Sunday, August 2, 2015

Tomato Sandwiches [The Cookbook]

When I got out to the garden this morning, I was greeted with a very pleasant surprise:

They're ripening!

I swear to you, I handled this is a very classy fashion. I totally didn't jump and squeal or anything.

It's been a very wet and cool summer in these parts, which while great for the snap-peas, which are still producing into August now, not so much for the more warm loving plants: tomatoes, peppers, my sad, sad cucumbers, etc. I've got a lot of lovely green fruit on almost all of my plants, but it's all mostly green. I'm so glad to see some ripening going on. This particular variety is called "Saucy," an heirloom paste tomato, which according to the description is a pretty early variety, so hopeful a few of the other varieties will get themselves to ripening before October.

Now, these tomatoes (along with a few other paste varieties) were planted with the express purpose of going into my spaghetti sauce. Pastes are meatier and using them will definitely cut down on "cooking down" time with my sauce. Unfortunately, when planning my tomato varieties, I didn't think about the fact that this was an "early paste" and what that meant. It's not canning time yet. Or, rather, none of the other tomatoes are even close to ready for it to be canning time, so I can't even whip up a small test batch. Still, I didn't want little critters munching on my tomatoes, so there was only one thing I could do.

My photos of the actual finished product are awful, so you're going to have to deal with a picture of toasting bread. Hopeful in the next month or so, my photo quality will improve thanks to some changes, which I discuss later. Anyone who knows me, though, knows what the toasted bread is about to become.

It's a dish that really brings back memories of summer lunches on the back porch with my mother. They were probably accompanied by a huge mug of coffee. :) I don't remember eating them with Bisnonna though. Likely because of that terrible anti-tomato phase I experienced in youth, but don't talk about the dark days.

Madre remembers though:

Tomato Sandwich

Madre writes: This is one of my favorite lunches with Grandma. Toast two thinly sliced pieces of Italian bread [Amy's note: Or medium-ish wheat, I don't think it makes a difference *hides*] Butter them, slice your tomato, and put it on the bread. Sprinkle a little bit of salt and pepper and a tiny bit of oregano. Enjoy!

So there you have it. A favorite (delicious and easy!) summer lunch for generations.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Beat the heat with Cannoli Ice Cream

"Again with the variations on cannoli?" You say. Well, you might say, I suppose, but those of you who are like me and can't get enough of anything even vaguely related to these particular pastries will really enjoy this one, I'm sure.

Ever since acquiring an ice cream maker last winter, I have been experimenting with a variety of different ice cream flavors: strawberry-basil, peaches and cream, fresh mint chocolate chip, etc. Last weekend, though, I found myself with extra ricotta cheese and an idea: if Ben and Jerry's can do it, why can't I?

I scoured the internet in search of recipes, but none seemed to both fit my ice cream maker and appropriately approximate what I personally felt was the right taste for cannoli. I ended up blending a few together and came up with a lovely mixture.

It doesn't taste like cannoli filling, which is what I was going for, but it became something else entirely, something of its own. It tastes rather sweet, but not too sweet. There's a hint of spiciness that I think that comes from the addition of cinnamon and nutmeg. Why not try it for yourself?

Cannoli Ice Cream

[What you need]
2 cups whole milk
15 oz ricotta cheese
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 T vanilla
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
To taste: chocolate chips, chopped pistachios, and/or dried apricots*
pinch salt

[What to do]

  1. Whisk milk, salt, and granulated sugar together until slightly frothy.
  2. Add cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, and spices
  3. Put in refrigerator for at least an hour, but it's best overnight
  4. Follow your ice cream maker's instructions or! use this method.
*My ice cream maker instructs you to add "mix-ins" chocolate, nuts, fruit, etc at the last 5 minutes of the process, but your method may vary.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Bisnonna's Black Bean Soup

A few years ago, my zia gave me one of the greatest Christmas presents I can remember: a recipe box with cards filled out with various family recipes. The range of the recipes was quite wide and varied, covering 1950s classics, which she made copies of my nonna's own cards for, to modern dishes that she makes for PTA meetings. I was so excited. I still am. Every time I open the box and inspect the cards, I get a little thrill. Maybe I'm weird...


There's one recipe in there that I have been dying to try for a while now and last weekend, I finally got up the nerve.

It's one of Bisnonna's classic list recipes. To the end my zia had appended the following note: "Good luck ~ no directions ~ just Grandma's love and intuition <3" Luckily, it's a soup. Soup is hard to get wrong. Not impossible (there's a reason you never saw my attempt at borscht) but hard.

The list reads:
2 cups black beans
6 cups cold water
2 cups chicken broth
3 med. onions
1/4 cup butter
2 bay leaves*
1 clove garlic
2 Tablespoons parsley
1 ham hock*
fresh ground pepper
2/3 cup sherry - dry

*I ultimately ended up not using these items. I'm not big on bay leaves and I couldn't find a ham hock (I also wasn't about to buy a whole ham just to get one, though I imagine this soup would be a great use for leftover holiday hams).

Amy interprets and fills in the gaps:

  1. The night before, soak sort, rinse, and soak beans. If you forget this step a quick soak will work fine.
  2. In a large pot (this makes a LOT of soup ~10-15 bowls depending on bowl size) add the butter, then saute chopped onions and garlic with the parsley
  3. Add water and broth, then bring to a boil.
  4. Drain beans and add to soup
  5. Now for the ham. If you have a ham hock, add it in now but be prepared to remove the bone later, if you're like me as were unable to find one, it is perfectly acceptable to use chopped ham steaks, which have the added benefit of being left in.
  6. Finally add the sherry and pepper to taste.
  7. Continue to simmer on low for another hour to let the flavors blend together.
I give this recipe, or at least whatever came out of the pot, an A+, personally. I only wish that I could interpret this well on Bisnonna's non-soup recipes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cannoli Tarts! [The Cookbook...sort of]

[This post is a little belated. I started it a while back after my birthday, but life intervened. Here is it, a month late, but still good! You can make them for San Giuseppe Day tomorrow! Enjoy!]

Another year. Another birthday. Another treat to take in for the coworkers. After last year's casata disaster, I decided to keep things a little more on the simple side this year: I would make cannolis! Little did I know that cannolis were quite possibly the furthest things from simple I could have possibly chosen.

The plan was to whip up a batch of filling according to Bisnonna's recipes and use it fill up store-bought shells. Unfortunately, the weekend of my birthday, as I scoured the grocery stores in my area (ultimately going to 4 different stores), I learned that store bought shells aren't as readily available as I thought they were for some reason. I could have sworn that grocery stores, at least where I grew up, carried boxed cannoli shells, but around these parts, they are definitely less accessible.

So there I was, shell-less with all the filling ingredients and out of treat ideas.For some reason I couldn't get the idea of cannolis out of my mind. Making my own shells was out because my madre has Bisnonna's shell molds. I was stumped. And then I decided to search the internet to see if there was some sort of cannoli shell mold DIY out there (pinterest has DIYs for everything after all) and I found my inspiration: Cannoli Bites! When I saw this recipe, hope rushed back to me. I could adapt Bisnonna's cannoli recipe to suit this new form of shell mold and save the day!

Bisnonna's Cannoli

Bisnonna writes: 1 2/4 c. flour, 1/2 c. crisco, 3T sugar 1 egg, 3oz sherry wine or 6 T
Filling: 2# ricotta, about 1 c powder sugar or more or less, 4 almond chocolate bars cut up, about 12 cherries cut up, 1/2 c. nuts, 1/2 container of Cool Whip. Mix together and put in shells.

Amy's version: I mix up the shell dough with her exact ingredients, except I used 3 oz of red wine and vegetable shortening instead of crisco. The instructions for making the shells are at the Cooking Classy. As for the filling; again, I follow Bisnonna to the letter except instead of Cool Whip, I just used regular whip cream. I find the specific name brand usage in some of Bisnonna's recipe cards very interesting. Surely she didn't always have these brands. Crisco may been around her whole life, but Cool Whip wasn't around until 1966. I'm sure that her recipe was likely adapted from some older recipe after much trial and error; and just like that, the life cycle of the recipe continues.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Raisin Pie

"The Pennsylvania Dutch loved their pies and ate them morning, noon and night. There were pies on the table at every meal. Everyone helped himself and 'ate himself full.'" - Pennsylvania Dutch Traditional Recipes for Pies and Pastries, 1963

I started this blog as a way to memorialize people I love through the food that I make, using recipes that they made and loved or recipes that remind me of them in some way. That being the case, I think there's no other recipe that I can present next. It has to be Raisin Pie.

Raisin Pie was a favorite of grandfather's and something I will always associate with him.

Oddly, in my research for an authentic Pennsylvania Dutch recipe, I discovered many references to it as a pie traditionally presented to bereaved families. I still don't know if I'm brave enough to make it as I've never been great at making pies, but since it's apparently rumoured to have these special powers, maybe I'll give it a shot. Here's the recipe in the mean time:

From Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking available on Project Gutenberg. (Other sources I've seen replace one cup of water with spiced rum. The choice is yours)

Raisin Pie

1 cup seeded raisins, washed
2 cups water
1½ cups sugar
4 tablespoons flour
1 egg, well beaten
juice of a lemon
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
pinch of salt

Soak raisins 3 hours, mix sugar, flour and egg. Then add seasoning, raisins and liquid. Cook over hot water for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the mixture is cool, empty into pie-dough lined pie plate. Cover pie with narrow strips of dough, criss-crossed and bake until browned.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Biscotti Regina [The Cookbook]

I meant for this post to go up during the Holiday season, but the best laid intentions, right? The good news is, if you follow the traditional definition of Christmastide (aka the 12 days of Christmas, meaning from the 25th until the epiphany), I've still got 4 days left, so I'm well within the margin of error.

Anyway, today, I'm going to talk about one of my two all time favorite cookies: Biscotti Regina, the queen of cookies.

Over the years, it became a tradition to bake these beauties at my Zia's each holiday season (usually while watching Cary Grant being dangerously charming in The Bishop's Wife), but since moving away from the area it has become increasingly difficult to get back to town in time for the annual cookie bake party. This is but one of the multitude of traditions that my heart breaks a little to leave behind. Growing up is hard...

This year, in the hopes of getting my fix anyway, I decide to bring the tradition of biscotti regina to a cookie party with some good local friends. Hopefully, one day, I will feel as connected to this area as I do my home town.

It's an undertaking to make this recipe. I'm not going to lie to you here. My bisnonna was cooking for a very large and very extended family. I, on the other hand, just have a handful of people (and unfortunately a fair number of them are hesitant to try my recipes when they fall outside their comfort zone). Therefore, I cut this recipe down into thirds. I would have 1/2'd it, but it calls for 3 eggs and I haven't yet figured out how one deals with a 1/2 egg.

I'm not going to tell you it's impossible to do this recipe on your own. Despite my madre's protests when I originally proposed making these cookies on my own this year, I firmly believe it can be done if one has enough patience; however, it is a far more fun and memorable experience with friends and family around you.

 Seed Biscuits (Biscotti ala Regina)
via The Cookbook

Bisnonna Writes: 2 c. sugar, 1lb or 2 c. crisco, 3 eggs, 2 T. baking powder, 2 T vanilla, 8 c. flour, 1/2 c. milk (amy's note: you may need to add a bit more. I found my dough to be rather dry using only this ratio), 1 lb. sesame seeds (toasted), bake 375 degrees for 15 mins.

(Amy's note: You'll notice, as with many of Bisnonna's recipes, there's some missing steps. We'll get to that in a minute. Don't worry.)

Madre adds: If you ever made these with Grandma it was an experience of a lifetime. She always had the job of rolling out the dough and cutting it into little pieces. I always dipped the dough in the milk and got into trouble for getting either seeds in the milk or vice versa. Mom was the one who rolled the dough in the seeds. Sometimes if we were talking too much, they came out really long and skinny. [My brother] used to sneak up after Grandma took them out of the oven and take handfuls for eating later. If you're baking these and some come out a little dark, offer them up to Uncle Frank. He always liked the ones that were a little over baked. He told us they were good for dunking, Another little tidbit to remember is that when you run out of seeds, you can keep rolling the dough and make Aunt Lena cookies. If you're not sure what these are then you're in BIG trouble*. The stories that were shared while baking were priceless!

Amy interprets and fills in the gaps!

  1.  See Bisnonna's notes above for what you need. (You will also need an additional 1/2 cup or so of milk set aside for dipping)
  2. If you sesame seeds aren't pretoasted (and they're cheaper is you buy them this way), bake on an ungreased baking sheet at 350° for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.
  3. Combine all other ingredients well in a LARGE bowl (with this amount of flour, using an electric mixer will really help, but obviously isn't necessary).
  4. Take spoonfuls of dough and roll them out into ropes approx. the width of a finger. (Mine are obviously a little thicker than that, do what you can.) 
  5. Cut ropes into smaller pieces. My bisnonna used to claim these should be the size of your first knuckle.
  6. Dip these pieces into milk, then roll in seeds.
  7. Bake ~15 mins at 375
*I will discuss Aunt Lena cookies at a later date, but they are the same dough recipe sans sesame seeds and shapes into little spirals.