Saturday, January 14, 2012

Home cooking, International style!

So now that you've had the first taste of our adventures in cooking, maybe we should pause and tell you a little bit about us and this blog.

We met at a Christmas party at St. John’s Catholic Church in Oxford, Mississippi on December 8, 2000, surrounded by delicious food, wonderful wine, good cheer, and the great friends who had introduced us. That first meeting set the stage for a wonderful journey together beginning on our honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta and later traveling across the U.S. and as far away as Singapore and Taipei. We travel constantly back and forth from Oxford, where Joe teaches journalism at the University of Mississippi, to Memphis, Tennessee, where Suzanne works as an international internal auditor for FedEx.

Home cooking is where Suzanne shines, but Joe claims mastery over a few dishes of his own. Music is usually in the background, whether it's jazz, blues, classical or international.

Suzanne's full-blooded Sicilian father and Southern-bred mother ran a small grocery store in Helena, Arkansas, that featured a wide range of Dad’s fresh-cut meats, including Southern exotica like raccoon, chitterlings, pig ears and oxtails! Italian dishes were a staple at the Centenio home. While Suzanne's family in Helena ate homemade spaghetti and meatballs on Sundays, Joe's family in North Carolina ate fried chicken. Joe’s soldier father ran a hospital kitchen in Munich during World War II, managed restaurants after the war, and reigned supreme in all things barbecue. Joe's German-born mother often made mornings special with her “German” pancakes.

We look forward to mixing it up in our kitchens in Oxford and Memphis, home cooking international style! Sounds like fun, huh? Stay tuned!

First dish up? Suzanne's Beef Braciole!

Welcome to our first adventure with Cooking International With Love!, our new blog featuring meals and recipes and tales of food, drink, and travel from Suzanne Centenio Atkins and Joe Atkins, happily married going on 10 years now and enjoying a New Year’s commitment to devote most Saturday nights to the cuisine of a foreign country in our own kitchen–either at our home in Oxford or in our apartment in Memphis.

There’ll be a bit of trial and error involved here, particularly when it comes to Joe’s cooking (his experience includes cooking for two young children as a single parent for eight years, and years of watching his great chef of a father in Sanford, N.C.), less so with Suzanne (a lifetime cook who learned at her mother’s apron in Helena, that great blues town on the Mississippi River in the Arkansas Delta).

Our first meal for this blog was prepared Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012, in Oxford, and it was Sicilian, of course: Suzanne’s Beef Braciole, or what she grew up calling “bruzhalini” (spelling? anyone’s guess), a delicious Italian stuffed rolled steak. To which she added pasta and fresh asparagus, garlic bread, plus a bottle of 2010 Alamos Malbec in honor of our late friend and Malbec lover Jane Orlovich in Chicago.

For the salad, Suzanne borrowed a recipe--"Insalata di Cetrioli e Capperi" (cucumber and caper salad)--from Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene and Michelle Evans' book Sicilian Home Cooking. The highlight of this salad are the finely shredded romaine lettuce, the capers, and, above all, the cucumbers, peeled and sliced thinly and whisked into a mayonnaise, oil and white wine vinegar sauce.

Suzanne also offered a fine dessert of ice cream topped with Godiva chocolate liqueur.

Our musical accompaniment ranged from Verdi to Frank Sinatra to the collection of Italian folks songs in the CD "Incantando" by Cantica Popularia, a group Joe heard on the streets of Munich, Germany, in the late 1990s. Mixed with the music, of course, were plenty of tales and food memories.

So let's get to the main dish, the braciole, a wonderful top round steak stuffed with a buttered, peppered, salted mix of chopped garlic, sauteed onions, bell peppers, celery, and boiled eggs, heavily sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. The recipe came from Suzanne's mother, Vivian Centenio.

"As a child I remember my mother making this on special occasions, on Sundays," Suzanne recalled. "It was a lot of work. As a child, I didn't like it because it had eggs in the center of it. My dad loved it!"

The preparation did have to come in several stages as the meat was stuffed with layers of onions, celery, boiled eggs, bell peppers, and lots of chopped garlic. It's an Italian meal, after all, so preparing the sauce properly was crucial.

Suzanne asked her mother about the origins of the recipe. "She said she got it from my Uncle Joe (Centenio). She never saw him make it, only describe it. He used his hands to describe it. Uncle Joe was definitely the cook."

Our next adventure will take us to Germany and its hearty, delicious cuisine. Auf Wiedersehen!