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.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Perfect Storm Soup

I'm feeling pretty smug today.  I saw it coming and prepared.  I got up early, took care of business, stocked up on groceries and sent my help home early.  I called my husband's office and warned them to little avail.  I was safe at home by noon when the first flake drifted down.  By three o'clock the phone started to ring with bulletins from my family about their progress in the gridlock traffic situation.  My son pulled over and began walking toward his home and was recued by a kind woman headed in his direction.  His wife and one year old son had to walk the last half mile home in snow and frigid temperature.  The news and social media were full of calamity.  I don't know how many times I've seen this happen in Atlanta in my adult life, but we never seem to learn.  My emergency plan of action has been the same for years; stay home and make French Onion Soup. 

I first formed this emergency plan in 1979.  I worked downtown in a tall office building and road the public bus transportation to and from my office.  My husband called to tell me the bus service would be discontinued later that day as snow piled up.  The prospect of being stranded at work or somewhere in between was unacceptable to me.  So while everyone else nervously sat at their desks, I calmly put on my coat and walked out.  I didn't make an announcement or ask permission, I just left.  It paid off and I didn't have to appologize.  Common sense ruled the day instead of the dollar. The second part of the plan is French Onion Soup.  It's absolutely necessary for survival if you're snowed in.  It fulfills the warm and cosy part just like a roaring fire.

So when my husband finally pulled in after a 4 hour trip home, the lovely aroma of the soup greeted him.  Better than a kiss tonight. As we enjoyed it he said, "Perfect."

Take note City Officials, French Onion Soup posted 2/10/2013. Be prepared and send folks home early.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Real Reason People Don't Cook

My kitchen never rests.  There's always something cooking.  I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that my husband and I eat 3 meals a day there.  We entertain often and only eat out once a week.  It doesn't bother me if my sink has dirty dishes in it or something has to be hand washed like my sharp knives.  That comes with the territory if you enjoy cooking like I do.  I can wreck the kitchen just making a hard boiled egg.  The first time I watched Rachel Ray, I knew she needed to expanded her program title from "30 Minute Meals" to: "and Two Days to Clean Up".  The truth is, you can only make a bowl of cereal if you don't want much clean up. 

Food preparation leads to the inevitable consequence of dirty dishes and the expanded time commitment for cleaning them.  Many recipes now include the stop watch bonus of prep time, active cooking time, etc. so you can plan just how much time you need to allow in your busy day to make the recipe. Never, ever have I seen clean up time noted.  It's likely to be twice what it took to make the dish.  Can you imagine: Hands in soapsuds time; 15 mins. and loading dishwasher time; 8 mins.  That bit of reality is a turn off for sure.

I heard Alex Hitz of My Beverly Hills Kitchen and House Beautiful speak last summer about entertaining and noted his sublime and elegant standard was higher than a single person could manage without help.  I asked him, did he do dishes?  Oh no, there where "people" to do that.  I heard Ina Garten speak last Fall and someone asked from the audience if she did the clean up from her shows, "Oh no, there are dishwashers for that" she tittered.  She didn't mean a dishwashing machine either.  I took a cooking class several years ago and watched with interest as a large man quietly entered the kitchen and put on heavy rubber gloves and attacked the mass of roasting pans and mixing bowls laid waste by dozens of students and instructors in a single day.  He was a professional dishwasher.  The grease and goo didn't faze him. Bring it on!

I do have a nice lady who comes once a week and puts my kitchen back in order momentarily.  If she didn't, I'd eventually sink below some health department standard.  Every time she arrives, we exchange greetings and then she asks me anxiously, "How much cooking did you do this week?"  I have to be sure and leave the house while she works so I don't interfere with her progress.  By noon, the kitchen venue is back to the starting line, wiped down and everything back in place.  I know I'm fortunate to have a large well equipped kitchen and a little help but I also remember making fine meals in a small galley with counter space the size of a postage stamp.  It can be done, check out Rachel Khoo in The Little Paris Kitchen or Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen

My mother let me help her stir a cake batter when I was little but I sloshed it out to the bowl so much I was dismissed to the backyard to make my messy mud pies in foil pans with the garden hose and an old spoon.  I was only allowed to "cook" under her guidelines of minimal mess.  It was very frustrating to me.  She and most of my friends would say they prefer to use their time otherwise.  Who wants to cook and wash dishes when you've worked all day.  They'd rather go to yoga class after work and pick up some carry out on the way home.  That's OK, but home cooking is back in vogue, thanks to Martha Stewart and all those TV chefs and I've cast my lot with them. 

I'm always amused by people who have beautiful kitchens but never use them.  One husband quipped, he would swear the owner's manual was still in the oven at his house because his wife had never turned it on. Another friend and her husband where building a new home and mulling over the costs.  She said her mother-in-law had suggested they omit a kitchen to reign in the budget since they never used it. Ouch!

I try to clean up my kitchen daily, but it's not easy, I've made peace with my sink full of dirty dishes. I have my own rules.  The sink must be emptied and the dishwasher run once a day.  All ingredients must be put away after the recipe is completed. Leftovers must be stored promptly. It's the hand washing that gets me.  Its the knives and wooden cutting board and nonstick pans that lag behind. Lots of people don't bother and throw them in the dishwasher to be ruined. Anyone who puts my knives in the dishwasher is severely rebuked even if they are trying to help.  Some times it's a shared arrangement; you cook and the other cleans up.  I like that idea but it doesn't happen often.

Not to belabor the point but food preparation leaves behind a fair amount of dirty dishes that someone has to deal with.  I'm guessing it's 50% prep and 50% clean up, most of the time.  I wondered when I wrote my preceding post on Fluffy French Omelets, how many of you would try something that required seven items that had to be washed in addition to the plates and eating utensils.  I find even a little daily cooking adds to the quality of my life just like exercise does, even if it's just making a salad dressing, so there will always be dirty dishes in my sink.  Now, excuse me, I have to go clean up my kitchen.  It's a mess.

Foolproof Fluffy French Omelet

I've been trying to perfect my omelet for years and what I've learned is there's still room for improvement, so my quest goes on.  There are many different styles depending on your heritage but it's all about technique.  I've seen one made by swirling and flipping the pan with one hand.  It was the Cirque du Soleil of omelets and I don't have the wrists for that.  I like this one for the fluffy, tender French style; you'd have trouble screwing it up.  My first introduction to the fluffy variety was watching a man on TV beat the eggs by hand for 15 minutes.  Forget that, I thought.  I've tried the rolled version with limited success but this makes it simple and always comes out a light, delicate marvel.  Separate the eggs, beat the whites then combine them like a souflee'.  It makes for a lovely presentation.  Try this next time you have house guests.  They'll think you're a Cordon Bleu graduate.

4 eggs separated
1 tbls melted butter + 1 tsp
4 oz. grated Fontina cheese
2 oz sliced and chopped deli ham
Pinch of cream of tartar
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Adjust rack to middle position.

Lightly oil an 8 inch nonstick ovenproof skillet.   Cook the ham for a few minutes until the edges brown and remove to a separate plate. Wipe the skillet clean.  Separate the eggs into two bowls.  Melt 1 tbls butter in the microwave and cool slightly.  Add cream of tartar to egg whites and beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form 2-3 mins.  Add the cooled melted butter and a pinch of salt and pepper to the yolks and mix well.  Add the yolk mixture to the egg whites and combine with a whisk until there is no trace of white. Heat 1 tsp of butter in the skillet over medium/low heat and brush it evenly over skillet and its sides.  Add the egg mixture and cook for about two minutes until the edges are set.  Sprinkle the cheese and ham over the egg surface.  Place skillet on middle rack in the oven and bake for 3-4 minutes until puffed, just lightly browned and the cheese is melted.  Remove from the oven to a platter and let rest 1 minute. Carefully fold over with a spatula and slice in wedges to serve.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Eggplant Parmesan

I jotted down some notes to myself a while back on winter recipes and then the list got buried on my desk until a couple of days ago.  It's been a cold week and eggplant Parmesan fits the bill for a hearty meatless dish.  I don't fry the eggplant but oven bake panko encrusted slices for a lighter version.  I also used a high quality store bought marinara sauce mixed with some of my roasted red pepper sauce I posted last week to guild the lily (but not necessary).  This recipe uses three different cheeses, ricotta, shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan Reggiano to seal the layers of eggplant.  Please note I didn't add any salt or pepper.  I don't think they are necessary here but, depending on the brand of sauce you use, a little extra basil won't hurt.  It's up to you.

1 medium/large egg plant, sliced to 1/4 inch(you'll need about 12-14 slices)
1 25.5 oz jar of Lucini Rustic Tomato Basil Sauce
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded Mozzarella
1 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano, divided
olive oil

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly oil a 9x13 baking dish. Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper.
Mix 1/2 cup Parmesan Reggiano with panko bread crumbs and spread on a dinner plate.  Lightly beat the eggs in a shallow dish.  Dip the egg plant slices in egg and then dredge in bread crumbs, then place on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 10 mins. Flip over and bake 10 more mins.   Spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of the baking dish, then a layer of breaded eggplant.  Mix the ricotta with any remaining egg and spread over egg plant. Cover with half the shredded mozzarella, then half the remaining sauce.  Repeat the layers and top with Parmesan Reggiano.  Drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 350 for 40 mins or until browned and bubbley on top.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Roasted Red Pepper Coulis

I wander around a grocery store  the way an artist might wander the streets looking for inspiration. The last store I expected it was Costco.  Can't stand the place but it's a practical necessity these days.  The produce is quite good but usually, just too much of it for me. I'm not running a restaurant so I can't see any point in buying a really big bag of potatoes.   Suddenly, a bag of 6 red bell peppers struck me with great potential.  Winter produce is fairly dull, so the prospect of a bright red pepper coulis warmed up my thoughts.  It's such and easy way to make a chic presentation.  Not to mention, big flavor delivery. 

Heat oven to 450 degrees or roast whole over open flame turning with a large fork.

6 red bell peppers, split, cored and seeded.
1 large shallot finely chopped
olive oil
1 garlic clove minced
juice of half a lemon or 2 tsp.

Rub the exterior skin of the peppers with olive oil and place face down on parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Roast until the skin is blackened and blistered ( about 30 mins in an oven - watch them)
Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and allow to cool until easy to handle.
The skin should peel off easily and retain the red pepper flesh in the bowl and any collected juices.

Heat 1 tbls olive oil over medium heat and cook the shallot about 3 minutes or until soft. Add the garlic and saute 1 more minute.  Put the roasted, peeled peppers, cooked shallot, garlic, salt and pepper and 3 tbls olive oil in a food processor and process until smooth.  Add the lemon juice and adjust seasoning.  Process until all is combined.  Serve with at room temperature or warmed with fish, or any meat or over eggs, souffles, etc.

It makes anything elegant.