It finally happened.
My dog, Bebe, almost 2, caught a squirrel.
No, it’s not dead. At least I don’t think so. It probably wishes it was, though.
It was approaching 8 p.m. last Monday when I went out in the backyard for Bebe’s dishes to fill them with food and water for the night.
I looked around and saw Bebe, a small mountain cur with a docked tail. She enjoys climbing trees, joyfully running in circles with a toy in her mouth.
I grabbed her bowls and turned to go in the house.
Wait a minute, I thought. All Bebe’s stuffed toys are in her toybox. (Although she has three stuffed squirrels, her favorite is a stuffed penguin.)
So, if it’s not a toy … .
“Bebe!” I yelled, “Put it down and get in the house!”
My goodness, the dog has never been so obedient. She dropped it immediately and hightailed it through the dining room French doors. I scurried in after her. I looked out the glass door panes. Whatever it was wasn’t moving.
OK, I thought to myself, now what do I do?
I grabbed an old towel from the linen closet. Whatever it was, I was going to toss it over the fence with my eyes closed. Maybe it would miraculously be gone the next day.
I drew a deep breath and steeled my resolve.
I marched to the crime scene.
I looked at the traumatized victim. Its chest was barely heaving.
I knew then it was still alive.
But what is it? It has the face of a squirrel and the tail of a sewer rat.
As I scanned its anatomy for clues, I heard chattering. I looked up.
It was a squirrel edging out on a limb above my head, reading me the riot act.
It seemed prepared to attack with its bushy tail furiously waving back and forth.
I bolted back to the house. I waited for the ill-tempered creature to go away, or at least get out of jumping range.
“OK,” I said aloud. “It’s a squirrel, but for some reason it has no fur on the tail.”
I soon surmised what happened to its tail hair.
Bebe, you’re one sick puppy.
I returned to the rat-tailed squirrel lying in the grass. I didn’t see any movement anymore, so I lowered the towel to pick up the remains.
And it jumped up, screamed and rather quickly raced to the back fence.
I was startled but breathed a sigh of relief, until I realized I had a new problem.
It couldn’t climb the fence to safety because of its injuries.
As Bebe watched from the dining room, I tried to coax the squirrel out the back gate. I went left, it went right. I veered right, and it scampered left. At one time when I poked at it with a stick, it cried the most horrible wail.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I whimpered. I really did feel bad for the poor thing.
Eventually, it limped out the gate, which I shut and locked behind it.
Jay Harshaw, accomplished squirrel wrangler.
Bebe, squirrel dog extraordinaire, is banished to the doghouse for the foreseeable future.
Penguins, you’ve been warned.
“Pinot, Pasta and Parties” by Dee Dee and Paul Sorvino is as much a love story as a cookbook.
Sorvino, a noted character actor who played Sgt. Phil Cerreta on TV’s “Law & Order” and Paulie Cicero in the feature film “GoodFellas,” is also an accomplished opera singer, musician, businessman and sculptor and the father of Academy Award-winning actress Mira Sorvino.
Dee Dee, nee Benkie, an actress and political pundit, married her “ultimate Renaissance man” in 2014.
The book is written in the first person with both sharing their memories and viewpoints. They obviously spend a lot of time in the kitchen together. Each praises the other often and in glowing terms.
Sorvino takes great pride in his heritage and shares a glorious collection of authentic Italian dishes (his wife appears to be the cocktail expert). The highlight of the book is the massive amount of beautiful color photographs of the food and the couple themselves.
Among the more than 80 recipes in the 250-page book are a sauce for every dish (puttanesca, creamy vodka, ragu, etc.), Paul’s Pizza Dough, Polenta with Broccoli Sauce, Swordfish with Olives, Linguine con Vongole (expect clams), Shrimp Scampi, Porchetta (roast pork), Spaghetti Carbonara, Caponata (eggplant stew), Ossobuco (veal stew), Olive Oil Cake and Poached Peaches with Raspberry Sauce.
When you see the photos, you’ll want to make every recipe. Here is where I’d start.
Scallops with Bacon over Spinach
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces bacon
1 pound sea scallops
1 pound spinach
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon. When the bacon is partially cooked, move it to one side of the pan and add the scallops. Saute the scallops and bacon together until the bacon is crisp and the scallops are browned on both sides, about seven to 10 minutes.
While the bacon and scallops are cooking, place the spinach in a large pot with 2 cups cold water. Cover and steam the spinach until wilted. Drain the spinach in a colander, pressing down on it with a large spoon to remove all the water. Transfer the spinach to a large platter, add the scallops and bacon and serve.
Makes four servings.
The introduction to Northern Chicken Cacciatore with Mushrooms reads, “Chicken cacciatore translates to hunter’s chicken, a way of preparing chicken that dates back to the Renaissance. The dish is a stew that has many variations. In the United States, chicken cacciatore is almost always made with tomato sauce, but in Italy that is not the case. In southern Italy, chicken cacciatore is usually made with red wine, and in the North, white wine. This recipe is for a “white” chicken cacciatore, which looks a lot like chicken in wine sauce.
Northern Chicken Cacciatore with Mushrooms
1 (3- to 4-pound) chicken, cut in 8 pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour, for dusting
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock or canned broth, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
8 ounces pancetta, diced
1 pound assorted mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Dust the chicken with flour.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken in batches if necessary, and cook until lightly browned on all sides, about five minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and drain off all the oil from the skillet. Return the chicken to the skillet.
Add the white wine and 1/2 cup chicken stock. Cover and simmer until the chicken is tender, about 25 minutes.
While the chicken is cooking, melt the butter in another large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and pancetta and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft, about three minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for three minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup chicken stock and the thyme and cook for five minutes.
After the chicken has cooked for 25 minutes, add the mushroom mixture and any pan juices. Simmer for two minutes to blend the flavors. Season with additional salt and pepper.
Makes four servings.
Lasagna alla Mamma
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil or 4 whole basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 pounds lasagna pasta
1 container (32 ounces) ricotta cheese
1 pound mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch slices
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add onion and tomatoes with their juices. Add the basil and salt. Simmer, stirring to break up the tomatoes, for 30 to 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, place a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil for the pasta. Cooked the pasta until almost al dente, eight to 10 minutes, then drain.
Lightly coat the bottom of an 8x12-inch baking dish with some of the tomato sauce. Arrange a layer of lasagna pasta, end to end, to cover the bottom completely.
Cover the pasta with a layer of ricotta. Add a ladle full of sauce on top. Place 6 slices mozzarella, evenly spaced, over the sauce. Then begin the process again: pasta, ricotta, sauce, mozzarella. Add a last layer of pasta and mozzarella, then one more ladle full of sauce.
Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
Makes eight to 10 servings.
When was the last time you added polenta to your cupcake batter?
Orange Polenta Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
2 cups cake flour or all-purpose flour
3/4 cup fine polenta
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
Grated zest of 3 large oranges
16 ounces cream cheese
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or silicone cupcake liners.
To make the cupcakes, in a bowl, whisk together the flour, polenta and baking powder.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. With the mixer going, add one-third of the dry ingredients. Add 1 egg. Repeat by alternating the dry ingredients and the remaining 2 eggs. Add the orange zest and beat until smooth.
Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, place a scoop of the mixture in each cupcake liner. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry, about 25 minutes. Allow the cupcakes to cool before frosting.
To make the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter on low speed. Do not overmix. Mix in the sugar until just combined, adding the lemon juice at the end. Frost the cupcakes.
Makes 12 cupcakes.
“Pinot, Pasta and Parties” was released Tuesday. I see it’s priced at $18.87 on amazon.com.
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