Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic, And Can You Make A Roux?" - Jambalaya

Date I made this recipe: February 24, 2009 (Mardi Gras)

Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic, And Can You Make A Roux? – A Family Album Cajun/Creole Cookbook by Marcelle Bienvenu
Published by: Times of Acadiana Press
ISBN: 0-9631637-1-X
© 1991
Recipe: Jambalaya – My Way – p. 72

Well Happy Mardi Gras everybody!

Today is Fat Tuesday, the official kickoff to Mardi Gras and Lent and what better recipe to make than Jambalaya?

I bought this cookbook a long time ago and then stashed it away until it dawned on me to take it out and make something for Mardi Gras. But let me just say that the Hunt for Red October for this cookbook was almost as arduous as finding the baby in the King Cake (a type of coffee cake made for Mardi Gras in which a plastic baby is hidden in the dough; luck follows the person who finds the baby as does the requirement that the person bring the King Cake to next year’s celebration).

At any rate, after searching all my shelves at least four times over, I finally discovered this book sandwiched in between two others on, of course, the very top shelf of my cookbook library. (Note to self: you might want to dust up there sometime).

There were a lot of tempting recipes in this book (that is also filled with family stories of growing up in Louisiana) but I selected the Jambalaya because it was easy. I got the entire thing all cooked and stored in time to get to a 7:00 community band rehearsal. (Sad to say, we northerners didn’t do much to acknowledge the day—no beads were thrown, no breasts were barred, and no cake was devoured—at least until after rehearsal when a few band mates went to the bar to celebrate Mardi Gras. No reports have been filed from the field so we’ll just assume that what took place in Minneapolis stayed in Minneapolis.)

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler! – Let the Good Times Roll!

Jambalaya – My Way – Serves 6
½ cup chopped green onions
½ cup chopped white onions
1 large sweet green pepper, julienned
1 cup chopped celery with leaves
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup butter (note: this is a lot of butter and the rice ended up being a little greasy; you might want to consider cutting down just a bit)
½ to 1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 dozen raw oysters or 1 cup chopped ham
1 pound can whole tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
Salt, cayenne pepper, thyme, bay leaf, hot sauce
1 cup uncooked rice

Saute onions, green peppers, celery, and garlic in butter until wilted. Add shrimp (and oysters); cook for 5 minutes. If ham is used, add when rice is added.

Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, and seasonings, which can be salt and cayenne pepper, a pinch of thyme, a couple of bay leaves and a couple of dashes of hot sauce. Add the rice (and ham), stir a bit and cover. Cook 25 minutes or until rice is tender; mine cooked for about 40 minutes before I considered it done. Add a little tomato juice or chicken broth if the jambalaya becomes too dry.
Post-Script: What are the odds of this? Less than two weeks after writing this blog, my local paper, the StarTribune, featured an article on how to make a roux ("How Roux You Do?") with none other than today's blog's featured author, Marcelle Bienvenu, at the helm. Coincidence? I think not!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"The Wolfgang Puck Cookbook" & "Foodarama Party Book" - Black Forest Ham and Coat Cheese Pizza and Gala Cake

Date I made these recipes: February 22, 2009 (Academy Award Night)

The Wolfgang Puck Cookbook – Recipes from Spago, Chinois and Points East and West by Wolfgang Puck
Published by: Random House
ISBN: 0-394-53366-6
© 1986
Recipe: Black Forest Ham and Goat Cheese Pizza – p. 112-113

Foodarama Party Book – What to Serve-What to Do at parties for all occasions – Children, Teenagers, Adults by the Kelvinator Division, American Motors Corp., Detroit 32, Michigan
Published by: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc.
© 1959
Recipe: Gala Cake – p. 37

Well, folks, we are just hours away from the start of the 81st annual Academy Awards – can you stand the excitement?? I know I can’t—so many dresses to critique (it is about the dresses, right?), so little time.

Sadly, folks, the only movie up for an award (Best Supporting Actress) that I’ve seen this year is Vicky, Christina, Barcelona, a quirky yarn directed by Woody Allen (who else?) and that was only a week ago. I am, quite sadly, light years behind on my movie watching.

Once upon a time, though, I was queen of the cinema. I went to movies all the time, especially weekend matinees when it was cheap (today, you can’t even buy the popcorn for what I paid). I was even at the local Uptown Theater when they screened the documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk, Harvey Milk being the subject of this year’s movie, Milk, starring Sean Penn. Who knew that this kid from the middle of nowhere would be so cutting edge?

Last year’s Best Actor, Daniel Day Lewis, was also the subject of a quirky 1988 movie, Stars and Bars that also played at the Uptown during a film festival. From what I recall, he played an art dealer who had to go down south to sign an up-and-coming artist named Freeborn (what would I do without The one scene I distinctly remember was when Day Lewis stayed overnight at a theme hotel and had to paddle a canoe (yes, a canoe) across a waterway built in the registration area to get to the registration desk. If memory also serves, he tipped the thing over. Perhaps you had to be there but it was damned funny. It was especially nice to see DDL is a lighthearted comedy for once; that guy does “serious” like nobody’s business.

But alas, people, between the cost of the movies (not to mention snack canyon) and the movie-watching public’s increasing inability to remain quiet in a movie theater (“This is NOT your living room, and yes, I know he has a gun, thank you very much!”), we stopped going. I hate to admit this, but the last time I was in a theater was for The Matrix 3. Why I bothered with that flick, I have no idea but after that, it was DVD rental or bust. (Incidentally, another make-it or break-it moment took place in a movie theater in a state that shall remain nameless for security reasons—my own security—involving me and a woman I referred to as a “(expletive) hillbilly.” It was a heat of the moment thing and I forget where I was (not to mention my manners) and out it came; my entire row, consisting of me, my husband, my brother and sister-in-law slid down in our seats the minute that phrase was uttered in anticipation of a life-changing incident (otherwise known as “death.”). The fact that I lived to tell about this is probably due to the fact that back then, guns were not allowed in the theater…I think.)

But I digress…in order to honor the Academy winners, I turned to the man who has fed the stars for years on end: Wolfgang Puck.

Although famous in Hollywood, Wolfgang opened up a restaurant here in the Twin Cities a few years ago called 20.21 - ( It’s located in the Walker Art Center (our modern art museum), is primarily Asian-influenced and just darned good. That Wolfgang knows his way around a kitchen even though he came, he saw (the opening) and then he left and went back to sunny California where he doesn’t have to bring his car battery inside during a cold snap like we do.

It was a little challenging making something from Wolfgang’s book but I finally settled on a pizza. I did not make the pizza dough recipe in the book because I’m lazy and because (as I’ve stated before), “why do for yourself what others can do for you?” Just go buy a large pizza dough from Broder’s Cucina Italiana (or your local pizzeria) and be done with it!

Now at first blush, the gala cake recipe doesn’t seem like it’s a good fit for a pizza and you’re right, but there was a method to my madness. Last night, Saturday night, was the second annual Arcademy Gala. Arc Greater Twin Cities is a nonprofit organization serving individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities and their families, and I’ve had the privilege of volunteering for them for the past 22 years. Over time, I’ve chaired national convention events, the 50th anniversary party and last year, stepped in with T-minus 6 months to go to chair the 1st annual gala. Because the event is held in February, we decided to play on the group’s name, Arc, and throw our own Oscar-themed party. Both last year and this year were a hit with a lineup of outstanding entertainment and high-spirited fund-raising auctions. It is a great time for a great cause and for Twin Cities’ residents looking for a great evening out, this is THE event to consider.

And so in honor of THE event of the season, I selected this Gala Cake for my Oscar-evening lineup from the book, Foodarama. (I absolutely adore the name of this book! My husband and I used to throw a summer party on the huge deck of a previous apartment that we dubbed Deck-O-Rama. That party series – Deck-O-Rama 1 -5 – was a big hit but that’s another story for another day.)

Now this recipe calls for a combination of frozen and fresh fruit but if I were you, I’d consider going with the easier and less expensive option known as fruit cocktail; I did, and I never looked back. (Besides, this book was published in 1959; are you going to tell me that frozen fruit was preferable over fruit cocktail? I think not.)

“And the Oscar goes to….”

Black Forest Ham and Goat Cheese Pizza – Makes 4 small pizzas or 1 large one
1 recipe Pizza Dough (p. 110) divided into 4 equal pieces (or one large dough made from a box or purchased from a local pizzeria)
Extra-virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
1 cup grated Italian Fontina cheese
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese or an equal amount of fresh, sliced mozzarella
2 baby Japanese eggplants, sliced lengthwise to ¼-inch slices and grilled or sautéed in olive oil
1 cup cubed goat cheese (Note: it’s easier and slightly cheaper to go with crumbled goat cheese)
2 ounces Black Forest ham, cut into julienne strips
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped, with 1 sprig reserved for garish

Before we get started, let me tell you about all my variations on a theme for this pizza:
I don’t have a pizza stone and don’t intend to buy one and so used a pizza pan and it worked out just fine. You will probably have to bake it a little longer than planned to achieve the same results.
I made one, large pizza and purchased the dough from Broders’ Cuciana Italiana in south Minneapolis – I also bought my fontina cheese and my mozzarella there.
I used one baby eggplant since my husband is not a big fan and I sautéed them in olive oil and then drained them on paper towels before putting them on the pizza.
Goat cheese is expensive so I used half the amount and went with crumbled instead of cubed.
I couldn’t find Black Forest ham and so went with Viriginia ham instead. I doubt I missed much in the flavor category and it saved me a trip to several other grocery stores.

And now for our actual instructions:
Before you are ready to bake the pizzas, preheat the oven with a pizza stone inside to 500 degrees for 30 minutes.
Roll or stretch the pizza dough, a quarter at a time, into a 7- to 8-inch circle. Now let’s pause here a minute to talk about this dough. For some reason, this sucker did not want to stay put and my husband and I had to wrestle this dough like alligator wranglers in order to get it into shape and onto the pizza pan. I suspect it might be because the dough was cold (I threw it in the refrig for a bit while making other things before taking it out to warm up) but it was a major endeavor. Let’s just say we were sweating, tired and covered with flour!
One at a time, place the pizza on a wooden peel (paddle) dusted lightly with flour or semolina. (Yeah, right Wolfie—like we all have a pizza paddle just hanging around our kitchen someplace.)
For each pizza, brush the dough with olive oil and sprinkle it with dried chili flakes according to how s spicy you like your pizza. Arrange a quarter of the fontina and mozzarella cheese on the dough. Then add a quarter of the eggplant, goat cheese and ham. Sprinkle some chopped basil on top. Assemble the three remaining pizzas in the same way.
Slide the pizza onto the stone and bake it for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling lively.

Gala Cake – no serving size given
½ cup frozen diced pineapple
½ cup frozen diced peaches
½ cup seedless grapes
¼ cup halved maraschino cherries
OR buy two cans of fruit cocktail and drain (so much easier)
1 cup heavy cream
Confectioners’ sugar (added to the whipped cream)
½ tsp orange extract
½ tsp lemon extract
2 8 or 9-inch yellow cake layers (I purchased a generic yellow cake mix for all of $.99 – sweet!)

Thaw and drain the frozen fruits (or drain your fruit cocktail). Add grapes and cherries if purchased separately. Whip cream; sweeten to taste with confectioners’ sugar. Fold in the flavoring extracts, then the drained fruit. Fill and frost cake layers with the whipped cream-fruit mixture. Garnish with additional fruit, if desired.

Note: the photo in the book shows that the cake is frosted in between layers and on the top but not on the sides. I decided not to frost the cake at all and instead pulled out my frosting as I went along and added it to the cake as if it were a whipped-cream topping. It saved on space in my refrigerator and didn’t turn my cake into a soggy mess.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Cooking in the Nude 'For Playful Adults'" & "The Joy of Chocolate" - Beef Balls a la Bourgignon and Black Bottom Pie

Date I made these recipes: February 14, 2009 (Valentine’s Day)

Cooking in the Nude “For Playful Gourmets” by Debbie & Stephen Cornwell (Note: This is part of a series. There’s Cooking in the Nude, For Men Only, Cooking in the Nude, Quickies, and Cooking in the Nude, For Women Only – who knew?!)
Published by: Wellton Books
© 1981
Recipe: Beef Balls a la Bourgignon – p. 39

The Joy of Chocolate by Judith Olney
Published by: Barron’s
© 1982
Recipe: Black Bottom Pie – p. 90

To be clear: just because the name of the cookbook I used was Cooking in the Nude “For Playful Gourmets” doesn’t mean that one (okay me) had to be nude at the time. I mean, it’s February, for god’s sake, and there was no way in hell I was going to be anything but fully-clothed. As it is, I am still fighting off a cold/virus/”thing” from a month ago and so leaving myself open to catching a chill was not in the cards. Had I cooked from this book in the summer, I might have worn a bathing suit, “might” being the operative word. (But I doubt it.)

And so fully-clothed, I set out to cook from this cookbook to make my husband a Valentine’s Day dinner. And I must say, his eyebrows rose to sea-level heights when I told him I selected a dish called “Beef Balls a la Bourgignon” (this was their spelling) but he went along with it. He didn’t even snicker, as I did, about the dessert—Black Bottom Pie – but then my mind was already tuned in to romance (or in the gutter, take your pick).

As to the recipes, the beef balls were tasty if not overdone and the pie was good but a tad too sweet for my tastes. My recommendation with the meatballs is to not to over-brown them (I believe this was the start of my problems) and to keep the flame (and by “flame” I’m referring to the stove-top, not your romantic flame) ridiculously low so as not to create tennis balls where no tennis balls were intended.

As to the pie, I should have waited a day to make this thing as it took longer than I anticipated and our big, romantic day was almost over by the time we ate. First we realized that we forgot to buy semi-sweet chocolate squares so Andy had to run to the grocery store. Then I dropped the bowl of piecrust on the floor and of course it shattered into a million pieces (like my heart) and I had to start all over again. And then I waited a bit too long to pull the custard mixture out of the refrigerator and so our filling was a little lumpy. Add to that the fact that we had to whip cream and then whip eggs whites using my one and only Kitchen Aid and I was more than a little irritated. But Andy helped me out and we got the pie in the refrigerator and the beef balls on a plate and we watched a movie and all was right with the world.

Given that I’m a planner from way back, I’ve already decided on next year’s menu: “Reservations!”

Note: I found Cooking in the Nude on Of course, as soon as I died laughing at the title, I just had to order it!

Beef Balls a la Bourgignon – Serving size not indicated but I'd say 4 small portions
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 t. salt
¼ t. pepper
1 t. fines herbes
½ t. marjoram
¼ t. rosemary
1 T. butter (trust me on this, you will need a lot of butter to prevent your pan from scorching)
3 T. brandy
½ lb small whole mushrooms
½ lb small white onions, peeled
2 T. flour
½ cup canned beef broth
1 cup Burgundy (or other red wine)
½ cup Port
2 T. tomato paste
1 bay leaf

Step one: 20 minutes. Thoroughly mix meat and seasonings (salt, pepper, herbes, marjoram and rosemary). Shape into 1” balls and brown evenly in butter. (As previously mentioned, don’t over brown these things or they will be too rubbery).

Step two: 4 minutes. Heat the 3 T. brandy in a small pan, pour over beef and ignite. When flame dies, remove beef to bowl. (Note: either I had the worst matches in the world or the brandy wasn’t hot enough but I couldn’t get the thing to light and so I just let it burn off…and then helped myself to a little snort of it in consolation).

Step three: 10 minutes. Add more butter to your pan (this isn’t in the recipe, but trust me on this). Add the mushrooms to the pan and sauté 5 minutes, then remove to a bowl. Repeat process with onions (including adding more butter) and remove.

Step four: 30 minutes. The recipe says to stir the flour into the drippings but I didn’t have much in the way of drippings (despite all the butter I used) so I added the beef broth first and then whisked in the flour; same effect, just a better procedure. Add the rest of the liquids slowly and blend well. Add the remaining ingredients (the tomato paste and bay leaf) and stir until thickened. Simmer 8 minutes. Add beef, onions and mushrooms. Cover and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over buttered noodles tossed with parsley.

Black Bottom Pie – Serves 8
1 ½ cups vanilla wafer crumbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
¼ teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely grated (Oh my god, is this messy to do, or what?!)
1 T unflavored gelatin (Note: one packet is equal to one tablespoon so why she didn’t just say so is beyond me…)
¼ cup cold water
2 whole eggs plus 2 yolks (reserve the whites)
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Pinch salt
1 ½ cups half n’ half
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 ½ cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons light or dark rum (Note: Andy and I both re-read this recipe three times and no where does it say what to do with the rum so we decided to add it at the end. You might also try drinking it; your choice.)
Whipped cream and chocolate shavings for garnish.

Preheat the oven to 350.

To make the crust, combine wafer crumbs, butter, ginger, and vanilla. Mix with your fingertips until blended, then press into a 9-inch pie dish. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the crust is lightly golden. Remove from the oven and immediately scatter the grated chocolate over the bottom of the shell. Smooth with the back of a spoon and leave to cool. (Note: pressing too hard with the spoon will cause your crust to start lifting up, leaving quite the mess. I recommend spreading the chocolate once and once only and then calling it a day.)

To make the filling, soften the gelatin in the water and set aside. Beat the egg yolks until very thick. Add ½ cup of the sugar, the cornstarch and the salt.

Place the half ‘n half and chocolate in a small pan and stir until the chocolate melts. Pour the hot milk slowly into the egg yolk mixture. Return the mixture to the heat and whisk until smooth and medium thick. Off the heat, add the gelatin and stir until it dissolves into the custard. Cover and place in refrigerator until the gelatin just begins to set.

Okay, I must pause here to tell you about one of my major pet peeves with recipes: incomplete instructions. I don’t know about you, but I don’t run around my house with the number of minutes it takes for gelatin to set on my mind and so thank goodness I had a Jell-O cookbook at my disposal. For the record, the time the Jell-O people says it takes for gelatin to begin to set is 2 hours; for best results, I’d say pull it from the refrigerator after an hour and a half.

Whip the cream. Beat the egg whites until they begin to thicken, then slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar and continue beating until thick and glossy but not stiff. Gently stir the custard and half the cream together and then fold in the beaten whites. Pour the mixture into the crust and refrigerate until firm. Top with the remaining whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Monday, February 9, 2009

"Beans In My Boots - Quick, Easy Recipes for Skiing Families" - Chicken with Russian Dressing and Apricot Jam

Date I made this recipe: February 8, 2009

Beans In My Boots – Quick, Easy Recipes for Skiing Families by Hoppie Stibolt
Published By: Smoke Tree Ranch
© 1983
Recipe: Chicken 6 (Chicken with Russian dressing and Apricot Jam) – p. 64

Well the temperature finally warmed up to the high 30’s this past week and so ski season is likely (and I hate to say, hopefully) on its way out but what the hey, we might as well live life on the edge and pretend there’s still some schussing to be done out there!

Okay, having said that let me confess that I am not a downhill skier but rather a very retired cross-country skier (blame lack of snow and lack of ambition). The Upper Peninsula of Michigan (where I'm from) is not exactly known for downhill skiing (with the exception of the western portion of the state) but it is known for great cross-country skiing. In fact, some of the better trails are located right on the edge of my parent’s property and my parents were the ones that got me and my brother into skiing in the first place.

Back in the 70’s, my parents were on the cutting edge of the cross-country ski movement. I can’t recall exactly how they got into it but they were very good skiers and even ended up being featured in National Geographic while skiing on a very frozen Lake Superior; the backdrop is a very large icicle collection hanging down from the caves bordering the Lake Superior shoreline. A large, framed black and white commemorative photo hangs in my parent’s living room.

Because my dad wasn’t sure if I would take to the sport, he refashioned a pair of my mom’s old wooden downhill skis for me to use. They were not the prettiest things in the world and the boots that I got to go with them are hilariously outdated but people, let me just say that there was no cross-country hill too big for me to ski down on those puppies. Whereas everyone else sort of turtled their way to the bottom of the hill, I shot down like a lightning bolt leaving me enough time for a cigarette and a cocktail if I so desired. I was the envy of my friends—swift on the straights and dynamic on the downhill.

But alas, all good things must come to an end and finally, the edges wore out leaving me virtually unable to herringbone climb up a hill. I joked that I gave slam dancing a new dimension and finally threw in the towel and rented some skis on subsequent trips. But even then, the snowfall in Minneapolis started dwindling off, other fellow ski friends got busy and I finally retired the skis many years ago. And when I retired my skis, I also retired the hilarious road trips we used to take to ski in Minnesota’s infamous Boundary Waters.

Unlike the luxury that downhill skiing affords, cross-country skiing is all about roughing it. My friends and I typically stayed at a “resort” containing cabins with all the accoutrements except running water (we had to haul jugs of water to the cabin) and a bathroom. Those who know me are amazed that I would spend even a minute in those primitive conditions but it was all made better by a) cocktails b) more cocktails and c) a very large bathhouse with heat, running water and hot showers that I affectionately dubbed “The Big House” that wasn’t too far away from our cabin (although let it be noted that when we first started taking these trips, we had to use an outhouse. This was more dangerous than you could possibly imagine and all I will say on the matter is freezer.burn.) Besides, I was much younger then and more than happy to run outside in minus 30 degree weather in order to luxuriate in the warmth of the bathhouse.

The best part of these trips, besides the skiing, was menu planning and let me tell you, we had some great, gourmet meals in our day. I usually brought a crockpot to be used for at least one meal but there were other times we put something together that was quick and delicious. The meal I made tonight (albeit intended for a downhill ski crowd) would have been perfect after a long day on the trail. It was one of the easiest meals I’ve ever made—mix the ingredients, pour over the chicken and bake – as well as one of the tastiest. Regardless of whether or not you ever strap on a pair of skis, I think you’ll like this recipe. Enjoy! (And while I’m at it-- oh please dear god of the north, let winter end soon. It’s February for crying out loud!)

Chicken 6 (Chicken with Russian dressing and apricot jam) – Serves 4
1 cut up chicken
1 8-ounce bottle Russian salad dressing
1 envelope dry onion soup
1 10-ounce jar of apricot-pineapple jam (I could find it so used apricot)
¼ teaspoon curry powder

Place chicken skin side up in greased casserole. Mix the rest of the ingredients and pour over all. Cover and bake 1-1/2 hours at 325 degrees. Baste occasionally.

Note: I served this with rice and I also used just chicken breasts since I’m partial to white meat.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

"Three Rivers Renaissance Cookbook IV" & "Three Rivers Cookbook - 'The Good Taste of Pittsburgh'" - Tortilla Rice Soup and Tamale Ring

Date I made this recipe: February 1, 2009 (Super Bowl Sunday)

Three Rivers Renaissance Cookbook IV by the Child Health Association of Sewickley (PA)
Published by: Child Health Association of Sewickley
© 1980
Recipe: Tortilla Rice Soup submitted by Leslie S. Kelly – p. 39

Three Rivers Cookbook -“The Good Taste of Pittsburgh” by the Child Health Association of Sewickley, Inc.
© 1973
Recipe: Tamale Ring submitted by Mrs. Robinson F. Barker – p. 121

Well, today is Super Bowl Sunday and even though I didn’t really give a diddley boo as to who won (because it’s all about the commercials, right?), I wanted to acknowledge the day and like the Super Bowl, there was a clear winner in the dish department. But before I get to that, please indulge me in a teeny rant against the machine that is known as Top Chef.

For those of you who don’t know, Top Chef is a TV show on Bravo in which chefs compete on a weekly basis to be the last one standing and therefore, Top Chef. Every week they are presented a new challenge with one person emerging as the winner and advancing on, and another, the loser who is told to pack his/her knives and go.

And so it came to pass that last Wednesday, the producers (that would be you, Tom Colicchio!) decided to focus the show around the upcoming Super Bowl and brought in cheftestants from previous seasons to compete against this year’s contestants to make a signature dish representing the food of one of the NFL teams selected for this challenge.

And so it also came to pass that the Miami Dolphin contestants got seafood, the New Orleans team got crawfish, Seattle had salmon and so on and so forth, and then came Green Bay (the greatest team of all times) and my dear, darling Italian stud-muffin, Fabio, this season’s hottie contestant got….drum roll….venison.

Whaaaa?????????? Tom Colicchio, are you out of your mind? The word we are looking for, dear Thomas, is “bratwurst” (or brats). I mean, sure, venison is popular in that region but I can guarantee you, Thomas, as a lifelong member of Packer Nation, we do not run to the concession stands during a break in the action for venison. We do not tailgate, dear Thomas, for venison. We live for brats and beer…or brats soaked in beer…or beer (who the hell needs a brat, anyway?) but never, ever, ever for venison. Sheesh. Any Wisconsonite knows that.

And so it eventually came to pass that Fabio was on the chopping block for overcooking his venison and for misusing cheddar cheese in his salad although I hardly know how it is possible to misuse Wisconsin cheddar; really, these judges have antlers stuck up their…. At least he was spared for another week (and good thing, too, because je t’adore his Italian accent…and yes, I realize that phrase is French) but so is the evil, egotistical (“I love me, who do you love?”) Stefan who, sad to say, seems poised to take the contest this year (but so help me, if he wins Fan Favorite, I am outta here).

But I digress. This week is about the actual Super Bowl where men do not have to cook venison in the shape of a bratwurst (now that would have been something, huh?!) to show their mettle.

This year’s contest pitted the Pittsburg Steelers (no pun intended on the “pitted”) and the Arizona Cardinals. It was a very close game and it looked like the Cardinals just might pull it off when the Steelers scored a touchdown with 35 seconds to go to take a 4-point lead. Nuts. Although I intended to root for the Steelers, the fact that Arizona was such an underdog got to me and so I started pulling for them and they came oh-so-close; maybe next year?

So speaking of hits and misses, winners and losers, and Pittsburg and Arizona, I think I was very creative in finding foods from both camps to serve for Super Bowl Sunday. And here’s how: I have two Pittsburg cookbooks but not one specifically for Arizona, and so was momentarily stumped until I found a recipe for Tortilla Rice Soup in the Pittsburg cookbook. Ah ha! Tortilla + Rice = Southwest = Arizona = touchdown! (You see how easy that was?) And the dish was, in fact, a winner.

But then the challenge was to find another Southwest dish to go with the soup in the other Pittsburg cookbook I had and I almost threw in the towel until I came across the Tamale Ring recipe. And while it tasted okay, it didn’t turn out like I thought it would and so that dish, dear reader, was a loser.

Methinks the reason that the Tamale Ring was a loser was because it was supposed to set up more like a bread pudding or a spoon bread, especially since it was baked in a water bath, but instead didn’t have enough liquid and so ended up being more like savory bread in texture. That didn’t seem right. The other thing that didn’t seem right was the look as it was much too red from the chili powder for my satisfaction.

Part of the problem with recipes submitted by the home cook is that the instructions are sometimes lacking. With the tamale ring, I was instructed to put one can of corn through a grinder but as I did so I wondered if I was supposed to include the can liquid or not; I decided “not.” And then the tomatoes were supposed to be drained and so what this left was a glop of “dough” without any liquid and I don’t think this was supposed to happen. But seeing as how I couldn’t just call up Mrs. Robinson F. Barker who submitted the recipe, I went with what I thought was best and like the Cardinals’ efforts, it just wasn’t good enough.

The soup, on the other hand, was really good although I almost ruined it by forgetting to turn off the burner resulting in most of the liquid evaporating off the top. No doubt this happened during a commercial break seeing as how that’s the real reason I tuned in to the game in the first place. (But let’s contemplate for a minute what’s wrong with this picture: you skip watching the game so you can be in your seat for the commercials?).

So…is it too early to start chanting “Go Pack Go!” for next year’s Super Bowl?? If so, I promise you, dear reader, there will be no such silliness as venison. Stay tuned.

Tortilla Rice Soup – serves 4
Cooking spray
1/3 cup green oinion, sliced
4 cups chicken broth
1 14 ½-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles, undrained
1 cup cooked chicken breast, cubed
2 4-oz cans chopped green chiles
Salt and pepper
1 T fresh lime juice
2 cups cooked rice
Tortilla chips for garnish
½ cup chopped tomato for garnish
½ cup cubed avocado for garnish
4 lime slices and chopped cilantro, for garnish

Coat a Dutch oven or large saucepan with cooking pray. Saute onions over m,edium high heat until tender. Add broth, tomatoes, chicken and chiles. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in salt, pepper and lime juice. Just before serving, add rice.

Pour into soup bowls and top with tortilla chips, chopped tomatoes and avocado. Garnish with lime slices and cilantro.

Tamale Ring – serves 6
½ large can of tomatoes, strained
1 can of corn put through a grinder
1 green pepper, chopped
1 pint ripe olives, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 cup white corn meal
1 large T chili powder
2 eggs beaten separately

Mix the first five ingredients; add remaining ingredients and mix well. Bake 1 hour in a buttered ring mold set in a pan of water at 350. (The author says to serve with creamed chicken or shrimp but I’m sorry, that texture combination didn’t work for me so instead I served it with my soup.).