September 2, 2018


Roasted Red Onions



As a child I looked forward to snagging the onion that accompanied the Sunday roast beef.  There it was in the pan bathed in the juices from the meat all soft and a little bit caramelized.  I’m not sure if anyone else even wanted it, but I made sure that it ended up on my plate.

This very simple side dish reminds me of the roasted onions of my youth. It pairs perfectly with grilled steak, fish or roasted chicken. You could certainly bake this onion in the oven, but if you already have the grill on by all means go ahead and throw this on.

No recipe needed. Cut a deep X through an unpeeled red onion without going all the way through. Pry apart and jam in a pat of butter and a sprig of fresh rosemary. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over, drizzle with olive oil and wrap in foil. Grill until the onion is squishy-about 25 minutes on high heat.

I don’t have photo of the finished product as it sort of falls apart. I can tell you that it’s melt in your mouth tender with a touch of piney flavor from the rosemary. You can find another of my favorite onion dishes here.

Panini Girl Food Tour In Lucca May 2019



August 10, 2018


Roasted Strawberries With Lemon Cream

lemon cream

This recipe was the surprise of this year’s strawberry season. I live not far from a few farms growing strawberries and and am quite spoiled by the quality of the local berries and their long growing season. Truth be told, I mostly just eat them for breakfast mixed with other berries. Of course I have made a tart or two, but when a friend handed me this recipe I knew I would give it a try.

When I first read the directions I was skeptical about the “lemon cream”. Would lemon juice, cream, sugar and a pinch of salt really come together to make a custard like dessert? Much to my surprise it did and the result was a luscious lemony cream that I could not seem to get my fill of. I tasted spoonful after spoonful until I decided I better stop and start assembling the parfaits.

Roasting the strawberries brings out their natural sweetness and they pair perfectly with the lemon cream.  I discovered that the crunchy granola topping is also slightly addicting. The recipe makes more than you’ll need for the parfaits and the extra freezes well or you could use keep eating it as a snack!

lemon cream 2

Roasted Strawberries with Lemon Cream

3 cups heavy cream

1 1/4 cups sugar, divided

Kosher salt

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 cup gluten-free baking flour or regular all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1 tablespoon finely chopped basil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup granola

2 pounds strawberries, hulled, halved if large

1 teaspoon smoked sea salt or flaky sea salt

Torn mint and basil leaves (for serving)

Bring cream, 1 cup sugar, and a pinch of kosher salt to a gentle simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Cook 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in lemon juice. Let cool slightly, then transfer to a medium bowl and press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto surface (this will help prevent a skin from forming). Chill lemon cream until it has set up to a pudding-like consistency, at least 12 hours. One piece of advice-I think it’s better to divide and store the cream in to bowls-it firms up better this way.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Combine gluten-free flour, butter, brown sugar, basil, vanilla, and a pinch of kosher salt in a medium bowl. Using your fingers, work mixture until it comes together in small clumps. Scatter crumble on a large parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and slightly firm, 30–35 minutes. Let cool and break into smaller pieces. Mix in granola.

Increase oven temperature to 425°F. Toss strawberries, smoked salt, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar on a clean rimmed baking sheet to combine. Roast strawberries, tossing once, until they are juicy but still hold their shape, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Just before serving, assemble trifles by spooning alternating layers of lemon cream, roasted strawberries, and granola crumble into 8–12-oz. glasses or jars, dividing evenly. Top off with some mint and basil leaves.

Panini Girl  Food Tour In Lucca May 2019

July 30, 2018


Tomato Chutney





It all started with cranberry sauce. I grew up eating the cranberry sauce in the can, but as an adult I was on the search for something a little more interesting and with a lot more flavor. I’m not sure where I found the recipe, but it was exactly what I had been looking for-sweet and tart and great not only served alongside poultry, but also with pork and adds a nice punch of flavor when spread on a sandwich. Last summer I used the recipe and with a few minor changes created a flavorful plum chutney.

Chutney is a condiment made with fruits or vegetables combined with spices, sugar and vinegar. This recipe from David Tanis’ book Market Cooking is an adaptation of a recipe found in the book My Bombay Kitchen. It’s like a savory marmalade made with tomatoes and is sweet with just the right amount of spice. While tomatoes are in season why not give this a try?

I should confess that I’m not adept at canning and so when I make chutneys I keep them in the refrigerator and have also successfully frozen them. By all means go ahead and “put these up” if you know how to “can”. I think I need a copy of Domenica Marchetti’s Preserving Italy to get me going on canning.

Tomato Chutney

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup finely slivered ginger

1/4 cup thinly sliced garlic

1-1/2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup packed brown sugar

6 small dried hot chiles

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

12 black peppercorns

1 teaspoon nigella seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

1 teaspoon salt

Put everything together in a nonreactive heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring vigilantly until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of a thick jam or marmalade, about 1-1/2 hours. Let cool.

Store the chutney well sealed in the fridge. It keeps for months. If you prefer you can ladle the chutney into sterilized half pint jars and go through the process of canning. Makes 3 pints

Panini Girl In Lucca Food Tour May 4-11, 2019  3 spaces left!



July 23, 2018


Hazelnut Chocolate Cookies


It’s no secret that when it comes to sweets, hazelnut and chocolate is definitely my favorite combination. When I’m at a gelateria it’s hard for me to break away from nocciola and cioccolato and order anything else. Before leaving Italy I always stock up on chocolate bars studded with hazelnuts. Is anyone going over there soon? I’m almost out of my stash…

I apologize for posting this recipe in metric, but I found it on an Australian blog and when I made them I followed the recipe using a scale to weigh the ingredients, rather than converting the measurements to cups and ounces. I’ve gotten used to using a scale and highly recommend purchasing one for baking.

This dough is pretty easy to work with and you can roll the scraps together and use all of it. The cookies are delicate and crumble easily so be sure to let them cool thoroughly on a rack when you remove them from the oven. I dipped half the batch in chocolate and froze the rest of the cookies. I had planned on dipping these too but I’ve been sneaking them from the freezer and eating them as is and they are just as delicious without the chocolate, well almost!

Hazelnut Chocolate Cookies

210gr flour
80gr ground hazelnut
200gr unsalted butter, soften and diced
60gr finely ground brown sugar
200gr chocolate for dipping (optional)

In a bowl mix with your hand all the ingredients to form a smooth paste. Let it rest covered in a cool place (not the fridge) for 30 minutes to one hour. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll down the dough on a lightly floured work surface and cut out cookies. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove carefully from oven (they will be still soft) on to a cooling rack. Melt chocolate in a water bath and dip half cookie in it or alternatively just coat with a spatula half of each cookie with chocolate.

Panini Girl In Lucca Food Tour May 2019-get in

July 7, 2018


Triple Coconut Ice Cream

ice cream

We’re having a mini heat wave here in southern California and it seemed like the perfect excuse to whip up a batch of ice cream. I can’t remember the last time that I pulled out my ice cream maker-it might have been two summers ago. At any rate it’s been much too long.

I saw this recipe in the Gulf Coast Kitchens cookbook and it just sounded so refreshing. It couldn’t be easier to make and does not involve making a custard. The recipe is pretty straightforward, although it did take a long time to come together. Usually it takes about 40 minutes in my machine for the ice cream to freeze. After an hour of churning away I decided to pour the almost frozen ice cream into a chilled metal pan and pop it into the freezer. About an hour later it was just the right creamy consistency.

The incredible flavor comes from cream of coconut, flaked coconut and toasted coconut. I saved a little of the toasted aside to sprinkle on top. I think tonight I’ll serve it with a bittersweet chocolate sauce. Come around for some dessert if you like!

Triple Coconut Ice Cream

1 cup sweetened flaked coconut

1 cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted

1 16 oz. can cream of coconut (like Coco Lopez)

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1 cup milk

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Pinch of salt

Heat the oven to 350. Spread 1 cup coconut on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool.

Sir together the cream of coconut, milk, cream almond extract and salt until well blended and then blend in the remaining cup of untoasted coconut . Chill thoroughly for several hours or overnight. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to directions. When the ice cream is nearly frozen, but still slightly soft stir in the toasted coconut.  Makes about 1-1/2 quarts

Panini Girl In Lucca Food Tour May 2019-get in

July 1, 2018


Panini Girl In Lucca May 2019


I am thrilled to announce my return to Lucca next spring. Come along and be prepared for lots of amazing food, new friends, stunning scenery and lots of laughs. I’m available to help you with your travel plans so get in touch!

Dates: May 4 to May 11 (only three spots left )

Total Price Per Person: $3300 (private bedroom)
 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. Deposit is non-refundable.


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!

cooking class

What’s Included:
Cooking class with participation with local Lucchese chef
Day trip to Florence with a guided food tour of the Oltrarno neighborhood and its specialty food shops
Day trip to the countryside of the Garfagnana to visit a farm where we’ll join Paolo the town’s baker and we’ll bake our own loaves in his wood fired oven and we’ll be treated to lunch featuring dishes made with farro grown on the farm
Day trip to Montecarlo to visit a winery with tasting and lunch
Gelato tastings
All transportation for day trips out of town
Seven nights’ accommodations in private bedroom
All breakfasts
5 lunches and 6 dinners
Wine with meals
Water, coffee, wine and snacks stocked in the apartment



























It is strongly advised that you purchase trip cancellation insurance as cancellation fees apply regardless of reason for cancellation. Check out information at

le sorellele smama


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.

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.












June 23, 2018


Broiled Asparagus-Autentico


I would like to thank my good friend L. from Cucina Cara Mia for Rolando Beramendi’s cookbook Autentico. I’ve had this book for months and have finally started to cook my way through it. The recipes are straightforward with good advice about ingredients and technique. They are “authentic” and exemplify the simplicity of Italian cuisine. Rolando’s book includes dishes from around Italy and the stunning photos may just entice you to start planning an Italian getaway.

I chose this recipe as I had all the ingredients at hand, well almost all of them. I did substitute pancetta for prosciutto and I didn’t have lemon olive oil so I added a bit of fresh lemon juice to the olive oil.

Broiled Asparagus

2 bunches of asparagus

Extra virgin olive oil with lemon

sea salt

1/4 cup cubed prosciutto (I used pancetta)

2 large hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved

Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the broiler. Put the asparagus on a rimmed baling sheet and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place under the broiler and broil, turning occasionally until all the sides are charred and the asparagus is tender, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

In a non-stick skillet cook the prosciutto over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes.

Divide the asparagus between four plates and top each with some of the chopped hard-boiled egg, prosciutto, and a drizzle of olive oil. Shave a a few Parmigaino-Reggiano slices over each serving and season with salt and pepper. Serves: 4