Monthly Archives: January 2009

Hannah Nicole Winery

Hannah Nicole tasting signIts about time! After years of discussions and public meetings, Contra Costa County finally allowed Hannah Nicole Winery to open a tasting room. Yippee!

We have a young, but growing, group of vineyards in our agricultural area. But … tasting rooms were never allowed, thwarting their business plans.

Hannah Nicole BannerThis winery holds special meaning to me as I knew the owners and two of their children before they married. Now those children work for the successful family business.

If you would like to sample their wines, stop by any weekend between 1 and 5.Hannah Nicole January vines



artieNo picture of the food here, and for good reason. Picture a rolled piece of beef, simmered in tomato sauce, and um, yeah.

Cutting to the chase, this is scrum-diddly-icious and a welcome to your favorite Sunday Gravy. If you haven’t had the fortune to enjoy this in your local Italian dining establishment, put it on your short list of things to try at home.


4 slices boneless beef round (about 1 pound)

3 garlic cloves, diced

6 TBS Percorino Romano, freshly grated

4 TBS flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

salt and pepper

4 thin slices prosciutto

2 TBS olive oil

kitchen string


1. Place the beef between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound gently with a meat pounder or the edge of a small skillet to a 1/4 to 1/8 inch thickness.

2. Mix the garlic, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Sprinkle over each piece of meat. Top with Prosciutto.

3. Roll up like a sausage and tie with kitchen string.

4. Heat oil in a skillet, add braciole and brown on all sides.

5. Add to Sunday Gravy and cook for two hours.

6. Remove string before serving.



*  While Sunday Gravy is a wonderful choice to cook these in, I’d make them again and put them in a homemade or store bought marinara sauce.

*  Someday I’m going to try these with some crock pot sauce and I think it will work out just dandy.

*  Truly, these are pretty quick to make!

3 Strikes Artichoke Dip

3 strikes artichoke dip

Warning! This is all about the story and not about the recipe. Story … you never knew an artichoke dip with so much story!

Let me preface this by saying that I know artichokes. My parents raised them in the back yard. Even split our 6 or so plants to create even more. And we ate Every Single One of Them. Nothing wasted at that home. After I moved out and my parents could embark on their well earned travel, I tended said plants. Thats where I learned that artichokes go dormant for a few months every year. No matter how much you water them to keep them green, dormant they will go.

So, we’re looking for some kind of green veg to accompany our Sopranos Sunday Dinner, and preferably something that can be made before hand. Found a lovely recipe for artichokes stuffed with mozzarella and breadcrumbs and other yummy stuff. There’s nothing like winter time for breaking out those recipes where you start with a perfectly healthy vegetable and add lots of cheese, breadcrumbs and the like!

Long story short … I used the cookbook with the beautiful photos and lousy recipes. It instructed me to clean out the choke from each artichoke (before cooking? are you kidding me? these things are tough as weeds!), stuff with lovely mozzarella breadcrumb goodies, set in a pan with water, and bake for 45 minutes. Huh? No way that could work in my many years of experience with these fine thistles, but I’m always ready to learn a new trick. Strike one.

The dinner party is nearing and I figure I can cook a stinking artichoke. Cute small little artichokes are purchased and steamed lightly, left to set with stuffing all ready to go. Small, did I mention small? I cannot use a spoon to scoop out the middle of the adorably cute, perfectly portioned artichokes because they are too small and the leaves overlap too tightly in the middle. Determined, I make enough of them workable. Not a happy camper. Strike two.

Stuff the darned things and set in the oven with a bit of water to keep them from drying out. Dinner party starts, Sunday Gravy is set, Italian sausages are simmering perfectly, artichokes are alright. Main course comes around (our part as hosts of the gathering) and the artichokes literally fall apart in my hands! Ugh! Ready to toss the whole shebang, my friend J says that my bad experience looks like the makings of a lovely dip. Gotta love a good friend!

Long story short, we salvaged enough artichokes to get a bit of green on our meat and pasts laden plates. Everything that fell apart was tossed into a bowl, chopped the next day, mixed with the extra stuffing and tossed into the oven to bake. With that much artichoke in the dish, it was pretty green, but boy oh boy was it good!

If you are into stuffed artichokes, you’ll love this mixture. If not, just be glad you weren’t trying to present this to a party of 10. Let’s all just sit back and have a little laugh together with a bite of very green, very artichokey dip!

Stuffing ingredients:

5 oz fresh mozzarella, diced or shredded

1 lemon, juiced

4 TBS parmesan cheese, freshly grated

4 TBS fresh breadcrumbs

2 eggs, beaten

salt and pepper to taste

Italian Sausage

Italian sausageNow you may never have had the urge to make your own sausage, but please do consider this. If you are a lover of sausage … bratwurst sandwiches, sausage in Sunday Gravy, grilled sausages of all types, breakfast sausage, or any other of the myriad of wonderful ways of eat sausage … but have heard the adage that people who love sausage shouldn’t see how it is made, this post is for you! When you make your own sausage, you make sure it just includes the good stuff.

If you can make meatloaf or meatballs, you’re already half way there. Do be ready to learn two new skills: grinding meat and stuffing casings. Really, you can do this!

My KitchenAid is key in making sausage, and I use the meat grinder and sausage stuffing attachments. The directions with each attachment are key, as are instructions from Leslie’s Sausage site and Bruce Aidelle’s Complete Sausage Book.

Instead of re-creating the whole process, allow me to just add my 2 cents worth:

1. Yes, you really can do this! If you’d like more information, just email me. Really!

2. Costco has the has pork shoulder / butt (actually the same cut of meat, believe it or not) and bacon at the best price.

3. Find a good butcher for the casings. In the Bay Area, Lunardi’s is the best bet as they sell it in reasonable amounts. My local meat market just sells yanks (25 lbs) which is too much for my little kitchen, but I’ll find any ol’ reason to check out the meat market at Lunardi’s. Start soaking the casings in luke warm water. Figure one pound per casing plus one or two extra, just to be sure. These need to soak for a good hour.

3. Grinding the meat can possibly be done on your own, but is easier with another set of hands. When it comes to filling the casings, you definitely need one more person, possibly two if you’re making large quantities.

000_01704. Temperature is of the utmost importance when grinding the meat! You can learn this on your own, or learn from my experiences. Cut the pork into finger length pieces so that it fits easily into the tube for grinding. Cover a cookie sheet with pieces of cut pork, with a bit of space between each, then lay over cut pieces of bacon. Put it in the refrigerator. Continue this with all of the meat, and you’ll likely end up with about 4 cookie sheets with meat. Put two cookie sheets into the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes. The meat needs to be very cold, but not frozen, for grinding.

meat grinder5. To start the grinding, take one cookie sheet from the freezer, and move another from the fridge to the freezer. Follow the instructions on your meat grinder and use the course blade. The bacon will thaw out pretty quickly and gum up the grinder, but the pork shoulder holds the cold temperature well. The key here is to put through a few pieces of bacon (which make the grinder a bit gummy pretty quickly), followed by a few pieces of pork (which will cool everything back down again and keep the blades clean). When this first tray is finished, get the coldest cookie sheet from the freezer, and move another cookie sheet from the fridge to the freezer. Continue until all meat is ground. If the grinder does slow down because it is all full of bacon fat, just put the tray of meat back in the freezer, take apart the grinder to wash and sanitize everything, put it back together, bring out that tray

6. Add seasonings and mix with your hands. As someone who prefers strong flavors, I often thought the amount of seasonings was sparse in sausage recipes. Not to worry as the flavors continue to develop over time.

7. Cool the meat once more in the freezer for about 20 minutes. It needs to be cold once again for stuffing the casings.

8. Rinse the casings (ok, yes, they are hog intestines) inside and out with fresh water. Put the sausage stuffing contraption on the Kitchen Aid mixer, and add some oil to the outside of the horn. Slide one casing onto the horn, being careful to keep any air pockets from forming. Get a cookie sheet ready for holding the sausage when it is being made. Once the sausage stuffing process starts, there is no pausing until that casing is full.

9. Have one person fill the sausage filling contraption and another hold the casings. The person working with the filling needs to keep a consistent speed, while making sure not to touch the pork too much, as that would increase the temperature and gum up the mechanism. The person handling the casings needs to make sure the casings are full without letting in air. Every six inches or so, give the casing a twist to tie off that link. Don’t fret about everything being even at this point, focus more on keeping air from the casings.

10. When all of the meat has been stuffed, arrange the sausages on the cookie sheet so they are each getting a bit of air, cover lightly with wax paper, and return to the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours. This is essential for setting the flavor and texture of the sausages.

11. Remember these are fresh sausages and need to be cooked or frozen within 3 days after the final refrigeration period.

Sunday Gravy and Meatballs

MeatballsSunday Gravy, I hardly knew ye. How in the world could a fairly well rounded (albeit non- New Yorker, New Jersian, Rhode Islander) have been so clueless about Sunday Gravy? Just another term for some basic marinara with that “My Grandmother makes the best …” theme? Not on your life! What a grand idea to slowly warm the meats in the tomato sauce then remove them before serving. The layers of flavors in the gravy just have to be experienced first hand to believe. If you’ve never made Sunday Gravy, definitely give this a shot. Don’t let the list of ingredients spook you a bit … they are all available at your local grocery store, after putting it on the stove you still have hours to read other food blogs (grin!), and this recipe will feed your family for several days. Nice.

Ingredients for the sauce:

2 TBS olive oil

1 1/2 pounds pork country ribs

1 1/2 pounds Italian or fennel pork sausages

8 garlic cloves

1/4 cup tomato paste

3 28 to 35 ounce cans Italian peeled tomatoes

1 cup water

1 cup red wine

salt and freshly ground pepper

6 basil leaves, torn into small pieces

Ingredients for the meatballs:Sunday gravy and meatballs

1/2 pound ground beef

1/2 pound ground pork

1/2 cup homemade bread crumbs

2 large eggs

2 tsp garlic, finely minced

1/2 cup Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano

2 TBS flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

1 tsp salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 TBS olive oil

Ingredients for service:

1 lb shells or rigatoni, cooked and still hot

Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano

Sauce directions:

1. Heat oil in large heave opt over medium heat. Pat the pork dry and put the pieces in the pot. Cook, turning occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until nicely browned on all sides. Transfer pork to a plate. Brown the sausages on all sides in the same way, and transfer to a plate.

2. Drain most of the fat from the pot and add the whole garlic cloves. Cook for about 2 minutes or until golden. Remove and chop finely. Add tomato paste to the pot and cook for 1 minute.

3. With a food mill or food processor, puree the tomatoes with their juice. Add to the pot along with the water, wine, chopped garlic, salt and pepper. Return the pork and sausages to the pot and bring to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 4 hours. If the sauce becomes too thick, add some more water.

4. To serve, remove the meats from the sauce and set aside to serve separately at this or another meal. Toss the cooked pasta with the sauce and sprinkle with cheese.

Meatballs directions:

1. Combine all the ingredients except the oil in a large bowl. Mix together thoroughly.

2. Rinse your hands with cool water and lightly shape the mixture into 2 inch balls.

3. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet. Add the meatballs and brown them well on all sides. (They will finish cooking later.) Transfer the meatballs to a plate and refridgerate.

4. 30 minutes before dinner, add the meatballs to the Sunday Gravy.

5. To serve, top pasta with meatballs or serve them separately.


* Yes, the canned tomatoes do need to be Italian. They are different. Just get the Italian ones.

* Splurge on the cheese. Get the really hard hunks of good stuff. You’ll be thankful.

* When digging out the meatballs, Italian sausage, and pork ribs from the pot, realize that a good amount of the pork ribs will simply have disintegrated into the gravy, and most other pieces will fall apart as you lift them from the pot. Mmmmmm.

* This recipe is a combination of those from the Sopranos Family Cookbook and Food Blogga’s recipe on NPR.

* Both recipes actually called for half the garlic, and just cooked it in the oil and discarded. After one try that way, we doubled it (a good call in my book for most anything!) then found that the mild cooked garlic was lovely when added back to the gravy. Without an Italian grandmother to honor, I just followed my heart.

* If you can plan ahead to make homemade bread crumbs, its so worth it!

Sopranos Sunday Dinner

sopranos_family_dinner“Can I just get some macaroni and gravy?” – Paulie Walnuts, Season 2 episode 4 Said while dining in Italy and wishing for some traditional Italian-American fare

macaroni = pasta

gravy = tomato sauce

A quiet night at the Colbertorio Familio house? Fuhgettaboutit! Sopranos Sunday Dinner was the theme of the latest Gourmet Dinner Club meal. At the start, the theme seemed just so classic and obvious to us. We loved The Sopranos and were always amazed how a family with so many years of good times and bad blood (literally!) could come together for a civil meal each week. Carmella always did the table upscale, so we planned to do the same. Silver, china, crystal, candlelight, it was a sight to behold. Now to provide lots and lots of good food, and hey, how tough could that be?

In planning the main course, we so weren’t into doing some lame marinara sauce. Much too pedestrian! Oh, our ignorance showed straight away! We tried some braised rabbit, and it was alright, but other than the uniqueness of the bunny, the dish was really lacking any pop. Second try was a lovely veal scallopini kind of thing with roasted tomato and capers on top. Lovely, but even with what should have been delectable flavors, it was bland, bland, bland. Tony would have tossed these straight out of the window! Both dishes were from the same book, you know the kind, great photos but the food just doesn’t quite measure up. Ditched that book and move on.sopranos-dinner-table1

Other GDC members were also wanting some more direction about the theme, so we lent out selected Sopranos DVDs and got some of the couples hooked on The Family. A quick Google search turned up some wonderful food memories, including one on NPR. Looking at the author, I discovered it was our very own Food Blogga!!! The Food Blogga story on NPR (Susan Russo is a food writer in San Diego. She publishes stories, recipes and photos on her cooking blog, Food Blogga. When she isn’t writing about her Italian family back in Rhode Island or life with her husband in Southern California, she can be found milling around a local farmers market buying a lot more food than two people could possibly eat.) and a few others were shared via email, and we all got into the groove of it. Note to self: do the research up front when planning a traditional meal that no one at the table has actually experienced in person before.

It became clear that Sunday Gravy is not some little marinara sauce, and that if your grandmother made it, she made the best version. Period. How crazy it was to learn about this dish for the first time, knowing it was a tradition in so many other homes. And that idea of cooking the meat in the sauce for hours then removing it so that the meaty flavors remain in the smooth tomato sauce? Brilliant! We had to really shoot for the stars with this dinner, so we also made our own homemade Italian sausage for the Sunday Gravy.

Outcome of the evening? Priceless!

Main Course Dishes (recipes to follow in the next posts):

Sunday Gravy



Italian sausage, country pork ribs


Stuffed Artichokes

Good Morning

Fog on the LakeWinter on the lake … full of beautiful scenes as I stay cozy inside by the fire.

Good morning.