(Click on PHOTO to enlarge and then hit the back arrow to return to original size).
I prepared this tablescape on Friday and was about to post it when the terror attacks struck Paris and then I couldn’t post anything. My heart is broken and saddened by the events in Paris and my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris.
This is a fun blog meant to be informative and entertaining and that is my goal. I hope this post can make you smile, even for a brief moment…..
Yesterday I was reminiscing about my Uncle Vinny. Uncle Vinny was a very tall, loud, loving man that worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and his family meant the world to him. He was the father to my cousins Laura and Jeanette and husband to my Dad’s sister Rose. He was also one of the first “foodies” that I ever met, even before that term was made popular.
To me he was a gentle giant and if you read my 4th of July post, he is the uncle that always drove out from Brooklyn to give us the best fireworks display each year. He loved all the kids so much. But for me, he always brought me my favorite, sparklers!
Back to my uncle, the foodie. My Uncle Vinny was very particular about what he ate and he had to have his food from certain places around Brooklyn. This drove my Aunt Rose crazy. He had a special butcher, fish monger, and grocer. You name the food and he had someone special to buy it from. All the store owners knew him and knew how he liked his food.
In addition to the usual Italian fare, he introduced me to certain Italian delicacies when I was a child. For example, Uncle Vinny ate rabbit, snails, tripe, frog legs and the ever frightening lambs head at Easter. Yes, I have to say that I have tasted it all; probably because he told me after I took a bite what I was eating, but I tried it none the less.
But of all the foods he loved, Uncle Vinny LOVED “escarole soup with meatballs” the best. Today it is know by the name, Italian Wedding Soup. I have no idea how this soup evolved into that name and honestly, I have never seen it served at any Italian wedding I have attended.
In our home we renamed the soup to be respectfully called “Uncle Vinny Soup”. Even when I had friends over, they all knew it by that name. Uncle Vinny became famous for this soup and I think as a food lover, he was thrilled that a food was named after him.
In fact, every year we had to have Uncle Vinny soup for our primo course at Thanksgiving. I still keep this tradition going since I got married and passed this along to my son. It brings a smile to my face when serving this soup, as if Uncle Vinny is sending us a blessing from heaven.
And no Thanksgiving is complete without it.
Yesterday for some reason, I woke up and Uncle Vinny was on my mind. Did you ever have that happen with someone? You just can’t stop thinking about them. Well, in his memory, I decided to make his soup and not wait until Thanksgiving. I had all the ingredients in the house and took that as a sign to start making soup.
Of course, I will still be making this soup again on Thanksgiving.
We can’t break a tradition.
I want to share this special recipe with all of you. I hope you try it and enjoy.
But first, a simple Autumn tablescape to showcase the soup.
Naturally with all of the beautiful colors of the leaves changing this time of year, I had to use dishes with autumn leaves featured.
The dishes I am using today are my every day Autumn dishes, (yes, I change my dishes quite often). The dishes are a light beige background adorned with leaves in beautiful fall colors, along with acorns, cranberries and tartan plaid ribbons.
Something different for me this time; the dishes are square. I usually gravitate toward round dishes, but they were too pretty to pass up.
The name of the dish pattern is “Autumn Celebration” and that is exactly what it is.
Since there are so many colors and patterns going on with this dish, I decided to stay with the neutral color scheme for my accessories so I am using a very basic tan tablecloth.
However, I am picking up the leaf pattern from the dishes with the napkins I chose. They are once again, a light beige background with autumn leaves in the same fall colors as the dish.
The napkin rings are wrapped rayon yarn in autumn colors. I am using the spiced red and gold from the set that also includes forest green and brown.
You know I love to set a table with a charger plate but it wouldn’t work for this tablescape. Since the dishes are square I am using NEW autumn placemats that I bought in Pier 1 that could work perfectly. The placemats are gathered maple leaves. I fell in love with these placemats as soon as I saw them. The colors are just so rich with the gold accents.
The flatware is also a neutral color and I am using off white with a pearl finish to pick up the background of the dishes. This time I am setting the table with the addition of a soup spoon. It doesn’t come with the set but I always use a soup spoon for soup instead of a large dinner spoon.
I have been doing this since I was a child (thanks Mom) and it’s a habit I just can’t break. I even bought a set of soup spoons for my son when he got his apartment.
Keeping up with the simple and neutral color scheme; I am using amber goblets for my glassware. You have seen these before on a few of my other tablescapes. The amber picks up the color of the acorns on the dish.
I wanted an earthy feel to the centerpiece, so I am using a basket made completely out of twigs. I usually have this basket in my den (remember the Safari room)? This time I am filling it with assorted gourds and autumn leaves for a real outdoor feel.
The table scatter (which I must have) for my tablescapes, are various colored autumn leaves.
I am using two other pieces from the Autumn Celebration collection and that is the soup tureen and also the small oval Thanksgiving platter which I will use to serve hot biscuits.
What is better than soup with hot buttered biscuits? I could have that every day for every meal.
The saying on the platter is a quote from American poet, Wilbur D. Nesbit.
“Forever on Thanksgiving Day. The heart will find the pathway home”
This simple lunch is served in memory of my Uncle Vinny; a man who brought a lot of love and fun to the family and is missed so deeply.
There is a reason why Uncle Vinny was on my mind today; maybe to send us a blessing before the holiday season or just remind me not to forget to make the soup.
Please try the soup recipe (recipe printed at the end of the post) and may you and your family receive many blessings of your own.
Don’t forget some hot buttered biscuits to go along with the soup. These are buttermilk biscuits topped with sesame seeds and LOTS of butter.
Autumn Celebration dishes from Macy’s
Napkins from The Christmas Tree Store
Tablecloth from Amazon
Napkin Rings from Bed, Bath and Beyond
Maple Leaf placemats from Pier 1
Off White Pearl flatware from Amazon
Twig centerpiece from Fortunoff’s
Gourds and leaves from Michael’s Arts and Crafts
Amber goblets from JC Penney
Soup spoons from Chef’s Catalog
I have also included my recipes for homemade chicken broth, chicken stock, meatballs and meatballs with sausage along with the soup recipe in case you want to look these over as well.
Have fun cooking.
Until my next post, make every day a celebration!
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Let’s get started…
I am making homemade chicken broth first. Usually, I have some broth in the freezer, but not today.
Uncle Vinny Soup
- 8 cups of homemade chicken broth (recipe follows), canned or boxed is fine*.
- 3 large carrots, diced
- 3 large celery stalks, diced
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- Red pepper flakes – to taste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp. of tomato paste
- Fresh nutmeg
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 3 large eggs
- ½ cup grated cheese + 3 tbsp. for egg mixture
- 1-2 bunches of escarole, washed and shredded (approx. 3-4 cups)
- ½ cup of parsley- chopped fine
- 1-2 cans of cannellini beans (your choice) –rinsed and drained
- 1 ½ lbs. of mini meatballs
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cooked ditalini, acini di pepe or pastina – (1 cup dry)
- (Optional – 2 tbsp. chicken fat)
- (Optional – shredded chicken from homemade soup)
In a large pot, sauté the carrots, celery and onion in 3 TBSP of olive oil for 10 minutes until veggies soften. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and 1 tbsp. tomato paste and cook for 1 more minute
Add the chopped escarole and beans to the pot and sauté until the escarole wilts (3-4 minutes)
Add 8 cups of broth (homemade, canned or boxed *), parsley, bay leaf, salt and pepper and simmer for 15 minutes. (If you are using chicken fat add it now)
- If you use boxed soup, “Imagine” has an organic chicken broth but DO NOT BUY the Kosher chicken broth variety- that contains soy, canola oil, yeast extract (aka MSG) and xanthan gum
While the soup is simmering on LOW, make the mini meatballs (various recipes below, either with or without sausage), and then add them to the broth – they will cook in the broth in approx. 20 minutes (they will float to the top of the pot when they are done)…If you are using shredded chicken from the broth, add it now.
Meanwhile, prepare the egg mixture – In a bowl combine 3 large eggs to 3 tbsp. of grated cheese. (Additional parsley can be added at this time). Beat the mixture lightly with a fork or whisk.
Add the mixture in one fell swoop to the hot broth, stirring vigorously with a whisk or fork so as to break up the egg (this will form fine light flakes or stands of egg). Simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly and remove from heat.
I serve the soup over cooked pasta in the soup bowl. (I don’t like to add the pasta to the soup because it expands and gets mushy the longer it sits)
Serve the soup with additional grated cheese
- 1 ½ lbs. ground grass fed beef or ½ lb each of meatloaf mix( Veal, pork, beef)
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup grated cheese
- ½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2-3 cloves garlic, diced or 1 tsp minced garlic from a jar
- Fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste
Combine ALL ingredients in a large mixing bowl. The mixture should be solid, not mushy. If too mushy, add more breadcrumbs. Roll the meat to form mini meatballs
MEATBALLS WITH SAUSAGE
- ½ lb. grass fed ground beef
- ½ lb. ground pork
- ½ lb. ground veal
- 2 mild sausages, casings removed
- ½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
- ½ cup grated cheese
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2-3 cloves garlic, diced or 1 tsp minced garlic from a jar
- 1 tsp of kosher salt & ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 cup whole milk
Using a whisk, mix the milk and the breadcrumbs in a deep bowl. Add ALL the remaining ingredients. Mix well and form the mini meatballs. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place meatballs 2 inches apart. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes until lightly brown…add the meatballs to the soup
HOMEMADE CHICKEN BROTH
This is a good basic broth to keep in the freezer to use as a base for other soups, as a flavor base for sauces, or to use on it’s own. Simmer it slowly to prevent cloudiness. To create a richer, darker broth, you can roast the chicken in the oven before simmering.
- Add any saved chicken parts (wings, necks and bones you saved in your freezer for stock) to the pot
DO NOT wash the chicken
- 1 (4 lb. chicken, whole)
- 8 cups of water (2 quarts)
- 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
- 3 medium carrots, peeled
- 1 medium parsnip, peeled
- 3 stalks of celery cut into 2 inch pieces
- 1 head of garlic, halved
- 3 generous sprigs of fresh thyme OR 1 tsp. dried
- 3 generous sprigs of fresh parsley OR ¼ cup just leaves
- 1 small bunch of dill, tied together with a string
- 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 2 bay leaf
- Salt and pepper to rub inside the cavity of the chicken (2 tsp salt & ¼ tsp fresh black pepper) plus additional salt and pepper for seasoning
- (Optional – 1 organic tomato, quartered)
- (Optional – 1 (14 oz.) can of low sodium chicken broth for added flavor)
- Combine ALL ingredients in a large stockpot. Do not remove the skin from the chicken because this helps to create a richer soup. Simmer on MEDIUM to just under a boil
- Reduce the heat to a very LOW simmer, so that 1 or 2 bubbles break the surface of the broth about once a minute – this will cook for 3 hours. Periodically, skim fat and scum from the surface with a ladle, large spoon or skimmer……(To prevent losing a lot of stock when skimming, put the skimmed liquid into a degreasing cup, and return useable broth back to the pot)
- At hour # 2 or until chicken is cooked through but not dry, remove the chicken from the pot and continue to simmer the broth. Cool the chicken for about 10 minutes. Cut the chicken meat from the bone, and return the bones to the pot and cook for the last hour.
- When all the cooking is done, strain the broth through cheesecloth into another pot. Taste and season with salt & pepper
- Broth can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days
Chicken Stock instead of broth
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 3 ½ lbs. of chicken wings, backs and bones
- 3 carrots, coarsely chopped
- 2 onions coarsely chopped
- 4 ribs of celery, coarsely chopped
- 2 tbsp. of tomato paste
- 1 tbsp. black peppercorns
- 1 bunch parsley stems
- In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add ALL the chicken parts and brown all over, stirring to avoid burning. Remove the chicken and reserve.
- Add the carrots, onions and celery to the pot and add 3 quarts of water, the tomato paste, peppercorns and parsley.
- Stir with a wooden spoon to dislodge the browned chicken and vegetable bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Bring almost to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook at a LOW simmer until reduced by half, about 2 hours – occasionally skimming excess fat.
- Remove from the heat, strain and press on the solids with the bottom of the ladle to extract out all the liquids.
- Stir the stock to facilitate cooling and set aside.
- Refrigerate stock in small containers for up to a week or freeze up to a month — yields 1 ½ quarts