I did inventory of the 'fridge this morning before doing the weekly shopping and found lots of bits of things that needed using up. Time to make a pasta sauce!

The beauty of Italian cooking is it lends itself to anything and everything. Rustic cooking is really nothing more than cooking what's on hand at the moment. I did some rustic cooking, today!

I had an eggplant, stalk of broccoli, some cauliflower, a bunch of tomatoes from the yard, most of a green bell pepper, onion, garlic, portobello mushrooms, and some frozen crab meat I had bought a while ago thinking I'd make crab cakes. Well... I didn't make the crab cakes and the crab was just taking up valuable real estate. Time to eat it up. And the fresh herbs out back are going bonkers. I can't use them fast enough.

I started off sauteing onion, green pepper, and eggplant.


In another lifetime I would have added the peppers much later, but Nonna needs her vegetables well... overcooked is one way of describing it. We make our sacrifices...

Meanwhile, I had broccoli, cauliflower, peas, garlic, mushrooms... all waiting to be added to the party in the pan.


After the onions and eggplant cooked down quite a bit, I doused the pan with lots of red wine and let it all simmer a bit before adding everything else.

I had a couple small bottles of clam juice - also taking up space - and in they went, as well. I covered the pan, let everything simmer, added some S&P and fresh herbs and then the crab.


It ended up being a cioppino-like stew that went great over cheese and arugula ravioli.

Clean-out-the-'fridge dinners usually make for a large pot, and this was definitely no exception. I had sauce for 12, easily! The leftover sauce is going into the freezer - something out, something in - and I'm thinking it would be really good in a crepe - crespelle, in Italian - with an Italiany-cheesy sauce over it.

Another meal for another time...

The 'fridge is cleaned out, the vegetable bins are sparkling, and everything is fresh and ready to go. The freezer actually has room, and the cupboards and basement overflow are getting cleared out, slowly, as well.

Life is good...

Planning the Christmas Baking

It's November 11th.  The perfect date to start planning the Christmas baking!

Christmas cookies have been a tradition with us since Christmas One.  We have baked thousands of cookies a year.  Tens of thousands since getting together.  It's been a lot of butter, flour, and fun.

But the past couple of years it hasn't been as much fun.  It's been almost mechanical.  The bright spot has been having Gino and Elizabeth come down and help with the special family cookies, but the others have been...  well... The Same.

We've just made the same cookies for too many years.

So this year, we're doing something completely different.

First is, we're not baking as many cookies as we have in the past.  We're doing the family traditions with Gino and Elizabeth but everything else is going to be fresh and new.

We have a recipe for German Springerle cookies.  They are cool.  Made with carved cookie forms that are pressed into the dough and allowed to dry over night before baking.  They're leavened with Hartshorn - bakers ammonia.  I have it in the cupboard.

And we're making Torrone - Italian nougat.  I've just ordered the edible rice paper.  We also have a recipe for a chocolate version.  And we're going to make a trio of Italian nut brittles.  And authentic English Plum Pudding.  And German Stollen.  Pinenut Pie.  Spiced Nut Tart.

We're going to make a goodly amount of candies - something that I've always wanted to do, but have always shied away from.

Candy-making is just outside of my comfort zone.  It's just not something I've done as much of or done as well as other things.  It really is the least-forgiving of all cooking.

But what the hell.  We're going to go for it!  This ain't brain surgery.  The absolute worst that can happen is we screw it up and throw it out and start over again.  I did that the first time I made the Stollen.  Totally screwed it up.  And remade it perfectly.   I'm getting pretty psyched about the whole idea!

As the new recipes are finalized I'll add them to the Christmas Cookie pages.  And we'll take pictures and blog about them as we make them.

I can't wait to start!

Turkey Soup

It was sunny and mid-70's today.

I made soup.

Even though it wasn't totally weather-relevant, it tasted great.

The broth was the boiled-down carcass with everything in the kitchen I wanted to get rid of.  There was part of an onion, onion skins, garlic, part of a head of lettuce, celery bulb, carrot ends and peels... Odds-and-ends from containers of this-and-that.  Seriously clean-out-the-refrigerator.

It made a damned good base!  This is the kind of stuff you really can't screw up.  It's what every decent restaurant in the world does - boils down that stuff that would otherwise go down the garbage disposal.  Other than a little salt and pepper, I don't add any herbs or spices at this point...

The soup itself was chopped carrot, chopped celery, chopped swiss chard, Italian green beans, peas, a can of hominy, and two pastas - pastina and 0's.  herb-wise I added a bit more garlic and some dill.  And salt and pepper.

And we had a half-loaf of bread from last night.

Good stuff.

Turkey Club

What do you do when you have turkey and are not quite in the mood for turkey a la king or turkey tetrazzini?!?

Make a Turkey Club!

I really love a good clubhouse sandwich, but rarely order one out anymore because it seems they're all made with turkey roll.   If I want lunch-meat, I'll buy lunch-meat.  A Turkey Club should be made with hand-carved fresh-roasted turkey.  And thick-sliced bacon.  And fresh ripe tomatoes.  Crisp iceberg lettuce.  Mayonnaise.  Toast.

As basic as basic can be.  There really is no big trick.  A couple of good, quality ingredients make for a fantastic sandwich.

And I do have to admit that these were pretty good sandwiches.Neither of us cleaned our plates, but we did a good job trying!

And those sweet potatoes?!?

Even better than last night!

Cinderella Pumpkin

I picked up a big ol' Cinderella Pumpkin today.  Big.

The Cinderella Pumpkin is a Vin Rouge D' Etampes - an heirloom pumpkin from France. They have a deep orange-red skin and are slightly ribbed and flat.  And they taste fantastic!  Naturally sweet without being sweet, if you know what I mean.  Great for eating because they're meaty and not totally full of water.

I didn't think to take a picture of this beautiful pumpkin until after I had cut it open.  What can I say...  I'm not always the brightest color in the crayon box. But they really are cool-looking.  Did I mention they taste fantastic?

I cut it up, peeled half of it and cut it into cubes.  The other half I roasted skin-on.  4 sheet-pans of pumpkin went into the ovens at 425° for about 25 minutes.

With all this pumpkin around, it was a no-brainer to figure pumpkin was going to play a role in tonight's dinner.

We had 7 Hungarian peppers from the back yard that needed eating, so I seeded and sliced them, and then sauteed them with a small chopped onion.

Next into the skillet went a cut-up boneless, skinless chicken breast and then a pinch of salt, pepper, and cumin.

I added about a cup and a half of pumpkin puree and maybe 2 cups of cubed pumpkin.

Mixed it all together and served it over whole-grain black rice.

A classic fall flavor tweaked with mildly-hot peppers and served over rice.  It worked on a variety of levels.  I tried to play off the minimalist recipe creation we've been experiencing with the Monday Italian Pasta dishes.  This was an easy one to let go on its own...  the peppers added the balance to the pumpkin and the cumin - just a dash - brought the two flavors together.  It actually would have worked just fine without the chicken and could easily become a vegetarian or vegan dish.

I'm psyched.  We're gonna have pumpkin around for a while.  And when this one is gone, I have a Fairytale Pumpkin to cook up, next.

I love fall.  Now...  if the weather would just cooperate.....

Chicken and Chorizo

The calendar is saying one more day to Fall.  The thermometer is saying it's definitely still Summer.

So out to the grill we go.

A couple of chorizo sausages, a chicken breast, onion, and red pepper put onto a skewer.  How easy is that?

And last night's rice mixed with a can of black beans and a can of chopped green chiles.

Seriously simple.

Cheese Burgers

Lunch the way it is supposed to be.

A bacon cheese burger with lettuce, tomato, fried peppers, mayo, ketchup, and mustard.

And tonight is Victor's Pasta Night.

I can't wait!

Shepherd's Pie

We eat a reasonably seasonal diet.  The heavier sauces, soups, and stews of winter give way to grilled foods, fresh produce, and generally lighter fare during the summer.  But every now and again something strikes a fancy and seasons be damned.  We're having it.

I had pulled some ground beef out of the freezer this morning thinking I would stuff zucchini for dinner.  After work today, I decided hamburgers and fries were in order.

The temperature outside is hovering just around what I imagine the third level of Hell to be.  Burgers definitely sounded better.

Victor had other ideas...

When I got home, he said he was making shepherd's pie for us.  Never being one to question someone cooking dinner, I immediately jumped on the idea.  You're cooking, I'm eating.  End of discussion!

It had tomatoes, celery, carrots, Italian green beans, peas, corn, garlic, onions, fresh herbs, and ground beef, topped with mashed potatoes and parmesan cheese.

I cleaned my plate and went back for seconds.

I contemplated thirds, but common sense roared its ugly head and I acquiesced.

Damn, it was good!

And there should be enough for lunch tomorrow and on Monday when Victor's in NYC.  I won't have to eat hot dogs all day long like I normally do when he's out of town...

Breakfast For Dinner

Considering I've been in bed more hours than up the past few days, breakfast for dinner somehow seemed fitting.  Besides, we had everything we needed and I didn't have to go outside for anything.  The cold from hell coupled with hellish temperatures outside have not done much for my normally charming disposition.  Cranky?!?  MOI?!?  Of course, not...  Much...

Potatoes roasted in the oven, thick-sliced Niman Ranch bacon, and local, cage-free, jumbo eggs... Toast sliced from yesterday's homemade bread...

The appetite is still not quite back, and the taste buds are still on hiatus, but all things considered, it was pretty good.

I cooked us each three eggs, although Cybil ended up with most of them.

Three eggs are what I first flipped circa 1975 at The Old Post Office in Carnelian Bay, California.

I was collecting unemployment in San Francisco after being laid off from The Red Chimney restaurant when a friend of mine, Steve Johnson, called me up and asked me if I would be interested in a cook job up at Lake Tahoe.  I figured I had nothing to lose and a few days vacation at the lake would be fun, regardless...

So...  I flew up to the lake.  Steve picked me up and off we went.

The interview went great until Norma, the owner, said she wanted to see me flip some eggs.  They were famous for their three-egg breakfast orders...  Panic set in.  I had never - ever - flipped an egg before in my life.  Ever.

So with a brave face I went into the kitchen, heated the pan, added some butter, cracked three eggs, waited for just the right moment... and... a perfect flip!  I was shocked!  And Norma hired me right then and there!

The beginning of five years of living in the mountains started by flipping a couple of eggs.  Actually, it was the start of life as I know it, today!  Had I not flipped those eggs, I wouldn't have gone to work for Hyatt, met Dusty, Susan, and Michael, moved to Boston in 1980, and met Dorrie who was just here to visit.  Who knows how different things would have been if I had stayed in that house on 28th Avenue with Kira and Robert - and their soon-to-be-born son.

I wonder if I would have quit cooking and gone back to school for social work?!?  It's what I actually wanted to do.  I got pushed into hotel and restaurant by my old boss, Barry Beaupre, and he was signing my outrageous $1000.00/mo paycheck - a hellava lot more than social workers were getting paid at the time!  It was the path of least resistance, and Uncle Sam was only paying $260.00/mo in GI Benefits for us Vietnam Veterans to go to school full-time.

Me a Social Worker.  That really would have changed my life dramatically!  I never would have left San Francisco.  I think that's the most difficult part to imagine.  Never leaving the city...

No...  the most difficult thing to imagine is life without Victor.  I am sooooo glad I flipped those eggs!

So there it is - my life in an egg shell.

This cold is driving me crazy!

7月愉快的四 (Happy Fourth of July)

What Fun!

Tradition flew right out the window, today.  While the vast majority of the country was setting up their grills and barbecues, we had the steamer baskets filled with pork buns, dumplings,, and an assortment of Chinese goodies.

We decided that since the Chinese had invented fireworks, we would celebrate China this 4th of July.  Did I mention how much fun it was?!?

We did a combination of store-bought frozen items and some things we made ourselves.  We had spring rolls, shu mai, and the dumplings above for appetizers, along with a myriad of home made dipping sauces.

We had more steamed buns - pork buns, chicken and vegetable buns, along with fish and scallops wrapped in banana leaves and grilled, sweet and spicy chicken with peppers and pineapple, and rice and potstickers...  There were eight of us.  We ate a goodly amount.

We all know that I'm not a huge prepared-food-purchaser, but the frozen Chinese stuff is unbelievably good.  It's all  stuff I definitely couldn't begin to make myself, plus it all has clean ingredients. Win-Win!

In typical Tim-and-Victor-shopping-style, we bought way more than we could have even tried to cook or eat, so we have several more meals in the making!

Family, Friends, and Food.  Who can ask for more?!?

It really was a fun spin on the holiday.

Wine, Women, and Food

What a fun weekend we have been having!

Friends are visiting from Boston and we're eating (and drinking) well!  That's a bottle of Marilyn Merlot on the counter.  Gotta love it!

Victor did the honors with this dinner - meat balls, sausage, ravioli, salad...  I baked a loaf of bread.

Simple food perfect for sharing with friends.  We're having a blast!

Today, we're adding a couple more folks to the mix and having a Chinese 4th of July Celebration!  Since the Chinese invented fireworks, it seems only fitting that they should be included in the festivities!

We'll be making a few things, thawing a few things, and steaming a few things we bought.

Stay tuned!

Grilled Chicken on French

Crusty bread, melted cheese, and grilled chicken. What could be better?!?  Well...  Adding some of Sarah's Caribbean Sea Salt definitely brought it all up a notch tonight!

As a rule, I don't use flavored salts because...  well...  they're salty.  I don't mind salt, I have a bowl of kosher salt on the counter right next to the stove that I dip my fingers into while cooking all the time.  But I can control that salt - I can't control the salt mixed with whatever spices or flavorings.  What I found out about the Sarah-Salt, though, is the spices are powerful, so a minimal amount is needed for maximum flavor.  It worked well going onto a chicken breast going onto the grill without being over-salty.

We have house-guests {{YEAH DORRIE!!}} coming down from Boston for the holiday weekend, so we've been busy working out what to eat for the next three days.  Minor panic and running around like crazy before people show up makes everything just look so spontaneous and simple.  It really is an art form...

Fortunately, Dorrie's a 30-year-friend so we only have to dust a little bit.    There's nothing worse than actually having to clean for people.

So right now, the plan is burgers on the barbie tomorrow, potato salad, baked beans, all that sort of stuff.....  Victor will do an Italian Feast on Saturday and I'll bake some bread when I get home from work, and Sunday will be our Chinese Fourth of July.  We're doing Chinese food in honor of the Chinese inventing fireworks.

Perfectly planned spontaneity!

I love holidays!