Italian Adventures around Chicago

The Italian Expo was in Chicago this past weekend, so my Grandparents, parents, and my Aunt all came into town to check it out! They took a bus down with the Indianapolis Italian Heritage Society and stayed at a hotel downtown. I was beyond excited they were coming, not only because I missed them, but because they would get the chance to see where I am living and a glimpse into my life here in Chicago! They aren’t exactly thrilled that I live away from home, so it was nice for them to see how great it is here and how close it really is….just a bus ride away!

I met them downtown on Saturday morning and we all walked over to Navy Pier for the expo. It was a pretty nasty morning out and it was a little rainy, but we still decided to walk and enjoy the city. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect, but it definitely was not what I had imagined. There were no decorations, everything was plain and there were no activities. You just walked in a big square from table to table. The only good part about it was the food sampling, but I wasn’t exactly hungry for Pasta at 11:30 AM. OK, that’s a lie, I am always hungry for pasta, but I felt guilty indulging mid-day. My phone was still broken at this point in the day, so I didn’t snap any photos, but there really wasn’t anything to show you, so no worries!

That night we enjoyed a nice dinner at Phil Stefani’s steak house, 437 Rush. After dinner we went to the Signature Lounge in the John Hancock building, on the 96th floor. I had never been there and was really excited to do something “touristy” in the city! My cousin Nick is like a walking Chicago information handout, so he knew all about it, including the most random facts all about Chicago, and I mean ALL about it. There would be a random building on the side of a road and he would know what the history was.

Sunday morning my family and I went on an adventure around Chicago in search of all things Italian! Our first stop was at D’amato’s bakery and Bari, an Italian grocery. They were both old Italian establishments here in Chicago and were very cool. I love being able to walk into a grocery and see all of the amazing foods I was able to enjoy in Italy right HERE in Chicago!

After traveling to D’amatos and enjoying some filled cookies we ventured on over to Taylor Street, which is where Little Italy is located. It was so unfortunate to see how much it has changed. It definitely does not resemble a little Italy, but we did get to enjoy lunch together at the original Rosebuds! It was a little chilly out, but it was a gorgeous Fall day so  we decided to sit outside. My Grandpa, per usual, ordered the calamari for an appetizer. I used to be such a picky eater (I still have my issues, but am a lot better!), but my Grandpa convinced me to try calamari one random night and I realized how much I LOVE IT!! Fried deliciousness. I can even eat the kind with tentacles.

Speaking of tentacles, my Dad and I enjoyed staring at the baby octopus on our final Italian adventure around Chicago when we traveled to Caputos in Elm Wood Park. I didn’t get a picture with my phone, but I think my Dad did. Unfortunately I do not have it -so I will spare you the visual. Anyway, he told me how his Grandmother, who was from the Calabria region in Italy, used to make stuffed octopus for dinner. I’m not talking about little tiny octopus. This thing was huge. The thought of it made me extremely happy that he did not acquire a taste for that cuisine growing up!

I love the grocery store and could have spent an entire afternoon at Caputo’s. I must get that from my Grandpa because I think going to Caputo’s was what he was most excited about the entire weekend! Hopefully I can go back soon and pick up supplies for my next kitchen adventure. They had an ENTIRE aisle dedicated just to pasta. Literally, my heaven. I was proud to say that I only walked out with one item and that was only to come home and provide Laura with a good laugh. I came across this chocolate roll that I had completely forgotten about eating while we were in Italy. I am sure it has an equivalent here in America, but since we ate anything and everything while in Italy, this chocolate/sweet roll was among our favorites. I must have blocked it out of my memory, because I completely forgot about ever eating anything like this. Anyway, I had to buy it for her. Good thing it has been over 2 weeks and it isn’t gone yet….we are making progress in self-control!

This past weekend I did not have any kitchen adventures, but I did have a pretty big adventure in my life! I decided to run a 5k this past Saturday for The Race for the Cure! I was so proud that not only did I finish the race, I ran the entire 3.1 miles without stopping (3.1 miles in 32 minutes isn’t too shabby since I can’t remember the last time I ran more than 2!). It was so much fun that I have already signed up for two more marathons! As my sister said, it’s time to grow up, so last weekend I chose BOOBS over BOOZE and spent my Saturday morning feeling great, energized and running (instead of in bed!).

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Fileno al Mirtilio aka Blueberry Steak

So I have been a scavenger, frantically searching the internet for recipes similar to the blueberry steak I had in Florence almost 4 years ago (AH! that makes me feel old…I wasn’t even 21!). Aqua al Due was my favorite restaurant and I have been wanting this steak more than anything! Even though according to my friend, who I won’t name, claimed that Laura and I liked everything in Florence because we were “fat,” so it isn’t a testament to how good the meal was. He is wrong. It was amazingly delicious.

Anyway, I hate to admit this, but trial #1 wasn’t exactly a success. The sauce, in my opinion, was not very good. I would have much rather enjoyed my steak without the sauce, but in my excitement I covered the steak without thinking. Some of my taste testers did not agree with me, and enjoyed the sauce, but I know it was gross and I can admit it…with hesitation. I know there is a fix to the sauce and I am determined to uncover the true recipe.

My parents and Grandparent’s were in Chicago this weekend and I saved the remaining sauce for them to try. My mother is an amazing cook, my Grandma’s food is famous, and my Grandfather is an amazing chef, so I knew they would be tough critics. They all thought the sauce was good, and said I probably did not cook the sauce long enough, and the flavors more than likely came out in the sauce overnight.

I thought using ketchup was the mistake I made, but my Grandma thinks I just used the wrong kind, and should have used a spicier ketchup, rather than the condiment kind. Also, she thought the sauce would be a lot better on pork. So I’m still not completely satisfied with the sauce, but I am glad it was not a complete failure! I am going to grab some pork this week and try the sauce out again!

Unfortunately I do not have any pictures to share. My lovely phone broke and the pictures I took are lost, but no worries, I got the new iPhone 4 this past weekend and have a ton of pictures from my Italian adventure around Chicago!

A Big Fat Italian Wedding

So my sister got married last weekend and now I find myself bored. My mom is enjoying her time to herself, but for some reason I can’t sit still and am anxious to get back to being so busy, I can’t think straight. I have truly enjoyed and loved every single minute of helping to plan her wedding, from the engagement parties, the showers, the bachelorette parties, the bridesmaid bags, every last detail. I am so happy she had the most perfect and beautiful wedding day. It really was a dream wedding.

I don’t even know where to begin to describe the chaos and all of the thrilling events that took place on her wedding weekend. The guest list had topped 500 people (more than 300 were family members who I personally know by name…), but luckily with the holiday weekend there were only around 450 in attendance on Saturday. My only important part on that beautiful Saturday (it truly was the most beautiful, perfect day of the year!) was to make a toast to Gina and Grant. Most maid of honor speeches are all about the bride and her relationship with the MOH. A lot of toasts don’t touch on the love between the married couple or the groom himself. I didn’t want my speech to be like that, so I took the path of not only depicting my love for my sister, but doing my best to describe to everyone in the room, the love between Gina and Grant. Everyone could feel  it in the room that night and didn’t need me to explain it in order for them to realize the tremendous amount of love and respect they have for one another, but I am glad I had the opportunity (and I kind of liked the spot light).

My family and Grandparent’s

The church was beautiful and it was a special experience for my sister to get married in the Italian Church where my Grandmothers, Aunts, Uncles, and parents were married. It is in the old Italian neighborhood in Indianapolis and is where my entire family comes together throughout the year to celebrate life in general. Holy Rosary is such a beautiful Church that it does not require any flowers or decorations. We provided handkerchief’s for “tears of joy” and mine was definitely useful, as my mother and I cried all day!

Holy Rosary Catholic Church

Gina and Grant lighting the Unity Candle


My brother, sister, and I

I can’t believe my sister is old to enough to be married…I don’t remember the picture below, but I swear it was just yesterday that we were in my aunt’s and uncle’s wedding’s as the miniature bride and flower girls! For example, here is a picture of Gina and Tommy in my Aunt’s wedding, oh so many years ago. How did time go by so quickly that now Gina and Tom are able to reenact this picture at Gina’s wedding?

Gina & Tom

The food was amazing and the Indiana Roof Ballroom out did themselves! My aunt Antonia and my Dad did an incredible job and the bridal entrance was one of the coolest parts of the night!  My aunt Antonia surprised my sister and Grant with a Saxophone and thunderstorm entrance into the ballroom. I am pretty sure it took everyone by surprise and was one of the most memorable parts of the night, besides my speech (!)….

Caprese Salad

Dinner! (wish I wouldn’t have been so nervous about my speech that I didn’t get to eat this deliciousness!!)

Dessert – Tiramisu and Baked Alaskan! Gina wanted dessert instead of a cake, but my mom surprised her with one anyway!


There was a delicious Lasagna as the appetizer, but I thought that since I had JUST made my first lasagna and it was so good, I would have a separate post of the lasagna we had as an appetizer. It was slightly different and from what I heard, one of the best things people had that night (I wouldn’t know considering my nerves did not allow me to enjoy any food that night, and I somehow missed the late night cheeseburgers and fries, which is not typical behavior from me!)

My mom and sister spent months with David, the wedding planner/designer on the tables. Each table had its own unique charm and special memory attached. There were 10 square tables and on each square table there was an antique tray with candles, pearls, a vintage golden box, framed pictures of family weddings in black and white, as well as sugared fruit (which to my surprise was real and SO delicious!!) Also included on the tables were notes Grant had written to my sister throughout their relationship. Each note was different and expressed his love for her. That is typical of Grant. He is a true romantic and loves my sister more than anything.

The room looked stunning and was lit by lights wrapped around the balcony. (the picture above isn’t the best, but it’s the only one I could find for now!) I am sad that is all over, and it is weird to say that my sister has a husband and she is a wife!  I called Grant her “husband” yesterday and it was the weirdest thing! It really does feel like yesterday we were little kids running around my Grandma’s house!

From L to R: Antonia, Gina, Concetta, Tommy, Nick and Me (the baby) – 6 cute little Italian kids in the 80’s

It’s hard to describe and show just how big and crazy my Italian family is, but I hope you enjoyed another glimpse into “My Big Fat Italian Life!” Coming soon…Lasagna from the Indiana Roof Ballroom, Blueberry Steak (I promised this a long time ago and it’s finally coming) aka Fileno al Mirtilio, and Colts Kickoff (GO HORSE!!!)

Eat Pray Love

The reason for the title of this post is four fold.
1. I loved the book and movie
2. My blog is all about me eating (cooking!)
3. I always say a few prayers while I cook (and this time I needed more than a few!!)
4. My food is always filled with love…AND love is in the air this week (my sister is getting married!!!)

So there you have it!

I had planned on spending Sunday making lasagna and tiramisu and had bought (so I thought) all of the necessary ingredients on Thursday.  I really thought I was ahead of the game and dinner would be beyond simple. I thought wrong.

On Saturday I was beyond tired, and so after enjoying brunch with my friend Gina at Nookies, I came back to my apartment to watch a movie and take a nap. While laying on the couch, I decided to look over the lasagna recipe, just in case I had missed anything, when I suddenly realized the lasagna needed to be baked half way and then sit in the refrigerator over night in order for it to set. There went my relaxing Saturday…good thing I don’t have the ability to nap anymore and enjoyed spending the day cooking!

Right away I realized I  needed to make a run to the local grocery store (it is only a block away!) and grab some Italian sausage and ricotta cheese. I also needed more pasta and a red bull for a good afternoon kick. I made three trips back to the store that day….

I made a huge pot of tomato sauce and let it cool off in the fridge while I started on the lasagna filling.

My new kitchen!

I cooked the sausage and the ground beef and seasoned (first mistake). I thought I would get creative and use my Grandpa’s seasoning on the meat. I always use it on meat and it is delicious, so I figured this would be a brilliant idea. Once again, I was wrong. It made lasagna way too salty. Don’t get me wrong, it was still good, but salty.

The cheese filling was fairly easy to make, but I didn’t have a large enough mixing bowl and the cheese was getting all over the counter. I must say that making the lasagna was the messiest kitchen adventure I have had thus far, but it was well worth it. I didn’t have time to make homemade noodles for the lasagna unfortunately, but I am pretty sure if I would have attempted that I would have gotten in a little over my head. The Barilla (cl) lasagna sheets worked out just fine and I am sure my dinner guests were happier I went with that route anyway!

I was extremely nervous about the lasagna because I had used my Grandpa’s seasoning, not realizing how salty the cheese already was, and the mixture was way too salty. I had cooked it half way through and it still tasted extremely salty. I was so disappointed and warned the birthday girl that we may need to order pizza, but luckily, once the lasagna was cooked all the way through, it was edible and actually was good!

Uncle Michael’s Lasagna

Uncle Michael’s Lasagna

*Makes 2 pans

Ingredients:

2 lbs ground beef

1 lb Italian sausage

1 lg onion (chopped)

Salt & Pepper to taste

1 lb grated Romano cheese

5 lbs ricotta cheese

10 eggs, beaten

2 lbs whole milk mozzarella cheese (shredded)

4 tsp Parsley

1 large pot of spaghetti sauce (my quick sauce will be perfect!)

2 lbs dried lasagna sheets

2 baking pans (11.5 X 9.5 X 2.5)

1. Brown the beef, onion and sausage together and drain well. Set aside and let cool. Once cool, mix salt, pepper, and 2 cups of the Romano cheese into the meat mixture.

2. Mix together ricotta cheese (drain well before mixing), eggs, mozzarella, salt, pepper, parsley and 2 cups of Romano cheese. Mix until smooth.

3. Cook lasagna noodles half way through and drain.

4. Layer ingredients in pan in this order: sauce, pasta sheet, cheese mixture, meat mixture, sprinkle of Romano cheese, sauce. Repeat to fill the pan and end with a pasta sheet. Cover the top layer with plenty of tomato sauce and sprinkle with more Romano cheese.

5. Cover pans with Aluminum foil. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes. Let cool in the refrigerator overnight to allow the lasagna to set. This will make it easier to slice and serve!

6. To reheat, add more sauce and recover. Cook for 45-50 minutes at 350°

Here are a few tips/things I learned from my lasagna kitchen adventure:

  • Don’t bake saran wrap in the oven, even if the directions call for it. I was using my Uncle Michael’s recipe, but he used industrial plastic wrap, not the type you have in your kitchen. So beware! Good thing I had my mom walk me through the steps before I actually did any damage.
  • Cooking lasagna half way through and then allowing it to sit in the refrigerator overnight helps it to set and will cute easier
  • Lasagna does not need any extra seasoning, except for salt and pepper
  • Always make extra sauce (Even if you think you have enough!)

The lasagna was ready and I wanted to make sure I had all of the ingredients for the tiramisu. I had run out of time and needed to start getting ready for Laura’s birthday dinner, so I made my third and final trip to the grocery down the street. The woman who works in the store probably thinks I’m nuts. The next morning I woke up bright and early, feeling pretty tired, but started making the Tiramisu. The ingredients are below. I don’t know if it was because I was so “tired” or if tiramisu is really that hard to make, but I was afraid to try the first bite. I usually am all about tasting my food as I go along, but I did not taste one thing until later that night at dinner. It did not look like tiramisu, the lady fingers freaked me out and soaked up the coffee so quickly they were falling apart, and the chocolate wouldn’t chop in my processor so they were more crunchy in the dessert. I didn’t have a double boiler, but sitting one pot on top of another seemed to work just fine. After the tiramisu was finished and in the refrigerator to set, I threw on some shorts and headed to my first ever Sox and Yankee’s game!  It was an eventful weekend, to say the least, and I was exhausted!

Tiramisu Ingredients

My “double boiler”

 

Everyone had a pretty rough weekend, so dinner ended up being just me, Laura, and Maegan! Everyone enjoyed the lasagna, and to my surprise, the Tiramisu not only tasted like tiramisu, but it was really good!! I made Laura and Maegan have the first bite before I would try it and believe it was actually edible. Sorry this post is long, but it’s been over a month since my last kitchen adventure, and this one was a doozie!! I will post the recipes when I am back home next week and everything has settled down. The wedding is in 2 days (!!!!) and I am back home in Indianapolis preparing. If anyone has ever seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” this is going to be that multiplied by 2. My next post: The Big Fat Italian Wedding.

PS – Check out the new website we launched at work for Fuel Up to Play 60 (CL) http://www.fueluptoplay60.com

Tiramisu

Ingredients:

3 lg eggs

1/3 c. sugar

1/4 c. milk

16 oz. mascarpone

1/4 c. amaretto

1 tsp. vanilla extract

30 Lady Fingers

1 1/2 c. cooled espresso or coffee

1/2 c. bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 c. almonds, chopped and toasted

Sliced strawberries for garnish

Cocoa powder for dusting

Mix the egg yolks and sugar until mixture is a pale yellow. Add the milk and stir until combined. Transfer to a double boiler over simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly until mixture is thick enough to coat the spoon. Do not boil. Transfer immediately to a clear, cold bowl to cool. Once mixture has cooled, whisk in the mascarpone, amaretto, and vanilla. Dip 10 lady fingers lightly in espresso and arrange in two rows in a 2-quart glass dish that has been lightly buttered and sugared. Spread 1/2 of the mascarpone mixture over the lady fingers. Sprinkle 1/3 of the chocolate and the almonds. Repeat the layering two more times. Dust with cocoa powder. Let sit the refrigerator over night. Garnish with strawberries and serve.

Happy 25th Birthday, Laura!!!