Sunday, June 29, 2008

"Stirring Prose - Cooking with Texas Authors" - Molly Ivins's Composed Salad of Sausage and Orzo with Fresh Peas and MIxed Greens

Date I made this recipe: June 28, 2008
Stirring Prose – Cooking with Texas Authors by Deborah Douglas
Published by: Texas A&M University Press
ISBN: 0-089096-829-2 © 1998
Recipe: Molly Ivins’s Composed Salad of Sausage and Orzo with Fresh Peas and Mixed Greens – p. 130-131

I miss Molly Ivins.

In case you don't know who she was, she was a political writer, some might say satirist, and nobody wrote about politics, particularly the antics of the Texas Legislature (“The Lege”), like she did. To her, it was almost a sport to report on local doings in Austin, the state capital, and as to the national scene, why she was darned near an Olympian. The only thing funnier than her pen was the droll way she talked about politics on the talk show circuit. She should have been a comedienne. (To see some of Molly's finest, check out this link to her quotes:

I hate to say, but one of my favorite pieces that Molly wrote had to do with a member of “The Lege” who lobbied hard against smokestack cleanup back in the 1980's saying that there was nothing wrong with Texas air. After telling the story, Molly inserted a footnote at the bottom of the page telling us that the gentleman eventually died from lung cancer. I shouldn’t have laughed out loud at that but the way Molly wrote, you couldn’t help but see the irony of life.

It’s not for nothing that the name of one of Molly’s most popular books is Molly Ivins Can’t Say That… Can She? She has The Dallas Times Herald to thank for that one. After Molly said of Texas Representative James M. Collins “If his IQ slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day.,” readers bombarded the newspaper with letters prompting The Dallas Times Herald to start a publicity campaign called “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That…Can She?” that ultimately became the book of the same name. After that, Molly was a national star.

Besides being witty as all get-out, Molly spent some time in Minneapolis as a writer for the then-named Minneapolis Tribune. You’ve got to admire a Texan for wanting to be part of the Chosen Frozen even if it was only for a short period of time.

Sadly, Molly died from breast cancer in January 2007 and it was while I was spending time this week with one of my best friends who is battling ovarian cancer that I thought of her again. I intended to make this recipe after Molly died but given that it was a summer salad, I back-burned it (pun intended) for another day. My friend with cancer has just now started eating again after months of eating through a feeding tube and so I hope she prepares this recipe and thinks of Molly (we both loved her writing) and of the hilarious antics of the Texas “Lege,” particularly as we are gunning for the finish line on this next election. Although most of us are exhausted by the year-long quest for the top job, Molly would have literally and figuratively eaten it up. She is missed.

Molly Ivins’s Composed Salad of Sausage and Orzo with Fresh Peas and Mixed Greens (no serving size noted but I cut this recipe in half)
2 cups orzo (about 12 ounces)
2 cups shelled fresh green peas (about 2 lbs. in the pod) (I used frozen)
1 large garlic clove, mined
½ cup pine nuts
12 sweet Italian sausages (about 2 lobs)
¼ cup dry red wine
½ cup chopped scallions
2 T. Dijon-styled mustard
1 ½ tsp salt
½ cup plus 1 ½ T olive oil
4 bunches of lamb’s lettuce (mache), about ½ lb.
8 small radicchio leaves, torn into pieces
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. mayonnaise
¾ tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 Belgian endives, cut into thin strips
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Note: the author indicates that this is a flexible recipe so if you don’t like sausage, don’t use it, if you want lima beans instead of peas, go for it, and if you can’t find the lettuces listed (and I couldn’t), substitute.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the orzo and cook until the pasta is tender but still firm, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold running water; drain well.

Scatter the pine nuts over a small baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown, about 10 minutes. (Author’s note: 10 minutes on a heavy sheet; on a think cookie sheet they burn easily).

Steam the peas over boiling water until just tender, about 6 minutes. Rinse under cold running water; drain well.

Prick the sausages all over with a fork. In a large skillet, cook the sausages over moderately high heat (medium), turning, until browned, about 10 minutes. Pour off all of the fat. Add the garlic and wine to the skillet. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. (Ann’s note: although I cut the recipe in half, half the amount of wine would have been too little and would have simmered off too quickly so add just a touch more until your pan is coated.) Remove the sausages. Degrease the juice in the pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and ½ teaspoon of the pepper. Gradually whisk in 1/3 cup of the olive oil and the reserved pan juices, until well blended. Add to the orzo and stir to coat.

In a large bowl, toss together the lamb’s lettuce, Belgian endives, and radicchio. Drizzle the lemon juice and the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil over the salad. Season with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and toss.

Place a portion of the greens on each plate, top with a portion of the orzo mixture and arrange 2 sausages, sliced if you like, over the top of the salads.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

"Sunset Favorite Recipes for Salads" - Oriental Cabbage Slaw

Date I made this recipe: June 22, 2008
Sunset Favorite Recipes for Salads by the Editors of Sunset Books and Sunset Magazine
Published by: Lane Publishing Company
© 1979
Recipe: Oriental Cabbage Slaw – p. 13

Today is my community band’s annual picnic and rather than do the usual (i.e. go out and buy something to bring), I made a dish, an oriental cabbage slaw. It helps to have a blog as incentive to cook from yet another cookbook.

Although I’m primarily a clarinet player in my band, I also sing with a smaller jazz group made up of 8 other band members and as a singer, I tend to watch what I eat before a performance. Dairy products and chocolate coat the throat and makes it hard to get notes out and coffee and alcohol do the opposite and dry it out.

Up until this year, I always moaned that I couldn’t eat half of what others brought to the picnic so this year I fought back and made something I could eat. Turns out it was tasty as well. The “payback” for my careful eating was that I blew the roof off the dump when I sang “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” So singers, take note! Pass up that chocolate brownie –you’ll thank me later.

My only issue with this recipe is that contrary to instructions you should not coarsely shred your Chinese cabbage as you will have a mess on your hands. None of the grating components of my grater did the job so I resorted to chopping the cabbage with my chef’s knife and that did the trick.

Oriental Cabbage Slaw – makes 6 to 8 servings
For the slaw:
½ pound fresh edible-pod peas, strings removed, or 1 package (10 oz) frozen edible-pod peas, thawed
1 small head (about 1 ¼ lbs) Chinese cabbage (napa), coarsely shredded
1 medium-size bunch radishes, thinly sliced
½ cup thinly sliced green onion
1 can (8 ½ oz) sliced bamboo shoots, drained
2/3 cup slivered almonds

For the dressing:
½ cup salad oil
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon sesame oil (optional)

Cut pea pods into 1-inch pieces. Place in a salad bowl with cabbage, radishes, onion and bamboo shoots (I cut these in half as well); cover and refrigerate, if made ahead.

Spread almonds in a shallow pan and toast in a 350 oven until lightly browned (about 8 minutes); set aside.

Combine the ingredients for the sweet soy dressing (salad oil, white wine vinegar, etc); blend well. Add the dressing to the cabbage mixture and toss well. Garnish with toasted almonds.

Monday, June 23, 2008

"Puerto Rican Dishes" - Sour-Sweet Hen (Chicken)

Date I made this recipe: June 20, 2008

Puerto Rican Dishes by Berta Cabanillas and Carmen Ginorio
Published by: Editorial De La Universidad de Puerto Rico
© 1974
Recipe: Sour-Sweet Hen (Chicken) Gallina (Pollo) a lo Agridulce – p. 43

Today’s recipe is in honor of Stephanie Izzard who won Bravo TV’s Top Chef prize a few weeks back on the island of Puerto Rico. ( Let me just say that now that summer is here and it finally quit raining, it’s challenging to get dinner on the table much less do so within a reasonable time after the contest ended.)

Although one of the challenges the semi-finalists had to endure was to cook recipes using an entire pig (in Cuba and in Puerto Rico, pigs rule), I went with an interesting and tasty recipe for sour-sweet hen.

The recipe book I used is the only one I have of Puerto Rican cooking but it comes straight from the island itself, purchased by me five years ago when I was in Puerto Rico for a law school class. That’s right, a law school class.

Almost every law school offers a study abroad program and I was one of fifteen people on the first school trip to the island. Classes are taught by local professors and are geared to giving an overview of that country’s laws. And what better way to escape the January cold front (-20 when we left and -20 when we got back) then to escape to an island where the temperature was a consistent 85 degrees?

But as idyllic as it sounds, the trip was not without its problems. First, we immediately checked in and immediately checked out of the flea-bag hotel (and I mean flea-bag in the truest sense of the word—ask the women from my group who were bitten) that was manned by a drunken desk clerk (but have no fear, we found lovely accommodations at a nearby Best Western where my roommate and I negotiated a group rate for the entire stay. It’s not for nothing we were lawyer wanna-bees). After that, we had public transportation challenges to the law school but solved that by renting a car and then carpooling as well as weather challenges. In fact, it rained on our only day off on the trip. (But might I just say that the roads in Puerto Rico need work. We thought we had pothole problems in Minnesota!)

But for every problem we had, there was also a funny moment or two, the best one coming on a Saturday when we were required to be in class for a half day. Bitch, moan, bitch, moan—you never heard such kvetching—at least, that is, until the instructor for the day walked in. This man was absolutely gorgeous and suddenly every woman in the room (there were only two men on the trip) went from bitching to uttering a very interested “Well, ho-la!!” Jaws dropped open, lipstick was hurriedly applied and eyelashes fluttered. I had to laugh when, after chatting with him on break, my classmates treated me like I had just met a movie star: “Oh my god, you talked to him!! What did he say? Isn’t he gorgeous? Did you find out if he was married?” (For the record the answers are: a) We talked about where to eat b) yes, he was gorgeous and c) I didn’t talk to him long enough to find out!

So suffice it to say, people, we hung on this man’s every word. Never has Puerto Rican history been so interesting. And when he came back on Monday to teach another portion of our program, there was much rejoicing.

Now, before I go on to the recipe, you might be puzzled as to why on earth we went to Puerto Rico to study foreign law and so a brief history lesson: Puerto Rico was initially settled by the Spanish and as a Spanish territory, followed the Spanish Civil Code (also known as the Napoleonic Code since Napoleon Bonaparte took what the Romans initially developed and made it into a more formal system). Most European countries still follow this code today, at least in civil matters. It’s hard to describe the differences but things like real estate, family law and contracts are just handled a bit differently than in the US.

Puerto Rico eventually became a US territory but got to keep the Spanish Civil Code for their civil matters as well. They are finally coming around to using US law in criminal matters and that’s a good thing as the criminal code is rather barbaric, starting with the fact that you’re guilty until proven otherwise, the exact opposite of US law. And for bonus points at your next cocktail party, you can also tell people that Puerto Rico is part of the federal court system’s first district and so matters involving US law are heard in federal courts. (Bankruptcy and trademark law, for example, are governed by federal law/federal courts instead of state law/state courts). It seems a little confusing to me to have two systems but they seem to like it just fine.

The dish I made for this blog would likely fail to meet the standards of the Top Chef “court” (judges Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Padma Lakshmi, and Ted Allen), particularly since I didn’t create it, but it’s a good dish that’s easy to make. I consider it my own personal winner!

Speaking of which, I would have been happy had Richard “Kewpie Doll” Blais had won because I liked him but it was time for a woman to come out on top so congratulations, Stephanie! Ladies, let Stephanie be your inspiration—get out there and get cooking! We have contests to enter and win!

Sour-Sweet Hen (Gallina a lo Agridulce) – 6-8 servings
1-3 pounds ready to cook hen (I used the same-sized chicken)
1 tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 chopped cloves garlic
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fat
4 ounces chopped ham
2 Spanish sausages (I used chorizo)
4 cups water
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup vinegar

Rub chicken inside out with salt, pepper, garlic, vinegar (1 T) and olive oil and leave over night. (And by “leave over night” I’m sure they meant “in the refrigerator” but you never know).

Put the fat into a kettle (Dutch oven or other pot) and add the chicken, ham and sausages. Mix the water, sugar, vinegar together and pour over the chicken. Cover and cook over low heat turning occasionally until the chicken is tender and the gravy thick.

Notes: I hate when recipes do not get specific on cooking time. How long does it take for a chicken to get tender anyway? I cooked it for 2 hours and the chicken was very tender but the gravy wasn’t what I called thick. Also, I sliced the sausages as well because putting them in whole seemed boring. This added a lot of fat to the dish but once refrigerated, it will easily skim off. The other thing you should know is that when I refrigerated the leftovers, the gravy settled into a Jell-O/aspic consistency but that Jell-O texture will dissolve once you reheat it. Finally, I served this with rice to complete the meal.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

"Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book" (2 versions) - Springtime Skillet Dinner and Rhubarb Custard Pie

Date I made these recipes: June 1, 2008

Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book (three-ring binder) by General Mills
Published by: General Mills and McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.
© 1950 – First Edition (Second Printing)
Recipe: Springtime Skillet Dinner p. 399

Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book (hard cover) by General Mills
Published by: General Mills and McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.
© 1950 – First Edition (Second Printing)
Recipe: Rhubarb Custard Pie – crust p. 299 and filling p. 306

If this weekend’s cooking event was a baseball game, here’s how this went down: a swing and a hit and a swing and a miss.

Not that I want to tell Betty Crocker what to do, but I think she should stick to what I consider to be the cornerstone of the BC kitchens: baked goods. But casseroles? Not so much.

Two things prompted the selection of these recipes. One was that my mother-in-law had rhubarb that needed to be used up and the other was that while going through my mother’s things that she put in the attic, I discovered my Betty Crocker Junior Baking Kit. People, I almost cried. The kit originally contained 12 baking mixes (although I remember buying more) and 20 baking utensils including my favorite little red bowl. Oh how I loved to bake with this kit. Yet missing from the lineup of things we found (including my Bobbsey Twins books—remember those?) was my Easy Bake Oven. To my absolute horror, my mother informed me years ago that she “threw that out.”

Whaaaaat???? She kept the baking kit yet threw out the coolest toy ever? I almost had to be committed to the nearest mental hospital.

Moms can be funny about these things and I’ll never know exactly why she got rid of the Easy Bake but she redeemed herself by Betty’s Junior Baking Kit.

So of course after finding my bake set I had to bake something from my one of my two Big Red Cookbooks (a/k/a/ Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book) using the rhubarb and the pie I made was mighty delicious. But alas, people, the casserole was a real disappointment and for that, I take the blame.

I could have made any number of baked goods from the second BC cookbook but my eye latched on to the casserole and that was that. Besides, I really did want a main dish to round out dessert. But here’s the problem: the rice got too mushy cooking after cooking for 40 minutes (as directed) and the veggies were still too crisp even after I extended the cooking time by an extra 20 minutes.

But the bigger problem, in my humble opinion, is that the dish was bland, bland, oh-so-bland. The only “spice” was 2 teaspoons of soy sauce and that didn’t even make a dent with my taste buds. So…a swing and a miss it was.

By the way, in case you’re wondering why on earth I made a springtime casserole in June it’s because a) summer doesn’t start until June 21st and b) it’s been so cold and rainy here that it might as well be spring. (By the way, “It Might As Well Be Spring” is also the name of a song written by Rogers and Hammerstein for the movie State Fair. I will confess to liking show tunes but honestly, after watching a scene where a farmer serenades his pig with the song “Sweet Sow of Mine” I was outta there!)

Springtime Skillet Dinner – About 6 servings
2T fat
1 cut-up clove garlic
1 cup finely diced onion
½ lb. Ground beef
½ cup uncooked rice
5-6 cups water
1 cup finely diced carrots
1 cup finely diced potatoes
1 to 2 tsp soy sauce
1 T salt
1/8 tsp pepper

Brown the garlic in the fat in a 10” skillet. Remove the garlic then add the onion and ground beef. Cook until browned stirring. Add the rice and water and simmer uncovered over low heat for 40 minutes. Add the carrots and potatoes and continue simmering until tender (20 minutes—although I did 40 and the veggies still weren’t tender). Season with soy sauce, salt and pepper.

Rhubarb Custard Pie – yields 7 to 8 pieces

For the pie crust
2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup shortening
4 T water

For the pie filling
3 eggs
2 2/3 T milk
2 cups sugar
4 T flour
¾ tsp nutmeg
4 cups cut-up pink rhubarb
1 T butter

To make the pie crust:

Mix together 2 cups sifted flour and salt. Cut in the shortening and then sprinkle with the water. Gather dough together and press into a ball. Roll out on a floured surface until your dough is about an inch large than the pie plate. Trim and crimp the pie crust. (Note: the recipe said to make a lattice crust for the pie but I skipped that part).

To make the filling:

Beat slightly the three eggs then add the milk. Mix together then stir in the sugar, flour and nutmeg. Add the rhubarb and mix well. Pour into the pie pan and then dot filling with butter.

Bake until nicely browned, approximately 50 to 60 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

"50 Ways with Chicken" & "Wild Women in the Kitchen" - Chicken in Marsala with Asparagus and Vegetable Gratin

Date I made these recipes: June 1, 2008

50 Ways with Chicken by Rosemary Wadey
Published by: Crescent Books
ISBN: 0-517-12010-0 © 1991
Recipe: Chicken in Marsala with Asparagus

Wild Women in the Kitchen - 101 Rambunctious Recipes & 99 Tasty Tales by Nicole Alper with Lynette Rohrer of Star*s
Published by: MJF Books
ISBN: 1-56731-428-7 © 1996
Recipe: Vegetable Gratin

Today’s recipe selection was all about using up some red potatoes I bought for a previous recipe. The chicken recipe was thrown in as an afterthought since I didn’t think the gratin alone would satisfy two hungry eaters!

I probably could have found a red potato recipe in many of my other cookbooks but I had given Wild Women to my sister-in-law a few years ago and seeing as how I just saw her over Memorial Day weekend, I thought I’d make a recipe from it. She loves the cookbook (and loves the stories even more) and the two of us have had a wild moment or two in the kitchen (I reference this year’s meatball-making extravaganza); I only wish she was here with me making it.

The chicken recipe was selected primarily because it contained Parmesan cheese (also used in the gratin) and didn’t need a lot of prep time. It also seemed like it would go with the gratin—light and flavorful without being too heavy.

I must say, though, that I disagree with the author’s choice to use canned asparagus because canned asparagus is mush no matter how you slice it. But since the point of my blog is to follow the recipe verbatim, I didn’t substitute fresh for canned but believe me, you should. And if I were you, I’d skip the bread crumb and Parmesan cheese mixture and just go for the cheese. The breadcrumbs added absolutely nothing to the recipe. On the other hand, the addition of any type of alcohol, in my humble opinion, can never hurt a recipe so a liberal dose of Marsala or Sherry might be in order—but be careful or you might end up with your own wild moment in the kitchen!

Chicken in Marsala (or Sherry) with Asparagus – serves 4
2 T butter or margarine
1 T vegetable oil
4 boneless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
¼ level teaspoon garlic powder
Small amount of chicken stock
12 oz can asparagus spears
4 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
2 level tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the butter and oil in a pan. Season the pieces of chicken with salt, pepper and garlic; fry gently for about 8 to 10 minutes on each side until golden brown and almost cooked through.

Drain the asparagus and make the liquid up to 1 cup with stock. (*I recommend using fresh asparagus). Add to the pan followed by the Marsala and simmer gently for 5 minutes, basting occasionally. Season to taste.

Put three asparagus spears on top of each breast of chicken; chop the remainder and add to the sauce. Continue to simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.

Combine the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese (*I’d skip the crumbs and just use the cheese) and spoon over the asparagus on the chicken.

Broil (grill) for 3 to 4 minutes until browned.

Vegetable Gratin (by wild woman chef and former Olympian sprinter Diane Clement of the Tomato Fresh Food CafĂ© in Vancouver, British Columbia) – serves 6
8 small red or white potatoes, thinly sliced
2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
7 roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
6 T grated Parmesan cheese
Dried basil and oregano, to taste
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/3 cup chicken stock
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Line a large, oiled, shallow casserole dish with half the potato, zucchini, and tomato, alternating slices of each to make a red, green, and white pattern. Sprinkle with half the cheese and herbs. Drizzle a little oil over it. Repeat one more layer, ending with the cheese and herbs. Drizzle the chicken stock over the top. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Cover with aluminum foil if top becomes too brown.