health

Cedar Plank Salmon with Hollandaise

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I can’t eat like I used to. About a year and a half ago I picked up running for some ungodly reason, and damned if it hasn’t had a fantastic effect on my health. So for Christmas Eve I’ve decided to make a wonderful dinner that’s also on the lighter side: Salmon Filets on cedar planks. Of course to aid in people feeling like they’re over-indulging I’ll be adding richness in the form of a fresh hollandaise sauce.

Cedar Plank Salmon with Hollandaise

Ingredients

4 salmon filets (4 – 6 oz each)

2 Cedar planks, roughly 6″ x 12″ or so (Optional)

Marinade

3 gloves garlic, minced

4 TBSP Olive Oil

2 TBSP fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 TBSP fresh parsley, chopped

2 tsp black pepper

1 ½ tsp salt

 

Hollandaise

4 egg yolks

1 TBSP fresh squeezed lemon juice

½ cup unsalted melted butter

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp tarragon

½ tsp black pepper

2 tsp white vinegar

Soak your cedar planks, if you’re going that route, for at least 2 hours in lightly salted water. Meanwhile whisk marinade ingredients and pour over salmon filets. Allow to marinate in refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes, turning once.

Heat oven to 400. If not using cedar planks, spray a glass pan or cookie sheet with non-stick spray or cover in aluminum foil, and place salmon skin side down on cookie sheet or plank. Bake salmon uncovered for 12-16 minutes or until it flakes easily with a fork. Cook until the internal temp of 130-135 degrees is reached; the more you cook salmon the “fishier” tasting it will become. Me? I like my fish to lack any “fishiness” and aim for just a warm center, about 12-13 minutes of cooking.

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While the salmon is baking, get your hollandaise together. I’m not going to lie: This isn’t fun to make. Is it worth it? Yes. Will your arm whisk those yolks so much that you’ll feel it 12 hours after finishing your meal? Probably.

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Whisk the egg yolks and lemon juice together in a stainless steel or glass bowl until they’ve thickened a bit. Please the bowl over a saucepan containing water that is barely simmering (or a double boiler if you got one); make sure the water level is low enough that it does not touch the bottom of the bowl you’ve placed over it. While whisking the egg yolk mixture, drizzle in the melted butter. Once incorporated, remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the salt, peppers, and tarragon. If the sauce becomes too thick, whisk in the white vinegar. If the sauce is too thin move it back over the simmering water for another couple of minutes while whisking constantly. It should be thick enough to nicely coat a spoon, but still be drizzled over your yummy target of fish, poached eggs, artichoke, etc.

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Once your salmon is out of the oven drizzle about ¼ TBSP of Hollandaise sauce over every 1 oz of fish. If you’ve got fillets that are roughly 4oz each, I would recommend a mere 1 TBSP of Hollandaise per filet, as you want to TASTE the salmon. Sure, there will be some who want to drown the protein in the Hollandaise, but they really just want the Hollandaise, not the fish. And, besides, if you have some Hollandaise left over, you can store it in tupperware in the fridge for up to 2 days and reheat by whisking over the double boiler again, i.e. EGGS BENEDICT FOR BREAKFAST THE NEXT MORNING!! Whoot to the Whizoot.

Serve with rice, a simple salad, or even grilled asparagus with shaves Parmesan.

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Butternut Squash Fries

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These are a delicious alternative to sweet potato fries, saving the carbs from the potato and the fat by skipping the deep fryer. The squash contains a lot of liquid so I changed up the usual way of baking them in an attempt to dry them and crisp them up.

Butternut Squash Fries

1 Butternut Squash, peeled

2 TBSP Olive Oil

1.5 TBSP Corn Starch (optional)

1 TBSP Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)

2-3 tsp salt, divided

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp parsley

Non-Stick cooking spray (I used Pam Olive Oil, calorie & fat free)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Peel the squash and scoop out the seeds. Cut the squash into fries, about 1/4 inch thick. I only used 1/2 of the squash, which was made more than enough fries for my friends and me. The rest I put in a ziploc baggy to save for later in the week.

Pour the Olive Oil into a bowl and toss the squash sticks, coating them evenly, but lightly. You can skip the next step with the corn starch and Parmesan if you want truly raw or paleo fries, but the coating is minimal calorically and it adds a lot of flavor and crunch. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour and the cheese. Toss the squash fries into the Parm mixture. Layout the sticks on a cookie sheet in a even layer and sprinkle 1 tsp of the salt and the pepper onto the fries. Spray with non-stick spray. Place the sheet into the upper most rack of you oven and bake for 20 minutes. Half way through that time, flip and sprinkle with another tsp of salt. The salting helps draw out moisture.

After the 20 minutes are up, flip for fries again, and move the tray to the bottom most rack of the oven. Bake for an additional 15 – 20 minutes or until nicely browned and crisp on the outside. Remove from cookie tray and plate. Sprinkle a little more salt and the parsley on top and serve. They’re great on their own and dipped into ketchup they’re identical to sweet potato fries.

Summer Charred Caesar Salad

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A misconception of Italians is that pasta is very important to us. I’m not going to lie, it was a staple in my youth growing up. But just as important, if not more so, are vegetables. Everyone in my family gardened, my uncle even had fig trees so large that they busted through his green house in Connecticut. Many of my early memories are sitting in the dirt at my grandparents house, gnawing on a cucumber I picked off the vine while they harvested the other fruits of their labors. And salad was always served at the end of the meal. After the heavy stuff was out of the way, it was onto lightly dressed lettuces, sliced pears, and shared granny smith apples. It seemed like my grandparents always had a pen knife tucked in a pocket or folded into the waist band of an apron, just to easily hand out slices of nature’s bounty.
This was a great way to be raised. If my dinner doesn’t contain a lot of vegetables today then it’s not complete, it only half done to me, or I think it’s simply not healthy. I’m always on the look out for new ways to do the same old – same old. Recently I had made some grilled corn and liked it so much I decided to expand on it. I decided my less than exciting romaine for a Caesar salad needed to be smokey, charred, a flavor you just couldn’t add to salad without real flame.
Salad (Serves 4)
2 hearts of Romaine cut in half the long way
…Yep. That’s it. This is a spin on a Caesar Salad, the magic is in the dressing and preparation, not its contents and co-stars. I also tend to look at croutons as sode: empty calories that ruin anything healthy and are the salad equivalent of a soda with a meal. It may be tasty, but you might as well have a candy bar or something. If your salad is about the croutons, you’re doing it wrong.
Summer Caesar Dressing
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp Worcester sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • Pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste (Optional…or, in my house, Non-existent)

Caramelize the shallots. While those are working on their golden brown deliciousness, whisk everything else in a small bowl. Once caramelized, remove the shallots to cool a bit. You want to add them to the dressing when they’re warm so they don’t cook the egg, but do help thicken the dressing; letting them sit about 4-5 minutes should be fine.

Preheat your grill to high, clean the grates, and rub them down with vegetable or olive oil. Place the cut halves of Romaine flat/cut side down and don’t touch for 1-2 minutes. They char quick and you don’t want them completely blackened.

Remove from heat, and plate grilled side up. Drizzle the Caesar-ish dressing over the grilled side, allowing the dressing to drip in between the layers of lettuce. Top with a little more Parm if you’re so inclined. Served with chicken or a grilled steak makes a memorably delicious meal.

 

Ultra Quiche Lorraine

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The evening’s dinner is brought to you by everything that’s bad and fatty for a human body. And delicious.

Quiche Lorraine is just a name.

Roughly translated it’s “Bacon and Egg Yolks covered in Cheese” Pie.

The first time my husband ate this he wound up having seconds three hours later at 10pm in lieu of dessert. It’s heavy comfort food; a single slice should send you into a food coma second only to your family’s Thanksgiving feast.

So whatcha gonna need?

6 slices thick cut bacon, chopped to about 1 inch pieces. This winds up being just over 1 cup of bacon. You can also use pancetta, which is what I was going to get, but the line was just long at the supermarket today and I hate people, so I didn’t want to wait.

1 1/4 cup 1% milk. Just a note here: classic recipes of quiche call for all cream. Now, I don’t want to die of a coronary two bites in, so I do a milk and 1/2 & 1/2 mix. You, however, can do all cream, some cream, no cream, whatever the hell you want.

1 1/2 cup half & half

4 eggs

1 1/2 cup Swiss cheese, diced into 1/2 inch pieces. I just bought a hunk and cut it up, but you can also ask your deli for a slice or two that’s 1/2 inch thick, which is what I was going to do, but, again, the line, and the hatred of people, etc…

6 wedges Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss Cheese. I used original stuff, but use whatever flavor you would like.

1 cup asparagus, sliced into 1 inch long pieces on the diagonal.

1/2 tsp white pepper

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 tsp dried parsley

1/4 tsp dried dill

2 deep dish pie crusts. I used the frozen ones and thawed them.

1/4 cup grated Manchego cheese, optional

Preheat your oven to 375. Saute the bacon over medium to medium high heat stirring frequently; render the fat, but keep it soft. Once most of the fat has melted away, move the bacon pieces to a plate with paper towels to absorb any lingering grease. In a sauce pan, scorch the milk  and half & half. Turn the heat on high, let it bubble up to almost boiling over, and remove it from heat to let cool. Beat the eggs in a bowl with the spices, then slowly, slowly temper the eggs with the milk mixture until combined.

Prick the bottom of the pie crusts. Sprinkle the bacon into the bottom of each. Then add the Swiss cubes. Break, or smoosh, the Laughing Cow cheese as best you can and drop bits of it in each crust. Place the 2 pies onto a cookie sheet and put on the middle rack of your oven. While the it’s still pulled out a bit, pour the custard mixture slowly and evenly into each. Then bake for 20 minutes.

While the quiches are baking, steam the asparagus until just fork tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and dry well. Once the first 20 minutes of baking are up, pull the quiches out, sprinkle the tops with asparagus, and bake for another 15 minutes. You may need to put foil collars around the crusts of the pie crusts if you feel they’re browning too much. I put them on for safety, but it wouldn’t have been horrible without them.

Once those next 15 minutes are up, sprinkle the tops of each quiche with a little of the Manchego cheese if using it. This is a sheep’s milk cheese from Spain and adds a beautiful bit of flavor without being as strong as a goat cheese. Continue cooking for another 10 minutes.

Cool for 1 – 1 1/2 hours. Yep. Let these puppies setup for quite a while. Serve with a salad mixed with sweet berries and a light citrus vinaigrette to accompany the bacony saltiness of the quiche. Maybe a dollop of sour cream, or creme fraiche if you have fancy-schmancy stick up your ass. And have a Leinenkugel’s with a wedge of lemon to balance every thing out. Why the hell not.

Unemployment went down. So what?

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It was announced yesterday that unemployment dropped to 8.5% with 200,000 jobs added to the workforce.

At first seemingly positive, that 8.5% still doesn’t account the hundreds of thousands of American’s who have long since stopped looking for work. And we’re still millions of jobs behind where we need to be for a healthy economy. Growing health care costs and having an entire generation or so of people who are simply unable to retire isn’t helping our economy either.

The American Dream is becoming the American Joke. We’re grasping to an idea that we are simply awesome when the facts remain:

Our kids are obese.

Our jobs are non-existant.

The government as a whole does not care about the well being of the taxpayers. It has not occurred to them that keeping workers healthy means that taxes roll in on high.

Our Rich are richer than ever and the middle class is falling away to disappear all together.

Those that think they can lead the country are the worst human beings, ignorant and racist.

In the fall of 2010 Academy Award nominated graffiti artist named Banksy created a new introduction sequence for the Simpsons. He sums up American Life unapologetically and it’s amazing to look at it now.

When Banksy’s intro first came out it seemed exaggerated to an extent (we all know that unicorn hooves are glittered, not plain gray). We live a privileged life style, even those of us in rougher spots. Few of us are the individuals lucky enough to be given one of those record Wall Street bonuses being handed out this past quarter, but if you’re lucky enough to be in front of a computer someplace reading this – or, better yet, accessing this from your phone – then you probably have something in your life to be thankful for, even if it’s just your own work ethic.

But it has changed. We are unapologetic consumers still, but the life the Simpsons have is what many now aspire to. They live an above average middle class lifestyle, with a four bedroom home, and a household in which only one parent needs to work. Many of us currently have  to buy goods from other countries because we are unable to afford the same items manufactured here.

Not enough people have jobs and those who do are often not making enough money. Even Tom Brokaw is so shocked by our outsourcing and American lifestyle that his advice to new grads is to search elsewhere for work: “elsewhere” as in other countries.

What is “enough”, though? I want to have a child. I know I do not make enough for that. I want to pay off my school loans and to have enough in savings that if faced with an emergency or a lost job, I could survive for a couple months, but I don’t make enough for that either. I do have plenty of stuff, though, and while it’s less than many others, it’s still more than I need. I have a game system, but it’s a five year od We have had to pay a price as American’s to have the things we have. The price is guilt and gluttonism. We have swelled, fat CEO’s lording over corporations that now have more rights as humans that homosexuals that want us to spend more, but won’t pay us enough to go to the doctor if we’re sick; ironic considering that if we are to spend money, we have to be well enough to earn a paycheck.

I don’t mean to confuse issues. We’re down and out, but still above many. We’re clinging to ideals that have to change in order to move forward. But we do have to move forward, so wasting political time trying to inhibit civil liberties, bringing race into issues in which it has no place are really far from what we need as a nation to better ourselves. There are two issues that keep coming up in debates that I just don’t want to see any more time wasted on. Neither are helping the present situation.

Let all have equal rights. You’re human, you’re entitled to certain rights, and we’re all equal. Period. Granting a contributing, intelligent, good person the to marry the individuals they love (who merely happen to be the same sex as them) will not cause other people to demand the right to marry ducks. Get over your bullshit causes, your own personal lack of self-esteem, and your want to keep others beneath you. Basic human rights. Don’t waste my time insinuating that keeping these people as lesser citizens is actually good for our nation as a whole.

Yes, the welfare program in this nation needs to be seriously revamped, but it is not a race-based system. Black people are not the only people on welfare, so it would make a great example and really to a nation good if you stopped insinuating that fact. And it does a shit ton of good for American’s of all races. Move along.

What is really important is lessening the gap between the classes, creating jobs, making healthcare accessible, and funding schools. Better lives for all, a booming economy dripping with profits, healthy people working hard for the decent lives they’re thankful to have, and future generations who might actually be useful and competitive to other nations.

The gap between the classes is ever widening. We were angered and nauseated by the working conditions in this nation during and immediately after the American Industrial Revolution, but now we’re hard pressed to acknowledge that worse conditions persevere in countries all over the world in factories owned and operated by American companies. Unfortunately, we’ve come to a point where we have to have cheaper clothing and home goods because it’s all we can afford. We’re dependent on those conditions due to this huge gap.

Food costs have grown since Banksy’s film, but my salary has not. I can’t contribute to purchasing American made items in American factories because I can’t afford it, which makes me a huge part of the problem. I want to help, but I don’t know how. And the politicians I see are not concerned about this. They throw around the term “job creation” placing huge exclamation points at the end of it, but they’re not actually ever saying anything. They never actually express a real solution to this issue because doing so would been admitting that the politicians and the corporations that fund them would have to sacrifice a small portion of their already bloated salaries themselves. Oh, the horror. And we don’t need just simply “job creation”. It’s more than that.

Other than that, politicians seem to spend the rest of their time concerned with making a religious group happy that I personally do not subscribe to. Worse yet is that what apparently are the primary concerns of that group is inconsequential to what it really takes to live a good life in the United States. I am a good person. I’m honest, I work hard, I treat my fellow man well, I don’t steal. I understand that an allegiance to a specific sect is not what makes a person good. That has nothing to do with it. And I’m tired of hearing people say they’re going to vote for SoAndSo because he’s Christian. There are many politicians that claim to be “good” Christian Republicans, and they’re banking on the ignorant vote.

So, as far as the economy goes, as far as achieving a decent life for Americans, I don’t know what to do.

I know it’s best to stay away from non-American made goods, but I don’t even make enough money to dress as professionally as I should. It’s the same reason I don’t eat exclusively all organic or local foods. It’s a frustrating cycle and one I’m sure will eventually destroy us as a people. I am not shocked or surprised by how Banksy or other people in other nations very us. I’m just shamed.

I am thankful for the life I lead, after all I have a job. It is an employers world, however, and I am constantly reminded that I am a dime a dozen. It does nothing for morale, but I am thankful I have work. I like working hard so that my boyfriend, who also works hard, and I can have a life together. I’m not sure I would have children while living in the United States, because I hate the idea of them having no or very little health care. I also have very real feelings about a nation that puts the occupation of other nations above education, and as someone who has worked in the public school system and has a Masters degree in education, I can’t stand for compromised education for my kids.

I love this country. I lived in four states, driven back and forth across country four times. And I really want to support it. But I just don’t think it, or at least the people who run the US, care about me, or anyone else within its borders, any more.

So the unemployment rate has gone down. So what?

Raccoon: It’s What Nobody Knows is for Dinner

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This isn’t exactly a Christmas or New Year’s tale, but it has all the feeling and warmth of a family holiday dinner, so I choose to share it with you now.

I was once the absolute definitive example of a New York-Italian child. I grew up just outside the Big Apple with an extended family that rivaled the population of Rhode Island. My dark frizzy hair could blot out the sun and that was just what was on my head. As I lacked a Long Island (or Long Islant) accent and a plastic cover on my mother’s couch, I was just shy of a Guidette. If you’re thinking of MTV’s Jersey Shore be aware: those people are a representation of Jerseyites, not Italian Americans. As a youth, I spent an inordinate amount of time with my cousins, aunts, uncles, and Nonni and Popi. Due to the whole Catholic thing, there were a lot of family members to hang with; hundreds, maybe even millions. It was kind of like an Olive Garden commercial, only significantly less campy and far more tan.

My grandparents were from hardy stock; they came here separately from their small towns in Italy to a world they struggled to understand for the rest of their lives. My grandmother came from a teenie tiny village in which a woman who wandered the streets and spoke with the dead was revered and laundry day was a neighborhood affair in the local river. When Nonni came here, to Massachusetts specifically, she was put to work as a waitress in a family restaurant. She didn’t speak English, she liked people about as much as I do, and had left everyone she knew behind. Eventually my grandfather, who had come to America to find his fortune in New York, the unexciting stereotype, found my grandmother (I can only assume in personal ads in a 1930’s version of Craigslist) and put in a bid to marry her. When I asked Nonni about romance when I was a nosy teenager she looked at me in this “stupid American” sort of way and grunted a “Yeah”…or it could have been “nah”. I could never really decipher her grunts. When I asked my mother or aunts and uncles about it, they thought for a moment and then nodded slowly:

“Sure, there must have been some kind of romance. Pop would drive all the way from New York to Mass to see her in a time when cars maxed out at, like, forty miles per hour.”

“Really?”, I beamed. “He’d drive all the way to see her? How often?”

“Like… twice,” Pop replied. I don’t think he was kidding.

Nonni and Pop bought this big old, drab farmhouse, as intimidating and large as an old Victorian with none of the flare, built in 1905. Sure, a passerby might say it was painted white, but I’m sure my grandparents never even considered the color. It was as if the house could have been a vibrant rainbow of light and excitement from the color spectrum, but as soon as my super focused, hardworking grandparents moved in, the house suddenly had no time for the nonsense of color. The upstairs consisted of three bedrooms, one bathroom, a sitting room, small kitchen, and an undersized dining/living area for a family of seven. It was set up like a glorified shotgun or railcar apartment: long and narrow, with all its rooms off an even narrower hallway. The house was separated into two apartments by previous owners in the 1930’s, one upstairs and one downstairs. The downstairs apartment had been restructured and updated so many times that it was unrecognizable from its upstairs counterpart. To add excitement to the downstairs apartment, I will also add that a lady died in it. But I was also conceived in it, so, based on the properties of Algebra, any ghosts get cancelled out. When I was old enough to rent that space, I would have friends over and bring them traipsing through my grandparents home upstairs because the difference was like stepping back in time. My grandfather preferred it that way, right up until his passing at 97 years old this past summer. He died almost a year to the day my grandmother died. And he planned it that way.

Photo credit Joey Tarzia

By the time I was old enough to have memory Pop had gotten rid of the pool in the backyard and had turned the chlorine sodden ground into a garden. This was in Stamford, Connecticut, mind you. The suburb-turned-city just outside of New York City. He was as apt to find squirrels in his garden as beer cans and lord knows what other kind of trash. It wasn’t a farm; it was a lot not a half mile from the center of a very bustling and cramped metropolis. The house was on Cold Spring Road, which, by the time I was born, was four lanes wide with a median divider and a speed limit of 45 miles per hour, but you’d think it was Mach ten. There was a big old garage in back of the house that looked like it would collapse at any moment and dry salami hanging from its ceiling pretty much all the time. Lots of spiders, rusted tools, jars with nails and twine, and a big, blue Cadillac.

My grandfather’s success was due to the fact that he owned a liquor store. The Package Store. Kind of like calling the local market the Milk and Fruit House. One day my grandmother was working, leaning on the bar with her arms folded. In walked a man who took out a knife and stuck it straight through the meaty part of her forearm, right down to the wooden counter.  And then obbed the joint. That was before I was born. I guess that’s learning the hard way that your family shop has become part of the bad neighborhood.

The issues that really killed me about my grandparents moving to America were the little things, the traditions they viewed as necessities that they didn’t drop, but were no longer really needed. For example, my grandfather would eat anything he caught, which was all fine and good for the wilds and majestic beauty of Italy, but that didn’t change when he moved to Stamford. It didn’t matter if it was a gopher with two tails and a nervous twitch from heroin withdrawal: if Pop found it in the garden it was dinner. As kids we had all seen him kill animals. And the killing wasn’t ever in a cruel or lustful manner… though I distinctly remember him holding a vendetta toward the same rabbit was eating his garden, because he didn’t see it as eating for survival, but just to piss him off. It was with a morbid, but entirely childlike curiosity that I watched him step on the back of a lettuce-eating groundhog and drive a shovel into the back of its neck. More humane I suppose then the drowning pool (a 50 gallon drum he kept at the garden gate) and less buckshot then a gun. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing my grandfather with a gun, as he seemed more of a finder-feeder then hunter. He acted this way because that’s what he was taught, it’s what it father did, and his own grandfather. He wasn’t wasteful, he wasn’t cruel, and he loved providing for his family more than he loved the sun.

When the family swelled and grandchildren (my cousins) started popping out left and right, Nonni insisted on having Sunday dinner at their place. It was Nonni, Pop, their five kids and their children’s children, so this cramped dining area for seven miraculously became a table for twenty. Catholics, man. My family was the original Anthony Bordain or Andrew Zimmern, trying exotic foods as character building exercises and larks. Most people have words of wisdom in their heads from their childhood. I merely have the all too constant comment “Eat that. It’ll put hair on your chest.”  Delightful.

Every Sunday the same meal: really good homemade bread, home made meat sauce over pasta, ending with salad, fruit, and poker. And the meat was always beef or pork. Always. I was the youngest child of the youngest child and quite possibly the most annoying. Be that as it may, my older cousins and brother were not above using my youthful cuteness as scapegoat extraordinaire. If it’s one thing you learn even before puberty, it’s that youth is fleeting, and younger means cuter and more valuable. That’s why manipulation is one of the first things, almost instinctively, that children seem to catch on to.

Photo credit Joey Tarzia

One Sunday we were all there, huddled around the table, food in bowls and baskets and any other vessel that could be found, mismatched silverware chucked on the table along with glasses, jugs of wine and plates, more limbs and voices then there seemed people on the earth. Somewhere in the house a Yankees game was on, the noise and clamor of twenty people and children akin only to the Whos down in Whoville on Christmas day. Dinner was called and you never had so many people find seats so fast. Spaghetti and sauce got doled out, bread slices were grabbed and we dug in with gusto, the same meal we’d all had a hundred times and never tired of!…except this time something was different.

Something was wrong.

My cousins’ gulping and chewing began to slow as they stared into their plates and bowls, their eyes relaying all our thoughts in unison: Ewwwww. I got nudged by my older brother who is sitting next to our older cousin Cristina, sitting next to older Cathy and even older still Paul.

“You have to tell Mom this is gross.”

They were all looking at me. I gulped, not from food intake, but from fear. To talk ill of Nonni’s food was to be banished or, worse, yelled at. I looked at my mother chewing; I couldn’t tell if she knew. Had she realized something isn’t right? Was she continuing eating only because the sudden dip in food meant her own mother had lost it and she was coming to terms with the demise of the family? Had Nonni gotten so senile that she’s dropped boogers and fingernails into our food? What was happening?!?

“Mom, I don’t like dinner.”

“Katie, you do this all the time. Eat it.”

To be fair, I did not, do this all the time.

“Mom, it tastes funny.”

“Katie, it tastes exactly like it always does! Look, your cousins are eating it!”

I turned to see them beaming at my mother and nodding as if to say ‘Yeah, we have no idea what she’s talking about, and we would never throw her to the wolves.’

My grandmother never sat during these meals. She was forever bringing us water and more food and filling empty plates, the usual Nonni stuff. It was at this time that she brought in the giant sauce pot. I mean, huge. Le Crueset had nothing on this thing. She stood with it, teetering on the corner of the tabletop next to my grandfather, who was sitting in his usual Italian dinner jacket, at the head of the table.

“Do ya wanit now?” Nonni asked Pop.

“No, no! I have enough. Just leave it there!” Pop answered, food bulging from inside his cheek, as he motioned a fist full of bread toward a small empty bowl in front of him.

“Okay,” Nonni replied. She then proceeded to draw a ladle from the pot containing the biggest meatball I had ever seen.

Only it wasn’t a meatball. Though it was an entirely new sight to me, I knew instantly what it was:

There, hairless and cocked slightly in the spoon, staring eyeless right down the table, its lips peeled back and teeth gleaming through drips and globs of tomato and basil, was the head of a rabbit, its face meat and brain cooked ever so slowly out into our pasta sauce.

Plunk! Into Pop’s bowl. Much like being in a car accident, I only remember forks hitting porcelain plates then silence, a dull hum, everything in slow motion and everyone forgetting that exhibiting shock at dinner is breaking table manners.

My smart ass cousin Joey broke the silence with a nervous chuckle.

“Pop, what is that, raccoon?”

“No,” groaned Pop. “The raccoon’s ova there,” he said this still chewing, not joking, fist apathetically waved, roughly pointed to the bowl of meatballs.

This second wave of shock and nausea was shattered only by my mother, who leaned over and gasped “You’re excused!” At least I think that’s what she said. My memory is determined to tell me she turned to us children and screamed “RUN!”, but I simply don’t think that can be true.

But I do remember quite clearly the Hershey bars we were given for dinner in lieu of Nonni’s cooking that night.

And to this day I just don’t really like Hershey bars.

Christmas Dinner: Braised Short Ribs & Yorkshire Pudding

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Finally.

Dinner time!

Tonight’s entree was braised short ribs with a red wine reduction. And because that’s simply not fattening enough, my husband made Yorkshire pudding out of the drippings. A meal so dripping in its own fat that the eaters will have shiny faces by the time the plates are empty.

This recipe takes 3 – 4 hours, so start a while before you want to eat.

3 1/2 pounds short ribs. Debone those suckers and brown ’em.

1 large onion chopped, white, yellow, or sweet. I don’t recommend red.

1 tablespoon tomato paste

Lots of fresh minced garlic. I used 8 or 9 cloves, at least 4 of them rather larger.

3 cups red wine (And one for the chef!…I mean just finish off the bottle by pouring it in a glass and drinking it. Do a little something for you in all this.)

1 cup low sodium beef broth

6 carrots sliced into 2-3 inch pieces

2 – 4 sprigs of Thyme if you got it. I did not.

1 bay leaf

1/2 Tbsp ginger

1/4 cup cold water

1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

I bought 3 1/2 pounds of short ribs, cut them off the bone, and browned the meat. I chose to debone to cut out a ton of greasy fat I didn’t want to have deal with later. The gelatin in the recipe will retain the bone flavor, however, and makes for a silky, smooth sauce in the end.

Once I browned the meat I poured all, but about a tablespoon of the drippings out of the cast iron pan into a separate bowl for Yorkshire pudding. We’ll get to this later on. It’s best to use a dutch oven for this recipe, but I don’t own one, so I used a regular stock pot. In the stock pot I browned 1 large, chopped onion in that last remaining tablespoon of drippings I mentioned two sentences earlier. I didn’t want the onion to brown too quickly so I sauteed, stirring quite a bit, for 10 minutes or so. Next came the tomato paste, which browned fairly quickly. I added the garlic cloves, stirring until they were just aromatic. At that point I preheated my oven to 300 degrees. I then poured in the red wine over the onion, tomato paste, and garlic and deglazed the pot. I let the red wine simmer away and reduce to about half.

Once the red wine got nice and thick, I added a cup of low sodium beef broth, the bay leaf, ginger, and, finally, the boneless and browned short ribs. Once this mixture was at a simmer, I covered it and slipped it into the preheated oven for 2 hours. While waiting I read most of The World According to Clarkson while Chip put together the LEGO White House.

Those 2 hours took forever. I took the stock pot out of the oven and set it aside while I bloomed the gelatin. In the 1/4 cup of cold water I sprinkled the gelatin and let sit for 5 minutes or so. Gelatin needs to bloom in cold water for at least five minutes, other wise the consistency won’t be as smooth. While the gelatin was doing it’s thing I removed the short ribs and carrots from the pot, plated them and tented the dish with aluminum foil. I then strained the remainder of the stock pot contents in to a large pyrex measuring up and placed it into the fridge, chucking the solids left in the mesh strainer. I let the fat rise in the pyrex for about 10 minutes. After straining the fat from the liquid I poured the liquid back into the stockpot and heated it over medium high heat until it reduced to about 1 cup, just a few minutes. Removing from heat, I whisked in the gelatin. This is a perfect time to taste the sauce and make sure it has enough salt and pepper to your liking.

While I was making the sauce, Chip was making the Yorkshire pudding from a family 2-2-4 recipe.

2 cups milk

2 cups flour

4 eggs

1/2 – 3/4 cups drippings, what ever you got

a pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Beat together the milk, flour, eggs, and salt. In a 3 quart rectangle glass dish pour the meat drippings and place in the oven. Get those drippings smoking hot – super, sizzling hot, about 8 – 10 minutes. Remove the pan frm the oven and Carefully pour the custard mixture of milk, flour, and eggs into the sizzling hot drippings.

Replace the rectangle dish back into the oven to cook at 450 for another 10 minutes or until it reaches your preferred pudding texture. You can make it as chewing or as crisp as you like. When it’s done it’ll look like…

Once the yorkshire pudding was out of the oven, we de-tented the short ribs and carrots, poured the reduced sauce over the top, added basic mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus to the mix, and sat down to an awesome Christmas dinner.