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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Collaborative cooking

When I invited my daughter and her husband and son to Sunday night supper, she said, "We need beef" and suggested flank steak. Maybe I don't cook it right, but I always find flank steak too chewy. I had a recipe for roast beef from Mystery Lovers Kitchen, courtesy Cleo Coyle, author of the Coffeehouse Mysteries and one of my favorite authors. It called for a sirloin tip roast. Another recipe I want to try called for 1-1/2 lbs. boneless sirloin steak. It's the end of the month, and I'm eking out my pennies, so I asked the butcher which was cheaper, and he said the roast. I asked for a 3 lb. roast at most--which was really too much for us, given that Jacob doesn't like beef--and got a 3.87 lb. roast. Dilemma.
Called my cooking neighbor, Jay, and said I had a brilliant idea. We'd butterfly the roast and grill it. (The original recipe, which calls for a rub, also specified grilling as an option but not for a roast the size I had.) Jay had two objections: he'd never butterflied a roast, and he'd never grilled a roast. Plus he had only cooked one roast in his life and that was chateubriand (some help he is, with caviar tastes!). I could see clearly how it would work, but I needed a co-conspirator.
Here's what we did: I set the roast out about two, covered in plastic wrap, to come ro room temperature. A little before five, I lit the grill. When Jay came over, we butterflied the roast (split it sideways, if you will) and spread the rub (kosher salt, pepper, sweet paprika, brown sugar, and chile powder) heavily on both sides. Then Jay dabbed olive oil on it, and oiled the grill. We kept the front burners lit and put the roast on the back until he decided it would be a good idea to sear it and then move it to the back. A little over an hour later, we had a perfect, moist, tender medium rare piece of meat--with enough left over for lunches for everyone. I think the advantage to butterflying it was that the slices were thin and you got a taste of the rub with every bite. Absolutely wonderful.
Here's Cleo Coyle's recipe. You'll see how we changed it: To accompany this, Jordan made a big salad. Jay doesn't eat the blue cheese we love, so in order to have his company and that of his wife, Susan, we sacrificed and made a salad with feta. Warmed over rolls from the freezer and, at the last minute, chocolate chip cookies. Jay ran home and got the frozen dough Susan had bought from some school child. She's better than I am because I always just say, "No, thank  you."
Not a gourmet meal but so good--and lots of wine and beer consumed. Lovely evening. We all sat on the porch during the cooking but moved inside for dinner--six just won't fit around my porch table.
Years ago, one of the things I liked about my marriage, when it was good, was having someone to cook for company with. Tonight took me back to those days but now I can do that roast myself.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tex-Mex Casserole, marinated vegetables, and salsa

I guess it's says something about my life lately that I've posted three times on Potluck with Judy when sometimes I go for too long without a new post on the food blog. But today I spent most of the day cooking--to provide a meal for my neighbors. Susan's mother died yesterday morning, and though they have a few family members here today, they will have a lot more tomorrow. So I made a casserole that serves at least fifteen, plus marinated vegetables, a really simple salsa, and I bought a big bag of tortilla chips.
The marinated vegetables couldn't be easier. You can marinate them raw, but I prefer to blanche broccoli and cauliflower flowerets and baby carrots first. Then I dump in a large can of cut green beans. Sometimes I add artichoke hearts, and today I have some Napa cabbage I meant to add but the big pot I did it in was already full. The original recipe calls for avocado and iceberg lettuce, but I think they just get soggy and lost. And onion? I don't like to come across raw onion in a salad like that, though I love a good red onion as much as anyone. Dump a bottle of any kind of vinaigrette on the mixture, ((I used Kraft Italian--but not Zesty Italian, which has too many bits of stuff floating in it.) Refrigerate.
The salsa, or pico de gallo (I'm never sure of the difference, but I think pico de gallo is chunkier, which makes this salsa) is on my April 29 post--masquerading as pico de gallo.
But the piece de resistannce is the Texas-Mex casserole. Here's the recipe:

Tex-Mex casserole

4 lbs. ground round or chuck
2 large onions, chopped
2 minced garlic cloves
¼ cup chili powder, or more to taste
6 c. tomato sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1½ tsp. salt
2  4-oz cans chopped green chilies
Brown meat in batches in skillet. Add onions, garlic, and chili powder. Add tomato sauce, sugar, salt, and green chiles to meat mixture. You may have to do this in the largest mixing bowl you have--my skillet and everyday bowls wouldn't hold it. While meat cooks, soften 24 corn tortillas in small frying pan or microwave.
Separately, mix
4 cups small-curd cottage cheese
2 eggs
Have ready:
1 lb. thinly sliced Jack cheese
2 cups grated cheddar
Grease a six-quart casserole (I use my big paella pan). Layer meat sauce, half the Jack cheese, half the cottage cheese/egg mixture, and half the softened tortillas. Repeat, finishing with a final layer of meat. Cover with grated cheddar and bake, uncovered, at 350° for 30 minutes. Pass chopped green onions and sour cream.

Warning: when I got the paella pan full of this mixture, it was so heavy I was afraid I wouldn't make it to the oven an later, from oven to stovetop with the hot casserole. I did, but it dripped into the oven. It might be good to try this in two 9x13 casserole dishes.

I've come to think of this as my funeral casserole, which is an unfortunate designation, but I've given it to grieving families more than once. My friend Jeannie's family liked it so well they offered to pay for the recipe--I told them to buy my cookbook, Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books. Now Jeannie cooks it for family gatherings, even when no grief is involved. I sometimes swear it serves Cox' s Army.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

BBQ sandwiches and overnight salad

Today was a thoroughly decadent food day, and I'm sure it stopped the nice weight-losing trend I'd been on. . I began with brunch with Christian and Jacob at Esperanza's down the street from my house. I had a chalupa--not bad at all. I can eat the beans, meat, lettuce and tomato, scraped off the shell, and it's a a nice small meal. But then I thought about sopapillas. Yes, they had them on the menu. Envisioning the small, square "sofa pillows" you get in New Mexico, cut off a corner, and pour honey in, I asked how many in an order. One. So we ordered three. They are huge, puffy, sweet delights covering a salad plate, with thousands of calories. Puffed, fried bread, smothered in cinnamon, sugar and honey and sided by whipped cream. There went my sensible eating. I did not, however, eat all of it--maybe two-thirds. Jacob loved it but didn't like the whipped cream. Good thinking--it came from a spray can. Then there was supper.
Cleo Coyle, author of the Coffeehouse Mystery Series, recently posted a recipe on my favorite blog, Mystery Lovers' Kitchen, for BBQ ham sandwiches. Cleo wrote that they are a Pittsburgh favorite, either plain or with dill or sweet pickle relish. I was a bit taken back by the idea of ham and a sauce of ketchup and barbecue sauce--at least 4/1. But I was also intrigued, so I tried it tonight. My neighbors, Jay and Susan, know I like to have company on Sunday nights, and they are willing volunteers for my experiments. So easy.
Get the butcher to give you shaved ham--Cleo's directions tell you what to sasy to the butcher--at Central Market, he already knew what I was talking about. Mix the ketchup and bbq sauce, coat meat thoroughly, breaking it up into small fragmeents; heat and serve on toasted buns. Delicious. See the recipe on Mystery Lovers' Kitchen Susan and Jay raved over the sandwiches and then got into long banter about when they were growing up in Pittsburgh (which neither of them did, though turns out each has family ties to that city).
The only other thing we had for supper was an overnight salad that I'd had at a neighbor's and loved. Again, so easy. Thanks to Amy Brown for this one:

3 T. fresh lemon juice
9 T. olive oil
6 green onions, chopped
1 tsp. seasoned salt (I used plain)
4-6 cloves garlic, minced (I mashed four in the garlic press and the taste was plenty strong)
2 avoados, peeled and cut in chunks
1 head romaine lettuce
3/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan

IN a 9x13" glass pan, combine lemon juice, oil, onion, salt and garlic. Add avocado chunks and coat well. Tear romaine and place on top of mixture. Cover with cheese. (Do NOT stir.)
Seal tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 8 hours. Toss just before serving. Wonderful!

OH, we had appetizers--pimiento cheese, Cheez-its, and macadamia nuts which Jay, just back from Hawaii, brought home. For dessert--decadent wonderful cookies from Hawaii with macadamia, coconut, chocolate, and Kona coffee. Living high on the hog (sorry about the pun).

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Egg rolls from Jenn Anderson

One thing most family members remember about my grandmother was her cooking. After she came to the United States from Japan after WWII, she quickly learned how to sling hash with the best of them. Her Japanese food was a staple as I grew up, along with her biscuits with gravy. And because of her passion to fill our bellies, my entire family can really cook. We pride ourselves on good food.

Today, I’m going to share with you one of my favorite recipes from my grandmother. Her egg rolls. I know what you’re thinking. Egg rolls aren’t Japanese but Chinese; actually a Japanese egg roll is exactly that. A thick egg, almost spongy, rolled and often served as a breakfast food or alongside sushi. But my grandmother put her own twist on this wonderfully, crunchy, totally bad for you, food item and once you have one, you won’t be able to stop.

 What you’ll need:

1 lb. ground beef

½ white onion chopped, fine

1-2 cloves of garlic, grated (I’ll explain later)

3-4 Tbsp of soy sauce (you can use low sodium)

2-3 button mushrooms (can omit)

2 cups of shredded cabbage

½ cup of bean sprouts (can omit)

1 pkg of egg roll skins (usually found in produce section; 15 per pack)

½ of a large pot filled with vegetable oil (get one bottle)

Start browning beef. Add in your chopped onions and stir. Next, toss in your mushrooms. I used ½ of a portabella mushroom I had on hand, but you can always omit. Stir around until mixed well. Then, grate 1-2 cloves of garlic over the pan with a microplane or grater. I learned this new trick on a favorite cooking show. It eliminates large chunks in your food. As you are adding ingredients, you will notice the meet browning, the onions getting clear and lots of juice in the pan. Don’t drain. Next, stir in your cabbage, 1 cup at a time. You don’t want to over whelm the pan, but have a nice mixing. I used 2 cups but you are welcome to use more or less; the cabbage will soak up the drippings. I was unable to find bean sprouts at the store but you’d add those next. Stir in 2 TBSP of soy sauce and mix. Take a taste as long as the meat is cooked. You don’t want it to overpower the pan. If you want more soy, add more, 1 TBSP at a time.

Once all mixed and cooked, cover with a lid and remove from heat. My grandmother never liked to roll egg rolls while the meat was hot. It would start cooking the skins and then you’d have a gooey mess. Wait until meat is room temperature.

Place your egg roll skin in front of you, looking like a diamond. Spoon about 1 heaping TBSP of mixture in a line across the diamond near the bottom. Bring the lower tip up, over the mixture until it hits just above ½ way. Fold in both sides then roll up. With the top tip sticking out, dab with a finger of water and wrap it around the roll. The water works as glue. As you roll, make sure to keep it tight and firm. If too loose, the filling will fall out while it cooks. Continue rolling until you’ve made them all.

Next, heat oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. When oil it hot, slowly slide in up to 4 rolls at a time. They cook fast so keep an eye and try to turn them with tongs as you go to make sure all sides are browned. Once they are golden, remove, carefully allowing excess oil to drip. I placed my cooked ones on a cooling rack inside a cookie sheet lined with paper towels.  Allow to cool. I find they are best served at room temperature. Add your favorite sauce, soy, wasabi or mustard, and enjoy!  The outside should be crispy while the inside soft.

Thank you for cooking with me and thank you to Judy for having me on. You can catch my debut YA novella, Ice Princess, on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Smashwords and on the Turquoise Morning Press website. Like my cooking, as a YA author, I enjoy bringing a smile to people’s faces and a lasting memory of a sweet time. You can visit my blog at
 or my website at

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The ubiquitous ham--and Palmetto cheese

I've always liked ham,  though it's not something I serve often. I don't want those pre-fab hams that admit, "Water added." I want the good old bone-in, butt end of a ham, thinly sliced, often for Easter and served with potato salad, scalloped potatoes, even a potato casserole--just not mashed potatoes. But over the years, my family has not shared my fondness for ham--they eat it, but I usually end up with way too much left over. Freezing it is the kiss of death, because even though I use a Food-Saver, it never tastes the same. The only exception, of course, is the ham bone which makes wonderful soup or a pot of beans.
But lately I've become almost addicted to Oscar Mayer deli-sliced ham--smallish, round slices, very thin. If you're avoiding bread, as I mostly am, you can do ham roll-ups. Roll it around cream cheese--my daughter, Jordan, does that with turkey but scorns the ham. Or I like it paired with a slice of provolone and just a bit of Thousand Island dress (homemade is best and it's so easy--ketchup, mayo, pickle relish, and you've got it).
But I'm also fond of pimiento cheese, and that's a new fondness for this northern girl. I never tasted the stuff till I was in Texas, and at first would tell you "No, thanks. I don't like peppers in any form." But a few years ago I made some with just enough cayenne to give it a bite, and I loved it. Trouble was the recipe made so much, I ultimately had to pitch some. Jordan, having not grown up on it because her nothern mother, transplanted to Texas, never served it, still wouldn't try it. I still don't like my pimiento cheese sweet. My friend Melinda makes it with Siracha sauce--probably too hot for me.
Then I discovered Palmetto cheese, "The pimiento cheese with soul," made in the Low country of South Carolina but available in many grocery stores. It has a definite bite to it--Central Market where I shop carries the original, with jalopeno (I avoid that--original is hot enough), and a new one--with bacon. Put a dab of that in the middle of three slices of ham, and you have a scrumptious lunch.
The Palmetto Web site suggests lots of uses--mac and cheese, cheese, grits, stuffed jalopenos wrapped with bacon, deviled eggs--they even have a cookie recipe that calls for the cheese and ground pecans in the dough, then wrapped arounda filling of jam or preserves (haven't tried that!). I think it has some cream cheese in it that makes is spreadable. But take my word, it's good stuff.
Yes, Jordan, you could probably make a turkey roll-up of it. Ham just sounds better to me.
Next I"m about to try Cleo Coyle's BBQ Chipped Ham (Mystery Lovers' Kitchen)--leery of the combination of BBQ and ham, but hey, it's ham and I'll try it. And Cleo Coyle usually has good recipes.