Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Drumsticks and Cheese and Potato Pie

Yesterday's subject matter on the show brought me more than I'd expected. When I thought about picnics, my mind traveled back in time to when I was a kid along for the ride and the food.

Mom and Dad called the shots from the time we left home on Memorial Day to which cemetery we'd visit first to what flowers would be chosen for the graves to what would go in the picnic basket for that long day's lunch.

That long day's lunch got to be eaten in the same little roadside park, just one of many that dot the highways of Michigan, every year. It came to be one of the few unchangeable things in an otherwise ever changing life. The cemetery we visited may have grown larger with more inhabitants, some of the businesses where we bought flowers to adorn the graves may have gone out of business and, yes, our family even grew one short with the passing of my dad some years ago, but the picnic in that one little park remained a steady, an anchor of sorts for our family.

They will all be meeting there again this weekend with my brother and sister-in-law who will be taking care of Mom's side of the family in the Mount Rest cemetery in St Johns, Michigan, while Mom, my sister and her partner, Jill, will be washing the grave stones and planting flowers in the graves of the Hoos family in Woodland cemetery near Hastings where my father and his family lived.

Funny, during the show I forgot to ask Mom what they were going to take for the picnic. The whole point of the show Monday was about food for a picnic but I guess just talking to her and going back was all the food I needed for that moment. Here's to the annual Hoos picnic, that gathering that the little roadside park has hosted for so many years now.

I do know what they won't be packing in that picnic basket, though.

I'm so glad I have made some new friends on the Internet that have lived completely different lives than I, who live in different countries, whose experiences are totally different are unique to themselves and yet who share some of the same love for life that I do.

One such person is Deb DiMaggio who is originally from Sicily (picture it!) but who now lives in Spain. She was the first person to share what she liked to take on a picnic. I know it's got to be good because she's one classy person who loves good food.

So, without further ado, here is the recipe for Deb DiMaggio's Marinated Drumsticks:

8 chicken legs

Juice of 1 lemon plus the rind, grated

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix lemon juice, rind, salt and olive oil in a bowl and mix well. Massage chicken legs with mixture and let marinade in the mixture for several hours in the refrigerator.

Remove to baking pan and bake in 375F degree oven for 30 minutes or until done.

Let cool.

Another surprise from one of the members at Jamie Oliver Forum was the inclusion of the Cheese and Potato Pie. After one person mentioned it, everyone seemed to remember a version that would show up at picnics. This is the recipe as given to me by Mummza, one of our English forum members. She doesn't give an oven temp but I would suggest something around 400F. Other members recalled something similar made with bacon and potatoes and eggs. I suppose one could combine all of them.

Cheese and Potato Pie

Line a pie pan with short crust pastry (but leave enough for the lid)

Peel some potatoes into large bite-sized chunks and cook them in boiling salted water until almost cooked. Strain and let dry out.

Whilst the potatoes are cooking, peel and slice a pile of onions and cook them in a pan with butter and a little oil until starting to brown and caramelize.

Get some good flavored cheese that melts well and cut it into small bite sized chunks. (A strong cheddar is good.)

Fill the lined dish with still warm potatoes, the still warm fried onions and chunks of cheese, season with salt and a good grind of pepper and add a touch of herbs if you like.

Add the lid to the pie and make sure the edges are sealed. Put a couple of steam holes in the top, brush with beaten egg and bake the pie.

Once cooked, it's best cooled for a fair amount before it's cut.

Well, today is Saturday the 23rd and I've still got one recipe to fit in here. Very long week with some household disasters demanding my attention plus getting ready for a very successful and fun Strawberry Fest today!

The last recipe is one a friend of mine gave me years ago that his family from the South used to make called Bones and Beans, the bones being cut up hot dogs.

Bones and Beans

28oz baked beans (either leftover or your favorite canned)

8 oz good hot dogs

1 1/4 cups yellow corn meal

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, beaten

1/4 cup oil

1 cup milk

1 jalapeno, minced (optional)

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese(optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix beans and "bones" and pour into an 8x8-inch baking pan, cover with foil and place in oven until hot and bubbling, about 25-30 minutes.

While beans are heating up in the oven, whisk dry ingredients together. Combine wet ingredients and mix into dry with a few swift strokes just to combine. (Do not over mix)

Fold in the optional ingredients if desired.

Increase oven temp to 425F, remove foil from pan, pour batter evenly over top and return to oven baking for an additional 15 minutes or until top is brown.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Picnic Season

Thought I'd get a jump on things this week and start my blog a little early since I see "busy, busy, busy..." in my very near future. This coming Saturday is Strawberry Fest here in Guerneville and I'll be making two items that will require a little pre-testing. One is a peanut butter cupcake recipe that I'm trying out today or tomorrow. (My favorite peanut butter cake recipe just didn't translate well into cupcakes.) The other is my Strawberry Cassata recipe which I came up with last year when a friend, who loves strawberries, had a birthday.

I was originally going to make him a Traditional Sicilian Cassata encased in Pasta Reale (marzipan) until I realized I didn't have time to make any homemade and wasn't about to spend $15 for pre-made. Having already purchased the ricotta and made the Pan di Spagna (sponge cake), I decided to buy the strawberries and whipping cream and make a few changes. It turned out well but I've had a few more ideas that I'll be using this week one of which is making my ricotta instead of buying it. (It's no more expensive and I much prefer the taste.)

On tomorrow's show, I'll be having Mom on as a special guest. She'll be giving her recipe for short cut Baked Beans based on a recipe for a brand that she buys in Michigan.

I, on the other hand, will be giving her recipe for Potato Salad. I hope I do it justice!

Speaking of potato salad, I'm thinking in the very near future that I want to do a segment on potato salad since there are so many recipes out there from all over the world. (It's amazing what people over the globe have done with this tuber from the new world.)

Since Mom's going to be giving the first recipe of the day, I'll give it right here, right now.

Mom's Baked Beans

1- 15-oz can great northern beans

1- 15-oz can pinto beans

1- 15-oz can white kidney (cannellini) beans

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2-3/4 cup ketchup

1 tsp dry mustard


In a large bowl, mix un-drained beans with all the ingredients except the bacon and mix completely.

Pour into a casserole and cover top with bacon.

Bake in 350F degree oven for 1-1 1/2 hours.

On to the potato salad. Just a note here, I've used both floury and waxy potatoes to make potato salad and I prefer the former. But this is completely up to your taste. One more thing: if you find that there is not enough dressing, add a little more mayo, vinegar and a tad more sugar to get that sweet and sour balance.

Potato Salad

5 potatoes

3 scallions, sliced

2 ribs of celery, diced

4 radishes, sliced thin

4 hard boiled eggs, sliced

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons yellow mustard

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

2 or 3 tablespoons sugar (enough to balance out the sweet and sour)

salt and pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes until al dente. (You don't want them too soft or you'll end up with mashed potatoes.) Then return them to the pot they were boiled in to dry and cool. When cool enough to handle, peel and cut into 2-to3-inch pieces.

Add the other vegetables gently toss to combine well.

Make a dressing of the rest of the ingredients except the eggs and pour over the salad mixing well. Gently stir in the eggs, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Armenian Pizza, Greek Salad and Pergatory

My last pizza offering on last Monday's show was something completely different than the Italian varieties.

Armenian pizza has little in common with the pizza most of us are used to save for a risen crust.

To show that everyone has his redeeming value, I told the story of a man who was given to womanizing, drinking too much on the job and showing favoritism to young good looking women who would pay visits to his office. In spite of all this, he is responsible for introducing me to Armenian pizza.

It was, as the adage goes, "love at first bite."

Please don't let the long instructions discourage you from trying this. The work and time involved will soon be forgotten when you (and your delighted guests) experience what must be heaven on the tongue.

Armenian Pizza

For the dough:

1 package active dry yeast

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 cup warm (not hot) water

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup olive oil

For the topping:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 bunch parsley, chopped

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon allspice

Several grindings of black pepper


Whisk yeast and sugar in one cup of the water and let set until foamy.

In a large bowl, sift four and salt and add yeast mixture, oil and remaining water.

Mix well and turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour if needed, until dough is soft and pliable, about 10 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl and turn dough to coat, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.


Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet until hot but not smoking and saute onions until soft and golden.

Add garlic and cook, stirring, for an additional minute.

Put onion mixture into bowl of food processor and add bell pepper and parsley and process until finely chopped.

Add the rest of the ingredients and process until well blended. Put mixture in a bowl, cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

To Assemble:

Put a rack in the lower third of oven and preheat to 500f. Cut eight pieces of parchment paper large enough to line a 17x13-inch baking sheet.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and lightly knead and divide into 16 equal pieces and wrap with towel to prevent a crust from forming.

Roll out one piece of dough into a 7-inch circle and place on one end of the floured parchment.

Roll out another and place it on the other side.

Place on baking sheet and bake for 2 minutes. Remove baking sheet, turn pizzas over, spread each with about 1/3 of the topping and return to the oven baking for an additional 4 or 5 minutes. Remove and cool on rack.

Repeat with remaining pieces of dough.

For me, Greek style salad is at its very best in the summer when tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are at their freshest and best. Go with something other than the usual grocery store offerings. Try some heirloom tomatoes, some Gypsy peppers and some middle eastern cukes.

Greek Salad

3 large tomatoes 2 sweet peppers of your choice 2 cucumbers, chopped. Enough to make 2 cups.

Sliced sweet red onion

Kalamata or oil-cured olives, about 1 cup 1/2 cup pickled Greek peppers such as pepperoncini

2 stalks celery, chopped

Crumbled feta (optional) Try sheep's milk if available.

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup good red wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Good sprinkling of dried oregano

Mix all the vegetables gently in a large salad bowl.

Whisk oil and vinegar together until emulsified and pour over salad mixing well. Add seasonings and gently mix again. Add optional cheese and mix again.

For the Quick Fix this past week, I chose a light brunch favorite of mine, Eggs In Purgatory.

I'm sure I first saw these on an old Mario Batali show. These are a fun thing to serve on a late Sunday morning when you have weekend guests.

Eggs In Purgatory

6 eggs

1 quart marinara sauce

Fresh bread


Pour sauce into a large skillet and heat to simmering. Make 6 indentations in sauce with the back of a spoon and gently break an egg into each. Cover and simmer gently until eggs are set.

Serve each with bread and grated cheese. Would go great with the Greek salad above.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Italian Sausage Sauce and Grilled Pizza

A few years back when we were in Sicily, Jim insisted we visit a small hill town outside of Palermo called Montelepre, the home of Salvatore Giuliano, the Robin Hood of Sicily and the main character in Mario Puzo's book The Sicilian. (I didn't realize just how famous he was until I later mentioned him to my mom's old neighbor from Sicily who knew the legendary story of the small town boy who stood up to power and helped the poor.)

Shortly after arriving in Montelepre, we found ourselves in the large lobby of what looked like a castle. Inquiring after the local legend, we saw the woman to whom we were speaking disappear through a large arch way and be replaced by a short middle-aged man who introduced himself as Salvatore Giuliano's nephew. Before long, we were off walking down steep steps into the next street and standing before a typical Sicilian town house with floors and floors stacked up on one another. This was the Giuliano home where Salvatore was born and raised and stayed when he dared come down from his hiding places in the nearby hills when he was able to get past the carabinieri, the federal police force of Italy and the same corrupt lot that had originally tried to arrest him for trying to take a wheel of cheese (some say it was a few pounds of pasta) to feed his family. (Illegal food was often confiscated in post-war Sicily by the carabinieri and then sold on the black market.)

After conducting us on a tour of the home, the man took us back to the castle-looking building which turned out to be a restaurant. Looking in the dining room, I saw an elderly woman sitting at a table near the kitchen taking pieces of dough, placing each on a dowel, and then rolling it back and forth so it ended up as a strand of pasta with a hole in it like a drinking straw.

That's all it took for us to decide to have our lunch there. I consisted of a large plate of pasta with a fantastic sausage sauce. I was lucky enough to find a good version of it in a Sicilian cookbook when we returned home.

Sicilian Sausage Sauce

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-60z can tomato paste
1 pound Italian sausage (hot or mild)crumbled
1 cup minced onion
1 cup minced celery
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or 1 dried Calabrian chili pepper chopped (optional)

Heat oil in sauce medium sauce pan and saute tomato paste for a few minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and stir to mix.
Add the rest of the ingredients and enough water to just cover.
Simmer, breaking up any large pieces of the sausage and adding water as needed, for an hour.
Serve over pasta of choice.
This is also very good in a risotto or a pasta al forno.

Last week I gave the recipe for Roman pizza shop style pizza. In addition to that, the Romans also enjoy the more traditional pizzas that are made in the wood-fired ovens. And it was that style of pizza that I missed the most when we got back to California. It was this craving and probably a slight case of OCD that was the mother of invention. I think the heat of summer may have had something to do with the idea as well as it concerns using a Weber grill.

I thought I could get that wood flavor if I used a grill and wood charcoal as opposed to the usual brand which is filled with chemicals. The results were great! I simply put charcoal around the circumference of the kettle, lit them and when they were starting to ash over put the pizza stone in the center of the grill rack and put the lid on opening the top and bottom vents enough to keep the coals going. Kept the cover on long enough to the the stone very hot and proceeded as if I were using the oven.

Here's the recipe for the dough and one for a pizza Margherita. ( If using instant yeast, the dissolving and proofing may be skipped and the yeast just added to the water and used without waiting the 10 minutes.)

This is enough dough for three pizzas.
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast
1 cup tepid water
3 1/4 cups flour (use 00 flour if available)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tablespoon salt

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup of tepid water. Let set for 10 minutes. Add 1 cup of flour and stir. While stirring, add olive oil, salt, another 1/4 cup of water and another cup of flour. Add another 1/4 cup flour and stir in and then add another cup of flour. Put just enough water in the last time to make the dough manageable. If too wet, add just enough flour.

Knead the daylights out of it for 10 minutes, slamming it down, stretching it out and getting rough with it until it's soft and pliable. Film a large bowl with some olive oil and turn the dough to coat and cover with plastic wrap and let set for 3 hours.

Divide dough into 3 equal pieces.

Roll one of the pieces of dough out into a circle and place on a baking peel that has been sprinkled with corn meal or semolina flour. Stretch the dough out in all directions to make it thinner.

Pizza Margherita

1 1/2 pound of fresh ripe but firm roma tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound mozzarella
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bunch of fresh basil

With a swivel peeler, peel tomatoes then quarter lengthwise and remove seeds and gelatinous matter. Slice into strips and place on paper towels to drain.

Scatter 1/3 of tomatoes over pizza followed by a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.

Slide onto pizza stone and immediately replace lid of grill. Bake for 10-15 minutes , sprinkle with 1/3 of mozzarella and some Parmesan and replace the lid and bake for another 5 minutes.

Remove with two spatulas and sprinkle with chopped or torn basil.

Repeat with remaining dough.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When in Rome...

Rome has two offerings for pizza. One is the old fashioned Italian pizza that goes into the mouth of a brick oven that has been heated with wood, that is round and made to order. It's brought to your table which in itself is a big difference from the other variety which you will find in a small shop which may (or may not) have a small counter with stools opposite the area where you point to the long oval-shaped pizzas and tell the counter help how many slices you want. These are then weighed and you are charged accordingly.
Many will tell you that you must go to Naples to get a real pizza but this hasn't stopped the Romans from enjoying their own version of that popular treat that has spread to the four corners. Yes, Romans love their pizza and I love their pizza, too.
In an earlier blog, I gave a recipe for Roman pizza that I have been using for the last several years. That recipe is still good but I think I've found a better one which I will offer here.
You may use either active dry yeast or instant yeast. If using instant (which I prefer) you may skip the the sponge process and add it straight to the flour, omitting the sugar as well, add the rest of the ingredients and proceed with the kneading.

Roman Pizza

3/4 cup warm (not hot) water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 1/4 cups flour

Combine water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl. Let set for 10 minutes until the mixture starts to foam.
In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Add yeast mixture and oil. Mix well and turn out onto lightly floured surface. Knead, adding more flour as needed, for 10 minutes giving it a good workout by punching it and slamming it down on the work surface during the kneading process until soft and pliable.
Lightly oil a large bowl with olive oil and place ball of dough in it turning once to cover surface so a crust doesn't form. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 1/2 hours.

To Make The Pizzas

Place a baking stone on a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 500f. After it has reached 500 degrees, let the stone heat for 1/2 hour before baking pizza. (There is no need to wait another 1/2 hour before baking the second pizza.)

Divide the dough in half and, using a rolling pin, roll one ball of dough into an oblong about 13x9 inches. Place on a bread peel (or a baking sheet) that has been dusted with corn meal or semolina flour.

Spread a thin topping of marinara sauce (I use my own homemade and sprinkle a little oregano on it as well) on the pizza and a sparse scattering of mozzarella cheese. (You want to go easy of the toppings lest you end up with a soggy crust. The end result should be crispy) Add some mushrooms, olives, or your choice of topping being careful not to end up with a heavy laden pie.
Slide the pizza onto the baking stone and bake for about 10 minutes or until the crust is brown.
Repeat with remaining dough.

I also gave a recipe on the show for a flatbread pizza that I love to make in the summer when the garden is bursting with fresh zucchini. This is a wonderful light and healthy version of the world's favorite pie that only needs a glass of wine and a salad to make the perfect lunch.

Zucchini and Olive Flatbread Pizza

Pizza dough from previous recipe
1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for drizzling
1/2 pound fresh zucchini sliced into 1/8 inch rounds
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, divided
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup grated pecorino cheese
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped

Preheat oven to 450f.
Roll out dough into an oblong and place on ungreased baking sheet.
Brush with 1 tablespoon olive oil. With the tines of a fork, pierce the dough all over.
Arrange sliced zucchini on top, drizzle with olive oil and bake until edges begin to brown, about 18-20 minutes.
Remove from oven, sprinkle with half the oregano, the cheeses and the olives and bake for another 5-7 minutes until cheese melts and bubbles. Remove from oven, sprinkle with remaining oregano and serve.

This next recipe, which comes from Sicily, is a little more involved than the two previous but is well worth the effort, I think. I reheats nicely in the oven and has an interesting combination of textures and tastes.
Sfinciuni is Sicily's stuffed version of pizza and can be filled with all combination of things.
But I will limit this recipe to the broccoli and ricotta stuffing. This would make a nice addition to a buffet or, on its own, a satisfying light supper.

Sfinciuni Dough

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups unbleached flour
pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons whole milk

Dissolve year in a large bowl with 1/4 cup of water. Stir in 1 cup flour, the sugar, salt, olive oil and milk. After everything is well mix together, add the rest of the water and the remaining cup of flour and mix again until everything is well combined.
On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough making sure to punch it and slam it down on the surface several times during the process. Do this for 10 minutes. In the end, pat the dough into a round shape and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 3 hours or until doubled in volume.
While the dough is rising, prepare the stuffing.

Broccoli and Ricotta Stuffing

1 pound fresh broccoli
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons plain bread crumbs, lightly toasted
3/4 cups fresh ricotta
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil

Remove and pare away the tough outer skin of the broccoli stalks making sure to cut about a 1/2 inch off the bottom. Bring a pot of water to boil, add salt and then broccoli cooking about 7 minutes after water returns to a boil. Remove and chop into pieces no larger than an inch.
In a skillet, put 1/4 cup of olive oil and garlic and saute on medium until garlic is golden. Add broccoli and a sprinkling of salt and cook, turning everything over several times to cover well, for about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool completely.
At least a half hour before you are ready to bake your pizza, place a stone on a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400f.
Sprinkle a baker's peel with cornmeal.
Divide risen dough in half and wrap one in plastic. Roll the other out into a 10-inch circle and place of prepared peel.
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs on circle of dough. Over this, spread the ricotta making sure to leave about 3/4 inch border around the circumference.
Using a slotted spoon, lift broccoli from pan letting any extra liquid drip off and spread over ricotta evenly. Sprinkle cheese over top followed by the remaining breadcrumbs and finally drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil over all.
Roll remaining dough into a circle large enough to cover the other and place on top crimping the edges well and bringing the bottom edge over the top one.
Brush the top with water and slide the Sfinciuni onto the stone. Bake for 25 minutes and remove. Let set for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

My last offering this past Monday was for a Sicilian pesto that is quick, easy and doesn't skimp on taste. Pesto Trapanese is but one version of this famous salsa cruda that the island has to offer. Every region (like every family) has its own interpretation of what we've all come to expect as a smooth amalgamation of basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil. As good as Pesto Genovese is, I hope you'll try the version(s) made by its neighbor to the south.
As I said on the program, you can experiment with any sort of herb and use any sort of nuts you like or a combination. I've seen some recipes that call for as many as four different kinds of nuts.
But I will keep this one simple and also pay tribute to that city by the sea, Trapani, a place I once spent a sweltering, yet somehow lazy, afternoon cooling off with a variety of the best granite, Italian ices, I ever hope to taste in my life.

Pesto Trapanese

3/4 pound ripe cherry tomatoes
1 cup basil leaves (packed)
1/3 cups roasted almonds
1 large clove garlic
Pinch chili pepper flakes
Large pinch salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound pasta of choice
Pecorino cheese

In the bowl of a food processor, grind all ingredients except oil. (Do not over process as you want some texture and not a smooth paste.) With the motor running, slowly pour olive oil through the feed tube. Dress pasta, add about a cup of cheese, toss again and serve.
Spaghetti is a good choice for this but I can see using other shapes as well such as gemelle or fusilli.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

St Zita

First off, let me say that I was not raised Catholic. I did not get to choose a saint and thus get only one day of the year to party and that's on my birthday. Don't want to feel bitter but I feel as a protestant, I got ripped off. Not only did I not get a saint to share a special day with, but I didn't even get a saint's card with a prayer on the back (sorry I wasn't into baseball cards), cool beads to get blessed, candles to light in case I needed extra help, special prayers to say except "Now I lay me down to sleep." And never did this really hit home until my trip to Italy during Holy Week in 2006.
We got to Rome, the home of all cool Catholic stuff like The Manger, that little crib made famous by a Lutheran who probably never saw the real deal but wrote a famous Christmas carol about anyway. Or the chains that fell off St. Peter while he was in prison.
Or the Scala Pilati, the steps Jesus climbed to see Pontius Pilate. Let's see those in a Baptist church!
But not only did we get to see items connected to those mentioned in the Bible, but also some of the lesser-known saints that very few outside the area have even heard of. The one who made the biggest impression on me was a woman who's been laying in a glass coffin in Lucca, Tuscany since 1278.
St. Lucca is the patron saint of domestics, cooks and waitresses.
http://http//www.welcometuscany.it/tuscany/lucca/santa_zita_lucca.htm And they take her day pretty seriously in Lucca with businesses putting out special displays in their windows to honor their city's saint. (It's not easy to be a saint. It usually takes a long time and a bunch of miracles.)
But not only do they have special day for her, but also a special torte known as, what else, a St. Zita torte, a swiss chard torte that also has a hint of sweetness, raisins, pine nuts and spice.
Trying, and failing, to duplicate the torte--we even succeeded in contacting the town council which sent us the "official recipe" for the St. Zita tore--I compromised (I'm sure the kindly saint wouldn't mind) making the following swiss chard torte which turns out great.

Saint Zita's Torte
(my way)


2 cups all-purpose flour

Pinch salt

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup olive oil

Blend four and salt together and then add oil and water, mixing well. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough for several minutes until smooth.

Press into 9-inch pie plate or tart pan with removable bottom and refrigerate for at least an hour.


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 red onion, chopped

1 pound swiss chard, washed, stems removed and chopped

2 tablespoons dried basil

Pinch salt

Several grindings of black pepper

3 large eggs

1/3 cup half-and-half

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in large skillet and saute onion until soft. Add chard and cook turning to mix in with onion. Add seasoning and turn again to mix everything well. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with half-and-half and add cheese. Add card mixture and mix well.

Turn into prepared pan and bake at 375f for 40-45 minutes until top in golden. Cool to room temperature and serve.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Guacamole, Pickled Onions and Posole

Guacamole is one of those dips that has become the sometime subject of interpretation and at other times, its victim. Some have added delightful surprises while others have ruined perfectly good avocados. I won't mention any names but to me anyone adding blue cheese to to guacamole has not made a marriage so much as she has forged an inharmonious relationship.
I will offer two. One is the traditional sort made with avocados, limes, onions and such whereas the other uses tomatillos as well as avocados, the former lending an interesting citrus-like flavor to the creamy taste and texture of the avocados.


2 large ripe avocados
Juice of 1/2 lemon or 1 lime
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small tomato diced and drained of its resulting juice
1 jalapeno finely minced (optional)
1/4 cup while onion, finely minced
Salt to taste if desired

Halve avocados and remove pit. Scoop out flesh and mash with a fork.
Add the rest of the ingredients and correct for seasoning.

Guacamole con Tomatillos

4 fresh or canned tomatillos
3 canned mild green chilies, seeded. or a seeded serrano or jalapeno if you want more heat.
2 large avocados
1 tablespoon minced onion
Salt to taste
Cilantro for garnish

If using fresh tomatillos, remove husks, rinse and plunge in boiling water until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain.
Combine chilies and tomatillos in blender and puree.
Halve avocados, remove pit, scoop out flesh and mash with a fork.
Combine avocado with pureed mixture, onions and salt to taste.
Garnish with cilantro.

I am very grateful to my sister for the next two recipes. I had never heard of pickled onions as a topping before she told me she wanted to share the recipe early Monday morning. I'm so glad she did because I want to make this soon.
I'm also glad she shared the recipe for pozole along with its colorful history. For those of you who missed the show, let me tell you that pork was not the original meat used in this dish. It was a celebratory stew prepared after a battle victory that included some choice parts of the slain enemy. I'll never feel the same again when offered a steaming bowl of this ancient delicacy.

Pozole de Chris

6 slices bacon, cut in 1 inch pieces - suggest an applewood smoked or other quality bacon
1 pound pork, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
2 large onions, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large can or one fresh bag of hominy, drained and rinsed
4 cups + chicken stock
2-4 cups pureed tomatillos
cumin to taste
salt to taste
2 mild chiles - such as poblanos or 1-2 small cans of chopped green chiles
Lime wedges, shredded cabbage, sliced green onion tops, chopped fresh cilantro, salsa, baked or fried tortilla strips for garnish
Cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain bacon and reserve 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in heavy saucepan or stockpot. Add pork, onions, and garlic to grease and saute until meat is lightly browned - about 10 minutes. Add hominy, chicken stock, tomatillos, seasonings, bacon and chiles. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, uncovered for about an hour. Add more stock or water as necessary to maintain a stew-like consistency.
Serve posole ladled into bowls with garnishes available on the side for individual tastes.

One of the garnishes for the above dish might be Chris's pickled onions.

Chris' Pickled Onions

yield: 1 1/3 cups (it never hurts to double or triple the recipe!)
1 small (6 oz) red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vinegar
Parboil the onion - place the onion slices in a saucepan with salted water to cover, bring to a boil, let boil 1 minute, then remove from the heat and drain.
Coarsely grind the peppercorns and cumin in a mortar or spice grinder, then add to saucepan, along with remaining ingredients. Pour in just enough water to cover the onions, bring a boil over medium heat, time 3 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into a non corrosive bowl. Let stand several hours before using. Will keep in fridge for weeks.

On the show Monday, I mentioned the Mexican restaurant down the street from our old place in Santa Monica. The food was always good, reasonable and the Margaritas always potent.
I think I always ordered the same thing on our frequent visits: Cheese Enchiladas en Mole'.
The mole sauce used was the traditional Mole Poblano, a mixture of chilies, ground seeds and chocolate. I use the readily available jars of mole' paste found in the Hispanic section of the supermarket or, better yet, go to your local Latin American market and discover some of the other wonderful things offered while picking up your jar of mole' paste. Before I proceed with the recipe, let me tell you that Jim and I were once so fond of this that we would, on trips to Baja, make it a point to pick up gallon jars of the stuff at the market before we headed home.

Cheese Enchiladas en Mole'

1 jar mole' poblano paste
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 dozen corn tortillas
1/2 pound Monterrey Jack or Mild Cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup minced onion

To make the sauce:
Pour oil that floats on top paste into a medium heated skillet. Fry paste for about 3 minutes and then slowly add broth making sure to break up any pieces of the paste to make a smooth sauce.
Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350f
Heat about a 1/4 inch of oil in a small skillet and one at a time, fry briefly on both sides the tortillas until softened.

In a 9x13" baking pan, smear bottom lightly with a ladle of the sauce and set aside.
Place some cheese and a sprinkling of onions on a tortilla about 1/3 from the bottom and roll up.
Place seam side down in the prepared pan. Proceed in the same manner with the remainder of the tortillas.
Spoon enough sauce over the tortillas to cover completely.
Sprinkle cheese over top and cover with foil.
Bake for 20-30 minutes until cheese is melted.
Serve with sour cream and sliced avocado if desired.

I have some very bittersweet memories of living in Houston. It was a hard time much of the time and the first place that I ever really knew what it was like to be hungry, to go to bed hungry and to be just this side of eating some stranger's leftovers in a cafeteria. I'll confess, it wasn't my pride which prevented me but fear of getting caught. So how was it that I could be surrounded by food while I was cooking in a restaurant and, at the same time, be so hungry? I'll just say this: if you ever want to go on an extreme diet, work in a restaurant kitchen from 11pm til 7 the next morning.
The last thing you'll want is food. The sweet part of this story is the things I learned to cook.
While working the graveyard shift at the restaurant, I was introduced to Mexican chorizo, a sausage of pork, spices and vinegar. We made a dish called Breakfast Tacos, a combination of fried potatoes, eggs and chorizo. Once I left that job, I started making it for myself and haven't stopped since.

Breakfast Tacos

2 large russet potatoes, diced
1 pound fresh chorizo
6 eggs, beaten
Toppings of choice such as, grated cheese, sour cream, salsa or hot sauce, sliced avocado.

Heat oil in large skillet and add potatoes turning as they brown. When done, move them to back of pan and crumble in chorizo, frying and turning until done.
Move chorizo to back of skillet with potatoes.
Tilt skillet forward to drain oil to front. (You may need to add some more.)
Pour in beaten eggs and move them around to scramble.
Mix all ingredients in the pan together and serve with softened tortillas and toppings.

I related my first introduction to Pumpkin Empanadas on Monday's show and thought about how long it had been since I'd had one. Today I will remedy that. I hope you'll get around to making these treats. A great finish to a Mexican meal or a start to a Sunday morning.

Pumpkin Empanadas

For the filling:
2 cups canned pumpkin
1/2 cups brown sugar (or 3 piloncillo, available at Mexican markets)
1/2 teaspoon anise seed or ground nutmeg

Place all ingredients in a sauce pan and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes. Cool.

For the pastry dough:

2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup cold butter cut up into small pieces
1 egg, separated
1/4 cup ice water

Preheat oven to 400f
Sift together four and sugar and work in butter with pastry blender.
Beat together yolk and water and gradually add to flour and mix well.
Divide dough into two balls and rolling each thin on a lightly floured board. Cut into 4-inch circles.
Fill each circle with about 1 tablespoon of filling, fold in half, pinch edges to seal and flute.
Place on ungreased cookie sheet, brush with lightly beaten egg whites and bake for 15 minutes.

The last recipe, this week's Quick Fix, takes us back to that restaurant in Houston where I met my first undocumented Mexican workers who were washing dishes and living the American dream on top of each other in crammed apartments.
On my first day cooking, one of the dishwashers came and told me that the guys were going on their break and wanted breakfast. When I asked him what he wanted, he informed me that he and his co-workers would be making their own breakfast. This is not done. Well, it's not done in any restaurant I ever worked in. In my experience, the dishwasher is allowed in the cook's area to bring dishes, pots and pans. Before my head exploded, I was told by the other cooks that they were allowed to make their own food. I got off my high horse and watched.
Years later, I still make what I like to call Dishwasher Eggs.

Dishwasher Eggs

Leftover chile con carne
Grated cheddar cheese
Toppings of your choice such as minced onion, avocado slices, salsa or hot sauce.

For each serving:
Reheat your favorite chile.
Soften two tortillas in oil and place on a plate.
Fry two eggs any style you wish and place on tortillas.
Ladle chile over eggs and top with cheese and toppings of your choice.

Happy Cinco de Mayo and Mother's Day!
Next Monday it's all about pizza!

Cinco de Mayo

Can't believe that I forgot to include rice and beans in my notes for Monday's show! They're only two important staples in Mexican cuisine. I might add here, that they have been mainstays in my own diet during much leaner times. So, before I get to the fun stuff like salsas, guacamole or the tasty recipes Chris, my sister back in Michigan, shared with us on the show, I'm going to off recipes for these humble items that are probably responsible for sustaining more lives than we may realize.
I know that black beans have become quite the hip thing to have in the past couple of decades and I am a great lover of Cuban-style Black beans but I'm going to leave those for another time and stick with that old standby, the pinto bean.
Although you may be strongly tempted to the point of physical pain, do not soak these overnight as you would with other legumes. These cook up in a few hours (demanding little attention from you) and only get better, like soups and stews, after they have spent a few nights in the fridge.


2 cups dry pinto beans
Enough water to cover
2 tablespoons lard (or oil)
Salt to taste

Pick through beans to remove any stones or clumps of dirt. Wash well and drain. Place in pot with lard and enough water to cover. Bring to boil and cook on low simmer adding more water as needed. Simmer for 2 hours or until they become tender. Salt to taste and continue to simmer for about 20-30 minutes longer.

The following recipe for rice is what they call a Sopa Seca in Mexico. It translates to "dry soup" and is only one of many ways to prepare that second important staple in the Mexican kitchen. Like every culture and family, everyone has their own take on a recipe and this is just one and a pretty easy one at that.


3 tablespoons of oil
1 cup long-grain rice
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
2 1/2 cups chicken broth

In a medium sauce pot, heat oil and add rice, stirring until it exudes a nutty aroma and turns golden.
Add onion and garlic and stir until softened. Add tomato and cook briefly, stirring everything together afterwards so all the ingredients are well combined.
Add chicken broth, stir to combine, bring to a simmer, reduce heat, cover and cook on low until rice has absorbed all the liquid about 30 minutes. Fluff with fork and keep covered until ready to serve.

Whenever I hear anyone complain about Hispanic immigration, I want to run into their kitchens and remove all the chips and salsas and ban all forms of guacamole from their Super Bowl parties. Sorry to use this space to shoot off my political mouth but let's face it, we despised the group that brought us corned beef and cabbage every Spring; we had little use for those Southern Europeans with their strange ways and noodles with tomato sauce. It kind of tickles me now that one of the fastest growing dips is hummus, an age old popular middle east food.
I shall now step down off my soapbox and offer two recipes for each these Mexican favorites, salsa and guacamole.

Salsa Cruda

This is a mild salsa that everyone will enjoy. If you would like to spice it up, you may add a finely diced jalapeno. (Remove seeds if you want it somewhat spicy or if you are a hard core chili head leave them in but warn your guests!)

2 mild, long green chilies, chopped or a 4-oz can of mild chilies diced.
2 large tomatoes, chopped.
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
Salt to taste

Mix all ingredients and add salt to taste.

Salsa Frita

Unlike the preceding recipe, this one has some bang to it. If you want to tame the heat, use a 4-oz can of mild diced chilies instead of the jalapenos.

1/2 cup minced while onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon oil
2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and chopped
2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

In a skillet, heat oil and saute onion and garlic until soft. Add chilies and tomatoes and simmer for 15 minutes. Add salt to taste and cilantro.

I have not tried baked chips but I will offer the recipe if anyone would like to try them. The site I found them on included quite a number of positive reviews. Of course, I will also off the traditional recipe for fried tortillas or Totopos, as they are called in Mexico.

Baked Tortilla Chips

12 corn tortillas

Preheat the oven to 350f.
With a large sharp knife, cut stack of tortillas in half. Put one half on top of the other so you have a large stack of half moon shaped tortillas.
Cut stack in thirds.
With a mister (or a can of good quality cooking oil spray) lightly mist each wedge and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place on a baking tray and bake for 7-8 minutes (or longer if needed) checking frequently.

Fried Tortilla Chips

Treat the same number of tortillas the same as for the above recipes through the point of cutting them in thirds.
Pour enough oil into a skillet to come up 1/2 inch. Heat to 350f or until hot but not smoking.
Working in batches, place tortilla wedges in skillet and fry until golden brown on one side and turn cooking until done. With a slotted spoon or pair of tongs, remove and lightly shake off any excess oil and place on plate or bowl lined with paper towels. Lightly salt immediately.

OK, all this talk about food has me hungry and I'm about to make my dinner of Stacked Enchiladas with New Mexico Green Chili Enchilada Sauce. I'll be back to give you the rest of the recipes before Cinco de Mayo (Pacific Standard Time).