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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.

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.


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:

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 (, 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 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 or http:// 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!