Giada Returns to Pittsburgh

On Sunday, April 27, Giada Valenti will be back in Pittsburgh for her new show, From Venice With Love. Giada is performing again at the Cabaret at Theatre Square in Downtown.

Giada 2

The Venice born, international singer and songwriter will be performing on stage with her band. The show is described as “being taken on a romantic journey with the singer as she performs her renditions of American and Italian hits from the 60s, 70s, 80s” as well as many recent contemporary songs.

Giada’s warm and brilliant vocals, combined with the soft harmonious sounds from her band, make for a show that will make you want to fall in love again with love.
As a person who has been to a Giada Valenti performance, I can attest that it is a concert that you will never forget. The intimate setting for the venue is a perfect one for allowing her gregarious personality shine through. Giada is able to interact with her audience, and make a real connection with them.

Giada has a way of creating a very unique and special relationship with her audience. She describes her fans as “my angels” and has a very devoted following. Giada makes her audience feel as though they are part of her family, and she is singing only for them. The passion that she has for her fans is evident in her performance. Her genuineness is sincere and it comes through when she sings; it is simply amazing to see.

Giada has been busy since her last visit to Pittsburgh. I was able to catch up with Giada to hear what new adventures have been happening to this international star.
She had a new CD released last month in the U.S., entitled “My Lullaby”. It is a collection of songs that she wrote herself. The songs were recorded in the Netherlands and Belgium, and mixed and mastered at the legendary Abbey Road Studio in London. The CD was released a few years ago in Europe where it did very well. Due to the many requests from her fans in America, she decided to release it here as well. The CD has been well received and the “response of the media has [been] incredible“. She owes her success on this CD to her fans. She told me that “some of them even flew from over the ocean to be at some of my concerts in America, and some travel far to be there… from all over the USA…that is so special to me… I adore them”.

Giada Valenti has been featured on many of the national television stations including NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS. This year she was featured on ABC’s coverage of the prestigious Columbus Day Parade in New York City. She represented Italy on the Red Carpet of the parade and according to Giada “it was an honor” to do this. It was her 8th year being part of this celebration. Giada sang a song from the legendary composer Henry Mancini titled “Meglio Stasera”, a song from the movie “The Pink Panther”.

Please check out the link below to watch this great performance.

Aside from an already busy work schedule this past year, Giada also had time to help support numerous causes. She and her band play many benefit concerts throughout the year.

Recently she was in New York doing a concert in support of the Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie. According to Giada it was “a very special cause and an incredible successful night…the [Children’s]Home of Poughkeepsie is doing such an incredible job providing a safe and nurturing environment to at-risk children and families in the Hudson Valley “.

Giada is also involved with the project Operation Wellness Warriors, a division of David Lynch Foundation. The organization supports Veterans and First Responders. This one is special for Giada, because “being the daughter of an Italian police officer back in Venice, I have such a deep and sincere respect for people in the public service and I’m so honored to be part of this”. Giada stated that there will be “many events planned” thought this organization and “the first one will be May 1st in Staten Island NY”.
As always, Giada was also kind enough to share with us one of her recipes, RISI E BISI. This is a regional Venetian dish and is one of her personal favorite. Giada likes to cook this dish because it is simple to prepare.

This recipe is light and is a perfect dish the spring. A big thank you to Giada for sharing this recipe, Grazie Giada!!

I hope that you enjoy it.

Buon Appetito,


Please be sure to check out Giada Valenti in Pittsburgh
From Italy With Love, featuring Giada Valenti
Sunday, April 27 at 7:30PM
Cabaret at Theatre Square
655 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

For more info, videos and music samples please visit Giada’s websites here below:

RISI E BISI by Giada Valenti
Ingredients for 4 Peoplegiada3

2.2 lbs of fresh peas
07 oz of rice Vialone or Arborio (1 and half little espresso cups per person will my grandmother say!!)
2 oz of butter
1.5 oz of bacon
1.5 oz of parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
67.5 fl oz of chicken broth
grated parmesan cheese
1 spring onion
salt and pepper


Shelled peas and wash them well. Peel, wash and chop the parsley. Heat the chicken broth. Prepare the sauce: Put the chopped bacon in a pan, half the butter, two tablespoons of olive oil, chopped parsley and spring onion sliced.

Fry for a few minutes, then add the peas and let simmer, wetting them with a few tablespoons of broth.

Pour the hot broth into the bowl, and when it will resume boil, add the rice and let it cook, stirring often.

Five minutes before removing the rice from the heat, taste and season with salt and pepper, add the remaining butter and three tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese and stir well.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day

first appeared on Ciao Pittsburgh on 3/18/2014

zeppole4Buona Festa di San Giuseppe, Happy Feast of St. Joseph.

St. Joseph’s day is celebrated on March 19th. It is a Catholic feast day commemorating the life of St. Joseph. He is the Patron Saint of several regions in Italy and therefore is the protector of many Italian and Italian-American people.

In the Italian –American community that I grew up in, this was an important feast day. When families gathered together to celebrate this holiday, you were honoring the saint that watched over you, your family and many times the birth land of your relatives. It was a day when you were particularly prideful about your Italian heritage.

In many families as an homage to the Catholic Church, children were often named after Roman Catholic Saints. In many Italian families, so the story was passed down through my family, a child was always named after St. Joseph.

Growing up, we were always mindful of the importance of March 19th. We were taught not only to understand the religious significance of the holiday, but the broader meaning of this day as well. For many of us in the Italian-American community, the pride we felt about hearing stories about our relatives coming over from Italy and finding a better life for themselves and their families in the United States, this was a day of reflection on such accomplishments.

For us, a typical St Joseph’s day was a simple celebration, you went and visited relatives who were named after this saint, and wished them “Happy Name Day”. You wore red colored clothing and ate Italian food for dinner. After dinner you would have an Italian pastry called a Zeppole for dessert.

Every family had their own twist to this holiday, but this is how we did ours. It is a pretty sublime celebration. The holiday seemed to revolve around the food and the symbolism of the feast day.

We were lucky because we had a relative named after this saint in our immediate family. My grandmother’s name was Josephine, her Italian name was Giuseppina but everyone called her Josephine or Jo.

We would make the pilgrimage to Nana’s house every March 19th to wish her a “Happy St. Joseph’s day and Happy Name Day”.

There was always so many people coming over and wishing her well on her special day. Everyone always had some piece of red clothing on. Nana always wore her special red scarf for this day, it was only brought out on this special occasion.

zeppole2We would all gather for at her house and have dinner. I will always remember the vast amounts of Zeppole’s that people brought. Every time someone came over, each one came in with a new box of Zeppole from the bakery. That was the fun part because each bakery had a slight variation on this dessert.

I realized that when I speak about Zeppole, there are many different variations of this treat. I am talking about the classic Neapolitan version of this dessert.

What is a Zeppole? Zeppole (pronounced ZAY-poe-la) is a St. Joseph’s Day Cream Puff. The shells are pastry dough, like that of a cream puff. They can be baked or fried then filled with cream. The filling can be traditional custard or a cannoli like (ricotta) filling. It is garnished with a sweetened cherry and dusted with powdered sugar.

A traditional Zeppole is piped through a pastry bag so it has the disincentive ridges in it. The shape of the Zeppole is important. It is round and fashioned after a carpenter’s tool because St. Joseph was a carpenter. This is how you can distinguish it from other desserts.

They taste just like cross between creampuff and an éclair, but so much better. Honestly, words are just not able to describe this luscious treat. Weather you eat them baked or fried, with a cooked cream or ricotta filling, they are just a heavenly treat.

Perhaps due to the fact they only come out once a year, and when they are gone you have to wait until next year. Maybe that is what makes them so delicious. I am not sure, but I highly recommend that you try them if you can.

So on every March 19th, this is what I do. I whip up a batch of Zeppole, make a delicious Italian meal and wear red. We all gather around the table, have a big family dinner and have a Zeppole in Grandma Jo’s honor.

I have learned through the years how to make these tasty treats and I wanted to share my recipe. The recipe is for the basic Zeppole shell is a simple one. I fill it with chilled vanilla pudding mixed with whipped cream. You could also fill it with a cannoli style filling or a cooked cream.

A Zeppole is a perfect ending a St. Joseph’s day meal. Remember you don’t need to be Italian to celebrate this this holiday or make this dessert. Like Grandma Jo used to tell everyone, “we are all Italian on St. Joseph’s day, now come and eat a Zeppole”.

Try a Zeppole if you have never had one, you might just like it.

Buona Festa di San Giuseppe to all.

Mangia Bene,



Cream Puffs

From the Betty Crocker Cookbook

1 cup water

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1 cup Gold Medal® all-purpose flour

4 eggs

Heat oven to 400ºF. In 2 1/2-quart saucepan, heat water and butter to rolling boil. Stir in flour; reduce heat to low. Stir vigorously over low heat about 1 minute or until mixture forms a ball; remove from heat. Beat in eggs, all at once; continue beating until smooth.

On ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by slightly less than 1/4 cupful’s about 3 inches apart. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until puffed and golden. Cool away from draft, about 30 minutes.

I don’t pipe the dough through the pastry bag, if you have one you can use it to get the perfectly round and ridged shape like they do at the bakeries.

To make the Zeppole: Cut the shells in half, scoop out any soggy dough. Spoon in the filling, garnish with a maraschino cherry and dust it with powdered sugar.

Nicky D Cooks is the owner and operator of Nicky D Cooks Authentic Handcrafted Italian Biscotti and Pizzelle.

Follow her on Twitter @

Her website can be found at   

Also, check out her Facebook page @ for more information and great recipes.

Replicate Your Favorite Pittsburgh Restaurant Dishes at Home

first appeared on ciao pittsburgh (2/21/2014)

I admit it, I love to collect cookbooks. I buy them and I read them like I would any other book that I own. I have been doing it for many years now and have quite an eclectic collection of books.

I am always looking to expand my cookbook repertoire. I was very excited when I saw that the Pittsburgh Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from the Steel City, was finally published.  It is the second book written by the bloggers from eatPGH. This book is magnificent! The pages are filled with incredible recipes and mouth-watering pictures from some of the best chefs and restaurants in the city.

The book is more than just a cookbook, it is a culinary map of the city. It showcases the epicurean diversity that has always made Pittsburgh a great city to eat in.

The chef’s stories are witty and engaging. They provide an insider’s perspectives into some of the best eateries in and around the city. What stands out is the assortment of the chefs and stories that are in it. The spectrum runs from top tier eating establishments to bakeries, pubs and gastro pubs, cafes, deli’s and food trucks.

The recipes that the chefs have shared range from the simple to the sublime. Many of the recipes can easily be duplicated by a home cook. There are a vast array of them so readers have a variety to choose from.

Showcasing the gastronomic potpourri in the city is a definitely a theme in this book and it is evident in the recipes that are presented. There are the familiar recipes for foods like Beans and Greens, Macaroni and Cheese, Post Roast and Mashed Potatoes and Tomato-Fennel Soup and Chocolate Bread Pudding. If you want something more challenging there are recipes for Pâté De Champagne, Roasted Butternut Squash Chocolate Ravioli with Lobster Basil Cream Sauce and Duck Cannoli with White Chocolate Cardamom Beurre Blanc, Candied Orange Peel & Pistachio Dust. 

There are appetizers, main course, desserts and cocktails recipes to choose from. This book covers it all.

The women of eatPGH have created something special with this book. It is an amazing cookbook and coffee table book; it a visual depiction of the diverse food scene happening in Pittsburgh. The food culture is changing in the Steel City, it is morphing and ever expanding. Many of these new chefs are putting Pittsburgh on the map and are making a name for themselves in the culinary community.

Yes, Pittsburgh will always have their traditional foods: Pierogies, Primanti Brother Sandwiches, Iron City Beer and Chip Chopped Ham.  These are the foods that helped define the city and the people in it. However, Pittsburgh is just so great that you can have these staples and at the same time have a blossoming food scene. It is a great time to be a foodie in the Steel City.

In the book, I was instantly drawn to the Pittsburgh classic Italian American dish, Beans and Greens.  Growing up we only made a dish like this but we called it Escarole and Beans. We only used escarole- no other greens in our dish and small white beans. Also our dish was a soup, or soup like and served as a soup course. When I first arrived in Pittsburgh, it was then I discovered my beloved Escarole and Beans had a new name: Beans and Greens.

I discovered that this dish was it not a soup and it was served as a side or as a meal. It has a variety of greens in it and that cannellini bean were used in it. What I loved most about the people in Pittsburgh, they were bold and took my beloved childhood dish to another level of deliciousness- sometimes cured Italian meats or Italian sausages were added. After my first bit of this dish, I became hooked.

It is a quintessential Italian peasant dish; simple, minimal ingredients cooked together that will give you a delicious flavorful meal.

I do adore this classic dish and I will go out of my way to get a good plate of it. Pittsburgh has so many iconic foods, but to me Beans and Greens is one of the best foods that this city has to offer.

I make my own version of Beans and Greens, but I decided to make it Pittsburgh style.

I used a combination of fresh baby greens (kale, spinach, chard) and escarole, the blend of these really makes the dish flavorful. I like the small white beans, but cannellini beans may be substituted. I small amount of stock is required, but if you want to make this soupier add more stock. If you have some cooked Italian Sausage, throw it in because everything taste better with sausage.

This is a very forgiving recipe, so have fun with it. It is a quick meal that is perfect to make anytime.

I hope that you enjoy it.

Mangia Bene,


 Nicky D Cooks Pittsburgh Style Beans and Greens

4-6 cups of fresh greens

2-3 Tbsp. olive oil (2 times around the pan)

3 Cloves garlic (1 minced and 2 whole)

1 14 oz. can organic white beans, drained and rinsed

¼ cup chicken stock

Salt & Freshly ground black pepper

Crushed Red pepper (optional)

Freshly grated Italian Cheese

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium low heat. Add the whole garlic until the garlic becomes golden brown- remove and discard the garlic.

Add the greens and stir to coat with the oil. Add the minced garlic and the red pepper flakes, sauté for a minute or two. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the greens begins to cook down. Now add the beans and cook for a few minutes until beans have absorbed some of the oil.

b&g1Add the stock, season with salt and pepper and cook until the beans are heated. Garnish with the grated cheese.

To Serve:

Garnish with more grated cheese and red pepper. Serve with a slice of good crusty Italian bread to make it a complete meal.

Nicky D Cooks is the owner and operator of Nicky D Cooks Authentic Handcrafted Italian Biscotti and Pizzelle.

Follow her on Twitter @

Her website can be found at   

Also, check out her Facebook page @ for more information and great recipes.

NFL PLAY 60 Training Camp

This post appeared on Ciao Pittsburgh (1/17/2014)

I will be teaching another cooking class at the Heinz History Center and I am very excited about this one. 

On Saturday February 1st the NFL PLAY 60 Training Camp is coming to the Heinz History Center.

Play60The NFL Play 60 is the National Football League’s health and fitness campaign to encourage young fans to be active for at least 60 minutes a day.

There will be various activities football themed activities happening throughout the museum that day. This event is presented in partnership with the Pittsburgh Steelers and sponsored by Dick’s Sporting Goods.

I will be in the Weisbrod Kitchen Classroom, doing live cooking demonstrations. The theme of the class is healthy and fun tailgating and party foods.

I will do Italian American inspired foods which include Mini Caprese Salad Bites, Grandma Rosie’s Italian Bread pizza, and Game Day Pizzelle.

Yes, there will be plenty of samples of these tasty treats to try! I promise it will be a good time for all who come.

The NFL PLAY 60 Training Camp will be held at the Heinz History Center on Saturday, February 1, 2014 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. For more information, follow this link to the Heinz History Center events page.  

Or contact Sarah Rooney at 412-454-6373 or

Nicky D Cooks visits Cocina Mendoza

On New Year’s Eve, the husband suggested we go out for Mexican food.

“Sure, why not” was the thought. I like a low key evening and it was early enough. We found our way to Cocina Mendoza. It is a small family run restaurant in the South Hills.

It was a small place along a set of strip malls on Mt. Lebanon Boulevard in Castle Shannon. When we walked in, I thought it was a quaint little place. The staff was friendly and seated us quickly.

They immediately gave us some chips and salsa, and the taste of this salsa just exploded in my mouth. It wasn’t the chucky whole garden on the chip type, just a light kind perfect for dipping.

cheese and chorzioFor an appetizer we had the Cheese dip with Chorizo. Amazing! It has the right amount of cheese to meat ratio. A perfect accompaniment with tortilla chips that were served with them.

Tamale plateFor my main course I had the tamales and the husband ordered a combination plate (Mexican Plate #4) which included a tamale, a shrimp fajita, chili rellenos, and a beef taco.

A plate arrived with 3 big tamales on it, they were wrapped in a banana leaf and dressed in a Mexican Mole sauce.  The flavors were incredible, and the banana leaf added an extra layer of flavor- a smoky sweet taste.

combination plateThe combination plate was really delicious as well. The tamale on this plate came with a verde sauce which was very good. The chili rellenos was cooked perfectly and so delicious. Everything was just so fresh tasting. This main dish also came with a side of rice and bean. This is a hearty side portion of food which is also quite good.

If you have a chance, got to try this place. I like going to these small type of “mom and pop” places because you do tend to get really great food!

Mangia Bene,