The pumpkin is the ticket to seasonal baking and festive family bonding

Near the end of October and beginning of November, the feeling of the Fall season really starts to set in: Halloween, memorable times with family, delicious food and laughter are all in the air.

What better way to give thanks for all the wonders in life than to indulge in a delicious seasonal treat? We have much to celebrate in life, and there is nothing better then a warm whole made pastry.

Since my family is Italian, it is tradition to spend countless hours in the kitchen perfecting long standing family baking recipes, many of which came directly from Italy. A few that spark my tastebuds are: vanilla bean cookies, dark chocolate macaroons, and my favorite, pumpkin spice scones!

When I think of Fall foods, the pumpkin is at the heart of them all. Thanks to the local, Trader Joe’s, the creation of fall treats is right at your finger tips! If you are in college, not to worry, many pumpkin mixes and pulps will fit your budget.

Trader Joe’s offers a multitude of kits and packages that include everything you need to create a tasty and easy pumpkin treat. They offer recipe kits such as: caramel pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin spiced cheesecake, pumpkin pie, pumpkin spiced babka, pumpkin pancake and waffle mix, pumpkin toaster pastries, pumpkin scones, pumpkin spiced whip cream and even pumpkin spiced pumpkin seeds!

Clearly, there is no better place to kick off pumpkin season then Trader Joe’s.

Tradition is essential to celebrate during the holidays and specifically around Thanksgiving. Whatever your origins and cooking traditions may be, it is important to shed extra light on them during this grateful time of year.

I was given the opportunity this weekend to speak to the owner of Grazia Puma Panetteria, a family owned Italian bakery in Willow Glen, California.  Suzette Sorrentino agrees with me about about the importance of baking and family tradition:

Around this time of year, many start noticing the trees turning colors, or for children, many start thinking about Halloween costumes, but for my family the onset of Fall evokes a specific memory and ongoing tradition that we’ve enjoyed year after year. As Fall marks the beginning of our Italian cookie baking season! Based on recipes handed down through many generations, we al share in the enjoyment of our unique, mouth watering, artful cookies.

Essentially, instead of the focus being on Halloween candy, we should all strive to incorporate family bonding into our sweets by baking a home prepared treat this season.

We all need a break to our healthy eating regime; relish in the sweetness. After all, calories don’t count during the holidays!


Looking for a low fat and affordable alternative to breadcrumbs? Quinoa is the answer


When I’m thinking about how to best prepare a dish, three essential factors come to mind: the  preparation time, the flavor, and most importantly, the nutritional value.

Many believe that in order to make dinner bakes such as: chicken alfredo, pesto chicken, or eggplant parmesan, you need a really high quality  bread crumb. However, it is completely false.

If you are looking for a high protein, low saturated fat, low carbohydrate and affordable substitute for fatty bread crumb crusts, quinoa is the right answer.

In order to fulfill the flavor of breadcrumb crusts, make sure you cook the quinoa encrusted chicken until it is golden brown or about 25 minutes, this will give it the irresistible crunch that breadcrumbs offer. Then top with marinara, mozzarella and basil.

Quinoa is the heart-healthy superfood of the century. Jessica Penner, a health nutritionist at Smart Nutrition says this about its nutritional value:

Quinoa is a great grain alternative for those following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. The protein in quinoa is complete, meaning that it contains all the essential protein building blocks (called amino acids) that our bodies need. Quinoa is also a good source of iron, zinc, magnesium, and manganese.

Quinoa’s healthy composition and delicious taste beat traditional breadcrumbs by a long run; so next time instead of drenching your chicken filets in flour and oily breadcrumbs, use white or red quinoa as a wholesome alternative.





The essential oils

Throughout time, people have been testing a wide variety of oils in their frying, baking and sautéing endeavors; plant, animal and synthetic fats are a few oil options.  However, when it comes to mastering Italian recipes, the quality of the oil is the very basis for success. The search is inevitably for something light and tasty, but also wholesome.

As we move away from animal fats, new scientific evidence from The Journal of the American College of Nutrition suggests cholesterol-free vegetable oil from oilseed crop is the best option. These include:soybean, sunflower, rapeseed, cottonseed, and peanut oils.

Most of these vegetable oils have levels of oleic, linoleic and linolenic acids that significantly exceed that of palmitic acid, and nutritionists now generally recommend that preference is given to such oils in the human diet.

Oleic and linoleic oils are unsaturated, fatty acids that won’t compromise your health, but still have the same satisfaction in the stomach.

In order to maintain a healthy kitchen, steer away from high levels of cholesterol and saturated fatty acids in cooking oils. Partially hydrogenated, Crisco and Canola are just a few that should be avoided due to their contribution to cardiovascular disease.

The next time you wish to whip up an Italian dinner, pay special attention to the use of the oil. Such a small change can dramatically improve the taste as well as your overall health.

Don’t let the produce spoil!

Special tips to take advantage of a fresh fall harvest from, Jovina Cooks Italian: What is in season in October:

When it hits October, the produce market switches to fall mode; pumpkin, squash, and seasonal berries are just a few of the many gifts of a fall harvest.  With all the wonderful autumn produce fully stocked,  it is no surprise that Italian recipes have great potential to turn out delicious.

However, the question always remains, “How can I preserve the produce to keep it fresh until the holidays?”

Through her many years of cooking experience, Jovina answers the question:

  • To keep fruits and veggies fresh, she says, freeze them at their peak of harvest, but first make sure they are thoroughly cleaned.
  • The next step is blanching for two to five minutes

“Blanching — the process of heating vegetables with boiling water or steam for a set amount of time, then immediately plunging them into cold or iced water — stops enzyme activity that causes vegetables to lose nutrients and change texture.”

  • Freeze them in freezer-safe storage containers.

It is surely exciting to know that the local markets are stocked with the finest fall produce, but even more assuring to have found a way to make it last even longer.