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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Life sure can throw you some curves.

   Mid April brought much sadness to the life of this blogger. My father, 87 years old, succumbed to an illness he has had since 1982--not that he was horribly ill all this time, but he has been steadily failing for the last 12 years and this past 6 months have seen him become totally dependent on others for all of his care. It was becoming impossible to care for him at home, and he was waiting for an opening at the VA home--not that we wanted to put him there, but he needed more care than any of the family were equipped to provide. We lost him on April 16th, hours after the medical staff thought he would pass, but not before all of his family gathered in his MICU room in Stony Brook University Hospital. So, until we meet again, Dad, <3...
   Three days later, my sister's husband, who had stayed home in another state because he thought he had the flu, also passed. This one was sudden and quite unexpected. My family is numb. I can only shake my head in disbelief. How can this happen? I am sure this has happened before to some other family somewhere, and I can only say that anyone who survives back-to-back events like these have to have strong family ties and love to get through the pain. Only faith and love can see you through so deep a darkness.
    I am staying here on Long Island at my brothers for a few weeks to stay with Mom, while my brother heads down south to our sister's house. Mom cannot make the trip, right now, as she is not faring well physically. That she is not up to going to her daughter's is stressing her. It is a vicious circle. But one we believe we will rise above. We have to believe it.
    As I am not exactly thinking clearly I find my mind is blank as to what to post about cooking. I cannot think about cooking with all the food the neighbors have dropped at the door, or have had delivered. Heating things up is not exactly cooking, as I am sure my followers would surmise. So I plead for a temporary reprieve from the kitchen but promise I will be back soon.
    Don't ever pass on an opportunity to tell someone you love them, you just never know.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

April, already?

    Holy cow, somebody stop the clock! It's already the first week of April. I am going to sound like a broken record, but, when did time start moving so fast? Jeepers!
   Easter is upon us this weekend and I have a lot of cooking to do. I am making Shrimp Scampi with homemade noodles for dinner tomorrow night. I guess I'll make bread, too. But I am going to make an Italian Easter Bread, also, for Sunday. It is a sweet bread (not sweetbreads), that is braided into a wreath and has colored eggs woven into the dough. My little old Italian grandmother made it every Easter. Of course she passed without sharing her recipe, but with this new newfangled invention called the internet, I have located a recipe that looks and sounds so much like it would be the recipe she used, or a close second, I am going to attempt it on Saturday. Yeah, you know me, forever the mad scientist!
     I found the recipe online at a club called Just a Pinch Recipe Club, which is a members only site, however, it doesn't cost anything, you just have to sign up. Me connecting with other avid cooks sharing recipes and secrets? Oh yeah, I'm in!
   Anyway, I followed the recipe nearly exactly (yes, yes, you know me!), but I did not have any fresh lemon, therefore no lemon peel to grate. Hmmm. what to do? After researching the internet for appropriate substitutions I decided to go with 1 tsp of orange juice to replace the lemon peel. The chemistry of lemon juice is too acidic to properly attain the same results as the peel- orange juice--being sweeter than lemon juice, I decided would be a better alternative. I was not disappointed. the bread had a little brightness that the lemon peel was meant to introduce, and the milk didn't sour as it would have had I used lemon juice. Mental note: you can substitute 1 teaspoon orange juice for 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel in bread recipes.

Italian Easter Bread

2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (that's one packet)
1/4 Cup warm water 110 to 115 degrees F.
1/2 Cup butter (softened)
1/2 Cup sugar
6 egg yolks
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 Cup warm milk
1 tsp orange juice
2 tsp vanilla
4 1/4 Cups flour
1 tsp melted butter
1 egg white, scrambled
6 colored eggs (raw)

Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 Cup warm water.Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.Add the salt and then the 6 egg yolks, one at a time until completely incorporated. Stir in the warm milk, the OJ and then the vanilla. Mix well. Add 2 cups of the flour and beat for 5 minutes. Gradually stir in the rest of the flour (switch to the dough hook on your stand mixer, if using). Knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.This dough is on the stiffer side. Place dough in a greased bowl, drizzle a little melted butter over the top. Cover and let rise 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Punch down and knead for a few minutes again. Let rest 10 minutes. Separate dough into three equal portions and roll out into ropes. Braid the ropes into a wreath, placing colored eggs within the braid spaced equally all around (see photo). Brush the dough with beaten egg white and place into preheated 325 degree oven, 45 to 55 minutes. Let cool on wire rack. I did end up glazing the bread (as it is a sweet bread) with 1 cup of powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp of vanilla and 1 tablespoon of milk, mixed well, and drizzled over the top.
   I have made this bread before and never had a problem with the raw eggs. Not so lucky this trip. One egg did crack and ooze out a bit, and was still liquid when the bread was otherwise done. I just shut off the heat to the oven, and left the bread in the oven for another hour. It did not harm the bread, but the eggs were cooked through, which is what I was looking for. I tend to think there was something wrong with that particular egg, as I have made this several times before, as did my grandmother, and many other people from  the club, who did not have problems with their eggs exploding. Just one of those things you cannot predict, I guess.
   Here's a photo before the glaze. I will post a post-glaze photo as soon as I get it off my phone.
   What special treats do you prepare for your family's holiday? I love to hear from you!


  The Mayan doomsday prophesy has had me thinking along the lines of "the end". I, for one, am very skeptical about the prediction, but that is material for another blog, not this one. But, in the vein of things changing quickly, I was thinking about what I would take with me from my kitchen, should I have to relocate quickly. I confess I am also thinking about reducing the physical clutter so maybe I can reduce the mental clutter, as well.
   What would you take if you had to move, not by choice, but by necessity? What could you just not do without?
   Hands down I would have to say my KitchenAid® stand mixer, with the stainless steel bowl, dough hook, whisk, and paddle, is something I cannot see myself living without. Then there's my aluminum-clad bottom pots and pans made of 18/10 stainless steel--no, I don't use ANY of those non-stick things. I'd also bring my cast iron dutch oven, my Pampered Chef® sheet pans and Covered Baker, my pasta roller--yes, I finally got one, and the only cookbook I would have to bring would be The Stocked Kitchen by Sarah Kallio and Stacey Krastins. I have to stop there, because I could very easily get carried away.
  Hmmm. I can hear some of you asking, you'd only bring one cookbook? Well, yes, but you see, I have a backup plan already in action. I keep a copy of my personal favorite recipes in an email to myself, so I can open it and retrieve them wherever I end up. And when I update my collection, I just send myself another email. Just a little cyber trick my son taught me. I also have a file on my computer, and I sent a copy to my son, as another backup. After collecting recipes for over 30 years I would really be unhappy if I lost all my work. My original intention was to burn a CD for each of my kids with my recipes in order to preserve them for the future generations. I haven't done the CD yet, but the collecting and saving part is in full swing. I think once I kick the bucket, and will no longer being adding any entries they can use whatever technology is then current to save their Mother's recipes. Sounds like a plan to me, and a lot less baggage. This "book" can be edited for all time. I like that.
   So that, in a nutshell, is what I feel I need to start-up a new kitchen: a stand mixer, a pasta roller, 18/10 stainless pots and pans, a few pieces of cast iron and ceramic, one cookbook, and one computer file. Now to translate that info into reality...hmmm, as I look around this much too large kitchen, there are many many things that could go.
   I have started de-cluttering by donating about 20 cookbooks to one of the local High School classes for an auction fund-raiser. I certainly hope those books do someone some good. They are ones I haven't used in a very long time--I got over the likes of Rachel Ray years ago, although she did teach me certain things about speeding up the cooking process, her fare was still too foreign for my family (we are Italian, but from a different area.) I hope someone locally can appreciate what those books have to offer. I am just thankful I found a good cause to donate them to.
   So, what about you? What would you bring?

 Kallio, Sarah, and Krastins, Stacey, The Stocked Kitchen: one grocery list...endless recipes. Atria Books, New York, NY. 2009.