Friday, December 31, 2004

Weekend Joke

This doctor always got really stressed out at work. So every day on his way home, he'd stop and see his friend Dick the bartender. Dick would know the doctor was coming, and he'd have an almond daiquiri ready for him. The doctor would come in and have his almond daiquiri and go home. One day Dick ran out of almonds, and he thought, "Well, the doctor won't know the difference." So he cut up a hickory nut and made a daiquiri with it. When the doctor came by, Dick put the drink in front of him. The doctor took a sip and said, "Is this an almond daiquiri, Dick?" And Dick said, "No, it's a hickory daiquiri, Doc."

Thoughts for Food

Reality check: you can never, ever, use weight loss to solve problems that are not related to your weight. At your goal weight or not, you still have to live with yourself and deal with your problems. You will still have the same husband, the same job, the same kids, and the same life. Losing weight is not a cure for life.
Phillip C. McGraw, The Ultimate Weight Solution: The 7 Keys to Weight Loss Freedom, 2003

For Good Luck, Celebrate the New Year With...


... grapes? If you're Spanish, yes! Here are some other food traditions to get the new year off to a good start.

For Long Life:
  • Shrimp because the curved back resembles the stature of an elderly person - Japan
To Bring Money:
  • Black-eyed peas (resembling coins) and collard greens (cash) - American South
  • Lentils (coins) - Italy
  • Steamed dumplings (resemble gold nuggets) - Northern Chinese
  • Pork (for prosperity) - France
For Good Luck:
  • Eat one grate at each stroke of midnight for every month of the new year - Spain
  • Figs, dates, and honey - ancient Romans
  • Lasagne - Sicilians
  • Vasilopita (a cake with lots of nuts and a coin baked inside) - Greece
To Fulfill Wishes:
  • Herring (make a wish as you swallow) - Denmark (boiled), Poland (pickled), Japanese (roe)
For Good Health:
  • Pancakes - France
For Love:
  • An orange - Italy
Source: Chow magazine
What will we do? We'll stick with that old favorite, champagne, on New Year's Eve and a family chosen favorite for New Year's Day. We're sadly untraditional that way.

Didja Know?

During World War II, bakers in the United States were ordered to stop selling sliced bread for the duration of the war on January 18, 1943. Only whole loaves were made available to the public. It was never explained how this action helped the war effort.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

News Flash: Eating More Fruit and Veggies Helps You Lose Weight

Nothing new in that info but maybe understanding the logic behind it will help reinforce those habits ... even if you don't want to lose weight eating more produce is always a good goal for general health reasons. Better more fruit and veggies than Slimfast!

"Calories count, no matter what you read in the press. The laws of thermodynamics have not been reversed."

With respect to weight gain and loss, the laws of thermodynamics can be translated: Calories consumed must be used or they will be stored as body fat. The body does not waste energy, no matter what its source. When people are placed on carefully controlled diets, the amount of fat in the diet has little effect on weight loss, Dr. Rolls reported ...

"People tend to eat a consistent weight of food," Dr. Rolls has found. When consuming a calorie-dense food high in fat, people are likely to eat more calories just to get in a satisfying amount of food.

What increases food volume without adding calories? You guessed it: water. And what foods naturally contain the most water? Fruits and vegetables.

"People given the message to eat more fruits and vegetables lost significantly more weight than those told to eat less fat," Dr. Rolls said. "Advice to eat more is a lot more effective than advice to eat less."

Dallas Morning News (free registration required)

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Gettin' Crabby

Over the last couple of years, low-crab diets have been all the rage. Every product under the sun now seems to have a low-crab version. Who knew tortillas had crabs in them to begin with?

Frankly I don't get it. Why demonize this crustacean? Crabs and their kin have fed humanity for probably a thousand million years. It just goes to show how silly people can be. Melissa and I decided to thumb our nose at low-crab zealots and do a series of high-crab dinners.

Derrick at An Obsession with Food gets serious about low-crab fanatics ... and then gets serious about a whole lotta crab cookin'. (Also, that "angry eyes" caption just killed me ... love to find other Toy Story 2 fanatics out there.) martha, martha, aren't you on that low-crab diet?

Dinner at Veracruz

Frasier: What's the one thing better than an exquisite meal? An exquisite meal with one tiny flaw we can pick at all evening.
Niles: Quite right. To impossible standards!

We went to dinner with friends and there was not even one tiny flaw to pick at. This tiny restaurant is on the edge of the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff. Tom and I hadn't been to this area before and found it charming and eclectic. What else can you say about an area that has a shop (ifs ands & butts) carrying only cigarettes, cigars and specialty soda pop? For the details, go here.

Monkey's Been Busy in the Kitchen

I never cared too much for pannetone but watching Monkey turn this one into a delicious bread pudding (for which I care a great deal!) might make me buy one just to try the recipe.

UPDATE: For those who do care for pannetone, Deb at In My Kitchen has an in-depth report about her own adventures in baking one for Christmas (believe me, she really threw her heart into this!).

Kitchen Essential

butter bell

This is the best thing going for keeping butter soft without refrigeration. It works even in the middle of a Dallas summer, although I do change the water every day or so when it is hot outside. You pack the butter into the "bell" part while the other section is about 1/4 full of water. The water creates an airtight seal around the bell when both pieces are together. Thanks to the butter bell we always have soft butter for our bread! I have seen these available at King Arthur Flour, Sur la Table, and Butter Bell, the original purveyors.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Bananas - Is There Anything They Can't Do?


Part II about that amazing wonder fruit, the banana.

Blood Pressure: This unique tropical fruit is extremely high in potassium yet low in salt, making it the perfect way to beat high blood pressure. So much so, the US Food and Drug Administration has just allowed the banana industry to make official claims for the fruit's ability to reduce the risk of blood pressure and stroke.

Brain Power: 200 students at a Twickenham (Middlesex) school were helped through their exams this year by eating bananas at breakfast, break, and lunch in a bid to boost their brain power. Research has shown that the potassium-packed fruit can assist learning by making pupils more alert.

Constipation: High in fiber, including bananas in the diet can help restore normal bowel action, helping to overcome the problem without resorting to laxatives.

Hangovers: One of the quickest ways of curing a hangover is to make a banana milkshake, sweetened with honey. The banana calms the stomach and, with the help of the honey, builds up depleted blood sugar levels, while the milk soothes and re-hydrates your system.

Monday, December 27, 2004

What a Bargain!


Just back from Borders where I found this book on their bargain table for $10. I see that Amazon has it listed for $50 new and $20 used. It has the DK-style layout that I love (just grown up picture books, don't ya know?) and seems really complete. Woohoo!

Under the Tree

Santa was very good to the Glad Gastronome this year:
  • A waffle maker that makes 4 waffles at one time (on my list for a couple of years). It is so annoying to make one waffle at a time for several people and try to have everyone be able to sit down together for a meal.

  • New oven mitts, with a lovely cow design.

  • The Slow Cooker Ready and Waiting Cookbook by Rick Rodgers. Now I can quit checking this out of the library repeatedly.

  • Salsa sampler bowls ... a total surprise but perfect as I had planned Mexican food for tonight. I can think of a LOT of other uses for this.

All wonderful gifts and they'll get a good workout in the year to come.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Weekend Joke

This guy goes into a restaurant for a Christmas breakfast while in his hometown for the holidays. After looking over the menu he says, "I'll just have the eggs Benedict."

His order comes a little while later, and it's served on a big, shiny hubcap. He asks the waiter, "What's with the hubcap?"

The waiter sings, "O, there's no plate like chrome for the hollandaise!"

Back to Basics

Particularly popular in southern Europe, this confection is made with sugar or honey, roasted nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios or hazelnuts) and sometimes chopped candied fruit. It can be chewy or hard and is variously colored. White nougat is made with beaten egg white and is therefore softer. Brown nougat is made with caramelized sugar and, in addition to being a darker color, is normally firmer in texture.
The New Food Lover's Companion (2nd ed.) by Sharon Tyler Herbst

Thought for Food

If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.
Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas


There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness were the themes of universal admiration. Eded out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish) they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

May your Christmas celebration be as thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated by one and all.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Joyful Anticipation of the Coming Celebration


Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit's wife, dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap, and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons; while Master Peter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes, and getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob's private property, conferred upon his son and heir in honor of the day) into his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly attired, and yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks. And now the two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker's they had smelled the goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage in onion, these young Cratchits danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes, bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Thursday, December 23, 2004

As American As Apple Pie

APPLE PIE: An American Story by John T. Edge

John T. Edge continues the series about iconic American food that he began with Fried Chicken. Charming and informative as ever, Edge travels the country interviewing all and sundry in search of the perfect apple pie. This is the same formula that kept me riveted in Fried Chicken but halfway through this book my interest waned. I suspect this is not Edge's fault but more due to the fact that I have a lukewarm interest in apple pie at best (again unlike fried chicken which, evidently, I can read about all day).

I found myself wanting to hear about other kinds of pie. This brought up vague memories of another book which sent me to the library where I found just what I was looking for, American Pie. If nothing else, I'm glad I read Apple Pie because I rediscovered that book. More about that later as I am rereading it now. In the meantime, if you have a love of apple pie, you may well enjoy this book. I am looking forward to the other books projected for the series ... about hamburgers and donuts.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Amazing Baking Girl

Rose has been baking like a fiend getting ready for Christmas. Thank heavens, because I have made one batch of cookies (Amaretti). Hannah made Mexican Wedding Cakes (she has the touch and, besides, she took the batch Rose made last week to her Ancient Philosophy class for a party).

Rose has made Sugar Cookies, Peanut Butter Bears, Chocolate Biscotti, Gingersnaps, Buckeyes, some sort of delicious chocolate cookie and some gingerbread cookies that none of us like. After we got past the Gingersnaps I told her to just please herself and I've been to the store two days in a row buying things like corn syrup and coconut.

We also planned fudge and peanut brittle using the recipes in Short & Sweet. Rose learned that if you are not careful with condensed milk it burns to the bottom of the pan so thoroughly that it will take 3 people more than two days of occasional scrubbing to clean it up. Every so often one of us will walk by and grab the steel wool to do a little work on the pan. We have a large clear patch in the middle but there's still plenty of scrubbing ... we are gonna be well conditioned by the time this is through!

Bananas - Is There Anything They Can't Do?


First in an occasional series on an apparently miraculous fruit...

Instant Energy: Containing three natural sugars - sucrose, fructose and glucose combined with fiber, a banana gives an instant, sustained and substantial boost of energy. Research has proven that just two bananas provide enough energy for a strenuous 90-minute workout.

Depression: According to a recent survey amongst people suffering from depression, many felt much better after eating a banana. This is because bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to make you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel happier.

PMS: Forget the pills - eat a banana. The vitamin B6 it contains regulates blood glucose levels, which can affect your mood.

Anemia: High in iron, bananas can stimulate the production of hemoglobin in the blood and so helps in cases of anemia.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Overnight French Toast Casserole

This is for my dear friend Cyndie. I made it for a retreat that we provided breakfast for and then we munched the leftovers later. I'm glad she liked it enough to want to serve it on Christmas morning!

The recipe is from Desperation Entertaining. The original calls for 1-1/2 cups orange juice but my family didn't like it in the trial run so I substituted milk which is what I put in the recipe below. I also added the sugar.

Step 1:
Cooking Oil Spray
1 large loaf (1 pound) Italian-style or French-style bread, cut into bite-sized cubes
Spray a 13 x 9 -inch baking dish with cooking oil spray. Place bread cubes in pan.

Step 2:
6 large eggs
1-1/2 cups half-and-half
1-1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick butter)
3/4 (3 onces) chopped pecans, walnuts or almonds

Maple syrup for serving

Bread eggs into a large bowl and whisk well. Whisk in the half-and-half, milk, and cinnamon until well combined. Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes. Press the bread cubes down into the egg mixture. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours. The casserole can be refrigerated, covered, at this point for up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Place butter in a 2-cup or larger glass measure, cover with a paper towel, and microwave on high until melted, about 45 seconds. Uncover casserole and press down the bread cubes already in it to moisten. Sprinkle the nuts over the bread cube mixture. Drizzle melted butter over all.

Bake, uncovered, until lightly browned on top, about 35 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting it into squares and serving. Pass syrup at table to drizzle on top.

Serves 8.

Christmas Goodies

Julie M. (yes, one of the gang of Julies and a blog-sistah in the kitchen) has added some Christmas goodies to Illuminated Culinarity. Rush right over for Christmas Candy and Nutmeg Logs (which have me quite intrigued). I'm glad she put the photo ... I almost can taste them!


Wandering around Half Price Books this weekend I came across two great deals. The first was Matt Martinez' Culinary Frontier ... a book I'd been looking for ever since checking it out of the library and falling in love with the simplicity of his techniques. I discovered it after the book was out of print and I guess a lot of people liked it because buying a used copy was going to set me back over $40. Not gonna happen ... and the library has the book, right? Except then, the library lost their copy so I'd been searching ever since. The copy I snatched up was $12.95. Yep. So the binding was a little broken right behind the title page, who cared? Not me!

The second great find was a pristine copy of American Pie which I'd been rereading for $6 ... at least the library still had a copy of this one. After the above experience of finding I can't count on the library to keep MY favorite cookbooks I have changed my policy. If I like a cookbook enough to reread or re-cook out of one then I buy it ... not trusting to cruel fate any more. Anyway, I foresee pies in the future for 2005.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Holiday Food Ideas When You're Short on Time or Money

A couple of weeks ago The Dallas Morning News moved their food section to Saturday. In the process they improved it considerably with more stories, book reviews and information. I really liked some of the ideas in this story about handling holiday food and homemade gifts with dwindling resources (free registration required).

We won't tell if you won't

They're going to know if you serve frozen lasagna. They might not care, though, especially if you put enough butter and garlic on the garlic bread. You can also borrow a trick from food stylist Karen Elizabeth Watts:

Pretend It's Homemade Lasagna: Buy your choice of frozen lasagna. Find a "real" pan that it will fit in. Spray the pan with nonstick spray and spread bottom with 1/2 cup or so of spaghetti sauce. You can use homemade, bottled or canned, or dress up store-bought with extra herbs, sauteed onions and garlic or crumbled cooked Italian sausage. Pop the frozen lasagna from its pan and place it on top of the sauce in the prepared pan. Top it with 2 cups of cheese, then top with an additional 1 ½ cups of sauce. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, then cover the plastic wrap tightly with foil. Bake according to original directions. Take credit for finished product.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Back to Basics

Traditional winter holiday cakes made with an assortment of candied fruit and fruit rind, nuts, spices and usually liquor or brand. Fruitcakes can have a moderate amount of cake surrounding the chunky ingredients, or only enough to hold the fruits and nuts together. Dark fruitcakes are generally made with molasses or brown sugar and dark liquor such as bourbon. Dark-colored fruits and nuts, such as prunes, dates, raisins and walnuts, may also contribute to the blend. Light fruitcakes are generally made with granulated sugar or light corn syrup and light ingredients such as almonds, dried apricots, golden raisins, etc. Fruitcakes are baked slowly and, after cooling, usually covered in cheesecloth moistened with liquor or brandy and tightly wrapped in foil. Stored in this manner, they have tremendous staying power, and providing they are occasionally remoistened, can be kept for years.
The New Food Lover's Companion (2nd ed.)
by Sharon Tyler Herbst

Thoughts to Cook By

A lot of people have never really had the chance to taste a decent apple pie, but after a minute's sensual reflection will know positively what they would expect if they did. They can taste it on their mind's tongue...
M.F.K. Fisher

Weekend Joke

A young snail decided that he wanted to buy himself a sporty car with all the amenities.

He went into a dealership that specialized in sports cars and selected one with everything that he had always wanted..

As the salesman was finishing the special order form, the snail said, "There's one thing more. I want a large letter S on each side of the car."

The salesman said, "We can do that with no problem. Would you mind telling me why?"

The snail replied, "No, not at all. When I drive down the street I want to hear people say, 'Look at that little S car go!"

Friday, December 17, 2004

Christmas Menu

My friend, Marlene, was pondering what to do for Christmas instead of the "same old turkey." This is where my mother's famous dislike of turkey comes in handy. It never occurs to me to have one for Christmas because we always went with different luxuries depending on my parents' whim of the moment ... such as prime rib, thick steaks, well you get the idea.

My suggestions were based on the usual "luxury" dishes that I do twice a year, for Christmas and Easter. The main dish may change. As a matter of fact I'm considering double smoked ham or grilled pork chops at this point. However, the side dishes rarely change because I hardly ever get them and they are my favorites. Here is the backbone basic menu.

Christmas Day Dinner
Grilled, Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Mustard Marinade
Jalapeño Spinach
Potatoes Gratin
Potato Rolls
Salad with Spicy Caesar Dressing

For dessert? Lots and lots and lots of cookies!

Creamed Jalapeño Spinach

From Home Cooking by Lori Colwin.

(Serves eight)

1. Cook two packages of frozen spinach. Drain, reserving one cup of liquid, and chop fine.

2. Melt four tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and add two tablespoons of flour. Blend and cook a little. Do not brown.

3. Add two tablespoons of chopped onion and 1 clove of minced garlic.

4. Add one cup of spinach liquid slowly, then add 1/2 cup of evaporated milk (I use regular milk here), some fresh black pepper, 3/4 teaspoon of celery salt and six ounces of Monterey Jack cheese cut into cubes. Add one or more chopped jalapeños, either fresh or from the jar. (I use 6 ounces of Jalapeño Jack Cheese instead of the regular cheese and chopped pepper. It is what was called for in the original recipe and Colwin adapted it because she couldn't get jalapeño cheese.) Then add the spinach and cook until all is blended.

5. Turn into a buttered casserole topped with buttered bread crumbs and bake for about 45 minutes at 300°.

Mustard Coating and Marinade for Roast and Broiled Lamb and Kabobs

From The Way to Cook by Julia Child. I spread this all over a butterflied leg of lamb and refrigerate overnight before grilling it.

2 large cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs Dijon-style prepared mustard
1 Tbs soy sauce
1-1/2 tsp. fragrant ground rosemary, thyme, or oregano
2 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup olive or peanut oil

Purée the garlic into a small bowl (I put it through a press) and mash to a paste with the salt. Whisk in the mustard, soy, herbs, lemon juice, and then the oil, to make a mayonnaise-like cream.

Potato Gratin

I have no clue where I got this recipe but it is strikingly like one that we had at a sidewalk café in Paris when we took Hannah and Rose in 2001. That restaurant was a wonderful introduction to French food for the girls, not to mention that they got to see the tradition of taking your dog into a restaurant. We also will never forget the young man who sat near us and dropped practically every utensil in reach while knocking things over with his elbows when picking them up.

Step 1:
2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled, very thinly sliced
Layer half in a buttered 6-cup shallow baking dish.

Step 2:
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 cup grated Gruyere
Combine. Sprinkle half over potatoes.

Step 3:

1 cup heavy cream
Sprinkle half over cheese.

Step 4:
Sprinkle over cream.

Repeat layers. Bake uncovered at 350° for 50-60 minutes until gratin is crisp and golden on top.

This Calls for Potato Salad!

Barney Gumble:
All I wanted to tell you about was this new barbecue joint.
Homer Simpson:
Ooooooo barbecue!
Barney Gumble:
It's called Greasy Joe's Bottomless Barbecue Pit! Oooo, ooo, I can still taste the sauce between my fingers. And are you ready for this? It's all you can eat!
Homer Simpson:
This is like some beautiful dream.
Barney Gumble:
Homer Simpson:
Marge honey, I've got five words to say to you: Greasy Joe's Bottomless Bar-B-Q Pit.
Homer, remember you promised you'd try to limit pork to 6 servings a week.
Homer Simpson:
Marge, I'm only human. Now look, here's what we're gonna do. We'll unload the kids on Patty and Selma Saturday night, and then we'll eat until they kick us out of the place. Just like old times!

Chris just gave us three racks of ribs and a huge bottle full of bbq sauce from his brother's Atlanta bbq place, Fox Bros. BBQ, where he supplies deprived Atlantans with real Texas style bbq. All I could do at this point was taste the sauce and, oh boy, are we in for a treat! Time to get busy making cole slaw and potato salad for the feast we're gonna have tomorrow.

Of General Interest ...

... over at Happy Catholic (the "mother ship" blog). It's all happenin' in the comments boxes for these posts about:

Thursday, December 16, 2004

My Kind of Science

My hero, Harold McGee, makes the science of cooking actually interesting in On Food and Cooking. I didn't realize it's been 20 years but can't wait to get the new edition and read all 878 pages!

The original explained in lay terms, with illustrations and whimsical anecdotes, why eggs solidify when heated, why green vegetables lose their vibrant color when cooked, why apples turn brown when cut, why the freshest fish smells like plant leaves and the science behind so many other food mysteries.

The new one does that and more.

The original was 684 pages; the new one is 878. The section on chocolate is three times longer than in the original book.

Seafood, which merited about one paragraph in the original, now spans 70 pages. And while the original was a bit Eurocentric, the new one is much more global.

"It used to be that when people had questions, I could just refer them to a page in the book. But the day came that I couldn't do that any more," says McGee, 53. "I had to address this new, greater demand for information."

Via Too Many Chefs.

Mmmmmmm, Cheesecake

My dear parents sent us a cheesecake sampler from Harry and David's.


Doesn't it look good? Well it tastes good too ... at least the chocolate cheesecake that I shared with Rose last night was delicious. In fact, the caramel (?) cheesecake was so good that Hannah's friend, Addison, not only agreed to taste it (thereby overcoming a lifelong loathing of the concept) but it converted him as he ate every bite.

We'll just skip over the "of course, my cheesecake is better" muscle flexing, especially since my fabulous cheesecake recipe is my mom's, who sent this to us! If you can't have homemade cheesecake, this does seem to be the next best thing.

Thanks Mom and Dad! *muffled by a mouth full of cheesecake*

Ain't It the Truth?


From my in-box. (If anyone knows the credit for this, let me know and I'll link it.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Oranges Sampler

In an attempt to add some fresh element to our dinner, I served an orange "tasting" of clementines, red naval oranges, and blood oranges. The regular oranges just didn't look good at the store so I got a few of these varieties to see if any were universally pleasing.

Universally pleasing? Puhleeez! Hannah and I favored the blood oranges as they were tart and we are grapefruit lovers (no sugar added, thanks). Tom preferred the red naval oranges as they really tasted just like regular ones. Everyone liked the clementines fine but no one thought they were worth rushing out and buying a whole crate as I read about foodies doing every year at this time. Truthfully, they were fuller flavored than the red navals but just too sweet for me.

Rose passed on any tasting as she informed us that she, "doesn't care for citrus." Wait a minute ... what about the leftover limeade from margarita making? "Well, except for lemons and limes ..."

Our true favorites are the heirloom oranges from California. They have that perfect sweet/tart combination. Also usually good are the stem and leaf oranges. I don't know what variety they are but they are worth any extra price because I can't keep up with the demand at home. It must not be the season for either one yet but when it is I'll be ready.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

I'm Not Crazy About Pocky But This Seems About Right

You Are Milk Pocky

Your attitude: caring and charming
Smooth and silkly... invigorating and natural.
You are like comfort food for the soul.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Why the Name?

This started off as a place to send people from the blog where I "live" when I mentioned recipes. It seemed like fun to fix it up and keep it going when a few other of my blogging pals did the same. So I needed a name. Penni came up with this:
okay julie - here's your new title (i just thought of it - call it a Godbreeze, if you will):

happy gastronome.

you can thank me later :)

(actually, if you like it, i think it suits you - the definition is a connoisseur of good food and drink; a gourmet...)
She's right, it does work for me. A daughter of gourmets and former "foodie" myself, I will always look for the best even if it's only a hot dog. That's why I have kids who won't eat Oscar Mayer bologna, but will patiently wait until I have time to go to Kuby's. Now, that doesn't stop me from using cream of mushroom soup, but that's another story ... I said I am a "former" foodie, remember?

Then Rose, tied it into the "mother" blog (Happy Catholic ... not always happy but always happy to be Catholic) with "Glad" and the descriptor. Thank heavens I had a creative team for this!

DMN Cookie Contest Winners

Every year the Dallas Morning News sponsors a cookie contest with all proceeds going to charity. There were some pretty good looking cookies this year. There's a great selection and variety because DMN gives the top three recipes in each category: Bar, Easy. Family Recipe, Decadent, and Decorated.

I liked the looks of:
  • Easy Lemon Mint Cookies (minus the mint)
  • Cranberry-Date Crumb Bars
  • Pryaniki Russian-style Cookies
Rose was intrigued by:
  • Chewy Angel Cookies
  • Caramel Cheesy Cookies (what a relief to see the "cheese" is cream cheese)
  • A Quiet Little Mexican Bar
  • Chocolate Candy Bar Cookies
I can see that she's her mother's daughter though. Two of the recipes call for beginning with a cake mix and she already was plotting how to get around that part with original ingredients. I don't know if that's possible in these recipes but it'll be interesting, and hopefully delicious, watching her try!

Looking for Monkey at the Central Market

i've been discovered! i frequent both the dallas central market and the plano location depending on my shopping needs. i'll be counting on you to help hoist one of the tasty holiday pannetone's into my shopping trolley.

We're going to keep our eyes peeled for Monkey when we're shopping every week. Those pannetone can be heavy lifting for a cute, little Monkey.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Thai-Style Stir-Fried Chicken

From Cooking Light magazine ... maybe the most recent issue (?). This is a quick recipe that should only take 40 minutes and actually MIGHT have taken 40 minutes if I had checked the time. If it took longer it was because I didn't have any pre-sliced mushrooms or pre-chopped carrots. It still was pretty quick and easy though. Really delicious and authentic tasting but next time I'm using only half the red curry paste. I'm still breathing flames!

1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons red curry paste
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces (I used boneless thighs)
Combine everything in a zip-top plastic bag. Marinate 15 minutes in the refrigerator.

1-1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided (I might have used more than this ... I didn't measure, just splashed a bit in).
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrot
1 (8-ounce package presliced mushrooms
Remove chicken from bag, reserving marinade. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add chicken stir-fry 4 minutes. remove chicken from pan; keep warm. Add remaining oil to pan. Add onion and carrot; stir-fry 2 minutes. Add mushrooms; stir-fry 3 minutes.

1/2 cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
Add reserved marinade, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add coconut milk and fish sauce; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 1 minute. Stir in chicken and salt; cook 1 minute.

1 cup fresh bean sprouts
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Remove chicken to dish, top with bean sprouts and cilantro. Serve with rice noodles (or regular noodles or rice or whatever you like to put a saucy dish over).

Place 6 ounces thin rice vermicelli (thin rice noodles) in a large bowl, cover with boiling water. Let stand 20 minutes. Drain, serve chicken over noodles. (I put the noodles in a large Italian pasta bowl, poured the chicken over the top and sprinkled with the sprouts and cilantro. Very pretty it was too!)

Serves 4. (Serving size: 1 cup chicken, 1/4 cup sprouts, and 1 T cilantro)

CALORIES 271 (28% from fate); FAT 8.4 g (sat 2.2g, mono 1.6g, poly 3.4g); PROTEIN 29.7g; CARB 19.6g; CHOL 66mg; IRON 2.2mg; SODIUM 767mg; CALC 43mg)

Monday, December 06, 2004

Peruvian Food Anyone?

Both girls babysat on Saturday night so Tom and I had a date! He picked out a new place from The Weekend Guide that is a mom and pop Peruvian restaurant. I have to admit that never would have occurred to me but it was delicious, although they do have a propensity to garnish with sliced hard boiled eggs that was rather odd. When I came home and began looking around in my Foods of the World: Latin American Cooking at the chapter on Peru I found the hard boiled egg thing is totally accurate. However, there were no guinea pigs on the menu (a Peruvian mainstay). So how authentic is this place? Although as Tom pointed out, they might have a bit of trouble trying to put guinea pigs on their menu.


I kicked off our Christmas cookie season by whipping up a batch of Amaretti. Absurdly simple, these are some of my favorites ... basically meringue cookies with ground almonds mixed in. I'm not usually fond of meringues but love these so they had to go into the freezer ASAP otherwise we wouldn't have had many left. For some reason meringue cookies always seem intimidating but luckily Hannah went to a friend's house with my main cookie cookbook so I was thrown back on making these ... mmmmmm, good and easy. Try them

This recipe came from my mother and I'm not sure what cookbook it came from. However, it is not too different from other such recipes I've seen ... except it is a great deal simpler than some.

Step 1:
2 large egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Beat egg whites until foamy, gradually beat in sugar and almond extract. Continue beating for several minutes until whites form very stiff, shiny peaks.

Step 2:
2 cups (8 ounces) finely ground, blanched almonds
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Stir in almonds and cornstarch until well combined.

Drop generous tablespoon of batter into small mounds about 2" apart on parchment-lined, baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 17-22 minutes until firm and lightly browned. Cool on wire racks. Makes 30 cookies.

Chewy Variation:
Beat egg whites with a fork until broken up and slightly frothy. Stir in sugar until combined; then mix in remaining ingredients (and 1/4-1/2 teaspoon optional cardamom if desired) to make very stiff paste.

With moistened hands, form scant tablespoons of paste into 11/4" balls. Arrange 2" apart on baking sheets. Use moistened fingertips to flatten each ball slightly. Bake at 325° for 15-20 minutes or until firm and very lightly browned. Cool on wire racks. These are like traditional macaroons.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Last Word On Fried Chicken

FRIED CHICKEN: An American Story by John T. Edge
John T. Edge weaves a beguiling tapestry of food and culture as he takes us from a Jersey Shore hotel to a Kansas City roadhouse, from the original Buffalo wings to KFC, from Nashville Hot Chicken to haute fried chicken at a genteel Southern inn.
You have to be interested in both food history and reading about fried chicken to like this book. I fit this description and found this little book very enjoyable. Edge has a comfortable, conversational style and provides 15 recipes to go alone with his voyage of discovery. I liked this enough to request the next in this series, "Apple Pie," from the library.

Herbed Thanksgiving Stuffing

Somehow I had registered the idea that I had to do my Thanksgiving shopping this weekend but NOT the fact that meant I had to actually cook the Thanksgiving feast next week. It hadn't "clicked" somehow until Rose was talking about it last night. Thank heavens because that send me plunging into my files to make sure I had this recipe and didn't have to check the book out of the library to get it. Then, naturally, I had to share it with my blogging pals.

I realize it's a big claim to say this is the best stuffing ever. However, you have to realize that I'm always searching for the "best ever" way to make something I like and then I quit looking. I'm always going for taste and then simplicity. I have found my favorite biscuits, pumpkin pie, etc. this way. Not only does this stuffing taste like my ideal but it is made in the slow cooker. That's right, the slow cooker. Any Thanksgiving cooks know that oven space is at a premium for this meal and this solves many problems. You can gauge turkey time on an unstuffed bird, you have more room available for other things in the oven, it will stay warm in the slow cooker for a considerable time waiting for everything else to get done ... well, you get the picture. Without further ado, here is the recipe for Herbed Thanksgiving Stuffing. Enjoy!

From Rick Rodger's The Slow Cooker Ready and Waiting Cookbook.

Step 1:
8 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 medium celery ribs, chopped
Saute until softened.

Step 2?
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1-1/2 teaspoons rosemary
1-1/2 teaspoons thyme
1-1/2 teaspoons marjoram
1-1/2 teaspoons sage
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
Remove onion mixture from heat and stir in above ingredients.

Step 3:
12 packed cups 1" cubes of stale Italian or French bread (about 1 pound)
2 cups turkey or chicken stock
Mix in bread cubes and toss with stock to moisten. Pack lightly into buttered slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Reduce heat to low and slow-cook until heated through, 3-4 hours. The cooker will keep the dressing at serving temperature for up to 3 hours. I tend to like a moist stuffing and probably would use a bit more stock than above which makes a drier stuffing ... although it's darn good for sopping up gravy that way!

Sausage Stuffing - Cook 1 pound bulk pork sausage. Drain. Stir into stuffing during the last hour of cooking.

Mushroom Stuffing: Saute 1-1/2 pounds sliced mushrooms in 4 tablespoons butter until mushrooms have given off liquid and are beginning to brown. Stir into stuffing during last hour of cooking.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies

I can't give the Pennsylvania Dutch cookie recipe from last week without giving my favorite recipe for Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies. After I tasted these it was clear that I need look no further for the best sugar cookies. They are perfectly chewy and delicious. Even when they are made too thin and turn out crisp you can't beat the flavor. The only problem is that this recipe makes plain round cookies. Now I just have to find a recipe for great tasting sugar cookies that are rolled and cut out, the quintessential Christmas cookie. My quest continues...

From Cook's Illustrated

Step 1:
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk dry ingredients together.

Step 2:
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still firm
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
In standing mixer, beat together butter and sugars at medium speed until light and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes.

Step 3:
1 large egg
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Add egg and vanilla; beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Add dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined, about 30 seconds.

Step 4:
1/2 cup sugar for rolling dough
Put sugar for rolling in shallow bowl. Have bowl of cold water nearby for dipping hands in between rolling dough. Dip hands in water and shake off excess every time rolling dough (this not only prevents dough from sticking but also ensures that sugar sticks to dough).

Roll heaping tablespoon dough into 1-1/2" ball; roll in sugar, put on baking sheet. Space balls approximately 2" apart (12 cookies/sheet). Flatten balls with hand or fork until about 3/4" thick.

Bake until golden brown around edges, just set, and very lightly colored in center, about 15-18 minutes. Cool on baking sheet approximately 3 minutes; finish cooling on rack.

"You cook? Every night?"

That was the response from my friend, RH, when we were talking about household budgets. She had said that her husband bought breakfast every morning, she bought lunch every day, and they might have three home cooked meals during the week. That's when I said that we might have one or two meals a month that weren't fixed at home and she was stunned.

I didn't know whether I should take that personally but then decided that it probably was because our society just cooks a lot less than ever. This isn't news to most people, especially those with school age kids. However, as I pointed out to RH, it isn't always about preparing a meal. Sometimes it's just about fueling up. RH was much struck by my assertion that a tuna sandwich can do the trick just as handily as a Big Mac, more cheaply and (possibly) more healthily ... and you don't have to go anywhere to get it.

A case in point was last week when, as happens more often than I like to dwell on, it was toward the end of the week and we were out of "dinner-able" food. What I did have on hand was tuna so on to tuna sandwiches (gourmet touch ... a spritz of lemon juice!), chips (ooooh, variety ... your choice of Doritos OR Sunchips), and sliced apples (because nutrition counts too!). From this you can see that I am blessed with a very tolerant husband and children who love tuna. In fact, Hannah's fondest culinary memory of London is the Tuna Mayonnaise at the Princess Pub in St. John's Wood.

I don't call this "cooking." I call it "engineering" because you usually are doing little more than opening cans and assembling (nachos, tuna sandwiches) or sometimes just very simple prep and heating (oven baked chicken nuggets and fries, bratwurst and baked potatoes). I manage to complicate this by having standards that don't allow the use of most types of prepared products (jarred spaghetti sauce, mac and cheese from a box ... even when I use chicken nuggets they're from Kuby's, our great German deli). However, it is possible to an amazing amount of engineering even with these self imposed handicaps.

I do actually cook probably 5 meals every week. I thought everyone knew these little tricks and I suspect most do. However, this idea came as a real revelation to RH and in her book that is called cooking. So yes, I guess, I cook every night.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Pennsylvania Dutch Soft Sugar Cookies

Probably my very favorite cookie is a sugar cookie. It is all too hard to find the perfect one. Pennsylvania Dutch Soft Sugar Cookies were part of Rose's cookie making frenzy this summer and everybody has asked for them again and again. I prefer a less soft and fluffy texture but but I definitely am in the minority because these consistently are a crowd favorite. Try a few of these to add to the joy or reduce the sting of the election results.

This recipe is from Nick Malgieri's Cookies Unlimited. The instructions call for a standing mixer but anyone with basic baking experience can see how easy it would be to adapt to hand mixing.

Makes about 60 cookies

Step 1:
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch salt
Set the racks in the upper and lower third of the oven and preheat to 375°. In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt; stir well to mix.

Step 2:
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until combined, then beat in vanilla.

Step 3:
3 large eggs
1 up buttermilk
Add eggs, one at a time, beating smooth after each addition. Lower the speed and beat in a third of the four mixture, then half the buttermilk, and another third of the flour mixture. Scrape bowl and beater often. Beat in remaining buttermilk, then the remaining flour mixture.

Step 4:
3 or 4 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans covered with parchment or foil
Scrape bowl and beater, then remove the bowl from the mixer, and give the dough one final mixing with a large rubber spatula. Drop tablespoons of the dough 3 or 4 inches apart onto the prepared pans.

Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes, or until they spread and rise -- they should be lightly golden.

Slide the papers off the pans onto racks. After cookies have cooled, detach them from the paper and store them between layers of parchment or wax paper in a tin or plastic container with tight fitting cover.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I've had this recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup ready to talk about for a couple of months now. I was going to serve it when our priest came over for dinner and then drop the recipe on y'all. However, our poor priest is the only one for our parish of 3,000+ families and is soooooo busy that we've rescheduled twice. Now it looks as if it will be late January before he makes it over.

I'm just not going to make everyone wait that long. This soup is so simple and so delicious you've got to try it. It's perfect for a busy holiday season, at least in Texas. So, without further ado, Chicken Tortilla Soup!

From A timesaver I sometimes use is to substitute 2-3 cups of fresh pico de gallo for the Step 1 ingredients and the tomatoes in step 2. I just saute them all together at the beginning.

Also, cooking the tortillas with the soup makes it very thick. We usually leave the tortillas out and crumble tortilla chips into the bottom of the bowl before ladling in the soup.

Step 1:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 onion, chopped

In a large stock pot, heat oil. Saute garlic, cilantro and onion for 2-3 minutes.

Step 2:
Corn tortilla chips to equal about 8 tortillas
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

Stir in all and bring to a boil.

Step 3:
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
6 cups chicken broth

Add all, return to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Step 4:
4 boneless chicken breasts, diced (1 lb.)
Lime wedges
Shredded Monterey Jack
Sour Cream

Stir in chicken and continue simmering for 15 more minutes. Remove bay leaves. Serve with accompaniments.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Crispy St. Nicholas Cookies

These were the big hit on the cookie platters I served to my CRHP team at our last meeting. Cut in star shapes, thin, crispy and subtly cinnamon, these cookies even beat out the chocolate cookies and that isn't easy. It figures that my friend Susan wanted the recipe. Not only does she love to cook but her oldest son, Nick, would be the perfect person to receive these cookies from a cookbook by Nick Malgieri, named for St. Nicholas. With that sort of connection, how could she not demand the recipe? Here it is for everyone to enjoy.

From Cookies Unlimited by Nick Malgieri. Although this recipe calls for a standing mixer I'm sure this could be done with any regular mixer or even by hand.

Step 1:
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
In a bowl, combine all; stir well to mix.

Step 2:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together on medium speed the butter and sugar until light and whitened, about 5 minutes.

Step 3:
1 large egg
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
Beat in egg and zest and continue beating until smooth and light, another 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beater with a large rubber spatula and, on low speed, add the flour mixture. Continue mixing until the dough is smooth.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and complete the mixing with a large rubber spatula. Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and press it into a square or rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Wrap and chill the dough until it is firm, about an hour or two.

Step 4:
2 or 3 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans covered with parchment or foil
When you are ready to bake the cookies, set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees. On a floured surface, roll out a third of the dough at a time until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Use a fluted cutter between 2 and 3 inches in diameter, or any kind of decorative cutter you wish. Just be sure to dip it frequently in flour. As they are cut, place the cookies on the prepared pans about an inch apart in all directions. Repeat with remaining dough. Save, press together, chill, and reroll the scraps to make more cookies.

Bake 15-20 minutes, or until they first become dull and dry-looking and feel slightly firm when pressed with a fingertip. If you overbake the cookies, they will be very dry.

Slide the papers from the pans onto racks to cool.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Skillet Cornbread

For a few days last week it was finally more like fall here. Now it's hot again but then we had chilly mornings, driving to work with the windows open, simply beautiful days. This summer was much more bearable than usual but I had given up doing anything that would heat up the kitchen. Fall is when I begin making one of the girls' favorites, Skillet Cornbread. It isn't the sweet, Northern kind I grew up on ... the kind you get when you use Jiffy Mix. This is classic Southern cornbread made with buttermilk and no sugar, in a cast iron skillet.

I know this recipe is one of James Villas' mother but am not sure which cookbook I got it from. I think it was from My Mother's Southern Kitchen. The original also had bacon fat but none of us liked the taste so I use straight shortening.

Step 1:
1-1/2 cups white cornmeal
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 475°. Combine ingredients.

Step 2:
1-3/4 cups buttermilk
1 large egg
Add to dry ingredients, combine well.

Step 3:
2 tablespoons shortening
Melt shortening in a 9-1/2" cast iron skillet. Pour hot fat into batter, stir well and pour batter back in skillet.
Bake for 20 minutes. Turn out onto large plate, cut into wedges and enjoy!

Monday, October 11, 2004

Tuna Risotto

Steve Bogner at Catholicism, holiness and spirituality described a wonderful sounding shrimp risotto which led to me mentioning this recipe for Tuna Risotto that a couple of people were interested in. Just be sure to use good quality canned albacore. Please! I'm beggin' here!

I think I got this from Gourmet magazine but it was a long time ago and I have seen a couple of Italian cookbooks with this sort of recipe. Be sure to use good canned tuna in this. I also could see using chunks of sauteed fresh tuna. My family would like either. However, the canned tuna makes it a midweek meal because I don't have to get fresh fish.

Step 1:
1 onion, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Arborio rice
Sauté onion until softened. Add rice and cook until well coated with oil.

Step 2:
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup dry white wine
6 cups chicken stock
Add salt and wine and cook, stirring, until wine is absorbed. Add stock and cook risotto-style (adding 1/2 cup stock at a time and stirring until absorbed). I tend to add 4 cups of stock, let it get absorbed by simmering, and then add the rest of the stock the "right" way. Its not "proper" but gets the same creamy effect and I can use that initial simmering time to make salad and dressing, etc.

Step 3:
12 ounces canned tuna, drained, broken into large pieces
Stir in during the last 5-10 minutes of cooking.

Step 4:
1 ounce grated Parmesan
Remove from heat and stir in immediately.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Get Your Freak On

Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America by Steve Almond

I heard rave reviews about this book but didn't expect to find myself constantly apologizing to Tom for all the giggling while reading it in bed. Steve Almond is not only literally crazy about candy but a hilarious and talented writer. His quest to find his favorite candy of yesteryear takes him around America to the last of the independent candy manufacturers. Even when mentioning his personal political or environmental views, Almond never really dwells on them or seems to take anything too seriously ... except candy, of course. Its a quick read that left me with a desire to look for 5 Star Bars, Peanut Chews, Big Hunks ... all that candy that I never heard of before but now long to experience.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

These Old Books

One of the best things about sorting through books to donate to the school carnival is the rediscovery of books that I haven't read in a very long time. In this case, I'm enjoying rereading the Time-Life Foods of the World series. Believe me, I have looked at a lot of current cookbooks that purport to cover different countries and none do a better job than this series. These books are around 30 years old but they still are au courant in telling the foods and customs of practically every cuisine that exists. Each country has two books, a large hardback book and a smaller spiral-bound book that only contains recipes. Different authors were used for each book and they lend their own special styles to each. Most libraries have a set of these classics and you can often find various volumes in used book stores. If you are at all interested in either reading or cooking food from other cuisines, these are the books to go to.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Supper Again? Tuna Noodles!

Its that age old problem for every mom. At a certain point any enthusiasm you have for cooking turns to a feeling of dread as the dinner hour approaches and you realize that you don't know what's for dinner ... and everyone is asking you.

When I answer Tuna Noodles, I actually get hugs, believe it or not. I'm not sure if Tuna Noodles is actually the name as this is an authentic Italian recipe but I don't have this cookbook any more and that's what we call them. My only tip on this is to be sure to use albacore (the only kind of tuna you'll find at our house), Crown Prince brand if possible. Yes, its a little more expensive but you can tell that the tuna was once a fish so its worth it.

Tuna Noodles
From Italy Al Dente by Biba Caggiano

Step 1:
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped onion or shallot
3 anchovy fillets, chopped, or 1 teaspoon of anchovy paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
sauteé onion until lightly golden. Add anchovies and garlic, and stir for about 1 minute.

Step 2:
1 12-ounce can albacore
½ cup dry white wine
Salt and red pepper flakes to taste
Add tuna and stir well. Add wine and cook until wine is almost all reduced. Season with salt and chili pepper. Remove from heat.

Step 3:
1 pound spaghetti
Cook pasta until al dente. Save ½ cup of cooking water, add to sauce and turn heat on to medium. Mix pasta and sauce in large serving bowl.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Two Great Chinese Cookbooks

When I was first out of college and had that heady experience of running the kitchen for myself, I'd never really had any Chinese food. My gourmet parents didn't cotton to all the chopping that they'd have to do for any sort of Asian cooking. All I needed was one time at a fairly authentic Chinese restaurant and I was hooked. Naturally, I turned to books...

Irene Kuo has been called the Julia Child of Chinese cooking and she deserves the title. This is the cookbook I used to teach myself Chinese cooking and it has every technique I have ever seen mentioned in any other Asian cookbook. Kuo writes so clearly that there is not much need for illustration, although there are some when describing cutting techniques and ingredients. More importantly, she has a love for her craft that comes through clearly and makes you understand why various techniques even matter. There is a plethora of recipes, many of which are amazingly simple to yield such authentic results. She rightly points out that there is much more than stir-frying to Chinese food and proceeds to instruct in red-cooking, shallow frying, and much more that adds timing flexibility many may not expect from Chinese cooking. Many of the recipes are very simple but the flavor is authentic. If you've ever been interested in Chinese cooking this is the only cookbook you'll ever need.

This is another favorite that shows how simple and easy Chinese cooking can be. Ken Hom gives some of the recipes that his working mother used to put together 4-course meals in an hour, night after night when he was growing up in Chicago's Chinatown. He worked in his uncle's restaurant and also gives us a lot of recipes for those long-time American favorites ... both the restaurant menu version (for Americans) and the "secret menu" version (for Chinese patrons). Hom has been teaching cooking for a long time and it shows. These are very accessible and will please everyone in your family. Believe me, if Hannah likes these meals, then anyone will!

Friday, August 20, 2004

Ingredient Alert

Don't you hate it when you read about some wonderful new food, try it, and then love it? You'd think that I'd quit trying these new, usually expensive treats but nooooooo, I fall for it every time ... and then I'm hooked. Here are the latest "must tries" I've found at the Central Market.

Fage is a brand of authentic Greek yogurt that comes in 0%, 2% and full fat. The Dallas Morning News food section highlighted Fage's packaging of yogurt with Greek honey that you can drizzle on top. Well, I was at least smart enough to buy the yogurt separately and drizzle it with my own honey. Fage's package has a very small amount of yogurt for the same price as their regular 7 ounce package ($1.99 - ouch!). I got the full fat yogurt (in for a penny, in for a pound) and what a treat it was. It is as thick as sour cream with a slight tang. Drizzled with honey it is luscious. I can't afford the price ... or the fat ... very often but, believe me, I'm gonna get this as often as I can. Next up is to try the lower fat versions.

All birds are raised on a 100% natural diet and cooled individually with purified, cold air. This process also preserves the quality of the meat. That's the technical mumbo jumbo. What I noticed was less fat, intense flavor, and firm texture that retained moistness. This is one great chicken. Naturally, you don't get this without a price but I used to pay a lot for organic chickens that didn't come up to these standards. I was sucked into trying it by a woman who practically forced it on me, swearing by the quality. Now I'm pushing it just like that woman at the store. It is habit forming. You have been warned!

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Julia and Me

When I heard that Julia Child had died I only had a mild interest. True, I love to cook (and eat!) and the only cookbook of hers that I own, The Way to Cook, is fabulous. However, she's not one of the personalities in which I ever took any interest, she was able to enjoy her life to a grand age, and she died in her sleep. So, good on her, but none of it really mattered to me.

Thinking about it later, though, I realized that I owe more than I knew to Julia. She had tremendous influence over my parents. They were gourmet cooks who delighted in experimenting with new recipes and eagerly read all that was written by Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, and other food mavens of the time. In fact, they threw themselves into the gourmet movement with such gusto that we never ate such "common" things as Meat Loaf, Macaroni and Cheese, or Tuna Noodle Casserole. For that, we had to go to my grandparents' house. At home we consumed exotica such as curry, squid or Mexican food. It was a given that my brother would request Chiles Rellenos for his birthday. This was not your typical Kansas kitchen of the 1960s. I grew up with a respect for authentic ingredients and food of all sorts that was engendered by pioneers like Julia Child.

Although my siblings and I all have found our own definite cooking styles, we all share a love for good food and are not afraid of the exotic. My brother can throw together Dolmas with the practiced speed of a Greek housewife. My sister thinks nothing of throwing a party for over a hundred of her husband's co-workers and makes everything by hand. I, myself, have raised children that routinely request Pesto Pizza (with home made crust and pesto) for birthday parties. They then carry on the legacy by pushing it on their friends who will ask if we're having "green pizza" when they come over.

Of course, we are a bit more ecumenical than my parents. Basic American standards like Macaroni and Cheese or Tuna Noodle Casserole do appear in our households. When I think about it, I realize that this too is true to Julia's legacy. When she came to Dallas, one of her favorite restaurants served Tex-Mex and basic Texan food. She told the owner that she always got taken to fancy places when really she enjoyed every kind of food. As long as it was delicious, she never shunned any sort of food ... even Meat Loaf.

More than that, she enjoyed living life to the fullest and she didn't sweat the small stuff, as in the famous incident during the live TV show when she dropped the chicken on the floor, picked it up, and kept on going ... and that is the most important legacy of all. It is one I hope to pass on to my children. So, thank you, Julia. I pray that you are enjoying a heavenly feast now that puts all your earthly ones to shame.

Friday, August 13, 2004

And On The 8th Day She Rested

We've done a final count and since last Saturday, Rose has churned out 18 ... count 'em -- 18 ... kinds of cookies! That's got to be several hundred cookies I have in my freezer. As the weekend approaches I'm going to do my best to redirect all that creative energy into something that I can use ... main dishes. Tomorrow we're making Brunswick Stew. Some for us and plenty for the freezer.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

And The Baking Continues

Last night while I was at a meeting, Rose made Orange Creams (mmmmm, my favorite so far). Today she's added Spicy Oatmeal Cookies, Crackled Chocolate Cookies, and Orange Shortbread (got to use up the rest of that orange somehow, dontcha know?). We just got back from another run to the store to pick up nuts, sour cream, bananas ... you know, basic baking supplies. The funny thing is that we all like cookies but don't really eat many of them at a time.

We probably shouldn't be surprised now that I think about it. I guess this actually is how most crafts get tackled in this house. For months, Rose knitted muffler after muffler, giving some away and selling others. Hannah now has a complete jewelry making kit and goes on jewelry jags. Luckily, cookie production was put on hold for a bit while Rose reorganized the freezer and both girls cleaned out the art supply shelves. I guess as long as the freezer has room, the baking can continue. We're gonna be the most popular house around while this goes on!

By the way, all the recipes so far have come out of my favorite cookie book, Cookies Unlimited by Nick Malgieri. Everything either of us have made from it so far always turns out great.

Kitchen News

Is anything better than a trip to the restaurant supply store? Other than a trip to a bookstore, that is (no shopping tops that for me). Its like half price heaven there. Rubbermaid spoonulas were $1.95 instead of the $4.00 through a catalog. Heavy duty plastic forks and knives were $3.45 per 100 instead of the grocery store's price of $1.49 for 24. I'd buy those restaurant size boxes of foil if only I had somewhere convenient to keep them. I only go once a year but I'm so happy after I come home. Its the simple things in life, right?

Monday, August 09, 2004

Baking Frenzy Reported

We just got back from the store from a trip to resupply the flour, butter, sugar, storage bags ... you get the idea. Not only did Rose make Lemonade Cookies and Peanut Butter Chocolate Thins yesterday but this morning she whipped up some Molasses Cookies and St. Nicholas Cookies. I'm going to be well supplied whenever guests drop by, that's for sure. But I'm running out of storage space ...

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Important Cooking Tip

[Names have been changed to protect the forgetful.]
If you don't add any sugar to Peanut Butter Refrigerator Cookies they taste like:

Dorothy Ellen: These taste like flour.
Gemma Elizabeth: They taste worse than flour. I like flour!

Inevitably in our household this leads to quotes about the time Homer Simpson was sitting on his couch dejectedly eating from a bag of flour:

Marge: Oh Homie, don't you want your sugar sack?
Homer, mournfully: I don't deserve any sugar.

Its an ill wind that blows no good, though. I won't have to buy any dog treats for a while!

Monday, August 02, 2004

Ingredient Alert - Pluots

Let me just say that if anyone has a chance to try a Flavor Burst Pluot they should grab it. They are well named ... the closest thing to a Sweet Tart in a crisp, fruit form that I've ever had. Ours came from the Central Market but I'd bet they can be found at places like Whole Foods also.

UPDATE: I just remembered these actually are called Flavor Grenade Pluots ... all the more reason to try one, eh?

Monday, July 19, 2004

It's the Simple Things in Life That Matter

Simple things like pie crust. Yes, you heard me ... pie crust. Its always a touchy subject among cooks and I can't blame anyone for using the pre-made ones in the red box (Pillsbury?). I have to admit they really are the best commercial alternative to homemade.

However, (you knew there had to be a "however", right?), in response to the comments for Apple Pie last week I had to post this recipe, which is the easiest and most foolproof I've ever found. When Rose was making it, she accidentally added an extra 1/4 cup of water and wound up with something like a thick batter. We improvised by sprinkling extra flour in until it looked right and ... voila! A delicious, flaky pie crust with no problem. Now that's hard to beat.

It is from The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffry Steingarten. Marion Cunningham, baker extraordinaire, made about a zillion pie crusts while detailing every step along the way so Steingarten could get it just right. The beauty of it is that this makes a lot more dough than you need so you don't have to worry about scrimping to get the crust just perfect when rolling it out.

It looks intimidating but that's because it details every step needed. Rose was a first time pie maker and had no problem.

Perfect Piecrust

Step 1:
3 cups flour (scoop with 1-cup measure, press it very lightly into the cup and level off excess with side of hand)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1½ cups shortening (Crisco, butter, or a combination)

In a large bowl mix flour, sugar, and salt with fingers. Drop shortening onto flour in bowl. Toss with flour, then break up into about 12 nuggets, tossing gently to coat and arrange on flour in a rough circle. Rub fat into flour in two stages.

Step 2:
First, scoop fingers of both hands down along the sides and bottom of bowl under flour and lift them several inches above rim of bowl with a pile of flour and one large chunk of fat in each. Lightly rub thumbs back and forth across fingertips, about three times, in order to break up into pieces the size of small olives while coating with flour. Do not press down hard with thumbs; do not flatten fat. Roll it between fingertips. Let flour and fat fall back into bowl. Repeat five times, until all large nuggets are broken up.

Step 3:
In second stage, continue scooping up flour and fat from bottom of bowl, sweeping thumbs only once and only in one direction, from little finger to index finger. Smallest pieces will slip between fingers and largest pieces will tumble over index finger. Repeat 20-25 times. Particles of flour-coated fat will range in size from coarse meal to peas to small olives. It is important that particles range widely in size. A little flour may remain uncoated.

Step 4:
¾ cup very cold water
1 tablespoon cold milk for brushing the pie
1 tablespoon sugar for sprinkling crust

Add ½ cup of cold water, sprinkling evenly over the surface. Immediately stir water into flour with fork, held vertically, starting at sides of bowl, then stirring in smaller and smaller circles toward center, making sure that the points of the fork sweep the bottom of the bowl. Motions should be light. After a few stirs, all the flour should be moistened and dough gathered into small clumps. If there are too many loose, dry crumbs, add a tablespoon or two of water and stir again. Do not overmix.

Step 5:
Gather all dough by pressing it together firmly against one side of the bowl. Break off about half, shape into a bowl with cool fingertips, and flatten it on the counter into a disk about an inch high. Repeat with other half of dough.

Step 6:
Grease a 9" pie plate with a tablespoon of shortening. Both crusts may be immediately rolled out or wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes. If refrigerated, dough will require 5-10 minutes at room temperature before becoming malleable; it should not break at edges when you roll it out. It must be refrigerated if dough contains butter.

Step 7:
To roll: On a well-floured surface roll the larger of the two disks into a rough 13" circle, 1/8" thick. Use a light touch, rolling from the center to the far edge, being careful to life to pin before flattening the far edge. Roll toward you in the same manner. Turn the dough an eighth or a quarter of the way round and roll again. Do not compress downward but stretch outward. Fold the circle gently into quarters in place in pan, placing the point of dough at the center. Unfold and trim. Cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with other disk. Unless kitchen is cool and dough is firm, cover with more plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.

Step 8:
Prepare filling, fill, and when pie is sealed brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Set on cookie sheet and bake as per filling dictates. For a fruit pie, bake at 450° for 25-40 minutes until darkest spots on crust are very dark brown. Reduce heat to 375° and continue baking until it has been in the oven for a total of about 1 hour.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Sour Cream Pound Cake

(From Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri; I edited these instructions for simplicity's sake.)

Step 1:
3 cups flour
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour 12-cup tube or Bundt pan. Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

Step 2:
½ pound butter, softened
2¾ cups sugar
Beat on medium speed until very light, about 5 minutes.

Step 3:
½ t. lemon extract
½ t. orange extract
½ t. vanilla
Beat into batter (I also have used 1½ t. vanilla instead of the above combination).

Step 4:
6 large eggs
Beat into batter, one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition.

Step 5:
8 ounces sour cream
On low, alternately beat in flour mixture and sour cream, beginning and ending with flour. Scrape into pan and bake for 1¼ to 1½ hours or until cake tester comes out clean. Let sit in pan 10 minutes and then turn out on rack to cool completely.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Apple Pie

I have been on a cooking moratorium for about a year now ... just doing what I must to get by. That's not what my family is accustomed to because I always have cooked a lot, stocked the freezer, etc. I think that my Christ Renews His Parish involvement took the extra energy and interest that I used to put into spaghetti sauce, homemade rolls, and salad dressings, to name just a few things.

Anyway, Rose made apple pie yesterday. She loves it and loves cooking so I found the recipes for her and she launched in. Other than a little faux pas with the pie crust ... which we recovered from gracefully ... it all went smoothly. She did everything but I hung around for instruction and tips. Tom has never been interested in cooking so I have gotten used to it as a solitary affair, although my parents liked to cook together when I was young. We rediscover this every so often, Rose and I, that cooking together is fun. So we're doing it again tonight ... making Spicy Dan Dan noodles.

The pie was great by the way. Oh, the apples weren't quite cooked in the middle and it was really runny. But it tasted good and the crust was better than anything you can buy. We ate it a la mode and talked about how we would adjust the recipe next time. Right after we make a peach pie ...

Monday, May 24, 2004

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. We all enjoyed it. In fact, Rose enjoyed Mostly Martha so much that she bought the DVD.