Happy Halloween! Italian Hamburgers

31 Oct

Remember the days when costumes were homemade and you put your candy in a pillowcase?  And, your parents made you give them HALF your candy, to eat later (which mysteriously disappeared)?  Those were the days.  I rotated two different costumes for years.  A witch (a black mumu my mother hand-sewed) and a gypsy (a hot mess of hippie clothes from my mom’s 1960’s stash).  One year we got CRAZY and I got to be a nurse (another white mumu sewed by Mom), complete with nurse’s cap borrowed from my aunt.  Amazing.  My brother was usually a hobo or an Army man.

Man, I thought my makeup was the coolest

We loved trick or treating– in St. Louis, it’s a tradition that you don’t get any candy until you tell a joke.  I didn’t realize NO ONE else does this until I moved away.  And I got a lot of blank stares when I demanded this of children on my doorstep.

I also loved carving pumpkins, but am still scared to do it myself without my father’s knife skills handy.  True story.  I can cut a fish filet but I just can’t tackle the orange beast.

Now that I think about it, Halloween is a busy time, especially if you have little ones.  So it’s best to keep the meal short and sweet.  To service that, I present hamburgers for Halloween.  Italian hamburgers.

1 1/2lb. ground chuck
1C Italian breadcrumbs
2 eggs
Salt and pepper

1 thinly sliced white onion
Italian round buns, sliced in half
Oil for frying

Mix ground chuck, bread crumbs, eggs, salt and pepper together until well-blended.  Divide meat into six patties.  Press one onion slice on top of each hamburger.  Heat a small amount of oil in a skillet and fry on both sides until done.  Place on heated buns and serve.

It’s not pretty in the pan, but it tastes good, trust me.

Trick or treat!  And if you decide to binge on candy, I’M certainly not going to judge.  Mangia!

Fall Flavors: T’s Favorite Chili

5 Oct

As the weather cools off in parts of the country that are NOT Los Angeles, a trickle of pumpkin patch pictures are starting to show up on my social media sites.  It’s the season to bust out your turtlenecks, roll in a pile of leaves and head for a hayride.

In celebration of that, here’s a super-simple, old-school, basic chili recipe that T titled in her book “My Favorite Chili.”  So hang out this weekend, throw this together in a pot and prepare to appreciate autumn.

Circa 1982. I’ve never really been “one with nature.”

3T vegetable oil
1lb. lean ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 strips green pepper, chopped
1 16oz. can chili beans in chili gravy
1 16oz. can whole tomatoes, finely chopped
2t chili powder
A few drops Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1t sugar

In a heavy saucepan, heat oil on high heat.  Add meat, onion, garlic and green pepper and saute together until meat is no longer pink.  Add beans, tomatoes and seasonings; stir to blend.  Bring to a boil, cover, lower heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes.

Like I said, this recipe is old-school.  It’s nothing fancy and it doesn’t have exotic ingredients, but sometimes, simplicity is best.  Like playing in a freaking pile of dead leaves when you’re seven.  AmIright?  Mangia!

Toddler’s First Taste: Doughnuts (Sfinge)

13 Sep

As mentioned previously on For Antonina, my niece Gia has an exceptional appetite.  And she generally eats very healthfully– lots of fruits and vegetables, and she especially loves cheese and milk.  Lately, as a toddler, her tastes have shifted over to the sweeter side, and while she doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to eat junk food, her parents give her the occasional sugary snack.  She’d never tasted a doughnut until a few weeks ago.  In fact, when asked to identify them, she simply said, “Cake?”  The excitement only built from there.

After Gia’s newborn baby sister Claire was put to bed (for her customary post-feeding nap), my brother and I decided to break in his never-been-used “Dough-Nu-Matic” doughnut maker… his awesome birthday gift from yours truly.  While the limitations of the machine required us to slightly alter the recipe and doughnut shape from the one in T’s book, they’re essentially based on the same ingredients.  And after using the monstrous machine, I realize that simply pan frying (as instructed below) is probably a LOT easier.

SFINGE (makes two dozen)
2C all-purpose flour
1/4t salt
3t baking powder
1/4t nutmeg
2 eggs
1/3C sugar
1/2C milk
Vegetable oil for frying

Combine flour, salt, baking powder and nutmeg.  Beat eggs with sugar; stir in milk.  Add to the flour mixture and beat until smooth.  Cover and let stand for 20 minutes.

Heat oil in heavy pan.  Using a scant tablespoon of dough, deep fry until golden.  Drain on absorbent paper and add toppings.

We put together a bunch of different toppings: a glaze made of equal parts milk and powdered sugar (with a splash of vanilla extract), melted chocolate chips, plain powdered sugar and a mix of granulated sugar and cinnamon.  We even added sprinkles!

These doughnuts are best right out of the hopper– they do NOT hold up the morning after (who does… ha!), so have a hungry crowd ready to chow down.  We ate these as an evening dessert and my brother paired them with a Rogue ale, based on a famous Portland, OR doughnut (the bacon maple at Voodoo).  Deelish.

Jammies on, Gia is disturbed that it’s bedtime and doughnut time is over.

As for Gia, her reaction to the sweet treats was nothing short of psychotic.  A normally sweet girl, she repeatedly screamed, “DOUGHNUTS!  DOOOOOOOUUUUUGHNUUUUTTSSSSS!” even when explicitly told it was time to go to sleep.  She continued to request them for the next three days straight.  Trust me, Baby G, you’ll have plenty of time to stuff your face when you’re older.  Mangia!

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!