THAI BEEF SALAD

Salad season is upon us.  I’m happy any time I can make a main dish salad and avoid heating up the kitchen.  Heating up the grill, however, is a not a problem.  My husband grilled a beef tenderloin the other night, and with the leftovers we made Thai Beef Salad (flank steak works well too).

If you don’t have lemongrass for the dressing, you can omit it.  I usually have some growing in a pot, and it’s very easy to propagate (I’ve done this before with lemongrass purchased at the grocery store).  My biggest problem is keeping my dogs away from it — they chew it, I think, to help with digestion.  I keep moving it higher, and they keep seeking it out:

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Jasper munching on some lemongrass

But don’t omit the fish sauce!  I keep a bottle of Three Crab fish sauce on hand.  It’s available in asian markets and most large grocery stores, and was recommended to me by a Vietnamese chef:

fish sauce

Adjust the heat of the dressing to your liking by altering the amount of crushed red pepper. The vegetables for the salad are suggestions — use whatever you like in whatever quantity you desire (I like the cool crunch that cucumbers provide, but didn’t have any on hand when I made it this time).

THAI BEEF SALAD
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Recipe type: Salad, Beef
Author:
Ingredients
  • For the dressing:
  • 4 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced lemongrass stalk*
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • For the salad:
  • Thinly sliced grilled beef
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Chopped lettuce
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Thinly sliced red onion
  • Thinly sliced shallot
  • Thinly sliced serrano peppers or thai chiles
  • Mint sprigs, for garnish
Instructions
  1. Place all dressing ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix together until brown sugar is dissolved and ingredients are well combined. Add the sliced beef and allow to sit in dressing while preparing the rest of the salad.
  2. Place chopped lettuce in a large shallow bowl or platter. Using tongs, remove beef from dressing and mound in center of lettuce. Pour dressing over lettuce around beef. Arrange tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers (or whatever vegetables you are using) decoratively around beef. Scatter shallots and chiles over salad. Garnish with mint. Serve at room temperature.
  3. *To mince the lemongrass, use the woody stalk, peeling off the outer layer. Mash the stalk by whacking it with the flat side of a knife, then finely mince.

thai beef salad

A great warm weather meal

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Grilled tenderloin is the star of this salad

Special thanks to my friend Tori for the exotic wood salad servers she brought me as a souvenir from her recent trip to Thailand:

salad servers

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN — DECEMBER 14

Tamales are a holiday tradition in Texas and elsewhere.  Traditional tamales begin with a dough called masa, made from nixtamalized corn (soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and then hulled) or a masa mix, such as Maseca, and lard (gasp!) or vegetable shortening, or even butter.  The masa is spread on corn husks or plantain leaves, with a few tablespoons of sweet or savory filling, folded up into a neat little packet, and then steamed until the masa is firm.

Tamales are eaten year-round, but during the holidays, they are extremely popular. Perhaps this is because making tamales is usually done in large batches — tens, if not hundreds, at a time — and is a nice way to bring generations together to assemble them.

There are several ways to get your tamale holiday fix.  Most Mexican restaurants sell them this time of year — some even set up tamale stands:

tamale stand

If you’re lucky, someone in your office has a grandmother or aunt that sells homemade tamales this time of year (if so, do yourself a favor and get a dozen or two).  You can also order them online — Texas Tamale Company has some nice sets that make welcome gifts, especially for out-of-state friends.  Or . . . you can make your own.

Yep, this year I finally learned how to make tamales.  I signed up for a Tamales 101 class with Sylvia Casares, owner of Sylvia’s Enchiladas and Houston’s unofficial Enchilada Queen.

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The first part of the class was instructional, where we watched Sylvia prepare the several ingredients necessary to make the tamales.  Sylvia chatted while preparing chile sauce, pork filling, and masa, sharing bits about her life, Mexican food, and the antiques that decorate her attractive restaurant.

Complimentary beverages were served, including margaritas.

pina colada

Too young for a margarita?  A virgin pina colada will do.

Once all the components were ready, Sylvia showed us how to spread the masa on the pre-soaked corn husk, and how much filling to add:

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At this point, the class moved to the dining room, where each person had their own tamale-making station:

And away we rolled!  One of the staff admired my tamales and declared them perfect:

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We packed up our tamales for steaming at home (which, I must say, were quite tasty, with a perfect masa-to-filling ratio).  Before leaving we were also treated to a plate of enchiladas, a tamale, and a taco (which I unfortunately scarfed down without taking a picture).

Will I ever make tamales at home?  I’d like to think so, although on a smaller scale, and probably without lard.  I am also intrigued by the idea of sweet tamales, which Sylvia described to us, and which take significantly less preparation.  Perhaps this will become a new holiday tradition for my family.

In the event you might like to try your hand at tamales, or are interested in seeing what’s involved, I’m including the recipes from the class (there’s a separate recipe for each component). These recipes will make approximately 5 dozen tamales.  If making tamales seems involved, it’s because it is — that’s why it’s fun to do it with several people.  The fillings below (Pork Guisado and/or Pollo Guisado) can be prepared a day or two in advance.  Note that Sylvia’s masa is different than that used in most tamales (and also tastier), because it’s flavored with a chile sauce — most consist of only masa and lard or vegetable shortening.

CHILI SAUCE FOR MASA
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Recipe type: Sauce
Author:
Ingredients
  • 5 guajillo chiles (stems and seeds removed)
  • 2-1/4 cups water
Instructions
  1. Place water and chiles in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool for approximately 15 minutes,
  2. Using a food processor or blender, blend all ingredients until smooth. Pour through a strainer to remove any solids.
  3. Set aside to add to masa.

 
SAUCE FOR PORK GUISADO
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Recipe type: Sauce
Author:
Ingredients
  • 15 guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 5 chile de arbol, stems removed
  • ½ of a large onion, quartered
  • 5 cups water
  • 4 cloves garlic
Instructions
  1. Place chiles, onion, and water in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Set aside to cool for approximately 15 minutes.
  2. Using a food processor or blender, blend all ingredients until smooth. Pour through a strainer to remove any solids.
  3. Blend garlic with ¼ cup water and add to pureed chiles.
  4. Set aside for use in Pork Guisado.

 
POLLO GUISADO
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Recipe type: Poultry
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 whole chicken, approximately 3 pounds, cut into 8 pieces, skin removed
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 large tomato, cored, seeded, and diced
  • ½ cup tomato sauce
Instructions
  1. Place the chicken, water, and salt in a large stockpot and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the chicken from the pot and shred the chicken into small pieces. Reserve the broth.
  2. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic, peppercorns, and cumin seeds.
  3. Combine the shredded chicken with the ground garlic and spices and add to the reserved broth. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to simmer. Add onion, bay leaf, tomatoes, and tomato sauce, and simmer for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool
  4. When cool, drain most of the liquid and discard bay leaves. Cover and refrigerate chicken until ready to use.

 
PORK GUISADO TAMALE FILLING
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Recipe type: Porl
Author:
Ingredients
  • 7-1/2 pounds pork butt (approximate yield after trimming fat is 4-1/2 pounds)
  • 5 cups water
  • ½ large onion, quartered
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1/-12 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt
Instructions
  1. Trim excess fat from pork. Dice pork into ½-inch pieces.
  2. Place pork, water, onion, garlic, and salt in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until very tender, approximately 1-1/2 hours.
  3. Remove pork from pot and set aside in a large saute pan. Reserve pork stock for use in preparing masa.
  4. Add vegetable oil to pan and saute pork over medium heat until edges begin to brown.
  5. Cover and set aside to cool.
  6. To prepare Pork Guisado:
  7. Add Sauce for Pork Guisado to browned pork pieces. Add cumin, oregano, pepper, and salt to the mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.
  8. Optional: When cool enough to handle, shred pork by hand, which will make it easier to use for tamale filling.

 
MASA FOR TAMALES
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Author:
Ingredients
  • 14 cups Maseca Instant Corn Masa Flour
  • 2-1/2 pounds lard (or vegetable shortening or softened butter)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 1-1/2 cups Chili Sauce for Masa
  • 3-1/2 cups water
  • 3-1/4 cups reserved pork stock
Instructions
  1. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
  2. Combine lard (or vegetable shortening or butter), pork stock, Chile Sauce for Masa, and water in a large sauce pan. Heat over medium-high heat to melt the lard, using a whisk to combine all ingredients.
  3. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients in 2-3 batches.
  4. Mix all ingredients and knead (with your hands or using an electric mixer) until dough is well-blended and light. This will take 15-20 minutes of kneading.
  5. Cover and set aside until ready to use.

 
TAMALES
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Recipe type: Main Course, Pork, Chicken
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 bag corn husks that have been soaked for at least one hour (soak in 1 gallon warm water, and weight them down so that they are submerged)
  • Prepared masa
  • Pork Guisado or Pollo Guisado (or other desired filling)
Instructions
  1. Using a spackle tool or small spatula, place a lump of masa in the center of a corn husk (a little larger than a walnut, smaller than a golf ball).
  2. With the spackle tool, spread the masa evenly almost to the edges of the husk. The husk is triangular (i.e., wide on one end, narrow on the other) -- the masa should be spread on the wide end, approximately 4 inches toward the narrow end.
  3. Place a few tablespoons of filling down the center of the masa.
  4. Fold the sides of the husk, one at a time, toward the center. They will overlap. Fold the pointed end of the husk up over the filled part. Place tamale in a container with the tail side down (to help keep it from opening up).
  5. Repeat with remaining husks.
  6. To cook the tamales, place them in a pot with a steamer rack. Add enough water to cover the rack. Tamales need to be steamed standing up, with the open end facing up. (You can place a small bowl in the center of the rack and arrange the tamales around it.)
  7. Cover the pot and cook over low heat for about 1-1/2 hours. Then turn off the heat and leave pot on burner for another 30 minutes.
  8. When tamales are cooked completely, the husk will peel easily from the masa.

 

 

 

BEEF TINGA TACOS

IMG_6141I found this colorful hand-embroidered runner at an estate sale.  The handiwork was quite neatly done:IMG_6142I used to love to do needlepoint and crewel, but this is a perfect example of why I don’t do it anymore.  I see TONS of needlepoint, cross-stitch, crochet, and crewel items at estate sales.  They seem to have very little sentimental or other value.  It’s one thing to do it to while away the hours, but I can assure you that anyone that thinks their handiwork will become a treasured heirloom is deluding themselves.

Runners like these, and their cousins doilies, are a thing from days gone by.   I picture this runner gracing a table or dresser in an elderly woman’s home.  Maybe there’s a few small glasses for sherry sitting on it.  There would probably be a little bell nearby, for summoning staff or family  (like Hector Salamanca in Breaking Bad).  Can’t you hear it — that faint little “ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling?”

With “ting-a-ling” on my brain, I was inspired to make Beef Tinga Tacos.  Well, that and the fact that Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner.  As the haters are quick to point out, it is a common misconception that Cinco de Mayo celebrates the day Mexico won its independence from Spain (that day is celebrated on September 16 — mark your calendars).  Cinco de Mayo commemorates the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, a relatively small battle that resulted in Mexico’s victory over France in 1862.  In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is not widely celebrated outside of Puebla.

So if Mexico doesn’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo, why do we?  According to several sources, Cinco de Mayo was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1967, when some students from California State University decided to commemorate the battle as a way to celebrate Mexican culture. Yet another step closer to being Cliff Clavin

So Cinco de Mayo is kind of a made up holiday.  To which I say SO WHAT?  I live in Texas — we don’t need much of an excuse to drink margaritas and eat tacos.  These Beef Tinga Tacos are effortless, which leaves that much more time for drinking margaritas and busting piñatas.  And I promise, you will not have to ring a bell to get your family to come running for these.

BEEF TINGA TACOS
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Recipe type: Beef, Main Course
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds brisket, trimmed of fat
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 14-ounce can beef broth
  • 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons adobo sauce from canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Flour or corn tortillas
  • Minced onion
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
Instructions
  1. Cut brisket into 3 pieces and place in slow cooker. Add onions and garlic. In a medium bowl, mix together cumin, oregano, coriander, broth, tomato sauce, adobo sauce, and honey, and pour over brisket. Cook on high until meat is tender and shreds easily with a fork, 7-8 hours. When cool enough to handle, shred meat using two forks. Transfer shredded meat and cooking liquid to a large stockpot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until liquid is reduced and meat is still moist but not soupy, approximately 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. To serve, spoon filling into flour or corn tortillas, and top with minced onion and chopped fresh cilantro.

 

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 Cut the brisket into three pieces

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Add onions and garlic

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 Pour the liquids and spices over the brisket

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Set on high and go do something else for 7-8 hours 006Tinga-ling!

SHEPHERD’S PIE

IMG_5731Back when I first started this blog, I did a post for Divine Lemon Bars that was inspired by a poster made in 1911 by James Lee in Chicago, Illinois, which had the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments on it.  At the same estate sale at which I bought the Lord’s Prayer poster, I also bought this James Lee poster with “The Lord Is My Shepherd” printed on it, from Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul;

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

Yea, though  I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

for thou art with me;

thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Though preparest a table before me

in the presence of mine enemies:

thou anointest  my head with oil;

my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life:

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever

When I was young, I thought I might want to be a shepherd.  It’s easy, I herd.  Turns out I couldn’t get the staff (cue collective groan).  But I did meet a man once dressed as a shepherd, who told me he was a spy.  I asked him why he was dressed as a shepherd, and he told it me it was because . . . wait for it . . . he was a shepherd spy.

I know what you’re thinking right about now, something like “get the flock out of here.” So without further punnery, I bring you this recipe, inspired by the Lord Is My Shepherd poster, for Shepherd’s Pie, a dish the whole family will enjoy.  I think that because it’s made with ground beef it is technically, according to some sources, a cottage pie — the conventional wisdom being that shepherds are concerned with sheep, and therefore, shepherd’s pie is made with lamb.  Other sources say that cottage pie and shepherd’s pie are synonymous terms.  Don’t lose sleep over it.  To prepare the mashed potatoes, I usually add a few garlic cloves to the boiling water, and mash them up right along with the potatoes (a ricer works best for me), and add just enough butter and half and half to make them smooth and creamy (not gummy), then season with salt and pepper.  You, of course, can make them any way you want — even instant mashed potatoes will work fine.

SHEPHERD'S PIE
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Recipe type: Beef, Main Course
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup frozen peas and carrots*
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 beef bouillon cube**
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 cups seasoned mashed potatoes (from approximately 3 large potatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • *Note: Can substitute 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables for corn and peas and carrots
  • **Note: Can substitute ½ cup beef broth for bouillon and water
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until golden. Add beef and saute until lightly browned, breaking up with a spoon as necessary. Stir in frozen vegetables and mushrooms. Dissolve bouillon cube in water, add to corn starch mixture, then stir into beef along with Worcestershire sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes, until mixture begins to thicken.
  3. Spoon beef mixture into an ungreased 9x13 baking dish (alternatively, can use 4 individual casserole dishes). Spread potatoes evenly over top. Brush lightly with melted butter. Bake for 25-30 minutes. If desired, broil for 2-3 minutes until potatoes are very lightly browned.

 IMG_5239Preparing the filling

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 Mashed potatoes go on top

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 Spread them over the filling

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Ready!

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You too, can be a shepherd spy

SLOPPY JOES

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I found this cheery birthday postcard on ebay.  What a thoughtful person the sender must have been.  It was sent 99 years ago!

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I don’t know when birthday postcards fell out of favor, but I vote to bring them back.  Today the sender would probably go on Facebook and write “Happy Birthday!  Hope it’s a great one!  <3 <3 <3.”  Or maybe send a text message, like “HAPPY B-DAY 2U, HOPE UR DAY IS GR8T! :)”  Although I appreciate the electronic sentiments, I’m still touched when someone goes to the trouble to send me a birthday card.  (The same is true for invitations, birth announcements, etc. — the electronic versions aren’t nearly as nice.)

Following the trench warfare during WWI that took place in the poppy fields of Flanders in Belgium, poppies became a symbol of remembrance of soldiers who have died in war.  Wearing a poppy on Memorial Day has been a tradition in the U.S. since 1924.  Remember the crepe paper poppies that the American Legion used to sell?

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The opium poppy, papaver somniferum, is the plant from which opium is derived.  The Latin name means “sleep-bringing properties,” and thus, poppies are often associated with sleep.  Remember Dorothy snoozing in the field of poppies?

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So maybe the poppies on the birthday postcard symbolized that someone was being remembered on their birthday.  Or maybe it was just to wish the person a sleep-filled day.  Speaking of birthdays, mine was this week.  I look forward to this day all year, because after all, I get a bunch of presents, and I get to go out to eat at my favorite restaurant, and I get a new party outfit, and several hundred people wish me happy birthday on Facebook, and I get a party with a petting zoo and a themed-cake, and, oh yeah, that’s my kids’ birthdays, not mine.  Over the years, as we got busier with work and kids and life in general, and our calendars overflowed with commitments of all sorts, I grew to expect less and less each year on my birthday.

Two years ago, I discovered that although the birthday bar is low for me, it does exist.  My husband had been in California for four months working day and night on a trial.  It was the longest he’d ever been away from us.  I didn’t expect much, given how hard he’d been working, but I thought for sure he’d call on my birthday.  I didn’t hear from him before I left for work, but didn’t think too much about it.  He’d sent flowers for our anniversary the month before, and I thought maybe there would be flowers waiting for me at the office (we almost never send flowers).  Nope.  Around noon I called him, and he answered the phone with “WHAT?”  I said, “I thought you might want to wish me Happy Birthday,” and he said, “Your birthday is tomorrow.”  I corrected him, and then listened to him curse himself for a few minutes before telling him not to worry about it and hanging up.

So the burden of celebrating my birthday fell on my teenagers, who failed to rise to the occasion.  Maybe they muttered “happy birthday,” I’m not sure.  They quit making cards years ago.  We had a scout meeting that night that we couldn’t skip, which meant no birthday dinner with the kids.  We got home around 9 p.m. and settled in to watch a little TV before bed.  I woke up on the couch around 1 a.m. — the kids had gone up to bed and just left me there asleep on the couch.  Thank heavens for the dog that kept me company.  Like I said, I don’t expect much, but it has to be something more than nothing.

This year I didn’t want another sleep-filled birthday, so I didn’t leave anything to chance.  I arranged lunch with friends at a new restaurant, and had dinner with other friends at another new restaurant.  My daughter was babysitting that night, and my husband and son were camping all weekend, so we agreed in advance that we would celebrate later.  I brought my own birthday cake to work, because I’ve only been there 6 months and wasn’t sure if they knew or cared it was my birthday.  It turned out they did know and were planning to order a cake.  :)  I signed up for an herb symposium, which I really enjoyed (more on that later).  There was an unexpected surprise from the Texas Supreme Court in a case I’ve been working on, and that made the day extra special.  I had a great birthday, and am looking forward to wrapping it up with dinner with my family tonight.

One final note about poppies.  When my son was in grade school, he came home one day and told us that he had “sloppy poppies” for lunch.  Of course, he meant Sloppy Joes, but as his parents, it cracked us up, much like everyone thinks “sketti” is hilarious the first time their kid blurts that out.  Inspired by the cheery poppy birthday postcard, I made homemade Sloppy Poppies Sloppy Joes.  They are so good and easy, and I have sent them many times as part of a compassion meal (with big hamburger buns, chips, cookies, and fruit salad), to let the recipient know that they are in our thoughts.  The recipe is adapted from The New Basics by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

SLOPPY JOES
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Recipe type: Beef, Main Course
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • ½ green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ cup tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 4 hamburger buns, split
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add onion, celery, bell pepper, and oregano, and saute until vegetables are tender. Add ground beef and cook until meat is browned, breaking the meat up with a spoon as necessary. Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes. Spoon over split hamburger buns and serve hot.

 

sloppy joes

 My love upon your Birthday, dear

A happy day, a happy year,

And think of me this morning, too

Because I always think of you.

<3 <3 <3

ITALIAN-STYLE CARPACCIO SANDWICH

I found these Italian fashion sketches on ebay, and they hang in my daughter’s room.  According to the seller, Paolo, also known as ranger335, his aunt owned a fashion house in the 1960s.  Eva’s Fashion House employed six agents, who traveled throughout Italy and the south of France showing sketches of his aunt’s collections tp dressmakers.  The dressmakers would order designs, and Eva’s Fashion House would provide them with whatever was necessary to make each garment.

Each sketch is a handmade original, using watercolors and airbrushing.  Paolo inherited his aunt’s design sketches, and I believe he must have thousands of drawings.  You can still find them on ebay.  The colors are bright, and the drawings are detailed and whimsical.  If you are looking for something fun for a young girl’s room, these are perfect.

 

Perfect outfit to wear to the next PTO meeting

I confess, I am not a fashionista.  When it comes to my wardrobe, “Italian style” means a blouse with spaghetti sauce splattered on it.  And if you are a woman who wears anything larger than an A-cup bra, you know exactly where those spaghetti sauce splatters are.  Yep, sitting right there on the old Continental Shelf.

Even though I lack Italian fashion sense, I have a great appreciation for Italian food.  I grew up in New York, in a town that had a lot of Italian families.  My friends’ moms were incredible Italian home cooks.  I used to love walking into their homes and smelling their mom’s gravy simmering on the stove.  If we were lucky, we’d be invited to roll meatballs to add to the gravy.

There was one Italian mom I remember particularly well, not for her style or cooking, but for her vocal chords.  This was back in the days before cell phones (back before pretty much everything, now that I think about it), when it was much more challenging to pin down your kid’s whereabouts.  When dinnertime rolled around, if her son hadn’t made it home, instead of phoning all over the neighborhood, she’d just fling the door open, and at the top of her lungs would yell, “ANT-NY, DINNER!”  To this day, every Anthony I meet is secretly an Ant-ny to me.

One of my family’s current favorite Italian foods is carpaccio, a dish from the Piedmont region of Italy, invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice.  The original dish was comprised of thin slices of raw beef with a dijon mustard sauce.  Today, carpaccio is used more generically, to mean thinly sliced raw meat or fish, or even vegetables.  It took me a long time to come around to carpaccio, as I’m not a fan of raw beef.  I think I can trace it back to my time working in New York.  The law firm I worked at in Manhattan was in the Pan Am (now the MetLife) Building.  We occasionally had receptions at the Sky Club at the top of the building, and steak tartare was one of the club’s signature dishes.  It was my running joke — a waiter would stick the tray in front of me and ask, “Steak tartare?” and I’d ask him if he wouldn’t mind running it under the broiler for a minute or two.  Yeah, I know, the waiters hated me.

Inspired by the vintage Italian fashion sketches, I tried my hand at making carpaccio, using rare roast beef from the deli counter, instead of raw beef.  Maybe it wasn’t authentic, but there wasn’t a caper, arugula stem, or sliver of parmesan cheese left on the plate when my family got through with it.  The next day, I still had carpaccio “fixins,” so I surprised my daughter with a carpaccio sandwich on pretzel bread for her school lunch.  I got a text from her in the middle of the day — “My sandwich was awesome!!!”  My husband and I laughed that she was probably the only kid in her school, in Houston, maybe even in the U.S., that brought a carpaccio sandwich to school for lunch that day.  Lucky girl!

ITALIAN-STYLE CARPACCIO SANDWICH ON PRETZEL ROLL
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Author:
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 2 pretzel rolls, split horizontally
  • 6 ounces thinly-sliced rare deli roast beef
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • ½ ounce shaved parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. For each sandwich, arrange roast beef slices on cut side of pretzel roll bottom. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil and lemon juice. Add arugula and toss to combine. Season arugula with salt and pepper, to taste. Mound arugula on top of roast beef, and top with capers and parmesan shavings. Add pretzel roll top, slice in half, and serve.

 

 A plate of carpaccio, using rare deli roast beef.

“Awesome” carpaccio sandwich in the making.

“ANT-NY, LUNCH!”

STUFFED POBLANOS

Meet Baby I See You, a recent estate sale find.  This doll has crazy eyes that appear to be following you.  Or maybe they really do follow you.  As the box threatens, “Walk to the Left.  Move to the Right.  Wherever you go, you are never out of sight.”

It should come as no surprise that this doll was still in its original packaging (i.e., never played with), where it has been safely twist-tied down for nearly a quarter of a century (“Gee, grandma, thanks for the stalker doll.”).  Until now.

This is one creepy doll.  Even my teenagers have requested that I “get it out of the house.”  (Fat chance of that happening now that I know they’re scared of it.)  I’m not sure, but I think the Littlest Stalker may have been the inspiration for Glenn Close’s character Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction.  You have to admit, the similarities are hard to ignore — the wild blonde perm, the crazy eyes . . . .

 “Walk to the Left.  Move to the Right.

  Wherever you go, you are never out of sight.” 

“I’m not gonna be ignored, Dan.”

They should have named this doll Baby I.C.U., not Baby I See You, because I’ll tell you, if I ever stumbled across creeper doll in the middle of the night, I would have had a heart attack.  In fact, if I’d had one of these dolls when the kids were little, I would never have needed to hire a babysitter — just plunk this demon doll down in the middle of the room and my kids would have sat there until we returned, too terrified to move.

But alas, I did have to hire babysitters.  Chela was one of the first ones I trusted to watch my daughter.  Chela occasionally did some housekeeping for us, and after the kids were born she would babysit for us occasionally.  I remember when we found out we were pregnant with my daughter and excitedly ran out to buy “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”  When I came home the next day after Chela had been there, I found a note taped to the book that read “Is it you, Angel?”  She knew before we had told a single soul.  Long after she became too sick to work due to complications from diabetes, she would still call on everyone’s birthday.  She also checked in every year after receiving our Christmas card, to tell me how great the kids looked and remark on how much they’d grown, and fill me in on what her beloved son Manny was up to.

Usually, I’d order pizza for the kids and their babysitters.  But one time, I had 2 leftover stuffed poblanos in the refrigerator, and I told Chela she was welcome to have them.  When I came home, she looked at me, and said simply, “Oh, those peppers . . . .”  This was high praise, indeed.  I think of her every time I make them.

Chela passed away a few years ago.  She was only 48.  About a year before she died, she wrote a farewell, which her family printed up and handed out at her funeral.  She said that she was not sad and was ready to go.  She said she looked forward to being able to eat whatever she wanted, even “a whole box of cookies with a lot of sugar.”

Inspired by recollections triggered when I sprung Baby I See You from her cardboard prison, and in memory of my friend Chela, I’m sharing my recipe for Stuffed Poblanos.  They aren’t difficult to make, just b careful handling the peppers when you’re peeling them, so as not to tear them.

STUFFED POBLANOS
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Recipe type: Main dish
Author:
Ingredients
  • 4 large or 6 medium poblano peppers
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 11-ounce can corn, rinsed and drained
  • 14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups grated cheddar, colby jack, or monterey jack cheese
Instructions
  1. Preheat broiler. Using a small knife, slit peppers lengthwise down one side, being careful not to cut through to other side. Place peppers on foil-covered baking sheet, and broil until beginning to blister and blacken. Turn peppers using tongs, and broil other side. Set aside to cool. When peppers are cool enough to handle, gently remove seeds and peel off skin.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until golden. Add garlic and saute one minute more. Add ground beef and cook until browned, breaking up with a spoon as necessary. Add corn, tomatoes, parsley, oregano, chili powder, and cayenne, and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of the cheese.
  3. Carefully spoon filling into the peppers, dividing evenly among peppers. Place in an ovenproof baking dish, and sprinkle remaining cheese over peppers. Place under broiler 2-3 minutes, or until cheese is melted. (If prepared ahead, bake at 375 degrees until heated through and cheese is melted, about 20 minutes.) Serve hot.

Ready to go under the broiler. 

Nicely charred.

Seeded, peeled, and ready to be stuffed.

Almost ready for the oven.

Now they’re ready!

Ta-da!

Enjoy!