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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Before The Soup

Last time I blogged about making black bean soup with the bone from roasted pork.  Here is how to make the roast pork so you will have the bone you need for your soup.  This pork can also become an ingredient in your Cubanos (Cuban sandwiches).

You can use any kind of pork shoulder to make this dish.  The one I like best is also the cheapest.  My market often has it for only 99 cents a pound.  It is often called picnic ham or picnic shoulder and usually has a layer of fat and one of skin still attached.  Don't be fooled by the name "ham".  It is not smoked or cured like a ham, it is fresh pork meat.  Other cheap cuts are called pork shoulder (duh) or pork butt.  These range (in my area) from about $1.29 to $1.89 per pound.  If you buy the picnic ham or shoulder that has the skin attached you will be rewarded with crisp, crackly pork similar to chicharones to nosh on. 

The other day, Bill said he had something for me. It was Miguel's recipe for roast pork, which he had written out for me.  As Miguel says, the amount will vary based on the size of the pork shoulder you have.  You probably want enough marinade to thoroughly coat the meat and some to drip down.

Combine:
Adobo (Goya brand - a powdered seasoning mix)
Black Pepper
Garlic (7 cloves or more, smashed or crushed or minced)
Sour orange (naranja agria - a bottled marinade mixture also by Goya)
Start with about 2 cups of the marinade, or just use the whole bottle.

Start this recipe a couple days before you wish to eat the pork - it will have to marinade a day or two.  Mix up the marinate and then slash into the pork all over.  Rub the marinade all over the pork and try to get some into the slashes as well.  Wrap it and place it in a deepish dish or pan in the fridge (or on a unheated back porch if it's winter) to rest for at least a day or overnight.  If you have a plastic bag large enough, you can place the marinade and meat inside and turn it easily several times during the marinating process.

Remove the wrapping and roast in a covered roasting pan 3 hours at 400 degrees, then uncover and cook 45 minutes longer at 450 to crisp up the skin.

Remove the crackly skin and carve into serving pieces to serve along with the sliced pork.  Arroz con Gandules (rice and pigeon peas) is a good accompaniment.  I will post that recipe if Miguel is kind enough to share it.  Homemade potato salad goes well too.  Serve any of the pan drippings as a sauce over the meat after skimming the excess fat.  Save any extra drippings to add to your soup stock along with the bone and any trimmings of fat.

Quotable quotes; in the category If wishes were . . . wait, what?

"Beef wishes it tasted like pork."  Anonymous

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Soup In Three Days!

Every year in the week before Thanksgiving, the guys in Bill's shop bring in food.  Miguel prepares a roasted pork shoulder, Puerto Rican style.  Rice and pigeon peas (Arroz con Gandules) and potato salad are on the menu (homemade, of course) along with loaves of French bread.  Sometimes Bill is able to bring home a little for me, if there is any leftover.

One year I asked if Miguel did anything with the bone from the roast pork, like make soup stock.  Miguel did not - but he did give the bone to Bill to bring home to me.

This year Bill brought home enough pork, rice and potato salad to make a meal for us the day before Thanksgiving - and a whole loaf of French bread that was destined to be tossed.  Can you say sandwiches?

As a special treat Miguel approached Bill, telling him he had a gift for his wife (me).  It was the bone from the pork shoulder, neatly wrapped in foil and plastic, with Miguel's compliments for a happy Thanksgiving.  Bill asked me to make black bean soup from the bone.  We tucked it in the freezer to be dealt with after all the leftover turkey was gone.  I planned to boil the bone and make soup from the broth, but the tryptophan stupor from the leftover turkey put me behind schedule.

On Monday I remembered the bone.  No problem, I could soak the beans and boil the bone to make stock on Monday, cook the beans in the stock with vegetables (sofrito) on Tuesday, then reheat the finished soup with some sauteed and sliced chorizo sausage to be eaten on Wednesday.  A perfect plan.  A perfect soup.  Here's how to make your own.  You will need a bone from a roasted pork shoulder.  If you don't have a friend to give you one, I will tell you how another time.  You can substitute canned broth if you have to.

Break the bone with a hammer (optional) then place in a large pot and cover with water by about 2 inches.  Add to the pot onion skins and trimmings from the scrubbed vegetables you will use in the soup.  This might be a couple carrots, trimmed celery stalks and an onion.  If you have recently trimmed a tomato throw those in too.  The veggie trimmings enrich the stock and add flavor.

Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for several hours.  Allow to cool slightly, discard the solids and strain the stock.  Chill overnight.  Meanwhile cover a cup of black beans with water and soak overnight.

Next day, remove the fat from the surface of the stock.  Saute a chopped onion, carrots and celery in olive oil (or the fat from the chorizo) with some dried red pepper flakes, some black pepper, a little Adobo seasoning and some thyme, marjoram and savory (or herb blend) and some ground cumin.  When vegetables are limp and onions translucent, scrape into the pot with the stock.  Add the soaked, drained and rinsed beans, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer an hour or two until beans are tender.  If you have any tomatoes go ahead and add some to the pot.

Don't forget the chorizo!  I used the dry Spanish style chorizo.  I sliced it thinly on the diagonal and sauteed it briefly in a skillet, just enough to get the flavorful oils to release.  If there is not enough to saute your vegetables, add a little olive or vegetable oil.  Reserve the chorizo slices for the next day.  Allow the soup to chill and to stand overnight.

Finally, on the third day, reheat the soup along with the chorizo.  You can add seasonings if it needs a boost - a little lemon or lime juice or a dribble of vinegar will perk up the flavors.  If you want the soup thick you can mash some of the beans with a potato masher or an immersion blender.  I don't bother putting it in the blender - too much work and too many appliances to wash afterward.  Or just leave it as it is - soupy and full of bean-ey goodness.

Serve your black bean soup with any, all or none of these garnishes:  diced avocado, minced green onion and/or cilantro, finely chopped tomato and/or onion, a dollop of sour cream.  Some hearty bread is a good accompaniment.  And in honor of Miguel, Bone Appetit!

Quotable quotes; in the category I Agree, Roast Pork IS Essential . . . AND A Project!

"I object to you using words like 'squander' and 'pork'.  What is pork in one part of the country is an essential project in another part."

John Breaux, Politician

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What a Turkey!

It’s Thanksgiving day.  We are driving to the in-laws, as we do most Thanksgivings.  We are late.  We usually try to get on the road by 7 or 8 am.  Today we did not make it until 9:35 am.  It’s my fault.  I forgot to leave three days worth of food and water for the cat.  We have to call the in-laws to tell them we will be later than planned.  I hope the turkey won’t be dry.  It won’t, mother-in-law is an excellent cook.

We are back on the road and just passed a van with a Quebec license plate and several bicycles mounted on the back.  I hope they have a great weekend.

Holidays are stressful enough without getting a late start – but once we put a hundred miles behind us we will forget all about it, and by Saturday we will be driving home and all will be well.

This is the first time I have actually blogged about a holiday on the actual day of the holiday.  Driving back home to feed the cat I was composing this entry in my head.  Now it seems I don’t have much to say about it after all.

This afternoon we will have the usual turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy and typical sides.  The Waldorf salad will have dried cherries instead of raisins (in-laws live near Traverse City MI).  The sweet potatoes will have maple syrup instead of marshmallows (thank you, father-in-law).  The desserts will be family favorites and specialties – pumpkin pie because Bill requested it, cherry pie if I am lucky.  We are bringing the end of a loaf of Greek style bread which will make fabulous turkey sandwiches tomorrow.  We may brave the “black Friday” to shop at the little stores in the little towns.  These crowds I can handle, not like the mobs in and around Chicagoland (I hate crowds).

Two things I notice.  It is very difficult to type in a moving car. 

There is a LOT more traffic just these couple hours later than we usually drive.

I better pay attention.  The driver needs me to be sure he is doing it right.

A few miles later we passed a van with a small trailer on the back and a piano lashed into the trailer.  I'm in the mood for some music.

Have a happy and blessed thanksgiving.

Quotable Quotes;  in the category Ooops! 

“ As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly”.  Mr. Carlson, WKRP in Cincinnati

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Went to a "new" Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood last week.  Definitely worth a comment.  My first thought on entering Mom's Old Recipe on Milwaukee Ave. was that it probably wished it was in Wicker Park.  Based on the decor and the wait staff this place seemed out of place on the edge of the city limits and would be more at home closer to Milwaukee and Damen than at Milwaukee near Devon.  This thought was reinforced when I saw the same sentiment on one of review spots - yelp or another one.

Decor aside, when I go out to eat, it's really to eat, not to look.  As long as what I am looking at is not looking back I don't care too much about what it looks like.  Mom's Old Recipe has some sort of brushed metal sculpture that resembles waves (to me, anyway) on an olive drab painted wall.  Above the waves large canvases, some blatantly marked "after Diego Rivera" depict Mexican and Mayan subjects.  The other wall is painted a dull ochre to resemble brick masonry with a large sun image centered on the wall.

Metal pipes emerge from the walls, candle style bulbs and a wire mesh leaf or flower standing in for wall sconce lighting.  Railings around the tables in the window (step up) and recently brought in chairs and cushions from the patio seating (read curbside) give a casual feeling to a place that was obviously decorated with care.  The effect is roomy, the din increasing as each additional party enters.

On to the food.  Daily specials include the ubiquitous combination of half carne asada, enchilada, and chile relleno.  The special that caught my eye was the taco trio.  One steak, one chicken, one fish taco for $10, beans & rice included.  Assured the specials repeated often I ordered the trio secure in the knowledge I could try the steak another time.

Chips and salsa were presented gratis; the chips light and crisp, the salsa a smooth puree of chiles with a gentle heat.  Unexpected were the delicious pickled carrot, cauliflower and jalapenos.  Sweet and tart with a hint of cumin and heat, they were a delightful surprise.  I am searching for a recipe to replicate them.

The man ordered his standby enchiladas mole.  He praised the mole as delicious, if the portion small.  Two enchiladas on a glamorous square plate and a dab of beans and rice on the side.  Used to the huge portions typical of neighborhood Mexican restaurants or taquerias, we decided our waistlines favored the more realistic serving.

My chicken taco was unremarkable, the steak good and the fish taco outstanding.  A crisply fried tilapia fillet presented on a bed of shredded cabbage in a vinagery dressing, the smaller than usual tortillas (two per taco) made a nice presentation on the rectangular white china plate.  A serving of beans and rice on a separate plate accompanied the trio.

Other entrees included burritos, enchiladas and some more unique preparations such as Moyetes (a sandwich of beans, cheese and pico de gallo), Enfrijoladas (tortillas stuffed with ham & Mexican sausage) and Tacos Acorazados (tortillas with steak Milanesa and potatoes) all in the $10 range (the steak and seafood entrees higher).  Delicious caramel flan, thick and creamy with drizzlings of raspberry sauce and whipped cream, made a lucious ending to our meager supper.

Drink specials include Margaritas, Bloody Mary's, Sangria and Beer all discounted on various days.  Family friendly, there were three tables with children (not all well behaved, unfortunately) on our visit.  Friday and Saturday evenings feature live music.  If you like din you'll want to go on those evenings.  If you prefer dinner, go before 8 pm or on a different day.

Friendly service, nice menu, good prices.  All in all, a great first experience at a new place.  We will be going back.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Can't Talk . . . . Eating.

"Conversation is food for the soul."  Mexican Proverb

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Poem Lovely As A . . . .

When I was a senior in high school I had taken all my required courses and so was able to fill my last semester with electives.  Drama, Choir, any "fun" classes like advanced sewing were already a regular part of my academic schedule.  Art was about the only thing left for me to take.  I enrolled for Art 1 and found myself in a class with a lot of freshmen and a few seniors who, like me, were filling class time.  Don't discount freshmen - it was through one of my younger art classmates that I found singing opportunities at the local Baptist church and where I met my future (now present) spouse.

Requirements for this class were not rigorous.  The first thing we had to buy was a sketch pad and a box of crayons.  The Crayola 24 box was the preference although I think some of my classmates scrounged the art boxes of their younger siblings for supplies while others purchased the deluxe box of 120 including a built in crayon sharpener.  Fools they.  The first thing the art teacher did was grab somebody's crayon and snap it in half, explaining that the rough edge was needed for the technique we would be using.  I vowed to keep my brand new box of crayons away from him.

In the early weeks of the semester we were taken outside to draw various trees around the school.  I was surprised by how easily I was able to realistically represent these natural creations with merely a broken crayon and a pad of paper (yes, I succumbed to the theory that the rough edges of the broken crayon allowed one to sketch leaves and branches more realistically).

All that fall I sketched trees; sitting on the front porch to draw the neighbor's beautiful maple in its coral colored splendor, waiting for my younger sister during doctor visits where I was her chauffeur, drawing the trees surrounding the medical center, taking impromptu breaks from class to sketch again the great oak which gave our school its mascot and yearbook title.  I handed in the required number of drawings.  I don't remember the grade.

Later in the semester we experimented with water colors, with oil paints, with pen and ink, choosing subjects appropriate to the medium.  One girl at my table brought in the cigarette lighter from her boyfriend's mid 1960s model Ford Galaxie to draw in a pen and ink rendering.  I tried painting a glass mason jar with water colors, a disappointing failure.

Best of all were the Ivory soap carvings.  We were allowed to carve in relief or in three-D.  I found a photo of a statue in a book and elected to recreate her in Ivory Soap.  As I recall the project was successful.  I wonder if later my sculpture was relegated to the bathroom for a more practical existence.

I once traced the fashion illustrations on a sewing pattern and handed it in.  As I recall I was given a good grade but I always felt guilty about it.  Likely the teacher knew just how I had achieved the drawing and gave me the grade as punishment.  Or not.

These past few weeks, driving to work, I noticed the maples, ashes, lindens and other neighborhood trees turning to rust, gold, orange and scarlet.  I remembered those school days spent outdoors and those other occasions drawing trees.  The annual occurrence of the leaves turning never fails to amaze all that behold its beauty.

Quotable Quotes; in the category That's The One I Want To Draw!

"Life is about using the whole box of crayons."  RuPaul

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pizza-licious!

I love pizza.  Doesn't everybody?  What I don't love is Chicago style pizza.  And wouldn't you know, I just happen to live . . . . never mind.  My favorite pizza is from my home town.  I won't tell you where that is but I will tell you that Little Caesar's and Domino's need not apply.  Pizza Hut?  Well, it'll do in a pinch but the fact is I cannot get my favorite pizza unless I am visiting family that still live in the home place.  Consequently, I end up making pizza at home much of the time.  It's not as good as what I grew up with but it's better than deep dish.  Or pan.  Or (perish the thought) thin crust.

I have a friend who also makes pizza at home.  She is lavish with toppings - lots of pepperoni and enough cheese to keep the dairy business in business.  I favor a more modest approach when it comes to cheese, and the man prefers a light hand with the sauce.  I like to make my crust from scratch - a basic bread recipe will serve, or any of the dozens of pizza dough recipes available in books or on line.  Sometimes I may use a store-bought crust like Boboli, or I may use frozen bread dough.

Those pizza doughs that come in the cardboard tube, like the crescent rolls, are okay but not big enough or hearty enough.  Save them for making breadsticks.  Nor do I advocate using things like English muffins or pita bread as pizza crust.  Somehow, they just taste like an English muffin or pita bread with tomato sauce and cheese.

But this week I found a new way to make pizza at home quickly and easily.  This is one of those recipes that I wish did not taste good.  I saw it on a television commercial and actually made fun of it until I decided to give it a try.  The crust was made using a cardboard tube of biscuits.  I had ham, sauce and cheese on hand so I decided to give it a try.  Wouldn't you know, I did not have a can of biscuits?

Luckily, they appeared on the next grocery store sale paper and we were in business.  Also on sale was a package of pepperoni.  Now I have nothing against ham on a pizza but if you want to get down to basics, pepperoni is definitely the way to go.

Next time they are on sale, pick up a tube of those biscuits.  Likewise some sauce, cheese and pepperoni or other toppings - or use what you have in the fridge.  Here is the basic recipe with some variations.

Open the package of biscuits and separate them - most seem to come 8 to the package.  Flatten the biscuits, gently stretching and pressing with your fingers, to approximately 6 inch circles.  Organic shapes are also appropriate - the biscuits will take on a life of their own during baking.  Place the "pizza dough" on a greased baking sheet.

Top each with a spoonful of tomato sauce, pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce or whatever is on hand.  Plain tomato sauce can be helped with a pinch of basil, oregano, garlic powder and/or crushed red pepper flakes.  Or make your own sauce from scratch if you are of a mind to.

Now add toppings of your choice - a few slices of ham or pepperoni, and a scattering of cheese.  Pop the pizzas into a preheated 375f oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes.  Ours were perfect at 13 and 14 minutes.  Remove to a board to cool for a few minutes before serving.  That's it!  Little pizzas with a buttery, flaky crust and tasty toppings, made in just a few minutes and (depending on your sauce and toppings) very little clean  up! 

Give these a try.  If you are more adventurous (or maybe a vegetarian) try these variations.  Use ham, Canadian bacon, pineapple, any kind of cheese, black or green olives, peppers and onions, sliced tomato, garlic, spinach, or just check out the menu from your local pizza place for inspiration.

These little guys would be great for a party appetizer (everybody can make their own) or to make with kids for a quick supper for a party or sleep-over.  Or just any time you want pizza and can't wait the 30 minutes for delivery.

One note - those canned biscuits sometimes come in a "buttery" variety.  I think the plainer versions may be more appropriate, or you may prefer a different cheese and assortment of toppings for the butter style biscuits.  Enjoy!

Quotable quotes; in the category Hey, Toss One My Way! 

"Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around."  Anna Quindlen

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tico Tico Taco

We bought tortillas and avocados last week.  I wanted to eat them for once instead of having to throw them out, so I made a concerted effort to use them up while they were still fresh.  Tuesday seemed like a good night to have them for supper - there was nothing on TV worth watching that would distract me.  Bill had asked me to make him a quesadilla using his favorite green salsa.  I decided on veggie tacos for myself.  I had veggie tacos at a couple of restaurants and they were very good.  Problem - I did not know what went on a veggie taco.  Solution - peppers and onions.  I had also recently purchased a bag of those mini red, orange and yellow peppers at the market and likewise wanted to eat them before they became a science experiment in the fridge.

I decided beans and rice would be a natural accompaniment and would further allow me to "pantry shop" (code for look on the shelf and use it before buying anything more).  I have a friend who is sympathetic to my plight of an overstocked fridge and pantry.  She says her dad used to have an expression - "ten pounds of stuff crammed into a five pound sack".  An accurate representation.

I found a box of Rice-a-roni, Spanish Rice style, and a can of refried beans.  I diced half an onion for the beans and sliced the remaining onion for the tacos.  I sliced a half dozen of the assorted peppers and a leftover half tomato from the previous day's salad.

Diced onion and tomato went in the skillet for the beans.  Sliced onion and pepper went in a smaller skillet for the tacos.  A token amount of each went in the saucepan with the Rice-a-roni.  The cheese and tortillas, including green sauce, went in another skillet for the quesadillas.  The remaining tortillas were wrapped in a damp towel and placed in the oven in a casserole to warm through.

I somehow learned pretty quickly how to get everything ready at the same time.  For some reason, I don't have to do any math (unless it's Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner) to know when to put everything on so it will be done at the same time.  Lo and behold, just as everything was about done I sliced the avocado and squeezed a lime over it, dished up and had it all on the table at the same time.

Lemme tell ya, a schmear of refried beans and a spoonful of rice make a pretty decent taco all on their own.  Add a topping of seared pepper & onion and some dead ripe avocado and that's tasty!  The fact that there were enough leftovers to make a taco for a snack the next day is only proof that somebody loves me. Taco Bento anyone?

Quotable Quotes; in the category Don't Yell At Me I Only Live Here!

"Well would you mind telling me why there's Rice-a-roni in my coffee?"

Butter's Dad; South Park Season 12 Episode 14

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Anglo Saxon Whattitudes?

I loves me a ham sandwich.   My favorite ham sandwiches are those that are cut on the diagonal, especially if they are packed in one of those triangle "sealed with plastic" boxes that you might get in an Amtrak dining car or any place that sells pre-made "fresh cut" sandwiches in England or the US (in England you do not "make" sandwiches, you "cut" them).

The reason the diagonal cut makes them taste best is due to this Tenniel illustration for chapter 7, "The Lion and the Unicorn" from Lewis Carroll's "Through The Looking Glass".  As soon as I realized that the messenger was handing the King a ham sandwich, I decided that a ham sandwich should always be cut this way.  For some reason, when I was a kid, I thought he was handing the King a slice of pizza or something.  I knew it could not be that, but that picture sure did not look any ham sandwich I had ever seen.  All the ham sandwiches I knew were either on rye or pumpernickel bread and cut straight across, never on an angle.

I still don't know how they got that ham sandwich to have that shape (it still does not resemble any ham sandwich I have ever seen) but I content myself to cut my ham sandwiches, no matter the shape of the bread, on the angle.  Then I can remember Alice, the White King and his messenger with the Anglo Saxon attitudes.  If you do not know what that means, don't feel bad.  Neither does anybody else.  For proof, google Alice Anglo Saxon Attitudes and see what you get.  Or just forget about it and re-read Through The Looking Glass.  It's worth it.

Quotable Quotes; in the category But How Many Does It Feed?

"Hors D'oeuvre:  A ham sandwich cut into forty pieces."
Jack Benny

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Good Dressing Down!

I blogged about salads and dressing a bit ago and mentioned I prefer making homemade dressing except for blue cheese.  I also mentioned making dressing in a mustard jar that was almost empty.  Here is another dressing tip.  When your jar of blue cheese dressing is just about empty don't throw it out - yet.  Add a little oil and vinegar, or just add a little of your basic vinaigrette to the jar and shake it all about.  You'll have a tasty blue cheese vinaigrette for your salad

Remember the days of the steak house and the iceberg lettuce salad?  To make a classic steak house salad remove the core and outer, wilted leaves from a head or two of iceberg lettuce.  Cut the lettuce in wedges and place one or two in each salad bowl.

Top with sliced tomatoes or cherry tomato halves (sliced red onion and/or radish optional) and a good dollop of your favorite blue cheese dressing.  For the crowning touch, sprinkle a generous portion of cooked, crumbled bacon and a little crumbled blue cheese on top.  Garnish with freshly ground pepper.

This is a bargain when you consider that a head of iceberg usually sells for about a buck and this salad can cost upwards of $10 in a typical steak house!  (T)-bone appetit!

Quotable quotes; in the category I Don't Know What It Means But I'm Too Tired To Look It Up.

"It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is 'soporific'." Beatrix Potter

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Don't Put All Your Egg Salad In One Bread Basket

I had egg salad the other day. I love egg salad. I have tried different versions that add minced celery, pickle relish or other things but I just don't care for them. The closest I came was "Bacon and Egg Salad" which just meant adding crumbled bacon to my basic recipe. I was not impressed. The bacon did not stand out and I felt it was a waste of good bacon (luckily the egg salad was fine, with or without the bacon).

I think the reason I prefer my rather plain egg salad is the bread I serve it on. I sometimes use a hearty country style bread but any regular old grocery store bread will do - white bread, a soft whole grain, a denser whole grain - but the very best bread for egg salad is fresh Challah, that soft, golden yellow bread with a shiny brown crust. This lets the egg salad be the star with a good supporting cast. Buy Challah at a deli or wherever you buy your bagels if your grocery store does not have it.

My egg salad is basic and pretty plain. Remember, that's the way I like it. I was just thinking of cooking the eggs in egg coddlers, which I posted on recently. But that would mean a separate coddler for each egg. Too many to wash. Besides, they do just fine inside the shell - and since you'll be mashing the eggs anyway it doesn't matter if they don't peel beautifully.

My friend gave me a couple gadgets. One is a little plastic thing with a spring loaded pin inside. This is for piercing the end of the egg which is supposed to prevent the egg cracking during cooking. it works pretty well.
The other is a contraption with a slotted section to hold the peeled egg and another section that is threaded with wires for slicing the egg. My friend turns the egg in two or three directions in order to dice rather than slice. This guy works okay for slicing eggs for, say, potato salad but for egg salad I just smash everything together with a fork.

Be warned. I never measure. I just add until the taste and texture are about right. Here is my "recipe" for basic egg salad. I usually use about three eggs. This makes the amount of egg salad I know I will eat before I decide I would rather have ham and cheese.

Pierce the broad end of the egg with your egg piercer or a sharp push pin. Be careful not to squeeze the egg too hard or it will break. I sometimes pierce the narrow end too, especially if the eggs are less fresh. Place the eggs in a pan just big enough to hold them in a single layer and fill the pan with cold water to cover the eggs.

Bring to a full boil, then cover the pan and turn off the heat. Leave them for 10 minutes (or longer). Add cold water to the pan, draining out the hot water, and leave them until they are cool enough to handle, about 10 - 20 minutes. Remove the shells and either dice the eggs with your egg slicer or a knife, or just place them in a bowl and smash them with a fork, leaving them as chunky as you like. I like them fairly smooth.

Add a little mayonnaise, about a teaspoon per egg, maybe a little less. Also add a nice blob of any kind of mustard - plain old yellow, brown and spicy, Dijon - I use whatever kind of mustard happens to be open in the fridge. Add a pinch of salt and pepper.

Stir well with the fork, adding a bit more mayonnaise if you like. If you are feeling creative or happen to have any handy, add a pinch of fresh or dried herbs - oregano, basil, tarragon or thyme - or maybe a pinch of cayenne pepper or a drop of Tabasco sauce. Taste as you go and stop when you like it (or when you have tasted all the salad and have to start over).

I love this served on soft, fresh Challah, any whole wheat or whole grain bread, toasted or not, or even on toasted English muffins or bagels! Sometimes I even spread it on crackers, like dip.

If you want to make devilled eggs, just be extra careful peeling the eggs. Slice them in half, mash the yolks with mayo, mustard, seasonings and, if you like, a splash of vinegar or pickle juice and spoon the filling back into the whites. Garnish with a shake of paprika or a parsley leaf.

That's it! Easy, basic, tasty. The way things should be!

Quotable Quotes; in the category Yeah, I Think This Is How I Would Like It To Go!

"My career is pretty much over. I'm out in the Valley eating soft-boiled eggs." Tim Conway

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Oh It's The Nuts!

When I posted about Garlic Fried Rice a while ago I promised I would tell you about Garlic Peanuts and Adobo. Well I kept my word on the Adobo so now it's time to come through on the peanuts.

Peanuts fried with garlic can be found at Asian markets all over Chicago, mainly Filipino markets. They are sold in little plastic bags or in little plastic cups - some homemade, others commercially done. I have not met a garlic peanut I did not like. Essentially, they are shelled peanuts cooked in oil with fried garlic bits and whole fried garlic cloves. They are delicious, salty and aromatic. If you like garlic and peanuts you will like these. Here is how I make them - probably not at all authentically, some recipes seem to pre-boil raw peanuts then fry the nuts and garlic separately.

I take a jar of dry roasted or roasted and salted peanuts and put them in a skillet with oil and garlic. I usually chop the garlic fairly fine because I am not cooking the peanuts for very long (they are already roasted). I suppose you could cook whole or sliced garlic cloves until almost crispy. The commercial peanuts often contain garlic cloves still in their papery skins.

When the garlic is almost done I toss in the peanuts and stir and toss until they are coated with oil and heated through. Salt them unless they are already salty enough (the only way to be sure is to taste) and remove from heat to cool before storing in airtight containers or plastic bags.

Alternatively, you can put the peanuts and minced garlic in a baking pan large enough to hold them in a not too deep layer. Toss with some oil and roast in the oven at 250 f about 20 - 40 minutes, stirring every 10 - 15 minutes (imagine you are making that cereal party mix). When the garlic is done, remove from heat, cool and store but not before eating a good handful of these bad boys.

I once took a large container of these nuts with me on a fishing weekend with my brothers. Although we did not finish all the nuts, I was not allowed to bring the leftovers home with me. it was Jon who suggested the oven method. Both yield pretty good results.

If you need amounts figure about 2 tablespoons oil (olive, peanut, corn or whatever) and 4 - 8 cloves of garlic (depending on your love of garlic) for every cup or two of peanuts and go from there.

Quotable Quotes; in the category There weren't any peanut quotes and besides I like this one better.

"You can never have enough garlic. With enough garlic, you can eat The New York Times." Morley Safer

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mollycoddle?

Last week the subject of soft boiled eggs came up. We agreed that there is something inherently comforting about eating them. I also find comfort in preparing them.

When I was a child my brothers and sisters and I all ate breakfast together before school. In younger days, mom made soft boiled eggs. We ate them over toast, which we crumbled into pieces in our bowl. We did not have egg cups (a friend has egg cups in her cupboard and says she uses them). Instead, the cooked egg was laid on the toast and it was up to us to crack it and scoop out the insides. In those days we probably buttered the toast as well.

As we got older mom left us on our own for breakfast, which by then consisted mainly of toast and cereal, although sometimes fried baloney or salami would find its way into the menu. The toaster would be placed on the dining room table along with cartons of milk and boxes of cereal (or actually bags of cereal since mom had a proclivity for buying generic puffed rice at the A&P - a false economy since few of us actually ate it).

I later learned of an implement called an egg coddler. This was a small ceramic cup with a metal screw on lid. China companies like Royal Worcester made these in patterns to match or complement their china designs.

I heard about and decided I needed to buy an egg coddler. Don't asks me why. I went to J. L. Hudson at the Oakland Mall and asked for an egg coddler. I wanted a bird or flower from the Worcester collection. All they had was a Peter Rabbit. It was made by Wedgewood. At that time Wedgewood owned the licensing privileges for Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter's illustrations.

I was a little dismayed that a Peter Rabbit egg coddler was the only one available to me - no other stores seemed to have them in stock at the time. But no matter, I bought the coddler and today it is one of my most prized possessions (I also have some by Wade, an Irish potter, and two floral Worcester bought at e-bay or le shoppe junque. A cursory search of e-bay reveals the Peter Rabbit cup is worth a fair amount of scratch).

The way an egg coddler works is this; butter the cup (or spray with vegetable spray) and crack an egg into it. Butter, salt and pepper may be added (I prefer to add these later). Screw on the lid and place in a pan of water. Bring to the boil and time your eggs. I like mine at just four minutes. The advantage of using the coddler is that the lid can be removed and if it's not done, you can replace the lid and pop it back into the boiling water for another half minute or so.

Coddlers are sized for one or two eggs. Mine are all "singles". I find that the Wade coddlers do not cook at the same rate as the others. Either the porcelain is a different thickness, or the ceramic lid makes a difference or there is some other force at play. No matter, I prefer the other cups anyway.

Soft boiled eggs require a different timing method. They cook faster since they are not sheltered by a thick layer of porcelain. If you want to soft boil eggs and have not done so before, try cooking three, removing one at three minutes, one at four and if necessary, one at 5 minutes. You should then know know long you like your eggs. Make a note and don't forget.

Place your soft boiled egg in an egg cup or just lay it on the toast which you have torn into pieces into your bowl. Crack the shell all around and scoop out the yolky egg. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and tuck in.

The disadvantage of an egg coddler is a somewhat oddly shaped "boiled" egg. No matter, you will scoop it onto your toast and smoosh it all up anyway so shape is of little importance. What is important is the comfy cozy feeling you will have eating your warm egg and toast with a spoon.

Find an egg coddler, or just soft boil your eggs, and feel like an English child breakfasting with your Nanny in the Nursery School Room. Be glad I did not instruct you to eat dripping toast for tea.

Quotable quotes; in the category Well At Least She Knows What She Means!

“This recipe is certainly silly. It says to separate the eggs, but it doesn’t say how far to separate them.” - Gracie Allen

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mystery Plant!

My plants at work always seem to flourish even as those at home wither and droop. That's no mystery, at work I have windows and sunshine and a schedule of watering and care. At home available windows look out on brick walls which block any hope of sunshine entering to nourish houseplants. Watering can be sporadic and cats contribute to the general malaise.

Consequently, I get comments at work on my green thumb and my healthy plants - to the extent that at my last job several co-workers asked me to nurse their failing plants back to health. One person finally just asked me to take over her plant - until it died, that is. Then she said I could have the pot and the dirt, if I wanted. I really did not want but I took it anyway and let it languish in a corner by the window. Imagine my surprise when months later, green shoots appeared, growing a few inches weekly, until they were tall and slender. Until I left that job, took the pot home and let them languish.

I brought the pot to my new job along with my other "office" plants. They love the Northwest window and the regular watering and feeding, spritzing in winter and occasional trims. I had no immediate plans for the unknown plant other than to let it sit in a corner of the window until needed.

Imagine my surprise when months later, I again noticed little green shoots. I noted their progress with weekly photos and sent them to friends to see if they knew what the plant might be. I kept sending photos and they guessed "it looks like a hosta" or "I think it's ginger". I knew it was not a hosta and I was pretty sure it was not ginger.


Week by week I watched it grow, wondering what it could be and why it spent so much time pretending to be dead, only to start all over again. I hoped this time I would not kill it, whatever it was. I christened it Junior Bonaparte and encouraged it with plant food and water. I thought it was in the orchid family (that's what the original owner thought) so I treated it like an orchid.

Today the mystery was solved. I came to work and prepared to water plants and was greeted by what was unmistakably a calla lily. Click on the pictures and see for yourself! I did a little reading and found that calla lilies are tropical and like moist soil. They go dormant after blooming and can be allowed to dry out, especially when grown in pots. Apparently I had been doing it right without knowing. Next time I won't worry and I'll hope they bloom again!

Quotable quotes; in the category You Knew I Had To Go There, Didn't You?

"The calla lilies are in bloom again."

Katherine Hepburn in the MGM film Stage Door.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Tomato Blushed When It Saw The Salad "Dressing"!


I made a nice salad the other day, and a homemade vinaigrette to go with it. The dressing was so delicious I wondered why anybody, including myself, would buy bottled dressing. Okay, maybe a favorite blue cheese dressing is worth buying but I have never had a store bought oil and vinegar dressing that was as good as one made from scratch. And making vinaigrette is one of those things that is stupid easy. Few ingredients, simple methods and endless variations.

You can make your dressing in a bowl or in a jar. You can make enough to keep on hand or enough for just one salad. Here's a giant hint (and one less bowl to wash) - make the dressing right in the salad bowl, add the vegetables, put the lettuce on top and stick it in the fridge until serving time. The veggies will marinate in the dressing and the lettuce will stay crisp. Toss well before serving.

Sometimes you don't even have to make a dressing, just add the dressing ingredients to the salad, tossing after each addition. I once had lunch at a friend's house - the sort of lunch I think of as fussy and not filling enough. Quiche and salad. Well, it was one of the best lunches I ever had. The quiche was delicious and what can one say about a salad that included fresh herbs plucked from a windowsill herb garden moments before serving? This is how she made the salad.

Prepare Romaine lettuce by washing and drying well. Leave the leaves whole or cut them but not too small. Place in a bowl and chill until ready to serve. At serving time core and slice but do not peel an apple, adding the slices to the lettuce. Drizzle with a good quality extra virgin olive oil and toss well. Add a bit of nice herb vinegar and a little lemon juice if you like and toss well. Add just a bit of salt and pepper and toss once more, adding some toasted walnut pieces and a little crumbled blue cheese. Reach out your window and pick a few basil leaves and tear them into the salad. Toss and serve. In my humble opinion, apples, walnuts and Stilton cheese are a natural medley. Sliced pear with Gorgonzola and pecans is even more wonderful!

The most basic dressing is vinegar and/or lemon juice and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Stir these together then add about 2 to 3 times as much oil as vinegar. Adding a pinch of sugar and some herbs to the vinegar will make it a little more interesting.

To make a basic dressing in a bowl or in a jar, start with a good spoonful of mustard such as Dijon or a grainy, spicy mustard. (Hint: make your dressing right in the mustard jar when the mustard is almost gone - use up the mustard and save washing another jar)!

Add a little vinegar. I prefer cider or rice vinegar, wine or malt, or a flavored vinegar such as herb or raspberry. Add a little sugar or honey and a squeeze of any citrus - lemon, lime, orange even grapefruit. Add some fresh or dried herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper. You can even cheat by adding a few shakes of seasoned salt or herb blend. Stirring these ingredients together before adding oil allows them to blend.

Now add oil - olive, canola, safflower or whatever you prefer. Some nut oils or avocado oils can be very delicious and interesting. The usual proportion of oil to vinegar is about 3:1 or 4:1. You may prefer more or less oil. If you add sugar or honey or use sweeter vinegars you may find you need even less oil. Whisk or stir the dressing in the bowl or put a lid on the jar and shake vigorously.

Taste the dressing by dipping a bit of lettuce or other salad ingredient (this is how those fancy chefs do it on TV). Adjust the seasonings, oil or vinegar as desired. Drizzle some dressing (remember, less is more) over your salad and toss well, adding a little more dressing as needed. Revel in the knowledge that you have created the freshest, most delicious dressing possible for your salad.

Oh yeah, there is one reason to buy a bottled dressing - so you can have a fancy bottle to store your homemade vinaigrette in the fridge! Your dressing may thicken in the fridge. Just allow it to warm up a little before shaking and adding to your salad.

Quotable Quotes; in the category You Can Never Be Too Rich . . . Or Too Successful!

"The embarrassing thing is that the salad dressing is out grossing my films."

Paul Newman

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Nut & Honey

I made baklava last week. In case you do not know what this is, it is layers of phyllo dough, buttered and layered with chopped walnuts, honey and cinnamon. In case you do not know phyllo is impossibly thin sheets of pastry dough (you can read a book through them) that is often used in making strudel and other pastries.

I bought the phyllo on sale, intending to make a pastille (a Moroccan dish of chicken and phyllo layered with spices and dusted with powdered sugar). But the leftover chicken I had intended to use became Bill's supper one night so I had to find another use for the phyllo. I decided on apple strudel.

I have a friend who makes apple strudel from scratch, including the dough. This involves much resting and rolling and stretching of the dough to get it thin enough. It also requires much patience as the process is long and tedious and the dough is practically guaranteed to tear. Since I already had the phyllo I decided to go ahead with that. I diced apples and tossed them with cinnamon and sugar, layered the phyllo dough (which also requires patience that I do not have) and rolled up a pair of lumpy, crooked strudels. No matter, I baked them and they tasted just fine. The only problem was I still had half a box of phyllo left over.

I considered other dishes and perused my cookbooks but baklava seemed to be the most likely suspect. I coerced Bill into cracking all the walnuts we had in the house and chopping them coarsely. I based my recipe on two different versions from two different books, one proclaiming to be a prize winner. As I made the baklava I remembered the last and only time I had made it before.

When I was in sixth grade I found a recipe for baklava in a girls' magazine. Not knowing what it was I asked my mom who told me I would love it and we would make some. To my knowledge this is the only time I cooked with my mom, a possible exception being a time I baked (burned) a batch of cookies. Mom bought the phyllo, we layered it with butter and cinnamon, walnuts and honey and baked it.

At that age I had never been taken to a Greek restaurant. The wonders of braised lamb and roasted potatoes, Greek salad, flaming cheese and baklava were unknown to me. I agreed the baklava was delicious. For an unknown reason we never repeated the experience.

I layered and baked and thought of mom. I called brothers and sisters to chat about mom, about baking with her, about baklava and about anything else that came to mind. It felt good to connect with them by phone, and with mom by baklava. In case you want the experience, here is a fairly easy recipe for baklava. Warning: working with phyllo dough is a thankless task. It is temperamental and fussy. Maybe you know somebody like that?

I made a half recipe but here is the full recipe. Makes a 9 x 13 pan full, or 30 pieces.

4 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 package (1 lb.) frozen phyllo dough
2 - 3 sticks of butter, melted
cinnamon & sugar
pinch of ground clove or nutmeg, (optional)

Syrup
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups water
juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup honey
orange flower water (optional)

Thaw phyllo according to package instructions. Toss walnuts with 2 tsp. sugar and 2 tbsp cinnamon.

Divide phyllo dough sheets into five equal portions. layer one portion in a greased 9 x 13 inch baking dish, spreading the layers to cover, if necessary. Top with 1/4 of the nut mixture. Repeat layers until there are 4 layers of phyllo and nuts. Top with the final layer of phyllo. Tuck in the edges of the phyllo and cut the baklava into squares or diamonds with a sharp knife. You should get 30 pieces depending on size.

Melt butter and pour over the baklava, making sure the entire surface is covered with butter. You can insert a knife around the edge of the pan to make sure melted butter flows down between all edges. (I used rather less butter than called for and thought it was almost too much). Sprinkle a bit of cinnamon over the top, if desired, and bake in a 350 f. oven about 35 - 45 minutes until very brown.

Meanwhile, bring sugar and water to a boil and simmer about 10 minutes. Add honey and lemon juice and simmer 5 minutes more. Add orange water (optional). Pour the syrup evenly over the partially cooled baklava. Serve at room temperature (or slightly warm if you cannot wait that long). Bill suggested serving with a spoonful of Greek style yogurt.

Quotable quotes; in the category You Ain't Never Had A Friend Like Me!

"How about a little more baklava?"

Robin Williams as the Genie in the Disney film "Aladdin"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

If You Knew Sushi . . .

I have been eating at a great new sushi place. No, I am not going to tell you the name as I want to keep it all to myself. But if you are in town I will take you there and you can enjoy delicious, fresh and cheap sushi.

Since January I have been rehearsing for The Secret Garden. I played Mrs. Medlock, the only non-singing character in the show. That's okay, Mrs. Medlock is also the most awesome character in the show and my wig and costume were the best. I would post a picture but then you would know what I look like. If somebody sends me a pic where my face does not show I will post that.

At first I was only called to rehearsals on Wednesday nights. Not bad, easy to tape the shows I watch and I was usually home by ten. But as the weeks went by I was called to more and more rehearsals until I was finally going almost every night of the week.

At first, when it was only Wednesdays and later when it was more often, Bill would have something ready that I could eat in the few minutes between getting home from work and leaving for rehearsals. This often took the form of burgers and fries from the Top Two. Now anybody who knows me knows that I loves me some burgers, but even that can get tired after awhile. Then I found the sushi place. I don't remember how I found it or what I was looking for when I stumbled upon it - likely I was searching for bento options (that's another post) and found this place. Various reviews were all extremely positive with one notable exception (quickly proven to be unfounded) so I decided to give it a try.

Sushi is a hard choice for me because guess what, I do not like raw fish. I know, I know. But there are several options for someone like me - the egg cake on rice, the California roll, which contains avocado and fake crab, and my favorite of all, Inari Sushi. This is a pocket made of fried tofu skin and stuffed with sushi rice. Most places, this one included, make it about the size of a regular piece of sushi, folding the excess tofu under. My favorite place to get this particular sushi crams that tofu pocket full so there is nothing left to tuck under. The finished sushi resembles a large, tan Easter egg with a snip of pickled ginger for garnish. Yum.

Imagine sushi rolls for as little as $2, pieces of sushi for $1 each. And all made fresh before your eyes, not packaged in a grocery store with a "use by" date stamp. Now imagine the sushi prepared by someone who knows you and greets you by name and takes extra pains to get your order just right - no wasabi for Bill, and here, try this while we finish your order. Just what you might expect in the local sushi bar.

But this is not the local sushi bar. Reviewers commented about passing the place by because they could not find it, or because they could not believe that anything good could come from this dismal, dreary storefront. But all were glad they did and most were torn between sharing the bounty and keeping this a closely guarded secret. I am in the latter camp.

So for now you will just have to be content knowing that I occasionally enjoy a sushi feast for a few dollars, and that Bill sometimes joins in the feasting for just a couple bucks more. Oh, and I have even sometimes had the tuna roll (good) but I will not be ordering the futo maki again (too much of a good thing and not enough variety - there's so much, it fills me up).

As we got closer to the week of the play I did not have enough time to eat sushi so it has been fast burgers for the past two weeks. Not to worry, tonight is Wednesday. It's sushi night!

Quotable Quotes; in the category At These Prices, I Could Probably Afford It!

"I could eat my body weight in sushi".

Mikey Way, bassist for the band My Chemical Romance

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fun At The Fair

Years and years ago I went to the Illinois State Fair with Bill and his family. It was a sort of de facto Nelson/Lockwood Family Reunion since many of Sallie's relatives lived in Springfield and many more came to town for the fair.

We stayed at the home of Sallie's Aunt Katherine & Uncle Harv (Harvard, not Harvey). This was the uncle who owned a vintage 1970s red El Dorado (could it have been a convertible?) and who arrived in Chicago every fall with a trunk full of fruit from his trees. He did not really have an orchard but they did live on a lake on a large parcel of land on which were planted several fruit trees - apple, peach, pear, plum - and each autumn he loaded up the trunk of the Cadillac with fruit (I mean loaded) to bring to friends and relatives.

Uncle Harv also had a large garden to which he rode a bicycle and where he harvested endless butternut squash. Probably there were other vegetables but I only remember seeing rows and rows of squash. He brought several back and Uncle Tom at once cut one up and cooked it with butter, salt and pepper, proclaiming it delicious.

Also staying in the house were other relatives. The camper trailer was set up in the side yard and Sara's family stayed there, while others stayed at the Holiday Inn in town. Believe it or not on the day we went over to enjoy the hotel pool, there was a beauty pageant in progress in the rather huge atrium/auditorium. Probably the Miss Teen Springfield pageant and likely in conjunction with the fair doings. We did go to the fair and I did enjoy it although we did not partake of the rides or the stage shows.

I had only been to the fair once before, the Michigan State Fair, and as a 12-year-old I thought the only reason to go to a fair or carnival was to ride a Ferris wheel, eat carnival food and buy souvenirs. As an adult, I learned that looking at prize cows, sheep and poultry and watching pigs race for a pan of Oreos was equally entertaining.

The most fun (to me) was viewing the prize winning canned goods - fruits, jams, jellies, preserves - and cakes and pies. Even floral arrangements were awarded blue ribbons. Although most of the fair was winding down (the animals were being removed even as we watched) the cook-off was yet to be decided. This year, it was a beef contest and I had the dubious honor of watching some of the finalists prepare their entries.

The kitchen contained four cooking stations, each equipped with its own range, sink and counter top. Contestants had brought their ingredients and cookware in bags or boxes. A few of them gave me icy stares when I approached their work stations but one seemed willing and even eager for observers and chatted them up. I watched her prepare her prize winning "Mexican Lasagna" (I might have called it tamale pie or enchilada casserole but what do I know). In a 9x13 glass baking dish she layered her sauce, refried beans, corn tortillas, her secret recipe ground beef and her shredded cheese.

I marvelled that she used pre-packaged versions of everything, including pre-shredded cheese. Thrift conscious, I would have opted to shred my own and save a few pennies. Most wondrous of all were her tortillas. I had never seen any like them for sale. They were small - much smaller than the corn tortillas generally available for sale. Those were about six inches in diameter. Here were only four or five inches and they intrigued me. Anything different than we are used to seems inherently more interesting and desirable. (I saw some of these small tortillas for sale in a Chicago Groceria y Carniceria just last week).

She noted my interest and held up her package of tortillas, which were sold six to the pack . The tortillas I routinely purchased were packed no less than a dozen and often 20 or more to a pack. "This is a new kind of Mexican Lasagna noodle" she informed me, in her down-state drawl. "They're called tor-tellas". I nodded and attempted to appear rapt. I knew what they were, having eaten tortillas, tostadas, tamales and tacos nearly all my life, and having made authentic homemade tortillas on more than one occasion.

She finished her ministrations and slid her concoction into the oven to bake. I wandered over to the other stations, hoping to engage the other contestants in similarly scintillating conversation, but they were having none of it. I did not take their aloofness personally and instead wandered about viewing partially eaten pastries and wondering about the criteria for judging.

I have been to a few smaller fairs since, namely the county fair held in Barraboo, WI with Mary on a sisters' weekend, but have never returned to a State Fair. I would love to attend the Iowa State Fair which is often touted as one of the best. I even sent away for the judging guidebook for everything one might enter in the Illinois State Fair. Maybe one year my marmalade will be on display. Maybe I'll win the bake-off! Maybe, but probably not.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Let's Put The 'Fun' Back In Dysfunctional!

"If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family in the world, all you have to do is go to a state fair. Because five minutes at the fair, you'll be going, 'you know, we're alright. We are dang near royalty."

Jeff Foxworthy

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's The REAL Thing!!

Years and years ago I was in the Sondheim play "Company". The theater group met in the Oak Park (MI) High School auditorium and easily half the cast members were from Windsor Ontario, Canada. True theater lovers think nothing of commuting to a different country three nights a week for rehearsal. Okay, so it was essentially a drive across the bridge and a ride across town but still . . .

I remember lots of tasty nuggets from that show but leafing through and old "church lady" cookbook from the 1970s and coming across a particular recipe triggered this memory.

Anyone who knows "Company" knows that the inimitable Elaine Stritch played the unforgettable Joanne and sang "Ladies Who Lunch". In case you do not know, Joanne was something of a lush and the song was performed (at least in our production) as Joanne sat at a table drinking cocktails. Each verse ended with the line "I'll Drink To That!"

The 1970s saw the demise of the classic glass soda pop bottle. Some people objected to cans and plastic so Pepsi (and other companies) put their sodas in a new style glass bottle. People liked to wash and re-use these bottles for lots of things. Drinking water from bottles was not yet a universal practice but juice, other soda flavors, tea or lemonade might be put in the bottles, as might other things.

The lady playing Joanne in our production carried such a Pepsi bottle with her at every rehearsal. It was not unusual for actors to have a bottle of water, tea or other beverages with them at rehearsal. Joanne's bottle held Pepsi . . . or so I thought. I learned later that the bottle held in reality home-made Kahlua! That may have explained why she was such a shoe-in as Joanne! She played a very realistic lush!

In case you decide you want to make some Kahlua (and maybe carry it with you in a recycled glass or plastic bottle) here is a recipe.

Combine:
4 cups water
3 cups sugar
10 teaspoons instant coffee
bring to a boil and simmer about 1 1/2 hours. Allow to cool.

Add:
3 teaspoons vanilla
1 fifth Vodka

Strain into dark glass bottles or ceramic canisters. Allow to steep 3 months, shaking occasionally, before "mixing" or serving straight up!

Quotable Quotes; in the category Let's Not Forget Mahler!

"A matinee, a Pinter play,Perhaps a piece of Mahler's. I'll drink to that. And one for Mahler!"

Stephen Sondheim "Ladies Who Lunch" from the musical "Company"

Monday, February 28, 2011

Stuck In A Jam?

A while ago I posted about making marmalade. Yesterday I made marmalade from the abundance of citrus fruit I bought this season and which I obviously won’t use up otherwise. Even so, I may have to make another batch (when I get the energy).

This batch contained 2 Texas grapefruits, a cara cara orange, a Meyer lemon and about a dozen clementines. I sliced all the fruit as thin as I could and followed my favorite marmalade recipe. I started on Friday afternoon and the marmalade was ready to cook on Sunday. I pulled 7 half pint jars from the canner and had another nearly full pint that was destined for the refrigerator to be eaten first.

While the marmalade bubbled I hulled a container of strawberries that the market had given away with a minimum purchase and a coupon. Turkeys were also on sale this week and I was determined to get one. Since we usually spend the Thanksgiving holiday with the in-laws, we often miss out on the fridge full of leftovers, even though they supply us with baggies of food to take home.

A turkey thawing in my tiny fridge means there is not any extra space, even for a small container of strawberries. Since I was already in the midst of the canning process I figured another jar or so could not hurt. I added sugar to the berries and simmered them until they turned into a thick syrupy mass. Since the quantity was so small I decided to dispense with the canner and just pour the strawberry jam into a jar to be eaten this week and kept in the fridge. I got nearly a full pint. English Muffins were also on sale this week so I hope to make a pretty good dent in the marmalade and jam.

Strawberry jam is not my favorite. I far prefer the tarter flavors of red currant and damson, or the bitterness of marmalade, and for PBJ I prefer the classic Grape. But homemade strawberry jam is not to be dismissed lightly. Bill and I licked the spoon and scraped the pan. I look forward to spreading some on toast.

To make strawberry (or just about any kind of) jam cut fruit into slices or chunks (fruits like blueberries or raspberries do not need slicing). Measure and add almost the same amount of sugar. I like my jams less sweet so I usually use about ¾ cup sugar to every cup fruit, sometimes even less. Place in a heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Adjust the heat so the fruit continues to boil and cannot be stirred down. Choose a pot quite a bit larger as the boiling fruit will rise up a lot. Use a long handled spoon too to avoid burns. Cook until the jam reaches 220 degrees Fahrenheit or 8 degrees above the boiling point of water for your area. If you don’t have a thermometer, until the liquid sheets off the back of a spoon.

Pour in to hot, sterilized canning jars and cover with hot, sterilized lids and rings. You can process the jam in a boiling water bath or a pressure canner or just keep it in the frigde and eat it within a few weeks. Homemade jam is a special treat and makes a great gift, especially if you give it with some homemade bread and dress it up with ribbon. Be sure to process the jam if you plan to give it as a gift.

Quotable quotes; in the category I Guess You Can’t Have Your Jam And Eat It Too!

“The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday - but never jam today.”

Lewis Carrol – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Party Food For Breakfast!

Everyone knows cold pizza is the perfect breakfast food, followed closely by cold spaghetti. Nowadays I generally reheat cold pizza and spaghetti before eating but back in the day I ate the pizza cold from the oven (leftover pizza was traditionally left in its box in the electric – not gas – oven). Likewise cold spaghetti, which was usually left in a plastic container in the fridge.

You may wish to heat the spaghetti in a skillet or saucepan with a bit of water, or you may wish to zap it in the microwave. Or go whole hog, add extra sauce and/or cream and some shredded mozzarella cheese and bake it in the oven. Restaurants in Chicago sell “baked mostacciolli” at a higher cost than it cost the first time around. What're the odds they are using up yesterday's leftovers?

These standards notwithstanding, Party Food for breakfast is a special treat, especially after your new year’s festivities have mostly ended. This year, in the days following new year's, I breakfasted on leftover sweet & sour meatballs, cream cheese & crab dip and that most delicious of delicacies, leftover spinach dip and dippers. Luckily (or alas) the shrimp cocktail was all eaten the night before.

Forgive me. New Year’s is long gone but my New Year’s Day breakfast was tasty enough to remember and to write about at this later date. Don’t wait until next Christmas or New Year’s to enjoy a party for breakfast. Any time you have yummy leftovers you are free to indulge. And I think spinach dip in the morning is hard to top . . . even with spaghetti or pizza!

I expect everybody knows how to make Spinach Dip but in case you don’t here are instructions. This is one of my favorite recipes. And one of the easiest. Many people use Knorr vegetable soup mix. I far prefer Mrs. Grass, which was apparently bought out by Wyler’s and then by Lipton. Use whichever instant vegetable soup & dip mix you prefer, or whichever one you can find!

1 packet vegetable soup mix
1 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed completely dry
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup each mayonnaise & sour cream (low fat or fat free will work if you wish)

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Stir very well to be sure all the salty mixture is well blended. You can serve this in a bowl or in a hollowed out loaf of rye or sourdough bread. Serve with vegetables, bread chunks, crackers, bread sticks or sliced bagels for dipping.

Cream Cheese & Crab Dip

My mother-in-law used to make this. I must have made it once for my sister as she said this dip always reminds her of me. I don’t remember ever making this more than once so sis must have been there that day. Bill asked for this dip for this year’s holiday festivities so I happily obliged. Can you say stupid easy?

Unwrap and place on a plate an 8 oz. block of cream cheese. Open a can of crab meat (or a can of tiny shrimps). Drain and remove any bits of shell. Scatter the crab or shrimp over the surface of the cream cheese. Open a bottle of shrimp cocktail sauce and pour a generous amount over the cream cheese and the seafood. Serve with an assortment of crackers.

Party Meatballs or Sausages

This recipe should prove to you my propensity for those dishes that are so simple the recipe makes you say “duh”. But the finished dish must also make you say “mmmmm”! I can vouch for these meatballs.

Buy a package of frozen meatballs. Doesn’t matter if they are made of turkey, beef or tofu as long as they are meatballs you would normally eat. Be sure to buy the kind called mini meatballs. They should be about an inch in diameter and come about 30 to a package. Careful not to buy the kind that are tennis ball sized. Those are intended for spaghetti dinner. They will still taste good but you will be limited to serving one per guest – unless you have unexpected company, then you’ll have to share. This recipe is even easier if you buy precooked meatballs!

Place frozen mini meatballs on a baking sheet and bake according to package directions, probably about 25 minutes at 350. Meanwhile, empty a small jar of grape jam into a sauce pan along with a small bottle of your favorite cocktail sauce. Yes, the same sauce you use for shrimp cocktail. You may, if you wish, add a little barbecue sauce, a little sweet/hot mustard or a few of those packets of egg roll sauce that come with your Chinese takeout. Heat and stir to combine. When the meatballs are done, drain briefly (if you feel like it) and add them to the sauce.

You can serve these bad boys in a bowl, in a chafing dish, in a fondue pot or in a mini crock-pot, the kind meant to keep party dips hot for serving. Be sure to place a shot glass of toothpicks or bamboo skewers alongside! Little Smoky Link Sausages can be substituted for the meatballs, but don’t bother making this sauce, just open a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce and let it go at that.

Leftover Pizza & Spaghetti

Reheat leftover cold pizza in a nonstick skillet. Put it over medium heat and cover with a lid. In about five minutes the bottom should be crisp and the pizza should be hot. Or try the toaster oven (but never the toaster). Reheat cold spaghetti in a nonstick skillet with a lid and a little water. Give it a couple of stirs until it is heated through. For a “spaghetti pie” add a little extra sauce or some cream to your leftover pasta and a generous amount of shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven about 30 minutes until brown on top and bubbly. Think lasagna. You are saving $6.95 in take out costs.

Quotable Quotes; in the category I Don’t Know Much About Art But I Do Know What I Like To Eat!

“Art is what's left over after you've defined everything else”. Michael Vitale

Thursday, February 10, 2011

No Shepherd's Were Harmed In Making This Pie!

Re-reading some old blog posts I came across the one about roast beef and the things I made from the leftovers. I was surprised to see that I did not include Shepherd's Pie! I probably should not have been surprised as this dish is made of leftover roast lamb and mashed potatoes and I was talking of beef (and I rarely serve mashed potatoes with roast beef). To make it with leftover roast beef just call it Cottage Pie and you are home free.

Yes, I know, some recipes start with raw meat and freshly made mash but my gosh, that's like cooking two meals and only getting one. The whole point is to cook once and then get as many meals as possible from the first go-round.

Remember, I only make this if I already have leftover mashed potatoes on hand - a rare enough occurrence - but they don't have to be leftover from the same meal as the roast! So if you will be cooking lamb or beef and would like to try this dish be sure to make some mashed potatoes, either with this meal or another one a day before or after, and be sure to make enough extra! You'll need about 2 cups.

Take your leftover roast beef (or lamb) and chop it (or mince it) fine. You can do this with a cleaver, a meat grinder or the food processor. I add any leftover vegetables too, whether they were originally served with the beef or not. If you don't have any you can add some frozen mixed veg, about a cup or so, and be sure to add any leftover gravy or pan juices to the mix. If you want a little zing pour in some Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, A-1 or even ketchup. Mix it all together and put it in a greased casserole just big enough to hold it and the potato topping. Season to taste.

Spoon your leftover cold mashed potatoes over the top of the "pie". You want a layer about 3/4 - 1 inch thick. Use your spoon to flick little peaks all over the surface of the mash, or use a fork to "rake" a pattern into it. Sprinkle with paprika, cayenne pepper, nutmeg or your favorite spice. If you like, you can put a few dabs of butter here and there.

Bake this in a moderately hot oven, say 350 or 375 degrees, for at least 30 - 40 minutes. You want the meat mixture to be very hot, even bubbly, and the potato topping to be golden brown. this is great served with a side of vegetables or a salad and if there is any Yorkshire Pudding leftover (don't worry, there won't be) go ahead and pop it in the oven for few minutes to heat.

Quotable Quotes; in the category Let Me Just Make A Note Of That!

"Am going to cook shepherd's pie for them all - British home cooking."
— Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones's Diary)