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.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Rum Raisn Ice Cream

I did the meanest thing I can think of to my husband tonight.  I added raisins soaked in rum to his beloved vanilla ice cream. (Read,  A Vanilla Kind of Guy,on this blog.)  He adores vanilla ice cream almost as much as me but forbids it in the house unless we are entertaining.  He says it calls him from the freezer late at night much like a siren in Ulysses' Odyessy calls a man to his doom. He fears ice cream for the effects on his waist and arteries. It's a poor mans' heroine for him.  On the other hand, he doesn't like raisins for some reason, I can't grasp why.  They're just dried up grapes, for goodness sake.  I'm expecting him to call a lawyer or poison control when he finds out, but I can't forget the a wonderful New Years we spent in Jamaica and rum raisin ice cream brings back the memory of soft breeze, calmly lapping surf and candle lite dinner.  Just the smell of Myers Rum sends me there. Wouldn't that be a heavenly way to roll in the New Year even if we are at home?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Belly Flops

I just dropped a poached egg on the floor while removing it from the pan.  I broke another in the water.  Fortunately, my dogs took care of most of the mess on the floor and benefited from my latest cooking mishap. That's sort of a 'win-win'. I guess, I'm really not that great a cook either; I just like to cook.  Overall, my successes out score my errors but I've had some memorable "belly flops" that are just as significant in my cooking journey.  I call them belly flops because they're just like that mighty leap off the diving board that's slightly miscalculated and WHOP! Smacked, stinging and red, you slowly crawl to the edge with the wind knocked out of you.  Sometimes,  I have those great cooking aspirations but the execution is lacking; that's a culinary belly flop .

Certain belly flops are worthy of recognition, most are minor like the poached egg mess this morning.  Hubby claims burned broccoli is one of my signature dishes. I've unwittingly served things that have picked up the flavor of silver polish or lighter fluid soaked briquettes. It happens when you have a busy life, just as long as you don't burn the house down or give someone food poisoning.  Here are a few memorable culinary episodes that I don't mind sharing even though I thought I'd die at the time. I suppose they've taught me to be organized, conscientious and more forgiving of myself in the kitchen.  Those perfect dinner parties only happen on the Food Network.

P.V. Rice - The first official belly flop occurred a few months after I married and my new husband invited P. V. Rice to dinner.  He was a bit country so don't ask me why I thought chicken baked in sour cream and red wine would be an elegant meal for him.  It looked like blueberry yogurt on the plate and tasted ghastly.  The rice baked in stock was a crunchy, soupy mess.  I was red faced but the gentleman politely said, "That's OK, I likes my rice crunchy."  Bless his heart.  He gave us one of my favorite wedding presents of the many we received.  An ice cream churn.  A wooden tub with a tin cylinder that required ice and salt to freeze the ice cream mixture. I wish I still had it instead of the modern plastic version I have now.

Divorce at 8 - We moved to Denver in 1981. I was a new mother and spent my days caring for baby and cooking my way through Bon Appetite each month.  Anxious to make friends, we invited two couples for dinner. I decided to serve Chicken Country Captain; a good reliable 'company for dinner' dish.  Now, packaged grocery store chicken in the Mile High City comes frozen completely solid and you had to factor in extra thaw time at that altitude.  So I thawed, browned and baked the chicken as the recipe required, not realizing the bones would stay frozen much longer than the meat. 

The couples arrived and the evening progressed pleasantly enough until we poised our forks over the chicken.  The first cut revealed still pink chicken with streaks of blood.  There was no microwave back then to zap the dish into order and frankly I was panicked until one of the men suddenly slammed his fork down, stood up and announced he had to go to the office (at 8:30 on Saturday night?).  What followed looked like the scene out of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?" where George and Martha tear each other to pieces.   Instead of dinner at 8, this was divorce at 8.  I began to hope he'd throw his plate so I wouldn't have to deal with the chicken. The husband eventually stomped out abandoning his distressed wife and leaving the rest of us slack jawed. Somehow, the undercooked chicken pulled the trigger on their marriage?  The party broke up quickly and it all went in the garbage.  Biggest Belly Flop.  He was having an affair and they did divorce.  Funny thing is, that guy's a marriage counselor now.

You'll Know Dinner's Ready When the Smoke Alarm Goes Off - We moved back home and had another baby.  The children slept together in a bedroom adjacent to the kitchen and we prudently installed a smoke detector just outside their room.  I had a self cleaning oven but running it ran up the electric bill so I never used it and was not about to clean the oven myself.  So the recipe for trouble involved a sleeping 3 year old and toddler, a tenderloin, a dirty oven and 8 dinner guests. Those alarms will wake the dead much less two small children. The blaring alarm, the shrieking children, the scramble to find a ladder and unhook the alarm, the smokey kitchen when the oven door opened, ah, just another perfect dinner party with an unruffled hostess.  We ate, eventually, with children in our lap and later we all had to sleep in the same bed because they where too scared to go to their room.  I run my oven cleaner routinely now.

Chicken Pot Food Poison and The Lord Works In Strange Ways.-  My dearest friend had lost a son in 2001.  After months of grieving, I thought a change of scene might be helpful and invited her to my mountain home for the weekend with my parents coming along too.  Where ever we where, my mother always took charge of the kitchen even when it was my kitchen.  Daddy was really the better cook but they were at their best as a team.  It was a good idea to let them manage the meals while my friend and I went off for the day and did other things. 

They had made chicken pot pie for Saturday evening.  My mother's version began with a large hen stewed the day before. I noticed the uncovered stock pot with the broth sitting on the stove just before bed and assumed it would be refrigerated before she retired.  On Saturday, they stayed home cooking and we spent the day otherwise, returning home to a beautiful pie with other cooked fresh vegetable side dishes.  It looked wonderful until my friend poked the pie crust first.  Instead of the rich aroma of chicken, the foulest odor emerged.  I wasn't quite sure what I was smelling. A dead animal, perhaps.

It was still warm in September so we ate on the screened porch and the smell seemed to go away until I took a bite.  It was difficult to swallow and my taste buds were confused.  What had they put in this, Limburger Cheese?  I was debating a second bite until my mother said, "Does the pie taste strange to anyone?"  Well, yes!!  I thought, "we'll all be sick as dogs; the hospital is miles away; the septic tank will never handle this!" Daddy kept sampling until I begged him to stop. Back in the kitchen, the stench had permeated the whole house.  I began to connect the dots between the stock pot and spoiled pie as I opened windows.

Somehow, we all escaped food poison, perhaps because the cooked pie killed most of the bacteria or we didn't eat much.  It was also an early signal things where changing in my parents but one thing never has changed about my mother.  She never admits she's wrong about anything and the spoiled broth was no exception.  She was certain the grocery must have sold her a bad chicken. She chewed out the poor butcher who gave her another for free.

As for my friend, I hadn't seen her laugh like that in a very long time, in fact, I wasn't sure she ever would again.  She began to giggle at the table with her napkin over her mouth just like when we where silly kids and we knew we weren't suppose to do that at the table in front of our parents. The more we tried to stifle the worse it got.  My parents started to laugh and eventually, we laughed bent over until we cried and every time we tell the story we laugh until we cry.  At least, that pie provoked her laughter missing for too long.  The Lord certainly can work in strange ways.

Belly flops are painful when you hit the water but I always managed to crawl back on the diving board.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Crisis Christmas

There are only 27 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year and that's not enough.  I don't think that's one bit funny, no sir, that's a Communist plot, un-American and a cruel joke as far as I'm concerned.  I begin to get anxious about the whole thing in August because you know Labor Day is coming and right after that Halloween candy appears in the grocery stores. I try to avert my eyes in denial and avoid those Christmas trees in the mall announcing it's coming just like "Jaws".  My hair dresser even reminded me," it's only 11 weeks until Christmas day."  Was he trying to turn my hair grey or just get me to book for the "holiday look"?

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving but as soon as all the family headed back to their quarters, I felt the rise of queasiness.  It's all my mother's fault for the way I feel about Christmas.  She set the bar so high, I can never pull off what she did for so many years.  She said if the Lord meant for us to live abundantly, Christmas was the time to do it right.  Gifts, decorations, food, friends and family reached an apex in each December at our house.  I was still a novice in her opinion when she gave me Martha Stewart's Christmas.  It was the first time I'd heard of the domestic diva and my conclusion after perusing the book was, "this woman is crazy."  There where so many, many time consuming but brilliant ideas to create an epic holiday, it drove me crazy. Eventually, I was sucked right in making gingerbread houses, homemade marshmallows and decorating cookies.  Mother was smart enough not to try to do it all herself.  She enlisted the best collaborators to ensure a successful holiday. Her ace assistant was Daddy, a good cook and chairman of the Christmas tree(s).

My husband has made his own contribution to my condition.  He had the perfect childhood, perfect parents and perfect Christmas' right up until his parents died in a plane crash at age 11.  After that, Christmas sounded more like Charles Dicken's David Copperfield.  I'll never forget the first happy Christmas we spent together while we where dating. It's been my mission to create the kind of home he lost (right down to his Christmas stocking) ever since. 

Fifteen years ago, Mom finally passed the baton only because her eye site was failing and she really couldn't meet her own standards anymore. She'd given me the blueprint so I had 24 for sit down dinner with all the silver, crystal and linens and 3 entrees, made the gingerbread house, decorated the cookies, decorated the house, wrapped the gifts, made the homemade gifts for neighbors, and on and on.  One year after the big Christmas Eve deal, I didn't get a chance to eat a single bite and woke up at 3 a.m. hungry and mad.  There was only a congealed cranberry mold left.  That was a pivotal moment. Mutiny on the Christmas Bounty.  I slowly pared it down .

Family dynamics have evolved with birth, death and marriage.  I've just returned from Dallas to have a mini-Christmas with my son and his bride. That's a new tradition. This is the first Christmas a child will be away from home.  I also have a one year old grandson. He's pretty new but there are already lots of new traditions with him.  My parents both have dementia.  They haven't taken their artificial Christmas tree down since the big event moved to my house 15 years ago.  My Mother said if she ever took it down, they'd never get it back up.  So it's Christmas everyday at her house and that's a good thing for them. It's part of just holding on for them.

Nine days are left and it's coming like a Mac Truck. Now that I've pared it down, I want it impossible again.  Is that a sign of something like, I'm getting old and lazy or do I like driving myself crazy like I did in the past?  The tree is up. Decorations are just adequate. Still shopping and wrapping. Can't think of a thing for some of the tough ones. Ugh! Store bought gourmet oil & vinegar for neighbors will have to do. Silver is polished thanks to the help.  I can probably squeeze in two or three dozen simple decorated cookies. Have a few friends in for drinks next weekend.  Just 10 or so Christmas Eve, BUT next year, I will do a gingerbread house for my grandson. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Hot popovers saved the dreary rainy winter day and helped me turn the corner of a miserable cold.  Nothing like hot popovers and a hearty soup when you're puny and the weather is just awful.  I managed to put together Hearty Tuscan White Bean Soup (2/16/2012) in a crock pot and crawl back in bed for a few hours before a command performance to see grandson and cousins visit Santa.  It was worth the effort to see the little people dressed up sitting in Santa's lap.  The pictures should be great. 

I knew I'd enjoy those hot popovers and soup when I got home.  True comfort food. I'm headed back to bed and hope for better tomorrow.

Spray a popover tin or Pyrex cups with PAM and heat in oven to 425 degrees.  While oven heats, in a blender or food processor:

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 room temp large eggs
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3 tbls neutral oil
3/4 tsp salt

Process or blend on high until batter is smooth.  Pour 3/4 of the way up into hot popover tin.
Return popover tin or cups to hot oven and bake 30 mins.  Serve immediately with butter.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Brand X Secret to Brunswick Stew

I took on the formidable project of making Brunswick Stew after surveying numerous recipes.  It's one of those popular Southern dishes that ever body has a spin on.  The mixture of meats has covered everything from squirrel to rabbit to liver.  I left all of those out in favor of pork butt, beef brisket and chicken. Brunswick stew is not quick, easy or for the lazy but I have seen one appalling recipe that used canned meats.  It took me quite a while to assemble the proper ingredients over the last months.  I blanched and froze the corn and limas last summer and prepared the smoked meats then froze them also.  I thought this would be a great thing to pull out  this Thanksgiving weekend when I have family home and there's more to feeding them for a few days than turkey. 

The secret, besides individually preparing the meats, is my Brand X barbecue sauce (see 6/17/2013 post).  Most of the Brunswick Stew recipes call for similar spices and condiments that go into a barbecue sauce, so it was easy for me to pull out my personal version and pour it in. Barbecue sauce is as controversial as Obama care. It varies from county to county and folks can get pretty riled up about it.  Most of the debate revolves around a ketsup or vinegar base for the sauce.  My solution was to compromise and combine the two and Brand X takes care of all the seasoning here.  The bigger secret to Brand X is the essence from the smoked meats I flavor it with.  Now that is really what makes this stew special.  Makes for a very tasty sauce that pleased all but the narrow minded and stubborn.

5 lb pork butt; use your favorite rub and smoke, then pull the meat
1 1/2 lb beef brisket (see Atlanta Brisket)chopped
1 fryer chicken, cooked on a rotisserie (see Rotisserie Revelation)pulled
1 quart chicken stock
28 oz can + a 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes and the juices
1 cup sweet corn
2 cup cooked lima beans
1 cup Brand X BBQ sauce
3 cups diced onion
2 tbls minced garlic
6 tbls butter

Melt the butter in a 10 quart stock pot over medium heat. Cook the onions until soft  6-7 minutes then add the garlic and cook 1 more minute.  Add the diced tomatoes and heat to simmer. Add the pork and heat, 3 minutes; add the brisket and any sauce; heat 3 minutes; add the chicken and the chicken stock; heat to simmer and add the corn and limas.  Then add Brand X BBQ Sauce.  Cook over low heat 1 hour or longer.  Add more Brand X if desired.  Freezes well.

P.S. I don't care for potatoes in this stew so it may not be as thick as some like.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Apple Cider Braised Pork Chops

What a nice fall meal! Apple cider braised pork chops, Alex Hitz's pumpkin flan and and French green beans with shallot.  I went to bed thinking, "I should post this, it was really good".  I had done a little research because I had some apple cider on hand from another recipe test and came up with a fairly simple dish that put all those essential fall ingredients on the plate.  That's the beauty of the seasonal change.  I always think I'm going to miss those summer vegetables and fruits and then the next wave of savory and sweet inspiration knocks on my door with the cooling temperatures and falling leaves. I really feel sorry for those in static climates.  I asked a tour guide in Alaska what they ate for Thanksgiving - salmon.  Guess what they ate for Christmas, New Years, Easter, and 4th of July, etc.  Four seasons is something to be thankful for.

4, 1 inch, bone in pork chops
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tbls canola oil
1 cup sweet onion  in rings
1 tbls minced garlic
1 tsp minced thyme
 1 1/2 cups apple cider
1 apple, peeled, cored and sliced into chunks

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Mix the flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder on a plate. Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy brassier or large skillet.  Dredge the pork chops in the flour mixture and shake off the excess, then brown in the skillet on both sides, about 4 minutes per side.  Remove to a plate.  Add the onion, separated into rings and saute until limp.  Add the garlic and saute 30 seconds (do not let the garlic brown), add the thyme and cook 30 more seconds.  Add the apple cider and deglaze the pan.  Return the chops to the pan and add the chopped apple.  Heat to a simmer, then cover and cook in a 300 degree oven for 1 hour and 30 mins.

Remove the chops to a plate and tent with foil. Mash the cooked apple with a fork and reduce in the remaining juices and vegetables in the pan by half. Pour over the chops and serve immediately.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Toddy Coffee

I really don't drink that much coffee but I also can't function without just one mug to get me going.  I like those blend names like "Fog Lifter" and "Day Break Morning".  If I were naming a coffee just for me it would be "Cobweb Cleaner".  On an early rise,  the only thing that gets me out of the bed is the thought of the first sip of a hot, rich cup of coffee.  My anxious dogs must wait to be let out while I take the first sip. It's essential to the order of my being, I contemplate the day and life first thing in the morning while it's quiet and I'm drinking that cup of coffee.  Morning coffee and I have that kind of  essential intimacy. I don't want it at a drive thru with rush hour traffic but I've done that.

Over the years, I've experienced many different methods of coffee preparation beginning with my Mother's percolated coffee.  Daddy was the coffee drinker so it had to be perfect, and it was.  I don't know what happened to the little pot she fixed his coffee in but eventually it disappeared in favor of a popular, but inferior, Mr. Coffee maker, which puzzled me. My girlfriend and I where students abroad and spent some time in Paris.  We had an syrupy espresso late one evening and never slept a wink.  I mean, we were jitter bugs we were so beaned up. Swore that off and French pressed coffee also; too murky. I began to drink coffee seriously shortly after my first child was born when sleep deprivation hit me hard.  Maybe a cup of coffee would prop me up for another day of diapering, etc.  Then came the office coffee pot.  Vile commercial stuff that tasted like it was brewed card board and the pot was never cleaned. I declined that brew altogether.  My husband's aunt was quite serious about coffee and had a Kemex.  She had whole bean coffee shipped monthly from Community Coffee in Louisiana and ground it fresh daily.  I was impressed that she was so particular about coffee.  So I got really snooty and started ordering and grinding my own beans too.  I  honestly, could not stand the noise of the grinder that early in the morning.  Who wants to hear a buzz saw before you've even had a sip.  It woke up my children too.  Then Starbucks arrived and coffee became an American obsession.  I stick with my single a.m. mug at home but have found myself in many a Starbucks store when out of town.  It's quality is reliable but you couldn't pay me to drink one of those flavored varieties.  Those where designed to suck in the younger generation much the way flavored wine and vodkas are.  Make mine strong, straight up with a splash of half n' half. As one of my friends said, she wanted her coffee so strong it would make her nipples stand up.  Cafe au lait is as far as I'll stretch.  And now, those Keurig single serve packets.  Expensive for the home, great for the office but an environmental disaster overall .  I bought one and feel guilty every time I see all those little plastic cups in the trash.

Well, here's my problem in a word, acidity. I found the more robust the flavor the harder it was on my stomach.  Then I retreat to something puny and boring.  Finally, I have the answer.  I heard about Toddy from New Orleans friends.  A cold steeping method that takes out most of the acid?  So on my recent trip to New Orleans, I tracked it down and brought it home.  It's a process adjustment but produces a rich, smooth coffee without all the acid and oils.  The Toddy Cold Brew System.  They where right, pour water over coarse ground coffee and let it sit 12 hours.  I'm simplifying it but it's still very simple, just different. Then it runs through a filter into a carafe to make a concentrate.  For a cup or more, add water to desired strength and microwave.  The concentrate keeps in the refrigerator for two weeks! The cold water method delivers smooth coffee no matter your choice of coffee. 

A good cup of coffee in the morning is just one of those essential items in a civilized life.  Nothing will replace my Mother's coffee. I wish I knew what happened to that little percolator.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Spirited Halloween in New Orleans

I was twenty something the last time I was in New Orleans and one of those Hurricane concoctions on Bourbon Street must have blurred my experience. This city is a jewel even after Katrina slapped her senseless.  They say it will never be the same but, I can't tell.  Except for some remaining bruises, she's come through it, I'd say.  New Orleans decorates for Halloween the way others would decorate for Christmas.  A trolley ride down St. Charles past elegant old homes whose front lawns are littered with skeletons and ghouls tells you they aren't prim here.  Our niece lives on State Street and the two pumpkins on her porch are modest compared to her neighbors' spooky displays. We heard a guide lecturing quite seriously about Zombies in Lafayette Cemetery and we frankly, didn't venture into the French quarter on Halloween.  It looked too scary.  But that's normal for NOLA, it' just loaded with "characters" and has that avant garde aura.

I wasn't planning to spend too much time in the French Quarter but decided I shouldn't miss a visit to Cafe du Monde. It was a mad house so I ordered from the window and took a bench in the side alley.  I faced a window where I could watch them running big hulks of dough through a machine and tossing the pieces into vats of frying oil behind them without looking.  Lunch was a stroke of genius.  Fortune smiled as we got a seat at the highly touted Coquette.  I was in my element sitting at the bar watching them whip up cocktails in glasses first sprayed with absinthe.  I sort of expected Toulouse Latrec to hobble in. Did I mention the food?  I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich with a side salad.  It's the perfect example of exalted food I love.  Everything on the plate was homemade, home grown or artisanal. I'm not much on restaurants but this place is superior in my gastronomic experiences.  Big score.

Seated at another bar over cocktails we slurped fresh oysters with a shot of Tabasco. I've gone too long without this briny delight. We ended the evening with a famous banana brown butter tart at Herbsaint.  They do it right there.

On Saturday, we worked up our appetite for lunch at Cochon Butcher with a long walk down
Tchoupitoulas (took me all weekend to get the pronunciation). It was packed but we persevered for a distinguished Cubano sandwich that left your lips with the perfect trace of heat.  We wrapped up our visit at Dominica in the venerable Roosevelt and the original Art Deco Sazarac Bar.

New Orleans has a unique cultural signature in America.  It's brand is synonymous with jazz, architecture, the Napoleonic code and, most of all,  food.  Living large is still the way of life in NOLA.  I'm going home a bit larger but happier.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Caramel Icing

It's almost Halloween and I got the pumpkin urge.  These cupcakes use pumpkin pie spice, which is available this time of year, and is a little easier than measuring out the individual cinnamon, ginger, clove and allspice ingredients.  The batter also uses buttermilk which I think always makes for a better cake.  The icing incorporated a bit of the leftover caramel sauce I made for Apple Walnut Cake posted 9/15/2013.  That stuff would make fish eyeballs tasty. For an extra bit of panache, I decorated with Cracker Jacks. 

Happy Halloween!

For the Cupcakes:

1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin

for the Caramel Icing:

12 tbls unsalted butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup caramel sauce (see 9/15/2013 blog post)
in a pinch, store bought will work

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixer, beat the butter and sugars until fluffy.  In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.  Add the eggs one at a time with mixer running on medium speed.  Mix the buttermilk and vanilla. Add the dry and wet ingredients alternately, starting and finishing with the dry.  Add the pumpkin and mix until just smooth. Line muffin tin with paper liners. Using and ice cream scoop fill each cup 3/4 full. Sit muffin tin on a baking sheet. Bake 20-25 mins until tooth pick comes out clean.
Cool completely.

In a mixer, beat the room temperature butter until fluffy then add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Drizzle in 1/2 cup of caramel. Ice each cup cake and decorate at desired. I used Cracker Jack for fun.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Cherry Tomato Jam

I know tomato season is over but I found these incredibly sweet yellow cherry tomatos.  They were sitting around a tad too long so I decided to turn them into jam.  Good stuff to go with meat loaf, chicken or a curry.  This is really an easy way to dress up your dinner plate.

1 pint sweet cherry tomatoes
1 cup diced Vidalia or sweet onion
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
a pinch of salt

Blanch and slip off the tomato skins. it's a little extra work but worth the effort.  Put in a nonreactive sauce pan and add the chopped onion, brown sugar, vinegar and thyme.  Cook over medium heat and bring the mixture just to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer.  Cook, stirring frequently for 45 minutes until thickened.  Add the chopped basil and stir until whilted.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ina's Inspiration

I was in the audience last night to see Ina Garten in person as her Conversations with Ina road show came to town.  It was a blast as my friend and I sipped wine and listened to the warm and friendly celebrity chef chat about her career and answer questions.  I'm sorry I didn't prepare for the question part but I knew I couldn't come up with anything that only took 30 seconds for her to answer.  I would have loved to have a heart to heart with her over something complex like why she uses fennel in her chicken stock or why she prefers pears instead of cherries in her clafouti.  We could have talked for hours about the correct internal temperature of various meats.  I just know we're simpatico given the opportunity. Right?

I was first introduced to her food at a luncheon some years ago.  It was delicious and there was a new sophistication about it. I sincerely complemented the hostess on the meal and she told me her recipes had come from the Barefoot Contessa. Who?  I headed straight to the bookstore and was captivated by the photos and text. Her television series is my favorite of that genre where she instructs and shares in the setting of her lovely home.  That kitchen and lifestyle sells well.

I've been thinking about doing a video for this little blog and decided I'd pretend the cameras where rolling while I was making my grandson's birthday cake today.  It was kind of like a game I used to play with my next door neighbor when we where young; "let's pretend we in a commercial".  Could I explain what I was doing and be charming and friendly at the same time. No body's watching so why not?  Well, let me tell you, not everyone is cut out to multitask.  I seem to always make faces, bite my lower lip while chopping and  lick fingers instead of smiling.  Ina said she turned the Food Network down a number of times before agreeing to film the first 13 episodes.  She's more than just a good cook and now I have to admire her overcoming camera shyness as well.

As much as we all love and admire Julia Child, she turned up her nose and dismissed Ina as ordinary.
She didn't recognize the time had come for a new wave of cooking and timing is everything.  I have all the original French Chef series and still can't deal with Julia pounding a nail through an eel's head in preparation for bouillabaisse.  Ina Garten is among the best of the new generation of cooks to guide our palates and domestic conscience from processed mass to stylish, doable cooking for busy people who prefer to enjoy their meals with friends and family.  The  term "home cook" has replaced "home cookin" implying a more worldly fare.

If there's anything I took away from her program last night, it was respect for her intelligence and her work ethic.  Notably absent from her resume is any formal cooking education but she has an MBA and worked in the White House as a budget specialist.  Then fate took a hand and she turned to her love of cooking. She ran a highly successful specialty food store for 20 years, is the top selling cookbook author in the country and hosts a highly rated TV cooking show.   She is one smart lady who has worked her tail off and deserves all the success she has achieved.

Today, I did a version of the 3 tiered birthday cake she made on her show for a little girl.  Thanks, Ina!

Happy Birthday to my precious Whit!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Rotisserie Revelation

It was an "Ah Ha" moment.  A dust covered box on a high shelf in my garage for 15 years ignored and forgotten until I was watched Steven Raichlen's Primal Grill about rotisserie.  His technique caught my attenion so I wandered out to the garage and looked up at the words Weber Rotisserie barely visible under the dust.  I got the step ladder and with a bit of effort and lots of dust, dirt and cob webs all over me, I pulled it down.  Inside the box, it was all in plastic and ready to go.  I plugged it in and the motor worked. I've been trying to resist any new cooking gadgets, I've got my share, but this was already in my possession, just undiscovered.  Rostisserie always seemed a bit too passe' or dangerous - like the fried turkey thing.

Now I admit to buying a rotisserie kitchen at the store in a pinch but this was a new food experiment I couldn't resist.  I'm all about DIY in the kitchen so I took my new toy to the patio.  I'd caught the $1.99/lb whole chicken sale and the rest is history.  I rotated those chickens for a week getting the technique and temp down.  Not easy when you've just got a basic Weber and a bag of charcoal but the result was extra special really, really great chicken.   Rostisserie chicken went over well for my Dad's 92nd birthday and dinner for a friend with a newborn.  I've got several favorite ways of roasting a chicken, but this may be the best yet.  I'm looking for more ways to use my latest cooking passion.

Most grills have a rotisserie device now as a extra.  I highly recommend it for tender, juicey and favorful meats.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Bread Machine Rosemary - Parmesan Foccacia

I admit to cheating when I bake bread.  I use a bread machine for the dough and can count on my Zojirushi to deliver a properly kneaded and risen dough.  However, I do firmly believe in baking the dough in a conventional oven.  You can argue the merits of dough kneaded by hand but I've never been able to find the consistent warm, draft free place for the dough to rise.  A bread machine takes care of that for the most part.  I had to figure one more rise for this foccacia in a well oiled bowl but I managed.

Foccacia dough is very wet and not easy to handle so use lightly oiled hands on a lightly floured surface.  Bake on a rimmed baking sheet or two cake rounds.  Enjoy it warm from the oven or freeze as this bread goes stale quickly due to the lack of fat in it.  A bit of effort and patience make this a special treat.

Set the bread machine to the dough course.  In the baking pan add in order:

1 1/2 cups water
3 tbls olive oil
4  1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp Kosher salt
Make a small depression in the flour and add
2 1/4 tsp dry active yeast

1 tbls finely chopped rosemary and 1tsp minced fresh thyme
1 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Press start.  Add the rosemary and thyme when the machine indicates to add any extras.  When the dough course has completed,  turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 mins.  Transfer the dough to a well oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double in size about 45 mins. Turn the dough out onto an oiled rimmed baking sheet and gently press dough to the edges, flip the dough over and press to the edges.  Poke with a fork to pop in air bubbles.  Bake in a 425 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.  After 20 mins. sprinkle with the Parmesan.  Remove and brush with more olive oil and finish with a little sea salt if desired.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Apple Walnut Cake with Caramel Sauce

I love the change of seasons.  I was sorry to seen the end of summer because it means vacation time, lazy days at the lake and less city traffic.  However, September is a favorite month because it's still warm but not hot and the humidity has lowered.  Now until the first freeze is our finest weather in my opinion.  It also means apple time. The most recognized fruit on the planet and in history. What other fruit can claim to be the fall of mankind with Eve's first bite, or the revelation of gravity to Sir Isaac Newton or the name synonymous with the computer generation.  Originating in Central Asia, the apple boasts over 3500 species today.  Apple is a most diverse food and a good apple cake is more temptation than I can stand.  This is totally delicious!  Give in.

Preheat the oven to 350 and generously butter and flour a bundt pan shaking out the excess flour.

1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar packed firm
3 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups peeled and diced apple
1 cup chopped walnuts

In large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg and set aside In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time.  Add the dry ingredients in 4 portions, mixing each until just incorporated.  Add the vanilla extract.  Fold in by hand with a spatula, the nuts and then the apples.  Spoon evenly in bundt pan and bake 50 minutes or until browned and a tooth pic comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pan 20 mins. before turning out.  Drizzle while warm with caramel sauce.  Serve with  a dollop whipped cream.

Caramel Sauce

1 cup sugar
6 tbls unsalted butter cut in 6 pieces
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup cream

In a heavy skillet (I use a 10 in. cast iron skillet) heat sugar over medium high heat stirring constantly.  Just as the sugar is completely melted and starts to turn amber, turn off the heat and add the butter one tablespoon at a time stirring each addition until dissolved before adding the next.  Add the salt and vanilla and stir in.  Add the cream and stir. The pan will bubble vigorously so be careful.
Pour into a heat proof container and allow to cool 15-20 mins so it's still warm and pourable.  Drizzle over  warm cake and let soak in.  Serve cake with extra sauce if desired.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Easy Fruit Cobbler

This is my favorite time of year to be a cook.  The fruits and vegetables are abundant and I'm busy trying to sample and prepare everything at it's peak.  I've been in delirium trying to can tomatoes and corn. Just think how smug I'll be in January with my Marinara sauce and Silver Queen corn pudding while everyone else is eating broccoli and potatoes.  I've fairly gorged myself on fresh cherries and after my son described the figs wrapped in prosciutto on his honeymoon in Italy,  I've been hooked.  Simple foods are always the best and this cobbler recipe is one of my favorite ways to enjoy the bounty of summer fruits.  It works well with berries, peaches, apples or a mix like I've done here - peaches and blackberries.  I love the juiciness of the fruits mixed with the sweet crust.  The crisp, chewy edge is my favorite.  Served with vanilla ice cream it's a luscious way to wrap up summer in a dessert.  All you have to remember  for this recipe is "1" of each ingredient.  It's too easy and too good to be true.

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup self rising flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 quart fruit
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.  Place stick of butter in a 9x5 baking dish and melt in the oven.  While butter is melting, mix self rising flour, sugar and cinnamon together then whisk in milk and stir until smooth.
When butter is just melted, remove from oven and pour batter directly into melted butter.  Do not stir.  Spoon fruit evenly over baking dish.  Do not stir.  Bake 45 mins. until browned on top. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Rehearsal Dinner in the Rockies, Elk & Trout

My youngest son was married in the majestic Rocky Mountains of Colorado last weekend.  After months of planning, endless lists, hundreds of emails, miles of travel, and fervent prayers over the weather; a triumph of love emerged.  At times, the logistics and budgets cramped me but the one thing I saw clearly from the start was the rehearsal dinner menu.  Weddings and all that goes with them have evolved into more regal affairs than when I married in 1976.  Thankfully the era of receiving lines and Fellowship Hall receptions where over. My wedding was the full enchilada of the day with a cathedral train, white tie and tails at 8 pm, open bar and sumptuous buffet at a private club. The rehearsal dinner, however,  was a prim affair with only champagne punch to toast with.  It was a time when the groomsmen made every effort to embarrass the bride and groom but due to the lack of alcohol, we where saved.  I was in such a state that night, I broke out in hives.  Not so with this bride. She was a poised luscious confection worthy of dessert.  She arranged the seating of 154 guests with  all the diplomacy of a White House or Buckingham Palace state dinner.

As tradition has it, a meal following the wedding rehearsal falls to the groom's side of the aisle.  I had to pick the site fairly blind but on good recommendation. So back in February, we made one pilgrimage to Beaver Creek, Colorado to survey the situation and have a "tasting" at the restaurant of choice - Vista.  It's a ski resort and naturally there was a lot of snow on the ground and everywhere else. I was suppose to imagine what it looked like in late August when the doors to a broad terrace off the main dining room would be open and overlook a valley golf course and a view of a mountain range and lots of flowering plant beds.  Couldn't see it at the time, just snow and a grey sky. We talked table arrangements, seating and other stuff.  It was all pretty fuzzy until we sat down to sample what the chef had to offer. Then I could begin to see it.  I guess I think and see with my stomach.

The passed hor d'oeuves had many options but we settled on 3 items that where very tasty and easy to handle for the guests, fried goat cheese and marscapone served in amuse bouche spoons, little crab cakes and bacon wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese. My son and I sipped and selected various wines. Presseco would be offered to toast the young fiancee's following entree.  Each table would be served a selection of petite sweets to nibble as the toasting commenced.

I wanted to make my statement (if that's plausible) with a "surf & turf" style entree of local fare.
Elk & ruby trout where not on the main menu but the chef was agreeable to my suggestion. I always think "when in Rome" as I travel.  The bride is a sushi aficionado (see 1/29/13 post; "Becky Goes to Sushi School") but I wanted selections that represented a more masculine presence. No puff pastry or Bearnaise sauce tonight.  Simple, elegantly prepared food complementing  the setting. Elk tenderloin is tender, no gamey taste, has more protein and less cholesterol than most red meats. The "ruby" of the trout come from the fish being fed on small crustaceans, not the bad stuff. These where relatively healthy choices.  What I enjoyed the most was the captured audience trying something new, different and delicious. The chef did a great job with a pan sear and a little time in the oven for both items. Garlic mashed potatoes and jumbo asparagus rounded out the plate.  Even if I didn't cook the meal myself, I took satisfaction in the compliments of selection.

In my opinion, it was a great success or maybe I had too much wine. No matter, the elk surprised and pleased as did the ruby trout.  The wine flowed and the toasts ranged from hilarious to teary eyed touching, The staff said they were the best toasts  they'd ever heard - and they said they had heard a lot of them. The next morning I woke in a blur failing to remember much detail for a while but still vibrating with  happiness and knew it had gone well.  My husband, greatly relieved he had delivered his speech ,was found in the sauna the next morning with an ice cap on his head and cucumbers over his eyes. He had accomplished his mission without fuel and then made up for it afterwards.

The bride and groom are honeymooning on the Amalfi coast and Paris.  Stay tuned as they report on their dining experiences. BTW, this is my 100th blog.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Carmelized Figs D'Oro with Buttermilk Panna Cotta

I cannot pass up the chance prepare something special with figs. They are a luscious and versatile summer fruit that can be found on everything from pizza to oatmeal right now.  I really like them best fresh but  they pair so successfully with savory cheeses and greens like arugula.  It's hard to know which way to turn but I've decided to ramp up all their rich sweetness by caramelizing them and adding a dash of  elegance with Moscato D'Oro and then serve over a more piquant buttermilk panna cotta. The ruby color from the figs is lovely. Opposites attract in this romantic dessert. Heavenly!

For the Caramelized Figs D'Oro

Rinse, trim and split lengthwise, 1 pint of brown figs
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbls Moscato D'Oro (or use another sweet dessert wine; rum or bourbon would work too)
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (fig, if you can find it)
tiny pinch of salt

In a heavy medium sauce pan, add the brown sugar, Moscato, salt.  Cook over medium low heat for ten minutes stirring frequently. Do not let the sugar burn.  Add the lemon zest and figs and cook another 10-15 minutes.
Cool and serve at room temperature. Store in glass jars.

For the Buttermilk Panna Cotta

2 tbls spoons water
1 1/2 tsp gelatin
cooking spray

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small bowl and let it bloom for a few minutes
Lightly spray 3/4 cup custard cups or molds with cooking spray and set aside.

1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp finely grated lemon peel
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Heat the cream, sugar and lemon peel in a heavy medium sauce pan over medium heat stirring constantly until the cream just starts to boil. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes. Add the softened gelatin and stir until dissolved.  Add the buttermilk and vanilla and blend.  Pour into cups and chill for at least 4 hours.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Oven Fried Okra

Outside the south, okra isn't truly appreciated.  It's a southern staple in our summer gardens.  My husband remembers eating it every night when it arrived in abundance much like the squash and string beans that seemed to go on endlessly at my home.  Small pieces of fried okra where kin to popcorn but okra is more often found in New Orleans style gumbo or stewed with tomatoes and onion.  The slimy texture, when cooked in a liquid acts as a thickening agent. I guess it's an acquired taste if you didn't grow up with it.

Here's a lighter oven baked version of the classic fried okra.  Try it, you'll like it.

1/2 lb  okra pods split down the middle
salt & pepper
1 egg lightly beaten
1 egg white (or better 1/2 cup pasteurized egg whites)
1 cup panko bread crumbs

season the split okra pods with salt & pepper
beat the whole egg and egg whites together
dip the split okra pod in the egg and then roll in panko bread crumbs
spread on  baking sheet covered with parchment paper

bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes until browned. sprinkle with Kosher salt when hot and serve immediately.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Food on the Fast Track

Most of the time, I can prepare a meal fit for a king from the stock of my pantry, frig or freeze. When I consider my children and their contemporaries, who's lives' are hectic and filled with something to do besides making homemade chicken stock, I wonder what would I do in their situation.  Cooking homemade meals has always been a priority for me, not so much for them, but I sense they still want a high quality of domesticity.  They may not derive as much satisfaction as I do from making all my own salad dressings, stock or bread but they certainly appreciate the comforts of home cooking.  So how do they strike a balance between a week on the road, graduate studies at night, and nonstop busy, busy, busy - not to mention, babies.  Whew!  I've never forgotten the night, early in my marriage, when I came home whipped from work at midnight and my husband who was studying for graduate finals said, "What's for dinner?" Our future depended far more on his education than my job as a paralegal, so I fixed something - but, I always had something to work with in my kitchen even back then.

I think about the younger generation of my family and how accomplished they are. None of them are slack; they are all highly educated, motivated, capable and have very serious careers in education, medicine, business or art. I'm so proud of them.  The only thing they lack when it come to cooking is time, but time is the essential element. They have different priorities and just need a plan and some good tools for a little home cooking .

Microwaves are standard equipment now, but there are some other very good small appliances to facilitate their situation.

1. A slow cooker
2. A food processor
3. A blender
4. A pressure cooker
5. A grill (gas or charcoal)
6. A hand mixer

Kitchen Equipment beyond spoons and spatulas:

1. Micro planes or rasp graters
2. An inexpensive mandolin
3. Kitchen shears
4. a knife sharpener (it goes without saying, sharp knives are essential)

Consider something like a slow cooker when you get a wedding gift for a busy young couple. It may be far more useful than a napkin holder.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Summer Fruits with Sauce Sabayon

In Italy, it's Zabaglioni, in France it's Sabayon, in America - well it's sort of like egg nog.  It all depends on what alcohol you use.  The variation of eggs, sugar and cream vary a bit but the end result in a rich custard type infused with your choice of booze.  But wow! It might be just the thing to guild the lily of  a mix of summer fruits in abudance right now but it has many uses.

We finished dinner last night with Alex's Sabayon.  It was perfect.

8 egg yolks
1 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbls fresh lemon juice
1 cup sherry
2 tbls brandy
1 cup heavy cream whipped

With hand or stand mixer, using the wisk attachment, whisk on medium speed, the egg yolks, salt, sugar and lemon juice until they are light, about 3-5 minutes.
Prepare a double boiler over simmering heat (remember, your cooking with steam, not boiling water, the bowl must not touch the water).  Add the sherry and brandy and stir the sauce constantly(this is easier to do with a hand held mixer) until the sauce it thick, 10-12 mins.
Cool the mixture covered. Whip the cream and fold into the sauce.


Pecan-Crusted Salmon with Sauce Gribiche

It might not be Malibu but everyone enjoyed the recipes I used from Alex Hitz's My Beverly Hills Kitchen  last night in my humble kitchen. The peacan-crusted salmon was so good accompanied by a velvety sauce gribiche.  It was very easy to create and made a lovely presentation. I also served his Silver Queen Corn Pudding since it's summer time and the corn is abundant.

Pecan Topping

3/4 cup whole pecans
1 tsp minced garlic
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp dried dill
3 tbls salted butter, melted

1 (2 lb) boneless skinless salmon fillet
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 recipe Sauce Gribiche

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Combine the pecans, garlic, salt, dill, and melted butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process them until they resemble coarse crumbs.

Season the salmon on both side with the salt and black pepper.  Spread the pecan mixture evenly on top of the seasoned salmon fillet and place the salmon on a large baking sheet.  Bake for 10-11 minutes, until it is cooked through but still rare, and the serve it hot with sauce gribiche.

Sauce Gribiche

2 tbls minced shallots
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 tbls capers
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbls red wine vinegar
2 hard boiled eggs
1/4 tsp dried tarragon
2 tsp chopped parsley
1 tsp chopped chives
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade combine all ingredients but the oils until fully pureed, then will the processor is running, add the oil slowly in a steady stream through the feed tube.

Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours before using.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Prince of Cambridge Game Hens with Tarragon Champagne Burre Blanc

A cause to celebrate!  I'm always for that.  I hear the champagne is flowing and the British pubs are packed.  How I wish I were there to join in. Nothing like a baby to make you forget your trouble and marvel at innocence and hope.  I just happened to have a bottle of champagne and thought - why not?  So I toasted the tiny future King of England with champagne and decided to make something fit for a king.

Two Cornish Game Hens rinsed in cool water and patted dry
season cavity with Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
insert 1 garlic clove, stem of tarragon and 1/2 lemon
rub hen with a neutral oil, such as, canola or grape seed
season liberally with Kosher salt & ground pepper
Roast on a rack at 350 for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 160 degrees in the thickest part of the breast.

To prepare the sauce;

In a heavy saucepan over high heat, combine
1 large shallot
juice of one lemon
1/2 cup champagne

Reduce the mixture until it is thick and syrupy.  Reduce the heat to very low and add 2 tbls heavy cream, a pinch of salt and pepper.  The whisk in 8 tbls of butter, on tbls at a time until fully emulsified.  Remove from the heat and add 1 tbls chopped tarragon

Split the hens with kitchen shearers and serve with the sauce.

To the Future King!!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Chocolate Espresso Sorbet

Two of her favorites are chocolate and coffee, so that's what I made for the birthday girl.  They pair well together in this surprisingly rich and refreshing frozen summer treat.  We sipped cold cucumber soup in antique tea cups and nibbled cheese wafers before eating heirloom tomato and goat cheese tart with an arugula and avocado salad dressed with champagne vinaigrette.  The sorbet finished the meal with a luxurious flavor.  The chocolate/espresso is rich but not like a dairy based treat and satisfies those cravings.  I served it again, last night for my 89 year old mother's birthday following her favorite shrimp and grits.
She loved it too! Thank's to Ina for this recipe and the tomato tart.
2 cups sugar
1 cup very good cocoa powder (Valrona or Pernigotti)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup brewed espresso (2 shots)or 2 tps instant espresso in 1/2 cup boiling water
1 tbls coffee liqueur
In a large sauce pan, mix the sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, cinnamon and salt.  Stir in 4 cups water and the espresso. Cook over low heat until ingredients are dissolved.  Off heat, stir in the liqueur.  Transfer to a plastic ontainer and refrigerate until very cold.
Freeze mixture in an ice cream maker according to directions. The sorbet will be soft, place in a plastic container and freeze for a few hours until firm enough to scoop.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Buttermilk Pie for the 4th of July

Half the nation is in extreme drought conditions.  I happen to be in the other half.  We're at the lake and going stir crazy, it's rained 15 inches this week and no one can get outside; no boating, tennis, golf or hiking.  Mildew is in the air and my eyelids are starting to puff. This is the biggest weekend of the year here and it's a bust this go round.  Fireworks, concerts and picnics cancelled.  Every one's house is packed with family and guests and, I expect, in spite of card games, jig saw puzzles and TV, happy hour starts pretty early.  Thankfully, we are invited to an annual big covered dish event by the lake where the host (one of my "Giants", see 5/9/13 post) prepares all the fried chicken, ribs, etc. and the guests bring everything else. It's an epic feast.  Despite the rain, she's determined to go on with the show with a bunch of tents.  It's required a great deal of effort and engineering.  Everyone is dressed in full rain gear and determined to get out of the house.  I've never seen so many people look happy to huddle under drippy tents and drink and eat.  The children are running around barefoot in the deluge in a reprieve from confinement. They are at that age where jumping in mud puddles is such fun so I jumped in one myself just to bring out my inner child.  Heck, who cares if you get wet today?
Usually, I make peach cobbler for the 4th but I changed my mind since I had some buttermilk left from the cucumber soup and the weather's too bad to get to the roadside stands to get peaches, if they're even open.  Buttermilk pie is one of my favorites and it is the definitive "easy as pie".

1 unbaked regular pie shell (not deep dish)
1/2 stick melted butter, slightly cooled
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbls all purpose flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla

In a bowl, beat the eggs, then add sugar and flour and mix well. Add the melted butter, then buttermilk and vanilla. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until lightly browned on top.  Cool completely before serving. Garnish with whipped cream if desired.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Cold Cucumber Soup

I played golf today and it was hot as blue blazes and humid.   It was match play and I got my brains beat out.  I was wiped out when I headed home and profoundly thankful I had cold cucumber soup in the frigerator when I got home. It hit the spot.  I've made cold pea and cold watercress in the last few weeks but neither where as good as the cucumber.  The other two remimded me of collected grass clippings mixed with chicken stock and I felt like a cow chewing it's cud rather than sipping something smooth that slid down my throat.  But Alex Hitz's cold, creamy cucumber soup has just the right texture and blend of flavor. I prefer making it with buttermilk and cream as opposed to yogurt.  Yes, I know, the cream, but it makes it so smooth and doesn't have the after bite of yogurt.  It's hot out there and this soup is a worthy opponent to a wilting oppressive summer.

2 English cucumbers (about 1 lb); peeled and chopped into quarter pieces
2-3 green onions, sliced  (white and green parts)
2 tbls chopped fresh dill
1 tsp lime zest
juice of 1 lime
1 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup chicken stock(homemade if you have it)
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt (less if you are using store bought stock)
1/2 tsp fresh cracked pepper.

In a food processor, add the cucumber, green onions, dill and lime zest. Process for about a minute and until it's an even texture.  You may need to scrape down the sides once.  Yield should be about 2 cups of pulp. Remove and drain excess moisture through a fine mesh seive.  Drain for 5 minutes without pressing.  Put drained cucumber mixture in a large bowl and add the lime juice.  Mix with a spoon.  Add the remaining ingredients and combine throughly.  Pour in a 1 quart container and let sit refrigerated over night.  Serve cold with cheese straws for a light lunch.

Yummy for the tummy!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Paula Deen - Sticks & Stones...and the B-Word

I was warned by my son about what I put on the Internet.  It's a permanent record of my words and  might come back to haunt me in the land of free speech and Homeland Security.  So, I better leave it to others to sort out Paula and the Food Network.  Like Martha Stewart, Paula is flawed but her contributions out weigh her sins. She'll likely regroup and move on.  Now, I'm going to stick my neck out and use the B-word, butter, which seems to be akin to another issue about Paula.   I, frankly, enjoy using the B-word and use it quite liberally when called for.  I'm not afraid of  the B-word but don't go overboard with it either. 

I also use a lot of H-words (herbs) when cooking and, unfortunately, must buy them at the store since I don't have a garden.  Even though I have an H-word container, I have to find ways to use any excess before they spoil and the best way is to chop them up finely and mix with the B-word.  What an easy way to stretch them and add flavor to so many dishes. H-word B-word can be frozen and pulled out when you need it to give your dish that extra punch of flavor. I favor chive for savory breads, rosemary and thyme for chicken,  tarragon and shallot for fish, sage for butternut ravioli, parsley, cracked pepper and garlic for beef.  Basil doesn't freeze well so I make pesto with it, but that's another story. I used H-word B-word on grilled corn on the cob last week for the Father's Day BBQ. So don't waste your H-words; mix them with B-word and freeze.

Then there are the sweetened B-words to top off that piping hot biscuit or muffin; honey, orange marmalade, strawberry; the possibilities are endless.  Use your imagination (but not the B-word).

Frankly, I've used the B-word for most of my life, the H-word came later.  When I was little, if I got hungry before bedtime, my parents would fix me a slice of bread with the B-word on it.  There where seldom any "snacks" or treats in our house; three square meals a day, and that was it, so if I didn't eat my dinner, bread and the B-word was the alternative.  Pretty good deal to me. the B-word always made things better, even 50+ years ago.

I've been using the B-word all my life and this is in my frig! Please! Don't tell Food Network!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Brand X BBQ Sauce

I am the Sauce Boss 2013! I finally won our annual Father's Day barbecue sauce competition after being beaten in past years by my spouse and daughter-in-law, I came up with the winning recipe, but only after a taste off against my sister-in-law.  It was close, I tell you.  I'd tried a vinegar base, mustard base and a sweet concoction, but none were popular enough to win in the past, so I figured you have to play to the audience with a ketchup based blend and a balance of everything - sweet, smokey, tangy and the right amount of heat.  Mine isn't tricked up with bourbon, coffee or fruit juice but it did have a very *secret ingredient that no one else had access to. Just a little of the drippings of the pork butt I personally seasoned with dry rub and smoked with hickory.  It's the same principal I use when I save the "essence" of a roast chicken. I chill the excess juices, skim off the fat and freeze it to later flavor sauces and gravy.  After smoking the pork, I use most of the defatted drippings to keep the meat moist after the shredding or pulling part.  There's plenty left over to save for flavoring and it's a heap better than liquid smoke. It's the color of coffee and when chilled, assumes a gelatinous consistency and can be frozen for future use.

Here's my sauce recipe.  It's fine without the the *secret ingredient but better if you have access to those rich meat juices and it doesn't take much.

1 cup Heinz Ketchup
1/2 cup French's yellow mustard
1/2 cup finely diced Vidalia onion
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup Heinz apple cidar vinegar
2 tbls molassas
1 tbls Dijon mustard
1 tbls Worstershire sauce
1 tbls bacon drippings
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne
apple wood smoked bacon bits

*1 tbls defatted, seasoned, smoked pork butt drippings ( if your lucky)

Cook several slices of the bacon until crisp and drain on paper towels.  Crumble one slice into bits. Cook the onion in 1 tbls of the bacon drippings until just golden and set aside. Combine with the remaining ingredients in a nonreactive sauce pan and simmer 10 mins on low heat.  Add the bacon bits and the *secret ingredient it you have some.  Makes about a pint.

Tip: Use the rest of the bacon in baked beans and add a little of the this sauce to make them extra good.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tomato Aspic - And the Angels Wept

It's been a long, two funeral day.  I left my house early this morning to drive almost two hours south of the large metropolitan area I live in to a smaller, less hectic one to attend the funeral of a dear friend's father.  An elderly doctor, husband, father and friend to countless people was remembered for a life well lived.  Then back to the city to the unbearable wretched, wretched grief of parents' loss of a first born son gone inexplicably and too soon in his 20's. I barely recognized their swollen eyes and slacken faces of grief.

 In the midst of an emotional day was a pause following the doctor's service for luncheon in the church Fellowship Hall.  It's already hot and sultry outside and I'd forgotten a bottle of water for the car.  I had that sinking feeling already when my eyes spotted a large punch bowl full of something sort of lavender, with big blobs of ice cream floating on top.  I wasn't sure what it was but it was bound to be wet and cool.  I was about to take a sip when I saw the widow besieged by condoling friends and offered her the cup in my hand before taking a sip.  If I needed it, she needed it worse and I was right.  I made my way back to the punch bowl to sample the mystery.  If ever there was something that could be described as refreshing, this was it.  There where hints of fruit juice, carbonation, and coconut.  The best of it, where the multitude of tiny, tiny slivers of crystalline ice floating throughout, not cubed, cracked nor crushed - shaved. How had they done it?  Little bits of ice that crunch but don't freeze the tooth and send you to the dentist for a crown.  Suddenly, I was taken back to my 6th birthday party with this sort of punch, birthday cake with pink roses and felt I should be wearing a party dress with a stiff petty coat and black patten Mary Janes and my hair would be in pig tails and ribbons.  Tomorrow is my 60th birthday so it was sweet to be swept back to the 6th, if only for a moment.

Miss Minnie, the church's renounded cook had prepared Hot Chicken Salad casserole with crushed potato chips on top at the family's request and assorted salads including tomato aspic and other delicacies.  I hadn't had the casserole since I was in college.  Lord, it was good!  I know those dishes our mother's made that included a can of creamed soup are now frowned upon but what a blast from the past.  Now, as to the tomato aspic, I had never associated it with funerals but, my minister denounced it from the pulpit one Sunday as something his mother prepared and took to the sick and bereaved.  He could not comprehend why anyone would like it much less consume such. It bordering on evil to him.  If you where not already sick or bereaved, tomato aspic would put you in that state.  Following the service, as is customary, he greets his flock as they depart the church door and we make some nice remark about his sermon.  My sole comment was, "Obviously, your mother didn't have my grandmother's famous tomato aspic recipe."  Well, there it was today confirming his pronouncement of tomato aspic as funeral food.  Not as good as my grandmother's but perfectly fine. Nene served it in a ring mold with chicken salad in the middle for bridge luncheons and lady like entertaining.   She used lemon jello in the recipe and I suppose that's what made hers so popular. Oh, how I miss my Nene!

As hard as today has been, Southern Comfort came to the rescue in the form of cool, slushy punch, a classic casserole in every church guild and Junior League cookbook and tomato aspic. 

My children, take note. Put Nene's Tomato Aspic on the menu when I'm gone.

Nene's Tomato Aspic

6oz. Lemon Jello
6oz. unflavored gelatin
9 cups of V-8 juice
3/4 cup sliced olives
1 cup of diced celery
2 tsp grated onion
1/4 cup Worstershire sauce

Spray a 10 cup mold with vegetable spray.  Heat 4 cups V-8 just to boiling point the pour over gelatin mix and stir until dissolved.  Add remaining ingredients he the rest of the V-8 juice. Pour into mold and chill 8 hours or over night.

Spray a 10 c

Sunday, June 2, 2013

En Papillote

My father used to order Pompano en Papillote sometimes when we ate in fancy restaurants.  The waiter would bring out his plate with just a paper pouch thing on it and then carefully open the bag to reveal the fish cooked along with crab, vegetables and herbs.  It didn't make much sense to me as a kid until a few months ago while shopping in a grocery store out of state, I ran across parchment bags.  You didn't have to cut the parchment out and fold it like origami to make a pouch.  This was just like a paper bag made of parchment that only needed the ingredients and folding.  Place the bag on a baking sheet and into the oven.  As the food cooks and creates steam, the bag puffs up.  At the table the paper is slit and peeled back to reveal the food.  Adds a little drama.

En Papillote is enjoying a revival as a healthier way of preparing fish and vegetables.  I tried it with halibut, lemon, leek and a few herbs, salt & pepper. First I put in some olive oil, then the fish, etc. and 1/2 a cup of dry white wine.  The halibut had been frozen and lost some moisture in thawing and I cooked it a bit too long and the fish so it was too dry for my taste but the flavor is there and worth giving it another effort. 

It's simple and the clean up is easy.  It also gives your dinner guests a extra entertainment when you serve their plates.  I'm going to give it another try.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Grilled Vegetable Sandwich with Goat Cheese and Aoli

People grill everything these days and Memorial Day weekend signals the time to put that grill in high gear.  We're at the lake and I'm planning a delicious grilled vegetable sandwich when the water skiers, golfers & hikers pause for lunch.  Hearty but not too heavy.  Grilled Portobello mushroom, red peppers, onions and eggplant served up on grilled Ciabatta and  topped with garlicky aoli, goat cheese and basil leaves.  So flavorful but not so filling they can't head back out for more outdoor activities instead of a nap.  Served with sweet potato chips and a iced tea- lemonade refresher, followed by raspberry bar cookies.  This is one of my favorite fun in the sun meals and a tasty way to eat those veggies

For the aoli:

In a food processor, add;

1 large egg yolk
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 cloves garlic

Process and add 1/4 cup canola oil (olive if you prefer) through feed tube.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the grilled vegetables:

4 Portobello mushroom caps
1 large onion
1 large red pepper
1 small egg plant (Japanese works well)

Slice vegetables to 1/4 inch thickness and place in a large bowl.  Toss with 1/2 cup canola oil and 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar.  Cover and let marinate for a couple of hours.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper just before grilling.  Drain and move vegetables to a grill basket. Place basket over medium heat and toss frequently to keep vegetables from sticking.  Egg plant burns quickly, so keep an eye on those slices. When browned remove, and grill slices of a hearty rustic bread such as foccia about 1 minute until just toasted.  Spread bread with aoli, arrange grilled vegetables on the bread, top with dabs of goat cheese and a few fresh basil leaves.

So divine!!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tzatziki Smoked Salmon Pita Sandwich

I'm still trying to get the hang of the Mediterranean diet, so when I was fishing around for a few sandwich themes, the Greek style pita caught my attention.  This is a fairly light version and seems perfect for a healthy spring outdoor lunch.

1 cup Greek yogurt
1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
1 tomato, seeded and diced
1 shallot diced fine
1 tbls chopped fresh dill
1 tbls chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic pressed
1 tbls olive oil
1 tbls fresh lemon juice
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese

Mix all the above and refrigerate overnight.  Mix with 4 oz. chopped smoked salmon. Split two pita rounds and stuff each with mixture.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


There are a number of women who have played an important role in my life by guiding and illustrating to me the value of preparing good food.  You either like to cook or you don't and I happen to be one of the former. Early on, I needed some help.  I would not call my mother the kind of cook one would aspire to be and I'll get to her later, so when I encountered great cooks in my early years, I watched them like a hawk and tried to emulate their ways.  I admire each of them, not only as cooks, but wonderful women who have contributed to my values and supported me in more ways than I can count.  Happy Mother's Day to all of them who are still with us and sweet remembrance to those who have gone to their reward.  They are my Mount Rushmore.

Sylvia - We were newly weds when Sylvia and her family moved in next door shortly after we bought our first house.  They where remodeling their kitchen when a snow storm left them short on food so I invited them over for breakfast - I could cook pancakes and bacon.  Once their kitchen was ready Sylvia's Cuban heritage shined.  She had already mastered things I hadn't even thought of yet. I was clueless and she never seemed to mind my silly questions; she could do anything.  Our first invitation to dinner was paella.  I was wowed!  Her baking is perfection and she gave me the cookie dough recipe I have used for thousands of decorated cookies.  It's really her Christmas coffee ring that we've received every year that means so much to me.  She never fails to remember my family in a most delicious way.  I'd call her "The Natural" of cooking. 

Mary Helen - She is my best friend's mother and I'm not sure I can put into words an adequate description of her or what she has meant to me.  Charming, beautiful and talented barely scratch the surface.  She has a gift and flair for everything.  She is the total package!  She entertained frequently with ease and made most of the food herself.  Some time during my high school years, she was preparing for a party and created a fruit presentation made out of a pineapple and a crook neck squash fashioned to look like a peacock.  I was drifting through their house and was stunned to see this creation much less one made by my friend's mother. Could a mother do such things, well this lovely lady could do anything.  I tried, once, to think of something she couldn't do well and gave up.  I asked how she knew how to make the pineapple peacock (this was way before Martha Stewart) and she just shrugged her shoulders and said, "Oh, I just do".  She showed me how to really look at things and see them differently.  I would have seen just a squash and a pineapple, she saw a peacock. 

Anne and Mary Lou - Two women who functioned as one in the kitchen.  Anne was another  friend's mother and Mary Lou was their domestic.  Both were  fabulous cooks and a formidable team.  Anne ran the tightest ship I've ever seen with the help of the jolly Mary Lou.  Any and every meal was a feast and prepared to the highest standard.  Both where masters of traditional Southern fare but Anne never hesitated to take on anything from Baklava to Newburg.  I was wide eyed at the scope and range of meals put on their table. Nothing like that was ever attempted at my house. My friend and I where allowed and encouraged to learn cooking in her home.  The food was so good at their house I even sampled some liver and onions once, and liked it.  I began to understand, when something is done really well, you can change your mind about it and anyththing worth doing should be done well.  Both are gone now but left a fabulous legacy to anyone who sat at their table.

Jan - She's fed her husband, five children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and countless others.  She does numbers well. She organizes big meals routinely.  My husband is a friend of one of the son's and we went to a party at their home on our first date.  Their house was always where the action was. The house was a wreck and I thought to myself, trouble, big trouble, but Jan always took things in stride and moved on. I remember thinking if I ever had a family I wanted to be like her.  I've fallen way short, I must admit. If the church needed 300 pieces of fried chicken for a dinner she volunteered and fried it all herself.  They have a home on a lake where my husband and I visited while dating.  He told me he wanted a home there too someday and that came to pass 25 years later.  We've shared a lot of family life with Jan and her family.  She attracts people with her warmth and caring and has always been willing to share generously of herself and what she has. She reminds me of the feeding of the 5000 in the Bible, there is always room for you at her table and plenty of food.

Callie -  When it comes to giants, I'm looking straight up at this lady.  My husband's parents died an untimely death and he and his brothers went to live with his uncle and his wife, Callie.  They where already grandparents by the time three orphaned nephews arrived on their doorstep.  Callie had a degree in and had taught home economics .  She knew the science behind the recipe and all sorts of stuff.  As her nephew's fiancee' she deemed it her duty to marched me into her kitchen and say "Young lady, do you know how to fry chicken?" I gulped and muttered something, I was still awestruck by the kitchen itself.  This was way before the day of "gourmet kitchens", Callie had a restaurant grade kitchen in their home!  Steel counter tops, a massive stove and cook top, large double door refrigerator and a crushed ice machine. Not one of those little under the counter deals, this was the big commercial kind with I-C-E painted down the side. She imparted from vast knowledge, cooking secrets and kitchen wisdom I have found invaluable.  In addition, she was way ahead of her time when it came to health food.  She would grind a mixture of whole grains in an old fashion hand coffee grinder then cook them for her breakfast cereal.   She inspired me to study and learn about food not just follow a recipe.  She probably would have given me a C+.

Jeanne - Another of my husband's aunts.  She left the South behind and headed North living in one of those classy commuter towns outside New York.  She adapted herself to a more sophisticated and urban environment.  Her cooking adapted also.  French cooking was her signature for a while, then she went to Asian before Asian was fashionable or whatever struck her fancy but she explored cooking of other genres.  She picked up the trends early.  She insisted on reading the Sunday New York Times no matter where she was, in particular the food section.  Life handed Jeanne a boat load of lemons and she did her best to make lemonade with them.  I would call her long distance and discuss food or anything with her and she was full of great wisdom and advice.  As in laws go, I loved her.  When she called to tell me the doctors said it was terminal, she handled it with her usual chipper attitude, I was the one crying.  She didn't have much left at that point but she wanted me to have certain things, in particular, what she held valuable.  The thing I cherished the most was Mastering the Art of French Cooking, first edition.by Julian Child.  Encouragement is priceless.

Debbie - When I use a caterer, she's my girl.  A great friend and a fabulous cook.  She has a photograph of herself and Julia Child framed in her kitchen.  Talk about inspiration, she never holds back, goes for it with out a second thought.  She is the best at seasoning I've ever known and I could not duplicate her seasoning mixes.  She labels them beef massage, poultry potion, and pork rub.  She's got salad dressings, brines, delivered meals, on line pick-up, gift bags, stocking suffers, nut mixes just to mention a few in her repertoire. She has smoked turkey, Cornish hens, pulled pork, tenderloin and, I have in my freezer, right now, of the most sinful little bite of something that tastes like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup.  I've never set foot in her house that she hasn't beckoned me to sit a spell with a glass of wine and a crisp linen cocktail napkin and something to nibble.  A charming, smart and great cook who puts her talents on the market.  Why can't I do that?

Mother - For someone who owns hundreds of cookbooks and subscribed to numerous cooking periodicals, she confounded me with her inability to follow a recipe.  Most of our daily meals where dull, overcooked offerings and we ate out a lot.  Then Christmas would come along and it was an explosion of foods and epic feasts that set her apart and left her exhausted for some time.  Once she set her mind to a task, she was obsessive.  It had to be incomparable and a standard no one else in her sphere could achieve.  Consider the biscuit.  I've seen numerous recipes claiming to be the "ultimate", the "classic", the "perfect" and so on --HA!!  My mother hunted down a biscuit that is unequalled.  The cook's name was Myrtle Mask in Bryson City, North Carolina.  After years of begging, nagging and persistence, she rose well before dawn several mornings in a row to learn the secrets.  These where biscuits that stood tall, light, browned to perfection and could make a grown man cry.  My brother-in-law held a record for most consumed at a single sitting.  There where only 4 ingredients but they were local products.  I attended college in a neighboring state where they could be bought.  Every time, I came home, I was instructed to bring home a bag of the flour and  a particular brand of pure lard or don't come home at all.  Mother picked her marks carefully and then hit the bulls eye. Her standards where and still are very, very high.