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Entries by Margot (22)

Saturday
Mar142015

Deconstruction: The Rueben

This time of year the bars and taverns are really hopping on Saturday afternoons.  March Madness.  St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  Hungry Fans.  By I’ve now had enough of Bad Rueben Sandwiches and Green Beer to make it worth staying home.
 
How bad?

Watery sauerkraut out of jar or a bag, makes for soggy bread.

Fatty or thick cuts of corned beef make for tough eating.

Sauce that tastes like “special sauce” makes it taste institutional.

So I set out to perfect The Rueben.
 
It took a lot of research and taste testing on Saturday afternoons to figure out the best of all possible sandwiches, but I finally got it narrowed down and perfected.
 
What’s best?
 
Very lean, very thinly sliced Corned Beef.  Just enough meat on the sandwich, not too much.  About 3 or 4 slices thick.  More than that is just too hard to bite into
.  
Nutty Emanthaler Cheese shredded on top and bottom
.  
Dijionaise Sauce. It’s a more sophisticated thousand island dressing.  On the side.  I don’t like anything with mayonnaise in it cooked.  It just separates into a greasy mess.
  
Gramma Daly's Cole Slaw with black caraway seeds instead of the sauerkraut.   On the side.  Mayo in it, remember?
Sweet Bread and Butter pickle chips.  The kind in the refrigerator section.  Better yet, Jalapeno Pickles.  From Homesick Texan Cookbook.

And the best Rye Bread you can find.  Not likely found in the bread aisle of the grocery store, but at a bakery or farm market.  Grilled like you would make a good grilled cheese sandwich, with a thin spread of soft butter on the outside of the bread.

Grace has an exchange student from France staying with her who is excited about being in the US for St. Patrick’s Day.  Won’t she be surprised to find out our traditional Irish Fare is actually Jewish Deli Food?
Sunday
Mar012015

My Grandmother's Sunday Sauce: A First Time for Everything

No one in my family has ever written down their recipe for tomato sauce.  Not in 4 generations.  Not on my husband's side.  Not on anyone's side.

Why?  Totally not necessary.  Your mother learned from her mother, and you learned from your mother.  It was too simple to bother writing down.

In most Southern Italian homes, particularly in the Northeast where the majority of the wave of immigrants from Southern Italy (and their decendents) settled in the early 20th Century, there was always a pot of sauce on the stove.

In our house, and in all my mother's sisters houses as well.  

Then our mothers would do something really foolish.  Like leave the Italian bread meant for dinner out on the counter where hungry kids coming in from school could reach it.

A bowl of sauce, some torn bread, maybe a little grated cheese.  

Who needs Hot Pockets?

So why write it down now?

One of my clients got held up and was late to a conference call.  So I decided to throw a pot sauce together. It was snowing.  It's been doing that a lot lately.  I wasn't going anywhere.  I had 15 minutes and an entire day at home.  

When we finally had a chance to get back to each other, I couldn't let her continue to grovel about being late. (She's the client after all, why should she grovel?) 

Nancy:  I'm so sorry, I called your office instead of the bridge, I've got too much on my desk, and I was on the phone with help desk, Sorry, Sorry, Sorry!

Me:  No problem.  I got my sauce going while I was waiting.

Nancy:  That's what I call multi-tasking!

Me:  Yeah, the beauty of working from home.

Nancy:  What kind of sauce?

Me:  Oh just tomato sauce.  You know, 3 ingredients, simmer all day.  That kind.

Nancy:  Really?  Three ingredients?

Me:  Ok, maybe six.  And water.

If I had been there, I would have taught her.  Just like my mother taught me. But she's in Kansas City and I'm in Connecticut, so I thought I would write it down for her.

Nancy, hope you and your family my Grandmother's Sunday Tomato Sauce.

Saturday
Feb282015

Chicken Soup: Staging is everything in Life

And you thought it was timing. 

We found out everyone already knows this when we went antiquing this past weekend (what we hope to be the last of Winter). 

More accurately, we went searching for crappe. 

And we found some.  In fact, we found a lot of it. 

But not before we hit about six shoppes on the Shoreline that seemed to specialize in strategically staged second-hand stuff. 

You know the kind of place I mean.  You walk in, and they have little rooms or booths with hand-me-down stuff you saw at the dump last week, all beautifully arranged to give the impression you are at Sturbridge Village or Olde Mystic Seaport.

Not our kind of place. 

We like to have to dig through the stuff your relatives never threw away.  When they vacate their homes for whatever reason, someone gets called to take it away in a panel truck.  That’s where the real bargains are. 

I’m on new mission:  Green Glasses for Summer

Those recycled green glasses of all shapes and sizes that came out of Mexico about two decades ago.  At the time, they weren’t expensive (nor were they terribly durable, but you needed something to sip your margarita out of).

Look!  There they are now, staged in my kitchen because my house was on the market and I was moving to California.

 

The first ones I found were in one of my favorite places whose signature color closely resembles the color of these glasses.  I remember these specific ones:  simple thick stems with an enormous bowl set on the top.  Two dollars, max. 

Fifteen years later, though, they’re vintage, collectable and $18 each. 

Pass.

At the end of our afternoon, with the rain and the wind pounding us, and the owner hitting on me again, we start to leave the old car dealership turned antique market, when he points us around back to the flea market. 

What flea market?  That sounded promising. 

To be kind, it was the kind of place “where crap goes to die.”  

I found a green glass with grape impressions in it for $.75.  Just as Chris was about to get change back from his dollar, I found another one.  $.25. 

When we finally got out of there, it was nice to know there was a bowl of hot Chicken Vegetable Soup with Broccoli Rabe waiting for us. 

Thursday
May222014

Easter Foods and Easter Outfits: Savory Fennel Shortbread Crackers

 

When we were little kids, Easter meant the Easter Bunny, Easter Baskets, Easter Egg Hunts, the Easter Pagent, and of course, your Easter Outfit.  Because that's what you wore to the Easter Pagent and to church on Easter Sunday.  New dress, new patent leather Mary Jane shoes, and a new hat.  Because girls still had to wear hats to church back then.

My mother was very proficient in the Needle Arts.  All of them.  Knitting, Crochet, Tapestry, Rug Hooking and Braiding, Embroidery, and Sewing.  She taught me all of them as well, and I am glad to see that some of these arts are coming back into style, because it would be shame to lose them. 

So, the first Easter we were in the new house (the one my Dad built with his bare hands), she made us each coats for Spring, and we wore them to church on Easter Sunday. 

Now I am an accomplished knitter, and I offered to teach Grace the Girl.  Grace is 14 and has School, Art Class, Viola Class, Piano Class, Orchestra Practice, Chinese School, French Class and extra-curricular Math Class.

She said, "Margot, I'd love to learn, but honestly I don't when I would have the time."

But I'm grateful that she loves to get into the kitchen with me.  We've made everything we could think of with Peas and Artichokes, both Italian Rites of Spring. 

There was one dish my Mother used to make for Easter that I have not made, but once I had it, it becames one of the most cherished tradition at Easter.  Apizza Gain.  Sometimes called Pizza Rustica, Italian Easter Pie, Pizzagaina.  It's your basic heart attach in a loaf pan.  My mother's recipe was pretty sketchy and I have found others out there, but essentially it's 4-5 pounds of cured meats, 6 pounds of cheese, more than a dozen eggs, a ton of black pepper and crushed fennel.  It was traditionally made on Good Friday and then chilled and served after noon on Easter Saturday to break the Lenten Fast. 

We would break it up into pieces and share it with family and friends.  Sitting around the kitchen table, eating slice after slice with wine.  The combination of cheese, fennel, a crust, and the black pepper tastes great with nearly any kind of wine. 

These days, however, we limit the amount of cheese and cured meats we eat.  Who can afford the calories?  Who can afford to make the dish?  It costs more than $100 to make this loaf.

But I love the tradition of fennel and the black pepper with wine, so I thought I would try savory shortbread, something that tasted like the black pepper biscuits you can find in Italian delis. I have been working on a savory biscotti, but just haven't gotten the texture the way I want it.   I've tried to replace the sugar in a sweet recipe with cheese but you don't get that crispness or chewyness you get with sugar.  Then it hit me, eliminate the eggs.  That basically leaves shortbread.  The result is these Black Pepper and Fennel Shortbread Crackers.

These are quick to make, and a lovely to serve to friends who drop over on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in the Spring, when it's just warm enough to sit on the porch in the sun and migrate to the fireplace when the sun goes down.

Monday
Mar242014

Fast Technology, Slow Cookers: Thai Pork and Coconut Rice

Back in the 80’s, I once had the pleasure of hearing author Tom Wolfe speak at a business conference.  As a newbie in the telecom/datacom world (see MCI Mail and the Days of Corn and Crab Soup), and as a fan of Wolfe’s many works about societal introspection, I couldn’t imagine what he would have to say to a group of techies that would resonate.

But that he did.  While he meandered around a number of subjects keeping the audience in side-splitting hysterics, he eventually found his way to what he considered the newest of technologies at the time:  cable TV and Car Phones.

From his comedic perspective, he lamented that he couldn’t understand why televisions, which you primarily left in your living room, were not connected to anything to get their reception, while telephones, which you needed almost anywhere you were, were plugged into the wall?

Gasp!

He then blatantly predicted that in the next 20 years, these two technologies would flip-flop.  The audience gave him a standing ovation.  I’m sure his research assistants were standing in the wings grinning.

A decade later I’m working at Sprint.  Sadly, their reputation has become somewhat tarnished, but I did spend 12 years there, and I learnt a thing or two.  In fact, they were the first company to build a nationwide cellular network, long before anyone else. 

But I digress. 

At one of our big Corporate Rah Rah events, our CEO spoke at the event.  He made a prediction as well.  He said, “Right now, if you leave your house and you realize you don’t have your wallet and your keys, you go back and get them.  In the not too distant future, we will add to that list our cell phones.”

At the rate of current technology adoption, it was probably by the end the conference.

Fast forward yet another decade.  I get this email in my mailbox this morning:

Dear Family and Friends...at least the ones I had saved to my iPhone,

Do you remember when phones were attached to a wall, post, phone booth or a night stand? Well, for good reason, you could always find them.

Today, in my haste to catch the ever so late 6:15 train, I lost my iPhone.  You know, the typical snoozing with intent to nap and dropped phone on seat. "Stamford, Stamford Station"...snort, snort and I was off.

I have submitted the correct forms and paper work to Metro North (in triplicate) and they assured me that they have an 80% recovery rate...pick up at Grand Central within 5-7 days. I am truly optimistic.

Lucky for me, my company has supplied me with a biz cell phone and that is how you can reach me for the next 7 days.  I feel compelled to share my only vocal contact tool number....XXX-XXX-XXXX with all of you.   You can also reach me by email at forgetmyhead@nocellphone.com.

Now that the Holidays are over, the need to communicate will slow down considerably but we do still have snow and nasty weather to get through, more birthdays, Super Bowl and according to The Weather Channel statistics, 80 days before we're clear to Spring.

Sadly missing my "iConnection" to the world... Naked I tell you,

Susan

Good thing she didn’t have to rush home for dinner.  I had recently shared this recipe with her and she had some ­­­­­­­Slow Cooked Thai Pork in the crock pot to come home to.

Sunday
Mar232014

Sweet Potato Corned Beef Hash: Dad’s Favorite, if he could remember

My dad has dementia.  The doctors say its mild.  That’s because they keep giving him this screening test, and he keeps acing it.  He just can’t remember what he had for lunch.  And that was an hour ago.

Or if he took his medications. 

Or how many glasses of wine he had. 

Me:  Dad, be careful, you’ve had too much wine.

Dad: I only have a half a glass at a time!

He’s an Optimist, though.  His glass is always half full.

Between the Dementia and the wine, the concept of volume is now completely lost on him.  Any glass, no matter how big or small, is only half full if there is even a half inch of space between the wine and the rim.

Add to that, he can’t remember how many half glasses he had, and now you’ve got yourself a problem.  Especially if that problem is over 80 years old, and still thinks he can drive.

We’ve been trying for more than a year to get his Long Term Care insurance policy to kick in, so we can get him some full time help in his house.  He’s lived alone since my Mother's death.  He was ok for a few years, but once the Dementia started to set it, he really went downhill fast.

We didn’t know what it was at first.  It started with him repeating himself every 15 minutes.  And then we started to notice he was drinking a lot.  More than he ever did his whole life.

Can’t say I blame him.  Dementia is a cruel thing.  The short term memory goes because what the person hears in their ear, can’t quite make it to their short term memory center, so it’s more like 4-5 minutes of memory is all he has. 

Watch TV?  Can’t follow the plot.  Watch Sports?  Can’t understand the plays.  Read a book?  Can’t remember what the last paragraph was.  Socialize?  Can’t follow the conversation thread.

But long term memory is different.  He can still remember how to get pretty much anywhere he wants to go.  So, go to lunch?  Sure thing!  He remembers how to get to Lenny and Joe’s, alright.

He just needs to remember to turn the correct way on Route 1, and Long Term Memory will get him home.  Right?  Well, as long as he makes the right turn.  One wrong turn, and he’ll end up in Rhode Island.

So when we took him into the hospital for what was supposed to be an outpatient procedure, but became an odyssey of two weeks and two days, we were glad to have gotten some home care help for him when he finally did get back home.  She was given instructions to take him wherever he needs to go, and that she is to drive.  So the plan was to have her take him to lunch on Saturdays, so she is driving, he can get out of the house, and have his wine with lunch and the family no longer has to worry about him killing or maiming others, or lawsuits.

His Home Aid made plans with him (and by plans that means she leaves him notes taped to everything in the house) to take him grocery shopping and then lunch the day after he got home.  He didn’t want to go shopping, so she went by herself.  When she got back, he was gone.

In a panic, she called everyone in the family.  Then she calmed down, and called Lenny and Joes.  She managed to convince the manager it was an emergency and got my dad on the phone.  He was there, having his wine and his lunch, just like always.  He just forgot to take his date with him.

Old habits die hard.

Then two days ago she got there at her normal 10am.  She’s quickly learning little tricks to figure out if he has been driving. 

At his age, and with his medical diagnosis (yeah we got some additional bad news as a result of his out-patient procedure), he can do anything he wants, or doesn’t want.  He’s earned it.  Except drive.  That’s the next battle.  How do you tell a man of his prior strength and accomplishments that not only does he need help, he has a terminal disease, and he can’t drive.  So, if he wants to drink his wine, I’m not going to tell him he can’t.  I just have to get him off the road.

Anyway, she gets to his house and notices a bottle of wine on the counter. 

Home Aid:  Ed, did you go out this morning?

Dad: I don’t know.

HA:  How much money do you have in your wallet? (That’s how she keeps track of him.)

Dad:  $153

HA:  Well, you had $170 last night.  Where did you go?

Dad:  I went to get milk.

HA:  Ed, there’s no milk in the refridgerator.  Where did you go?

Dad:  I don’t know.

HA:  Ed, did you go to get wine?

Dad:  No. I had that wine.  (No, there are now two bottles on the counter, and there was only one the night before.)

HA:  Ed, you know you’re not supposed to drive, right?

Dad:  Who said I can’t drive?

HA:  Your doctors told you not to drive.

Dad:  Oh, that’s just something Margot made up!

So if you see my Dad out driving, please call me.  And then get out of his way, because he’s forgotten that I’m going to his house today to bring him is favorite leftovers from St. Patrick’s Day, Corned Beef Hash.

Friday
Jan102014

Fast Technology, Fast Food: Gnocci with Sausage and Rabe

Back in the 80’s, I once had the pleasure of hearing author Tom Wolfe speak at a business conference.  As a newbie in the telecom/datacom world (see MCI Mail and the Days of Corn and Crab Soup), and as a fan of Wolfe’s many works about societal introspection, I couldn’t image what he would have to say to a group of techies that would resonate.

But that he did.  While he meandered around a number of subjects keeping the audience in side-splitting hysterics, he eventually found his way to what he viewed as the emerging technologies of the time:  Cable TV and Car Phones.

From his comedic perspective, he lamented that he couldn’t understand why televisions, which you primarily left in your living room, were not connected to anything to get their reception, while telephones, which you needed almost anywhere you were, were plugged into the wall?

Gasp!

He then blatantly predicted that in the next 20 years, these two technologies would flip-flop.  The audience gave him a standing ovation.  (I’m sure his research assistants were standing in the wings patting themselves on the back.)

A decade later I’m working at Sprint.  Sadly, their reputation has become somewhat tarnished, but I did spend 12 years there, and I learnt a thing or two.  In fact, they were the first company to build a nationwide cellular network, long before anyone else. 

But I digress. 

At one of our big Corporate Rah Rah events, our COO, Len Lauer, spoke at the event.  I had the privilege of spending a bit of one-on-one time with Len.  He was executive sponsor of my accounts, and ever since, he has been top on my list of most admired in Corporate America.  Anyway, Len made a prediction as well.  He said, “Right now, if you leave your house and you realize you don’t have your wallet and your keys, you go back and get them.  In the not too distant future, we will add to that list our cell phones.”

At the rate of current technology adoption, it was probably by the end the conference.

Fast forward yet another decade.  I get this email from my dear friend Susan in my mailbox, subject "iLost":

Dear Family and Friends...at least the ones I had saved to my iPad,

Do you remember when phones were attached to a wall, post, phone booth or a night stand? Well, for good reason, you could always find them.

Today, in my haste to catch the ever so late 6:15 train out, I lost my iPhone. You know, the typical snoozing with intent to nap and dropped phone on seat. "Stamford, Stamford Station"...snort, snort and I was off.

I have submitted the correct forms and paper work to the Metro North (in triplicate) and they assured me that they have an 80% recovery rate...pick up at Grand Central within 5-7 days. I am truly optimistic.

Lucky for me, my company has supplied me with a biz cell phone and that is how you can reach me for the next 7 days.  I feel compelled to share my only vocal contact tool number....555-555-1212 with all of you.   You can also reach me by email: forgotmyhead@nocellphone.com.

Now that the Holidays are over, the need to communicate will slow down considerably but we do still have snow and nasty weather to get through, more birthdays, Super Bowl and according to The Weather Channel statistics,  80 days before we're clear to Spring.

Sadly missing my "iConnection" to the world... Naked I tell you,

Susan

Good thing dinner was quick when she got home:  Gnocci with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe.

BTW:  Happy Birthday!

Sunday
Jan052014

Too Many Cooks: Accidental Molten Chocolate Cake

Grace arrived at our house on Saturday and made two requests:  Did we have milk, and did we have dessert?

Milk we had.  We also had company, so it seemed that the right thing to do was to make our guests make their own dessert, right?

Given a short time frame, a three-year old, popcorn on the floor, and five people in the kitchen, I needed a simple recipe that didn’t take a lot of time. 

Chancellor (above) was testing his own recipes, so its a good thing this cake is a snap to make, and doesn’t require more than a bowl or two and a whisk. 

Done in two bowls.  One for the dry ingredients whisked together, and one for the wet ingredients.  Butter melted, sugar, eggs and vanilla whisked in.  Mix the dry, add the coffee, pour into a cake pan and throw it in the oven for 40 minutes. 

Piece of cake.

Almost.

In the confusion of recipe interpretation by all involved, mimosas, and the convenience of reachable pans, I grabbed the 9 inch round cake pan instead.   We got the cake into the oven and set it for 40 minutes.  Grace is learning how to tell if a cake is done, so at the sound of the buzzer, she carefully opened the oven, and tested with a toothpick. 

Very wet.  Back in the oven for 2 minutes. 

Buzzer again.  Very wet again.  Back in the oven for another 2 minutes.

After two more attempts, we decided to just take our chances and pull the cake out of the oven.  Chocolate does tend to bake after the fact and its often very easy end to up with an overbaked, dry result.

Hmmm........ I wondered.  This cake was exhibiting the classic symptoms of having too much batter in the pan.

Math Wiz to the rescue!!

Grace (who at 14 doesn't ask me for help with her homework, thank goodness) did a quick calculation, and sure enough, there is nearly 25% more room in a 9 inch square pan than there is in a 9 inch round pan.  Whodda thunk?

When there is too much batter in the pan, any cake will rise up and dome in the middle.  If you leave it in the oven long enough for the dome to finish baking, you end up with dry, often burnt outside edges.  If you take it out of the oven, the dome will fall, and leave you with a gooey mess in the middle.  Not a good result if you are making a layer cake.

But we weren’t. 

We were making a cake to snack on right out of the pan, hence the name Coffee Cocoa Snack Cake.  We cut the cake just as it was cool enough to handle.  It was very wet.  My instincts told me to pour a little heavy cream into the middle, and serve it warm.   

It has now been renamed Accidental Molten Chocolate Cake, and will forever be timed to get served about 30 minutes after it comes out of the oven.

Monday
Dec302013

Grace's Favorite: Chocolate Sparkle Cookies

  

OMG, she's 14!  The Girl, that is.  My sister walked in at Christmas, and proceeded to blame me for letting her grow up.  Who is she kidding, she did the same thing with her daughter (Broken Promises and Pecan Sandies). 

Back to Grace.  She's still my Kitchen Slave, but now she's wearing my shoes.

And sleeping late on Saturday's like a typical teenager.

She promised she was going to help me make Chocolate Sparkle Cookies for Christmas and for her birthday.  By the time she got out of bed, I had already blanched and skinned the almonds for these cookies.  Which left her with the easy part. 

I got her back, though.  She was still in time to make the 160 Walnut Shortbread Christmas Cookies that are part of the family ritual. 

And also part of my gift giving ritual when I lived out West.  I ran with a rather well-heeled crowd and they were very difficult to buy gifts for.  I eventually ended up baking these and about six other varieties of cookies as gifts.  Couldn't get them at Nordstrom, that's for sure.  My dear friend Barbara and I exchanged gifts this season:  she got these, and I got a box of See's Victoria Toffee.

Thursday
Dec122013

Lasagna Bolagnase: The Way to a Man's Heart

My grandmother, Caroline Martone, who was born in Italy in 1892, made this version of Bolognase Sauce, eminating from the city of Bologna in the Emilia Romagna Region.  Every family in Emilia Romagna has a Ragu recipe, and her family was no different.  Now, our family heritage holds that Caroline wooed Vincent Euzzine with this recipe, using the tried and true method of getting to a man’s heart.

Caroline and Vincent immigrated to America in 1918, and settled in Connecticut, to join other members of the Martone family in Branford.  Caroline died in 1938, and Vincent died in 1940, leaving six daughters, the oldest 20, and my mother Nancy, the youngest, just 8 years old. 

 

All six daughters were wonderful cooks, and a few of their mother’s recipes survived, and were passed along.  My mother fell in love with a handsome Irish hunk, Edward, and used this Ragu recipe to snare him.  When I showed an interest in cooking at an early age, she taught me to make this sauce.  It’s nothing like the canned versions of tomato sauce made popular in the 1950’s and 60’s.  In fact, it has very little tomato in it, which makes it stand apart from the normal, Southern Italian fare popularized in the Northeast.  

   

So, when a certain gentleman came into my life with all the right stuff, I made up my mind to use my family’s love potion to seal the deal.  The first time I made it for him, I thought he was going to cry.  The second time, he showed a particular interest in learning the ingredients.  The third time, which I thought was going to be the charm, he showed up early enough to “help” the cook.  He painstakingly wrote down every ingredient as I added it, and watched the sauce cook slowly to perfection.  Again, tears when the meal was served.  I eagerly awaited his proposal during dessert.  

I never saw him after that night.  I thought he wanted me, but he just wanted this recipe.  So, here it is  Paparadella or Lasagna Bolognasse.  Take your time with it, buy the best ingredients you can find, and be very, very careful who you serve it to.

Sunday
Dec012013

Right Coast Newport and Thanksgiving Leftovers

When I lived in Newport  (the one on the Left Coast), one of the local magazines coined the phrase “Affluenza” which meant visibly (though perhaps not actually) wealthy.  Mercedes and BMW’s aplenty.  Bling everywhere. 

McMansions.  This is actually the neighborhood that become The OC, under construction.

The women wore “short, black and tight.” Surgically enhanced everything.  The men were wealthy.  Or at least highly leveraged.  Shortly thereafter came the rise of “The OC” and “Real Housewives of Orange County” both filmed in my neck of the woods.

That’s nothing compared to Newport, Rhode Island.

What does this have to do with Christmas (you ask?)

We visited the Newport Mansions this past weekend.  In December, three of the largest are open and decorated for Christmas. 

I thought The Hearst Castle was grand, but it’s dwarfed by The Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s weekend cottage. 

Measuring a mere 135,000 square feet, with 70 rooms, it sits on the Cliff Walk, and dares you to compare it to anything but Buckingham Palace.  We also visited The Elms, a cottage built by the coal magnate, Edward Berwind, who supplied the fuel for Vanderbilt’s steamships, then his railroads, Carnegie’s steel mills, and Rockefeller’s oil refineries. 

Cozy arrangement, no?

Not to be outdone by anyone in Paris, Cornelius’s daughter Alva Vanderbilt, built The Marble House.   Modeled after The Petit Trianon, the smaller of King Louis XV’s palace at Versaille, Alva stole architecture (and sometimes other things like mantels and ceilings) from anything French.

Mrs. Vanderbilt:  “If it’s good enough for King Louis, it’s good enough for us.”

Her husband:  “Whatever, dear.”

Well, she did wear the pants in the family, being an heiress and all.

The dining room chairs were made of bronze and covered in gold, to match King Louis' chairs made of silver.  They weighed in at 75 pounds for the guests, and 125 pounds for the armchairs.  A servant behind each chair was required to help each guest pull up a chair to the table.

The estimates of what it would take to build The Breakers today, at $22 Million, seems way off base.  I’d say more like $100 Million.   Not including the furniture and the drapes.

From my perspective, once you have seen one coffered ceiling stolen from a palace in France, you’ve seen them all.  I was more fascinated by the kitchens and butler’s pantries.

But it was not the buildings that most impressed me.  Yes, clearly these were built to portray immense wealth and power.  And they do.  But it was the men who built them that fascinated me.

The Men Who Built America is a very recent documentary from The History Channel. (See the Link at the bottom of the side panel on the Fun Stuff page.)  We happened to catch it while channel surfing over the Thanksgiving Weekend, and we were hooked.

I don‘t remember learning much about these men in school.  It seems history went from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, to the Mexican American War, to the World Wars.  Yeah, we discussed the Industrial Revolution, but that was a cast of thousands.

Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockefeller, JP Morgan and Ford.  Those names are familiar to all of us.  But did we really understand what they did, and how these five changed the face of America?

Did you know they all knew each other?  Did you know they competed, coerced, spied on, blackmailed, attempted murder and partnered with each other? 

They defied the US Government.  They bought the US Government.  They bought themselves a President.  (Sound familiar?)

By today’s standards, Carnegie and Rockefeller had a combined net worth of more than 3 Trillion dollars.  Today, they would blow past Bill Gates and Rupurt Murdoch as if those two were standing still.

Four episodes, 90 minutes each, covering Vanderbilt’s rise just after the Civil War, through Henry Ford’s defiance of the Automotive industry to produce a car that even the workers making the car could afford.  If you have a chance to see it on the History Channel, don’t miss it.  I just purchased the DVD collection from their web site.   A steal at $29.95 with a 25% coupon.

Perfect to settle in front of a fire with a bowl of Turkey Paprikash Soup, and Cranberry Chutney, my take on Thanksgiving Leftovers. 

Monday
Apr082013

Spring Fever: Fra Diavlo Salad

It's never going to get warm.  Ever.

Just when you think you are done with this:

And ready for this:

You end up with this:

Hyacinths on the table, and a fire in the fireplace.

I'm sick of winter food.  Sick of braises.  Sick of roasts.  Dying for grilled food. Weather not cooperating. By the time April rolls around, I've made every winter dish in the book.  I want something that tastes of Spring.

I'd show you a close up, but it just looks like lettuce leaves.  Wet lettuce leaves.  But the taste?  OMG. Simple really.  Remember the Fra Diavlo Basil Oil?

Core and dice a couple of tomatos.  They don't deserve much more than that at this time of year.  Salt and pepper them, and pour some of the oil over them and let them macerate for about an hour.  Then toss with torn romaine lettuce and sprinkle with parmasean cheese.

It will taste like Spring even though the fire is going.

Sunday
Apr072013

Artichokes: An Italian Rite of Spring

I'm fairly certain I came out of the womb loving artichokes.

So did all of my siblings.  I can’t even remember trying them, only loving them.  And jumping up and down in anticipation of eating them come Spring.

There were six of us, Mom, Dad, me and my three siblings.  So, of course, she bought four artichokes at a time. 

She made the classic, stuffed and steamed for two hours on the stove-top.  We loved them so much, she would make us eat our dinner first and serve them to us for dessert.  

My father, still a young Irishman, could not fathom what we liked about these angry looking stalks, and he would sit there watching us peel back and scrape the leaves. 

“How can you eat those things?”

He would try a leave, make a face, and it was over for another year.  Eventually he succumbed.  In fact, he succumbed to most of the Italian food my mother put on the table once she got tired of serving the meat and potatoes fare he insisted on.

My mother would sit and watch us take the leaves off down to the heart.  And then she’d say, “I’ll eat that if you don’t want it.” 

Four Artichokes, four kids, one naysayer, and one heart eater.

We have a new artichoke lover in the family, namely, Grace the Girl.  Tried them.  Loved them.  I gave her a few words of advice:

"If you see stuffed artichokes on the menu, order them.  You will love them."

"If you see a menu item with artichoke hearts in it, don't order it.  You will hate it."

I don’t stuff them anymore.  Too much work.  I learned to grill them when I lived out West (See California Grilled Artichokes in Recipes).  Served as an appetizer.  What a concept, huh?

Saturday
Mar162013

Corned Beef and Sauerkraut: It's not the meat, it's the motion

I grew up with an Italian Mother and an Irish Father.  That made St. Patrick’s Day at our house pretty sad.  Nan (my mom) didn’t really know how to cook meat and potatoes, much less corned beef.   The traditional method was (and still is) to boil the pre-made corned beef brisket in water for a few hours, and then dump in big chunks of green cabbage and potatoes to cook in the liquid.

Yucky.

Mushy.

Greasy.

Fatty.

And the rest of the dwarves.

In an effort to dress up this beige mess, she would slather on a glaze of mustard mixed with brown sugar and bake it in the oven to finish it off. But you can't make chicken salad out of chicken poop, no matter how much mayonnaise you put on it.

Mostly, we ran out of the house.  We were kids and the cold outside didn’t daunt us, but the menu for dinner did.  

Fast Forward:  I now live in Connecticut, smack in the middle of New York and Boston, New Haven and Hartford.  Prime St. Patrick's Day territory.  

And worse, it's not even over on one day, it takes up nearly two weeks.

Turns out that most of the Bag Pipe Corps that march in these parades, actually march in all of them.  If all the parades were scheduled on the same day, they would get very small, very quickly.  

You can't throw a dead cat without bumping into Corned Beef and Cabbage on any menu within a 200 mile radius.

In fact, its not actually about the corned beef.  Unless you are going to brine it yourself, buy it in the grocers and just follow the instructions, which is:  cook in water in a slow cooker for about 6 hours.

Turns out, it's really what you serve with the Corned Beef that makes it interesting.  

Paired with some Homemade Sauerkraut, and baked sweet potato fries, corned beef has become meal we look forward to come Spring.

Saturday
Mar092013

Hazelnut Biscotti: So easy a child can make them

Wanted:  

Blogger Editor for fun food blog.  Duties include recipe testing, photo 

shoots and editing. Author needs a self starter with some knowledge of computers and food.  No experience required.  Must be over 12 years of age.  

I got a respondent to my advertizement.

Ok, it was more likely an enticement and recruitment.

Doesn't matter, she works for food.

Grace the Girl is actually a wonderful kitchen slave.  And she made these Hazelnut Biscotti from start to finish, she edited the recipe text for me, and she helped me stage the photo and do the photo editing.  

I'd tell you I can now sit back and relax, but truth be known, she makes more of a mess in the kitchen than I do. 

Saturday
Mar092013

Pasta Primavera: It's not easy being green

Or Khaki.  That’s what color the peas were that my mother served us as kids.  Right out of the can, heated in their own liquid. 

Serious Ick Factor. 

Then spooned onto your plate just when you thought dinner was going to be alright.  You weren’t allowed to leave the table until you ate your peas. 

Mushy to boot.

Having delayed their consumption until the bitter end, they were now cold as well.  My first attempt would be to bury them in a spoonful of mashed potatoes and swallow them whole, but that rarely worked.   I would end up just trying to figure out how to hide them in my napkin, the potatoes, my shirt sleeve, even in my mouth until I could get outside or into the bathroom and spit them out.

Flash forward:  I’m standing at the Farmers Market in CA, paying $7 for a basket of fresh shelled peas.

Flash forward some more:  I’m making chicken pot pie for Grace The Girl, having only met her a few weeks prior where I saw her demolish a chicken pot pie at The Griswold Inn.

Chris: “Chicken Pot Pie is her favorite.”

My mom made the best chicken pot pie.  She was a pie-maker and made the best crust on the planet.  The ingredients were simple:  chicken, chicken stock slightly thickened, peas and carrots.  I could have lived without the peas, but for this dish we were allowed to pick around them.   With the advent of frozen peas, this might not have been necessary, but our taste buds were too tainted to try them.

As I’m spooning filling into the pie shell, I realize I have put nearly an entire box of frozen peas into a 9 inch pie.  The last thing I wanted was to have this seven year old think dinner at my house was punishment, so I painstakingly spooned the filling back into the bowl, and picked out more than half the peas.

Grace:  “Peas are my favorite.” 

Of course they are. 

As Grace and I decorated for Spring with indoor Easter Egg Trees, we got inspired and made this Italian Classic:  Pasta Primavera.  The perfect dish to use up the last bit of frozen New Year's ham, and the first fresh peas of the season.

Monday
Dec312012

Resolutions and White Bean Pasta Fagioli

 

Leave it to Chris to decide to go on his diet BEFORE Thanksgiving. 

No stuffing.  No gravy.  No mashed potatoes.   No potatoes au gratin.  No beans.  No bread.  No root vegetables. 

Why?  No starch of any kind. 

Meat?  Sure thing.  And lots of it.

Cheese?  You bet.  So much that I’m surprised he’s not a solid.

Olive Oil and Butter?  Slather it on.  Fat is not his enemy.

Me?

I figured out what my kryptonite is:  All of the above.

And I have to cook for both of us.

Which means either I cook two completely different meals, or one of us doesn’t loose weight.

Challenging. 

Boring.  Just what you want in a food blog.

Worst yet, no cocktails on the porch. 

My diet starts January 2nd.

Until then, here is a quick little dish I just whipped up with what I had in the house.  Depending on volume, it could be healthy or a heart attack.

But I won’t think about that today.  I'll just enjoy my White Bean Pasta Fagioli.

Friday
Dec142012

Real Men Make Quiche

No one makes better Quiche than my husband.  Faster maybe,  but not better.  Being the methodical fella he is, it takes him a good four hours to make his famous Quiche recipe. 

While working at a Long Island grocery store as a kid, he learned how to make Quiche in the deli department, and has not deviated from it for thirty (Happy Birthday, dear) years.

The crusts must be purchased from the freezer department.  They must be Oronoc Orchards. 

The cheese must be the exact ratio of Swiss, to Jarlsburg to Lorraine.   We have since found that there is no longer any Lorraine cheese to be found anywhere.  There seems there is a story going around that the factory burned down, but I found no hits to prove that to be true.  I did find several other hits where queries about the disappearance of Lorraine cheese were met with the same mysterious story from the trusty folks behind the deli counter.   I even found a hit that claims it is illegal to lie down and fall asleep in a cheese factory.

Emily (Latella):  “Nevermind.”

The cheese must be grated by hand, using a box grater.  The cheeses must be mixed by hand.  The eggs are whisked two at a time, no matter how many Quiches are being made. 

The heavy cream must be individually measured by the cupful for each pie, and poured into the two wisked eggs.  And then the mixture is seasoned with salt and white pepper, before being poured into each pie shell.

Then, and only then, is the ham or spinach added to the top of the pile.  By the time he’s finished, the pie shells are full to the brim, carefully moved to the middle rack of the oven, and baked. 

For nearly 90 minutes.

I learned how to make Quiche from the Joy of Cooking, and we nearly got divorced when I tried to get him to alter his process.  Not his recipe, mind you, just his process.   

Nope.

I had convinced him to let me play soux chef.   Made all of the pie crusts myself.  I’ll never offer to do that again.  Two, maybe.  Six?  Fogettaboutit!

Six pounds of cheese to grate, you say?  That’s what a Food Processor is for.  Ok,  good idea.

Mix all of the cream and the eggs together and then measure them out?   I could see him drawing up the papers in his head.

Scald the eggs and cream together to cut down on the baking time?  You would have thought I had suggested he divulge his Recipe for Quiche Lorraine.  (Luckily, he doesn't get to edit this blog.)

But no matter what we serve at our Christmas Day Brunch, this dish always gets rave reviews.   Chris would make it more often, but it would be unfair to all of the other quiches.

Monday
Dec032012

Next Time make it Bracciole

When I pictured having a husband in my life, one of the first chores I thought of having help with was a Christmas Tree. 

Yeah.

No.

My father got the tree for my mother, put it in the stand, and brought it in the house.  From there, it was her deal.  Why shouldn’t I have expected anything different?

From my earliest trees, it was always an event.  I’ve always been a big fan of “choose and cut” trees, having grown up on a tree farm.  Depending on where I was living at the time, it was as much as an hour to find a place where trees actually grew.  I would make a day of it.  I’d have a meal all prepared, have my ornaments out and at the ready, and not a drop of anything to drink until the lights were on the tree.

Someone once showed me how to wrap the lights around each branch, and from that point on, it became one of the biggest chores of the season.  Since I was single, it was me getting the tree, getting it home, getting it in the stand, getting it in the house, and getting the lights on it.

Not without incident.

Take the year I decided to have the tree delivered to my house.   I thought I would finally have some help, and for a mere $25 fee, actually have a man bring the tree in the house. Didn’t quite work out that way. 

I was in Newport Beach at the time, and there were Christmas Trees available on every corner.  I thought it would be easy to get my tree delivered on the spot.  When I went to the tree place, they were not able to deliver until the following week.  And I’d already planned my Saturday event around having the tree that evening, and decorating with a date.  A date that stood me up, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I later found out the reason he stood me up was because of his wife.  But that’s another story.

It took the tree guy nearly 45 minutes to tie the tree to the top of my car.   He could have driven it to my house and been back in that time, and gotten paid for his efforts, but no.

As I’m driving up the hill towards home, I happen to look in my rear view mirror, and what do my wondering eyes behold but a tree rolling down the hill.  Odd.  Where did that come from? 

Oh.  Right.  It was my tree.

I pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the car, looked at the tree laying on the shoulder, and did what any normal woman would do in that situation. 

I cried.

Miraculously, a truck pulled over almost immediately.  A nice young man got out, and after introductions and a couple of attempts at putting the tree in the car, he said,

“Where do you live?”

I pointed to my condo complex, because it was within sight.  He threw the tree in the back of the truck, and said, “I’ll just follow you, it’s easier.”

Smart guy.

When we got to my place, and he put the tree in the bucket of water I had ready, he said to me,

“Next time, ma’m, maybe you should have your husband help you.”

Right.  Next time.

Then there was the year I decided to use up all of that cathedral ceiling space with a 9 foot tree.  I went to the local tree place, and picked out a beauty.  I even had my gardener -- (OK, I know that sounds ridiculous, but when your yard is all of 100 square feet, it doesn’t make sense to invest in yard equipment, it’s actually cheaper to just have someone else do it) -- scheduled to help me with my tree.

The difference between an 8 ½ foot tree and a 9 foot tree is more than just the six inches in height I discovered.  The trunk of the tree was also about six inches bigger around, and there was no getting that thing into my tree stand.  Nor any of my neighbors tree stands.  After several attempts to trim the trunk with his chain saw, my gardener even threw in the towel.

Back to the tree place to purchase an extra large stand, one with three legs more than four feet in length to support a tree as big as I had purchased.  As I’m paying for the stand, the tree guy says to me,

“You know you have to drill a hole into the trunk to get it onto the spike in this tree stand, right?”

Right. 

“Do you have a drill that big?”

How big?  As big as my forearm it turns out.

Nope.

Out of the goodness of his heart (not to mention the $125 I shelled out for this tree), he loaned my gardener his drill.  Back again to my house, where Frank (that’s was my gardener’s name), proceeded to drill into this poor tree, and then it takes both of us to get the tree into the house and then back to the tree place to return the drill.

By this time, it’s nearly 6pm, and I have to string 1200 lights on this monster.  It took me nearly four hours. 

Did I test the lights before hand?

No I did not.

I’ll remember to do that.

Next time.

Good thing dinner was ready. 

This year, Braciole, made the day before.

 

 

Monday
Jan022012

Vodka Sauce, Then and Now

 

Many (many) New Years Eve’s ago, alone still, I had invited Louise, one of my dear friends, over for dinner.  I had been dating a man the previous year and was devasted by the break up.  Actually, it wasn’t so much a break up as it was a case of MIA.  (Yeah, again.)

A couple of months before, I was driving us to dinner.  At the time, I had a five-speed Mercedes.  He commented that he had bought his first wife a Mercedes, and his second wife a BMW.  I was leasing my car at the time, and we were discussing the "keep or not keep" option at the end of the lease. 

Later, he said to me, “You know, I think you should keep that car.”  And I said, without missing a beat, “You’re just saying that so you don’t have to buy me one.” 

You know that moment when you think you are in a relationship and then you know you’ve stepped over the boundary line?  I held my breath.

I never saw him again.

Being a glutton for punishment, I sent him a tin of Christmas Cookies over the holidays, in a desperate attempt to get a response from him. 

Nothing. 

I was planning to make fusilli with Vodka Sauce for New Year’s Eve dinner with Louise.  Whole Foods Market had just opened, and they carried fresh pasta, and I placed an order for a couple of pounds of fresh fusilli.  When I went to pick up the pasta, they had forgotten my order.  My emotions running rampant, I burst into tears.  The Manager of Whole Foods took pity on me, and promised to make the pasta and deliver it. 

When I got home, I found three items on my doorstep:  The pasta, a bottle of champagne from Whole Foods, and a package.  When I opened the package, it was the empty cookie tin and note from him to: “Take care.” 

I was livid.  When Louise came over and I told her what happened, she asked if I was going to do anything about it. 

Me: “I’ll wait until I’m a little less angry and then I’ll decide.” 

Louise: “Don’t wait too long.” 

She was right.  I picked up the phone and left him a scathing voicemail about being such a coward. 

Hung up. 

Called back.

Me (to his answering machine): “AND YOU ATE THE COOKIES?!” 

We spent the remainder of the evening marveling over the vodka sauce, and the fact that that creep ate the cookies.

Recently, I saw a woman I know from the gym in the grocery store.  She was racking her brains trying to come up with a plan for dinner, while her teenage son pulled at her sleeve to buy a jar of Vodka Sauce.  I quickly wrote down this recipe for her.  Hope it was good.  Saw Mr. Pepin in the grocery store as well.  Should’ve asked him what he was making for dinner.