Archive for the ‘Food Connects Us – Interview’ Category

One New Year’s Eve, Vonnie and Linda decided to eat dinner together– they had no idea it would become a 30-year (and counting) tradition for them and their families.

Food traditions are often started on a whim or out of convenience, but these little decisions change the flavor of our lives by adding a richness and stability that we look forward to. Linda and Vonnie are close friends for lots of reasons, but one dinner one night created a bond, a ritual, that has lasted for most of their adult lives.

They’ve even created a blog to chronicle their New Year’s memories and recipes, check it out at http://www.thirtynewyears.blogspot.com/

Although they had a hard time picking one recipe, they ultimately choose Steak Diana. This beef tenderloin dish has been cooked more than any other  (3 times) and it’s from The Cook Book, published by the National Council of Jewish Women.

Steak Diane

Four 4- to 6-ounce beef tenderloin steaks

2 Tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoons salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

4 Tablespoons butter

1 1/2 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 cups sliced mushrooms

2 Tablespoons minced shallots

1/4 cup brandy

1/2 cup beef bouillon

Pound steaks between two pieces of waxed paper. Dredge in flour mixed with salt and pepper.  In a large skillet melt 1 Tablespoon butter. Add steaks. Brown one minute on each side. Remove to platter.  Spread both sides with mustard and sprinkle Worcestershire sauce & set aside.  In same skillet melt rest of butter, sauté minced shallots briefly, add mushrooms and sauté a minute or two. Add brandy and flame. Stir in bouillon and remaining Worcestershire. Cook and stir until hot. Return steaks to skillet, reheat 2 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.


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Monic’s note said it better than I ever could…

“See, gumbo is a tradition in my family.  Every New Years Day, my mom would fix gumbo.  It was the same every year.  Chip and dip to hold us over until the gumbo was done.  And around noontime or after, she’d announce it was done and we would come running.”

“If the gumbo could talk, it would chronicle all the laughs and stories my family and friends have shared over the years.  It would tell you how many people’s noses ran while eating just one bowl.  It would recant the number of times my dad said “don’t pick out the shrimp from the pot!  Whatever comes up in the spoon is what goes in your bowl.”  And it would marvel at how a simple tradition has kept my family (and friends) connected for so many years.”

Monic’s Modified New Year’s Gumbo recipe:

Mom’s Seafood Gumbo

Time: about 3-1/2 hours

2 pounds raw shrimp, in shells

4 large green onions chopped, tops reserved

4 tablespoons bacon fat

3 tablespoons flour

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

1-1/2 pounds hot Creole sausage sliced into 1-inch chunks

1 pound canned tomatoes

Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste

4 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon thyme

1/3 teaspoon basil

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 pound crabmeat

6 cups chicken stock

Dash file powder

Cooked rice

Peel and de-vein shrimp.  Cut all vegetables and meat.

Make a roux by melting in a heavy pot 4 tablespoons bacon fat.  Blend in 3 tablespoons flour.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until a very dark brown.

Add chopped onions, garlic, bell pepper, and celery.  Stir and brown slightly.  Add sausage and tomatoes and chicken stock.  Add Tabasco and up to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste, bay leaf, thyme and basil.  Let simmer slowly for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  (Check to add more salt, pepper and cayenne as necessary.)  During last half hour of cooking, add green onions, parsley, crab meat and shrimp.  (Start cooking rice.)  Sprinkle a pinch of file powder over each serving and serve with rice.

Makes at least a dozen servings.

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Oh, fruitcake! It gets such a bad rap. I was delighted when Anne asked me over for dinner and to talk about her husband’s grandmother’s fruitcake recipe. Even more fun, she made it right in front of me!

Yes, we started the evening with a lovely dinner of wine and chicken ravioli in a walnut sauce. It was very yummy indeed.

Then it was on to the fruitcake. This recipe was passed down to Anne and she is the only person in the family who makes it. It requires some specific ingredients. She traditional buys boxed Nonesuch mincemeat, but this year, the stores in her area stopped stocking it. Anne had to go for a different brand and a jar version.

First, we had to open the jar…

And Anne’s story…

Finally into the pan!

I left before the cake was finished, but it turned out well, jarred mincemeat and all.

So many of our food traditions just find us and sharing them with others keeps us connected to the people who took the time to write the recipe card in the first place. Food is a perishable way of keeping memories alive, which is both wonderful and fleeting at the same time. I was so happy on the day before Christmas Eve, Anne knocked on my front door with a slice for me. It was gone before I could take a picture of it.

Grandma Lewandowski’s Holiday Fruitcake

9-oz. pkg. Nonesuch mincemeat
½ c. water
½ c. sifted flour
t. baking soda
eggs, lightly beaten
14-oz. can condensed milk
c. (1-lb. jar) mixed candied fruit
c. walnuts, coarsely chopped
c. raisins
c. dates
Break mincemeat into pieces in a medium saucepan. Add water. Stir over medium heat until lumps are broken. Boil 1 minute. Cool.
Butter a 10-12″ springform pan, line with waxed paper, and butter again.
Sift flour and baking soda together. Combine eggs, mincemeat, condensed milk, fruit, and nuts. Fold in dry ingredients. Pour into prepared pan. Bake in 300 degree oven for 2 hours or until center springs back when touched.
Cool and turn out. Remove paper.

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Julie learned her Christmas food tradition not from her own grandmother, but her husband’s grandmother

“My husband’s mother is of Italian heritage. Her parents my husband’s grandparents, lives centered around food and family. They had several customs that are SO much a part of my husband’s childhood. My mother-in-law does not cook at all — so they taught me (and my sister-in-law) many of their traditions before they died.”

This annual chaotic, happy ravioli-making extravaganza isn’t just a group effort but a celebration of the way we become family. I found the idea of making ravioli so exciting, I decided to take it on my self. See the New Years post for more!

Lucille Bivona Piraro’s Ravioli and Meatballs

This recipe makes enough filling for 80-100 large ravioli.  Easy to cut recipe in thirds for smaller amounts.




1 ½ lb ground beef

1 ½ lb ground pork

Handful of chopped Italian parsley

3 packages frozen chopped spinach – thawed, drained

1 cup grated Romano cheese

2 or 3 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped

3 or 4 raw eggs, lightly beaten

Olive oil – add as needed to moisten filling

Salt and pepper to taste

Brown meat, drain excess fat.  Mix together with all other ingredients.


3 cups all-purpose flour (or ½ cup semolina, 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour)

1 tsp salt

4 eggs

1 TB olive oil

2 TB water

Mix flour and salt in large bowl or on clean work surface.  Make a well in the center and add eggs, olive oil and water.  Beat eggs with a fork and begin incorporating flour mixture until a firm dough forms.  Need the dough for 10 minutes until pliable and smooth.  Cover it with damp cloth and let it rest for a few minutes.  Take handful of dough and work with through a pasta machine, starting with highest setting and repeat running it through three or four times.  Gradually work down to lowest setting (or desired thickness).  Use ravioli molds as directed to assemble.


On floured work surface, lay the long strip of pasta flat.  Place rounded tablespoonful of filling (or use small ice cream scoop) on the strip approx 3-4 inches apart.  Brush  water around filling and add another flat strip of pasta on top (or fold the bottom one over).  Gently press two strips together, while pressing the air out around the filling.  Evenly cut the ravioli to desired size using a rolling pastry cutter.  (I make approx 3 ½ – 4 inch squares).  Use the ends of a fork to crimp the edges of each one, being careful not to poke holes in the dough.  Cook immediately or freeze on cookie sheets until no longer sticky.  Transfer to plastic bags for longer storage in freezer.  Cook in boiling water (without thawing).

Serve with pasta sauce and meatballs!


This recipe makes 12-15 meatballs.  I triple it to go with the full recipe above.


½ lb ground beef

½ lb ground pork

2 slices white bread with crusts cut off, soaked in milk

½ cup Italian bread crumbs

½ cup romano or parmesan cheese (or combo)

1 beaten egg

¼ cup parsley, chopped

1 garlic clove, pressed

2 tsp dried oregano (or 1 TB fresh)

1 tsp dried basil (or 1 ½ tsp fresh)

dash of red pepper flakes

salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together, gently.  Lightly form meatballs, approx 2” in diameter.

Put meatballs in 9×13 baking dish and add beef broth to ½ inch to 1 inch in-depth. Bake in 425 degree oven for 25 minutes.  Add to simmering tomato sauce to continue cooking.

Basic Tomato Sauce

This is enough sauce to go with 12-15 meatballs.  I usually triple it as well, if needed.

½ onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, pressed or minced

2-3 small cans tomato paste

8 cans water

1 14.5 oz can diced or crushed tomatoes



1 TB sugar

dash cinnamon

basil, parsley (fresh or dried) as desired

1 bay leaf

Brown onion in olive oil until soft.  Add garlic and stir for a minute.  Add tomato paste and water, stirring until paste is dissolved.   Add all other ingredients, stirring.  Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour or more, stirring occasionally.  Add meatballs and continue simmering until meatballs are cooked through

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There is something incredible happening where I work…

a team of co-workers are sampling chocolates almost every day.

We’re not just talking mini Hershey bars here (although there’s nothing wrong with that), but some serious gourmet chocolate.

Yes, I invited myself to one of these “happenings.”

Here’s what went down…




I’ve worked a lot of places, I’ve been on a several close teams, but I have say the way these co-workers bond over chocolate puts to shame any treat day gathering anywhere.

Here’s to you Chocolate Tasters! Huzzah, Huzzah! Keep up the good work!

(and I will be back for more).

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Liz truly cherishes her friends and their Girl’s Night Out dinners.

For three years her and her friends have fun getting together, sharing stories, laughing, dining, and supporting each other.

GNO’s can also turn into GNI (Girl’s Night In) when Liz and her friends cook together in the kitchen.

“We filled the kitchen, each working on our own tasks — someone might chop vegetables, someone might pour the drinks, someone might set the table, someone might gather all of the ingredients — everyone contributed.“

Liz and her friends prove once again that food brings us and keeps us together.

Liz’s Recipe and a Girl’s Night Out Favorite….

Layered Greek Dip


1 8 oz pkg. cream cheese softened

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. dried italian seasoning

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2  cups prepared hummus

1 cup chopped cucumber

1 cup chopped tomato

1/2 cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup sliced green onions

Pita chips and/or multi-grain tortilla chips


1) In a medium mixing bowl beat cream cheese, lemon juice, Italian seasonings, and garlic with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and combined.

2) Spread cream cheese mixture into a deep 9-inch pie plate or shallow serving dish. Evenly spread hummus on cream cheese layer. Top with cucumber, tomato, olives, feta cheese, and green onions. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 24 hours. Serve with pita chips and or multi-grain chips.

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As a child there was one food I was afraid of, The Lep Cookie. This Boonville Missouri  and Farris family favorite sat in jars all around town “ripening” for months before being consumed at Christmas. The idea that a cookie got better the longer it aged did not tempt my refrigerator /expiration date trained taste buds (plus it was filled with raisins, walnuts and no chocolate). The Lep cookie isn’t just a legend in our family, but a Christmas cookie tray staple and a topic of discussion every holiday for many families in mid-Missouri.

Where do these flat dark brown cookies come from?

According to a 1974 article in the  Boonville newspaper,  the “Lebukuchen” became a popular cookie in mid-Missouri due to the scarcity of sugar. Brought to Boonville by german immigrants in the 1800’s, the Lebukuchen, was soon americanized to the German Honey Bar, The  Lepp or Lep cookie. This cookie was traditionally exchanged by neighbors and served when anyone dropped by. Though there are many different local recipes all involve the same basic ingredients: flour, nuts, fruits, and sorghum molasses. The nuts are key. There are a lot of nut trees in area, so essentially they were a free ingredient for baking. These cookies were prepared around nut harvesting time, November, and eaten at Christmas.

The Lep cookie is so ingrained in the town’s culture that at the local hospital huge quantities were often baked and decorated like greeting cards for the patients and in 1928 each new Christmas infant took one home.

Now the question is, when did my family start making them?

One fall afternoon, Linda and I found my great grandmother’s recipe for Lep cookies. It was buried under magazine recipes and several different newspaper versions of Lep cookies. My grandmother was about to toss it out!

I have groaned about the Lep cookie for years, but to be totally honest, I ended up loving the that cookie after I baked it myself. I learned that, yes, it’s true you must let them chill before handling the dough or it will turn into a sticky tar mess. But it’s really tasty, kind of like a granola bar or fruit cake without the candied fruit. I ate them with tea like my mother’s side of the family. And frankly, I am forcing myself to wait until frosty afternoon in February to eat the rest. This is one cookie that is more a part of my DNA then I ever thought possible.


Because they keep forever, all Lep cookie recipes bake a ton.

Here is a condensed recipe:

Lep Cookies


8 oz or 1 cup sorghum molasses or dark molasses

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup lard or Crisco

1 pint or 2 cups of flour

1/2 cup of buttermilk

2 1/2  teaspoons of baking soda

1/2 Tablespoon of each: clove, ginger, nutmeg, all spice

1 Tablespoon of cinnamon

1 cup of chopped mixed nuts ( I used pecans and walnuts)

1 cup of mixed fruit (I used raisins and dried cranberries)

Pinch of salt

Wax paper


Heat molasses, lard and sugar and let cool.

Add baking soda to milk, then add all ingredients together in a mixing bowl.

Mix together until a wet dough forms.

Pour ingredients onto a sheet of wax paper. Use your hands to shape the dough into rolls. You won’t use your hands too long, the dough is very sticky. Once you have a log shape going, wrap the wax paper around the sides of the dough and use it to roll the dough into shape. I cut my dough into two rolls.

Wrap the wax paper around the dough and chill. Chilling can be over night or you can freeze it and bake it much later.

Slice and bake at 350 for 12 to 15 minutes.

To ripen them: Store in an air tight container (like a stone jar or plastic container) at room temperature for a month or freeze them (icing and all) and eat them until next year.

Lep cookies are served frosted and unfrosted. I choose to make a Browned Butter Frosting for mine. Here’s that recipe, but feel free to use any frosting you like!

Browned Butter Frosting (from Better Homes and Gardens)

In a small saucepan heat 1/2 cup  butter over low heat till melted. Continue heating till butter turns a delicate brown. Remove from heat; pour into small bowl. Add 4 cups of sifted powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low-speed till combined. Beat on medium high-speed, adding additional milk if needed to reach spreading  consistency.

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