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, January 31, 2011

Grandma's Parmigiana

Eggplant (Melanzane) - Cauliflower (Cavolfiore)
Cutlets (Cotolette) - Veal (di Vitello) - Chicken (di Pollo)
Parmigiana is generally something breaded, sautÈed and sprinkled with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Period. It can be eaten hot or ìcoldî or taken to a new level with tomato sauce and mozzarella. Grandma was always frying up some eggplant or cauliflower. We would eat it at room temperature as a snack or antipasto. Sometimes it made it into a casserole oven baked dish. Mom was great at doing the veal. My cousin Rose thinks killing baby calves for veal parmigiana is cruel, so I started using chicken. I guess it’s OK to be cruel to chickens. Turkey anyone? Combos of these recipes take what is great to sublime.
Amounts depend on how much vegetable or meat you want to prepare:
Eggplant, Cauliflower
Veal Cutlets sliced very thin by the butcher or Chicken Breasts, sliced to about º inch or so cutlets

3 – 4 Eggs, well beaten
1 – 1 1/2 cups flour
1 – 1 1/2 cups Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Eggplant prep:
Slice the eggplant in quarter inch rounds or lengthwise. Salt the eggplant slices and allow to sweat on paper towels for 10 minutes or so. Blot off the moisture. Whether this gets rid of ìbitternessî I don’t know, but it makes the eggplant fry up nice.
Cauliflower prep:
Cut the cauliflower into clusters. Steam just until tender but not to the point that they crumble when pierced with a fork.
Veal or chicken prep:
Buy veal or chicken cutlets pre-sliced; or slice whole chicken breasts about a quarter inch thick. Pound with a meat mallet if you like

Place flour in a shallow bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Place breadcrumbs in another shallow bowl.
Beat the eggs in another bowl.
Cover the bottom of large skillet with olive oil, over medium high heat (or use alternative baking method as below)  Saute on both sides until golden brown.  Remove from the skillet and place on paper towels on a large platter and dust generously with grated Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan) cheese while still hot. Let Cool. 
The veal ready to go into the oven using the alternative method as used here: place breaded eggplant or cutlets on an oiled cookie sheet, spray with olive oil and bake at 350-375 till browned - this is a bit less oily but not as good, in my opinion.)
Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  The Eggplant and Cauliflower are delicious at room temperature as an Antipasto. The veal and chicken also make a great main course as is.
For Eggplant, Veal, Chicken Pamigiana Casserole with Tomato Sauce and Cheese: Dip each piece in a light tomato sauce and layer in a casserole. Add remaining tomato sauce. Top with more parmesan cheese and mozzarella. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 - 45 minutes, until bubbly hot.  For a great Combo: Alternate layers of Veal and Eggplant or Chicken and Eggplant.

With the tomato sauce - Eggplant layered with the veal in the casserole and a little more parmesan

Add the boys and dinner's ready!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mid Winter Vegetable Fix

We generally eat lots of fresh vegetables, but winter in the local grocery store does not always have appetizing specimens, a wide choice or, when the picks are both appetizing and varied, the prices are not always nice.  I don't generally shop at the big chain stores or at expensive specialty stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's where I'm sure the choices are better.  Anyway, I'm tired of winter squashes, yams and rutabaga and needed some veggies to lighten things up.

Say hello to stir fry.  Garlic, onion, mushroom, green pepper, celery, broccoli, snow peas and stir fried pork with and Chinese cabbage - over white rice.

Dinner's Ready!

(The veal and eggplant parmigiana may make an appearance tomorrow).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mom's Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Made pizza for dinner tonight. See a previous post for a dough recipe.

While we were having pizza, the coffee cake was in the oven.  

Mom always called this “Jewish Coffee Cake”. How it got to be part of our traditional Italian kitchen is thanks to the wonderful “melting pot” that is our country. I’m not sure where it originated or even if is a traditional Jewish recipe. I guess “Sour Cream Coffee Cake” is more politically correct. (I suppose you can make this cake more “Italian” by using almond extract and slivered almonds; or pistachio, or hazelnut – Tonight I used orange extract and orange zest.  Oh! Now that sounds good!

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

2 cups flour
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¾ cup sugar (or up to 1 cup if you prefer sweeter)
¼ lb butter
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp real vanilla extract

Filling/topping: I always increase these amounts (more topping is better).
¼ cup+ granulated sugar or brown sugar
½ cup+ chopped walnuts
1 tsp+ cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350o
Grease a tube pan with shortening
Sift dry ingredients together in a bowl
Combine extract with sour cream
In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar then add the eggs

Add a portion of the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture, with a portion of the sour cream, mix together and add alternating dry ingredients and sour cream mix until all are combined and batter is evenly moist (it will be a very stiff batter). Do not over mix. Note: I have had good results mixing all the wet ingredients together and then adding the dry ingredients a bit at a time – same result, fewer steps.

In separate bowl combine sugar, nuts and cinnamon

Spoon half the batter into a greased tube pan, spreading it fairly evenly, then ½ the filling mixture. Add remaining batter, distributing it evenly and top with remaining sugar/nut mixture. Bake 50 minutes to 1 hour - until a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Mixing the batter
First layer of batter
First layer of cinnamon, sugar and walnuts
Out of the oven
On the plate

Friday, January 28, 2011

Back to Reality

Dinner's Ready!
Sorry, it's just
Frozen fish - two pieces of Mahi mahi,  a piece of white fish - frozen french fries and tater tots
And Leon's favorite condiment (next to mayonaise)  
To balance it all out we did have some fresh broccoli and beets.

Coming attractions: Eggplant and veal parmigiano in casserole.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Traditional Italian-American Tomato Sauce

When I went away to college in Vermont I went without good Italian pasta and tomato sauce for sometimes months at a time.  When I moved off campus to an apartment, I actually learned how to make sauce from my mother so I could get through those long spells.  Pasta, or as we called it "macaroni" with sauce was a Sunday tradition at home as it is/was in many an Italian-American household.

After my mom passed away, Dad took over.  We would go there almost every Sunday, usually for pasta.  This is where Leon learned to appreciate Italian cooking and the use of grated cheese.

Today's sauce is "from scratch" except that I am not using fresh tomatoes or making tomato paste from fresh tomatoes.  That is a bit too Martha Stuart for me.  Canned tomato paste and canned tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, fresh-frozen basil, grated Romano cheese is the base.  Add fried meatballs, Italian sausage links, and leftover pork roast with gravy (pan juices) for the meat flavor.

One little odd procedure involves "frying" the tomato paste in olive oil and garlic.  Now I don't know if this is common or necessarily important, but it is done that way among members of my extended family.  Maybe a food chemist or food historian can figure out why it is done that way.
We made the pork roast last night and already fried up the sausages.  Here is a refresher on meatballs which I posted before using ground turkey.

Several crusts of dry Italian bread, about 2 cups in volume
2 pounds of lean ground beef or a mix of beef and pork
1 finely chopped onion (about 1cupin volume)
½ cup grated parmigiano (parmesan} cheese
2 cloves of garlic, pressed or chopped fine (or ¼ tsp garlic powder)
Fresh parsley, chopped (about ½ cup)
Fresh basil leaves, chopped (4 or 5 large)
2 - 3 eggs
1 tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper

Soak the bread in warm water to soften and squeeze out extra water
Add the meat and all the other ingredients and mix by hand
Form into meatballs and fry in a couple of tablespoons of good olive oil
(Alternative: place meatballs on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 till cooked through)

This also makes a great meatloaf – bake with sausages on the side, then cut up the leftover meatloaf into “square” meatballs and add with the sausages in your tomato sauce.  Or stuff some large bell peppers and cook them in a skillet, turning to cook all sides, then bake in a casserole with tomato sauce.

Tomato Sauce:
PORK is the key to the sweet flavor of this sauce: use pieces of a pork roast that has been roasted with lots of garlic and red wine or, in a pinch, sauté a couple of pork chops with garlic, salt and pepper and red wine, then add to sauce
2 tbs olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large or 2 small cans of tomato paste
1 large can of tomato puree and/or whole tomatoes and/or
1 large can of crushed tomatoes
5 or 6 large fresh basil leaves
¼ cup Romano cheese
Leftover roast of pork loin, cut into pieces
6 hot Italian sausages, cooked
12 or more meatballs

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan
Add the chopped garlic
Add the tomato paste and spread it into the olive oil with a wooden spoon being careful not to burn it

Put water into the tomato paste can to loosen all the paste that is still in the can
Pour this into the saucepan
Add the tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and/or the puree

Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon, adding a little water if too thick
Add the meatballs, sausages, roast pork, basil and Romano cheese

Simmer at least 2 to 3 hours over low heat,  occasionally stirring gently, (skim off the fat/oils that rise to the top of the saucebefore stirring) being careful not to let the sauce burn on the bottom of the saucepan
Serve with your favorite pasta and fresh grated pecorino Romano cheese

Tonight we're having rigatoni.  Dinner's Ready!
(this is a serving bowl - not an individual serving)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pork Roast With a Future

Tonight I made a pork roast - an inexpensive shoulder roast - and it was deliciously garlicky with roasted potatoes, carrots and onions and red wine.  Salt and pepper.  Get the garlic inside the roast by making slits all over the roast and filling with a clove of garlic or chopped garlic.  

Serve with the pan roasted veggies and a side of sweet potato.  Bread rolls to soak up the juices.  

But the destiny of this roast pork is to become the main meat flavoring for tomorrows tomato sauce.  Among Rhode Island Italian Americans and perhaps others in the Northeast, "gravy" is a term synonymous with tomato meat sauce.  It makes some sense because all those good juices, the "gravy" gets added to the sauce along with the leftover pork, some Italian sausage, and meatballs.  More on that tomorrow.  

For now, Dinner's Ready!

Not the meatiest roast, but enough for two and definitely a great addition to tomorrow's tomato sauce.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

All American

They had a nice little sirloin steak on sale at the market today.  I had to shovel two feet of snow off the grill so Leon could go out and cook it while I made some oven fried potatoes (just coat the cut potatoes with oil and place on cookie sheet at 450 degrees for 40 minutes or until they start to brown - just as good as deep fried).  Also made grilled green squash (OK, zucchini - it's American, you know).

And a half glass of Merlot from the box.
The (box mix) brownies are just coming out of the oven for dessert.  Hit the [button on the] coffee pot, Leon.  Gotta go.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Savory Bread Pudding - or Refrigerator Dump

Here's another frugal meal from my kitchen to yours.

It's clean out the fridge day.  Lets see, a half a basket of mushrooms, some cooked zucchini, two small baked potatoes, some stale rye bread, a small butternut squash out on the porch, a few slices of crispy bacon, some muenster and cheddar, eggs, milk.
It'll be a savory bread pudding.  Dice and roast the butternut squash, saute the mushrooms with a little onion, dice up the potato, dice up the bread and soak it in 2 cups of milk with 3 eggs.  Salt and pepper to taste, a little dash of nutmeg.  Put the bread in a buttered casserole, add all the veggies on top.  Pour any egg mixture over the top. You can mix it all together, but let's not mix it all up and see how it comes out.  
Bake for 30 minutes, grate the cheeses and spread the cheese all over. Crank up the heat and give it another 30 minutes in the oven.
Dinner's Ready!   
Not a gourmet meal but it was tasty and used up a lot of odds and ends in the fridge and cupboard. Nice With slices of pear and a glass of white wine.  (Can anything with melted cheese and bacon be bad?)  There's even a bit left over for breakfast.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Grandma's Escarole and Beans

One of our favorite foods that grandma would send home with dad on a cold winter day was her scrumptious escarole with beans. 'Scarole she would call it (pronouncing it schkarole).  It is a simple peasant dish- I call it "Italian soul food".  It is one of those hearty soups that taste even better  the next day...but who can wait 'till tomorrow?

Ideally it is made with pigs feet or ham hocks.  (Why is it the feet belong to a pig, but the hocks belong to a ham?)  They should be fresh as opposed to smoked.  Fresh frozen is OK.  During a shortage of hocks, like we happen to have tonight (it is like 19 degrees out, so I'm not venturing out to the supermarket) I use Italian sausage.  Sausage makes a tasty escarole and bean soup, but the ham hock really give it a different dimension.

If using three or four hocks, boil them first for while and skim off the scum/protein that floats to the top;  continue to boil until the hocks are cooked through.  If using sausage, fry up the sausage (preferably hot) in some olive oil.  If it is sweet sausage, add to the fry pan some red pepper flakes or one of those hot peppers from the garden that you dried or froze last October.
Wash and drain a couple of heads of escarole - it is like a head of leaf lettuce, only heartier and crisper.  Chop very coarsely.

Then, in a large pot, drizzle some olive oil and saute some more garlic and red pepper flakes.  Toss in the escarole and it will make a nice skoosh when it hits the hot oil.  Stir it around until it begins to wilt.  Add two or three cans of Cannellini beans (white kidney beans).
There are no rules: you like beans, you add more;  you like escarole, you add more.  You like potatoes, add some potatoes.  

Get out the pepper grinder and pepper those beans with fresh ground black pepper.  Now there are food snobs that insist on certain kinds of pepper corns, imported from exotic places, that have exotic prices. Me, I get mine at Ocean State Job Lot where all their spices are, like 88 cents.
Add the sausage or ham hocks  to the pot and let the soup simmer - if using hocks, add some of the broth the hocks cooked in and continue to simmer the soup until the meat falls off the bone with a little help.  With sausage, simmer for 30-45 minutes, depending on how hungry you are.  You like soupy?  Add a little water or more ham hock broth.  Serve with crusty Italian bread or French baguettes.  Or serve over pasta.  
Tonight's sausage version needs more escarole, for my taste;  Leon likes the beans.

If you use hocks or pigs' feet, the leftover soup will gelatinize.  The gelatin will melt when you re-heat it.

This is a picture of escarole and bean soup with ham hocks and sausage from my archives:
Now this dish is one that turned Leon Italian from some Northern Irish - mixed American ancestry.  And still gives me some power.  He is so grateful for this tasty dish, he's out doing the dishes as I type.
Dinner's ready, Buon' Appetito!  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Almond Butter Cookies

Dinner the past couple of nights has been old standbys and leftovers, nothing special. But I decided to make some cookies. I love cookies, but I don't like making cookies. It takes too much to make so few.

Found this "All Natural" almond butter at a local discount store - Ocean State Job Lot - a place that always has some food items that are generally not in your local big chain supermarket.  I can't resist the all natural label.

It doesn't take any genius to figure that almond butter can be used in place of peanut butter in cookies.  Used a basic peanut butter cookie recipe (one half cup each of sugar, brown sugar, butter, almond butter, one egg, one and a quarter cup of flour, 3/4 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt and added a half cup of toasted almonds, a half tsp each of pure almond extract and real vanilla extract).

They passed muster with Leon who likes peanut butter.  He actually had a positive comment "they're pretty darn good.  Almost as good as peanut butter cookies."  I think they're even better with a little Nutella.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chicken Soup

Today we had homemade chicken soup for lunch.  Always good on a cold winter day.
Chicken soup with pastine, (little star shaped pasta).
Chicken soup is no big deal.  If you can boil water, you can make soup.  We're not talking Food Network here.  Keep it simple. 

Put a whole chicken or some equivalent chicken parts in a large pot with enough water for the chick to swim in.  Add good spoon of salt.  As the pot comes to a boil, the chicken scum (coagulated protein) will accumulate on the surface of the water.  Skim it off or else the soup will be cloudy.  

Then add a good helping each of carrots, onions and celery.  Parsley is very nice.  Let the whole thing boil/simmer until the chicken is cooked enough to fall off the bone with a little help.  Remove the chicken/parts and de-bone.  Return the meat to the pot.  

I like to add escarole and let that cook a little in the soup.  Taste and add salt if needed.  

Serve with separately cooked rice, pasta or noodles added to the soup.