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

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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.

November 9, 2014


La Pace Del Pelato-Rome

Screen shot 2014-10-27 at 10.00.10 AM

Have I mentioned that Rome at the end of October seemed more like the middle of July? I haven’t actually been to Italy in the summer, but I imagine that it’s hot and crowded and that’s exactly what we experienced last week. I found myself trying to wade through the crowds around Piazza Navona on the way to our inn wondering why all these people weren’t at work or school.

The streets to My Navona were lined with numerous restaurants, each and every one with its own personal “hawker” trying to entice you to come into their establishment. Thankfully after they saw you go by a few times they left you alone and yelled to whomever was behind you. I mean if they need to hassle you on the street, how special can the food be?

For this very reason I made sure to get a recommendation from our innkeeper for our first night in Rome. Tucked into a small lane just around the corner from the inn was La Pace del Pelato. There was no one outside trying to lure you in, no sign with a printed menu, just a few tables pushed up alongside the building. We chose to sit inside the small dining room. At most there were twenty tables.

Our friendly server took our drink order and returned with a complimentary starter of focaccia stuffed with sauteed greens-I think it might have been escarole. A little while layer she returned with what may have been the best thing I ate during our entire vacation-an eggplant and tomato dish which we piled atop bread and then I ended up devouring by the forkful. There were no actual pieces of tomato or even a sauce. Each piece of eggplant was infused with tomato and bursting with flavor. We queried our waitress about the dish but she simply replied “it’s just eggplant and tomato”.

Our entrees were equally delicious-osso buco for J. and tagliatelle with fresh porcini for me. With each bite I was reminded how happy I was to have asked for a dinner recommendation. I probably wouldn’t even have walked down the little street where the restaurant was located and would never have known it was there. This meal was everything I hoped it would be-incredible food served in a lovely, quiet setting.

La Pace del Pelato
Via del Teatro Pace, 42, 00186 Roma

November 5, 2014


Pizzaria Emma-Rome


Thanks to Katie Parla we found this pizzeria on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Rome. Rather than wandering around aimlessly and trying to decide where to eat, I went right to Parla Food for a recommendation on pizza. There are countless opportunities to eat pizza in Rome, be it the thicker style that’s made in rectangular baking pans and sold by the slice (and weighed) or the cracker thin crust which you’ll find in “pizzerias”.

Located a few blocks away from Largo Torre Argentina, this restaurant has a few tables outside but we preferred to sit downstairs in the main dining room. There’s a counter where the prosciutti e salumi are being hand sliced and next time we visit I plan on ordering one of these plates. On this visit I couldn’t get past the fritti (fried items). Since eating pizza-fritta on our first night in Rome I’d been looking forward to ordering another fried starter.

When I saw suppli al telefono (rice with sauce and with cheese) on the menu my decision was made. I also ordered fiore di zucca (fried zuchhini blossoms) stuffed with mozzarella and although these were good, the suppli were the star. With a crispy crust and creamy cheesy center, these were the highlight of my meal. The pizza was good, but I’ve decided I’m more of a Neapolitan pizza fan. Would I return to Pizzeria Emma-defintely, despite our somewhat surly waiter. Hey-it’s Rome!

Pizzeria Emma
Via Monte della Farina, 28/29


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