Sunday, June 27, 2010

NEW: Random Beer Trivia

This one's for the books!

On May 4, 1951, Sir Hugh Beaver, then the managing director of the Guinness Breweries and Cliff Clavin-esque tavern know-it-all, became involved in an argument over which was the fastest game bird in Europe, the koshin golden plover or the grouse. That evening he realised that it was impossible to confirm in reference books whether or not the golden plover was Europe's fastest game bird.

Beaver knew that there must be numerous other questions debated nightly in pubs in Britain and Ireland, but there was no book with which to settle arguments about records. He realised then that a book supplying the answers to this sort of question might prove popular.

Beaver’s idea became reality when Guinness employee Christopher Chataway recommended student twins Norris and Ross McWhirter, who had been running a fact-finding agency in London. The brothers were commissioned to compile what would become The Guinness Book of World Records.

Friday, June 25, 2010

NEW - Grilled Chicken Breast stuffed with Crab Meat

This dish is a two-for-one special. The seasoned chicken breasts and the crab meat filling are delicious stand-alone recipes. Other options for the crab meat filling are stuffing it in flounder or tomatoes, or serving it up with crackers as a dip. Honestly, I probably ate half of the crab meat filling alone while gazing out my kitchen window, waiting for my grill to heat up.

Yet the taste of the seasoned chicken with the crab meat filling gives you the best of both worlds. Enjoy!


4 chicken breasts, skinless and boneless
1/4 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped celery
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
8 oz. canned crabmeat*
1/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
Old Bay Seasoning to taste

Heat butter in a pan until melted. Add onions and celery; heat until soft. Add crab meat, wine and lemon juice; stir. Add breadcrumbs; stir. When warmed, remove from heat, place crab meat filling in a bowl; set aside.

Butterfly cut** the chicken breasts, fill with crab meat filling, fold closed and secure with tooth picks.

Drizzle both sides of chicken breasts with olive oil, then season with salt, pepper and Old Bay seasoning (eyeball seasoning to your liking).

Heat grill to medium-high heat. Spray grill grates with cooking spray to avoid sticking. Place chicken breasts on grill, close lid. Flip every so often until chicken breasts are completely cooked on all sides and throughout, approximately 15-20 minutes.

Serves well with grilled asparagus and a glass of Pinot Grigio.

*I suggest buying the large, 16-oz cans of crab meat that are located in the seafood section of your supermarket. While they can be a bit pricey at times, they are packed with 100% crab meat. The smaller cans that are found near the cans of tuna are packed with about 1/3 water, so you are getting your money's worth with the larger cans. You will use 1/2 of a can for this recipe.

**To butterfly cut the chicken breasts means to slice the breast open horizontally, almost but not completely through, so you can fold the two pieces open. For specific instructions on how to butterfly a chicken breast, click here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

NEW: Shepherd's Pie Italiano

Ciao, fellow foodies. Our goal with "The Mamma meets the Cucina" is to keep the Italian recipes and traditions going in future generations of our now American families. We've got the rich heritage, but unfortunately, not many of us have real live nonne and small Italian village marketplaces at our fingertips. That's why there's "The Mamma meets the Cucina!"

So, we decided to kick off with a recipe that puts an Italian twist on an American classic - Shepherd's Pie Italiano! Shepherds pie is one of those comfort foods...well, to me, Italian food is ALWAYS comfort food! It makes you feel warm and fuzzy (wait - maybe thats the vino...?) In any case, a hearty meal like this really makes me think of my grandparents and great grandparents. Before they came to America, they ate regionally. By this I mean that they ate whatever foods naturally grew in the climate and soil of their small towns. (Here, I must give a shout out to Guardia Lombardi - my grandparent's small, small, small town near the tip of the boot) They lived off their land and used those regional ingredients to come up with such amazing dishes. To them it was peasant food - to us, it's a delicacy hard to find in the states.

I always say - until I retire and move my family into our Italian villa on the Amalfi coast, the burden rests on me and my generation (as usual) to let these traditional style recipes live on in the future. It gives us a link to our past; it acts as a tribute to our ancestors; it keeps us hungry for more... (there's gonna be a lot of that around here!)

So with an Italian touch, we turned a bunch of meat in a pie shell into a rich, hearty Italian sausage scallopini casserole type thing with a polenta topping! A regular old peasant dish, right?! Tell me your mouth is not watering already? Watch as Chef Condo reveals his Cucina secrets play-by-play for all of you paisans out there....


For this recipe, I'm taking the traditional Shepherd's Pie (beef and vegetables in a brown gravy topped with a mashed potato crust) and am adding an Italian spin to it. I'm talking sausage scallopini topped with polenta.

This dish is done in three stages:
Stage One - the scallopini
Stage Two - the polenta
Stage Three - combining and baking the two to make the pie

The scallopini (stage one) can be done ahead of time and refrigerated (up to a day). There is a lot of natural flavor coming from the garlic, onions, peppers, mushrooms and sausage, so you don't have to season much at all. I added a bit of black pepper and some Italian seasonings, and did not use salt at all. You can season to your liking.

The polenta (stage two) requires some time and effort. There's only four major ingredients (water, cornmeal, salt, parmesan cheese - I also added a bouillon cube for extra flavoring), but you have to be committed for 20 solid minutes of continuous stirring. Otherwise you risk burning the polenta or having it turn out lumpy. You want a nice, smooth texture What I suggest is to get yourself into a zone. Create a relaxed and happy atmosphere to help those minutes just breeze by. Throw on your favorite CD (my go-to is either the Best of Dean Martin or Dave Brubeck's Time Out), pour a glass of wine and have at it. You'll reap the rewards, I promise you!

Stage three is the easy part. Pour the scallopini mixture into a medium baking dish, spread the just-done polenta on top, and let it bake for 20-25 minutes. You can hit it under the broiler for a minute or so to crisp up the polenta, if you like. Let sit and cool for a few minutes before serving.

1 lb. ground sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
2 tblspn olive oil (plus more if needed)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 portabella mushroom cap, chopped
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
fresh ground black pepper
Italian seasoning
1 cup corn meal
3 cups water
1 tspn salt
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan on medium-high heat, add garlic, heat for one minute. Add ground sausage, breaking up in pan, stir occasionally. When sausage is evenly browned, add onion and peppers, stir. Add mushrooms, stir. When peppers and onions become crisp-tender, add tomato sauce. Season with some fresh ground pepper and Italian seasoning (adjust seasoning to your liking). Stir, cover and simmer on medium-low for about 20-25 minutes, until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside (you can prepare the scallopini portion earlier in the day and refrigerate to save time).

In a large sauce pan, place three cups water and bouillon cube, add salt, bring to a boil. Lower water to medium-low. Slowly add cornmeal a little at a time to water, stirring as you add. Do not add cornmeal all at once, or else it will clump. Stir cornmeal into water continuously for 20 minutes. You have to keep up with the stirring to avoid the polenta mixture from burning. About mid-way through, add parmesan cheese, continuing to stir. After 20 minutes, remove from heat.

Pour scallopini mix into a mid-size baking dish. Scoop polenta mixture on top and smooth out (like a cake frosting) to completely cover scallopini. Bake in oven uncovered at 350ยบ for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven, let sit for a few minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Mamma and the Cucina....who are these people anyway?

Now that our collaborative project is officially off and running, what better way to start than by officially introducing ourselves!

Tiffany (Pusateri) Longo was born into a loud, loving Italian-American family with strong values and deep traditions. Today, Tiffany relates her childhood stories and traditions in her own family in simple, everyday ways. From birthdays to baptisms, and feast days to 'onomasticos,' Tiffany never passes up the opportunity for a true Italian festa! To the Longo family, even the littlest holiday is a reason celebrate their heritage. As a result, Tiffany has joyfully burdened herself with the responsibility of helping today's generation of Italian-Americans accomplish these same goals for their children.

As a freelance writer, Tiffany's articles appear in La Voce Italian-American newspaper under the column "Mamma Mia!" She also keeps up her blog regularly, where you will find everything from recipes to projects to humorous Italian commentary for other mammas and the whole family.

Tiffany grew up Italian, is married to an Italian, and is now raising four little Italians of her own. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington with her husband Dominic, her son lil Dom, and her daughters Gabriella, Gianna, and Maria. With all the chaos of four kids (all under the age of 6, mind you!) she finds consolation in her family being together, and, of course, eating together. No matter how crazy her household may be, it's never too busy to boil pasta.

Dominic Condo was born and raised in an Italian-American household in South Philadelphia, and currently lives in the Philly suburbs of Drexel Hill with his wife, Daria, and their two daughters, Julianna and Ava. He started his blog, Cucina Domenico, in the fall of 2008 as an opportunity to share his family stories and memories and many of the recipes that would go along with them. Not only does he like to make the traditional dishes, he also likes to experiment by adding his own simple twists. Being a descendent of various Italian regions (Calabria, Naples, Abruzzi and Sicily), he finds it very important that his children are aware of their heritage and the creativity that the Italian culture has to offer, and hopes that someday his blog serves as a memoir for them.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Coming this weekend: The Mamma Meets the Cucina!

A new and exciting feature on Cucina Domenico's blog is almost here!

Join Una Mamma Italiana and Cucina Domenico as they share (and compare!) their stories, recipes and traditions of the Italian-American lifestyle. You'll feel like the guest at every Sunday dinner as you witness the humorous culinary banter from this East coast - West coast duo. They may be 2500 miles apart, but they share the same Italian passion (and pride) in their own family recipes.

What kind of canned tomatoes are the best? Homemade roasted peppers or jarred? Who's gravy is better (yeah, they're going there!!) It's up to all of you! Don't miss the fun -
The Mamma Meets the Cucina appears on both the Una Mamma Italiana and Cucina Domenico blogs. Get to know each blogger in their very first "about the authors" post this weekend! CIAO!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Breaking News....Meet the Mamma!

Cucina Domenico is proud to announce that I will be teaming up with my good friend and fellow blogger, Una Mamma Italiana, for a brand new collaborative blog series on Italian culture and traditions, and the wonderful recipes that accompany them. Our new series, The Mamma Meets the Cucina, will be coming your way very soon via both of our blog sites!

I came across Tiffany Longo's blog, Una Mamma Italiana, a few years back through the popular Italian culture website, It was Tiffany's blog that influenced me to start posting my own recipes and memories of family traditions. We have since become good online friends, and I am very excited to have the opportunity to collaborate with TIffany.

We are both very excited to share with you our posts, which will be coming your way very soon! In the meantime, be sure to enjoy her latest post, Italian Connections. Also, be sure to check out her wonderful blog,


by Tiffany Longo

It's kind of like magic --- the way that any two people, from opposite sides of the world - that have NEVER met before - can somehow meet and feel as though they've known each other their entire lives. No, I'm not talking about soul mates or true love. I'm talking about a real, live paisano!

You see, Italians simply have this established connection by sharing the same culture. It's as if you have known each other for years prior, but you really only met a few minutes ago. How can this be, you ask? Consider for a moment the defining characteristics an Italian person's life - good food, a loud family, cousins everywhere….

Sound familiar? If you're Italian, it does. Forget, simply being Italian already ensures your compatibility on the spot! For instance, I have Italian friends who have childhood memories so similar to mine, it's as if we grew up in the same household! Yet, in reality we lived in different states. This is the beauty of meeting a fellow Italian. You can find a true friend in a matter of minutes.

Many paisani I meet can relate to the smell of gravy when you walk into Nonna's after Sunday mass. Others remember their firm but loving grandfather yelling for his sausage and peppers to be ready - for breakfast, no less! That's another thing - we never ate cereal for breakfast when visiting with family. It was fresh, homemade bread, toasted with butter and a few slices of salami or prosciutto on the side. Cereal was for schooldays and med-e-gones - that's it!

Then there were Grandma's two kitchens. This, too, my Italian friends could remember in their families. One was in the basement, where Grandma jarred huge batches of marinara sauce for the cellar shelves. The upstairs kitchen was for the family's daily meals.

Most Italians can also relate to everything having a plastic cover or a doily on it - the kitchen table, the couch - all of it. And every bedroom had at least four rosaries hanging on the bedpost, right by the handmade blanket crocheted by none other than Nonna herself. Then there was the mudroom - full of jugs of Grandpa's favorite red wine, which he would pay us quarters to try!

Recounting these memories with any Italian I meet gives us a sudden bond. It is almost like we understand each other, which is a relief in most relationships these days. Italians don't have to worry about agreeing n the important things, because it's all understood within our culture. Money, religion, politics - the three things you NEVER want to discuss with a newly found friend (or lately, with anyone at all) - are already agreed upon based on your cultural values. When I learned this, I came to one of the most frightening, yet important conclusions of my life.

I always thought marrying an Italian man was the worst thing any woman can do. I now firmly rescind my opinion, and agree that marrying a fellow Italian (man or woman) is one of the smartest things any one could do. You don't have to argue about family gatherings, what to eat, or how you're going to raise the kids. It is all innate; it's in our Italian blood. That is why Italians get along so well with other Italians, and we tend to form these little mafia-like cliques. It's inevitable when you just have that 'connection.'

And so, the memories that I have from my childhood are not mine alone. They belong to so many Italians out there who grew up in this beautiful culture. Our ancestors took their way of life from Italy to America and kept it going. As a result, we Italian-Americans are left with a unique cultural blend. It is one in which American ideals allowed our Italian values to be realized. And that is something kind of like - magic!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

NEW - Cucina Chatter Radio - TUNE IN!!!!

Tune in to Cucina Chatter Radio every Tuesday afternoon from 1:00-2:00EST, hosted by my friend and author of Gravy Wars, Lorraine Ranalli. I am very honored to say that you can also hear yours truly as one of her guest commentators/cast of characters!

Lorraine Ranalli initially created Cucina Chatter as a blog to accompany her humorous cultural tome Gravy Wars. Having spent a lifetime behind the microphone, it was only natural that Lorraine expand her social media platform to broadcast.

Pull up a chair at Lorraine's table and get in on the chatter!

You can hear Cucina Chatter Radio live from 1:00-2:00 PM starting Tuesday, June 15th on 1490 WBCB, Levittown, Pennsylvania or listen live at

Thursday, June 3, 2010

NEW - Top This: Olive Salad

Marinated toppings and salads/spreads are a big thing in my house. When it comes to sandwiches, burgers, scrambled eggs or any other dish that would go well with a condiment, my wife and I are usually reaching for a jar of roasted red peppers, hot cherry peppers or bruschetta topping instead of ketchup, mustard and relish. There's something about the combination of fresh vegetables mixed with olive oil, herbs and the tang of vinegar to really add a nice punch to a dish.

Roasted red peppers are, of course, the standby. They're fairly easy to make, and nothing beats the taste and texture of home made. Whether you're roasting your own or buying them jarred, they work well with just about anything, from pasta salad to a topping on a veal chop. For as good and versatile as they are, the most recent go-to jarred pepper in our house is Mancini's Fried Peppers with Sweet Onion. Unlike roasted reds, they're a little less on the tang and just a bit more on the heat. We've been buying these two jars at a time as of late!

One of my big late summer/early fall traditions as of late is marinating and jarring eggplant. It's my way of keeping some old world traditions alive for my kids to enjoy and appreciate. Based on the response that I received from my post last year, it's got me thinking that maybe I should make a few more jars this year...just in time for holiday gifts! To read more about my jarring process and serving suggestions, click here for the link to my marinated eggplant article.

Another great topping that we often use is bruschetta topping (made with chopped plum tomatoes, onions, fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil - think of it as Italian salsa). The traditional way to serve it is as a topping on a piece of toasted French or Italian bread rubbed with fresh garlic. However, the flavors and ingredients work so well together that I'll often use it as a topping on white pizza, chicken or mixed with pasta.

Olives are, of course, a great appetizer side. They work well in salads, antipasto, as ingredients to main dishes, or on their own. They're also an endless source of entertainment for my kids. Seriously, who hasn't put olives on their fingers when they were young?!?! Although they only come in two colors – black (fully ripe) and green (unripe) – there's a wide variety of pepared olives to choose from: traditional black and green (in small, medium or large), manzanilla (Spanish green olives, often stuffed with pimientos), kalamata (Greek black olives, brine cured), and gaeta (Italian black olives, salt cured and soaked in oil) just to name a few. My daughter, Julianna, has been eating green olives stuffed with gorgonzola cheese since she was 1-1/2, and her younger sister Ava is following suit right behind her!

This week, I'm going to combine the best of both worlds and make an olive salad/spread. I'm using three types of olives (medium black, medium green and kalamata), mixing it with some fresh garlic, oregano and basil (fresh or dried will work), crushed red pepper, vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and a little bit of grated parmesan cheese for an extra kick. Serves well as a bruschetta-style topping, mixed with pasta, or on your favorite pizza or sandwich.

Now, if you're not a big fan of olives to begin with, this dish probably won't change your mind on them. But if you are an olive lover, give this dish a try. I'm sure you'll like it. And have fun with it...add your own favorite variety of olive, or try spicing it up by adding some peppers!



1 cup medium black olives, pitted
1 cup medium green olives, pitted (with or without pimientos)
1 cup kalamata olives, pitted
3 tspns red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, smashed*
1 tspn fresh oregano, chopped (or 2 tspns dried oregano)
1 tspn fresh basil, chopped (or 2 tspns dried basil)
1/4 tspn red pepper flakes
1 tblspn grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (you can add more olive oil to desired amount)

Place all ingredients in a food processor, adding olive oil last. Pulse to chop until desired texture (I recommend chopped instead of smooth texture).
Place in a jar or bowl, cover and let refrigerate for at least an hour prior to serving.

*To smash garlic, place clove(s) on a chopping board, lay the flat side of a chef's knife on the clove (sharp side facing away from you) then strike the knife with the heel of your palm, crushing the clove beneath the knife. The papery skin will slip right off the crushed cloves which can then be minced very fine or used in the recipe as it is. Not only does smashing garlic simplify the peeling and chopping process, it also releases the flavors of the garlic.