Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Original Italian Ragù with Fresh Tomatoes

Ragù is made very differently in each part of Italy.  Up north ragù is usually made with ground beef whereas in the south whole pieces of meat are typically used creating one dish used both as a first course (condiment for the pasta) and second course (involtini or "braciole" as typically referred to in the south).

Today I am happy to share with you our original family recipe for freshly made tomato sauce and Braciole that is a main dish served almost every Sunday in many many Southern Italian households, as well as my honey's favorite dish of all time.

I have to be completely honest with you, this is not one of my preferred dishes simply because I'm not a big fan of tomatoes but it is always a hit and never EVER gets left over...

Ok so for this recipe you will need a sauce strainer and if you have a pressure cooker you with significantly reduce the cooking time.

I'm not going to be too specific with quantities because this really is a "taste as you go" recipe based on many variable factors such as sweetness and acidity of the type of tomatoes you use, the type of meat you choose to use, etc. 

In this case I used 5 thinly sliced pieces of beef making 4 Braciole and cutting up the 5th slice into 4 sections adding it to the sauce as I will show you shortly.

Begin making the Braciole. Lay out the slices of meat adding a small piece of Pecorino Romano cheese to the center. Add a dash of salt and pepper to each slice.

Now fold the meat in half and fold in the sides eventually wrapping it up and holding it in place with a tooth pick as shown here:

Now chop up half of a medium size onion and add to the pot with about three table spoons of olive oil.

Let the meat simmer and make sure the heat is on low because you don't want to burn the onion, you simply want it to soften up and eventually melt into the sauce so the heat has to be very low.

You should see that the meat will slowly release water during cooking.

In a separate pot add the washed tomatoes cut up into pieces, the rest of the onion and a few fresh basil leaves.  I used 2 San Marzano tomatoes and 5 vine ripened tomatoes. Do not add any water, any oil or any salt. You are simply letting the tomatoes cook on their own and you will see that they too release lots of water once cooked. The tomatoes should cook on medium heat for no more than 10 minutes.

This is what they should look like after 10 minutes on medium heat.

Once cooked you want to filter them using the sauce strainer. Just add the tomatoes to the strainer and filter into a bowl making sure to scrape the rest of the pulp off the bottom.

Now you have your freshly made tomato sauce that you can add to the meat.

In the meantime the meat should have released some water and once you hear it start to simmer go ahead and add the sauce.

Make sure to stir everything together and add a half a cup of water. At this point go ahead and taste it to see if it needs any extra salt, pepper and if you like you can add some chili pepper to spice it up.

You can now put the lid on the pressure cooker and leave it cook for about 30 minutes.  If you don't have a pressure cooker you will have to cook on very low heat for a good 2 hours. The meat needs to really break down and become super tender in order to have a good ragu.

When the 30 minutes are up let the steam out from the valve, turn off the heat and open up to see what you have.

Look at that delicious ragù! If the sauce is too thick you can add another half cup of water and heat uncovered until you reach the right consistency.
Now you will find the meat breaks down very easily and is extremely tender. With this sauce you can dress any type of pasta and it will be fantastic, I assure you.

On another note, I bought a beautiful hutch for my dining room over the weekend!

Now since everybody who knows me knows that the term patience and I have absolutely nothing in common.... I had to take it home with me immediately and would in no way wait for transportation and the people at the furniture store were very nice and totally understood my immediate need for this hutch sooo they put the bottom half in my trunk and the top half on top on my car....securing it with...tape.

Yes, tape.

I was a little worried I have to admit ...but the guy was like "Lady, we've done this a million works...just go slow..."

And that I did...I went very VERY slow.

You gotta love southern Italy...




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Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday Contemplations - Commodities or Laziness?

I consider myself old fashioned and a traditionalist.  I very much value the importance of nesting and I love my home. I find great pleasure in decorating, cooking and making my house feel cozy and comfortable for me and for the people I love. I also would rather make something myself than go out and buy custom made from someone else. It's not because of the money, it's because I believe an object is of greater value if it is made with love. I am not a chef, I am not a designer or a seamstress, I am not an interior decorator, but what I do know how to do very well is put passion and love into the things I do. I am Willing to learn and it saddens me when I see others act entitled and lazy and don't have the desire to learn.  People today are just so used to buying, buying, buying everything and once they're done with it just chuck it out and buy a new one. I'll buy it...I'll buy it...they say.

Learn how to make something! Don't be afraid of a drill or a hammer, learn how to use it! You want a piece of pie? Roll up your sleeves and get out a cook book ...  It's not that hard. And if it doesn't turn out right the first time, next time it'll turn out better!

It just frustrates me so.. I feel like everything has just gotten so easy and there is a general lack of contentment with life and the resources we have available to us.  When I think back on what our ancestors used to do...rigorously by hand... I feel like such a spoiled little shit.

My Italian grandmother had 10 children and she made her own mattresses for all 10 children every year (as did most Italian families in the early 20th century). Do you have any idea how difficult it is to make a mattress by hand...with sheep wool...and then beat it with a stick to make it more comfortable? And having to do this for households with 10 or more people?


Or washing mountains of clothes by hand.... and yet I complain about not having a dryer! Yes, you read that correctly.....I do NOT have a dryer... however I am seriously trying to negotiate with my sweetheart on this one...

Or make bread kneaded by hand at the crack of dawn and baked in a wood burning stove EVERY about a work out!

By the way, no bread compares or will ever compare to sourdough bread that is baked in a wood burning stove...

Since then, we have made such tremendous progress and even the average middle class family can have access to every day commodities that these women pictured above could never even fathom possible. But yet they continued on with their every day, strenuous chores and were able to make the most beautiful things by putting so much passion and love in everything they made.  Today when we look at a hand made linen tablecloth, it doesn't have the same value as it did back then. Why? Because most people, especially the younger generation don't realize the effort that was put into that simple hand made tablecloth. They don't realize exactly the quality and value of the fabric and why it is so precious. 

If I have children one day, I want to make sure that they value all that is around them and they put the same passion in all that they do as I do. 

I get so annoyed with spoiled  and arrogant people.  They get under my skin so much that it makes me batty. 

To those people I say: be thankful for what you have, but most of all be proactive, be resourceful and thrifty.  Thrifty doesn't mean cheap either. There are so many resources available today to be able to learn new things it's astonishing. The World Wide Web is packed with anything and everything you could possibly need and more and for that I am so grateful. I Google everything LOL...Surely I exaggerate at times but I feel a sense of security knowing that at the click of a mouse I can find out whatever I want. It's there for me. 

Think for a moment at the immigrants traveling on the boat to America with their families. They left all they had and spent their life savings to jump on a boat and cross the Atlantic Ocean not knowing where they were going, how long it would take them to arrive, how much food to bring, what clothes to wear, what to do if their children got sick in the middle of the Ocean, no one to call, no navigator, no Coast Guard to help them if anything happened, you get the point... Oh the COURAGE to do something like that!  

This photo above is a picture of an Italian immigrant family arriving in Ellis Island, New York.  The mother in the photo looks so old yet she's probably in her early 40's. They had the courage to make that journey for the future of their families. Without our ancestors who made everything by hand, woke up at the ass crack of dawn to prepare for the day, work hard and put food on the table, we wouldn't have all the commodities that we have today. 

For this I am grateful.

Have a great weekend my dear friends...and make something spectacular!



Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ruffles, Wedding Dresses & Small Bathroom Dilemmas

Hellooooooo!! Long time no see! How has everyone been? Hope all is good. I have been busy busy busy with a bunch of stuff and I have so much to catch up on with everyone's blogs.  I will be over to visit you all soon, promise. 

So what have I been up to? Well I've been working my tuckus off so that's why I haven't had much time to write but other than that I've been switching things up around the house...namely my main bathroom but I'll get to that in a bit.

I've also been going to the beach FINALLY! It's turned into summer weather here fortunately so this is where I was last weekend....

This is a beach in Brindisi, Puglia. The beaches in Italy are the best in June, beginning July and September. August is a mess and the beaches are jam packed full of people. But June.... ahhhh pure bliss! Not many people... the water is crystal clear...the sand is clean and white and the weather is juuust right.

Don't be jealous now!

I got to see my beautiful cousin and best friend Francesca while I was there and we caught up on so many things. I really needed some girl time and it was wonderful seeing her again.

We grew up together and when we were little we would always dress up like twins telling everyone we were sisters. We used to write letters back and forth when I was in the States and then in the summer I used to fly over to Italy with my family and we would spend June, July and August together. She knows everything about me and is the friend that I go to every time I need some advice.  She's the best! 

This was her on her wedding day. I of course was the Maid of Honor :-)

See that dress? That was hand made and designed by my Aunt Pina. She's pretty amazing. She has sewn and designed all the wedding dresses in our family as wedding gifts. She's made about 15 wedding dresses designing them all as couture gowns. My cousin Francesca's above was the last one she sewed and this one below was one of the first.

Beautiful, right?

Soooo I sew sometimes.....

like obviously not wedding dresses or any type of dresses for that matter but I can make ruffle curtains :-)

Which kind of looks like a wedding dress....

Ok so I was obsessed with these shower curtains for my bathroom and of course I couldn't find them anywhere in Italy and buying them online would cost me much more on shipping than they are actually worth so I decided to take on the challenge and make them myself. 

It's really not that difficult and if you have a cotton bed sheet to use you can also save a lot of money on fabric (shhh...secret). 

You will need a base that will be used to sew the ruffles on.  I used the valence that I already had on my window. 

You will then need strips of fabric that you will use to make the ruffles. 

Fold the strips as shown in the photo below. 

Now set the sewing machine to a low tension level (I set mine to 1) and sew along the fold.

Make sure to leave your thread long before beginning because you will be using that thread to pull the fabric creating the ruffles. I'll show you in a bit what I mean..

Now sew all the way down the fabric. Fold it over and take the long thread you had previously left out and pull ONE of the two strings lightly creating the ruffles all along the fold. 

Now you should find you have created your first layer of ruffles. 

Fold over the top part and this is what you should have.

That's pretty much it. Now it's all repetition. Make the rest of your layers.  I used three layers for my curtain. Once you have your layers, position them on the base fabric and space them out so that everything lines up nicely. 

Here is my first layer positioned and this is what my final layer looked like positioned below.

Now that everything is in place, use pins to hold the ruffles on the bottom piece and sew in place along the ruffled line. 


In case you're curious...this is what the rest of the bathroom looks like. 

I'm very happy with how it turned out and I didn't spend a dime! 

I decided not to go with the top to bottom ruffles on my shower curtain just cause I thought it might all be a bit too ruffly :-) so I just added a top layer. 

I made the valence for my powder room also, as well as a cover for my washing machine. 

Most average Italian homes have a washing machine in their bathrooms...which I HATE!  I would have loved to have a separate laundry room but it just isn't possible, so I tried to hide it as best I could. 



I added a cabinet door I found at the IKEA clearance section for 3 bucks and used it as a "table top" for the washing machine. Then I added a cover that matched the curtains and I am pretty content with the end result I must say...

Moving on to FOOD....

What have I been cooking lately?

Not too much...but I have been obsessing over these oven baked Parmesan asparagus. SOOO GOOD and so easy to make! Just coat with some olive oil, sprinkle some parmesan cheese and bake for about 30 minutes or until nice and crispy. Trust me they will be gone in no time! 

I also made this delicious chicken lemon scaloppine which was really really good and low cal. I'll do a separte post on this recipe.

That's pretty much all I have to share for now.

I'll be back soon with my original Italian Braciole sweetheart's favorite dish!

Take care all and have a great week ahead!


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