Friday, December 21, 2012

Today, after I returned home from visiting my Mom, I fixed a Bailey’s and coffee, grabbed a few sugar cookies, put my feet up and watched one of my favorite movies.I had a completely, totally, absolutely relaxing afternoon, finally.
The movie was one of my very favorites, Something’s Gotta Give. Even though I have seen it a dozen times, I watched it again. Not only is it fun and entertaining with a great soundtrack,  I love the cast, I love the story, I love the locations and I love the humor. Spending the afternoon with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, Frances McDormand (and the Bailey’s) was just what I needed!
The beautiful beach in the Hamptons made the snow outside my window seem not so cold and difficult. And the house on the beach was a dream. It was all shades of white, with a blue and creamy white striped rug, and magnificent paintings! I bet I could write a much better blog if I had a desk in my bedroom overlooking the white sand beach just like Diane’s. .............Diane Keaton did solve one of my dilemmas.... it has to do with sleeping alone in a bed made for two.

I mentioned our snow....first we had rain, then about 3 inches of snow that was whipped into deep drifts by 40 mile an hour winds. I don’t mind snow as long as I can get the car out of the garage and it doesn’t interfere with my schedule. But this morning Zeus the Moose and I went out for a walk....that changed my idea of snow. We made it across the street and suddenly Zeus was up to his chin in a drift. Did he bound out of the cold white stuff? Did he leap with joy across the neighborhood? No.....he burrowed down and proceeded to cry....more like a whimper. Poor little guy, he had snow and ice packed around the little pads of his feet. His little paws were freezing! He had had enough of the White Christmas thing. I carried him home.

It looks like Mom will not be joining the family for our annual Christmas Eve celebration at Tom and Vicki’s house. As a matter of fact, Mom has already stated she is not going to be there. We will miss her terribly. Mom taught us all how to have a perfect Christmas. She and Dad made sure that Ann, Tom and I had fairytale holidays as children and continued to perform the same Christmas miracles with her 8 grandchildren and then her 15 great grandchildren. The little lady has always been amazing. We will all take turns visiting her, a few at a time. Hopefully we can give her a memorable Christmas.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas. Be safe, be happy. I shall return with the New Year.
Buon Natale!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I am a true cheese lover. As the old saying goes ”Never met one I didn’t love”. So, yesterday when the Smithsonian eMagazine arrived on my screen, I was enthralled!
Check it out.

"December 12, 2012
New Discovery of 7000-Year-Old Cheese Puts Your Trader Joe’s Aged Gouda to Shame

New evidence indicates cheese was invented as far back as 5000 BCE, although ancient cheeses wouldn’t have been as varied or refined as the cheeses we have today.

My note: Sadly, I had to look up what BCE stood for. I knew BC stood for “Before Christ”, but the E was new to me. Here it is….”The meaning of AD is Anno Domini or Year of our Lord referring to the year of Christ’s birth. The meaning of BC is Before Christ. CE is a recent term. It refers to Common Era and is used in place of A.D. BCE means Before Common Era.”

Are you still confused? Could it possibly be another attempt to “not offend anyone”?

Back to cheese…..
Archaeologists have long known that cheese is an ancient human invention. Wall murals in Egyptian tombs from 2000 BCE depict cheesemaking, and Sumerian tablets written in cuneiform text (? okay, I'm confused again) seem to describe cheese as well. Our distant ancestors, it seems clear, knew about the wonder that is cheese.

Today, though, cheese lovers have cause to celebrate: New evidence indicates that the invention of the utterly delicious and at times stinky product actually came thousands of years earlier. As described in a paper published today in Nature, chemical analysis of prehistoric pottery unearthed from sites in Poland shows that cheesemaking was invented way farther back than originally believed—roughly 7000 years ago.
A team of researchers from the University of Bristol, Princeton and a group of Polish universities came to the finding by examining an unusual group of artifacts from the Polish sites: clay shards that were pierced with a series of small holes. Struck by their resemblance to in modern-day cheese strainers, they chemically tested the material around the holes, and were vindicated to find ancient traces of the kinds of lipids and fatty acids found in dairy products. These ceramics are attributed to what archaeologists call the Linear Pottery culture, and are dated to 5200 to 4900 BCE.
Researchers tested these perforated ceramic fragments and found ancient dairy residues, indicating they were used as cheese strainers.
“The presence of milk residues in sieves, which look like modern cheese-strainers, constitutes the earliest direct evidence for cheesemaking,” said lead author Mélanie Salque of the University of Bristol in a statement. “So far, early evidence for cheesemaking were mostly iconographic, that is to say murals showing milk processing, which dates to several millennia later than the cheese strainers.”

Although different cheeses are made by a variety of processes, nearly all start with the separation of milk into liquid whey and solid curds. This is typically accomplished by adding bacteria to the milk, along with rennet (a mix of enzymes produced in animal stomachs), then straining out the liquid from the newly-coagulated curds. These perforated pots, then, seem like they were used to strain out the solids.

The researchers also analyzed other pottery fragments from the site. Several unperforated bowls also had traces of dairy residues, indicating they might have been used to store the curds or whey after separation. They also found remnants of fats from cow carcasses in some of the ceramics, along with beeswax in others, suggesting they were used to cook meat and sealed to store water, respectively. Apart from being capable of making a complex food product like cheese, it seems that these ancient people also created different types of specialized ceramics for different purposes.

The authors of the paper believe this ancient cheese making goes a long way in explaining a mystery: why humans bothered to domesticate cows, goats and sheep thousands of years ago, rather than eating their wild ancestors, even though genetic evidence indicates that we hadn’t yet evolved the ability to digest lactose, and thus couldn’t drink milk. Since cheese is so much lower in lactose than milk, they say, figuring out how to make it would have provided a means for unlocking milk’s nutritional content, and gave prehistoric humans incentive to raise these animals over a long period of time, instead of slaughtering them for their meat immediately. Making cheese also gave these people the ability to preserve the nutritional content, since milk spoils much more quickly.

That leaves one more pressing question—what did this ancient cheese actually taste like? Without abundant access to salt or knowledge of the refined heating and ripening processes that are necessary for the variety of cheese we have today, it’s likely that the first cheeses were pretty bland and liquidy. Like ancient Egyptian cheeses, these were probably comparable in texture and taste to cottage cheese, Salque and colleagues noted" So, it all boils down to this....the origin of cheese is probably what is now Poland?  All I really care about is, yes, we have cheese!  So, as you are putting together a lovely cheese selection for your holiday  Christmas party, remember cows, sheep and goats have been working hard  for 7000 years so you could enjoy cheese.

Monday, December 10, 2012

So I returned to blog again, then I disappeared. My Mom has been very ill. She is a little better, but we had to move her to the Care Center and then empty her apartment,  so time has been a difficult thing to hang on to.  Always a list of things to do....blogging never had a spot on that list.
But, I am back for now.....but way behind when it comes to our fast approaching holiday.  This may be yet another Christmas when I don't do baking, don't entertain,  don't do shopping.....time will tell.

While sitting in the waiting room at the hospital, I picked up a copy of an Italian cooking magazine.  I was pleased to find an article on cicchetti.
Cicchetti (chee-keh-tee)
What a great word….cicchetti…..In Italy, particularly Venice, there are very special places where you can go to get cicchetti. You can also get an ombra. Getting an ombra and some cicchetti is a good thing!

So here is the scoop….both of these things are available to you if you go to Italy and find a bàcaro.  A bà a small place that sells ombra, a small glass of wine and cicchetti, little bites of wonderful food, not unlike the small plates we are becoming familiar with here in the United States. Cicchetti is the Italian relative of the Spanish tapas.

Bàcari are small, dark establishments, down dark little side streets where you can go get a simple little plate of food and a glass of wine, something to hold you over until dinner time, which is much later than here in America. Actually you could go there and get the same to hold you over until lunch! Maybe even breakfast! They are open all day!

The wine is always local, and the food is always as fresh as it comes. The idea of the Slow Food movement was born in Italy. Always fresh, always local, always sustainable.

Are you wondering what kind of cicchetti you might find in a bàcaro ?
Try these….and of course, don’t forget the ombra.

Polenta Bites with Caramelized Mushrooms
about 50 spoonfuls

Polenta Bites with Caramelized Mushrooms
photograph by Napa Style

For the polenta:
3 cups heavy cream
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon finely ground sea salt, preferably gray salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup polenta
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish

For the mushrooms:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound button or cremini mushrooms, cut into quarters
Finely ground salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley leaves

Cook the polenta: In a medium, heavy pot over high heat bring the cream, stock, salt, and nutmeg to a boil. Add the polenta gradually, whisking constantly. When the mixture thickens, switch to a wooden spoon and adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer. Cook, stirring often, until thick, smooth, and creamy, about 15 minutes. Add the Parmesan and stir. Keep the polenta warm over low heat, stirring occasionally. If the polenta gets dry as it sits, stir in about 1/4 cup of warm stock or cream.
Saute the mushrooms: In a medium skillet over high heat, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot, sprinkle in the mushrooms in a single layer. Don't stir them! Let them sizzle until they have caramelized on the bottom, about 2 minutes. When the bottoms are caramelized, toss them once and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Continue to cook without stirring for about 5 minutes. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper. Add the butter and cook until it begins to brown, then add the garlic. Continue to cook until the garlic begins to brown. Add the thyme and cook for about 10 seconds. Add the lemon juice and cook until the liquid evaporates. Add the wine, and simmer until the mushrooms are glazed with the sauce. Add the parsley. Then stir and remove the pan from the heat.
Place or pipe about 1 tablespoon of warm polenta onto a spoon. Place about 1/2 teaspoon of the mushroom on top of the polenta. Garnish with grated Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Polpette (Meat Croquettes)
1/2 cup milk
2 slices white sandwich bread
1 1/2 lb. ground veal or pork
2 cups mashed potatoes
2/3 cup finely chopped parsley
8 eggs
2 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Canola oil, for frying
1/2 cup flour
1 cup plain bread crumbs

Pour milk over bread in a bowl; let soak for 10 minutes. Squeeze bread to drain milk; discard milk. Place bread in a bowl and mix with veal, potatoes, parsley, 4 eggs, garlic, and salt and pepper. Shape mixture into about thirty 1″ balls; place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and chill. Pour oil to a depth of 2″ in a 6-qt. Dutch oven; heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350°. Place flour, remaining eggs, lightly beaten, and bread crumbs in three separate bowls. Working in batches, dredge each meatball in flour, coat in eggs, and coat in bread crumbs; fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Peperoni con Acciughe (Stuffed Cherry Peppers)

SERVES 10–12
5 oz. canned tuna in olive oil, drained
8 anchovies in oil, drained
1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
2 tbsp. capers, minced
2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 32-oz. jar red, hot cherry peppers, drained, rinsed, and stemmed (jar reserved)

Finely chop tuna and anchovies; mix with 1/3 cup oil, bread crumbs, capers, parsley, and salt and pepper in a bowl; stuff each pepper with tuna mixture. Transfer to reserved jar; pour remaining oil over peppers. Chill for at least 8 hours to marinate.

I think Kay's bàcaro will have to be open one evening during the holidays. It is a great way to entertain!

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy
oil painting by Kay Tucker

Somerset Autumn on Wea Creek

Somerset Autumn on Wea Creek
Oil Painting by Kay Tucker, Private Collection


oil painting by Kay Tucker

Kansas Storm

Kansas Storm
oil painting by Kay Tucker, Private Collection

Watercolor Collage

Watercolor Collage

Tempo al Tempo....All in Good Time

Tempo al Tempo....All in Good Time
48"x36" sculptural painting by Kay Tucker