Ciao, Italy!

Ciao, Italy!

Italy was the first country of the year in our home, and we could not wait to get to work. However, there are a few things to consider. This can seem a daunting task, but remember to keep it simple. My mind immediately went to the Italian countryside with thoughts of rich wine and hearty food. I chose to stick to savory dishes with the main course and wine, while adding in some Southern Italian charm with citrus heavy sides. That being said, this was one of the most enjoyable meals of the year, and you will have no shortage of volunteers to join.


First, I was intimidated by desserts as I am not a baker, and have rarely ever made sweets in the past as my forte is the smoker. The dessert is used to bond with my oldest child, as she is interested in becoming a baker when she grows up. I usually choose one feat to overcome per dessert, and for Tiramisu we had to learn how to make whip cream from scratch. I find it important to challenge your skill set, but also remember this should be enjoyable. Our local stores did not have lady fingers, after I finally found out what they were. I substituted Biscotti (almond toffee), and my father-in-law strongly approved of the dish, which is his favorite dessert. Lastly, I added some of the coffee to the whip cream for the top layer, which really brought out that flavor profile.


The second decision was a main course. Our youngest child got to pick the food for this month, and she is a bit indecisive. Since this was the first run, we were worried about having things they would eat to encourage participation moving forward. The Cornish hens were a no brainer, as we fix them frequently. All I had to do was find seasonings that would give a traditional Italian flavor. Nonetheless, we were concerned with the side dish options, and chose to do the baked Ziti to ensure full children. Both of those dishes are very easy, but I will definitely recommend two things if you choose the birds. Inject at least an hour before they cook, pull at 155 deg F internal temperature, and let rest at least 25 minutes. I place mine in an aluminum pan when I pull and wrap them with foil.


Sides can be tricky anytime kids are involved and you do not want mac- n-cheese or fries. We made a commitment to keep these somewhat healthy, and also to introduce them to more salads than Caesar (which they want every night now). All these sides are fairly simple as well, with the salad being the most complex. Our rule for these dishes is they have to try them. If they do not care for it, they can politely say so and move on. We have learned that our kids really enjoy goat cheese, and many sides we worry about end up being favorites. The purpose is to expose them to new things, and Italy offers a variety of flavors to appeal to everyone.


The baked Ziti was a huge hit with the kids, and we have had it again. I used sweet Italian Sausage and a liberal amount of cheese. The chicken went well also, but we have a trick. We have laying chickens at our home and the first time we served whole chicken to the kids they were skeptical. We made a light-hearted game out of each person naming and seasoning their own chicken. It is a good time for them to learn about food sources, but also pick up practical skills, such as appropriate seasoning. The last piece of advice for the chicken is pre-cooking. For even cooking, ensure your birds are thoroughly thawed, as we could not find fresh Cornish hens in January. The cold water method will take you roughly 1 hour per pound, but I put mine in the fridge 2 days prior. Placing the chicken in warm water could lead to illness, so I highly recommend making a plan if fresh is not an option. I hope you enjoy Italy as much as we did. Remember to have fun and get everyone involved.


Alla Prossima!

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