Category Archives: holiday

>Twenty Eleven


Happy 2011!
On New Year’s Day, my family eats corned beef and cabbage, and black eyed peas. Since I’ve never made this myself, I decided it would be nice to carry on the tradition.
Now – for those of you who don’t know – a black eyed pea is not a pea.  Rather, it’s a legume – or for the sake of keeping it simple: it’s a bean. As you can see from this picture, it gets it name from its prominent black spot. So, why do we eat this on New Year’s? It’s a very common Southern tradition. But where did it originate?
Eating black eyed peas on New Year’s is thought to bring good luck and prosperity for the year ahead. The tradition actually dates back to Babylonian times, when those of the Jewish faith ate the so-called “lucky beans”  or rubiya on Rosh Hashanah, accompanied by beets, dates, leeks, and spinach. All of these together were thought to be symbols of good luck. 
The practice of eating black-eyed peas in the South was adopted when the first Jews came to the US in the 1730s and settled in Georgia. The meal was then adapted to include greens (collards, turnip, mustard) and ham or some sort of pork dish. The greens symbolized money, and the pig symbolized moving forward, since pigs always move forward when they forage for food (learn something new everyday right?).
Well, I’m not sure why the corned beef got thrown in there. Or the cabbage. Other than the fact that cabbage is green (money) and that corned beef is a pretty cheap cut of meat. Cabbage is about $1 a head, too. The way I’ve always heard it: cabbage for money, black eyed peas for luck, and corned beef for health. All great things to eat while kicking off a brand new year, right?
That’s all for today’s history lesson. Now, here’s how you make the stuff.
I wasn’t sure what to do with the corned beef brisket. Cook in on the stove or in the oven? What about the crock pot? I swear by my slow cooker. It’s the most wonderful electronic appliance you can have in your kitchen, especially if you’re a busy person. Just throw it all in there, come back 8 hours later and dinner is served! So crock pot it is.
I was up until about 2am on NYE and decided that if I just soaked that brisket in it’s seasoning and water and put my crock pot on “warm”, that by morning I’d have a pretty tender piece of meat. (my “low” setting cooks a lot faster than you might think”. It was mostly cooked when I woke up on NYD, but I wanted it to be tender so I cranked the heat to high and cooked it for about 5 more hours. 
Meanwhile, I boiled a ham hock.  What? You don’t know what a ham hock is? Only the most wonderful, fatty piece of pork ever. It’s pretty safe to say that it’s the pig’s “ankle”. (see diagram)

Southern cooks use ham hocks a lot to flavor stews and soups. I love to use them in red beans & rice, and I swear that it just does not taste the same without them. Problem is, they are tough to find, so whenever I see them at the store I buy about 4 of them.
Once the water and my hock came to a boil, I added the black eyed peas which I’d had soaking in water the night before so they could rehydrate. (I used Bayou Magic’s brand that comes with a seasoning pack: click here to order some, along with some gumbo or jambalaya mix!) I added in the seasoning pack and a chopped onion and just let them simmer for about an hour. Towards the end, I cut the meat off the ham hock and put it back into the pot. (I think whoever gets tons of fatty meat in their bowl is EXTRA lucky – just because it’s so delish)
Remember, that brisket is still slow cookin’ in the crock pot. So I got going on my cornbread. Because what kind of hearty, Southern meal doesn’t have cornbread?
 I used a recipe from my new cookbook, Bon Appetit Y’all, by Virginia Willis. And I am happy to share…
Buttermilk Cornbread
2 cups white or yellow corn meal
2 cups buttermilk
1 tsp salt
1 large egg, beaten
2 tbs butter, or bacon grease
Preheat oven to 450 and add butter  to baking dish. Let melt in oven 10-15 min.
Mix all of the above together (and if you want to make it even more special, add a can of corn!) and bake  for 25 minutes. I also brushed some honey over the top of the bread when it was done. The butter  (or bacon grease, if you have it) gives the bread a beautiful golden brown color around the edges and on top.
Now, for the cabbage. Don’t hate on the cabbage. I know you’re thinking of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and his poor old grandparents sitting in that one bed together and eating cabbage soup. Stop it. Cabbage is good.
I took some of the liquid out of the crock pot and put it in a pot on the stove.  I added chopped onions (large pieces, not finely chopped), half a head of cabbage, quartered red potatoes, and baby carrots. I added some more of the liquid on top and let that simmer until all of the veggies were tender. 
We put the brisket into a frying pan to give it a good crust on both sides, and then Jon sliced it up. It was so tender and pretty! 
Another family tradition for New Year’s = Chinese New Year Candy. I realize that it’s not the CHINESE New Year. But it’s still the new year. And it’s not really chinese except for one ingredient. Lots of people call these haystacks because of their appearance, but I will always call them Chinese New Year Candy. Here’s the recipe.
Chinese New Year Candy
1 bag chocolate chips
1 bag butterscotch chips
1 8oz can of salted peanuts
1 can of Chinese chow mein noodles
1. Melt chocolate and butterscotch in a double boiler or in the microwave. 
2. Once throughly melted, pour over noodles and peanuts. Mix until coated with chocolate/butterscotch.
3. Cover the bottom of a baking dish with wax paper and drop spoonfuls of the mixture, just like you’re making drop cookies. 
4. Feel free to lay another sheet of waxed paper over the first layer, and just layer your candies in your baking dish.
I think the salty/sweet combo of these is great!
I’m not so sure what this New Year has in store for me, but I prepare to keep on cookin’. Marc’s mom sent him home with dungeness crab, king crab legs, salmon, prawns, and scallops for Jon and me to eat. So prepare to see some seafood creations soon!
Until then….Happy 2011!

>Buon Natale

>Merry Christmas!

I am home in Naperville for the holidays and here for a week.

Every year I make my dad’s favorite cookies: oatmeal raisin. A few Christmases ago, I tried to make them with white chocolate chips and dried cranberries. He wasn’t thrilled…so now we stick to tradition.

Might I add, that they were particularly awesome this year.
We go to the Mertzes every Christmas Eve…so no cooking for me. Lynn makes Italian Wedding Soup from scratch.  It’s great – but last year my mom added something to the meal that everyone fell in love with: Italian sausage bread. It  came from a cookbook that I also own, Rosalie Cooking Italian. Check out the recipe here. (Ironically, her blog looks EXACTLY like mine!) It uses a basic yeast-based pizza dough recipe that you roll out, and then line with sausage and roll up into a crescent shaped bread, like so:

On Christmas Day, my dad had planned ahead to make a bruciuloni (it has several other names such as: braciole, involtini, and rollatini – all of which just mean rolled up stuffed meat in Italian).  He had asked that I share the recipe, so here goes:
Jimmy B’s Bruciuloni

1 lb flank steak, or round steak
(preferably VEAL but beef works because veal flank steak is tough to find)
enough bread crumbs to line your steak (1-2 cups)
extra virgin olive oil
shredded Romano cheese
sliced provolone or mozzarella
3 hard boiled eggs, cubed
prepared red gravy (tomato sauce to most people! 
make your own, or buy it in a jar —but we make our own!)
2-3 leaves fresh basil
1. Have your butcher run the steak through the tenderizer once or twice. When you get your steak home, pound it out with a handheld meat tenderizer.
2. Add breadcrumbs and cheese to a large mixing bowl. Add olive oil until the mixture clumps together. line breadcrumbs over steak, but leave a little room around the edges so that when you roll your meat, you don’t lose your filling out the sides. Drizzle olive oil over the breadcrumbs to keep moist.
3. Layer prosciutto, cheese, 1/2 cup sauce, and eggs on top. 
4. Then, roll it up like so (notice we have kitchen twine underneath the meat already):
Make sure your knots are tight, and be sure to tie it lengthwise as well, as to keep all the stuffing inside.

5. Sear it in olive oil on all sides.

6. Cover with your sauce, Romano cheese, and a sprinkle of fresh basil.

7. Roast it low and slow – 275 degrees for ~3 hours.
8. Cut horizontally and serve with extra sauce and cheese.

And then, if you’re in the Brocato house, you have pecan pie for dessert! 
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas with family and friends! 
Buon natale from the Brocatos!

>Christmas Our Way

>Tonight was d-day for the ravioli.

I made sauce last night because I wanted to cook it for a looooooooooooong time. The secret to a good marinara is carrots. I cook them down with garlic and the onions just to add some sweetness. Then I add: tomato puree, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes (Italian style), and tomato paste to thicken. I also wash out the cans with some water and add that to the pot.

Another thing that makes a good sauce: cook it as long as possible. After it simmered on the stove for a few hours, I transferred it to the Crock Pot and went to bed. And then I let it cook all day while I was at work. So almost 24 hours later, all the flavors and seasoning (salt, pepper, basil, oregano) married together beautifully.
The other rule to live by…
When you’re cooking Italian, keep it simple. That’s true Italian — cheese, tomatoes, carbs of some sort. There’s always garlic, and there’s often basil or oregano – but there is not much need to add several spices to your sauce. Simplicity is perfection.

Moment of truth (drum roll please):
The ravioli were….ok. Really doughy. I know it takes a lot of practice, but I’m also blaming this on Colorado. The dryness at this altitude sucks. I think it turned my dough into cardboard. They were not inedible – but they weren’t Ethel’s. Jon says by the time I’m a grandma I’ll have it down to a science. I hope I don’t have to wait that long!

We opened presents, too. I’m spoiled. It’s ridiculous. Jon got me SO MANY cooking gifts, I think I’ll just have to make a career out of this. A spring form pan, Bon Appetit’s cookbook, Bon Appetit’s DESSERT cookbook, a cookbook called “Bon Appetit Y’all” – a gourmet take on Southern food, a ceramic baking dish (PERFECT for lasagna), individual ceramic soup pots (great for French onion soup and individual pot pies!), and a cookbook stand. (note: this does not include the perfume, the Bath and Body Works Ensemble, and the amazing bath robe set — I told you. I’m spoiled.)
The children did not go unnoticed.

 This thing made him crazy. He tried to kill it. Look at that handle, it’s like I’m fishing and caught the big one.

Santa stopped by and left some coal in Jack’s stocking. Much deserved. 
Zeus got several toys, but this is just my favorite picture. He’s technically not supposed to be on the couch. You try to resist him and get back to me.
So then, it was time for dessert. Last night I made a peppermint pie, a recipe that was ALMOST guilt free and stolen from Hungry Girl. Click here so you can steal it too.
I served it up with some REALLY rich hot cocoa. The recipe for the pie includes sweetened condensed milk and I had some left over. So I thinned it out with some skim milk, added some milk chocolate, whisked it together with some cinnamon and vanilla and topped it all off with whipped cream and crushed candy canes.
mmmm GOOD.
So that’s all for Megan and Jon’s Christmas Celebration 2010. Stay tuned for a Brocato family Christmas post including my dad’s famous bruciuluni (braciole, to all your main stream Italians – bruciuluni is the Sicililan pronunciation). 

I’m off to Chicago tomorrow – hopefully Jon has enough to eat! 

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!


>Tutti Mangia

>Tonight’s challenge: my grandmother’s ravioli.

First of all, I don’t plan on eating this ravioli until Wednesday 12/22 when Jon and I celebrate Christmas together. So, obviously another meal was in order to eat tonight. I made lemon chicken pasta: mini farfalle (piccolini), lemon juice, chicken, basil, and parmesan cheese. Really simple and light.
Maybe I just made myself something easy because I knew what was coming: a huge ravioli headache.
First and foremost, let me share with you my grandmother’s recipe (well, not the whole thing. Because then I’d have to kill you) 
That Ethel.  She’s so cute. I love the “little garlic” and “little onion” and “little salt” that I’m supposed to add. And that I’m supposed to wait “a little while”. Very precise measurements. The filling was easy. It tasted perfect, just like I remember. 

I’d just finished the filling when Erika came over. Unfortunately, Jon had to work tonight and was not available to be my muscle like I was counting on. 😦 But Erika and I had a good laugh trying to roll out that dough. First it was too dry. Then it was too sticky. Then I added more flour and it was too dry again (thank you, 5280 feet). Finally, I decided it might be easier to just work with smaller portions of dough at a time. And finally, I got it rolled out thin enough so I smacked on some of the ravioli paste, folded the dough in half and got to cutting.
This is where I had a near nervous breakdown. My mom has a pretty handy rolling pin with squares on it that cuts the ravioli perfectly and evenly, and seals them tight. She also has a fluted ravioli cutter (the one that Maw Maw speaks of above). I realized last night that I didn’t have these gadgets, but I thought I could wing it.
My first batch looked like this:
You see, when you fold over the dough and just use your average pizza cutter, this is what happens. I obviously knew this in the back of my head, but doing the smart, practical thing would have made it way too easy.
So then, I decided to just cut the dough into squares, and individually fill the ravioli and seal them tight with a fork and some egg whites. By the time I’d had this “genius” plan, Jon came home and dove right in (Thank God! My arms were getting tired from all that rolling pin action) So our finished product looks like this:
Pretty cute, right? I was pleased with them by the end. The bad news is: these look nothing like they’re supposed to. My mom’s are always much smaller and prettier. The other bad news is for all of you who asked for some: sorry, but since they’re so big, there’s really not enough to share! Maybe I will get the correct tools and make them another time (my birthday is March 28th, if you’re wondering).
Also, since Jen read my blog today and discovered my little blurb about fudge, she was a little miffed that she hasn’t received any and also conveniently mentioned that she likes chocolate peanut butter swirled fudge. In light of little Christmas gifts being passed around the office…

So I made dinner, I made ravioli, I made choco PB fudge, and now I’m exhausted. So feel free to come on over and take care of this…

Buona notte.