Friday, June 30, 2006

Chicken Pie for the Ungrateful

Last night, the dinner menu was very easy. Lunch for Mr. Griffin went well and he enjoyed his visit at the plant. I was happy to have an easy dinner planned. I threw it together with nary a sceond thought. Boot had requested my chicken pot pie for his dinner choice this week. I learned how to make it from my first girlfriend's sister, who is a sweet, sweet woman who cooks very well. Her husband, a Wakulla County, Florida boy, says her fudge pie is "so good that if you put it on top of your head, your tongue'll beat a path through your brain to get to it." He is right, and her chicken pie is mighty fine, too.
Chicken Pot Pie
2 pie crusts (I use the pre-made refrigerated kind)
1/2-1 pound chicken breast chunks, cooked
1 can Veg All, drained (I had to use another brand last night & it was fine, but I like Veg All best)
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup

Put one crust in a pie plate. Mix the rest together & pour into crust. Top with second crust, crimping & sealing. Cut slits to vent the top (or use mini cookie cutters for make designs). Bake 1 hour in a preheated 350 degree oven. Let stand at least 10 minutes before serving.

I added a baby spinach salad and melon to round out the meal.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cooking For Mr. Griffin

The gazillionaire owner of my wife's company will be flying in tomorrow in his private jet & will arrive at the plant by limo. He is going to be hungry for lunch at some point, so my wife has roped me into helping with the feeding. I say roped, but it's actually been fun. It's just that she was devious in her methods. She said, "Hey, do you think you could make some mashed potatoes for when Mr. Griffin comes in?" Well, sure, I can make mashed potatoes. No problem. I have been happily going along with her on buying missions, picking up sour cream here and pricing cheesecake there. Then, today, just after I had tasted prototypes of some very tasty sauces, she explained to her QA guys that I am catering the meal and will be in tomorrow before 7. Hmm. News to me. The good news is, she'll be helping me some. Even better, very little of the cooking is actually my responsibility.

So, right now, she is listening to Natalie Merchant (we just took a dance break) and making beef stroganoff with a bunch of filet mignon. I spent the afternoon peeling 15 pounds of potatoes and making them into mashed potatoes, one of the world's perfect foods. Since the idea is to showcase what her plant is producing, I used some of their chicken base in the potatoes & it made them a gorgeous creamy yellow. Added some good flavor, too. Our menu:

Queso (plant-made) and tortilla chips
Greek salad, using their balsamic vinaigrette
Iceberg salad, with their sweet & sour vinaigrette
Fruit trays topped with edible orchids
Tomato basil bisque (plant-made) with parmesan & croutons
Chicken pot pie filling (plant-made) & beef stroganoff (using their onion soup base) over mashed potatoes
Pulled pork, using their BBQ sauce

The secretary says I must eat with them. I will probably do what the real caterers do & eat in the kitchen (in this case, the QA lab) between shifts of eaters.

I also need to remember to send my nice tea box in with J because Mr. Griffin likes to drink tea.

Catering for the Plant Manager

Okay, so the plant manager also happens to be my wife. Last night, she was very busy at work getting ready for the owner's visit. So, she wasn't going to be home until late. She called & asked me to bring the casserole I was making in to work. With a little thinking, I was able to bring dinner hot & delicious to her. My grandmom gave me these wonderful casserole dishes with lids & thermal cases for my birthday two years ago, so I got one of those out & did the casserole in that. It's one of J's favorites, a chile relleno casserole. I was given the recipe by my SoCal friend, Debi, & adapted it.

Chile Relleno Casserole
1 large can green chiles (or if, like me, you can't find them whole or in a large can, use 3 small cans of the minced kind)
7 eggs, separated
2 c. shredded Monterey Jack (or Mexican cheese blend, if you wish)
1 c. shredded Cheddar
1 cooked skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut in chunks (optional...the casserole is delicious without it, too)

Beat egg whites to stiff peaks. Gently fold in yolks. Spray casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray (or grease it the normal way). Cut chiles, if using the whole ones, into wide strips. Spread a layer of chiles on the bottom, then a layer of egg, a layer of Jack cheese, a layer of chicken. Repeat twice, ending with Cheddar on top. Stick in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake 25-30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

With this, I took some steamed asparagus (which I put in a Gladware-type container and drizzled with melted butter & key lime juice), baby spinach, Silver Palate raspberry dressing (which turned out to not be good...I was bummed out because, before I tasted it, it reminded me of dressing I once got at an orange grove in Florida), a little cantadew and some fabulous seeded grain bread from Heinen's. It was really nice having a good, sit-down, home-cooked meal at her plant when she had to work late. Beat the heck out of Burger King drive-thru.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Weekend of Dining Out

I am definitely ready to do some more at-home eating! We ate nearly every meal out over the weekend and while the food was good, I am bored of it! Friday night, we went to the Cleveland Indians game against the Cincinnati Reds, so our dinner was ballpark food. First, J & I split a hot dog with ballpark mustard. Then, J had mini doughnuts while the boys each had a funnel cake and I had a soft pretzel, script "I" in shape. Finally, we had not-terribly good burgers, with slightly sweet garlic fries, while Boot chose pizza.

Saturday, we did eat brunch at home, but it was Bob Evans sausage gravy from the freezer with biscuits from a can. J did, however, make us a great omelet to share, full of Mexican cheese and salsa. Her omelets are wonderful. Dinner was out with my aunt & uncle at a place called Alexander's, where the service was phenomenally slow. The food was tasty, though. My aunt & I enjoyed a margarita apiece with our meals. Boot had about 3 chocolate milkshakes. I couldn't believe J let him do that!!! The most interesting thing we ate there was a shared appetizer of Cuban-style spring rolls, a takeoff of Cuban sandwiches. I may have to try that someday. They left out the pickles, though! J & I had a late night snack of cheesecake, stopping by the Cheesecake Factory on the way home for take-out. Neither boy wanted a slice! So, we ate our chocolate mousse and white chocolate peanut butter cheesecake slices in bed.

Sunday morning was a run through McDonald's on the way to church. Then, we fed the silly boys sandwiches because they declined an offer to go to the Greek festival with us. J tried a Greek beer called Athenos, which she liked. She had chicken with artichokes in lemon-dill sauce & a tyropita for her lunch, while I tried a combo dinner with pastitsio, spanakopita, a Greek meatball and dolmades. Dessert was from the pastry table in the gym...a custard-filled pastry for her and a shredded wheat pastry with honey & nuts for me. I never can keep the Greek pastries straight, name-wise. Dinner was hot dogs, potato salad, coleslaw and watermelon at the pool. Oh, and a hybrid melon we hadn't tried before, Cantadew. We loved it! But, with all the crap we ate over the weekend, it's no wonder J doesn't feel well this week! I'm about ready to eat salad & fruit only for awhile.

We continued the dining out into yesterday, too. J picked me up for lunch at Applebee's yesterday. She ordered a turkey sandwich on ciabatta and I ordered a salad with grilled chicken, apples, walnuts and blue cheese on it. I would definitely order either one of those again. Dinner was at Ruby Tuesday, with more sloooow service, where J chose a turkey burger with a side of broccoli cheese soup while I had a baked potato and white bean chicken chili. Pie had a cheeseburger, which is about all he's interested in having out these days. His phase of being interested in Ethnic foods seems to be well-over for now. Boot had both a chicken quesadilla and wings, along with a smoothie. J got a smoothie, too, and said it was her favorite thing she ate all day.

That meant that the appetizer I made for her here at home got bumped to number two. I did cook yesterday, if not much. I sliced off the top third of 4 fresh figs. Then, I used a melon baller to scoop out some of the insides. I stuffed them with goat cheese and then wrapped them with half-cooked slices of Nueske's bacon. I replaced the tops and broiled them until the bacon was completely cooked. They were waiting for J when she got home from work & she loved them. Next time, I will mix some garlic in with the cheese and dredge the bacon in some brown sugar & cumin. And I will only make two or three for the two of us.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Max & Erma's

Max and Erma's ( is a fairly small restaurant chain that started out with one location in the German Village neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. I remember going to German Village as a child and eating there. Visits also included trips to the fudge shop and the Book Loft. Now that they have expanded, we are able to drive a few minutes to get to one. That was J's choice for dinner last night and I ate too much! Their burgers come in Max size and Erma size. I usually order the Erma, but last night J ordered the Max. We split our dinners because my buffalo chicken sandwich looked good to her & I thought her burger, a new onion burger, sounded good. We also split an order of potstickers with Boot. I subbed a baked potato for fries, since I've been in the mood lately. My favorite part of the meal turned out to be the potato, although the rest was quite good, too, especially the mojito. Pie says if he owned a gay bar, he would sell mojitos for a really high price "because gay people drink a lot of mojitos." I pointed out that straight people seem pretty fond of them, too. Pie only got a kids' cheeseburger & declined to eat his fries. He rarely eats fries. He did manage to down two kids' Oreo shakes, though. Boot ordered a steak skewer and half rack of ribs and ate every scrap, along with a quarter of my chicken sandwich and a bite of J's burger. He drank two apple drinks and, when they didn't put a gummy worm in his drink, he was brought a whole plate of them, which he shared with me & Pie. J doesn't eat gummy anything.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Summer Cocktails

My favorite, being as I'm half-Cuban and all, is the mojito. Not the pomegranate mojito, not a mojito martini, just a plain, old-fashioned mojito. And if the bartender doesn't know what it is without me having to explain it...forget it! The best mojito I've had outside Miami, where I had my first mojito at Casa Juancho ( with my uncle, is to be found at El Meson ( in West Carollton, Ohio. It's a fabulous Cuban-owned Latin dining spot and their mojitos, not to mention their tapas, are superb. Their fresh lime margaritas and caipirinhas are also great! However, until I find a new mojito spot here in Cleveland, I'll have to make my own. I call mine "Diva Mojitos" in honor of my Pittsburgh Diva friends. We all met online and met in person for the first time at the Pittsburgh home of one couple, where we spent the weekend visiting, making prayer beads, and learning how to put more joy in our lives. Oh, we also drank mojitos.
To make one:
8 fresh mint leaves (no subbing mint flavoring or anything of that nature)
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 oz. rum
Club soda
Crushed ice

Put the mint leaves, lime juice, and simple syrup in the bottom of a tall glass. Use a muddler or narrow wooden spoon to crush the ingredients. Add the ice, then the rum and enough club soda to fill the glass. Stir and garnish with a sprig of mint and a wedge of lime.

What are some of your favorite cocktail recipes?


Summer Cocktails

My favorite, being as I'm half-Cuban and all, is the mojito. Not the pomegranate mojito, not a mojito martini, just a plain, old-fashioned mojito. And if the bartender doesn't know what it is without me having to explain it...forget it! The best mojito I've had outside Miami, where I had my first mojito at Casa Juancho ( with my uncle, is to be found at El Meson ( in West Carollton, Ohio. It's a fabulous Cuban-owned Latin dining spot and their mojitos, not to mention their tapas, are superb. Their fresh lime margaritas and caipirinhas are also great! However, until I find a new mojito spot here in Cleveland, I'll have to make my own. I call mine "Diva Mojitos" in honor of my Pittsburgh Diva friends. We all met online and met in person for the first time at the Pittsburgh home of one couple, where we spent the weekend visiting, making prayer beads, and learning how to put more joy in our lives. Oh, we also drank mojitos.
To make one:
8 fresh mint leaves (no subbing mint flavoring or anything of that nature)
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 oz. rum
Club soda
Crushed ice

Put the mint leaves, lime juice, and simple syrup in the bottom of a tall glass. Use a muddler or narrow wooden spoon to crush the ingredients. Add the ice, then the rum and enough club soda to fill the glass. Stir and garnish with a sprig of mint and a wedge of lime.

What are some of your favorite cocktail recipes?


Celebrating Summer's Arrival

It just so happened that Pie's choice for dinner this week turned out to be a great festive food for celebrating the arrival of summer. I'm still not sure what motivated him, my child who suspiciously asks "Is it spicy?" before eating anything, to request jambalaya. Jambalaya! His first choice was gumbo, but then he realized he actually meant jambalaya. Either way, the answer to "Is it spicy?" is going to be a solid "Yes, Pie, it is." Usually, we say something like "Oh, not very" or "Nossir, it is not." In this case, he didn't ask. He just took a big ol' bite. And made a hideous face. And blurted out, "Spicy!!!" His brother, who had doused his with Frank's hot sauce as with everything edible, concurred. I was too busy coughing from the andouille's spice hitting my throat the wrong way to be of any use. J saved the day, offering peanut butter & jelly to all boys who ate their steamed green beans. Both eagerly accepted, Pie letting his watermelon rest in his mouth until the sandwich ("no jelly, please. And, by the way, those are preserves, not jelly. No preserves.") was ready. We went on with our jambalaya and greatly enjoyed it, although it was nice to have the neutralizing green beans & watermelon along with it. While I can make jambalaya from scratch, mine is not as good as the mix I used. I used Tony Chachere's, with Bruce Aidells' andouille. Boot said, "Chachere sounds like an Italian name. Italians don't make jambalaya." I reassured him that Tony Chachere was a native Louisianan and probably Cajun or Creole, with a French name like that. And told him that yes, Italians do too make jambalaya!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

J's Avocado Heaven

The night before last, I made a meal that my dear wife adored, ranking it up with the ravioli with pumpkin cream sauce I made for her a few autumns ago. Since she raved about it, I am posting the recipe. I served this with Spanish rice from a box, butter lettuce salad with her company's balsamic vinaigrette and a cola cake with Creole icing. I thought the cake sucked, but when the foil ripped the icing off last night on the way to the pool, I found out that it was only the icing that sucked. And that's a matter of opinion because my oldest child licked the icing from the foil with glee and the younger requested LOTS of icing with his cake this afternoon. It was far too sweet for me & I didn't even add all the sugar it suggested. However, the cake, devoid of its icing, is pretty tasty, so I will include that recipe, too. It's Sandra Lee cake. Well, not really, but it's certainly only semi-homemade, so those of you who scoff at boxed cake mix will want to scroll past that!

Chicken Avocado Casserole
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cooked & chunked
6 tbsp. butter
4 tbsp. flour
1 c. half & half
1 c. chicken stock
Salt & pepper, to taste
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
2 dashes hot sauce (more, if you like)
1/2 tsp. rosemary
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 c. toasted slivered almonds
2 ripe avocados, peeled & sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in skillet, until foamy. Add flour & cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Slowly add cream & stock, stirring until smooth & thickened. Add salt, pepper, parmesan, hot sauce, rosemary, basil & stir well. Put chicken in 2 quart casserole & season with salt & pepper. Pour sauce over chicken & bake 25 minutes. Sprinkle with almonds & bake 10 minutes. Top with avocado & bake another minute or two.

Easy Cola Cake
1 box devil's food cake mix (not the pudding-in-the-mix kind)
1 (3.9 oz.) package instant chocolate pudding
4 eggs
1/2 c. oil
10 oz. cola (1 1/4 c.)

Mix all but cola on low. Bring the cola to a boil over medium heat. Gradually beat into batter. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes. Pour into greased & floured 9x13 pan. Bake 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees. This needs no icing, but would probably be delightful with powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Take it to the pool to share...we did!

What we had with the cake at the pool:
-Grilled steak (J's choice & I didn't even bother trying to dissuade was great, too. The kids don't really like filet mignon much, so they got t-bones. They also don't like cactus butter, so Boot ate his with Frank's Hot Sauce, which he puts on everything, and Pie had his plain)
-Baked potatoes
-Butter lettuce with bottled Caesar
-Fresh pineapple, golden & sweet
-Really yucky starfruit...I don't know how to pick them & it was obvious last night! Yuck! They looked gorgeous, starting to go orange, and I figured they must be better that way than when they're simply yellow. Nope. They sure looked pretty on the plate, though, and Boot said, "Hey, how come you guys got the cool-looking pineapple???"

I also enjoyed some Lindemans Framboise Raspberry Lambic Beer, the only beer I will drink. It is like a mouthful of fresh raspberry heaven, with bubbles. It's a little pricey for me, but well worth it for the occasional indulgence.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Cooking For My Grand Father

Okay, so I wasn't the primary chef this weekend...and we did our share of eating out. The fact remains that we cooked for my granddaddy, the primary father figure in my life, this weekend. He has been doing a chemo-at-home treatment this week and we thought it would be good to check in on them. We enjoy their company so much, anyway, that the visit is always a real treat for us.

On the way to their place, we stopped for dinner at Macaroni Grill. I hadn't been to a Macaroni Grill since I'd lived in Nashville & it was across the street from my workplace. I really enjoyed the rosemary bread and olive oil before the meal. The bread is just the right combination of chewy and soft. J wanted the combination appetizer because I wanted bruschetta and she wanted calamari. The calamari was good, if a tad overcooked, but the bruschetta left a great deal to be desired. I guess I am spoiled by mine. There was also fried mozzarella, which was much less rubbery, and therefore more appealing, than most I encounter. I would have been perfectly happy to have only the bread for our appetizer. The main course, though, was very good. I had chicken scallopine, jazzed up with artichoke hearts and sparked with plenty of lemon. J had bowtie pasta with garlic cream sauce, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, and caramelized onions, also very tasty. Dessert was the peach Bellini I ordered with dinner...not as good as the ones at Bravo, but still plenty good.

J spent time in the kitchen Saturday morning, making a batch of French onion soup using her company's base and adding a bunch more onions, plus some thyme & tarragon. When planning dinner for my grandparents, she was aggravated with my constant reminders that they eat very plain, low-fat food. They have followed a heart-healthy diet since my grandfather had a valve replacement in 1986. Most of their dinners are plain baked chicken or poultry. J's way of showing love is to create lush meals for people. She is also a great lover of spices and salt. I talked her into pork chops baked with just a smidge of salt & pepper. She rebelled by adding paprika, when she really wanted to bread and fry them. I talked her into rice, when she wanted to make mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese. Knowing my grands' eating habits, I knew rice would be well-received. When I suggested rice, she said, "Rice??? How are you going to cook it???" Luckily, my grandmom already had some cooked...jasmine rice, boiled with sesame oil. It is inconceivable to my wife that plain rice can be wonderful. She also picked up a packet of green beans with slivered almonds to go with dinner. We hung out with my grands while they ate, then nipped out to The Winds for our own dinner. We love The Winds and my grandparents don't see what all the fuss is about. They tend more towards Bob Evans or Der Dutchman. Well, my grandmother loves Vietnamese & Chinese food, too, and my granddad likes them fine. But, they think The Winds is too expensive & too frilly.

We had our dinner out on the patio, served by one of our favorites, Carmen. Howard was there, too, and his service is always wonderful. The evening was warm and the candlelight lovely on the patio. We started with the bread basket and a small dish of olives. The olives at The Winds are delicious, marinated with citrus zest. The ciabatta in the bread basket was fabulous, so we bought a loaf for Father's Day dinner. I have been wanting to try soft-shell crabs for awhile. I don't like regular crab much...too sweet for me...but have heard softshells are delightful. I figured that The Winds was the best place to try something new & they were on the menu for small plates. J is horrified by the fact that you eat the shell, too, so she opted for the cheese service. I liked the crab, although when I thought about the fact that I was eating crab, I stumbled. I found the legs to be my favorite part. The crab was served on a bed of lime-spiked slaw and drizzled sparingly with crema fresca. I'm almost glad they were out of our much-adored Nueske's bacon-wrapped figs with goat cheese because I would have ordered those instead of trying the crab.

The cheeses were great, of course. We tried Fiscalini Bandage-Wrapped Cheddar (made in Modesto & aged 18 months), Oakvale Farmstead Aged Gouda (made in London, Ohio, and fabulous), Pimentino (a semi-soft Italian goat cheese made in Murcia that has a paprika-rubbed rind), Pipe Dreams goat cheese (which I found to be delicious & J called "stinky toe cheese") and one of my favorite triple crèmes, Belletoile. These were served with meltingly soft quince paste and a Medjool date.

For our main course, we split the halibut with bouilli butter and Israeli couscous. Soup or salad comes with the main course, so I chose the Catalan garbanzo stew. J hated it on first taste, but I thought it was good. However, it was nothing to the fantastic halibut! I had meant to order it on green rice rather than couscous because I am normally horrifed by couscous. I am so glad I forgot! The couscous, unlike the usual kind I find, consisted of pearls the size of large tapioca and was wonderful. The fish was delicate and perfect. It was seasoned with saffron, orange, star anise, fennel, and garlic, yet it was not at all overwhelmed. In the bottom of the bowl was a tomato lemon broth that gently added flavor, as well. Wow! Great food! Dessert was superb, as always. The Winds makes some of the best cheesecake I've ever had and the flavor for the night was chocolate espresso. I was tempted by the strawberries with saba and black pepper, by the strawberry rhubarb shortcake, by the peach cherry pie, by their incomparable chocolate mousse (made with Scharffen Berger and Kahlua). However, the cheesecake won out and it was inutterably lovely. J had just planned to nib on whatever I chose, but then she saw that they had cannoli cake and there was nothing but to order it. She loved it. And I was glad I didn't have to split the cheesecake. If you're ever in Yellow Springs, Ohio, you must go to The Winds! is their website address.

Sunday morning, J got back into the kitchen and made some wonderful beef stroganoff. She had asked my granddad what he'd like for his Father's Day dinner & suggested a few things she had in mind. When she said, "Beef stroganoff" he said that it was like the lightbulb word. It was exactly what he wanted. While she cooked, I visited with my granddad & looked through my grandmom's 1943 edition of The Joy of Cooking, glad I am not cooking my way through it in ANY amount of time. J saw a recipe for beef a la Lindstrom (Swedish meatballs) and decided that's what she's making next time we go down. My grands would also like me to make my chicken pot pie for them. We sat down to a noon dinner of beef stroganoff over egg noodles & corn before we cleaned up the kitchen & hit the road for home, leaving plenty of leftovers. I would post the stroganoff recipe, but J rarely cooks with a recipe.

Last night, we had a simple dinner of tacos, corn on the cob, and pineapple. I wish I had gotten fresh pineapple or even another brand of canned. The store brand I got was anemic and not even worth eating. The rest of dinner was good, though, and we retreated to the hot tub afterward with happy tummies.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Ursula's Banana Bread

Haven't been doing much cooking this week, as J seems to have taken that over for now. She is really enjoying grilling at the pool, so I allowed her to usurp dinner last night in favor of Hebrew Nationals at the pool. However, I did take advantage yesterday of the blackened bananas we had sitting around and made banana nut bread, which my wife & oldest child adore. Pie is pretty fond of it, too. This is my great-grandma's recipe:

2 c. sifted flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. butter
1 egg, beaten until light in color
2 mashed bananas, very ripe
1/2 c. buttermilk (you can also use 1/2 c. sweet milk with 1 tbsp. vinegar added)
1/2 c. chopped nuts (I usually use walnuts)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour, baking powder, soda, and salt together. Set aside. Cream sugar and butter together until light in color. Add egg. Beat in bananas and buttermilk. Gradually add flour & mix until incorporated. Add nuts. Pour into greased loaf pan & bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

This is great for breakfast or tea-time. Or just whenever you feel like a yummy sweet.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Sausage Sandwiches by the Pool

Or, J's night to cook. And I managed to talk her out of steak!!! Not that I don't like steak, just that she ALWAYS makes steak when it's her turn to cook. I am tired of it right now. So, I was walking around the grocery with her, pointing out all these other things that might be good to grill. Nope, no dice. Until I spotted the hot Italian sausage patties. Those looked good to her. I wouldn't have been successful, I imagine, had the steaks looked a little better.

So, we packed up a bunch of food and went down to the pool, where we had to wait for an open grill. The guy before us was making bbq chicken & it smelled divine. As we waited, we munched on kettle chips, carrot slices, celery sticks, and cauliflower florets, dipped in veggie dip. J had picked up the Knorr veggie soup & dip mix, so I made that (1 envelope mixed with 16 oz sour cream & 1 c. light mayo). It was very good! J made sausage sandwiches on onion buns for the adults (I wished I'd chosen Italian blend cheese for mine instead of American once I'd tasted hers) and bacon cheeseburgers for the boys. We had a tiny seedless watermelon for dessert, along with some white cake that a fellow complex dweller brought to the pool to share.

Not a terribly exciting post, but there it is.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Comfort Casserole

As unclassy as that macaroni casserole known variously as goulash, Johnny Marzetti, or American chop suey is, I could eat it every day for a week. Happily. Last night, I made it for our dinner, along with Fordhook limas, Fresh Express' blue chese vinaigrette salad (quite good and I added some extra Maytag chunks on top), soft Italian bread scattered with poppyseeds, and nectarines Romanoff. Here is the recipe:
American Chop Suey
8 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked 2 tbsp. olive oil
14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained 3/4 lb. burger
8 oz. shredded sharp cheddar 1 stalk celery, diced
1 onion, diced 1/2 tsp. soy sauce

Stir tomatoes and cheese into hot macaroni until cheese is melted. Cook onion in oil until soft, about 3 minutes. Add meat & cook until browned. Add celery & soy and heat through. Add meat mixture to macaroni and mix well.

And the nectarines, which I used instead of strawberries when the store was out of organic strawberries:
Nectarines Romanoff
3 nectarines, pitted and diced 2 tbsp. orange liqueur
1 tbsp. honey (or to taste) Whipped cream (I whipped mine with a smidge of sugar)
Mix fruit with honey and liqueur. Cover and chill a couple hours. Serve topped with whipped cream. This is really nice when served in stemmed dessert dishes or wine glasses, but mine are still packed!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Our First Meal at the Table!

I finally got enough boxes unpacked yesterday for us to all sit down at the table for dinner. It was very plain, simple food. I made sage meatloaf, Rice-a-Roni because I was too lazy to make the Lorraine potatoes I'd planned, steamed broccoli, and artichokes. I found the meatloaf bland, but J loved it. The kids hate meatloaf of any kind, although Pie liked this one. They love burgers, hate meatloaf. I don't get it. I bet if I made meatloaf into patties and called it burgers, they'd love it. Pie loved the Rice-a-Roni. Boot liked it, too. Surely I have made Rice-a-Roni sometime in the past 5 years, but it was completely new to them. J said she loved dinner & Boot said, "I'm sorry, but I hated it." He was really nice about it, though, and amended it to "I did like the Rice-a-Roni" to make up for saying he hated it. LOL! What he really liked were the strawberries with sugar and cream J made for dessert. He drank all the remaining cream after we were finished, like a little cat. My strawberries went to bed with me. I like them better unadorned, but J adds sugar & cream because she loves us, so I don't complain. My favorite part of the meal was the artichokes, leaves dipped in melted key lime butter. Boot watched us scrape the leaves with our teeth & asked how we could possibly eat that. We offered to share, but were turned down.

Since J loved the meatloaf, I'll post the recipe in case someone else does, too.
Sage Meatloaf
2/3 c. dry breadcrumbs 1 tbsp. sage
3/4 c. milk 1 tsp. salt
2 large eggs, beaten 1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 c. finely-chopped onion 1 lb. ground beef
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce 1/2 lb. ground pork

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Soak milk and crumbs together for 5 minutes. Add eggs, onion, Worcestershire sauce, sage, salt, pepper. Mix well. Add meats and mix. Put in loaf pan and bake 1 1/2 hours. Let stand 5-10 minutes before slicing.

House-Packing Food

In other words, largely crap. I had to go down to the old house to finish packing up the things I didn't get to before the movers came. I had been dreading it, with good reason, but my mom was in town and, thank you Jesus, agreed to help. I picked up McDonald's for breakfast on the way down Monday morning. I was given an extra hash brown by the man whose Pride bracelet I admired. Food as a way to recognize and appreciate members of the tribe...gotta love it!

When my mom & I had tired of packing and were hungry, she took me to lunch at Bob Evans. It's not the most vegetarian-friendly place, but my mom was happy at the prospect of grilled cheese and fries. I had planned to get the chicken salad plate, chicken salad being one of my all-time favorite foods. However, my mom's enthusiasm over the grilled cheese was contagious, so we both ended up with the same order. It was good, too, if a little bread-heavy. I don't think Texas toast is a proper bread for grilled cheese.

Dinner ended up being much, much later. I decided to stay overnight, with my mom, at my grandparents' house. So, when we finally ate at 11 at night, it was pieced together from what my grandmom had around. We started with a boiled egg apiece, then moved on to these snacky little Mediterranean pizzas from the freezer, with feta, olives & tomatoes. I had a smidge of my grandmom's yummy potato salad, while my mom finished up the baked beans. All this accompanied by chocolate chai tea, with my mom's homemade chocolate cake (with orange zest in place of vanilla). Sounds like a very odd dinner, and sure to impart weird dreams, but it was tasty and well-appreciated after a hard day's work.

We started our morning with a Braeburn apple and key lime pie yogurt, then got to work again. I left for home at lunch-time and did another McDonald's run. I was too rushed to bother with something decent...and was really glad to be getting back to my kitchen that night! I suppose McDonald's is all well and good for some purposes, but it gets tiresome very quickly. Unless you're one of my kids.

I stopped for a vanilla latté on the way home, which gave me the energy to plunge into cooking as soon as I walked in the door. J was planning to grill the Lithuanian sausage, along with Bar S hot dogs for the kids. So, I made guacamole potato salad, unlovely to behold but superbly avocado-y. The kids were unwilling even to try it. I got the recipe from the June/July 2001 issue of Family Fun magazine.
Guacamole Potato Salad
3 lbs. red potatoes, cubed 2 crushed garlic cloves
2 tbsp. + 1-1 1/2 tsp. salt 1/2 c. chopped cilantro
1 avocado, peeled & pitted 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tsp. grated lime zest 2 celery stalks, sliced
Juice of 2 limes (1/2 cup or so)

Boil potatoes with 2 tbsp. salt just until tender. Puree avocado, lime zest & juice, garlic, cilantro, mayonnaise and remaining salt until smooth. Mix this dressing with potatoes and celery. Chill.

We took the food down to the pool to grill. J & I had our sausage with The Ojai Cook's lemonaise, which is good with just about everything. We also had tortilla chips with market pico de gallo. Dessert was Pink Lady apples (J's favorite variety) and navel oranges.

Sunday Night Chicken

Well, first there were Sunday morning pancakes. We had brunch at the IHOP in Avon. I ordered the pancake combo, with scrambled eggs (add cheese), bacon, hash browns, and 2 buttermilk pancakes. The hash browns, oddly enough, were my favorite part of the meal. They were traditional diner hash browns, light and fluffy. The pancakes were too heavy for me. I rarely like pancakes, anyway, so I'm not sure why I ordered them except that I was at IHOP . I am more of a waffle gal when I have sweets for breakfast. J, on the other hand, likes French toast. So, she ordered a French toast combo, with decadent banana-stuffed French toast. When I sampled it, I could see the appeal, if you like dessert for breakfast...and if you like bananas, which I seldom do.

For dinner, I tried a new chicken recipe which everyone but Boot loved. He loved it, too, until Pie asked what the stuff in the middle was. Boot hadn't noticed that the chicken was stuffed & when he found out there was cheese in the chicken, he was disgusted. His loss.

Gouda-Stuffed Chicken
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts 2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 c. smoked gouda, shredded 3/4 c. fine dry breadcrumbs
1/2 c. flour 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
Salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut a pocket in each chicken breast. Stuff each pocket with 1/4 cup cheese. Combine the flour, salt (I used garlic salt), and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour, dip in egg, then coat in crumbs. In a large ovenproof skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. When hot, but not smoking, cook the chicken until nicely browned on both sides. Bake chicken at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes, until cooked through.

To go with the chicken, J made a box of Amy's Mexican pasta, doctoring it with extra salsa and some queso dip her plant makes. It was my favorite part of the meal, but I am a mac & cheese nut anyway. I made roasted green beans, too. They turned out beautifully.

Roasted Green Beans
1 lb. green beans, washed & trimmed Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 tbsp. olive oil Freshly-ground pepper

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Yes, 500. Spread beans on baking sheet and drizzle with oil. Bake 6-8 minutes, turning occasionally, until tender. Sprinkle with juice & pepper.

We capped the meal off with Boston Coolers for dessert. If you are unfamiliar with the lingo, it's just a fancy way of saying ginger ale floats. I prefer root beer, but Pie was delighted with his.

Market Food

It didn't take us long to make it to the West Side Market. First weekend without the kids and we were there. Parking was hard, but not impossible and we were soon strolling through the semi-outdoor produce section, one short and one long side of the building. The market is in what looks like an old train station, with a gallery above where people sit and enjoy their snacks and people-watch. We hadn't eaten breakfast, so after we picked up some Lithuanian sausage, we were on the lookout for something good to eat. We'd each had a vanilla latté but were ready for something not sweet. We found it in a booth of English foods. Since we couldn't decide between a Cornish pasty and a breakfast pie filled with sausage and eggs, we got both. Turns out we should have gotten a couple more pasties instead of the pie. The pastry on the pie was delightful and we probably would have loved it, if we'd not had the pasty for comparison. However, we did and it was delicious! J wished we had another almost immediately. When we finally went back, the booth had closed for the day. I'll have to surprise her with some soon.

We found a number of wonderful things to buy, a couple of filets for dinner, cheeses, spices, pico de gallo, bread, and lots of produce. Baby artichokes, $2 for a pound and a half. Raspberries at $2.50 a pint. We also found a number of things we'll buy entire booth with nothing but pierogies, another selling gorgeous peach pies, a collection of huge brown eggs, numerous varieties of enchilada.

Once our groceries were safely stashed in the fridge at home, I packed up a picnic basket and some beach gear & stowed it in the trunk for J's surprise picnic at the lake. As we dozed & read with the waves rhythmically rushing in, we snacked on sun-warmed Stilton studded with strawberries, soft pillows of ciabatta, pepitas, cashews, and enormous, sweet red raspberries.

On the way home from the beach, I had a notion to get some ice cream. I was interested in trying something distinctively Cleveland, so I disappointed J, who requested Coldstone Creamery. I love that, but we had been able to get it in Dayton. So, I drove to Mitchell's, to try what is rumored to be Cleveland's best ice cream. It's all handmade, in small batches. I don't yet know if it's Cleveland's best, but it's fabulous! J's disappointment over skipping the mix-ins at Coldstone was short-lived. She got peanut butter chocolate chip on a sugar cone, while I chose mint chip to grace my cone. We stuck to one scoop and that's really all we needed. J said while we were eating, "This sure beats Young's!" No news to me, since I have never understood the fuss about Young's Jersey ice cream. It's fine, but no great shakes in my opinion, despite the repeated national press over the years. For me, the charm of Young's was always that they were open 24 hours & were thus convenient for all night coffee and conversation jags. My old friend Mark and I used to ride up there at 3 a.m. on his motorcycle & talk until the sun came up. Now that they close at 11 or 12, forget it.

We had more market food for dinner. J made the filets she had picked up, with a prime rib rub from the spice stand. I found my piece to be somewhat tough for filet, although tasty. J loved hers, though. Perhaps I was having one of those nights when nothing is quite right. J cooked up a bunch of onions and garlic in sherry to top her steak, while I added Maytag blue cheese to mine. We had asparagus with lemon butter along with the steak.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Ají & Lizard Wings

But, not together. Although, the combination would certainly not be abhorrent. J & I have had a fabulous Colombian sauce called ají at our favorite Latin restaurant, El Meson in West Carrollton, Ohio, on several occasions. She has been talking about how much she loves it & asked me to make it last night as a snack when she got home after a work day that started at 5. So, of course, I did. However, I was thinking, "This is going to be a disappointment. It won't be the same as El Meson's and it won't be as good." Half of that was true. It is not exactly the same as the ají they serve at El Meson. However, it was fantastic! Or, as J put it, "Fucking amazing!!!" I had wanted to pick up more olive oil bread to dip in it, but Giant Eagle didn't have any, so I subbed a mini Italian loaf, which worked just fine. I whipped it up lickety-split when J got home and it was gone lickity-split, too. Here's how...but, you might want to double the recipe if you're an ají piggy like we are.
3 ripe plum tomatoes, 3 thinly-sliced green onions, white part only
seeded and diced to 1/4" (I like to serve the rest whole, with dip)
1 tbsp. lemon juice 2 tbsp. white vinegar (apple cider vin's fine)
1 tsp. kosher salt 1/4 c. olive oil
1 tsp. hot sauce 1/2 c. ch. cilantro (or flat-leaf parsley if cilantro tastes like soap to you)

Whisk all ingredients together in a non-reactive bowl & serve with bread, tortilla chips, etc. for dipping. I like bread better than chips with this, though.

After catching a movie and ordering a ridiculously large tub of popcorn (At this point, I could go on a heartfelt rant about movie theater food and how damn expensive it is, but I will refrain since many of you have probably gone on similar rants) there, we went for dinner at The Winking Lizard Tavern. Because they have gone completely non-smoking inside, we were able to sit right next to the iguana tank. It was a perfect observation opportunity, between the lizard himself and the table of 19 women and 1 man seated by us. Said table caused our service to be mind-numbingly slow. Luckily, we had Mr. Lizard to focus on. He even moved around in his tank for us, causing our youngest to spend much of the meal moving from one side to to the other side of the tank in rapt attention. Three of us had boneless wings, with Pie opting for a bacon cheeseburger. We were meanies and did not allow him to get a double. A single is half a pound! I cannot, in good conscience, order my 11-year-old son a pound of meat, plus cheese and bun. I ordered my wings mild, not knowing how much of a wallop the hot would pack. I am safe in ordering hot next time. J had garlic wings, which definitely were garlicky...and good. Boot's were less tasty and too hot for me...he ordered cajun & spent the meal mooching wings off of us, who had ordered more prudently. He likes to prove his manliness by ordering really hot stuff, but usually ends up not eating it, telling us it wasn't the heat that bothered him. Perhaps not, but we are seeing a definite pattern! We also got an order, for the table, of cheesy bacon fries, which were drenched in a silken cheese sauce but were nonetheless unremarkable. The house-made root beer, though, was definitely something to be ordered again...good strong rooty flavor that I don't usually get even in braggart root beers.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

June Dinners

What's planned, at least!
1: J's choice (probably Winking Lizard fare aprés movie, with an aji & bread snack before movie)
2: Herb-crusted shrimp (or, possibly tostadas), rice, spinach & avocado salad, key lime sorbet
3: J's choice
4: Chicken surprise, macaroni & cheese, roasted green beans, Boston coolers
5: Sage meatloaf, Lorraine potatoes, broccoli
6: J's choice (probably brats & potato salad with avocado by the pool)
7: Cheeseburgers, fries, lima beans
8: J's choice
9: Dinner with family
10: Dinner with family
11: American chop suey (AKA goulash/Johnny Marzetti), salad, peas, strawberries Romanoff
12: Chicken avocado casserole, Spanish rice, salad, cola cake with Creole icing
13: J's choice
14: Tacos, corn, pineapple, salad
15: J's choice
16: Tuna casserole, green bean salad, grapefruit spritzers
17: J's choice
18: Costillas de puerco, machuquillo, salad, daiquiris
19: Potato-crusted halibut, spinach with raspberry vinaigrette, rice, snickerdoodles
20: J's choice
21: Gumbo, biscuits, watermelon
22: J's choice
23: Chile relleno casserole, salad, mandarin oranges
24: J's choice
25: Breakfast casserole, toast, fruit salad
26: Crazy Ed's chicken, potato salad, asparagus, key lime bars
27: J's choice
28: Pizza, salad, fruit
29: J's choice
30: Anniversary dinner out

Wow, it seems the dice have turned up a lot of casseroles & Latin food for June!

And So I Begin

Since my other blog tends to be me blathering on about all facets of my daily life, I thought it would be fun for me and better for my foodie/chowhound readers to have a blog specifically about food. Not just recipes, but dining out, things cooked for me, shopping, and the like as well.

My cooking experience in my new life in Cleveland has been fairly limited. The kitchen is not yet completely unpacked (and in fact, not all the components have arrived from the Greene County house yet). Still, I have managed to make some decent dishes. I think the boys are sorry that we cook at all. At 13 & 11, they'd be thrilled to have Pizza Hut or McDonald's all the time. Alas for them, it is not to be so.

The first few days of eating here were primarily, however, those sorts of things. Our first night, J had some wonderful fig/goat cheese/bacon appetizers, from the frozen section at Giant Eagle, all ready for me. After we'd fed the kids pizza and put them to bed, she warmed these & we sat on the balcony with them and Simply Lemonade (which I highly recommend, along with Newman's, if you're not going to make your own). We've tried pizza/subs/calzones from Georgio's (which are fine, but not anyhing spectacular). J grilled ribs with Jack Daniels' No. 7 sauce down by the pool Sunday. They were delicious. So was the Jarlsberg spread we picked up at Giant Eagle's deli to go along with our olive oil bread. It was tangy and smooth and fabulous. Must find recipe. Not so the steakhouse potato salad. We'd hoped to find some kind of delightful redskin potato salad with perhaps a sour cream and dill-based sauce. We settled for this other when we found the deli completely wiped out of salads. Should have made it ourselves. This was nearly inedible and went into the trash promptly.

Monday, I tried a recipe for Pan-Seared Filet with Merlot Sauce from The Gourmet Cookbook. Nearly every recipe I have tried thus far from this cookbook has turned out great and it's a superb resource for any cook's shelves. I served this with potatoes which J baked for a ridiculously long time (and which were absolutely lush and fabulous), steamed asparagus (I melted butter with fresh lemon juice for dipping), and mixed baby greens (NOT Dole! Never Dole. I like Earthbound Farms the best, but could only find Fresh Express here...although I expect the farmer's market will yield good greens) with warm pecan vinaigrette. The dressing was the one and only not-turning-out recipe from the cookbook, but I suspect it had more to do with the cook (and lack of measuring tools at this point in the move) than with the recipe, so I'll include it here. J liked it even though it turned out to be more of a sprinkle than a dressing. She loved the steak, as did I. The boys liked it fine, but Boot doused the poor thing with steak sauce and both refused to try the merlot sauce. Their loss. Here are my adaptations of the recipes.
Pan-Seared Filet with Merlot Sauce
1/4 c. water 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. sugar 1/4 tsp. pepper
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar (I used balsamic) 6 (1 & 1/4" thick) filets
3 tbsp. butter 1 tsp. salt
1 finely-chopped onion 1/2 tsp. pepper
2 c. Merlot (or other dry red) 2 tbsp. oil (I used extra-virgin olive oil)
2 c. veal stock + 1 c. water (I cheated & used canned, less sodium beef broth)

Mix water & sugar in 1 qt. heavy pan & bring to boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil w/o stirring to a golden caramel. Remove from heat and carefully pour vinegar down the side of the pan. Cook, stirring to dissolve any clumps, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Melt butter in another pan. Cook onion in butter, stirring often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add wine & bring to a boil. Boil until reduced to about 1 cup, about 5 minutes. Add stock/water combo & bring to boil, reducing to about 2 cups, about 10 minutes. Season with salt & pepper. Strain wine/stock into caramel (I reserved the onions left behind to serve on the steak, a good plan, as it turned out). Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and adjust seasonings. Cover and keep warm. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Dry steaks and season them with salt and pepper. Heat oil on medium-high. Sear steaks until well-browned, about 5 minutes. Roast on baking sheet 10 minutes. Let stand on plate, loosely wrapped in foil, 5 minutes. Drizzle with sauce before serving. Serves 6.

Warm Pecan Vinaigrette
3 tbsp. olive oil (unless otherwise noted, this means extra-virgin) 1 1/2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
3 finely-chopped cloves garlic 1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. chopped pecans 1/4 tsp. pepper

Heat oil. Add garlic & nuts & cook, stirring, until garlic is golden. Add rest of ingredients. Pour hot over greens. Serves 6.

For dessert, I made a strawberry and chocolate pie from a 1995 Better Homes & Gardens. Boot refused to try it because he thinks strawberries & chocolate don't go together. Pie was simply not interested. However, J & I have shared a slice in bed on a few occasions this week. Very easy, very yum.
Strawberry and Chocolate Pie
1 c. (6 oz.) chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli) 9" piecrust, baked & cool (I almost always 8 oz. cream cheese, softened cheat with a pre-made crust)
3 tbsp. honey 4 c. strawberries (go for organic!)

Melt chocolate over low heat (I used the microwave, though). Let cool. Beat cream cheese on low until softened completely. Gradually add chocolate & honey, beating to incorporate. Spread in pie crust. Cover & chill 1-2 hours (providing ample time to enjoy the pool & hot tub). Top with berries (I quartered mine, but would halve them next time). Drizzle with extra melted chocolate, if desired.

J & I celebrated our 4 year and 5 month wedding anniversary at Brendan O'Neill's, an Irish pub with a full complement of poker tables. We split an order of pub chips sparingly scattered with blue cheese and served with a somewhat thin but tasty onion dip for our appetizer. Then, J dug into a very tender salmon fillet, cheese-sauced and served on top of a bed of what seemed like an entire, perfectly ripe avocado. Stunningly bland mashed potatoes were on the side. I had the shepherd pie, the first time I've eaten someone else's. Very flavorful, with a rich undertone we couldn't quite identify. Our waiter, Marc, was very friendly and accomodating (even picking J's beer for her when she couldn't decide & asked for something "light and not skunky"...whatever arrived fit the bill nicely) and the atmosphere was rich for the senses. The banquettes were covered in fabric that resembled carpet, old-fashioned carpet like carpetbags would have been made from, and there were old books above the bar. We snuggled and played Van Morrison and the Violent Femmes on the jukebox and generally had a great time. The boys got to have McDonald's & were ecstatic over this. Pie is a loon for Big Macs.

Yesterday, I had guacamole waiting for J when she got home from work, along with a bag of Sunny Blues (great organic blue corn chips with sunflower seeds adding a nutty flavor). We lounged at the pool for a bit before returning home to make a simple dinner. Pie had requested French food for his choice, but seemed little interested at that point, so J made grilled cheese with corn and bananas (next to, not on the sandwiches) for them. Boot was adventuresome enough to consent to ham on his sandwich...American cheese, deli ham, and Wonder bread. After they went to bed, we had Campbell's beef & barley soup with grilled cappicola & asiago on olive oil bread. It was the perfect dinner to enjoy as a thunderstorm rolled in. Then, we shared pie in bed.