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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Happy New Year from the Mountains of Abruzzo

(copyright, Maria Liberati 2007)
Here's wishing that you all had a wonderful Christmas and that you were able to include some of the special recipes we have included this past month.
I am writing from my office in Italy- high in the mountains of Abruzzo.
The Holiday season still goes on here. While you are waiting to ring in the New Year as we are here as well, we will be celebrating until the 6th of January. This last Holiday is the Epiphany or La Befana and marks the end of the Christmas Holidays.
Here the Holidays are the topic of conversation for everyone for at least 4-6 weeks. I was really tired and not too awake when we landed in Rome. But I really realized I was here when I had to stop at customs to show my passport. No, showing my passport didn't wake me up. The customs officers- there were 3- that had to look at my passport were discussing a recipe that they had for Christmas Eve dinner (Vigilia) as they glanced at my passport- paying more attention to the details of the recipe than the looking over of passports. And unfortunately I did not hear the entire recipe. Although as tempted as I was to ask, I decided it was best not to ask.
Besides, I knew that the sooner I left the airport the sooner we would be having a cappuccino and cornetti at Palombini-in EUR (a neighborhood in Rome) right in front of the 'square coliseum'-that alone is sight for sore tired eyes.
And as I have been continuing this series, here is an excerpt from my upcoming book- The Basic Art of Italian Cooking-Holidays and Special Occasions (to be released in late 2008). This chapter is about our New Year's Eve last year -to bring in 2007.
(excerpt from The Basic Art of Italian Cooking-Holidays & Special Occasions
copyright, Maria Liberati 2007, art of living,PrimaMedia,Inc.)
Never plan for anything..As all the highways were closed because of icy conditions and two terrible accidents on the A24 highway (the highway that goes from Abruzzo to Rome)–we had to quickly think on our feet to save the festivities for New Year’s Eve. Which we did….
As luck has it we found out this morning that we could not get out of town safely so we had just enough time to grab all of the ingredients we needed to make a 7 course New Year’s Eve fest fit for a king.. for 25 people….

Primi (first course)
Spaghetti lightly tossed with fresh shrimp and calamari in an ‘aglio e olio’ (garlic and oil) topped at the end with fresh parsley.

Secondi (second course)
Zuppa di lenticchie (lentil soup) with freshly made crostini (croutons)
Served with Cotechino (a type of ham)

Terzo (third course)
Fresh baked salmone

Quarto (fourth course)
Frittata made with fresh escarole and grated parmigiano cheese

Contorni (side dishes)
*Fresh swiss chard- cooked and lightly tossed with olive oil and fresh lemon juice
*Fresh mozzarella

All of this was served with Vino Novello. This is the new wine that comes out about this time of the year. It is called vino novello (new wine) because it is only aged for 3 months versus aging for at least 1 year.

Dolci (desserts)
*Torte di panettone (see recipe in my next blog later this week)
*Artisanal chocolate torrone made here in Abruzzo. (It contains 80% cocoa and hazelnuts grown locally. This is a specialty here in the province of Abruzzo).

Fruit course
Fresh grapes (you must eat at least 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve for good luck).
Fresh apples

To bring in the New Year, Braccchetto D’Acqui was served. It is a sparkling red wine that is delicate and with just a hint of sweetness

Torte di panettone recipe
(Copyright 2005- Maria Liberati)
Many of you who have been at my book signings have savored this torte (cake). We make it around Christmas time because it is made with panettone (an Italian sweet bread made for Christmas). We usually have so much panettone left over and try to think of creative things to do with it. So I came up with this recipe with a friend of mine that is a pastry chef here in Abruzzo. It is really very easy to make but is so yummy they will think you were baking all day.

And as I always recommend in all of my cookbooks- use only the best ingredients you can find for this torte. Since there are only a few ingredients each and everyone is important.

*1/3 to ½ of a pannettone (most gourmet stores carry these now, if you are lucky you may be able to find a fresh baked one as well).
*1- 4 ounce chocolate bar (must be 70-80% cocoa)
*4 large dried figs
*2 cups whole milk
*1/2 cup sugar
*¼ tsp vanilla
*2 whole eggs
Baking paper
1- 8” shallow cake pan
Small piece of solid chocolate to shave into chocolate curls on top
Confectioner’s Sugar

If panettone is a few days old it should be dry. If it is not dry, tear panettone into small cubes, preheat oven to 375-400 degrees. When oven is preheated place panettone cubes on flat baking sheet and bake till begins to turn golden and becomes dry.

Line shallow cake pan with baking paper. Chop 4 ounces of dark chocolate into small pieces. Chop four figs into small pieces. Set these aside.

Cover pan with one layer of panettone cubes. Press cubes gently to fit form of pan. Sprinkle chopped chocolate and figs on panettone cubes. Place another layer of panettone cubes on top, again press gently to cover the first layer and to fit form of pan.

With wire whisk, whisk together 2 cups milk and 2 eggs. Then little by little add in the sugar and whisk and then add in vanilla and whisk for 1 minute or until well blended.

With soup ladle gently pour this mixture over panettone cubes and then gently press down to form panettone and mixture to pan and then let
sit for 10 minutes so all is absorbed. Then place in oven preheated to 375 degrees for 40 -50 minutes.

Top should be golden and all liquid should be absorbed.

When cool, take out of pan by edges of baking paper. Garnish top with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and chocolate curls shaved from chocolate bar.

Should be kept in refrigerator and best if made the night before.

Serve with Bracchetto D’Acqui sparkling wine.

Tanti Auguri for a safe and Happy 2008!

You can purchase the bestselling book The Basic Art of Italian Cooking and still receive $5 off retail price and free shipping at
and portion of proceeds go to Gilda's Club.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Memories, part 2

Here is another chapter from my upcoming book:

The Basic Art of Italian Cooking-Holidays & Special Occasions

copyright 2007, Maria Liberati; Publisher-art of living,PrimaMedia,Inc

to be released 2008

Christmas Eve Memories

Someone once said “there is a book of record in your mind, in which every act of your life is noted down. Each morning the blank page is turned on which the day’s history is noted on lines that can not be edited. This book of record is your memory. An act is done, is done forever, for the time in which it is done in passing, passes no more”.

I try to remember this at each Christmas Eve dinner. Each one is a special memory and its’ own special chapter in my ‘memory book’ made up of two important ingredients: good food and family.

In Italian we have a saying : “Natale con I tuoi”. It means that Christmas should be spent with family and those that you love.

Christmas Eve dinner begins a few days before. Shopping for fresh fish at the Italian Market in Philadelphia is always an event in itself. My mother and aunt have a knack for choosing the best and freshest fish-they had a great teacher- their mother.
Early on Christmas Eve morning the preparation of the fish begins. Nothing comes out of the family kitchen that wasn’t freshly prepared by family members.

By the time 3 PM arrives the kitchen is all aflutter with activity. Oven is baking and stove is filled with many pots a brewing, sauces being made, fishes being fried, sautéed, sauces filling the air with a wonderful aroma. Inevitably someone always yells out, “what do you think, should it stay a little longer” and at least 5 of the family cooks run over to ‘make their call’.

On the other side of the kitchen table the freshly breaded, lightly fired smelts have just arrived and will be finished before any of the cooks attempt to taste. But no fear, as in all Italian feasts there are plenty more where that came from and no shortage of cooks willing to fry up a fresh batch..

In different parts of the house hugs and kisses are still being exchanged with arriving guests who quickly follow their noses to have a taste at what’s being brought to the kitchen table
And after everyone has settled in all of a sudden things become quiet-like the second act of an opera- we are now waiting for our second act-dinner. Quiet is soon broken by the sound of the popping open of wine bottles and the first ‘Saluti’ and wine glasses –filled with our favorite family wine-Montepulciano D’Abbruzzo. And the ‘opera’ continues, a symphony of noise of dishes being passed around and new and old memories being shared.

Our favorite dessert is the Panettone di Cioccolata. This is a new dessert that has now become one of our family traditions. I hope it becomes one of yours.

Sidebar: Try a slightly sweet, festive sparkling wine with this dessert. Brachetto D’Acqui
makes a great accompaniment to this dessert.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Memories, part 1

My Christmas memories are very special ones. They are made up of vivid sights, smells and sounds.
*Sights-of family and good friends, brightly decorated presents and wrapping and bows and colorful table decorations, large tables spilling over with food
*Smells of great foods cooking on the stove and baking in the oven.
*Sounds- laughter, clanking of bowls and whirring mixers, oven timers, singing Christmas Carols-(in Italian and English), happy chatter, wine and champagne bottles popping and toasts of glasses clanking.
The most precious gifts that I received during the Holidays are these memories to treasure. Memories that I can relive, if only in my mind or through some faded photo.

There is one material gift that I do remember out of all of my Christmases- a sled. You see we lived in the city of Philadelphia- not exactly great space to ride around on a sled. But my parents always dreamed of building a house in the country and taking us out of the city- (which they did) and a place where we can go sledding with open fields and hills.

. After all the presents were opened, Mom insisted that we get ready to go to nonna’s house for our family Christmas Day dinner . But my father couldn’t budge until he took me on my first sleigh ride-‘city style’. What a great memory, and luckily I have a photo to prove it- my Dad pulling that little sled along the sidewalk, through the driveway and the peaceful quiet of a crisp snowy day. When the cold was too much we began heading towards home, but “pull me again Daddy”, I chanted. Of course my doting Dad headed around the block again, and again that day. Nothing could stop him, but Mom, who finally came out to find us. That winter was a special one, filled with memories of many snowy days and many sleigh rides with my father.

Here is hoping you have a special Holiday made up of many

And I want to leave you with a taste of Christmas. This is a recipe I created to use up all that leftover Panettone. it was featured in the Holiday issue of tastes of Italia Magazine.This is a scrumptious version of bread pudding.

Panettone di Natale

*½ of a large panettone-cut into small cubes
*2 cups of milk
*1/2 tsp of pure vanilla extract
*Dark chocolate (70-90 % cocoa) broken into small pieces or chopped.
*4 dried figs, cut into small pieces
*1/4 cup dried cherries
* ¼ cup raisins
*1 fresh lemon rind grated
Powdered cocoa for dusting on top

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Break or pull apart panettone into small cubes.
Place one layer of panettone cubes in an 8 inch round or square glass or ceramic baking dish. Cover with, chopped chocolate pieces, chopped fig pieces , then cherries ,then raisins. Cover this layer with remaining panettone cubes.
In seperate bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla and sugar. Pour liquid over panettone cubes. Gently push down on top to be sure liquid soaks into all layers, Let sit for 10 minutes then bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes or until firm and golden on top. When cool, dust with powdered cocoa and serve.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Panettone- once the Italian secret..revealed..

Christmas time is here and if you are spending Christmas in Italy that means the sight of Panettone in every shape size and flavor decorating the supermarkets, the open air markets , the windows of many coffee bars. There are even Panettone bread that are carved out and used as nativity scenes with figures of the nativity scene strategically placed inside. The original Panettone bread is time consuming and takes a bit of practice to make. However ,for those of you short on time that love to bake, you can try this simple version of Panettone. it is just as delicious and healthy too. All great ingredients, but panettone is high in calories, so a small slice will do, thank you.
There is nothing better than starting a cold winter morning with a slice of toasted panettone bread and some jam
For the recipe check out my regular column now at
Hope this makes your holidays a bit more delicious!!Ciao for now!!Maria

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pennsylvania Holiday Food and Beverage Show

This years' Pennsylvania Holiday Food and Beverage Show was bigger and better than last year and included many more companies as a well as a wine tasting room. The event was held at the Toyota Arena in York, Pa.

I was selected to be one of the celebrity chefs there and did two onstage appearances. The appearances which were unscripted were taped by York County dining and you can view here:

My two onstage appearances and demos included some wonderful cheeses provided by Penn Cheese company. If you are looking for a recipe for your Holiday risotto and focaccia bread- watch the first clip. The second clip was done in the wine tasting room and includes no-bake- appetizers perfect for wine pairing.

A special thanks to all that came out to see me at the show. It is always so nice to meet everyone and hear about your experiences with cooking the recipes in The Basic Art of Italian Cooking and my spice blend Sapori D'Italian-Tuscan Picnic.
Also, a special thanks to my cooking appearance assistant-Chris Smith.

For those of you that will be in the Philadelphia, Pa area in March- I will be doing a special guest appearance at the Wine Academy there- for a class in the basics of cooking with wine.
You can go to to register or for more info.
Ciao for now!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Basic Art of the Bubbly, part two

Since I began talking about how water tasting has become an art unto itself- I wanted to continue that with info on learning to appreciate the fine imported mineral waters out there. But remember- we are talking about naturally carbonated waters-not soda.

These waters are waters that come from springs and have a gentle and natural carbonation. Some of these naturally carbonated waters really aid digestion, have health benefits. They make a perfect choice to sip during Holiday meals to help digest.

Each mineral water in Italy comes from a different mineral spring and therefore has its' own characteristic . Some have a softer or harsher taste depending on the mineral content of the water. This is really influenced by the location and the age of the spring and other factors.

Some of the reasons to practice tasting and appreciating different mineral waters is that you will soon learn to distinguish between their characterstics. You will also be able to describe the qualities of specific waters and expertly pair them with wine and food.

Here are the steps on how to conduct a proper mineral water tasting:

Step 1- Pour

As soon as bottle is opened pour into water glass

Step 2- Taste

Sip a small sip (approx 2 tblsps) into your mouth. Let it remain on your tongue and then distribute it throughout your mouth. Notice the tastes and feel of the water.

Step 3-Observe

Raise your glass to eye level. Then lower glass to observe it from above.

Step 4-Smell

Raise glass up under your nose and then breathe in deeply.

Step 5-Second taste

Once again, take a generous sip of the water and let it linger on your tongue.


Cin Cin

Ciao for now!

Maria Liberati

If you are a wine aficianado or want to learn how to be one- come out to The Wine School in Philadelphia on March 13, 2008. I will be doing a class on the basics of Italian cooking with wine. To get more info or register go to or email me at us at

Home of the bestselling book:
The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati, tm

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Basic Art of the bubbly....

Now that the holiday seasons are upon us cocktail parties and feasts surround us. While food is one of the most important ingredients to these events and the cocktails and even those wine pairings with food are fun and festive- did you know that those imported mineral waters can also be paired with foods and courses.

Water tastings and pairings have become as important as the wine tastings in Itally. Many fine dining places have not only wine menus but also water menus.

So, if you would like to add an interesting touch to your holiday event- add in water tasting or pairing with imported mineral waters- certainly a healthy touch to any meal.
And while in the US we may think of water as all virtually the same- in Europe- waters come from many different mineral springs. The quality and quantity and types of minerals depend on the spring that the waters come from. They do have many different qualities and health benefits and are even prescribed for various ailments.
But also many of the waters- especially the ones that are naturally carbonated do really aid in digestion. So while you may want to drink a plain (uncorroborated water) to quench your thirst- if you are enjoying a heavy meal -you might want to consider adding a few glasses of mineral water between courses this holiday season.
To practice the fine art of water tasting this season, here are some tips for your holiday table;
*Place two water glasses at each place setting- one for non-carbonated and one for naturally carbonated water.
*To really appreciate the fine art of mineral water-serve naturally carbonated imported waters. These waters were carbonated naturally by the springs they come from. Serving plain soda water that has been carbonated by a factory is not the same thing.

*Serve the naturally carbonated mineral water chilled to a temperature of about 45 degrees. Serve non-carbonated water chilled to about 50 degrees.

* Do not add ice cubes to the water-this will diminish the true flavor of the mineral water. chill the water itself.
*Encourage your guests to drink the naturally carbonated mineral water between courses during your meal, this will naturally aid in digestion.
This is another healthy addition to any meal or party and no calories either!!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Panettone.. another Italian Holiday delight

Copyright, 2005-2007, Maria Liberati
Editor: Julia Tulba

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, it’s time to prepare for Christmas and Christmas baking/. While visions of sugarplums are now dancing in your head and you are planning your holiday baking here is info on our favorite Christmas dessert and its’ history..Enjoy!

Christmas in Italy would not be the same if it did not include panettone, the traditional sweet bread that is prepared and enjoyed during the holiday season. Although its origins are said to be from Milan, Italy, its immense popularity has made it a requisite treat throughout the world. Panettone is no longer prepared by the Italian nonna (grandmother); in today’s global society, the sweet bread is also made in many non-Italian kitchens, as well as being a favorite item to buy in the stores. The word panettone derives from the Italian word panetto, which means a small loaf of bread. The traditional version of panettone contains orange and lemon zest, as well as raisins, which are added dry and not soaked. However, as a means of appealing to a widely diverse consumer market, other versions of panettone have been made available, such as plain or chocolate. For many panettone aficionados, however, the traditional versions remain the favorite. Most panettone breads have a cupola shape, and are served in slices that are vertically cut. A sweet hot beverage or a glass of sweet wine usually accompanies panettone. Although the process of making panettone can be a very time consuming affair, numerous recipes have been amended to make it less laborious, so that it may be enjoyed by all during the holiday season. These much easier recipes still retain the bread’s delicious taste, just when nonna made it. With its origins dating back to the Roman Empire, its popularity has made panettone a timeless classic.

This recipe is for a simpler version of panettone. You can bake this in a high but small cake pan lined with parchment paper. Or a 1 lb coffee can lined with parchment paper. Many gourmet cooking stores now carry the distinctive brown paper that commercial panettone is baked in-if you want that distinctive look.

Copyright 2005-2007-Maria Liberati
From the best selling book series The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati

2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick unsalted butter – (softened-left out at room temperature)
1 teaspoon orange or lemon peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange oil
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups slivered almonds
2 cups golden raisins (optional)
3 cups chopped mixed dried fruits (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Take either a small high cake pan or a clean, empty 1-pound coffee can.
Line either with a parchment paper, cut to fit, and butter paper. Some paper should be overlapping top of pan or can so you will be able to take bread out when finished by lifting on edges of waxed paper.

In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar until thick and pale yellow, about 5 minutes. Beat in
softened butter, lemon peel and extracts. In a small bowl, mix flour, baking
powder and salt and blend into egg mixture alternately with buttermilk. Stir
in almonds, raisins and dried fruit. Pour batter into prepared pan or can and place
on a baking sheet. Bake 55 to 60 minutes, or until bread is golden on top and a
toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool bread in can for 10 minutes. Lift bread out of pan by parchment paper edges on top. Turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.
To serve, cut into thin wedges.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ciao..Chef Tell & Kugelhopf !

Today, I want to post a tribute to a truly talented chef- one of the first 'chef entertainers' as the newswire has called him.

His passing took us all by surprise. But I was fortunate enough to have interviewed him for a magazine column a few years ago. When contacted for an interview I was quickly invited for dessert and coffee and what a wonderful chocolate pastry it was-reminiscent of desserts I have had at Austrian coffee bars

We had a wonderful conversation of his life in Europe and his favorite places in Italy, his past restaurants, recipes for some of my favorite German desserts and life in general.

he took me through the restaurant kitchen and what a European inspired kitchen it was- reminded me of the kitchens in some of the top hotel restaurants in Europe. He couldn't believe that I knew what Kugelhopf is ( a dessert bread that Marie Antoinette took with her from Austria to France). It is popular in Europe especially during the Holidays-he shared his favorite Kugelhopf recipe with me. And I couldn't believe that he was so familiar with certain parts of Italy-like Lake Garda-where he told me he vacationed a lot with his family!

He was certainly bigger than life-his personality, his pursuits-he owned many well known restaurants and undertook them all with the same passion. he truly had a zest for life and food.

My interview with him began with conversation and note taking for the article but then went on and on. he had such an interesting sense of humor and such a colorful take on life. It was one of the longest interviews I spent interviewing a chef, but seemed like the shortest since it was so interesting. But I remember very vividly how when the interview ended I had told him that I was writing my first book- a recipe novel about Italian Food. This was a subject he told me he was very fond of. I asked if I could send him a copy before it was published for his opinion and suggestions. And he encouraged me nad wished me luck and told me to send a opy to the restaurant. Ciao- he said--it is usually the word of choice for many Europeans to say Goodbye!

And he kept to his word. After sending him my book , I got a phone call early one morning-about 8 PM- in that distinct German accent- "Is Maria there, this is Chef Tell?" how could it have been anyone else- with that distinctive accent.

And he spent a few minutes discussing things he liked about my book but also asked if he could write something for me to include with the book-how could I say no.

After emailing back and forth -he sent me what he wanted to appear in the book-

"a memory about Italian food that makes a perfect gift, But the recipes are so delicious , you'll want to try it first yourself!!"


small cube of fresh yeast ( if you can't find fresh used 1 package of dry)
cup granulated sugar
cup warm water
cups all-purpose flour
cup softened unsalted butter
tablespoon salt
cup light raisins

cup sliced almonds
Dissolve the yeast with the sugar in the warm water and let it proof.
Sift the flour, putting 2 cups in each of two bowls.
Set one bowl aside.
Work together 2 cups of flour and the soft butter (this may be done in the electric mixer).
Mix in the salt and the eggs, one at a time, beating until very thoroughly incorporated.
In alternate batches, add the remaining 2 cups flour and the yeast mixture.
Mix in the electric mixer or with a wooden spoon until thoroughly blended and elastic, then stir in the raisins.
Put in a large, lightly floured bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Punch the dough down.
Heavily butter a standard 10-inch Kugelhopf mold or a 10-inch tube pan and sprinkle half the sliced almonds around the bottom of the mold (the butter will make them adhere).
Pour or spoon half the dough into the mold, sprinkle in the rest of the almonds, and add the remaining dough.
Let rise again until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Bake in a preheated oven at 475 degrees F.
for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until nicely browned, about 40 to 45 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let stand for 3 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a cooling rack.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Italian Style Brownies and Therapy!!

(copyright, Maria Liberati, 2005,2006,2007, The Basic Art of Italian Cooking)

Have you ever thought of food as a relationship builder? Cooking together can help bond relationships with family, friends, and significant other. If you don’t have a lot of time to cook together with family or friends –try to reserve a Sunday during the month as a day to spend some time to prepare a dish or a whole meal from scratch or make it together with someone special in your life.
Here is one of my favorite recipes to make with special friends or family. It is an Italian version of the American brownies:

Tortini di Cioccolato
(Italian Style Brownies)
serves 4

¼ cup European butter
¼ cup dark chocolate pieces
1 whole egg
1/2 cup sugar
¼ cup flour
¼ cup walnut pieces
1 fresh orange
2 tblsps butter to butter pan
2 tblsps plain breadcrumbs

*Soften butter in bowl until it cuts into small pieces
*Break egg, separating the white and egg yolk in 2 different bowls
*Break chocolate into pieces and place in glass bowl
*Place glass bowl in microwave for 30 seconds, or until melted (all microwave times vary, so leave on for 15-30 seconds first.
*place softened butter and sugar in another bowl. Mix until comes to a smooth mixture. Add in egg yolk and continue to mix. Add in melted chocolate, a little at a time until totally mixed in.
Add in flour a small spoonful at a time, continually mixing until totally blended in.
*Grate ½ of orange and add in peel and chopped nuts. Mix well.
*beat egg white until peaks have formed and gently fold into chocolate mixture.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Butter round cake pan or cover with baking paper. Dust bottom with plain breadcrumbs. Pour in batter. Cook in oven for 30 minutes. To be sure it is done, place toothpick in center, it must come out dry. If necessary cook for 5 minutes more.
When done remove from oven. Dust serving plates with powdered cocoa. Cut cake into squares; serve with thin slice of orange
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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta, part 3

I want to thank everyone for coming out to my Healthy Cooking demo at the 10K Run at the Ellis Athletic Center compound yesterday (Saturday, Oct 20th). The event benefited the Women's Resource Center. It was so nice to see everyone and the weather could not have been better. It's always fun for me to get to appear with other chefs and this one was no exception- Dan Funk- a chef well known for his New Orleans style cooking added a great touch and it is always nice working with such a talented chef as well.

But , all the while on my mind was making a fresh tomato sugo from the ripe red tomatoes I got from a farm on Friday. And I was finally able to do that for Sunday afternoon dinner. It was well worth the wait. In honor of my tomato sugo, I wanted to continue with my 'pasta saga' and give you some history on combining pasta and tomatoes. Also check below for my tomato sugo recipe. it's from my book The Basic art of Italian Cooking. (You can get it online at: All this month you can order this bestselling book and get $5 off purchase price and an autographed copy, And don't forget portions of proceeds go towards Gilda's Club)

While it may seem hard to believe, pasta existed and was consumed all this time without the accompaniment of its contemporary companion, the tomato! In fact, this pairing did not occur until the 19th century. Even though tomatoes were introduced to Europe in the 16th century by Spanish explorers, they were actually considered poisonous. They were originally referred to as “golden apples” (pomo d'oro), which suggests that they may have been of a more pale variety than the tomatoes we consume today. Because people were suspicious about eating them, tomatoes were largely used for decorative purposes. Luckily, the confusion concerning their safety was eventually overcome, and pasta and tomatoes have complemented each other ever since. The first documented recipe for tomatoes and pasta emerged in 1839 by Ippolito Cavalcanti, the Duke of Buonvicino, for ‘vermicelli co le pommodoro.’
It did not take long for the trend to catch on, and the next 30 years served up an abundance of variety, including soups, purées, and sauces for meats, veal, chicken and, of course, pasta.

Tomato Sugo

(copyright 2005,2006 from The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati)

1 lb. of fresh, ripe, plum tomatoes or tomatoes ripened on the vine

2 tbsps of Extra Virgin, cold pressed olive oil or Virgin olive oil.

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 slice of onion

3 basil leaves

Pinch of fine salt to taste

Filet the tomatoes cutting them into thin wedges and eliminating the seeds.
Place 2 tbsps of olive oil in large saucepan. Add garlic cloves, slice of onion, lightly saute- careful not to burn the onion or garlic. Garlic and onion should start to be a light golden color in 1-2 minutes. Then add tomato wedges. Let tomatoes and their liquid simmer down until not’ liquidy‘- approximately 15-30 minutes. Once cooked to a good consistency add basil. Take off burner. Sauce is ready to have pasta added to it.

Ciao for now !


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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta, part 2

(copyright, 2005.2006.2007. Maria Liberati)

Still winding down from my appearances at the National Italian American Foundation Gala ( and the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival with Morimoto, Guy Fieri and Robert Irvine and yes.. we will be posting some photos as promised.

But as promised here is the second installment on the history of pasta som of my pasta secrets.... shh! don't tell anyone)

When pasta was in its infant stage, the manufacture of the dried variety was a daunting task. In fact, the word ‘macaroni’ is derived from the Sicilian word for making dough in a forceful manner. The process, which could take an entire day, involved a pasta maker kneading the dough with his feet. Clearly not the most hygienic or desirable way to go about preparing food, the King of Naples, Ferdinand II, was the first to publicly disapprove of this method of production. In an effort to fix the problem, he hired a famous engineer, Cesare Spadaccini, whose task was to come up with a machine to replace the footwork. Spadaccini successfully devised a bronze machine that did just that, after boiling water was added to newly-ground flour. Once invented, this machine allowed Naples to become Italy’s pasta center.
Innovations continued, however, and in 1740 the first pasta factory was opened in Venice by Paolo Adami. The modest apparatus consisted of an iron press that was operated by hand. In 1763, a 10 year monopoly of the pasta business was granted in the city of Parma by the Duke, Don Ferdinando of Bourbon. The Duke granted this monopoly to Stefano Lucciardi of Sarzana, which allowed him sole production rights of “Genoa-style” (dried) pasta.

Before these innovations, pasta had already begun its introduction to the rest of the world by making its rounds on traveling ships in the 14th and 15th centuries. It could be easily stored without spoiling, and thus was an ideal choice for these long voyages. Pasta’s other attributes include versatility and abundance, which earned it a place in the daily diet of Italians by the 17th century.

Here are my secret tips for cooking pasta that is "molto delizioso"! If you need pasta recipes to try out these tips go to my website or my bestselling book The Basic Art of Italian Cooking. You will find many there!!
The Basic art of Italian Cooking Past Secrets:

*Pasta is best served in a round or oval serving dish. Put only a small amount of sauce on it, then place some extra sauce in a serving dish.

*If you must boil water for pasta quickly- subdivide the water into two pots and when they are both boiling, place together in one. Boil first the water without salt- then salted water next.

*If during the cooking of the pasta you find out that the pasta is too salty tasting. You can fix this in one of two ways-
if pasta is not totally cooked- boil another pot of plain unsalted water. Drain pasta and place in unsalted water for remaining time.
*If pasta is cooked to al dente- drain the pasta but place under hot running water in colander.

*If you taste pasta during cooking and find out that you have not salted enough- then right before draining pasta add a handful of fine salt and take to a full rolling boil for a few seconds before draining.
Next week, let's find out about a most important milestone in the history of pasta, the introduction of pasta with tomatoes..Ahh my favorite combination!!
Ciao for now!!
Don't forget that if you purchase The Basic Art of Italian Cooking on the website you save $5 off retia lprice and portions of the proceeds go to Gilda's Club.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Whew!! I have had a whirlwind of appearances and events the past 4 days!! It is always so exciting for me to meet and work with so many talented people. At the Atlantic City food Festival- Guy Fieri, Robert Irvine and Morimoto himself-from the Food Network- were so inspiring to work with and plain fun as well!

I will be posting photos and memories from both events shortly.

It is also so nice to get chance to see all my fans and followers of The Basic Art of Italian Cooking in the Philadlephia, South Jersey area. I know a lot of you came to taste my new line of spices (Sapori D'Italia by The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati ) and buy another supply of Tuscan Picnic -used to make all kinds of Tuscan recipes quickly and easily. They are tasty but health dishes that anyone can make but tastes like they were made by a professional chef. By the last day of the event we were sold out. For those of you that wanted to buy them you can buy at the website:

I will be back with more info and recipes . For those of you that missed my appearance on stage on Saturday at the event- here is a recipe for Insalata Sapori D'Italia

(healthy ,quick and tasty too).

Insalata Sapori D'Italia

*2 tsps Sapori D'Italia -Tuscan Picnic blend

*2 tsps of crumbled feta cheese

*1/2 cup extra virgin cold pressed olive oil

*4 tsps balsamic vinegar

*1 1/2 tsps water

Place all ingredients in bowl and mix well together with wire whisk. Pour over salad mix of romaine lettuce and freshly sliced tomatoes. Leftover dressing can be stored in a bottle in refrigerator for a week.
Don't forget you can buy Sapori D'Italia-Tuscan Picnic at
Ciao for now!
Maria Liberati
Home of the best selling book The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati, copyright 2005,2006- Art of Living,PrimaMedia,Inc.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

What is EDTA?

Last month, while reading the ingredients on the bottle of French mayonnaise, I encountered the term Ethylene Diamine Tetra acetic Acid (EDTA). I grew curious to know what it is and does in our body. I found about EDTA in Dr. Rodger Murphree’s book Heart Disease: What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You (Harrison and Hampton Inc., Alabama, 2005).

EDTA is a man-made amino acid that is important o cleansing the body from harmful toxic metals which can:

Create free radicals in the body
Oxidize Lipoproteins
Damage the arteries

EDTA binds to these harmful unwanted, toxic heavy metals and helps remove them from the body. EDTA has been in use for chelation therapy for many years. It is administered intravenously and was originally used to treat lead poisoning. Soon the doctors discovered that chelation with EDTA was causing a significant reduction in the Coronary Artery Disease (Heart Disease), or CAD.

Chelation therapy is still in use and is considered safe by most health professionals. While EDTA is now also given orally (in supplements etc.), oral chelation has been found less effective in detoxifying the body. Oral chelation is beneficial for people who want to prevent heart diseases. That is why expert nutritionists suggest a regular intake of EDTA in supplements and foods to which it has been added.

Learn more about heart diseases and treatment at

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Atlantic City Wine and Food Festival

Contact: Giovanna Carispat, publicity
art of living, PrimaMedia,Inc
1-800-581-9020 x100

Slow life, slow pace, slow food…

(10/04/07)) According to Cooking Light Magazine (Octber 2007) one of the biggest top trends in foods and eating is ‘slow food’. This refers to doing everything in a slower and healthier way- slow shopping for your foods in the locally grown produce and farmers markets. Slow cooking of fresh natural foods, slow eating-sitting down to enjoy a freshly prepared meal with family and friends.

What could define slow food more than the thought of sitting down to an authentic Italian meal at a rustic villa in the mountains of Italy? Celebrity Chef- Maria Liberati defines this slow style of food in her book and now a trademarked method of cooking The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati tm.

Risotto parmigiana, Macedonia de frutta, linguine alla vongole, fresh gnocchi with tomato sugo- all coupled with the charming and sometimes romantic stories that help to create an authentic Italian atmosphere. All the ingredients used to create The Basic Art of Italian Cooking, published by art of living ,PrimaMedia,Inc. More info can be found at

This charming recipe novel has been a bestseller and has delighted audiences with not only Ms. Liberati’s recipes but tales of her life in her villa in the mountains of Italy.

Ms. Liberati will be bringing her style and The Basic Art of Italian Cooking to the Atlantic City Food and Wine Festival in Atlantic City, NJ on Oct 13-14th. This year she is featured as the only celebrity females chef and is included in a roster of many other celebrity chefs including the food network’s Iron Chef himself. Maria will be on stage on Saturday Oct 13 from 1-2 PM and signing copies of her book throughout the weekend.

The Atlantic City Wine and Food Festival is at the Atlantic City Convention Center, Atlantic City, NJ on Oct 12, 13, 14. from 11 am -5 pm. Tickets are available at the door, $17 for general admission. For more info go to or or call 1-800-581-9020 x100

Portions of proceeds of book sales go to Gilda’s Club www.gildasclubnyc.or

Friday, October 5, 2007

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta...

(Copyright, Maria Liberati, 2006-2007)
Pasta is one of our national treasures (in Italy)- we have even a museum dedicated to pasta in Rome. But there are so many ideas and misconceptions about its' orgins. So with my 3 part series on this wonderful delight, although I am featuring some pasta recipes from my book The Basic Art of Italian Cooking,part I ( the upcoming book The Basic Art of Italian Cooking-Spaghetti at Midnight- I want to first set the record straight on many 'pasta myths'.
When it comes to Italian culture, one cannot offer an accurate description without giving due attention to the plentiful dishes that are tied to the nation’s identity and shared with the rest of the world. However, the Italian menu that is practically synonymous with the nation itself has not always been. While it is difficult to imagine an Italy without its traditional food, such a place did at one time exist. By taking a look at some of the history of what we now consider “Italian food,” we are offered an often overlooked aspect of the beloved cuisine and an opportunity to appreciate it all the more.
An obvious starting point is the origin of pasta, the ultimate staple of Italian cooking. While other traditional Italian favorites such as tomato sauce and pizza have a fairly recent history, pasta has a much older heritage that can be traced back hundreds, and perhaps thousands of years.
A common myth surrounding the introduction of pasta to Italy is that the Venetian merchant, Marco Polo, returned from journeys in China with the dish, thereby introducing it to the nation. However, this belief has been debunked, as records clearly show that pasta was already in existence in Italy at this time. While several theories still exist, the more commonly accepted one today is tied to the Arab invasions of Italy in the 8th century. Pasta was first prepared in Italy in dried form in Sicily. Some Sicilian lasagna dishes today still contain such ingredients as raisins and cinnamon, also Arab contributions, which lends credence to the fact that pasta was indeed introduced by this group. The combination of Italy’s climate, which proved favorable for the harvesting of durum wheat, and the gradual introduction of newtechnology, which made pasta easier to make, allowed the dish to thrive.
Next week we will learn how the making of pasta was transformed from a labor intensive task to a much simpler undertaking through the innovations of several individuals who contributed their ideas and inventions.

Enjoy this first pasta dish! This is a popular Roman dish. Bucatini and perciatelli pasta are thicker versions of spaghetti. If you have any questions, please email and for more recipes, tips, ideas, please visit us at:

(copyright 2007, The Basic Art of Italian Cooking, Spaghetti at Midnight by Maria Liberati)
1 lb of perciatelli or bucatini pasta
1 lb of brocoletti (broccoli rabe or you cn use regular broccoli)
2 garlic cloves
1 tblsp pignoli nuts
½ lb plum tomatoes
1 handful parsley
Grated pecorino cheese
5 tblsps of extra virgin olive oil
Salt, pepper to taste

Wash broccoletti and boil in lightly salted water. Take out of water when done, saving the cooking water. In a sauté pan place in the olive oil with finely chopped garlic and onion, and sauté for a couple of minutes. Then add in tomatoes cut into small pieces, pinoli and broccoletti, add pinch of pepper and salt and let cook for 15 minutes.
Boil the water that you used to cook broccoletti and let cook till al dente and drain, Place in pan with sauce and toss to lightly coat. Sprinkle in handful of grated pecorino cheese, toss lightly and serve.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

7 Great Tips to Lose Weight Without Dieting

It’s pretty easy to lose weight quickly, especially if you follow one of those fad diets. You’ll be able to shed the pounds pretty quickly but you might feel a little hungry and deprived of the foods you love. But what sucks even more is that if you lose the weight with a fad diet then it’ll just come back.

So how do you keep the pounds off permanently, without dieting?
Its simple, you must tweak your lifestyle habits so that all the little things you do add up.
Take on one or more of these simple, painless tactics to help lose weight without going on a "diet":

1. Eat Breakfast To Lose Weight.

Many people who make it a habit to eat breakfast are able to lose weight and keep it off. Don’t even think about skipping breakfast, sure it’s a sneaky way to cut calories but you’ll usually end up eating more during the day. Eating breakfast not only helps you satisfy your hunger but it also gives your body the nutrients it needs to function properly.

2. Lock Up The Fridge

Determine a time when you’ll stop eating so you won't give in to the late-night cravings or unnecessary snacking while watching TV. If you do feel a bit hungry during the night then have a cup of tea, suck on a piece of hard candy or if you want something sweet enjoy a small bowl of frozen yogurt. Another strategy you can use is to brush your teeth so you’ll be less likely to eat or drink anything else.

3. Choose Liquid Calories Wisely.

Stay away from sweetened drinks they load you up on calories and don’t take way your hunger like whole foods. If you need a drink go for water, sparkling waters, small amounts of 100% fruit juice, or skim milk. Limiting your alcohol intake will help a lot to drop down these calories as well.

4. Eat Your Fruits and Veggies.

Consuming lots of low-calorie, high-quality fruits and vegetables is much better than eating foods that are higher in fat and calories. When you start eating more fruits and veggies your diet will be enhanced with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and if you fill up on super-nutritious produce, you won’t be reaching for the bag of chips.

5. Be In Command Of Your Environments.

Another simple strategy to help decrease your calories is to control your environment. This includes everything from stocking your kitchen with lots of healthy choices to choosing the right restaurants to eat at. This means staying away from the “all-you-can-eat” places, and eating a healthy snack before going to a party so your not starving.

6. Cut Your Portions.

Hers an interesting thought, If the only thing you do is reduce your by 10%-20%, you will lose weight. Most of the portions you eat at restaurants and at home are more than you need. Use measuring cups to get a sense of your usual portion sizes, and work to get them down. You can instantly take control of this by getting smaller plates, bowls and cups.

7. Walk It Off.

If you lack in the physical component of weight loss then you wont see results as fast. To help work your muscles and stay active, try walking everyday to keep your heart and muscles in tiptop shape. If you want to take it one step further track your progress with a pedometer and slowly but surely add more steps to your day until you reach 10,000 per day.

Marci Lall is a Weight Loss and Body Sculpting Specialist for women. Visit his website at to get his FREE special report "How to Get Maximum Weight Loss & Fitness Results in Minimum Time".

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Herbs and spices and crostini- oh my!!

Herbs and spices have been used throughout history by many civilizations and remain one of the most ancient and fundamental aspects of cooking. The Chinese were the first to use herbs and spices in cooking and are well known for their medicinal knowledge of herbs. Throughout history, spices have been thought of as valuable trading goods. During the nineteenth century when European trade was at its peak, cloves sold for $18 a pound, and pepper was so valued it was sold by the peppercorn. Having an herb garden was commonplace in early Colonial America, but unfortunately now that is no longer a necessity.Herbs and spices often come hand-in-hand, but they are not the same thing. While herbs are the leaves of the plant (often dried), spices are the more aromatic parts of the plant such as buds or roots. In order to harvest herbs, it is important to understand the particular herb you are dealing with. For example, leafy herbs should be carefully picked when ripe and you should never take more than 10 percent of the growth at a time. These types of herbs should be pruned carefully and you should avoid over-pruning the plant. At the same time, if you are growing something such as garlic, you can pick that whole plant when you are ready to use it. It is best to pick the plant and use it when you know it is at its ripest, just like any other type of fruit or vegetable.If you want to store your herbs, you should always keep them in a cool, dry place, with a minimum amount of sunlight. In most cases a cupboard would be fine for storage. Drying your herbs is a good way to keep them longer for cooking. Some herbs, such as bay leaves, actually are most flavorful after they are dried. The method for drying bay leaves is to clean them with a pastry brush (no water), then lay them out on a warm dry surface, and in about a week they will be dried. They should be stored in an airtight, glass container. Other herbs can be dried just by tying them into bundles and hanging them. The only catch to this is that the room they are stored in should not be more than 86 degrees, because their oils will evaporate from the humidity. It is also not recommended that you dry your herbs in the kitchen. Generally, a more dry area of the house is better for this. Do not allow the herbs to dry for too long either, because then they tend to crumble if dried for too long. One other method that is quick is to dry your herbs in the microwave. After cleaning the herbs, dry them and spread them out between two paper towels. Then put them in the microwave for 2-2 ½ minutes and store the herbs in airtight containers.

(copyright 2005-2007 The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati)
4 thick slices of bread (crusty Italian type)
2 ounces of fresh mozzarella cheese2 ounces tomato paste8 anchovy filletsOlive oilOreganoSalt and paper
Using an oil that has a thin spout, pour a light coating of olive oil on each slice of bread, then equally divide the tomato paste among the 4 slices of bread.Place 2 anchovy fillets on each slice of bread.Sprinkle with oregano and then add salt and pepper.

Place baking paper on a baking pan and coat it lightly with oil.Place each slice of bread on baking paper.Then bake for about 5 minutes at 400 degrees, until the cheese melts and becomes bubbly.
Serves four people
Ciao for now..
Maria Liberati

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Risk of Heart Attack and Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is the most prevalent type of heart disease, affecting nearly 13 million people in America alone. It is caused by the gradual accumulation of plaque-fatty deposits-in the coronary artery (the main artery supplying blood within the heart), over several years. The result is a decreased supply of blood and oxygen to the heart. If left untreated, CAD can lead to heart attack and death. The most dangerous thing about CAD is that it can act as a ‘silent killer’ i.e. it causes the death of the patient without any warning symptoms or signs. But usually 3 main warning signs are experienced by many CAD patients. These are:

(1) Angina (Chest Pain): It feels like pressure or tightness in the chest, often appearing suddenly in a stressful situation. The stress may be physical or psychological.
(2) Shortness of Breath: Fatigue and shortness of breath are two main alarming signs of CAD. Usually, these are accompanied by swelling in the feet and ankles. The end result of these may be Congestive Heart Failure (CHF).
(3) Heart Attack: A heart attack occurs when one or more of the arteries supplying blood to the heart become completely clogged (with plaque). The pain in heart attack is similar to but more intense than that in angina.

Some precursors of heart attack are listed below. If any or more of these are experienced, it’s time to see your physician.

Pain in the chest, radiating to the left shoulder, arm, back, or jaw
Repeated encounters with pain in the chest
Prolonged pain in the upper abdomen
Shortness of breath
Nausea and vomiting
Impending sense of doom

More can be learnt about CAD and heart attack by visiting Dr. Rodger Murphree’s website

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Il Perdonanza, Cafe torronata, L'Aquila...

(copyright 2006-2007, Maria Liberati)
One of the things I look forward to doing each year (if selected) is being part of a 700 yr old medieval event that is held in the capital city (L'Aquila) of the region I live in (Abruzzo).
Each year, a certain number of dignitaries and notable people - from not only Abruzzo but all over the world are selected to take part in this event. This year was the second year I was selected to be part of the 'sfilate' or parade along with many notable people from ambassadors and/or their wives from Bosnia, other parts of Europe, the Vice President of Italy, 5 bishops from the Vatican and all of the mayors from every town in Abruzzo.

I will do a sequence of blogs on this event since it is an important event and it has a lot of significance in the world today. The event was started by Pope Celestino- the Pope back in that time. The event is known as "La Perdonanza Celestiniana". It refers to an idea this Pope came up with to try to make peace in the world, because at that time many countries were also fighting against each other.
His philosophy was in order to try to make peace in the world- to forgive everyone and wash their slate clean from that day forward- no matter what they had done in the past. However, they must promise to mend their old ways and start anew and all would be forgiven. And amazingly enough, at that time this created peace in the world. A beautiful thought and a beautiful way to celebrate the idea of peace in the world
One of my favorite reasons to go to the beautiful city of L'Aquila- besides their beautiful churches, works of art, scenery and food is a special coffee drink called 'cafe torronata'. It is an espresso served up elegantly with a chocolate candy (a specialty made in L'Aquila) placed in the bottom of the drink and allowed to melt into the coffee. A dollop of whip cream on top and prepare to be mesmerized!!.
Here is my recipe for cafe torronato. However, to get the real thing, you should have a chocolate covered torrone from Fratelli Nurzia or Sorelle Nurzia. They invented these candies and are still making them in L'Aquila the same way they did over 50 yrs ago.

Cafe Torronato
Brew 1 cup of espresso. Place chocolate covered torrone at bottom of glass. Let stand for about 1 minute, stir gently, top with some fresh 'panna' or whipped cream. Dust with powdered sugar.

Mmmm!! Delizioso

Ciao for now!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bragging Ripes

I wish they all could be California fruits.
I am not as well traveled as I would like to be. In this fine country I call home, I've been to Massachussetts, New York, Florida, Georgia (just the airport), Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Utah (again, the airport), Iowa and Nebraska. I've traveled to Hawai'i, Canada, Mexico, and the Bahamas. I lived in Seattle, Washington briefly as a child and in Southern California since I was five. Everywhere I have gone, I have sampled the cuisine the region was known for. I consider it a culinary sin to do anything less on vacation.
The papaya in Hawai'i is better than anywhere else in the world. The baked crab I had in the Bahamas could not have sweeter. The grouper in Florida is tops for grilled fish (especially with a Margarita), and call me super-satisfied at a good Vegas buffet. Shredded meat wrapped in corn tortillas on the waterfront in Playa del Carmen, Mexico is paradise plated. But nothing rivals California avocadoes. Sorry, rest of the world.
I am not going to give you another guacamole recipe. You already know they make a healthy substiture for mayonnaise on a sandwich. And I'm sure you know by now how expensive they are, and for good reason.
I just want to tell you something more important about avocadoes. The best way to eat the avocado is simply. Scoop it, slice it, and squeeze on top if it only fresh lemon juice and sea salt. That's it - I'm totally serious.
I've been to Napa, Sonoma, Healdsburg and sampled wine country cuisine (and wine, of course!)in depth. I've eaten at the seaside places in Malibu. I've eaten hot dogs from the most notorious and oldest establishments in L.A. And I've had cocktails and steaks at fancy-schmancy restaurants in San Francisco. And nothing else in California rivals the avocado.
Find yourself here eating one, simply.
And when I do get to the rest of the world (I'm thinking Europe, namely, the Mediterranean countries), the only time I will stop eating is to write about the food of the region.
But as a California Girl, born here, raised here, I'll always come home to the avocado. Nothing rivals a simple comfort.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Midnight..mezzanotte.. and almost ready to leave the office. With music loudly playing in the piazza -a block away from my window-I can barely concentrate. The end of the summer is drawing near and everyone is trying to soak up every last drop of the pleasures of the summer- the weather, the warm summer nights, the air, the food ,the fun..

Anyway, as I set out to do before I go home tonight, I want to send you a souvenir of my day here. Besides working and writing, and meetings, eating and cooking takes up some part of the day. The souvenir I can send today is the wonderful taste of today's lunch. I made a simple’ risotto con funghi’ with the fresh mushrooms. I was able to find them at at the market early this morning walking to the office.
I prefer to eat risotto in the winter time since it does require 20 minutes of concentrated stirring over the gas range. But withstanding the heat for 20 minutes was well worth the results!! Enjoy.

1 cup of carnaroli or arborio rice
4 cups of broth
1 slice of fresh onion
a small handful of freshly chopped parsley
2 tblsps of olive oil
2 tblsps of parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1 cup of dry white wine

Saute onion slice in olive oil till golden, place in sliced, washed mushrooms. Pour in some broth and simmer for about 5 minutes. Pour in cup of rice, then cup of white wine. Put timer on for 16 minutes. Continuously stir and add broth in as liquid dries up. When timer goes off, taste. If not finished, add more broth until al dente.
When finished, place in serving dishes and top with fresh parsley and freshly grated parmigiano-reggaino cheese.

Serve with chilled white wine.
Ciao for now

Copyright, Maria Liberati 2006, 2007- The Basic Art of Italian Cooking

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Mysterious Squash

"These seeds are from the village in Greece," said my mother-in-law. "They'll make beautiful squash in the fall." And she handed me the thick, white coarse seeds that looked a lot like the pumpkin seeds I buy in bulk. I expected these seeds to grow pumpkins, and told my kids to be ready to decorate them on Halloween.

A week later the squash seeds from Greece we had planted in June erupted into a plant that took over our backyard 5x8 vegetable garden. The heirlooms fared well, as they were planted next to a wall. The cucumbers shrunk a little due to the competition, and the cabbage, as I am learning, takes forever to grow.

But I am a patient gardener.

The mysterious squash that came from Greece does not exist anywhere in the States, from what I can tell. I have done internet searches on it, shown it to my gardener friends who have shown it to their mothers...I've done everything but take it to the Farmers Market which is my next step. It looks just like the picture above, but the color of zucchini. In description it sounds like a delicata - pale yellow in color, sweet and mild, like a mellow butternut.

But here's the thing - I don't care what it is, I only care how it tastes (and if it's good for us). It becomes sugary and fragile when I roast it, and paired with oven-roasted heirlooms it grew alongside, topped with shaved Grana Padano mixed with whole wheat pasta, we are in summertime harvest bliss.

Tonight I plan to make soup with my mystery squash. It should pair well and look beautiful with a sprinkling of red curry at the end. I've been marinating some chicken breasts in balsamic and brown sugar. With a crisp, fresh salad and a crusty French bread it'll be an end of summer almost autumn feast.

Now if I could only get everything in my garden to grow as enthusiastically as this squash from the homeland, "What's for dinner?" wouldn't be such a mystery, either.

~ Samantha Gianulis

Anice Stellato

Everyday is remembered by a taste , a flavor, a recipe while here in Italy. These are my special souvenirs or 'ricordati'. Yesterday, my favorite flavor was 'anice stellato'-or star of anise. After leaving the office at 10:30 last night, we headed to our favorite coffee bar. Too hot for that usual cup of espresso before heading home- but a chilled espresso is perfect. This was not just any chilled espresso- it was more like a milkshake without the milk- 'a shakerato'.
Start with a cup of good hot espresso- just made. Place in a milkshake shaker, add in some ice cubes, sugar. Stir until ice is almost melted. Shake. Then place in a blender until creamy and frothy.
Pour into a martini glass, top with freshly grated star of anise (anice stellato).
What a refreshing way to end a day!!
Even though the freshly grated start of anise was just a pinch- it made the drink a special one. The flavor blends so wonderfully with espresso.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cold pasta to lift your spirits....

(Sorry I have not been writing as frequently as usual, I am here at my office in Italy now till mid September). Hope this little splash of words helps yourday as it did mine yesterday...
Anytime I need something to lift my spirits a wonderful dish of pasta is a great start. And todays' meal was no exception. Of course I had to rush home so that I would have enough time to make the pasta dish I was dreaming of; A cold pasta salad with fresh mozzarella, small 'pachino'tomatoes, fresh basil and some extra virgin olive oil..
I say 'rush home' because I had a lot of work to finish up and had to quickly stop to pick up fresh mozzarella before stores close at 1:30. ( I am writing from my office in Italy). But I made it a few minutes before 1:30. As typical Italian approach to life- no one was rushing or running-even though it was 3 minutes till closing and people were still entering the store -albeit in a relaxed pace.

We were getting really hungry it was now 2 PM by the time I got home.
Water in the pot..
Pinch of salt in the water...
Place gas on...
Cut small tomatoes in half
Chop fresh basil
Cut fresh mozzarella into small chunks

Now place fresh tomatoes. fresh basil, fresh mozzarella in bowl. Place penne pasa in boiling water and cook for 9 minutes. Drain. Place in bowl with fresh tomatoes, drizzle with jsut about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and toss gently to coat and mix all ingredients..

Oops, don't forget the freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese on top. Grate on top of each individual serving...
Ahh.. perfect pasta to lift anyone's spirits. And a glass of chilled white wine like a light Trebbiano goes well and keeps the meal light and refreshing.
Ciao for now, and don't forget to visit me at

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Having Fat in The Wrong Places Could Be A Life Or Death Situation

Where your fat is located can be just as important as how much you weigh. If you carry extra fat in your abdominal area then you’re at a higher risk for weight-related health problems. If the fat is packed on your hips and thighs then the risk is much less.

One technique you can use to make sure your on the right track is the waist/hip ratio. You can easily find yours by measuring your waist at the smallest point and your hips at their widest point. Then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

For example if your waist is 34 and your hips are 42 then your waist/hip ratio is 0.8.

For women, a waist/hip ratio over 0.8 indicates an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

If your ratio is higher than 0.8, you may be at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and possibly even breast cancer. Going from fat to toned and defined can help improve your waist/hip ratio and improve your over all health.

Diet, aerobic exercise, and strength training are all fundamental and necessary components to help burn the excess fat. Believe it or not one of the best ways to keep track of your progress is to use an old-fashioned tape measurer or the mirror in your bedroom.

But of course there are other body-fat measuring devices, such as the calipers and electronic testers that are available in many gyms, to chart your fat-burning progress.

I tell my clients that it's not worth checking unless they're simply interested.

The normal body fat range for a woman is 22 to 28 percent. But most measuring devices are not accurate enough to tell you if you've really changed, so it can be frustrating to check it after a few weeks or months. It's better just to look in the mirror - if it looks like fat then it probably is fat.

Is your weight increasing your risk for health problems?

To find out, don't just step onto the scale in your bathroom. Instead measure your waist and hips and use the following formula to determine your waist/hip ratio.

1. Measure your waist at its slimmest point.
2. Measure your hips at the widest point.
3. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement:

(waist in inches) ÷ (hips in inches) = (waist/hip ratio)

Marci Lall is a Weight Loss and Body Sculpting Specialist for women. Visit his website at to get his FREE special report "How to Get Maximum Weight Loss & Fitness Results in Minimum Time".

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Surviving Disneyland in August

I survived Disneyland in August with four children and my mother. The princesses sparkle, the pirates swashbuckle, but I am the Queen, and I reign on high in Anaheim, even with existential questions bearing down on me like the sun on my shoulders.
As I waited in line for the Finding Nemo ride I asked myself, "Am I crazy?" The temperature gauge on the stroller read 127 degrees. The baby hadn't napped and it was approaching 2 p.m. The attendants told us the wait was about 2 hours. "No, you're not crazy," I heard a voice, sounding a whole lot like Clark Griswold, "You're just getting started."
This is true. How many illogical things am I going to do for my kids? I can think of many I've done so far, steaming in the hot California sun like a lobster waiting to see fictitious clownfish being just one of them. Things like...
Adding another volunteer duty to our crazy busy life because no one else would coach the soccer team - making a u-turn and driving by the doggie being walked because the youngest child didn't get to see it (even though we're late for school) - weeping hysterically while cropping photos on Snapfish - returning to the site of the drive-thru fifteen minutes away because they forgot the Kids Meal toy - checking on thekids sleeping five times during the night after I dared to watch the national news - stitching up the hole in a raggedy t-shirt for the tenth time because it's my son's "favorite"...
I am going to do many illogical things before my kids become parents and take their own kids to Disneyland. Love in itself is entirely illogical, but one of the funnest rides. Surviving Disneyland in August is like surviving parenting. Here's what I mean...
You'll be subjected to a lot of other parenting styles and may even question your own. You'll get close to other parents you otherwise never would have known. You'll have to wait longer than expected, sometimes sooner than you thought, for gratification. Height measurements will differ, and change in the blink of an eye. Eat when you can. Come (or go, depending on how you see it) prepared. Pay attention, they get away fast. Keep an open mind and good attitude. Plan ahead. There are villains and heroes abound. Mom and Dad are the King and Queen, like it or not.
And is it worth it, to embark on the ultimate adventure and go to Disneyland in August? Is it worth it to lay your heart on the line and bring children into this world when you don't know how it will turn out?
For this Queen, the answer is yes. It really is the place where dreams come true.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Melatonin and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Melatonin is a hormone released by the pineal gland, which is located at the base of the brain. Melatonin is naturally found, in small amounts, in grains, fruits, vegetables, and some meats. In the brain, it is manufactured by the amino acid tryptophan (which also makes serotonin-the antidepressant neurotransmitter). Melatonin plays a central role in the natural sleeping/waking cycle. The production of melatonin is directly influenced by exposure to light. Normally, its level rises in the mid to late evening (as the light fades), causing lethargy, and declines in the morning (with the appearance of light), giving a natural wake-up call.

Irregularity in melatonin production can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), more popularly known as winter depression. It happens usually during the shorter winter days when the earlier arrival of evening triggers an earlier (or sometimes later) production of melatonin in the body. Symptoms associated with SAD include:

Craving for Carbohydrates

To cope with the SAD symptoms, patients are advised to have one to two hours of exposure to bright, ultraviolet light, available at various stores. During the winter months, SAD patients should use these lights daily in the early evening. On the other hand, patients suffering from insomnia should avoid bright lights, about 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. In addition, they may choose to supplement their melatonin level by nutritional means. Following foods naturally contain melatonin:

Sweet Corn

Foods that decrease melatonin level include: alcohol, caffeine (coffee, chocolate, and tea), tobacco, extra vitamin B12 sources.

Monday, August 6, 2007


Reading Vanessa's blog, I realize I am incredibly lucky. I admit, looking at Maria's mountainous view of Italy, I felt there were other places in the world I would rather live - but I can't imagine that now, living as close to the ocean in Southern California as I do. Some people wait their entire lives to taste, smell, hear and touch the ocean, for me it just means a 20 minute drive, extra towels and bathing suits to wash, and packing deviled eggs, chicken salad, and diet coke in a cooler.
I am lucky.
When there is so much trouble in the world that I can't stand to watch the news anymore (I have that option), and I can sit on a beach watching my children play apparently free of danger, I am lucky.
When I look inside my full pantry and my biggest decision is whether to use canned organic or fresh tomatoes for my pasta sauce, I am lucky.
When my husband kisses me good-bye and tells me he loves me before leaving to do his job complete with benefits, steady paycheck and flexible scheduling, I am lucky.
When I walk out my door in the morning and my biggest concern is surviving a cycling class, I am lucky.
I'm not being boastful, I'm blogging my daily prayer. Writing down what I say to myself in the quiet (few and far between) moments of the day.
And in those quiet times, sometimes I feel guilty more than lucky - but how does that help? Rather, as I've learned in my 30s to do, I pass on my good fortune - donations, of course, but a smile at a stranger, a kind word to someone who needs it (even when they don't deserve it).
I'm talking about being part of a conscious, higher, positive energy. I have to work for it sometimes. Given the horrors that exist in our world, it is difficult to imagine beauty that survives the ages and withstands the constant influx of chaos. Sometimes, it's tempting to imagine a world as small as myself. When those thoughts creep into my head, I know exactly what I need to do.
Pack up for the beach - that beautiful place that has existed since the beginning of time, and hasn't changed.
And when I get there, once again I realize, I am so lucky.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Bring on the Beach

A few months ago my sister, mom, and I sat down and planned a trip to the beach. For most people this wouldn't be over-the-top exciting news, however for the three of us it most definitely was. When I was younger the beach was a place we retreated to almost every summer with my grandparents. For some reason, the summer family tradition came to an end, leaving the beach behind for my mother. Unbeknowst to her, it would be years before she would ever smell the ocean water, feel the hot sand between her toes, and gorge on seafood buffet's. My father is not a big fan of the ocean. No wait, he hates the ocean and everything that comes with it. I think there are probably a hundred places he would rather travel to. So being the submissive person that she is, my mom never made a big fuss over their summer trips. Though I think she enjoys visiting Elks County and the Gettysburg battlefield, she would much rather soak up the sun along side of the crashing waves. So you can imagine how excited she was to take a road trip with her daughters to spend a few days on the beach. She was like a kid at Christmas time! From spray on tans, new bathing suits, and practically a new wardrobe, she was ready to take this vacation head on. In the past few years, I have been to the beach quite a few times. I knew these couple of days with my mother and sister would be a much needed break from my hectic work schedule. But I didn't quite realize how much joy it would bring me to see her so happy. Her face lit up as we approached the ocean front and she carried that glow with her throughout the entire week. I was seeking relaxation and hopefully a tan but what I came away with was much greater. I caught a glimpse of my mother relaxed and peaceful. It was as if she was thinking, it's good to be back.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


There are nine muses in Greek mythology, daughters of Jupiter and Mnemosyne. Goddesses of memory, arts and sciences, they each have special domains.
I find them magical, alluring, as real as I want them to be, and evoke them often.
I'm a writer - somewhere, sometime, I was told this is what I was supposed to do.
But even before I began to write (early teens), I had seen a movie about nine beautiful women who go in between worlds (on rollerskates-which made perfect sense to me as a kid). It came out in 1980, and it had a very melodic soundtrack (think you know which movie? post a comment!).
And coincidentally I was given Bulfinch's Mythology for my fifth birthday. The 957 page book was already worn when I looked up the muses at age ten.
The muses, and their "domains" are...
Calliope/epic poetry
Erato/love poetry
Euterpe/lyric poetry
Polymnia/sacred poetry
Terpsichore/choral dance
....When I lose something in my house, I say the prayer to St. Francis. When we travel, I have my St. Christopher pendant with me. When I need answers, I call on Athena, but as I write, which is everyday, I call on Calliope, Clio and Euterpe. Calliope helps me put things in perspective, and helps me wrap it all together in a universal, circular ending. Clio humbles me by letting me see the past, showing me how minuscule, yet significant, I am in the divine scheme. And Euterpe helps me write, think, and speak poetic ways, she's my voice. Thalia visits me sometimes when I write about my husband, he provides comical opportunities to good to pass up.
I'm a writer, and I believe to write clearly and righteously I need to see clearly. But I'm human, I can't do this on my own. I need help...and I trust the ancients.
I trust in the Nine, no they didn't wear rollerskates, but they've inspired more than one poem, screenplay, song, dance, and book.
~Samantha Gianulis