My mother worked as a waitress at the Frolic, a nightclub on Revere Beach, along with her best friend Bonnie. Bonnie was a gorgeous Southern belle who also happened to be a bartender with a following. Occasionally, Bonnie — whose husband operated the General Edwards bridge at Point of Pines, making the drawbridge go up and down when boats needed to get past — would be called into work on short notice. That was a good thing, because then she would call me to come babysit. I loved taking care of her 1-year-old, Cheryl, who was the cuddliest, cutest baby.
As a treat, Bonnie would leave me a package of Jiffy corn muffin mix, which I would prepare after Cheryl went to sleep. “You make the best muffins,” she had assured me — many times. Making the best meant I added some water to the mix and stirred for a minute and then divided the batter into eight parts. I loved putting on the oven timer and waiting for it to ring as I set the table with grape jelly and butter for when Bonnie returned and we would enjoy a little time together. Even many years later, Bonnie would remember “my delicious muffins.” I’m sure her constant praise contributed to my false sense of culinary expertise when I was 10.
A few years later, at age 15, I was dating the man who would become my first husband. Sunday nights were spent at his house in Beachmont. His mother’s boyfriend, Ronnie, a handsome Italian who looked like a movie star — Ezio Pinza comes to mind — would bring his mother’s Sunday macaroni with meatballs and sauce, which we would enjoy after cocktails and some Perry Como music. My future mother-in-law, whom I adored, made drinks; “Seven and Seven dear?” We would sip her drinks while she made what she considered to be hors d’oeuvres — Kraft cheese cut in four squares and carefully topped with a slice of stuffed pimento olive right in the middle. Even at 15, I knew that to call them hors d’oeuvres was a long shot.
A few years later, when I was married, there were so many trendy foods. Coq au vin, chicken with wine, was a favorite dish to impress guests. I loved entertaining in those early days — brief though they were — before I had a child, and I would test my skills out on my friend Barbara Ross, who considered her job as taster as an act of cruelty on my part. She likes to complain that I sent her into labor with a dish of gnocchi which she said were like eating lead bullets instead of delicate puffs of potato, as intended. It is true that I had never made them before, but I rather doubt that they caused Barbara’s early labor pains. I did like experimenting with new dishes and I was gaining a reputation amongst our friends as being adventuresome. Chicken Kiev was also hot in those years; chicken stuffed with butter and chives which was deep fried.
Years later, when I was the food editor on Channel 7’s LOOK program, I was asked to do a commercial for Amtrak. The plan was that the crew would make me up and dress me in Boston and then we’d get on the train and halfway to New York I would taste and talk about the wonderful food that was served. It happened that my old favorite, Chicken Kiev, was on the Amtrak menu and would be among the items I would sample in the advertisement. In Chicken Kiev, chicken breasts are stuffed with chive-coated strips of butter that are shaped roughly like cigarettes. The key is to freeze the pieces of butter so they stay in place while the chicken is being deep fried instead of oozing away.
On the day of the shoot, I was all dressed and decorated and the crew was ready to go. I smiled at the camera as we shot our first take, and I pierced the breast with my fork and knife, excited to have my first taste. As the knife penetrated the chicken a geyser of butter shot through the air, landed on the ceiling of the dining car and dripped onto me. They had to stop the train while they made me up, got me fresh clothes and prepared another Kiev. It was a long trip to New York, but a memorable one.
Some of the foods from those days are still fun to prepare. Before the Patriots game against Buffalo last Sunday, I made Swedish meatballs. There are some tastes that linger forever and these meatballs are in that category. It adds to the indulgence of enjoying a 1 o’clock Pats game to plan a nice meal for after. During my restaurant years, Swedish meatballs were a regular choice for private parties — brides loved them, grooms loved them — they were time consuming, but worth it. They aren’t big like Italian meatballs, they’re small and smooth, crispy when fried and then put in a sauce to simmer. We served them at Rosalie’s with a side of grape jelly. I like them so much we had them after the game Sunday served over a nice light mashed potato. They were more delicious than I ever remember, maybe because I made them with my Veal Giorgio sauce (a cream sauce with dijon). I had some leftover apple cider in the fridge, so I added that too. Then I complemented them with my friend Jessica’s homemade grape jelly. When I told her how delicious her jelly was with them and that I saved her a few dozen she was thrilled and suggested that I could use IKEA’s Lingonberry jam which she buys by the case. Experience has taught me that you can always improve on just about anything. You just have to know the right people.
Swedish Meatballs with a cider Sauce over mashed potatoes and a side of Grape Jelly
Finely chop a half of a small onion and saute in two tbsp. butter for a few minutes. Set aside.
In a medium bowl beat a large egg with a few grates of nutmeg and a quarter cup of light or heavy cream, salt and pepper.
Add three quarters of a pound of ground meat, a combination of pork, veal and beef is nice, but ground turkey is also good. Use ground beef only if you prefer.
Add a quarter cup of chopped flat leaf parsley, reserving the stems for sauce, a dash of allspice and a cup of Panko bread crumbs and the onion and mix to combine.
Shape into one-inch balls and dip into flour, shaking the dish to lightly dredge. You do not want an excess of flour.
Heat three tbsp. each of butter and olive oil and carefully place in pan when butter and oil are hot. Move the balls around to coat with the butter and oil and fry till golden all over. Place the balls in a platter. Reserve the drippings.
Add three tbsp. of flour and another three tbsp. butter into the pan and cook for a few minutes.
In the pan pour a cup and a half of apple cider and a cup and a half of heavy cream, a tsp. of dijon mustard and the stems from the parsley and a half cup of beef or chicken broth.
Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes.
Place the fried balls in the sauce and simmer another 10 minutes.
In the meantime peel four medium potatoes and cut up into fourths, cover with water and a sprinkle of salt and boil till tender.
Push thru a ricer into a bowl and mash with three tbsp. butter and a half cup of warmed cream, salt and pepper.
Serve with a spoonful of mashed potatoes and several meatballs and a spoonful of jelly, your
choice. You will love this dish, especially if the Pats win.
Chicken breast flattened and stuffed with a cigarette shape off frozen butter which was wrapped in chives.