Philly Italian Market

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Need a little ethnic inspiration? Take a tour of the 9th Street Market in Philadelphia. One piece of advice….arrive hungry and preferably with a brother who has completely mapped out all the stores and restaurants he wants to see.

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Our first stop was Fante’s Kitchen store. Filled with quality products from all over the world I quickly gathered up a few things I did not know I needed including this adorable heart-shaped cutter. Suffice to say I felt like a kid in a candy store.

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The streets are lined with vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables among other things. It feels a little bit like a flea market married a farmer’s market and this is their baby. Prices are competitive. Locals are sniffing melons and filling bags with beans, mushrooms and blueberries. One can even buy mangoes by the crate. I just loved this box full of baby eggplants. Bring cash.

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By now we are getting hungry. Family owned Isgro’s Italian pastries are in order. Eat dessert first. My niece shares a bite of her chocolate mascarpone cannoli and my brother shares his sfogiatella. It makes sense why this bakery has been in business since 1904. These pastries are pure perfection and bring me back to just about every extended family gathering  I have ever enjoyed my whole life.

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Cheese, meatballs and pasta follow. Further, we enjoy a chocolate shop, spice shop and more than one butcher. Take your pick of restaurants and bring a cooler bag to take home fresh pasta and other delicacies.

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Still hungry? Feel free to wait in line for this guy’s recommendation.

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Completely inspired I knocked out a big pile of fettuccine for Sunday dinner. Making fresh pasta is easy. For every pound of semolina flour mix in 2 to 3 eggs, a pinch of salt, a touch of olive oil and some water to mix into a smooth dough. Knead the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes. Then, crank it out. It cooks in just a few minutes in boiling salted water.

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Rebuilding The Culinary Cellar

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Loss comes in many shapes and forms. Today, I want to talk about loss of possessions; the kinds of things that are near and dear to one’s heart and can never be replaced. Things that shape your identity and mark treasured life moments. Things that celebrate who we are. For example, years ago I lost the itty, bitty diamond in my engagement ring. It wasn’t an expensive piece, but the love and sentiment behind it made it feel like a huge loss. The ring symbolized a most happy once in a lifetime moment; a traditional sign of love that could never be replaced. I still think about it from time to time. Sure, I got a new ring. It’s bigger and brighter, but it just isn’t the same. Yes, it is just a thing and things can be replaced, but with cherished memories attached it is hard to let go.

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Another loss I want to share with you today is a big one that affected my friend Debbie and the culinary world. Debbie writes one of my favorite blogs, The Culinary Cellar. I had the privilege of visiting Debbie when William was starting his Navy career at Great Lakes, IL. While he was in boot camp I was sitting at Debbie’s kitchen table enjoying the warmest hospitality and most delicious baklava pastry.

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However, the biggest treat is waiting for me in Debbie’s basement. I get a tour of her famous culinary cellar. As I descend the stairs my eyes fall on numerous shelves bearing the weight of nearly 4000 cookbooks. In front of me is a massive old-time library card catalog filled with thousands of hand-written recipes collected since Debbie was 12. This is a lifetime of memories showcasing her love of cooking and generations of award winning talents.

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The variety of books is like none I have ever seen. There are rare and antique volumes. There are obviously much-loved books dog-eared and stained. There are souvenir books from all over the world documenting memories of family vacations and travels. Some are autographed by famous chefs and most have hand-written notes lovingly penned into the margins giving advice about a recipe. Each and every book has a story beyond its pages. Each and every one is treasured and so loved that she shares it with the world through her blog. She is a generous soul.

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Now imagine the devastation when in the middle of the night during a violent storm a town retention pond fails and pours 7 feet of water and a ton of mud into Debbie’s cellar wiping out just about everything. Nine tons of cookbook debris were lifted up and dropped into a dumpster just a couple of weeks ago. Imagine opening that door above to this: 19990436_10102505366467335_4001791307728415727_n

A lifetime of memories and a valued collection washed away in an instant. How does one recover from such a physical,  emotional and shocking loss?

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Well, if you are a part of the Debbie Vanni family, you just do. Talk about super human strength. The rebuilding of the culinary cellar is already in progress. Support from family and friends and strangers far and wide has Debbie re-grouping and cutting her losses. She is no Debbie Downer! Truly an inspration. I look forward to visiting again some day.

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To read more of Debbie’s story check out her blog here The Culinary Cellar

thank you to Debbie for sharing theses photos with me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I Miss & Perfect Pairs

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Yesterday was William’s 29th birthday. Cheers to my boy. His birth was truly one of the best days of my life. Missing him more than I can express I celebrate him in the best way I can. In the garden planting seeds and in the kitchen creating a few recipes inspired by him he continues to be a bright light in my heart. I’m thankful for my hobbies and my passion to want to learn and try new things. Getting through tough times? It’s all about the distraction. Cooking, baking and gardening do it for me. How do you do it?

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I have been practicing my food photography with a new camera and have already received some very exciting feedback from some recipe/food sponsors. Can’t reveal what that is right now, but it sure made me feel good about trying something new and difficult. These days’ recipe contests require quite a bit of work. I miss the old days when all I had to do was create a recipe, write it down and mail it in. Now, in addition to preparing an original recipe, I am required to be a food stylist, food photographer and a creative writer. My poor husband. He knows he is not allowed to eat anything in the house until I have photographed it…on many a day we eat the food cold.

Probably one of the more wonderful things that have been on my plate lately is teaching two really smart and joyful young ladies, ages 11 & 9 how to cook. Sharing what I know about cooking and baking with the younger generation is quite fun and exciting. We are cooking our way around the globe and just finishing up Mexico with a Mango Tres Leches Cake. I think I was channeling my favorite teachers of Mexican cuisine Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Too Hot Tamales. I miss those cooking shows that really taught me and helped build my knowledge in the kitchen.

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Mango Tres Leches “Celebration” Cake is perfect for a birthday or Cinco de Mayo

Are there any famous chefs that you have learned from and would like to meet? Wouldn’t it be great fun to travel  to the 2017 Vegas Uncork’d Expo food & wine event happening next week? Take a look at that celebrity chef schedule. Famous chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Giada de Laurentiis will be preparing their dishes alongside perfectly paired cocktails. There are a few I would love to learn from, but if I could only pick one my heart still belongs to Mary Sue & Susan as they opened up a whole new world of Mexican cuisine and especially cheeses to me.

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queso fresco on scrambled eggs makes a perfect pair

Speaking of cheese and back in my own kitchen I have been working on some new recipes for grilled cheese sandwiches. After a hard day in the garden cooking up something like a grilled cheese and dining out al fresco on the deck is an easy and delicious way to end the day. Heading into the warmer weather we often enjoy a cool glass of rosé wine with a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s a rustic perfect pairing, but who says wine has to be fancy? Rosé matches quite well with just about any cheese and bread. It’s not as elaborate as some famous celebrity chef dishes, but it works.

Cheers!

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Here is one of my winning cheese sandwiches from yesteryear. The salty bacon and olives with the sweetness of fruit, peppery arugula and luscious burrata pairs perfectly with a glass of Rosé.

Burrata & Bacon Ciabatta, Oh My

3 slices thick cut bacon

¼ cup apricot jam

1 (4-inch) ciabatta roll, toasted

2 tablespoons Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro Homemade Style Basil Pesto

¼ cup arugula leaves

2 Mezzetta Sweet Cherry Peppers, seeded, diced

1-ounce burrata cheese (1/2 of a 2 ounce ball)

1 ripe apricot, sliced

4 pieces Mezzetta Sliced Greek Kalamata Olives, chopped

1-teaspoon balsamic vinegar syrup

Heat oven 400F. Line bottom of broiler pan with foil. Coat both sides of bacon with jam; place on broiler pan rack set over foil-lined bottom. Bake 30 minutes; transfer bacon to a plate. Spread bottom half of roll with pesto. Layer with arugula, cherry peppers, bacon, burrata, apricots and olives. Drizzle with balsamic. Cover with remaining bread slice.