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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hardly Homemade

My guest blogger today is Polly Hooper, a member of my memoir writing class and a neighbor. From the goodies that Polly has brought to our class meetings, I know she means what she says aboiut delicious but hardly homemade food.

Semi-homemade may be trademarked by a television personality on the food channel but it could be my mantra.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a decent cook and loved cooking all day to prepare a special meal when I was much younger.  I got my own apartment at nineteen after landing my first decent-paying full time job and decided to have my family over for dinner.  I had never cooked an entire meal in my life, but how hard could it be?  I settled on sweet and sour pork.  I had ordered it at a restaurant recently and was sure it was the meal to impress my guests.  My roommate was from Mexia, Texas—a real farm girl who was raised to cook for her many younger siblings.  She found me distraught in our kitchen when she came home late from a date.  I was attempting to carve a raw pork roast into cubes to dredge in flour and fry.  I had a dull knife and a hunk of meat with some fat and gristle that would not budge.  I had carved some interesting pieces—thankfully Mae caught me just in time.  She took over with a different knife and made short work of cutting nearly perfect cubes.  Heading off to bed, she issued a stern warning about making sure the grease wasn’t too hot and said she had better not find flour and grease all over the kitchen in the morning.  Crisis averted!   The meal turned out fine if not a gourmet wonder, but I learned to be better prepared and start my cooking career with some simpler dishes.
These days although I still love good tasting and beautifully prepared food, I have so many other interests I just can’t spare the time.  So, I take shortcuts like most of us do in the twenty-first century.  Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store?  Check.  Deli prepared sides from Central Market? Check.  Restaurant takeout for the main course of a dinner party?  Check! Check!  Give me easy four or five ingredient recipes and carefully selected items to save me time, and I am a genius in the kitchen.  Well, that may overstate it a bit.

My four sisters and I frequently share recipes in our daily emails, and sometimes we include pictures.  One sister copied this idea from a catered event she hosted and now it is my special appetizer too.  Go to Costco and buy marinated mozzarella balls and some cherry tomatoes, getting the red and the yellow if available.  Stop by the grocery store and pick up some fresh basil and the party store for toothpicks with frilly ends. 
Bite Size Insalata Caprese

Tub of Costco’s marinated mozzarella balls
Fresh basil
Cherry tomatoes
Cut each tomato in half and place one half the toothpick.  Add one mozzarella ball and a folded basil leaf, ending with the other half of the tomato. Be sure to arrange them on your serving dish with all the frilly ends going the same direction.  These should be made right before you plan to serve as they are best served at room temperature and tomatoes don’t fare well when refrigerated.

 So yummy.  Add a bowl of hummus, some pita chips, the adult drink of your choice, and you have a party! 

One of my favorite go-to recipes involves buying prepared Rotisserie Chicken Salad from Costco(again! I wish they would put one on my side of town!).  I also buy a bag of dried cranberries, some celery, and pecans.
Sour Cream Cranberry Chicken Salad with Pecans

Rotisserie Chicken Salad from Costco (1 clear clamshell container)
1 bunch of celery finely chopped
½ cup chopped pecans
1 cup dried cranberries
Sour cream to taste
Mix all ingredients and chill.  Line a platter with lettuce leaves and place the chicken salad on top to serve.

It is a hit every time.  I like to serve it with fruit I buy already cut up and a green salad.  Actually Costco also has a delightful spinach salad kit that gives you no reason to make your own but you should use only use half the dressing they provide.   Voila!  A summertime meal in very little time.  When it is my turn to host Bunco or Pokeno, I am ready!

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