Recipes are more than words, they’re history

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I got a text last week from my son letting me know he and one of his housemates were going to make sauce. He remembered that I use four cans of tomato puree and a can of paste because he used to open the cans and pour it in when he was little. It’s amazing what they remember …

I couldn’t wait to teach him remotely how to make sauce. He does a lot of cooking so I knew he had the skill and motivation to do it. What I did not know was whether he had a pot big enough to handle the puree.

Two texts later I told him to go to the Bed Bath & Beyond across from the Stop and Shop grocery chain and pick up a 16-quart stock/sauce pot.

20120612-154510.jpgGood mother!

Next was the e-mail to his Smartphone with the shopping list followed by the additions once I actually wrote down the steps to making sauce. He called me on Saturday to tell me his sauce came out great; he fed 11 of his friends and still had some to freeze for later. Good son!

It made me think about the summer of 1980 when college graduation was just behind me and wedding bells just ahead when I sat in our kitchen watching my mother make sauce, writing down all of the steps. I still have the sauce stained notebook paper. Here is my collection of recipes.
In our family, we always make our birthday cakes. The bakery does a fine job on any given Sunday but a birthday cake is homemade. Period.

20120612-154830.jpgThe frosting recipe shown here makes the most wonderful, smooth spreadable frosting and brings me back to the days when my mother made all of our cakes from scratch, too.

One of my favorite desserts growing up was sheet pie. It was a great big pie made in a half-sheet cake pan and cut into squares. This is how my mother and aunts used to feed the hungry family every summer weekend when we swam in the pool. The recipe shown in the middle is from my Gramma Russo called lemon cake pie. This is like lemon squares and lemon cake combined.

Ridiculous. I intend to make it this weekend.

When I was finally able to have a Thanksgiving at my house after we were married I learned to make stuffing from my mother. Once again, I watched her to it and wrote it all down.

One of the things I remember all these many years later is that you don’t scrimp on flavor doing anything low-fat for a holiday.

There are 360 days of the year to go low-fat and low-sodium but holidays are special.

20120612-154926.jpgMy mother-in-law makes a delicious stuffing recipe, very different from my mother’s in flavor and simplicity. I now alternate their recipes.

No matter what the holiday, special occasion or Thursday night dinner on the fly, when you make something with love and history it always tastes better. As I have my copy of my mother’s sauce recipe I hope someday my son happens upon the printed e-mail and remembers his first sauce making experience with happy memories of me and his stock pot.

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How Facebook got me to can tomatoes

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I am here to witness the many powers of social media. On Sept. 3, a dear friend from college posted this picture on his Facebook wall. Insert the picture of MANY quarts of tomatoes I was not only impressed, I was inspired.

It brought back memories of my grandmother (the one who lived next door to us) along with my mother and her two sisters (who lived on the other side and across the street from us) canning tomatoes every fall. The smell of the tomato puree cooking down on the stove in the full kitchen in our basement is still etched in my memory. Didn’t all houses have two kitchens? All of the Italian-American families I knew did!

The memory of all of the women wearing their little jacket/vest aprons (I think my mother kept one in her purse) washing the fruit, running it through the food mill, washing the bottles, stirring the pot, speaking in Italian (when they didn’t want us to know what they were saying) and the sight of Tom and Mary’s 34 quarts of tomatoes convinced me it was time to give canning a try.

I started out looking up recipes online and consulting my old “Joy of Cooking” cookbook I received when I got married. On Sunday, the 11th of September, I went to the farmers market and bought 16 quarts of tomatoes (seems like a lot but looks definitely do deceive in this case) and along with some tomatoes I had at home I had about 18 quarts. I searched high and low in Erie and Niagara County and had to drive to Batavia to purchase a pressure canner/cooker. By the time I got home there was no canning that would happen that day.

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I had a hard deadline of Saturday the 17th to complete the task as I was leaving for an 8-hour drive to New Jersey. On Thursday the 15th I washed, blanched and processed these 18 quarts of tomatoes through a food mill (this removed the skin and seeds). The thought of losing these tomatoes to rot was a huge incentive to push forward.

On Friday, I intended to leave work early (I kid only myself), cook down the puree and pressure can. Not so fast!

Puree takes a very long time to cook down. Hours and hours of stirring and measuring with a wooden spoon was raising the pressure in my head and the intimidation of learning how to use a pressure cooker made me wish I had a release valve.

The time in this picture above says 12:53. That is a.m. There was not a lot of sleep gotten before the long ride only hours away.

I washed the seven-quart bottles (because that was the maximum number my canner would hold) in hopes I would fill most of them. I filled six-quart bottles and painstakingly followed the instructions that came with this huge pot. I put three quarts of water in the canner, clamped the lid and let’er’rip. Wow, a pressure cooker makes a lot of noise.

At the end, when things literally quieted down, I ended up with six quarts of lovingly made tomato puree.

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Would I do it again? Absolutely, only next time I need my mother and my sister to help. Do you can? Tell me what you “put up” each year and let me know some secrets. I’ll let you know what I hear from all of you.

Have a yummy week!

Getting peachy about grilled pound cake

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The Foodie:

This summer we were having dinner at Fiamma Steak on Hertel Avenue in Buffalo and had the most delicious grilled pound cake with berries. I love trying new things and then figuring out how to make them myself. Face it — there are no real new ideas, just variations on a theme.

Take pound cake, for example. Pound cake is pound of butter, sugar, eggs and flour. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and ½ teaspoon of salt and you’ve got yourself a classic treat. I did some research about pound cake and have come to realize that while pound cake is a cake made with a 1:1:1:1 ratio it is also a generic phrase for dense cake like martini is a classic cocktail made with gin and vermouth or a drink served in a cone shaped stemmed glass.

I used Food Network star Alton Brown’s recipe to make a pound cake with my own twist. Here is his recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/pound-cake-recipe/index.html

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I did the pound of flour, sugar and butter and substituted 2 mashed peaches for two of the nine eggs (nine eggs are approximately one pound). I made this recipe twice and it is amazing. Here are a few tips:

Be sure to have the butter and eggs at room temperature. Cold, hard butter does not cream well and cold eggs slow the cooking time down causing the cake to be overcooked on the outside and uncooked inside. I learned this one the hard way.

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Use a scale to measure the flour and the sugar. Cooking is an art (a little of this and a little of that) and baking is a science. Exact measurements make a difference in baking. If even one ratio is off you will end up with something different than intended.

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While the cake is baking make the sautéed peaches and ricotta cream.

Sautéed Peaches
Makes Four Servings
2 Peaches (cut into wedges — about 12 per peach)
1 Pat Butter
3 Turns Blood Orange Olive Oil (D’Avolio sells a nice one)
¼ Cup Brown Sugar
1 TBSP Peach White Balsamic Vinegar
1 tsp Vanilla Salt (or ½ tsp vanilla and teaspoon of course salt)
In a heavy skillet on medium heat add butter and blood orange olive oil. Add peaches cook for about three minutes stirring occasionally. Add peach white balsamic vinegar, vanilla salt and brown sugar and cook until sugar mixture begins to darken. Watch very carefully because it goes from dark to burnt in just a few seconds. Set aside to cool.

Ricotta Cream
2 Cups Heavy Cream
1 Cup Ricotta (NEVER Non-Fat)
1 TBSP Honey

Assembly

Whip on highest speed until peaks form and looks dry.

Heat stove top grill and brush with butter. Slice pound cake and brush with Blood Orange Olive Oil. Grill both sides until caramelized grill lines form on cake (a few minutes on each side). Place on serving platter. Top each piece with peaches and ricotta cream. Enjoy!

To save a great deal of time, my BFF Sara Lee makes a great pound cake (although you cannot infuse it with peaches). While it is defrosting make the peaches and cream and assemble.

Give this a try and let me know how it turned out. If you have a twist, please share. Be sure to Retweet this or share it with your friends on Facebook so they can join the fun.

Please join me at the Lewiston Kiwanis Annual Peach Festival http://www.lewistonkiwanis.org/ncpf.html and the 5K Run/1Mile Walk Saturday morning benefiting the It Happened to Alexa Foundation.

There is always something happening Below the Falls!

You don’t need a DNA match to be family at Macri’s

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The Foodie:

My conversation with Anne Macri and her son Gary was more like the Newlywed Game than an interview. I asked them both similar questions, although my chat with Anne was more free-flowing. They had differing answers to most questions but were spot on with one. I asked Gary how the move to Lewiston two years ago changed the business. He jokingly (well, sort of) said he only moved the restaurant to Lewiston rather than retiring so his mother didn’t start cleaning toilets in people’s houses.

Um, well, that’s not quite what Anne said, but she was honest, saying the move to Lewiston was done so she could continue the restaurant and have a good reason to keep going.

And going they are. You could go to Macri’s Italian Grille any day of the week (except Tuesdays) and find a busy dining room and hopping bar. Prior to opening when asked if it was going to serve the All-American fare that was served at the former Clarkson House, Anne said no, only what you would get at an Italian grille.

Vincent and Erma (“Mama” to all) D’Avolio (link here) bought DelFredo’s Restaurant on Main Street near Cosmos Dry cleaners and the current Niagara Falls Library. They owned the restaurant for about 10 years, not changing the name until Vincent D’Avolio passed away at age 59. Mama with her daughter Anne and son-in-law James Macri then moved to the City Market where they named their restaurant aptly Macri’s. Mama told Anne “just give me then years” and, as Anne says it, she gave her three ten year terms. About 32 years later Mama died only months after moving from the Market to Summit Park Mall in 2005 at the lovely age of 96.

Anne and Gary both tell of children and grandchildren working in the restaurant. Anne knows the work ethic instilled in her family is why they are all successful in their own right. Gary says he made his children work in the business so they would want to do something else. They are all successful in fields other than dining. Anne tells a lovely story of a wooden bench which Gary still owns where the children would dip their hands in milk and put the seeds on the rolls ready for the oven.

It’s hard to be hungry at Macri’s but as Anne described something she likes to cook at home I actually heard my stomach growl. She described this rice dish where she prepares mini meatballs cooked in sauce. Chopped hardboiled eggs are tossed with the rice and meatballs along with Asiago, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano cheese and it is baked until bubbly. Another family recipe not on the menu is lasagna rolls are pasta dough rolled out in a big sheet then cooked. They are laid out and filled with those same mini meatballs, hardboiled eggs and Asiago cheese and rolled up dry. They are placed in a pan with a little sauce on the bottom and baked until hot. The baking reminds me of manicotti (my own mother’s specialty) with a meat filling. This family fare is not on the menu but Anne promises me that the next time she makes it she will give me a call. Let’s just say I will wait by the phone until I get the call — cannot wait!

I know asking a restaurateur to name their favorite dish is a lot like asking who their favorite child is. I asked anyway and discovered Gary likes the veal parm and gnocchi. Anne also loves the gnocchi although because they are homemade in the kitchen everyday they are less likely to eat it. Another favorite of Anne’s Pasta Trotta (capellini pasta — think angel hair — with mushrooms, red roasted peppers and artichoke hearts with a white wine, roasted garlic sauce and Asiago cheese).

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My family has its favorites, as well. My husband never even bothers with a menu and goes straight to rigatoni and meat sauce. It is rigatoni pasta with their sweet and smooth red sauce with ground sausage. It never comes home in a take-out container.

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I love anything made with eggplant. Anything. Most recently I had eggplant rollatini. The eggplant is breaded and fried then rolled with a filling of ricotta cheese and topped with red sauce. Sometimes I get eggplant lasagna style. In this dish the eggplant is used instead of lasagna noodles and baked with ricotta and topped with sauce. Veal Melinzana is breaded veal, breaded eggplant with roasted peppers, mozzarella served with linguini. Ridiculous. My son loves chicken parm with gnocchi.

I am always so impressed with Anne’s memory. She seems to know everyone who walks in the door, even strangers. I asked her what her trick is (this Foodie has a terrible mind for names) and she credits her skill on her job, years ago, as a telephone operator. She remembers people by association. That’s a neat trick and I admire her for it.

Anne is the mother of two boys and two girls. She has grandchildren and great grandchildren. Gary has been married for 33 years and has three children including a daughter who was just married on Saturday. When not at the restaurant Anne loves the theater, movies and loves to exercise. She works out five days a week (cardio and weights), has her hair done on Saturday (I love that term!), goes to Mass on Sunday then visits with her sister Theresa and her nephew Dan. Gary loves golfing and hunting

Gary knows wine and is skilled at guiding people to the right match for their palate and food choices. In Gary’s typical self-deprecating style, he is quick to say that any wine goes with anything. There is no pretension here.

One day my husband and I ordered Chianti with two glasses. The server (Gary informed me this young man is no longer employed there) came to our table with the bottle under his arm and two full glasses of red wine. We expected him to walk by and deliver the glasses to another table. When he set them down we assumed he simply did not have enough hands. He opened up the bottle and went on his way. We still chuckle about this!

If you go, pace yourself. The serving sizes are very generous. Try to save some room for dessert and have at least one cannoli. They are pastry shells dipped in chocolate and filled with ricotta and chocolate chips. In “The Godfather,” when Clemenza said “leave the gun, take the cannoli,” he just may have gone to Macri’s.