Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"American Heirloom Pork Cook Book From Checkerboard Kitchens" - Easy Ham and Potatoes in Foil - Easter 2017


Date I made this recipe – April 16, 2017 – Easter

American Heirloom Pork Cook Book From Checkerboard Kitchens by Gertrude Kable, Manger Checkerboard Kitchens, Consumer Services
Published by McGraw-Hill Book Company
© 1971
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores, White Bear Ave, St. Paul
Recipe:  Easy Ham and Potatoes in Foil – p. 72

I have to tell you that recipes for Passover and then for Easter (and Thanksgiving and Christmas) often give me pause because every single cut of meat anticipates consumption by at least 22 people, give or take a few.

We are a household of two.  T.W.O.  Two people cannot possibly consume all that meat and don't even bother suggesting that we freeze it because we tend to forget it is there and then one year later, we are removing ice-encrusted packets (contents unknown and undiscoverable) from the freezer and I hate that.

And so usually, dear reader, I often look for alternatives to a whole ham such as ham loaves or scrambled eggs and ham or – one year – lasagna which I made just to be subversive.

This year though, I thought that I might like to make a ham recipe and had in mind scalloped potatoes and ham which I love, and then ta-da, this recipe appeared and all was well with the world.  Well, all was well except I had to find a small-sized piece of ham. 

If you read my last blog about my Passover brisket, then you'll know of the challenge of finding a small cut of meat and the ham search took the same route, which is to say that most grocery stores featured hams the size of boulders and that was too much.  Even the "smaller" cuts of ham were too big for two people and sheesh, I was not in the mood to pay $22.00 for those cuts either.  (In case you didn't know, the price of pork has been inching up over the years.)

Thankfully, a hot tip from the woman sampling ham at a local grocery store led me to a different section of the meat department where I discovered ham slices.  Said slices were the same ham as was being sampled but were only a couple of pounds instead of mega pounds and the price was very reasonable so...sold! 

And with that, my Easter/Passover menu was complete:  Tuna Noodle Casserole for Good Friday, Beef Brisket for Passover on Saturday, and these ham packets for Easter Sunday.  I was so chuffed with myself!

Now I cannot say I ever associated Ralston Purina Company, owners of "Checkerboard Kitchens," with anything but dog food but here I am, proven wrong by a cookbook that is most decidedly NOT filled with dog food recipes.  As an aside, when I graduated from college (with an English degree), I really wanted to work in food marketing and so applied to everybody and anybody including Ralston Purina.  So it's dog food, big deal?  As you might imagine, I was denied by every single company to which I applied, go figure.  Believe it or not, it wasn't necessarily because I didn't have a marketing degree, but rather because I didn't have much business experience and as an English major, I wouldn't would I?  Oh well, that was then, this is now. 

At any rate, Ralston Purina is still in the dog food business but they deal also in animal feed products which I suppose is the tie-in to our pork cookbook and that is fine by me.

I think you'll be happy with the wide variety of pork recipes in this book as they cover a decent range of incredible edibles in these categories:

  • Fresh Pork Roasts (complete with diagrams – nice!)
  • Chops and Steaks
  • Ribs and Back Bones
  • Foreign Recipes (Chinese; Spanish; French; Mexican; Irish; Latvian (was not expecting that); Hungarian; Hawaiian; Danish; Phillipine; English)
  • Barbecuing
  • Variety Meats (Ugh:  Liver; Feet; Hocks; Knuckles; Cutlets)
  • Smoked Pork
  • Bacon
  • Sausage

Hopefully, one of these categories, and recipes within these categories will float your boat and your selection is once again vast, ranging from "Crown Roast of Pork," to "Sausage Potato Soup," to "Colorful Coleslaw with Tangy Bacon Dressing," to Bacon Chop Suey (hmm...interesting, that one)to your basic Ham-Yam Casserole.  Several other recipes looked really good but just like with the brisket, I was on ham and potato lock and load.

This recipe will take you all of two seconds to put together and it only bakes for 30 minutes.  What I loved about it was that you get your potatoes, ham, and cheese all in one packet and so it sure beats dirtying up several baking dishes.

For those of you who like mustard with your ham, go ahead and splash a little on top.  My preferred mustard is Gulden's which brings a tiny amount of spice to the dish.

Enjoy!

Easy Ham and Potatoes in Foil – Yield:  4 servings
4 medium baking potatoes
2 cups cubed cooked ham
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
Salt and pepper
½ cup chopped parsley
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup light cream (Ann's Note:  light cream's fat content is slightly higher than whole milk, and slightly lower than heavy cream.  Since I had heavy cream on hand, I used it but just added some water to it to lighten it up.  I have no idea if that is the correct way to lighten up cream but that's all I could think of.  Did it matter?  No!  The recipe was delicious.)

Pare potatoes and cut lengthwise in strips as for French fries.  Place potatoes and ham in the center of a large piece of heavy aluminum foil.  Shape foil to form baking dish.  Dot potatoes with butter.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, ¼ cup parsley and cheese.  Pour cream over.  Bring edges of foil up to cover potatoes.  Seal all edges to make a tightly closed package but don't press.  Place on cookie sheet or shallow pan.  Bake in a 425F oven for 40 to 50 minutes until potatoes are tender.  Sprinkle with extra parsley just before serving.  Note:  French fries can be used in this recipe.

Ann's Notes:  Just for fun, I cut the ham in long strips, same as I did with the potatoes.  I cooked my packets for 60 minutes to be sure the potatoes were done and I turned the packets on the baking sheets halfway through cooking to ensure they were cooked evenly.  These were damned nummy packets and so I was glad to have leftovers!


"The Joys of Jewish Cooking" - Karobki Pot Roast (Beef Brisket) - Passover 2017


Date I made this recipe – April 15, 2017 – Passover

The Joys of Jewish Cooking by Stephen and Ethel Longstreet
Published by Weathervane Books New York
© 1974
Recipe:  Karobki Pot Roast (Beef Brisket) – p. 84

This year, the Jewish holiday of Passover started on Monday, April 10th and since I couldn't make a dish on that day, I thought all was lost but no, people, no; Passover ended on Tuesday, April 18th so I snuck this one in just in time.

I'm probably being single-minded here, but when I hear "Passover" or "Hanukah," I think of one word:  brisket.  Sure, there are other foods I can make, like [Jewish] chicken noodle soup, or matzo ball soup, but been there, done that.  I have not though, made a brisket in eons and just felt like this year was "the" year. 

All right then, having decided to make a brisket, all I had to do was go out and find one that would feed two people instead of twenty and all I can say folks, is "Oy."  Oy, oy, oy, what a task this was!  I tried several grocery stores finding mostly briskets costing upwards of $40.00 and that was way too expensive for us plus, I'd have to freeze the leftovers and I didn't want to.

In the end, Whole Foods [Whole Paycheck] had beef brisket that I could buy by the pound and so I was all excited because I could get just what I needed, no more, no less, and planned to round up my afternoon of shopping with a stop there, but first, Target.

Target stores have been in the papers a lot lately because their growth strategies just seem a tad off.  Long gone are the days when you can stop at Target and do one-stop shopping.  Gone too, are some of the "basics" like household cleaners or even just plain old toothpaste.  And not that I'm necessarily keeping track, but I think I've walked out empty-handed probably 9 times out of 10 and it's because they don't stock what I am looking for.  As a for instance, last year, I stopped at Target hoping to find just a basic ace bandage.  Did they have one?  No.  I found it at Walgreens.  Did they have a household bleach I like to use?  No.  I found that elsewhere as well.  The list goes on and on. (Local's, one place where I inexplicably find a lot of things I need is at Frattalone's Ace Hardware on Grand Ave.  Not groceries, mind you, but other household stuff?  Oh my, yes!)

But on brisket day folks, my luck changed.  Mind you, I went into the store looking for another basic item that they didn't have, and then checked out a few other things to no avail, and was about to leave the store empty-handed to go to Whole Foods when I thought "Oh what the hell, check out the meat department to see if they carry brisket."

Folks, it was a regular Passover/Easter miracle!  Not only did they carry brisket, but they were all small cuts of meat, weighing between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds and so not only did I find it, I had options!  And it was priced to move!  So as I said to some friends, today I left totting one damned fine piece of brisket!  I still can't believe it.

So okay then, I had my brisket, I had the other ingredients, and now all I had to do was cook it as directed.

Insert major "record-scratch" moment here.

"As directed" said to simmer a four-pound brisket (full recipe) for 1 hour, then slice it and return it to the heat for another ½ hour until meat is tender.  This is whacked.  Since I was making this for Passover let me just posit that God can perform many miracles, but he cannot make a four-pound brisket cook fully in an hour and a half.  And even though I made half the recipe, the cooking time was still insufficient for my two-pound roast.  Total time elapsed for my mini-roast was about 3 hours and it still could have cooked for about a half an hour longer but I decided enough was enough. 

In a way, I blame myself and my own self-imposed rule of following the directions to the letter because I knew better.  Brisket needs to be slow-cooked. It can slow cook in a crock pot, or it can slow cook in an oven (I used the oven to finish it off), but at minimum, you need to plan on about 3-4 hours or more depending on the brisket's size.  One hour is insufficient.  An additional half hour is insufficient.  In fact, that's my word of the day:  insufficient.

So here's what I did instead:  I checked the meat at the half hour mark because in theory, two pounds of brisket should need half the time (one hour for the full recipe) and it wasn't anywhere near done.  So then I checked it at the hour mark and it wasn't done, and then I cooked it for another half hour on the stovetop and at 1 ½ hours, it was still petty tough.

Okay then....hmmmmm, what to do next, what to do next?

Google.  That's what I did next. I Googled brisket recipes and every single one of them without fail said 3-4 hours minimum without regard to the size.

And so I removed the brisket to a roasting pan, added all the vegetables and sauce, covered the pan with foil and baked the sucker for another hour.  Total elapsed time was now 2 ½ hours and I was getting closer but still wasn't done.

I decided I was going to give it another ½ hour and you know, by then it was almost perfect, but it could have benefited from another ½ hour to be sure.  Maybe more.  But by this point, we were approaching 8:00 p.m. and I just didn't have the patience to go much longer so I pulled it out of the oven and turned the oven off.  Take that!

And so we tried it and we liked it, Hey Mikey, and that was good.  The meat was fairly tender (it should be) and the accoutrements (tomatoes, onion, garlic, red wine, etc.) made for a great "flavor profile," ala Food Network's Chopped.  And there was much rejoicing!

Please note that this recipe calls for a ½ cup dry red wine but if you don't want to go that route, substitute beef, chicken, or veggie broth (Why do I suddenly feel like I'm selecting a option from a wedding reception menu?) and you should be okay.  But if beef is not your thing, then I've got nothin'! 

Wait, that's not true as this book has several other recipes that might appeal...or not!

In the fish department, we have "Herring Pie" (nope), "Gefilte Fish Balls" also a "no" as is – for me – "Pickled Herring."  I know plenty of people though, who like herring so if you want it, you go for it!

If you must have chicken soup, there are a couple of recipes for that.  I love chicken soup but I was set on brisket.  If you want dessert (and boy, was that tempting), then there are plenty that should satisfy, including several strudel recipes and also a cheesecake recipe.  Again, all good but I needed, wanted, had to have brisket, no other substitutes would do.

One of the challenges of this book (besides the brisket's cooking time) was the way it is laid out.  The authors take us through Jewish cooking in several countries or regions and within that region, they give us recipes for "Appetizers;" "Meat;" "Fowl;" "Fish;" "Soup;" "Vegetables;" "Salads;" "Doughs," and "Desserts," and so if you are looking for a particular recipe, you may need to do a bit of hunting.  The countries/regions they included in this book are:

  • Russia
  • Poland
  • Germany
  • Austria
  • Hungary
  • Romania and the Balkans
  • Italy and the Mediterranean
  • France
  • England
  • Israel
  • Middle East and North Africa
  • Republic of South Africa
  • Latin America
  • The United States

If you put the countries and categories together, here is what you'll see in the Table of Contents:
Russia*
§       Meat
§       Fowl
§       Fish
§       Soup
§       Vegetables
§       Doughs
§       Salads
§       Dessert

*Categories vary depending on the country, for example, Russia's list did not include Appetizers but other countries did. 

I must say though, that reading through each section was kind of fun even if it took me longer than I imagined to find the right recipe.  You'll definitely see regional differences in the ingredients used but that too, adds to the fun.

All in all, this was a tasty recipe and one that I might make again sometime when I have half a day to devote to it! 

Karobki Pot Roast (Brisket) – 6 servings - "The karobki was the Czar's official tax on kosher meat.  The title of this dish is meant to be iron – for it survived after the Revolution of 1917."
3 large onions, sliced
1 clove garlic, mashed or finely diced
1 pound stewed tomatoes (Ann's Note:  I used diced tomatoes.  Why?  Because I found myself standing in the Vegetable aisle confused as all get out i.e. did Stewed Tomatoes always contain onions and green pepper?  The cans I looked at that day did.  Rather than screw up the recipe by using ingredients that weren't called for, I stuck with plain old tomatoes, final answer!)
4 carrots, scraped, quartered
Pinch of oregano
Pinch of sugar
Salt, ground pepper to taste
4 pounds beef brisket
½ pound fresh mushrooms
½ cup dry red wine

In a 5-quart pot with a lid put the sliced onions, garlic, tomatoes, carrots, a pinch of oregano, a dash of sugar, and salt and pepper.  Put the meat on top, cover pot tightly, bring to a boil.  Lower heat, simmer for 1 hourAnn's Note:  I cannot stress this enough:  You will need more than one hour if you are making a full recipe (4 pounds of brisket) and definitely more than a half an hour if you are making a half recipe (2 pounds of brisket).  So either resign yourself to cook this for at least 2 hours or on the stove, or follow along with me as I "fix" it for you.

After an hour, slice the mushrooms and mix with wine.  Remove meat and slice against the grain.  Add mushrooms and wine to gravy.  Put sliced meat in pot, cover tightly, return to boil, lower heat, simmer for ½ hour until meat is tender.  Serve with potato latkes.  Ann's Note:  Again I say unto you, you need more time.  If your brisket miraculously cooks during this time period, hooray for you, but unless it is the size of a boot heel, it probably won't.  As I mentioned above, I ended up simmering my two-pound brisket for about an hour and a half before moving the whole shebang to the oven to bake for another hour and a half at 300F.

Should you want to skip the simmering portion of the program, slow cook the brisket in a 250-300F oven for several hours.  Cover your roasting pan with heavy duty aluminum foil if your pan does not have a cover.  I think you should probably follow the general guidelines which is to say bake all but the mushrooms and wine for a couple of hours before adding the finishing touches.

The total time for this recipe, as written was 1 and ½ hours for a four-pound brisket. 

Good luck!

By the way, after dealing with this overly-long brisket process, I realized why I hadn't made a brisket in such a long time and it's because of the time requirements, oy.


"The Casserole Queens Cookbook" - Tuna Noodle Casserole for Good Friday 2017


Date I made this recipe – April 14, 2017 – Tuna Casserole for Good Friday

The Casserole Queens Cookbook by Crystal Cook & Sandy Pollock
Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers
ISBN: 978-0-307-71785-6; copyright 2011
Recipe:  Tuna Noodle Casserole – p. 53

"Love it or hate it, the tuna noodle casserole is an American classic."
The Casserole Queens Cookbook authors Crystal Cook & Sandy Pollock

Exactly!  I could not agree with our authors more.

I love tuna noodle casserole but only if it contains peas.  No peas, no casserole, this is my rule.  And no potato chips, also another rule.  And although I've eaten tuna casserole with chow mein noodles or rice as the base, I prefer noodles because the other two ingredients just seem weird to me. Happily, this dish hit the jackpot with tuna, peas, and noodles (the Holy Trinity?) and life was good.

Now I love tuna casserole year-round but this year, I thought it might be a hoot if I could find a recipe for Good Friday when Catholics everywhere refrain from eating meat. You probably know that "thou shalt not eat meat on Fridays applies to the entire Lenten season, but Good Friday is the day you need to land all your jumps, so to speak, no exceptions.

Let's talk for a minute about my issues with this rule namely, if meat is verboten, then most people turn to fish and I do not like fish. These days, there are a million other things besides fish to eat that will satisfy this rule, but back in the day ('60's and '70's), finding a decent substitute was a nightmare.  McDonald's introduction of the Filet-O-Fish Sandwich in 1965 (all locations) helped some but I don't remember eating it during Lent, not that I would have anyway.  I know they do blockbuster sales of this sandwich during Lent but I just cannot go there.  Nope.

Briefly then, please take a walk down memory lane with me as I look back (not necessarily "with fondness") on Lenten Fridays and Good Friday, starting with Sacred Heart Catholic School.  I've noted in previous blogs that the food at this small school was wretched and although I cannot say for certain what we ate during Lent, I'm remembering a very tasteless and not-very-cheesy macaroni and cheese. Bleh.

I have no recollection of fish but I'm thinking that the school didn't dare serve us fish because nobody would eat it and our nuns had a huge problem with children not eating what was presented to them which was, I might add, one food item and one food item, take it or...take it.  We were never given an option of refusing the daily menu item and if Sister(s) caught you trying to throw it out, there was hell to pay, I'm not kidding.  As an aside, if nuns had tats, one would likely say "Remember the starving children of Biafra," and the other, "I hate children."

At any rate and moving on, the food at my combined public junior high and high school was thankfully a vast improvement, and I have memories of being served a really good Shrimp Burger on Lenten Fridays.  One of these days, I'm going to have to try to recreate that version to see how close I can come to my fond memory.

Then there was college and let me just take this opportunity to confess my sin regarding my college cafeteria.  Whereas these days, colleges and universities provide endless meat-less options year-round, back then my college served fish on Friday or lasagna.  Yes, I know, it's an odd combination, but there you go.  Since I don't like fish under normal circumstances, there was no way I was going to eat it in a college cafeteria (fish + heat lamp = not good) so I didn't, choosing the lasagna instead.

Well my mother was a by-the-book Catholic and so when she inquired about my fish on Friday options, I lied my pants off:  "Mother, it's a public university.  They are not beholden to serve fish on Friday and so they don't.  They offer lasagna.  With meat." [Insert look of maternal horror here.]

My mother thought about it for a minute and then recommended that I ask the local priest for dispensation (basically permission to stand down on the fish option) and so once again, I perpetuated a fraud on the church and on him and my mother and sheesh, I should have been hit by a lightning bolt (the nuns always said we would be if we lied) but instead, got my wish to have Lenten Lasagna on Fridays.  Just call me Garfield.

Turning our attention to the home front, during Lent our family ate fried shrimp, fish sticks (Mrs. Paul's - always) and canned salmon and canned mackerel that my dad "doctored" up with his great-tasting BBQ sauce that covered up the taste of the fish, thank goodness.  Canned salmon and mackerel were okay but they came with a lot of bones and I always feared chocking to death on one or more of them.  Not that I should have worried really, because Catholics had St. Blaise, the patron saint of throats (I'm not making this up).  If you were Catholic and got a fish bone stuck, no worries because St. Blaise would take care of you.

Slight problem:  The Feast of St. Blaise[1] fell in early February and Easter didn't come around March or April meaning you were without "coverage" during Lent.  Well, if that wasn't incentive to give up fish, I don't know what was and so I decided I decided that it was best to stay away from dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones and so haven't had either canned product since then.  As they say on the Food Network show, Chopped, "You left a lot of bones in your fish and for this reason, we had to 'Chop' you!"

This brings us back to and leaves us with, canned tuna. I love canned tuna and so was all giddy about my recipe selection but my husband was the opposite. The look on his face when I announced what we were having was priceless which is to same raised-eyebrow skeptical.  Well, every day can't be gourmet day in our house, now can it?

In the end, he deemed it "not bad" which I consider to be high praise and so was relieved that my recipe choice worked.  It's possible he had a bad childhood experience with the casserole in which case I can see his point, but I was the opposite.  I have fond memories of all kinds of casseroles – tuna or non-tuna - from church potlucks and other social gatherings. That said, I am not fond of eating tuna sandwiches made by others; it's my mom's very basic recipe or forget it.  I don't like finding "foreign" ingredients like pickles or chopped hard-boiled eggs in my tuna salad.  Do not.

So speaking of my mother, I have been racking my brain trying to figure out if mom ever made tuna casserole for us when my brother and I were younger, and I don't think she did.  She made tuna salad sandwiches and cold tuna pasta salad (with peas!) but I'm not remembering a casserole.  Interesting.  On the other hand, this made sense as my dad wasn't fond of casseroles and so we only had them if he was out of town for work or mom just needed to make something in a hurry which was not often.

This concludes then, my walk down Lenten Lane and Good Friday observances and fish on Fridays.  No doubt it was enlightening as all get out but let's turn our attention back to today's featured food:  Tuna Noodle Casserole.

Faithful readers of my blog know that the rule of casseroles is (generally) they must contain Cream of "X" (usually mushroom) Soup or they are not a casserole.  This is not my rule but I do tend to follow it religiously (pun intended) although there are times when exceptions must be made for the good of the country and casserole!

So brace yourselves kids:  this casserole does not contain Cream of "X" soup.  Instead, the author provides what I think is a tasty (and almost identical) substitute and that is chicken broth and heavy cream.  It also substitutes Parmesan cheese for the usual and customary cheddar cheese and that turned out fine as well.  Happily, this recipe includes peas or I wouldn't be talking to you about this casserole right now as I would not have made it! 

The only issue I had with making this dish was that you are to cook the noodles in the broth and cream mixture instead of boiling the noodles and then adding them to the other ingredients.  While the taste was fine, I thought the noodles were a tad gummy which is to say they were done but not quite.  I worried that cooking them too much longer wouldn't achieve the result I was hoping for (i.e. a more thoroughly-cooked noodle) and so decided a "tad" gummy was better than quite overdone.  You might want to consider par-boiling them first (see package directions for cooking time) so that they are almost done before adding them to the pan; adjust your cooking time accordingly from 8 minutes to something other than 8 minutes.  I might go that route if I had to do this over again.  You might want to consider doing the same with the peas as I felt they were also a little underdone.  Do note that the other time I made a recipe like this on the stovetop, I experienced similar results which makes me wonder what the secret is when it comes to stovetop cooking.

Once you get over the hurdle of cooking everything together so that the ingredients are blended (do watch for potential boil-over though) and done to taste, you move the mixture to a baking pan and cook it in the oven for another 8 minutes or so and then you are done.  What I liked about this method is that I avoided one of the frequent "fails" of casseroles and that is over-baking such that the whole thing ends up dry and unappetizing.  This mixture remained moist and creamy and the small amount of leftovers I had the next day were perfect.

This recipe calls for seasoned bread crumbs and I sort of followed the recipe below except I used "canned" bread crumbs instead of day-old bread and it worked out just fine.

Although this cookbook is not very big,  most of the recipes looked delicious so who cared?  The Table of Contents breaks out the recipes into the following categories:

  • Fun for the Whole Family.  Neat-O!
  • The Savory Gourmet
  • Meet the Lighter Side of The Casserole Queens
  • Sides that Take Front and Center
  • Rise and Shine!  Casseroles to Start the Day
  • Desserts Fit for a Queen
  • From Scratch.  Yes, You Can (includes recipes like the seasoned bread crumbs)

The Tuna Noodle Casserole recipe came from the "Fun for the Whole Family" chapter that included other interesting and fun casseroles such as a "Corn Dog Casserole," "World's Greatest Pot Pie," and "'Keep Austin Weird' Spam Casserole."  I do realize that many of you are thinking "ew" when it comes to Spam, but many of us of a certain age grew up eating it and don't think it's weird at all.  (By the way, the authors point out that "Austin" is Austin, Texas, and not Austin, Minnesota where Spam is made.)

I debated making the "Shrimply Delicious Shrimp and Grits Casserole" but we just had grits, and thought also about "Baked Four-Cheese Pasta" but decided we should do something a bit lighter – ha!  The other chapters yield a whole bunch of great-sounding recipes, including desserts, should you want to go exploring.

All in all, this was a good recipe and it ticked off most of my must-have boxes for a tuna casserole.  As previously mentioned, Andy seemed satisfied with my efforts so this was a win-win.

And that is how we observed (not really) Good Friday, 2017.

Tuna Noodle Casserole – Makes 8 servings
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs (recipe to follow)
1 (10-ounce) container sliced button mushrooms
1 medium onion, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon salt, plus more for taste
3 ½ cups chicken broth  (Ann's Noteif you want to make your own, instructions are included on p. 200.)
1 cup heavy cream
1 (8-ounce) package wide egg noodles
2 (6-ounce) cans water-packed solid white tuna, drained well and flaked
1 ½ cups frozen peas
2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (8 ounces)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Freshly ground pepper
For the seasoned bread crumbs (makes 3 cups)
1 loaf day-old bread (Ann's Note:  you can also use canned bread crumbs if you have them on hand.  If you use the loaf of bread, you'll be grinding them in the food processor anyway to achieve the same result.)
2 tablespoons dried thyme or oregano
2 tablespoons dried basil or parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 475F.

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat.  Add the bread crumbs and toast until just golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.  Transfer the crumbs to a small bowl and set aside.  (Ann's Note:  bread crumb instructions follow.)

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium sauté pan set over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms, onion, paprika, cayenne, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms and onion are golden brown, about 8 minutes.  Stir in the broth and cream, and then add the noodles.  Increase the heat to high and cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring often, until the noodles are nearly tender and the sauce is slightly thickened, about 8 minutes.  Ann's Notes:  As I mentioned above, you might want to par-boil the noodles and the peas before adding them to the sauce to ensure they'll be done.  At 8 minutes, mine were just a bit chewy.  I also suggest that you keep your eye on the sauce as I felt like it might boil over or scorch; it didn't but better safe than sorry.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the tuna, peas, Parmesan, and parsley, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish and sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top.  Bake until the edges are bubbly, about 8 minutes.

To make the seasoned bread crumbs
Ann's Note:  In the interest of time, I used canned plain bread crumbs and then added the spices accordingly.  If you follow this method, note that the authors suggest storing them in the freezer to keep them fresh longer.

Preheat oven to 300F.

Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and pulse in a food processor to make coarse crumbs.  Spread the crumbs on a baking sheet and dry them out by baking for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring after 5 minutes.  Allow the crumbs to cool completely.

Return the dried crumbs to the food processor.  Add the thyme, basil, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, then pulse until the crumbs are finely processed and well mixed with the seasoning.

Store in an airtight container for up to six months.





[1] During mass on the Feast of St. Blaise, parishioners walked up to the front of the church as if taking Communion, except the priest blessed your throat while an alter boy held up two unlit candles that were secured together in the shape of a V.  Said unlit candles then framed your throat, warding off evil spirits or evil bones or just evil, period.  Every time I think about this ridiculous custom, I just crack up laughing.  My husband thinks its an odd stories, but my Catholic friends think it is hilarious and it is.  I mean really people.  Really.

Friday, April 7, 2017

"The Zane Grey Cookbook" (Zane Grey wrote westerns) - Potato Soup - as inspired by an episode of M*A*S*H


Date I made this recipe:  April 2, 2017

The Zane Grey Cookbook – Fish, Fowl, Game, and Western Favorites – for Outdoors or in the Home by Barbara and George Reiger
Published by Prentice-Hall
© 1976
Recipe:  Potato Soup – p. 21

Today's cookbook is about author Zane Grey (1872-1939) who rose to fame as the author of numerous western novels and movies, and who also made a second name for himself as an outdoorsman who liked to hunt, fish, and travel, especially to exotic locales.

As a former English major and avid reader, I think it's safe to say that I've read just about every genre of book except westerns.  Given how I feel about nature (it is NOT your friend), it should not surprise you that westerns in book form, TV shows, or movies, just don't float my boat.

That said, there are always exceptions to be made, and I don't know too many households in American that didn't tune in to watch popular westerns such as Gunsmoke (1955-1975) and Bonanza (1959-1973) when they were on the air.  I think I read that Bonanza enjoyed a high number of female viewers which is likely due to the casting of Michael Landon who played "Little Joe" Cartwright on the show. 
Michael was good looking with an adorable laugh and had women swooning.  Did the female viewers necessarily care about the story lines?  Not so much.  Well, whatever gets you viewership, right?

Since I tuned in dutifully to these westerns every week, you would have somehow learned about our western author (and subject of our cookbook) from these shows but that's not what happened. Instead, we can credit a 1970's TV show about the Korean War – M*A*S*H – for doing the trick.  Specifically, we can narrow this down to one person, M*A*S*H 4077's commander, Colonel Sherman T. Potter, a former WWI Calvary man who loved horses, horseback riding, Zane Grey novels and his wife, Mildred, probably in that order.

As the 4077th's commander (the second one after the hilariously funny Colonel Henry Blake), Potter had a tent to himself, but in Season 8, Episode 17 ("Heal Thyself"), he and the pompous surgeon, Charles Emerson Winchester, III ("the 'Third'") had to share a bunk when both came down with the mumps.  Charles drove Potter crazy by listening to records of opera singer Enrico Caruso, and Potter drove Charles around the bend by insisting on reading some Zane Grey, something that Charles considered plebian, before turning in.  The ensuing conversation was what prompted me to pull out this cookbook:

Potter:  I think I'll read a little and then turn in.  Some Zane Grey maybe."
Charles:  Ah, Zane Grey.  Tolstoy with spurs.
Potter:  He happens to be a great writer!
Charles:  Colonel, what gin rummy is to games of skill, Zane Grey is to literature.  Therefore, I shall counter with something civilized – Caruso!

And...scene.  And...cookbook!

The subtitle to this cookbook is on point when it comes to showcasing what's inside:  "Fish, Fowl, Game, and Western Favorites – from Outdoors or in the Home."  Hilariously "Game" was split into two chapters – Small Game (rabbit, duck, goose, etc.) and Big Game (bear, elk, venison, buffalo, etc.).  (By the way, I had to laugh when I saw a recipe for "Duck Soup," p. 20 because that is the name of a famous Marx Brothers movie.  I was happy to read that the authors got the joke as well.)

I shall spare you some of the recipes included in these chapters because...ew.  That's all I will say:  "ew," followed by several shudders. 

The "Western Favorites" chapter was also hit or miss so I pretty much skipped over that, as I did with "South Sea Favorites" (Grey liked to travel), and "Fish." 

What did this leave, you ask?  "Soups and Salads;" "Vegetables;" "Quick and Easy;" "Shellfish;" "Breads, Sauces, Marinades, and Stuffings," and "Desserts."  Also included in the book is a "Zane Grey Album" (212-233) containing photos of Zane and friends out fishing and hunting and generally frolicking out in Nature (which is NOT your friend). 

For those of you who like fishing and hunting and eating your catch/kill, this will be a fun cookbook for you.  For the timid like me, this was a challenge but I found a few options that would have worked:

  • Bean Soup – p. 20
  • Wild Scallion Soup – p. 26 (sounded intriguing...and "safe!")
  • Bill's Beet Salad – p. 27
  • Garlic Cream Dressing – p. 36
  • Barbecued Meat Loaf – p. 106-107

For those of you who might like to try some of these recipes (and more) on a camping trip, fear not, for the "Getting Started" section in the front of the book gives you instructions and a drawing for cooking with a reflector oven.  Whew.  For a minute there, I was really worried.  (There are also illustrations about how to "dress" your deer, something I could have done without but instructive for those of you who go deer hunting.)

In conclusion, I took the chicken's way out and made Potato Soup (p. 21).  It was easy, it was good, and all I had to do was peel potatoes and that I can live with.  The soup is a little different from ones I've made in the past in that it starts with a beef broth base to which you add your vegetables, and then after the vegetables have cooked, add your milk and butter to finish it off.  My only complaint was that I wanted the broth to be a little thicker and less milky but that's a personal preference.

This soup also calls for chives and of course, they meant fresh chives which I did not have on hand, so I used dried chives which I did.  I dried them myself and never noticed until I added them to the soup, that they resembled dried grass clippings – ha!  Nature is laughing at me as we speak.  At any rate, the flavor was fine but the appearance, not so much!

Although it would still take a lot to get me to read a western, it doesn't take much for me to be entertained by M*A*S*H, no matter how many times I've seen the episodes.  Personally, the first three seasons were great, but then some actors left the show and I thought it got just a tad strident and just a little off with the costuming.  This show was set during the Korean War and yet little by little, 70's hairstyles and clothing permeated the show (1972-1983) and it has really started to tick me off.  Compare and contrast that show, if you will, with Mad Men that stayed totally on point to the era (1960's) and left no stone unturned as everything was reproduced to exact retro specifications.  Mad Men had it going on.  M*A*S*H took some liberties, particularly with Margaret Houlihan's hair (it became extremely blonde!) and clothing.  In fact, in the early 80's, a friend's hair looked exactly like Margaret's, causing us to dub her hairstyle "'Loretta' hair."

Good times, right?  I could go on and on about the show but that is not why we are here and so dear reader, this concludes The Zane Grey Cookbook, as brought to you by M*A*S*H!

Potato Soup – Serves 8
4 cups beef stock, or bouillon
5 cups cubed potatoes
6 scallions, diced
4 ribs celery, diced
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon finely minced chives
6 ups milk
Cheddar cheese

Bring beef stock or bouillon to a boil.  Add potatoes, scallions, and celery.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Stir in butter, seasonings, and milk.  Heat, stirring constantly, for approximately 3 minutes.  Cheddar cheese may be grated over individual servings as a matter of personal preference.

Ann's Note:  The potatoes needed about 30-35 minutes to cook, not the 20 listed here.  For best results, try to cut your potatoes to the same size so that they finish at the same time.















Monday, April 3, 2017

"Roma- Authentic Recipes from In and Around the Eternal City" & "Eating Rome" - Lentil Soup with Sausage and Green Beans and Mortadella Salad - Commemorating the day Rome was named Italy's capital




Date I made these recipes:  March 27, 2017 – Rome declared Italy's capital on this day, 1861.

Roma – Authentic Recipes From In And Around The Eternal City by Julia Della Croce
Published by Chronicle
ISBN: 0-8118-2352-0; © 2004
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores, Richfield, MN
Recipe:  Lentil Soup with Sausage – p. 61

Eating Rome – Living The Good Life In The Eternal City by Elizabeth Minchilli
Published by St. Martin's Griffin
ISBN:  978-1-250-04768-7; © 2015
Recipe: Green Beans with Mortadella Salad – p. 105

Sometimes my ideas about what to cook come from the most interesting places, take for instance, Food Network Magazine(FNM).  Well, that's not exactly correct is it, because why wouldn't I get inspiration from a cooking magazine?

One of the features I like the most through from Food Network Magazine, is their monthly calendar of noteworthy food events and recipe suggestions that is often my inspiration for what I cook during that particular month.

On March's calendar, FNM suggested we have fish for Ash Wednesday (March 1st), make a pie for Pi Day (3/14), celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a corned beef-and-cabbage pizza (Oh HELL no!), and then make a Roman dish (they suggested cacio e peper – pasta with cheese and pepper) on March 27th to commemorate the same day back in 1861 that Rome was declared Italy's capital.  I decided on Roman food, final answer, and so set off to do some research so I have something to talk about here.

What I found was interesting to say the least:  some sources listed 1861 as the day that Rome was declared Italy's capital, while others said it was 1871.  Try as I might, I could not confirm (or deny) either year but do believe FNM got the actual date – March 27th – right.  I hope.

Part of the problem, dear reader, is that Italy's history is complicated.  Once upon a time (and not that long ago), it was a kingdom, but a kingdom divided into separate principalities, then it was unified and also reunified such that I can't keep track.  Besides, my people are from Sicily whose history is a tad more straightforward with the exception, of course, of keeping track of various conquerors.

And then there's The Vatican to consider and we would consider it if we a) had the time and b) if this blog was a history lesson but we don't have time for all that, oh darn!  We can though, talk about Roman food.

Italy, like all other countries (including the U.S.), has regional food favorites but you may be surprised to learn that the focus of Roman cuisine is vegetables - artichokes (carciofi), fava beans, zucchini – you name it, you'll find it.  Meat is also very popular – steaks, pork, "bacon," (or products similar to bacon), as are pastas and pizzas tailored to the regional palate.

The cookbook Eating Rome, is intended to be more of a tour guide than a cookbook, containing a wide variety of "eating" suggestions such as how to eat pasta (don't cut it—this applies across Italy and Sicily), how to order coffee, and where to find some of Rome's culinary favorites.  Her Table of Contents includes also chapters such as "Please do not eat within ten feet of any monument," (love it!); "Mi piace la cicoria!" – the Roman passion for vegetables;" "How to eat pasta like a Roman," and "Learning to love Roman pastries."  I am keeping this book on hand should I ever get to Rome (I've been to Italy but not to Rome) as it is filled with good advice and great recipes.

Personally, I am glad to know I am not the only person of Italian (Sicilian) descent who does not make homemade pasta; Elizabeth (the author) doesn't, either.  She grew up in St. Louis in the 60's which makes her about the same age as me, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how she enjoyed eating Spaghetti-O's growing up.  She also noted how one day, she'd be at home in the states eating that canned product, the next off to Rome eating the real deal. 

I have a similar story:  one summer when my grandmother was visiting from New Jersey, my brother and I enjoyed a lunch of Spaghetti-O's.  Spaghetti-O's were all the rage back then and since we were kids, we thought they were kind of fun to eat.  My grandmother who hailed straight from Sicily, was a good sport and so joined us in eating them.  When we finished, my mother asked her what she thought and grandma's response still makes me laugh:  "Not-a bad-a."  I have a feeling grandma was likely horrified but she would do anything to please her beloved grandchildren and that was that!

At any rate, stories like this are what made this cookbook enjoyable for me.  Well, stories and recipes!  Recipes like the one I made – Green Beans with Mortadella Salad which combined many ingredients I love:  green beans, oranges and lemons and mortadella also known as Italian bologna.

Small side story here about mortadella:  Yesterday, I was at an event that featured some locally-made foods including mortadella.  It was really good mortadella, and yet I kept looking at it wondering "what's different" about this?  I mentioned this to another event guest and we agreed:  Where are the pistachios?"   We surmised that since the mortadella was locally-made and since pistachios aren't local to this climate, they were left out; we concluded this was an acceptable option.  Anyway, more on the salad with mortadella to follow.

Other dishes from this book that had potential were "Cavatelli with Tuna and Lemon," "Cacio e Pepe" which is basically pasta, pecorino romano cheese, and pepper," and "Pasta Al Forno," a dish of eggplant, pasta, smoked scamorza cheese (you can probably substitute smoked mozzarella), basil and Parmesan.  Yum!  I decided on the salad though because I wanted something fresh and not too heavy and that dish did the trick.

And now, let's chat for a minute about the other cookbook – Roma - about Rome, or Roma, as the Italians pronounce it.  (Ann's Note:  in the Italian language, an "e" is often pronounced as an "a" – really, more of an "ah" -  and so while we pronounce "Rome" without it, Romans pronounce it "Rome-ah."  Also?  In Italy, my last name is pronounced the same way:  "Verm-ah."  This concludes our Italian pronunciation lesson.)

This cookbook is pretty much a straight-up cookbook which is to say it gives you recipes with a little dialog and some photos showing you what your food should look like. The Table of Contents is also pretty straightforward:  "Appetizers, Snacks, and Fried Specialties;" "First Courses of Soups, Pastas, Polenta, and Risotto;" "Second Courses of Meat and Poultry;" "Second Courses of Fish and Shellfish;" Side Dishes," and "Sweets."    There are a few pages in the back detailing "Eating and Sleeping Places," "Festivals," and "Cooking Schools and Wine Courses," but the information here isn't as extensive as the other book.

High up on my list of possible dishes to serve up was "Stewed Baby Back Ribs and Sausages with Polenta" but making it was just too involved and was also very meat-heavy, consisting of a lot of poundage of baby back ribs and sausages, all of which are slow cooked to make a ragu.  And then polenta is served on the side making it one, hearty dish.  I wasn't exactly in the mood for "hearty," plus, after my meatball experience from last week, I was not going to go willingly into the night to make something that would take hours of my life I would never get back.  Also out because I just made it, was a pork loin braised in milk.  "Beef Stew with Cloves" sounded really good but I finally passed on that and decided on the Lentil Soup with Sausage recipe.  I love Lentil Soup and have a really good recipe for one but I like experimenting with other recipes just to see what's out there.

Of course this blog would not be complete without suggestions from me about tweaks I'd make to the recipes but overall, these were winners.  In fact, Andy kept saying "This is really good soup" over and over again which tickled me pink.  And I loved the green bean salad although as you'll read, I have a few suggestions to improve it.

And so reader, we now bid "arrivederci" (goodbye) to Roma – for now.  I wish I could say instead "arrivederla" (see you soon) but I don't think we'll be going there any time soon, darn it!  No matter – we'll just console ourselves in the meantime with the food.

Lentil Soup with Sausage (Minestra di lenticchie con salsiccia) – for 6 people
1 ½ cups brown lentils
10 cups water
1 tablespoon sea salt, or to taste
One 8-inch sprig fresh sage, or 2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 links sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings and crumbled
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram, or 1 teaspoon crumbed dried marjoram
1 cup tomato puree or tomato sauce
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pick over and rinse the lentils.  Transfer them to a large pot and add the water, 1 tablespoon salt, and sage.  Bring to a boil.  Immediately reduce the heat and cook gently for 15 minutes.  (Ann's Notes:  the lentils needed more time and so I kept them cooking for another 10 minutes or so. Also, I used bay leaves instead of sage.)

In the meantime, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat.  Add the sausage and sauté until it is browned on the outside and still pink inside, about 8 minutes.  Reduce the heat to low and stir in the garlic, onion, parsley, and marjoram.  Sauté until the onion is translucent, about 4 minutes.  Stir in the tomato puree. Add the sausage mixture to the lentils and mix well.  Simmer for an additional 5 minutes to marry the flavors.  Remove the sage (or bay leaves), taste for salt, and season with pepper.  Serve hot.

Ann's Notes:
  1. I was out of marjoram so I substituted oregano.
  2. If I were you, once you've cooked the sausage for 8 minutes (or so), remove the sausage from the pan, then cook the onions, etc. and then add it back to the pan.  I followed the directions and the sausage was fine but I felt it was almost a tad overcooked.
  3. I've made variations of this dish before and felt that the dish could have used some carrots for color and flavor.  Without it, this dish is very brown.  Very tasty, but very brown.
  4. My favorite lentil soup recipe calls for orzo pasta to be added at the very end. You could probably get away with that in this recipe.
  5. I like a little Parmesan or Pecorino cheese on top of my lentil soup.


Green Beans with Mortadella Salad – Serves 4-5
1 pound green beans, cleaned (Ann's Note:  I hope by "cleaned" she meant "trimmed" because that's what I did to the beans!)
1 slice mortadella (about ½ cup chopped in small pieces) (Ann's Note:  Pre-packaged mortadella is often sliced thin which is fine but probably not what the author intended.  If you can, ask for a deli for one slice of mortadella, about ¼-inch thick.)
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
Zest of 1 lemon, peeled with a potato peeler and finely chopped*
Zest of 1 small orange, peeled with a potato peeler and finely chopped*
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup chopped, roasted onions (for garnish)

*Ann's Notes:  Next time around, I'm not going to peel then finely chop the lemon and orange peel as the pieces were too big and they also tended to overpower the dish.  You might try grating it instead and also grating a little at a time until you are satisfied with the taste.

Steam the green beans until tender.

Meanwhile place the mortadella shallot, garlic, olive oil, tarragon, chopped citrus zests, and citrus juices in a large bowl and stir to mix well.

When the beans are tender, drain them and then add them, still steaming hot, to the mixture in the bowl.  Toss well and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Ann's Note: The author suggests you "add the beans to the dressing while they are piping hot, so that they sort of cook the shallots and garlic, and coax the fat nodules out of the mortadella.")

Let cool, toss again, and top with the almonds.  Serve at room temperature.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

"A Man and His Meatballs" & "Two Meatballs in The Italian Kitchen" - Meatballs two ways for National Meatball Day



Date I made these recipes:  March 19, 2017 – for National Meatball Day (March 9, 2017)

A Man & His Meatballs – The Hilarious but True Story of a Self-Taught Chef and Restaurateur -  with 75 Recipes by John LaFemina with Pam Manela
Published by Regan – An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
ISBN: 13: 978-0-06-085335-8; © 2006
Recipe:  Veal, beef, and pork meatballs with ricotta filling – p. 169-170

Two Meatballs in The Italian Kitchen by Pino Luongo & Mark Strausman
Published by Artisan
ISBN: 13: 978-1-57965-345-3; © 2007
Recipe:  Fresh Pasta with[Veal]Meatballs and Mushrooms  - p. 52

Let me just jump right to the moral of this story:  When push comes to shove, make your own family's damned meatballs on National Meatball Day and just be done with it!

Let me now return you to the beginning of our story, already in progress.  Turns out March 9th is National Meatball Day.  I had no idea. 

Now, it's not that other cultures don't have their own meatballs because they do, but given that I'm Sicilian, it just seemed logical to me to make Italian meatballs because that is what I know and love.

My late Aunt Rose has a great meatball recipe. I've made it a thousand times, but since it is in a family cookbook and not a cookbook that I purchased, I decided to give it a miss to make something that was in a "cookbook" cookbook because well, you know, that would be the point of my blog!

So I searched my collection titles for "meatballs" and came up with the two cookbooks listed above, A Man & His Meatballs, and Two Meatballs in The Italian Kitchen, and call me crazy, but I do not think it is too much to expect that two cookbooks containing the word "meatball" in the title should then include lots of recipes for meatballs, plural.

I am going to have to start lowering my expectations about these things because I was way off on my expectations and assumptions.

The first book I pulled off the shelf, A Man and His Meatballs, contained one – ONE – and only one meatball recipe and it was the one I made. What?  Honestly, I was a little disturbed by this discovery although I will say the recipe was quite tasty.  The making of it/them though, was fraught with peril as you shall see.

The second book I pulled off the shelf, Two Meatballs in The Italian Kitchen, contained six meatball recipes plus two recipes for meatloaf that were included in the meatball section.  Well now, I don't know about you, but a meatball is a meatball and a meatloaf is not a meatball, right?  Exactly.

Of the meatballs listed in this book, here were our choices as listed in the Recipe Index:
  • Pan-fried:  In a word, yawn. These days, I either bake my meatballs or I immerse them into the tomato sauce or chicken broth so they can gently "poach."  I like the taste better and it is less messy that way.
  • Veal Meatballs with Green Apple:  I cannot.  I just cannot with this recipe. Ugh.
  • Meatballs with Spaghetti Coco Pazzo (Coco Pazzo is a restaurant name):  So these essentially are "house" meatballs which is fine, but like I said, I could have easily made my Aunt's recipe (with her sauce to boot) and called it a day.
  • Fresh Pasta with [veal] Meatballs and Mushrooms:  this is the dish I made and it worked out fine...eventually
  • And then there were your dueling meatloaf recipes, one from Mark and one from Pino, your two authors.
 I'm afraid I'm going to have to DQ (disqualify) these last two recipes on the grounds that they are not meatballs as intended for National Meatball Day and therefore do not count.  That then left me with four, and then I whittled the four recipes down to one and that "one" would then join the other "one" (and "only" recipe) from the other meatball book for a total of two recipes i.e. meatballs two ways.

Now let me just say that in the past, I've made two recipes at a time without much of a hiccup but today was not that day.  I am big enough to accept 80% of the blame because of things I did or did not do to move these recipes along, but the other 20% has to fall on the recipe/cookbook's authors because it just does!  It can't be all my fault, right?  If anything, I am guilty of being overambitious although I didn't realize that until the whole saga was over and done with. 

Let's start out then, talking about some of the issues starting with the first recipe for the Veal, beef, and pork meatballs with ricotta filling.  This recipe (I made a half recipe) called for meatballs the size of apples and I just could not bring myself to do that to a meatball and so I made them about golf-ball size.  This may have been why the [smaller] meatballs were a tad overcooked as I didn't adjust the cooking size from 60 minutes to something less than 60 minutes. 

Then there was the filling which was supposed to be light enough (my interpretation) to pipe into the meatball using a pastry bag.  Again, no.  What I did instead was to cut off the top of the meatball, spoon on (more like paste on) some filling and put the top on so that it looked more like a meat cream puff than anything.  So when it came to looks, this recipe failed, but the flavor was there except for the slight toughness of the meatball.  I can live with that.[1]

The [veal] meatballs used in the Fresh Pasta with [Veal] Meatballs and Mushrooms (and peas) recipe was another matter and we must discuss this, we must!

I could probably count on one hand – make that two fingers – the number of times I've made a meatball recipe using just veal, but I'm not a fan.  Why?  Because in my [limited] experience, I don't think veal alone hangs together in a meatball very well, even with the addition of bread crumbs.  Veal plus beef or pork, like the first meatball recipe I made, turned out much better but these turned into kind of a mess.  In the end, I improvised and the dish turned out just fine but the meat sure didn't resemble a meatball as was intended by the recipe and the author.

Like I said at the beginning, I should have just made my aunt's very delicious meatballs and called it a day.

If by now you are scared off by these recipes (don't be—it was mostly me), then head back to each book to find alternates to each dish as there are plenty.  Let's start our discussion then, with the contents of A Man and His Meatballs.

This book is half stories, half recipes.  The story portion is all about the creation of his restaurant, Apizz, now closed, and all the trials and tribulations that come with restaurant creation, and let me just say that what was true then (2006), is true now:  opening a restaurant is hard work and costs a fortune. For those of you who think (erroneously) that this would just be a "dream come true," please read then re-read then re-read again the first half of this book. 

Okay, end of the "fair warning" section.  Part II of this book is filled with recipes for "Appetizers & Antipasti," "Soups;" "Salads;" "Pasta & Risotto;" "Meats & Poultry;" "Fish;" "Basic Recipes (like sauces, etc.)," and "Desserts," and honestly, I am pretty  hungry right now.  My only critique, and it's small, is I wish he had swapped out other pasta dishes for the risotto and gnocchi recipes included here.  That said, he paired gnocchi with "Honey-Braised Short Ribs" (p. 153) and I am all about short ribs so there's that.

Like I said before, had I just made his apple-sized meatballs as directed, this would have likely been a home run.  Live and learn.

As to Two Meatballs in The Italian Kitchen, this book is fun because these two "meatballs" (I keep thinking of the word "goombah" which has several meanings but I'm settling on "close friends") each include their favorite recipes for all kinds of dishes, some of which may appeal to you more than the pasta dish I made (which again, was good, if not nothing like they intended).  Here is there Table of Contents:
  • Stand-Alone Soups
  • The Great Meatball Debate
  • Dried Pasta and the Unification of the Two Meatballs
  • Fresh Pasta Like Mama Used to Make:  Essential Techniques and Well-Matched Sauces
  • Risotto and Farrotto (Farro is a grain)
  • Two Meatballs Go Fishing
  • Meat and Poultry:  Rustic Oven Cooking
  • Cucina al Fresco:  Grilling Italian-Style
  • The Twenty-First Region of Italy:  Italian-American Cooking
  • Sunday Means Dinner
  • The Two Meatballs Go Veggie
  • Dessert at Last

I'm intrigued by the chapter about Italian-American Cooking because Pino came to the US from Italy and like a lot of chefs from the "homeland," comments about the hybrid cooking developed by other Italian/Sicilian immigrants to America.  Even my own grandparents adapted their cooking to their new homeland, especially once the grandchildren came on the scene.  They still kept some of their homeland favorites but there was not one grandchild who didn't turn up a nose at the thought of eating tripe so there it is.

Okay, then, you can do the extra-curricular reading on your own and select other recipes if you choose, but here then, are meatballs "two ways" for National Meatball Day.

Veal, Beef, and Pork Meatballs with Ricotta Filling – 8 to 10 servings- from A Man and His Meatballs
For the meatballs:
3 cups cubed crustless filone or regular Italian bread (about ½ loaf)
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork (Ann's Note to Twin City residentsLunds & Byerlys carries a mixture of these three meats.)
1 egg
½ onion, chopped
¼ chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 ½ cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Pinch of oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce (p. 197) (Ann's NoteI thawed some of my own sauce that I had in the freezer so I skipped this step.  You can use your own sauce in whatever form that takes, or you can make his sauce, ingredients and recipe below.)
For the stuffing:
1 cup ricotta cheese
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Black pepper to taste
To finish the meatballs:
1cup Basic Tomato Sauce
½ cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
For the sauce (makes 5-6 cups):
¼ cup chopped shallots
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
¼ cup olive oil
Two 28-ounce cans whole plum tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons salt
Pinch of black pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)

To make the sauce:
In a large stockpot over medium heat, cook the shallots and garlic in the oil until they soften, 6 to 8 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, oregano, salt, black pepper, red pepper, and ½ cup of water.

Raise the heat to high and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes slightly with a wooden spoon.  Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.  The sauce can be stored in the freezer in an airtight container for up to 3 months. (Ann's Noteyou will need about 3 cups of this sauce for a full meatball recipe.)

To make the meatballs:
Preheat the oven to 350F.  Run the cubed bread under water and gently squeeze out the excess liquid.  Put the bread in a large mixing bowl.  Add the remaining meatballs ingredients to the bowl, except for the tomato sauce, and mix well with your hands.  Divide the mixture into 8 equal portions.  Using your hands, roll each portion into a large round meatballs, about the size of an apple.  Place the meatballs in a medium to large baking dish.  Ann's Noterecall if you will, my comment from above which was that I decided not to make my meatballs the size of an apple, opting instead for golf balls.  I think I should have stuck with apples as the smaller-sized meatballs were a tad overdone.  Plus, my golf game sort of stinks which should have been another sign.

In a separate bowl, combine 2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce (see above) and 2 cups water. Spoon the tomato sauce and water mixture over the meatballs until the liquid comes three-quarters of the way up (if more liquid is needed, add water).  Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake the meatballs for 1 hour, turning the dish after 30 minutes.  Remove the baking dish from the oven, drain and discard the liquid, and let the meatballs cool to room temperature.  (The meatballs can also in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

To make the stuffing
Combine the ricotta cheese with the Parmigiano, salt, and pepper in a medium mixing bowl.

Using an apple corer or small knife, core out a hole to the bottom of the meatball that is about ½ inch in diameter.  Fill the hole with the cheese mixture, use a pastry bag).

Ann's NoteAs I mentioned above, this step did not go as planned.  First, my meatballs were just a tad overdone and boring a hole big enough to pipe the mixture into just wasn't going to work too well.  Second, the mixture was just a tad thick for a pastry bag.  I'm not sure if what I made was what the chef/author intended, but he wasn't here coaching me along so there you go.  Third, if we were having company, I might have tried to go along [with the recipe directions] to get along, but we were not having company, and so, dear reader, I punted.  I cut the top off the meatball, spooned a ton of the mixture into my non-apple-sized meatballs, put the top back on and that was that, no apologies.

To finish the meatballs
Spoon the 1 cup of tomato sauce evenly over the meatballs and heat for 10 to 15 minutes at 350F.  Remove the pan from the oven.  Place 1 tablespoon of ricotta cheese over top of each meatball (it should look like the cheese is oozing out of the center), sprinkle with Parmigiano cheese, and heat for an additional 3 minutes.

Ann's Final NoteThis step never happened and not just because I ran out of ricotta, but because I ran out of patience as well. All that said, the taste was great and they didn't look too bad, but these suckers in no way resembled the photo in the cookbook and you probably shouldn't expect yours to, either!

Fresh Pasta with [Veal] Meatballs and Mushrooms (and peas!) – serves 6 as main course
For the meatballs
8 ounces ground veal
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 large egg yolk
½ cup bread crumbs
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the rest of the dish
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling (optional)
1 medium onion, chopped
12 ounces white button mushrooms, wiped clean, stems removed, and sliced ½ inch thick
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ cups fresh sweet peas or thawed tiny frozen peas
½ cup cups vegetable stock or vegetable broth made with Knorr powdered bouillon (Ann's NoteI used chicken stock because I had just enough on hand.)
6 fresh mint leaves
1 ½ pounds pasta all chitarra or tagliolini made from Fresh Egg Pasta Dough (p. 94) Ann's Note: These two fresh pastas are similar to spaghetti and I used the dried spaghetti I had on hand.  It saved time and possibly saved my husband from another round of my swearing!
To finish it
4 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ cup pasta cooking liquid

Place the meatballs in a large bowl, add the Parmigiano, egg yolk, bread crumbs, garlic and parsley, and season well with salt and pepper.  Mix thoroughly but delicately so as not to compress the meat, which would toughen it.

Take a piece of the meat mixture about the size of a small grape and roll the mixture between the palms of your hands into a small ball.  Place on a plate, and repeat with the remaining meat mixture.

Line a large shallow plate with paper towels.  Set aside.

Heat 1 cup of the olive oil in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium heat.  Place only as many meatballs in the pan as you can without crowding them and panfry until browned and crisp on one side, about 3 minutes.  Flip and cook until the other side is browned and crisp, about 2 minutes more.  Remove the meatballs from the pan with a spatula and place on the prepared plate to drain.  Repeat with any remaining meatballs.

Ann's Notes [brace thyself]This all started out well but quickly broke down in the making thereof.  Let's start with the meatball size itself as I feel like this got the whole ball rolling downhill in a hurry.  The recipe said to shape the meat mixture the size of a small grape, and maybe I used the wrong-size "grape" as my model for the size of my meatballs because they were hard to handle.  They looked pretty but when I tried to flip those suckers after the requisite three minutes, they stuck to the pan and nothing short of dynamite got them off the bottom.  I tried a small spatula, tiny tongs, regular-size tongs – nada. So while a few meatballs here and there held their shapes, the rest started to fall apart.  And so this is when I had my "Psycho" moment which is to say I got out a plastic meat chopper and just started hacking away at those grape-sized meatballs that were both sticking and disintegrating at the same time. Let me add that as I was tacking out my wrath on the poor meatball, Andy gave me a look that said "Are you crazy?" while at the same time backing away from the stove!  Once I satisfied myself that the meat (now resembling ground beef) was cooked, I removed it to the paper towel as directed to drain and then carried on below.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in another large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and sauté 5 minutes.  Add the peas, toss and cook until the mushrooms release their liquid, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the stock and mint and cook for another 5 minutes.  Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning.  Add the meatballs, toss well, and set aside, covered, to keep warm.  Ann's Note:  Well, all these instructions are well and good but that's not how I did it.  I think I let the onions cook for 4 minutes but then I shorted the time on the mushrooms, added the peas before they were ready, added stock...then more stock...then more stock to prevent everything from sticking (still, and with the temperature as low as I could get it), skipped the mint, added the meat mixture back to the dish, heated for a minute or so, then served.  Mama ain't got time to play today!

Fill a 10-quart stockpot with 7 quarts of water.  Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt and bring to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente.

To finish the dish, reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the pasta and stir it into the sauce.  Add the butter, the Parmigiano, and a few tablespoons of the reserved cooking water, and heat over very low heat.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, then toss thoroughly, drizzling with more olive oil if desired.

Ann's Final Note:  By this time, I just wanted to eat, already and so skipped adding the butter and the Parmigiano.  As I told my husband, the other meatball dish has ricotta and Parmigiano so did we really need more calories in this dish?  We did not! In hindsight, I should have just committed to making one dish or the other, but not both, but I didn't and so then had to run with several Plan B's during my time in the kitchen.  Nobody died in the making thereof, but like I said, I should have just stuck with my aunt's recipe and called it a day.  Who knew National Meatball Day would be so educational?  Not I, reader.  Not I!




[1] By the way and this is Breaking News:  I just now discovered a video of chef/author John LaFemina making these signature meatballs with Martha Stewart and oh sure, now I find it!:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zp2R5RPVlaA