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Summer Lessons From My Father (That’s Right – I Went There!)

July 24, 2011 10 comments

Lesson #1.

When it’s 100° outside, QUICK — get in the kitchen and start baking!

Despite this past week’s sweltering heat, I gave a nod to my Dad and decided to spend one of those triple-digit temperature days baking. As a kid I used to think my dad was crazy because he would bake on the hottest of days. As an adult, I realize it’s only crazy, if you don’t have air-conditioning; which we never did.

I try real hard not to snack after 8pm and quite frankly it’s becoming increasingly difficult. Actually, it’s almost impossible since my daughter and I are obsessed with watching multiple cooking and baking shows in the evening. Yes, we’re foodies and we watch just about every food related program that comes on DirecTv including but not limited too, Chopped, Diners Drive-Ins and Dives, Tough Cookie with Crazy Susan, Ace of  Cakes, Cake Boss and our favorite, Cupcake Wars. We’re also fans of The Little Couple, Say Yes to the Dress, Clean House and House Hunters. We’ve even watched Hoarding: Buried Alive twice but honestly, I just found it too disturbing.

We prefer the “sweeter” programs and nearly every night we torture ourselves watching them.

Believe it or not, I never heard of red velvet cake or its connection to the Waldorf-Astoria until recently and for some reason this summer it keeps coming up, especially on Cupcake Wars. Intrigued, I looked up several recipes on the internet, put together what I thought would work best, ramped up the A/C and decided to give it a go, this week, the hottest week of the summer, so far.

It reminded me of when I was a kid and how my Dad would bake on the hottest day of the year.

I’m not sure if it was me or my daughter who was the genius behind the thought but we decided to do a little red-velvet-ice-cream-cone-cupcake thing and at least give the illusion that we were eating something that would help cool us off!

Yowza…we were so excited!! They turned out AWESOME!!

When we were done, we figured if there was one person who’d appreciate our efforts on this sizzler of a summer day, it would be my Dad, so we decided to take some over to him to see what he thought.

We plated a few cones and were on our way……………………………………………………………….

Lesson #2.

When it’s 100° outside, be sure to shut every door and window in your home before turning on your biggest, loudest, most antiquated, metal-fan and when possible, place it backwards in your window. This way you are sure to suck any air that’s in the house, out of the house, making it just a hair more unbearable and uncomfortable than it ever should be.

Thankfully, because I have air-conditioning in my house, there’s no need for the gigantor window fan to make it worse.

At Dad’s house however, we couldn’t stay too long. It was literally 100° degrees outside and with no A/C and all the windows and doors shut, it was probably close to 112° inside. At least the attic fan was off for our visit. Mom says it’s so loud, she goes crazy when it’s on. Dad says, it’s “physics”; draw the hot air out and …. I don’t understand it but when my 10-year old daughter questioned the logic of it and started to argue the point with him, well, I knew it was time for us to go.

Dad really enjoyed our cupcakes though. We put a cherry on his!

Lesson #3. 

Freeze an orange and then slice it (or try to anyway). It’s better than sherbert! 

Not really but it’s an option. As an adult, I choose to buy the sherbert.

Oh, and there’s also these lessons I’ve learned from my Dad:

#4. Whether your a toilet-cleaner or the CEO of a big company, take pride in what you do and do it well.

#5. You can do anything, if you put your mind to it.

#6. “Book-smart” has nothing on “common-sense”. Use the resources that you have.

#7. There are some things in life, that are better left unsaid.

Thanks, Dad.

Photo Credits #1, #2, #3 #4: © Karen Szczuka Teich & http://www.TakingTheWorldOnWithASmile.com

Crazy For Cannolis

July 2, 2011 8 comments

After researching several recipes, I chose what I liked best from each and then threw in my own secret ingredient!

As a first generation AMERICAN with parents who emigrated from Germany and Ireland, I ate lots of sauerkraut and Irish soda bread as a kid. I suppose it’s only natural then, that as an adult, I would want to learn how to make Cannolis.

Let me connect the European dots for you. My best friend’s Dad was from Italy. Once a year he would take us to New York City to the San Gennaro Feast in the historic Little Italy. The smells alone were enough to make a young girl giddy. Her mom used to make mostacciolis during the week and her grandmother would nurse a sauce all-day-long on a Sunday. Mid-afternoon she’d come out of her kitchen, wipe her hands on her apron and wave us inside for a serving of spaghetti and sauce with Italian bread. Heaven.

I grew up loving and yearning for what was on the other side of the fence, Italian food.

My love for all foods Italian may also (in a twisted sort of way) have something to do with the fact that when I was very young, we rented a second-floor apartment in a house owned by an Italian family who had three boys: La John-o, La JoJ-o and La Carl-o. We were often invited down to their basement to share a meal that always included home-made pasta, bread and wine.

Go ahead, turn me on my side, coax a little girl inside, close the lid and roll away!

I have a very strong and clear memory of the two younger boys coaxing me into a wine barrel one day, closing the lid and rolling me around their front lawn, just for fun.The smell of wine inside the barrel was so pungent, it too resurfaces every time the memory does. In addition to the obvious trauma that would accompany such an event, I truly believe this is why I don’t like confined spaces. It was also probably the first time I ever got “tipsy”. I think I was five.

Back to making Cannolis.

This holiday weekend I’m spending a few days Upstate New York with my daughter. I always try to have a few activities in mind for my kids when we come here and ever since they could stand on a stool and hold a measuring cup, my children and I have been creating in the kitchen together. I love doing things with my kids and the kitchen is a wonderful, natural classroom that provides a great opportunity to bond, learn and teach. We’ve made everything from soups to nuts, — including pasta, cakes, cookies and this weekend, Cannolis!

The ingredients.

Just check out the visual above for a clear view of what you’ll need. I guess if I was Italian, I’d know where to buy fresh ricotta but I’m not, so I settled for Sorrento brand from the supermarket. I didn’t need the granulated sugar or farm fresh eggs but they seemed to complete the photo so I left them in. And yes, those are boxed (store-bought) Cannoli shells you see in my picture. They were the only ones my grocer carries. I’m Crazy for Cannolis that’s true but I also know, what I don’t know and what my limitations are! Making the shells from scratch was not an option, this time.

Here’s my I’m-Not-Italian But Here’s My Very Delicious Cannoli Filling Recipe:

2 lbs. ricotta cheese

1 1/2 cups confectionery sugar

1/4 cup half ‘n half

4 tsp. vanilla

1-2 tsp. cinnamon (more if you love cinnamon like us – more cinnamon will result in a darker filling complexion)

Semi-sweet chocolate morsels (enough to make you happy)

1-2 tbs. honey (my secret ingredient that’s no longer a secret)

Drain the ricotta of any excess moisture. Mix ricotta, confectionery sugar, half ‘n half, vanilla, cinnamon and honey together until smooth. Fold in chocolate chips. Chill and fill the shells using a pastry bag or small spoon shortly before serving. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Makes about a dozen Cannolis.

Yummy! Not bad for a first try.

It’s that easy! Have a safe and happy holiday and most of all, enjoy!

Photo Credit #1: ©Karen Szczuka Teich

Photo Credit #2: Google Images

Photo Credit #3: ©Karen Szczuka Teich

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