Tag Archives: Food & Wine


Here are a few of the things I’m Lovin’ today:

  • My new volunteer gig
  • Seeing maturity in my kids
  • Anticipation of Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • Handmade gifts
  • Fuzzy blankets
  • Honesty
  • The end of allergy season
  • My Blog and Facebook community

 *  *  *  *   *  *  *  *   *  *  *  *   *  *  *  *   *  *  *  *

What are you Lovin’ today?

Impulse Buying — or How to Get Your Kids to Clean Their Rooms

It’s all Target’s fault.

There’s a new Super Target near my neighborhood, and I heard through the grapevine (Facebook) that it opened a few days early AND that there were no crowds AND that they had everything in every size AND that I HAD to drop what I was doing and head over there before too many people found out and it got crowded and picked over.

So a few days ago I did just that.  I roamed through every department getting the lay of the land, exploring every aisle and putting things I didn’t need in the basket.   (This is starting to sound a little like the trip to Sam’s that got me to make Red Gravy, isn’t it?)

Sirloin Medallions. Yum.

As I was roaming through the grocery section (yes, they have a grocery section!) I noticed a package of steaks.  Little sirloin steaks wrapped in bacon, like tiny, affordable filet mignons.  I’m thinking that my kids probably wouldn’t know the difference, and probably would enjoy these affordable (and cute) steaks for dinner.  (No, I’m not an impulse buyer, am I?)

Then I remembered a recipe my friend Nell from Allbritton or Nothing posted on her blog a few weeks ago for Steakhouse Steaks.  She declared that cooking steaks this way at home would never make you pay big bucks for fancy shmancy steaks from the expensive steakhouse ever again.  And that cooking steaks this way would make your husband want to Buy You Things.  All I wanted was to get my kids to Clean Their Rooms, so I figured steaks from Target would be good enough.  In the basket they went.

They were cute little sirloin medallions, wrapped in bacon, three to a skewer. I grabbed three packages and headed for the cashier.  I hurried home to made Nell’s Steakhouse Steaks.  My kids made yummy noises during dinner and asked me to make it again.

They did not, however, clean their rooms.

 *I recommend you hop over to Nell’s site  and read her narrative accompanying the recipe.  You’ll probably find her more almost as amusing as you find me.  (Wink.)

Fancy Shmancy Steakhouse Steaks

  • Nice, thick steaks* (1 ½ to 2 inches thick is perfect)
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher or sea salt (regular table salt will make the meat tough, or so someone says)
  • Butter
  • Minced garlic

*Let the steaks sit out for about an hour before cooking to bring them to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Rub the steaks with olive oil and salt.  Turn on your stove vent, open a window, and remove the smoke alarm.

(I really need a new camera.) I used Sirloin medallions from Super Target to feed my brood. I'm sure real filets would have been better!

Heat a cast iron skillet on medium-high for 5-7 minutes (until it starts to smoke).  Sear the steaks evenly on both sides, no more than 2 minutes per side.  Transfer the steaks to a pre-heated foil-lined pan (for easy clean-up).  Put a pat of butter and a smidgen of minced garlic on each steak and put them in the oven.

Getting the steaks cooked to the desired doneness is the hard part.  You can use a meat thermometer for precise results or use my mama’s method (pulling them out and cutting one open to check).  When they’re ALMOST done the way you like them, remove them from the oven, and cover them with foil.  This helps the meat “set” and fills your kitchen with the most amazing aroma.  It will draw a crowd if you opened a window.

About 8 minutes in the oven will give you a medium-rare steak. About 10 minutes for medium.

No Ladybugs Were Harmed During the Making of This Sauce

I was feeling adventurous that day.  So instead of sticking to my list, I roamed up and down each aisle of Sam’s Club, eyeing things I would not normally buy.  Then I saw it: the gi-normous can of crushed tomatoes.  I thought, “That would make a gi-normous pot of red gravy.  My family likes red gravy.  I should get that.”  In the cart it went.

It sat in the pantry for a couple of weeks.  Anxiety started to set in.  I didn’t have a suitable recipe.  I’ve only made homemade red gravy once.  I’m not sure I’m ready.  What if it’s not as good as my mother-in-law’s?  My old fears welled up, and I actually considered returning it for a refund donating the can to the food bank.

Then Mr. Wonderful went out for town for a few days, and I figured I had a window.  I’d try it, and if it turned out badly, throw it out and buy a gallon of sauce from Venezia’s — no one would be the wiser.  Game on.

I posted a request on Facebook for recipes and input from friends, and got lots of great responses.  Since I was making an ordeal adventure out of it, I opted to follow my nephew’s advice.  He is, after all, of Sicilian descent AND in culinary school, and he taught me about barding when I made braciolone.

Armed and Dangerous.

Armed with his recipe, I went to the grocery store.  (Not Wal-Mart, the actual supermarket with fresh produce and specialty herbs!)  I got the freshest herbs (the kind still potted…) and spices I’ll probably never use again.  But if this was good, Mr. Wonderful was going to love me more than ever.  (Italian boys have weird relationships with food.)

I picked fresh basil from my garden, and washed it carefully.  (NOTE: always check fresh herbs thoroughly, including the underneath side of the leaves where Ladybugs hide.  I almost added a little extra flavoring to my pot!)

I poured a glass of wine and put on my apron (to get the full “chef” effect), and started cooking.

Fresh herbs. No Ladybugs.

Seasoning pouch. This keeps the greens out of the sauce and saves my kids the trouble of picking them out.

I felt very sophisticated making the cheesecloth pouch, and kept looking out of the window to see if by any chance a Food Network camera crew was nearby, because surely this much effort was worth my own TV show.   I filled the pouch with great care while singing an Italian song.  (That part of the recipe came from my friend’s mom, Ms. Bernie.)  I followed the recipe carefully, making notes on any variations for future ordeals adventures.

Two glasses of wine later Three hours later I tasted my sauce and it was delicious!  The plan was to have it for dinner the next night, when Mr. Wonderful returned home.  I transferred the sauce to smaller bowls to store overnight, because I forgot one important detail: when making a gi-normous pot of anything, make sure you have enough containers to store it or enough people to eat it.  (Gi-normous pots do not fit in the fridge.)

I felt accomplished and validated when I was finished.  I have now completely conquered my fear of Italian cooking, and will be scouring the Food Network’s web site later to let them know I’m ready for my show.

And the next time I go to Sam’s, I’ll grab 2 cans of those tomatoes.

The Lucky Mom’s Red Gravy – Prepared with Love

Seasoning Pouch:

Seasoning Pouch

  • Basil (3 stems with 3-4 leaves on each)
  • Italian Parsley (3-4 stems with leaves on)
  • Thyme (3-4 stems)
  • 3 Bay Leaves
  • About 10 whole peppercorns

Wrap these items up in a tied cheesecloth pouch for easy removal later.


  • Olive oil
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 5 stalks of celery, diced
  • 2 large yellow onions, diced
  • 8 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 4 26-oz boxes of chicken stock
  • 2 12-oz cans of tomato paste
  • 1 gi-normous (6 lb.) can of crushed tomatoes
  • Salt
  • Italian seasoning blend (I like Frank Davis’ N’Awlins Sicilian Seasoning)
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 3 glasses of wine (1 for the sauce, 2 for the cook)

Pour a glass of wine and set aside.  Look up the words to an Italian song to sing intermittently while cooking.


Add seasoning pouch and simmer.

Sauté onions, celery, carrots and garlic in olive oil until lightly browned.  Sip wine while stirring.  When lightly browned, add tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, and chicken stock.  Stir.  Add seasoning pouch.

Simmer for about 30 minutes and then start tasting.  Add more stock if it’s too thick, more tomato paste if it’s too thin.  Add salt and Italian seasoning to taste.  Add sugar to balance the acidity according to your taste.

Continue simmering til it gets the way you like it, while sipping the second glass of wine.  Sing the Italian song to bring out the fullness of the flavors.

 My kids don’t like chunky veggies, so I cooked mine a long time (about 2 ½ hours) to get the veggies soft enough to “disappear.”  Then I used Chef Rob’s trick: use an immersion blender to puree the chunky veggies.  This will disguise them for the kids and speed up cooking time.  (Read the instructions if you’re not familiar with using an immersion blender.  Trust me on this.)

This recipe made enough sauce for me to have about 4 meals for my family of 5.  I freeze it in small containers (about 3 cups) so I can take out the amount I need.

Enjoy!  And if you try it out, I’d love to hear how it goes!

My tomato plants are mocking me.

My tomato plants are mocking me.

I’ve had a crazy-busy last couple of days, and we actually got some rain yesterday, so it’s been a few days since I went out to give them any TLC.  Today I walk out with the watering can, and what did my eyes see??  A beautiful orange-red tomato!!

Wait.  It’s a lacrosse ball.  And there’s a broken branch.

Looks like a tomato, doesn't it??

Lacrosse ball. 😦

Lots of tiny green tomatoes. We're waiting...

Maybe next week.

Table for 12

I love my dining room. Not because it’s all that fancy, or because we eat dinner in there all that often.  But because it’s become one of the places where the “Kodak moments” of my life seem to happen.  (I’m dating myself with the use of the term “Kodak moments,” aren’t I??)

My dining room is at the front of the house, just to the right of the front door, so it’s often the first impression people get when they visit my home for the first time.  In fact, if the rest of downstairs looks like it usually does, I will occasionally usher a visitor in that direction to avoid the general clutter that typically invades the direct path in.  For Halloween, when I’m opening the door for lots of people, I stage the table with decorations and candles, giving an ooohhh-aaahhh impression to those who peek in.  (It’s fine with me if they think it always looks like that!)

It serves us well for homework and studying.  The outlets in the room are usually available for a visiting laptop, and the big table is perfect for laying out flash cards or spreading out notes.

This is my first house with a real dining room.  When we moved in I had visions of fancy-smanchy dinner parties and grown-up soirees, with guests milling around, admiring my china and sipping from my good crystal.  Those events never did come to pass, but the things that have happened in this room have been even better.

I serve my holiday meals there, usually with extra tables pulled in for the family and friends who come to share special days with us.  Yesterday, as I was setting the table for Easter dinner, a wave of nostalgia came over me, and I started thinking about the memories the room had.  Snapshots flashed through my mind, and a smile came to The Lucky Mom’s face.

Christmas 2008, the year my husband was in Iraq. That year we only had 10 people at the table, but it was important to me to keep my tradition going.

We moved here in 1999.  That Christmas was the first time I was able to seat all of our guests in the same area.  We had several tables pushed together, spilling into the living room.  But we were all there.  A few years prior I had bought enough “party china” to serve more people than could possibly gather in my house.  I checked online to make sure the place settings were done right.  The room looked beautiful.

Thanksgiving of 2006 was the first holiday that our best friends (the ones we celebrate all special events and holidays with) were back in their house after Katrina.  After we sat down, my dear friend Elena said the blessing.  With her voice shaking and tears in her eyes, she gave thanks that we were all together again.  I’ll never forget that moment, for it reminded us of what really matters.

Our holiday crew has changed quite a bit over the years.  After Katrina, one whole branch of our family tree moved to Houston.  The next year, my mom went to heaven, and Gramps is now in a nursing home.  As for the “kid’s table,” 3 of the kids are in college, and 2 are over 6’ tall.  But they’re still our “kids,” and sit at their designated table without complaint.

Setting up the dining room for holidays is a bit of work — bringing in extra tables and chairs, pulling out the china, finding enough silverware for everyone.  Picking it all up is definitely a chore.

But I love it when my dining room looks like this:

because it means people I love are on their way!

Braciolone Note: Barding

I have learned from my nephew in culinary school that wrapping something in bacon or other fatty meat to enhance the flavor is called “barding.”

Now, I have wrapped the rolls in prosciutto to keep them from falling apart without the use of messy string.  While I realize my intent is different from the stated purpose of “barding,” I’m going to employ the term, anyway.

So, what I meant to say was that I was “barding” the braciolone rolls with prosciutto.

Mama Mia

Twenty five years ago, I married a half-Sicilian New Orleanian.  Anyone who knows anything about Italian boys from New Orleans knows that means he came with a big, loud, Italian family, and an Italian mother who loved to cook.  And her signature dish was bracioloni.*

This dish was served at all high holidays, and whenever an out-of-town relative was visiting.  All those gathered anticipated it, raved about it, and devoured it.  It was the apex of the food experience. 

Now, I myself come from a long line of good cooks.  Half Cajun and half redneck, I jest frequently that I can cook anything —  whether it comes from a grocery store or comes home in an ice chest.  From my grandmother’s chicken and dumplings to my mother’s duck, I’ve been taking it in my whole life.  But once I figured out the relationship between my husband and his mother’s cooking, I vowed I would never cook Italian food while she was still alive.  There was just no reason to put myself through that  process.  It would never be as good, and I would never hear the end of it. 

But the fact is, I really like Italian food, and my kids really like it, too.  So I started introducing some entry-level dishes to my husband and kids, like lasagna and chicken cacciatore.  They gave them rave reviews, and boosted my confidence.  When I saw a local chef presenting his bracioloni recipe on TV, he captured my attention.  I listened intently to his technique, and paid a visit to his grocery store/butcher shop the next day.  Armed with his advice, a small container of his “secret” seasoning blend, and a perfectly cut flank steak, I decided to give it a try.

It was quite different from my mother-in-law’s version of the dish, which made me feel better.  Rather than trying to out-do her, I was exploring my own variation of this favorite.  I did all the work while no one was home, thinking I could throw it away without anyone being the wiser if it was lousy.  But it wasn’t.  It was terrific, and my husband raved that it was better than his mother’s.**  I didn’t know if he was just being kind, or if it was actually that good, but when he asked me when I was planning to make it again I was validated.  Even though my mother-in-law was alive and well, I had shaken off my fear.  An Italian chef was born! 

As all good Southern cooks do, I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit, and my family loves it.  So when College Boy came home for Spring Break I decided to pull out the stops and reward him for spending the week with us, instead of going to the beach like everyone else.

Following this post is the photo-essay/recipe for The Lucky Mom’s bracioloni.   If you feel like trying it, let me know.  I’d love to hear how it turns out.

Fine print:

*The exact spelling and pronunciation of this dish is disputed everywhere.  Braciole, bracioloni, brocioloni, whatever.  It’s a fabulous stuffed, rolled meat.

** If anyone tells her this we will both categorically deny it.

Braciole — or Bracioloni — or Brociolone

  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 red sweet pepper
  • 1 yellow sweet pepper
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  •  ¼ cup of chopped Italian parsley
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • 2 cups of bread crumbs
  • 6 slices of provolone cheese, chopped
  • 1 cup of parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil
  • 10-12 pieces of very thin beef – Flank steak or Milanese cut steak
  • 10-12 slices of prosciutto
  • Lots of red gravy (marinara sauce)

Pan prep:  olive oil in the bottom of the pan.  (I like to use a glass pan.  It doesn’t stick as badly, and is easier to clean.)

Saute the first 5 ingredients in a little olive oil, until the onions are clear. 

Saute veggies til onions are clear. (There are no streaks that became visible with the bright flash of light. That is an illusion. My stove is spotless.)

Set aside to cool.  In a large mixing bowl, mix the bread crumbs and both cheeses.  Add the sautéed mixture, and add olive oil until it is thoroughly mixed and crumbly. 

At this point in the recipe, all chopping is completed, and sipping wine is permitted.

Place the meat on a cutting board and spread the stuffing across the entire piece. 

Roll it carefully, starting from the narrow end.  Wrap each roll in prosciutto to keep the roll from separating while cooking.  My mother-in-law Some recipes will tell you to use string to tie the roll closed.  DON’T DO THIS.  It makes a huge mess and gets red gravy all over everyone’s clothes when you have to remove it.

The prosciutto will tighten and secure the rolls while they cook.

Place the rolls in your pan, and bake in a 450 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, until the prosciutto tightens and the rolls are lightly browned. 

This is what NOT TO DO. I poured the sauce over the rolls before putting them in the oven to brown. Even though I scooped off as much as I could, there was too much moisture, and the prosciutto didnt shrink enough. Oh, well. They still tasted good.

 Remove from the oven, and reduce the temperature to 225 degrees.  Pour marinara sauce over all the rolls, and cover the dish with foil.  Return to the oven for 1 ½ hours.

Serve with pasta and warm bread.  Listen for the yummy noises from your family.


You may use a very large piece of beef, and make one family-sized braciole.  If you do this, wrap the prosciutto slices along the entire length of the roll.  Serve it on a big platter, sliced.

I make some without cheese for one of my kids who can’t have cheese… still yummy!

Next time I’m going to add some chopped sun-dried tomatoes to the stuffing.