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.