Saturday, November 29, 2008

Reliving Thanksgiving Dinner

I was lucky enough to cook a full Thanksgiving meal this year (which also means, unfortunately, that I didn't get to spend the day with siblings or parents or my sister's pumpkin cheesecake creation, but we're focusing on the positive here). All the usual suspects were on the table: turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, rolls, green beans, cranberry sauce (my first attempt!), apple pie... what am I forgetting?

Here's the scene in my kitchen, circa 2 PM Thanksgiving day:

Which somehow transformed into this, circa 4 PM:

The unusual plates are part of my Christmas present from The Professor; he's been going to a co-workers ceramics studio and making me dishes! There are more to come, but I couldn't resist using them for dinner. The Beloved Stepson was a little hesitant - I believe his exact quote was "Are you sure they're safe to eat off of?".

You can also identify The Professor's plate by the spreading of cranberry sauce - it's his favorite dish, and he started serving before everything was ready. :)

Dinner was a smashing success, and I think I have finally conquered my fear of homemade gravy. It seems that butter really DOES cure all ills, because that's how I've started the last few attempts and they've all gone well. This time, I kept it pretty simple:

Melt 1/2 stick butter in a large skillet.
Add 1/2 cup flour and whisk to form a roux.
Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until it turns a medium brown.
Add your pan drippings, or as much stock as you like - this time, there was about 1 1/2 cups drippings from the turkey - and whisk constantly until it's simmering.
Add 1/2-3/4 cup skim milk and whisk until it's a uniform color and simmering merrily (but not boiling).
Voila! Gravy - after much whisking - is born!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dutch Apple Pie

My grandmother set a pretty high bar for apple pies in our family. And I can hear you out there thinking "so did my mother" or "so did my aunt's godmother's second cousin", and I know that you think you have experienced the best apple pie ever. But luckily for you, I've had my grandmother's apple pie, which gives me the credentials to tell you that ... well, you're wrong.

She tried to teach me how to make her crust a couple of times...but I was around 16 years old and was probably wasting time dreaming of my new boyfriend instead of soaking up her buttery wisdom. And really, with fruit pies...the crust is 99% of the battle.

One thing I'm sure of? She didn't ever use vodka in her pie crusts.

Six months or so ago, my mom sent me an article from her local paper talking about why you should make your pie crust with vodka. (Apparently, it is not-so-secret family secret that I look for reasons to pull out alcohol?). Last week, The Beloved StepSon asked for apple pie for Thanksgiving...and I just couldn't pass up the chance.

I did my best to follow the recipe - cutting it in half, since I only needed one crust - but she lost me at "place flour in food processor", since I don't own one. Have you noticed that all pie crust recipes tell you to use that magical machine? I was excited when Deb mentioned that she prefers to make hers by hand, because...that's pretty much my only option. Does anyone else have a pastry cutter?

Where was I? Vodka. Right.

Well, we haven't actually eaten the pie yet, but I made the leftover crust pieces into little cinnamon sugar treats (another lesson from my Grandma). And they puffed up when I baked them. I'd like to say they were yummy - but The Professor found them while they were cooling. And the rest is history.

As for making a good apple pie - I seem to remember reading once somewhere that you need 2 kinds of apples - one that will fall apart and hold together the other kind, which will be more firm. Since I had 3 Gala apples and 6 Granny Smiths in my fridge, I decided that I liked the way that person thinks.

But really - the key is butter, sugar and cinnamon. The crust is half butter (I used butter in place of the shortening in the pie crust recipe), with a little cinnamon. The filling is half sugar with some cinnamon, with eight cups of apple slices thrown in to give you a reason to eat all the butter and sugar. The topping? Half cup of butter, half cup of brown sugar, 2 Tbsp cinnamon.

The result?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That Cookbook Thing II

So here I am. Where have I been? Not in the kitchen enough, obviously – or at least, not enough with my camera. But I’m back – over a week late – for the next round of That Cookbook Thing II, where we present you with: Tournedos Sautés Chasseur, or – when spoken without a French accent - Filet Steaks with Mushroom and Madeira Sauce.

This recipe rocked pretty hard for The Professor (although I’m going to have to work hard to find anything else in the book as scrumptious as that chicken dish we did last time). All in all, it’s a good thing that we can’t afford to eat like this every day, for two reasons:

1) I can’t afford that much filet (or tournedos, or whatever similar cut I can find), and
2) Julia = copious amounts of butter.

How in the world have the French avoided massive rates of heart disease? Oh…I bet Julia didn’t spend every waking minute in front of a laptop.

This was startlingly easy – I guess after roasting and setting a chicken on fire, I was expecting something that would require me to be in the kitchen for hours. But this was more than manageable on even a week night.

I’m not going to go into the entire process – Mike’s done a great job of that. And my fellow bloggers have made some great suggestions that I was able to take shameless advantage of:
  • Mike and Shaun both commented that the sauce was too tomato-y, so I cut it in half.
  • Ruth – I noticed after the fact – made the most perfect looking little potatoes to go with it.
  • Like Sara, I used sherry instead of Madeira because that’s what I had on hand.
  • I haven't done an analysis, but I know that at least one other blogger used filet instead of tournedos - that being what I could find. I asked the butcher at Publix if they made bacon wrapped filets and he promptly did, which kept me from buying a pound of bacon and then "making" myself eat the rest so it wouldn't go bad. God, I love bacon.
I also had a lonely red bell pepper that needed something done with it before it committed suicide, so I roasted it in the oven while I cooked and then sliced it up and served it over the top. I don’t care if this makes every French person in the world scream in agony – I love roasted red peppers, and I’ll put them on just about anything.

So now it must be time for pictures. Well, I don’t have any of the finished product – my batteries were all dead and I was too hungry to wait. I got a couple of action shots, though:

The bread, soaking up butter:

The mushrooms, having already soaked up more butter:

The filets - rocking away in yet more butter:

We had nice mixed baby greens salad to go along with it.
And now, if you will excuse me, I have to go run 102094 miles to burn off all that butter.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup

I love using those canned cream soups in cooking. A pot roast cooked in a crockpot with cream of mushroom soup makes some of the best gravy ever. Add a can of cream of chicken soup to some cooked noodles and steamed vegetables, and you really don't need much besides a few dashes of pepper. But I've always studiously avoided the ingredients lists on those cans. Why? A few examples:

monosodium glutamate
disodium phosphate
"spice" (and that would be???)
modified corn starch

But it always seemed like something to live with. I have to pay taxes. I have to spoil my cats. And I don't have a substitute for canned, condensed soups.

But do you know how easy it was to discover I was wrong on that last one? As long as it took to type "homemade condensed cream of chicken soup" in Google and hit send. And look-y what the Very First Result is:

And do you know how incredibly simple this was to make? Of course you don't, because you weren't here when I made it. Here, I'll show you:

Step 1: Mix some stock, milk and seasonings in a pot and boil:

Step 2: whisk together some milk and flour:

Step 3: Combine the two, whisk, boil.

Done! And it took me about 10 minutes from start to finish - and I bet about 1 minute of that was because I took 7 pictures. It might not be quite as fast as getting a can out of the pantry and opening it. But it's darn close.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cheesecake Tarts

Is there any food more wonderful in this world than a good cheesecake? Maybe a perfectly cooked steak (that's medium rare, by the way). Or perhaps a fresh croissant, purchased fresh from a Parisian boulangerie. Even better, my mother's fried pork chops with homemade macaroni and cheese.

But none of those are things I've cooked recently, and since I have cooked some cheesecakes, we're gonna go with that. Okay?

Last week, we had a little shin-dig at work for a lady who's moving away. We all brought multiple dishes - and we had enough leftovers for two more days! - and one of mine were cheesecake tarts. (Tarts being a little more finger-food friendly than an entire cheesecake).

Like so many of my attempts lately, these need a little tweeking. They were a little too tangy, and not quite enough cheesy - but they disappeared, and that's all my soul needs to feel redeemed.

Graham Cracker Crusts:
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (I used honey grahams this time, but either will work)
  • 1 Tbsp Splenda (or sugar)
  • 1/2 cup melted butter (1 stick)
Cheesecake filling:
  • 2 8-oz blocks of cream cheese, softened (I used fat free)
  • 1/4 cup Splenda (or sugar)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream (ditto on the fat free)
  • 1/3 cup plain yogur (ditto on the fat free)
  • 1 envelope gelatin
  • 1 cup boiling water
The crusts:
Preheat oven to 350F.

Line 18 cupcake tins with papers.

Mix together graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Stir in melted butter, and mix until it's completely incorporated.

Evenly measure the graham cracker mixture into each cupcake tin. I did about 1 Tbsp-ish, then went back and filled in what was left. Pack firmly down into the bottom of the tin.

Bake for 8 minutes and cool completely.

The filling:
Pour boiling water over gelatin.

In a mixer, blend together cream cheese and Splenda until fluffy. Add the sour cream and yogurt.

Add the gelatin, and mix just until thoroughly...mixed.

Divide evenly among the 18 cups.
Refrigerate overnight.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kitchen Cuttings

I have saved a whole bunch of recipes this week. Too many for me to ever cook. But so goes the internet. I have got to find a better way to organize all the recipes that I come across. I have folders and sub-folders, and some recipes go in more than one place...but that's my own little addiction.

Mrs Micah's Greek Chicken with Indian Rice - two recipes for the price of one, both of which I know The Professor will love. I may have to move this to the top of my rotation soon, since chicken's on sale this week.

The Leftover Queen's Mozzarella Stuffed Portabellas and Tomatoes au Gratin will be on the list for The Bestest Friend. Putting the word "stuffed" into the title of the dish makes her immediately begin salivating. One of the many reasons I love her.

This isn't a recipe, but for the wine snobs out there: First you had to deal with screw top wine bottles. Now it's boxed wine that might actually beat the quality of the old cork-topped standbys. Breathe deeply before following that link.

Remember the French Silk Pie I posted earlier this week? This recipe for Chocolate Custards was the runner-up in the menu decisions. Warning: Nicole's pictures can cause weight gain in and of themselves.

And if you've ever gone to PF Chang's, had their lettuce wraps and wondered how hard it is to come up with something: Wonder no more. It's astoundingly easy.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Frittata, or: How To Empty Out Your Fridge

My parents came over for breakfast last Sunday morning. That's a rare treat - they live a few states away, and I don't get to cook breakfast nearly enough (hint to friends and family: I love cooking breakfast. And Pies. Maybe even Pies for Breakfast?).

Where was I?

So, my parents were coming over. I had some some red bell pepper strips, some yellow bell pepper strips, a half a yellow onion, a half dozen eggs, a pound of sausage. A cabinet full of herbs.

I debated between making this and Baked French Toast. But I would have had to thaw the French bread for the French toast.

So that's how I made my decision.

The Frittata was awesome. I'm totally going to brag on myself here. It was awesome. Served with a salad, it was the perfect brunch. Well, I didn't serve Mimosas, so maybe it wasn't the perfect brunch. But that's ok with me - it gives me something to strive for.

This isn't really a recipe - it's more like mixing odds and ends with some beaten eggs and cooking it. But here's my basic process. I use one skillet - my iron skillet - for everything.

Cook up about 1/2 pound of whatever meat you have - diced ham, sausage, bacon, etc ( I had sausage). Drain sausage in a colander, bacon on paper towels. Do NOT, please for the love of holy grease, do NOT wipe out the skillet. While the meat's draining:

Saute about 1-2 cups of vegetables in the iron skillet. I used about a cup of mixed red and yellow bell peppers and a half cup of onion. While that's cooking:

Whisk six eggs in a medium bowl with a little milk. Add in some dried basil (or dill, if you're a dill fan). I don't measure here, so just flow with me. Then I grabbed some garlic powder, a few twists of fresh ground black pepper, and a pinch of salt. Whisk it all in. Then dump in about a half cup of shredded cheese - I used Colby Jack.

Put the sausage back in the skillet with the peppers and stir around. Pour the egg/cheese mixture over the top and stir around to make sure egg is surrounding everything. Now, put your spoon aside and let it cook over medium heat for about 7 minutes - you want the eggs to be done on the bottom. In the meantime, heat your broiler.

When you're ready, put the entire skillet under the broiler until the eggs are done all the way through (About 4 or 5 minutes). Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese over the top and pop back under the broiler for about a minute.

Cut into wedges and serve.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

French Silk Pie

My first experience with a French Silk Pie was a Shoney's special as a kid. The chocolate curls on top were always my favorite part, with the whipped cream underneath of them being a close second. The chocolate pie part was ok, too - But I was really in love with the chocolate and whipped cream. And now that I've made the real thing, I know why: the pie was little more than a heavy pudding with whipped cream on top. Good, but totally missing the point.

After trying out Nicole's recipe for French Silk Pie, I've decided that whipped cream and chocolate curls are optional. This filling is what French Silk Pie is supposed to be - light, silky, chocolately.

I've made two of these so far - the first one didn't have as much height as I liked, so the second time I added a couple of whipped egg whites to make it even fluffier. I also used a graham cracker crust - there's just something about graham crackers and chocolate. I wish someone would write a diet book that had nothing but chocolate and graham crackers. And Diet Mt Dew.

I used a combination of milk chocolate and 80% cacao chocolate because that's what I had in the house. I have enough chocolate for one more pie. I think I should make one soon so I don't get out of practice, don't you?

The leftover piece of the first attempt:

French Silk Pie

9" graham cracker crust
1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 oz milk chocolate
3/4 oz 80% cacao chocolate
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs, room temperature (that's very important!)
2 large egg whites, room temp (ditto!)

Make your pie crust: There's a good basic one here. Make sure it is completely cool before pouring the filling in later.

Melt your chocolate: I did this in a glass bowl over a small pot of boiling water. Set aside and let cool.

Cream butter and sugar until light yellow and fluffy. Keeping the beaters...beating...drizzle in the chocolate and vanilla, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add one egg and beat for a couple of minutes before adding the second and beating for another 2-3 minutes.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold gently into the chocolate mixture.

Pour filling into pie shell. Press a piece of plastic wrap onto surface. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

Immediately before serving, spread whipped cream on top, along with chocolate curls if you have 'em.

Notes: This does have raw eggs, which doesn't bother me in the least. I made the first one with pasteurized eggs, and the second with regular ones. The first pie wasn't as fluffy - but it didn't have the egg white either. And I haven't died yet from raw eggs. Yay me!

I was blown away by how simple this recipe was - the hardest thing was melting the chocolate. If you buy a pre-made crust, the filling can easily be done in under 30 minutes.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Squash Casserole: Work In Progress

Thing the First: I am unworthy. I cooked a meal with no fewer than four dishes to blog about - and I was so excited to be with my parents that I forgot to take any pictures!

Thing the Second: I love squash casserole made with cream of mushroom soup. But in my new found quest to use fewer processed foods (I just started reading this book), I decided to experiment with the recipe.

Thing the Third: This recipe needs work. It was too...tangy? Herby? It tasted pretty good, but it's not there yet. Wherever "there" is.

Thing the Fourth: Your assignment: Suggest improvements. I'll be trying this again soon since it's squash season.

Squash Casserole

2 yellow squash, cut in 1" chunks
1/2 yellow onion
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup shredded Colby-Jack cheese
1 Tbsp dried basil
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375F.

Saute squash and onion over medium heat for 6-7 minutes, until the squash begins to soften.

In a bowl, mix sour cream, Colby-Jack cheese, basil and garlic powder.

Stir in squash and onions.

Pour into 2 quart casserole.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Mix Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Spread over the top of the casserole. Put in the oven for another 10 minutes - OR turn on the broiler and let the top slightly brown.

Monday, August 11, 2008

That Cookbook Thing II: Julia's Rapee Morvandelle

That's "Gratin of Shredded Potatoes with Ham and Eggs and Onions". Don't ask me how those two little words mean all that - it's one of the idiosyncrasies of the French Language.

It's time for another recipe from Julia Child's The Art of French Cooking!
The participants, as always, are: Mike of Mel's Diner, Ruth of Once Upon A Feast, Sara of I Like to Cook, Breadchick Marye, Kittie of Kittens in the Kitchen, Mary of Cooking for Five, Elle of New England Kitchen, and Shaun of Winter Skies, Kitchen Aglow.

This time, we have the most labor-intensive recipe (for me) so far. I shredded those potatoes by hand with my little box grater, since I don't have a food processor with a grating blade (Don't I sound so...deprived? Aren't you thinking "poor little ole me"? NO? Oh. Ok).

And here's my biggest insight: It's messy. Potatoes have a lot more water in them than I ever dreamed. And, since I've never shredded them before, I got a little freaked out when they started turning this pinkish color as I worked on the next potato. After I ate a few bites of the finished product and didn't die, I looked it up online and discovered what scores of people already know: It's natural, dummy.


My thoughts on this dish:

This recipe didn't wow me like the sauce au curi did. It didn't taste bad, it just didn't have a lot of flavor. I would definitely up the amount and variety of herbs if I ever make this again - basil, chives, or whatever is within reach would give more flavor than parsley.

I substituted Gruyere for Swiss cheese. Why? Because I can. And "Gruyere" sounds cooler than "Swiss". So there.

I wasn't that enthusiastic about the ham (please don't take away my carnivore credentials!). Kittie used chestnut and porcini mushrooms, and I think that would taste way better.

Ok, enough talking already. On to the recipe:

Julia's Rapee Morvandelle (Gratin of Shredded Potatoes with Ham and Eggs and Onions)
  • 1/2 cup finely minced onions
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/3 cup (3 ounces) finely diced cooked ham (Note: I used about 6 ounces)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 clove crushed garlic (I used a whole clove - and wanted more)
  • 2 Tbsp minced parsley and/or chives and chervil
  • 2/3 cup grated Swiss cheese (I used Gruyere)
  • 4 Tbsp whipping cream, light cream, or milk (I used 1/2 & 1/2)
  • pinch of peper
  • 1/4 tsp sat
  • 3 medium sized potatoes
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 Tbsp butter cut into pea-sized dots
Preheat oven to 375F.

Cook the onions slowly in the oil and butter for 5 minutes or so, until tender but not browned.

Raise heat slightly, stir in ham, and cook a moment more.

Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl with the garlic, herbs, cheese, cream or milk, and seasonings. Then blend in the ham and onions.

Peel the potatoes and grate them, using large holes of grater. A handful at a time, squeeze out their water. Stir potatoes into egg mixture. (May be prepared ahead to this point).

Heat 2 Tbsp butter in an 11-12 inch baking dish or skillet about 2inches deep. When foaming, pour in the potato and egg mixture. Dot with butter.

Set in upper third of preheated oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until top is nicely browned. Serve directly from the dish or skillet.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Pancakes. So Light and Fluffy.

There was a time when The Professor cooked me pancakes on the weekends. This was when we first moved in together. Before I kicked him out of the kitchen.

I jest. Kind of.

The Professor is a huge fan of Bisquick. A bowl, a spoon and a dirty skillet later, we'd be eating pancakes.

Then came the inevitable weekend that we ran out of mix. And he didn't realize it until Saturday morning. The sweet, sweet man was actually going to go to the grocery store so he could make me pancakes. See why I married him?

But then I opened my big mouth and said "But honey, watch THIS! You don't really need a box, I have everything in my baking supplies."

He hasn't cooked a pancake since. Talk about my ability to ruin a good thing.

I've always used Betty Crocker's Recipe. My mom used the one in her cookbook, then I used the one in her cookbook, and when I finally got my own Betty Crocker cookbook, that's the one I started using. I don't know if this recipe - like many others - has changed over the different Betty Crocker incarnations. But this is a great, simple recipe.

And if you want extra-fluffy ones, read the notes.

Betty Crocker's Pancakes (This is the 1996 edition)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder (I've never understood why they didn't say 1 Tbsp)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Margarine or shortening (butter works, too)
BC tells you to use a hand-mixer. I don't have one, and I'm not pulling out the stand mixer for pancakes, so I use a whisk.

Whisk the egg until fluffy. Add remaining ingredients, except margarine, and beat until smooth.

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium heat. Grease with margarine. To test griddle, sprinkle with a few drops of water. If bubbles jump around, heat is just right).

For each pancake, pour slightly less than 1/4 cup batter onto hot griddle. Cook until puffed and dry around the edges. Turn and cook other side until golden brown. (The first time I made pancakes, I was impatient and turned them too early. My mom gave me hint: Don't even think about flipping them until you see the big bubbles on top starting to pop. I still watch for the bubbles).

Makes nine 4-inch pancakes.

A whisk is better than a spoon or a fork for mixing. A whisk gets more air into the batter, which makes the pancakes lighter and fluffier.

This past weekend, I grabbed my self-rising flour accidentally, and didn't notice until after I had added the baking powder and salt (which would be cut out if you use self-rising). That was an awesome oops - these were the fluffiest pancakes I've ever made.

In my book, fluffy=good. Fluffier=better. Fluffiest=HEAVEN. The lighter and airier the pancake, the more butter and syrup they hold. And really, it's all about the butter.

Then The Professor told me he - get ready for this - actually prefers his pancakes not fluffy. He likes them flat. It's a good thing I love the man.

I've typed pancakes enough times now that the word just looks strange.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Roasted Squash Fettucini

Pasta dishes are so easy that most of the time I don't even post them anymore. How many different ways can I say "Saute veggies, toss with pasta and cheese" and have you believe that it really doesn't taste exactly the same every time? Can I get away with it one more time? Pretty please?

Last night, the trick was in the herbs. The fresh basil and oregano, to be exact. Sometimes, I think I need to get basil-scented air filters for my house, because I just LOVE the way it smells. After I pick some leaves, I smell my hands the whole way to the house. The oregano smells awesome too, but there's just something about fresh basil that makes my heart go pitter-patter.

The veggies were good - basically, a mish-mosh of things I had leftover in my fridge and a couple of things I pulled out of the garden.
But the basil...the basil has my heart.

Roasted Squash Fetucini

1/2 eggplant, cut in 1" cubes
2 large zucchini, cut in 1" cubes
1 small yellow squash, cut in 1" cubes
4 roma tomatoes, halved
1/2 of a large yellow onion, cut in fairly large pieces
1 small red bell pepper, cut in fairly large pieces
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves minced garlic
sprinkling of kosher salt
a few turns of freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chiffonade if you feel fancy, just chop them up if you don't
3?? Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 Tbsp butter or margerine*
1/4 cup half and half
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350F.
Toss the vegetables with the olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, turning veggies once halfway through.

Cook your fettucini. Drain and return to the pan. While the pasta is still hot - add the butter, half and half, and cheese. Stir (I tossed everything around with a pair of tongs) until butter is melted. Add the veggies, toss around til it's all mixed up and serve - sprinkled with more cheese if you're half the cheese-fiend that I am.

I haven't been grocery shopping since the family left last Sunday, so I was just using up lots of leftover stuff. As a result...
* I didn't have any butter or margerine left -but I did have a tub of country crock, so that's what I used. It tasted just fine...but doesn't cheese cover all ills?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Blueberry Streusel-ish Cake

We drove down to a local place that sells blueberries today. The original plan was to do the U-Pick option, but it got hot earlier than we planned. So we just grabbed a couple of pints out of their refrigerator, drank some soda from their old-fashioned soda machine (glass bottles!) and headed home.

Then, I decided that it wasn't enough to toss a few in my mouth every couple of minutes and let the juicy sweetness pop in my mouth. It wouldn't be enough to have them on my breakfast cereal. Maybe it would be enough if I made a blueberry cake of some kind for dessert.

I looked up a bunch of recipes online, and, in my usual fashion, combined about 5 to make this (I don't have corn syrup, which my favorite candidate called for; I wanted to use either yogurt or sour cream...etc, etc).

The streusal recipe I found sounded interesting - much wetter than anything I've used before. "Unusual" = "Must Make Immediately". It was very sweet rich, but the cake ended up being not too sweet and very light, so they actually went together very well.

Oh, and then I went to get my flour and discovered that the weekend's festivities used my stockpile (we're talking a brand new 5 pound bag, here) of all-purpose. So i used self-rising, left out the baking powder I had planned on and halved the baking soda.

Blueberry Streusel-ish Cake

Batter:1/2 cup margerine
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fat free sour cream
2 cups self-rising flour, sifted
1 tsp baking soda

1 cup blueberries
1 Tbsp sugar

6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) butter or margerine
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts

Heat the oven to 350F.

  1. Make the Batter: Cream together butter and sugar; add eggs and vanilla, mix thoroughly. Add sour cream and mix to combine. Add flour and baking soda and mix thoroughly.

  2. Make the Blueberry Batter: In a food Processor, crush blueberries and 1 Tbsp sugar. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in 1/2 cup batter.

  3. Make the Streusel: Melt the margerine in a small bowl in microwave. Add brown sugar and cinnamon and stir. It's going to be very pasty at this point. Stir in walnuts.

  4. Grab a bundt pan and coat it with nonstick spray. Press the streusel evenly around the bottom. Pour 1/2 of the batter on top. Drop the blueberry batter evenly around the top of that layer. Spread the remaining batter on top of that. The blueberry layer showed around the edges of mine, which means I probably didn't do too good of a job halving the batter. Math was never my strongsuit.

  5. Bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out mostly clean - a few moist crumbs are fine. Immediately invert on a cake plate. You may have to scoop half of the streusel out of the pan and put it back on the cake, but that's ok. Or at least, I think it's ok.

Notes: I think I'd go with a more traditional struesel topping - this was a little too rich for me. The Professor and the teenagers in residence thought it was great, though, so your mileage may vary.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fried Zucchini

My in-laws are in town for a few days of Fun In The South (they're from That Heathen North). And one of the great things about these visits is all the food. I love to cook and they love to eat. They love to cook and I love to eat. So over the course of a few days, we take turns in the kitchen. Yesterday was their turn.

In addition to their signature Gnocchi with Vodka Sauce (Which has to be eaten to be believed), my father-in-law pounced on the zucchini in my vegetable drawer. A few eggs and some bread crumbs later, we had a side dish.

And all I had to do was eat - which explains the fuzzy picture. It's kinda hard to snap a decent pic when you're stealing pieces of fried goodness out of the frying pan.

Fried Zucchini

Some zucchini
an egg or two, beaten
a pile of seasoned bread crumbs (these were the italian flavor)
canola oil, as needed

Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, then again.

Dip into egg;
Dredge into bread crumbs;

In a large skillet, heat about an inch of canola oil until it's piping hot. Drop zucchini in - and try to move it as little as possible. Cook for five minutes. Cool on paper towels.

In theory these make a great side dish with pasta and sauce. In practice...they were great appetizers as we opened the wine.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Garden Update

I learned something this year:

When you are trying to get a good garden going, it may not be a good idea to go on an 11 day vacation at the end of May.

By the end of May, the garden was planted. Most of the plants had settled in and were starting to get growing with their bad selves.

Then I left for 11 days - 11 days when the deities of weather decided not to grace my backyard with any rain. Not one drop.

The good news: When I got home, nothing was dead. But nothing had grown. And in that time period, at that time of year, I expect plants to double in size.

My little town is also still under water restrictions - I'm allowed 3 days a week, with each day having only a 2 hour window opportunity to water my garden. If I watered that much, it would be too much. But my problem is simply forgetting to water during the appropriate time.

Nevertheless, I got my first two tomatoes in the past week. The Bestest Friend and I enjoyed the first one sliced with kosher salt and ground pepper. I like to call it Heaven In Red. I have many green tomatoes out there, that make me hopeful for some homemade salsa in my near future.

The squash plants have been producing flowers like crazy - but they were all male. Squash, like humans, need two sexes to procreate. This past weekend I found 3 female flowers - and it looks like two of them have been polinated. But the zucchini hasn't grown as much, or produced quite as many flowers.

Then, I spied what I think may be my first female zucchini flower. Grow, ye little green things, Grow!

The pepper plants have about 10 flowers and one actual 2 inch pepper - although the plants are no where big enough to sustain that many actual fruit. Still, one pepper per plant (they're red bell peppers) is enough to offset the cost of planting it. So one more pepper and I'll break even.

The cucumbers have been the real heartbreaker. They took the two weeks of no water harder than anything. They never actually died - they're still green - but they haven't grown AT ALL.

That is, until the past three days. In that time, one (and only one) of my cucumber plants has more than doubled in size.

So I'm more than happy with my gardening efforts. I don't consider myself a gardener - I really just kind of play with dirt and green things for many days. Even if I get the bare minimum from my efforts, I like gardening. For one thing, it's relaxing to dig in the dirt. For another, it gets The Bestest Friend over here, and she hauls bags of dirt for me while I sip Pina Coladas.

And that's just clean fun, that is.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Heavn In Red

In the past week, I've gotten two tomatoes off my plants. It's obviously just the beginning of the season, but I decided to enjoy the first fruit of my labor very simply.

I sliced the tomato, sprinkled some kosher salt over it and then ground some peppercorns over it. The Bestest Friend enjoyed hers with a wee bit of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Heaven In Red

Saturday, June 21, 2008

That Cookbook Thing II: Julia's Sauce au Cari

Update Dec 2011: Cans of coconut milk are now 13.66 (random) ounces instead of 15, and I've started leaving out the flour without noticing a difference in taste.

This month, the humble members of That Cookbook Thing II are bringing you Julia Child's Light Curry Sauce. There seems to be a wide variety of opinions on this recipe in this little group. I'm at one extreme - I absolutely loved it. I seared some chunks of boneless pork ribs in a pan and then let them finish cooking in the sauce, and then served the whole she-bang over basmati rice. Here, take a look:

I made one major change to the recipe that maybe, just possibly, ok REALLY made a difference? I substituted a can of coconut milk for the regular milk the recipe called for. It made a very creamy sauce - although calling this a "Light" sauce must refer to the flavor and not the overall texture.

I also made my own curry powder (which isn't as hard as it sounds, since I have a bunch of whole spices from that first cookbook thing we did) and I think that made a big difference in the taste of the final sauce. Curry powder from fresh ground spices has a completely different taste than my jar of pre-mixed curry powder.

The Professor and I both loved the meal. But the taste on the first night was nothing compared to the left-overs. The sauce and pork was incredibly better the next day when I reheated it to stuff in some whole wheat pitas. So if you're family won't eat leftovers, make this a day ahead.

  • Mike's going to post the original recipe over at his place. I'll link to the recipe when it's up. Done!
  • Ruth wasn't as impressed with the recipe as I was.
  • Kittie went all out and put the rest of us to shame with her rendition. Seriously, I'm going to move to the UK just to eat her food.
  • Sara gave us a great photo essay that I should probably have looked at before I made the recipe.
  • And Some of us haven't posted yet. {Runs to check} Nope. Still not there. {Foot Tapping}. I'll wait here. So when they do get their posts up (I'm looking at you, our fearless leader!), run and look, because they'll all be great. And then come back here, because I know you love me best.
Julia's Sauce au Cari (Light Curry Sauce) with pork and rice

1/2 cup minced white onion
4 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp curry powder
1 15 z can coconut milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup flour
half and half, as needed
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound boneless pork ribs, cut in 1 inch chunks
2 cups prepared basmati rice

Put the coconut milk and the water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat - you want it to be at a good simmer by the time you need it a couple of steps later.

Put the pork in skillet to sear, and while they cook prepare the sauce:

Cook the onions and butter in a skillet over low heat for 10 minutes - don't let them turn color.

Stir in the curry powder and cook slowly for two minutes.

Add the simmering coconut milk/water mixture to the onions in two additions, stirring completely in between.

Add the flour, and stir to completely incorporate it into the sauce.

Add the pork to the sauce. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes, stirring often.

If the sauce looks too thick for you - mine wasn't too bad - add a little half and half. I used about 2 tablespoons. Correct the taste with salt and pepper as needed.

Serve over basmati rice.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Crenshaw Melon - And what does this have to do with babies?

At the grocery store this past weekend, I spotted something new (to me): Crenshaw Melons.

Side story: one day when I was about 13, I was at the store with my mom. We were picking up some apples or bananas or something, and I set my eyes on star fruit for the first time. I asked her what they were, and - being the wise woman she is - she looked at the sign and said "Star Fruit". I asked her what they tasted like, and she told me she didn't know - but when I asked if we could try it, she didn't hesitate to put a couple in the cart.

That - combined with my dad's love of trying any and everything that's edible and new - is why I'm always willing to buy things I've never eaten. Because I fell in love with those Star Fruit. Keep in mind, that was before she could say "We'll go home and Google it". We didn't even know how to cut the things. Is the rind edible? Do you slice it horizontally or vertically? Is it bitter? Sweet? Sour?

Ok, back to the point: I bought a Crenshaw Melon. And - in a moment of true adventuresome spirit - I cut it open and ate without Googling it.

And it was just ok. It was no Star Fruit. It was slightly sweet, but really didn't have a whole lot of flavor. But it wasn't hard like unripe melon, so I don't think I cut into it too soon. So, as all wise librarians would do, I googled it on Google's Blogsearch page to see what the cooks of the blogosphere could tell me.

And that's when my eyes were opened. Because 7 of the first 10 results were comparing the size and/or weight of unborn and/or newly-born babies to Crenshaw Melons.

I'm going to think of that with every bite I take.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

What I've Been Eating

Well, I haven't been cooking anything for the past couple of weeks, so this stuff wasn't in my kitchen. But it was certainly in my belly. The Professor and I drove up to Canada and puttered around the Great Lakes for a few days. We ate some great food, drank some great beer and had an all around great time. So, because I'm too lazy to write out recipes and enchanting chatter for the 3 posts that I have pictures for, I'm going to just show you some of what The Professor and I have been eating and drinking for the past couple of weeks. And maybe throw in a little enchanting chatter. If I feel enchanting, that is.

We ate at a Big Boy on the way up, so just imagine a picture of a greasy, soggy Patty Melt dripping with cheese. And a Mountain Dew. Or three.

On Mackinac Island, we stopped and had a beer at this fun little cafe at Fort Mackinac (it's run by the Grande Hotel). The Big Porch Ale was perfect for cooling down after our exciting fort tour.

Later that night, we went to a great restaurant called The Lighthouse (it wasn't really a light house), and I had two firsts: Escargot and frog legs. The escargot were inside mushroom caps (so I didn't have to wrestle with the shells, thank goodness), and there was a little cheese on top. VERY YUMMY. The frog legs were part of the Seafood Platter I had for dinner - and they were fried. I picked the breading off of one so I could taste the meat by itself, and...I was underwhelmed. It wasn't bad, it wasn't good. It most certainly did NOT taste like chicken. But I have no pictures of those, because I was starving. And forgot about the camera.

This is the Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie and Spanish Coffee that The Professor had for dessert. He had the pie half devoured before I could get the camera turned on. And Spanish Coffee (coffee with brandy and Khalua) is his new favorite after-dinner drink.

The next night we were at a lovely place on Batchawana Bay on Lake Superior. The Salzburg Hof Resort is just awesome. Unless you want 50 TV chanels and internet and no bugs. Luckily, even I can deal with no TV, no internet, and a few bugs for a few days.

The resort has a restaurant (which is good, because there's not much to eat around there) and this was my dinner our first night: Natur Schnitzel, which is like Weiner Schnitzel (which is what The Professor had) except it's topped with some yummy carmelized onions. I had a choice of pork or veal, and gueess which I chose? :) I had already eaten about half my veal when I remembered to take a picture.

Fast forward a couple of days, and we've arrived in Midland. After a tour of Discovery Harbour, we stopped for...wait for it...a nice cold beer.

That night, we went to dinner at a place right on the Bay. I posted a picture of the sunset that night on my other blog - it was the perfect place for dinner that night.

I had the Fish & Chips (The Professor ate the Potato Salad because...ewww!). It went well with that beer in the background.

The Professor had some Crab/Lobster Cakes which came with the most amazing sauce - slightly smokey, slightly spicy and all awesome.

Fast forward a couple more days, and we're in Niagara Falls in Canada. After doing the Maid of the Mist experience, we stopped for ... wait for it...a beer. And the next thing I knew, I had ordered an appetizer!

I highly recommend this: It's Shoeless Joe's Lobster, Crab & Shrimp Dip. If we had been alone, we would have licked that bowl up there.

A few hours later we headed to CoCo's for dinner. And once again, we dug in before I remembered I had a camera.

I don't remember the name of the pizza, but it had "quatro" in it. (UPDATE: Kittie reminded me: it's Quattro Stagione - which she helpfully translates for us all into "Four Seasons"). 1/4 had pepperoni, 1/4 had mushrooms, 1/4 had bacon, 1/4 had artichokes. I don't know how I escaped the heartburn, but I had to combine some of the toppings on a few slices - no way could I eat that whole pizza! The Professor ordered some ravioli that I completely forgot about in my love affair with bacon.

The next night we were in Columbus, Ohio, visiting some friends. They took up out to a Turkish restaurant - a first for me. And Holy Lamby Goodness, but was it ever yummy. I'm going to warn you that this is a HORRIBLE picture, but it was by far the best thing I ate on the entire trip - so I have to share. And of course I waited til the last few bites to remember to take the dang picture.

The restaurant called this "Sultan's Favorite"; it had the Turkish name on the menu, but A) I don't speak the language, and B) I didn't write it down. That stuff on the bottom that looks like hummus is actually eggplant. There was a plate full of it, topped with little bite size pieces of lamb in a smokey sauce. I would call it a Turkish bbq sauce, but I don't like bbq sauce.

Update: I found it! It's called Hunkar Begendi; Much Better Picture here.

The Professor had something that I have completely forgotten the name of; that's basically a lamb kebab with some Greek-type yogurt (shh! Don't tell the Turkish restaurant I called it Greek yogurt!) on top. His was good...but mine was better.

Tonight, we go out to celebrate The Professor's birthday. We're going to a Brazillian restaurant and have been starving ourselves all day in anticipation.

I think I'll be on a lettuce and water diet for the next month.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Parmesan Crusted Potato Wedges

Remember the Great Potato Pile of 2007?

Well, I didn’t. Until I came home with 5 pounds of potatoes last week and started thinking up things to do with them. And I can’t do potato soup, or potato casserole, and really – is there a need to post about a baked potato? So I came up with a sister recipe to the Sweet Potato Fries, which is really nothing like the Sweet Potato Fries at ALL now that I’m done with it.

Luckily, potatoes are pretty low-maintenance. They’re the low-key member of the vegetable kingdom. You don’t have to plan menus around them; you don’t have to woo them with soft music and pretty flowers. They’re easy that way. You don’t have to even really think about them. I’m pretty sure you could half-way cook a potato, change your mind about what you want to do with it, and then continue on your way with the new recipe, and it would all work out in the end. If they could speak, Potatoes would sound like Leo from That 70’s Show just after he inhaled. “Whatever, Dude, I’m cool with that”.

Before I go any farther with that, I think it’s time for a recipe. You?

Parmesan Crusted Potato Wedge

3 russet Potatoes, cut into wedges*
½ cup butter or margarine, melted**
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp dried basil
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup Italian flavored bread crumbs

Preheat your oven to 425F.

Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray.

In a bowl, combine garlic powder, dried basil, parmesan and bread crumbs.

Working a few at a time, toss the potato wedges in the butter, then the bread crumb/Parmesan mixture. Make sure to get them thoroughly coated!

Lay the wedges in the bottom of the dish.

If there are bread crumbs left over, sprinkle them on the potatoes.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes, turning one halfway through cooking. If they’re not done enough for you, leave them in another five minutes. Or until they’re done.

*I left the skin on mine, and cut them (lengthwise) into eighths.
**If you want to do an experiment for me, use butter-flavored cooking spray instead. I’ve read that if you’re trying to cut out fat/calories, it works – but I’ve never tried it. And if The Professor saw me spraying his dinner with butter-flavored non-stick cooking-spray, I would NEVER hear the end of it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

This Dip Needs Help

Last weekend, my parents were in town. Becaue I'm an overachiever, I attempted to fix a "dippy type thing" for us to munch on while we watied for my sister to arrive.

It was not my finest hour.

I thought I had a Knor vegetable soup mix in my pantry. I didn't. But I didn't let that stop me!

I had sour cream in the fridge. I have a cabinet full of spices. I decided I could make my own dip.

Let this be a warning to you: "fat free sour cream" + "mini food processor" = "very runny dip".

I think the flavor was very good, though. Which is why I am imortalizing the process here.

You're welcome.

Sour Cream Dip That Needs Help

16 oz fat free sour cream
1/4 cup low-fat 3 Cheese Ranch Salad Dressing
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp celery salt
2 tsp dill

I put everything in a food processor; I suggest you just mix it all together in a bowl - the food processor made the dip very runny.

My dip was very runny - as I've mentioned, I blame it completely on the food processor. I think it would also be awesome made with cream cheese instead of sour cream (or even half sourc cream and half cream cheese).

Experiment away, my pretties - and let me know how it turns out.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

That Cookbook Thing II: Julia's French Onion Soup

Back in January, after a group of us finished our review for Where Flavor Was Born, one of us decided that it wasn't time to let go. That a special group had been formed, full of highly trained tasters with an uncanny ability to get right at a recipe and then raise a ton of question about it. Questions that must be answered with many emails.

That person was Mike. And he knew there were still many questioned to be raised.

So, not being the sort to let a thing like that pass him by, he decided we needed another project. This time, we set our sights on an icon.

Try this on for size:

Yes, my friends, we are now tackling Julia Child's The Art of French Cooking. Because we aren't completely insane, we're sticking with volume 1.

The Chosen Bloggers are:
Mike from Mel's Diner
Sara from iliketocook
Mary the Breadchick from The Sour Dough
Ruth from Once Upon A Feast
Mary from Cooking For Five

First Challenge: Julia's French Onion Soup.

But even that wasn't enough - we decided to go all out with one of the variations and cooked "Soupe a l’Oignon Gratinee des Trois Gourmandes" (click for the recipe at Mike's place). That's basically "Really-Extra-Special Onion Soup With Multiple Forms of Alcohol" for those of you (like me) who don't speak French.

We were allowed by our gracious dictator to make some variations. I was scared enough of the recipe not to try. I did (*gasp*) use half canned beef stock, because I didn't have enough of the homemade variety. Which probably makes me unworthy to cook a Julia Child recipe, but... you know what? I don't care. Because the soup was freaking good.

Well, it was freaking good the second day. The first day it had too much of a "soup that will make you an alocoholic" taste for my tastebuds. The first day it was just extremely good.

But any day I get to broil cheese and yummy bread that is soaking up a cognac-infused broth is a good day.

Now, this recipe is not something you just throw together to impress someone. You have to work at it a little - and that means reading the recipe ahead of time, which is sooo not my forte.

My humble suggestion: Do the last step (the cognac-egg yolk-worcestershire step) as the second to last step, and let it hum along for a while before putting the bread and cheese on top and putting it in the oven. I think the cognac needs some time to really meld with the beef stock. But that could be because I'm not a huge fan of cognac.

And really - who am I to question Julia Child?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mandarin Orange Salad Dressing

In case you've missed the updates: As a rule, I do NOT eat salad dressing. For the vast majority of my 30 years, I've eaten salads with lots of vegetables and some pepper to to keep it seasoned. One of the benefits to this aversion is that, as a general rule, salads without dressing are way healthier for you - no extra fat and/or calories. A bunch of choppped veggies, with a small fistful of grated low-fat mozarella cheese, really don't have that many calories per bowl.

A couple of years ago, I found a recipe for a dressing based on canned pears. You throw them, some olive oil and a little balsalmic vinegar in a food processor and then - voila! - you have salad dressing. I cut the recipe out of whatever magazine it was in and promptly forgot about it. I found it a year or so later, pulled it out to make it, and then lost it. I'm still looking for it.

But I remembered it when I was planning a dinner party a few weeks later. I didn't have any canned pears, but I was planning on serving a salad with mandarin oranges - and I thought to myself "Hey! Self! Pay attention! There's a lot of liquid in mandarin orange slices. I bet they'd work."

Luckily, I listened to myself. And came up with a light, summery salad dressing that is great with some mixed greens, roasted walnuts and maybe a bell pepper, tomato and cucumber.

But really? All you need is the dressing and maybe a straw. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: only use the straw if no one's looking. Because seeing someone drinking salad dressing out of a straw is something no one ever forgets.

Mandarin Orange Salad Dressing

11 oz can of mandarin oranges, divded and drained, liquid reserved
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (red wine vinegar would work well too)
a few turns of freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp poppy seeds

Start with half of a can of mandarin oranges (save the liquid) and the oil, garlic, vinegar and pepper. Put all of them in a food processor and pulse until you have a nice liquid.


Is it too thick? Add some of the reserved liquid - about a tablespoon at a time - pulse a few more times and taste again.

Too thin? Add a few more orange segments.

Like super-vinegary salad dressings? Add another tablespoon or two of vinegar.

Pour the dressing into a container that has a lid and add the poppy seeds.

Just before serving, give the whole thing a few shakes. It WILL separate, so you're gonna have to shake it right before you serve it. You can either toss the salad with the dressing, or let people self-dress their salads.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cucumbers in Butter and Cream

When I got married a few years ago, my mom gave me a copy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. I love this book. It's got a ton of recipes, but it's also got tons of great information for foodies. It's not just a cook book. I pick it up and randomly flip through sections - especially the vegetables - when I'm looking for something new or just for general information.

These cucumbers have been on my list of things to try since I got the book. But it took me awhile to work up to it. It's not hard, but The Professor is of the firm opinion that cucumbers aren't really something worth eating anyway, much less cooking.

I finally took the plunge last month. After all, anything cooked in butter, cream and dill has to be great.

And...I was disappointed. I wanted it to be awesome - how many people cook cucumbers? When was the last time you ate a cooked cucumber? I wanted to be unique even more unique than I already am.

The sauce was awesome. But then...butter+cream+dill has to equal awesome, or else there would be no balance to the universe. So the sauce will probably find it's way onto some pasta. And as I typed that, I thought "Hmm...cucumbers in a pasta dish?" I might give these another try after all.

Cucumbers in Butter and Cream (from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything)

About 1 pound cucumbers
1 Tbsp salt (if cucumbers are not firm)
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup sweat (heavy) cream, or sour cream, or yogurt
Lots of freshly snipped dill (I used dried)

Peel the cucumbers if waxed. Cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cut the into 3/4-inch chunks. If the cucumbers are not super-firm, place the chunks in a colander and sprinkle them with the salt. Shake to distribute the salt and let them drain for about 20 minutes. Rinse and dry. If the cucumbers are already firm, proceed with the recipe.

Place the butter in a medium to large skillet over medium heat. When it melts, ad the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Do not let the onion brown. Add the cucumbers and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the cucumbers are just tender. Add pepper and, if you did not salt the cucumbers earlier, some salt.

Turn the heat to low, then stir in the cream or yogurt and a good handful of dill. Stir until well blended, then serve, garnished with more dill.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cooking With Mama #3: Nothing-Like-a-Mud-Pie

It was a late Saturday morning. Ma mère and I sat down at the kitchen table to decide what to cook for dessert. There were an abundance of recipes from magazines, newspapers, websites - you get the idea. We had options. Boy did we have options - everything I learned about "Hey! this recipe looks great, I better save it in case I run out of ideas" - I learned from my mom. We just may have had too many options, but it was a fun time picking it out.

One thing we learned? Pudding is not a good substitute for cream cheese. Here's what we started with:

Seeing as how I also learned all of my "surely, we don't really have to follow the recipe" habbits from my mom, though...we substituted pudding for cream cheese. It tasted good - not great, but good - but boy, it did NOT hold it's shape when we cut into it. Which is why you will only see pictures of the whole product.

Take my advice: Use cream cheese.

Nothing Like A Mud Pie

3/4 cup crushed honey graham crackers
1/2 cup finel chopped walnuts
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 package (4 servings) sugar free instant vanilla pudding
1 pckg (4 serrvings) coconut instant pudding
1 pkg (4 servings) cook and serve chocolate pudding
1 tub whipped topping
5 cups cold skim milk, divided

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a 9" pie plate, combine cracker crumbs, walnuts and butter. Press into bottom and sides of pan.

Cook for 10 minutes; cool.

In a medium bowl, combine vanilla and coconut pudding mixes. Add milk 3 cups of milk and whisk to thoroughly combine. Refrigerate until set.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together remaining milk and chocolate pudding mixes. Cook according to package directions and refrigerate until cool.

Stir 1/2 tub of whipped cream into the coconut/vanilla pudding. Spread into bottom of pie shell.

Spoon chocolate pudding on top, and spread evenly.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, spread remaining whipped cream on top.

Makes 6 servings.

We had leftovers of both puddings. My mom - being a genius - pulled out her tuperware (rubbermaid?) parfait dishes and made a few parfaits. Being an extra-genius genius, she pulled out some gingersnaps, crushed them and made a couple of parfait layers out of them. I didn't eat one of them, but I'm willing to bet that was the second best part of this whole experiment.

The best part? Cooking with my mom.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Indian Shepherd's Pie

I found a new recipe carnival to participate in! I know, I know – you’ve been waiting for something this momentous to happen. Recipe Remix gives you a list of 6 recipes to choose from, and then asks you to give it a twist. As soon as I saw Shepherd’s Pie on this month’s list, I knew what I wanted to make.

The Best Friend came over for dinner, which means I needed something vegetarian – the perfect night to try out my new recipe! It looks horrible in the picture. But it tasted wonderful. And, in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve become something of a cumin freak. I embrace my idiosyncracies.

Indian Shepherds Pie

1 ½ cups lentils,
3 cups water
2 Tbsp of this spice blend
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion. Chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
1 can diced tomatoes
Ground cumin, to taste
2 cups mashed potatoes
Smoked paprika

Rinse and drain lentils. Heat water to boiling in a pot, add lentils and simmer for 30 minutes. Turn the heat off, and let them sit for another 30 minutes.

Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until translucent.

Preheat oven to 375®.
Sprinkle the seasoning mix on the lentils, and mash in a large bowl. Add the onions and tomatoes and stir well. Taste a bite or two, and if you want more flavor then add some ground cumin.

Pour the lentil mixture in a 3 quart casserole and spread the mashed potatoes on top. Sprinkle with the smoked paprika.

Bake for 30 minutes.
Serves 4

Notes: I had planned on using the bag of Toor Dal in my pantry for this - but I forgot I used it in something else a few weeks ago. So I used the bag of lentils in my pantry.

I would have loved even more cumin in this - I really have become addicted to the stuff. But The Professor and The Bestest Friend liked it as is.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cooking with Mama #2: RJ Chicken

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was a little boy named RJ. We'll call him Randy Johnson. I babysat him and his older sister a time or two, our moms were great friends, and he played with my little brother. It seems like someone from our families was always crossing the street for something or other. And Randy would come to dinner.

And one day, my parents worked together in the kitchen and made some AWESOME chicken, which Randy Johnson was lucky enough to eat. He went home and told his mom all about it - it was grilled! With stuff on top! And Cheese! Oh, the cheese!"

"But Randy," his mom told him, "You don't like cheese."
"Well, I like it when Mr. M. grills it on top of the chicken!"

And so, every time this dish is cooked in one of various forms, my mom calls this Randy Johnson Chicken. Everyone in the world loves it. Well, except vegetarians. And we all lived happily ever after.

The End.

RJ Chicken:

3 pounds chicken breasts
bottled Italian dressing
2 medium yellow onions
1/2 pound whole mushrooms
sliced mozzarella cheese

Put the chicken breasts in a couple of large zip-top bags; pour in enough dressing to coat them. Toss and refrigerate for anywhere from a couple of hours to overnight.

If the weather isn't raining, windy or otherwise anti-grilling, fire up the grill. If that's not an option, get out a couple of skillets. Either way, brown the chicken on both sides.

While the chicken is cooking, sautè the onions and mushrooms - we do them separately, because some family members only want one or the other.

Line a baking sheet with foil. (I think my mom sprays it with cooking spray, but I was busy tossing cheese and macaroni around, and didn't pay attention). Put the chicken on the foil, top with mushrooms and/or onions, and top that with a slice of mozzarella cheese - feel free to tear it to make it a little larger than the chicken, but you want it to cover the yummy toppings so that it will melt and enfold them in cheese-y goodness.

Put in a preheated oven (350? 375? Should I really be writing a recipe when I don't know basics like oven temperatures??) and bake until the chicken is done, the cheese is melted, and you're picking caramelized onions off the pan every time you open the oven.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Cooking with Mama: Mac N Cheese

I'm at my parents house, and tonight's dinner was awesome, if I - the sous chef and pâtissier - do say so myself.

So in a quick-as-lighting update, here's a recipe we pulled out of the air.

Well, Mom looked around and gave me a ratio for cheese to macaroni. Then she told me what kinds of cheeses she had. Then she told me to use 5 cups of macaroni. Then she told me to mop the floors, polish the silver and dust the chandaliers.

Ok, ok. Not really on the mopping, polishing and dusting. And she boiled the macaroni for me, and preheated the oven. And gave me beer. And cooked the rest of dinner. And not only bought me Diet Mt Dew, but also had it chilled beside the beer.

Hmm..Maybe I should go get the dust rag.

Nothing-Fancy But Oh-So-Yummy Macaroni & Cheese

5 cups macaroni, uncooked
2 tbsp margerine
About 4 1/2 cups shredded cheeses (see notes); divided
About 1/4-1/2 cup milk
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp paprika

Call your mom, and have her boil your macaroni. Or boil it yourself.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Spray a 4 quart casserole with non-stick spray.

Drain macarni.

Stir in margerine and 1/4 cup milk until margerine is melted.

Stir in 2 cups of shredded cheese thoroughly. It'll probably melt immediately.
Stir in 2 more cups of cheese and pour in casserole.

Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Put into oven, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. If you like the browned-top look, turn on your broiler for the last 5 minutes.

We had several different kinds of cheese to choose from. For the first two cups, I used mozzarella, because I knew it would melt, and it melts pretty smoothly. For the second two cups, I chose cheddar to give it some bite. My mom also had a little chipotle cheddar - a very little, around 1/4 cup - that I mixed in with the cheddar. The extra 1/2 cup on top was all cheddar.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Quick and Dirty Zuchhini

Ok, here I go with my love affair for my favorite little seasoning blend again. I made some zucchini to go with the Italian chicken the other night. And I wanted something easy, but yummy. Which really isn't hard to do - zucchini is very forgiving, any flavor at all goes with it, and as long as you can cut it, you can cook it, so I don't know why I'm feeling all smarty-McProudy pants. (And the cutting may be optional, but I haven't experimented yet. I'll let you know).

Also - the zucchini wasn't dirty. I washed it.

Quick Baked Zucchini

1 large zucchini, in slices about 3/4 inch thick.
1 tbsp (or less) olive oil
About 3 good shakes of McCormick Roasted Garlic and Bell Pepper seasoning

Heat oven to 375F.

Mix all thee items together in a bowl; put in a shallow baking dish.
Bake for about 20-25 minutes.

I didn't measure the olive oil, but I know I used too much. You might even be able to get away without using any at all, which would make this even healthier.

After the zucchini has been dished up, it is perfectly acceptable to run your fingers around the bowl to get any stray bits of seasoning that didn't get served up and then lick said fingers clean. I think that may be standard etiquette in some country somewhere.

After you type "zucchini" six times in 10 minutes, it starts to look wrong. Very wrong. Try it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Italian Marinated Chicken Winges

Remember back in January when I made the glazy-yummy-teriyaki-y chicken wings? Well, I had bought a second pack of chicken wings and put them in the freezer for a night when my muse told me it was time to use them. Sunday night, my muse murmered that the time was coming, so I pulled them out of the freezer and moved them to the fridge.

Last night my muse - whom I should really get around to naming one of these days - got busy in the kitchen.

As I was flipping through the day's mail, she spied my spice rack. And the bottle of Italian Seasoning that I usually reach past to grab the oregano, basil, thyme, etc. And she realized that I was wasting about 3 ounces of perfectly good seasoning. Bad, Deborah!

This speaking-of-my-muse-in-the-third-person thing needs to end now.

So, in the spirit of not wasting things, I looked in my fridge to see what else I could find to throw together. I found a quarter of a bottle of white wine that's been open for about 2 weeks, the last bit of a bottle of lemon juice that needed to be used up, 1/2 of a red onion, and some garlic that told me if I didn't use it before I left town this weekend, it would sprout before I got back.

Dang it, now my garlic's talking to me? I preferred the muse.

Italian Marinated Chicken Wings

2 pounds chicken wings
1 1/4 cups dry (or just old) white wine
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 1/2 Tbsp Italian seasoning
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp butter (Divided, if necessary)
1/2 red onion, diced
salt and pepper to taste

Mix wine, lemon juice, garlic and italian seasoning together in a bowl. Put chicken in a bowl with a lid, pour marinade over the chicken, stir and cover.

Refrigerate overnight (it ended up being 24 hours here)

In a large skillet (you may need two), heat butter (divide in half if you need to use two skillets). Take chicken from marinade (but don't pour that yumminess out!) and brown on both sides in the skillet(s).

Remove chicken - leave any grease, drippings, whatever in the pan. Add onion and sautee. (you're gonna have to divide this on your own if you need to use two skillets) Add marinade and bring to a boil. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir.

At this point, I had planned on putting the chicken back in pan (I only used one), spooning some of the tomatoes and sauce over the top, coverering and cooking until done.

I ended up pouring the tomato/sauce/onion/stuff into another bowl, putting the chicken back in the pan and then pouring the tomato/sauce/onion/stuff over the top. And then cooking until it was done.

If you use chicken with bones in it, this will undboubtedly take longer than you think it should. But oh, how the meat will fall off those bones.

Serve over rice.
Save your bones for stock!

I want to make this with bonesless chicken breasts and/or thighs - getting meat off of wings that are messy like this is a pain.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Williams Sonoma: The stuff that dreams are made of

I've been in a Williams Sonoma store once. In my former life, a boss gave me a gift card for Secretary's Adminstrative Professionals Day. It wasn's a huge store, but I wondered around for over an hour, trying to decide how to spend my money. My gift card ($25? $30?) wasn't going to take me far, but I was determined to let it take me somewhere.

This is where it took me:

It's a small food processor, and it's perferct. I've been using it for 5(?) years now and I love it. Since I rarely cook for more than 4 people, I rarely need anything bigger.

But I still dream of Williams Sonoma.

Now, The Clean Plate Club is having a giveaway: a $50 gift certificate to Williams Sonoma. Since I need something else to dream about and scheme about, I'm entering this post in the contest. Who know? Maybe I'll be able to buy something even cooler - like this, these, or a whole collection of these.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sweet Potato Fries: A New Love

Sweet Potatoes were on sale last week, so I bought one mammoth one and one probably-regular-sized-one-but-looked-like-a-pygmy-version-next-to-the-mammoth-one.

Then they sat on my counter for a few days.

Then I remembered that they should be in a cool, dark place. So I moved them to a cool, dark place

Definition of a "cool, dark place": Somewhere out of line of sight.

So I forgot about them for a few more days.

But that's ok. Because I am now convinved that the reason I forgot about them was so that I'd have time to remember that I wanted to try Kalyn's recipe for baked sweet potato fries.

And then I realized that I didn't have the right spices. So I had to make up my own. My brain finally kicked in, and I actually wrote down what I used people.

That's right people, I'm genius. I wrote down a recipe. I should get a PhD or something.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp coriander seeds
1 Tbsp whole cumin
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp Kosher salt, plus more to taste

In a spice grinder, combine coriander, cumin, mustard, and celery salt and grind until...ground. Stir in 1 tsp kosher salt. Divide in half.
Toss potato wedges with olive oil until coated. Sprinkle 1/4 of spice blend over vegetables and toss. Sprinkle another 1/4 of the spice blend over it and toss some more. Tossing is fun.
Spray cookie sheet with non-stick spray (I used the olive oil flavored kind). Spread wedges on sheet, and bake for 35-45 minutes, turning every 10-15 minutes or so.
Sprinkle fries with kosher salt to taste. Feel free to sprinkle the remaining spice blend on them, too - or save for more fries later.
Notes: I know that the pre-ground spices would work just as well, I just don't have a clue how to translate the whole stuff into ground terms. These were so good, though - as in, can't-stop-eating-them good, that I hope - nay, I beg - you to try them.