Dearest Boo, today is the annual Kentucky Derby. In years past we would sit down and watch it, because of your love of horses, but today conflicts have won the day. Something had to give and it was watching the Derby. Oh well……at least we have our memories.
And memories of the Kentucky Derby always bring forth the memory of our Gourmet Derby Dinner. We were members of two “gourmet” groups. I am not sure which group was first, but I do know that they were with two different beginnings. You would call one “The Fancy Schmancy” Group and the other was “The Drinking Group”.
The Fancy Schmancy Group had five other couples, where the host couple planned the entire menu and gave different courses to the other couples along with the recipes. The host couple always had the main entree and was responsible for any alcohol that would be served before, during or after the meal. With their being six couples, this big responsibility was your’s only twice a year. The other ten times you just made a recipe that was given to you. It was stress-free time for you, as you did not have to figure out what to prepare, find the recipes (making sure that the one you will prepare can be practically finished before which will allow your time to be devoted to the guests and free up your kitchen for any last minute needs for the other courses), divide out the meal to the other couples, clean your home, figure out a “table-scape”, decide what music to having playing to help set the mood, coordinate with the other couples to find out what types of serving dishes/utensils they will need, clean out the refrigerator so that when the other couples open it up you won’t be embarrassed at what “surprises” they might encounter, come up with/and make the favors the other guests will take home as a memory of their fun evening, and remember to breathe and have fun.
The Drinking Group was almost the exact opposite. This group had four other couples and began with the men deciding to have a group where they did the entertaining/deciding/and preparing the meal. Awwwwwwww-right! Now we are talking! Your father loved to entertain – and by entertaining I mean he loved having couples over every Friday and Saturday. He loved parties where he was responsible for nothing, but got the pleasure of sitting at the head of the table and accepting compliments for the evening. How nice that once a month I was able to relax for the meal. That lasted maybe for two months and then it reverted back to me. Oh well, truth be told I did love it and was a bit of a control freak. I wanted to be the one making all the plans when it was at our home. I wanted to be in control.
One time, when it was our turn for The Drinking Group, the date was the same as the Kentucky Derby Run for the Roses. Of course, I instantly knew that I wanted to do a Kentucky Derby theme. It was perfect for us. The Derby was all about horses and we were about horses. We all rode, we had horses, we had a horse farm, we had riding gear….perfect, perfect, perfect. I cannot remember what we had to eat, but I do remember our “decorations”. Two days before the “big event” I drove the truck out to the barn and loaded the back up with saddles, bridles, helmets, blankets, stirrups, and, the “piece de resistance”, the fiberglass, life size horse. Everything was easy to load and bring back into town to our home. The horse, however, was another story.
Problem, it was mounted to the roof of the barn one story off the ground. I knew that I could not ask your father for help, he would be appalled that I wanted to do this decoration. He was the proud owner of this “horse” by means of the barter system. He did some work for a gentleman who made fiberglass objects for his living. This gentleman then gave your father this “horse” as his payment. I had to push that from my mind, I was a whack-a-doodle on a mission. I must have this horse for our dinner party! With some fancy talking I was able to get the young man who worked at the barn to scramble up on the roof, unhook it from it’s stand, and lower it to the bed of the truck. I was there to help lower it into the bed. Easy peasy. Then we strapped it to the truck and off I drove the ten miles back into town, praying the entire trip that the cross winds on the highway would not be too strong to blow it out of the truck bed. Oh heck! Let’s be honest – I was on a mission. I wanted that horse for the party, I needed that horse for the party, I would have that horse for the party! Pretty sure I never even gave it a thought about the cross winds blowing it out of the truck bed. There is a saying that “God takes care of babies and idiots”. Well, He certainly took care of this idiot on that date. The horse and made it safely into town and into our yard, not without a lot of odd looks from our neighbors and friends I encountered on the way. Good thing that cell phones were not popular at that time, as I am sure your father would have heard about my escapade long before he came home. I knew that it would be much better if your father came home and saw the horse in place in the front yard. It would be much easier to ask forgiveness than to ask for permission.
Next problem, how to get it out of the truck bed all by myself. I could not risk asking for anyone’s help. The fewer people that knew about this the better. Somehow I was able to get the horse out of the truck and into place in the front yard. The only thing lacking was the garland of roses that would hang around the horse’s neck to add as much of a note of reality as I could. This was easy, as I had been working on that for almost a week in secret. Well, the actual making of the garland was not easy, but the idea was easy. I could not find a piece of styrofoam large enough for me to carve out the horseshoe shape in town, so I had to drive three hours away to Omaha where they had large craft stores. While I was there I purchased about fourteen dozen artificial red roses to cover the styrofoam. Once I had all the supplies and the carving of the shape was finished, the covering it with roses was the easy part. It looked perfect! And once it was on the horse it was truly perfect! I don’t remember your father’s reaction, so maybe he was used to my idiot schemes and it did not phase him one bit.
The dinner party was a success, everyone had a good time and they all loved the horse scape throughout the living room, dining room and kitchen. It helped that all the other couples were “horse people”. I went to bed that night flush with my success and slept soundly the night through. That, however, was not the case with one of the couples who were at the party. They were our neighbors and fun loving pranksters. The next morning, after your father finished his round of golf, we set about the get the horse back to it’s rightful home. Your father told me to take the front of the horse, as it was the lighter end, and he went to the back side. Our plan was to lift it up, strap it into the bed of the truck and your father would safely drive it back to the barn. Once there he and the young man at the barn would get it back onto the roof. Okie dokey. We got ourselves into place and on the count of three I was to lift the front end and your father would lift the back end. I heard “one, two, three, oh shit!” from your father. Oh come on! It wasn’t that heavy. I handled it down into the truck by myself from a height of six feet, certainly the two of us could lift it up three feet. What took me a few seconds to realize was that his “oh shit” was not just an expression some failure of the task, but was actually what was real. It seems that our fun loving friends had gone around the neighborhood after they left our home with a five gallon bucket “collecting” dog poop from all the other yards. They then emptied it onto the ground beneath the horse’s bottom, making it all look very authentic. Somehow, neither of us noticed this added bonus to our landscape until your father stepped directly into the five gallon mound of poop. Hence, his “oh shit!” remark. Not a good ending to a wonderful party. Oh well, at least it was not me in the poop!
This is one of our latest and your favorite Italian meals. Braciole (pronounced “Brah – zhul”) was what you requested for breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day. Leftovers? Gone. Joy Rising!
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hrs (2 1/2 hrs are simmer time for the beef rolls)
Source: Anne Burelle (www.foodtv.com)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup finely diced pancetta (Italian bacon)
- 1 large onion, finely diced
- Kosher salt
- Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 cups day old Italian bread, crusts removed, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 cup milk
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
- 1/2 pound button or cremini mushrooms, sliced (you can omit)
- 1/2 pound spinach, stems removed and cut into chiffonade (to cut spinach into long, thin strips)
- 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1/2 cup grated provolone
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 2 pounds top round, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices (about 12)
- jar of your favorite pasta sauce/marinara sauce
- grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnish
- chopped parsley leaves, for garnish
- special equipment: toothpicks
- Coat a large saute pan with olive oil, add the pancetta and bring the pan to a medium heat. Cook the pancetta until it gets brown and crispy, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the onions and crushed red pepper and toss to incorporate with the pancetta. Season with salt, to taste. Cook the onions until they are soft and very aromatic, about 7 to 8 minutes.
- While the onions are cooking, in a large bowl, combine the bread and the milk. Toss to combine and let sit until the bread has absorbed the milk and is very soft. Use your hands to get in there and really squish everything together. Reserve.
- Add the garlic to the pan with the pancetta and onion and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt, to taste, and saute until the mushrooms are soft and have let off their moisture, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the spinach.
- Add the onion/mushroom mixture to the reserved bread and stir to combine. Add the pine nuts, provolone and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and stir to combine. Taste to make sure that the mixture is delicious and season with salt, to taste, if needed. Set aside.
- Lay the beef slices between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and gently pound with a meat mallet to flatten and even out the slices. Put about 1/4 cup of filling on 1 end of each of the pounded beef slices and roll up. Secure the rolls with toothpicks. Repeat this process with the remaining beef and filling.
- Coat a large, wide pot with olive oil and put over medium-high heat. Season the beef rolls with salt, to taste, and brown them on all sides. When the beef rolls are brown on all sides, cover with your pasta/marinara sauce.
- Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the beef is very tender and flavorful, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
- Remove the toothpicks before serving.
- To serve, arrange 2 or 3 braciole on each serving plate. Halve 1 or 2 rolls to expose the stuffing.
- Spoon on some of the sauce and garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano and chopped parsley.