Feast of Saint Joseph

Last year I shared with you my mom’s tradition of baking bread and delivering it to neighbors on the Feast of Saint Joseph the Carpenter.  Sicilians and other Southern Italians celebrate this Saint’s day every March 19th.

I was browsing on my post from last year and realized that I shared with you mom’s recipe for St. Joseph’s Soup but not the bread, which was really the centerpiece of the day.Click Here to revisit the post from last year and read on for the bread recipe.

St. Joseph’s Day Bread

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups of warm water
  • 2 packages of dry yeast
  • 2 Tbsp. of shortening
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. oil
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1Tbsp. Anise seeds
  • 4 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 egg slightly beaten

Preparation:

Combine in a bowl the warm water, yeast, shortening, sugar, oil, anise seeds and salt. Let this sit for 5 minutes.

In a mixing bowl put 2 1/2 cups of flour and add the yeast mixture. Beat together

Yeast bread dough, ready for proving

Yeast bread dough, ready for proving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

until all ingredients are completely blended. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a dough. Turn dough onto a floured board. Knead in more of the flour to form a stiff and smooth dough. Shape it into a ball. Place it in a greased bowl, cover and let it rise in a warm draft free location until dough doubles in size.

Punch dough down and divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Cover and let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Roll each piece of dough into a 12 inch long rope. Take 3 of the ropes and braid together to form a long braid, you will get 2 loafs of bread. Place on a greased baking sheet, cover and let rise in a warm draft free location until double in size.

Brush top with beaten egg and sprinkle some additional anise seeds over the top of the bread. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from cooking sheets and cool on wire racks

Feast of Saint Joseph
 
Author:
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: Italian
 
St.Joseph's Bread is a tradition in many Southern Italian Regions.
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups of warm water
  • 2 packages of dry yeast
  • 2 Tbsp. of shortening
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. oil
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1Tbsp. Anise seeds
  • 4½ cups flour
  • 1 egg slightly beaten
Instructions
  1. Combine in a bowl the warm water, yeast, shortening, sugar, oil, anise seeds and salt. Let this sit for 5 minutes.
  2. In a mixing bowl put 2½ cups of flour and add the yeast mixture. Beat together
  3. Yeast bread dough, ready for proving
  4. Yeast bread dough, ready for proving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  5. until all ingredients are completely blended. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a dough. Turn dough onto a floured board. Knead in more of the flour to form a stiff and smooth dough. Shape it into a ball. Place it in a greased bowl, cover and let it rise in a warm draft free location until dough doubles in size.
  6. Punch dough down and divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Cover and let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Roll each piece of dough into a 12 inch long rope. Take 3 of the ropes and braid together to form a long braid, you will get 2 loafs of bread. Place on a greased baking sheet, cover and let rise in a warm draft free location until double in size.
  7. Brush top with beaten egg and sprinkle some additional anise seeds over the top of the bread. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from cooking sheets and cool on wire racks

 

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A World of Seasoning

Herbs, spices and other seasonings are a natural and healthy way to add a lot of flavor to your recipes without adding a lot of extra calories.

With a little practice, you can create an endless variety of delicious recipes, such as Mediterranean-inspired favorites bursting with the fresh flavors of lemon, garlic and rosemary and spicy Mexican dishes featuring cilantro, cumin and chili powder. The flavor in herbs and spices are also great alternatives to salt.

Of course, your options won’t end there. A wide range of herbs, spices and seasonings are

English: Spices in Mapusa Market, Goa, India.

English: Spices in Mapusa Market, Goa, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

used throughout the world to make food taste better, and in some cases, last longer. Over time, certain flavors have come to represent the culinary identity of the areas where they originated. In large part, the seasonings you choose will define the direction of your own culinary development, as well.

With a little creativity, you can put a fresh spin on some of your favorite tried-and-true recipes by simply swapping out the herbs, spices and seasonings you use. For example, if you add fresh or dried basil or oregano to diced tomatoes, chopped onion and finely minced garlic, you have the makings of a wonderful red Italian sauce. On the other hand, if you replace the basil and oregano with cilantro and lime juice, those same ingredients become the foundation for a fabulous homemade salsa recipe.

To help inspire you, the following chart shows some of the most popular culinary ingredients based on geographic region.

Spices and herbs on a local market in Cairo, Egypt

Spices and herbs on a local market in Cairo, Egypt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cuisine: Popular Herbs, Spices & Seasonings

Italian:
basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, parsley

French:
thyme, French tarragon, rosemary, basil, sage, mint, marjoram

Greek:
dill, lemon, oregano, fennel

Spanish:
saffron, smoked and regular paprika, rosemary, thyme

German:
mustard, rye, caraway seeds, borage

Mexican:
cilantro, chili powder, cumin, Mexican oregano

Indian:
curry powder, coriander, cumin, turmeric

Chinese:
five-spice powder, star anise, fennel seed, cloves, cinnamon, ginger

Thai:
Thai basil, cumin, turmeric, lemon grass, cinnamon

Of course, this chart is far from comprehensive, but it can serve as a good reference point for assembling your own collection of must-have herbs, spices and seasonings.

Keep in mind, some herbs, spices and seasonings, such as salt, black pepper and garlic, have an almost universal appeal that isn’t limited by geographic borders. Chances are you will notice those items popping up in recipes from all over the world. As a result, you may want to keep an adequate supply of these basic ingredients in your own pantry or spice rack.

You will also see a lot of crossover among dishes from countries that border one another. For example, French, Italian, Greek and Spanish dishes often feature many of the same herbs, such as basil, rosemary, oregano and thyme. Of course, this isn’t surprising when you consider how these populations interacted with and melded together over the course of history. Depending on your personal tastes and cooking habits, these ingredients may be good to keep on hand, as well.

Have you ever considered fresh herbs?  Fresh herbs are super easy to grow from seed or

Herbs

Herbs (Photo credit: Angela de Março)

from cuttings in your own garden and many can be brought indoors for year-round enjoyment. However, if growing fresh herbs isn’t your thing, many popular fresh and dried varieties are readily available. Dried herbs can be a great alternative to fresh, but take note of expiration dates and suggested storage methods. Dried herbs, spices and seasonings can be quite expensive, so buy smaller amounts at one time if you won’t be using them often.

Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix

This recipe only takes a couple minutes to put together and costs less than buying pre-packaged taco seasoning. It also has less salt and no artificial additives or preservatives.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • .5 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients in an airtight container and shake well to combine. Use 2 – 3 tablespoons per pound of ground beef (use more or less according to individual taste preferences).

This recipe can also be made in larger batches. Store unused amounts in an air tight container for up to 6 months.

Thanks To Tasting Taste for guest blogging on this post!

 

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Discover Wild Rice

Continuing with our March theme devoted to Rice let’s take a look at one variety that many don’t consider a rice at all.  Read on as we discover ‘Wild Rice.’

Wild rice, or “manoomin,” an Ojibwe word roughly translated to mean “good seed,” is actually not rice at all, but is a grass.  Native to lakes and rivers in North America, the seeds from this grass have been harvested since before written history of the region existed.

Wild Rice

Most of the wild rice we see today is gathered by hand in the exact way it was centuries ago. Pushing a canoe or small boat through the wild rice patches on a lake, the tall grass is bent over the boat and struck with a stick to dislodge the ripe kernels. A team may return to the same wild rice patch in a few days to gather the kernels that have since ripened.

The distinctive color of wild rice will range from very dark charcoal to dark brown. This difference is due to the treatment during curing and the ripeness of the wild rice kernels when harvested. There is very little difference in the appearance or flavor of rice from lakes and rivers or farms.

Cooked wild rice.

Cooked wild rice. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Even though wild rice is typically priced higher than
other rice products, adding even a small amount to a rice dish is often enough
to make a real impact. With its nutty flavor and ‘toothy’ texture, wild rice
gives a delightful twist to any recipe, turning an ordinary rice dish into a
culinary adventure!

Below are a few Soup Recipes that incorporate wild rice.  I hope you enjoy them!

Spiced Up Wild Rice Mushroom Chowder

  • 2 tsp cooking oil
  • 8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped small
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 4 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 3 cups cooked wild rice
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • dash allspice to taste
  • dash hot sauce to taste
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups half-n-half (or whole milk)

Put the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat, add mushrooms and celery and and cook, stirring, until softened and mushrooms slightly brown.
Turn heat down to medium-low.

While stirring, sprinkle flour over the mushrooms and celery and cook, stirring constantly, until flour turns golden, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Continue stirring and slowly pour in the vegetable broth or water; continue stirring and cooking until the broth thickens slightly.

Add the remaining ingredients, stirring to combine.
Turn heat to low, taste and adjust seasonings as you like.
DO NOT BOIL!  Just heat until soup is hot, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat, cover pot and let stand for 3 or 4 minutes before serving. Ladle into soup bowls and add a dot of butter to each serving if you wish. A sprinkle of fresh parsley is also nice.

Will serve 2 to 4.

Wild Rice Cauliflower Soup

  • 1 medium size onion, diced
  • 1 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 cup Sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 2 cups COOKED wild rice
  • 2 cups COOKED cauliflower pieces (bite size)
  • 1 cup half-n-half or cream

In a soup pot over medium-low heat, add the onion, celery, and mushrooms along with the cooking oil and butter; cook until vegetables are softened.

With soup pot still over heat, sprinkle in the flour and stir until flour disappears, then continue stirring and slowly pour in the chicken broth, stirring constantly until soup thickens.

Now add in the wild rice, cauliflower, and cream and carefully stir until blended well. Cook just until heated through; do not allow to boil.

Serve immediately – Will serve 4 to 6.

 

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Rediscover Rice – Our Superfood for March

Get To Know Your Rice Varieties

 With more than 40,000 varieties worldwide, we thought we’d keep our sanity by narrowing the list down to those we most likely could find in a store.

 To begin, let’s look at a few basic rice facts. Rice is a grain that grows in fields or paddies and has three edible parts; the bran, germ, and endosperm. Rice that has been milled and polished to remove the hull, bran, and germ is called white rice. Rice that has been hulled only, leaving the bran and germ intact is called brown rice. Brown rice and white rice are not actually species or varieties of rice, but are more accurately the result of a process.

Now that we have that straight, let’s take a look at what we would most likely find on a grocery shelf in America when we shop for rice.

IMGP7336

Brown Rice

This rice is usually considered ‘whole grain’ rice, basically because the rice was not milled, leaving much of the bran and germ intact. Only the hull is removed. Brown rice is available in long grain, medium grain, and short grain. Long grain brown rice will remain somewhat separated when cooked, while medium and short grain brown rice kernels will tend to cling together more when cooked. All brown rice has a light, nutty flavor due to the remaining bran. Brown rice offers more fiber and the nutritional benefit of the bran and germ. You will need more cooking time for brown rice than white rice, but the delightful nutty flavor of brown rice may be worth the wait.

White Rice

This is another generic term used more to describe the rice than to name a variety. White rice is processed to remove the hull, bran, and germ, leaving just the internal endosperm, which is white. White rice can also be purchased in long grain, medium grain, or short grain, but all cook up a bit stickier than any length brown rice grain. Enriched white rice has been added to American shelves since a severe shortage in folic acid was found to be the cause of birth defects. Other nutrients have been added back into white rice, as well.

Arborio Rice

This rice is sometimes mistakenly called risotto in America. The grain gets its name from a town in Italy where it is grown. Arborio rice is used to cook the dish, risotto, which is a very creamy dish created by adding liquid to the rice, stirring, then adding more liquid and stirring some more until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.

Jasmine Rice

If you cook any Asian dishes, you might know this rice. With a super sticky finish, this rice is perfect for dishes that need to hold up under a lot of ingredients. The texture is very popular in stir fry meals. The rice is also very fragrant.

Basmati Rice

This rice is from India. When cooked, it stays fluffy and separates. Although some may confuse it with Jasmine rice, they are not similar. This rice has an aroma, but it is not like Jasmine. Once you learn the difference, you will not confuse the two.

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Converted Rice

This is a process which produces an ‘instant rice’ to some degree. The rice grain is steamed before milling, resulting in a shorter cooking time. This may be handy, but the nutrients are compromised during the processing. Any rice that has a reduced cooking time was processed to a great degree.

Of course, this just covers the basics of the rice varieties found on the grocery shelves in the United States. Since we know there are over 40,000 varieties worldwide, we know we are missing some important rice choices to enjoy. This simple primer should get you started, however, to find the best rice for your family’s personal tastes.

We are going to devote the month of march to Rice, with many great recipes and some fact finding articles.  Hope you enjoy it!  Here’s a cool recipe:

 Italian Antipasto Rice Pot

  •  1 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup tomato juice
  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 can (14 oz) artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1 jar (7 oz) roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
  • 1 can (2 oz) sliced ripe olives
  • 2 tsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, gently stir together the water, tomato juice, rice, basil, oregano, and salt. Put over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, then immediately turn heat down to low, cover pot, and simmer gently until rice is cooked – about 15 to 20 minutes depending on what rice you choose.

Remove pot from burner and add the artichokes, red peppers, olives, parsley, lemon juice, and black pepper. Cover pot and let sit for 3 or 4 minutes to let heat through. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top and serve immediately.

Will serve 6 as a side dish or 4 as a main dish.

You can add some thinly sliced hard salami if you wish to more closely resemble an antipasto platter.

CLICK HERE for Gracie's Complete Collection in the Italian Living Series
CLICK HERE for Gracie’s Complete Collection in the Italian Living Series
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Grandma’s Home Made Pizza

For years I been searching for my Grandmother’s Home Made Pizza Recipe, but to no avail.  I have learned however, that life is sometimes just a bunch of coincidences thrown in together.  Check this one out!

Last week at the age of 96, my Aunt passed away.  The last in a long line of aunts and uncles that provided me and my cousins with nothing more than good memories and fantastic traditions.  After the funeral I’m driving my older cousin Frankie home.  The conversation, as it usually does, turned to food.

Now Frankie is probably the most unlikely person in my family to hold onto a recipe.  In fact I would be shocked if he even knows how to boil water.  Anyway, out of the blue he starts talking about grandma’s pizza.  I’m in shock how he tells everyone in the car that Grandma always made it for him on his birthday.  “A simple recipe,” he tells me, “thin crust, lightly covered with gravy (all my family calls sauce gravy), Mozzarella and Ricotta Cheeses, topped with basil.”

Now I’m really getting excited and I ask, cutting him off in mid sentence “The dough?  How did she make the dough, it was special,” I scream.  “Can’t help you there Cuz, I just know it sat in the fridge for a day.”  OK, so I’m on to a hot lead with Grandmas Pizza, but unfortunately the older generation has all passed on and I’m the one who is accountable for all the recipes.

The very next day I come home and there is a Martha Steward Living magazine in the mailbox.  Weird I think, as we don’t even subscribe.  In the lower right corner of the cover a headline reads “PIZZA: DELICIOUS TOPPINGS, AMAZING CRUST.”  I tear open to page 90 and there is a recipe for a long, slow rising dough, that I swear came from heaven.  If this isn’t the secret dough that I been searching for, it is certainly a very close second.

The following is the Basic Pizza Dough recipe as given in Martha Steward Living magazine.  For the toppings you can come up with your own, but I’m showing you how I remember it, many years ago.  Like to receive the magazine, Click Here (not an affiliate link, I’m just excited to find this Dough recipe).

Basic Pizza Dough

  • 4 cups unbleached bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 tsp. instant dry yeast  (preferably SAF-instant)
  • 1 3/4 cups filtered or bottled water at room temperature
  • 2 1/4 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing and bowl

In a large bowl whisk together flour and yeast.  Slowly add water, mixing with a wooden spoon until incorporated.  Stir in salt and oil.  Expect the dough to be lumpy and raggedy.  Brush with oil, cover bowl with a dry kitchen towel and let rest for 1 hour.

Turn out dough onto a floured surface and pat with flour.  Martha suggest you flour your hands while you work.  Holding two opposite sides, pull the dough until about one foot long, then fold back onto itself and pinch ends.  Repeat 4 more times, rotating dough each time to stretch alternate sides.  The dough should begin to feel smooth.

Place dough in a well-oiled large bowl, brush with oil and let rise in the fridge until doubled in size.  Should stay in the fridge 24 hours and up to 48 hours.  AKA – Cousin Frankie’s hot lead.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and cut into three (3) equal parts.  Form into balls, brush with oil, cover and let sit another hour.

Place dough on fist and use your knuckles to begin stretching dough from the middle, rotating it slightly as you work.  I can see my grandmother doing this like it was yesterday.  Set on surface and continue to stretch from all sides to form a rough 10 by 14 inch rectangle.  (Hey, I’m a traditionalist and always form a circle, as shown above).

Transfer dough to a lightly oiled 9 by 13 inch rimmed baking sheet, pulling the edges to fill the pan.

Pizza I cooked.

Stock photo, but you get the idea.  Should be thinner.

At this point the rest is up to you.  Use your favorite toppings, make three different pizzas, or go with Grandma’s trusted family favorite.  She would start by putting a thin coating of gravy (there’s that family thing again) you can top with very thin slices of tomatoes.  Next came the cheeses, shredded Mozzarella, droplets of fresh Ricotta and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan.

Place your Pizza in a preheated 475° oven and cook until the crust is golden brown and crispy.  Usually anywhere between 15 an 18 minutes.  Remove form the oven and sprinkle fresh chopped basil over the top. Cousin Frankie also tells me that from time to time she would add sauté onions to the mix.  I, of course add chopped garlic or garlic powder as well.

There you have it, the perfect Pizza for a Friday night or any night!

 

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6 Food Aphrodisiacs to Enjoy This Valentine’s Day

An aphrodisiac is a substance that increases sexual desire.  From Greek: pertaining to Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love.  From Webster’s: something (such as a food, drink, or drug) that causes or increases sexual desire.

OK, with all that being said, what are the foods that are commonly referred to an an aphrodisiac?  Truth of the matter is, there are many, but we have our top six, a few wine suggestions and a Gracie’s recipe using one of our chosen foods.

#1 – Figs More so for their role in history and the belief that an open fig emulates the female sex organ.  It has never been proven that figs increase sexual desire, but let us not forget the mention in the bible of Adam and Eve wearing fig leaves to cover their private parts.  The ancient Greeks held them as sacred, associating them with love.  Figs were also Cleopatra’s favorite fruit.

#2 – Oysters Most people when asked to identify an aphrodisiac will pick oysters, due to its reputation for increasing sexual desire.  What really happens with oysters is that they are high in zinc which helps increase libido and produce sperm.  Interesting stuff, huh.

#3 – Avocado I read a whole lot of “Top Aphrodisiac” stories and post in preparing this little piece and avocados, along with oysters and figs were the only three foods to appear in every article.  From what I can tell the word avocado has its roots in ancient Aztec civilization and translates to testicle.

#4 Almonds Another one that seemed to pop up on  nearly everyone’s list, as almonds are high in vitamin E, magnesium and fiber.  Legend has it that the aroma of almonds is said to arouse passion in females.

 #5 ChocolateIt is no wonder that chocolate is a huge Valentine’s Day gift, when you consider that it contains a multitude of compounds that are natural aphrodisiacs.  Anandamide, a chemical that is said to make people feel good and phenylethylamine (PEA) which releases dopamine in the brain and peaks during organism.  PEA is often referred to as the “Love Chemical.”  Go with dark chocolate, as it is said to promote relaxation.

#6 Artichokes – Not on a bunch or top aphrodisiac list, but it did make Yahoo’s and I love artichokes (see Gracie’s Artichoke recipe is below).  According to Yahoo and Greek mythology,when Zeus was visiting his bro Poseidon, he spied a lovely lass, Cynara, whom he scooped up and took to Olympus for godly trysts whenever his wife was away. But when Cynara grew homesick and tried to escape to the world of mortals, Zeus, incensed, transformed her into an artichoke.”

We could go on forever and coming up with a top six was no easy chore.  Do an internet search for aphrodisiacs and you will be amazed and amused at the long list of foods that are said to help spice up everyone’s mood.

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 OK, so what wine do we suggest for Valentine’s Day?  I’m picking two Italian wines, a sparkling white and an Italian red, that is our favored wine for February.

 Adami Prosecco di Valdobbiadene BrutBosco di Gica $19.99 Adami’s NV Prosecco Superiore Bosco di Gica emerges from the glass with mineral-infused white fruit, smoke and crushed rocks in an intense, serious style of Prosecco I find appealing. This is Lot 36 0. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2012. “  91 PointsVinous / Antonio Galloni – CLICK HERE!

Zenato Amarone 2008 $66.99 (Hey it’s Valentine’s Day) – “Zenato is a reliable producer of quality Amarone, producing wines that always show personality and intensity. This delivers bold fruit and background tones of polished leather and dry tobacco. The mouthful is very bold and thick, boasting a playful touch of sweet spice.” 92 Points Wine Enthusiast – CLICK HERE!

♥♥♥♥♥♥

  Gracie’s Stuffed ArtichokesFrom “7 Days of Italian Cooking”

Ingredients:                           Stuffed Artichoke   

  • 4 medium artichokes
  • 1  cup extra virgin olive oil (more if needed)
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 or 3 chopped cloves of garlic
  • 2 1/2 cups of  seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  •  salt and pepper to taste

Take each artichoke and cut off the stem, so the base is flat.  Remove the bottom most leaves and trim with a kitchen scissors the remaining, easy to get leaves.  Cut off the top 1/2 inch of the artichoke.  Wash the artichokes in cold water and spread open so they can accept the stuffing.  Combine all your stuffing ingredients in a bowl and mix with the olive oil until you get a good consistency.  With a spoon fill the center of the artichokes with the filling and spread some around the leaves. 

Steam the stuffed artichokes by standing them on their base in about 2 inches of water in a pot and cover.  Steam for about 30 minutes but check to make sure the leaves pull away easily from the artichoke.  I always liked to put a little of the stuffing on the leaf as I ate the meaty end of the artichoke leaf. Sprinkle a bit of grated Parmesan over the top.

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photo by: joyosity

5 Of The Healthiest Fruits And Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are at the cornerstone of the Mediterranean Diet.  Listed below are 5 of the healthiest and what makes them so important.

“We are what we eat”, or so the saying goes. Different foods help our bodies to grow, to heal, and to keep the immune system running properly. More than that, they stop our bodies from falling apart and slow down the aging process

The absence of many different nutrients can lead to various physical ailments. It’s really important to eat healthily, so let’s look at five of the best fruits and vegetables to include in your Mediterranean Diet plan.

broccoliBroccoli: Green vegetables are widely considered among the healthiest foods we can eat, and broccoli is definitely one of the most nutrient-rich green vegetables. It’s a great source of vitamins C and K, as well as folate (a natural source of vitamin B9), vitamin B and fiber. In addition, it contains potassium, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6, protein and calcium.

Broccoli can assist in lowering cholesterol levels which improves cardiovascular health. It supports the body’s detoxification system, aids vitamin D uptake and may also reduce our susceptibility to certain allergies.

BlueberriesBlueberries: Blueberries have a low glycemic index (GI) which means they have a low impact on our blood sugar levels., so you won’t get a sugar rush from eating blueberries. Eating foods with a low glycemic index is also believed to reduce the risk of developing type-II diabetes as well as coronary heart disease.

Blueberries are also a very rich source of antioxidants, which are thought to help reduce the risk of developing cancer. They are a good source of vitamin K, manganese and vitamin C too, placing them high on the nutrient-density scale.

SpinachSpinach: Spinach is one of the best green vegetables for your health. It contains a huge quantity of nutrients, and offers several specific health benefits.  Among the most concentrated nutrients are magnesium, folate, iron, potassium, calcium, vitamin E, protein and zinc.

Spinach may help reduce the risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer. It’s also an anti-inflammatory, meaning it may help reduce our susceptibility to allergies. The vitamin K, magnesium and calcium content of spinach is good for maintaining healthy bones and there are also antioxidants in spinach that help remove harmful free radicals from the body.

peasPeas: Green peas are another fantastic source of nutrients. They contain a huge range of nutrients in high quantities, including manganese, fiber, vitamin K and C, phosphorus, protein, copper, iron and zinc.

Peas can help to regulate blood sugar levels thanks to their fiber and protein content. Fiber and protein slow down the pace of digestion, which also means that carbohydrates are digested more slowly too. Peas are also known to reduce the chance of developing cardiovascular disease and to help protect against stomach cancer.

Red appleApples: Apples are a fantastic source of fiber which helps promote a healthy digestive system. This also aids in the regulation of blood sugar levels. They are also a great source of vitamin C. Although apples aren’t as nutrient-rich as some other fruits and vegetables, they are thought to have both anti-cancer and anti-asthma properties. In addition, they’re good for cardiovascular health.

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photo by: wanko

Baked Spaghetti with Pepperoni


If you been following this blog for any length of time now you know we’re looking for some different ideas on Pasta dishes for our next EBook.  This Baked Spaghetti with Pepperoni recipe just came in and looks like a winner!

LZ98_001_0010_11DM  Our next Amazon Kindle  EBook is still in the works but should be out just around the time that the tulips and daffodils start to bloom.  Then again, with all this Polar Vortex weather we been getting, it will be a wonder if anything survived this winter.

Remember, the fist 10 recipes we receive will be included in the EBook and all ten contributors will receive a bottle of Sicilian Olive Oil.  We have received 4 to date!

Here’s our latest entry – Baked Spaghetti with Pepperoni:

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  •  1 lb ground chuck
  • 1 small green pepper, chopped
  • 1 (4 oz) can mushrooms, drained
  • 1 (26 oz) jar pasta sauce
  • 1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
  • 1 t Italian seasoning
  • 1 lb spaghetti, broken into small pieces
  • 3/4 C milk
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 (5 oz) pkg sliced pepperoni
  • 1 1/2 C shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 2 C shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Preparation:

  • Place a large pot of water over high heat.
  • Bring to a rapid boil.
  • Boil spaghetti until al denté.
  • Drain and rinse.
  • Place ground chuck in a large skillet over medium high heat.
  • Add the onion, green pepper and mushrooms.
  • Cook until meat is browned being sure to crumble the meat.
  • Drain.
  • Add the pasta sauce, tomato sauce and Italian seasoning.
  • Stir until well combined.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Place the eggs and milk in a large bowl and blend.
  • Place the spaghetti in the egg mixture and toss to cover.
  • Lightly spray a large baking dish with a non stick cooking spray.
  • Place half of the spaghetti mixture into the bottom of the pan.
  • Place half of the meat sauce over the top of the spaghetti.
  • Repeat for another layer.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Cover the casserole with aluminum foil.
  • Bake 45 minutes.
  • Uncover and top the casserole with the pepperoni and 2 cheeses.
  • Continue to bake another 15 minutes or until cheese has completely melted.

My Tip: Is it just me or is this dish calling for some fresh Ricotta cheese?  I would add the Ricotta when I add the spaghetti to the egg mixture.  About a cup sounds about right!

This recipe came to us from our friends at Yummyplr.com.  If you have a food blog or website and sometimes need content, do yourself a favor and check them out.  Click Here for instant access!

OH,  By the way.  The image at the top of the page is one of six finalist for our Spaghetti Book Cover.  The next five post will feature the other finalist.  I would really appreciate your input.  You can see all six at out FaceBook Fan page and vote there as well.

CLICK HERE

 

The Gracie’s Italian Living Series is now available as a complete set.  The First Three Books in the series are:

7 Days of Italian Cooking – Gracie’s Guide to Everyday Meals

Gracie’s Christmas Eve Recipe Book – Night of the 7 Fishes

The Mediterranean Diet Recipe Book – Gracie’s guide to Healthy Meals

CLICK HERE

 

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5 Kitchen Staples to Help Save Money

I often wonder how my mom (Gracie) always seemed to have food on the table even in lean times? When visiting the grocery store every week to the tune of hundreds of dollars, I wish to know her secret. Then again, maybe it wasn’t a secret at all. Maybe it was just good planning and preparation on her part.  

LZ98_001_0024_11DM Let’s consider the fact that items that we have on hand are what determine how far our food will go. Filling your cabinets or pantry with a few useful staples can be the difference between one trip to the grocery store each week as opposed to three or four times due to poor planning.  Stocking just a few choice items is all you need to create wonderful meals and by taking this approach I’m sure you will save some money.

Flour. Flour is a starter item for many recipes. You can add it to some water and make gravy in the pan for many meat dishes. Flour is used to make bread (biscuits, rolls, loaves) and to coat chicken. It can also be used to coat a round or square cake pan to prevent the cake from sticking. Of course, one of the favorite uses for flour is in cookie recipes that make scrumptious desserts.

My college daughter was home for the holidays and loves to bake.  We always have a bag of flour on hand but with our budding baker around it just was not enough.  Buy extra flour and keep it in the fridge.

Rice. I love rice so much that I once bought a fifty pound bag from a grocery store. Fifty pounds, that’s a lot of rice! Rice is a side dish, but it doesn’t have to be plain. It can be jazzed up with veggies to accompany dinner. Gracie used leftover rice for a dessert called sweet rice. Just add evaporated milk and some sugar to a bowl of rice and warm it in the microwave. It is a tasty treat for after dinner. Another popular dessert is rice pudding.

Rice can also be mixed with leftover meat and a cream soup to form a casserole. Rice has many uses and your sure to find a few that your family will love.  A few weeks back we did a post on Sicilian Rice Croquettes.  Mom would often make those croquettes with leftover rice from a dish she prepared the night before.

LZ98_001_0010_11DM Pasta. I don’t have to go into the many different uses and recipes on can come up when cooking with pasta.  In fact our next EBook in the Italian Living Series is all about pasta.  You got a pound of pasta in the cupboard, you got dinner for the family. When cooking with pasta try thinking outside the tomato sauce box a little. Macaroni can be used to make a creamy salad while spiral pasta is used in many different pasta salads.  Spaghetti can be used in a casserole topped with cheese or with a lite pesto topping.

Spices. Every Kitchen had a spice rack and enough spices to create unique taste to ordinary meals.  There are other ways to season food besides salt and pepper. In fact, many spices taste better than salt. Even diehard salt-a-holics won’t miss the salt in foods if other seasonings are used. Cayenne pepper, chili powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, oregano, and garlic powder are all useful tools in your flavor arsenal to give foods a fresh new taste.

Beans. There go those beans again. Beans can top your salad (edamame), make an awesome dip (black beans), and go well with grilled foods (baked beans). They provide a good source of protein with very little fat. Beans are good in soups, stews, and over rice for a simple yet filling meal.

I can open my pantry right now and find four or five cans of different beans and believe me we go through them.  I can also find a few bags of dried beans which are far superior to the can version, just a bit more work.  My go to meal on Tuesday seems to be steamed salmon and a vegetable of choice.  I usually drum up a balsamic dressing and add some red kidney beans.  Dinner in twelve minutes, no joke!

So, do you have these staples in your kitchen? I bet you can probably think of several more that will enhance your pantry and save money. Start with these and grow your own list of basic kitchen staples that are versatile and economical.

Gracie’s Super Bowl Chili.

The big game is coming up and it provides an excellent opportunity to use some (or many) of the stables we mentioned and I’m sure a few of your own in a Super Chili.  Here’s one of my favorite ways to do chili.

  • 1/4 lb each of the following beans; kidney, red pinto, cranberry and navy
  • 1 lb bacon
  • 5 lg onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2/3 c garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c coriander seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1/4 c  cinnamon
  • 1/4 c paprika
  • 1/4 c cayenne pepper (or) to taste for the timid tongue
  • 1/2 c poblano chili peppers dried and ground
  • 1 can 108 oz Italian tomatoes with juice
  • 12 oz beer
  • 5 lb lean beef, ground
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pick over and wash beans. Put in large pot and cover with 4 qts.cold water. Soak over night. Wash and drain. Cover with water, bring to a bowl over high heat, lower heat and simmer for 2 hours or until tender.

Cook bacon in a large skillet, drain and crumble. Put next 7 ingredients in skillet and saute for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and beer, simmer. In another skillet saute ground beef until no longer pink.

When beans are tender drain, reserving liquid. Add meat, bacon and vegetables to beans. Simmer over low heat until hot, adding bean liquid if necessary.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Want more of Gracie’s Secret recipes?  Click the ad below for her “7 Days of Italian Cooking – Gracie’s Guide to Everyday Meals.”

 

5 Ways to Make Great Cannelloni

I got a thing for Cannelloni these days and offer up 5 ways to stuff and prepare this sometimes overlooked Italian Specialty.

Roasted squash, spinach and tofu ricotta cannelloni

So just when I though for the first time in my life that I had enough food and needed to do some serious detox, along comes this desire to dive into a healthy dose of cannelloni.  Throughout the years I have come up with some shortcuts that will help cut time and aggravation when preparing this dish.  I also have a few killer stuffing.  Below are my 5 favorites, but first some history and housekeeping.

Cannelloni are a lot like Manicotti except a smaller, thinner and more suitable to a variety of fillings.  They are usually baked and some people actually think of them as tiny, rolled lasagna.  Beside Italy cannelloni is very popular in Uruguay and Argentina, due to a large Italian immigration to those countries.  They are often served with the Sunday meal.

Here’s Gracie’s basic ingredients/instructions for the dough:

  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups of unbleached flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs or if you like a little color, 3 eggs and 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • Tbsp. water or more if needed

Now you can make the dough the old fashion way by forming a well with the flour and adding the eggs with a fork, gradually adding water as needed.  You can also take a short cut and buy ready made.

I never liked the well version and always find the store brought pasta sheets to thick for cannelloni.  What I do is pulse quickly the flour and salt in a food processor.  I then add the eggs and water as needed until everything comes together into a workable ball.  Take the ball and kneed on a lightly floured surface for about 10 minutes.  You will know when it’s ready.  Form two smaller balls and set aside until show time.

When ready to begin, break the two balls in half and pass the halves through the narrowest setting on a pasta making machine.  Fold in half and run through the machine again.  If needed you can repeat until you get the thickness desired.  When sheets are desired thickness cut into 4×4 pieces, cook in boiling water for about 3 minutes, dust some flour to keep from sticking and set aside until ready to make the cannelloni.

Extra hands help!

Extra hands help!

5 Fillings:

Filled - Julia's Jamie Oliver Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni Spinach and Ricotta: Melt some butter in a saucepan and add 2 (10 ounce) packages of thawed frozen spinach for a few minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl, let cool and mix in two eggs a 1 1/2 cups of fresh Ricotta cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Gracie always added a little nutmeg to this mix as well.

Sausage and Mushroom – In a medium sized saucepan heat some olive oil and add two or three Italian Sausage with the castings removed. cook until golden brown and with a slotted spoon remove from the pan. Add chopped button mushrooms to the oil and cook until soft. Combine the sausage and mushrooms to a mixing with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.

Sausage and Peppers – Cook the sausage as directed above.  Once done add chopped red and green peppers to the saucepan, along with a small yellow chopped onion.  Combine all the filling ingredients in a mixing bowl adding salt and pepper to taste.

Cannelloni mit Zucchini-Hack Meatball – This is an easy one.  Gracie would always have some meatballs in the house and she would heat then in some sauce, remove and chop them up to make a filling.  Be sure to add some sauce to the filling and at times she would add shredded Mozzarella cheese.

Crab Meat – Combine 3 cups of crab meat with a 1 cup of a Parmesan cream sauce, 2 Tbsp. of fresh chopped parsley, 2 Tbsp. of chopped fresh chives and 1 Tbsp. of lemon zest.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

To Make the Cannelloni:

Divide the filling evenly over your 4×4 pasta squares.  Roll up and place seam side down on a lightly buttered baking dish.  You can even cover the bottom of the baking dish with sauce.  Add you sauce of choice over the top and bake at 450° for 15 minutes.

Julia's Jamie Oliver Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni I have seen cannelloni baked in meat sauce, cream sauce, butter sauce, topped with pesto or just good old Sunday sauce.  I have even at times thrown shredded Mozzarella over the top before baking.  The possibilities are endless.

Super Tip: Cannelloni can be time consuming, but are well worth the effort in feeding a crowd.  If you’re having the gang over for the Big Game a tray of assorted Cannelloni can be a game winner!

 Want more of Gracie’s Secret recipes? CLICK HERE For “7 Days of Italian Cooking – Gracie’s Guide to Everyday Meals.”