Thursday, September 29, 2005

The HobNob

The HobNob achieved one of those rare feats for new products by being simultaneously new and yet familiar, as if we were merely being reintroduced after an unexplained absence... The cheerful orange pack, the strap line 'One nibble and you're nobbled' and, of course, the name all helped to place the biscuit comfortably on the stage of UK biscuits. The name begged not to be taken seriously, and told us that this was a biscuit for the honest masses, at the time of the rise of the yuppie in Britain under Margaret Thatcher.
Not glamorous but with or without chocolate, these are one of the classic cookies around.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Picnics ... French Style

I have been on some nightmarish picnics in my time. I do not like going to the beach and sitting hunched over on a blanket in the hot sand, struggling to deal with an unappetizing lunch of sun-warmed bologna sandwich. Although this kind of memory is always good for a laugh afterward,it is not my idea of a nice time and I would never expect my guests to go through such an ordeal. The children end up cranky and crying and often the adults do too. This is not my idea of a picnic at all.

This being said, I do love a picnic in the French style, which of course, means comfort, comfort, and more comfort. First of all, a French person is simply not going to eat on the ground. Although we might lounge around on a blanket later, it is much better to eat sitting up. When you see a French family having their picnic lunch, they will be at a table -- either a permanent one or a folding model that they have brought with them -- or they will be sitting together on a bench. The food will be appealing but not too elaborate, and you will see right away that the people are taking their time to talk to each other while they eat. If they have packed their picnic at home, you can be sure that there will be proper glasses, silverware, and plates. There will be no crankiness and no crying. I have very fond memories of picnics like this.
Definitely there is a whole lot to be said for "comfort, comfort, and more comfort." I believe I could become much more fond of a picnic in this style ... although I am not giving up my paper plates and plastic cups for anyone. They are plenty comfortable enough if you buy decent ones.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Mrs. Darwin's Sausage Jambalaya

Yes, I know this actually came from a cookbook but somehow it will always be Mrs. Darwin's to me. I am reproducing part of her post here so I have it for posterity (and those times I need to make it again!).
One thing the Cajuns should be praised for is the way they have developed the art of sausage making. Once you have tasted andouille, chaurice, boudin rouge, boudin blanc, or saucisse boucaner, you've got to go back for more, and I've named but a few. Both the Creoles and the Cajuns used these delicious sausages in soups, vegetable dishes, in gumbos, and of course served by themselves.

One of the favorite uses is in a jambalaya. Here is an easy, quick way to whip up a tasty Sausage Jambalaya.

You will need about a pound or a pound and a quarter of chaurice, smoked sausage, or andouille. Slice the sausage into small pieces, then brown in a deep frying pan or Dutch oven. Take the meat out and put into the same fat, 2 large onions, chopped, 1/2 cup finely chopped celery, and one chopped bell pepper. Saute until tender. Mix in thoroughly 1 large can tomatoes. Add 2 bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon basil, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, and 4 toes chopped garlic. Mix well and add 1 10 1/2-oz. can of been consomme and 2 cans of water. Let simmer for about 40 minutes.

Put the sausage back, and add salt, black pepper, and Tabasco to taste. Add 2 cups raw rice. Put a cover on and allow the mixture to cook slowly, stirring occasionally. As the rice begins to absorb the mixture, the jambalaya might get too dry. If so, add a little more water. Cook until the rice is tender.

Just before serving, stir into the jambalaya 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots and 2 tablespoons minced parsley. Let set for 10 minutes, then serve with a big chunk of French bread and butter. Serves four to six.

1 or 1 1/4 lbs. chaurice, smoked sausage, or andouille
2 large onions, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 large can tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. chili powder
4 toes garlic, chopped
1 can beef consomme
2 cans water (instead of consomme and water, I use 4 cups chicken broth)
salt, black pepper, and Tabasco to taste
2 cups raw rice
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (green onions -- I use the whole green onion, not just the white bit)
2 tbsp. minced parsley
That's how many of the recipes in the book work -- a story, seguing into cooking instructions, and at the end the ingredients list. Charming, n'est pas? Hope y'all like this jambalaya -- we've just finished ours, and it was tres bien.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What Is It With Butter Carving?

I thought it was just something kooky that was a U.S. tradition as some state fairs ... this sculpture is being done for the 2005 Texas State Fair.

But evidently not ... this was done for an event in New Zealand (via Slashfood).

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Now Serving Hot Links

The March Hare looks at why lower income families don't cook at home and how it could be fixed.

Accidental Hedonist points us to an article about UK doctors calling for a kitchen knife ban. Will we all be forced to soft foods like Jello and cottage cheese? They can't possibly be serious.

I was shown to the kitchen to begin my food preparation for the following day's preliminary battle. It's a large, well-equipped kitchen with dozens of cooks. The food prepared here is a benefit for Google employees, whose average age is 25. Unlike a traditional restaurant where stringent food and labor costs dictate the menu, this is a chef's Disneyland where food is born of inspiration and pure love of cooking.

The food is served to thousands of well-educated and savvy foodies. Many of the ingredients are organic and locally grown. There is every imaginable seasonal produce item, the finest natural meats and poultry, fresh fish, lobster, rock shrimp and organic tofu -- both Japanese and Chinese.

One candidate recounts his interview which consisted of cooking lunch for 35. Via Slash Food.

Classic Lasagna

This recipe is from the magazine Fine Cooking. The best thing about it is that it makes A LOT under the theory that if you are making one lasagne it is very little trouble to go ahead and make three in just about the same amount of time. Then you can freeze two lasagnas for later. And they are right.

Best of all the sauce recipe is killer. If you want to make it for separate use, such as for spaghetti, just simmer it for an hour, stirring frequently, instead of the shorter time called for below. It's designed to leave it watery so the instant noodles have enough moisture when cooking the lasagna.

Step 1:
2 pounds sweet Italian sausage
Brown meat, breaking into small pieces. Remove, chop small and reserve.

Step 2:
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 cloves, peeled, crushed garlic
2 large onions, finely chopped
Add oil and garlic and heat over medium-high heat until garlic just begins to turn light brown, about 5 minutes. Remove and discard, leaving oil in pot. Add onions and cook until translucent, 5-6 minutes.

Step 3:
1-1/2 cups dry red wine
Return sausage to pot. Add wine and cook until reduced by at least half, about 10 minutes.

Step 4:
4 28-ounce cans (or three 35-ounce) crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons oregano
2 teaspoons basil
2 teaspoons thyme
2 teaspoons rosemary
1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
Add crushed tomatoes and stir in spices and sugar. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook to blend and develop flavors, about 30 minutes. Sauce will be a little watery to work with lasagne noodles. If using just as sauce, slowly cook down longer to reduce more, about an hour.

Step 5:
3 large eggs
2 ounces grated Parmesan
32 ounces part-skim ricotta
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat eggs and add Parmesan. Beat in ricotta. Season with salt and pepper.

Step 6:
2-1/2 pounds sliced skim mozzarella
1 pound instant (no-boil) lasagne noodles
Heat oven to 400°. To make 3 lasagne of 4 layers each, lightly oil three 8x8” pans. In each pan make layers as follows (important note: the noodles must always have a complete covering of sauce or they will not soften):

1. Cover the bottom pan lightly with some of the sauce.
2. Lay down a layer of pasta.
3. Spread enough ricotta on pasta to cover (about ½ cup).
4. Spread enough sauce to cover completely (about ½ cup).
5. Pasta.
6. Sauce.
7. Mozzarella to cover.
8. Ricotta to cover.
9. Sauce.
10. Make two more layers in that order: pasta, sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, sauce.
11. Finish with: pasta, sauce, mozzarella, light layer of sauce.

Seal pans with tented foil and put on foil-lined baking sheets to catch drips. Bake until edges are bubbling and a knife inserted into the center comes out very hot, 40-50 minutes. Let sit 15 minutes before serving or cool completely on a rack before freezing. Defrost frozen lasagna overnight in the refrigerator and then bake at 400° for about 1 hour.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Now Serving Hot LInks

This diet is more sound than you'd think from the name. It aims, very scientifically, to help you with the "eat less, exercise more" problem that so many of us face. Via Aliens in This World.

Orac tells the tale of a chef, a large roasted pig, and very poor judgment.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Cook's Alphabet: F is for Funistrada

A rare example of a 'ghost food', recorded by Bryson (1991). 'The U.S. Army in 1974 devised a food called funistrada as a test word during a survey of soldiers' dietary preferences. Although no such food existed,funistrada ranked higher in the survey than lima beans and eggplant.'
Which just goes to show how much people hate lima beans and eggplant. What do you suppose they thought it was? Funistrada sounds Italian somehow. Perhaps something like lasagna?

A Little Useless Information

I went to original newspaper articles to find out what it was like. Envision a disaster scene with smashed buildings, overturned vehicles, drowned and crushed victims, and terrified survivors running away covered in molasses. Like the modern-day disasters with which we are unfortunately familiar, there was chaos, terror, buildings in ruins, victims to be dug out, trapped survivors to be rescued, rescue workers among the victims, and anguished families rushing to relief centers to find their relatives. It was like any horrible disaster scene, with the addition that everything was covered in smelly sticky brown molasses.
My smart aleck brother brought this to my attention when I was comparing Hurricane Katrina to past disasters. It is fascinating to read through the articles found at the site.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Now Serving Hot Links

World on a Plate makes good on her name by presenting us with a list of food bloggers around the world. This may take some time to get through but what fun it'll be!

Oswego Tea finds marshmallows in Paris. Great post and the photos of these hand made marshmallows are worth the click through.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Thai-Style Chicken Curry

This is from Ken Hom's Quick Wok: The Fastest Food in the East. It is unbelievably easy although the technique of letting the chicken steep left me with half raw chicken and lukewarm sauce. That was easily enough solved by simply turning on the stove and simmering for a few minutes. Beware of the curry paste which scores high on the "heat meter" and start with 1 tablespoon (or less) if you don't like food really spicy.

I have never heard Tom answer as loudly or assertively about a recipe as he did when my question of if I should make this again got a resounding "YES!" from him.

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
14 ounce can of coconut milk
1-2 tablespoons red Thai curry paste, to taste
3 tablespoons finely shredded spring onions (green onions)
1-1/2 tablespoons finely shredded fresh ginger
1 tablespoon fish sauce or soy sauce
1 teaspoon lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons sugar

Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes.

In a wok, combine everything except the chicken. Bring to simmering point.

Add chicken. Immediately cover the wok tightly, remove it from the heat and stand, covered, for 15 minutes, to allow the chicken to steep in the hot curry sauce.

Turn onto a warm platter and serve with steamed rice.

Now Serving Hot Links

The fact is, working these hours restricts access to the sensual pleasures - shut up in an office building for 14 hours a day, we don't feel sun on our faces, hear poignant music (blasting your Ipod on the morning subway ride to momentarily forget your extreme exhaustion doesn't count), see the beauty of Manhattan in early fall, and most of us don't have the time or energy (or available partner) to fit sex in on a regular basis. So what's left to feed the hollow cavern expanding inside our collective consciousness? Buttery, oil-soaked, lard-ridden food. The richer, creamier, saltier and more saturated the better.
You can see why opinionistas attempts a healthy lifestyle after that description. Too bad she inadvertently winds up in a vegan restaurant.

Mrs. Darwin isn't on the bayou but her recipe for Sausage Jambalaya looks mighty tasty all the same.

Friday, September 09, 2005

So Close But Yet So Far

I probably haven't picked up a copy of Gourmet for at least a couple of years but I couldn't resist the other day when I saw their theme was music and food. There was some truly fabulous food writing by John T. Edge, Anthony Bourdain, Jane and Michael Stern, and the late Michael Roberts. Too bad the recipes weren't as stellar as the writing. For example, a description of a local Southern legendary pie maker mentioned her rolling out pie crust that had lard in it. The "adapted" recipe featured 2 tablespoons of shortening instead, "preferably nonhydrogenated." Give me a break. Either give me the real unadulterated recipe or just give up. If Gourmet is afraid of a little lard they aren't a food magazine worth the name (and I think we all know that isn't really off the mark).

La Cremerie for Kids

... since most French children drink very little milk, we have other ways to make sure they get the calcium they need. In place of the plastic gallon jugs of milk that you would find in an American supermarket, la cremerie has other calcium-rich treats for kids. Yogurt comes in all flavors and is made from all types of milk. They also sell chocolate, caramel, and vanilla custard and delicious mousse, all made from fresh dairy products. The lady behind the counter remembers our family's fondness for her special strawberry-flavored yogurt drink and points this out to us as a reminder.
I have to admit that does sound a lot better than a glass of milk.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Now Serving Hot Links: New Orleans

Cookies in Heaven has been running a great series about all the unique foods of New Orleans, including King Cake, beignets, Bananas Foster, and some of the great chefs. Check it out.

Just a few of the things that you'll find written up or linked to at The Food Section.

Dark Chocolate Digestive

Something that has always impressed me is the fierce loyalty shown by those who prefer the dark chocolate variant of the Chocolate Digestive. Despite being in the minority, they behave in a somewhat superior way, believing that only they, the elite, can appreciate the true chocolate biscuit, a dark chocolate biscuit. The usual implication is that dark chocolate is for grown-ups...

If that were as far as it went that would be fine. However, all too often the dark chocolate faction can't help but pass of their opinions as facts. Where a harmless 'I prefer the dark chocolate ones' would suffice, they have to push it with provocative statements such as 'The dark chocolate ones are best'. This is tantamount to spoiling for a fight. However, most people will let it go, as the votes have been counted and the dark chocolate guys lost so it's not worth coming to blows.
For those who have never had the pleasure of trying a McVitie's Digestive, whether plain or chocolate covered, don't be put off by the "digestive" in the name. It is a delicious graham cookie, one of the best around as testified to by the fact that we will plunk down almost any amount of money to keep the house stocked with them. As for which digestive I prefer ... naturally, the dark chocolate (just to keep on being difficult, don't cha know?).

Monday, September 05, 2005

How France Gave Chicory to America

Chicory is a blue-flowered European herb related to endive. The long white root is roasted, ground, and can be brewed by itself to make a drink that resembles coffee. The French started using chicory widely around 1806 when Napoleon was trying to make France self-sufficient. Unfortunately, coffee could not be grown in France, but chicory was everywhere. The Creole French of New Orleans had used chicory as far back as 1688 as a sort of pioneering coffee substitute, but after the Napoleonic declarations, chicory use became a sentimental part of their cuisine as well.
I thought that New Orleans really was the only place that anyone used chicory. I had no clue it came from France in the first place.

Now Serving Hot Links

For those unfamiliar with the story, in 2003, Powell was a secretary living in Queens. Nearing 30 and hating her job, with little (she thought) to show for her life, she embarked on her epic cooking project in order to, as she wrote, “save myself from giving up entirely to dreariness and mediocrity.” With her profanity-laced blog detailing the daily struggles of cooking like Julia, Powell soon won the hearts of thousands of readers, and, by the end of the project, was fielding interview requests from NPR, CNN, the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. With that kind of built-in media attention, a book deal was inevitable.
Read the whole story here. I guess other sorts of bloggers have book deals come up but I really am fascinated at the way food bloggers always have that in the back of their minds (not that Powell did but you see it mentioned an awful lot on various foodie sites). Via Saute Wednesday.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina Relief

I am participating in the TTLB Blogburst to help with Katrina Relief though my main blog, Happy Catholic. If you don't have a favorite charity and want to contribute, please consider joining in. (Follow the link.)

If you have a blog, please consider joining in.

I'll be leaving this post at the top of the blog for the duration of the weekend.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Skillet Chicken and Rice with Mushrooms and Green Beans

This recipe from Cover and Bake was a big hit with everyone and, though it is supposed to make enough for 4 to 6, makes enough rice for eight. I think it would work well using eight chicken thighs (my favorite for any chicken dishes that have to cook for a little while).

I mistakenly got skin-on, boneless chicken breasts for this recipe but just took the chicken out a few minutes earlier than the recipe calls for so they wouldn't be totally overcooked. Also, I forgot to buy green beans so used frozen haricots verts (ah, Central Market, where would I be without you?).

3 bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts (10 to 12 ounces each), cut in half crosswise
Salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
10 ounces white button mushrooms, brushed clean and quartered
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1-1/2 cups long-grain white rice
1/2 cup white wine
3-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 pound green beans, ends trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
4 ounces Havarti cheese, shredded (about 1-1/3 cups)

Dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels, then season liberally with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Carefully lay the chicken in the skillet, skin-side down, and cook until well browned on the first side, about 4 minutes. Flip the chicken and continue to cook until the second side is well browned, about 3 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat, transfer the chicken to a plate, and remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan.

Return the pan to medium heat. Add the onion, mushrooms, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, scraping the browned bits off the bottom and edges of the pan, until the mushrooms begin to soften and start to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the rice and continue to cook until the edges turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and broth and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken to the pan skin-side up. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the chicken is not longer pink in the center and registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 15 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Stir in the green beans, stir the rice well, cover, and continue to cook until the beans and rice are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.