Sunday, November 29, 2015

Food Coma

I'm going to begin today by defining for you what Italians mean by a "heavy fork".

A heavy fork is a person who likes to eat a lot of food.  I'm not talking about every day, all the time.  I'm talking about sitting down, hungry, like for Sunday dinner.  A heavy fork doesn't do well in one of those restaurants where they charge you two months of lunch for a steak the size of your palm with a curly leaf on top and stuff squiggled on the plate underneath.  Heavy forks like old style restaurants where they fill your plate.  Bonus points if the menu is written on a chalkboard and/or they don't accept credit cards.

So a heavy fork is not necessarily a fat person.  Many are quite thin.  They can exist for weeks on salads and sardines and buttered toast.  Maybe a little zuppa.  My husband, Anthony, is one of these people.  Some people think that I am, too, but they don't know the size of my hips because I'm really good at hiding it.

I'm saying all this because today I'm doing something with leftover turkey.  Turkey tetrazzini.  And to understand the recipe, you also need to understand the following:
  1. We are heavy forks;
  2. Turkey tetrazzini tastes really, really good;
  3. When something tastes good we want to eat lots of it.
This recipe, like many of mine, comes from The Joy of Cooking.  Sort of.  The problem with recipes from The Joy of Cooking is that the authors are neither Italian nor (apparently) heavy forks.  Their recipes are generally for 4 to 6 Puritans, which will generally satisfy 2 Italians.  Maybe.  So, most of the time, I have to translate.  The beautiful thing is that it works.

Turkey tetrazzini is maybe the best thing you can do with your leftover turkey.  Because it is made with a lot of cream sauce, it's the perfect thing to make with dried-out white meat.  This is an easy recipe, but not fast, so allow yourself some time.  Take the opportunity to finish off any leftover wine from the holiday.

Turkey Tetrazzini
Wash and slice a big package of mushrooms.  I wash my mushrooms.  Some people don't.  If you don't wash your mushrooms, please don't tell me about it.  Saute the mushrooms in olive oil and a little butter.  Cook a pound of pasta.  I like "little" pasta for the tetrazzini because then you can serve it with a big spoon and it doesn't slide all over the place, but a lot of people use angel hair.  Today I used "mini-farfalle" (little butterflies).  Just as cute as it sounds.

While you're waiting for the water to boil, make the sauce.  It takes a long time, sorry.  Start on the wine.  To make the sauce, melt a stick of butter in a deep pot.  Add 8 tablespoons of flour.  Cook and stir, over medium heat, until smooth and bubble.  Gradually add 4 cups of chick broth (canned is fine) or bouillon, stirring constantly and bringing to a boil after each addition.  It will start to get thick.  After you finish adding the chicken broth, salt and pepper to taste.  Add two cups of heated cream or half-and-half.  Bring to a simmer.

Drain the pasta and add the mushrooms to it.  Cut up some leftover turkey into small pieces and add it to the pasta and mushrooms.  Pour the hot sauce over every and mix well.

Now, pour the whole thing into a large, buttered baking dish.  Sprinkle with parmigiano or romano cheese, or whatever you got.  Bake in a 375 degree over until the cheese starts to brown.

Buon appetito.

And don't worry about the calories.  You won't be eating many more of them until Christmas Eve.





Thursday, November 26, 2015

Connie Staccato Stuffs a Turkey

The secret to stuffing a turkey is - ha! - you don't.  Listen to me, I know of which I speak.  Stuffing a turkey is a PAIN IN THE ASS.  On many levels.  To begin with, you have to stuff the thing, no big deal in and of itself, but there are rules:
  1. You have to put the turkey in the oven immediately after stuffing it;
  2. You have to unstuff it before you eat, but not too long before you eat;
  3. You have to hop up from the table right after the last spoonful of cranberry sauce passes your lips to put it all away...
...before the nasty bird microbes start to interact with the nasty egg microbes in the stuffing, because that's going to kill you at room temperature.

I like to keep things simple, so I avoid the little bastards altogether and bake my stuffing "on-the-side", as we used to say.  It gets nice and brown and crunchy on top.  If you're rabid about it, you can baste it - before baking - with some of the turkey bastings.
 
I recommend baking the stuffing in those little foil cake pans, the kind that come 3-to-a-package at the grocery store.  That way, you can eat a few pans at Thanksgiving dinner and freeze the rest, in dinner-size portions, and have ready-to-go side dishes.  If you're looking to avoid seasonal blimpdom, you can send any uneaten pans of stuffing home with your guests, no repackaging required.  For the record, I am IN NO WAY above serving the stuffing in those foil pans, because - in my opinion - it's all about the food.  Not that I don't appreciate the sight of a lovely table but, once you start eating, who the hell cares?  If you do, lie to me.

This recipe is from my Sicilian-American grandmother who - in a show of patriotism - always allowed space for a turkey and trimmings alongside the lasagna at Thanksgiving.  I have modified it in two ways:
  1. I have cut the recipe down by two-thirds, size-wise.  Triple it if you're feeding three rooms full of an extended Sicilian family.  You know, the inner-circle table and the outer circle table and the kids' table.  Geographically arranged to allow for maximum yelling;
  2. I leave out the sage at the request of my husband.  This, a Sicilian woman always does:  she cooks according to the tastes of her husband, even if he wouldn't know a sage leaf if it jumped up and bit him on the butt.  She understands why he married her.  Digressions from this tradition are few and far between, even to accomodate small children.  Let me illustrate one of the main differences between the Sicilian-American Table and the Very White American People's Table.  Very White American People cook some God-forsaken pap that they think their kid will like, or they get all tough-love about it and serve the food that Mommy and Daddy like and make the kid sit there until he eats it.  Or at least tries it.  A Sicilian woman does not do this.  She cooks what her husband likes, and the kids can eat bread and butter, whatever.  Which they love.  They grow up at least knowing what good food looks and smells like.  And they learn to like lentils.
Feel free to add sage, without fear of repercussion.  Or oysters, or cranberries, or quail beaks.  Whatever floats your boat.  Just remember that if you do, I'm not responsible for the results.  But this recipe will stand up to just about anything.

The ingredients:

3 large loaves of cheap white bread, cut into 1-inch (or so) cubes
4 cups of celery, chopped into small pieces
4 cups of onions, diced
1/2 cup of fresh Italian parsley (the flat-leaf kind, it's better), chopped fine
3 sticks of butter, melted
3 eggs
1 Tbl salt
1 Tbl fresh ground pepper

The recipe:
  1. Prep your bread.  After cutting it into cubes, you can do this in one of two ways: either toast them slightly in the oven, or leave them out somewhere safe for a day or two to get a little stale.  I like the second method because I have no time or patience for anything;
  2. The day before Thanksgiving, saute the celery and onions in butter, and store (covered) in the refrigerator overnight.  WHATEVER you do, NEVER put raw chopped onions in the fridge, which will make your milk - and everything else - smell like a Chicago hot dog;
  3. On Thanksgiving, put the stale bread in the biggest pot you have.  Run some cold water over it, until bread is thoroughly damp, and squeeze it with your hands.  Add more water, if necessary, until your bread is about the consistency of paste..  It's a good idea to take your rings off before you do this.  (Author's note:  This section has been modified, on account of my son tried to make stuffing, added WAY too much water, and - of course - he blames me.);
  4. Right there in the pot, add all the other ingredients to the bread.  Mix well with a big spoon.  This takes some muscle.  When you're done, you'll have worked off your first piece of pie;
  5. With the same big spoon, put the stuffing into the cake pans.  You should get four to six of them;
  6. Cover the pans with foil and put them in the fridge until they're ready to be baked;
  7. 45 minutes to an hour before the turkey is done, uncover the stuffing and bake (until browned) as many pans as will fit in the oven with the bird.  You can bake more, if necessary, while you're eating.
How easy is that?

As far as the turkey goes (unstuffed), just put it in a big foil roasting pan into a 325 degree oven and roast it until it's done, basting it once in a while and reserving any extra juice for the gravy.  For a big, fresh turkey that should be about four hours, but ask the guy at the meat counter.  If you want to take the guesswork totally out of it, stick a meat thermometer into the thigh and the turkey's done when the thermometer says 180 degrees.  The science know-it-alls say we don't even have to wash a turkey any more.  My aunt says you still need to wash the blood off of it, and - putting it that way - I see her point.  You also might want to check for - and remove - any feathers, and don't forget to take out the neck and gizzards first, but I'm not talking to a stoonahd, right?

Assuming that you've been following me closely and doing everything I've told you to do, here are the only things you have left to do, while the turkey is roasting:
  1. Make the mashed potatoes;
  2. Make the succotash;
  3. Make the gravy;
  4. Bake the sweet potatoes;
  5. Whip the cream for the pies (see previous post).
And here are the recipes:

Mashed Potatoes
Peel and wash 8 to 10 baking potatoes.  Cut into quarters and put them in a big pot of water.  Boil until soft.  Drain and smash them up a bit.  Add a cup of hot milk, a half-a-stick of butter, and a tablespoon of salt.  Beat with an electric beater until fluffy.

Succotash
Bring a half-cup of salted water to a boil in a big pot.  Put in a package (each) of frozen corn kernels and baby lima beans.  Bring to a boil again and cover.  Turn the heat down and let cook about 10 minutes.  Add a quarter-stick of butter, a half-cup of chopped parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir it up.  You have realized by now that this meal is about 50% butter, right?  That's why it tastes good.

Gravy
Melt a stick of butter in a saucepan.  Add 8 tablespoons of flour and cook over low heat until smooth.  Gradually add 4 cups of turkey juice (reserved from basting, or a mix of turkey juice and water to make four cups) to the flour mix, cooking and stirring constantly.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer.  Cook a few more minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  If your family and guests are gravy hogs, either double the recipe, or have some packages of instant gravy mix on hand.  They won't care.
  
I would be remiss in my duties as a Sicilian-American kitchen capo di tutti capi if I didn't tell you what to do after dinner is over, which is usually signalled by your male diners turning on the second half of the football game.  Designate any food still on the table as "doggy bag" or "leftover" and package accordingly.  Stack the dishes in the sink.  But first, take a tall-size plastic garbage bag, put the turkey in it (roasting pan and all), secure tightly, and stick it on the bottom shelf of your fridge.  Remove any drawers that get in your way.

After all, it's your holiday, too.  And that bird isn't going anywhere.

Now relax and have some pie and coffee.

After the game, of course.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Eve

I've already had a martini, and the pizza is on the way.

Whatever.  It's holiday time!  Holidays begin on the "eve" and end with the leftovers.  Hence, the martini. 

I'm close, but not in the home stretch yet.  Two things are happening tonight (after pizza):  vegetable prep for the stuffing and sweet potatoes.

For the vegetables, you need two bunches of celery, wash and chop.  Fry them in a half-a-stick of butter until soft.  Transfer to a big bowl.  Then take two gigantic onions (or 3 large ones) peel, wash, and chop.  Fry them in another half-a-stick of butter until soft and a little brown.  Put them in the big bowl with the celery.  Mix it up, let cool for a while, and then put it all in a container.  Store in the fridge until tomorrow, when it will become buoni amici with the bread you've got chopped up for stuffing.

For the sweet potatoes:  Peel 3 really big sweet potatoes.  Slice into thin slices.  Butter a 9" X 13" baking pan or spray it with some "no-stick" stuff.  Now put a layer of sweet potato slices in the pan and sprinkle with lemon juice, salt, and brown sugar.  Repeat until pan is full and/or you run out of sweet potatoes.  I got four layers out of it.  Dot with lots of butter, 1/4 stick or so.  Cover pan with foil and put in the refrigerator.  You'll bake them tomorrow, at 350 degrees, for about 45 minutes to an hour.  After the sweet potatoes are baked, pull them out of the oven and cover them with marshmallows.  Then put them back in the oven and bake until the marshmallows are bubbly and browned.

That's it!  Go have another drink and go to bed.

The moment of glory is at hand.


 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Two Days Before

Today I bake pies, which makes feel like the queen of the freaking world.  Once a year, when those pies are out on the kitchen table, cooling, my husband, Anthony suddenly remembers why he married me. 

And the best part of it all is that, since the pie crust shells are ready to go, it's SO easy.  Most of the time I'll be playing Spider Solitaire, knocking back a well-earned limoncello.

Every year I do the exact same two pies:  pecan and pumpkin.  In fact, every year I do the exact same meal, which is why I've got this down.  My Thanksgiving dinner is pretty much perfect, so why would I mess with that?  I'm not saying it's healthy.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter I don't cook "healthy".  That's why they call them "holidays".

I start with the pecan pie and then do pumpkin because of the temperature of the oven.  The pecan bakes at 375 degrees.  The pumpkin starts at 425 and then goes down to 350.  Do the math.

These recipes look a little more like real recipes than I usually write, because baking is science.  Cooking is an art, and you can play around with it to suit your tastes, but not baking.  Baking is chemistry you eat.

I use 9" pie plates.  Just sayin'.

I think I got the pecan pie recipe from the back of a package of pecans.  It looked weird and, in my experience, recipes that look weird are usually great.  This one is no exception.

Pecan Pie
1 1/2 cups of corn syrup
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 cup (half a stick) of butter
1 cup of chopped pecans
3 slightly beaten eggs
1 tsp of vanilla
Dash of salt
Pie crust shell

Put the corn syrup, sugar, and butter in a saucepan and bring it to a boil on top of the stove.  Turn down the heat and boil gently for 5 minutes, stirring once in a while.  Take it off the heat and let the syrup mixture cool down a bit, maybe 45 minutes.  It will form a skin on top, but don't worry.  Just stir it until the skin melts.  Pour the pecans into the pie shell.  In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, vanilla, and salt.  When the syrup is cool enough so it doesn't start cooking the eggs, pour it into the egg mixture and beat well.  Pour all of this over the pecans.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.  Let cool.

During that 35 minutes, you can get your pumpkin pie ready.  This recipe is pretty much straight out of The Joy of Cooking, and if they ever want royalties it will be worth every penny.

Pumpkin Pie
2 cups of cooked, pureed pumpkin
1 1/2 cups of whipping cream
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup of white sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
1 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 tsp of ginger 
1/4 tsp of nutmeg
1/8 tsp of ground cloves
2 slightly beaten eggs
Pie crust shell

Mix all the ingredients together (except, obviously, the pie crust) until well blended.  Pour into the pie shell.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.  Then lower the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees and bake for another 45 minutes to an hour.  Let cool.

Serve both pies with the whipped cream that you're going to whip tomorrow after dinner.  Better yet, have your kids (if applicable) whip the cream, since it is an easy, but boring, job and can take up to a half hour.  Or more, depending on your karma.  This is a good reason to have kids, if you can't think of any other.  Here's the recipe, in case you're feeling inspired tonight.

Whipped Cream
Pour four small, or two large, containers of heavy whipping cream into a big bowl.  Whip with an electric beater, on a low/medium speed.  It will spritz, and there's nothing you can do to stop it, so wear some kind of protective garment, like an apron.  When the cream can stand up by itself in peaks, fold in a teaspoon of vanilla and 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar with a rubber scraper.  Try not to eat it right from the bowl.
Now, how easy was that?  

Is your husband (if applicable) smiling?









Monday, November 23, 2015

Three Days Before

Today I'm going to do one thing.  I'm going to roll out the pie crusts with the dough I made about a week and a half ago.

First thing this morning, I took the dough out of the fridge, where it's been waiting.  It should be at, or near, room temperature.  This takes about an hour or two.

The next thing I did was pull out the two new 9-inch deep dish pie plates I bought last year at Mariano's for $10 each, which was a quarter of the price that I saw them going for at the fancy kitchen store.  Pretty much the same dish, so why so cheap?  I'll tell you why.  Because I just spent a half an hour peeling off all the labels and price tags which were stuck on there like they wanted them to survive a zombie apocalypse.  Can someone please explain to me why companies do this?  It's like, why do they put scratchy tags on the back of the neck?  And why are there seams on socks?  Right at the toe?  

Never mind, I just figured out it was water-soluble.  Too late for my nails, though.

Now, for those of you who hyperventilate at the thought of rolling out a pie crust, relax.  I've got some secrets:  

Secret #1:  I never put a crust on top of my pies.  I don't have the patience.  Fortunately, I make pumpkin and pecan pies for Thanksgiving, and neither of them need a crust on top.  So the only visible part of my pie crust is the rim and that's easy.  Seriously, NOBODY is going to see the mistakes, only taste the deliciousness.

Secret #2:  I don't roll out pie crust.  I used to, but I've accumulated enough agita over a lifetime, and I don't need any more.

This is the way I do it.  I cut the dough in half (I made a double recipe, remember?).  I take one half, knead it until it's soft and sort of sticky, flatten it into a disk, and then I press the dough into one of the pie plates.  Like I was playing with Play Dough.  Everybody's played with Play Dough, right?  I press it all along the bottom, up the sides, and over the rim.  Then I take a fork, dip it in flour, and press it into the dough around the rim.  Dip, press, dip press, dip, press.  All around.  This keeps the dough from shrinking when you bake the pies.  Do the same thing with the other half of dough.

Ecco!  That's it.  Aren't they things of beauty?  Could Martha Stewart do better?  Well, yeah, maybe.  But I could crochet a better poncho.

If you want to roll it out the old-fashioned way, you need a rolling pin.  If you don't have a rolling pin, you can use a wine bottle.  If you don't have a wine bottle, we're not friends.  Stop reading this and go away.

And, if you're rolling, you'll need a clean, flat surface.  I used to use a giant cutting board, but you can even use your kitchen counter if it's clean.  From here on in, you're on your own.  I'm done.

CAREFULLY wrap the pie plates in Saran wrap and put them in the fridge.  Tomorrow we bake!



  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Four Days Before

Roll up your sleeves.

Today, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, begins the real work.  I'm going to make the cranberry sauce, and while that's cooking, I'm going to chop up the bread for the turkey stuffing. 

I finished shopping for ingredients, including the cranberries and the bread, on Friday and good thing I did.  Because yesterday, in addition to FINALLY getting the freaking stitches removed from my (first) oral surgery, we got hit by the biggest November snowstorm in 120 years.  So it would have been a bad day for shopping, but that didn't stop me from going to the store on my way back from the periodontist's to pick up a bottle of whiskey.  (Don't judge, unless you've ever had half your mouth stitched up for two weeks.)  Unfortunately for my capo dost of a husband, Anthony, my mouth was then free to yell at him for not buying a new snowblower this year.  Right on time.  

But now I am ready.  In theory, I shouldn't have to leave the house until December 1st.  At the earliest.  Which is fine by me.  Everything's at my fingertips.  Including the whiskey.  

Cranberry Sauce
Put 2 1/2 cups of sugar and 3 cups of water in a big pot.  Cook and stir the sugar water over medium high heat until it goes from white-and-cloudy to clear.  Then bring it to a boil.  Turn down the heat a little and let it simmer for 10 minutes.  Rinse 3 bags of fresh cranberries (remove the really deformed ones and any sticks/twigs/spiders you might find) and put them in the pot with the water.  Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer again.  Cook the cranberries for about 45 minutes, uncovered, which is about three times longer than any other recipe will tell you.  Stir now and then.  The sauce thickens up, but don't wait for it to turn into jelly, like the canned stuff, because it won't.  Now, turn off the heat and stir in a big bag of frozen raspberries.  Ladle the sauce into some plastic containers, let cool, cover the containers, and put them in the fridge until Thanksgiving.  Done.

While the sauce is cooking, you can chop up your stuffing bread.  I chop up 3 big loaves of cheap white bread, into 1-inch cubes.  More or less.  Depends on my mood.

I'm going to lay out two options on how to do the bread:

Option #1:  You can toast it.  In baking pans.  Then tie it up in bags and set it aside until Thanksgiving morning.  I never do this.  It's boring  And just one more thing to go wrong.

Option #2:  This is what I do.  I get two big brown grocery bags.  I put my chopped bread into one of them and put the other bag over the top of the first one.  Like a condom.  Then, once or twice a day I go into the bag and toss the bread around a bit with my hands.  The paper bags let the bread get nice and stale by Thanksgiving morning, without going moldy.

Your choice.  And just so you know, Anthony has brought it to my attention that people who live in the American Midwest (which includes us) have taken to chopping up White Castle sliders and using them (instead of bread) for their turkey stuffing.  Personally, I never heard of it, but I confess that, after an initial wave of revulsion, it occurred to me that this would taste really good.

One more thing.  If you cooked and froze your pumpkin in 2-cup containers, take one of them down and put it in the fridge.  Pie-baking is Tuesday.  It should be defrosted by then.

Me, too, I hope.







Sunday, November 15, 2015

On Schedule

At this point, the pumpkin is cooked, pureed, and waiting in the freezer for its moment of glory.  Half the shopping has been done.  The pie crust is in the fridge.  The turkey is on order.  And starting next Saturday, the pace picks up, and that means we need a schedule.  Seriously, write it down on your calendar.  It'll give you a sense of control.

The schedule:

Saturday before Thanksgiving:  Shop for perishable ingredients i.e., everything else on the shopping list.
Sunday before Thanksgiving:  Make cranberry sauce.  Chop up the bread for the stuffing.
Monday before Thanksgiving:  Roll out pie crusts.  Take pumpkin out of the freezer and put in fridge.
Tuesday before Thanksgiving:  Bake pies.
Thanksgiving Eve:  Pick up turkey from the butcher.  Prepare sweet potatoes.  Prepare vegetables for stuffing.
 
Don't worry, I'll tell you how to do all this.  Now, if you do it all according to the schedule, here's what you have left to do on Thanksgiving Day:

Put bird in oven.
Assemble and bake stuffing.
Make mashed potatoes.
Make succotash.
Make gravy.
Bake sweet potatoes.
Whip cream (after dinner, while enjoying a nice Sambuca) for pies.
Make coffee.

This sounds like a lot, but it's not, because you've prepared everything ahead of time and you're (mostly) just assembling the ingredients and throwing stuff in the oven.  The succotash isn't much harder than cooking frozen vegetables, gravy is fast and brain-dead easy, my kids can whip the cream, and my husband, Anthony, can peel potatoes and put them in a pot of water before the football games start.  Yeah, there's a few things to do, but overall you should be on cruise-control.  I don't even have a lot of clean up at the end of the day, because I bake everything in aluminum foil baking pans which go right from the table into the fridge after dinner.  I don't give a damn about how my "table" looks.  If you're looking at my dishes instead of my food, you're missing the point, and I'm gonna guess that happens to you a lot.

Anthony does the dishes (at halftime), since he won't buy me a dishwasher.  Well, he would, if I really pressed the point, but he would view it as a weakness.  

Someday I'll tell you about the electric can opener.
 






Friday, November 13, 2015

Two Weeks Before

Okay, let's do a recap.

Thanksgiving is 13 days away.  So far, I've got:
  1. the menu planned;
  2. the non-perishables bought;
  3. the pumpkin cooked; and
  4. the turkey ordered.
And today I'm making pie crust.  Not rolling it out, just making the dough.  It's easy.  I promise.  Why would I lie? 

Apologies in advance:  I should have told you to buy a pastry cutter, but I didn't.  If you don't know what a pastry cutter is, forget about it, it's not necessary.  You can get the same result using two butter knives.  And just to show you what kind of person I am, today I'm going to use the butter knives, too, in solidarity.  Pastry cutters are a pain in the ass to clean, anyway.

The pie crust recipe I use, more or less, is the basic one from "The Joy of Cooking".  If you don't have this cookbook, ask for one for Christmas.  I'm guessing you can score a used copy on Amazon for less than five bucks.

The reason I make it a little different from The Joy is that I'm a very lazy cook.  The first time I make a recipe I follow it exactly.  After that I start cutting corners to see if it makes any difference.  As far as pie crust goes, it doesn't, so you can benefit from my experience.  This is a recipe for two crusts because I'm going to make two 9-inch pies.  Don't make dinky 8-inch pies.  You do the same amount of work and 9-inch pies are more awesome.

Here are the ingredients:

4 cups of flour
2 tsp of salt
1 1/3 of a cup of Crisco (easy, if you bought the sticks like I told you)
4 Tbl of cold butter (real butter, please)
8 Tbl of cold water (more or less)

You could use all butter, too, if you think Crisco is ratchet.  But trust me, this tastes good.

Now here's what you do:

Put the flour in a big bowl.  Stir in the salt.  Put the Crisco in a smaller bowl.  Cut the butter into little pieces and smash it in the Crisco with a fork until it's hard to tell the Crisco from the butter.  Now put half of the Crisco stuff into the bowl with the flour.  With two butter knives, cross-cut big X's into the Crisco and flour until it's all sort of crumbly.  Then add the rest of the Crisco stuff, cutting it in the same way.  

When you've got a bowl full of crumbly Crisco and flour, sprinkle the water all over it.  Then take your rings off and start playing with the dough until you can make one large dough ball.  Knead it a few times.  (If it doesn't come together right away, keep smooshing.  You'll get there.)  But as soon as you get your ball, stop handling the dough.  Wrap it up real good in plastic wrap or something, put it into a plastic container with a tight seal, and put it in the fridge.  It'll be fine in there for about two weeks or until you're ready to bake your pies, whichever comes first.

That's it for today.  I got other things to do.  Like have a glass of wine, which I richly deserve, because I am a righteous Thanksgiving-dinner-cooking sister.

I told you this would be easy.

 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Go!

It's time to go shopping.

Actually it's always time to go shopping.  And thank God for thrift shops because if they didn't exist I'd be living in a cardboard box by now. 

This is guilt-free shopping, though.  It's everything you're going to need to cook your (my) Thanksgiving dinner.  I save my list on the computer and just print it out every year.  I was going to divide it into two parts for you, perishables and non-perishables, but I'm just going to assume that you're smart enough to figure that out on your own.

If you're not smart enough to know that you shouldn't buy the fresh parsley three weeks before you make the stuffing, then you need more help than I can give you.  Likewise, the following list takes for granted that you already have basic things like salt and pepper in your kitchen.  And bowls and spoons.  If you don’t, call your mom, and ask her advice.  She’ll be thrilled. 

So print this out, start buying the stuff as soon as it's reasonable, and check things off as you go along. 

 
Connie Staccato's Thanksgiving Shopping List

Turkey - 20 to 22 lbs.  (order a fresh one at least two weeks ahead)

Turkey gravy – 8 pkgs (for your leftovers; no you are not going to serve this on Thanksgiving)

Large foil roasting pans - 2
Medium size foil roasting pan
Small square roasting pans - 4 pkgs (8)

Cheap white bread - 3 large packages
Onions - 3 large
Celery - 1 bunch
Parsley - 1 bunch

Crisco (I like the sticks)
Unbleached white flour
Canned pumpkin - 1 large (in case you didn't feel like cooking your own)
Chopped pecans - 1 large bag
Light corn syrup - 1 bottle
White sugar - 1 bag
Brown sugar - 1 package (you're not going to use much)

Baking potatoes - 8 (or more, if you're feeding an army)
Sweet potatoes - 3 (ditto)
Lemon - 1
Marshmallows - 1 bag

Baby lima beans, frozen - 1 large bag
Sweet corn, frozen - 1 large bag

Cranberries - 3 bags
Raspberries, frozen - 1 large bag

Whipping cream - 6 small, cartons
Butter - 2 lbs
Half and half - 1 carton
Eggs 1 dozen

Booze - wine, whiskey, Galliano, whatever (I buy this last, or I'd drink it all)



I bought all my non-perishables last week.  Good thing, because I had oral surgery yesterday.  After that I was flat on my back all day, cursing the saints and the woman who gave birth to my periodontist, and today my right jaw is swollen up to the size of a grapefruit.  Which might cause people to wonder if my husband, Anthony, decked me, though people who know us wouldn't think that for a minute, because his face is still intact.

Oral surgery or no, I'm still on schedule.

And that's my whole point.




Monday, November 2, 2015

BTW

Just so you know what you cooked all that pumpkin for, here's the menu:



Connie Staccato's Thanksgiving Dinner

Roast Turkey
Nanna's Stuffing
Gravy (for the bird, not what the Napolitani mean by gravy)
Mashed Potatoes
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Succotash
Cranberry Sauce
Pumpkin Pie
Pecan Pie
Whipped Cream 
Coffee
Vino
Sambuca, Galliano, Amaretto, etc.


That's what we're having.  You can do whatever you want  Shopping lists and recipe will be provided.  I don't do appetizers, because people usually want to bring stuff and that's a good thing for them to bring.  I don't have the patience for appetizers, and Lord knows with all this food you don't really need one, although my son, Nino, once made this really nice stuff with figs and goat's cheese and honey that I wouldn't mind if he made again.  But usually the anchovy-stuffed olive from my martini is enough for me.

Speaking of martinis:  I think it's only fair to warn you that, if you're the cook, you should save the drinking for later.  Maybe a little wine, but that's it.  

Vodka doesn't mix well with knives.  Especially if you're Sicilian.  My husband, Anthony, stabbed me in the leg with a carving knife last Thanksgiving and he wasn't even drinking!  True story.  It was an accident.

So he said.











  

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Get Set...


In the United States of America, Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday of November.  If that's confusing, take heart in knowing that someday Thanksgiving will be moved to a convenient nearby Monday, to take the mystery out of whether your stunahd of a boss is going to let you have a four-day weekend or not. 

(I'm not insulting your intelligence; you obviously can read.  But I’m not taking any chances.  Not once, in the 34 years of my marriage, has a year gone by that I don't have to tell my husband, Anthony, when Thanksgiving is.  And he always acts surprised.)

Anyway, Thanksgiving will be here in just a little more than four weeks.  I start cooking today.

"But Connie," you might ask, "what kind of an idiot starts cooking Thanksgiving dinner four weeks ahead of time?"

This kind of idiot.  Right here.  In fact, I recommend getting started on your first day off after Halloween.  Every year.  It's psychologically important.  I always feel like I'm getting a jump on the holidays, instead of letting them sneak up on me.  It keeps the panic to a minimum.

Look, it's a BIG freaking meal.  I got enough agita.  And I'm busy, because Christmas is coming, too.  You gotta take it slow.  One small (but brilliant) step at a time.  The whole point of "Connie Staccato Stuffs a Turkey" is to learn how to do holidays with as little grief as possible.  Because, you know, you might actually want to enjoy them.

So that means we've got to start now.  Trust me.  Remember those pumpkins I told you to buy?  

Go get them.

First, wash them in the sink.  Just to keep dirt from flying around in your oven.  I don't know if dirt does that, but just in case.  Pat the pumpkins dry.  And roll up your sleeves.

You're going to need a big cutting board, a couple of your biggest baking pans, and a BIG-ass pointy knife.  Lay the pumpkin on its side and cut it in half, width-wise.  This is the hard part, and the first cut is the hardest (just sort of stab it, but carefully).  It just sort of breaks in two after a while.  Now, scrape the innards out of the pumpkin halves.  If you've got kids, or a husband whose got nothing better to do, they can separate the seeds out of the slimy stuff and you can toast them in the oven with a little salt.  I'm not doing that this year, since the kids are grown and not around, Anthony wants to watch the game, and my hips don't need pumpkin seeds. 

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Line your baking pans with foil and spray the foil with some non-stick stuff.  (If you want to skip the foil and stuff, and be all "green", go for it.  But don't say I didn't warn you.)

Put your pumpkin shells, skin-side-up, on the baking pans (if they don't fit, cut them into smaller pieces, but they should fit).  Put the shells in the oven and cook the shit out of them.  About 2 hours, or even more.  They're done when they feel real soft when you stick a fork in, and they sort of collapse.  

Take the pumpkin out of the oven and set aside to cool.

They're cool?  We're in the home stretch.

Get the largest bowl in your kitchen and a big spoon.  Scrape the cooked pumpkin away from the skin, into the bowl.  Scrape it good, you should only have a thin, floppy skin left (throw that away).  Now take a potato masher and smash the living daylights out of it, fishing out any pieces of pumpkin skin that might be lurking in there.  I mean really smash it.  Take your time.  Get it as smooth as possible.  This is good exercise and good therapy.  Sure, you could use a blender or a food processor but, personally, I like to smash things. 

Last step:

Get a bunch of little containers, with lids.  Tupperware, Rubbermaid, Ziplock, the little plastic containers leftover from the olive salad at the deli counter, whatever.  Measure out two cups of pumpkin into each container and put them in the freezer.  Pumpkin freezes really well.  Most recipes (a pie for Thanksgiving, for instance) use two cups of pumpkin, so one-and-done.  You've got some treats to look forward to.

This year I got 11 cups of pumpkin for my efforts.  That made four containers of two cups each, and one container with three which I'll use for soup.

And, damn, am I proud of myself.  I've got this.

A word of warning:  home-cooked fresh pumpkin looks a lot different from the stuff in the cans (gold, not orange) and your Thanksgiving pie will have a different texture, lighter and less dense (in other words, heavenly).  If you've got some people in your family who are absolutely addicted to the recipe on the back of the can of Libby's (the one with the condensed milk), you're going to get some push-back.

That's fine.  They can go eat Thanksgiving at McDonald's.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On Your Mark...

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I've been really busy, so sue me, but the dryer's been fixed and now I'm back.

Because Thanksgiving is coming.  And I am all about Thanksgiving.  It's the accolades for my Thanksgiving dinner that first inspired me to make my acquaintance with this particular sector of the cyberworld.

And, though you might think that I'm pushing things, we've got to get started NOW.  Trust me.

This week I bought my pumpkins.

Which means you need to go out and buy your pumpkins, or you'll get behind schedule.  And I won't be responsible for what happens.

I'm not telling you to do anything with the pumpkins.  Yet.  That's coming.  For now, all you have to do is buy them.  They look nice on the doorstep until ready to be cooked.  If the squirrels don't get there first.  Put them on the front doorstep because, for some reason, squirrels don't like coming to the front door.

Now, how large a pumpkin?  I bought two BIG ones, after checking out the "pie" pumpkins which are cute, but dinky.  For the amount of pumpkin I want, I would have to cook six of the dinky ones, at least.  Yes, theoretically, one can cook one pie pumpkin.  And have enough cooked pumpkin for a pie.  A pie.  ONE pie.  Una torta.  But what about pumpkin soup and seeds and bread and cheesecake and cookies, all saviors of the soul during a long, dark winter?

This year, I'm not fooling around.

Just do me a favor and go out and buy some pumpkins.  Any size.  In the long run, it won't matter.  Right now, let's focus on the Thanksgiving pie.  If you're doing pie pumpkins, get one per pie.  You need two cups of cooked pumpkin for a nice, big pumpkin pie.

Having bought my pumpkins, I felt entitled to some leisure.  So last night my husband, Anthony, and I met our daughter Niki, Anthony's brother and Anthony's brother's wife for dinner.

Chinese.  Good Chinese.  And it had a bar.  Case closed; I was happy.

Then, suddenly (after a martini and an eggroll), my sister-in-law turns to me and asks,

"Do you have any contact with the family?"

A straightforward-enough question, and I answered without thinking:

"Well, I see Gianni over at Mariano's once in a while..."

I was interrupted by my brother-in-law, who said, "That's not what she means."

Not what she means?  Did I miss something?  How strong was that martini?  (Please keep in mind that these are Anthony's relatives, not mine.  Mine have their own issues and aren't nearly as much fun.)

It turns out that, to my sister-in-law, "contact with the family" means visits from the dead.  

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

It took me a minute to get my bearings.  But only a minute.  This is the stuff of dreams in Italian families, though it's important to keep the tone light.  Bonus points if the story involves twins.  Triple bonus if you can tell it in Italiano, so you don't scare the kids.

However, in my opinion, these conversations are better kept for holiday evenings, in the kitchen after cleaning up, with lit candles, the guys watching "the game", and one-too-many Gallianos.  Or late, with a second piece of pie, some anisette, and coffee. 

Pumpkin pie.  Get moving.
 








Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Act Normal

So why is a nice, used-to-be-a-Catholic girl drinking a double vodka martini at 3:00 in the afternoon?

I'll tell you why.

Because last Tuesday I got a call from the people who did my annual mammogram.  They said the result was "abnormal" and that they needed to do "some more images".  And maybe an ultrasound.  Oh, yeah, and maybe an MRI and/or biopsy.

What???

"Why?" I asked.  Which was a perfectly legitimate question, I thought.  And I asked it politely, even though my brain was going supernova at that minute and I couldn't breathe.  Let's see a show of hands out there of  you ladies who wouldn't have had the same reaction.

Naturally, they got all vague about it and referred me to my doctor, who was equally vague.  I couldn't figure out if my doctor was being vague because she figured I was basically a goner, or because she lists "running" as one of her hobbies on her online profile.  It's a tough call.

Also, naturally, they couldn't fit me in for the "more images" until this Tuesday.  So I've had a bad week.
But they did promise me that the radiologist would be right there to read the images and give me the good/bad news immediately, and that was something, at least.

What did I do for seven days?  Well, I prepared myself for the absolute worst case scenario, figuring that anything less would be a nice surprise.  And I decided who I was going to leave my Ferragamos to.
And I tried to act normal.  Like I even know what that is.

Today was D-Day, and zero hour was 2:00 this afternoon.  My husband, Anthony, said he would wait in the car.  I said, "Like hell, you will," but nicer.  Like a normal person would.  I think.

Let me tell you, without giving too much information, Round Two of a mammogram makes Round One look like a tarantella.  I'm saying.  If men had to have this test on their coglioni, they'd all be history.

Then they made me sit in a room to wait for the results, which was the longest ten minutes of my life.  Fortunately, there was a "People" magazine there so I could numb my mind.

Finally, the sweet lady who almost ripped my boobs away from the chest wall ("Stand back, just a little.  I don't want to catch your rib between the plates."), came in with the results.

"All clear."

 
The Ferragamos were still mine.

Anthony actually kissed me in public.  Then he suggested that we go out for some soup and a milkshake.  A real party animal, that Anthony.  I let him know that I preferred a stop at the liquor store.  Seven days is a long time.

Hence the vodka martini.  And tonight, we're going to feast on Melrose peppers.

Melrose Peppers
Melrose peppers are long, thin sweet peppers that got their name because Italian people in Melrose Park, IL used to grow them a lot and sell them at South Water Market in Chicago.  They had brought the seeds with them from Italy, though I haven't a clue what they call them there. 
You can be legally declared brain-dead and still cook Melrose peppers.  You don't even have to trim them.  Just wash, throw them in a big roasting pan, sprinkle with some sliced garlic, rub with olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Pour a little more olive oil over them, and then roast in a 350 degree oven for about an hour, until the peppers turn sort of brown.  I like mine real brown; Anthony likes his on the green-side.  Pull the stems off before eating. 

Melrose peppers make great sandwiches and frittatas.

Melrose peppers are considered exotic delicacies in most of the civilized world, though the people in Melrose park would be surprised to hear this.  They can be green or red.  We always buy them green.  Melrose peppers are hard to find at the store, so buy mass quantities when you do.  After they're cooked you can freeze them and they'll stay good for three blessed, wonderful months.

Ordeal officially over, thank you St. Anthony.  Now I need to go wipe the lipstick off the vodka bottle, and get on with my life.

 
I'm not going to tell you who almost got the Ferragamos.




Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Good Advice

Snooki.  I am SO sorry, girl!

Now, before you go and put the malocchio on your rat bastard husband, talk to your mother.  If she's anything like my grandmother, she'll roll her eyes and give you some good advice.

My grandmother told me two things about men:
  1. "Put 'em all in a paper bag, and reach in and get one."; and
  2. "He can put his shoes by my bed anytime."
The second is in reference to Luciano Pavarotti.

The first, Snooki, means that men are not all that special.  You got one you like, great.  Does he bring home a check?  Bonus points.  Does he beat you?  No?  He's a keeper. 

And don't defend him.  He doesn't need defending, YOU need defending.  If you try to defend him you're just going to sound like Hillary Clinton and her "vast conspiracies", something that worried me a lot more than her emails.

Ashley Madison?  Better you should be biting your nails over the Republican presidential candidates.

My grandmother also taught me how to make baby artichokes.  These are better than men.

Stuffed Baby Artichokes
Look for little artichokes in the store.  They're hard to find.  You can make this recipe with big artichokes, too, but big artichokes are a pain-in-the-ass, so keep your eye out for the little ones.

Once you have your baby artichokes (depending on their size, you'll need 6-8), trim them.  You do this with a bread knife.  Cut the bottom stems so that they're flat with the rest of the bottom of the artichokes and then saw off about a half-inch straight across the tops.  If you want to get fancy, you can stick them in ice water while you prepared the stuffing.  This opens up the leaves a little.  Otherwise, just rinse the artichokes and set them aside.

Now make a stuffing.  Mix about 2 cups of breadcrumbs with some grated cheese (romano, parmesan, and/or pecorino), some Italian spices (oregano, basil, parsley, etc.), garlic salt, and black pepper.  If you run low, make some more.  The proportions don't really matter.  Mix it however it tastes good to you, but try not to overdo the basil.

Get a rectangular casserole dish and put about an inch of water in the bottom.  Take the little artichokes and spread out the leaves.  One at a time, sprinkle the stuffing over them (some of it will fall into the leaves) and put them in the casserole dish.  Cram as many into the dish as you can, and then drizzle with olive oil.  Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for an hour or so, until tender.

Serve with melted butter. 

If you don't know how to eat an artichoke, go on Google and find a tutorial  (I'm thinking YouTube).  And get ready for one of the best experiences of your life.

You can't get this from Ashley Madison.  Trust me.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Woulda. Shoulda. Coulda.

There are certain consequences that go along with being Italian.

Some consequences are good:
  1. You've got great skin.  After the acne clears up;
  2. If you've taken it easy on the cannoli, you have the ass of a goddess;
  3. And if you're smart, then you learned how to cook from your mother.  So no man in his right mind will ever leave your lasagna for some skinny blonde.
Some consequences are bad:
  1. You are incapable of responding calmly to stressful situations.  Any stressful situation.  Just forget about it. 
This is genetic and not your fault.  In Italy, Italians drink wine to calm down.  In Italy, where we belong, you can have wine for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  In fact, it's encouraged, because it keeps the taxes down.  Emergency response teams are expensive.

Americans, though, tend to be fussy about day-drinking.  I think it's the whole car culture thing, which needs to go away for a lot of reasons, but probably won't.  Too bad.  Americans should remember the '80s and their three-martini lunches.  People were happy.  They thought they were happy because Ronald Reagan was president, but it was the martinis, believe me. 

Italian-Americans usually deal with wine-deprivation by consuming mass quantities of coffee, which only makes them more difficult.  Then they get a rep for being excitable, taking offense at every little thing, and having hair-trigger tempers.   I won't argue that, but what do you expect when you take away the wine?

I wish I'd had a gallon of the stuff the other day.

I'm Sicilian, so it's much worse.  People think of us as being silent, stony-faced types (2500 years of foreign occupation will do that to you), but - trust me - beneath that exterior, we're boiling.  In fact, I'd say the stonier we get, the more you've got to worry about.  As long as we're yelling, you're okay, but remember Al Pacino in "The Godfather"?  The way he got right before he smacked Diane Keaton?  She was pushing every button he had, while he just stared at her blankly.  Then, all of a suddenly, he started to shake, and wham! Mt. Etna, right in the face.  And that wasn't all acting, I'm telling you, given her performance.

I have this summer job as a "host" to visiting tourists and one of my "host" jobs is to get people to be nice and stand in line.  It's not easy.  As soon as you tell people to form a line they go brain dead. And act like you want them to walk over a cliff.  Well, the other day, I had finally gotten my line in order and talked down the psychotics, when this little boy in a wheel chair showed up with his family.  I took a few minutes to get them situated (he was a legitimate priority, am I right?) and when I got back, the line had disintegrated into a mob.

Led by an English guy, I think, by the accent.  Or maybe Australian, which is easier to make fun of.

So he started hollering at me about how I didn't explain things properly (it's a freaking line, you idiot, only two goddam dimensions for you to figure out).  And then some other tourists got in on it, acting like big unswaddled babies, and then the whole crowd started pushing like they were going to miss the last game of the World Cup Finals if they didn't start a stampede.

I had, like, two seconds to make a decision.  And my decision was to let the most hysterical morons go first.  Which, obviously, made everyone else unhappy (damn those little boys in wheelchairs), but probably saved their lives.  And mine.

I'm not proud of that decision.

I tried to stay calm.  I really did.   I might have looked calm, even though my brain was congealing like eggs in a frittata.  But I could feel the steam trying to escape through my ears.  And the crowd got real quiet.  Probably because they started noticing my resemblance to Al Pacino.
Later on, I got to thinking.  Woulda. Shoulda. Coulda.  Had my brain been functioning:
  1. I woulda alternated between the normal line and the one with the gaguzz' headed up by Crocodile Dundee.  You go, they go, you go, they go.  Fair enough?  No.  But this was a lose-lose deal;
  2. I shoulda smiled sweetly and said, "Let me call my manager."  Then he would have had to wait, and he still would've been last in line.  Fair enough?  Absolutely;
  3. I coulda said, "Hey!  Man from Snowy River!  Get outta my face.  You don't like it, take it up with my boss.  Or you and me can settle it later, outside.  Your choice."  I like this option.  A lot.
Of course, a real Sicilian would have followed the guy back to his hotel and bribed a bellhop to put Super Glue in his shoes.
I shoulda.





Thursday, July 2, 2015

Before I Cook More

I'm a little stressed out.

I'm frequently stressed out.  That's how I roll.  So what I should be saying is that I'm more stressed out than usual.

What do I do when I'm stressed?  I cook.  Don't judge. 

I've been cooking for two days.  And I might not be able to stop.  What's stressing me out?  This:
  1. My father's sick, and it's not good;
  2. My cousin's daughter just got dumped by her boyfriend after eight years.  Also not good.  Girls, listen to me, I know what I'm talking about:  if he's still a "boyfriend" after eight years, he's a dirtball.  Set a time limit, and stick to it;
  3. I started a new job, and I'm trying to publish a book.  Neither of these activities is particularly hard, they just make me a little nervosa, you know what I mean?
So far, I've made:
  1. Sausage;
  2. Potato salad;
  3. Refried beans;
  4. Cranberry sauce;
  5. Linguine marinara;
  6. Nectarine/raspberry pie.
This sounds like more work than it was.  The sausage (chicken/spinach/feta) was store-bought, and delicious, I thought, though I'll probably never eat it again because my husband Anthony prefers the traditional heart-attack-on-a-plate variety.  The refried beans were from a can.  The cranberry sauce I'll give you at Thanksgiving.  (I have issues with making cranberry sauce at any other time of the year, but Anthony can't live without the stuff, so I make it with frozen berries.  It works.  Sort of.  But it's not the same.  Still, you gotta keep the old man happy.)

The potato salad was an experiment.  I just boiled some peeled and cut up yellow potatoes and tossed them with a chopped red bell pepper, some Greek yogurt, dill, parsley, salt and pepper.  Meh.  So I'm going to split the leftovers in two and add brown mustard to one, avocado and lemon juice to the other.  I'll let you know.

The linguine with marinara was perfect.  It always is.  Marinara recipe here.

The big surprise was the nectarine/raspberry pie.  It never really made it to a pie, because the stuff Anthony likes is the filling, and I prefer to save my calories for alcohol, so it stopped at being a compote.  I patched together a couple of different recipes:

Nectarine/Raspberry Stuff
Take four nectarines and cut them into pieces.  Don't bother to peel them, and I don't have to tell you to throw away the pits because you're not a gagootz, right?  Put a sauce pan on the stove and put in a half a cup of sugar, two tablespoons of flour and a pinch of salt.  Stir all of this together and then add 3 tablespoons of water.  Stir until it's a liquid.  Add the nectarines to the saucepan.  Stir again.  Then turn on the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  When it boils, cook and stir for two minutes and then turn off the heat.  Rinse and add a package of raspberries.  Done.  Serve alone, with yogurt, or with ice cream.  So easy.  I prefer to save my patience for holidays.

My kitchen is the perfect place to hide out.  Why?  Because:
  1. It's quiet.  My neighbor Ruthie complains that her husband doesn't talk to her.  Lucky girl.  Mine never shuts up;
  2. It's small.  I like womb-like places.  Only one person can fit in my kitchen.  Two at the most.  Anthony's claustrophobic.  What's not to love?
  3. There's wine in it.
Need I say more?






Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ghost Story

My daughter, Nikki, works for an attorney.

The job's pretty good.  She gets a decent salary.  She goes downtown every day.  The work is sort of interesting and the attorney's not a bad guy.  The only pain-in-the-ass she has in her life is one of her co-workers.

We've all been there.  I don't have the heart to tell her that as soon as you get rid of one, another will just crop up in her place.  It's like they're ordered from the Batshit-Crazy Co-worker Factory, on special.

This particular piece-of-work eats off-season Peeps for breakfast, wears clothes that tell you where she's from in Indiana, whistles, talks about her three ex-husbands constantly, and mouths off to the boss.  Pretty standard issue.  On top of it all, she has a bizarre name.  I can't tell you what it is, for legal reasons, but I will tell you that:
  1. It rhymes;
  2. It's hilariously descriptive.
And it's not even her maiden name.  It's, like, the name of her second ex-husband.  She CHOSE to keep the name, which tells me that this woman may have some redeeming qualities after all.

One day Nikki was telling me a story about work.  A bunch of "the girls" were sitting around the lunchroom, talking about lasagna or something, when suddenly Miss Congeniality piped in with, "I don't believe in ghosts." (?)  She proceded to descibe a creepy event that happened back in her trailer park in Indiana that - she is sure - has nothing to do with ghosts.  Because, you know, only stupid people believe in ghosts.  And on and on, until everybody remembered they had some work to do.

So I said to Nikki, "Oh, yeah?  Did you tell her about 'The Veal Marsala from Beyond'?" 

She didn't, because that would have prolonged the agony.  But I defy anybody to tell me they don't believe in ghosts after hearing this story:

Once, about twenty years ago, I was sitting around the house, when my neighbor Ruthie called me.  "I need your veal marsala recipe."

"Hold on," I said and went to grab my favorite Italian cookbook.  Only it wasn't there.  "Let me call you back."

I turned the house upside down every-which-way-to-Tuesday.  No cookbook.  This is the out-of-print, published by Culinary Arts Institute of Chicago in 1954, best-marinara-recipe-ever, book that my father-in-law gave me.  A little pamphlet of a thing.  And the freaking motherlode of Italian recipes.

  
It was gone.

I looked everywhere.  I scoured the basement.  I called my brother-in-law and accused him of taking it.  I tried to find a used copy on the Internet.  No go.  Niente.  Zip.

Then, a few months later, I was visiting my Grandfather, sitting in his kitchen.  Suddenly I flashed that I had given the book to my Grandmother for the stufoli recipe a few months before she died.  Could it be?  I ran over to the bookshelf where she had kept her cookbooks, and searched.  And searched.  Looked at very single book.  Not there.

I went back to the kitchen.  I sat down again, and that's when I heard The Voice.  Right in my ear.  It was my Grandmother's voice.  Like she was standing next to me.  And she said, "Go and look again.  You idiot."
My Grandmother was one of these legendary Sicilian nonnas that most people only know about from scary Mafia movies.  People like her rule their worlds with an iron hand and must be obeyed, even after they're having dinner with Elvis.  So I got up, went back to the bookshelf, picked up the first cookbook I saw, opened it, and...

...there it was.  My cookbook.  Stuck in between the pages.

I'm telling you, these women are so powerful they can - and will - reach across dimensions to make sure you get the veal marsala right.

Veal Marsala from Beyond
In a big skillet, one that you have a lid for, brown some garlic in about 1/4 cup of olive oil.  In a deep plate, put a cup of flour seasoned with salt and pepper.  Dip some veal cutlets in the flour and fry them in the oil.  In a bowl, mix:  1/4 cup of Marsala wine, 1/4 cup of water, chopped parsley, salt, and pepper.  Pour it over the veal and cover the skillet.  Cook on very low heat until the veal is tender, about 20 minutes.  Add a little more water if it gets too thick.

So there you go, Ms. Skanky Pants.  Just because nobody's bothering to contact YOU from beyond (to make sure you get the purple Peeps?), doesn't mean they're not out there.  It just means they don't want to talk to you.

I'm lucky.  I've got a ghost that not only knows how to cook Italian, but who also knows I'm an idiot.

More like an angel than a ghost.