Lots from the files; seafood, Easter bread, manicotti and more


Life is moving fast … here are a few notes from my Foodie Files:

This picture (below right) caused quite a stir on my Facebook page. I guess I’m not the only one who has memories of these dishes.

I remember when my mother, her two sisters and my grandmother used to combine their “sets” for a holiday so we could have matching dishes.

To this day I do not know how they got back their own dishes…probably because it didn’t matter.



On Good Friday, our family does a seafood feast.
We have made king crab for years but did not want to pay the crazy price this year. Instead we purchased this snow crab.

Turns out, it was much easier to cook (boiled it with some parsley in the water) than the king. We served it with melted butter.

Also on the menu this year was pan seared Ahi tuna, grilled swordfish and tilapia picatta.



Before Easter, I wrote a column about making my grandmother’s Easter bread.
I asked my friends to give the recipe a try and to share their experience.

More than the bread, I was hoping they would start a tradition their family would remember.

My cousin Rene sent me this picture (left) of these beautiful loaves of breadmade from her mother’s recipe.

Aren’t they just wonderful?

The best part is that she did it with her daughters, passing along the tradition.



Last week I told you about my niece Francesca.

She and I really enjoyed cooking together while we were on vacation. Here is a picture of homemade manicotti.

My mother had some sauce in the freezer that she made a month earlier and we needed to eat it before we went home. Not a problem for us!

Francesca was on a crepe kick and so my mother taught her how to mix the ricotta and how to roll the manicotti. It was sooo good, I wish I had a leftover right now.

I promise to do a column soon on how to make these special crepes.



This is a picture (left) of calamari at JB’s on the Beach in Deerfield Beach, Florida ..
Just ‘cause!


That’s it from my files for this week.

Have a yummy week.


Francesca another family foodie in the making


Looking back I should have realized it years ago when we were at a favorite South Florida restaurant, Oceans 234 in Deerfield Beach (link here).

Most children who have outgrown the booster seat but still need to kneel on their chair to reach the table do not eat Edamame, soybeans in the pod.

But there was Francesca Schena, my sister’s youngest child, collecting empty pods in her throw away bowl and building a perfect mound (she is also creative like her artist mother and talented sister). The funniest part of this story to me is that it was my first time tasting edamame and it was Francesca who taught me how.

“Aunt Jude, you sort of suck off the salt and pepper then gently squeeze the pod and kind of pull them out with your teeth. But don’t bite it, that’s gross!”

Since then whenever I eat edamame I think of her.

At first glance, my sister and I are not two soybeans in a pod. She is lean and athletic. I am not. She has long glistening straight hair. Have you ever seen me? I do not. She moved away from home soon after college. I did not. Her children have always eaten what was presented to them. Mine did not. (My son did catch up, however, since I had the ultimate meltdown when he was 3 or 4 and revolted against being a short-order cook. Of course, my mother-in-law was right, you don’t have to kill the monster you don’t create.)

But, close your eyes and hear us talk and you may have a difficult time telling us apart. Get us in the kitchen and you will find the same passion drives us both to not only feed our families but to satisfy that inner hunger that makes us feel loved and grounded. I guess we never gave any thought to our love and passion for food because our mother was the ultimate culinary model of a home cook.

Mom donned that apron and created amazing dishes, both sweet and savory. The Urban Dictionary defines foodie “a person who spends a keen amount attention and energy on knowing the ingredients of food, the proper preparation of food and finds great enjoyment in top-notch ingredients and exemplary preparation.”

If you include the phrase “Francesca is” to the above definition you are describing my 11-year-old niece. She first learned the phrase foodie about a year ago when her friend Crystal told her about a television show on Food Network called “Chopped.”
On that show four chefs are given baskets with secret ingredients and must make an appetizer, main dish and dessert with a chef being eliminated (chopped) after each round. She would come home from school and put Food Network on rather than the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, trying to find “Chopped.”

Occasionally she would, but the rest of the time she would see other shows like “Sweet Genius” or “Cupcake Wars.” She likes competition shows and baking shows best.


Francesca and her friend Mackenzie play “Chopped” sometimes at home. They will do afterschool snacks or lunch and choose the ingredients the other has to work with. She says the secret is to give each other things they like to eat. This is a really great way to learn to cook because you have to envision how the ingredients work together. There is no judging, just enjoyment.

The topic of crepes came up when we were on vacation together last week. We went to a crepe restaurant in Deerfield Beach but realized we could do way better at home. We did a few dessert crepes then my mother taught her how to make homemade manicotti.

Not only was it a delicious meal, it was made by three generations of Russo women. It’s a memory I will hold dear forever.

I asked her what her favorite food was. Her answer: “a food, a meal or a course?” Seriously?

She says she loves spaghetti and meatballs with Gramma’s sauce. Her favorite food to make is cupcakes. Graham crackers and milk is her favorite afterschool snack and chocolate chip pancakes are her favorite breakfast. Her favorite thing to drink: virgin mango daiquiri. She says she cooks at least once a day.

A few weeks ago, she made deviled eggs. Heck, I don’t make deviled eggs! She gets recipes from cookbooks (she is starting a collection), magazines but rarely online. Some of her favorite things to cook, however, come from the top of her head. I asked her to give me an example.

Here is a favorite dessert or snack.

Francesca’s Ice Cream Sandwich Toast a frozen waffle (or make your own) Cut waffle in half and put a few small scoops of your favorite ice cream on one half and place the other half on top. Top with maple syrup and whipped cream.


When Francesca is not playing “Chopped” or watching food shows she’s a competitive swimmer, plays soccer, softball and tennis. She is president of the St. Hugo of the Hills children’s church choir in Michigan. When she grows up, she does not see herself doing anything food-related for a living. She does see herself enjoying making food for herself and for her family.

It appears the apple does not fall far from the tree.

And, in our case, where there is an apple, something yummy is sure to follow!

Have a yummy week!

Breakfast On The Road


When you’re driving around town, you don’t likely pay any attention to the towering Cracker Barrel sign on Transit Road which is a beacon to weary travelers everywhere.

It says “civilization ahead” or at least “someone who knows how to make really good biscuits ahead!”

I have logged several thousand miles the past few weeks and I’m not home yet. I’ll be climbing back into the car on Sunday with a cooler packed with things we did not eat but did not have the heart to throw away.

Why did I buy four pounds of ricotta for manicotti to serve eight people? Why? Because I’m not home, that’s why.

But, I’m going to tell you a deep dark secret. I wish, just once, my mom would forget to boil eggs and pack proper portion yogurt. She has the spoons wrapped individually and always remembers a garbage bag to dispose of our empties. I wish the cooler was mistakenly packed behind the big suitcase, not to see the light of day until we get home.

I just want to stop at one of those breakfast-all-day places that are all along the highways.

I would never think to stop at the Cracker Barrel at home especially because I do not find myself often on Transit Road at breakfast time. Also, we have such great breakfast places Below the Falls there is no need to drift.

But, when you are in the car, many miles from home that familiar sign is like a billboard advertising an oasis!

While I’m telling secrets, I’ll share another with you. I like grits. I really like them. Grits are like cream of wheat with an attitude. Grits are a mystery food for northerners like sweet tea. Trust me, they are not kidding when they say sweet. Real southern sweet tea is so sweet it can make your head snap back as if there was a shot of bourbon snuck in. Oh wait, maybe that was bourbon.

My trip south (99 percent of the time when I drive below Virginia I am heading to South Florida) is not complete without a serving of grits at the Cracker Barrel. When they bring the biscuits to the table with real butter I swear I think I tear up. Good biscuits transcend food for me. They become almost a religious experience.


For years, I’ve passed the Waffle House and never stopped. Last week, I made the drive with my son. He’s a bit more adventurous than my mother. Well, he is actually totally more adventurous than my mom.

The Waffle House has never fit my mother’s idea of a place to stop. My son and I wanted to sit and eat but not take a lot of time. He had heard of the Waffle House and several of my coaches swear by it. We stopped at one somewhere on I-95 in South Carolina. He had waffles and bacon. The portion was not huge, but very filling. He really enjoyed it.

I got cheese-n-eggs with raisin toast and grits. I loved the eggs because they reminded me of the eggs my mother used to make when I was a kid. I think she scrambled the eggs with a little bit of Velveeta cheese (I think it has to be called cheese product now).

They were really good. Raisin toast is a family staple and another throwback to childhood. The grits were great and the portions generous, especially for less than $4. And, in a really clutch move, we asked for our last cup of coffee in a roadie and they brought us two fresh cups of really good coffee for the road. Deal!

I am climbing back into my car on Sunday and I think I am going to pack the cooler in the back of the trunk!

Have a yummy week.

Antique Recipe: Easter Bread


I’ve always associated life’s highlights by sound and smell. Earth Wind and Fire’s song “September” (the coincidental current song on my iPhone) blasting out of someone’s dorm room signaled the completion of their last final. Whenever I smell rose water I think of my grandmother’s bathroom. When I smell anise I think of Easter bread.

Every Easter my Gramma Massaro would bake it from a recipe I assume was passed down to her by her own mother.

The recipe was in the recipe box also called her memory. Nothing was written down.

Imagine that!

My Gramma Russo would ask her every year for the recipe and all she would say was “you know, Mary, I put in flour, butter and anise oil…some eggs and yeast.” When asked how much of each she would shrug. “A hand full of this…a little of that.”

So one day in our kitchen, two power house Italian grandmothers coexisted in the single mission of preserving a family tradition. While one woman went about making the bread the other used conventional measuring tools and accurately recorded the ingredient list and the directions.


I have been making this bread since I’ve been married the Saturday before Easter. When it is done I pack up baskets and cover them with pretty linen and lug them to church to be blessed.

Back then, I did everything by hand, including working in all the eggs and kneading until the glossy elastic feel a good bread has before its first rising. Since getting my stand mixer (one of my most beloved kitchen appliances) I modified the recipe to allow me to make six small loaves and still have some day left to do other Easter preparations.

Original Easter Bread Recipe (Makes 6 large loaves)

9 Cups Flour
½ Tsp Salt
3 Pkgs Yeast (dissolved in ½ cup warm water)
1.5 Cups Warm Milk
1 ½ Sticks Butter
8 Eggs (keep some for egg wash)
1 Tsp Anise Seeds
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Tsp Anise Extract (1/2 tsp anise oil)
Make a well in the flour. Combine milk, melted butter (warm, not still hot), beaten eggs, salt, seeds, extracts and beat well. Add to the flour well.
Add yeast and warm water to flour in the well. Mix with hands until smooth. Put a little flour on hands if dough is sticky.

Once everything is mixed into the dough, put a little oil on your hands and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is mushy. Put a little oil in a bowl at least twice the size of the dough and put in warm place for about 1 ½ hours until doubled in bulk. Punch down. Rise again 15 minutes.


Arrange racks in oven so there is room for dough to rise. Insert picture of oven racks and sheet pans. Have one rack on the bottom, skip a slot then set the other. Preheat oven 350 degrees. Lightly grease two metal sheet pans. NOTE: do not have sheet pan touch the oven wall or the other pan. The loaves will burn. Have only one sheet per rack.

Cut dough in half. Cut each half into thirds. Try to make them even so the loaves. You can use a scale to even them out.

Each dough ball becomes one loaf. One at a time, divide dough into three even pieces. Roll them into even length strings and gently pinch the three strings and tuck end under.


Braid each loaf and set on sheet pan. For large recipe, bake no more than two loaves per sheet. You can put three loaves per sheet for the smaller recipe Brush with beaten egg to cover.

Bake large loaves 40 to 50 minutes and small loaves 35 to 45 minutes. They are done when the bottom is a light brown and sound hollow when tapped.

Converted Easter Bread Recipe for Stand Mixer (Makes 6 small loaves)

6 Cups Flour
1/3 Tsp Salt
2 Pkgs Yeast (dissolved in 1/3 cup warm water)
1 Cup Warm Milk
1 Stick Butter
5 Eggs
2/3 Tsp Anise Seeds
2/3 Tsp Vanilla Extract
2/3 Tsp Anise Extract (1/3 tsp anise oil)
The original recipe is done by hand and the converted recipe works well with a stand mixer but could be done by hand to be more manageable. Follow your mixer’s method for adding flour. When I make mine I prepare the wet ingredients and work in 4 ½ cups flour then add in ½ cup flour until the dough is silky. I kneaded it another 4 minutes on the “stir” setting.

Rise, prepare loaves and bake according to original directions starting at oven arrangement.

There was much discussion this weekend about Easter bread traditions. My grandmother braided the dough and covered them with an egg wash to make them shiny and crisp. My husband’s grandmother baked hers with a hardboiled egg tucked in. Some make it more like a dessert bread covering them with candies and a sugar glaze. I am not saying they are wrong…just a different tradition than I grew up with. And, that’s OK with me – keeping up the family tradition is the key. And, it’s never too late to start!

May the blessings of Passover and Easter fill you with love and life.

Have a yummy holiday