December 21, 2010

What Shall We Make and When Do We Eat?

Now is the time for jams and jellies, conserves and curds. We enter our kitchen laden with baskets full with the best of the harvest. Tea brews in a merry little blue and white pot and the delicate cups and saucers we’ve discovered at tag sales are brought to the table. Lemons are thinly sliced, and cream from our country visit fills the honest little white jug we’ve cherished since childhood. Honey, still in its comb, resides on its own plate, while crumbly cubes of brown sugar display their sandy bounty in Grandmother’s silver sugar bowl. What shall we make first? What shall we eat? It is almost too difficult to choose.

 Let’s make a cheesecake in a nest of crispy crust. Let’s flavor it with orange zest and citron or maybe be a bit more adventurous and add rum and broken chocolate. Perhaps, we’ll cut a generous slice of that Banana Walnut Cake with its Bourbon-flavored frosting. Our choices seem unlimited.

Twilight comes, and we carry our cup outside for a moment of solitude. We look back, and the lights that have been lit illuminate the windows of the kitchen. We take one final look around the garden readying itself for the day when autumn will slip over to winter, and then, cup in hand, we climb the porch steps. We pat the rake and hoe residing by the back door, and remind ourselves that soon a shovel will replace them, in anticipation of the first snowflakes......Gladys Tabor

Amaretto Banana Pudding
2 (3.4 ounce) packages instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups whole milk
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup amaretto liqueur
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 (8 ounce) containers frozen whipped topping, thawed
5 bananas, sliced
8 ounces vanilla wafer cookies

In a large bowl, stir together pudding mix, milk and condensed milk until blended. Stir in lemon juice, amaretto and vanilla until well combined. Fold in whipped topping.
In a large glass serving bowl, layer pudding mixture, bananas and cookies. Chill until serving.

Estelle's White Chocolate Cherry Christmas Trifle
1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 (3.3 ounce) package instant white chocolate pudding mix
1 cup milk
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature
1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
3 bananas, sliced
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
1 1/4 cups grated chocolate
1 (21 ounce) can cherry pie filling or fresh bing cherries

Prepare cake according to package directions and bake in a 9x13 inch pan. Let cool completely. Cut half the cake into 1-inch cubes (saving the other half for another dessert).
In a large bowl, beat together pudding mix and milk until thick and creamy. Beat in cream cheese until fluffy. Fold in half the whipped topping.
In a large punch or trifle bowl, layer one-third of the cake cubes, one-third of the cream cheese mixture, one-third of the banana slices and one-third of the pecans. Top with one-third of the grated chocolate.
Repeat cake and cream cheese layers and top with half the cherry pie filling or the fresh bing cherries. Cover the pie filling with one-third of the bananas, one-third of the pecans and one-third of the grated chocolate.
Repeat step 4, omitting the pecan layer. Top with remaining whipped topping. Refrigerate 4 hours before serving.

The last sound she heard was the ringing of the bells that ushered in the Christmas morn; and, with their bright echoes in her heart, she wandered away into the land of dreams with her fairy doll of the Christmas-tree."
-"Plessy's Christmas Eve", Little Folks Magazine, 1877.

December 20, 2010

The Heart of an Italian Kitchen!

WINTER.... Winter is the time of promise because there is so little to do - or because you can now and then permit yourself the luxury of thinking so. ~Stanley Crawford

Winter came down to our home one night... Quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed slippers of snow, And we, we were children once again. ~Bill Morgan, Jr.

We try never to forget that the holidays are a time for sharing the comfort and joy of being together with family and friends and of celebrating by eating the foods that symbolize the true meaning of the holidays. Sometimes, these encounters are brief, other times they are more enduring – a quick trip to drop off home-baked cookies, or a holiday meal prepared for many.

What makes us happy at the holidays is to visit old friends and make new ones. We love the reassurance of the rituals of eating and drinking at the holidays. We find ourselves engaging with new friends in conversations reflecting what they most love about the holidays. We listen to their memories and join them in their preparations for these special days. We love to share the dishes they serve at the holidays, and we are eager to be introduced to foods and recipes.

We realize that the holidays are a time to talk and laugh and pay tribute to those who are no longer here. Holiday gatherings are a time to do a gentle interrogation of the elders to hear their stories and to cook and bake once again the food that both nourished and fulfilled them.

More than ever, at the holidays, we realize that every day is a gift and provides us with a chance to try dishes in kitchens that are new and unfamiliar. It is the baking and cooking together that we relish.

There is something universal about cooking or baking in a kitchen. We use the same elements, fire and water. We work with the harvest of the earth, and the air is permeated with the aroma of what we plan to serve.

Sheila's Heirloom Lasagna
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups sliced onion (about 1 large onion)
2 red peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, grated
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3/4 cup water
1 pound ground beef
6 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casing removed (about 4 links)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, quartered and cored
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or 1 tablespoon dried
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 4 ounces)
4 cups whole milk ricotta
5 tablespoons prepared pesto
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
2/3 cup toasted pine nuts

8 ounces ground beef
3 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (about 2 links)
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons panko (Japanese) bread crumbs or regular bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
2 tablespoons grated onion
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons olive oil


4 sheets fresh pasta to fit a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or 1 (16-ounce) package dry lasagna noodles
12 slices provolone cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan (about 6 ounces)

To make the tomato sauce: Put a large skillet over medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onion, peppers, celery, and carrot, and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking for 1 minute more. Add the water, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the cover and cook for another 5 minutes, or until most of the water has evaporated. This will bring out the natural sugars of the vegetables.

Spray a large Dutch oven with cooking spray and put it over medium-low heat. Spoon the vegetables into the Dutch oven. To the skillet, add the remaining tablespoon olive oil. Add the ground beef and sausage, breaking it up with the wooden spoon, and cook until no pink remains. Do not let the meat mixture crisp or burn. Empty it into the Dutch oven and pour over the crushed tomatoes, quartered tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, oregano, and vinegar. Cover and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally with the wooden spoon so that the sauce does not catch. Remove the cover and simmer for an additional 1/2 hour or until the sauce is thickened. The sauce will continue to thicken when taken off the heat. Remove the bay leaves and carefully transfer the sauce into containers. Allow the sauce to cool and refrigerate or freeze until needed. This recipe yields about 10 cups sauce.

For the ricotta-pesto layer: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, add the Parmesan, ricotta, pesto, black pepper, and nutmeg. Process until combined. Add the eggs and pulse until combined. Remove blade from the processor and fold in the pine nuts. Place the cheese mixture into a container and refrigerate until ready to use. Let it come to room temperature before assembling the Lasagna. This recipe yields about 5 1/2 cups cheese filling.

For the meatballs: In a large bowl, add the ground beef, sausage, 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, cheese, onion, salt, pepper, parsley, egg, and chicken broth. Wearing disposable gloves, mix everything together well and form into tiny meatballs about 1-inch in diameter. Do not overwork or the meatballs will be tough. Roll the meatballs in the remaining 1/2 cup bread crumbs and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. Do not overcrowd the meatballs in the pan. When the oil is hot, fry the meatballs in batches, until they are browned and a bit crunchy on the outside, about 4 to 6 minutes. The meatballs do not need to be completely cooked through, they will finish cooking in the lasagna. Drain the meatballs on a paper towel-lined plate. Let them cool and place them in containers, and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the lasagna. This recipe yields about 35 to 38 meatballs.

To assemble the lasagna: If using the fresh pasta sheets, fill a baking pan large enough to accommodate the pasta sheets with boiling water. Fill a second large pan with cold water. Immerse one pasta sheet at a time into the boiling water for 45 seconds. Remove the pasta sheet with the handle of a wooden spoon and immerse the pasta sheet immediately in cold water for 45 seconds. Remove the pasta from the cold water, shake off the excess water, and stack between layers of plastic wrap. If you are using the dry noodles, prepare according to package directions, drain, and rinse in cold water. Stack the pasta between layers of plastic wrap.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil, shiny-side up, and coat with cooking spray.
Spread 3 cups of the prepared tomato sauce over the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Place a layer of the cooked pasta on top. Spread 2 1/2-cups of the ricotta-pesto mixture over the pasta and top with 6 slices provolone cheese, overlapping them.
Place another layer of pasta on top of the provolone. Spread 2 1/2-cups of the tomato sauce on top of pasta. Set the meatballs in one layer into the sauce. Sprinkle with 1/2-cup Parmesan cheese.
Place another layer of pasta on top of the meatball layer. Spread 3-cups of the ricotta-pesto mixture on top of pasta. Sprinkle 1/2-cup Parmesan on top.
Place the last layer of pasta over the ricotta-pesto layer. Spread 3-cups tomato sauce over the top and sprinkle with remaining 1/2-cup Parmesan. Place the remaining 6 slices provolone cheese over the Parmesan, overlapping the slices.
Spray the dull side of a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover the lasagna with cooking spray so the cheese won't stick to the foil. Cover the lasagna, sprayed-side down, and put the lasagna on the prepared baking sheet. Put the baking dish in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake the lasagna for another 30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the lasagna starts to bubble. Replace the foil if the cheese starts to brown too quickly. A thermometer placed in the center of the lasagna should read 165 to 170 degrees F when done. Remove the lasagna from the oven and place on rack to cool. Let rest for 20 minutes, if serving immediately.

If serving another day, when the lasagna is completely cool, place a sheet of paper towel on the surface, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. To serve, remove the plastic and paper towel and cover with foil. Heat the lasagna in a preheated 350 degree F oven, until warmed through.
Serve the lasagna with any leftover tomato sauce and meatballs

The Mori's Rosa Marina Salad
1 lb.Rosa Marina (if you cannot find Rosa Marina, Orzo is a good substitute)
2 cans crushed pineapple
1 large can mandarin oranges
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs,beaten well
2 T. flour

Boil rosa marina first and set aside. Boil last 3 ingredients in pan with juices from the fruit until semi-thick. Pour over cooked pasta. Refrigerate 4 or 5 hrs. stirring 2 or 3 times to keep from clumping. Add fruit and one container of whipped topping before serving. We also chop up about 1/2 jar of cherries (tart or maraschino) and add with whipped topping. (it does tend to clump, but when you add the whip cream and fruit, you can separate it a little better). Beautiful topped with dark tart cherries!

"How bittersweet it is, on winter's night,
To listen, by the sputtering, smoking fire,
As distant memories, through the fog-dimmed light,
Rise, to the muffled chime of churchbell choir."
- Charles Baudelaire, The Cracked Bell

December 19, 2010

Twas' The Night Before!

"It was Christmas Eve and the frost fairies were busy getting ready for Christmas Day. First of all they spread the loveliest white snow carpet over the rough, bare ground; then they hung the bushes and trees with icicles that flashed like diamonds in the moonlight. The Stars shone brightly and the moon sent floods of light in every nook and corner. How could any one think of sleeping when there was such a glory outside!.."

-Oliver Herfold (Excerpt from What Happened Christmas Eve, pub. 1902.)

Christmas Eve festivites bring anticipation....of joy, of laughter, appreciation of family and celebrating the savior's birth! Enjoy......and give thanks....

Estelle's Cheese Crab Dip
10 ounce sharp cheddar cheese
8 ounce sliced American cheese
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup white cooking wine
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound deluxe crab meat

Break up the cheeses into 1" pieces. Place the pieces in a saucepan with the milk and cook slowly until it melts, stirring often.Stir in the wine, pepper and crab meat. Mix gently but thoroughly.
Transfer to a serving dish and serve with crackers and fresh vegetables!

Estelle's Elegant Crab Dip
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Old Bay or other seafood seasoning
4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4 cup milk
8 ounces crabmeat, fresh or canned(drained)
1 1/2 cups grated sharp Cheddar or soft Fontina
Celery sticks, bell pepper strips,and toasted baguette slices, for serving

Lightly oil or butter a small shallow casserole (about 1 1/2 quarts). Heat the oven to 375°.
Melt the butter in a medium-size skillet. Add the onion and garlic, and saute them over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the Old Bay or other seafood seasoning and cook another 30 seconds, continuing to stir. Remove the skillet from the heat.

Using an electric mixer, blend the cream cheese, sour cream, and mayonnaise. Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and milk, and blend the mixture again until it's smooth. With a spoon, stir in the crabmeat, half of the cheese, and the sauteed onion and garlic.
Transfer the dip to the prepared baking dish and smooth the top with a spoon. Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the top. Place the dish in the oven and bake until the top of the dip is bubbly, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm with celery sticks, bell pepper strips, and toasted baguette slices. Serves 12 as an appetizer.

"The children were nestled all snug in their beds...
while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads...
and a twinkling...
I heard on the roof"...

December 18, 2010

In the Land of Nog!

"This is meeting time again. Home is the magnet. The winter land roars and hums with the eager speed of return journeys. The dark is noisy and bright with late-night arrivals Ð doors thrown open, running shadows on snow, open arms, kisses, voices and laughter, laughter at everything and nothing. Inarticulate, giddying and confused are those original minutes of being back again. The very familiarity of everything acts like shock. Contentment has to be drawn in slowly, steadying, in deep breaths Ð there is so much of it. We rely on home not to change, and it does not, wherefore we give thanks. Again Christmas: abiding point of return. Set apart by its mystery, mood and magic, the season seems in a way to stand outside time. All that is dear, that is lasting, renews its hold on us: we are home again..."  - Elizabeth Bowen (Excerpt from Home for Christmas.)

Estelle's Egg Nog Christmas Pudding
1 can (14-ounce) sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 tablespoon molasses
1/3 cup brandy
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon cornstarch, (combine with above cornstarch)
25 small (about 1 1/2 inch) gingersnap cookies
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons confectioners' sugar

Make the pudding: Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. Bring the sweetened condensed milk, 1 cup of the half-and-half, nutmeg, molasses, brandy, and salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Remove from heat. Whisk the egg yolks and 1/4 cup half-and-half in a medium bowl until combined. Slowly add in 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture, while continuing to whisk, and set aside. Whisk the cornstarch and remaining half-and-half together in a medium bowl. Quickly whisk the cornstarch mixture into the hot milk mixture. Place the pan back on heat, increase to medium-high, and whisk constantly until it just boils. Remove from the heat and add the egg mixture, while stirring vigorously, to the hot milk mixture. Place the pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid just begins to simmer. Immediately remove from the heat and strain into a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, placing the film directly on the hot pudding, and set in the ice bath to cool. Refrigerate.
Assemble the dessert: Crush 1 gingersnap and set aside. Combine the heavy cream and confectioners' sugar in a large bowl and beat to soft peaks. Alternate layers of cooled pudding, gingersnaps, and cream in six 6-ounce individual custard cups. Chill for at least one hour. Top with crushed cookies and serve.

Estelle's Southern Sideboards EggNog
6 egg, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1 pint heavy cream
4 pints milk
1/2 pint Bourbon
1 tablespoon vanilla
Freshly Grated Nutmeg

In a bowl beat the egg yolks with the 1/2 cup of sugar until thick. In another bowl beat the egg whites with 1/4 cup of sugar until thick. In a third bowl beat the cream until thick. Add the cream to the yolks, fold in the egg whites, and add the milk, Bourbon, vanilla, and a pinch of nutmeg, if desired. Chill in freezer before serving. Serve eggnog in a large punch bowl.

"May all paths lead to home this holiday season."

December 17, 2010

A Christmas Celebration...New Orleans Style!

Our family spent many holidays in New Orleans. Christmas and New Years were always a most festive time in The Big Easy. My mother and father lived in New Orleans while Dr. Henry completed his Residency at Charity Hospital in the 1940's. My sister was so drawn to NO that she moved there and began her medical writing career after graduating from LSU. A wonderful tradition can still be enjoyed in Cajun country known as Reveillon!

The Maine House prepares....for our Christmas Holiday Festivity! We share our holiday spirit with family and friends. Tis' the season of Reveillon! In France and some other French-speaking places, a réveillon is a long dinner, and possibly party, held on the evenings preceding Christmas Day and New Year's Day. The name of this dinner is based on the word réveil (meaning "waking"), because participation involves staying awake until midnight and beyond. In Portuguese-speaking countries, it is also a designation for the party preceding the New Year's Day.

Reveillon originally was a meal served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Early New Orleans was almost entirely Catholic, and virtually the entire community would participate in these ceremonies. Families would return from the late-night service famished and set upon a feast prepared in advance and laid out on the table or sideboard. A typical early reveillon menu looked very much like breakfast, with egg dishes, breads and puddings, but could also include turtle soup, oysters and grillades of veal. Naturally, the Creoles accompanied these rich repasts with wines, cordials and other fortified drinks. The dinners could last for many hours, and by some accounts even until dawn.

Through the 19th century, American holiday conventions like Christmas trees, gifts for children and shopping frenzies began gradually to establish themselves in New Orleans and supplant many of the Creole traditions. By the turn of the century, reveillon dinners could be found only in traditional homes, and by the 1940s the custom was all but extinct. Today, the tradition has been revived and many New Orleans restaurants participate in this celebration. The format of the reveillon dinner may be different from the early Creole days, but the resultant feelings of togetherness and holiday cheer is much the same.

The Maine House Reveillon Menu: Cajun Fried Turkey, Sweet Potato Biscuits, Andouille-Cheese Grits with Crawfish Gravy, Maple and Bacon Roasted Brussel Sprouts and White Chocolate Bread Pudding.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup solid frozen vegetable shortening
2 cups roasted, mashed, and cooled sweet potatoes
1 cup heavy cream (plus more if needed)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger, and allspice. Add the shortening and cut in with 2 knives or hands until crumbly. In another bowl combine sweet potatoes, cream and pecans. Make well in dry ingredients and add potato-cream mixture. Mix to combine. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough to 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut out with a 2-inch floured biscuit cutter. Place biscuits 1-inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 5 minutes, then turn down temperature to 375 and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm or let cool on a wire rack until room temperature.


* Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they're serving rum balls.

* Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. Like fine single-malt scotch, it's rare. In fact, it's even rarer than single-malt scotch. You can't find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It's not as if you're going to turn into an eggnog-aholic or something. It's a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It's later than you think. It's Christmas!

 *If something comes with gravy, use it. That's the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.

 *As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they're made with skim milk or whole milk. If it's skim, pass. Why bother? It's like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.

 *Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people's food for free. Lots of it.

 *Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year's. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you'll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.

 *If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don't budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They're like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you're never going to see them again.

* Same for pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or, if you don't like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert?

* Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it's loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it at all cost. I mean, have some standards.

 *One final tip: If you don't feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven't been paying attention. Reread tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner.

Talents Beyond Measure!

The Maine House discovers beauty....and favorite things........
paying tribute to Ben and Anna!

Ben's Garden  Oyster Bay...

{1983} Born in Setauket, N.Y. on Long Island.
{1987} Ben started his first garden.
{1988} Known to always have a gardener’s trowel or paintbrush in hand.
{1989} Ben découpaged his mother’s cocktail table. She was pretty impressed.

 Nestled on the North Shore of Long Island’s Gold Coast, Ben’s Artist Studio is located in the quaint, historic village of Oyster Bay.

This antique Italy map reflects Ben’s unique aesthetic for the charming and unusual. Handcrafted in the traditional, French technique of découpage, the the art of carefully cutting and gluing paper images to glass, in our Oyster Bay, NY studio. Each piece is felted to finish the backside and signed by Ben. A folded card explaining the découpage process accompanies each piece.

Vintage black script sentiment surrounded by a garland of flowers.  French crystal is dramatically heavier and sparkles more than traditional glass!

This illustration reflects Ben’s unique aesthetic for the charming and unusual.
 A perfect place for glasses!

Handcrafted with Belgian linen in a wonderful color called driftwood. Quotes are painted in a chocolate hue. The most perfect gift for baby's nursery....

Anna Morse was a member of a group of women who commuted daily from their Marblehead and Swampscott homes to Boston during the 1950s and 1960s. The friends enjoyed chatting and exchanging recipes during their train rides and referred to themselves as The Railroad Club. Eventually they formed an investment club. Most of the members have passed on, so we are grateful to Anne Kemelman, one of the club’s members, who gave us the background for this recipe. Anne was married to mystery writer Harry Kemelman. A talented artist, Anne still paints at the age of 98.

Anna Morse Lemon Chicken
6 to 8 pieces chicken
5 tablespoons lemon juice
1⁄3 cup flour
11⁄2 teaspoons salt
1⁄2 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
2 lemons, sliced 1⁄8- to 1⁄4-inch thick
3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup low-sodium chicken stock

 Coat the bottom and sides of a 9-inch by 13-inch ovenproof glass baking pan with vegetable spray. If using a metal baking pan, line it with foil, shiny side up, and coat with vegetable spray. Rinse chicken under cold, running water and pat dry with paper towels. Place lemon juice in a shallow bowl. Dip chicken in lemon juice, place on a platter, and set aside. Pour leftover lemon juice into prepared pan.
 Place flour, salt and paprika in a plastic bag. Add chicken, seal, and shake to coat with flour. Place chicken in a strainer and tap over sink to remove excess flour. Set aside.
 Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
 Melt olive oil and butter in a large, hearvy frying pan over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until both sides are golden brown. Remove chicken to prepared baking pan and scatter lemon slices over. Sprinkle with brown sugar.
 Pour chicken stock into frying pan set over medium heat, and simmer, scraping with a wooden spoon to retrieve all of the browned bits clinging to bottom of the pan. Cook until slightly thickened. Pour sauce into a corner of the baking pan, being careful not to disrupt the lemon slices and the brown sugar topping. Gently shake pan to distribute sauce over bottom. Cover pan with foil and bake until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 40 to 45 minutes for bone-in pieces of chicken. Baste with pan juices at least once during cooking. Serve Lemon Chicken on a bed of Saffron Rice with pine nuts and golden raisins.

"The Ornament of a House is the
 Friends Who Frequent It!"
Ralph Waldo Emerson

December 16, 2010

December 23rd....The Bronx!

Maybe it didn't snow for Christmas every year in the Bronx back in the '50s. But my memory of at least one perfect snow-bound Christmas Eve makes me think it did often enough that I still picture my neighborhood as white as Finland in those days when I lived along the choppy waters of the Long Island Sound.

But for all the decorations and the visits to stores and Rockefeller Center, it was the sumptuous Christmas feasts that helped maintain our families' links to the Old Country long after most other immigrant traditions had faded away. Food was always central to everyone's thoughts at Christmas, and the best cooks in each family were renowned for specific dishes no one else dared make.

The assumption that everything would be exactly the same as last year was as comforting as knowing that Christmas Day would follow Christmas Eve. The finest ancestral linens were ironed and smoothed into place, dishes of hard candy were set out on every table, and the kitchen ovens hissed and warmed our homes for days. The reappearance of the old dishes, the irresistible aromas, tastes and textures, even the seating of family members in the same spot at the table year after year anchored us to a time and a place that was already changing more rapidly than we could understand.

It's funny now to think that my memories of the food and the dinners are so much more intense than those of toys and games I received, but that seems true of most people. The exact taste of Christmas cookies, the sound of beef roasting in its pan, and the smell of evergreen mixed with the scent of cinnamon and cloves and lemon in hot cider were like holy incense in church, unforgettable, like the way you remember your parents' faces when they were young.

No one in our neighborhood was poor but few were rich. Yet we mounted feasts as lavish as any I could imagine in a book, and in the days preceding Christmas people took enormous joy in spending their money on foods only eaten during that season.

It was still a time when the vegetable man would sell his produce from an old truck on Campbell Drive, and Dugan's and Krug's bread men came right to your door with special holiday cupcakes and cookies. We'd go to Biancardi's Meats on Arthur Avenue, while the butcher on Middletown Road usually carried fresh fish only on Fridays, but he was always well stocked with cod, salmon, lobsters and eel during the holidays. The pastry shops worked overtime to bake special Christmas breads and cakes, which would be gently wrapped in a swaddling of very soft pink tissue paper tied up with ribbons and sometimes even sealed with wax to deter anyone from opening it before Christmas.

By Christmas Eve the stores ran out of everything, and pity the poor cook who delayed buying her chestnuts, ricotta cheese, or fresh yeast until it was too late. Weeks in advance the women would put in their order at the live poultry market for a female rabbit--not a male-- or a goose that had to weigh exactly twelve pounds.

Biancardi's Meats, The Bronx

You always knew what people were cooking for Christmas because the aromas hung in the hallways of the garden apartments and the foyers of their homes-- garlicky tomato sauces, roast turkeys, rich shellfish stews, and the sweet, warm smells of pastries and breads could make you dizzy with hunger. When you went out into the cold, those aromas would slip out the door and mingle with the biting sea-salted air and the fresh wet snow swept in off the Sound.

At the Italian homes in the Bronx ancient culinary rituals were followed long after they'd lost their original religious symbolism. The traditional meatless meal of Christmas Eve-- "La Vigilia"-- which began centuries ago as a form of penitential purification, developed into a robust meal of exotic seafood dishes that left one reeling from the table. According to the traditions of Abruzzi, where my father's family came from, the Christmas Eve dinner should be composed of seven or nine dishes--mystical numbers commemorating the seven sacraments and the Holy Trinity multiplied by three. This was always my Auntie Rose's shining moment. She would cook with the zeal and energy of a dozen nuns, beginning with little morsels of crisply fried calamari. She made spaghetti on a stringed utensil called a "ghitarra" and served it with a sauce teeming with shellfish. Next came an enormous pot of lobster fra diavolo--a powerful coalescence of tomato, garlic, onion, saffron and hot red peppers, all spooned into soup plates around shiny, scarlet-red lobsters that some guests attacked with daunting, unbridled gusto while others took their dainty time extracting every morsel of meat from the deepest recesses of the body, claws and legs.

Few children would eat baccala, a strong-smelling salted cod cooked for hours in order to restore its leathery flesh to edibility, and stewed eel, an age-old symbol of renewal, was a delicacy favored mostly by the old-timers. But everyone waited for the dessert--the yeasty, egg bread called "panettone," shaped like a church dome and riddled with golden raisins and candied fruit.

Christmas Day came too early for everyone but the children, but as soon as presents were exchanged, my mother and grandmother would begin work on the lavish Christmas dinner to be served that afternoon. It was always a mix of regional Italian dishes and American novelties, like the incredibly rich, bourbon-laced egg nog my father insisted on serving before my grandmother's lasagna, in which were hidden dozens of meatballs the size of hazelnuts. Then my mother would set down a massive roast beef, brown and crackling on the outside, red as a poinsettia within, surrounded by sizzling roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding glistening from the fat absorbed from the beef. Dessert reverted to venerable Italian tradition with my grandmother's prune-and-chocolate filled pastries and honeyed cookies called "struffoli."

After such a meal, we needed to go for a walk in the cold air. In other homes up and down our block people were feasting on Norwegian lutefisk, Swedish meatballs, German stollen, Irish plum pudding and American gingerbread. If you stopped and listened for a moment, you could hear the families singing carols in their native tongue.

By early evening people got ready to leave and leftovers were packed up to take home, belying everyone's protest that they wouldn't eat for days afterwards.

By then the snow had taken on an icy veneer and the wind died down to a whisper. I remember how the cold air magnified sounds far, far away, so as I crept into bed I could hear the waves lapping the sea wall and the rattling clack-clack, clack-clack of the El running from Buhre Avenue to Middletown Road. It was a kind of lullaby in those days, when it never failed to snow on Christmas in the Bronx.

CHRISTMAS IN THE BRONX John Mariani, article published in Esquire Magazine

Antonietta's Gnocchi
2 eggs
8 oz. of ricotta cheese
About 3 cups of flour
1/4 cup olive oil

In a large bowl, mix eggs, ricotta, and salt. Add flour in half-cup intervals, until you reach a doughy consistency. Flour your surface. Break the dough ball into 4 equal quarters. Roll each one out into a fine, long, 1/2-inch wide roll — about the width of a fork. Slice the roll into 1/2-inch links or segments. Take each segment and, starting at the top of the prongs, press a fork into the dough with your finger so it rolls down the prongs and takes on the indentation of the fork. You should also have a hollow section inside each one, with prong marks on the outside. Set them out to dry for about one hour on a cotton hand towel, covering with an additional hand towel. Bring water to a boil and add a quarter cup of olive oil and salt. Add gnocchi gently while making sure they're not sticking together. Test if done by slicing into one and seeing if they're cooked through. Add sauce and grated cheese

Antonietta's Red Sauce for Gnocchi
1 can crushed tomatoes
2 cloves fresh garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 full plant of fresh basil
1/2 stick butter
Dash of oregano
3 dashes of balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup freshly chopped chives
1/4 cup red wine
 Salt and pepper
Directions: Warm everything in a pot, except for the fresh herbs. Add them about 5 minutes before you take the sauce off the heat. They'll wilt and burn out if you add them too early. Pour over pasta. Add freshly grated cheese, if desired, and serve.

Antonietta Russo née Pulcrono and her children: Patricia, Nancy, and Gelsemina.