Remembering Peter

On a recent visit with Peter, I read this as well as other stories of our life in Los Banos (posted in my blog)  Peter was quite a guy. Peter gifted me a field of pumpkins so I could prepare squash flowers for my Father, Farmers and Friends who ate at the ‘Round’ Table at La Famiglia , my Los Banos deli and ristorante (1979-1986). Here’s the story posted in 2009:

In the early years, bankers, farmers, salesmen and businessmen met at the Cup N’ Saucer, a downtown coffee shop in my hometown of Los Banos. They joined each other mainly at Lunch at the ‘Round Table’, a large round table on the right as you entered. After the Cup and Saucer closed, they found other dining ‘conference’ tables, Tiny’s, Denny’s and at my ristorante and delicatessen, La Familglia. They sat in the back at the antique poker table. This was a farmer’s exchange, farmers, fertilizer salesmen, truckers, packers, they were all there: Joe Vajretti, Shawn Moosekian, Bugs Haumea, Peter LoBue, Tony Mogolio, Ralph Palazzo, and more.

My interest was to feed them. Favorite meals were perfectly cooked roast beef, served room temp with thick sliced vine-ripened tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and topped with chopped capers, onions and anchovies; on the side, good crusty bread.

All of us welcomed the season’s freshest pick. We could never get enough of one favorite,  squash flowers. One day my Dad commented to Peter LoBue, “Peter, why don’t you plant a row of pumpkins so Nancy has squash flowers to prepare?” Peter responded, “OK, Papa Joe, I’ll see what I can do.” I grew up with Peter; he’s always been a big thinker. Shortly thereafter, at lunch at the Round Table Peter announced that he had planted a field of pumpkins on 152 West of town! I would have squash blossoms and he would have a pumpkin patch to offer the pumpkins for sale in the Fall.

Mornings are the best time to pick because the flowers are wide open. Every day I traveled with my dog Lester to the pumpkin patch. While Lester romped in the field, I picked squash blossoms. To pick them doesn’t require much skill; just to know the ones with the stamen are the males. They will not produce fruit.  I would pick the flower at its stem including the green webbed bell shaped base. Once picked, I placed them upside down and side by side in a basket. For me, to come away from the field with forty blossoms is a victory for my farmer’s lunches. Off to the deli I would go.

The Recipe:  Fior d’ Italia  Squash Blossoms

To prepare, remove the stamen, peel away the base of the flower, gently rinse the inside and outside with water and place upside down in a large colander. At this point the flowers can be placed in the refrigerator covered with a damp cloth.

For the crepe batter, we use Mom’s sweet crepe batter eliminating the sugar for a savory rendition. For the filling, I tried several types of cheese; my favorite is the original Jack cheese.

To prepare the flowers, open the flower and fill with a piece of Jack cheese. Reserve them on a damp towel. We eliminated frying and opted griddling. Preheat the griddle and brush with vegetable oil. Dip the filled flowers in the batter, lay on the griddle. If the batter is too thick, thin with milk. The look of the stuffed squash blossom is to see the flowers lightly coated so the veins are visible. Cook until the color and consistency of a cooked pancake or crepe.  Flip over and cook on the other side.  Serve as a hors d’oeuvre, side dish, vegetable or for brunch.

 

 

 

 

From field to platter….

Beautiful, fresh from pumpkin fields now from above….SQUASH FLOWERS!!

Missing you forever Peter, Love Nancy

 

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Of Easter Pie & Spring Picnics…it’s a TRADITION!

   

To know Nancy is to know how much I love Easter Pie and the traditions ‘Of Easter Pie & Spring Picnics’. It’s a tradition! Each year my family and I ‘gather and cook’ Easter Pie and the vegetarian version, Ricotta Quiche. Thanks to Love & Garlic’s  commissary and our PRODUCTION COOKING methods, the ‘fruits of our labor’ yield 36 Easter Pies and 20 Ricotta Quiche (oh yes, Generation 3, are vegetarians). It’s a tradition! Each year we give the gift of food’ …adorable, precious, scrumptious handcrafted pies to our family and friends .  It’s a tradition! Each year we ‘gather’ friends and family at a historic ranch in Gustine for our annual ‘Rite of Spring’ Easter Picnic. This tradition and the foods we eat come from the cooking of the Great San Joaquin, Spring lamb, Portuguese beans, rosemary garlic chicken, Greek salad, Asparagus, polenta, and on and on. Peter brings the big bbq rig, the guys bbq and the day begins. Guests from all areas and walks of life enter into the Spanish inspired hacienda and gardens of our hosts. Everyone brings delectable foods, we visit, drink Sangria and fine wines, ’tis the Rite of our Spring Picnic. JOIN OUR EASTER TRADITIONS…

Gather 12 of your friends for our Production Cooking class. You receive 24 Easter Pies & 12 Ricotta Quiche  $60 per person

Give the Gift of Food, 2 lb half pies, $19.50 and 4 lb round pies, $29.50.

Gather family and friends for a ‘Easter Spring Picnic’. We will offer a true picnic and send you with baskets of foods and supplies for 12 and up or we will recreate, ‘basque’ style, a bbq on the open grill… lamb and chicken  along with the foods of the Great San Joaquin…24 minimum. The price, around $20.00- $35 per person. Prices will vary depending on menu and services. Read more…

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Precious Memories of Thanksgiving Traditions…

Past traditions loom large in my mind each and every Holiday. Our family legacies are riveted with lots of laughter and lore. I must share a blog from Thanksgiving 2009, the year we would celebrate our first Thanksgiving without Mom & Dad.

Thanksgiving Traditions

Seems odd that I would post our Thanksgiving recipes on Sunday after the four day holiday, but I have a reason. This Thanksgiving would be a first for our family; we would celebrate the traditions our parents established, however, this year our parents were not at our family table. They were present spiritually and we celebrated them, our heritage, our family recipes and the great stories of the Vajretti Family legacy. Our greatest legacy, of course, is our Mom’s cooking. This Thanksgiving was our maiden voyage, no Mom to instruct us. After all, Mom always made the turkey, stuffing and gravy. Not to say that we cannot cook but like my sis said, “You don’t know how it is to look around to get Mom’s reinforcement and realize, she’s not there.” Her lessons resonate, however, and the stories we tell. 

This is the reason I started this blog. I want to share the stories, the ‘lessons, legacy and lore’ from my heritage and the history of growing up in the great Central San Joaquin Valley. The ‘Cooking Secrets of the Lazy V’ are my Mom’s teachings and recipes. I hope to tell these stories as well as all the great ‘stories’! of growing up in the great San Joaquin Valley.   

Here are our essential Thanksgiving recipes and one Mom Thanksgiving story:

“From here to Fresno”

Several years ago, I was writing the recipe for roasting a turkey. I recalled that Mom would ‘hold’ her turkey for a set time, one of her ‘cooking secrets’. At a point, we moved our family dinners to Fresno since John our brother-in-law would be ‘on call’. With Dad as Mom’s prep chef and helper, Mom would dress her turkey Thursday mornings, roast the turkey and come to Fresno with the turkey, dressing and gravy. Typical of the cooking relationship we had and curious as to how long Mom would hold the turkey, I called my Mother, “Ma!”  She would answer, “What!?” “I have a cooking question.” “What is it?” she would say. I explained to her my question, how long would you hold the turkey? She simply answered, “Well, Nancy, I hold the turkey ‘from here to Fresno’!” Yes, I thought. This is true according to the tradition and ‘story’. Mom would take the turkey out of the oven, wrap the roasting pan in a blanket, place it in the trunk of the car and allow it to rest ‘from here to Fresno!’ We tested the recipes with our Mother’s blessings. They worked! We applied  Mom’s techniques and lessons. Perhaps you will honor Mom and her ‘tried and true’ ‘Cooking Secrets of the Lazy V’  

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 ‘FARM TABLE FRESH    LESSONS LEGACY & LORE  

THANKSGIVING TRADITIONS                             

ROASTING A TURKEY  (#96)

PREHEAT OVEN TO 400 DEGREES

THE INGREDIENTS

JUICE FROM 1 LEMON
1 CUBE BUTTER

SALT AND FRESH GROUND PEPPER

1 TURKEY 18-22 POUNDS

 

THE METHOD OF COOKING

  1. SELECT A TURKEY OF YOUR CHOOSING. FRESH IS ALWAYS BEST. TOMS ARE PREFERRED. REMOVE THE PLASTIC WRAPPING AND THE NECK AND INNARDS FROM THE CAVITY. REMOVE ANY FAT AND THE WING TIPS. RESERVE FOR BROTH.
  2. SPRINKLE THE TURKEY WITH SALT AND MASSAGE INTO THE TURKEY. LET THE
    TURKEY SET FOR THIRTY MINUTES. RINSE THE TURKEY WITH COLD WATER.
    DRAIN BY SETTING THE TURKEY UP ON ITS HIND QUARTERS.
  3. RUB LEMON JUICE ON THE INSIDE AND OUTSIDE OF THE TURKEY INCLUDING THE CAVITY AND THE NECK CAVITY. AT THIS POINT YOU CAN COVER AND REFRIGERATE.
  4. TO STUFF THE TURKEY, LIGHTLY SALT AND PEPPER THE TURKEY INCLUDING THE CAVITY. STUFF THE CAVITY AND THE NECK WITH DRESSING. 
  5. TRUSS THE TURKEY USING STAINLESS PINS. INSERT THE PINS ACROSS THE OPENINGS HORIZONTALLY, ONE INCH APART. WITH KITCHEN STRING, LACE UP THE OPENING WEAVING THE STRING THROUGH THE PINS.
  6. TUCK THE TURKEY TAIL INTO THE END OPENING. INSERT TWO NEEDLES VERTICALLY ON EITHER SIDE OF THE OPENING. THIS SHOULD HOLD THE TAIL IN PLACE AND THE STUFFING INSIDE.
  7. MELT 1 CUBE OF BUTTER. COVER THE TURKEY WITH THE MELTED BUTTER. GENEROUSLY PEPPER THE TURKEY
  8. PLACE A TURKEY ROASTING RACK IN THE BOTTOM OF A ROASTING PAN. PLACE THE TURKEY BREAST SIDE DOWN INTO THE RACK. ADD 2 CUPS WATER OR BROTH IN THE ROASTING PAN. 
  9. TENT WITH FOIL SEALING THE EDGES AROUND THE ROASTING PAN.
  10.  PLACE THE TURKEY IN THE PRE-HEATED 400 DEGREE OVEN AND ROAST FOR ONE HOUR.
  11. AFTER ONE HOUR, CHECK THE LIQUID IN THE ROASTING PAN. ADD ½ CUP BROTH OR WATER IF LESS THAN ONE CUP.
  12.  LOWER THE HEAT TO 325 DEGREES. ROAST FOR UP TO 4 HOURS FOR A 22 LB TURKEY. BASTE WITH THE JUICES FROM THE ROASTING PAN EVERY HALF HOUR. ADD BROTH OR WATER AS THE LIQUID REDUCES.
  13. REMOVE THE FOIL TENT THE LAST HALF HOUR OF COOKING AND BASTE.
  14. AFTER 3 ½ TO 4 HOURS DEPENDING ON THE WEIGHT OF THE TURKEY (18-22 LBS) REGISTERING 165 DEGREES FOR THE BREAST AND STUFFING AND 175 FOR THE DARK MEAT, REMOVE THE TURKEY FROM THE OVEN.
  15. COVER WITH FOIL.  ALLOW TO REST FOR AT LEAST 30 MINUTES (OR FROM LOS BANOS TO FRESNO). THE TURKEY WILL CONTINUE TO COOK AND AS A RESULT, REMAIN MOIST!

Love and Garlic, Nancy Vajretti celebrating Mom & The Cooking Secrets of the Lazy V!

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Cannin’ & Jammin’

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Cannin-Inside

Sign-up for our Cannin’ & Jammin’ production cooking classes. Limit 6-8 persons per class, receive the fruits of your labor. Production fruit: Apricot, Peaches , Nectarines, Plums, Tomatoes or your loaded fruit trees…  Read more…

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COOKING SECRETS OF THE LAZY V ‘Cuccaz’

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Last day of August, last days of summer; home gardens are bursting with produce.  About a week ago, our friend Lisa called. “Whatcha doin?” I answered, “We’re at work!” She asked, “How long ya’ gonna’ be there?” “At least until 7”, I answered. Well, I’m gonna’ come by.” “OK, we’ll be here.” About an hour later, Lisa pulled up in her RV. She opened the back hatch and pulled out a?  I couldn’t see what she had retrieved from the back of her van. In a minute, she entered our sales office. She was carrying a giant, over grown zucchini, practically the size of an infant! “Cuccaz!” I exclaimed. “What are you talking about? she said.

When friends came bearing gifts of large vegetables at the end of summer, Mom would say, “Cuccaz”. I’ve heard this term all my life. I’d ask, Ma? She would respond, “What?” I asked, “What do you mean when you say ‘Cuccaz’?” clearly dialect for some Italian word referring to squash or zucchini. Mom would continue, “If you don’t mind, don’t bring me these big overgrown hollow vegetables full of seeds. If you want to bring me a gift, bring the little tender vegetables not these, ‘Cuccaz’! She would say.
Read more…

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COOKING SECRETS OF THE LAZY V “STILL CANNING”

Every year, well into the ‘pick and pack’ season of our Central San Joaquin’s Westside, I would call my Mom. “Ma!” she immediately knew I was calling and would respond, “What?” I inquired, “How are you? Dad?” She would start in, “You know your Dad, he can’t stand to see the fruit left on the ground.” (or the vegetables left in the fields). Since the 40’s, Dad knew most of the Westside farmers. He could go into any orchard or field and pick after the harvest: apricots, plums, peaches, tomatoes, bell peppers, corn, melons and more. He was famous for 5 gallon white plastic buckets with handles and would always say to me when he delivered his pick which I too would can, “Be sure to return my buckets!” Mom would continue, “Last week your Dad and I canned tomatoes. This week he came home with…”  Mom would inventory his pick. “Even now”, she continues, “we’re canning!” I could count on it. What Mom would say when I called mid August and asked how she was? One response, “We’re still canning!”

Here is one of Mom’s tried and true yearly canning recipes for Dad’s Westside pick of the crop:
Read more…

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Hot Broth – The Cure

Winter is here and the cold weather upon us. To combat the sickness all around, Rick and I renew our winter tradition and best resistance to sickness, Hot Broth – the Cure. In fact, one winter, every night as I crossed our threshold, Rick handed me a bowl of Hot Broth, warm fulfilling restorative broth loaded with chili, garlic and additional cold combatant ingredients. I don’t think I caught a cold that season, nor any season as long as we followed our tradition of Hot Broth. This mystical broth combats all that ails us and bolsters our immune system. Hot Broth is a simple formula: broth, chili, acid and alcohol along with greens and garlic. Any broth, chicken, beef or vegetable will do. Our choice of chili abounds, chili oil, chili flakes, fresh Jalapeno, Serrano or Thai and more. The acid can be lemon, lime, vinegar or wine. For greens, our favorites are spinach or Swiss chard however our Mom’s would often include escarole, kale, cabbage or even mustard and collard greens. Don’t forget the garlic, fresh chopped, coarse, minced or whole cloves. Anyway you like it but make certain, there is plenty. And by the way, a good shot of alcohol does it, brandy, bourbon;  however, I’ve not tried vodka or gin.  As a kid, Dad would give us a Hot Toddy, the only resemblance of our tradition. Simply hot milk and a small bit of brandy was his recipe and after drinking it, directions to “Pull those covers up and go to sleep!” Often I would get a rub down with Metholadum before the piles of bed covers were tucked under my chin. So when the winds chill you to the bone and the germs want to overtake your body, cook up some Hot Broth and cure what ails you!

Love and Garlic, Nancy Vajretti celebrating Mom & The Cooking Secrets of the Lazy V!

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If You Cook It in Water It Will Taste Like Water

My Mom, like her Mom, had a great sense of humor. Telling her stories will for me and I hope for you, embrace her incredible humor. I can’t recall my Mom’s first cooking secret although having us taste everything was our first lesson about food. I can still see her with a twinkle in her eye saying, “If you cook it in water, it’ll taste like water!” Mom may not have used today’s culinary term ‘infusion’, but she knew well to season her waters, pasta water, polenta water, even to rinse cans of tomato paste for tomato water. She instructed us to rinse dried mushrooms, soak and save the mushroom water for the sauce. She said her Mom would boil apple peels to use the apple water for syrups, juices and fruit sauces. I surely applied her theory. Years later, at my deli, La Famiglia, people who ate my minestrone soup would often comment at its great flavor. If they only knew, I would reserve the outside dark leafy greens of the head lettuce, romaine lettuce and green cabbage and boil them in water, save the juice from the garbanzo beans and use the tomato water rinsed from cans of tomato paste. Guaranteed the ‘flavored’ water was the secret foundation for our minestrone soup. Here’s the recipe.

LA FAMIGLIA MINESTRONE SOUP

For Mom, Wednesdays were clean the fridge and soup day. We could always count on her soups, rich with the backbone of her cooking, flavored waters evolving into full-bodied, complex broths ready to embrace the vegetables, beans, meats and pasta.  What better meal to serve our family. Satisfied that she had not only accomplished the Wednesday soup and fridge ritual, but that she had also ’infused’ our growing bodies with vitamins and minerals. Ladle this soup into big bowls over thick crusts of day old Italian bread. Top with fresh grated cheeses, ours was equal parts dry jack and pecorino Romano.�

THE INGREDIENTS
I advanced from the home refrigerator to the delicatessen’s two walk-ins. We saved the trimmings from our daily prep and made minestrone, sometimes with beef and sometimes vegetarian. 

For the vegetable broth
Collect the outer leaves of head lettuce, romaine lettuce, green cabbage, stems of parsley, spinach, the outer stalks of celery and tops as well as heart trimmed, outer layers of onions, carrot trimmings and peels, (but not too much as too many carrots will ’sweeten’ the water), stems and stalks of leeks, green onions, tips of shallots and garlic, tomato skins, tops and bottoms and their juices. Rinse and place in a large soup kettle, cover with water and simmer for at least 1 ½ to two hours. Taste, add salt. Reduce broth until the flavor emerges. Strain. 

For the beef broth
3-5 pounds beef soup bones, brisket, or boiling beef
2 bay leaves
4 stalks celery, including leaves, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 yellow onion, stuck with 4 cloves
1 large carrot
few sprigs fresh Italian parsley
salt and peppercorns

To make the soup broth, add the soup bones to a kettle, cover with water. Place on the stove and bring to a boil. Skim the water of any fat or scum. Reduce the heat to low, add the aromatic vegetables, herbs, carrot, celery, parsley, onion, garlic, bay leaf, salt and peppercorns. Simmer for 1 1/2 to two hours or until the beef is tender. Strain, reserving the broth to chill. Skim the fat. Trim and chop the beef. Reserve.

For the beans and broth
1 pound dried beans, pinto, kidney, garbonzo, white bean or other dried bean of your liking. Soak for two hours and drain. For a quick method, cover beans with water, bring to a boil, turn off flame and soak for one hour. Cook beans with onion, garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper until tender. Cool and reserve including broth

For the soup
2 quarts vegetable broth
2 quarts beans and broth
2 quarts beef broth
1 cup sliced celery including the tops
1 cup sliced carrots
3 cups coarse chop green cabbage
1 cup sliced yellow onion
4 Tablespoon fresh chop parsley
8 cloves fresh chop garlic
1 cup diced zucchini
1 cup chopped fresh string beans
2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 cup diced turnips and their greens trimmed and chopped
1 cup diced russet potatoes
1 head spinach, chopped
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
salt to taste and freshly ground pepper
meat, trimmed of fat and chopped
1 cup red wine
1/2 pound cooked al dente pasta

Combine the vegetable broth, beans and juices, beef broth in a soup kettle. Bring to a simmer and add the celery, cabbage, onion, parsley, garlic, turnips, turnip greens, potatoes and tomato paste. Simmer for approximately twenty minutes. Next add the beef, carrots, string beans, zucchini, red pepper flakes, spinach and fresh basil. Simmer uncovered until the vegetables are tender. Taste and correct for seasoning. Add the red wine.

The final addition will be the cooked pasta. Add and simmer the few minutes that it takes to reheat the pasta. Taste for final seasonings and correct if needed.

Think of my Mom when you eat this soup and enjoy! And let me know how you flavor the waters.

Love and Garlic, Nancy Vajretti

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Pancakes At Midnight

My parents established a tradition in high school, Pancakes at Midnight. No matter where we were, at the Prom, at the High School Dance, at the game, my Dad would say to me, I’ll see you and your friends for pancakes at midnight. Smart folks for no matter what we were doing, we would all walk across the front door threshold, sit at the family dining room table and eat “pancakes at midnight.”
Mom’s pancakes were special, a real tradition in our family. After she made the batter and let it sit for a few minutes, she would cook the pancakes on her cast aluminum griddle. Before she would ladle the batter, she would drop water on the pre-heated griddle. If the water bubbled and danced, the griddle was ready. Ladle by ladle, Mom would puddle the batter onto the griddle, leaving enough room in between for them to rise properly. Mom would arrange these well-risen cakes on a platter and place them in a slightly warm oven to hold while she finished.
The tradition doesn’t stop here. From the beginning, we would top Mom’s buttermilk pancakes with sour cream and home-made apricot jam. It was up to you what was on the bottom or the top. Mom’s recipe is included, along with her method, a true cooking secret of the Lazy V

Mom’s Buttermilk Pancakes

The ingredients:

1 ¼ cups flour

1 Tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 beaten egg

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter*

1 cup buttermilk

The method:

  1. Preheat pancake griddle over low flame.
  2. Sift together the dry ingredients.
  3. Combine egg, buttermilk and salad oil* I recall distinctly that Mom would use melted butter, a key and secret ingredient to her pancakes, but when I asked my sister, Jolene, she recalls “always vegetable oil and as far back as Houston”. Just the other day, when discussing with Sister Joan, she confirmed that Mom used melted butter.
  4. Add to the dry ingredients stirring until just moistened.
  5. Bake on a greased griddle using vegetable oil.
  6. Reserve on a platter in a warm 200 degree oven.
  7. To serve, top with jam and sour cream or fresh berries and lo-fat yogurt. For the purists, top with melted butter and warmed maple syrup.

Love and Garlic, Nancy Vajretti celebrating The Cooking Secrets of the Lazy V!

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