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Better ingredients, better technique, better results.

Entries by Margot (22)

Saturday
Sep032016

Dressed to Grill: Tenderloin for when the IRS comes calling

I work at home.  That might sound glamourous but its really pretty grimy.  There are weeks when I don't leave the house for 3 and 4 days.  Sitting at my desk, in my sweats, no make-up, you get it.  I clean up nice on the weekends, though.

The other morning, I'm sitting at my desk, my phone rings, and when I pick up it up, its the Internal Revenue Service.  

Pre-recorded:  This is the Internal Revenue Service and we are bringing suit against you for non-payment of taxes. Please call this number:  213-590-XXXX.  Click.

Normally, I would have hung up on whatever telemarketer calls my phone.  Not a word, I just hang up.

But a couple years ago, I actually did get a letter from the IRS saying that I owed them money.  It was addressed to a company I had never heard of, but sent to my mailing address.

After staring at this letter most of the day, I finally realized that the FEIN (that's Federal Entity Identification Number) was one digit different than mine.

Someone at the IRS fat-fingered the FEIN number, and sent a letter to a company that presumable does owe them money, but my address came up in their data base when they entered my FEIN to do the lookup.

I dutifully called the IRS (800-TAX-1040, if you don't know), recited the reference number to the agent, and then tried to explain what I thought had happened, but the Agent got a bit terse with me. 

IRS:  I can't give you any tax information if you are not the party of record.  

Me:  I'm not asking for tax information, I'm trying to get the record corrected.

IRS:  Click

After several tries, I gave up.  

Several weeks later, I get a postal notice of a registered letter from the IRS.  Well, not for me, for that poor company who actually does owe the IRS money, and doesn't know it.

I tried the IRS again.  Same thing.  As soon as I tell them I am not the owner of the company, they clam up.

Since then, I get one of those postal notices about every 6 months.  Wonder what the penalties and interest is now?  I Googled the name of the company, but couldn't find them.

Fast forward, I'm sitting at my desk and I get this recorded announcement.  

My first thought is how much of my life is going to now be devoted to straightening out this mess.

I call the number in the recording.  A young man with a heavy accent identified himself as James Jones, Badge Number:  DL13850, and then confirms my name and address.

IRS:  I'm going to give you a reference number and I'm going to read the charges against you.  Do not interrupt me.

Me:  What charges are you talking about?  I haven't been notified of any charges.

IRS:  We have been trying to reach you.  For the years 2010 to 2014 your taxes don't match our records and you owe us $5,906.56.  Did you do this deliberately?

Me:  How have you been trying to reach me?  I haven't any record of the IRS sending me anything.  What documents do you have?

IRS:  We don't have them anymore, they have now gone to the vault in Washington, DC.

Me:  When did you try to reach me?

IRS:  We attempted to reach you at your home last Friday.  The Post Office attempted to deliver the documents to you, but no one was home.

Me:  I work at home.  I was home all day last Friday.  (Quick check of my Outlook Calendar confirms this.)

IRS:  No one came to the door.

Me:  I happen to personally know our mail carrier and if she came to the door, I would have seen her out the window of my office.  No one came to the door.

IRS:  If you don't pay this money, we will take away your license and all of your belongings.

Me:  I have the right to see the documents you have, I have no documents saying I owe you money.

IRS:  Well, then we'll have the Sheriff come to your house and we'll do a background check.

Me:  What?  What are you talking about?  When is this Sheriff coming to my house?

IRS:  Within 30 minutes of this phone call ending.  So you better get dressed!!

Me:  What is this Sheriff going to do?

IRS:  Take you into custody, so you had better call your family and let them know you are going to jail!!

Me:  Jail?  You can't take me to jail without me seeing your documents!

IRS:  And you better bring your lawyer!

Me:  I don't have a lawyer!

IRS:  Well, don't you think you better get on it?  Click.

I actually broke out into a cold sweat.  I could see myself calling my husband, my hair dresser, and my client and telling them I wasn't going to make my appointments.  Fear had taken over.  And Panic was quickly setting in.

I called my Accountant.  

Me (nearly in tears):  Dean, I just got this horrible call from the IRS saying they were going to send the Sheriff to take me into custody and . . .

Dean:  Before you go any further, let me stop you right there.  Its a SCAM!

Me (now that I can breath again), OMG, really?

Dean:  Yup, its been going on for a couple of years now.  You didnt give them any of your information, did you?

Me:  Thankfully, I did not.

All I could think of was, "How did the IRS know I wasn't dressed?"  Next time, I'll be dressed and have something special for when they come calling.  How about Grilled Tenderloin and Blue Cheese Butter?

Saturday
Aug132016

Christmas in July: Gramma Daly's Crumb Cake

It seems my two family members have a penchant for crumb cake.

Or more to the point: crumb.  Skip the cake.

If I could figure out a way to just bake the crumb, they would be ecsatic.

But something has to go under the crumb, its just about proportion.

Christmas growing up meant this cake, homemade egg nog and cold lobster salad on Christmas morning.  

All kids can't wait to get up and get opening, and our family was no different.  

Except for my brother, who would get up anytime between 1am and 4am, play in the dark with what Santa brought, go back to bed and sleep in.  

After we opened all our gifts, we'd trudge through the snow to my Aunt Gen's house, about 100 feet away, and look at their gifts.  And have crumb cake for breakfast with them.

Next round:  my Aunt Lorraine's house, 100 feet on the other side of the house, look at their gifts, drink eggnog and eat lobster salad.

Finally back to our house, where my brother has finally gotten up.  You could tell by the smell in the house.  His favorite breakfast on Christmas morning was leftover baked stuffed shrimp.

And that was all before heading over to my Aunt Helen's house (yes, there were uncles in the picture but we all knew who ruled the roost), for a simple meal of lasagna and garlic bread, followed by turkey with all of the trimmings.

Not wanting to clock the scales any more than I already do, I thought for Grace's last meal home before heading to Switzerland (for a year!), we'd make some crumb cake together.  A little Christmas in July.

Tuesday
Aug042015

Healthy Eating: Blueberry Almond Crumble Pie

"I lost weight on my vacation"

Like I needed to hear that.

Apparently, it's all about eating blueberries.  Day and night.  

I had this conversation with a client the other day.  She had just gotten back from vacation and we were trying to catch up.  Being an hour behind me, my phone rang just as I was at the point of dinner prep that there was no going back.

Cheryl: Can you talk now?

Me: Well, I just started dinner but I have hands-free headset, so sure!

Cheryl:  Well, I really need to talk the contracts, and I forgot you were an hour ahead of me.

Me:  Are you sure?

Cheryl:  What are you cooking for dinner?

Me:  Frittata with Homemade Sausage and fresh tomatoes

Cheryl:  I'm coming to your house!  

Me:  Where did you go on vacation?

Cheryl:  We went mountain biking in Colorado Springs.  We actually ate really healthy.  I had blueberries every morning for breakfast and then again at night, with yogurt instead of ice cream.  I lost weight!

So that's the secret, huh?

This Blueberry Almond Crumble pie isn't going to be on anyone's healthy list, but as far as dessert goes, you can't beat it with a gallon of ice cream.

Monday
Jun162014

Gramma Daly's Cole Slaw: Not your average fruit loop salad

Must be a trend.  I thought my sister was the only cook whose idea of a vegetable included the use of dried ramen noodles.  Sometimes, if the recipe was for a special occasion, she would make dressing out of the packet of dried stuff that came in the box.  Now that’s a smart use of her grocery money. 

(And I know that she knows I hate it.)

Then I saw it on a cooking show.  On television.  In primetime. 

As I start out this food blog adventure, I wonder what makes people watch a cooking show, read a blog or a cookbook.  I’m trying to keep an open mind, because they are on television, and well, I’m not.

(Not that I want to be, but I have always dreamed of publishing a cookbook.)

I was livid the other day watching this one program, and not to get too serious, but there was nearly 6 cups of sugar used in this meal.  Dinner was for six people.  There was two cups of sugar and a cup of honey blended together to pour over ham.  Then there was a stick of butter, and a half cup of brown sugar in another sauce.  Then the salad had a 3/4ths cup of sugar in the dressing.  The dessert had  another 1 ½ cups of sugar. 

For Dinner.  For six people.  Ok, so the ham was intended for 15 or so servings, and the dessert 10 servings, if you made the cuts small.  For a single serving of this meal, I calculated more than one half cup of sugar, but I’m guessing they went back for seconds. 

What do you want to bet they served diet soda with the meal?

No wonder we have obesity running rampant in this country.

Ok, I’m done.

I get a lot of compliments when I make cole slaw (Gramma Daly's).

Like:  “I don’t really like cole slaw, but yours is delicious.”

Let me tell you why they like it:  Because it hasn’t been sitting in a vinegar and sugar dressing for hours.  That’s why.

I won’t tell you it’s low fat.  Not with all of the mayonnaise in it.  Made correctly, however, it can be about the same as any other salad.

Simple.  Five ingredients.

Creamy.  Only about 2 tablespoons of vinegar.

Fresh and Crunchy.  Tossed just before it’s served.

Never any left.

Saturday
Aug242013

Houseguests and Hummus

I know you can buy good hummus, but if I have to make one more trip to the grocery store before guests arrive, I'm going to scream.  

Which is why I like to make hummus.  

Its what I call great pantry food.  You can pretty much count on having the ingredients around when you need to make something quick.

Like when guests show up.  Which they are doing again.  Not the sames ones as after the wedding (Bed, Breakfast and Buttermilk Pancakes), this is a different round.  

I will go broke paying for groceries, especially the way I shop.  Most of my guests, however, show up with wine, so I have that to be thankful for.  (They pretty much know not to show up with food as they know I have standards.)

Back to hummus.  

It's fast, its easy (Grace the Kitchen Slave made this batch) you can pull the ingredients out of your freezer and pantry, its pretty healthy, and people can tell the difference when its homemade.

We like Classic Hummus, garlicy and smooth, with lots of tahini, olive oil and lemon, so I keep adding more until it tastes the way we like it, but you can adjust it to you and your family's taste.  

For example, my nephew only eats the grilled Naan bread I serve with it.

Tuesday
Aug202013

Seafood and eat it: Swordfish Oreganade

 

That was my mother's motto.  She was a seafood lover, and she was always trying to get us to eat it as well.  Being a Catholic (reasonably) household, that meant we had fish on Fridays. 

Fridays would usually go something like this:

Us:  What are we having for dinner?

Mom:  Fish sticks

Us:  Ok

Next Friday:

Us:  What are we having for dinner?

Mom:  Baked Fillet of Sole

Us: Eeeewww!

Mom: But you like Sole!  (we didn't)

Next Friday:

Us: What are we having for dinner?

Mom:  Spagetti and Crabs

Us:  Eeeewww! (as we ran out of the house)

Next Friday:

Us:  What are we having for dinner?

Mom:  Baked Stuffed Clams

Us:  Eeeewww!

Following Friday:

Us:  What are we having for dinner?

Mom: Halibut

Us: Hmmmm.  Maybe.

Actually, we did like halibut, it was probably our favorite.  Why?  Because it tasted like chicken, not fish. (So, why not just eat chicken?)  Atlantic Halibut, steaks baked in the oven with parsley and butter. Ugly, but aside from that, pretty kid friendly.

Next Friday:

Us:  What are we having for dinner?

Mom:  Shrimp Marsala

Us:  Really, again?

Next Friday:

Us: What are we having for dinner?

Mom: Daddy's making baked stuffed lobster on the grill

Us:  Will you take it out of the shell for us?

Christmas:

Us:  What are we having for Christmas Eve?

Mom: Baked Stuffed Shrimp

Us:  Make sure there's enough for breakfast on Christmas morning

Me visiting my parents after moving to DC:

Them:  What are you making us for dinner?

Me:  Penne with Lobster and Vodka Sauce

Next visit:

Them:  What are you making us for dinner?

Me:  White House Maryland Crab Cakes

Them visiting me after moving to California:

Me:  Let's get some Alaskan Halibut and I'll cook it on the grill

I guess I have a ways to go with my husband and wicked step-child. 

However, when I described my idea for Swordfish Oreganade to Grace, she said:

"That sounds fantastic!"

There's hope for her, but not for Chris.

Saturday
Jul202013

Eggplant Parmesan: Just Shut Up and Eat It


I grew up with real eggplant parmesan.  The kind you peeled, sliced thinly across into rounds, then battered and fried.  

This recipe was never deviated from, under penalty from the law.

In fact, my aunt taught me this recipe when I was about 12 years old, and seriously into being a vagabond by staying over at all of my aunts houses whenever I as allowed to.  

Auntie Alice, (top row, middle) the oldest of the Euzzine Girls, grew up during the Great Depression, the first child of Vincent and Caroline, who were fresh off the boat.

Not only did she have the Italian Vegetable Gene, but she learned the art of "putting up vegetables" from her parents, and continued that for all of her life.  When she built a new house, it had a second kitchen in the basement, with a tiny Chambers gas stove, a farmhouse sink, a battered wooden table and shelving to the ceiling.  I hate to think what those appliances are now worth.

Days in the kitchen would go something like this:

Auntie Alice:  Margot, you're young, can you reach under there and get that pan?

Or,

Auntie Alice:  Margot, you're tall, can you reach up and get that pan?

One weekend, she was going to pickle peppers, and had me help by having me peel a dozen heads of garlic.  I used a small paring knife, and by the time I was done, my right thumb was, well, imagine pressing raw garlic juice into your thumb with the sharp edge of a knife about 250 times.

She would either plant her own vegetables, or accept harvest from neighbors who had overplanted, and one year we fried a bushel of eggplant.

You understand the concept of a bushel?  It's a dry volume measurement that goes like this:

2 pints to a quart

8 quarts to a peck

4 pecks to a bushel

Roughly translated, we fried somewhere between 50 and 60 eggplants.  It took a dozen dozen eggs, and 12 pounds of lard.  (Because that's what you fried it in, don't ask questions.)  I can't remember how long it took us (My Aunt, My Uncle, My Cousin and Me), but the six that I fried recently took 3 hours, including cleaning up the mess in the kitchen.

Fast forward to somewhere around 1980, and suddenly everyone is trying to make eggplant healthy. Many failed miserably.  

"The skin must be healthy, lets leave it on."  

No.

"Let's broil it instead of frying it."

Nope.  Try again.

"If we cut it thicker, it won't soak up so much grease when we fry it."  

Ok, but you eat it.  Not me.

Anyway, when I was preparing my Eggplant Parmesean for our post Muster party, I mentioned it at my gym, and the subject very quickly turned to "bad eggplant reviews" from most of the class attendees, and specifically from the instructor, Wendy.

"My mother makes eggplant, and it's always green and kind of crunchy.  I never knew what it was supposed to taste like until I had yours. How do I tell her?

The lesson here is, just make it the old fashion way a couple of times a year, shut up about trying to make it healthy, and eat it.

To my Auntie Jo (bottom row, middle), for all of the threads she has weaved for all of us. Hope you enjoyed your send-off, dear.

 

Monday
Jul152013

Hot Artichoke Dip: No need to choke

Artichoke eaters can be very finicky.  Some eat the entire globe.  Some eat only the hearts.  Some eat only the leaves, and leave the hearts.  

Seems a shame.

I once tried my hand at making hot artichoke dip using fresh artichoke hearts that I steamed just for the recipe.  It took a week for my hands to heal.

While I'm on the subject, I looked for recipes all over the Internet, trying to find something that would update this 70's concoction, but nearly every recipe was identical, and all claiming to be the best ever.

Using canned artichoke hearts.  Which frankly bear no resemblance to real artichoke hearts.  I needed to make that point.  I succeeded with Grace, I think.

Me:  Grace, now that you like artichokes, let me give you some words of advice.  If you see stuffed and steamed artichokes on a menu, order them.  You will probably like them.

Grace:  Ok.

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

Grace:  Ok.

Back to recipe research.

There were exactly two that used fresh artichoke hearts, but getting to the hearts following their instructions was the same blood drawing exercise I had already gone through.

Stop.  Wait.  (You've probably figured it out at this point)

Use leftover hearts.  Like the ones left over from the California Grilled Artichokes.

If you ever look in my freezer, you will find random bits of things in plastic containers that probably don't make any sense, but I save all little bits of leftovers. Might not be enough to do anything with yet, but next time I make that something, I add the leftovers to the same container until I have enough for something.  Might not know what that is, but it will come to me eventually.

So by July 4th, I had nearly a dozen, already cooked, already grilled, frozen artichoke hearts, from real artichokes.

Next time, I'll take a run at changing the base, but technology has taught me to change only one thing at a time when you are trying to solve a problem.

Thursday
Jul042013

From the Editor: Succotash reworded

Remember my Blogger Editor/Kitchen Slave?  

I asked her to help me "recipe test" the Cream Corn and Lima Bean Succotash, as I had written down the recipe nearly two years ago, and never got around to taking the photos.

Careful what you ask for.

As I went through each ingredients, she made me actually measure everything. Unless I'm baking, I tend not to measure much, as it just makes a bigger mess.  In the kitchen.

That was just not going to cut it with Grace.

When we were done with that, it was time to review the instructions.

As I went through each step, she read the instructions to me, just to make sure that I was doing it the way I told all of you to do it.  There was a lot of discussion about using "in the meantime" when you are trying to get a recipe completed.

I can chop something else, and hear when something in a pan is getting to the saute/carmelize stage and the next step needs to be executed.  But if you don't have that skill, you tend to do one step at a time.  

Of course, Chris claims I am deaf since he has never actually witnessed this skill. This usually happens when I am washing dishes and he is somewhere upstairs or downstairs and needs something.

Chris:  a;ewifjajaelkndlkjoeiu

Me, washing dishes with water running.

Chris:  A;EWIFJAJAELKNDLKJOEIU!

Me: What?

Chris:  I said, CAN YOU HEAR ME?

Yeah, now that you stood in the stairwell and shouted at me, I can.

Nevermind.

I wrote "render the bacon" for one of the instructions.

Grace:  Margot, what does render mean?

Me:  It means fry the bacon until its crispy.

Grace:  Margot . . . do you really think people know what render means?

Friday
Jun212013

MCI Mail and the days of Crab and Corn Soup

Remember when you had to dial a special number before the long distance number you wanted to call, so you could get cheap long distance rates?  And cheap was somewhere north of a quarter a minute, and that was back in the seventies.

Little did I know how that process would affect my life.  And all of your lives, though you may not have realized it.

My first job in corporate america was for a little company called MCI (which eventually became Verizon). They were headquartered in Washington, DC and when I first moved to DC I got a job with them as a secretary.  

MCI was responsible for the break-up of THE PHONE COMPANY, which was how we referred to anything to do with telephones.  Shortly after this happened, they hired a group of people from some other walks of communications life, and brought them all together in a secret building, to launch a secret product.  

I didn't know what the product was.  I started hearing words like, "No it's not analog, it's digital."  I didn't know what that meant.

After several months of being in the dark, I got the secretaries together and approached the VP of Engineering to ask him to explain the product to us so we could understand what everyone was talking about.  

The VP?  To us, he was just Vint.  Vint Cerf.  Dr. Vinton Gray Cerf to be precise. And he agreed to do a weekly "brown bag" series for the secretaries to teach us about data communications.  Just him, and a white board and a marker pen.  We called it Datacom 101.

I was hooked.  I did everything I could to learn as much about the technology and the product as I could and eventually got myself promoted into a sales support position and my career took off.  

Those were heady days working at Downtown and M.  It was the 80's. Reagonomics. IRA's and the Magellen Fund. Michael Miliken (then an advisor to MCI), Miami Vice.  

And let's not forget the Jane Fonda Workout.

In a word:  YUPPIES.

(Young, Upwardly Mobile, Professional, in case you don't remember)

And the social life that was the downtown grid at lunch and after hours.  I never had so much fun working.  

One of my favorite places was The American Cafe.  It was the beginning of the food revolution.  It was the discovery of chicken salad with tarragon, and basil pesto pasta.  And Cream of Crab and Corn Soup.

It was also before the days of individual computers in our offices and homes.  I remember we got three Personal Computers in the office, and they cost $7,500 each.  And they had less computing power than the smartphone you are holding in your hand.  

The Product?  It was called MCI Mail.  Electronic Mail.  We had to explain to customers what electronic mail was.  And what you did with it.  We called it "application selling."  Today, its just an app. We thought the "first public electronic mail system" was going to change the world.  

It didn't.  At least not then.

MCI finally shut it down, but not before they had built "the world's most expensive internal electronic mail system" used primarily by them.  We were 15 years too early.

The MCI Mail Group?  We all went our separate ways, eventually, but most of us remained in technology and telecommunications.  

And Vint?  By all accounts, he is considered "the father of the Internet."  He recently received the Queens Award, by Queen Elizabeth.

We are all getting together this October in DC, for the MCI Mail 30th Reunion.  I was able to attend the 5th and 10th, and I'm really excited about seeing everyone.  And I want to thank Vint, Ray, Dave and Leslie for helping launch my career in telecommunication.  It's was, and still is, a wild ride.

Next time I'll tell you about the vision of having "a nationwide cellular network".

Thursday
Jun202013

Cherry Garcia: I Scream

You scream.

Guess what Grace and I got for Christmas?

It was all an evil plot hatched by Grace and Susan.

Executed by Chris.

They calculated (correctly), that if they got me an ice cream maker for Christmas, I would probably make them ice cream.

They were right.

Grace and I tackled the first recipe for coconut ice cream we found.

What a rookie mistake!

While it tasted good, it didn't have the texture we expected from a homemade ice cream.

Back to the drawing board.

Shortly after, I was watching a cooking competition on television, and one contestant made bourban pecan ice cream.  I couldn't wait for the result, and neither could one of the judges.  She lost.  Great flavor, but not the creamy consistancy the judge expected from homemade ice cream.

What a rookie mistake!

Turns out, ice cream is made in short bursts, but over a period of time in order to get the consistancy right, and you just can't be successful trying to win a cooking show contest with a home version of the applicance.

It took us a couple of tries, but we finally perfected our vanilla base which will become the future of our ice cream recipes. Grace is responsible for coming up with the additions.  Fresh cherries and dark chocolate for our version of Cherry Garcia Icecream.

Monday
Jun102013

Bed, Breakfast and Buttermilk Pancakes

After my niece’s out-of-town wedding I had invited some of my family members back to our house for a few days. 

What was I thinking? 

We spent Friday and Saturday on Long Island, coming back from the wedding in Nassau County through the North Fork and the Long Island Winery’s because we just don’t have enough wineries in our back yard.  Then the ferry ride home, always an adventure.  Then home sweet home and houseguests.

At one point, my cousin’s significant other commented:  “I’d come back to this Bed and Breakfast any time.”

Really?  All kidding aside, we did have a great weekend.  The hit, it seems, was the pancakes.  Real Buttermilk Pancakes.  The ones I took out of the freezer. 

Bob:  “these pancakes are so good you don’t really need anything on them.”

That’s because they were fried in butter, Bob.

When Grace is with us on the weekends, we spend our time making a mess in the kitchen.  And pancakes make a big mess.  For Christmas one year, Chris bought me a pancake dispenser so that I could get the perfect round pancakes. 

It only makes four at a time, and by the time you open it up, spoon more batter into it, and get ready to flip you have batter in your hair.

Regardless of how you get the batter onto the griddle, the perfect pancake starts with the perfect batter.  We wanted ours to be thick and fluffy like cakes, with crispy edges.  It took Grace and me six years to finally perfect ours.  We make a big batch and then freeze the leftovers in waxed paper and foil.  Just take them out the night before and let them thaw in the refrigerator, then warm them up in the toaster oven for serving.

Your houseguests will never know you didn’t get up at the crack of early to make them.

Saturday
Jun082013

Build a Better Burger: or, the Great Wall of Clinton

It's finally here:  burger season.  Time to take that mess in the kitchen outside. 

Where it belongs.  

That means I also have to clean up the real mess in the kitchen from winter cooking. It took me an entire day to clean our great room and get the Summer Mantle Ready.

After three years in our new house, we have finally scraped together enough money to build our patio.  We now have a solid launch pad for the champagne corks to make it through the tree trunks.

But I digress.

Normally, a patio would not be such an undertaking.   Ours was a feat of engineering driven by our septic system.  That’s right, our septic system.  Turns out, when you are designing your new house, everything is driven off of the worst test hole on your lot, which determines the grade of the leaching field baffles, which determines the grade of the Septic Tank, which determines the pitch of your waste pipe leaving the house, which determines the grade of the foundation of the house, which eventually determines whether you can have a patio or not. 

Our house sits four feet out of grade in the front, and a good half story in the back.  The land is what the land is.  You work around it.  So our lovely wrap-around porch dropped off three to four feet in some spots, which necessitates the need for a railing. 

Which ruins the view.  Can’t have that.

When we made plans for the patio, it had to serve several functions:  it had to eliminate the need for a railing, so it had to be raised up to the level of the porch, or just a step or two down.  It had to be big enough for a grill, a firepit, and a fountain (eventually). 

By the time the landscape designer was done, it was five feet high, 35 feet long, and 12 feet wide.  Every single block had to be leveled.  Every single angle had to be calculated to come up the porch, bear into the mound that houses the septic tank and still have enough pitch to let the water drain off. 

It made me wonder how the Mayans and the Egyptians built their pyramids without a laser level.

Think you might never see The Great Wall of China?  No worries,  just walk through the vineyard and take a look at my back yard.  

So, its Summer.  Best of the produce, the best of the weather, and the start of burger season.  And now that we have a patio we can avoid that awkward time when it’s too cool in the shade, but not cold enough to go inside.

On my first try, I was able to get the cork through the uprights. 

Which brings me to burgers (bleu bacon and italian burgers).  Not just any burgers, but the kind you have to build.  Like a wall.  And just as much work.  But if I had a dollar for every time one of my guests said, “This is The Best Burger I have ever had” I’d have . . .well . . . ok about 10 dollars.  Not quite enough for a patio.  (I only have to make them another 15,990 times.)

Saturday
Jun012013

Crabby Patties: Maryland Style Crabcakes

 That Sponge Bob is a crybaby.”   No kidding. 

It’s not that Sponge Bob’s crabby patties are better than mine.  Or that Mr. Krabbs won't give out the secret recipe.  It’s just that I’ve spoiled everyone to anything but my crabcakes.  No one I know is willing to risk greasy heavy breading, canned ingredients, or heaven knows what other kinds of additives.


It took me many years to perfect them. 

It took me many years to even eat crab. 

My first experience with crab was as a kid when my mother and my aunts made spaghetti and crab sauce, from the local blue crabs available in Connecticut.  Cooked whole in tomato sauce.

(They were from Southern Italy.  Everything was cooked in tomato sauce).   

I couldn’t even stand the smell in the kitchen. 

Years later, I moved to the DC area, home of the Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab.  One of my first social outings was to a crab feast.  A tactile event where whole crabs are steamed in Old Bay and dumped on a brown paper-covered table in front of a group of people with mallets and nut crackers.  

It was all I could do to get down my beer and corn on the cob.

Somehow, someone managed to get me to eat cream of crab and corn soup.  It was all the rage at a restaurant chain in the area called The American Café.  (I have never successfully duplicated that soup, try as I might).  From that point on, I would eat nearly anything with crab in it, as long as someone else picked the crabmeat first.

After I moved to California, I would often visit my cousin and her husband on Kent Island, which is smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.  The hunt for the perfect crab cake and the perfect cream of crab soup would continue through my entire visit.

Turns out, I already had the perfect Crab Cake Recipe.   It came out of one of the White House Cookbooks, published during any Presidential administration, and I just happened to have a Clinton Administration copy. 

The first time I made them this season, I sent a plate over to my sister, who was babysitting her grandson.  To convince him to try them, she told him they were Sponge Bob’s crabby patties.

Out of the mouths' of babes.

Thursday
May302013

The No Fish Zone: Grilled Swordfish Sandwich

My husband would be perfect except for one thing:  he doesn’t eat fish.

Of any kind.

Can’t even stay in the house if I cook it.  Must have been too many frozen fish sticks in Catholic Boys School.

Worse yet, he’s got Grace The Girl thinking along the same lines.   So, if I wanted to have fish as a meal with both of them, I have to cook two meals, and one of them has to be cooked outside.  But I made a discovery recently that all parents of young children should know about:

Me:  “Grace, do you eat fish at home when Mommy makes it?”

Grace: “Yes.”

Me:  “Why do you eat it at home and not here?”

Grace:  “Because there’s nothing else to eat.”

Now there’s a concept.  Unfortunately, it won’t work with Chris.  He will eat scallops and shrimp or lobster on occassion, and I've seen him eat an oyster or two (mostly when we were dating).  But if it has fins and swims, that's his no-fly zone.

I order fish every time we go out for a meal.  Problem is, in New England you get either fried seafood, or you get some chef who tries to prepare fish with all manner of strange ingredients, adding sauces and toppings in an effort to make the menu look like Alice Water’s menu did back in, well, 1980.

“Our special tonight is swordfish, encrusted in potato peels, sautéed with chicken livers and spinach in a balsamic reduction, and served with brandied raisins and okra.” 

That sounds yummy.

When Chris isn’t home for dinner, I either grill fish or I make a simple sauté.  Having lived on the West Coast, I found that many restaurants out there do just that:  prepare it simply, and let the fish stand on its own. 

Now if I can just convert The Girl I might be able to enjoy a Grilled Swordfish Sandwich with my family at home.

Saturday
Apr202013

Little Sister's BBQ Ribs: Danger!  Danger!

Danger Will Robinson!  Danger!

If that doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of you, then you are too young to remember one of the more ridiculous TV series of the 60’s, Lost in Space.  I asked my husband what he thought of the series as a kid, and he loved it.  Given that he was just a little kid, he thought it was a pretty realistic adventure. 


 

I, on the other hand, thought it pretty hokey, but then I was a bit older than him.

 

 

 

Chris: " Yeah, you’re a lot older than me."

While it should have been “Stupid Will Robinson! Stupid!” it didn’t stop me from watching.  But then I would watch any science fiction programming I could find.

 What does this have to do with Little Sister’s Ribs?

Look, I got a shiny new smoker for Christmas!  It took Chris nearly four hours to put the thing together. 

About as long as it takes to make these Little Sister's Ribs.  

Bet he wasn't counting on that when he bought it for me.

Thankfully, my Gramma Daly's Cole Slaw, our typical side for these ribs, is a snap to make.

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?

Sunday
Apr072013

Italian Sausage: The Art of Snacking

This is my husband’s idea of a snack:  

Italian sausage, just fried out of the pan, with a chunk of sharp cheese.  Maybe a little Sunday Sauce to dip it into.  Spear with knife, place directly in mouth.  The dish is for photographic purposes only.

I have to make twice as much as I need for any recipe.

Second generation Italian children learned this snacking strategy early in life.  Typically, as soon as they were tall enough to reach the stovetop.

My mother would make her Sunday Sauce on Wednesdays, because . . . well . . . Wednesday is Prince Spagetti Day.   Then foolishly leave it on the stovetop while she ran some errands. 

You could smell it the minute you walked in the door from school.   Go Directly to Stove.  Do not Pass Go.  Do Not Collect $200. 

By the time she had gotten home, we’d gone through half a loaf of Italian Bread, dunked bite by bite into the pot of sauce.  (Double-dipping had yet to be banned.)

If there were going to be meatballs with the sauce, she would leave them in a bowl to cool after she had fried them.  What was she thinking?  What little were left went into the sauce for simmering.

And yes, they must be cooked first.  None of this dropping raw meatballs directly into the sauce to cook.  It’s just wrong.

Sorry.  That needed to be said.

Fast forward about 40 years.  I’m married to an Italian Man.  Third generation, but raised by his grandmother and great aunts, so technically, he counts as Second Generation.

Some things never change.  No pizza pockets in this house.

Tuesday
Sep132011

Seafood Francaise and a Mandatory State of Panic

We were anticipating having guests the night before Hurricane Irene.  

We had planned Seafood Francese with a sparkling Pinot Grigio.  I wanted to try it out the week before as I had never made this dish and don’t like to use dinner parties as test kitchens.    

I purchased a small amount of fish, shrimp and scallops and invited my Dad for lunch to be taste tester, prior to taking the pictures for my post.

Good thing, or you would never have seen this dish.

For several days prior to August 28th, the hype and build up of the Hurricane threat waged on.  All of the computer models on all of the news stations showed Her heading right for us.  The Weather Channel predicted an unprecedented storm.  Just like they did for Hurricane Ike last summer.   Ike evaporated into nothing more than a nasty summer storm, even though the supermarket shelves were devoid of water, bread and milk.

That Saturday morning the threat level started to escalate and speed up.  We got no less than 6 pre-recorded emergency messages on each phone line, from the First Selectmen of our town, warning us to stay off the roads from 9pm to 3pm the following day.  Then the Governor goes on TV and issues a travel ban for all roads, saying, “If you are out on the road, you will be stopped.”

Chris:  “The Governor has issued a Mandatory State of Panic”

Me:  “Should we cancel dinner?”

We did.  Chris and I stayed up and watched Hurricane footage until about 11:30pm and then went to bed.  We lost power about 30 minutes after that, and got our power back 8 days later, about 30 minutes after we got our brand new generator started.

After that, we had planned a short getaway for the Labor Day weekend, and when we got back, Summer was gone.   Time to put away the crisp whites and the ocean and sky blues, and do some fall cleaning.

Thursday
Sep082011

August 28, 2011: Irene MacGyver

When my husband and I first started dating on a steady basis, we would spend the work week apart and the entire weekend together, mostly at my house in Stony Creek.  Inevitably, we ran out of restaurant dining options on weekends when I had not planned on cooking dinner at home.  Not daunted by lack of a plan, I usually find something I can throw together.  Chris couldn't fathom the idea that I could dig a few ingredients out of the freezer and pantry and put together a meal.  That’s bachelorhood for you. 

After a couple of these thrown together meals, he said to me, What are you?  MacGyver?”

Now, I never watched that series, so I had no idea what he was talking about, and for those of you who don’t either, the premise of this series was a secret agent who carried around nothing but duct tape and a Swiss army knife and got himself out of all kinds of predicaments with a few common objects he found lying around. 

Chris:  “You have string, a tin can, a tomato, bacon and a spatula and you come up with chicken saltimbocca!”

Now, I can cook just about anything with tomatoes, bacon and some onions and garlic.  So, my skills were put to the test this past week.  Hurricane Irene, by the time she got to Connecticut, wasn’t even a Hurricane anymore.   But that didn’t stop her from wrecking complete havoc in New England.  Once we got our power restored, we found out there were many, many less fortunate than ourselves.  Loss of life, loss of home, loss of livelihood with no recompense.  Our thoughts and whatever we can do to help, are with them.

For more than a week, we had no power and no running water.  That’s what you get in New England when you have a well.  I spent my day just trying to bath, feed us, and flush a toilet when we needed to.

Chris got called into work under a great deal of pressure from Corporate Headquarters.  He’s not a First Responder, nor is he a utility worker like our next door neighbor who worked more than 100 hours in that week.  He’s in the marine business.   So, while I was hauling water up the stairs to flush toilets and throwing spoiled food out of the freezer, he was waiting on some clown who came into the store because he didn’t have the right boom vang, gib line and roller furling swizzle sticks for his sailboat.

So, what did I cook?  I have no photos.  It’s hard to take pictures in the dark.  I will re-create some of those recipes because they are some of my favorite end-of-summer dishes.   

I had an empty refrigerator, but I’m planbed on Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin and Peanut Slaw, Amatriciana, South Florida Seafood Stew and Grace’s favorite soup.  Oh, and the post I was planning for the day of the storm, from our dinner party the previous evening, which we cancelled.  Seafood Francese and Sparkling Pinot Grigio.  Disclaimer:  the contents of this refridgerator are for medicinal purposes only.  Do not try this at home.