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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Everything is Better on a Stick!

Cheesecake Pops

So I'm on this diet lifestyle change.. I recently hit 40 and well.. I think it's starting to hit me that I'm no longer on the uphill climb, but rather on my way downhill. Not that it's a bad thing, just makes me realize that if I don't really get serious, the next 40 years are going to be miserable. I don't like miserable. Yanno?

The diet lifestyle change has been going okay.. lil iffy in spots, but rather well - surprisingly well in other areas. Such as cutting out all sugar. I KNOW. I can't believe I'm saying this let alone living it. But it's a true story.. no sugar, no chocolate.. and.. okay well.. some of you might want to look away for a minute, what I'm about to say next is not going to be pretty.

No butter.


Tell me. I've most assuredly lost my everfluffin' mind.

I'm now all about low-fat cheeses and reduced fat mayo, olive and canola oil in place of my beloved butter.. fish and ground turkey - salads and fresh fruit.. dear sweet jebus somebody hold me.

Cheesecake Pops

So knowing myself as well as I do, I knew there'd be no fakkin way I could make this challenge without inhaling half of it. I mean c'mon.. it's cheesecake on a freakin' stick. Covered in chocolate. It's Brilliance in the form of a lollipop is what it is. I'm weak and only human.. and as a co-founder of this amazing group, well I knew I had to take one for the team and get all of my cream cheese bricks and chopped chocolates in a row, if yanno what I mean. And I think that you do.

I threw on an apron so that my thighs, hips and ass wouldn't see what I was about to do and got to it. This started as a New York style cheesecake.. no crust. It's just creamy heavenly cheesecake baked until just set - frankly, one of THE BEST cheesecakes I've ever had. And the recipe was really easy.. this is a time consuming and kinda messy recipe, but all in all, no problems and I really enjoyed making them.

Cheesecake Pops

I kept 90% of them at 2 ounces.. but after counting 35 of them and still having a boatload of cheesecake left, I took out my big star cookie cutter and made a few big whammer jammers.. those I used for quality control. Because our Daring Bakers mean the world to me and I'd do anything to protect them, including eating a giant star shaped cheesecake lollipop double dipped in first peanut butter coating and then dark chocolate to make sure they were NOT poisonous. Well I am here today to tell my story, so I guess we can all assume the cheesecake is safe for consumption! (Actually, they are more than just safe... they are BIG DEE - lil licious) :D

These cute lollies were brought to our attention by two of the sweetest and most kind hearted women that I've had the pleasure of meeting, Elle from Feeding My Enthusiasms and Deborah of Taste and Tell. Excellent choice, gals! Thank you so much! Elle and Deborah found the recipe in Jill O'Connor's Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey: Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth. By this recipe alone, this book has got to be good!

Cheesecake Pops

Ya'll must give the blogroll a good clickin' this month, the creativity used in making these pops - both in flavoring and decorating - is going to blow ya'll away!

Bake on Daring Bakers! Bake on! :D


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Thursday, April 24, 2008

LiveSTRONG Day - May 13th, 2008

As mentioned in my last post, April and May bring two very important foodie events to me. Cooking to Combat Cancer was the first, and LiveSTRONG Day is the 2nd.

LiveSTRONG is the motto behind Lance Armstrong's Foundation about cancer awareness, surviving cancer and living with cancer YOUR way. I think this is an amazing and unique organization and it's refreshing to know it's not all about money.. Lance's foundation truly helps those who are battling cancer.

Last year, Barbara of Winos and Foodies hosted the first annual LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow and an amazing 149 bloggers participated.. This year she is holding the 2nd annual LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow 2008 and the deadline for participation is April 27th - I hope we all unify to surpass last year's number, especially since she's moved the participation dead line from April 19th. :)

I'm quite happy about the extension as my last post kinda left me with nothing afterwards. Not to mention, I wanted to blog about an amazing dish in tribute to Lance AND Barbara and although I had two "yellow" dishes all ready to go, they weren't very special to me.

So I decided to hang up my written post and think about what kind of dish I really wanted to submit. Well here in NE Ohio, I think it is safe to assume (am knockin on wood all over the place) that Spring has sprung! We've had lovely weather, not too rainy.. just the right temps - high 60's lower 70's and because we live right on the lake, there is a wonderful breeze coming off it each afternoon. There are Daffodils, Crocuses, Hyanciths, Irises and lots of other beautiful flowers popping up everywhere. The trees have started to bud and the smaller flowering trees are completely covered in their gorgeous blooms.. one cannot help but to think about new beginnings, fresh starts, and awakenings after a gloomy winter has passed by.

Now, flowers and trees certainly do scream Spring! to me, but so do fresh vegetables.. for now is the time to start thinking about that garden you'll be planting in a few short weeks. Some of us already have our seedlings growing steady just waiting to be transplanted to their warm summer homes (San Marzanos! Thanks to my beautiful Creampuff! squeeeee!). The hubbs and I have been talking incessantly about what perennials we're going to plant this year and arguing over where the zucchini plants will go in the garden. hehe Last year we found the perfect spot and I had so many zucchini that I didn't know what to do with (thank God for neighbors, co-workers, friends, family and the occasional stranger off the street) and they pretty much took over the middle part of the garden. hee!

Roasted Corn Relish

So I knew I wanted this dish to represent Spring and all of the renewal it brings. Hope, if you will. A startling realization that after the gloom, there is sun.

The corn from down south is starting to arrive in our supermarkets and I couldn't resist buying some this past weekend. I wanted to make something light that allowed the corn's sweetness to shine through and I think I did a damn good job of doing just that. :D

Roasted Corn Relish

I roasted 4 ears of corn on our grill until I could no longer stand the amazing fragrance coming from them. I let them cool for a bit and while I left them to do that, I thinly sliced up 4 green onions, diced half of a yellow bell pepper and 1/2 of an avocado. Once the corn was cool enough to handle, I cut the sweet kernals from their cobs and threw about 1/2 of them in with the onions, peppers and avocado. I dressed this mixture simply with a little lime zest, the juice of 1/2 a lime, a sprinkling of sea salt and a splash of good quality olive oil. I mixed gently and let all sit together for a while so that their flavors could meld.

Next up was simple grilled, boneless pork chops with nothing but garlic, salt & pepper for seasoning. Once the chops were just cooked through, I topped each with 2 huge spoonfuls of the roasted corn relish. OHMYGOD. I can't tell you how shocked I was at how good this turned out! The bitterness of the lime with the sweetness of the corn and a background zing of the fresh spring onion.. all with the creaminess that the avocado lent.. my, my, my, my and my.

Roasted Corn Relish

I don't think I could have come up with a better tribute to Spring, the new hope it brings, and Barbara and Lance for all they do to keep spirits high. Thank you both for giving so many people the hope and awareness it takes to not look at living with cancer as a death sentence, because it's not. I firmly believe that mind over matter is very, very important. With a better outlook that can be obtained by knowledge, unity and strength the better the chances of kicking cancer's ass until it runs home screaming like a sissy girl to it's mommie. ;)


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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Cooking to Combat Cancer 2

April and May bring two very important events that mean a lot to me. Two events that will bring awareness to many people. These two events are part of the effort to kick cancer's ass. Because seriously? Cancer's ass deserves to be kicked. Thoroughly.

This first post is for Cooking to Combat Cancer 2 - an annual event held by one of the most beautiful souls I've ever met.. Chris. She's the author of Mele Cotte, a wonderful friend, and a cancer survivor. Thank you for doing this every year, sweetie.. your contribution to helping us to never forget is so very important. Love you!!

In November of 2005 I was diagnosed with cervical cancer.. one radical hysterectomy later, and I was cancer free without much physical fuss. Meaning, I did not get sick. Mentally, there was fuss.. lots of it. When you've always taken for granted that you'd have kids one day.. and then are told it ain't gonna happen.. yeah, that kind of messes you up some. But, as I've said a million times over, I'm alive. I'm (relatively) healthy. I'm lucky. And I'm grateful for the chance I've been given.

Six years before my own brush with cancer, I was introduced to it's devastation when my great uncle was diagnosed with lung cancer. Coming from a large Italian family, I had many, many aunts and uncles. My father was 1 of 14. Yes, you read that right.. my dad had 13 brothers and sisters. And although I did love my paternal aunts and uncles very, very much.. it was my mom's great aunt and great uncle, who I was closest to. My Auntie Ann and Uncle Sol. My Auntie was and still is my mom's best friend. They are only 10 years apart, and they grew up together more like sisters than an aunt and her niece. So we spent a lot of time with them.

I consider my Auntie as my second mom.. for it was easier for me to talk to her than my own mother sometimes. And my uncle.. well.. he tortured me. har! My uncle never passed up the chance to pick on me, to annoy me, or to embarrass me. But this predicament I was in wasn't such a bad thing. No, for all of his fun had at my expense, the only thing that I took from all of it was how much attention he lavished on me. As I'm told often, I was the first girl in a family of boys. My uncle adored me. And I adored him.

When such an amazing man was taken away from us so abruptly, it felt like a betrayal. How could this be?? This was a man who loved his family so much, he was loved by everyone he met and he was such a wonderful uncle to my sisters and I. Actually, he was known to my youngest sister as her grandpa.. as both sets of grandparents had passed years before she was born, he and my auntie took on the role.

I rarely ever told my uncle how much I loved him. I assumed he always knew. As a matter of fact, the only time I can remember actually saying to him how much I loved him was right after he had the surgery to remove part of his lung.. he cried. I'd never seen him cry before. And he told me he loved me back. This was our first and only spoken exchange of our feelings for each other. He passed a couple days later.

To say I was devastated is an understatement. I was wrecked. I still am.. several years have passed and the pain isn't as constant as it was before, but I still can't control the tears and the hurt inside when I think about him. Oh how I wish that I would have told him how much I loved him until he was sick of hearing it! How I hate that I just assumed he knew. Although he didn't say the words to me either, and even though I knew from earliest memory that he loved me very much.. I still wish that I would have said the words out loud to him more than once. Just as I always knew his unspoken feelings for me, I can only pray that he knew my unspoken feelings for him.

The recipe I am about to share doesn't really remind me much of my Uncle Sol.. no, we were more of the pizza, soft pretzel, Twix bars kinda eaters. hee! But this recipe contains a few ingredients known to help cancer stay away, so I find it very fitting. I also find it very delicious and I'm glad we finally tried it.

Salad Niçoise

It's a simple recipe for Salad Niçoise, which comes to us from Nice, France. This is a salad made up of seared tuna, blanched green beans, tomatoes, steamed red potatoes, boiled eggs and of course, Niçoise olives. Everything but the tuna is tossed with a simple vinaigrette which adds just the perfect tang. And the tuna is usually seared quickly on each side, then placed on the salad in thin slices. Never being one to follow a recipe to the T (Other than Daring Baker challenges!!!), I decided to coat my tuna in toasted sesame seeds first.

We fell in love with this salad immediately and it will become a common quick dinner in my repertoire. The tuna is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, which are good for a healthy heart. The green beans have been shown to prevent or slow genetic damage to cells. The garlic and scallions in the vinaigrette contain a number of compounds believed to slow or stop the growth of tumors. And the tomatoes contain lycopene, which has been shown to be especially potent in combating prostate cancer. So all in all, this salad is not only delicious and quick, but very good for your body.

Salad Niçoise

Salad Niçoise

Makes 2 generous servings, or 4 small servings

8 oz. fresh Ahi Tuna or Albacore - (try to find sushi grade - you won't be sorry)
1 TBS olive oil or cooking spray
(recipe for sesame seared tuna below)
1/4 pound green beans, trimmed and blanched - (I suggest salting the boiling water)
3/4 pound of new red potatoes, quartered and steamed until fork tender - (My trick here is to put 2 crushed garlic cloves on the bottom of the steamer basket.. it gives the potatoes a light garlicy flavor that's delicious)
1/4 c. red onion, either thinly sliced or minced
1/4 c. pitted Niçoise olives
1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
1-2 eggs, hard boiled, peeled and quartered

2 TBS. Champagne vinegar - (I used Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar)
1 TBS. fresh tarragon, chopped
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
3/4 c. olive oil
sea salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste

Salad Niçoise Ingredients Salad Niçoise blanched green beans
Salad Niçoise Vinaigrette

Arrange salad ingredients in separate piles on a large serving platter. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad and then lay thinly sliced tuna on top. OR you can go non-traditional and put all ingredients in a large bowl with the vinaigrette and lightly toss (which is what we did). Serve alone, or with garlic toast.

Salad Niçoise

If you want to use the same tuna that we did the recipe is as follows (I cut the recipe in half for one 8 oz. tuna steak):

Sesame Seared Tuna
Courtesy of

1/8 c. soy sauce - (I used reduced sodium)
1.5 tsp. mirin (Japanese sweet wine) - (We omitted this because we didn't have any)
1.5 tsp. honey
1 TBS. sesame oil - (Sesame oil is VERY strong.. I cut this down to 1 tsp.)
1.5 tsp. rice wine vinegar
4 (6 oz.) tuna steaks
1/4 c. sesame seeds
1 TBS. olive oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy, mirin, honey, sesame oil & the rice wine vinegar.

Spread the seeds out on a plate or shallow bowl. Dip the tuna into the soy mixture, making sure the whole steak is coated and then press the tuna steak into the sesame seeds - coating both sides well.

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron or other heavy skillet over high heat until it's VERY hot. Place tuna steaks in pan and sear for 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side. You can go longer, but you chance the possibility of burning the seeds and over cooking the fish.

Salad Niçoise

Slice thinly and place warm tuna over Salad Niçoise.

And hey.. if the opportunity to share a Twix bar with someone you love arises afterwards.. why not take it? :)


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