Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Best Freaking Chili in the World

Maybe you could come up with a recipe that's better (though I doubt it).  But I don't think you're going to find one that's this easy AND good.  My husband, Anthony, has visions of me dressing up in prom dresses and entering chili cook-offs.

Dream on, dude.

Three ingredients, can you handle it? You don't need anything else, because the sausage flavors the chili perfectly. I got this idea from a polenta sauce recipe, but since Sicilians don't eat polenta, I came up with other uses for it.

The Best Freaking Chili in the World
Cook a bag of red beans according to the package directions.  When they're done, drain off most of the bean juice, but save it in case the chili gets too thick and you need to thin it out.  Put a big can of Italian plum tomatoes into the pot with the beans.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to low, and cook, covered, for about an hour.  Leave a little vent with the lid so it doesn't boil over, and stir frequently so the beans don't stick to the bottom of the pot.  Fry a package of Mexican chorizo until very brown.  (Make sure you take the plastic casing off of it and fry it loose.)  I use Supremo brand, picante.  It comes in pork (cerdo) or beef (res).  Either is good, but I prefer the beef because pigs are very intelligent animals whereas cows are too dumb to live.  Add the chorizo to the pot, take the lid off, and simmer over low heat until the tomatoes disintegrate.  Serve with enchilada cheese and sour cream.

In a prom dress.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Take the Pledge

I've got a new diet for you.  Raise your right hand.

"I, (your name here), solemnly swear, with Connie Staccato and God as my witnesses, to never EVER again eat something that doesn't taste fan-fucking-tastico."

Okay, done.  Now you're safe.  Unless you're a four-star chef with a lot of time on your hands, you will eat healthy for the rest of your life.  Let's call it the "How Can You Eat That Shit?" diet.

Let me tell you about the last time I ate a McDonald's burger.

I was coming home from work.  It was a mega-stressful day, so I had gone out for cocktails with my assistant (like I needed an excuse).  I was a little early for my train, and I was hammered.  I was thinking that I needed some carbs.  And salt.  So I went to McDonald's.  Ground zero of carbs and salt.  Big Mac and fries.

One bite.  And I thought:  "This is disgusting."

Which it is.  Except for the first few fries.  After that the inside of your mouth feels like the Exxon Valdez disaster.  For days.

Still, it would be worth it - calories, sodium, grease, and all - if it tasted great.  I love salty, greasy food.  I can wolf down a sausage calzone with the best of  'em.  My husband Anthony can't be trusted around Doritos.   What I don't like is salty, greasy nasty food.

It's simply not worth it.

Now, a banana split?  That tastes fantastic, especially if it's made with real ice cream and not some lame fro-yo crap.  But how many banana splits can you eat?  Even if you eat one every day, my guess is you won't be eating much else, so your calorie count will still be within reason.  And you'll be happy.  Gotta feed your head, too, you know.
You see how this works?  Best.  Diet.  Ever.

Restaurant food?  Yeah, there are some amazing restaurants out there.  But how often can you afford to eat at them?  If you answered "all the time", then you can afford a fat farm, too.  And good doctors.

The bottom line is, by taking the pledge, you're going to end up eating a lot of home cooking.  Preferably your own.  Because when you make your own food, not only is it cheap and delicious (if you're using my recipes), but you burn calories while you cook.  This is true.  I read it on the Internet.

Here's a pledge recipe for you, courtesy of my son, Nino:

Venezuelan Chicken Salad
Roast a chicken (recipe:  put chicken in a big pan and roast it).  OR buy one of those roasted chickens they sell at the grocery store.  Which is nasty, but whatever.  Slice off the chicken breasts (hint: they're not the legs or the wings), put them in a big bowl, and then take two forks and shred up the meat.  Chop up and add some garlic, red onion and/or scallions, red bell pepper, and cilantro.  Add an avocado (squeeze some fresh lemon or lime juice over it before you mix it in so it doesn't turn brown).  Add about a half a cup of Greek yogurt.  The avocado and the yogurt take the place of mayonnaise, which is in the nasty category.  (Nino says he won't touch it unless he's eating quality french fries.  In Belgium.)

Salt and pepper to taste.

EVERYTHING in this chicken salad qualifies as healthy food.  And it tastes amazing.  AND you get to eat the rest of the chicken as leftovers.  Stuff yourself.  What's not to love here?

"But, Connie," you might be saying.  "What if I'm in the middle of nowhere, or Iowa, and there's no pledge-worthy food around?"

Then you gotta make some sacrifices.  Anthony recommends Doritos and a Coke.


Monday, May 18, 2015

How to Cook a Vegetable

"I can't find my glasses."

"Pray to St. Anthony."

"I think it's St. Jude."

"It's not St. Jude.  St. Jude is for selling your house."

"That's St. Joseph.  Upside down.  Buried in the front lawn."

"No, it's St. Jude that's upside down.  You put a holy card upside down and light a candle.  He's upside down because you don't want him to be comfortable."

"Maybe it's St. Lucy."

"That's eating octopus eyes cooked in milk."

"Nobody eats octopus eyes cooked in milk."

"You do.  If you want to find your glasses."

Straight out, I'm going to tell you I'm not a religious person.  I had plenty of that when I was a kid, and it cured me for life.  But there's something about this saint stuff that works.  I could tell you stories.  And I'm a realist.  Why would I walk away from something that works, just because it sounds stupid?

The glasses were found, maybe just because we were TALKING about saints.  Probably we would've found them anyway.  But we'll never know, will we?

The santeria of my grandparents was complicated and precise, but I don't think anybody remembers it exactly any more.  The great revelation is that it doesn't matter.  Any saint will do.  Try it.  You'll be amazed.
Which brings me to the subject of vegetables.

My father-in-law, the restaurateur, once told me that EVERYTHING tastes good if you cook it in olive oil, garlic, and salt.  He was exaggerating.  But not much.

I remember loathing vegetables as a child.  My Sicilian grandmother was allergic to garlic (I know, right?), and so my mother never cooked with it and my father, being from Oklahoma, was more than a little suspicious.  Ever have canned green beans?  Welcome to my childhood.

Thank God, I married into a garlic family.  And I've never looked back.

The connection between the saints and the holy trinity of garlic/olive oil/salt is simply this:  it applies to everything.  Here's the basic recipe:

Italian Vegetables
Wash and trim (if necessary) your vegetables.  If you're making green beans, artichoke hearts, brussel sprouts, broccoli or cauliflower, throw them in some salted, boiling water first, until they're tender.  Drain.  Heat up some olive oil in a big-ass skillet.  Put in some chopped garlic.  When the garlic is just starting to brown, throw in your vegetables (make sure they're reasonably dry before you do this).  Sprinkle with some salt.  Saute until the vegetables are heated through and a little brown.  The time varies, depending on your vegetables.  Spinach cooks fast, green peppers cooks slow.

You can also roast them in the oven.  If you do, don't brown the garlic first.  Throw everything in together.

How much oil, how much garlic, how much salt?  To taste, my darlings.  It's a sure way of finding your soulmate.

The recipe applies to:

Artichoke hearts
Green beans
Kale (I suppose)
Peppers (any color)

And a whole bunch more I'm not even thinking about right now.  This is the basic recipe.  You can add walnuts, pine nuts, black pepper, spices, onions.  Use your imagination.

And thank St. Anthony that you found me.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Quid Pro Quo

We had a marinated flank steak for dinner last night.  The steak, a "London Broil", was purchased a few days ago - in pre-marinated state - from a butcher shop.

Marron', a good butcher shop is hard to find lately!  My old one closed down last year (due to lack of kale, I suppose) and, to be honest, the butcher shops in these big fancy grocery stores just don't do it for me.  Call me old-fashioned, but I want my meat from a big, red-faced guy named Ed and not some skinny little bambino named Jason, even if he is cute-as-a-button and full of good intentions. 

It's like the other day.  I go into the Walgreens to buy some shampoo and there's this wispy little blonde, maybe eighteen-years-old and with the face of a da Vinci, at the register.  "You got it, girlfriend!" she chirped.  (Excuse me?)  I really didn't know how to respond to that.  Then I decided it was charming because she was pretty and making an effort to be nice and fun and, in general, I'm not a crabby old bitch.  At least, not in public.

Better there should be no witnesses.

The marinated steak was my husband Anthony's idea.  He goes through these phases once in a while.  We've been through this one already, but he can't remember anything anymore.  And he's damn lucky I haven't found a way to exploit that situation.  Yet.

As an experiment, I cut the meat in half and cooked it two ways:
  1. Baked in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes.  This is what the guy at the butcher shop told me to do.  True, he was a skinny little bambino.  But he looked like his name could've been Ed, so there's potential there;
  2. Broiled.  London Broil.  Capeesh?  I figured there was probably a connection.  Four minutes each side, but I think I should've done five.
The result of the experiment was that the baked was more tender and the broiled had a little more flavor.  But it was a close call; both were delicious.  Depends on how much time you have and/or if your broiler sets off the smoke detectors in your house.
Like mine.  Anthony, used to hang a shower curtain over the kitchen doorway every time I broiled something, but he doesn't do that anymore because he never put the nails back up after we got our kitchen painted.

Or sort of painted.  I was, unfortunately, out of town while that was going on.  Anthony and the painter, in their wisdom, painted over the wallpaper and didn't paint the cabinets, because they decided that the cabinets were in "good shape" (of course they did).  When I pointed out that this was bullshit, Anthony promised to wash them and touch them up.  That was last November.

(Very "House Beautiful", Anthony.  This is why nobody with ancestors from north of the Alps would have ever let you marry his daughter.  So you got stuck with me, and that's your punishment.)

We have leftovers for a week, and now Anthony wants to go back and try the teriyaki-marinated pork tenderloin.
Good idea.  So is painting the cabinets.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Life's a Beach

It took me almost an hour to get dressed this morning.

This always happens, the first few days when it gets warm outside.  I have no problem with winter clothes.  I understand winter clothes.  We wear clothes in the winter to keep us warm.  Summer clothes confuse me.  We don't wear clothes in the summer to keep us warm.  We wear clothes in the summer to keep us from getting arrested.

We can't go around naked which, besides being socially unacceptable (except, evidently, at a Met Gala), is a bad idea for feet.  And for chairs.  So we wear as little as possible, because it's hot, and try to wear clothes that do a little something to obscure the view of our less-than-stellar body parts.

The list of which gets longer every year.

Hence the confusion this morning.  This year my ankles made the list.  They don't need to be covered, exactly, but they probably shouldn't be showcased.  That took me by surprise, since I've always had very nice ankles.  Not anymore.  It's like the tide eroding the beach.  Every year, there's a little less beach.  And every year, right about this time, I have to re-configure my whole wardrobe.  It's either that or start shopping at Chico's

If I'm going to go through all this trouble every year, the results should at least be decent.  Which means that, come the warm weather, I try to shave a few calories off of my food allowance.  But going all the way to October without a stuffed artichoke?  Infamia.  Lucky for me, I don't have to.  Lucky for you, today I present my friend Christine's Amazing (and totally healthy) Artichoke Casserole.

She's not Italian, but she's married to one.  And lives in New Jersey.  Same thing.

Amazing Artichoke Casserole
Cook a big bag of frozen artichokes according to the package directions.  Drain them and put them into an oiled casserole dish.  Pour some olive oil over them.  Sprinkle with bread crumbs (I use whole wheat), mixed with grated cheese (I use Romano), salt and pepper, and some dried basil.  Drizzle with more olive oil.  Top with a pat of butter and put the dish into a 350 degree oven until heated through and a little golden brown on top.

If you've ever stuffed artichokes, you'll notice that this recipe is about a thousand time easier and much less time-consuming.  If you feel guilty about that, you can use fresh artichokes and fresh basil, and meno male I don't have those kind of compunctions.  Just so you know, the rest of us will be out in the sunshine.

Enjoying what's left of the beach.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

His Favorite Soup

Whenever I make soup - and it doesn't matter which soup I make - my husband Anthony will come out of the kitchen, glowing, a bowl of soup in hand, and the following hilarity will ensue:

"This is my favorite soup!"

"I know."

"How do you know?"

"I've been married to you for 35 years."

"No, I mean, really.  This is really my favorite soup."

"You said that about the soup I made last week."

At this point, there is a pause, and Anthony will stare at me like he's trying to remember who I am, and blink a few times.  I know what he's doing:  he's checking the memory bank.  For those of you who are new to this chronicle of my life and times, I have long suspected that Anthony's human body is inhabited by a series of alien tourists.

"Well, that's my favorite soup, too," he will say, thinking that he is cleverly covering up his alien origins by posing as a garden-variety human lunatic.  "But this soup is great."

It's nice to be appreciated.

Here's Starman's latest:

Favorite Beef Barley Soup
Take a couple of beef shanks and a package of stew meat and put it in a big pot.  Cover it with about 6 cups of beef broth.  (I use College Inn 48 oz. size, which comes in a box.)  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and then turn the heat down so that it's barely boiling.  Peel and chop 6 cloves of garlic and a couple of onions and add it to the pot.  Add a few bay leaves, too.  Now, when the soup comes to a boil again, add a couple of teaspoons of beef bouillon, stir, and turn down the heat.  Cover the pot, but leave a little "vent" with the lid so it doesn't boil over.  Simmer for a couple of hours (you should watch the heat to make sure it's simmering).  When the stew meat is almost tender and the shank meat starts to fall off the bone, add a large can of Italian plum tomatoes, chopped celery, and sliced mushrooms that have been sauteed in hot olive oil with a pat of butter (because mushrooms don't taste like anything unless they're sauteed in some kind of fat).  Put in your spices. too.  Basil, thyme, and parsley are good.  Keep simmering, with the pot still (mostly) covered.  About an hour before you want your soup to be done, add a cup of barley, one-and-a-half cups of water, and some cut-up carrots and potatoes.  Keep simmering until the barley, carrots, and potatoes are tender, about another hour.  Add fresh black pepper.  And salt, if you need to.  At the very end you can stir in a bag of frozen peas, but that's optional.  I say "optional" because I always forget.

This soup is my own recipe that I just made up one day, so take whatever liberties you want with it, but I won't be responsible.  It takes a long time to cook, but you're not doing anything difficult or labor-intensive, and it's almost impossible to screw up.  This is a wonderful soup for winter or for spring days in places like Chicago, when it's still cold outside because the east wind is blowing off that giant freaking ice cube that accumulated in the lake last winter, and we're shivering in t-shirts because we're idiots.

And it's great anytime a new alien drops in.  Really.