Thanksgiving, Italian Style!

November 22, 2013 Menu 1 Comment

Italian holidays. You’ve heard the legends. Marathon meals, bottomless glasses of home made wine, dessert tables that appear to be a mile long, and lots of loud laughter and love. Of course, you don’t have to be Italian to appreciate all of the above. After all, the best holiday memories are made up of gatherings around the dinner table with family and friends. But there is no denying that the Italian holiday gathering has a certain charm added to it that cannot be matched. The yelling, the hugging, the laughing and the eating. They’re all key ingredients to the celebration.

To help kick off the seasonal festivities as we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving, my dear friend chef/actress Natalie Stone, of Bella’s Biscotti, shares with us her humorous – and accurate –  take on the legendary Italian Thanksgiving feast.

 

 

403062_268736926528802_838541488_nSomeone asked “What are your Thanksgiving traditions?” I had to laugh because here is the answer – is yours similar? An Italian family Thanksgiving pretty much goes like this: it starts with a big spread of antipasto, salami, prosciutto, lots of cheese, and marinated veggies, olives, some dips, etc. Then you take a little break, watch some football , shoot the sh*t around the table, drink some wine. Next up is macaroni, meatballs, sausage, salad, wine.

You would think that was enough BUT out comes the traditional American meal – turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, escarole sauteed in garlic. Then everyone unbuttons their pants. Kids are pretty much falling asleep because you let them drink wine. Then ALL the men would leave the table for the chicks to clean up, make the coffee and get dessert ready. Dessert is pumpkin pie, ricotta cheese cake, apple pie, cannoli from Isgros, a pound cake, a big ass bowl of nuts, a cookie tray someone made, tons of Bella’s Biscotti and butter cookies, chocolates galore and some cordials. Next comes your older Italian relatives telling stories of the horrifying way someone back in 1942 screwed the family over. Everyone laughs, hugs and kisses and says goodbye till next time. All the while feeling sorry for their non-Italian friends who only have turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans and a pie. So I’m thankful for being a Sicilian-American with a holiday focused on all this food.

 

Please be sure to visit Natalie at Bella’s Biscotti by clicking here. She offers the most delicious biscotti around…perfect for the holiday season, so place your orders soon!

Wishing you and yours a Happy and Blessed Thanksgiving!

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Thanksgiving 2013 Part 1: Pumpkin Cheesecake

November 15, 2013 Dessert, Menu No Comments

We are just under two weeks away from my favorite and most heartfelt holiday of the year. Thanksgiving is a day that, regardless of what the retail world may want you to believe, should be devoted to spending time with family and friends, and giving thanks for all of life’s blessings. I am fortunate and thankful to have health and happiness in my family this year, as we also await the arrival of our newest family member, my nephew-to-be, who is scheduled to arrive any day now. It is also a year for my family to keep close loved ones who are going through some difficult times in thoughts and prayers.

On a more light-hearted note, I am also very thankful to have a few near and dear friends who have offered to contribute to this year’s Thanksgiving blog post. If you recall my Thanksgiving recap post from last year, you’ll know that I’ve exhausted all of the Thanksgiving family recipes that I personally have to offer. My Mom’s table and Thanksgiving menu is only so big, after all! For last year’s recap, click here.

For this week’s post, I am happy to share with you a pumpkin cheesecake recipe that was passed along by our very close and dear friend, Chrissy Morabito Bussler. Most people now measure the start of the autumn season based on the first falling leaves or the sip of their first pumpkin latte. I, however, base the start of the fall season on Chrissy and her husband Carl’s Havertown Day open house party. The township day celebration has become an annual event at their house, complete with friends gathered around a table packed with delicious food (how else would an Italian girl celebrate Havertown day?). This year, Chrissy served up this tremendous pumpkin cheesecake, and when she offered to share it with me for my blog, I could not resist. It’s a very delicious, decadent version of classic cheesecake, and is the perfect alternative to traditional pumpkin pie. If you are looking for a real end-of-meal crowd pleaser to share with you family this Thanksgiving, this is the recipe to go for!

Thank you Chrissy and Carl for allowing me to share your recipe and photo!

Next week, I’ll be sharing with you a very funny and witty description of an Italian Thanksgiving dinner, as only my good friend Natalie Stone could describe it. In the meantime, please be sure to visit Natalie at Bella’s Biscotti by clicking here. She offers the most delicious biscotti around…perfect for the holiday season, so place your orders soon!

Now, for the Pumpkin Cheesecake.

PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, crushed
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 sugar
1 cup sugar
3 packages (eight ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups (15 ounce can) pure pumpkin
2/3 cup evaporated milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups (16 ounces) sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Crust Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray the bottom and sides of the spring form pan with non-stick spray.
Combine graham crackers, butter and 1/4 cup sugar in medium bowl.
Press onto bottom and 1 inch side up of 9 inch spring form pan.
Bake for 6 to 8 minutes. (Do not allow to brown) and cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.

Cheesecake Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat cream cheese, 1 cup sugar and brown sugar in a large mixer bowl until fluffy.
Beat in eggs, pumpkin and evaporated milk.
Add cornstarch, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Beat well and pour into crust.
Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until edge is set but center still moves slightly.

Topping Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine sour cream, 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla in a small bowl.
Mix well.
Spread over surface of warm cheesecake.
Bake for five minutes.
Cool on wire rack.
Chill for several hours or overnight.
Remove side of spring form pan.

pumpkincheesecake

Photo courtesy of Carl Bussler

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Kale Salad with Cannellini Beans, Gorgonzola and Balsamic Bacon Vinaigrette

November 7, 2013 Appetizer, Entrees, Menu, Salads No Comments

If you’re a follower of healthy food trends, I’m sure you’ve come across quite a few recipes that use kale. If you are not familiar with kale, it is one of the latest and greatest super foods, loaded with vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Because it has risk-lowering benefits for various forms of cancer, and also has cholesterol-lowering, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and cardiovascular benefits, kale is being enjoyed not only as an edible green, but also as an ingredient in protein shakes and body-cleansing juices. I’ve only recently been introduced to kale, served by my brother and his wife as a salad mixed with quinoa, and have since been inspired to try out my own version of a mixed kale salad.

Because kale has a very thick and firm texture, it is often recommended to cook it before serving, to help soften it a bit for easier digestion. Many health food sites recommend steaming it for 5 minutes, for maximum nutrition and flavor. You can also sauté it as you would spinach or other greens. You can, of course, serve it raw, as I do in the recipe that follows. To help soften the leaves and make them easier to digest as a raw salad, you want to thoroughly wash the leaves in warm to hot water for at least 5 minutes, making sure to rub away any grit or dirt. You then want to rinse the leaves again in cold water. This method is called massaging. Remove any thick pieces from the kale, then shred or chop the remaining leaves. You can then add your additional ingredients, then toss with a salad dressing.

My mixed kale salad included the following ingredients. You can add whatever amount you prefer:

• white cannellini beans;
• grape tomatoes;
• crumbled gorgonzola cheese;
• fresh bacon bits; and
• home made balsamic bacon vinaigrette dressing (recipe below).

Obviously, the bacon vinaigrette may not be the first choice for a healthy salad, but I was looking to make it a bit more hearty and flavorful. You can substitute it with a lighter dressing, such as a fresh citrus vinaigrette, if you wish.

For more ideas on how to prepare and serve kale, check out the following links:
whfoods.com
cookinglight.com

Balsamic Bacon Vinaigrette Dressing
(Courtesy of finecooking.com)

2 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small shallot, minced
1-1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small (1-quart) saucepan over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a dish lined with paper towels, leaving the bacon fat in the pan. Add the shallot to the bacon fat and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 Tbs. of the vinegar and scrape the bottom of the pan with a spoon to dissolve the browned bits stuck to the pan bottom. Off the heat, stir in the remaining 1/2 Tbs. vinegar, the lemon juice, and the mustard. Gradually whisk in the olive oil (don’t worry if the sauce doesn’t emulsify). Season with 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/8 tsp. pepper, or to taste.

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