Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Anna Sultana's Pulpetti Tal-Mohh - Brain Cakes, Maltese Style

When we lived in Corona there was a fellow who sold live holiday fare from his garage near the Long Island railroad tracks.  

Lambs for Easter, eels for Christmas.

I don't remember the grade A stamp on anything, but nobody got sick, either.

Ma was also able to get brains when we went shopping in lower Manhattan.  There was still a demand in the early 50s.  We shopped in the 'ethnic' area, so we could find what Ma needed.
There Ma could find brains. 

This recipe originally called for pork brains, since pigs were raised in Malta.  But, if you've been hunting or raising livestock and want to use up every bit, here's a recipe for brain cakes.

Take 1 large brain and mash it.

3 well beaten eggs
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped (more or less)
1 clove garlic, chopped  (more or less)
salt and pepper

Over moderate heat melt
2 tablespoons butter

Take a tablespoon of the mashed brains, 
toss in seasoned flour, and fry.
Serve with salad and french fries.

Ah, tradition!! 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Sea Bass with Tomatoes, Olives & Capers

No, I wouldn't stick you with an eel recipe.  Carmela didn't even have a recipe for eel.  Her Ma probably burned the recipe card.

Carmela has a nice recipe for Sea Bass with Tomatoes, Olives and Capers in Entertaining with The Sopranos.

I know, I know... sea bass isn't something Captain Highliner has.  
But, this recipe also works with cod fillets.  So it's do-able.  And I told you about capers last week.  Here's another way to use them up so you can make room in your fridge.

Fry a finely chopped small onion in 
1/4 cup olive oil until tender.
Stir in and cook another couple of minutes:
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped 
     (a tablespoon dried parsley will do fine)

2 cups canned tomatoes, chopped, with their juice
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
salt and pepper
Simmer 15 minutes.

Stir in:
1/2 cup pitted black olives, chopped

Add and baste with the sauce:
1 1/2 pounds fish
Cover and simmer until the fish is cooked.

Would I make the cod with tomatoes, olives and capers again?

But I do wonder what the Chilean (yeah, that's what Carmela said) sea bass would've tasted like.

Another recipe down.  Thirty-five more to go.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Carmela Soprano's and Anna Sultana's Traditional Christmas Dinners: Seven Fishes, Eels and Caposelle

Last week we started getting ready for the holidays with Carmela's easy recipe for Cheese Puffs from Entertaining with The Sopranos.  

That is a handy recipe for anybody's get together.

But, to be honest, it isn't what the crowd just off the boat in the first half of the twentieth century would've sat down to eat on Christmas Eve.

Trust me.  

I was a kid just off the boat.

Carmela's a bit younger than I am.  So it's likely her folks had made the switch to the big bird before she was born.  Her grandparents might have cooked up some of the old time recipes.  But her Ma, from what I've seen, has her nose in the air and wouldn't admit to eating any of that stuff.  
Not at gunpoint.

Carmela had to sit down with Uncle Junior and ask him about his memories of when Christmas was Christmas.

He'd packed away his gun and a jug of wine works wonders at making folks chatty.

As expected, the gifts were simple and cheap.  No surprise there.  Very few Donald Trump types waltzed off the boat.  If they had it good there, why come here?

The food was also simple and cheap.  No crown roasts.  No turkey, either.

Christmas Eve was a night of seafood splendor.  The Feast of the Seven Fishes.  A very safe meal to serve in a Catholic home since Christmas Eve was a day of abstinence in preparation for the holy day, Christmas.  

Not eating meat on Christmas Eve was supposed to make us think more about Jesus, our family and our friends.

A bit of history...  Before the mid 60s, the Catholic Church had a lot of rules about what and how much we could eat.  Since then, the rules have been relaxed and people have gotten fatter and sicker.  
Coincidence or what?

Anyway, the Feast of the Seven Fishes most likely originated in Sicily.  Seven is a big number for Catholics.  We've got seven sacraments and seven deadly sins.  Seven of the Apostles were fishermen and, according to legend, it took seven days for Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem.

So, seven fish dishes were served on Christmas Eve.

Don't argue with tradition or you'll get a lump of coal in your stocking.

Seven main courses seems like a lot.  But, pound for pound, it probably wasn't more than a honking big roast would have been.
Back to the old time Christmas...
One of the fish dishes would be eel.
Now I've got your attention.
Yep.  Eel.
They'd be bought live, swim around in the bath tub for a few days, their heads would be cut off and they'd be skinned and cooked.

Now aren't you glad there were six other fish to eat?

There'd also be a platter of Caposelle.  Let's get through this quickly.  It's a sheep's head, roasted and served with the brains and eyeballs.

It wasn't RED meat, so it was acceptable.

Don't argue with tradition or you'll get a lump of coal in your stocking.

Malta and Sicily were once called the kingdom of two Sicilies.  
So, our Christmas traditions and menu are similar.

Why couldn't they have been called the kingdom of two Maltas? 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Writing & Holidays - Being 60 (week 30 - by Margaret Ullrich)

Got some lovely news this week.

One of my stories, "Easter Bread", is going to be included in the Bemidji State University's publication, Dust & Fire 2011.  The issue is an anthology of women's voices, and it will be published in March, 2011.  It will be launched at the American Indian Resource Center in Minnesota.

I'm quite honored and pleased that they accepted my story.

But, I'm also finding it a bit of a giggle.

The story is about the Easter breads my Sicilian Aunt and my Maltese Ma baked when I was a kid.

Okay... a story about a Columba di Pasqua and a Figoli prepared by the moms in an immigrant kid's family in Queens, New York in the 1950s and 1960s.  The immigrant kid is now a "senior citizen" who's been married for 38 years to a German/Swede who was born in New York.  We've been living in Winnipeg, Manitoba since 1975.  The story is being published in Minnesota and launched in the American Indian Resource Center.

What a funny path my life has taken.
What a multicultural world it is!!

Ma would understand.
Everyone has a Ma.  
Everyone has family... parents, aunts, uncles, cousins.  
Everyone eats food.  
Everyone has traditions.

We have more in common than not.
Does it matter what nationality anyone is?

Multiculturalism is nice for new recipes.
We shouldn't be blinded by costumes or customs.

Peace, love, health, everyone.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Anna Sultana's Fenek bit-tewm u bl-Imbid, Rabbit with Garlic and Wine, Maltese Style

Back in late September I posted about Carmela Soprano's Grilled Meat Skewers and, in the title, I also mentioned Ma's Fenek bit-tewm u bl-Imbid.  

I gave the Meat Skewer recipe, but went on to tell a story about my Pop getting a live rabbit while we lived in British Columbia.  I wrote about how my Pop prepared the rabbit for dinner.  But I didn't give Ma's rabbit stew recipe.

I got a few e mails, but they got lost in my computer.


Here it is.
Late, but still good.

It's an easy recipe and you don't have to hunt down a local bush bunny.
Rabbit is now in stores.

            Fenek bit-tewm u bl-Imbid

1 rabbit, cut up, placed in a large glass bowl
Cover with
1/2 bottle of red wine
marinate overnight
In a frying pan gently heat olive oil and fry
6 cloves garlic
Fry the rabbit portions until browned on both sides.
the wine marinade
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
Simmer gently until the rabbit is tender, about 1 1/2 hours.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

I love those Chicken Soup books.  Sometimes there's a quote that I have to copy and pin to my bulletin board.  

In honor of Thanksgiving, I'm sharing the following:

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  

It turns what we have into enough, and more.  
It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity.  
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates vision for tomorrow.

   Melody Beattie

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Anna Sultana's Bigilla - Broad Bean Spread or Dip, Maltese Style

Ma's dips were simple and healthy.  
Nothing with cream cheese.  

Bigilla is a bean dip that can be served with crackers or raw vegetables.  It can also be used as a spread.  The garlic and olive oil is heart healthy, too.
It's best served hot.  

Soak in salted water, with a pinch of baking soda, for 2 days
500 g dried broad beans
The water has to be changed every day
Drain the water 
Place the beans in fresh water
Bring to a boil
Reduce heat 
Simmer until the beans are cooked
Drain and mash the beans
salt and pepper
olive oil
chopped parsley
4 crushed garlic cloves, more or less

Dip, spread, enjoy.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Anna Sultana's Zalza Pikkanti - Piquant Sauce with Capers, Maltese Style

I got a few e mails asking about capers.

The green flower buds and young berries of the caper shrubs are usually pickled and used as a relish.  Most supermarkets carry small jars of imported capers right next to the other pickled items.

In Malta capers and some caper vinegar can be added to a basic white sauce for a little extra zip.  There's also a sauce, with vegetables, that uses capers.  It can be served on rice or pasta.

                        Piquant Sauce

Melt in a dutch oven
2 tablespoons butter
Slice and add
2 onions
2 carrots
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, minced 
When the carrot has softened, blend in
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons meat stock
1/2 cup vinegar
6 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon mustard
Bring to a boil and add
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons capers

Simmer for at least an hour.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Cheese Puffs - Appetizers

No kidding now.
Snow's on the ground and Christmas commercials are on TV.
Time to get ready for holiday dinners.

I found a handy recipe for Cheese Puffs in the Fit For a Bride chapter in Carmela's Entertaining with The Sopranos.  They're basically cream puffs, without the cream.  They look nice on the table, they're easy to make, and they can be frozen up to one month.

Sometimes Carm actually does cook normal things that come in handy.

Grease 2 large cookie sheets
Preheat oven to 400º 

Put in a heavy saucepan
1 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter, cut up (8 tablespoons) 
1/2 teaspoon salt
Bring to a boil, stirring, until the butter is melted.
1 cup flour
Cook over medium heat and stir until the mixture forms a ball.
Continue to cook and stir another minute.
Remove from heat.
Beat in, one at a time
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
Beat well after each addition.
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Beat until blended.
Scoop (about a tablespoon of the mixture) and place the small mounds, about 2 inches apart, on a greased cookie sheet.
Dip your fingers in cold water and pat if you want to shape the tops.  If you're rushed, don't bother.  
These can be made up to 24 hours ahead of time.
Store, covered with foil, in the fridge.
Bake 20 minutes
Serve warm or cool

If you're cooking ahead - I would - let them cool and place them in a tightly sealed plastic bag:
2 days in the fridge
a month in the freezer (I always wonder - do they mean 28 or 30 days?)

Reheat, unthawed, in a 350º oven

Would I make the Cheese Puffs again?  Sure.
And I wouldn't wait for a wedding.

Another recipe down.  Thirty-six more to go.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Snow - Being 60 (week 29 - by Margaret Ullrich)

It's official.
Winter is here.

Until Wednesday we were having a really mild November.  It was quite nice.  The geese, ducks and seagulls were still in the ponds and we were enjoying feeding them.

Well, that all ended on Thursday when we got 12 centimetres of snow, thanks to an Alberta Clipper that blew in that afternoon.

We knew it couldn't last.

The kids are enjoying sliding on the newly created mountains of snow in the mall's parking lot.  There were also a few fresh snow angels lining the paths to the stores.  Bush bunnies are scampering about, looking for places to stay during the winter.

A blanket of white is covering my garden.  The only bit of green comes from the prostrate junipers in our front yard.

When I see the berries on the junipers, I think of Ma. 

When my folks visited they liked to sit on our front steps, near the junipers.  In College Point Pop could usually be found sitting on the front stoop.  Ma always liked watching people passing by.  There were lots to watch, since my parents' house was on the main street.

Ma sometimes told me about when they visited family in Malta.  Ma and her sister liked to pick the green flower buds of the caper shrubs that grow on the island.  The shrubs are low and prickly, similar to the low lying junipers we have by our house.  

Our junipers made her feel a little more at home.   

Bush bunnies like them, too.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Double Chocolate Brownies by Margaret Ullrich

Chocolate goes well with the holidays, too.  
And what is better than chocolate?  
Double chocolate, naturally.

                        DOUBLE CHOCOLATE BROWNIES

grease 9 inch pan          
preheat oven to 325º           
bake 35 min.

3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine in a medium saucepan
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
bring just to a boil
remove from heat
1 cup chocolate morsels
1 teaspoon vanilla
stir until smooth
Add one at a time
2 eggs
beat well
gradually blend in flour mixture 
Stir in 
1 cup chocolate morsels
1/2 cup chopped nuts
spread in pan

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Anna Sultana's Easy Sugar Cookies

Okay.  The kids want holiday cookies and your fancy, Christmas-themed, only-use-once-a-year cookie cutters are in a safe place.
Where ever the hell that is...

No problem.

These cookies look festive and are just the right size to dunk.  All you need is the bottom of a drinking glass - any size, glass, metal or plastic.  

If all your glasses are in a safe place - getting a little paranoid, are we? - then grab a jar or bottle.  Flatten, bake and enjoy.


If you prefer orange, almond, anise, rum, brandy extract or totally vanilla, fine.
You can also tone down or boost the flavouring.
They're your cookies.
If you don't have coloured sugar, no problem.  Just use the regular stuff.

                        EASY SUGAR COOKIES

grease 3 cookie sheets          
preheat oven to 400º           
bake 10 min.

Pour into a medium-sized bowl
1 jar red or green-coloured sugar (or about 1/4 Cup regular)

In a large bowl combine
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons lemon extract

Blend in 
3/4 cup sugar

Sift together
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Add to beaten eggs mixture.

Scoop cookie dough by teaspoonfuls and drop into the sugar.
Roll the dough balls around to cover them in sugar.
Place the dough balls on the cookie sheet.
Flatten with the glass and bake. 
Remove at once and cool on racks.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

1930s Dollar Fruitcake (Winnipeg Free Press) - Margaret Ullrich

It's that time of year.  
All together now: "Tradition... Tradition..."

During the early 1930s this recipe cost $1 to make.  
By 1974 the cost of those same ingredients had increased to more than $4.  
By 1979 the price passed $8.

Now?  Don't ask.  Just enjoy.

                        1930s DOLLAR FRUITCAKE

Line 9-inch tube pan with greased brown paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil          
preheat oven to 300º           
bake 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours (until cake starts to pull away from side of pan)

1 pound sultana raisins
wash by pouring boiling water over them;
dry thoroughly between towels
In a large bowl combine washed raisins with
1/2 pound candied cherries, halved
2 cups mixed peel
1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Sift together
2 cups flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt
sift again over the fruits and nuts, mixing until each piece is coated
1 cup butter
gradually blend in
1 cup sugar  
Add, one at a time 
3 eggs
beat well after each addition
Stir in flour/fruit mixture alternately with combined
1/4 cup fruit juice (orange, apple, grape or juice from canned fruit)
1/2 teaspoon brandy flavoring or almond extract
Spoon batter into prepared pan
Let cool in pan on rack
Remove from pan
Wrap well and store in airtight container

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Anna Sultana's Broth & Split Pea Soup, Maltese Style

There's quite a variety on the shelves of any grocery store.

Where did Ma's broth come from?

Ahh... remember those bones?  Ma would've placed them in a roasting pan, covered them with water, put the lid on and popped them in the oven to simmer while the meat was roasting or a cake was baking.  
No point letting all that heat go to waste for a cake.

When you take the bones out and they've cooled a bit, don't forget to scoop out the softened marrow and stir it into the liquid.  It adds a bit of flavor to the broth.

Another use for pork bones was Split Pea Soup.

Place in a large pot
Ham bone or hocks 
1 pound split peas, cleaned
1 large onion, minced
1 sausage, sliced (your choice/optional)
3 Quarts water

Bring to a boil
Reduce heat, simmer 3 to 4 hours
Stir occasionally
season and serve

Nothing went to waste in Ma's kitchen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Anna Sultana's Laham fil forn - Roast Pork or Beef, Maltese Style

Ma was no stranger to cutting up meat.

Pop raised rabbits in our garage.  Ma was well aware that meat did not just drop from the sky in pretty plastic packages.  She'd cut up quite a few carcasses in her time.

And she didn't call guys like Christopher to help her.

Pigs are farmed in Malta, especially on the island of Comino.  Pork is a common part of our diet, so we've developed a few specialities.

Laħam fil forn, or roast meat, is a recipe that can be used with either pork or beef.  To North American eyes, it's more like a stew.  But that just makes the meat more tender, especially useful if you've got a tougher cut.

In a deep baking dish, cover the bottom with
3 large onions, cut in slices
Place on the onions
2 1/2 pounds meat
Chop and rub into the meat
3 cloves garlic
4 large potatoes, cut in half
Sprinkle with
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 Tablespoon oil 

Roast in a 325º F oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the center of the meat reaches 150º F.

And there's a bit of vegetables in there, too.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Roast Pork Loin

Ah... Dollar Days at Sobeys.  
Gotta love 'em.  

Last week I picked up a pork shoulder picnic roast, hock off, that was going for a buck a pound.

I admit the meat was in big packages, way more than Paul and I could finish in a sitting.  I picked up the smallest, weighing in at 7.69 pounds.

It wasn't all meat.
There was some bone, fat and rind on that baby.

No problem.  Like I said about 2 months ago, even though I've finished and returned Julia Powell's latest book Cleaving, I'm still under the influence of her obsession.

And I'd learned a bit from Julia.

It wasn't that hard to cut off the skin and fat (14 ounces) and remove the bone (19 ounces).  I cut up the meat into 3 roasts, popped 2 into the freezer and flipped through Carmela's Entertaining with The Sopranos.

There, in the The Final Celebration chapter, was an easy recipe for Roast Pork Loin.

But, you might say, I have a shoulder picnic roast.  
No problem.
Roasting requires a bit of fat in the meat.
That roast had enough to keep it juicy.

Carmela chops 4 large cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, places the mixture in a bowl and adds salt and pepper to taste.

Then she goes Carmela-esque.  
She makes little slits in the surface of a 4 pound roast and stuffs a little of the mixture in each slit.  Then she rubs the roast with olive oil, pops it into a 325º F oven and roasts for 1 1/2 hours, or until the center of the meat reaches 150º F.

Remember that the meat keeps cooking after it's removed from the oven.  Just cover it with foil to keep it warm and let it rest 10 minutes before slicing.  Serve hot.

By the time I got to making dinner, I was tired of cutting meat.  I wasn't about to make it die a death of a 1000 cuts.  So I just rubbed the roast with oil first, then I sprinkled the spices over it.

I didn't get any complaints or visits from Tony and the boys.  

Would I make the Roast Pork Loin - or Shoulder - again?
Sure, without the little cuts and inserts.
And I wouldn't wait for someone to die to do it.

And what would Ma do?
Ah... what wouldn't she do?  
Enough for another post.

Another recipe down.  Thirty-seven more to go.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Zone Denial - Being 60 (week 28 - by Margaret Ullrich)

We've had a remarkably nice stretch of Autumn weather.  
No excuses. 
I had plenty of time to do my garden chores.
My garden has never looked neater, if I do say so myself.

Time to start planning next year's garden.

I used to enjoy watching Cassandra Danz on television.  She had a syndicated show Mrs. Greenthumbs that was nice and simple.  Her book, with the same name (available at the library) is also nice and simple.  Martha Stewart she ain't.  

I also like to visit the flower gardens in Assiniboine Park and to browse in gardening shops.  I love flowers, even though to my Pop they were a waste of space.  To Pop a garden meant food.
Paul and I dropped by Shelmerdine a few days ago.  There Christmas is going full blast.  It sure has grown from the simple garden shop we first visited in the 70s.  If you get the chance drop in there, if for nothing else than to see the humungous Angel on the tree.  They even have a coffee shop.

I trust Shelmardine more in the Fall than in the Spring.

I don't know what happens to Winnipeggers during the winter.  Maybe it's the cold.  Maybe it's being stuck indoors.  Something makes us suckers for "Zone Denial" plants.

If you're not a Winnipegger, let me explain.  Winnipeg has a short growing season with long sunny days and a bitterly cold winter.  If you garden, you know us as Zone 3.

Winnipeggers should stick to tough-as-nails plants.  

But, for some reason, when Spring returns, we buy plants as if we were living on the bayou.  

Garden shop owners - even the good folks at Shelmerdine - lay out babied, imported plants that would be right at home on the Gulf of Mexico.  They also put up signs saying "Not Zone 3 Hardy" and suggest that the plant be brought indoors before the first sign of frost.

Why, sure.  I'd love to have a magnolia tree in my living room. 

My Pop practiced a bit of "Zone Denial".  He missed fig trees, which he'd had in Malta.  Somehow or other he got a couple of fig trees and planted them in his garden in New York.  Every Fall he had to cut them down and wrap the stumps in yards of fabric.  Then he'd cover them with tons of leaves which he'd wall in with a few boxes.  Somehow it worked.  Each year he enjoyed fresh figs.    

Mrs. Greenthumbs, a practical gal, would not have approved.  She often quoted Francis Bacon, Nature to be commanded, must be obeyed, and stuck to what belonged, zone-wise, in her garden in upstate New York.

She's an expert so she knows what she's doing.

Yeah, right.

She has another favorite quote regarding gardening:
Nature always has the last laugh.

To be honest, she's had her share of plants that, even though they belonged in upstate New York and should have been as happy as a pig in mud, shrivelled up and died. 

Gardening is a gamble.
If a magnolia - or fig - tree is just what you need in your garden, go for it.
Life's too short to follow all the rules. 

Especially in your garden.

Holiday Baking (part 4 - by Margaret Ullrich)

Okay...  So much for Paul.  It wasn't his fault - American melting pot and all.  Our son would grow up with ethnic kitch.  He'd know what to say to a Lucia Queen.  

The 80s was the decade of old time family shows and memoir books.  Have you ever browsed through one?  It could make one weep.  Look at this... 

"Evenings when a cold blustery wind howled outside were perfect for sorting through recipes. They were cozy times.  The children were sitting at the oak table helping Mama chop fruit and raisins.  Papa was cracking and shelling nuts and crushing fresh spices in the grinder."  

Isn't that sweet?  It convinced me that if we did things just like people did before the light bulb was invented, the world would be a kinder, gentler place.  

We'll never know.  Paul told me, in no uncertain terms, that he was too busy to grind nuts for a cake he didn't even want.  
Alright.  Scratch Paul grinding his nuts.  I bought ground nuts.

Step two... the batter had to be mixed.  Back to that memoir... 

"When all the fruits were in, Grandmother called, 'Come, stir the batter!'  

We all took turns giving it a stir - clockwise for good luck - and made a wish."  

I called, "Come, stir the batter!" 

Carl pointed to the mixer sitting on the counter and announced he was staying on the eighth level of his computer game The Temple of Ra.  He also told me, that he was too busy to stir batter for a cake he didn't even want.

I stirred the batter.  
Don't ask what I wished.

It's been downhill ever since.  Do you know about the charming Swedish custom of hiding a whole almond in the rice pudding?  The lucky person who finds the almond has to get married or do the dishes.  Both my husband and son managed to swallow the almond.  

I tried the German version - whoever finds the almond receives a marzipan pig.  By then Paul and Carl had their own tradition: swallowing the almond.  I felt so guilty looking at that poor rejected pig.  I started my own tradition and ate him... along with the cake.

There's a Christmas carol that goes: "Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat..."   

Well, the goose isn't the only one. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Holiday Baking (part 3 - by Margaret Ullrich)

Finally, it was 3:00 a.m.  

Clad in white, carrying a tray and balancing the wreath with bouncing balls and flaming candles on my head, I shuffled slowly to our bed.  I was a walking cherries jubilee.  Hovering over Paul, I chanted:  "O'er earth that sun forgot, Dark shadows linger... "

Hmmph... No answer.  The Lucia Queen required an audience.  Creating my own liturgy, I ad libbed.  
"Wake up, Paul." 

Still no answer.  I set the tray down, gave him a push and repeated: "O'er earth that sun forgot, Dark shadows linger...  Damn it, wake up."

He snorted, turned and faced me.  It took him a while to focus.  Okay... back to the chant.  I started softly, building to a truly impressive booming voice.

             "O'er earth that sun forgot, 

             Dark shadows linger.      
             Then on our threshold stands, 
             White clad in candlelight

             Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia."

He looked.  He blinked.  He screamed.  

He said something that no one should ever say to a Lucia Queen.

part 4

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Holiday Baking (part 2 - by Margaret Ullrich)

My husband is third generation American - half Swedish and half German.  To paraphrase the biblical story of Ruth, I believed, "What thou eatest, I will eat... thy cookies shall be my cookies... "  

Well, you get the picture.  Thanks to the movie The Sound of Music, I had a master plan for our first Christmas: sitting beneath a huge tree, singing Edelweiss and happily munching fancy cookies, my favorite things.  Ethnic things.  

The ethnic bit nearly ended my marriage.

There's an old German saying: That which really tastes oft us trouble makes.  That should've warned me.  It didn't.  

I studied German and Swedish Christmas customs.  A good wife gets up at 4:00 a.m. to mix her cookies.  No sunlight should land on the dough or disaster would befall the household.  The good wife hoped there'd be a crescent moon to bring good luck to her baking.  No kidding.  Without that sliver of light she could get killed, stumbling around in the dark like that.  

For our first December thirteenth as a married couple, I decided that I was going to create an authentic Swedish Saint Lucia Day.  

According to tradition, saffron buns and coffee were served between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. by the eldest daughter, who was dressed as the Lucia Queen.  Since we didn't have children, I, as an eldest daughter, became the first Maltese Lucia Queen.  Ever.

I stitched up a long white robe and tied shining red balls to our Advent wreath.  I memorized the traditional poem.  I made a batch of cinnamon buns. 

Yes, I made cinnamon, not saffron, buns.

Have you priced saffron lately?

part 3

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Holiday Baking (part 1 - by Margaret Ullrich)

The weather has finally turned.

Time to start thinking about the holidays.

I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, there are 2 questions no one should ever ask a woman.  The first is "How old are you?"  

The second is "Have you done your holiday baking?"  

Holiday baking has been with us an awfully long time.  Did you know that ginger was popular in Greece 5,000 years ago?  The Egyptians were eating gingerbread when the great pyramid of Cheops was new.  
I wonder what their gingerbread men looked like. 

Holiday baking can be a problem for immigrants.  My parents and I arrived in America in 1950.  Christmas had been a religious celebration in Malta.  Our traditional desserts were simple - cookies, fruit and custard.  For the holidays, we had cassata: the custard was spread on a sponge cake.  

If my Sicilian cousins were visiting, Pop picked up some cannoli to keep the peace.  Maltese cookies are dull.  The big thrill with an anise biscotti was seeing how much milk it could suck up before breaking in half and falling into your glass of milk.  It was like eating the sinking Titanic.  

I knew my German classmates ended their meals with more oomph.  At church and school gatherings, their mothers brought the most delicious homemade cookies I'd ever tasted.  And they were gorgeous.  The cookies, I mean.  Since Ma wasn't in the race - she brought the coffee - I was free to sample and praise every cookie.  The mothers beamed.  My friends thought I was nuttier than the cookies.

part 2

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Zucchini: Carmela Soprano's stew Googootz Giambotta and Anna Sultana's Minestra tal-Haxix (soup, Maltese Style)

Some vegetables, like potatoes, translate easily.

Carmela would call it a patate.  
Ma would call it a patata.  
Not very different from the English potato. 

Even A. J. could translate it easily.

Then there's the zucchini.  

Pity the zucchini.  If you've always just walked by them in the market, it's a summer squash of bushy growth with smooth cylindrical dark green fruits, which are also called zucchini.  They have a mild flavor and cook well in soups and stews.

Okay... Carmela would call it a googootz and, while she lived in Malta, Ma would call it a marrow.

I don't know why.

In Carmela's Entertaining with The Sopranos, there's a simple recipe for zucchini stew, Googootz Giambotta in the Adult Birthday Parties chapter.  Personally, I don't see it.  Maybe she dished it up for Uncle Junior.  After he shot Tony.

Chop 2 medium onions and cook them in some olive oil.
Finely chop a garlic clove, add it to the onion and fry another minute.
6 plum tomatoes, chopped
4 zucchini, trimmed - cut into bite-sized pieces
2 potatoes, peeled - cut into bite-sized pieces
salt and pepper 
Cover and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add water if it seems dry and before serving stir in
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

If you've never cooked zucchini, 'trimmed' means cut off the tips.  They are a bit nasty.  

Zucchini was a staple in Ma's kitchen.  I don't  know when she wised up, but she called them zucchini for as long as I can remember.  Pop grew them and Ma cooked them.  

When they were young and small - the zucchini - Ma would cook them in soups and stews.  When it got later in the season and Pop found a zucchini the size of a baseball bat, Ma would slice it in half, simmer it, scoop out the middle, mix it with crumbs and eggs, stuff the shell and bake it.

You never find the baseball bat sized one in the market.

Here's one of Ma's recipes Minestra tal-Haxix.
Wonderful, it uses some of the Halloween pumpkin!!

Chop and place in a large pot
2 zucchini
4 potatoes
2 onions
about a pound of pumpkin
1 small cabbage
1 small caulifower
2 turnips
2 tomatoes
2 carrots
3 cups water
1 teaspoon tomato paste
salt, pepper, oregano or basil - suit yourself
Bring to a boil, then let simmer 30 minutes
2 tablespoons lard or butter or oil - your choice
1/2 pound small pasta
Simmer until the pasta is done
Serve with Parmesan or Romano cheese

If you've just won the lottery and want some meat in there, 
leave out the pasta and add with the vegetables
2 pounds pork - cut into bite-sized pieces 
1 pound Italian sausages - cut into bite-sized pieces
or less if the winnings weren't that great

Would I make Googootz Giambotta again?  
No, it seems to be missing a lot.  A whole lot.
I sure wouldn't serve it to a birthday boy or girl.
Well, maybe if he'd shot my huband.

Would I make Minestra tal-Haxix?
It's a meal in itself.

Another recipe down.  Thirty-eight more to go.