About Me

I have been cooking my way through life for over 50 years, beginning with mud pies as a child. I've turned a corner now and feel a Renaissance in my life. Recipes and Random Thoughts is my personal spin in a blog about how to prepare good food and how it prepares you for life. I want to share with you, honest to goodness food punctuated with perspective from the special memories and moments that have marked my journey.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend and the Beginning of Summer

I’m watching the boats zigzag across the lake leaving a wake of foam and waves and listening, from a distance, to laughter and the buzz of motors.  The lake is still way too chilly for swimming, despite the recent warm temperatures, but there’ll be a few who’ll jump in and come out quickly, shivering.  The skinny 10 year old, who has to do the first cannonball (miniball, in his case) off the dock and comes up gasping from the shocking briskness of the lake.  They are relishing the official arrival of summer.  School’s out, summer’s on. Relax, the living’s easy. Families and friends are outside in force this weekend; joining and rejoicing the initiation of summer.  Memorial Day sound’s the retreat to were ever you can get away from the boss, the desk, the computer, the phone, the office, the mop, the stethoscope, the hammer or the hoe.  It could be the shore, the mountains, the lake, the woods, a hammock in your own back yard, or just a chair on the little porch of an apartment. The work-a-day world pauses for a moment to relax, unwind and respect.

So I’m sweeping away the last of the spring pollen and firing up the grill because, it’s going to be a long hot summer- I hope. Suddenly, I get that whiff of a neighboring charcoal grill.  The fine perfume of outdoor cooking that sends my salivary glands to pumping and the thought of an ice cold beer, crisp white wine or vodka and lime motivating me to bring out the fun and friendly side of life.  Maybe be we should have that nice new couple up the street over for “something on the grill.”  Blue cheese burgers, refrigerator  pickles, sweet potatoes fries, slaw and strawberry pie.

Have fun this Memorial Day and thanks to all who have given their all for the USA.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Skrimps Wif Sauce

It's been a great weekend for a beach wedding.  Balmy weather with soft breezes gently stirring the Spanish Moss on ancient live oak trees and the waves lapping while wedding guests sipped, ate and danced.  The bride was beautiful in satin and tulle,  the groom handsome in a sear sucker suit as they exchanged their vows in a small chapel built in the 1880's.  The elegant mothers in chiffon sighed.  My, my, love is grand and the food at these events, just as grand.  I picked up this tried and true coastal marinated shrimp at the "After" Party on Friday night, noted on a tattered and stained index card.  An "After" party, is given in my neck of the woods, for those who come from out of town to a wedding and are not invited to the rehearsal dinner.  After the rehearsal dinner, the wedding party and the out-of-towners gather at someone's home to tune up for the wedding in earnest.  The bride and groom may or may not attend, but the rest of us do some serious eatin and drinkin.  Who knows how many years this shrimp has been served to guest, written in the cook's local dialect.  Look for Durkees Sauce along with mayonnaise in your grocery store if you are not familiar with it.  I always buy it for leftover turkey sandwiches during the holidays, but this gives it a new purpose.  It has a really tangy flavor.

5 lbs pealed, deveined and cooked shrimp
10 oz. Durkees Sauce
4 medium onions, sliced thin
2-3 bay leaves
1 cup Tarragon vinegar
2 cups canola oil
1 tbls sugar
1 tsp salt
sliced lemons,as many as you like

Combine in a glass or ceramic bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.  Serve with tooth picks.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mother's Day Honey Cake with Orange Blossom Glaze

I am fortunate enough to have friends who have bee hives.  Their honey is succulent and to die for.  They gave my mother and I each a jar of prize golden honey for Mother's Day.  It tastes better than any I've ever had. Later in the year, the honey is darker due to the magnolias, something I never knew.  Honey bees have been subject to something called colony collapse disorder (CCD) since 2006 and that's a really big deal because so much of our agriculture relies on those little buzzer to pollinate our crops.  They've blamed everything from pesticides to microwaves but it does seem environmental stressors are the problem.  Anyway, I decided to use some of their fine product in a Honey Cake.  Honey Cakes are typically associated with Jewish holidays but this is Mother's Day, a universal celebration of those women who have loved us, nurtured us, forgiven us. My Mother's Day was sweetened immeasurably with the news that I will be a grandmother in November. What could be sweeter than a Mother's love.  Honey is a pretty close second.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground clove
 3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 cup pure honey
3/4 cup lukewarm coffee(brewed or instant in water)
1 1/2 tsp orange zest

Heat oven to 350 degrees with rack in middle.  Spray  a 10 inch tube pan with baking spay. Wisk together flour, baking powder and soda, salt and spices in a large bowl of an electic mixer.  Wisk eggs  in another large bowl and whisk in sugar, oil, honey, coffee until well conbined.  Using the paddle attachment, add 1/3 of the egg mixture until encorporated, add the next third  and mix, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the last third and mix until smooth. Add the zest and mix until just incorporated.  Pour into tube pan and bake until springy to touch and tester comes out clean, 45-50 minutes.  Cool 20 minutes in pan on a cake rack before inverting onto cake rack to cool throughly.

Glaze; 1/2 cup confectionser sugar; 1 tsp honey; two tbls orange juice.  Mix throughly and drizzle over warm cake.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Did Somebody Just Yell, "Food Fight"?

"Eeehhew!" That was the expressed opinion  my four year old son gave of the meal on his plate.  His little brother was sitting adjacent in a high chair, dressed only in a diaper, eating finger food.   The toddler in the high chair, whose vocabulary, at that point, consisted of exactly six or so single syllables  suddenly raised himself up, sqinched up his little nose and lips and gave a loud and most expressive "eeehhew". It was his Gettysburg Address given from the high chair pulpit. Monkey see, monkey do; he grinned for approval from his older brother.  You would think, I was serving them maggots. They had just announced to me the culture of bad manners had invaded my family.  I cleverly told the 4 year old, if he "eeehhew'd" my food again, he could just prepare dinner the next night himself.  PB&J was served the next evening.  What was I thinking?   We lavished praise on his effort and demonstrated thankfulness for the meal.

I wasn't a big fan of my Mother's cooking (which may be why I started cooking pretty young), but if I'd "eeehhew'd" a meal, I'd have been a greasy spot on the sidewalk.  It simply was unacceptable behavior and I was made to understand, I would deeply offend whoever prepared, offered or hosted my meal if I criticized their offering. "Eat what is put before you and be thankful." That was all there was to it.

 At 12, I was put to the test. My school chum and I where passionate Beatle fans.  She lived within walking distance and we spent afternoons listening to those little 45's and swooning over the Fab Four.   I'd noticed things where different at her house.  It was a big family and her disabled father was unable to work. One day, they invited me to stay for dinner.  I'd heard jokes about Spam but never remotely considered the possibility that I'd ever find it on a plate in front of me.  All that training about table manners kicked in. I knew what to do as it dawned on me, this is what her family could afford and they are willing to share it with me.  I realized she was taking a risk inviting me to dinner and  might be embarrassed and I did not want her to feel badly.  That is the essence of good manners; consideration of the other fellow.  It really wasn't that bad; it's more the stigma.

Nothing illustrates my pet peeve better than the "reality" show with Hugh Hefner and his three live-in Playmates.  I found it channel surfing and am reluctant to admit it caught my attention, but not for the obvious reason.   Hugh and the trio where guests in an ultra luxurious private home in Aspen and being served a lavish, over-the-top meal.  It was all about excess, everything from lobster to lamb.  Now, I can't judge these women for how they make a living, but when one of them interrupted the meal with a  "eeehhew"  and asked for something "normal, like macaroni and cheese.  Does anybody really eat this stuff?", I was outraged.  The hostess (a former Hefner girlfriend) stayed cool and summoned the surprised chef who hastily retreated to whip up "normal" food for the centerfold.  She revealed way more about herself than any nude photo could.  I can forgive tacky and trashy, but insult and embarrass the hosts and chef, unforgivable.  I cringed at the faux pas but  that's probably what the producers had in mind.  Shock value.

I've listened to "I can't eat this because....."  of a variety of health restriction and dietary prejudices.   Well, you came to the wrong house if you're at mine.  I'm not going back in the kitchen and whip up something "normal" or change the menu because you're on Lipitor.  Eat or don't what's put before you and be thankful. Be thankful, that's the point.  The focus is wrong, if you can't eat what's put before you.

Are the days of "Good manners will take you a long way," over? 
I think, I just heard somebody just yelled, "Food Fight".

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Spring Risotto

It's another one of those easy Sunday night dinners.  Warmer weather and Sunday afternoon golf. Dinner should be uncomplicated. Let's check what's left in the refrigerator after a busy week.  I like to use fresh herbs but they must be used pretty efficiently or they are wasted.  So some chives hanging around are looking like they're on the edge along with a enough asparagus spears and the freezer always has frozen peas.  Pantry has just the right amount of aborio risotto, and I always have parmesan cheese, shallot and chicken stock.  Voila, spring risotto. So with a glass of white wine in hand; some of it goes in the risotto, dinner is in the works.  It takes a little patience but what's the rush?
Always look in the refrig and the pantry and see what's on hand. You can come up with a pretty good dish with just a few things.  If your not well stocked, hmmm.  I'll write about what to keep on hand
next time.

1 tbls butter
1 tbls olive oil
1 tbls minced shallot
1/2 cup white wine
1 quart heated chicken stock(more if necessary)
1 cup aborio rice
2 cups asparagus, sliced into 1 inch pieces and steamed
1 cup frozen peas
2 tbls chopped chives
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Melt butter and oil over medium heat  in a heavy 10 inch skillet and add rice.  Stir constantly as rice starts to turn brown, about 2 minutes. Add the shallot and stir until translucent, about a minute.  Add  white wine and continue stirring until liquid is just absorbed. Begin adding chicken stock 4 oz. at a time (1 ladle) and stir until liquid is just barely absorbed, then add the next. Before adding the last of the stock add the steamed asparagus, peas and chives.  Season with salt and pepper, then add the grated Parmesan last.  Serve immediately.
A little cream at the end doesn't hurt in your cholesterol can handle it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Our Daily Bread

Just when you think you've got it all together, things go to hell.  I had my life running like the proverbial " well oiled machine".  Every morning I made my "to do" list divided  by 5 tidy categories:

Family: pick up husband's laundry; send birthday card to niece; check on parents; bug children
Friends: make dinner plans for the weekend; RSVP to party
Finance: pay the bills
Home: have garage door repaired
Personal: hair cut

I think if I've got leftovers in the frig, my iphone, a credit card and clean underwear, I can handle anything.  You know the attack is coming, you just don't know when.  Then your world is inside out, upside down.
Something you do not want happens.  Try as you might, it's out of your control.

Suddenly, events and characters conspire to rob you of your sanity and the most mundane habits suddenly become difficult to accomplish.  Your personal space has been invaded by thieves like anxiety, stress and conflict, robbing you of normalcy.  Who are these nuts and how dare they disturb my tranquil  and orderly existence? They happen to be my elderly parents. I'm enttangled in a web I want no part of.  A routine trip to the grocery store becomes a panic attack.  It looks like a maze of jumbled items you can't recognize and you don't remember what you're there for.  Like an artist selecting his palate, I normally, like to grocery shop because I have a project in mind that leads to something good.  Recently, I have hardly been able to open a can of soup. Today, I was wandering around the isles like I'd never seen eggs and milk before, looking for something familiar and finally it jumped out at me. Bread flour.  I hadn't baked bread in months. My former orderly life is broken and invaded by weird and hostile people.  Could I do it? I feel like Hemingway's shell shocked character, Nick Adams's, returning from war, trying to fly fish. Baking is orderly and precise.

My sister-in-law gave me my first bread machine. She found it for $9 in a garage sale and I took to it like a duck to water.  Once that one died, I invested in a Yojiroushi. You might think it's cheating a bit but you can bake your own loaf without too much fuss.  There is  something therapeutic about kneading and the aroma of baking bread that evokes all sorts of goodness for the soul.  Just put the ingredients in and press the button.  The beauty of the machine is that it creates the perfect environment for the dough to rise.  I never could get it quite right on my own.  Once the dough is ready, I prefer to bake in a conventional oven.  It just comes out better.  A  browned loaf of bread is a thing of beauty.  Today, I'm grateful for time to make it.

Most machines come with their own directions but this recipe from Cook's Illustrated turns out a consistently perfect 1 1/2 lb loaf of wheat bread.

1 cup water
1 large egg
1 tbls butter
3 tbls honey
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 1/4 cups bread flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup dry powdered milk
1 1/2 tsp table salt
2 1/4 dry active yeast

Layer the ingredients in order and do not mix.  Make a small depression  or well in the dry ingredients and put the yeast in.  It must not touch the wet ingredients.  Then follow manufactures dough instructions.  While the dough rises preheat the oven to 350 in the last ten minutes. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface. With floured hands shape quickly into a loaf and transfer to a baking pan.  Bake 30 minutes at 350. Turn loaf out on a rack to cool.