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)

CHICKEN BREASTS WITH LEMON AND PARSLEY (Serves 4 to 5)
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!

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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.

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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.

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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

RIGATONI WITH FONTINA CHEESE (Serves 6)
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!

Kids in the Kitchen: Easter Basket Cookies (Pupi Con Uova)

5 Apr

It’s Easter and Passover weekend which means a lot of family, food and fun for many of you.  I always remember Easter spent at T and Popo’s  house with the enormous freshly-picked bouquet of daffodils on the table; the cousins would hunt for eggs and everyone would eat the traditional Easter fare– ham, various veggies and an antipasto tray.

Of course, as with any celebration, we had cookies.  Easter meant the special Easter egg cookies that were such a kick for kids and a great way to use extra dyed eggs.  So gather the troops in the kitchen this weekend (working with dough is always fun for little ones) and get to work!

Rosie and Carol help in the kitchen

EASTER BASKET COOKIES (PUPI CON UOVA)
5 1/2C all-purpose flour
1t baking powder
1/8t salt
1/2C butter or margarine, softened
1/2C shortening
1C sugar
2t anise extract
4 raw eggs
12 colored hard-boiled eggs

ICING:
1 1/2C confectioners’ sugar
2 to 2 1/2T milk
Non-pareils for sprinkling

Mix together flour, baking powder and salt.  In a large bowl, combine butter, shortening, sugar and anise extract.  Beat with mixer until light and fluffy.  Add raw eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat for about two minutes.  Gradually add flour mixture until well-blended.  Shape dough into a ball.  Flatten and wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for an hour.

Roll pieced of dough into 11 1/2in. long, thick ropes.  Form in a loop (cursive lower-case “l” shape).  Place dyed egg in loop.  Roll short, thin pieces of dough and form a cross over each egg.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degreese for about 20-25 minutes.  Frost with icing and sprinkle with non-pareils.

Photo taken from http://www.cookaround.com

These are a yummy treat and unusual, too– I’ve never known another family who makes them.  Happy Easter and mangia!

Great for Guests: Make-Your-Own Pizza Party

29 Mar

Entertaining a crowd?  I love to cook, but I also love to talk and drink wine (and I don’t love spending a boatload of money on fancy ingredients).  When the mood strikes me to have guests over, or if I’m having an out-of-towner stay with me (which happens all the time when you live in sunny Southern California), I like to trot out the idea of the Make-Your-Own Pizza Party.  Because everything sounds more fun when you tack the word “Party” on the end of it.  And add wine (did I mention I love to drink wine?).

Luckily, T has both a classic dough recipe and a classic topping recipe in her book.  Let’s turn to page 200, shall we?

BASIC PIZZA DOUGH (enough for 16-inch pizza)
2 1/2C flour
1t salt
1 1/2t dry active yeast
3/4C plus 2T warm water
2T olive oil
Cornmeal

Mix flour and salt on work surface.  Make a well in the center.  Sprinkle yeast into the well.  Add two tablespoons warm water, mixing with fingertips until yeast is dissolved.  Pour in remaining water with olive oil.  Starting from inside of circle, gradually brush flour into liquid with fingers.  Gather into a ball and knead until smooth and elastic for about 7 to 10 minutes.  If dough is sticky, knead in additional flour.  Form dough into a circle and place on a lightly-greased cookie sheet.  Cover with waxed paper and towel and set in warm place to rise until doubled in volume.  Place dough on pizza pan that has been sprinkled with cornmeal and stretch with hands until dough is 1/4-inch thick.  Top with your favorite topping and bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

TOMATO-MUSHROOM TOPPING
2T olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2lb fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 16oz. can whole tomatoes
1t sugar
Salt and pepper
1/4lb mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4C grated Parmesan cheese

Saute onion, garlic and mushrooms in olive oil.  Drain tomatoes and squeeze dry.  Add to onion, garlic and mushroom mixture with sugar; add salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer together for about 5 minutes.  Cover pizza dough with tomato topping, sprinkle with cheeses.  Bake as directed.

Because this party was “Make-Your-Own,” we did!  I added pepperoni and ricotta, and my house guest went nuts– caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes, basil– you name it.  It was fun and delicious and the perfect way to cap off a super-joyful, super-busy weekend.  No stress, minor mess.  Mangia!

Happy Birthday, T!: Sicilian Slice Cookies

12 Mar

This week, a special guest post from T’s fourth-born and one of my very favorite people on the planet, Aunt Lisa!  She even baked, too!

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On March 12th, my mother will turn 88.  These days, gifts are difficult to buy.  So, I’ll send her something I know she’ll enjoy– cookies.  I’ll use one of her favorite recipes and send a small box, packed for minimal breakage.  I’ll wrap each cookie individually just to make sure.  It’s the least I can do because for years that’s exactly what my mother did for me.  Holidays and birthdays found me running to the mailbox for her special treats.  I’d open the package, close my eyes, and inhale deeply.  With this, I could be with her in her kitchen, laughing, talking, and cooking.  I could be “home” even though I lived thousands of miles away.  Eating the cookies was almost as good.

Greece, 1977. Featuring Lisa, T and T's sunglasses

My mother used traditional flavors, which I seldom cook with now, like anise and coconut.  And nuts… she poured them in, measuring in pounds, not cups.  One Christmas when I was living overseas, I opened the box to find every cookie in crumbs.   I lied to my mother by phone saying they’d arrived in perfect condition.  Well, it wasn’t exactly a lie because they were perfect.  I ate every last cookie, with a spoon.

SICILIAN SLICE COOKIES
6 eggs, slightly beaten
1C sugar
1C vegetable oil
4 drops anise oil or a ½t of walnut oil
1 to 2C raisins or dried cranberries
1lb chopped walnuts
4C all-purpose flour

Combine all ingredients, adding flour last.  Mix to blend well.  Mixture should be stiff enough to hold shape; if not, add a little more flour.  Shape dough into two long loaves and place on a slightly grease cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the loaves are slightly brown.  Remove from the oven, cool slightly, and cut into ½in. slices.  Return slices to the cookie sheet and toast on both sides, about 10 minutes.  Cool slightly and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Happy Birthday, T!

This recipe is one of my mom’s favorites, and mine too.  These treats are perfect with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

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The amount of cookies yielded depends only on how large or small you slice them.  Mangia!

Fantastic For Friends: Basic Risotto

5 Mar

I am very lucky in that I have friends who I love, who love to eat.  They are fun to cook for and even more fun to enjoy a meal with.  I’m also lucky (and flattered!) that they think I’m a good cook.  They’re actually impressed (trust me, few people are ever impressed with what I’m doing).  What’s important to note here is that there are a few recipes in my bag of tricks that I go back to again and again, so they’ve been perfected over the years.  And once you’ve mastered the basic to do’s, you can add delicious things like your favorite veggies or proteins.  I’ve made risotto easily a hundred times using T’s recipe, which is foolproof (so get cooking, fools!).

BASIC RISOTTO (Serves 4)
2T butter
1T olive oil
1/2 large white onion, diced (or a small yellow onion)
2 cloves garlic (more or less, depending on what you like)
1C arborio rice
1/4C dry white wine
5C (one box if store-bought) low-sodium chicken broth, heated to a simmer in a separate pot
1/2C grated Parmesan cheese

Heat one tablespoon butter and olive oil in saucepan over low heat and saute onion until soft and translucent, about five minutes.  Add rice and stir until it is well-coated with butter and oil and slightly toasted.  Add wine and cook until almost evaporated.

Add hot chicken broth in approximately three or four installments, only adding once the previous addition is absorbed.  Cook over medium heat, uncovered, and stir now and then.  The risotto is ready when the rice is creamy but firm.  Turn off heat, adding remaining one tablespoon of butter and grated cheese.  Serve immediately with extra cheese for grating on top.

NOTE: Even though it is NOT traditional to mix seafood and cheese, during the final stock addition, I add 1/2lb. sea scallops and 1/2lb. medium peeled shrimp (tails removed).  I also commit a culinary sin by not cooking the fish separately and adding it at the end when serving the rice.  Cook it all together!  It’s easier and only takes a few minutes (so as not to overcook the seafood).  It also involves less pans to clean, and tastes just fine.  I’ve never heard any complaints.  And the seafood makes you seem fancy to all of your guests.

This is probably too monochromatic-- if you're feeling really luxurious, add a little chopped flat-leaf parsley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t tell you the number of people I talk to who say risotto seems intimidating.  While it does take a time commitment (about an hour of active chopping, stirring and plating), it’s so relaxed and casual, it’s the perfect time to perch your pals on kitchen chairs and get the latest dirt over the wine you already had to open to cook the rice.  Just don’t be surprised after you make it the first time, you’ll get the request again and again.  Mangia!