April 2, 2013

Minestrone Di Zio Giuseppe (Uncle Joe’s Minestrone)

I love soup, but I don't make it very often.  Valerie asked me this winter to make more soups, and I immediately thought of this minestrone recipe.  Uncle Joe's Minestrone.  Is he my Uncle Joe?  No.  But, he has concocted a delicious minestrone, nonetheless.

The recipe comes from the book The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto.  I was not able to locate the book within the family, but I did find it on amazon.com, so I ordered it.  It is no longer in print, so I purchased a used copy.  It's fragile, but it's in pretty good shape.

Back to the minestrone, it is very simple to prepare, and it is one of the better soups I have ever made.  I didn't have fresh peas, so I used frozen and the results were fine.  I also used one quart of chicken stock and two quarts of water, to add some extra flavor.  Otherwise, I followed the recipe how it is written.

I was a bit skeptical about both noodles and potatoes in the soup, but it really works.  It is very rich, warming and comforting.  Perfect for a cool evening at home, served with some crusty bread.

This recipe makes a lot minestrone.  I would recommend making as much as you are planning to eat in one sitting because the noodles end up pretty mushy and bloated after being in the broth for a while.  The flavor is still good, but it is definitely best served at soon as the noodles are al dente.

Minestrone Di Zio Giuseppe (Uncle Joe's Minestrone)
Printable Recipe
Serves 6 to 8

1 pound fresh peas
1 cup diced celery
2 diced carrots
1 large onion, sliced
1 cup canned tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
3/4 pound vermicelli
3 quarts water
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
3 diced potatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Clean all vegetables. In saucepan, saute onions and potatoes in hot olive oil about 10 minutes or until medium brown. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper; cover; cook slowly about 15 minutes.

In separate pot, bring 3 quarts water to boiling. Add celery, peas, and carrots; cover; cook about 15 minutes or until tender. Add all sauteed vegetables and cook about 10 minutes; add vermicelli and cook 10 more minutes.

Serve very hot with grated Romano cheese.

February 13, 2013

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

My great-grandmother made this cake all the time when I was a kid, and I absolutely loved it.  It is one of the first recipes I tried to when I was first learning how to bake.  It's not an easy one to start out with, though.  I remember countless times flipping the cake only to find that some of the cake stuck to the pan, or the brown sugar/butter mixture didn't absorb into the cake and ran all over the counter top.  I still ate it, and I'm sure I gained a few pounds in the process.

Thinking back in it now, I'm not sure my great-grandmother turned the whole cake upside-down before serving it.  I remember the cake staying in the pan, with her flipping the individual pieces over as they were served.  I was always anxious to see how much pineapple I got, or if I was lucky to get a cherry. 

I forgot about this recipe for a long time, given my constant failings.  I had even moved on to another recipe where I bake the cake in a cast iron skillet.  It surfaced again when I was scanning my recipe card collection, buried in a little binder that held my old hand-written 3.5 x 5 handwritten recipe cards.  The very first recipes I ever tried are in that binder, most transcribed from cooking shows I watched on HGTV, before we even had Food Network on cable. 

More confident in my baking skills, I decided to give this recipe another try.  I don't have a 9 x 15 baking dish, so I used a 9 x 13 and it turned out just fine.  In fact, I think my great-grandmother used a 9 x 13, too.  I also omitted the nuts, because I don't remember hers ever having nuts, either.  The cake turned out great and my grandma said it tastes just like her mom's.  Music to my ears! 

The cake is so fluffy and moist.  The brown sugar and butter give the cake a nice richness and the pineapple sweet and tart.  And I can't think of a better occasion to use a Maraschino cherry.

I am glad to have finally conquered this version of pineapple upside down cake.  However, I must say that I do prefer the cake to be baked in a cast iron skillet, but that's another post.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 can sliced pineapple
Maraschino cherries
Walnuts or pecans
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons pineapple juice
Melt butter.  Pour into 9 x 15 baking dish.  Spread brown sugar evenly and arrange slices on sugar, put a cherry in each center and nuts in the other spaces.  Beat egg yolks until light, add sugar slowly.  Add flour and juice alternately.  Beat egg whites until stiff; fold into first mixture.  Pour batter over pineapple.  Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.  Turn upside down on flat serving tray while still warm.  Serve with whipped cream.

January 31, 2013

Cheesecake Cookies

Gastronomically speaking, there are few things I enjoy more than cheesecake.  I was skeptical when I saw this recipe because, in my experience, when something is labeled as cheesecake when it really isn't cheesecake, it usually leaves a lot to be desired. 

I am happy to report these little morsels of goodness are the exception to the rule.  They really do taste like little bite size pieces of cheesecake.  Kind of like those little individually wrapped cheesecake squares one would find at the discount wholesale clubs, only better.

They are easy to make, too.  If there is one thing I have learned looking through these family recipes, it's that we are big fans of cookie squares.  Why bother dishing out individual portions when you can make them all at once in one pan and just cut them up when they're done?  Simplicity is key.

These cookies are a real timesaver when you have that cheesecake craving but don't have the time to make a traditional cheesecake.  Although there is nothing like a real piece of cheesecake, these little cookies come pretty darn close.

Cheesecake Cookies
Printable Recipe

1 /3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup flour
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix brown sugar, nuts and flour together. Stir in melted butter and mix until light and crumbly. Save 3/4 cup to be used as topping. Place remainder in 8 inch square pan and press firmly. Bake at 350 degrees about 10 minutes.

Beat cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar until smooth. Beat in egg, lemon juice, milk and vanilla. Pour this mixture over baked crust. Top with reserved crumbs. Return to 350 degree oven and bake for 25 minutes. Cool thoroughly, then cut into 2 inch squares.

January 15, 2013

Nonna's Pizza & Sauce

My previous post on Nonna's pizza featured only the recipe for the crust with assembly and baking directions.  When I found this recipe card for the pizza and sauce, I knew I had to do another post.  Besides, I'll use any excuse to make Nonna's pizza again.

The one ingredient that stands out in the sauce recipe and really sets it apart is clove.  A "hint o' clove" is key, because a little goes a long way.  However, you want to add enough so that you can taste it.  My mom and I have made Nonna's pizza for a few family gatherings, and it has always been successful.  The second time we made it though, Uncle Steve told me we perfected it because it had just the right amount of clove.  A very nice compliment, indeed.

I also remember the diced onion in the sauce that Nonna used to make.  I remember thinking as a kid, "wait a minute, I don't like onions," but I ate it anyway.  I don't remember the mushrooms, though, so I may just not have noticed them.

This is the most complete recipe for Nonna's pizza I have found.  Just reading it brings back a lot of wonderful memories. 

Nonna's Pizza & Sauce
Printable Recipe

1 3/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons yeast
1 tablespoon oil
4 cups flour (white and whole wheat combo)

Stir, knead, cover, and let rise

1 big Hunts (29 oz.)
2 puree or 1 paste (depending on how long you cook it) or any combo using sauce or base.
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons Italian seasonings or
2-3 teaspoons basil
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon sage
Hint o' clove
Add 8 oz mushrooms and sauteed onions (about 3 medium)

Pat down dough, turn out and knead. (Cut in half for two pans.)  Oil pan (the more oil the crispier the bottom crust). Roll out dough (keep lifting and turning). Pat into shape in pie pan.
Put on sliced mozzarella cheese, filling whole surface.
Put sauce on generously, top with Romano or Parmesan.
Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

January 10, 2013

Pumpkin Pie!!

Nothing like waiting until after the holidays to post a pumpkin pie recipe!  Oh well.  Though, pumpkin pie is so good, why not have it year round?

This pumpkin pie recipe is basically the standard Libby's recipe found on canned pumpkin everywhere.  I did deviate from it a little by using a fresh pumpkin puree made from roasted pumpkin flesh.  Mmmm...Pumpkin flesh.

I was a little concerned using my own pumpkin because it was not as thick as the canned variety, but I did it anyway.  I measured the pumpkin by weight (15 oz.) rather than volume, if that makes any difference.  

A quick aside:  If you don't have a digital kitchen scale, get one, and measure by weight over volume as much as possible.  I would go into it more, but that's best left for another post.  Maybe on latent chestnut.  Does that still exist?  Oh yeah, maybe something will pop up there soon.
Back to the pie.  It turned out great!  Smooth, creamy, sweet, pumpkinny goodness.  It had just the right amount of spiciness, and perfect with a dollop of whipped cream.  Libby got it right.  I won't get into the nuances of flavor because I'm sure we all know what pumpkin pie tastes like.  But homemade is almost always better, and using fresh pumpkin only elevated the flavors. 

As I was looking through Nonna's recipe cards for pumpkin pie, I found an old Libby's recipe card.  The recipe is the same as the one used today except for the amount of one ingredient; sugar.  The old recipe calls for 1/4 cup of sugar, compared to 3/4 cups today.  Three times the amount of sugar is quite an increase.  It is also interesting that one of the serving suggestions on the card is for wedges of sharp cheddar cheese.

I was unable to find any information on when the recipe made the switch from 1/4 to 3/4 cups of sugar.  Maybe pumpkin pie was more of a savory delight back then.  As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing wrong with the recipe the way it is written now.

Pumpkin Pie!!
Printable Recipe

2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 3/4 cup Libby's pumpkin (15 oz. can)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 2/3 cup evaporated milk (12 oz can)
9 inch unbaked pastry shell

Mix ingredients in order given. Pour into pastry shell. Bake in hot oven (425) 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to moderate (350) and bake 45 minutes more. Or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Double for 2 pies.

December 19, 2012

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

Known more as a Christmas staple, we actually made these cookies for the first time around Halloween.  Valerie received a big box of cookie cutters for her birthday, and we were inspired to make cookies in the shapes of ghosts and goblins.

The recipe comes together much like a standard cookie recipe.  I can't stress chilling the dough enough, as it is quite sticky prior to putting it in the refrigerator.  I worked in batches, rolling out a portion of the dough while leaving the rest to keep on chilling.  The dough warms up and becomes sticky again the more it is worked, so swiftness is key.

The end result is worth it though; these cookies are delightful.  Light, chewy, sweet, with a slight crunch around the edges, they really are a treat.  The sour cream gives the cookies a subtle tang while the nutmeg flavor is a welcome surprise.

They live up to their moniker of 'old-fashioned', too.  Emilie took some cookies to her pre-school and her teacher said they reminded her of the cookies her grandmother made.  Valerie's mom, Julie, also said they were like the cookies her mom made when she was a child.

We sprinkled some with sugar, and put icing on others, and they were delicious either way.  So break out the cookie cutters, and whip up a batch before Christmas!

 Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies
(Makes About 5 Dozen Cookies)
Printable Recipe

4 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Sift flour, measure; resift with salt, soda, baking powder and nutmeg.
Cream butter with sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add dry ingredients alternately with sour cream, mix until smooth after each addition.
Blend in vanilla.
Wrap in wax paper until firm enough to roll.
Roll on floured board to about 1/4 inch thick, cut with large cookie cutter; place on ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle with sugar; bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes, or until brown. Take from baking sheets promptly.

December 7, 2012

Old-Fashioned Sugar Squares

I had some trouble with this recipe.  Not that it was difficult, it was that the end result didn't taste the way I thought it should.  The first time I made it, the squares were bland and unsatisfying.  They weren't really very sweet, either.  They probably would have worked well as a vehicle for something else, like a shortcake with strawberries and cream.  I looked at the ingredients and knew the potential was there for a tasty treat.  The buttermilk should add a little tang, the ginger should add a little kick, so I tried again.

The second time I made this, the squares didn't fare much better.  I sprinkled coarse sugar on top instead of granulated, thinking the change in texture would be a nice touch, along with some extra sweetness.  These bars were a little better, but I was still left wanting more.

I then noticed on one of the handwritten cards, there was the addition of vanilla extract, with almond extract also listed as optional.  Maybe I wasn't the only one who thought the original recipe needed a bit more in the flavor department. 

To my next batch I added just the vanilla extract, plus the addition of salt since I was using unsalted butter.  The results were wonderful.  The squares had much more flavor and were just was I was hoping for all along.  They were soft on the inside, while the sugar topping added a nice little crunch.  Plus, I usually have all these ingredients on hand, so these are a nice simple treat to whip up in a hurry.

Old-Fashioned Sugar Squares
Printable Recipe

1 cup soft butter or margarine
1 1/4 cups sugar, separated
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 tablespoons buttermilk

Cream butter with one cup sugar. Add eggs and beat until light. Add sifted dry ingredients and buttermilk and mix well. Spread in greased 15 x 10 x 1-inch pan, and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Bake in hot oven, 400 degrees about 20 minutes. Cool and cut into 24 squares.

November 30, 2012

Loam Cake

Aunt Sue sent out an email last week asking if anyone had the Loam Cake recipe.  Although I have never made it, I knew I had the recipe simply because of the name.  I rushed over to the laptop, uploaded a picture of the recipe card and sent it off.  I also asked her if there were any Loam Cake stories she would share.
Before I got a response from Aunt Sue, I saw that Theresa uploaded a picture of the Loam Cake to facebook.  The picture was so good I asked her if I could use it in this post, and she happily obliged.   
Later, I got a response from her.  The Loam Cake was a hit! Seconds all around!  They served it plain, or with a dollop of fresh Whipped Cream - maple syrup flavored.  She and Aunt Joan made this cake in the 1970s in Nonna's kitchen.  The origin of the recipe is unknown.  Loam Cake may have been a late 70s tear-off recipe carried at The Sunspot published by Natural Recipes of Boston (later known as Natural Messages) - calling for Whole Wheat Flour might be a big clue there. Aunt Sue and Uncle Lee also searched the internet and came up empty handed.
This post is a true family effort, just what I wanted this blog to be!
A couple of cooks notes:
Aunt Sue did not have an 8" baking pan, so they used a 9" baking pan - 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Also, she does not recall ever making the Maple Frosting recipe mentioned on the card, for the Loam Cake or otherwise.
Loam Cake
Printable recipe

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cold water or applesauce

Mix dry ingredients together or sift directly into an ungreased 8" cake pan. Make three holes in mixture. Pour oil in one hole, vinegar in another and vanilla in third. Pour cold water or applesauce over all. Stir with a fork until evenly blended. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Serve as is or with maple frosting.

November 7, 2012

Sour Cream Cookies

I'm always excited to find a new cookie recipe, especially on as simple as this.  With ingredients that I normally have in my refrigerator and pantry, these cookies are easy to whip up in a pinch, and they taste good, too!

These cookies are like little pillows.  Delicately light, fluffy, and a little tangy, they have a uniqueness all there own.  The nutmeg adds a nice warmth, too, making it hard to eat just one. 

Sour Cream Cookies
1/3 cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg or mace

Blend butter, sugar, eggs, sour cream, and vanilla thoroughly. Stir in flour, soda and spice. Drop by teaspoonfuls on a well greased sheet. Flatten balls by pressing with a wet knife. Bake on top shelf at 400 degrees for 8 minutes.

October 30, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies

I have tried a number of different peanut butter cookie recipes over the years, never finding one that I would happily make again and again.  The cookies would always turn out too dry or too crumbly, too dense or too crunchy.  I wanted a soft, moist, and chewy cookie where the peanut butter was the star of the show. 

Based on my past experiences with peanut butter cookies, it was with a little hesitation that I tried this family recipe.  The recipe card looked well-loved, so I figured it got a lot of use.  Still, I was not optimistic as I creamed the butter and sugar.  I was feeling a little better when I tried the raw dough, but I knew the proof would be in the finished product.

Still warm from the oven, I took my first bite.  This is the cookie I was looking for!  Or, maybe, rediscovered?  This being a family recipe, maybe I had this cookie as a child and not remembered it, so I always had a preconceived notion of what a peanut butter cookie should be.  Soft, moist, chewy, peanut-buttery and not too sweet.  The perfect little bite, and I will happily make this cookie again and again.

Peanut Butter Cookies
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter or shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)

Cream butter and sugar together. Add beaten egg, mix well, then add peanut butter, vanilla and sesame seeds. Add flour and baking soda, blending well.

Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Press them flat with a fork making a cross-hatch pattern. Bake at 375 degrees for 5-7 minutes.