Marisa’s Mystical Meatballs

February 9, 2018

These meatballs are really mystical if you consider the sway they hold on my husband, his brother, and his father.  They go wild for these meatballs.

Well, wild in that very restrained Northern Italian way.

If they were Southern Italian, where a dinner conversation can seem like a minor riot, their meatball response would barely register on the scale.  It would signal almost utter disregard for the meatballs.

But that, in fact, is not the case.  The meatballs hold some sort of magical, mystical charm.

Marisa, of course, is my mother-in-law and these are her meatballs.  She considers them quite unusual, having learned to make them from her mother and basically not remembering any other relatives or friends making something similar.

And, as meatballs, they ARE unusual!

An old-fashioned ricer is still an indispensable piece of kitchen equipment. Make sure yours is very sturdy. Many new ones are not.

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But here’s a secret that I haven’t told anyone yet.  They really AREN’T meatballs.  They’re croquettes!  Crocchette in Italian.

There, I said it.  Marisa’s Mystical Meatballs aren’t really meatballs.  But everybody in the family calls them “Ma’s Meatballs.”  “Ma’s Croquettes” doesn’t have the same alliterative allure, even if it’s more accurate.

My mother-in-law and father-in-law celebrating his birthday.

When I did a Google search for crocchette, Google turned up about 1,730,000 results in 0.51 seconds.  When I searched for crocchette patate e carne (potato and meat croquettes), Google returned 1,500,000 results in 0.72 seconds.

And that was doing searches in Italian!

I found a Japanese woman who seems to have the same relationship to her mother’s meat and potato croquettes (korokke) as my husband and his family have to his mother’s.


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The meat for these “meatballs” (a word I’ll use in deference to my husband and his family of origin) is boiled before being finely chopped.  This presents a perfect opportunity to make a really nice beef broth.  You don’t have to do that, of course, but since you’re going to be boiling the meat anyhow, and since it only takes a few extra minutes to throw some aromatics into the pot, why not!

The broth from the meat for the specific batch of meatballs shown in this blog is sitting in the freezer ready to be turned into Auntie Helen’s Stracciatella, which will be coming up on the blog next month.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


 

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Marisa's Mystical Meatballs
Marisa says she usually uses cross-cut beef shank for the meatballs. When we made them, she also a piece of beef she bought for soup so we used both. In the end, we got ½ pound of cooked beef, with fat and gristle removed. Adjust the proportion of the other ingredients if you get substantially more or less cooked beef. If you want to use just cross-cut beef shank, I would try about 2 ½-3 lbs. The beef is boiled and then finely chopped to make the meatballs, giving you the opportunity to make a really nice beef broth with just a few minutes more work.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Beef and Broth
Meatballs
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Beef and Broth
Meatballs
Votes: 0
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Instructions
Beef and Broth
  1. Cross-cut beef shank.
  2. Put the meat and all other broth ingredients in a large stock pot.
  3. Cover with abundant cold water.
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 4-6 hours, until the meat is very tender.
  5. Remove and cool the beef.
  6. Strain the broth and reserve for another use.
Meatballs
  1. Remove fat, gristle and bone from beef. You should have approximately ½ pound of cooked beef.
  2. Cook the unpeeled potatoes in boiling water until you can easily pierce them with the tines of a long fork or paring knife, 20-25 minutes.
  3. Remove the potatoes from the water and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, mince the garlic or grate it on a microplane grater.
  5. Combine beef, parsley and garlic in a food processor. Process until finely chopped.
  6. Peel the slightly cooled potatoes. If they are too cool it will be difficult to rice them.
  7. Pass the potatoes through a ricer.
  8. Combine the beef mixture with the potatoes, nutmeg, allspice, salt and black pepper.
  9. Mix well with a large spoon or your hands.
  10. Add the lightly beaten eggs.
  11. Mix well using your hands.
  12. Form the mixture into 16 balls and then flatten them slightly.
  13. Lightly roll the meatballs in fine dry breadcrumbs.
  14. Pour ⅛ inch of oil into a large sauté pan.
  15. Heat the oil on medium-high heat.
  16. Fry the meatballs in two batches, on medium-high, flipping once, until brown.
  17. Drain on paper towels.
  18. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Torta di Riso (Italian Rice Tart)

January 31, 2018

Torta di Riso is an Italian specialty.  It is basically a rice pudding baked inside of a pastry crust; a Rice Tart, so to speak.

I first had Torta di Riso more than 20 years ago while visiting Italy with my husband and his parents.

We ate meals at the homes of many relatives.  I often arrived with a spiral-bound notebook to jot down the inevitable recipes that would be discussed around the table or the recipes I begged for after being served something wonderful.  That notebook is a mashup of American and Metric measures and English and Italian words for ingredients.  It became a bible of sorts for recreating many of the dishes I ate on that trip.


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My father-in-law’s Zia (Aunt) Meri made the first Torta di Riso that I ever tasted.  Her recipe is below (adapted for American measures).

After having it at Zio (Uncle) Beppe and Zia Meri’s house, I started noticing Torta di Riso in many places in Tuscany.

My father-in-law with his Uncle Beppe and Aunt Meri, from whom this recipe for Torta di Riso originated in their garden in Tuscany, 1994.

Alkermes liqueur originated in Tuscany so it is particularly appropriate to use it as the liqueur in Torta di Riso.  Alkermes is nearly impossible to find in the United States, however.  One can make a perfectly traditional Torta di Riso using rum in place of Alkermes but the resulting confection won’t be pink.

According to CooksInfo, “Alchermes was invented in the Frati Convent at Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Its making was kept secret, but the recipe was reputedly stolen by spies from the nearby city of Siena, which Florence was often at war with.”


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Recipes for alkermes (also spelled alchermes) are closely guarded but the process basically involves infusing alcohol with spices and flavorings like cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, star anise, rosewater, and orange zest.  The red color comes from cochineal, an insect that is the foundation for natural red food coloring.  The resulting infused alcohol is sweetened and diluted with water.

The pastry crust is pasta frolla, a slightly sweetened pastry, leavened with baking powder, and often flavored with vanilla and lemon zest.  This is Meri’s recipe for pasta frolla but I also have one from Zia Fidalma that makes about half the quantity.

Torta di Riso was a big hit at my father-in-law’s birthday dinner last week. So were the cocktails, wine, and champagne!

If you don’t have access to Alkermes, you can use rum.  In fact, torta di riso is not always pink.  Many that I saw in Italy were white.

If you want to try to make your own Alkermes you can find a recipe here.  Amazon even sells the dried cochineal insects that provide the traditional scarlet color.


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan or Melinda’s Drunken Prunes, take a look.  They will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


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Torta di Riso (Italian Rice Tart)
This classic Italian dessert is basically a rice pudding baked inside of a pastry crust. Alkermes is a traditional Tuscan liqueur used in a number of sweets, including torta di riso, for its color and spice-like flavor. If you don’t have Alkermes, use rum. Not all versions of torta di riso are brightly colored. Vanilla powder is a natural vanilla product, not artificial. Use vanilla extract if vanilla powder is not available.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 75 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pasta Frolla
Rice
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 75 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pasta Frolla
Rice
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Instructions
Pasta Frolla
  1. Blend the flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla powder, salt and lemon zest in a food processor until combined.
  2. Add the butter, cut in pieces, and blend till well combined.
  3. Add the eggs and blend till the pastry almost forms a ball.
  4. Remove the pastry from the food processor and use your hands to press everything into a single ball.
  5. Wrap the pastry in waxed paper and refrigerate for an hour before using.
Rice
  1. Wash and drain the rice.
  2. Combine the rice, water and milk in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
  3. Bring the rice to a boil.
  4. Cover the rice and simmer, stirring frequently, until cooked and the liquid is almost completely absorbed. If the rice does not have the consistency of thick oatmeal, add a bit more milk at the end to make it creamy.
  5. Mix the sugar, lemon zest, and Alkermes and/or rum into the rice.
  6. Pour the rice into a bowl and cool, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
Assembly and Baking
  1. Cut off a small piece of the pastry to make a lattice top and refrigerate.
  2. Roll the remaining pastry between waxed paper, turning often, until it is large enough to cover the bottom and sides of a 10 inch springform pan.
  3. Line a 10" springform pan with the pasta frolla.
  4. Cut the pastry even with the top of the pan. Add the scraps to the pastry you have reserved for the lattice.
  5. Beat the egg and egg yolks to combine.
  6. Stir the beaten eggs into the cooled rice.
  7. Pour the rice into the pastry lined pan.
  8. Roll out the pastry reserved for the lattice.
  9. Cut seven or eight strips, approximately 1/2 inch wide.
  10. Arrange the strips into a lattice on top of the rice. Cut off the excess.
  11. Roll the pastry lining the sides of the pan down to the top of the rice and form a decorative edge.
  12. Bake at 350°F until the crust is lightly browned and the rice is barely jiggley in the center, approximately 30-45 minutes.
  13. Cool on a rack for approximately 20 minutes.
  14. Remove the side of the pan and cool completely.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2018 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Crostoli (Italian Fried Pastries)

December 26, 2017

I didn’t grow up eating crostoli.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t have our own version of fried dough.

Unlike crostoli, which are thin and crispy and leavened with baking powder, I grew up eating ovals of fried yeasted bread dough sprinkled with granulated sugar.

Frying bread dough and sprinkling it with granulated sugar is a common among Southern Italians. My mother had a name for it that I’ve never heard anywhere, it sounded something like “pitla.” I started doing some research. The word “pitta” is still used in Calabria, where my mother’s family originated, for various types of dough-based foods, including some that are quite flat. The word “pitta,” which I believe derives from the Greek word “pita,” became the word “pizza” in standard Italian. I’m guessing that “pitla” is a dialectical variation of “pitta.”


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One of the positive outcomes of doing research on Italian fried dough products is that I came across a wonderful Wikipedia page on fried dough from around the world.  Check it out here.

Crostoli (or crostui in the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region of Italy where my mother-in-law was born) are traditionally served at Christmastime. My mother-in-law says that they would sometimes have them at other times of the year when they “wanted something sweet” that was simple to make.

My mother-in-law’s zig-zag pastry cutter

Not growing up eating crostoli, I asked my husband to tell me what he remembered.

I got two sentences:
“We always had them at Christmas.”
“They’re not my favorite.”

There you have it, the entirety of the crostoli story in 10 words.

I even waited a couple of days and asked him again if he remembered anything else about crostoli. “Nope” was the answer.

Now we’re up to 11 words.


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That might have been the end had it not been for Christmas Eve. The morning of Christmas Eve, after I mixed dough for panettone, my mother-in-law and I made up a batch of crostoli to take to Christmas Eve dinner at the home of our friends Rich DePippo and Doug Howe.

Rich’s grandfather was from Domegge di Cadore in the Veneto region of Italy, just next door to Friuli-Venezia-Giulia where my mother-in-law was born. In fact, Domegge is about 100 kilometers from Treppo Grande, my mother-in-law’s home town.

As it turns out, Rich and his mother, visiting for Christmas, also made crostoli the morning of Christmas Eve.

Using a Microplane grater makes fast work of zesting lemons

There were dueling crostoli served for dessert (along with pizzelle, nut roll, and biscochitos).

Rich’s were long and thin, with a slit cut in the middle through which one end of the dough was twisted before frying. This seems to be the most traditional shape that I’ve seen in my research, though Lidia Bastianich, who is also from very near where my mother-in-law was born, ties hers in a knot.

Having seen pictures of crostoli twisted and tied before embarking on making them with my mother-in-law, I asked her why hers were just left as irregular squares (well, quadrilaterals, really) of dough. That’s the way her mother made them was, of course, the first response. After which she added that she liked them to puff up, which they don’t do if they’re twisted or tied.

The other difference in the crostoli is that Rich used anisette to flavor his whereas my mother-in-law used lemon zest and vanilla.

The anisette was definitely a new twist. In researching crostoli, I’ve seen citrus, usually lemon or orange, as the most common flavoring.  Often vanilla is added; sometimes brandy or rum. Never have I run into a recipe with anisette. Hopefully Rich will weigh in on his family’s recipe for crostoli and how they came to use anisette for flavoring.

Meanwhile, enjoy!


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss including it in the blog. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan, it will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


 

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Crostoli (Italian Fried Pastries)
Crostoli are pastries that re rolled thin, fried, and dusted with granulated sugar. Powdered sugar melts and becomes sticky so granulated sugar is traditional. Crostoli are usually larger than the ones shown here, something like 1 ½ inches by 3 or 4 inches. We made these smaller because they were being served as part of a dessert buffet at the end of a large meal.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
  1. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest and salt in a large bowl. Mix well.
  2. Make a well in the center and add eggs. Using a fork, begin to incorporate the flour.
  3. Add vanilla extract, lemon juice and incorporate.
  4. Add melted butter.
  5. Mix to form a soft, non-sticky dough.
  6. When the dough becomes too stiff to mix with a fork, use your hand. Do not over knead.
  7. Cut into four or five pieces.
  8. Roll out less than 1/8 inch thick, dusting with a little flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking.
  9. Cut into rectangles, approximately 1 1/2 inches by 3 inches, with a zig-zag cutter.
  10. When all are cut, deep fry until brown. If you are not comfortable doing this from experience, use a thermometer and keep the oil at about 350 degrees Farenheit.
  11. Sprinkle with granulated sugar as soon as they are removed from the oil so the sugar sticks.
  12. They are best the same day but will stay fresh at least one day at room temperature, loosely covered.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Crostata di Noci (Italian Walnut Tart)

December 20, 2017

One evening in 1996 my husband and I were sitting with his parents in a dimly-lit bar in Venice. We were all chatting. I was drinking grappa, as was my father-in-law. Then the desire for dessert hit me. If you’ve spent any time in Italy you know that at no point in the day are you actually hungry. There’s just too much wonderful food around to not partake in it. So the desire for dessert had absolutely nothing to do with the need for more calories.

Going for something new, I selected Crostata di Noci. I was absolutely amazed by what I got.

The pastry was standard-issue Italian pasta frolla, a slightly sweet leavened crust that’s like a cross between shortbread cookies and a dense cake. The filling, however, tasted for all the world like nut roll, one of my favorite pastries but one that is also very time-consuming and frustrating to make.

In that instant, it all made sense. Nut roll hails from Eastern and Central Europe (as does another of my favorites, the poppy seed roll).  In northeast in Italy there is a lot of Eastern European influence. Suddenly, taking nut roll filling and putting it in a pasta frolla case meant I could have something that tasted just like a nut roll but without all the frustration of actually making nut roll.


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Now, Crostata di Noci will never actually replace “real” nut roll just like making bread in my bread machine won’t replace making bread by hand. But, with a bread machine, I have homemade bread every day which wouldn’t be the case if I had to make every loaf by hand. With less than half-an-hour’s active time, I can indulge my taste for nut roll any time I want!

Around the holidays nut rolls were ubiquitous in my home town but my mother and my Aunt Margie made the best nut rolls I have ever had. Largely this is because they both put in a large proportion of sweetened nuts to dough. Honestly, there was just enough dough to roll pinwheel fashion and hold the whole thing together. Many other nut rolls were bready by comparison.

To be sure, my mother’s filling differed from my Aunt Margie’s. I’m not sure how each of them came by their respective recipes but my suspicion is that Aunt Margie’s came from her mother or another Italian relative or friend because it contained orange juice. The use of citrus in various pastries is common in Italy. Pasta frolla, for example, is traditionally flavored with lemon zest and vanilla. I am guessing my mother’s recipe came from my father’s mother or someone on the Slovak side of my family because the liquid in the nuts was milk and not orange juice.


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Separate from actually eating nut roll, there was this whole aura around making them (at least there was when I was young!). Buying shelled walnuts and using a food processor make quick work of preparing the nuts but in the 1960s, making nut roll started with my mother buying a large quantity of whole walnuts. We would sit around the table and crack the nuts open then extract the nutmeats. I still have the nutcracker and picks that we used.

My parents’ nutcracker and picks

After all the nuts were shelled, they needed to be ground. We did this in a hand-crank grinder of the same type used to grind meat for sausage. As a kid, I got to turn the crank on the grinder! I no longer have my mother’s grinder as it got rusty from being stored in the basement but I have my own that is pretty much identical. I got it when I was in college.

The hand-crank grinder I got while in college

After the excitement (well, as a kid it was pretty exciting!) of shelling and grinding the nuts we all kind of abandoned my mother who started the laborious process of actually making the nut rolls. That is definitely not a job for amateurs. The dough had to be very thin but just thick enough to contain the nuts. The nuts had to be moist, sweet, and generous in quantity compared to the amount of dough. Then the whole thing had to be rolled up and baked.

After my mother died, Aunt Margie started sending me nut roll every year. After Aunt Margie died, my cousin Donna (Aunt Margie’s daughter) picked up the nut roll mantle. The two nut rolls that I got this year will be carefully doled out over a few weeks, befitting their preciousness, starting on Christmas Eve!

This year’s nut roll from my cousin Donna.  Notice the large proportion of nuts to dough.

If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss it. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. Take a look at Bertha’s Flan.  It will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


After returning from that trip to Venice I was determined to recreate Crostata di Noci. I whipped up a batch of Zia Fidalma’s pasta frolla and made a simple walnut filling with orange juice in a nod to the Italian origins of this particular pastry.

The first try was a winner and I haven’t really made any substantive changes in the recipe since. If one wanted a creamier filling, one could add a few tablespoons of butter but, honestly, the crostata is so rich that I haven’t felt the need to make it more so.

Until I tackle nut roll making 101 (which I swear I’m going to do one day soon!), I’ll have to settle for crostata di noci, and the occasional nut roll care package from my cousin!

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Crostata di Noci (Italian Walnut Tart)
Lightly sweetened ground walnuts fill an Italian pasta frolla crust in this Venetian dessert. If you’re not a fan of walnuts you could use other nuts. If you want to make the crostata extra festive, put a paper doily on top and sprinkle it with powdered sugar to get a pattern.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes, plus cooling
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pasta Frolla
Nut Filling
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Passive Time 30 minutes, plus cooling
Servings
people
Ingredients
Pasta Frolla
Nut Filling
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Instructions
Pasta Frolla
  1. Blend flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla powder, salt and lemon zest in a food processor until combined.
  2. Add the cold butter, cut in pieces.
  3. Blend till well combined. The mixture in the food processor will appear to move as one mass though when you stop the processor you will see that it is not.
  4. Add the eggs and vanilla extract if you are using that instead of vanilla powder and blend till it almost forms a ball.
  5. Remove the pastry from the food processor and incorporate the final bits of flour by hand.
  6. Wrap the dough in waxed paper and refrigerate for about 30 minutes before using.
Nut Filling
  1. Combine all ingredients and mix well.
  2. Cover the nut filling and keep it at room temperature while rolling out the pasta frolla.
Assembly
  1. Roll out pasta frolla between sheets of waxed paper until it is just large enough to come up the sides of a 10" diameter by 1” tall tart pan with a removable bottom.
  2. Trim the edges of pastry even with the top of the tart pan.
  3. Add the filling and spread it out evenly.
  4. The filling should come just to the top of the tart pan.
  5. Bake the crostata at 350°F for approximately 45 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
  6. Cool and remove the sides of the tart pan.
  7. The crostata can be sprinkled with powdered sugar for serving and/or accompanied by lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Aunt Margie’s Colored Cookies

December 15, 2017

We called them “Colored Cookies.”

I’ve never seen them anywhere but in my hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania though I can’t believe they are unique to there.

Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever had them made by anyone besides Aunt Margie until I made them from her recipe.

Aunt Margie in 2004 with me on an architectural tour of Chicago by boat

Many of the Italian and Italian-American cookies that I grew up with were cake-like. A stiff batter of flour, sugar, eggs, and fat (lard and butter were the most common), leavened with baking powder, flavored in some way (vanilla, lemon, chocolate and spice, sesame, and so forth), rolled or shaped and baked, and usually iced with a thin powdered sugar-milk icing that would harden to a glaze.


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Totos are a perfect example of the chocolate and spice variety.

Anginetti (Genets, as we called them in Italian-American-dialect-slang) also referred to as Lemon Knots, are lemon flavored. Although I’m devoting most of December to posting Italian-American pastry recipes, Anginetti won’t appear until next year.

Sesame Seed Cookies (which certain members of my family like to dip in wine) have no flavoring other than the sesame seeds they are rolled in before baking. These are coming next December, too.


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Colored Cookies are flavored with vanilla despite the riot of color that might suggest otherwise. There was a brief period of time, however, when Aunt Margie got creative (read iconoclastic) and used coconut extract instead of vanilla. Coconut and almond are my two favorite flavors when it comes to sweets, leagues beyond chocolate and vanilla as far as I’m concerned, but coconut-flavored colored cookies strayed too far from tradition for my taste. It didn’t keep me from eating them, however!

Colored Cookies

This is Aunt Margie’s original recipe. And if you flavor them with anything other than vanilla, please don’t tell me…just kidding!


If you have a favorite family recipe and a bit of a story to tell, please email me at santafecook@villasentieri.com and we can discuss it. I am expanding the scope of my blog to include traditional recipes from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t seen Bertha’s Flan, it will give you an idea of what I’m looking for.


I don’t use a lot of food coloring.  The only other exception in recent memory (other than these cookies) was Jim’s Hawaiian Guava Cake.  Take a look at my box of food coloring.  The number 39 is the price:  39 cents!  I’ve had it a long time, though I used up the red making the Guava Cake.


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Aunt Margie's Colored Cookies
Use a very good quality vanilla extract, not artificial vanilla flavoring, as that is the predominant flavor. The best way to mix these is using your hand. If you don’t start there, you’ll end up there so just use your hand from the beginning. Although Aunt Margie’s original instructions were to ice the cookies while still warm, that is very difficult to accomplish without assistance. You can ice them after you have baked all of them with no noticeable difference. It is best to use medium-weight shiny aluminum cookie sheets. Dark metal makes the bottoms too dark before the cookies have completely cooked. You can divide the dough into five parts and color the last one yellow. If you do so, you will need to use slightly less of each dough to make a cookie.
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Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Cookies
Icing
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Cookies
Icing
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Instructions
Cookies
  1. Measure all the ingredients.
  2. Combine butter and sugar.
  3. Mix well using your hands.
  4. Add eggs one at a time mixing after each.
  5. Mix in salt and baking powder then add milk and vanilla.
  6. Combine well.
  7. Add flour and mix until a dough forms.
  8. Divide dough into four parts.
  9. Leave one part of dough white.
  10. Color the others pink, blue, and green.
  11. Take approximately 1 teaspoon of each dough and roll into a ball the “size of a walnut” according to Aunt Margie’s recipe. You will need to apply a bit of pressure, without smashing the colors together, to be sure that the different colored doughs have joined into one cookie. If not, the cookies will split during baking.
  12. Bake 350°F for 17-20 minutes until very light brown on the bottom and the top does not depress when touched lightly.
  13. Remove cookies from cookie sheet and put on a cooling rack.
  14. Using your finger, ice with powdered sugar icing while still warm.
Icing
  1. Combine powdered sugar, vanilla and milk. Stir to combine.
  2. Stir to combine.
  3. Thin with a small amount of milk if needed. The icing should be of a spreading consistency.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Jim’s Hawaiian Guava Cake

October 25, 2017

“Aloha Mr. Van Sant.”

So began a 2003 email from Simon Rusconi, the Hotel Manager of the Sheraton Moana Surfrider Resort on Oahu.

Mr. Van Sant, Jim to the rest of us, had complimented the resort on its guava cake and Mr. Rusconi was writing to share the recipe.

Jim printed out the email and affixed it to an index card and put it in his recipe box. Late in 2016, the subject of the guava cake came up somehow at a dinner party at Jim and Bill’s house. Jim offered to share the recipe with me if I was interested.

I was, and I said that I’d make it for him. Shortly thereafter, the original recipe arrived in the mail still affixed to the index card. Not wanting to keep his original, I scanned it into my recipe database and returned the hardcopy.

Since Jim and Bill rent a home in Palm Springs just steps from our house, and since baking cakes at nearly 8000 feet where I live in New Mexico is an iffy proposition, at best, I said I’d bake the cake in Palm Springs. Every winter they rent the Oscar Mayer House. Yes, that Oscar Mayer!

We had a delightful luncheon at tables set up around their pool with guava cake for dessert.

The back of the Oscar Mayer house in Palm Springs, California
Inside the Oscar Mayer House
The front of the Oscar Mayer House

But that’s jumping ahead.

Receiving the recipe from Jim was merely the beginning. I became fascinated by guava cake without having even made one. Almost any recipe with the degree of cultural significance that guava cake seemed to garner grabs my attention. I did internet searches and combed through my Hawaiian cookbooks (of which I have a goodly number).

It appears that there are basically three variations of guava cake in Hawaii: Guava Chiffon Cake, Guava Spice Cake, and (plain old) Guava Cake. Recipes for the last often start with a box of cake mix and use Cool Whip in the cream cheese frosting.

From what my research has revealed, the original was a Guava Chiffon Cake invented by Herbert Matsuba, owner of the Dee Lite Bakery, in the early 1960s.

The popularity of the cake no doubt led to multiple copycat recipes, including those using a box of cake mix and Cool Whip aimed at the home cook.

The recipe from the Moana Surfrider was a Guava Spice Cake. I followed the recipe closely the first time except that I needed to find a substitute for frozen concentrated guava nectar which I was unable to find after scouring 10 grocery stores in Palm Springs and nearby desert towns.

I ultimately was able to source pure guava puree at a market catering to Hispanic shoppers. It had no sweeteners so I thought I might need to add sugar to the batter in a subsequent trial but for the first round I used the guava puree as a direct substitute for concentrated guava nectar.

Frozen Guava Puree, a much easier to find substitute for frozen concentrated guava nectar

The cake was good but everyone who tasted it failed to taste any guava. It really just tasted like a spice cake. Certainly it was not worth hours of searching for guava concentrate only to have the flavor masked by spices.

Other than guava chiffon cake, which was definitely not the same genre as the cake that Jim had at the Moana Surfrider, I could not find a recipe for plain guava cake that did not start with a box of cake mix. I decided to make the original recipe without the spices.

That did it! The guava flavor came through but something told me that Herbert, a professional baker, might have used something to amp up the guava flavor.

That started me on a search for natural guava extract. I found a wonderful extract made by Amoretti.

You can do without the Amoretti Guava Extract but not the red food coloring.

The next time I made the cake, I added a tiny bit of guava extract to the batter. I believe it enhanced the flavor but if one is not going to make a lot of guava cakes I would consider omitting the guava extract as it is expensive and very concentrated so a little bottle will last a long, long time.

For an everyday cake, I suggest baking it in a 9” x 13” x 2” rectangular pan. For a more special presentation, make a layer cake by dividing the batter between two 9” round pans. If you are doing the latter, make a double batch of cream cheese frosting. You’ll have a little left over but a single batch will not be enough. You could always whip up half a batch of batter and make guava cupcakes to use the extra frosting!

In honor of Oscar Mayer, in whose house we all came together over Jim’s Hawaiian Guava Cake, I recommend the following tribute. Who knew there were so many variations on the Oscar Mayer Wiener theme?


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Jim's Hawaiian Guava Cake
Because frozen, concentrated guava nectar is not readily available except in Hawaii, I standardized this recipe using frozen guava pulp which should be easy to find in large supermarkets or in markets catering to customers from Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. It is important that the cream cheese frosting be level so that the guava gel forms an even layer. If you are making a rectangular cake this means there will be a bit more frosting at the edges than in the middle. If you are making a round two-layer cake, I suggest cutting off the tops of the cakes to achieve a perfectly level appearance. Put the cakes cut side down to avoid having lots of crumbs working their way into the cream cheese frosting. Guava nectar can be purchased in cans or refrigerated. Guava pulp is frozen.
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Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Guava Gel
Cream Cheese Frosting (make a double batch for the round cake)
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 1 hour
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Guava Gel
Cream Cheese Frosting (make a double batch for the round cake)
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Instructions
Cake
  1. Butter and flour a 9 x 13 x 2 inch metal cake pan or two 9 inch round cake pans.
  2. Combine flour and baking soda. Reserve.
  3. Combine guava puree, guava nectar, guava extract and red food coloring. Reserve.
  4. Cream butter until light. Add sugar and cream until light and fluffy.
  5. Beat in eggs, one at a time, creaming well after each addition.
  6. On low, add dry ingredients alternating with wet ingredients, starting and ending with dry ingredients.
  7. For the rectangular pan: pour the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the top. Rap the pan on the counter to release any air bubbles.
  8. Bake 350°F 40-45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
  9. Cool the cake in the pan then refrigerate.
  10. Frost with cream cheese frosting being careful to make the top of the frosting level. Refrigerate several hours to firm up the frosting.
  11. Top with guava gel and smooth out to the edges. Refrigerate several hours to set the frosting and gel.
  12. Bring the cake to room temperature before serving.
  13. For the round pans: Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Smooth the tops. Rap the pans on the counter to release any air bubbles.
  14. Bake 350°F 30-35 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
  15. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
  16. Wrap the cakes and refrigerate until cold, or up to one day.
  17. Slice the rounded tops of the cakes off to make them level.
  18. x
  19. Put one layer, cut-side-down on a platter.
  20. Put a layer of cream cheese frosting on the top of this layer.
  21. Pipe a rim of frosting around the edge to hold the guava gel. This does not need to be fancy as it will be smoothed out.
  22. Put just under ½ of the guava gel on top of the frosted bottom layer.
  23. Smooth the gel out to the piped edge.
  24. Top with the remaining cake, cut side down.
  25. Generously frost sides and top of the cake with cream cheese frosting.
  26. Pipe a decorative border around the edge of the top layer.
  27. Pour the remaining guava gel on top and smooth out to the edges.
  28. Refrigerate several hours to set the frosting and gel.
  29. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Guava Gel
  1. Put the cornstarch in a small heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
  2. Stir in the guava nectar, a little at a time, to dissolve the cornstarch without forming lumps.
  3. When dissolved, add the remaining guava nectar and sugar.
  4. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a full boil.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in red food coloring.
  6. Put a cloth on top of pan before putting cover back on to keep moisture from dripping back into the gel.
  7. After the gel reaches room temperature, refrigerate until cold.
Cream Cheese Frosting (make a double batch for the round cake)
  1. Chill the bowl and beaters for the whipped cream.
  2. Cream the cream cheese until light.
  3. Sprinkle in 1/3 cup of sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Mix in vanilla.
  5. In chilled bowl, beat the whipping cream until thick.
  6. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and beat until the cream forms stiff peaks.
  7. Fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into the cream cheese to lighten it.
  8. Carefully, but thoroughly fold in the remainder of the whipped cream.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake

August 25, 2017

Mike Abramson says his carrot cake is the best ever.

Janet Carlson doesn’t necessarily agree.

For now, the controversy will need to simmer as I only have Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake recipe, though I have suggested to Janet that she and Mike have a carrot cake bake-off.

Mike makes no apologies for having stolen the recipe from Tom Grier, originally of Grier, Georgia.

The story goes something like this…

In the 1970’s a group of four friends from San Francisco bought a weekend house, they named Aros, near Sebastopol, California. The four owners rotated use of the house, each getting it for a week at a time but also sometimes showing up there together to host parties as in the photo below.

Mike Abramson, second row far right

Over the years, ownership of the house shifted as some individuals sold their interest and others bought in.

At one point, Tom Grier was the youngest owner.

The group met on a quarterly basis in San Francisco to discuss maintenance issues related to the house. As with use of the house, these meetings were held in rotation at the owners’ homes in San Francisco.

Whenever Tom hosted the meeting, he served carrot cake, which Mike believes originated as a Grier family recipe. Tom shared the recipe with Mike and the rest is history. Mike’s (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake was born.

But for Janet’s assertion that Mike’s might not be the best carrot cake in the world, well, we’ll just have to wait for the bake-off.

From left to right: Janet Carlson, Richard Valantasis, and Gino Barcone

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Mike's (Justifiably Famous) Carrot Cake
This is almost a cross between a spice cake and a carrot cake. The frosting is generous and could easily be reduced by one-third. This recipe is for sea level. If there is interest in adjustments for high altitude, let me know and I’ll post them.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Cuisine American
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 40 minutes
Passive Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Cake
Frosting
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
Cake
  1. Butter and flour a 9” x 13” baking pan.
  2. Grate the carrots on the tear-drop holes of a box grater.
  3. Coarsely chop the nuts.
  4. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix with the paddle.
  5. Add the oil and eggs to the flour mixture. Blend until combined.
  6. Add the carrots and crushed pineapple with the juice. Mix thoroughly.
  7. Add the walnuts and raisins. Stir to combine.
  8. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes or until the center springs back when lightly touched.
  9. Cool completely in the pan before frosting.
Frosting
  1. Beat cream cheese and butter until light using the paddle of a stand mixer.
  2. Beat in all other ingredients.
  3. Frost cake when cool.
Recipe Notes

For recipes that call for solid vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, I use coconut oil is due to concerns about the negative health effects of hydrogenated fats.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Frittata con Cipolle (Frittata with Onions)

July 10, 2017

American chefs frequently do not understand Italian food.  Many can produce technically excellent dishes that lack the Italian sensibility.

One common error is putting in too much.  Too much of most anything into most anything.  To be sure, there are many restaurants headed by American chefs that serve excellent Italian food but there are far more that just don’t get it.

The usual culprit is what Italians would call the First Course, Il Primo Piatto.  This is soup, pasta or rice that is served as a separate course before the the Second Course, Il Secondo Piatto (usually meat, fish, or other protein), which is usually accompanied by side dishes, Contorni, in Italian.

Pasta “specials” are quite prone to this phenomenon.  There are many otherwise excellent restaurants that think that if a little is good, more is better, when it comes to their pasta “specials.”  Because I love pasta, if I’m at a restaurant that has a pasta special I always ask what it is.  More often than not, I start yawning (well, not really) part way through the list of ingredients added to the pasta.  After more than 2 or 3 main ingredients (not counting things like garlic, olive oil, and a few herbs) it’s too much.  You don’t need shrimp, artichoke hearts, chopped tomato, diced onion, roasted peppers, capers, and olives.  It’s simply too much.  The distinctiveness of the ingredients is lost.

I’m ragging on pasta because that is the most common culprit at American restaurants featuring “Italian” food.  Risotto and polenta are prone to the same phenomenon, however.  The most common offense is that both of these dishes are turned into vehicles for butter, cream, and cheese.  That is not what an Italian would do.  In a typical Italian household, polenta is cornmeal, water and salt.  That’s it.  There’s not usually a pat of butter or a spoon of cheese in sight unless added at the table to the diner’s preference but even that is rare.  The polenta is a foil for whatever is served with it.  It is not meant to scream, “Look at me!”  That doesn’t mean it isn’t supposed to, or doesn’t, taste good.  It’s not intended to be so rich and filling that it tries to steal the spotlight or dampen one’s appetite for the rest of the meal.

Unlike polenta, which is meant to accompany other dishes, risotto is meant to stand on its own as a First Course before the Second Course.  Risotto alla Milanese is the only exception.  Traditionally Risotto alla Milanese accompanies a veal cutlet (in Milan, of course).  No other risotto would be served with the second course in an Italian meal.

I realize that most of the time we do not eat a formal Italian meal, even in a restaurant.  Most of us have either what would be the first course (pasta or risotto, usually) or the second course (meat or fish plus a side dish or two), preceded by some sort of antipasto (appetizer), which literally means “before the pasta.”  Even so a risotto that is a fat “bomb” overly laden with butter, cream and/or cheese, might be American but it is simply not Italian in its sensibility.

Frequently, the issue is clouded even more but the addition of too many ingredients to the risotto.  Look at the asparagus risotto from a few weeks ago.  There are no competing flavors:  a light broth to add some savoriness, a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano, and a dollop of butter.  This is a classically Italian risotto.

I guess I’m really beating this one.  I clearly have strong feelings about Italian food and what passes for Italian food in America.  Think purity of flavor and simplicity of ingredients.  If an ingredient doesn’t support the main ingredient it shouldn’t be added.  I believe Italian food is the original “ingredient-driven” cuisine.

Ok, off my soap box an on to a recipe; one that is the essence of simplicity.

I’m going to guess that most of you have not had a frittata.  It is a fluffy but firm egg dish, usually with some sort of vegetable included.  Sometimes a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese is added but only if it supports the vegetable that is the star of the show.

Today’s frittata is onion.  That’s it, onion.  Plus a little olive oil and salt and pepper.  The onion is cooked slowly until it caramelizes.  The onion in this recipe was cooked for 50 minutes.  You should plan on 45-50.  It is mostly hands off, though you do need to stir every few minutes.

Once the eggs are added, they are cooked slowly.  Unlike a French omelet where the eggs are barely set and there isn’t (supposed to be) a touch of brown, a frittata is intended to be firm, slightly brown, and puffed up and airy from the cooking style.

Although I have converted to making, almost exclusively, a classic Italian frittata, when I was in college I did it the way my Italian Grandmother did.  She included a pinch of baking powder and a bit of flour.  It was a little firmer than a classic frittata; more like a savory eggy cake.

That frittata, alternating with sandwiches of butter, onion and blue cheese on homemade bread (not on the same day), constitute my lunchtime memories from my junior year in college.


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Frittata con Cipolle (Frittata with Onions)
I recommend NOT finishing the frittata under the broiler as called for by a number of food writers. First, it isn’t traditional. Second, if the frittata doesn’t slide out of the pan easily so that it can be flipped, you won’t be able to get it out of the pan to serve it after putting it under the broiler. I like using a good quality, heavy-bottomed, non-stick pan though a well-seasoned cast iron pan would work too. It is easier to get the frittata out of the pan if it has sloping sides rather that sides that are completely vertical. You can caramelize the onions several hours in advance and then complete the frittata later.
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Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
Servings
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Ingredients
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Slice the onion in half from top to bottom then across into 1/8 inch thick half-rounds.
  2. Warm the olive oil in a 12 inch heavy-bottomed sauté pan with sloping sides.
  3. Add the sliced onion and ½ teaspoon of salt.
  4. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until the onions are soft and caramelized. The onions should take on a uniform golden, then light brown, color. There should not be any dark brown or dry spots. This will take between 45 and 50 minutes. If it takes longer don’t worry. If it seems to happen in less time, the heat is probably too high.
  5. This picture was taken 15 minutes after the onions were added.
  6. This picture was taken 30 minutes after the onions were added.
  7. This picture was taken 45 minutes after the onions were added.
  8. This picture was taken 50 minutes after the onions were added. They are appropriately caramelized.
  9. While the onions are cooking, beat the eggs with a fork. Do not use an egg whip. The idea is not to beat in air but to uniformly combine the whites and yolks. Season with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  10. When the onions are fully caramelized, be sure there is an even slick of oil in the bottom of the pan. If not, add a tablespoon or so more.
  11. Turn the heat to medium high and evenly distribute the caramelized onions on the bottom of the sauté pan.
  12. Pour the beaten eggs on top of the onions, being sure to distribute the eggs evenly. DO NOT STIR THE EGGS once they are added to the pan. Immediately cover the pan and turn the heat to low.
  13. Cook until the eggs are just set in the middle and golden brown on the bottom, approximately 30 minutes. Move the pan around so that the heat is evenly distributed, including putting the pan off-center occasionally so there is heat directly on the edges of the pan, not just concentrated in the middle.
  14. When the eggs are just set in the center, the frittata should release easily from the pan. Sometimes it is helpful to run a silicone spatula around the edge of the frittata to help it release.
  15. Slide the frittata out of the pan and onto a large pizza pan.
  16. Invert the pan over the frittata.
  17. Grasp the sauté pan and pizza pan with both hands and flip them over in one quick motion.
  18. Put the sauté pan, with the now-upside-down frittata, back on the heat, uncovered, for about 5 minutes until the bottom of the frittata is golden brown.
  19. Slide the frittata onto a serving platter.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Aunt Ann’s Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie

June 30, 2017

I grew up at a time, and in a town, where people just dropped in, unannounced, to visit family and friends.

Some evenings we’d stay home.  Some evenings we’d go to town.  This was pretty much every Monday and Thursday when the stores were open until 9:00 PM.  And, mind you, we dressed to go to town!  Other evenings we’d visit family and friends.

Around the age of 5 or 6, when we went to Aunt Ann’s, I’d play with food.  Really.  And not at the table.  I don’t honestly know how this got started but Aunt Ann would spread out a vinyl tablecloth on the beige wall-to-wall carpet in her living room.  (Remember, this was around 1960!)  I would pull pots and pans and mixing bowls and other equipment (like box graters and spoons) out of her kitchen cabinets and haul my stash to the living room.

Aunt Ann circa 1965 at Grandma and Grandpa’s house

Then I’d raid the refrigerator for things like carrots, celery, and so forth.

I’d sit in the living room, on the tablecloth, grating vegetables and mixing things in the various pots and bowls.

My love of cooking has deep roots.

My love of peanut butter not so much.

For some reason, I despised peanut butter at that age.  (I know, that’s almost un-American!)  But just to keep things from being too quiet, Uncle Jano would sometimes walk towards me holding a jar of peanut butter and I would run like a vampire running from a wooden stake.

I don’t know what I thought was going to happen, but I had to escape from the peanut butter.

The ordeal usually ended with me face down on the sofa until Uncle Jano retreated…sometimes only to start again after I pulled my face out of the pillow.

Aunt Ann and Uncle Jano were great fun.  But they were only Aunt Ann and Uncle Jano if you were related to them through Uncle Jano.  If you were related to them through Aunt Ann, they were Aunt Honey and Uncle John.

From left to right: Uncle Jano, my Grandfather, Uncle “Booty” and my Dad, circa 1965 on a Sunday at my Grandparent’s house

Aunt Ann was a great cook.  She was ethnically Russian and made lots of Russian and Eastern European food like mushroom soup, potato soup, kielbasa, chicken paprikash, pierogi, stuffed cabbage, and so forth.

She also made Italian food, which she learned from the wife of the local Mafia Boss who lived down the street.  (I had a colorful childhood.  What can I say?)

There were the occasional American dishes, like Rum Balls and Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie, too.

Years after those episodes of “cooking” on Aunt Ann’s living room floor, when I was in my teens and twenties, I was always on the lookout for pineapple cream cheese pie when we went to visit.

In an attempt to keep this manageable, I am not posting a recipe for pie crust just yet, but I will at a future date.  If you have a favorite pie crust recipe, by all means, make your own.  If not, buy prepared pie crust from the grocery store.  But whatever you do, give this recipe a try if it appeals to you.  It’s always a hit!

This one is just for fun: Aunt Ann (far left), Aunt Margie (in the back), my mom (far right), my sister and my cousin “Rocky” circa 1950

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Aunt Ann's Pineapple Cream Cheese Pie
If you don’t have a favorite pie crust recipe, or if you aren’t comfortable making pie crust, buy prepared pie crust. Be sure to purchase NINE INCH DEEP DISH pie crust, however. If you are making your own pie crust, you can use a standard nine inch pie pan, deep dish is not necessary. The cream cheese filling is easier to make in a food processor though an electric mixer works, too. If you are using a mixer, the cream cheese will be much easier to mix if it is at room temperature. This is not critical if you are using a food processor.
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Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
pies
Ingredients
Cuisine American
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings
pies
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Chop the nuts and reserve.
  2. If making your own crust, prepare and line two nine-inch pie pans. Refrigerate the crust-lined pans until the fillings are prepared.
  3. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the crushed pineapple, cornstarch, and 1/2 cup of sugar.
  4. Stir until the lumps are gone. The mixture will become cloudy from the cornstarch but will become clear once cooked.
  5. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
  6. Boil for approximately one minute, until thickened.
  7. Take the pan off the heat and allow the pineapple mixture to cool slightly.
  8. In a food processor or electric mixer, beat the cream cheese well.
  9. Add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, milk, eggs and vanilla. Mix until the cream cheese is thoroughly combined, all the sugar is dissolved, and there are no lumps.
  10. Divide the pineapple filling between the two pie-crust-lined pie pans.
  11. Top each pie with half the cream cheese mixture.
  12. Scatter the chopped nuts on the pies.
  13. Bake at 350°F for approximately 60 to 65 minutes until the tops of the pies are just beginning to turn golden and the filling is set.
  14. Cool to room temperature before serving. The pies will sink somewhat as they cool.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Croquetas de Jamon (Cuban Ham Croquettes)

May 1, 2017

In early 2014, my husband and I were lucky enough to go to Cuba with two close friends.  This was prior to the loosening up of restrictions on travel by Americans to the island nation.

Because of the guidelines governing such travel, we had to spend a significant portion of our time interacting with Cubans, not being tourists.  We visited a schools for the arts and music, toured cultural sites, attended lectures, saw a cigar factory, and met with some Cubans in their homes, among other activities.

All of Cuba is divided up into small units that are under the watchful eye of a trusted local who reports any unusual activities to the authorities.  These units could be a section of a street, for example, or a multi-unit building.  What turned out to be one of the most memorable events was meeting with the residents of one such building one evening in Cienfuegos.

The children put on a small performance, we had refreshments, then spent several hours chatting with the building’s residents.  It seemed to us that everyone was quite open, talking about the challenges, as well as the benefits (such as free education and health care) of life in Cuba.  In fact, while it seems that most Cubans we met were in favor of a more open society they were understandably very protective of their access to education and health care.

One man, seemed particularly open about the difficulties of life in Cuba.  This was surprising to us as his wife was the designated party operative responsible for overseeing this particular building.  Our suspicions seemed to be confirmed when he disappeared into their apartment shortly before the evening ended after his wife gave him “the look.”  As our vehicle was pulling away from the building, he ran out and waved us good-bye.  Clearly he had been banished from the meeting but kept a watchful eye from his apartment, exiting at just the right moment.

In addition to spending the major portion of our trip interacting with Cubans we were prohibited from actually going to the beach!  This was supposed to be an educational and cultural interchange, not fun.

Even more interesting is that, at the time, Americans were prohibited from buying Cuban cigars and rum.  Mind you, I’m not talking about bringing these items back to the United States which was definitely forbidden, but buying and using them while in Cuba.

This would seem to be a singularly difficult rule to enforce and I can’t say that anybody paid particular attention to it.  One of our most pleasant experiences was sitting at a park on the waterfront in Cienfuegos sipping rum (from plastic cups) smoking cigars and watching the sun set.

We ate a lot of croquetas in Cuba and drank a lot of rum punch, mojitos, and cariocas.  After we got back we pulled together a Cuban dinner with a few other friends.  I made the traditional finger-sized croquetas—seven dozen of them, actually!  Here is a picture of me frying them as well as a platter full of cooked ones along with some plantain chips and mojitos.

For this post, since I was cooking them as an entrée rather than as a nibble with cocktails, I made them larger.

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Croquetas de Jamon (Cuban Ham Croquettes)
Instead of ham, croquetas can be made with cooked fish, salted cod, or potatoes among other ingredients. Cracker crumbs are the standard coating used in Cuba but fine dry breadcrumbs will work fine. I really like using plain panko crumbs whizzed in the food processor to finely pulverize them. They give an amazing crunch! If you are making these to serve as nibbles, you should get seven dozen. If you are making larger croquetas to serve as a main course, this recipe will make 16. Two or three of the larger croquetas will serve one person depending on what else is being served.
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Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 9 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 20 minutes
Passive Time 9 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. If the ham was cooked with a sweet glaze, rinse the glaze off using warm water.
  2. Cut the ham into one-inch cubes.
  3. Finely grind the ham in a food processor or meat grinder. Reserve the ground ham.
  4. Over medium heat, warm the milk in a small saucepan.
  5. Meanwhile, in a two-quart heavy bottomed pan, sauté the onion in butter on medium heat until soft, approximately 4-5 minutes.
  6. Add the flour to the onion-butter mixture and cook for about two minutes, stirring constantly. Do not brown the flour.
  7. Note, the flour will appear golden from the combination of the butter and the onions.
  8. Add about three tablespoons of the warm milk to the flour mixture. Stir well to fully incorporate. Continue adding about three tablespoons of warm milk at a time, stirring well after each addition, until all the milk has been incorporated. The mixture will form a rather heavy dough.
  9. Continue to cook the dough for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, without browning.
  10. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the ham. Keeping the mixture warm makes it much easier to blend the ham into the dough which would otherwise seize up with the addition of cold ham.
  11. Off the heat, stir in the nutmeg and parsley. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
  12. Spread the mixture into a small oblong pan. Cool to room temperature uncovered.
  13. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, about six hours or overnight.
  14. Form the croquetas. If making small ones, roll portions of the dough into ½ inch diameter cylinders. Cut the cylinders into pieces about 2 inches long. If making larger croquetas, divide the mixture into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball then flatten into a patty about ½ inch thick. Put the croquetas in a single layer on a cookie sheets. Refrigerate the croquetas until very cold.
  15. To bread the croquetas, beat 3 eggs seasoned with ½ teaspoon of salt. Dip the croquettes in the beaten egg then roll in crumbs.
  16. Put the croquetas onto cookie sheets once again. Refrigerate until cold.
  17. Repeat the egg and crumb coating a second time. The second coating is necessary to get the traditional crunch. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
  18. Cook the croquetas in a deep fryer at 350°F until deep brown. Alternatively, put ½ inch of oil in a heavy bottomed frying pan. Bring the oil to 350°F. Fry the croquetas, turning once, until deeply browned. Drain briefly on absorbent paper. Keep the croquetas warm in a low oven until they are all fried.
  19. The croquetas ready to serve.
Recipe Notes

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