Friday, December 26, 2008

Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Apples and Raisins

Sometimes you just need something a bit fancy. This is not as complicated as it looks and a lot will depend on the kind of sausage you use. I used a spicy, apple cinnamon sausage that did just the trick! The next time I make this, I may just double the stuffing mix to serve as accompaniment.

1 3/4 lb. pork tenderloin, ends removed to make it a uniform thickness
1/2 apple
1/2 celery stalk
1/4 small onion
1 savory sausage, cooked or uncooked 1/4 - 1/3 cup
2 tablespoons raisins, preferably baking raisins
Dried marjoram
Cayenne or red pepper flakes
Salt and Pepper
Chicken stock

Put the apple, celery and onion in a mini-processor and, if using pre-cooked sausage, the sausage. Pulse on chop. Heat about 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan. When melted and the apple mixture. If using raw sausage, add that along with it. Cook over medium heat until the vegetables just begin to brown.

Add enough chicken stock to just cover the vegetables by about half. Add a few pinches of dried marjoaram and, if using pepper flakes, a pinch or two. Add the raisins and simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Set aside to cool (you don't want to place hot stuffing in a raw meat). Be sure to taste for seasonings. If you want a bit more of a kick, put in a dash of cayenne pepper.

Season the pork with salt and pepper. Using a sharp knife and beginning about 3/4" from the end, begin slicing into it lengthwise stopping about 3/4" from the other end. Be careful not to slice all the way down. You are creating a "pocket" for the stuffing mixture.

Spoon in stuffing and don't worry if you don't use it all. Insert four toothpicks or cut bamboo skewers through the sides of the tenderloin (see photo). Using butcher's twine, lace it up.

Preheat oven to 350-375. Place the pork in a shallow roasting pan (I used a glass bread pan). Sprinkle the remaining stuffing around it. Bake for 25 minutes. Add chicken stock, about 1/4-1/2 cup and return to oven for another 20-25 minutes. Pork should be done around 150-160 degrees. Cover with tin foil and allow to rest. Remove to a carving board and remove string. Slice and pour juices from pan over it.

If you want more juice, add a bit of warmed chicken stock to the pan.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ham-and-Noodle Casserole

As soon as the furnace starts to kick in, I know the season of casseroles is beginning. Easy to make ahead, even freeze, they are nice on a cold day. If you don't have leftover ham, purchase a ham steak. But this recipe is at its best when one uses Boar's Head Pesto Parmesan ham. Just have the deli slice it about 1/2 inch thick.

  • About 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups dry egg noodles. I used Inn Maid medium noodles--non curly
  • 2 cups cubed fully-cooked ham, such as "Boar's Head Pesto Parmesan Ham"or any left-over ham.
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced without the stems
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion (not sweet onion)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery (optional)
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire (optional)
  • about 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
  • Pinch or two garlic powder
  • Topping
  • 1 cup SOFT bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan

Cook noodles. Drain. Put in bowl with a bit of olive oil so they don't stick.

In a large bowl, combine ham, soup, sour cream, mushrooms, onion, mustard, seasoned salt, Worcestershire, cayenne. Mix. Taste and re-season if necessary. Add the noodles and mix. Transfer to an 11 x 7 x 2 greased baking dish or a 9x9 pan.

In a bowl, toss breadcrumbs and butter. Add cheese. Sprinkle over casserole. Bake uncovered at 325-350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until heated through. You may cover it with foil for the first 30 minutes and then uncovered for the last 15.

Note: To make fresh breadcrumbs, put a couple slices of bread in the mini-processor and whirl until breadcrumbs form. I don't like cubed, uniform ham chunks. Using a sharp knife held at an angle, I make thin non-uniform slices as if you really were using leftover ham. But that's just my own preference.

This can easily be doubled and you can freeze one.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Come to the Stable

By Gary T. Czerwinski

The United States finally came clean and admitted what most of us already knew: we are in a recession. Venice, Italy wishes it were in a recession, a recession of water, that is. It is inundated with the highest tides ever recorded. Our presidential election is over. The world turns and events go on.

This is one of the bleakest of holiday shopping seasons. Economists call it “deflation” because the discounts are so steep retailers aren’t making any money. And since most of what is selling isn’t made in the United States, it really doesn’t do us any good. To be honest, it’s not doing China much good, either. They are laying people off and the amount of container shipping across the oceans has decreased to a trickle.

I recently received an e-mail chronicling the number of big-name retail stores that will either shut their doors for good or begin closing outlets across the country. The numbers are staggering. Even more staggering will be the number of people who will lose their jobs.

Here’s a sampling:
  • Ann Taylor closing 117 stores.
  • The Bombay Company closed all 384 U.S. stores.
  • Charming Shoppes chain closed 150 outlets.
  • Circuit City filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2008 and is closing 155 stores across the U.S.
  • CompUSA closed most of its 103 outlets.
  • Dillard's closed 21 outlets in 2008 and said it expects more store closures in 2009.
  • The Disney Store closed 98 outlets.
  • Eddie Bauer closed 29 outlets
  • Ethan Allen closed 12 retail design centers and two service centers in 2008.
  • The Foot Locker closed 274 outlets in 2007 and another 60 in the first quarter of 2008. More are likely.
  • Whitehall Jewelers began liquidating and closing all 373 of its stores.
  • The Home Depot announced in May 2008 that it would be closing 15 underperforming outlets.
  • Kirkland's is expecting to close 130 outlets by the middle of 2009.
  • Levitz Furniture: Good-bye.
  • Macy's closed 11 outlets in 2008.
  • Sharper Image began closing and liquidating all 184 of its outlets in June 2008.
  • Sprint will be closing 125 of its 1,400 retail outlets.
  • The Wickes Furniture chain began liquidating merchandise at locations nationwide in February 2008.
With the current economic forecast, expect more to follow. And this list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of really small businesses. In 2007, 637,100 new businesses were created, 560,300 businesses closed and 28,322 filed for bankruptcy.

In my own lakeshore area where tourism is king, it’s not unusual to see stores open and then close within a few years. But we are now witnessing well-established businesses closing their doors for good. Mine included.

I’m always somewhat aghast when I walk into these big-box stores. Merchandise piled to the ceiling. A lot of it is the same stuff in other stores. The poet’s line “earth cry mercy” always pops into my head. How many more natural resources can we rape from our planet to produce all this … junk? Has it really been worth it?

Many families are planning more simplified Christmas celebrations. At last! Fewer gifts. More handmade, personal items. Less is more!

With so many people facing home foreclosures, becoming homeless and jobless, even living in cars, the meaning of “born in a manger” might just rekindle a divine and somber simplicity we seem to have forgotten.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole

The first time I had this I knew I would never again make sweet potatoes topped with gunky marshmallows. This is more of an "adult" version. The apples sweeten the potatoes just right. Great with pork and ham. And, of course, turkey.

This recipe is really a naked canvas. Feel free to create your own masterpiece:

  • Add toasted pecans or walnuts.
  • Top with pumpkin seeds.
  • Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon.
  • Go festive and decorate with a few sugared cranberries or candied cherries, red or green.
  • Drizzle with honey or maple syrup. 

This need not be a "holiday" recipe. It is great for a weeknight side. This recipe is easily doubled.

Serves 4

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes or 2 large
  • 3/4 cups thinly-sliced apples (about 2)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water or apple water

Cover and cook the potatoes in salted, boiling water until they are nearly done. You will know this when you insert the prongs of a meat fork into the potato and it goes no more than half way then stops. They will cook the rest of the way in the oven.

Drain and rinse under cold water to stop some of the cooking. Return to pan to cool more and proceed with apples.

Peel apples and slice. Don’t bother to core the apple, just begin making slices all around it until you reach the core. I like to use one Golden Delicious and any other variety. Just make sure they are of equal density or crispness. If soft, make the slice large


Core, but do not peel the apple. Slice into rings.

In a small frying pan, add a bit of water, add the apples and cook until they just begin to get soft. If using rings, try to keep intact.

Generously butter a 1.5-quart dish.

Peel the now-cooled potatoes and slice into 1/4-inch rounds. Layer the potatoes with the apples, sprinkling each layer with a bit of brown sugar and dotting with butter. Pour the apple water or water over them. Bake uncovered at 350 for about 45-60 minutes. Can be made one day ahead and then re-heated in the oven.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eating Our Way into a Depression

by Gary T. Czerwinski

I feel like it’s “back to the future” and 1976 all over again. That’s when I got my first teaching job in a small rural school in Indiana. The pay? $8,000.00. Even then, it wasn’t much and I learned how to scrimp to get by. State law mandated one had to get a Master's Degree within five years, so there was the added burden of paying tuition, night classes, and lots of travel in old cars. I learned to ration hot dogs and made lots of pancakes. But things got better.

 According to a recent New York Times article, the makers of SPAM, “the canned wonder meat” by Hormel, can’t make it fast enough. They are working around the clock, literally, to keep up with growing consumer demand. Ground meat sales are up because people can’t afford the continually-rising price of more expensive cuts of beef. And that includes chicken. 

Other foods suddenly in demand: pancake mixes along with Jell-O, dried beans and rices, boxed mashed potatoes (all belly fillers). Many name brands, especially cookies, can’t compete with cheaper, generic brands. Sales of paper towels are down along with socks. What’s a hole or two if no one sees? But McDonalds’ sales are up. A burger, fries and Coke beat a twenty-dollar dinner in this economy. 

So when I saw a sale on hot dogs at the supermarket, I grabbed several packages and it was déjà vu. I was 24-years-old again. You can do a lot with hot dogs (recipe follows). I’m pinching pennies like I did 32 years ago. 

Still, I don’t have it as bad as families who are actually doling out their children to relatives like during the Great Depression because the family house has been foreclosed and there’s no work. I keep thinking of “The Waltons.” It was sappy but popular and could make a great comeback. Everyone pitching in, moving in together, to make ends meet. FDR’s optimism and strength during the Great Depression. In case you haven’t heard, FDR is the new Reagan.

It’s difficult to imagine that the American Dream of owning a home was responsible for this current nightmare of ruining economies across the globe. But it’s true.

We can point and wag fingers of blame at banks, lending institutions, Washington, Wall Street, fat cats. We can cite greed and ignorance, even stupidity, but it was always that promise of ownership, property, that drove it all.

It’s a peculiar, American phenomenon rooted in our whole history of Manifest Destiny, poor immigrants, peasants and serfs from Europe who worked other people’s property. They yearned for their own future that began with a farm. Displacing Native Americans was rationalized with audacious Biblical claim.

Even after the Civil War, freed slaves were promised their forty acres and a mule.

After World War II, the dream of home ownership took off like never before. Returning GI’s, with government-backed programs, staked their bungalow of freedom. Suburbia was born. My dad bought our first house for $5,000.00.

But some dreams can outlive themselves. And this may be one. Suburbia drained cities and small towns of precious resources and monies. Many still struggle and are boarded up. Interstate highways were built to move farther away. Precious lands were bulldozed. More cars built. Strip mall after strip mall. Carbon dioxide and ozone depletion. Ironically, they are still building.

We will get through this, but it will be tough. The ultimate irony, of course, is that the great “ownership society” has made us less free and lessened our options and opportunities. And 401k’s. Some hot dogs are just hard to swallow.

Hot Dogs and Pasta

If you can add a splash of dry white wine and chicken stock to the onion mixture, it's even better.

Serves two.

2-3 hot dogs
8 oz. dried linguine or spaghetti
1 small onion
1 clove garlic

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add the pasta to cook.

Slice the hot dogs lengthwise down the center and then into fourths. Melt a bit of butter in a small pan and sauté the hot dogs until they begin to brown. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Slice and dice the onion and garlic. Melt a bit of butter and olive oil to the pan you cooked the hot dogs in and sauté over medium heat until soft and just turning brown. Add a splash of dry white wine and stock. Allow to steam and cook down a bit.

Drain pasta well. Add the hot dogs and the onion mixture. Mix through.

Hint: Fill an ice cube tray with leftover chicken stock and freeze. When frozen remove and seal in a plastic bag. When needed, just remove a few to add to recipes for added flavor.

Hot Dogs and Pasta

If you can add a splash of dry white wine and chicken stock to the onion mixture, it's even better.

Serves two.

2-3 hot dogs
8 oz. dried linguine or spaghetti
1 small onion
1 clove garlic

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add the pasta to cook.

Slice the hot dogs lengthwise down the center and then into fourths. Melt a bit of butter in a small pan and sauté the hot dogs until they begin to brown. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Slice and dice the onion and garlic. Melt a bit of butter and olive oil to the pan you cooked the hot dogs in and sauté over medium heat until soft and just turning brown. Add a splash of dry white wine and stock. Allow to steam and cook down a bit.

Drain pasta well. Add the hot dogs and the onion mixture. Mix through.

Hint: Fill an ice cube tray with leftover chicken stock and freeze. When frozen remove and seal in a plastic bag. When needed, just remove a few to add to recipes for added flavor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pork with Sauerkraut, Onions and Mushrooms

Sauerkraut is a smell and taste I associate with my Grandmother. She made pork chops with it and spare ribs. I’m sure it had much to do with Grandpa’s German stock and my family’s own Eastern European heritage where cabbage is king.

This is the perfect autumnal dish. It easily serves two and the ingredients are inexpensive. The meat from a ham hock can be tough, so be sure to give it a good dice. Keep the mashed potatoes simple and on the thick side.

I use inexpensive “pork sizzlers.” Don’t use a pork chop—way too dry and thin. You want a kind of fatty pork with lots of flavor and on the thick side. Pork butt or Boston Butt is just fine. I use an enamel-lined, cast-iron Dutch oven.

This is not the prettiest dish for serving. But it more than makes up for it in taste. Feel free to add a carrot or two for some added color and a flurry of parsley for presentation.

Ham hocks once were cheap. Not anymore. And I'm having a difficult time finding them. Sliced, smoked ham shanks work well, too. One could add smoked kielbasa, but I prefer the ham hock. 

Serves 2-3

1 hefty cup cubed pork (a good 8 oz. or 1/2 pound)
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion (4 oz)
1 cup peeled, diced Golden Delicious apple
1/2-3/4 cup freshly chopped button mushrooms, stems removed
1 8-ounce can plain or Bavarian-style sauerkraut
Garlic powder
Dried rubbed sage
Dry white wine
Canned chicken stock
1 smoked ham hock, rinsed

Preheat oven to 300-350.

Drain and squeeze the sauerkraut but save the can juices. Rinse it in a sieve under cold water. Squeeze dry.

Place the saved juice in a one-cup measuring cup. Add enough dry white wine to make 1/2 cup. Now add the chicken stock to make one cup.

Sautee the onions and mushrooms in a small pan with a bit of butter and olive oil until they soften and the mushrooms begin to give up their juices. Remove from heat and save.

Dust the cubed pork with a bit of garlic powder and the rubbed sage. In a small, heavy Dutch oven, melt a bit of butter and olive oil. Add the cubed pork and cook until it begins to brown. Add the chopped apples and stir. Add the onion and mushrooms. Stir. Now add the drained sauerkraut. Stir. Add the one-cup of liquid and the ham hock. Stir, cover, and bring to a slow simmer. Season with a bit of pepper. The ham hock and chicken stock will give it all the salt it needs.

Remove from heat and place in oven. Slow cook for about 1 hour. Periodically uncover and check to see that it doesn’t dry out. You don’t want the sauerkraut to brown. If necessary, add a bit more stock or water.

When done, remove the ham hock to plate or board to cool. Prepare the potatoes. When the ham hock is cool enough to handle, remove as much meat as possible from it (there won’t be a lot). Finely dice, return to the Dutch oven and stir.

To serve, place a mound of potatoes in the middle of a plate and spoon the sauerkraut/pork mixture on top. This is even better re-heated the next day. Great peasant food!

Note: I have not doubled this recipe and if you do, you may need to adjust the amount of liquid.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

January 20, 2009

By Gary T. Czerwinski

I already Miss George W. Bush.

No public official made a columnist’s job so easy. All W. had to do was to open his mouth and it was a cinch to type out 500 words why what he had to say was so inane. Or dangerous.

I expect Janurary 20, 2009 his last day in office, will be a day of celebration around the world, the likes of which we’ve never seen. I’m confident it will rival New Year’s, complete with fireworks.

Old W. has mellowed a bit in these, his final days. Gone is his bellicose braggadocio. Gone is the smirk and forced smile. When he appears on television, he’s basically just a footnote that no one wants to read. And no one believes.

I’ve always contended that W. never really felt comfortable in his role as president. His countenance expressed that he wasn’t “elected” president as much as he “pulled it off.”

(What is it with all this facial quirkiness among Republicans? Watching McCain’s grimaces, eye-rolling, tongue-sticking-out in the third debate, I felt like I was back teaching junior high kids. And then Palin’s wink-wink.)

To give him credit, W. has at least been consistent in his resume. Like most of his previous jobs, he leaves this one much the same: in worse shape and broke. Not only is our own economy in a toilet that Joe the Plumber can’t figure out, but the rest of the world’s is jeopardized as well. And to think he began his presidency with a budget surplus! Aren’t you glad he had an MBA?

Ironically, one of the best things he managed to accomplish was to ruin his own party, the GOP. It’s no wonder conservatives like Colin Powell and Christopher Buckley, (son of William F. Buckley considered the “father of modern conservatism”) are jumping ship. If McCain loses, it’s because he’s been unable to organize a winning coalition or message. In his acceptance speech at the GOP convention, that message or theme was “fight with me!”

Huh? Fight?

Americans are tired of fighting. Fight in Iraq. Fight to pay for gasoline. Fight to pay high food costs. Fight to keep your job. That’s all we’ve been doing for eight years. For too long, families have fought just to stay afloat and to feel optimistic in a querulous world his presidency helped to create.

Contrast that to Barack Obama’s stellar campaign organization and message of unity and hope. And intellectualism.

Ignorance and greed can’t grow a nation.

Does W. have any remorse for the damage he’s done and lives he’s ruined? One has to wonder. When he walks the White House halls alone, does he ever wonder, “God, I really screwed up?”

I know there are still die-hards who fervently believe in poor W. There are those who blindly believe his failed policies will somehow be vindicated by history and that his foreign policy has been prescient. But they are the same who believe Sarah Palin is ready to assume the presidency.

Unfortunately, W. is not quite out the door yet. I’m sure he’s already preparing a list of “pardons.” Unknown facts and circumstances will surface as historians sift through the verbiage of his disasters. Slips of the tongue will reveal new details. His visage will drift in and out of focus. But one thing is certain: I doubt that face will ever appear on any of our currency he so infamously devalued. And defamed.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Apple-Onion Casserole

A regional classic featuring apples, onions, herbs and bacon. A great accompaniment to ham and pork. I like it cold, too.

This recipe is adapted from my Grandma’s old cookbook. It sounded so whacky I had to try it. It’s almost a meal in itself and the first time I made it I almost ate all of it. I suspect it’s an old recipe with ingredients that were cheap and which most housewives would have had on hand. 

When I lived in SW Michigan, I had access to a myriad of apple varieties. One of my favorite roadside stands was run by a little old lady who grew old apple varieties and could tell you what kind of apple it was by just looking at it ... ten feet away! She was a rarity who still grew Winesaps which I love. A bowl of Winesaps will scent an entire room! Always add one to your apple pie. 

If you choose to use rosemary, use fresh; dried rosemary needles can be annoying in one's mouth . . .
  • 3 medium-sized onions
  • 2 medium-sized, crisp apples
  • 6 slices of bacon
  • 1 cup soft, cubed bread crumbs, crusts removed
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • Dried/fresh thyme leaves and/or rosemary needles. Give a good mince.
Peel and slice onions thinly, about 1/8 inch. I used yellow sweet onions.

Peel and core apples then slice into rings. I've tried using "chunks" but it doesn't work as well. Thin slices of apple "rings" work best and look the best when layered with the onion. You may choose to keep the skin on, and,  for a more festive look around Christmas, use a red and green apple. If you can find them, Ida Reds are nice and will a pink blush.

Cut bacon into smaller pieces and sauté/fry until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain and cool. Add the bread cubes to the bacon “renderings” to coat. Remove to a bowl. In the same pan, add chicken broth, a pinch or two of dried thyme or rosemary (or both!). Bring to a boil and reduce to a bit less than 1/2 cup.

Butter a 1.5 quart glass-baking dish. Arrange the apples, onions and bacon in alternate layers. Pour in the broth mixture. Cover the top with the fat-soaked bread cubes.

Cover the dish and bake in a 375-degree oven for about 25-30 minutes. Uncover it and cook for another 15 minutes longer.

Notes: It's important to have crisp apples. If the apples are soft, they will cook before the onions. You want everything the same texture.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Macaroni and Cheese with Eggs, Milk, Onion

This recipe is currently undergoing some changes. Please re-visit.

The beauty and ease of this mac-and-cheese is that there is no Bechamel sauce!

Here's one without the tomato. A little sour cream never hurt.

This old-fashioned macaroni and cheese is a "craft" made with a simple custard of milk and eggs. It’s a wonderful side for meatloaf or ham and good on its own with a simple salad and bread. I’ve used many different cheeses and have settled on the combination of soft Fontina (or Fontinella) and aged, sharp Cheddar, white or yellow (don't be afraid to add any cheese leftovers you might have on hand, especially some Mozzarella). But cheese has gotten so expensive that I now use Muenster and Cheddar and I really love the taste that the Muenster brings. Overall, I use about 2.5- just under three cups of cheese.

Use a variety of cheeses, if possible. Here, the tomatoes have been peeled
after being dunked in boiling water for about 20 seconds.

You don't have to top with the tomatoes, but it's a nice touch and it's something my grandmother would have done, especially in the summer months when tomatoes are in season.

It's a shame that so many generations have grown up thinking mac-n-cheese is something poured out of a blue box. Where's the "craft" in "Kraft?"

  • 1 cup small, raw elbow macaroni (about 4 oz.)
  • 8 oz. American or Velveeta Chesse
  • 4 oz. grated sharp Cheddar
  • Grated Parmesan, about 4 oz. and more for topping
  • 1/2 stick butter, softened to room temperature, divided
  • 1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 can evaporated milk 
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or whipped cottage cheese or a combination
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 4-6 drops Tabasco 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • A few sprinkles garlic powder
  • Several grates of fresh nutmeg, less is more
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 good teaspoon regular black pepper (or to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons grated onion (red or yellow) or 1.5 - 2 tablespoons dried minced onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional, but I love it) 
  • 6 drops Worcestershire sauce or to taste (less is more)
  • Bacon Fat

  • 3-4 Roma tomatoes, skinned cut into 1/2-inch slices (optional)
  • Bread crumbs. I prefer fresh but Panko works, too.
  • Dried, Italian seasoning, a few shakes
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
  • 1-2 tablespoons melted butter or use olive oil, just enough to moisten crumbs

Butter or spray a 1.5 quart glass baking dish or an 8 x 8-inch baking dish or a 6 x 10-inch baking dish.

Bring a  pot of water to a rolling boil. Using a slotted spoon, drop in the tomatoes one at a time for about 20 seconds. Remove and run under cold water. Remove the skin. When all the tomatoes are skinned, bring water back to a boil and parboil macaroni in salted water. Drain. Add butter. Stir. Allow to cool a bit.

Over a small bowl, scrape a peeled onion over the large holes of a box grater until you have three to four tablespoons or, if using, add dried onion flakes.  Stir in evaporated milk. Whisk in the egg, Tabasco or Cayenne, salt, dry mustard and, if using, smoked paprika.

Pour milk/egg mixture over cooled pasta. Mix.

Gently stir in the cheeses until well-combined. Transfer mixture to buttered baking dish.

If using, slice the tomatoes and arrange on top and, if using, sprinkle with some Italian  seasonings. Sprinkle with Parmesan or extra cheese and then sprinkle with a bit more smoked paprika or regular paprika.

Mix together the fresh breadcrumbs with the Parmesan. Add melted butter and mix. Sprinkle over the tomatoes or tomato-less top. (Sometimes I just omit the breadcrumbs when I use the tomatoes and then top with more cheese.)

Here, I omitted the breadcrumbs and just used more cheese. I
also sprinkled the tomatoes with just a bit of Italian seasonings.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes until the sides begin to bubble and the breadcrumbs are nice and brown.


 This one has no tomato or breadcrumbs, just a bit of extra cheese on top. I used 8 ounces

To serve, place a generous portion on plate and lightly sprinkle with sea salt or Kosher salt and and a dollop of sour cream on the side or on top.

A Note on Breadcrumbs: I'm not a fan of dried breadcrumbs. To make fresh, just cut the crusts off several pieces of a good hearty bread, tear into pieces and place in a small food processor. Whirl until fresh breadcrumbs form OR just cut the bread into small cubes. Fresh makes all the difference.

Update: I use the pressure cooker to do the pasta .... done in four minutes. Allow to cool.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Uniforms and growing up!

By Gary T. Czerwinski

I lasted only a few weeks in little league baseball.

We were so little, in fact, we were given the uplifting team name of “Gnats.”

How is that for self-esteem?

The ball-and-bat activity required a uniform and a number. I would quickly learn that conformity was the preferred method for the adult world to control children ... into adulthood.

There was other “gear” to go with it, too. Shoes, hats, mitts. All were programmed to make the participant feel he was "original." Part of a "team."

And then their were "practices." I didn’t understand the logic.
I went to school. Adults told me what to do.
I came home. Adults told me what to do.
And now here was a “game” that was supposed to be fun and adults were telling me what to do.

And there was homework renamed "practices." I wanted none of it. Just let me ride my bike. Tramp the woods. Have some real fun.

And that is where the adult world lost me. I was not having "fun." At least, not on my own "turf" ... never mind so-called "bases" I had to run to appease "them."

I did not feel free. I felt constricted. 

I can still remember standing in the outfield and listening to adults in the bleachers yelling, s-c-r-e-a-m-i-n-g, at their kids:


“No, stay!”

“‘Atta boy!”

We were like pet dogs in training.

A few weeks later I attempted to catch a fly ball that instead exploded in my face and gave me an instant bloody nose. It hurt! I called it quits and hung up my glove for good. I still have the glove. But it holds a prize stone I found in the woods.

My heroes growing up were Native Americans, not sporting figures. I thought people like Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull the bravest, most noble and of souls I utterly respected. In movies I rarely rooted for the cavalry but admired the simple way of life Native Americans lived, blending with Nature Self-sufficient. In play, I did my utmost to emulate that culture and life style.

I read everything I could about different tribes. My Schwinn bike was my horse and we traveled and scouted for miles. In the summers, because I returned home covered with dirt and grit and cuts and scratches, pockets full of rocks and debris, I was banished to the basement to bathe in the laundry tub. When I turned down the cuffs of my blue jeans, half the planet spilled out.

And, so, my parents, in their make-believe folly, thought the Boy Scouts would be perfect since it was a club that did the things I already liked. Silly grown ups! My father was a boy scout. He sat me down and told me how wonderful it was. All the great things they did outdoors that I already liked. It certainly sounded promising . . . Until it regressed into another uniform. And pejorative name. This time, I was christened “Cub.” There were meetings. And then followed the rules and oaths. How to tie your scarf. And then the dreaded scourge of childhood: Memorization. I was given a book!

Mind you, This was the 1950s and I attended a catholic school where the most despised book on the face of the planet and beyond was called The Baltimore Catechism. Innocent children were forced to memorize it word by word, week after week, and to recite it back verbatim lined up like prisoners to our jailers called nuns with male names. Oh, it was cruel and wicked!

Needless to say, I did not last very long as a scout. One night, my renegade friend Danny (who was wonderfully condemned to hell in my school because he smoked) and myself disappeared into the darkness. We climbed the chain link fence and high-tailed it home. My father, understandably, was disappointed. Me ... not so much so. I had regained my freedom and territory in the woods.

I'm not sure what happened to Danny. But I don't think his father cared . . . 

There were threats and murmurs of other clubs and activities that might suit me. Thankfully, for the most part, I was left alone and fended quite well on my own tramping and exploring woods and Nature. Reading. Creating independent projects and creating my own clubs that didn’t have uniforms. Or memorization.

It progressed well until we moved to a new town and a new school. I was in the seventh grade and my biggest sin was to about to be revealed. I was not an altar boy! It just about caused my excommunication. Pilgrims, I implore you. I had no choice! Again, there was the ubiquitous uniform. The memorization of prayers. In Latin! But, you weren’t tested. So, kneeling before the altar and next to the priest, I simply mumbled gibberish except for the part that said “mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” I knew that part and so I always uttered that a bit loudly. If they caught on, I was never confronted.

It wasn’t too bad a "club." One, at least, gained access to parts of a church no one could see. And, one could actually make money from it serving at weddings and funerals. If kids received money instead of grades, we’d be a nation of geniuses.

As soon as I graduated eight grade, I also graduated being an altar boy. I was done.

For mere safety concerns, the childhood I led would be impossible today. Technology and politics makes it possible, even demands, that children stay indoors and close to home. I was fortunate to experience what I call an “organic” childhood mostly free from restraint that allowed personal discovery. Even injury. And wonder. It’s a miracle I didn’t break my neck. It's a miracle I survived on my own without a uniform. Instead of a childhood memorized, my childhood was, instead, blessed with memory of personal discovery and joy devoid of the threat of a big person's upper hand. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

How To Make Mayonnaise

I've always read of people who, after eating the real thing, would never go back to store-bought mayonnaise. Mayo is one of those things that sits in my fridge for ages and I'm always a bit hesitant about its freshness when I open a jar. So when I wanted to try my hand at a salmon pasta dish, I thought I'd finally give homemade mayo a try.

The first two tries weren't anything special and I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. Helman's actually tasted better. So, after some researching on the web, I came up with the following recipe which is a blend of several. After I made it, I understood about "not going back." This turned out super thick and rich, even more so the next day. Bliss on a soft-boiled egg or to dip warm asparagus spears into.

The trick is not to use egg whites. This calls for two egg yolks even though the original called for three. I used peanut and canola oil. It's important to use an oil that is not strong in taste and to add the oil slowly. Grapeseed and olive oils are fine, too.


2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of cayenne (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
or 2 tablespoons white tarragon vinegar
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon water

Wash the eggs before cracking. Put egg yolks, seasonings, lemon juice or vinegar, and 1/4 cup of the oil into a small food processor. Cover and pulse for a few seconds to incorporate ingredients. Now slowly dribble in the oil through the cap. Every-once-in-a-while, reverse speeds. You may not need to add all the oil. When thick, stop, remove top and with a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides. Replace the top and with motor running, dribble in the water.

Store unused mayonnaise in a covered container. Lasts for about 1 week. This turns even thicker and richer once refrigerated.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Green Onions, Mushrooms, New Potatoes and Goat Cheese

Before there was a Food Network or Gourmet Magazine, there was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in which we get this little pearl of gastronomical wisdom: ". . . there’s nothing to beat good freshwater fish if you eat it when it has been alive half an hour ago and has come out of the pan half a minute ago.”

I’m so glad to see Disney filming The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven books by British author C.S. Lewis. This summer, they released the second book in the series, Prince Caspian. When I taught middle school, I taught them all to my sixth grade reading classes.

Recently, I heard from one of those students who is now an English professor in Florida! She readily confessed to swiping a whole set because “she loved the books too much” but couldn’t afford to buy them on her own. I'm happy to say she has them to this day.

I reassured her she wasn’t the only one. Turning a blind eye to a child’s love of books was part of my responsibility as a teacher. (Convincing my principal was another matter.)

One of the things I loved about that anthology was its expression of love for food and feasts. When Lewis wrote them before and after the brooding, dark days of World War II, food was genuinely scarce; but in Narnia, it was plentiful in one form or another from the gooey Turkish Delight to the menacing recipe for Man Pies.

In the first book, The Lion the Witch and Wardrobe, we are introduced to Mr. Tumnus, a faun, who enjoys sardines on toast and makes wonderful cakes to serve with his tea. Somewhere along the line, mushrooms come into play, and whenever I eat them, I fondly think of Narnia and the woodsy, earthy characters who inhabited that wonderful realm.

In 1998, The Narnia Cookbook was published by Lewis’ stepson. Sadly, it is now out of print. Used copies go for hundreds of dollars which many adults, let alone children, can't afford.

So, having said all that, I offer my own recipe in which I pay homage to that wonderful, magical land. It is perfectly respectful not to add the herbed goat cheese; but it’s addition certainly classes up this easy recipe with a simple richness that makes it a meal unto itself with a glass of wine and some crusty, artisan bread.

Mushrooms à la Narnia

8 ounces sliced button mushrooms (shitake are my favorite, though)
1 cup sliced green onions with tops
3-4 whole, canned new potatoes cut into chunks or thick slices (you won’t use the whole can)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon (more or less) dried thyme flakes
1/2 log, herb/garlic goat cheese, or to taste ( a couple tablespoons)
Olive oil
Kosher or Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper

Combine olive oil and butter in a stainless-steel frying pan and heat over medium/low heat until bubbly. Add mushrooms and green onions. Cook for a few minutes and then add the garlic and thyme. Sauté until mushrooms are soft and beginning to cook off their juices. Add the potatoes. Add a dozen or so fresh grinds from the pepper mill or to taste. Sprinkle with salt to taste. If too dry, add a bit more butter/olive oil. Stir. Now add the goat cheese and stir until it melts. Taste and season as necessary. Remove from heat and keep covered for about ten minutes or so to let the flavors blend.

Use a quality goat cheese and don't use plain for this recipe.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Chicken/Turkey Stock

Keep the ingredients of your stock simple: celery, carrots, garlic,
thyme, no salt, peppercorns and chicken bones. 

During high school, I worked as a busboy in a restaurant. Each night before closing, the cooks would fill a large stockpot with vegetables and leftover bones. It took two people to heft it up to the burner where it simmered all night to make a rich broth for the following day’s soup menu. That “slow and long simmer” is the key to a great stock.

  • 3 to 3 1/2 pound chicken cut up, or chicken pieces or a combination of chicken/turkey pieces or carcasses
  • 2 unpeeled carrots, washed and cut into large chunks
  • 3-4 stalks celery, washed and roughly cut
  • 1 large yellow onion, roughly cut, include the skins
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, smashed, skins included
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme flakes
  • 2 teaspoons whole peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 10 cups water
  • optional: the end of a lemon, rind and all

Prepare the ingredients during the day and refrigerate. Before going to bed, place the pot on the range and bring to a boil and then turn to low and cover making sure it just simmers and does not boil. Let it simmer all night. (This works best on an electric stove.) In the morning, when cool enough to handle, scoop into a colander over a large bowl or pot. Then strain through a sieve. If desired, squeeze the vegetables and meat through a strainer to get the “juice.” If your broth doesn’t seem strong enough, add one can of chicken broth or simmer until reduced a bit. Your strained stock is now ready for soup.

Chicken feet make great stock, but you must simmer
for a minimum of six hours.

If you can add two turkey wings to the chicken pieces to your stock pot, that makes the best broth, I think. And I SERIOUSLY recommend it.

For each pound of poultry, plan about 3 but no more than four, cups of water. You just want to cover the poultry and vegetables with water. 

Onionskins will turn the broth a rich golden color.

Save the bones of rotisserie chickens you purchase from the deli. Place in a Ziploc bag and freeze until ready to use.

Look for poultry on sale and freeze until ready to use. A good market will actually sell chicken or turkey carcasses. Simply add some chicken or turkey pieces to it. Cartilage, such as backs and necks, makes good stock as does chicken feet. Cut through large bones if possible.

Never add rosemary to your stock; it will turn it bitter. Add parsley to your SOUP, not your stock. 

A good stock when refrigerated will gel. Freeze stock in 3-4 cup freezer containers for later use.

A slow simmer will keep the broth golden and clear. If it’s allowed to boil, the stock will be cloudy. 

My favorite way to prepare broth is the simplest: To about six cups of stock, I add several pieces of lemon zest (use a vegetable peeler), and a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer (not a boil). Before serving, sprinkle with dried dill. This is the nectar of the gods and perfect for sipping while watching the snow outside.