Thursday, October 28, 2010

Guest Post #7: Comfort and Distraction

Editor’s note: This week, my friend Elaine — an exceptional unemployment comp and HR consultant, if you ever need one — talks about the comfort food of her childhood and offers two recipes passed down through the generations of her family.

by Elaine M. Davis, Guest Blogger

I fondly remember when I was a little girl, running out to meet my dad and carrying his lunch pail into the house when he got home from work each day. I adored my dad beyond reason at that age. Although I have some unhappy memories of that time — my parents divorced when I was about 7 — the memories that keep coming back these days are the happy ones.

I know it’s strange to think of a father cooking in the 1960s, but my dad did then and still does to this day. Among his many recipes, passed down from my nanny, are a Garlic Salt & Worcestershire Sauce Marinade for steak and, one of my favorites, the family recipe for Bread Pudding.


Old-Fashioned Bread Pudding
(Click here to view and print recipe)

Warm from the oven, with a smooth, custardy texture and milk poured over it, bread pudding is one of my ultimate comfort foods. Though it may seem like an anachronism — it was originally created to give new life to old, hard, or stale bread, after all — bread pudding is still good old-fashioned food.

Speaking of comfort food: My mother’s Catholic Irish-German family is a large and pretty tight-knit bunch. Of course, there were bound to be recipes! Homemade applesauce, German potato salad, great meatloaf, and others were passed down through the family to future generations. But the one my mother became famous for making? Fruit Cocktail Cake.

Fruit Cocktail Cake

Fruit Cocktail Cake
(Click here to view and print recipe)

Even if you don’t like fruit cocktail from a can (or if you prefer fresh fruit as I normally do), this recipe is sure to please. If you’re a fan of homemade banana or zucchini bread, this cake has a similar texture, but the coconut in the glaze drizzled over the cake gives it just enough sweetness to set it apart from those breads, into something much more unique and satisfying.

Dense and moist with its glaze, this cake is so yummy, you can’t stop with one piece. You just have to have a smidgen more! So, if you’re looking for a new sweet, I highly recommend this one!

Memories are powerful things. You might find yourself in an antique store and see a toy exactly like one you used to play with as a child, and suddenly all those happy childhood memories come flooding back. Or you could be like me, finding comfort when you bake and enjoy dishes passed down through your family.

My nanny’s bread pudding and my mom’s fruit cocktail cake, they connect me to my past in a good way. And in the busy and complicated world of adulthood, who wouldn’t welcome such a nice distraction?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Name This Dish…

If you are a regular reader here at Mangia, Figlie, you know each recipe I offer originated with a family member or, in some cases, a good friend. If it didn’t, the whole premise of this blog would be moot. In fact, I have very few dishes in my cooking repertoire developed by yours truly … although one, in particular, does come to mind:

Cook up a pound of your favorite pasta until al dente, then drain. Toss with
3/4 pound of fresh mozzarella cheese, diced; two whole tomatoes, diced; a good handful of fresh basil leaves, chiffonade; a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil; and
3 tablespoons of Italian dressing (the Boyers like “Ken’s"). Serve immediately.

Now surely I’m not the first person to develop this recipe, but I can honestly say, it didn’t originate with family or friends, and I wasn’t influenced by a pasta dish I ate at any restaurant or demonstrated by some chef on TV. I put this recipe together for my kids, who literally jump for joy every time I serve fresh mozzarella and tomatoes with dinner.

Originally, I called the dish “Pasta Margherita,” because the ingredients matched the toppings on a Margherita pizza: fresh mozzarella, fresh tomato, fresh basil leaves, and olive oil. But maybe “Pasta Fresca” would be better? Or “Pasta Caprese”? What name would you suggest?


Of course, my son doesn’t care what any of us call it; he simply calls it his favorite.

(Click here to print recipe)

Pasta Maria on Foodista

Friday, October 15, 2010

Regarding Tiramisu

I made tiramisu for the first time ever on Wednesday. I was hosting the “2nd Wednesday Book Club” meeting that night, and a while back, one of my club friends, Cynthia (who wrote Guest-Post #6: Mac & Alfredo), had asked for a good tiramisu recipe. Having never made it before, and unaware of any family recipe to share, I took to the Internet.

I researched the recipes of two of my favorite Food Network celebs: Giada De Laurentiis, because she offers healthy and tasty recipes from all regions of the Italian Republic; and Ina Garten, because I find her to be kitchen royalty … she is the Barefoot Contessa, after all. Ina is known for saying things like: “How easy is that?” and “Who wouldn’t love that?”
I would eat anything — ANYTHING — either of them made.

Regarding tiramisu, in the case of Giada v. Ina, the recipes are basically the same: egg yolks, sugar, dark rum, espresso, mascarpone cheese, ladyfingers, and shaved chocolate. Ina suggests extra ladyfingers and double the amount of rum, but other than that, the recipes read alike. I took that as a good sign — my ladies were in agreement — and I chose Giada’s recipe for Book Club, thinking the flavor might be a little more delicate with a little less alcohol.

When the girls arrived at 7:00 p.m., it wasn’t long before I was dishing out the tiramisu. Everyone said they liked it, even Stephanie, who you know from over at Conversations from the Cul-de-Sac. She commented that she never thought she liked the dessert, but she did indeed like mine. I was thrilled! It wasn’t sweet and the overall flavor certainly wasn’t overpowered by the alcohol. In fact, next time, I’d probably go with Ina’s recipe and add the extra rum, plus dust it with a little powdered sugar. But for a first try, I was pleased.

I wish I had a picture of my tiramisu to show you. Beth from Dirty Laundry kept telling me to take a picture, but I was insistent that no one would want to read about my little dessert adventure. And yet here I am, two days later, writing this post and searching the Photoxpress archives for a free stock photo. Silly me … stubborn me … I know.

Luckily I found one:


If you’d like to try one or both of these recipes for yourself, here are the links:

Giada's Recipe                             Ina's Recipe

In the meantime, might I suggest this month’s book selection:

Click here to learn more about One Day on

I think my tiramisu-eating friends would agree, it was an excellent read, leading to an interesting discussion. Grazie a tutti per una buona notte. Now, if I only had a picture of the group to share….

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Eating “Paste”

I don’t know about you, but I am a food magazine junkie: Every Day with Rachael Ray, Food Network Magazine, Real Simple and Coastal Living (which both have very nice food sections), and my favorite: Everyday Food from Martha Stewart. I like that last one because the recipes are easy, mostly healthy, and don’t require a ton of one-time ingredients. You know, like brown miso, which costs $5.50 for a small container, of which you use only one tablespoon. But I digress…

As I go through each magazine, I rip out the pages of the recipes that look interesting, then pile them in the back of my homemade recipe book for future experimentation. If I recipessee something on TV I want to try, I print out that recipe and add it to the pile as well. And  if, when I make a recipe, I like it, I three-hole punch it and add it in. If not, in the round file it goes.

A couple of times a year, I go through the pile and weed out those that really don’t look all that interesting after all. Last week I did that. And what I found was a crazy amount of pesto-related recipes … which got me thinking: It’s that time of the year to harvest whatever basil is left in our gardens. It’s time for pesto.

Before I get to the recipes, it’s probably best to explain the method for making pesto. Generally, there is a green leaf of some type and a nut of some type, cheese, garlic, salt, and olive oil. In a food processor, process all the ingredients except the oil. Then slowly drizzle in the oil until a nice paste forms.

I found two different basil pesto recipes in my pile last week.

The first is from my Aunt Liz in Florida. We call her Liz, even though her friends call her Judy and her real name is Eileen. I don’t know the back story there, but since I’m being vague, let me add: she isn’t really my aunt either. We’ve just always called her that, because she’s been a close friend of our family … well, forever, as far as I’m concerned. My parents met her and Uncle Red (who we miss immensely) before I was born, and we’ve all remained friends ever since. Aunt Liz and Uncle Red even traveled from Florida to Pennsylvania for my wedding all those years ago.

More importantly, Aunt Liz and I share many interests: cooking and baking, tennis, stitching, antiquing. Just look at this lovely teapot that she passed down to me, knowing I would just adore it (as I do):


Aunt Liz often shares recipes with me as well. The pesto one she recently sent is classic: basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil, and salt & pepper. My mouth is watering just typing that in.

The second recipe, which was copied from one of those Italian cookbooks I borrowed from Mom earlier this year, is very similar to Aunt Liz’s, but it also calls for Romano cheese and, get this … butter. How dreamy does that sound?


(Click here to view
and print recipes)



Also in that pile were two recipes from Mario Batali — one for broccoli rabe pesto, and one for walnut pesto — and a recipe for arugula pesto from Every Day with Rachael Ray. (Don’t forget: large, blue type indicates a link. Simply click on a link for the corresponding recipe.)

Another of my favorite non-basil recipes also comes from Rachael, who offers up an Artichoke Crema Pesto recipe to die for. Unfortunately, I can’t find a link to that one online, but you can find the recipe in her first cookbook, 30-Minute Meals.

“Fine, I’ll try them, Maria,” you say, “but, what do I do with all this pesto?” I say: “Take your pick”:

The combinations for pesto are seemingly endless, as are the uses. What’s your favorite pesto recipe, and how do you like to use it? I’d love to hear from you … mi piacerebbe sentire da voi.