Italy Trip part 3

As I mentioned in Part 2, El Pompiere was the best place we ate in Italy.

Before I continue, let me post this “Google” picture of the awesome restaurant we had lunch at when we were in Verona.  As I said, it set a high standard for all the other meals we had in Italy. And thanks to our driver from Sunny Tuscany for the great choice.

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After shopping the market for ingredients, we went to Emanuela’s home (a lovely flat tucked in a private courtyard in the center of Venice). I was so stunned at the views from any windows in her home, I had trouble concentrating on what she was sharing with us. In Italy most kitchens in older building are small. As we teach here in our classes, mise en place is essential to a well executed menu. Ours was Pizza, and a wonderful tomato timbale. I will share the recipe for the pizza in this post.

As soon as we entered the flat, we were shown the work area.  Mise en place was in envidence.

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Even though kitchens in Italian apartments are typically small and compact. The food that comes out of them is anything but small. I loved looking at all the different types of equipment that Emanuela had in her kitchen. She made the most wonderful espresso I have tasted.

Emanuela and her housekeeper prepared the sauce for the pizza. It needed to cool, so she started it before we went to the market.

IMG_3630 (1)Each ingredient was carefully measured. The dry flour was weighed, not measured from a cup measurement. The pizza dough was mixed, kneaded, and left to rest. The girls volunteered to slam it against the workbench (which helps develop gluten).


PIZZA

800g plain white flour

200g wheat flour (gran duro)

600 ml warm water

5 tablespoons olive oil

25g yeast

1 tablespoon honey

15g salt

for the topping

two cans of skinned & crushed tomatoes or fine chunks (or prepared sauce like Mutti).

350g mozzarella cheese

1 small jar anchovies

1 small jar capers

salt

Dissolve the yeast in the water and add the honey, then gently mix in the flour and, lastly, the salt

and the oil.

Work the dough very well, beating it to give it elasticity – this means picking it up and pounding it

down on the board. A hundred times will do nicely.

Allow it to rest for two hours in a warm place away from drafts.

Lay the pasta down on a baking tray, extending it with your fingers. Spread the crushed

tomatoes/tomato chunks, anchovies and capers on top and place in an oven pre-heated to

200°C.

The mozzarella goes on 5 minutes before the pizza is finished cooking.

The pizza should cook for about 20 minutes.

IF YOU AREN’T SIGNED UP FOR NOTIFICATIONS ON NEW POSTS I HOPE YOU WILL DO THAT WHILE YOUR HERE.  SEE YOU SOON.

THE END OF THE TOMATO SEASON IS NEAR

The End Of The Season
The End Of The Season

It is getting to the end of the local tomato, bean, pepper, cucumber and other locally grown produce season. Soon we will see pumpkins, squash of all kinds and other cool weather produce, but the soft flesh produce will soon be a fleeting memory until next year. I hope you have had time to put up a goodly store, either canning or feeling as many as possible. There just isn’t anything like it in the cold winter months.

I was fortunate enough to have stopped at a great local meat market, McGonigle’s, at 1307 W. 79th, a couple weeks ago and to my absolute delight, there was a produce stand set up in their parking lot selling some of the most beautiful heirloom tomatoes I have ever seen. While talking to the grower I was so impressed with his commitment to his product and the way he grows his plants. Check them out on Facebook, COBINSTEINZ FARM and from what I understand they will still be around for a few more weeks with some great looking produce for your eating pleasure.

For you RESTAURANT OWNERS you can contact them direct to place large orders. The number is on FB or contact me for the phone number. What a great way to show your customers you have the best to offer them.

 

Soup, It Reminds Me Of Mom

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Soup makes me think of mom. She’s gone now, has been for a long time it seems. But I love soup and it makes me think of her every time I make it or see a really yummy pot that someone else has made. She was a very unique lady. I think as with all children, as we grow older and our parents have passed on, we look back on them and realize that we really didn’t know them as individuals or appreciate their lives quite like we do our own acquaintances or colleagues.

She could make a pot of the most delicious soup out of almost anything/nothing. But there were some hard times when there wasn’t a lot of money, so she just did her magic in the kitchen and we were all fed like royalty. She did magic every time she was in the kitchen. (I forget that she went through things like the Great Depression, and that she had a family to cook for during the same time many people could barely feed themselves, let alone a family. Somehow I bet her soup was still stellar.) Her food was simple, uncomplicated, and delicious. The best cornbread in the world came out of her old cast-iron skillet. I can still taste it, and because it was round, everyone got a piece of the wonderful crust. I remember watching her heat it up before she poured the batter into it to finish cooking in the oven.

My mom was an amazing woman. She was one of 7 kids born at the turn of the century in a very small town in Tennessee near the Kentucky border. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to the last child. I don’t recall ever hearing what took Grandma and I am not entirely sure anyone remembers that is alive today. People just sort of died in those days, and no one necessarily knew why, they just died. The youngest child was unable to walk, her little body short and boxy looking in the few pictures I have seen of her. Mother always said it was polio but I suspect that isn’t what it was. I would venture a guess that it was Scoliosis, having seen pictures of her frame later in her life. Mom was next to the youngest, so it was her job to take care of Maude, and cook, and clean and I guess anything else that a little girl shouldn’t have had to do, but since all the kids helped do whatever they could just to put food on the table, there was never any question that mom’s job was cooking, cleaning and whatever. Their father was a sharecropper. And until mom was probably about 7 or 8 there was an older couple who lived some distance away, that walked to mom’s house every day and helped take care of the family. Mom always said without out them she was pretty sure they would have starved. I suppose they are the ones who taught mom to cook. Sis says the lady’s name was Millie. And that she kept the house so clean that you could see your face in the floor. I never thought about it, but my grandmothet was gone, and mom was helping in the kitchen from the time she was able to walk, so I guess I have the two old sweet country caretakers to thank for not only making sure my mom was taken care of and I am sure loved, but also teaching her how to be a wonderful cook. I know they were poor as poor could be and that is surely where they learned to use as mom used to say “everything but the oink” on the pig.

When we were kids, and spoiled beyond anything my mom could ever have dreamed of, we had no idea what her childhood had been like because she was just not a talker. She never complained, never felt sorry for herself, never whined about hard times. She just kept on keeping on. She had a lot of funny hill sayings, some that were just so funny we still recall them with much laughter. When we or even our children would tell mom/grandma that we were bored, she would say “You don’t know what bored is. Bored is sitting in a bucket looking at the ass end of a mule for 8 hours a day while your father plowed a field”.

I have never been used for ballast, and am thankful that I was never in such peril that the only way to protect me and account for me during working hours was to put me in a bucket behind a plow. But apparently that was not an uncommon happening for mom.

They moved to southern Missouri at some point for awhile. I guess it didn’t work out, because they moved back to Puryear. The family was pious, and religion was important to them. I suppose as poor as they were, you better believe in something beyond earthly possessions. Mom said her Grandfather was a minister in “the church”. I never thought to ask what church it was, but later Grandpa moved to Independence because he chose to follow the promise of the “profit Joseph Smith” and the hope of a better life here. The family moved here via covered wagon. I cannot imagine what that was like. It must have been horrendous. Mary, Nina, Bobbie, Marian -who went by the name of “Tot” her whole life, Maude, Boy, Shep–7 kids and Grandpa. Wow.

Well, as with all stories, this one has a “OMG” moment. They were here for 2 weeks and their father became ill. He died. That left 7 very young children alone, poor, no money, alone in a strange town. Sometime I will tell you more about their life after their father died. Remember, this was the early 1900’s, before any kind of organized social care, government assistance or any other sort of organized help for that matter.

I think I am going to go look for something to make soup out of.

It’s Apple Time

Wow. I just came back from the Farmers Market and the apple harvest is definitely in full swing. Reminds me of climbing Mr. Huntley’s tree when I was a kid and getting first pick of anything I was brave enough to reach for.

But that also reminds me of another tree I just HAD to climb, got to the very top of and then froze in panic and couldn’t climb down. I am not sure how long I was in that tree before my father found me (actually probably heard me) and talked me down, but at the time it felt like light years. And to make matters worse the best trees were always in someone else’s yard. So when one did get stuck it required a decibel level approaching a storm warning siren before help arrived. Well needless to say I found other past times on the ground.

But back to apples. There are so many varieties to choose from. We eat a lot fresh from the store, preferably chilled in the refrigerator. I do have a favorite easy quick recipe I will share with you if you want a dessert.

It begins with one of my old friends “puff pastry”. I truly don’t know what I would do without puff pastry and phyllo dough. They both are miracle ingredients in the kitchen. If you haven’t used puff pastry before you will find it in the freezer section of your market. There are usually two sheets in a box. Thaw one in the bag it comes in and return the other to the freezer.

When it is pliable enough to unfold without breaking, lay it out on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Gently roll it with a floured rolling pin just to cover any crease marks. Sprinkle with a mix of cinnamon and sugar mixed together. Using your fingers roll an edge all the way around the pie crust. With a fork or a pastry docker prick the dough all over the surface.

Peel and core 6 or 7 of your favorite crisp apple. Slice into thin slices and place into water that has lemon juice squeezed into it. Meanwhile, crush 2 cups of Italian style almond cookies.
Drain the apples and pat them dry. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar according to the tartness of the apples. Loosely pile the apples in the tart shell, sprinkle with almond cookie crumbs and dot with 4 Tbsp. butter pinched into small pieces. Place in preheated 375 degree oven about 30-40 minutes or until apples are soft and puff pastry is cooked on the bottom and edges are brown. If you have a pizza stone preheat it and bake you apple creation on it. They work beautifully and the crust will be flaky and golden brown.
A large dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream will top this off perfectly.

It’s a simply recipe but it works and it showcases falls great apple harvest.

PART 2-COOKING AHEAD TO SURVIVE BUSY DAYS

I hope you had a nice week. Did you look at your favorite recipes and gather them up to use for your first menu? Let’s continue where we left off. When cooking anything, anytime, it is imperative to remember basic food safety rules.
1- Cold food must be kept below 40 degrees and hot food must be kept above 140 degrees. Clean any countertops and food mats before you begin preparing anything. Keep your work are uncluttered. Clutter leads to accidents. Do not cross contaminate, keep meats on a tray on the lowest shelves of your refrigerator, with vegetables and other items above the meat.
2- Never thaw food on the countertop. Thaw it in the refrigerator, which helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.  That means you will need to plan ahead and allow adequate time for thawing.
3 -Putting food in the microwave to thaw it does a serious “no no” to the quality to most meals.
4- Go through all the recipes and make a grocery list from each item from each recipe.
You will see after you list all the items you will have some of these items in your home pantry. Those items you want to highlight, so you don’t accidently purchase something you don’t need. But make sure you pantry items are fresh. Check those spices to ensure their freshness, and look at that flour if it hasn’t been purchased recently and/or kept in the refrigerator.  And the same thing for OILS.  Left out of the refrigerator at room temperature, any oil will go rancid.  Smell them to determine if they are useable.  (And while your at it, the same goes for your perfume.  It will also go rancid because most perfumes have some type oil in them..)
Before you go to the store to do your shopping, make sure you have adequate room in your refrigerator and freezer to store the amount of food you will be bringing home. And be sure you have some sort of shallow tub and a large bag of ice to keep prep’d items cold as you need them.

Another important trick to notice and note while making your grocery list is — if you are buying (example) 5 onions, note it this way:

5 onions —
2 minced –  example  recipe #1
1 sliced into rings   #3
1 chopped  #4
1 large dice  #5

The reason you are doing that is you will know when you start doing your prep that you need to mince 2 onions, slice one into rings, chop 1 and cut one into large dice. It will save you time later and you won’t have to re-read each of your recipes to figure out how to process the vegetables you are buying. You can even go as far as numbering each recipe and writing a number to coincide with the recipe on the container that holds the ingredients for that recipe. Remember you will be doing all your prep before you begin to cook.

If you shop at the same grocery store all the time, you will have some idea of the layout of the store. Try to list your items to coincide with the isles of the store. That way you are not bouncing from one side of the store to the other. List all the produce together, all the meat together, and as close as possible, list canned goods etc., by isle starting at the door you enter in finishing nearest the checkout stand. Put all the frozen food together, all the dairy together. These two will be the last two sections you will stop at.
If it is a really hot day (as it has been where I live, it just seems to melt me right down to my shoes everytime I go outside) I suggest taking one or two coolers and buying a small extra bag of ice and putting some in the two coolers for the frozen items and dairy  and  a cooler for the meat. Remember to keep meats and produce/dairy separate.

Salisbury Steak with Mushrooms and Madeira Sauce
Serves 4

4 Slices bacon, cooked, drained, chopped
2 Slices white bread, crusts removed
1/4 Cup milk
1 3/4 # Ground beef
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
3 tsp Worcestershire sauce – low sodium
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 # Mushrooms, brushed clean, sliced thinly
5 tsp Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour (or other fine rice flour)
1 cup beef broth, low sodium
5 Tbsp Madeira wine
1/4 Cup Chives, minced, set aside for garnish

Dice bacon, cook, drain and set aside. Reserve bacon fat. Add butter to the skillet and heat to medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and saute about 4 minutes. Add half the beef stock to the flour (add the stock to the flour, not the flour to the stock or you will have lumps) and make a slurry.
After the mushrooms have browned and released their liquid, add the stock/rice flour slurry and whisk to thicken and also release the “fond” from the bottom of the skillet. Add the Worcestershire sauce, the remaining stock and the Madeira and cook until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from the heat. Taste for seasoning.

Add meat to a mixing bowl. Remove crusts from bread, soak in milk until soft. Squeeze out excess milk, crumble with hands, add to the meat along with salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and mix until thoroughly combined. Shape into 4 oblong patties about 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick. Remove them and cool them down in the refrigerator.

To freeze, place the cool patties in your container, pour the mushroom sauce over the top. Garnish with the chives. Lay plastic wrap directly on top of the entire meal. Then either wrap in foil, or if you have a lid, place the lid on. Add the label.

Heating directions: Thaw in refrigerator. Remove lid and plastic wrap. Heat in preheated oven at 350 for 45 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes covered with foil.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
SERVES 4

4             White baking potatoes, peeled, washed, cut into medium dice
3             Cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp      Sea salt
1/4         Cup fresh parsley, washed, leaves minced
5 Tbsp.  Butter
5 Tbsp.  Herb and garlic flavored cream cheese spread (such as Rondelle)
Place a stock pot with water on to boil.  Make sure you have enough water to double the amount of potatoes you are going to fix.  Add salt.  Add the potatoes and the garlic to the cold water.  Bring to a medium boil and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes.  Check at 12 minutes.  Do not boil the potatoes rapidly as it will cause them to fall apart and become waterlogged.  You want them to be cooked but not dissolve in the water.  Drain them when they are done, return them to the hot stock pot, and return to the burner which you have turned off.  Let them dry out for about 10 minutes.   If you have a food mill or ricer, rice them into a large bowl, including the garlic.  If not, a hand masher or electric mixer can be used.  But take care not to over-process the potatoes, as it will cause the potatoes to become gummy.  Add all the other ingredients ad one time.  Gently stir in the cheese, butter, salt, pepper and parsley.  Let the potatoes cool, place in container.  Put plastic wrap on top of the potatoes, then add lid or foil,  and label.

Reheat:  Remove plastic, recover with foil.  Preheat oven to 350.  Heat in oven on baking sheet at 350 for 30 – 45 minutes, depending on how many servings you have fix and if you have brought the potatoes to room temp. before you put them into the oven.

When you reheat the potatoes, fluff them by raking a fork back and forth across them, don’t over mix them with a spoon.  It will make them gummy.  If they seem dry,  at this point, it is fine to add cream, milk or reduced stock.

If you choose to add a couple of your recipes and pick a day to cook before next week, let’s briefly discuss a game plan.  Let’s just do a quick once over…

Make your grocery list by isle, and include each recipe.  That will save time.
Purchase or designate freezer containers with lids, square is best.
Plan your menu so multiple heat sources can be used at the same time.
Do all your preparation first before you start to cook.
Keep cold food items cold.
Start items that take the longest cooking time first.  Save items that don’t have to be cooked, just some sort of prep., for last.
Undercook – if it is completely cooked when you freeze it, it will be over cooked at dinner time.
Make sure everything gets labeled.
If there is an additional item you will need to purchase before the meal can be served  NOTE it in large writing beside the item on your menu.

Next week I will finish the recipes and then we will talk about shortcut to getting this all cooked in one day.

Until then, happy cooking.  And remember if you are cooking something your family really likes, make 2,  just undercook one.  And freeze  one.  Label it.

SUNDAY BREAKFAST. A HAPPY WAY TO START THE WEEK.

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I love to enjoy Sunday morning, just moving slow, reading the paper, making breakfast, enjoying the fact that I don’t have any other schedule than enjoying being with my sweetie and our cats. Hopefully the weather is nice and we can sit out on the deck and enjoy our coffee and eat our breakfast too.

The collaboration of deciding what to cook is usually determined by what is in the refrigerator. If one of us happens to purchase a special item that we want to fix, then that is the center of the meal. Otherwise, the star is what happens to thaw, be in the refrigerator already from a prior meal in the not too distant past, and whatever is on hand that lends itself to a quick saute’ and finish in the oven. This hash recipe was born out of exploration of my pantry and refrigerator. I often fix this, it is so tasty, and it can be changed to include/exclude what you want or have available. I always have white potatoes. I always have some type cheese, ham or some type sausage, (Italian usually, and it’s one of my favorites in this). Add to that any or all of the following—potato, meat, bell pepper, fresh spinach, cherry tomato, onion, garlic, shredded cheese, artichokes, mushrooms and avocado – add the avocado just before serving.

First thing to remember, get all your ingredients ready before you start to cook the hash, and when you dice the ingredients, cut them all the same size (except the onion and garlic). By cutting all of them the same size, they will be added by which ones need to cook the longest, such as the potato, and mushrooms. Then the bell pepper, meat, artichokes, cherry tomatoes, etc., and finally, top with the cheese at the end. Just before serving, top with avocado wedges. YUM YUM.

You can see from the pictures that I was really lucky and had both Italian Sausage and ham on Sunday. So the ham went in the potato hash, and I fried the Italian Sausage. I usually cook the Italian Sausage in a pan- just add a little water and cook until it is evaporated, then brown it and then check to make sure it is completely cooked through. Par boil the potatoes for a few minutes, really cuts the cooking time in the skillet, and you can do that while you get all the other ingredients ready for your hash.

The other delightful surprise on Sunday is to add almonds, pecans, pepitas, cranberries, and any other favorite nuts that you like to your pancakes when you mix them. What a tasty crunch that will make. You won’t believe how good that is.

Well school is starting, how about a few weeks of cooking ahead recipes and a few how to tips? Would that be something that would interest anyone? Let me know if you would like a few tips from Chef Norma. Be glad to make a few blogs on it.

YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO BELIEVE WHO WAS IN MY BIRD BATH

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I promised you last week I would show you the visitor we have been having under our bird feeder and now at our bird bath. I guess no one told this young lady that she is a little large to be sharing the drinking fountain with the rest of the little birds, so up she jumps, and there she stands until she is through drinking. I don’t live in the country. But there are days when I have to shake my head to be sure I am seeing correctly. It doesn’t seem to even bother her when my husband goes out to fill the feeders. She just wanders off a little into the tree line, waits for him to fill the feeders and spread extra sun flower seeds on the ground from the “magic” bucket. As soon as he gets no more than three feet towards the house she is back out of the trees and happily eating and scratching away.

For the second year a finch built a nest under our upper deck in the spring. The nest had two tiny eggs in it. I am amazed that they can get under the screening because it is pretty tightly screened to protect the deck above it from bugs. But momma managed it. She squeezes in between the wall and the screen frame. Well today I heard two birds just carrying on like something was really distressing them. I opened the door on the upper deck, went outside and could see two finch’s in the trees dancing around, flitting from branch to branch, onto the fence, off the fence back to the tree, onto the ground, darting under the pine tree. I was pretty sure the babies had left the nest beneath me. I would have loved to have peeked between the boards on the deck, but mother finch managed to tuck that nest into the only corner that isn’t visible looking down through the boards. I went downstairs and peeked out the door and there they were. Two little guys flitting back and forth frantically between the porch floor and the screen. Mom was trying to get them to squeeze through the same little opening she used and they just couldn’t figure it out. There is a ceiling fan (not running of course) right below them, and she flys up and sits on one of the blades and coaxes them and instructs them for all she’s worth. No luck. They aren’t budging. Last year she had 5 babies in the same spot. The screen sections are quite large and are on hinges so they can be dropped down and be cleaned in case something gets dropped through the floor cracks above. Last year the only way to get so many baby birds out was to lower one of the screens. But I didn’t want to scare these two little guys and I still had hope mom could PEEP them out. An hour later after watching them frantically run and flitter the length on the porch between the boards , I gave up and got the ladder. But rather than completely drop the screen down I was able to force one corner near the nest to hang down about 4 inches. It seemed safer to me and apparently mom was ok with it too. As soon as I went back into the house she was back on the fan blade talking to them again. I watched for a long time from a window in another room. One of the little guys went to the edge, looked down, backed up as if to say “That is a looong way down if my little wings and feathers don’t work” ..sat down. After what felt like an eternity to me, I gave up and went about my business.

I am happy to say though, when next I checked the little pilots had flown the nest and successfully landed I hope in the blue spruce tree.

It has amazed me at how much my eyes have seen, how much my ears hear, and most of all, how much my heart has been blessed now that I take time to look at the beauty God has given us. This world is so beautiful in so many simply things. I wish all people could free baby birds instead of fighting with their neighbors. Peace would be so wonderful for all the children of the world………….

I spent so much time with the birds today we had a wonderful salad for dinner with shrimp, sliced steak, egg, blueberries, peaches, carrots, cucumber and tomatoes. It was wonderful and just right.

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