So from my report from my last visit to the Trattoria, I said I’d definitely be back. I finally got around to it this past weekend to celebrate a couple of birthdays (including mine) with friends and fam, four of us in all. My first hint of trouble was that the original website had been hacked with malware and they’d put up a new one that was sort of sorry in comparison to the old. So then I browsed Yelp to get an idea if the menu or anything else had changed and boy, howdy, had it. But still, this is what my friend had planned so I just went with it. I can usually make something of nothing when I go out to eat, find the high points and all that.

Oo, was I wrong. Every negative aspect I read about came to pass. In a semi-brief rundown we had:

  • Servers who couldn’t adequately describe the menu, like items in a salad for my vegetarian friend (VF). Or when asked questions they didn’t understand, they’d simply ignore that part.
  • What seemed to be the tiniest table on the planet. One of our members was six-foot plus and semi-claustrophobic. Didn’t go well for him.
  • Sub-par food at above-par prices.

That last one was the worst offender, of course. I started with the same lobster bisque I had back in 2011 and it in no way resembled that dish. The oily sheen on top made me wonder if it had been left standing in a pot since then and it was grainy and all but brown, more like a sauce with three small chunks of lobster(?). The formerly crusty, soft crouton in the middle now required a knife to penetrate the rubbery substance. Three of us ordered the “Filet of Veal Parmigiana – with Four Imported Cheeses”; a thin sheet of mystery meat that tasted not at all of veal, then draped with a thin tomato sauce and a stretch of mozzarella. That you could have for the perfectly unreasonable price of $26. VF’s pumpkin ravioli and wilted spinach (wait, this is all still on the “specials” menu from 2011?) was okay but not the same joy-inducing meal it had been. A dessert plate came, but by then my appetite had gone and my good humor with it.

Then the new part happened. This is a more personal thing, but I didn’t go there for a disco bar. Early on, a server perched different hats on our heads. Uh oh. I’d read about this and hoped it wasn’t happening. “Hat Night”. Much later, a smoke machine kicked on, the disco lights started and the quiet Frank Sinatra was replaced by The Village People at top volume. And so it went with the continued blasting of 70s and 80s pop tunes. I was there the first time. I was there for the retread. I’m done. And did I mention that 50% of our party suffers from varying degrees of hearing loss? The evening was essentially over at that point. Several Yelpers commented that they could have had a better meal for less at the Olive Garden and I’m going to have to agree with them. This was an entirely unappealing experience and I cannot endorse the 2014 version of Il Localino.

The highlight of the evening was the valet; polite, efficient and chipper guy. His tip I didn’t have a problem with.

Trattoria Il Localino

I was futzing around this past Saturday morning (nearly afternoon) when I got a text from my friend Amy that simply said “You need to get out of the house. So come over.” After rectifying my bedhead situation, I tooled across town. We spent an idyllic early afternoon on a blanket in her front yard watching the kids play whilst we sipped adult beverages. Hunger then took over and not knowing the neighborhood particularly well, I suggested cuisines instead of actual restaurants. As soon as I mused “Italian, maybe?” Amy snapped to attention and said that she knew just the place.

A short ride later found us in front of Trattoria Il Localino…which was apparently closed and with no posted hours. Peering through the windows, we could see that the tables were set, so I imagined that they only kept dinner hours and would open at 5 and it was currently 4. Amy, being a persistent sort, kept peering in the window like a kid on the sidewalk of a toy store until she was able to get someone’s attention that had come into view inside the darkened restaurant. This incredibly kind man came to the door and told us that yes, they didn’t open until 5 BUT, he said with a smile, if we came back at 4:30 we might get to sit at the bar until service began. As we laughed and began to turn away, another door opened behind him and out blustered a tall man with electric socket blond hair, all but shouting in heavily Italian accented English “What are you doing? Beautiful women are the reason I have this restaurant! Come in! Come in!”

He introduced himself as the owner, Giovanni, and hustled us in, much to my gleeful amazement. I rarely give myself over and let someone else drive a moment, but this was obviously going to be entirely worth it no matter what happened and ride with it, I did. Giovanni began by introducing us by name to every staff person we encountered in his lovely trattoria, from the gentleman setting the tables who’d opened the door to us to the woman who was snipping the roses for the tables. Each introduction was accompanied by a personal history of each employee, up to the children who he seemed to consider his own family. When a busser walked by and got his introduction, he politely stuck out his hand whereupon Giovanni scoffed and said “We do not shake hands! We hug!” and we promptly did as instructed.

He took us on a tour of the back private rooms, entirely hidden from view and just as warm and inviting as the rest of the restaurant, telling us of the amazing high level business deals that had occurred right in front of him. By that point it didn’t matter what he was saying, he was so engaging, exuding a level of warmth, energy and total honesty that I hadn’t seen in forever that he could have been reading the stock ticker to us and I’d have stayed put and listened just to say I’d been there. He parked us at the bar where we introduced to the bartender and set up with a delightful bottle of Chardonnay, still telling us stories of his staff and of his own. We engaged the bartender in conversation as Giovanni went back to the kitchen to attend to opening, but occasionally he’d stop back by and throw out some bon mot or even better, a plate of antipasti. I was so caught up in the moment that I even popped a green olive in my mouth. I hate olives. Really hate them. But when in Italy…

Finally it was time to make our way to a table and see what everything was really about here. Our delightfully fine server illustrated the specials for the night, answering our questions deftly and making excellent suggestions. We both tossed the menu aside and chose the from the night’s specials: pumpkin ravioli and a dish of spinach for Amy and the cannelloni for me prefaced by the lobster bisque. The first plate that danced out of the kitchen was a wee serving of polenta decorated in a Bolognese sauce, an Italian amuse-bouche. Amy’s a vegetarian, so I got the wee tease all to myself. Heavenly stuff. Wanted more, so it did its job. Here comes the bisque. Smooth. Fragrant. Beautiful perfect soft pink color. Yes, please. And some more of that crusty, warm bread/giant crouton that rested in the middle of the bowl upon delivery, please.

And now the entrees. Amy just stared at her bowl when it was set before her, just inhaling the sensual aroma. Then she dug in and proclaimed loudly around a mouthful of succulent pasta, “MY FOOD IS BETTER THAN YOUR FOOD, I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY”. I was far too busy making sweet mouth love to my cannelloni that had been showered with fresh Parmesan to care. After that first bite, I proclaimed that I had found my new favorite Italian restaurant, hands down. For the first time since we’d entered from the sidewalk, we were silent, only sounds of bliss floated across the table. Dessert? Really? Oh, just let me wash up first from where I was face down in my plate, please. We shared a tiny bomb of chocolate mousse cake that had “if you’re on a date and ending your meal with this, you are most certainly getting laid tonight” stamped all over it.

As the restaurant began to fill, we reluctantly gathered ourselves to leave (after almost 4 hours) before they kicked us out. Giovanni breezed back to our table, presented us with the roses from the vase on the table and wished us, his new family, bella notte, please come back soon.

I will, Giovanni. I most certainly will.

Aunt Blanche’s Stuffing

On this blog each recipe has a story behind it. It should, anyway. Food is nothing but fuel without the tales and times that go with it.

I didn’t like stuffing when I was small. My grandmother made a basic, bread-celery-butter-poultry seasoning stuffing that my mother loves, and I can’t stand. Once my mother and I started having Thanksgiving dinner at my dad’s sister’s house I found a stuffing I could get down with.

It had sausage in it. It sat there on the table in a china bowl, and I kind of looked at it. Did that bit where you dart your eyes over to size up something without offending someone. The smell hit me, and I had to have that stuffing. I have a history of eating two dinners on Thanksgiving, it stretches back to childhood, but I took thirds of my aunt’s stuffing. I took thirds at every holiday dinner she served until I moved down South.

When I was twenty-one or so I asked her for the recipe, and I still have the card I wrote it on. I don’t need that card at all anymore, but I’m holding onto it in case my kids need it.

My aunt has Alzheimer’s. I never got her corn pudding recipe, but I do have this. I have the memory of the first time I made the stuffing myself, and it was so salty I could have died. Turns out when I wrote the letter “T” before salt I used a capital instead of lowercase, read it later literally, and used a full tablespoon of salt. Every time I make this stuffing- as I add the salt I hear my aunt laughing when I reported my mistake to her. Every single time.

There is no one who has eaten this stuffing, aside from my mother and my daughter (so far), who doesn’t either demand the recipe or ask me to make it for holiday dinners. It’s simple, it’s insane, and leftovers are fantastic as a lazy breakfast with gravy over them.

I recommend assembling this either the night before or in the morning of a dinner. It takes up a lot of stove and counter space.

1 average sized loaf of bread, at least a day old

1 pound of sausage with extra sage (Neese’s is best, but Jimmy Dean will do)
1/2 cup diced sweet onion
3/4 cup of diced celery
1 TEASPOON of salt

1 cup turkey or chicken broth- divided
1 large egg, beaten

In a large pan with a lid break up your pound of sausage and use a spoon or paddle to keep it breaking as it browns over medium heat. You want to get a nice brown, dark on some but not others. Put the lid on, lower the heat, and-

Slice 2 ribs of celery into 4 long strips and then dice small. Dice up a sweet onion small as well.

See this? This is how I work. I have no idea what those mounds really are. The measurements at top are via my aunt. This? This is a handful of onion and more than a handful of celery. It’ll do.

You want that sausage to break up pretty small. Adding the onion and celery helps with that. Keep stirring it around, replace the lid, turn heat to low and get to work on your bread.

Today I used some drying-out oatmeal bread and some bakery sandwich rolls. Whatever bread you choose, as long as it’s not too dark and dense, should be fine. Stack it, slice it, and then cube it.

My cubes are less than an inch. Maybe 3/4 of an inch. I don’t know. Not too big, not too small.

This is a teaspoon of salt, ’round about. It’s definitely not a tablespoon. I actually checked it once by transferring it into a measuring spoon, and my hand comes pretty damn close.
Toss the salt into the sausage mixture, stir it around well, lid back on, turn off heat. Let it cool.


Pour 1/2 cup of the broth into the bread cubes and stir it around, tossing a bit. Pour in the beaten egg, and stir some more. Pour the cooled (MUST BE COOL) sausage mixture into the bread cubes and stir and toss well.

If you did not let the sausage cool the egg will have cooked and your stuffing will be icky.

Pour the second 1/2 cup of broth into the mixture and stir well, folding it over itself until some of it is gooey and some is still cubes.

Turn the mixture into a shallow baking dish, cover with foil or the dish’s lid, and refrigerate either overnight or until about 45 min before you want to serve it. This recipe fits exactly into the smaller of the oblong Pyrex baking dishes. Cover it with foil before it goes in the oven, and remove the foil when 20 minutes are left to baking time.

If you try it, let me know how you liked it. If you like it, pass it on.

And make sure to eat some for breakfast.

I seem to talk about my mom a great deal here.  Whatever our relationship became, I learned  a lot about cooking for those you love from her.

She could fry a mean chicken.

Seriously.  I don’t know if I exaggerate with the veil of memory or what, but her fried chicken was so good you couldn’t do anything else but attack it like a starving cougar.  It took me a long time before I even thought about giving it a try, but between Man Unit’s persistence and my procurement and subsequent reading of this book, the desire grew to make an attempt or six.

I think I tried my first batches around the time before we got married.  I remember being brave enough to serve a batch when my wedding party came to help me find a dress.  I remember green beans, biscuits and the chicken.  Man Unit tells the story of one of them stealing the last piece right out from under him…so I suppose those first batches weren’t too awful, but it still wasn’t what I wanted.

Years passed and I’d keep trying.  Different fats.  Different pans. Different cooking times.  Brining, marinating.  Combinations of multiple recipes, all trying to find the best and closest-to-perfect fried chicken.  Then for my birthday a couple of years ago, Man Unit hunted down an out-of-print book that I’d put on my wish list: The Southern Cook’s Handbook : A Step-by-Step Guide to Old Fashioned Southern Cooking.  Where the previously mentioned book was a beautiful piece of work written in high prose, this is a comb-bound, plain language how-to manual that teaches you how to divine that skill set that your mama had of never using recipes but instead listening to what the food had to say. The section simply titled “METHODS” and Chapter 5 on Frying Foods struck a chord.  And even though they didn’t suggest it, my fat of choice to fry chicken now is…

lard. And I had to go to the Mexican foods section of the local grocery to even find it and they only sell it in these big ass tubs.  All the better to fry you with, my dear.

So here with my own additions are the instructions for Step-By-Step Pan-Frying.

1. Bring refrigerated chicken to room temperature.  DO NOT FRY COLD CHICKEN, as it will fry unevenly and get brown before it’s done.

2. If you’re going to be frying more than a batch or two, heat the oven to 200 degrees to keep the done batches warm.

3. You will need: a skillet, tongs, a paper or plastic bag or a covered bowl, paper towels, a platter, a cooling rack, your selected fat, flour, salt and pepper.

4. If the chicken is fairly wet, pat it dry. Throw a few cups of flour generously seasoned with salt and pepper into the bag or bowl (I use a plastic bowl with a lid).  Toss in the chicken and shake vigorously until well coated.

5.Place skillet on stove burner set between medium and medium high.

6. Measure fat and heat it in the skillet.  You want your liquid to be about a half inch in the pan.  Some will tell you to use a thermometer at this point, but I find the Guide’s method to heating the fat foolproof.  As it heats, it will begin to shimmer and move around slightly (usually after 3 to 5 minutes). You can tell when oil is properly heated by flicking a pinch of flour into the skillet.  If the flour begins to brown or burn immediately, the fat’s too hot.  If it spreads into a flat film and begins to sink, it’s too cold. This was my error: timing to heat the fat.  I think I’ve been starting with oil/fat that wasn’t hot enough all this time.  If the flour makes a hissing sound and moves about quickly, you’re ready to fry.

7. Using your tongs, place one layer of chicken in the skillet so that the pieces do not touch.

8. Bring the heat down to medium.  Fry until coating is brown slightly on the bottom side and solid. Turn ’em over.

9. Continue turning until evenly browned. This next part is important. Adjust the heat as needed so that the oil/fat makes a constant sizzling sound throughout the process.  If the sound isn’t continuous, heat is too low.  If oil smokes or pops or coating begins to burn, heat is too high.  Set the skillet off the burner momentarily to cool slightly. In other words, listen to your food.

10. As each piece becomes completely brown and done, drain it on a cooling rack placed over the platter lined with paper towels. White meat cooks faster than dark (I don’t care, we are fiends for a drumstick) and pieces cook faster at the center of the skillet than the edges.  I’m sure it’s done when the juices from the biggest piece in the pan run clear.

Good times.  Have at it.

Chicken Enchiladas

Get about a pound and a half of boneless skinless breasts and trim off the fat. Slap them into a covered pot with a half a bottle of darker lager. Drink the other half. Shake some oregano in until it looks like a dusting of green snow. Add some garlic salt and a shake or so or chili powder. Let it all braise on low heat until you can shred it. (2 hours?)


After you shred it in the pot, dice a half of a small yellow onion, toss it in, and let it simmer some more.


In a skillet- 1/4 cup of vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add 2 Tablespoons of flour and 1/4 cup of chili powder. Whisk constantly until the sauce gets toasty. Smell it? It’s good. Add 8 oz crushed tomatoes and 1 1/2 cups water. Whisk around a bit and then add 3/4 tsp garlic salt, a few shakes of dried, minced onion, and 3/4 tsp of cumin. Whisk. A lot.


After it thickens a bit add a few serving spoons of the sauce to the chicken, stir, and let it simmer more.


Preheat oven to 375.


Ladle some of the sauce into a greased baking dish. Smear it around.


Grab some tortillas. Flour or corn. We used flour soft taco sized. Use a large spoon to get some of the chicken into the tortilla. Run it in a line. A deep, fat line. Toss some shredded cheese on. Jack or sharp cheddar. Fold the tortilla over itself and place the bundle into the baking dish seam side down. Keep doing this until the baking dish is full o’ little dead tortilla soldiers. Spoon sauce over the whole deal to cover. Toss shredded cheese over the whole deal. Lots of it.


Cover with foil and bake for about 12 minutes.


There are no pictures. We dove in. Oh my goodness.

Squash the Picky Eater

Yeah, hi, I know. Shut up.

So it’s been awhile. I feel, though, like I really have to share this with you.

Our son barely eats. The only meats he will eat are bacon and an occasional chicken nugget or Potato Chip Chicken. That’s it. Forget vegetables. Forcing fruit into him is a nightmare. In fact, the only way I can get a nugget into him is to wait until he’s lying on the floor, place it on his chest, and run away.

But the boy liked him some pumpkin-oatmeal cookies last holiday season, so I kept making them. Then I tried muffins. Then with the garden ‘sploding I tried carrot-zucchini muffins. He likes. Very much.

I will sneak vegetables and iron into my child anyway I can.

Know what has a lot of iron? Butternut squash. Also oatmeal. Oats have iron. Fiber, too.


So I went looking for recipes for butternut squash muffins. Most of the ones I saw called for dicing it and boiling it first. That sort of defeats the purpose of nutrition, right?

But pumpkin muffins. Those usually call for canned pumpkin. And I could bake a squash to get it to the right texture.


I used this pumpkin muffin recipe as a nudge, but I tweaked it. A lot.

In the morning or the day before-

Get yourself a butternut squash. Preheat oven to 350, slice the squash in half (this is harder than it sounds), remove the seeds with an ice cream scoop (save those), oil the skin with olive oil, and bake it until the flesh is fork tender. Remove from oven and allow it to cool, then strip the skin from the squash, put each half in its own zipper bag, and squish the shit out of it.

Keep squishing.

It’s fun.

Put them in the fridge to cool more. Go do stuff.

Oatmeal-Butternut Squash Muffins


24 paper muffin cups

1 cup bread flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup rolled oats

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp allspice


3 eggs

2/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 packed cups butternut squash

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1 cup white sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Place paper cups into muffin tins. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl and stir with fork until combined. Set aside. In large, heavy bowl whisk eggs. Add oil, and whisk until combined, then add vanilla and whisk some more. Add butternut squash and use a fork to beat the mixture until well-combined. Add brown sugar, beat with fork, add white sugar, beat with fork. Take a rest.

Slowly add flour mixture into wet ingredients, beating with a fork until everything firms up a bit, and it’s all well-combined. You can use a mixer for all of this, but for muffins you really get better results with a fork and elbow grease. When you’re satisfied, pour or spoon batter into muffin cups. You should be able to get 24 filled just right. Into the oven, and bake for 20-25 minutes- whenever a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

You can leave out the oats and replace them with another cup of whole wheat flour, you can substitute applesauce for the vegetable oil, but please to use the paper cups. They make for moister muffins. I also like bread flour for muffins over all-purpose flour. Not as rustic, but they come out lighter.

They received high praise from everyone in the house. Hopefully the sweet potato muffins on the schedule for Wednesday will do the same.

Retread: Thanksgiving 2008

The following is an expository bit I wrote following Thanksgiving dinner in 2008.  Holla if you’re interested in any of the recipes used herein.  My apologies for posting a retread, I’ll make it up to you next week.  *mwah*

It’s been a few years since we stayed put for Thanksgiving, so this year I decided to appease and please Man Unit by not only not trotting him out anywhere for the day, but also to turn out a veritable feast that he didn’t have to share with a soul.  You see, he complains that I never really cook like a madwoman unless we’re having company so he ends up having to share the bounty from which there are rarely leftovers and that breaks his crusty heart.

So I really turned it up this year.  Went to Whole Paycheck last weekend for the main event and came home with a 5lb pork shoulder (aka Boston Butt), locally raised and politely sacrificed.  Now, I’ve never wrangled this cut of meat, just kind of  picked it up on the suggestion of a foodie article I’d read somewhere (probably the Times) that suggested the cut as an easy and cheap yet flavorful alternative to laboring over a turkey.  I believe the comment from the food and wine guy from Queer Eye went something like this: “It’s easy and good, but ugly as sin. You’ll want to carve it up in the kitchen where no one can see”.  Once I unwrapped it from the brown paper, I had to agree.  And since I didn’t start researching until after the purchase, I didn’t have them trim it.  Damn. So out came my butcher knife and I got to sawing away at the tough skin with the aim of trimming it down to about a quarter inch of fat.  Success!  Wrapped it back up and dropped it into the freezer to await its doom on Wednesday night, whereupon it would be massaged with a delightful rub I got from my last boss for Christmas last year, dotted with brown sugar, bathed in Worcestershire sauce and dropped into the slow cooker.

I hit the ground running after I got back home from Thanksgiving mass at the cathedral.  Had forgotten the potatoes, so I had to swing by the store which was overrun by people like me who had forgotten something and by others who had apparently not shopped at all yet.  Kroger was raking in the dough, hand over fist, I tell you. So it’s nearly noon and the roast is done, so I switch it off with plans to kick it back on about an hour before everything else is done. Hmm, where shall we begin?  Let’s start with what will keep the longest.  Homemade applesauce; a really simple recipe: brown and white sugar, cinnamon, lemon (juice and peel) and about 5lbs of Golden Delicious apples peeled, cored and sliced.  Man Unit was in charge of the peeling, bless him.  Threw it all in a pot to simmer for 20 minutes, mashed them with the potato masher and voila.  Smelled amazing.  Threw that into the fridge and started on the dessert, a four layer pumpkin cake which by now I’m realizing that I could have done both of these things yesterday. Ah, well, it’s not like I’m cooking on a deadline.  Started the loaf bread while the cake was in the oven since it needed to rise twice.  Peeled the potatoes and tossed them in a pot of water to do later.  Cakes are done, while they cool I prepped the broccoli gratin with Swiss (didn’t use Swiss as we’re not big fans).  Set it aside.  Dough is risen, punch it down, put it in the loaf pans to rise again.  Nuke the sausage for the stuffing. Throw some corn in a pot with butter, salt and pepper.  Prep the pot for the stuffing.  Oh, yes, I can see the home stretch now.  Turn on the potatoes.  Finish the cake (bless my heart I even successfully free-handed the horizontal slicing which is a big deal for me because I normally SUCK at stuff like this, can’t even draw a straight line), shove it in a corner.  Bread goes in the oven. And now, a moment or two of rest.  Okay, bread’s done, in goes the broccoli.  Drain and mash the taters.  15 minutes in I finish the stuffing and the corn.

It is now 4 PM.  I bless the table and we dig in.  Food orgasms ensue.  Man Unit is apoplectic in a good way because he’s been smelling this insanity (with occasional tasting) for the last five hours.  Now he’s finally able to dig in without getting his hand slapped.  Cooked like a madwoman basically all day and it was totally worth it.  By 5-ish, the food coma had set in and we rolled upstairs for a nap.  We just got to the cake. I just heard from Man Unit’s office: that was like a religious experience.  You have truly outdone yourself.

Lo, and there was great joy in the Miss Terioso household.