Thursday, February 28, 2013

"The Sinatra Celebrity Cookbook" - Rova and Ernie Borgnine's Pevronatta a la Borgnine (ragu of sausage and peppers on pasta)

Date I made this recipe:  February 24, 2013 (Academy Award night)

The Sinatra Celebrity Cookbook – Barbara, Frank & Friends by The Affiliates Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center at Eisenhower Medical Center Rancho Mirage, CA
Published by:  The Affiliates Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center at Eisenhower Medical Center Rancho Mirage, CA
© 1996
Recipe:  Tova and Ernie Borgnine’s Pevronatta a la Borgnine (Pasta with Peppers) – p. 166

Tonight is Oscar night and if you’ll forgive me, I just have to sing the “Oscar Song” from TV’s The Odd Couple.  Ready?  “Once there was a man named Oscar.  Oscar, Oscar, Oscar.  And he turned on his best friend. Oscar, Oscar, Oscar. Oscar.  Oscar.  Aw-ah-ah-ah!”  Thanks, folks, I’m here all week….  (For those of you who are TV buffs, this is a song sung by Felix Unger, the biggest neat-freak on the planet, played actor by Tony Randall, to the biggest slob on the planet, Oscar Madison, played by Jack Klugman.  Both actors also stared in many films; Jack is best known for his role as a juror in 12 Angry Men.)

At any rate, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to sing that “song” and if you want to relive the hilarious moment, you can find it on YouTube under “Oscar Song Odd Couple” or under “Felix the Calypso Singer.”  Priceless.

So this, of course, put me in the mood to pull out a cookbook by another singer, one possibly just a tich more famous than Felix Unger – Frank Sinatra.  (But by the by, actor Tony Randall was also a very good singer.)  Frank and his wife, Barbara, filled this book with recipes from their celebrity friends – actors, singers, songwriters and even politicians.

Many of you may not know that in addition to being one of the most famous and memorable singers in history, “Ol Blue Eyes”/”Chairman of the Board” also acted and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the film, From Here to Eternity, starring Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr (The King and I), Donna Reed and countless others.  Set in Hawaii during WWII, this story showcases of all things, boxing and an Army company’s boxing tournament.  Naturally, there has to be some sex and women thrown in for good measure and so enter Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed!  Deborah ends up having an affair with Burt Lancaster and the movie’s sexy scene involving the two of them kissing on a beach in the surf in Hawaii (and yes, there is a real “From Here to Eternity” beach and I’ve been there) set people’s hair on fire when the movie came out (1953) and from that point on, I don’t think people cared a fig about the boxing portion of our program.  Honestly – people were shocked to see Deborah Kerr in that hussy role and weren’t too thrilled about wholesome Donna Reed’s It’s a Wonderful Life’s role as a prostitute, either.  Now of course, everything is far game and a scene like the beach one gets a “yawn” – maybe. (By the by, in the movie, Deborah Kerr was married to Captain Dana Holmes played by actor Phil Ober.  In real life, Phil Ober was married to actress Vivian Vance who played Ethel Mertz opposite Lucille Ball’s Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy.)

Frank’s role was that of Angelo Maggio, a company boxer. Frank was nominated for and won Best Supporting Actor for this movie and Donna Reed won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Alma, the prostitute.  Hollywood does indeed love its down-and-out characters.

Frank’s other film roles ran the gamut from tense (Manchurian Candidate) to twinkle toes (Guys and Dolls in which Marlon Brandon co-stared in a singing role.  Yes, singing role).  And between his acting, singing and Viva Los Vegas, Baby lounge acts, he managed to meet just about everybody including fellow actor, Ernest (Ernie) Borgnine, who just passed away this year.  While many of you may remember him from McHale’s Navy, the Poseidon Adventure and yes, he was even in From Here to Eternity, I fell in love with him in the movie, Marty.  Ernie won the Academy Award for that role, beating out his friend, Frank Sinatra, who was nominated for his role in the movie, The Man With the Golden Arm.  It’s kind of scary, isn’t it, how all these roles and actors connect?

When I looked through this book, I was looking for someone who, if they hadn’t won an Oscar, was a movie actor.  Many qualified (some, like politicians, didn’t) but Ernie and his wife Tova, beat out the other contenders because I liked him and because I liked this recipe.

Ernie – born Ermes Effron Borgnino – used a slightly different variation on the Italian word, perperonata for this recipe but the dish’s result is the same:  it’s a dish of sautéed peppers, onions and in this case, sweet Italian sausage and ground sirloin.  It is very rich and hearty and good.  But be warned, the full recipe, serving 4-6, calls for 10 green peppers.  I made half the recipe and used only a little green pepper (not my favorite) and had a lot left over. 

I got this dish done just in time for the Oscars telecast and that was a good thing because I didn’t want to miss out on seeing who took the golden guy home this year.  I am sadly behind on viewing new movies but pride myself on having a decent DVD library of the old classics starting our friends Frank and Ernie and more!

Pevronatta a la Borginine (Pasta with Peppers) – serves 4 to 6 (Note, I made half the recipe)
4 cloves garlic
Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
10 green bell peppers, diced
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
1 to 1 ½ pounds ground sirloin
Chopped parsley or parsley flakes to taste
½ pound mushroom, sliced
1 (16 ounce) jar Italian-seasoned tomato sauce
1 cup red wine
1 (16 ounce) package pasta (Ann’s Note:  choose a pasta like Rigatoni or Penne that can hold up to a heavier sauce)

Sauté garlic in oil in skillet.  Add onion and cook until lightly browned.  Stir in bell pepper and cook, turning frequently, until softened.  In separate skillet, sauté sausage and beef, stirring to crumble, until cooked and no longer red in center. Combine meat mixture with sautéed vegetables.  Add parsley, mushrooms and tomato sauce to meat mixture.  Stir in red wine.  Simmer for 20 minutes.

While sauce is cooking, prepare pasta according to package directions.  Drain well.  Serve sauce over pasta.  Serves 4 to 6.

Chicken wings or drummettes can be substituted for sausage and beef.

Friday, February 15, 2013

"Venus in the Kitchen" - Chicken and Rice (for Valentine's Day)

Date I made this recipe:  February 14, 2013 (Valentine’s Day)

Venus in the Kitchen or Love’s Cookery Book by Pilaff Bay;  edited by Norman Douglas; Introduction by Graham Greene
Published by:  Bloomsbury
© 1952; Bloomsbury edition © 2002
Recipe:  Chicken and Rice – p. 101

Folks, I had no idea until I looked at the calendar how fun-filled and action-packed the first part of February was.  First we had Groundhog’s Day, a day that came and went without much fanfare from me (because winter will end when winter ends and not because a groundhog said so).  Chinese New Year was on February 10th but we hosted a party for my mother-in-law’s 85th birthday that day and I was too tired to cook (although I may observe the day belatedly – we’ll see). Fat Tuesday signaling the start of Lent (and Mardi Gras) came and went because I was busy on Tuesday and so that left Valentine’s Day.  Exhausting, no?

And so to the bookshelves I went to find something to make that day that didn’t need 85 hours of scheduled kitchen time and that turned out to be harder than I imagined.  I couldn’t find a chocolate cookbook (Yes, I know, it renders one speechless), and couldn’t quite find a romantic cookbook either, until I looked up from my computer and saw, several shelves up, this book, Venus in the Kitchen.

So you’re probably thinking what I thought, right:  Ta Da!  How perfect can this be?  Well let’s say less than perfect – final answer.  Because kids, in my entire life I have never seen a cookbook full of what I call “rude food” i.e. stuff that I just can’t imagine eating and will not in fact eat – ever.  And here’s a sampling:  “Eel Soup;” “Hare Soup;” “Puree of Game (What???);” some more eel dishes (what the hell is that all about?); “Sparrows’ Brain (if that doesn’t say “rude food” I don’t know what does) and – I kid you not – “Sucking-Pig with Eel.”  Please explain to me how any of this crap constitutes a romantic dinner because I’m not seeing it. 

So I thought “Well, there’s always dessert, right?” Wrong.  Oh-so-wrong.  “Fritters of Elder-Flower” was ruled out immediately as was “Marmalade of Carnations.”  Let me repeat that:  “Marmalade of Carnations.”  Folks, flowers for Valentine’s Day reside in a vase and not in a dish. Cooks may grow flowers and florists may cook but never the twain should meet. (For whatever reason, I could not get the image of a goat, likely with the name “Daisy” wearing a hat munching her way through a neighbor’s flower garden but perhaps it is because I watch way too much retro TV.)

At any rate, I had almost given up on ever using this book when I found the recipe for Chicken and Rice and heaved a sigh of relief that it didn’t appear to contain any weird ingredients and was not named something I’d expect from the show Little Shop of Horrors.  Well, that relief didn’t last long.

Now, it’s not that the recipe was bad, it just wasn’t that good and I do believe it was because it was just too simple when it came to the ingredients, not that carnations or some cactus flower would have enhanced it but….Seasoning of any type was lacking save for a bit of salt and paprika, vegetables were on the boring side – onions, celery, carrots and mushrooms - and the rice got way too mushy.  And, as is sadly becoming usual and customary, the instructions were somewhat unclear.  Actually, that’s not true:  the directions were simple enough but were written in such a way that I had to read them over several times and in the end still felt like I was missing something, specifically a clear picture of what this dish should look like at the end of the cooking time.  What I got was akin to soup but the recipe sounded like it should have been more of a casserole when all was said and done.  Oh well.  So here’s what I did to “save” it for the left-over circuit:  I shredded the chicken and added it to the mushy rice broth and then will throw in a few spices to kick it up a notch ala Emil Lagasse! 

Luckily, my man was not expecting a gourmet masterpiece and that was good, and I placated him further by buying him a box of really wonderful gourmet chocolates from a local Twin Cities’ business, Chocolate Celeste (, as a Valentine’s Day treat. We had a quiet night, watched a bit of TV and that was that.  Studies have shown that married couples tend to stay in and make dinner leaving the hooting and hollering to the youngsters and that is exactly what we did.  You’re welcome.

Chicken and Rice – serving size not given but I used roughly 3 pounds of chicken
1 young chicken, cut in quarters (approximately 3 pounds)
¼ pound bacon or ham, chopped
2 large onions, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
Sliced mushrooms (no amount given)
½ pound rice
1 tsp paprika
Enough broth or water to cover (But note:  the recipe says to cover “everything,” apparently referring to everything but the chicken.  This was confusing – see below)
Grated parmesan cheese

Cut in quarters a young chicken, season with salt and pepper, and leave them apart.  Put on the fire a casserole with a quarter of a pound of chopped ham or bacon.  When this is of a golden color, put on the top two large onions sliced in rings, two sliced carrots, the same amount of celery cut in small pieces, and some sliced mushrooms.  On the top of these put half a pound of rice, season with salt and a teaspoon of paprika, add enough broth or water to cover everything, and place now on the top the chicken.  (Ann’s Note:  This sentence just did not make much sense to me.  It says to layer the veggies and rice then add enough water to cover them and then put the (heavy) chicken on top of that.  Explain to me, then, why covering up all the ingredients with water instead of just the veggies doesn’t make sense given that the chicken sank into the water!!)

Put the cover on the saucepan and let it simmer slowly for about an hour. 
Shake the casserole from time to time, but do not stir.  (Ann’s Note:  Warning - one hour of simmering = ½ pound of mushy rice. Sigh.)

Serve hot with grated Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"San Francisco Firehouse Favorites" - (Super Bowl) Chili Beans

Date I made this recipe:  Sunday, February 3, 2013 – Super Bowl Sunday

San Francisco Firehouse Favorites – Great Recipes by the Bay City’s Famous Firemen Chefs by Tony Calvello, Bruce Harlow, Georgia Sackett & Shirley Sarvis
Published by:  Bonanza Books
© 1965
Recipe:  Chili Beans – p. 142

Well, it’s Super Bowl Sunday and you know what that means, right?  Chili!!!!  (Or Mexican—you should have seen the Mexican food ingredients flying off my grocery store’s shelves.)

This year’s Super Bowl game between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers was played in New Orleans, a city with phenomenal food, and so I thought about splitting the difference and featuring foods from the host city instead of one of the team cities.  And yet the books and recipes in my collection featuring New Orleans food were a little highbrow for a football game.  I mean come on, Oyster’s Rockefeller?  No.  Crawfish?  Not in these parts.  And so I scrapped those books for now, reserving them for an event more suited to New Orleans food – Mardi Gras!

So with Plan B in place, I set out to find suitable food from either Baltimore or San Francisco and even that proved to be a challenge until I unearthed this San Francisco Firehouse Favorites from the back of a shelf.  And right there, just when I needed it the most, was a recipe for Chili Beans.  (I was rather bummed it wasn’t Five-Alarm Chili to fit in better with a fire-fighter theme but beggars can’t be choosers).

Now truth be told, I only favored slightly the 49ers for this game but only by a smidgen.  The 49’ers beat my beloved Green Bay Packers to advance to the next round of the playoffs and so that did not make me happy BUT they are part of the NFC Conference and so I suppose I should be loyal to my own conference, right?

On the other hand…the Baltimore Ravens (or Baltimore “Raisins” as one friend’s 7 year-old dubbed them) beat the Evil Empire a/k/a the New England Patriots, the team I love to hate the most to get to the Super Bowl.  For that alone, I salute them.  But I wasn’t sure I could root for them seeing as how they represent the AFC and all and so when the San Francisco cookbook landed in my lap, there it stayed.

Still, I have to tell you that I (and my brother) am a very superstitious football viewer and I felt like I was almost asking for it by favoring one city’s food over another.  And sure enough, San Francisco was in danger of being embarrassed when the third quarter score was Baltimore 28, 49’ers 6.  The 49’ers looked a mess.  My chili clearly was the cause. Oh Lord, what had I done, what had I done?

And then

The lights went out in the Superdome (not to be confused with The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, a popular song in the 70’s and most certainly not with The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by The Band – yes, the band’s name is The Band.).  For 35 minutes, players sat on the sidelines, did warm-ups and just generally hung out while Superdome workers and the electric company scrambled to get everyone out of the heart of darkness.  The danged thing, of course, was that commercial ad sponsors thought that – and this is so silly, really – the game would be going on during that 35 minute period and so nobody bought ad time and so there was nothing to watch except the non-game.  This was bad but no use crying about it now.  In case you were unaware, two brothers ended up as the head coach of each of these teams, and conspiracy theorists posited that the San Francisco coach, Jim Harbaugh, “arranged” for the power outage to give his team a chance against his brother, John’s team, the Ravens.  Huh. As far as conspiracy theories go, this is not a bad one because...

…The 49ers took this downtime as an opportunity to get their mojo back and once power was restored, scored touchdown after touchdown until – can you believe it – they pulled within 3 of the Ravens.  Well, this was beyond exciting, folks!  BUT as these things go, the 49ers failed to score in the final minute or so which meant that they failed to go ahead of the Ravens which meant that they lost the game. 

But the chili was saved!

And speaking of saving, there is no job more admired in American than fire (or police) and these brave men and women know a whole lot more about saving things than I do.  This book, San Francisco Firehouse Favorites, is enhanced by black and white photos of men (in 1965, it was all men, all the time) in action, putting out fires.  Way too cool for school if you ask me!  (As are the “retro” fire trucks pictured in the book).  These photos remind me of my hometown’s volunteer fire department.  Every 4th of July, the fire station divides into teams for a water fight in the middle of what we consider to be our Main Street.  It was a 4th of July tradition dating back to when I was a kid  and it continues today, as does the sounding of the 9:00 fire alarm signaling curfew for young girls and boys -  talk about retro!

Although this chili will not set off any fire alarms, it was darned good but the instructions were a little off.  Instruction one was to cook the beans for 3 hours and this makes sense as you don’t want to break a tooth on a hard bean.  Instruction number two was to cook the chili for 3 more hours (or until beans are tender) and this didn’t make any sense at all.  I don’t want to break a tooth but neither do I want overly-mushy beans.  I think my total elapsed time was about 4 hours or so and that made everything just right.

As to ingredients, I have to admit that “stewed tomatoes” threw me for a loop when I got to the canned vegetable shelves because there were about a million different brands!  (Okay, slight exaggeration.)  When I was a kid, stewed tomatoes were just tomatoes that had been cooked a long time but I guess somewhere along the way, the recipe got all “fancy” because now they come with onions and celery and peppers.  Figuring that a few more ingredients couldn’t hurt, I added a can to my cart.

The “red chili sauce” proved to be a harder nut to crack because I wasn’t sure what it was.  Once again, grocery has grown up right before my very eyes because there were all kinds of variations of a red chili sauce, not one of which was the right size or the right level of heat (which is to say “none!”) for my recipe.  You may recall I mentioned earlier that Mexican food items were flying off the shelves while I was shopping and the chili sauce aisle was decimated.  So I improvised and bought a small can of red tomato sauce and then added cumin and Mexican oregano and garlic and a few more things I had on hand to try to approximate what I failed to purchase.  I think the result was okay but you should probably go with the real deal if you can.  And I’d suggest you not make this recipe on either Super Bowl Sunday or Cinco de Mayo because you’re gonna be in big trouble at the checkout when the item you want is not on the shelf.

And finally, remember that just like the ocean, one should not turn one’s back on a stovetop, especially when cooking greasy items like ground chuck.  Not that I did but fire safety is fire safety folks! 

So to recap Super Bowl XLVII, otherwise known as Super Bowl 47 (I hate when they use Roman Numerals; it messes with my head because I can never remember what the hell “L” stands for):  the Ravens were poised for a near blow-out over the 49ers when the lights went out, not in Georgia.  Meanwhile, back at the chili ranch, Ann started cooking the beans that took three hours to make.  The lights came back on, Ann added the additional chili ingredients, San Francisco started to pull even with the Ravens, Ann checked the chili to make sure the beans were not burning (cook responsibly, people), many commercials were aired after the lights came back on but not during since nobody planned on there being a 35 minutes outage (except maybe the 49ers coach), San Francisco had a chance to pull ahead with minutes left but they didn’t, and San Francisco’s coach was all mad and was yelling for the refs to call “holding” (“was it holding or was it not holding?”) and it was not holding and Ann served her chili, added some cheese (because it’s chili after all), the 49ers lost, the brothers shook hands, the parents were a mess (I mean where DO your loyalties lie at a time like this), the Super Bowl ended, I went back to watching a Law & Order marathon, cleaned my kitchen and called it a day and we are now enjoying leftovers of our San Francisco chili.  Amen.

See you next year!

Chili Beans – makes 8 servings – recipe from Charlie Radford, Engine Company No. 32
1 pound (about 2 cups) dry pinto beans
1 pound ground chuck
1 large onion, chopped
1 small can (1 pound) stewed tomatoes
1 small can (10 ounces) red chili sauce
¼ cup vinegar (Ann’s Note:  It doesn’t say what kind to use so I went with “white” vinegar)
1 tablespoon chili powder
Dash of liquid hot pepper seasoning
Salt and pepper

Cover beans with cold water, cover, bring to a boil, then simmer for 3 hours.  (Add water if necessary.)  In a frying pan, slowly brown ground beef and when crumbly, add onion, and sauté until limp; add to beans along with remaining ingredients except for salt and pepper.  Cover and simmer for three hours or until beans are tender and liquid cooked down to consistency desired.  (Ann’s Note:  three more hours will incinerate your beans, necessitating a call to the fire department.  Don’t do that.  Check after another half hour to an hour then serve.)  (Cook uncovered if necessary to reduce liquid).  Add salt and pepper to taste.  (Some people like me, like to add cheese and maybe even some sour cream.  It’s the Super Bowl – go for broke!)