Christmas Recipes

Christmas Recipes
Christmas Recipes

Italian Recipes

Italian Recipes
Italian Recipes

Dessert Recipes

Dessert Recipes
Dessert Recipes

Torta Rustica delle Mele (Apple Galette wtih Sicilian Sea Salted Caramel)

"The cows are coming! The cows are coming! Get the apples!" The kids shouted from the back of the house. They could see them coming through the back windows. One at time. In all their glory. The cows. They were curious cows looking for a treat.

Savory Shrimp with Papaya Salsa and Jasmine Rice

There seems to be a few misconceptions about me and this Cake Duchess moniker. Let me start to clear some of them up:

1) I am not a Duchess.
2) I don't only eat cake and feed my kids only sweets.
3) I am not on Nutella's payroll.

Now that we got those issues out of the way, I feel like you can get to know the real me. I am married to an Executive Chef. Some of you are really into my blog and read my tiny profile area and already know this.  I know y'all are thinking: "She gets the best food!" and "He must cook every night." He is home a handful of days every month, and on about 1 of those days, he cooks. That leaves me cooking the other 29 days every month. Of every year.

These are some things I like to cook:

1) pasta
2) risotto
3) lots of vegetables
4) sometimes meat
5) not enough seafood
6) more pasta

I cook mostly Italian food. Sometimes you will see some Latino flavor in my recipe repertoire. I live practically in Cuba, and am not complaining. I get the best café con leche around the corner. That's when my Español comes in handy.

And sometimes I will just invent something like this dish. It is sort of Italasiantino (Italian, Asian, Latino). The savory shrimp are perfectly matched with the sweet and spicy salsa. The jasmine rice is fluffy perfection. I could eat this for breakfast.

Eww. Kidding.

Savory Shrimp with Papaya Salsa and Jasmine Rice


jasmine rice
2 cups

1 large papaya diced
4 plum tomatoes diced
1/4 cup cilantro diced
4 scallions chopped
juice of 2 limes
1 jalapeno chopped fine (you can omit if you don't like spicy)
1 teaspoon salt (more if you like salty sweet)

1 lb large shrimp (I used frozen/deveined kind and I peeled them)
2 garlic cloves chopped
1/2 cup white wine
3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons salt (or more to taste)

For the rice: bring 3 cups of water to a boil. When water is boiling, add the rice. Let come to another boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. When your timer goes off, voila', open lid to super fluffy rice.

If you used frozen shrimp like I did, let it defrost in bowl of water while you are prepping the salsa.

Salsa: Chop all of the salsa ingredients and then mix them in a large bowl. Add more lime juice if needed and a tablespoon or two of olive oil. The olive oil make it just a little better.

Shrimp: Your shrimp are defrosted or you are using fresh shrimp, now is their time to shine! Heat up the butter in a medium sized skillet on medium-high heat.  Sautee' the garlic in the butter and olive oil. Add the white wine. Let it start to reduce, then add the shrimp. Sautee' the shrimp. When they turn pink, they are done. It will only take a few minutes. Take the shrimp out of pan with a slotted spoon and place them in bowl. Turn the heat on high and let the white wine reduce more with the butter. It should only take a few minutes. Then spoon the sauce onto the shrimp.

Plate up the shrimp on top of the papaya salsa like I did.  It looks so fancy! Serve with the rice on the side. Sprinkle a little more chopped cilantro on the rice. You are in business!

This is the most photogenic papaya I've ever seen.


Nutella Ganache Brownies and Peanut Butter Cream

We meet again, my love. I know you are not good for me, yet, your sweet nothings and international charms have drawn me in once again. You broke my heart when I found out you had other loves. That I wasn't your one and only. I tried to distance myself from you and your beguiling ways.

Strata con le Prugne e Zenzero Cristallizato (Plum Bread Pudding with Candied Ginger)

International markets are so much fun. There is a super cool Asian market (it's called Fortune Cookie) near my house. David is the owner. David's shelves are overflowing with the most fabulous products. The first time I went there I got lost in the candy aisle. Candies from Japan are so cool! The packaging is fantastic. I told David I was suffering from migraine headaches. I thought he would hook me up with a special tea. He recommended a little bottle of Gastrodia Root Combination. Here's what it takes care of: Dizziness, hemialgia, headache, migraine, neurasthenia, insomnia, mental depression, numbness in the extremities, white hair, and hair loss at early stage.

Maybe that is why I was getting migraines? Maybe I was mentally depressed from early white hair and numbness in my extremities? Needless to say, I took them a few times and I didn't grow any more hair and still had a headache. And I'm still feeling a little numb. I need to talk to David about these pills.

The point of this Oriental Market story is that while I was there, I found the most amazing crystallized ginger. For 99 cents! What can you buy these days for 99 cents! Apparently, this amazing candied ginger!

So, here is my little toast to the recession, that we are supposedly no longer in. I made a Plum Strata, or a bread pudding. It sounds much more exotic in Italiano: Strata con le Prugne e Zenzero Cristallizato.

I made a Mixed Berry Strata this summer and it was so fruity and delicious. Yesterday I had half a loaf of Cuban bread from the other day on my kitchen counter. I picked up this bread at the vegetable market. It was not that good. It was a wimpy bread. Mushy, flavorless. But it was perfect for my strata! I had some fresh plums and I had some dried plums (prunes). The flavor of the plums and prunes with the candied ginger is incredible. The ricotta is naturally sweet but even tastier with the cinnamon and vanilla. The lemon zest and lemon juice breaks up all the sweetness with a hint of tartness. The important part is letting this sit in the refrigerator. A test of patience, but everyone will thank you. The bread will soak up all of the delicious flavors. The plums will become even sweeter from being in the vanilla sugar.

Strata con le Prugne e Zenzero is a perfect comfort dish for fall. Don't throw away your old bread. Make a Strata! You will impress your mom with your baking talent and frugal wizardry!

Strata con le Prugne e Zenzero Cristallizato (Plum Bread Pudding with Candied Ginger)

3 tablespoons honey
4 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
1/2 sugar
1 cup whole milk
4 cups cubed bread (I used day old Cuban bread)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon nutmeg
6 ripe plums cut into chunks
(1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla to soak diced plums in)

1/2 cup diced prunes
2 tablespoons candied ginger chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the eggs, ricotta, lemon zest, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. Using a fork, mix to combine and beat the eggs. Add the milk, lemon juice, butter and honey mixture, and bread. Stir to combine. Gently fold in the plums, prunes, and chopped candied ginger.
Place the ingredients in a 10-inch round (2-quart) baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.
Bake the strata until golden on top and baked through, about 40 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Spoon into dishes and serve.

My candied ginger. Isn't it pretty?

Here's that Gastrodia Root Combination. I'm still on the fence about its migraine curing abilities. It definitely could help if you have extremity numbness. Just my opinion.


Pumpkin Butterscotch Nutella Bread

Pumpkin Bread, let me introduce you to my dear friend, Nutella.

What can I say? I ran out of chocolate chips, and let's keep it real: Nutella is way better than chocolate chips.  I was going to make just a regular Pumpkin Bread...but regular is sometimes uninspiring. Pumpkin Bread is my fall baking staple. In the cooler months,  I make one a week. We love Pumpkin Bread. Now, we really love Pumpkin Butterscotch Bread with Nutella. Yowzers! This bread rocks! I was playing on the idea of my Nutella Cake recipe I made this summer.
Fear not! This is not so sweet that it will take the enamel off your teeth. I cut back the sugar I use for my regular Pumpkin Bread because of the butterscotch chip and Nutella thing going on.

I did happen to have butterscotch chips in my cabinets, and you can't see them when it is done baking, but you can taste their buttery sweetness. This bread is just divine! Moist and full of fall's yummy spices. And with the right amount of Nutella. Pumpkin paradise.

Pumpkin Butterscotch Bread with Nutella

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
4 tablespoons Nutella

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Lightly butter a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan and line with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides; butter parchment. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and spices.

In a large bowl, beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add the eggs and beat to combine. Mix in the pumpkin mixture.  With mixer on low, add flour mixture. Fold in the butterscotch chips

Spread one-third of the batter in the prepared pan. Then spread half of the nutella on top. Repeat with another third of the batter and the remaining Nutella. Top with the remaining batter. Lightly swirl the Nutella into the batter with a butter knife. Do not overmix.

Bake for about 30 mintues at 350 F. Then lower heat to 325 F, and bake for about another 25-35 minutes ( keep checking the bread the last 10 minutes),toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes, and then remove by lifting up with parchment paper. Slice and serve.

Look at that nutella! Doesn't it make you want to take a bite right now??


Nutella Skillet Brownies

Nutella is amazing. It is so amazing and fabulous that it should have its own national holiday. Kids should stay home from school to honor Nutella. It is that delicious.

Pumpkin Whoopie PIes

What is a whoopie pie for goodness sake? Is it a humongous cookie? A mini-cake? Pie?!? A whoopie pie is all soft cakey yumminess that is a cookie sandwich! Yes, two layers of this delicious and moist cake/cookie hybrid stuffed with frosting! You may have died and gone to Heaven when you eat one of these. Over the top American scrumptiousness at its best.

Whoopie pies can be made in any flavor, but what is better for the cooler weather than pumpkin! I love the smell of any thing with pumpkin baking: Pumpkin Pie, Pumpkin Bread, Pumpkin Muffins. You won't believe how easy these are to make. If you don't like the super-sized version that I made, you could make minis.

I made a pretty a big portion of frosting because I knew everyone would be sampling it. It was difficult to concentrate on assembling the pies because the frosting is so good!!!So I suggest you make the large portion I made. :)

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
1 1/2 stick (6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1 2/3 cup flour
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup canned pure pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoons ground ginger
1  teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick butter softened
8  ounces cream cheese, chilled
2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda,salt and spices.
In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and brown sugar until smooth. Mix on medium speed in the eggs, pumpkin puree,and vanilla extract. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture.

Using an ice cream scoop or tablespoon, drop 12 generous mounds of batter, spaced evenly, onto each baking sheet. With floured fingers, gently press down on each scoop to flatten the shape a little. Bake until springy to the touch, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. 

Cream the softened butter with the cream cheese. Add the confectioners' sugar, salt and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla; mix on low speed until blended, then beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Spread the flat side of 12 cakes with the cream cheese frosting. Top each with another cake.

These are seriously, totallly, without any doubt: YUMMY!!!


Plum Brioche Cake

I know I have been living under a rock. I recently came into contact with the authors of some of the most amazing food blogs. Where have I been all these years while they have been cooking and baking the most fabulous food around the world?? Alas, it's not too late. There is hope for my family, friends, and for myself. One of these fabulous and very talented food bloggers is Jamie from  Life's a Feast. Jamie has been living in France for the past 20 something years and blogs about her life and her food. I am a huge fan and am grateful that our paths have crossed.

Jamie recently baked a  Plum Brioche Cake . I couldn't get the image of the juicy plums sitting atop a fluffy brioche cake out of my head. I had to make this cake and I had to make it fast. I love the brioche recipe. It is easy to make, but requires a little patience. Brioche needs to rise and this cake has to rise three different times. When I look now at Jamie's photos again I realize mine didn't rise up as much as hers did. I will be baking this beautiful cake again soon and will see if I need to let it rise a longer than an hour during the first part. I used to have a fear of making any thing with yeast. Then I learned how to make pizza. And now I know how to make Gâteau de Quetsches. And you can too.

Take a look at Jamie's blog to see her spectacular photos that explain the recipe in great detail. While you are there, look at her other superb creations.

PLUM BRIOCHE CAKE from Life's a Feast

Gâteau de Quetsch

2 Tbs warm milk

2.1 oz - about 2 ¼ tsp (6 g) active dry yeast

2 Tbs (30 g) granulated sugar

2 cups (250 g) flour + more for kneading

1 tsp salt

7 Tbs (100 g) unsalted butter very, very soft

3 large eggs

½ tsp vanilla

14 oz (400 g) quetsches (oval purple plums)

1 tsp vanilla sugar

1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

Warm the milk for 5 to 10 seconds in the microwave. Pour the warm milk over the active dry yeast and ½ teaspoon of the sugar, which have been put together into a small bowl. Allow to proof, about 15 minutes, until there is a fairly thick head of foam.

Place the flour, the rest of the sugar and the salt in a large mixing bowl; stir to blend. Add the soft butter in cubes. When the yeast is proofed, pour it over the flour/butter in the bowl. Whisk the eggs until blended, add the vanilla and add this to the mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon, fold the wet ingredients into the dry until all of the dry has been moistened and then begin to stir vigorously until all of the butter has been well blended into the batter and no large chunks remain. You will have a very thick, very wet batter-like dough.

Generously flour a work surface and scrape the dough out onto the surface. With the help of a dough scraper, begin folding and kneading the dough, adding more flour as you work and scraping up the dough off of the table, and knead until you have a soft, silky smooth homogeneous dough, adding only enough flour as needed to hold it together into a smooth dough. Knead for 6 to 10 minutes. All of the butter will have been incorporated.

Lightly grease a clean, medium-sized mixing bowl. Place the ball of dough in the bowl, turning to coat with the grease. Cover the bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap and then a clean kitchen towel and leave to rise at room temperature for 1 hour. It will almost be doubled.
Remove from the bowl and wrap in plastic wrap (allowing enough plastic for the dough to rise and not burst out of the seams of the wrap!) and allow to rest and continue to rise in the refrigerator for 1 more hour.

Meanwhile, wash and dry the plums. Slice each plum in half lengthwise, remove and discard the pits and place the halves in a bowl. Toss with 1 teaspoon of vanilla sugar. Toss the plums occasionally while waiting for the dough; this will toss and coat the fruit in the melted vanilla sugar.

Butter the bottom and sides of a regular 10-inch (26-cm) pie plate.

After one hour, remove the dough from the fridge, take out of the plastic and place on a floured work surface. If you want a thinner brioche layer simply cut into two even pieces, wrap up one half and store in the refrigerator (to use within a day or two) or the freezer. Roll out the dough into a circle just slightly larger than the circumference of your pie plate. Gently lift the dough and place it in the buttered pie plate and pat it out evenly, pressing up a slight edge all around the outside. Brush the entire surface and edges with the beaten egg. Place plum halves, cut side up, in a rosace design all around to cover the surface of the dough, snuggling them closely together, leaving the edge free. Once they are all well placed on the dough, gently press the plums down into the dough a bit. Cover the cake loosely with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise yet again for another hour.

At the end of the hour, preheat the oven to 410°F (210°C). (*I will bake this next time on a lower temperature. I think with my oven it would've been better at 375 F).

It is better to slightly undercook this cake rather than risk overbaking – it is a very light dough, less moist and dense than a brioche, so there is always the risking of drying out if overbaked.

Apple Cupcakes with Marshmallow Cinnamon Frosting

It is apple picking season.  Are the temperatures cooling down where you live? Were you recently able to turn off your air conditioning to open your windows for a fresh cool breeze that you find in fall? Not here in steamy South Florida! We are not even close to feeling any cooler temperatures, but that is not stopping me from working on my fall recipes! When I think of fall, I think of tasty apple desserts full of sweet apples and fragrant spices. I adore any dessert with apples in them. I particularly adore cupcakes with apples in them! Lol. Recently I  heard that my friend Rachael from the fabulous La Fuji Mama was having some minor surgery, I offered to bake for her some amazing Apple Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting. I thought the last thing she should be thinking of while she is recovering is what to cook and bake for her fabulous La Fuji Mama Blog. Let foodie friends come to the rescue!

These Apple Cupcakes with Marshmallow Cinnamon frosting are super moist from the delicious apples and the rich buttermilk. The marshmallow frosting is rich and gooey and has the perfect amount of cinnamon to balance the sugary sweetness. These cupcakes are irresistible!

You can find the RECIPE for these delicious cupcakes at her super blog. While you are there, check out her other fantastic recipes.

Gelato alla Stracciatella (Chocolate Chip Ice-Cream)

There is ice-cream and there is gelato. Italy is famous for its incredible gelato. I think every Italian city must have the best gelateria in their town. My neighbor's uncle has the best gelateria in Bologna: Gelateria delle Moline.  It is so good that when my neighbor's parents go to Bologna every year, they bring back gelato in big styrofoam containers. The children come over to announce to us that their Zio Benito's gelato has arrived and that we will soon get a sample. It is an event. We watch our neighbors carefully open the styrofoam containers and marvel at how the gelato looks as good as it would if were eating it at Zio Benito's place (well, almost as good!).

I have finally found a way to have the best gelato here in the states...make my own! I am the new proud owner of a Cuisinart Ice-Cream maker! It was the best gift I received recently for my birthday. It is the gift that will keep giving because I am now making gelato for everyone! This recipe is my sweet husband's (the perks of being married to a chef).

What does Stracciatella mean, you may wonder? "Stracciare" means to shred or tear. The word "stracciata" would mean shredded or torn, which leads us to the word: "stracciatella." The chocolate chips are the part that is "stracciata", or torn.

Gelato alla Stracciatella

1 liter whole milk  (1 quart whole milk)
220 grams sugar  (about 1/2 lb granulated sugar)    
14 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1) Bring the milk to a boil in a medium saucepan.
2) While the milk is coming to a boil, whip the eggs with the sugar and vanilla.
3) When the milk has come to a rapid boil, remove from the heat and strain the milk into the whipped egg mixture. Whip it together very fast.
4) Add the egg/milk mixture back to the medium saucepan and boil the mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it becomes dense. The way to test if it is ready is to take the wooden spoon you are using to stir and pull it out of the pan and flip over the wooden spoon. Blow on the back of the wooden spoon. It should make little waves (fa le piccole onde)with the cream mixture if it is done. If you over boil it, it will make little balls of cream.
5) Chill the mixture in a bowl that is placed in a bigger bowl of ice. When the cream mixture is chilled, it is ready to add to the ice-cream maker(follow the directions for your ice-cream maker). When the ice-cream is just about ready, add in the chocolate chips to the mixture (you just want it to be combined).

If you need assistance with this recipe, please email me at cakeduchess (at) .

When we go to Italy in the summer, we have a frenetic schedule that is full of visits to my husband's huge family scattered all over Italy. Some days we take a break and we go to have a pizza in Como and a gelato.

Italians know how to enjoy their lives and they take time to have a caffe' with a friend or take the kids for a gelato. And they take really long lunch breaks. It's all about the food and the caffe! This is a caffe' in Como, summer 2010.


Torta di Fichi Freschi - Spiced Fig Cake and My Nonno

I love figs. My grandfather (Nonno Giuseppe) in Sicily had fig trees on his farm. We would go to the farm and stay there for hours. I would get to ride on the tractor with my Zio Vincenzo. I would play tag and run with my brother and cousins. There was no fear of getting our hands dirty. We would make mud and  patch up the walls of the farmhouse. There was a well where we would put our little pear drinks in to cool off for lunch. After playing all day, we would have our delicious lunch and pear juice. And for dessert, we would pick our green figs and devour one after another. It was paradise. Today is Nonno Giuseppe's birthday. He would have been 101.

Nonna Giuseppe was a noble man from humble beginnings. He married his sweetheart, Mattia and they had seven kids. He died alone with all of his children fighting over what he would leave them when he was gone. My brother went to Sicily right before our Nonno died. He was there and saw him for one last time. He said the whole city was walking with his funeral procession from the church to the cemetery. That means he was a man of respect. I remember my nonno's little black berets. His striking blue eyes. His big hands full of callouses from working the land. I remember him praying for hours at a time. He never recovered after my Nonna Mattia died. He never even took the "Per la mia moglie" (For my wife) sign off of his front door from when she passed away. I know you can die of a broken heart.  It was still on the door 25 years later when I was showing my husband my father's childhood home. I was fascinated that the paper was still intact and adhering to the old wooden door. That night, we quietly snuck down the street in the dark. My dad was imploring us to be quiet as there were people on the balconies and they would surely recognize us even in the dark. What a mysterious place full of secrets.

Buon Compleanno Nonno Giuseppe. This fig cake is for you!!

Spiced Fig Cake

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1  cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup finely chopped figs (I used very ripe fresh figs)

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Butter and flour a 9-inch Bundt pan or tube pan'
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg,ginger, and salt.

Beat together sugar and oil until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

Beat flour into egg mixture a little at a time, alternating with orange juice. Stir in figs. Spoon batter into into your greased/floured baking pan (I use Pam baking spray).

Bake cake at 350° for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Dust powdered sugar on top when cake is cool.

Nonno Giuseppe on the farm with my dad and other family members. Sicily circa 1960's. See my nonno standing with his black beret.

My dad and my Zio Vincenzo on the farm. Nice legs dad! I have to show my dad my blog. He will be so proud of his tan and cute legs!

Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico and the Crappy Tomatoes

This is my go-to pasta dish. We eat an exorbitant amount of pasta here. In our house, there is no fear of carbs and we do not have gluten issues. We don't run from carbs, we embrace them. To us, a meal without carbs is well, not a meal. Last summer my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law were here for a month. They cooked for us every night. They planted a garden. Nonna Antonia woke up one morning at 7 a.m. and declared, "Vado fuori a zappare." Translation: I am going outside to hoe. Out she went in her black skirt (she is in mourning) and purple polyester shirt and asked for a shovel. She was 82 at the time. I was standing there barely awake trying to ingest my caffe' latte as fast as possible to better comprehend what she was asking. I thought she was kidding. She was serious. Nonna proceeded to go out front and she started to prep the land. That meant, tear apart 1/2 of one section of our front yard Neighbors were whispering to each other. I quickly finished chugging my caffe' latte and grabbed my camera. I was beginning to wonder if I should stop photographing the event and start digging with her. I offered my assistance and she told me in uncertain terms to back off. Seriously, she didn't need my help.  Nonna Antonia grows every thing and makes every thing from scratch. She has the most amazing olive trees in Calabria. Tears are trickling down my cheeks just thinking of her olives and olive oil. Her husband, Nonno Giuseppe, passed away two years ago. My father-in-law and mother-in-law go to Calabria every year to help take care of the olives. Luckily, we get care packages a few times a year with olives in freeze-dried packages.

One of the important things they taught me that month was how to can tomatoes. We went to my little vegetable market (it's Latino, of course), and bought about 20 lbs of plum tomatoes. My mother-in-law was glancing furtively at the Latina girls while fondling the tomatoes and mumbling in Calabrese to me, "These tomatoes are awful. They have no color. They aren't like our tomatoes. " For obvious reasons, I was feeling uncomfortable. I knew the girls couldn't understand her, but it was the way she was handling the tomatoes. They knew their tomatoes weren't good enough for this foreigner speaking in a funny language. I offered her to go to another market, but she didn't want to waste time. We had canning to do. We canned tomatoes for one whole afternoon. Even though the tomatoes were of questionable quality, those canned tomatoes we made rocked!

My canned tomatoes from last May are long gone. Every once and a while I think of making them again. It just won't be the same without the nonnas. I still frequent my Latino market and stock up on tomatoes once a week. Last night I made a quick Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico. It is easier to make than you might think. If there is one Italian dish you could learn to make, this should be it.

Spaghetti al Pomodoro e Basilico
for 4-6 people

1 lb spaghetti (I use Barilla or De Cecco)
10 to 12 fresh plum tomatoes (approximately 2 to 2 1/2 pounds)
4 ounces extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional extra-virgin olive oil, optional
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
freshly chopped basil leaves

Bring pot of water to a boil. After the water has come to a boil, add salt to the water (about a teaspoon of salt per quart of water). Add spaghetti and cook until al dente. There is nothing worse than mushy pasta. While pasta is boiling, cook your sauce.

Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Saute' chopped onion until translucent (about 3 minutes).

Add chopped plum tomatoes and cook approximately 5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Add chopped basil and extra virgin olive oil if desired, just before using.
Drain the pasta and add the fresh tomato sauce. You could save some of the pasta water and add to the tomato sauce if it is a little dry.

Sprinkle on some parmesan (we use Parmegiano Reggiano D.O.P. -it is the best!).


If you ever feel like you can't get out of bed to go exercise. If you ever feel like you need to skip that spin class because you have to go get a Tall Mocha Latte at Starbucks...remember this image of an 82 your old nonna working the land. Get your butt out there and do exercise! lol.


Catholic Guilt and Lemon Rosemary Olive Oil Cake

Summer came to a crashing end here for us three weeks ago. This is the year I decided to let my little guy leave the nest and join other toddlers that are on the road to Harvard and start Pre-K. He now is in school every day, all day. And I am alone. The silence at first was eerie. I could hear the crickets chirping outside (do crickets chirp during the day? Well, they do here in West Palm Beach). I could hear my neighbors car doors closing when they were leaving to go to work. I could hear a pin drop. People I know were starting to panic. They would look at me in desperation and ask, "What are you going to do all day now that you are all alone??!?". I didn't think about it until they posed the question. I had no plan. People, listen to me: I HAVE NO PLAN!! Is that OK to not have a plan? I think so. I could sit at home and watch the paint peel from my walls for 6 hours a day. What I did know I was going to do was some more baking. I was going to organize my recipes. Finish school. Get in better cardio shape. Take care of my family. Pull weeds *(kidding!). Volunteer at my kids' schools. Wash my chihuahuas. I have some pressing things to take care of.

Here is what I did do today. It was a lazy morning. I enjoyed the crickets chirping. I read the whole paper from front to back. Today I could care less about my cardio fitness. I sat outside and sweat and shooed away the mosquitoes.  I drank a really good cappuccino.  I ate a second slice of my Lemon Rosemary Olive Oil Cake. I felt no guilt. This Catholic guilt thing is hard to shake. I wrote on my blog. I shared my Lemon Rosemary Olive Oil Cake with you, my dear readers. So there you have it! Get over it! I want to shout it from a mountain top:  I did not much of any thing! And I feel good.

Lemon-Rosemary Olive Oil Cake adapted from Cooking Light
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (I used 1 cup)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup fat-free milk (I used whole organic milk)
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 large eggs

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (I used about 3)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Coat a 10-inch tube pan with cooking spray; dust with 2 tablespoons of flour. Combine flour, and next 4 ingredients (through the salt)in a large bowl.
3. Place granulated sugar and next 7 ingredients (through eggs) in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at low speed until smooth (about 2 minutes). Add to flour mixture; beat until blended.
4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350F for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 15 minutes on a wire rack, and remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack. Combine powdered sugar and lemon juice. Drizzle sugar mixture over cake.  ENJOY!

Story behind this recipe: Last night the kids were going through "no homemade cake withdrawal". I have been eyeing this recipe for a year and decided to give it a go. Two ingredients were stopping me: olive oil and rosemary. I chopped the rosemary so fine that my daughter didn't know it was in there. I could tell. It was subtle and delicious. The lemon glaze added just the right amount of sweetness. The cake practically disappeared within the first hour it was baked. Chef came home from work and had a piece and really liked it. I also shared a chunk with my neighbors. They deserved it. They came over with a chunk of homemade mozzarella two nights ago. Isn't it fabulous!?