Friday, November 20, 2015

Second Verse, Same as the First: Thanksgiving Cooking

Thanksgiving means much loved favorites that only get trotted out once a year. And I'm ok with that. So no weird variations to try to make these much loved favorites "new" or "fresh." Just good, honest Thanksgiving cooking.

These dishes, for us, represent the perfect versions of their oeuvre.

Our day-after-Thanksgiving meal also is mandated by tradition. Chef salad featuring turkey (of course), blue cheese dressing and crumbled bacon (the real thing please!) on top. Mmmmmm, crumbled bacon ... except that since we do meatless Fridays, this feast actually comes on a Saturday.

Here are a few links to recipes I've posted before.

Herbed Thanksgiving Stuffing
This is the best stuffing ever and cooks in a slow cooker. I have made this five times now and never been disappointed. It really frees up the oven for other things and, if you happen to have a problem with sticking your hand up a turkey (no problemo here) then you're set free from that as well.

Skillet Cornbread
If you happen to like cornbread stuffing (which I do not), you may want to make this for your base. I've never found a better recipe.

Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Crumble
The funny bone in the menu is the sweet potato selection which in the past I have always played around with. Here is my current favorite.

Cranberry Ginger Relish
I also used to change up the cranberry recipe from year to year. No longer. This relish is practically perfect in every way!

Perfect Piecrust
This is not a misnomer. Very easy and very delicious. It is long but that is because of the detailed directions. You can't go wrong with this.

Pecan Pie
This is non-negotiable. Gotta have it.

Pumpkin Pie

Are you allowed to have Thanksgiving without this? Or watch the Cowboys play without having some? Nope.

AND Afterward ...
What do you do with the turkey carcass? I used to toss it, until being given a fantastic recipe for Turkey Bone Gumbo.

It is fantastically simple, especially if you fear not the roux which has been given a bad rap as far as I can tell. It does take some time but I do it in steps here and there so that on Sunday we have a delicious bowl of gumbo that hasn't been much trouble at all.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

From The Cake Mix Doctor which has some really terrific frosting recipes. Never, ever use frosting from a can.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoons salt

Beat the butter and cocoa powder until well combined. Add remaining ingredients and beat until frosting lightens and is fluffy. Add additional milk or sugar if necessary to achieve desired consistency.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Pesto alla Genovese

Pesto alla Genovese
(a.k.a. Basil, Garlic and Cheese Sauce)
via Wikipedia

The Time-Life Foods of the World books gave my family many favorites that were exotic in the 1960s but are standard now. So when Rose asked for our pesto recipe I knew The Cooking of Italy was the place to turn. You'll see many variations in different cookbooks but none are better than this.

It freezes well and that's a good thing because the July Texas sun turns my basil plants into monsters that have me making pesto once a week.

This recipe gives techniques for the blender (this was before food processors which is what I use) and the old fashioned mortar and pestle. I'll just leave that technique out because if someone is using those then they've already got a recipe. And they're more dedicated to authenticity than I'll ever be.

Pesto alla Genovese

Makes about 1-1/2 to 2 cups

2 cups fresh basil leaves, stripped from their stems, coarsely chopped and tightly packed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped pine nuts or walnuts
1 to 1-1/2 cups olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated imported sardo, romano, or Parmesan cheese

Combine the coarsely chopped fresh basil, salt, pepper, garlic, nuts, and 1 cup of olive oil in the blender jar. Blend them at high speed until the ingredients are smooth, stopping the blender every 5 or 6 seconds to push the herbs down with a rubber spatula.

The sauce should be thin enough to run off the spatula easily. If it seems too thick, blend in as much as 1/2 cup more olive oil. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and stir in the grated cheese.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Religion & Food: Paschal Triduum

The Paschal Triduum consists of the three days before Easter: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
The German name for Holy Thursday, Gr√ľndonnerstag means "Green Thursday." Green soup made with spinach, parsley, bean sprouts, dill, and cucumber in a chicken or veal stock base; eggs with green sauce; cucumbers and sour cream; and dandelion greens salad are traditional fare in Germany, Austria, and among the Pennsylvania Dutch.

... today's the day to indulge in these sweet rolls [hot cross buns] that are either carved with a cross or inscribed with one in icing. Or perhaps you'd prefer the fifteenth-century German custom of eating big fluffy pretzels with (peeled) hard boiled eggs ...

The Lenten fast is officially over today although many people continue it until Easter Sunday.
The Catholic Home by Meredith Gould

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fissler Magic Edge Can Opener

This can opener was the top rated in Cook's Illustrated recent look at manual can openers.

I have long disliked the trend of can openers in leaving the lid attached so that you have to wrestle it off the can. I realized finally this was to keep it from falling in the food but the risk of slicing fingers seemed an unacceptable trade off to me.

Rushing to Amazon I saw that it was quite reasonable and ordered one right away.

Then I just had to wait for a can to need opening. We really don't open a lot of cans. Just enough to make using that old fashioned can opener annoying.

At last the long awaited opportunity came up with a can of refried beans. This opener really earned the "magic" moniker. It attached effortlessly, turned easily, opened the lid from under the edge, left no sharp edges, magnetically held the lid and then, with a little backwards turn of the lever, dropped it in the trash.

It's the little things in life that are rewarding. This is one of those little things. Go get one.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Religion & Food: Lenten Food

Simple vegetarian soups are traditional throughout Lent, and each nationality has developed its own Lenten specialty. Consider slurping any -- or all -- of the following for the next forty days:
  • Eastern Europe: Vegetable-based split soups.
  • France: Onion soup, of course! Call it Zuppa Magna di Cipolle and you can claim its Italian.
  • Greece: Tomato soup.
  • Italy: Brodo Magro di Digiuno is made with leeks, onions, carrots, cabbage, and lentils; flavored with sage and bay left. Strained, it's a rich broth for other soups or to use with rice or pasta. Pureed, it's a hearty soup.
  • Russia: Borscht (beet soup) with mushrooms or barley. Sauerkraut and mushroom soup. Cabbage, potato, carrot, and barley soup.
Eastern Orthodox Church adherents still observe strict fasting -- relative to what most Roman Rite Catholics do -- during Lent. In fact, they are required to fast twice a week most of the year anyway. Check out this site to see what rigorous fasting looks like. If you decide to go the complete vegetarian route for the next forty days, check out Mollie Katzen's The Moosewood Cookbook. Published over two decades ago, it's still one of the best resources for vegetarian recipes and especially wonderful soups.

Strange but true: The pretzel is the oldest, traditional, authentically Christian Lenten bread. Some food historians trace its origin back to Roman Christians of the fifth century. Others insist that monks in southern France, or maybe it was northern Italy, cooked this egg- and butter-free snack up in A.D. 610. The former called them bracellae, Latin for "little arms"; the latter called them pretiola, latin for "little reward.

In either account, the dough configuration represents arms folded in prayer and the three holes represent the Trinity. thus you may eat these with impunity, but not gluttony, throughout Lent ...

So where does "pretzel" come from? Germans, who called these breads bretzel ("little bread") ... Palatine Germans, who would become known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, imported pretzels to the United States in 1710.
The Catholic Home by Meredith Gould

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Shrove Tuesday and Pancakes

Reposted for your Mardi Gras enjoyment.

Weeks of food antics peak on the last day of pre-Lent, Shrove Tuesday (a.k.a. Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Fasten's Eve, or Fastnacht). The name "Shrove" derives from the customary pre-Lenten "shrift" (confession), but it's mostly known for gluttony.

By now we're supposed to have had our last deluxe bacon-cheeseburger for the duration. In the old days, eggs, butter, fat, milk, and cheese were also considered verboten during Lent, so Shrove Tuesday was devoted to emptying the larder. For old times' sake, you might consider following this tradition, which also happens to be a healthier way of eating...

Flipping out over pancakes is so universal on Shrove Tuesday that the holiday is sometimes called "Pancake Tuesday" ... In England, Pancake Day is celebrated with races at which women over the age of sixteen, frying pans in hand, trot over 415 yards while tossing pancakes over at least three times...

In New Orleans, one of the less over-the-top Mardi Gras customs involves baking King's Cake, a yeasty, buttery confection flavored with lemon zest, cinnamon, and nutmeg decorated with purple, yellow, and green icing -- and these aren't even it's most distinguishing characteristics.

A tiny doll of the baby Jesus is baked inside the cake, which, when done, is doled out in huge slices. Whoever gets the slice with the doll provides the King's Cake the following year ... For an authentic King's Cake recipe check out the one at

Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) precedes Ash Wednesday and the period of Lenten fasting. Pancakes were eaten to use up proscribed foods, and it is claimed that their ingredients have special Lenten symbolism: flour is the staff of life; milk is innocence and purity; salt is incorruptibility; and eggs symbolize creation.
Here's my favorite recipe for pancakes. Enjoy!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Religion and Food: Carnival

Carnival foods could be regarded as a worldwide phenomenon, if the word "carnival" is taken in its wide sense, meaning any occasion of riotous revelry. However, in the narrower and more commonly used sense it refers to the day or week before Lent and especially Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), when Christians bid farewell to meat for 40 days.

Carnival (a term derived from two Latin words meaning "meat, goodbye") is celebrated most noticeably in Roman Catholic countries such as Italy, Spain, France, where various cities hold traditional processions with dancing, mummers, masks, lights, special street foods, etc. The custom traveled to the New World and is conspicuous in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro for example. However, some would say that the calypso and carnival tradition in Trinidad (and Tobago) eclipses by its size and exuberance anything else in the world. DeWitt and Wilan (1993) provide a vivid description of carnival time in Trinidad and of the street foods consumed by the revellers...

Which of the carnival foods enjoyed in modern times can be traced back to pagan times is an interesting question. One obvious candidate is the pancake ... Another is the fritter. An 18th-century poem entitled, "The Oxford Sausage" neatly pairs these items:

Let glad Shrove Tuesday bring the pancake thin
Or fritter rich, with apples stored within.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Green Beans Dijon

This is from a yellowing scrap of paper I tore from the WSJ weekend section some time ago. I'd stuck it in How to Cook Without a Book since it looked as if it could be adapted to one for steam/sauteing vegetables. It turns out, however, that I simply boiled up the green beans and followed the recipe.

I was afraid that much Dijon would be overwhelming but the cream and cumin worked wonders in gentling it to very palatable levels. Simply delicious and very easy.

Note: the original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of butter but the Dijon broke up when I followed that method. I threw it out and began again using cream instead of butter. So that's how I tell it below.

Green Beans Dijon

2 tablespoons cream
1/4 cup Dijon
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound freshly cooked green beans

Gently heat cream, Dijon, and cumin in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk to combine. When mixture is hot, turn off heat and add green beans, stirring gently until all the beans are coated. Serve warm. 3-4 servings.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Spicy Sausage Ragu

I really love the cookbook Pasta by Eric Treuille. The recipes are simple yet deeply flavorful. Every time I've made anything from it there is always just a little twist that helps it stand out from any similar pasta dish.

This recipe is a case in point. It seems like a simple pasta sauce and yet it is smoothly spicy in a way that we quickly became addicted to.

The only change I made was to double the meat. This was simply because I wanted to use up the entire 16-ounce package of Italian sausage, which was the only size available at the particular store I was at. It wasn't an overpowering presence, possibly because the sausage itself was fairly mild. We liked it that way so I left that possibility in the recipe.

Spicy Sausage Ragu

Step 1

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced

Heat oil in a skillet. Cook onion and garlic over medium high heat, stirring frequently, unstil soft and pale gold, 5 minutes.

Step 2

8-16 ounces Italian sausages, casings removed and crumbled
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fennel seeds (or 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 14-ounce can chopped Italian plum tomatoes

Add sausage. Cook, stirring to break up, until browned, 10 minutes. Add all remaining. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 20 minutes.

Step 3

2/3 cup heavy cream
Salt, pepper

Add cream. Cook, stirring until heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Step 4

1 pound dried pasta
Freshly grated Parmesan to serve

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water, until firm to the bite. Drain. Add pasta to the hot sauce. Toss well to coat. Serve immediately with Parmesan. Serves 4-6.

You can make the sauce up to 3 days ahead and refrigerate. Or freeze it up to a month. Defrost overnight in fridge.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Herbed Pita Crisps

Our daughter, Hannah, served these up to accompany cocktails when we were at her place for dinner one weekend recently. It is from Hors D'oeuvres by Eric Treuille and Victoria Blashford-Snell. She's a fan of that book, by the way, having given several appetizer and cocktail parties for her friends where they raved about the food, which was all from those recipes.

Hannah made these with naan bread and I liked them so well I made them the next weekend. The only caveat I have about using naan is that around the edges it is very thick. The resultant crisps, which must be baked much longer, can be hazardous to the teeth.

I had some Boyajian Garlic Oil in the cupboard which I substituted for the garlic and olive oil. It lent a faint garlic flavor quite nicely.

Herbed Pita Crisps

2 cloves garlic, crushed
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 pita breads
2 tablespoons fresh or 2 teaspoons dried thyme
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Stir garlic into oil. Cut each pita bread into 5 strips. Snip the end of each strip and separate to make 2 single layer strips. Place split side up on baking sheets.

Brush with oil and sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper.

Bake at 350° until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Serve plain or with your choice of dips.
Serves 40.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cincinnati-Style Chili

Here comes Fall weather and the first thing that springs to my mind is chili. Talking to my mother about a planned October visit for a horror-movie fest (this is my mother's passion, not mine) she brought up making a pot of chili. "There's just something about cooler weather," she said. To be fair, her weather is not going to be very cool since she lives in Florida, but we will crank the air-conditioning and pretend it is a chilly Midwest fall day.

The only question I have is whether she's thinking of Texas-style chili or the sort I remember from school lunches, which I really loved also. Since she grew up in Cincinnati I have a feeling I know which she'll pick. It was when looking through the archives to send her the links for choosing that I found I never shared this delicious recipe.

It is from Gourmet magazine and the only gussying up that I can detect is using black beans instead of the traditional kidney beans. I'm good either way. Love beans in my chili, although that horrifies and mystifies my Texas-bred husband and children. Good thing I'm adaptable!

Cincinnati-Style Chili

Step 1:

1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 pounds ground beef

Cook until softened. Add beef and cook, until no longer pink.

Step 2:

3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon each: ground coriander, allspice, oregano
1/4 teaspoon each: cayenne, cinnamon, ground cloves, mace
1 bay leaf

Add all and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Step 3:

1-1/2 cups water
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed

Add all and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary to keep beef barely covered, for 2 hours, or until thickened but soupy enough to be ladled. Discard bay leaf and season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Food Watch: Ratatouille

I discovered that I posted this elsewhere but never here, where food counts! So, a blast from our past which may be more worth watching than some of the new movies out now.

When "Fin" came up on the screen, I suppressed an impulse to applaud. No need. The audience around me, without my reservations, burst into applause anyway.

We watched Ratatouille under unusual circumstances. It was a 4:00 movie but the theater was full. Perhaps the rest of the audience, like us, had tried in vain to get into an earlier showing only to find it sold out. More unusually, in a movie marketed to children, this audience was three-fourths adults, adults of all ages. In fact, we ourselves were part of that demographic. Hannah, 18, had rearranged a date in order to make the movie with us. We were at the 4:00 movie specifically because Rose, 17, would not be able to make it over the weekend due to work schedules. Such is the power Pixar can induce in those who have learned that they have that most special of talents, the ability to make a good general audience movie that pleases everyone on many levels. Obviously they did not fail to please this time. I thought that nothing could equal The Incredibles, Brad Bird's most recent offering, but he has matched that, if not surpassed it.
Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.
Julia Child
Remy, the rat, has a love and appreciation for good food that is not shared by the rest of his family who see nothing wrong with eating garbage in all stages of decomposition. Circumstances team him up with Lingune, a hapless plongeur (dishwasher and kitchen assistant), who is trying hard to hold onto his job. Together the two begin to amaze diners at the Parisian restaurant of the late chef, Auguste Gusteau. Conflict arises not only from Remy's need to be hidden and yet guide Linguine, but from the animosity of the head chef, Linguine's romantic interest in the the kitchen's one female chef, the need for the restaurant to regain their five star rating which depends upon the approbation of food critic Anton Ego, and Remy's desire to be understood by his family while being able to express his art.

This is a far from simple set of conflicts, especially for a children's movie, and yet my desire to avoid spoilers leaves the list incomplete. Suffice it to say that the story is told simply and well enough to be thoroughly enjoyed by children while carrying complex food for thought that adults may well ponder long after the movie is finished. As well, this movie is a complete delight for anyone who has an interest in the food world. I will say more about that below, but if you are a "foodie," don't miss this movie. There are many subtle jokes that will delight you.

This movie didn't have the fast paced jokes we have come to expect since Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, or The Incredibles. There was a lot of verbal, situational, and physical humor but much of this, while appreciated, didn't result in laughs. However, when the laughs came they were big. Interestingly, when I noticed this, I noticed that the audience was silent the rest of the time. Everyone, including the children, some of whom were quite small, was engrossed by the story and giving it their complete attention. As die-hard movie fans who have attended many movies with large audiences of children, we know how unusual that is. Other than during Finding Nemo and The Incredibles (during which one young boy was so caught up in the movie he was shouting advice to the heroes), the only other time I have seen that was during Two Brothers.

There was a deft blending of living by "real world" rules with fantasy. It is fantastic enough that Remy and Linguine will work together, however, it is made clear that Remy cannot talk except to other rats. This is made clear in several scenes where we hear Remy's expostulations and then are switched to a human's point of view to hear only a rat squeaking. Remy's father constantly reminds him that to become close to humans is to live in danger of being killed as vermin. Yet at the end of the movie when the question of running the kitchen in a moment of extreme crisis must be resolved, a scene evolves that forcibly called to mind the Disney classic, Cinderella.

As always, the technical elements are handled perfectly. Voice work is flawless and not dominated by the big name stars we have come to expect. I followed the advice I read in a review and avoided knowing who was doing which voice so that I would not be playing "spot the voice" through the movie and I pass that same advice to you. Upon finding out who did voice work we were surprised that much of the time we never would have guessed, especially for John Ratzenberger (Cliff from Cheers) who has done a voice for every Pixar feature to the extent that it was a joke used in the credit scenes for Cars.

As one would expect, the animation is amazing. Remy scuttles up pipes and underfoot in the kitchen looking very like a real small animal, frightened in an unfamiliar world. When the rat colony is on the move, one automatically feels a bit of natural revulsion at the prospect of that many rats in an enclosed area. Unlike the early Pixar days of Toy Story, human movement is now mimicked on such a good level that we watch an entire kitchen of chefs moving deftly and are never jolted out of the movie's "reality" by motions that don't seem right. The scenes of Paris are so evocative of the real "City of Lights" that, as some critics have mentioned, I wished for more outside scenes. All this was done with "100% real animation" we are reminded in the end credits with wicked humor, with "no motion capture or other shortcuts" used in making the film. (To learn more about the debate raging in the animation industry about what constitutes "real animation," go here.)

A Few Themes
Warning: SPOILERS, please read this after seeing the movie
"I dare say it is rather hard to be a rat," she mused. "Nobody likes you. People jump and run away and scream out, 'Oh, a horrid rat!' I shouldn't like people to scream and jump and say, 'Oh, a horrid Sara!' the moment they saw me. And set traps for me, and pretend they were dinner. It's so different to be a sparrow. But nobody asked this rat if he wanted to be a rat when he was made. Nobody said, 'Wouldn't you rather be a sparrow?'"
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
First and foremost, there is the concept of being naturally drawn outside of one's accepted environment in order to express one's art. Obviously, this is shown in the concept of a rat cooking, which is continually being offset by showing Remy's concern with cleanliness around any sort of food preparation. We also see it in Collette's description of the chefs' backgrounds. She tells Linguine that people think of haute cuisine as snobbish but that the cooks are more like "pirates" who have found a way to express their inner creativity through cooking. (Anthony Bourdain was thanked in the credits and we see his influence in this. As a side note, read his Kitchen Confidential Updated Ed: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly for more about this.)

The idea of being societal outcasts is carried on more subtly, in details about the rat colony. Remy's father's name is Django, evocative of famous jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Having just heard an admirer discuss him, I also strongly associated him with gypsies. It is quite easy to see the association between Django's warnings about outsiders to Remy, their nomadic lifestyle, the constant assertions about "not stealing" and gypsies.

There is a strong theme of criticism in how people approach food, which can be naturally extended to other areas of life and society (such as the movie industry, perhaps?). One group, represented by the rats, view food as fuel. They are uncritical about what they eat and pay only enough attention to make sure they are not poisoned before they unthinkingly stuff themselves with whatever is available. Tellingly, the dastardly head chef's evil scheme is hawking Auguste Gusteau's good name after his death on a line of frozen foods. The opposite group, represented by critic Anton Ego (The Grim Eater), loves food so much that they will not eat anything that is not perfect. This elevates food far beyond its proper place in the scheme of things. Clearly Remy shows us that savoring pure, fresh ingredients and thoughtfully combining them is more satisfying than either of the other approaches. On a side note, we wondered how many people watched this movie and then went home to frozen dinners. Certainly, as I was flavoring the hamburgers while Tom fired up the grill, I found my thoughts drawn back to the movements we saw the chefs' making in the restaurant kitchen.

This approach is further emphasized by the cookbook Gusteau wrote, "Anyone Can Cook." The theme is emphasized over and over again, with the point being made in the final analysis, that not everyone need be a great chef to do so. Seeing the line of everyday people in front of Anton Ego's bistro underscores that theme and it is comforting to me that this emphasis was probably reinforced repeatedly to the Pixar team by their chef consultant, Thomas Keller, who is one of our country's finest chefs himself.

The Pixar team's thoroughness in understanding their subject, as has been noted before, extends to investigating the food world. This local food critic was not the only one pleased by the attention to detail. I couldn't wait to call my mother and share some of the details that no one else in the family caught. Poor Rose. I was continually poking her and whispering information that she just didn't care about. fact that Thomas Keller of The French Laundry had a voice credit ... no one cared. The five star French restaurant that was credited? No one cared.

Most of all, the most evocative food moment was one that explained a question I began wondering halfway through the movie. Why call it Ratatouille? Other than a clever play on the "rat" connection there seemed no reason to name the movie after that peasant vegetable stew. Until the supreme moment of revelation, which was done so perfectly that it brought howls of laughter ... and more whispering in Rose's ear from me. Later on, I asked, "Did anyone get that reference to Proust and the madeleine?" They all looked at me blankly. I felt just as I did when I took Hannah to see Beauty and the Beast, her first movie in the theater, and was the only member of the audience laughing because Lumiere was channeling Maurice Chevalier.

That moment of revelation in the movie's title refocused and redefined the entire movie in a new way around food, identity, and self.
Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? ...

And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom , my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks' windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Food Watch: Mostly Martha

Mostly Martha

Martha is a chef who has a great deal of discipline, an obsession with food although she never seems to eat, and little joy in her life. When her sister dies, Martha is forced into facing unknown situations after her orphaned niece comes to live with her. Then a new chef is added to the staff and Martha's loss of control seems complete. Suddenly Martha's life is no longer under control at all with the expected growth of character resulting.

This is a slow and deliberate movie but the acting and dialogue are great and a lot of the scenes are very funny. Naturally, as this is about a chef, it is a major "foodie" film. Mostly Martha is a German movie with subtitles but don't let that scare you. Actually we liked listening to the German and picking out words that were almost the same as in English ... but that's the kind of thing our family does for fun.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant KingdomVegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom by Deborah Madison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a beautifully written book which nicely weaves gardening and cooking anecdotes with factual information. Having read several other books which fill a similar niche I was interested to see how this one stacked up.

I really liked the writing and author's voice. However, none of the recipes appealed to me. To be fair, Madison is speaking to vegetarians whenever she writes and I am not in that group, though I do enjoy a good vegetable recipe as much as the next person. These recipes may all be quite stellar but the titles and descriptions never looked enticing. I tend to enjoy vegetable recipes coming from ethnic sources, especially Asian, and there is something about her recipes that always looks a bit forced in the way that many vegetarian cookbooks have done in the past.

I should add that there are some very basic recipes for most vegetables which anyone would enjoy, however, I have been cooking long enough that many of these are in my regular repetoire. Thus I must depend on the other recipes to make a cookbook valuable.

Chalk it up to a disconnect between Madison and me. Others with different taste will probably get a great deal out of this book, not to mention the basic vegetable family knowledge which Madison conveys. I'll stick with Nigel Slater (Tender) and Bert Greene (Greene on Greens) as well as various Asian and Middle Eastern recipes.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tips & Tricks: Frozen Coffee Cubes

A few years ago I gave y'all a great recipe for iced coffee.

For a while I made it and then my interest in iced coffee took a nosedive.

Recently my interest revived, but not to the point of all that planning ahead. I'll admit it. I just save the leftover black coffee from that morning and dose it up with a bit of milk and some sugar.

To my palate it is just about the same. Which may say more about my lack of discernment about iced coffee than anything.

What I could discern though was that the cold milk wasn't getting the coffee "iced" enough and adding ice cubes watered it down. Ugh.

I have begun using a little trick that I read about decades ago in a mystery novel, The Innocent Flower by Charlotte Armstrong. Some frozen cubes of coffee provided a neat twist in the mystery solution and also powerfully grabbed my imagination.

I began keeping a stash in the freezer and lo and behold! No more diluted iced coffee!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Food Watch: Spinning Plates

It's not what you cook. It's why.

Spinning Plates

This was a fascinating comparison of three very different restaurants - one high concept where the chef is like an artist, one Iowa restaurant that holds the community together, and one Mexican restaurant where the family has placed their hopes for a better life on its success. The flow is masterful between the places as their stories progress and we get to know the main restauranteurs.

It was also interesting in that none of these were about going somewhere to get a bite to eat. All these places were the focus of hopes, dreams, and fulfillment on an entirely different plane than mere sustenance. It compares well with Jiro Dreams of Sushi and, in fact, I liked it better.

We found ourselves afterward in terms of our own business, our own hopes and dreams, and our own lives. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Grilled Salmon with Chili-Lime Sauce

This is from Quick & Easy Vietnamese by Nancie McDermott. McDermott has become a real favorite of mine for simplified but authentic Asian meals.

This could not have been easier or more delicious. 'Nuff said. Get out there and cook it!

Grilled Salmon with Chili-Lime Sauce


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped ginger
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon chopped shallots or onion
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1-1/4 pounds thick salmon, tuna, halibut, or other meaty fish filets

Combine all the marinade ingredients, dissolving sugar. Marinate fish for 20-30 minutes at room temperature or refrigerate for up to 1 day.

STEP 2 — Chili-Lime Sauce

1/4 cup fish sauce
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or white vinegar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce
1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onions

Combine sauce ingredients, dissolving sugar. Place on platter on which fish will be served.


Grill fish for about 5 minutes each side or bake at 375° for 15 minutes. Transfer to serving platter alongside Chili-Lime Sauce and serve hot or warm.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tips & Tricks: Side to Side Whisking

I like to whip cream using a whisk instead of my Kitchen Aid mixer.

There's something tactile about watching the cream change as I whisk it around. And to my mind it makes less to wash up after. Though that's probably not really true. But it's stuck in my head, so there you go.

I was interested when the July/August Cook's Illustrated has a piece on The Best Way to Use a Whisk.

It turns out that "side-to-side" works best. Much better, in fact, than the standard beating action we've all been taught. There's a lot of scientific talk about "shear force" and suchlike, and you can pick up a copy to get all the scoop.  I made a Pavlova last weekend and whipping up that cream with a back and forth action was definitely easy.

I also must put in a word here for Trader Joe's heavy cream. They've got really great dairy products, including a cottage cheese that is better than any of the regular stores. And their whipping cream is a nice thick and delicious product.

More about that Pavlova to come ...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pavlova with Strawberries

This is from The Silver Palate Cookbook. The Pavlova is a meringue based dessert which was created in honor of the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. Like her, as the story goes, it is light, airy, and elegant.

I'll tell you this. It is absolutely delicious. Everyone had two helpings.

It is also much, much easier than you might imagine. If you've got a mixer for whipping the egg whites it will be a real breeze. If not, however, hand whipping will do just fine. It will just take a little while. I'd say that more important than a mixer would be the superfine sugar which blends so easily into the egg whites.

I've worked with meringue cookies enough that when I realized I didn't have an 8" springform pan, I didn't panic. Instead I experimented and it worked out just fine (details of that are in the recipe). The guest of honor whose visit inspired this dessert production doesn't drink so I didn't use any liqueur on the strawberries. It was delicious anyway, of course.

This is from Wikipedia because
I forgot to take a photo of mine, which looked just like this,
except it had sliced strawberries.

4 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup heavy cream, chilled
2-3 cups strawberries, sliced and sprinkled with sugar and Grand Marnier

1. Preheat oven to 275 F. Butter and lightly flour an 8-inch springform pan. [I didn't have a springform pan. I traced an 8" circle on parchment paper, using a cake pan and pencil. No buttering or flouring needed that way. Put the parchment on a cookie sheet.]

2. Beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar together in a bowl until the whites hold a stiff peak. Add the sugar a few tablespoons at a time, beating until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Beat in the cornstarch, then the vinegar, and the vanilla.

3. Gently fill the pan with the meringue mixture, spreading it higher around the edges than in the center of the pan to form a depression. [If using my "panless" method, spread the meringue over the circle and build the edges up ... or conversely, gently put a depression in the middle of the meringue so that one has a hollow shell form.]

4. Bake until the meringue is firm and lightly browned about 1 to 1-1/2 hours. [I baked it for 1-1/2 hours.] Pavlova will remain moist inside. Cool slightly, unmold, slide onto a serving plate, and cool completely.

5. Lightly whip the cream. Just before serving, spread the pavlova with whipped cream and then with the strawberries. Serve immediately.