December 13, 2014


Sweet And Sour Onion Confit


I’ve been a cooked onion lover from way back. As a child I had the honor of snagging the onion that was nestled besides my mother’s Sunday roast. Soft, gooey and full of caramelized goodness I savored each and every bite. As a grown up I can’t say that I’ve continued the tradition of a roast luncheon on Sundays, but I’m still a fool for slow cooked onions.

Sliced thin and cooked over low heat with a splash of balsamic they make the perfect topping for a grilled burger. Roasted whole as in this recipe, they are my “go to” side dish for a roast-be it chicken, pork loin or even a grilled steak.

Sweet and Sour Onion Confit

1/4 cup pine nuts
12 ounces small cipollini onions or pearl onions, peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup medium sherry
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup golden raisins

Using a small frying pan, lightly toast the pine nuts over medium-low heat for 3-5 minutes, shaking the pan back and forth to keep them from scorching. Set aside. Peel the onions-either by blanching them first in boiling, salted water for about 30 seconds and then using a sharp paring knife to strip away the skins, or by simply peeling the raw onions.

Put the olive oil in large frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook gently (without browning) for about 5 minutes. Add the sherry and cook until mostly reduced. Add 3/4 cup water, vinegar, sugar, raisins, pine nuts and a pinch of salt. Stir well. Simmer the mixture over the lowest heat possible for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes or so.

You may need to add more water from time to time if the mixture gets too thick and gooey or starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. It is finished when everything has caramelized well, and the flavors have blended together. Cool and serve at room temperature. This can, and really should, be made ahead of time, as the flavors develop in complexity after a day or two. The confit will keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat, Laugh & Shop With Panini Girl

December 1, 2014


Let The Baking Begin


Can it be true that Christmas is really only a little more than three weeks away? Of course that fact should motivate me to be out looking for gifts, but I’d much rather be in the kitchen baking. I saw these cookies a few days ago on My Blue & White Kitchen and couldn’t wait to get a batch into the oven. Perhaps I was drawn in by amaretto in the ingredients or maybe it was the almond flour. Whatever the case, these cookies were exactly as I hoped they would be-crispy, chewy and crunchy with a little kick of salt that’s the perfect foil for the sweetness of the brown sugar.

Almond Cookies With Amaretto

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp fine sea salt
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup dark brown sugar
¾ cup almond flour
1 large egg
1 tbsp amaretto liqueur
1 cup almonds, roughly chopped
½ cup sliced almonds
flaky sea salt, to sprinkle

powdered sugar, to decorate

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. With a stand mixer, cream the butter, sugars, and almond flour until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix until incorporated. Stir in the amaretto liqueur. Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Finally, add the chopped almonds. At this point, the dough will be quite soft but should be easy to work with.

Scoop up 2 tablespoons dough at a time, roll into balls, and flatten slightly. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and flaky sea salt. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. Chilling the cookies before baking will keep them from spreading too much during baking.

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Bake on the middle rack for about 12 minutes, or until the edges turn golden brown but the center still feels slightly soft to the touch. Cool on the sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. To finish, dust with powdered sugar.

Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat, Laugh & Shop With Panini Girl

November 28, 2014


Forno Campo Dei Fiori


Located in a corner of the well known Campo dei Fiori, this popular forno should be a “must” on your list any time that you’re in Rome.You can’t be shy if you want a piece of their famed pizza bianca. Unless you are there when they open the doors in the morning, you’ll have to push your way through the crowd to get up to the counter to place your order.


Once up at the front the man behind the counter will point his knife at a pizza and you can indicate whether you want more or less. There area a variety of pizzas on display behind the glass, but if you are a first time visitor you simply should start with the pizza bianca. This is a flat dough brushed with luscious olive oil and sprinkled with salt. That’s it and you will love it.You’ll get a receipt which you’ll take over to the cashier and off you go with pizza in hand. Be sure to look into the window directly to the right of the bakery door where you’ll see the pizza maker in action sliding these enormous pizzas into the oven. Maybe you should linger by the fountain outside while you enjoy your slice because you just might want to go back inside to try another one!

Forno Campo dei Fiori
Campo De’ Fiori, 22 – Vicolo del Gallo, 14

Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat, Laugh & Shop With Panini Girl

November 25, 2014


Cranberry Sauce


It’s that time of year again-the holidays are officially upon us. Step into any grocery store and you will immediately get the sense of the frenzy that accompanies the season. You can hardly get your cart through the aisle with all the shoppers hurriedly throwing things into their carts. My first thought is “will I have time to get everything done once I get out of here?”.

As much as I love to cook and entertain, I am happy that I am not preparing the entire Thanksgiving feast. We are part of a celebration with friends with everyone pitching in with the cooking. One of my assignments is the cranberry sauce. This is not the cranberry sauce of my youth. Of course I grew up with the jellied sauce in the can. Didn’t you too? This has been my “go to” sauce for years now. A little tart, a little sweet and full of spices reminiscent of fall, this pairs splendidly not only with poultry, but also with pork. I love it the “day after” spread on a sandwich with leftover turkey and stuffing. Let the cooking begin!

Cranberry Sauce yield 4 cups

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large onion, diced
5 medium cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1-1/2 cup cranberry juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup port
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 small cinnamon stick
1 nickel size slice, fresh ginger
2 whole cloves

Heat oil, saute onion until softened and then add garlic, saute. Add both types of cranberries and all the rest of the ingredients, up to the cinnamon stick. Take cinnamon stick, ginger and cloves and tie into a small bundle with a piece of cheesecloth. Add to the pot, bring to a boil over medium high heat, then lower and simmer until thickened, about 40 minutes. Remove spice bundle and chill. Enjoy!

Lucca Spring 2105-Cook, Eat, Laugh & Shop With Panini Girl

November 17, 2014


Lucca Spring 2015-Cook, Eat, Laugh & Shop With Panini Girl

lucca view

Dates: May 31 to June 6, 2015
Total Price Per Person: $2975
Due to the unpredictability of the value of the US dollar versus the Euro, this price is subject to change. Your price will be the one quoted at the time of your deposit.

Deposit: $975 is due within seven days of making your reservation. Balance is due 90 days prior to the first day of the trip.


The Details:
We will be staying in a beautiful, large apartment in a recently restored 15th century building located in the heart of the historical center of Lucca. It’s just a short walk to the ancient walls surrounding the centro storico-the perfect place for a walk or bike ride with a bird’s eye view of the town. Our week will focus on food and wine of Lucca and the surrounding area. No trip to Tuscany is complete without a visit to Florence, so we will spend a day there exploring, tasting and shopping!


What’s Included:
Cooking class with participation with local Lucchese chef
Day trip to Florence with a guided tour of the Mercato Centrale food market and specialty food shops in the neighborhood, time for shopping
Day trip to the countryside of the Garfagnana to visit a farm where we’ll observe pecorino and ricotta being made, we’ll be treated to lunch there and stop at the lovely town of Barga on our way back to Lucca
Day trip to the charming town of Montecatini Alto
Visit to Lucca’s Palazzo Pfanner
Gelato tastings
All transportation for day trips out of town
Seven nights’ accommodations
All breakfasts
5 lunches and 6 dinners
Wine with meals
Water, coffee, wine and snacks stocked in the apartment

making cheesecheese4cheese3husband

More details to come about other activities in the area. Itinerary subject to change with regard to weather.



What’s Not Included:
Airfare, transfers from airport to and from Lucca, travel insurance, phone calls, laundry services, alcoholic beverages other than host ordered. Schedule subject to change.

Cancellation Fees:
Deposit is non-refundable
March 2, 2015-April 1, 2015: $500.
April 2, 2015-May 1, 2015: $1500.
After May 2, 2015: no refund available
It is strongly advised that you purchase trip cancellation insurance as cancellation fees apply regardless of reason for cancellation. Check out information at

mamashoppingle sorellele s
Contact me at with questions or to make a reservation.


*For years my husband and I traveled independently through Italy. After losing him I wondered if I would ever be able to go again. Panini Girl made that possible. Her depth of knowledge and love of Italy shine through in the trips she planned for us. Traveling with her was relaxing and enjoyable while still being an interesting and exciting adventure. This trip taught me there are many types of experiences to be had and enjoyed in life with others. I look forward to my next travel with Panini Girl. Valerie D.

*The Panini Girl experience is an all encompassing look at the gastronomic landscape of Tuscany. With it’s old world charm and small town feel, Lucca is the ideal home base for the week’s activities. This was my first trip to Italy and I look forward to returning soon to discover more with Panini Girl. Abbie M.

*This was a trip of a lifetime for me! Being a novice traveler I felt safe and comfortable and really enjoyed the itinerary. It was great to have someone facilitate the details. I enjoyed everything about this trip-the food we ate, the wine, the scenery and the beautiful country of Italy. Thank you Panini Girl! Gail S.

*My trip to Lucca in with Panini Girl far exceeded my expectations, which were already quite high. Our apartment was beautiful, spacious, centrally located and the kitchen was the perfect place for the hands-on cooking lessons. The trips were perfectly planned and varied. We took a food tour of Florence and hit every culinary highlight from aged balsamics to gelato and ended with a tasting in a beautiful wine cellar. Our trip to a nearby open market provided fabulous food for our dinner one night. We visited a centuries old sheep farm and watched as owners made pecorino and fresh ricotta and prepared homemade pasta for our fabulous farmer’s lunch feast. Somehow we still found time to shop for souvenirs and relax with personal down time from our planned activities. I really look forward to another trip with Panini Girl. Patti O.

*If you have ever imagined your dream vacation would take you to Tuscany, let Panini Girl be your guide! I had the great pleasure of joining Janie and her group, now all wonderful friends, in beautiful Lucca, Italy this past spring. Our accommodations were spacious and lovely, only steps away from all that Lucca has to offer. The week was filled with memorable experiences, and it goes without saying, amazing food and wine. The interactive cooking class with a local chef was unforgettable! The day trip to Florence was also a highlight, with a private food tour of the great Market, and yes, incredible shopping. My favorite day was spent high in the mountains with a farm family, making pecorino cheese and enjoying a feast that they prepared for us. The people of Lucca are so warm and gracious.
Whatever your pleasure may be, you will find it on this trip of a lifetime! Bonnie D.

*Our food tour to Lucca with Panini Girl was the best!! She took care of every detail! I thought we’d be on the run, but it was busy while relaxing at the same time.
Our apartment felt like a villa-plenty of room with a great kitchen to eat, drink and prepare delicious food!!
The location was central, where charming shops and markets abound.
Janie had a perfect itinerary-plenty of local interesting tours that felt intimate as well as some sight seeing and a trip to nearby museum which rounded out the plan.
Our day trip to Florence was perfect-lots of food and wine tastings ending with plenty of time to shop!
Every detail was covered from tips on travel to phones-and secret-best places to buy food and stroll.
All of the other tours and guides that Panini Girl organized were very knowledgeable and fun!!!!!
We saw and felt we knew Lucca and it’s local flavors and flare by the time we departed. Our driver was terrific-helping us navigate an otherwise confusing area.
My trip to Lucca was wonderful!
I highly recommend traveling with Panini Girl to anyone who wants to stay in the authentic, incredibly beautiful, friendly city of Lucca, in Italy. Laurie D.

*Janie has put together a trip to Italy that you will never forget! She is very organized and calm and even speaks italian. Janie has researched and made many contacts who will augment your wonderful week with local food, wine, tours and friendships. I loved my week in Tuscany with The Panini Girl.
Susan H.

November 15, 2014


Giotto In Lucca


Walking around Lucca I noticed several signs announcing a Giotto mostra (exhibition). Giotto (1266-1337) was a Florentine painter who is considered to be the first in a long line of artists to contribute to the Italian Renaissance. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to view the works of Giotto in a setting that wouldn’t be very crowded.

It turns out that the show was being held at the Church of San Francesco which was in the same piazza as our apartment was located. I went over to the church and found it to be locked. I stood next to the sign announcing the exhibit and saw an entrance which turned out to be offices. I peered into a doorway to the left of the offices and saw nothing. Now I was completely stumped. Where was Giotto?

Screen shot 2014-11-14 at 8.32.47 AM

Finally another couple walked up and said that they thought the show was indeed inside the very dark doorway. We slowly walked in together, hugging the wall as not to stumble down the ramp. Eventually we came around a corner and there were two young women in a dimly lit room selling tickets. We were informed that the next showing would be in two minutes. Perfect timing, I thought! A curtain was drawn aside and we were escorted into another incredibly dark room set up with little stools. We sat down, a light came on and there before us was this painting-La Madonna di San Giorgio alla Costa

It really was quite incredible. This was the first time a Giotto painting was being exhibited in Lucca. It was also the first time that this particular work was being shown since 1993 when it was one of 33 paintings that were damaged (3 were destroyed and 5 people were killed) in the Mafia bombing targeting the Uffizi Gallery. We were free to walk up close to the painting to get a good look while a recorded message about the painting bellowed in the background.

Silly me. I kept wondering when they were going to open the curtains and allow us entry to the rest of the exhibition. I finally figured out that I had just seen the whole show-the one painting. I’m still happy that I went. If you happen to be in Lucca soon the painting will be exhibited until December 8.

November 12, 2014

1 comment

Mortadella Mousse


You have to love mortadella to love this dish. I do and so does my sister S. so this post is for her. I never even heard of mortadella mousse until we dined at Al Sangiovese in Bologna. Located just a few doors down from Hotel Porta San Mamolo, this small eatery run by a husband and wife team serves typical Bolognese cuisine. I first learned of this restaurant from my friend Palma and if you plan on being in Bologna be sure to check out her blog for dining recommendations.

We ordered the restaurant’s signature antipasto and as you can see from the photo the mortadella mousse was the first thing that I sampled. Being that Bologna is the home of mortadella I counted on this being stellar and it was. Rich and buttery, I spread it on piadina (flatbread typical of the Emilia Romagna area) and thankfully J. didn’t really care either way about it, so I polished it off. This would be a great hors d’oeuvres served along with a glass of bubbly. Here comes the holiday season…

Mortadella Mousse

1/2 pound mortadella in one piece, rind removed
1/4 cup mascarpone
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano- Reggiano cheese (about 1 ounce), more optional
Pinch of nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
Toast rounds for serving
Whole shelled, salted pistachios or capers for garnish.

Dice mortadella and place in a food processor; grind to a paste. Add the mascarpone, 1/3 cup grated cheese and the nutmeg. Process until blended. Spread on toast and top each with a pistachio or caper, or refrigerate until ready to use.


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