My Return to Venice

To say I was happy to be back in Italy is an understatement. I am so fortunate to have seen so much of the world and have the opportunity to travel around Europe, but of all the places I have been, Italy just feels like home. My mom once said to me, after returning from a trip to Paris, that she felt as if she belonged there. I always wondered what she meant by that and it took years later to find out. From my first moment in Italy, in 2005, I fell in love and felt at home.

My first Gondola ride in Venice, 2005
San Marco Square, 2005

While I was studying in Italy in 2007, I loved every minute of living there. I loved the food, the sights and culture. I loved the people and their life style and most of all, I loved the language. It was such an amazing experience and I could not wait to get back. I knew I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to go more than once in my life, but in my heart I knew I would be back one day. Every trip I made to Rome, I visited the Trevi Fountain, turned my back and threw a coin over my left shoulder. They say that if you do this you will return to Rome and so far this has remained true! While I was studying in Florence, only my cousin Michael was able to make the trip to visit me and we traveled to Venice and the Amalfi coast.

Again, in San Marco Square in 2007, next to Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace)

My first time in Venice, I was so taken aback and overwhelmed by being in a new culture for the first time, I thought it was HUGE and couldn’t ever really get my bearings. The second time I was there with my cousin, Michael, we spent the day at a restaurant near the Rialto Bridge people watching, eating amazing food and drinking wine.

This trip was different. I knew where to take my family and what to see. I knew how to get around and I wasn’t overwhelmed by the culture, making it so much more enjoyable than ever before. When my cousin and I sat near the Rialto bridge in 2007, it was just something we stumbled upon. I’m glad I took time this trip to plan the day and take it all in.

We arrived in Venice bright and early and were some of the first people walking the streets. It was really cool to walk through an empty San Marco Square, get an espresso and sit in front of the San Marco Cathedral. We spent the day walking every street, shopping, eating and exploring along the way.

Enjoying some pizza in Venice
My Brother, Jack, sampled about 15 different Gelato flavors throughout the day
Shopping and being "touristy"
View from the Rialto Bridge

By the time we got to Italy, I was starving for something delicious and I was in luck. Every meal I had in Venice was delicious. We even stopped at a restaurant near the train station and it was possibly one of the best meals of the trip. Everywhere you looked there were dessert’s in the windows, in the cafes and restaurants. Sweets were everywhere!

Desserts - Sicilian Cannoli!

After lunch we continued to make our way around Venice. We stumbled upon an amazing little market that had some of the brightest and freshest looking foods. My sister got in trouble for touching the peppers because they were so beautiful and vibrant she thought they were fake.

Mini Peppers at the market
Market in Venice
Checking out the Venice Market

My sister and her husband, Grant took a break from the family to have a romantic Gondola ride before we had to head back to the ship to get ready for our night out in Venice. While they were enjoying the romantic qualities of the city, my Dad, Mom, Brother and I continued to explore the city. After walking a while I noticed there were a lot of children playing in the Piazza we were in. There were mom’s everywhere chatting and watching their children. I realized we had stumbled into a very residential part of Venice. I am so glad we did, as it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We stopped and got directions back from a man who was chasing after one of his children and he was wearing a Chicago t-shirt! What a small world.

Gina and Grant's first Gondola ride!

After regrouping on the boat and getting ready for dinner, we headed back into Venice. We had heard from a friend on the ship that Drew Barrymore was in Venice and they had seen her walking around. My sister and I were hoping we would get to see her too – but weren’t getting our hopes too high.

Venice was even more beautiful and romantic at night. The streets were lit up and it really wasn’t overcrowded. As we shopped around looking to buy some leather purses my brother-in-law motioned in another direction to me and whispered “there is Drew Barrymore.” I wanted to get a better view so I sped down the street, pretending to be heading in the same direction as her and got a pretty good look as I walked by. We were in an empty street at this time and I heard her say to her friend “that girls dress is really cute.” I was the only person in front of her so she was definitely talking about me. I felt pretty cool and will probably never get rid of that dress now.

The boys trying to get us to stop shopping!
Last family photo of the trip before heading to dinner
Where we had dinner

After dinner we headed back to San Marco Square and sat at an outdoor cafe and had a few cocktails, some coffee and dessert. Even my parents felt the romance of the city – my Dad swept my Mom off her feet, literally!

Enjoying some romance in the city of love!

It was such an amazing vacation and not just because I had the opportunity to visit a new country and return to Italy. Family is everything and I am glad we were able to experience new cultures together and take some time out of our busy lives to just enjoy one another and spend quality time together! We were all sad to leave Venice and I think everyone would agree that a family vacation around Italy is a MUST in the future!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am thankful for my family, friends and everyone who takes time out of their day to read these posts and share their experiences as well! Next up, my very first Pecan Pie (or as I say to my sister, Pe-CAN Pie!)

Ciao!

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Pasta Bolognese

Last year, when I first started this blog, I made a list of some of my favorite food.  Food I’ve always wanted to try, or family recipes I need to learn how to make. Pasta Bolognese was on the top of my list. My Aunt and Uncle make a delicious Bolognese sauce. Yes, it’s because they are very good cooks, but it’s also my Uncle’s family recipe and he is from Bologna, Italy. It’s only fitting that they would make a delicious Bolognese sauce! Needless to say, almost a year later, I made my first Bolognese sauce and I am proud to say that it was a success!

My Aunt Antonia gave me her recipe so long ago, but as I went back through my notes, I realized I had quickly jotted down what she was saying and left off some very important information. How many carrots and celery sticks was I supposed to use? How much cream do I use? Well in true Lucia fashion, I decided to wing it and go off my natural instinct. With fears of my days in Italy and my waist line rushing to the front of my mind,  I decided to cut back on the cream and use half cream, half skim milk. I added a bouillon cube to add back in some flavor.

I made the sauce the night before and it was delicious. When Laura got home from work she couldn’t stop taking bites out of the pot; I of course was joining her, too. When I went to heat it up before our actual dinner, it had really thickened over night, so I added a tiny bit more skim milk. Mistake. I was disappointed that it took out a lot of the original flavor. Laura and I of course noticed it because we were lucky enough to enjoy it the night before, but Maegan and Jordan thought it still tasted good! At least two of us got to experience it in its greatness before I made a cooking mistake.

Pasta Bolognese


Ingredients:

1/3 of a large onion

2 cloves of garlic

3 Carrots

3 sticks of celery

1 lb ground beef

1 pint of heavy whipping cream (I used less than 1 pint and the rest with skim milk)

2 cans of Hunt (cl) tomato sauce (add salt, pepper, a little less than 1/3 skim milk)

Directions:

Very finely chop carrots and celery and set aside. Finely chop onion and saute with garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add the chopped carrots and celery, ground beef and cover with heavy whipping cream. Let reduce while covered.

Once cream is reduced, add the tomato sauce. Let cook for approximately 3 hours.

Chopped Onion, Celery and Carrots

Cover the ingredients in cream and let reduce

Jordan waiting for some free dinner 🙂

Pasta Bolognese

I am glad that I can finally say I made a Bolognese sauce and proud that I now will know how to make it without even following a recipe. It’s always fun to make something for the first time and realize that while it may take a while, it’s not too difficult, and it’s also fairly cheap! And any meal these days that I can make without spending an arm and a leg at the grocery store is my kind of meal!

I am also proud to say that I have almost made it to the one year mark of My Big Fat Italian Life! It is crazy to think back of the first blog post I wrote, and remember it as if it were yesterday. I’m also proud that I not only made it a full year blogging and stuck with my kitchen adventures, but I’ve made a lot of delicious meals along the way and shared a ton of meals with my family and friends!

Until next time,

Lucia

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!

From Italy to Chicago

Hello all!  I am sorry I have not had the chance to share my cooking adventures with you, but life has been fairly crazy the last few months! I moved into a new apartment and work has been pretty busy…I will share with you all the hard work that has been going on once everything calms down. Also, my sister is getting married next weekend and I have been trying to avoid the kitchen in all honesty…I can’t wait for the wedding and to share all of the pictures and GREAT food from the big day, but for now all I can share with you is a preview of what is yet to come.

I moved in with my best friend and my Italian partner in crime. We spent 4 great months together in Italy and I am excited that we will get to cook together (well, she can enjoy my cooking). But her 25th birthday is on Sunday, so I am treating her to an Italian feast. I am planning on making Lasagna and Tiramisu to celebrate her accomplishment of being a quarter of a century old!! Happy early birthday Laura – I can’t wait to celebrate this weekend and have an Italian reunion in our new kitchen!

Here is a picture of our kitchen in Florence. Our new kitchen is not as cute as this petite red kitchen and it does not include our washing machine next to the stove, but it is just as homey and will include just as many good meals as this one did, just not as often!

Ladies and Gentleman Start Your…Cooking!

Back home again in Indiana.  That song brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.  Maybe it’s because I’m proud of where I come from, or maybe it is because I am laughing so hard at the thought of my dear friend crying at the race a few years ago after spending a semester in Paris.  She was so happy to be home and so proud of being a Hoosier – the song (or maybe the beer?) literally brought her to tears.  Anyway, when I think of the Indianapolis 500, I think of that song and the roaring sound of engines revving to go.  My favorite part of the race is the noise.  I opt out of ear plugs because that loud noise makes my heart skip a beat.  I guess I really am a Hoosier.

The Indianapolis 500 – Turn 1

Jordan – Enjoying the In Field (it was over 100°)

The weekend was not only filled with tears, Hoosier pride, and loud noises – it was filled with a lot of food, a ton of laughs, and great people.  Monday my family celebrated Memorial Day and the graduation of my brother, Jack, from high school.  The very thought of that brought tears to my mothers eyes – not a song.  I woke up bright and early to a kitchen filled with food, tables, drinks, and a to-do list that made my head spin.  My Dad had gotten up around 5 to carve out a watermelon “basket” and fill it with fruit, make a caprese salad, and set up all the tables before he headed out for a round of golf.

You see, we were not preparing for your typical family barbeque.  We were preparing for an Italian family barbeque, and those are two very different things.  The first would require minimal effort, not supplies from a rental company (good thing we have one in the family).  The first would also not require the amount of food that was stocked in my house or the amount of food that would be brought over later in the afternoon.  It would not require 7 different kinds of desserts, 4 dips, 2 cheese balls, and about 5 different meal options.  OH…and it definitely would not include the need to make some plain pasta because a cousin refuses to eat anything but pasta with butter and cheese.

Cheese Ball

Ingredients:

1 bottle of English Cheese

1 Package of Cream Cheese

Minced Onions

Crushed walnuts

Mix the english cheese and cream chese with some minced onion (not too much) until the 2 cheeses have blended.  If you mix too long the ball will not form so be careful.  Form into a ball and cover in crushed walnuts.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Trifle

Ingredients:

Raspberries

Blackberries

Strawberries

**You can add any fruit you would like

Pound Cake

2 tubs of Cool Whip

1-2 packages of Vanilla Pudding

Line the bowl with cut up strawberries and layer the bottom of the bowl with sliced pound cake.  Add cool whip and vanilla pudding generously.  Make sure to add enough so the pound cake does not dry out.  Top with cut fruit.  Repeat each step until bowl is full.   Top with cut fruit and refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

When you combined two very large Italian families for a party, what you get is something a little short of a mad house.  There are 20 cooks in the kitchen, 10 people trying to clean, 15 children weaving in and out of the kitchen at all times, and that doesn’t include the other 50 people who are roaming around, eating, playing cards, swimming, and anything else you can imagine.  I always wonder what the “outsiders” are thinking when they are brave enough to venture into our world.  It is always amusing watching their heads dart back and forth trying to pick up on at least one loud conversation going on, but I’m sure they pick up a few pieces of each story and have no clue where to begin trying to put the pieces together.

Annabelle Playing by the Pool

A Meeting of the Minds

There was enough food that day to feed an entire army, and it did.  The appetizers were delicious and my trifle was a success, even though we forgot about it in the basement refrigerator until the very end of the night when there were only about 10 of us left.  Good thing everyone had a little bit so it didn’t go to waste.  Overall it was a great day.  It’s always nice to come home to family, especially mine!!

**More pictures to come!!

For the Love of Italy…and it’s Food!

So I first fell in love with cooking while I was in Italy.  It wasn’t the best place to start off my passion for food because no matter what, nothing I do now can live up to the amazingness that was created and eaten in Italy.  When my friend Jordan came to visit from Rome, we decided to have a BIG Italian feast.  I decided to  make Pasta Carbonara.  To say it was good is an understatement.  Later, when I came to Rome to visit Jordan, he bought a ton of pancetta, fresh from the butcher.  Unfortunately, I messed up the Carbonara…I forgot to put the boiling water in the egg mixture and I am sure a few other things.  Cooking while drinking a ton of wine (Chianti to be exact) in Italy does not necessarily help make a master chef.  Good thing the pancetta was SO good and flavorful that the pasta was not completely destroyed.

That is the thing with Italy.  The food is so good on its own, it makes cooking fairly easy!  Now that I do not have unbelievably fresh pancetta, fresh seasoning, and other delicious ingredients, it takes a little more effort and attention in the kitchen.

Jordan, Laura & I on a day trip to Pisa (sad I can actually say years ago…)

Carbonara Sauce

*Serves 4 people

Salt & pepper to taste

Crushed red pepper (eyeball it!)

Olive Oil

1 lb pasta (I prefer thick spaghetti)

4 large eggs

Garlic (3 cloves)

1/3 lb pancetta

Parsley (preferably fresh, but flakes work!)

Romano Cheese

Mix eggs in a separate bowl.  Add a little bit of salt and pepper, milk, red pepper, and parsley.  Set aside.

Start boiling your pasta water and cook pasta until desired.  I recommend cooking it more al dente for carbonara.  Save a ladleful of boiling pasta water to add to your egg mixture.

Finely chop the pancetta.  In a large skillet or wok, lightly saute garlic until translucent.  Add the pancetta and cook over medium heat.  Cook a total of 4-5 minutes, or until brown.

Drain the pasta and add directly to the skillet with the pancetta.  Pour the egg mixture over the pasta and continuously mix the pasta until the egg mixture is fully mixed in.  Add salt, pepper and cheese to taste.  Offer extra cheese to guest and enjoy!

The Egg Mixture

The Pancetta (unfortunately from a package)

Jordan enjoying my “American” Carbonara!

Halfway through the Meal…

I had not made Pasta Carbonara in a few years, and will admit I was a little nervous!  It’s not a difficult pasta to make, but I feel as if it is easy to make it under flavored or “eggy.”  I was pleasantly surprised that it turned out perfectly flavored and very good, in spite of the pre-packaged pancetta, which had little flavor and was extremely thin.  I was feeling a little under the weather all weekend, even though I had a surprise visitor (!!), or else I would have made an adventure to the butcher on Halstead.  I guess that will have to wait for another day…maybe when the weather stops acting up and just stays warm!

My parents will be here on Saturday, but I am hoping to make pizza next Sunday!!  Until then…healthy eating 🙂  Have a great week!