Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mouth Wide Open ... for Bagna Cauda

A little something about a traditional Italian peasant dish that is perfect for cold weather ... from John Thorne's Mouth Wide Open at Forgotten Classics podcast.

As well as a couple of Christmas podcast highlights.


Friday, December 11, 2009


From The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham, this is the simplest and most delicious granola I have ever made, or indeed, eaten. It has wowed those who have sampled it. The kicker is that it is fairly inexpensive to make. Unlike those store-bought granolas!

If you don't have easy access to mixed flakes, just use regular rolled oats (don't use quick oats though).

I have changed the flavoring around in various ways. The nutmeg seemed too perfumey to me so I switched to cinnamon. Equal parts of ginger and cinnamon have been quite tasty.

I always add the nuts with the flakes, just making sure to stir enough so they don't burn and they haven't yet. I've tried almonds, walnuts, and pecans. Almonds are my favorite nuts for this granola.

(about 5 cups)

4 cups mixed flakes (oats, rye, barley, wheat, rice)
Salt to taste (I never use any)
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Put the flakes in a large bowl and sprinkle with a little salt and the nutmeg. In a small bowl, stir the honey into the butter and blend well. Pour the honey syrup over the flakes and toss until they are well coated.

Spread the mixture on foil in a single layer on a baking sheet with edges. (I don't bother with the foil.) Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until the flakes begin to look golden, turning the cereal every 10 minutes with a spatula or spoon. Be careful not to over bake. The flakes will seem a little sticky when done, but they will crisp up as they cool. (I stir occasionally while it is cooling to keep it from sticking.) Store in plastic bags or an airtight container. Use within a month or store in the freezer.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Happy Hour Duo: Garnet and X.Y.Z. Cocktails

Actually we had these separately. The Garnet cocktail was tried out last Saturday with Hannah and a friend who came home to attend a wedding. The X.Y.Z. Cocktail was the one thing about watching the Cowboys' game last Sunday that we found enjoyable.

The Garnet lived up to its name as pomegranate juice lent it a ruddy hue. It was one of those drinks that you have to be careful about. The alcohol is not very obvious perhaps until one has had one too many.

The X.Y.Z. is a classic seeming "sour" cocktail and, as such, would naturally be one that Tom and I would really enjoy.


1-1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce Triple Sec
1 ounce pomegranate juice
1 ounce grapefruit juice

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel.

X.Y.Z. Cocktail

1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 ounce Triple Sec
1 ounce light rum

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Amarcord: Marcella Remembers ... the good, the boring, and the bad

It is really too bad that Ms. Hazan didn't have a talented grandnephew to write Amarcord as did Julia Child in her fantastic memoir, My Life in France. As with Child's memoir, when Hazan focuses on the big picture, not just the food, it is very interesting. I didn't expect Hazan's many fascinating memories of survival in Italy during World War II, first from Allied bombings and then from authorities who suspected them of assisting the resistance. Hazan's reminiscence of school and her mother's survival cooking took us to a different world than now exists. Likewise, after Hazan has married her American-born husband and moves to New York City as a non-English speaker, we are still interested in her immigrant experience.

The bad news is that once Hazan has a food-oriented career, the big picture melts away and only food becomes the focus. As well, she tends to focus on the celebrities she has met and I found most of those stories to be fairly boring. I was especially put off by the way she justified her final break with Knopf by entering her book that compiled old recipes into an awards program designed to honor new books over the publisher's protests. She seemed to think that the fact that her cookbook won was justification enough when all it proved was that her celebrity made others overlook what the publisher very properly recognized: it was an old cookbook in new format. This perhaps typifies my biggest problem with the last half to third of the book which is that Hazan takes on a slightly complaining tone about most things which I found annoying.

This is not to say that Marcella Hazan fans will not love the book, and she does indeed have many fans. To be fair, I did not come to this book with strong feelings one way or the other about Marcella Hazan. I have her Essentials of Italian Cooking as who does not who was buying cookbooks in the 1990s. It never inspired me to do much Italian cooking although the recipes I used from it were uniformly excellent. I like a bit more personality with my cookbooks and I think that is part of my problem with this book. Hazan didn't have the advantage of a talented writer to back her up as I mentioned earlier that Julia Child did. It is hard to fault her for not being a riveting autobiography writer. However, as we can see from the beginning of the book, it is possible for her to write interestingly when she has the material. Perhaps the fault here is in the eyes of the editors who did not redirect Hazan so that her reflections about her career were not as myopic as they seemed to me.

Recommended with the caveat that one is a Marcella Hazan fan.

If one is not a Hazen fan, I can definitely recommend the first half of the book. As for the second half, that depends upon the taste of each reader, I have a feeling.

This review was made after reading a copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rum Daisy

Another addition to the very pleasant surprise from the first sip category ... the Rum Daisy. The grenadine makes this a gorgeous pink which would be a nice offering for a holiday drink now that I think of it!

The only thing I changed was that Daisy drinks are traditionally served in a beer mug or metal cup. I couldn't bear to do that so went with a traditional cocktail glass. And without the ice cube.

Rum Daisy
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar or simple syrup
1 teaspoon grenadine
2 ounces light rum

Shake with ice and strain into chilled beer mug or metal cup. Add one large ice cube and garnish with fruit.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bee's Kiss Cocktail

Something else to be thankful for ... perhaps when sipping it as an after dinner drink? Simply delicious and very simple.

It is creamy, rich and powerful with a feel possibly reminiscent of Bailey's Irish Cream or a well-dosed eggnog.

Bee's Kiss
1-1/2 ounce White Rum
1 ounce heavy cream
3/4 ounce Honey Syrup*

Shake and strain into a champagne flute. (which I chilled quickly in the freezer while assembling)

* To make Honey Syrup: Mix equal part of honey and warm water. Stir well until dissolved, and then chill.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Best. Canned. Tuna. Ever.

I am not kidding.

As my family knows, I am darned picky about tuna. Years ago, there was a brand usually sold to restaurants that I was able to get over the internet.

Mothers routinely would call or corner me and ask what I did to make tuna salad that their kids loved and mentioned to their mothers. "Easy," I said. "Just use albacore and real mayonnaise."

You would not believe how many faces of disgust I saw at the mention of real mayo. Our country is so messed up.

However, I digress. My beloved tuna was discontinued, at least for public purchase. Sadness ensued. Accompanied by a quest to replace it.

I have been able to do so to varying degrees, finally settling for a kind sold at the Central Market. For $6 per can.

It was worth it. Just believe me. Not equal to my restaurant tuna but close enough. Then, of course, The Central Market discontinued carrying it in favor of their own brand which, you should excuse me, is something my cat would enjoy but not something I care to eat myself.

Yes, HEB, just take it. Your tuna is not all that.

Back to the internet I went. Where I found Lazio tuna ... which I completely bought myself. (Hark! Can you hear the angels singing?) Oh. my. goodness.

I didn't know canned tuna could taste so very, very good.

I bought the oil-pack ... just to be an anti-politically-correct-American. As I said, the angels sang.

A canned filet with none of that weird stuff in the bottom of the can. A flavor where you can tell it actually came from a tuna ... while still being distinctively canned tuna. Delicately salted but enough that you can tell there is salt. And packed in oil. Like when I was a kid! Although that wasn't olive oil when I was a kid. I think it was ... soybean oil? However, I digress again. Just believe me that this is a glorious products.

Go get yourself a sample.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Lemon Ginger Muffins

This recipe, originally Bridge Creek Fresh Ginger Muffins, is from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham. I served these for a book club meeting and was greeted with cries of delight mingled with demands for the recipe. Indeed, one friend's mother loved them so that she is being applied to daily for the recipe, where is that recipe!

Now that surely warms the cockles of any baker's heart.

Rather than type it in, which I have been trying to find time to do since that meeting three weeks ago, I found it at Williams Sonoma where it looks as if they slightly adapted it for one of their cookbooks, such as more than doubling the amount of ginger called for. I changed it back to Cunningham's amount. You can find a wonderful photo of the muffins here.

Update: I now have had a chance to compare Cunningham's original recipe with that from Williams-Sonoma and they tinkered with more than the ginger amount. I have restored the recipe to its original state.

These are fresh tasting and I agree with Cunningham who comments in the recipe that you can hardly ever have too much fresh ginger. My two-ounce measure went over the 1/4 cup measure mentioned below so I didn't worry.

Bridge Creek Fresh Ginger Muffins

(sixteen muffins)

1 2-ounce piece unpeeled fresh ginger

3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar [divided use]

2 tablespoons lemon zest (from 2 lemons), with some white pith

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat an oven to 350ºF. Grease muffin tins.

Cut the unpeeled ginger into large chunks. If you have a food processor, process the ginger until it is in tiny pieces; or hand chop into fine pieces. (You should have about 1/4 cup. It is better to have too much ginger than too little.)

Put the ginger and 1/4 cup sugar in a small skillet or pan and cook over medium heat until the sugar has melted and the mixture is hot. Don't walk away from the pan -- this cooking takes only a couple of minutes. Remove from the stove and let the ginger mixture cool [which also happens fairly quickly].

Put the lemon zest and 3 tablespoons sugar in the food processor and process until the lemon peel is in small bits; or chop the lemon zest and pith by hand and then add the sugar. Add the lemon mixture to the ginger mixture. Stir and set aside.

Put the butter in a mixing bowl and beat a second or two, add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and beat until smooth.

Add the eggs and beat well.

Add the buttermilk and mix until blended.

Add the flour, salt and baking soda. Beat until smooth.

Add the ginger-lemon mixture and mix well.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins so that each cup is three-quarters full. Bake 15-20 minutes [until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean]. Serve warm. [I served them a day old and they were delicious.]

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Looking Good Enough to Eat

Believe it or not, these are each 150 sheets of note paper, though the stem is made with a real twig. They are detailed right down to the seeds, as you can see below. As you may well imagine they are very expensive. (Via The Food Section)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Recipe for a Happy Hour ... Heck, For a Couple of Happy Hours!

Tom and I suddenly found that we have slid into having our very own little happy hour every Saturday and Sunday evening before dinner.

This began when Hannah turned 21, became enamored with cocktails, and I bought her a Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide. I liked it so much that I bought one for us also.

We've never been cocktail drinkers before but how boring things would be if we always did the same thing all the time. About 5:00 or 5:30 in the afternoon, we settle down with a new cocktail to sample, listening to music and either reading, knitting (yes, that would be me), or just chatting. Without meaning to, it has become a routine that we have realized we both anticipate with pleasure. Just a little time to stop the day, slow down, and mark the progression into the evening.

We tend to play jazz or other music that could be classified, perhaps, as happy hour music. For those who are not sure what that would be, do go over to The Happy Hour Lounge where Andrew and Jeremy host a delightful podcast that gives wonderful samples of that musical category.

(I must confess that, although we confine ourselves to a single cocktail each, I am a real lightweight. I have begun planning evening meals that are largely done ahead or don't require much work afterward when I've got a little buzz going. Although I am sure the lighthearted singing along with the music forms a delightful background to the rest of the household. I repeat: I am sure of it!)

Enjoying experimenting with different ingredients and recipes, thus far we have found that we are the biggest fans of that category of drink known as "sours." Considering that our favorite cocktail before now has always been the margarita, this is no surprise.

Thus far our favorites have been the Chelsea Sidecar and the Daiquiri, which I realized that I'd never had as a plain drink without a lot of strawberries in it. Coming in third has been the Maiden's Blush. Great name isn't it? And it is a pretty shade of pink as one would expect.

The recipes for all three follow ... and may all your hours, be happy hours!

(For the uninitiated, as we were, a cocktail glass is what most people call a martini glass.)

1 oz. lime juice
1 tsp. superfine sugar or simple syrup*
1-1/2 oz. light rum

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Chelsea Sidecar
1/2 oz. lemon juice
3/4 oz. Triple Sec (we have Cointreau on hand and use that)
3/4 oz. gin

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Maiden's Blush Cocktail
1/4 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. Triple Sec
1 tsp. Grenadine
1-1/2 oz. gin

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

*Simple Syrup
Equal parts water and granulated sugar, heated over a flame, and then cooled and stored in refrigerator until needed. Keeps indefinitely refrigerated in a scrupulously clean container.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tartes aux Fraises (Fresh Strawberry Tarts)

This is what I made for my birthday ... yes, waaaay back in May. I began typing in the recipe waaay back then also, but you can see that I got sidetracked and never got back to it until now. (That's a heckuva sidetrack!)

At any rate, this was a staple of my teenage years at home each spring, once my parents got the Time-Life Foods of the World: The Cooking of Provincial France.

It is not difficult at all and can be done in steps.

I make a 10" shell with 2" inch sides, using a spring-form pan since I don't have a tart pan.

Also, I have added the step of beating up an egg white and lightly brushing the inside of the shell with it, letting it sit in the fridge for 30 minutes, and then baking. That greatly helps to preventing the custard from softening the shell if on assembles it ahead of time as I am wont to do.

Tartes aux Fraises
(Fresh Strawberry Tarts)

To serve 6

6 individual 3- to 4-inch pate brisee tart shells or 9- to 10-inch pate brisee (I use Perfect Piecrust for this)

1 egg plus 1 extra egg yolk
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
pinch of salt
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup hot milk
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 400 and bake the pastry shells (or shell) as described in the recipe (linked above), adding another 7 to 10 minutes to the final baking to brown the shell lightly and cook it fully. Unmold the shells (or shell) and slip it onto wire cake rack to cool.

In a heavy 2- to 3- quart saucepan -- off the heat -- beat the egg, the extra egg yolk and the sugar with a wire whisk, rotary or electric beater until the mixture thickens and turns a pale yellow. add the flour and salt, and beat until well blended.

Beat in the powdered gelatin and vanilla; then slowly pour in the hot milk in a thin stream, beating constantly.

Cook over moderate heat, stirring with a whisk, until smooth and thick. Do not allow the custard to boil; it if seems to begetting too hot, life the pan off the heat a few seconds to cool it. If the custard gets lumpy, beat it with a whisk or rotary beater until smooth. pour the custard into a large mixing bowl and place it in the refrigerator to cool.

When the custard is cold and has begun to solidify slightly, whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. fold it thoroughly into the custard with a rubber spatula and beat gently if there are any lumps. At once, pour or spoon the custard into the pastry shells (even if finishing later!).

Currant Glaze
1 cup red currant jelly
1 tablespoon hot water
1 tablespoon kirsch

1 to 1-1/2 quarts large ripe strawberries, cleaned and stemmed
Powdered sugar

Make the glaze: in a small saucepan, warm the red currant jelly and water over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they begin to froth and thicken. Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the kirsch and let the glaze cool a bit.

(My note: I always have a problem with this glaze as it seems to slightly liquify the custard ... I may try this in the future with no water. The other answer is to have it only on the berries, which is a difficult proposition but may be possible with care.)

Meanwhile, arrange the strawberries on the custard, stem side down -- and in concentric circles if the tart is a large one -- until the top of each tart is completely covered with berries. Spoon the warm glaze over the berries. Refrigerate the tarts for at least 2 hours or until the custard is firm. Sprinkle them with powdered sugar before serving.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Let me just explain something to the Full Plate bloggers ...

... or more probably to their marketing person ... whose missteps make it sound as if the blog culture is something they just heard of (what is this new creature we discover in the Amazonian jungle?).

Here's a sterling example from the email I just received:
Each author will do one blog a week, and The Full Plate Diet staff will do two weekly blogs a week.
Dang! Really?

Because I'll clue you in. "Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen" is a blog. What you are reading right now is a "post." Amateur mistake. Which, if one is getting any sort of advice at all from informed sources, one would know. Forgivable in individuals, just plain clueless from a probably professional writer.

Also, having a disclaimer that one must agree to before one reads the blog? No. Period. If the info is that sensitive or likely to be misused then don't put it on a blog people. Far better to have an overall disclaimer as part of the main layout ... or at the bottom of each post. Or something like that. Pretentious.

So the overall effect out of the box? Clueless and pretentious. I hate that because the book has much worthwhile info and probably the blog does too.

Why did it annoy me enough to post about it? Just lucky I guess. I see these errors constantly from people and companies who I know were advised by professionals ... who aren't on top of their game. It irks me.

For examples of how to do it right, including disclaimers, check out the Quick and Dirty Tips gang, especially Nutrition Diva and House Call Doctor.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Food, Glorious Food (Photos)

taken by Donna Turner Ruhlman

Is this not an absolutely gorgeous photo? Truly beautiful.

I have long admired the food photography over at Michael Ruhlman's blog. (For those who do not do much food reading, I have admired Michael Ruhlman's work since reading the definitive work, The Making of a Chef. His other writing is just as wonderful and following his inquiring mind via his blog has been a real pleasure.)

I simply never wanted to go through the trouble to write requesting permission to feature the photography (yes, I'm lazy too...). You can, therefore, imagine my delight at reading his announcement that his photographer is his wife who is now setting up shop. She says on her blog:
I landed my first staff photographer position in 1982 and have been shooting since, everything from news editorial to fine art. Over the past couple of years, having become involved with Michael’s work, his books, his blog, I’ve turned my focus to food. I’ve initiated this blog to connect with readers and other photographers interested in discussing issues of the craft. I’ve also put up my own site to display my food work. Here, you can browse color and black-and-white food images, purchase prints or high resolution files and get medium resolution files for free. Thanks for landing here and I hope you’ll be back often to discuss photography here or food on Michael’s page.
You may find her photography site here. I think she is particularly savvy to give up-front permission to bloggers to use her photos as long as there is attribution and links. It merely widens the field of exposure to find those who are looking for photography to purchase. Believe me, there is a need.

Do go browse.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Coffee Buttercream Frosting

I've been so very lazy about cooking. However, when one has a large group of people coming over for a meeting and is providing the dessert, well, then one must bestir oneself. I made my favorite Chocolate Buttermilk Cake but was bored with all the usual ways I frost it (Chocolate Malt or plain but oh, so good Buttercream ...). So I started digging through The Cake Mix Doctor* where I found a copied page from ... well another of her cookbooks that I picked up from the library (can't remember which, maybe her chocolate cake cookbook?).

At any rate, the chocolate cake paired with this intense coffee frosting was a huge hit.

Coffee Buttercream Frosting
Makes 3-1/2 cups, enough to frost a 2- or 3-layer cake

1/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
8 tablespoons (1 stick butter), at room temperature
4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted, plus additional if needed

Pour the milk into a small glass bowl andheat in the microwave oven on high power for 30 seconds, or until very hot. Stir in the coffee granules until they dissolve. Set the mixture aside.

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until fluffy, 30 seconds. Stop the machine and add 1 cup of the confectioners' sugar. Blend with the mixer on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, 30 seconds. Alternating, add the coffee mixture and the rest of the sugar, beating on low speed until smooth. Add more sugar if the frosting seems thin. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until lightened, 1 to 2 minutes more.

*The Cake Mix Doctor. There is not a bad frosting recipe in this book. They are all homemade as opposed to the cake recipes which fix up cake mixes. I don't use the cake recipes from this, preferring the texture of home made cake, but I do use it for inspirations on cake/frosting pairings.

Sorry Wilma ...

... my weekend got away from me, but NEXT weekend I definitely plan on making that Lentil Soup I was telling you about. So check back!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Do People Still Cook? Michael Pollan's Answer Raises Hackles But I Think He is Right.

The movie Julie & Julia, due out soon ... or possibly out now for all I know ... has raised a lot of food chatter and contemplation of the state of cooking in American kitchens.

Perhaps none has raised hackles more, and for me more unexpectedly, than Michael Pollan's article for The New York Times, Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch. It is a long article but well worth it as Pollan considers why we have gone from cooking food to watching others cook it on The Food Network.
But here’s what I don’t get: How is it that we are so eager to watch other people browning beef cubes on screen but so much less eager to brown them ourselves? For the rise of Julia Child as a figure of cultural consequence — along with Alice Waters and Mario Batali and Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse and whoever is crowned the next Food Network star — has, paradoxically, coincided with the rise of fast food, home-meal replacements and the decline and fall of everyday home cooking.

That decline has several causes: women working outside the home; food companies persuading Americans to let them do the cooking; and advances in technology that made it easier for them to do so. Cooking is no longer obligatory, and for many people, women especially, that has been a blessing. But perhaps a mixed blessing, to judge by the culture’s continuing, if not deepening, fascination with the subject. It has been easier for us to give up cooking than it has been to give up talking about it — and watching it.
As an aside to the main point of this post, I also was struck by Pollan's point that we now have routine access to luxury foods that we wouldn't go to the trouble to make often for ourselves if there were no other choice. I'm not talking about truffles and foie gras here. I'm talking about french fries and fried chicken. I don't know why this struck me with such force here. Possibly because of the forceful advice of a someone that Pollan interviews who says:
“Easy. You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”
I would certainly have fewer french fries, less ice cream, and no soda. However, I digress.

Pollan is usually the darling of the food writing/reading/cooking world for his repeated calls to sanity in eating and food production. Now, however, he has been accused of no less than insulting women as a whole. Barbara at Tigers & Strawberries covers this as well as various other problems and reactions to the article. There are some good links there.

I didn't pick up on the anti-woman theme, however, I must also admit I had a different thought in mind when reading the article.

I read it right after spending the weekend putting on a marriage enrichment retreat. Hence, our down time often consisted of hanging out with the other couples working on the retreat.

It was during one of these times when I mentioned cooking to a guy who I like and respect a great deal. His response dumbfounded me. As best I can remember, he said,
Cooking. I don't know. Making a meal just takes time we could use for something else.
I got the distinct impression that an hour was something valuable, not worth squandering on dinner prep. (Ironically, he was one of the couple in charge of food for the weekend.)

I didn't know what to say. It was as if he was stringing together words that I knew individually but that didn't make sense in the order he pronounced them.

I simply had never come across that particular attitude before.

I finally said, "Well, in my family food was close to religion. Heck, it was our religion. I figure we've all got to eat so we might as well eat something worthwhile."

I think I might have dumbfounded him in return.

There was a silence while we both smiled at each other.

Finally, I said, "It's a very French attitude." My husband laughed and said, "Yes, it is very French, the way her family feels about food."

We moved on to other things but that surprised me so much that it kept surfacing. I wondered if his wife never, ever cooked. How does one do that? Restaurants, take-out, and frozen food? The fact that I was so mystified at the mechanics of how someone would exist that way goes to show that the concept simply never occurred to me.

At any rate, that is all a long way of saying that, whatever else one ascribes to Pollan's article, he was absolutely right that many people, in fact I would venture to say most people, just don't cook any more. I have seen food people refuting this hotly but from my other experiences in regular America, encounters with my friend aside, this is what I have seen to varying degrees.

Read it and weep.

Whole Foods Plans Return to Natural Food Roots ...

... as we can see here.

Dr. Boli helps us see the strength of their argument!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Stir-Fried Spinach

In my brief flirtation with a local produce co-op (one morning constitutes "brief" doesn't it?), I received a lot of fresh produce that I normally don't get. I did like that part of it.

It made me cook fresh green beans and discover that all those people who always assured me in recipes that frozen green beans are "just as good" were lying. Lying.

Those fresh beans, even though limp and characterless when I washed, topped, and tailed them, turned somehow silky, toothsome, and subtly flavored.

Emboldened and needing to produce some space in my refrigerator, I pulled out the two pounds of fresh spinach and my go-to vegetable cookbook, Irene Kuos' The Key to Chinese Cooking. I saw that probably about 20 years ago I had noted it "great" and "great" it remained. Rose took enough for two small bites and then quickly took a much larger helping. Tom had seconds.

Again, I had been a victim of those cookbook authors who have been assuring me that frozen spinach is just as good as fresh. This was soft, shiny, vividly green, and had a silky texture (somehow different from that of the beans) and was a mild, nutty flavor thanks to the sesame oil.

Here's how you can make it for yourself. The brief parboiling helps prevent it from turning watery but be sure to really squeeze the water out of it afterward. A little sugar is added to remove that puckery aftertaste that spinach can have. It isn't sweet and does the trick nicely. A good deal of oil is needed to give it luster and a smooth texture. Don't reduce it until you've tried this one as written.

Stir-Fried Spinach

2 pounds spinach
4 tablespoons oil
2 large cloves garlic, lightly crushed and peeled
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil

Wash the spinach well (mine took 7 washes). If it has roots, sepaarate them and cut into 2 or 4 pieces -- they are extremely sweet and succulent. Chop stems if long.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add the spinach, and stir to submerge it. When the water begins to boil again, in about a minute, pour the spinach into a colander and spray with cold water to stop the cooking. press down lightly to extract excess water.

Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot; add the oil, swirl, and heat bout 30 seconds til hot. Toss the garlic cloves and press them again the pan a few times. Add the spinach and poke and shake to separate the mass; then stir in fast turning motions to coat it with oil. Sprinkle in the salt and sugar and stir briskly for about 1 minute. Add the sesame oil, give a few fast turns, and pour into a hot serving dish, discarding the garlic.

Friday, July 03, 2009

4th of July Pie

A friend, knowing of Rose's predilection for pie making, emailed me the link to this photo.

It fired up Rose's imagination sure enough. We will be attempting this with blueberries and raspberries. Photos and recipe to follow ... if it works. If it doesn't, we'll just eat the evidence.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rice Culture: Up Close and Personal

Long ago, when I was living in Sri Lanka, I had a roommate who was rom the Netherlands. He was the most courageous traveler I had ever met, having no fear of wild animals or snakes or the jungle, all the things I will never get accustomed to. From where we lived outside the town of Kandy, he would deliberately take a route into town that took him through the jungle, while I would always walk safely on the road. He'd routinely encounter snakes, and if it was one he'd never seen before, I would hear about it at length that night over dinner. Lucky for me, he was as good a storyteller as he was courageous.


And Kaziranga National Park was everything my roommate had promised it would be. We went into the park each day by elephant, and we got right up close to one-horned rhinos, wild buffalo, wild deer. In the late afternoon we'd hand out with the mahouts (the elephant keepers) as they'd wash down the elephants. Sometimes in the morning while we were riding on the elephant, the mahout would take the kids up with him on the elephant's neck and teach them how to steer using their toes to touch behind the elephant's ears. One time I dropped a lens cap from my camera and it fell into the tall wild grass below, but the mahout simply spoke to the elephant and the elephant stopped, dropped her enormous trunk down into the tall grass, and then swooped her trunk back up and over at me, handing me my tiny lens cap. Once our elephant stopped in her tracks, lowered her head, and moaned several times, sniffing with the delicate tip of her trunk at a pile of scattered broken bones on the ground. "Elephant graveyard," said the mahout. We were there a long silent moment, then she set off again through the grass. ...
Rereading this book, I marvel again at Jeffrey Alford's and Naomi Duguid's skill in communicating a sense of place. As with all of Alford's and Duguid's books, they combine outstanding photography, personal stories, simple recipes, and extensive background materials. The result is that the reader almost feels as if they have visited a country or also followed on the track of a single food around the world (such as rice or flatbreads). Best of all, the recipes are easy to understand and every single one I have ever tried has worked, deliciously. (Give this Beef Sauced Hot Lettuce Salad a try and you'll see what I mean.)

Every so often I begin a rereading trek on these authors' trail. It looks as if I'm off again ... finishing up the rice trail for now. If you haven't tried any of these authors' books do go try your library. You will get both a virtual vacation and tasty meals.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I always wondered what liquid smoke was ...

... and now, whether we want to know or not, here is the answer.
What is liquid smoke?
Liquid smoke is very simply smoke in water. Smoke usually comes as a vapor, but there are ways to condense it and turn it into liquid and that liquid can then be carried in water.

How is it different from regular smoke?
Regular smoke is a vapor, and it is difficult to store.

SlashFood has all the scoop on liquid smoke.

A Taste of Heaven for Body and Soul

A Taste of Heaven: A Guide to Food and Drink Made by Monks and Nuns

Mount Saint Mary's Abbey
Near Wrentham, Massachusetts

Tourists in New England expect to see lobsters. The crustaceans appear on menus, license plates, and store shingles. There are lobster candies, cookie cutters, and key chains. Of course, real New Englanders know to go down to the dock for live lobsters, fresh from the trap. What neither tourists nor natives expect to see here is a creature who looks like he was headed for the Inca ruins of Peru but ended up at an abbey closer to Boston: a llama named Oblio. Llamas are sometimes called "camels of the clouds" for their ability to haul mountain loads, yet Oblio looks like he's dressed for a dinner party in a snowy white tux with black tails. Visitors who buy the abbey's wool blankets can thank Oblio for protecting the sheep from coyotes.

In addition to a llama, this monastery is home to some of New England's best candy. Mount Saint Mary's Abbey was founded in 1949 by nuns from Saint Mary's Abbey in Glencairn, Ireland; it was the first American monastery founded by Cistercian nuns. The abbey church is austere in a way that reflects Trappist traditions; its stark white walls and low ceiling make the space feel humble and intimate. However, one's eye is drawn to a detail that is as unexpected here as a llama in Massachusetts: the Salve Regina window, which was made for the nuns by a monk from Holy Spirit Monastery in Georgia. It is so colorful that it looks as though the glass had been fused with celestial fire. The nuns agree that it's unusual, but like the way its light capture the tone of each prayer throughout the day.

Candy lovers in New England fondly remember Crand's Candy Castle in Enfield, Connecticut. Its owner was a Greek immigrant named John Crand who taught the nuns how to make candy He insisted on using the best ingredients regardless of cost and that's the way the nuns make candy to this day. ...
Although it is difficult to communicate it without including an entire chapter here, this book covers much more than indicated by the subhead "A Guide to Food and Drink Made by Nuns and Monks."

On one level, this is a guidebook to finding delicious viands made the really old fashioned way in the U.S. and Europe, by techniques honed over hundreds of years in some cases. Not only do we find foods to purchase but recipes have been included which either use featured items as ingredients or which duplicate fare one would likely eat while visiting.

On the other hand, it is a tour guide of interesting, historical monasteries, abbeys, and convents to visit. Scherb gives a good sense of place for each site, some of the area or order's history, and tips from food authorities. For example, in the Holy Cheese section, tips are featured from master cheesemonger Steve Jenkins for selecting and buying the best monastery cheese. Additionally, the author is thoughtful enough to include suggested itineraries for areas that have a lot of sites one might want to visit.

The greatest treasure in the book, however, from my point of view is that Scherb doesn't look at these places simply as purveyors of excellent food and drink. She is careful to consider each place as a whole, for not only what they can offer our bodies but also our souls. Necessarily this includes Catholicism as that is the basis for the religious life in these places. However, Scherb does an excellent job of providing each person with food for thought no matter their religious leanings. Consider this from the introduction.
Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned from the example of monks and nuns is that a life lived simply can be both rewarding and sustainable. Monks and nuns don't live to work, they live to pray. They work only as much as they need to, but they give it their best effort every day. They work whether they are young or old according to their abilities (an octogenarian nun was recently spotted making chocolates at Bonneval, while monks of a similar age staff the reception desk at Gethsemani).
More specifically, this example from the entry about Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey in Oregon shows that periods of quiet and contemplation away from the busy world benefit us all.
Dawn is the perfect time of day to read and contemplate. One can sit in a rocking chair in one's room and gaze out at the pond and forest while reading from J.R.R. Tolkein, Thomas Merton, or Thich Nhat Hahn (all are available in the bookstore). Or one can read Saint Therese of Lisieux (whose photo hangs in the monastery's book bindery) and contemplate just how different the world might be if everyone who visits a monastery were to practice a thousand little acts of kindness when they go home. ...
There are many benefits for both body and soul through A Taste of Heaven.

(This book is not yet published and will be released on August 6.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Food, History, and The Great Depression

... Two hundred and fifty thousand New Yorkers go through these silent processes daily in favorite or convenient Automats. Some are regular customers, others appear only on certain days, keeping a tryst with a favorite dish. No New York wife knows her husband until she has studied him in an Automat. And all suburban mothers have learned that on a day in town lunch at the Automat is the kids' delight.

A stranger entering these precincts is led by the crown toward a trim marble counter, in which are several plate-like depressions. A nickel is the unit of purchase, so coins or bills are here exchanged for scintillating shower of nickels, which are miraculously never too many, never too few. With a fistful of nickels, and wearing hat, coat, carrying brief-case or handbag, the crowd moves on toward the walls of food, assembling as they go trays, silver, and napkins. ...
The Works Projects Administration (WPA) came up with an amazing quantity and variety of projects designed to help employ workers during The Great Depression. Many of the roads, buildings, and public lakes (such as White Rock Lake, here in Dallas) we enjoy today were begun under those auspices.

I have long been curious about the WPA's Federal Writers' Project from the 1930's which sent well known (and lesser known) writers to explore and document regional food. I remember reading that it was abandoned in the early 1940's because of World War II and then stored away in archives available only to a privileged few.

Mark Kurlansky has seen the archives and the result is The Food of a Younger Land which takes a choice sampling of each region and reproduces it for us. The pieces presented here are not as they would have been seen at the end of the project but rather the unedited copy as it was submitted from all over the country. Part of the treasure here is Kurlansky's introduction which explains the projected scope of the project before it was abandoned. That makes it much easier to understand the unevenness of the writing, length, and range of the pieces from one region to the next.

I tended to appreciate most the longer, more thorough articles but also found that the very brief pieces revealed much about just how much the average cook was assumed to know. We can see this from a quick glance at "Georgia Possums and Taters" which begins, "After catching the possum 'before you go to bed that night, scald the possum with lye and scrape off the hair.'

Oh, thanks but no, I had that yesterday ...

Anyone interested in regional U.S. history, whether of food or writing, will be rewarded by the content found in The Food of a Younger Land.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Score One for Low Tech

Last week's Hive Five demonstrates that no matter how packed with technology our homes and lives become, some things are best done the traditional way.

Edging out all of its digital competitors by a long shot, paper takes home the crown for best recipe management tool. Lifehacker readers used paper in a variety of forms: index cards, notebooks, and three ring binders all served as repositories for your favorite recipes.
Lifehacker tells us what I already knew. My technique is to keep the files in an InDesign file (hey, I'm in graphics; its easy for me that way) and print out the pages for my three-ring binder. Which I also gave one each of to the girls when they went to college and apartments with kitchens.

Thanks to Tom for the heads up on this!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Little Summer Cooking ...

No, not from me. I have been cooking and have both recipes and book reviews to post soon.

However, in the meantime, the report from the homefront is of others cooking for us. Which is pretty fantastic, I must say.

Pretty in Pink ... Ice Cream
Rose suddenly became interested in ice cream recipes and that is nothing but delicious for us. She whipped up a quick little number featuring raspberries, cream, a pinch of salt ... and maybe a bit of milk? I'll have to get that recipe up for everyone. It was simple and the essence of summer on the tongue. Not to mention that glorious, natural, almost-glow-in-the-dark pink!

Is There a Chef in the House? Why, Yes There Is.
Hannah's boyfriend was in the mood to cook this weekend and on Saturday made us smothered steaks, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and fruit with yogurt-lime dip for dessert. Mmmm, that boy is a good cook, I have to say. Not sure which brand of can the biscuits were from but the rest of it was all fresh and made from scratch. The smothered steaks weren't what I usually see recipes for. This was a steak, seasoned and pan-seared, "smothered" with stir fried vegetables (red and green bell pepper, red onion, mushrooms) and grated mozzarella. Delicious. The red potatoes were mashed with sour cream and the skins left on. Again, not what I usually would think of, but delicious.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Simple Chorizo

This recipe is for anyone who wants real Mexican flavor but doesn't have access to a deli or butcher who makes chorizo. Funnily enough, we get our "real" Mexican chorizo from a German deli. Hey, sausage making is sausage making. Am I right or am I right?

I think I picked this up from one of Matt Martinez's cookbooks. Both Matt Makes a Run for the Border and Matt Martinez's Culinary Frontier are great since Matt has a real knack for simplifying techniques but keeping authentic flavor. However, both are also at home and I'm doing this from work.
Simple Chorizo

1 pound ground pork
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves minced garlic
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon white vinegar

In a bowl, mix all together and refrigerate overnight. Or, freeze it.
Hey, I told you it was simple!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Weekend Joke

From Dr. Boli's Celebrated Magazine.
Dear Dr. Boli: I just bought some “chicken tenders” in the meat department of the Foodland, and I was wondering: What part of the chicken is the “tender”?—Sincerely, A Curious Shopper.

Dear Sir or Madam: The chicken tender is not part of the chicken: it is the person who takes care of the chickens, as of course its name implies. Dr. Boli does not ordinarily attempt to dictate in matters of taste, but he would return that meat if he were in your position and still had the receipt.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Mouth Wide Open ...

... breaking away from Uncle Tom's Cabin for an episode to give us all a break, we continue with some selections from Mouth Wide Open. Pick it up at Forgotten Classics.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Food Network's new blog and "Food2 Freebie Friday"

From the mailbag:
I would like to exclusively introduce you to, from the minds behind Food Network. A web experience that gives a fresh take on everything in the world of food & drink. In addition, video, challenges, recipes, tips and a blog.

Hungry for more? I also wanted to give you a heads up about our very first giveaway, called "Food2 Freebie Friday." Only for tomorrow, give Food2 a shout out in your blog or friend us on Facebook or follow us and Twitter. And you could be randomly rewarded with some awesome food2 goodies like t-shirts, gift baskets and more.

How easy is that!
Pretty darned easy, I must say.

Not having cable, I've never watched the Food Network but the site looks worth perusing. And, of course, a food giveaway is never a bad thing is it? Check it out.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Grilled Lemon Chicken

From Cook's Illustrated ... back when I used to read it. We made it last weekend as Dallas weather was in the 80s and that just cries out for grilling.

Don't skip that second dousing in the lemon sauce combo. We did a before and after tasting and it really does make all the difference. You get a lemon zing but not too much. Truly delicious.

Grilled Lemon Chicken

Step 1:
1/4 cup olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, pressed

Heat oil and garlic until garlic starts to sizzle but not color. Remove from heat.

Step 2:
1 cup juice from 5 lemons
1-1/2 teaspoons dried thyme

Mix with lemon juice and thyme in 9x13” dish; set aside.

Step 3:
2 chickens, cut up

Grill chicken until dark golden brown. When well colored, roll in lemon sauce to coat. Return pieces to grill; heat 5 minutes longer, turning and brushing with sauce once or twice more. Return pan and roll in sauce again.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Product Review: Garofalo Pasta

Thanks to one of those periods that come to us all every so often, my personal life has had one darned thing after another going wrong. These happen to be the sorts of things that required a lot of driving, dashing here and there, and (sadly) not really any time to think about cooking. Indeed, I had barely time to do any cooking. It was just a case of coming up with meals to fling on the table at the last minute for several weeks in a row.

In our household that means a definite dependence on pasta. There is rarely anything easier or more palatable than a pasta-based dish, salad, bread, and wine (oh yes, definitely the wine with the way that things were going ...).

You can therefore imagine my surprise and pleasure at receiving two samples of honest-to-goodness Italian pasta to try out. I was interested to see that this pasta has a 200-year-old history. Looking around the internet, I was intrigued to see that this pasta formerly was only available in Italy. Of course, regardless of a distinguished pedigree, the proof is in the tasting. I had ample opportunity to put them to the test.

First up was the Pappardelle, broad and long strips of pasta, that came in very handy on the night I had virtually nothing in the house to cook. I used them for Pasta with Parmigiano Regianno which not only had the virtue of being quick, simple, and using ingredients I had to hand, but also of allowing the pasta to shine forth with its own qualities. It was indeed delicious, firm to the tooth but tender, with a very good flavor. The only problem I had was that when I gave the pasta its first stir to keep it from sticking together after being allowed to sit in the boiling salted water for a bit the noodles themselves had a tendency to break. The length of about a third of them was therefore abbreviated but this didn't matter to us.

Secondly, the Radiatori was put to the test in a variation of Pasta Baked with Bechamel and Parmigiano. I had a generous amount of leftover turkey which I diced and only enough milk to make 2 cups of sauce instead of the 3 I needed to give the pasta enough creamy sauce to cover it. Interestingly, the Radiatori soaked up the sauce and retained all their tender but toothsome texture. It was truly delicious.

At first I thought that this pasta was not actually that different from the usual sort but then I realized that I already buy a high quality pasta. Therefore, what this meant was that Garofalo was standing up to a very high standard indeed. In fact, Hannah now has to take pasta from home to school for her cooking because in innocently trying the standard American sorts she has been greatly disappointed.

Garofalo is not only delicious but affordable. I see that:
Garofalo Signature pastas retail for $2.49 per pound and are available at popular
supermarkets including A&P, Kings and Costco, as well as New York based specialty
food retailers such as Food Emporium, D’Agostino and independent specialty food
stores in Chelsea Market.
Here's the complete list as well as an email address if you need another source.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

1-2-3-4 Peanut Butter Cookies

Rose is in a speech class in college. She has to make a persuasive speech and eschews the other very serious topics others have spoken about. For one thing, she's in a fine arts college and astutely notes, "You already know which side they're going to be on for those issues in our school and no one ever changes their mind on that stuff from those kind of speeches."

She went on, "I want to lighten it up. I want to talk them into baking. Everyone should bake. It will improve their lives."

No kidding.

Issues come and issues go. Meanwhile, cooking and baking continue in the background to improve lives, families, and ... dare I say it ... to restore our souls in this increasingly jaded world.

She will be touching on the fact that baking frozen lumps of cookie dough from a bag is not baking. That is merely being a technician. As well, she'll be informing classmates on the superiority in taste, health, quality, price, etc. of homemade versus store bought.

Here's the recipe she's going to give her classmates at the end of the speech. It is from The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. It has the unique quality of being a cookie recipe with no flour in it. Both easy and delicious, I recall well when Rose baked these for us. I recommend you bake a batch for yourselves.

1-2-3-4 Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup (9-1/2 ounces) creamy or chunky peanut butter
1 large egg
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment (for easier cleanup, but sheets can be left unlined, and ungreased, if you prefer).

In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the peanut butter, egg, sugar and baking soda until smooth. Drop the dough by the teaspoonful onto the prepared baking sheet.

Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, or until they appear set. Remove them from the oven and cool on the pan for 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A Good Looking Shrimp Recipe for Upcoming Fast Day ...

... or for any day to tell the truth.

The photos and description of this Greek shrimp dish look so good that I wanted to throw this link out to everyone. Though the mention mastic resin gives me some pause as I think of ... however, that must mean it is truly authentic as you can find when you read this interesting article.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bread and Coques

This photo is from Barcelona Photoblog where you will find not only wonderful photography but fascinating details of life there. Click through the link to see not only a wonderful description of spring in Barcelona but to find more links where there is more info about the food. For example, we learn that coques:
A coca is a sort of flat, elongated or round bread dough base baked and covered with different ingredients. Technically similar to pizza you could say, but different in taste. You can have coca de recapte where such base is adorned with escalivada - a mixture of aubergines and red peppers cut into strips and dressed with olive oil (recommended for "anti-baconists") - or you can find the sweet versions (trillions of them swallowed with cava on Sant Joan's eve) covered with glazed fruit, custard, pumpkin jam or just sugar and pine nuts. Although sold in pastry shops and bakeries we prefer the ones baked using traditional recipes and artisan wood fired ovens...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Delacata? No thanks, I'll have the catfish.

From Saveur comes this little tidbit tucked away in their story about catfish, which I take as a warning that repackaging means adding cost, not value.
Later this year a small percentage of U.S. farm-raised catfish will be sold as filets labeled delacata. Processed from larger fish, the custom-cut filets will be more than twice the size of regular catfish filets and sold at a higher price. "Let's face it, 'catfish' is not the best name, especially for people outside the South," says Jeremy Robbins, a marketer for the Catfish Institute, the industry group in charge of the makeover, which farmers hope will propel a fish with an inferiority complex beyond the deep-fried South and onto a bistro menu near you.

Look at what's in my fridge!

Yes, eight ... count 'em, EIGHT! .... bottles of Pom Juice which those lovely folks sent me to sample.

This is especially kind of them since I'd always passed by the juice section, casting longing glances at those nicely designed bottles that seemed so expensive. Never daring to try one.

The reason I was interested in pomegranate juice at all was because The Central Market used to have their own brand of pomegranate juice which was fantastic. Hannah and I were dashed down to find around Thanksgiving that it was no longer available. Nothing we tried was a good substitute ... and believe me, we tried lots of other brands. In fact, I was surprised at just how much choice we had.

Then the Pom people sent these samples, I took a look at my Soda Club sparkling water maker and ... and idea hatched. I threw open the fridge. Yes. Some of my favorite orange flavored sparkling water was left.

Here's how you make absolutely delicious pomegranate soda ... combine half pomegranate juice, half sparkling orange-flavored non-sweetened soda water (which is what I had to hand), and toss in a packet of sweetener (simply because it needed a touch of sweetness and I didn't think a little sugar would dissolve very well in that cold mixture.


Just as good as the beloved soda I couldn't find any longer.

For those without a Soda Club gizmo, try using Canada Dry sparkling water. I bet it'd be fantastic as well.

I will still be experimenting on other uses for the juice. Per a friend's recommendation, I tried mixing it with tea. No thank you. However, you must keep in mind that I do not like juice-flavored teas, as my friend Monette will never let me forget after a brush with her Mango Tea (which everyone else loved, let me hasten to add).

I never will think those little bottles are too expensive again ...

Monday, March 09, 2009

Mrs. Appleyard's Kitchen ...

... highlighted in this week's podcast at Forgotten Classics. Never heard of it? Neither had I until I discovered it in my mom's basement. Intelligently funny and some recipes too!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Celebrating Cracker Cooking ... and No, I'm Not Talking About Saltines

Which is all to say that this particular subspecies of the very earliest Americans, which I will refer to as Crackus Americanis, was an unusually diverse and colorful band of humanity, which took root and flourished all over pioneer America in the latter century. And though their affiliation with whips, poor dental hygiene, and old-time religion gave them a really virulent case of bad PR, they eventually came to embrace their name with humorous deprecation, in no small part because they evolved into such an intractable and stubborn race that self-referring with a derogatory term suited them down to the ground.

Their whole persona was wrapped up in being independent, self-sufficient, and boldly against the grain. If you ever come across a multimillionaire central Florida cattle baron, chances are he'll be wearing worn jeans, ancient pointed-toed boots, and the straw cowboy hat he bought at Woolworth's for fifty cents in 1953. To dress otherwise would be "getting above his raising" or even worse, sleeping with the enemy (that is, pretending he's Presbyterian and eats only biscuits).

There is pride in that defiance and an inborn conviction that by adhering to the rules of fashion or buying into the myth that money buys happiness -- well, that's the Cracker road to perdition. Soon you'll be putting sugar in your cornbread and drinking chai tea and sending your children to the Ivy League.

It's the thin end of the wedge.

My intention in writing this cookbook is to introduce readers (or for many, to reacquaint you) to this most original American subspecies that has greatly transcended its roots in the Colonial South, and now has children from Miami to Oregon, from Manhattan to California. This wide-ranging diaspora is well-documented along many tried and true migratory lines: Kentucky Crackers moved across the river to Ohio; Arkansans emptied out into Illinois, Arizona, and all points west; Alabamans packed up for Florida and Texas; and with the advent of the Greyhound bus, Georgia and Mississippi Crackers practically inherited the earth.

They left for the money, mostly, to labor in the coal mines of West Virginia and the engine shops of Detroit, and to become webfoot soldiers in service to our benevolent Uncle Sam. ...

I personally think it's time we rise up and introduce ourselves beyond the closest crossroads, and I heartily welcome you into my kitchen to celebrate the three pillars of Cracker life: food and laughter and food.

Relax, unwind, and don't sweat the fine print. The only rule of Cracker cooking is there are no rules. Just come, enjoy, and make these recipes your own. Add pepper, delete pepper; toss in a stick of butter or make it rigidly fat free.The secret to our long survival is our innate Cracker ability to mutate to fit the circumstances. If you're married to a Chinese man and like soy sauce, then throw in some soy sauce. If you're a vegetarian, then substitute tofu. The only things really sacred in Cracker Culture are faith, the love of family, and a certain holy reverence for the gift of telling a story with perfect comedic timing. Everything else is negotiable, including our food, and if you doubt my sincerity, read ahead to my section on wild game feasts and roadkill.
That is just a portion of the engaging and informative introduction to Janis Owen's cookbook in which she celebrates her Cracker heritage.

I'm not a Cracker or even a native Southerner but Owens makes me wish I was one. She has a lengthy and fascinating introduction to Crackers. The introduction has not only Owen's personal take on Crackers but traces the origins of the word and looks at their history as a people. She then proceeds to group her recipes by sections such as for a spring meal or soul food dinner. We not only get ideas of what to serve together but a great essay at the beginning of each section.

Her celebration does not stop at the delightful stories or frank and good natured recipe introductions. She includes black and white family photos with descriptions that give us a sense of place in long ago Florida. Her stories about religion as practiced by family members was both hilarious and insightful, as well as lovingly tolerant. Much more than a collection of recipes, this is an invitation to pull up a chair and see what makes a close knit group of Americans tick. And if you have a piece of Orange Pie while you're doing it, well, that's all the better.

As an additional example, I proffer this tidbit that shows Owen's honesty, openness, and humanity. Yes, I teared up a bit while reading. Grab a copy of the book for yourself and in between cooking meals read the rest of this.
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday falls on January 15, and I offer up this soul-inspired menu in his honor and for all the rest of the heroes of the Movement: John Lewis and Ralph Abernathy and every single Yank, Jew, Episcopal pacifist, and student agitator among them. When they put their lives on the line and agitated Jim Crow into oblivion, they freed not only the people of color but also the children of the oppressor, who inherited the gift of diversity and eventually learned a better way (or at least some of them did; I did). It's a favor that can't be forgotten and won't be; not if this Cracker has anything to do with it."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Few New Favorites ...

Discovered on my trip to Springfield ...
  • McDonald's McCafe Latte ... in the large drive-through size. It hit the spot and I didn't want a cola. Mmmm, latte ...

  • Mrs. Appleyard's Kitchen ... an absolutely delightful "forgotten classic" that I discovered in my parent's basement. Hilarious and intentionally so ... Mom and I kept picking it up and reading each other snippets all day ... and laughing our heads off. I'll be reading some of this at Forgotten Classics for the next episode.

  • Delonghi Coffee Maker. It is sad when you come home to find the coffeepot carafe cracked while doing dishes. Even sadder when you read the scathing reviews of most standard coffee makers at Amazon. This one not only had raves but also was available at the nearby Target. Excellent coffee was enjoyed this morning ... as we would hope from the snazzy Italian design!

Another new favorite, though not food related can be found at Happy Catholic.

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Gentle, Sweet Tale of Food, Cooking, and Possibly ... A Little Magic

"I'm thinking something minimal, industrial. Lots of stainless steel--I love stainless steel--with a concrete floor and black cabinets." Susan's hands gestured and pointed. "No handles--I hate handles --and maybe some rows of open metal shelves above the countertops. We could put the dishes and the new pots and pans up there." She turned to her fiance, who smiled and nodded. Amanda waited, thinking perhaps there would be more but this appeared to be the end.

:So we'll just leave you to do your magic for a littl while. Jeff and I need to go talk master bathroom, anyway. We're going to have to take out the whole third bedroom just to get a decent master suite!" And with another laugh, she was gone.


Antonia stood in the kitchen, trying in her mind to lay the outline of Susan's vision over the kitchen that existed, but the straight lines kept bumping into the curve of the bay, sharp edges rumpled by the cushion on a window seat, the rounded back of an imaginary chair, warmed and softened by the fireplace that somehow, in every iteration, never seemed to give way to the image that Susan had presented.

In Antonia's four years in America, in her four years of designing kitchens in eighty-year-old cottages and colonial mansions, contemporary condos and doll-size Tudors, this was the first fireplace she had seen in a kitchen, and she found herself circling it like a child with a dessert she knows is not for her. ...

But here was a fireplace. It reminded her of her grandmother's kitchen, with its stove at one end and a hearth at the other, the space in the middle long and wide enough to accommodate a wooden table for twelve and couches along the sides of the room. Her grandmother's cooking area was small--a tiny sink, no dishwasher, a bit of a counter--but out of it came tortellini filled with meat and nutmeg and covered in butter and sage, soft pillows of gnocchi, roasted chickens that sent the smell of lemon and rosemary slipping through the back roads of the small town, bread that gave a visiting grandchild a reason to run to the kitchen on cold mornings and nestle next to the fireplace, a hunk of warm, newly baked breakfast in each hand. How many times had she sat by the fire as a little girl and listened to the sounds of the women at the other end of the kitchen, the rhythmic rap of their knives against the wooden cutting boards, the clatter of spoons in thick ceramic bowls, and always their voices, loving, arguing, exclaiming aloud in laughter or mock horror at some bit of village news. Over the course of the day, the heat from the fireplace would stretch across the kitchen toward the warmth of the stove until the room filled with the smells of wood smoke and met that had simmered for hours. ...


"I don't know how to do this," Antonia told her boss in misery.

"What is the problem?" he asked.

"She doesn't want a place to cook. She wants a kitchen for people to see her in."

"You've dealt with those kind of clients before--more than once, and you've done it beautifully.:

"But this kitchen--you'd have to see it. I can't take it apart."

"But it's not your kitchen, Antonia, and they are the clients. You'll have to see through their eyes. Or," he added teasingly, "figure out a way to make them see through yours."
Here we see the basic message that Erica Bauermeister presents in different ways, through various characters in her first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients. The back cover says it is about "lessons that food can teach us about life," however I beg to disagree. It is about rediscovering our roots by turning away from the artificial and superficial ways of modernity back to the time-worn wisdom of slowing down life. Anyone familiar with the Slow Food movement will recognize a kindred message in Bauermeister's novel.

Bauermeister beautifully points out the many ways that fully appreciating ingredients, cooking, and meals changes lives in her story of the people who come to a series of cooking lessons. Some know that they are unhappy or dissatisfied with their lives. Some do not. However, all are transformed as they handle, chop, combine, taste, and feed others. As each class's theme is revealed so is the story of a different person or couple. This includes the history of the school's instructor, Lillian, who also owns the restaurant in which the classes are held. There may be elements of magical realism involved (such as those found in Chocolat or Like Water for Chocolate) but the author didn't lean on these and most of the positive results were from grounding the characters' more in reality rather than hocus pocus.

I enjoyed this gentle, sweet tale although it suffered somewhat from comparison to the book I read immediately before it, The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones. Mones book delivered a more complex story, albeit with a different focus, and I found myself wishing that Bauermeister's plots were not quite as simple. We could see problems and conclusions before they were revealed and this was a disappointment, although the prose was as delicious as the food prepared in the novel. However, for a first novel it is very good and I can recommend it. In fact, I will be giving a copy of this book to my mother, who I think is in just the perfect mood to appreciate it.

I will be looking out for Bauermeister's second novel with anticipation.

For another review, read this one from Tea and Cookies.

Note: this review was based on an uncorrected proof from the publisher.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cilantro Haters are United

fetid barb of green
cilantro spoils the stuffing
coriander too
Such was penned by a cilantro hater after finding cilantro slipped into the Thanksgiving stuffing. I must say that cilantro does not belong in stuffing.

This WSJ article looks at the many haters of cilantro who unite in Facebook groups and other places.

I used to be one such. When I was a child the smell was unappetizing and the taste soapy. However, with my early adult years my tastes changed. Who can say why? All I know is that my former distaste makes me sympathetic to those who abhor cilantro, such as my mother-in-law, and so I leave it out of any recipe when I know that one such is going to be at our table. I myself am merely happy to now be among those who can glory in cilantro's unique flavor, such as the fellow who wrote this haiku.
crisp cilantro sprig
trendy garnish refreshes
why peeps be hatin

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Crunchy Cornmeal Waffles

Now if only I could remember where I got these? The Doubleday Cookbook? Or maybe The King Arthur Baking Book? Aaargh ... well, if anyone recognizes it, let me know and I'll give proper credit.

These are sturdy, tasty waffles that we enjoy on their own but that I have a sneaking liking for as the base for creamed tuna. You may raise your eyebrows in surprise at that, but creamed tuna is a family favorite and considered a high treat. I think the secret is in using albacore tuna, whole milk (instead of a lower fat product), and last ... but not least ... that pinch of nutmeg which is du rigeur for a good white sauce (well, one used for this purpose anyway).

It also helps when you have searched high and low as I did to find a waffle iron that makes four waffles at a time. So much faster than the regular one-waffle-per sort.

Step 1:
1-3/4 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
5 tablespoons melted, cooled butter or vegetable oil

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter or oil.

Step 2:
1½ cups unbleached flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

In a separate bowl, blend together the dry ingredients, then quickly and gently combine the wet and dry ingredients. Let batter sit for 10 minutes to allow the cornmeal to soften.

Drop the batter by 2/3 cupfuls onto a hot waffle iron and bake until the waffle iron stops steaming.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

This Just In

The Cracker Kitchen: A Cookbook in Celebration of Cornbread-Fed, Down Home Family Stories and Cuisine by Janis Owens
Though our roots are in the Colonial South, we Crackers are essentially just another American fusion culture, and our table and our stories are constantly expanding -- nearly as fast as our waistlines. We aren't ashamed of either, and we're always delighted with the prospect of company: someone to feed and make laugh, to listen to our hundred thousand stories of food and family and our long American past.

Crackers, rednecks, hillbillies, and country boys have long been the brunt of many jokes, yet this old Southern culture is a rich and vibrant part of Amer-ican history. In The Cracker Kitchen, Janis Owens traces the root of the word Cracker back to its origins in Shakespeare's Elizabethan England -- when it meant braggart or big shot -- through its proliferation in America, where it became a derogatory term to describe poor and working-class Southerners. This compelling anthropological exploration peels back the historic misconceptions connected with the word to reveal a breed of proud, fiercely independent Americans with a deep love of their families, their country, their stories, and, most important, their food.

With 150 recipes from over twenty different seasonal menus, The Cracker Kitchen offers a full year's worth of eating and rejoicing: from spring's Easter Dinner -- which includes recipes for Easter Ham, Green Bean Bundles, and, of course, Cracklin' Cornbread -- to summer's Fish Frys, fall's Tailgate Parties, and winter's In Celebration of Soul, honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

Recounted in Owens's delightful and hilarious voice, the family legends accompanying each of these menus leap off the page. We meet Uncle Kelly, the Prince of the Funny Funeral Story, who has family and friends howling with laughter at otherwise solemn occasions. We spend a morning with Janis and her friends at a Christmas Cookie Brunch as they bake delectable gifts for everyone on their holiday lists. And Janis's own father donates his famous fundamentalist biscuit recipe; truly a foretaste of glory divine.

This showed up in the mail when I got home from work yesterday. I am really looking forward to reading it. I love Southern cooking and Owens' voice in the introduction already has me smiling and nodding and anticipating more.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Couple of Books to Look Out For

If you liked Animal, Vegetable, Mineral and also Michael Pollan's writing, then it seems to me that Mark Bittman is taking elements of that whole way of thinking about food and putting it together in Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating. Probably not a lot new for those who are in tune with the food world but I have read reviews from several non-foodie friends who had their thoughts sparked by the two books I mentioned. They will probably find a lot of good stuff here. I am waiting for the library to get it in ... because I like reading the basics also. You never know when you will learn something new.

Also along those lines is Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient. I still begrudge the pork industry what we lost when they went to the "lean pig." In other words, I remember when a pork chop was tender. And had tons of flavor. I'm waiting for this one from the library as well.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Professional Cutlery Giveaway

Now this sounds like a good deal!
Food Service Warehouse sells professional cooking equipment to chef's, restaurants, and anyone interested in commercial quality cooking supplies.

We are giving away $1,000 worth of professional chef's knives made by the largest manufacturer of professional cutlery in the U.S. No purchase is necessary - just fill out the on-line form to enter. You can check out the giveaway here.
The knives they are giving away are of a brand I don't know but then again I don't buy professional cooking equipment. The photos and description are very alluring ...
The Connoisseur® Collection Chef's knives features high-carbon stainless steel blades that are hand-ground and honed for ultimate sharpness. The rosewood handles are infused with polymers and resins, making them impervious to stain, hot water and food acids.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hot Cocoa

Last night an ice storm blew through. Dallas being what it is, essentially a warm weather spot, this means that the town has shut down. People left work early yesterday, schools are closed, no traffic can be heard on the main road near our house, businesses will open late. Yes, I know. To anyone who has lived in harsher climes, this sounds ridiculous. However, when you live with weather that is in the 70s in April, hits two to three weeks of consecutive over 110 degree weather in August and can have you wearing shorts at Thanksgiving and Christmas, that is how it goes.

This is as wintery as it may get so it is time to break out the cocoa in celebration. I am not talking about those powdered mixes. Nor yet am I going too far on the other side with decadent melted chocolate. We're talking about true all-American cocoa of the sort that my own mother whipped up regularly when I was growing up in Kansas.

I remember reading a few years ago that someone, maybe America's Test Kitchen, discovered that water intensifies chocolate's flavor. News flash, folks. That already was known as you can see if you look at this recipe from one of my favorite American cookbooks, The New Doubleday Cookbook by Jean Anderson and Elaine Hanna.

Be sure to use whole milk, especially since this is using water first in the recipe which will bring out the flavor of the chocolate. Also, if you have a good rich cocoa that helps the drink, of course. I grew up on Hershey's cocoa like the rest of America, but have since found Penzey's cocoa which is a delectably dark cocoa. They recommend Dutch cocoa for cocoa but I only keep natural on hand. It works just fine.

Hot Cocoa
1 serving

1 tablespoon cocoa
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch salt
1/3 cup water
2/3 cup milk

Mix cocoa, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan, slowly stir in water. Heat and stir over moderately low heat until mixture boils, then boil slowly, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Add milk and heat to scalding [almost boiling] but do not boil.

Cocoa for a Crowd
12 servings

3/4 cup cocoa
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 quart warm water [4 cups]
2 quarts milk

Make as above, except take 8 minutes to incorporate water and bring to a boil.