Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cooking Pop by Margaret Ullrich

Some folks have asked me why I've been writing about Pop in this blog.
'Turning 60' is mostly about food and recipes.
Wasn't that Ma's domain?

Well, Pop cooked, too.
He was in charge of our meals from 1952 to 1955.
It wasn't by choice.
It was that, or go hungry all day.

When we moved to College Point in 1952, Ma also worked at Lily Tulip.
For the 50s, she was a woman ahead of her time.
Ma worked the day shift and did quality control.
Translation: she'd pick cartons of paper cups, at random, then count the cups 
to make sure the box held as many cups as it was supposed to have.
Okay, it wasn't brain surgery, but it helped pay the mortgage.

Pop worked the night shift at Lily Tulip as a pipe fitter's assistant.
Translation: he helped with repairs and kept an eye on gauges.
It was the same work he'd done in Malta.
So much for making a big life change in the new country.

During the day Pop tried to catch some sleep.
He also had to upgrade the ancient fixer-upper house he'd bought.
Oh, and he also was supposed to be keeping an eye on me.

I was a preschooler.
I hated taking naps.
Pop's solution was to park me in front of the TV set.
He was stretched out on the couch and trying to get some sleep.
Quality time.

Back to Pop's cooking...
At first it was pretty basic stuff.
Cold cereal, cold cuts, reheated pasta.

Then Pop saw a TV commercial for a mixer.
A three-speed mixer.
With that mixer, the woman said she could whip up cakes faster than 
you could say, "Feed me!"
Explaining that it would make life easier for Ma, Pop bought a mixer.
Ma never went near it.
Well, Pop complained less, so maybe it did make life easier for Ma.

Pop followed the recipes that came with the mixer exactly.
He actually baked a few good cakes.
Ma was impressed.

Then it was late November.
Pop saw a recipe for fruitcake in the New York Daily News.
The recipe didn't mention using a mixer.
But Pop thought it couldn't hurt.

Fruitcake batter is not like regular cake batter.
The beaters came to a dead stop.
No problem.  
Pop cranked the mixer up to speed level 2.
The beaters barely moved in the sludge.

Pop then added another cup of booze.
Why wait until it's aging when it needed some liquid help now?
Pop thought he'd create a new, improved recipe.
Maybe he'd share it with the New York Daily News.

He also cranked the mixer up to speed level 3.
Even at level 3, the beaters could only do so much.
Pop grabbed a knife to help move things along.

At first he stayed close to the bowl.
Then he tried to help the beaters mix the gunk.
While the beaters were turning.

Big mistake.

The knife got twisted and bent into a curlique.
It was woven between the beaters' tines.
No way could it get untwisted.
Or removed.

Without saying a word, Pop scraped the batter from the bowl and baked it.
The fruitcake needed a little extra time to bake off the extra liquid.
By the time Ma came home, the mixer was out of sight.
It had gotten shoved to the back of a cabinet.

After the Fruitcake Incident, Pop went back to the basics.
Big wooden spoons.
No one mentioned The Mixer.

At Christmas, the fruitcake was pretty good.
But, it was a while before Pop believed another TV commercial.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Carmela Soprano's Peaches in Red Wine

What can I say?
Sometimes great minds just think alike.

And sometimes everybody is sick of cooking.
Especially during the summer.

When it comes to summer, what can beat fresh fruit?

In The Final Celebration chapter of Carmela's Entertaining with the Sopranos
there's a recipe for Peaches in Red Wine. 

About the wine, Carmela said "preferably homemade".
Why do I have trouble picturing her making wine?
Why am I remembering Lucille Ball stomping on the grapes?
Guess the heat is getting to me.

Like I've said before, Carmela's editor is a bit strange.
He thinks a bride wants a heavy meal.
Yeah, right.
This recipe could fit in anywhere.
It's a pretty easy recipe, yet he thought it needed a picture. 
Just in case you couldn't figure it out. 

The editor must be Carmela's cousin. 

                        Peaches in Red Wine

In a medium bowl, combine
1/2 Cup sugar, more or less
2 1/2 Cups fruity red wine
Stir until sugar is dissolved.

Cut in half and remove the pits of
6 ripe white or yellow peaches
(peeling is optional)
Cut the peaches into slices.
Stir them into the wine.
Cover and let stand 2 to 3 hours.
Spoon the peaches and wine into a large wine glass.

Would I make Peaches in Red Wine again?
And I'd use the jug of Gallo Brothers' red.
Without the sugar.
Just sayin'.

Another recipe down.  Fifteen more to go. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Anna Sultana's Peaches in Wine

We're almost done with June!

Next weekend is Holiday Time, both in the US and Canada.
Look, I'm all in favor of just getting a bucket and relaxing.
So was Ma.
I mean, she wasn't a martyr.
And it gets awfully hot and muggy in New York.

This is a really easy dessert.
Nothing last minute.
Nothing to bake.

Peaches are fairly reasonable now.
They can be peeled and sliced before your guests arrive.
Just cover and keep in the fridge.

Or you can let your guests make their own dessert.

Cooks deserve a holiday, too! 

                        Peaches in Wine

Per person
1 large ripe peach, peeled and sliced
Place in a large sherbert glass.

Pour over the peach
2 ounces burgundy, chilled

If you want to jazz this up with some strawberries, fine.
If you'd prefer a different wine, that's fine, too.
Use what you have.
Ma usually grabbed the jug of Gallo Brothers' red.
Just sayin'.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Daddy-Daughter Date by Margaret Ullrich

A few weeks ago there was an article called Daddy-Daughter Date in the newspaper.
No, they weren't going all pervy.
The Winnipeg Free Press is a family paper.
No funny business.
Hey, this is Winnipeg.

The date in the article took place in Chicago.
A nice dinner and a Tony-award-winning comedy.
Shopping at the Oprah store.
No funny business.
Hey, we're talking Oprah.

Daddy-Daughter Date.
What can I say?
Been there, done that.
More or less.

The pair in the article was going for a bonding experience.
When Pop and I had our date, I was a teenager living at home.
We had more than enough bonding.
The date wasn't our idea.
We were being ordered to go out together.

The date was Ma's idea.
No funny business.
Hey, we're talking about my Ma.

One of the illusions about New Yorkers is that they fill their days going 
to plays, symphonies, operas and ballets.
Yeah, right.
Maybe some folks live like that.
The folks who live in Manhattan.
Not the bridge and tunnel crowd of New York.
Not folks who live in Queens.

One of the perks of colleges in New York is the ticket offers.
We're talking plays on Broadway, opera and ballet at Lincoln Center.
Discounts, two-fers, buy two/get one free.
Anything to get butts into the seats.
If New York had dollar stores then, they would've sold tickets there.

I was going to Pratt and had my own column in the school paper.
Shakespeare it wasn't, but I was being published every week.
I wrote about the tickets available at the student services' desk.

I picked up tickets every week, along with press releases.
They were reference material for my article.
After I wrote my piece, I just tossed them.
It was only a matter of time before I'd want to use one.

Only problem was, all the shows were in Manhattan.

Let me explain.
Ma had a terror of me going into Manhattan alone.
My choice of colleges was limited to what was on Long Island.
So I ended up at Pratt.

Pratt was in the heart of Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
A rather unpleasant area.
My first week at Pratt, the top story in the school paper was the rape, 
in broad daylight, of two nuns.
It had happened a couple of blocks from our campus.
We were being told to "Be Careful".
Okee dokee.

I really wanted to see The Nutcracker.
It was being performed at Lincoln Centre.
Ma panicked when she heard where I wanted to go.
The only way I could go to Lincoln Centre was if my Pop took me.
Pop was outnumbered.
The poor guy was going to get some culture.

We were in our bargain balcony seats at Lincoln Center.
Pop wasn't thrilled.
He was more uncomfortable than Cher's Dad was when they met at 
Lincoln Center in the movie Moonstruck.

The music began.
Pop settled down in a chair and, within minutes, was sound asleep.
Or so I thought.
He was wide awake for the belly dancing bit.
Then he was asleep again.
So much for sharing great art in Manhattan.

A few years after our date, my parents visited us in Winnipeg.
Paul and I decided to take them for a riverboat ride.
That's what passes for an experience in Winnipeg.
Lucky for Pop, Winnipeg keeps farmer's hours.
The theatre, ballet, etc. shut down in the summer.

So we were going to the Red River.
Pop wasn't thrilled at the idea, but he was outnumbered.  Again.

We were on the deck.
Pop settled down in a chair and, within minutes, was sound asleep.
Or so we thought.

Ma and I started talking about what to make for supper.
Ravioli... lasagna... ross fil forn?
Pop muttered, "Ross fil forn."
Then he was asleep again.

I'll always wonder if Pop did hear The Nutcracker.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Carmela Soprano's Roasted Beef Tenderloin - Holiday Dinner Menu

Tomorrow's the big day for Dads.
Happy Father's Day!!

I have yet to meet a Vegetarian Dad.
Dads I've met refer to salads as 'rabbit food'.
And not with a smile on their faces.

That's right, Dad, or hubby, will be expecting meat.
A nice cut of meat.
No, you can't get away with hot dogs.

In the Fit for a Bride chapter of Carmela's Entertaining with the Sopranos
there's a recipe for Roasted Beef Tenderloin.  
Complete with picture.  Guaranteed to put a smile on Dad's face.

No, I still don't understand Carmela's editor.
Fit for a Bride?
Give me a break.
Before the wedding the bride is eating so much 'rabbit food', 
the groom is calling her Bugs.
As in Bunny.
And on the Big Day?
What with the cost of the dress, the pictures, etc. well, 
cuts have to be made somewhere.
Can you say 'Ham'?
Yeah, thought so. 

                              Roasted Beef Tenderloin 

Preheat oven to 425º
Oil a large roasting pan

Mix together
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Pat dry with paper towels
two 3- to 3 1/2 pound trimmed and tied center-cut beef tenderloin roasts
Rub the meat with the spice/oil mixture

Place the meat in the pan.
Roast 30 minutes
A thermometer inserted in the center should read 120º for rare.
Remove the meat to a cutting board, loosely cover with foil, and let stand 15 minutes.

The meat will continue to cook, the temperature will rise to 130º for medium rare.
Adjust according to Dad's taste.  Some prefer well-done.  Humor him.

To serve hot, cut the meat into 1/2-inch thick slices just before serving.
If Dad prefers room temperature, cut meat and arrange slices on a platter.
It's his choice.
The ties definitely weren't.

On the facing page in Entertaining with the Sopranos, the tenderloin is served with asparagus, stuffed mushrooms, marinated peppers and roasted potatoes.
Good choices.
If Dad likes them.

Would I make Roasted Beef Tenderloin again?
With corn, sliced tomatoes and broccoli.
Like I said, it's his day.

Another recipe down.  Sixteen more to go. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Anna Sultana's Laham fuq il-fwar - Steamed Beef with Garlic, Maltese Style

Don't panic at the title.
And don't get snarky about the second word.
Fuq is Maltese for steamed.
It's just Steamed Beef with Garlic.
Don't panic at the 'Steamed' Beef.
It'll work.

If Dad's the type of guy who gags at the cost of high end roast, 
this will make him smile.
This is a recipe for beef rump, an economical cut.
But it won't be tough.
And it's easy to make.
Trust me.
Better yet, trust Ma.

Garlic plays a big part in meat dishes in Malta.
While garlic sometimes causes social problems, it's very heart healthy.
And that's a really good thing.
If everyone is eating garlic, no one notices the garlic breath.
So there.

Happy Father's Day! 

Instead of a casserole, a greased Pyrex pie plate would work, too.
Just remember to cover it.

                        Laħam fuq il-fwar

Place a greased casserole inside a dutch oven
Add to the dutch oven
3 inches of water

In the greased casserole layer
8 slices of rump 
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
6 ounces of bacon, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons lard
Cover the casserole and steam over hot water 1 1/2 hours.

This recipe will create a sauce, which can be served with spaghetti or any other favourite pasta.

Rice is nice, too.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Feeding by Margaret Ullrich

Last week I wrote about how Pop had kept us fed after Lily Tulip moved to New Jersey.
We were well-fed from his garden.
Especially from the green beans he grew.

A few friends e mailed me and asked if we were vegetarians.
Uh, are you kidding?

To paraphrase a rather famous quote, "Man does not live by green beans alone."

Like I said last week, Pop was a farmboy.
He was a MALTESE farmboy.
He'd never met a rabbit he didn't like.
Especially stewed, Maltese-style, with lots of garlic.

Along with the garden, Pop made good use of his garage.
It was a very old garage, at the top of a mildly steep, long driveway.
When Pop first bought the house the driveway was made of cobblestones.
Yes, it was that old.
The second year we lived there, Pop and Uncle Charlie replaced the cobblestones with concrete.
I was four-years-old and helped by carrying my sandpail - filled with wet concrete - to Pop, who poured and smoothed.
Ma was working the day shift at Lily Tulip.
This was before long before day care.
And Sesame Street.

The garage was an old wooden building, large enough for two cars.
In 1962, when Lily Tulip left College Point, Pop didn't have a car.
No need to, since he didn't have a driver's licence.
Plus, he had moved to College Point so he could walk to work.

What could he do with that garage, you ask?
Why turn it into a rabbit hutch, of course.

All along the south wall, Pop set up small rabbit cages.
Each cage had a small enclosed room.
Mother rabbits liked their privacy when they had babies.
Pop liked rabbit stew.

Get the connection.

The only thing that produces better than green beans is rabbits.

Rabbit farming is a bit like being Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.
Rabbits must be well fed, secure and comfortable.
Cages must be cleaned regularly.

The rabbits liked a bit of petting.
The baby bunnies were so cute, that wasn't hard to do.
I had to wait until they were old enough that their mom wasn't bothered by them picking up a human scent.
Nature and instincts must be respected.

Then it was time to make dinner.
Mopsie had to be skinned and cut into portions.
After being killed as quickly and painlessly as possible.
We didn't go hungry.

While the rabbits were alive, we cared for them as best we could.
But, they were there for a reason.
And it wasn't for their pleasure.

During the 50s, most American kids heard family tales of their parents growing up during the Depression.
My folks had stories about Malta being blockaded during World War ll.
No food for three months.
Not good.

Food is a bit important to Maltese who remember such times.
Before we left New York, Pop said, "Never cheat your stomach."

Paul and I now live in an area that, until recently, was a farm.
We still get visited by the occasional ruffled grouse or bush bunny.
Sometimes the bunnies wander into our yard and munch on the grass.

Wonder what Pop would do if he saw them?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Carmela Soprano's Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce and Blueberries

Wasn't Ma's Prinjolata easy to make?
It uses ingredients you can keep in the pantry.
It can be prepared in advance.

And it's easy on the budget.
Yah, Ma!!

Okay... now we'll have a recipe from Carmela.

Check out the Dinner for Twelve chapter of Carmela's Entertaining with the Sopranos.  There's a recipe for Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce and Blueberries.

Carmela has a different approach to entertaining.
Well, not everything from Carm is as sensible as last week's Eggplant Fritters.

This is a bit of a hassle.
To be honest, I think she has someone else whip this up.
Oh, well, Panna Cotta is pretty.
And seasonal, what with the fresh berries.

I used vanilla extract when I made this recipe.
If you have vanilla beans, this recipe uses one.
Carmela simmered a bean with the heavy cream, then removed it, slit it with a small sharp knife, and scraped the seeds out.
She then stirred the seeds into the cream mixture.
Yeah, sure.
Oh, and she used 6-ounce ramekins.

Now you know.

Like I said, I think she had someone else whip this up.
And it wasn't Meadow. 

                              Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce and Blueberries 

Panna Cotta
Into a small bowl, pour
1/2 Cup cold water
Three   1/4-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatine
Set aside to soften the gelatine.

Combine in a medium saucepan
1 quart half-and-half
2 Cups heavy cream
one 3-inch strip of lemon zest
1/3 Cup sugar
Bring to a simmer over medium high heat.
Remove from heat.

Discard the lemon zest and add 
the softened gelatin
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Stir until gelatin is completely dissolved.

Divide the cream mixture among 12 custard cups.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
(You want it firm to hold its shape.)

Raspberry Sauce
Mix together
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 Tablespoons water

Puree in a blender
Two  10-ounce packages frozen rasperries with syrup, thawed
2 Tablespoons sugar (more or less - remember the syrup is sweet)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Strain the mixture into a medium saucepan.

Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
Add cornstarch mixture to the simmering rasperries.
Cook, stirring regularly, until slightly thickened.
Remove from heat and let cool.
Pour into a sealable container and refrigerate.
It can be stored up to 3 days, after that it separates and ain't pretty.

To Serve
Dip the bottom of a custard cup into a bowl of hot water for 10 seconds.
Run a knife around the edge of the cream.
Invert onto an individual dessert plate.
Repeat with the other 11 custard cups.
Spoon some of the sauce around the cream.
A dot on top is nice, too.

Garnish each serving with some of 
1 Cup blueberries 

Not my idea of fun when I have guests whooping it up in the living room.
Like I said, I think she has someone else whip this up.
While she's chatting with Janice.

Would I make Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce and Blueberries again?
Hell, no.

The raspberry sauce, maybe.
But I wouldn't bother straining it.
It's raspberries.
Folks know it comes with seeds.

And I'd spoon it over vanilla ice cream.
And top with any berries on hand.
Like fresh raspberries or strawberries.  
Or sliced peaches.
Unless I was dishing this up for the Fourth of July.
You know... red, white and blue.  

This recipe reminded me of the scene in the movie Bridget Jones's Diary.
The one where she killed herself cooking for her birthday party.
And ended up with blue soup and marmalade.

Well, live and learn.

Another recipe down.  Seventeen more to go. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Anna Sultana's Prinjolata - Maltese Carnival Sweet with Butter Cream Filling

You've had a few days to get used to June.

Not so bad, is it?

Time to plan something special for a dessert.
For Father's Day.
For weddings.
For graduations.
For whatever.

Maltese recipes, for the most part, are pretty simple.
Mostly fruit and something dairy.
Great for the health, lousy for the presentation.

Okay... the family is expecting something pretty.
They've been exposed to way too much Martha Stewart.
Don't panic.
We've got something pretty.

Prinjolata is also called "Traditional Carnival Sweet".
Carnival, as in the week before Lent.
don't let that bother you.
It's just a name.
I mean, there aren't any Prinjolata police who'll come knocking at your door. 
You can make this whenever you want.

Or have to.
Like now.

Don't worry.  
It's not that hard to make. 


Butter Cream:
Beat till light
225 g margarine
300 g confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Place in a bowl over a pan of boiling water
2 egg whites
250 g sugar
3 Tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Beat with a mixer until stiff.
Remove from heat and cool.

When cool, fold the egg mixture
into the butter cream
100 g pine nuts

Oil a deep round casserole dish.
Place in layers with the butter cream mixture
30 ladyfingers, cut into bite size pieces
Let stand overnight in fridge.

Invert on serving platter and turn out
Cover cake with 
2 containers prepared vanilla frosting
Drizzle on frosting
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted
Decorate with
100 g glace cherries or candied peel or some of each
50 g pine nuts

You can use chopped almonds instead of pine nuts.
Some folks use sponge cake instead of ladyfingers.
Ma used ladyfingers.
Suit yourself.
Or the birthday boy.

It's time to party hearty!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Weeding by Margaret Ullrich

There must be something in the air.
Maybe the planets are in alignment... or out of it.

I was a little nervous about it.
I was afraid I'd get a tearstained email.
Or a FaceBook message.
With a sad face or a :-(  


To be honest, I don't thing they even knew or cared.

I feel like a weight's been taken off my shoulders.
Or at least my computer's mail inbox.

There's been less useless notices about strangers posting on other strangers' walls.
Walls I couldn't touch.
Unless I friended the stranger because we had a "friend" in common.
Been there, done that.

Why hadn't I done this before?

We finally got a break in the Autumn-like weather.
And the rain was only falling at night. 
So... Paul and I tackled the yard work.
He mowed and I weeded. 

Whenever I work in the garden, I remember my Pop.

He was a farmboy, through and through.
He turned the garden of our home in College Point into a main food source.
He had to, after Lily Tulip moved to New Jersey.
That threw quite a few main breadwinners out of work.
It was the 60s and men still called themselves that.
It was long before the movie Mr. Mom.

Pop knew green beans produced a regular crop within a short time.
So he planted rows and rows of green beans.
We had green beans hot, green beans cold, green beans in the pot nine days old.
We didn't go hungry.

I used to help Pop in his garden.
You guessed it... I weeded.

I remember Pop explaining how important weeding was.
He said the weeds were stealing food and water from the plants we needed.
Weeds were stealing and giving nothing in return.
Weeds could choke out the plants we did need.
Weeds could change a good vegetable garden into a mess of useless thieves.
Weeds were no damn good and shouldn't be given space.

At the time I thought Pop was just talking about gardening.
But a Pop often sees a bigger picture.
Part of his job of preparing a kid for being on her own.
Maybe Pop was trying to teach me something for life in general.
Weeding is important.

But how did he know about FaceBook?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Carmela Soprano's Eggplant Fritters (appetizer)

In food, as in life, timing is everything.

Like I said a few weeks ago, eggplants are like potato chips.
It's hard to stop at just one.
There are so many recipes.
That eggplant sure does get around.

In that post I mentioned a recipe for 'The Imam Fainted'.
This weekend on CBC Manitoba Weekend Morning Show, Chef Karen Peters cooked a Turkish eggplant dish called Imam Baldi.

Is that a hint to do another eggplant recipe or what?

Eggplants are also very popular in Italy.
It's served as everything from appetizer to main course.

Don't believe me?
Check out the Graduation Parties chapter of Carmela's Entertaining with the Sopranos.  There's a recipe for Eggplant Fritters.

Now I don't normally like anything fried.
But, when it comes to eggplant, I'll make an exception.
Picture it... after the party you're stuck with a platter of fried eggplant.

Did I say stuck?
No, you're not.
You're ready for the next day's dinner.
Try doing that with Ritz crackers and a dip. 

                              Eggplant Fritters 

Trim off the ends of
2 eggplants (about 1 pound each)
Cut lengthwise in half

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
1 teaspoon salt
the halved eggplants
Simmer 15 minutes.
Place the eggplants in a colander in the sink to drain.

After they've cooled, squeeze GENTLY to remove excess water.
Chop the eggplants very fine and place in a large bowl.
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 Cup plain dry bread crumbs
1/2 Cup grated Romano cheese (or Parmesan)
1/4 Cup chopped fresh parsley (1/8 Cup dried)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon (more or less) pepper

Spread on a large cookie sheet
1 1/2 Cups plain dry bread crumbs

Shape the eggplant mixture into 1 1/2-inch patties, 1/2 inch thick.
Dip in the bread crumbs, patting the crumbs on so they'll stick. 
Place the patties on another cookie sheet. 
Let sit about 15 minutes.

In a large heavy skillet pour
vegetable oil to a 1/2-inch depth
Heat over medium heat until a bread cube will sizzle in the oil.
(If it's not hot enough, they won't fry crisply.)

Leaving enough space between them, fry the patties, 
turning once, about 10 minutes.
Place the patties on paper towels to drain.
They can be kept warm in a 200º oven while you fry the rest.

They can be served as an appetizer OR
with tomato sauce as a main dish.

Handy, no?

Would I make Eggplant Fritters again?
And while I'm at it, I'd cook up an extra eggplant or two.
The counter is going to get spattered anyway.

The next day I'd serve the leftovers as dinner.

Another recipe down.  Eighteen more to go.