Friday, March 26, 2010

Easter Bread

Tis the season for Easter pies, cakes, breads and desserts!

Last year, I posted an article on Easter traditions in an Italian household (click here for the article). It was a great opportunity for me to trace the history of the many desserts and treats that are served during this special season. It was also an opportunity for me to share my recipes for the traditional Italian ham and rice pies that are served this time of year. My main goal in writing this blog is putting my own spin on traditional recipes and sharing them with you. I spent the past 5 years or so tweaking and adjusting my versions of the ham and rice pie recipes until I felt that they were right. I was very honored to receive some positive and very kind feedback on last year's post.

This year, I set a new goal for the Easter season – I decided to learn how to make Easter Bread. For those of you not familiar with Easter Bread, it's a sweet bread (often flavored with anise) that's braided and woven into a basket shape. It usually has colored Easter eggs placed in the middle and is topped with a glaze and candy sprinkles, which gives it a bright and festive look. Serving a slice topped with butter, with a nice hot cup of coffee, tea or espresso makes for the perfect spring time breakfast.

While growing up in my neighborhood, you either made your own bread with a special family recipe, or you stood in line at the neighborhood bakery, waiting for a fresh loaf. We were fortunate to have a wide variety of neighborhood bakeries, including Varallo's, Potito's, Termini's, Isgro's and Cosmi's, to name a few. My grandmother would make her own bread, as would many of my aunts. Not wanting to tamper with their perfected recipes, I set out to find a recipe of my own. I checked out a bunch of recipes on the web (there are many out there) and put together a recipe that sounded best to me. One challenge that I had to deal with right off the bat is that we do not own a large stand mixer. Quite a few bread recipes that I found suggest you don't use a hand mixer, as the dough may become too heavy and burn out the unit. After a bit of searching, I did find a recipe that didn't require too much work or a dough hook attachment. I started there, adjusted some ingredients to my taste and gave it a shot. Gotta say, I was very happy with the end result! The taste, the texture, the was all there!

Before we get to the actual recipe, there's one more anecdote on traditions that I would like to share with you. Earlier this week, I posted as my Facebook status "Trying out new Easter Bread recipe." True to family fashion, my cousin quickly stepped up and offered to share my Aunt Tina's recipe for Easter Bread if I ran into any trouble. A friend of mine also offered to share a recipe that she had (she made sure to let me know that she wasn't allowed to share her Mom's recipe...ain't no arguing that one!). This is exactly what I had in mind when I started this blog. A nice little community to share recipes with family and friends and be influenced by each others ideas. Thank you to my cousin Pauline and and my friend Emma for having my back this time around! And thanks again to everyone for continuing to check out my updated posts. It's a fun ride and I'm glad to share it with all of you!

Buona Pasqua!


1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 package dry yeast
3 eggs at room temperature

Optional ingredient for additional flavor*
1/2 tsp. aniseed OR 1/4 tsp. anise extract

Eggwash (1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon of water)
6 dyed Easter eggs**

*Anise has a licorice flavor and is often used to flavor cakes and cookies. Aniseeds are traditionally used, but you can use anise extract if you do not want the small seeded texture in your bread. The ratio of seed vs. extract is 2 to 1.

**There is no need to pre-boil the 6 dyed Easter eggs. They will cook with the bread in the oven. Carefully dye them and tuck into the bread when called for.

In a small saucepan warm milk and butter to lukewarm. In a large bowl mix 3/4 cup flour, sugar, and yeast. Add warm milk mixture, stirring well. Add 3 eggs and aniseed/anise extract, blend well, and add remaining flour. Knead with a dough hook or on a floured board until smooth, then place in a greased bowl and cover, let rise for 1 hour.

Punch down dough. Divide in half; roll each piece into a 24 inch rope. Loosely twist ropes together; place on a greased baking sheet and form into a circle. Pinch rope ends together. Cover and let rise for about an hour.

Brush bread with egg wash, gently spread sprinkles over bread Gently split ropes and tuck eggs into openings. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lenten Meals Part 2: Baked Tilapia with Shrimp Stuffing

Another great dish to make during the Lenten season is Baked Tilapia with Shrimp Stuffing. Tilapia seems to have become the 'go to' fish over the past few years, holding it's own along with flounder, shrimp, salmon and tuna. I wanted to try something other than traditional baked tilapia, and found this recipe on the web a few months back. It's fairly simple to prepare, is very healthy and makes for a nice presentation. Serves well with steamed asparagus, rice and a nice glass of white wine.

courtesy of
(click here for original recipe posting)

Serves 2

1.5 fl oz Lemon Juice (or use juice of 1/2 a lemon)
8 large cooked Shrimp, chopped small
1 tbspn Olive Oil,
1 tbspn Scallions (green onion), chopped
2 cups fresh Baby Spinach
1 tspn Minced Garlic
1 tbspn Parmesan Cheese, grated
4 pcs. (4oz ea) Tilapia filet
Old Bay Seasoning, (about 1 tsp)
Sea Salt and Fresh ground Pepper to Taste

Preheat oven 425F
Squeeze/sprinkle lemon juice over tilapia and set aside.
Chop the shrimp small.
Heat oil in saute pan over med. hi heat.
Add chopped green onion, garlic, spinach, you can add sea salt & pepper if you want, to taste.
Simply toss until spinach begins to wilt … about 1 – 2 min. Add shrimp and turn off heat.
In a baking dish sprayed with non stick spray or coat with olive oil (I usually line a foil baking pan with aluminum foil for easy clean up), place 2 pcs. of fish side by side.
Sprinkle with Old Bay Seasoning…Not Too Much!
Top fish with the spinach/shrimp mixture, spreading evenly on top.
Top that layer with your other 2 pcs. of tilapia and sprinkle with Old Bay, salt & pepper to taste, and 1/2 TBS parmesan cheese on top of each fish assembly.
Bake about 20 minutes or til cooked through.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lenten Meals Part 1: Scampi

Since we're now about half way into the Lenten season, I'd like to share a few seafood dishes that I enjoy making on Fridays. For this post, I'm going with two scampi recipes that I've had on hand for a few years: traditional shrimp scampi done on a stovetop, and a baked scallop scampi done in the oven. I only make these dishes occasionally, since both call for a nice amount of butter and a seafood ingredient that is fairly high in cholesterol. I do, however, use Smart Balance butter substitute instead of regular butter which helps cut down on the fat and cholesterol. Plus, a special meal once in a while isn't a bad thing!


6 tablespoons butter (or butter substitute)
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, finely chopped
2 lbs. (62-70 count) fresh raw medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and rinsed
1/4 cup shopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh or dried dillweed

Melt butter in a 12-inch skillet until sizzling, add shallots and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat until shallots are softened (2-3 minutes). Add shrimp, cook, stirring occasionally until shrimp turn pink (4-5 minutes). Stir in parsley, lemon and dill weed. Continue cooking until flavors are blended (2-3 minutes). Serve over hot cooked pasta.

courtesy of

1 lb. small scallops
1/4 lb. butter
1 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon minced garlic (fresh or jarred)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 pinch paprika
1 pinch parsley flakes

Place scallops in a casserole. Melt butter and mix lemon juice and chopped garlic. Stir together. Pour mixture over scallops. Sprinkle with bread crumbs, paprika, and flakes. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Serve over cooked rice.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Asian-style Pork Chops

A few weeks ago, I posted a recipe for Italian-style pork chops, using Italian salad dressing as the marinade. This week I'm doing the pork chops Asian style, using a ponzu style sauce as the marinade.

Ponzu sauces are made with a soy sauce base. You can add a number of herbs, spices, seasonings and other liquids (such as lemon or lime juice, olive oil or rice wine vinegar). Ponzu sauces work well as both a flavoring and tenderizer for meats. It is also a great serving dip for steamed or fresh vegetables, dumplings/potstickers, eggrolls and fish cakes. For this version, I'm using soy sauce, brown sugar, ground ginger and allspice. I'll also be topping the pork with fresh sliced pineapple, so the pineapple juice will add additional flavor while baking. I actually prefer canned crushed pineapple and its juices, but we only had fresh pineapple on hand. I'm using two boneless london broil pork fillets (any cut of pork chop will work), which I'll slice up and serve over a bed of rice. The pork will be incredibly tasty and tender, but you can also serve additional sauce to drizzle over the pork and rice. You do not want to serve the sauce that the pork was marinating in, it will be full of nasty bacteria from the raw meat. Instead, reserve a portion of the sauce before adding the meat and warm up on the stove top before serving.


2 boneless london broil pork fillets (or your choice of cut)
1/3 cup of soy sauce*

1 tbsp of brown sugar

1/2 tspn of grated ginger
1/4 tspn allspice
sliced pineapples or 1 small can crushed pineapple with its juice

Poke pork fillets with a fork to allow marinade to soak through. Combine soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger and allspice in a bowl, mix well. Place fillets in a zip lock bag, pour in marinade. Shake up and place in refrigerator for at least two hours, up to 12 hours. Remove fillets from baggie, discard marinade. Place fillets in a baking dish, top with sliced or crushed pineapples. Bake uncovered at 350ยบ for approximately 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven, let fillets sit, slightly covered with aluminum foil for about 5 minutes. Slice and serve over rice, topped with pineapple. For extra sauce, reserve a portion of the marinade prior to adding to meat, heat and serve when pork is done. Again, do not serve the marinade that the pork was sitting in, it will contain bacteria from the raw meat.

* Note - soy sauce is high in sodium. You can use low sodium soy sauce if you are watching your sodium intake.