Everyone in my family has their own version of stuffed peppers. We like to make ours with ground turkey for a nice, healthful meal at lunch or dinner. This is a hybrid recipe of my late grandmother’s and my mother’s version. This is also a great dish to make for entertaining a group of dinner guests.

Fairytale Italian Stuffed Peppers
(Serves 5)
5 large green bell peppers
1 1/2 lb of lean ground beef (can substitute ground turkey)
1 1/2 cups of grated parmesan cheese 
1/2 cup of chopped parsley
1/2 cup of breadcrumbs
1 large egg
1 quart of tomato sauce
1 quart of marinara sauce
1 tablespoon of butter
Par-boil the stuffed peppers so that they get soft, but not so that they’re too tender or falling apart. 

Place the ground beef in a large bowl. Add the Parmesan cheese, parsley, and breadcrumbs. Stir well. Add the egg. With your hands, gentle mix everything together. Set aside.

In another pot, combine the sauces and heat on low. 

Place the boiled peppers in a pan. Stuff the peppers with the meat mixture. Add a few ladles of sauce to the pan, completely covering the bottom until it is about 2 inches high. 

Bake the stuffed peppers for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the meat is completely cooked through on the inside. During this process, baste with the tomato sauce. You may want to cut one open to see if they’re done.  Serve with the remaining sauce and grated Parmesan cheese.



A snow storm is supposedly coming our way this weekend, which means it’s the perfect time to break out your slow cooker and make something hearty and comforting! I never thought I’d say this, but I actually miss Nor’Easters.  Mother Nature needs to decide if it’s going to be beautiful and hot, or cold and snowy – instead of just RAINY AND COLD. One of the best parts, for me, of being snowed in is the opportunity to make a big pot of something comforting that can be enjoyed in a bowl, under a big warm blanket while watching a movie (with a glass of wine of course). These lamb shanks are a hearty dish that most people would shy away from, but once you’ve tried them, you’ll be sold.

So what are lamb shanks? They’re a portion of the leg of a lamb (baby sheep – GASP), which is divided into two parts: the sirloin half and the shank half. The shank is the lower shin, and is leaner and less tender than the sirloin portion. The shank can be just as tasty as the sirloin if you take the time to cook the meat long and slow, which is where a slow cooker comes in hand.

I know that slow cookers have a huge following but I admittedly have only used mine ONCE, to make these lamb shanks. I’m too paranoid to leave the house with something plugged in, cooking all day – and when I am hope I feel like there’s no point in using a slow cooker when I can just use my dutch oven to speed up the process. (Patience is not one of my virtues.) Still, I enjoyed the final result and look forward to using it again.

Typically, I’ve enjoyed lamb shanks at Greek restaurants and the Greek festival, but I tried to put my own Italian spin on this recipe, which was inspired by the book The Italian Slow Cooker.  (My grandpa looked at this cookbook and pre-approved it before I used it – and it’s AMAZING!)  I hope you enjoy it! I added in my own garlic and peppers and onions because I love these ingredients.

Fairytale Slow Cooker Lamb Shanks with White Beans
(Serves 2-4)

2 large lamb shanks
1/4 cup of pan searing flour
3 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large onion, halved and sliced
2 cups of beef broth
2 cups of dry red wine
4 tablespoons of tomato paste
1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 cans of white beans
1 tablespoon of butter
1 large yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 large red bell pepper, sliced
3/4 cup of chopped black olives
1 bunch of chopped curly Italian parsley

These shanks came straight from NY.

Place the garlic and onions in the bottom of your slow cooker pot. Sprinkle the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Lightly dust the shanks with pan searing flour.  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the lamb shanks to the oil, browning in the skillet on all sides. Remove from the skillet and place on top of the onions.

In a small saucepan or bowl, mix together the broth, wine and tomato paste. Pour the mixture over the shanks in the slow cooker pot. Add the sprigs of fresh rosemary. Cook the shanks and sauce on HIGH for 5-6 hours or until the meat falls off the bone.

Remove the shanks and place on a platter. Cover with foil to keep warm. Add the white beans to sauce and onions in the slow cooker and heat on high for 45 minutes until they’re heated throw and tender. Meanwhile, melt the butter and remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the sliced peppers and saute for two minutes. Add a few tablespoons of the liquid from the slow cooker and cook the peppers on medium heat for about ten more minutes, until tender. Add the olives in and cook for two more minutes.

To serve: Stir half of your chopped parsley into the white bean and onion sauce in the slow cooker pot. Pour the mixture from the slow cooker pot onto a large platter. Add the lamb shanks. Top with the olive and sweet pepper mixture. Add the remaining parsley.


Fairytale Breakfast: Toasted Muffaletta bread with ricotta cheese and honey.

In the United States, November 11th is Veteran’s Day, an annual holiday commemorating Veterans for their honorable service, bravery, and sacrifices they have made in serving to protect our country.  In my family, not only do we celebrate Veteran’s Day, but we also celebrate the Catholic holiday of St. Martin’s Day.  It is also the feast day of my late paternal grandfather, Martin Collins. I wait for this holiday all year because when my maternal grandfather bakes his infamous Muffaletta bread to mark the occasion.  Here is how this tradition came about:

St. Martin, a Roman soldier and monk who was baptized as an adult, was the bishop of Tours in 397 A.D. He is commonly depicted riding on a horse and is best known for allegedly giving a beggar half of his cloak during a snowstorm.  St. Martin of Tours is commemorated on November 11, the day which he was buried. 

St. Martin’s day traditionally marks the end of the fall farvest and the beginning of winter, a time when newly produced wine is ready for drinking. Around the world since late 4th century, this is also a period before the season of Advent starts when people would begin a 40 day fast. This period was called “Quadragesima Sancti Martini,” which is Latin for the “forty days of St. Martin.”  On St. Martin’s Eve, people traditionally ate and drank as much as possible before starting their fast. Thus, St. Martin is the patron saint of horses, mounted soldiers, tailors, wine cask makers, and even, well, “drunks.”

In Italy, many Sicilians celebrated St. Martin’s day by dipping hard biscuits containing anise seeds into Moscato wine. These biscuits are small flat loaves of bread known as Muffaletta. Many Americans associate Muffaletta with the famous New Orleans hero-style sandwich that originated in 1906.  This New Orleans style Muffaletta is filled with layers of provolone cheese, Genoa salami, ham and a chopped mixed olive salad served on “Italian bread.”  However, the Muffaletta bread that is used to make this traditional sandwich comes from this Sicilian St. Martin’s day tradition. Today, there is still a Muffaletta festival celebrated in Reizi and the Province of Caltinessetta in central Sicily.

My grandfather has been making Muffaletta bread to celebrate St. Martin’s Day since I was a little girl. (And every year he ends up making more and more to try and keep up with the demand!) We serve it toasted, with a dab of ricotta cheese and drizzled honey on top. I love this bread so much that I usually freeze a loaf and enjoy it with the ricotta and honey for a special breakfast on Christmas morning. It’s savory and sweet and the perfect fairytale!  If you are craving a taste of this tradition, try buying a loaf of Fennel or anise bread at your local bakery. Spread some part-skim ricotta cheese on the bread. Toast in the oven until it is warmed through and drizzle it with some honey immediately upon removing from toaster oven.

As an alternative, instead of serving this bread by the individual slice as shown above, you can also bake each half in the oven with the ricotta spread on top. Then drizzle with honey and put together as a sandwich and serve as shown below.  This is how Muffaletta is traditionally cut and served in New Orleans. Here we kept the traditionally Sicilian tradition and used ricotta and honey. 

Whole loaf of Muffaletta with ricotta and honey.
Photo Courtesy of Alissa Costello.
My grandfather recently came to me with a very special present wrapped in a brown paper bag. “I brought you some cardoons,” he said in a proud voice, knowing I’d been waiting for them all month. I didn’t ask where they came from, because I knew better. For some reason which I never fully understood, the locals (my family members included) that know about the savory salty deliciousness of cardoons are very secretive about cardoons and take great care not reveal the secret places that they grow. (Hint: the side of the road?)
Another reason why people in NEPA are so secretive about “cardoons” is because they’re NOT really cardoons. We just call them that.  It is almost impossible to find REAL cardoons in Northeastern Pennsylvania so technically we use Burdock (it’s a root vegetable interchangeable with cardoons). These “cardoons” can be found here in late spring to early summer. 
Cardoons (pronounced “kahr-DOON”) look like celery stalks but are very salty and taste almost like an artichoke. Famed Italian Chef Mario Batali calls cardoons, or “cardoni” in Italian, one of his favorite vegetables and has included a cardoon recipe in “The Babbo Cookbook.”  He also has a few cardoon recipes on the FoodNetwork.com.  But cardoons aren’t just an Italian speciality – they are also popular in France and Spain.  Cardoons grow like giant bunches of celery and look almost like weeds but they do flower. See a photo of them on Wikipedia.com.  When picking cardoons, look for stalks that are firm and have a silver-greenish color. (See photo below.)  When I was a little girl, I was afraid to eat them.  But rest assured, they taste MUCH better than they look! 
When cooking with cardoons, you use only the inner stalks of the plant.  The outer layer needs to be peeled and flowers removed. It is important to rinse them thoroughly before using. Many people soak cardoons in acidulated water to prevent them from browning. According to the Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion, acidulated water is water in which a small amount of vinegar, lemon or lime juice has been added to prevent discoloration of some fruits and vegetables that darken quickly when their cut surfaces are exposed to air.  If you ever wanted to keep your apples from browning before making an apple tart, etc., it is best to soak them in this water. You can prepare acidulated water by adding 1.5 tablespoons of vinegar OR 3 tablespoons of lemon juice OR 1/2 cup of white wine to a quart of water. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. For more on preparing cardoons, see this video from Saveur magazine.

Cardoons can be cooking in many different ways.  They can be steamed, roasted, stewed, pan fryed, boiled.  They can be buttered and broiled, used in sauces or gratins. I have typically seen them pan fried or served in a quiche or a frittata. (They are really great with eggs!)  Below I have included an easy rustic recipe for pan frying these unique vegetables.  This dish would make a great appetizer and I highly recommend trying it! 🙂

Fairytale Feasts’ Fried Cardoons 

1 bunch (about 2 lbs) of cardoons
3 eggs
2 cups of breadcrumbs
1 cup of parmesean cheese
Dried Mint
1/2 cup of olive oil
Salt + pepper

Be sure to clean your cardoons thoroughly and boil them in boiling water before using.

In a small bowl, crack three eggs and lightly beat with a fork to mix. Season with a little bit of salt and pepper. In large separate pan or bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, parmesean cheese, and dried mint. Gently dip the cardoon stalk in the egg mixture.  Then repeat in with the breadcrumb mixture.  


Heat olive oil in a nonstick skillet. Using tongs, gently place the breaded cardoon mixture into the frying pan. Brown on both sides. Cardoons should be somewhat crisp and crunchy. Remove to a paper towel lined pan or dish. Season with salt. Serve immediately.