The Feast!

I spent most of Sunday with a glass of homemade wine in my hand, and sat at an old kitchen table stuffing “Aunt Sue’s” hand made cannoli.  That can only mean one thing-time for The Feast of the Assumption.  It’s a holy day marking Mary’s ascension into heaven.  And for Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood, it’s the busiest week of the year.  Marrying food, faith, family and heritage.  For me, it’s a can’t miss event.

This year we returned to the house that belongs to my future sis-in-law’s great Aunt Sue.  The 90 year old cooks enough to feed an army, and opens her home, adjacent to Holy Rosary Church (the center of the celebration), to dozens of people…whether or not their last name ends in a vowel.  The home made spread was hearty and true to neighborhood.

Pizza, Cavatelli and meatballs, Eggplant Parmesan, Caprese salad, Stuffed Peppers, Breaded Chicken, Sausage, Pepperoni Rolls and Beef Braciole.

I sampled everything on the table, of course!  My kids went right for the meatballs.  But quickly moved on to all things sweet, most colorful of which was the layer cake made like the Italian flag.

When I was done with round one…after all, this is a marathon, not a sprint, I eagerly volunteered to help my Alisa fill her grandmother’s hand made cannoli shells.  She was so grateful for the help, she even shared the secret ingredient to her cannoli filling (Dream Whip)  and invited me back to do the same job on Christmas Eve.

It was time to walk off some of our feast and check out the rest of the action.  We walked through the carnival portion (with short detours for a Ferris Wheel ride, and obligatory gambling at the church…we’re Catholics, after all) then past the gauntlet of food stands and vendors all serving up the neighborhood’s best.  Sausage and peppers wrapped in pizza, steamed clams, Stromboli.  You could linger for the entire length of the four day festival and still not eat everything you can smell as you walk down Mayfield Road.

We stopped by the historic Alta House, a community center that once served as a place for Italian immigrants to get help with housing, employment and language skills.  Now it’s mostly a recreation center, including several bocce courts that played host to a coed tournament.  But before we could take off our belts, to help determine who was closest to the “pallin” (really spelled pallino)-common practice-it was time to head back to Aunt Sue’s for the private concert in Sue’s driveway, courtesy the Italian Band of Cleveland.

It was such a treat, not only to listen to this charming group, but also to watch generations of people enjoying it together.

 

I’m so pleased to have spend another weekend among good people, great food and strong traditions.  Buona Festa, everyone!

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Food is love.  And love is food. 

If you’re like me, you like to show love with food. As Valentine’s Day draws near, I teamed up with someone I love, my friend Rachel from Roaring Acres, to create three lovely events aimed at showing those close to us just how much we care. Cozy up with your girlfriends for PJ Potluck, entertain your kiddos with a Valentine’s themed play date, or romance your honey with an enticing sweetheart’s brunch in bed.

lovely events pj potluck setup

Week nights can be exhausting. The idea of cooking for a crowd probably doesn’t appeal to many. Make a few easy things (some ahead of time) and ask your gal pals to contribute the rest, potluck style. Throw what you need in a silverware caddy and dish out sweets in small, portable portions. Trade work clothes for yoga pants, pop in a movie (or three) and indulge in some serious comfort food.  

Take movie night to the next level with tomato and truffle popcorn soup shooters. Saw this recipe in Food Network Magazine and had to give it a shot. I actually used half the recommended amount of truffle oil and found it to be just enough. Make the soup a day or two in advance, then just heat and serve. Garnish with popcorn and share the rest of the bag with easy-to-pass-around tins.

lovely event chocolate penne

I wanted to give local entrepreneurs some LOVE in this post by making an indulgent and (appropriately flavored) pasta dish using chocolate penne from the Little Lakewood Pasta Company.  Recipe follows. 

And I also LOVE friend and fellow TV news veteran, Tiffani Tucker’s, new Bundt cake business. Have a Slice mini heart-shaped cakes were the perfect complement for our Valentine’s Day dessert. She prepares five different flavors that could also double as favors.


Over the weekend, create a no-frills craft and healthy lunch. Served in the middle of the action, the kiddos can help themselves while they decorate cards for the local nursing home, or a children’s hospital. Dig up that heart-shaped cookie cutter and make sandwiches with strawberry jam and almond butter.
Since my little sweeties like to dip things, I roasted some red peppers and added it to homemade hummus, and provided a pile of sweet and crunchy sliced red and yellow peppers. Recipe follows.

For something to sip on that’s also good for the heart, I made smoothies in my daughters’ favorite color–purple. Toss in frozen berries, a banana, almond milk, and a generous splash of this vibrant fresh pressed juice from Restore Cold Pressed, made with raw and organic apples, beets, carrots and lemons. Use a fun glass so they can slurp them up happily.

Dessert doubles as a holiday-themed activity with decorate-your-own mini cupcakes.  More sprinkles ended up on the floor than on the cupcake display…but kids love to be involved in the fun.

lovely events brunch set up

And don’t forget to to treat your honey.  Create a beautiful brunch or breakfast in bed. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then deviled eggs are the fast lane.


Hard boil eggs and make the deviled filling the night before. (I add mayo, yellow and Dijon mustard, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and salt/pepper) Fill and top them on Valentine’s Day. I painted hearts with Sriracha, sprinkled capers on a second set, then used the remainder of my pancetta from my pot luck pasta recipe for a third variety.

lovely events breakfast stack

To satisfy meat eaters, make this impressive Breakfast Stack with sausage, cheese, sautéed veggies and potatoes. Recipe follows.  This can also be prepped ahead of time to allow for less labor and more snuggle time on this romantic day.

And for a decadent dessert, my go-to is a Chocolate Strawberry Panini, a recipe from my culinary crush, Giada De Laurentiis. I used my Panini press, but if you’ve got a Foreman Grill or a grill pan, those will do the trick too.


Skip the heart-themed setting and create a Valentine pink bubbly by dropping in a few Red Hots for color and just a hint of cinnamon flavor. Or brew up your love’s favorite blend, and finish it with the care and attention of a seasoned barista.

lovely event coffee

A trio of Valentine’s Day menus, delivered. My love to you all!!

Chocolate Penne: 1 lb. dried chocolate penne pasta, 1 jar prepared Alfredo sauce, or about 2 cups homemade, ½-1 c. asparagus, cut into bite sized pieces and blanched, 2-3 T. pancetta or bacon cut into 1 inch pieces, 1 Roma tomato, halved and sliced, pinch of nutmeg and cardamom (optional)

Cook pasta according to package directions, 7-10 min. In a sauté pan, fry up pancetta, then set aside. To the same pan, warm sauce and add nutmeg and cardamom. Toss the pasta in the sauce, and then add asparagus. Top with sliced fresh tomatoes and crispy pancetta.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus: 1 red pepper, olive oil and salt, 1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained, I lemon, juiced, 1 clove garlic, chopped, 1 T. parsley, chopped, ¼ t. sesame oil, ¼ c. water, ½ c. olive oil, salt/pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425* Coat the red pepper generously with olive oil and salt. Roast in the oven until skin is slightly charred. Set aside to cool then peel the skin and remove seeds and stem. In a food processor, combine beans, garlic, lemon juice, parsley, sesame oil, water, salt/pepper and the red pepper (cut into strips).  Blend until smooth, gradually pouring in the olive oil.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Chill and serve.  

Breakfast Stack: ½ lb. breakfast sausage, ½ c. shredded cheddar cheese, 2 T. each, red and yellow bell peppers, 1 T. white onion, chopped, 1 small potato, shredded, 1 egg, beaten.

Preheat the oven to 350.* Brown the breakfast sausage and set aside. Shred the potato like hash browns and then wring out as much moisture as you can, with a cheese cloth or clean dish towel.  Season and pan fry until golden brown.  Set aside.  Combine chopped veggies, season and sauté until softened.  Generously coat a medium ramekin (about 10 oz. size) with cooking spray.  Sprinkle cheese on the bottom for the bottom layer.  Add a layer of sausage, then veggies, then potato.  Pour  in the beaten egg, making sure it filters through the layers. Finish with a final layer of cheese.  Bake 20-25 min.  Cover with a plate and flip to remove from ramekin and serve. 

Cake School: Colette Peters Fondant Class

Ever walk past a window display at a bakery and think…’how’d they do that?’  Or say, ‘I can do that’!  Elaborate cake decorating is one of the hottest trends in cooking these days.  Cake competition shows and decorating demos flood the Food Network.  For some, it’s a calling.  For others, a passion.  For me, it’s something I’ve never even attempted.  Too intimidated.  Some things are better left to others.  But when one of the best bakers in the world, Colette Peters, offers you some one on one time to talk about how she creates her incredible confections…you gotta take her up on it.

Famed cake decorator to the stars, reality show pioneer, and decorating school founder, Colette Peters, of Colette’s Cakes, paid a visit to Cuyahoga Community College’s Hospitality Management Center this weekend.  She offered her time and expertise to students and amateurs alike.

purple fondant

I sat in on a fondant class where novices and budding cake queens learned tips and tricks from the woman who has baked and decorated for the likes of Sting, The Rolling Stones, Whoopi Goldberg, Kanye West, Yoko Ono and even The White House.

Peters spent the beginning of the day trouble shooting and helping students answer questions about what they were doing wrong.  Most of the time, she told me, bakers don’t work fast enough and the fondant gets too dry, and often cracks.  The fix? Simple.  Rub it down and smooth it over with some shortening.  Who knew?!

Sisters Robin Wilson and Debbie Hartman were there looking for ways to be more efficient, and turn their weekend hobby into a legitimate business.  Right now, they’re picking away at every cake they make, in the spare time they can find.  But each cake takes about 10 hours for them.

sisters applying fondant

Nancy Bolzan works in the family business: Gentile’s Bakery, Catering and Deli.  She can knock out a fondant-topped cake in about two hours.  But she is looking to expand her repertoire, so she came to the class to pick up some new techniques.

Students at the Sunday class learned marbling techniques, and Peter’s own buttercream recipe.  They also tackled questions like when to frost, and at what temperature.

smoothing fondant

Peters comes to the table with two degrees in painting, and a background in design at Tiffany & Co. where she worked on things like stationary and china.   She was also a competitor, and winner, on Food Network’s original baking competition.  Peters even helped them write the rules for subsequent shows.

colette peters Food Network

To those like Robin and Debbie, looking to make some more of their baking hobby, she says…take classes!  There you can learn in a hands on manner, and ask practical questions.  Or, she says, take advantage of the resources of your state’s chapter, and conventions, of the International Cake Exploration Societe.

Colette Peters cakes

photo courtesy Facebook

What’s trending and on the horizon for this innovative baker?  Right now Peters tells me she is working on a collaboration inspired by Cirque de Soleil, and edible cages around her famous cakes.  Can’t wait to see how those turn out!

And incidentally, it was just her 65th Birthday, so to celebrate, the team at Tri-C launched an international sugar collaboration in her honor. Check it out:
www.happybirthdaycolette.com  Fans and students are leaving messages and sharing pictures of cakes made just for her!

Peters is doing a FREE “Painting on cake” demo for the public on Monday, February 1st, from noon-1:30pm at the Hospitality Management Center, 180 Euclid Ave.  Cleveland, Ohio.