Friday, February 27, 2015

A Ray of Sunshine

Today, I needed a ray of sunshine.  Mr. Spock, a.k.a. Leonard Nimoy, has gone off on his final voyage.

Really, this is traumatic for me.  If you were around in the '60s, and if you were - like me - a female Star Trek freak, you defined yourself as either a "Kirk girl" or a "Spock girl".  I was a Spock girl.  True, Kirk was hot.  But you'd always be left wondering where he was boldly going when he wasn't with you, if you get my drift.  Even when I was twelve, I had it figured out that I didn't need that kind of grief.

Spock was The Man.  He was a challenge.  You wanted to break through that cold, logical exterior to find out what was simmering underneath.  What I hadn't figured out when I was twelve (or for a long, painful time after), is that what's simmering underneath is more cold logic.

Men aren't as complicated as most women think.  Or hope.

It's a fun fantasy, though, as long as it centers on a fictional character.  I'm going through the same thing with Benedict Cumberbatch right now.  However, make no mistake about it, it's Sherlock I want, not Benny.  Benny can stay home with his knocked-up wife, and drive HER crazy.  At my age, I have no illusions.

But where do you find a ray of sunshine in the middle of a Chicago winter?  In the kitchen.  Of course.  It's called a lemon.

I always have lemons in the house, so no big deal when my husband, Anthony, suddenly - and for no apparent reason, since he doesn't give a goddam about Star Trek - decided he wanted veal piccata for dinner.  Now, Anthony has always maintained that he doesn't like veal, so I was surprised.  Or maybe I wasn't surprised, because I have always suspected that Anthony's body is host to a series of alien beings, none of whom have ever been to Planet Earth before.  Here's an example of what I mean:  He was reading the newspaper today and he says to me, "Wow!  Prince William's wife, Kate, is pregnant again!"  (Actually, he said "Prince Andrew", but I had enough data to solve the equation.)  This from a man who spends four hours every day reading every word in the newspaper.  It would only makes sense if there was a new alien visiting.

We went and got the veal, cutlets or scallopini or whatever your grocery store calls them.  Mine calls them scallopini, to make it sound like it's okay that you're spending $10 for 1/2 lb of meat.  The important thing is to get thin pieces that come 3 or 4 to a pack.  Like little "sandwich steaks", only veal.  I cut them in half, so then they're like medallions and they're easier to handle.

I made this recipe up.  The ones I was finding in the cookbooks were too complicated, but I got the basics from them and a little advice from Anthony's restaurant-managing brother, Stefano.  It truly is sunshine on a plate.

Veal Piccata
Get a big dish (like a pie pan) and put a cup of flour in it.  Stir some salt and pepper into the flour with a spoon.  Put about a half a cup of olive oil in a big, deep skillet and heat it up over medium/high heat.  Now, take your veal medallions, dredge them - just a little - in the flour, and fry them in the oil, three at a time.  Take them out when they're golden brown on both sides (this happens pretty fast, so watch it), and put them to the side on a plate.  When all the veal is fried and on the plate, turn the heat down to medium/low and put 3 tablespoons of butter into the oil left in the skillet.  Add a cup of white wine and the juice of a big lemon.  Heat and stir and scrape up all the veal-and-flour bits.  In a minute or two this stuff will start to get a little thick.  Add some more salt and pepper, to taste.  If you want to get real fancy-schmancy, buy a bottle of capers and put some of them in the sauce, too.  Then put the veal back in the skillet to warm it up again and sprinkle some parsley on top.  Ecco!  Veal piccata.  Serve with buttered noodles or roasted potatoes or risotto.  And a salad and some bread.

Anthony loved the veal, but remembered that he feels bad about eating baby animals.  I agree.  So, remember, you can do the same thing with chicken or turkey cutlets.  They're too dumb to live.

I, for one, feel much better.

And you, you should live long and prosper. 

 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Nice!

I had a hell of a day yesterday.

Let me just say that the older I get, the more I hate doctors. 

I mean, I remember hating them when I was a kid.  Now I know I was right.  But when I got a little older, I was lulled into a false sense of security, because:
  1. I was young and healthy; 
  2. Everything was just fine; and
  3. Doctors were those nice people that showed up in the room at the last minute, shook your hand, and took the baby out.  Which made me feel REAL GOOD in comparison to the twelve hours previous to that.  Nurses were the bitches.  Someday I'll tell you my labor-and-delivery stories.
Suddenly, I turned 50 and all hell broke loose.  Just as suddenly, I was an unholy mess.

Who knew?

The young doctors are the worst.  The old doctors, they take your pressure, look in your ears, maybe do a little blood test, and ask you how you're doing.  If you say "ok" and the blood test agrees, the old doctors tell you everything looks fine, you should stop smoking, and see you next year.  The young doctors, on the other hand, treat you like week-old scungeel.  Like they're never going to look like that.  Why not?  Because they're doctors and the laws of physics don't apply to them, right?  They poke and prod and jiggle everything you got that jiggles.  All with a foonj.   Then they hand you a mile-long list of tests, all of which will show up with a "pre-" condition of something or another, that they're going to "watch".  Well, thank you, Doctor Whoozit.  You can now add "stress" and "depression" to my list of complaints.

Yesterday, I went to an oral surgeon.  My dentist had gone from "Gee, it would have been nice if you'd had your wisdom teeth out while you were young," to "These have got to come out, immediately!"  We'll, scoozi, Dr. Dentist, if my life isn't happening exactly on your schedule.  I finally got around to going to the periodontist two weeks ago, who assured me that my head was in imminent danger of exploding, and who sent me to an oral surgeon, who agreed.  Mind you, nothing is bothering me, so I have to take their word for it.  And my surgery (all four wisdom teeth, followed by God-knows-what else) is scheduled for next Monday, in case you want to light a candle.

What I really want to think about right now is chicken wings.

About a month ago, my cousin Vita, who never comes to my house empty-handed, showed up with a bucket of chicken wings.  From the Jewel.  She's a good woman.

The only times I've ever eaten chicken wings has been as part of a "deluxe combo" appetizer at one of those restaurants where all the entrees have cheese in them and all of the desserts are chocolate, except for the apple one.  My kids tell me that Koreans do nice things with chicken wings.  The point is that it would never occur to me in a thousand years to buy a whole bucket of chicken wings from the Jewel.

They're tasty, though, and I appreciated the gift.  Not so much, my husband Anthony.  There is a silent consensus in this house that, outside of ice cream and the occasional pizza, we don't do pre-fab food.  He bitched and moaned every time he opened the fridge, and we had to eat them every night until they were gone just to get them out of his sight.  Which was fine.  For me they were a rare treat.  For him they were an infamnia.  He told me to tell Vita, "No more chicken wings from the Jewel."

My cousin has the good sense not to take my husband seriously (I should have such good sense).  So, a few days later, we were in Walgreens and Vita sees the Walgreens house brand (called "Nice!") frozen chicken wings on sale.  We're talking real bottom-of-the-barrel stuff here.  Something a large guy who flunked high-school English and wears shorts in the winter would pick up to go with his beer and chips.  "Let's get some for Anthony."

I tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted.  "It's a joke,"  she said, refusing to heed my warnings.  So we bought them and gave them to Anthony, who put them in the freezer with a foonj worse than any doctor's.  But wasting food is an even bigger infamnia than buying it ready-made-from-the-Jewel, so there they stayed.

Until last night, when I was too depressed to cook.  So we had the Nice! chicken wings for dinner.  And guess what?  He loved them.

Go figure.  I know for a fact he passed English.



Monday, February 16, 2015

Let the Good Times Roll

In spite of my Sicilian heritage, I've never been much of a Catholic.

Actually, that's not true.  Until about 5th grade, I was all kinds of Catholic.  I was baptized, made my Holy Communion dressed as a chubby little bride-of-Christ, chose a Confirmation Name (Maria Goretti, look it up) and solemnly confirmed my everlasting allegience (and a percentage of any future money I might have) to the Catholic Church.  The nuns in my Catholic school had all us girls convinced that The Convent should be our primary goal and destination.  The weak-willed (defined as "those who might consider having sex someday"), had other options:  secretary, teacher, or nurse.  The truly useless could just settle on being a wife and mother, but only if we promised never to use birth control, produce at least six little souls for The Church, and send them all to Catholic schools.

Of course, I was all about being a nun.  I figured it would make everybody happy and I could stop worrying about burning in hell.  Then, suddenly, it was over.  In a flash.  I was reading one of my nannu's National Geographic magazines, and I saw a picture of a woman in a pink-and-black-striped bathing suit.  It was gorgeous.  The best thing I'd ever seen.  As of that moment, I no longer wanted to be a nun.  Nuns didn't wear bathing suits.  Ever.  Briefly, I considered substituting "missionary" for "nun" as my career choice, since I imagined that missionaries could wear bathing suits, especially if they were in some place like Hawaii.  I have no idea why I thought Hawaii needed missionaries in the latter-half of the 20th century (or ever, as I'm sure most Hawaiians would agree), but I was determined to somehow fit that bathing suit into a solemnly-confirmed-Catholic lifestyle.  Then I decided I was being stupid, so I just gave it up.

Saved by fashion.  I never did wear that bathing suit, but it served its purpose.  I was cured for life.

However, the one thing that I've always liked about Catholicism is Lent.  Lent is brilliant, except for the whole ashes-on-the-forehead thing.  Lent comes right at the end of all the fattening holidays and, if you do it right, forces you to eat sensibly for forty days.  You're back to normal just in time for the Easter Bunny.
Here's a recipe for Mardi Gras, your last hurrah before Lent:  jambalaya.  Some of my Sicilian antecedents came to Chicago via Louisiana.  Some stayed there.  I wish I could tell you that I got this recipe from them.  But I didn't.  I saw somebody make it once on TV.

Jambalaya
First, mix up a small batch of Cajun spice, which is basically equal parts black pepper, white pepper, red pepper, garlic powder, and salt.  You will need about two teaspoons of it.  If you don't feel like mixing it yourself, you can usually find "Cajun Spice" in the grocery store.

Chop up two green peppers, a big onion, a couple of stalks of celery, and 4-6 cloves of garlic (make sure you take the seeds and stuff out of the green peppers).  In a big pot, heat up about a half-a-cup of olive oil and a big pat of butter.  Saute the vegetables in it until they're soft.  Add two big cans of Italian plum tomatoes.  Bring all that to a boil, turn down the heat, and let it simmer awhile.  In the meantime, cut up some smoked (this is important) sausage into small pieces and put it in the pot.  You can also add some cut-up (cooked) chicken.  And/or some shrimp.  Whatever you like or whatever you have in the fridge.  I use the last of the leftover turkey that's been sitting in my freezer since Thanksgiving.  It's perfect.

Simmer that all together for another while.  ("Ma, how long is 'a while'?"  "About a half-hour, forty-five minutes, Nikki.")  The tomatoes will get soft. Smash them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.  Now, add a two cups of water and a cup-and-a-half of uncooked rice.  Stir.  Bring to a boil again, turn down the heat to "low", cover the pot, and cook for about 20 more minutes.  Until the rice is done.  Then stir in two teaspoons of the Cajun spice.  Add salt to taste.

Serve the jambalaya with chopped scallions, tabasco sauce, red wine, and French bread.

Have a party.  And Sister Connie says, laissez les bon temps rouler!




Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Thousand Words

Over the past few days there's been a picture cropping up all over the Internet, everywhere I look.  The picture is of Helena Bonham Carter.  Naked.  With a tuna.  Not in a can.

I haven't clicked on the picture to find out what the story is (tempting as it may be), because I'm having so much more fun speculating on what possible reasons an apparently intelligent adult woman with a lot of goddam money would have for doing this.

Let's start with the tuna.  Why a tuna?  Why not a squid?  Was it alive?  It doesn't appear to be thrashing, though it must have been recently caught because it looks pretty healthy.  But why would somebody want to get naked and snuggle a dead tuna?

Which brings up the next point.  Helena, cara mia, what's with the naked?  I know you just broke up with your whack-job boyfriend, Tim Burton, and maybe you're trying to beat him to the punch with some revenge porn, because naked-with-a-tuna would be right up his alley, capeesh?   I'm sure you'd rather have it done tastefully.  But still, sweetheart, you're 48 years old, and...seriously?  I mean, I know 50 is the new 30 and all that, but it's not.  Not really.  Ask your children.  If they won't tell you, you can borrow mine.  My daughter, Nikki, got hives the one time I was thinking about getting a nose ring.

Maybe it's a live tuna.  Maybe they gave it some Tuna Prozac to cool it out long enough for the shot.  Maybe Helena's putting the message out there, "Hey!  Fish are people, too.  Don't eat them.  Look how much I love this one!"

Whatever.  It's a great picture.

And it's inspiring me to give you a fish recipe.  Just in time for Lent.

Linguine with White Clam Sauce
Sounds gourmet, right?  Don't be scared.  This is even easier than the marina sauce. 
  
Heat up about a quarter cup of olive oil in a big, deep skillet over medium heat.  Mince some garlic (4-6 cloves) and cook it in the oil until light brown.  Throw in a couple of anchovies, to give it a goose.  Add three cans of minced clams, juice and all (turn off the heat first or it will spritz).  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and cook until the clams are sort of pink.  Add about a quarter cup of chopped parsley (fresh is best, but don't stress out about it), and salt and pepper to taste (don't skimp).  Serve over cooked linguine.  I shouldn't have to say "cooked", but you never know.

Serve with a salad, crusty bread, cheese, and wine.  White wine would be the thing, but I drink red wine with everything because I found out it makes you skinny (I'm still waiting).  And some lemon ice or sorbetto for dessert.  You're serving fish, you need a little something to counteract it, after the fact.

Word of advice:  If you're feeding Americans, don't mention the anchovies.  Americans are afraid of anchovies, the same way they're afraid of beets.  Trust me.  They'll never know.

Buon appetito.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Stuff of Dreams

Okay, here we go.  Let's start with the basics.

How to cook:
  1. Read the recipe;
  2. Buy the ingredients;
  3. Do what the recipe tells you to do;
  4. End of story.
Anybody who tells you it's more complicated than that is lying. 

Now, how to cook something good:  marinara sauce.

A good marinara sauce is the secret of life.  It is the measure of an Italian woman's worth.  Sauce is as individual to an Italian family as a tartan is to a Scottish clan.  A grown man, if he is Italian, will get tears in his eyes when he talks about his mother's sauce.  My daughter, Nikki (or “Nicky” like her grandfather, four of her uncles, and three-quarters of her cousins), says you need to marry “up” in sauce.  My husband married me anyway, but clearly expected improvement.

One day, my father-in-law gave me a cookbook, a little pamphlet called "The Italian Cookbook"*.  Just a subtle hint, you know.  Just enough to make me feel like a total loser in the cucina department.  In this cookbook was a recipe for the best marinara sauce in the world, which I have adapted for practical purposes (i.e., I'm lazy), and which I have made at least once a week for the past 200 years.  This sauce is so fast and easy that you can make it while waiting for the pasta water to boil.  While you're doing your nails.

Marinara Sauce
Peel some garlic and slice it real thin.  ("Ma!  How much is some?"  "How much you like garlic, Nikki?")  Four to six cloves.  Then pour 1/2 cup of olive oil in a pot.  Put the pot over medium heat and, when the oil is hot, throw in the garlic.  Cook until light brown.  Meanwhile, take two cans (the big ones) of plum tomatoes and put them - one at a time - in a blender, just for a second.  Just until the tomatoes bust up.  If you don't have a blender - or if you want to be Italian about it - bust up the tomatoes with your (clean, right?) hands (take off your jewelry first).  Then pour the tomatoes into the oil-and-garlic.  Add 2 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 2 teaspoons of oregano, 1 teaspoon of finely-chopped parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.  The parsley and pepper should be fresh, but it's not a disaster if they aren't.  Simmer everything rapidly for about 20 minutes.  And stir it once in a while.

That's it.  People have told me that they cook their marinara sauce all day.  They're stupid.  Now go to confession and beg God's forgiveness that you ever opened a bottle of Prego. 

Serve the sauce over pasta.  Or risotto.  Or polenta.  With some grated parmigiano, some good bread, and a salad.  Add chicken broth and call it soup.  Crack an egg into it while it's simmering.  Add beans.  Whatever.  This sauce will be your reputation long after people forget that one time you were caught smoking weed with the band at your sister's wedding.

And I am not lying when I tell you that Stefanie Policastro’s boyfriend was down on bended knee, with the ring, not one week  after Stefanie finally learned how to make marinara sauce.  They'd been playing house for four years.  (Four years.  Are you kidding?)  So, believe me, this is wonderful, powerful stuff.

Use it wisely.

*Culinary Arts Institute, Chicago, 1956.   Out of print.   I hope I owe them royalties someday.   
    

Monday, February 9, 2015

One Woman's Opinion

The other day, I was cruising the Internet looking for something to buy, preferably a handbag.  Not that I need a handbag - I don't - but I find that "revenge shopping" has a beneficial effect on my blood pressure.  "Revenge shopping", in the Connie Staccato Dictionary of Real Life, is defined as "the purchase of an expensive but unnecessary object, brought on by one's husband acting like a rat bastard".  My husband, Anthony, is very lucky in that most of my revenge shopping centers around wearables.  I have heard of other women purchasing satellite dishes, cars, houses, horses, and/or face lifts.  And, I say, good for them.

In the process,  I ran across the following article:

"15 Easy One-Pot Recipes for Date Night"

I thought, "Are you kidding me?  Date night for who?"  I don't know what I found more offensive, the "Date Night" or the "One Pot".

Yeah, I know, we've all been there, making dinner for our sweeties.  And it was probably fun.  But, done right, it was a spectacular display of our domestic divinity, designed to make the man our slave.  Forget the 50-Shades-of-Whatever bullshit; what man has any hope of resisting a woman who can make a zabaione in high heels?

To be fair, my neighbor, Ruthie, does the at-home-dinner-date thing all the time with her husband.  BUT - and this is important - even though they're at home, they dress up (at least she does, he just doesn't take off his tie), have a good bottle of wine, and create some actual cuisine, which Ruthie is quite good at, in spite of the fact that her maternal ancestors came from north of the Arctic Circle.  But "Easy One-Pot" doesn't sound like cuisine to me  It sounds like an excuse not to go out.

And that needs to be nipped in the bud.  Because, all too easily, it goes from One-Pot Date Night to "Hey, Wend, bring me a beer.  What's for dinner?"

Maybe the article was written for guys - that would sort of make sense - or by a guy, though it seemed to be gender-neutral. For the record, let me say that - in my own experience - there is very little about gender that's neutral. The next gaguzz I hear say, "We're pregnant," is going to get the back of my hand. "We" are not pregnant, "we" are going to be parents; she's pregnant.   If you don't want to take my word for it, then just wait until you're watching her writhing in pain, cursing your Saint's Day.  I promise, she'll never really forgive you unless you've regularly taken her to nice places and given her good jewelry.  Then maybe.

Start now, for insurance.  And it's never too late.
 



Thursday, February 5, 2015

Watch This Space!

Hello, my name is Connie Staccato and I'm a displaced Sicilian-American housewife living in a suburb of Chicago.  I say "displaced" because the only time a Sicilian-American should live in a suburb is when they're in the witness-protection program.  One woman's opinion.

I come from "food" people.  My father-in-law owned a (once famous) Italian restaurant and my grandmother could feed a hundred people, WELL, without breaking a sweat.  My Aunt Caterina is a great baker.  And my son (Nino Staccato became obsessed with "Food Network Star" while recovering from an illness, though he was a little disturbed by what they were doing with the Chicken Vesuvio.  Still, he was inspired.
  
Pretty soon I'm going to start sharing my thoughts, my adventures, my advice, and my recipes with you.  Soon, because right now I'm so mad at my washed-up, Italian-American (not a Sicilian, my grandmother warned me) husband for conveniently "forgetting" to hire a snow-removal service this winter that I can't even think straight.

In the meantime, until the blisters on my hands heal, you can make yourself a sandwich.  A real sandwich.  Not involving peanut butter.  My recipes, including the one below, will be written in the same way as if I were telling them to you in my laughably small suburban kitchen.  (Where the dishwasher has never worked, not once.)

My daughter (Nikki Staccato) refers to this style of recipe sharing as "passive/aggressive".  (You want passive/aggressive?  I'll give you passive/aggressive.  Your father.  That's passive/aggressive.)

Nikki thinks I need to be more precise, like a cookbook for white people.  My cousin Vita, on the other hand, says that my recipes are like listening to stories.  She finds them soothing.  I think that if you're looking for precision, you can go Google something.  You want love in your food?  That's what you're going to get here.  It tastes better.

Sicilian Sandwich
Take two slices of your favorite bread.  I recommend whole wheat, but whatever floats your boat.  Drizzle them with olive oil, and add some salt and pepper.  That's it.  Delicious.  Simple.  Teresa Giudice could make it in prison, for God's sake.  Throw on a slice of pecorino cheese, if you want.  If we add the cheese, my husband likes to toast the sandwich in the oven, but his people were from Naples.  'Nuff said.
I apologize for the lack of a photograph here, and I'm sorry for using a painting of St. Lucy (those are supposed to be human eyeballs on that plate, isn't Catholicism a hoot?) as my "profile" picture, but I don't have a camera yet.  Also soon.

More to come.  You lucky bastards.