We had our family Christmas here at the abbey today, as we have for the past 25 years or so. It's usually the Sunday after Christmas, but since Christmas itself fell on a Sunday, we couldn't wait until New Year's! In recent years we've had a different theme for our celebration: pizza parties, Christmas Brunch, County Fair foods (celebrating Christmas with corn dogs, funnel cakes and lemonade shake-ups!). This year my sisters chose "Merry Little Christmas" so all our food was miniaturized. The buffet included, among other things, Little Smokies, little sweet and sour meatballs, mini-quiches, bite-sized ravs with homemade sauce, mini-eclairs (made by my talented cousin Gina), and tiny and exquisitely decorated Bundt cakes made by my endlessly creative sister Angela---I only wish I had taken a picture, because they were totally blog-worthy.
My contribution was Pull-Apart Garlic Bread, a family favorite I've been making for decades. The orginal recipe came from Rhodes frozen dough, and Mom won first prize at the Heart of Illinois Fair several years with her version. I've tweaked it slightly (mostly by adding more garlic!) and you should feel free to do the same. Download the recipe here.
My other contribution was Italian wedding soup, another family favorite. I had never heard of it until a salesman showed up on the set of Breaking Bread at KETC in season three and told me about this traditional soup made with tiny beef and veal meatballs in chicken stock, with vegetables and a few chiffonade-cut greens (escorale, endive, spinach or cabbage) to garnish. The name of the soup is a bit of a mistranslation: the original Italian name is minestra maritata ("married soup"), which is a reference to the fact that green vegetables and meat go well together rather than to any wedding tradition. Small pasta like ditalini, orzo, or stars are usually added, although I use acini de pepe pasta, which look like little beads or BB's and can be found in some larger grocery stores (I've gotten them at Hyvee and at Walmart, but they don't always stock them) or Italian grocery stores. Unfortunately, I can't offer a recipe, since I make it grandmother-style--you know, a little of this, a handful of that--in large batches for my families, both biological and monastic. But there are plenty of versions online: Giada De Laurentiis' recipe is one of the most tradition ones I've seen.
I took a quick jaunt down to STL this Friday and Saturday, to meet with Josh and Matt of Reedy Press to discuss the new beginner's book coming out this spring, and to do a book signing at Missouri History Museum. No, the picture to the left is not people lining up to see me, this is the crowd that I found when I walked in the door of Missouri Baking Company (2027 Edwards St. on the Hill, 314-773-6566, no website). The place was packed the whole time I was there, but they had plenty of counter help and the line moved quickly. So before long I was face to face with this:
The recent cupcake craze has shown its influence on the bakery's selections, but their breads are excellent and they have an amazing array of Italian Christmas cookies (too many kids crowding the case to get a picture of the variety!). I like their biscotti, and my culinary buddy Kevin really enjoys their cookies called "crocanti" (sp.?). I'm a fan of their biscotti, and every time I go there I pick up a gooey butter cake for the monks.
This cake is about 9" on a side and contains about 3,000 calories per serving. It's essential an underbaked cake with too much butter in the batter, and there has never been a most perfectly delicious failure in the history of pastry.
The bakery has been around for a few generations of the Gambaro Family. Uncle Lino, whose parents started the bakery and who worked there for 83 years until his death in 2007, was the inspiration for Abbot Pasqualino in Brother Jerome and the Angels in the Bakery. These are his oven mitts, lovingly enshrined on the wall behind the cookie counter.
If you have a chance to visit the bakery, don't pass it up, and bring cash because they don't take credit or debit.
If you want to try making one yourself, here's the link to the Smitten Kitchen's version of gooey butter cake. Or you can try a simpler version here.
Nothing much to write about. Just thought I'd show what happens when the stage crew gets all their work done early and I don't feel like starting a new project on stage. Click here to try this at home, and thumb your nose the next time you drive by IHOP.
I make a lot of caramel corn, usually using popcorn leftover from the concession stand during the basketball season. So although most recipes call for unbuttered, unsalted popcorn, you can use just about anything that isn’t stale. Also, most caramel corn recipes instruct you to mix the caramel with the popcorn and then put it in a roasting pan in the oven, stirring it every 10 or 15 minutes for up to an hour. As far as I can tell, the purpose of this oven step is to re-melt the caramel so that you can get it to coat the popcorn evenly. I have learned through much experimentation that the better method is to get a large (8 to 10 quart) metal pan or pot with a handle in which to put the popcorn, and preheat both the popcorn and the pan while you are making the caramel. When the caramel goes on the corn in the pan, it doesn’t lose heat as quickly, and you can often get a batch made in a single mixing. If you are used to the oven method, try this at least once and tell me what you think.
8 to 10 quart pan with an oven safe handle
heavy wooden spoon
(2) 9″ x 13″ cookie sheets
3 ½ quarts of popped popcorn (sort out the unpopped kernels)
1 stick (½ cup) of butter (not margarine or spread)
1 cup light brown sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup (not the lo-calorie)
½ tsp. vanilla extract
popcorn salt (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the popcorn in an 8 to 10 quart metal pot or pan with an oven-safe handle (you may want to lightly spray the interior of pan with pan release first) and warm in the oven. Place butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and vanilla in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until ingredients are melted and well mixed. Clip the candy thermometer on the side of the pan so that the tip touches the mixture but not the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring the mixture occasionally.
When the caramel temperature reaches about 250 degrees F., take the popcorn pan out of the oven and have it nearby on the counter along with an oven mitt to hold the hot pan. When the caramel temperature reaches 300 degrees F., turn off the heat, remove the thermometer and pour the caramel onto the popcorn. Using a heavy wooden spoon, stir the caramel into the popcorn until the corn is evenly coated. (You may to put the pan back in the oven to re-melt the caramel if you don’t work quickly enough.)
Divide the caramel corn between the two baking sheets and spread it out flat. Sprinkle lightly with popcorn salt if desired (the salty/sweet combination rocks!). Let cool until hard, then break apart gently and store in an airtight container.
Want to download the recipe without all the photos and extra spacing? Click here for a printable version.
Fr. Dominic Garramone AKA