Steak and Potato Pie

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4 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 / 2 onion, chopped
1/ 4 to 1/ 2 cup flour
1 cup beef broth
1 cup half and half

2 9-inch deep dish piecrusts, room temperature
2 top pie crusts, room temperature

1 1/ 2 cups cooked steak, cubed
3 to 4 baked potatoes, cooled, peeled and cubed
Salt and pepper

1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon half and half

1. Oven 450 degrees
2. In a medium pot, add butter or margarine and onions. Sauté onions until tender.
3. In the meantime, in a bowl, toss the steak and potato cubes. Add salt and pepper and toss again. Place the bottom pie crusts on a large cookie sheet. Fill both bottom pie crusts evenly with the steak and potato mixture. Set aside.
4. Going back to the pot of onions and butter, under a low / medium flame, with a wooden spoon, add flour and make a roué. Gradually add the beef broth to thicken the sauce. As it thickens, gradually add the half and half to the sauce. Continuously, keep stirring until you have a smooth white sauce.
5. Pour the white sauce into the piecrusts, over the steak and potato mixture.
6. Place the top pie crusts onto each pie. Pinch the sides and vent the top pie crusts with the point of a sharp knife with a few stabs all over.
7. Mix the egg yolk and half and half together. Brush the entire top of the two piecrusts, with the egg wash.
8. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn oven to 350 degrees and continue cooking for 35-45 minutes longer.
9. Let stand 15 minutes before slicing. Serve immediately.
Optional – Put whatever add ins you want into your pie, example – steamed broccoli, green
pepper, or substitute the onion with scallion, etc. Make it your own.
10. ENJOY – Steak and Potato Pie, tastes good today, but tastes even better tomorrow!

Meat and potatoes men are what this pie is all about. The best thing about this recipe is that this is a meal made from leftovers. The plan: make extra steak and baked potatoes for dinner one night so that you’ll have enough leftover to prepare steak and potato pie the next night. While you’re at it, consider making even more so you can bake 2 pies, one for dinner and the other for the freezer!

My son and his roommate lived in a small 1 bedroom cottage on campus during his freshman year of college. I was told by college personnel not to purchase a meal plan because my son had a kitchen in his cottage. So, we brought our son to school with a large amount of food from the price club warehouse. While steak and shrimp were not part of this care package, we did bring tons of pasta, drink mixes, cereals, frozen meatballs and hamburgers, crackers and various junk foods of his choice. This sustained him for quite a while. Then he started to really miss my home cooking. For his birthday in November, I told him I would make food for him to take back after Thanksgiving. Anything he wanted, he could have, and he was craving steak and potato pie. My son, Tom, loved meat and potatoes. These were some his favorite foods, so I made 3 pies for him. He ate one at home before he even went back to school! I told him to share the remaining 2 pies with his friends, but I can’t swear that they got any of the bounty. Every time Tom came home after that, I had to make steak and potato pies just for him.

When Tom was back home after graduation, his appetite was as hardy as ever, and my food bill was bigger than ever. One time I took out a pie from the freezer and left instructions to put it in the oven before I came home from work. Tom and the rest of the family were really looking forward to that steak and potato pie for dinner that night. I walked in the door from work, starving. The kitchen smelled delicious, but it wasn’t steak and potato pie, it was apple pie instead! Talk about disappointment. I had never labeled the pie and just assumed it was steak and potato pie when I defrosted it. Luckily, I was forgiven, because my apple pie was equally delicious!

When life gives you apple pie, instead of steak and potato, serve it warm with vanilla ice cream!

Carrot Bread

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1 cup finely grated carrots
2 eggs
1 / 2 cup margarine or butter, softened
1 1 / 2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 / 2 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 / 3 cup oats
1 / 2 cup chopped walnuts

1. Oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease a 8 x 4 x 2-inch loaf pan. Combine flour, oats and baking soda in a bowl.
Sift together. In a larger bowl, beat butter or margarine, add sugar. Then add eggs, milk and vanilla. Gradually add in carrots.
3. Add flour mixture slowly to the carrot mixture. Lastly, stir in walnuts. Spread batter in loaf pan.
4. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes or until golden. Test with a toothpick until it comes out clean from the bread. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, loosen around the edges with a butter knife and then remove bread from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
5. Optional – Double the recipe and make 2 loaves. Serve one now and freeze the other. This recipe freezes well!
6. ENJOY! – Delicious and nutritious!

Years ago, a reader requested some healthy snack recipes for her children. This carrot bread is a perfect example of a healthy snack for kids as well as a great breakfast bread or afternoon tea bread.

Having 3 children of my own, I know how they can have bottomless stomachs when it comes to eating. My son, Tom, was the ultimate eating machine. He was born hungry. My first child came into this world at 9 pounds and 13 ounces. The nurses came to see who had this big baby. One of the nurses commented, “You didn’t have a baby, you had a man”. The doctor said to feed my child every 4 hours but Tom wanted to eat every 2 hours. It has been that way ever since. Mind you this son of mine had a hard time gaining weight as a teenager. He was 6’3’ and his built was slender, still is; lucky him. One time when Tom was about 12 years old, I was woken up at about 3:00 am in the middle of the night from the sound of humming. There was Tom in the kitchen eating big bowl of cereal. His reasoning was he woke up hungry and had to eat at 3:00 am. Do you know the saying, “Feed me, I’m yours”, well it is true. It is very hard for a mother not to feed a hungry child at any time, day or night.

Providing healthy snacks for my son and 2 daughters had been a challenge for me. When I was growing up the only thing I was allowed after school was a small sweet and then nothing else until our 6:00 p.m. dinner. I remember it was torture to wait those 3 hours until dinner was ready. My mother always kept celery and carrots cleaned and in the refrigerator for a ready snack all the time. I followed this practice with my own children. The only difference with mom and me is that I let my kids dip their celery and carrots in salad dressing. After dinner and after dessert, the kids were always still hungry. “You can have some fruit”, was always my answer. The simple things in life are usually the easiest answers.

Fast forward to present day and some things never change. Whenever I go to my son, Tom’s, home I bring food, whether cookies, macaroni and cheese, chicken soup, etc. I never go empty handed. But,just recently, I went to his home immediately from work and arrived to babysit my grandkids without bringing anything. My grandson, Tommy, after a hug and kiss, said, “Tima, did you bring me anything to eat!”
When I said not this time, he let out a big disappointed cry of, “Ahhhhhhh,I’m so hungry!” Like I said, some things never change, like boys and their bottomless stomachs.

The breads I make like this carrot bread, provide a great snack. Instead of candy or chips, a slice of bread is delicious and filling for a child or an adult. Bake, bake and bake some more. The house will be warm and their tummies will be full, at least until the hungry cry of, “Mom, can I have something to eat!”

Polenta

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3 1 / 2 cups chicken broth, homemade or 2 14 1/ 2 ounce cans of chicken broth
1 1 / 2 cups yellow corn meal
3 / 4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 / 2 cup milk
olive oil

spaghetti sauce, homemade preferred
Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a medium pot bring chicken broth to a boil. Gradually whisk in corn meal.
Reduce heat to a medium flame Continue cooking until mixture is very thick and creamy, about 10 minutes. Add Parmesan cheese and milk, blending well.
3. In the meantime grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with olive oil. Pour Polenta mixture into pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until firm to touch. Let it sit and cool a few minutes before removing from pan.
4. Cut into 8 square pieces. Brush both sides of polenta lightly with olive oil and then place onto a medium flame grill. Grill both sides for a few minutes. Serve immediately with homemade spaghetti sauce over the top and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 8.
5. ENJOY! – Great appetizer or anytime dish!

This column is dedicated to my mom, gone but never forgotten, for Mother’s Day!

(One of my friends, Nancy, asked me how do you cook Polenta? She received a store bought polenta as part of a gift and gave it to me. She had never used Polenta before and didn’t know anything about it.
I decided to conduct a taste test of the store bought Polenta along with my mom’s homemade Polenta recipe. My husband and I sampled both Polentas, prepared the same way of brushing olive oil on both sides and grilling. My husband said both were good, but I preferred my mom’s for two reasons. First and foremost, my mom’s had more flavor and second was the texture. The store bought polenta slice was too grainy and tense for me, and my mom’s was more softer and creamier on the inside while crispy on the outside.)

Food is a very strong influence in my life. If you read my column you know me and you know my relationship with food. Food is part of who I am. All special occasions in my life conjure up memories of food and that is how I relate to them. For others, it is visions or smells. My friend, Maura, can tell you what color clothes a person was wearing on a particular day from the past. Every memory for her is a color. She has extraordinary total recall of many events from our shared childhood for which I have none. But if food is involved, I can remember what we ate and with whom.

I realize that food is very powerful for most people in my circle of friends and family. My friends all cook certain foods for certain reasons. Jean will serve sausage in memory of her father because he really enjoyed it, even though her dad has been deceased for over 20 years. When another friend’s daughter left for college, she still faithfully brought home chicken cutlets because her daughter liked them so much. My own daughter, Mia, became very emotional when she went to an Italian restaurant after her godfather, Uncle Dom, passed away. She was reluctant to order Tortoni ice cream, which he always ordered for her when he took us all out to dinner. She felt she couldn’t bare have to have it with him not there. I, myself, always think of my father whenever I have raviolis. That was our favorite dish and I always remember him sitting at the head of the table on a Sunday afternoon with a big bowl of raviolis in front of him. These memories of people and their recipes make me feel as if everyone I have written about is honored and a part of my life, even if they are no longer physically with us.

Cooking for loved ones, gone but not forgotten, brings me to this recipe for Polenta. I have such a vivid fond memory of my mother taking out a pan of Polenta from the oven on a Friday evening with everyone home at the dinner table. When I asked her for her Polenta recipe years ago, my mom could only remember that she made it with chicken broth and corn meal. I had this quest to make Polenta and remember a happy time from my childhood family home life. I searched cookbooks and talked to many people about it. Unfortunately, I could not find a recipe I liked until now. In a homemade pasta shop in New Jersey, I noticed that they sold a grainer corn meal used for Polenta. I talked to the woman behind the counter and we connected over cooking and she told me the way she made Polenta. I promised to mail her one of my recipes, and I made some scribble notes on her polenta recipe which called for water instead I followed my mom’s advice of using chicken broth, and it tasted great! Every time I eat Polenta I happily relive fond memories of sitting around our Formica kitchen table in Woodside, Queens. We didn’t have enough chairs to fit around the table, so I sat on a little wooden stool my dad had made. I never minded because we certainly had more than enough love to go around that old table even without all the chairs!

Linguine with Clam Sauce

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3 ½ to 4 ½ dozen small little neck clams
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons margarine
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 / 2 cup white wine
1/ 4 cup parsley, chopped
Oregano
Basil
Salt and pepper

1 16 ounce box of linguine

1. Scrub clams well under cold water. Place in a large pot with ½ cup water. Cover pot and simmer until clams pop open (about 10 to 15 minutes). Remove opened clams from pot. Take clams from shells, place in a bowl, then discard empty shells. Strain clam broth from pot through a cloth. Reserve clam broth in a bowl, set aside. Chop clams into smaller pieces on a cutting board, then return to bowl.
2. In a large frying pan heat butter and margarine with olive oil. Add chopped garlic and onion, sauté until tender. Add oregano, parsley, basil, clam broth, white wine, salt and pepper, continue to cook. Add clams last. Continue to simmer on a low flame
3. In the meantime cook the linguine al dente.
4. In a large serving bowl, place cooked linguine. Pour clam sauce over center of pasta bowl. Toss .
5. ENJOY – Pasta with clams, seafood made at home!

What happened to the family dinner?

I miss Sunday family dinners. In the good old days, we’d gather for the 2:00 pm Sunday dinner because that’s what you did on Sundays with immediate or extended family. It was the norm; no questions asked. After I had my own family, I tried to continue hosting Sunday family dinners. More often than not, my mom, aunt and uncle would join us. It has been difficult to carry on the tradition as my children no longer live nearby. Most Sundays I will cook up a storm and my husband and I will have a nice dinner together, with leftovers for Monday’s dinner and maybe a lunch for work. Just the two of us at the table is too quiet for me. So, whenever I get an opportunity to have a family dinner with all of our children and grandchildren, I usually go all out.

Recently, I had the chance to have a family dinner with everyone on a Saturday night instead of on a Sunday. As I shopped for the big dinner, planning on preparing shrimp, I spied these little neck clams. These little clams inspired me to prepare something different, like linguine in clam sauce, a favorite of my husband’s. Once the main dish is established, it’s easy to put together a menu.
My daughter, Marisa, requested stuffed mushrooms and her wish was granted. Luckily, my kids eat pretty much anything; I am the fuzzy eater in the family.

My Saturday night menu: stuffed mushrooms, antipasto platter with Italian bread, fresh vegetables with hummus dip, chips and sour cream dip, and to my grandkids’ delight, deviled eggs as appetizers.
The main dishes were linguine in clam sauce, a tray of sausages with peppers, meatballs, a tray of stuffed shells (for anyone who doesn’t like clams) and salad.

Dessert consisted of strawberries, homemade cookies and mini cheesecakes, and donuts for the kids. I thought this was a lot of food. Apparently not, from my daughter, Marisa’s, comment, “Mom you didn’t make as much food as you usually do!” Really, come on. At the end of the day, there was very little food leftover.

Whether it is too much food or too little food, Sunday afternoon or Saturday night, at the end of the day, I am happy because we had our family dinner together. Life just doesn’t get better than that!

Grandma Nanni’s Bread Box Cookie Jar

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A cookie jar can be anything that contains cookies! The cookie jar is easily reachable and usually holds a place of honor and importance on the kitchen counter. A kitchen that has a cookie jar instantly makes me feel comfortable with the person who owns it. My kitchen has had many a cookie jar over the years. They were usually big ceramic holiday theme shaped figurines that lasted through the season.

But there has been one cookie jar that has been in my kitchen for over 30 years. It is a large white enamel bread box. At one time it was my husband, Tom’s, Grandma Nanni’s cookie jar. Grandma Nanni kept her bread box which was used as her cookie jar within arm’s reach from her kitchen table. Inside were homemade cookies or store bought biscotti. The first time I met Grandma Nanni, I was just a young, nervous, teenage girl who was dating her grandson. With open arms she welcomed me into her kitchen and took cookies out of the bread box to serve Tom and I. From that moment on, I was hooked on Grandma Nanni. Tom and I shared a special common bond of living in the same house as our Italian grandmothers, both named Mary. Even though Grandma Nanni and the bread box had seen better days, together they were a wonderful sight to see on any given day. Grandma Nanni made not only me but everyone who came into her home and into her kitchen, happy just to see her. With a cookie or a meal, she was all about feeding you the minute you walked in the door.

The bread box in my kitchen is a constant reminder of Grandma Nanni and her love of family. It is on top of my refrigerator, as my kitchen is very small and the bread box is very large. But it is a part of Tom’s and my own past that is too precious to give up. The mere presence of the bread box from days gone by represents the love of grandmothers for their families. As a grandmother myself, I can only hope my grandchildren will one day cherish something of mine with as much fondness as I have for Grandma Nanni’s bread box!

Cannoli Cake

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1 package butter recipe yellow cake mix

1 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/4 cup marcaspone cheese
mini chocolate chips

16 ounces heavy cream
powdered sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sliced almonds, toasted
mini chocolate chips
powdered cocoa

1. Prepare cake mix according to package directions ahead of time. Use 2 8 or 9 inch greased and floured baking pans.
Cool after baking for 15 in pan and then remove to cool completely on wire racks. Set aside till later. (I bake the cake the day
before or 4 hours before preparing the rest of the recipe)
2. In a large bowl or mixer, add ricotta cheese, powdered sugar and marcaspone cheese. Beat until creamy but try not to over mix the filling.
Remove bowl from mixer and add mini chocolate chips 1/2 cup at a time stirring with a spoon, depending how much chocolate you want in your
cannoli cream filling.
3. In the meantime, slice the cakes in half to get four layers. Layer cake, cannoli, cake, cannoli until you have 3 layers of cannoli filling.
Whip the heavy cream with powdered sugar to taste adding the almond and vanilla extracts. Spread whipped cream over the entire top and sides
of cake. Put toasted almond sliced all around the sides of the cake. On top around the edges of the cake add mini chocolate chips to make
a boarder. Sprinkle powdered cocoa through a mini sifter over the top center of the cake. Store in the refrigerator till ready to serve.
4. ENJOY – Best cake ever! Let’s get this party started!

My daughter and her husband, Marisa & Jeff, prepare a special cake for Christmas Day every year which is beautiful to the eye as well as delicious to the palate. This year was no exception; they prepared a new recipe, cannoli cake. The original recipe is on Taste of Home website and it is called Marvelous Cannoli Cake. Marisa and Jeff were inspired by it and proceeded to create their own version. They recently made it for their son’s christening party to be enjoyed by family and friends. As usual, it was made to perfection, with not only two layers of vanilla cake, but also two layers of chocolate cake.

The cake was so exceptional that I felt compelled to make it myself. My husband and I were invited to our good friends, Patti and Eddie’s home for a New Year’s Eve dinner. I offered to make the dessert. Not having all the ingredients in the house didn’t deter me one bit; I thought I could wing it. I prepared the cake early in the morning and let it cool. Running around all day, I suddenly realized I had to finish preparing the rest of the cake. Haste makes waste! While toasting the almond slices, I got distracted and burnt almost all of them. The little bit of mini chocolate chips that I scoured the house for went into the cannoli cream. Oops — the filling didn’t include the usual vanilla and almond extracts. Improvise is my motto, especially when it is too late to run to the store. I made due by placing a few toasted almond slices on top in the center of the cake and sifted powdered cocoa to create a border. Having run out of chocolate chips, I used chocolate sprinkles for the decorations all around the sides of the cake. When I was done, I sent the photo to Marisa and Jeff in a text to show how proud I was. Jeff immediately text replied, “Hope it tastes better than it looks!” Not the best way to win over the mother-in-law, if you know what I mean! No hurt feelings, I know Jeff was only kidding.

When I finally unveiled my version at Eddie & Patti’s, I received praises all around. After everyone enjoyed a slice, made very obvious by the sighing going on, even more praises came my way.

Moral of this story: Never judge a cake by it’s frosting!

RITA’S RISOTTO BALLS

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3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
3 cup + 3 ounces water

3 egg yolks
1/ 2 cup grated Romano cheese
1 tablespoon chopped Parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Italian bread crumbs
Canola oil

1. Melt the butter and olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add risotto and cook a few minutes. Add some of the water just to cover the risotto and simmer. Continue sly stir with a wooden spoon. As the risotto thickens, add more of the water at about 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently. Wait until each addition of water is almost completely absorbed before adding the next. When the rice has cooked for 15 minutes or more and most of the liquid has been incorporated, continue to cook a few more minutes until all liquid is absorbed. Do not overcook. When done, remove rice from the stove and scoop into a bowl.
2. Cool the risotto completely, not warm, cool (wait a few hours). Option – cook risotto and store in refrigerator overnight, before continuing recipe.
3. Take the cooled risotto and stir in the Parmesan cheese, parsley, egg yolks, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly with a spoon. Use your hands when ready to roll the risotto balls. Make them 1 to 1 1/ 2 inch round. The risotto will be sticky. Then roll the balls into the Italian bread crumbs. Place the risotto ball on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. This recipe makes 30 to 36 balls, depending on the size.
Place cookie sheet of balls into refrigerator for another hour.
4. When you are ready to fry, heat canola oil in a pot or deep fryer. Fry 6 to 8 balls at a time in the fryer basket for 3 to 4 minutes. Check balls, they should be a golden brown color. Drain the balls on paper towels. Serve immediately while still warm. Option – serve homemade tomato sauce on the side for dipping.
5. ENJOY – You say Rice, I say Risotto, either way it tastes Buona!

Risotto Balls? I have had risotto and I have had rice balls, but risotto balls? My reaction exactly, until I tasted Rita’s last Christmas. I’ll never forget the lovely experience of my very first risotto ball.

Maria, my good friend for many years, had her mom staying with her over the holidays. I stopped by for an impromptu visit to say hello and spread some Christmas cheer with a platter of my homemade cookies. Of course, within minutes, I too was offered some of their cookies, but I declined since I was just about cookied out. However, when I was offered what appeared to be a rice ball, I was intrigued and went for it. I thought to myself, wait a minute – hold the show. I didn’t see the familiar sight of meat or peas in this small and delicate ball. The appeal was instantaneous, and I scarfed it down. I knew then that I had to make them myself!

Maria’s mom, Rita, has been making these risotto balls for years, just as long as her own mother, Gelsomina, had before her. Generational recipes handed down from mothers to daughters are my favorite kind of recipes. When the Christmas holidays ended and a new year began, I kept thinking about those risotto balls. Maria, I begged, “Can you get me your mom’s risotto ball recipe?” Finally, I got the call I’d been hoping for. It was Rita calling from her home in Florida, “Maria told me you want my risotto ball recipe.” When I asked her what brand of risotto she used, her response was, “I don’t know what it is, but they sell it in Florida.” Ya gotta love it!

After making the risotto balls, and receiving my family’s praise, I thought to myself – honestly, they’re good, but Rita’s are better. I believe this is one of those dishes that will get better over time. In fact, I’m pretty sure that after another 10 or 20 years, just maybe, my risotto balls will be just as good as Rita’s!

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