Dad's Homecoming - Potato Cabbage Soup

I am sure that March 15th is just like any other day to most of you. Many may know it as the Ides of March, but in our family it is a very special day that we always celebrated. It is the day that my father returned home from the Vietnam War. My father served as police in the Air Force and was overseas in the war for two years.  So his homecoming was a big deal to our family. The day he came home my mother (they were engaged at the time), my father’s parents, my aunt Marie (my father’s sister), and my Uncle Frank (my mom's brother) were all at the airport. They say that as my father walked over to them and they all greeted him with kisses, hugs, and cheer. My mom always describes how ecstatic they were to have him back. They would also always explain how in the mist of showering him with hellos and fawning over him they lost my grandfather! They were all looking for him when they found him standing alone, against a wall (inside) with his sunglasses on. He was so happy to see my father, but he didn’t want anyone to see him cry that his son was finally home.  It has also been told that my Grandmother left her Christmas tree up (yes it was there until March!) she insisted my father would want to see it since he was not there for the holidays.  You can imagine, his homecoming was a very big deal.

So on March 15 every year my mother would tell my father that he could have whatever he wanted for dinner. For reasons unknown to me – maybe it is just because it was the season or maybe he just really likes it- my father would always ask for Corned Beef, Potatoes, Carrots, and Cabbage. (Quite different from the Italian food we were used to eating.) My mom would make it proudly and she always made a trip to the local bread bakery to pick up a loaf of Rye Bread to go with the meal. She would place the meal on the table with mustard and butter to accompany it. Although we would all sit down and share the meal, I always disliked it. Maybe it was the future vegetarian in myself, and not that I have anything against it, but it is something I never enjoyed. But I ate it to celebrate with dad and my family.

This year it will be 44 years my father is home. We are lucky my father made it back, in one piece, and without side effects. Well, he sometimes gets startled when he hears helicopters; but we are all lucky that is it. I wish I could be there to celebrate with my parents this year. I will call like I have every year since I moved away, and I wonder if my mom will still be making him the same meal? I will be celebrating my father’s homecoming anniversary in my own way. I am making a Cabbage Soup and some Irish Soda Bread to finish it off. I think my dad would love this meal. Maybe in the next few years we can celebrate this anniversary together and I can cook for my family…you never know what can happen.

Happy Homecoming Dad!

Happy Eating!

 

Potato, Cabbage, and Carrot Soup (serves 6)

3 cups of Russet Potatoes, peeled and cubed small

2 cups of onion, chopped small

2 cups of carrots, sliced

2 ½ cups of cabbage, (green, red, or purple) chopped small

1 ½ quarts of veggie stock

1 tbsp of butter

½ cup of cream

Sea salt and Black pepper to taste

1 ½ tsp of dried dill

Grated Irish Cheddar for topping

First, in a large pot, place your potatoes, onions and carrots and pour your stock over. Bring to a simmer and let it cook together about 15 minutes. You potatoes will begin to break down; which is exactly what you are looking for. Add in your cabbage, butter, and season well with the sea salt and black pepper.

Next, let you soup continue to simmer and have the liquid reduce by a fourth. Turn your burner off and let your soup cool about 15 minutes. With a potato masher, mash your soup together for a bit to even out the chunks.

Finally, place your soup back over medium heat and add in your cream. Sprinkle in your dill and let it all come to a simmer. Give it a taste and season again with the sea salt and black pepper if needed. Serve warm and with the grated cheddar if you wish.

Note:  The hue of my soup came from a beautiful purple cabbage I had picked up at the local farmers market.  So be prepared that if you are to use a green or red cabbage your soup color will vary.

 

 

Cauliflower and Artichoke Hearts

 

Certified Yummly Recipes on Yummly.comMy Uncle Frank has always been very near and dear to my heart. He was the grandfather that I never had. He and his wife, my Aunt Fran; only live a couple of blocks from where my sister and I grew up. We were always at one another’s home, and they participated in everything that my sister and I did. So every year for Valentine’s Day we would bring something special over to my Aunt and Uncle’s home. Not for Valentine’s Day, but because it was my uncle’s birthday. I usually made him cookies or a cake to share with my Aunt, and also kept the tradition years later even when I moved away. I would mail him a box of anything that I conjured up in my kitchen…he would always tell me it was the best present he ever tasted.

But growing up, my sister and I loved to go over there to spend time with them. Every year on his birthday he would tell us that he brought my Aunt Fran flowers and hearts for Valentine’s Day. And every year my Aunt Fran would show me that he gave her a head of Cauliflower, and a can of Artichoke Hearts. My sister and I would giggle at this year after year, and years later when my husband learned of the tradition he exclaimed “Your Uncle Frank is a genius!” Needless to say Cauliflower and Artichoke Hearts (among many other things) are two things that will always make me think of him. It is wonderful to have these memories.

Very sad and true my Uncle Frank passed away unexpectedly in late February of last year. I will be making some Cauliflower and Artichoke Hearts in his honor; I will also have to bake something and send it to my Aunt Fran! So here is to you Uncle Frank- Hope you are having a Happy Birthday, I know you are watching over us all.

 

Cauliflower and Artichoke Heart Fritters

1 can of Artichoke Hearts; drained, dried well and squeezed with a bit

Cauliflower; cut into 1 – 2 bite size florets (about 1 ½ cups)

1 cup of Flour

1 tsp of Baking Powder

2 tsp of Sea Salt

Generous pinch of Cayenne Pepper

2/3 cup of Beer

1 egg (beaten)

Milk, about ¼ to ½ cup (to thin batter to desired consistency)

Vegetable or Peanut Oil, for frying

First; in a bowl whisk together your flour, baking powder, sea salt, and cayenne pepper. Whisk in the beer and egg – be careful because it may foam up. Whisk in the milk until it has the desired constancy you wish.

Next; heat about an inch of oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When you see oil heated (when it gets wavy ripples) carefully dip a pieces of cauliflower or artichokes hearts into your beer batter. Dip your coated veggies into your oil and let it sizzle. Never crowding the pan with too many at a time. Turn them occasionally.

Finally; when your veggies are all golden, remove them carefully from the oil and drain on a plate layered with paper towels. Work like this in batches until you have cooked up all of your veggies. Be sure to always keep an eye on your oil level as you might need to refill your frying pan.

Your Year is What You Eat!

If you have never spent New Year’s Eve with my father’s family then you have missed out. It always was a bit more subdued than all of the food of Christmas Eve, but just as much fun. The celebrating always rotated at different homes. All of my Great Aunts and Uncles along with the rest of the family would wear funny party hats with sparkles on them. My mom would usually buy noise makers and horns and we would just be silly for a night. Sometimes we spent it at my Aunt Marge and Uncle Jimmy’s (my father’s aunt and her husband) home, sometimes it was at my parents; I think we went to my Aunt Marie’s home (my father’s sister) once too. In my younger years - dare I tell…it was not uncommon for my sister and I perform a show! Yes, I admitted it – picture two little girls dancing around to David Lee Roth, Prince, or Madonna in the mid 80’s!!! With costume changes, oh yes!  And as my Uncle Tony exclaimed on one New Year’s Eve that he and my Aunt Mary (another one of my father’s Aunts and her husband) came to at my parent’s home, ”When you come to Dominick and Rita’s home you get dinner and a show!” It was a lot of fun and many memories of these gatherings make me smile.

The food of the night was usually an antipasto along with a dip or two. Dinner was simple. Usually pasta of some kind, a vegetable or two, meat (usually chicken or beef), and then there were cakes and pastries for dessert.  Like I said it was nothing extravagant. But if you were to spend the evening at my Aunt Fran and Uncle Frank’s home (I have mentioned them before) you always have Sausage to eat right after you counted down and exclaimed “Happy New Year!” My Sweet Dear Uncle Frank would say that the first thing you should eat in the New Year represented what kind of year you were about to have. He felt that eating a fatty and rich piece of meat was right on target. He would be standing outside in the freezing temperature with his son, my cousin David, cookng sausage on a charcoal grill. (According to my Uncle Frank, the charcoal grill is the way sausage tastes the best!) I can remember us standing in their living room and counting down to the New Year, and in would come my Uncle Frank with his eye glasses fogged over, a party hat on with his jacket & scarf and a platter of grilled sausage for us all to eat. It was delicious! I do not know many others who would stand outside in 30 degrees or less grilling sausage for their family, only my Uncle Frank.

Brian and I feel that we should be keeping my Uncle Frank’s tradition. So New Year’s Day we will be having Sausage just lke my Uncle Frank. Although, I do not own a charcoal grill; I do not think my Uncle would mind. It is time for Sausage, Potatoes, Peppers and Onions in a light tomato sauce. This is a dish similar to one my mom made often, it is rich and flavorful and comforting. It may not be completely seasonal either, but I think that is what we need for 2012. Lots of flavor, lots of color,a bit of spiciness, and the richness of love from family. Happy New Year everyone!

The Christmas Past

The Christmas Past At Christmas I am always thinking of my mom, dad, and sister. I think of the memories we have made over the years. Not just with the four of us, but with our extended family of first and second cousins, aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles, and on and on! I come from such a large family you can only imagine the food, the stories, and chaos that comes along with it.

Christmas Eve was always spent at my Aunt Fran and Uncle Frank’s home to celebrate with my father’s side of the family. (They are my father’s uncle and his wife, who over the course of time are like grandparents to my sister and I.) My aunt and uncle have a small home just a couple of blocks from where I grew up in Garfield, New Jersey. It was not uncommon that in this tiny home we would fit anywhere from 25 to 30 people or more! There would be food on top of food, the more desserts the better and it was all set up in a buffet style.  Although everyone would bring something to eat I always looked forward to whatever my Aunt Fran would make: Baked Ziti, Eggplant, Swiss chard, Sausage with Peppers and Onions – all of her food was always terrific. My cousin Frannie always made a variety of cookies that I loved to try, amongst them always were these Fruit Preserve and Oatmeal Bars. They were simply scrumptious. Someone in the family always dressed up as Santa to exchange gifts. It was a fun tradition that my sister and I enjoyed even as we were all grown. I can remember Santa passing out cookies, pecan pies, and cans of tomato paste (an inside joke with the family).

As the evening grew late we would then drive to church for midnight mass. Being that my parent’s home, my Aunt Fran and Uncle Frank’s home, and their church were all within a three block radius it makes me laugh that we would all pile into cars in freezing temperatures and drive through the narrow streets of Garfield to go to church. At mass we usually saw other relatives, and friends always greeting each other with hugs and kisses. After church we would rush home to bed so that the Christmas morning would come fast but not before putting cookies out for Santa and a carrot or two for his reindeer.

In the morning I always had to see if Santa liked the cookies I left. They were always just crumbs there on the plate, and a big bite out of the carrot! We opened presents and ate treats…I always sneaked in a few cookies that were on the table that family and friends would have sent my parents. It was not uncommon for my Aunt Marie (my father’s sister) to come by in the morning. Then my mother would make a big breakfast for all of us. Usually pancakes, with bacon or pork roll. (Pork Roll is defiantly a New Jersey / East Coast thing that is seldom found outside that area, it is just a spiced pork meat that is sliced and you griddle it.) Then we would get ready to head over to my Aunt Kim and Uncle Frank’s home it was time to celebrate with my mom’s side of the family. (My Uncle Frank is my mother’s brother and my Aunt Kim is his wife who my sister and I always adored!)

At my Aunt Kim and Uncle Frank’s home we would have a day of relaxing and luxury eating. Not a crowd like the night before, but just as much fun. My Aunt would make a huge variety of hors d’oeuvres, and my Uncle Frank would pop Champagne for all. That was usually followed by a meal that was just as special. My Aunt Kim made beautiful meals for us: Roasts of Beef or Pork, homemade Caesar Salad, traditional Lasagna, and reoccurring (by popular demand) a Lobster and Crab appetizer wrapped in a Puff Pastry with a Cognac Cream Sauce. Every year it was different, and every year my sister and I could not wait to see what came next.  It was “luxury” eating at its finest and it made me feel so special that she would treat us like this. It was followed by fruit and nuts, and then dessert. But who could eat dessert after the last 48 hours…..okay, I always could! Cookies, pies, cakes, and pastries all beautiful and all yummy! They were all fantastic, but I usually just wanted a Fig Cookie. I know weird, but I think it shows my Sicilian heritage.

After our day was through it was not uncommon for my sister or I to fall asleep on the car ride home. I would lie in bed at night and not only think about the toys and gift I had received, but about the time with family and the food I had eaten. These two days made me feel so loved, and it lasted me through the year.  My husband and I have a much more subdued holiday in comparison to those I grew so familiar of. My sister now with a little one of her own and experiencing the yet same traditions makes me miss my family. But I just pick a memory to tell my husband about and he smiles and chuckles as I tell it. Makes the holidays feel like there is no change even at 3,000 miles away.

What's in store?

There is a great food imports store on the south end of Seattle that I love. It is called Big John’s PFI.  It may be a bit hard to find amongst the other warehouses and in between the sports stadiums, but you must go if you are ever in the area. It is a no frills warehouse space that is filled with all different kinds of pastas, cheeses, olives, candies, teas, olive oils, vinegar, and spices galore.

There are a few stipulations about this wonder of joy. Because it is a bulk importer you sometimes need to buy the items in bulk. For example, a two pound bag of pasta is standard. The herbs and spices are in these large five gallon buckets that you need to measure out yourself. Oh and the cheese; you can only get in a half pound if it is over $20- for a pound, otherwise you have to purchase it by the pound.  But do I mind? Absolutely not! It makes me love it even more.

This is one of the few places I have found outside of Northern New Jersey that has over a dozen Olive Oils, knows the difference between Ricotta Salata & Ricotta Romano, and carries more than one kind of Torrone. All things from my childhood I adore.

So how did I find this place? I mean it has the tiniest sign that you can drive by easily. I was visiting my uncles who live here four years ago and we were going downtown to tour. But my Uncle Sal said we had to make a stop so that he could buy his olives. He said he bulks up on them whenever he is in the area. So off we went on foot under the Viaduct (which has been partially torn down in the last two weeks), around one of the stadiums, and down into the parking lot to see a sign in the colors of the Italian flag that read PFI. I was in awe at what I saw, and you would not believe what my uncle bought. Not one, not two, but three pounds of olives. And he carried them in his back all the way back through downtown. It was an experience – as anything with my Uncle Sal is.

I do not go on crazy excursions to PFI now like I did that day with my uncle, although I do limit myself to a carrying basket as opposed to a push one. It is the one way I try to contain my purchases! But I did come home with some treasures. Two kinds of Olive Oil- one from Portugal and the other from Sicily, two different kinds of pasta, dried hibiscus flowers,  a bag of faro, Sea Salt, Ricotta Salata, an aged Chevre, and oil cured olives. I think this will keep me content for a week…maybe two. When I make dinner with all of these goodies Brian will be in for a treat.

Brian's Indian Conversion

Over the years I have gained such an acquired taste for all Asian foods.  The more I have tried – Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean the more I love it all. I love the way their food seams the dance around on my pallet. I feel you get a bit of everything in almost every little bite. The sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami; there seems to be a depth in their flavors that I cannot get enough of.  I just love the way it lingers and pleases my senses and with each bite and every new dish I have tried I am more and more in love. It is just so different from the Italian food that I grew up on and change is always good. All of these cuisines were so easy to talk my husband, Brian into trying – until it came to Indian food. Over the years I have mentioned that we try it and over the years he turned it down time and time again. Repeating the same thing, “I just don’t know enough about it.” I do not know what he needed to know. In my opinion he was eating sushi and that was more foreign to me then Indian food. Maybe it was the mix of spices, or all the stewed dishes and chutneis? I am not really sure, but what I do know is that it was many approaches before I got him to agree to go out and try some. Actually, our friend Shaun said that he would like to meet us at an Indian restaurant and Brian gave in. I think knowing that someone else was familiar with it made him comfortable with the idea. What a surprise, he really enjoyed his meal. I was pleased with all the vegetarian options they had, tasty ones at that. And yes, again my taste buds were dancing and my senses were pleased.

When it comes to Indian food there is a depth that you get from their cooking…maybe it is the spice mixes? I am not sure, but what I do know is if I only had Indian food to eat for the rest of my life I would not be complaining. Over the years we have tried many dishes of the cuisine and I cannot pick one that I love more than the other. We have eaten at all sorts of places too. From a questionable greasy spoon in San Francisco that had the best Paratha I have ever had – one that was stuffed with a spicy potato mash that was irresistible. Many Indian Buffets to try a bit of everything. We would travel to an Indian restaurant in north Phoenix to eat because their spices were so fresh and had the best Vegetable Korma with Cashews we have tasted. We also went to a whole in wall Southern Indian resturant in the U District of Seattle with fantastic food and it's folding chairs and no frill decor. We drove out to West Seattle one day because we heard that an Indian Restaurant there had great Goat Curry that my husband wanted to try, and he ate every last bite of it. A year and a half ago on our our move from Phoenix to Seattle we drove through Oregon and stopped in for dinner at a Southern Indian place that had fantastic Dal Dosai that I still think about. Needless to say, I will travel for good food- Indian in particular. And along the way my husband stopped and looked and me and said,” Danielle, I am so sorry. For years I did not want to try Indian food and I think I enjoy it more than any other food now. I am sorry I made you miss out on this for so long.” (How could I not love him after that comment?)

Over time we have experimented on some of the cuisine on our own. Some of our creations have been much better than others. Like anything else there is always trial and error! I have acquired a couple of cookbooks over time and have talked to a few Indian Chefs as well; they are always so helpful and friendly to explain their dishes. I think it is a sign that there are cooking their food with love & care. Over time my husband had done more and more experimenting in the kitchen with Indian dishes too. So far my favorite of his has been Saag Paneer. I came home not too long ago to our home wafting in the smell of ginger, garlic, and curry; and I think my mouth was instantly watering. It was great but not right by his standards.

If you have not had Saag Paneer it is a spinach (Saag) dish in a really flavorful curry cream sauce that has fried cheese (Paneer) in it. It is served over rice and is as comforting as it is delicious. He wanted it creamier and felt it fell short in that aspect. While we were at the Pike Place Market one afternoon I stopped at the Indian food counter there – by the way they have great Sabosas there - and asked the chef how he gets his Saag so creamy. He talked the recipe through with Brian. Brian was making it with yogurt, the chef suggested plain old heavey cream and whisking it in in the end. You see the proteins in the yogurt seize up when they get too hot and do not remain creamy. Ah! We thought his recipe was complete and I have asked him if he would make it with me to share with all of you.  The result: creamy, delicious and as far as Brian was concerned much better than the previous attempts. I believe Brian has hit a home run with this one.  I loved making it as much as I enjoyed eating it.  Maybe we won’t be going out to eat Indian too often anymore.

 

 

Autumn in Ballard

Ah yes, autumn is here. The air is crisp, leaves are changing and falling. The leaves rustle at my feet as I walk through Ballard (my neighborhood in Seattle). I love to take long walks on these fall days with my two dogs Martini and Latte. We admire the season and it reminds me of my childhood in New Jersey. We had beautiful autumns there. The trees everywhere there were shades of yellow, orange and red and sometimes at sun set it would look as though they glowed like of fire.

It makes me feel bad that we have lived in the dessert of Arizona for ten years. This is only the second autumn my dogs are experiencing. They sniff the leaves and my Labrador - Latte tries to eat the acorns that have fallen. I think she thinks they are a new treat that nature is giving her. My Beagle Martini likes to soak up the sunbeams through the trees and let her ears flap in the breeze. I think they are loving their life in the Northwest, and are enjoying the change of the seasons as much as I am.

 

 

I might have mentioned it last week but this is my most favorite season for food. The fall harvests are always exciting and have a big variety of flavor. The squashes are out, more and more root veggies are making their presence; and the hues of these beauties are like the leaves in the trees. Everything is warm and radiant from the deep greens, bright yellows and oranges; to the deepest of reds. I get a joy just at looking at it all.  As I strolled through the Farmers Market this morning my eye was drawn to a beautiful Acorn Squash that was calling at me to make into a soup. It would be perfect on a cool crisp day like it was today.  I was looking forward to cooking with it as much as I was looking forward to another long walk with my “girls” – Martini and Latte so they can take in the beautiful autumn day we were having.  Nothing is better than enjoying a beautiful day with the company of loved ones and a good meal. Even if my “girls” don’t hold a conversation with me, I know they appreciate it all. At least that is what I tell myself.

 

Early Food Memories

My family has always had a huge impact on me and my view of food.  I have a very large extended family on both sides of my parents. Holidays, birthdays, gatherings…all the food and preparation was an event.  It didn’t matter what time of year, whether there would be ten people or twentyfive. There were always courses…and tons of food at all of them.  So it is no surprise that my earliest memories are all involving food. I can remember all meals being made from scratch…no shortcuts, and I can remember looking over the pot on my grandmother’s stove (my mom’s mother) to see her simmering an entire octopus.  (I was so scared by that moment.)  I was crying at the thought of a whole octopus cooking on the stove after seeing it the week prior on Sesame Street representing the number eight. I can also remember going to the market with my mother to buy what seemed like tons of tripe to clean and cook for a family picnic. I can remember being in my bedroom and pressing my nose against the screen of the open window to get a sniff of fresh air, I could not stand the smell of the tripe as it cooked.  But let me not forget the first time my parents let me have a sleepover party with my friends when I was in the fourth grade. My mom made all of us girls (there had to be eight of us), sit down for dinner (ziti and meatballs) in the dining room and then served us all cake. When we were done eating in the living room playing a game, my mother was back in the dining room setting the table for the pancake breakfast she planned for the morning. One of my friends looked at my mom setting the table and asked; “Mrs. Librera, are you going to make us eat again?” So yes, over time I learned that none of this was common to most, but normal to us!

This brings me to when I was first dating my husband and my parents said that I should have him over for dinner so they could get to know him better. My mom said she would make him a traditional Italian dinner for him. So my mom started in the morning with her sauce on the stove and browning her meatballs, Pork Chops, and Bracioles to add to the sauce. She was all ready for Brian to come over. She couldn’t wait to feed the skinny, non-Italian boy I was dating. So Brian comes over and the antipasto was set up in the living room. We sat and chatted, my sister being the antagonistic little sister that she was and my dad was grumpy from a bad commute home from work in New York City. This was the making of a great dinner!

When my mom’s pasta was ready she asked us to sit at the dining room table and she would serve us. Out came the giant bowl of pasta and sauce with the salad, bread and grading cheese already on the table. She served us all and we started eating. When Brian was done she asked him if he would like another bowl…yes he said. And yes to a third bowl as well. My parents were impressed at how much he could eat and proud that they were serving him. When Brian said he was done with his pasta my mother said “Okay, I will go get the meat now.” Brian was so stuffed and had more than enough; he leaned over to me and said, “Why didn’t you tell me there was more food?”  I believe my response was, “You didn’t know?” And I believe my sister said, “We always eat like this.” And out came the platter of meats, and also a bowl of string beans. And of course, Brian ate all of that too. My mother also brought out some coffee ice cream that she whipped with some Brandy and had chilling in Brandy Sniffer Glasses to finish off the meal. It was a great meal, one I would never forget – neither would Brian (after loosening his belt).

Over the years my family and food have created a ton of memories. I luster in the thoughts of them all, and I am delighted at the thought that I create more each and every day with my husband now. I know our waist lines might not be happy with them all, but we are enjoying each one we create.  I will admit that two bowls of pasta are usually his limit now …

 

 

Preserving Summer

Last week my husband Brian and I found ourselves wandering through downtown Seattle when he suggested that we should head over towards Salumi and finally get a taste. You see four years ago when we were visiting this fine city we walked forever and a day with my uncles (that is another story) only to find it was closed and I was so heart  broken. I had read so much about it, even though I do not eat meat, I had to see it.

If you have not had the pleasure, Salumi is a family run little café/ deli that is run by Chef Mario Batali’s family. From what we heard it is to die for and only open Tuesday through Friday from 11AM – 4PM. I have been forewarned that a line forms out the door of its tiny space and many people stand and wait for a taste of Salumi’s loveliness.

I have heard that they cure their own Lamb Procuttio, besides curing and roasting other meats and also make all their own sauces. Needless to say Brian and I were hoping to finally have our taste buds delighted!

Sure enough we are a block away and we see a line and know we are close. As we get closer and grab our spot in amongst the waiting you can hear everyone mumbling of what sandwich they will order. After about only 15 minutes we were in and the aroma of this place was intoxicating.

It brought me back to when I would step into my Aunt Fran’s home and get a whiff of the sauce that has been on the stove all day simmering; I felt like I was in a day dream. Brian ordered the Porchetta Sandwich with peppers and onions, and I had the house Veggie which consisted of house made Mozzarella and fresh Pesto. We grabbed a seat in the corner and were ready to dive in. Brian took a bite and exclaimed “Ummph! That is good!”  I took a bite of my own – DELICIOUSNESS - and told Brian “There are a few things that will take me back to my roots and this was definitely one!”  That Pesto was so wonderful with such an aroma of basil that it made me miss New Jersey in the summer  and the garden of my Uncle Frank (my father’s uncle – there are a lot of Franks in my family) with all the basil plants he grew amongst many other vegetables.

 

Pesto and Mozzarella Sandwich

On our bus ride out of downtown it dawned on me that summer is ending and I need to have that flavor of fresh basil to last me through the year. I now had a mission on my trip to the farmers market the following Sunday. I must get basil, and make enough Pesto with it to last me throughout the winter. My challenge was on!  As I wandered through the market I came across a vendor who had really beautiful bunches of basil. I purchased two bunches and a head of fresh garlic (the other ingredients I knew I had), amongst other goodies for the week, and was happy to head back to our place and get started.  As I walked home I thought gnocchi would be the best bet for the pesto…but which kind, Ricotta or Potato? I settled on the Ricotta Gnocchi and some steamed fresh string beans.  I really could not wait to make or eat it.

 

 

BASIL PESTO

4 cups of Basil leaves (washed, trimmed, and dry)

3 cloves of Garlic

¼ cup of Pine Nuts, freshly roasted to golden

¼ cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese (at least ¼ cup to start)

  1. In the bowl of a food processor or blender combine the first three ingredients and a drizzle of your Olive Oil and begin to pulse your food processor or blender to break down your pesto. Once this is done you can leave your processor or blender running and in a steady stream poor in the rest of your Olive Oil until all combined into a paste like consistency.
  2. I personally do not add my cheese until I am ready to eat or use my pesto. It is now that I place my pesto into zip locked baggies, squeezing out the air to freeze until I am ready to use. When I am ready to use my pesto I defrost a bag of it and revive it with enough Olive Oil until I get the desired consistency I am looking for and fold in the freshly grated cheese.

*NOTE: On some occasions , when I am adding in the pesto “as is” and not thinning out I add the parmesan cheese right to it and work it into a past and add it to my dish. I do this when I am using it as a rub for fish and / or meat, or a soup.

**When I make a large batch or two of Pesto like this I make some for us to eat right away, I place a small amount in a jar with a layer of Olive Oil on top to seal it and place it in the refrigerator (usually good for about two weeks), and I place the rest in several zip lock baggies into the freezer to last through the winter.

***It is best not to add the cheese until you are ready to eat because from the moment it is grated it begins to lose flavor, therefore you should always great fresh when needed.

 

RICOTTA GNOCCHI

1 heaping cup of Ricotta

1 Egg (beaten)

2 ½ oz of AP Flour (extra needed for dusting)

¼ tsp of Black Pepper (freshly ground)

½ tsp of Sea Salt

Pinch of Nutmeg (freshly grated)

First, in a large bowl place your Ricotta and beat it well with a rubber spatula it smooth it out a bit and then stir in your Egg. Once combined add your Flour, Black Pepper, Sea Salt, & Nutmeg and mix together until combined.

Next, on a sheet tray you will want to sprinkle it well with extra AP Flour and fill a piping bag (fitted with a medium sized tip) with your ricotta mixture. Onto your floured tray, pipe out your ricotta mixture into bite size balls, sprinkle with more AP flour and place in the refrigerator to chill.

Finally, fill a pot with salted water and bring to a boil. In small batches drop several Ricotta Gnocchi at a time into the boiling water. When they rise, lift them out with a small strainer and place them in a bowl. Continue until all your gnocchi are cooked. Dress them with your Pesto (or sauce of your choice), and they are ready to eat!

My Love for a Chocolate Chip Cookie

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip CookiesOne of my all-time favorite things to eat is a chocolate chip cookie. I have eaten so many of them over the years that I can remember being told as a child that I would turn into one, I loved and ate so many.  I can even remember the first time I made them and from that point on, the store bought ones no longer had any comparison! My mother is a fantastic cook…but a baker she is not. My Aunt Kim, on the other hand, is a great cook and a fantastic baker (My Aunt Kim is married to my Uncle Frank – my mother’s brother). Every family occasion my Aunt Kim would create a special dessert for all of us. At Thanksgiving she brought the pies, at birthdays she would make wonderful cakes, and at Christmas she would make trays and trays of cookies. I can even remember a summer family gathering when she made Pate Choux and filling them with ice-cream and topped them with chocolate sauce. I could not wait for my Aunt Kim and Uncle Frank to show up so I could see what she made; her desserts were always wonderful and this gave my Aunt Kim total “cool” status in my opinion!

One time when I was about 5 years old, she invited me over to make chocolate chip cookies.  I was so excited I could not wait to get to her home. I can remember sitting in the back seat of my parent’s car listening to my mom telling me that I had to behave, to listen to what Aunt Kim told me to do, and not make her home messy! (My mom has had two obsessions in life – keeping us / our home clean & neat and what to make for dinner). When I was finally there I could not wait for my parent’s to leave so I could get started on the cookies.

I remember kneeling on a chair eagerly watching as my aunt carefully measured her ingredients. Letting me mix the wet ingredients, adding in the dry ones, folding in the chocolate chips, getting to taste the raw cookie batter - I was in heaven.  I remember each step along the way; scooping them out, watching her carefully place them in the hot oven to bake, waiting for them to be done, and the smell of the first batch as they came out of the oven. My aunt gave me one with a napkin around it and told me to be careful because it was still warm. That light crunch of the crisp, outside of the cookie and the feeling of the warm and gooey chocolate chips as you bit into it; I loved how there were bits of chocolate though out the little cookies. I loved that there were dozens of cookies that I had a part of making. It was my nirvana! I can even remember like yesterday how my Uncle Frank came in to the kitchen to see how the cookies were coming along. I was so proud to hand him one to try. His response was “Danielle, Aunt Kim is pretty good at this huh?”

I was so happy and felt so grown-up just because I got to bake cookies with my aunt. Many, many years later in the kitchen of my own as I still mix up a batch of chocolate chip cookies I am always reminded of my first time making them.  It is the love of this cookie that I owe to my “cool” Aunt Kim and even in part for the career I now have as a pastry chef.  I’ll soon mix up a batch the next chance I get and mail some to my Aunt and Uncle. I think I owe it to them!

Although not the recipe my aunt and I made at the time I was 5, this is what I have come up with over the years. And to be honest, there have been many varieties – but these are my all-time favorite to make. I feel the oatmeal gives it a slightly more mature taste and texture to the cookie especially when combined with the amount of brown sugar and vanilla I add. It’s this combination where I feel all the flavor comes into play and makes these truly fantastic.

 

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

1 1/2 cups of brown sugar

1/2 cups of sugar

1 pound of butter

2 eggs

2 1/2  tsps of vanilla extract

 

3  cups of AP flour

2 1/2 cups of oats

1 tsp of baking soda

1 tsp of baking powder

½ tsp of salt

1/2 tsp of ground cinnomon

1/4 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg

1 bag of Chocolate Chips (I prefer the Ghirardelli's large larger size chips and flavor to others)

First, cream the sugars with the butter. Then add the eggs and the vanilla. You will want to scrape down the sides of your bowl inbetween your ingredients and be sure all is encorporated well.

Next, you will whisk the dry ingredients ( flour, oats, levener and spices) and gradually add them to the wet. At this point you want to be sure not to overmix....If you overmix you can build gluten and end up with a tough cookie!

Then, you will want to fold in yout chocolate chips and be sure to have them evenly distributed through your cookie dough.

Finally, you will want to preheat your oven to 350. I also take a sheet pan and scoop out all my cookies onto the pan and then chill for at least a 1/2 hou to an hour. This will ensure your cookies to keep their shape when baking. When oven is fully heated and cookie scoops are firm you will place them evenly onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven till edges of the cookies are golden and the centers of the cookie are blond yet firm. ***I always make differently sized cookies due to my mood. I find that if you are making them in the size of a tablespoon they take about 8 to 10 minutes, larger ones (Like a 2 tablespoon measure) about 15 minutes. Let them cool before eating, and enjoy!