Thursday, December 19, 2013

tis the season

holiday party tip: need a roaring fire for your Christmas Eve celebration but missing a fireplace? No problem, Netflix has a video for your TV, how cool huh?

our top three holiday traditions:

#1. Christmas Eve dinner
  • 1 week out, menu planning (always Italian) and grocery list
  • a trip to Wegman's, farmers markets, farms, South Mountain Dairy, etc.
  • 1st year ever that I have the entire day to prepare our feast, I have dreamed of this!
  • Christmas music all day
  • set table, light candles & build fire
  • appetizers then on to dinner, sigh & yum
  • relax and change into our matching Christmas PJ's
  • coffee and dessert, relax
  • open gifts, relax
  • maybe time for late night snack? local eggnog & cookies

this year's menu:

Italian charcuterie and cheese board
arugula pecorino romano lemon vinaigrette cracked pepper
spaghetti braciole & meatballs
lemon ricotta cake
pour over Black Dog coffee

If you have never experienced braciole below is a recipe from Lidia Bastianich, Ken's favorite!

This is a typical Sunday Italian American meal. Serve the braciole as is, or fish them out of the sauce, arrange them on a platter and serve the sauce with rigatoni or gnocchi. Sausages and meatballs may also be added to the pot for an even more bountiful dinner.

Makes 6 servings

For The Braciole:
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups bread cubes (1/2-inch), cut from day-old bread with crusts removed
2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped coarse
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 garlic clove, chopped fine
2 lbs. beef bottom round, cut into 12 slices, each about 1/2 inch thick (see Note)
12 slices Prosciutto di Parma (about 6 ounces)
1/4 lb. imported provolone cheese, cut into 1/4 x 1/4 inch sticks
Freshly ground pepper

For The Sauce:
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions (about 8 ounces), chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1 (35 oz.) canned Italian plum tomatoes
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 bay leaves
Water as needed
Crushed red pepper flakes

Pour the milk into a medium bowl, add the bread cubes and let soak until the bread is very soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Squeeze out excess milk from the bread cubes with your hands and return the bread to the bowl. Stir in the chopped eggs, parsley, Parmigiano-Reggiano, raisins, pine nuts and garlic. Mix well and set aside.

With the toothed side of a heavy meat mallet, pound each slice of beef round to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Arrange one of the pounded meat slices in front of you with one of the short sides (if there is one) closest to you. Top with a slice of prosciutto and tap the prosciutto with the back side of a knife so it adheres to the beef.

Spread 2 tablespoons of the stuffing over the prosciutto, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges. Place a stick of provolone crosswise over the edge of the stuffing closest to you. Fold the border closest to you over the provolone, then fold the side borders in to overlap the edges of the stuffing. Roll into a compact roll. Secure the end flap with a toothpick. Proceed to finish all, then season the rolls with salt and pepper.

MAKE THE SAUCE: Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy casserole over medium heat. Stir in the onions and garlic and cook until the onion is wilted, about 5 minutes. Add as many of the braciole as will fit in a single layer and cook, turning the braciole as necessary, until golden on all sides, about 7 minutes. If necessary, repeat with any remaining braciole.

Meanwhile, empty the tomatoes into a bowl and squeeze them with your hands until coarsely

If necessary, return all the braciole to the casserole. Pour the wine into the casserole, bring to a boil and cook until most of the wine has evaporated. Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add tomato paste and bay leaves and stir until the paste is dissolved. Adjust the heat to
simmering and cook, adding water as necessary to keep the braciole completely submerged, until the beef is tender, about 3 hours.

Remove the toothpicks before serving. The braciole can be prepared up to 2 days in advance, then reheated over low heat until heated through.

NOTE: The slices of beef should measure about 4 to 5 inches on each side before pounding. To obtain pieces of the right size, look for -- or ask your butcher to cut -- six 1/2-inch-thick slices from a whole bottom round, then cut those slices crosswise into two pieces.


Christmas morning I love to prepare panettone French toast along with fresh squeezed OJ, super yummy.

#2. cookies, top 10
  • my Grandma Bertha's roll out sugar cookies
  • peanut butter and jam cookies
  • Italian wedding cookies
  • chocolate chip
  • gingersnaps
  • oatmeal raisin
  • Italian anise
  • springerle
  • shortbread
  • coconut macaroons
I spend one day and bake all the dough's. Some I roll into logs and wrap then just slice and bake. The roll outs I just do all at once and store on the back porch. As a kid I would help my Mom bake dozens and dozens of cookies, it was the beginning of my baking love. We would start a couple of weeks before Christmas and store all the cookies wrapped up in dress boxes in the garage. After school that is where you would find me! I honed my cookie eating skills at a very early age! It's as if it was just yesterday that I was baking with my Mom, thanks Mom for the cookie tradition, big love.

Italian wedding cookies


  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar, plus more for rolling cookies
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Cream butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the vanilla then gradually add the 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Sift the flour, measure, then sift again with the salt. Add gradually to the butter mixture. Add the pecans and mix well.
Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten slightly using the bottom of a glass, then bake for 20 minutes, or until edges are very lightly browned. Remove the cookies from the baking sheets and roll in powdered sugar while still hot. Cool on wire racks and roll cookies again in powdered sugar before serving.
Once they are completely cooled, cookies may be stored in airtight containers for up to 1 week.

#3. decorating for Christmas!

  • 2 weeks before Christmas we switch our dishes to the Spode Christmas Tree china
  • fresh tree jammed packed with ornaments and lights
  • angel tree topper from a childhood birthday cake
  • my Pop's Christmas village, all the boxes are labeled with date & where he purchased them, so adorable and I love the feeling he is with me when I set it up!
  • crazy Santa, Annalee & Snowbabies collection

Following traditions help hold close all the wonderful moments that have taken place in the past.
During the holiday season traditions make us feel festive and reassured.

Wishing everyone a fantastic holiday. Hope your cookie jars are packed and your plates filled with delicious food!

Peace and love,

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