Thursday, May 30, 2013

Carmela Soprano's Fried Veal Cutlets or Chicken Breasts

The Fried Veal Cutlets is the recipe I suggested you serve on Thursday.
Today is Thursday.
Here's the recipe.


Paulie Walnuts didn't cook fancy complicated dishes like Artie did.
His recipe for Fried Veal Cutlets in his chapter My Nucci in Artie's The Sopranos Family Cookbook is easier than Artie's recipe for Veal Piccata with Capers.
But it's just as good.
And, if you didn't buy the capers, even better.


Hints:
If the meat is of uneven thicknesses, place the slices between 2 sheets of plastic wrap.
Gently pound with a mallet to a 1/4 inch thickness so they will cook evenly.

Before frying the veal, test the oil by placing a drop of the egg mixture into the hot oil.
It should sizzle and cook quickly when the oil is hot enough.

Cook the number of cutlets at one time that will fit in the pan without crowding.
You want them to get nice and crisp, not soggy and glued together.

If there is any egg mixture left, stir in the remaining bread crumbs.
Fry the egg mixture, turning once, until golden brown on both sides.
Or the leftover-egg cutlet can be poured into a greased custard cup and baked.


                        Fried Veal Cutlets

Serves 4

In a shallow plate beat together
2 large eggs
1/2 Cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Spread on a sheet of wax paper
1 Cup plain bread crumbs

Cut into serving size pieces
1 pound veal, chicken or turkey cutlets
Dip each piece in the egg mixture, then in the bread crumbs to coat.
Let dry for 15 minutes.


Pour into a deep heavy frying pan 
1/4 inch of oil
Heat over medium heat.
Add a few cutlets to the pan.
Turning once, brown on both sides, about 5 minutes each side.
Transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
Repeat with the remaining cutlets.
Serve hot with lemon wedges.


Would I make Fried Veal Cutlets again?
It's the same basic recipe, but with less mess.
Also, while the cutlets are baking, I can do something else.


One recipe down.  Five more to go.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Carmela Soprano's Spiedini - Stuffed Veal or Chicken Rolls l Menu Planning for One or Two

In the old days (okay, when I was a kid) food was packaged on site, as per your order.
You'd look through a glass pane and see a display of meat, of all sizes and shapes.
Ah, there!  You'd see a few chops and point out the exact ones you wanted.
Two, four, six, thin or thick cut, lean or fatty… all according to your choice.

In the twenty-first century meat is usually sold pre-packaged.
More efficient, more sanitary.
And let's not forget the bargain hunters' delight: warehouse packs.
These are great if you're inviting a crowd, or have a large family.

If you are half of a couple, it's a little different.
Either you cook it all and have a week of leftovers - same old, same old - or
you rewrap most of your purchase and add it to the pile in the freezer.

There is a third solution…
Group your recipes by main ingredient.
Bought a package of veal?  Or boned chicken breasts?
No problem.
Veal Piccata on Sunday.
Veal Spiedini on Tuesday.
Fried Veal Cutlets on Thursday.
Same ingredient, different dinners.

Oh, about that Veal Spiedini - Stuffed Veal Rolls…
There's a dandy recipe for Veal Spiedini in Tony's chapter Grilling - Italian Style in Artie's The Sopranos Family Cookbook.


Hints:
If you don't have a meat pounder or mallet, just use a heavy plate or a hammer.
You might want to give the hammer a quick wash first.
Plastic wrap does tear sometimes... especially when it's being whacked.
That's whacked... not whacked.

If you're broiling, place the pan 4 inches from the heat.
When I broiled the rolls, I didn't bother with the skewers.
I just used tongs to turn them.
No one noticed the lack of skewer holes.


                        Spiedini 

Serves 6

Prepare a medium hot fire in a grill, either charcoal or gas.
Place the grill rack 4 inches from the heat.

Place between 2 sheets of plastic wrap
1 1/2 pounds veal cutlets
Gently pound with a mallet to a 1/4 inch thickness.
Cut the veal into 3 x 2-inch pieces.
Sprinkle the meat with
salt and pepper to taste

Cut into 1 x 1/2 inch thick sticks
8 ounces mozzarella
Place a piece of cheese across the center of each veal cutlet.
Sprinkle with
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
Roll up each piece of veal from a short side.

Hold 2 metal or bamboo skewers parallel about an inch apart.
Push one of the rolls onto the skewers, as if the skewers were tines of a fork.
Leaving a couple of inches clear at the opposite end for easy handling,
push the roll toward the opposites ends of the 'tines'.
Repeat with the remaining veal rolls.

Brush the rolls with
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Sprinkle with
3/4 Cup plain bread crumbs
Pat the crumbs so they stick well to the veal.

Grill the rolls, turning once, until the meat is browned and the cheese is slightly melted, about 10 minutes.
Slide the rolls off the skewers onto a heated serving platter.
Serve immediately.


Would I make Spiedini  again?
Why not?  It's a nice change from the usual sausages.
And it uses some of the chicken breasts.
Or, for the lucky few, veal cutlets.


One recipe down.  Six more to go.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Carmela Soprano's Veal Piccata with Capers l Chicken Piccata


A couple of weeks ago I posted the recipe for Carmela Soprano's Swordfish Rolls.
I admitted to using chicken breasts for the Rollatine di Pesce Spada recipe.

You can substitute for some ingredients in a recipe.
And then there are some ingredients you can't substitute.
Usually it's the spices.

The recipe for Rollatine di Pesce Spada called for capers.
I admit capers are not as commonly found as salt and pepper.
At least not in your basic North American kitchen.
Not like in a Maltese kitchen.
And it's possible you avoided the recipe when you saw that ingredient.
Which would be a shame.
Rollatine is a delicious way to prepare chicken breasts, too.


Don't be afraid of buying a jar of capers.
You've probably eaten capers already.
Do you like tartar sauce with your fish?
Then you've eaten capers.
Surprise!!

Some of the recipes in Artie's chapter Mia Cucina in The Sopranos Family Cookbook call for a professional chef - with a complete staff to do all the grunt work.
But his recipe for Veal Piccata with Capers is really simple.
And it's another way to use capers.

If you can get veal in your local shops, you're all set.
If not, this works just as well with chicken breast.
Yes, really.
There's even an authentic Italian recipe called Chicken Piccata.
If you bought a large jar of capers, make some Spaghetti Puttanesca.
That recipe calls for 1/4 Cup of capers.
It's a very good sauce recipe.


Hints:
If you don't have a meat pounder or mallet, just use a heavy plate or a hammer.
You might want to give the hammer a quick wash first.
Plastic wrap does tear sometimes... especially when it's being whacked.

Cook the number of cutlets at one time that will fit in the pan without crowding.
You want them to get nice and crisp, not soggy and glued together.


                        Veal Piccata with Capers

Serves 4

Place between 2 sheets of plastic wrap
1 pound veal cutlets
Gently pound with a mallet to a 1/4 inch thickness.
Sprinkle the meat with
salt and pepper to taste

On a plate spread
1/4 Cup flour
Dredge the cutlets in the flour.
Shake off the excess flour.


Melt in a large frying pan over medium heat
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Add a few cutlets to the pan and brown on both sides.
Transfer them to a plate and keep them warm.
Repeat with the remaining cutlets.

When all of the cutlets are browned pour into the pan
1/2 Cup chicken broth
Scraping the bottom of the pan, cook over high heat.
The liquid should get slightly thickened.
Add
2 Tablespoons rinsed and chopped capers
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
Pour the sauce over the veal and serve immediately.
Serve with lemon wedges.


Would I make Veal Piccata with Capers again?
Sure, and I'd serve it with rice and a salad.
Veal Piccata is crispy but it's a healthier recipe than the Colonel's.
And I'll just bet he has capers in his secret recipe.
So much for that secret.


One recipe down.  Seven more to go.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Mall of America, a Tornado and Feng Shui by Margaret Ullrich

Tomorrow is Full Moon number five for 2013.
My first Full Moon since turning 63.
All in all, it's been a very good month.

Paul and I went on a small trip to the National Model Railroaders Association's Convention in Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis.
It was nice seeing friends we hadn't seen for a year.
The Convention was held at the Best Western Mall of America, across the street from the Mall of America.
We'd never been in the Mall of America before.
Actually we weren't interested in shopping there.
But, just so we wouldn't get the What, you were there and you didn't go! reaction from friends, we went in one entrance, watched the kids play on the rides, snapped a few pictures, took a sharp left and walked to and through the first floor of Macy's.
So, we can honestly say we went to the Mall of America.
I will admit the MoA is huge - four stories tall!


If you're planning to shop at the MoA, I'd suggest staying at the Day's Inn Plymouth.
The price is right, and the rooms are clean, comfortable and quiet.
The breakfast, with make your own waffles, is also very good.
It's located at the corner of I-494 and HWY 55.
St. Paul and the Mall of America are only 20 minutes away.
Now you know.

We had just gotten back to our room and turned on the news when tornado warnings started.
There was a horrific tornado in Moore, near Oklahoma City.
We didn't have any storms during our drive home, as we did in 2011.
For which we are very grateful.


I read through the book and it has some interesting ideas.
I love the Chinese proverb:
If you want to change your life, move 27 things in your home.
I wonder how big the 27 things have to be?
A dish, a knick knack, a dust bunny?

Tisha has a carefully worked out plan for decluttering.
She had the job divided into 27 chapters - a chapter for each step.
And the steps were grouped into four phases.

Well, I needed to redesign the plan.
Some of the steps are going to take a few days.
Maybe even weeks.
I fully intend to hit all 27 steps.
Just not according to her four-phase plan.
So, sue me.
She did say taking baby steps was a good idea.
I have to declutter at a prenatal rate.

I started with a phase one item: Keep doorways clear.
No problem.
Our doorways are clear.
So far, so good.
On to another phase one item: Clear hallways and corridors.
No corridors, no problem.
We have a tiny hallway on our second floor.
Just wide enough for two people to walk together.
Nothing's there to be cleared away.
I never thought it could spare any room for clutter.
I jumped into phase three and cleaned my windows.
Okay, I had planned to do that as soon as it stopped snowing anyway.
Three items checked off.
That's enough for a start.


About tomorrow's full moon...
According to the folks at astrology.com:
Nobody's at a loss for words as a Venus-Mercury-Jupiter conjunction in Gemini accompanies this belief-driven lunar eclipse... finding accurate information right now is like trying to pick a needle out of a haystack… Don't become so emotional that you're unable to use common sense to make important decisions… this eclipse will help you create a better life for yourself!


Alrighty then, I will try to use common sense!
On to making a better life!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Carmela Soprano's Bistecca Florentina - Porterhouse Steak Florentine style

Summer in Manitoba is a very short season.
We're cooped up for most of the year.
No one likes to go out when it's -40º.
Yes, -40º is just as cold in either C or F.
So, when it's summer, we want to get out.

The swordfish recipe I found in Tony's chapter Grilling - Italian Style in Artie's 
The Sopranos Family Cookbook was an education, if not a practical recipe.

But there was a nice regular steak recipe on the next page.
Steak Florentine style - Bistecca Florentina.
Porterhouse steaks… hmmm...
I don't usually buy porterhouse steaks.
I didn't know what a porterhouse steak was.
So I went back to the butcher/fish monger at my local market.

He didn't laugh.
He just got a little teary-eyed.
I didn't know how to react.

He sat me down and gave me a quick butchering lesson.
Yes, he had porterhouse steaks.
But he figured a thick T-bone steak would do just as well.
After all these years, he knew my budget pretty well.


The T-bone and porterhouse are both cut from the short loin. 
Both include a "T-shaped" bone with meat on each side. 
Porterhouse steaks are cut from the rear end and have more tenderloin steak. 
So, they are more expensive.
T-bone steaks are cut from the front, and contain a smaller section of tenderloin.

Porterhouse is a marketing, rather than a butchering, name.
There were a few 19th-century U.S. hotels and restaurants named Porter House.

On Manhattan's Pearl Street around 1814, Martin Morrison served large T-bone steaks to his customers.  In Cambridge, Massachusetts, Zachariah B. Porter served the same large steaks to his hotel's restaurant's clientele.  Then there was the Porter House, a popular hotel in 19th-century Flowery Branch, Georgia.

It's not important.
And I wasn't too surprised.
When we lived in New York we'd never heard of a New York steak.
Ah, marketing!

Because both T-bone and porterhouse steaks don't need longer cooking times to tenderize the meat, they are great for grilling or broiling. 

I told him I wanted to make Bistecca Florentina.
Turns out 'beefsteak Florentine style' is an old Tuscan recipe. 
The steak is grilled over a wood or charcoal fire, and seasoned with salt and, sometimes, black pepper.
The Tuscan touch is the olive oil which is added after the steak is cooked.
In Tuscany they serve it very rare, sometimes garnished with lemon wedges.
And, yes, a T-bone would work just as well.


Hint:
If you're broiling, place the broiler pan 4 inches from the heat.
Preheat a gas grill or the broiler.


                        Bistecca Florentina

Serves 6 to 8

Prepare a medium hot fire in a grill, either charcoal or gas.
Place the grill rack 4 inches from the heat.

Rub all over
2 porterhouse steaks (about 2 pounds each), about 1 1/2 inches thick
with 
salt and pepper

Grill or broil for 4 to 5 minutes on each side for rare.
The time depends on the thickness of the steaks.
Make a small cut in the thickest part and the centre to check for doneness.
If you want to cook them further, move the steaks to a cooler part of the grill.
Let the steaks rest 5 minutes before cutting into thin slices.

Sprinkle with 
salt
Drizzle with
Extra virgin olive oil
Serve hot with lemon wedges.


Would I make Bistecca Florentina again?
Sure, with T-bone steaks.
I don't have Tony's sources of income.
No loss.
There's more to life than a bigger piece of tenderloin.


One recipe down.  Eight more to go.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Carmela Soprano's Biscotti d' Anise - Anise Cookies

The three fancy dessert recipes which I posted recently - Torta Caprese, Tortoni, 
and Pear and Grappa Pound Cake - were nice for Mother's Day.
But sometimes you just want a light dessert.
Especially when the thermometer is rising.


Bobby Bacala's chapter If I Couldn't Eat, I'd F**king Die in Artie Bucco's 
The Sopranos Family Cookbook has something for everybody.
Yes, some of his recipes are really just for reading.
But his recipe for Biscotti d' Anise - Anise Cookies - is simple.
Really.
And the cookies are perfect with a cup of coffee or tea.

Hint:
The anise seeds can be crushed with a hammer or whirled in a blender.


                        Biscotti d' Anise

Makes about 3 dozen

Preheat oven to 350º
Grease a 9-inch square pan
Line the bottom of the pan with wax paper or parchment.
Grease the paper.
Dust the bottom with flour and tap out the excess.

In a large mixer bowl, combine
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons anise extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 Cup sugar
Beat at low speed, gradually increasing the speed to high.
Beat until the eggs are very light and foamy and tripled in volume, 
about another 5 to 7 minutes.

Place in a sieve
1 Cup flour
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
Shake about one-third of the mixture over the egg mixture.
Gently fold in the dry ingredients.
Repeat two more times with the remaining flour mixture.
Fold in
1 teaspoon anise seeds, crushed
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
Level the top with a rubber spatula.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes.
The top should be evenly browned and firm when touched in the centre.
Remove the cake from the oven.

Raise the oven temperature to 375º.
Run a small knife around the edges of the cake.
Invert the cake onto a cutting board and remove the cake from the pan.
With a serrated knife cut the cake into 3 strips.
Cut each strip into 3/4-inch thick slices.
Place the slices, cut side down, on an ungreased cookie sheet. 
Bake the slices 50 to 10 minutes, until toasted and golden.
Remove them from the oven.
Let cool on a wire rack.
Store in a tightly covered container in a cool, dry place.


Would I make Biscotti d' Anise again?
Sure.  It's a little different from Ma's Biscotti.
And also a little different from Carmela Soprano's Anisette Toast.
If I was having company I'd make all three.
A little variety never hurts.
And they store well.


One recipe down.  Nine more to go.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Carmela Soprano's Rollatine di Pesce Spada - Swordfish or Chicken Breast Rolls / Swordfish, Mackerel, Tuna and Shrimp

The weather here in Manitoba has finally made up its mind.
It's Spring - time for some barbecuing.
Tomorrow's Friday.
Why not fire up the grill for some fish?

I found a recipe for grilled Swordfish rolls - Rollatine di Pesce Spada - in 
Tony's chapter Grilling - Italian Style in Artie's The Sopranos Family Cookbook.


So I went to the butcher/fish monger at my local market.
He usually got a laugh when I asked for some of Carmela's more exotic ingredients.
Well... exotic for a shop in the north end of Winnipeg.
Yes, he got a laugh out of this one, too.

After he stopped laughing he gave me a history lesson.
In 1998 there was an advertising campaign - "Give Swordfish a Break" - 
because swordfish were in danger of extinction.
Even fancy chefs removed North Atlantic swordfish from their menus.
Many supermarkets did the same.
So it wasn't just because we're in the boonies in Winnipeg.
I guess Tony isn't too concerned about some fish becoming extinct.


The butcher then explained why swordfish became so popular.
Swordfish, an oily fish, has firm and thick steaks, which grill well.
He suggested I substitute mackerel or tuna.
They are also oily large fish, which are also sold as steaks.
Mackerel, tuna and shrimp are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Not having swordfish may not be such a huge loss.
He also said that swordfish has high levels of mercury.
Guess Tony is more worried about dying from lead lead than he is about 
the effects of mercury poisoning.


The flesh of some swordfish has an orange tint.
They get that from eating shrimp. 
Shrimp has low levels of mercury.
It is considered heart healthy because it doesn't have much saturated fat.
Shrimp's cholesterol improves the ratio of LDL to HDL cholesterol.
And shrimp also lowers triglycerides.

So, if I wanted a heart health promoting orangey fish why not cut out 
the middleman, er, middlefish.
Shrimp of all sizes is always available in the frozen food section.


Back to this recipe…
The butcher didn't have any tuna or mackerel steaks.
Big surprise there.
But he suggested using skinless, boneless chicken breast.
Which is also always available.
Chicken breast doesn't have mercury and is also heart healthy.
Okay, then… Chicken breast rolls it is.


Hint:
If you're broiling, place the pan 4 inches from the heat.


                        Rollatine di Pesce Spada

Serves 6

Prepare a medium hot fire in a grill, either charcoal or gas.
Place the grill rack 4 inches from the heat.

Remove the skin and cut into very thin slices
1 1/2 pounds swordfish
Place the swordfish slices between 2 sheets of plastic wrap.
Gently pound the slices to a 1/4-inch thickness.
Cut the fish into 3 x 2-inch pieces.

In a bowl combine
3/4 Cup plain bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons chopped drained capers
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 large garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Mix well.

Place a tablespoon of the crumb mixture at a narrow end of each piece of fish, 
roll up the fish, and fasten it closed with a toothpick.

Whisk together
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Brush the mixture over the rolls.
Sprinkle any of the remaining bread crumb mixture over the fish.
Pat it so it sticks well to the fish.

Grill the rolls for 3 to 4 minutes on each side for slightly rare.
They should be browned and feel firm in the centre.
Serve hot with lemon wedges.


Would I make Rollatine di Pesce Spada again?
Sure, using chicken breast.
I'll leave the swordfish for Tony and the guys.
Mercury is the least of their worries.


One recipe down.  Ten more to go.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Carmela Soprano's Sfinciuni - Sicilian Onion Pizza (for 10 or 50)

About a month ago I posted a pizza recipe from Charmaine Bucco's chapter 
Cooking for the Whole Famiglia in Artie's The Sopranos Family Cookbook.

Charmaine has another pizza recipe: Sfinciuni - Sicilian Onion Pizza.
This recipe is a little different from the other recipe.
It's in her chapter, so here it is.

Most likely Charmaine cooked it when Carmela was feeling a bit low.
It's a Sicilian recipe.
And even a tough Sicilian like Carm can us a bit of comfort food.


Hints:
An envelope of yeast is equal to a Tablespoon.
The tins and jars of yeast are cheaper than the sets of 3 envelopes.

You let the yeast sit for a minute to see if it starts bubbling.
If it just sits there, the yeast is dead and won't do anything for the dough.

If you're making the 5 pizzas, divide the dough and knead a quarter at a time.

If you have fresh, 2 pounds fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped 
equals one 28 ounce can of tomatoes. 
Ten cups of tomatoes equals three 28-ounce cans.

One 2-ounce can of anchovy fillets will give you 8 fillets.

You'll need a total of 1/4 Cup olive oil for the topping for one pizza, 
1 1/4 Cups olive oil for five.


                        Sfinciuni

Serves 10 (1 pizza)                                             Serves 50 (5 pizzas)

In a bowl combine
1 Cup warm water                                                        5 Cups
1 Tablespoon yeast                                                       5 Tablespoons
Let sit 1 minute, then stir until the yeast dissolves.

In a large bowl combine
3 to 3 1/2 Cups flour                                                  15 to 17 1/2 Cups                  
1 teaspoon salt                                                               5 teaspoons
1/4 teaspoon pepper                                                      1 1/4 teaspoons
Add the yeast mixture and
2 Tablespoons olive oil                                                    10 Tablespoons
Stir until a soft dough forms.
Turn the dough out and knead on a floured surface,
adding more flour if necessary.
Knead about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.

Lightly coat a large bowl with oil.
Place dough in oiled bowl.
Rotate dough to cover with oil.
Cover with plastic wrap or a towel.
Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

The Topping

In a medium saucepan place                                       In a dutch oven place
2 Tablespoons Olive oil                                                 2 Tablespoons 
Cook for about 7 minutes
1 large onion, thinly sliced                                            5 onions, thinly sliced
Add
2 Cups peeled, chopped canned Italian tomatoes           10 Cups
1 teaspoon dried oregano                                              5 teaspoons
salt and pepper                                                             salt and pepper
Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, 
until the sauce is slightly thickened.
Stir in
8 anchovy fillets, drained and chopped                          40 anchovy fillets
Remove from heat.
Let the sauce cool.

In a skillet heat
1 Tablespoon Olive oil                                                   5 Tablespoons
Add
1/2 Cup plain bread crumbs                                          2 1/2 Cups 
Cook over medium heat until toasted and browned.


Oil a 12-inch round pan.                                               Oil 5 pizza pans.
Flatten the dough.
Place the dough in the pan and stretch to fit.
Cover and let it rest 1/2 hour.

Preheat oven to 425º

With your fingertips, firmly press the dough to make
dimples about an inch apart all over the surface.
Leaving a 1/2 inch border around, 
Spread half of the sauce over the dough.
Bake 25 minutes.

Remove the pizza(s) from the oven.
Spread the remaining sauce over the dough.
Scatter over the top
1/2 Cup provolone, cut into 1/2-inch cubes                2 1/2 Cups                     
Sprinkle with the toasted bread crumbs.
Drizzle with
2 Tablespoons olive oil                                              2 Tablespoons olive oil each
Return the pizza(s) to the oven.
Bake 5 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the crust is browned.
Cut into wedges and serve hot.


Would I make Carmela's Sfinciuni again?
No.
It's a nice enough recipe.
I just still prefer Ma's pizza.


One recipe down.  Eleven more to go.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day by Margaret Ullrich


     Isn't it great.  Mother Nature has finally realized it's Spring!

     Parents in the wild weren't confused by the crazy weather we've been having.  We live in a cul de sac near farmers' fields in the north end of Winnipeg.  Geese and ducks have been making nests and babies in our local ponds.  We've been watching bush bunnies chase each other like race horses at the track.  Our kitchen has a picture window facing our garage, where we have a grapevine growing up a trellis, then continuing over wires to the window to give us some shade.  
  
     On top of the trellis, under the garage's eaves, two robins recently set up housekeeping.  Rain or shine, they knew it was time to have babies.  And, they did.  While we ate, we watched them take turns keeping the eggs warm.  A few weeks ago we saw the babies' wide open mouths over the edge of the nest.  When I went out to hang laundry, I heard the birds chirping overhead.  
     
     When you live in the 'burbs, it's almost the law to have a garden.  You know it.  Your neighbours know it.  And every store in town knows it.  So, marketing folks, ever eager to make a buck on anything - especially guilt - have hooked Mother's Day to Gardening.  In a way, it's a natural.  

     Everyone can remember proudly giving Mom a bouquet of freshly picked weeds.  Okay.  It's the thought that counts.  And, as a gift, the weeds weren't bad.  Mom could smile, plunk them into anything from a vase to an empty coffee tin, set them anywhere and everybody was happy.  Mom could ignore them until they flopped over.  Nobody cared when Mom tossed them out.  Hey, they were free weeds. 
  
     The problem is, kids grow up.  They learn how to read.  They read the flyers.  They get some cash.  They get suckered.

     One large chain, whose buyers have some serious size issues, recently came out with a lawn and garden flyer.  They proudly announced, We make gardening REALLY EASY!  Uh, huh.  By this they meant they'd packed to overflowing huge planters with annuals, about which they said, and I quote, It's like adding another room to your house.

     Yippee!  Picture it.  Lugging around a kitchen chair, then climbing it to hang 'another room' from a hook you can barely see because the darn heavy thing has to be hung high enough so no one will walk into it and knock himself out cold.  Having to unhook 'the room' which is hanging a few feet above your head so you can water it.  Regularly.  Every couple of days.  Hey, what did you expect?  They're honking big flowers.  They're thirstier than sailors on shore leave.  It was your lousy gift, so there you are, hoisting something that weighs as much as a toddler over your head.  Oh, and you had just watered it.  Dirty water is running down your arm.  Happy Mother's Day.   

     Okay.  The kids meant well.  You can't return them - the kids or the flowers.  Let's grab a cold one, sit down and think this through.  

     They're just flowers in a pot.  You buy annuals in a box.  What do you do with the annuals?  Just separate them and plant them where you please.  Hose them down every so often.  No climbing or weight lifting required. 

     Alrighty then.  Upend that oversized pot and do likewise to those overpacked petunias.  They'll be grateful for the breathing room.  Hey, would you like to spend a scorching Manitoba summer crammed six to a bed?  Neither do flowers.  

     But, that leaves you with an empty pot.  And even though the kids barely look you in the eye, there's still a chance they'd notice that the pot - their gift - is now empty.  No problem.  Can you say Dollar Store?  Just waltz in and buy any flowers you like.  Think you have to get the same flowers?  Get real.  How much do you notice the uniqueness of each potato in a twenty pound sack?  The kids bought those flowers by the basket, 25 bucks each, two for 40.  They shopped with friends and had a few bucks left for snacks.  All they noticed was that the baskets were heavy.  

     Get whatever you like.  Um... on second thought, try to stay with the season.  I have a friend who loves Christmas.  She packed her pot with flaming red poinsettias.  Even her kids thought there was something odd about their Mom's pot.  She just smiled, hugged them and gave them a cookie.  A store bought cookie.  It worked.  

     While you're at it, get some fake flowers for the yard, especially for those dark, hard to grow areas and window boxes.  I got a lovely assortment of blue, white and orange flowers for our yard.  Mama Robin ignored me as I placed some flowers in a large pot under our chokecherry.  She chirped as I inserted some into my kitchen window's flower box.  

     Then I tried to hook a few onto the trellis under her nest.  Mama Robin flew onto our neighbour's roof, to watch me beautifying her neighbourhood.  Then she started screeching like a banshee.  I glanced up just in time to see her act like a kamikazi pilot, talons aimed straight at me.  I ducked and ran.  The grapevine can stay flowerless until her kids have flown the nest. 
            
     Ah, the circle of life!  Ah, Nature!  Ah, crap!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Carmela Soprano's Arancini (Rice Balls) / Saffron Substitute / Testing a deep fryer


Some people really like to pull out all the stops when company is coming.
A few loaves of crusty Italian bread just won't do.
Well, it takes all kinds.


Artie's chapter Mia Cucina in The Sopranos Family Cookbook has quite a few impressive and time-consuming recipes.
His recipe for Arancini - Rice Balls  - takes a bit of effort.


But, if you have an in-law who'll give you grief over being served a chunk of bread, it might be worth the time and effort.

Notice I said might be.
Some people will always find something.

Artie also calls these Rice Balls Arangeen'.
He also uses freshly grated cheese.
Now you know.

Hint:
Saffron is really hard to find.
And expensive.
About the only time stores carry it is before Easter for folks who make Paska.
They often have to request it a few weeks in advance.
An easier to find (and cheaper) spice you can use instead of saffron is turmeric.
I've read that instead of saffron, some folks use safflower annatto.
No, I don't know where you'd find that.

Don't have a deep-frying thermometer?
To test if the oil has reached 375º drop a bit of egg white into the oil.
It should sizzle.

Also... keep your hands wet when assembling the balls.
The water will keep the rice from sticking.
Cooked rice is worse than crazy glue.


                        Arancini

Makes 18

For the Filling

Place in a medium skillet
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, very finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Turn on the heat to medium and cook 5 minutes.
Add
8 ounces ground beef
Cook, stirring to break up the meat, about 10 minutes.
Stir in
1 1/2 Cups canned Italian peeled tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper
Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced.
Add
1/2 Cup frozen peas
Cook 5 minutes more.
Let cool.

For the Rice

In a dutch oven place
5 Cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
Bring to a boil and stir in
2 Cups medium-grain rice (such as Arborio)
2 Tablespoons butter
salt to taste
Cover and simmer until the rice is tender, about 18 minutes.
Remove the rice from the cheese and stir in
1/2 Cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 Cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Let cool and stir in
4 large egg yolks

To Assemble

Place a cake rack over a large cookie sheet.

On one sheet of wax paper place
2 Cups plain bread crumbs

On another sheet of wax paper place
2 Cups flour

Dice into 18 cubes
4 ounces sharp provolone

In a shallow bowl, beat until foamy
5 large egg whites

With wet hands, scoop up 1/3 Cup of the rice mixture.
Place it in the palm of your other hand.
Poke a shallow hole in the centre of the rice.
Place a Tablespoonful of the filling in the hole.
Top it with a provolone cube.
Cup your hand to mold the rice over the filling.
If there's a bare spot, add more rice.
Very gently squeeze the rice to make a firm ball.

Carefully roll the rice ball in the flour, then in the egg whites.
Make sure the ball is coated with egg white.
Carefully roll the rice ball in the bread crumbs.
Make sure the ball is coated with crumbs.
Place the rice ball on the cake rack to dry.

REMEMBER TO WET YOUR HANDS BEFORE MAKING EACH BALL.
Repeat until you have 18 balls.
Place the rack of balls in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to dry.

In a deep heavy saucepan place
3 inches vegetable oil
Heat oil to 375º on a deep-frying thermometer.
With a slotted spoon lower a few rice balls into the hot oil.
Do not crowd the pan.
Cook until balls are crisp all over, about 3 to 4 minutes.
Place the rice balls on paper towels to drain.
Keep the cooked balls warm in a low oven while you fry the remainder.
Serve hot or warm.


Would I make Arancini?
You'll notice I did not say again.
You'll also notice I didn't make any jokes about balls.
Well, you should have noticed.


If I'm having company, I'll make Ma's Risotto.
I'd even make Carmela's Risotto with Truffles and Champagne.
Using a large brown mushroom, of course.
But I wouldn't touch Artie's balls.
Sorry...

One recipe down.  Twelve more to go.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Carmela Soprano's Pollo Cacciatore al Forno - Baked Chicken Caccitore (for 4 or 50)


The desserts I posted this week - Torta Caprese, Pear and Grappa Pound Cake and Tortoni are great, both for special and regular meals.

But they aren't really a meal in themselves.
Time to find a main course.


Charmaine Bucco, Artie's better half, has a chapter in Artie's The Sopranos Family Cookbook that has recipes which are perfect for big family meals.


Her recipe for Baked Chicken Caccitore - Pollo Cacciatore al Forno - is in her chapter Cooking for the Whole Famiglia.
And it is perfect as part of una bella mangiata.

Hint:
You'll need enough large roasting pans to hold the chicken in a single layer.
Lightly oil each pan that you'll need.


                        Pollo Cacciatore al Forno


Serves 4                                                                     Serves 50 

Preheat oven to 450º

Rinse and pat dry
one 3-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces                          13 chickens
Arrange the pieces skin side down in the pan(s).
Sprinkle with
Salt and pepper
Bake the chicken for 30 minutes.
Turn the pieces and sprinkle with
Salt and pepper to taste
Bake the chicken for 20 minutes, until lightly browned.

WHILE THE CHICKEN IS COOKING:
In a large skillet(s), heat over medium heat
2 Tablespoons Olive oil                                                          About 1 Cup
Add in a shallow layer
2 green bell peppers, seeded, cut into narrow strips          26 peppers
1 large onion, thinly sliced                                                         13 onions
8 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and quartered                    6 pounds mushrooms
Cook, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes.

Stir in
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped                                              12 garlic cloves
Cook for 2 minutes.

Add
2 Cups canned Italian peeled tomatoes,                         6  28-ounce cans tomatoes
     drained and chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano                                                   1/4 Cup dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring to a simmer and cook 30 minutes.
Spoon off some of the fat from the chicken.
Pour the sauce and vegetables over the chicken.
Bake the chicken for 20 minutes.
Serve hot.


Would I make Pollo Cacciatore al Forno again?
Sure.  The recipe for four gives us leftovers for a second meal.
And the crowd pleaser recipe is handy for family get togethers.
Charmaine's Caesar Salad is good for a crowd, too.

Planning for a wedding-sized crowd?
Don't forget a few loaves of crusty Italian bread!


One recipe down.  Thirteen more to go.