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!]

Pane Siciliano

I have been making Pane Siciliano for years - ever since I first got Carol Field's The Italian Baker - some 25 or so years ago. I even baked a couple of loaves in Sicily when we were there! It's a good loaf of bread.

I received the latest issue of Milk Street Magazine and, lo and behold, they had a recipe for Pane Siciliano that was just a tad different - it called for ground, toasted sesame seeds in the dough!

Naturally, I had to bake a loaf!



And I must say - the addition of the ground, toasted sesame seeds really knocked it out of the ballpark! It worked really well with the semolina, adding just the right amount of nuttiness without overpowering the loaf. Needless to say, we liked it!

It has a beautiful, soft crumb and the crust has just the right chew.


Pane Siciliano

adapted from Milk Street

  • 40 grams (4 tbsp) sesame seeds, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups plus 3 tbsp warm water,  divided
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp honey, divided
  • 340 grams (2 cups) semolina flour
  • 137 grams (1 cup) bread flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

In a skillet over medium heat, toast 30 grams (3 tablespoons) of the sesame seeds, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder and pulse to a fine powder.

In a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, stir together 1¼ cups of the warm water, the oil and 1 tablespoon of the honey.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the ground sesame, both flours, the yeast and salt. Attach the bowl and dough hook to the mixer.

With the mixer on low, gradually add the water mixture. Increase to medium and knead until a smooth dough forms and clears the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball, place back in the bowl, cover, and let rise at room temperature until doubled, 1 to 1½ hours.

Meanwhile, line a rimmed baking sheet with kitchen parchment and dust it with semolina.

Turn the dough out onto a dry counter (not floured).

Form the dough into a thick log about 12 inches long. Using your hands, roll the log back and forth against the counter while applying light pressure, stretching the dough into an evenly thick rope about 30 inches long.

Starting at one end, tightly coil the rope, stopping at the rope’s midpoint. Coil the other end of the rope in the opposite direction from the first, forming an S shape.

Place the shaped dough on the prepared baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise at room temperature until  almost doubled, 45 to 60 minutes.

Position racks in the middle and lower-middle of the oven. Place a metal baking pan on the lower rack and heat the oven to 375°F.

In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 3 tablespoons warm water and the remaining 1 teaspoon honey. Have ready 3 cups hot to pour into the baking pan to create steam for baking the bread.

When the dough has almost doubled, brush it with the honey-water mixture and then sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame seeds.

Place the baking sheet on the upper rack of the oven, carefully pour the hot water into the baking pan and quickly close the oven door. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.

Cool the loaf on the baking sheet on a wire rack for about 5 minutes. Transfer directly to the rack and cool completely.


The recipe states one can also make 6 rolls from the dough, pretty much following the above instructions but rolling into balls and then flattening them to about 1" thick, cover and rise until doubled, and bake 35 or so minutes. I shall do that next time.

I shall be making it again. And again... It's an extremely easy loaf to make.


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!



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


  • 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.

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!

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.

Mushroom and Langostino Risotto

Oh, the weather outside is frightful... Cold, snow, ice... Not exactly what we were expecting for the end of February in the Pacific Northwest! The daffodils had already started spouting and we were arranging the Spring yard clean-up. SUPRISE!!!

Cold weather, of course, means hearty food - and a risotto seemed to be the perfect idea. I thought more of a clean-out-the-'fridge than a traditional - and it came out really well.

First fun thing I did was roast a whole onion, head of garlic, and a couple of tomatoes in the oven - 400°F for about 45 minutes - and then into the blender to puree.

I set that aside and sauteed button mushroom halves in butter, and then added the arborio rice. Next, a cup of white wine and cooked it down.

Then came the first ladle of broth and the puree and a hefty pinch of saffron.

I then followed the traditional method of making risotto - adding a ladle of broth at a time until it was absorbed.

Salt and white pepper went in, and then the langostino. When they were cooked, I added a handful of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Gotta admit it came out pretty darn good!

The roasting of the vegetables really ramped up their flavor. It was a simple thing to do and really took no effort.

Mushroom and Langostino Risotto

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 8 oz button mushrooms
  • 6 oz langostino
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Salt and White pepper, to taste

Follow the above guidelines. It's simple.



Sardinian Minestrone

I get a daily email from La Cucina Italiana - in Italian - with a score of recipes. To my utter dismay, Conde Nast discontinued the English version of the magazine several years ago. (They have recently started up an online English version, but I think the Italian site is better. I have my browser auto-set to translate into English.)

But I digress...

A few days ago, the email had a soup they labelled Il minestrone sardo della longevità, la ricetta di famiglia. The Sardinian minestrone of longevity, the family recipe.

How could I resist?!?

The article goes on to explain the Sardinian diet is mostly vegetarian, and almost all locally produced. Not a lot of White Chocolate Mocha Creme Frappuccino's or Double Quarter Pounder's with Cheese being consumed.

The recipe concept sounded great - and we just happened to have dried fava beans, dried chickpeas, dried white beans, and Fregola. Fregola is a Sardinian toasted pasta about twice the size of pastina. [Our pantry ingredients can be a bit esoteric, at times...)

Knowing that my suburban-Portland-in-January ingredients wouldn't pack the same punch as local Sardinian, I punched up the flavors with a couple of ingredients - I swapped out the original water for chicken broth and added a small package of diced pancetta and some of our home-grown oregano. To keep it vegetarian, a good vegetable broth could be used and omit the pancetta, and to make it vegan, just omit the added pecorino at the end.

As it was, it really came out good!


Sardinian Minestrone

adapted from La Cucina Italiana

  • 1/2 cup dried fava beans
  • 1/2 cup dried white beans
  • 1/3 cup dried chickpeas
  • 4 oz diced pancetta
  • 2/3 cup Sardinian fregola
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow or white onion
  • 2 medium-sized carrots
  • 2 stalks of medium-sized celery
  • 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
  • 2 cans diced tomatoess
  • 3 medium-sized potatoes
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 3 quarts chicken broth
  • chopped parsley
  • fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely grated pecorino cheese

Leave the legumes to soak for about 8 hours, in a large basin full of water, then drain and rinse them well.

Prepare the sauté in a pot, first heating three teaspoons of oil. Add the pancetta and cook a bit and then adding chopped onion, celery and carrot.

Cook for about five minutes, stirring often, and then add the chopped garlic (stirring for 20 seconds) and then diced tomatoes, potatoes and fennel, chopped parsley and basil and drained legumes.

Add enough broth to cover everything with about a finger, turn up the heat to the maximum and bring to a boil.

At this point reduce the heat and cook for about an hour and a half, until the legumes are soft, adding broth from time to time if necessary. Then pour the Sardinian fregola into the soup and cook for about ten minutes.

Once ready, the minestrone should be served in bowls with the addition of a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of pecorino cheese.

Suggestion: Depending on the season, other vegetables from the garden can be added, such as zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, green beans. The variety of legumes can also be changed to taste.

The soup is really hearty, flavorful, and filling. It was perfect for a chilly January evening - and will be great for lunch the next few days. And, as the recipe suggests, it will be a perfect seasonal dish, swapping out various seasonal vegetables.

I see more of this in our future.

Panettone and Holiday Weight Gain

Ah... 'Tis the Season, indeed.

227.4, this morning. Christmas - the gift that keeps on giving! And giving...

It's really been a yo-yo two weeks. It started with Christmas Cookie Baking at my sister's house, going out to dinner, still not at the gym, too damned cold outside to do anything... And then getting candy in the mail from friends! 2 pounds of Fralinger's Salt Water Taffy from Atlantic City. A tin of Almond Roca.

While I've gained back a few pounds, I saw my Primary Care Dr on Monday for a 6-month follow-up, and I was actually down almost 25 pounds from my appointment in June. Not too shabby!

So... as any red-blooded foodaholic would do, I made a Panettone, today! It's a 2-day process. I started yesterday!

Panettone eluded me for years. It was one bread that was almost there - but not quite. Last year I finally nailed it. This year was even better!

I'm not entirely sure where I was going wrong, but time, perseverance, and pure luck have finally played out. Not to mention having a 95°F proofing setting in the oven!

Feathery light, soft, and delicate. Perfection in a 7" paper baking mold.

And just a few calories. The entire recipe is 5405 kcal - five thousand, four hundred, and five calories! 

I sliced 2 pieces for me and Victor - 1/8th each - 676 kcal. That's not leaving me much for dinner, tonight. But every feathery bite was worth it.

It is just so much better than the packaged panettone I have bought for years. And, while it does take a bit of time, the actual recipe is quite easy and straightforward.



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


  • 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 flavorings and 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 a couple at a time. Mix on medium speed until the dough begins to smooth out.

Cut the softened butter into 1 tbsp chunks and add the butter a piece 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. The dough 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 well 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.

It's worth it!

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.




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.