It is sure easy for me to relate to the Joseph Quici family in Phoenixville. Ruth and Joe have one daughter, Melissa, and no pets. This is a lot like the Banjack family of Buchanan Street when I was growing up There was my mom and dad, me and no pets.

Joe is a shoemaker by profession. Actually, he is the third generation of craftsmen that total 83 years starting with his grandfather and including his father. That must add up to a lot of pairs of shoes over the years. The shop is in Berwyn, with his mother and sister living right next door to the shop. Berwyn is somewhat like the local horse country, and Joe repairs and makes many riding boots. I remember hearing about him years ago when I was looking for a pair of dress boots. Ruth is an international customer service representative with the PQ Corporation. Melissa is into field hockey and softball.

Not really knowing him, the St. Ann's Cook-Off was the first time I became aware of Joe and his family's story. Besides the shoe business, he has worked for a caterer part-time for approximately 30 years. He was able to lend his expertise and equipment to the event. We figured that the cook-off is in its 13th to 14th year.

Around this time of the year his part-time job can be overwhelming. Most weekends during spring and summer the Gourmet Buffet handles 17 to 20 jobs. Joe mentioned that this job is actually an act of love. He loves to cook and he loves to help his friend.

Joe is truly amazed that his mother, Julia, "can turn nothing into something." Joe has lunch with his mom every day during the week. Ruth adds, also many dinners. She can take pasta, sausages, and sauce and make many different dishes.

Joe and Ruth have lived in the same house for all of the 18 years they have been married. They were kind to have invited me into their kitchen as they were In the middle of renovations in the dining room and kitchen. The kitchen was waiting to have a new tile floor installed, something that Ruth has wanted to do for a long time.

We sat, we chatted, and we had a little refreshment. Joe is a wine maker. In the true Italian manner he makes enough for one year, in his case about 18 bottles of a blush wine. Because I worked in the garment industry for 25 years and a large percentage of employees were Italian, this visit with Joe and Ruth was like going back again. We talked about how to handle wine when the moon was on the up and when it was on the down. We discuss the different types of polenta. I like it hard, Ruth likes it soupy and Joe just likes it.

Both Joe and Ruth like to cook and they seem to share the kitchen successfully. Ruth cooks during the week and Joe cooks for company. When not in the kitchen, or at his jobs Joe is active in the CYO.

Joe would really like to see "Emeril" live and in action. Someday he and Ruth will get a chance to get tickets and go. Sometimes the wait and anticipation is better than the actual happening.

Joe surprised me by making the key lime pie recipe he shares with us today.

Joe's Key Lime Pie

(Delicious)

1 (14 ounce) can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk

3 egg yolks, beaten

1/2 cup key lime juice

pinch of salt

3 egg whites, stiffly beaten

1 (9-inch) pie shell, baked in a glass pie plate and cooked

whipped cream

Whisk the condensed milk, egg yolks, key lime juice and salt until smooth. Gently fold in egg whites. Pour into baked pie shell. Bake in preheated 300-degrees oven until custard is set, about 35 minutes, let cool on a wire rack, then refrigerate for 2 hours. Top with whipped cream.

Baked French Toast Casserole With Maple Syrup

(A Quici Favorite)

1 loaf French bread (13 to 16 ounces)

8 large eggs

2 cups half-and-half

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon grounded nutmeg

dash salt

Praline Topping, recipe follows

maple syrup

Slice bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each. If there is any leftover bread use for garlic toast, bread crumbs or croutons. Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 x 13-inch flat baking dish in two rows, overlapping the slices. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with milk-egg mixture.

Spoon some of the mixture between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Next morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread Praline Topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes until puffed and lightly golden Serve with maple syrup.

Praline Topping

1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well. Makes enough for the casserole.

Life is like a celebration, enjoy it!

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