Saturday, February 28, 2009



Several years ago I was hooked on a series of books written by Jan Karon about a fictional town called Mitford ( . The lead character of the Book was Father Tim and surrounding him were a host of parishioners that were an interesting group of people. One of my favorites was Esther Bullock, Father Tim's church secretary. Esther's signature was her Orange Marmalade Layer Cake. These scrumptious delights were brought to the sick, and infirm, they were brought to funerals, baptisms, weddings, and of course birthdays. You were really considered special if you were on Esther's Christmas list as of course you would be the lucky recipient of one of her famous cakes.

Esther would never give up the secret to that cake and Jan Karon wouldn't either until the book Esther's Gift came out. I just happened to be at the library recently and there sat the small book on a table just waiting for me to pick it up. And that is exactly what I did one cold winter afternoon this month. And after reading it, I thought I just have to make this cake or at least something like it. So I checked out the book and headed to the grocery store.

Since Bob and I are the only ones at home now, and the prospect of eating a whole cake is a bit much, I thought cupcakes! And since cupcakes are popular now if they turned out just the way I hoped they would, I might be able to work them into my cupcake class in the future.

The cupcakes turned out just the way I hoped and everyone who has sampled them agree that they should be included in my cupcake or desserts classes and they will. For a schedule of my culinary classes go to and if you want to read a great series of books and become friends with the Mitford folk as I have then go to the library or a book store and pick up one of the nine books in the series, but I suggest that you begin with, "At Home in Mitford." I hope you enjoy them as much as I have. Don't forget to stop by the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for Carmela's Orange Marmalade Cupcakes. Make yourself a batch and settle back with a good book. Spring does not have to come in such a hurry after all.


1 package Betty Crocker White Super Moist Cake Mix

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

6 ounces good quality orange marmalade

1 can Betty Crocker Rich and Creamy Cream Cheese Frosting

Prepare and bake the cake mix according the package directions for cupcakes.

( When cooled, with a skewer poke the tops of the cupcakes several times. Gently drizzle the tops of the cupcakes with the orange juice. Wait a few minutes and let the juice soak into the cupcakes. With an apple corer, gently remove a plug out of the center of the cake, making sure that you do not cut through to the bottom.

Put the marmalade in a zip-lock bag and seal tightly. Cut a small corner of the bag and pipe the marmalade into the center of the cupcake level with the top. Save remaining marmalade. Frost cupcakes as you like. With the remaining marmalade, garnish the top of each cake with a dollop.

This is my quick and easy version, for Esther's version pick up a copy of Esther's Gift by Jan Karon.

Buon appetito,

Carmela Turis Hobbins

Tuesday, February 24, 2009



Last Sat. night we had a sudden change of plans and found ourselves with nothing to do. We called around and found some good friends that were in town as well and decided to meet for a very quick and inexpensive meal at Buon Giorno Italia, 981 Sibley Memorial Highway in Lilydale off of Hiway 13 in Mendota Heights. ( 651-905-1080.

When teaching cooking classes the question of where to eat good Italian food is always asked by my students. I often tell them I Nonni's, the upper end restaurant next door to the deli. I Nonni is really a special occasion place especially in these difficult economic times, but it is possible to order dinner in their bar and save a few dollars.

But Sat. night we wanted something really casual, and just fun, a place where we could get a quick dinner a bottle of wine and just catch up with our friends. Many people had the same idea as the place was very busy with families and couples just like us looking for a good meal at an affordable price. We grabbed a table and while the guys selected a bottle of wine from the wine shop we looked over the menu.

At Buon Giorno's you order at the counter and pick up your food and if necessary they bring the ordered food out to your table upon completion, but there is no table service. Salads, hot and cold sandwiches, panini, pizza and a pasta bar are all available.

At $8.99 the build your own pasta appealed to me. Two young chef's were making up pastas as fast as the orders were coming in. As my turn came up I asked the young chef what his name was and he replied, "Stuart." I then asked him what his favorite combinations were and of course one question lead to another, with him finally asking me if I was a food critic. While I am not getting paid to review restaurants, I would not have been truthful to deny being a critic, so I gave him my card and told him I would be blogging about my experience. He asked me to be nice and fortunately I can be Stuart.

The combination of pasta that I came up with was, olive oil, garlic, scallops, broccoli, artichoke hearts and tri-colored corkscrew pasta in pesto and white sauce. While they were preparing my pasta, I thought that they were being a little skimpy with the ingredients, but as you can see I had a really big pasta to eat when they were finished with the preparation. The combination was delicious and creamy, the vegetables and scallops cooked perfectly and the pasta was "al dente" just the way I like it. The dish also came with some nice crusty bread.

My husband also ordered a pasta and we decided the next time we visit we will order one pasta or Buon Giorno's Lasagna and their chicken Parmesan and some roasted asparagus and share our dinners. The Caesar salad that we ordered was so ordinary that I would not bother with that again and try a different salad such as the antipasti chop or the tuna and cannellini bean salad.

We all did have room for dessert and I sent my husband to the counter to choose as I was only going to have a bite of whatever he brought back. In the end I ate half of the beautifully presented key lime tart. Now I usually think of this dessert best served in the summer, but I enjoyed it greatly on that cold winter night. The individual tart was a large portion and beautifully decorated with whipped cream. The pastry was flaky and the filling nicely rich with the tartness of key lime juice. It was a perfect ending to our meal.

If you are looking for a last minute place to eat for cheap this might be just the ticket. With a really good bottle of wine, pasta bar, salad and dessert the two of us ate for about $50.00 We would have spent more than 3 times that next door!

Buon appetito,

Carmela Tursi Hobbins

Friday, February 20, 2009



People ask me all the time what is Carmela's Cucina? Well, let me tell you. Several years ago I began giving small group cooking classes. Later I was asked to teach at many of the area cooking schools and community education classes. And I do private classes.

I specialize in Italian cooking since that is my background and my parents and grandparents came from Calabria in Italy. I learned to cook from my grandmothers and mother. And our family owns an Italian restaurant in Des Moines, Tursi's Latin King. Years ago I owned a small catering company, Occasions Inc. To arrange for a cooking class go to my web site at and contact me and we can set up a class and select a menu.

About 6 years ago I began taking small groups to Italy in the fall of each year and plan to do so again. Each group is between 10-12 people. We stay in one beautiful Tuscan farm house villa for the week and take day trips to Sienna, Lucca, San Gimignano, Chianti, Graeve, Cinque Terre and Florence. Our driver picks us up in a 16 passenger mini bus every morning and safely returns us home at the end of the day after we have toured the area. The tour includes 2 cooking classes and many excellent meals and wine along the way. Your lodging, ground transportation, and the tour is fully escorted with both English and Italian speaking guides. Again go to my web site and click on the tour button to down load all of the information. Call me and we can discuss how we can make this dream a reality.

Carmela's Cucina is also a cookbook, that can be purchased through my web site at local book stores and cooking shops. It includes recipes from 3 generations of great Italian cooks, recipes from my cooking classes and culinary tours and from our family restaurant and great photos and stories about growing up in an Italian American family.

Carmela's Cucina also offers consulting and catering services and will come out and speak to your group or club and do a food demonstration if you would like.

I hope this gives you an idea of what I do and I hope that you will contact me for a book, cooking class or culinary tour in the near future.
Buon appetito,
Carmela Tursi Hobbins

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Greetings from Carmela's Cucina,

In these hard times shopping at Aldi's Food Stores ( makes good cents. And you will save dollars too, which is a good thing these days.

When I was writing my first cookbook Carmela's Cucina the food stylist that I was working with suggested that I shop at Aldi's for some of the food items that we were going to need for the photo shoot. I was very skeptical, but one of my neighbors confirmed that the new store in town was a great deal and fun to shop. So armed with my own grocery bags and a quarter for a shopping cart, I made my first trip to Aldi's and have been hooked ever since.

This is no frills shopping, and I always have to make a stop at a full service grocery store to complete my grocery list, but the savings are significant, so it is worth the extra trouble. Aldi's has it's origins in Germany and many of their specialty items come from that country. Anything that I have tried from the chocolates to the stollan at Christmas have been excellent.

A typical trip takes about twenty minutes unless the store is really busy and lately I see more and more people learning about what a great value this store is. I have a few favorite items that I always shop for that I want to share with you. I love their trail mix and granola bars. For everyday sandwiches and use their sliced cheeses are great, but when I want something fancy I do go to an up-scale store. I really love their salad dressing and their fresh vegetables and fruits are wonderful and cheap. I always buy their grapefruit which are sweet and delicious as is the pineapple, cantaloupe, honey dew and strawberries. Blueberries are usually available as are mangos, avocados, lemons and limes and kiwi fruit. Their zucchini, three to a package are a great deal as are their tomatoes, tri colored peppers, onions, potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower. Spinach is a bargain and so are the hearts of Romain.

Bread selection is limited, but they always have the multi-grain bread that we enjoy at about half the price and my husband loves their coffee cakes so I indulge. Butter for baking and sugar and flour are also less expensive and of good quality.

Last summer many of my flowering plants came from Aldi's they usually arrive on Thur. morning and there is always a great rush, so be prepared. My Easter lilies and Christmas flowers also come from the store. I can buy more because they are so inexpensive and any one who knows me, knows that flowers are my guilty pleasure.

This past holiday season I even purchased a crown pork loin roast and served it to guests and they raved about how good it was.

Now for a few tips if you want to save some money, shop Aldi's early in the day for best selection. Bring cash as they do not take checks, but recently began to take debit cards. Have a quarter ready for the grocery cart, you get it back when you return it to the stall. And bring your own bags, you can purchase them at the store for 5 cents, but hey you want to save some money here!

As my grandmother would say,"watch your nickels and dimes and the dollars will take care of themselves." Aldi's helps.

Buon appetito,

Carmela Tursi Hobbins

Monday, February 16, 2009


Greetings from Carmela's Cucina,

Today is Presidents Day ( and many of you have the day off so take some time and make your family a special dessert to celebrate. Washington, our first president is famous for cutting down a cherry tree, these cheesecakes with a cherry topping are so good that your family is going to be cutting you many compliments.

And for cooking classes from my Cucina consult the calendar on my web site at or contact me about arranging a private class for you and you group.


Any pie filling can be used to top these cheesecakes. Fresh fruit is also a nice addition. The cheesecakes can be made ahead and frozen, top with pie filling or fresh fruit when ready to serve.

3- 8 ounce packages, cream cheese
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 can Wilderness cherry pie filling

Cream together the cream cheese and 1 cup of sugar. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Add vanilla and mix together.

Divide mixture into 24 cupcake liners in cupcake pans. Bake 40 minutes at 300 degrees until lightly browned. When cooled top with the cherry pie filling.

Buon appetito,

Carmela Tursi Hobbins

Tuesday, February 10, 2009



Last week I suggested to all of my readers that they help our economy out, by having lunch at a cafe with a friend, taking a vacation if you could afford to, or throw a dinner party. Well, after writing that post I decided I better do my part too.

I called up 4 couples that we have known for a long time and enjoy and invited them for a little dinner party over the weekend. Luckily everyone was available and we had a great evening of wonderful friends, fun, good food and great wine. I think everyone must have had a good time too as 5 hours had passed before we got up from the dinner table.

We began our evening with antipasti around a roaring fire and then moved into the dining room. We enjoyed shrimp cocktail and an antipasti that we make frequently in Italy, a creamy tuna paste stuffed into phyllo shells. We enjoyed a delicious salad that included field greens, Granny Smith apples and a wedge of warm Brie that was topped with brown sugar and pecans. Our main course included roasted vegetables, a Mediterranean couscous and chicken that had been marinated in Italian spices, olive oil and white wine. And for dessert we enjoyed a raspberry-ginger semi-freddo garnished with fresh raspberries and mint, all in a pool of raspberry sauce. And then I brought out the home-made Limoncello made by one of the guests and the Torrone candy. Everyone was very satisfied.

You don't have to go this much bother, order a pizza and a movie and call up your best friends and have a great time too.

Buon appetito,
Carmela Tursi Hobbins

Monday, February 9, 2009



Recently on a beautiful Sunday morning after Mass, my husband Bob and I made our way to Gigi's Cafe is Minneapolis. Our son, Teddy has been telling us about this little treasure for several months. Since we were going to a movie at the Lagoon Theater in Uptown we decided this was the day to try out Gigi's.

It was a warm and sunny day and we found parking on the street. There is no parking lot, so beware of this as when the area is busy it may be a walk to the cafe, but it will be worth it. We stepped into Gigi's which was moderately busy for a Sunday morning. They offer only counter service, you pick what you want and then one of the very helpful and friendly staff delivers your order at the table.

There were so many delicious items to choose from. Beautiful pastries, sandwiches, wraps, soups and desserts and because it was Sunday they offered a number of egg dishes and quiches. Since we wanted breakfast we each ordered and egg dish. Mine was full of wild mushrooms, goat cheese and arugula and served with some whole wheat toast. The portion was generous and the combination of mushrooms, greens and cheese just perfect. The goat cheese melted into the eggs and made them creamy and tasty. I thought it might be nice if they had brought some jam to go with the toast but they did not and little kabob of fruit would have been a welcome addition. The portion was so large though that I was not able to order a dessert which I had planned on doing earlier. Next time I think it would be a great idea to split an egg dish and also split a dessert with someone.

What I really liked about this place was that the staff was so friendly and nice and that the room was filled with sunlight. I choose a table beside the window that actually got warm, which was welcome in January, but could be a problem in the summer.

Last year when we were celebrating a birthday Teddy offered to bring the birthday girls favorite dessert for dinner, which was Gigi's Key Lime Tart. While it is not currently available at the counter it can be ordered ahead and they will have one available for pickup. I think of Key Lime Tart as more of a summer thing anyway. Not only was the tart beautiful to look at, it was wonderful to eat, smooth, creamy and just tart enough. The color was gorgeous and it was decorated beautifully. It was the perfect ending to our meal.

Gigi's is located at 822 W. 36th street, just a few blocks from Lake Calhoun. Their number is 612-825-0818. They are open daily at 8:00 a.m. It is casual dining, kid friendly and no reservations are taken. There web site is but it really does not offer any information.

I suggest if you are in the area and looking for good food and a quick breakfast, lunch or dinner, this is a great spot to eat. And they offer a "Happy Hour" as well. I am looking forward to going back this summer after a walk around the lake for a nice long chat with a friend and a cup of coffee out on their sidewalk.

Buon appetito,

Carmela Turis Hobbins

Friday, February 6, 2009


Greetings from Carmela's Cucina,

On a very cold winter day recently I met two friends at 50th and France for lunch. I was very surprised to see how quiet this area was at this time of day, but it was cold. 50th and France is a chic area of Edina to shop and eat. I teach cooking classes at one of the stores is the area, Cook's of Crocus Hill( and was amazed during the holidays at how busy the area always was. You could never find a parking place, the streets and stores were crowded and there was a great deal of activity from reindeer rides to carolers singing in the streets.

But on this Feb. day it was dead! Finding parking was no problem, but the walk to the front entrance of Beaujo's was long especially when you are dealing with wind chill. Apparently in an effort to cut their heating costs this small cafe has closed off their entrance near the parking lot and directed their customers around the block to their front door. I am all for exercise and normally would not have minded the walk, but it was freezing! BRRRRRRR.

We were having a late lunch, but I was still surprised to see so few tables taken, maybe there were three other parties in Beaujo's at the time. I have been there however on a summer night and the place was packed.

Beaujo's is known as a wine bar and bistro, and whenever I have been there or driven by in the late afternoon or early evening it has been quite busy, so I think this day was just an exception, or maybe the economy has hit this little corner of Edina as well.

I was the first to arrive so looked at the menu and specials of the day and decided that the mussels were what I was going to order. When my dining partners arrived we looked over the wine list and I decided to have a half glass of wine, after all I had to get back to work and it was a Tuesday afternoon. Offering half glasses is a nice way for customers to try several wines if they like.

My friends decided on salads and soup of the day. The soup according to my dining companions was spicy and hot and the salads crisp and dressed perfectly. My mussels were among the largest that I had ever eaten, and I try mussels everywhere I go. The broth was a little unusual, most often mussels are prepared in a light wine broth, these however were prepared with coconut milk and with just a hint of cilantro. Different and delicious. The two pieces of French bread were perfect to sop up all of the liquid. The bowl was loaded with mussels and priced at $8.99 this was a lunch bargain.

Beaujo's at4950 France Ave. in Edina is a great place to meet for lunch or a late afternoon glass of wine, they serve mostly salads, sandwiches and soup, and are open daily, but times vary. Go to their web site at for more information or phone them at 952-922-8974.

Buon Appetito,
Carmela Tursi Hobbins

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Greetings from Carmela's Cucina,
If you are from Minnesota then you know all about Nordic Ware and their famous "Bundt Pan." They were even featured on the Martha Stewart show, ( when they celebrated their 60th anniversary. But Nordic Ware is so much more than the famous bundt pan. They carry an extensive line of bake ware and cook ware as well. If you like to cook or bake I suggest that you make a stop at their store located at 4925 Highway 7. Or go to their web site, to see the full product line.

Recently, I got an email from a friend of mine that is also a member of Women Who Really Cook. She has been hired by the company to begin culinary classes at their store. She was wondering if I would like to add Nordic Ware to the schools and stores where I teach cooking classes and of course I agreed. So one cold day last week, I went to check out their kitchen, which will be great to cook in and also their wares, and of course I came home with several "must have"gadgets for the cucina.

I also scheduled some classes with them. The first class will be on Tuesday night March 24th. And it will be a pasta class that will include two of my favorite pastas, roasted asparagus and small cheesecakes with a fruit topping. YUM!!!

The classes are about 90 minutes long and you get to eat what I cook, such a great deal for you! And the cost is so reasonable at $20-25 per class. And best of all the night of the class you will get a 15% discount. Making this a recession proof deal!

To register for the class go to their web site or call the store at 952-924-9672 and ask for my Endless Pastabilites Class.

I will be looking for you, bring your appetites, it is going to be a fun-filled evening I promise you. And at this price bring your spouse, or friend for twice the fun.
Buon appetito,
Carmela Tursi Hobbins

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Greetings from Carmela's Cucina,

The Minneapolis paper, The Star Tribune on Sunday Feb. 1, 2009 published a great letter to the editor entitled, "If you can, put money back into our economy." The writer suggests that if your job is secure, that you spend a little money to stimulate the economy. She says go out to lunch, shop at Target, throw a dinner party, and go on a vacation if you can afford it. I am going to suggest the same thing, take a cooking class and learn to cook better food at home. See my schedule of cooking classes at or ask me about private classes. Contact me to purchase one of cookbooks, CARMELA'S CUCINA, which is full of easy to make and economical recipes that you, your family and friends are going to love. Have friends over for a party and let me help you prepare the food. And if you really have some extra cash travel to Italy with me this spring or fall. Check the tours page of my web site for details of the trip. And remember that when you travel with me you are paying in American dollars and the price is fixed so that there will never be any surprise fees or extras to pay for.

So, do not despair, spring will be here soon, the sun is shinning a bit brighter, the days are longer and the temperatures are rising. And so will our spirits. Put a smile on your face, call a friend and go out and have some fun. Spend a little money if you can. You will feel better and you may even be doing something good for our sad economy.

And since it is Feb. we can't forget to celebrate Valentine's Day. Expensive gifts may not be in your budget, a big night out on the town may be more than you can afford, but you can make my "Peanut Clusters" and let those close to you know you really love them.

We, Americans will survive this period and we will come out better and stronger for it. Until then,, please know that I wish you, my loyal clients, friends and family well. Happy Valentine's Day and...

Buon appetito,

Carmela Tursi Hobbins

12 ounces chocolate chips
12 ounces butterscotch
2 cups peanuts
4 ounces white chocolate

Melt the chips in a double boiler, and when the chips are melted add the peanuts and mix well. Drop by teaspoonfull on cookie sheets that have been lined with waxed paper or parchment. Melt white chocolate in Microwave oven, stirring after 30 seconds, if chips are still not melted microwave for another 30 seconds until melted. Drizzle the white chocolate over the clusters. Put in a cool place until they are firm. MAKES 3 DOZEN.