Well, I probably shouldn't do this, but I've started another Blog. Like I don't already spend too much time at the MacBook. As some of you might have guessed, I like to cook and I love to eat. So I thought I'd share my recipes, humble as they may be and an occasional dinner menu at our house. I am somewhat "reluctant" to share this project right now, but caution to the wind. The plan is to be discovered by the Food Network for my cooking show Cranky Franky's in the Kitchen.
Am I ready for critics? Probably not. I know my instructions are not always clear or precise. Let me know if something doesn't make sense. Anyhow, if you're interested, check out "Dinner's Ready"

Monday, December 26, 2011

Traditional Christmas Lasagna

We almost always had lasagna for Christmas when mom and dad were with us.

This is a actually a simple dish, but it takes a few minutes to assemble.

Start with a good tomato sauce, we use a meat sauce made with beef or meatballs, sausage and roast pork cooked in tomato/ tomato puree as I've described elsewhere.

This holiday I made three pounds of lasagna, with three pounds of ricotta, a pound and a half of mozzarella  and probably 4 sixteen ounce cans/jars of tomato.  I don't bother with tomato paste as the puree is really fine for the job.  (Tomato paste is really just condensed and preserved tomato puree to reconstitute when making sauce).

In addition to sauce you'll need: Pasta, Ricotta cheese, Eggs (one per pound of ricotta), grated Romano or parmigiano cheese, salt, pepper, dash of nutmeg, shredded mozzarella.  Combine ricotta, eggs, grated cheese, seasoning.  Cook pasta.  Layer sauce, pasta, ricotta mixture, mozzarella, sauce, pasta, etc.  Top the last layer of pasta with sauce, mozzarella and parmigiano.  Cover with foil and bake at 350.  Lasagna ALWAYS takes longer to heat through than it should.
Note the Ricotta in a tin - the way it used to be sold
before plastic containers
 Unfortunately I forgot to get pictures of the assembly or the finished product before it was half gone...

Dessert was Mom's Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Cookies Part Two

Today I made Aunt Margaret's Christmas Cookies.  Actually she used to make them for everything.  Christmas, New Year's, Easter, Birthdays, Mother's Day, Thanksgiving, you get the picture.

Her's were thicker and prettier than mine.  I make them thin so 1) I can get more cookies from the batch and 2) each one has fewer calories, so you can eat two.

Aunt Margaret’s Festive Italian Cookies

3 Cups Flour
2 Teaspoons baking power
½ Teaspoon salt

½ Cup sugar
¼ Pound butter
3 Eggs
1 Teaspoon vanilla

Sift first three dry ingredients together
Blend sugar and butter until creamy
Beat in eggs and vanilla
Add dry ingredients
Knead lightly
Roll out to ½ inch thick
Cut out round cookies with small cutter
(For a different shape, roll into ropes, cut and tie into knots)

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 – 12 minutes


½ box Confectioners sugar
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp cold water or more as needed
Blend until a smooth, runny consistency is achieved
For colored frosting, divide into separate bowls add food color as desired
Frost the cookies by dipping, let dry

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Cookies

Well, I don't really like making cookies, mainly because I find it tedious...making dozens of individual cookies and baking them in batches...it just takes too long. Yet, I can't resist making cookies for Christmas. These two took all day Sunday.

The first are Cuccidati which I've posted before on Rebel. I did not grow up with these as they are Sicilian, but I've adopted them as my own since I first made them last season after seeing Clara make them on YouTube. Here are the ingredients. They are a pastry filled with figs and other dried and fresh fruits and nuts.

Fruits and Nuts
Through The Meat Grinder
Filling on dough
Roll Over
And Score

Toast the nuts in a hot oven for 10 to 12 minutes.
Put all the following through a meat grinder and mix together:

¾ cups filberts (hazelnuts) toasted
½ cup almonds toasted
½ cup walnuts toasted 
½ cup pecans toasted 
2 pounds of dried figs
½ pound candied fruit/citron (substitute other dried fruit or even lemon or orange marmalade)
½ pound of raisins (mix dark and golden)
¼ pound of dates
1 whole large orange, skin and all
1 tangerine peel
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
½  teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
Add 2 cups hot water
½ cup sugar
½ cup whisky or unflavored brandy (cognac)

This can sit overnight.  When ready to fill the pastry, put some of the filling into a zip-lock bag, cut a hole in the corner of the bag and squeeze (pipe) the filling out in a line at the edge of the dough, cut and roll so the dough surrounds the filling.


Blend by hand:
10 cups flour plus additional flour if dough is too soft
1 ½ cups sugar
2 heaping tablespoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1pound lard (or Crisco)

1 cup cold milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
10 eggs, beaten (larger eggs might require more flour, smaller eggs might require a bit more milk)

Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before rolling (Add flour if the dough is too sticky or a little milk if too dry)

Divide the dough into manageable pieces and roll out to about 1/8  inch thick with a wooden dowel. Turn the dough over and dust with flour several times until the desired thickness is reached. (If you've made fettuccine you know the technique of wrapping the dough around the rolling pin and unrolling it on the revers side.)

Pipe out the filling in a line along the bottom edge of the dough, fold the dough over the filling making a roll or tube, gently seal the edge along the roll, cut along the top of the roll, cut on the bias into individual cookies. Place in baking sheet and snip the top/side of each cookie with scissors making 2 or 3 slits. Bake at 350, 12-15 minutes or till done.

NOTE: The amounts of dough and filling are roughly the amounts needed to use up each when making these cookies. HOWEVER, there will be leftovers...depending on the thickness of the rolled out dough sheets, the amount of filling you pipe onto the dough and how much excess dough you trim off, you may have more filling and/or more dough left. I usually ball up all the dough trimmings and roll it out, spread any leftover filling on the dough, roll it like a jelly roll, slice it into rounds and bake them like individual pinwheel pastries.

Frost with a mixture of confectioner sugar/water/lemon extract and decorate with colored sugar or sprinkles.  To make colored sugar, place 1/4 cup of sugar into a small container, add several drops of food color and shake.  Add more color for darker shades.

Watch Clara on YouTube

Part one:

Part two:

The second cookie is my Aunt Stella's variation on Italian Toto's.  Her secret ingredients are the black coffee, ground raisins and whisky/brandy - and the inordinate amount of cocoa.  Too many of these before bedtime will keep you awake.

Chocolate Frosted
Cookies Ready For Distribution

Aunt Stella’s Secret Recipe Chocolate Cookies

5 cups flour
1 cup sugar
½ can Hershey’s® Cocoa Powder
5 tsp baking powder
3 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt (optional)
1 box raisins, ground in a meat grinder, 
(then doused with 1/4 cup unflavored brandy [cognac]or whisky)
1 cup strong black coffee
1 stick of margarine (or Crisco)
1 tsp real vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Mix the coffee and vanilla into the ground up raisins
Mix all dry ingredients and shortening/margarine
Make a “well” in the dry ingredients and add the liquid/raisins 
Mix with a wooden spoon until evenly moist - the dough is very stiff - like Playdough®
Form into balls (3/4 inch) and place on a greased cookie sheet
Bake for 12 -15 minutes

Aunt Stella’s Secret Recipe Chocolate Cookie Frosting

½ can Hershey’s® Cocoa Powder
1 tsp real vanilla extract
6 tablespoons margarine softened (or butter)
1 box confectioner’s sugar
Some strong cold black coffee

Mix the first four ingredients and add black coffee - a teaspoon at a time
Blend and beat with a wooden spoon adding more black coffee a little at a time as needed to make a smooth, soft, but not runny, frosting – heavier and thicker than chocolate syrup but not as thick as a cake frosting…about the consistency of molasses.

Dip the cookies into the frosting and place on waxed paper until the frosting dries and hardens. 

I think the cloves and raisins give the chocolate a spicy fruitiness that is both subtle and pleasant.  There is a definite Sicilian/Arabic influence.  

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner - Fennel With Béchamel Side Dish

Finocchi e Funghi Gratinati Con Salsa Besciamella

This recipe appeared in a now defunct magazine called "Attenzione" back in the early 1980's. We have been having this for Thanksgiving for many years now - at least in those years when I do the meal. It is good any time and Leon likes it a lot. The original recipe does not have mushrooms, that is my addition - makes the dish "stretch" a bit.

These Are The Tops of The Fennel
Sorry, I Forgot to Get A Picture of the "Bulbs"
Before Slicing Them Up
Fennel or Anise is a celery-like vegetable with a mild licorice taste.  The large bulbous bottom is the part we eat; the celery like stalks can be used to flavor a pork roast.  It is great in green salads, tuna fish salad, or braised like in this recipe.

Cut the tops and bottoms off three large fennel "bulbs" and cut the bulbs into quarters or, if very large, smaller.
Braise The Fennel
Heat a little olive oil in a skillet with 2 garlic cloves, add the fennel, 1/2 cup of dry vermouth and a little water. Allow to braise for about 10 minutes or a little longer, until the fennel is just this side of tender.  Remove to a casserole without the juices.  Braise some sliced white mushrooms in the juices until just cooked.  Transfer the mushrooms to the casserole with fennel. Leave out the juices or the dish will be too watery.
Salsa Besciamella:  Melt 3 tbs. butter in a saucepan.  Add 3 tbs. of flour and whisk until blended and just cooked, not browned.  Add 2 1/2 cups of warm milk, 1/2 tsp salt.  Whisk over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Add some ground (white) pepper (I only have black) and ground nutmeg, about 1/4 tsp. or so, and a good 4 tbs. of grated parmesan cheese.
Besciamella - Béchamel
Pour the sauce over the vegetables and top with more parmesan and bread crumbs.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or so, until golden brown and bubbly.  If you prepare it ahead and have it refrigerated, adjust the time in the oven.
Before Baking
Out Of The Oven
We kept it simple: Turkey, Stuffing, Fennel, Sweet Potato, White Potato and of course Pies.  See stuffing on last post.
Stuffed Bird
Re-stuffed Sweet Potato
All American Mashed Potato
Home Made Rolls
Note: Finocchio (Fennel or Anise) is the Italian, rather derogatory, slang term for gay.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey Stuffing and Dinner Rolls

Spent the afternoon making rolls and stuffing.

The stuffing is a bread (whatever kind I have, air or oven dried and cubed), ground beef, pork sausage (breakfast sausage) mixture that is a tradition in our family. Sorry no chestnuts here.

I am making extra stuffing, because you can never have enough of a good thing. The problem with stuffing cooked outside the bird is that it does not get the flavor from the turkey. So tomorrow, after stuffing the turkey, I will see how I'm going to handle the extra. Maybe pour some turkey drippings over it while cooking.

I used butter, oil, 1 large onion, 2.5 lb. ground beef, 1 lb. sausage, about 8-10 cups of bread cubes, 4 eggs, salt, pepper, Scarborough Fair (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme) and, this year a little Bells Seasoning.
Oil and Butter
I start with a little oil and butter in the skillet and add the chopped onion. Let it cook until translucent - don't brown the onion. Add the ground beef and saute until the pink is gone. Don't over cook. Remove the meat and saute the sausage. Set aside the meats with pan drippings.
Saute Onion
Sausage and Ground Beef
Saute the Beef
And the Sausage
Cube up dried sliced bread or rolls or breads that have been dried in the oven. Add the meats with pan drippings, eggs, salt, pepper, herbs and spices and mix together.
Bread Chunks
New This Year - An Old Fashioned Spice Mix
Toss the Meats and Bread With the Egg and Herbs
And on to the rolls.  I've done bread dough before, so won't go into it. (see side bar for links to bread posts)
It Makes Me Happy When the Dough Rises Nicely
Forming Bread Knots
A Little Egg Wash to Make the Sesame Seeds Stick
Sage Is Nice With Turkey Too
Two Rolls Are Already Missing
(Me and My Sis Couldn't Resist)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Re-run: Unstuffed Cabbage

I have posted unstuffed cabbage or lazy stuffed cabbage before, but without photos. Here are some pics.

Green Cabbage, Onion
Saute The Beef With Onion, Garlic, Salt, Pepper,
Set Aside

Shred And Saute The Cabbage in Butter And Oil,
a Bit Of Salt
Use Some Kind Of Tomato 
I Prefer Unadulterated

I Put Uncooked Rice In The Pot With Oil and/or Butter,
Toss It Around, Then Add Water or Stock, Salt and Simmer
Mix Together The Cooked Rice, Beef and Cabbage
Eat It As Is OR
Put In A Casserole and Warm In the Oven
(Helps the Tomato and Flavors Absorb In The Rice)
This dish is great for a cold winter night, for a pot-luck (double the recipe) or, if you're frugal, to stretch some ground beef.  It's a healthy "hamburger helper" without the box and chemicals (really - you can google that yourself).

Gotta go, Dinner's Ready!