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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Food for good luck in 2012

On New Year's Day I'll be serving Hoppin' John to family and friends. In case you don't know, Hoppin John is a stew-like dish of black-eyed peas and ham and Cajun spices served over rice. (My kids called it Hoppin Uncle John after a favorite uncle.) It combines ham and black-eyed peas, those two foods said to bring good luck and wealth in the coming year. Coming from the North, I'd never heard of this tradition until I'd been in Texas several years. That's because it originated, in this country, in the American South. But now I feel uneasy if I don't have my ham and black-eyed peas. Today I read a blog about New Year celebrtions in Italy--it involves red underwear, but let's not go there. Italians eat sausage and lentils--the lentils are supposed to bring wealth because they're shaped like coins.
That got me to thinking about cross-cultural foods. My kids were discussing weinerschnitzel the other day, and I pointed out that almost every culture has a form of breaded meat. Weinerschnitzel is of course Austrain and made of veal, pounded flat, dipped in bread and egg.. But in Central and South America, they serve various versions of milanesa--the name indicates an Italian origin or at least European. Throughout much of Europe the dish is known as schnitzel and may be of chicken, veal or beef. In Denmark it is served topped with a "boy" (dreng in Danish)--lemon slices, horseradish, capers, and anchovy slices. In Oriental countries particularly Japan it is breaded with panko crumbs.
But wait, I've strayed from my topic, which is Hoppin John. Here's the recipe I'll be using Sunday:

1 lb. dried black-eyed peas
2 small ham hocks or a meaty ham bone
2 onions, divided use
3 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 cup white rice
1 can Rotel tomatoes
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 tsp. Creole or Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
3/4 tsp. cumin
3/4 tsp. salt
4 green onions sliced

Put the peas, ham in a Dutch oven with 6 cups water (I might add chicken bouillon cubes). Quarter one of the onions and add with bay leaf and garlic. Bring to boil then simmer for two to three hours--don't let the peas become mushy. Remove the ham hocks, cut off the meat, dice and set aside. Drain the peas and set aside. Discard the bay leaf, onion, and garlic.
Add 2-1/2 cups water to pot and bring to boil. Add rice and simmer until almost tender, 10-12 minutes.

Dice the second onion and add to rice along with other ingredients except green onions. Cook until rice is tender--ten minutes. Spoon into bowls and top with sliced green onions for garnish. Tradition calls for accompanying this with turnip greens and cornbread. I'll be serving the cornbread but not the greens--I'm not yet after forty-some years that much of a southerner.

Eat your peas and ham, and may 2012 bring you health, wealth, and happiness.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Day

Potluck with Judy was absent last night--due to a great Christmas celebration. All I would have said, had I posted, was brie, spanikopita, cornichons, capers, pumpernickel bread shapes--the guest who was bringing smoked salmon and marscopone forgot it but we had all the accommpaniments. Then on to two turkeys--one smoked, one fried--mashed potatoes, tons of gravy, mac and cheese with truffle oil, green bean casserole (with sour cream, not the traditional), a dressing from Christopher Cook's The New Best Recipes that included fresh sage, and lots of wine of all kinds, including champagne. Two apple pies and a rum cake--Jacob had two helpings! Lots of laughter and stories and fun. Christmas as it should be.
Cheers!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A chicken disaster, a killer sandwich--and an unusual take on shrimp

I love chicken thighs, and last night I thought I could reconstruct from memory a recipe I have somewhere for herbed chicken thighs. You melt butter and add lemon juice in your baking dish, then dip the chicken, and season with a mixture of as many herbs as you want--I'd stick with garden herbs and shy away from Mexican flavors or else stick to all Mexican spices. I remember you mixed them with salt. Well, I got my proportions way off, and it was too salty to eat. Next time I'll go back to my standby: start them skin side down, sprinkle with soy, then seasoned salt and garlic powder. Bake half an hour, turn, and re-season. Best eaten cold. Yumm, good.
The other day in the market I asked for sliced rare roast beef--they only had well done in the Angus beef so they sold me Kobe at the same price. Jordan, Christian and I feasted on rich roast beef sandwiches today--with tomato, provolone, red onion, and mayo on lightly toasted sourdough bread. I was afraid the beef would be too rare for Jordan and she'd microve itwhich would have been sacriledge, but she took the ends which were fairly well done. Felt like I'd had a real treat.
Here's my Christmas recipe for today, though I suspect you could serve it any time. It was a Christmas Eve tradition in my family's house;

Pickled shrimp
2½ lbs. shrimp
Shrimp boil or ½ c. celery tops, 3½ tsp. salt, and ¼ c. pickling spices
Sliced onions
7-8 bay leaves
1¼ c. salad oil
¾ c. white vinegar
1½ tsp. salt
2½ Tbsp. capers with juice
Dash of Tabasco
Cook shrimp, using shrimp boil or alternate seasonings. Drain, cool, and peel. Alternate layers of shrimp (sliced in half lengthwise is best) and sliced onions in a shallow dish. Add bay leaves. Mix oil, vinegar, salt, capers, and Tabasco and pour over shrimp and onions. Cover and store in refrigerator at least 24 hours before serving. This will keep a week or more in the refrigerator.
In my thirties, I developed an allergy to shrimp. I always thought it was because I overdosed on it, eating it every chance I got. I remember a shrimp dinner one night at Brentano’s in Dallas—by the time we got home I had a startling red mask across my cheeks. My then-husband, a physician, sat me up in bed and told his nurse, who had gone with us to dinner, to watch me while he took the babysitter home. Another time I had shrimp quiche, clearly made with canned shrimp and the same thing happened. Once I bought lobster tails on sale and didn’t realize until I got them home that the label said “Previously frozen.” Same red mask. So I’m careful—sometimes I’ll take a bite of someone’s very fresh shrimp, but now I’ve almost lost my taste for it. Except sometimes at Christmas I do long for pickled shrimp. (Sorry, I don't seem to be able to single-space this paragraph.)





Wednesday, December 14, 2011

.Fir Trees and Christmas Cookies

Please welcome my guest, Nancy Adams, a freelance editor and theological librarian who writes mysteries and fantasy. She is the author of Winds from the East, an as-yet unpublished novel set in Fourth Century Rom, and her short story, “The Secret of the Red Mullet” is included in the Guppy anthology, Fish Tales. Her latest work is a short Christmas tale, "Saint Nick and the Fir Tree." Here’s Nancy:

 It's the day after Christmas and Saint Nick's on vacation. What does he eat?

 In my short story, Saint Nick and his new friend the Tree go out on the town, first taking in a movie (Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street, the original version, of course), then hitting the local diner. But we never find out what Nick orders, whether he's vegetarian or not, or anything else about his food preferences because the reader's attention is focused on his friend. Woe and alas, there's nothing on the menu the Tree can eat.

 Fortunately Nick has given the Tree a flask of Ent draft. It's what the Ents, the benevolent treelike giants in The Lord of the Rings, gave to their hobbit guests.

 For those of us who are human, however, there's plenty on the menu to choose from, especially this time of year. As Christmas rolls around, I remember with special fondness the beautifully decorated cookies my Aunt Charlotte made, and continues to make. I looked forward to them every year. Fortunately, I was able to give her a call and get this wonderful recipe.

 Aunt Charlotte's Christmas Cookies

 1 cup Oleo (that's always what Mother and my aunts called margarine)
2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon coconut flavoring (very important)
3 eggs
Mix well

Sift and add gradually:

4 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Flatten out into a pancake and if you wish divide into four parts, so you can roll out just a batch or so at a time.

Place in covered container(s) and chill in refrigerator.

When I talked to my aunt, she said that when she divides it into 4 parts, she stores each part on a paper plate while it's being chilled. I imagine waxed paper would work, too.

Roll on floured board

Cut out with cookie cutters

Bake at 350o  F for 8 minutes or until brown.

Watch cookies to make sure none burn. Charlotte said they burn easily, and if the cookie shapes are different sizes it can get tricky.

Frosting:

1 stick of regular margarine (not the soft kind)   Leave it out of refrigerator, so that it will be soft.
Then add 1-1/2 cups powdered sugar and cream the mixture. Then add 3/4 tsp vanilla extract.

If the frosting is too thin, add more sugar.  If too thick, add water or rice milk.

Then, of course, the food coloring. Aunt Charlotte always made the traditional shapes: Christmas trees, Santa with his beard, candy canes, etc. The most unusual of her Christmas cookies were little blue churches with white trim. Everything she does is always perfect in every small detail. My sister is like that, too. They both have a natural knack for those homey little details.

Me? I'm like my mother--I'd rather eat cookies than bake them. But I do enjoy cooking up stories. "Saint Nick and the Fir Tree" may be served as an e-book or paperback, according to your taste. Links are on my website: http://nancyadamsfiction.com.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas dinner, a recipe, and a chance at a free book

Is Christmas dinner at your house a repeat of Thanksgiving? It is at mine but I have friends who traditionally eat enchiladas and tamales. Some people serve ham, some beef tenderloin. If you watch the Food Network as much as I do you see preparations for everything from crown pork roast to Cornish game hens. All of that sounds good, but my kids would rebel if we had anything but the traditional foods: turkey, green bean casserole with Campbell's mushroom soup and French's fried onion rings (no subsitutions, additions, etc., please--one year Lisa made a smashing green bean casserole with sour cream and several ingredients; we all agreed it was good but it wasn't "the same"), mashed potatoes with plenty of gravy. We experiment with different dressings, though never in the turkey--we've done a recipe with kielbasa in it and other variations.  Some  who married into the family like that jellied cranberry sauce in a can; I come from the tradition of ground cranberries with orange and apple, but the kids don't really like that, so I don't make it. They do NOT want sweet potatoes, although lots of them eat them other times. They want our traditional cheeseball (see Potluck with Judy November 20, 2011) and often have an apple pie, though Melanie's grandmother's recipe for chess pie is rapidly becoming the family favorite. And lots of wine, please.
In the last few years, my grown children have developed a love of fried turkey. I've posted about  it recently (http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com, November 24, 2011). I love the fried turkey skin but bemoan the lack of gravy. At Christmas, we usually do two turkeys--there are after all fifteen of us these days. The boys will fry a turkey while Megan and I roast one. She always buys extra gravy at Central Market, even though it comes with giblets which used to be a no-no.
And, of course, we all love leftovers. My favorite day-after-Christmas sandwich? Sliced turkey, mayo, lettuce, and blue cheese. I first ate this in the basement cafeteria of a Cedar Rapids (Iowa) department store. It was when I was in college in Iowa.

Here's the recipe for one of the turkey dressings we've fixed and liked a lot.

Green chile/Cornbread dressing

1/4 c. butter or margarine
2 c. chopped onion
1 c. sliced celery
1 (14-1/2 oz.) can chicken broth
1 (17 oz.) can whole kernel corn
2 (4 oz.) cans chopped green chillies
3 Tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. pepper
6 cups cornbread crumbs
1/2 c. pecans, chopped and toasted.

Melt butter in large Dutch oven; add onion and celery and cook over medium heat. Stir constantly until onion and celery are wilted. Add broth, corn, green chilies, parsley, and seasonings. Stir well, and add cornbread and nuts (I don't like the crunch of nuts in this and often leave them out). Toss until all is moistened. Spoon into baking dish and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. 8-10 servings.

So what's your Christmas tradition? The oddest thing you eat? Email me at j.alter@tcu.edu. The person with the most unusual tradition will gt a free copy of Skeleton in a Dead Space, my new mystery--I'll let my tradition-bound local children, Jordan and Christian, be the judges. Please do include a recipe if appropriate.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cooking the Wild Southwest--a cookbook review

My guest reviewer today is Beth Knudson, but before I share her review, I want to tell you a bit about this truly remarkable young woman. We first became acquainted when she was my work-study student at TCU Press, over 15 years ago. Beth and I hit it off from the start, but she was not truly happy with her life. Since then she has married, quit smoking, lost over 60 lbs., developed her own business as a yoga and wellness instructor, and, because her husband is pre-celiac, become an expert on experimenting with gluten-free, dairy-free cooking. Along the way she served as chair of the board of the Girls Club and for many years maintained a career in publishing.
In addition to being a longtime friend--we visit fairly often and frequently cook together--Beth taught me  yoga. When she began teaching, she tactfully didn't even suggest I try again after an unsuccessfu try several years ago. She waited--and I announced one day I thought I should be doing yoga. She taught me, in private lessons, a routine I can do at home.
Find Beth at http://www.laughingladybugyoga.com or http://http://www.fromcowstoquinoa.com/ or on Facebook or Twitter.
Because Beth is so good with alternative foods, I asked her to review this book when it landed on my desk, and here's what she wrote:

Cooking the Wild Southwest
Delicious Recipes for Desert Plans
By Carolyn Niethammer

How does Prickly Pear Syrup sound? What about Mesquite Ginger Cookies? Pinon Nut Butter? Carolyn Niethammer makes these and other dishes sound so delicious, they fascinate me.

Being a proponent of the slow-food and locavore or local food movement myself, I was intrigued by Niethammer’s book. Slow and local food seem easy in a place where familiar fruits and vegetables grow, but what about in the desert Southwest?

The book delivers a huge number of recipes that all use wild-gathered desert ingredients, including saguaro, mesquite, pinion nuts, acorns, and wild greens. Niethammer acknowledges that it would be time consuming and impractical to build your entire diet out of wild plants but encourages us to incorporate local or wild ingredients into at least one meal per week. As with everything, a little can make a big difference, both economically and environmentally.

If I lived where these ingredients are readily available, I would cook or at least try some of the featured ingredients, but they aren’t exactly abundant in North Texas.  Just a few hours’ drive, though, and I’d be in business. My palate is adventurous enough to think that Apache Acorn Stew (made from beef and acorn meal) sounds pretty good. I’m a little leery of grinding and processing the acorn meal myself, but the instructions in the book are very clear. You can also order such things as mesquite and acorn meal and tepary beans online or perhaps even find them in a health-food store.

I think the biggest value of Cooking the Wild Southwest is that it reminds us how important it is to eat locally, and that as much as we like our fancy restaurants and imported foods, the ingredients that are native to our area are just as special and more sustainable. Carolyn Niethammer not only knows her way around a desert before dawn, but she also knows good food and has a passion for teaching us all how to treat the earth gently, sustaining its resources as it sustains us.

Here’s a sample recipe:

Layered Tepary*Enchiladas

Oil for frying
6 corn tortillas
2 c. cooked tepary beans
1 c. cooked corn kernels
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
Chile power or paste, to taste
¼ tsp. cumin or to taste
½ c. shredded longhorn or jack cheese
½ c. chopped black or green olives
1 c. shredded lettuce

Heat ¼ inch oil in small frying pan and fry tortillas one by one, briefly, until limp but not crisp. Remove and pat each with paper towel to absorb excess oil. Drain and pat out excessive oil with paper towels.
In medium saucepan combine teparies, corn kernels, and tomato sauce; heat. Season to taste with chile and corn.
For each individual serving, place a tortilla on a plate, add a layer of bean and corn mixture, then repeat twice ending with beans. Top with shredded cheese and chopped olives and surround each tortilla with a stack of shredded lettuce.                                                                                                *Tepary beans are wild beans grown by native cultures for centuries. Today they are being cultivated because they are drought and disease resistant and higher in food value than most other beans. They come in black, white, tan and brown and are available online. They are cooked like any other dried bean.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Christmas Coffee Cakes - part two


Wednesday, I posted the directions for my mom's multi-purpose everlasting dough which can be used for rolls, coffee cakaes, even sweet white bread. Tonight I'm adding the directions for Christmas coffee cakes. This really calls for a picture, but I haven't had time to make them this year--and never took pictures before, apparently. At least not that I can find.

 To shape Christmas tree coffee cakes

 Roll handful of dough into a log about 4-5 inches long and the size of your thumb (maybe a little bigger). Make the next roll a little shorter, and the next, and so on, until you end with a round-shaped piece of dough for the top of the tree. Add a round base for the trunk. Let rise until almost doubled in size.

 To bake
Bake at 375o for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Check to be sure center is cooked through. Cool thoroughly before decorating.

To decorate:

Mom was quite strict about the decorating: she beat up basic icing to just the right consistency—a little runny, but not too much so—and then dribbled it across the cakes, so it looked like a sprinkling of snow, with strict instructions to us on the order in which decorations had to go on.

Make a basic powdered sugar icing (see recipe above). Flavor as you like; I use vanilla and almond flavoring, but rum might also be good. Make the icing fairly runny—you want it to drip off the spoon but not roll off the cake (tricky business, that!).

Line up all decorations before you begin. Put lighter decorations on first—silver shot, etc.—as they are more like to roll off. You can always press quartered gumdrops or halved maraschino cherries into the icing.

I suggest any or all of the following:
Green or red sugar (I like green better—it looks like a tree)
Nonpareils (those little colored things—sort of multicolored shot)
Silver or gold shot, if you can find it (tiny silver balls, not much good to eat but they look pretty)
Red or cinnamon hots (these are particularly bad about rolling off)
Halved red and green maraschino cherries
Quartered gumdrops
Anything else that strikes your fancy

Drizzle icing from a spoon over the cake in a back-and-forth motion, but don’t try to cover the entire cake—you want it to look sort of like snow has blown onto the tree. Then, quickly, apply decorations.

You can only make Christmas coffee cakes if you intend to share them with friends! This recipe makes four large coffee cakes, but you can vary the size by the number and size of “logs” you put into the tree. Be sure to tell people not to put in the oven to warm but to heat from the bottom so the icing doesn't melt and the decorations roll off.

Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas coffee cakes - Part One

This is a blog in two parts. The first, a little history and how to make the dough; the second, next Sunday, will be about turning the dough into Christmas coffee cakes.

The Christmas pi├Ęce de resistance when I was a child, the one that calls back so many memories, was Mom’s Christmas coffee cakes. Mom would bake early in the morning on Christmas Eve, and by the time my brother and I arrived in the kitchen—why was my father never a part of this?—ten or twelve tree-shaped cakes were ready to be decorated with gumdrops, red and green cherries, silver shot, red hots, red and green sugar, and whatever else entered our fancies.

Each finished cake was put on a square of cardboard—festively covered with aluminum foil—and covered with clear wrap. By late morning, we were off to deliver the cakes; I think my father became part of the tradition here, though as soon as my brother was old enough to drive, the delivering was left to the two of us.

We had a regular list of recipients, and at every house where we stopped, we were assured that Christmas morning would not be the same without one of Alice MacBain's coffee cakes. And we left the same warning, the one that every recipient already knew: don't put it in the oven to warm, because the icing will melt and the decorations will run off. Warm it on a cookie sheet on the stove or (should one be so elegant) a warming tray. And always we left with hearty Christmas wishes ringing in our ears.

Newly married and living in Texas, far from my Chicago home, I began to make Christmas coffee cakes and soon had a list of friends who counted on them. When my father died and my mother moved to Texas, she once again took over the baking. When Mother failed and we had to move her out of her home, I carefully carried home the box that held coffee cake “decorates.” I told my brother that I truly felt I had inherited the family mantle.

 Everlasting roll dough

 2 pkg. granular yeast
½ c. warm water - be sure it's warm; try the wrist test you use for baby formula
Pinch of sugar
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk, plus enough water to make 4 cups (nowadays I use “light” milk)
1 scant c. vegetable oil
1 c. sugar
Dissolve yeast in water (add just a pinch of sugar to help the yeast work) and let it rise about five minutes. Mix milk and water, oil, and sugar. Add dissolved yeast--it should have bubbles. Stir in enough flour to make a thin batter, the consistency of cake batter. Let this rise in a warm place until bubbles appear on the surface (probably 1 hour—check it at 30 minutes).
Separately, mix
1 c. flour
1 tsp. salt (or less)
1 heaping tsp. baking powder
1 level tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. cardamom (Optional, but this makes it really good—I keep my cardamom in the freezer from year to year.)

Sift seasoned flour into first mixture. Keep adding flour until it is too stiff to stir with a spoon. Knead well. Don't let the dough get stiff with too much flour or your coffee cakes will be heavy.

Also optional: coat 16 oz. candied citron with flour and mix into batter; if your family hates citron, you can substitute raisins. (Being a purist, I insist on citron over the howls of my now-grown children, who don't like raisins either—or cardamom, for that matter!)

This dough isn't just for Christmas. Mom called it “everlasting roll dough.” Just leave out the cardamom and candied fruit, and you can do lots of things with it. Make cloverleaf rolls by putting three small round pieces of dough in each place in a greased muffin pan. Bake until brown (Mom said to cook them at 400o, but I think that’s too hot. They brown but remain doughy in the middle.) My family likes it better when I roll the dough to a thickness of about ¼ inch, use a biscuit cutter or glass to cut out circles—I have an old tin can that Mom used and I suspect maybe Granny Peterman did, too Put a tiny bit of butter in the middle of each, and fold over. Bake on a greased cookie sheet until golden brown. Be sure to use an insulated cookie sheet or put an extra sheet under the one you’re using—these burn on the bottom easily.

To make good, gooey pecan rolls for breakfast, roll the dough out to a flat rectangle. Sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar and dab with butter. Roll up into a tube and slice into pieces of about 2 inches. Grease the bottom of an 8x8 pan thoroughly and then cover it with Karo white syrup and pecan halves. Place rounds of dough, cut side down, on the Karo/pecan mixture. Bake these at 350o until brown and center rolls appear cooked. Be sure to turn out of the pan immediately, while still warm. Cold cooked syrup turns to concrete. Rinse the pan immediately with very hot water.

Finally, to make a round coffee cake, repeat instructions about rolling out dough, dabbing with butter, sprinkling with cinnamon and brown sugar, and rolling it up. Twist into a circle and slash with knife periodically along top to give the dough room to expand. Bake at 350ountil done—once again, watch that it doesn’t remain doughy in the thickest part.

 This dough keeps in the refrigerator for a week or more, although it acquires a sourdough taste as it ages--not a bad thing. Just be sure to punch it down occasionall ybefore it takes over your entire refrigerator.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A cooking day

A lazy Sunday at home cooking is one of my favorite kind of days. Today I did just that, and maybe the experience was made better because I hadn't cooked Thanksgiving dinner. I made Norwegian meatballs and mashed potatoes--believe it or not, that took most of the morning. The meatballs are made of ground veal and lamb with a healthy dose of allspice and smaller amounts of ginger and nutmeg--the flavors blend so that you don't taste those spices in the meatballs, but they sure are good. The sauce is made of beef stock, brandy, creme fraiche, cocoa--and gjetost. The latter is a semi-sweet, semi-soft Norwegian cheese. It's a muddy brown in color--in fact, I first thought that was a wrapping around the cheese, after I peeled away the red paper wrapping, but I discovered it was the cheese. Of course I couldn't taste it in the sauce, but the final effect was good. My sauce was too thin, and I think impatience got the better of me--I didn't let it reduce enough. Liquids never reduce as quickly as the recipe tells you they will. I didn't have cocoa powder, though I suspect there's a can hiding somewhere in my pantry. Who doesn't have dark cocoa? I substituted one square of dark chocolate. And you're supposed to soak sourdough bread in milk and yogurt--forgot to buy the yogurt so I used sour cream. Don't think either substitution made a difference. The end result was good, and I like the gravy on the mashed potatoes. I'd give a link to the recipe but I couldn't find it on Google just now. It's from the December 2011 issue of Food & Wine.
I made dessert, an occasion so unusual that my daughter opened the refrigerator and said, "What did you do?" When Christian asked what was in the dessert--he's always suspicious of my ingredients--I told him it was dirt pudding. Jacob said, "This isn't dirt. It's cookies. I was with Juju when she bought Oreos." It is indeed an Oreo crust (3/4 pkg. of Oreos and one stick butter) with a filling of a container of Cool Whip, two pkgs. of French vanilla pudding, an 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese (low fat, of course) and 3/4 cup milk. I used 2% milk for both the meatballs and dessert, but neighbor Jay said that was wrong--need the milk fat. Still, he said the meatballs were good before he knew about the 2% milk, confirming a pet theory of mine about not knowing what you're eating. (Colin, my oldest son, doesn't want anything low-fat, but I often just hide the container from him--what he doesn't know, doesn't hurt him.) The web has thousands of recipes for dirt pudding, no two of them the same. Jacob didn't eat his meatballs but got two helpings of dessert which he said was "really good." I couldn't say, "No you didn't eat your dinner." Child just doesn't like ground meat, and think of all the calcium he got in that dessert. Rationalization.
Jordan, Christian and Jacob came for supper and got my Christmas decoration out of the attic, and Jay and Susan, my neighbors, joined us. Happy evening over early--Jay has to leave the house at 2:00 a.m. tomorrow for a flight.
A nice cooking day. Coming next on Potluck with Judy: Christmas coffee cakes, which will be a two-part post.
Happy Holidays everyone as we skate toward Christmas.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cheeseball

There's no reason  you can't fix a cheeseball in July or April or September, but in my mind such a treat is always associated with the Christmas holidays. Last night I made my cheeseball for the holidays and froze it.
When I was a kid, my family always shared Christmas Eve with two other families, and one of the women always brought this cheeseball. Mom brought marinated shrimp unlike any I've ever hard, and I long for them to this day--but I developed an allergy to shrimp and am afraid to try it. As the years went by, somehow those families drifted apart, and we began to make the cheeseball ourselves. Now, my kids clamor for it--daughter-in-law Lisa always makes it, and we've shared hints about technic. This is absolutely the best cheeseball I've ever had. But you have to like blue cheese.

Cheeseball

½ lb. blue cheese (I really prefer Maytag)
1 pkg. Old English cheese (no longer available—I use an 8 oz. pkg of Velveeta)
l 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
½ lb. pecans, chopped fine
1 bunch parsley, chopped fine
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 small onion, chopped fine      
½ tsp. horseradish (I usually use a generous tsp.--gives it a certain dash that I like)
Let the cheese soften to room temperature and mix thoroughly. Add Worcestershire, onion, horseradish and half of the parsley and pecans. Mix thoroughly and shape into a ball. Do NOT do this in the food processor, as it will become too runny. Even a mixer makes it too smooth and creamy—wash your hands thoroughly and dig in, so the finished cheese ball has some texture and credibility. Roll the ball in the remaining parsley and pecans. Chill. Serve with crackers. Freezes well.
Start your holidays off with this in the freezer, and you can begin to plan your entertaining. A cheeseball always makes me get serious about holiday cooking.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Aftertaste - a food-related book review

Iwas two-thirds through reading Aftertaste before I realized it was fiction and not a memoir, so clearly and convincingly is it written. Mira Renaldi tells her story of divorce, losing her previous life and finding a new one, in her own voice and does so in a compelling way. She and her husband, Jake, own Grappa, a trendy New York trattatoria and she thinks life is perfect until she find him en flagrante delicto in the restaurant office with the maitresse (a  term I'd never heard for a female matire d'). Enraged, Mira pulls huge handful of hair out of the woman's head and is ordered to anger management therapy. Things go from bad to worse as Mira struggles to raise her infant Chloe, maintain her place in the restaurant, and control her anger--she's particularly bad at the latter and eventually moves home to Pittsburgh to lick her wounds, even though, to her dismay, her long-widowed father appears to have a new woman in his life. There she gradually gets her feet under her, buys a condo, writes a food column for the newspaper, takes Chloe to a gym class, makes friends and begins to build a new world for herself and Chloe. Then comes an amazing opportunity, a chance to move back to New York, take control of Grappa, and save it when it appears to be sinking. Will she or won't she is a big part of this novel, but there is much more to it than that.
As a woman whose husband left her with small children for another woman, I can relate to Mira's situation--but not to her anger. I was angry sure, but Mira's anger is almost irrational and the way she comes to grips with building a new life is an absorbing tale, including the way she comes to accept her father's lover. We all have to move on from abandonment and betrayal, but Mira really has a hard time with it.
Besides chronicling Mira's emotional ups and downs and eventual growth, Aftertaste gives you a clear picture, unvarnished, of the life of a chef. A friend said to me, "I know that's a world you'd love to inhabit, but I can't see it," and I had to reply truthfully that it's a world I would have liked to inhabit when I was thirty but not now. I don't have the energy or the stamina. I appreciate and understand however that cooking, for Mira, is much more than making the best pasta. It's about fulfillment and nourishing others and, yes, garnering praise for your efforts. But it's also about being exhuasted, having no time for yourself, let alone your child. It's a double-edged knife, out of the set of knives precious to each chef.
The subtitle calls this a novel in five parts: I'd call it a three-act play. There's the volatile time in New York, the interlude in Pittsburgh, and the conclusion with the chance at Grappa as the climactic moment. The resolution? You'll have to find that for  yourselves. No spoilers here except to say that echoes of this novel/memoir will stay with me for a long time. An exceptional book.
Yes, there are recipes in the back, including Jake's cassoulet with which he tries to seduce Mira late in the book.
Oh, and the author isn't really the flawed narrator, Mira Renaldi. It's Meredith Miteli.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Does My Mystery Need Recipes?

Please welcome my guest, Norma Huss, who poses an interesting question about the recipes found in the back of many cozy mysteries, offers an alternative, and gives us a new twist on traditional fried green tomatoes. Norma is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Guppies chapter, and Pennwriters. She’s getting into Twitter and Facebook and really likes Goodreads where she can talk about everyone’s books. Her second book, Death of a Hot Chick is now out. So far it is available in trade paperback on Amazon and as an e-book on Barnes & Noble for Nook. She’s working on the Smashwords e-book and Amazon Kindle versions. Her first book, Yesterday’s Body will be out soon in a second edition. Norma’s website is: www.normahuss.com

Cozy mysteries have samples of their coziness, right? Recipes at the very least. Hints using the protagonist’s specialty. Perhaps quotes from her diary or instruction manual. Do readers demand all that and more?

Readers definitely demand a good read, an engrossing plot, a sympathetic but slightly flawed heroine, a worthwhile villain, a few helpful friends, some interfering bystanders, and several seemingly guilty but otherwise innocent suspects. Those recipes and hints are icing on the cake. I love them. I sprinkled my manuscripts with mention of meals, desserts, and hints. But, I didn’t include a one of them in the back of the book.

 Why not? There are two reasons, or maybe three if I think hard enough. Or four. Number one, those fancy desserts my protagonist’s sister serves make my mouth water, but....I don’t have the recipe. I have an idea, I love to innovate, and I’m sure I can create, for instance, date-filled cookies. In fact, I have made date-filled cookies that taste delicious. However, the recipe takes half a day and belongs to someone else. But, since I love to innovate. I’ll try a few ideas to come up with the same great taste but make it easier. Because, although my character might have the time, my readers may not.

 Therefore, reason number two. I have to experiment, create something new. I think I know how to do it, but I’ll have to try a few batches to be sure it comes out right.  I’m thinking date cookie-bars. But, my book was ready to go...couldn’t wait for me to experiment with that recipe and a few others.

Reason number three. Added value to my website. Keep my readers involved. After I create that recipe, I’ll include it on the recipe page on my website. I’ve done it with my first book. In that mystery, the protagonist does the cooking and tosses together meals from whatever she finds in the cupboard. One I created, with a lot of trial and error, that my husband usually appreciated was garlic chicken with peanut sauce, noodles and vegetables. It’s on my website together with a short excerpt from the book where the meal/recipe is mentioned.

And, there is a reason number four. I take pictures and add them to the website. A real show-and-tell advantage. Works for me!

 What do you think? Are those adequate reasons for a terrible procrastinator to skip the recipes and hints in the final pages of her book?

 Note: Reason number three was inspired by romance writer Susan Meier. She not only does recipes, she creates short stories based on characters in her novels, and gives lessons for the writers among her readers. (Her website is her name dot com.) http://susanmeier.com/

Here’s a recipe I introduced on my website.

Fried Green Tomatoes

What does one do with a tomato plant when frost threatens and there are so many little green tomatoes left on the withering vine? I didn't want them to go to waste, so I picked two green tomatoes and one red one, chopped them up with other veggies, and called it salsa. I served it on top of broiled fish. The ripe tomatoes were tasty, the green ones not so much so. Not a success – possibly since I'm not a big fan of peppers, especially HOT peppers.

Once more I visited my sad tomato plant with all those unripe tomatoes. I'd heard of fried green tomatoes. Everybody has. A friend said, "You're supposed to use cornmeal, but I use flour." So, of course, I harvested my entire crop of a dozen green tomatoes and used neither cornmeal nor flour.

2 Servings

Wash and slice a dozen green tomatoes. (They were small.)

Dip the slices into a mixture of one egg whipped with one tablespoon of water and a dash of salt.

Cover all surfaces of the eggy tomatoes with dry bread crumbs.

Fry the tomatoes in hot oil, turning to brown both sides.

To test the oil, sprinkle water into the pan. (I use a mixture of olive oil and canola or corn oil.) It will sizzle when ready.

Remove tomatoes with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate to drain excess oil.

Serve with ketchup.


 




Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kake Kreations



Thinking back to my first baking experience, it must have been the summer of 1971 when my best friend came over with one goal: strawberry cupcakes. Moist, pink cake puffed up in paper cups, and we waited anxiously to frost them with soft, pink strawberry-flavored frosting. For years afterward I continued to bake: chocolate chip cookies, cakes, various pastries, pies and elaborately decorated sugar cookies. But cupcakes remained tucked in a special place in my heart. Those tiny individual cakes are magical; a private treat portioned for one, not enough to share—just large enough to encourage a whimsy of delicious selfishness.

 Years passed and I hung up my apron along with my desire to open a bakery. Recently, a friend and co-worker—an avid baker and fellow cupcake enthusiast—told me about a delightful store just down the street from our office called Kake Kreations.

 “Go,” she told me.

 “But I don’t bake anymore,” I said, reflecting back to my youthful afternoons when I’d arrive home from school and whip out a batch of gooey Tollhouse cookies.

 “Go,” she commanded. So I went. If there ever was a heaven for bakers and lovers of all things sweet it’s located on Sherman Way in Canoga Park, California.

 Kake Kreations is more than a bakery supply store. Sure, they have a plethora of cookie cutters, a wide variety of cupcake cups and more sprinkles than you can shake a can of frosting at but they have so much more. If you’re baking a wedding cake they have everything from custom cake mixes in canisters, chilled frostings, and cake toppers as well as pedestal cake stands, cupcake stands, every size, shape and type of bakery box you can imagine, birthday candles and fabulous novelty toppers including sparkler candles and tiny beer can shaped birthday candles—obviously for an adult party. Kake Kreations also stocks candy supplies including more types of molds than I have ever seen gathered together in one place. If you need an edible image you can order it at their store. If the special creation you’re making requires a lot of pre-made sugar mini-flowers to decorate the edge of a wedding cake have no fear as they have plenty.

 Let’s face it; nothing makes a house smell better than the aroma of baking: cakes, cookies, bread, and muffins. That’s why realtors pop a quick batch of cookies in the oven just before an open house. They want it to smell like an open home. Kake Kreations not only supplies the necessary items, they also encourage the aspiration for one to be a creative baker. A designer of delectable delights if you will. The photo of the cupcakes were made by my friend and inside each delicious pumpkin flavored mini cake was a candy: some contained a Rollo, some a mini Three Musketeers, others a soft, caramel. All softened just enough by the baking process to still be recognizable in a gooey sort of way.

So, if you’re in the area stop by Kake Kreations. If you’re too far away you can visit and shop via their website at: http://kakekreations.com



Loni Emmert has spent the past twenty-six years working in the music industry and writing press releases and magazine articles before returning to her passion:  fiction writing. Among her work is the futuristic Isadora DayStar (available on Smashwords & Kindle), cozies Button Hollow Chronicles #1: The Leaf Peeper Murders and Lights! Camera! Murder! She is currently working on her first thriller. Website: http://thewordmistresses.com


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pomododri al Riso (Tomatoes Baked with Rice)

Please welcome my guest, Patricia Winton. Patricia writes about two of Italy's great works of art: food and crime. Her story "Feeding Frenzy" features protagonist Caroline Woodlock, an American journalist covering the culinary scene in Italy, and Nino Nardo, professor of Italian culinary history and traditions at Rome's 750-year-old university. It appears in Fish Tales, The Guppy Anthology. Patricia has lived in Italy for twelve years, the past nine in Rome. She's a former newspaper food columnist and cooking teacher. She blogs every Wednesday at http://ItalianIntrigues.blogspot.com

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When I first came to live in Rome, a woman in my English class had burned her hand taking the dish from the oven the previous night when she was preparing it for a function at her child’s school. I didn’t know the dish, and she wrote it out for me. It a perfect pot luck dish because it’s easy to prepare, travels well, and is best at room temperature.
The recipe given to me was very imprecise, as many Italian recipes are, and I’ve tried to standardize it. The original recipe called for a “fist full of rice” for each tomato.

Serves 6-8

12 round, firm medium sized tomatoes
1
½ cups long grained rice
1 small onion, grated
3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for the basic preparation, plus more for drizzling
3 large potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
salt to taste
12 basil leaves

Cut the tops off of each tomato and set aside. Using a small grapefruit spoon or melon scooper, carefully scoop the flesh out of each tomato into a large bowl. Try not to break through the outer skin.
Set the tomatoes and lids aside, upside down, on paper towels to drain.

Add raw rice to the tomato flesh and juice. Add the 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and chopped onion. Stir to mix well and let sit for about an hour or so to let the rice absorb some of the liquid.


Sprinkle a bit of salt into each tomato, and place one basil leaf at the bottom of each one. Spoon the rice mixture into each tomato and replace the stemmed cap on each one.  
Oil a baking dish just large enough to hold the tomatoes without falling over. Fit the tomatoes in the dish. Put the potato wedges here and there around the tomatoes to help keep them upright.

Drizzle with more oil and sprinkle with salt.

Bake in a preheated 350F oven for about 40 minutes. Check the tomatoes from time to time to make sure they do not overcook. If desired, baste the tomatoes with the liquid that collects in the bottom of the pan.


When done, allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature before serving. The dish can be made one day ahead and refrigerated. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.




Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Planning for guests

I may write by the seat of my pants, but when it comes to daily life, I'm a planner. I make list after list, and I've passed this on to Jordan. If we're giving big parties, we both put dishes out days in advance with little notes telling what goes in each dish, which led Christian to say to Jordan, "You and your mother have a screw loose." So this time of year I begin thinking about the holidays, lists for Thanksgiving, Christmas and some Christmas entertaining. But before I really worry about all that, I have guests coming.
This weeked Megan and her family are arriving from Austin, which will attract Jordan and her family and Jamie and his three girls, Mel included. Nope, I'm not planning. The Austin and Frisco contingents are not planners, and I can't count on when they'll be here or what they'll want. I probably have enough for breakfast for kids, and that's all I'm going to worry about. I'll go with the flow--hard for me, but I'm getting better at it.
But the next weekend my best friend from high school is coming to visit--whooppee! I'm excited. Neither she nor I drive well on the highway, so we had wondered how we'd get together, but she has a friend with friends near Fort Worth, and so they're both coming. I've met the friend through emails, and we've been bantering happily back and forth. But in one email, Barbara's friend, Pam, let drop that she hates mayonnaise and any of that other "white stuff"--sour cream, cream cheese, etc. She's just like my Megan.
Well, there went my menu planning. I was going to fix a potato chip/chicken casserole one night with butter and mayonaise; the next night, chicken bundles in crescent rolls--the filling chicken and cream cheese. (Both of those are courtesy Mystery Lovers Kitchen, from Elizabeth Spann Craig whose new book is Progressive Dinner Deadly--I've used Elizabeth's recipes often and love them).Regroup and replan, and when I did it amazed me how many of my recipes rely on one or another form of "the white stuff," though since I have good friends who are gluten and dairy free, I should be better at this. But Doris casserole, a family favorite? Noodle portion has a sauce of sour cream and cream cheese. That new ziti recipe? The sauce is made creamy with cream cheese, sort of a Bolognese effect. And so it went with every recipe I picked up.
I'm not going to divulge the weekend menu, since I know my prospective guests read my blog--I'll share it after the fact. But here's a non-creamy recipe I'm going to fix tomorrow for Linda who regularly dines with me on class night. Linda loves pasta and tuna:

Cover skillet with a light coat of olive oil, heat and saute one box cherry tomatoes and one Tbsp of capers with liquid. When tomatoes begin to blister, add one can of drained white beans (cannellini). Add a 7.5 oz. can of drained albacore tuna,some parsley, and anchovies. Toss with pasta of your choice. You may have to add a little olive oil.

Quick and easy one-dish meal with crunchy bread.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Good Old Days?

In 2010, TCU Press published Grace & Gumption: The Cookbook, a follow-up to Grace & Gumption: Stories of Fort Worth Women, the first attempt to chronicle the contributions of women to our city. So when we decided on a cookbook some asked, "Now that we've gotten women out of the kitchen, why put them back in?" M answer? Because all the time they made their contributions to the city and its culture, most of them were feeding their families. And there may have been another factor--I love cookbooks and food writing, and I got to edit the recipes.
Contributors unearthed some fascinating old recipes. Joyce Williams, who wrote about frontier women, discovered directions for fixing squirrel. First you have to skin and clean it (as Joyce says, you couldn't just go to the market and buy it): remove the entrails and skin. To skin, cut off the legs at the first joint, raise the skin on the back and draw it over the hind legs. Then slip it over the fore legs and cut it away from the head and neck. Wash well and dry. Cut in pieces as  you would a chicken. Dust with salt or seasoning. Cook or bake in a Dutch oven, adding vegetables and a small amount of water. Bake uintil done. Sorry, no oven temperature--in those days it was baked over coals on a fire with coals placed on the lid.
For my chapter on ranch women, cowgirls and wildcatters, I found a wonderful recipe for syllabub, a traditional drink associated with eggnog but usually made with wine rather than stronger liquor. Often thought of as a ladies' drink, it was considered mild enough to serve to children.
One old recipe went as follows:
Sweeten a quart of cider with refined sugar and a grating of nutmeg, then milk the cow into it until you have the amount  you consider proper. Top if off with about half a pint of sweet, thick cream.
A recipe for those of us who don't have a cow in the barn:

Whipt Syllabub
2 c. white wine
Grated peel of one lemon
1 c. sugar
3 c. milk
2 c. heavy cream
3 egg whites
Combine wine, lemon peel and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar and add milk and cream. Beat (with a rotary beater, of course) until frothy. Beat egg whites separately until stiff and gradually add 6 Tbsp. of sugar, beating constantly util the mixture forms stiff peaks Pour mixed wine into chilled bowl. Top with spoonfuls of the egg whites. Serve in chilled glasses.
To me the recipe is a strange mix of past and present--the rotary beater indicates times gone by--but where did the chilled glasses come from? The block of ice in the icebox?
The yeast rolls at the Fort Worth Woman's Club Tea Room are legendary in this city, although I believe a cateror now provides the food and the rolls are gone. But Ruth Karbach unearthed a 1928 version of the recipe in The Woman's Club of Fort Worth Cook Book:

1 quart milk
2 yeast cakes
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
1 Tbsp. lard
3 quarts sifted flour
Let milk come to a boil and cool; when lukewarm add two yeast cakes, the sugar and enough flour to make a soft dough. Let rise one hour. Melt shortening and stir into soft dough; add balance of flour. Roll to about one-half inch thickness, cut with small round cutter, dip in melted butter and fold in pocketbook shape. Let rise about one-half hour and bake in a moderate oven until brown
Sounds like my mother's recipe, except for the lard. In later years, she substituted corn oil for the Crisco she had used for years. Mom always told me that you must scald milk and cool it or it will kill the yeast. And this recipe doesn't say anything abut kneading, but I was taught to knead lightly until flour was thoroughly mixed in; if you knead too much, your dough becomes heavy and the resulting rolls are tough.
I'm not about to cook a squirrel--or skin it--but the syllabub sounds sort of interesting, and I've done a version of the rolls most of my life. Comforting to know some things never change, and, yes, in some ways they were the good old days.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Two food blogs, cod with potatoes, and vodka bread

The Web is alive with food blogs, way too many for any one person to follow. But I follow a couple regularly and have gotten lots of recipes from them. One is Mystery Lovers Kitchen, to which mystery writers Krista Davis, Cleo Coyle, Riley Adams, Mary Jane Maffini, Sheila Connolly, Wendy Lyn Watson, and Ellery Adams each contribute one day a week. They also have guest bloggers, and I've been privileged to post a blog a couple of times. But I've used recipes for a scrumptious if very rich beef/noodle casserole from Riley and also a recipe for what I call chicken bundles--cooked chicken, cream cheese and some seasonings wrapped in crescent rolls and baked. Riley says the recipe serves four or--sigh--one teenager. From Krista I've gotten a wonderful spiced chicken--she rolled legs in seasoning, but I prefer thighs.
Sunday night I cooked one of Krista's recipes for my Austin family. We fixed three portions, thinking my grandsons wouldn't eat fish--wrong! They wolfed it down. Of course, I'll fiddle with it next time I do it, but it's basically oven fried potatoes topped with cod fillets. Krista used russet potatoes--3 large, sliced 1//4 " thick. Next time I'll use small red potatoes, sliced much thinner. But basically you put a generous Tbsp. of olive oil in your 9x13 pan with a lip. Season potato slices with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika--we didn't have paprika, but I should have gone out and picked some fresh rosemary. Toss potatoes to coat thoroughly with seasonings, then toss with enough olive oil to coat all potato slices. Arrange slices in overlapping groups in the pan. Roast the potatoes at 425 for 30 minutes--I think they need a bit more. Place cod fillets (one per person) on the potato cakes or squares, top with a pat of butter and a lemon slice and bake, still at 425, for another 15 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges--and don't count out a five-year-old and a seven-year-old.
The other blog is called "The meaning of pie" and is maintained by a friend of Megan, my oldest daughter. One recipe that caught my eye was creamed chipped beef which this cook turns into a gourmet dish. I know many people call it SOS (shit on a shingle--a hangover fromWWII days), but I love it. High in calories, however.
But the dish that most amazed me--and I've made it--is alevropita, a flat, crispy, Greek, feta bread. For this one, you have to keep your head about you and your hot pads handy because it involves a 500 degree oven. Assemble all the ingredients, then beat together while you heat your 12-inch iron skillet in that hot oven.

2 Tbsp. olive oil for the batter
2 Tbsp. olive oil for the skillet
2 teaspons vodka - don't leave it out; it makes all the difference
1/2 cup water
Half an egg--scramble it and guess at how much is half
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. flour
1/8 tsp. kosher salt--a dash
1/8 tsp. baking powder--another dash
5 oz. feta cheese, crumbled -do not mix into batter
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, soften

Mix water vodka, olive oil and half egg. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt. Pour wet ingredients into dry and whisk together. Take the hot pan from the oven--do not grab blindly for the handle without using the hotpad. Pour second 2 Tbsp. olive oil into hot pan and spread with paper towel or spatula. Immediately pour batter into pan and spread to the edges of the pan,as much as possible, using a wooden spoon. Sprinkile feta on top of batter and dot with butter.
Return to oven for 15-20 minutes but watch carefully--you want it browned, but at 500 degrees, things go from browned to burned way too fast.
Take pan out of oven, put it someplace safe for extra hot dish--wooden cutting board, stove top, whatever. Use spatula to remove the bread to a cutting board and cut into pieces.
The meaning of pie says this goes great with a Greek salad. I think you can also use it as an appetizer. Only problem I have with it is I don't usualy keep vodka on hand, but this is worth getting it.
I wish I could find the name of the cook behind this blog, but I can't. Anyway, a tip of the toque to her.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cookbooks

What's your favorite cookbook? That's hard to answer. The one I rely on is an old Good Housekeeping cookbook that my mom had. It's lost it's front cover and spine and apparently the front matter, so I can't tell you the copyright date. But it's got all the basics--white sauce, roast a turkey, cuts of beef and how to cook them, tuna casserole--okay, nobody likes that any more except me. I also like my old edition of Joy of Cooking--my oldest son tried to convince me to let him buy me a new one so he could have the old one, but I refused. I like most of the Southern Living cookbooks, especially one on entertaining--yes, it too was Mom's. And there are others I go to for specific recipes: Calf Fries to Caviar for fruit salads, an old one I can't remember the title of for German potato salad, and so on.
But the one I treasure most is a book my brother brought me a while back: Tasty Treasures, compiled by The Women's Auxiliaries to the Chicago Osteopathic Hospital. There's no copyright or year given but I bet it was when I was about twelve or so, for it's my break into print: there's a recipe for "hot party dip" and there it is, in writing, my signature--Judy MacBain. Mom pretty much put this book together, and she's everywhere in it, though she thought it would look bad if she was there too often, so she called herself Penelope Jones. Penelope contributed such recipes as mushroom cheese caps--I fix those to this day and Jordan loves them. Penelope also suggested avocado mayonnaise: 1/2 of an avocado with 1 cup mayonnaise, salt and sugar to taste and 2 Tbsp. lemon juice. I'm pretty sure I'd cut out the sugar and at least use the whole avocado, if not two. Several of my aunts names appear, and I'll never know if Mom used their recipes or just their names. She also assumed the pen name of Gourmet Grace to give little cooking hints, such as: A zippy sauce for corned beef hash casserole: 2 Tbsp. chili sauce spices with a dash of Coleman's mustard. But nowhere could I find a recipe for corned beef hash casserole--even if I had wanted to. Gourmet Grace also suggests sprinkling sage on pork chops before baking them or "about 2 Tbsp. chopped anchovies spreaad over tomato filling for pizza is delectable." Now, I love anchovies--but is this my mother talking?
Mom included a few recipes under her own name and here's the best: Everlasting Rolls. It's great for those who think they can't make dinner rolls.

Mom's basic roll dough
2 pkg. granular yeast
1/2 c. warm water
Pinch of sugar
1 12-oz. can evaporated milk, plus enough water to make 4 cups (nowadays I use “light” milk)
1 scant c. vegetable oil
1 c. sugar
Dissolve yeast in water (add just a pinch of sugar to help the yeast work) and let it rise about five minutes. Mix milk and water, oil, and sugar. Add dissolved yeast. Stir in enough flour to make a thin batter, the consistency of cake batter. Let this rise in a warm place until bubbles appear on the surface (probably 1 hour—check it at 30 minutes).
Separately, mix
1 c. flour
1 tsp. salt (or less)
1 heaping tsp. baking powder
1 level tsp. baking soda
 Sift seasoned flour into first mixture. Keep adding flour until it is too stiff to stir with a spoon. Knead well. Don't let the dough get stiff with too much flour, or your rolls will be heavy. This dough will keep a week or so in the refrigerator but watch out--it grows and spreads.
This can be used for dinner rolls, either cloverleaf or rolled out, or coffee cakes. Mom's most popular use was for Christmas coffee cakes--more about that as the season nears.
And those cheese-stuffed mushrooms? Mix grated sharp cheddar, a bit of dry mustard, a dash of Worcestershire, chopped green onions, and enough mayonnaise to bind. Bake in a moderate overn until mushrooms are soft and cheese begins to brown. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

How hungry are you?

Today is Blog Action Day. Bloggers all over the world are asked to take on a social issue. This year's topic is right up my interest alley--food.
Tonight my neighbors came for dinner. I fixed pasta with a subtle anchovy/lemon zest sauce. At the last minute you add 1 cup pasta cooking water and two egg yolks to make a "silky" sauce (it really was). I accompanied it with "slightly exotic roasted cauliflower salad" and pimiento cheese for an appetizer. We ate well and had wine to go with our meal. I eat well most days--often whatever strikes my fancy, from smoked salmon to creamed tuna, really rare hamburger patties to chicken salad. I'm spoiled. I can go to the freezer or fridge and decide on a whim what I want. Got a desperate craving? OK, I'll go to Central Market and pick up whatever delicacy I'm craving--maybe a lamb chop or Dover sole (do you know how much it costs in a restaurant vs. what you can cook it for at home?).
In spite of all this luxury at my disposal, in America in 2010 48.8 million Americans lived in "food insecure" homes--32.6 million adults and 16.2 million children, which means the latter weren't getting the nutrition they need to build healthy bodies and strong minds as they grow. I live in Texas, which second only to Misissippi, has the highest rate of food insecure homes. Don't think food insecurity--let's call a spade a spade, hunger--doesn't exist in your county, your city, even your neighbborhood. It's everywhere.
What can we do? I don't know, but I was raised to believe I am my brother's keeper. That means I support government programs that aid the poor--not welfare, because it's so badly administered--but health care, Head Start (which is now gone I think), school lunch programs, whatever it takes to feed the hungry. We worry about the millions starving in Africa and well we should, but we have to look out for those at home. Sometimes our charity gets such an international vision that we forget to look under our noses.
What can we as individuals do? Support the local food bank, look online at the food programs available and after checking them out, donate cautiously, support any program at the religious affiliation of your choice.
Just because you're well fed, don't assume everyone is.
No, I'm not going to eat bread and water in penance. In fact, I may have a little chocolate. But I want to and will do my part. How about you?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Is Cooking Becoming A Lost Art?

 
Please welcome my guest, Katherine Grey. For many of us, cooking with Mom is a treasured memory, Katherine uses that memory as a springboard to discuss her feelings about today’s tendency to avoid cooking. Like Katherine, I remember making cookies with my mom. Chocolate chip and peanut butter were my favorites, but Mom accused me of eating as much dough as I cooked. To this day, I love chocolate chip cookie dough.
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 The young women of my nephew’s generation (he’s 21) seem to take great pride in the fact that they can’t cook or as they say, “can’t boil water.”  Why is that, I wonder? Did their mothers not teach them how to cook or about the immense feeling of satisfaction when you make a meal or bread or a cake or anything else from scratch? Did they not pass on the sense of pride one feels when given a compliment on how good something they’ve made tastes? Or perhaps their mothers never learned to cook themselves. It would be hard to pass on the art of cooking if one never learned themselves.

 Maybe I find the concept of not knowing how to cook so foreign because I was taught to cook by a mother who rarely used anything out of a box or can. I didn’t have a store-bought cookie until I was a teenager and was at a friend’s house. I’m only in my late thirties so it’s not like store-bought cookies were some new innovation.

 I was four years old the first time I made cookies with my mother. I remember kneeling on a dining room chair, helping my mom stir together the dry ingredients of a recipe, learning to crack an egg.  (She was smart enough to have me crack them in a separate bowl or else we would have eaten a lot of shell pieces with our cookies.) She taught me to use measuring cups and spoons by giving me my own bowl in which to measure flour, sugar, baking powder. Over the years we made all different kinds of cookies from chocolate chip, to peanut butter, to ginger snaps to oatmeal and more. As I grew older, I graduated from doing more watching than cooking to being responsible for mixing the dry ingredients together, to mixing them with the wet ingredients, to being able to take the hot pan from the oven (this was a big deal to a twelve-year old), to finally making the entire recipe by myself for the first time.

 Unfortunately, nowadays making cookies means buying a package from the refrigerated section of the grocery store and either breaking the pre-cut dough into pieces or slicing a log of dough into circles and tossing them in the oven. 

Baking cookies with my mother throughout the years is one of my fondest memories and maybe the reason why, as an adult, cookies are one of my favorite things to bake.

 When I do hear someone say they don’t know how to cook, I want to tell them they can learn. If you can read and follow directions, you can learn how to cook. Get a cookbook that looks interesting, read through the recipes, and choose one to try. This is how I made Coq Au Vin for the first time. Yes, I know how to cook but I’d never made it before and didn’t know anyone who had. The first time, the chicken came out a little dry.  The second time, the chicken stuck to the bottom of the pan, but the third time, it came out great. You can learn to cook. It just takes patience and practice.   

 And start with something easy. Like cookies.

 Oatmeal Walnut Cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup Crisco shortening
1 egg
¼ teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup quick-cooking rolled oats
½ cup chopped walnuts**
Small dish of granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl, stir together the first 6 ingredients (through the baking soda). Add the Crisco, egg, and vanilla to the bowl and beat well. Stir in the oats and nuts. Form into small balls. Dip the top of each ball in the dish of granulated sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
Makes 3 ½ dozen cookies.

** I sometimes substitute craisins for the walnuts.

About Katherine Grey

At the age of four, Katherine pestered her mother to teach her to read. From that point on, she spent the most of her childhood lost in the pages of one book after another. Soon she began writing stories of her own, populated with characters doing all of the things she was too shy to even contemplate doing herself.

A chance meeting with another writer led Katherine to seriously pursue a writing career. Her debut novel, Impetuous, was released by The Wild Rose Press in August 2011.

Katherine lives in upstate NY with her family though she threatens to move south at the beginning of each winter season.

Visit her at http://katherinegrey.blogspot.com