November 30, 2010

A true patriot

It’s that time! With tinsel, turkey and Bing Crosby, the holidays have officially arrived. Tom and I are just now emerging from the food-induced coma that was Thanksgiving.

It may surprise you to know that my family enjoys a very traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We do the turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes and countless vegetable sides. We set a festive table and have yet to miss Santa’s arrival while watching the Macy’s Day Parade.

I will admit that the turkey dinner is preceded by a very Italian antipasti spread including Genoa salami, imported prosciutto, provolone cheese, artichokes and peppers.

But really, when we feel like it, we can be as American as apple and pumpkin pie. Except for me. I don’t much care for pie and I have an especial aversion to that which is pumpkin. I like to think that this speaks to my contrary nature…my inner rebellion which let’s face it, is as American as it gets.  That’s me, a true patriot. A patriot who prefers Italian prune cake to pie. That’s right. Prune cake.

I can tell you just scoffed but don’t be too quick to judge. This richly spiced cake with a slight chewy texture captures all of the warmth of the season with just one bite. Eating it makes you feel like you’ve just watched Mr. Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life.  If you take issue with a cake with “prune” in it’s name then perhaps think of it instead as Spice Cake. Or, you be thankful for your orange colored pies, and let me be thankful for my prune cake. Yum.

Prune Cake

This is my Great Grandma Tocco’s recipe and I’ve been told under no uncertain terms that it is not to be fooled with. It's best to make this the day before you intend on eating it- give the spices time to get to know each other.


2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup Crisco, plus more for greasing
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup prunes, pitted and roughly chopped
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease and flour a 9 x 13 baking pan with Crisco.
Simmer the chopped prunes in hot water for ten minutes. Drain well.

In a medium bowl combine the dry ingredients.

With an electric mixer, beat the Crisco, sugar and eggs.

Slowly add the flour and buttermilk.

Gently fold in the prunes.

Bake for 30 minutes. As soon as the top is golden and the sides begin to pull away from the pan it is done. Do not rely on a toothpick for this or you will run the risk of over-baking the cake. And nobody wants a dry cake.

1/4 cup strong coffee
½ box of confectioners sugar
2 TBLS butter
Walnuts, whole

After the cake has cooled, whip the sugar and butter with an electric mixer. Add coffee to taste. Frost the cake and carefully place walnuts to cover the cake, evenly spaced. Mom breaks out the tape measure for this step. Do make sure you pick the prettiest, most in tact walnuts. It does make a difference.

November 21, 2010

Frozen burrito month

It’s 4:24 pm and darkness has already begun to fall. Chilly afternoons turned nights, preceded by stark, grey skies and cutting winds, it looks and feels like November- the pause before the colors of the holidays and the sounds of Christmas music. 

Time speeds up during these short, grey days and it takes a decided effort not to resort to pre-packaged meals that require defrosting on a daily basis. With deadlines and finals and Tom and mine’s ever shifting Google calendars (our half-hearted attempt to assemble some order), I admit that I’ve been woefully tempted to make November our official Frozen Burrito Month.  Then I remember that I didn’t even know what a burrito was until college and that the only form of frozen food I ever consumed as a child was French bread pizza, prepared by the occasional Friday night babysitter. Shamefaced, I return the burritos to the freezer and go to my short list of no fuss recipes.  Topping the list? Italian hamburgers.

Italian Hamburgers

If you were to ask me if I’ve ever had meatloaf, I’d shake my head, scrunch up my face in a displeased expression and say, “nope”. My mother never made such things. Until recently, I didn’t realize that the below recipe was actually an Italian rip off of the American comfort food classic. A rip off? Perhaps. An improvement? Most definitely.

As is often the case, the below measurements are approximations at best. The consistency should not be too dry, think of these as really large meatballs. Dijon mustard and peppers in sauce are good accompaniments to this quick, satisfying meal.

Makes 4 servings
1lb ground meat
¾ cup Italian flavored breadcrumbs
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
½ onion, chopped
1 egg
3 good sized garlic cloves, minced
Hot pepper flakes

In a large bowl combine meat, breadcrumbs, cheese, onion, garlic and egg. Using your hands, mix thoroughly and add hot pepper, oregano, salt and pepper to taste.

Form hamburger patties. Place on a broiling pan covered with tinfoil.

Broil on high until golden and crisp, flip and cook the other side.