Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cucina Chatter Radio!

Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and click here for a taste of Cucina Chatter Radio! My good friend Lorraine Ranalli, author of Gravy Wars: South Philly Foods, Feuds and Attytudes, is now sharing a sample of her weekly radio show, Cucina Chatter. Check out this amazing cast of characters who are featured on the show, and who I am proud to consider my 'kitchen friends'. And be sure to join Una Mamma Italiana and myself in the Upstairs Kitchen segment!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Mamma Meets the Cucina: The Feast of the Seven Fishes

From the Mamma...

Christmas Eve's Feast of the Seven Fishes or "La Vigilia" comes from a long standing Catholic tradition of avoiding meat on the vigil of (vigil = the night before) the Feast Day of Christmas. Tilapia is a favorite meatless dish in our house, which is why I chose to highlight it for this blog post. Now, our family might not have ALL seven dishes include fish, but we will throw on some shrimp fra diavolo, even if it is served sans capellini as an appetizer. But the tilapia and the pasta dish are a staple for us on Christmas Eve. It's yummy enough to impress the crowds of friends and family, but easy enough to handle as we quickly end the game of Scopa and rush to Midnight Mass! So give these a try - even if it's not for La Vigilia - they make a great accompaniment to each other.

This recipe is one of easy, healthy , and tasty all at the same time. Even kids are huge fans - whaddaya know?! A kid-pleasing fish dish without the word "stick" in the title!

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated romano cheese
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup melted butter
4-6 tilapia loins

Coat the tilapia in the melted butter. Mix all dry ingredients. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Coat the tilapia i the bread crumb mixture. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees. Serve immediately with a side of GEMELLI PASTA!!

This dish is so simple, yet full of flavor. The red and green of the tomatoes and the arugula make a great addition to the Christmas tablescape.

1 lb. Gemelli pasta
1 can crushed tomatoes
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1 bag arugula
crushed red pepper

Add 2-3 tbsps of e.v.o.o. to a large, deep skillet. Saute the garlic until light caramel in color. Add the arugula and cook until slightly wilted. (NOTE: you could use spinach here if you do not like arugula. The idea is to get the green color and an added distinct flavor) Remove and set aside. Add the crushed tomatoes, crushed red pepper, salt & black pepper to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes or so. Boil the gemelli till al dente. Just before draining, add the arugula back in. Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce. Serve immediately.

From the Cucina...

My family has been celebrating Christmas Eve with the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes for as long as I could remember, and of course many years before that. For years, our meal would consist of most of the traditional dishes, such as baccala soup, smelts and shrimp. Non-fish dishes, such as spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and oil) and chicken cutlets would also be served for those not-so-much into seafood. Over the past few years, my cousins, my brother and sister-in-law, and myself have been stepping up to help relieve our aunts and Grandmother from the heavy kitchen duties, while at the same time trying to update the menu a bit with some more modern dishes such as seared scallops and crab cakes. However we still make sure to keep some of the traditional staples in the rotation.

This year I am very proud and honored to be taking over one of the crown jewels of the table, stuffed calamari. Now chances are that many of you are only familiar with the more popular Italian eatery appetizer, fried calamari. Unlike the fried rings, stuffed calamari is actually using the whole calamari tube, stuffed with a breadcrumb and cheese filling, and cooked slowly in a pot of red sauce (I don't use the word gravy here because there is no meat involved). When cooked, they resemble a stuffed shell, and they are tender enough to cut without a knife!

If you have never tried stuffed calamari, I encourage you to do so. Whether you serve it along with pasta or on its own, I guarantee you it will make for a special part of your meal, especially if you are planning to celebrate a traditional Italian Christmas Eve.

Makes 8-10 pieces

1 lb. calamari tubes, cleaned (you can purchase cleaned calamari tubes in the freezer section of your grocery store)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 teaspoon parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Olive oil (enough to add to mixture until proper consistency)
* you can also chop the unused calamari tentacles and place them in the stuffing mixture for extra texture and flavor. Uncooked shrimp will also work well

Sauce Ingredients
1 29oz can tomato sauce, plus 1 can water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

In a large pot, sauté garlic in heated olive oil. Add tomato sauce and sauce seasonings. Add water until desired consistency. Bring to a slow boil, then lower the temperature to simmer.

Mix stuffing ingredients, add oil and mix with hands until you get a nice, meatball-like consistency. Using a spoon, loosely stuff each calamari tube. You don't want to pack the tubes, because the stuffing will expand and the calamari will shrink when cooked. Secure the open ends of the tubes with a toothpick. Add the tubes to the sauce, cook on a medium-low simmer for 2 hours. You're looking for a string cheese consistency when you slice into the calamari. Serve and enjoy!

– We would like to wish all of our readers a happy and peaceful holiday and the warmest wishes for the New Year. Buon Natale!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New Guest Recipe - Gingerbread

It's beginning to look (and feel) a lot like Christmas! As we quickly approach the holidays, what better way to celebrate than with a delicious gingerbread! This week, my good friend Emma shares with us a fantastic gingerbread recipe, and also works her magic to give us a gluten-free version! Enjoy!

Where to begin with this month's blog? I guess I should start by telling you that I had every intention of blogging about Struffoli (aka Honey Balls) for the Christmas season. My intentions were so good that I actually went out and bought an expensive, imported bottle of Limoncello for that exact purpose. However, a million other little things happened to prevent me from getting the chance to make it. For example, my cat got sick...twice! And I took in some foster kittens even though I said I was going to take a break until after the holidays. And, of course, I got hit with the cold from hell. All of this in between wanting to spend as much time with all of the people whom I love that happened to be visiting from out of town this month.

So, I decided to blog about a recipe that I had made before and knew would turn out well. It's a gingerbread recipe by Emeril that I came across a few years ago. This recipe has been bulletproof for me. Seriously, I have made countless substitutions to this recipe and each time I've had perfect results. I've done everything from using dark molasses in place of the regular (and/or a combination of the two when I've fallen short of one or the other), to adding bittersweet chocolate chips. In case you're thinking about adding the chocolate chips (which I highly recommend), let me just warn you that they did sink to the bottom of the pan during baking. I'm pretty sure this can be remedied by coating the chips in 1 - 2 tbsp of the flour mixture before adding it to the batter, or you can always try sprinkling the chips on top before baking. Either way, I think they were a delicious addition and worthy of trying again.

When making this recipe into the gluten-free version, I discovered that I didn't have quite enough of any of the various gluten-free flours that I keep around. So, I ended up using equal parts of two different gluten-free flour blends. In the end, the recipe worked. My only complaint is that it rose a little too high and collapsed slightly in the middle after baking, but that can easily be fixed by adjusting the amount of baking soda in the recipe. Most importantly, it had no negative effect on the taste or texture of the bread.

Oh, and did I mention that dark beer plays a huge role in this gingerbread? I didn't, did I? Well it does, and I think it may be what sets this gingerbread apart from all other gingerbread recipes. Since making this bread a few years ago, I have learned that while I don't care for the taste of dark beer on it's own, I love the flavor it lends to baked goods. And, more often than not, I will have a few bottles of it stashed in my fridge just in case I get the urge to bake with it.

by Emeril Lagasse

1 stick unsalted butter (room temp)
1 cup turbinado sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup molasses (regular or dark will work, but I prefer the dark)
1 cup Guinness, or other dark beer

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 x 9-inch cake pan and line with parchment paper. (Please note: I usually use the mini foil loaf pans instead of the cake pan and bake for approximately 10 minutes more than called for. I get two loaves, which are the perfect size for gift-giving. On several occasions, I've even made it in a full loaf pan. I can't quite remember how long it took to bake but I want to say about an hour and 15 minutes, and you may need to tent the pan with foil to prevent the top from getting too dark.)

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. In a medium bowl, sift the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves, and nutmeg, In a third bowl, combine the molasses and beer and stir to dissolve. Add the dry ingredients and beer mixture alternately to the egg mixture, starting with and ending with the dry ingredients. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until puffed and set, about 35 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool in the pan on a wire rack.

adapted from Emeril Lagasse

1 stick unsalted butter (room temp)
1 cup turbinado sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups gluten-free flour mix (I used 1 cup King Arthur Flour's g/f flour blend and 1 cup Bob's Red Mill g/f flour blend)
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 teaspoons ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (I had a minor issue with this recipe puffing up and collapsing slightly in the middle, so you may want to adjust the amount of baking soda used.)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup molasses (regular or dark will work, but I prefer the dark, especially since the g/f beer I used is not as dark as the Guinness)
1 cup Redbridge Gluten-free beer

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 x 9-inch cake pan and line with parchment paper. (Please note: I usually use the mini foil loaf pans instead of the cake pan and bake for approximately 10 minutes more than called for. I get two loaves, which are the perfect size for gift-giving. On several occasions, I've even made it in a full loaf pan. I can't quite remember how long it took to bake but I want to say about an hour and 15 minutes, and you may need to tent the pan with foil to prevent the top from getting too dark.)

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. In a medium bowl, sift the gluten-free flour, xanthan gum, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves, and nutmeg, In a third bowl, combine the molasses and beer and stir to dissolve. Add the dry ingredients and beer mixture alternately to the egg mixture, starting with and ending with the dry ingredients. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until puffed and set, about 35 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Deck the Malts with Hops and Barley - The Holiday Beer Post!

'Tis the season for cheer, celebration and merriment, and holiday spirits are no doubt one of the key ingredients to a festive evening. While a good bottle of wine, a nice mixed drink, or a glass of spiked eggnog are among the top choices to fill your glass, Christmas beers have taken on a tradition of their own over the years. Being one who has come to appreciate the complexity and craftsmanship of a good beer, I get to enjoy this time of year as much as I did when I was a kid playing with my new toys.

Before we go any further, I would like to say that I am not by any means a beer connoisseur. I just enjoy certain styles of beers that I have come to appreciate, and am able to b.s. my way through a beer conversation if needed. So to help make the most of this post, which I have been looking forward to writing for a while now, I will be referring to two of my most trusted sources. First, my good friend Matt Pesotski has offered some great words of wisdom. Matt not only has a great appreciation for all things beer, but is also partially responsible for introducing me to better beer. Second is one of my favorite books, Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Brews, by Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack). Mr. Russell is an award winning writer who has traveled the world in search of great beers and great stories. He is also a helluva a nice guy! His book is phenomenal, loaded with great stories, recipes and photos of every beer mentioned. The photos really comes in handy when you are searching a library bookcase-sized shelf at a specialty store for a specific bottle. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Christmas beers.

What is Christmas Beer?
From the wassails and solstice celebration ales of years past to wee heavies and barleywines of today, winter seasonals represent a huge category of beer. Winter warmers, also known as Christmas beer or holiday beer, are brewed with the intentions of celebrating both the holidays and the winter season. They are quite often laced with flavors and spices such as citrus, nutmeg, cloves, honey, extra hops and sweet malts. They also tend to have a higher alcohol content, which helps keep you warm on those blustery cold nights!

As Mr. Russle states in his book, Christmas beer is technically not a style. Unlike other recognizable beer styles such as a pilsner, bock or brown ale, the Christmas beer/winter warmer/holiday seasonal beers can't be defined by color, alcohol content, or flavor. There are no rules, no brewing guielines. They are whatever the brewer wants to make. The only criteria is that the beer must be special. It must be produced specifically for the holiday season and its packaging must reflect this. In essence, they are like little gifts, just waiting to be opened!

Here's what Matt had to offer, regarding the style of winter warmers: "Overall, winter is the beer season to go big. We’re not sitting in the back yard pounding crisp pilsners while listening to the Phillies on the radio or cooling off at a BBQ. It’s about sitting, sipping, and savoring. Hopefully, you’re not going anywhere, because we’re often talking about some high-octane stuff, and with the sweet flavors that are prevalent this time of year, it’s easy to go past your normal threshold, and in a hurry. Perhaps more than any other beer season, winter/holiday is the perfect time to stock up with variety. You won’t want a whole case of a lot of these if you’re just trying to fill your fridge, rather than plan for a party, so I like to get a few sixers, a variety case, or find someone to split a case with since it’s hard to get beer in bulk without getting 24 of the same beer."

These are some of my favorite beers....
If you are like me and you get caught up in presentation and labels, you will also have a lot of fun checking out the fun packaging, labels and bottles that fill up the shelves this time of year. Many of your holiday beers are packaged with catchy holiday-related names and characters. Elves have a reputation of being mischievous little buggers, so it is no surprise that the elf character has overtaken many a Christmas beer. There's the Rude Elf, the Bad Elf, the Really Bad Elf and the Criminally Bad Elf to name a few. But the elf that reigns supreme in my opinion is The Mad Elf, by Tröegs Brewing Company. It's a ruby colored Belgian strong dark ale, flavored with cherries, honey, ginger and clove spiciness. It also packs a walloping 11% alcohol volume...no wonder why the elf is so mad! Being that it has such a unique, flavorful taste, this is definitely one that sneaks up on you, very quickly. This may also explain why this is one of the most sought after beers in the northeast, as it moves very quickly off the shelves during this season. I suggest you share one of these with your friends, or plan to nestle in for the night if you are drinking alone!

As expected, Santa himself plays a major role in much of the holiday beer packaging. From classic Dickens-type images to cartoonish comical situations, Old Saint Nick is very well represented. One of my favorite Santa beers is St. Nikolaus Bock Bier, a malty, smooth, dark Munich-style lager by Pennsylvania Brewing Company. Though not as strong as Mad Elf, it does have a heavier alcohol content than your everyday beer, and serves well with a hearty winter's meal.

One of my seasonal stand-by's is anything by Samuel Adams. They've actually gained more of a reputation as of late for their seasonal offering as opposed to their flagship Boston Lager. The holiday season offers a nice variety of Sammy Adams brews. From their Winter Lager with wheat and spices and their Holiday Porter to their cinnamon and ginger spiced Old Fezziwig Ale, there is something for everyone to try. All three of these beers, along with a few other interesting offerings are available in a nice mixed case.

Another winter's beer that I enjoy is Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale, a spiced winter warmer brewed with vanilla beans and aged in oak bourbon casks. Right off the bat, this beer gets some unnecessary flack because it's an Anheuser-Busch product, and not a craft brew. How in the world can one of the big beer companies make anything that tastes good? Well, give it a try and see for yourself...it's a nice, flavorful beer. Blue Moon gets a pass, right?

The last main holiday beer that I tend to enjoy most is Anchor Brewing's Our Special Ale, which is a spiced winter warmer that changes up both its label and recipe each year. Flavors such as ginger, evergreen, licorice and cooked fruit have all been part of past years recipes.

I realize that I have only scratched the surface of the vast variety of holiday and winter beers. There are countless incredible offerings from all over the United States and all over the world. So what I have done is set up a special discussion board on the Cucina Domenico facebook page. I encourage you to visit the board and offer up your favorite holiday beers, comments and suggestions. You can visit the board by clicking here.

To my friends who have helped me understand that there is more to life than Bud Light and Rolling Rock: Matt, John, Evan, Elisa, Deanna, Zack, Andrea, Abby, Alice, Conni, Steve, Paul, Brian, Barb, Craig, Tony, Dan, Jeff, Carl, Charlie (Cholly), Neumann, my brother Anthony, and of course Mr. Joe Sixpack....I raise a glass to you this season. And to all of my readers...Salute e la felicità!

For more information on these beers, you can visit beeradvocate.com

Friday, November 26, 2010

NEW - Itali-Asian Fusion: Sausage, Pepper and Broccoli Rabe Dumplings

This week I'm throwing my hat into the trendy Asian-Fusion kitchen, with a bit of Italian flare. I'm calling it Itali-Asian Fusion. What I'm doing is taking sausage filling that you would use in a ravioli or a stromboli (aka sausage bread), and I'm using it to fill wonton wrappers. I came up with the idea when planning to make sausage and peppers stromboli for a family birthday party. The combination of the sausage, peppers and broccoli rabe mixed with some parmesan cheese was a natural, go-to favorite Italian taste, and the wonton wrappers made for easy single servings along with puréed red peppers for dipping. The wonton wrappers can be prepared in a number of ways when stuffed (fried, steamed in steamer baskets, or baked - I chose to bake mine for quick and easy serving time).

The easiest method that I use to prepare sausage and peppers as a meat filling is to combine the raw ground sausage with chopped peppers in a baking dish and to bake it until the meat is browned and slightly crispy (a mixture of sweet and hot sausage is my preference). This eliminates the extra oils from frying and frees up some time as well. While you let the cooked sausage and peppers cool, you can prepare your broccoli rabe. When the broccoli rabe is done cooking, combine it with the sausage and peppers and either chop it with a knife or with a few quick pulses in a food processor. This helps mix the filling and allows for easy assembly, regardless of what your using the filling for.

As I mentioned above, you can prepare the stuffed wontons a number of ways. Frying is the traditional way, which will give you the crispy texture. Baking will also give you a slightly crisp coating, if sprayed with a cooking spray. And steaming will give you a soft, ravioli-like texture.

Makes 40-48 Dumplings

1lb ground sausage (hot, sweet or a mixture of both)
Two 7-oz jars roasted red peppers (one for mixture, one for dipping sauce)*
1 bunch broccoli rabe (bitter broccoli)
2 tblspn olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
One 12-oz package wonton wrappers (found in the produce section of your grocery store)
*you can use one bell pepper, red pepper or any other pepper of choice in place of the roasted red pepper for the mixure

Mix the ground sausage (remove casing if needed) with one jar of chopped roasted red peppers. Place in a baking dish and bake at 350º for 40-45 minutes, or until sausage is browned, up to slightly crisp. Remove from oven, set aside to let cool.

In a large pot, bring 2 quarts water to a boil. Add the broccoli rabe and let cook for 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Remove from pot and drain excess water. In a large pan, heat 2 tblspn olive oil, add garlic. Add broccoli rabe to pot, mix with garlic for and saute for 10-15 minutes until desired doneness. Remove from pan, season with salt and pepper, let cool slightly, mix with sausage and peppers.

Using either a knife and fork or a food processor, mix and chop the sausage mixture, broccoli rabe and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese just a bit to make for easy filling.

Taking one wonton wrapper at a time, place a full teaspoon of the sausage mixture in the middle of the wrapper. Using either your finger or a brush, wet all 4 of the edges of the wonton, fold in half diagonally, press and set aside. When all 48 wontons are stuffed, you can either fry, steam or bake the stuffed wontons.

To fry: Heat a wok or nonstick skillet on medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon oil. Add 10 – 12 dumplings, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the bottom is browned. Add 1/3 cup water, cover, and steam the dumplings until the liquid is absorbed (about 5 minutes). Remove and cook the remainder of the dumplings.

To steam: Using a steaming apparatus of your choice, bring 1/4 to 1/2-inch of water to a simmer over medium heat. Spray the steamer's surface lightly with the non-stick vegetable spray to prevent sticking. Place as many dumplings as will fit into a steamer, without touching each other. Cover and steam for 10 to 12 minutes over medium heat. Remove the dumplings from the steamer to a heatproof platter and place in oven to keep warm. Repeat until all dumplings are cooked.

To bake: Place dumplings on a sprayed baking sheet without touching each other. Bake at 350º until crisp.

Place the second 7-0z jar of roasted red peppers in a blender, purée, heat and serve as a dipping sauce.

If you're looking to serve these to a crowd of family and friends, and knowing that some may not like sausage, or may be watching their calorie/cholesterol intake, you can substitute the sausage with Gimme Lean (rhymes with Jimmy Dean....get it?!), the vegetarian sausage substitute that is found in the produce section of your grocery store. Now, let me say this up front - I am not a real big fan of this sausage substitute product on it's own. I've tried it a few times. It looks like sausage and smells like sausage...but believe me, it ain't sausage! I'm a firm believer of moderation and calling food what it is. If a cow climbed into a tree, you wouldn't call it a bird, right? However, if you flavor Gimme Lean with extra sausage seasonings (garlic powder, fennel seeds and rosemary to taste), mix it with the peppers and bake it all together, the flavors actually do come together to make for a decent sausage filling...once you also add the broccoli rabe and parmesan cheese. Again, I personally prefer using real sausage for the best taste. But if you are looking for a healthier alternative to keep everyone happy, or if you enjoy using vegetarian substitutes, this little trick will work well for a dish like this...and I can almost guarantee you that nobody will know the difference!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NEW - Thanksgiving Desserts: Pumpkin Layer Cake & Gluten-Free Pumpkin, Sweet Potato & Coconut Pie

It's that special time of year again, when we gather with family and friends to give thanks, prepare for the upcoming holiday season and celebrate with an amazing meal. Over the past two years, I have shared a few suggestions for Thanksgiving side dishes, desserts and drinks (you can visit my previous posts by clicking here and here). Because my mom is the one in charge of our holiday feast, my suggested recipes are slim and unfortunately I have offered all that I can (for now!). Luckily, my friend Emma has once again offered to share with us a few of her favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Thank you, Emma, for sharing. And thanks to all of you for for continuing to check out Cucina Domenico. May you and yours have a blessed, happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

by Emma Caperelli Loerky
Since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I have decided bring you two recipes that would be a nice addition to your Thanksgiving table. Both are a dessert and both feature pumpkin. This time I am going to offer you one that is gluten-free as well as one that is not. Both are equally delicious and I hope you enjoy them.


Adapted from Fine Cooking

There are two things that set this cake apart from other cakes I've made in the past - the brown butter both in the batter and in the frosting, and the sweet yet salty nut topping. Let me just say that browning the butter takes this cake from good to excellent, and I don't think I'll ever make buttercream icing again without browning the butter first. It was amazing! That being said, I followed the recipe exactly except for using canned pumpkin purée instead of making my own, doubling both the frosting and the topping and I also weighed the flour instead of using a measuring cup. Based on the reviews I read, I thought that doing so would ensure that the cake wouldn't be too dense. I had fantastic results and I definitely think you should do the same. While I didn't use all of the frosting or the topping, I used much more than 1 batch would've provided. Believe me, you will find something to use the leftover frosting on if you don't eat it all as is (like we did). Next time I make this, I may make cupcakes out of it to make sharing easier.


For the cake
1 1/2 cups pumpkin purée
9 oz. (or 2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for the pans
3/4 cup unsalted butter; more for pans
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk

For the topping (I am writing this as the recipe stated but I doubled it)
1 1/2 tbs unsalted butter
2/3 cup pecans
1/2 cup unsalted, raw, hulled pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
2 tbs firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp table salt
1 1/2 tbs chopped crystallized ginger

For the frosting (I am writing this as the recipe stated but I doubled it)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar


Make the cake
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the over to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans with removable bottoms (or butter two 9-inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment, butter the parchment, and flour the pans).

Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until cool but not set, about 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves. In a large bowl, whisk 1-1/2 cups of the pumpkin purée with the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and buttermilk until very well blended. With a rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gently whisk in the brown butter until completely incorporated. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.

Bake the cakes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 28 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto racks, remove the pan bottoms or parchment, and cool completely.

Make the topping
Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the pecans and pepitas and cook until the pecans brown slightly and the pepitas begin to pop, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the brown sugar and salt and stir until the sugar melts and the nuts are glazed, about 2 minutes. Stir in the ginger. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool in the skillet.

Make the frosting
Melt the butter in a heavy-duty 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Cook, swirling the pan occasionally until the butter turns a nutty golden-brown, about 4 minutes. Pour into a small bowl and let stand until the solids settle at the bottom of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the bowl to the freezer and chill until just firm, about 18 minutes. Using a spoon, carefully scrape the butter from bowl, leaving the browned solids at the bottom; discard the solids.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light in color and the brown sugar has dissolved, 2 minutes. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar and continue beating until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Assemble the cake
Put one cake layer on a cake plate. Spread 1/2 cup of the frosting on the layer. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the nut mixture over the frosting and top with the second layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Arrange the remaining topping in a ring 1-1/2 inches in from the edge of the cake and serve.


When I first saw this recipe I thought it looked like a lot of flavors going on at one time, too many in fact. But when I read the recipe and noticed that the coconut came in the form of coconut milk, and that it didn't call for any other form of milk, I knew I had to try this. Since my husband can't have milk products, I have struggled to find a decent pumpkin pie recipe for him. They always seem to lack something either in the consistency or the flavor. This pie was perfect. It has a nice texture and the flavors work well together. It tastes like a pumpkin pie with a nice subtle hint of coconut. My son, who says he dislikes coconut and can eat gluten, asked for seconds. And my husband loved it as well.

As far as the crust goes, I like to make my own using King Arthur Flour's Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour blend. I've had the best results with this product but you can use any brand you like. And when rolling out the dough, I have found it easier to roll it out between two pieces of plastic wrap. That way I don't have to use any additional flour which helps in keeping it from getting too dry. This technique has worked the best for me when making a gluten-free pie crust. Also, in order to create the leafy trim around the crust, I made two separate batches of pie crust and I used a pie crust leaf shaped cutter.

Three things about this recipe that I'd like to point out. First, I used a ricer for the potatoes. I actually had to force them through several times and I was concerned that there wasn't going to be enough filling because of all of the potatoes that were left behind. In the end, there was plenty of filling. And second, because of the long cooking time, you will definitely have to cover the crust with foil or a pie shield about an hour into cooking. And third, it is very important to refrigerate the crust before baking, so please don't skip that part!

Gluten-Free Pie Crust
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 1/4 cups King Arthur Flour Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour
1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbs cold butter
1 large egg
2 tsp lemon juice or vinegar

Lightly grease a pie pan

Whisk together the flour, sugar, xanthan gum, and salt.

Cut the cold butter into pats, then work the pats into the flour mixture until it's crumbly, with some larger, pea-sized chunks of butter remaining.

Whisk the egg and vinegar or lemon juice together until very foamy. Mix into the dry ingredients. Stir until the mixture holds together, adding 1 to 3 additional tablespoons of cold water if necessary.

Shape into a ball and chill for an hour, or up to overnight.

Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before rolling.

Roll the dough out between two pieces of plastic wrap and invert into the prepared pie pan.

Wrap loosely with plastic wrap and place the unbaked pie crust in the refrigerator for at least a half hour before baking.

Adapted for Fine Cooking

1-1/4 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 small cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
3 whole cloves
1 small star anise, crumbled
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
15-oz. can pure solid-pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tbs. multi-purpose gluten-free flour
3/4 tsp. table salt
1/2 cup well-stirred canned coconut milk (not coconut cream)
3/4 cup cold whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks with 1-1/2 Tbs. granulated sugar

In a medium saucepan, combine the sweet potatoes, cinnamon stick pieces, cloves, star anise, and ginger slices with enough water to just cover the contents. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the sweet potatoes are very tender when pierced with a fork or skewer, about 10 minutes. Drain the potatoes, reserving the boiling liquid. Return the potatoes to the pot over low heat and toss to dry them a bit. Discard the cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. Force the warm potatoes through a ricer, a food mill, or a sieve. Boil the liquid if needed, until reduced to 1/4 cup. Let the sweet potato mash and the liquid cool.

Position an oven rack in the lower half of the oven; heat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin and sweet potato purée. Whisk in the egg, egg yolk, melted butter, and reserved spiced liquid. In a separate bowl, stir together the granulated and brown sugars with a wire whisk until any large lumps of brown sugar are gone. Sift the gluten-free flour and salt over the sugars; stir to blend. Add the sugar-flour mixture to the pumpkin and stir well until no pockets of sugar are visible. Blend in the coconut milk.

Scrape the filling into the chilled pie shell; smooth the top. Brush the pie crust with an egg beaten with 1 tbs water and sprinkle with turbinado sugar (optional) and bake for 1-3/4 to 2 hours, turning the pie several times so it bakes evenly. The point of a thin-bladed knife should come out clean when inserted into the center of the filling, and the edges of the surface will be unevenly cracked. If the edges of the pastry darken too much before the filling is cooked, cover them with a pie shield or strips of aluminum foil. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

Today marks the two year anniversary that I started the Cucina Domenico blog. I would just like to take this time to thank all of you for having the time and interest in checking out my posts! I have plenty of great ideas to share with you in many upcoming posts, along with lots of other surprises from my co-bloggers and friends, Lorraine Ranalli, Una Mamma Italiana and Emma Caperelli Loerky.

Grazie mille!

Monday, November 8, 2010

New - Family Recipes: Braciole and Chicken Cacciatore

Whether they're passed along from your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins, family recipes are what help keep tradition alive and well. Just a simple smell of a Sunday Gravy or a taste of an antipasto is enough to bring you back to your childhood in an instant. And what better way to help keep these fantastic traditions alive than to share them with our readers! That's why Una Mamma Italiana and myself have agreed to share some of our favorite family recipes in our new feature segment called....drum roll, please.....

Family Recipes!
We will be featuring this special segment now and again, as we look forward to not only sharing the recipes with you, but also reliving some of our favorite memories as we once again get to enjoy the heavenly tastes of our favorite meals! We hope you enjoy as well!

From The Cucina:
Marie's Chicken Cacciatore

This family recipe has an interesting background, as it was actually first passed up in the family, then back down again. My Aunt Marie (Marie, or Re-Re to those who are her age in the family) was the first person to make it, and she served it once to my grandparents. My Grandmother (also Marie, and Aunt Marie to her nieces and nephews), loved it so much, that she asked to have the recipe, which my Aunt passed up to her. Fast forward a few years to when my Grandmother submitted this recipe to our local newspaper as Recipe of the Week, which was featured as a family favorite dish simply called Marie's Chicken Cacciatore (everyone in our family named Marie gets to share in the glory!). And whether or not you have a Mom or a Grandmom named Marie, an Aunt Marie or a Cousin Re-Re, you will be sure to enjoy this fantastic traditional Italian dish!

Marie's Chicken Cacciatore

4-6 chicken thighs (skin removed)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tspn rosemary
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 green bell pepper, cut into small pieces
1 cup water
2 tblspn vegetable oil
pinch sugar
salt & pepper to taste

In a large frying pan, brown chicken and garlic in oil until chicken is golden brown. Add vinegar and 1/2 cup water. Simmer until liquid evaporates, then drain excess fat. Add rosemary, tomato sauce, remaining water, sugar, salt and pepper. Add peppers, stir ogether, cover slightly, let cook for 30 minutes.

Serve over a bed of rice or over mini pasta shells.

*Note - you can either serve the chicken thighs whole or shred the meat and discard the bone.

From the Mamma:
Dad's Braciole

Braciole is one of those classic Italian comfort foods. Slow cooked meat in a hearty gravy with a taste that no beef stew, stroganoff, or wellington could even compare with! It's one of those dishes you make in the downstairs kitchen and you nurture for a good few hours until it reaches perfection. The smell alone makes my dad's braciole recipe one of my greatest family memories. My father got his passion for cooking from the big Italian famiglia, and his technique from the Culinary Institute of America. Needless to say, his recipe is top of the line! See for yourself....

Dad's Braciole

2 - 3 lb. cut of top round or flank steak, pounded relatively thin
2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
2-4 slices good quality ham or prosciutto cotto
2-4 slices domestic provolone
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 lg onion, minced
12 cloves garlic, minced
2 28 oz. cans San Marzano crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 28 oz can of water

Mix the seasoned bread crumbs with parsley, grated cheese, 3 cloves of minced garlic. Combine with extra virgin olive oil until moistened (like the consistency of wet beach sand).

Lay out the pounded meat and top with bread crumb mixture, sliced provolone, and sliced ham. Roll against the direction of the grain of the meat (so that when you slice the cooked braciole, it is cut against the grain. Roll up the meat. Secure with butcher's twine. Season the outside of the meat with salt and pepper. Sear on each side in a few tbsp of olive oil. Remove from pan, set aside.

Add a few more tbsp of olive oil to the pan. (enough to coat the veggies). Saute the onions for a couple minutes, add the garlic. saute until all are soft and lightly golden. Add in the red wine, deglaze the pan. Cook off the alcohol (about 5 minutes). Add the tomatoes and water. Return the meat to the pan.

Simmer on medium heat for about 2 1/2 hours, depending on the size of your meat. Stir frequently. When cooked, slice the meat and serve the extra sauce over pasta. MANGIA!

*TIP* - whenever you are slow cooking a gravy like this, or even a soup, throw in the rind from the block of cheese you are using. (In this case, parmiggiano) It gives the sauce an incredible flavor. Always save those rinds in the freezer, you never know when you'll need 'em!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

New Guest Recipe: Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cupcakes

With the second anniversary of the Cucina Domenico blog coming up, it is no secret that networking has played a major part in gathering my blog followers and readers. From my co-blogging project with Una Mamma Italiana and earning a spot on Lorraine Ranalli's Cucina Chatter radio broadcast, to forming Facebook friendships with Johnny "Meatballs" DeCarlo and many other food bloggers, I am very grateful for the opportunities that networking has brought.

This week I am very proud to introduce a new friend to the Cucina Domenico readers. Emma Caperelli Loerky is a South Philly native who I had the pleasure of becoming Facebook 'friends' with via this blog. I would often notice the fantastic recipes that Emma would post. Her recipes are always very creative and beautifully presented. They are also often gluten free. Being very impressed with her creativity and focus on gluten free recipes, I approached Emma about contributing some of her recipes to my blog, and am very happy that she has agreed to do so.

This week we are featuring Emma's Gluten Free Peanut Butter Cupcakes...just in time for all your Halloween parties! You will have the opportunity to read more of Emma's contributions in future Guest Recipe posts here at Cucina Domenico. You can also read more about Emma and her approach to gluten free cooking below.

Welcome to the Cucina, Emma!

Hello all,

I'd first like to thank Dominic for giving me the opportunity to contribute to his blog. I'm really excited and flattered and I hope to be able to bring you recipes that you find useful. My name is Emma, and, like Dominic, I was born and raised in South Philly. I also raised my son, Jake, there for the first 12 years of his life. In 2006, I moved to San Diego to marry my best friend, Karl.

Up until I met my husband, I had never thought I'd leave South Philly. I had also never heard of Celiac Disease, which is an autoimmune disease in which the lining of the small intestine is damaged from eating gluten and other proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats (I borrowed that definition from Google, people). Being Italian American and growing up in South Philly, where macaroni, meatballs, and sausage (aka Gravy) is the mandatory Sunday dinner, and the soft pretzel is a food group (seriously, as a child we were given soft pretzels in school along with milk at snack time), I was baffled.

Anyway, in the past 5 years, I've learned to read labels and I'm learning how to cook and bake for my husband. I should also mention that my husband cannot have milk products. Apparently, it's quite common for people with Celiac Disease to become intolerant to dairy products as well. Fortunately, my husband can still have eggs and butter. So, needless to say, I've had quite a few mishaps and I'm not always successful, but I have come across a few recipes that I think are worthy of sharing. I should point out that not everything I make is gluten free. My son and I still eat gluten, and, quite often, I will make two versions of the same dish. Even though it can be time-consuming, doing that allows me to freeze any extra gluten free portions, and it also cuts down on cost since gluten free products can be quite expensive.

One last tidbit about myself, I am a mother and housewife who, besides cooking and baking and having 2 dogs and 2 cats of my own, also fosters cats and dogs. Once a week, my family and I volunteer at our local animal shelter as well. Aside from having dinner together as a family each night, volunteering has become a family ritual and we look forward to it every week.

These are the things that bring my family together and I'm excited to share some of our favorite recipes with you. Hopefully, you will enjoy them as well and share them with your own families.


yields 24 cupcakes but can be halved to make 12

When Dominic first asked me to submit a recipe to his food blog, the first ingredient I thought about using was pumpkin. Of course since it's fall, pumpkin is one of the more obvious choices. But it's also Halloween, which happens to be my favorite time of year. That led me to think about candy and what I could come up with based on a popular candy bar. So, I thought it would be fun to make a chocolate peanut butter cupcake that would be similar to a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. I found tons of recipes and I was able to come up with a gluten free version on my first try. I actually halved the recipe because I was sure that it would take at least two attempts, so I was pleasantly surprised when they came out perfect on the first try. I was so pleased that I couldn't just stick to my initial plan of having a peanut butter cupcake with a chocolate icing. I knew I wanted to do something with fluff, so I made a fluff icing and used a peanut butter icing as a filling. Basically, they are a gluten free Fluffernutter cupcake. I used that same peanut butter icing to decorate my chocolate peanut butter cupcakes as well. Let me just add that I am aware that I am not going to win any prizes for my cupcake decorating skills, but I think they came out pretty cute considering that I have no clue what I'm doing. So, I have two different icings and a ganache to go with the gluten free peanut butter cupcake. I was tempted to fill some with raspberry jelly, but I didn't want to get too carried away, especially since I also planned on making a non-gluten free version. But you best believe that I will be making these again, and when I do, there will be jelly involved!

I'd also like to point out that I used this gluten free flour with excellent results. It is my new favorite gluten free flour and I recently discovered that I can find it at my local Whole Foods. I'd also like to mention that I adapted my recipe from one that I found on allrecipes.com.

2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup peanut butter (not natural)
2 eggs at room temperature
1/4 cup milk (I used soy milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups King Arthur Flour Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Flour Blend
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 pinch of salt
1/2 tsp xanthan gum

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat brown sugar, shortening, and peanut butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time until well blended, then add vanilla and applesauce and beat until combined. In another bowl, combine gluten free flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, and xanthan gum. Stir dry ingredients into the wet ingredients alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Spoon into lined muffin cups and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. The cupcakes are done when the tops spring back when touched.

Chocolate Ganache
8 oz chocolate chips
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk (I used soy milk)

Put all the ingredients into the bowl of a double boiler. If you don't have a double boiler, just place a bowl on top of a pan of simmering water. Make sure the water does not touch the bowl or you risk scorching the chocolate. Stir frequently until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and let cool slightly before using.

Peanut Butter Frosting
1/2 cup room temperature unsalted butter
1 cup peanut butter (not natural)
2 cups confectioners sugar
1/3 cup cream or milk (I used soy milk)

Beat the butter and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar and slowly add enough milk or cream until it reaches a good consistency (you may not need all of the milk).

Assembling the Peanut Butter Cup Cupcakes:
After the cupcakes have cooled, dip the tops of them in the slightly cooled ganache and let them set in the fridge for about an hour. You can then make "webs" out of the peanut butter icing by drawing circles on top of the cupcake then dragging them outward using a toothpick. Or you can just pipe a dollop on top of the cupcake, or, better yet, you can fill the inside of each cupcake with the peanut butter icing, which is what I wished I would have done in the first place.

Fluffernutter Cupcakes with Fluff Icing
1/2 lb room temperature unsalted butter
7 1/2 oz jar Fluff
2 cups confectioners sugar

Beat butter until creamy. Add marshmallow fluff and slowly add sugar.

Assembling the cupcakes:
Using a cupcake plunger, remove a portion of the center of each cupcake. Pipe a small amount of the Peanut Butter Icing into the center of each cupcake. Pipe the tops of each cupcake with the Fluff Icing.

One last thing, those cute little bats you see are edible and I got them at etsy.com.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pumpkin Amaretto Risotto

I was recently asked by a good friend of mine if I could come up with a recipe for Pumpkin Risotto. I won't mention any names, but this one Italian mamma said that she had fallen in love with this style of risotto when in Italy. I did some research and found a good amount of pumpkin risotto recipes, however most of them were very similar in taste and style. Pumpkin itself can be bland, so you need to add some spice to it to bring out its flavor. Most of the recipes that I found were heavy on the cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg, which are standard pumpkin pie spices. That didn't sound all that Italian to me, and I wasn't aiming for a pumpkin pie flavored risotto.

I finally came across a true Italian pumpkin risotto recipe which follows the traditional Lombard/Northern Italian method and used that as my launching pad, making a few other flavor/ingredient adjustments to my liking. Instead of cinnamon and nutmeg, this recipe called for crumbled up Italian amaretti macaroons. While I don't usually have amaretti macaroons on hand, I do always have a bottle of Disarona Amaretto in my liqueur cabinet. I decided to give that a try, and just one tablespoon added the perfect slightly sweet/slightly nutty taste that I was hoping for! The alcohol will burn off, but the Amaretto taste stays. There's no doubt, this dish will be a fall standard in my house!

A quick note on making risotto: Risotto is a demanding dish and requires the chef to stand next to the pot for the better part of 20 minutes. Turn the rice every 20 seconds or so in order for the liquid to bathe all of the pot. With the high heat your rice will dry out at the bottom and you'll need to move the rice with a wooden spoon so that the remaining stock on top goes to the bottom. Only when the rice is almost dry can you add your next laddleful of stock.

Click image on side to enlarge

5 cups hot chicken broth (you cannot use cold broth for proper risotto)
1 tbspn EVOO
4 tbspn butter
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
1 small glass white wine
1-1/2 cups pumpkin puree (canned is fine, but be sure to use 100% pure pumpkin. Do not use pumpkin pie filling)
1 tbspn Amaretto
1 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese

In a medium pot, heat chicken broth (hot but not boiling), keep warm. In a large pot over medium heat, heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Add onions, saute until soft but not brown. Add rice, mix so all grains are coated, let cook for 2 minutes (it's ok if grains begin to slightly toast). Add wine, toss to coat all grains.

When wine has evaporated, add one ladle of the hot stock. DO NOT ADD MORE THAN 1 LADLE AT A TIME! Stir every 20 seconds or so until rice is almost dry. You'll continue to add one ladle at a time for about 20 minutes.

After the first ten minutes of ladling/stirring, add the pumpkin puree. Stir to mix completely. Continue with the ladling/stirring for another 10 minutes, or until you run out of broth. Add one tablespoon Amaretto, stir.

Cover and remove pot from heat, let sit for one minute. Cut up remaining 3 tablespoons of butter into small pieces. Add to pot, stir to mix completely. You want the risotto to be hot enough to incorporate the butter without actually melting it at contact. Add fresh grated parmesan cheese, stir to mix.

An optional dash of nutmeg to each serving adds a nice touch. Serve with a glass of white wine, or a nice pumpkin ale or Oktoberfest and enjoy!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Gravy Wars Revisited - My Review of the Winning Gravy!

A few weeks back, I went spoon-to-spoon with Una Mamma Italiana in a Sunday Gravy War. After all of the votes were tallied, Una Mamma ended up being top tomato. Today, I finally had the chance to make a pot of the winning gravy, step by step. The verdict is in.....and Una Mamma's Sunday Gravy is definitely a winner!

Rather than go over each step of the gravy making method (you can see the recipe first hand by clicking here), I thought it would be best to highlight was makes Una Mamma's gravy so different than mine.

While I start my gravy process with frying up some garlic in olive oil, this recipe calls for garlic AND two onions (I only use onion powder as a flavoring). So right out of the gate you're dealing with some great aromatics. This is also when the wild card ingredient comes in to play...the butter. Now I'm sure that some of you, as I, were stumped with the butter ingredient. Who puts butter in red gravy? You're actually using it to sauté the onions and garlic, so it makes total sense and adds nice flavor.

The next difference that I noticed was adding the tomato paste to the sautéed veggies BEFORE adding the tomato purée. This helps break down the paste into a flavorful brownish sauce that incorporates nicely with the tomatoes...and this is a nice trick that I think I will start to use with my own recipe.

And the final difference is adding the meat at an early stage. I like to first have all of the seasonings and tomatoes marry together for a good 45 minutes or so prior to adding the meats. This allows the sweetness of the tomatoes to really shine through, while allowing the meat flavors to add a tremendous accent to the meal. I call this the Clemenza method (all of you Godfather fans will relate). Una Mamma's recipe, on the other hand, gets the addition of the seared meats involved immediately. This really allows the fats and flavors of the meats to take over, which makes this a true, hands down, no denying, by-the-book MEAT GRAVY.

Final thoughts - my family and I give Una Mamma thumbs up all around! We did find the gravy to be a bit thinner than mine (my addition of a can of sauce thickens it up a bit), however it was very flavorful with an amazing aroma. The thinner gravy isn't a bad thing, it just means [to me] that I would know ahead of time that I would be aiming for this particular taste and texture. Of course I would never turn my back on my own gravy – this would be like turning my back on my own child. But, like all good parents, you are always ready to welcome your friends' children into your house to play as well. And I guarantee you that I will be serving up Una Mamma's Sunday Gravy again in my house.

Bravo, Una Mamma!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Easy Weekday Meals

Looking to put a new spin on a weekday meal that will keep the kids asking for more? Put aside your traditional chicken cutlets, and serve up pretzel coated chicken tenders. The shape of the tenders are similar to fast food chicken fingers, and the pretzels add a natural salty/snacky taste. Plus, knowing that pretzels are part of the meal is sure to make for a fun dinner for parents and kids.


Using a food processor, break up about two cups worth of pretzels almost to the point of breadcrumb consistency. You want to have some small pieces of pretzel still in the mix. If you don't have a food processor, you can smash the pretzels by placing them in a plastic bag and rolling it with a rolling pin or a large tomato sauce can. The crumbs will not be as fine, but it will work. Then simply bread the tenders as you would normally bread chicken cutlets (rolling in flour, then egg wash, then pretzel crumbs). For the best taste and texture you want to fry the tenders, not bake them. I prefer using peanut oil for the taste, but vegetable oil will also work fine. For some extra flavor, you can add a few drops of sesame oil to the frying pan. Serve with honey mustard, barbecue sauce or marinara sauce for dipping (gotta get some Italian influence in there!!). Serve with steamed vegetables (carrots and peas are our favorites).

Note: you can bread the tenders ahead of time, either that morning or the night before, and keep them in the refrigerator until ready to use. This will save prep time to help get a quick meal on the table for your family to enjoy!

Never one to be outdone, my blogging collega, Una Mamma Italiana, offers up a two-for-one weekday meal! And this one isn't just putting leftovers to use, it's actually making another tasty, beautiful dish!

Here's an easy weeknight dinner that makes a GREAT fritatta the next morning! Italian sausage and potatoes, roasted with a little kosher salt, black pepper, garlic, and rosemary. Served very appropriately with a simple side salad. Easy, right?

Then, the next morning the sausage and potatoes make a cameo appearance, coarsely chopped in my fritatta. Mix in a little grated cheese, fresh parsley and basil, and you've possibly stumbled upon a quick fix for a fancy breakfast in bed! Hubby will be happy:)

(Use this trick wisely, ladies)


Friday, September 24, 2010

Fall Favorites

Traditions, as you may have guessed by now, have been a major influence in many of the posts that I share on this blog. It's the excitement and familiarity of annual events, foods and most of all time spent with family and friends that encourage me to write and share my stories and recipes. And now that we have officially entered my favorite time of year, the autumn harvest season, I thought I would share some favorite fall food suggestions with you.

The first weekend of autumn is the time when I prepare my jars of marinated eggplants. I started this tradition a few years back, and posted about it last September (you can click here for the recipe). I was inspired by my grandmother to start jarring eggplants. She would marinate and jar every year at this time so they would be ready for the holidays, so I was determined to keep that family tradition alive. I am very honored to say that this family recipe has garnered the most attention on my blog. To this day I am still getting nice comments about the post, and just a few weeks ago I was contacted by a woman named Lori who has a food blog of her own. Her family also jars eggplants and she was surprised to find that my recipe was almost the same as hers. So thank you Lori for the shout-out. Be sure to check out her fine food blog, Lori's Lipsmacking Goodness.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a pumpkin junkie, so it goes without saying that I'm extra excited to dip into pumpkin foods, both new and traditional. Throughout this season I plan to share recipes for spaghetti squash and pumpkin ravioli. I'm also very excited to have my friend, Emma, share some pumpkin dessert recipes with you as we get closer to Thanksgiving.

Speaking of pumpkin, I have to tip my hat to Rita's Water Ice. The debate will always live on as to who has the best water ice, but in my opinion Rita's Pumpkin Pie and Caramel Apple cream ices are the ideal way to transition from summer to fall. Try going for the pumpkin ice with vanilla custard topping. Nice.

Nothing beats a crisp fall morning than a nice hot cup of coffee. An easy way to add some fall flavor to your next pot of joe is to sprinkle some cinnamon, nutmeg or my favorite, pumpkin pie spice, into your coffee grinds before brewing. If you're a fan of fall spices, you'll love this. Trust me. And what's a nice cup of hot coffee in the fall without a crisp, crunchy spiced wafer to dunk? My family gets a smile from ear to ear when those orange and black boxes start to appear in huge piles at the supermarket. Yeah, I know...they're sold year round. I don't pay attention to them until they're stacked a mile high in front of the store.

Wanna kick up your spiced wafers to dessert level? Add a smear of cream cheese. And if you're really in the mood for a treat, add a little bit of pumpkin butter on top of that. Fuggetaboutit!!!

Now I wouldn't be able to discuss fall foods without mentioning my new favorite seasonal treat — autumn beers. I have quickly learned to love the full-bodied, rich, toasty, typically dark copper beers that make their seasonal appearance, usually starting in late August. Each year, more and more brewers are jumping on the popularity of dunkel (dark) lagers, Oktoberfests and pumpkin ales. The beauty of it is that each brewer adds their own little twist or spin on the styles, so each version has it's own distinctive taste and the beer drinker benefits from the variety. I like to have a variety of each style on hand, but this year I hit the jackpot with the Samuel Adams Harvest Collection. It contains six different styles of beer, including Harvest Pumpkin Ale and what is one of my seasonal staples, their Octoberfest (yes, they spell it with a 'c'). So if you're interested in sampling seasonal brews, this is the best time of year to do so. Have fun, mix up the varieties and enjoy (and most of all, be safe).

Happy fall!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chocolate Guinness Tarts

I came across this recipe while I was doing some reading on a beer web site. My first thought was 'beer, chocolate, pastry...everybody wins!' I made them this past weekend, and they didn't disappoint. The Guinness taste didn't really come through as much as I expected, but dark chocolate has a very powerful taste of its own, and you're only using 1/2 a cup of the beer. However, stout and chocolate compliment each other very well, so this combination makes total sense. What I would suggest for future servings, and I will be making these again, is to serve at a party, place the tarts on a big plate, and have a small cups of Guinness sitting next to it, so your friends can help themselves to a rich and tasty dessert.


45 mini sweet fillo shells (found in the frozen food section)
Two 3.5oz good quality dark chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Guinness

Bring a pan of water to a gentle simmer and sit a heatproof bowl over the top - not allowing the water to come into contact with the bottom of the bowl. Break the chocolate into the bowl and add the butter and the beer. While the chocolate mixture is melting, whisk the eggs and the sugar until pale and smooth. When the chocolate has melted, stir the bowl to amalgamate the other ingredients, and then pour into the egg and sugar mixture. Stir well and pour into the shells. Bake in a pre-heated 425ºF oven for 4 minutes. Refrigerate overnight and serve.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Stuffed Eggplant

The early fall is now among us, and it's time to put that vegetable harvest to use. I put this recipe together from a handful of other stuffed eggplant recipes that are available online, picking and choosing a few ingredients and steps from each. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can adapt your own touch by adjusting ingredients and seasonings to your liking. The basics to the filling are the garlic, onion, breadcrumbs and eggplant pulp. The peppers, shrimp and tomatoes were a personal preference. You can add whatever else you wish to the filling (olives, pine nuts, sausage, ground meat, raisins, etc.).


1 large eggplant, sliced in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 container cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 cup chopped shrimp, uncooked
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350º
Place the eggplant halves, cut side down, on a foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven; cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes. Remove inside pulp, leaving a 1/3 to 1/2-inch thick shell; reserve eggplant shell. Chop/smush pulp.

Heat olive oil and butter in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onions, stir for one minute. Add garlic, peppers and tomatoes, stir until crisp tender. Add shrimp, stir until they turn pink. Add chopped eggplant, salt and pepper, Italian seasonings, and parmesan cheese, stir. Reduce heat, simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add breadcrumbs, stir, let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place eggplant shells, open side facing up on a cookie sheet. Drizzle some olive oil and add some salt and fresh ground pepper to the inside of the shell. Fill each shell with the eggplant stuffing. Bake at 350º for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle some shredded mozzarella or parmesan cheese on top of eggplants. Place under broiler for 5 minutes, or until top becomes lightly browned and crisp.

And the Sunday Gravy Wars winner is...

The scores have been combined and tallied and a big congratulations and a tip of the stirring spoon goes to my colleague, Una Mamma Italiano! While I am very proud of my gravy recipe, there is no doubt that Una Mamma's is rich in both taste and tradition, and I look forward to making her recipe and posting a review of it very soon!
The whole point of this gravy war was to realize the signifiance of the Sunday Gravy tradition. And no matter which recipe looks closest to yours, any one who keeps the tradition going is the real winner. Let us never lose our cultural heritage that boasts such things as family meals and awesome food!
Try our gravy recipes. Dare to compare them! Why not submit your own recipe to us? We love to hear about other paisani that love Italia as much as we do.
So thanks for all the votes and Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Spinach Quiche

Another summer has come and gone, but we still have a few good weeks left to enjoy a nice outdoor meal under slightly cool skies. Whether you call it spinach quiche or spinach egg pie (because real men don't eat quiche, right?), this is the perfect dish to enjoy on your outdoor patio or deck with friends, a nice glass of white wine, and a late summer, early fall breeze. Of course you can serve this any time of the year. I first started to make it around Easter time along with my Easter Ham and Rice pies, but I felt that this pie holds up as its own meal, so I started making it during the late spring/summer/early fall. And if you prefer beer over white wine, try serving an American Wheat Ale, Blonde Ale or a Belgian Witbier. Their refreshing, subtle citrus flavors are the perfect complement!

1/2 cup butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 (10 oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 (6 oz) package herb and garlic feta, crumbled
1 (8 oz) package shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 (9 inch) unbaked deep dish pie crust
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

In a medium skillet melt butter over medium heat. Saute garlic and onion in butter until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in spinach, feta and 1/2 cup cheddar cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon mixture into pie crust.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into the pie crust, allowing the egg mixture to thoroughly combine with the spinach cheese mixture.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle top with remaining cheddar cheese and bake an additional 35-40 minutes, until set in center. Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serve room temperature or chilled.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Sunday Gravy War!

You know what happens when very passionate cooks duke it out in the kitchen? Those of us standing on the sidelines win!

Be prepared to win big in the latest war between the Mamma and the Cucina. These dueling cooks are about to go spoon to spoon in
Gravy Wars! Yes, inspired by my book (pause for a little pat on the back), Una Mamma Italiana and Cucina Domenico are preparing to unveil their secret gravy (or sauce, if you will) recipes to the entire universe. They want you to vote on whose recipe is best. It’s a virtual taste-test. You will be asked to judge based on your interpretation of the info presented by our beloved bloggers of cookery.

This, my friends, is the crux behind “Gravy Wars | South Philly, Foods, Feuds & Attytudes!” You don’t need to be Italian, a professional chef, or a native of Philadelphia to be sucked into legitimate kitchen competition. All you need is a passion for food and a mild interest in preparing it, and before you know it, you too will become competitive and possessive in the kitchen.

It truly is a phenomenon to behold!

Oh, if only we could get the Mamma and the Cucina to dole out their signature sauces to the entire social media world at some place like the Superdome. Ah, maybe someday. Alas, we’ll have to settle for the online battle.

Be sure to get your friends, relatives, co-workers, Farmville competitors, and acquaintances of all types to weigh in on this match. Who knows? With enough hype, we may just get these two to Louisiana yet!

– Lorraine Ranalli

NOW, Let the Gravy Wars begin!!!!


Let me begin by saying that Sunday gravy is a lot like a marriage - the more love you put into it, the better it gets. A good gravy recipe perfects itself over time, and my recipe is definitely age old. My great grandmother taught it to my father, who taught it to me, and NEVER with a recipe! So like Dom, I had to endure the sheer agony of writing down my measurements and step by step instructions. I kid you not, people, this took me a week. It's hard stuff when you're assuming that some gravy crazed paisan out there is reading this recipe and isn't quite sure what a 'pinch' or a 'shake' of something is. (who am I kidding - neither do I). The fact is, there are not any words to describe the attention to detail that goes into my "Nonni's" recipe for red gravy.

This is appropriately called gravy because of the fact that it is derived from the juices of MEAT. In our case, we're talkin pork shoulder and meatballs. Check out the recipe, copy it, change it, whatever you please - just don't miss out on the opportunity to start a Sunday gravy tradition in your family! Buon Appetito!

3 28 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
Extra virgin olive oil (enough to sear the pork and then to barely cover the onions)
3 TB butter
2 lb. pork shoulder
2 onions, chopped
8-10 cloves garlic, sliced
2 cans water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 TB sugar
2 TB Italian Seasoning

Season the pork shoulder with salt and pepper. Start with enough e.v.o.o. in a pan to sear the pork on both sides. Remove the meat and set aside. Throw in the onions (then the garlic about 5 minutes later) adding enough oil to just barely cover the onions. It looks like a lot but it is the emulsifier you need to get this sauce good and creamy once blended. Add the butter at this point to aid in simmering the veggies. *disclaimer: Lorraine Ranalli, Gravy War QUEEN, might be judging me right about now, but all I can say is WATCH OUT! because butter is quite possibly my second favorite thing to cook with (the first, of course, being my hubby)!

Mix in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cans of tomatoes and the water. Mix together then blend with hand blender until smooth. Put the meat back in. (at this point, you would add your meatballs too, if you made them. I like to fry my meatballs and sear the pork in the same oil. Then I would set aside BOTH meats until after the sauce is blended. Then add the meats back to the sauce pot.)

Season the sauce with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and sugar. Simmer 2- 3 hours, or until the meat is cooked thoroughly. 1/3 hour before serving, double check your seasoning and make adjustments accordingly.

How to serve?
Over pasta and with a big chunk of Italian bread to soak up the gravy with. Is there any other way?


I have made countless pots of gravy since I was literally a kid, but only in the past few years have I really zeroed in on a specific recipe. However, I have never followed a written recipe. It was always from memory, or whatever mood I was in that day. Although I found it a bit painstaking (as I believe this should be a free-form dish), I documented every measurement while making this version of my gravy.

First, let me address the whole gravy versus sauce issue. There are countless opinions on the subject. When I hear "sauce," I think Marinara. Quick. Delicious, nonetheless...but quick.You heat your oil and garlic, add your tomatoes, onions, seasonings, maybe even some meat or even shrimp, and in 20-30 minutes you have a tasty meal. Gravy, on the other hand, is a bit more complex. My guess (and this is only a guess) is that the term comes from the flavors of the meats that are incorporated. The "other" gravies (beef, turkey, chicken and pork) are, of course, made from meat drippings. So when you add your meats to your red sauce and let it simmer for a few hours, the meat flavors the sauce to make it a red gravy. But the main difference to me is the time, patience and love that you put in to your gravy (I was gonna go with blood, sweat and tears, but that would be gross). You treat your pot of gravy as if it were a child. You raise it and nurture it, from it's infant stage until it matures.

I always add meatballs to my gravy, usually with either sausage, boneless country spare ribs, or brasciole (thin steak stuffed with a breadcrumb mixture and rolled up). I also prefer to bake my meatballs and sausage, instead of the traditional frying. It's just as tasty, healthier for you, and frees up some quality time.

Before we get into the actual recipe...you'll notice that I suggest adding two baby carrots to the gravy. This is an old trick that I learned a few years back. The carrots add a natural sweetness to the gravy, while at the same time they soak up some of the acid from the tomatoes.


2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 29-oz can tomato sauce (plus one can full of water)
1 6-oz can tomato paste with Italian herbs
olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tblspn Italian Seasoning (marjorim, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano and basil)
1 tblspn sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 beef bouillon cube
2 baby carrots
1 cup red wine(whatever you have opened)
1 loaf crusty Italian bread

Drizzle bottom of sauce pot with olive oil to coat on medium-high heat. Add chopped onion; stir for 1 minute or until onion is translucent. Add minced garlic; stir for about one minute. Add the two cans of crushed tomatoes, one can of tomato sauce plus one can of water, and one can of tomato paste; stir. Add Italian seasoning and sugar; stir. Heat and occasionally stir until slowly bubbling. Add bouillon cube, baby carrots and splash of wine; stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Lower heat, slightly cover and simmer for one hour. Add cooked meats; simmer partially covered for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Sip and enjoy the remaining cup of wine as you dip some bread into the gravy while it's cooking.

Serve over your choice of pasta and enjoy!

One last note...if you decide to try either of our Sunday Gravy recipes, we would be delighted. But if you decide to alter our recipes, and add your own flavors or ingredients, we would be overjoyed. Experiment, adjust the flavors to your likings, and most of all have fun. And be sure to share your version of the recipe with us.