Perfect Panettone

How this came out as perfect as can be will always be one of life's great mysteries...

For the last two years, I've actually made a pretty darned good panettone. The previous years - not so good.

Using the same recipe each time, I kinda figured out what I was doing wrong - usually not allowing it to proof properly or refusing to believe it really is a fairly wet, sticky dough and adding too much flour.

This year, I started off as always, but when I mixed the flour with the milk, it kinda lumped together. It was like a mixing bowl of orzo.

I considered tossing it and starting over, but decided to go for it. I added the eggs - too quickly, I'm sure - and I ended up with a lumpy wet mass. At this point, I should add that I had six eggs in the carton and added all six. Not a smart move.

Knowing it was too loose, I started adding more flour by the tablespoon. I knew I needed a sticky dough, so I set the timer for 10 minutes and walked away - letting the mixer run,.  came back to a pretty decent looking dough - lumps gone.

Time to start adding the butter.

Even though the butter had been out for several hours, it wasn't quite as soft as it should have been. "Room Temperature" is a subjective term - ours is probably colder than many. Anyway... I started adding the butter and it took forever for it to mix in. Where the recipe states "Total mixing time will be about 10 minutes – maybe a bit more." it definitely took more - it was easily 20 minutes of non-stop mixing.

30 minutes of pretty much non-stop mixing. It was silky and satiny.

I scraped it into a bowl, added a lid, and into the refrigerator it went. The following morning I followed the instructions for adding the fruit and rolling it into a ball and placing it in the buttered panettone paper mold. (I placed the paper mold into a 7" springform pan for added support.)

I then let it rise for a full three hours at 95°F on the proofing setting of our oven. I then pulled it out, heated the oven to 350°F, and into the oven it went. The result was perfection!

Panettone

Fruit

  • 300gr mixed dried fruits (currants, raisins, cranberries, candied lemon and orange peel, dried cherries, or any combination)
  • 6 tablespoons brandy

Dough

  • 1 1/2 tbsp rapid-rise yeast
  • 5 ounces 98°F milk
  • 50gr (1/4 cup) sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp Fiori Di Sicilia extract
  • 500gr (4 cups) bread flour
  • 5gr salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 255gr unsalted butter, at room temperature

Place dried fruits in bowl, add liquor, cover and keep at room temp overnight.

Mix sugar with barely warm milk. Add yeast and set aside.

Mix flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add yeast mixture and mix to combine.

Add the eggs. Mix on medium speed until the dough begins to smooth out.

Cut the softened butter into 1 tbsp chunks and add the butter a few pieces at a time, mixing it in fully before adding more. Total mixing time will be about 10 minutes – maybe a bit more. It should be glossy and satiny. It will be sticky.

Butter a large bowl and scrape dough into it. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The following morning, strain the soaking fruit.

Place dough on a lightly floured counter and spread out into a rectangular shape.

Place half of the fruit onto half of the spread-out dough. Fold the dough over the fruit and fold over, again. Pat out, again, add the remaining fruit, fold several times and then form into a ball.

Butter a 7″ panettone mold or paper.

Add the dough ball, lightly cover, and allow to rise for about 3 hours – or until the dough is rising above the rim.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 300° F and bake for an additional 45 to 55 minutes.

Cool completely before slicing.

 

The baking gods were definitely watching over me on this one.


High on the Hog

We just finished Season Two of the Netflix show "High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America." What an excellent program.

It's no secret that we love food and that we often see food as bridging cultures and cultural differences. The beauty of this show is that the program host, Stephen Satterfield, actually explains African-American food, culture, and tradition, and then brings in people who actually lived and experienced some of the most significant events in our collective history - events not typically taught in any sort of detail, if taught, at all.

One episode had him back in Atlanta - his hometown - and, at one point, focusing on the student activists during the Civil Rights Movement and the restaurants, cooks and bakers who helped to fund the sit-ins and demonstrations - paying for bail, etc.

Every bit of the food had me drooling - corn biscuits that looked lighter than feathers, fried chicken that I could only dream of replicating - but one that really stood out was a Bean Pie. Made from Navy Beans, it was developed by Black Muslims in the Nation of Islam in the 1930s.  It was determined that what we term Soul Foods were relics of the “slave diet” and had no part in the lives of contemporary African-Americans. Kinda the anti-Sweet Potato Pie.

The things I learn...

As luck would have it, we had a bag of dried Navy Beans in the pantry. What I didn't know until after I made the pie, was that to be authentic, it should have had a whole wheat crust. Also, most recipes called for equal amounts of nutmeg and cinnamon, but several went for other spices, as well. I opted for cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, because, while I love nutmeg, a little goes a long way when you're grating it fresh.

Also, some recipes called for simply mashing the beans, others called for food mills and strainers. Different textures seem to be normal. I used my Ninja blender to make it very smooth. Having never had a slice of an authentic African-American Muslim Bean Pie, I went with my own instinct and preferences.

Still learning.

But... I made a damned fine pie!

 

Navy Bean Pie

adapted from several internet recipes...

  • 2 cups cooked navy beans, drained
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 unbaked 10" pie shell

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place beans and evaporated milk in blender and process until very smooth. Add butter and mix, then add remaining ingredients and process until creamy.

Pour into unbaked crust and bake 60-75 minutes. Top should be well-browned and center still slightly jiggly.

 

It's a really damned fine pie!

Silky-smooth, rich, flavorful - everything one could want in a slice of pie. Again, I don't know just how smooth the pie would be, but I do believe that if people had tools like the blenders we have today, they would have used them. Modernizing a recipe is not altering its history or historical significance.

The freshly grated nutmeg came through loud and clear, but was tempered by the ginger. I have my Grandmother's nutmeg grater, which, following the theme of learning through our ancestors, is quite appropriate. Grandma was a great cook, as was my mother.

 

 

If you haven't seen the series, I do urge you to check it out.

And make a pie.


The Day After

One of life's great joys is the leftovers from Thanksgiving Dinner! There's such pleasure in revisiting all the delicious flavors...

Ours started with Turkey Sandwiches with mayo, stuffing, and cranberry sauce for lunch - usually on squishy white bread but it's something we don't usually buy and neither of us wanted to go to the store.

I didn't get a picture because I was too busy shoving it into my mouth.

Then, it was a Hot Turkey Sandwich for dinner. We both came close to licking our plates, but we had to save room for Pumpkin Pie with freshly whipped cream.

I'm stuffed, again, just typing this.

The Main Event was at Phoebe and Nancy's - 15 chronological adults, 2 three year olds, and a 7 month old 65 pound Golden Retriever puppy. Everyone contributed to the meal - it takes a village to feed this group.

The Menu

Appetizers

Holiday Sidecars
Cheesy Toasts
Sausage Bites with Dips
Baked Brie
Za’atar Crackers
Veggie Tray with Dips
Meatballs
Clam Dip with Chips

Mains & Sides

Turkey & Gravy
Two Dressings
Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Corn Pudding
Butternut Squash Gratin
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Green Beans
Mac N Cheese
Mixed Green Salad
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Canned Cranberry Sauce
Black Olives
Rolls

Desserts

Pumpkin Pie
Marionberry Pie
Carmel Apple Pie
Chocolate Cupcakes
Pumpkin Snickerdoodles

If you're thinking that it was a lot of food for 15 chronological adults and 2 three year olds - Hank, the Golden Retriever puppy, doesn't get people food - you would be correct. It was a massive amount. But that's why one brings tupperware and ziplock bags - The Leftovers!!!

I did manage some pictures of the food on my phone, but I took them too quickly and I really didn't do justice to them.

Just envision a Norman Rockwell scene...

That was us.

 

 


Cast Iron Orange Cake - Without a Cast Iron Pan

The recipes one finds just reading the daily newspaper! Why I have spent untold thousands on cookbooks and cooking magazines is beyond me...

Case in point - a Cast Iron Orange Cake. We have both been really good about desserts - our A1C was creeping up juuuuuuust a bit, and neither of us felt like succumbing to Type 2 Diabetes in our dottage.

That being said... once in a while we must treat ourselves. That's once in a while - not nightly.

Enter the New York Times...

Victor saw a recipe for this cake that really sounded intriguing - made with whole oranges - skin, pith, and all. Only problem was it calls for a 10" cast iron skillet. We no longer have any cast iron skillets - they didn't make the move west.

We do, however, have the top to a cast iron dutch oven that I have used for bread baking. But it's on a bottom shelf in the far corner of a cupboard, and my hips in their current state do not enjoy crawling around on the floor searching for things. We do, however, have every size cake pan imaginable - all at eye-level. I grabbed one of the 10" pans and went to work.

 

Now, having never made this cake before, I have no idea how my version compares to one baked in cast iron, but my 10" Allied Metal Spinning cake pan made a damn fine cake!

Cast Iron Orange Cake

adapted from the New York Times

  • 2 cups/400 grams granulated sugar
  • 2 navel oranges
  • 2 teaspoons or vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted and coarsely ground (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon plus a pinch kosher salt
  • 1 cup/226 grams butter, at room temperature
  • 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 2 cups/255 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup/50 grams semolina flour (or another 1/4 cup/32 grams all-purpose flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup/60 grams chopped toasted walnuts
  • Olive oil, for the pan

Make the cake: Place a 10-inch cast iron pan on the middle rack of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F while you prepare the batter.

Add sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and finely zest one orange into it. Set the bowl aside and then trim a bit of the stem end off both oranges and discard. Cut oranges into 8 pieces and puree in a food processor or blender, scraping the bowl as needed. You need 1 1/2 cups puree; set aside.

To the stand mixer bowl, add vanilla, fennel seeds (if using) and a pinch of salt. Rub ingredients together vigorously with your hands and fingers.

When sugar is fragrant, add butter and set the mixer to medium-high speed to cream until fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Scrape down bowl and paddle, making sure you aren’t leaving any butter unattended.

Add egg yolks and beat on medium-high until well incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes more, remembering to scrape bowl and paddle as needed.

While wet ingredients are working in the mixer, prepare dry ingredients by whisking together flour, semolina, baking powder and salt.

Scrape butter mixture down from bowl and paddle. Give it a good stir to make sure the batter is well mixed. Return to the stand mixer, add the reserved 1 1/2 cups orange puree and slowly incorporate on medium-low speed, then turn to medium-high to blend well.

Starting on low speed, add dry ingredients, then increase speed to medium-high and eventually to high, scraping bowl and paddle until batter is very well mixed.

Stir in the nuts.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven, brush with a generous amount of olive oil and spread batter in the hot pan. It should sizzle and will get a nice, toasty caramelized bottom during baking.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. The cake should be set in the middle and golden brown on top. You can use a cake tester if you have one; it should come out clean. This cake can be eaten on its own warm out of the oven after sitting for a little over 30 minutes.

It did not sizzle when I put the batter in, but it did bake up nicely.

I also substituted pistachios in place of the walnuts 'cuz we were out. (Just did a Trader Joe run this morning and we're well-stocked for the holidays!)

I'm thinking 1 1/2 cups of lemon, lime, or grapefruit would work quite well in this recipe...

Just not this week.


Dinner for Two - Italian Style

We caught one of Lidia's cooking shows the other day.

Once upon a time - when we both worked Monday - Friday - we used to watch the PBS cooking shows on KQED in San Francisco or WHYY in Philadelphia. They were fun, something in the background while we were doing chores or whatever, and once in a while gave us an idea for a meal or dessert.

Fast-forward many years and now that we're retired and have all the time in the world, the non-stop PBS cooking shows no longer happen on Saturdays and we rarely have the TV on that early, anyway.

Since we ditched cable, we rarely watch broadcast TV, but our Samsung TV came with its own channel of programs - many completely commercial-free. The other night we stumbled upon a channel showing episodes of Jacques Pepin and Lidia Bastianich, so we watched...

Lidia made a pasta dish that was not only intriguing, we had the basic ingredients in the house!

Dinner was served.

A standard portion of pasta per person is 2 ounces. A standard portion in an Italian household is a pound for every two or three people - along with platters of meatballs, sausages, and braciole. We won't even go into the appetizers. A nice salad rounds things off.

For just the two of us, I usually cook 3 ounces per person - and that's a lot.

Pipette with Sweet Potatoes, Parsley, and Capers

adapted from Lidia Bastianich

  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 oz thick-sliced pancetta or bacon cut into julienne strips
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 lb sweet potatoes cut into 1/2" cubes
  • 2 leeks - white and light green parts, only
  • 1/4 cup small capers, rinsed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 lb pipette or elbow macaroni
  • 3 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 cup grated grana padano

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for pasta.

In a large skillet, over -medium–high heat, heat the olive oil and add the bacon or pancetta, the garlic, and the sage. Cook until fat has rendered, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the sweet potatoes and leeks, and cook, stirring continuously, until both begin to soften, about 4 minutes.

Add the capers, if using. Season with the salt and crushed red pepper. Ladle in 1 cup of pasta water, and simmer rapidly until the sweet potatoes and leeks are very tender but the sweet potatoes retain their shape, about 7 to 8 minutes, adding more pasta water if necessary to keep it saucy.

Meanwhile, cook the pipette until al dente. When the pipette are done, remove with a spider directly to the sauce. Add the parsley, and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce.

Increase the heat and boil a minute if the sauce is too thin, or add a little more pasta water if it is too thick.

Remove the skillet from the heat, sprinkle with the grated cheese, toss, and serve.

 

 

Naturally, I switched a few things around...

Pipette is a large elbow-type pasta that you're probably not going to find at your local grocer. For this recipe, I went for 8 ounces of orecchiette - planning leftovers for lunches. We also had thick slices of prosciutto in the freezer that I wanted to use up, so I substituted it for the pancetta and used Greek Oregano and Thyme for the sage.. Otherwise, I pretty much made he recipe as written.

I gotta say, this was pretty good. Simple ingredients and easy to make - but it does take some stove-time. You don't want to leave it unattended for long.

Any good pasta will work with this - a rigatoni, mostaccioli, penne... Use your imagination - or the box in the cupboard.

And, yes... we have leftovers...

Lunch for the next few days!


Zantonio Brands

We received a special package in the mail, yesterday - Zantonio Brands Bruschetta Sauce and Zantonio Brands Parmesan Garlic Butter Sauce. I immediately knew Saturday Night Dinner was going to be special.

The goodies came from our friend, Tony Gatta - who just happens to own Zantonio Brands.

Tony and Victor have known each other since the Dark Ages. I, on the other hand, have only known him for the past 28 years. A great 28 years, I might add!

The gastronomic wheels started turning...

There was shrimp in the freezer and we immediately thought of a Scampi. And then, possibly a Pasta with Bruschetta. There was also asparagus in the 'fridge, and we decided Shrimp and Asparagus with Parmesan Garlic Butter Sauce and some crunchy Bruschetta. Victor decided this warranted homemade pasta and tagliatelle was the one to make!

A Meal Was Born - and what a meal it was!

We started off with Bruschetta because it always goes well with a pre-dinner beverage. Ours was a local whiskey from Branch Point Distillers. Neat, of course

 

We toasted a basic baguette, spread just a tiny bit of the Parmesan Garlic Butter on the bread, added a healthy mound of the Bruschetta Sauce, and then added a thin ribbon of Pecorino Romano on top.

I have no idea where Tony is getting his tomatoes, but OMFG! Rich deep tomato flavor that just curls around garlic and basil. This stuff can be unapologetically eaten by the spoonful standing by an open refrigerator door! I'd suggest a toasted baguette, though - or even a bowl of pasta! I could make a meal of this - it's that good.

But we had more to come...

Victor quickly sauteed the asparagus and shrimp in a skillet with the Parmesan Garlic Butter Sauce and just a drizzle of olive oil. When the pasta was cooked, he added it to the pan along with a few heaping tablespoons of more of the butter. He had a bit of pasta water on the side, but decided it wasn't necessary this time around.

Nothing else added - nothing else needed.

It was another flawless dish. Having made more than my share of butter sauces in my time, this one was perfection. Perfectly balanced garlic and cheese with just the perfect hint of herbal notes in the background.

My mind was working overtime thinking of all the ways this could be consumed - from pasta and Scampi to vegetables or baked potatoes - to melted and drizzled on a creamy soup or placed upon a sizzling steak, melting and pooling on the plate just begging to be included with the next bite.

Needless to say, we liked it.

 

Fortunately for us, we have enough to be able to enjoy both products some more - and enjoy, we shall.

Unfortunately, neither are available nation-wide. They are available in Acme and Shop-Rite stores as well as Fiorentino's Farm Market in Hammonton, NJ where Zantonio Brands is located.

Thanks, Tony!

 


Chicken Soup and a Loaf of Bread

Fall is arriving here in the Pacific Northwest... Crisp, sunny blue skies, torrential downpours, pea soup fog, barely a cloud in the sky... Totally manic.

Planning a meal around the weather is impossible, because you don't know minute-by-minute, what the weather will be.

Enter soup - the all-weather meal!

I made a huge batch of a basic non-recipe soup:

  • chicken thighs
  • chicken breasts
  • chicken broth
  • chicken bouillon
  • onion
  • celery
  • carrots
  • bell pepper
  • hot peppers
  • garlic
  • frozen mixed vegetables
  • butternut squash
  • barley
  • rice
  • farro
  • cannellini beans
  • aleppo pepper
  • cayenne pepper
  • poultry seasoning
  • thyme
  • S&P

A basic clean out the 'fridge and/or pantry pot. And because man does not live by soup alone... a loaf of bread.

This was a take on a James Beard recipe I've been making for years. I really do love James Beard and his whole approach to cooking. He was a Just Do It person long before the phrase became trademarked!

James Beard's French-Style Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup warm water (100° to 115°, approximately)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups flour - for this loaf I used 1 1/2 cups bread flour, 1 cup white whole wheat, 1/2 cup rye, and about another 1/3 cup water
  • 1 egg, mixed with water
  • sesame seeds
  • 3 tbsp cornmeal

Directions

Combine the yeast with sugar and warm water in a large bowl and allow to proof. Mix the salt with the flour and add to the yeast mixture, a cup at a time, until you have a stiff dough. Remove to a lightly floured board and knead until no longer sticky, about 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary. Place in a buttered bowl and turn to coat the surface with butter. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1½ to 2 hours.

Punch down the dough. Turn out on a floured board and shape into a long, French bread-style loaf. Place on a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with the cornmeal but not buttered. Brush loaf with egg wash and then liberally sprinkle with sesame seeds. Slash the tops of the loaf diagonally in three or four places. Place in a cold oven, set the temperature at 400° and bake 35 minutes or until well browned and hollow sounding when the top is rapped.

It really is an easy loaf to make and comes out great no matter what type of flour you use. [I'm reasonably certain the recipe was originally developed using all-purpose flour as that was what was most readily available at the time.]

Soup was good, bread was good, and we have lunch, now, for the next few days.


Pizza

I cannot count the number of times I have made this pizza. It may be the most ingrained recipe I make - after boiling water.

It is simplicity unto itself. It is flavor, it is texture. It is all the things one wants in a slice of pizza.

Pizza dough is one of those things I can make in my sleep – it’s just flour, water, salt, and yeast – but many years years ago I found a recipe in La Cucina Italiana – when they still had an English edition – that was a 2-day slow rise with just a pinch of yeast. It was pretty much the same recipe from my Pirro's Pizza days but broken down to home-use - not starting with 42# bags of flour. It immediately became my dough of choice.

It still is.

Pizza Dough

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (100º to 105º) - or up to 1/8 cup more
  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 4 cups “00” flour or unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for bowl

Sprinkle yeast over warm water in bowl of mixer fitted with dough hook. Let proof about 5 minutes.

Mix together flour and salt. Add to yeast mixture. Mix on low speed about 4 minutes or until dough forms a coarse ball. Stop mixer and cover bowl with a towel. Let dough rest about 5 minutes, then remove towel and continue mixing another 2 minutes or so.

Lightly oil a large bowl. Form dough into a ball, transfer to bowl and turn to lightly coat with oil. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes, then refrigerate overnight.

Punch down dough, re-roll, and return to bowl. Tightly cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.

Divide dough into 2 pieces; shape pieces into balls and place on a lightly floured work surface. Loosely cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled, about 2 hours.

The secret is the slow rise in the 'fridge and that pinch of yeast keeps it from exploding in the oven like a loaf of bread.

I bought a 5-piece Dough-Joe oven stone set years ago - 1" thick - that makes a 15" x 18" surface that sets right on top of an oven rack. Perfect for pizza or bread baking.

I pre-heat them in a 500° oven for about 30 minutes and they cook in about 10.

The pizza sauce is usually a bit of Victor's Pasta Sauce, Quattro Formaggio from Trader Joe's, and more often than not, pepperoni - thick-sliced if you can find it.

Of course, absolutely anything can go on top - the toppings are only limited by your imagination and ingredients in your 'fridge or pantry.

Don't worry about the nay-sayers of the world. It's your pizza. have fun with it!

 


A '60s Dinner Party

Ah… those thrilling days of yesteryear… or were they?!? Answer in a minute…

Since I had updated the TJ Recipe site, I thought I’d do a bit of an update on Flour Power and Mom’s Cookbooks, as well to give the sites a bit of a more uniform look. The only issue was Mom’s Cookbooks used a different theme than the other two.

In order for Mom’s site to have the same general look, I needed to install a new theme and redo most of the 1038 pages individually – a lot of repetitive work. These sites have all been around in various configurations, on different urls, and different formats since at least 2005. It was time to get them all together and more easily updatable.

The fun thing about it was actually revisiting all of those recipes!

I collect recipes the way my mom did – not necessarily to make the dish, but to get an idea of what to do. It was unusual for her – or me, for that matter – to actually make a recipe completely as written. They’re concepts, not absolutes.

Some of the recipes brought back memories. Some of the recipes sounded completely gawd-awful. Some were intriguing…

I thought it would be fun to actually make a complete dinner using only recipes from the book.

Enter Phoebe, Nancy, and Victor as my trusting dinner guests…

I chose five recipes – an appetizer, a protein, a potato, a vegetable, and a dessert – very ’60s meal planning. Of the five, I had only had one of them, before – and only a very vague recollection of it. The others just sounded interesting. Not wanting to throw a modem spin on anything, I actually made them pretty much as written. I did use actual sherry in place of the Holland House Sherry Cooking Wine. I have my standards, low as they may be.

First was a Party Cheese Ball.

Party Cheese Ball

  • 2 8 oz pkg cream cheese
  • 8 oz shredded cheddar
  • 1 tbsp pimento
  • 1 tbsp chopped green pepper
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped onion
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • pinch cayenne
  • pinch salt
  • finely chopped pecans

Mix all ingredients until well blended. Chill.
Shape into ball and roll in nuts.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of my creation, but it pretty much looked like the picture – and it really tasted great. It was no-brainer simple to make and I could see it becoming a regular family-gathering treat. We served it with Ritz Crackers, Saltines, Chicken in a Biskit crackers, and Triscuits.

We also had Lipton’s Onion Dip, and Mixed Nuts, because those were always constants at our house growing up.

**NOTE: Chicken in a Biskit crackers suck.

Next up was Chicken Parisienne.

Chicken Parisienne

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 3/4 cup sherry

Season breasts with salt & pepper.

Melt butter in skillet and brown chicken on both sides.

Arrange chicken, onions, and mushrooms in baking dish.

Mix sour cream, soup, and sherry in a bowl.

Pour over chicken.

Bake at 400°F for 40 minutes.

This one sounded intriguing, but I do have to admit it was about as French as I am – and definitely didn’t live up to it’s supposed Parisienne roots. I’m guessing that the only reason it was called Parisienne was because it had a sauce.

The concept wasn’t bad, but the execution was wrong. It would have made a better dish if the chicken breasts and sauce were cooked separately with the sauce poured over the chicken at serving. Being baked in the oven, the sauce consistency was uneven and the chicken stringy.

Flavor-wise it was okay. Not great, but okay.  The concept has promise, but I probably won’t be making it, again, any time soon.

Next we had Vaughan’s Potatoes.

Vaughan’s Potatoes

  • 3 potatoes, peeled and quartered (about 1 lb)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 oz cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp chopped green onion
  • 1/2 pcket onion soup mix
  • pinch pepper
  • dash Tabasco
  • milk
  • egg
  • 1 1/2 cups crushed cornflakes

Cook potatoes until tender. Drain and mash.

Stir in parmesan cheese, cream cheese, butter, green onion, onion soup mix, and Tabasco. Add 1-2 tbsp milk if it appears dry. Shape into 8 balls.

Dip in beaten egg and then roll in cornflakes. Place on baking sheet and bake at 400° about 15 minutes, or until hot and crisp.

I have no idea who Vaughan is or was – but I loved their potatoes! They are definitely something I could see making, again.

I made them pretty much as described, but used a bit more than a pound of potatoes – my two russets weighed more than their three 1960s counterparts.

I riced the potatoes to make them completely smooth and then mixed everything in by hand. Very easy.

The potatoes were a bit loose – definitely not add more milk if dry – so I formed then into balls using an ice cream scoop and then refrigerated them to firm up. It was really easy to roll the refrigerated balls, dip into the egg, and roll in the crumbs.

They were fun – a nice, crispy exterior and a smooth, flavorful interior. Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix, potatoes, and corn flakes… Who woulda thunk?!? Thanks, Vaughan!

And then we had Guess-Again Carrots.

Guess-Again Carrots

  • 2 pounds Carrots
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 medium onion, grated
  • 8 oz shredded Cheddar
  • 2 eggs
  • sm chopped pepper
  • Tabasco
  • pinch nutmeg
  • Parsley
  • Bread crumbs

Peel, slice, and boil carrots until tender. Mash well.

Add butter, onion, eggs, cheese, milk, hot sauce, and nutmeg,

Place in a buttered quart casserole. Top with chopped peppers and buttered bread crumbs.

Bake at 350° for 40 minutes. Garnish with parsley.

This was the only dish I had a vague recollection of – and the recipe made enough for several armies – not a dinner for 4. I could have halved it and still had leftovers.

They were not bad. My Mom completely changed the recipe around – how unusual – so I have no idea what the original would have been, but, overall, they were not bad.

They were silky-smooth and the crumbs added a nice contrasting texture.

The concept would also work with butternut squash, pumpkin…

Naturally, we had to have dessert – and also naturally – my first thought was to something really ooey and gooey. Mom was a dessert queen. Her original dessert binder was twice as thick as the binder holding all the other recipes. Gee… I wonder where I get my sweet tooth from?!?

But.. after the above meal, I knew my 71 year old over-weight metabolism would not be happy. My taste-buds would, but I’d pay for it.

Instead, we went with Peanut Cookies.

Peanut Cookies

  • 8 oz butter, softened
  • 1 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup – packed – brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups ap flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5 oz peanuts
  • chopped peanuts for garnish

Preheat oven to 325°. Cream butter and peanut butter. Gradually add sugars.

Add eggs one at a time, and beat until light and fluffy.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add to creamed mixture and beat until well-blended. Mix in peanuts.

Drop by teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheets and top with crushed peanuts. Bake 12-15 minutes or until brown.

I do not actually remember these particular cookies from my childhood, but that really doesn’t mean I never had them. My mother made so many different cookies, cakes, pies, and other desserts – we actually had some sort of dessert every night – that they all just blend and fade into sweet memories.

That being said – these cookies are dangerous! The perfect two-bite treat!

They were soft but not cake-like. Fully-baked – not under-done like designer cookies of today. A good but not overpowering peanut flavor, good crunch, and not too sweet. The perfect cookie, in my not so humble opinion.

A perfect end to a fun meal with excellent company.

The recipe states 6 dozen cookies dropped by rounded teaspoons. I got 8 dozen cookies using a #60 scoop.

So… gastronomically speaking, were those thrilling days of yesteryear really thrilling?

A resounding yes, no, and maybe.

Let’s face it… tastes change. When my Mom was making these things – or at least collecting the recipes – avocados were exotic, fresh strawberries were only available in summer, chicken was expensive and bone-in, beef was cheap, pork had fat, and watermelons had seeds.

Every one of those things is different, today. We didn’t have access to the ethnic foods and exotic spices we see in supermarkets, today. Fresh produce was local – canned and frozen reigned supreme.

We have access to so many different ingredients, today, that using a can of condensed soup as the base for a sauce seems rather low-brow. But adding sour cream and sherry – even if it was Holland House Sherry Cooking Wine – elevated it to a company meal.

I grew up with a mother who loved to experiment in the kitchen. I think it was part of her escape mechanism from dealing with six kids. She could let her mind wander and creative juices flow in-between changing diapers and stopping brawls in the living room.

Some of her meals were home runs, most definitely got on base, and, once in a while, there were strike-outs, but her batting average made Ty Cobb look like a loser.

And I was definitely a benefactor of it. It paved my way into the kitchen.

For lunch, today, I made a sliced ham and cheese ball sandwich.

Mom would be proud.


And Another Re-Do

Here we go again, boys and girls!

I thought it time to clean up the recipe site a bit, and - like most simple projects - it took much longer than I thought.

It was a typical scenario - change this, and that could use a facelift, Then tweak this, then that, and next thing ya know, there's a thousand-and-one other things that need updating. Since leaving well enough alone is not in my DNA... well... you get the picture.

The site started out 20 years ago in 2003. It was set up as a site to share the recipes that Ruth and I were creating at Trader Joe's in Wayne, Pennsylvania - store #632 for those who care.

It was a fun site, and for the next two years started including the rest of the stores in the area. I had helped open many of them in the Demo area, so I always took lots of pictures and wrote about how great the new stores were. I knew people in every store, so it was a way to keep track of who was where, who was promoted... office gossip.

Here's a partial screenshot of that old site.

Alas, in 2005, I got a call from the corporate offices to take the site down. They were not pleased that one of their employees was running a rogue website. In 2005, the company had not really embraced technology. Case in point - the store opened in late 2000 using manual cash registers. The products didn't have barcodes - you know... those things that came out in the 1970s - everything was priced by hand. Scanners came about in July 2002. MY website was a hellava lot more informative than theirs.

But I digress...

I had just started a food blog on the Tim and Victor site, so... being the stubborn and pigheaded person that I am, I removed the Trader Joe logos and direct references from the site and rebranded it as Tim and Victor's Totally Joyous Recipes.

I kept the Demo recipes on the site and added cookbook collections I had - my Mom's Cookbooks, Family Reunion, Christmas Cookies... No direct reference to TJ's, but they were still there - the demo recipe pages were really popular in the store, and a of of other stores in the country had found out about it and were using the recipes and sharing their own.

I was keeping it a bit under the radar.

I did an update in 2006...

And another quite quickly...

 

And another in late 2006.

Fun and colorful. I was writing quite a few blog posts by this time and they were pretty much front and center to keep the corporate folks at bay. I was changing the look quite often, but it had to stay up for a few months to be included, here!

All was going well until 2008. I had done yet, another revamp and, during election season, put an Obama/Biden picture on the site.

Another call from The Corporate Office. It seems a customer had called them and complained about having the Obama/Biden sticker on the site. My store Captain - we had started at the store 1 day apart and knew each other extremely well - took me out to lunch. Midway, he told me about the call and that I had to take the site down.

Naturally, I told him it was a personal, private site and had nothing to do with Trader Joe's, and the site was staying up. My concession was to promise him to completely scrub the site of all reference to TJ's - and I did.

And I did another redo. Demo became Quick and Easy Meals In Minutes.

I was doing all of these sites  in html. First, with Microsoft FrontPage. It was far easier than the hand-coding I had originally learned but it definitely had its limitations. My brother became Chief Engineer of Macromedia in San Francisco, and sent me a copy of their Designer Suite - DreamWeaver, Flash, Fireworks... I was in Web Design Heaven! There was quite the learning curve, but it was something I really wanted to learn - and I kinda almost did.

I was blogging up a storm! I felt like Anthony Bourdain with a side of Alton Brown.

Sadly, I didn't have their talent - for cooking or writing. Reading back on some of my earlier posts are enough to make me cringe - how pompous and pretentious can one person get? Evidently, a lot.

It didn't help matters that someone decided it would be a good idea to have a sandwich board out front letting passersby know the Daily Demo - with MY picture on it.

Yeah... let's feed that ego just a little bit more...

In fact... let's use it for the next iteration of the site! And call them Demo Recipes, again, and have a recipe contest with people submitting recipes on the website! Why not?!? Can you say insufferable, boys and girls?!?

 

Fortunately, I had a Regional Director who really liked - and understood - me. He encouraged me to keep being creative. He enjoyed seeing the rules bent.

The next big change was moving the entire site to WordPress - and pulling myself back, a bit. Age has a way of mellowing some people out - and I started mellowing out. My pomposity was starting to be more tongue-in-cheek. I was - am - still opinionated. Hopefully, a bit more tolerable, now...

I had been using an html site for recipes and cookbooks and a blogging platform for the blog. Design-wise, there weren't as many options - easy options - and I wanted everything in one easily-searchable and similar-looking place. I decided to go with more of a magazine-style format, highlighting the blog and different categories.

I had a lot of fun with this one, changing background colors, headers, you name it!

It served me well for a couple of years, but, the itch to change is strong... The next site came about right after I retired in 2018.

No longer constrained by being an employee of Trader Joe's, I even posted a couple of our old Demo Calendars. The snapshot below is from April, 2019 - prime pandemic time! We were home 99.999% of the time. I had lots of time to play.

We moved west in 2020 and by our first Christmas out here, I needed a holiday update!

The WordPress theme I started using in 2018 allows for so many designs that I'm like a kid in a candy store. This next one was pretty short-lived. It loaded slow - which led to the next iteration...

One of the reasons the site was slow is because I have over 7000 images on it.

There are 2627 blog posts, 1260 recipe pages on the TJ database, 1038 recipe pages on Mom's database, and 340 on Flour Power. Most of the graphics were either ,jpg or .png - and both take up a lot of bandwidth. I found a plugin that will convert the images to Google's .webp or - if your browser supports it - the newer .avif - really fast downloads!

That became the impetus for the re-do. I needed to attach a featured image to every blog post. Most of the posts after 2009 had one attached - very few prior to 2009 did. Fortunately. I'm a bit of a computer packrat so I was able to find a lot of the original files, but they were also very small pictures. back in the dark ages, screens were smaller, there was less bandwidth, and pictures and graphics didn't easily resize.

That, and switching blogging platforms was anything but easy. The two systems were totally different and, while they did allow me to import one to the other, the formatting was all screwed up.

It was tedious, but last night, I finished!

There's more continuity in cookbook page style and layout, and everything flows a bit better. At least I think it does.

I'm sure there will be more tweaks and updates in the years to come, but, for now... this is it.

And tomorrow, back to our regularly scheduled blog posts about what we had for dinner, our newest culinary find, or a rant on the latest diet craze.

Stay tuned.

 


Ricotta Gnocchi with Pesto and Chicken

I took a chicken breast out of the freezer with no real idea of what I was going to make for dinner.

That's not entirely unusual - ofttimes I will have a plan when I hit the 'fridge. Other times, it's a gamble.

I never plan meals in advance because I really don't know on Sunday what I'll be in the mood for on Thursday. I know many people who do that - I'm just not one of them.

By the same token, I'm not always sure at 10am what I'm going to want at 6pm - more often than not, it depends on what's in the 'fridge and needs using up. Not wasting things is a great motivator - and when there are lots of spices and other things in the pantry, there can be endless possibilities.

All of that came to a screeching halt when Victor asks what I had planned for the chicken. My answer was nothing, and his reply was gnocchi.

I was no longer cooking! That means, no matter what, I'm going to enjoy dinner!

And enjoy, I did!

Light as a feather gnocchi with chunks of chicken in the last of last years pesto was perfection on a plate!

Ricotta Gnocchi

  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 cup ricotta - drained
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 egg
  • Pinch garlic powder
  • Pinch S&P

Mix everything together with a light hand and refrigerate about an hour. Start with one cup of flour and add more, depending on how wet the dough is.

Remove from 'fridge and roll pieces of dough into a rope about a half-inch thick. Cut into pieces about an inch long.

Place into simmering salted water and lightly stir. When they rise to the surface, cook another 2 or so minutes.

Serve with your favorite sauce.

Victor sauteed the chicken and then added the pesto. When it was all cooked, he added the gnocchi and mixed it all together.

Dinner was served!

Tons of flavor and contrasting textures made for the perfect dish.

 

 


Pesto Pantesco with Shrimp

I love it when Victor heads into the kitchen! I know I'm in for a treat!

Our tomatoes are finally coming in at a pretty good rate - Not enough, yet, for a batch of sauce, but enough to have tomatoes at pretty much every meal. I made a tomato and bean salad Saturday night to serve with a flank steak, we  had a tomato an hot pepper salsa over a grilled pork loin on Thursday. Both really good but they were both just throw-togethers - no recipes.

Victor had seen a recipe in The Washington Post for a pesto that used fresh Roma tomatoes, but... we've found out Roma's really don't do well in our area.  That, of course, has never stopped us from creating something! The reality is, in just about any recipe, any good tomato will work - and if you are able to pick them from your own garden - even better!

Pesto Pantesco

adapted from The Washington Post

  • 1 pound fresh tomatoes, peeled, if desired, and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup (3 ounces) almonds, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup (1 ounce) packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup (1 ounce) packed fresh mint leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • S&P, as desired
  • 1 pound cooked pasta or a dozen crostini, for serving (optional)

Step 1 In a food processor or blender, pulse together the tomatoes, almonds, capers, basil, mint and garlic until chunky. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil and process until smooth. Taste, and season with S&P, if desired.

Step 2 Toss with pasta, use as a topping for bruschetta, crostini, or serve as you’d like.

He did peel the tomatoes this time around. We have a bad-boy Ninja blender/food processor, so it can blend things a bit better than your basic budget Hamilton Beach, but it's still a personal preference. If you have the time, go for it. If not, don't worry about it.

Victor knew it was going to go over pasta and thought he might make some - he does make some awesome pasta. We had a box of squid ink and pepper pappardelle, however, and he decided to add shrimp to the pesto and serve it with the pappardelle. I have absolutely no idea where we picked up the pasta, but it's been around for a while - just waiting for the right sauce. And this was definitely it!

 

The pesto screamed fresh tomatoes - it definitely was the prominent flavor - and, I think the peeled tomatoes may have helped enhance that fresh-from-the-garden flavor - totally contradicting my earlier claim, above.. And then, everything else came into play - the basil and mint, the garlic, the almonds in the background... Bold and subtle at the same time.

 

The pasta was the perfect foil, and the perfectly-cooked shrimp added another layer of flavor and texture.

The pesto recipe made about 2-2 1/2 cups - enough for dinner and enough to go into the freezer for another great meal or two - a little goes a long way.

And just for grins and giggles, here is the comic Pickles by Brian Crane.

It just described our refrigerator, perfectly. As I do the majority of the grocery shopping...

... Guilty, as charged.