ALL SOULS DAY…What the rest of the world does or you can make cookies*

Did de los Muertos (Day of the Dead),

aka All Saints Day, All Souls Day

is celebrated throughout the world, especially in Mexico, South America, the Caribbean and is associated with American Halloween.  Here are some highlights:

Oct. 31-Nov. 2; traditional Aztec dancers, parades with costumed figures, regional Mexican music, and other Mexican artisans celebrate the day, and honor the dead.

As part of a promotion by the Mexican embassy in Prague, Czech Republic, since the late 20th century, some local citizens join in a Mexican-style Day of the Dead. A theatre group produces events featuring masks, candles, and sugar skulls.(Wikipedia)

In Ecuador the Day of the Dead is observed to some extent by all parts of society, though it is especially important to the indigenous Kichwa peoples, who make up an estimated quarter of the population.

Guatemalan celebrations of the Day of the Dead, on November 1, are highlighted by the construction and flying of giant kites[23] in addition to the traditional visits to grave sites of ancestors. A big event also is the consumption of fiambre, which is made only for this day during the year.

Mexican-style Day of the Dead celebrations occur in major cities in AustraliaFiji, and Indonesia. Additionally, prominent celebrations are held in Wellington, New Zealand, complete with altars celebrating the deceased with flowers and gifts.[42]

Ognissanti (All Saints) is celebrated on 1st November, and the 2nd of November, commonly called “i Morti” in Italian, is the day dedicated to the dear ones who passed away. People start visiting the cemeteries already some days before, so that on the two festive days fresh flowers, also left on the old forgotten tombs, not visited any more for decades, give to the Italian cemeteries an explosion of colors.

Traditions for Ognissanti

Folk traditions include lighting on the window sills at sunset a “lumino” (red candle) and laying a table for the dear ones deceased who would come and visit and leave the children confetti and green  beans to teach them that they were keeping an eye on them too (the tradition emphasized the importance of a connection between past and younger generations). Then on November 1st almost everywhere the first “caldarroste” (roasted chestnuts) of the season appeared for the enjoyment of young and old.

All Saints Day, which honored the early Christian martyrs, was established on the 1st of November to merge with the ancient Druid rituals of October 31st, which was the Eve of New Year’s Day in the Celtic calendar, a rite of passage, that is why the return of Dead Ones to the earth. The day of the Dead Ones means a closer dialogue with them, forgetting about everyday problems and looking to them for comfort and strength.

Special foods are prepared according to each country and each region’s traditions and often trays of food are left at altars commemorating the dead or in cemeteries. A special empty seat may be left at the dinner table commemorating the dead; and the house left open when all go to church after dinner so that souls of the dead may visit.  Children go door to door collecting candy and special treats. In Lombardi, the “oss de mord” (=bones of the dead) cookies are made in long shapes with dough and almond, baked, with a faint taste of cinnamon. *(see recipe below)

In Liguria and Piedmont, a specialty for All Saints’ Day is ceci con le costine, a soup made of chickpea, celery, carrot, onion, tomato, and pork rib. Il pane de morti, a sweet made of crumbled biscuits, raisins, sugar, cinnamon, and chocolate, is also popular on this day.

In Sicily, the Martorana fruit is a traditional, typical sweet, similar to marzipan, made with ground almonds and sugar into the shape of fruit, vegetables or fish. Prepared in celebrations of the dead, or for the visit of the pope or other important person, it was prepared and sold in the Santa Caterina monastery of Palermo by nuns until the mid 1900’s.

In France during the 1590’s, it is reported that starving Parisians ground human bones into bread to stay alive. The web site Atlas Obscura (2yGBkof) brings to light much amazing data. They blog this morose bit of history occurred about the same time Marie Antoinette is to have said something like if they can’t afford bread, let them eat cake, which isn’t apparently true—it was a popular phrase to attribute to the aristocracy and written often by philosopher Rousseau.
Again, complex history reigns as the King Henris mark their winning wars until 40-50,000 deaths decided Henri to provide food, lift the siege and convert to Catholicism himself!

BONES OF THE DEAD (Ossi dei Morte)
makes about 50 cookies

I adapted this recipe from Paola’s Pan dei Morti recipe of Lombardy http://www.passionandcooking.com/2012/10/28/pan-dei-morti-bread-of-the-dead/.
As in many recipes throughout Italy and beyond, there are hints of pre-Christian traditions, myths, legends, foods, recipes and ingredients. In this one, the figs (dried fruit) represent offerings to the dead,  chocolate for the burial site, nuts for the bones, a cross on the grave, etc.

INGREDIENTS

150 g (5-6 oz) dry amaretti cookies
350 g (12 oz) ladyfingers (large Italian savoiardi are best)
130 g (1 cup) blanched whole almonds, toasted
130 g (1 cup) pine nuts, toasted
120 g (4 ¼ oz) dried figs or chopped dates
120 g (4 ¼ oz) raisins, and 5 oz. candied orange peel
300 g  (2 cups) all-purpose flour
300 g (1 ½ cups) sugar
10 g (2 tsp) baking powder
60 g (½ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
6 large eggs
120 ml (½ cup) Amaretto
1/2 tsp almond extract

Powdered sugar or chocolate and pine nuts topping with piped royal icing

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 170°C (350°F)

  1. Toast the pine nuts and the almonds separately for about 5 to 6 minutes on a baking sheet in a preheated oven at 170°C (350°F) or stirring constantly in a non-stick skillet on the stove.  Keep separate and set aside. Chop figs finely.
  2. Soak the figs or dates, raisins and candied peel in 1/2 cup Amaretto
  3. Using a food processor, finely grind the ladyfingers and amaretti cookies, and place them in a very large mixing bowl
  4. Finely grind the almonds.  Add to the cookie mix. Drain fruits and reserve Amaretto.
  5. Whisk together the flour and the baking powder, then add to the cookie-almond-fig mixture.  Stir in sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and pine nuts.  Toss until completely blended.
  6. Pour the eggs and the Amaretto over the dry ingredients. Add drained fruit and candied peel. Mix well by hand until smooth and doughy.
  7. Line the baking sheets with non-stick parchment paper.
  8. To form the cookies, first flour your fingers.  Scoop out a small ball of dough about the size of a golf ball. It would be nice if the dough were conducive to a bone shape cookie cutter, but that is not in the cards.  Using as little flour as possible, flatten the ball into an oblong shape with pointed edges, about 2-3″ inches long.   Use just enough flour to work the dough and keep the cookies from sticking to the baking paper.
  9. Place the cookies on the baking sheet, leaving some space between each.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until slightly puffed, with a brown color and crisp look. How do you tell when chocolate turns a brown color? Beats me.
  10. Dip into semi-sweet melted chocolate (about 1 package of 1 oz. squares melted at 50% power in microwave, if desired. Sprinkle with more pine nuts and pipe a cross on top with royal icing (2 cups powdered sugar, 2 T water, 2 tsp. orange extract).
  11. Remove from the baking sheet and cool on a rack.

 

 

 

 

 

Little Known Cocktail Trivia

LITTLE KNOWN COCKTAIL TRIVIA

Just short of 90 proof, Angostura bitters is now available on tap in Chicago’s Best Intentions bar (best patio bar in 2015). Who drinks that stand-by dash provision to the Old-Fashioned? By itself? Bartenders world-wide apparently are consistently searching for the new, unusual, best and most creative uses of ingredients to start trends, please customers, become famous and of course, make money

 

The Italian tradition of aperitivo helped bring The Spritz (a low alcohol mix of Aperol, soda water and prosecco)  to every part of the globe this past summer.  Notorious for their innovative ability in the benchwarmer camp, Italian cocktails have been created by artists, travelers, writers and musicians for centuries. Take one of scores of examples–the Giostra d’Alcol (carousel of alcohol”) – a 1930’s outcome in Turin during the Futurist movement. It featured Campari, Barbera d’Asti wine and a citron-infused soda, garnished with semi-hard cheese and bitter chocolate.

Of course gin-shaking experts are quick to make their own versions, call it something else, and a new drink is born. The Milano-Torino is a 1860’s idea that includes the maker’s birthplace and town that got descended into the Americano (not the coffee drink) but a simple expat answer to the Prohibition of Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water, and more historical than popular.

For more trivia, hard evidence and recipes, go to: https://punchdrink.com/articles/italian-bitter-aperitivo-cocktail-recipe-americano-negroni-sbagliato-spritz/

In his website “The Spruce Eats”, you’ll find what to plant, how and why to use different herbs, and what they’ll do for your favorite cocktail.
https://www.thespruceeats.com/bartenders-garden-ideas-760725
https://www.bespokepost.com/the-post/how-why-and-when-to-use-herbs-in-cocktails

OUR ROOTS, OUR HUMAN SPIRIT, Italian or Otherwise

L’Italo-Americano on-line newspaper celebrates “The #1 source for all things Italian since 1908”. In their recent articles, I especially appreciated the exclusive interview with Superstar Chef Massimo Bottura, “Knowing the Past to Shape the Future of Italian Cuisine.” By SILVIA GIUDICI | OCT 19, 2018.  The article seemed more to do with the spirit of a successful chef and reminded me of my own dad who came to this country with nothing and succeeded not only as a chef but in whatever he attempted to do.

 

 

Chef Massismo says this:

 

“At my restaurant, Osteria Francescana, I do this: if I see that a recipe doesn’t evolve, I change it because I know that if I don’t, then it will eventually degenerate and get stuck in a rut. This is one of the worst things that can happen, especially when doing a job like mine, that is all about creativity. If you get too much entangled in routine and everyday life, working 14 hours a day in the kitchen becomes alienating; if you are in charge of everyday life and you keep dreaming, you evolve. This is the secret of success.”

 

 

According to Bottura, it’s essential not to get stuck in a rut, especially in a job as creatively challenging as that of the chef © Brambilla – Serrani

 

In L’Italo-Americano issue, I excerpted the following, also mostly about of our human spirit.

“Italian Heritage Month: Celebrating the History of our Roots

THOMAS E VESCE | OCT 04, 2018

“Christopher Columbus left his home when he was about twelve years old to be a sailor. He spent the greater part of his youth on the Mediterranean, hitting ports all over: Spain, Africa, the Middle East. He met all kinds of people, some as young as him and others much older, speaking different languages, but all harboring the same curiosity as him for “the different:”  something new, something totally foreign but alluring, and something they all wanted…..

This is the spirit that propelled him to do novel things, find new adventures, and discover what he needed to in order to fulfill himself, in a better way; just like Nonna and Zio and maybe your Mom and Dad, too…….

And since we live in such a diverse nation, we can easily find “the different” around us without needing to travel too far. It is so very clear that Italian Americans are not the only ones to buy the tickets to the dances or rock star shows that sparkle on the eve of Columbus Day. There are so many different Americans like us who feel the need to understand and respect our separate  personalities. Like the famous New York sociologist Dr. Richard Richard Gambino once said, we make up a “salad bowl of people.” This is such a better image of who we are as a nation than the usual “melting pot,” simply because it clearly underlines the fact we can all live in one country and yet continue to enjoy all of our native customs and languages. There is so much room in our America for celebrating the ‘different.’”

I learned many things from my father, especially when he showed me how to cook in three short lessons. See if any of these quotes from my own successful dad resonate with a successful human spirit, with a kitchen endeavor or without:

“If the recipe doesn’t look quite right, change the things you can.”

“Don’t be afraid to try something different; if it doesn’t work, you can change that, too.”

“You’re not stuck, you’re afraid.”

 

 

 

 

 

Trendy One-Sheet Pan Dinners without a Sheet Pan

Very trendy right now is the concept of the one sheet pan dinner. I remember our family using this idea ever since I was old enough to shell peas. For one thing, there was hardly time after a busy day in the restaurant, in the house, in the garden, wherever the chores may be, to make a fancy dinner. Yet Chef Dad insisted on fresh, home cooked meals and often demonstrated how to do it quickly.  I make this Winner Chicken Dinner regularly because it has all the earmarks of a well rounded meal that  tastes delicious.

INGREDIENTS:

3-4 portions of pork, chicken, fish or beef
1 med. onion
3 strips uncured bacon, chopped fine, or pancetta
4 cloves minced garlic
5-6 small yellow potatoes, cut into quarters, unpeeled
small bunch of asparagus, cut into one-two inch pieces
salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, celery seed (some of my standby
seasonings, but you add your own)
broth or wine of choice

Simply brown lightly the bacon, onion, garlic, potatoes and season. Toss and cook, coating all sides with a little more oil if necessary.
Add a bit of avocado or olive oil to the middle and add seasoned meat or fish. Brown both sides.
Add small amount of wine or broth and put into 350º oven for about 30 minutes, taking care to not overcook (especially fish), but veggies should be al dente.

Buon Appetito!

The Wonderful Fig

Each season, the overwhelming harvest of figs makes me frantic. They are at the farmers’ market, the orphaned neighbor’s tree, and in my own yard, bursting forth on a daily basis in tantalizing shades of greens and purples. Plump and juicy they are too delicious and voluminous to be left untended. So I pick and pick and pick, and this year, over several weeks, it was Fig-Onion Relish, Fig Marmalade, Fig Jam, Fig-Apple Compote and Figs in a Jar. Of course there are the baked goods, one of which was so greatly received, I share it now. The revered fig recipe is cuddled up in a fancy pan, to boot! I left off the glaze for the photo so you can have a better look at these morsels.

Fig Cakes with Almond and Vanilla Glaze                                                 

Fig Cakes with Vanilla Glaze

Serves 12

Ingredients

  • For the cakes:
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup unsalted softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 8-10 fat, ripe figs, stems removed and chopped (use a couple more if your figs are smaller)
  • ¼ cup fig or raspberry jam (optional)
  • For the glaze:
  • 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon buttermilk, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • For the topping:
  • 1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds

Instructions

  1. Preheat an oven to 350°F, and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Grease a mini cake pan with non-stick cooking spray, and set aside.*
  2. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, cinnamon and sugar to a large bowl, whisking to combine. Add buttermilk, eggs, butter, vanilla extract and almond extract to a small bowl, whisking to combine.
  3. Pour the buttermilk mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients, and stir just until combined. Stir in the chopped figs. Divide the batter between the 6 wells of the mini cake pan (2 batches needed here), and bake until the tops of the cakes are lightly golden, and a toothpick inserted into the center of one cake comes out clean (18 – 22 minutes).
  4. Transfer the pan to a wire rack, and let cook for 10 minutes. Gently tap the pan on the counter to release the cakes. Turn the cakes out on to the cooling rack (so the flat side is down), and let cool completely before glazing. Wipe pan clean, and repeat with a second batch.
  5. To make the glaze, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, buttermilk and vanilla until smooth and pourable, Add a little more buttermilk if the mixture seems to thick (but add sparingly).
  6. Once the cakes are cool, drizzle each cake with vanilla glaze. Start in the middle, and let the glaze run down the sides. Then sprinkle each cake with chopped toasted almonds. Cakes are best enjoyed immediately, but if you want to enjoy them later, store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, and glaze right before serving.

*If you don’t have a mini cake pan, simply prepare this cake in a 10-inch round cake pan, and bake for 20 – 25 minutes at 375°F.

 

Adapted from: Recipe by Kitchen Konfidence at https://www.kitchenkonfidence.com/2014/09/fig-cakes-with-vanilla-glaze