Friday, December 26, 2008

"Sicilian Home Cooking" & "Cucina Siciliana de Gangivecchio" - Shepherd's Fusilli and Christmas Salad with Oranges, Olives and Capers

Date I made these recipes: December 24, 2008

Sicilian Home Cooking – Family Recipes from Gangivecchio by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene with Michele Evans
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 037510399-X © 2001
Recipe: Shepherd’s Fusilli (Fusilli del Pastore) – p. 119

La Cucina Siciliana de Gangivecchio – Recipes from Gangivhecchio’s Sicilian Kitchen by Wanda and Giovanna Tornabene with Michele Evans
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0679425101 ©1996
Recipe: Christmas Salad with Oranges, Olives, and Capers (Insalata di Natale II) – p. 269

Since this year was the first Christmas without my mom, my husband and I have a very, very low-key Christmas. Some might say it was a non-event since we dispensed with the tree, the decorations and even the holiday music. And I have to tell you folks, it was pretty liberating. Instead of being caught up in the buying and the wrapping and shop-till-you drop mentality, we spent the day holed up in our house with my husband doing some work in his workshop downstairs and with me watching The Hallmark Channel. That’s right, the Hallmark Channel. Got a problem with that?! Don’t worry, earlier in the day I caught the last hour of Holiday Inn and then later in the evening we watched Christmas in Connecticut, starring Barbara Stanwyck. I also addressed my holiday newsletter/pamphlet/small novel to friends who were awaiting its delivery. All in all, it was a fun day.

But despite our desire to lay low over the holiday, there’s one tradition that I couldn’t ignore and that was to make a pasta dish for Christmas Eve dinner.

When I was growing up, we either had spaghetti and meatballs (if the Pope said meat was okay to eat that year) or spaghetti with tomato sauce. Last year, while up at my parents for Christmas, my sister-in-law and I made homemade manicotti shells and meatballs for our repast. This year none of us were able to get together for Christmas but when they all come in next week for New Year’s we will recreate the scene.

But tradition is tradition and so I pulled these two Sicilian cookbooks off the shelf and used one for my pasta dish and the other for a salad. Both dishes were great and right in line with the food of my childhood. The one thing I can’t get over, however, is that both mother and daughter (cookbook authors) are blonde. Blonde Sicilians? Not in my family (unless it comes from a bottle in which case it doesn’t count!)!

My only complaint about this meal is not with the recipes themselves, it’s with my complete inability to find veal in this town. For once, my local market had veal chops, veal scallopini and veal roasts but did they have ground veal? No. I swear if this were the east coast you could find the damned stuff in a convenience store! So please—local grocers, get with the program!!

Shepherd’s Fusilli – Fusilli del Pastore – Serves 6 as a first course or 4 as a main course
1 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 pounds mixed red, yellow and green peppers, cut into thin strips
¼ pound ground veal (we substituted ground round)
¼ pound ground pork
½ cup dry red wine
½ cup tomato paste
1 cup fresh tomato sauce (Salsa di Pomodoro – I used my Aunt Rose’s sauce and that’s a secret to all but family members)
Pinch hot pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound fusilli
Freshly grated pecorino cheese

Fresh tomato sauce – makes about 4 cups
5 pounds ripe tomatoes, stem ends removed, coarsely chopped
1 large onion, chopped
½ cup freshly chopped basil leaves, plus 6 whole fresh basil leaves
½ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground pepper

To make the tomato sauce (note: I think you can get away with store-bought, just make sure it contains tomatoes and basil and go with a brand that uses sugar rather than corn syrup).

Combine the tomatoes, onion, and basil together in a large pot. Season to taste with salt. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring often.

A few cups at a time, pass the mixture through a food mill. Return the sauce to a clean pot with the olive oil, basil leaves, sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

To make the pasta dish

In a large saucepan, heat the oil, add the onion, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until it just begins to turn gold. Stir in the peppers and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the peppers have softened, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the veal, pork and wine. Cook over high heat, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, hot pepper flakes if desired, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 ½ tablespoons of salt. Stir in the fusilli and cook until al dente, stirring often (follow package directions).

Drain the pasta saving 1 cup of the hot pasta water. Return the fusilli to the saucepan and add the sauce. Add a little pasta water if too dry. Toss well and adjust seasoning. Serve with the pecorino.

Christmas Salad with Oranges, Olives, and Capers – serves 8 (I made half the recipe)
2 quarts curly endive or escarole, torn into bite-size pieces
3 celery ribs with leaves, thinly sliced
½ cup green Sicilian olives, pitted and finely chopped (I used Cerignola olives and pitted them myself)
1/3 cup capers, washed and drained
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 navel oranges, peeled, with white pith removed, and very thinly sliced
3 lemons, peeled, with white pith removed and very thinly sliced (seeds discarded)
½ cup pomegranate seeds

Immerse the endive or escarole and celery in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain well.

Combine the endive or escarole and the celery with the olives, capers, and a little olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper to taste.

Oil a 1-quart bowl and spoon the mixture into the bowl. Press the top down gently and let rest for 15 minutes…or not. I skipped this part and instead combined all the ingredients in a bowl. It was much easier, and besides, there was nobody here to impress (assuming it all held together!).

Invert the salad onto a serving dish and place the orange and lemon slices in overlapping, alternating rows over the entire top of the salad, which is now a delicious dome. Sprinkle with rosy-red pomegranate seeds.

Note: never having dealt with a pomegranate before, I was unsure how to get the seeds out. Thank goodness for the internet as they had a simple process in place: cut the top off the pomegranate, then score it all the way around, being careful not to slice all the way through. Place the pomegranate top side down in a bowl of water for 5-10 minutes. This loosens the skin making it easy to take the seeds out without having a mess on your hands. You should know, though, that these seeds stains so be careful with your clothes, cutting boards and cupboards!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

"The Beautiful You" by Mary Kay (cosmetics) consultants & "A Taste of Texas" - Cheese Spoon Bread and Spanish Pork Chops

Date I made these recipes: December 14, 2008

“The Beautiful You” Cookbook – a collection of personal recipes from Mary Kay consultants and directors by Mary Kay
Published by: Mary Kay Consultants/Communicative Arts Group
© 1980
Recipe: Cheese Spoon Bread submitted by Connie Hyde – p.32

A Taste of Texas – A Cookbook, edited by Jane Trahey; compiled for Neiman-Marcus by Marihelen McDuff
Published by: Random House
© 1949
Recipe: Spanish Pork Chops submitted by Mrs. Byron Nelson; Fairway Ranch, Roanoke, Texas– p. 125

People, every once in a while, I get lucky and get someone to work with who is a real panic. This year, it is Sarah F. who just brightens up my day on this miserable project I’ve been working on for the last seven months.

Prior to this gig, who knew that banquet tables, otherwise reserved for uh, banquets, could be used as a workspace? Without going into the gory details, Sarah, I and nineteen other attorneys have been working on a litigation project for a law firm and we sit two to a banquet table on an otherwise empty floor of the building in which the firm is located. Our table partners changed frequently due to the constant rearrangement of the deck chairs by “management” (the attorneys on staff at the firm) and eventually Sarah ended up sitting at a table behind me, initially with Mike as a seat partner but then with Sue.

So anyway, Sarah is a hoot and a half. She’s originally from Texas and therefore was unaware of some Minnesota’s famous State Fair personalities, namely, Princess Kay of the Milky Way. Princess Kay is the fake name of the princess named by the Dairy Association to represent the association at the fair and at other events. “PK” and her court have their likenesses sculpted in butter each year by a butter sculptor in a large refrigerated windowed-booth (that rotates) in the Dairy Building. PK and court sit in this booth for hours in a snowmobile suit and then afterwards they usually bring their likeness home to be stored forevermore (or until the first big corn roast—I’m not kidding) in the family freezer. You have to be there. Anyway, Sarah screwed up the name and called her Mary Kay of the Milky Way, to which Mike, her tablemate, chimed in “Can I interest you in some dairy-based makeup products?” I laughed on and off for at least half the day.

But people, what are the odds of this—two weeks before the famous Mary Kay of the Milky Way comment, I was surfing Old ( and there it was—“The Beautiful You” Cookbook, written in 1980 by a group of Mary Kay consultants! And so I put that on my “buy” list for a future date but after Sarah’s comments I just had purchase it right then and there and so that’s how one of the recipes came to end up on this blog (Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics is from Texas – how fitting!).

So anyway, even though she’s been living her quite some time, Sarah still longs for the openness of Texas (whereas my motto in life – honest to god -- is “Nature is not your friend) and one day talked about squirrel hunting with her daddy and then she moved on to the squirrels in her yard and then mentioned that she even had “huffing squirrels.”

Well, it’s not for nothing that I am the daughter of a wildlife biologist and so I thought she was talking about a new breed of squirrels. But no, she told the tale of how the squirrels in her yard chewed through her gas cap and got high by “huffing” (sniffing) the fumes.

Well, my table-mate, Jen, and I started laughing and then riffed about this new gang of squirrels, complete with acorn tattoos, small leather jackets and cigs hanging out of their mouths hanging out around her yard and we were all quite entertained.

But then I started thinking about these squirrels and wondering how the hell they got the gas cap off her car when there’s usually a metal plate over it and she said (in her best Texas accent) “Oh my God, no! Can you imagine? I can just see rounding the corner in my car with a damned squirrel hanging off it. No, I was talking about my lawnmower gas cap (who knew?)! But at the price of gas these days, I’d shoot those ‘sums’ of bitches before I’d let them get at my gas again.”

My stomach still hurts from that one. The other day to add to the hilarity, she brought in a photo of a squirrel from her yard to which she added, via Paint, a jacket, eye patch, acorn tattoo and a sign that said “Born to Huff.” We about died.

Now don’t be disappointed but there weren’t any squirrel recipes in the other cookbook I used, A Taste of Texas, nor, to my surprise, were there a lot of beef recipes (I guess the Texas saying “all hat, no cattle” is really true– hahaha!) so I made do with a pork chop recipe.

Both recipes were really good so y’all get ready to do some fine eat’n. And as to Miss Sarah, if you live in St. Paul, be on alert for those huffing squirrels. They’re probably hanging off one of those Mary Kay pink Cadillacs as we speak!

Cheese Spoon Bread – serves 6
1 cup cornmeal
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 cups milk, scalded
1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
6 eggs, beaten

Mix cornmeal, salt, dry mustard and pepper together. Add to milk and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens.

Let’s pause here a minute so I can tell you about my latest near-kitchen disaster: people, to be clear, the recipe calls for 3 cups of milk and 1 cup of cornmeal, but I misread it as 3 cups milk, 3 cups cornmeal. And this is how I ended up with a huge glob that most certainly could not be stirred! And here I just went and had my reading glasses adjusted!

Add cheese and continue to cook and stir until the cheese melts, about two or three minutes. Add to the eggs and mix thoroughly.

Pour into buttered baking dish and bake at 350 for 45 minutes, until light and puffy and browned.

Spanish Pork Chops – serves 4
1 onion, sliced
1 green pepper, sliced
3 potatoes, sliced
3 carrots, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon red pepper
10 ½ ounce can condensed tomato soup

Brown pork chops in own fat. Place in Dutch oven or roaster. Cover with slices of onion, pepper, potatoes, carrots, salt, red pepper and tomato soup. Cover and bake at 350 for one hour.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Betty Crocker's Cooky Book" & "Good Housekeeping's Cookie-Jar Cookbook" - Glazed Fresh-Apple Cookies and Chocolate Crinkles

Date my husband made these recipes: December 11th and 12th, 2008

Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book by General Mills
Published by: Golden Press
© 1963
Recipe: Chocolate Crinkles – p. 23

Good Housekeeping’s Cookie-Jar Cookbook by Good Housekeeping Magazine
Published by: Consolidated Book Publishers
© 1971, 1967
Recipe: Glazed Fresh-Apple Cookies – p. 4

Well, it’s the holiday season and for the first time ever, we’ve been invited to two cookie exchanges, both of which, of course, fell on the same night. So I sent my regrets to the one hostess and RSVP’d to the party we are going to and then set off to find cookie recipes.

We’re not big cookie people in this house in terms of actually baking them; buying them already made from a grocery store or bakery is another thing altogether. And so for this endeavor, I enlisted my husband, Andy, previously our household’s “pie guy” to help review my cookie cookbooks.

Although I didn’t do a detailed search of my collection, I did notice two books on my shelf that specifically spoke to cookies; the Good Housekeeping book is from my mother’s collection whereas the Betty Crocker is part of quite the little stack of Betty’s spiral-bound cookbooks from the 60’s and 70’s that I’ve been collecting.

Since Andy is the pie guy, he initially selected two fruit cookies, one from each book to bring to the party. I told him that this violated what I knew of cookie exchanges – that chocolate is required if not expected. Who wants to eat a healthy cookie at a cookie exchange at this time of year? These things give us permission to indulge!

And so I vetoed one of the cookies and substituted the Chocolate Crinkles. (He thanked me later). One can never go wrong with melted unsweetened chocolate and sugar. Never.

Since I am on a deadline at work, I asked if he wouldn’t mind starting the apple cookies that he selected and he did, and then since I got home at 7:30, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind making the second batch, my Chocolate Crinkles and he did. What.a.guy.

And so people, for the first time ever on my blog, someone else actually made the recipe instead of me but hey, I helped select them from my cookbooks so there! (By the way, he’ll be back in the kitchen at some point when I pull out my His Turn to Cook cookbook. I can’t wait for that!).

As you might suspect, the chocolate cookies were the hit of the party and the apple ones weren’t far behind. And might I point out that ours were homemade whereas some friends (who shall remain nameless—Autumn!) brought store-bought cookies to the gig. But then again, these are all busy people who don’t necessarily have a pie guy waiting in the wings who easily converted to cookie baker extraordinaire! (I didn’t see a cape involved in that transition but maybe next time).

Glazed Fresh-Apple Cookies – Makes 3 ½ dozen
2 cups sifted regular all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup soft shortening
1 1/3 cups brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg, unbeaten
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup finely-chopped unpared apple
1 cup dark or light raisins, chopped
¼ cup apple juice or milk

Vanilla Glaze
1 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon soft butter or margarine
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 ½ tablespoons light cream

Notes: I inadvertently hid the confectioners’ sugar from Andy so he substituted superfine sugar and that worked just dandy. Also, we were unsure what constituted light cream (further research indicates it has a fat content between half and half and heavy cream), but since our grocery store didn’t specifically carry that, we used heavy cream and nobody knew the difference.

To make the cookies
Heat the oven to 400. Sift the flour with the baking soda and set aside. Mix together shortening, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and egg until well blended. Stir in half the flour mixture, then nuts, apple and raisins. Blend in apple juice or milk then remaining flour mixture, mixing well.

Drop, by rounded tablespoonfuls, 2 inches apart, onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake 11 to 14 minutes, or until done. While cookies are still hot, spread thinly with Vanilla Glaze.

To make the glaze, in a small bowl blend the sugar, butter or margarine, vanilla extract, salt and cream.

Chocolate Crinkles – Makes about 6 dozen cookies
½ cup vegetable oil
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups Gold Medal Flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Mix oil, chocolate and granulated sugar. Blend in one egg at a time until well mixed. Add vanilla. Sift flour then add the flour, baking powder, and salt into oil mixture. Chill several hours or overnight.

Heat the oven to 350. Drop teaspoonfuls of dough into confectioner’s sugar. Roll in sugar; shape into balls. Place about 2” apart on greased baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake!!

By the way, we used our Silpat baking liner instead of greasing the cookie sheets. They are easy to use and easy to clean. If you don’t have on already, I highly suggest buying one, especially if you’re going to make these cookies!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

"Autumn Nights, Winter Mornings - A Collection of Cold-Weather Comfort Food" - Potato Gratin

Date I made this recipe: December 5, 2008

Autumn Nights, Winter Mornings – A Collection of Cold-Weather Comfort Foods by Barbara Scott-Goodman with Mary Goodbody
Published by: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 0811810380 © 1995
Recipe: Potato Gratin – p. 46-47

Well you would know it. For the past fourteen years, I’ve been part of a Ladies Who Lunch Bunch comprised of women I used to work with starting back in 1985. We got together for breakfast once a month or so after I left the company in 1994 and although we originally had six people we’re now down to three: me, Arlene and Vicki (a/k/a Beeker).

So Beeker decided that since we hadn’t seen her house since she got divorced and moved down the road a bit that we should have breakfast at her house. And so for the first time ever, instead of eating out at a restaurant (always on a Saturday, always at noon and almost always for a place serving breakfast), invited us over and told us to bring a dish.

And so I chose this gratin and here’s what I have to say about that: Bad choice.

I don’t know what it is with potato gratins but they never turn out like I anticipate. Maybe my expectations are too high and I envision a cheese goopiness that was never anticipated by the author or maybe I just have bad luck selecting gratin recipes but regardless, this was a clunker.

Here’s what went wrong: unless you have a professional potato-slicer (and I don’t—although we have a mandolin – the kitchen mandolin, not the instrument - but I’m afraid to use it for fear of sacrificing a finger tip to the great good) I think it’s tough to be consistent on thickness and this is what causes some potatoes to get done faster than others. I get annoyed biting into a semi-cooked potato and that’s what happened here.

Next, the cheese, in my humble opinion, was rather on the stingy side. The recipe calls for 4 ounces of cheese to 3 pounds of potatoes. What the heck? That’s barely a ground cover and it’s something that should have dawned on me but didn’t. Similarly, the parmesan cheese allotment could have been greater but wasn’t and so what I got was dry potatoes, some cooked through, some not, with a slight layer of cheese. Yech.

And wouldn’t you know that Beeker, who hates to cook, made a very tasty quiche? And Arlenie, bless her heart, made her mother’s fruit salad that was oh-so-yummy, and there I was, author of this COOKING blog who made the stinker of the day. Oh well, I guess every day can’t be a successful one in the kitchen.

Before I get to the recipe, let me just say a word about the Ladies Who Lunch. Beeker, who was operations manager at the company I worked at, is an October baby like me and is able to quote, as am I, Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie script almost word for word. You don’t find many friends like that. (“I’m not dead yet.” “No, but you will be.”)

Arlenie was the executive secretary for the company’s CEO and ran a very tight ship. Arlene was in charge of the supply cabinet and the joke was that you had to show your pencil stub before receiving a new one. She always denies that that was true but I’m here to tell you it wasn’t that far off.

Arlene always dispensed one item at a time (she should have been a corporate CFO, so good was she at cost-containment) and would always walk very slowly and regally (well, she was Queen of the front desk) back to the cabinet, then would take our her key, slowly unlock the door, crack open the door just a tich, retrieve said item, hand it to you and then walk slowly and regally back to her office. I love to imitate her doing that (that and the way she answered the phone is second to none).

One day however, Arlene was distracted and gave me the key to the cabinet. People, I thought I died and went to heaven. When news got out, a group of coworkers formed a circle behind me. I opened the door wide this time and (no, a glow didn’t emit, but close!) heard this gasp rise up behind me. “Oh my god, just LOOK at those supplies!,” I heard someone say.

You would think that we found the gold supply at Fort Knox. We all drew back just a bit to take in the full impact of the supply cabinet and then I started dispensing the goodies, one item at a time but only if you demonstrated a need for it. Pillaging the cabinet was not an option, tempting as it was and besides, I wanted Arlene to trust me with the key again. She did not disappoint.

And speaking of disappointing, I have often been saddened to lose touch with people I used to work with but our little lunch group has held together through thick and thin, through stupid jobs, new careers, my law school graduation, weddings, divorces, grandchildren, birthdays—you name it, we’ve seen it. And we continue to have a great time despite the fact that my food flopped. Knowing them, they didn’t hold it against me (but just in case, we’re going to go back to eating at a restaurant and leave the driving to the trained professionals).

Potato Gratin – Serves 6
6 to 8 baking potatoes (about 3 pounds), peeled and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 teaspoons crumbled dried sage
1 cup (about 4 ounces) freshly grated Gruyere cheese
½ cup (about 2 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup half-and-half

Preheat the oven to 400. Butter a 14-by-9-inch gratin or baking dish.

Arrange a third of the potato slices in an overlapping pattern in the dish. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with one third of the sage. Sprinkle with one third of the cheeses. Repeat twice more to make three layers each of potatoes, seasonings and cheese, ending with cheese.

In a small bowl, whisk the wine into the half-and-half. Pour over the potatoes, tilting the dish slightly to distribute the liquid evenly without disturbing the potatoes. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork and are golden brown.

NOTE: If I were you, I’d add more cheese, possibly more half-and-half and would definitely bake for longer then 50 minutes.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Babalu! Favorite Recipes from the World's Top Latin Chefs and Celebrities" - Arnaz Picadillo

Date I made this recipe: November 30, 2008

Babalu! Favorite Recipes from the World’s Top Latin Chefs and Celebrities by Michael Valdes and Art Torres
Published by: General Publishing Group
ISBN: 1575440318 © 1998

Recipe: Arnaz Picadillo (a kind of Cuban hash) – p. 16 (p. 17 contains instructions in Spanish)

So Thanksgiving has come and gone and for the first time ever, I didn’t cook a Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, my husband, mother-in-law and I went out to a restaurant for a Thanksgiving buffet and because of that, I didn’t have any leftovers. But not to worry, people, my dinner inspiration came to me whilst I was lounging around all Thanksgiving weekend watching TV, in particular I Love Lucy on TV Land.

TV Land is a cable station that shows reruns of favorite shows and my favorite show of all time is I Love Lucy. TV Land ran a mini-marathon of Lucy episodes and one that I watched this weekend was Job Switching, the famous episode where Lucy and Ethel get a job in the chocolate factory and end up stuffing their faces and clothing with chocolates when the supervisor speeds up the assembly line thinking they were incredibly speedy at wrapping chocolates. Of course, it all goes wrong and they end up coming home sicker than a dog from all the chocolates they were forced to eat in an attempt to keep their jobs (because if one, stray chocolate got done the line unwrapped, they would be fired).

I have to confess that this is on my personal list as a top-ten favorite. It’s funny all right but to me, it’s not so much because of the chocolate factory, it’s what happened when Ricky and Fred said they’d take care of the house if the women went to work.

First, Ricky serves Lucy a delicious breakfast, pretending that he made it before Lucy finds out he got it at the corner drugstore. Then Ricky tries to make chicken and rice but decides that a pound of rice per person should do and of course, the pot overflows sending rice flowing down to the floor like molten lava. Then Fred walks in on Ricky ironing Lucy’s stockings and tells Ricky he’s got it all wrong -- you don't iron the stockings, you starch them and then presents Ricky with a pair of stockings that are stiffer than a board. I found all that to be pretty hilarious.

So the premise of this episode was the ineptitude of the sexes doing each other’s jobs, particularly the men, but in fact, Desi Arnaz, the actor who played Ricky Ricardo (and who was also married in real life to Lucille Ball who played Lucy), was a great cook. I read this in several books but it was confirmed in this cookbook tome but daughter Lucie Arnaz who submitted her version of Picadillo. Picadillo, as she states, is like a Cuban (or Puerto Rican) hash. And so what the heck—after spending half my Thanksgiving weekend watching a marathon session of I Love Lucy reruns, I thought I’d give it a try.

I enjoyed this recipe a lot my only complaint being that the potatoes didn’t brown as I expected them to but no matter, the dish was still delicious. I served it over white rice since that’s how it was served to me when I was in Puerto Rico. And I tell you what, if we Americans are ever allowed to visit Cuba again, I will be there in a New York minute, if only to step back in time and imagine my favorite Cuban bandleader there singing his famous hit song (and title of the book) Babalu and cooking his famous picadillo.

Arnaz Picadillo - Serves 6 to 8
1 medium onion
1 medium green bell pepper
4 cloves (or more) garlic
3 small potatoes
1 large egg, hard-boiled
½ cup canned baby peas
2 large pimientos
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup Spanish olive oil
1 ½ pounds ground beef
½ cp canned crushed tomatoes (fresh would be terric, just peel them or substitute tomato sauce)
¼ cup dry sherry
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
¼ cup dark raisins
Salt and black pepper

Chop the onion, seed and chop the bell pepper, mince the garlic, peel the potatoes and chop into ¼-inch pieces, chop the egg, drain the peas and chop the pimientos.

Heat the vegetable oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat and toss in the chopped potatoes. Fry until crispy brown (10 to 12 minutes). Set pan aside.

In a large, deep skillet or casserole pot, heat the olive oil over low heat until it begins to smell fantastic. Add the garlic and onion and stir it up a bit. Then add the bell pepper. Stir over low heat for 8 to 12 minutes (or until tender). Add ground beef and stir until it turns brown (maybe 10 minutes0.

Add the tomatoes and any juices, sherry, salt, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco. Stir over medium heat 15 to 20 minutes. No need to cover.

Toss in the potatoes and raisins. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook until the liquid is absorbed (maybe another 10 minutes0.

When it’s ready, serve on a large platter. Make a small hole in the center and sprinkle the chopped egg into it. Decorate the outer rim with the peas and lay the pimiento pieces wherever they make you happy.

Note: You will want to drain off the ridiculously large amount of grease this dish generates before adding the tomatoes and other ingredients. I filled a small pasta bowl with the drippings from this dish – yikes!

P.S. - a blog reader sent this posting to a Puerto Rican friend who in turn sent him a left-over recipe suggestion: What Puerto Rican and Domincans also do with the picadillo left-overs -- You take a very ripe yellow plaintain, peel it then split it right down the middle with out cutting into two pieces. Scoop some picadillo all along the inside of the platano and then wrap in tinfoil. Place in oven at 375 for about 30-35 minutes and you then have a second delicious serving of picadillo. Thanks for the suggestion, Dick!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"The New York City Marathon Cookbook" - Orange-Grilled Chicken with Curry

Date I made this recipe: November 23, 2008

The New York City Marathon Cookbook by Nancy Clark, M.S., R.D.
Published by: Rutledge Hill Press
© 1994 – ISBN 1-55853-306-0
Recipe: Orange-Grilled Chicken with Curry – p. 151

Okay, sure, so the annual New York City Marathon was held a couple weeks ago at the beginning of November. Sue me!

I honestly meant to put this book aside in order to cook from it for the annual event but in a fit of cleaning, I put it back on the shelf, only to be discovered when I went looking for another cookbook. Oops. No matter, this recipe is easy to make and would suit many an occasion.

But speaking of the New York City Marathon, in 1999 I had the pleasure of watching the
Marathon, first on TV before we left my friend’s apartment (only in New York would you find a cable station with “play-by-play” coverage) and then in Central Park with about two miles to go before the finish. And boy oh boy, there was stuff about marathons that I never knew.

First of all, there are paid runners called Rabbits who set the pace for the race and then drop out after a certain number of miles. One of the lead rabbits that year dyed his hair green but I don’t think that was a statement about the fact that rabbits eat “rabbit food” such as lettuce. Anyway…after they ran the allotted miles, they all hopped in the back of a pickup truck and went off to…wherever race rabbits go. Had I know a person could get paid for doing that, I think I might have taken up running (although I didn’t see a woman in the bunch) and skipped law school all together!

Second, I had no idea the number of family cheering sections that came to see their loved ones race (or limp) to the finish line. The deli my girlfriend and I ate at near the 59th Street Queensboro Bridge (a/k/a the “Feelin’ Groovy” Bridge from Simon and Garfunkle’s song) was packed to the rafters with people wearing racing team colors—sort of like NASCAR drivers but obviously rooting for people wearing running gear and running shoes.

And then there were the crowds ten deep or more standing around said bridge that were amazing. Susan and I were supposed to meet another friend working the first aid station there but this was before cell phones really took off and we finally aborted our mission because we didn’t think we’d ever find her. Besides, the runners had already crossed the bridge and were on the way to the finish.

So we ran like little rabbits ourselves to get to Central Park and managed to see the lead runners round the corner before running the last mile or so to Tavern on the Green a/k/a The Finish Line! And I have to tell you, it was exciting. First the male runners came through and then we managed to press through the crowd to get a front-row look at the women runners (big issue there: we saw on TV that one of the women lapped the front-runner a couple of miles into the race and held onto the lead to win the big prize, something that apparently doesn’t happen all that often.) And bless their hearts, the lead women were not all that far behind the men. You go, girls!

Now this gal has never liked running in the least, much less 26 miles, but I do enjoy walking and I do like to keep my diet in line with my exercise program so this recipe hit the mark. (You may not know it from my blog postings but it’s true) It’s higher in protein than most of the recipes in the book (25 grams per serving) and low in carbohydrates and fat. Carbs are great for race-running but in terms of muscle building muscle tone and weight management, protein is better.

Although this recipe was easy to make (marinate for an hour and then grill or broil) it seemed boring so I made up my own curry sauce that I poured on top of the chicken to add a little extra flavor. I’m pretty proud of it if I do say so myself (although note: your kitchen will really, really smell like curry!).

And now it’s off to the races – hahaha….

Orange-Grilled Chicken with Curry – Serves 4
4 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
1 cup orange juice
4 teaspoons curry powder
4 teaspoons dried tarragon or 2 tablespoons fresh minced
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (6 ounces each)

Ann’s topping
4 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
2 cups orange juice (add more if needed)
4 teaspoons curry powder
(I ran out of tarragon but would have used the amount called for)
2 sliced onions

To make the chicken
In a large bowl whisk together the mustard, orange juice, curry powder and tarragon. Arrange the chicken in a shallow baking dish then pour the marinade evenly over the chicken. Marinate the chicken for at least 1 hour, or overnight. Grill the chicken breasts for about 5 to 7 minutes on each side or until done. The chicken may also be broiled.

To make the topping
Slice onions then place them and the other ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer over low heat until the onions are soft (I think I cooked them for about 20 minutes to a half an hour). Be careful not to burn the mixture. I served the chicken breasts on top of rice, topped with this mixture – yum!

Monday, November 17, 2008

"Hawaiian and Pacific Foods" - Green Pepper, Beef and Tomatoes

Date I made this recipe: November 16, 2008

Hawaiian and Pacific Foods – A Cook Book of Culinary Customs and Recipes Adapted for the American Hostess by Katherine Bazore
Published by M. Barrows and Company
© 1940-1947; seventh printing 1956
Recipe: Green Pepper, Beef and Tomatoes (Fan Keh Lut Tsiu Ngau Yuk) – p. 214-215

Even though I was a couple of days behind schedule, this recipe was made in honor of Veteran’s Day – November 11, 2008. You might ask yourself what on earth a cookbook of Hawaiian food has to do with Veteran’s Day but my answer is easy: my father, who served in the Marines on Iwo Jima, was stationed on Maui prior to leaving for Iwo (where he was wounded and received a purple heart). This cookbook was initially printed in the 40’s and so the recipes are authentic for the time that my father was in Maui--not that his camp necessarily served these foods. (But boy, if they did…)

Of course back thenthere was little development (if any) on Maui and according to dad, the camp’s conditions were pretty primitive (it was not for nothing that they called it “Camp Swampy”). Dad and his fellow Marines hiked up nearby Mt. Haleakala on a regular basis; these days, tourists coast down it on bicycles for fun!

My dad likes to mention that back then the big hotels on the island of Oahu were the Royal Hawaiian and the Ala Moana and that was about that. These days, those hotels are almost lost in the shuffle of development that has run rampant on the islands. Of course, to me, the Hawaiian Islands are still paradise to visit even if they are bumper-to-bumper with tourists.

I must admit to being surprised that this cookbook did not contain recipes for Spam (Spam is very popular in Hawaii) nor the Hawaiian lunch plate but maybe those items didn’t become popular until after publication. (I’ve had the lunch plate and it is outstanding even if it is not exactly heart-healthy. The lunch plate consists of a piece of meat, a scoop of rice with gravy on it and usually some macaroni salad - heavy on the mayo! Yum!!)

And while I’m not surprised that this cookbook contains many Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese and Filipino recipes (the islands are home to many an ethnic group), I am surprised that this recipe was included. The author often noted if a recipe was not authentic, yet I can’t help but wonder if this recipe was really authentic Chinese. Beef with peppers is something that I expect today in most “Chinese” restaurants but hey, it was included here so we’ll go with it.

This recipe was relatively easy to make and was fairly straightforward except for the instructions for making a “smooth” paste out of some of the ingredients. The paste I made was smooth all right—in fact, it was more of a marinade than anything but I went with it and it worked.

Another item that wasn’t clear was what, if anything, to do with the leftover chopped ginger. The recipe said to combine the ginger juice with other ingredients but it didn’t say how to dispose of the actual ginger itself so I added most of it to the recipe and it only enhanced the dish. (When in doubt, do not throw it out!)

Finally, the recipe didn’t say what to do with the beef (you cook the beef, then the veggies, and then serve) so I added the beef back to the veggie mixture and warmed up the entire dish for a few minutes over a low flame. I think the veggies could have used a few more minutes to cook but that’s my opinion.

And speaking of opinion, I know it’s hard to tear oneself away from the beautiful beaches of Maui, but if you are ever there, take a moment to go to the Marine Memorial where you can see photos of the old base from back in my dad’s day and the memorial plaques that are scattered throughout the area. It’s a lovely drive (although a little tricky to find) and a good way to honor all of our veterans who served our country so admirably. Ladies and Gentlemen of the armed forces (both former and current members), I salute you!

Green Pepper, Beef and Tomatoes – Serves 6
2 cups sliced green peppers (2 large peppers)
2/3 cup sliced onions
½ cup sliced round steak (are they kidding? I used about a pound, sliced thin. As if I had time to stuff the steak into a measuring cup!)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon soya (Note: I’m pretty sure they mean soy sauce here but when I looked it up online, soya also refers to the soy bean itself. Since the recipe called for 1 tablespoon, I’m thinking they meant the sauce)
Dash of pepper
2 2/3 cups tomatoes (3 medium)
½ cup celery
1 teaspoon cornstarch
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or dried ginger root soaked in 2 tablespoons water

For the “gravy”
½ tablespoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons whiskey or wine
¼ cup water
Dash of pepper

Cut the peppers into strips ½-inch wide and 1 ½ -inches long. Cut the onions into sections ½-inch wide and the tomatoes into eighths. Cut the celery and round steak into thin strips 1 ½-inches long. Mix the soya, cornstarch, sugar, ginger juice, and salt to form a smooth paste. (Mine was runny but it didn’t matter. Just toss your meat and throw it into a skillet or wok). Combine with the meat and fry in hot oil. When browned, remove the meat, and fry all the vegetables except the tomatoes in the same pan. Stir constantly and after 1 minute, add ¼ cup water and simmer for 2 minutes. Make a smooth paste of the ingredients for the gravy. Combine the gravy, tomatoes and cooked vegetables. Boil 2 minutes, stirring constantly. (Note: I added the beef back to the wok and heated it for another couple of minutes on low).

Serve hot. (I served it with rice).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Perfect Soups" by Anne Willan - German Split Pea Soup

Date I made this recipe: November 9, 2008

Perfect Soups by Anne Willan
Published by: DK Publishing Inc.
ISBN: 0-7894-2853-9 © 1994, 1998
Recipe: German Split Pea Soup – p. 86-89

Well this week, I was, as my mother used to say, “busy, busy, busy,” such that I didn’t have time until now (almost a week later) to post this recipe for German Split Pea Soup.

As far as pea soups go, my mother was the standard-bearer for how split pea soup should be: as thick as all get-out, such that a spoon could stand by itself if necessary. Mom’s recipe was simple, calling for peas, carrots, onion, potatoes and one ham bone (as opposed to ham hock), usually left over from a ham Sunday dinner.

By comparison, the pea soup served by my grade school, Sacred Heart Catholic School, is a shining example of something that should never be called pea soup, much less soup. Sacred Heart’s version was ground peas (yes, if “split” peas are good, pulverized peas were better) and water. Thirty eight years after being served my last bowl of that slop, I still have nightmares. (And so it’s amazing that I made this recipe!)

This recipe falls somewhere in between greatness and disaster. The soup wasn’t overly thick or thin but there were issues. First and foremost was the fact that despite extending the cooking time by at least another hour, the peas never softened up and in all the years I’ve been making pea soup, that’s a head-scratcher. The cookbook author gives you the option of soaking the peas in cold water for eight hours in order to shorten the cooking time, but never before have I experienced problems with peas. It might be because I used green split peas instead of yellow (I couldn’t find yellow) but I doubt it.

Next was the general lack of flavor of the soup. My mother’s was robust but here, even with the addition of dark beer, the flavors fell short. The ham hock added some flavor but not much and my husband was not overly impressed with the frankfurters. So I don’t know—you might try experimenting with it and maybe add some additional spices to see what happens…or you might be fine with it the way it is. It’s not that we snubbed it in favor of other foods because we at it to the last drop (probably because my mother's voice was in my head admonishing me against wasting food!) but it could have been way better.

Anne included "how to" photos in her book that I must say helped quite a bit because my diced vegetables were exquisite. Left to my own devices, I likely would have been a lot more cavalier with the whole thing.

Finally, I didn’t realize until I was dicing vegetables and watching my Packers play that I had subconsciously selected a green pea…or yellow pea soup recipe for the annual Packer/Viking game. (Green and gold are Packer colors). But alas, it didn’t help as my Packers lost by 1 point having missed a last-minute field goal. That’s okay, we beat them earlier in the season so now we’re even-steven! Perhaps if my Packers had just had some hearty soup in advance of playing things might have been different. Food for thought (pun intended!)

German Split Pea Soup – Serves 6-8
Work Time – 35-40 minutes; Cooking Time 2-2 ¼ hours (or longer)

2 large onions
½ lb carrots
½ lb potatoes
½ lb rutabaga
2 celery stalks
1 cup dried yellow peas
3 whole cloves
1 bouquet garni, made with 5-6 parsley stems, 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme, and 1 bay leaf
1 smoked ham hock, weighing about 1 lb
1 quart water, more if needed
2 cups dark beer
Salt and pepper
½ lb frankfurters
1 medium bunch of parsley
1 tsp mustard powder

Peel the onions and trim the tops, leaving a little of the roots. Chop into a small dice.

Peel the carrots and trim off the ends. Cut each carrot across into 2-inch pieces. Cut each piece lengthwise into ¼-inch slices. Stack the slices and cut them into 4-6 strips together and cut into dice.

Peel the potatoes and follow the directions above for dicing; same with the rutabaga.

Peel the strings from the celery with the vegetable peeler. Cut the stalks lengthwise into ¼-inch strips, then crosswise into a dice.

Put the split peas into a strainer and rinse thoroughly under cold running water. Pick over and discard any stones. Leave the split peas to drain.

Assemble the bouquet garni using a cheese cloth and string. The author says to tuck the cloves into the string tied around the bouquet garni but it seemed easier just to include them in the cheese cloth packet and call it a day.

Combine the diced vegetables and split peas in a casserole and add the ham hock, water, bouquet garni, dark beer, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Skim off the scum that rises to the surface, then cover, and simmer until the split peas are very tender, 2-2 ¼ hours (Or not as I found out! After 3 ¼ hours, I still had some not-so-tender peas on my hands but we were starving and so I gave up!) Stir the soup from time to time and add more water if it seems too thick.

Meanwhile, using a chef’s knife cut the frankfurter into ½-inch slices on the diagonal. If you are going to add chopped parsley as a garnish, chop them now and reserve until the very last minute.

Put the mustard powder into a small bowl. Spoon in 1-2 T of the hot soup liquid and stir together well until the mustard powder has dissolved completely. Reserve.

Remove the ham hock and bouquet garni from the casserole. Let the ham cool slightly, then pull of any meat and chop coarsely, discarding any skin and fat. Return the ham to the soup.

Add the frankfurters and cook gently without boiling until they are heated through, 3-5 minutes.

Stir in the mustard mixture and most of the chopped parsley. Taste the soup for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"The Working Wives' (Salaried or Otherwise) Cookbook" - Spicy Shrimp Dinner

Date I made this recipe: November 1 and 2

The Working Wives’ (Salaried or Otherwise) Cookbook – Cook-Ahead Cookery: All Recipes Based On Preparation Of Each Day’s Dinner The Night Before by Theodora Zavin and Freda Stuart
Published by: Crown Publishers, Inc.
© 1963
Recipe: Spicy Shrimp Dinner – p. 51

I bought this cookbook this spring while back in Michigan for my mom’s funeral (and later, burial) in what is now Falling Rock CafĂ© and Bookstore ( but what used to be Leeches Bar and Grill. I never, ever went in Leeches when I lived there, probably because I was underage, but I do remember my friends and I singing “Let’s all go to Leeches Bar and Grill, food’s more fun at Leeches Bar and Grill” to the tune of the A&W song (“Let’s all go to A&W, food’s more fun at A&W….”) Hey, it was a small town without a lot going on.

I hadn’t been up to that neck of the woods in quite some time and was really impressed with what the new owners had done to the place. The bar was still there but instead of booze, you could get soup, sandwiches, desserts, ice cream and coffee. Apparently, one could buy a membership in a coffee club and for that low, low price, you got your own mug (many of them lined the walls of the place) and I gathered bottomless coffee. The coffee there was really good and I oftentimes bought two cups, one to microwave at home. (My parents weren’t really decaf connoisseurs).

Just off the “bar” were tables with computers allowing for internet access. What a godsend! I was nervous that I couldn’t hook up to the internet from my parents (and indeed, my sister-in-law said she had to balance on the toilet seat while making a call back to Rochester, NY.) and with this set-up, I was able to get my coffee, connect with friends and family who lived elsewhere and keep up with the news.

And then there was the used book area. To my amazement, their cookbook collection was mighty impressive, such that I think I picked up two bags each time I was there. I’ve been to many a place in the Twin Cities that had less to offer.

Not that you want to make a trip to Michigan’s U.P. just to go to this place, but should you find yourself there vacationing (and there’s a ton of stuff to see and do in the area), you should stop in and pick up a book…or two!

As to the book, the cover caught my eye with it’s “Salaried or Otherwise” notation in the title. What I didn’t realize until I opened it up a few days ago was that everything was intended to be made the night before. (When all else fails, read the instructions). No matter. The dish was easy to assemble and the final cooking time is only thirty minutes. I may actually get dinner on the table “on time” (in Ann’s world, anytime before 8:00!)

Spicy Shrimp Dinner – Serves 6
4 slices bacon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
½ cup celery, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 green pepper, diced
1 can (1 lb) tomatoes (Note: it doesn’t say what kind – whole, diced, stewed – nor does it say whether or not to drain the tomatoes. I didn’t and I also used whole.
¼ cup tomato juice
¼ cup finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
¼ teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon horseradish
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon dry mustard
1 ½ lbs. cooked, cleaned shrimp (buy 2 ¾ pounds if you buy them with shells)
1 can (1 lb). okra or peas
1 can (3 oz). whole mushrooms

The night before – Preparation time: 20 min. Cooking time: 35 min.
Chop the onion, garlic and celery. Cook the bacon until crisp, but do not discard bacon fat during the cooking process. Remove the bacon from the pan and set it aside. Add the olive oil to the bacon fat and cook the onion, celery, and garlic in the combined fats for abut 5 min., until the onion is transparent. Add the flour, stir, and remove the pan from the stove. Add the crumbled bacon and all the other ingredients (except the shrimp, okra/peas and mushrooms). Stir well and simmer over a low flame for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly, cover and refrigerate.

Before Serving – Preparation time: 2 min. Cooking time: 30 min.
Add the shrimp, okra or peas and mushrooms to the sauce and cook over a low flame for 30 minutes. This is excellent served with boiled rice.

NOTE: This recipe was most certainly not spicy despite the chili powder and the horseradish, but it was darned tasty.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Betty Crocker's New Dinner for Two Cookbook" - Meat Loaf

Date I made this recipe: October 26, 2008

Betty Crocker’s New Dinner for Two Cookbook by Betty Crocker (of course!)
Published by: General Mills
© 1964 – 11th printing, 1971
Recipe: Meat Loaf – p. 94

People, I love meatloaf and I love Betty Crocker and now I am in love with Betty Crocker’s Meatloaf! This recipe was the best—easy to make and I had almost all ingredients on hand.

Now my mother added raw oats to her meatloaf (made by a company that is a competitor of Big G, Betty’s parent company, and so I won’t mention the name here) and so I was a little skeptical of this recipe as it used bread/breadcrumbs but in the end, no worries. The bread crumbs in milk tasted great and served the purpose of being a binding agent—i.e. that which holds the whole thing together.

In my family, meatloaf sandwiches were our Road Food meal of choice. Every time we got ready to take one of our long-haul trips across America, my mom made a meatloaf a couple days ahead and then sliced it into sandwiches, adding mustard and ketchup to heavily-buttered bread (so it wouldn’t get soggy). It wasn’t long into the trip that we’d break them out and I can remember my dad munching on a sandwich as we crossed the Mackinaw Bridge to Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

Sadly, the only time we had the meatloaf was on the first day of our vacation as thereafter, we ended up buying luncheon meat for sandwiches that we assembled picnic-style on the road. To this day, I can still envision the luncheon meat variety pack consisting of olive loaf, pickle and pimento, ham, and some other type of meat that I can’t recall (possibly because I considered it to be unfit for my consumption).

Every day on the road, we would stop at a local grocery story to buy the luncheon meat variety pack along with fruit, Chips Ahoy Cookies (or Fig Newton’s – a favorite of my dad) and sodas (almost always Coke in the original small bottles), throw them in a large, insulated bag that my parents bought with Green Stamps, and head on down the road until we found a suitable place for a picnic. The insulated bag (a larger version of today’s insulated lunch bags that people bring to work) contained mustard, ketchup and bread that we kept on hand and in the car on a daily basis. Although McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants were on the rise, this was a cheaper way to go (McDonald’s back then was an expensive “treat”) and got us out in the countryside exploring America, state by state, county by county, town by town. These road trips are one of my favorite childhood memories.

So take a trip down your memory lane and make a meatloaf, and if you take a road trip with your kids, consider the meatloaf sandwich. It beats the heck out of McDonald’s any day! (By the way, the ultimate first day of a road trip for me and my brother was eating meatloaf sandwiches in a cozy car when it rained. Yes, we were odd children).

Meat Loaf- 4 servings or two mini meatloaves, just right for two people
½ lb. ground beef or veal
¼ lb. ground lean pork
1 ½ medium slices soft bread, torn in pieces, and ½ cup milk; or ½ cup dry bread crumbs and 2/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 T. minced onion
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. each pepper, dry mustard, celery salt and garlic salt
1 ½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Heat oven to 350. Mix all ingredients thoroughly and shape into 2 loaves. Place loaves in a shallow baking pan, spread with ketchup or your favorite bottled barbecue sauce and bake 1 hour until done.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"The Southern Heritage Plain and Fancy Poultry Cookbook" - Escalloped Chicken Georgia-Style

Date I made this recipe: October 12, 2008

The Southern Heritage Plain and Fancy Poultry Cookbook by the editors of Southern Living
Published by: Oxmoor House
© 1983
Recipe: Escalloped Chicken Georgia-Style – p. 97

Well, today was another rainy day and that usually signals some sort of casserole, and since we had some leftover turkey in our house, I selected this recipe. It had a couple of things going for it: there were only a few ingredients to buy and it didn’t serve 20+ people like some of the recipes in this book. Our freezer doesn’t have enough space for the remaining 18 servings!

This dish was good and easy to make but I must say that the toasted bread-crumb toping was a head-scratcher. It added nothing to the dish and in fact, took away some of the flavor of the “filling” below the surface. I think you can safely leave it off and still have a tasty dish.

Another head-scratcher was the cooking time: 20 minutes at 350 left us with a lukewarm dish that we ended up microwaving. Huh.

But other than the piddly little things above, it was satisfying on what appears to be the start of the fall rainy season. (Deep, heavy sigh).

Escalloped Chicken Georgia-Style – Serves 6
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups chicken broth
½ cup milk
2 cups cubed cooked chicken
2 cups cooked rice
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
2 tablespoons chopped pimiento (1 small jar ought to do it)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
(Topping: I think this can be optional)
4 slices bread, toasted and crumbled
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
½ teaspoon paprika

Saute mushrooms and onion in butter in a large skillet until tender. Stir in flour. Gradually add broth and milk, stirring until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in chicken, rice, almonds, pimiento, salt and pepper. Spoon in to a lightly greased 2-quart casserole. Top with breadcrumbs. Pour butter over crumbs, and sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. (Note: As mentioned earlier, this was lukewarm when we took it out so you may want to leave it in longer).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

"Joys of Jell-O Gelatin Dessert" & "7-Up Goes to a Party!" - Fruit Cocktail (Jell-O) Salad and Reception Punch

Date I made these recipes: October 4, 2008

Joys of Jell-O® Gelatin Dessert by General Foods Corporation
Published by General Foods Corporation, 3rd Edition, 2nd Printing (circa 1962)
Copyright circa 1962
Recipe: Fruit Cocktail Salad – p. 42

7-Up goes to a Party! – Recipes for: Barbecues, Guest Dinners, Open Houses, Holiday Events (pamphlet) by The Seven-Up Company
Published by The Seven-Up Company
Copyright 1961
Recipe: Reception Punch – p. 4

This weekend, I was on the final approach to my 50th birthday and so decided to have a few friends over to help me celebrate. I got a wild hair and decided to serve retro food and of course, had to include a Jell-O recipe because what was life without Jell-O?

This recipe is simple and best yet, it’s from my mom’s Jell-O book. If your mother was like mine, she made a Jell-O salad for every occasion and it usually included a kitchen-sink collection of ingredients; fruit, nuts, balls of cream cheese rolled in nuts (my personal favorite) and/or veggies. Ah…the memories. My mom’s Jell-O molds are still at my parent’s house, waiting for me to spirit them away (somehow, I’m not seeing my dad suddenly getting a wild hair to make a Jell-O mold) and so I fell back on a few molds I purchased from a thrift store years ago; one even had the sales sticker still on it!

And then because a couple of my friends are not drinking alcohol (one due to chemo and the other due to frequent migraines), I decided to make a punch that I could spike (lush that I am) but they could drink with ease (In a martini glass, though. Punch cups are for sissies!)

This punch recipe makes a lot of punch so unless you want gallons on hand I suggest cutting down the ingredients and buying individual cans of pineapple juice instead of the mega can. As far as the 7-Up goes, use your best judgment as to how much to add for a smaller recipe. As to the booze, you’re on your own although clear liquor (i.e. gin or vodka) is the way to go with this thing – hic!


Fruit Cocktail Salad – 6 servings or 3 ½ cups (Note: you can substitute another canned fruit if desired).
1 package (3 oz) Jell-O Gelatin (any fruit flavor)
1 cup boiling water
1 can (1 lb. 1 oz) fruit cocktail
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup coarsely chopped nuts
1 banana, sliced (I left this out)

Dissolve Jell-O Gelatin in boiling water. Drain fruit, measuring ¾ cup syrup. Add syrup and lemon juice to gelatin. Chill until very thick. (Note: the book says about 1 ½ hours to achieve very thick Jell-O.) Then fold in fruit and nuts. Pour into a 1-quart mold or bowl or individual molds. Chill until firm. Unmold.

Reception Punch – makes 7 quarts or about 60 punch cup servings
1 ½ cups sugar
2 cups water
1 46-oz can pi8neapple juice
6 cups orange juice
3 cups lemon juice
12 7-oz bottles 7-Up (Note: 7-oz bottles are no longer being made so instead, go by the ounces needed and adjust depending on how much punch you’re going to make. To make the full recipe, for example, you’ll need 84 ounces.)
Ice cubes

Mix sugar and water in a pan and simmer five minutes; chill. Chill fruit juices and 7-Up. Mix sugar syrup and juices in a chilled punch bowl. At serving time, slowly pour in 7-Up. Add ice cubes and garnish with mint leaves.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Newman's Own Cookbook - Sparkling Recipes from Paul Newman and his Hollywood Friends" - Martha Stewart's Cataplana Chicken

Date I made this recipe: September 28, 2008

Newman’s Own Cookbook – Sparkling Recipes from Paul Newman and his Hollywood Friends by Paul Newman & A.E. Hotchner
Published by: Ebury Press/Random House
ISBN: 009186926-9 © 1999
Recipe: Martha Stewart’s Chicken Cataplana – p. 85

If you’ve been keeping up on current events, then you’ll know that actor Paul Newman passed away on September 26, 2008. The world is indeed a little worse off with the loss of P.L. Newman (also known in car-racing circles as “Skinny Legs”).

Although I’ve missed out on quite a few of his movies, I do have a fond memory of how I almost went to see The Sting on a high school date. The word “almost” is pivitol: the nearest movie theater was an hour’s drive away, and my parents were not going to send their baby out in the cold (it was winter) with “Jake, the Snake” (Actually, Jake was a nice guy. It was the evil high school boys in my class who teased him endlessly and gave him that nickname). And then there was the fact that the picture was not rated G, something that my very-Catholic mother took most seriously, consulting her Catholic newspaper each and every time a movie opened. If it was rated PG, there was no chance in hell (sorry, Mom!) that I was going to see it. Although this wasn’t the end of me and Jake, the Snake, the writing was on the wall. I’m happy to report that I saw the movie, in the privacy of my own home (where – gasp – I even watch R rated movies!) and it was great. Right up there with my all-time favorite Newman movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (“Who ARE those guys?”)

As to the recipe, this was really easy and very tasty. Martha Stewart, who contributed this recipe, is no slouch and would never put out a schlocky meal and this one did not disappoint. Of course, Martha being Martha, she apparently wanted us to go out and buy a fancy-schmancy Cataplana pan (it’s a copper Portuguese cooking pan), or perhaps unearth one from our unlimited supply of (always polished) copper pans. Silly Martha. Lucky for us, the recipe says you can substitute a small casserole with a tight-fitting lid instead. Whew, dodged that bullet.

This recipe says to use Newman’s Own All-Natural Bandito Salsa or your favorite. We used Newman’s Own Pineapple Salsa and that sweetness really added to the dish. I think Paul would have been proud, and we’re happy that money from the sale of all his Newman’s Own products goes to charity. So hat’s off to Paul and his Hole in the Wall Gang charities. We’ll miss you, Skinny Legs.

Martha Stewart’s Chicken Cataplana – serves 4
2 T. olive oil
12 fl. Oz. Newman’s Own All-Natural Bandito Salsa, or your favorite
2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, halved
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano (Note: since I used pineapple salsa, I left this off as I wasn’t sure I’d like the taste of oregano with pineapple. I think it was a good call.)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 F (or 180 C or gas mark 4 – talk about thorough!!)

Place the oil in the bottom of the cataplana or casserole. Add half of the salsa. Top with the sliced potatoes, chicken breasts, and onion. Top with the remaining salsa and sprinkle the oregano over it. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and bake for 1 ½ hours.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Most-for-the-Money Main Dishes - A Campbell Cookbook" - Ham and Pea Tetrazzini

Date I made this recipe: September 14, 2008

Most-for-the-Money Main Dishes—A Campbell Cookbook by Campbell Kitchens
Recipes developed and tested by Home Economists of Campbell Kitchens
Published by: Campbell Soup Company
© 1975
Recipe: Ham and Pea Tetrazzini – p. 77

Well, this recipe was a walk in the park compared to some I’ve made in recent weeks! To be honest, I spent this afternoon test- driving a cake recipe for an upcoming party (recipe to be reviewed at a later date) and so I wanted something easy to make for dinner. My husband also requested that I serve no later than 7:00 given that I have a tendency to underestimate how long recipes are going to take. And given that our weather turned rainy the past couple of days, this was perfect – easy to make and comforting to eat. For those of you concerned about sodium levels in canned soups, Campbell makes a low-sodium version of the cream of chicken soup that the recipe calls for. I’d recommend seasoning with a little pepper, but otherwise, this recipe is good to go. Um, um good!

Ham and Pea Tetrazzini – makes about 5 ½ cups
1 ½ cups cooked ham cut in strips
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 can (10 ¾ ounces) condensed cream of chicken soup
¾ cup milk
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1 package (10 ounces) frozen peas, cooked and drained
2 cups cooked spaghetti

In saucepan, brown ham with garlic in butter. Add soup, milk, and cheese. Heat until cheese melts; stir occasionally. Add peas and spaghetti; heat.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Blue Ribbon USA - Prizewinning Recipes from State and County Fairs" - Marjorie Johnson's Sour Cream Streusel Coffee Cake

Date I made this recipe: September 1, 2008 (Labor Day)

Blue Ribbon USA-Prizewinning Recipes from State and County Fairs by Georgia Orcutt and John Margolies
Published by: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 10-0-8118-5484-1
Recipe: Marjorie Johnson’s Sour Cream Streusel Coffee Cake – p. 58-59

Well, the Minnesota State Fair wraps up today, just in time for me to use my newly-purchased Blue Ribbon USA – Prizewinning Recipes from State and County Fairs. Although many recipes from other states besides Minnesota sounded interesting (some even horrifying: I have never, ever heard of adding cream of mushroom soup to my beloved Michigan Pasties –pronounced pass-tees. The horror!), they didn’t strike my fancy.

Instead, I turned to the recipe created by the woman who embodies the Minnesota State Fair, indeed, to be clear, IS the State Fair, and that is Sour Cream Streusel Coffee Cake made by Minnesota’s own Marjorie Johnson.

Now the first time I went to the fair, it was clear to me that this woman was a winner, as evidenced by the multiple blue ribbons in the baking categories. And for a while, she was our little secret. But the next thing you know, she was on Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show, then Jay Leno found her and made her a regular and she is now as famous as some of the Hollywood Celebrities.

The thing is it couldn’t have happened to a nicer woman. Marjorie is a bundle of energy, that just pours off her 4’8” frame that is outfitted in her signature red (as far as I know, Marjorie doesn’t wear other colors) and her stints on Leno have been hilarious. And her baking isn’t too bad, either!

This recipe is really easy and the cake is very moist. I have only two complaints that I am almost afraid to voice in fear of offending the baking goddess: I would have liked more streusel in the middle of the cake and I was hoping for a bit more sour cream taste. Other than that, I enjoyed making this blue-ribbon winner and hope you will, too!

Marjorie Johnson’s Sour Cream Streusel Coffee Cake – makes two cakes

¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter, softened
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups sour cream

2 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup packed all-purpose flour
¼ cup sweetened flake coconut
½ cup (2 ounces) sliced almonds or chopped nuts

½ cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
¼ teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
1 to 3 teaspoons milk

Heat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour two 8- or 9-inch cake pans.

To make the batter: Combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl and cream with an electric mixer. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk to blend. On low speed or by hand, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Spoon one-fourth of the batter into teach prepared pan.

To make the streusel: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix with a fork. Sprinkle one-fourth of the mixture over the batter in each pan. Spoon the remaining batter equally into the 2 pans. Sprinkle the top of each with an equal amount of the remaining streusel.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the tops of the cakes feel firm to the touch. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them rest for 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edges and remove from the pans by gently inverting each one onto a flat dinner plate, covering it with a wire rack, and then carefully flipping it right-side up to cool on the rack.

To make the glaze: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir with a spoon until smooth. Drizzle over the tops of the cooled cakes.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Chinese Refreshment" & "Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood" - Fried Dumplings and Savory Bean Thread Noodles

Date I made these recipes: August 24, 2008 – The Closing Ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics

Chinese Refreshment edited by Li Yung
Published by: Wan Li Book Co., Ltd. Hong Kong
© 1979
Recipe: Fried Dumplings p. 35-39

Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood by Ken Hom
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0-394-58785-8 © 1997
Recipe: Savory Bean Thread Noodles – p. 251-2

So the Olympics are in China, thus the Chinese recipes for today’s blog, but let’s be serious: the entire thing could really be called The Michael Phelps Show.

In case you haven’t been watching (and sadly, I didn’t have time until the first weekend), Michael Phelps is a young man (kid, really) who won eight gold medals in this Olympics. Eight. Whoa. The last event, the 4 x 100-meter medley relay was a heart-stopper and even though I knew the results in advance, I still leapt out of my chair. And sure, part of it was the excitement of number eight, but part of it was my own walk down memory lane when once upon a time, I swam that relay on my high school team.

Despite the fact that my school was tiny (about 120 students per class), once Title IX came out mandating equal sporting opportunities for women, my school got on the bus and never looked back. I was on the tennis team for a couple of years and in 1975, was on the women’s swim team, a team that lasted all of one year for reasons I cannot remember, prompting a fellow swimmer to call the phantom 1976 team “The team that wasn’t.”

But for one, glorious season we swam and people, we did so under interesting conditions…which is to say that we had a pool but it was built in around 1940 and therefore not regulation. This short pool required us to swim double laps to prepare for meets, and the drain was such that every once in a while, it would clog up causing the water to turn from chlorine blue to an emerald green. I kid you not. Of course, the students complained but we were made to swim anyway and at that time, no parent ever spoke up about any adverse conditions. Today, I can about bet the farm that this would be an outrage.

Despite having orange and black as our school colors, we had green and gold swimsuits and while that was fine by me, Packer fan that I am, it seemed a little silly. We didn’t have warm-up jackets (I don’t think anybody ever even thought of that) and often had to take the short buses to meets, the long buses being reserved for men’s sports.

Now I wouldn’t say that our team wasn’t motivated but we were so outnumbered at most meets and so not in tip-top shape (we never worked out and more than a few members were a little on the chubby side), that I think we unconsciously adopted an attitude of “We don’t care because we don’t have to.” Clearly we were not destined for Olympic glory. That’s not to say that we didn’t do okay for ourselves because we did, often surprising the opposing teams, but for the most part we were fish out of water at these competitions. Hahaha.

Since we were a small school, most of the men were engaged in basketball or wrestling and therefore not interested, but we did have one, lone male represent the men’s side of things at a meet. Now, this guy’s name was George but our coach must have abbreviated it for roster purposes to “Geo” and sure enough, when the announcer called the lane assignments, he said “And in Lane 1, Geo Cowell.” Poor Geo, he never lived that down.

As far as competition went, I ended up swimming the backstroke simply because – go figure—not every swimmer could swim the freestyle, our collective favorite stroke. These silly officials seemed to think that some of us should do other strokes and I tried but I never could get the hang of the breaststroke kick and was too wimpy for the butterfly so backstroke it was. But people, I hated that stroke. I swam the 100 backstroke, as well as the backstroke in the 400 medley relay but the 400 meter freestyle relay was more my style and I often anchored the women’s team to a respectable finish. Not quite an Olympic-proportion finish but a decent one at that in pools that seemed endlessly long compared to our kiddie pool back home. Oh well, in my next life, it would have been in China.

And so okay, now back to China (you were wondering, weren’t you). Finding recipes in the Chinese Refreshment book was challenging because the recipes often weren’t clear if the meat should be cooked first or not, plus many of the dumplings required Chinese flour that I didn’t want to buy (and lard, which I also didn’t want to buy!). In the end, my attempt at cooking a recipe from this cookbook turned out to be my own Olympic event!

Let’s start with the Fried Dumplings. I should have known I was in trouble right away because all recipes were printed first in Chinese then translated into English. I about had a headache when I was done. (“What do you think they mean by this?!”)

As an example, the main ingredients for the fried dumplings consisted of 12 oz. of pork and 5 ½ shrimp. The recipe didn’t say what kind of pork or whether to cook the pork first and seriously – 5 ½ shrimp? Seemed odd but that’s what it said. I asked a butcher at my grocery store what he thought I should do and he thought I should cook everything first (as did I) and that I couldn’t go wrong with pork tenderloin. And in fact, I didn’t go wrong with pork tenderloin or any of the other ingredients…at least until we got to the dumpling dough.

Oy, the dumpling dough! What.a.mess. I have a sneaky feeling that we should have used Chinese flour because regular flour combined with all the water the recipe required created one gloppy mess such that we ran to a local market for wanton wrappers!

And then there was the cooking thereof of the dumplings. The recipe said to use pork fat but didn’t say how one obtained the pork fat so I used peanut oil. The directions also said to fry with a “bright fire” until golden brown (are they kidding me??) and I did but the frypan was very hot and a few of them were scorched. Yikes.

And let me just say a word about working with wanton wrappers; they tell you to use a triangle method to fold the wrapper over the filling but don’t do it. Instead, do what my husband did—instead of fighting with that design (which proved hard to do), he worked with it instead and so we produced very lovely wanton rectangles! You’ll thank me later.

By comparison, the other recipe for Savory Bean Thread Noodles was a piece of cake. No fuss, no muss and more importantly, no guessing as to the method of preparation.

As for taste, the dumplings scored about a 7 (I’m not a big fan of salt and they were slightly salty) and the savory noodles about a 9. Neither hit the perfect score, but that’s okay because we had athletes like Michael Phelps to do it for us with his big eight win.

Enjoy this small taste of the Orient. As for me, I’m already gathering my British Isles cookbooks to get ready for London four years from now. Kidding! That’s a little early even for me but the 2010 Winter Games, to be held in Vancouver, British Columbia, aren’t. Let’s see, what do I have in the way of Canadian cooking?

Fried Dumplings (good luck!!)

For the filling:
12 oz pork (I used pork tenderloin, then browned it on all sides and then finished it off in the microwave)
5 ½ shrimps (yes, that’s what it said. Buy cooked)
1 lb. cabbage (the recipe says use Tientsin but unless you live in a very Asian part of the country, substitute Napa).
6 mushrooms, soaked (not to be confused with 5 mushrooms or possibly 4!)

For the seasonings:
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons sesame oil
3 teaspoons soy sauce
Dash of monosodium glutamate (I didn’t use this)
Ground pepper, a pinch

For the dumpling wrappers, the recipe said you’ll need 2 ½ cup flour, 2 ½ cup boiling water and 1 ½ cup cold water. As I mentioned, we used wanton wrappers and they were okay but not quite what we were looking for. But definitely use them versus the flour mixture.

Rinse cabbage and then cut into very thin slices. Cook in boiling water for 10 minutes. Take out from pot and dry. Then add salt and monosodium glutamate. (I highly recommend using very little salt; 2 teaspoons was too much).

Cut pork, shrimps and mushrooms into tiny bits. (I diced the hell out of these ingredients and you should, too!). Add the sauce mixture. Now let’s pause here a minute: the recipe lists ingredients for the filling and then “seasonings” and the outer layer but no where did it mention “sauce.” Since I used the salt for the cabbage, as directed, I didn’t add it to the sauce I made, composed of the sesame oil, soy sauce and a pinch of pepper. And still the recipe was salty!! (And so the quest for the perfect instructions continues…)

Once you add the “sauce” mixture, stir the filling and sauce mixture in a big bowl until the ingredients thicken, then add cabbage and mix well. Put in refrigerator for about half an hour.

I’m going to skip the directions for the outer layer and just go right to the end! Place about a ½ teaspoon to a teaspoon of filling in the middle of the wanton wrapper, fold, seal and then fry in about two teaspoons of fat (and if you have pork fat, go for it!) with a “bright fire until dumplings get golden brown colour (Note: the author used the British spelling of color).” Spray a little water and sesame oil and vinegar on the dumplings, then cover the pan until the moisture is rather evaporated.

This is supposed to make about 40 dumplings but we made about a dozen or so and called it a day.

Savory Bean Thread Noodles
2 2-ounce packages dried bean thread (cellophane) noodles (look for the words “Vermicelli Green Bean Thread” on the wrapper)
1 teaspoon peanut oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
½ pound ground pork
1 cup homemade chicken stock or reduced-salt canned broth
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Asian sesame seed oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped scallions (for garnish. Optional)

Soak the noodles in a large bowl of warm water for 15 minutes. When they are soft, drain them and discard the water. Cut the noodles into 3-inch lengths, using scissors or a knife.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat until it is hot. Swirl in the peanut oil and when it is very hot and slightly smoking, add the garlic and stir-fry quickly for 15 seconds. Then chuck in the meat and stir-fry, breaking up the meat, for 3 minutes. Then pour in the stock, rice wine oyster sauce, soy sauce, salt and pepper. Cook the mixture over a gentle heat for about 5 minutes. Now toss in the drained noodles and the sesame oil and cook for a further 10 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Ladle onto a platter, sprinkle scallions on top and serve at once with rice.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"The Provence Cookbook" by Patricia Wells - Roast Chicken Stuffed with Rice and Figs

Date I made this recipe: August 10, 2008

The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 0-06-050782-9 © 2004

Recipe: Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Rice and Figs – p. 106-107

I recently finished reading Patricia Wells’ newest book, We’ll Always Have Paris…and Provence and was inspired to bring out her last book, purchased at a book signing event a few years ago, The Provence Cookbook. (PS—she is very nice in person - tres sympathique!)

I’ve been to Provence twice in my lifetime, both times to visit a French friend who lives in the area, and really enjoyed exploring the small towns in the area.

The first time I went was with my friend, Susan, in 1988, just before my 30th birthday. Susan used to live in Paris as an Au Pair and was fluent in Parisian French but speaking French in Provence is the equivalent of a northerner trying to “translate” a southern accent in the U.S. It took a while to get the nuances. (If I haven’t mentioned it in a previous blog, the trip was the equivalent of Lucy and Ethel Go To Paris as we had one hilarious mishap after another).

As for me, I spoke some French and did pretty well in Paris but was a fish out of water when we got to Provence. I will never forget one of the first nights there. My French friend and a few others took us to a health club where we used the steam room (sure, it’s an odd thing to do on vacation, but what’s your point?) and I was in tears within minutes because I didn’t understand a single word that was spoken. As a result, I got the reputation for being quiet, a fact that cracked Susan up to no end as I’m really pretty chatty—some might say a real conversationalist! Not only that, but I felt so stupid I can’t even tell you. I ended up answering “Oui” (“Yes”) for things that required a “No” answer and vice versa. It really brings home how frustrating it is to not be able to converse in or even understand another language.

Patricia Wells understands that and when, in her new book, she relayed how lonely she was the first few months she and her husband lived in Paris, I could completely relate. Lucky for me, I finally got the hang of the dialect, such that by the time we got back to Paris, I was ordering wine with a Provencal accent without realizing it. Everybody at the table laughed but I have to confess to being momentarily confused (“What did I say? What did I say?”).

Lucky for us, her recipes aren’t at all confusing and are as comforting as all get out. I really wouldn’t care if I was all by myself in a foreign city if I had myself a plate of this stuffed chicken!

Now, the use of rice and figs to stuff a chicken is as foreign to me as the dialect in Provence and it was good but I can’t say this was a home run hit. The chicken itself was fabulous—all moist with a beautifully browned skin and the rice and the figs were fine. Sad to say, it was the onions that made this recipe miss the mark. If I were you, I would caramelize the onions instead of cooking them until soft and I would also cut them into smaller pieces instead of thinly sliced rings. I think a caramelized onion would be a better flavor fit for the other ingredients.

So Bon Appetite everyone and enjoy this small taste of Provence!

Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Rice and Figs – 4-6 servings

Equipment: A large skillet with a lid; a roasting pan just slightly larger than the chicken, fitted with a roasting rack; a fine-mesh sieve.

2 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
Sea salt to taste
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups cooked rice
10 small, fresh purple figs, stems trimmed, and quartered lengthwise
1 best-quality farm chicken (about 5 pounds) with giblets cleaned and chopped
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
2 T unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In the skillet, combine the onions, salt, and olive oil. Sweat—cook, covered, over low heat until soft but not browned—for about 3 minutes. (Note: that is way to short a cooking time. I went about 10 minutes and even then, the onions were still a little crisp.) Add the rice and figs, and stir to blend. Cook just to blend the flavors, 2 to 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Generously season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper. Place the giblets in the cavity. Stuff with the rice and fig mixture. Rub the skin of the chicken with butter. Season all over with salt and pepper.

Place the chicken on its side on the roasting rack. Pour about ½ cup of water into the bottom of the pan to help create a rich and pleasing sauce later on. Place in the center of the oven and roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken to the other side, and roast for 20 minutes more. Turn the chicken breast side p, and roast for 20 minutes more, for a total of 1 hour’s roasting time. By this time, the skin should be a deep golden color. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees. Turn the chicken breast side down, at an angle if at all possible, with its head down and tail in the air. This heightens the flavor by allowing the juices to flow down through the breast meat. (Note: I’ll leave the gymnastics to you!) Roast until the juices run clear when you pierce a thigh with a skewer, about 15 minutes more.

Remove from the oven and season generously with salt and pepper. Transfer the chicken to a platter, and place on an angle against the edge of an overturned plate, with its head down and tail in the air (Again with the gymnastics!). Cover loosely with foil. Turn off the oven and place the platter in the oven, with the door open. Let rest a minimum of 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes. The chicken will continue to cook during the resting time.

Place the roasting pan over moderate heat, scraping up any bits that cling to the bottom. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping and stirring until the liquid is almost caramelized. Do not let it burn. Spoon off and discard any excess fat. Add several tablespoons cold water to deglaze (hot water will cloud the sauce). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, remove the rice and fig stuffing from the cavity of the chicken. Place it in a serving bowl. Carve the chicken into serving pieces and transfer to a warmed platter. Strain the sauce through the sieve and pour into a sauceboat. Serve immediately.

Author’s variation: While this recipe is ideal for the months when fresh figs are in season, a good winter variation is to replace the figs with a mixture of 4 tablespoons pine nuts and 4 tablespoons golden raisins that have been plumped in warm water for 10 minutes then drained.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

"Untangling My Chopsticks" & "Japanese Cooking" - Japanese Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl and Japanese Fried Pork

Date I made these recipes: August 3, 2008

Untangling my Chopsticks – A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto by Victoria Abbott Riccardi (this is an essay with recipes)
Published by: Broadway Books
ISBN: 0-7679-0851-1 © 2003
Recipe: Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl (Oyako Donburi) – p. 31-32

Japanese Cooking by Gail Weinshel Katz
Published by: Weathervane Books (This book is part of a Creative Cooking Series that published cookbooks of food from several countries)
ISBN: 0-517-244861 © 1978
Recipe: Fried Pork – p. 35

“Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so…” (lyrics from Turning Japanese by The Vapors, 1980).

Okay, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration and yet for one moment in the kitchen, I did turn Japanese in order to make these recipes.

I was inspired to take out these two books after meeting with a Japanese friend who used to play clarinet with me in my community band when she and her husband lived here while he was going to graduate school. Now, ten years later, she and her husband returned for a brief visit along with her two sons, now ten and eight and I met up with them for a very American dinner. She wanted someplace kid friendly and so we met up at Yum, a very fun restaurant by Minneapolis’ Lake Calhoun. (I highly recommend the macaroni and cheese)

No sooner had they caught the plane back to Tokyo then I made a grocery list and went shopping at an Asian market, United Noodles, in Minneapolis.

Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, United Noodles is a fun store. They carry grocery items for every Asian food imaginable along with house wares and even Chinese herbs. I was soon overwhelmed in the Japanese aisles, mostly because I didn’t know what I was looking for, but quickly sought help and all was well. Well, actually, all was almost well; I was so excited to have the dashi I needed for a recipe that I didn’t stop to consider that the jar I bought contained a half a cup and not the cup I needed for the recipe. Oh well, oh well. It still turned out just fine.

I do apologize to those of you who are not near an Asian market because you will likely not find the two main ingredients, mirin (Japanese cooking wine) and dashi (Japanese cooking stock, similar to bouillon) , in a regular grocery store. But you might be able to substitute by using another type of cooking wine and regular granulated bouillon. Let me know if you try it. If all else fails, it looks like you can mail order some ingredients; check out United Noodle’s website for more details: (By the way, dashi is listed under the full product name of AJINOMOTO hondashi. Make sure you buy two bottles!)

Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl (Oyako Donburi) – makes 4 servings
4 cups hot cooked rice
1 cup dashi
¼ cup soy sauce
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mirin
4 large eggs
½ pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into ½-inch nuggets
1 bunch of scallions (about 6), trimmed and cut into 1-inch batons

Prepare the rice

Pour the dashi into a medium heavy-bottom saucepan, along with the soy sauce, sugar and mirin. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 2 minutes.

Break the eggs into a bowl and stir with chopsticks until the yokes and whites are mixed but not totally blended.

Add the chicken to the dashi mixture and then gently pour in the egg. Sprinkle the scallions over the egg. When the egg starts to become firm, after about 3 minutes of cooking, gently stir it with your chopsticks. (The chicken and scallions will have finished cooking in the hot liquid). NOTE: That’s not quite what happened. The egg was firming up way before the chicken got done and since nobody likes raw chicken, I threw the whole thing in the microwave for a minute or so. The egg got a little bit more done than I would have liked but the flavor was still there.).

Lay out four deep soup bowls. Spoon even portions of the rice into each bowl and top with the soupy chicken and egg mixture.

Fried Pork – Makes 4 servings
1 medium red pepper
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
2 tablespoons ground sesame seeds (Note: forget that noise—I threw them in whole!)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine or sherry (Not to be confused with rice wine vinegar)
1 pound sliced pork, ¼ inch thick
2 tablespoons oil
2 ounces transparent noodles or very thin spaghetti
1 medium cucumber, cut into thin strips
1 medium tomato, cut into thin strips

2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar

Remove seeds from pepper; dice it fine. Mix with scallions, sesame seeds, soy sauce, and rice win or sherry. Marinate pork in this mixture for at least an hour.

Heat oil in frying pan. Drain pork; brown well on both sides in hot oil. Cut into smaller pieces, if desired.

Prepare noodles or thin spaghetti. Combine with cucumber and tomato strips. Place on platter along with the pork.

Prepare sauce by blending the vinegar, black pepper and sugar.