This post is not about food. I will not mention the word Kitchen again. I will not share a single picture. And there will not be an embedded recipe unless you are looking for a lousy way to spend your day off.

At best, you’ll find some Kicking and Screaming.

Today was supposed to be my day off. My goals: prepare the home and property for the 11 degree low the local paper predicted is coming (eleven!), clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, and maybe, just maybe, find a quiet hour to catch up on yesterday’s New York Times in honor of the birthday I missed celebrating over the weekend due to my holiday work schedule.

I’d just like to say that, deep inside, I don’t think it’s right that a day off is spent cleaning bathrooms. A wintry day off, especially around one’s birthday, should be spent sipping tea, watching movies, and eating fresh-baked cookies.

Seeing that the pipes are likely to freeze in the coming days, I figured I’d get the laundry under way, and then I’d move on to shutting off irrigation faucets, turning lights on in pump houses, and blocking the foundation vents with cardboard. I did get the laundry started, but when I returned some 40 minutes later to switch load one into the dryer and get load going, I found load one sitting in a pool of water.

Hmmm…

My 12-year-old front-loader does not always spin as she’s supposed to, so I started turning the dial around trying to get one of the rinse cycles started. No matter what I tried, I could not get water to flow into the machine. Not yet cold enough for the water line to freeze, so I figured it was clogged. Now I’m a modern woman and a pretty handy person, and I’m willing to get my hands dirty. But when it comes to scenarios such as clogged septic lines and cats releasing live rodents in the house, it becomes a Boy Job.  This is especially true when appliances go on the fritz. I mean, my husband is and Espresso Machine Technician. He diagnoses electrical problems, mechanical malfunctions, and pump issues on a daily basis. He understand electricity and water, and he isn’t nearly as likely to electrocute himself. So why, I ask, was I the one gashing my knuckles while searching for a blockage in the washer’s incoming water lines only to discover that there was no blockage.

I asked for hubby’s help. He listened to the humming sound for a few seconds. Pump’s probably bad, he said. Damn thing’s 12 years old. Time to buy a new one.

Can’t say I haven’t looked at the Home Depot flyer and coveted those candy-apple-red jobbies that wash and dry and steam and fold your clothes for you. (They do fold the clothes too, don’t they?) But I wasn’t giving up just yet.

Since water would flow out of the nearby utility sink’s faucet just fine, and there was nothing physically keeping water from coming into the washing machine, I transferred the sopping wet clothes into a basket, soaking the area rug in the process and tried the machine’s various settings again. Water would now flow into the machine.  What this means is that my washing machine is smarter than I am. It knew there had to be something keeping water from going out of the machine, long before I did, and it was therefore keeping more water from coming in.

This is when Google comes in really, really handy. My Frigidaire front loader won’t drain. In 0.30 seconds, I found out that 192,000 other people had this same problem. The first link I clicked on mentioned a black, rubber, accordion-like boot behind the bottom panel that connects the tub to the pump to the drain. And it told me that there may be a filter in there that often clogs. Aha! I unplugged the washer, removed that boot, and promptly flooded my laundry room. Thank goodness we had the sense to install a drain in the concrete floor. (It was supposed to be a dog washing station — mighta been used once in 10 years.) I was also thankful that I’d thought to unplug the wine refrigerator as well (God save the wine!) so I didn’t get electrocuted by the inch of water I was now standing in.

Amazing how much water those front loaders actually hold. When the flow finally stopped, I broomed enough of the water into the drain so I could get down on my knees and stick a few fingers, blindly, into the pump housing. No filter. Could have been just about anything in there, but what did I pull out? An underwire from one of my bras. Yep. Jammed into the pump, keeping it from spinning. The damn thing was rusted all to hell, so it must have been working its way in there for a good, long time. (You’d think a girl would notice when half her bosom has been flying freer than the other for the past few months!) An underwire! Couldn’t it have been a screw, a wire nut, some coins, or one of the other myriad things my husband leaves in his pockets? At least then we could have shared the blame…

I reassembled hoses and clamps and panels, and the washer seems to be working fine, even if there is a slight clicking sound when it spins… (Another underwire? Did I not notice because both of them are in there? Or maybe there is a screw!)

Didn’t get much of a day off, but perhaps I will be getting that fancy red washer and dryer after all…

Puff Pastry is my Friend

November 15, 2010

How about a quickie? Appetizer, that is…

With the holidays coming up, there’s a lot of eating to be done, and therefore a lot of cooking and sharing. One of my favorite and absolute easiest appetizers to make is whatever’s-in-the-fridge-on-puff-pastry. I usually have two or three cartons of frozen pastry on hand this time of year, ready to take out and load up with goodies. In less than an hour, I can have scrumptious appetizers ready to serve.  Anybody can.

Don’t always have an hour’s notice? Defrost some puff pastry sheets, lay them flat between parchment paper, and keep them in the fridge just waiting for those unannounced guests to drop by. I’m guessing they’d keep for at least a couple of weeks, but I’d bet they’ll never last that long.

Puff Pastry Appetizers

While you’re pastry’s defrosting, raid your refrigerator and pantry for goodies, such as:

  • goat or other yummy cheese
  • sauteed greens
  • onions to caramelize
  • artichoke hearts
  • cherry tomatoes
  • pesto
  • leftover pasta sauce
  • olives
  • capers
  • anchovies
  • Artichoke and Chili Dip
  • grilled veggies
  • pine nuts
  • smoked salmon
  • bacon marmalade

Need I go on? The list is limited only by your imagination and the contents of your refrigerator. Go ahead, experiment.

Got a sweet tooth instead?

  • cream cheese, dark chocolate and chopped dried cherries or cranberries
  • any flavor of jam that pleases your palate
  • powdered sugar for dusting (after baked)
  • Hmmm… what about peanut butter and chocolate chips in a Reese’s-like concoction? Topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream? Yep. I could do that… right now!

To Assemble the Appetizers

I used to just unfold the sheet of pastry dough on a floured board, cut it into 9 or so squares, plop some stuff on top and bake. Then my lovely friend Rosa taught me a little trick that kicks the presentation of these beauties — and their ability to hold a good amount of toppings — up a notch or two. It’s as easy as 1 2 3.

Folding Puff Pastry for Appetizers

  1. Cut the thawed, floured pastry sheet into squares — as many as you’d like, but smaller than 2″ x 2″ might be tricky to fold.
  2. Fold the square in half and cut along the two short sides — all the way down to the long end, and almost , but not quite meeting at the point.
  3. Unfold, and cross the cut-through points over to the other side.

Voila! You’ve just made a beautifully shaped appetizer, complete with a cavity to fill and even a handle to hold while eating!

Ready to Bake!

In this batch, I made two kinds:

I grated a bit of Parmigiano over the top, baked them in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, and wow! I would have no problem making a meal out of these. Maybe I’d add a side of soup for nutrition’s sake, but the smallest bowl I could find. Special thanks to my friend Helene who turned me onto the bacon marmalade!

Yum! Yum! Yum!

Serve warm, and don’t forget the wine!

Enjoy~

Just writing that title makes my mouth water. I love a well-made risotto, and this is my absolute favorite.

I first tried this hearty dish some years ago at a little trattoria outside of Milano, Italy. The fields surrounding Milan need only the barest chill to become drenched in fog. I still remember the drive back to the city –nestled in the arms of the man I love, the road curving  through through the rice paddies, the fog as thick as whipped cream, and my belly as full as can be with this lovely, lovely risotto.

Well, maybe not exactly this risotto. I didn’t ask for the recipe, and even if I had, it would have been a little of this and a little of that… I have yet to meet an Italian who uses a written recipe on a regular basis. Fortunately, most Italian recipes are not complicated affairs piled with ingredients.

If you’ve never made risotto, I hope these instructions don’t seem complicated. Risotto is labor intensive; you do have to stir it near constantly for about half an hour. But it’s not difficult. There are a few rules: You must use Arborio rice, and you must pay constant attention until it is cooked. Once you have the technique down, you can make risotto out of almost anything — asparagus, seafood, wild mushrooms, pumpkin… the possibilities are limited only by your palate and your imagination.

Risotto with Radicchio and Smoked Mozzarella

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced small
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 to 3 softball-sized radicchio
  • 3 cups arborio rice (1/2 cup per person)
  • 8 cups broth (see note)
  • 1/2 pound smoked mozzarella, grated
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup cream

Note on broth: Despite what you add to your risotto, most of the flavor comes from the broth. Chicken or beef will work, although if what you’re adding has a delicate flavor (i.e. seafood or saffron), you may overpower it if you use beef broth. It is certainly possible to make risotto from vegetarian broth, but it better be very good broth or your risotto may not taste like much. If you were to make vegetarian risotto, this would be a good choice. The strong-flavored radicchio would help make up for lost flavor. You can make decent risotto from canned broth, but the best risotto is always made with broth made from scratch — chicken or beef bones simmered for a few hours with carrots, onions, celery, and a sprinkle of salt. Skim the fat and strain the solids. Broth doesn’t get much better than that.

Start your broth, either canned or (already) homemade, heating in a large pot.

Heat the oil in a large (4 quart plus), thick-bottomed frying pan or pot, add the diced onions, and saute over medium heat. Meanwhile, chop the radicchio in quarters, remove the core, and cut the leaves cross-ways into 1/2 inch-wide strips.

Once the onions turn translucent, add the butter. When the butter is melted, add the radicchio and saute, stirring regularly, until the strips are completely wilted.

Sauteed Radicchio

Sauteed Radicchio

Next, you’re going to saute the rice kernels in the pan, and there needs to be enough oil/butter to coat them. They shouldn’t swim in oil, but if there’s not enough to coat them well, add another tablespoon each of oil and butter. Add the rice and saute for a few minutes, stirring constantly. The rice should not color at all, so if you’re pan seems hot enough to do this, turn down the heat.

Risotto with Radicchio

If your broth is not yet simmering hot, turn off the rice and radicchio mixture and wait for the broth. Once the broth is hot, add a ladle or two to the rice mixture and stir it in over medium-low to medium heat. You want it to absorb the broth within a couple of minutes without drying out or sticking to the pan. Continue stirring constantly, making sure to reach the edges of the pan and move all the rice around. Once the broth is absorbed, add another ladle full. As each round of broth is absorbed, a thick “sauce” will form around the rice. This sauce should be dense but not dry. Continue this process for 15 or so minutes.

The risotto can take as long as 20 to 30 minutes to cook, but you do not want it to over cook. After 15 minutes, taste a kernel of rice to see if it is al dente. When properly cooked, it should feel firm between your teeth, but give way easily (without crunching!) when you bite down. Continue the broth/stirring routine until your kernels are al dente. Not sure if it’s ready? Bite a kernel in half. The coloring in the center should be barely distinguishable from the rest of the kernel. If you start to run low on broth, you can add hot water. You never want to add more than 20% hot water as it will diminish the taste.

Once you’ve reached al dente, turn the flame down to low. Add the grated smoked mozzarella and stir. This dense cheese will thicken the risotto considerably, and that’s why we have cream on the the ingredient list. Once the cheese has melted into the risotto, add 1/4 cup of the creme and stir. If the rice seems creamy yet still dense, serve immediately. If not, add some more cream. Don’t add any more than necessary as you’ll be diluting the flavor. And if you accidentally add too much, a couple more tablespoons of mozzarella or some grated Parmigiano will thicken it back up.

A parsley sprig or shredded raw radicchio would have made a nice garnish in this next picture. In fact, a couple of more photos for this post wouldn’t have hurt a bit. Apparently we were all focused on eating!

If there are any leftovers, tamp into a hot, buttered skillet and heat until the bottom just starts to brown. Flip and repeat. Once browned, the smokey flavor of the mozzarella really comes out.  YUM!

Enjoy ~

P.S. Due to my hectic holiday season schedule, I may not manage a weekly post. I’ll try, but please forgive me if it doesn’t happen. Bet I can find a funny story or two to fill in some gaps.

Any subscribers interested in writing a “guest” post? Just let me know.

Ciao ciao ~