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Pasta Party: Fresh Tomato Sauce with Beef and Lamb

7 Sep

I recently went to visit my family and welcome my newborn niece Claire into the world.  In my estimation, all newborns can do is eat and sleep, so our activities were kept pretty close to the house.  Luckily, my two-year old niece Gia puts on quite the show; singing original songs, dancing on the back porch, etc.  She especially loves helping in the kitchen.

So my brother and I had a homemade pasta-making competition; he would probably disagree, but I was the clear winner.  But he did whip up a delicious meat sauce to cover the strands of fettucine, so he got major points for that.  While the photos I took are mostly of the homemade pasta, the sauce at the end is the money shot.

Prepping the pasta

Someone loves to knead

This recipe is pretty simple and fun to make when you’re just hanging out in the kitchen all day.  If you’re having an ethical dilemma or entertaining vegetarians, you can omit the veal or meat altogether.  But we like it this way.

4lbs. ripe fresh tomatoes
1/4C olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
2 sprigs fresh basil, chopped (or more to taste)
1t sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Mix of ground beef, veal and lamb, equaling 1lb.

Cut tomatoes into small pieces and cook in a large pot for 10 minutes over medium heat until tomatoes are soft.  Cool and put through food mill, or blend with immersion blender.  Saute garlic and onion in olive oil until onion is translucent, being careful not to burn the garlic.  Add tomatoes, basil, sugar, salt and pepper.  Cook in a covered pot over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If sauce is too thick, add a little water.  If it’s too thin, cook a little longer uncovered (or add a tablespoon of tomato paste if you have it).  Once sauce is cooked to your liking, saute meat in a pan until it is mostly cooked, then add to sauce.  Simmer for 45 minutes.

Working the machine

“I want pasta!!!”

As the sauce cooks, prepare the pasta (homemade or otherwise).  You can also do what my mother does, and sneakily dip a piece of bread into the sauce and snack all day long.  She thinks we don’t know about this habit.  But we do.  Mangia!

Ta da!

Garden Greatness: Tomato Salad

10 Jul

I grew up in a beautiful house.  The original owner back in the early 1900’s was the head of the Garden Society of St. Louis, so our yard had a number of unusual plants, flowers and trees, with rose bushes climbing all the way up the enormous, steep driveway.

My parents were very dedicated to preserving the gardens and yard, and while everything thrived, I do have a distinct memory of the trouble with tomatoes.  Every year, my mother would diligently plant them.  And every year, they’d provide a feast for the terrifyingly aggressive neighborhood squirrels (they once broke into our house; that’s another blog post).

At a certain point, my mom gave up on the tomato plants (you can’t win ’em all).  But now that I live in California where every garden is lush, I have the luxury of copious amounts of tomatoes in the garden of the apartment where I live.  Even more luxurious, my neighbor, an avid gardener, is the one who does all the work, and once the bounty is too much for her to handle, she gives everything to me.

So today’s recipe is a super-simple, delicious summer salad you can whip up after you’ve plumbed the depths of the dirt (or taken someone up on their green-thumbed generosity).

TOMATO SALAD (serves 4)
6 tomatoes, cut in wedges and then halved
1 small white onion, thinly sliced (though I personally prefer a red onion)
2T olive oil
1T water
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly chopped basil

Place tomatoes and onion in a serving bowl; sprinkle with olive oil, water, salt, pepper and basil.  Mix gently and serve.

“Look, Mom, I picked these myself!”

This is a fantastic side dish this time of year.  Mangia!

Good for the Grill: Shrimp With Garlic Butter

20 Jun

Last week was my brother’s birthday, and while I didn’t post on the actual day, I thought I’d give a little shout-out to the dude who loves to man the grill– Tony usually cooks his own birthday dinner, as a matter of fact.

Opening presents, 1975

Tony with lobster (a birthday gift from me), which he also cooked, 2004

2lbs. fresh medium-to-large shrimp, shelled, de-veined and skewered
8T butter
1/2C olive oil
1T lemon juice
1/4C finely chopped shallots
1t salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
4T finely chopped fresh parsley
Lemon quarters for squeezing

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.  In a shallow dish, large enough to hold shrimp in single layer, melt butter.  Stir in olive oil, lemon juice, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper.  Add shrimp and turn them in the butter and oil until well-coated.  Grill for about 5 minutes, brushing with extra sauce, then turn and grill on other side for 3-4 minutes, or until just pink, but not overcooked.  Transfer to serving platter, pour remaining sauce over the top, sprinkle with chopped parsley and garnish with lemon quarters.

Summer fun with Gia and Tony

This recipe is really fast and easy; perfect for the summer months when you just want to hang out and play all day.  Mangia!

Beach Bash: Summer Salad

7 Jun

My family is lucky enough to have a vacation destination we’ve been visiting every summer since I was three months old (my father’s family has been going since 1955).  I’ve lived on both the East and West coasts and have spent time on many American beaches.  Our tiny town in Michigan remains my favorite sandy spot.  It’s literally the only waterfront location I’ve ever been where you can park yourself on your towel for the day, look to your left, then look to your right, and see absolutely no one else.  Heaven.

Accommodations growing up were “rustic.”  No television ever, and no phone when I was very young.  I remember having a shower installed when I was nine, which was a BIG deal (no more shampooing in Lake Michigan!).  The sun sets very late there during the summer, usually around 10PM, so we’d often have a late afternoon snack on the beach, then a late dinner on our porch facing the water, watching the spectacular sunset.  Good eating.

Remember when people used to tan?  Afternoon snacking, 1981

So here’s a Summer Salad recipe you can make ahead, pack up for a picnic (beach or otherwise), and enjoy now that the weather is warm and wonderful.

SUMMER SALAD (serves 4)
4oz. cooked asparagus spears
4oz. cooked green beans
4oz. artichoke hearts, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cucumber, diced
3T olive oil
1t red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh basil, chopped

Cut asparagus spears and green beans in half.  Mix oil, vinegar, salt and pepper into bowl.  Add the vegetables and toss lightly.  Sprinkle with chopped basil.

Tony, age 6, working up an appetite

This recipe is also fitting because asparagus is at its best right now in Michigan.  We make a point to have it every summer, along with corn-on-the-cob and cherries.  When I was young, we’d also have a special treat ONLY allowed on vacation, Hawaiian Punch and my personal favorite, s’mores.  So sophisticated.  Mangia!

Baby Boom: Chicken Breasts with Lemon and Parsley

25 May

It’s an exciting time here at For Antonina HQ, as the Roberts family awaits the arrival of Gia’s baby sister who will be here in August.  Having never been pregnant, I don’t know how these ladies do it.  I recently traveled with a dear friend (due in just a couple of days!) and she could not eat ANYTHING.  I cannot confirm if this is because she’s being cautious, or her doctor is a nutjob.  Seriously.  Certain cheeses, meats and fish were nixed and the poor woman was hungry all the time.  Luckily we consumed plenty of vodka to calm her down.  Ba da bing!  Kidding!

I did discover that lean chicken is a staple of the pregnant person’s diet, so in honor of Baby Girl Roberts, I give you a simple chicken recipe from page 158.  It doesn’t skimp on the butter, but, eh, if you can’t drink, you might as well have a smidge of fatty fun.

Rose pregnant with Tony, 1975

Tony’s wife Sara, yesterday (with Gia cameo)

1T vegetable oil
5T butter
3 whole chicken breasts, pounded and filleted
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
3T fresh parsley, chopped
1 lemon, thinly sliced

Heat oil and 3T butter in skillet over medium to high heat.  Saute chicken fillets on both sides very briefly; two minutes at the most.  Add lemon juice to skillet and turn heat to medium.  Loosen cooking bits from pan, adding 1-2T water if necessary.  Add parsley and remaining 2T butter.  Lower heat and add chicken, turning over in sauce to coat.  Transfer to serving platter with juice from skillet.  Garnish with sliced lemons.

We used to eat this all the time while I was growing up, usually with Rice-A-Roni (the San Francisco treat).  So I think rice would make an excellent side dish, even if you make it fresh and not from a box.  Add your favorite vegetable on the side and boom.  Baby boom.  Mangia!

Birthday Breakfast: Biscuits

21 May

In honor of what would have been Popo’s 91st birthday yesterday (wowsers!), we’re featuring another post by Aunt Lisa.  Get ready for a killer breakfast.

Okay, I’ll admit it…I make a damn good biscuit.  It’s the only thing I make that tastes as good as my mom’s, and every time I make them I think of her.  I see her hands cutting the shortening, gently folding the dough and popping out the biscuits from the biscuit cutter.  It’s a skill I learned by watching, not by doing.  Biscuit dough was too fragile for unskilled hands.

When I was growing up, biscuits were a regular weekend treat, especially in the winter.  One of my father’s greatest loves was a BIG breakfast.  The man liked his eggs over easy and his sausages browned crisp.  And please don’t forget the fried potatoes.  My mother would roll her eyes when he’d ask, “What about the fried potatoes?”  The meal was complete with a light and fluffy biscuit hot from the oven smothered with butter and honey.  My father didn’t just eat breakfast in our kitchen; he also liked to go out.  He knew every breakfast place in town, and they knew him.  He was on a first name basis with every short-order cook within a 20 mile radius of his house.  But when eating out, he always order toast, not biscuits.  My mother had spoiled him.

Biscuits, like scones and pie crust, take a special touch.   For this recipe, use cold shortening and milk.  Mix the dough by turning it over onto a pastry cloth and folding the ends of the cloth toward the center.  Be gentle; don’t knead the dough– just bring the crumbs together and press down.

BISCUITS (Makes about 1 dozen)
2 cups of all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup shortening
2/3 cup cold milk

Mix dry ingredients together and then cut in the shortening.  Add cold milk all at once and stir with a fork just until the dough starts to hold together.  Turn the mixture onto a lightly floured pastry cloth and bring the crumbs together by gently pressing down.  When the dough is solid and about ¾ inch thick, cut biscuits with a biscuit cutter or use a floured drinking glass edge.  Place biscuits on a cookie sheet and put in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.  Then, bake at 450 degrees for 12 minutes.

Yum!  Thanks, Aunt Lisa.  Mangia!

Uncle Tom likes it when Aunt Lisa volunteers to blog

Lazy Weekend: Rigatoni with Fontina Cheese

14 May

It’s been a crazy month here at For Antonina central, with out-of-town visitors, travel, work and activity-filled weekends.  So I was happy to slow down and plan just a few things over the past few days, one of those things being a dinner in with a gal pal.

Yep, it’s another variation on macaroni and cheese from T’s cookbook (there are several recipes for it, which is just fine by me, as a self-proclaimed mac and cheese expert).  This recipe is simple, portable, easy to re-heat, good hot or at room-temperature, and, for the more adventurous types, easy to modify to your tastes and preferences (that’s what I did).  So the next time you have the chance, sit back, relax, hang out with the ones you love and serve up something that’s always a culinary favorite.

Lazy weekend, T and me

1lb rigatoni (or preferred tube-shaped pasta)
6T butter
1/2lb Fontina cheese, shredded
2 pinches freshly-ground nutmeg
1C grated Parmesan cheese
Generous cranks freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Cook pasta in salted boiling water until LESS THAN al dente (it should be really firm, about four minutes cooking time).  Drain and place in large bowl.  Add 4T of the butter, 1/2 of the grated Parmesan, the nutmeg and pepper; toss until all of the pasta is coated, then add almost all of the Fontina cheese, reserving a few handfuls.  Pour mixture into a buttered baking dish, sprinkle remaining cheese on top, dot with remaining butter and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbly (don’t panic if it takes longer– more time to hang out!).

I varied the recipe by doing a mix of equal parts Fontina, extra sharp Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses.  I also mixed in one head of cleaned, chopped, uncooked broccoli, just before I popped it into the oven.  Finally, I used pipette, since I couldn’t find rigatoni at the store.

It was so easy, and so perfect for a lazy Saturday night dinner, with a bunch of store-bought appetizers and bakery cupcakes for dessert.

And it turned out so delish, my friend’s first words after her first bite were simply, “Holy shit.”  Mangia!