Grief Inspired Sandwich That’s Italian

fresh mozzarella, proscuitto and roasted red peppers

fresh mozzarella, proscuitto and roasted red peppers

It’s been 4 years, 4 months and 14 days since William died. I have grown leaps and bounds through this grief experience, but surprisingly still learning how to deal. I must be a slow study or maybe, just maybe, this is typical of the grief process when one loses a bright light in their life.

goodness knows what he was about to do to his sister

goodness knows what he was about to do to his sister

At this stage, most days are typically filled with happy thoughts of William. The boy was a crack-up in most situations and filled with fun surprises. He was a double-dog dare me kind of guy who constantly kept us entertained with his antics. Swallow a live fish? Sure, no problem. Jump into an ice covered lake? He wouldn’t think twice. Dress in camo, soldier crawl the lawn and crash a neighbor’s party hiding under their deck? All in a day of the life of William. These memories just make me smile or sometimes laugh out loud. I am so grateful to have them.

the annual plunge into a frozen Lake Quassapaug

the annual plunge into a frozen Lake Quassapaug

On the other hand, this summer brought some surprisingly dark days that I did not quite understand. After watching a wedding video of a mother-son dance I was a complete mess. What the hell? I did not even know these people, yet watching that groom smile into his mother’s eyes I knew I wanted some of that and could not have it. And then there are those college graduations. Those are the memories with William that I want so bad, but never will have. I only, this week, recognized that those are my triggers. It’s what I did not get to have with William rather than what I did have that causes me grief.

don't even want to know what he lit on fire

don’t even want to know what he lit on fire

It’s just sad until I remember that I did have a dance with him the night before he graduated high school. I am holding on tight to the night he agreed to hold my hand while I twirled around him. The poor guy was on crutches at the time, but that didn’t stop him from smiling into my eyes and giving his mama this beautiful memory.

Oh, happy day his high school diploma in hand

Oh, happy day his high school diploma in hand

It’s 64 days, 16 hours and 6 minutes until I compete in the sandwich category at the World Food Championships. Trying to reign in on just a few ideas has been difficult until William popped into my head. William had a favorite deli-cious sandwich. Whenever he was home we would jump into the car and make our way over to Waterbury’s Avventura Market and Deli. He adored their “Avventura Special” which was a grilled ciabatta of mozzarella, prosciutto and roasted red peppers. Thanks for the help, William. I know you are still here cheering me on.sandwich

The way one layers a sandwich is a personal matter. I leave it up to you to play with these ingredients and add or subtract as much meat, cheese, pesto and peppers as you like. Make your own perfect and inspired sandwich creation. When it comes from your heart it is guaranteed delicious.

Memory of the Avventura Special Sandwich

1 small clove garlic

3/4 cup packed basil leaves

¼ cup fresh celery leaves

2 tablespoons walnut oil

1-teaspoon fresh lemon juice

¼ cup toasted walnuts

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon sugar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

2 ciabatta rolls, split

1 ball fresh mozzarella, sliced

6 slices prosciutto

1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, sliced

2 teaspoons hickory smoked balsamic vinegar or plain balsamic syrup

shredded fresh basil

With food processor running drop garlic through feed tube and process until finely minced. Add basil, celery leaves and oil; pulse until combined. Add lemon juice, walnuts, parmesan, sugar and salt; blend until smooth scraping down sides of bowl, if needed. Spread generous amount of pesto evenly on bottom half of each roll. On top of the pesto evenly layer desired amount of the mozzarella, prosciutto and peppers. Drizzle peppers with balsamic, sprinkle with some shredded basil and cover sandwich with roll top. Gently press sandwich together. Grill sandwich in a lightly greased Panini maker or on a griddle, pressing with a weight, for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until golden brown.

Genovese Basil: gotta love my garden

Genovese Basil: gotta love my garden

Inspired & Spirited Birthday Dessert

all warm and melted Bill dug in before I could light the candle

all warm and melted Bill dug in to his sticky toffee pudding cake before I could light the candle

It was a good week celebrating Bill’s birthday with lunch at one of his favorite restaurants, The Whip Tavern, followed by dinner with Caitlin and Sam the day after. I was pretty certain what Bill wanted for his birthday dinner, but thought I’d ask anyway. Sure enough, “shrimp ‘n grits” followed by “sticky toffee pudding cake”.

Bill and Will in the Adirondaks

Bill and Will in the Adirondaks

The thought of shrimp n’ grits always brings me back to Charleston, SC. It was there that Bill and I last got to spend time with William. Just a few short days catching up and hanging out enjoying a little southern comfort. We also heard all about his future scout sniper training before we hugged and said good-bye.

very proud

very proud

Those days with Will are among our most priceless and I know this week Bill was missing that birthday phone call from his best buddy. He is working through his grief in his own quiet way and hopefully believing that Will is with us all the time, at least, in spirit.

first pheasant

first pheasant

And that spirit inspires me to create this dessert to celebrate Bill in a sweet way. Not a fan of dates? Sticky Toffee Pudding will change your mind, I guarantee!

Dark Muscovado sugar has a fine, moist texture with a high molasses content that blends well with strong coffee. I use the India Tree brand from Mauritius. Brandy plays well with both the dates and the coffee adding that spirited touch I love so much.

poke the holes through to the bottom of the cake

poke the holes through to the bottom of the cake

Inspired & Spirited Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

8 ounces pitted dates, coarsely chopped

1 cup very hot strong coffee

1 tablespoon brandy

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup lightly packed dark Muscovado* sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 large eggs, room temperature


1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup lightly packed dark Muscovado* sugar

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon brandy

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Spray (10) 1-cup ramekins with non-stick baking spray. Place dates in a bowl, pour coffee and brandy over dates; let soak 15 minutes. Stir in baking soda. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In large bowl, with an electric mixer on high, beat butter and sugar for 3 to 5 minutes or until fluffy. Reduce speed to medium, add lemon zest and beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until well mixed. Reduce speed to low; add half the flour mixture beating until combined. Add date mixture and remaining flour mixture, and beat until just combined. Scoop batter into ramekins filling about ¾ full; place on a baking sheet. Bake until cakes are puffed and spring back in center when gently pressed with a finger, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, for sauce, combine butter, sugar, cream and brandy in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium (so sauce does not boil over) and boil, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens, about 4 minutes. Remove cakes from oven. With a wooden skewer poke holes in cakes. Spoon half of hot sauce over cake (1 ½ tablespoons per cake) and let soak 20 minutes. Serve warm with remaining sauce and vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

*Note: dark brown sugar can be used in place of muscovado

low boil of cream, brandy, butter and sugar

low boil of cream, brandy, butter and sugar

Open Blue Cobia Challenge It’s Delicious


miso marinated and grilled cobia with pickled cucumbers and gingered tomato sauce

You all know how I love a recipe challenge, so when Open Blue put out the call to bloggers to create recipes using cobia I was like, what? Cobia? What the heck is Cobia? Well it turns out my husband, the fisherman, knew all about cobia. He is so smart.cobia

After a study of Open Blue’s web site I learned quite a bit about sustainable open ocean aquaculture and the omega 3 health benefits of cobia, but mostly I was excited to try a fish described as “the new white meat” with a firm moist texture perfect for grilling. Luckily, the fish monger over at Wegman’s clued me in to be at the store on Friday at 1 pm to have first dibs on the new shipment. The fish is so fresh that it can even be eaten raw.

Hope you will give my Asian marinated and grilled version of cobia a try. The recipe is inspired by my just picked garden cucumbers and tomatoes. Fresh from the deep blue ocean waters paired with fresh from the garden just seems right.

Miso Marinated Cobia with Gingered Tomato Sauce and Pickled Cucumber

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Pickled Cucumbers

2 medium cucumbers, peeled, halved, seeded, cut into ¼-inch slices

1/4-cup water

1/2-cup white vinegar

1/3-cup sugar

1-teaspoon kosher salt

4 ice cubes

2 medium cucumbers, peeled, halved, seeded, cut into ¼-inch slices

Miso Marinated Cobio

¼-cup sugar

¼-cup white miso paste

¼-cup sake

2-tablespoons mirin

1-tablespoon vegetable oil

2-teaspoons soy sauce

1 large clove garlic, minced

4 Open Blue Cobia filets (4 to 6 ounces each)

Gingered Tomato Sauce

1-tablespoon olive oil

1 -teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1-teaspoon sesame oil

6 plum tomatoes, halved, seeded, chopped


Fresh cilantro leaves

Toasted sesame seeds, optional

For pickled cucumbers: Bring water, vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Pour hot mixture into a heat-proof bowl. Stir in ice cubes until melted. Add cucumbers to pickling liquid; let stand at least 30 minutes. Chill until ready to serve.

For marinade, whisk sugar, miso, sake, mirin, vegetable oil, soy sauce and garlic until smooth; reserve 3 tablespoons. Pour remaining marinade over cobia in a zippered plastic bag; seal bag squeezing out as much air as possible. Marinate cobia for 30 minutes or as long as overnight. Meanwhile, prepare gingered tomato sauce. In a non-stick skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add ginger, sesame oil and reserved marinade; stir for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes; cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened.

Heat grill to high heat. Remove cobia from marinade (discard marinade); pat fish dry with paper towel. On lightly greased grill, cook Cobia for 2 minutes or until dark grill marks form and fish releases easily. Turn cobia, reduce heat to medium, and continue grilling 6 to 8 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes easily. To serve: arrange some cucumbers over center of each serving plate. Top with a fish filet. Spoon gingered tomato sauce over top of fish. Garnish with cilantro and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, if desired. Serves 4.

Note: to cook indoors fish can be browned under the broiler and then roasted in the oven at 400F.