Friday, December 27, 2013

Heart Healty

There are a few of things that will practically guarantee a danger of heart disease.  Live in America...that is the big one!

The Mediterranean diet is fairly heart healthy.  Italians like my mother and her family are not heart disease free, but the odds are fairly low.  As we Americans export our food habits overseas, we tend to add a little gift of heart disease along with it.

Eat lots of fat to get a nasty heart condition. 
We can probably boast one of the healthiest fats there is in our Italian diet.  That is olive oil.  Most foods contain a bit of fat, even things as unlikely as onions.  Try to steam foods, boil them, or grill them on an open fire or a dry or lightly olive oil brushed, grill pan, instead of frying.  We need about a tablespoon of fat a day just to function, so do not be a fanatic. 
Choosing good, or at least better fats will go a long way toward remaining healthy.  Fish oils are pretty good as well.. Omega three oils are in a number of fish.  Before dropping all the bad meats, find out on the Internet, which fish have high, heavy metal content so you can avoid them.

Eat a lot of red meat for better chances of a heart problem. 
Our relatives did not eat all of this beef and pork or even chicken.  These were all very special treats and the meat was hard to get and hard to store.  Wild game would have been more likely in their know the ones that have little fat in them.  Fish would be more common too.  Eat meat on Sunday or on holidays and special when the priest visits...  Let him get heart disease!

If you must eat meat, make the portions more than three ounces a day and lean at that.  Lean meats, long cooked, tend to be tastier as well, though fat does add flavor, save the fat for the TV chefs and the restaurants.

Cook a few vegetables on a grill pan, then remove them and grill a bit of meat on the same pan without any more fat...lower the temperature as soon as you get color on the meat.
Stew meats after grilling in their own fat, then drain off the fat and add veggies.

Cook meats at about 185 degrees to make tough cuts tender.   Also, do not raise internal temperatures of meat above the recommended internal temperature to make them safe to eat.  They will stay moister and more tender that way.

Toss pasta in chopped Broccoli or Cauliflower instead of meat sauces.  Be especially vigilant, and remove the fat from tomato sauce before serving it, because you do not think of how bad it is in sauce because it is simmered in liquid.  We tend to think it will automatically be healthy.  Let the sauce cool, skim off fat, then reheat.  Frozen vegetables are a good and cheaper alternative to expensive fresh.

Eat plenty of sugar to end it all quickly. 
I have a sweet tooth, and I have to admit it. but you(and I) have to cut it out.  The old timers did not eat that much sugar.  European sweets are remarkably less sweet than here in general.  But sugar and honey, boiled down wine, etc. , were not cheap, and most of us were not wealthy.  Sugary sweets were, again, for special occasions.  Probably like the red meat.    Italians did not do sugary tea party treats like in England.  What sugars were common were the ones in dried fruits etc..
Sunday is also a good day for these sweets.
Have a little red wine...dilate your blood vessels a helps if not in excess.  People did not get big glasses of alcohol in most homes...We had thimble sized glasses of Anisette etc.. A skim on the bottom of a snifter is enough...Mmmm...Malvasia!  The rule in my house was:  Sip...just wet your lips and tongue...don't gulp it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bill Mitchell's Version of Apple Dumplings.

I do not believe that I have not posted these earlier.  I guess that since I lost the original recipe for the syrup, that I have not had the confidence to do my own half-assed version.
I made them today and they came out perfectly for a Christmas Eve lunch with John's family.
Soooooo...Here goes.

This is a very old fashioned dessert, so do not be surprised when I tell you to boil pastry.  Some people try to avoid the soggy bottom of the crust, and go to all sorts of lengths to make hybrids, like apples cooked in pastry with sauce poured over it.  No, you have to have it the old least the first time.  Dumplings by definition are soggy masses.  This, however, has a thick brown and crisp topped crust with the soggy bottom swimming in syrup.

5 cups flour
1 1/2 cups shortening 1 hour in the freezer and cut up into chunks.
1 t salt
1 T sugar
1 cup water icy cold

Mix the salt flour and sugar.
Cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter or use your fingers to smear or pinch the shortening into the flour till it resembles soft bread crumbs and there are still tiny bits of shortening showing here and there.
Add the water, a few tablespoons at  a time.  Toss the mixture with a fork trying to incorporate the water without getting big wet spots.  Repeat till all the water is in and the dampness is evenly distributed.  Press the mass together into a log without over working it.
Cover tightly and chill for an hour or so. and bring back to cool room temp.

Cut the log into 8 pieces.  As you use them, roll each out on a pastry board or marble slab into a rough triangle.

Cut 4 very large Granny Smiths or Cortland apples in half after peeling.  Try to use an apple that will not readily cook to a mush...avoid Macintosh.

Use a melon baller or a spoon or knife to cut out the seeds and membranes.  A grapefruit spoon works well.

Press a small amount of chopped pecans or walnuts into the hole along with a candied or Maraschino cherry if you have them.

Smear 1 T butter over the hole to hold the filling in the hole.

Mix 2 T cinnamon, a pinch of clove, 1/2 t ginger, 1/4 t nutmeg into a cup of brown sugar.

Put a generous tablespoon of the sugar mixture over the butter and wrap the whole thing in a piece of the pastry.

I dip the bottom of the apple in flour to help contain the juices inside the pastry.  Lay the rounded part of the apple in the center of a triangle of dough.
Brush all the edges with a bit of ice water.  Bring the points up to the center over the apple and pinch the seams together wet side to wet side.  Seal up the pastry by pinching together any way you can the first time.  You can figure out the neat way of doing it the third or fourth time you do it.
Lay in a lightly greased lasagna pan.  Fill the pan with the dumplings but try not to let them touch.  If you run out of room, do more in a loaf pan.
Brush the tops and especially the seams with beaten egg.

Bake for 10 to 15 min in a 375 degree oven.
Pour syrup around the apples in the pan and continue to cook up to 35 minutes or until a skewer meets no resistance when you pierce the apple inside.  The syrup should come about 1/3 to 1/2 way up the side of the dumplings.
Brush occasionally while baking with some of the syrup to form a glaze.  Allow to cool before serving, but make sure they are warm when removing from the pan as the syrup can harden.  Warm over in the oven or microwave to serve with ice cream, milk, whipped cream or cream.

3 cups water.
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup Caro light or dark syrup
1/3 cup butter
add any left over spices or sugar not used in the filling.

Boil five minutes till all the sugar is dissolved.

If this does not remind you of wood stoves, long tables surrounded by farm hands and family, Christmas, Thanksgiving and grandmothers, then nothing will!
I am truly sorry I do not have a photo, but they were gone before I had a chance!!!!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How to Poach an Egg

I have always hated poaching eggs.  This is made more complicated because I would not eat one if my life depended on it.  I cannot stand any part of the egg being less than hard cooked.  Over the years, I have learned how to do them because others like them that way.  the one weakness in my method has nothing to do with the recipe, but rather my own taste taking over,  I never trust myself to get them cooked to the proper doneness...I always have to ask the recipient to look at them to make sure.  That is my issue.  If you do enough of them and eat them yourself, you should not have a similar problem. 
I use a non stick skillet.  the shallow water and ease of approaching the surface with your hands make much more sense than a deep pan.  The non stick will help release the egg from the bottom if it touches...and it usually does a bit.
Bring the water just to a simmer.  Too violent a boil will scramble the eggs in the water.
Add a tablespoon of white vinegar to the water.  A flavored vinegar would work, but it may add a flavor that you may not like.
When it is simmering  you are ready, lower the heat and wait a second or two if it is boiling too fast.
Break the egg into the water.  The shell should be just touching the water when you break it and allow the egg to drop into the water.
As the egg begins the go opaque, spoon some of the water over the yolk area of the egg to set and cook the top of the egg a bit.  You may have to repeat this a couple of times.
when the entire egg seems close to being set, but not cooked at the top, use a spatula to just release the egg from the bottom of the pan and floats freely.
When the top of the egg is opaque from the hot water spooned over it, and your designated eater approves, lift the egg out with a slotted spoon.  you can lay the egg on paper towel to absorb the excess water. 
The egg white should be completely cooked through, but the yolk should still be soft to liquid, according to the taste of the person who will eat it.
If you like, you can float a number of cooked eggs in ice water for a time.  Make a dozen or so at a time if needed and hold them in the water.  When it is almost time to serve, just float them in good hot water till heated through only.
Now, serve several of them over a plate of hot spaghetti, on a bed of roasted multi colored peppers and sausage!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Janice Cafarella Crossen and My Wedding Cake.

Janice arrived with he husband Ken, who has been dutifully tasting the cake and filling as she worked.
Ken carried the major construction project into our house today, about 11 hours before the wedding.  Thank you Janice this was a big job and very kind of you to do, especially just after the death of your father Rudy on 9-11-2013.
I have a long list of exceptions to the current rules in cake...
No fondant(I got just a few pearls at the bottom of each layer.).
Butter cream frosting
Grand Marnier flavoring in the filling
and an All White Cake.
there is just a tinge of yellow as she used butter for the frosting, but after that...All white.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Caramelizing Veggies in a Sweet and Sour Sauce.

Use tiny onions, baby or cut carrots, other firm vegetables for this recipe.  Possibly Brussels Sprouts would work, taking care not to overcook.  If they are getting soft, remove and continue to reduce the sauce till thick and syrupy and pour back over the veggies.

For about 2 cups of vegetables

Coat the bottom of a frying pan with a generous amount of olive oil. 
When hot, add butter and melt till the foam disappears.
Saute the vegetables till browned.
1 T sugar
1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1/4 cup tomato sauce or chopped tomato flesh

Boil till thick like syrup.
add fresh herbs of your choice at the end.
Serve warm or cold.

If using Cippolini onions, blanch them briefly in boiling water to aid the peeling process.  There is no way to hide the fact that this job is a real bitch, but the rewards are great.  You can also use frozen pearl onions, just be careful of the cooking time.  You can use quite large onions for this, and the onions become apple-crisp...delightful.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Apple Walnut Cake

3 Cups all purpose flour
2 cups light brown sugar lightly packed
3/4 cup oil or melted shortening
3 to 4 eggs
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Mix all together.  Adjust to VERY heavy batter by adding the fourth egg if necessary.

Dice 3 1/2 cups of apple in 1/2 inch pieces
Add to batter
Add 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

grease or spray a 9x13 inch pan
Pour batter in and level

bake at 350 for one hour.  Toothpick should come out clean though it may be damp from the apple.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Lobster or Other Seafood Rolls

My father was not a rich man.  He was alive through the depression and was raised in the early part of the century in a rather rural and humble area of New Brunswick.  He had a tough life, but was very hard working and died at 47.  I understand that one of the things he did to make money was to drive to the coast of Maine.(We were living in Littleton, Maine in the far north and right on the Canadian border.)  He would evidently take my brother with him and would buy lobsters or other seafood(someone may correct me on this) and drive them back north to sell them.  The trek to the coast, that only takes three hours or less now, would take MANY more hours then without highways(Thank you, Mr. Eisenhower).  On the way back, he would have to put my brother on his lap and let him drive part of the way north...Dick was quite young.
This issue with seafood is simplicity.  The best seafood, whether it is in Maine or Italy, is keeping the ingredients simple, fresh and plentiful, if you can afford it!
I have to say...I do not like most seafood, but I am learning.  I like shrimp...but love the cocktail sauce more.  Scallops are OK, but in moderation...Pan seared!!!!  I could care less about the rest!
However...Lobster rolls(shrimp, and scallops can be done exactly the same way) are very easy. 
Drop the lobsters, head first, into the pot of salted water(like sea water or unsalted).  Boil for about 20 minutes and lift out(so you can boil more presumably).  Cool slightly.
 Tear off the tail.  Remove enough of the tiny tail fins to allow you just enough room for your finger to push the meat out from end of tail to the open end.  Use a finger or a wooden spoon handle. (You can cut the tail shell open on the underside with shears if you like) Split the tail lengthwise with your fingers or tear off a thin little flap of the meat at the big end to reveal the sand vein or intestine.  The place on the opposite end from where the tail fins attached,  on the highly colored side of the tail has the flap to peel off.  Do not discard the flap after removing the vein.  it is good meat.  Remove the vein and discard.
Remove the claws and crack open with nut crackers and remove the meat. 
Remove the little(thumb) part of the claw and pull out the meat if it does not come out with the rest.  Remove the hard cartilage.   Tear off the knuckles of the claw(arms).  Either crack them open, push out the meat with a finger or cut them open with kitchen shears or a big knife...a good way to sever a finger if you are not careful...or push the meat out with a slender wooden spoon handle etc..  
If you do not want the tomalley, rinse it off the meat in the water from the pot. 
Pull the body apart and look for lumps of meat along the area where the legs attach.  Tear off the little legs and struggle to remove the tiny bits of meat inside.  All of my relatives save the legs in the refrigerator for later and suck out the meat and juices while watching TV etc.
The very best meat is in the body.  Try to only use MEAT from inside, as it can be confusing in there.  A thorough search will render a bit of meat, but there is also dry feeling lung tissue etc..  The green is liver or tomalley, and sometimes there will be Roe or coral.  Both can be eaten and are often included in sauces for the lobster.(Not my cup of tea!)
Chill the meat till using it, if you can keep yourself from eating it then and there.
Serve with hot!!!! butter and/or lemon.  Cocktail sauce or tartar sauce can be used, but most Mainers would faint dead away!

Butter a simple hot dog roll(other rolls work of course, but simple is usually best...Brioche would be wonderful)   Use the type of roll with the flat, exposed white bread on either side.  Grill on a charcoal grill, griddle or frying pan till toasted.  Do this as you serve them to keep the roll hot and steaming inside and the lobster cool but not icy cold.

Cut the meat up into manageable bite sizes, but not too small.  Mix in a tiny amount of Mayonnaise to taste(remember tiny amount but your family taste will rule) and stuff into a roll.  Sprinkle a bit of Paprika on top and that is it.  Some people will just drown the lobster in butter, lemon butter, Old Bay butter etc. instead of mayo.  That is perfectly valid, but you can always count on the plain mayo being best.  A bit of lettuce, or coleslaw is not uncommon, especially when the lobster is expensive and needs extending.

A bit of celery...sliced thin, not in chunks...or even onion might suit your taste...the crunch of the celery would be nice.

A mixture of seafood in the rolls would be very nice...not as coveted, but nice, and might make them more affordable depending on the local prices.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Mix a tablespoon of any meat dry rub into half a cup of Mayonnaise.   Allow to sit for half an hour before using.  Adjust amount of rub to taste.  My friend Charles Silvestri uses Montreal Steak Rub, but anything that is heavily seasoned may be mixed into the Mayo.  Seasoned salt, Cayenne, Cajun spice rubs, Curry, Taco seasoning, Chinese mustard, mustard powder or Dijon are all good examples.

Finely mince green and black olives till nearly a paste.  Add olive oil and allow to sit for about 20 minutes and use as a spread on crackers, bread for sandwiches, bruschetta, burgers, etc..  Add mashed anchovy fillet or paste to taste if desired.  Add finely minced red or other colored peppers for color.  Fresh pepper will add a little crunch while a softer consistency will result from roasted peppers.

Grill mushrooms of your choice and a minced garlic clove in olive oil till very soft.  At the end of the cooking time, add nepitella, oregano or sage and cook for a few seconds more. Add salt, pepper and additional olive oil and process till nearly smooth.  Use as a spread or mix with cream cheese as a spread or stuffing for raw veggies.  A variation would include caramelized onion.

I will add more as I think of them

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Alfredo Variations

Try using herbs, Pestos and vegetables in Alfredo-like sauces.  They will still be heart attack bombs, but well worth it...ONCE IN A WHILE...
I had to laugh the other day when John came home with groceries.  He said, "well...I didn't get the sausage that was on sale because it was too fattening; but I got some cream and I thought you might make some of that creamy pesto we had in Italy".
Well, I had never heard of a creamy pesto that we had in Italy, but it was not too hard to interpret it.  I am not a big fan of Primavera sauces, but vegetables, herbs etc. are not too bad in an Alfredo.
I thought that it might be nice with grilled veggies or mushrooms and onions(like the mushroom caviar posted elsewhere).
For onions or mushrooms:
Melt half a stick of butter in a saucepan.  Place the mushrooms, mushroom caviar, or just onions into the butter and cook till softening slightly.  Do not cook to a paste.
Add a cup of heavy cream, salt and pepper, and bring the cream to a boil.  Reduce the heat and allow the cream to evaporate slightly.  Then add a big handful of Parmesan cheese, finely grated.  Stir till smooth,  Add a little sage or Nepitella to the sauce.  Thin it out with pasta water or milk if desired and toss with Fettucini( I do not like Fettucini, but any pasta will do.  It would be best to use something broad.  Farfalle comes to mind immediately.).
When using herbs or pesto, start with the butter, add the cream, boil down slightly and add the herbs or pesto along with the Parmesan.
Double or treble the recipe if desired.
Try substituting Gorgonzola for the Parmesan.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Frittata and Sausage

We have already discussed sausage, but I felt I had to include it in the title for the sake of the photos.  Frittatas were not meant to be done by a recipe.  The cook just threw them together after seeing how many eggs were available in the hen house.  I made them the other day for the salad bar by roasting a few small cuts of vegetables and just pouring beaten egg over them to cover and adding Parmesan and pepper.  They were quite thin, perhaps half an inch, and I cut them into fingers for the salad bar crowd.
This is a meal that would traditionally be made by the cook in the family to use up left over veggies and meats in Italy, and there is one famous one(much like the one pictured) that is often seen on Tapas menus in Spain.  So very easy, you really do not need a recipe. 
This really is at its best in a big cast iron skillet, but this one was just in a standard skillet.  Of course non stick is more reliable to get out of the pan, unless the cast iron is very well seasoned. 
I just steamed a few potatoes (three) cut in 1/2 inch cubes, sauteed a medium onion, and included a few sun dried tomatoes(or red peppers).  Grease or spray a skillet or stove top worthy baking pan.  I put the veggies in the greased pan, season with salt, pepper, sauteed garlic etc., covered them with beaten egg(7) seasoned with salt and pepper and placed them over medium to low heat to cook the bottom.  In this case, I did not want to heat up the kitchen, so I lowered the heat and allowed it to continue cooking, covered, till almost completely set in the middle on the same burner.  Then I placed a layer of cheese on top(Provolone, Swiss, cheddar or Parmesan) and ran it under the broiler with the handle of the pan wrapped in foil.  Traditionally, I would place it in a medium oven to cook till set then do the same with the cheese.
You might do this with pasta, all sorts of veggies and meats left over.  Bacon, Pancetta, sausage chicken, thin steak, meatballs, shrimp, crab, lobster, tuna...(It would be unusual to use cheese with seafood.  However, southern Italians often use Parmesan or Pecorino with seafood all the time, especially since the cheese acts as a salt in the food.)  Just keep the heat low and it will work.
You may wish to lighten the egg mixture with a bit of plain water, or make it very rich and heavy with milk or cream(and or grated cheese) mixed in.
Sausage patties made with ground pork, black pepper, salt and sage...cure overnight or use immediately.  The sausage is not very dark.  It cooks quickly and there is much less fat and salt in it than store bought sausage.   see other posts.

A potato and sun dried tomato Frittata with Provolone(aged).

Breakfast ready in half an hour or so.
You can add milk, cream or Half and Half to the egg if you like.  If you feel you must extend the eggs, the result will be lighter with water instead of dairy.  You could easily add yogurt, sour cream, caviar, smoked salmon, home fries or all sorts of exotic ingredients to these.  Remember however, that the temperature will not get terribly high in the eggs, so it is wise to precook to desired doneness before combining ingredients.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mushroom Caviar Orloff

Orloff is a name for a turkey dish that is least to time.  Layers of turkey cutlets alternate with mushroom and onion caviar as a stuffing.  This inspired me to try this stuffing, or my version of it, as an ingredient in several diverse dishes.  For instance, this could be a stuffing for mushrooms, for small hollowed vegetables, mixed into meatloaf or meatballs, as a layer in a spinach and ham tart with eggs, in Fritattas or in omelets.  Or, it would be nice when mixed into fresh butter or cream cheese as a spread on bread, toast, crackers etc..

This is very simple and really requires no measurements.  All you do is finely mince a pile of mushrooms.  Add in about half the size pile of minced onions and fry them at a low temperature in butter or oil.  Cook and cook and cook till the moisture is nearly gone, then add either Sage, Oregano or Nepitella( a rather hard to find herb, but a classic with mushrooms). and a good splash of sherry, salt and pepper.
Continue to cook till that moisture is reduced, then pack it into a container to cool.
Use as is, or wait till it is cold and mix it, one for one, into the cream cheese or butter.
I would think that this would not be unhappy with a generous dose of minced garlic as well as onion.
Nepitella is sort of a cross between Mint and Oregano, and a combination of the two might be a good substitute.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fig, Walnut and Blue Cheese Spread

Wonderful with a glass of wine, sherry or port. 
Spread a bit of this on a piece of Melba toast, toasted bread, crackers, wedges of apples or pears or sturdy vegetables.  Possibly on Endive leaves, a teaspoon in each.

Toast about a cup of walnuts on a dry cookie sheet in a 325 oven, just till they become fragrant.
Chop about a cup of figs into 1/4 inch pieces.  I use baby figs, but you could use any you like.  You might want to soak the very dry figs in sherry or water for an hour or two before using them.  They will suck all the moisture out of the other ingredients if you do not.
chop the walnuts and figs together, till fine, but not a paste. 
stir in 1/2 cup of crumbled blue cheese(or to taste).
Moisten with  a nice sherry(sweet or dry)( and optional) 
Blend the entire mixture into 1 1/2 cups of softened cream cheese .
Add a little cream if it is terribly thick. 
Form into a log by rolling in waxed paper.
Chill for about an hour.
Cut into disks and arrange on a serving platter along with fruit and toast or crackers,. Allowing to come to room temperature.  Spread generous mounds onto the toast etc. to serve.
This is very rich and a small amount is all you need for each serving.

The measurements are approximate.

This would be lovely with hazelnuts, and you might do better with a good Gruyere instead of blue cheese if you can afford the two.  Hazelnuts are through the roof and we all know about Gruyere. You might get away with a really good Swiss instead.  Gruyere is very nutty tasting.   Parmesan is also a bit nutty tasting when just eaten; so that may work too.  Try chunking it up with a spoon or blunt knife instead of grating it. Push the point in and give it a twist.  for this application, keep breaking up the crumbs till they are the size you want.   The cheap stuff will not work well.  The less expensive Parmesan does not have that sweet/salt/nutty flavor.  You can afford to do Parmesan of decent quality, because you need so little to make a big impact.   The texture is completely different, almost granular.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Another Way to Grill Onions.

You can cut one of those gigantic onions in the supermarket into four big cookies.  Brush a bit of oil(olive oil is OK if you do not use Extra Virgin) onto a cast iron pan, heavy bottomed frying pan or griddle.  On meduim to low heat, fry the onions, turning rarely and occasionally spritzing them with a little water.  Keep the disks together.  Cover them through much of the middle cooking time.  In the restaurant, we just turn a paper serving boat upside down over them.  You do not need much.  Keep turning and spritzing till the onions are still slightly firm in the very middle only, and the flat sides have taken on a very dark rich color.
Remove them to a pan or serving bowl.  Sprinkle with a bit of salt, pepper and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  The onions will continue to cook after removing them from the heat, but there will still be plenty of texture left and should retain the shape of the disks.  A sprinkling of wine vinegar, lemon juice or balsamic vinegar will cut a bit of the sweetness of the onions...and they will be very VERY sweet.  Serve them with chunks of bread, cheese, fruit and olives or Caper Berries.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Chicken Cacciatore

You can use chicken breasts if you like, but much cheaper and more likely to appear in a household in Italy would be a whole chicken, cut up:

Turn the chicken with its back up.  With shears, cut on either side of the backbone and remove it for stock.  You can do this as you are doing the rest of the recipe, also adding the wing tips and any other waste pieces of the chicken, neck gizzard heart, salt and pepper but not the liver.  Just simmer in a saucepan of water, adding onion, carrot and celery if you like.    Skim off any foam that rises in the first few minutes of cooking.

Cut off the leg quarter by just cutting through the skin and fold the thigh and leg outward.  separate the thigh from the chicken.  Find the joint between the leg and thigh(there will be a line of fat to follow if you can see it). cut off the leg at the joint.
Fold the wing outward as well, and cut through the joint.  take a little of the breast meat with it if you want this person to get a bit more meat.  
Find and cut out the wishbone.  This is a little fiddly.
Lay the rest of the chicken flat.  You might cut through the ribs that have little meat on them, with the shears and add to the stock.
Flatten the breast out, inside of the carcass up.  Push it down hard then split the breastbone with a large knife, or cut on both sides of the keel and add to the stock.  Cut each breast half across the narrow dimension, but move toward the heavier end of the breast so the portions are near equal.

Lightly flour the pieces by dropping them one by one into a plastic bag full of flour with a little salt and pepper in it.  Remove and lay into a frying pan coated with olive oil (Not extra virgin)  allow to brown lightly on all sides, then remove to a platter. 

Pour out accumulated oil and fat.

Chop a couple of onions very coarsely(perhaps 8ths) and drop into the oil.  Keep it moving as it fries.  Add celery chunks and carrot chunks into the pan and continue to brown.  Add several crushed cloves of garlic.  Return the chicken to the pan and mound in quartered mushrooms and plenty of coarsely chopped peppers of your choice.  Keep the green ones in a small minority if you use them at all.
Add fresh or dried rosemary to taste
Add a couple of cups of your hot broth(after straining), and a couple of cups of white wine and a can of crushed tomatoes(or fresh skinned and chopped).  Salt and pepper to taste and cover  and simmer over low heat, till all is cooked through stirring occasionally.  Alternatively, cover and place in a 325 degree oven till all is cooked through.   In both cases, leave uncovered if it appears juicier than necessary.    

Monday, May 13, 2013

Cippolini Onions

You can find a hundred recipes for these onions on the Internet.  I saw one tonight that used a mix of soy sauce and honey along with the rest of the ingredients...Not terribly Italian(the soy sauce, not the honey).
In fact, when I asked an elderly gentleman on Salina, about my Cafarella family, he noted that they had the best honey on the island.  Don't know if he was pumping sunshine up my skirt or what, but it does prove that honey is a good choice in Italian cooking.  For centuries, there was not much choice for sweet foods...It was honey or nothing.
This is a good recipe for onion haters.   It is unlike anything else.
Cippolini onions are not the easiest onions to find, and not the easiest to peel.  If you have never seen them, they are rather flattened onions.  You could, of course, use any small onion.  You just need to keep them in a size range that will cook in the prescribed time.
If you go to the Salumerie in Little Italies all over the country, you will find these little onions available, all prepared, but you will pay through the nose for them.  They are usually a little crunchy compared to most recipes, and perhaps a bit more tart, as they do not always use balsamic vinegar.  You may wish to experiment over time with different vinegars and proportions of vinegar and sweeteners to get what you really want.  Also, you may prefer different vinegars and degrees of sweetness with different meats, or just alone with cheese, olives and bread. 
I used to get a small container of these when I first moved to the Boston area, along with a loaf of unsliced Scala bread, a container of mixed olives, a chunk of Provolone, a Genoa Salami(I love Fiorucci, but it is a bitch to find) or if I was feeling rich, a few slices of Prosciutto Crudo.  I would sit with a friend or two on the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge and have a picnic overlooking the Boston skyline.  Add a glass of red wine and a bunch of green(for me) grapes, and life is beautiful.
I do not know about you, but I must have unsliced bread, torn apart by hand, into large chunks.  Slather with butter, or dip into a little cup of oil, grating cheese, salt and pepper and pepperoncini.  Mix them together and allow to sit for a few minutes to blend the flavors.

Anyway...Back to the onions.

I have a stand of Egyptian onions that produce the tiny bulbs at the top of the stalk...those might work with reduced roasting time.  Pickling onions would be good, shallots(If you can afford them) or just sort out the runts when you harvest onions from your garden.

Cut the top and bottom off the onions(You can leave the root end if you want, but rub off the dried up root with your fingers.) and plunge them into a pot of boiling water for just a few seconds.  Remove with a slotted spoon and cool till you can handle them.  The skin should come right off.

Place your onions in a single layer in a heavy skillet(cast iron or enameled would be good) or casserole. 
Mix a tablespoon of honey or white sugar, balsamic(or red wine) vinegar, a tablespoon of herbs like rosemary, basil, oregano, mint or thyme (your favorite), a few tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper.  Cloves are a classic choice with onions.  Sprinkle a few in with the onions, or if the onions are on the larger size, stick one clove into each onion.  This is easy to over-do, so be careful. 

Mix together and stick your pinkie in.  Taste critically.  Look for a pleasant sweet and sour that will satisfy you(remember that the onions will add sweetness).  Agro Dolci is a widespread favorite in Italy.  Pour over the onions.  Cover tightly with a lid or with foil, and roast for 20 minutes.  Remove the cover and stir.  Return to the oven and continue to roast for an additional 20 minutes or to the desired degree of doneness(I know you will just hate tasting these a few times till they are done enough, but be brave.)  Serve them warm or cold.  400 to 450 degrees F is a good range for the oven.

The vinegar, sugar etc. will become syrupy, and if the onions become too dry, add a bit of wine, or more of the original mixture. 

You will find exact measurements in various recipes on line, but you should develop your unique blend through trial and error.   The thing about this, as in many other recipes from Italy, is that they just did not measure.  They dumped in about as much as their mother did, and they altered the recipe by taste with each batch or weight of onions or strength or variety of vinegar.

You could easily just drop these onions into a cast iron pan with a little olive oil.  Dump on the herbs, honey and vinegar etc. as the onions are grilling at a fairly low temperature.  Turn with a big spatula a few times till the sauce reduces.  Taste for the degree of doneness you like(I love them apple crisp, just as much as soft and sticky), and remove to a bowl to cool.
This would be just as good with carrots, and you could add mushrooms late in the roasting process.
You could easily add cloves of garlic to the pan, or stir in a bit of cream at the end of the process and reduce in the last few minutes of the roast time.
Thanks Wikipedia for the image of Cippolini Onions.  Here they are shown peeled, with residual tops still attached.  You could leave them on and have a convenient handle to nibble out of hand.  Just remember to rub off the roots if not cutting them off.  They are perfectly edible, but a little like grit floating around in the sauce.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Chickpea meatballs

Mom had her clever ways to disguise foods we did not like, including these “meatballs” made with chickpeas. Her reasoning was that chickpeas were just as full of protein as other more expensive foods. These are really fabulous on their own as a hot antipasto or served over a bed of cooked spinach for a filling but inexpensive light supper.


1 can chickpeas drained
1 small sweet red pepper, cleaned and coarsely chopped
1 small zucchini, ends trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 small carrot, scraped and chopped
1 leek (white part) cut into rings
1 clove garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups dry bread crumbs
Fine sea salt to taste
Canola Oil for Frying
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for topping


Pulse the chickpeas in a food processor and transfer to a bowl. Set aside
Add the pepper, zucchini, carrot, leek and garlic to the food processor and pulse until the mixture looks minced.
Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan and stir in the minced vegetables; cook until softened. Cool about 5 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the bowl with the chickpeas. Add the 1/2 cup grated cheese one egg and mix well. (If mixture seems dry, add an additional egg or some water or broth.)
With wet hands form 1 inch balls. Set aside.
Beat the remaining two eggs in a shallow bowl and place the bread crumbs in another shallow bowl.
Coat each ball in egg then in bread crumbs and place on a dish. When all the balls are coated, heat 4 cups of oil in a heavy duty pot or a deep fryer to 375°F.
Fry the balls a few at a time until golden brown and use a slotted spoon to transfer them to absorbent paper to drain. Serve warm.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Linda's Chick Peas

It is so funny that I have been working with Linda for several weeks now, and I do not know her last name!
So, I have not had the best relationship with Chickpeas in my life.  I warmed to them in things like Hummus, and they make a good mock Meatball.  It only stands to reason, that the way I love them is about as unhealthy a preparation as you could imagine for a legume, but that is the story of my life in a nutshell.
Linda simply opens a can of chick peas, rinses them, lets them dry....Then she deep fries them in the same oil as the french fries in the cafe.
I suppose you could use a light olive oil, peanut oil, or whatever you are used to.  Let them get a nice deep amber brown...
The she douses them with Five Spice, or a Mexican spice mix.  Seasoned salt would be good...Cajun spice blend....or what about cayenne and salt alone....Be creative, and serve them within about an hour if possible...less is best...Chick peas are so meaty, and retain inside moisture so that eventually the moisture comes out and softens the crisp surface that you created with the deep fry....

These are great as an appetizer in place of a bowl of nuts, and they would be nice as a topper for a salad.


Saturday, April 13, 2013


Se avete bisogno di tradurre i miei post in inglese in francese o in italiano, prova a cercare per Google Translate, all'indirizzo sotto indicato. È possibile copiare e incollare il testo oppure digitare alcune parole nella prima casella e selezionare la lingua desiderata.

Si necesita traducir mis mensajes en inglés al francés o al italiano, intente buscar el Traductor de Google en la dirección abajo. Usted puede copiar el texto y pegue o escriba unas palabras en la primera casilla y seleccionar el idioma que usted necesita.

Si vous avez besoin de traduire mes messages en anglais en français ou en italien, essayez de rechercher Google Translate à l'adresse ci-dessous. Vous pouvez copier du texte et collez ou tapez quelques mots dans la première case et sélectionnez la langue dont vous avez besoin.

Blog Addresses

There are three blogs pertaining to our sprawling family.
Those of you with Mitchell blood may be interested in the fourth pertaining to my father's family. I would encourage those who want to start blogs for your specific family branch to contact me for help and they could easily cross reference with these. Just let me know the address and I will put a link in to all of these blogs for yours. is all about family history in narrative style beginning with my grandmother. There are some family photos included. is all about family photos with captions only. is all about family recipes along with photos of the originating cook. All about my father's family this is all about my garden in Massachusetts, including many plants from family.  NEW

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A couple of interesting links for Italian recipes.

She has a number of wonderful and hard to find recipes for italian desserts.  I made her Almond Cake for a dinner the other day and it was divine.  Not a lot of expensive ingredients...sort of a one bowl method, and it was like a sugar cookie wrapped in Marzipan...Just great.

Vincent(Vincezo) has a wonderful site with lots of information on Sicilan cooking of all sorts.  He helped me to find and understand the  Saint Joseph's day soup that I had in Salina a few years ago.  I never found just exactly the right soup recipe before, but this helped me tpo coonnect with my family roots a bit more.

Serving the soup on Saint Joseph's day in front of San Lorenzo in Malfa, Salina

More cups from my collection.  Red Coalport c.1830 and Blue RC Derby c.1930.
I only drink tea because I like the cups!
Except Constant Comment...listen, the purists are crying: YUK all over the world.

Are You Eating Pink Slime?

There are additives in everything, it seems.  But one that thoroughly disgusts me is Pink Slime.

Some companies take all the trimmings from beef...How are they collected and how long are they held, I cannot attest to.  But, they put these trimmings into a container(a centrifuge?) with heat and they cook out most of the fat.  Then they gas the stuff with ammonia or citric acid to kill the bacteria...why do you need to kill bacteria in beef if it is fresh and wholesome to begin with?  Then they put it in your ground beef as if it was fresh beef, and sell it to you. 

This is not universal, and many stores do not do it, but you should be suspicious enough, if this disgusts you as it does me, to ask the meat department at your supermarket.  They call it LEAN FINELY TEXTURED BEEF, and you may have to refer to it that way.
It started out as pet food, and later it was approved for LIMITED HUMAN CONSUMPTION and it could not be in more than a 25% ratio to fresh beef or any other product.

I do not know about you, but I always look at cheap beef and beef products with a suspicious eye.  Even cheap beef is sooo expensive these days, with scarce and expensive feed and limited pasture land.

I really resent this deception.

I know it will never happen, but I am always sniffing my hamburger now, wondering if I will detect a faint odor of just FREAKS ME OUT!!!!!

We should, of course, be restricting our meat intake anyway, especially red meat.  We are slowly killing ourselves.  The Italians never...or perhaps rarely, provide large cuts of meat at the table.  It is more like a condiment than a main food item. 

We should take a hint from them on meat servings, and always ask your butcher about the pink slime situation in their meat.

Also, make a point about asking at your school....are they feeding this crap to your kids?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cheap Meals...Seniors, Families and the Poverty Striken

Many Italian meals are very inexpensive and simple.  But, when you go out for a meal in Italy, you can spend a bloody fortune.  You end up with Antipasto, Pasta, a meat dish, a Contorno or side dish, possibly a salad, a sweet for dessert, or nuts, fruit, cheese and wine.
A simple night out takes on the dimensions of a Thanksgiving meal.  Food is among the more expensive things in Italy.  The advantage is that it is of exceptional quality.
It would be easy to get a simple meal by just having a well chosen pasta dish, or perhaps an antipasto.  This is difficult because the waiter stands there looking all crestfallen if you do not order the whole thing.
Here in the US, we do not have quite the same attitude toward food as in Italy.  We do not sit as a family(at least most don't anymore) to really enjoy our meals together.  We do not spend hours with a series of little dishes.  It is not a social event like a meal in Italy.
The first thing to do, to lower the cost of your food, is to make food yourself.
 It is nice to keep chickens, of course.  Fewer bugs in the yard etc.  But it is not necessary.  You do not have to keep goats...though it is a good thing to do.  You can lower your costs just by making your own sausage, bake your own bread and cakes, do not buy pre-made foods.
Buy the components of food and put them together for yourself.  It does not take THAT much time to do so, and by making it a task of pleasure, and doing it as a family, it can greatly improve your life, both socially and in the quality and cost of food.
You will need to keep staples well stocked in your house.  Not just plenty of ketchup and mustard, you need to keep plenty of FROZEN vegetables, sale and reduced coupon meats, flour etc.

I find that as I grow accustomed to less meat, that I can buy or roast my own tiny chicken.  For me, this will make about five meals, not including a couple of cups of soup made from the leftovers.  So...$1.00 a meal.  The dog also gets all the leftover scraps of skin etc that I do not eat.  It is quite plain, so it is not bad for him a tablespoon a meal.

When you see a suggestion for bread crumbs as a topping, they could be fine crumbs like you find in the supermarket, or coarsely crumbled bread sauteed in garlic, salt, pepper and oil. ( Like peanut size)

Lets do a simple recipe for a good meal then I can continue.

You will need to do a pan of baking powder biscuits, rolls or doughboys(see recipe) to go with any simple soup meal, or like the Italians, serve a little meat dish to go with it, as this is a vegetarian meal.

Cauliflower Soup

Chop one medium onion(yellow or white only).
Peel and chop about two cups of potato.
Thaw about two cups of Cauliflower florets. (of course fresh works well) You may use stems, if the outer, woody, skin is peeled off.(this is a good use for the stems and pieces.  Perhaps it would be good to do several meals with cauliflower, saving the stems in the freezer for this later use)
You will need chicken broth or vegetable broth...Make your own and save the chicken for chicken salad or pot pie the next day.  For vegetable broth, save all the NON moldy trimmings from several days of vegetables in a plastic bag in the freezer(include things like the onion skins) and simmer them all for half an hour or so.  Strain.  If particles exist and you want a clear broth, strain through a coffee filter or cheesecloth inside a strainer.  Cook all vegetables with the cover on to conserve vitamins.

Saute the onions in butter.  Do not allow the onions to color.  A bit won't hurt, but you are trying to have a white soup when you are done.  The onions should be starting to soften.  Add the potatoes and cauliflower and cover with broth or water.
Simmer until all the vegetables are cooked through and starting to soften.  Do not cook to a mush as it may become bitter, but make sure there are no hard parts.

In a separate pan, make a roux of three tablespoons of flour and three tablespoons of butter.  Melt the butter and add the flour stirring to mix.  Continue to cook over a low temperature till the flour is cooked but not colored.
Stir the roux into the boiling broth and cook briefly till very thick. 
Add milk till it is thinned to the consistency you like, perhaps a bit thinner than you want, because you will puree the veggies to thicken.

Use a slotted spoon to place the veggies in a food processor and puree.  Remove about half a cup of the veggies when just chopped if you want more texture.
You can also just use an immersion blender right in the cooking pan.
Return the puree to the liquid.
Add salt, pepper(white maintains the color, but don't be too fussy) and a pinch of nutmeg.  Stir and reheat just till bubbling.  cayenne would give the soup a little bite.

The measurements are just a suggestion.  Use what you have and adjust accordingly.
This soup would be wonderful with ham,bacon or any of the Italian pork products cooked along with the onion or cooked separately and crumbled on top at the end. 

Save cooking water from vegetables in a big container in the refrigerator till you are making a broth or soup. 

Satay Soup.

You have left-over sweet potatoes, squash, carrots or pumpkin(or even a can of pumpkin pie filling you do not know what to do with)...Hmmm...what to do...

Caramelize one medium onion in butter on a low temperature till sweet, very soft and well colored.
Mash the precooked vegetables in the bottom of a pan along with the onion.  Add a big dollop of peanut butter, mashed chestnuts or other pureed nuts(There are always a handful in a nut dish after a holiday meal.  Just be careful of salt afterward.  Puree the nuts in a food processor with a bit of milk or broth till very smooth).
Mix with the vegetables and thin with vegetable or chicken broth and puree as above.  Simmer till all flavors are blended.  Add milk, cream, yogurt etc and more broth till the consistency of a cream soup.  Add cayenne, ginger to taste,  salt and pepper to taste. (sage optional)

Back to business:

You don't really need the cheese on the burger.  I love cheeseburgers, but one of the first things you learn as a frugal cook, is that you don't need to gild the lily.  The hamburger is a good meal without the cheese, you are only spending extra money and a ton of extra calories on a perfectly acceptable dish without the cheese. 
This is a principle that you must apply to all of your cooking.  You do not need to buy Salad dressing when a simple oil and vinegar is healthier and cheaper.  Or use plain balsamic vinegar alone.  You don't really need grating cheese  on your pasta, just saute some bread crumbs with a few herbs, garlic, pepper...whatever, and use that.

Remember that an adult only needs about three ounces of meat a day!  That is about the size of a deck of cards.  And Meat is not even necessary  at all.  Becoming a vegetarian however, will make it hard to go back to meats, as your system will no longer be accustomed to the meat.  You can get plenty of protein from other sources.  My partner seems determined to ruin us financially and calorie wise.  I looked in the refrigerator today, and there were two pounds of boneless pork chops thawed for the next meal ...There are only two of us!
Yesterday, I used one pound of hamburger to make a large hamburger for the meat hog, a smaller one for me and I had enough to make small meatballs for soup for two days,
Remember that eggs have plenty of protein, and many of the fears that media planted in our brains have been disproved.  Eat the whole egg, but use moderation...Three or four at a time are definitely too much yolk fat.

Go out in the yard in the early spring and gather dandelion leaves before they get too big.  Find swampy areas and the land along streams in the early spring and pick fiddleheads.  Do a search on the computer for wild edible plants in your area.  Avoid mushrooms unless you get expert help the first time out.

Make the cheaper choice when buying the little luxuries.

You absolutely do not need Extra Virgin Olive oil.  Use less expensive lighter color oils for everything.  If you can afford to, buy a small container of EVOO to use in salad or drizzle on vegetables instead of butter.
You do not need Parmesan.  Use less expensive grating cheeses, Pecorino Romano, Asiago, Grana, Ricotta Salata are all perfectly useful, and are sometimes less expensive or on sale.  Check the price of cheese in jars instead of in blocks or grated in bags.  I like Pastene.  They can be less expensive.  Use the best cheese when the mother-in -law is coming for dinner. 

Meatball and Veggie soup.

If I was doing this with a healthy budget, I would use grated cheese in these meatballs, but instead, try heavy seasoning in the meatballs instead.  Extra salt and pepper, a finely crushed bouillon cube or two or Lipton's onion or other dry soup(just a tablespoon or so) in a small amount of meatball mix.  This will provide some of the flavor that you miss without the cheese.

Mix six ounces of ground beef, chicken or pork with an equal volume of bread crumbs, a few tablespoons of water, minced garlic, parsley and one egg salt and pepper.(Do not salt if you have put bouillon cube or Lipton's in the meat.)

Finely grate one carrot and a small onion into a pan with olive oil.  Cook slowly to caramelize and then pour in your choice of broth and cook till the vegetables virtually disappear.(always covered pan)  You may add garlic about half way through the sauteing process.

Form into hazelnut sized balls and drop into the simmering vegetable or chicken broth.  Add carrots in tiny dice or shaved with a vegetable peeler.
Diced onions, celery, zucchini,Green beans, tomato(seeds removed or canned leftover) chopped greens(chard, dandelion, arugula, collard, kale, etc.)..After cooking a few minutes, add peas, mushrooms...whatever is fresh in the refrigerator,  left over in the Tupperware or freezer bags.  Cauliflower, spinach and broccoli may be too strong a flavor.

Simmer covered till all is cooked through and then add about half a can of well rinsed Kidney beans, Cannelini beans or Chick peas.
Add fresh herbs(Parsley, basil etc.) from your garden or dry from the bottle  salt, pepper.

In a separate pan, cook 1/3 of a pound of your favorite macaroni(penne, shells, elbows, Orzo, etc.)leave slightly under done. When cool, add to the soup. Or use rice(brown or white.)  Use leftovers when you have them.
This is a complete meal.

You do not have to use expensive meats like pepperoni or sausage on your pizza(see recipe elsewhere)  Try potato sliced thin, chopped leftover hamburger, chopped onions, frozen or left over peas or broccoli.  Buy the tiny cans of mushroom stems and out the moisture and use.  If there is left over chili, taco meat etc....use that.  If there was a sale on canned chili, use that instead of tomato sauce.    Again, clean out the refrigerator.  Use smaller amounts of cheese, but salt more if using plenty of vegetables.  Vary the type of cheese to match with the toppings

Use ground pork when chicken and beef are too expensive.
Go to the frozen case or ask at the meat counter to see if there are frozen hamburger or pork packages at much reduced cost.  Also, ask if they take the ends of deli meats and cheeses and sell them at a reduced cost.  Always check for reduced vegetables.  Take home and roast, cook or freeze immediately to avoid spoilage. You often find beloved ethnic vegetables in the reduced section as they do not have as large a following as the more conventional vegetables.  There were trays and trays of small eggplants in an unusual shape and color at my market today, for pennies on the dollar.
Do not rule out the unusual vegetables or the ones you hated as a child.  Preparing them in sauces, gratins, roasted, in soup or with lots of seasoning, can change the experience entirely.  I hated my mother's versions of many vegetables that I now love cooked in other ways.  And she was a great cook!

Roman Broccoli with Pasta.

One of the three worst meals I ever had at restaurant was in Rome a few years ago.  We were wandering around rather aimlessly waiting for the time to go to the train to get our flight home. 
We stopped at a little trattoria on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, not far from the Tiber and the end of the bridge that crosses to Castel St. Angelo.  This had the potential to be a great light meal, but the vegetables were so over cooked, that it was bitter and mushy at best.

Soooo Simple.  It would be perfect with a slice of meatloaf or a hamburger,  Or, just saute a few thin slices of chicken breast or a couple of baked chicken drumsticks or a roasted chicken thigh.

All you have to do is divide a head of broccoli or thaw a couple of cups of frozen broccoli in small pieces.  Saute the florets(and thinly sliced stems that have been peeled to remove the fibrous skin) in a generous amount of olive oil till tender, similar to an Asian stir fry.  If available, finely mince and add a quarter cup of red pepper for color more than anything.  Add the peppers about half way through the cooking time, along with two crushed and minced garlic cloves, salt and pepper.  When just tender, toss with pasta of your choice and grated cheese or seasoned, sauteed bread crumbs.  Frozen vegetables are a real saver here.

Substitute any vegetables that respond well to stir fry.  If you use frozen vegetables, be especially sensitive to the tender crisp nature of well cooked vegetables.  Use left over vegetables just warmed through when available.
Whole wheat pasta will increase the nutrition.    If you make a three bean salad with canned or steamed green beans or yellow beans, chick peas and Cannelini or Kidney beans, and serve on the side, you really do not need meat with this.  Such a salad with just the three cans of legumes would be good for about nine half cup portions.  It would also be good with a half cup of tuna salad, or just white solid tuna, broken up and dressed in oil and vinegar. 
If you have them in the garden or they are on sale, this pasta dish would be great with slim asparagus spears cut in one inch pieces.  Do not try canned, the experience will not be pretty. 

Cheap Corn Chowder

Corn chowder is an example of taking a nice healthy vegetable and turning it into a heart bomb.  That is with traditional recipes.  This version is not without sin, but it is certainly better than cream and butter together.  Cream in general, is not for me except perhaps with company coming.  This is the same with any number of milk based meals.  Cream is a wonderful product, and I love it, but you do not really need to be feeding it to your family on a regular basis.

Cube and boil two or three small potatoes, drain and set aside. 

So, lets get a little healthier.  Mince a medium onion and cook in 3 Tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan.  I know, butter, but you can use a light healthy oil or olive oil(the NON GREEN kind) 
When the onions are just softening, stir in 3 Tablespoons of white flour, and cook on low heat till just barely starting to color.  Stir in one can of cream style corn.  When smooth(as smooth as possible with cream style corn) stir in salt, pepper, a pinch of cayenne and a couple of cans of any milk you are comfortable serving and simmer very low till it thickens.(preheating the milk will hurry this along).   Add more milk and simmer till the non-solid consistency is like a light cream soup.  

Stir in the potatoes. 
If you like a little color, try minced red and/or green pepper or minced carrot along with the onions.  Not too much green pepper, as the flavor will overpower.  An alternative would be Jalapeno pepper.
Serve this with fresh baking powder biscuits with paper thin slivers of leftover ham and/or strong cheese inside.  Tiny amounts will do.  Remember that you only NEED about 3 oz of protein a day
If you have fresh corn on hand, take about five ears of corn that have been peeled of their husks and the silk removed.  Stand them on on the butt end in a plate and cut the kernels off into the plate.  Then turn the knife over so the back, dull edge, is against the ear of corn.  Scrape all the liquid and any solids that will come off into the plate as well.  You should have about the same amount of corn as the can, but adjust as necessary if there is more or less.

If you live in an area where they have Christmas Tree Shops, buy their discounted luxury foods there.  There are very inexpensive spices as well.  Whole peppercorns, vanilla(imitation) olive oil and exotic pickles are available there, as well as affordable jams and jellies.  There are similar discount or job lot stores all over the country.

Pasta with Peas, Mushrooms and Onions.

People think that Italian food has to be spicy or just plain hot.  But that is not true.  There are regions of Italy where long, skinny peppers, fiery hot, are well loved.  That is usually in the deep south.  the rest of Italy has any number of very mellow food, including this combination on pizza.  There is a little bit of hot pepper in any number of dishes, and this, like here in the States, is up to the cook.  I love hot food, but my system is beginning to rebel, so I find myself doing lots of mild dishes as well.

Slice a cup or so of mushrooms, or use a can of stems and pieces.  Make sure that the mushrooms are very dry.  Brown them in a generous amount of olive oil or butter.  Remove from the pan.  Saute a medium, chopped onion and a finely minced or crushed garlic clove in the same type of fat till just starting to go clear. 
Return the mushrooms to the pan and drop in a cup or so of thawed frozen peas. 
Meanwhile, cook a pound of small shell pasta or any pasta of choice.(Rice or steamed, cubed or New potatoes are good for many of these recipes)  Toss the pasta with the veggies in the pan, along with about half a cup of pasta water, or more if needed. 

This is good with crumbled bacon,  browned.Pancetta(If you can afford it) or slivers of ham.  Try the sandwich ham at the supermarket discounted end cut section, or ask for end cuts.  Cube and add in time to dry and heat it through before adding the pasta.
A pinch of red pepper flakes would not hurt.
Top with grating cheese or sauteed and seasoned bread crumbs or croutons.  Buy stuffing mix in bags at the dollar store for the croutons.


Search in the box at the top of the page for lentils.  Lots of protein from the legume, added grain products like pasta or rice, make the protein complete.  Very inexpensive, can be just soaked, barely cooked, drained and tossed in a vinaigrette with veggies for a salad.  Make the vinaigrette with lemons.  Lemons are surprisingly inexpensive at some times of the year.

Buy bags of frozen fruits instead of fresh.  The big bags can be really cheap.  Berries or peaches can just be tossed with sugar and left to thaw in the refrigerator till marinated.  Add a little liquor or liqueur if you like.  Tequila?  Serve over your own cake, baking powder biscuits, cookies or muffins.   Make into smoothies, or search for the berry "Ice Cream" in the search box above.

Search for my grandmother's biscotti recipe(Anise Toast) in the search box.  This is a very inexpensive and easy recipe.  It impresses people too.  Just a scoop of ice cream with one or two of these stuck into the cup, makes an impressive display when you cannot afford something grander.  Of course, it is also something that is satisfying and nostalgic with good strong coffee or mocha all by itself.  Try other flavorings if you do not like anise.  Orange zest biscotti and coffee...a real natural.

Tomato paste is available for less than a dollar most of the time, but sometimes you can pick up tomato paste for pennies a can on sale.  I have mentioned this method a couple of times in the blog, but here it is again.
Saute, or brown anything you like in olive oil.(Onions, meats, other vegetables)  Add a can of tomato paste and cook briefly in the oil.  The paste will color a bit.  Add a can of chicken or other broth to thin the paste.  Add water if more dilution is needed.  Substitute water or water and bouillon cubes if you do not have broth.  Simmer for about twenty minutes.  Add fresh or dried basil or other appropriate herbs for the last few minutes.
Use almost anything in the sauce:
Beef, cubed or ground
Chicken..legs, thighs, wings, breasts(extra seasoning as this sucks up the flavor)
Pork all parts except regular ham(extra seasoning as this sucks up the flavor too.)
Summer squash
Green beans
Black olives
Chick peas
Pepperoni(Don't use mellow and extremely expensive cured is a waste)
Canned shellfish
Roasted  or fresh garlic
Capers(usually with fish)
Left overs
Game of all kinds
Poach eggs in it.(eggs in purgatory)
Combinations of the above.

Add brown sugar and vinegar(cinnamon. cloves and ginger) to make a simple barbecue sauce.

I do not really like this next one, but it does work.  My mother would turn over in her grave!!!!!!  When you see Campbell's tomato soup on sale, snap it up.  It works as a good base for tomato sauce.   It is sometimes available for next to nothing, and it is already cooked, so it takes no time at all to cook a sauce.
Use cream of mushroom, cream of celery, cream of whatever soup as a sauce with any number of meats and vegetables to pour over potato, rice or pasta. Bake meats in the soup.

Pasta with Fresh (nearly) Vegetables

Pour two tablespoons of oil in a frying pan.  Saute several cloves of crushed fresh garlic in the oil till soft and not over browned.   Add chopped onions(let cook a minute) or in rapid succession, scallions, chopped peppers, chopped tomato(or halved cherry tomatoes) capers,green beans, peas, fresh corn kernels, etc. to the pan.  Cook only till the vegetables are barely heated through or in the case of the onions transparent.  They should be tender crisp.  Use anything you might eat in a salad and in any combination.  Even cukes are good cooked(perhaps without the seeds)  Salt and Pepper, and a pinch of pepper flakes.

Toss with cooked shells, orichetti, tubetti, etc..
Add a splash of good quality vinegar of your choice if you like.
serve hot, room temperature or cold.

Look up Pizza and Focaccia in the search box above.  There are tons of options to try when baking bread.
Serve bread with Italian cheeses and vegetables in oil and garlic on top. 
Crack an egg per person into depressions on the top of the bread and bake.   Press an oiled cup into the surface to make the depressions. 
Put a layer of grated cheese of any melty type on top of  oil and garlic, and chopped FRESH tomato or other vegetable on top.  Drizzle with oil before baking and after.
Be creative.

ABOUT BREAD AND BISCUITS.(search for recipes in the search box at top)

Baking is an ART rather than a SCIENCE.  Rather, the slavish measuring is the science, but knowing when to alter the measurements is the art.  It is not difficult work(unless you are doing a huge bowl of bread dough) and indeed it is rather Zen like... meditative... a connection to the past.  It can be.... discouraging though.  You have to follow directions to the letter a few times,  learn what makes a better bread by making mistakes.  The bottom line is:  You cannot really ruin the doughs and biscuits as far as nutrition is concerned.  You may end up eating a majority of the mistakes....but then that is your little punishment for not following directions.
Eventually your bread will be good most of the time...there are too many variables beyond your control to make it perfect every time.  Temperature, humidity, yeast freshness, baking powder and soda freshness and quality...slightly bigger eggs or slightly smaller eggs(for some recipes) all play a hand.  You will eventually FEEL the bread as you knead it.  You will know if your dough is right from experience.
It really is worth the effort....there is nothing like spreading butter over warm bread and biscuits made by your own hands...melting cheese, jam and fruit on them...OH MY GOD!!!!  And think of the money saved!


A good way to hide leftovers?  Perhaps, but in spite of  being something of a calorie bomb, this is a good way to make simple ingredients seem special, and like Mary Poppins with her spoon full of sugar, a good white sauce makes the plain and uninteresting go down.
If you have a ton of leftover veggies in the refrigerator, just butter a baking dish...a pretty one is an added advantage...arrange your veggies on the bottom, and pour a white sauce, a cream sauce, an onion sauce or cream over the contents and put it into the oven or broiler to heat and brown.  Cover the sauce with bread crumbs, or Parmesan cheese, cheese of any variety, crushed crackers or chips, paprika, etc.
I am always trying to make Bechamel according to the recipe, and I am always having to add more liquid, or find that it is too thin. 

a few seconds too long in the frying pan means that the roux will thicken less efficiently.  Too many variables.  So...Just keep the milk in the container, and pour and stir till it is the consistency you like.

Just put 3 tablespoons of butter or oil in a small pan.  Melt the butter, and add 3 tablespoons of flour.  Stir and cook for a minute or two on VERY low heat, and start adding milk(hot is best) and stir till smooth.  Add milk till you have the thickness you want.  Add cheese, if you like, a pinch of cayenne and a pinch of mustard(mustard from a jar will do, but it may have vinegar in it and could curdle the milk.

Saute any aromatic veggies you like in the butter before the flour is added, and continue once it is soft.   Onion, garlic, minced carrot etc.  You could stir in a tablespoon of tomato paste and basil pesto.  Pour over fried zucchini or eggplant with Parmesan.  Curry powder or jarred curry in the sauce would be good, but start by toasting the spice in the fat first.

Pour your chosen sauce over meat, veggies, potato, and bake or broil till browned on top

With fruits for dessert.
Pour a sweetened cream sauce with flavorings or spices in it.  You could use just cream, sweetened and boiled to thicken slightly with a little sherry, dessert wine or liqueur, over sliced fruit or thawed berries and place in the oven.  If it does not really have to COOK, just broil it and top with crushed Amaretti, or sugar cookie, chopped nuts or shredded coconut.

One of the biggest ways to save is to include lots of Legumes into your diet, and less meat.
Buy plastic bags full of .kidney beans, chick peas, soldier beans, cranberry beans, black beans, lentils of all colors, split peas.
Follow package directions to cook, and use them ALL THE TIME!  Once you get into the habit of doing this, it will seem easy, and there will be much more money in your pocket at the end of the week.

Vegetable Meatballs(with egg and bread crumbs)

in food processor, any combination of the following for a total of about 3 cups or less: 
one carrot, chopped 
one small chopped onion, or a leek
one small zucchini, chopped
one chopped red pepper
one clove garlic, minced
one small eggplant
black olives pits removed

Mince finely but not a paste, the size of split peas

Pour olive oil in pan and saute the veggies till soft, adding salt and pepper.

drain one can of chickpeas and rinse them briefly.

Food process till they form a paste.

Put the cooked vegetables and chick peas together in a bowl and wait till all is cool.

Thoroughly mix in one large beaten egg

form into balls about 1 1/2 inches

Beat two eggs thoroughly and roll the balls in the egg,

Roll in bread crumbs, or perhaps Panko

Deep fry in olive or canola oil, a few at a time. Do not use extra virgin olive oil....light oil is cheaper and is not so strong a flavor.

Serve with tomato sauce.

If you do not want to deep fry, you could make patties instead and fry in frying pan instead.

I am not a fan of deli ham, but I really love Rosemary Ham.  The trouble is, it is very expensive.  So, buy it anyway.  But buy a quarter of a pound.  Use very neutral bread cut in thin slices.  Pumpernickel or rye might be overpowering...make intelligent choices.  Make a sandwich with a thin sliver of the meat, and a scraping of your favorite spread.  I hate Mayo in general, so I use butter..Use what you like.  Bean puree with a bit of garlic, or cooked mushroom puree with garlic and sage, can be very good.  But, do not overpower a delicate meat like the Rosemary Ham with a strong spread like mustard. 
Two thin slices of bread, a thin slice of the ham...that is all you need with a bowl of soup, or a salad.
Make a thin sandwich with a deli or home sliced meat, a paper thin slice of tomato, an single leaf of lettuce, cucumber etc.  Cut into finger sandwiches and dip the edges into chopped herbs or paprika.
When you go to the deli in the US and order a Panini, you get this really stuffed sandwich.  In Italy, you get a scraping of Mayo(sometimes) a thin slice of tomato, a thin slice of meat and/or cheese and a leaf of lettuce.  Maybe a couple of basil leaves or pesto will appear.  That is then goes on the grill  There is very little in it, but who really needs it.  This philosophy is:...if you have good flavorful ingredients, you do not need a ton of meat and cheese in a sandwich...and they are right.
Make a sandwich and grill it at home like a toasted cheese.
Make sandwiches out of your own home made rolls, rounds of baguette, home made biscuits etc.....very elegant. Cucumber sandwiches are great, as are typically English things like cheese and chutney, bacon and onion...even paper thin sliced raw onion sandwiches are great.  If you have left over soft cheese or mozzarella, make cheese, tomato and basil or pesto(pesto can be very cheap if you buy it in plastic tubs near where they sell Hummus...tons of flavor with just a thin scrape of it...make it last)  Use olive spread or olives in cream cheese.  Olives in jars can be very cheap.   Cut off crusts and nibble on them in the kitchen while you do other chores.  Then you can eat less at the table and appear very virtuous!
There are many people that would look at you funny if you brought in a pile of really skinny sandwiches, but make a show if it.  Cut off the crusts, make finger sandwiches, make them creative and put some time into them...then defy them to make a comment!
Remember that we are CHRONIC OVER-EATERS in this country!
Search for Egg Salad and Bean Spread in the search box above.

Search for "sausage" in the search box above....much cheaper than store bought.

Poor Man's Saltimbocca

I love Chicken Saltimbocca, but it does not like my pocketbook.  First you have to have sage leaves...not a big deal in the summer, but a bit difficult other times of the year.  Then you need Prosciutto.  This is the big ticket item.  A good Prosciutto is a bloody fortune, and to do it right, it would be something more substantial than a tiny, paper thin scrap of meat.  Then there are the mushrooms... The expensive cheese and the wine.

I have found that, like I said earlier, you can get away with the basic recipe without the gilding.  You could substitute baked ham or sandwich ham for the Prosciutto, or just leave it out and over season slightly to mimic the salty taste of the expensive ham.  Also, you can do this without the wine and without the expensive mushrooms.
Here it is boiled down to the absolute essentials.  The main draw to this dish is the velvety coating on the chicken. 

Cut boneless chicken breasts, or thighs into uniform pieces about 2 oz. each.  Pound the pieces with a tenderizer till flattened slightly and the fibers are broken.
Stack on a plate.

Slice a half pound of plain button mushrooms, on the thick side, and brown them in a mix of olive oil and butter on medium heat.  If they exude a lot of water, raise the heat to boil it away and continue to brown.  Set aside.

In a plate, mix one cup of flour with three tablespoons of sage powder(like Bell's), salt and pepper.  Be a bit generous with the salt to mimic the saltiness of the ham as it will not be there.
  You may also mix in a bit of garlic powder if desired.  A little extra seasoning will help you forget the missing elements of the meal. 
Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture.  Shake thoroughly as you do not want an excess of flour.  As they are dredged,  lay them into a large pan with olive oil and butter mixed together.  The initial foam of the butter should have subsided before the chicken is added, but try to keep the temperature moderate so you do not get terribly dark butter or flour on the chicken. Allow the chicken to color on both sides till about 3/4 done, and remove to a baking pan in a single layer.  
When all the chicken is fried, remove the pan from the heat while you assemble the dish.
Spread the mushrooms evenly over the chicken.  Lay a slice of Swiss, Gruyere or Fontina cheese on each slice.  You should just use a mild cheese for this.  It is not necessary to use an expensive cheese unless you are trying to impress....mild and slightly nutty is best.  Even something like Mozzarella would do.
Heat up the two pans again.  Deglaze the mushroom pan with water, white wine or broth.  Pour the deglaze and liquid into the chicken frying pan to deglaze that.  Scrape the bottom of the pan. Add a cup of cream and a knob of butter, and stir to combine and reduce slightly(you absolutely do not need the cream if you do not want or cannot afford it)   Allow to cook till the flour taste is gone and slightly thickened.  Pour over the chicken and put in a moderate oven to finish cooking and melt the cheese.  It will not take long as the chicken will cook as it rests a bit and it is rather thinly pounded.  Squeeze a half lemon over the chicken before serving if you like.(again not necessary if the budget is tight).  Again, if there is alittle money, you might jazz this up with finely minced red bell pepper sprinkled on top as you place it in the oven.  You have been very good about not wasting money so this might be a pretty addition.  Chicken Saltimbocca is very pretty though not colorful.
Serve with pasta or rice. 

Pasta alla Norma

I have to say that I am not a great fan of Eggplant.  Most of my relatives would inhale eggplant three times a day, but not me.  I also should say that eggplant is fairly versatile.  It can be fried, casseroled, Caponata-ed.  It takes on the flavor of almost anything you want.  People tell me I do not like it because it has a bitter flavor, which can be removed by salting and draining it.  That is not the problem.  I do not like the texture.
Sooooo, I get around the problem that I have with it by cooking it a little less than most people do, or over cooking it to the point of either disappearing completely, or frying it hard to the point of crispness. 
But that is my problem, not yours.

Pasta alla Norma is fairly simple, and when you find great mounds of eggplant on sale in the reduced produce section, it can make for a wonderful meal.  In fact, buy a lot, because you could make Eggplant Parmesan, Caponata, Eggplant Caviar and Pasta alla Norma on successive days and not tire of it.  The Caponata and Caviar will keep well for days after making it, and will only improve.

If you buy smaller eggplant, there will never be a problem with bitterness, and also, there are no seeds to contend with if you buy very small.  If you have to buy large, simply salt the sliced or cubed eggplant and let drain in a colander for an hour or two and rinse.

Start with a large can of crushed tomato, or a pile of fresh chopped tomatoes(skins removed is best, but I don't bother.  The fiber will do you good.)  Saute a medium, finely cubed onion in olive oil till clear.  Add a couple of cloves of garlic about half way through the process and continue to cook till all has colored a bit but not burned.  Pour in the tomato, and let simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste and a generous handful of torn Basil leaves(you may use dried at the end of the onion frying stage if you don't have or cannot afford fresh.)  Continue to simmer very low for a few minutes then remove from the heat.  (I might add pepperoncino at some point in the onion frying...but that is just me.)

Meanwhile, chop a couple of small eggplants(about three cups will do, but a bit more is better) into cubes about 1 inch(this is good for me, you may wish to use larger chunks).  Dry them thoroughly on paper towel or a kitchen towel.  The dryer the better for browning. 

In a frying pan, coat the bottom generously with olive oil.  Fry the eggplant till golden brown over moderate heat, on all sides.  Do not crowd the pan as it will only get damp and stew instead of browning.  Do this in batches if necessary.  Drain off the oil on paper towels.

When all is done, return the sauce to the heat. 
Option 1. When just bubbling, add the eggplant to the sauce and stir to coat and serve over pasta. 

Option 2. Better still, add the sauce to the pasta, and pour the plain fried eggplant over the top of the sauce.  
Cover all with Ricotta Salata.
If the cheese is not available, use the grating cheese of your choice: Pecorino, Parmesan, drained Ricotta, Feta, or make your own cheese using the recipe in the blog by searching for it in the search box at the top of the page.  This would be just as good with sauteed bread crumbs as described elsewhere.

To remove skin and seeds from the tomato, just bring a saucepan of water to boil and drop the tomatoes in one at a time.  When the skin splits, remove with a slotted spoon to cold water.  Peel off the skin and cut the tomato horizontally.  Scrape out the seeds with your finger into the garbage or a bowl.

This recipe would work quite well with zucchini, mushrooms...any number of vegetables.
You might also do this by flouring the vegetables and frying them in oil.(That would be my choice.)

Cheap Rice Dishes

Buy rice in huge bags.  As long as you keep it dry, it will keep. 
Of course, brown rice is much better for you than white.  Very little has been stripped away to get that nice white that we see most of the time.  It does however, take a bit longer to cook.  I cannot get John to enjoy it though.  I do not know why, I really love it.  It may not be that neutral foil for other foods that white rice gives you.  Especially if you have very delicately flavored food to go with it, Brown Rice is not the best choice. 
Risotto is a great dish.  It seems difficult on the surface, but it really just requires a little tending to come out right.  It is a bit harder to come up with the nice Arborio Rice, and you will pay much more for it.  Of course one meal is not an issue, but if you plan to use it often, the cost will add up.
Sooo...I am advocating white rice for this One Pot Rice Method.

Have standing by, hard boiled eggs, cubed left over meat(like from the end cuts at the supermarket), yesterday's roast chicken, roast beef, slivers of steak, ham or even tuna.

You might serve on a bed of greens with eggs sliced around, or with a mound of tuna in the middle etc., or mix cubed meat into the rice before serving.

As this is the entire meal, I am making a big batch, and it stores well for another meal.  You can cut the whole thing in half though.

Saute a chopped onion and a couple of chopped ribs of celery in olive oil or butter, till just tinged with brown on the edges.  Add 2 tablespoons(or more) of Chili Powder, a teaspoon of oregano, minced garlic(or powder) a teaspoon of cumin 1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper.(Use other cubed vegetables that you might have in the refrigerator as well). 
Pour in 4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth, or use four bouillon cubes.
Bring to a boil.
Add 1 3/4 cups of white rice.
Allow to come back to a boil and add 1/2 cup of crushed tomatoes, or chopped fresh tomatoes and a bit of tomato sauce to make it a bit richer. 
If you have a little left over salsa, that works well also.
When the water boils, cover the pan and reduce the heat to a very low simmer.
Simmer for 15 minutes.  Taste the rice to see if the grains are almost cooked through.  It may be resistant in the middle, but not hard.
Cook up to a couple of minutes longer if needed.
You are not trying to absorb all the liquid as in regular white rice.
Remove from the heat and leave covered for several minutes.
It should be creamy with plenty of sauce, but not wet.
Stir in meats if desired.

Change this to any other ethnic mix that you like.  Oregano and Basil  with sausage for Italian......chopped apples, raisins, curry powder, etc for Indian...Soy sauce....Paprika....Be imaginative and experiment with combinations till you settle on a few combinations that you like.  Bacon and beans stirred in at the end would be good.
Cheese......Need I say more?
Try light sauces instead of tomato, like Campbell's soups as a flavoring.

Pea Soup