Friday, December 26, 2008

"Sicilian Home Cooking" & "Cucina Siciliana de Gangivecchio" - Shepherd's Fusilli and Christmas Salad with Oranges, Olives and Capers

Date I made these recipes: December 24, 2008

Sicilian Home Cooking – Family Recipes from Gangivecchio by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene with Michele Evans
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 037510399-X © 2001
Recipe: Shepherd’s Fusilli (Fusilli del Pastore) – p. 119

La Cucina Siciliana de Gangivecchio – Recipes from Gangivhecchio’s Sicilian Kitchen by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene with Michele Evans
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0679425101 ©1996
Recipe: Christmas Salad with Oranges, Olives, and Capers (Insalata di Natale II) – p. 269

Since this year was the first Christmas without my mom, my husband and I have a very, very low-key Christmas. Some might say it was a non-event since we dispensed with the tree, the decorations and even the holiday music. And I have to tell you folks, it was pretty liberating. Instead of being caught up in the buying and the wrapping and shop-till-you drop mentality, we spent the day holed up in our house with my husband doing some work in his workshop downstairs and with me watching The Hallmark Channel. That’s right, the Hallmark Channel. Got a problem with that?! Don’t worry, earlier in the day I caught the last hour of Holiday Inn and then later in the evening we watched Christmas in Connecticut, starring Barbara Stanwyck. I also addressed my holiday newsletter/pamphlet/small novel to friends who were awaiting its delivery. All in all, it was a fun day.

But despite our desire to lay low over the holiday, there’s one tradition that I couldn’t ignore and that was to make a pasta dish for Christmas Eve dinner.

When I was growing up, we either had spaghetti and meatballs (if the Pope said meat was okay to eat that year) or spaghetti with tomato sauce. Last year, while up at my parents for Christmas, my sister-in-law and I made homemade manicotti shells and meatballs for our repast. This year none of us were able to get together for Christmas but when they all come in next week for New Year’s we will recreate the scene.

But tradition is tradition and so I pulled these two Sicilian cookbooks off the shelf and used one for my pasta dish and the other for a salad. Both dishes were great and right in line with the food of my childhood. The one thing I can’t get over, however, is that both mother and daughter (cookbook authors) are blonde. Blonde Sicilians? Not in my family (unless it comes from a bottle in which case it doesn’t count!)!

My only complaint about this meal is not with the recipes themselves, it’s with my complete inability to find veal in this town. For once, my local market had veal chops, veal scallopini and veal roasts but did they have ground veal? No. I swear if this were the east coast you could find the damned stuff in a convenience store! So please—local grocers, get with the program!!

Shepherd’s Fusilli – Fusilli del Pastore – Serves 6 as a first course or 4 as a main course
1 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 pounds mixed red, yellow and green peppers, cut into thin strips
¼ pound ground veal (we substituted ground round)
¼ pound ground pork
½ cup dry red wine
½ cup tomato paste
1 cup fresh tomato sauce (Salsa di Pomodoro – I used my Aunt Rose’s sauce and that’s a secret to all but family members)
Pinch hot pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound fusilli
Freshly grated pecorino cheese

Fresh tomato sauce – makes about 4 cups
5 pounds ripe tomatoes, stem ends removed, coarsely chopped
1 large onion, chopped
½ cup freshly chopped basil leaves, plus 6 whole fresh basil leaves
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground pepper

To make the tomato sauce (note: I think you can get away with store-bought, just make sure it contains tomatoes and basil and go with a brand that uses sugar rather than corn syrup).

Combine the tomatoes, onion, and basil together in a large pot. Season to taste with salt. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring often.

A few cups at a time, pass the mixture through a food mill. Return the sauce to a clean pot with the olive oil, basil leaves, sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

To make the pasta dish

In a large saucepan, heat the oil, add the onion, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until it just begins to turn gold. Stir in the peppers and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the peppers have softened, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the veal, pork and wine. Cook over high heat, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, hot pepper flakes if desired, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 ½ tablespoons of salt. Stir in the fusilli and cook until al dente, stirring often (follow package directions).

Drain the pasta saving 1 cup of the hot pasta water. Return the fusilli to the saucepan and add the sauce. Add a little pasta water if too dry. Toss well and adjust seasoning. Serve with the pecorino.

Christmas Salad with Oranges, Olives, and Capers – serves 8 (I made half the recipe)
2 quarts curly endive or escarole, torn into bite-size pieces
3 celery ribs with leaves, thinly sliced
½ cup green Sicilian olives, pitted and finely chopped (I used Cerignola olives and pitted them myself)
1/3 cup capers, washed and drained
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 navel oranges, peeled, with white pith removed, and very thinly sliced
3 lemons, peeled, with white pith removed and very thinly sliced (seeds discarded)
½ cup pomegranate seeds

Immerse the endive or escarole and celery in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain well.

Combine the endive or escarole and the celery with the olives, capers, and a little olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper to taste.

Oil a 1-quart bowl and spoon the mixture into the bowl. Press the top down gently and let rest for 15 minutes…or not. I skipped this part and instead combined all the ingredients in a bowl. It was much easier, and besides, there was nobody here to impress (assuming it all held together!).

Invert the salad onto a serving dish and place the orange and lemon slices in overlapping, alternating rows over the entire top of the salad, which is now a delicious dome. Sprinkle with rosy-red pomegranate seeds.

Note: never having dealt with a pomegranate before, I was unsure how to get the seeds out. Thank goodness for the internet as they had a simple process in place: cut the top off the pomegranate, then score it all the way around, being careful not to slice all the way through. Place the pomegranate top side down in a bowl of water for 5-10 minutes. This loosens the skin making it easy to take the seeds out without having a mess on your hands. You should know, though, that these seeds stains so be careful with your clothes, cutting boards and cupboards!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"The Beautiful You" by Mary Kay (cosmetics) consultants & "A Taste of Texas" - Cheese Spoon Bread and Spanish Pork Chops

Date I made these recipes: December 14, 2008

“The Beautiful You” Cookbook – a collection of personal recipes from Mary Kay consultants and directors by Mary Kay
Published by: Mary Kay Consultants/Communicative Arts Group
© 1980
Recipe: Cheese Spoon Bread submitted by Connie Hyde – p.32

A Taste of Texas – A Cookbook, edited by Jane Trahey; compiled for Neiman-Marcus by Marihelen McDuff
Published by: Random House
© 1949
Recipe: Spanish Pork Chops submitted by Mrs. Byron Nelson; Fairway Ranch, Roanoke, Texas– p. 125

People, every once in a while, I get lucky and get someone to work with who is a real panic. This year, it is Sarah F. who just brightens up my day on this miserable project I’ve been working on for the last seven months.

Prior to this gig, who knew that banquet tables, otherwise reserved for uh, banquets, could be used as a workspace? Without going into the gory details, Sarah, I and nineteen other attorneys have been working on a litigation project for a law firm and we sit two to a banquet table on an otherwise empty floor of the building in which the firm is located. Our table partners changed frequently due to the constant rearrangement of the deck chairs by “management” (the attorneys on staff at the firm) and eventually Sarah ended up sitting at a table behind me, initially with Mike as a seat partner but then with Sue.

So anyway, Sarah is a hoot and a half. She’s originally from Texas and therefore was unaware of some Minnesota’s famous State Fair personalities, namely, Princess Kay of the Milky Way. Princess Kay is the fake name of the princess named by the Dairy Association to represent the association at the fair and at other events. “PK” and her court have their likenesses sculpted in butter each year by a butter sculptor in a large refrigerated windowed-booth (that rotates) in the Dairy Building. PK and court sit in this booth for hours in a snowmobile suit and then afterwards they usually bring their likeness home to be stored forevermore (or until the first big corn roast—I’m not kidding) in the family freezer. You have to be there. Anyway, Sarah screwed up the name and called her Mary Kay of the Milky Way, to which Mike, her tablemate, chimed in “Can I interest you in some dairy-based makeup products?” I laughed on and off for at least half the day.

But people, what are the odds of this—two weeks before the famous Mary Kay of the Milky Way comment, I was surfing Old ( and there it was—“The Beautiful You” Cookbook, written in 1980 by a group of Mary Kay consultants! And so I put that on my “buy” list for a future date but after Sarah’s comments I just had purchase it right then and there and so that’s how one of the recipes came to end up on this blog (Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics is from Texas – how fitting!).

So anyway, even though she’s been living her quite some time, Sarah still longs for the openness of Texas (whereas my motto in life – honest to god -- is “Nature is not your friend) and one day talked about squirrel hunting with her daddy and then she moved on to the squirrels in her yard and then mentioned that she even had “huffing squirrels.”

Well, it’s not for nothing that I am the daughter of a wildlife biologist and so I thought she was talking about a new breed of squirrels. But no, she told the tale of how the squirrels in her yard chewed through her gas cap and got high by “huffing” (sniffing) the fumes.

Well, my table-mate, Jen, and I started laughing and then riffed about this new gang of squirrels, complete with acorn tattoos, small leather jackets and cigs hanging out of their mouths hanging out around her yard and we were all quite entertained.

But then I started thinking about these squirrels and wondering how the hell they got the gas cap off her car when there’s usually a metal plate over it and she said (in her best Texas accent) “Oh my God, no! Can you imagine? I can just see rounding the corner in my car with a damned squirrel hanging off it. No, I was talking about my lawnmower gas cap (who knew?)! But at the price of gas these days, I’d shoot those ‘sums’ of bitches before I’d let them get at my gas again.”

My stomach still hurts from that one. The other day to add to the hilarity, she brought in a photo of a squirrel from her yard to which she added, via Paint, a jacket, eye patch, acorn tattoo and a sign that said “Born to Huff.” We about died.

Now don’t be disappointed but there weren’t any squirrel recipes in the other cookbook I used, A Taste of Texas, nor, to my surprise, were there a lot of beef recipes (I guess the Texas saying “all hat, no cattle” is really true– hahaha!) so I made do with a pork chop recipe.

Both recipes were really good so y’all get ready to do some fine eat’n. And as to Miss Sarah, if you live in St. Paul, be on alert for those huffing squirrels. They’re probably hanging off one of those Mary Kay pink Cadillacs as we speak!

Cheese Spoon Bread – serves 6
1 cup cornmeal
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 cups milk, scalded
1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
6 eggs, beaten

Mix cornmeal, salt, dry mustard and pepper together. Add to milk and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens.

Let’s pause here a minute so I can tell you about my latest near-kitchen disaster: people, to be clear, the recipe calls for 3 cups of milk and 1 cup of cornmeal, but I misread it as 3 cups milk, 3 cups cornmeal. And this is how I ended up with a huge glob that most certainly could not be stirred! And here I just went and had my reading glasses adjusted!

Add cheese and continue to cook and stir until the cheese melts, about two or three minutes. Add to the eggs and mix thoroughly.

Pour into buttered baking dish and bake at 350 for 45 minutes, until light and puffy and browned.

Spanish Pork Chops – serves 4
1 onion, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
3 potatoes, sliced
3 carrots, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon red pepper
10 ½ ounce can condensed tomato soup

Brown pork chops in own fat. Place in Dutch oven or roaster. Cover with slices of onion, pepper, potatoes, carrots, salt, red pepper and tomato soup. Cover and bake at 350 for one hour.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Betty Crocker's Cooky Book" & "Good Housekeeping's Cookie-Jar Cookbook" - Glazed Fresh-Apple Cookies and Chocolate Crinkles

Date my husband made these recipes: December 11th and 12th, 2008

Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book by General Mills
Published by: Golden Press
© 1963
Recipe: Chocolate Crinkles – p. 23

Good Housekeeping’s Cookie-Jar Cookbook by Good Housekeeping Magazine
Published by: Consolidated Book Publishers
© 1971, 1967
Recipe: Glazed Fresh-Apple Cookies – p. 4

Well, it’s the holiday season and for the first time ever, we’ve been invited to two cookie exchanges, both of which, of course, fell on the same night. So I sent my regrets to the one hostess and RSVP’d to the party we are going to and then set off to find cookie recipes.

We’re not big cookie people in this house in terms of actually baking them; buying them already made from a grocery store or bakery is another thing altogether. And so for this endeavor, I enlisted my husband, Andy, previously our household’s “pie guy” to help review my cookie cookbooks.

Although I didn’t do a detailed search of my collection, I did notice two books on my shelf that specifically spoke to cookies; the Good Housekeeping book is from my mother’s collection whereas the Betty Crocker is part of quite the little stack of Betty’s spiral-bound cookbooks from the 60’s and 70’s that I’ve been collecting.

Since Andy is the pie guy, he initially selected two fruit cookies, one from each book to bring to the party. I told him that this violated what I knew of cookie exchanges – that chocolate is required if not expected. Who wants to eat a healthy cookie at a cookie exchange at this time of year? These things give us permission to indulge!

And so I vetoed one of the cookies and substituted the Chocolate Crinkles. (He thanked me later). One can never go wrong with melted unsweetened chocolate and sugar. Never.

Since I am on a deadline at work, I asked if he wouldn’t mind starting the apple cookies that he selected and he did, and then since I got home at 7:30, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind making the second batch, my Chocolate Crinkles and he did. What.a.guy.

And so people, for the first time ever on my blog, someone else actually made the recipe instead of me but hey, I helped select them from my cookbooks so there! (By the way, he’ll be back in the kitchen at some point when I pull out my His Turn to Cook cookbook. I can’t wait for that!).

As you might suspect, the chocolate cookies were the hit of the party and the apple ones weren’t far behind. And might I point out that ours were homemade whereas some friends (who shall remain nameless—Autumn!) brought store-bought cookies to the gig. But then again, these are all busy people who don’t necessarily have a pie guy waiting in the wings who easily converted to cookie baker extraordinaire! (I didn’t see a cape involved in that transition but maybe next time).

Glazed Fresh-Apple Cookies – Makes 3 ½ dozen
2 cups sifted regular all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup soft shortening
1 1/3 cups brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg, unbeaten
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup finely-chopped unpared apple
1 cup dark or light raisins, chopped
¼ cup apple juice or milk

Vanilla Glaze
1 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon soft butter or margarine
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 ½ tablespoons light cream

Notes: I inadvertently hid the confectioners’ sugar from Andy so he substituted superfine sugar and that worked just dandy. Also, we were unsure what constituted light cream (further research indicates it has a fat content between half and half and heavy cream), but since our grocery store didn’t specifically carry that, we used heavy cream and nobody knew the difference.

To make the cookies
Heat the oven to 400. Sift the flour with the baking soda and set aside. Mix together shortening, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and egg until well blended. Stir in half the flour mixture, then nuts, apple and raisins. Blend in apple juice or milk then remaining flour mixture, mixing well.

Drop, by rounded tablespoonfuls, 2 inches apart, onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake 11 to 14 minutes, or until done. While cookies are still hot, spread thinly with Vanilla Glaze.

To make the glaze, in a small bowl blend the sugar, butter or margarine, vanilla extract, salt and cream.

Chocolate Crinkles – Makes about 6 dozen cookies
½ cup vegetable oil
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups Gold Medal Flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Mix oil, chocolate and granulated sugar. Blend in one egg at a time until well mixed. Add vanilla. Sift flour then add the flour, baking powder, and salt into oil mixture. Chill several hours or overnight.

Heat the oven to 350. Drop teaspoonfuls of dough into confectioner’s sugar. Roll in sugar; shape into balls. Place about 2” apart on greased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake!!

By the way, we used our Silpat baking liner instead of greasing the cookie sheets. They are easy to use and easy to clean. If you don’t have on already, I highly suggest buying one, especially if you’re going to make these cookies!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Autumn Nights, Winter Mornings - A Collection of Cold-Weather Comfort Food" - Potato Gratin

Date I made this recipe: December 5, 2008

Autumn Nights, Winter Mornings – A Collection of Cold-Weather Comfort Foods by Barbara Scott-Goodman with Mary Goodbody
Published by: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 0811810380 © 1995
Recipe: Potato Gratin – p. 46-47

Well you would know it. For the past fourteen years, I’ve been part of a Ladies Who Lunch Bunch comprised of women I used to work with starting back in 1985. We got together for breakfast once a month or so after I left the company in 1994 and although we originally had six people we’re now down to three: me, Arlene and Vicki (a/k/a Beeker).

So Beeker decided that since we hadn’t seen her house since she got divorced and moved down the road a bit that we should have breakfast at her house. And so for the first time ever, instead of eating out at a restaurant (always on a Saturday, always at noon and almost always for a place serving breakfast), invited us over and told us to bring a dish.

And so I chose this gratin and here’s what I have to say about that: Bad choice.

I don’t know what it is with potato gratins but they never turn out like I anticipate. Maybe my expectations are too high and I envision a cheese goopiness that was never anticipated by the author or maybe I just have bad luck selecting gratin recipes but regardless, this was a clunker.

Here’s what went wrong: unless you have a professional potato-slicer (and I don’t—although we have a mandolin – the kitchen mandolin, not the instrument - but I’m afraid to use it for fear of sacrificing a finger tip to the great good) I think it’s tough to be consistent on thickness and this is what causes some potatoes to get done faster than others. I get annoyed biting into a semi-cooked potato and that’s what happened here.

Next, the cheese, in my humble opinion, was rather on the stingy side. The recipe calls for 4 ounces of cheese to 3 pounds of potatoes. What the heck? That’s barely a ground cover and it’s something that should have dawned on me but didn’t. Similarly, the parmesan cheese allotment could have been greater but wasn’t and so what I got was dry potatoes, some cooked through, some not, with a slight layer of cheese. Yech.

And wouldn’t you know that Beeker, who hates to cook, made a very tasty quiche? And Arlenie, bless her heart, made her mother’s fruit salad that was oh-so-yummy, and there I was, author of this COOKING blog who made the stinker of the day. Oh well, I guess every day can’t be a successful one in the kitchen.

Before I get to the recipe, let me just say a word about the Ladies Who Lunch. Beeker, who was operations manager at the company I worked at, is an October baby like me and is able to quote, as am I, Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie script almost word for word. You don’t find many friends like that. (“I’m not dead yet.” “No, but you will be.”)

Arlenie was the executive secretary for the company’s CEO and ran a very tight ship. Arlene was in charge of the supply cabinet and the joke was that you had to show your pencil stub before receiving a new one. She always denies that that was true but I’m here to tell you it wasn’t that far off.

Arlene always dispensed one item at a time (she should have been a corporate CFO, so good was she at cost-containment) and would always walk very slowly and regally (well, she was Queen of the front desk) back to the cabinet, then would take our her key, slowly unlock the door, crack open the door just a tich, retrieve said item, hand it to you and then walk slowly and regally back to her office. I love to imitate her doing that (that and the way she answered the phone is second to none).

One day however, Arlene was distracted and gave me the key to the cabinet. People, I thought I died and went to heaven. When news got out, a group of coworkers formed a circle behind me. I opened the door wide this time and (no, a glow didn’t emit, but close!) heard this gasp rise up behind me. “Oh my god, just LOOK at those supplies!,” I heard someone say.

You would think that we found the gold supply at Fort Knox. We all drew back just a bit to take in the full impact of the supply cabinet and then I started dispensing the goodies, one item at a time but only if you demonstrated a need for it. Pillaging the cabinet was not an option, tempting as it was and besides, I wanted Arlene to trust me with the key again. She did not disappoint.

And speaking of disappointing, I have often been saddened to lose touch with people I used to work with but our little lunch group has held together through thick and thin, through stupid jobs, new careers, my law school graduation, weddings, divorces, grandchildren, birthdays—you name it, we’ve seen it. And we continue to have a great time despite the fact that my food flopped. Knowing them, they didn’t hold it against me (but just in case, we’re going to go back to eating at a restaurant and leave the driving to the trained professionals).

Potato Gratin – Serves 6
6 to 8 baking potatoes (about 3 pounds), peeled and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 teaspoons crumbled dried sage
1 cup (about 4 ounces) freshly grated Gruyere cheese
½ cup (about 2 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup half-and-half

Preheat the oven to 400. Butter a 14-by-9-inch gratin or baking dish.

Arrange a third of the potato slices in an overlapping pattern in the dish. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with one third of the sage. Sprinkle with one third of the cheeses. Repeat twice more to make three layers each of potatoes, seasonings and cheese, ending with cheese.

In a small bowl, whisk the wine into the half-and-half. Pour over the potatoes, tilting the dish slightly to distribute the liquid evenly without disturbing the potatoes. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork and are golden brown.

NOTE: If I were you, I’d add more cheese, possibly more half-and-half and would definitely bake for longer then 50 minutes.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Babalu! Favorite Recipes from the World's Top Latin Chefs and Celebrities" - Arnaz Picadillo

Date I made this recipe: November 30, 2008

Babalu! Favorite Recipes from the World’s Top Latin Chefs and Celebrities by Michael Valdes and Art Torres
Published by: General Publishing Group
ISBN: 1575440318 © 1998

Recipe: Arnaz Picadillo (a kind of Cuban hash) – p. 16 (p. 17 contains instructions in Spanish)

So Thanksgiving has come and gone and for the first time ever, I didn’t cook a Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, my husband, mother-in-law and I went out to a restaurant for a Thanksgiving buffet and because of that, I didn’t have any leftovers. But not to worry, people, my dinner inspiration came to me whilst I was lounging around all Thanksgiving weekend watching TV, in particular I Love Lucy on TV Land.

TV Land is a cable station that shows reruns of favorite shows and my favorite show of all time is I Love Lucy. TV Land ran a mini-marathon of Lucy episodes and one that I watched this weekend was Job Switching, the famous episode where Lucy and Ethel get a job in the chocolate factory and end up stuffing their faces and clothing with chocolates when the supervisor speeds up the assembly line thinking they were incredibly speedy at wrapping chocolates. Of course, it all goes wrong and they end up coming home sicker than a dog from all the chocolates they were forced to eat in an attempt to keep their jobs (because if one, stray chocolate got done the line unwrapped, they would be fired).

I have to confess that this is on my personal list as a top-ten favorite. It’s funny all right but to me, it’s not so much because of the chocolate factory, it’s what happened when Ricky and Fred said they’d take care of the house if the women went to work.

First, Ricky serves Lucy a delicious breakfast, pretending that he made it before Lucy finds out he got it at the corner drugstore. Then Ricky tries to make chicken and rice but decides that a pound of rice per person should do and of course, the pot overflows sending rice flowing down to the floor like molten lava. Then Fred walks in on Ricky ironing Lucy’s stockings and tells Ricky he’s got it all wrong -- you don't iron the stockings, you starch them and then presents Ricky with a pair of stockings that are stiffer than a board. I found all that to be pretty hilarious.

So the premise of this episode was the ineptitude of the sexes doing each other’s jobs, particularly the men, but in fact, Desi Arnaz, the actor who played Ricky Ricardo (and who was also married in real life to Lucille Ball who played Lucy), was a great cook. I read this in several books but it was confirmed in this cookbook tome but daughter Lucie Arnaz who submitted her version of Picadillo. Picadillo, as she states, is like a Cuban (or Puerto Rican) hash. And so what the heck—after spending half my Thanksgiving weekend watching a marathon session of I Love Lucy reruns, I thought I’d give it a try.

I enjoyed this recipe a lot my only complaint being that the potatoes didn’t brown as I expected them to but no matter, the dish was still delicious. I served it over white rice since that’s how it was served to me when I was in Puerto Rico. And I tell you what, if we Americans are ever allowed to visit Cuba again, I will be there in a New York minute, if only to step back in time and imagine my favorite Cuban bandleader there singing his famous hit song (and title of the book) Babalu and cooking his famous picadillo.

Arnaz Picadillo - Serves 6 to 8
1 medium onion
1 medium green bell pepper
4 cloves (or more) garlic
3 small potatoes
1 large egg, hard-boiled
½ cup canned baby peas
2 large pimientos
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup Spanish olive oil
1 ½ pounds ground beef
½ cp canned crushed tomatoes (fresh would be terric, just peel them or substitute tomato sauce)
¼ cup dry sherry
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
¼ cup dark raisins
Salt and black pepper

Chop the onion, seed and chop the bell pepper, mince the garlic, peel the potatoes and chop into ¼-inch pieces, chop the egg, drain the peas and chop the pimientos.

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat and toss in the chopped potatoes. Fry until crispy brown (10 to 12 minutes). Set pan aside.

In a large, deep skillet or casserole pot, heat the olive oil over low heat until it begins to smell fantastic. Add the garlic and onion and stir it up a bit. Then add the bell pepper. Stir over low heat for 8 to 12 minutes (or until tender). Add ground beef and stir until it turns brown (maybe 10 minutes0.

Add the tomatoes and any juices, sherry, salt, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco. Stir over medium heat 15 to 20 minutes. No need to cover.

Toss in the potatoes and raisins. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook until the liquid is absorbed (maybe another 10 minutes0.

When it’s ready, serve on a large platter. Make a small hole in the center and sprinkle the chopped egg into it. Decorate the outer rim with the peas and lay the pimiento pieces wherever they make you happy.

Note: You will want to drain off the ridiculously large amount of grease this dish generates before adding the tomatoes and other ingredients. I filled a small pasta bowl with the drippings from this dish – yikes!

P.S. - a blog reader sent this posting to a Puerto Rican friend who in turn sent him a left-over recipe suggestion: What Puerto Rican and Domincans also do with the picadillo left-overs -- You take a very ripe yellow plaintain, peel it then split it right down the middle with out cutting into two pieces. Scoop some picadillo all along the inside of the platano and then wrap in tinfoil. Place in oven at 375 for about 30-35 minutes and you then have a second delicious serving of picadillo. Thanks for the suggestion, Dick!