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I enjoy cooking. Most of the time, I’m good at it too. I like the creative outlet, I enjoy the sensory aspects of cooking – cutting, chopping, slicing – the repetitive actions; all good ways to meditate and be mindful of what you are doing and bring yourself a sense of peace. It’s also just the opposite, a great way to forget what may be bothering you by putting all your energy into pounding chicken breasts for a recipe or hand kneading dough for a loaf of bread.
If I had the opportunity to start another career, I think that it would be food related in some aspect. I don’t know that I have the desire to train to become a professional chef and work in a restaurant with all that stress and pressure involved. I don’t have those ideas of grandeur; maybe I’d just be a traveling personal chef. Simply me and the food in a kitchen, enjoying the process, reveling in the experience of cooking for other people to enjoy. The satisfaction of knowing that somewhere in the process of doing what I am enjoying, I am making someone’s life a little easier and a little tastier.
The only problem with having a cooking or baking as a hobby is that there has to be someone there to eat what is prepared and created. These days, my biggest cooking fans are not living at home, therefore there is little reason to cook. It is sad. Akin to the skier with no snow or the swimmer with no water. The hobby cannot be practiced without the recipient.
Now I relish the small opportunities that present themselves- cooking dinner with friends, evenings the two of us want a home cooked meal, the nights I am home to cook such a meal.
Tom’s grandmother used to make chocolate pudding for us. I remember the first time I had it, it was different. It had nuts in it. Turns out that it was My-T-Fine pudding with nuts. Tiny little chopped nuts inside chocolate pudding. In the years since, I had found it a few times and made it, bringing back sweet (no pun intended) memories of a special lady. Then we couldn’t find it. I am not even sure that it is even made anymore.
This afternoon, we set about to rectify that and make our own version.
First, I made the chocolate pudding with some delicious dutch process cocoa we nabbed down at the Brattleboro Co-op when we were down there last night for dinner after a closing I had in the area. Then, while the pudding was cooking, I chopped up slivered almonds into tiny pieces and added them to the cooked pudding.
The pudding went into the fridge and we had it for dessert just a little while ago. It was delicious.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 c. dutch process cocoa
- 1/4 c. cornstarch
- 1/2 t. salt
- 4 cups milk
- 2 T. butter (unsalted)
- 2 t. vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
Mix the first four ingredients together in a heavy bottomed pot. Add the 4 cups of milk (we used Lactaid skim milk so my husband could enjoy it with any intestinal issues).
Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a boil. Then stir constantly for two minutes more.
Remove from heat and add 2 T. butter (I used unsalted) and 2 t. vanilla extract.
Then I stirred in the chopped almonds, about 1/2 cup’s worth.
Put them into the fridge for at least two hours to set and form that great chocolate pudding “skin”.
This made six ramekins of pudding.
Here’s the recipe for bracciole, let me say up front that I cannot take any credit for the recipe, it is my mom’s and my grandma’s recipe. I am merely proud that I am able to continue the tradition.
- 6 pieces of bracciole meat (for those of you that are local to me Wallingford Locker has great bracciole meat)
- 12 slices of bacon
- 1 cup raisins divided into six portions
- 6 pieces of garlic finely chopped
- grated cheese of your choice (I use asiago or romano)
- salt and pepper to taste
- butcher’s twine cut into six pieces each cut about 2 feet in length
- Take meat and season with salt and pepper.
- Place two slices of bacon on each piece of bracciole
- Sprinkle with grated cheese of your choice
- Add one portion of raisins sprinkled on top
- Add one chopped clove of garlic to each piece of meat.
- Roll each piece up. I find that it is easiest to roll up starting from the smaller or thinner end. If any of the raisins or cheese fall out as you are rolling, just stick them back inside.
- When meat is rolled, tie each with a piece of butcher’s twine.
- Place in tomato sauce of your choice and cook on low heat for 3-4 hours. You could probably put them into a slow cooker with your sauce and cook for 6-8 hours although I have not tried this myself.
- When ready to serve, remove each bracciole packet from sauce, cut the twine off (this is important, no one likes string in their dinner!), slice each with a sharp knife into four pieces and serve.
For those who asked, here is my go-to recipe for the battered onion rings that we put on our salads.
- 2 parts masa harina (corn flour)
- 1 part all purpose flour
- Creole seasoning 1 tbsp
- Jerk seasoning 1 tbsp
- Black pepper 1 tsp
- Salt (when they are cooked to taste)
- Water (enough to thin batter to desired consistency)
- 2 medium onions thinly sliced and separated into rings
- Canola oil for frying
I take two onions and thinly slice and separate into rings. In a small bowl I combine the masa harina (usually 1 cup) with all purpose flour (1/2 cup) and the seasonings. Add enough water to make a batter that is not runny. Add onion rings to batter and mix to coat. Heat canola oil and place onion rings into hot oil. Cook until golden on one side and flip – do the same with the other side. Remove from oil onto tray with paper towel to absorb excess oil. Salt to taste.
Most often, I do more than I need for the salads since many of these guys never make it past the cooling tray. 🙂
I am personally not a stew fan. The guys all love stew and I’ll make it, but I would just as soon make something else for myself rather than eat the stew. It’s nothing personal, I’m told I make good stew, but it just doesn’t hold a whole lot of appeal to me. There are things that are just so much more appetizing. That being said, since yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day and since Irish blood does course through these veins and since we don’t eat corned beef and cabbage, I thought I’d make an Irish stew. I looked online for some Irish stew recipes and decided to go with a hybrid of sorts. A total lamb stew, I’m not sure how that would have gone over since we are not super big lamb eaters. An all beef stew, well, I already stated my opinion on that one. So I mixed them together, threw in some stout beer. I bought a single bottle of chocolate stout from a local brewing company since I couldn’t get a single Guinness (and since we don’t drink beer, I refuse to take up refrigerator space with any) and a bottle of red wine. I started this stew at 4 and we ate at 7. So, it really didn’t take very long at all and came out tasting quite good and coming from a non-stew lover, this is really, really high praise.
1 1/2 lbs lamb stew meat cut into bite size pieces
1 1/2 lbs beef chuck stew meat cut into bite size pieces
2 T. tomato paste
1 t. sugar
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
1 bottle chocolate stout beer of your choice
1 c. red wine (I used Shiraz)
4 c. beef broth (I used 1 T beef base with 4 cups water)
3 T. butter
6-7 carrots cut into bite size pieces
6-7 Yukon gold potatoes cut into bite size pieces
1 large onion cut into bite size pieces
2 bay leaves
olive oil for searing
salt and pepper to taste
1. I took the cut up beef and lamb and browned it in the olive oil in my dutch oven. I did the lamb first and then the beef. Removed it to a bowl when each was done.
2. I put the cooked meat back into the pan and added my onion, sauteed for a few minutes.
3. Add stout, red wine, beef broth, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, tomato paste and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and cover.
4. In a separate pan, add butter and saute carrots for about 15 minutes. Turn off and leave in pan.
5. Allow meat to simmer, covered, for one hour. Then add potatoes and carrots, season with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Allow to cook uncovered at a medium heat for approximately 40 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are cooked through.
Dear friends and family,
When you come to visit and you think that I cook a lot while you are here, please realize that it is not really that unusual. I cook a lot more often than not. My boys routinely invite their friends over and that usually involves cooking…especially around their birthdays. I believe that for TJ’s and Tyler’s birthdays I made platters of sushi and boneless buffalo wings. There have been 12 layer birthday cakes and 12 pounds of ravioli which enabled me to use the bowl specifically reserved for our friend Lou’s cooking when he visits.
Tonight, we hosted the physics class for baked ziti, meatballs, homemade bread and chocolate croissants. Before you get too excited and have some type of breakdown (as I did when I was first asked to host the entire physics class for a pre-exam study session), the class is small, only about 8 kids, so it is by far not as monumental as it sounds.
Easily when my oldest invites “some” friends over, it could be at least twice that many. I love to cook and I love to see people enjoy the food, so it’s all good…..and it’s great to have all their friends come and visit.
December is a month of holidays, eating and traditions– I don’t think that anyone would disagree with me on that. The holiday season can turn even the most cynical of people into those that fawn over a family tradition — or food — or activity.
Over the past few weeks on Facebook, my cousins have been discussing my grandmother’s and their great-grandmother’s recipe for meatballs, homemade pasta and sauce. They have been going back and forth with one of my male cousins and my brother over the recipes, trying to pin down the taste that we all remember so well but don’t all know how to make.
Isn’t it funny how the holidays evoke a special food or a meal that you remember from your youth? For me, Christmas is and will always be associated with antipasto (my dad’s favorite) and baccala salad on Christmas Eve. For my husband, it is his grandmother’s cookies made from leftover pie dough and boiled onions. No holiday was complete unless my Aunt Mary brought the pies (chocolate cream, pumpkin, lemon meringue and apple) which always graced our holiday table. My siblings and I still are trying very unsuccessfully to replicate Aunt Mary’s stuffing — each year one of us tries and each year we agree that it is missing something.
When we are young, we often summarily dismiss our grandparents (or if we’re lucky) great-grandparents when they try to show us something or we just don’t get the recipe since it is “a pinch of this, a little of that” — empty of any concrete measurements and never, ever written down — only memorized in the mind of someone who we usually take for granted until they and their food are no longer with us and we yearn for both.
There are traditions that each of us have, particularly as they surround food, that bring back fond memories. Some of us cook the same foods for each holiday — well, because that is the way we grew up and that is what comes to mind when we think of Christmas.
For my family, Christmas has taken on my different transformations through the years — depending a lot on who was there, or more appropriately, no longer there, to share it with. When I was very young, my grandparents lived downstairs from us and Christmas was a big holiday. The whole family on my mom’s side came to my grandparents for Christmas. My Grandma Caruso made sauce, bracciole, meatballs, sausage and homemade pasta. I remember the pasta making because us kids were the ones tasked with transporting the freshly made pasta onto the clean sheets that were placed on the top of every bed in the house, in order to lay the pasta out to dry. There was homemade chicken soup and of course, antipasto. I remember all that clearly, but the main course, well — after we got done with the antipasto, the soup and the pasta, the main course didn’t get much notice until later for sandwiches or snacking, somewhere after everyone found it in their bellies to have room for the variety of nuts, oranges, grapes and italian pastries that found their way onto the dinner table for dessert.
Then, after my grandfather became sick and eventually passed on, Christmas was a little quieter, since the whole family didn’t gather together anymore and everyone celebrated with their own families and children. That is when I really remember the antipasto, it took center stage at my house and the meal downsized just a bit. Christmas Eve however was still full of fish — we had the eel, the smelts, the baccala salad as long as my grandmother was still alive.
As we got older and Santa took less of a center stage, Christmas Eve became the bigger of the celebrating — still with the fish dishes and with Christmas Eve Midnight mass and presents afterwards. There was still a lot of eating going on–after all opening all those presents makes you hungry and baccala salad is just as good at 2 a.m. as it was a 7 or 8 p.m.
Now, that my grandparents and my dad are all gone, and we all have families of our own, Christmas has been reinvented once again. I have to admit that I have not made an antipasto since my dad died. It just didn’t seem right — although I’m trying to get over that. We often say that Christmas is not the same since he passed, because he was probably the biggest kid and loved Christmas as much, if not more, than any of us actual kids.
Now in our reinvented Christmas, we have some traditions surrounding food and the holidays of our own here at the T’s house– a blend of both of us, with enough of our past to carry our heritage forward for our boys. We have baccala salad on Christmas Eve and I have to say that Tom’s dad is my biggest compadre in the eating of it. I make bread and cinnamon buns which our own own food twist. If I can find it, we have blue cheese spread inside celery that Tom’s grandmother used to make and boiled onions with our dinner on Christmas day, which is usually a rib roast with mashed potatoes and gravy. There is pie, but no longer the sky high pies that Aunt Mary was famous for — no Italian pastries that aunts and uncles brought with them.
I often try to explain to Tom — an only child who grew up with relatively quiet holidays consisting of his parents, grandparents (and some relatives who would stop in for a visit) that the holidays in my world have always been chaotic –lots of people, lots of noise, lots of food and lots of laughter and from the early days –PoKeNo.
Quiet just wasn’t a word that we associated with Christmas at my grandparents’ and parents’ houses — how could it be when Christmas Eve or Christmas Day could easily be upwards of 35 or 40 people, a good portion of which were children and all were related? Even if we just have “family” now (meaning my siblings, their families and our parents) that is almost 20 people!
As I get older, I realize just how important all that “stuff” that I couldn’t have cared about as a kid really is — it is the basis of tradition and family and is a very big part of who we are. To have one of those raucous, loud, cramped Christmases with all of my family and extended family, both my parents and my grandparents would be a dream come true. Alas, it will never happen again because a good many of those people are no longer with us. The way to keep the memories of those we love alive is through tradition–carrying forward those same things that we have always done. Be it the same foods, the same activities or the same type of celebrations.
During December I thought that it would be fun (and therapeutic) to recreate some of those recipes and some of those memories and to memorialize for my own family some of our own traditions and recipes so that maybe, just maybe, someday when they really care, those things will be there for my boys to share with their families keeping the memories of Grandma Caruso, Nan Dotson, Nanny Smith, Aunt Mary and my dad alive for generations to come.
Lately, when I am searching for a recipe, either for some new ingredient I want to use or simply to find a different way to make the same old ingredients, I find myself clicking on the “Images” link in Google instead of sifting through the recipes themselves. I mean, we all essentially eat with our eyes, don’t we? If something is visually appealing to us, it is more a recipe that we might give a whirl. I don’t know about any of you, but personally a cookbook without pictures (with the exception of my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook) is a waste of good money. I want to see what the finished dish is supposed to look like before I attempt to cook it. I do not understand why cookbooks don’t have lots and lots of pictures. It would seem to me cookbooks sporting mouthwatering photos are more likely to sell than those that require you to imagine what the finished recipe is supposed to look like.
For example, don’t these just make you want to eat these?
Our first connection with our food, is usually its visual appeal. This is one of the reasons that presentation of food is all so important in restaurants. If it looks visually appealing and makes a nice presentation, we are eager to dig in and taste it, so we can confirm with our taste buds what our eyes are telling us.
Are you hungry yet?
I thought that it might be fun to try to incorporate a “my own…” section in on, of all days….Monday! Each week I’ll make a concerted effort to “make” something of my own that Monday. Schedules around here have been crazy busy lately, so not as much time to “make my own” as I’d like.
So, for the first My Own Monday:
Potato Leek Soup
Not so bad for a cold, cold winter’s evening? Filled our bellies and now I hear rumors that we’re having chocolate chip cookies for dessert….
I am one girl that is way happy that September has come. No, it isn’t the start of school (that was two weeks ago) or the fact that leaving are turning (making it all very pretty) or the fact that my birthday is this month (hint, hint). No, it’s the fact that today is September 1st and the Fly Sprayer Man has come to our house (way better than Santa in my present opinion).
There are many things that I have learned living here in Vermont full time. There are things that can drive one batty that either we didn’t notice when we were only here part-time or we chose to overlook, because after all, they were only temporary inconveniences at best. Number one, top of the list, at least for me, is cluster flies. Cluster flies are these horrific creatures that can take over your house seemingly overnight. They are flies, slightly larger than the common housefly, that seem to come from nowhere when the weather turns slightly cooler. There is no guessing or mistaking if you have cluster flies. You cannot ignore the hundreds of flies glued to open windows (like little prisoners except they want in) or the warm, sunny side of the house or attracted to the people or shoes or anything else that is warm near them. There is no keeping them out of old houses, they evidently are already in them. When the weather gets the slightest bit cold, they try to get inside for a warm place to spend the winter (can you blame them?) and in the spring they want out to produce more of the horrific little pests.
The problem is that there are literally hundreds of them and they are everywhere. And since even when they are inside and warm, they want to be even warmer, they are attracted to people (either that or I am dead and no one told me and I am attracting flies which depending on the day, could very well be true). They are all over the kitchen and needless to say the food. There is something decidedly unappetizing about eating food and literally swatting at several dozen flies, not to mention the fact that food preparation becomes challenging. This is the season where cooks need a third arm to hold the fly swatter while preparing food.
Our favorite pastime during this period of pure hell is basically killing flies and keeping count. One morning before breakfast Tom had a 30+ fly count under his belt. I am convinced that the little demons spawn (like some sick video game) at least ten for every one that you splatter since they seem to keep multiplying as fast as they are killed.
After a few years of this torture, which really doesn’t abate until we have a good killing frost (get it?) we decided to have the house sprayed. I am not a pesticide advocate and really truly try to avoid them at all costs especially when we are literally drinking the water they are leaching into from above, but this is the one exception. We are sprayed yearly with a chrysanthemum based spray about as natural as you can get. The spray generally lasts a year and it is so good to be fly-free.
The problem that we had this year (starting about a month ago) is that we had several really cool nights which prompted the little creatures to decide it was time to seek winter shelter, turning our house, windows, screens and doorways into fly heavens. We called my favorite person in the whole wide world right now (Mr. Fly Sprayer) and he sadly informed us that it was too early to spray. If we sprayed back in early August, then we would be miserable come the later part of the year, since the little hoards of flies would pester us to death. Wait until September he advised.
So, today is a really, really good day – September 1st and Mr. Fly Sprayer a/k/a Accredited Pest Control showed up this afternoon. We are temporarily displaced for a couple hours while they spray and fog the house but it is a small and insignificant price to pay for returning to a house sans flies. I will be very happy to hang up the fly swatter for the year. My patience was at its limit – I was this close to committing fly harey-carey .
Thank you Mr. Fly Sprayer and Happy September!
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