Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Mom Sambito's Cacciatore"

Near the start of this project I received a letter from my mother-in-law whom I am so blessed to be very close with.  Enclosed was a hand-written note and recipe for "Chicken Cacciatore", and she also included a donation for our Jars.  We were so grateful to receive this as "Grandma Sambito" is such an integral part of this project--our children are her descendants, and she is here as one member of the "first-generation" straight from Sicily, Italy!  Grandma Sambito's parents, Josephine and Cono, arrived on Ellis Island shortly before World War I.   They settled in Brooklyn and started their family.  Grandma Sambito was the second child born to Josephine and Cono, with Grace being the first, and their childhood was filled with traditional family values and lots of home-cooked meals.  Other than the local Italian deli in her Brooklyn neighborhood, "fast food" was not part of her or her family's days...rather, home-cooked, hand-made meals were what brought the family together. 

In our fast-paced present suburban life here in California, I am trying so vehemently to implement these old-time, traditional and meaningful values into our children, all centered around the family table.  Statistics show that the more meals shared as a family with meaningful conversation, the lower the odds of alcohol or drug abuse in the children as they mature.  I believe it!  When a child has a sense of belonging, and a sense of feeling "important" in a family home, their self esteem is encouraged and nurtured.

I heard Carrie Underwood's new song titled, "Temporary Home" recently, and it brought tears to my eyes when I really paid attention to the lyrics.  It begins with a boy who is placed in a foster home, but he knows that his "permanent home" is really in Heaven...then goes on to a single Mom's struggle with the same belief, and ends with an older man who knows that this "was" his "temporary home" as he is on his death bed and sees God's face...beautiful song and validating lyrics as to what I believe. 

The fact that there are so very many people without homes here on Earth, and so many children being placed in foster care, and so many single-parents on their own with children--I pray that they can know that this is just a "temporary home", and that there are people who really care and who are trying to make even the slightest bit of difference.  I pray that more individuals will day-by-day perhaps "give" a little here and there.  Never mind what is going on with the government, or in the financial sector...for this is all so temporary--your struggles, along with your triumphs, are all too accurately "temporary".  So, enjoy each day and know that everyone has some cross that they are bearing.  Do what you can to make a difference because the biggest blessing of all is in helping others less fortunate than you.

Temporary Home Lyrics:

Little boy, 6 years old
A little too used to bein' alone
Another new mom and dad,another school
Another house that'll never be home
When people ask him how he likes this place
He looks up and says with a smile upon his face

"This is my temporary home
It's not where I belong
Windows and rooms that I'm passin' through
This is just a stop, on the way to where I'm going
I'm not afraid because I know this is my
Temporary Home."

Young mom on her own
She needs a little help got nowhere to go
She's lookin' for a job, lookin' for a way out
Because a half-way house will never be a home
At night she whispers to her baby girl
Someday we'll find a place here in this world

"This is our temporary home
It's not where we belong
Windows and rooms that we're passin' through
This is just a stop, on the way to where we're going
I'm not afraid because I know this is our
Temporary Home."

Old man, hospital bed
The room is filled with people he loves
And he whispers don't cry for me
I'll see you all someday
He looks up and says "I can see God's face."
"This is my temporary Home
It's not where I belong
Windows and rooms that I'm passin' through
This was just a stop,on the way to where I'm going
I'm not afraid because I know this was
My temporary home."

This is our temporary home.

I made my mother-in-law's "Chicken Cacciatore" recipe which received unanimous thumbs-up!  I am not going to publish this recipe, though, because I think it important to hold on to a family recipe that is most likely closely-linked to Italy!  A family secret so-to-speak...I will, however, share one secret:  it involved a Crock Pot!  We loved it!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Fellowship With Family"

Posted by PicasaOn Monday evening, my Dad and step-mom Edie, a.k.a. "Oma!", came over for dinner. I was so excited to cook for them as our getting together does not happen often-enough. Busy schedules, busy lives...but we always know that we love each other. Always present are our giggling and laugh-fests, as Oma always has funny new jokes and stories to share.

My Dad has had a lot of health issues so I am often stopped in my tracks just trying to take-in-the-moment, as when he has good days and a long stint of good reports, I just want to hang on to that and have it not change. It goes the same with Oma...she is a breast cancer survivor, and we all are so thankful that that is still the case.

With my children, I am borderline "obsessed" with the "being in the moment"...I just want to freeze time! As I was walking with Giovanni yesterday, hand-in-hand, I got teary eyed knowing that the day will come all too quickly where that hand is enormous and very much belonging to a MAN. Where will my little boy have gone???  He is here right now, but he is ever growing and maturing...as much as that is a blessing, it is so difficult as a Mom to watch it disappear little by little with the passage of time. It's almost as if the memories are being filed in my mind manually...every day I stop and think about what is actually occurring -- "Life" is happening, and what a life God blessed me with. Being the mother to these two angelic individuals...and having a husband that loves me and just "gets" me...he has always given me the freedom to be myself, and we both know that we have what matters: each other and our children and our family.

Never will I take that for granted, and forever I will be trying to do my part in helping others with less than me. It is my duty...I truly feel this in every fabric of my being.

Here is the recipe that I made for my Dad and Oma -- it was delicious and served with pasta, salad and roasted-garlic ciabatta bread:

"Braised Chicken Thighs With Tomatoes and Olives" (Food & Wine magazine):

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 chicken thighs (about 3 pounds in all)
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh-ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped
12 cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, or 3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree
1/3 cup halved and pitted black olives
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil


1.In a large deep frying pan, heat the oil over moderately high heat. Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Put the chicken in the pan and brown well on both sides, about 8 minutes in all. Remove. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat. Reduce the heat to moderately low.

2.Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the rosemary and wine. Bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan to dislodge any brown bits. Boil until the wine is reduced to approximately 1/4 cup, 1 to 2 minutes.

3.Add the broth, tomatoes, olives, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the chicken, skin-side up, with any accumulated juices. Cover and simmer until the chicken is just done, 20 to 25 minutes. Push the chicken to the side of the pan and then mash the garlic cloves with a fork. Stir in 1/8 teaspoon pepper and the basil, bring just to a simmer, and serve.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


So, I am turning my children into "wild and crazy" Irish descendants...have to be festive on this day!!! Hubby is due back in town late tonight so I did not slave over a hot stove in 86 degree temperature, as the kids preferred Mickey D's after a warm T-ball practice of Giovanni's. We celebrate the day of the Irish -- so much of our ancestry lies here...the fair skin says it all! Top-o-the-evening to ya! May you all be safe, happy and well!
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Monday, March 15, 2010

"Giada's Rigatoni"

I pulled a loose paper out from a stack in my cookbook cabinet, and it happened to be something that I knew Joe would love!  ANYTHING with Italian sausage will for sure receive a thumbs-up from my Sicilian hubby!  This was titled, "Rigatoni with Sausage, Asparagus and Artichokes".  There was an article written around this recipe, and it was ironic what it said.  It was written by a woman who decided to cook this recipe for her husband because she was a self-admitted horrible cook.  She said that her husband had a crush on Giada deLaurentiis not because of her good looks (Yah, right!!!), but because of her skills in the kitchen.  So this author decided to give it a whirl to capture her husband's heart back.  It turned out delicious for the writer, and so her husband was elated.  Having a loyal husband is a blessing, yet one with a full tummy is an added bonus! 

I haven't blogged in almost a week because the busy schedules went into over-drive this past week.  From school fundraisers at restaurants, to late evening sport practices, to requests for "CPK"...Mommy took a bit of a break.  More to come--lots of it!  Can't wait for Spring Training to be over so the Culinary Institute of Irvine can get back into gear!

LOVE this quote:

Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams.  Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential.  Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do.--Pope John XXIII

Rigatoni with Sausage, Artichokes and Asparagus
3/4 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, sliced (reserve 2 tablespoons oil)
1 pound hot Italian sausage
2 (9-oz) packages frozen artichoke hearts (can used canned, instead)
1 small bunch asparagus (8 ounces), trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
¾ cups chicken broth
½ cup dry white wine
12 ounces rigatoni or other tubular pasta
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1/3 cup chopped, fresh basil¼ cup chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley (Italian Parsley)
8 ounces (about 1 ½ cups) fresh mozzarella, cubed (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat reserved oil in a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned, breaking meat into bite-size pieces with a fork, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a bowl. Add artichokes, asparagus and garlic to skillet, and sauté over medium heat until garlic is tender, about 2 minutes. Add broth, wine and sun-dried tomatoes. Boil over medium-high heat until sauce reduces slightly, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. (*NOTE: I like to add the asparagus later so that it doesn’t get overcooked) Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Drain pasta. Add pasta and sausage to artichoke mixture. Toss until sauce is almost absorbed by pasta, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in Parmesan cheese, basil, parsley and mozzarella, if using. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve, passing additional Parmesan cheese alongside. Makes 6 servings.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Memorable Motherhood Moments"

From the moment I gave birth to my first born, my life's purpose had finally emerged--a day that I had dreamt about when I was young.  The day that made me a  "Mother".  That day marked the first of so many "moments"--memorable moments that I pray my brain will always retain with clarity.  Moments that take your breath away because you just can't believe that you can love another human being THAT much, moments that test your every last bit of patience, moments that make you look to the Heavens with gratitude, moments of fear, moments of pure pride, moments of adoration, moments that mark a "first" of everything: first night they slept all night; first time they crawled; first tooth that appeared; first time they said "Mama" or "Dada"; first time trying solid foods; first steps; first birthday; first time they went on the potty; first day of school; first time throwing up; first lost tooth; And the famous First Grade.  There are so many of these first moments...I try my hardest to record them all, but undoubtedly many have gotten away from me.

With my children, there are moments in my memory that I wish I could just hit a "Play" button only to have them performed over and over again.  Sure, threre are those that we have captured on video or film, but then there are those that happen so suddenly and you find yourself wanting to freeze time.  The moments when you look at your child and you realize how FAST they are growing, and how much their childhood will soon become a memory.  I joke with Sophia that no matter how tall she gets, I will always hold her just like my baby girl.  I say this as I hold her and she giggles with delight as I am huffing-and-puffing as I say it due to her already being so tall and no longer weighing that of an infant or toddler.  Forever my little girl she will be...

Then there is Giovanni, who swears that he is going to marry me someday, and this just melts my heart!  To know that he will be one day soooo embarrassed as I remind him of this, makes me somewhat apprehensively sad.  These are the rights of passage...Freud taught us about them all.  My dear friend and family member, Nancy, said it best of all:  "There will NEVER be ANYONE who loves me like my son!"  Just writing that fills my eyes with tears.  A love only a mother can know...

For all those abused, neglected or forgotten children, who have perhaps grown into adults without a sense of purpose or direction, please know that you are not forgotten in people's prayers, and I would just reach out and hug you on the street if I knew that you had experienced pain or suffering as a child. I pray that those who had can find hope and healing.  Research shows that the abuse that exists in families is most likely "learned" behaviors from the past--the domino effect, if you will, which will just keep on repeating itself until love and healing take place--until an abused stops being an abuser. My prayer for the abused is that they can somehow find the way or the path toward believing that there is a life of non-violence and love awaiting them--a moment when they know in their heart that the cycle has been broken.  Noone deserves to be abused, but if you were, please do not become the abuser.  Find forgiveness, and grab onto hope as it is always there.  As for mothers who were perhaps abused as children, may you find forgiveness in your soul so that you can love your own children in the purest and strongest way -- the way that they deserve. 

A moment struck me recently as one of those I will hang on to:  I was picking up Giovanni from pre-school and I noticed a poster board on the wall that said, "How Do We Help Others"?  Underneath that, written in the teacher's handwriting were the quotes from the pre-schoolers.  I looked for Giovanni's name and there it was...his answer was, "Be a Super Hero!"  Perhaps this blog project is sinking in for him...he is learning to be a hero for those in need.  And in my eyes, he is "Super" and more!

On this past Saturday night I had my Mom, my brother Adam, and my brother-in-law Luke over for dinner.  Goo ("Christina" as non-family members know her) was skiing with girlfriends in Mammoth, Madi was out with her friends in L.A., and Joe was traveling on business. 

It is enjoyable to cook for males as they usually have huge appetites and you can be assured that not much will go to waste--provided that it is tasty.  So, I had the other two favorite men in my life over in hopes of feeding them and getting thumbs up!  I made one dish that I had made before as I trusted they would enjoy it.  It was the "Pork Romana" recipe and it was yum!  I then decided to do another guilty cheese-sauce pasta...this one contained three different cheeses and I again tossed it with linguine.  A caesar salad and garlic bread complemented the menu, and we had great conversation and a great time!  I am passionate about family dinners and what they mean for the children.  Seeing Giovanni and Sophia sitting there, quietly eating and chiming in with their funny renditions of whatever they were thinking at the time was delightful!

Here is the pasta recipe for you to enjoy...it goes best with a sweeter dish as the cheese has strong, bold flavors!

Tagliarini With Four Cheeses (but I used Three!)
From:  "365 Easy Italian Recipes "
1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces Italian fontina cheese, grated
4 ounces dolce latte gorgonzola or other mild blue cheese, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 ounces Bel Paese cheese (Have NO idea what this is -- couldn't find it!), cut up
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, about 4 ounces
1/2 teaspoon pepper, plus more for grinding
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 pound fresh tagliarini (I used linguine)

1.  In a nonreactive large saucepan, bring cream to a simmer over medium heat; be careful not to let it boil over.  Add fontina, gorgonzola, and Bel Paese.  Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring, until cheeses are melted and sauce is smooth, about 5 minutes.  Add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and cook, stirring, 1 minute.  Season with pepper and nutmeg.

2.  Meanwhile, cook tagliarini in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm, 2 to 4 minutes; drain.  Pour pasta and sauce into a warmed large bowl and toss together.  Pass remaining Parmesan cheese and a pepper mill on the side.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Dining with my Daughter"

It was "Dad's Night" at Giovanni's pre-school, and luckily his Dad flew back into town in time for the event, so I took our daughter, Sophia, out for a "dinner date" -- Giovanni and I have shared a few of these when Sophia and Joe have had their Indian Princess camp-outs.  We decided to go somewhere different--a place we haven't been to before as a family.  We settled on "Zov's" -- a classy local hang-out.  Sophia had never been there before and she was worth every over-priced menu item! 

I am amazed at how mature she is and how much she is a "little lady".  Just the way she held a conversation this evening was as if she and I were not at once connected by an umbilical cord.  However, there were times when she blurted, "Mommy, I love you more than anything in this world because I loved you FIRST!"  (This is in reference to whom she really felt connected to from in the womb).  She is my never-ending DELIGHT!  Sure there are times of challenge--where I feel like I am losing it with patience and the constant "because I told you so's"--but they are nil compared to the overflowing goodness that emanates from Sophia--she is a trooper! 

Sophia went to Giovanni's T-ball practice with me the other day, and she wanted to help the coach.  I told her to ask permission and he replied with "Sure!"  (Little did he know that he had a little adult at his side--way beyond her years!).  Sophia then ran to the car and grabbed her softball mitt--she immediately sprinted to the "Miteball" field to assist with the practice.  When I saw her rolling ground balls to the boys and saying, "That's what I want!" after they put it in their glove, I almost fell over!  I was silently saying, "Who is that child?"  Oh wait...she is mine!  She is 7, but has the heart and mind of a 30 year-old.  She was placing her hand on the shoulders of these boys saying, "You can do it, I know you can!"  

"Hello, God?"  I am listening, and I am soooo present and aware of your gifts of abundance!  Thank you!!!  We will always give back to prove that we acknowledge your goodness!  We praise you!  I hope that Kenton knows his influence:  "We were blessed to be a blessing"----and we're hoping to be just that!

Today I made a "Trader Joe's" Banana Bread--it was a mix from a box, but I added 3/4 cup chocolate chips and it was over-the-top delicious!!!  You can find the mix boxed in the store.  It is awesome!!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Saturday Night Savor"

I invited our dear friends, Rick and Starla over for dinner last Saturday night as my first attempt at cooking for those other than family for this project!  We had such a fun evening together, filled with many laughs of course!  They are so wonderful, and whether they were telling the truth or not, I am going to believe them when they said it was delicious and "Soooooo good!"  I simultaneously clapped my hands rapidly while stomping my feet as I was hoping that the meal would not be a flop!  How embarrassing that would be...

One of the things that I hope to accomplish with this project in addition to donating money, food and clothing to the homeless and hungry (and have Sophia and Giovanni absorb the essential necessity of doing so), is to learn how to cook for a large group.  I would love to host dinner parties often, but I am intimidated by the strategic "timing" of the recipes, what to do "ahead-of-time", doubling or tripling a recipe, what to do "while" people are comingling, etc., so that the evening would all go smoothly.  For instance, when Rick and Starla were here, I was often engaged in a great conversation with them, only to have to spin around to turn the pork, or stir the sauce, or drain the pasta, etc....a little hectic as I am an amateur at best!  However, I knew it was safe to attempt it all with them because they are my "peeps" -- such amazing friends and our kids just love each other.  I foresee many dinner parties in the future...hoping that I get better at all the timeline necessities in the meantime.

I must say that calories or nutrition were not at the "healthy" forefront of the menu selection, rather "taste" was what I was after.  I settled on "Pork Chops with Marsala and Fennel", and I paired that with a "Linguine with Cream and Gorgonzola Cheese".  I also prepared a field-greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette.  My sweet Madi was also here as a seated guest to this occasion, and she gave a huge thumbs-up too!  I am so grateful for the love I have in my life from both family and friends.  I will never minimize or take that humungous blessing for granted!

Here are the recipes for you all to enjoy...are any of you out there?  I would love to read your comments...

Pork Chops with Marsala and Fennel (Food & Wine magazine recipe)

1 tablespoon olive oil, more if needed
4 pork chops, about 3/4 inch thick (about 2 1/2 pounds in all)
Fresh-ground black pepper
1 onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb, cut into thin slices
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry marsala
2/3 cup canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1.In a large frying pan, heat the oil over moderate heat. Season the pork chops with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Put the chops in the pan. Cook, turning once, until browned and done to medium, about 5 minutes per side. Remove and put in a warm place.

2.If necessary, add oil to the pan to make about 2 tablespoons fat. Add the onion, fennel, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Uncover and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, 1 minute longer. Add the marsala. Bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan to dislodge any brown bits. Boil until reduced to approximately 1/4 cup, 1 to 2 minutes.

3.Stir in the broth, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and any accumulated juices from the meat. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, until the sauce thickens and the fennel is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon parsley, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and the pork chops. Cook until just heated through, 2 to 3 minutes.
And from "365 Easy Italian Recipes" by Rick Marzullo O'Connell,

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
6 ounces gorgonzola or other blue cheese
1 pound fresh fettuccine

1.  In a medium frying pan, toast walnuts 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat until lightly browned, shaking pan frequently.  Set aside.
2.  In a large saucepan, boil cream over medium heat until reduced to about 1 1/4 cups, about 5 minutes; be careful not to let it boil over.  Stir in cheese until melted.
3. Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, 2 to 4 minutes; drain.  Pour pasta and sauce into a warmed large bowl and toss together.  Sprinkle with walnuts.