Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sausage Stuffing

There is no greater food holiday than Thanksgiving. Every family has their traditional sides that appear every year and which make their Turkey Day plate unique to them. So while most people will be eating Turkey with all the fixings, its those fixings that often represent a family's heritage and where they grew up.
This is what the traditional Martorana Thanksgiving plate looks like:
Baby peas cooked with onions, cranberry sauce, roasted pearl onions, stuffing, turnips.
This might look familiar to some and totally different to others but the one thing most likely consistent is the stuffing.
Now, the thing about stuffing is that although its synonymous with Thanksgiving, it is prepared in so many different ways depending on where you're from. In the south and Midwest its made with cornbread, in the northern coasts, oysters make an appearance. Some cook it in the bird, some out and some even dare to call it "dressing".
To me, traditional stuffing is made the way my grandmother made it - with white bread and pork sausage.
Incidentally, this recipe, which is so easy to make, is basically deconstructed Stuffed Bread
1 loaf un-sliced white bread
1 cup celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 roll pork sausage (like Jamestown or Jones brands)
1 egg
Rosemary, sage, thyme to taste
1 cup chicken broth (optional)
Cut the bread into small cubes and place in a bowl.

Cook the sausage in a pan until no longer pink.
Transfer to the bowl with the bread using a slotted spoon so that most of the oil remains in the pan.
Saute the celery and onions in the remaining oil and add to the bowl along with the egg and seasoning.
At this point, the mixture is ready to stuff into the bird. If not stuffing inside the turkey, add the chicken broth to give it some moisture.
Place into a casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
Fluff with a fork and its ready to serve.
If there is any stuffing leftover (not likely!) this is great (or even better) fried in oil for a day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast treat.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Chinese Fried Shrimp

The origin of this recipe is a curious one.
I always wondered where my grandmother got a recipe for Chinese Fried Shrimp. I was sure it wasn't something passed down from our non-Asian ancestors and it certainly didn't go with most of the recipes made in the Martorana household.
In preparation for this blog, I put out a request to my Aunts and Uncle for any family recipes they had. My Uncle Frank declared that he had my grandmother's cookbook which actually turned out to be Mrs. Rasmussen's Book of One-armed Cookery.
Published in 1946, Mary Lasswell's cookbook is a collection of recipes referenced in her novel Suds in Your Eyes about a group of woman who band together to deal with the hard times associated with WWII. One of them, Mrs. Rasmussen, uses her love of cooking to pass the time, whipping up delicious meals with the ingredients that they are able to scrape together.

(BTW-One-armed cookery refers to the act of stirring the pot with one hand and holding a beer in the other so apparently they did more than just cook to pass the time)

In the cookbook's foreword, Ms. Lasswell dedicates the book to those who served:

"Our Fightin' Men all over the globe has wrote us letters askin' for the recipes to some of our dishes at Noah's Ark...So this book was wrote for all those who served in the Armed Forces."

My own grandfather served in the war, spending his time in Burma as part of the Pacific War.

Here he is with his fellow Wildcat Squadron brothers in 1944.


At some point, after his safe return, my grandmother acquired a copy of the cookbook and used it to whip up some new recipes for her favorite soldier.

Virginia Martorana

Chinese Fried Shrimp became a favorite in the Martorana household and was a unanimous request for our cooking weekend this summer.
2 lb raw shrimp, tail on, drained
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
3 eggs, yolks and whites beaten separately
cold water
Sift together flour, salt, baking powder.
Add egg yolks and beat well, adding enough cold water to make a smooth, but not thin, batter.
Add egg whites and fold in carefully.

My Uncle Frank whipping up the batter...
Dip shrimp in flour, then batter and deep fry.
...and on fryer duty.
Serve with soy sauce.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Stuffed Potatoes

Why would you eat a plain baked potato when you could have a TWICE baked potato !?
This was a favorite childhood side dish. The potatoes are first baked and then removed from their skin. The potato is mixed with milk and seasoning as when making regular mashed potatoes, but then stuffed back into the skins and baked once more. The result is a creamy, tasty, little bundle of potato with a light crust on top.
As a child I enjoyed helping my mother in the kitchen and this was a fun recipe to help with. Here is my older sister, Liz, helping to make them in the 80's.
Having fun ?

Before putting in the oven, my mother always scored the top of the potato with a fork before sprinkling with a bit of paprika. I still do that today and we did the same when making them on Saturday night during our cooking weekend.
4 large baking potatoes
4 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
1/4 cup chopped dried onion
1/2 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper
Wash the potatoes, puncture the skin several times with a fork and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Let cool.

 Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a medium bowl. Place the skins to the side.

Add the butter, milk, onions, cheese, salt and pepper and beat until smooth.

 Stuff the potato mixture back into the skins and place on a cookie sheet.

My Aunt Martha and Mom Carolyn on potato duty

Run a fork across the top of the potato length-wise and sprinkle lightly with paprika.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Zucchini Bread

Want a delicious way to sneak in some vegetables under disguise of a sweet treat ?
These kids were fooled.
Cousins (Me, Aileen, Ed, Catherine, Liz and Alison)
This recipe was passed along from a family friend and was another great way to use the abundance of zucchini from our garden. The bread can be enjoyed for breakfast or dessert - perfect with a smear of butter. I have brought this into work many times and have even made mini loaves as gifts. Everyone loves it.


3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
3 cups flour
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup walnuts

Beat eggs until foamy. Add sugar and oil. Mix well.
Add vanilla, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, baking powder and flour. Mix.
Stir in zucchini and nuts.

Pour into 2 greased 9 x 5 loaf pans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean).
I love this with just a smear of butter.
This can also be made as muffins - about 24 - baked for 30-35 minutes.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Apple Crisp

October = Apple picking.
At least for every single person I know on Facebook it seems, its a time for the obligatory apple picking photo-ops: pictures of tots holding pumpkins and sitting in wagons and adults modeling their favorite fall sweaters.
But what do you do with those huge bags of apples now that you've brought them home ?
May I suggest this simple recipe for apple crisp.
Where many recipes call for multiple spices and added ingredients like nuts and oatmeal, this recipe pays respect to the apple with just a light toss with cinnamon and a simple buttery, crumb topping.
This recipe comes from a departed, family friend. My mother said she likes to make it and think of old times when many afternoons were spent at her house. So, I dedicate this post to Mrs. A.
8 medium baking apples (I used Fiji)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
6 tbsp butter
Pare and core apples. Cut into slices.
Mix apples with water and cinnamon and put into a greased 1 1/2 qt baking dish.
Crumble the rest of the ingredients together. I find it best to cut the butter into pieces and then mix together with my fingers, breaking the butter into smaller pieces.
Buttery crumble
Spread on top of the apples.
Bake uncovered for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
Serve warm.
Great with vanilla ice cream!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Stir-Fried Rice Noodles

Before the Food Network, if you wanted cooking lessons you would tune into PBS to watch people like Julia Child or Jacques Pepin or if you were lucky enough to be friends with my mom, you could learn right in her kitchen.
We had Filipino neighbors who lived down the street and in the 80's my mother asked one of the ladies of the household to come do a cooking lesson for her and her friends. This stir-fry quickly began a hit in our house and still is today.
It is very versatile as you can use whatever veggies and proteins that you wish. The original recipe called for Chinese sausage that is a bit hard to find. I substituted shrimp here but tofu, pork or chicken would work well too.
3 tbsp. peanut oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 carrots, cut into strips
2 stalks of celery, sliced (including tops)
1 pkg mushrooms, sliced
3 scallions, cut into thin strips
2 cups Chinese or napa cabbage, cut into strips
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and cut into thirds
1 pkg rice noodles
3 tbsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp. fish sauce
14 1/2 oz can of chicken broth
Begin by preparing the rice noodles as directed - by either soaking then in hot water or boiling for 3 minutes. Drain and put aside.
Heat the peanut oil in a large wok. Add the garlic, carrots, celery and scallions and stir-fry until just beginning to soften (about 3 min).
Add the mushrooms and continue to stir fry until mushrooms are soft.
Add the shrimp and cabbage and stir-fry until the shrimp turns pink (about 3 min).

Season with the soy sauce and fish sauce and mix well.
Add the chicken stock.

 Add the noodles and cook until the liquid is absorbed.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tomato Basil Soup

Nothing tastes like summer to me more than a bowl of tomato basil soup (except maybe Stuffed Zucchini). And no better tomato to make it with than Jersey's finest. Anyone from New Jersey knows that there is nothing better than late August Jersey tomatoes (and corn!). No sooner have they ripened on their vines than I make this soup...over and over and over, until alas they disappear for another year.
We grew an abundance of tomatoes in our garden growing up. I used to love eating them right off the vine or in a cold gazpacho or creamy, crunchy BLT - pleasures reserved for the way-too-short tomato season. The nice thing about this soup is that it can be frozen before adding the broth and thus enjoyed all year-round.

3 tbsp. margarine
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
4 large ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup packed basil
salt to taste
3/4 tsp sugar
14 1/2 can of chicken broth
1 tbsp. Pastina

Start by preparing the tomatoes. Score the bottom of each tomato with a cross. This will make removing the skin much easier.

Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water until you see the skin beginning to pull away (3-5 minutes).
Remove the tomatoes and rinse under cold water or let cool until you can handle them. Remove the skins and then coarsely chop.
In a large pot, melt the margarine and sauté the onions and carrot until the onion is limp.
Stir in the tomatoes, basil, salt and sugar.
Bring to a boil and simmer until tomatoes are mushy - about 20 min.
Cool and puree in blender.
(This is the point at which you can freeze the mixture)

To serve: boil 1 can of chicken broth, add the Pastina and cook until pasta is done.

Stir in the tomato mixture and heat (do not boil).
Eat while dreaming about summer....its only 279 days away.