Saturday, December 25, 2010

Cassata Time!

Three days of preparation for a minute on the tongue, a lifetime on the hips. 

Cassata - in Sicilian it translates to "the most wonderful dessert ever!"  In my last post, I said that cassata can induce laughter.  Read on!

I can't give you the recipe because it's a well guarded family secret and if I do,  I will be subject to unspeakable torture.... (Never piss off the Italian family!) But I can give you a description...

It starts with a sponge cake.  Luscious lightness in a spring-form pan.  Once the cake is baked, I freeze it.  Makes for easier slicing.

Two days before the family chow-fest, I defrost the cake and slice it into three layers.  The first layer is laden with freshly made chocolate custard.  The second is a mixture of sweetened ricotta cheese with mini chocolate chips and bits of maraschino cherries.  The third, homemade golden vanilla custard.

The laughter inducing ingredient??  Rum!  Lots of rum!  Cups and cups of rum! Each layer of cake is coated in rum before the custard and ricotta are added.  Then the whole cake is covered with an icing of the sweetened ricotta, a sprinkling of mini chocolate chips, and a cherry or two.  Someone once tried to calculate the calories in a piece of cassata.  They were never heard from again...

I Googled "cassata".    There were tons of pictures.  These look sort of like mine, but not really.  When I bake mine this week (not seeing the family until New Year's) I will post pictures.  

Cassata is Dad's all time favorite dessert - the one that is only served at Christmastime.  After everyone is tanked up on lobster and wine, we bring out the desserts.  The cassata is sliced and placed on Dad's dish first.  He sniffs... (You can fail a breath-a-lizer test on the fumes alone). We all wait with baited breath...(ok, more like garlic breath...)  He tastes....He savors the melding of ingredients and proclaims....


Every year its the same, no matter how many gallons of rum I use.  So now we just put the cake on a dish and the bottle of rum on the table!  And we laugh!  We are with family...there is good food on the table...there is plenty of wine, plenty of rum and plenty of love.  Life is good!

"Buon Natale Tutti"

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!

     The holiday season is in full swing!  House is decorated, cards have been sent.  The shopping - almost there!  Now its time to think about the food.  (I'm Italian - it goes with the territory!)  For my family, the big celebration is Christmas Eve.  And if we all can't get together on the 24th, whatever day we can get together becomes Christmas Eve.  So much has changed since we were younger, but so much has stayed the same.  The cooks and bakers have shifted down a generation.  The houses have changed.  Even the menu has been tweaked.  But there is always family, food, laughter, wine and "cassata".  I think the wine and cassata have a lot to do with the laughter! I'll explain...

     Christmas Eve dinner in an Italian family usually always involves fish.  The tradition was 7 fishes or fish dishes.  We whittled it down to shrimp, baked clams, seafood salad, and lobster - lobster fra diavolo over pasta...lobster tails...lobster and more lobster...technically not fish, but close enough!

    Lobster Fra Diavolo - Taken from Google Images

    Shrimp Cocktail - yes Google again!

    Baked clams - more Google images!
    The following is how Maria Liberati describes "La Vigilia" or Feast of the Seven Fishes.  (La Vigilia?  The Vigil?  Were they waiting for the birth of Christ or Santa Claus?) "By all accounts, the Feast of the Seven Fishes began as a southern Italian custom. The tradition was hugely popular in Italy’s most southern points, including the island of Sicily. At one time, Rome, the Eternal City, seemed to the farthest point north where La Vigilia was celebrated, although today,  Italians throughout the world celebrate it. No one knows for sure the significance for offering seven fishes, although there are numerous explanations for it. Some believe that seven fishes are served because it took God seven days to create the world, while others mention the Seven Hills of Rome. There is also the possibility that the seven fishes symbolize the seven sacraments in the Catholic Church, along with the seven sins."

    Read more:

    Me, being the odd one out, will not eat any of that, so I always come prepared with spaghetti and meatballs!  I'm sure my family hides their faces when they talk about "the one that doesn't eat seafood", but I have since had my position strengthened by my husband and new sister-in-law, who also don't partake!

    Also from Google Images

    Since I don't eat the fish, I also don't cook it!  Baked goods are my specialty.  When the party is at my home, my brother steps up to the plate to do most of the cooking.  And cooking always involves wine...a little for the food, a little for us.  (I'm so glad the baking is done ahead of time...)  Once everyone is officially there, the cocktail hour begins.  My sister brings her roasted peppers.  We make my mother's spinach dip in pumpernickel bread.  Shrimp cocktail...(I did say it was cocktail time).  And wine....

    Still a Google Image!

    With all this wine, you can see where some of the laughter comes in!

    First course - baked stuffed clams...second course - PASTA (my turn to eat!)...third course - lobster! (Don't care...I've already eaten!)  And, of     By now, four to five hours have passed, we are sated with food and drink...and everyone is sitting around waiting for that special moment! No its not that magical time when you look out the window to see the first snowflakes of winter twinkling in the moonlight. No, it's not Santa and his eight tiny reindeer gracefully landing on the roof with a sack full of everyone's dream gifts.....IT'S CASSATA TIME!!!!

    What is cassata????  Why does it induce laughter?  Stay tuned....!

    "I cook with wine...sometimes I even add it to the food." - W.C. Fields

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    "Deck The Halls With Lots of Holly....!"

    (Fa la la la la.....) I can't sing, but I can sure decorate a house for the holidays!  Back in the day when I had a new house and no furniture and accessories to fill it, I would go crazy with seasonal or holiday decorations.  Corn husks and pumpkins, yep!  3 large Christmas trees - no problem!  Banisters, curtain rods, grandfather clock - it was all dressed in greenery, baby's breath and bows.  I  had a girlfriend who came to my home in the middle of December.  She was so depressed because my house looked like Santa's Village and she hadn't bothered to do anything.  She took the next day off from work, went out and spent a ton of money AND hired someone to put up and decorate her tree.  I must have created a monster because for the next several years, her addiction grew to the point where the outside of her home had 200 fully lighted Christmas trees (I kid you not!) and an assortment of moving characters on her lawn.  Her electric bill was over $1000 a month!   Geesh, some people are just so competitive...!

    Fast forward a few decades...(too fast for my taste!)...Limited time and limited energy and a house full of furniture and accessories has curtailed my seasonal decorating, but I still manage to put up enough so the Grinch still thinks this is "Whoville".  The trick is to use fewer pieces on a larger scale, incorporate the accessories you have and try not to move all the furniture in the room to accommodate the Christmas tree!

    My very favorite tradition of the season is the tree decorating.  Every year on the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, my daughter and I drag the tree out of the attic.  While I prefer the look and smell of a real tree, after 20 years of cleaning up pine needles, I'm done!  I can put my tree up when I want to, it doesn't need watering, and it looks as good on the last day as it did on the first!  And just think of all the trees lives I've saved!

    Once the tree is out of the attic, we put in her favorite Christmas DVD - "The Santa Clause" with Tim Allen. The same movie every year.  Then the assembly begins - inserting each branch and making sure it is shaped correctly...stringing the lights and getting my arms scratched up from the branches... the strings of lights that work perfectly and then die on you as soon as they are on the tree...oh the memories!!  This year, I was spared all that!  My wonderful husband helped me pick out a new tree - 3 easy pieces and its pre-lit!!  I love my husband!

    Then I unwrap each ornament that I have been collecting for the past 30 years.  Some purchased on vacations, some received as gifts, some bought to commemorate a special event, others handmade when I had spare time.   As my daughter places them on the tree, I fondly remember each one.  Its a "Hallmark moment"! (sigh...)

    And then reality sets in...Once the tree is finished, so is my daughter.  "'Bye Ma, see you later!".  I spend the rest of the day running up and down two flights of stairs to the attic for the rest of the decorations.  I can't complain - it helps me work off the rest of the leftovers I ate from Thanksgiving!

    The chandeliers are now decked in pine boughs and bows, the mantle, with greenery and stockings.  The wreath is on the door....candles are lit...centerpieces are placed on tables and I am now thinking about wrapping the gifts!  So here is a glimpse of the house in its holiday finery.  (Forget the gifts...the stairs wore me out.) Until next time...

    "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."   - Antoine de Saint-Exupery