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 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

June 15, 2018


Feta & Bread Crumb Stuffed Peppers


The calendar says summer doesn’t officially begin until next week, but the tables at the  farmers market are already brimming with brightly colored peppers, gorgeous green beans, various types of zucchini and the first of the vine ripened tomatoes. I love the transition of seasons at the market and am inspired to find new ways to prepare what the farmers have grown.
Do you have David Tanis’ cookbook Market Cooking? If not, it’s one you should have on your shelf, especially if you need a little inspiration for your vegetable dishes.
This dish is very similar to a pepper dish I’ve been making for years, but with the addition of feta cheese which which adds an extra layer of flavor and a hint of saltiness.
Baked Peppers with Feta and Bread Crumbs (adapted from David Tanis Market Cooking)
6 thick slices day old country bed, crusts removed
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons  parmesan, grated
salt and freshly ground pepper
6  very small sweet peppers or 2 red bell peppers (cut into thirds)
6 ounces mild feta cheese
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and pulse in a food processor in batches to make coarse, soft crumbs. It should yield about 3 cups. Toss the crumbs with the olive oil and spread on a baking sheet. Bake, stirring often, until the crumbs are crisp and barely browned, about 15 minutes. Put the baked crumbs in a bowl and add the garlic, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and Parmesan.Season with salt and black pepper and toss well. Set aside.
Cut the peppers lengthwise in half and remove the cores and seeds. Place skin side down in a shallow baking dish in one layer. Season lightly with salt. Fill each pepper half with about 3 tablespoons crumbled feta and press in the cheese with your fingers. With a spoon, divide the seasoned crumbs evenly among the pepper halves.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until the crumbs are golden and the cheese is softened. Serve warm from the baking dish.
Stay tuned for info on next May’s Panini Girl Tour in Lucca-dates are May 4 to the 11th.

June 7, 2018


Come On In-Around Town Ferrara





One of the things that I love about Italy is the unexpected beauty that you can stumble upon as you walk around town. I saw these door knockers while exploring our neighborhood in Ferrara. Each was a like a piece of art and the wood doors themselves were stunning, each one a little bit different from the next.





It’s obvious that there’s a real sense of pride in one’s home and as I wandered around town I wished I could step inside, meet the owners and yes, I’d love to stay for supper….


May 23, 2018


Falling For Ferrara



Have you been to Ferrara?  Some years ago I had planned on taking a day trip from Bologna (only about a half hour by train) and I just never made it. I’ve been thinking about it ever since we made a stop back in 2008 at a lovely agriturismo set in the countryside outside of the town (you can read about it here and here).


I planned four days for Ferrara at the end of our recent trip and I would have been happy to stay longer, a lot longer. As soon as we got settled in our apartment we set out to explore the town. Being a glorious sunny Saturday afternoon the main piazza was bustling, as were most of the streets in the auto free zone. After doing  some shopping for supplies in the local market we realized it was happy hour and time for a cocktail. The streets were lined with cafes crowded with locals enjoying the lovely spring weather and we were lucky to find a seat.



Ferrara reminded me a lot of Bologna, only a smaller, less touristy version. The only English we heard spoken in our time there was the charming young couple we happened to sit next to our first afternoon. They were with the US military and living right in town and were happy to share some of their favorite spots.








Ferrara’s cuisine is very similar to that of Bologna with handmade tortellini and cappellacci featured on just about every menu. Stuffed with squash, or meat they are incredibly light and are typically served in the classic bolognese meat sauce or with cream or butter and sage. Tortellini in brodo (floating in a rich chicken broth) is another classic dish which I wish I had sampled-there’s always next time…

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men on bikes

The town is perfectly flat and the locals bike everywhere. We saw children, elderly men and women, moms and dads with babies and even the woman delivering the mail on bikes. I loved this group of gentlemen having their morning meet up on their bicycles!












We spent our days wandering the streets and were charmed by Via delle Volte shown in the above photos. It’s one of Europe’s largest preserved medieval areas. We toured the castle built by the ruling Etse family in the late 1300s complete with a moat.  The lower level held the dungeons where two young royals were imprisoned for their love affair and were later beheaded. After stooping and almost crawling into the cells I decided it would have been better to be sentenced to death rather than live for any amount of time in these dark and damp holes.


our street

The neighborhood we stayed in was a few short blocks from the pedestrian zone with the main piazza, the duomo and the castle. It was charming and quiet and we discovered wonderful small food shops right in the neighborhood. We ate some of the best gelato of  our trip right down the street at La Romanadefinitely worth a stop if you visit Ferrara.




Our apartment was perfect-nicely appointed, with a kitchen stocked with a variety of treats for us and a brick lined patio with greenery surrounding the space-the perfect spot to enjoy an evening glass of local wine.

Similar to Lucca Ferrara does have a wall surrounding most of the town.  It’s not quite the same as Lucca’s very wide paved walkway, but you can stroll on a dirt lined pathway and down below is a beautiful park.

We’re going back to Ferrara as soon as we can and I think I can see a Panini Girl tour here in the not too distant future-stay tuned…









































































May 14, 2018


Lovely Lucca


We stumbled upon Lucca quite by accident seventeen years ago. Driving from Sienna to Milan at the end of our vacation we saw a sign saying “Lucca Centro Storico” and decided to stop there for lunch. Little did I know that this would be the start of a love affair with this lovely Tuscan town.



It took seven years for me to get back to Lucca. I was attending language school in Arezzo for a month and decided I needed a weekend getaway. While researching towns  on the train line from Arezzo I remembered our lunch in Lucca and the walk on the wall. So off to Lucca I went.



















Over the next few years we visited various towns across Italy, but my thoughts kept returning to Lucca.  I wanted to share my love for the town and Panini Girl Tours in Lucca was born. Since 2011 I’ve been returning and exploring the town with old and new friends introducing them to my favorite foods and finds.




















I love to start the day with a walk on the wall that surrounds the town. If you’re an early riser you can pretty much have the town to yourself. It’s the perfect time to wander through the streets taking time to snap a photo or two. Of course I have a special pasticceria that I frequent and before heading back to the apartment I stop in for a cappuccino and my favorite pastry-a budino di riso- a creamy rice filling encased in a buttery crust. What’s your favorite? I’ll bring one home for you!


back of cathedral

















At one point there were a hundred churches in town. Many are still standing, although most aren’t open on a regular basis. If you happen to walk by and see the door open, by all means go inside. You’ll be treated to incredible art no matter which church you visit. I’m happy to enter, take a seat and cherish the serenity while thinking about all the people who worshipped there over the years.

la cena

This year was no exception. Mornings began with pastries, cappuccinos and strolling on the wall. Lucca is filled with amazing small shops and we all certainly took advantage of  what they had to offer, especially the locally crafted leather goods. A day trip to Florence is always on the agenda, but at the end of the day we were all happy to return to Lucca! Our evenings were filled with food and wine and lots of laughs around the table.











Until the next time we all have a week full of incredible memories of our time in Lucca.  I’m already planning next May’s trip and looking forward to discovering more of the town and the countryside.

another view

Get in touch at with questions. I’ll be posting information about the tour soon. Panini Girl Food Tours