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Monday, May 14, 2012

Neighborly contributions

     When my father passed away on Long Island last month I spent three weeks at my brother's helping make arrangements and taking care of Mom, who, although knew it was time for him to go, was very, very sad, and not faring too well physically herself.
   I have to say my brother's neighbors were, each and every one, a Godsend. You would not believe the amount of food that showed up on the doorstep. Their timing was impeccable, as who could think about preparing meals for so many people while we all were reeling from the shock of losing our husband, Dad, Grandpa, and Great-Grandpa? Not many. My brother did have the presence of mind to grab a bunch of steaks and toss them into a marinade--we'd pick up macaroni and potato salads from the deli--oh, yeah, I'm back in civilization--real macaroni and potato salads that I didn't have to make! And we were going to go grab a few bags of prepared salads from the supermarket. 
   But two of the neighbors stopped by bearing gifts- that were sent by at least ten families that are my brother's neighbors-- a large peace lily, and two very large baskets of food stuffs. One basket had corn muffins and blueberry muffins, English muffins, a few boxes of cereals, a couple of boxes of Entenmen's doughnuts, granola bars, and breakfast bars. The other basket had a gallon of milk, orange juice, apple juice, 2 liter bottles of Coca-Cola and Sprite, and four bottles of wine. Wow!

     I was about to head out to go pick up the salads when I got called back to the kitchen. No need for the salads. My brother was packing up the steaks and sending them to the deep cooler out back. Apparently the neighbors bought us dinner, too. Five minutes later a delivery van was in front of the house. Trays and trays of food starting pouring in the front door. Eggplant Parmesan; chicken, tomato, fresh mozzarella, and artichoke salad; chicken tenders; baked ziti, with ricotta and mozzarella cheeses and baked until bubbly; sausage and peppers; a mountain of garlic knots; and two huge tossed salads with Italian dressing on the side. This was awesome! Most of us did not even realize just how hungry we were. There was something on the menu for everyone--even the picky eaters.
    I cannot say enough for the thoughtfulness of my brother's neighbors in Stony Brook. The selections Sal, the owner of Ole Solo Mio, made to make a complete and special meal for all of us were perfect, as was the quality of the food. I love the idea of the baskets of food and plan on using that idea in the future, when, inevitably, someone passes, to help one of my neighbors through a rough patch of life. 
   Let's just hope that the need does not come too soon, nor too often.


Eggplant Parmesan
Mountain of garlic knots


     What about you? Do you have a special dish you send to a neighbor in need?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Short-cuts

   Being away from my kitchen for three weeks has presented me with a challenge or two. Not having my own equipment like my Kitchen Aid stand mixer, is driving my a little crazy. I miss not making homemade bread, and with these hands of mine, and my wrist being sore for the last month, I cannot see myself even attempting to knead dough for bread. It's just not going to happen. Period.
   But, wait! Nowadays many bakery departments of grocery stores sell already made pizza dough. How easy can that be? Yeah, I think I'm in.
   Okay, so I'll grab a few pounds of pizza dough. I will let it thaw out in the refrigerator in its original bag. Then put it in a greased bowl, turn it once, cover it with greased plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and let it rise for about an hour to an hour and half. Punch it down. Let is rest for 10 minutes. Okay, now what?
   Well, here's where we can get creative: to make Italian bread, roll out the dough into a rectangle about a foot long by 8 inches wide. Roll it tightly starting from the long edge. Dampen the edge of the dough and pinch it together, then roll it back and forth on the counter a few times to shape it into a nice looking long-ish loaf.
    Paint the dough with a beaten egg yolk, slash the top about 1/4 inch deep about every two inches across; sprinkle with granulated garlic, and/or sesame seeds. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack for about 20 minutes and serve warm with soft butter.
   I can hear the nephews munching now!
   What else can you do with pre-made pizza dough other than make your very own pizza? A few things. But always start with thawing it out in the refrigerator in its original bag and then letting it rise in the greased bowl as previously described.
   Okay, the dough is ready. What do to with it? Hmm. I got a hinkering for some Zeppoles, you know the pieces of fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar you can get at the Italian restaurants or carnivals and fairs during the summer? Oh, yeah.  The nephews are jumping up and down. Oh, yeah, touchdown without even starting to cook. I could get used to this!
   Okay, not being home, I have a small problem: no deep fryer, so I pull out a deep 3 quart saucepan, fill it about 1/3 full with canola oil and put it on high on the electric stove, turning the exhaust fan on to attempt to keep the aroma of hot oil from overwhelming the house. Actually I was trying to keep the evidence of this foray to a minimum, what my brother and sister-in-law don't know I pulled off in their kitchen is a good thing. Except, as you will learn, it was an effort in futility.
   The oil finally gets heated to 350 degrees, or thereabouts, as I do not have a candy thermometer to test the temperature. One little trick I have picked up over the years is how to determine if your oil is hot enough is to "drop a 1 inch square of bread into the oil. If it takes 60 seconds to brown, then the oil is at 365" (Rombauer, 1047). When the oil reached temperature I pulled a wad of dough, about 3 inches worth, off the edge of the lump of dough and gently dropped it into the oil. It sank to the bottom. 5-4-3-2-1-BINGO! The dough rose to the surface and was frying away in record time. Using a slotted spoon I gently moved the dough ball around and flipped it to make sure it browned evenly on both sides. Drained the little bugger on paper towel. Let cool about 2 minutes then liberally sprinkled powdered sugar over the top and tossed it. I cut into the little test piece--it was perfect-light and airy. I made the full two pounds of dough with the nephews gathered close by to scoff up the little beauties as soon as they were cool enough to handle. 
   I was able to send a few in to Grandma while she watched TV. She sent out her plate for "a few more". Not bad, for being out of my own kitchen, I thought. The boys just loved them, they immediately told their mother over the phone that "Aunt Barbara made Zeppoles" to which she asked, "in my kitchen?"
   I was afraid I might have started something Karen would not be happy with me about. Time will have to tell. In the meantime I found myself on the "favorite Aunt on their Father's side" list...cool.

   The story gets a little funny here. Karen and Tony arrive back home from our sister's down south after the memorial service for our sister's husband that passed away unexpectedly, just days after our Dad passed. Karen sends the boys out to the car to bring in the big box from the trunk. Into the house comes an Indoor Butterball Turkey Fryer. Really? You can fry a turkey in the house? Who would have thought? Now Karen didn't plan on frying a turkey, but had never owned a deep fryer, so when Julie was giving hers away, Karen grabbed it, figuring I was at her house, we could play. 
    And play, we did! We made Zeppoles two more times and french fries, but we all agreed we had been having way too much fried stuff and this piece of equipment was too big to leave out on the counter. So we emptied it and cleaned it and nicely packed it up for its next use--probably in a year or so. It took quite an effort to get the smell of fryer oil out of the house, and off us, too. but it was fun, and I can honestly say, I do not plan on getting an indoor turkey fryer--that's one kitchen gadget I plan on skipping!


    So that's about it, for now, on some shortcuts I used while I was away from my beloved kitchen. How about you? Do you have any tricks to share? Love hearing from all of you!


Reference:
Rombauer, Irma, Rombauer, Marion, & Becker, Ethan. The Joy of Cooking. 75th Anniversary Edition. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 2006.Pg. 1047. Print.