December is coming so here’s Nicki’s recipe for a Christmas standard.
“Struffoli or as my family calls them, Ceci, are made for the Christmas Holidays. Time consuming to make, but well worth it. They are a delicious treat. They are especially good for breakfast on Christmas day; float them in your coffee cup and scoop them up with a spoon. So good!” – Nicki
Mix the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, the 1/4 cup of Crisco and eggs in a mixing bowl. Work the dough with your hands. Then turn the dough onto a floured board. Knead the dough until pliable. Form it into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Flour the board. Cut the dough into ½ inch strips. Roll the strips into rope-like pieces about 8 – 10 inches long. I prefer rolling the dough in my hands but you can roll it on the board. Leave each roll to rest on the floured board as you roll the others. Cut each roll into ½ inch pieces. Roll each of these pieces into balls the size of a ceci (chick pea). I roll them by hand and can do two at a time. (Practice makes perfect). The board should be sufficiently floured so that the Struffoli do not stick together.
Put the Crisco (about four inches deep) in a large heavy-duty pot over medium heat. Drop in one ceci to check the heat of the Crisco. It should brown in a minute or two. Fry the dough in batches until golden. Remove them with a slotted spoon or a spider spoon and drain them on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Heat the honey and water in a pan until it blends. Add the ceci and toss and coat. Arrange in a serving bowl and dust with powdered sugar and sprinkles.
Ten items that include all six tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent. That’s what you get at Ayurveda Café. It’s vegetarian Indian cuisine served thali style. I’m by no means a vegetarian as you can tell be some of my posts (beefsteak, lamb’s head) but their meals are tasty and satisfying without meat. It might be the warm climate spices. That’s the difference between southern and northern cuisine – New Orleans vs. Boston, Sicily vs. Tuscany. I confess I don’t know much about southern Indian cooking but some dishes remind me of southern American standards like red rice and beans or southern Italian giambotta, both made without meat but still savory and hearty.
The Ayurveda Café has no menu but four vegetable dishes plus dessert are varied every day along with standard rice (white or brown), salad, nan and chutneys. If you’d like some more of anything you just have to ask for it. For beverages, in addition to various teas and lassis they serve beer (Kingfisher) and wine.
When I was growing up, we started drinking wine with dinner at an early age. We didn’t drink very much and didn’t drink it straight either. Our parents mixed it with soda. Some of my friends preferred Coke, and others, cream and even orange soda – go figure!
My choice was always, and still is 7Up. Some sweetness, some citrus and a bit of bubbly fizz with a rich Chianti can’t be beat. I wouldn’t attempt to order it at a restaurant but I still sometimes have it at home. It’s comfort food that really brings me back.
It’s a simple mix – about half and half. Younger kids get a little less wine and older kids, a bit more.
I found an interesting old cookbook called, A PLAIN COOKERY BOOK FOR THE WORKING CLASSES. It was written by Charles Elme Francatelli in 1861. He was ‘Maitre d’Hotel and Chief Cook to Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria,’ – pretty good credentials. A recipe that caught my attention was for Egg-Hot. It’s a sort of unusual beer cocktail. Here it is verbatim: I didn’t think this was something I could order at a local bar so I tried it myself. I tried it more than once. I made it with Brooklyn Lager and Sam Adams Boston Lager – both worked very well. I don’t think a beer like Corona or Bud would stand up to this recipe. I used a small sauce pan to heat the beer and a stoneware mug for the mixing. Adding ‘a drop of beer’ tempers the egg so it stays liquid and doesn’t scramble. I followed the instructions precisely and finished with a hearty mixture that was almost a meal. I think it would make a great winter drink comparable to Irish coffee.
My great aunt Caroline could cook weeds and make them taste good. She had a dish her guests would often hope for at lunch. She’d sauté chicken hearts and mushrooms in olive oil with crumpled dried pepperoncini – simple ingredients which came together as something very special. The mushrooms were gathered by my Uncle Tony in his forays into the wilds of Staten Island to places only he knew.
When he went to pick wild mushrooms he’d be gone all day and Aunt Caroline would say, “He thinks I don’t know, but after he gets the mushrooms, he plays poker with his friends. As long as he brings me the mushrooms, I don’t say anything.”
The first time I can remember her serving the chicken hearts, she looked at me and without asking if I’d prefer it, cut a couple of slices of crunchy Italian bread and spread it with cream cheese and Welch’s grape jelly.
“Robbie’s ‘Merican,” she said to my mother, “so I made him a sandwich I saw on television.” I was glad to get the cream cheese and jelly but eventually acquired a taste for her chicken hearts.
1 lb chicken hearts
1 lb sliced mushrooms (your choice)
¼ cup olive oil
Dried peperoncini to taste
Salt and black pepper to taste
Wash, dry and season the chicken hearts with salt and black pepper. Sear them in oil in a very hot pan and remove. Sauté sliced mushrooms in the remaining fat & oil. When done return the chicken hearts. Break up 3 or 4 dried peperoncini into the pan stir and serve when the peppers soften.
Pepperoncini don’t have the intensity of jalapenos but still provide a good sparkle to many dishes. Wash, dry and place fresh (not pickled) green pepperoncini in an open work basket or string them together and hang them (out of direct sunlight). They’ll eventually turn dark red and become dry and brittle.
– Dried Pepperoncini Paste #1 -Heat about 1/4 cup olive oil; add 3 cloves of garlic and 10 crumbled dry peppers (remove stem, core and some seeds). Keep the heat low and don’t burn it. When the peppers and garlic darken a little put everything, including the oil in a food processor with a teaspoon of salt and grind until it’s a paste. Add more oil if needed. Put it back in the pan and heat until it dries. This works as a condiment on various dishes where you’d normally sprinkle red pepper flakes.
– Dried Pepperoncini Paste #2 -Start with dried pepperincini. Take off the stems and soak in water overnight – include seeds and ribs. Drain well and put in food processor with oil. Chop and add oil until it’s a paste. One suggested use: Add paste and some pasta water to pan when making Pasta Aglio e Olio (pasta w/ garlic & oil). Finish cooking pasta in the sauce and serve with toasted breadcrumbs.
– They’re great crumbled and fried with eggs,
– They can be eaten plain too. Remove the stem and the core of seeds. Give them a quick fry in hot olive oil. Their color will change from red to light brown. Let them cool and eat them like potato chips.
– Powdered pepperoncini– grind red pepper flakes in a blender until powered, Basilicata style. Be careful not to inhale when you uncover the blender or you’ll cough like a cat with a hairball. If you don’t dry your own peppers, you can used store-bought red pepper flakes for this one.
– One last suggestion – take one or two fresh green peperoncini and remove the stem and seeds. Cut it into pieces small enough to fit into a bottle and then fill with virgin olive oil. Allow it a week or so to infuse and use this oil to drizzle on soups, meat or seafood dishes.
Roasted Beefsteak Sirloin with Blood and Butter Sauce
Adapted from Chef Waldy Malouf’s beefsteak recipe at the (now closed) Beacon Restaurant.
Throwing a “Beefsteak” is an old New York City tradition. It was a night of beef, beer and cigars with no vegetables or silverware.
For more on the beefsteak tradition see: ALL YOU CAN HOLD FOR FIVE BUCKS, written by Joseph Mitchell and originally printed in The New Yorker Magazine, 1939
1 whole boneless sirloin, approximately 8 pounds; ask your butcher for a No. 180 strip loin (pretty expensive)
2 onions, chopped
2 cups beef broth
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
Sliced white bread
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Season sirloin heavily with S&P. Place in a roasting pan, fat side down and roast for 30 minutes. Turn meat over, fat side up, and add onions to pan beside meat. Roast another 30 minutes.
Remove roasting pan from oven. Turn oven off and leave door ajar to cool slightly. Transfer beef to a rimmed platter, leaving onions in pan. Loosely cover beef with foil and return to oven to keep warm. Carefully spoon off about two-thirds of the clear fat in roasting pan (leaving any dark juices beneath) and add beef broth. Place over high heat and boil until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add butter, Worcestershire sauce, and any juices that have collected in platter of beef. Return to medium-low heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. Strain sauce into a warmed pitcher or serving bowl.
To serve, slice sirloin into 1 1/2-inch-thick steaks and then cut each steak crosswise into strips 3 to 4 inches long that you will be able to pick up with your hands. Serve sauce very hot. Dip meat into sauce as you eat. You can also serve meat with a stack of white bread.
When my father was a young man he tended bar in various bars and restaurants in Greenwich Village. He developed a great Old Fashioned and passed the recipe on to me. That’s him, Frank Iulo, in the white shirt at Jay’s Bar on Houston Street.
Put circular slice of lemon in the bottom of an old fashioned glass. Add 1 tsp sugar, a few dashes of orange bitters and muddle. Be sure to crush lemon skin to get oil. Add ice and Rye or Canadian and stir. Float a few dashes of Angostura on top.
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Cut the peaches around the equator and then cut wedges into bite size pieces. Place the pieces in a bowl, sprinkle with sugar and toss. Allow them to sit for 15 minutes and then cover with the wine. Refrigerate and serve when chilled. Serves four.
My Calabrese grandfather used to have Marsala and an egg for breakfast. He’d just break an egg into a glass of Marsala and drink it without mixing or cooking it. He didn’t use a cocktail glass either.
Marsala Flip – a drink similar to both zabaglione (see below) and my grandfather’s breakfast.
One whole egg
Two ice cubes
Three ounces sweet Marsala
Put the ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth and creamy. A flip is a cocktail that’s been around for a long time. This is a simple version of it. You can also use port or sherry. Add sugar if you’re using something that isn’t sweet i.e. brandy or bourbon.
6 egg yolks
1 cup sweet Marsala
½ cup sugar
Put all the ingredients in a double boiler and whisk over medium heat until foamy. I use an old fashioned crank egg beater. It’s faster. Serve it hot or cold for dessert in a cocktail glass as is or with some berries on top.