Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Fourteen Heads...

“Fourteen heads, and thirteen bodies! They were all charred!”. Those are the indelible words that my grandfather used to describe one of the most horrific arsons in CT history. At dinner.  At the home of his nephew’s girlfriend whose family was being introduced to ours for the first time.
In in the interest of disclosures, I was technically present for this story, but only 7 years old, and completely engrossed in the magical new technology known as the Atari 2600. The retelling of it is my father’s and always in the vein of “Can you believe what AI did? “  Not necessary a stone that he can throw, but that’s a digression for another day. 

The year was 1982, and the old man was a fire commissioner in Waterbury with a flair for gallows humor.  A week or so earlier, he’d been called to the scene of an arson at an apartment complex near the Waterbury green.  The fire had been started over a petty argument and claimed the lives of 14 people as they slept and made national.   The arsonist is currently serving consecutive life sentences. The details are horrific, and to my grandfather, perfect light conversation over pasta. 
On the day of story, the girlfriend’s family had invited my father’s cousin to use their Red Sox season tickets, and join them for dinner afterward.  They had a son my age, and I departed from the tale to play Combat, and 

As with the any meeting, the “So what do you do?” questions start getting tossed around with the standard perfunctory answers, My father was a school teacher, my cousin girlfriend worked as sport medicine, her father was a lawyer and the family was Jewish (which we learned when my grandfather noted the father’s glasses were similar to his own, and said “Aw, they always make fun of my Jew glasses”. Kind of like an awkwardness aperitif for the main course.

The old man said he was a retired brass worker, who was fire commissioner in Waterbury.  Then followed up with “Did you see that big fire on TV. I was there”  

My father claims to have said something akin to “Dad, please” (unlikely, as the man’s a gifted agitator) but the girlfriend’s mother asked for more and the hook, as they say, was set.

“They called me & the coroner out when they started finding bodies.  It was the worst we ever saw.  Worse than the plane crash I saw in Medic Corps and a guy fell apart in my arms on that one.”  He said, as he tore open a roll and paused to ask for butter.
Since the table had gone silent, he must have assumed that it was clear to continue.  “They were all burnt up & melted, and the smell was awful! These ziti are pretty good! Are you sure you’re not Eye-talians?”  It turned out that the mother was.

“So when the firemen finally got everyone out, we had a problem” He went on. “ We counted ‘em up, and had to keep starting over again.  We kept coming up with 14 heads, and only 13 bodies! So I said to the coroner, ‘Hey Joe, Somebody got two heads! Whatta we do?’ 

And he said ‘Just throw em in one bag!  We’ll sort it out at the office.’  I don’t know how we’re going identify ‘em, they all had those Teflon teeth and they burnt up in the fire” To this day, none of us know what the fuck he meant by Teflon teeth. “ Oh, I don’t know. Can you  believe that? Fourteen heads and Thirteen bodies! All charred ‘cause of that bastard.  I hope they put ‘em away forever”.  I’m guessing that there must have been polite agreement, because that’s where the story ends.

We all still reminisce about the incident, but I can’t remember the family’s name, because needless to say... The daughter did not marry my cousin. 


Friday, August 2, 2013

Spicy Tuna "Sushi" wrap

Somehow, I'd never tried tuna in olive oil before last year.  We were always a "tuna in water" house growing up, so that's what always I bought.  As one who generally dislikes mayonnaise, I was thrilled to realize that much didn't need much added to it, as the oil left the fish tasting moist on its own.

As with most new things, I started tinkering with various recipes & swapping the tuna in oil for the tuna w/mayo until I had a revelation... that a close approximation to the spicy tuna I like at sushi places could be made simply by adding Sriracha.

From there, it was a only a matter of finding the right inspiration

. Lavash wraps are a staple in our home, as are avocados, and the dried seaweed snack I get at Trader Joe's(essentially the wrap of a sushi roll cut into rectangles and seasoned), so my first attempt combined these things in a sushi inspired lunch wrap. It tasted good enough, but something was definitely missing.  Then it hit me, it needed the vinegared rice.  This addition had two effects.  It stabilized the roll, and turned it into a dish for two (the pieces are mammoth). A sprinkling of sesame seeds gave it a nice touch of presentation, and the addition of a dipping sauce rounded it out into something that would fit in at a sushi house as an option for those hung up on "raw fish".  

  • 1 can tuna in olive oil 
  • 1-2 tbsp Sriracha hot sauce
  • 1 avocado, sliced 
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled & thinly sliced. (squeezed in a paper to reduce moisture)
  • 1 lavash wrap
  • 1/2 pkg dried seaweed snack or Nori sheets
  • tsp sesame seeds
  • sushi rice 
  • honey soy dipping sauce 

For the rice

  • 2/3cup short grain rice
  • 1 &1/4 cup water
  • tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp sesame oil

For the dipping sauce

  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp Reduced sodium soy sauce
  • a few drops sesame oil.

Combine in a small ramekin, microwave for 10 seconds & stir. It's that simple.

Rinse the rice and combine with the water, vinegar, & oil in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil, cover & reduce to simmer until the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). Set aside to cool, but don't worry about it being cold. The rice will be very sticky.

Drain some (but not all, it takes the place of mayonnaise) of the oil off the tuna and stir in the Sriracha to taste.

Steam the lavash to soften it for better rolling.

Begin by layering  the rice onto the lavash until almost completely covered leaving an inch or two at the far end to seal it off. Press in a layer of seaweed, covering the rice.  Follow the with a layer or tuna, then cucumbers, and finally the avocado slices. Roll the tightly toward the uncovered end, squeezing out air along the way.  Slice the finished log into eight pieces, garnish with sesame seeds and serve with the dipping sauce.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Little Mastermind (Warning: details may be inaccurate)

" I framed a kindergartner once."

That... is the kind of line that instantly grabs the attention of a whole dinner party.  I was at my parents' anniversary dinner listening to my sister tell tales of my young nephew's various misadventures in school. His most recent, getting the nurse to give him a day off by saying that he was asthmatic and had forgotten his inhaler, provoked a "Can you believe a eight year old kid would do that?" from the table.

It was as that point that I stopped chuckling, sipped my wine and said "I framed a kindergartner once" answering the collective "You did what?" from my siblings and our spouses with "I was in kindergarten, too. It's not like it  was last week."

Naturally,  I was immediately pressed for details which I shared with my best evil grin.  It's a 33 year old story, and so is like a copy of a copy of copy, with my memories xeroxing and reediting the specifics into something semi-apocryphal. The key ideas are still accurate, but the identity of the players are no longer consistent. The actual act and the fallout are still as clear as if they happened yesterday. I'll leave out the names of the other kids to, uh, protect the innocent.

Let's start by saying something that should be pretty obvious. Our education system is fairly miserable experience for all involved and if one has the misfortune to be the runtiest kid (and a dorky, oddly verbose one at that), school tends to be veritable hell.  You'll be picked on by most kids who are larger than you are, for the simplest of reasons.  They're bigger than you.  One of our great myths is that of "Standing up to the bully!"  This may have worked for Ralphie Parker against Scut Farcus, but in real life, it tends to work out in one of two ways.   The perpetual victim either gets his ass handed to him, or gets in trouble for beating up a well-liked "good kid". I can only imagine how much worse it is for today's crop of small kids.

To the point of the story at hand, I knew even at five years old that beating up the kid who was picking on me was not likely to be in the cards. Luckily, I had some guile on my side.  This was the story as I shared with my stunned siblings (who think of me as the gentle eldest brother).

I don't remember this kid's name, only that he was a prick. We'll call him X.  I can't remember anything specific about him except that he excluded me from playing with Star Wars figures and Connect Four, etc. Anyone who hasn't sat at the top of the food chain knows the sorts of wretched "part of the group/not part of the group"things kids do when they form hierarchies on the first day of school.

One day, I was watching as he and a few other boys played with Lego-esque toys. (They weren't quite Legos or Tinkers Toys, but a generic combination that aspired to both.  They could have been both or either and my brain has simply muddied it) After they were done, inspiration struck the tiny David.  Grabbing as many generic building toys as my puny hands could hold, I skulked over to the cubbies where we kept our things and filled X's lunchbox to brim with them.   I then went over to Ms Malone, our teacher, tugged on her pant leg and shyly said "Miss Malone,  I think X is stealing the Lego-Tinkertoy amalgams." *possibly not my exact words

She went over to X and asked him about my accusation, which he obviously denied.  "But I saw his put them in his lunchbox!" was my response. She had X open his lunchbox, and out fell an appalling amount of stolen toys. He was sent to the principal's office (wonderfully adjacent to the Kindergarten classroom)where I could hear the normally jovial Mr Berkowitz bellowing at X about the consequences of stealing and the possibility of prison.

I could hear X bawling that he hadn't done anything, sobbing harder as Mr Berkowitz yelled that lying made it worse (My brain has added a bit about Richard Nixon to the lecture in post).  I imagined the salty tears streaming down his face. I felt that mix of guilt and elation that vengeance brings. Victory was mine!

Only it wasn't.  Now, normally by this point in story like this one, the guilt would overwhelm the perpetrator in a "Tell-Tale Heart" fashion.  It may have gotten me, too.  But I never got to find out if I was more Montresor than the Tell-Tale Heart narrator.   One of the girls in our class had seen me frame X, and since  "Quit Snitchin' " had not yet become a thing, spilled the beans on my scheme.

Now I was the one who'd face an near apoplectic Mr Berkowitz, with my enraged parents in tow to find out exactly how diabolical their young boy was and what to do about it.   I don't remember the punishment, just a lot of yelling and pretending that felt I worse about my actions than I did.

My sister chimed in asked whether I'd learned my lesson that day.  I said that I had,  "Always look both ways when framing someone'.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Vegan Lime Avocado Cupcakes with Lime Avocado frosting

Prep time: About 15 min  Cooking time: 20-25 minutes 

Yields about 18 normal-sized cupcakes

I know what you're thinking. Avocado?  Really? (and possibly, Gross!).  I've been trying to experiment with using less dairy and it works amazingly well as a substitute for butter in this cake/cupcake recipe.  The flavor of the avocado is so mild that it disappears completely behind the lime. The cakes were lighter and moister than I could have expected and held up very well day 2, which is odd as vegan baking has the tendency to go dry fast.   

The "Buttercream", which was my spin on Alton Brown's Recipe,  tasted like a lime sorbet. I could eat it all by itself, and may do just that at some point.  The prime difference was that I halved the sugar  because I liked the flavor and didn't want it too sweet.  It came together so fast and was the perfect compliment to the more subtle lime of the cakes.      

For the cupcakes

  • 2 1/2 cup  AP Flour (or a Gluten-free flour of your choice)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup Organic Sugar
  • 1 14oz Can of Coconut cream
  • 1/2 cup Avocado (about one small Haas will do it)
  • Juice & finely chopped zest of one lime
  • 3 TBSP Sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
For the frosting
  • 1 Avocado, whipped smooth
  • 2 cups Confections sugar (feel free to add more for thicker frosting) 
  • finely chopped zest & juice of one lime
  • 1/2 lemon extract

Making the cake batter:
Pre-heat the oven to 350°.  Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners and dust with flour.  
Whisk together the dry ingredients (Flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt) in a bowl and set it aside.  
Blend the avocado in a food processor until smooth, then cream to together with the coconut cream, sugar, oil, vanilla, lime juice & zest.    
Gently fold in the the flour mixtures, stirring enough to combine.  At this point the batter will be thick like frosting.   Spoon the batter into the paper liners, about 3/4 full if you can (note, the thick batter makes this tricky, so don't  be alarmed if they're totally full.  

Bake for 22-25 minutes, until the oft-mentioned inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Let the cupcakes cool completely ( at least 3 hours) before frosting.   

Frosting the cupcakes:

Whisk (or use a hand mixer) to blend the avocado, confectioners sugar, lime juice, zest & lemon extract together, adding more sugar to thicken it up if preferred.  As I prepared it, the frosting isn't quite thick enough to be piped, so spread it on with a spatula.  It will have a naturally brilliant green color that suggests the flavor, and the lime juice will keep the avocado from browning.

You can pretty them up with a bit of shredded or toasted coconut, but I liked them as is.    


Monday, February 18, 2013

Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons.

  • 2 30 ounce cans of Tomatoes.  Either crushed, whole or one of each
  • 3 -4 cups chicken stock  ( I recommend Kitchen Basics) 
  • 2 sticks celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne powder
  • bay leaf
  • salt & pepper
  • 2tbsp butter
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream or 2% greek yogurt (Fage works best)  
For the croutons
  • 2 thick slices of your favorite hearty bread. 
  • cheddar, gruyere,  & goat cheese
  • butter
The Soup

If using whole tomatoes,  halve then drain & reserve the liquid. Remove basil leaf, if any. 

Melt the butter in a dutch oven (or stainless sauce pot) over medium to medium high heat.  Saute the onion celery & carrot with salt until the onion starts to brown, deglazing the pan a few times with an ounce or 2 of the stock.   Once the mixture is adequately caramelized, remove it from the pan and set aside, deglazing the pan with once more to remove any residual browned bits. 

Return the pot to the heat & add the tomatoes, stirring with with the spatula until browned and thickened. this will add flavor and remove the "canned" taste.    Add the onion mixture back to the to pot along with the paprika, cayenne, black pepper.  Stir in the chicken stock and bring to a simmer.  Add the bay leaf and let simmer for 60-90 minutes  or longer (like many things, longer tends to be better. Sigh).   Remove from heat, discard the bay leaf and blend the soup until smooth, blending in the cream just prior to serving.

The Croutons

Dry out the bread slightly by toasting on low.  Add the cheese, maybe 1/4" thick  and grill in a buttered frying pan until golden brown & crisp.  Cut the sandwiches in to 1" cubes  and serve over the soup.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Stupid things I thought when I was 6 years old that, upon review, are far more awesome than reality.

This is an incomplete list of time when my imagination would take simple phrases and turn them into something  incorrect but much cooler than they actually were.

Gorilla Warfare

The first time I hear the term "guerrilla warfare", it was regarding was civil war in Central America (Nicaragua, I think). The newscaster actually said something like " The Sandinistas clashed with guerrilla forces outside  Managua as hostilities escalated... ".   As I was still a bit away from covering the American revolution in school, my young mind had no context (or spelling) for the word guerrilla. So what I heard was "Gorilla forces" and I immediately imagined that the fighting was being done by creatures like Monsieur Mallah (pictured below). This idea was bolstered by video footage of gunfire into and returned from the Nicaraguan rainforest, with nary a human in sight.  I was so excited. Planet of the Apes was actually happening!  I remember be so disappointed when my mother explained the truth.

Native produce

My grandfather to rave about native tomatoes and corn.  Of course, too many Johnny Quest & Gilligan's Island reruns combined with an insufficient understanding that "native" also meant "local" (it may have helped if the old man had said "Native Grown", but probably not), caused me to imagine that they was farmed  were farmed by Pacific Islanders living in huts and delivered by dugout.    Now, native grown tomatoes actually do taste much better that the factory farmed tomatoes that appear at grocery stores, so much so that it's not difficult to believe that they are exotic. Since I also had no sense of geography or money at that point, I didn't realize how inconvenient and expensive such produce might be. If I had, I'd have known instantly that my grandmother would never have allowed my grandfather to buy it.

Rocky Horror

I was also under the impression that the Rocky Horror Picture Show starred Sylvester Stallone and couldn't understand why my parents refused to take me to see it when the theater by the Naugatuck Valley Mall was doing a showing at Halloween.   Their argument against it was "The people who go to that are weird. they dress in constumes, and throw things at people in front of the screen."  Needless to say, that line of reasoning was not persuasive to a 7 year old. In fact, my seven year old self was thinking "What the fuck? Why wouldn't I want to see that?"  Well, maybe not phrased quite that way, but the grade school equivalent.  Anyway, how great would it have been to hear Sly belting out "Let's Do The Time Warp Again"?  (I have no idea whether Rocky actually sings in the film, I never did watch it in its entirety).


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Finally, a Neopolitan pizza crust that works in a home oven!!!

A few weeks ago, we went to Pizzetta in Mystic and I came home wanting to duplicate their light, crisp, excellent crust.  I've been making pizza at home for years and  although I nailed down the toppings pretty early on, the crust has tormented me for almost all that time.  

I've bought dough from good pizzerias, but such doughs are meant to be cooked at a much higher temperature than one can manage in a home oven and yield (in my opinion) too bready of a crust. I tried making my own dough with recipes from cookbooks, pizza-specific cookbooks and the internet.  Everything I read suggested using high gluten flours to get pizzeria results.  I tried bread flour, mixing bread and all-purpose, tried adding vital wheat gluten, and fiddling with the amounts of water and olive oil, but the end results were always the same. A too-thick, bready crust that everyone else said was good, but that I didn't love the way I loved Pepe's or First & Last. To me, it merely tasted "good for homemade", which is never my goal when cooking.  I want good (preferably great), period.  

My first brush with something close to what I was looking for was actually a recipe for Naan bread.  I noticed that the Naan dough cooked up lighter and thinner than pizza dough but still was slightly chewy.  So I began using it if for pizzas with decent results.     

The Naan recipe got me close and after the visit to Pizzetta, I decide to do an experiment. Counterintuitively, I decided to lower the gluten by leaving out the bread flour, and swapping in some cake flour.   This seems to have done the trick (for now), yielding light thin crusts that have as decent chewiness and cook quickly.    I use a pizza stone and a pizza peel to get the best results.  

Pizza Dough

  • 1 2/3 cup Unbleached All Purpose flour
  • 2/3cup cake flour (I used SoftAsSilk)  *optional 
  • 1/2 packet active dry yeast (about two tsp)
  • 6oz warm water (105-110°)
  • 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • Pinch of sugar
Whisk the dry ingredients (flours, yeast, salt, sugar)together. Using a stiff silicon spatula, stir in the water and oil until the dough comes together, about 3 minutes.    Once it does, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 15 minutes until you have a good dough ball. This something that one only knows with practice, so it might take a little trial and error until it feels right.    Divide the dough into 2 balls and place each in a lightly oiled bowl  Cover with a damp towel and let the dough rise for about 45 minutes before using.  If you're not planning to use use it right away, it can be refrigerated overnight. Just remember to allow it to rise and come to room temperature before using it.  (note: the damp towel is key here, as it prevents the dough from having unworkable dry spots)

Making Pizzas

Now that you've done the heavy lifting and made the dough, It's time to make a few pies. The recipe above makes 2 small pizzas.   Any combination that you want can work, although when putting on toppings, I've found that less is more, especially with mozzarella.   

Place a pizza stone on the lowest rack in the oven (Take the other rack out or move it as high as you can. Making pizza requires room to move) & preheat to 550°.  Once the oven is preheated, give the stone a good hour or so to heat up.    Stretch the dough out to about 12" with a thicker rim and place on a well floured pizza peel.  Make sure that the dough can slide freely and position it a the edge of the peel.  Quickly top your pizza and gently let slide it onto the stone from the peel with a quick pull ( it takes practice, watch this guy).  Let the pizza cook for 8 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and browned to your liking. remove from oven and allow the pie to set for 4-5 minutes before cutting.  

A Basic Pie
  • 30oz can Italian tomatoes, crushed and thoroughly drained
  • Fresh or dried herbs (Oregano, Rosemary, Thyme & Basil) 
  • Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiana Reggio 
  • Fresh Mozzarella, shredded 
  • Salt & Pepper

For a basic sauce, I use Vanlia Whole Italian tomatoes (any whole or crushed tomatoes will do), which I hand-crush with a potato masher and drain in a strainer.  This is important, as not draining the liquid will give you a soupy mess of pizza.  Once the tomatoes are drained,  I stir in a tablespoon of Tomato paste and a tbsp of olive oil and a bit of salt.  I don't use garlic on a plain pizza, but if you like it that way, go ahead.

Lightly brush prepared dough with olive oil.  Using a measuring cup, spread out a thin layer of sauce and sprinkle with herbs & pepper( If I have fresh basil leaves, I usually hold those out and put them on top of the cheese). Top with a generous layer of Romano cheese then a sparing  layer fresh mozzarella.  Drizzle a spiral of olive oil over the pie and bake for 8 minutes.

"Summer Pie"

Fresh tomatoes, sliced 1/4 " thick  cut in thirds or quarters, depending on size
fresh herbs (Oregano, Sage, Thyme, rosemary & Basil) 
Olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced 
Pecorino Romano
Fresh Mozzarella, shredded  (or thinly sliced)

Lay the sliced tomatoes on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt.  Lightly brush prepared dough with olive oil.  arrange the tomato pieces evenly around the dough, sprinkle with herbs and garlic. Top with a generous layer of Romano cheese then a light layer of fresh mozzarella.  Drizzle a spiral of olive oil over the pie and bake for 8 minutes.

New Haven Style White Clam

  • 1 cup of chopped clams, thoroughly drained
  • fresh or dried herbs
  • salt & pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • olive oil
  • Pecorino Romano
Squeeze excess liquid from clams with a paper towel,then sprinkle with salt.  Lightly brush prepared dough with olive oil.  Arrange the clam pieces evenly around the dough and sprinkle with herbs and garlic. Top with a generous layer of Romano cheese, drizzle with a spiral of Olive oil and bake for 8 minutes.


About This Blog

  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by 2008

Back to TOP