Sunday, December 26, 2010

"Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Slow Cooker Recipes 2" - Bourbon-Mustard Brisket (Crock Pot)

Date I made this recipe: December 25, 2010

Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Slow Cooker Recipes 2 by Sandra Lee
Published by: Meredith Books
ISBN: 978-0-696-23815-4
Recipe: Bourbon-Mustard Brisket – p. 162

The other day, one of my best friends and I had a small disagreement about my math skills. When I said (yet again) that math was not my strong suit, she got mad and said she was tired of me saying that I didn’t do well at math. Based on her observations, my math was fine.

Yes, well, I hate to disappoint you honey, but this recipe showcases why I went to law school instead of getting an MBA (no math required!): The cooking time for this brisket was 12-14 hours and somehow I got it in my head that if I put it in by 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve that it would be done by 6 p.m. on Christmas Day! “Perfect,” thought I. Six p.m. is a great dinner hour, especially for someone like me who pushes the envelope with 8 p.m. (or later) meals.

For those paying attention, and who can count, you can see where I erred, right? Because there I was, about 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve, watching some stupid movie with a stupid plot and a horrible ending when all of a sudden I had a “wait a minute…” moment.

So I counted on my hands (yes, my hands!) and shoot—my roast would not be done by 6 p.m. but rather by 6 a.m.!!!

Well now what was I supposed to do? I contemplated pulling the plug on the crock pot and refrigerating it until morning but was unsure if that was a good thing for the meat or a bad thing and then I thought about waking my husband to discuss (because unlike me, he is really good at math!) and finally decided that since he is an early riser, I’d leave him a note to pull the plug on the meat at 7 a.m. and then I’d deal with it later.

By the time I hauled ass downstairs on Christmas morning, the roast was saved and our house smelled delicious. And I was actually pleased that my meat was done and all that was left was salad and potatoes – like I meant to do that!

More disturbing than my lack of ability to count though, is why Sandra Lee called this book “Semi-Homemade” Slow Cooker Recipes 2? Yes, I know that’s her brand and yes, I know she uses cake mixes in her desserts but this was a slow cooker book for Pete’s sake! What on earth is “semi-homemade” about a slow-cooker recipe? And if the answer is “because she often calls for you to use frozen, chopped onions instead of chopping them yourself, then I call foul: did she expect you to grow the onion yourself in order to change this from “semi”-homemade to “homemade?” Ponder that one for a while, will you?

Lucky for me, my husband and Sandy, nothing else about this recipe was confusing or confounding. You dump the stuff in the crockpot, plug it in and hours later, you look like a regular Julia Child when you pull the sucker out of the pot.

I made some Yukon gold potatoes to go along with this dish, adding a little milk, butter and creamy horseradish. Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talking about for an easy-peasey holiday dinner. So enjoy!

By the way, I am equally challenged by geography and directions. Last week, I dropped a friend off at her home during a snowstorm and promptly got turned around by the directions she gave me for a shortcut home. Long story short, I should have been going toward Minneapolis and ended up in an unfamiliar part of St. Paul. So I called my husband and after giving him the names of a couple of cross streets said “Where the hell am I?!”

Turns out I was close to our state capitol in St. Paul. And the state capitol is great and it certainly was a beautiful beacon through the snowstorm, but it was in the exact opposite direction of where I needed to be. A few turns later, and I was on the right track, crawling through the snow on my way home…during rush hour…oh yeah.

Bourbon-Mustard Brisket – serves 6
2 large sweet onions, peeled and sliced thick
4 pounds beef brisket, rinsed and patted dry
2 teaspoons garlic salt, Lawry’s®
2 teaspoons salt-free lemon pepper, McCormick®
¾ cup spicy brown mustard, Gulden’s®
½ cup honey brown sugar BBQ sauce, Jack Daniels®
¼ cup bourbon
½ cup light brown sugar, C&H®

Place onions in a 5-quart slow cooker.

Season brisket with garlic salt and lemon pepper and place on top of the onion, cutting to fit if necessary.

In a small bowl, stir together remaining ingredients and pour in slow cooker over brisket. Cover and cook on LOW setting for 12 to 14 hours.

Strain and defat cooking liquid. Serve as sauce on the side.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Anna Del Conte's Italian Kitchen - I Dolci (Sweet Things)" - Sauteed Apples with Almonds and White Wine

Date I and my husband made this recipe: December 17, 2010

Anna Del Conte’s Italian Kitchen – I Dolci – Sweet Things by Anna Del Conte, Illustrated by Flo Bayley
Published by: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 0-671-87032-7 (copyright 1993
Recipe: Sauteed Apples with Almonds and White Wine (Mele Alle Mandorle E Al Vino Bianco) – p. 40-41

‘Tis the season to indulge and indulge I did on this yummy dessert my husband and I made for a dinner party we hosted on Friday night.

The menu was Italian. I made my recipe for Italian wedding soup (it’s actually a Good Housekeeping magazine recipe that I’ve made 100 times now so I consider it mine, all mine!) and my family’s recipe for homemade manicotti shells and filling (and sauce) and I wanted something to finish off the meal.

Believe it or don’t, I have a cookbook of Italian dessert recipes and so I flipped through that and found this recipe for sautéed apples and whipped cream…and damned if this wasn’t good.

What I loved about the recipe was that it was pretty easy and light. Italians are not big on dessert and most of the well-known recipes are rather heavy – tiramisu being the biggest offender. We never, ever had tiramisu in my family growing up and honestly, I don’t feel deprived. Now Italian cookies, on the other hand, (and cannolis) are another story!

So anyway…besides being light (and sorry- whipped cream is light, right?) this recipe used white wine as well as Calvados (apple brandy) and since it ‘tis the season to indulge in food and alcohol, I decided that Hic!

All I’m going to say is that coring the apples would have been a whole lot easier with a melon baller but did I have one? No! I must rectify this ASAP. Let me also just say that you would think that whipped cream with Calvados would clash with a dry martini but you’d be wrong! (Sure, the cocktail hour was in full swing but I had to sample the dessert, didn’t I?)

By the way, we spread the whipped cream on a beautiful glass plate we got for a wedding gift 20 years ago and with the apples and caramel sauce on top, it was photo-shoot worthy. And we should have taken a photo but hey, we had eating to do!

Happy Holidays!

Sauteed Apples with Almonds and White Wine – serves 6
6 equal-sized large apples such as Granny Smith
1 unwaxed lemon, scrubbed and washed (You will need to zest the lemon using a vegetable peeler)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cloves
2/3 cup Calvados or applejack
¼ cup granulated sugar, or more according to the sweetness of the apples
½ cup sweet white wine (we had Pinot Grigio on hand and so used that)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sliced almonds
1 ¼ cups whipping cream (we used 1 cup – sue us!)
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted

Peel the apples, then cut them in half and remove the cores. Make 6 incisions in the round side of each half, taking care not to cut right through it.

Remove the zest from half the lemon using a swivel-headed vegetable peeler, taking care to leave behind the bitter white pith. Squeeze the juice.

Heat the butter in a very large sauté pan in which the apple halves will fit comfortably. Add the lemon zest and voles to the butter and when the butter foam begins to subside, slide in the apples, cut-side down. Saute until golden, then turn the halves over and brown the round side. This will take about 8 minutes. Shake the pan occasionally to prevent the apples sticking.

Turn the heat up, pour over one-third of the Calvados, and let it bubble away for 30 seconds. Turn the heat down to low and add the granulated sugar, wine, lemon juice, and 2/3 cup of hot water. Cover the pan with the lid or a piece of foil and cook 5 minutes. Turn the apples over carefully and continue cooking until they are tender. Cooking time varies according to the quality of the apples; do not overcook them or they may break. If necessary add a couple of spoonsful of hot water during the cooking.

When the apples are ready – test them by piercing them with the blade of a small knife through their thickest part – transfer them gently to a dish using a slotted spoon. Let cool.

Remove the lemon zest and cloves from the pan. Add the cinnamon and almonds and sauté over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the syrup is thick and the almonds are caramelized, about 5 minutes. Draw off the heat.

Whip the cream. Add the remaining Calvados and the confectioners’ sugar and whip again. Spread the cream over a shallow serving dish. Make 12 hollows in the cream with the back of a spoon and lay the apple halves in the hollows, cut-side up. Spoon the syrup-coated almonds over the apples. Serve at room temperature.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Everyone Comes to Elaine's" & "Rocco's Italian American"- Parppardelle Bolognese (in memory of Elaine Kaufman)

Date I made this recipe: December 15, 2010

Everyone Comes to Elaine’s by A. E. Hotchner
Published by: Harter Entertainment
ISBN: 0-06-063818-X (copyright 2004)
No recipes – just a darned good read!

Rocco’s Italian American by Rocco Dispirito
Published by: Hyperion
ISBN: 0-7868-6857-0 (copyright 2004)
Recipes: Mama’s Marinara – p. 116 and Pappardelle Bolognese - -p. 141

Today’s blog marks the passing of one of the most famous ladies to ever grace the island of Manhattan…and no, I’m not talking about Lady Liberty. I’m talking about Elaine Kaufman.

Before you all start hooting like owls (Who? Who?) let me head you off at the pass: Elaine Kaufman, owner of the eponymous restaurant, Elaine’s, was the grand dame of the New York restaurant world.

I’m not sure how it was that I came to know of this lady, I only know that I never visited her restaurant because a) I was too lazy to haul ass from the Upper West Side (of Manhattan) where I usually stayed, to go to the Upper East Side to eat and b) I was not star-worthy (and I don’t mean Michelin!) and therefore would have been seated in her self-proclaimed “Siberia” section; it’s cold enough here in Minnesota, thank you very much!

At Elaine’s if you were somebody, you sat up front. If you were a little nobody, and were privileged enough to get the nod to come in, you sat in Siberia, the place where waiters seldom ventured and everybody who was nobody sat.

Elaine was known for a number of things, but most especially for her temper and for her affinity for throwing people out of her place. And for assault charges (later dropped) filed against her. I guess when she said there were no tables available, she meant “No Tables Available.”

In 2004, A. E. Hotchner, actor Paul Newman’s former cooking partner, wrote the book, Everybody Comes to Elaine’s. The book chronicled the fabulous wild ride that was the Elaine’s experience and the rash of stars, politicians and other power people who came to her restaurant in the 40 years (at the time) she ran it.

Sadly, this book did not contain recipes (and I have a few like that in my collection) and so I did some research, found what I think is Elaine’s menu (Italian) and then set out to find a cookbook and a recipe to gap-fill for Elaine. And this is how I came to make Rocco Dispirito’s recipe for Pappardelle Bolognese.

Actually, when you think about it, it’s pretty funny that I cooked a dish in honor of Elaine (I mean really – how many people knew she had a last name?!) with a recipe from a guy named Rocco? (By the way, Rocco had a reputation of his own to deal with. As the young chef and owner of Rocco’s 22nd Street, Rocco and company were filmed for the TV Show, The Restaurant. I only needed to watch half an episode to know I wasn’t interested in seeing such trauma drama on a daily basis but luckily, it appears that Rocco, as well as Elaine, mellowed in their later years!

As to the recipe, the only thing I did different than Rocco was to use my family’s sauce recipe. I tend toward that vein in general and on this particular day, I needed to make some sauce for a dinner party I’m having tomorrow and I figured Aunt Rose’s was probably just as good as (nay, better than) Rocco’s Mama! I also took the lid off and let the sauce simmer a while longer than directed so that it would thicken.

So anyway, a New York institution has gone to greener pastures and the restaurant world will be a little worse off because of it. R.I.P., Elaine!

Mama’s Marinara – 6 portions
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
½ yellow onion, peeled and chopped fine
3 tablespoons olive oil
Two 28-ounce cans tomato puree
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon sugar
Red pepper flakes to taste

Cook the garlic and onion in the olive oil in a sauce pot over a medium-low flame, about 10 minutes or until garlic is tender and onions translucent, not brown (this is called “seating” because it will draw out a lot of moisture and flavor).

Add all the tomato products. Pour the chicken stock into one of the 28-ounce cans. Fill it the rest of the way with water and add that and the sugar to the pot. Stir and bring to a simmer. Taste and season with red pepper flakes and salt, and cover. Simmer the sauce for about 1 hour. The sauce should be fairly think but not watery and very smooth. Uncover and simmer for 3 minutes if it is too think for your taste; add a little water if it seems thick.

Pappardelle Bolognese – 4 portions
1/8 pound ground veal (2 oz)
1/8 pound ground beef (2 oz)
1/8 pound ground pork (2 oz)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and diced
4 stalks celery, rinsed and diced
1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 glass red wine
2 cups Mama’s Marinara (see page 116)
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and red pepper flakes
¼ cup grated Parmigina-Reggiano
1 ¼ pound pappardelle (As the author notes, “pappardelle is an extra-wide, flat, long noodle, similar to fettuccine but wider.” In Minneapolis, you can get fresh-cut pappardelle at Broder’s Cucina Italiana on 50th and Penn Avenue. Because that was a little out of my way, I got “fresh” linguine pasta out of the refrigerator case at my local grocery store. Note that the cooking time for fresh pasta is 2-3 minutes, tops.)

In a stockpot, over high heat, brown the meat in the olive oil. Lower the heat and add everything else, except the pasta and cheese, cover, and simmer 1 hour.

Meanwhile, bring a big pot of water to a boil. Add a handful of salt when it begins to simmer. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water, drain, and toss in the pot with the sauce. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Ann’s Notes:
 Veal is hard to find so if you can’t locate it, just increase the beef or pork.
 I wish Rocco would have given some guidance to how much wine constitutes a glass. I went with 8 ounces but probably could have cut back as I needed to reduce the sauce.
 Speaking of reducing, I maybe went another half hour with the cover off the pot to thicken the sauce.
 I used Pecorino Romano instead of Parmigiano-Reggiano because I happened to have that one hand and because my family prefers Pecorino. The tastes are vastly different – Parmigiano Reggiano is made from cow’s milk and is sweet and nutty in taste; Pecorino Romano is made from sheep’s milk and is tangy and salty (but not much) in taste.
 You will not be likely to find dry Pappardelle pasta unless you visit a specialty foods store but as I mentioned, Broders Cucina Italiana in south Minneapolis carries sheets of homemade pasta that can be cut to order for linguine, fettucini or pappardelle. You can also use the sheets to make lasagna. Remember to follow the (short cooking time) directions. (Not to be confused with!)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Barefoot Contessa Parties!" & "Betty Crocker" & "Adventures in Mexican Cooking" & "Culinary Kudzu" & "Wild Women" & "Complete Book of Dressings"

Dates I made these recipes: December 3-5, 2010

Betty Crocker Party Food – 100 Recipes for the Way You Really Cook by Betty Crocker
Published by: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
ISBN 978-0-470-17349-7 (copyright 2007)
Recipes: Mini Corn Dogs on a Stick – p. 80; Roasted Carrot and Herb Spread – p. 48; Smoky Bacon and Horseradish Dip – p. 58

Girl Food – Cathy’s Cookbook for the Well-Balanced Woman by Cathy Guisewite and Barbara Albright (Cathy Guisewite is a cartoonist who drew the incredibly popular Cathy comic strip.)
Published by: Andrews McMeel Publishing
ISBN: 0-8362-3173-2 (copyright 1997)
Recipe: What Was I Thinking When I Said, “Stop by Anytime,” Major Grey’s Marvelous Mango Chutney Cheese Spread – p. 92

Adventures in Mexican Cooking by Ortho Books staff; recipe manuscript by Angelo Villa and Vicki Barrios
Published by: Ortho Books
ISBN: 071549057206
Recipe: Guacamole II (Avocado with sour cream) – p. 77

The Complete Book of Dressings by Paulette Mitchell
Published by: Macmillan
ISBN: 0-02-052962-7 (copyright 1995)
Recipe: Ranch Dressing – p. 112

Wild Women Throw a Party by Lynette Rohrer Shirk
Published by: Conari Press
ISBN: 10: 1-57324-284-5 (copyright 2007)
Recipe: Bar Nuts – p. 108

Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing Up Southern by Keetha DePriest Reed
Published by: Pecan Street Press
ISBN: 0-9719877-1-8 (copyright 2002)
Recipe: Mee Maw’s Trash (Chex Party Mix) – p. 106

1995 KCMR Cookbook – Cookies, Bars, Candies, Frostings) by KCMR Radio, Mason City, Iowa (a series of these spiral-bound books was given to me by a friend from Iowa)
Published by: KCMR Radio
Copyright 1995
Recipe: Deluxe Chocolate Marshmallow Bars submitted by Lorraine Brinkman and Irmgard Becker – p. 47

Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook by Betty Crocker
Published by: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-470-87403-5 (copyright 2010 – Second Edition)
Recipe: Almond Bonbons – p. 132

Barefoot Contessa Parties! By Ina Garten
Published by: Clarkson Potter/Publishers
ISBN: 0-609-60644-1 (copyright 2001)
Recipe: Lemon Bars – p. 200

Well, folks, we’re into December and you know what that means, right? Time for a holiday party!

My husband and I just threw our annual holiday extravaganza, Mistletoe Madness, and as per usual, the two of us were racing against the clock to get things done before the first guest arrived. I told him I felt like we were on Iron Chef America when we looked at the clock and both said, in unison, “10 minutes remaining.” And so we chopped and baked and sweated until time expired, after which we threw up our hands, platted the food and presented it to our “judges” – our party guests.

I don’t want to say that our friends are a tough crowd but we do have a lot of friends who are phenomenal cooks and total foodies and so there’s always a little bit of sweat equity (and fear) in every recipe. We needn’t have worried, though, as everyone seemed to enjoy this year’s offerings.

As I did last year, I started putting recipes and books aside the minute the party was done; I am nothing if not organized. Then I run everything by the recipe selection committee (my husband, Andy) who gives a final up and down vote. After that, I go through each recipe, make a spreadsheet of ingredient categories (vegetables, meat, dairy, dry goods, etc.), cross check the doors, and we have liftoff! I try to get all the dry ingredients early, leaving meat and dairy until the last minute to ensure freshness. (That being said, I suspect that some of my cookies didn’t fare as well as I hoped because the baking soda wasn’t band-box fresh. I hate to throw out ingredients but it’s not for nothing that Martha Stewart keeps harping on this topic.)

Back in the buffet table saddle again were the chafing dish meatballs (with chili sauce and grape jelly) I made from last year as well as my martini dip. (For recipes, see December 2009 on my blog). More recipes from Betty Crocker’s Party Book were also added to the mix, one of which my guests liked but I was lukewarm about (a carrot herb spread) and one that was a home run – Smoky Bacon and Horseradish Dip. And because they were so popular, I’m breaking my rule about posting more than one recipe from a cookbook and will give them to you here so you don’t have to stress about trying to find them. And the reason I mention difficulty in finding them is…

…that Betty Crocker couldn’t find one of the recipes, either!

Actually, it wasn’t Betty but rather LaVone who couldn’t find the recipes; Betty must have been out that day. LaVone manned the B. Crocker Hotline (of course there’s a B. Crocker hotline!) and when I asked a question about the Smoky Bacon and Horseradish Dip I totally stumped the panel: “What book is that from?” “What page is it on?” “Do you know when it was published?” “What are some of the ingredients?”

Okay, seriously “Betty?” How could you not know about the existence of a book you published in 2007??? I’m afraid I’m going to have to ding you for that one. But alas, “Betty” had no record of this book and so she had to take the info, consult a product specialist and call me back with an answer to my burning question: “If this recipe is made in a crockpot, do I have to keep it warm in a crockpot when serving or can I keep it at room temperature?

You’ll be pleased to know that Betty gave me the green light to serve it at room temperature and it was promptly inhaled.

By the way, some of you may recall that last year at this time I asked Betty a question about another recipe in this party book and the response was that she didn’t know “because the recipe hadn’t been tested.” I’m not sure I’ve recovered from that answer because how on earth can B. Crocker of all fake people not test a recipe?

But anyway, enough about Betty’s dip let’s talk about the other recipes I made. Here’s the complete lineup: (* indicates recipe is included)

Meatballs with chili/grape sauce (see December 2009 blog)
Crunchy Potato Bites
*Mini Corn Dogs on a Stick (Betty Crocker Party Food)
*Major Grey’s Marvelous Mango Chutney Cheese Spread (Girl Food)
*Guacamole Dip with sour cream (Adventures in Mexican Cooking)
*Roasted Carrot and Herb Spread (Betty Crocker Party Food)
*Smoky Bacon and Horseradish Dip (Betty Crocker Party Food)
*Ranch Dressing (The Complete Book of Dressing)
Martini Dip (see December 2009 blog)
*Bar Nuts (Wild Women Throw a Party)
*Mee Maw’s Trash (a/k/a Chex Party Mix) (Culinary Kudzu)
Sour Cream Drops (A Salute to Chocolate)
*Deluxe Chocolate Marshmallow Bars (1995 KCMR Cookbook – Cookies, Bars, Candies, Frostings)
*Almond Bonbons (Betty Crocker Christmas Cookbook) (a runaway hit!)
Cherry Winks
*Lemon Bars (Barefoot Contessa Parties!)
Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
Hot Mulled Cider (see December 2009 blog)

Winners this year were: Meatballs, Corndogs, all the dips except the Ranch Dressing (at least to my palate), both the nuts and the Chex Mix and the Lemon Bars and the Almond Bonbons. That’s not to say that people didn’t eat everything, it’s just that some were inhaled whereas others were merely nibbled.

Before I get into the recipes, let me just say that I think the Food Network should contact us to put together a “Making Of…” video as what goes on behind the scenes is infinitely more interesting than party day, to wit:

I took my eye off the oven for one second and managed to scorch the first pan of bar nuts. Nuts!! So we went back to Trader Joe’s where the nuts are decently priced (still expensive, though) and Andy took over at the helm. In between times, we had the vent fan going at full throttle. (And how ironic is it that this recipe came out of the book, Wild Women Throw a Party?)

Andy lobbied hard for the mini-corn dogs saying “they would be fun” only to curse up a storm when putting them together one hour before party time. Cutting up the biscuit dough required for the corn dogs (and we made a double batch) was laborious and all the while he kept muttering “next year I’m using phyllo dough!” (I’m not sure that will work but am hesitant to call B. Crocker back seeing as how they can’t even find the damned cookbook the recipe came from.).

When it came time to assemble the almond bonbons, I started to wrap the almond paste around the ball of dough when in fact it was the exact opposite. Good thing Andy was there to set me straight. (I was pretty tired at that point and that is never a good time to have to read detailed directions) As I said earlier, these were a big hit and looked very festive with some green and red sugar sprinkles on them. I told a friend who came to the party straight from the Vikings football game (I am a die-hard Packer fan) that the sugar sprinkles also came in purple and gold (Vikings colors) but there was no way in holy hell I was putting those colors on a cookie! (She laughed).

It is never a good idea to leave just-baked lemon bars on a back burner of the stove top (the burner was not on) because the heat from the oven almost over-cooked my lemon filling. Just saying! It was not my intention to do so but I had an open area so I took advantage of it and it almost cost me a pan of bars. And Oh Ina, Ina, Ina! (As in Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa). You made the rolling out of the dough sound so easy but it was an absolute nightmare! The dough was supposed to be a half-inch thick and yet some parts were as high as the Hoover Dam, others were scarce on dough, while other sections were crumbly because the dough didn’t hang together…and yet they were inhaled and praised to the high heavens. Go figure. (And might I also say “Whew.”)

The Deluxe Chocolate Marshmallow Bars were almost a disaster because I did, in fact, follow the directions that said to spread the melted marshmallows evenly over the cake. No way should you do this because those marshmallows do not spread well at all (much less evenly) and they started pulling up big chunks of cake with them! So just leave them sit on the cake and you will thank me for it, I promise.

Some final comments: Oven temperatures are NEVER accurate and so I always have an oven thermometer in my oven at all times so I can make sure to bake things at the correct temperature. Believe it or not, I have to set my oven to 380 if I want it to get to 350 (and it’s a new oven and the calibration was checked by the service department. But alas, even they said the oven temperature will still be off, regardless of what they did to it. Phooey).

Also, I often cook things back to back if they are going in at the same temperature but this year, I think the cookies suffered a bit because of it. It’s not that the oven wasn’t at the correct temperature because it was (see note above) but baking one batch of cookies when the oven was just turned on and cooking another batch at the end of the cycle can yield different results. Next year, I think I will bake a couple at a time and then stop.

Almost all recipes are “off” on the count of how many to make. In some cases, I cut the recipe in half and it was just right but more often than not, I had to double the recipe to get enough yield for the party.

Finally, at the end of the day, nobody cares what you made or how you got there, it’s just time to have fun. While I do have a rep for making really good food, all from scratch, it’s the people that make the party fun…and I have fun friends.

Happy Mistletoe Madness, everyone!

Mistletoe Madness 2010 – Recipes

Mini Corn Dogs on a Stick – 40 servings (1 corn dog each) (We doubled this recipe)
40 wooden toothpicks
1 package (16 ounces) cocktail-size hot dogs (about 40 pieces)
1 can (12 oz) refrigerated flaky biscuits (10 biscuits)
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
½ cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cup ketchup (for dipping)
¾ cup yellow mustard (for dipping)

Heat oven to 400F. Grease cookie sheet with shortening or spray with cooking spray. Insert toothpick into narrow end of each wiener. Separate dough into 10 biscuits; carefully divide each biscuit horizontally into 4 rounds. Wrap sides and top of each wiener with dough round, pinching edges to seal. (Note: It took about an hour to do 80 wieners. Plan ahead.).

In a pie plate, mix egg and m ilk. On a plate, mix cornmeal and sugar. Roll each wrapped wiener in egg mixture, then roll lightly in cornmeal mixture. Place seam side down on cookie sheet.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until tops are light golden brown and bottoms are golden brown. Remove from cookie sheet with spatula. Serve with ketchup and mustard.

Major Grey’s Marvelous Mango Chutney Cheese Spread – Makes 8-10 servings
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
3 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
Few drops of Tabasco pepper sauce
1 jar (10 ounces) Major Grey’s mango chutney, chopped
5 strips of bacon, cooked until drips, drained and crumbled
6 scallions (including tender green tops), chopped

In a medium bowl, using a fork, stir together the cream cheese, 1 ½ cups of the Cheddar cheese, and the pepper sauce until combined. Spread the mixture over an 8- to 10-inch serving dish, smoothing the surface evenly.

Spread the chutney over the surface. Sprinkle the chutney with the remaining 1 ½ cups of Cheddar cheese, the bacon, and the scallions. Serve immediately with crackers or celery sticks. Cover and refrigerate any leftovers for up to two days.

Guacamole Dip (with sour cream) – makes about 2 ½ cups
2 large avocadoes, peeled and coarsely mashed
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/3 cup sour cream
1 small clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1 tomato, diced
½ onion, minced
Few sprigs cilantro, slightly chopped

Combine ingredients in order given. Stir briefly after adding each ingredient. (We skipped the cilantro as people either love it or hate it. We aim to please!)

Roasted Carrot and Herb Spread – 20 servings
2 pounds baby-cut carrots
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, cut into 8 wedges and separated
¼ cup olive or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Baguette slices or crackers, if desired (Note: I think it’s hilarious that they mention serving it on baguette slices or crackers, if desired, because one of my friends wanted to just sit down and eat the entire bowl with a fork!).

Heat oven to 350F. Spray jelly roll pan (Betty says to use a 15 ½ x 10 ½ x 1 inch pan) with cooking spray

Place carrots, sweet potato and onion in pan. Drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir to coat. Bake uncovered 35 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender.

Place vegetable mixture in food processor. Cover and process until blended. Spoon into serving bowl. Serve warm, or cover and refrigerate until serving time.

Ann’s notes: This dish did not live up to my expectations but my guests loved it. I thought the carrot was too coarse and too sweet and the spices fell short of making this the savory spread I was expecting. I think, though, that this is a recipe you could tweak without too many problems.

Smoky Bacon and Horseradish Dip – 24 servings (This is now a new party “must” for me!)
1 clove garlic finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped (1/4 cup)
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, cubed
2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese (8 ounces)
1 cup half-and-half
8 slices peppered smoked bacon, crisply cooked and chopped (My husband was so cute. When he looked at the price, he said “Can’t we just pepper it ourselves?” Hahahahahaha…no.)
2 tablespoons cream-style prepared horseradish
1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
French or herbed bread crumbs, if desired
Water crackers, if desired

Mix garlic, onion, cream cheese, Gruyere cheese and half-and-half in 1 1/2-quart slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low heat setting 2 ½ to 3 hours or until mixture is hot.

Stir in bacon, horseradish and parsley. Cover and cook on high heat setting about 15 minutes or until mixture is hot. Serve with bread cubes or crackers for dipping.

Betty says that you can use precooked bacon slices found in the deli section of the supermarket. There’s no need to cook; just chop and stir into the mixture.

Betty also says (because I called and asked) that you do not need to serve this mixture warm; room temperature is just fine. But if you do serve it warm, keep it in the crockpot as putting it in a fondue pot will cause it to burn. You need low heat or no heat at all.

Ranch Dressing – makes ½ cup (I doubled the recipe)
¼ cup low-fat cottage cheese
¼ cup low-fat buttermilk
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced shallot
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano (or ¼ teaspoon dried oregano)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
Dash salt, or to taste

Ann’s note: I did not like the oregano in this dressing at all, at all, at all! It just didn’t taste like the ranch dressing I was used to. Were I to make this again (and I won’t be), I might lower the amount of oregano and/or leave it out all together.

Place the cottage cheese, buttermilk, lemon juice, shallot and mustard in a blender; puree until smooth. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Taste; adjust seasonings. Stir before serving.

Advance preparation: If dried herbs are used, allow the dressing to stand for 15 to 30 minutes before serving. This dressing will keep for 2 days in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator.

Bar Nuts – serves 8 (I doubled the recipe)
8 ounces whole almonds (it doesn’t say but I used unsalted)
8 ounces cashews (it doesn’t say but I used unsalted)
½ cup honey
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Toss the almonds and cashews in a bowl with the honey and oil. Sprinkle the salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper over the nuts and toss to coat.

Bake 15 minutes, stir, and bake another 10 minutes until crisp and golden. (I followed this direction the first time and baked for 15 and then got another 5 or so minutes in and they all charred. When Andy remade them, he started at 10 minutes and then checked after 5 and left them another 5 and then pulled them out. So I’d say no more than 20 minutes tops or you’ll be left crying over charred nuts (expensive charred nuts) like I was!)

Cool and separate into individual nuts using oiled fingers. (And good luck with that. We still ended up with clusters!).

Store in an airtight container.

Mee Maw’s Trash (Chex Party Mix) – serves…a lot. And I mean a lot!
2 quarts mixed nuts
2 quarts pecans
1 (15-ounce) bag pretzel rods
1 (7.5-ounce) bag Bugles (plain)
1 (16-ounce) box Corn Chex cereal
1 (16-ounce) box Rice Chex cereal
1 (16-ounce box) Wheat Chex cereal
2 cups butter
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/3 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon seasoned salt
2 teaspoons red pepper

So about this recipe…I can’t stress enough about how much this makes. We added all dry ingredients to a roasting pan and overflowed so we took out half the cereal. It was still full to the brim and so to mix the cereal with the butter and spices, we dumped everything into a garbage bag so we could coat it all. There was no question of stirring it every 20 to 30 minutes as directed or we would have had a mess in our oven. So I suggest cutting the recipe down into fourths and then go from there. That being said, I liked this recipe because of the addition of the nuts (and boy, will you want to go light on those as they are pricey) and the Bugles, especially the Bugles, because what woman out there hasn’t pretended they were fake fingernails?!

As to the cookbook that contained this recipe, Culinary Kudzu turned out to be the elusive Holy Grails of cookbooks. I saw it mentioned in a magazine a few years back and the article noted that it was out of print making it hard to find and they weren’t kidding! I finally found this a while back on somebody’s website and was downright giddy with excitement. (Kudzu, by the way, is a plant that grows and grows and grows pretty much taking over lawns and other grassy areas. And “Mee Maw” is what many southerners call their grandmother.)

Preheat the oven to 250F. Melt butter in a large roasting pan in oven (I opted for the microwave) and stir in the seasonings. Gradually stir in remaining ingredients until evenly coated.

Bake 2 hours, stirring every 20 to 30 minutes. Spread on paper towels to cool.

Store in airtight container at room temperature.

Deluxe Chocolate Marshmallow Bars – no amount given
¾ cup butter or margarine
1 ½ cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3 Tbsp Baking cocoa
½ cup chopped nuts (optional)
4 cups miniature marshmallows
1 1/3 cup chocolate chips
3 Tbsp butter or margarine
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups Rice Krispies

Cream butter and sugar then add eggs and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa; add to creamed mixture. Stir in nuts if desired. Spread in a greased jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes. Sprinkle marshmallows evenly over the cake. Return to the oven for 2-3 minutes. (And then I recommend you skip this next part: “Using a knife dipped in water, spread evenly over cake.”) Cool the cake. For the topping, combine chocolate chips, butter or margarine and peanut butter in a small saucepan. Cook over low heat stirring constantly until melted and blended. Remove from heat. Stir in cereal. Spread over bars. Chill.

Almond Bonbons – makes about 3 dozen cookies
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup butter or margarine, softened
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ package (7-or8-oz size) almond paste

Almond Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract
4 to 5 teaspoons milk
Decorator sugar crystals, if desired
Note: I made these cookies late on Saturday night and think I accidentally used the entire can (versus package) of almond paste. And if you ask me (and you didn’t) the bonbons were the better for it!

Heat oven to 375F. In large bowl, beat flour, butter, 1/3 cup powdered sugar, 2 T milk and the vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with spoon. Cut almond paste into ½-inch slices; cut each slice into fourths.

Shape 1-inch ball of dough around each piece of almond paste. Gently roll to form ball. One ungreased cookie sheet, place balls about 1 inch apart.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set and bottom is golden brown. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix all glaze ingredients until smooth. Dip tops of cookies in the glaze and sprinkle with sugar crystals.

Lemon Bars - makes 20 squares or 40 triangles
For the crust
½ pound unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the filling
6 extra-large eggs at room temperature (Note: use large eggs if you don’t have extra-large on hand)
3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (Ina said 4-6 lemons, I used two)
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar; for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into a 9x13x2-inch baking sheet, building up a ½-inch edge on all sides. Chill. (Note: as previously stated, this dough was a bitch to work with. I ended up using a 9x13 pan and most definitely was well over her ½-inch edge but that’s life.)

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.

Cut into triangles and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

"The Great Year-Round Turkey Cookbook" - Turkey Cumberland with Apple-Sweet Sausage Stuffing

Date my husband made these recipes: November 26, 2010 (the day after Thanksgiving)

The Great Year-Round Turkey Cookbook by Anita Borghese
Published by: Stein and Day
© 1979
Recipes: Turkey Cumberland – p. 99 and Apple-Sweet Sausage Stuffing – p. 136

We usually spend Thanksgiving Day with my husband’s family but this year, everyone’s schedule was such that we ended up having T-Day on Friday. And this was no big deal except I had to work and so Andy ended up doing all the cooking. He is a fine cook so no worries there. My job this year was to hand him some recipe books and magazines and let him go to it. His job: make the turkey, stuffing and dessert.

One of the books I got in my huge haul (47 books) from an estate sale this October is today’s featured book: The Great Year-Round Turkey Cookbook. Yes, I know, the point of this book is that one can cook turkey year-round but hey, Thanksgiving was upon us and so one must do what one must do.

Normally my rule is to make one recipe per book but who are we kidding here? Turkey and stuffing go together and so I’m posting two recipes for your consideration. We opted to turn the stuffing into “dressing” cooking it separately outside the bird; both recipes were good although the turkey was a little less moist that anticipated.

But speaking of moist turkey, because the schedules were so goofy on Thanksgiving Day we decided to take a run up to Key’s Café to get take out turkey dinners as it was just the two of us. Key's is your basic comfort food restaurant and they make a damned fine turkey dinner all year round. It is not unusual for us to grab some take out turkey in the middle of summer. When you get a craving, you get a craving.

On Thanksgiving, Key's is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and I just had to hoot when they informed me by phone the day before that turkey would be served starting at 10 a.m. I’ve eaten a lot of odd things during what I consider to be the breakfast hour but never have I considered turkey and fixings. Guess I’m behind times on that one. We opted for a more civilized 1:00 p.m. pickup but then put the dinners in the refrigerator and lounged around for a couple of hours before eating. And the beauty of that was that we could get comfortable and eat our dinner at the same time – perfect.

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

Turkey Cumberland – makes 6 to 8 servings
6 pound turkey
¼ cup margarine or butter
½ cup red or black currant jelly
¼ cup Port wine
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Cayenne pepper to taste
1 tablespoon cornstarch combined with 2 tablespoons cold water
Turkey stock or chicken broth (optional)

Wash and pat turkey half thoroughly dry with paper towels. Rub cut side of turkey half with salt. Place cut side down, in shallow roasting pan just large enough to fit comfortably. Preheat oven at 325. (Note: this chapter of the book talks about using cut-up turkey and mixed parts, thus the reference to “pat turkey half.” We used a whole turkey and nobody was the wiser.)

Melt the margarine or butter in a small saucepan with the current jelly. Heat, stirring, until the jelly has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the Port, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and a dash of cayenne, or to taste. Brush the turkey all over with the currant jelly mixture.

Roast until meat thermometer inserted in center of inside thigh muscle adjoining the body registers 180 to 185 degrees or until tender when pierced with a sharp-tined folk, brushing with the currant jelly mixture every 20 minutes. If the wing starts to brown too much, wrap it in aluminum foil. Set turkey on a wooden carving board and allow to stand 15-20 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, spoon off excess fat from the roasting pan. Add the remaining currant jelly mixture along with the cornstarch mixture. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Lower heat and simmer a few minutes. If the sauce is too thick add a little turkey stock or chicken broth and heat thoroughly.

Apple-Sweet Sausage Stuffing (no serving size given but likely 6-8 people)
1 ½ pounds Italian sweet sausage
2 cups chopped onions
1 ½ cups diced celery
2 cups peeled, diced, tart apples
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon marjoram
½ teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
8 cups whole grain bread cubes, toasted in moderate oven until dry and lightly toasted
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan, Romano or Sardo cheese

Slit sausage and remove casing. Break up the sausage and sauté in a skillet, turning and continuing to break up until lightly browned. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and place it in a bowl. To the fat remaining in the skillet add the onions and celery and sauté a few minutes longer. Add the mixture to the sausage meat in the bowl.

Beat the eggs lightly and add the sage, marjoram, thyme, basil, salt, and pepper. Add to the sausage mixture. Add the toasted bread cubes and the cheese and mix well. Stuff the turkey immediately (or place in a separate pan and bake at 325 along with the turkey). You’ll have to check periodically to make sure it doesn’t dry out.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"All About Sausage by Oscar Mayer & Co." - Wiener Cheesaroni

Date I made this recipe: November 21, 2010 (the annual Packer-Viking game)

All About Sausage by Oscar Mayer & Co.
Published by: Oscar Mayer & Co.
© 1973
Recipe: Weiner Cheesaroni – p. 50

Today marked the 100th meeting of the Green Bay Packers (yay!) and the Minnesota Vikings (boo!). And what a glorious meeting it was with the Packers winning 31-3. Tee hee hee. All I can say is payback’s a bitch: last year with Brett Favre as quarterback (having left the Packers in a huff 2 years before), the team I call the Vike-Queens smoked us. But this year to my great enjoyment, we royally embarrassed our rival as well as our ex-quarterback (traitor!) causing the Vikings owners to fire coach Brad Childress (that’s “Chilly” to those in the know), and Brett Favre to “re-evaluate” the game. Many sports announcers (and me) took this to mean he might sit out the rest of the season but of course not. Yesterday he announced (and not for the first time) that he didn’t MEAN he was going to quit. It just meant he was evaluating the rest of the season. Uh huh, right. Liar, liar, pants on fire.

At any rate, prior to the game, I decided to pay homage to my Packers by making something that just screams “Wisconsin:” sausage and cheese.

Now I have to tell you that I already knew, deep down in my gut, that this dish would probably not live up to the standards set by the back-to-back home runs of Craig Claiborne’s meals and it did not disappoint; it wasn’t a total disaster but it was close. In fact, when I informed my husband that I was making “Weiner Cheesaroni” for dinner, his cute little nose curled up in a gesture I can only describe as the universal signal for “Ew.” Honey, not every recipe can be a winner.

Here’s what is inherently wrong with this dish: it’s not the wieners or cheese or even macaroni that’s the problem, it’s the addition of caraway seeds and green onion. As I’ve said many times before in this blog though, I make the recipes as written and so like it or not, I went with ingredients I knew would be problematic and they were.

So here’s what I think could possibly salvage this next time around: scrap the caraway seeds and the green onion and use real onion instead. I’d sauté it first so the onion isn’t so sharp. And I’d add real cheese to the dish as well to make it extra creamy. Nothing against Campbell’s soup but in this case that canned flavor was just too much.

I’m not sure what to substitute for a spice, if anything, but definitely pass on the caraway seeds or you, too, will experience an “Ew” moment!

And speaking of “Ew” moments, I’d say the Packers handed Vikings fans enough “Ew” moments to last a lifetime. Go Pack Go!!

By the way, when I told the name of this dish to a coworker, he said “It sounds like a great name for a band!” (How true is that?!) Since “cheesearoni” sounds like Beefaroni (a popular canned macaroni product from the 60’s) we also promptly launched into the Beefaroni song. Okay, everybody: “We’re having Beefaroni. Made from macaroni. Beefaroni’s full of meat. Beefaroni’s really neat. Beefaroni’s fun to eat. Hooray! For Beefaroni!”

Thank you, thank you. I’m here all week…..

Wiener Cheesaroni – serves 5
1 pound package (10 wieners) ((I used half the amount but did buy Unsinger’s wieners, made in Milwaukee, WI).
7 ounces macaroni, cooked
1 can (10 ¾ oz.) condensed cheese soup
2/3 cup milk
½ cup chopped green onions
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon caraway seed

Preheat oven to 350. Cut half the wieners into bite-size pieces; combine with remaining ingredients in 2-quart casserole. Top with remaining whole wieners. Cover and bake 30 minutes, or until heated through.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"The Chinese Cookbook" by Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee - The Best Fried Rice

Date I made this recipe: November 14, 2010

The Chinese Cookbook by Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee
Published by: J.B. Lippincott Company
© 1972 – Fourth printing
Recipe: The Best Fried Rice – p. 352-353

So I’m of the mind that if some is good, more is better and so if some Craig Claiborne was good, more of him and his delicious recipes was better – way better! And that’s how I came to cook from The Chinese Cookbook written by Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee. And honestly, when that man says this is a recipe for “the best” fried rice, he was not kidding. This was so danged good that I honestly could have eaten it all in one sitting, with no apologies to my spouse whatsoever.

Now you may be thinking “So what’s the big deal? There are tons of Chinese cookbooks out there.” Au contraire, Pierre, there are now, but trust me, back when this was written, there just wasn’t a lot available.

And so as I discussed in last week’s blog, Craig once again broke ground, taking some of China’s best recipe and breaking them down into something that most Americans could make without too much work and for this I most heartily thank him.

So what to make, what to make? Lo Mein? Kung Pao Chicken? Chinese Pork Buns? (Oooo-I love Chinese Pork Buns!). All so good but I couldn’t decide so I threw the book over to my hubby and he said “How about the fried rice?”

The man is genius.

Here’s what I liked best about this “best” fried rice—it was not greasy. Not one little bit greasy, not one little bit overly soy-sauced and just oh so tasty. Like I said, Andy was in grave danger of going hungry for the evening because I could not quit shoveling (and I do mean shoveling—with chop sticks, naturally) this dish into my mouth. I think I came up for air now and then but am not sure.

And those of you without a wok have no fear—Target sells a perfectly decent one for not a mere $29.99 (and they threw in a wooden spatula to boot!). If all else fails, (and I’ve never done this) but use a large skillet or even a soup pot so you can rapidly stir the ingredients and mix things properly.

The only substitute I made in this dish was that I forgot to get peas but I had a frozen package of mixed veggies and used that instead. So there were bits of corn and green beans in the dish. Who cared? Oh—and the instructions to slice the shrimp in half lengthwise? Yeah, right. I chopped them into three pieces and that’s all there is to that.

Eat and enjoy. And speaking of enjoy, “enjoy” rhymes with “La Choy.” La Choy is an American company that produces Chinese food items and when I was growing up, this was as close as I was ever going to get to Chinese food without going to Chinatown…only of course, this stuff didn’t taste anything like Chinese food…but I digress. So show of hands, how many of you are old enough to remember the jingle for this (American/Asian) product “La Choy makes Chinese food...swing American!” (Perhaps you had to be there).

This dish doesn’t taste anything like canned Chinese food and for that you will thank me and Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee.

The Best Fried Rice – yield 8 to 12 servings (unless you’re me in which case, one. One, big serving)
5 cups cold cooked rice (cooked at least one day in advance)
1 cup small raw shrimps, shelled, deveined, and split in half lengthwise
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons peanut, vegetable, or corn oil
2/3 cup cubed Chinese sausages (2 small) or cooked ham
3 eggs
½ cup cooked fresh or frozen green peas
1 tablespoon salt, approximately (Okay—only if you like eating salt licks will you like this much salt. We went with one teaspoon and that was plenty.)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
½ cup chopped scallions, green part included

Flake the rice so that the grains do not stick together. Set aside.

Combine the shrimps with the soda and salt and let stand 15 minutes or longer. Rinse thoroughly in cold water and pat dry on paper toweling.

Heat the oil in a wok or skillet until it is almost smoking and add the shrimps. Cook, stirring quickly and turning them in the oil until they turn pin, about 30 seconds. Remove them to a sieve fitted over a mixing bowl and let them drain well. Return the oil from the drained shrimps to the pan.

Add the sausages or ham to the pan and cook just to heat through, stirring. Add the rice, stirring rapidly, and cook until thoroughly heated without browning.

Do the following quickly: Make a well in the center of the rice and add the eggs, stirring constantly. When they have a soft-scrambled consistency, start incorporating the rice, stirring in a circular fashion.

When all the rice and eggs are blended, add the peas and the salt, stirring. Stir in the oyster sauce and the cooked shrimps, tossing the rice over and over to blend everything. Stir in the bean sprouts and cook, stirring and tossing, about 30 seconds. Add the scallions and serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Craig Claiborne's Favorites" - French Pot Roast with Red-Wine Sauce

Date I made this recipe: November 7, 2010

Craig Claiborne’s Favorites (Series II) from The New York Times
Published by Times Books
© 1975
Recipe: French Post Roast with Red-Wine Sauce p. 291 (September 21, East Hampton, “Side Dish, Front and Center” with Pierre Franey) (Note: this recipe calls for an overnight marinade plus 3 hours of cooking)

Back around the first of October, I was listening to the radio show, The Splendid Table, when I heard Lynne Rossetto Kasper and guest, southern writer, John T. Edge, talk about the influence Craig Claiborne had on American cooking. At the time, I made a mental note to make something of his, seeing as how I have a couple of his cookbooks but one thing led to another and here we are in November. Time flies when you are having cooking fun!

I don’t know as I had much knowledge of Craig until I started reading James Villas’ cookbooks several years ago. Craig and James were good friends and James often mentioned cooking with Craig (and partying with Craig) in his books.

Like James Villas and John T. Edge, Craig Claiborne was from the south. There’s just something about southern cooking and southern life that intrigues me even though I can’t imagine living there (because of critters—like snakes and whatnot).

Craig, though, branched out beyond the south, not only with his recipes but with his writing; as restaurant critic and food editor of The New York Times, he got to go around the world without leaving Manhattan. The availability of a vast variety of food is one of the many things I love about New York.

What I really like about this cookbook is that each chapter is a theme. On one page, you can find a recipe for Black Forest Cake, taken from the entry on February 9 (1975) titled Pride of the Forest, and a few pages later, you’ll find a chapter titled Persian Cookery. Let me just say that I had a hard time selecting a recipe but am glad I waited until now to make the pot roast with wine—a perfect dish for a fall day. (Let me also just say that my house had a wonderful mulled wine smell in it for two days thanks to the wine and spice marinade this roast had to rest in!).

And speaking of marinade, you should know that you need to plan in advance to make this recipe. Your meat has to marinade minimally overnight (if not longer) and then you need to allow 3 hours for cooking time. Making the marinade was a piece of cake though, so don’t let a little thing like that deter you! You should also know that I emptied out two bottles of wine for the marinade but drew the line at opening a third bottle and that was wise because as it is, the stuff splashed all over my refrigerator and floor. Oops! (And no, I didn’t have a little nip as I was preparing the dish.) (And let me just say that this is when it pays to lay in a case of “Two Buck Chuck” from Trader Joe’s!).

And speaking of wine, let me just mention that Craig (and James Villas) often cooked and collaborated with Frenchman (chef) Pierre Franey. Craig and Pierre share this recipe and Pierre likely had a hand in the wine selection, both for the table and the pot roast.

And speaking (once again) of the pot roast, the pot roast is actually a “side dish” to a potato recipe they named Potatoes Chateau Chinon (p. 292). I decided long ago to make one dish per cookbook and while these potatoes sounded good, I was more interested in the roast and so went with the side dish instead. (And by the way, isn’t making the roast a side dish creative?) But you, dear reader, are not held to my standard so knock yourselves out!

Finally, I have waxed poetic about James Villas cookbooks in previous blogs but that’s more due to his mother (and co-author), Martha Pearl Villas. That was one damned funny woman and to this day, her recipe for Coconut Cake is one of the best things I’ve ever made. You can read about her and it on my blog posting from June 27, 2007; you can also link to it by clicking on “Martha Pearl Villas” in the “Labels” section on the right-hand side of the page. Martha Pearl passed away last January and my, oh my how I wish I had met that woman! She liked to give everyone grief in the kitchen and I have no doubt that Craig and Pierre caught an earful from her on more than one occasion!

To listen to The Splendid Table discussion about Craig click:

French Pot Roast with Red-Wine Sauce – 6 to 10 servings
1 5-6 pound round beef roast
½ cup red wine vinegar
2 ¼ cups chopped onion; use 1 ½ cups to make the marinade and the remainder the next day
2 ¼ cups chopped carrots; use 1 ½ cups to make the marinade and the remainder the next day
1 ½ cups chopped celery; use 1 cup to make the marinade and the remainder the next day
2 cups chopped leeks, optional (I like leeks so used them in the marinade)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 sprigs parsley
1 teaspoon each of leaf sage, dried rosemary, marjoram, and coriander seeds (Note: you will need to make a cheesecloth bag of these spices)
4 to 5 cups dry red wine (or whatever is necessary to cover the roast)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup diced salt pork or 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup flour
2 cups beef broth

Place the beef in a mixing bowl.

Combine the vinegar, 1 ½ cups each chopped onion and carrots, 1 cup of celery, all the leeks (2 cups), garlic and parsley in a saucepan. Tie the sage, rosemary, marjoram, and coriander seeds in a cheesecloth bag and add the bag. Bring to the boil, stirring.

Pour the vinegar mixture over the meat and add enough wine to barely cover the meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cover closely and refrigerate overnight or longer, up to 3 days.

….24 hours later, after having poured your own glass of wine….

Remove the meat and pat it dry. Strain and reserve 3 cups of the liquid. Discard the remaining liquid and vegetables.

Heat the pork (or just the oil) in a heavy Dutch oven or casserole and cook, stirring, until it is rendered of fat. Scoop out and discard the solids.

Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper. Add it to the Dutch oven or casserole and brown well on all sides. Transfer the meat to a warm place.

Add the remaining ¾ cup each of chopped onion and carrots and remaining ½ cup of celery. Cook, stirring, until onion is wilted. Sprinkle with the four and stir to blend thoroughly. Add the reserved marinade and beef broth, stirring with a wire whisk. When the mixture is thickened, add the meat. Cover closely and cook over low heat about 3 hours or until the roast is thoroughly tender.

Remove the meat and keep it warm. Cook the sauce down to the desired consistency. Slice the meat and serve with the sauce and with potatoes Chateau Chinon.

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Cooking from the Heart - The Hmong Kitchen in America" - Whole Roasted Coconut Chicken

Date I made this recipe: October 31, 2010

Cooking from the Heart – The Hmong Kitchen in America by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
ISBN: 978-0-8166-5326-3
Recipe: Whole Roasted Coconut Chicken – p. 114-115

Today, class, many of you are going to get a geography/sociology lesson. This book is about Hmong (pronounced “Mung”) recipes and depending on where you live in America, you may not be familiar with this culture.

The Hmong people are mountain people from China, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. My husband says that they are basically a people without a country and that’s because they haven’t really settled in one place.

During the Vietnam War, the Hmong assisted the United States in fighting the Laotian Communist government. Although many Hmong settled in camps in Thailand during and after the war, many were brought to the United States by religious groups offering them refugee status.

Today the highest concentration of Hmong is in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In Minnesota, they primarily live in an area of St. Paul called “Frogtown” and a drive by the Hmong Market the other day (a cross between an outdoor farmer’s market and a grocery store) prompted me to use this cookbook (recently issued, I might add).

For those familiar with Asian foods, Hmong food is pretty similar. This dish was something I had never had before and seemed like a good thing to make on a Sunday.

And speaking of making this…you might be tempted, like I was, to chop your veggies in a Cuisinart. Resist that temptation. I went a bit overboard and pulsed the entire stuffing mixture and let’s just say that had to be the most unattractive stuffing I have ever seen. Luckily it tasted better than it looked. My husband really liked the flavors but I am not a fan of mint and felt like I was sucking on a Mojito. I suggest adjusting your ingredients accordingly.

Before I leave you with the recipe, let me pass on a few recommendations for books and movies that do an excellent job of providing a peek into Hmong life.

A book that is just absolutely outstanding is The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman. This book chronicles the life of a Hmong family dealing with a young daughter who has epilepsy. The family doesn’t know the Western term for this affliction and so they dub it “the spirit catches you and you fall down.” This book highlights the challenges of Western medicine in dealing with traditional Eastern methods of treatment, including the sacrificing of animals and the summoning of a “witch doctor” to eliminate the evil spirits. It is enlightening as it is moving and I’m sure you will be blown away.

The movie that I highly recommend is Gran Torino, starring (and directed by) Clint Eastwood. Here’s the best thing about this movie: the screenplay was written by local boy, Nick Schenk, who happens to be a friend and former writing collaborator of my brother-in-law, Ben Martin (Ben and his buddies had a retrospect of their cable shows many years ago at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis’ modern art museum. This was a well-deserved high honor). Ben was just busting his buttons with pride on Nick’s behalf when this movie came out. Although the story is based on experiences with the Twin Cities Hmong community, for various and sundry reasons, the movie was made in Detroit. Oh well.

Gran Torino is the story of a grizzled old Korean War veteran (Eastwood) who is having a hard time dealing with the “Huh-mong” people who live next door. At the beginning of the movie, Eastwood’s prejudice against the Hmong ring out loud and clear. But of course things change and his attitude takes a complete 360 after a series of events take place. It’s a great movie and to Nick I say – “Well done!”

One a final note, you will need more time that the recipe calls for when roasting this chicken. The recipe said to roast it for 40 minutes, then baste with coconut milk and then cook approximately 30 more minutes. Nuh uh. The meat was pink and we had to put it in the microwave. Be sure to use a meat thermometer (although note, ours was not much help!)

Whole Roasted Coconut Chicken – serving size not indicated
(A note at the end of the recipe indicates that this recipe was adapted from the Hmong Recipe Cook Book, edited by Sharon Sawyer. (First Presbyterian Church, South St. Paul, 1986).

1 young frying chicken, at least 5 pounds
3 teaspoons salt (you will reserve some of this for later)
½ pound lean ground pork
4 to 6 hot Thai chili peppers, minced (more or less, depending upon desired heat)
1 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
1 cup toasted peanuts, coarsely ground
1 cup mint leaves, chopped
1 cup fresh cilantro sprigs, chopped
5 green onion, white and green parts, chopped
1 can coconut milk (14 ounces)
1 tablespoon fish sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash the chicken well with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Remove the giblets and refrigerate for use in another dish. Sprinkle the chicken inside and out with 2 teaspoons of salt.

In a large bowl, mix the ground pork, chili peppers, pepper, and the remaining teaspoon of salt. Add the peanuts, mint, cilantro, green onions, and half of the can of coconut milk and mix well. Stuff the chicken with about two-thirds of the pork mixture. Put the chicken in a baking dish, breast side up. Tuck the wings underneath. Loose the skin over the breast and push the rest of the stuffing under the skin, patting the surface to distribute the stuffing equally. Sprinkle the chicken with the fish sauce, and cover.

Bake for 40 minutes. Remove the lid and pour the rest of the coconut milk over the chicken. Baste several times with the pan drippings while the chicken continues to cook. It is done when a meat thermometer inserted into the middle of the stuffing registers 170 degrees and the chicken is golden brown (about 30 more minutes). (NOTE: as I stated before, use your meat thermometer religiously during this process. I recommend using it on the stuffing and the meat or you will get wacky results!).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"In the Kitchen with Love" by Sophia Loren - Baked Pasta

Date I made this recipe: October 24, 2010

In the Kitchen with Love by Sophia Loren
Published by: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
© 1972
Recipe: Baked Pasta I – p. 42-43

A week ago Monday was my Aunt Rose’s 92nd birthday. Wow—what an accomplishment. She’s closing in on her mother’s record (her mother being my Grandma Vita who lived to be 97 years old). In her later years, my grandmother forgot how old she was and locked and loaded on age 85 (or 86 or 87) depending on when you asked her. “Grandma, how old are you?” we asked. “You believe-a me? Eighty seven. You believe-a me?”

Like we were going to tell her we didn’t!

At any rate, I felt like I should cook something Italian in honor of my aunt (technically, we are Sicilian) and although I have quite the collection of Italian cookbooks, most just didn’t do much for me when I looked through them—at least as far as birthday-appropriate recipes went. But then I saw the cookbook (one of two) written by actress Sophia Loren and thought “Perfect!”

My aunt, like Sophia Loren, is beautiful inside and out. And call me biased but in the cooking department, there is no comparison. Oh, I’m sure Sophia is no slouch but she’s not my aunt.

Now had I really wanted to pay homage to my aunt, I would have made her sauce recipe or at least one of her pasta dishes from our family cookbook. But as simple (and delicious) as her sauce recipe is, I’m not ready to share that yet. So you have to accept Sophia as your substitute du jour. It bites, I know!

Another thing that my aunt and Sophia have in common is that food coming out of their kitchens is made with love—just like the title of Sophia’s book says. As I’m writing this, I am harkening back to all the fabulous meals we ate when we visited (my grandmother lived with my Aunt Rose and Uncle Alex). Why I wasn’t 1000 pounds is beyond me. (My grandma always encouraged us to eat – “mangia, mangia” – because in her eyes we were too skinny – ha!). But contrary to popular belief, most of the food Italians eat is not fattening. Delicious, yes; fattening, no. Of course, how much you eat in one sitting makes all the difference!

Sophia’s cookbook has a range of delicious-sounding dishes but in the end, I decided that simple was better and so settled on baked pasta. Oh, I toyed with making a dish with vermicelli noodles (my last name, Verme, means “worm” in Italian and “vermicelli” means little worm) but didn’t really like the rest of the ingredients.

The number one dish I really wanted to make, and have for years, is a pasta and eggplant recipe. You see years and years (and years and years ago), this recipe was featured in and article and photo shoot about Sophia in Good Housekeeping Magazine. For whatever reason, that photo and recipe stuck in my head, particularly the noodles since they are long and crimped and I had never seen anything like that before. But as much as I would have loved to make that dish, my husband is not fond of eggplant and so there went that. (But let me just say that this dislike only means that every Christmas when my family breaks out the caponata (an appetizer containing eggplant) that’s all the more for me!)

Sophia’s recipes are all written in prose and so creating a shopping list was a little challenging. As it is, the first grocery store I went to was out of fresh basil and I completely forgot about it at the next store and so used dried. And to my amazement, Sophia didn’t include garlic in her sauce recipe. I mean – what the heck is that all about? (For the record, Aunt Rose uses garlic but one must be careful. If you move beyond sautéing it to browning it, it will become bitter).

So anyway…belated birthday wishes, Aunt Rose! (Of course I sent her a card—I mean, as if…). This recipe is good but still pales in comparison to your cooking.

As grandma would say “Mangia, mangia!”

(By the way, one of my favorite episodes of I Love Lucy was when Lucy and company were in Italy while back in New York, Little Ricky celebrated his birthday. Lucy, of course, was upset at missing Little Ricky's big day. In an attempt to cheer Lucy up, one of the little boys who shined shoes at the hotel announced “She’s-a my birthday, too.” Lucy then decided to throw him a party complete with presents. Well, deciding if some is good, more is better, the little boy recruited all of his friends to come to the party where they all announced “She’s-a my birthday, too!” I have seen this episode a hundred times and it is always funny - always!) (And just so you know, for me, October 9th was "She's a my birthday, too!")

Baked Pasta I – serves 6 or so
1 onion, minced
1 large can diced tomatoes (I used Pomi a boxed, chopped tomato)
1 8-oz ball mozzarella
Fresh basil leaves (or a handful of dried if you don’t have fresh)
½ teaspoon of sugar (or more, to taste)
Pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper
1 pound penne pasta (or rigatoni or ziti)
Olive oil (for sautéing)
Grated cheese, preferably pecorino but Parmesan is okay (about 4 oz or so)
Bread crumbs (for sprinkling over the top—maybe a couple of tablespoons)
Small chucks of sausage (If desired—although note, she doesn’t say whether the sausage should be cooked or not and so I passed on using it.)

Sophia says to use 1 tablespoon olive oil to sauté your minced onion. I think that’s too much. I always just coat the bottom of the pan with oil and then put in the onion.

Heat the oil over medium heat then sauté (or brown but I prefer sauté) the onion. Then add tomato pulp (Sophia recommends you run whole tomatoes through a sieve but I tend to go with diced tomatoes for less fuss, less muss). She says to use ½ to 2/3 cup per person; I used 1 large box (24 oz) of chopped tomatoes as it just seemed easier. This makes your sauce a little thicker so adjust according to your taste levels (i.e. you might want to use a blender or Cuisinart to puree the tomatoes).

Add the salt, pepper and sugar and cook over moderate heat for about 20 minutes.

When the sauce is ready, cut the mozzarella into thin short slices then prepare the basil leaves by rubbing them with a clean, dry cloth.

Boil the pasta as directed and then drain. Add a little bit of the sauce to the pasta and stir.

Grease the bottom of a fireproof casserole with oil or butter (or lard, if you have it) and dust with bread crumbs. Add one half of the pasta to the casserole, then more of the sauce, then mozzarella, then some of the basil, grated cheese and sausage if you decided to use it. Cover this with the remainder of the pasta, pour over the rest of the sauce, add a little more cheese, a “veil” of breadcrumbs on top, and finish off with a few drops of oil or a pat of butter or lard.

Put in a hot oven (I set mine to 350) for a few minutes, so that the mozzarella will begin to melt and “bind everything to perfection.” I started with 15 minutes, but the cheese wasn’t melted, so I went another 10 and then decided enough was enough – let’s eat!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Cooking with Spirits" - Beef Stroganoff Neumann

Date I made this recipe: October 17, 2010

Cooking with Spirits by Ruth Vendley Neumann
Published by: Reilly & Lee
Copyright 1961
Recipe: Beef Stroganoff Neumann – p. 80

How do I love [the TV show] Mad Men? Let me count the ways--thirteen of them to be exact, one for every episode in this terribly short season. (Note to Matt Weiner—

A few months back, when Mad Men started its 4th season, I made a recipe from The Madison Avenue Cookbook, written, oddly enough, by a former advertising man.

So it seemed fitting to end the season with a nod to the show and what better way to do so than to make a recipe from a cookbook called Cooking with Spirits (spirits being “alcohol” for those unfamiliar with that term)? Alcohol, after all, plays a pivotal role in this series. Back then, drinking in the office was part of the daily work life and even in the early 80’s, my coworkers and I would partake in an occasional liquid lunch with full knowledge and approval of management…mostly because they joined us! Yes, I know—how times have changed…

…but not in my house! I have quite the retro drink cart in my home as well as another beautiful wooden liquor cabinet a friend made me. Although many of the bottles are for show, a few did come in handy for this recipe as I had both red wine and the requisite bourbon on hand. This is especially helpful on a Sunday when the liquor stores are closed (at least in Minnesota; nearby Wisconsin is much more flexible allowing the sale of spirits at a gas station. You’ve got to love that—gas up and get gassed all at the same time!)

So anyway, I got a late start and barely got this dish done in time for the finale but it was worth it. The only complaint is that I am used to my stroganoff being a little thicker than this one was but that’s about it. (By the way, I consider stroganoff a typical 60’s dish along with chicken Kiev and beef burgundy—another perfect touch to celebrate a show taking place during that time).

Before I leave you, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few things about the show. First, was there ever a funnier character than this year’s Miss Blankenship? You had to love the episode where Don, for whom she worked, came in and she yelled at the top of her lungs: “GOOD AFTERNOON. YOUR DAUGHTER’S PSYCHIATRIST CALLED.” In addition to her lack of discretion, Blankenship had an amazing knack for announcing Don’s visitors after they had already been seated in his office. It’s a darned shame that they killed her off this season but such is life. RIP, “Ida.”

And then there’s one of my favorite characters, Roger Sterling. Roger is the king of one-liners and has a knack for making hilarious comments when least expected. My personal favorite was from a couple seasons ago when Don and Betty entertained Roger as well as fellow ad-men Crab Colson and Duck Phillips. When Roger introduced the men to each other he said (and I quote) “Crab, Duck. Duck, Crab.” I say that line all the time if for no other reason than it is funny – damned funny.

At any rate, this is a fun dish that doesn’t involve duck or crab (couldn’t resist) but does have those spirits that Mad Men is known for. Until next summer (sigh)…

Beef Stroganoff Neumann in bourbon and red wine – serves 8 generously2 lb. lean beef, cut into 1-inch cubes and rolled in flour
¼ lb. butter
1 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced, or 2 3-oz. cans broiled mushrooms
6 medium onion, sliced thin
1 cup canned tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine
2 tsp. celery salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1 tsp. paprika
1 clove garlic, minced
3 beef bouillon cubes
T tbsp. bourbon
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 cup sour cream
1 cup pitted ripe olives, liquid reserved
½ cup liquid from can of ripe olives
Noodles or rice

Brown meat in butter over low heat. Add mushrooms and onions and cook 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, wine, seasonings, garlic and bouillon cubes. Cover and simmer at low heat for about an hour or until meat is tender. Mix bourbon and cornstarch until smooth, and add to meat mixture. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Then stir in sour cream and ripe olives and simmer for 10 minutes longer. If extra liquid is needed for gravy, add liquid from lives. Serve with hot buttered rice or egg noodles.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

"The Horoscope Cook Book" - Macaroni and Cheese

Date I made this recipe: October 7, 2010

The Horoscope Cook Book by Sonia Allison
Published by: St. Martin’s Press
© 1971
Recipe: Macaroni A La Reine – p. 92

So I found this book a while ago and as you might suspect, it contains both recipes and horoscopes. Seeing as how today is my birthday (October 9th—this makes me a Libran for those of you keeping track), here is a sample of my horoscope from this cookbook: Libra -“Character Study – Librans tend to be tall, very handsome and slender people, with long slim hands and legs. (True, true, continue!)They usually have symmetrical and classic features, beautiful complexions, fine skins, soft and expressive eyes – in blue or brown – round faces, high cheekbones, thick straight hair (not on your life. My hair is a bush, a tree AND a shrub!) which can be either dark or very fair and well-proportioned limbs. All Librans are inclined to put on weight in middle age, due to overindulgence of rich food."

Okay, let’s stop right there. I did make a “rich food” dinner two nights ago but I definitely did NOT overindulge. I’m not sure I even “ulged.” No sir. And that’s because I was already feeling the weight of my middle age! (Up until then, and aside from the hair, eyes, skin and face comments, this person had me at “Hello.”). I mean seriously, about six years ago I gained a stomach and never looked back. And while I was feeling kind of thin this summer, now that fall is upon us, it’s all over but the crying. When it’s cold in Minnesota the body adjusts by craving carbs. It’s ridiculous but there it is.

Aside from the fact that making this dish would be playing into the authors hands about loving rich foods, was going to give it a pass because I just wasn’t sure about the Stilton cheese. It seemed like it would be too overpowering. But people, I am glad I went ahead with it because it was de-licious! I considered other recipes and was even willing to pull a “it’s my birthday so I get to decide” card and switch it up if I needed to but lucky for me, and you, I didn’t need to go there.

I will say this about food and I don’t think that it is indicative of one zodiac sign or the other: when it comes to birthday meals, I want what I want and what I usually want is comfort food. Having a fall birthday (even though I hate fall) is conducive to that.

As far as comfort food goes though, we never had mac and cheese growing up (it was just not a Midwestern thing and I’m sorry, Kraft in a box doesn’t count) and because of that deprivation and because this recipe had potential I made this dish. The best thing is that it took less than a half an hour to make (unless you add in the time for my husband to go out and get the butter that I assumed we had on hand). I mean who wants to celebrate a birthday tied up in the kitchen for hours on end? Not this gal!

Okay, back to my horoscope: “…They are artistic, fond of grace and elegance in all things, perceptive, amiable, generous, affectionate, well-balanced…” (Sop it, you’re killing me!)

Happy Birthday, fellow Librans!!

Macaroni A La Reine (Macaroni for the King…or Queen!) – serves 6 as an horsd’oeuvre
6 oz. elbow macaroni
2 oz. butter (1/4 cup)
3 oz. Stilton cheese
¾ pint double cream (2 cups whipping cream)
¼ level teaspoon powdered mace (you can also substitute nutmeg or allspice)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons fresh white breadcrumbs
About 1 extra oz. butter (1/8 cup) for the top

Lightly butter 6 individual heatproof dishes. Cook macaroni in boiling salted water until tender. Drain thoroughly. Put butter into saucepan. Thinly slice cheese and add with cream, mace and cayenne pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring continuously until smooth, thick and hot. Season to taste with salt. Add macaroni and mix thoroughly. Transfer equal amounts to prepared dishes. Sprinkle with crumbs and top with flakes of butter. Glaze under a hot grill and serve straight away. (Note: I used one large casserole and that worked out fine. I also baked it for about 10-15 minute just to make sure it held together).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"The I Hate to Cook Book" - Dr. Martin's Mix (Pork Sausage, Rice and Veggies skillet)

Date I made this recipe: September 25, 2010

The I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken
Published by: Fawcett World Library (paperback)
© 1960; Third Crest Printing, April 1965
Recipe: Dr. Martin’s Mix (Pork Sausage, Rice and Veggies Skillet Dish) – p. 20

Just so we’re clear, Peg Bracken hates to cook. She hates it so much that 40 years ago, she wrote this book and has had people hating to cook (while laughing their butts off at her humor) ever since. And even though I love to cook, I had to add this book to my collection because well, why not? (Sadly, Peg passed away in 2007. And this begs the question: If Broadway dims its lights when a Broadway actor or actress dies, do cooks and chefs turn down their burners? Does the publishing world stop publishing for a minute? Do Home Ec teachers pause mid-dice to observe a moment of silence? Because everyone should--she was that funny).

My husband selected today’s recipe because his last name is Martin and his paternal grandfather was a doctor. Isn’t it great when life works out like that?

I never met his grandfather and only managed to meet his grandmother once but the family certainly has its share of stories. My favorite tale has to be when Dr. Martin took my husband, Andy and his brother, Ben, to the movies. Dr. Martin thought that Midnight Cowboy would appeal to these young lads only to be told by the poor woman in the ticket booth that this movie had absolutely nothing to do with cowboys and Indians! Well, who knew?

Andy’s grandmother, quite the social butterfly in her day, often referred to herself as “Mrs. Dr. Martin.” Now if you knew his grandmother, you’d know that she was a bit full of herself but then I found out that it is customary for women in Germany who are married to doctors to refer to themselves this way and Andy’s grandmother’s grandmother was German. While the second story is plausible, I’m going with a) bragging rights – final answer. (Although I’m told that German holders of two or more PhD’s refer to themselves as Herr Doctor Doctor…hahahahaha…)

So speaking of laughing, here is Peg’s recipe for Dr. Martin’s Mix, exactly as she wrote it 60 years ago:

Dr. Martin’s Mix 4-5 servings
(It takes about seven minutes to put this together. Dr. Martin is a busy man).
Crumble 1 to 1 ½ pounds of pork sausage (hamburger will do, but pork is better) into a skillet and brown it. Pour off a little of the fat. Then add:
1 green pepper, chopped
2 green onions, (also called scallions) chopped
2 or 3 celery stalks, chopped
2 cups chicken consommé or bouillon
1 cup raw rice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon salt

Dr. Martin then puts the lid on and lets it simmer at the lowest possible heat until he goes out and sets a fracture. When he comes back in about an hour, his dinner is ready.

And that’s it! Except you need to know that I checked this dish 28 minutes in and the rice was starting to stick to the pan and was a little on the mushy side. So I’d plan on checking it in 20 minutes and then again a little later but definitely do not take the hour indicated or your meal will be scorched! Dr. Martin would very likely not have been happy about that. Mrs. Doctor Martin wouldn’t have been too thrilled, either.

And speaking of names, Peg could have easily called this dish (American) Chop Suey because it certainly resembled dishes I knew (and loved) as a kid with that name. I mean you had your meat, your rice, your chopped peppers and onions—the only thing different was that this recipe used Worcestershire sauce but I bet you could have easily substituted soy sauce and called it a day. If all else fails, there should be an interesting tale to tell. And maybe some day it will end up in a book. We can all only hope.

By the way, a 40th anniversary edition of this cookbook is now available (in hardcover) from most bookstores. Run, do not walk, to get your copy.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

"How to Eat Better for Less Money" by Janes Beard - Old-Fashioned Beach Meat Loaf

Date I made this recipe: September 20, 2010

How to Eat Better for Less Money by James Beard and Sam Aaron
Published by: Simon and Schuster
© 1954, 1970
Recipe: Old-Fashioned Beach Meat Loaf – p. 100

When I was in my hometown visiting my dad in August of this year, one of the things I found was a fee statement from my undergraduate alma mater. The year was 1977, my sophomore year. The fee per credit hour was (brace yourselves parents of current college students) - $25.00. That’s right - twenty five dollars a credit hour. By my calculations, my dad (who paid for my education with U.S. Savings Bonds) was out a whopping $3,200 and change for my four-year degree. But of course that was a lot of money back then.

Well talk about how times have changed. By contrast, my law school education cost a lot more…and I mean a LOT more. I don’t think $25.00 even touched the cost of one of my books. I mean, I know it’s been a while but really—does it cost that much more to teach students today than it did 33 years ago?

So speaking of today, let’s do some fast forwarding. I toyed with getting either an MBA or a law degree and finally decided on law because I wouldn’t have to take statistics or the GMAT that contained math—I hate math and it hates me. (And for the record – calculating billable hours is “law math” and I stink at that as well). I was what was known as a “second career student”—someone who had a career and was looking to change it up. Yes, well, all I can say is I wish I would have read the fine print about how unemployable an older female law graduate would be. (But that’s another story best told over cocktails to other older female law school graduates who are in the same boat. We p&m and order more drinks and suddenly things look brighter…unless we’re in a dimly-lit bar to begin with, of course!).

Since graduating, I have pretty much been forced to become a legal contractor (some would say “whore”), going where the job is for as long as the jobs last. And in a “who would have thought” moment, contract jobs in corporations are generally more stable than jobs at a law firm where litigation support (for those in the know—“document review”) jobs can last for three days or three minutes...and you never know which until you get there. (I swear to you the drill goes like this: They say “The project will last 3 months.” And then two minutes after you’re in it to win it, it changes to: “Did we say 3 months? We meant 3 weeks. Did we say 3 weeks? We meant 3 days. Did we say 3 days? We meant 3 hours…”)

The current job I’m on (back at a corporation I worked for last summer) was supposed to come to an end this past Friday but at the last minute I got a stay of execution. So instead of hearing “One day you’re in...but please pack your knives and go” I heard: “We’re thinking three more weeks.”

By this time, of course, the loin-girding had already started as I performed a mental lockdown on our checking account. I’ve gotten over the stigma of going on and off unemployment but haven’t quite come to grips with the fact that my “hourly” on unemployment is equivalent to a salary last seen by me somewhere around the year 1977! Well, even for that time period, that was a little much so let’s go with
1987. Final answer.

Anyway...feeling the need to cook something on a budget, I pulled out James
Beard’s How to Eat Better for Less Money book. And then promptly cracked up laughing because many of the recipes called for cuts of meat that I consider to be expensive—like saddle of lamb, or even the veal used in my meatloaf (one package was priced at a whopping $8.50—for meatloaf?!) Had I not found a cheaper package of veal, I would have just gone with pork and ground beef although even that would also have been expensive; my recipe called for four pounds of meat. (Well mooo-oooo!) Instead, I made a half recipe and that was more within my budget.

This recipe was good and flavorful and somewhat cheap but you know what, it wasn’t my mom’s. Talk about economical—my mom used oatmeal as filler and that’s the taste I wanted. This one was close, but no cigar. And I didn’t use the amount of bacon called for because I considered that overkill and more expensive (I can buy my bacon by the slice at Whole Foods). But this was fine and we have leftovers and that is the whole point of meatloaf, am I right?

So kids, for three more weeks, I get to earn enough money to sweeten the pot to perhaps make something a little more expensive next week…or not. We’ll see where the recipe wind takes me. But for now I’m safe…and I didn’t even need to cook the meal of my life or channel Jackie Kennedy to do so. (And for those of you lost in America, I reference Top Chef and Project Runway; same with the “one day you’re in…” quote above).

In the words of Tim Gunn from Project Runway - “Make it work…”

Old-Fashioned Beach Meat Loaf (“Beach meatloaf?” As opposed to your “alley” meatloaf or your “swamp meat loaf”???!!) (This is the full recipe but I don’t know how many it is intended to feed. My guess is a lot!)
2 pounds chopped beef, ground twice
1 pound chopped pork, ground twice
1 pound chopped veal, ground twice
1 large onion, chopped or grated
1 carrot, grated
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves, crushed
½ bay leaf, crushed
2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 eggs
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Bacon or salt pork strips

Mix all ingredients but bacon or salt pork together and knead thoroughly. Press down. Form into a tight loaf and place on strips of bacon or salt pork in a shallow baking pan. Cover with more strips of bacon and bake in 350 oven, basting frequently for 1 ½ to 2 hours, according to the size of the loaf. (Beard’s note: “This is delicious hot, but even better cold, when it resembles a good pate de campagne of the French provinces. It must not be baked in a loaf pan and it must be well pressed together with the hands before baking).

And now here are my notes: Get out a Cuisinart. Dump in your onion and your carrots and pulse until the vegetables are finely chopped. Add all ingredients, including the meat, turn the thing on and walk away for a minute. Blend the ingredients, turn it back on, walk away for another minute, come back and dump the mixture in a shallow pan. You will not believe how finely ground your ingredients are. Shape with hands then cover with some strips of bacon (as opposed to practically wrapping the thing in bacon like a snuggi), and bake for 1 hour or until the internal temp reaches 165. Serve. Eat the leftovers for several days until the meatloaf is gone or you can’t take it any more!