Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Wine

Whenever I cook up a batch of my pasta sauce, I prefer to use a sweet wine. I like the ways in which it enhances & brings out the flavor of the tomatoes, giving them a mysterious sweet quality that makes the sauce taste a lot riper, despite being made from canned.

For a while, I’d been using Casa Rossa, a nice Brachetto wine they used to sell at Trader Joes. AND THEN THOSE BASTARDS DISCONTINUED IT. And from what I can tell, they sell no other sparkling sweet Brachetto varieties.

So I found some alternates that have worked pretty well. Moscatos and Lambruscos are pretty close to Brachettos in flavor. One fizzy Moscato from the Puglia region, Sara Bee, has worked about as well as the Casa Rossa. I’ve also gotten good results from a California variety of Moscato from Blue Fin.

The sweet Dornfelder German grape is the source of the Joseph Hagler Sweet Red sold at Trader Joe’s, and while not quite as sweet as the Moscato, it worked very well in the sauce recipe.  They sell a few Lambrusco varieties as well…. I’ll have to add those to the sauce experimentation at some point.

I loaded up on some of those sweet wines today, along with the usual assortment of Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, Chianti and Montepulcianos that I like.



Steamed Fish In A Spicy Garlic Sauce, Cheating Version


I’m calling it “cheating” since I’m <GASP!> using the microwave and not a traditional bamboo steamer. If you want to use the steamer, feel free, just set the ingredients on a plate inside the steamer and let it rip for a good 15-20 minutes.

But since I’m using fish I thawed myself after buying frozen on the cheap, it makes no difference in the end, flavor or texture wise. The microwave works by heating water molocules anyway, so microwaving fish is practically the same as steaming it anyway.

This is an easy meal to prepare and have on hand, which is why I do it.

I’ll get frozen cod or tilapia or orange roughy from Trader Joe’s or wherever – so long as it’s the frozen in vacuum sealed bag variety. This’ll keep in the freezer as long as anything else in my freezer. As much as I buy fresh fish to cook that very day, this turned out to be an easy way to work it into the dinner rotation without having to shop for it the same day.

Remove from the bag & thaw overnight in a covered dish in the ‘fridge.


1. Rinse the fillets and pat dry.

2. I put the fillets into a microwave-safe dish, in a single layer, spaced a bit – a nice 9×12 glass pyrex job works well.

3. I mix the following and spoon over each piece – I’ll put a ratio for a single piece of fish here, maybe 1/2 pound size: 1 tsp soy, 1 tsp chili garlic paste, 1 tsp hoison sauce, 1 tsp rice vinegar, 1/2 tsp honey. Feel free to add freshly minced ginger, garlic or szechuan peppercorn to taste.

4. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and into the microwave. Now, my microwave has an automatic setting for fish, where a moisture sensor cooks it, tells me to rearrange it (I don’t) and then finishes. I let it sit for 5 minutes covered, then serve. If you microwaved a pound of fillets done this way on high for 5 minutes and then let sit, covered for 5 minutes, it’ll do. If you know your microwave and its behavior well enough, you could figure the right time out, although I’m assuming most of the newer models have these wonderful built-in sensors.

5. That’s really it. You can do the same thing with different sauces – I’ve done a chopped tomato/lemon/basil/salt & pepper arrangement, a butter/lemon one, and variations on the Chinese ingredients. They all work out fine. Tilapia, pollock or cod work very well, just a good white fish, not overly thick, that’ll cook up evenly in time.

I’ll serve the fish with rice or noodles, usually, or a nice crusty bread. It’s sorta the freezer to microwave version of a dinner thrown together from pantry items alone, and it’s pretty good.

Some Boneless Short Ribs In The Slow Cooker

Every now and then when I’m on a Costco run, I’ll splurge on a big pack of their giant boneless short ribs. They must get ’em from steers on the Barry Bonds diet since I never see ones at the regular supermarket as big.

Whatever. I cut ’em in half so that they fit my pot. And they cook up no differently than brisket or a chuck roast.

And a slow cooker is a wonderfully lazy way to cook on a Sunday, especially when my solar panels are powering it all. I LOVE BEING CHEAP!

I slightly modified an Italian pot roast recipe for this one, and it came out pretty good.

  1. Salt/pepper/garlic powdered the ribs & rubbed it all in, good
  2. Browned the ribs all over in a big ol’ pot in some olive oil
  3. Removed the ribs and put them in the slow cooker
  4. Threw a coarsely chopped onion, 3 chopped garlic cloves, some chunked up carrot and some rosemary into the olive oil, sauteed for a few minutes to soften the onion a little and get the garlic fragrant. Then that all went into the slow cooker.
  5. Added one 15 ounce can of chopped tomato & a cup of Nero (any good red wine will do) to the slow cooker.
  6. Cooked on high for 5 hours.
  7. Removed the meat to rest & put it in a covered dish.
  8. Transferred the gravy to the same big pot I used earlier, cooked it down by maybe 1/3, then stirred in 1 tsp cornstarch/1 tsp water to thicken, adjusted the seasoning by taste, and then put the meat back in.
  9. Let sit on low 5-10 mins, and then served myself a portion while freezing the other. It went well with the same Nero wine.

And that frozen leftover, once thawed and reheated, will somehow be even better. I once read up on the chemistry of that particular phenom and I still don’t understand it, but I will continue to enjoy it.

Had it with a big salad & a couple of pieces of a nice Ciabatta.

And now I look like this. Yay!

Whiskey Is A Vitamin


It turns out whiskey in moderation is GOOD for me. In fact, here’s a little pick-me-up article on six ways in which whiskey is good for me.

How do I like it? Well, not that different from Sinatra, actually. Sinatra would put 3 ice cubes in a glass, pour 2 finger-widths of Jack Daniels in, and top it off with water.

I prefer to add a squeeze or two of lemon, and top off with lemon seltzer. Sometimes I’ll do the same mix with a good Rye.

I also don’t beat up a photographer & bed down with Ava Gardner afterwards. So I guess Frank had more fun than me.

But I’ve got my health, I guess. Ring-a-ding-ding!

It’s National Drink Wine Day

Evidently February 18 is “National Drink Wine Day.”

I’d counter that every day is national drink wine day, but there are those days where I’ll have a beer or a Jack Daniels instead.

But tonight, I’m making a big ol’ pizza, so I think the Sangiovese will be a nice accompaniment.

L’chaim! (And meow)


Quick And Easy Chinese Spicy Shrimp

The Martin Yan cookbook I snagged a month or so back at a rummage sale for a buck continues to pay dividends.

Tonight I concocted a slight variation on one of his shrimp recipes, and came up with the following:

  1. Peeled/deveined about 3/4 pound of large-ish shrimp (16-20s)
  2. Tossed ’em with a pinch or two of kosher salt, one minced garlic clove, and a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes
  3. The shrimp and seasonings would then get stirfried until practically done in a wok, maybe 4-5 minutes.
  4. Added the premixed sauce: 2 1/2 tsp soy sauce, 2 tsp ketchup, 1 tsp hot chili paste, 2 tsp honey.
  5. Thickened it a tad with maybe 1/2 tsp of cornstarch in 1 tsp water.


This was amazingly easy to throw together, and tasted just great. Hints of sweetness with the honey, followed up with a sneaky increase of heat and then a finish of the garlic.

Yan’s version leaves the shells on the shrimp and dusts ’em with cornstarch before wokking ’em with dry red chilis and garlic. But the sauce is the same. The texture on his version would be different, but I’ve never been crazy about leaving the shells on shrimps. If you fry ’em enough and they crispy, fine, but I didn’t trust myself. And I still got what I wanted – shrimp in a thick, clingy spicy sauce.

A recurring motif in this Yan book is also the use of balsamic vinegar and hoisin sauce to create sweet/sour effects underneath chili heat. The Kung Pao recipe uses this, as well as some others, and I discovered it worked rather well. Despite large amounts of chili paste with red pepper flakes on top of it, the dishes do not come out overly hot, but well balanced.

AND my copy is an autographed first edition! Not too bad for a buck.

A Quick Post For A Quick Recipe

vintage spaghetti catThe On Top Of Spaghetti cookbook from Providence’s Al Forno begins to pay off.  I started with a slight variation on their simple “mother” sauce recipe, and it came out great.

So here’s what I did:

  1. Minced up 3 big garlic cloves, for about a tablespoon’s worth, and sauteéd it in a little more than 1/4 cup of olive oil until it began to turn golden, maybe two minutes over medium-low heat.
  2. Carefully (to avoid splashing) added 2/3 cup of chicken broth & 2/3 cup of red wine
  3. Brought it to a boil, then reduced to a simmer and let half the liquid boil off.
  4. Added 1 28 ounce can of crushed plum tomatoes
  5. Brought it back up to a  boil, then let simmer for about five minues
  6. Salted to taste (about a half a teaspoon), added a tablespoon of dried basil

… and that’s it! The sauce finished in those five minutes, and then I added it to some seasoned ground turkey I browned up before finishing some penne with it. The rest of the basic sauce went into refrigerator & freezer portions. This makes about 5 servings, and took a total of maybe 10-15 minutes.


Just What I Needed! Another Italian Cookbook!

Vincent-spaghetti-ad-vincent-price-1168556_268_371Why only have 27 when you can have 28? (Yes, I counted them when I got home.)

How many more recipes could I have on hand? How many could I actually eat before my inevitable death due to pasta-induced obesity?

Check the current over/under in Vegas & put me down for ten bucks on “over.” Too much is NEVER enough.

So finding On Top Of Spaghetti… by Johanne Killeen and George Germon while rooting around a Burbank thrift store I took as a SIGN FROM THE ALMIGHTY.  Killeen & Germon are the owners of Al Forno in my special-origins-issue of Providence, Rhode Island. Al Forno is probably the most famous of what I’d term the fancy/schmantzy upscale Italian that began appearing in the 1980s, existing alongside the old school red sauce places ubiquitous throughout the state. (If there’s a cookbook out there somewhere for Mike’s Kitchen, located inside a Cranston VFW post and my pick for best Italian in the state, I’d certainly love to hear about it. This is probably as close as I’ll get. One night long ago when I went to dinner there, we saw Germon eating there and chatting with Mike.  In Germon’s earlier book, they published Mike’s polenta recipe, which is a good’n. Mike is 85, and he’s had his perch at that VFW since my college days. May he live forever!)

Anyway, I’ll glance at all sorts of cookbooks at thrift stores, yardsales, library sales, you name it… my usual rule is that if I can’t find more than one recipe I’d want to cook while browsing through the book, I put it back for the next glutton to come along. Suffice to say that a book of original pasta recipes would be enough to pique my interest. And whenever I come across one that has a Rhode Island connection, I figure it’s a cosmic message.  It happened many years ago at a yardsale, when I came across a copy of We Called It Macaroni by Nancy Verde Barr. Barr grew up on Federal Hill and offers up a nice mix of family recipes and the cultural background of that old Italian neighborhood.

Authentic Rhode Island! THAT’S what I want on my dinner table! All that’s missing is Jimmy Two-Times to go get the papers get the papers.

The other books? I’d rather save focusing on them for different blog posts in the future. I’ll try to check back in with different ones after I cook some amazin’ recipe from them.  I have several focusing on different regions of Italian cookery from north to south, some from eminently trustworthy Italian chefs like Lidia Bastianich or Marcella Hazan, some from other great Italian restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and other cities…..

Yeah, I make Italian food a lot.

Which is why I agree with the title of this article, and ignore its final paragraphs.

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