A Year of Food…In Review

It’s finally time to say goodbye to 2013, and although it’s been a generally good year we are nonetheless perfectly happy to see it come to an end. As former sailors (albeit on luxury cruise vessels), Tony and I could never really get comfortable with the idea of spending an entire year mired in the number “13.”

You see, every vessel we sailed on, with the exception of one, was free and clear of this number. Cabin numbers would skip from 112 to 114, crew and passenger manifests would do the same, as would dining room table numbers, muster assignments, etc. The one ship that didn’t follow this mariner’s tradition was plagued with a series of unfortunate events, and we were relieved that our contracts that season were on the shorter side.

However, many good things did happen this year, and we’d be remiss to send 2013 off without at least a little fanfare. So, here are a few of our favorite 2013 moments at Home with The Lost Italian:

1) Blogging is a fluid process, and over the past twelve months we have come to know our readers better. We know that you love chocolate desserts, as proven by the number of visits to the post “Classic (and Amazing) Flourless Chocolate Torte.” which is the #1 most-visited post on our site. This dessert is decadence at its most refined, and it’s also gluten-free which means virtually everyone can enjoy this chocolate cake. Cut it into slices for an elegant after-dinner dessert served with a lovely Tawny Port. Or, cut into small bars topped with a dollop of Real Whipped Cream and fresh berries, served with a glass of cold milk.

2) While you enjoy decadence, you’re also health-conscious, as evidenced by the #2 post on the site, “Tony’s Tuscan Bean Salad.” But don’t be fooled by the super-healthy nature of this side dish: with the right ingredients receiving an extra kick from balsamic vinegar, this salad is big on flavor and pairs well with seafood, poultry, pasta and even beef. It’s the perfect way to kick off your healthy-eating ambitions for the New Year.

3) Our #3 post for the year was for such a simple dish, but one that Tony predicted would become popular after enjoying it himself: Our “One-Pan Fried Egg Sandwich” was a post that surprised us with its following, but who can resist a recipe with good toasting bread, Canadian Bacon, aged Cheddar Cheese, sauteed Spinach, and of course, a Fried Egg? Not us, and apparently, not you either.

4) In the fall of 2013, Tony joined the team at KVLY-TV’s new lifestyle morning show, North Dakota Today, as a featured guest each Monday morning. This new experience is the perfect complement for his talents, and Tony loves bringing new recipes and food ideas to Andrea and Chris each week. What a fun new adventure this has been for our family!

5) Our #4 post in 2013 was “Thanksgiving 101: Turkey Day Tips & Guidelines” where we shared Tony’s Top Ten Turkey Tips, Thanksgiving Wine Pairings, Turkey Thawing Guidelines and a whole host of recipes perfect for this harvest holiday. We received a terrific amount of questions over this holiday, with many of them focused on our recipe for Sarello’s Perfect Whipped Potatoes, which prompted us to create another popular post called, “Whipped Potatoes Q&A…”

Congratulations to Jean Eppler and her Cranberries Gone Wild Dip!

6) We hosted our first recipe contest last fall, “In Search of the Perfect Party Dip,” and with the traffic that has been generated by Jean Eppler’s (now-famous) Cranberries Gone Wild Dip, we’d say that the public definitely chose the right winner. We bumped into Jean’s dip at nearly every holiday party we attended this season, and we even enjoyed it on Christmas Day, with lime chips and a lime margarita, just as Jean recommends. Jean’s recipe has been posted on our blog for less than three months, but in that time it has catapulted itself into the #5 most-viewed page on the blog, for the entire year. Now THAT’S a winner!

7) Our year ended with our Holiday Heritage Recipe Contest, our second big recipe event, and we were thilled to have three amazing recipes and heritage stories in the finals. Neither Tony, Gio, nor I were able to agree on one favorite among these three, and we were happy to turn the decision over to the public, who chose Astrid Axtman’s Great-Grandmother’s Swedish Spritz Cookies as the winner, making 12-year-old Astrid the happy new owner of a brand-new Kitchen Aid Mixer sponsored by Sarello’s. We are predicting that kids will emerge as a big trend on the culinary scene in 2014, and Astrid’s win definitely supports this theory.

8) Our theory on the Kids’ Culinary Invasion may be somewhat homespun, as our nine-year-old son, Giovanni, has really begun to come into his own in the kitchen this year. Last winter Gio and I decided to create our own recipe for meatballs, which we promptly named “Gio’s Meatballs.” We shared this recipe with our newspaper readers, and here on the blog, and Tony and Gio had a blast making the DEMONSTRATION VIDEO together.

9) Tony and Gio created another one of my favorite food moments from 2013 when they demonstrated how to make our family’s favorite holiday treat - Peppermint Bark - on North Dakota Today. You’d think the pressure of LIVE TV  might have gotten the best of Giovanni, but, as the saying goes, the olive doesn’t fall far from the Sicilian. Or something like that. :) It makes my heart sing to watch the two of them cooking together, and you can watch the video RIGHT HERE.

.At the start of 2013 this blog was just one month old, and our goal for the year was to double our monthly traffic numbers by the end of the year. The results are far beyond our expectations, as we have seen our web traffic increase more than ten times over from the first month to the twelfth, and we are delighted that many of you have chosen to interact with us either by entering one of our contests, leaving your comments for us, or emailing us with questions about our recipes.

We absolutely love having this opportunity to connect with our readers through our shared passions for food, fun and the good life, and we are so glad you have found us here at Home with The Lost Italian. We can’t wait to share our vision, and recipes, for 2014 with you, and wish you a very happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year! Bring on 2014!

Tony, Sarah and Giovanni, in the Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Holiday Heritage “Sweet Treat” Recipe Contest

One year ago today, Tony and I embarked on a new creative adventure when we started coming into your world every Wednesday through this column. We’ve spent the past year sharing our stories and recipes with you, and have had a lot of fun getting to know you better along the way.

We’ve learned that you like our Red Curry Scallops almost as much as a good soup recipe, and that many of you are serial recipe-clippers, even if you have no intention of ever actually making one. And that you love anything with bacon, whether it’s our Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing, or our made-from-scratch Bacon Pancakes.

But the comments we hear most often are how much you enjoy our stories about family and tradition, two topics which, universally, so often involve food. We love family, food and tradition, too, and invite you to share your stories and recipes with us in our Holiday Heritage Recipe Contest.

Tony and I both grew up cooking and baking with our moms, and now enjoy making many of these family recipes with our son, Giovanni, who always wants to hear the story behind the dish. For this contest, we ask you to share a recipe for a holiday sweet treat that has been passed down in your family from one generation to another. This can include recipes for cookies, bars, candy, cakes, pies, etc.

All entries must be submitted via email no later than Wednesday, December 4, and must include a short story about the recipe and its heritage, about one to three paragraphs in length (between 50 to 200 words, max). Photos are highly encouraged.

Tony and I will select our favorite entries for review by an independent panel of judges, who will taste each recipe and read each story to select our finalists. We will announce the finalists on our blog on Wednesday, December 11, and the public will then be invited to review each finalist’s recipe and story online and vote for the one they would most like to try or make.

As in our party dip contest, once again we have terrific prizes in store for our winners, which will be distributed based on the volume and variety of recipes we receive. The winner(s) will be announced on Christmas Day, December 25, 2013, both in our column and on the blog, and the top winner will take home a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.

When I was growing up, my mother was a whirling dervish during the holiday baking season, making everything from standard treats like toffee and chocolate crinkles, to Norwegian specialties including krumkake, rosettes and sandbakkel cookies. She made it look so easy as she deftly handled the delicate Scandinavian treats, and I’m hoping she’ll teach me how to master these recipes this holiday season.

Today we’re sharing her recipe for Buttermilk Brownies, one of Gio’s favorite heritage recipes next to Peppermint Bark. This recipe is a classic from the Better Homes and Gardens Homemade Cookies cookbook, which my sister and I received for Christmas in 1975.

Last year, Gio was assigned to bring the treat for his class’s Christmas party, and we added peppermint extract and crushed candy canes to the frosting. These brownies are moist and airy, with a wonderful cooked cocoa frosting that was made even better with the mint flavoring. Our Christmas brownies were an instant hit, and we gained a new tradition to add to our family story.

CLICK HERE for Peppermint Buttermilk Brownies Recipe

We hope you will participate and share your family recipes and stories with us. If you have a special holiday recipe and wish to enter, please read the following guidelines:

THE LOST ITALIAN’S HOLIDAY HERITAGE “SWEET-TREAT” RECIPE CONTEST
CONTEST GUIDELINES 

1. WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO WIN?
This contest is about more than just a recipe, it’s also about tradition. We ask you to submit the recipe for your favorite holiday sweet treat (no salty or savory items, please), which has been passed down from a previous generation, or one that you have passed down to younger generations. This can mean it came from a family member, or a friend – as long as it has been shared across a generation.

Each entry must include a photo of the treat, as well as a short story about the heritage and tradition of the recipe (Who gave it to you? Where did it come from? Does it have an ethnic background, like Italian, Scandinavian, or German-from-Russia? How long have you been making it? And so on…)

For this contest, the story is as important as the recipe, and should range from 1 to 3 paragraphs (approx. 50 to 200 words, max).

You have until Wednesday, December 4, 2013 to submit your holiday recipe to us via email to dine@sarellos.com. Please be sure to include your name, address, email address and telephone number with your entry information, and the NAME OF YOUR RECIPE.

E-MAIL:
dine@sarellos.com
*Please write “Holiday Heritage Recipe Contest” in the Subject field* 

2. HOW DOES THIS WORK?
Tony and I will review all of the recipe submissions and will select a group of recipes for further consideration. An independent panel of judges will be selected to choose our Finalists.

3. CAN I SUBMIT MORE THAN ONE RECIPE?
No, just one recipe per entrant will be permitted. In the case multiple entries are submitted, only one will be chosen for eligibility.

4. WHEN WILL THE FINALISTS BE ANNOUNCED?
Tony and I will select our favorite entries for review by an independent panel of judges, who will taste each recipe and read each story to select our finalists. We will announce the finalists on our blog on Wednesday, December 11, and the public will then be invited to review each finalist’s recipe and story online and vote for the one they would most like to try or make.

5. WHO PICKS THE WINNER?
The public will be invited to read each finalists’ story and recipe online at our blog, and then vote for the recipe they would be most likely to make or try.

6. DO I NEED TO MAKE MY RECIPE?
No, our chefs will be preparing the recipes for our judges’s tasting.

7. WHEN IS THE WINNING RECIPE ANNOUNCED? The winner and her/his recipe will be announced on Christmas Day, December 25, 2013, in both our column and on the blog.

8. WHAT DO I GET IF I WIN? 
The top winner will take home a brand-new Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer, and depending on the volume and variety of the recipes we receive, we may award prizes in individual categories, too.

9. WHO CAN ENTER? There is no age limit to enter this contest, and we encourage cooks of all ages to submit their favorite holiday sweet-treat recipes.

10. WHO CAN’T ENTER? If you are a relative of Sarah or Tony Nasello, or are employed by Sarello’s, Inc. or Forum Communications, then you are not eligible to enter this contest.

11. WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE A RECIPE? CAN I STILL ENTER? No, you can’t, because this is a RECIPE CONTEST. :) But don’t worry – we will be hosting a Giveaway during holiday season for our blog readers only, so keep checking back for more details! If you’re not already a subscriber, we encourage you to enter your email address in the box on the right-hand side of the page to receive all the latest and greatest news from Home with The Lost Italian.

We hope you will participate and share your recipes with us. Only submissions received by Dec. 4, 2013 will be eligible to advance in the competition. We may choose to feature your recipe submission here on the blog throughout the run of the contest, and submitting your recipe will be considered permission to use your recipe throughout the contest period and in publications thereafter. Full credit will be given to the person who submitted the recipe.

GOOD LUCK!

Peppermint Bark & Panettone Bread Pudding

Welcome to “Home with The Lost Italian” on AreaVoices! We are so happy that you have found us here. Tony and I are enjoying our new roles as food columnists for The Forum, and love having this opportunity to share our passion for food, wine and life with you.

Our column appears in the SheSays section of The Forum every Wednesday, and we’ll also feature it here on the blog every Thursday. On some occasions, due to space limitations, our weekly column gets edited in order to accommodate the accompanying photos and recipes. So, every Thursday, you can find the full, unedited version right here on AreaVoices. Throughout the week, we’ll also post about what we’re cooking at home, at Sarello’s, and hopefully even about what some of you are cooking at home, too!

This week’s column is all about holiday baking, and what makes this time of year special for us. We hope you enjoy the recipes and would love to hear from you. Please send us any questions or suggestions you may have about food, wine, Italy, or whatever else is on your mind. You can post right here on the blog in the comments section, or send us an email to: dine@sarellos.com. We’ll answer your questions every Monday right here on the blog.

PEPPERMINT BARK & PANETTONE BREAD PUDDING
(excerpts of this post appeared in the Nov. 28 edition of The Forum) 

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the holiday season is now fully upon us. We love this time of year, and everything that comes with the holidays: the music, parties, decorations, bell ringers, and just the general good cheer in the air. But, what we look forward to the most is baking holiday goodies with our eight-year-old son, Giovanni.

In our home we begin our baking tradition on the day after Thanksgiving, and each year we always start with the same special treat, Peppermint Bark. My mother made Peppermint Bark for us every year when I was growing up, and it has now become Giovanni’s favorite. The peppermint flavor shines in this mixture of creamy and crunchy textures, and it’s always good to have on hand near the mistletoe. All year long we look forward to the Friday after Thanksgiving, and hail the return of Peppermint Bark to our home.

This pretty holiday candy is delicious to eat and easy to make. All you need is one pack of white almond bark, twelve large candy canes, peppermint extract and wax paper. When I started making Peppermint Bark with Giovanni six years ago, I used a food processor to chop the candy canes instead of smashing them to bits in a plastic bag. I did this mostly for convenience, but this technique ended up creating a more refined texture to the candy, which turned out to be a hit among our family and friends.

Peppermint Bark’s soft pink color provides a nice contrast when placed on a holiday cookie platter, adding a lovely burst of color among a sea of brown-toned goodies. It also makes a great hostess or teacher gift when packaged in holiday trimmings.

Tony’s recipe this week features a traditional Italian fruitcake called Panettone, which originated in the city of Milan. Not to be confused with our American version of fruitcake, Panettone is a light, moist, flavorful cake more like a bread, with candied orange peel, lemon zest and raisins. It is wonderful served in slices after a meal, or even for breakfast. On this occasion, however, Tony uses it to spice up a traditional comfort dessert, with his recipe for Panettone Bread Pudding.

“Panettone is the King of Christmas Cakes in Italian culture,” Tony says. “In Etobicoke, the Toronto neighborhood where I grew up, the grocery stores and bakeries would be stacked with huge displays of Panettone. Big, bright boxes in every color, tied with fancy ribbons, all ready to give to your friends and loved ones. To me, Panettone signifies, hey, Christmas is here now.”

“Bread pudding is a popular dessert found in many countries, and originated as a way to use leftover bread.” Tony says. “I like using the Panettone for this recipe, because the bread is already filled with the flavors of the holiday season.”

“We use bread pudding in both savory and sweet dishes at Sarello’s,” Tony says. “But what I like about bread pudding even more than its versatility, is how easy it is to make .”

Soaking the Panettone in the wet ingredients before baking ensures that every piece of bread is moist. To further ensure the outcome, place your baking dish in a water bath to prevent the bread pudding from burning, curdling or drying out during baking.

For this occasion, we served the bread pudding with fresh berries and a dollop of vanilla gelato. Tony took it one step further and drizzled a bit of Sarello’s Chocolate Zabaglione over the top – a touch that was a big hit with our food photographer, Dave. But you can also enjoy it with our homemade Caramel Sauce, a recipe we featured over the Thanksgiving holiday.

With only twenty-six shopping days left before Christmas, keep your baking schedule easy and fun with these simple, yet crowd-pleasing, recipes. To get the recipes, just click on the links provided below.

Panettone Bread Pudding
Peppermint Bark
Caramel Sauce