Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Filed under: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

We're skipping the family Mother's Day Brunch, today - I'm being neurotic about germs not wanting the slightest sniffle to postpone my new hip on Tuesday - but I did want to make something for all the great Mom's  to enjoy. Since everyone really enjoyed the Almond Tequila Cheesecake from last week, I thought I'd go with a Lemon Cheesecake this time around. When ya got a good thing going, stick with it, I always say...

 

 

I don't do cheesecakes in a water bath and usually put them on a sheet pan before sliding into the oven - something I didn't do with this one. Naturally, butter leaked out and formed a lovely sheen on the oven floor.

In typical I'll deal with it later mode - I didn't.

This morning I heated the oven to bake off croissants - Trader Joe's Almond - and wisps of smoke came out of the oven. I decided I would deal with it sooner, rather than later...

Out came the croissants and after devouring them, I set the oven to self-clean. In no time at all, the smoke alarms - plural - were going off and the house was rapidly filling with smoke. Open windows and doors. Turn on fan to high. Coughing and wheezing, eyes watering... small spaces cloud up fast.

Things finally settled down, but every now and again for an hour, the alarms would go off again. They're all hardwired - no batteries to take out to momentarily silence them. It's a really annoying noise.

And, it's not like that little bit of butter was the sole culprit... I do have a habit of not always using an underliner when putting things in the oven that can bubble over - and it has been a while since its last cleaning...

My Bad.

Fortunately, it's a lovely day and the cool breeze wafting through the house is a pleasure.

And we now have a clean oven.

 


Cooking Before Surgery

I'm getting a new hip on Tuesday - the first of two with possibly a couple of knees to follow. It seems the warranties have finally run out. Check-in Time is 05:30 in VA lingo...

Every job I have ever had - from baking and cooking to hotels to health care to TJ's - I was on my feet the majority of the time. It has finally taken its toll.

It's been rough for a while. Standing hurts, sitting hurts, walking hurts, not walking hurts, lying in bed hurts. Basically, it hurts. OTC pain pills are pretty worthless and I'm just not really mobile enough to wander the streets looking for illicit narcotics, so surgery is my best option - and the VA has come to my rescue.

I'm expecting a speedy recovery. My sister-in-law, Nancy, had her hip replaced in January, and is pretty much ready to tackle Mount Everest - I've been taking notes. In the meantime, I've also noted the limitations of the first couple of weeks. Seeing her progress has been a valuable resource and has helped alleviate any concerns I've had on my recovery. Every now and again I pay attention... (I even watched a YouTube video of the surgery - it is really cool!)

So... in preparation for not being able to be in the kitchen for a while, we've been making plans. Not wanting to dump all of the cooking on Victor - on top of everything else he's going to have to handle for a bit - we've been planning and making some batch foods to freeze and/or can - as well as a few fun condiments to spice up things.

One such thing was Hot Honey that Victor made - a chili pepper infused honey to drizzle on anything.

 

 

This stuff is a treat! We drizzled it over Andouille and Lentils last night, and Victor drizzled it over a salad with just a bit of olive oil. Definitely multi-purpose!!

 

 

Hot Honey

  • 1 cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Add the honey and crushed red pepper flakes to a medium saucepan. Heat over fairly low heat until the honey very lightly begins to simmer. Stir to combine, then remove pan from the heat.

Let the mixture rest for 10 to 15 minutes so that the flavors can infuse.

Stir in the apple cider vinegar.

Strain the honey through a fine mesh strainer into a clean bottle.

Enjoy!

He used crushed peppers from peppers we grew and dried. They are potent! It will have a lot of uses dressing things up! And it's shelf-stable!

The Andouille and Lentils was a throw-together as was the vat of Chicken Soup.

I did andouille, lentils, shallots, canned tomatoes, garlic, and a bit of thyme. Easy peasy.

The soup started off as a whole chicken and clean-out-the-vegetable-bin odds and ends for the broth. Then it was carrots, celery, and odds and end near-empty packages of orzo, different rice blends, canned beans and the cut up chicken....

I canned 7 quarts of soup and froze another 4 - shockingly, I only had 7 empty quart mason jars!! And there's enough leftover lentils for a couple of lunches.

The freezer is full, the cupboards are brimming, and the waiting game has begun.

 

 


A New Batch of Sauce

Ah... the perfect way to start the New Year - 15 quarts of Pasta Sauce!

I do love this stuff - and I do love having it on the shelf to use whenever it strikes my fancy!

12 28oz cans of San Marzano tomatoes, a full bottle of a good Chianti, bone-in pork chops... Obviously, we make a bit more than the following recipe.

Granted, making sauce like this costs more than buying a quart of Ragu, but, oh, what a difference... You definitely get what you pay for.

 

Victor’s Pasta Sauce

  • 2 – 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 – Sm can tomato paste
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic (or to taste if you like more) chopped fine
  • Olive oil
  • Dried Italian seasonings
  • Hot red pepper flakes (a tsp or more or less to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Red wine (always cook with a decent wine, never “cooking” wine) about a cup or cup and a half
  • Meat – such as Italian sausage or some nice beef or pork ribs or pork chops

Ok…I ALWAYS make my sauce with meat, so start with a deep, heavy pot and add about 3-4 TBS of olive oil. On high heat, once the oil is hot, start frying the sausage or pork, Let the meat get good and caramelized although you don’t have to cook it all the way through because you’ll add it back to the sauce to finish. Once the meat is browned take it out of the pot, put it on a plate and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium and sauté the tomato paste for a couple of minutes until it begins to “melt”. Add the chopped garlic and sauté with the tomato paste for just a minute (no longer or it will burn). Then add about a cup of the red wine and deglaze the pan with it, scrapping up all the good bits that stuck to the bottom when cooking the meat.

When the wine reduces by about ½ start adding the canned tomatoes.  Add one can of hot water for every can of tomatoes you use.

Now start adding the dried Italian seasonings.  I eyeball it but I would guess a good 2 TBS is fine.  Add about another ½ cup of red wine, with red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Stir everything into the sauce. It will be very thin at this point.

Add back the cooked meat. Now this is important….at the bottom of the plate you let the meat rest on will be some of the oil and juices that seeped out. Pour that back into the pot. It has a lot of flavor in it.

Bring the sauce back to a boil then turn the heat down low and let it simmer for at least 1 and a half hours, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes to keep it from burning. It should reduce by about a third or a little less and get thicker. The meat will absorb the sauce and get very tender.

When I make meatballs, I don’t fry them, I bake them on a sheet pan. When I do, I add them to the simmering sauce when they’re done so they also absorb the flavor.

I usually make the sauce early in the day and after it’s done, just let it sit on the stove until dinner then I re-heat it. This should make enough sauce for a couple of dinners or good sized lasagna.

 

 

Part of the fun of canning is making labels for things. This is the latest one for sauce - I have a lot of them on file, but like to come up with new ones now and again.

Our pressure canner holds 7 quarts at a time, so I canned two batches and part of the 15th quart became last night's dinner - Pork Chops Parmesan - using the chops that had simmered in the sauce. I didn't get a photo, but it came out pretty good with some shell pasta on the side.

An excellent dinner and sauce to last us through the Winter.

Life is good... [urp!]


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!

 


Fresh-Baked Bread and a Bowl of Soup - Italian Style

Ah, Lucca... one of the famed walled cities of Italy.

We spent an afternoon in the old city - not nearly enough time - but it gave us a glimpse of it... The food, the drink, the sites... all of it memorable.

One thing we didn't have, was Buccellato di Lucca - a raisin and aniseed sweet bread. Not to be confused with Sicilian Buccellato - a Christmas bread usually made with figs and nuts. The Italians can be very territorial with their recipes.

Victor came across the recipe, and - since we just happened to have all of the ingredients - he decided to make a loaf! Traditionally, this is considered a breakfast or dessert bread but we decided it was going to be a dinner bread - and a soup was the perfect accompaniment! Fortunately, the weather gods cooperated and gave us an overcast day in the low-70s.

We have some extremely fresh aniseed from San Francisco Herb Company and 10 minutes after going into the oven, the whole house smelled of anise and baking bread. Total gastronomic heaven! I was drooling before I saw it come out of the oven!

Buccellato di Lucca

adapted from Juls Kitchen

  • 550 g of all purpose flour
  • 150 g of sugar
  • 3 1/2 g active dry yeast
  • 220 ml of warm water
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 50 g of butter, at room temperature
  • 50 g of raisins
  • 20 g of aniseed
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil

The Glaze

  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar

Soak raisins in warm water.

Pour the flour and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Dissolve the yeast in a cup with half the water, then pour it in the bowl and knead on low speed with the dough hook, adding gradually the remaining water.

When the dough has completely absorbed the water, add the egg yolk and the butter cut into small pieces. Knead on low speed until the dough becomes smooth, but still slightly sticky.

Add the aniseed, the squeezed raisins and salt and knead just enough to get them incorporated in the dough.

Form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl.

Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it proof for about three hours in a warm place.

After it has risen, place on board and roll into a long rope.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, form the dough into a circle and pinch the ends to form a donut.

Cut the dough all the way around, so that it will rise better, and let rest for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Melt the sugar into the hot water to make a syrup, then pour it over the egg white and beat with a fork until frothy.

Brush the syrup and bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown.

Let it cool completely before slicing.

It should be noted that it takes a couple of really long rises, so, plan accordingly.

And then there was soup...

This is based on something I saw a while back - a 3-imgredient soup that looked rather boring - but had potential.

Cannellini and Cauliflower Soup

  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 1 head cauliflower - cut into florets
  • 2 cans cannellini beans, drained
  • 2 oz thick-sliced prosciutto
  • 1 zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1 qt chicken broth
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 habanero chili - or chili pepper of choice
  • thyme - fresh if you have it
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Lightly brown leek and prosciutto in pot with olive oil. Add crushed garlic and give a quick stir. Add minced habanero.

Add cauliflower and broth. Add thyme. Cook until cauliflower is completely cooked through and falling apart-tender.

Puree cauliflower with immersion blender or regular blender. Return to pot.

Add beans and cubed zucchini and cook until zucchini is tender.

Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper, as desired.

It's quite a simple recipe and can be pulled together in no time. The chicken broth can be switched out and prosciutto omitted to make it vegan, and the hot pepper can be omitted, completely - although we both really like our spice and the added flavor of the broth and prosciutto.

It was great for dinner and even better for lunch, today!

My stomach is smiling...

 


Stuffed Eggplant and Focaccia

Eggplant is one of those things I never had growing up, and considering how small the produce sections of grocery stores were back in those dark ages, it's really not surprising. San Francisco was a city of immigrants, but it was also a city of neighborhoods - more often than not fairly segregated.

Our Irish family didn't travel across town to the Italian North Beach for groceries, just as the Italians didn't travel to Chinatown or the Chinese to The Mission. The exception was my Father the Fireman going to the Homestead Ravioli company for cards of fresh ravioli, or Molinari's for Salami or a shop I don't remember for corned beef briskets for St Paddy's Day.

Eggplant wasn't even on the radar.

Fast-forward 50 years and we're on the east coast where eggplant is not only in every grocery store around, we also decided to grow it!

 

I learned really really quickly how to prepare eggplant!

Victor, on the other hand, just instinctively knew what to do with it. And tonight's dinner is a perfect case in point.

He made stuffed eggplant with a fantastic filling of:

  • langostino
  • green onion
  • bell pepper
  • roasted pepper
  • breadcrumbs
  • quattro formaggio
  • the cubed eggplant
  • kalamata olives
  • arborio rice
  • tomato paste
  • chicken broth
  • oregano
  • S&P

He sauteed the eggplant in olive oil, added the rest of the ingredients with a bit of chicken broth and cooked it down. Into the eggplant shells with parmigiano and breadcrumbs on top. Into a 350°F oven for about an hour - until the skin was easily pierced with a skewer.

Done by touch and taste - no recipe required.

Because a fabulous main course needed a fun accompaniment, I made an olive and sun-dried tomato focaccia.

This is one of the easiest breads to make - and the variations are endless. I used kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes in oil - and I used the oil from the tomatoes in place of the olive oil in the recipe.

Focaccia

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 pkg yeast dissolved in
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup black olives, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped

Knead all ingredients until smooth – about 10 minutes. Cover and let rise until doubled.

Punch down dough and spread out on lightly-greased baking sheet. Let rise again, about 30 minutes. Dimple top of dough with knuckles and place into a 425°F oven about 20 minutes or until nicely-browned.

Simple and flavorful.


The Battle of the Bulge

I think this is Week 18. I've kinda lost track. What I haven't lost is very much weight since my last missive.

Fortunately, I've now stayed below 230 for a couple of days, so I may be in that new decade. I have been bouncing from 235 to 229 for several weeks, now. And, to be totally honest, I have not been trying very hard.

It's winter. It's cold. I need to walk but I'm lazy. Even the gym was too far away in my lazy state of mind.

A few days ago, I started looking into a gym closer to home - there's one that is a half-mile from our front door. Yesterday, we signed up. It doesn't cost anything with our Medicare Advantage Plan, so Monday, I start on the treadmill. And as soon as I build up a bit of stamina - and the weather gets a bit warmer - I'll be walking to the gym.

Baby Steps.

We've both been eating reasonably well - just too much of a good thing. It's definitely time to get the portions back under control - and to start moving, again.

Victor made a pot of soup for dinner, tonight. And there will be plenty of leftovers for a couple of lunches. There are no quantities listed - it's soup. Make it as thick or thin as you like.

Sweet Potato Soup

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • White Beans
  • Onion
  • Garlic Powder
  • Aleppo Pepper
  • Chicken Broth
  • S&P

Peel sweet potatoes and cut into cubes. Cut carrots into bite-sized pieces.

Sauté chopped onion in olive oil. Add sweet potatoes and carrots. Add chicken broth and spices and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes and carrots are tender. Add beans.

Remove a few cups of vegetables and set aside. Blend soup with an immersion blender. Add reserved vegetables back into the pot.

Check for seasoning and add additional S&P, if desired.

Top with a dollop of sour cream and a drizzle of Aleppo Oil, if desired.

***Aleppo Oil - mix Aleppo pepper and olive oil and heat over low heat until fragrant.

And out of the freezer came Schiacciata - a bread from Tuscany I baked a while back.

 

I used a recipe from Bianco Lievito.

Italian Schiacciata

from Bianco Lievito

INGREDIENTS

For the Biga

  • 1 kg Bread Flour (W280 - 320)
  • 440 gr Water at 16°C (60°F)
  • 10 gr Fresh Yeast (or 2gr if you use dry yeast)

For the Dough

  • 1000 gr Biga
  • 250 gr Bread Flour (i like stone milled flour)
  • 400 gr Water
  • 40 gr Salt
  • 40 gr Olive Oil
  • 5 gr Malt Powder
  • 1 gr Fresh Yeast

DIRECTIONS

For the Biga

To prepare a good biga that have the right final temperature (around 20°C or 68°F).

Form a rough dough and let it ferment for 18h at 19°C-20°C (66°F - 68°F).

For the Dough

Mix the flour, biga, malt, yeast, and a first part of the water into the stand mixer bowl.

Halfway through the process, add the salt dissolved in the remaining water, working the dough until it is well-kneaded and elastic. Finally, finish with the olive oil, adding in many times.

Move the dough onto the table, form a loaf, and grease the surface with olive oil.

Let the dough ferment at 26°C - 28°C (79°F - 82°F) for 2 hours (approximately), until it will double its volume.

Move the dough onto the work surface and divide it into desired portions. Let each portion rise on a floured table, placing them cut side up for 45min.

After this time, arrange the dough in a well-greased iron baking pan and stretch it with your fingers until covering the whole pan surface.

Wet the surface with an emulsion of salt, oil, and water and add to taste some rosemary leaves all over the surface.

Let rise for about 30min and bake.

Bake at 220-230°C (428°F - 446°F) for about 30 minutes, slightly opening the oven door during the last 5 minutes of cooking.

 

The recipe is a bit convoluted and definitely takes some time - but it's really good!


Christmas Eve 2022

We're off to my sister, Phoebe's in a couple of hours to start the Christmas Festivities! The travel gods are with us - everyone lives within about a 2-mile radius of her and Nancy's home.

Christmas Eve at Phoebe and Nancy's is hors d'oeuvres and exchanging white elephant gifts. Probably a cocktail or two. There's lots of laughter, lots of stories. It's a really fun tradition.

It's a lot like our Christmases back east where we all went to Victor's sister's house and her husband, Tom. created the Feast of the Seven Fish. Family, tons of food, lots of laughter - and full bellies!

We made Crab Cioppino our first couple of Christmases here, but decided to switch it out this year.

Victor is making his absolutely delicious Ricotta Rollatini in an hors d'oeuvre size. I'm bringing a dessert.

There is going to be a lot of food. This family knows how to cook - and cook well.

Knowing I was going to do a dessert, I decided to do something a bit non-Christmas traditional. No chocolate and peppermint, no gingerbread or eggnog... And I wanted it to be bite-sized. Cake and pies and such are great, but they're difficult to portion for crowds. Mini cupcakes really work well.

I had made a PB&J sandwich the other day for lunch, and it struck me that the flavors would make a great cupcake! The PB&J Cupcake was born!

This was a fun one to put together! I had some peanut butter whisky (don't judge) that I wanted to use up and I had some flavorings that I knew would work, so I set off...

I started with a boxed cake mix. They can be doctored up really well and can make for a good base. Not following their ingredient list, I added peanut butter, peanut butter whisky, and a drop of peanut butter extract to the mix, along with 4 eggs. Into the oven for 8 minutes.

Really simple.

The icing was a cream cheese with pureed apricot jam and apricot extract. A bit of melted peanut butter went on top of the cupcake and then the icing. Dried apricots chopped with demerara sugar finished it off.

 

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

For Cake:

  • 1 box vanilla cake mix
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup peanut butter whisky
  • 4 eggs

Mix ingredients together as you would following the cake mix instructions. Fill 48 mini cupcake cups and bake at 350°F for 8 minutes.

For other sizes, follow instructions on mix box.

For Icing:

  • 8 oz block cream cheeses softened
  • 8 oz butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup apricot jam, pureed
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp apricot extract
  • 5 cups powdered sugar

Cream butter and cream cheese together. Add pureed jam and flavorings. Add powdered sugar and mix well.

To Assemble:

Warm a bit of peanut butter in microwave - just enough to make it easily spreadable.

Add a bit to the top of each cupcake.

Pipe icing on top and finish with chopped dried apricots.

'Tis the Season, indeed!


Checking In Week 8

It's Friday, again.

Methinks I'm going to have to change my check-in date to Friday. Wednesday comes and goes without me thinking of it.

Since my last missive, I've been back to the Dr., now have a boot, and an appointment with an Orthopedist on Tuesday. The foot is still being obstinate.

How typical.

The boot itself is pretty slick - lots of parts, you can pump it up to make it properly snug, and it really does fit well - but it's not the most comfortable thing in the world... I kinda feel like a lopsided Herman Munster trying to get from Point A to Point B. If I had my druthers, I'd be barefoot most of the time.

The nurse who did the fitting was fun. I asked her if she had something thigh-high in red leather and without missing a beat replied, "To match the rest of your outfits?" She was fun.

So... obviously, no gym.

It hasn't stopped me from dropping weight, though. I weighed in this morning at 224.4 pounds. This quick weight loss is definitely not sustainable, but I am eating well, eating 3 good meals a day, not snacking, and eating my popsicles for dessert.

Most days I'm coming in slightly under/over my 1840 kcal/day, but I'm not depriving myself. I eat Fage 5% whole milk yogurt for breakfast with a banana, lunch is a sandwich with chips or leftovers from the previous night's dinner, and dinner is a nicely-balanced meal.

Victor has been cooking all week because I'm a gimp - and it has been fantastic! Last night was a marinated pork tenderloin with roasted potatoes and broccoli - cooked in the marinade. Lunch was a sandwich of the leftover pork on a Dutch Crunch roll with some Kettle Chips. I do weigh these things out and 56 grams of Kettle Chips is a LOT!

We've also had butternut squash ravioli in a homemade pesto sauce, sausage, potatoes, peppers, and onions on homemade rolls, shepherd's pie - made the right way with ground lamb, breaded pork chops and baked potatoes... Victor is a really, really good cook!

We ain't starving and my stomach is smiling!

And the gym is pretty much on hiatus until after the first of the new year...

See ya Friday - if not before...

 

 


Braised Beef and Polenta

It's been a lazy few days around here. Lots of rain, World Series to watch, slight fracture to my foot keeping me close to home... We're midway through Fall and it's beginning to show.

Food-wise, it's one of my favorite times of the year. Soups and stews and casseroles are starting to tell me to cook them. It's almost time to start baking bread in earnest.

If I can't be outside enjoying the weather, I can be inside enjoying the kitchen.

I do like seasonal cooking. My cravings for stews make way for cravings for salads - heavier foods to lighter foods.

I'm really glad I started this Pre-Diabetic Plan back in September - even if I'm not in the official program. This year, I am doing my best to make those heavier foods a bit lighter.

Polenta is a perfect case in point. For years, I have made polenta with whole milk, butter, and cheese. Cook the polenta in the milk, add shredded cheese close to the end, and then a few pats of butter stirred in for even more flavor and creaminess. It's absolutely delicious - and about 530 calories per serving.

For a while now, I've been making it with water, no added cheese, and a tablespoon of butter added at the end. Absolutely delicious - and 225 calories for that generous serving. What I missed by making it as rich as I did, was the actual flavor of the corn.  What a concept! Not saying I'll never make it like that, again, but it won't be for everyday dinner.

Atop the polenta was a really simple braised beef I made with 12 ounces of top round steak, a few mini-peppers, half an onion, a cup of red wine, and a jar of Victor's homemade pasta sauce.

I browned the steak, added the peppers and onion, cooked them a bit, added the wine and reduced it by half, and then added the sauce.

I covered the pan and placed it in a 300°F oven for about 3 hours. I then shredded the meat, stirred everything together, and dinner was served!

Really simple and a great meal for watching the rain fall.

 


Pizza and Postponement

I was supposed to start my Pre-Diabetes Program tomorrow. Alas, it has been postponed until October 26th. The good news is I've been pretty much following the program for the past two weeks. I'm going to the gym - mostly pool exercises and stretching with some treadmill and bike - and actually logging what I eat and how much I move. I weigh myself every morning and can really tell when I cheat. It's actually good to see all of this before I actually start - there's not going to be a lot of room for cheating unless I start moving a lot more!

Besides, tomorrow is my brother Mike's anniversary and my SIL, Debbie's birthday. we're all heading out to dinner to a great seafood restaurant - Jake's Famous Crawfish - and it would be nigh-on impossible to keep to my calorie allotment. I have lost a couple of pounds and don't want to gain them all back before I start.

So... we had pizza for dinner! On the grill!

Now... before you say badbadbad... I did the nutritionals... 350kcal per slice - I had 2. I also had a bit of Orzo Salad that Victor made and it filled me up. I came right in at my calorie allotment!

Tomorrow, it will be a bit more of a workout so I can really enjoy that dinner!

This is my most-favorite pizza dough. It's at least a 2-day rise, so plan accordingly.

Pizza Dough

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (100º to 105º)
  • 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.

Victor made the sauce from our garden tomatoes - it was almost like a paste - and delicious.

Then there were thick slices of tomato atop the pepperoni.

Excellent!

 

 


Paper Plane

While we were back east last week, we were fortunate to have dinner with our nephew and his family. Time flies... one day they're toddlers and the next day they have toddlers of their own and are hosting fantastic dinners.

Lucky us.

One thing their generation has perfected is the reemergence of the cocktail.

Victor and I were both bartenders at some point in our lives. My experience was mainly at a neighborhood restaurant in San Francisco where I was also a cook. In my hotel days, I would occasionally work a banquet bar or service bar to help out. Victor worked in some of the finest restaurants in Philadelphia, owned his own restaurant, and made the rounds at some of the better Atlantic City Hotels and Casinos.

But neither of us are big cocktail drinkers. My go-to at a nice restaurant will be a Gin martini. bone dry, straight up, with an olive. Victor is the same - except he's a top shelf Vodka martini guy. Since we tend to frequent brew pubs and local joints over fine dining establishments, more often than not, we'll have a whiskey or reposado tequila neat, with a local craft beer.

That was then This is now. Nick made us a cocktail called a Paper Plane that has us completely rethinking the cocktail genre!

The drink itself is quite simple.

Paper Plane

Equal parts:

  • Whiskey or Bourbon of choice
  • Aperol
  • Amaro Nonino
  • Fresh Lemon juice.

Add ingredients to cocktail shaker with a bit of ice. Do a quick stir and strain into cocktail glasses.

You don't want the alcohol to dilute too much, so mix quickly.

It is the perfect summertime drink!

It's a fairly recent (2007) upgrade of a prohibition-era cocktail called The Last Word. That drink consists of equal parts of Gin, Green Chartreuse, Maraschino Liqueur and freshly squeezed Lime Juice, I may have to try one of those, one of these days!

Retirement is treating us well.