Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lemon Grass Pork

This is another knock out that Rose made from one of her international cookbooks. It's an absolutely delicious stir-fry which was wonderful over rice noodles though we agreed that we would have it with rice the next time.


1-1/2 lb boneless pork loin
2 lemon grass stalks, finely chopped
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
12 black peppercorns, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp peanut oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 fresh red chilies, seeded and chopped
1 tsp light brown sugar
2 tbsp Thai fish sauce
1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped
Salt and pepper

Trim excess fat from pork. Cut meat into 1/4 inch slices and then 1/4 inch strips. Put pork in bowl with lemon grass, green onions, salt, and crushed peppercorns. Mix well. Cover and marinate for 30 minutes.

Preheat wok, add oil and swirl around. Add pork mixture and stir-fry over medium heat for about 3 minutes, until browned all over.

Add garlic, chilies and stir-fry 5-8 minutes over medium heat until pork is cooked through.

Add sugar, fish sauce, and chopped peanuts. Toss to mix and then season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over rice noodles or vermicelli pasta.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Baking

Just to show that everything old is new again ... or something like that ... I was going to write about Christmas baking. Found this in last year's archives and the order is almost the same, except that as the last week before Christmas comes into view I am rather behind in the baking. But we always pull it off one way or another.

Anyway, I'm reposting this holiday goodness for anyone who cares to try the recipes.

I kicked off the baking season, as I always do, with a batch of Amaretti. Those little almond meringue cookies that are so easy to make and even easier to eat.

Next were Date Crumb Bars ... think homemade "Fig Newton" for these.

Then I stalled out ... luckily Rose came home and with everyone at work has time enough to take up the slack.

She began with some Chocolate Chunk Biscotti, which are so much easier to make than most people would ever credit.

Next up were Chocolate Mint Filled Cookies. This recipe basically is a chocolate sandwich cookie with a chocolate mint patty as filling. I had some Andes' chocolate mint chip-ish bits and she used those for the filling instead of the thin mint patty. They are good enough but not minty enough and next year we will go back to the standard way.

Of course, we can't forget Mexican Wedding Cakes, which are amazingly, buttery, nutty bits of goodness with just the slight sweetness that comes from a powdered sugar coating.

Peanut Butter Bears (which I can't believe I never shared here ... must fix that soon). They are a delicious, crisp peanut butter cookie that has a texture reminiscent of shortbread somehow. This year we figured the girls are finally old enough not to care about making bears of the dough and Rose added chocolate chips and rolled them into balls which she flattened with her hand. Delicious!

Last up will be sugar cookies, cut into various Christmas shapes, of course, and then frosted in a Christmas Eve family decorating marathon. I am still searching for that holy grail of sugar cookie recipes so tend to try a different one every year in my quest for perfection.

That isn't all the baking though.

Last weekend I made Mashed Potato Dinner Rolls and put them in the freezer awaiting thawing for their Christmas dinner debut.

On Christmas Eve I will make Pecan Rolls, which was our family's traditional Christmas morning breakfast all through my youth. There is nothing like eating those rolls and ripping open gifts while the paper sticks to your hands because of the cinnamony syrup. Mmmm, mmmm.  I never realized until now that I have neglected to share it with y'all. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's only potatoes, you say. No. It isn't. [UPDATED]

And my sis has the whole story why at her blog, The Guideline.

Guess what?

I already was planning on making those potatoes. Haven't had them for years but they are "on my palate" whenever I think of the roast pork I am planning.

Our family is definitely on the same page.

The recipe is freestyle. Check comments for Lisa's version and for mine.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya

More of Rose's weeknight culinary delights. This one is from Cooking Up a Storm (recipes requested and restored to the Louisiana folks that lost them during Hurricane Katrina). Tom gave it to me for Christmas but I never got around to making anything from it. Which is clearly nuts, given how good this was.

Cooking Up a Storm, page 197

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes
1-1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning
1/2 lb smoked sausage (andouille, kielbasa), sliced 1/4 inch thick
1-1/2 cups yellow onions, chopped
1 cup green bell peppers, chopped
3 cups water
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp green onions, chopped
1-1/2 cups long-grain rice

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot. Season the chicken pieces generously with Cajun seasoning. Add the chicken to the pot and cook, stirring, over medium heat until evenly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the onions and peppers, and cook, stirring, until soft and golden, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the water, tomato paste, parsley, and green onions. Stir and bring to a boil.

Add the rice, cover the pot, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until the rice is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid, 15 to 20 minutes. Do not stir. Fluff the mixture with a fork before serving.

All I Want for Christmas is an Old Fashioned Pork Roast

The kind with moist, tender roast pork and crackling fat. Yes, I said it.

Kind of like this one I found on Leite's Culinaria.

Or the fresh Roasted Pork Leg from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries.

Obviously, I'm ready to relive the days of my past when all pork wasn't dry and lean.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Rigatoni with Spinach, Tomatoes, and Blue Cheese

Here's another dish Rose chose that never would have appealed to my mental palate in a million years. But it worked beautifully. In fact, Tom said that it was like something you'd get in an Italian restaurant and wonder what they did to make it so delicious. High praise indeed, as he is not averse to blue cheese, but he's also not its biggest fan.

I believe this came from one of my Cooking Light cookbooks. Rose cooked it for one of our meatless Friday dishes. It was no penance at all, I assure you!


Cooking oil
1 cup onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp flour
6 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 1/2 cup tomato, chopped
1 lb rigatoni pasta, cooked
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

Heat oil in large pan over medium heat. Saute onions until golden brown. Add garlic and saute 1 minute. Whisk flour into chicken broth. Add chicken broth, spinach, and tomato to pan. Cook until spinach has released liquid. Bring to boil and simmer until sauce thickens. Add more flour if needed. Pour sauce over pasta . Add blue cheese and toss until cheese has melted.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vietnamese Coffee

This one's for Jenny who read my favorable comments about In the Vietnamese Kitchen and asked if there were a recipe for coffee.

I haven't tried it, but it looks like a danged good excuse to open a can of condensed milk! For that matter, it's a good reason to pick up a can of Cafe du Monde coffee, which I'm lucky enough to have stores carrying. (One of the perks of being this close to East Texas.)
Coffee and Condensed Milk

An opened can of sweetened condensed milk is a great excuse to indulge in Vietnamese coffee, called ca-phe sua. To create this jolting beverage, brew an inky-strong cup of coffee. Any full-bodied, dark roast will work, although a perennial favorite of Vietnamese Americans is Cafe Du Monde from New Orleans, which contains chicory. Regardless of the coffee, brew it in a regular electric coffeemaker or a stove-top espresso maker. (The small Vietnamese stainless-steel presses are slow and often don't work well.) If you are starting from beans, grind them extrafine to extract the maximum flavor.

Now, put about 1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk in a cup. Add about 3/4 cup of your hot, heady brew and stir to combine. Taste and adjust with more milk to your liking, then drink hot as is or pour into an ice-filled glass for a cold version.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chinese Pork with Eggplant and Rice Sticks

Turn Rose loose with a lot of eggplant from our CSA and a recommendation that my Cooking Light cookbooks usually include lots of vegetables in main dishes ... and certainly get a really delicious result for dinner.

She made this a few weeks ago. I loved it so much that I ate leftovers for breakfast ... three days running.

The one change I might make would be to use either thicker pasta or serve it over rice. The rice sticks we had were of angel-hair pasta consistency and didn't mix gracefully with the mixture.

Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2000 (November, pg 278)

1/2 lb boneless pork loin roast
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
Vegetable oil
4 cups eggplant, 1/2 inch cubes (8 oz)
2 cups onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

Trim fat from pork; cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Combine salt, pepper, and ground red pepper. Sprinkle pork with pepper mixture.

Heat oil in large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant and stir-fry until tender. Remove from pan. Add pork, and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add onion; stir-fry until translucent. Add garlic and crushed red pepper, and stir-fry 1 minute. Add broth, vinegar, sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce; bring to a boil, and cook 2 minutes. Return eggplant to pan and cook until thoroughly heated.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and cilantro. Serve over rice sticks, angel hair pasta, or sticky rice.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Burgers with Blue Cheese Mayo and Grilled Onions

I made this this weekend and, since I was using the torn out page from the magazine, thought it was from Fine Cooking. That's how good it was. Imagine my surprise at getting ready to share the recipe here and finding it was from Cooking Light!

These blue cheese burgers with the somewhat charred grilled onion rings were simply fantastic. I actually can't wait to make them again.

I have to admit I used the recipe as inspiration rather than following it to the letter. Although what I did was pretty close. Looking it over, the most variations were to the onions. The recipe was sent in by a reader and you can see it in its entirety at Cooking Light.

I used:
  • Chuck instead of sirloin
  • Hellman's regular mayonnaise instead of a canola version (for all I know it may be made with canola)
  • Dried thyme (have you seen the price of fresh thyme?)
  • Regular onions (if your CSA farmer continually kept bringing onions for weeks, you'd ignore buying special onions too ... plus I'm not that big a sweet onion fan)
  • Onion rings instead of keeping the slices intact. I like my onions fully cooked or fully raw and the idea of those slices just seemed too much in-between ... which would have grossed me out.
  • No marinade of sherry vinegar and fresh thyme for onion slices ... since I wasn't using slices. That might have been a good addition but the rings were charred enough that I was worried they might dissolve a bit.
  • No arugula (I didn't read the recipe carefully enough ... I'm leaving that in because arugula or even a good leaf lettuce would probably have been a fantastic addition)
So here is our version, though I encourage you to click through above to see the real deal.

Burgers with Blue Cheese Mayo and Grilled Onions


1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
1 pound ground chuck
1-2 tablespoons oil
1 medium to large onion, cut into fairly thick slices and then turned into rings
4 burger buns
2 cups loosely packed arugula, washed and dried


  1. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.
  2. Combine 1/2 cup blue cheese, mayonnaise, thyme, and Tabasco in a small bowl; stir well.
  3. Divide beef into 4 equal portions, shaping each portion into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Sprinkle burgers with salt and pepper.
  4. Toss onion rings with oil and some pepper. 
  5. Place the patties and onions on grill rack. (We use a vegetable rack for onions.) Grill burgers to taste and onions until fairly well cooked and browned on the edges.
  6. Spread cut sides of buns evenly with mayonnaise mixture. Arrange 1/2 cup arugula on bottom half of each bun.
  7. Put a burger on the arugula and top with crispy onion rings.

Rose - The Cook of the House

About three weeks ago, completely frazzled from our huge annual project which takes all waking hours, I assigned Rose the dinner duties for weekdays. She's home for a bit between graduation and heading off to L.A. to seek her fortune in film editing. Other than training the dogs to do tricks (three now know "down", two also know "shake" and all are gradually coming to grips with "fetch), she's been whiling her time away reading Middlemarch and working on screenplay ideas.

She likes to cook but hadn't been expecting this, which began with a phone call (as she reminded me the other day), "Check the freezer for things to use, but you've got to make dinner tonight. And the rest of the week."

Rose rose nobly to the challenge. I don't remember what she pulled together for that evening, but she has been planning weekly meals that reminded me of the joy that can be had preparing and consuming meals when you go beyond the same old thing. 

I have to admit that  "same old thing" is what I'd been doing for too long. I believe that most people who are responsible for daily meals every day of the week will know what I'm talking about.

Rose, however, faced different problems when in college. She had little time, little money, and few people to consume what she was interested in making. She has had all those deficits filled in our family where I give her my debit card, add my weekend cooking items to her grocery list, and where all four of us either appreciatively enjoy the meal OR laugh together over the failure of the recipe. I hasten to add that in each case the failure has definitely been in the recipe writing or testing, not in Rose's skill in cooking.

The biggest change for me is that Rose's fearlessness in trying whatever looks interesting has rekindled my interest in cooking is returning to enjoying the process and experimenting more. It is becoming more of a joy than a chore.

Also, I painlessly lost three pounds because Rose incorporates so many vegetables in every meal and I'm not tasting while cooking all the time. Something to take note of for my full-time return to the kitchen!

I will be sharing some of the recipes that I've been trying and my favorites of those that Rose has served.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I had to go restock the liquor cabinet (imagine that!) and picked up Cherry Brandy and Coffee Brandy. It seemed as if I saw tons of recipes calling for these and I was tired of skipping all of them. Plus, I like cherry and coffee flavors.

Naturally, I got home, sat down with Mr. Boston's Official Bartender's Guide and had a heckuva a time finding any of those cocktails.

Eventually, after due diligence, I dug up some interesting prospects.

The first we tried was Cherie which was quite delicious. And it had a maraschino cherry. Which was perfect because we were watching Some Like It Hot.

Don't see the connection? Pick up the movie and watch for Tony Curtis on the train.

1 oz. Lime Juice
1/2 oz. Triple Sec
1 oz. Light Rum
1/2 oz. Cherry-flavored Brandy

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Add a maraschino cherry.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Can you have Halloween cocktails and not include the Zombie? I'm pretty sure that's against the rules. Somewhere.

These are, in a word, delicious. In another word, tangy. In a third word (or two), potential lethal.

As a side note: I'd never tasted passion fruit syrup before. It is like a curious combination of pineapple, orange, and mango on the tongue. Quite good.

We now return to the Zombie ... it never does to take one's eyes off of a zombie for too long, after all.

Do not overindulge. Or you will become that thing we all dread. A zombie.

But one Zombie won't hurt. At least we all came out alive. And since we were testing these while watching last weekend's Cowboys game, we needed something to dull the pain.

1 tsp. Brown Sugar
1 oz. Lemon Juice
1 oz. Lime Juice
1 oz. Pineapple Juice
1 oz. Passion Fruit Syrup
1 dash Angostura Bitters
1 oz. Gold Rum
1 oz. 151-proof Rum
1 oz. White Rum

Dissolve brown sugar in juices. Combine all ingredients, shake with ice, and pour into chilled Collins glass. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Satan's Whiskers

It's interesting to me that Hannah and Rose both seem to choose cocktails to try based on the name. We have discovered some delicious cocktails that way, to be sure, but it is it so different from my method of scanning the ingredients to see if my mind's palate thinks it would be a good drink.

With Halloween coming up, Rose is at it again. Hence, Satan's Whiskers, which filled me with dread because of the double vermouth whammy ... which my mind's palate was nudging me in the ribs about (too much vermouth is not something I adore). Also orange juice. Which none of us are very fond of.

Based on my fears, we made sure we had ingredients for Zombies on hand also. There was no need as it turned out.

Satan's Whiskers was a lovely orange cocktail with no one ingredient overwhelming the others. A rich, deep flavor is the only way I can think of to describe it. Delicious. You'll just have to try it for yourself and see what you think. (More about the Zombies later.)

Satan's Whiskers
3/4 oz. Gin
3/4 oz. Dry Vermouth
3/4 oz. Sweet Vermouth
1/2 oz. Orange Juice
1/2 oz. Grand Marnier (our house orange liqueur is Cointreau so we used that)
1 dash Orange Bitters

Shake with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chocolate Marshmallows

I have read marshmallow recipes for many years but never tried any, although I always was rather curious about what they'd be like. I am not very fond of marshmallows, as a matter of fact, and my curiosity was never great enough to move me to experiment.

Rose had a friend from Chicago visit last weekend, however, and tried out this recipe from the current Cooking Light. Other than mentioning that sampling cocktails before working with boiling sugar syrup seemed an unnecessary risk (one they took seriously enough to postpone cocktails, by the way), I didn't participate at all.

As we have come to expect from Cooking Light, Rose said the recipe worked exactly as written and was very easy. Everyone loved the soft texture and slight chocolate flavor. I did sample one and as marshmallows go it was good enough.

Next time Rose may try more cocoa powder for a deeper chocolate flavor. It also seems to me that a mint version would be good, perhaps with a touch of green or pink food coloring.

Chocolate Marshmallows

For a more pronounced chocolate flavor, increase the cocoa powder in marshmallows.

1 cup water, divided
3 (1/4-ounce) packages unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light-colored corn syrup
Dash of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa
Cooking spray
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1. Pour 1/2 cup water into a small microwave-safe bowl, and sprinkle with gelatin.

2. Combine remaining 1/2 cup water, sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a medium heavy saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 250°. Pour sugar mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer; let stand until a candy thermometer registers 210°.

3. Microwave gelatin mixture at HIGH for 20 seconds or until gelatin melts, stirring after 10 seconds. With mixer on low speed, beat sugar mixture using a whip attachment; gradually pour gelatin mixture in a thin stream into sugar mixture. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla. Increase speed to high; whip mixture at high speed until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Reduce mixer to medium speed, and gradually add 1/4 cup cocoa; beat until combined. Using a spatula coated with cooking spray, scrape mixture into an 11 x 7-inch baking pan coated with cooking spray; smooth top. Let stand 2 hours.

4. Sift together powdered sugar, cornstarch, and 2 teaspoons cocoa into a jelly-roll pan. Using an offset spatula coated with cooking spray, remove marshmallow from pan; place in sugar mixture. Using scissors well coated with powdered sugar mixture, cut marshmallows into 78 (1-inch) squares. Dust with powdered sugar mixture; shake to remove excess sugar mixture.

5. Arrange marshmallows on a cooling rack placed on a rimmed baking sheet. Place bittersweet chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl; microwave at HIGH for 1 minute or until melted, stirring every 20 seconds until smooth. Drizzle melted chocolate over marshmallows; let stand until chocolate is set.

Friday, October 07, 2011

55 Great Global Food Blogs

Writing around here has been scarce on the ground. I have been cooking but somehow, with one exception which I will tell you about soon, none of it has been particularly interesting or noteworthy (aside from keeping us fed, of course).

So, you may be interested in Saveur's list of 55 Great Global Food Blogs. I know I was. There is some great stuff out there and this is a perfect way to explore it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Spicy Cajun Shrimp

Tom got me Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans for Christmas last year.  Although I enjoyed reading through it, I hadn't picked it up to make anything from it. Not sure why. That sort of thing happens when you've got stacks of cookbooks everywhere.

I finally cracked it open for actual use when I picked up some shrimp a couple of weeks ago and wanted to make something besides the same old thing. (Although I see that the shrimp scampi I usually favor isn't here ... I must share that soon!)

Who cooks shrimp better than someone from Louisiana? Probably no one.

This was a huge hit. I'm a wimp so I used less than the minimum amounts of cayenne and red pepper. In retrospect the minimums probably would have been fine. There is a wide latitude for spicy food, of course, so take your best guess!

Spicy Cajun Shrimp

Makes 2-3 servings
(It served 4 of us with leftovers)

2 dozen large shrimp, or 1 pound medium shrimp, fresh or frozen, thawed if frozen, peeled, and deveined
1/4 teaspoon - 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed (optional)
1/3 cup butter
1-1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/4 cup beer, at room temperature (this didn't seem to do much except dilute the recipe some ... I'm going to skip it next time)
Hot cooked rice for serving (optional)

Rinse the cleaned shrimp under cold running water. Drain well, then set aside. In a small bowl combine the cayenne, black pepper, salt, red pepper flakes, and herbs.

Combine the butter, garlic, Worcestershire, and the pepper-herb mixture in a large skillet over high heat. When the butter is melted, add the tomatoes, and then the shrimp. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring well. Add the beer, cover, and cook for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat. Serve over rice, if desired. (Which we did!)

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Time to Revive Home Ec

A year later, my father’s job took our family to Wales, where I attended, for a few months, a large school in a mid-size industrial city. There, students brought ingredients from home and learned to follow recipes, some simple and some not-so-simple, eventually making vegetable soups and meat and potato pies from scratch. It was the first time I had ever really cooked anything. I remember that it was fun, and with an instructor standing by, it wasn’t hard. Those were deeply empowering lessons, ones that stuck with me when I first started cooking for myself in earnest after college.
I knew a lot about cooking when I took Home Ec back in the 9th grade. But I didn't know anything about sewing, budgeting, planning a project, or the many other things that I learned in that class. I look at my children's friends and almost all of them don't know a thing about cooking. Or a lot of those other things.

This New York Times article focuses more than I'd like on obesity as a reason to revive Home Ec, although it is not without reason. I'm just sayin' there are a lot of other reasons to bring it back.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cooks, Gluttons, and Gourmets

Cooks, Gluttons and GourmetsCooks, Gluttons and Gourmets by Betty Wason

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a charming history of cooking. I was interested to see from the introduction that the author went to considerable trouble back in 1962 to unearth much of the information in the book ... including finding a Chinese translator to read a 14th century Chinese cooking text. She writes in a personable way that makes you feel as if you have found a new friend.

This is a fairly comprehensive overview of the history of cooking from cavemen to Asia to Europe to New Orleans to 1962 ... and much more. A lifetime of reading food writing and history (especially the Time Life Foods of the World series) meant that little of the information was actually new to me. However, Wason tended to focus upon personalities to carry her histories forward and that is whence issued much of the book's charm. Many of the little anecdotes on the way were new and I very much enjoyed reading the history overall because of them.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Go-To Snacks of Literary Greats

Wendy MacNaughton loves to snack on garlic croutons when working and began wondering about what the literary greats snacked on.
Walt Whitman began the day with oysters and meat, while Gustave Flaubert started off with what passed for a light breakfast in his day: eggs, vegetables, cheese or fruit, and a cup of cold chocolate. The novelist Vendela Vida told me she swears by pistachios, and Mark Kurlansky, the author of “Salt” and “Cod,” likes to write under the influence of espresso, “as black as possible.”
Luckily for us, she did a charming sketch of some of the great writers' favorite snacks. Check it out at the New York Times.

Via Scott Danielson on Google+

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

CSA Story: Potatoes, Basil, and Creativity

There's a certain sense of accomplishment I feel when I am getting dinner ready, realizing that somehow I should be working in disparate ingredients from the CSA cooler. It's like being on one of those cooking shows, handed a box of odd ingredients and told to make dinner with it.

Certainly it pushes me out of my comfort zone and into inspiration. And sometimes ... every so often ... it pushes me into a place where my family is delighted with the inspiration.

Yesterday, for example, I was making Baked Salmon with Horseradish Sauce. I had picked up some fresh green beans at the store last weekend but was wondering what starch to have with the meal. Then I remembered the red potatoes from the CSA, some of them were fairly small. I could have potatoes and green beans.

Super simple in first boiling a pot of water, then putting in the potatoes, and toward the last 10 minutes or so dropping in the tailed green beans. (If the potatoes are different sizes, I just pull the smaller ones when they are done and pop them back in to warm up right before I drain the whole thing.

When I opened the fridge to get the beans out, I smelled the fresh basil that the farmer also brought last weekend. Basil. When was I ever going to use that? Pasta was my usual use for basil and that wasn't in my sights until way after that basil went bad.

And then I remembered. An Italian region makes green beans, potatoes, and pesto. Or at least it seemed as if I had read something about that. But I had no time to look up recipes and, truth be told, no inclination.

I pulled the basil, washed and dried it, threw it in the food processor along with a pinch of salt, a clove of garlic, and a small handful of walnuts. I whirred it until everything looked as small as it was going to get (pretty grainy, not smooth) and then I glugged in some olive oil until it was less solid but not really runny. Then I threw in a couple handfuls of grated Parmesan and whirred again. Done.

Yes, all of this was off the cuff so those are the best descriptions you're gonna get. Blame Nigel Slater and my ongoing reading of Tender.

When the potatoes and beans were tender (should've snapped those beans in half, but there's always next time), I tossed them with the impromptu pesto.

And nervously put it in a dish in front of Tom.

Who tentatively tried it, said, "This is really good!" and reached for more.

It was really good.

The chances would have been slim of me actually looking that up in the cookbook and deliberately getting the ingredients to put that dish together.

But thanks to the mystery box each week from the CSA, we got a delicious, semi-authentic Italian dish and I had a sense of creativity that is all too rare.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Aperol, St. Germaine, and Mrs. 404

Some time ago the Wall Street Journal ran an article featuring cocktails made with Aperol and St. Germaine.

What was interesting about this article is that both Tom and I read it. Our usual practice is to bring up articles, discover that the other person never read it and then to fill each other in. Was it because it was about cocktails? Was it because the Aperol just could not possibly be that vivid orange color? Was it because we both think of "Your Mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries*" when we see the word elderflowers (prime ingredient in St. Germaine)?

We will probably never know.

What we do know is that at the end of our discussion we had gotten interested enough to go out and buy a bottle of each. Frustratingly, though I remembered having seen Aperol as a mystery ingredient of practically every other recipe in our Mr. Boston: Official Bartender's Guide, now I could find none of them.

The Aperol is vividly orange both in color and flavor, but with an underlying bitter anchor of rhubarb. St. Germaine liqueur tastes, as the liquor store stockboy surprisingly and eloquently told Tom, "Fresh." Fresh as a spring day, one might say, with the full realization that such a description is not at all evocative on the mind's palate.

At any rate, eventually we made an Aperol Spritz and an Aperol Sour, both of which I will supply recipes for in the future.

Rose discovered the Mr. 404 because she chooses cocktails for their names. It is a Vodka cocktail containing both Aperol and St. Germaine. Tasty enough, but I do not favor Vodka, feeling that I enjoy flavor from my alcohol as well as a buzz.

Therefore, I took the creative license of substituting Gin for the Vodka and, in the age-old cocktail tradition, renaming the drink somewhat after myself.

Thus was the Mrs. 404 born. And there was great rejoicing.* We all preferred it to the original and it has become a mainstay among our weekend cocktail choices.

Try it and see what you think.

Mrs. 404

1-1/2 ounces Gin
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce St. Germaine
1/2 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce simple syrup**

Shake with ice and strain into a 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.

*Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How to Kill E. coli on Vegetables

Monica Reinagle, The Nutrition Diva, has the answer and it is not the one that I thought I knew. Everyone ought to get this information and be sure you listen to it all.
I wondered whether these very toxic strains of E. coli might be especially hard to kill. It turns out that they’re not really that invincible—they’ve just developed some very clever survival tactics. “If these E. coli bacteria were just floating around in a bucket of water, a little bleach or even some vinegar would kill them right away,” Dr. Brackett explains. “But once the bacteria have attached themselves to the surface of a vegetable, they become much harder to kill.”
You may read or listen to her information at the link, which I heard on her podcast.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What I'm Reading: Tender by Nigel Slater (UPDATED)

Tender: Volume I: A Cook and His Vegetable PatchTender: Volume I: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nigel Slater transformed his back yard into a garden. Not a fantastic, provide everything he eats garden ... but the sort of garden that someone who doesn't mind some failure does. And, of course, someone who likes to cook and eat. So we reap the benefit of his observations about gardening overall and then specifically about all sorts of vegetables. With recipes.

I like Slater's informal style and also his honesty about personal quirks. For example, he is determined to be organic and yet frustrated by slugs. One of the most charming stories is about how he loves to see the little family of urban foxes that lives next door but is simultaneously driven crazy by the fact that he knows they will eat some of his most treasured plants when his back is turned ... and the fact that the cubs love to lie right next to the keep-foxes-away speakers he bought.

This is one of those books that I will read through in order while flipping around to find recipes for produce received in my CSA cooler (what Slater calls his "organic box"). For example, I just have to go pick up some bell peppers and then am going to roast them with the tomatoes I got ... and some anchovies ... or mozarella ... or black olives. Mmmmm ...

I also meant to praise the book itself. It is printed on good quality paper, with cloth binding, has a bound-in ribbon marker, and contains some of the most beautiful photography I have ever seen in a cookbook. If you have Kitchen Diaries, the photography and layout style is very similar, which makes it an aesthetic pleasure to pick up and read as well as to cook from.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Texas Enchilada Casserole

This year Rose didn't want to go out for her birthday dinner. She had just gotten home from Chicago and she wanted homestyle cooking ... Tex-Mex style. She wanted Texas Enchiladas.

For the uninitiated, that means cheese enchiladas in a red sauce with some chopped onion on top.

Once again, as so many times before, I have been making a simple, yet flavorful, version of this from one of Matt Martinez's cookbooks.

To make it even easier, I stack the enchiladas instead of rolling them. I've been told that this is how they do it in New Mexico, but we'll keep it simple and just call this a casserole.

Enchilada Sauce

Step 1:
1/4    cup lard, shortening or vegetable oil
1/4    cup flour

In a large skillet, heat lard to medium hot. Stir in flour and continue stirring until it turns a very light brown (3-4 minutes.)

Step 2:

1/2    teaspoon pepper
    1    teaspoon salt
    2    cloves minced garlic
    2    teaspoons ground cumin
    2    tablespoons chili powder
1/2    teaspoon oregano

Add all and continue to cook for 1 minute. Constantly stirring and blending ingredients.

Step 3:
    3    cups water or chicken broth

Add and stir until sauce thickens slightly, 1-2 minutes. Turn heat low and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add water if necessary to keep sauce very thin.

Texas Enchiladas

Step 1:
        Vegetable oil
    8    corn tortillas

Lightly brush tortillas on both sides with oil and heat briefly on a griddle until soft and flexible, stacking on a plate as you work.

Step 2:
    2    cups (8 ounces) grated mild cheddar
1/2    cup finely chopped white onions
    1    batch Enchilada Sauce, warm

Mix cheese and onions and set aside. Dip tortillas into sauce, fill with  cheese, roll tightly and arrange in an oven-proof dish. Spread remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with cheese. Bake 10-15 minutes at 350° until cheese is completely melted. Serve immediately.

Casserole: instead of filling tortillas with cheese and rolling them, just dip them in the sauce, lay down a layer across the bottom of a baking dish, and sprinkle with some of the cheese/onion mixture. Continue making the layers (3 or 4 depending on the size of the dish), topping with a sprinkling of cheese. Bake as above and cut in squares to serve.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Amazing Chocolate Pie

For my birthday, I had a hankering for chocolate pie. Specifically, I was curious about the technique mentioned in the most recent Cooking Light which combines some melted chocolate with the chocolate crumbs for the crust.

Rose volunteered to make the pie and was astonished by how easily it went together. She and a friend had a little pie business during their freshman year of college and Rose made many a chocolate pie during that time. She says that she never had a pie recipe work so well or be so quick as this.

This was an amazing pie. A deep, rich chocolate flavor; perfect texture with no lumps; just firm enough. Truly a superior dessert experience.

We did take two liberties with the recipe. We had whole milk and so used that instead of 1% milk. And we used real whipped cream instead of fat-free Cool Whip. Also, I didn't have any raspberries. They would have looked pretty but they weren't missed.

Cooking Light named this Rich Chocolate Pudding Pie. We call it ...

The Amazing Chocolate Pie

YIELD: 10 servings (serving size: 1 pie slice, about 1 tablespoon berries, and 1 tablespoon whipped topping)


30 chocolate wafers (such as Nabisco's Famous Chocolate Wafers)
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 tablespoon canola oil

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups 1% low-fat milk, divided (we used whole milk)
2 large egg yolks
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon white rum
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
10 tablespoon fat-free frozen whipped topping, thawed (we used whipped cream*)

1. To prepare crust, place wafers in a food processor; process until finely ground. Add 3 ounces melted chocolate and oil; process until blended. Press into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Freeze the 15 minutes or until set.

2. To prepare the filling, combine sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, and salt in a large saucepan; stir with a whisk. Add half of milk and 2 yolks; stir with a whisk until smooth. Stir in the remaining milk. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until thick and bubbly, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add 4 ounces chocolate, and stir until smooth. Stir in rum. Pour filling into prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap; chill 4 hours or until set. Serve with raspberries and whipped topping.

* To whip cream, we poured about a cup of heavy cream into a bowl, sprinkled in a spoonful or so of powdered sugar, picked up a whisk and whisked it all together briskly until the cream held its shape. Easy as ... wait for it ... pie!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

When You Can't Wake Up and Smell the Coffee (Or Taste It Either): Reviewing "Season to Taste" by Molly Birnbaum

Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My WaySeason to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way by Molly Birnbaum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having been admitted to the Amazon Vine Program I was eager to find a book to try that I would not normally come across. This one, in which Molly Birnbaum relates her loss of smell due to a head injury and intersperses her story with delving into the science of smell, filled the bill. What makes Birnbaum's loss of smell, and subsequent almost complete loss of the ability to taste, all the more painful is that she was set to go to the Culinary Institute of America to begin training as a chef. Watching her learn to deal with her unexpectedly debilitating infirmity is fascinating and is making me more aware of all the scents that make the pattern of my life.

Birnbaum is an unexpectedly good writer. Possibly because she had to focus on the visual and textural aspects of food and the world around her after losing her sense of smell, she describes her environment and experiences in a way that takes the reader into her world. This can be unexpectedly jarring when she points out aspects of scent that affect us daily in ways that we never thought about. For example, if one isn't smelling pine or mint or some other vivid fragrance, can we remember what it is like? It was rather disturbing to realize that I couldn't actually do so in the way that I can recall a flavor. These experiences enhance our appreciation for what Birnbaum and others deprived of scent go through. The science of the book was interesting and I appreciated the fact that it was interwoven with the personal story. This added gravity to Birnbaum's story and lightened the science enough to take it all in. Her quest takes her to science labs, Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory, perfume experts, and a chef who managed to keep cooking despite developing tongue cancer. One of the most fascinating sections of the book was when the author went to perfume training school in France in an attempt to give her olfactory neurons additional stimulus and herself extra training to help her recognition of scents.

My one negative feeling about the book was that Birnbaum kept on worrying about how much of her sense of smell would return, even after much of it had come back. While understandable on one hand, and probably an accurate accounting of her feelings, the overall effect was to make the book was to become tedious and whiny seeming at times.

I did wonder, as the book went on and time seemed to be passing year by year, was how Birnbaum was supporting herself. A job or two is mentioned but only ever as a method of helping to cope with or try to train her limited sense of smell. At other times, she clearly is not employed and I wondered how she was able to afford living in New York City or traveling to France to attend perfume school. It didn't detract from the story but it did occur to me forcibly from time to time.

Overall, I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in cooking, taste, perfume, and the science of scent. Oh, and an interesting story well told.

View all my reviews

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Package That Can Put a Big Smile on Your Face

That's probably only if really true if you're a certain age.

Because this is the original packaging.

But when I found it at Krogers this weekend it made me smile and not only because this is Hannah's favorite flavor which can be hard to find.

Tom, helping me unload groceries, held up the bag with a broad grin, "Hey! This is classic!"

And so it is.

Both on the inside and the outside.

Evidently these are available for a limited time. Why limited! We want them always!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Food in Science Fiction and Fantasy

That is the latest topic under discussion at SFFaudio where Scott and Jesse welcome guest Luke Burrage. I can't wait to listen to this one. Two of my favorite topics being discussed by three of my favorite people!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Oatmeal with more sugar than a Snickers. Brought to you by ... McDonald's.

Others will argue that the McDonald’s version is more “convenient.” This is nonsense; in the time it takes to go into a McDonald’s, stand in line, order, wait, pay and leave, you could make oatmeal for four while taking your vitamins, brushing your teeth and half-unloading the dishwasher. (If you’re too busy to eat it before you leave the house, you could throw it in a container and microwave it at work. If you prefer so-called instant, flavored oatmeal, see this link, which will describe how to make your own).

If you don’t want to bother with the stove at all, you could put some rolled oats (instant not necessary) in a glass or bowl, along with a teeny pinch of salt, sugar or maple syrup or honey, maybe some dried fruit. Add milk and let stand for a minute (or 10). Eat. Eat while you’re walking around getting dressed. And then talk to me about convenience.

The aspect one cannot argue is nutrition: Incredibly, the McDonald’s product contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. (Even without the brown sugar it has more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.)
You know, aside from the fact that the fruit they show raining down on the oatmeal in their commercials looks ... just wrong somehow to go on oatmeal ... I figured they were messing it up. Mark Bittman tells us all about it.

I, myself, am intrigued by his no-stove version of oatmeal. I always have a supply of homemade granola around but this sounds ... interesting. I'm going to try to remember it this weekend. And I'll report back.

I remembered later that, as Salome Ellen points out in the comments box, that this raw oatmeal soaked in milk is muesli. This made me even more curious to try it.

Saturday morning ... I did just that. I obviously am not a muesli person. The oats were so raw and floury tasting that to me it seemed perfect for anyone who loves eating raw oatmeal cookie dough. I, personally, found it disgusting. Though the sweet milk was good.

However, I would be happy to point everyone to Overnight Oatmeal which can be made in a slow cooker with a minimum of trouble and very little expense.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Learning to Cook

This one's for Margaret who wished I would blog from the kitchen more.

I actually have a couple of little tidbits about cooking lately, but no time to commit them to pixels at the moment (no wonder this poor little place is so neglected). 

So here are a couple of cookies to tide you over till dinnertime. Enjoy!

Learning to Cook
from the comic genius that is xkcd

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Art of Eating In

Cathy Erway needed an interesting subject for the food blog she was considering beginning. She decided to give up eating out, though that would be difficult for a young twenty-something in New York City, and begin cooking her meals at home. What began as an interesting experiment became something of an obsession. As Cathy's blog, Not Eating Out In New York, grew in popularity, she threw herself into the project with an increasing passion that lasted two years.

The Art of Eating In chronicles that two year period. The book isn't composed of blog entries but is a memoir with recipes of Cathy's journey of discovering the wide world of cooking and the myriad forms it can take on in New York City. This leads to her participation in such adventures as cook-offs,  underground supper clubs, urban foraging, and joining a freegan group for some evening foraging (dumpster diving, etc.).
For our next stop on the tour, we walked a few blocks south to a small upscale grocery store. The store was closed, its dim lights exposing the aisles of gourmet food inside. The store was closed, its dim lights exposing the aisles of gourmet food inside. At the curb in front lay our target—a disheveled heap of black garbage bags.

The group began tearing into the bags with a careful, yet determined dexterity that must have come from much experience. They would feel around the outsides first, then untie the top and take a peek in. I helped open one bag, which was filled with a variety of produce. Hands reached in from all directions around me, and one by one, fruits and vegetables were removed. Finally, I stepped back and surveyed what had come out of the group of bags so far. Along the sidewalk, the group had lined up a cluster of several decent-looking apples, some with bruises here and there. Many more spotted bananas were recovered, some good-looking pears, and several tomatoes, which looked wet on their surfaces, probably from condensation and being squashed beside something else, but otherwise fine. I was amazed to see bag after bag of prewashed mixed salad greens emerge from the garbage as well. The bags were sealed shut, and through the clear plastic, the greens still looked perfectly crisp. But the telltale expiration dates on their packages were one or two days past. Chatter floated around about what to set aside for the freegan group dinner the next evening. ...
I enjoyed reading about Erway's more unconventional adventures such as the quest to find a good theme for a supper club. I found it amusing when reading about her friends' dedication to truly test menudo's fabled qualities as a hangover cure (they went out the night before and got well and truly drunk so they were hung over the next day). Erway's research into subjects like the history of restaurants seemed sound as did her other forays into discussing food history.

The personal improvement into a confident cook was less interesting because anyone who has read much food writing  has encountered this sort of story often. They generally follow the same developmental track and Erway is not unique in her story. It is not badly written; it is simply not that unusual. The story sparkles much more when reading about the investigation of the different ways New Yorkers express themselves through food (the supper clubs, foraging, etc.)

Erway also relates her personal dating life, evenings spent drinking, various hook-ups, and other such details of her life. These I could have done without. The cooking and other food related activities were plenty interesting without having to slog through the loss of her boyfriend and dating adventures. They weren't that unusual and didn't add anything to the overall story. It is too bad the editor didn't use a firmer hand in directing the book's focus. However, these are not difficult parts to skim over and the book is interesting despite them.

Note: This was a review book. I'd have said the same either way.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Brisket Tacos Are A Dallas Specialty?

I thought they were something that just suddenly showed up at my favorite local Tex-Mex spot.

A delicious something. Something that someone ought to get an award for. Possibly something I'd give to the Holy Father if he were on his way through Dallas but stopping off for lunch on the way.

Now I see that Homesick Texan has done a little more thinking about this than I have, which is not surprising. Me, I just order them. Reading her description, you can see why.
Brisket tacos, if you’ve never had them in Dallas, are soft tortillas stuffed with succulent strands of brisket, pulled from a roast that has been braised overnight. The brisket isn’t smoky nor is it fiery—instead it’s tender and juicy, with a rich depth of flavor that can only come from cooking the meat low and slow.

Another hallmark of Dallas’s brisket tacos is that there’s always melted Monterey Jack on the tortillas, and each taco is topped with strips of sautéed onions and poblano chiles. Some places also include a small bowl of the pan juices, turning the brisket taco into a Tex-Mex beef sandwich au jus.
Yeah, my mouth is watering too. Especially since my favorite spot doesn't include the sauteed onion and chiles. I believe this may be something I'm going to have to whip up at home soon. So I can have those sauteed onions and chiles with it.

Luckily, there's a recipe so no matter where you are you can also have some delicious brisket tacos ... Dallas style. Get it (and read more about this delicious specialty) at Homesick Texan.

Monday, January 24, 2011

If the Pope were to ask where he could get the best stack of pancakes in Dallas ...

... I would reply, "Your Holiness, have you tried the Cinn-a-Stack from IHOP?"*

Last Thursday was a sad day. Rose returned to Chicago, the skies were gray, the weather freezing. She and I had planned to have brunch in the hour before we had to hit the road for the airport. Yet, my mind went completely blank. I couldn't think of a local place that Rose and her friends hadn't already over-visited in their get togethers over the last month. (I know, I completely forgot Cindi's and am still kicking myself.)

It is an ill wind that blows no good though because we wound up at IHOP. Loving cinnamon rolls the way that I do, I couldn't resist the Cinn-a-stack. The pancakes were layered with cinnamon roll style filling and had a bit of cream cheese icing on top. To my surprise, they were not too sweet, with just the right amount of cinnamon and, of course, the buttermilk pancakes were delicious.

They were truly heavenly and worthy of the Holy Father, should he ever come to town for breakfast.

It was still a sad day when we finished. Yet, when you are full of pancakes and cinnamon, it leaves less room for the sad feelings. Perhaps that is why we wound up animatedly talking about Rose's idea for a Western movie all the way to the airport. And our sad feelings were forgotten until we got to the gate.

*With apologies to Roger Ebert, whose writing was the genesis of the phrase above. (If the Pope were to ask where he could get a good plate of spaghetti in  America, I would reply, "Your Holiness, have you tried the Chili Mac or  the Chili 3-Ways?")