Summer Salad Season

first appeared on Ciao Pittsburgh on July 3, 2015

Tomatoo cuc salad w bread4

Neapolitan Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Grilled Bread

It is officially the start of summer here in Pittsburgh. The hot weather is upon us and that can only mean one thing, summer foods.

The thought of standing over a hot stove in the heat and humidity to prepare a full meal, well it just does not sound appealing.

During the dog days of summer, I am partial to easy and simple dishes: A salad with a good piece of crusty bread and a slice of sharp provolone cheese is nirvana on a plate.

As you may guess, many of the salads that I make are in the Italian Peasant Style of cooking. What I mean by this is that they are made with few ingredients and are simply prepared, using what ingredients are available in your kitchen and preparing it modestly and with minimal fuss. This is the way that my Italian family cooked and it is how I prepare most of my meals.

Three of my favorite “go-to” salads are the: Neapolitan and Tomato and Cucumber Salad, Neapolitan String Bean Salad, and Neapolitan Potato Salad. I use them as side dishes to round out a main meal.

The recipes are simple and easy to follow, and the measurements are guides. Adjust the seasonings and dressings to your tastes. These salads can easily be doubled for feeding a larger crowd.

Give these rustic salads a try. I think you will enjoy them.

Buon Appetito,

Nicky

 

Nicky D Cooks: Neapolitan Potato Salad

Boil 6 medium size potatoes with the skins on until fork tender (al dente). Remove themItalian Potat salad from the pot, peel and dice. While still warm drizzle with 3-4 TBSP good olive oil and 1-2 TBSP red wine vinegar (optional). Add approximately 3-4 TBSP of chopped Italian Flat leaf Parsley. Toss all the ingredient gently together.  Season with Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Nicky D Cooks: Neapolitan Tomato and Cucumber Saladtomato & cucc salad3

 

In a bowl combine 3 medium vine ripened tomatoes (cut and quarter), ½ medium chopped sweet onion, and 1 diced cucumber and 1-2 TBSP chopped fresh basil.  In another bowl whish together 3-4 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil, 3-5 splashes of red wine vinegar ( or white balsamic), Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Toss the salad with this dressing. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste

 

 

Nicky D Cooks: Neapolitan String Bean Salad

Cook and drained 1 pound fresh string beans until desired tenderness. Do not overcookString Bean Salad1 the beans. Add 1 clove of minced garlic and 1 TBSP chopped fresh mint leaves. Add 2-3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil and 2 TSP Red Wine Vinegar.  Mix all the ingredients gently together. Season with Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

The Summer String Bean Salad

This was a guest blog for my friend, Beezus Kiddo at  beezuskiddo.com.  It first appeared on June 26, 2015.

strinbean2One of my fondest memories of growing up in Rhode Island was going to the beach with my family. It was always a fun time, playing in the sun and surf while my family was gathered around.

It looked like a Norman Rockwell scene, typical Americana- that is until meal time.

My family brought a bevy of tasty treats with them, they didn’t travel lightly when it came to food. My female relatives suffered from an irrational fear that someone in the family will go hungry and heaven forbid this should happen.

The rationale for the copious amounts of food brought for the day was my Grandmother’s notion that “you never know who’s hungry”. And who is going to argue with an Italian Grandmother’s logic?

Truth be told, if you were running and playing on the beach all day you, really did work up an appetite.

Here was our strategy for going to the beach. First, a liaison was sent out in advance to stake out a prime spot for picnicking and beaching all day. The person in charge of this was usually my dad, who with help from some of the other men in the family, scoured the beach for the perfect spot.

My father was like a war time general, marking out strategic positions and locations. We needed to be near the bathroom facilities and picnic tables but far away from the snack bar. Once the perfect spot was located (this was only signaled with the nod from the patriarch of the family), the unloading of the supplies could begin.

Hibachi’s and coolers and blankets, oh my! Tent spikes were hammered into the sand to hold the canopies in place. The men unloaded the food and supplies and the women set up what looked like a mini-camp.

I’m sure we were quite the sight but we were there for the day, at least 2 meals and multiple snacks. In fact, this is how the day was measured, by the number of meals that were prepared for that day. This task was done and then the day of fun in the sun could begin.

I remember meals at the beach starting by someone in the family asking “is anyone hungry”? The adults would all shake their heads in agreement, and the preparations began: A well-oiled machine, all of the pieces working in unison.

My dad would start the coals on the Hibachi’s, and each male relative had their own tried and true method as to how to get the charcoal briquettes to light. There was intense discussions and debates as the fires were being lit.

As children we were never allowed to go near this area, there was always a fear that someone would catch on fire. Italians always live in the dark place, there was always “someone that so and so knew that had an accident when lighting a fire”. So as kids we stayed closer to the deli meats, no one ever died or lost a limb while near these things.

My mother and the others had the task of setting up the rest of the food, all under the careful direction of my grandmother. Children were discouraged from being around because we brought in the extra sand, so we were given snacks and sent off to play until the meal was ready.

This truly was a thing of beauty. Multi generations of a single family all gathered together for a meal at the beach. The coals burned brightly and the smell of the hamburgers and hotdogs cooking filled the air. Colorful salads and side dishes displayed on red checkered table clothes. Italian cold cuts laid out for sandwiches and bowls filled with various potato chips spread out on the picnic tables. Ocean waves would break in the background and pesky seagulls flew overhead.

I always remember hearing the older family members talking about how much better the food tasted when it was eaten by the salt water.

There was the thermoses filled with Kool-Aid that left a distinctive red mustache on our faces and the directive from my grandmother to go and “clean your face in the water…the salt water, it’s good for you”!

I ingested my fair share of beach sand, but in my family I think that they considered a few grains of this stuff a digestion aid. If you complained about it, you would hear an audible sigh and a collective “it’s good for you” from several family members.

Dessert was always watermelon. Before you think that we brought down beautiful storage containers of precut cubes and slices, I need to relieve you from this notion.

These Italians were hard core and brought a few big watermelons right from the farm because my grandfather knew the farmer. My father brought out his butchers knife and sliced gigantic pieces for everyone.

There we sat munching on our watermelon slices, juices dripping down our arms and we were happy. Inevitably there was a seed spitting fight, this was usually started by my brother and I was his intended target.

My father would bellow loudly “stop spitting seeds on your sister”! I smiled because as my brother was getting in trouble, I could usually get a good shot in at him. I was the baby of the family and it was just what you did with your older siblings.

We played some more and tanned ourselves under the scorching heat. When the food ran out it was then time to leave.

We were tired with sand trapped in our hair and had managed to escape the wrath of the seagulls. We all knew that it could only mean one thing, it was another successful day at the beach.

For me, this is what summer was all about to me as a kid. It was family, fun and of course the food.

I wanted to share my recipe for Neapolitan Italian Style String Bean Salad. This is salad that we frequently brought with us to the beach. It was also a staple at picnics and other family gatherings during the summer months when string beans were readily available from the gardens and local farm stands.

Neapolitan Italian Style String Bean Salad is an Italian American Peasant style salad. I define this to mean that it contains simple ingredients, tastes delicious and is easy to prepare. This classic salad has many variations in Italian American homes. I am sharing with you my family recipe for it.

The combination of string beans, olive oil and mint is truly a delicious one. It is refreshing and the perfect side dish for the summer grilling season. I hope that you enjoy this dish.

Buon Appetito,

Nicky

Neapolitan String Bean Salad

This is a great dish to make if you are having a picnic or going to the beach. The measurements for the spices are estimates, so go according to your palate. This dish can easily be doubled to serve a large crowd. Enjoy!

Ingredients

1 pound fresh string beans, cooked and drained

2-3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 Teaspoon red wine vinegar (optional)

1 garlic clove, minced

2-3 mint leaves, minced

Kosher Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions

Cut the cooked string beans in half and place in a deep bowl. Add the olive oil, vinegar, garlic and mint. Season the string beans with salt and pepper to taste.  Gently toss until the string beans, making sure they are evenly coated with the olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

String Bean Salad1

 

The Jazz Man

This post originally appeared on ciao pittsburgh in June 2013.  I’m re-posting it here in honor of Father’s Day. 

jazz man 1When I married my husband, I was lucky to marry into a really great family. They have opened their arms and have made me feel as though I have always been a member of the family.

I adore my mother and father- in- law. To me they are just more than my husband’s parents or my in-laws; they are just special people who I feel lucky to have in my life.

I love them both very much, and we have a great relationship. Bill and SJ Shadel are the best; I only hope that when the day comes I can be great in- laws like they are.

I am Italian- American woman, I show my love and affection with food and I cannot think of a better way to say it to my in- laws other than having them over for a meal.

For the past several years, we have everyone over at our house on Fathers’ day. It is great, the family all gathers at our house and we have a big cookout. It is always so much fun and of course there is so much food.

When my husband and I first started to do this at our house, we wanted to plan a menu that my father in -law would really appreciate.

That would not be as easy as it sounds; Bill is just not that into eating. To say that my father in-law is a picky eater, well that would be an understatement.

I love my father in –law like he is my own father, however toddlers have better eating habits then he does.

In the almost 17 years that I have known this man, I have never seen a fresh piece of fruit pass over his lips. My father in-law could survive on cheese and crackers, bologna sandwiches and ice cream.

Are the meals that bad at his house that he chooses this type of cuisine? No! My mother in-law is a beautiful cook and baker. SJ will cook Bill whatever he wants; he just does not get excited about food.

SJ will try new foods and is an adventurous eater, my father-in law, not so much. His idea of wild and exotic food is ordering fried shrimp and white rice from the Chinese takeout menu.

I once asked SJ how she cooked meals for such a picky eater for all these years, she laughs and smiles and told me “I just cook the things I like”.

Bill and I have always had a great relationship. I will tease him about is narrow palate and he will tease me about being from New England and being a fan of the Patriots. He has an extensive knowledge about the Steelers and has educated me about this as well as most of the Pittsburgh sports teams.

Honestly I can say over the last decade I have learned quite a bit from him, especially in the area of music.

Bill has a plethora of knowledge when it comes to jazz music. He not only knows about the music, he lived the musician’s life.

At 71 years old he still actively plays in a jazz band; he plays the tenor saxophone. He is one of the true few Jazz men left here in the Pittsburgh area.

jazz man 2Bill started out playing the clarinet when he was 9, but then he switched to the saxophone as he got older. He has been playing around Washington, PA and Pittsburgh over the last 55 years or so.

In the 1960’s he played with the Johnny Cimino Orchestra, in the 70’s with the Lee Barrett Big Band, and in the 1980’s with the Larry Falvo Orchestra; he’s been a part of smaller rock and roll groups like the Tridells in the early 1960’s, and jazz combo groups like Cool Breeze and Weekend Edition.

Bill has played in various hotel ballrooms throughout Pittsburgh and Washington County, as well as on the Gateway Clipper. This isn’t a complete list at all. He’s played with so many people and in so many places through the years that it’s impossible to cover all of them in one place.

One of his many talents is besides playing the sax, is doing his rendition of Louie Armstrong’s’ “What a Wonderful World” and “Hello Dolly”. This is a spot on impression, complete with the white handkerchief and raspy voice.

Bill is the quintessential performer and musician. He plays to the crowd and can really get them moving.

To this very day, it is amazing to watch him play. His hair may be a little greyer, and he may take a little bit longer to warm up but at this age he still has it. His chops still have the magic touch. He still has that sparkle in his eyes when he is on stage and while he plays.

My children have been fortunate enough to see him perform since they were born, and they think it is the coolest thing that their grandfather is a musician. I think it is pretty awesome thing as well, and I am proud of him.

So when Father’s day comes around, I wanted to make a special dish for Bill just to show him how much I appreciate him and love him.

Bill is a very picky eater and this proved challenging, but I was up it. I made mental notes over the years of things that he really liked and tried to find dishes that may suit his tastes.

He may not like many foods, but Bill hasn’t yet met a dessert that he does not like. Nothing quite says I love you like dish made of one of his favorite treats, donuts.
Krispy Kreme Donut Bread Pudding! I discovered this dedicate treat several years ago, and I knew that there was only one person in the world who I could make it for, my father- in- law.

I was thrilled that I found a dish that I could make for my father in-law. When I first made it for him, Bill loved the dessert and that make me happy.

Every year Bill gets the first piece and I make sure to scoop a little extra on his plate for him. He tells me that he can’t possible eat that big of a portion, but he will try and do it for me because I made the dessert for him. He may not always eat all of the food at the cookout, but he always cleans his plate when it comes to this dessert.

I am sharing with you the original recipe Donut Bread Pudding from Food Network; it is the one that I use. This is an easy dish to make, super rich and oh so tasty.

I hope that you enjoy it.

Buon Appetito,
Nicky

Donut Bread Pudding

Ingredients:

2 dozen Krispy Kreme donuts
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
2 (4.5-ounce) cans fruit cocktail (undrained)
2 eggs, beaten
1 (9-ounce) box raisins
1 pinch salt
1 or 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Butter Rum Sauce, recipe follows

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cube donuts into a large bowl. Pour other ingredients on top of donuts and let soak for jazz man 3a few minutes. Mix all ingredients together until donuts have soaked up the liquid as much as possible. Bake for about 1 hour until center has jelled. Top with Butter Rum

Butter Rum Sauce:

1 stick butter
1 pound box confectioners’ sugar
Rum, to taste (optional)

jazz man 4Melt butter and slowly stir in confectioners’ sugar. Add rum and heat until bubbly. Pour over each serving of Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding.

 

He’ll make a great father because he puts up with you: A tribute to my husband on Father’s Day

first appeared on ciao pittsburgh, June 5, 2015

“I’m not getting any younger, I would like to see you getting married before I die……..”

nickyd jc 2

Nanna and me, summer 1996: before the pep-talk

These very words were uttered to me by my grandmother on my 27th birthday. She said some other things as well, but I honestly can’t remember what they were. It was this sentence that stuck in my mind.

Italian woman generally don’t mince words and this was clearly the case here.

My grandmother was slightly concerned about her eldest granddaughter. In her eyes, she had something to worry about. I was getting older, I wasn’t married and I was in this thing called “Graduate School”.

She asked me, “but you just finished college, why are you going back for more….aren’t you going to get married soon like your older brother”.

Oh there it was, the one statement that my grandmother was holding over my head. It was brought down upon me like gavel on judgment day. My grandmother didn’t even flinch when she made this statement, she just looked at me and smiled.

When I tell you that Italian Grandmothers are tough- I really mean it. This was my grandmother’s version pep talk, her way of telling me that she loved me and wanted to see me happy.

I wasn’t married yet, I wasn’t even dating. However, my older brother was already married, bought a house and was expecting his first child.

For me and my nonexistent dating/marital status, it was the social equivalent in the Italian American world of being the last child to be picked for the game of red rover, and no one wanted to be viewed like that.

I was like those the last few eggs in the carton that were left over and that was getting close to the expiration date.

Trust me if I had gotten a cat, that would have pushed the family over the edge. I’m thankful for my allergies here. If not, I would been known as the unmarried and living with a cat girl. And that carried a stigma in the family- trust me on this one.

The term old maid hadn’t been uttered, but it was an only matter of time before that moniker was introduced into the family’s lexicon.

Let me put this in context so the gravity of the situation is apparent. I grew up in a very strict Italian Catholic family with an overly protective older brother.

My dating pool was so slim, I had a better chance of finding Big Foot than I did finding a potential mate in this area.

Most the guys I knew also knew my big brother and there was no way they would date me, nor I them. It was an unspoken rule and it wasn’t up for negotiation.

So even if I was interested in a guy and he came to speak to me, my brother and his friends would do a complete and thorough background check on this chap.

Trust me when I tell you that they did a better job than any undercover detective could do. My brother would just simply tell me “I don’t want you talking to that guy” and that was the end of that story.

So between living with my parents (because I was putting myself through graduate school), my brother’s influences on my potential dates and the fact that I was a nerdy Italian bohemian girl, living amongst big hair, bedazzled velvet lounge suits wearers, you could say that my dating life was kind of stagnant. Ok it was nonexistent.

But all was not lost…

…because in the summer of 1996, my life changed forever. Life threw me an unexpected curve ball and I believe that all of my grandmother’s prayers had finally been answered.

Unbeknownst to me, my path would cross with a man that would later become my husband.

I had just transferred to a new full time job. I started working as a research assistant in one of the local (Rhode Island) hospitals. Because I was the new lackey, I had to do things that no one else wanted to do which meant getting the mail.

Being the friendly outgoing golden retriever type of person that I am, I quickly began to introduce myself to the people in this small office. It was at these mailboxes that I eventually met Bill (aka the husband).

I noticed this handsome, academic looking type man at the mailboxes standing next to me. I quickly turned and introduced myself to him.

Now if you think it was like one of those Disney made for TV moments, you couldn’t be more wrong. I caught the poor guy off guard, kind of like a deer in a headlights. He smiled at me, introduced himself and just quickly walked away.

I knew that dealing with PhD’s would be a different experience. Yes, that is what my husband is. Bill is a clinical psychologist. I tell people to think of him in terms of Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory TV show, except with slightly better social skills and a beard.

Bill and I began casually chatting when we would run into each other in the office.

Thankfully I hadn’t actually scared him off that first day we met.

He was quiet and reserved, yet charming, witty and funny. Eventually we went out on a date, which lead to a second and then a few more.

Being the good Italian girl that I am, I did bring him home to meet the family. To be honest, he was really the first guy that I brought home that my parents really liked, and more importantly the only guy that my brother didn’t want to make disappear.

Within 2 hours of me bringing Bill home, he met my whole entire family. Yes a typical Italian encounter for sure, but I suppose to an outsider it would have scared most people off.

My brother told me afterwards“ Nic he must really like you…he’s a brave man… most guys would have taken off running meeting after meeting the whole family after only dating a few weeks…I know I would have”! We both laughed at this.

I suppose meeting an onslaught of fun loving boisterous Italians in one setting could be a little intimidating. To me that is just how my family is, it’s normative.

When my grandmother met him, she instantly adored him. She fed him and made him a “good cup of coffee”, her affable description for coffee that she made for guests.

He loved her coffee and took home leftovers of her cooking. From that point on, he could do no wrong in her eyes.

My grandmother pulled me aside later on that day and said to me “try not to do anything to scare this boy off, he’s a nice one”. Ah more pearls of wisdom and another one of her famous pep talks.

My family just took Bill in, it was if he always belonged with us. It was soon after we began dating that we became engaged and then eventually married.

My grandmother was able to see me walk down the aisle and she no longer had to worry about the “getting married” issue. She had something else to focus one soon after this goal was reached- great grandchildren.

Yes, she told me a month after I was married that “I’m going to die soon. I would like to see some great grandchildren (from me)…… Bill will make a great father because he puts up with you”.

I wish that I could say that these words were a fabrication of the truth, but that would be a lie.

No truer words have ever been spoken and my grandmother nailed this one. It was not long after we were married that our children were born and my grandmother’s theory would be put to the test.

I like to say that my grandmother was a wise lady. She knew upon meeting Bill that he would do an amazing job of taking care of her granddaughter and great grandchildren.

Bill is a pretty wonderful guy and I’m happy to say that I completely agree with my grandmother on this issue- he really is an awesome dad and husband.

He’s a compliment to this hot Italian mess. He is mellow, and I’m fiery. He’s an introvert and I’m a very much an extravert. I tell people I’m like the balloon and he is the string, he keeps me grounded. He has a tough job- trust me. I keep this poor man on his toes and I do believe that I have given him a grey hair or two.

I’m thankful that he is there for all of us. He puts up with house full crazy Italians and all of our idiosyncrasies, so clearly he is a candidate for sainthood.

In honor of Father’s day I wanted to share a special dessert recipe that I make for Bill every year. It is a recipe for a frozen peanut butter pie.

PB Pie 1It isn’t an ordinary pie, the crust is made from the Nutter Butter (peanut butter) cookies. The filling is a combination of cream cheese, peanut butter and powdered sugar. Now imagine this with a drizzle of chocolate sauce. It is a perfect pairing of sweet and salty; peanut butter and chocolate.

This is a family favorite and is a great frozen dessert to serve during the warm weather months. It is a perfect sweet treat to share with your family and friends.

I hope that you enjoy this dish.

Buon Appetito,
Nicky

NUTTER BUTTER Frozen Peanut Butter Pie from Kraft Recipes

Ingredients:

24 NUTTER BUTTER Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies, crushed
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 tub (8 oz.) COOL WHIP Whipped Topping, thawed, divided

Instructions:

MIX cookie crumbs and butter. Press onto bottom and up side of 9-inch pie plate (Crush the cookies in a re-sealable plastic bag using a rolling pin or use a food processor).

BEAT cream cheese, peanut butter, sugar and vanilla with mixer until blended. Stir in 1-1/2 cups COOL WHIP; spoon into crust.

FREEZE 4 hours or until firm. Remove from freezer 30 min. before serving. Let stand at room temperature to soften slightly. Top with remaining COOL WHIP.

Garnish-I like to top each piece with some chocolate sauce and powdered sugar.

PB pie3

May Recipe of the Month: Simple Frittata

I have fallen behind on my post for my recipe of the month. I do apologize but life has gotten crazy.

One of my favorite foods is the classic Italian egg dish- the Frittata. It is so simple to make, it doesn’t require much prep work and it is oh so delicious.

The best part is it makes the best lunch the next day. A slice of cold frittata between two slices of Italian bread, that is just delightful.

fritata25_17-16-09_923A Frittata differs from an omelette in the way they are made. A Frittata can be made on a stove top or oven and is an Italian dish. It is an open faced omelette of sorts, and can be made with a plethora of ingredients; it is thick and hearty dish. A traditional omelette on the other hand is always made on the stove top, cooked in a little butter and rolled and folded over- think like a business envelope. It is thin, seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh herbs.

Below is my recipe for a simple Frittata. It is a quick and delicious dish and perfect for these chilly spring nights. Serve a side salad and some crusty Italian bread to make it a complete meal. This a peasant meal fit for a king.

Buon Appetito,

Nicky

Nicky D Cooks: Simple Frittata
Copyright 2012 recipe first appeared on Ciao Pittsburgh 11/ 16/12

Ingredients

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium potatoes (red bliss), peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
6-7 eggs beaten with a few tablespoons of water
1 medium onion- chopped
Grated Italian Cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

Cook the potato slices in a skillet on a medium heat. Do not crowd the pan and lay the potato slices across bottom of the pan. Cook until they are golden on both sides.
Beat the eggs in another bowl with the water- season with salt and pepper.

Pour the beaten eggs over the potatoes. Move the eggs so that they are evenly distributed throughout the pan.

Turn heat to medium low and cook until the eggs are almost done.

Pan-cover the skillet with another frying pan (same size) and flip it so it is now upside down in the other pan. Let it cook in that pan. Cover and let cook another few minutes until the eggs are done in the center.

Mother In- Law of the Year (Or Why My Mother In-Law is Way Better Than Yours)

first appeared on ciao pittsburgh May 8, 2015

ground hogI was so nervous to meet my future mother in-law. I knew very little about her other than she was Italian. I will be the first to admit this, Italian women are tough, especially when it comes to their sons.

In Italian families, there are euphemisms thrown around like “first born Italian males, the baby boy of the family, and Italian sons love their moms”. These are not in jest I can assure you, they are all very real.

Are Italian boys treated like royalty in a family? I can neither confirm nor deny this fact because I am now an Italian mother of a son.

These moms are fiercely protective and devoted to their sons. Unconditional love is just implied, it goes without saying and no need to state the obvious. Think of it in terms of lioness in a pride on the Serengeti, except Italian mothers will make lion moms looks like simple house cats when it comes to the area of dating their sons.

Trust me when I say I have witness this first hand. I watched it when my older brother began to date. When a potential “girlfriend” is brought to a house to meet an Italian mother for the first time, it is like that of an interrogation process.

It begins with everyone sitting around the kitchen table with some biscotti or other Italian pastries and some coffee. It is the Italian momma, her son, several family members (because we are all there to watch this onslaught) and the young woman. The kitchen is the mom’s home territory you know, it is the home field advantage for the lady of the house. The mother has arranged it this way, it may seem unfair to the unassuming party but it is just the way things happen.

The conversation starts with the mother asking the poor girl “so tell me about your family”. And then it begins, the questions will come fast and furious. Each answer scrutinized like and IRS auditor looking for a fraudulent error on a tax return.

It’s not a pretty sight, but in order to date an Italian boy it was something that had to be done. If you date an Italian boy, it is comes with the territory.

Knowing full well what I was in for, I flew in to meet her, SJ. That is what I call her, it is her nickname.

I had a flown in with gifts for my mother in-law. Remember, Italians never show up to a person’s house empty handed. This is one of the many unwritten rules that we live by, kind of like an Italian code of ethics. We just abide by these “laws” and don’t question it for fear that the maloik (evil eye) will strike where we are standing.

The gifts weren’t bribes mind you, it was just showing respect to my future mother in-law. If I didn’t do this, it would have upset my family and I would have brought shame upon them. According to my own mother, “it would have proved that I had the manners of a barn animal”.

When I came to SJ’s house and met her, she welcomed me opened arms. She is a beautiful woman with a great smile. She graciously accepted the gifts and we began to chat. I met the rest of the family later that day and she introduced me as “Bill’s girlfriend who talk’s real funny”. I just laughed at this.

Yes, I have a New England accent. It isn’t a thick one per say, but my diction will tell you that I am not from Western PA.

Apparently my accent was particularly strong on this day and certain words just came out sounding quite funny. Let’s face it I still mutilate the words Martha, orange, horrible and it makes my kids giggle to this day.

The visit was really going well, until SJ realized that her future daughter in-law was complete a city person. It was a watershed moment for sure.

I just don’t “do nature”, it just is not my thing. I’m a city slicker to the umpth degree, it is really quite simple.

The first epiphany came to light when I saw my in-law’s female neighbor riding a lawnmower cutting grass. I looked aghast at SJ and said in my most horrified voice “women cut grass like that”! Look, I have seen women back home cut small city lots sizes patches of grass. I was taken aback by seeing a woman cutting acers of grass on a tractor.

SJ just looked at me and laughed and said in her most kind voice, “yes dear, woman can cut grass on tractors”.

Next came the deer on the back porch incident. I came out to sit in the morning to have my coffee and a deer came up near where I was sitting. Ok it was several feet away- but I had never really seen a wild deer in my life this close to me. I was convinced by my future husband, who took full advantage of my naivety, and that the deer could attack me at any given moment.

My reaction, not a big surprise was to scream. I am not ashamed for my actions, because it was completely natural. However, I caused such a ruckus that my future husband had to come running out of the house to see what sort of distress I was in.

I had to explain my near death experience and my newly acquired phobia of deer to him. SJ came out and looked at me knowing full well what had transpired. She is a very smart woman and caught on quickly that I am a scaredy-cat when it comes to nature.
City rats and vermin don’t bother me, county deer, chimp monks and other woodland creatures – well I just keep my distance from them.

SJ assured me that deer were gentle creatures like Bambi and at best they are nuisances that eat her flowers and plants. She just looked at her son with a look that only a mother could give, it would be best described as a “stink eye”. She knew her son all too well and realized without me telling her what he had told me about these wild animals.

I was guaranteed that I was in no imminent danger. I still have a fear of deer to this day, I don’t trust them with their big doe eyes and fluffy white tails. They can give you a killer look and I know they are plotting my demise.

The last incident is what forever solidified my relationship with SJ. It goes down in the family history books as the “Whistle Pig Affair”. To this very day my beloved husband still laughs so hard about this. I on the other hand find little humor in this.

Sitting on the back porch with my future husband one morning, he began to tell me about the story of the ground hogs or as he called them “whistle pigs”. He told me that if you spotted one in your yard, you could call it to you by whistling to it.

Now on this day as he was telling me about this vermin, up pops this exact species-a ground hog. He convinces me to stand in the middle of the yard whistle to at the darn thing and it will come to me. So the scene is set and you can only imagine what is about to happen.

Like a buffoon I am standing in the yard whistling at this ball of fur, I’m looking back at the love of my life as he assures me “whistle louder so it can hear you and it will com…trust me”. Yes, this went on for several minutes and I kept thinking to myself, “why would he ever lie to me”?

Suddenly the back door flew open from the house and SJ came out. She looked at me and said sternly “honey, get back in the house … you’re embarrassing yourself those things don’t answer to whistles”.

She isn’t a loud Italian woman, which is a rare thing. So when she spoke in this tone, I knew she meant business.

She then spun around on her heels and glared at her son. SJ spoke in a firm tone and said “don’t take advantage of the city girl, she doesn’t know any better”!

What happened next is still a blur because it happened so quickly. I swear I thought I saw out of the corner of my eye SJ giving her son a love tap to the back of the head.

SJ then just walked back into the house.

I was awe struck. From that point I knew that she was a force to be reckoned with, a true Italian mom. I just adored her and I knew that I loved her like she was my own mom.

SJ has been there for me through thick and thin and has taught me what it is to be a great mother in-law. I hope that when it is my turn, I can be just like her when I become an in-law. She still continues to love me despite my numerous flaws and that is what I adore about her the most.

I wanted to share with you SJ’s Giambotta recipe. Giambotta is an Italian vegetable stew recipe and it is the perfect dish to make with all of the fresh vegetables available at the farmers market or from your garden. This dish can be served as a main dish with some good crusty Italian bread or as a side with grilled meats or fish.

I hope that you enjoy this dish.

Buon Appetito,
Nicky

Nicky D Cooks: Grammy’s Giambotta

Grammy is what my children call my mother in-law. It was one of the first dishes that she made for me that I fell in love with. It is an old family that has been in the family for years. Every time I make it, I always think of her.

Enjoy!!

gimbottIngredients:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 assorted peppers-cored, seeded, and cut into 1⁄4″ strips
4 cloves garlic- minced
1 medium sweet onion- quartered and sliced thin
1-2 small cans of tomato sauce
Fresh Herbs (basil, parsley or mint) 1-2 tbsp
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Italian cheese (optional)
Italian Bread

Directions:

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium- heat. Add peppers, garlic, onions, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer several minutes then add the tomato sauce.

Cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until peppers are soft. Add the herbs now and let the peppers finish cooking. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Garnish with grated cheese.

Serve with some good crusty Italian bread. Great either warm or room temperature.

 

Broccoli Rabe: My Fond Memories of a Bitter Green

first appeared on Ciao Pittsburgh on May 1, 2015

Nicky d's version roast pork sandwich

                         Saveur’s Pulled Pork Italiano by Nicky D

If there was ever a food that I can associate with my grandmother, it would be broccoli rabe. I remember walking into her kitchen as a child and the smell of the broccoli rabe cooking on the stove top would just stop you in your tracks.

It was such a distinctive smell and you knew immediate what she was making. The aroma of garlic and greens cooking in olive oil is like no other. It is a dish that represents so much more to me than just food on a plate- it is a symbolic representation of her love, our family and my Italian heritage all in one.

Yes, Italians do get that caught up in our food. We are such a quirky breed, but honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My grandmother would cook these greens simply, with garlic and oil and a pinch of crushed red pepper. A slice of crusty Italian bread was the perfect accompaniment. It was peasant cooking at its finest; so delicious and unpretentious.

My big brother went wild for these bitter greens, he devoured them by the bowl full. I will confess that I kind of liked them as a kid-but I didn’t love them like my brother did. I did eat my fare share, but I could take them or leave them.

My husband never had broccoli rabe growing up. So I began to make this dish for him when we got married, he instantly became a fan.

I started to experiment with it, I wanted to see what else I could do with besides just sautéing them in garlic and oil.

I began pairing them with different dried pasta and meat combinations. Broccoli rabe marries so nicely with Italian Sausage. There is something about the pork, the fennel (sausage spices) and the bitter greens that really makes this a lovely combination.

I recently stumbled upon something in my quest to try new broccoli rabe dishes. Saveur Magazine featured Pulled Pork Italiano, a recipe based on the famous sandwich from the Philadelphia eatery, DiNic’s.

DiNicks 2

                Original DiNic’s Sandwich

Picture this vision: slow roasted Italian spiced pork topped with sharp provolone cheese, garlic fried broccoli rabe on a crusty Italian roll.

I have made this dish several times already. The combination of slow cooked pork, greens and sharp provolone cheese is absolutely amazing. I like that I can make it in a crock pot as well as the oven. It is perfect dish for parties because it feeds a large number of people. I make it in the spring and summer when you can get broccoli rabe fresh from the farmer’s markets. But honestly, this is a great dish anytime of the year, as long as you can get your hands on the greens.

As a side note, I made a trip to the original DiNic’s in Philadelphia last year and had their version of this sandwich. It was a real treat, a food highlight of my trip. This homemade version is definitely as delicious and worth all of the effort.

If you like broccoli rabe and want to eat it in a new and delicious way, I highly recommend making this recipe.

Nicky D's Italian pork

                     Roasted Italian Pork

I played around with this recipe and made it in the crock pot. I followed the directions and cooked a 4-5 lbs roast in the crock pot until the pork was fork tender.

Approximate cooking time is about 6 to 8 hours on high or 8 to 10 hours on low.

I hope that you enjoy this dish.

Buon Appetito,
Nicky

Saveur’s Pulled Pork Italiano

SERVES 8

INGREDIENTS
3 tbsp. ground fennel seeds
3 tbsp. dried parsley
1½ tbsp. dried thyme
3½ tsp. crushed red chili flakes, plus more
1 6-7-1b. Pork shoulder, butterflied
3 sprigs rosemary, stemmed and finely chopped
1 head garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 cups beef stock
½ cup red wine
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
½ cup canned crushed tomatoes
2 lb. broccoli rabe
¼cup canola oil
32 slices sharp provolone
8 12″ crusty Italian rolls, split
24 roasted long hot peppers

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Heat oven to 450°. Combine fennel, parsley, thyme, and 3 tsp. chile flakes in a small bowl; set aside. Open pork shoulder on a work surface, and spread with half of herb mixture, rosemary, ¼ of the chopped garlic, salt, and pepper. Roll up shoulder, tie with kitchen twine at 1″ intervals to secure, and season out-side with remaining herb mixture, salt, and pepper. Transfer to a roasting pan and roast until browned, about 40 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and heat broiler. Add remaining garlic to pan, along with stock, wine, onion, and bay leaf; pour tomatoes over top and sides of pork shoulder. Broil until tomatoes are caramelized, about 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325°, cover pork with parchment paper, and cover roasting pan with aluminum foil. Cook until internal temperature of pork reaches 165°, about 2 hours. Set aside to cool.

2. Transfer pork to cutting board, and remove bay leaf from pan. Transfer juices to a blender and purée; transfer to a 4-qt. saucepan and keep warm. Pull pork apart into large pieces and add to pan juices.

3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add broccoli rabe. Cook, stirring, until just tender, 2–3 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool. Drain, and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Heat oil in a 12″ skillet. Working in batches if necessary, add remaining chili flakes and broccoli rabe and cook, stirring, until crisp and warmed through, about 4 minutes. Set aside.

4. Place 4 slices provolone on bottom half of each roll, and top with pork. Add broccoli rabe and peppers.

Failure as an Italian Mother (or why I will not get mother of year award)

First appeared on  In pursuit of simple on 4/1/15 as part of Great Pittsburgh Blog Swap of 2015

failure stampWith the ever so subtle Pittsburgh twang, I heard my friend smartly say to me that night as we were unloading my car for the event “ how can you be in the industry (food) and teach cooking classes, yet your kids can’t boil water…jeeze what kind of EYE-talian mom are you”.

The words were stinging in my ears and by golly it hurt to hear this, but he spoke the truth. As I walked into the event that night, I realized that I failed as a mother.
I not only failed only as a mother but as an Italian mother, a fate worse than death. I had brought shame to my family and I hung my head woefully.

Surely my female Italian ancestors were turning in their graves. I’m convinced there would be some sort of curse bestowed upon me for my grievances. Lightning strikes, perhaps a sudden onset of horrific plagues would happen or my car would be swallowed up by a giant sink hole as I parked it for the evening.

I had shaken up the family tree for sure. Italian women and mothers are not the most forgiving breed- trust me I’m one of them. I could just feel the disappointment from these ladies beyond the grave!

How could I let this happen? Where did I go wrong? More importantly what could I do to rectify the situation with my children? I had to set the course back in the right direction and I was tired of looking for “bad luck” to strike at any time.

Let me back track so I can tell you my tale of woe that lead up to the realization that I will not win mother of the year award.

It was one of those weeks where a mulligan would just be called for. My husband was traveling for work and the house mo-jo was off. I had a big baking gig at the end of the week (I own a small Italian Cookie company) that I needed to get ready for.

Chaos is the only way to describe life that week as a single mom living with 2 teenagers. The event that I need to go to was on a Saturday night and it is somewhere in an area that I’m not familiar with.

I would like to note that I am directionally challenged and don’t know how to work my GPS.I have a teenager who knows everything, why do I need google or a GPS?

I agree to meet my friend who was going to the event so I could follow him. I hoped that would decrease my chances of me getting lost.

For the record I did indeed get lost while in route to meeting my friend. Apparently my left and rights get somewhat confused and I was living momentarily in opposite land.
Before leaving the house, my children inform me that they wanted to cook dinner- solo!

Luckily they had conspired against me and had the menu all planned out. The eldest assured me that there was nothing to worry about- she had a devious twinkle in her eye as she waved good bye and closed the door behind me.

I yell at them both “don’t fight, and PLEASE don’t burn down the house” as I get into my car. I swear I heard hysterical devilish laughter from the beyond the door.

The kids have cooked before, but under my tutelage. There was always an adult present, this was different. No one was there to put out the flames if the kitchen caught fire.

Yes, Italian mothers have a flare for the dramatics! It is in our DNA and it just who we are.

En route to the gig, I tried to reach my husband to no avail. The same was true for the house and the kid’s cell phones. Being true to my roots- I instantly go to the dark place and think the worst. Plagues, fires, earthquakes have all struck my house and this is why no one has answered the phone, Absurd yes, but in my neurotic Italian mother brain, there is a slight possibility.

Trying to navigate the unfamiliar road, use my cell phone, keeping an eye on my friends car in front of me and making sure my cookies didn’t spill all over the back of my car, needless to say I was a hot mess behind the wheel.

I finally reached my husband and he said “our daughter needed to be walked through on how to make mac and cheese”. Really? I thought to myself, I didn’t recall buying the materials for scratch made mac and cheese.

My husband proclaimed “she needed to know how to boil water on the stove”.

These was a pregnant pause, a sigh and then a breath. My husband said “you haven’t failed YET as a mother, she needs to learn what pan to use and finer details of making box mac & cheese….. because you don’t make it for the kids, and I had to explain what to do”.

Yes, my husband is the resident in house box mac & cheese maker.

My husband could hear it in my voice as I started to speak, he said “look at that age you were cooking full meals and baking from scratch, but the kids have to start somewhere…you had to start somewhere”.

I knew he was right, but how boil water to make box mac & cheese? I was flummoxed.

My phone rang and cheerfully the eldest called and proudly said “Ma we are making box mac & cheese, the water is boiling and I salted the water for pasta”.

Ok, she remembered to salt the water for the pasta, so I guess I can’t complain.

All those years of my children sitting with me in the kitchen were not wasted. The child knew she had to salt the water, so I guess I’m not a complete failure.

Later that night, I received a text from the kids with a picture of the dinner that they had made. It was something that resembled the Thanksgiving Feast from the Charlie Brown Holiday special. Toast as the side dish, well that is ok in my book.

The kids proudly worked together and made their dinner, no one fought and the house didn’t burn down. I realized that they will never starve now when they go off to college in a few years

A complete failure in motherhood, not really. But the fact that the kids still need help boiling water for pasta, well no maternal medal awarded here. The fact they remembered to salt the water for pasta- check one in the win column for me.

Dinner made by the kids

Ukrainian Perohi – A Holiday Favorite

I am pleased to be part of the 3rd annual Pittsburgh Guest-Blogger Event! This event is otherwise know as The Great Pittsburgh Blog Swap of 2015. Today’s blog post comes from the talented team of Fox and Michael from the blog 101 Achievements. You can see my post over on In Pursuit of Simple where I share with all of you my reason why I will not be getting the mother of the year award.

Michael and Fox from 101 Achievements here; we are so thrilled to be guest blogging on Nicky D Cooks for The Great Pittsburgh Blog Swap of 2015!

We’d like to share one of our favorite “peasant foods” that we often make for our families. That food is homemade Ukrainian-style perohi, better known around Pittsburgh as pierogies.

101achievements-image-1

Buttered Perohi Cooling

While most ‘Burghers know that you can put pretty much anything you want into a pierogie, we make our pierogies for Christmas Eve and the Lenten season, which in the Ukrainian tradition are meatless. So, we use Fox’s Baba’s recipe to make a potato-and-cheese pierogie, as well as a prune pierogie.

Now, before you get grossed out over prune-stuffed pierogies, just trust us that they’re a delicious, desserty counterpart to your typical savory pierogie.

A word of warning before we begin: if you embark upon this adventure, it’s important to note that pierogie making is an all-day affair. The recipe we’re sharing makes between 6 and 8 dozen pierogies, depending on how thinly you roll your dough; that’s a lot of pinching, boiling, and frying. The more family members you can recruit to help, the faster, easier, and more fun this process will be. In addition to the two of us, our assembly group has included our mother, grandmother, aunt, cousins, and occasionally a father (whose pierogies resemble a handlebar mustache more than your typical pillow of dough).

101achievements-image-2

Raw Perohi

We often prepare the dough and the filling ahead of time, as that alone can take quite a while. For the filling, there are a variety of cheeses that you can use; Fox’s Baba always used Velveeta cheese block, though, and even as die-hard buy-fresh-buy-local folk, that’s what we still use to this day.

Dough ingredients:
• 24oz farmer’s dry cottage cheese
• 2 eggs
• 2 tbsp vegetable oil
• 1-1/2 tsp salt
• 4 cups flour

Potato filling ingredients:
• 1 1-1/2 pound jar sauerkraut
• 1 small onion
• ½ stick of butter
• 7-8 medium potatoes
• ½ pound Velveeta cheese block (or roughly 8-10 slices of American cheese)

Prune filling ingredients:
• 7oz dried prunes

Frying ingredients:
• 2 sticks butter
• 1 large chopped onion

Directions:

To make dough: stir and mix up the cottage cheese until it is reasonably smooth (it will still have some fine lumps). Beat eggs, oil, and salt into the cheese. Gradually add flour. After three cups, the dough may be dry enough to roll. Reserve the remainder of the flour for rolling the dough out.

101achievements-image-4

Dough ready for rolling

101achievements-image-3

Dough circles cut with pint glass

Dust a flat surface and a rolling pin with flour; roll out the dough to about 1/16th of an inch thickness. Cut the dough into circles—the mouth of a pint beer glass is the perfect size to do your cutting.

101achievements-image-5

Potato filling ingredients

To make potato filling: pour sauerkraut into a colander and rinse with cold water to take out some of the excess salt. Place drained sauerkraut in a pot. Saute a small onion in butter. Add butter and onions to the pot containing the sauerkraut. Add water to the pot until it reaches the top of the sauerkraut. Simmer until most of the water evaporates—the kraut should be soft, not crunchy like when first out of the jar. Drain well. Peel and boil the potatoes until soft; drain and begin mashing. Slice the cheese into 8 to 10 chunks and stir into mashed potatoes. Add sauerkraut-onion mixture and stir until everything is blended. Allow filling to cool.

101achievements-image-6

Prunes-more delicious than you think!

To make prune filling: add dried prunes into a pot and fill pot with water until tops of prunes are covered. Simmer gently until prunes are soft. Cook out most of the water and let prunes cool until they are comfortable to touch.

101achievements-image-7

Better and onions; smells like Baba’s kitchen

Assembly: fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. In a separate pan, melt two sticks of butter. Chop a large onion and fry it in the butter; remove from heat when onions soften. Take a circle of dough and fill with either a small scoop of potato mixture, or one prune. Fold dough and pinch the edges, forming a complete seal.

101achievements-image-8

“Pinch them till they hurt”

If the dough has begun to dry, dip your fingertips in water before pinching. Repeat until you have about 1 dozen uncooked perohi. Carefully drop the dozen perohi into the boiling water, letting them sink to the bottom.

101achievements-image-9

Boiling perohi

Boil until perohi begin to float; lower the heat and let them cook for three minutes more. Remove with a slotted spoon and let drain them in a colander. Move perohi to a bowl and coat them with onions and butter to prevent sticking. Place perohi on a pan covered with wax paper and allow them to cool. Repeat process until all dough and filling has been used; makes approximately 6 to 8 dozen perohi.

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Perohi ready to serve

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Our Lucy, an honorary Ukrainian

At this point, the perohi are ready to be eaten or stored. They can be refrigerated or frozen. The perohi can be reheated in the microwave, but they taste best if reheated by frying them again in fresh butter and onions, until slightly crisped.

 

The Great Pittsburgh Blog Swap of 2015

sunshineOn Wednesday April 1, I am partaking in blogger event in Pittsburgh known as The Great Pittsburgh Blog Swap of 2015.

It is blog swap that involves about 40 Pittsburgh bloggers. We will be guest blogging for one specific blogger on this day.

Here is what you will see on my blog- I’ll be featuring a guest post from another talented Pittsburgh blogger. And yes it is a food themed blog- but I can’t tell you what it is because it is a secret, but all I can say is that it is incredible and I am putting this on my must try list soon.

You will be able to read my post that I have written for this occasion on another amazing Pittsburgh blog.

It has been such a wonderful opportunity and I am so excited to be part of such a great event.

A special shout out to the person who put this together Alex. A talented writer, witty twitter person and an all-around great human being to know.

Check out his blog@ http://www.everybodylovesyou.net/