onions. You you can slice it into individual servings for your guests. Here is the posting with the recipe.

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Wings are also a staple at Super Bowl parties. Here is a recipe for Super Bowl Sicilian Wings.

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These wings are marinated in lemon juice, Italian spices and vinegar and smeared with onions. Finger licking good. Here is the post and recipe.

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Calzones are also great party food.

Calzone Barese

You can stuff a calzone with whatever your heart desires. You can use the traditional ricotta and ham filling, Italian meats and cheeses, Italian sausage and peppers, etc. Here is a sweet and savory calzone that is stuffed with onions and olives and raisins. Here is the recipe

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Pizza is a hit at any party. This Sicilian pizza can be cut into smaller pieces for your party and served on a platter with tooth picks.

Sicilian PizzaYou can either make the dough yourself or buy ready-made pizza dough at your local bakery or supermarket. I prefer my homemade dough but if you need to cut corners, why not? Here is the post with the recipe.

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Eggplant Capanata might not seem like a good party food but it depends on how you serve it.

Eggplant CaponataThis is an ideal bruschetta topping to put on slices of toasted Italian bread. You can top crackers with capanata but it will taste much better on Italian bread. A tray of this will disappear fast. This was one of my first postings and a family favorite. Here is the recipe.

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Sandwiches, or as we like to call them in Brooklyn, “Sangwiches”, are a party favorite. You can make party sandwiches with any filling you want. But here is a little twist. Why not make eggplant sandwiches? Melanzane in Carrozza are little eggplant sandwiches filled with mozzarella or Fontina cheese and fresh sage leaves.

Eggplant sandwichYou can serve these whole or cut them in quarters and serve them with toothpicks. You can find the recipe here.

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A platter of Stuffed Mushrooms goes a long way.

stuffed mushroomsThis is not a vegetarian version. It’s filled with Italian sausage, bell peppers and onions and plenty of Romano cheese. I cook these in white wine, garlic and olive oil. Give your guests some crusty Italian bread to sop up the gravy under these mushrooms. Here is how they are made.

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When you have a party you can’t forget the dessert. Here are three easy to make favorites of mine.

What can be more American than Baseball, Football and Apple Pie?

apple pieAgain, if you want to buy ready-made pie crust to save time you can. Making the filling is easy. Here is the recipe.

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I know it’s a Super Bowl party, but who doesn’t like Italian Cheese Cake?

Italian cheese cakeIf you’re serving coffee or espresso, this creamy ricotta cheese cake will end the evening on a high note. Even if your team didn’t win the game. Here is how it’s made.

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Want to make a dessert to feed a large crowd? This sheet Crumb Cake is a hit at all my family gatherings.

crumb cakeIt’s easy to make and everyone loves crumb cake. Here is the posting and recipe.



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Turkey Pot Pie Recipe – My Way

An Italian Thanksgiving feast never starts with just the Turkey. Although the Turkey is the center of attention, there are other dishes that start the dinner. At our house we usually begin with some antipasto. Cheeses, salami, olives. A platter of shrimp. Just a little something to tease the taste buds. For the first course we usually have soup (that’s a lighter Thanksgiving dish) or lasagna or homemade macaroni or gnocchi. If there was some meat made in the sauce that was also served up. And then came the turkey and baked ham. Not everyone liked turkey so we had to make everyone happy at the dinner table. I will not even get into all the side dishes. (eggplant Parmigiano was always classified a vegetable side dish)  My point here is we always had plenty of Turkey left over for other meals.

Once the turkey was all carved up, we never threw away the carcass. We used that to make delicious Cream of Turkey Soup. In addition to another full turkey dinner after Thanksgiving, I used to make Turkey Pot Pie with the leftovers. I’m sure you all have left over turkey the week after Thanksgiving. Turkey Pot Pie is a great way to use that meat up. This recipe is real simple, except I make my own pastry crust. You can use store-bought pie crust, but I just can’t bring myself to do that. While I still have two hands and can stand I’ll make my own crust, thank you.

I like to add my own touches to this classic American comfort food. (To all you purist, please forgive me for putting pot pie on an Italian cooking blog. It’s all part of who I am). I like to add some chopped fresh parsley to this pie crust. It adds a nice touch to this savory crust. I also mix shortening and butter into the flour. Shortening makes the most flaky crust and butter adds more flavor. The Turkey filling is pretty classic but I like the added flavors of the poultry seasoning thyme and sage. So after your second leftover Thanksgiving dinner and your first turkey and cranberry and stuffing sandwich, give this pot pie a try. It’s sure to please.

Turkey Pot Pie

Turkey Pot Pie – My Way

TWO CRUST PASTRY

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup Crisco shortening
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter cut into small cubes
  • 8 tablespoons iced water

Place 2 cups of flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the chopped parsley and salt. Cut into the flour the shortening and butter. You can mix it with your hand, incorporating the flour into the shortening.  Pour the water a tablespoon at a time and mix with your hands just until the flour comes together. Shape into a ball and cut in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

POT PIE FILLING

  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • 1 can (14 ounce) chicken broth, such as Swanson Natural Goodness Chicken Broth, 14 oz
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or half and half
  •  2 1/2 cups (or as much as you want to add) cooked turkey, cubed
  • 2 cups peas and carrots, thawed.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for two minuets. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring  for about a minuet. Slowly stir in the broth and milk or half and half and continue stirring until the mixture thickens and comes to a slight boil. Stir in the salt and pepper, thyme and sage. Remove from the heat and add the turkey and vegetables. Mix well.

Roll out one piece of dough onto a floured surface to the size of the deep dish pie pan you are using. Line the pan with the dough, leaving about a half-inch overlap. Spoon the turkey mixture into the prepared pan. Roll out the second piece of dough to fit over the top of the pie. Brush the edges of the bottom crust with a little water to help seal the pie. Add the top crust to the pie and fold the top edge under the bottom edge of the pie crust. Crimp all around the pie to seal and cut 3 or 4 slits on top of the pie to vent.

Bake for 30 to 40 minuets or until golden brown. Let the pie rest for 15 minuets before cutting.


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Gelatina Di Maiale

Sorry I have been away so long, but nothing has excited me enough to post. You might be sorry I’m back after this post.

This delicacy is popular worldwide. It’s also called by many different names. Some of you may know it as Head Cheese or Coppa Di Testa. It comes from the head meat of an animal, in this case a pig, and cooked in a mixture of vinegar and flavorings. Because of the calogen that is abundant in the animal’s head and bones, the liquid turns to gelatin when cooled. It’s also known as aspic.  Grandma Isabella used to make Gelatina with pigs feet and fresh ham hocks and it worked quite well. I used to love eating the gelatina right out of the jar she packed it in. I realize not many of you are lucky enough to have a good friend that raises pigs. My friend Noemi brought her pig to market and I share in half  the pig. But in my half I had her include the head and trotters, pig’s feet.  Great components for Gelatina.

I know this recipe may not be for everyone. As my son Joseph said when he saw the pig’s head in my freezer, “That’s weird! Having what I’m going to eat stare at me.” You can order a pig’s head at your local DSCN3335butcher. I had them cut it in quarters so it’s easier to handle. And it doesn’t quite look like a head if it’s cut up.  If getting a pig’s head is too much for you than you can buy fresh pig’s feet and hocks and cook them in the same way. You really want the full pig’s leg for this, which include the feet and hocks.

I went through my arsenal and the only pot large enough I had to fit this head in was my good old canning pot. Even with the pig’s head cut into quarters it didn’t fit in anything else I had, and I have some largeDSCN3339 pots. I took out the brains and eyes and cut off the ears and gave them to my German Shepherd Bella. She loved them! We all benefit from this feast! Did I just go too far there?

Gelatina di Maiale

  • 1 pig’s head, or fresh pig’s feet and hocks, or a combo of both.
  • 1 large onion, halved
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 10 allspice berries
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • salt & pepper to taste

If you are using the pig’s head, remove the brains, ears and eyes. You can discard them. Wash the head and feet well in cold water.

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Place the head and feet in a large pot. Fill the pot with cold water just enough to cover. Add the onion, bay leaves, peppercorns, allspice berries and apple cider vinegar. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a slight simmer, skim off the foam that floats to the top. Cover and simmer for 5 hours.

Remove the head and feet from the pot and put aside to cool. Turn up the heat high and reduce the liquid  by a third.

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Remove from the heat and strain the liquid through multiple layers of cheese cloth.

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Pick through and remove all the meat from the bones. You will know what the meat is. Pull out the tongue and peel off the outer layer. Add that to the meat.  Season with salt and pepper.

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Pack the prepared mixture into a loaf pan that’s lined with enough plastic wrap that it hangs over the edges. Ladle spoonfuls of the reduced liquid over the meat. Allow to cool to room temperature then cover and refrigerate overnight.

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The next day when the liquid had set to gelatin, you can turn the pan over a dish and pull on the plastic wrap to help get it out of the pan.

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The only way I can describe the flavor of this dish is the meat has a richness to it. It’s very “porky”. The fact my pig was raised organically and locally would have given it a better taste than the soy and corn-fed pigs you buy commercially. Either way, it was a “hoot” trying to make this traditional dish and if you have the heart and stomach (and head) to give it a try, it’s well worth your time.

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Zucchini Bread

August is always a month of abundance. Farms are full of fresh picked fruits and produce. The vegetables in your backyard garden are ripening faster than you can eat them. You need to save and store the fruits and vegetables you cannot possibly eat in a week. Many of us freeze, can and add the fresh vegetables to recipes we can also save for a “rainy day”.  When your zucchini is producing a bumper crop, and your neighbors close their lights when they see you coming up to their house with more bags of tomatoes and zucchini, it’s time to make zucchini bread.

If my sons had their way, they would rather I make fried zucchini fritters instead. And I might just do that, but zucchini bread is just so good to eat fresh or toasted with some cream cheese. It freezes really well so you can make multiple loaves and keep them for winter. Now, zucchini bread is about as american as apple pie. But the fact that so many Italians grow and eat zucchini I’m going to call this an “Italian/American comfort food”. Zucchini bread became popular after WWII and really took hold in the early 70’s when people were looking for a healthier version or reason to eat sweet breads. Just add vegetables. Makes sense to me. This recipe takes it a few healthy steps further by using yogurt and unsweetened apple sauce. It has to be good for you. Just a warning…while this zucchini bread is in the oven baking, your family will come from all corners of the house to find out what smells so good in the oven. You were warned.

Zucchini Bread

ZUCCHINI BREAD

  • 3 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 4 tablespoons of Stony Hill Farms whole milk French Vanilla Yogurt, or non-fat plain yogurt.
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 2 cups of grated zucchini, skin and all
  • 2/3 cups chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1/3 cup of raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray two 8 inch loaf pans with cooking spray, or butter. I just bought these loaf pans, Sur La Table Platinum Professional Loaf Pan 21140LF , 8½” x 4½”, and was thrilled with the results. You can also make great American bread in these pans with excellent results.

In a large mixing bowl sift together flour, salt, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside. In another large mixing bowl beat the eggs, then add the oil, applesauce, yogurt, sugar, and vanilla. Mix well till all the wet ingredients are combined well. Now add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir till you have a smooth batter. Now you can fold in the grated zucchini, walnuts and raisins. Mix till everything is combined.

Pour equal parts of the batter into each of the loaf pans. Bake for 50 to 60 minuets until golden and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 30 minuets, remove from pans and continue to cool on a rack until ready to store.

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Vegetables Oreganata Style

What did we do before air conditioners?   

We had only one air conditioner in our house when I was growing up. And it was in our living room window. It looked more like a refrigerator sticking out of our window, it was huge. It took at least three people to lift it. My father had to build a special bracket to keep it in the window. If it ever fell out of the window it would have killed one of us kids playing in the driveway.   I never saw anything like it then, or since. But, it kept us cool on those sweltering summer nights. I only remember my mother using the air conditioner when we had company or on an exceptionally hot night. Most nights during the summer we were cooled by fan power. My father had a large window fan he would put up in the dinning room window. At night, we would open up the windows in our bedrooms and close everything else in the house. With that fan on exhaust, it would draw the cooler outside air into our rooms. One fan took care of three rooms.  But on the really hot, humid nights  my mother would gather us up with sheets and pillows and we would bed down in the living room cooled by our air conditioner. She would put a sheet up to the entrance of the room to keep the cool air from escaping into other rooms. My mother and sister would sleep on the plastic covered sofas and my brother and I would sleep on the floor. My father? He never left his bedroom. He didn’t care. He would sleep through anything.  He was probably thrilled he had the bed to himself that night.

I don’t ever remember having air conditioning in our cars till about….well, my father bought his first air-conditioned car around 1984.  It was a Ford Grenada. I remember very well my first experience driving in an air-conditioned car, and it wasn’t my fathers. I might have been 8 or 9 years old and a couple of friends and I went for a ride in my neighbors car. Mr Conte had this very big black Cadillac. We might have been joining him to run some errands, but I remember getting into the car with his son, Frankie Boy and my other friend Junior. We might have just as well taken our first trip on the Space Shuttle. The novelty of feeling that cold air coming out of the dash-board was a pleasure beyond words. We were all crowded on the front seat so we had direct contact with the cool air.  I remember thinking, wow, Mr Conte has air conditioning in his car! I never wanted to get out. I wonder if he would let us sleep in his car on some of those hot sticky nights? I asked my father why we didn’t have air conditioning in our car. He answered, “you don’t need air conditioning”!

My mother would also take us to the movies. Back in the day, it was the only place to stay cool, at least up until the 60’s when it became a standard feature in most businesses and a household amenity. I could remember seeing the banners with blue  icicle style  letters across the marquee: “Air Conditioned for your comfort” or “Refrigerated Air, Cool Comfort”. Walking into the theater you got hit with that rush of cool air filled with the aroma of popcorn. You arrived at the movies! Leaving the movies had the opposite effect. You forgot how hot and humid it was outside and when you hit the warm air the magic faded, along with the ladies hairstyle.

We did have a pool living in Brooklyn, if you want to call it that. We couldn’t keep the pool on our side of the back yard because that would have blocked the garage where my grandfather kept his 53 Hudson Wasp. So we had a deal with our neighbors the Vollaros. We shared a driveway between our two houses, but they did not have a car so we set up the pool on their side of the back yard. It also helped that Junior Vollaro, who was my age, was free to use the pool as well.  The pool was a square structure with triangular seats at each of the four corners. It held about two feet of water and had a drain plug at the bottom. We would fill it up in the morning, allow a few hours of sunshine to warm it up and we went for a swim. We drained the pool at the end of the day so we didn’t worry about filtering. We used the back yard pool only on the weekdays because on the weekends my father would load us up in the car, with the Vollaros, and head off to Coney Island.

Life before air conditioners was a bit challenging. And the more air conditioners became part of our every day summer life I would think how did we ever do without it.  Now that I have central air in my home I think, how could I ever live without this. We did…and lived to talk about it.

Vegetable Oregonata

        Vegetables Oreganata Style

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced 1/4″ rounds
  • 1/4 cup olive oil plus more
  • 2 medium zucchini sliced 1/4″ lengthwise
  • 4 ripe plumb tomatoes, sliced 1/4″ lengthwise
  • 1 medium onion, very thinly sliced into rounds
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano grated cheese
  • 3 sprigs of thyme leaves removed from stems
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place about 1/4 cup olive oil on a flat sheet pan and spread evenly. Place the eggplant on the pan and flip them over to absorb some of the oil on the other side. Use two pans so you don’t crowd them.  Place in a 375 degree oven for 15 minuets.

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The eggplant and should be slightly softened. Remove from the oven to cool.

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In the meantime, slice the zucchini, tomatoes and onions. Prepare the breadcrumbs by mixing together the minced garlic, Romano cheese and thyme with the bread crumbs. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and mix well.

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Butter a 13″x 9″x 2″ Pyrex baking dish. Place a layer of eggplant against the side of the pan. Place on top of the eggplant the zucchini  then the tomato and then the onion.

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Repeat the next row the same way until you used up all the vegetables and the pan is full. Sprinkle the vegetables liberally with salt and pepper.

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Now sprinkle the flavored breadcrumbs on top of the vegetables. Drizzle a good amount of olive oil over everything, about 1/4 cup.

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Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are browned and vegetables tender. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Can also be eaten at room temperature.

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Cinnamon Toast

SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THIS

This is comfort food for comfort food. Does that make sense? When comfort food was invented this is what they came up with. Better? Who doesn’t have childhood memories of cinnamon toast?  It’s not that complicated, it’s very simple to make,  and it’s a little taste of sugary-apple pie cinnamon-buttery-toasted heaven.

My mother made cinnamon toast for me as a ritual when I didn’t want to go to bed because I was hungry. God forbid I went to bed hungry. At four years old what would you rather do? Go to bed or eat cinnamon toast?

Exactly.

It didn’t take me long to equate bed time with cinnamon toast.  Just smelling cinnamon is known to boost cognitive function and memory. Who knew? Who cared? As far as my mother was concerned after my cinnamon toast I was swept away to dream land. Probably dreaming of more cinnamon toast.

Being the culinary pioneer I was, I learned to make cinnamon toast at a very early age. Who knows, cinnamon toast might have been responsible for me paying attention to my mother’s other cooking classics. I know the next step up from making cinnamon toast was learning how to make French Toast. It all fell into place after that. Such humble beginnings.

Now, there are some who mix softened butter with the cinnamon and sugar and spread that mixture on the bread before toasting. And others that toast the bread that way and then place it under the broiler to carmelize and crisp the top. Both are notable techniques in making delicious cinnamon toast. My mother didn’t do it that way. Here is her technique.

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Before you begin, combine 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon with 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar and mix well.

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Take two slices of your favorite bread. Toast it.

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Butter the hot toast with plenty of butter. I prefer Kerry Gold Irish Butter. It’s made from grass fed cows and is the best tasting butter I ever had.

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Now sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the bread to cover the top evenly. Use about a teaspoon per slice or to taste.

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There you have it. Simple and a taste of childhood. If you never had cinnamon toast, now is your chance to give it a try. And if you can’t fall asleep one night, don’t toss and turn, get up and do as I do…make yourself some cinnamon toast. It puts me right to bed.

Sweet dreams!

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Stuffed Cornish Game Hen

I’m going on a diet. You heard me….I’m going on a diet. It has been a number of years since I have been on a diet. I think it’s time I started again. I go through this every few years. And for the most part I lose some weight. I know I’ll never be “skinny”. I stopped trying years ago. But I need to lose a few pounds.

How am I going to do that? No Pasta, Pizza, bread, sugar, cake or candy. I know, why don’t I just slit my wrist and call it a day. Believe me, that would be much easier. But I don’t know of any other way. I’m beyond exercise. Maybe if I loose 30 or 40 pounds I can think about taking long walks up and down the hills of my neighborhood. But for now, a trip to the mailbox at the end of my driveway gets my cardio up and running. Besides, I heard exercise is over rated. It’s not all that good for you anyway.  Do you know how many joggers just drop dead of heart attacks? I’d rather be eating a bowl of pasta fagioli when the big one comes, not huffing and puffing in pain getting to that last mile. Besides, I jogged for years when I was in my 30’s and 40’s, and took aerobics. I’m sure that prolonged my life for a number of years so I already have some savings in the “bank”. That has to count for something, doesn’t it?

I stopped smoking about three years ago, for the second time. That was easier than dieting. At least I was able to put on a nicotine patch to take the edge off.  I don’t know if there is a patch on the market to get you off of bacon. It doesn’t exist. I’m telling you, quitting smoking is easier than dieting. I just love food too much. Of course I gained more weight when I quit smoking.  Now you have all these fat, non-smokers running around trying to loose weight. It’s vicious. It never ends. I did it once before when I was in my 30’s. I stopped smoking and gained weight. After a few months I went on a diet and exercise program and lost 100 pounds. But that was when I was 30. For some reason, it was much easier then. At 58, it’s just not coming off as easy. You know, if I keep talking like this I might talk myself out of it. I’m actually getting hungry.  Maybe I’ll start next week.

Speaking of food, I love this dish. It’s a great way to make these hens and a great dish to impress your dinner party. It’s simple ingredients bursting with flavor. Give it a try.

Stuffed Cornish Game Hens

Each game hen feeds 1-2 people. If you are making 2 game hens cut the recipe in half.

  • 4 Cornish Game Hens
  • 1 link of sweet Italian Sausage for each game hen. If you can get Italian sausage made with cheese and parsley it works wonderful with this recipe, I prefer it.
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped sun dried tomatoes (about 3 sun-dried tomato halves per hen)
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into quarter wedges.
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

Wash and dry the game hens. Remove the casing from the sausage links and combine the sausage meat well with the chopped sun dried tomatoes. Divide the sausage mixture into 4 equal parts and stuff into the body cavity of each hen. Tie the legs together with butcher twine and place in a roasting pan large enough to fit the hens.

Sprinkle around the hens the chopped garlic and chopped fresh rosemary. Pour the white wine around the hens. Arrange the potatoes around the hens in a single layer. Salt and pepper the hens and potatoes to taste.

Cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil and seal tightly. Place in the preheated oven and cook for 1 hour. Remove the foil and turn the oven up to 400 degrees F. Cook for another 30-40 minutes until browned. Bast the hens and potatoes every 15 minutes.

Remove the hens and potatoes and place on a serving platter and keep warm. Place the butter in the roasting pan with the juices  and cook over medium high heat until the pan juices reduce and gets thick and glossy. Spoon the pan gravy over the hens and potatoes and serve. Taste for salt.

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