Monday, February 19, 2007

Lundi Gras

We are a family of Mardi Gras lovers. Pie says he wants to open his bed & breakfast in New Orleans because that's where Mardi Gras is biggest. I long to go there one of these years. Maybe he'll go to school there. That would be a great excuse to go, just as I plan to make my cousins' attendance at school in Savannah a wonderful reason to hit that town! Maybe for St. Patrick's Day?

This year, though, if we go on vacation at all, it will be either to visit my mom in West Virginia or my dad & uncle in Miami. So, we celebrate at home. It's funny, Cleveland doesn't seem to be a big Mardi Gras kind of place. I haven't seen any king cakes for sale or anything like that. Good thing I had a Mam Papaul mix. I got mine at Jungle Jim's in Fairfield, Ohio ( but you might check if your local grocer doesn't carry it. You can always make it from scratch. I haven't tried that yet, since baking isn't really my thing. I chose the praline filling. I make a King Cake every year on Mardi Gras Day and last year, I made one with fudge filling. My dearest wife didn't like it as much, so I am back to praline. As soon as that baby cools, I am going to glaze and sugar it, then hit the Dante again. I plan to wear full Mardi Gras regalia of either tiara or pink cowgirl hat, boa and plenty of beads to school tomorrow. I am taking a King Cake to class, too.

Tonight, Pie brought out his beads for dinner and I need to dig mine out, too. I usually make something Louisiana-style for our dinner. Most often, it's jambalaya, but I have been known to make chicken or shrimp creole as well. This year, my wife is infatuated with pasta. So, when I saw a Rachael Ray recipe for a pasta version of jambalaya, I knew I had to make it. This is my adaptation of a very tasty dish for Mardi gras or anytime you want something a little spicy.

Jambalaya Pasta
1 lb. penne
2 tbsp. olive oil
12 oz. andouille, casing removed, meat diced (I used Emeril's Kicked-Up Smoked Sausage in deference to Pie's tender taste buds)
2 tbsp. butter
2 finely-chopped cloves garlic
1 chopped poblano pepper
1 small chopped green pepper (or whatever color you like best)
2 chopped celery stalks
1 chopped onion
2 tbsp. flour
1 c. beer
1 c. chicken broth
14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 tbsp. hot sauce
2 tsp. thyme
1/2 lb. diced skinless, boneless chicken breast
1/2 lb. shrimp, with tails and shells removed
1/4 c. heavy cream

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside. Heat a large skillet. Add oil and heat. Add sausage and brown. Remove to paper-towel-lined plate with slotted spoon. Add butter, garlic, poblano and green peppers, celery and onion. Cook 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in flour and cook 2 minutes. Whisk in beer and cook until beer is evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add next 4 ingredients. Bring to a boil. Add chicken and shrimp, cover and cook until they are cooked through, about 7 minutes. Add cream. Stir into pasta. Add andouille. Serves 4 hungry people.

If you are not up to cooking from scratch, check out Tony Cachere's or Zatarain's packaged foods.

Fairy Godfather Cabbage Soup

When both my fairy godfathers were alive, I used to love visiting them. Their West Virginia home was lovely and their hosting gracious. They always served something delicious and we had marvelous visits with them and their sweet dog, Bigley. I haven't had a chance to visit Michael and his new husband, Ron, in their new home yet, but I at least get to have happy thoughts of Michael when I make his recipes. This is a wonderful soup recipe that I have adapted from one I got from Ray & Michael. We had it Saturday night with hot rolls.

Sweet & Sour Cabbage Soup
10 oz. beef bottom round, cubed
1 tbsp. olive oil
6 c. beef broth
1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes
2 c. shredded cabbage
1 large onion, thinly-sliced
1 c. sliced carrots
3 tbsp. lemon juice
3 tbsp. brown sugar
A pinch or two of thyme
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat oil in stock pot over medium heat. Add beef and onions and cook until beef is browned. Add broth. Cover & simmer 20 minutes. Add veggies & cook 30 minutes. Mix lemon juice with brown sugar until sugar is dissolved. Add to pot. Cook 10 minutes.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Aegean Omelets & Buttermilk Cheese Scones

Inspired by a Weight Watchers omelet recipe, I decided not to follow it, preferring to use real eggs and some cheese. So much for losing weight. We had Aegean omelets (and Pie had a 3-cheese) and buttermilk cheese scones for dinner last night. I prepped the filling and left the actual omelet cooking to J, who was helping Pie bake a German chocolate cake at the same time dinner preparation was happening. We filled our omelets with cheddar cheese, tomato basil feta, chopped tomato and halved olives. I tossed some basil into the egg mixture, too. They were fabulous and the scones were the perfect accompaniment. This is my adaptation of a recipe from Real Simple.

Buttermilk Cheese Scones
3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
3 tbsp. cold butter, cut in small pieces
1 c. shredded sharp cheddar (you could also use Gruyère)
1/2 c. grated parmesan
1 tsp. tarragon (I was out of thyme)
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
Dash of salt
1 1/4 c. buttermilk (I faked it by using the same amount of 1% regular milk and adding 1 1/4 tsp. lemon juice, then letting it sit for about 10 minutes)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put the flour, baking powder and butter together in a large mixing bowl. Rub together with your hands until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Alternately, pulse these items together in a food processor to the same effect. Add the other ingredients and stir until it sticks together...or mix it with your hands like I did. Knead it gently until it forms a ball. Shape it into a round about 1" thick. Cut into 12 wedges and place 2" apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake 18-20 minutes. Serve piping hot.

Going Clubbing

We did a lot of dining out this weekend. J had mentioned several days ago that she was hungry for Steak 'N' Shake, so I tracked one down. Friday night, after snacking on popcorn at Pan's Labyrinth, I took her to Steak 'N' Shake for dinner. She got a Frisco Melt, which is what she almost always gets, and I got a Chili 5-Way, which is what I almost always get. It was just right for the chilly night and we went home happy.

Saturday's lunch was really just an excuse to play trivia: wings at BW-3. I got boneless wings with medium sauce & decided that next time, I'm going for mild. J got a combo platter of tenders with spicy garlic sauce & ribs. Their ribs are truly disgusting. I didn't like the sauce at all and the ribs were nearly all fat & gristle. Thinking about the bite I took now just makes me shudder. But I won at trivia 3 times in a row.

Since I am going to be away at school for Valentine's Day, we celebrated that early with dinner at the Cabin Club Saturday night. I had heard from Jon Vitale at church that their steaks were terrible, but they have gotten such good reviews that I decided to risk it. I had considered Hyde Park, but hesitated because the service and food at Blake's Seafood, owned by the same company, weren't that hot when we went. I also considered Morton's and John Q's, but thought J might not want to travel as far as those on a cold Saturday night. We arrived at the Cabin Club and were seated promptly. The atmosphere wasn't particularly romantic, but J had specified that she wanted to go for a great steak for our Valentine dinner. Our table was out in the middle of the room, placed very close to the one next to us. There was a bar t.v. visible from where we sat, as well as loud contemporary music that didn't match with the decor. The restaurant is located in a log cabin. The website says it's an authentic log cabin, which I think is meant to make us think it's old. I have my doubts on that score. But, they have attempted a vintage feel in terms of decoration with placement of shelves of old books over some booths (and book-pattern fabric awnings over windows inside), pulp novel posters and old black and white photos. They would have done much better, in terms of evoking the feel they seemed to be going for, had they had big band music or old jazz playing softly in the background. Oh, well. My other complaint was the obvious skewing toward male clientele in the forms of alarmingly short black skirts on all the waitresses. I was afraid for them should they accidentally drop something. They would have to squat to retrieve it, unless they wanted their ass flashed to the world. From the waist up, they looked perfectly professional, with white button-down shirts and black ties. From the waist to the ankles, they looked like Hooters girls. From the ankles down, they looked like servers in an all-night diner, feet shod in thick white gym shoes. Jarring. Our service was very good, though.

The food was good, too, just what J had in mind. Therefore, I consider my planning a success. J loved her lobster bisque, although I found it a tad bland and prefer the bisque at the Tree House. It was velvety smooth, though, I'll give it that. My French onion soup was worse. I was very pleased that the cheese was nicely melted and not all rubbery and impossible to swallow. The broth was not terribly robust, however, and left behind a slightly bitter taste in my mouth. Once we got to the main course, things improved considerably. J got a filet mignon Oscar-style, with delicate crab meat on top, asparagus on the side, the whole shebang drizzled in bearnaise. On the side, garlic mashed potatoes with a great deal of flavor and huge lumps of unmashed potato. The same potatoes came with my blackened bleu Delmonico, which was also very good. J says it's the best steak she's had in a long time. I thought the steak was very good, but would have liked a bit more Point Reyes on top of mine. That's just because I am a fiend for blue cheese. The crème brûlée we split was wonderfully silky and thick, with a good touch of vanilla and a perfect caramelized crust on top. J was very pleased with the meal. I liked it, too, although for $100, I would rather go to The Winds. I think I am just bitter that we will be missing their Valentine's Day dinner.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Aunt Jeanie's Waffle Iron

As I was making dinner tonight, I thought of my aunt Jeanie. J had asked me a couple of weeks ago to make her pecan waffles for dinner one night. She adroes pecan waffles and tonight was the night. They were great. The waffle iron is a heart-shaped one that Jeanie gave me as a gift several years ago. I am so glad I didn't put it in storage. I can spend the winter making pecan waffles, chocolate waffles (Pie's request), gingerbread waffles, cornmeal waffles with chicken a la king...

Anyway, dinner was super simple and quick. J & Pie were really pleased with it, too. I just made regular waffles according to the directions on the Bisquick box, scattering a handful of chopped pecans on top of the waffles for the grown folks. Pie thought pecans in waffles sounded like something he wouldn't like, so I skipped it for his. He ended up drizzling one of his waffles with chocolate syrup, flipping it over onto the other and eating his waffles folded into a sandwich. J had hers with Mrs. Butterworth while I heated up real Vermont maple syrup for me. J fried up some fabulous bacon for us, the stuff we picked up at the West Side Market on a whim while we were picking out our kielbasa. Amazing stuff...even comparable to Nueske's. For dessert, we had hot cherry pie, made by J & Pie. All they did was throw some ready-made cherry pie filling into a ready-made crust & bake it, but it sure tasted good on this cold, cold night.

Pennies on the Window Soup

So-titled because this chocolate soup reminds me of being a little kid in the middle of winter, pressing pennies into the frost on the insides of the windows to see the impressions and being given hot cocoa by my mama. Chocolate soup may sound absurd (or disgusting, as Pie put it when I offered to make him some, too) or it may sound luscious. For chocolate lovers like me, it is the latter. This makes just enough for one and is best served with animal crackers, in your favorite mug, with a deep-bowled spoon. I adapted this recipe from one by Jane & Michael Stern. Next time, I may experiment with some cinnamon & cayenne.

Chocolate Soup
3/4 c. half and half (I used Land o'Lakes fat-free variety and it was perfectly rich with less fat)
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Pinch salt
2 tsp. good-quality baking cocoa (I used Ghirardelli)
1 egg yolk

Heat the half and half in a sturdy pan. Pour back into cup measure, leaving 1/4 c. in pan. Add sugar, vanilla, salt and cocoa to pan and mix to a syrupy consistency. Add egg yolk and cook, stirring, over low to medium heat. Gradually add half and half. Heat through, stirring until well-blended & thick. Serve hot, perhaps with a water chaser.

That's Amore!

While my 14 year old is not very eager to express love, he does love Buca di Beppo. If you're not familiar with the kitschy chain offering favorites like lasagna served family-style, you're not missing out on anything super-special. It is fun, though, to look at the pictures that plaster the walls, listen to songs like "Mambo Italiano" and pass the spaghetti to your kiddos. As for myself, I would prefer to find a little hole in the wall family-owned Italian restaurant like Bovalino's in Westlake or Maria's in Lakewood. However, Boot got a Buca di Beppo gift certificate in his stocking and requested to go there for dinner last night. He and Pie had pizza for the second night in a row, while J & I split a small order of manicotti. At Buca di Beppo, a small serves 2 or more. The manicotti there is actually okay, warm and filling on a bitter cold night, at least. They have all kinds of cocktails, cordials, Italian sodas and things like that. What they don't have is decent coffee. I was freezing and wanted nothing more than a mug of hot cocoa (all the research I've been doing on approximating the Mayan Chocolate Love Ritual from The Winds since I will be honeyless for Valentine's Day and therefore not enjoying their fabulous Valentine dinner...I blame Evvi for getting me started with the research) or at least a good latté. It being an Italian place and latté being trendy, I figure they'll have a decent latté. So when the cocoa is not an option, I try for that. No dice. I ended up with a cup of hot (ahhh!) but decidedly crappy, perhaps instant coffee and 2 packets of creamer. Oh well.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Little Spice for Bitter Nights

Last night before we went to see one of the stupidest movies I've seen (Epic Movie) because Pie was dying to see it & neither of the movies we grown folks want to see (Arthur & the Invisibles, Happily Never After) was showing, I made a big batch of shrimp Creole to warm our insides as we walked through the cold, cold night. I served it with jasmine rice and corn with thyme butter.

Shrimp Creole
1/2 stick butter, cut in pieces
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 small onions, chopped
1/2 lg. green pepper, chopped
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Several dashes Louisiana hot sauce (or whatever kind you 14 y.o. douses everything with Frank's)
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1 lb. shrimp, peeled & deveined

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the next four ingredients & sauté 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, reserving some of the juice. Add Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and marjoram and stir thoroughly. Cover & simmer 15 minutes. Add juice, if you wish to thin the mixture. Add shrimp and cook until pink, 3-5 minutes. Make sure not to overcook! Serve over rice. Serves 4.

Tonight, we are having the bounty of a trip to the West Side Market. We found some beautiful kielbasa at one of the stalls and huge, luscious-looking potato & cheese pierogies at another. J's got some of the kielbasa, made by a family that's been in the business since 1912, baking with sauerkraut and will pan-fry the rest for our children, who are afraid of kraut. She's going to sauté the pierogies with butter & onions. To go with all this, she is heating up some succotash and quartering some oranges.

Tomorrow will be Super Bowl food, also prepared by J. She is doing traditional Buffalo wings (with celery & carrots on the side, Ranch & blue cheese for dipping), loaded potato skins and cheeseburgers. Boot loves wings, Pie loves cheeseburgers, we should all be pretty happy.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Welcome Home Dinner for my Darling

J had to go to Chicago for a couple of days to present at her company's national sales meeting, so I wanted to make her a special dinner upon her return. While I was preparing Tuesday night's dinner (roasted chicken from the deli, boxed au gratin potatoes...Boot would cheerfully eat an entire package of those by himself despite his usual dislike of potatoes...and corn) for the kids, I got a pot roast marinating for last night's dinner. It's so much fun for me to have these things done ahead of time. This time, it enabled me to throw a couple of potatoes in the oven with the roast and settle in to watch Iron Man with J & Pie while dinner made itself. When everything was cooked, I threw a bag of Italian salad on the table, toasted some pecans in a dry skillet and topped my salad with those and some crumbles of Maytag blue cheese. I then drizzled it with light raspberry vinaigrette. I should have thought to toss some dried cranberries in, too, but that just occurred to me now. How I did the roast:

1 (3-5 pound) pot roast
1/2 c. oil
Scant 1/2 c. soy sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
1/8 c. Worcestershire sauce
1/8 c. mustard
14 smashed garlic cloves (our friend Hyacinth gave us the most wonderful organic garlic)
A good grinding of black pepper

Slash roast at 1" intervals & put in gallon Ziploc bag. Mix everything else & pour over roast in bag. Marinate (my father in law would tell you to "fornicate" the roast! This is the man who also jokingly talks about "penis butter and jelly" sandwiches and spent my wife's entire childhood slapping his wife gently on the rump while she was cooking...wildly irreverent and funny man when he isn't liberal-baiting me) 24-48 hours, turning every now and again. Remove from bag, stick in roasting pan and bake in a preheated 325 degree oven about 2 hours. Let stand 5 minutes before carving.

Fairy Cakes

When I make tiny bitty cupcakes, I like to call them fairy cakes. I very rarely do either cake or frosting from scratch other than my special chocolate nemesis cake. However, I wanted lemon icing for the batch of fluffy white fairy cakes I made this week, so I decided to make it. I started with a cup of powdered sugar and the juice of about 3/4 of a lemon. Then, I tinkered until I had the right consistency and flavor. I colored it with a smidgy bit of the fabulous & wonderful Wilton's concentrated icing colors so that it was a very pale yellow. Then, I dipped each fairy cake into the icing and sprinkled them with sugar flowers in pastel colors. They are delightful and Boot loves them. Pie is not a fan of lemon except in its two purest forms: lemonade and sucked right from the peel, so he won't eat them. J likes them, too. One package of cake mix makes 6 dozen fairy cakes, so they're nice for a crowd.