Category Archives: American Regional Cuisine



Welcome to the end of the year holidays in the USA.  First up is Thanksgiving, the 3d Thursday of November.  Personally, it’s my favorite holiday.  It’s about being thankful for just about anything.  I like that premise.  I’m thankful for you all reading and following my blog and my social media pages.  Thank you all. Creamed onions, you like them?  There’s 2 camps out there I think.  There’s Camp “THEY TASTE LIKE WALLPAPER PASTE” and there’s Camp “WE HAVE THEM EVERY YEAR AND LOVE THE TRADITION”.  Ok, there’s no scientific proof of any of that…lol. It’s just my own personal casestudy.  I’m a newcomer to CREAMED ONIONS as part of the Thanksgiving Day Dinner. Prior to Thanksgiving 1975 I had never seen or heard of them.  I know, 1975, Ancient history.  Let me continue. My wife’s family made them.  They were totally foreign to me.  And she only lived 15 minutes away from me!! I loved creamed anything but each year I thought, this dish is pretty tasteless.  It could use A FOOD OBSESSION MAKEOVER. Using the traditional base of this dish one can add some enhancements which now turn it into a flavorful side with some personality.  Mustard and Dill are very complimentary especially with the sweet onions and the cream sauce.  After some experimenting with different combos (one included bacon or smoked ham but was too overpowering) I came up with this one.  I hope it becomes a treasured part of your Holiday cooking.  Works well with Roast Turkey, Game, Chicken, Beef, Pork, Lamb, even Seafood.  Let’s cook.  This will make enough for 8 sides. 














In a large heavy saucepan bring the water to a boil and add 1 1/2 tbs of the salt.  Add the onions.  In 12-15 minutes they will be tender.  DRAIN.  When they are cool enough to touch trim off the root ends and pop the onions out of their skins.  A sharp pairing knife works best for this.  Lay them out on a tray to dry.   

In that same heavy saucepan melt the butter over low heat.  Add the flour and dry mustard, and allspice.  Whisk until it starts to sizzle and let it cook for 2 minutes.  Add the Worchestershire and whisk. Now the remaining flour, Dijon, and then slowly whisk in the milk.  Bring the heat down to low and let this cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Keep the heat on low and add the onions.  Cook slowly for another 10 minutes.  Give a few frequent stirs.  Onions should be tender and the sauce should be thick and reduced. NOW add the dill and taste for seasoning adding any salt as necessary and give a good grinding of black pepper.  Let this sit for a few hours before gently reheating and serving.  Or make it ahead of time and gently reheat after you’ve let it come to room temperature.


20258328_10210202426719502_1348156829950459464_nLiving in the Garden State (that would be New Jersey)Summer here produces some of the country’s finest produce, namely Tomatoes and Corn.  Our markets and backyards are bursting with this bounty and they BEG to be used in many ways.  I try to be creative keeping true to cuisines and flavor profiles.  This Warm Tomato and Corn Shrimp Salad came about while wondering what to cook one summer’s night.  The Shrimp, for this dish to be a success have to be fresh and US Wild Caught.  Our markets are getting more and more of these shrimp for those of us who aren’t lucky enough to live where the Shrimp boats operate. Many of my local (Central Jersey Shore) supermarkets and seafood markets carry the U.S. caught Wild Shrimp.  They just are better looking…better tasting..better for you.  In Asbury Park near me is Local 130, a wonderful fishmonger who specializes in LOCAL fish and seafood as well as wonderfully well sourced and sustainable product from other U.S. locations.  These Shrimp came from off the coast of South Carolina.  Like little sweet crisp sea candies. The shrimp is sauteed then tossed with lightly sauteed corn off the cob and diced ripe tomatoes.  Then a dressing is poured over the whole thing that’s been infused with fresh Rosemary and its all tossed together and served on a platter over baby greens.  I like the Baby Arugula.  Baby Spinach or Baby Kale work too.  Let’s make some Shrimp Salad now!!

2 lbs shelled and deveined US WILD CAUGHT SHRIMP.  The 16-20 size is what I use for this.

seasoned flour (salt, pepper, paprika)

Olive Oil

2 cups corn cut off the cob

2 medium sized ripe Tomatoes, medium dice

1/2 fine diced Sweet or Vidalia Onion

2 tbs unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups GREEK YOGHURT, drained

1 1/2 TBS, honey

1 TBS Finely diced FRESH ROSEMARY…do not use dried.

1 TBS olive oil

2 TBS White Balsamic Vinegar or Apple Cider Vinegar

Pinch of ground Cayenne

Kosher Salt and Black pepper to taste

Baby Greens


First make the dressing.  Whisk together the Yoghurt, honey, 1/2 the rosemary, 1 tbs olive oil, the vinegar, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste.  Reserve.

Lightly dust the shrimp in the flour, shake off the excess and saute’ in a wide pan with about 1/8 inch olive oil.  Saute in batches, adding more olive oil as necessary.  Cook only 2-3 minutes on first side, then 2 minutes on the other, or until both sides are golden.  Reserve and drain on paper towels.  Add the butter to the pan and when it’s melted saute’ first the onion, then add the corn and tomatoes, and 1/2 the rosemary, season with salt and pepper.  Cook this for at least 10 minutes on medium.  In a large mixing bowl add the shrimp and toss with the corn and tomato mixture.  When blended gently blend in the dressing.  When well blended let it sit for 10 minutes.  Using a large platter, make a nice bed of greens on it and then pile the shrimp salad on top.  Garnish with fresh rosemary and serve.  Feeds 4-5.




165994_3211681293308_1441686714_n (1)“Summertime…..and the living is easy….”.   My friends, Summer is my favorite of all seasons.  It’s when everything is in bloom, in season, pools, beaches, swimming, lounging outside, Summer is my season.  The foods of Summer reflect its heat and sunshine.  Tomatoes, corn, Watermelon just to name a few are some of the reasons I love summer’s food so much.  There’s one American sandwich that is the epitome of Summer for me.  The American Lobster Roll.  Now please, this is not a blog that entertains the silly “my style is better than your style” nonsense.  How can you say they are not ALL GOOD???  Succulent North Atlantic Steamed Lobster meat, coarsely chopped and given a bath of warm butter or a light coating of Mayonnaise lovingly piled into a Top Split New England style Hot Dog Bun.  The bun is toasted on its sides in more butter.  Maine, Connecticut, they all have their “styles”. I suggest you try them all.  Why does one have to “win”?  However I’m most partial to the lightly mayo’d one, but would be happy with the warm butter as well.  I generally make them in the more Maine style. With a touch of Mayo.  There used to be no “green” involved if it were to be called a Maine Lobster Roll but only a few months ago I was up in Kennebunkport (A Lobster Roll and Maine Seafood Central) and in two different spots, the Lobster rolls did contain a bit o’green.  Some lettuce on one…some chives and celery on the other.  Let’s cut to the chase.  To make 4 Lobster Rolls I steam 4 Lobsters.  You see, once you start to crack the cooled steamed lobsters open, you’ll be coarsely chopping the claw and tail meat and popping chunks mindlessly into your mouth before they get into the bowl.  I’ve done the research.  Trust me.

Steam 4 1 1/2  lb Lobsters.  Let them completely cool before cracking them open and removing the meat.  Once the meat is removed, pick over for any shells and coarsely chop.  Reserve in a bowl.

Whisk together the following:

3/4 cup Hellman’s Mayo (this is my version remember, this is what I use)

Juice of 1/2 Lemon, freshly squeezed  (for the love of all that’s sacred in food, NEVER BOTTLE LEMON JUICE)

Pinch of Kosher or Sea Salt

1 celery stalk, finely minced

1 tsp fresh chopped chives (this is entirely optional, if you find this offensive in your lobster roll, forget you even read this …LOL)

Blend all this then add the lobster and blend well.  Let this sit in the fridge for 1 hour.

The rolls, New England Top Split Hot Dog Rolls.  I don’t live in New England,  I live at the Jersey shore.  And I used to live in Staten Island NYC.  And in both places I was able to get the top split rolls.  They are essential to making this a Maine or New England Style Lobster Roll versus making a Lobster Salad Sandwich.  They have Flat sides.  Toast both sides of these rolls in butter.  Good salted butter.  Sort of like the way you would toast the bread on a grilled cheese sandwich.

Let’s assemble….

Load up 4 rolls with the Lobster mix.  That’s it.  Now you can get fussy or creative but the more you add to this the further away from the traditional Maine style you’ll be getting.  I’ve seen recipes that use paprika, capers, olives, mesclun or other greens, tarragon, parsley, etc.  My version?  Basic.  Pretty much.  Let the Lobster be the star…oh sure, Lobster Tarragon Salad is wonderful and delicious and i Love it on a Kaiser Roll, but it’s not a Maine Lobster Roll.  There’s a little uniqueness about it.  I’ll stick with that.


18765994_10209606262095759_5350010286680538053_nHere’s my recipe for a tasty “jam” that takes advantage of the sweet small cherry or grape tomatoes and smoky salty porky American Bacon.  Throw Sweet Vidalia onions in to the mix and you have my TOMATO, BACON AND ONION JAM.  A Sweet and Sour mix of heavenly flavors that really work on grilled meats like Burgers, Hot Dogs,  and even tasty over a block of cheese or sliced cheeses on a crouton or cracker.  The trick is to be patient, the bacon needs to fully cook or you have rubbery, wobbly unwanted surprises in the jam.  Nobody wants that.  Let make some JAM! My favorite application of this jam is on a cheeseburger, as pictured above.

1 lb.   CHOPPED AMERICAN BACON, some like thick cut for this, i do not. Regular cut is what I use.

2 pts. CHOPPED CHERRY OR GRAPE TOMATOES, tossed with some Kosher Salt to taste





pinch of Allspice or Cinnamon






Use your heaviest bottomed pot (always a good idea when cooking anything with lots of sugar, helps prevent burning).  Add the bacon over medium heat, stirring frequently to evenly cook the bacon.  After 10 minutes your bacon should be at the proper texture,  remove the bacon and add the butter.  Stir.  When the butter is melted add the onions.  Slow cook these stirring frequently for 10 minutes.  Then add the Tomatoes.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper and continue to cook until the tomatoes soften.  Should take 20 minutes.  Now add the all the other ingredients except the maple syrup and rosemary.  Bring to a boil.  Now add the syrup and rosemary/thyme, stir and simmer until it’s thickened, about 30 minutes.  Stir frequently.  Remove from heat and let it COMPLETELY COOL DOWN.  Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly.  Store in the fridge for up to 2-3 weeks on the BOTTOM SHELF.  That’s the coldest part of your fridge.   ENJOY!!!


fullcamera 552

WHO LOVES GRILLED MEATS?  I see lots of raised hands out there so this blogpost is just for you.  Ever have a SPIEDIE??  Well it’s time you did and they are extremely easy to make at home.  They are an ItalianAmerican version of a typical skewered meat/poultry dish popular around the world, but in this fashion it’s typical of the Mediterranean version.  SPIEDO is the Italian Word for KITCHEN COOKING SPIT.  italian meats threaded on skewers in some fashion generally take the name Spiedini which has different regionalities to it depending on the location in Italy or Sicily.Maybe you’re familiar with SPIEDINI, the small rolls of filled meat/poultry threaded with onions and bay leaves, sometimes slices of Italian Bread.  Or you’ve probably had the more well known Greek SOUVLAKIA which is REAL close to ItalianAmerican Spiedies with a few less marinade ingredients and the Greeks us TZATZIKI sauce and a Pita.  Spiedies just get more of the marinade on them and can be rolled up into a slice of American White Bread or an Italian long roll.

So what makes these Mediterranean treats ItalianAmerican? Let’s go back to the old country for a moment.  In the ABRUZZO region a popular dish is cubes of marinated skwered lamb called SPIDUCC’..or SPIDDUCCI. In True ITALIAN fashion each section of the ABRUZZO has local terms for this dish.  ARROSTICINI, ‘RUSTELLE, ARRUSTELLE, all pretty much are the same thing.   The term SPIEDIE though is pure ItalianAmerican.   The cubes are marinated in a simple dressing of Olive Oil, Red Wine Vinegar (PUT DOWN THAT BALSAMIC!!! IT COMES FROM UMBRIA NOT THE ABRUZZO!! Lidia Bastianich says it best, foods from an area taste best when you use the ingredients from that area/region. Balsamic while delicious is not a substitute for all vinegar dishes, there, I’ve said it.  I know, in America it’s used on everything.  My purpose in  blogging is to give you the real deal, or close to it.  If you use balsamic, just don’t tell me LOL.), garlic or onion, peperoncino, salt, lemon juice, herbs like mint, oregano, basil, bay.  The lamb cubes would be marinated for as long as possible, threaded onto metal skewers and slow roasted over hot coals.    One of the world’s most popular ways of cooking meats yet still amazing wherever you have it.   The American connection comes in via Ellis Island during the great Italian Immigration from 1880s-1930s.  Many paesani from the Abruzzo settled in the area of Central New York State around Binghamton NY.  As is the norm they brought with them dishes from their homeland and adapted them to the new surroundings.  Lamb was first used but in the USA immigrants found ALL meats were easy to get and well priced so in true American fashion varieties of meats and poultry were used to make these Arrosticini or Spidducci which turned into the ItalianAmerican word, SPIEDIES.  Legend hotly contests who the creator of the first one in a restaurant was and who had the first “sauce” for them, but the Iacovelli family of Endicott, NY near Binghamton  in the 1920’s-1930’s gets the most credit.  Plenty of other stories about who and what but that’s where an Italian regional dish made the jump into ItalianAmerican cuisine.  These SPIEDIES were marinated in the cook’s version of SPIEDIE Sauce, and grilled, then with a piece of American White Bread (see, this is what makes things ItalianAmerican too) you roll the bread around the spiedie and pull it off into the bread.  Instant SPIEDIE SANDWICH. Italian Rolls used also.  Now let’s get your charcoal grill stoked and ready for grilling, or prep that gas grill and get this Summer on the road with a platter of SPIEDIES for your dining pleasure!!!

2 LBS MEDIUM CUBED MEAT/POULTRY..Pork, Lamb, Beef, Chicken, Turkey
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup LEMON JUICE, not the bottled stuff, use fresh Lemons
3 finely minced GARLIC cloves
2 Bay Leaves


you will need to make 2 batches of the marinade.

SALT and BLACK PEPPER, to taste (be generous with it)

LONG HEAVY DUTY WOODEN SKEWERS (soaked overnight in water), or METAL SKEWERS

Double the marinade recipe and blend well.  Let this sit at room temperature for 1 hour.  Now separate in equal amounts.  Cover and reserve one batch for serving with the finished Spiedies.  Add the meat to the other batch and make sure all the cubes are in the marinade.  Add the squeezed cut lemons to the bowl and cover. Marinade in the fridge optimally overnight, or no less than 3 hours. Remove the marinating meat from the fridge and LET IT COME TO ROOM TEMPERATURE.  Thread the cubes on the skewers, depending on the length of them make sure to leave some blank space at the tip and the end of the skewers.  On a well oiled medium heat grill start cooking them lining them up without touching each other and give them at least  7 minutes per side, or more, esp with the chicken/turkey.  You can rotate them a few times to get them more evenly grilled.  Discard the first marinade and use a little of the 2d batch to baste certainly using a new bowl. Keep the rest of the marinade for serving with the finished dish.   Remove the finished Spiedies from the grill and place on a platter. Have the extra Marinade and sliced bread or rolls handy to wrap around the SPIEDIES, PULL OFF, add more marinade and ENJOY.  Makes enough for 6-8 servings.

In the Summer an Annual SPIEDIE FEST is held in Central NY…here’s the link:


Happy Cooking!!!  Oh yes, you can buy Spiedie Sauce already made.  Or not.  Make your own.






1907996_284906375011003_4427021404753604595_nIn the city of Louisville, Kentucky on the first Saturday of May each year the horserace known as the KENTUCKY DERBY is held.  It’s pretty much become a national event but no where is it more celebrated than in Louisville.  I remember going there 3 days after the event a few years ago to visit clients and remember all the decorations and banners that were still up for the “RUN FOR THE ROSES”.  In true A FOOD OBSESSION style I came home with a few new food ideas and some local cookbooks.  I also made my way over to the BROWN HOTEL to have the American classic sandwich, the HOT BROWN, named for it’s location of birth.  A Hot Brown is a broiled open faced sliced Turkey breast sandwich on thick white bread with Mornay Sauce, Parmigiano, Tomato and Bacon.  It’s amazing.  That trip introduced me to another Louisville cuisine creation, the DEBRY PIE.  Let’s get something out of the way first.  Unless you buy one from Kern’s Kitchen, the business which invented it in 1950 by Walter and Leaudra Kern at their Melrose Inn , Prospect , Kentucky, you cannot call it DERBY PIE.  In 1968 they smartly trademarked the name and while there’s no crime in creating a pie that is similar, you can NEVER call it DERBY PIE. So there you go.  Instead call it anything you like, but since it’s part of Kentucky Derby food culture  I will call it KENTUCKY DERBY WALNUT AND CHOCOLATE PIE.  Whew. Now I’m safe.  The Kern’s have sued over 25 times to protect there trademarked name so remember, you don’t want to be the next victim.  LOL.  The pie is sort of a mashup of a southern Pecan pie with chocolate and a Toll House Pie, sort of.  The recipe I use came from the Washington Post:

  • One 8- or 9-inch unbaked pie shell
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely ground
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Fresh whipped cream for garnish(optional)
  • 2 tablespoons Kentucky Bourbon


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have an 8 or 9-inch pie plate at hand.

Place the unbaked pie shell in the plate. Sprinkle the bottom of the pie shell evenly with chocolate chips.

Whisk together the eggs, 1 cup of sugar and flour in a mixing bowl. Gradually mix in the butter, then add the nuts and vanilla extract and bourbon. Carefully pour mixture over the chocolate chips, in a circular motion so it does not disturb the chips. Bake for 1 hour, until the filling is set.

Should be served warmed up…top with the Whipped Cream, over even better, which a good Vanilla Ice Cream….a drizzle of hot chocolate sauce, maybe whipped cream too, up to you.  It’s delicious..and it’s fantastic all on it’s own, it’s rich.  HAPPY KENTUCKY DERBY DAY!!!


tarteflambvesuvio 011Italian American cuisine is so widespread through the USA and often there are subtle or major differences in the same dish based on the region.   Sometimes it has to do with ingredient availability and often it’s just the style made popular by a chef or cook in a regional ItalianAmerican restaurant borrowing from their own home kitchens.  Such is the case with the Classic ItalianAmerican dish, CHICKEN VESUVIO.  At it’s base is a bonafide Southern Italian chicken preparation.  Chickens were not a popular food  as they were more prized for their egg laying.  Chicken cutlets were definitely not historical to Southern Italy’s cuisine.  The heritage chicken dishes were usually stewed or slow roasted dishes which helped tenderize the chicken’s meat after it was no longer producing enough eggs for the family.  Think Chicken alla Cacciatora…or Chicken roasted in a pan with a strong acid (to help make the meat more tender) like Wine, Lemon, or Vinegar.  Into that pan herbs that were growing wild or around the house  would be added with a good amount of onion or garlic..sometimes both.  Potatoes and sometimes other vegetables would be added as the chicken baked and it was all mixed with lard or olive oil.  I don’t think there’s an ItalianAmerican who didn’t grow up on a version of this dish.  Scarpariello is a version of this dish.  Vesuvio is a version of this dish.  Why Chicago? Why Vesuvio?  As with all foods this one is steeped in many legends.  I’ll just give what I think could be the reason.  In the 1930’s there was a restaurant in Chicago called VESUVIO and many fingers point to this dish being served on the menu.  It became popular and in time became a Chicago dish made in restaurants in that city both Italian and non-Italian.  One of the most popular versions of the dish is made with the addition of peas.  That’s how I first had it in Chicago and that’s the version I love the most.  I’ve also had it with Mushrooms and/or Artichoke Hearts, but I had the version with peas most often.  All versions start off with searing/browning the chicken in hot olive oil first.  This is key because that pan frying creates a specific taste.  Then the chicken is transferred to a baking dish with all the other ingredients and baked till tender.  My recipe is pretty much an adaptation from the Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse version.

Serves 4-6                                                   takes 2 hours



8 CLOVES OF GARLIC Gently bruised

2 CLOVES OF GARLIC, finely minced

1 5-6 lb ROASTING CHICKEN cut into 8-10 pieces









Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.  Peel the potatoes and cut them into wedges.  Heat some of the olive oil in a large Skillet and salt the potatoes.  When the skillet is hot add the potatoes and get them golden on all sides.  Add 1/2 the whole garlic and let this cook for only another minute.  REmove the garlic and potatoes to a platter.  Add more olive oil.  Now Season the chicken with salt, granulated garlic, 1/2 the oregano or herbs, black pepper. Fry the chicken just until golden on all sides, Takes about 8 minutes. Then deglaze the pan with the Wine.   Let this cook for 10 minutes, making sure you’ve scraped all the brown bits up from the bottom of the pan.  Pour the Chicken into a baking pan and add the potatoes and all the other ingredients except for the peas.  Roast this until the chicken reaches 155 degrees F.  Takes about 40 minutes.  At the end, add the peas and blend in with the dish.  Cook for another 5 minutes.  Make sure the potatoes are tender as well.  Baste the dish with the pan juices before you serve.  The temperature and time should ensure you not losing juices in the pan BUT if it looks that it might happen then add more wine or stock.  A salad or a nice platter of sauteed greens goes great with this ItalianAmerican Classic.  Happy Cooking.

HAWAIIAN COMFORT FOOD. The Hawaiian Plate Lunch. 

Aloha readers and friends!!! Blogging from the road for the next few weeks on the Big Island of Hawaii. Flew out on Friday morning which after our Kayak found cheapest flights meant 2 stops (remember. Cheap means you have to eventually pay for it somehow. Lol ) we landed in Kona at 6:45pm. Translate that to our real East coast time of 11:45pm. Basically a very long day as we left our home at 4:30am. Too tired this morning to do the math. Lol.  However my food centric sites were determined to find spot to eat after we settled in.  There’s no late night eating here so we were crunched for time.  About 15 minutes from hotel by shuttle is a  shopping and eating complex.  We decided on the Food court because it made sense. Ippy’s Hawaiian Barbecue caught my eye. Perfect!! The first item on the menu was the Hawaiian Plate. This is a traditional island food that’s more popular as a lunch usually known as the Plate Lunch.  I fell in love with it during previous visits to Hawaii. What’s not to love???  A Hawaiian meat or fish choice always served with 2 scoops of steamed rice and a scoop of American macaroni salad (the elbow macaroni and Mayo style). Here at Ippy’s they make their plates with 2 choices.  What to do??  Here’s my thinking process. In my head what do I think is most Hawaiian. Best answered by a Hawaiian but this mainlanders decided the Kalua Pork Is going to be my “most Hawaiian” choice.  This is the pork that’s traditional slow cooked and then shredded. The smoke from the cooking process and some Hawaiian salt are the general ingredients. Forvmy other choice I went with the beef teriyaki.  Superb. Thin shaved beef cooked with Teriyaki. BOOM. They were served in a bed of shredded cabbage. Topped with green onions. Aloha. This type of Plate is also known as a Mixed Plate since it has more than one entree. Now what do I really love about this Plate besides its components and that I’m on vacations???  Surely that makes everything taste better.  There’s an amazing story behind the origins of the dish. You know me. I love immigrant stories. It is said that in Order to cheaply feed the immigrant Japanese girls workers families devises this sort of Bento box meal that could be eaten in the fields and was heavy on the carbs to keep the works full of energy. As Hawaii became more of a melting pot various groups like the Chinese, Filipinos, Portuguese, Koreans All added their touches to the plate’s cast of characters. It’s evolved into the one of Hawaii’s iconic dishes. Now for all you who are horrified by that carbload in the dish that should make you understand why it is the way it is.  It reflects historical economics and ethnicity.  Fantastic.  Try making a Plate Lunch at home.  Grilled teriyaki fish. Chicken. Pork. Beef. Shredded pork. Shrimp. Linguica. Kalbi. Just some of the entree choices. But the 2 scoops of steamed white rice and American Macaroni Salad are constant. Enjoy a taste of Hawaii in your kitchen.  Download that Don Ho on your Spotify app. Mahalo!!!



American cuisine is a mashup of practically every food culture on Earth.  There’s nowhere else that can boast so many layers of immigrant cuisines that make up the very complex notion of the United States of America.  Take one immigrant group..the Italians.  They came in droves to the USA in search of better lives and many times fleeing abject poverty and oppression.  Wherever the Italian settled in the USA there was lots of employment and it  certainly did not stop in NYC or the other usual suspects.  Italian immigrants settled all over the US and one midwest city, St. Louis, Missouri was certainly no exception.  Italians from the far North, from Milan and Lombardia  were the majority but there were sizable immigrations from Sicily and other parts of the south.  The Milanese settled in the area still called the Hill and the southern Italians settled along the river.  Eventually the river area was fully claimed for warehouse and businesses and the old Italian enclave there was destroyed and scattered the rest of St.Louis’ downtown Italians around the area.  Notable St.Louis Italians are Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola, American Baseball greats.  Many of the displaced Italians moved up to the Hill which is still a great place to walk around and sample some of St.Louis’ particular brand of Italian-American food.  Like the TOASTED RAVIOLI.  It’s just a fried ravioli served with sauce.  I’m sure you’ve seen them in places other than St. Louis, but here they are called TOASTED rather than Fried (which is what you’ll see elsewhere). They are generally a locally or house made meat, parmigiano, spinach and other vegetable filled small square.  One of the finest versions, and the one used in many of St.Louis’ eateries is made by the Mama Toscano Company.  They contain an old family recipe of Beef, pork, spinach, carrots, onions, celery, Parmigiano and eggs and they are fantastic.  For those outside of St.Louis you can order on line.

Back to the Toasted Ravioli story…During an evening in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s the new cook at Oldani’s, now called Mama’s on the Hill mistakenly dropped some ravioli into hot oil. The owner tried to salvage them with some Parmigiano on top…and so the story goes, and so the legend goes.  I love to have my Toasted Ravioli (they are on EVERY MENU in St.Louis, Italian and non-Italian restaurants) at Charlie Gitto’s “Pasta House” downtown.  It’s the epitome of an old school Italian American restaurant.  It’s a movie set.  It’s just perfect.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Now doesn’t that say old school?  Family owned, local workers and a mix of traditional Italian American food with the St.Louis twist.  Meat Ravioli with that greens and beef filling are more “Northern”.  To “Milanese” a dish is to flour, bread and fry it.  So you see those characteristics here in the “toasted” ravioli.  The addition of the Marinara to dip in is most likely a Southern Italian influence.  Together they make a fantastic appetizer, a party food, a first course or an entree.  More importantly the dish is a living legacy of an immigrant story coming to the United States.  Let go to St.Louis now and make some TOASTED RAVIOLI.

SERVES: 4-6                                TIME: 45 minutes-1 hour

3/4 to 1 pound small  square  FROZEN MEAT Ravioli
3 large  organic eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk or half n half
2 cups  plain breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh  Italian parsley
1/2 tsp. oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Mix the cheese with the breadcrumbs, oregano and parsley, and a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

1/2 cup sifted flour
Marinara sauce, for dipping. about 3 cups

Lay out in pans or trays one with flour and one with the breadcrumbs. Dust the ravioli with the flour, then into the egg letting excess run off, then fully coat in the breadcrumbs completely covering them.  Lay them out on a baking tray.  When completely done place them into the fridge to stay cold.  Heat a heavy pan with high sides, a cast iron pan works great for this, with about 2 inches of oil.  Bring to 400 degrees if you have a thermometer or test with a cube of bread.  It will “dance”  (i love and start to toast immediately if the oil is at the right temperature.  Make sure you have pans with paper towels or racks over them and take the ravioli out of the fridge.  Now start frying.  This should take about 1 1/2 minutes total..and they need to be turned after the first minute to make sure they don’t burn.  Only add about 5 at a time or you will reduce the oil temperature too much and then they don’t cook evenly. Serve with extra chopped parsley and Parmigiano over them along with a small cup of warm Marinara.


There…done.  Just like Charlie Gitto’s, Mama’s, Kemoll’s, and all the other classic and new restaurants in St.Louis do.  Enjoy this recipe.  SIZE IS EVERYTHING.  Stick with the meat…stick with the regular square size, not the big round ones or the tiny soup ones.


Buon Appetito!!





applesauce cake 001

It’s almost sinful to call something OLD FASHIONED today but I’ll gladly use that term to describe this sinfully delicious APPLESAUCE CAKE I made.  What makes it so good?  Attention to sticking to a tried and true formula that will spark all your memories of applesauce cakes of your youth.  If you don’t have that shared history it’s time to make Applesauce cake memories of your own.   As always I reach into that memory box of mine and pull down from it’s shelf the aroma of my mother’s Applesauce cake.  This isn’t technically hers because I never knew how she made it.  Mom had lots of apple cake recipes.  Crisps, PanDowdies, Cobblers, Pies, Loaves, Cakes.  Some were a blend of All purpose flour and other pantry staples,  some were part of that BISQUICK family of cakes, others were simply using a commercial Spice Cake mix and adding apples.  Her Applesauce cake, unlike mine, was made in those Round Tube Pans.  Peppery, spicy, warm and aromatic, she sometimes added diced apples to applesauce batter and would glaze it.  There’s an idea,  a glazed one but I’d add diced crystallized ginger to the top.  Back to the style that I’s baked in a rectangular pan and cut into squares.  It can be frosted, left plain, glazed, or a simple dusting of powdered sugar.   Out here in Monmouth County New Jersey where I live we have a few really nice “farm” and gourmet markets with in house bakeries.  One of them,  Delicious Orchards of Colts Neck N.J. makes a delicious apple spice cake with a white icing on it that is just about one of my favorites.  If you want to make homemade applesauce for this cake recipe I am giving you, this is the Delicious Orchards recipe:

  • 16 to 18 Granny Smith, unpeeled, apples
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 1 TBS lemon juice
  • Nutmeg and cinnamon (optional)

Quarter apples, remove core and cut each piece again. In a large saucepan, add apples and bring to a boil, stirring to prevent burning. Reduce heat and cook until apples are soft, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If applesauce seems too thick, add more water; if too thin, cook longer to thicken. Put through a food mill or sieve and add butter. Gradually add sugar tasting for desired sweetness. Add lemon juice, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg and/or 1 tsp. cinnamon; taste and, if you like, add more. Makes approximately 2 quarts.


Or you can simply use your own or a good brand.    My cake uses the spicy mix of my mom’s with the white icing of Delicious Orchards, but I do a basic Cream Cheese Icing.  It’s awesome.  I must tell you, I screwed up when making this.  The crushed walnuts and the raisins get folded in after you have finished the batter.  Well…even with the bag and box of the two ingredients RIGHT NEXT TO THE MIXER, I was so excited to get this cake made…um…they are still not in the cake.  Still delicious.  I wound up just sprinkling some of the crushed walnuts over the frosted cake.  It’s a win-win regardless of including the fruit and nuts or not.  Successful recipe anyway.  I base my recipe off of the Land O’Lakes Applesauce cake recipe with a few changes.  Ready to bake?  Let’s go…preheat that oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 13 X 9 ” pan well, then lightly flour it.


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar, I used Vanilla Sugar  (see note on bottom)
1 1/2 cups applesauce
1/2 cup Butter, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons Vanilla Paste or Extract
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup  raisins dusted with some flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 stick butter (1/4 lb)
8 oz REAL Cream Cheese Not a spread, the bar type
3 cups Confectioner’s Sugar
2 tbs. Vanilla Paste (or 1 1/2 tsp. extract)  PLEASE USE THE REAL STUFF, NOT IMITATION
1/8 Tsp. salt
Add all the ingredients into the Mixer bowl for the cake EXCEPT the raisins and nuts.  Mix on low till all is well blended scraping down on the sides.  Then beat on High Speed stopping to again scrape down the sides until the batter is smooth.  Now fold in the nuts and the raisins.  The flour you shook the raisins up with helps to suspend the raisins in the batter and keep them from sinking to the bottom.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. The sides should have pulled away a bit from the pan and the center will be springy when done.  Let this cool COMPLETELY on a rack for 3 hours.  I hurried the process by sticking it out the window and right into the 30 inches of snow that came up to the sills of the kitchen windows.  Chilled that cake RIGHT down.  LOL…but one doesn’t always have a quick chill handy like that, so wait the 3 hours.  applesauce cake 005  Can you smell that?? It’s spice heaven.  NOW, onto the icing.  While your cake is cooling or while you were baking it, add the butter and creamcheese to the mixing bowl and slowly cream the two.  When they are blended start to slowly increase the beating to medium and slowly add in the sugar and the salt.  Add the vanilla and beat on high until it’s completely blended and it of nice firm consistency.  Place in a cool spot, covered until your cake is ready to frost.
Simply frost the top till it’s all covered.  Crumble toasted walnuts over the top if you like.
applesauce cake 004
applesauce cake 003  I used the paste and you can see the Vanilla Beans in the frosting.  Delicious. CHILL THE CAKE FOR 1 hour before serving.  Then slice into squares and serve.  It’s amazing.
So, here’s the note about Vanilla Sugar..I was in Central Europe this Summer and of course was picking up ideas and recipes.  Almost all of their sweet baked items use Vanilla Sugar which is simply made by slipping a whole Vanilla bean into a canister of regular sugar.  Let it sit for 5 days before you use it.  Keeps for a long time and the vanilla essence is really great.
Now time for a glass of milk or a nice Black Coffee (only black for me thank you) and a square of my Applesauce Cake.  Happy Cooking!!
applesauce cake 002