Thursday, December 28, 2006

Blue Christmas

Ahh. We got to have lunch at The Winds yesterday. Sans Boot, we were free to take Pie without him having to pretend like he hates it and without having to hear from Boot through the whole meal how much it sucked. I was afraid we wouldn't make it there on time, but we squeaked in just under the wire.

I should have listened to my first instinct to order a steamed eggnog, but J talked me into trying a Poinsettia, champagne with white peach purée and crème de cassis. Sounded fabulous. Unfortunately, they had just run out of the peach purée. I opted to get a Kir Royale instead. It was good, but once I had finished it I found myself still wanting the eggnog. Their eggnog is house-made and when it's steamed, it's fabulous. J told me to go ahead & get it. I'm so glad I did.

Pie had plain buttered penne while J ordered penne with their very spicy vodka sauce. I had the Blue Christmas, which I always end up ordering in December. It's a whole meal in a bowl and is utterly wonderful. They cook Christmas limas in red wine with carrots and onions. This is served with basmati rice and a wedge of buttered cabbage, all scattered with crumbled blue cheese. Amazing!

For dessert, Pie shared a slice of their chocolate nemesis, almost as good as mine, with J while I indulged in a crisp meringue topped with vanilla ice cream, soft poufy whipped cream and a dollop of Scharffen Berger chocolate sauce. Heaven!

Gift Certificates

My Beloved got a gift certificate for Outback Steakhouse in her stocking, so when we had dropped Boot off for a couple days batching it with Grandpa, we took Pie to Outback. The wait was absurdly long, especially considering it was a Tuesday night and considering that there were three (and sometimes four) stick girls hanging out up front chit-chatting together. With all the open tables, the management would have done well to put those girls on tables and alleviate the labor waste.

Once we did finally get seated, though, our service was friendly and prompt. J & I both chose the filet, mine with a blue cheese crust. She had a sweet potato with hers, I chose a baked potato. Both were quite decent, as were the steaks. J added crab legs to hers, in the hopes of sharing them with Pie. We split an over-salted bloomin' onion (or some of it, until the salt got to be entirely too much) for our appetizer. We both had soup, a subtle onion-potato soup for me & a very fishy clam chowder for her. I also had part of a blue cheese chopped salad, but it was much too sweet for my taste so was not finished. Pie was not at all hungry & when that boy isn't hungry, forget it! He adores both steak & crab, so we knew when he refused them that he really wasn't ready to eat. All in all, the meal was good. However, I wouldn't bother with appetizers again.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Dining

Here I sit in my new tiara, kitchen tidied up & new snowflake dishes washing. I am on a triptophan drowse, but wanted to post while I was thinking about it.

For breakfast today, in addition to stocking candy, we had a breakfast casserole and gingerbread muffins. Pie adored both & in fact had a third muffin for his dessert tonight, Boot declined both and ate leftover pizza instead. I make breakfast casserole every Christmas and try a different sweet each year. Last year, it was sticky buns. I have been doing the casserole in the crockpot & adding frozen hash browns to it. The texture has been somewhat odd to me and it has also been getting a little overdone. This year, I decided to return to making it in the oven, to much better result.

Breakfast Casserole
12 slices buttered bread
16 oz. shredded cheddar (I always use sharp or extra-sharp cheddar)
1 lb. cooked sausage (I think hot sausage is a must when you have so many other bland flavors)
8 eggs
4 c. milk
Salt & pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a 13x9 baking dish, layer bread on the bottom, overlapping. Then, scatter with sausage. Top with a layer of cheese. Whisk the eggs, milk, salt & pepper together and pour over the rest. Bake 45 minutes.

Gingerbread Muffins
1 2/3 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 egg, beaten
1/3 c. dark brown sugar
1/3 c. light brown sugar
3/4 c. milk
1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
6 tbsp. oil
4 tbsp. dark karo syrup
4 tbsp. molasses
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix dry ingredients together. Mix egg with sugars. Add milk and balsamic vinegar. Add oil. Add karo & molasses. Add all of this to the dry mixture. Mix until combined but still a bit lumpy. Put in muffin cups and bake 20 minutes. Makes 12.
These were simply perfect for Christmas morning and made the house smell luscious. Next time I make them, I might add a sprinkle of coarse sugar to the top before baking.

Lunch was a free-for-all, with choices ranging from Hot Pockets to a leftover meatloaf sandwich to noshing on baked goods and stocking candy. Dinner was a reprise of Thanksgiving. J made a big gorgeous turkey, gravy and stuffing. I made Yukon mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and cranberry sauce. We also had some bagged spring mix with raspberry vinaigrette.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Who Needs The Melting Pot?

Not that I don't like going there, but I am perfectly happy to make my own fondue at home. During the West Virginia Christmas years, we usually had either quiche or fondue for Christmas Eve dinner. Those are Lenore's specialties. In fact, the first time I ever had fondue was as a child, visiting Lenore in her gracious Florida home. Now that I am exploring my Cuban roots, I make a Nochebuena feast of Cuban foods on Christmas Eve. The fondue tradition is important to me, too, though so I try to make it close to the holiday.

Cheese Fondue
1 clove garlic
1 c. dry white wine
8 oz. grated Gruyère cheese
8 oz. greated Jarlsburg cheese
2 tsp. cornstarch
3 tbsp. kirsch
Salt & pepper
Nutmeg, freshly grated
French bread chunks
Rub a heavy pot with garlic, leaving shreds of it in the pot. Add wine & bring to a boil. Lower heat & add cheese, a little at a time, stirring each addition until melted. This step is important or you will have clumpy fondue. Dissolve the cornstarch in the kirsch. Add to cheese. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Keep over a very low flame or in a fondue pot and serve with bread for dipping. You can also very lightly steam some veggies like cauliflower for dipping. If it gets too thick, you can stir in a small amount of hot wine to thin it. If you have leftovers, it's great over toast, too.

With this, I will serve a baby spinach salad and some orange wedges.

The Cookie Factory North

Down in West Virginia at this time of year, my almost-grandma Lenore turns her kitchen at the Homeplace into a cookie factory. She makes wreath cookies (my uncle loved these), eggnog logs, 7-layer bars, rum balls (although those have kind of become my thing), chocolate chip bars and brownies iced in white. Sometimes, if she is feeling ambitious, she makes cut-out cookies, too. I spent many happy hours laboring in the cookie factory with my mom & Lenore, then making deliveries to neighbors in the holler & up on the ridge.

Since with the advent of step-parenthood my Christmases are no longer spent in West Virginia, I have turned my Cleveland kitchen into the Cookie Factory North. This year, I have made candies as well. I started this morning with a batch of lemon poppyseed scones from a mix as a treat for my wife. Then, I moved on to peanut brittle. Next was a batch of cheese crisps. They are so hard to stop eating that I had to put them away.

Crazy-Good Cheese Crisps
4 c. shredded sharp cheddar
2 c. flour
2 c. crisp rice cereal
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne (or less, if you like less bite)
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
2 sticks butter, melted
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix everything together, using your hands. Form into 1" balls. Place 1" apart on ungreased baking sheets. Make criss-cross patterns on them by pressing down with a fork. Bake until the edges are golden, 10-12 minutes.

Next on my list was my first attempt at caramels. Aside from the pan being a smidge bigger than that called for, they turned out nicely! I had fun wrapping them in wax paper, too. Very festive.

Vanilla Caramels
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. sugar
1 c. light karo syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. vanilla
Butter an 8" square pan or a set of flexible candy molds. Mix everything but the butter & vanilla in a tall-sided heavy pan. Heat on medium, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add butter, stirring to melt. Cook, without stirring at all, to hard ball stage. Add the vanilla. Pour into the buttered pan (unless using molds, in which case pour into a measuring cup & into the molds from that). Let cool 1/2 hour. Remove from pan and cut into squares. Let cool about 2 hours before wrapping.

Next came my specialty, chocolate rum balls. Lenore & I developed these when I was in my early 20s and I have made them every year since.

Chocolate Rum Balls
1 c. pecan chips (or hand-chopped pecans, if you feel like it)
1 c. Oreo crumbs (I buy these already crumbled)
1 c. powdered sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. light karo syrup
1/4 c. rum
Granulated sugar to roll the rum balls in
Mix the pecans & Oreo crumbs. Add the rest, except the granulated sugar. Shape into small balls and roll in sugar.

I moved on to Lenore's cousin's fudge after the rum balls. The recipe makes 5 pounds, so if you are baking in order to give treats to friends & neighbors, it's a perfect recipe.

Fudge from the Homeplace
4 1/2 c. sugar
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 c. butter
1/2 pound marshmallows
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
12 oz. sweetened chocolate
1 tbsp. vanilla
2 c. chopped nuts, optional (I never use them)
Put sugar, milk and butter in a tall-sided heavy pan. Stir over medium heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 5 minutes. Be careful because this is prone to boiling over and makes a huge mess if allowed. Turn off heat, but leave pan on burner. Add marshmallows, stirring until melted. Add chocolates, one kind at a time, stirring each until melted before adding the next kind. Add vanilla & nuts (if using) and pour into buttered 13x9 baking pan. Cool completely and cut into squares.

J made her family's traditional Christmas cookie, worm balls. These are known outside her family as haystacks, slightly more appetizing to the non-avians among us.

Worm Balls
12 oz. butterscotch chips
5 oz. chow mein noodles
1 c. peanuts
Melt the butterscotch chips. Mix everything together. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto sheets of wax paper. Allow to dry 15 minutes.

All that is left to make now are marshmallow snowflakes and cut-out cookies. I think I will do those tomorrow since J wanted to help and is now napping on the couch. I'll be moving on to gift wrapping and dinner making for tonight.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Guaranteed To Horrify My Children

Although that's not why I make meatloaf. I simply love it. Freshly made or leftover and made into a sandwich, meatloaf has been one of my favorite dinners since I was a kid. My kids, though, think meatloaf is revolting, although Pie allows that mine is much better than his mom's. At any rate, in case any of you like meatloaf like I do (or if you just want to horrify your kids) I am offering the recipe I used tonight here.
1 1/2 sleeves saltine crackers, crushed
2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. bulk sausage
1 egg
2 chopped onions
1/4 green pepper, minced (use more if you like...I'm just not big on too many veggies in my meatloaf)
1 c. ketchup
1/3 c. worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix all but 1/4 c. ketchup together. Put in loaf pan & cover with foil. Bake 45 minutes. Spread remaining ketchup over top. Bake uncovered 1 hour. Let stand at least 5 minutes before slicing.

I made Yukon Gold mashed potatoes & corn to go with this. As a result, I was picking corn up from the floor for several minutes after dinner. You'd think that once they hit a certain age, you could give up the under-table mat. You wouldn't think that that age would be some unknown time in the teens or twenties. You also wouldn't expect a 14-year-old to bring the corn pan to the table and, standing at his chair, begin to raise the serving spoon from the pan to his mouth! And you certainly wouldn't think that he would argue with your objection to this action! If Boot's future wife ever reads this: Honey, we tried. Really hard.

My Beloved Cooks

With my traveling schedule, I haven't been home for much of J's cooking, as she has been cooking primarily the days I am gone. She cooked last night & Wednesday night, both great meals. Wednesday we had, at Boot's request, fettucine alfredo with chicken in it. J decided to throw in a little bacon, too, which I am not sure how I felt about. I liked the flavor a great deal, but am undecided on the texture. Perhaps it needed to be a little crisper? Last night, she marinated some gorgeous New York strip steaks in porter ale, to be accompanied by corn and by pierogies fried with onions & garlic. Great stuff...the steak was the best I've had in a very long time. It's sure nice to be cooked for!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Crappy Indian Food

I am disappointed. The Indian restaurant nearest us is just not very good. Not only do they not have bhatura, the rest of their food just isn't where it needs to be. I wish that instead of Café Tandoor, we had our beloved Ajanta nearby. I know there is good Indian food in Cleveland, we just haven't been there. I sampled some delicious chicken tikka masala from Saffron Patch, but it's not nearby. I plan to drag my Beloved across town someday soon, though.

J had tried Café Tandoor for lunch before I arrived in town, when she first started her new job, and had reported back that their chicken tikka masala "sucked." Skeptical, I talked her into going back, thinking they had been having an off day. The food was okay (we ordered a different chicken dish, chicken in butter sauce) but nothing special. The naan was boring, the chicken was boring, the chai tea was not as good as Ajanta's. However, today I just had to try again. We shared some very tough palak paneer with mediocre chutneys accompanying it. Then, she had chicken korma which in no way resembled the glorious dish Evvi always orders at Ajanta. I ordered the chicken tikka masala & have to concede that J was absolutely right about its degree of suckage.

I am consoled by the delightful and gorgeous cookie one of J's employees baked. She took a whole platter in & they were all just lovely. Santa hat sugar cookies, that sort of thing. She thinks this one I adored is a recipe from Gourmet and promises to get it for me. They were thin chocolate stars, drizzled with chocolate and sprinkled with crushed candy cane. Wonderful!

Now, I am off to do my own baking & candy-making. Chocolate rum balls & cut-outs for certain. Fudge, I imagine, as well. Caramels. Cheese crisps. Who knows what else. Maybe some cashew brittle for my Beloved.

Food For Tree-Trimming

I reluctantly agreed to an artificial tree this year, primarily because of the postage stamp size of our apartment. I put it up & decorated the apartment during the day, then we had special foods for our tree-trimming dinner. I made a pot of potato leek soup & we did a few appetizers, as well. Boot requested his special invention, El Booto, which is basically just taco meat with shredded cheese thrown in, eaten with Fritos. J heated some mini smokies in Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce. I made my artichoke dip. Boot also requested Westminster Punch, which is the punch our church used to serve at coffee hour but now only serves for concert receptions. It has also become our special family punch.

Westminster Punch
12 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate
12 oz. frozen limeade concentrate
1 regular-size can pineapple juice
1 small carton sweetened frozen strawberries
2 liters ginger ale
Mix together the first 4 in a large punch bowl. Add the ginger ale right before serving. I think Boot would drink the entire punch bowl-ful if we allowed him to. I love it, too.

Potato Leek Soup
2 tbsp. butter
3 leeks, well-washed & thinly-sliced (white & pale green parts only)
2 1/4 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled & cubed
4 cans low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 sprigs of thyme (although I just tossed in some dried thyme because the store didn't have any fresh)
2/3 c. whipping cream

Melt butter in soup pot. Add leeks & cook until tender. Add everything else but the cream. Bring to a boil. Simmer 20 minutes. If using thyme sprigs, discard. Partially mash potatoes manually. Add cream and heat through, taking care not to boil.

I also took some Italian bread, sliced & toasted it, added shredded cheddar & a smidge of cayenne, broiled the whole shebang & served it with the soup.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

Tried another local Chinese restaurant tonight and was sadly disappointed. I still haven't found my China Cottage North. China Cottage (the one on Far Hills) in Centerville, Ohio is one of my favorite ones in that area. We've been to two up here and have not found one to measure up...we certainly haven't found any of the caliber of the ones on Spadina in Toronto that I used to go to back in the 80s. Asian Wok on Detroit Road is better than Mandarin in Avon Commons, but not by much. Tonight, we ate at Mandarin. Damn, I wish we had some leftover brisket & latkes!

On a more positive note, our first coffee hour at the new church went well. We served tortilla chips with J's plant's queso dip and bread with both hot artichoke dip and brunoise (the latter also from the plant). The other lesbian couple at church provided the cookies & there was also a cake. The artichoke dip is the one I have been making for our tree-trimming hors d-oeuvre dinner for years. Warning-I know of at least two people who have eaten themselves sick on it. It is hard to stop. I happen to like it with Triscuits, but any kind of cracker or bread is fine.

Hot Artichoke Dip
1 (14 oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained & chopped (make sure you discard all the gnarly bits)
1 c. grated parmesan
1 c. mayonnaise
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix all ingredients & bake in loaf pan or small casserole for 25 minutes or until starting to brown on top & get bubbly.

A Hanukkah Feast

Even though we are not Jewish, I have been celebrating Hanukkah since I was a teenager when my mom & I decided it sounded like fun. I have added it to my blended family's traditions. We play with dreidels for chocolate gelt, exchange gifts (always books or non-electronic games), tell the Hanukkah story (and read Eric Kimmel's Herschel & the Hanukkah Goblins), light the candles of the hanukkiyah (reciting the traditional blessings in Hebrew and English) and eat delicious food. Friday night, Pie and I were on our own for the evening. We celebrated the first night with Manischewitz matzo ball soup and jelly doughnuts. Last night was our big celebratory dinner. I made brisket, latkes, applesauce and glazed carrots.

2 and 1/2 pounds beef brisket
Salt & pepper
2 c. beef stock
1 c. dry red wine
1 sliced onion
2 cloves garlic, slivered
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Trim excess fat from brisket until only a fine, thin layer is left. Put in 13 x 9 baking dish, fat side up. Salt & pepper. Add stock, wine, onion & garlic. Cover tightly with foil & bake at 250 4-5 hours, adding more liquid if needed. Let stand 5-10 minutes before slicing.

7 medium potatoes
1 small onion
2 eggs
1/4 c. flour
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
Oil for frying
Peel & grate potatoes. Grate onion. Beat eggs with onion. Add flour, salt & pepper. Squeeze potatoes dry. Add to egg mixture. Heat oil in a 12" skillet. Form thin patties from the potatoes & fry until golden on each side. Drain on a paper towel lined plate. Serve hot with sour cream.

2 1/2 lb. apples (I like to use MacIntosh), peeled, cored & diced
7 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp. water
Put all ingredients in pot and bring to a boil. Cover & simmer 20 minutes.

Glazed Carrots
1 lb. carrots, peeled and cut into 2" long pieces
1/2 tsp. salt, divided
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. brown sugar
A grating of fresh nutmeg
Put carrots in pan with water to cover and 1/4 tsp. salt. Bring to boil. Simmer 1/2 hour. Drain. Stir in the rest of the salt, butter, brown sugar and nutmeg. Cook on low until well-glazed.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Holiday Goodies to Give Away

I've started to do a little bit of baking & candy-making for the holidays. Now that the semester has ended, I'll be able to really throw myself into it this week. Last week, though, I made a couple of treats for other people. Every year since I was a very small girl, I have given my granddad peanut brittle for Christmas. Until this year, I had never made it myself, though. I had heard it was touchy and was nervous to try it. As it turned out, it gave me no problems whatsoever and it was delicious! I think making my first attempt in the cold, drier months was a factor.

Peanut Brittle
2 c. sugar
A pinch of baking soda
1 c. peanuts

Get a saucepan nice & hot. Add the sugar & cook, stirring constantly, until it turns into syrup. When sugar has all become syrup and no lumps remain, add the baking soda and nuts. Pour onto a greased cookie sheet and allow to cool. When it is completely cool, break into pieces. I am certain that this would be delightful with other nuts, as well.

The other treat I made last week was for my Thursday class. Since I am part Swedish, I like to celebrate the feast day of St. Lucia, the patron saint of Sweden, which is December 13. So, Wednesday night found me infusing water with saffron, kneading dough and having a grand old time baking for my classmates. I made these traditional buns...and couldn't resist munching on a steaming hot one just from the oven before I fell into bed at 1:30. Since I am not a baker & my professor is an avid bread baker, I was a little nervous about making these for her. She ate 2, though, and said they were really good. Whew!

It is traditional for the oldest daughter of Swedish families to wear a white gown with a red sash and a wreath of candles on her head as she takes these, or another coffee cake sort of treat, to family members in the morning. My grandmom said that when she was in college in the late 1930s, her hall advisor went around with a candle on St. Lucia's Day, waking students for a special breakfast.

Lucia Buns
1/2 tsp. saffron
3 tbsp. hot water
2 pkgs. active dry yeast
1/4 c. lukewarm water
1/4 c. + 1/4 tsp. sugar
1 c. scalded milk
1/3 c. butter
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
4 c. flour, sifted
1 1/2 c. candied or dried fruit or nuts (I used raisins, sultanas and dried cranberries this time)
2 tbsp. melted butter

Soak saffron in 3 tbsp. hot water 1 1/2 hours. Dissolve yeast & 1/4 tsp. sugar in lukewarm water. Mix milk with rest of sugar, butter and salt. Let cool completely. Add egg, milk and saffron to yeast. Beat smooth. Mix fruit/nuts with 2 tsp. flour. Mix rest of flour with yeast mixture. Fold in fruit/nuts. Knead smooth, about 12 minutes, on a floured surface. Put into greased bowl, turn once and allow to rise, in a warm place, until doubled in size, about an hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Knead twice. Divide into 24 small buns & place on greased baking sheets. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1/2 hour. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake 10 minutes. Brush with melted butter. Bake 5 minutes.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hot Punch, the Drink of Many Aliases

Last Saturday, I made a punch that I suspected would be the "fruit tea" that I had drunk on special occasions like Thanksgiving in rural Tennessee when I was dating a native. It was indeed that drink and when J tasted it, she said, "This is Russian Tea," the drink her mom and aunts always made when their family made their annual vacation pilgrimage to a rental cabin in Bruce Mines, Ontario. It is sweet and delicious on a chilly fall evening.

Hot Fruit Punch/Fruit Tea/Russian Tea
2 qts. apple cider
3 tbsp. red hots (AKA cinnamon imperials)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 c. orange juice
2 c. pineapple juice

Simmer everything together for about 20 minutes. Serve hot. You can serve this with cinnamon stick stirrers, but my almost grandma Lenore says that's gilding the lily.

Sunday Italian

Since we'd just had bits of turkey right from the foil it was wrapped in for lunch, I decided to make my Beloved a special dinner Sunday night. The kids have usually eaten with their father before being dropped off, so the Sundays of visitation weekends are generally good for making grown folk-friendly meals. J adores pasta as much as she adores steak and vodka sauce is her favorite. So, I decided I would try making it at home instead of opening a jar of it. I made penne to go with the sauce, chicken scalloppine to go with the penne and a bagged Caesar salad to go with the chicken. Or something like that. Oh, and we had some Italian bread, too.

Chicken Scalloppine
1 egg, beaten
1 c. breadcrumbs
1 1/2 lb. chicken cutlets, pounded thin (if you can't find cutlets, as I couldn't, just pound some
boneless, skinless chicken breast halves thin...or you can use veal cutlets, but I am squeamish about veal)
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lemon, cut in wedges

Mix the egg with a couple tablespoons of water. Dredge the chicken in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs. Melt 1 tbsp. butter in a skillet. Add 1 tbsp. oil and allow to get hot. Fry the cutlets in this, 2-3 minutes per side, adding more butter and oil as needed. Serve with lemon wedges. Serves 4.

Vodka Sauce
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 c. vodka
4 tbsp. butter
1 red onion, sliced
4 tbsp. tomato paste
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 c. freshly-grated parmesan
Salt & pepper

Steep the pepper flakes in the vodka while you get pasta water going and prepare the onion. Melt butter and sauté onion on medium-high until golden and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add vodka. Simmer a couple minutes. Add tomato paste, mixing in thoroughly. Reduce heat to low and add cream and parmesan. Heat through. Season as desired with salt & pepper. Serve with your favorite kind of pasta. Serves 4.

The Rest of the Weekend

J always feels the urge to have a steak while we're staying with my mom. So, on Friday night when we stayed at the hotel so that we could have showers and soak in the hot tub, she indulged that desire when we had dinner at TGI Friday's. She and I both had the Jack Daniels New York strip. I found mine unpleasantly lukewarm, but wasn't in the mood to speak up about it. The flavor was fine and our service was terrific and I had already spoken up about the heat (or lack thereof). My mom had a portabella sandwich and we all shared the spinach artichoke dip. We also split the hot apple concoction between the three of us. It was fine, too, although I could have been perfectly happy without it. I hate when I go out to dinner and end up thinking dinner was fine. Not even good, but fine.

The next day, when I proposed grabbing a bite to eat before hitting the museum, J wanted to go to Friday's again. I get so bored with returning to the same place over & over. Besides that, I really wanted to go for Chinese. "Ethnic" food is not usually J's first choice, although she usually quite enjoys it once I've forced my will on her. I thought the Rice Bowl would have more options for my veggie mom, too. However, to thank my sweetest for hiking a treacherous hill in the middle of the night and for climbing up & down a ladder to pee in a bucket at night, I drove us to Friday's. I had the potstickers, J got pina colada chicken wings and my ma had the green bean fries. They are very little like green beans and very much like fried batter. Skip the mac & cheese bites, too. They are intolerably bland, especially when you've had the zingy and delicious ones at the Winking Lizard Tavern.

Back at The Homeplace, we had leftovers from Thursday for dinner. I forgot to post about the appetizers we had in my Thanksgiving post. Since we ate more of them Saturday, this is a perfect place to make up for my posting deficiency. I set out a platter of cheese and apples. We had Mt. Tam (Cowgirl Creamery's lush triple cream), some kind of farmhouse cheese J picked that had an unpleasant fruity note to it (I should add that everyone but me liked it) and some parmesan left over from the parmesan rice my mom made. The apples were Pink Ladies, which are one of our favorite varieties. I love Winesaps above all others, but J likes Pink Ladies best. The leftovers of the other appetizer we had on Thanksgiving were up the hill, but I'll put the recipe for it here:
Artichoke Dip
1 can (14 1/2 oz.) artichoke hearts, drained & chopped
1 c. mayonnaise
1 c. grated parmesan cheese
A dash of garlic salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix ingredients together in 2 qt. casserole or 8x8 baking pan. Bake 25 minutes. Serve with crackers, tortilla chips or bread rounds. I favor Triscuits for this and my wife likes Wheat Thins.

The parmesan rice my mom made to supplement the scant leftover mashed potatoes is a dish that she has made my whole life. It is absolutely wonderful. In high school, my friend Patricia & I would make that & have it with artichoke hearts for our dinner.
Parmesan Rice
2/3 c. long-grain rice (I like jasmine rice)
2 tbsp. butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1/4 c. grated parmesan
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt & pepper

Cook the rice. Stir in the butter. Mix everything else together. Stir into rice. Cook 5 minutes.

For Sunday lunch, we had leftover turkey straight from the foil in the car, along with some gas station chips and King Dons. We were driving without a lunch break in order to get home before the boys did. That turkey was fantastic!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Thanksgiving in the Holler

Wednesday night, after having Fat Billy's pizza for dinner, I loaded the car to go down to visit my mom, her partner & his mom in West Virginia. Then, I commenced pie-making. Since there were only 5 of us for Thanksgiving dinner, I only made one pie, a derby pie. I have made a different, giant cookie-type derby pie, but this is my favorite variation. It was our sole dessert for the holiday.

Derby Pie
1 pie shell
1/2 c. butter, melted
1 c. light Karo syrup
4 eggs
1 c. pecan halves
1 c. chocolate chips
2 tbsp. bourbon (I actually used Jack Daniels)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together everything but the pie shell. Pour into shell. Bake 45-50 minutes.

My other contributions to Thanksgiving dinner were a salad made with bagged mixed baby greens, packaged candied walnuts, dried cranberries, blue cheese crumbles and raspberry vinaigrette and also a green bean casserole (I just use the recipe on the can of French's onions). My Beloved topped some of her company's sweet potato-banana mash with walnuts that she caramelized with butter and brown sugar and baked it. My mom, the vegetarian, made the first turkey she's roasted since 1973...and did a damn fine job of it...along with mashed potatoes and sage dressing. She also made, ahead of time, cranberry sauce (using the recipe on the cranberry bag) and our family's time-honored Thanksgiving raspberry Jello with raspberries in it. My almost-grandma's contribution was to clean up after us. She also had the bright idea of picking up some Kahlua for us to enjoy with our dessert, but we forgot until Saturday night.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Bunch of Recipes

I've been so busy with seminary & family life that I haven't had much time to write anything other than papers lately. So, here are a few of the things I've been cooking lately:

Beef Bourguignon
4-6 slices bacon
2 lb. beef, cubed
1 c. pearl onions
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. burgundy or other dry red wine
2 c. beef broth
1 c. sliced mushrooms

Fry the bacon until crisp ina big pot. Set aside for another use. Brown the beef in the bacon fat. Add onions & garlic & cook until tender. Add the wine, broth and mushrooms. Cover & cook on medium-high for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Serve over noodles or rice. Serves 6. I made this for my wife recently, along with the below-mentioned leek & fennel dish and a gorgeous salad. I used mixed baby greens & added slices of red pear, crumbles of blue cheese and candied walnuts. I was too lazy to make dressing, so we used the Kraft Light Done Right raspberry vinaigrette, which worked beautifully.

Leeks & Fennel with Olives and Goat Cheese
1/4 c. olive oil
2 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
1 bulb fennel, halved and sliced
1/2 c. kalamata olives, pitted
Salt & pepper
5 oz. soft goat cheese, sliced into 4 rounds

Heat oil in skillet on medium-low heat. Add the leeks & fennel & cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fennel is tender, about half an hour. Add olives. Heat through. Season. Place a slice of cheese in the center of each of 4 warm salad plates. Top cheese with veggies & olives. Serves 4.

1 stick butter
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate (I used Ghirardelli)
4 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. flour
1 c. ch. pecans

Melt butter and chocolate together. Cool. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 13x9 baking dish. Beat eggs & salt together, with mixer on medium, until foamy. Beat in the butter/chocolate mixture. Add sugar and vanilla. With rubber spatula, fold in flour and pecans. Put in prepared pan and bake 30 minutes. Cool before cutting. I made these for one of my classes and they went quickly.

Fruit Dip
8 oz. light cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. light sour cream (or lowfat plain yogurt)
4 tbsp. honey
2 c. light Cool Whip

Mix together all but Cool Whip. Gently fold in Cool Whip. Chill and sevre with your favorite dipping fruits. I like strawberries in this, my Dearest favors bananas. My children think it looks gross...they tend to shy away from anything white to eat, although the oldest has discovered a love for Alfredo sauce finally.

Country Egg Casserole
3 eggs
1/2 c. baking mix (I used reduced-fat, to good effect)
1/2 c. melted butter
1 1/2 c. milk
1/4 tsp. salt
Dash of pepper
1 c. shredded extra-sharp cheddar
1/2 c. cubed ham

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9" pie plate. Mix all but ham & cheese, making sure it is well-blended. Pour into pie plate. Top with ham & cheese, pressing gently below the surface. Bake 45 minutes. Let stand at least 10 minutes before cutting. I made this for my grandparents and they really enjoyed it.

Chocolate Cappuccino Cookies
2 c. butter, softened
4 c. brown sugar
4 eggs
5 1/2 c. flour
1 c. cocoa
1/4 c. instant coffee (I used Cafe Bustelo Mexican-style)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
10 oz. cinnamon chips (I used Hershey's)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter & sugar together until creamy. Add eggs, beating until blended. Mix flour with next 5 ingredients. Gradually beat into butter/sugar/egg mixture, with mixer on low speed. Add cinnamon chips. Drop by rounded teaspoons-ful, 2" apart, onto lightly greased baking sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes. Cool 5 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Makes 8 dozen. I made these for my class and got 3 requests for the recipe. I also left my grands some to have at tea time and my grandmom asked me to make them for her next women's circle meeting. The recipe halves easily if you don't need 8 dozen cookies.

Fried Corn
2 c. fresh corn kernels, cut off the ears
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
2/3 c. flour
2/3 c. cornmeal
Salt & pepper
Oil for frying

Mix corn and buttermilk together. Let stand 1/2 hour, then drain. Mix flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper in a large ziploc bag. Add corn, a little at a time, and shake to coat. Heat about an inch of oil in a skillet, to about 375 degrees. Fry the corn, a bit at a time, until golden. Drain on paper towels and serve hot. I was skeptical on this one, but ended up liking it quite a bit.

Olive Artichoke Sausage Quiche
1 pie shell
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 lb. bulk Italian sausage
14 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 c. green olives with pimiento
15 oz. ricotta cheese
2 tbsp. parmesan

Brush about a tablespoon of egg over the unbaked pie shell. Chill 30 minutes. Brown the sausage. Drain and mix with all but 12 of the artichoke hearts. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the eggs, olives and ricotta. Sprinkle the pie shell with the parmesan. Spread the sausage & artichoke mixture over the bottom. Pour the egg mixture over this. Top with the reserved artichokes. Bake 30-35 minutes. Cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Pear Sauce
2 pears, peeled, cored and sliced
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/3 c. sugar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 c. water

Mix the pears with the lemon zest and juice, blending in a blender until smooth. Mix with the rest and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. This is a nice alternative to applesauce.

Wacky Cake
1 1/2 c. flour
3 tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
5 tbsp. oil
1 tbsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9" square pan. Mix dry ingredients in pan. Make 3 holes in dry mixture with the handle of a wooden spoon. Pour oil in one, vinegar in another, vanilla in the third. Pour cold water over the top. Mix. Bake 1/2 hour. This is delicious when served still warm, with a dusting of powdered sugar and a glass of cold, cold milk.

Cinnamon Bread
1/2 c. butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 c. milk
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Melt butter in 12" cast iron skillet. Mix eggs, flour and cinnamon, but not too much. Pour over the butter in the skillet. Bake about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and eat while good & hot.

Roasted Winter Veggies
2 c. peeled, large-diced rutabaga (2-3 rutabagas)
2 c. peeled, large-diced parsnips (about 3)
2 c. peeled, large-diced butternut squash
2 peeled, large-diced onions
2 tbsp. olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. thyme

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the vegetables together. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Put on baking sheet and sprinkle with herbs. Bake, stirring a couple of time, about 45 minutes.

Italian Beef Sandwiches
1 lb. thinly-sliced lean roast beef
1 can tomato soup
1/2 c. Italian dressing
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
6 buns

Spray a skillet with cooking spray. Sauté the meat about 5 minutes. Mix the soup, dressing and seasoning. Mix with beef and simmer 15 minutes. Serve on buns. Serves 4.

Vanilla Poached Fruit
1 lemon
1/4 c. sugar
2" vanilla bean, split in half
2 peeled pears, cut in wedges
2 peeled Granny Smith apples, cut in wedges
1/4 c. dried cranberries

Zest the lemon in long strips. Put zest in pan. Juice lemon & add juice. Add sugar, vanilla and 1 cup water. Stir to dissolve sugar. Bring to boil. Simmer 5 minutes. Add fruit and simmer, basting with sugar water, until tender, about 10 minutes. Put the fruit in a bowl. Discard vanilla and simmer liquid about 5 minutes to reduce. When it is thick and syrupy, pour over fruit. This is a lovely, elegant finish to a meal. I love the pears so much, I'm tempted to substitute more pears in place of the apples next time I make it.

Zucchini Surprise Casserole
1 lb. bulk sausage (I am partial to Bob Evans)
4 zucchini, quartered and sliced
1 can cream of chicken soup
8 oz. sour cream
6 oz. chicken-flavored stuffing mix
1/3 c. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown the sausage & drain. Add zucchini. Mix the soup and sour cream. Add to sausage. Mix the stuffing mix and the butter. Spray a 13x9 pan with cooking spray. Add half the stuffing in a layer on the bottom of the pan. Add sausage mixture. Top with the rest of the stuffing. Bake 45 minutes. I made this for my grands & my granddad, who is not much for zucchini, really liked it.

I will try to be more diligent about regular posting!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Quick Gripe

I promise I will write a real post soon, but for now, I just have to bitch & moan.




Thursday, September 28, 2006

SAHM Cooking on a Rainy Night

In the midst of hard rain & cranky kids bursting into tears in the middle of doing homework, it is so nice to have a cozy dish to serve for dinner! I'm also, frankly, glad that J is the bad guy & I am the good guy in Boot's eyes tonight. I served chicken & dumpling casserole (which my oldest probably would have loved if the word "casserole" hadn't been mentioned), lima beans and applesauce. I should have made applesauce from scratch ( I love it all warm & honeyed), but was lazy & got Musselman's homestyle instead. For dessert, I've got some chocolate bread pudding in the oven. It should be ready just in time for CSI. Both these recipes are from stay-at-home mom friends of mine.

Chicken & Dumpling Casserole
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. chopped celery
2 minced cloves garlic
1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. flour
1 scant tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 cans chicken broth (or about 4 cups of the real thing)
10 oz. frozen peas
4 c. cubed, cooked chicken

2 c. Bisquick
2 tsp. basil
2/3 c. milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sauté onion, celery & garlic in butter until tender. Add flour, seasonings and broth. Bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Reduce heat. Add peas & cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add chicken & pour into greased 13 x 9 baking dish. Mix Bisquick and basil. Add milk & stir with fork just until thoroughly moistened. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls on top of chicken mixture. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Chocolate Bread Pudding
2 c. cubes of day-old French bread
1 c. chocolate chips
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
1 1/3 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 2 qt. casserole. Put bread in it. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Mix rest together. Beat well. Pour over bread. Put casserole in baking pan filled with 1" hot water. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serve warm.

Am I Blue?

Why, no, I am not! Although the skies are stolidly grey today, with an autumnal chill in the air, I am actually quite snug and happy. I had a bowl of fabulous soup, with saltine crackers, for lunch. I rarely go to the trouble of cooking something just for me for lunch. But, I wanted to try this soup & knew J & the boys would not be thrilled with having blue cheese in their soup or wafting through the air as I stirred the pot. So, while they are enjoying sack lunches, I have cooked just for myself.

Bleu Potato Soup
7 red potatoes, peeled & diced
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 diced onion
1 minced clove garlic
32 oz. chicken or veggie stock
8 oz. blue cheese, crumbled (my mom used 4 ounces & said it was fine that way)
Salt & pepper

Boil potatoes in water to cover until fork-tender. Heat oil in skillet. Sauté onion & garlic until golden. Add potatoes & sauté a couple minutes. Put in pot with stock & cheese. Bring to boil. Cover & simmer 10 minutes. Purée in batches in blender. Heat through, bringing to a simmer. Season with salt & pepper. Serves 4.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Starchy, Starchy

Last night, after poking around the bookstore, my Beloved finally got her desire to have dinner at Buca di Beppo. She's been talking about it since we moved up here, but we hadn't made it there yet. Under serious protest from grumpola Pie, we dragged the kids there instead of feeding them at home. Pie remained grumpy through the meal, but Boot really liked it there. The fun, kitschy atmosphere appealed to him. In fact, he asked tonight if we can go there again soon. Last night, when J said something about getting it to go sometime, he said, "No, no, the whole fun of it is eating here." The food was fine, but not spectacular. I expected, based on our previous Buca di Beppo experience, nothing more than what we got: Italian the way people's white bread moms used to make it in the 1970s when I was a kid. Boot loved his cheese pizza, which he shared with Pie. Pie ordered lasagna & we all nibbed some, since he had enough for 48 people. J & I had the penne cardinale, which has chicken, cream sauce, artichokes and crushed red pepper for some bite. We had garlic bread with cheese for our appetizer and chocolate Vesuvio for dessert. I found the cake-brownie thing in the dessert to be incredibly dry and the caramel sauce to be sadly sparse, but Pie devoured it. Tonight, there was plenty left for us each to have big portions again for our dinner. The boys shared the remains of the lasagna & we had the penne, with a nice Caesar salad & some Italian bread with olive oil dipping sauce.

Monday, September 25, 2006

September Soup Supper

Tonight, I made a dinner that prompted my 11-year-old to ask, "Are we having any meat with this???" Nope. Sorry, buddy. It was a warming dinner for an early Fall night. I served this soup with a loaf of Italian bread.

Curried Broccoli Potato Soup
2 cans chicken broth (I like the reduced-sodium kind)
2 c. milk
8 small new potatoes, quartered
2 carrots, sliced
1-2 tsp. curry powder (I lean toward 2)
Salt & pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. cumin
2 c. broccoli florets
2 c. shredded cheddar

Mix broth & milk. Heat through. Add everything but broccoli & cheese. Bring to a boil. Cover & simmer 10 minutes. Pour into blender & purée. Return to pan. Add cheese, stirring to incorporate, allowing cheese to melt & then adding broccoli. Cover & simmer 10 minutes. Serves 4.

Revisiting Old Favorites

While the restaurants in Cleveland are quite good, we miss some of our usual haunts in Dayton. This past week, I had the opportunity to dine at two of them. On Thursday, I had a little spare time & planned to go have pad Thai or Massaman curry at Ban Thai in Beavercreek. Their food is wonderful & they are really friendly. Sadly, when I reached the parking lot, it was completely full! I figured that there probably wouldn't be any tables, so I drove on into Kettering for lunch at Ajanta India, my favorite Indian restaurant. Their parking lot was also full, but I finally found a spot. After I got parked, I happened to notice that the license plate of the car in front of me was Evvi's mom's. Evvi & I have enjoyed many Ajanta lunches together & I ate there with them when Garnet was one week old. We spent much of that meal just staring at her darling little face as she slept. I went in & surely enough, Evvi was there, having borrowed the car for a lunch with her friend Laura. I have met Laura before & really know her best as Queen Elizabeth, who she has played at the Renaissance Faire. I had some wonderful chicken tikka masala & an even better time listening to Evvi talk about spinning & Laura about her toddler & watching Garnet daintily tip ice out of my glass with a spoon. She is cuter than ever before, just a lovely girl at 2 years old.

On Saturday, we got to have dinner at Los Mariachis in Xenia, one of my favorite Mexican places. Boot just loves it there & has had his birthday dinner there more than once. He invariably orders chicken quesadillas, while Pie usually gets a cheeseburger. A travesty! Oh, well, we went there so often for a while that he got burned out on soft tacos. We took my grands out for dinner. My grandmama had a tamale, my granddad chose an enchilada & burrito combo, my Beloved had enchiladas with a beef tip sauce on top of them. I always have a hard time choosing there because they have so much that is good. This time, I got the chile verde, pork chunks with a delicious green sauce. This is served with rice & beans. I always think I'm going to have room for flan or sopaipillas, but that rarely happens.

Swiss Steak

Swiss steak is rather old-fashioned, but I really like it. I made some in the crock pot the other Sunday & served it with mashed potatoes & lima beans.

Crockpot Swiss Steak
3 tbsp. flour
4 lean cube steaks, tenderized
1 can tomato soup
14 oz. stewed tomatoes
Dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
Couple shakes parsley flakes
A grinding of pepper
A smidge of salt
A fistful of baby carrots, halved
1/2 c. chopped onion

Dredge the steaks in flour & put in greased crockpot (I like to use cooking spray). Mix everything else together & pour over steaks. Cook on low 6-8 hours.

Practicing Hospitality

Since we are talking about various spiritual practices, including the practice of hospitality, in one of my classes (and since the facilitator of my ministry formation group is a former gym teacher & frowns upon bringing treats to that), I decided to bake some cookies for the class. I availed myself of my grands' kitchen & baked up some snickerdoodles. As I was baking, my granddad asked me, "Now, what are these doodads called?" I was delighted with his wording because I was able to answer, "Snickerdoodadles!" We talked about how the name could have come to guess was Pennsylvania Dutch or something like that. That led us into a discussion of odd food names, like the Russian sandwiches my grandmom's mom originated in our family. My grandmom said she didn't know if her mom named them for whimsical reasons of her own or if she'd seen them named that in a recipe. We agreed that you can tell the origin is pre-cold war, because Russian isn't considered a bad thing & that there doesn't seem to be anything particularly Russian about them. They are made by toasting slices of bread (1 for each person eating...or 2, if you're hungrier), topping them with tomato slices, cooked bacon & slices of cheddar cheese, then broiling them until the cheese is melted. My mom, a vegetarian, omits the bacon & adds avocado. They are often all my grands eat for dinner, along with ears of sweet corn bought at the farm stand, for weeks at a time when tomatoes are in season. Anyway, the cookies:

3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 sticks butter, room temp
1 1/3 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 lg. eggs
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease cookie sheets lightly. Sift flour, baking soda, salt, cream of tartar and nutmeg together. Cream butter, 1 1/3 c. sugar and vanilla together until light & fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing to incorporate. Add flour mixture on low & mix until well-blended. Drop 2" apart on prepared sheets. Mix the rest of the sugar with the cinnamon. Sprinkle over the cookies. Bake 12-13 minutes & cool on wire racks.

This recipe made enough to take 32 to class, leave 8 for my grands' tea time and bring another dozen or so home to my Beloved, whose mommy used to make her snickerdoodles.

Wednesday Night Cooking

Since my grands are kind enough to let me stay with them while I am in school, cooking for them on Wednesday nights seems the least I can do. The first week I was down there, I made potato cheese soup, as detailed in an earlier post. The second week, I made Cowboy Pie, which was very good & homey, with corn on the cob & salad.
Cowboy Pie
1 lb. lean burger
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. chopped green pepper
15 oz. can kidney beans (or whatever kind of beans you favor), drained
8 oz. tomato sauce
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tube refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
1 tsp. parsley
3-5 tbsp. shredded cheddar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease or spray a pie plate or 8x8 baking dish. Sauté burger, onion & pepper until burger is browned. Add beans, tomato sauce & chili powder. Bring to a boil. Put in pie plate. Quarter biscuits & place on top of meat mixture. Sprinkle with parsley. Top with cheese. Bake 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

This past Wednesday, we made chicken pot pie. My grandmom had already boiled some chicken thighs, then boiled some veggies in the broth from that. She pulled the meat off the bones & drained the veggies, saving the broth to make gravy. By the time I got back from class, all that was left to do was to mix the meat & veggies up with a can of mushroom soup & a can of cream of chicken, then toss it in a premade pie shell. I topped it, vented the top and baked it at 350 degrees for a little over an hour while we hung out talking.

What I'm Eating in October

If all goes according to plan.

1: Italian beef sandwiches, macaroni & cheese, poached fruit, salad
2: Olive, artichoke & sausage quiche, salad, fried corn, pear sauce, wacky cake
3: J's choice
4: Pizza, salad, fruit (Boot's choice)
5: J's choice
6: Dinner out
7: J'c choice
8: Mexican casserole, papas a la Huancaina, salad, dulce de leche
9: Potato soup, good bread, fruit
10: J's choice
11: Cheeseburgers, fries, corn (Pie's choice)
12: J's choice
13: Red snapper a la Santa Barbara, boiled potatoes, artichokes w/tarragon drizzle, wilted lettuce, pear dessert
14: J's choice
15: Veal scallopine, penne w/vodka sauce, avocado & grapefruit spears, good bread, marshmallow cake
16: Alphabet chili veggies, fruit salad, corn & pepper scones
17: J's choice
18: Fried chicken, french fries, corn (Boot's choice)
19: J's choice
20: Chicken w/40 cloves of garlic, potato salad, cinnamon peaches
21: J's choice
22: Steak Diane, baked potatoes, roasted winter veggies, chocolate chip chess pie
23: Banana chocolate chip pancakes, bacon, toast
24: J's choice
25: Clam chowder, sourdough bread, fruit (Pie's choice)
26: J's choice
27: Roast chicken, roasted veggies, fruit w/dip, oven s'mores
28: J's choice
29: Cheese & sausage stuffed zucchini, penne w/asparagus & parmesan, garlic bread
30: Dinner out
31: J's choice

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Despite my bleoved having made tacos Saturday night, I went ahead and made carnitas last night as planned. Am I glad I did! The kids enjoyed them, J enjoyed them and so did I. I served them with warmed flour tortillas, Spanish rice and an iceberg salad with salsa dressing. Salsa & sour cream on the side are a nice touch, too. I have heard from a couple of people about how much of a pain in the butt it is to make carnitas, but I found it to be a breeze.

3 lb. pork, cubed (I used boneless country ribs)
2 large onions, halved
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. lard
1 1/2 c. milk

Cover pork with water in pan. Add onions, garlic and salt. Bring to boil and then simmer for 1 hour. Drain. Heat lard, milk and salt together. Add pork and cook, stirring often, until milk cooks away completely.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Fish Fry

The first time I can remember being aware of catfish, or of people frying it, was when I was 7 years old. We were visiting my aunt Jeannie in Vermont and went fishing. I caught 7 trout and my mom caught several trout and a couple of catfish. The catfish were so ugly, even somewhat frightening, that I couldn't believe my mom would eat them! Worse, she had fried catfish for breakfast!!!

I spent the rest of my younger years avoiding catfish scrupulously. The opportunity to eat them, frankly, didn't arise much. It wasn't until I was living in Nashville that I tried fried catfish for the first time. My then-partner & I were seated at a table right by Merle Haggard's table in Uncle Bud's. I decided that since Uncle Bud's specialized in catfish, it would behoove me to try it. I loved it. I have since learned to make it, not as well as they do at Uncle Bud's, but not too badly, either. Last night, when my beloved indicated that she would just as soon not have Jamaican beef patties and when my oldest said, "No, thank you" when I said that's what was for dinner, I decided to fry up some catfish. Neither child liked it & they chose to eat the enormous chicken breast we had baked as a precautionary measure. However, we adults quite enjoyed our dinner. We had the fish with just-shucked sweet corn and spicy steak fries. J made Ghirardelli brownies, as well. Mmm. This recipe feeds a bunch of people, but you can always cut it down. Just make sure you keep the proportions right.

Fried Catfish
3 eggs, beaten
Salt & pepper
Dash of cayenne
1/2 c. milk
2 c. flour
2 c. cornmeal
24 catfish fillets
Oil for frying

Mix together the eggs, salt, pepper, cayenne and milk. Put in a shallow dish. Mix the flour & cornmeal together. Dip the fish pieces in the milk mixture, then dredge in the flour mixture. Shake off the excess batter, then fry. You can deep fry it at 350 degrees until the fish is golden, about 5 minutes, or you can fry it in a skillet, flipping after the first side is golden. You want to make sure you drain it on a paper-towel-lined plate before serving it, either way.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Soup & Stew Season is Here

The weather is starting to cool down some here in Ohio, so I have started making soups. I made creamy potato cheese soup for my grandparents the other night. We had some fabulous rye bread from Big Sky bakery in Centerville and a delicious cantaloupe from the local farm stand. Then, Friday afternoon, I threw some beef stew in the crockpot & we had that with Italian bread & salad. It was perfect for a cool Friday evening at home.

Creamy Potato-Cheese Soup
3 tbsp. butter
2 c. chopped onions
1 lg. clove garlic, minced
5 medium potatoes, peeled & coarsely chopped
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped (or a handful of baby carrots, quartered)
3 c. chicken or veggie stock
1 tsp. dill
4 oz. cream cheese, diced
1 1/2 c. milk
1 c. grated cheddar (I am partial to Cabot's extra-sharp or Tillamook)
Salt & pepper, as needed

In a large soup pot, sauté onions & garlic in butter until onions are translucent. Add potatoes & carrots & sauté 5-10 minutes. Add stock and dill. Simmer until the vegetables are tender. Purée the vegetables with the cream cheese and milk in a blender. Return to the pot. Adjust seasonings. Add cheddar & reheat gently. If you don't have a blender handy, as I didn't in my grandmom's kitchen, the soup turns out nicely with the veggies just mashed with a standard potato masher.

Beef Stew
2 pounds bottom round, in 2" pieces
1 c. flour
1/3 c. olive oil
2 large onions, diced
6 oz. tomato paste
1 c. dry red wine (I used merlot)
1 lb. potatoes, in 2" pieces
1/2 lb. baby carrots (I halved mine, but you don't really need to)
2 c. beef stock
1 tbsp. kosher salt
Pepper, to taste
1 tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
1 c. frozen peas, thawed

Coat beef in flour. Heat a few tbsp. olive oil in a skillet on medium-high. Brown the meat. Put in crockpot. Cook the onions in same skillet until tender. Add tomato paste & stir to thoroughly coat onions. Put in crockpot. Deglaze the skillet with the wine, pouring everything in it into the crockpot. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the peas. Cook on low 7 1/2 hours or on high 4. Add peas & heat through.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

End-of-Summer Shortcake

...among other dishes. The other night, I made a gorgeous shortcake to end our dinner. The rest of the dinner was just fine, but I would have been happy just to eat the shortcake. I made Cuban-style braised chicken, oven-baked mashed potatoes, thyme green beans and peach shortcake. Here are the recipes:

Braised Chicken Cuban-Style
3 lb. chicken pieces
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 minced cloves garlic
1/4 c. each orange juice & lime juice
1 thinly-sliced onion
2 tbsp. olive oil

Mix seasonings together. Add garlic & juices. Put in a gallon Ziploc bag. Add chicken & onions & marinate at least 2 hours. Pat the chicken dry. Heat oil on medium-high heat. Brown the chicken well on all sides. Cook 10 minutes on medium-low. Drain the fat, set the chicken aside & add the marinade to the pan. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer. Return chicken to the pan and simmer 30 minutes. Remove chicken, keeping it warm. Bring the pan juices to a boil, cook until slightly thickened & serve over chicken.

Oven-Baked Mashed Potatoes
6 servings worth of instant mashed potatoes, prepared with cream cheese instead of butter
8 oz. cream cheese, cubed
2 tbsp. chopped scallion
1 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley

Add scallion & parsley to potatoes. Spoon into small casserole. Dot with butter & sprinkle with paprika. Bake 30 minutes at 400 degrees.

Thyme Green Beans with Almonds
1 lb. fresh green beans
1 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. thyme
Salt & pepper
1 tbsp. slivered, toasted almonds (I suspect that smoked almonds, chopped, would be extra-good in this)

Steam the green beans (I use the electric steamer my uncle Vic & aunt Nyoko gave me all the time. Of course, regular pan steaming works fine, too, but I never thought I'd use an electric steamer until I had one & I love it!). Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add all but the almonds & heat through. Sprinkle with almonds before serving.

End-of-Summer Peach Shortcake
3 c. flour
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. Crisco
3/4 c. milk
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease 9" cake pan. Sift dry ingredients together. Cut shortening in by hand. Add milk & egg, kneading until well-mixed. Put into greased pan. Bake 30 minutes at 450 degrees. Remove from pan & cool on wire rack. Cut in wedges, slice wedges in half, fill with peaches & whipped cream and place top half of shortcake on top. Add another dollop of whipped cream, for a truly decadent touch. By the way, I like to whip my cream with a smidge of sugar and a dash of vanilla. A little amaretto would be a nice addition to the whipped cream, if your beloved doesn't find it hateful, like mine does.
8 fresh, ripe peaches
1/3 c. sugar
Peel & slice peaches. Sprinkle with sugar & let stand for half an hour or so before spooning over shortcake.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sausage Pie, Green Beans & Potatoes

For lack of a more creative name! My Beloved is putting away dinner leftovers, nibbing here & there, while I type. She looks adorable & keeps telling me how excellent it was. She is also telling me that the very best brand of organic milk is Stonyfield Farm, so I will pass that recommendation on. I made:

Sausage Pie
1 pie shell, partially baked & cooled
1 lb. sausage (I am partial to Bob Evans & will use the hot variety whenever I think I can get away with it)
1/3 c. chopped onion
1 tbsp. butter
3/4 c. milk
3 oz. cream cheese, cut into small chunks
3 eggs, beaten
1 c. shredded cheddar
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sauté sausage & drain. Wipe out pan. In pan, sauté onions in butter until tender. Add milk & heat just until steam rises from it. Remove from heat & add cream cheese. Allow cheese to soften in hot milk. Mix together eggs, milk-cheese mixture, cheddar, seasonings. Pour into pie shell. Top with sausage. Bake 30 minutes, until firmly set. Let stand at leat 10 minutes before cutting into wedges to serve.

Country Green Beans & Potatoes
Sauté some trimmed green beans, with some chopped onions, in a small amount of oil heated in a Dutch oven, for about 5 minutes. Toss in some soy sauce & heat another couple minutes. Add water just to cover. Bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat and cook on low 20-25 minutes. Throw in an equal amount of halved or quartered new potatoes. Add hot water to cover. Toss in a little more soy. Bring to a boil, cover & simmer on medium-low about 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender when pierced by a fork. Drain & serve hot with butter.

The leftovers make a super lunch or even breakfast!

Chicago Eats

Just going to do highlights, since I have been so long in getting around to this!

-Anthony's in the Oakbrook Doubletree: Everything we had here was very good, but the sherried mushroom soup was soup nirvana.

-Art Institute of Chicago's Garden Restaurant: Great steak frites, but the peach crème brûlée was the true stand-out. It was made in shallow oval dishes, so the caramelized crust to creamy underneath ratio was perfect. Paper-thin slices of peach rested just under the sugar and the whole thing had lavender blossoms scattered all about. Fabulous!

-Ethel's Chocolate Lounge: While the chocolates & chocolate drinks weren't the best, the chocolate fondue for two was divine! After walking way the heck up & down Michigan Avenue, stopping in at Ethel's for this treat was just perfect. The chocolate of the fondue was rich and complex. My favorite side offerings were the pretzels & strawberries, while J liked the bananas & graham crackers. The marshmallows were a little much sweetness, as was the pound cake. The ambiance of the Ethel's in Naperville is much better than on Michigan.

-Reza's: While the beef stew we had was fine, the herbed goat cheese with olives was just glorious!

-Café at Nordstrom's: Superior panini and very good key lime cheesecake

-Café Bolero: Good, homestyle Cuban cooking, no fancy fusion or gourmet stuff. We had an appetizer sampler with ham croquetas, stuffed plantains, Cuban tamales and papas rellenas. Then, J had roast pork with fried plantains & black beans & rice. Since they didn't have my beloved masitas, I had the palomilla, with a side of yuca. It was all very good, almost as good as what I get in Miami. The mojito was great, as was the Cuban coffee. For dessert, we split the flan, which was perfect. This was my birthday dinner.

-Hugo's Frog Bar & Fish House: Extravagant dinner out with J's boss & his wife. Fabulous swordfish & enormous baked potatoes...wished I had gotten the swordfish instead of the shrimp deJonghe, which was fairly bland.

-Sadly, no eating local because the large crowds from the Gay Games & Wrigley Field made parking impossible in Boys' Town, where we had wanted to try Firefly. We ended up having a very pleasant meal at the Cheesecake Factory.

-Papagus Greek Taverna: Haughty service, but nice atmosphere and good food. Terrific saganaki, good calamari. Solid pastitsio, but the lemon chicken at the local Greek festival beat theirs hands-down.

-Frontera Grill: I was iffy about going to Frontera, even though my foodie friend Suzette recomended it highly. I figured that a celebrity chef's place might be an overpriced tourist trap. I also thought it might be difficult to get a reservation on short notice, which tends to be the way we work. We almost didn't go, but J urged me to try it despite my reservations. We glided into valet parking and were graciously attended to. While we were waiting for our table, Rick Bayless himself hurried past us in his chef's jacket, which surprised me since I don't generally expect that celebrity chefs will actually be at their restaurants. We got to sit on the patio, which made for a lovely evening even if the food had been atrocious. It wasn't. I greatly enjoyed my summer margarita, made remarkable by the presence of cucumber. We had a nice selection of appetizers with a sampler of Mexico City-style quesadillas (gorgeous masa turnovers with amazing jack cheese melting inside), taquitos, ceviche tostadas (wow!) and a beautifully crunchy jicama salad. Oh, and guacamole. If that had been it, I would have left happy. But, we each ordered an entree. I had my heart set on chicken with mole & the enchiladas de mole poblano were very good, if a smidge sweeter than I am used to. J chose the superb carne asada. They were out of plantains, unfortunately, but the rest of the meal more than made up for that. Dessert was Mexican chocolate ice cream, not as good as Jeni's Splendid Mexican Hot Chocolate ice cream, with its cayenne heat, but still wonderful. When I thanked the waiter for the wonderful dinner to cap off my birthday week, the kitchen sent out a simply stupendous martini-glass-ful of rhubarb sorbet. It was out of this world. The presentation was charming, too, with the glass perched on a pink cut-paper decoration on a square white plate, edges adorned with "Happy Birthday" in chocolate script.

-Lou Mitchell's: I never would have heard of this institution had Suzette not insisted we had to go. Suzette lives in New York City, works in theater & gets to all kinds of amazing restaurants. She said this was her favorite place in Chicago. I insisted we go. J resisted, but we finally went on our way out of town. We were greeted with a platter of doughnut bites, seated with small boxes of Milk Duds and pacified with orange wedges & stewed prunes while we waited for our orders. J had a terrific cheeseburger, while I tried a salami & cheese omelet. Wow! It was one of the best I've ever had. The home fries were great, too. After our meal, we were offered...and accepted...a free dish of soft serve ice cream that tasted exactly like the soft serve ice cream in a diner at the Northern end of Route 66 should taste...yum!

Egg Boy & His Egg Mamas

The night after our Saucy Bistro dinner, J & I found ourselves waking up late from a nap. Too late to reasonably cook anything elaborate. So, I made the dinner she had rejected the night before and she loved it. It was incredibly simple. I made scrambled eggs with fresh basil & sharp cheddar. I toasted some corn toasties & we had those & Rainier cherries with our eggs.

The following Monday night, I found out, too late to run to the store, that I was missing an important ingredient for the ham & asparagus quiche I'd planned to make...the crust! Since I am afraid of making pie crust most of the time, J suggested that I simply make omelets. Brilliant! So, we had wonderful omelets with asparagus, diced ham and sharp cheddar.

Now, Pie is back & he is into eggs. He bought a skillet & spatula for himself with his tooth fairy money & allowance. Yesterday, I taught him to make an omelet. He has cracked eggs & chosen fillings for countless omelets and loves to eat them. When he asked me to talk him through it, I was happy to. The omelet he made, his very first all by himself, turned out just beautifully! I was impressed & proud. So, he was spurred to delight in cooking again & bought his cooking tools. This morning, I talked him through fried eggs & he had those for breakfast. He made us cheesy scrambled eggs for lunch & will be making omelets for our dinner tomorrow night. He is very enthused about this whole cooking thing & plans to run a bed & breakfast someday.

Saucy Friday

Our last big shebang dinner out while the boys were gone was eaten on the patio at Saucy Bistro one Friday night. J was unenthusiastic, to say the least, about the dinner I had planned. Neither did she seem to want to hit T.G. I. Applechili's or the Winking Lizard. So, I took her to try the Saucy Bistro ( When I first looked at the menu, I thought, "Oh, my lord! This is all totally frilly & unappetizing, not to mention overpriced!" So, I suggested just getting drinks & moving on. J, however, thought the menu looked great. On closer examination, I realized I could find some food I'd like.

The service was very friendly & it felt wonderful out there, like we were right by the lake instead of a few miles away. The sun was beginning to set. We shared a combo appetizer, with their superb rendition of sautéed calamari, deliciously flavored with lemon, garlic & herbs, spicy (not kidding) shrimp scampi with a soy-based glaze and a "lamb lollipop", pistachio-crusted and tasty. My entrée was filet mignon with a wild mushroom reduction (not terribly mushroom-y, but good nonetheless), dainty asparagus stalks and rosemary mashed potatoes that tasted nothing like rosemary but very much like earthy potatoes. J ordered huge & luscious seared scallops with soy glaze, ribbons of spiced carrot and the most wonderful sticky sesame rice cake with wicked good crispy brown edges. The rice cake was my favorite part of a very good meal. I kind of wished we hadn't bothered with dessert. We had a chocolate lava cake that was fine, but not nearly as good as my chocolate nemesis. It would have been better had they warmed it up a bit more. Overall, though, it was a very nice meal, not The Winds, but good.

The ambiance was an important part of the meal. The patio was lively and when the owner brought out tall heaters, we were reminded of great meals we've had in Monterey & Carmel, particularly one spectacular dinner at Forge in the Forest. There was even live music, which made J really happy.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Sherry, Baby

My dearest poked around online before coming home & found a fabulous recipe for veal with sherry & an assortment of other things which made a delightful dinner. One of the allegations in our current custody case is that we leave empty liquor bottles lying around, I presume after we party all night. I have to laugh because, as I was going through our liquor collection this afternoon, the bulk of it was purchased for recipes. Not cocktail recipes, but food recipes like tonight's. And we rarely empty the bottles very quickly. Jack Daniels for barbecue, sherry & marsala & vermouth for various high-falutin' recipes, kirsch for fondue, a couple bottles of wine that were gifts & have probably gone to vinegar now, Tanqueray for guests desiring martinis. The last time I was drunk was July 3, 1995 and the time before that was 1991. I just don't find that out-of-control feeling at all appealing. J hasn't drunk liquor since the night of her brother's wake. Ridiculous.

Anyway, I don't know what this recipe is called, but it was fabulous & deserves to be made in many homes. It's nice & light. My Beloved served it with angel hair pasta, salad (Giant Eagle brand, which turned out to be flavorless and dry...I like Earthbound Farms best & won't be buying Giant Eagle again. It's almost as bad as Dole) & Italian bread with olive oil & herbs for dipping. I would add a couple wedges of lemon to squeeze over the top of the meat. If you are funky about veal (as, honestly, I am...I kept accidentally telling J that I loved the pork), I'm sure this would be great with chicken, as well. Or even portabellas.

Sherried Veal
2 lb. boneless veal medallions, pounded to 1/4" thickness (J just used veal scallopini)
1 c. flour + 3 tbsp. flour
Salt & white pepper, to taste
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. shredded mozzarella
1/2 c. sherry + 3 tbsp. sherry (please, for the love of God, use real sherry & eschew the "cooking sherry")
1/2 c. butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix 1 c. flour with salt & pepper. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat veal in flour, shaking off the excess. Fry until just browned on each side. Do not cook through. Put in 13 x 9 baking dish & sprinkle with cheese. Wipe skillet clean. Melt butter with 1/2 c. sherry on low heat. Add garlic & cook 30 seconds. Mix 3 tbsp. flour with 3 tbsp. sherry & stir until well-blended. Whisk into butter mixture. Whisk constantly on low until thickened. Adjust seasonings. Pour sauce over veal. Bake 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees.

It was my second fantastic meal of the day. For lunch, I toasted an English muffin. Then, I added thinly-sliced Muenster cheese, basil leaves and tomato slices with a sprinkle of salt. Summer heaven!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Pasta & Kebabs-One Good Turn Deserves Another

Last night, my beloved bride made a delicious dinner for me. Fresh fettucine cooked just barely al dente, with her company's alfredo sauce, tender chicken breast and delicate broccoli florets. To accompany this, she doctored up some pain rustique (rustic bread) with parmesan and garlic, with a few herbs thrown in for good measure. She made a bunch, too, so I didn't have to leave the house or cook to have a great lunch today. For dessert, we had two different kinds of chocolate cookies. Unbeknownst to one another, we had both purchased chocolate cookies. However, we didn't end up eating the ones she chose. They looked lovely and classy, but the taste was decidedly unpleasant. Perhaps there is a market for triple chocolate Seville cookies. We are not part of that market. We are much more the Archway Dutch Cocoa sort.

Since J made me a great dinner (and brought me a gift of journals & a book today), I was really hoping that tonight's dinner would be good for her. Actually, she ended up cooking part of it, the margarita pork kebabs. I hadn't planned on an appetizer, but when I was in the grocery, they had placed a vase of fresh basil bunches right by the front door. The amazing scent wafting toward me was all the marketing ploy they needed. It didn't hurt that the price was very reasonable & the basil was local. I used some pre-made crostini slices, added basil, tomato slices, fresh mozzarella, grey sea salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and we had a perfect appetizer. To go with the pork kebabs, I made a pouch of Uncle Ben's long grain & wild rice blend (not great) & a mess of fried green tomatoes. I've discovered that the trick to keeping them nice and crisp, rather than soggy and unappealing, is to slice very firm green tomatoes very thinly. I also made sure the oil had plenty of time to get hot before adding my tomatoes. Before I put them in the pan, I dipped them in buttermilk and dredged them in a blend of cornmeal and garlic salt. Then, I fried them golden on each side & drained them on paper towels. They were my very favorite part of dinner.

Margarita Pork Kebabs
1/2 c. frozen margarita mix, thawed
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. pork loin, cut in 1" cubes
Baby portabellas, washed gently
Green peppers, cut into 1" pieces
Cipollini onions, peeled

Mix the first three in a gallon-size ziploc baggie. Add pork and let marinate at least 1/2 hour. Put on greased skewers, along with veggies. Grill on a greased rack, covered, until done, about 5 minutes per side. Or, you can bake or broil them, but the veggies' texture suffers. This serves 2 well & is my adaptation of a recipe that appeared in Southern Living in September 1998.

For dessert, we had Midsummer fruit in wine (which my almost-grandma Lenore calls "boozy fruit", a name I prefer) in martini glasses. It's very simple & refreshing:

Boozy Fruit
1/2 c. sugar
2 c. white wine (I used sauvignon blanc tonight)
4 sliced peaches (I did 3 regular & 1 white tonight)
2 c. cherries, pitted and halved

Stir sugar into wine, making sure that it dissolves. Add fruit and let rest at least an hour before serving. This makes plenty, which is a good thing.

Now, I'm off to bed to sip some mint yerba matte, iced with a smidge of organic cane syrup added. Mmm.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Simple Summer Meal

Ah, the wonderful things that can be done with eggs! Last night's dinner was an absolute delight. We had potato & fontina frittata, steamed asparagus and bibb & Boston lettuces with garlic butter dressing. Dessert was the whimsically-named raspberry flummery, which somehow manages to taste like cobbler even though there is no dough.

Potato & Fontina Frittata
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
3/4 lb. fingerling potatoes (since the store was out, I used tiny Yukon Golds)
Salt & pepper
1/4 c. chopped herbs (I used a couple pinches of dried herbes de Provence & it worked out fine)
10 eggs, beaten
8 oz. grated or thinly-sliced Fontina

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat oil & butter in well-seasoned 10" cast iron skillet. Add potatoes, salt and pepper. Cook about 10 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Add herbs. Season eggs with salt & pepper. Add cheese to skillet, then pour eggs over everything. Stir until the eggs start to set slightly. Cook until set on sides and bottom. Put in oven and bake until completely set, about 13 minutes. Cut in wedges to serve. This would be espcially nice with a dollop of sour cream & a sprig of a fresh herb on top.

Garlic Butter Dressing
1/2 stick butter
1 clove garlic, halved
4 tsp. lemon juice
Salt & pepper

Melt butter & cook garlic golden in the butter. Remove from heat & remove garlic. Add the other ingredients, swirling to mix. If you like to eat garlic, though, mince the clove rather than halving it & leave it in. It's yummy that way. Toss this with lettuces and serve pronto.

Raspberry Flummery
3 c. raspberries
3/4 c. cold water
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. cornstarch

Cook berries & water, covered, on med-high about 5 minutes, until berries are tender. Mix the other ingredients together. Slowly add to berries. If you don't do this just a smidge at a time, you will end up with nasty clumps. Cook on low until thickened, about 7 minutes. Chill before serving.

We liked this dinner so much, when my Beloved came home for lunch today, we ate it again.

A Wicked Weekend in the Kitchen

Nothing seems to have gone right in my kitchen over the weekend. Okay, so I exaggerate. In fact, all of Saturday night's dinner went beautifully. It's just that by the time it was ready, we were too tired to want it. Friday was much worse. I tried out a crock pot recipe for "mock lasagna" that I got from a cooking list I used to be on. I was so pleased that I would have dinner all ready for my darling when she got home. However, it was not to be. Something was very wrong with the recipe & I am not experienced enough with crock pots to pick up on it until it was too late. I got everything done & in the pot by 8:30. I was supposed to cook it on low until 4:30 and on high until 8:30. Looking at those directions now, I see that the cook time looks quite long even for a crock pot. Around 10, I started to really smell it. Around 10:30, the smell began to resemble burning and I became alarmed. I added extra water when I saw the burned crust forming around the edges. I stirred & stirred & then put the lid back on. Around 1:30, it was utterly clear that it must cook no longer. I kept it warm until J got home, but I had already decided it was not edible. All the extra water I added (if I'd only thought to use tomato sauce) rendered it flavorless, even though I had managed to keep it from really burning.

So, we decided to eat dessert first and I made a white chocolate & walnut blondie similar to the one they serve at Applebee's. That turned out great! I served it with vanilla ice cream. My favorite part was the sauce. Oh, the sauce! Incidentally, I got this recipe from the very same e-mail list as the disastrous phony lasagna. This isn't as complicated as it looks.
White Chocolate & Walnut Blondie
4 egg whites
1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk
8 oz. white chocolate chunks
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. salt

8 scoops vanilla ice cream
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whip egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Add butter, sugar and vanilla and mix until smooth. Sift together floir, baking soda & powder and salt. Add to the wet ingredients and mix well. Add milk, chocolate and nuts. Pour into greased 13x9 baking pan. Bake 40-45 minutes. Cut into squares. Don't make them too don't want anyone to get sick from the richness!

Make the sauce: Mix all the ingredients with a mixer until smooth. Heat through until melty. It probably wouldn't hurt to double the sauce recipe. Or triple it. I could have cheerfully licked it from the pan.

Serve the cake: Top each slice of cake with a scoop of ice cream. Drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with nuts.

After we ate our dessert, we went book shopping & then had dinner at Hoggy's Barn & Grille. It was remarkably empty for a Friday night. Sadly, they were out of sweet tea so I settled for an anemic glass of lemonade. Sadly, we chose the chicken fritters for our appetizer. Not fritters at all, they were merely chicken tenders masquerading as something interesting. They were very good chicken tenders, but they were still chicken tenders. The bbq sauce was tasty and the buffalo sauce, while mouth-scorching, was too. I got a brisket sandwich, which was overstuffed & a tad bit bland. The macaroni and cheese with chili was an inspired idea. I liked it, but felt that if the chili had not been on top, I would not have liked the mac & cheese one tiny bit. I am opposed to cottage cheese in that dish. J got some kind of sandwich involving pulled pork and Jamaican sauce I think, which also seemed pretty blah. Oh, the food was actually pretty good. I am just being whiny & spoiled. Its major fault was that it was not Bubba's Q in Avon, a far superior barbecue joint, in my humble opinion. Or Hickory Home in Fairview, TN. Or any number of not-chain, for-real barbecue places.

Saturday morning, I had good luck in the kitchen. But, you really can't screw up scrambled eggs. I mixed some salsa & colby-jack cheese in with them, along with a sprinkling of spices...cumin, chili powder, cayenne. I warmed up a couple flour tortillas & satisfied my craving, which came on while I was reading The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Urrea, by pinching up the eggs in bits of tortilla. Yum!

Saturday lunch was so good that we made reservations for Sunday on our way out the door. The Tree House Gallery & Tea Room was heavily laden with cute vintage-y Halloween decorations, rhinestone-studded jackets and purses and scads of women. I should say scads of ladies. For, while they aren't really a tea room, they do specialize in lady food. I am still wondering if I should have had the peach salad. What I did have, both days, was wonderful. On Saturday, I had a cup of chicken artichoke soup & a half chicken salad sandwich on vegetable herb bread. This came with a plateful of fruit. Have I mentioned that I think chicken salad is one of the world's perfect foods? I do and this was up at the top of the list, tangy and delicious. J had lobster bisque, which she loves on any occasion and loved enough this time to order a second cup, and tuna salad on honey oat bread. Their tuna is superb, too. For dessert Saturday, I chose grasshopper pie. Since I was a child, I have been fascinated by this dessert. I never actually tasted it until Saturday, though, since hardly anyone makes it anymore. I felt as though I were at a Junior League luncheon in the years before I was born...or perhaps bridge club in the same era. It was delightful. It gave J all kinds of memories of her childhood & her mom's parties. I was raised on shrimp in beer, lentil pilaf, apple crisp & the blues. She had the card club, Singapore-Sling-drinking ladies, Rat Pack experience.

VEGETARIANS---Skip this part. Trust me.
Saturday night's dinner was supposed to be spectacular. The trouble is, it was so late by the time we actually ate that neither of us wanted it. Oh, we loved the salad, to be sure. But, we simply picked at the wine-braised lamb shanks and lemon caper mashed potatoes. I am guessing that on another occasion, we would have loved it. But, bones & gristle kind of give me the creeps, as does the idea of eating lamb or veal, so maybe the issue was the lamb shanks. I'll try it with boneless beef next time...and at 7 or 8 instead of 10:30! No one in their right mind eats lamb shanks at 10:30 at night. Still, I think the recipe was basically a good one, so here it is.

Wine-Braised Lamb Shanks with Herbes de Provence
5 tbsp. olive oil
2 lg. leeks, white & pale green parts only, chopped
6 cloves garlic, whole
6 (12-14 oz. each) lamb shanks
2 2/3 c. dry red wine
1 c. crushed tomatoes, with some added purée
1/4 oz. dried porcinis
1 1/2 tbsp. herbes de Provence
1 1/4 lb. carrots, cut in 1/2" diagonal pieces
1/2 c. chopped parsley

Heat 1 tbsp. oil in large pot. Add leeks & garlic. Sauté 5 minutes and set aside. Salt & pepper lamb. Dredge in flour, shaking off the excess. Heat the rest of the oil in the pot. Add the lamb and brown evenly on all sides. Add everything but the parsley. Stir to ensure that the lamb is evenly coated. Cover and simmer on med-low about 1 1/2 hours. Uncover & simmer to reduce sauce slightly, about 10 minutes. Skim excess fat. Add salt & pepper to taste. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

WE NOW RETURN TO VEGGIE-FRIENDLY WRITING (in other words...Mom, you can uncover your eyes!)
Lemon-Caper Mashed Potatoes
2 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled & quartered (I actually used red potatoes)
Coarse salt (so says the recipe...I would use regular salt, though, unless you like salt crunchies)
6 tbsp. butter
3/4 c. milk
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. lemon zest
3 tbsp. capers, chopped
1/4 c. flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Boil potatoes in water to cover until tender, about 15 minutes. Mix 5 tbsp. butter, milk, lemon juice & zest, capers. Heat to melt butter. Fold into potatoes. Add parsley, salt and pepper. Dot with butter. Serves 4.

And the salad that we just loved, loved, loved:

Iceberg Wedges with Blue Cheese and Toasted Almonds
2 oz. slivered almonds, toasted
4 1/2 c. crumbled blue cheese (I used Maytag)
1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/3 c. buttermilk
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil
1 head iceberg, cut into 4 wedges

Whisk cheese, lemon juice, buttermilk and oil until fairly smooth. Add pepper. Put the lettuce wedges on 4 salad plates. Top with dressing & sprinkle with almonds. Serves 4.

Sunday breakfast was part of a rather nasty cheese brioche from Starbucks...why do they insist on scarcely having any non-sweet things in their pastry case? And why did I get this again when I knew I didn't like it last time? Luckily, coffee hour at the new church we tried yielded a wonderful treat! Fat slices of lushly ripe watermelon! What a great summer coffee hour idea!

Lunch at the Tree House was again superb. I had wised up & ordered my own cup of lobster bisque. J had one, as well, and lobster salad that was scrumptious. I had a slice of spinach quiche that was quite good. It wasn't Lenore's, but it was good. I love quiche. I always think of Lenore when I have either quiche or fondue, for she is the one who has made them most fequently in my life. For dessert, we split the ridiculously decadent "turtle brownie", warm, ala. The ice cream was a gorgeous shade of light yellow with a rich vanilla flavor. The brownie turned out to be cake, gooey with hot caramel. So yummy, but too rich! I'd have been in trouble had J not split it with me.

Dinner was good, too, with J decreeing that we should eat dinner out because of her fear of another 10:30 dinner & subsequent morning tummy ache! So, we dined at 6 at the Savannah, which was much less smoke-laden than on our previous visit, when we ended up walking right back out due to the smoke clouds billowing around our heads as soon as we walked in. It was a great call, with huge juicy burgers and hand-cut fries available 3 ways (plain, seasoned or Cajun-style). I was disappointed that they didn't have any low-country cooking, but man were those burgers primo!