Friday, February 26, 2010


Growing up in my family this was simply called "Easter Pie".  Sweet and delicious, it was obviously reserved for the special holiday.  Far too good to be eaten once a year and so simple to make, I make it for special occasions. I make my own pie crust but you can certainly take a shortcut with frozen or refrigerated ones.

2 deep dish one crust pie shells
10 egg whites
1.5 cups granulated sugar
3# whole milk ricotta
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon grated fresh orange zest [optional]*
confectioner's sugar [optional]

Preheat oven to 375*

Separate egg whites into a large mixing bowl and reserve yolks for another use.  Beat the egg whites and the sugar until foamy.  Add ricotta and vanilla and blend until fine and creamy but do not over mix.  Add the orange zest and quickly fold in.  

Fill two unbaked 9 inch deep dish pie shells and bake on middle rack in oven for 1 hour until lightly golden.

Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.  I usually make the pies a day in advance.  Just before serving dust with confectioner's sugar.  You can embellish with fresh strawberries or a dollop of fresh whipped cream but I find them unnecessary.

* you can substitute lemon zest or 1 teaspoon Amoretto to taste.

The obvious choice to serve with this delicate pastry is espresso!

Traditional Ricotta Pie on FoodistaTraditional Ricotta Pie

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Here is another meatless recipe for Lent but it's good year 'round.  It's easy, delicious and elegant.  You can serve it as an appetizer or entree and wait for the "wows"!  This is my shortcut version of a time consuming classic but no one will ever know.

4 scallop baking shells*
12 medium shrimp [peeled & cleaned]
4 large sea scallops
1 lobster tail 
1 can condensed cream of mushroom or celery soup
1/3 cup light cream or whole milk
2 tablespoons chopped roasted red pepper 
1/3 cup Corn Flake crumbs or crushed Ritz Crackers
pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons sherry
ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 425* with rack just above center

In 2 quart saucepan bring 1 quart of water, vinegar and 1 tsp. salt to a boil.  When the water reaches the boil lower to simmer and add the shrimp.  As soon as the shrimp turn pale pink [very quickly] remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl leaving the water in the pan.  Repeat with the lobster tail and cook for about 4 minutes and remove to a plate leaving the water.  Now add the scallops to the water and remove from heat.  Cook for 1 minute and remove.  Now you can discard the water.

Shell and clean the shrimp leaving the tails on, if they were not already done. Shell the lobster tail and cut in half length-wise and then cut each half into 4 pieces.  Quarter each scallop.

In a small pan combine the can of soup, cream and sherry and gently warm over low heat while stirring.  Add  a 1/4 tsp. of black pepper and pinch of nutmeg.  Remove the warmed sauce from the heat and stir in the roasted red pepper.

In each scallop shell arrange 3 shrimp, 4 pieces scallop and 2 pieces lobster.  Cover each with sauce and top with corn flake crumbs.

Place shells on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil and bake for 14 to 16 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbly.

For an appetizer, serve one each on a plate.  For an entree** serve each shell on a bed of buttered rice with a vegetable on the side.

*you can substitute ramekins for the shells.

** you can also bake the mixture in a small casserole dish and serve in baked puff pastry shells over rice. 

This dish pairs beautifully with a semi-sec sparkling wine.

Coquilles St. Jacques on FoodistaCoquilles St. Jacques

Monday, February 22, 2010


Adelaide was a smart, funny, active woman who spoke and taught several foreign languages.  This is woman who raised a family, worked, volunteered, traveled,  belonged to many fraternal organizations and still found time to host "the girls" for tea and bridge.  She loved life.  She loved her family.  She loved people, especially her former students.

When my mother retired from teaching she was on top of her game.  At sixty-two she was vital and bright.  She even went back to teaching one or two classes a day for a while.

odd things happen

We were driving down the Garden State Parkway heading for the New Jersey shore and in the middle of a conversation she switched languages and for a few seconds she spoke to me in French.  I teased her.  We laughed it off.  After forty years of teaching languages it wasn't odd for her to drop in some foreign words.  Except she never did that.    

One by one she was opting out of attending her clubs and meetings.  She was becoming increasingly tearful and argumentative.  She had fewer and fewer desires.  Finally after much arguing I got her to a doctor for a checkup.  The doctor recommended a psychiatric evaluation might be in order.  After a couple more weeks of arguing I got my mother to agree.

The psychiatrist was a lovely young woman who saw patients in her home office.  A major life-change such as retirement can often trigger depression and so my mother was diagnosed.  She would be treated with anti-depressants and be "back to her old self in no time".  For two years we would have bi-weekly therapy  and my mother would have her medication evaluated.   

Time after time the doctor would change my mother's medication in hopes that some other potion would be the magic one.  Meanwhile my mother's condition was deteriorating.  Now she was repeating herself, misplacing items, becoming unkempt and all while in a medicine induced fog.

Finally Prozac was introduced to the market.  The doctor decided to try it on my mother.  It worked! 

We had finally found that "magic potion".  

 My mother was returned to us. It was a few days before Christmas and my mother was happy and excited about the holidays.  She was conversational again.  I remember thinking this was the best Christmas present I had ever gotten.  It really was a Christmas miracle.  

The full benefits of the drug began to fade and within a few weeks it was apparent that we had only been given half a miracle.  While my mother's demeanor was much improved and the tears and the arguments were gone, the forgetfulness and repetitiveness returned.  

We went on this way for a couple more years.  My mother's personality had returned and for that I was grateful.  All of her other symptoms slowly worsened.  There was an hourly search for her misplaced eyeglasses.  There was an endless verbatim retelling of old stories.  Words would escape her during conversation. I guess this happens as a normal part of aging?  

The lovely young psychiatrist was about to have another child and was divesting herself of patients so I found another doctor for my mother.  

Shouldn't a mental health professional be able to be honest without being cruel?

I took my mother to the new therapist.  She was a gruff, disheveled woman in her early sixties. She had my mothers medical records in front of her and within 3 minutes looked at me and said "your mother has Alzheimer's disease" which I think she followed with "there's nothing to do for her".  

I was grateful to have a diagnosis but I was also stunned by both it's implications and the doctor's manner.  I don't think you should be thrown a blow like that and then dismissed with neither information nor hope.

This was nearly two decades ago.  Alzheimer's disease was rarely heard of.  I had some idea of what it was but now I embarked on educating myself.  This has been a twenty year, on-the-job internship.  Now I'm an "expert".  

In many ways ignorance really was bliss.

The more I learned about the disease and what I could expect from it's progression, the more frightened I became.  I had some cries and some self-pity sessions and then I found my inner resolve to do the best I could with whatever I was going to be faced with.  I understood it was going to be a difficult challenge but a challenge I was willing to accept.

It has been a long, slow downward progression for my mother.  We went through many phases of the disease.  None was pleasant.  None was easy to accept.  None could be avoided.  

Today Adelaide is bed-bound having faced enormous obstacles.  She is happy, comfortable and sweet.  There is an unmistakable grace and charm that she has maintained.  Her smiles are a generous gift to her family and friends and we treasure each one she gives us.  She is still an incredibly strong woman.  She has an  indisputable will to live.  Approaching ninety, she even survived a six month stay on Hospice..  She was removed from the program for having recovered from her health problems.

When Hospice pulled out of our home I made a t-shirt for my mother which proudly proclaimed "I survived Hospice"!    

Friday, February 19, 2010


Is there anything better than a perfectly seasoned broiled or grilled steak?  Pair this with your favorite steakhouse side dishes for a special in-home treat!  My personal favorite cut of steak is the Porterhouse because it has the toothy strip on one side and the tenderloin on the other but this method works for any good cut of beef.


1 steak per person
1 tsp. dried tarragon
1 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 stick butter at room temperature
1 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper


Place the oven shelf about 4 inches from the broiler and preheat the broiler for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl combine all ingredients except the steak to make a paste.
Rub steaks on one side with about 2 teaspoons of the mixture. This makes enough for about 4 steaks.  You can save any unused butter mixture in the fridge for up to two weeks or in the freezer for several months. Place the steaks on a broiler pan or a rack set in a baking sheet.

For a 3/4" to 1" steak broil for 6 minutes for medium.*  After 6 minutes turn the steaks and spread with the remaining seasoning mixture and broil for another 6 minutes.

Remove to plate and let rest 5 minutes before serving.

I like to serve this with a nice oven-baked potato and fresh steamed broccoli.  

This is a great company meal!

* for your desired degree of doneness adjust cooking time accordingly. 4 minutes for rare and 7 for well done.  Do not cut into the steak to check for doneness!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


With the arrival of the lenten season I have gotten requests for more meat-free recipes so for the next few weeks I will be posting extra lenten-friendly recipes in addition to the usual Foodie Friday posts.

So simple Tuscan Peasant Bean Soup
This was a staple Friday dinner in my house when I was growing up. It was usually served as a first course followed by a Frittata [omelette]and salad.  It's a flavorful favorite of mine.  I like it to be rustic but you can puree it if you prefer a fancier presentation.
Note that this is NOT a date-night dinner!


2 quarts water
2 twelve ounce cans white kidney beans
6 ribs celery diced
6 cloves or 1 head garlic minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 pound small pasta -ditalini, elbow or similar
loaf of very good Italian bread


You're not going to believe how easy this is to prepare and how delightful to eat.
In a 5 quart pot add all the ingredients except the red pepper, pasta and bread.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  

While the soup is cooking prepare the pasta according to package instructions.

Drain the pasta and add to the cooked soup.  Taste to correct salt and pepper.  Serve in large bowls topped off with a drizzle of olive oil.  Red pepper flakes and bread at the table.


Monday, February 15, 2010


My mother, Adelaide and her sister Gloria were as different as two sisters could be.  They were also as close.   
In 1960 Adelaide and Pat [her husband] were living the "American Dream".  Adelaide was a teacher.  Pat was a business owner.  Together they had just added their third child [me] to their family.  Gloria was single, working as a beautician and living at home with her parents.  

Adelaide and Gloria were two of seven siblings and my mother was less than two years older than Gloria.  Gloria was the only unmarried sibling.  1960 was a bad year for the Clemente family.  Both parents became ill and passed away within six weeks of each other.  Gloria was now on her own but not for long.  

Gloria and my family moved in together.  I never knew a time when we weren't one family unit.  In many  ways I had two mothers. Gloria took me to my first day of school.  Adelaide helped me with my homework.  They all lavished gifts on my two siblings and me.  We were one solid family unit.  

I remember Gloria dating now and then and she travelled with her female friends but mostly she was always there with us.   

As my parents had been there to help Gloria when my grandparents died, now it was Gloria's turn to be there for support.  In 1970 my father passed away at the age of fifty.  My siblings were adults but I was ten.  Adelaide would have been alone if it weren't for her sister.  Each of these women was strong in her own way and together they we able to face anything.

As Alzheimer's disease began to take over my mother, Gloria was there to take care of our house and look after Adelaide.  She was a terrific help to me.  Knowing Gloria was there gave me the freedom to continue with my lifestyle as usual.  I had about ten extra years before I had to make any serious life changes.

"To the world you might be one person, but to one person you might be the world" 

In 2001 the three of us were still the same tight family unit.  My mother was struggling with the  advancing manifestations of her disease, Gloria was still here to look after my mother and to afford me some flexibility and freedom.  I was there to look after both of them.  Gloria had been diagnosed with a rare cancer and had surgery.  Now I had two "patients" under my care and under my roof.  

A year later, the cancer returned and this time surgery was not an option.  After speaking with the doctors, my sister and I made three decisions.  First, we decided not to tell Gloria how grave her condition was.  Second, we agreed that the benefits of treatment were small compared with the pain that the treatment would inflict.  Third, we decided to call Hospice.

Now I had the wonderful workers from Hospice taking care of Gloria and a part-time aide to help me with Adelaide.  In my early 40's I now found myself running an amateur nursing home.

"Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are"
Bernice Johnson Reagon

In 2003 Gloria left us.  Two sisters separated after more than eighty years. I learned a lot.  I learned more about healthcare than I ever wanted to know.  I learned about dying and death.  I learned how to become a better caregiver. I learned to ask for help when I need it. I learned how strong I am. 

Friday, February 12, 2010


This is the hardiest of meat sauces guaranteed to delight your palate and fill your stomach. The sauce is light on tomato and heavy on flavor.  This one is for the red meat eaters although you could substitute ground chicken for the ground beef.


1.5 pounds ground beef or beef/pork mixture
1 medium onion chopped fine
3 carrots washed and shredded
1 small can tomato paste
1.5 cups beef stock
1/2 cup half & half or milk
1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
olive oil
grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
1 pound favorite pasta


In large skillet brown the meat over medium heat in 2 tablespoons olive oil until cooked.  Remove the meat to a work bowl with a slotted spoon leaving the liquid in the pan.  Add the chopped onion and shredded carrots to the pan and sautee until tender over medium-low heat.  When tender add the stock, Italian Seasoning, salt and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, stir well and add the meat back to the pan.

Cover the meat sauce and simmer on low for 30 minutes stirring frequently.*  

While the sauce is cooking bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  

After 30 minutes add the half & half to the sauce, stir, cover and remove from heat.  

Cook the pasta while the sauce rests.  When the pasta is al dente according to package directions, remove to large serving bowl and top with the sauce.

Serve family style and be sure to have the grated cheese at the table.  This dish goes well with salad and your favorite green vegetable.

*I find it easier to put the sauce  into a 330* oven for 40 minutes then you don't have to stir or worry about burning.

Bolognese Sauce on FoodistaBolognese Sauce

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


This past weekend my sister and I took a trip back in time.  We went to New Jersey to visit my father's last surviving brother, now into his 90's, and his wife who isn't far behind in years.  A bit remiss, we haven't seen them in about two years.  We always have the best intentions and we do keep in touch via telephone but it is not always easy make firm plans when you're an at-home caregiver.

As we approach the driveway of the only house I have known them to live in in my 50 years, the years begin to roll back.  It's a nice, inviting, impeccably maintained, sturdy brick home which is completely symbolic of the family it has sheltered all these years.  By the time Patricia and I are getting out of the car, the front door of the house has opened to reveal my aunt anxious to welcome us in.  Lena, my aunt, is as unchanged as her home.  Standing in the doorway with her perfectly coiffed hair and wearing her perfectly ironed apron it's hard to remember that it is 2010.

When the door to that house opens love spills out to the street.

We hug and kiss and step inside and it is 1968 and I am 9 years old and I see ghosts everywhere.  Not actual scary ghosts but more like the Ghost of Christmas Present from A Christmas Carol.  I feel my father everywhere.  I can picture long-gone family members sitting in the same furniture that we have captured in treasured photographs.  Almost nothing has changed except for the addition of pictures of children, grand children and great grandchildren so proudly displayed everywhere. Even the aroma of whatever delights my aunt has cooking in the kitchen is still the same. 

Then we see my uncle, across the room, beaming and patiently awaiting his turn for hugs and kisses.  He is more frail than last time we saw him and his hearing is nearly gone but that has not changed his demeanor.  In the 40 years since my father passed away it is always slightly unsettling to see or talk to my uncle Eddie at first because of the powerful resemblance he and my father bore.  I was hugging Ed but I could not help thinking that this is what my father would look like today.  He has welled up with tears.  I can only imagine the rush of memories that he is experiencing.  My aunt tells us that he has been counting down the minutes to our arrival.  

How often in our lives are we fortunate enough to be made to feel so welcomed and loved?

Now the front door is opening to reveal one of my cousins and her husband.  We have not seen each other in 20 years.  There are more hugs and kisses and smiles and tears and now she too is 20 years old again.  We all settle in around the dining room table for wonderful food and immeasurable reminiscing.  Sitting there with this branch of the family it is impossible not to regret the infrequency of our visits.

Periodically my cousin would lean in and ask her father if he was able to follow the conversation and each time he would simply beam and say "I have my family here and that's all I need".

As warm, cheerful and dignified as this family is it would be easy to think what charmed and easy lives they must have lead.  The truth is that life has presented horrible and seemingly unbearable tragedies and in true testament to their strength and love, they have risen above them.  There are so many lessons to be learned from my family.  Love is power and family is strength.  

As a bonus from our visit I was given an envelope of photographs of my father, his brothers and his mother that I had never seen before.  I was given another tiny glimpse into the personality of my father as a young man.  I see that playfulness certainly is a family characteristic.

We left as we had arrived, in a flurry of hugs and kisses and tears.  There were more tears as we were leaving than arriving.  There is no doubt that we were all having the same thoughts and wondering how many more of these wonderful visits there will be.  We promised not to let another two years pass and certainly not to let another twenty in between visits with my cousin.  

.....I think this is a good time to email  my cousin and set a firm date for her and her husband to come to my house for dinner.  Check back for the menu and recipes from that special event!

Friday, February 5, 2010


This is a rustic family favorite sure to please

Cacciatore means "hunter style" which gives you a good idea of the simple robust nature of this dish.  Allow several hours total for this recipe.  You can make it in advance, reheat and serve over pasta when you're ready.


1 medium [3-5 lb.] chicken cut up
1 [28 oz]can crushed tomatoes
2 red or green peppers
3 ribs celery
3 carrots
1 large sweet onion
2 cloves garlic
8-12 oz. sliced mushrooms
1.5 tsp. dried oregano
5 leaves fresh basil or 1 tsp. dried
pinch of thyme
salt & pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup good dry red wine
1 pound spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine


Heat a large skillet with olive oil over medium heat.  Rinse the chicken in cold water and pat dry with paper towel.  Slowly brown the chicken parts in the skillet until nicely browned on all sides.  As the pieces are browned, remove to a large ovenproof baking dish.*

While the chicken is browning give the onion, celery, peeled carrots, and peppers a rough chop. Peel and chop the garlic.

When all the chicken has been transferred to the baking dish, lightly brown the chopped vegetables in the skillet and oil that the chicken was browned in.  [ add extra oil if needed].  

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to the baking dish, spreading over the chicken parts.

In the same skillet, brown the mushrooms.  While the mushrooms are browning salt and pepper them using 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. When the mushrooms are slightly softened, add the wine, stir and cook for 1 minute.

Transfer the mushrooms to the baking dish along with the liquid from the pan.  

In a bowl combine the tomatoes with the herbs and spices and 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper and 1/2 can of water.  Pour liquid over the chicken and vegetables. Cover with foil.

Bake in 400* oven for 2 hours.
Remove the chicken to a serving platter and use the sauce over the cooked pasta.

Be sure to serve grated Italian cheese on the side.

* I use a disposable aluminum deep pan with a baking sheet underneath for support.

Chicken Cacciatore on FoodistaChicken Cacciatore

Monday, February 1, 2010


I cannot remember ever hearing a bad story or derogatory remark about Pat.  Hardworking businessman, trustworthy friend, devoted family man, loving husband and doting father are some of the titles that he held.


Two months after moving into the dream home that he built for his wife and family, at age 50, Pat was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Three gruesome but mercifully short months later Pat was gone.  Physically removed but leaving behind his love presence in the lives of so many.

Forty years ago today

It was my uncle Vic's birthday, February 1, 1970 and he and his wife had taken me to a dog show to get me out of the house where my father lay so pathetically ill.  I was ten years old and although I knew he had cancer and was getting worse, no one had explained exactly how ill.  How much should you burden a young child with?  

I saw my uncle talking with a state trooper but I was distracted by the dogs being paraded everywhere I looked.  When the trooper left my uncle explained to me that my father had been taken to the hospital.  He offered me the choice of going home or staying at the dog show and I remember vividly saying that I didn't think they would let me in to see my father because I was only 10 years old.  In those days rules were different and for some reason I was aware of them.  I chose to continue my day out.

When we returned to their house my uncle and aunt were noticeably upset.  Vic sat me down in the bedroom for what must have been the most difficult task of his 40 years.  How do you tell a 10 year old that his father, the center of his world, had died?  

Although I hadn't seen him, the trooper had returned to the dog show to give my uncle the bad news.  Now it  was his charge to tell me.  For a few minutes the world stopped and when it restarted it had changed forever. We returned to my house which was filled with family and friends.  I have a vague memory of the sorrow but mostly I remember the awkwardness with which I was treated.  People just stared at me, whispered to each other and cried.  

My father had been the warmer of my two parents.  Although my mother was caring, my earliest memories are those of sitting on my father's lap, he fresh from the shower, wrapped in his red flannel robe and smelling of Old Spice, and him kissing me and singing to me in Italian.  

The only thing I wanted was the comfort of my mother, sister and brother.  It was so important to know that I wasn't alone.  I still had my immediate family and we were going to be OK

Now I am the age that my father was when he died.  I have sense memories of my father but most of my knowledge of him has come from others.  I know my father through folklore.  I have had the luxury of having my memories of him fixed in time.  We never had to go through the difficult years that my friends and their fathers had.  My parents' relationship was solid and frozen for eternity.  

There are important lessons to be learned about dealing with a child's loss and grief.  First and foremost is the assurance of stability, safety and love.  A few words might be necessary but demonstrable normalcy is the key.  The extended family was always together. Personally, for a long time after the loss of my father, I had the constant awareness that I was one parent away from being an orphan.

Second important element to healing is distraction. There was a family friend who made a special point of taking me out one evening a week to shoot a bucket of golf balls at a driving range.  I spent a lot of time with my friends.  My brother and his wife took me to their house for an occasional sleepover.  My mother introduced me to travel.  

Third is the amazing resilience of children.  Never underestimate a child's ability to comprehend and cope. Time is a skillful healer.