food

Sweetheart tarts: Express love with a home-cooked meal

Before I get to the sweet treats of Valentine’s Day, let’s consider its savory side. As in gooey mounds of cheese, golden caramelized onions, and smokey bacon, cloaked in creamy custard. That’s right, quiche. Or, in honor of today’s theme, a Sweetheart Tart. Who wouldn’t want chocolate AND a “quiche” on a day set aside for romance.

A Second Look At July 4th at Dexter Lake.

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Last week in this column I gave you a look at the Independence Day Celebration at Dexter Lake  State Park including the bands that kept the park resonating in music all afternoon into the evening. That one article could not hold all that transpired that day, so now I will show you more of the fun activities and let you in on the great vendors who sold their wares to the eager customers.

Floating
Floating On Dexter Lake | Photo by Tim Chuey

As I mentioned in last week’s column, the weather could not have been better. Perfect conditions for those who wanted to play on or in the water. Dexter Lake was more and more inviting as the daytime heat increased.

Boating
Boating On Dexter Lake | Photo by Tim Chuey
Kayak
Even A Blowup Kayak | Photo by Tim Chuey

There were motor boats, kayaks, and even blow-up flotation devices on the lake.

Tents And Chairs
Canopy Tents And Chairs | Photo by Tim Chuey

Many people brought their canopy tents to provide some shade from the sun which shone brightly in a cloudless sky.Others brought a blanket or even a comfortable lawn chair to relax in the sun and enjoy the day.

Sun Exposure
Keeping Cool Or Getting Sunburned? | Photo by Tim Chuey

For the, pardon the expression, “girl watchers” there were plenty of the bikini-clad young ladies trying to keep cool. One couldn’t help but notice that some of them looked very pale like it was their first time this season out in the sun and one would hope they covered themselves in sunscreen otherwise they would be taking something unwanted home with them. That would be a painful sunburn.

Frisbie
Throwing The Frisbie With Your Family | Photo by Tim Chuey

Children and adults alike enjoyed playing games like throwing a Frisbee around or just walking around while listening to the music.

The Event Sponsor for the day was The Pleasant Hill Boosters who are well-known throughout the area. Other sponsors for the event are Oregon State Parks, Eugene Daily News, and Oregon Rains.

Rattlesnake BBQ
Rattlesnake BBQ | Photo by Tim Chuey

I promised to show you the vendors and here we go. There were enough of them that patrons had a wide variety of foods and beverages to choose from and many other items for purchase. Let’s start off with the food. Wow! The selection was incredible. Rattlesnake BBQ not only had a great selection of food to eat, but they also provided the Beer Garden.

Beer Garden
Rattlesnake BBQ Beer Garden | Photo by Tim Chuey

Here is their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Rattlesnake-BBQ-and-The-Dexter-Lake-Club-345424708989279/ .

Red 5 Hot Dogs
Red 5 Hot Dog Company | Photo by Tim Chuey

Red 5 Hot Dog Company is next on the list of delicious food choices. They have been a part of this celebration for some time now. They also have a Facebook page I’m sure you’ll want to check out: https://www.facebook.com/red5dogs/ .

Piglet Food Truck
Piglet Food Truck | Photo by Tim Chuey

We don’t want to forget the Piglet Food Truck. That pink vehicle is hard to miss. They provide a variety of yummy food options. Here is a link about them by Yelp showing their location: Piglet Food Truck.

Shave Ice
Shave Ice | Photo by Tim Chuey

On a cool day there is noting more refreshing that shaved ice with some delicious syrup drizzled on it. Shave Ice provided that cooling treat. And there is the traditional Cotton Candy.

Dexter Baptist Church
Dexter Baptist Church Table | Photo by Tim Chuey
Lots of Goodies
Dexter Baptist Church Sales Table | Photo by Tim Chuey

Dexter Baptist Church had a booth promoting an upcoming event and they had a table full of taste-tempting baked goods.

Native Footptints
Native Foot Prints | Photo by Tim Chuey

Now we’ll look at the other goods that were available for purchase. Native Foot Prints had assorted items including jewelry and beautiful “Dream Catchers.”

Thunderegg Rock Club
Springfield Thunderegg Rock Club | Photo by Tm Chuey

Springfield Thunderegg Rock Club had a beautiful display of rocks to buy. Here is how you can find them:

Tami's Tie Dye
Tami’s Tie Dye | Photo by Tim Chuey

Tami’s Tie Dyes is a return vendor providing a wide variety of Tie Dye patterned apparel. Here is their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Tamis-Tie-Dyes-120766434774861/ .

2 Old Farts Tackle Company
2 Old Farts Tackle Company Of Dexter | Photo by Tim Chuey

A rather unusual name for a business, but one that is very obvious is 2 Old Farts Tackle Company of Dexter. A delight for anyone who loves to fish and wants to buy some unique tackle items. They too can be found on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/2-Old-Farts-Tackle-Co-230039077439415/ .

There was also face painting for the children and I guess for some of the more daring adults. They made some really cool designs.Throughout the day and into the evening children and adults alike enjoyed themselves with all of the things there were to do, watch, or listen to.

Special thanks go out again to Mike Cockerline and Kelly Asay for organizing the event and to Todd Waddell, the audio mixer, and Scott Mc Donald who was in charge of the stage.

I’m already anxious to experience Independence Day 2018. I hope you will join us.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

The Blended Burger Project

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The Mushroom Council has partnered with The James Beard Foundation to start a movement to make burgers more nutritious and sustainable by blending mushrooms with the meat creating a more delicious and unique burger experience. They have created the Blended Burger Project, a nationwide competition calling for local chefs to compete to ‘Make Shroom for Improvement in Your Favorite Burgers.’ To participate, chefs and restaurateurs around the U.S. are creating their own unique spin on the blended burger and featuring it on their menus throughout the summer.

Consumers will be able to vote for their favorite burgers on the James Beard Website, and the top five chefs will win a trip to the historic James Beard House in New York City, where they will cook their blended burgers at the welcome reception for the annual James Beard Foundation Food Conference taking place October 17th and 18th, 2016.

Beginning Memorial Day (May 30) and continuing through July 31st, hundreds of restaurants will develop and serve their versions of a blended burger, featuring at least 25 percent fresh mushrooms mixed into the burger patty. Any Eugene based restaurant who would like to participate just needs to select the link below to sign up, and then hit the kitchen to create their own unique blended burger and feature that burger on their summer menu for consumers to vote for them.

To participate:http://www.jamesbeard.org/blendedburgerproject/register

Here is the recipe for the classic blended burger:

http://www.mushroominfo.com/classic-blended-burger/

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Photo Credit: John Valls Photography

Blended Burger Project™ Features Chefs Nationwide Competing to Make ‘Shroom for Improvement in Your Favorite Burgers

 Second annual James Beard Foundation contest encourages chefs to blend mushrooms with meat for more delicious, nutritious and sustainable burgers – customers vote for favorite burgers

New York, NY (May 17, 2016) –This summer, chefs nationwide will reimagine the iconic burger when they take part in James Beard Foundation’s second annual (JBF) Blended Burger Project™, which challenges chefs to blend finely chopped mushrooms with meat to create a more delicious, nutritious and sustainable burger.

Diners across America can cast a vote for their favorite blended burger by visiting jamesbeard.org/blendedburgerproject. The five chefs with the most votes will win an opportunity to prepare their blended burger at the historic James Beard House as part of the official welcome reception for the Foundation’s annual Food Conference (October 16-18).

To participate in the Blended Burger Project, diners can:

  • Visit participating restaurants and order the featured blended burger from May 30-July 31
  • Votefor their favorite burger based on a set of judging criteria at jamesbeard.org/blendedburgerproject
  • Sharepics of their favorite blended burgers on social media using hashtag: #BlendedBurgerProject

Outback Steakhouse Embarrassed by Australia Day Promotion.

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Update: Outback changed the page on 1.26.15. to the correct flag.

There are approximately 3500 Australian nationals residing in the state of Oregon, and none of them will be impressed with Outback Steakhouse after the restaurant chain embarrassed itself with an Australia Day promotional  blunder.

Australia Day, January 26, commemorates the landing of the First Fleet in Port Jackson, and is accepted as the first “discovery” of the southern continent. The Nation’s birthday is celebrated by its citizens around the world, with the same reverence as Americans accord to the 4th of July.

Outback Steakhouse Embarassed by Australia Day Promoiton featuring the incorrect flag.
Outback Steakhouse Embarassed by Australia Day Promoiton featuring the incorrect flag.

Outback Steakhouse, who markets itself as “Australian” cuisine, advertised a free appetizer or dessert as the Australia Day special. In the banner for the advertisement, the restaurant chain did not use the Australian national flag, instead posting the national flag of Great Britain- the Union Jack. Not only could the chain not identify the Australian National Flag, they also left the entire state of Tasmania off their interpretation of the Australian continent. Tasmania is approximately 35,000 sq mile in size, only slightly smaller than the American state of Indiana.

Australians residing in the United States are outraged that such a disgrace would occur, took to Twitter, Facebook and Buzzfeed to express their disgust with the chain.

 

The National Flag of Australia
The national flag of Australia

As an Australian citizen who immigrated to the United States, I hold the flags of both my nations in great reverence. My own personal encounters with the restaurant chain include a visit where the waiter overheard my Australian accent, and walked over to tell me that “I was laying the accent on a bit thick.” I’ve never heard of a “Blooming Onion“, and nor do I consider the chain representative of “Australian food”.

After posting my own tweet about the matter, less than 30 minutes later I received a telephone call from a friend who is more tech savvy than I. They advised me that Outback Steakhouse had blocked my account from their Twitter site, and therefore, my tweet was no longer visible.

A telephone call to both the Corporate Office of Outback Steakhouse and the Springfield-Eugene restaurant in Hutton Street was not returned.

Outback Steakhouse is headquartered in Tampa, Florida, was founded in 1988 to incorporate the casual atmosphere of the Australian Outback.

Their casual approach to the Australian flag, is a sham to their corporate brand, and to 28 million Australians.

Australian Map
The Australian nation is made up of 6 states and 2 territories. Tasmania, is the most southerly state (yellow).

 

Growing up Italian: The real Italian job

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There is a lagoon famous all over the world that attracts millions of tourists every year. There is a city built on sand that inspired movies, books and intriguing  love affairs. There is a port that made history worldwide. There are buildings that endured centuries, wars and domination. There is a unique culinary experience that accompanies it all.

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Landing at the Marco Polo airport in Venice gives me goosebumps, always!

 

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How my first morning in Venice usually looks like …

 

Venice is everything one would imagine, and then some.

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Vintage postcard from Venice

People often ask me, what is the best time to visit Venice? Every day is a great day in Venice I say!

In winter, the Serenissima ( aka Most Serene, a title given to the Republic of Venice) is often wrapped in mist. Like a shy girl, she shows  her real self only to a few selected friends. Away from the seasonal tourist crowds, Venice is mostly enjoyed by its residents.

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Venice at Midnight in December. Photo by my friend and Venician resident Stefano Minetto

Then, also in winter, there might be some snow. There is high water.The lagoon might freeze, and the scenery gets really surreal. Some of these weather conditions are not suited for carrying on the best everyday routine for the residents, but as a tourist …..it has its own unique appeal for sure!

Venezia, 01/12/2010 - Non c'è tregua per i veneziani, questa mattina, dopo una breve pausa è tornato il cattivo tempo con vento freddo e pioggia accompagnato dall'acqua alta.
High water in Piazza S. Marco (St Mark square)
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Ice in the Lagoon during the winter 2012
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Snow in Venice, a rare occurrence. Seen from the window of my friend Stefano’s apartment. Peaceful !

 

There are no cars in Venice. The ambulances, fire trucks, taxis, buses and even the funeral vehicles are substituted with boats. Other than that, Venitians walk everywhere!

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You recognize the logo..it’s not what Brown can do for you. Here is Mr. Blue :) delivering in Venice.
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Firetruck, in Venice.

There are a million bridges in Venice. Some are famous, some are not. Some are large, some are tiny. Each is unique and can lead to a magic corner of the city. I never travel with a map. I really enjoy getting lost and finding my way back through a different route. Venice is a treasure chest, with little trinkets scattered everywhere.

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On our way to the hotel, the Bridge of Sighs.

 

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Rialto bridge at 6am. The only time of the day when it’s not crowded by tourists and it can be seen like it really is: Majestic.

 

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Just another little bridge somewhere in Venice.

Then there is the bird that represents Venice the most: Pigeons! They are everywhere, comfortably living the lazy life, like a cat on its chair.

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Pigeons in St.Mark Square
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Local residents.

Summer is when Venice really comes alive. In July the city turns into a gigantic Tailgating party for the Festa del Redentore. The Redentore Festival is celebrated on the third Sunday of July, with a grandiose fireworks show on Saturday night as the main attraction. The Venetians take part in the spectacle of fireworks right from their boats, which are usually decorated with balloons, festoons and lights. Starting before sunset, the boats make their way to the Saint Mark’s Basin and to the Giudecca Canal. The waters sparkle with the reflection of boats and lights. On the boats, among song, dance and typical food, people wait for the fireworks that begin at 11.30 p.m. and go on for almost an hour. Along the banks thousands of people also wait for the fireworks at long tables set up for the occasion. I was fortunate enough to attend a few of these celebrations over the years, and I think it should be on everyone’s bucket list!

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Italians do it better: it’s a party boat! Festa del Redentore 2010

 

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Sitting precariously in a tiny gondola, getting dusted by the ashes coming down from the fireworks. I remember taking this picture and shedding tears of happiness.
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Magic night for the lagoon that repeats itself only one day a year.

In September then, there is the Historical Regatta that re-enacts the one hosted in 1489 to commemorate the welcome to Caterina Cornaro,  the wife of the king of Cyprus who renounced to her throne in favor of Venice….now…do you blame her? :)

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Original reproductions of costumes and boats make the lagoon most colorful.
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St Mark Square night (foot) traffic

Then, for the night owls, Venice has a variety of al fresco dining experiences stretching as wide as your wallet allows it. Cafe’ Florian in St. Mark Square sells over-priced drinks with an unlimited view of one of the most beautiful squares in the world, and a string quartet that plays the soundtrack to an unforgettable Italian night.

The Islands! Yes, there are the famous islands in the lagoon. Burano and Torcello are my favorite, the last one off the beaten path.

Burano is charming, cozy and cheerful with its brightly colored homes. Tradition has it that the wives of the fisherman would paint the houses so bright they could be seen for miles, even in bad weather, by their husbands at sea.

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This color combination wouldn’t look this good anywhere else. Burano Island

 

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Fresh flowers, colors and religious symbols. Burano Island

 

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Bill and I in Burano 2012

If one stays clear of the “touristy” areas, Venice will surprise even the most discriminating traveler. Its people are friendly and the living is fun, just embrace the lagoon…

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Locals shopping at the “market” in the island of Murano.

As a foodie, Venice offers infinite opportunities to enjoy the traditional cuisine of the lagoon. Ernest Hemingway had his favorite fishmarket. It didn’t take long to understand why.

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Rialto Fish Market. Fresh fish, daily

Seafood is a key ingredient in the Venitian diet. It has been like this for centuries. Housewives go to the market daily to purchase the freshest elements for their meals. Same thing for the vegetables and fruit.

When in Venice every day is a “heyday” for me when it comes to food. A constant celebration of flavors, history and human creativity.

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Squid ink pasta (typical of Venice) with shellfish from the lagoon, and a Caprese Salad. Perfect lunch!

And then after the glorious summer, Venice goes back to her serene state again, coming to life briefly in February for its CARNEVALE (Carnival) when people crowd every single corner of the city in a joyful celebration. Magnificent costumes, artfully constructed, enhance the Most Serene city, if that is possible at all. Everyday life attire, coexist- for a day- with the pompous medieval fashion. Plumes, colors and paillettes bring sparkle to an otherwise grey town.

For a weekend in winter, Venice shines of its own light.

 

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Carnevale a Venezia
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Glorious crisp cold day in the lagoon

My friend Stefano, born and raised in Venice says: “There are no strangers, just friends whom you haven’t met, yet”.  This is the spirit of Venice. A city that has always embraced changes, adventures, colors, diversity, and mostly….love, in every aspect of living.

The recipe I’m enclosing today comes from Stefano’s wife, Paola. She is great cook, and she made this for me one warm summer night.

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My long time best friends Stefano and Paula. As Venetian as it gets!

It’s a ridiculously simple recipe, but so deliciously decadent. For those who believe that cheese and fish don’t mix…oh well, too bad, so sad.

Another reason to try this recipe.

This dish is rich, bold, vibrant and surprising. Just like a day in Venice. Enjoy!

[gn_box title=”PASTA CON TONNO (Paola’s tuna melt pasta)” color=”#AA0″]
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NOTE: since this is a very simple recipe, the quality of its ingredients is crucial. I use homemade butter or the best unsalted butter you can afford. Kerrygold is a good choice.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

  • 400 gr pasta (Spaghetti are ok, or I like to use maccaroni)
  • 100 gr Tuna. ( Again, the best tuna you can buy. Home canned or in oil, not the one in water)
  • 3 anchovies
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a generous pinch of freshly chopped parsley
  • 3/4 stick of butter

DIRECTIONS:

With a fork, mesh the tuna, anchovies, and the butter to a paste.

If using fresh tuna, you can sear it and slice it. Then mix it lightly with the butter instead.

Cook the pasta according to the package direction.

Strain it and put back the noodles in the pan, coat the pasta with the butter and tuna, add some parsley and taste for salt.

I usually add a generous handful of grated cheddar cheese. My Italian family would not approve of it, I’m sure..but it tastes sooo good!

Dust with pepper before serving. Serve immediately.

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Until next time, Mangia, Enjoy, Ciao!

Growing up Italian: My Little Christmas Story

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I am a September baby. That means that, by the time my first Christmas rolled around, I was barely 3 months old. Clearly, I don’t remember a thing. Fortunately, my Dad was wise enough to take pictures.

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December 1966. My first Christmas and tree

It seems to me that some ornaments we used well into my 30s were already in existence in this photo.  Also, our Nativity scene has been a staple in our household. None of the figurines ever got broken, lost or mishandled. Year after year, each decoration emerged from the darkest spot in the attic, carefully wrapped. It was always a surprise, like we had never seen those pieces before.

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My second Christmas. Mom is pregnant with my little sister, due in February. It is 1967.

Within a few years, the family expanded. I got a sister in 1968 and shortly after a cousin, Carlo, and his little sister Chiara.

In the early ’70s, Christmas became really fun, and I was old enough to remember!!

My  aunt Pompilia’s house had a huge living room with textured ceramic tiles floor, fancy tapestry on the walls, paintings and ceramics.

She would decorate a huge Christmas tree with lights so bright we, the kids, would be mesmerized.

Then, there was the long communal table that would accommodate the family… and then some.  Aunty would bring out the best of linens and starch them to perfection. She would also use the dishes she had received as a wedding gift. A grand-occasion sort of thing.

The food was great, homemade Tortellini with capon broth, a roast, vegetables and of course the kids favorite: Pandoro or Panettone for dessert.

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Typical Italian Christmas desserts: Pandoro and Panettone

After dinner it was “play time”! The sugar overload didn’t help our parents. Mom, being a teacher was always the most patient. We had a  Bingo game without numbers but with animal pictures. It was our favorite.

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After dinner Animal Bingo. Me, Mom and my little late cousin Carlo.

Those were the happiest times as a child. Then, this big night tradition faded over the years.

We took for granted the fact that no matter what, our little world would always stay the same, so we decided to explore…

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Celebrating with a fancy dinner in Ostra, Ancona, with the late Luca and his family.

When we were old enough to drive and cook, we decided to join different parties. In my twenties I dated an eclectic gentleman, Luca, with a natural sense of elegance, eloquence and an innate passion for food. We didn’t know it back then, but we were “growing up foodies”.

Luca’s parties, like his persona, remain unforgotten, long after his premature death at the age of 30.

At Luca’s cooking was fun, but plating in antique ceramics and dressing up for dinner was even better.

Then again, life seems to complete a full circle and end up the way it started.  Getting “older” I longed to spend Christmas with my birth family, again. After I moved to Oregon, I tried to go “home for the holidays” as much as my finances would allow it. The same nativity set would be out and brought back to life by mom’s loving hands.  Mom would also decorate our short, old, beaten up synthetic tree, and place it on the  same spot every year, and  “just because” we would also have a real tree in the atrium.

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Home for the Holidays, the tree in the atrium, 1999. Ready for the new Millennium.

Sometimes, my travel bug would prevail and I got to spend the Holidays abroad. Sadly, even the most exotic of places didn’t feel like real holidays, even with the most adorned tree, I would still miss my little beaten up-synthetic one.

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Oahu: Hilton Hawaiian Village. December 25th, 1998.

Now that most of the family is gone, celebrating doesn’t seem so important, I’m happy having a quite day at home, lazy as my cat, doing what I love the most: cooking.

The recipe I’m enclosing today was a winter favorite of ours.

When time is of the essence, this is still one of my go-to dishes:  Mom’s Zuppa di Ceci. Tuscan Garbanzo beans and bacon soup. ( My mom was born and raised in Tuscany, moved to Umbria for work when she met my father) This soup is so easy to make, and even easier to love. Healthy holiday comfort food, if there is such a thing. The ease of preparation doesn’t sacrifice its flavor, though.

So if you have been a little “naughty” in the food department, this dish is perfect : it will help you make peace with your caloric intake gone sideways.

A good hearty dish, that brings me back for a few moments to my childhood in Italy: to my days at aunt Pompilia’s  living room, to the smell of the fresh Christmas tree and homemade pasta. I meet that part of me that never left it.

[gn_box title=”Moms Minestra di Ceci (Tuscan Chickpeas soup)” color=”#379″]
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Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 can of Garbanzo Beans or 500 gr of dry beans, soaked and cooked
  • 2 cloves of garlic- whole
  • 3 T of EVOO (divided)
  • 1/4 C white wine
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 2 slices of thick bacon thinly sliced
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh rosemary plus one large sprig
  • Parmigiano cheese and olive oil to finish the dish

Directions:

Drain the beans.

With an immersion blender puree the beans right into their cans. Set aside.

Warm up 1 Tbs of oil in a large pan, add the garlic.(you could remove the garlic later upon serving the soup)

When the garlic starts to brown, add the bacon and saute’ until it starts to get crispy. Deglaze with the wine and let the wine reduce by half. Add the tomato paste and let it cook until turns to a dark burgundy color.

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Now add the pureed tomatoes and fill both cans back with warm  tap water, pour that too into the mix. Add the minced and sprig of rosemary.

Simmer for about 30 minutes on low heat. Taste for salt and pepper.

Serve drizzled with olive oil and Parmigiano cheese.

Alternatively, you can add some croutons or toasted bread.

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Sometimes simple things can bring us so much pleasure.
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Enjoy! Mangia and Ciao!

The Frugal Wine Gal: Adelsheim Pinot Gris

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During my exploration of Oregon wine, I have encountered many wineries that excite me when I see their bottle in my frugal price range. Adelsheim Vineyards is of of those wineries. I’ve had some fantastic wines that they have made over the years. Just recently I tried their 2012 Pinot Noir and absolutely fell in love with it. So when I saw their 2013 Pinot Gris was released and at a great price point – I of course had to try it.

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Adelsheim’s Bryant Creek Vineyard

Adelsheim Vineyards is a winery with a long history. They planted their first acres of grapes all the way back in 1972. They initially started with Pinot noir, Reisling, Chardonnay, and Pinot gris. At the time, the amount of vineyards planted in Oregon was about 35 acres total. This makes Adelsheim Vineyards one of the founding wineries in Oregon. Fast forward to 2013, the winery has planted upwards of 229 acres of grapes ranging from Pinot noir, Pinot blanc, and Chardonnay. Still owned today by David and Ginny Adelsheim, this vineyard produces high quality wines that are truly representative of the Willamette Valley.

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Adelsheim Barrel Cave

Pinot gris is a staple of many Oregon wineries, especially in the Willamette Valley. We are known for growing some amazing grapes. Adelsheim was one of the first wineries in Oregon to plant the grape and it has truly excelled. The 2013 Pinot Gris is the 30th edition of the grape to be produced by the winery. It shows some true style.

On the nose, this wine had scents of crisp green apples and a fresh fall day. The color was beautiful, reminiscent of a golden sunrise. The best part was the flavor profile of this wine. It had full flavors of white fruit; like apples, pears, and a hint of peaches. The mouthfeel was smooth and ended with a slight crispness that kept it from being too sweet. What a fantastic wine overall. I paired this wine with Hawaiian style pork served over rice and topped with a bit of Sriracha. It was the perfect match. Spicy food pairs really well with this selection.

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I picked this wine up from my local grocery store for $16. It may be red wine season, but this wine was the perfect choice even with the chilly evening. I would highly recommend pairing it with something spicy, or thai food. Enjoy on a warm summer day while barbecuing, or a brisk November evening. It’s great either way. Cheers!

 

Growing Up Italian: Giving Many Grazie

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Thanksgiving if the holiday that made me a better person. It made me more aware that there are so many reasons to be grateful, and I need to celebrate each one of them.

Mille Grazie!( A thousand thank you)

282574_3992988218608_817038196_n Holiday table at my house

Growing up I never celebrated this special day, but lately, due to the fact that a lot of Americans make Italy their final living destination, it is more and more common to see some traditions from the New Continent getting established like  “trick or treaters” for Halloween or  a full traditional Thanksgiving menu offered in restaurants all over the boot shaped peninsula.

In my own journeys, I discovered a common denominator to food gatherings over the world: most of the time a celebration brings together the ancestral human need to be grateful for something, and the primordial need to eat to survive.

It doesn’t matter if I’m in Oregon, giving Thanks on the anniversary of the Pilgrims celebration for their first harvest in 1621, or in Italy giving Grazie just because we love food and good company!  Sharing a communal table with the people who enhance my life making it special  is the true meaning of Thanksgiving for me. By the same token, who said giving Grazie (or Thanks) has to happen only once a year?

Unlike Christmas with its trees, presents and wants and needs, Thanksgiving is more of a “stop and think” holiday. It’s a day that goes really through my heart and my mind.

I hosted many dinners to celebrate my being grateful for something. Growing older makes me appreciate more each birthday for instance. Some people didn’t get even to get as old as me. More wrinkles bring less doubts, while an older body, they say, often carries a younger spirit. With the clock ticking away, a reminder of my own mortality, I must find a greater purpose. For this opportunity too, I AM grateful.

“GIVE OUT WHAT YOU MOST WANT TO COME BACK” a friend once told me.

One doesn’t necessarily have to give away money to be generous. I give away my time and my talents, my food. These days where everyone is over-occupied, when fast food has replaced a sit down family lunch, I discovered that the simple gesture of taking time to bake an Artisanal loaf of bread is extremely welcome. It creates ripples of goodwill, and it does “come back” in other forms like an unexpected bucket of garden produce, or a book or flowers. This is also Thanksgiving to me. For all of this too, I AM grateful.

10519731_10152493555808581_3437067438979375105_n This sticker is hanging on my refrigerator, constant reminder to GIVE

Just recently, as you know, I lost my only immediate aunt. Her whole life was a statement to the importance of being generous. Feeding the lesser fortunate, helping a friend in need, hosting a huge family gathering…. She was all that and more, and her absence was felt, indeed.

In my twenties I wasn’t exactly sure of what my role in life would be. I was profoundly envious of the ones who did.  I knew however, that growing older without having seen the world would not be an option. Will Smith says: “If you want something go get it. Period”. Easier said than  done, but I wanted to give it a try.  I decided to grow BOLDER while getting OLDER.

A little dose of selfishness was necessary to make it through the tough times. The reward- in my case- was the fact that I got to go through a new path. Make new friends and be more understanding, compassionate, and appreciative of life in general. The journey of self discovery  was challenging, but once I found me, I must say, I’m pretty happy with what I see.

Being totally alone in a foreign country, I found my passion, the key to my inner happiness and emotional balance.  It wasn’t were I had been looking all along: it wasn’t through fancy clothes or strolling on exotic beaches. It was through food. Simple, earthy, traditional food from my childhood cooked with love for the ones I care about.

I still like all the good things life has to offer: exotic and fancy travels, new shoes and clothes, of course. I just know what I can do and don’t feel deprived if I don’t get to have any. Another reason, for me, TO BE grateful.

In conclusion, it’s up to you on how you want to give Thanks this week. I’m sure you, like me, have plenty of reasons to be grateful.  Everyone deserves a little celebration. Make it  BOLD, or Italic :)…just never regular!!

Of the many Thanksgivings parties I threw over the years, the dinners that seem to be better perceived are the ones where I cook a sort of fusion between traditional Italian and conservative American. The recipe I chose for today belongs to this category.

From my grateful heart to your house, today, I’m thanking you for reading this. Make it a special one!! Until next time, Mangia! and Ciao!

[gn_box title=”CRANBERRY AND APPLE STUFFED TURKEY BREAST” color=”#231″]
Serves 4

DSCF4537 Stuffed Turkey Breast, my way :)

Ingredients:

  • 1 turkey breast (about 2 1/2 lbs) ask your butcher to debone it and butterfly it for you
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 shallot , minced
  • 3 baby Bella mushrooms, diced
  • 2 oz sausage
  • 1/2 apple, diced
  • 1/3 C dry cranberries
  • 1/4 C chopped pecans
  • 1/2 C Marsala wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Frittata, RECIPE follows

Directions:

In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the minced shallot and cook on low heat until soft.

Add the mushroom and cook until they release their own water. Add some salt.

Once the mushrooms have cooked add the sausage, breaking it down with a spoon.

When the sausage starts to brown, add the diced apple, the cranberries and the pecans.

Cover with a lid and keep cooking on med-low heat while adding the Marsala.

Cook, covered, until the Marsala has been absorbed and the mixture is dry.

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Dry fruit, sausage and apples. Ohh so good!

Set aside to cool while you prepare the Frittata.

FRITTATA

Ingredients:

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 Large egg
  • 1 T panko bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Nutmeg, a pinch
  • 2 T grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 1/4 C finely minced herbs (I used Parsley, thyme, and sage)
  • 1/3 C milk

 

DSCF4531 Herb and cheese frittata. It adds an extra layer of richness to the turkey roll.

Directions:

Mix all the ingredients except for the butter, set aside

In a non stick (possibly) fry pan (8″), melt 2 T butter

When it’s warm pour the egg mix and make sure it takes the shape of the pan.

Cook until the bottom starts to detach and the top gets opaque. Flip it, you can use a lid to help you. Finish cooking.

Alternatively, after cooking the frittata on the bottom, place the pan under a broiler to brown the top.

HOW TO ASSEMBLE THE ROLL

Pre-heat oven to 450F

Roll out the turkey breast, skin side down.

Place the frittata on top, and add the apple mix.

Roll the breast like a jelly roll, with the longer side facing you.

Secure the log using food graded kitchen twine, like you would do with any roasts.

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I promise it will taste as good as it looks.

Place in a 9×13 oven proof pan coated with some oil.

Sprinkle the meat with salt and Olive oil.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 165F.

Let rest for a few minutes so the juices will re-distribute. Slice, serve, Mangia, Enjoy!!

DSCF4540 Love food by the slice [/gn_box]

Growing up Italian: My American Family Part 2

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Here is what I learned from life: Diamonds are NOT a girl’s best friends. FRIENDS are.

I know, truth can hurt, and don’t get me wrong…I like the bling bling, too. When it comes to real life, though, everybody needs a very close friend. A BFF as they call them now.

I have only  a few very close friends, but I know I can count on them. Next week we will be celebrating the biggest “family holiday”, and I wanted to acknowledge some of the people I consider my adopted family here. Take MJ for instance.

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Vacationing in Roatan. Spring Break 2004

I’ve been friend with MJ since 2002. Before then, she was just an acquaintance of mine, whom I had met through a common friend. Then, my life changed.

There was a point where I was “broken”, coming out of an abusive relationship.

With no loving place to be, no home, no self esteem, no positive outlook on life, I remember those days as just “surviving” not “living” days.

MJ offered me help and shelter, and a solid shoulder to lean on. Now, isn’t this better than what ANY diamond would have done for me? I think so! :)

MJ is the kind of person that helps people leading them to solve their own problems. She doesn’t just give you the fish (one time solution) she teaches you how to fish (long term solution). A mentor would be the appropriate term, I guess.

Probably, I won’t be the same person as I was before my divorce, but it’s ok. I’m a better person! I don’t take so much for granted anymore, and my “needs” have replaced my “wants”.

MJ taught me that success is the best form of revenge, and the most empowering, and polite, too!

MJ is a self-made woman herself. Raised as a non-working housewife, she can cook, clean and crochet. Then, as life takes funny twists, she was also left alone, raising a child.

She put herself through major schooling, and she became a well known Realtor  and Property Management guru in town.

To this day, even though “semi-retired” her passion on “recycling” houses remains, and she is really good at it. She has vision and a determination that won’t quit! With that she has been able to provide awesome rentals in town for the last 30 years.

When we take day trips to Portland, chances are we won’t stop at Nordstrom’s, but Rejuvenation Hardware, or the RE-Building center on Mississippi Ave  are a must!!

MJ’s philanthropic nature goes back to those days “when she didn’t have two dimes to rub together” but she decided to help other women so they wouldn’t have to go alone through the same hardship. She is one of the founding members  of WOMENSPACE!

Now, her list of accomplishments goes on and on; while she remains  untouched by her personal success, she doesn’t shy away from wanting to help others constantly.

MJ also enjoys life and a semi-retirement. She loves to travel, and she is a great travel companion!

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Cruising the Mexican Riviera, 2006

Road trips, Caribbean cruises, Europe…we have done it all over the years. Loads of fun.

When Mom came to visit in 2003 MJ hosted a welcome dinner reception for her. Needless to say : a friendship was born that night, and  a greater bond between the two of us.

My favorite memory though, is of the summer we went to Italy together in 2005. While I had to come back for work a week earlier, she stayed with my mom for a few extra days.

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Visiting with mom on the balcony of our house at the Coast . Senigallia, Italy, 2005

Now, my mom did NOT speak English, and MJ did NOT speak Italian. I would call on a daily basis to check in with those two, and see what they were up to.

I would talk to mom who would say “MJ told me that….” and MJ would say “..well…your mom told me that…” ???? apparently a little French, a little Norwegian and a lot of hand gestures can  make the difference. They had a blast!

The connection MJ made with my Mom was something I will treasure for the rest of my life.

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MJ and my Mom shopping in Assisi. Italy, 2005

Afterall, she is the closest thing to a mother I have. Someone who lets you make mistakes, but doesn’t judge you based on the outcome, and loves you no matter what. She encourages self-improvement through higher education, and she is there “cheering” all the way. Like when I got a second degree in baking. Also, MJ is the one who brings you chicken noodle soup when you are sick, or comes to the attorney with you to make sure you ask the “right” questions.

When our friendship developed, we started having “dinner and a movie” nights at her house.

She would cook, I would bring a movie. Then the nights evolved to “girls nights in” since I could not afford to go out to restaurants. Eventually, we settled for “pity parties”.

Oxytocin building gatherings, that involve a lot of gourmet food, and -of course- antioxidant grape juice! At the beginning it was just the two of us. New year’s eve lobsters Thermidor, or Thanksgiving take out when she was bedridden because of a back injury.

Now, our parties are well sought-after and we don’t seem to be able to manage to have less than 6 or 8 guests! Maybe is the food, but I like to think it is our shining personalities!!

As I said MJ is a great cook. Our impromptu get together, though, imply that there is no time for grocery shopping. Not a problem,as long as there is Martini on the rocks. Also, there is always something in the pantry we can work with…or the freezer.

The recipe I’m sharing today is one we perfected during our several get- together over the years. It is as simple as it it delicious.

Life’s accomplishment and successes need to be celebrated of course, but  some  “Blahh” days need too!

So, next time you feel down, call up a friend, have a “pity party”. Life is good! Just like that!

[gn_box title=”MJ perfect BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP (aka Pity Party soup)” color=”#253″]

598557_3946803864028_1658855151_n Creamy and delicious: Butternut squash Soup!!

– Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 Med. Butternut squash, washed, cut in half, seeds removed.
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • 2 T oil and 2 T butter
  • 1/2 C white wine (plus more for drinking while you cook :) )
  • 2 cartons of prepared broth (chicken, or vegetable)
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • Sour cream to garnish, balsamic reduction or croutons or….whatever you like!

Directions:

Pre heat oven to 400F

Cut the squash in half and fill the cavities with thyme, rub the cut side with oil.

Place the two halves face down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or-better-a silicone pad if you have one.

Bake for 1 hour. The skin of the squash will blister and will become dark or even black. It’s ok.

Remove from the oven and let cool while you make the base to the soup.

Alternatively you could roast the pumpkin the day before and finish the soup a day later.

In a 4 qt saucepan, heat the butter and the oil. Add the onion and sweat it until translucent.

Add the celery. Cook until soft about 10 minutes on med-low heat.

Deglaze with wine.

Carefully scoop the pulp out of the butternut squash and into the saucepan. If the squash has created a crunchy film on the cut side, use that too.

Add 1 Carton of the stock or more if needed. Enough to cover the pumpkin. Also depends on how soupy you want the dish. Only one carton will make the soup really thick,

Add some thyme and simmer the soup on gentle heat for about 30 minutes.

Adjust tasting for salt and pepper.

Remove soup from the heat, and with an immersion blender (if not available puree in batches in a regular blender) puree the soup. Taste one more time and serve warm.

Garnish with sour cream, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction

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Until next time, mangia! and Ciao!

 

 

 

 

 

Growing up Italian: Two weddings and….one crushed!

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When one gets married, in Italy, one is willing to grow deeper roots. I, on the other hand, always wanted to grow wings- for as long as I can remember.

My parents got married in 1965, and accordingly with the Italian family-planning program, I was born almost a year later, to the day. Now, that requires some serious math skills!

DSCF4417
Sept.5th, 1965 Mom and Dad getting married

My dad never boarded a plane, neither has my sister. Fear of flying.  I wonder how can you fear something you have never tried? Mom was the dynamic and curious one of the couple. She even managed a quick trip to Eugene, to visit me just before she got diagnosed with cancer. She never allowed her fears to be bigger than her dreams. I try to do the same.

My parents honeymooned in Capri. After that, they had my sister and me within 3 years of getting married, so they didn’t have much disposable income to devote to luxury trips.

We always went to the Adriatic coast of Italy. Every summer, for many decades. Sometimes, though, a wedding would get into the way of our vacation.

Summer seems to be a premium season for getting married in Italy, or maybe everywhere.

As a little girl, I sure remember PLENTY of booooring weddings. Tightly squeezed into socks and shoes and a too-pretty-to-go-play-outside-dress. Sitting in church for hours, not to mention those looooong wedding receptions…

In the eyes of a child who wants to go out and play, those were not good days. I endured them, all with good table manners and behavior to match because my parents would not have tolerated otherwise.

One summer wedding though, really stuck with me. A series of enjoyable events turned another booooring wedding into a memorable one.

DSCF4418
Castellano’s wedding. Vanese little Church. Early 70’s. Me, my sister behind me and my Dad with an old super 8 camera ready to roll.

That hot summer day, I didn’t care about being squeezed into pristine stiff white cotton socks. I got to wear a silk dress! The cream and black polka dot dress was “retrofitted” from my mom’s dress by our clever seamstress Ivana. She even got me some stylish ruffles on the sleeves, and the buttons were on the back. The dress was so smooth that I couldn’t stop touching it or smoothing its skirt. It was what nowadays one would call a “hand-me-down”. Back then was just a NEW dress, or at least new TO me.

The other circumstance that corresponded to this being an epic wedding, was the fact that the church chosen for the event was the size of a studio apartment. Seriously. Only the Priest, the Groom, the Bride and their parents could fit inside.

That meant that all of us guests had to stand outside, under the shade of some old pines and listen to the ceremony through a makeshift audio system.

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At Dario Cecchini’s Officina della Bistecca 2010

That implied that I didn’t have to sit in church for hours! We were captive audience, but we could walk around and play-quietly-with other children. Score!

Also, the wedding reception was held in the unfinished basement of the couple’s future home. No restaurant food, just good old family-style reception. One didn’t have to worry so much about “la bella figura” or being judged for being silly or loud.

That day was fun. That’s how all the weddings should be-in the eyes of a child.

As an adult, I promised myself that the next wedding I would attend to, would be mine.

Well, I should have been more careful and put a deadline to it. I haven’t gone to a wedding in over 10 years. Actually, I did, but nobody knows that……I crashed it!!

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Pamela and me. Dionigi winery, Umbria 2009

My long time friend Pamela lives in Italy. She is a hoot! She can find her way out of pretty much any situation. She also can just as easily find her way into any situation. So she does.

Prior to my trips to Italy, all I have to do is just mention to Pamela that I would like to do something, and she delivers. Like the summer of 2010 when she managed to get a last-minute reservation at Dario Cecchini’s in Panzano. The best family-style, communal table-dinner served by the most famous butcher in the world.  Pamela is my personal concierge in Italy, you could say. But wait, it gets better!

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Dionigi winery produces superb products. Oh yes!

Summer 2009. I talked about wanting to do a wine tasting. “Sure” she said. “let’s go for some Sagrantino”.

Wine connoisseurs will agree with me that the Montefalco Sagrantino is one of the best wines of Italy.

In the car, on our way there, she mentioned that the “cantina” (cellar) was closed for the day due to a wedding happening at the location. Without blinking, she added: “don’t worry, the cantina is open to the guests”.

So guests we became. Underdressed, a little sweaty from the car ride, Pamela never lost a beat. I was overwhelmed with embarrassment, but I followed her svelte silhouette through the crowd. Nobody seemed to mind us.

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The label on the Sagrantino Barrel

Here we are, in the heart of the winery, down in the cellar. Nobody else is there.

Pamela navigates the cellar with ease, explaining the different wines to me while someone from the winery approaches us. “Oh oh, we are in trouble” I think.

Instead, Pamela, without loosing her cool, explains that she is a guest of the Groom and she would like to taste the wines.

“Sure” the gentleman says. So, here we are, illegal wedding guests, taking a sip of the most amazing nectar one can imagine in the quietness of a cellar. We even got to taste the prestigious Sagrantino Passito wine.  Told you, Pamela  can get her way into anything!

Now…how do we get out? Most of the guest have arrived and the reception is in full swing.

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Snails cured with mint and stuffed with herbs, then BBQ’d.

While we are walking back to the car, it’s dusk outside, and some communal table have been set up to display the various dished. Porchetta, desserts, and there is also a huge  pit where they are roasting snails!

There is no stopping Pamela now: “Are you hungry? Let’s eat”.

Before I could say anything she is already in line to get herself a portion of snails cured in mint and BBQ’d. Delicious, I must say.

Well, since we are eating, I go for the Porchetta, and some petite fours, because I like desserts..you know…

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Porchetta is the real deal here!

Nobody paid any attention to us, we actually had a really good time and I can’t remember if Pamela managed to take a picture of two with the Bride and Groom as well.

Maybe the wine, maybe the heat, my recollections stops with the fireworks into the night.

It’s always special when the best memories come from  something totally unexpected.

Italian eat a lot at weddings.  It’s not usual for the food to be so “casual”. We often have more refined and elegant dishes. As a child I remember  having a choice of pasta: fettuccine, spaghetti..and more often than not a “mari e monti” version. That would be the equivalent of a Surf and Turf here.

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Pamela’s fun car.

A combination of seafood and mushrooms that makes everybody happy. Just recently I was gifted a serious piece of salmon and some mushrooms.

While I don’t have a wedding planned in the near future, but I plan to attend one in June, I couldn’t stop thinking of how food brings people and strangers together: whether to honor two people who marry to grow deeper roots and plant a family seed, or just friends who celebrate life and enjoy the process.

Meanwhile, I wonder what Pamela has planned for me next time I see her!

Can’t wait to find out, and I’ll sure to keep you posted.

Until next time, Mangia, and enjoy!!

[gn_box title=”LASAGNA MARI E MONTI  (Surf and Turf lasagna)” color=”#253″]
DSCF4407 Lasagna Surf and Turf

Finish the lasagna dish with a layer of Mushrooms and Salmon mix.

Ingredients:

  • 2 boxes of ready Lasagna sheets
  • 10oz Salmon filet-skin removed and diced
  • 1 fresh mozzarella (about 8 oz)
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 lb of fresh mushooms-diced
  • 2T butter and 2 T olive oil
  • 1 large cloves of garlic
  • BECHAMEL sauce:
  • 2 1/2 C milk-warm
  • 4 T butter
  • 1/4 C flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • 1/4 C white wine

Chopped parsley and Parmigiano cheese to garnish

Directions:

Pre heat a skillet and melt 2 Tbs of butter and 2 Tbs of olive oil. Add the mushrooms and sear them on medium heat. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Cook for about 5 to 10 minutes until soft but not watery. Set aside.

To make the Bechamel: Melt the butter and add the flour. When the roux is done and a white-ish patina appears, add the milk. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Keep stirring until the sauce gets thicker and coats the back of a spoon. Set aside.

In the same skillet you used for the mushrooms, add the onions, and a splash of olive oil.

Sautee until it starts to lightly brown, deglaze with wine.

Add the salmon, a grated clove of garlic and cover with a lid.  When the salmon is done,fold it into the bechamel sauce. Add the mushrooms to the mix.

Using a 9×13 dish , smear the bottom of the dish with some of the salmon mix.

Make a layer of lasagna noodles, top with bechamelle.

Another layer of lasagna noodle topped with mozzarella. Repeat alternating noodles and salmon mix until all is used up and finish with a layer of salmon and mushrooms.

Bake at 350F for about 20 min covered with foil, then another 20 uncovered until lightly crisp and brown.
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