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Sunday, June 2, 2013

May, she will stay.....

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       Spring has  sprung here in Central New York! Halleluiah! Classes are O-V-E-R! Yippee quay-aye!  Although I do have a few more classes to complete my degree, and I am toying with the idea of a Masters as well. But for now, I am free to cook!
     First on the menu is my famous macaroni salad. Nothing fancy-schmancy, nothing crazy just good ole macaroni salad. Period.
    To start with macaroni salad, regular macaroni salad is made with elbow macaroni. You can use any other short pasta you like, but in my mind real, regular, comfort food macaroni salad is plain and simple elbow macaroni. I do, however occasionally use mini-penne, or ziti, or penne and while the taste is the same, the mouth feel is quite different. To me, that makes it not regular old fashioned macaroni salad. Have I whined enough?
      Due to the nature of pasta, that it will continue to absorb liquids it is mixed with, I make extra dressing to add to the mix right before I serve it, but no so much that the pasta is swimming in it like you sometimes get if you take a chance and buy it from a deli. While some delicatessens certainly make good macaroni salad--there's a place in Stony Brook that I love their macaroni salad, most are not that good--too runny or too vinegar-y, or mushy pasta. Ugh! No thank you!

For one pound of pasta you need a dressing that consists of two cups of mayonnaise- extra heavy if you can find it, but that is becoming more and more difficult to find in my little corner of the world; 1 cup of sugar and 2/3 to 3/4 cups of either cider or white wine vinegar, okay you can use white distilled vinegar if that is your staple. Added to the pasta is also 1/2 of a green pepper diced small; 1/2 of a red pepper diced small; and if you want you can also add 1 seeded and chopped tomato. The tomato is totally optional, the peppers, however are not. The difference in the taste of the pasta without the peppers is so remarkable and downright bland, that if you want to truly experience good--check that--great macaroni salad you simply MUST include the peppers. Even if you only have one color--use it. That's one more of those "trust me" deals.
     Cook the macaroni just until al dente--no matter what you make pasta should be slightly resistant to the tooth; drain it well, and while still hot mix in 1/2 of the dressing mixture and the peppers. Toss to coat. The heat of the pasta releases the flavor of the peppers and big things will start to happen. Wait 10 minutes and add 1/2 of the remaining dressing, mix well. Hold the balance of the dressing until serving time--if the salad is too dry for your taste, add more, if not, you can refrigerate the dressing for a day or two, use it to continue to freshen up the salad before serving. But I do not keep it beyond two days, not because it goes bad--the vinegar does preserve it a bit, is just looks nasty. I usually do not have anything left to dump--the macaroni salad is usually long gone before the two days are up. I have a mac-salad hound around here. 
     STOP the presses! I have recently tried another method! I admit I am usually totally against rinsing pasta, however,  I started rinsing the pasta for mac salad, and I must report satisfactory results. I should know there is no "never". 

I did it...

     I did it, I did it, I did it!, What did I "did", you ask?
     I went an got myself a pasta roller, and now I don't know why I waited so long. My new love is my hand crank pasta roller--bought under the guise of a "modeling clay" roller in the craft section of Ebay. This thing is the bomb--no understatement here. the Pasta rolls out into beautiful thin elastic strips that cook up tender in minutes and hold onto the---okay, I confess, homemade Alfredo sauce in a way I have NEVER had Alfredo sauce hold up.
     I used my usual recipe: 3 cup of flour to 3 eggs, 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt, 3 teaspoons of olive oil, and up to 6 Tablespoons of water mixed to a tight dough consistency in the Kitchen Aid stand mixer. That makes plenty of pasta for a family of 5-6 big eaters, especially if you pair the meal with homemade fresh Italian bread and a salad of lettuces tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, grated parmesan cheese and olives, with fresh mixed Italian dressing made with extra virgin olive oil and a good red wine or balsamic vinegar, a bit of salt, some parsley, oregano, basil, garlic, and hot pepper flakes.
      Let the dough rest 30 minutes, then working with 1/8th of the dough at a time, press it into a flatish piece that will fit into the widest setting of the roller machine. Roll it out, turn the dough, and reduce the thickness of the roller, and pass it through the roller =several times skipping a thickness or two every successive pas through. i went down to #2. then with a sharp pizza cutter, cut the fettuccine noodles as wide as you like--I do about 5/8 th's of an inch--we like them wide. Remove the strands to a drying rack---I use my cake cooling racks propped up and use as many rungs as I can and let the strands dry for anywhere from 1/2 hour to several hours.  They never dry out like the ones you buy in a box in the pasta aisle, and if you are not going to use them on the same day they do need to be refrigerated.
     To cook the noodles, boil 8 quarts of water with 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of salt. YOU MUST USE AT LEAST THE 1 TEASPOON OF SALT in order to get any taste out of that pasta--all pasta for that matter. So use the 1 teaspoon--go ahead-measure it- and trust me.
     Fresh pasta does not take as long as the dried box pastas, and when it starts floating to the top of the water it is generally done. Always test it, however, and you are going for an ''al dente" slight bite to it--you do not want this mushy.
     The number 3 son helped with the rolling of the dough. It can get pretty long, and you need to feed the dough, and catch it to guide it out to the counter top all while turning the crank. You really need three hands, so having a partner in crime works wonderfully. It is also a great way to have a child assist in the preparation. Sometimes little helping jobs like that can spawn an interest in cooking, and then, who knows, maybe the next generation will begin to get interested in cooking and preserving family traditions and their heritage? It cold happen. I am attempting to plant the seeds in my boys--just don't tell them, okay?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Awesome Stuffed Quahogs


    Stuffed Quahogs--Okay hard shelled clams--but I want to introduce you to the proper name. For this particular recipe large clams are better-- I used cherry stone, chowder clams might just be too tough, but I am not exactly sure, but I rarely, if ever, use chowder clams anyway. Just find the largest cherry-stones you can. Soak them in cold water with about 2 tablespoons of cornmeal, changing the water and cornmeal at least 3 times in 24 hours. I also do not keep them longer than 24 hours, either. I buy the clams the day before I am going to use them, do the soaking w/cornmeal and rinse routine 3 times, then the last time I scrub the little beasties well. The cornmeal acts like sand, and the clams filter the sand or cornmeal out to cleanse themselves. Better to have cornmeal in there, than sand, as sand it not food,right? I guess that is the reasoning. Anyway, it works, the clams flush themselves out, and you end up with no sand or grit. Perfect.


    Boil 4 cups of water with the juice of half a lemon. Add the quahogs, cover and steam for 10-13 minutes until the clams open. I pluck them out as they open so not to overcook them. If after 15 minutes some clams do not open toss them, they are deader than a doornail and you will ruin your day if you attempt to open and eat them. Trust me.
    Set the clams aside to cool. Strain the clam broth into a clean vessel--whatever you want--you will be using some of this broth, but you can store (read freeze) the rest of it for a future use.
     Once the cooked clams are cool enough to handle remove the meats, including the muscle that sticks to the shell, and toss them into a food processor. You are going to pulse them a bit, but you want them chunky, not pasty. I have found, however, that with the larger clams you do need to make them on the smaller size otherwise they are a bit too chewy, which is normal for large clams.
   Dice up half a large Vidalia onion and sweat it in a mix of 50/50 olive oil and butter, when the onions begin to sweeten add 2 chorizo removed from their casings and cook until the chorizo is cooked through. Meanwhile put a 5 oz bag of flavored croutons in a separate bowl. add some of the reserved broth to soften the croutons. I'd say about 1-2 cups of liquid. Then add the clams and 6 oz of Harry and David™ Pepper and Onion relish (original) to the skillet and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons chopped parsley (okay, use the dried stuff if you must but only 1 tablespoon); the dampened croutons, 4 slices of diced potato bread, and toss until combined. Add enough dry bread crumbs to make the mix stiff. Scoop large portions into the reserved clam shells. Drizzle with melted butter and slip into a hot (400 degree) oven for about 15 minutes,  until the tops are nicely browned. OMG! 


    The ones I made today were slightly sweet, and yet had a kick from the chorizo and the pepper and onion relish. Harry and David™ have quite the line of pepper and onion relishes and I plan on trying each one of them. You can visit their website by clicking here. My men, liking things spicier than I do will probably add some hot sauce at the table--go right ahead, but these clams came out so awesome I cannot believe it! Both the Big E and #2 son said I can repeat that recipe ANY time I want! # 3  will be home in just under 2 weeks, and he loves stuffed clams so I think these will be making another appearance before very long.
     I have a few photos that I am patiently awaiting to arrive in my mailbox so I can get them posted. Some days technology just does not work well. Today seems to be one of those special days.
   Classes are over until Fall, so I am hoping to get caught up on my housework, and foray into the cooking experiments once again. Yay!
   Okay, it's time for some feedback, please. Have you tried any of my recipes, tips or shortcuts? Have I inspired you to cook anything unusual or out of your comfort zone? I'd love to hear about it. Maybe you can teach me something, too?   
    Til next time!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

End in sight!

     Hello, food-fans! The end of the heaviest semester of classes I have ever taken is in sight! One more week and then I am done until September, for what I am hoping will be my last semester---of course, I am toying with the idea of going for a Master's, but the jury is still out for that.
   This semester has taught me many many things, both in the classroom, and out. I have learned some lessons the hard way. Some have even shocked me, rocked me to the core. But in the quest for knowledge one must be open to an education from any source. The wounds are sure to heal; the scars will remain with me always.  Life goes on, and this too, shall pass.
    So what have I learned in the food category? That although my husband of 24 years and I like many of the same foods, and our preparations share many elements, when it comes down to it, each person has their own take, or version; their own touch; their own spice that flavors the food they prepare.  The Big E has followed many of my recipes from this blog, yet they taste different than when I make them. He uses the same ingredients, the same steps and techniques, yet the final product is just different. Certain of his preparations I prefer, others, not so much. I am sure he feels the same way. Actually, I know he feels the same way, because now I understand why he goes into the kitchen and returns to the dining room table with different spices and "doctors" my dishes. He wants to bring out a different taste than I have brought to the table. I get it now. I should not be offended, as I usually am. His tastes are merely different than mine. He sees through his own lens, and has his taste buds looking for his preferred taste.
     Why didn't he just tell me? Probably because he doesn't understand it, either. But now that I do, there will be less rolling of my eyes or getting ticked because he always has to "fix" what I prepare. I have found myself doing the same thing. Who knew?
     Since today is Saturday it is my turn to cook dinner, once again. I really do miss cooking all week, although at the beginning it was a welcomed reprieve from the daily drudgery. I chuckled to myself when speaking to the Big E over the phone this morning he told me what was on sale at the grocery store, and made a point-blank suggestion of what I should cook tonight. I did not balk. He wants boneless ribs--boneless ribs it will be. Saved me from wracking my brain trying to figure out what to make.
     I rubbed the ribs with a concoction of salt, brown sugar and maple syrup. Let it dry and then spread it on the ribs. Put it in a slow oven  (250 degrees) uncovered for about an hour and half; turned the ribs spread the concoction on the other side and back in the oven for another hour. Then slathered them with some Sweet Baby Rays and put them back in at 350 to glaze.
      I scrubbed a bunch of russet potatoes, cut them into wedges. then I mixed olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley and diced up a large onion, tossing all in a sprayed ceramic dish. Covered them with foil, and after an hour, stirred the whole kit n caboodle, and then left the cover off to brown them up. They smell divine.
      I grabbed a bag of imported green beans--really? Imported green beans? Who knew? And yes, I will micro-nuke them because I am lazy--even when I only cook on the weekends. I even grabbed some ice cream--oh, correction: frozen dairy dessert. Really? Frozen dairy dessert? I am going to have to look more into what that is all about. But the Big E has been missing his sweet-fix in the evenings, or so he has told me-I am not usually here in the evenings.
   So dinner is just about ready, but I wanted to check in with you to let you know that I am still hanging around and although I am relegated to weekends-only cooking I still do cook!
   Until next time....


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Shortcut Central is open again!

    I went a a tear a while ago with shortcuts and lo and behold I have found yet another one! In the spirit of the immigrants of 97 Orchard that I have ranted on about in previous posts I am on a bit of a "stretch the food budget" train. For Easter I made a spiral sliced ham; granted the poor immigrants of the early 1900's  would not have had the luxury of freezing leftover pieces of the ham, but I am not trying to live like they did back then, only  find inspiration in their trials of stretching money and the food it buys.
     When I awoke this morning a little after 9am--I am not an early riser as those of you who know or follow me are fully aware--I stumbled down the stairs to the kitchen where as usual I found the Big E.  He'd been up since 5 or 6 am--how he does that I haven't a clue, but I am too old to change my habits now, so we will just gloss over the fact that he has been enjoying peace and quiet for several hours before I grace him with my presence.
      It is a Sunday morning, so according to our "arrangement" it is my turn to cook. He has been doing the bulk--okay all-- of the weekday cooking since my new employment has me leaving the house in the afternoon and coming home around midnight. Conveniently, he says, I get out of cooking Monday through Friday. The original plan was that I would start something for dinner and he would finish, or I would pop something in the crock pot. Neither of these scenarios have panned out very well and I admit I have dumped the cooking responsibility on him. He, however, has risen to the challenge, and, according to him, my blog has been a "Godsend". So I get a double satisfaction: I am not cooking 5 days a week, and someone is trying out my recipes and tips and giving me feedback. Its a win-win in my book.
     I apparently was feeling a bit "froggy" this morning so I snapped a few times before I realized I needed to get more sleep--this danged cold just won't leave me alone. I reached into the freezer to see what we had and I grabbed the first thing my hand touched: leftover ham. I placed the package on my handy-dandy-speedy-thaw out tray, turned to the Big E and said, "We're having something with ham. Wake me at noon, I need to lay down." He grumbled something, that I probably was not meant to hear anyway and into la-la-land I escaped. I awoke on my own just before noon. I felt much better.
    Leftover ham. what can I make with leftover ham? Immediately scalloped ham and potatoes comes to mind. My family, however needs cheese in this particular dish so I do not know if it is still scalloped ham and potatoes, but  that's how it starts out, so that is what I call it. It is not, by any means, difficult to make, however I did not feel like shredding the cheese, and I use about half a pound of cheese. One thing I have noticed about not cooking everyday is that on the two days I do cook I am getting lazy and look for any way at all to make it all go faster.
     Well, the only potatoes in the house had rooted through the bag and were too soft to really qualify as potatoes, so sorry, I had to trash them.  The Big E was heading to town with #2 anyway for ... gee, I forget what, but I grabbed the sales flier for the grocery store.  Super! Potatoes were on sale and there is a big 10 for $10 sale . Right there in color was a photo of Ragu Pasta Sauce in the 10 for $10 sale...they also have jarred cheese sauce... oh, man, there is my shortcut! Can you believe I got to tell that whole story just to let you know that I used a jarred cheese sauce (added some freshly grated cheddar as well)? Well, we all know I love to talk!
    I did break down and peel the potatoes and then used the mandolin to slice them thin, the ham was still slightly frozen so I was able to slice it into nice strips that won't require the use of a knife at the table, and layered the potatoes, some dried onion(another shortcut), the ham, and the cheese sauce, then a sprinkling of shredded cheese. I ended up with three layers of potatoes, two of ham, and to be sure it is wet enough to cook the potatoes I added about a half cup of milk, covered it tightly with foil and into the oven--oh, I used my Pampered Chef rectangular stoneware casserole dish, sprayed with non-stick spray to aid in the clean-up.
     I estimate it will take at least an hour, those potatoes can be stubborn sometimes, but the thin slices should help in that department. I will poke it after it is in for an hour, and judging by the resistance I get from the potatoes I will then decide if it needs more time or if I can take off the foil, add another layer of shredded cheese and then let it cook until the top cheese is melted and bubbly. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
     Now I do know that I cheated on this recipe, using the jarred cheese sauce, but in this day and age with all of us pulled in 10 different ways at one time, every shortcut is a good one. I would have also like to skipped peeling the potatoes, but #1 complains about the skins and the Big E reminded me that the original recipe uses peeled potatoes so I didn't buck tradition all the way.
     I will find some green vegetable in the freezer--we only use fresh or frozen--no canned here, except for the creamed corn in the corn soup, which I might not have blogged about. Oh, good, new topic to cover! I think I will also dig deep in the pantry and see if I have any more homemade applesauce. I think we are getting down to the end of that crop. 
      C'mon spring! Mama needs some apples on the trees!
       Photo to come:

References
Ziegelman, Jane. 97 Orchard: an edible history of five immigrant families in one New York tenement. Balance of credits to com


April Come She Will

                                       "April, come she will
                      When streams are ripe and swelled with rain" (Simon 1965). 
                      One of my earliest realizations that poetry was awesome.
       But we will not discuss poetry right now, however, I reserve the right to wax poetic sometime in the future.
       I have been doing more thinking about my heritages and food. While my personal experiences do not compare to the frugal times of the mid-1800's to the World War II days, I have also noticed that what defines Italian cuisine now was not even in dreams back then.
      That brings me to the Big E's latest "love": Smothered sausage. I have seen smothered things on menus before but never took the time to check them out. The Big E went to a restaurant with his brother and a business associate a few months back and he came home yelling "why have you never made smothered sausage before?" Well, for starters I never heard of it, second, what do we smother it with? And third, well, you get the picture. 
    After much research I could not find anything that even remotely came close to the dish he described. So with his memory, pen, paper and a fully stocked kitchen, we set out to re-create the smothered sausage he had not been able to stop dreaming about.
    Because of our diverse tastes right in our own home we decided we would include both sweet and hot Italian sausage. The hot sausage purchased locally is not so hot that my delicate palate rebels. Cutting the amount of hot sausage with the addition of sweet sausage eases my fears of biting into something too spicy; something that will not bother my newly finicky stomach. With that decision in place, we start out and make Italian bread, or in this case, rolls--sub rolls. 
      Somewhere else in this blog I have the best recipe for Italian bread on the planet. Easy and if you follow the directions it is foolproof. The Big E's only criticism of the recipe, well, all bread recipes, is that it takes a long, long time with all the rising times. Hey good things come to those who wait. We make eight 12-inch sub rolls out of the recipe, take them out of the oven and remove them to a cooling rack. 
      While the bread is baking steam the sausage in about 1/4-1/2 inch of water in a large skillet on top of the stove. I cover it to ensure the sausage is cooked inside. When the water evaporates the sausage is usually done, but remove the cover and continue to brown the sausage in the same pan. Slice the cooked sausage into 1/4 inch rounds. Remove sausage to another bowl and cover to keep warm.
      Peel two Vidalia onions, cut in half, then slice thinly. Heat two tablespoons olive oil in the same pan you used for the sausage, get it real hot, until it ripples. Toss in the slices of onion (and stand back so you don't get splattered with hot oil). Sweat the onions and let them begin to caramelize. Toss in green and/or red peppers that have been seeded and sliced--you will need three really good sized peppers. I like to mix both green and red, for the sweetness the red peppers bring to the dish. I cook the peppers only until they just start to go limp--but that is a personal preference--you know the routine--it's your kitchen and your family--cook the peppers to your preference.
    Now it is time to do some smothering! Spray a 13 x 9 inch oven proof dish with non-stick spray, or grease it well if you don't use the spray stuff. Slice the rolls lengthwise and place them in a single layer in the prepared dish. Top the rolls with the sliced sausage, then the onions and peppers, then top with about 2 cups of spaghetti sauce--any kind: homemade or jarred, your family's favorite is fine. Then cover the whole schebang with shredded mozzarella and if you really want it decadent add some shredded cheddar as well. Slide the dish into a 375 degree oven and let 'er bake for about half an hour. The cheese needs to be melted and bubbling and starting to brown. The sauce should be bubbling up as well. Let it sit for about 10 minutes before cutting into it and serve it like lasagna. OMG(oodness) Talk about a home run!
     I cannot imagine that any of my ancestors would have ever indulged in this type of dish, mainly because this style of Italian was made from necessity--the immigrants had to make do with what they had. The amount of meat alone would be sufficient to feed the neighborhood back in the early part of the 20th century.
     My visit to Italy in 1972 also introduced me to real Italian food. They do not serve all the tomato based pastas in Italy, at least not in Rome or Florence. The food was more Mediterranean, and they served a larger mid-day meal than the evening meal. Lots of seafood, and fresh vegetables, salads, and lots of fresh fruit. Some pastries, such as sfogliatelle, the shell shaped pastry with all the flaky layers and Ricotta cheese inside, the occasional cannoli, rum cakes, strufoli, and the 7-layer cookies that are called either rainbow cookies or Italian flag cookies and Ricotta cookies. That's about all I need. I do make the Italian Flag cookies and the Ricotta Cookies  around Christmas and I try to make them every year, as they both are a real hit.
      Oh, and REAL cappuccino-- not that stuff they try to pass off as cappuccino in the States today. You know that stuff we find served in the "specialty coffee" houses that are popular today. No, real cappuccino--espresso with hot milk, steamed foamed milk--you can add sugar, shaved chocolate or cinnamon. The crazy flavors is more an American thing--and since we are on the subject I must must must clear the record: a latte is espresso with steamed milk--no sweetener--no flavors--no foam, and is usually drunk in the morning. It drives me batty to go to Starbucks and have to tell them how to make a latte. But at least I have finally learned how to order it so I get what I want and not end up with some monstrosity that is undrinkable. Thank you for letting me rant a bit. Just one of those things that has gotten muddled in translation. Now that I have cleared that up, I think I will get up tomorrow morning a make a pot of latte. 
     

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Julie/Julia

     I am reading Julie and Julia-My Year of Cooking Dangerously by  Julie Powell who set up a self-challenge to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, blogging about all of her experiences and what she was learning from the infamous Julia Child's words of wisdom from the 1960's point of view and tastes.
     I have watched some of Julia Child's cooking shows--she was a large, somewhat awkward woman, but what I always admired about Julia Child was there she was on national television messing up something she just cooked for the entire world to see and it was okay. It was still edible--no sense in wasting the food. So it tipped off the plate a bit, or stuck a bit..no worries. these mishaps happen in kitchens all over the world daily, probably thousands of times daily, so who is going to judge you? Anyone who does can leave my kitchen and starve for all I care.
     Some things Julie Powell says in her book, however, would probably make Julia Child cringe. Powell drops the "F" bomb quite freely, and although I have been known to drop the same bomb on occasion, I try to keep it where it will not offend others. Apparently Powell doesn't give a "rat's ass" to quote her. I think, in my first book, I would keep it a bit more "G" audience friendly--I need readers and I do not need some moms telling their kids they cannot read Aunt Barbara. No, I can keep it clean for the general public. My private writings however, all rules are off!
    Powell's writing about the egg section has me realizing I can make eggs, but I have never made eggs poached in red wine, or any of the wonderful sounding sauces to go with the eggs, except I have recently tried my hand at Hollandaise sauce and was very pleasantly surprised that the tip Julia gives you is what makes the difference between a successful Hollandaise or a flop. I have only served Hollandaise with steamed asparagus, but both times it came out perfect. I will be making Eggs Benedict someday soon and my Hollandaise is up for the challenge!
     I do not plan on cooking my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking or anything but there are recipes that have me intrigued so I will be challenging myself to give them a good old Julie Powell whirl!


Child, Julia. Mastering the art of French cooking BALANCE OF CREDIT TO COME
Powell, Julie. Julie and Julia: mastering the art of French cooking. BALANCE OF CREDITS TO COME

Sunday, April 7, 2013

And Out Like a Lamb

   This March has been one tough cookie, speaking weather-wise, but as I sit here today, in South-Central NY, it is 50 degrees with a cerulean blue sky. The air still does have a winter nip, but signs of spring are here: I saw crocus today covering a hillside, and a small flock of Red-Winged blackbirds have arrived at my feeders; it is just that elusive Robin that is missing. Any time now, any time now.
     Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and usually my family would gather for an Easter Ham Dinner, an Easter Egg Hunt, yes, still, and just be together. Not so this year. 
     The youngest has been on Spring Break; his classes start back up Monday morning.That means that for about 9 hours on Easter Sunday some of us will be traveling to the North Country to return him to Potsdam. Damn. Not my idea of an Easter Sunday. But education is paramount, so we will ride this with an adjustment to the dinner date. Today we will have our Easter Dinner. Baked Ham, Cheddar Smashed Potatoes, Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce, homemade applesauce, and a Pina Colada Cheesecake for dessert.
    Over the course of the past year and half of this blog we have already covered applesauce and we did a Frozen Pina Colada torte back a while ago; this year I am letting #1's girlfriend make the dessert--it was quite an ambitious attempt for a kitchen newbie--and for the record too much labor for me, but I did assist and when it is done we will be posting a photo. I give her a lot of credit--it is a 4 layer cake 2 layers are cake and 2 layers are cheesecake, plus there is a filling AND a frosting. Put away the calorie counters, or the sugar meters--this one  is off the scale!
       Regrettably, I did not have time to make my traditional Easter Bread, the sweetbread my grandmother used to make with the hard-cooked colored eggs that I made and posted last year--you know, it's that not enough time thing again.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Time Marches On

        It is March again. No, I will not got into the rant about time moving so fast here, but I will invariably say it again somewhere along the line.
       So here we are in March once more. Just in time for Chocolate Chip Cookie Week, the second week of March. There is nothing finer than a Nestle Tollhouse Cookie, still warm from the oven, so in honor of this week's celebration I whipped up a batch last night, right there in front of the Big E, and #2--how daring of me! I left them in the kitchen with about 4 dozen cookies or so, and when I returned from working on my paper for Communication and the Law there was not a cookie in sight. Although I was not surprised, I was, once again, a bit ticked.
        It takes work to make those cookies, do they really have to eat them all in one sitting? I was so pleasantly surprised when my husband sent me under the pot and pan cabinet, and there in its own zip top bag, were 3 dozen cookies--they each had a couple and then put the rest out of sight so they would not be tempted.
       They left some out later last night for #1 son and his girlfriend, but kept the bulk of the batch hidden. It was wonderful to be able to have a couple of cookies tonight as we watched TV together. Now this is nice.
        The month of March is also the time to celebrate Flour, Frozen Food, Peanuts, Noodles, and it is Caffeine Awareness Month. As usual the Food celebration committee, whoever they may be, have given us a very diverse month. With St Patrick's day right smack dab in the middle, with National Corned Beef and Cabbage Day, we literally can celebrate soup to nuts
        Corned beef and cabbage, currently lauded as an Irish heritage meal is in reality, anything but that. Reading 97 Orchard: an Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement, by Jane Ziegelman I learned that it is a fallacy. Irish immigrants did not have a cuisine that diverse to represent their homeland, as their entire diet was based on the potato until the crop failed and the Irish Potato famine of the 1840's all but starved the entire country, at least the peasants.Another important piece to the Irish Potato Famine story is that most of the peasants were Catholic, as the laws at that time prohibited Catholics from owning property or holding down a job; they survived being tenant farmers, and when the potato crop failed for subsequent years they were left with nothing to pay their rents or to feed their families.
      Not only did the peasants start starving to death, but they started fleeing the country in an attempt to merely survive. Landing in New York City, ending up on the Lower East side of Manhattan, they became neighbors with Jewish immigrants and as a result corned beef crossed over from Jewish households to Irish. Substituting the corned beef for their beloved bacon the boiled dinner was devised and now it is heralded as authentic Irish fare. 
      Over the 150 years since the potato famine and mass exodus of Irish peasants to the New World, the Irish have re-found pride in their heritage, their strength to survive such a national catastrophe that wiped out anywhere from 750,000 to 1.5 million of their people, depending on which statistics you want to believe. Either way, that was a lot of people who perished because of their reliance on one foodstuff.
       Another misnomer, now that we are on the subject of misnomers, is that potatoes are not native to Ireland. No, they are not. They are native to South America and during the exploration of the New World, which began in the 1500's, the tuberous plant was brought back to Europe. Ireland just seemed to have the perfect climate for the crop, plus in the small plots peasants were allowed to farm they could grow an abundance of potatoes to pay their rents and feed their growing families.
     Of course for St Patrick's day I made corned beef and cabbage, although I do make it more than once a year, as we all like it. This year, however, while I was snooping around the internet I kept finding recipes with a bit of a twist. After the corned beef is cooked you remove it from the briny water it has been cooking in pat it dry, slather it with mustard, sprinkle with brown sugar and put it in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes until the sugar melts and caramelizes. I read the directions to the Big E and he agreed it sounded great, so I tried it.  Holy corned beef, Bat Man, this little "addition" brought the traditional corned beef to a whole new level. No, it wasn't kicked up a notch, Emeril, but about 30 notches. Who knew? Apparently all the people who posted the recipe on the internet. 
       I am a convert--I will never make corned beef again without that final step--it was that good.
     How about you? Do you have any secrets that make a dish THAT much better? Sharing requested!


References:
to come

Saturday, March 2, 2013

It's February---again

     Drats, I hate February, and here we are in the middle of February again. In the middle of February there is no green, and in the case of Otsego County NY, no blue skies. What is it with this area of upstate NY? It seems to be overcast and gray 95% of the time from mid October until mid May; very depressing, and they say Seattle has a high level of depression and suicide, I wonder what the statistics show for this area? Not something I really care to ponder within this blog, just setting the mood.
    So, what do we do to raise the spirits amid the gray skies of February? Cook! Cooking is the answer to all that ails me, unless of course I am delirious and cannot stand up, then forget about cooking, but I am not at that point, yet. There is only one thing better, for me than cooking to raise my spirits and that is teaching someone else to cook. I taught my husband, the Big E, how to make bread today. At his request, I introduced him to my recipe, well, actually Donna's recipe with my alterations, for the perfect homemade Italian style bread. We are going to be making Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches and the Big E decided to make the rolls himself---he is finding being unemployed as uninteresting as I did; he is also finding that filling your time between job searches and interviews with cooking is very rewarding. Cooking gives a sense of purpose and fills the need to be productive within the family. And gives me a break while I try to juggle a full time job and four classes.
     Baking bread is an excellent way to really feel productive and useful. Bread is so widely available and not all that expensive. It is one of the staples of life, but making homemade bread, brings me a level of satisfaction that goes much deeper than just putting a good, healthy meal on the table. It gives me a down to the bones feeling of accomplishment. Bread making heals my soul, and as each successive step is, well, succeeded, the pride and feelings of self-worth are re-enforced. So February, for me, is an excellent month to experiment with bread baking. Here we are in the deepest darkest despair that Old Man Winter has thrust upon us, and there is a light of hope in the breads we bake.
   The recipe for the bread the Big E made is so easy it is scary.
1/2 cup water- 105 to 117 degrees F, any cooler, the yeast won't bloom, any hotter and the little yeast beasties will die. (Read: use your kitchen thermometer to be sure of the temperature.)
 In a 1 cup measure mix water and 1 package of instant dry yeast--or in my case 2-1/4 teaspoons of instant dry yeast--I do not buy my yeast in packets because I use too much of it. I buy in bulk, keeping it in the freezer between uses--word of caution: I wrap my package of bulk yeast in paper towel, and put in a freezer zip-top bag, if the yeast touches ice it will also die--I take the yeast I need out of the freezer about half an hour before I am going to use it--to bring it to room temperature. I honestly do not know if using the yeast while frozen would affect the outcome, but I know if I was freezing, jumping into a hot bath might be too much of a shock to my system, so I imagine yeast might "feel" the same way. (Yes, I heard what I said, but I am sticking to it.)
Stir to dissolve the yeast and set aside until foamy on top.
In a two cup measure, add 1 cup of warm water--same rule for the temperature
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons melted butter and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to mix well and dissolve sugar and salt. Add the foamy yeast/water mixture.
Put 3 cups of all purpose flour in the bowl of your mixer that has been fitted with a dough hook.
Add the liquid and turn the mixer on low to work the flour slowing into the liquid. Be sure to scrape down the sides and the bottom of the bowl so there are no little pockets of flour or puddles of liquid. You will get a very sticky dough. Add more flour, 1/2 cup at a time until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. I rarely have ever used more than 4 cups of flour, the recipe says you can go up to 5 cups. The Big E also used only 4 cups, so it must be something with the humidity in our kitchen. Knead the dough until you get a smooth stretchy dough. Let it rest 10 minutes. Knead on low another 5 minutes.
   Put the dough in a greased bowl, turn it once to grease all sides of the ball of dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and put somewhere warm for 1-1/2 - 2 hours until double in size. To test for sufficient rising, take your index and middle fingers and push them into the side of the ball of dough. If the indentation stays there,it has risen enough, if it bounces back immediately, let it sit, covered a bit longer. Punch down the dough, cover it and let it rest 10 minutes. 
    Cut the dough into eights (for rolls); you can also just cut it in half to make 2 nice loaves of French bread, but we're making rolls here--sub rolls or hero rolls or hoagie rolls, or whatever they are called in your neck of the woods. Shape the rolls and put them on a lightly greased cookie sheet. You can sprinkle some cornmeal on the sheet pan instead of greasing it, your choice. Shape the rolls into log-shapes and place them side by side on the sheet pan, slash the tops about 4 times each across, paint with an egg wash (1 egg beaten lightly with 1 tablespoon of water) and sprinkle with sesame seed, poppy seed, granulated garlic, minced onion, or coarse salt, or nothing at all-- again your choice. We sometimes make 8 different mixtures and make one of each, or sometimes we leave them all plain, especially if we plan on making French toast with any leftover bread.
        Cover the rolls with plastic/towel again for another hour to rise. Remove the coverings carefully and place in a preheated 350 degree oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Done!
       The Big E's rolls came out perfect, because this recipe never fails. Love to have you all give it a whirl and let me know how yours comes out. Okay? 
        Until next time...enjoy!

Memoirs through the stomach

    I am currently doing an independent study through Empire State College called "the Art of the Memoir". With my adviser we came up with a program that fits my personal interests: food and cooking. I have used this blog to document stories about my family and how food is entwined in our lives, besides sharing cooking tips and secrets I have come across over the years, and I love every single letter of it. Now I get to share things I am learning about not only my own heritage, but how other heritages have survived and strove through their own trials, and how their basic needs were met in the kitchens of their days.
    I have just finished reading 97 Orchard: an edible history of five immigrant families in one New York tenement, by Jane Ziegelman. Not a memoir, per se, but reading it has evoked personal memories and has made some sense and filled in some blanks about my own past and my family's heritage.
    Suddenly, with  vivid clarity, things I took for granted or participated in had a reason, a deep seated need that was tradition being handed down and I did not even know it. The Baldizzni family, for example, the final family in the book was from Sicily, and although my family was not, many of the the customs and their foods were indeed familiar. The book tells of how the family all got together on Sunday and ate and ate and ate. First course, soup. Followed by antipasto, then pasta with trays of meatballs, sausage, and rabbit, then either a roast beef or chickens or turkey, or individually grilled steaks, and trays of pastries, and nuts and fruit, some of which was grown out behind the garage in a small 10 foot by 8 foot plot, and the vino, do not forget the vino from the grapes Grandpa had grown, and pressed down in the basement.
     A typical Sunday would have about 32 people at the table, and there was no such thing as a "kids' table" we all sat at the main dining room table, with the linen tablecloth and napkins. And we passed each tray of food, to the next person, helping them select the choicest piece for themselves. I remember staying for a week at my Italian grandparents' house, and we did not eat like that during the week. We ate mostly soup and fresh bread that grandma baked every day. The meals were not gourmet, but neither were they lacking and quite as frugal as the immigrants meals were as depicted in the book. I suddenly realized exactly how blessed my family was. My father's family was not among those depicted in the book, my grandfather had secured a job as a longshoreman and was on the upper part of the low-income scale. He also scrimped saved and bought two brownstones in the Hell's Kitchen part of Brooklyn. He achieved part of the American dream early on.
       The struggles faced by the families of 97 Orchard have never been in my family's verbal history--not that that means it was not part of their history, just nothing that was ever discussed. Maybe once you climb out of those conditions you soon forget, or wish to forget.
       In honor of the difficulties the past generations suffered I went on a small journey through frugality in the kitchen. I accumulated and saved the tips from chicken wings for a couple months, something the immigrants did not have the capability to do without refrigeration or freezing capabilities, but I used what I had available to me to help me on my journey. I had frozen a turkey carcass and leftover legs and thighs from Thanksgiving and made soups and stews from the remnants.  I made a chicken stock with the wing tips, I added onions, carrots, potatoes,and celery, then made egg noodles. No meat to speak of, as the tips are only skin, fat and bone, but my husband and kids agreed it was one of the most tasty broths I had ever produced.  Two days later I tore up some leftover chicken from another meal and added it to the broth, and then the next day thickened it up and made a chicken pot pie from that. If it wasn't for the fact that my husband is a beef man, through and through, I might have been able to keep the adding and altering ingredients for a few more meals. But for the cost of a 4 pound chicken, and some leftover wing tips, I fed us for nearly a week out of the vegetables and basic pantry supplies. And the meals were good, as long as you added a bit of salt and pepper, and herbs like sage, parsley, and thyme. The noodles and thickening the broth made the meals more hearty. Lesson learned: you can eat on a shoestring if you have to.
       The soup and stew I made from the turkey carcass was just as rich. I made a turkey-dumpling stew that was to die for, even my beef eaters liked it, but after almost two weeks of poultry, they were done and my husband presented me with an eye round roast beef and  begged me to make it.
       I got four meals out of that 5 pound roast, plus a few sandwiches for lunch for two of us. I made a regular roast beef dinner, with mashed potatoes and gravy, and mixed vegetables, then I made pepper steak with the addition of two large onions and two green peppers, served over rice. Next came the Philly cheese steak sandwiches, again with the addition of onions, a bit of cheese, and homemade french bread, and finally a beef and noodle casserole using the leftover mixed vegetables, and a can of condensed tomato soup, some water and the leftover gravy.  
       I think I am getting the hang of this "stretching" the food idea. Now I think I am going to really keep a close watch on the food budget and see what I can plan ahead to get more mileage for my food dollars. Hey, with the price of food and gasoline you need to get to the store you need to find ways to conserve, right? 

References
Ziegelman, Jane. 97 Orchard: an edible history of five immigrant families in one New York tenement. Balance of credits to come.
     

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Stuffed Peppers-a la Jesse

     A la Jesse? Yes, number 2 son had stuffed peppers while he was away in Florida with a friend and when he returned he asked me why I had never made them.
     Well, to start with, I am not a big fan of cooked peppers, and not a fan of tomatoes, so, right there it is 0 for 2. So he tells me his friend makes stuffed peppers with Sloppy Joe sauce and not just tomatoes and he just loved it. Hmmm...sloppy Joe sauce? That did not sound all that bad, Sloppy Joe sauce is sweeter than just tomatoes, so maybe that would be better....hmmmm.
   Last week his father and he discussed stuffed peppers and conspired to have everything on hand to make them, or should I say, have me make them. They broke the news to me that they wanted stuffed peppers, and lookey-here- it just so happens all of the ingredients are on hand...I wonder how that happened? Well, no nevermind.
      I have recently adopted a few more shortcuts and in this case Zatarains Spanish rice is one of those shortcuts. Follow the directions on the box--One box is sufficient, and I do not chop up the diced tomatoes, I leave them chunky.  Remember to follow the directions on the box to the "T". 
       While the rice is steaming I clean out the peppers: Slice about a one inch slice across the stem side of the pepper and gently left out the core. Pull the membranes and seeds out. From the sliced off piece cut away as much of the pepper as you can, dice it up to whatever size you like and discard the seeds and the membranes. Repeat with all the peppers; I used 6 large green peppers.
     Dice a medium onion and sweat it in 1 tablespoon of either olive or vegetable oil, let your own preference rule here. I like to really sweeten up the onions, so I let them caramelize a bit, and then toss in the reserved diced peppers-- there won't be a lot of pepper, but whatever you have helps to flavor the mix. Push the onion and peppers over to one side of the skillet and add 1-1/2 lbs of ground bottom round (about 88%--or 90%--if you can afford it). Any lesser-quality meat can make the dish rather greasy, and if your digestive system can handle that, well, go right ahead, but I seem to have to keep the antacid tablets handy if I do that!
   Brown the beef (okay you may substitute ground turkey or chicken or veal or pork, but that is your decision). Drain as much of the excess fat as you can--again you don't want this to come back and bite you. Add the cooked Spanish rice into the skillet and mix everything up.
Add 1/4 cup of Manwich sauce and about 2 tablespoons of hot water.



     Spray the inside of a large crock-pot (6 quart). Stuff the peppers with meat/rice mixture and place them in the crock pot. I usually have to double-decker 2 of the peppers, just make sure the top will close. If not, press down ever so gently to get the top to close. Pour the remainder of the Manwich sauce over the peppers in the crock-pot, add 1/4 cup of water--oh, and if you have too much filling for the peppers, just add it to the crock-pot around the peppers. Close the top and cook on low for abut 6 hours. I cooked it on low for 4 hours then lowered it to "keep warm" and it sat in that state for about 4 more hours--they were not overdone, there was plenty of juicy goodness to pour over the peppers on the plates.

     Can you say A-W-E-S-O-M-E???
Okay, now it is your turn. Send me a recipe with shortcuts!

Until next time, enjoy!

Well, I'll be damned!

     You know, having this blog is a lot of fun, and sometimes it can be a lot of work, especially when you are working full time, trying to keep your household together and carry 16 credits all at the same time.
      One casualty with my schedule is now I only cook on weekends, mostly, and my husband, the Big Ed, as he has recently been dubbed, has taken over cooking the Monday through Friday or weekday meals. I have, however, also made something in the crock pot that I set up before I left for work, for the guys to have at dinnertime, but so far, that has been the exception, not the rule. One very cool thing has also occurred; the Big Ed has utilized this blog and made sweet and sour chicken following my directions. And he also taught me something, because, like me, he cannot leave well-enough alone.
     If you scroll back to my recipe for Sweet and Sour Pork (or Chicken) I use leftover cooked meat. Well, the Big guy, used fresh chicken tenders, cut up into 1"cubes, tossed into the batter and stir fried, then followed the rest of the recipe. They saved me a plate of it. It was awesome...and it made me smile to know that saving my recipes for posterity, or the use of my readers, is not in vain. Yeah, okay, it was my husband using the recipe, but I think that should tell you all something: the recipe worked for mid-level home cooks. The Big Ed is not a kitchen-newbie, but he still does not do the fancy-schmancy things I do, but he does pay attention, apparently.
   He told me that he impressed himself and he found the recipe was easy to follow and really did not require any advanced skills, just follow the directions, make sure the chicken is cooked and voile`!  Done and good and taste--eee!
     The cutest part of the story, however, is that #2 is spending a lot of time in the kitchen with his dad, and they are bonding while cooking the evening meal. How sweet. Something that I could not get done while I was home. Maybe I was in the way? Who cares?  Father and son are bonding, my recipes are being used and someone is reading this blog.
    All the ingredients for this blogger to be a happy camper!

Up next: Stuffed Peppers ala crock pot

See you all soon!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Getting back on track!

     Hello, all. I am so sorry to be away for so long. I can give you many reasons and excuses, but let it suffice to say that I was buried with classes, and although they were about writing and my dream of writing for life, and about life, my life, I was just spread too thin. And now, I find myself employed full time (yeah) and taking four more classes that really have me jumping for joy.
      I am still enrolled at the Empire State College, majoring in Cultural Studies with a concentration in Written Communication. This semester I have the honor of taking Creative Writing-Non-fiction, and an independent study in The Art of the Memoir. I am thrilled to death, especially because my adviser for that class is one of my favorite professors I have had so far in my academic career, and a past contributor to this blog, Himanee. Another wonderful part of this class is that I have to keep up my blog...and although I say 'I have to', it will not be a chore, or an unwelcomed requirement, but more of a motivation to do the two things I love the most: to write and to cook. So thank you, Himanee for helping me set my priorities straight and get back on the road I want to be on.
     The class, The Art of the Memoir finds me reading memoirs that are about food, just as my life is measured by the cups and ounces I use in my own kitchen, I find that my life, in that sense is not unique. This is so exciting! My I just finished watching Julie and Julia by Nora Ephron, which is really two books and memoirs in one. One of Julia Child, the infamous chef and author, and of Julie Powell, a struggling writer who set out to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, while blogging about it. What an inspiration, and how amazed I was that I had never seen the movie before. It just goes to show how out of touch with life I was. I had no idea that blogs existed at that time, and I cannot believe I missed the book when it was first published and the movie when it was first run. Truthfully, I am not good at keeping up with things, as I am usually wrapped in my own little world, my own kitchen. See what I almost missed?
   The stories are told side by side, the struggles of Julia Child as, the wife of a diplomat assigned to Paris, and her struggle to find her place in life, and what to do with her life. Apparently even in the early 1960's women were already facing the struggle to create their own identities, and become their own person; and the story of blogger, Julie Powell, who takes on a personal goal to finish something: cooking every one of the 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year and keeping a log about her trials and tribulations by blogging her results. She did accomplish her goal, and she became famous and got a book and movie deal out of the effort; she is now referred to as a writer. Her dream came true by challenging herself, but setting an ambitious goal and showing us, once again that if you put your mind to something and never gave up, you can do anything.
     I am sure there are more lessons in there so I am going to watch the movie again, to make sure I have not missed anything.
     I am going to start cooking and posting again, and also posting my thoughts about the books I read and movies I watch for this class. So welcome me back, and I will get on with picking up where we left off...I have a few recipes that I have made over the past few months that I want to share with you, and no, they are not even close to the level of Julia Child's cooking, but they are tasty, I promise.
     If anyone has any requests for me to try or post any certain fare, or dish I would love to fulfill any requests I can. Let me know. Okay?

Reference:
Ephron, N. (Writer-Director) (2009). Julie and Julia [DVD]. Available from http://www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/julieandjulia/