Sunday, March 7, 2010

Momma on Sick Leave

Momma has been having some medical problems. I am still undergoing tests and will take a 2 week hiatus from my blog. The family has been making quite a few jokes as these medical issues surfaced after I gave up wine for Lent. Anyway, I would appreciate your prayers and hope you are all enjoying good health.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

One gift wonder

An Act of Charity

"O my God, I love Thee above all things, with my whole heart and soul, because Thou art all good and worthy of all love. I love my neighbor as myself for the love of Thee. I forgive all who have injured me, and ask pardon of all whom I have injured. Amen."

has a quick suggestion for Lent.

Momma Explains
: During Lent, I sometimes feel called to do as many things as possible. It is a desire to improve myself so that after Easter Sunday, I have somehow become a super Christian. As if through a multitude of Lenten activities, I could suddenly transform into a Saint. I need a lot of work for that to happen. Yet, it is good to have goals that will improve us spiritually and hopefully benevolently affect others. So if you seem to aim for an extravagant improvement do not be daunted. Start small, start with just one act of charity. I find acts of charity allow me to look beyond myself and toward the needs of others. It can be any action that aids your fellow man. Sometimes, you write a check for a financial need, make a meal for a family who is pinched, help an elderly neighbor or just drop off extra donations at your church food bank. When you do this act of giving, you can add a small prayer for the recipient. It really is amazing how little time it takes to help someone, and yet would not the world be an amazing place if we all were working that charitably?
Have a joyous Lent.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My family is taste challenged

Momma likes to try different ethnic recipes, sometimes and present the novel experience to her family but it is not always a hit.

Momma Explains
: I was given a crock pot recipe from someone I trust. Now this person is not a cook that loves to cook but I have had some nice fixings at her house so when she suggested a recipe for salsa chicken that you make in the crock pot, well, I thought I would break out of macaroni mold and go for it. I rarely use the crock pot as it seems impossible to make a full meal in one itty bitty pot. As it was cooking, the chicken smelled tasty and I am a big fan of salsa so I was eager to try the recipe. I even served it on tortilla chips and a nice wedge of lettuce. It had all the visuals of one of those chain restaurant menu items. Gees...what a flop and my guys were dismayed ,I knew it was a bomb when Poppa went to the fridge, took out the salami and provolone and proceeded to eat over a pound. The others just pushed some of the food around, ate some chips and made popcorn. What a disappointment. Even I have to admit, the chicken was tougher than I like and the salsa was flimsy. It tasted more like an appetizer than a meal. I have learned that those shared recipes should first be administered to Momma, maybe I would change some aspect to fit our taste palate better but at least this time ,the fridge had salami and provolone. Speaking of that I better run out to the store and buy more. You never know when I may feel multicultural again. Oh, anybody want to try salsa chicken? I have extra.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lenten Practices

Momma would dread the start of Lent for many years until recently when I saw it as an opportunity for growth.

Momma Explains: As a child, Lent meant that I needed to give up something and try to be nicer to my brothers and sisters. Since I was the oldest and very bossy, this was painful and dreaded. I still am a person who loathes self-sacrifice. I like my comforts and the gifts of the earth. Lent used to mean that I resentfully needed to sacrifice many of my favorite things. Now however, I have been blessed to have been given some insight by a priest and several Christian authors. This insight has allowed me to approach Lent with a smile. I still try to make a physical sacrifice, basically restrict certain foods or beverages but I also try to improve a part of my life and increase my prayer rituals. Rather than looking at these as sacrifices, I now see it as empowerment. I am empowering my spiritual side by turning off my dependence on material things. I am becoming a stronger spiritual person, and the spirit needs to be strong. It has become my custom during Lent to find a new daily prayer to add to my litany. Sometimes it is a very short prayer but I enjoy finding prayers and new recipients for those prayers. I am growing and strengthening the spirit, the part of me that is easily forgotten with the demands of the day. Lent is a wonderful reminder for us all to look to the inside, the internal, and the spiritual. Feed those components and be a Lenten pilgrim. You will be better for the journey.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lenten Doughnuts

Momma tries to sacrifice during Lent, but the day before Ash Wednesday, I do enjoy a BIG helping of my sweets.
Momma Explains: It has always been beneficial for me to try and make sacrifices during Lent. For me a sacrifice is to refrain from certain foods, desserts and wine. Before I attempt this kind of self control, I do feast on my favorites and I am not talking about brussel sprouts. One Christian tradition involves having doughnuts on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The following recipe is a short cut doughnut recipe. You can adapt this to your tastes. It is fun for children to see how simple doughnuts are to make and even better to eat.

Short Cut Lenten Doughnuts

Take frozen bread dough, purchased at a local supermarket and follow directions to defrost. Let the bread rise according to directions and after the first rising, break into golf ball size pieces. Stretch out the dough and roll into a log that you then form into a doughnut. Do not make the dough too thick or it will not cook properly. You may need to use less dough or more so a few experimental ones will be best. After the doughnuts are shaped, let them rise. They should almost double their size. Then fry in hot fat, shortening or vegetable oil. If you have a deep fryer, that is the best but a deep pot works also. Be careful when working with hot fat and lower the dougnuts into the oil with a slotted spoon. Fry for about 5 minutes, turning once. Remove with the slotted spoon and place on paper towel. Then roll in confectionary sugar or brown sugar and cinnamon. Now make some coffee or tea and dunk away.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Graciousness, a welcome attribute

Momma made many mistakes in her life but will always be grateful to those who overlooked her faults and treated her with gracious courtesy.

Momma Explains: Gracious courtesy is abysmally lacking in much of today's society. Good manners, polite conversation, modesty, humility and kindness have been replaced with boorish behavior, rude interjections, wardrobe failures, conceit and selfishness. What are we doing ?

We have forgotten an earmark of civilized behavior. That earmark is graciousness. I think it is important to look at the word graciousness, it has the same root base ( gratia) as the word grace. Both words speak to us of harmony, compassion and theologically of God's love to man. I think we could all use a little more grace and graciousness. Without intent, many of us have forgotten to be gentle with each other. We are so goal driven, and self absorbed that we overlook the beauty of our humanity and each other. Being courteous and gracious does have merit and welcome effects. If you speak to anyone with civility and gentility, they will be more comfortable and compassionate. If you on the other hand attack them verbally, they instinctively respond defensively. People on the defense protect themselves. They cannot share or compromise because they are in the fight or flight mode. However, if we approach all situations with serenity and gracious concern, we demonstrate our respect for people and their reaction is more open and positive. Is it really so difficult to treat each other with dignity and courtesy? Be gracious, be graceful, be understanding. It is far more relaxing and the benefits are gratifying.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pork and Finocchio

Momma does not mind all the snow in the East as long as I have some comfort dinners to accompany a BIG glass of vino.

Momma Explains: If you know the snow is coming, do not worry about milk and bread. You just head out and buy some nice comfort foods, especially a nice piece of meat and a good bottle of wine. Let the snow fall, you are warm all over with this recipe. It is pork chops with finocchio, which is simply fennel or anise. If you go into the store and ask for finocchio they may call security and accuse you of profanity, so ask for fennel as it is safer. Now, momma loves fennel, cooked or raw. In this recipe it is cooked, which softens the slight licorice taste, but it is still there. When you make these pork chops, use a red wine that is described as fruity with a licorice spice. The wine that you use in the recipe should be the same wine that you serve to accompany the pork chops. In the wine stores you should have several wines that list their flavor description, and that makes combining recipes and wine easier.

Pork and Finnochio

4 pork loin chops, medium thickness

olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper( less if you do not like pepper)

1 cup red wine

2 whole cloves garlic, split

1 bunch fennel, cut into 1/2 inch slices

Flour for dredging

Sprinkle pork chops with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Heat olive oil to fry pork, add pork and cook on medium heat, browning on both sides. It should take about 20 minutes per side depending on thickness. Pork needs to be cooked thoroughly, if it is getting too brown, lower your heat. When cooked, remove pork chops and place on a dish.

Add butter to pan with drippings and drop in garlic cloves, after about one minute of cooking, add chopped fennel. After fennel softens, add red wine, let reduce and place pork chops in wine sauce to simmer for 5 minutes or until they have absorbed some of the sauce. Do not overcook or they toughen.

Pour your wine and let it snow!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tuna Stuffed Tomatoes

Momma likes to have salads but needs some substance in them.

Momma Explains: Salads are great for your health and diet but just lettuce does not have the staying power I need to get through the day. I have found that by adding a protein and varied elements, you can have a healthy and filling salad. These also make a very nice presentation. If you can manage a little wine with this, try a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay.

Tuna Stuffed Tomatoes

Cut off tops of 4 tomatoes, whatever the supermarket has that looks ripe. I often get Roma or Plum. Remove the seeds and liquid. In a bowl mix one can of tuna( again, it is your preference) with 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, one tablespoon of vidalia dressing, 1/4 teaspoon celery salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, chopped celery and (optional) some small diced onion . If you are a big mayo fan then you can add more mayo, I prefer to add more vidalia dressing if I add anything more. Mix all ingredients and stuff the tomatoes. I will also boil eggs and place the sliced hard boiled eggs either on top of the tomato or as a plate garnish. If you place the tomatoes on a bed of lettuce, it really looks like a feast.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Family Photo Fun

has tons of old photos just hidden away but they need to be seen.

Momma Explains: We all have a need to preserve happy times by capturing those moments in photography. Since most are blessed to have multiple opportunities to photograph, we all are deluged with pictures. These pictures may be loaded onto CD's, jammed into shoe boxes, placed in albums or still sit on memory sticks. These memories all share a common location; they are all invisible to most visitors. We take these beautiful pictures and happy remembrances yet they fall into the cavern of forgotten moments. Sadly, we all drag them out for a funeral or event when we want to bring back memories of the past. Why not start bringing those magic moments back now. Years ago, it was popular to make photo collages and hang them on the wall. The challenge was finding the picture that would fit into the predesignated cut out. Now, we have so many scrap booking and cropping tools available as well as materials that would allow you to design our own schematic and display your pictures.
I love it when people come into our house and gaze at the wall that holds out collection. I have a collage for each child. As the grand children visit, we look at the resemblance to other family members.
I have not made a collage in awhile but it is time to start again. How about you, display those happy memories. You will never tire of looking at them. There are even sites that allow you to make a custom collage. I have included one for you to peruse.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Prosciutto Wrapped Vegetables

Momma likes to dress up her vegetables but what wrap should they wear?

Momma Explains: Prosciutto is a great wrap for many vegetables. I often use this delicious ham to liven the standard vegetable fare. I especially like prosciutto with asparagus or string beans. Always use fresh asparagus and preferably fresh string beans but the frozen, whole, organic will do in a pinch. Cook the vegetables in slightly salted water, do not over salt, and place in cold water to stop cooking. They should be still a bit crisp. I love to have this with an Italian white wine, they are getting easier to find especially the Sicilian whites or Umbrian whites. Serve the wine chilled and enjoy this treat.

Prosciutto Wrapped Vegetables

You will need one slice of prosciutto for every three string beans or three asparagus. Remember that skinny asparagus and string beans are the most tender. Fatter vegetables are often tough.( Just like Momma)

Cook the vegetables in slightly salted water and rinse in cold water to stop cooking, keep the vegetables on the firm side. Brush a baking dish with olive oil. Wrap the vegetables with the prosciutto, three per slice of prosciutto and place in the baking dish. Drizzle some olive oil over the top of the veggie wrap and then sprinkle with good Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 F for only about 5- 7 minutes. Keep an eye on the cheese as it browns quickly. Sometimes I broil them but you need to watch the pan VERY carefully. This is a great side dish to chicken. I have even just had vegetables and crusty bread for dinner but of course, I also had wine.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Generous Heart of America

Momma knows our country may not be perfect but we sure step up when people are in need.

Momma Explains: The recent devastating earthquake and aftershocks have left the people of Haiti in truly heart breaking conditions. Their losses are incredible and their need is great. Many countries have offered support but not one comes close the The United States of America. In our stores , in our churches, in our communities and our schools, in each one of these locations, there are relief efforts and opportunities. I personally know physicians who are trying to get to Haiti to offer their services. There are donation locations around every bend and the money is coming in. People are opening up their wallets even when our economic climate is not good. The reason is quite simple; the people of America have the biggest hearts in the world. We are a country blessed with many freedoms and we do not hesitate to share our successes with others. That heart, that generosity, those freedoms are what makes America so great. So the next time some foreign dignitary complains about American capitalism, American influences or American self-assurance, I ask him, " Hey, who do want to have YOUR back when disaster strikes? " Yeah, that's what I thought, the USA wins every time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quick Salmon Bake

Momma likes to make a fish dinner but I like it to be moist.

Momma Explains: Cooking fish is always a challenge for me, it really dries out quickly and I can't tell if it is done by using a meat thermometer. Some fish will flake easily( such as salmon) when cooked but others such as Chilean sea bass produce another texture when finished cooking. I only have a few solid fish recipes. This is my salmon bake recipe, I have cooked it on the grill but this recipe is done in the oven at 400F. Try a nice chardonnay with Salmon, I like unoaked chardonnay. Do not be afraid to buy whites, they can be the perfect beverage for a fish or light fare dish. If Chardonnay is too heavy, I just always like Riesling, on the dry side of course. Arugula salad and Asian noodles are great sides with this dish.

Salmon Bake
Preheat oven to 400

Place some 6 oz salmon fillets on aluminum foil, each fillet should go in one foil packet. Then brush both sides of the fillets with olive oil. Sprinkle with some sea salt and pepper. Squeeze some lemon juice on top of fillets. Just a little on each. Then place one large pat of butter on top of the fillets and some chopped chives. I like a lot of chives but it is up to you. Slice a sweet onion and top each fillet with a slice or two of THINLY sliced onion. Fold aluminum foil around salmon so it makes a packet and bake for 15 minutes. Take packets out and let sit in foil for about 5 minutes. While the salmon is cooking make a salad with mixed greens and arugula, then cook up some quick cooking Asian noodles. The lighter noodles cook faster than you can get the bowl out.
A nice healthy dinner, ready very quickly. Sounds good to me!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Fairy Wings; The Perfect Accessory

Dawn Fairy Wings

: has two grand daughters that love to play dress up but one could give us all a lesson in fashion fun.
Momma Explains: My grand daughters watch the many children fantasy movies that are available and of course, emulate the main characters. Sometimes they are fairies, princesses, wicked witches or queens. They are ready to embrace their role and their wands. It is so much fun to watch them delve into a cushioned world of imagination and magic. I wish we could do the same with the more caustic components of life. Well, my youngest grand daughter has attempted to transcend the imaginary into the rational. ( I think they tried to do that in math theory as well) Anyway, the two year old loves her fairy wings and wears them everywhere. She has been told that she does not have flying capability but wears them none the less. Her three year old sister was very disappointed to discover that the wings were not aviator quality and dismissed them. Luckily her empirical experiment involved jumping off her bed and when she did not soar into the air, she returned the offending wings to her mother stating, " These do NOT work!" Of course there followed a lecture on the fact that all dress ups and their accessories were PRETEND and did not defy the laws of physics. The three year old left the lecture disappointed but the two year old smiled and put on her wings, grabbed her wand and fairy skirt ( okay I spoil them rotten) and she pranced around changing chairs into horses and leaping about the room. She still loves her wings and now has taken to wearing them outside the house, in public. At first my daughter tried to discourage this new fashion but the two year old was so adamant that they let her don her wings on outings. The presence of the wings is truly the perfect accessory. People look and smile, other children approach because they recognize a true spirit of fun and everyone who meets a youngster with wings is taken back to those magic moments in childhood when the world was so full of our imagination and adventure. I love those wings, in fact I am thinking about getting myself a pair. I bet they would wait on me first in those long check out lines because if they didn't I would whip out my wand !!!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Italian String Beans

See full size image
Momma likes vegetables but they need a little jolt to awaken their flavor.

Momma Explains: Vegetables are an important part of our diet but cooked vegetables lose a little flavor in the cooking process. That is why raw vegetables seem to be tastier. However, cooked vegetables can have some zing if you do two important things.
First: Always cook the vegetables to just done, in other words, they still have crunch but enough give to taste cooked. The cooking time will vary for each vegetable so just like pasta, you will need to taste them every few minutes to determine when they are done. Start with boiling water, then add the vegetable, if you are boiling. If braising or grilling, always get your pan/grill up to temperature prior to adding vegetables.
Second: Use good quality fresh or frozen vegetables and some appropriate spice combination. Garlic or onion or tomato are very vegetable friendly. You can play around with different seasonings. Sometimes, I use the same seasonings on my vegetables as I do in my meat or meat marinade.
Here is one of my favorite string bean recipes, my mother-in-law taught me this . It was a favorite in little italy. Try a nice Sicilian red or one from Puglia. I have found several bargains from Italy lately., so check with your local wine merchant.

Josephine's Italian String Beans
Fry up a pound of thin sliced bacon, drain off most of the fat but save about three tablespoons .Put the three tablespoons of bacon fat into a large pot.Cut bacon slices in half and set aside.
In the three tablespoons of fat , slowly cook one small chopped onion. When cooked add 1 to 1 and 1/2 pounds cleaned fresh or frozen, whole green beans to the onion,and the cut, cooked bacon, stir so all the string beans get coated. After coating let simmer a couple of minutes, stir often. Then add one jar of your favorite tomato sauce or about three cups of your homemade sauce. Add some salt and pepper, but not much as the bacon has salt. You can check the flavor after about 5 minutes and add more salt then if necessary. Let the string beans simmer till just past crunchy. Taste and add salt or pepper. Turn off stove,then let sit in hot gravy and they will cook more. Serve with a simple steak or pot roast.

ake about 1 and 1/2 pounds cleaned fresh or frozen green beans.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Years Resolutions

Momma always has a New Years Resolution and that is a good personal introspective goal but there is one we can all share and use to help us attain other goals.
Momma Explains: Every year I realize there is an area or areas that need improvement in my life, body or attitude. I am human, not perfect, a work in progress at all times. It is therefore common to seek to find a better me. One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received came from a priest. It was a piece of advice that seemed at first both self centered and demanding yet upon reflection it made sense and sensibility. I asked the priest what prayer he said to begin each day. He responded, " I pray for myself first each day." My immediate response was to think that we should pray for others first and then ourselves but he had a good point. If we pray for ourselves in a selfless manner, requesting guidance toward our interactions with others, then we begin each day perfecting ourselves FOR others. It is an interesting way of looking at prayer and I do try to begin each day praying for myself and my actions on behalf of others. Perhaps a good New Years Resolution would be to try to improve our prayer life as well as ourselves. Pray for yourself, I do.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Beef Stew with a zing

Momma loves winter meals that warm you through and through but they do not need to be bland.
Momma Explains: Perhaps, no time more than winter does the family savor sitting together for a comfort meal together. These meals are often old time recipes that bring back memories and a sense of warmth. My family loves stew but Momma's version has wine and tomato sauce. ( You expected brown gravy??) I serve this with crusty bread, and a rich wine such as a Rhone wine. The 2005's are drinking fine and if a Rhone is not available try something from Chile or Argentina. Check the wine rating and recommended food pairing. You want a rich hearty wine with this dish.Whatever wine you choose, use it in the recipe as well as the glass, and have a few sips yourself while cooking. Remember, if the cook is happy then everybody is happy.

Momma's Beef Stew with Zing
I make this in my Nesco roaster but a very large non stick pot or a La Creuset type casserole is fine as well. You need to stir this several times.

3 lbs beef round or top round cut into 2 by 1 inch cubes( or close enough)
3 teaspoons Montreal steak seasoning plus some kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper ( less if you do not like pepper)
olive oil, enough to coat pan
1/2 large onion chopped finely
3 cloves minced garlic
3 stalks of celery
2 large white potatoes cut into one inch cubes
Frozen bags of vegetables( I use string beans and peas)
1 heaping cup fresh peeled baby carrots
( you can play around with the types of vegetables based on family preference)

1 jar tomato sauce ( buy a good one) plus 1/2 jar water( minimum)
1 cup red wine

Coat bottom of pan with olive oil, heat up the oil. Add the chopped onion, garlic and celery and sprinkle with some kosher salt, allow to soften .
Coat the cubed beef with the Montreal Steak seasoning. (If you do not have this seasoning, mix Kosher salt, garlic powder, onion powder and pepper together but the balance is tricky.) I find the steak seasoning very useful in my spice rack.
Drop the meat into the oil and be careful not to splatter. Keep the heat low enough so as to avoid burning and spitting. Let meat brown on each side, turning till all sides are browned. Because the onion mixture is in there, the browning will be minimized. When browned add the tomato sauce, water, wine and pepper. Stir the mixture. Let meat simmer for about 1 and 1/2 hours, stir on occasion, then add the carrots, peas, string beans and potatoes. If the juice is getting low add more water. the potato starch will thicken it so check it if you can. You want the juice to dip the bread. Let simmer again for at least one hour. I will put this on and let it go for 4 hours but I can control my roaster temperature easily. You want to make sure that the potatoes and carrots are cooked through. You will need to taste your broth as it may need more salt and pepper. I like a saltier stew than most and add more salt than in the recipe, so adjust according to your own taste. Hope you have that bread ready and the wine poured. This is so good.