Sunday, February 28, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Gnocchi, Anna Sultana's Ravjul (Ravioli Maltese Style)

Potatoes have been on sale lately. 
Time to make some gnocchi.

I've made gnocchi before. Carmela's gnocchi recipe is pretty close to what I usually make.
It's a simple recipe - mashed potatoes, flour, eggs and salt.

Well, I needed a break after making Carmela's Baci Cake.

The Entertaining with The Sopranos cookbook had a few hints I didn't know. "Gnocchi can be frozen up to one month. Do not thaw before cooking." Now you know.

I had planned to make Carmela's Watercress and Orange Salad to serve with the gnocchi. Something light. I tried. Honest. I had the navel oranges. I couldn't find watercress.

Okay... We're talking a winter salad here. I bought some romaine. If I ever find watercress I'll try the oranges with watercress.

Ma never made gnocchi. We had lots of potatoes - mashed, baked, boiled, fried, roasted. Ma never got really fancy with her potatoes. Interesting since Malta produces more than enough potatoes. They even export them to Holland.

What Ma did put some effort into was pasta. I would compare the gnocchi to Ma's ravioli - Ravjul in Maltese. They're both starchy. They're both filling. They both cook in boiling water.

Close enough.

There's something sociable about making ravioli. One person makes the pasta while another makes the filling. Then everyone sits and makes the ravioli.

When my parents came for a visit, Ma and I would whip up some homemade ravioli. Pop would always tell us that his mother used to make ravioli for her family of 10. Well, sure. Grandma had 4 daughters. It was a great way to find out what the girls were doing in a nice non-nosy way. You'd be surprised at what you talk about when you get into pasta making mode.

Ravioli isn't very different from perogies. Pasta, filling, sit and make them, then boil them. I've volunteered a few times to make perogies at church. It's a great way to meet folks and to find out what everyone in the parish is doing. The parish perogies are always way better than the factory-made ones you find in the frozen food section.

Maybe the gossip adds something to the flavor.

It was a good dinner. I'll keep an eye out for watercress and try that salad again.

Another two recipes down. Seventy-five more to go.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Getting Back To Normal

It's been a hectic year.

On January 3, 2009 my Aunt Betty passed away. My parents and brother George went to her memorial service. George had told Pop to take his cane to go from the door to the viewing room while he parked the car. Pop got angry and said he could walk without it. By the time George had parked the car, the funeral personnel had called for an ambulance because Pop had fallen flat on his face and had to be rushed to a hospital.

While in the hospital they did everything from CAT scan to dialysis, but Pop passed away on January 20.

Pop had always taken care of everything, so Ma had a stressful time after he died. She and George thought that a move would help. They had found another house. When I spoke to Ma, she sounded excited about the move. Her 87th birthday came in October. A week later she died suddenly. Our dog Bobo died the day of Ma's funeral.

We're still getting used to the changes in our family.

Of course life will never be the same. We've learned a lot over the past year. Some things we had thought were important, aren't. Some things we took for granted we now realize are very important. Things like God, family, our parish community, friends.

I was just reading Prime Times, a seniors' publication. They have a small column Words of Wisdom, in which this month they quoted Sylvia Todaschuk. She's a familiar face at the Todaschuk Sisters Ukrainian Boutique. Sylvia said:

Never hold a grudge as life is too short. Always stay positive - the more you give of yourself, the more you receive from God, and remember that prayer and faith in God will take you through everything.

It's been a hard year. We learned a lot.

Prayer and faith in God will take you through everything.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Holidays Mean Trouble (part 3 - by Margaret Ullrich)

Ma glared at Liz, then turned to Mrs. Kekelia and smiled. Proudly, Ma said, “I’d offer you some lamb, but my family ate it all.”
Mrs. Kekelia, shocked at our food shortage, said, “Vat? You don’t cook extra for company? Is not polite to ration. Is not var time.”
Shaken, Ma said, “When you have a good recipe, they eat every bite.”

Mrs. Kekelia wasn't impressed. “Ven haf company, haf extra. Tsk. Foreign ways. Tsk. Haf letter from sister in Dussseldorf. Come mit family in May. I cook all her favorites und make plenty.”
Ma muttered, “How nice for your sister. You should start cooking now. Thank you for Tina’s . . . treat.”

Ignoring Ma, Mrs. Kekelia turned to me, “Tina, you come, eat, too. I haf plans. Take sister, see everyting. I show her everyting. Tina, you like see?”

Ma didn’t mind Mrs. Kekelia taking care of me while she was at work. But now Mrs. Kekelia was trying to mother me on Ma’s time. Ma wanted to reestablish her position as my official mother. “Tina will be busy.”
Mrs. Kekelia said, “You not know when...”
“And you don't know what my family will be doing,” Ma cut her off.

Not realizing what she was stepping into, Liz said, “It’s too bad My Fair Lady isn’t running anymore.”
Mrs. Kekelia said, “Yah. Vee see.”
Warming up to Ma's tenant, Liz said, “Charlie and I did, too.” Then she sang, “All I want is a room somewhere.”
Realizing that Ma had at least one civilized relative, Mrs. Kekelia sang along, “is room somevere."

Ma hummed the tune, then said, “We saw that on Ed Sullivan.”
“Sweetheart, you didn’t see the whole thing,” Liz said.
Ma muttered, “Sullivan shows the best parts. Who needs to see the whole thing?”

Demi nodded and agreed with Ma.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Baci Cake, Anna Sultana's Pudina

All righty. Last week we had Valentine's day a la the Sopranos. No, it wasn't like the Valentine's Day Massacre the gangsters had in Chicago over 80 years ago. We just had a nice, high cholesterol, alcoholic, dinner for 2.

The Shrimp Aragonate was simple and fast, yet special enough for the occasion. Rice and veggies completed the main course.

The real effort went into making dessert, Carmela Soprano's Baci Cake.

I got a laugh at the name. Baci means kiss in Italian. There was a boy I knew in elementary school. His name was Blaise Mesali. He wasn't too thrilled with his name and no one could come up with a decent nickname. He did like to kiss girls so he got a nickname. Baci. Wonder where he is now?

I digress... My usual chocolate cake is a low cholesterol chocolate quickie. Made with cocoa powder and vegetable oil. No eggs. Done in the baking pan. Easy, no?

Carmela's Baci Cake, a chocolate hazelnut torte, took quite a bit more effort. I had to chop and melt a whole box - 8 ounces - of semisweet chocolate. I also had to toast and finely chop enough hazelnuts to fill 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons. A lot of nuts.

Then I had to use a half pound of butter and 6 eggs and dark rum. I don't know which Paul noticed more - the butter and eggs or the dark rum. Let's not forget the icing, which called for melting 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate.

I had to use the double boiler twice and 2 large mixing bowls. My kitchen was a mess. There's an old German saying: That which really tastes oft us trouble makes. Got that right.

It was rich. It was good. I'd make it again... just not on a regular basis.

I have to admit Ma never made anything like Carmela's Baci Cake. Ma wasn't big on baking cakes. As a treat, every week after Mass Pop would stop by the local bakery and pick up a cake with chocolate icing. Ah, Sunday - God and cake.

But Ma did make Pudina tal hobz. Bread pudding. It wasn't anything like what I learned was called bread pudding in America. Not buttery bread covered with creamy custard. Not smooth comfort food eaten with a spoon. Nope.

It may have been called a pudding but Pudina tal hobz was more like a cake. It called for stale bread, water, dried fruit, sugar, eggs, spices and cocoa powder.

We had quite a bit of Pudina when Lily Tulip, the paper cup manufacturer, left College Point. Pop was out of work and, instead of picking up a fresh iced chocolate cake, he'd bring home a few bags of day-old bread for Ma to turn into Pudina tal hobz. Well, we never went hungry.

Ah, Pudina. Like I said about Ma's Timpana, Maltese go beyond simple into downright retarded when it comes to starches. And like Ma's Timpana, Pudina can be eaten warm or cold.

Ah, comfort food.

Another two recipes down. Seventy-seven more to go.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The 1960s Co-Op Refrigerator Cheesecake - Margaret Ullrich

I'm sorry.

Back in January I posted a simple piece on my feelings about Cheesecake, New York and New Jersey style. I had flipped through Entertaining with The Sopranos and learned that, while the cheesecakes may look similar, they are different.

I should have stopped right there.

Oh, no... I had to continue:
I've heard about a cheesecake Winnipeggers made. The recipe used to be on a milk carton. It was the Co-op Refrigerator Cheesecake. A friend gave me an empty milk carton. I tried to fit in, be a real Winnipegger, but really. I couldn't believe it. Knox Gelatin? Heavy Cream? Separated eggs? CRUSHED PINEAPPLE? I think not.

Some things you just have to respect.

I should have respected the Co-Op Refrigerator Cheesecake.

I've received a few e mails.
Some defended Winnipeg's cheesecake honor.
Some asked if I still had that empty milk carton. They had always intended to, but never gotten around to, copying the recipe.
And some sent me the recipe and told me to try it again.

For those of you who never got around to copying the recipe, here it is.


refrigerate at least 4 hours

2 Cups graham wafer crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons melted butter
press 2/3 of the mixture into a 10 inch pan
2 envelopes Knox gelatin
1/2 Cup cold water or pineapple juice
combine in a double boiler
3/4 Cup milk
1 Cup sugar
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
cook until thickened
remove from heat and add gelatin mixture
cream well
2 (8 oz/250 g) packages of cream cheese
add the cooled gelatin/milk mixture
1 teaspoon vanilla
fold in
1/2 pint heavy cream, whipped
2 eggs whites, stiffly beaten
add, if desired
crushed, well drained pineapple or chopped cherries
pour filling over crumb crust
top with remaining crumbs
refrigerate at least 4 hours

Are we friends now?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Holidays Mean Trouble (part 2 - by Margaret Ullrich)

It was Mrs. Kekelia, my parents’ tenant. Mr. and Mrs. Kekelia lived in the four-room apartment above the storefront part of our house. They’d been living there when Pop had bought the house, and my parents had decided to let them stay.

My parents needed every dollar, so they decided they didn’t need to use their apartment for extra space. When we moved into our four-room apartment, my parents slept in one bedroom, while Charlie and I slept in the other. After Charlie married, my sister Barbara and baby Angelo were moved from our parents’ bedroom to my bedroom.

Mrs Kekelia was a sturdy German woman in her early sixties. She loved to cook. When my parents bought the house, Ma asked Mrs. Kekelia to babysit me while she worked at Lily Tulip. It was convenient and my parents needed Ma’s salary to pay the mortgage.

Aunt Demi didn’t like my being exposed to American or German customs. But since my parents were our family’s pioneers in College Point, they didn’t have anyone else to help them.

Mrs Kekelia gave me a small package. “I come mit little Easter treat for mein little lebkuchen.”
I gave Mrs Kekelia a big hug. Demi stiffened when she saw me hug a non-relative. Ignoring Aunt Demi, I accepted Mrs. Kekelia's gift and said, “Danke... Thank you.” I unwrapped and bit the strudel.

Ma said, “Liz, you remember our tenant, Mrs. Kekelia.”
Sniffing the air, Mrs. Kekelia said, “I stay minute. Vas ist smell? Rabbit? Haf goot German recipe - hasenpfeffer. Rabbit stew. Tina like. You need -”
Ma said, “We had lamb.”

Liz belched and said, “I can still taste the garlic.”
Mrs. Kekelia understood. “Ach. Dat smell. Who can tell? Lamb, rabbit...”
Liz continued, “They put garlic or curry in everything.”

Stung by Liz’s apparent disapproval, Ma said, “I have a very nice Maltese recipe - fenek bit-tewm hu bil-Imbid. Rabbit stew. My family prefers it.”

Liz said, “That has garlic, too. My family always has baked ham for Easter. No garlic. Ham’s traditional in America.”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day a la 2010 (by Margaret Ullrich)

Ah, February in Manitoba. Time to heat things up with Valentine's Day. The love in the air is as thick as exhaust fog. Hurrah for L' Amour! If saying L' Amour reminds you of Dorothy, Bing and Bob going on a road to someplace exotic then you've probably eaten your own weight in Valentine chocolates.

And you have the love handles to prove it.

Lighten up. Really. Celebrating love doesn't require a ten course dinner followed by a honking big high-fat dessert. We've just eaten through the holiday season. We all have more cholesterol and sugar flowing through our veins than we need.

Remember those resolutions?

Maybe the poet had the right idea when he wrote, "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou". All you need to add is a lovely country location. Picture it. You and your sweetie enjoying an easy on the waistline picnic. Then, for dessert, laying back and watching the fluffy white clouds floating on the breeze.

Ok. This is Manitoba, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain and can freeze skin in less than two minutes. Let's get real. This is not the time anyone sane sits in the snow.

But, by golly, this is a new millenium. If you're like me, you've followed traditions for over fifty years. It just may be time for a change from the "dinner out, followed by a show" rut.

Why dinner? This is Valentine's Day, not a fund raiser. Are you having a guest speaker? Do you need to plan seating for 500? Do you think love only blooms under candlelight?

Think outside the box.

Why not celebrate with a special lunch or breakfast? It's February. The mornings are dark. The moon doesn't set until 10:00 a.m. Face your chairs west and start humming "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie." Think of Cher in the movie Moonstruck. Who knows what can develop after a candlelit breakfast of buckwheat pancakes, an egg white omelet and mimosas?

And what about a show after your Valentine feast? No problem. Can you say matinee? Let's be honest. Comfortable chairs and darkened theaters have put more than one Romeo - or Juliet - to sleep. Please, we hear enough snoring at home. We want to stay awake, see the show, do some cuddling and finish the popcorn. Give yourself a fighting chance. Early or late, the show's the same. Go early.

Life is complicated today. Meetings, odd work shifts, Sunday shopping and relatives, both young and old, have made life a scheduling nightmare. (Can your daughter help it if her mother-in-law's birthday is February 14? Have pity on the girl and go.) You already have 20 hours of must do activities for the big day. You're seeing red and not in heart shapes.

Think VCRs. If you can tape and enjoy a show at your leisure then surely you can pick another day for a private celebration. I have friends who toasted the New Year on January first while watching the ball drop on the Tonight show rerun at 9:00 p.m. Your sweetie is a reasonable soul, right? Be different. It's legal. The Valentine police will not come pounding at your door.

Te quiero.
Je t'aime.
Ich liebe dich.

There are many ways to say "I love you" and to celebrate. Happy Valentine's Day and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Holidays Mean Trouble (part 1 - by Margaret Ullrich)

A few days after Nadia and I decided to work together, Ma hosted our family’s Easter dinner. She had invited her brother Charlie and Pop’s sister Demi, along with their spouses.

That was more than enough holiday stress for anyone to handle.

Aunt Demi, Pop’s eldest sister, was a solid middle-aged matriarch who believed that it was her duty to make sure everyone behaved properly in the good, old-fashioned, decent Maltese way. She had her priorities: Maltese Culture, her family, Maltese food and God. She was determined to make sure her siblings and their families followed her example.

Clinging to Maltese traditions, as she remembered them from the forties, was Aunt Demi's cross to bear in New York City in 1964. It was a heavy cross. But she wasn’t about to put it down just to please a relative, especially a young American one. Sitting opposite my new Aunt Liz, Aunt Demi was crocheting lace and watching Liz eat . . . and eat.

Ma’s new sister-in-law, Liz, was a plump, blue-eyed, blond American. After they’d met at a bowling alley, Charlie had said that Liz was perfect, like a special order bowling ball. Pop said that, compared to a bowling ball, Liz wasn’t too fat. Charlie agreed and beamed.

Since Liz, at age twenty-four, was only ten years older than I was, Aunt Demi regarded Liz as just another child who needed training in Maltese wifely arts. Demi explained to Liz that her job as ‘A Holiday Guest in a Maltese Home’ was to sit and be served, not to help the hostess.

‘The Proper Maltese Hostess’ naturally had everything under control and would be mortally offended at any offer of help. So, after dinner, while the men were outside playing bocci, Liz stayed seated and finished off the mixed nuts.

Ma, a hardworking thirty-seven year old woman, was a tired Maltese Hostess But she soldiered on, cleaning up the mess from another holiday dinner she had hosted single handedly.

Ma wasn’t too thrilled about Maltese Tradition. She could’ve used some help folding the spare wood chairs and clearing the table. She also couldn’t believe how much Liz could eat.

Over the crunching of the nuts, we heard a knock at the door.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Ziti, Anna Sultana's Timpana

I was a little intimidated at the idea of making Carmela Soprano's Baked Ziti In Bianco. For anyone who ever saw the series, Carmela's Ziti was the stuff of legend. In the first season, cute little A.J. said his first televised cuss word because he was worried he wasn't going to get his mother's Ziti. Oh, how quickly they grow up. Whenever there was a problem, out came the Ziti.

This was going to be some plate of pasta.

The main ingredient of Carmela's Ziti was the Bechamel Sauce. I'd made that before. Basically anyone who's ever cooked up home-made macaroni and cheese has made that before. No problem.

The whole recipe was no problem. Boil pasta, make the sauce, cut up some cheese and ham, layer and bake.

But maybe that's why it was such an important meal for the kiddies. Like macaroni and cheese, it was basic comfort food. No wonder A.J. cussed.

I don't remember Ma making any sort of cream sauce. If there was sauce, it was red. Tomato red. Maybe with some meat.

The closest thing to Carmela's Ziti, comfort-wise, was Timpana. It also called for pasta, some cheese and meat. The sauce was tomato, naturally. The boiled pasta was mixed into the tomato meat sauce. A few raw eggs were added to up the protein and the cholesterol.

Ah, but then the Maltese touch was added.

Maltese cooking is heavy on simple carbs. Maltese go beyond simple into downright retarded. A pan filled with macaroni is not enough starch. Oh, no. What makes a Timpana unique is it is baked like an apple pie.

That's right. There's a layer of flaky or puff pastry lining the pan before the pasta is poured into it. Then the top is covered with another layer of pastry. If there's some pastry left over it's shaped like a leaf to decorate the top of the pasta pie. Then the top is brushed with beaten egg before it's baked. It comes out a glistening brown. You'd swear there was fruit in there. Well, you would until you smelled it.

But it was comfort food. Ma made it regularly. When all that starch hit our stomachs we could face anything. It anchored us. A gale force wind couldn't blow down somebody with Timpana in his belly.

The last time we visited my folks, Ma baked a Timpana for us to eat on the road. Hot or cold, it helped us face the world.

Ah, comfort food.

The Ziti was good. Pale, but good. I'd make it again.

Another two recipes down. Seventy-nine more to go.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Do You Want to Know a Secret (part 6 - by Margaret Ullrich)

I tossed my head. It was useless. The curls would never go away and I’d never belong anywhere. I hadn’t asked to come to America, I hadn’t asked to move to College Point and I really hadn’t asked for straight hair to be in style. I exploded. “I hate being different. In school the nuns are all Irish. If I act Maltese, they say I’m shy. At home, if I speak up like Sister said, Ma says I’m fresh.”
“See? It’s a sign. Move back.”
“And where would I live?”

We both knew that while her Dad might give her money for a concert ticket, he wasn’t about to permanently take in another mouth to feed. We had to live with our parents’ choices.
Nadia said, “Yeah, I guess you’re stuck there. Look. Smarten up. In school, act Irish. At home, act Maltese.”
“But which is me?”
“Whadaya mean? Yer a Maltese who acts Irish like an American. Yer lucky. Yer just one thing. I got family in Sicily and Malta. Mom’s folks call me A-rab and Dad’s call me Wop. I gotta tell ya, when we studied ’bout the last war, I didn’t know who ta root for.”
“Don't tell Aunt Demi that.”
We laughed. It had never occured to me that, thanks to Uncle Des’ choices, Nadia had problems fitting in, too. We were in the same boat. We’d sink or swim together. Nadia asked, “So how’re ya gonna get the ticket money?”
“I don’t know. Don’t worry. I’ll get it.”

Life for a teenager in 1964 could be full of problems. But Nadia and I were going to work together. It was time for our parents to learn to live with our decisions.