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Monthly Archives: September 2009
The weather here in SF has been nothing if not confusing these past few weeks. Not only have we had rain, including thunder and lightning (which rarely, if ever, occurs here), but in a span of 3 days, we have gone from 95° to 55°, with no knowledge of which way the wind will blow next (literally, folks, I mean it).
With the hope that Fall is really coming to us, and all of those great new releases, I’ve been thinking a lot about popcorn. Not the microwave kind, nor the Jiffy-Pop stovetop popper kind, and most certainly not the air popper kind. No. The Joe kind. My Dad makes the best oil-popped popcorn around. And I should know, since popcorn was a bring your own affair to movie theaters and baseball games alike.
This was as much out of necessity (imagine buying popcorn for five kids and two adults…it could cost as much as a downpayment on a small house), as it was out of personal taste. It is yet another example of Gran Fran and Joe’s unerring level of taste, which extended even to snack foods.
Getting everyone out the door for the movies, not only involved a final trip to the bathroom for all (which always led Gran Fran to yell out “Gotta go to the bathroom Anthony?”, apparently this was something she often overheard as a child in her Brooklyn neighborhood, being yelled from a window to kids on the street), but also to the preparation and packaging of everyone’s popcorn.
There were two packaging methods, plastic quart bag with a twist tie, or a brown paper lunch sack. I am unclear to this day as to whether or not these co-existed, or if we transitioned from one type of bag to the other over time. Regardless, the popcorn went with us in a lare purse, and somehow we always made it into the theater with our secret stash intact until the lights went down.
To this day, even though I have been known to consume huge quantities of movie theater popcorn, it never quite lives up to Joe’s. The secret, I believe, is his use of olive oil as teh cooking medium. It leaves the popcorn just moist enough to not burn, but no too soggy. And, there is no butter served or offered. Instead, salt, cayenne pepper or just black pepper are accompaniments for Joe’s popcorn. I don’t think I even realied that butter was an option until I was grown and buying popcorn at the movies myself. I do sometimes add butter at home, but usually, just sprinkle some more olive oil over the top when cooking is complete.
I can no longer keep popcorn kernals in my house. Many a night has passed without dinner while I watch movies at my house. Instead, I can be found on the couch with a mixing bowl large enough to hold a small baby in it, filled with popcorn, covered in olive oil, salt and cayenne, alongside a big glass of water. Needless to say, my belly isn’t well for hours afterward, but it is sually worth the slight stomach upset in return for the goodness of JoeCorn (I just made that name up, but I think it might stick).
JoeCorn (or Popcorn: The Joe Way)
I pretty much follow the instructions on jar, except that I don’t put the corn in until the pot is hot. So, do the following once you have determined how much corn you shall pop:
Three generous tablespoons of oil and four or five kernels into the pot. High heat until one of the kernels pops. Then add the rest of the corn and lower the heat to medium-high.
Jostle the pot every 20 seconds or so, even after the popping begins. When the popping slows, turn the heat off and leave the pot on the burner until the popping stops.
If you want to surprise your guests, offer cayenne along with the salt, both to be administered in bowls filled from the serving bowl.
“Sorry, no, that is just not hot enough. May I see the chef?”
So said Gran Fran on a visit to a now defunct Asian Fusion retaurant in the Castro, on one of her many visits to the San Francisco familia. Though it didn’t happen often, this kind of phrase passed Gran Fran’s lips often enough for us to quietly await the chef’s appearance, whereupon Gran Fran would make it abunduntly clear how spicy she told the waitperson she wanted her food to be. The chef would debate with her, telling her that there was no way she would be able to handle the full load of spicy that she requested.
But, in the end, the mighty Gran Fran would prevail and the chef would concede defeat, go back to the kitchen, and make her the hottest, spiciest chicken dish she could imagine. He would then stand tableside and witness my mother eat the whole plate, with a bit of watery eyes, but no other huge side affects. After episodes such as this, Gran Fran would leave with a handshake from the chef and accolades from all about her spice-enduring palette.
Back at home, while we were growing up, whenever there was entertaining going on, a nice antipasta spread would appear on the coffee table. The usual suspects were always there: salami, pepperoni, fresh mozarella, Italian bread or homemade focaccia (made from the local Italian baker’s pizza dough at our house). My favorite amongst these treats, though, were the freshly fried Italian hot peppers. They are oily, spicy, salty and oh-so-satisfying all at the same time. Nothing tastes better than these on a piece of fresh Italian bread, with a bit of the cooing oil soaked into the bread.
Recently, I asked Gran Fran how old we were before she allowed us to eat the hot peppers. Her recollection is that they were just there, on the table and if you were interested, you could have some. In my mind, I think I was about ten years old when I first tried the peppers. It is unclear to me if I imagined this next part, if maybe it happened to one of my siblings, or if it was in one of the many Italian-American movie food scenes where I may have picked this up. But, I do recall spitting hot peppers across the dining room with them landing splat on the wall. Regardless if this did happen or not, I loved the hot peppers right from the get-go.
Another hazy recollection I have with my love affair with hot peppers, was the fact that while I was pregnant, I decided I had to have these peppers. Now, if you have ever been pregnant, it is safe to say that if you have a yearning for something, the desire to eat that something outweighs whether or not said something is a good idea for your little bambino. If memory serves me right, I recall having a very jumpy baby on the inside, and the feeling that a hole was being burned through my stomach.
But, I also remember being momentarily sated and contented by the familiar flavors and warm aromas of Gran Fran’s Hot Peppers.
- 1 pound hot peppers, mixed, sliced in 1/4-inch rounds (No habaneros, their taste is too pronounced.)
- 4 cloves garlic, diced, not too small
- 1 cup (yes, one cup!) olive oil
- Generous sprinkling of coarse salt.
1. Place everything in a pan that should hold them in one layer. If you must, as they start cooking, spread them around.
2. Place pan over low heat. Let them cook undisturbed for about 15 minutes; stir and spread out in pan. Stir and spread every 15 minutes. Watch closely after about 40 minutes to avoid burning. They should come crisp and tasty with the garlic a nice color and all ready to eat.
The title says a lot here, especially in this day and age of eating healthy, not too much fat/carbs/sugars, or whatever people are avoiding right now. I am as much a victim of this behavior as anyone. Just ask A & R who are subjected to my ever-changing food beliefs every lunchtime (at one point, I went so far as to only eat leafy greens, nuts and herbal tea for a week…ah, but I digress).
So, there is not much of an opportunity to feel okay making a dish that calls for “two pounds of best quality cheddar” (BTW, “Best Quality” is another Gran-Franism, that ranks almost as high as non-reactive pan in her lexicon). There is really only one event that continues to allow me to make this dish: Childbirth.
What new parent could refuse a huge batch of Best Quality Mac and Cheese? I certainly couldn’t when two of my sisters made enough to fill my freezer when little Iz was born. The joy of pulling out a nicely wrapped (in waxed paper then in aluminum foil, ala Gran Fran) chunk, throwing it in the oven at 375 degrees to reheat and waiting for the cheesy goodness to be ready, cannot be described.
The biggest bonus to new motherhood is that there is a small window where you are licensed to eat just about whatever you want. So I ate with abandon, my lovely gift from my sisters. Since I can no longer eat with abandon (read: cholesterol, age), I have found a very receptive group who do appreciate the greatness that is Gran Fran’s Best Quality Cheddar Mac and Cheese: new parents in our friends and family circle.
Ah, let the cheesy goodness prevail!
Gran Fran’s Best Quality Cheddar Mac and Cheese
(4 if you want to eat huge portions like a maniac!)
One Large Non-Reactive Stockpot (nonstick if you have it)
One Large Baking Dish (I usually use a 9×12″ Pyrex)
- 1 pound Elbow Macaroni, cooked and drained
- 3 Tbs Butter
- 3 Tbs Flour
- 3 Cups Milk
- 1 and 1/2 pounds Best Quality Cheddar, crumbled or shredded (preferably white, it just looks better!)
- 1 Tsp. Dry Mustard
- 1 Tsp. Cayenne (you can add more it you like it spicier)
- 1/4 cup Bread Crumbs (may need a little more or less here, it’s to cover the top)
- Butter for the top, and for greasing the pan
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Make a roux (which is just the butter and flour mixed together over medium heat in the stockpot, until it turns brown).
- When roux has browned, add the milk. Stir well over high heat for 1 minute, then reduce the heat.
- Add the dry spices.
- Simmer 10 minutes on low, stirring occasionally.
- Add crumbled or shredded cheese. Stir until melted
- Add cooked/drained macaroni. Stir until well coated.
- Butter the baking dish well. Pour in the mixture of Mac and Cheese from the stockpot into the baking dish.
- Sprinkle bread crumbs over the top, and butter in small pieces as well.
- Bake at 375 degrees on top of a baking sheet for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling up at the sides.
OK, I have sent Ms. Iz back to school already, and am now posting my summer vacation musings. So very sorry for the long absence, but I am back, so please enjoy!!
“It’s Summer Vacation!!!!”
You get to say this just after the last bell of the last day of school rings. And, I prefer to scream if at the top of my lungs, in public, to the dismay of my daughter, Iz. But, it starts off the summer with a bang.
Just after school ends, it is likely you will find me and Iz on an early morning flight to NY for an extended stay. This year, it has been two weeks long. With the number of cousins, aunts, uncles and the famous Gran Fran and Joe to visit, we can use as much time as possible here.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the meals. I believe I ate enough over the last two weeks to comfortably miss a month’s worth of food. Not only did Gran Fran and Joe outdo themselves with copious amounts of food and drink on offer at any time of the day or night, but my siblings did as well.
Each house offered up it’s own special dish, each excellent in it’s own way. So, my friends, here is an ode to my many family members and friends who made with the love and the food while we were in NYC and gave us a trip to remember.
The highlight at Gran Fran’s house was the Linguini with Clam Sauce. I have made this countless times, but it never, ever, turns out like Gran Fran’s. She manages to get the sweetness of the clams to come through alongside a little bit of spice and tangy flavor of the Anise flavored liquor. I recall this being a favorite birthday meal while growing up, and such a comfort food to me.
That’s not to say that Joe didn’t also deliver the goods. Take, for exmple, his Tuna or Egg Salad, and you will never need to buy pre-made again. I recall eating either of these after school on Peperidge Farms White Sandwich Bread. There is a kick from the cayenne that is offset by the mellowness of the celery. I have yet to find a better or equal salad of this nature. But, these days I tend to eat it over salad greens (I have already discussed the carb intake, in direct relation to keeping my girlish figure at my age…need I say more?).
Bacon, which always factors heavily into my vacation breakfast rotation was another standout on this trip home. Iz, who should just be rena,ed “Little Miss. Bacon”, was in Pig Heaven (yes, pun intended, thank you very much). Gran Fran offered up bacon everyday, which Miss Iz gladly accepted.
Not only was our bacon always cooked perfectly, but it was also cooked with no mess and no fuss. The secret?? Cook it in the oven at a fairly high heat for a bit longer than it would take on the stovetop. I have tried his new-fangeled idea, and oh the joys of bacon -tastic flavor without the slippery floor/stovetop/walls to deal with.
It’s a dawning of a new bacon era around my house!
Last, but most certainly not least, The Roast Beef. Joe mqde this for us one evening, under the tutelage of Gran Fran (via phone from her office), though I believe he can make this one without the phone calls. Talk about juicy, flavorful meat. Oy! It was just divine. I donùt have much more to say on this, except that you must make it, and come to the table with an empty stomach so you can be sure to eat as much as possible. And, I would say some nice horshradish mayo would be the only addition I would make to Joe’s recipe.
I could go on and on here, but that might tap me of recipes for posts to come (OK, thqt is highly unlikely), but this is enough to give you the flavor of our summer vacation.
You can never get enough of your old-time childhood favorites, and with Gran Fran and Joe around, I will never have to!
Tuna Salad or Egg Salad a la Joe:
- Celery, two stalks, cut into small pieces
- Scallion, two, cut into small pieces
- 12 oz can of Tuna, washed and drained or 8 boiled Eggs
- 2 Tbsps Mayonnaise
- Cayenne Pepper
Combine Tuna with Celery and Scallions, mash it with a fork, add salt, pepper, cayenne. Mix in about two tablespoons of mayo, and then determine how much more you need as you mix.
For Egg Salad Variation:
- Put the 8 eggs into cold water, bring to a boil, then set the timer for five minutes.
- When that time is up, turn off the heat, leave the pot where it is and set timer for 10 minutes. Then run the eggs under cold water for several minutes.
- Slice them (I use an egg slicer), add them to the celery and scallions, mash them with a potato masher, add the seasoning, and slowly mix in mayo until you’re satisfied.
Roast Beef a la Joe:
serves 4 to 6 people
- 3.5 pounds of eye round beef
- Kosher or Coarse Salt
- Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- Dry the eye-round with paper-towels.
- Slather with salt and pepper.
- Cook on a rack to allow drippings for gravy.
- Although recipes call for 20 minutes a pound, I cook it not for 1:10, but for 1:35.
Amazing Bacon Cooked in the Oven:
serves 4 as a side dish
1 Lb Bacon (best quality that you can find)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Spread bacon out on a rack set in a sheet pan with sides.
- Bake for 20 minutes or so.
Linguine with Clam Sauce
serves 4 people
- 1 pound thin linguine
- 2 1/2 pounds baby clams
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 4 tablespoons anisette
- 1/4 cup dry vermouth or other dry white wine
- 3 cloves garlic, quartered
- Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup finely minced parsley
1. Set pasta water up to boil. Sprinkle with not too much salt; clams are salty.
2. Clean clams thoroughly under cold running water; scrub with brush
3. Warm the olive oil gently with the garlic, until garlic turns golden
4. Over medium heat, carefully add liquors
5. When alcohol evaporates, add clams and turn heat high and put a lid on pan.
6.Clams should cook in less than 5 minutes.
7. Add pasta and a dollop of pasta water. Stir over medium heat to combine. Add parsely; serve.