Post #582 Neapolitan Pizza

July 28, 2018 at 6:04 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Neapolitan just means “from Naples” and that refers to Naples, Italy.  I was lucky enough that the first time I got to work in Italy, it was in Naples, and I got to spend six weeks there.  Now bear in mind that our days during the week were full.  We reported to work around 8am and were sometimes there until 11pm.  Mostly, we were finished up around 5 or 6, and most of our weekends were free, but there were times when my part of the job required me to be there on the weekends.  And if we were switching out computers, it was all hands on deck.  We ate breakfast at the hotel ordinarily, and had lunch at work prepared by two motherly ladies who were most interested in providing filling, nutritious pasta dishes and fish on Friday (no cheese allowed.)   Dinners we were on our own.  We mostly went out with the working group, but other times we’d scatter on our own.  And sometimes the staff we were teaching would invite us out.

We did try to cut costs and keep some foods in our rooms, but there were no mini-fridges so we were limited in what we could reasonably keep.  I asked one coworker who said she spoke Italian and said she’d found a good butcher to pick me up a half pound of slice ham for sandwiches.  I was thinking regular American style cured ham that wouldn’t have time to spoil in the amount of time it would take me to eat it (I really like ham.)  Her claims to prowess far outstripped her actual prowess and I ended up with two pounds of uncooked, uncured, unsliced ham, and for some reason she also got me a two pound block of cheese.  It was a white cheese and smelled great, but since I had no way to slice it, or cook the ham, it all went to the hotel staff.  But there were other treats to look forward to.  We found a restaurant around the corner that had a buffet and I got try calamari cooked in many different ways, including on pizza!

Historically, Naples is the accepted birthplace of modern pizza.  Flatbreads can be found in every culture, and adding toppings to them is just a natural course of events.  But sometime in the late 1700s, bakers in Naples added tomatoes to a flatbread called focaccia, and shortly after that topped it with cheese, and pizza was born.  The traditional Neapolitan pizza is baked in a wood-fired oven at temps of 500 degrees or higher.  The edges can be burned to a crisp, but because it spends so little time in the oven, the cheese is melted and brown to the right point, the tomatoes are hot and sizzling, and the toppings are cooked to perfection.

So what is this leading up to?  Particularly since I’ve written more about pizza than any other subject?  Partner/Spouse and I got have lunch at the newest pizzeria in our area.  It’s called Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, and are found all over the southern New England area.  This one opened a few months ago and has been insanely busy from the moment their doors were unlocked.  We’ve gone by several times, anxious to try their Neapolitan pizza, me in the hopes that it truly is as good as the pizza I enjoyed in Naples.

It is.

We got there at 12:30 half anticipating that it would be too crowded and with alternate plans already in mind in case it was.  We were happily surprised to see that although there were plenty of cars in the parking lot, there were still many places to park indicating there would be places to sit.  We walked in and were immediately shown to a table.  The inside was minimalist and we found out why it was always standing room only.  There were very few tables for the crowds we’d seen there.  It’s the standard mix of booths and tables, but the thing that drew your eyes is the kitchen.  It’s completely open to the dining area and watching the pizza chefs work was fun.  It’s set up with true wood fired brick ovens and the fire is pretty far back because the pizza peels are attached to ten foot long poles.  These guys were pushing those peels the full length of the poles to reach the pies.

The menu is minimalist, too.  Pizza.  Salad.  Soda.  Beer and Wine.  That’s about it. But within those parameters there is a lot of selection.  There are 3 sizes and the largest is served on a full baking sheet and slops over the sides.  The smallest was so large we couldn’t finish them and brought them home.  We didn’t try the salads, but the ones we saw going by us looked delicious.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that we were hungry.

I ordered my standard mushroom and pepperoni with extra cheese.  I should have left the extra cheese off.  And rather than sauce, they use crushed tomatoes in their juice with some herbs and spices.  Very very tasty.  Partner/Spouse got their Amanti Della Carne, a meat lovers pizza.  Unfortunately, our pizzas did not arrive at the same time; mine came first.  The gap in timing was noticeable, but not enough to induce a complaint.  Neither of finished more than half.  They were so good!

It did taste just like the pizza I remembered from Naples.  And it did taste very good, even the crusty char on the edges.

So, if you ever get a chance to try this pizzeria, I recommend it highly.   Just try to get there when it’s not crowded.  If you can.

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Post #581 A New Favorite Winery

July 21, 2018 at 8:17 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Time spent with a cat,” said Colette, “is never wasted.”  Colette was a French novelist from the late 1800s and wise beyond her years.  At least, in relation to my weekend last week.  I already told you about the antique store and cow cookie jar.  The rest of the fun-filled story is about the time spent at The Purple Cat Winery.

The winery is in the northern part of our state, about a twenty minute drive from the apartment.  We “discovered” it while we were out on the Fourth of July taking a drive.  We were on our way home to take care of things, glanced and saw it, noted the hours of operation, and went home.  Turns out, there’s an almost direct route from our apartment to the winery.  A total of maybe four turns, if that.

So, last weekend, we decided to hit the antique store (where I scored my long missing and long coveted cow cookie jar), and maybe a farmers market if we saw one (we did, and we did; tomatoes, onions, and squash), and the winery.  We intended to grab lunch while were out and about, too.  It all worked out well for us in one stop at the winery.

The Purple Cat Winery is fairly new, although I never asked how long they’d been in business.  They’re in one of the historic villages in our state, and part of nearly every winery tour in this part of New England.  They’re set up as a bistro style and have several wines, a microbrewery, and make a really decent hard apple cider.  They’re available for rentals, and have a café on site for catering, if needed.  The rooms are multi-level, and crammed full of overstuffed chairs and cozy nooks and fireplaces.  We wanted to sit in all of them.

So we got there about a half hour after they opened at noon.  Since it was a new-to-me winery, I wanted to do a wine tasting.  It was reasonably priced, and for a few extra bucks, I got to keep the glass.  The waitress asked if I preferred red or white.

Now this will sound odd to anyone who’s drank wine with me.  I’ve recently started developing a palette for red wines.  It’s still not my preferred drink, but I no longer say NO! when it’s offered.  So I told her I’d like to do the full sample.  They currently have four whites and four reds, and one hard cider.  I was not going to try their beers and ales.  I still don’t have a taste for those.

Let me just say, tasting 9 different beverages in quick succession on a nearly empty stomach is designed to get a buzz going.  Two of the whites were far too sweet for me, but their Pinot Grigio and their Vidal Blanc were both right up my alley.  And I liked all the reds, although some were just slightly too heavy for me.  The apple cider was the lightest and tastiest cider I’ve ever had.  So good.  Partner/Spouse wandered around while I was sampling the goods, but came over during the reds and had a sip or two.

When I was finishing up the tasting, Partner/Spouse opted to go to the café and get us something to eat.  I got two bottles, one of their Vidal Blanc and one of the apple cider, and a glass of the Pinot Grigio to have with lunch.  We sat at a table sipping our drinks (he had water since he was driving) and talking about the winery and life in general.  Eventually, our snacks arrived: a plate of french fries and a whole wheat chicken quesadilla.  It was the perfect complement to the sweeter Pinot G I was drinking.

I texted a work friend to gloat that I was daytime drinking at the winery.  He never responded.  I had to laugh.  It took us a good 45 minutes to finish everything because the place was so comfortable and relaxing that we just took our time.  At some point, one of the employees sat down at a baby grand piano and starting playing softly, and a group of people were setting up a party in another room and wandering around getting supplies.

By the time we left, my buzz from the tasting was a little stronger, but manageable.  I wasn’t driving so I just enjoyed it.

The rest of the afternoon we spent relaxing, listening to music, watching movies, reading.  It was a good day.  I got home with a new winery, a couple of bottles of good stuff, and a cow cookie jar that I’ve been hoping to find for years.

This weekend was similar except no antiques, no wine, no cow cookie jar.  But we did get to a couple of farmers markets and got some good tomatoes, and various croissants and breads.  Then home to write, work on school stuff, and drink a glass or two (or six) of Vidal Blanc.

As always,

 

Post #580 Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?

July 14, 2018 at 10:38 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So, today was a really good day, and there’s lots of reasons for it.  So much has happened over the last week or so that this post is either going to be really long, or really sparse on details.  As my days do, today started early.  I got an extra hour of sleep in and was up at 6:30.  We had a full day ahead.  Partner/Spouse had a doctor appt at 10 and everything was fine.

One really big piece of news is I’ve gone back to college.  After years of fighting it, Partner/Spouse convinced me to start taking online courses for writing.  So I signed up last weekend, and this weekend I’m starting my coursework.  Whee.  But that’s for Sunday.  So I decided I needed (wanted) wireless headphones for my computer so I could listen to the lectures without disturbing anyone.  So after the doc, we headed to Le Target and got some bluetooth earbuds.

Then came the fun part.  We were heading out to a local winery!  But since there was plenty of time before the winery opened, we planned a stop at an antique store.  What a dangerous plan, antiques and wine.  The drive to the winery is easy through back roads traveling through wooded areas interspersed with lakes and rivers.  It was a little overcast, but the woods kept things cool and shadowed.

We were nearly to the antique store and we passed a small farmer’s market.  I was driving, so on a whim I turned into very quickly and found a very convenient place to park.  It was small so we walked through it all in about six minutes, but we found some wonderfully fresh veggies, tomatoes so ripe they felt almost too soft, hugely bulbous onions with the green stalks left on.  So good.

Then, five minutes after we got in the car, we were at the antique store.  We walked in and I immediately fell in love with the vintage juke box staring at me.  I didn’t even bother to look at the price.  It was stocked with 45s and looked so cool.

Side note:  Does anyone remember when I wrote a post about a cookie shaped like a cow?  It’s Post# 308 if anyone wants to read it.  The cookie jar looks like this:

The cookie jar was purchased by my dad for my mom back in the early sixties.  In the small town they grew up in there was a pottery factory and these cookie jars were a limited run.  Mom fell in love with the expression on the cat’s face.  We had that cookie jar the whole time I was growing up.  My little brother used to hide Oreos in the cow’s hollow head so he could have them later when the cookies were gone.  I used to fill it with chocolate chip cookies and when they were gone, my mom used to tip the jar over to get the chips that broke off the cookies.  It was one of those things that was an unnoticed fixture in our lives.  It was always there, usually had cookies in it, and had a happy expression.  When mom passed away, we all looked around for mementos and I searched for the cow cookie jar.  I didn’t find it, so I asked dad about it.  My nephew had asked for it and it was with him.

I looked around for a while, looking for another cookie jar unsuccessfully.  One time Partner/Spouse and I were house shopping and as we did a walk through, there was one of those cow cookie jars on a table.  It was like an omen, but we didn’t buy the house.  I started seeing them on eBay at extraordinarily high prices.  I even saw them at antique stores, more than I thought actually were made.  Turns out, they were recast and then the design was sold.  So I’ve seen them purple, black and white, and varying shades of brown.  But the originals, first cast and numbered, almost always have some sort of structural damage.  Horns get broken off; lids go missing; cow’s tongue is gone; various chips and nicks and cracks.

So, we ended up at this place:

And it’s the kind of antique store we love.  Multiple floors, hidden nooks and crannies, some prices dirt cheap, and others unreasonably high.  We wandered around like kids in a candy store.  Then Partner/Spouse stopped and pointed.

“Look at that,” he said.

It was the cow cookie jar.  I quickly slipped my glasses on to see the price.  $30.  And it was missing a horn.  And it was the right color.  I quickly latched onto it and took it to the front counter to have them hold it for us.  A few minutes later, we found a full set of china from Shropshire England that included 8 plates, 8 saucers, a gravy boat and saucer, a sugar bowl, a creamer, and a serving platter for $45.  And not long after that, we found a full carving set from the 1930s of 36 pieces that included steak knives, cheese knives, butter knives, etc. for $10.  And not long after that, we got the hell out of there cuz it was getting expensive.  I carried the cow on my lap to the winery, then to the store, and then home.  Then I carried it inside and set it on top of the Capehart radio we bought a few weeks ago.  It took years, but I finally had my own cow cookie jar.  I can’t wait to hide cookies in it.

We did end up at the winery, but I’m going to tell you about that next week.  It’s a fun place and we had a good time and a good lunch.

To end, I thought I would share a cinnamon chip cookie recipe I developed a few years ago.  If you like cinnamon, these are the cookies for you.

Cinnamon Chip Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 – 1 cup Red Hots candy

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy and sugar is dissolved.  Mix in the egg and vanilla until well incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, salt, and cinnamon until well blended.  Then mix into the butter/egg mixture.

At this point, decide how you want to incorporate the Red Hots.  If you want a real cinnamon chip cookie, mix the candy in whole.  Alternatively, you can put the candy into a food processor and grind to a powder and roll the finished dough to coat.

Chill the dough for one hour.  Shape the chilled dough into balls of about 1 tablespoon each.  If using the Red Hots as a powder, roll the dough balls in the powder and place on a chilled cookie sheet about two inches apart.  Use the bottom of a jar to press the cookies flat.  If using the Red Hots whole, shape the dough into balls of 1 tablespoon and press flat.

Bake at 400 for 8-10 minutes until the edges start turning golden brown.  Cool on sheets for 2-3 minutes then remove to a cooling rack.  Allow to cool completely, then eat.

Or fill your cow.

 

Post #579 Late to the Party

July 8, 2018 at 3:14 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I know I came late to this party, but I use the broiler for the first time in my life yesterday to make dinner.  What an eye opener!  The meat cooked in about six minutes and was delicious!!  My mom used the broiler all the time.  Unfortunately, she didn’t use it well.  At least, not that I remember.  It seemed like everything was burnt.

The last time I saw a broiler being used, my ex-wife was using it.  It was our third or fourth date and she was making me dinner.  She was very nervous about the whole thing since I had already made her dinner several times.  She baked potatoes, steamed some broccoli, and broiled a couple of steaks.  I don’t recall the kind of steak, but since her favorite is ribeye, it was probably that.  Everything turned out very tasty, but since it was a gas oven and thereby a gas broiler, the steaks had a distinctly gassy chemical overtone to it.

That’s what I remember most about cooking with a broiler.  The food was either overdone and rubbery; it might have significant burning; or it had a chemical taste due to gas heat.  It was finicky, hard to control, and the results were hard to control.  So I never used it.  Until last night.

Broiling is cooking with direct heat, much like on a charcoal grill.  The heat source can come from either the top or the bottom.  Either way, whatever food your cooking needs to be watched closely.  Broilers use radiant heat at extremely high temps.  The line between nicely browned and burned can be seconds apart.

Nearly anything can be broiled.  Except pasta.  The natural fats and oils in meats allow the broiling process to tenderize and flavor the meat in the same way grilling does.  Veggies need to be lightly coated with oil to do the same thing and to keep from sticking.   Because of the fats that render, and the oils on veggies, the broiling pan must allow them to drip away from the food to keep it from stewing.  The usual broiler pan looks like this:

Note the slots.  This is the broiler pan I grew up with.  I remember mom making barbecue ribs on this thing.  I also remember trying to get the damn thing clean after that and not being able to shift the burnt on sauce.  It took flipping hours!  Once I took over cooking, I never used the broiler or that pan ever again.  And every time I made barbecued ribs, I lined whatever pan I used with foil, in double layers.  Now, there are broiler pans, broiler baskets, independent electric broiler machines, etc.

Here’s a helpful chart I found that I’ll be making use of:

Note the cooking times.  Pretty quick stuff.

Broilers way back in the day were located in the bottom of the oven and used a pull out drawer with small slots to adjust closeness to the heat.  These days, most broilers are in the oven itself, located at the top.  This allows the oven rack slots to control the closeness to the heat.  More flexibility and better cooking results.

So, yesterday we wanted to make a pasta dish.  We had a jar of high quality pesto that we had intended for something a few weeks ago but didn’t use.  So pasta al pesto was definitely on the menu.  We had been at the store and picked up some lemons, and some fresh parmesan, and some pine nuts, among other items.  I wanted some nicely grilled pork pieces so go with the pasta.  So I decided to try the broiler.  I cut the pork loin cutlets into bite sized pieces and squeezed lemon juice over them.  After an hour, I spread it out on baking sheet (lined with foil) and sprinkled onion powder over the lot.  I set the rack at the highest position, and broiled the meat for five minutes.  I pulled it out and drained the rendered fat, shook things around, and broiled for another four minutes.  By then, the meat was perfectly browned and done tender.  I pulled the meat off the sheet in one swoop with the foil and left it to cool.  I tried one piece and it was so good!

Partner/Spouse heated the oven to make garlic toast and set a pan of water to boiling.  When it was ready, he boiled up some long twisted pasta, kind of like thick spaghetti twisted like a corkscrew.  When that was done, he used tongs to pull it out of the water into a large skillet and dumped the pesto sauce over it all.  He squeezed fresh lemon juice over all and some toasted pine nuts.  Once everything was thoroughly incorporated, he mixed in the broiled pork and covered everything with shaved parmesan.

Wish I’d taken a picture.  It was so good I was licking my plate.

The main thrust of all this is as a tool, technique, or method for quick mid-week meals, I’m seeing a ton of opportunity with this.  As I start using it more and learning and finessing it, I’ll be blogging about it so you can learn right along with me.

By the way, I made chocolate chip macadamia cookies today, and last Wednesday, I made banana bread with walnuts and pecans and mini chocolate chips.  That last one went into work the next day after we’d had some and was pronounced a big success.  One lady even said, “Bananas and chocolate chips!  Who knew?  I’m making it that way from now on!”

I knew.

 

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