Thursday, January 26, 2017

"The Mondale Family Cookbook" by Joan Mondale (Walter F. "Fritz" Mondale was Jimmy Carter's Vice President) - Inauguration Day 2017

Date I made this recipe:  January 20, 2017 – Inauguration Day     

The Mondale Family Cookbook by Joan Mondale (Minnesotans Walter "Fritz" Mondale and the late Joan Mondale were Vice President and Second Lady under President Jimmy Carter, 1980-1984)
Published by the 1984 Mondale for President Committee, Inc.
© 1984
Recipe:  Minnesota Wild Rice Casserole – p. 44

Although I have been known to pull a cookbook off my shelves to observe an event – a food holiday, a national holiday, or a "holiday" holiday - this time around, I hadn't planned to make anything for Friday's inauguration and yes, I know – shocking.  I just had a lot going on and just wasn't in the frame of mind to go on a search and destroy mission through vast cookbook list to find just the "right" one.

And then fate intervened.  This Christmas, I acquired several books and so I finally carved out a few minutes to update my cookbook data base (read:  Excel spreadsheet – so fancy!).  One of the books I acquired was The Mondale Family Cookbook and I was all set to put it on the shelf when it dawned on me I could make something for Friday's Inauguration and so I did. 

Was that incredible timing, or what? 

Because during an inauguration, like the one we had today, a President and a Vice President are sworn into office, and 40 years ago on January 20, 1977, Minnesotan Walter "Fritz" Mondale (of the "cookbook" Mondales!) was sworn in as President Jimmy Carter's Vice President. 

Since I was in college during this election and eligible to vote for the first time, I remember well the Carter/Mondale administration.  But with the exception of some sweet little adorable five year old who can name every President and Vice President, and who appears on talk shows to show off her prowess, most of us cannot normally recall Presidents, much less their second in commands.  And so let's test ourselves on how well we remember these dynamic duos, okay? (Hint:  You're looking for the names of 45 Presidents and 48 Vice Presidents.)

"All right then - pencils up, eyes front and...GO!" [Minutes, days, hours later] "And....time's up, pencils down."

How'd you do?  I'm guessing fair to middling.  Will it help if I show my work? 

Since I know for sure that my knowledge of our earliest Presidents and Veeps is fuzzy, I decided to test my knowledge starting with Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), our 32nd President.   Why FDR?  Several reasons: 1) most of my history classes focused on the Great Depression and WWII which was when FDR was in office; 2) my dad grew up during the Depression and was a Marine in WWII, and 3) I have a better chance on my own history test if I start with what I know and that's the start of what I know!

Well, almost.  FDR served three terms (1933-1945) in office (bonus points if you knew this and also knew that he was the only president to serve three terms) but I have no recollection of Vice Presidents One and Two so I cheated and Googled and they are John Nance Garner (1933-1941) and Henry A. Wallace (1941-1945).  Please make a note of this.

When it comes to FDR's third Vice President though, I have this on lock and load:  Harry S. Truman.  My dad loved Harry S. Truman and his whole "The buck stops here" approach.  My dad was also a Marine during WWII and credits Truman with seeing to it that he came home from the Pacific theater so there's that.  (Bonus points if you knew that FDR oversaw V-E Day (Victory-Europe Day), but died before he could see the end of the war in Japan known as V-J Day (Victory Japan Day).  Harry S. Truman brought an end to the war in Japan after stepping into the Presidential seat held by FDR.

After finishing out the rest of FDR's third term, Truman ran for election, won, and became the 33rd President.  (Bonus points if you recall the surprise outcome to the election and another bonus point if the word "Dewey" rings a bell.)

Okay then, so Harry S. Truman was President and his Vice President was....give me a second...and...nope.  The guy's name was Alben W. Barkley.  For some reason, I had [the name] Adlai Stevenson rolling around my head but dear heavens, Adlai Stevenson was Grover Cleveland's Vice President and they served from 1893-1897.  Please note that I was only off by 48 years.  I think I'll award myself a half point for remembering the name even if I couldn't place him with the correct President!

After Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower became President (I knew that so point for me!) and Richard Nixon was his Vice President.  Not that I recall Nixon being his Vice President so that's a deduction. (But I get points for knowing that Nixon became President eventually, and I also get points for knowing – because I watched it firsthand – all about Watergate.)

After Eisenhower, President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson served in office (2 points for me), and after Kennedy was assassinated, Johnson became President and Minnesotan Hubert H. Humphrey was his Vice President, and people, I am on a point roll! (By the way, I was not living in Minnesota at this time nor when Carter and Mondale were in the White House.)

Unfortunately, Johnson's Presidency was a rocky one (bonus points if you know about the Chicago Democratic convention and the Vietnam War), and so he decided not to seek reelection ("I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."  Major bonus points awarded if you not only knew he said this but came up also with the exact quote; I came so close but didn't nail it).  This left the field open for Democrats Hubert H. Humphrey and the late Bobby Kennedy (among others) to run, but it was Republican Richard Nixon who won the day.

Richard Nixon's first Vice President was Spiro Agnew and then after Spiro stepped down, it was Gerald R. Ford who was from my home state of Michigan.  And I cannot pass up the opportunity to tell you a small story about Spiro Agnew.

While in law school, I took a Corporations Law class and during one class session, we reviewed a court case involving Spiro Agnew.  Since I attended law school later in life, the only people in this class who were not 26"ish" (the average age) were me, my friend, Melissa, and our professor who was only a few years older than the two of us.  In fact, the professor attended Kent State University during the famous Kent State Massacre, so award yourself bonus points if you know about that tragic event. 

Anyway, so the professor started the case review by asking if anyone in the class knew who Spiro Agnew was.  And Melissa and I were all "Oh, oh, Mr. Kotter!  Mr. Kotter!" (I reference the TV show Welcome Back, Kotter from the 70's – starring John Travolta) because of course we knew who he was, we lived through that era.  But nobody else in the class did.  Nobody.

"Oh people...people....[sigh]. Nobody knows?" I have never seen a professor so dejected.  Can I just say though, that for once, I felt pretty chuffed that I was old enough to know this information instead of feeling like a mom/den mother?

Moving on.  After Nixon resigned, Gerald R. Ford became President and his Vice President was....I know I know this and....nope.  Answer: Nelson Rockefeller.  Right about now is when I started to feel like I was on the TV show, Jeopardy, in that I knew Nelson Rockefeller's name had to be in the "Vice Presidents" (for 10) category someplace but I just couldn't figure out where!  My initial thought was Ronald Reagan which as you will see, is wrong, wrong, wrong!

Still, I rallied and now things started looking up because  after Ford, Jimmy Carter was elected President and our aforementioned Walter F. (Fritz) Mondale his Vice President

After Carter, Ronald Regan was elected President and his Vice President was George H. W. Bush.  Then Bush (senior) became President and Dan Quayle was his Vice President.  Bush (senior) was followed by Bill Clinton whose Vice President was Al Gore. 

After Clinton came George "W" Bush and his Vice President was Dick Cheney, and after that Barack Obama and his Vice President, Joe Biden, and today Donald Trump and his Veep, Mike Pence were sworn in.  Whew, right?

And before I get to the reason we are really here – The Mondale  Family Cookbook, let me just share a few other facts that I uncovered in my research:

*11 out of 48 Vice Presidents were from New York State including Aaron Burr, famous for engaging in a [gun] duel with Alexander Hamilton (he of the Broadway blockbuster Hamilton – An American Musical).  And four out of the 11 New Yorker's later became President:  Martin Van Buren; Millard Fillmore; Chester A. Arthur, and Theodore Roosevelt.

*To my surprise, six of the 48 Vice Presidents hailed from Indiana, including the recently sworn-in Mike Pence.  I guess I wasn't expecting Indiana to yield so many.  On the other hand, 13 states produced one and only one Vice President including the 13th Vice President, William R. King who hailed from Alabama

And with that, we conclude today's – Inauguration Day 2017 – history review and test.  Please tally up your scores, (keep it honest folks,) pass your papers in, and to those of you who scored low, you know what you need to do!

So onto the book we go! In 1984, Mondale decided to run for President and so the 1984 Mondale  for President Committee, Inc. published this cookbook, The Mondale Family Cookbook, likely as a fundraiser or thank you gift for donors. The book contains family and friend photos, a Mondale family tree (loved that!), and recipes from the family and their friends, as well as recipes and menus from the Vice President's House.  And it was from one of those menus that I selected today's casserole recipe.

But first, I must mention – must – the "recipe" that cracked me up the most when I saw it:  "Hot Dogs and Tab (the soft drink)" from family friend, James A. Johnson. To make this recipe, you heat the hot dogs in a pot on the stove and then pour yourself a Tab and ta da, instant dinner! 

As tempting as that recipe was though, it wasn't exactly Inauguration-worthy and so I had to pass, settling instead on the Minnesota Wild Rice Casserole that was served to former First Lady "Lady Bird" Johnson, widow of President Lyndon B. Johnson, when she visited the Vice President's House, January 10, 1979. 

Still folks.  Still.  I cannot say that I've ever associated a Minnesota casserole with a Vice Presidential dinner and that is because casseroles are usually reserved for:

a) a Lutheran church basement funeral repast
b) a neighborhood pot-luck
c) a bridal or baby shower
d) all of the above

But this was 1979 and "fancy" casseroles were making the rounds of many a dinner party and those with wild rice, like the Mondale casserole, are fancier still.  You should know that wild rice is not rice at all but rather a grass/grain and has the distinction of being the official Minnesota State Grain. Perhaps this is why it ended up on the dinner table? (Dress to impress, cook to impress?)

That said, as any Minnesotan (or transplant like me) knows, a bona fide, true blue, all-American, specifically-Minnesotan casserole (or, as the natives say, "hot dish") contains at least one can of Cream of "X" soup, where "X" equals Mushroom, Chicken, or Celery.  There are no exceptions to this rule, and in fact, if this requirement has not been codified, i.e. made into law, it should be. 

Other popular casserole ingredients (although not necessarily mandatory) are Tater Tots and Velveeta cheese.  And it is ingredients like these that have people diving at the pot-luck table time and time again.

In fact, so popular are casseroles to these parts, that United States Senator Al Franken (D-MN) hosts an annual Minnesota Congressional Delegation Hot Dish Off (like a Bake Off, only not) every year and let me tell you, last year's results were interesting.

Last year's results were interesting because Representative Tim Walz's (D-MN-1st District) winning recipe, Turkey Taco Tot Hot Dish contained not a single can of Cream of "X" soup.  Not one. And he wasn't alone as five – FIVE! – out of 10 submissions did not use soup.  Well, that's downright...un-Minnesotan!  How did it come to pass that we elected these people?

I am speechless.  Really.  How is this even possible? No soup (for you)?

And so a shout out to the following people who followed the rules (and possibly state statutes) and used at least one can of soup:  Senator Al Franken; Representative Collin Peterson (who made his casserole using rabbit.  Hmmmm.  Interesting choice, that.); Representative Betty McCollum; Representative Keith Ellison, and Representative Erik Paulsen who used three cans of soup, one of which was Cream of Mushroom, cream of Mushroom being the "official" casserole go-to around here, "don't ya know."

So that's impressive and the rest of you have your work cut out for you!

Now then, so used am I to seeing Cream of "X" soup, that I thought that was what the Mondale's Minnesota Wild Rice Casserole called for but folks, it did not and now I have further proof that I need to get my eyes checked.

The Mondale's recipe, as served to Lady Bird Johnson, called for 1 can of Mushroom Soup (not a "Cream of" in sight) and ½ cup consommé.  Technically, that's a violation and I'm sorry former Vice President Mondale, I'm going to have to "ding" you for that.

Frankly, I'm a little confused by these two ingredients as it's basically beef on beef.  Campbell's makes a can of "Beefy Mushroom" soup that I imagine is somewhat gravy-like, and then to that you add more beef broth in the form of consommé?  Well it puzzles is what it does but who am I to argue with a former Veep?

Still, because of my misread, I used Cream of Mushroom and the consommé, and all was well with the world and the dish was really tasty.  Very tasty.  But brown people, very brown.

And I only mention the color because it's in sharp contrast to the usual and customary white food of which many Minnesotans of Scandinavian descent are quite fond.  In fact, it is usual  and customary to see a holiday dinner of boiled potatoes (white), white fish (or actual Whitefish, a Lake Superior delicacy), pickled herring (ew – but white), lefse, a white crepe of sorts made with potatoes, and the ever-famous but never-popular, lutefisk which is white fished soaked in lye and then dried, I kid you not.  Never, ever will I eat that – never, and herring is out, but I can deal with the rest of it so long as I can add a splash of color known as Lingonberry jam!

Similarly, the Mondale's feast was a mixture of brown and white as follows:  Oysters Casino (oysters are white/gray); Roast Duckling with Kumquats (duck is brown); Minnesota Wild Rice Casserole (totally brown); Baked Cucumbers (sans the skin, cucumbers are white); Small Croissants (white/golden); Poached Pears (white) with Sabayon Sauce (sabayon sauce contains eggs – white and gold), and then in a complete about-face, they added a Bibb Lettuce and Watercress Salad with Slices Avocado – green, green, totally green and the dinner party was saved! I am kidding, of course, as it all sounds lovely and delicious and the very brown Minnesota Wild Rice Casserole was mighty tasty even though I defaulted to the Cream of Mushroom Soup.  Old cooking habits are hard to break!

So that's the story of my accidental inauguration dinner, a look at Presidents and Vice Presidents through history, and a further peek into the crazy casserole times of native Minnesotans.  And by the way, lest you think my history lesson was all for naught, everybody should have a few interesting anecdotes tucked away as nobody likes a boring dinner party guest.  In fact, when I took a class on [Geoffrey] Chaucer in college, my professor insisted that all of us learn to recite the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales in the original Olde English, for the express purpose of impressing party guests. (I can still recall the first eight lines and then after that I'm a bit lost, sort of like my Vice President recollection!)

And so when you get that call and subsequent party invitation from the Vice President's office? You're welcome!

And now to end our little historic look-back at the office of the President and Vice President, I wanted to let you know that Walter and Joan Mondale returned eventually to Minneapolis where he still resides; Joan passed away in 2014.  Joan was a well-known artist (pottery) and I completely forgot until I read her bio on Wikipedia that she was nicknamed Joan of "Art."  She compiled all the recipes in this book.

Walter continued on in law and politics and in 2013, was keynote speaker and honoree at a Law and Inequality Symposium titled Civil Rights & Civil Justice: 50 Years Later, at his law alma mater, the University of Minnesota Law School.   I was in that audience then (I'm a fellow attorney) and marveled the entire time how up close and personal I was to a former Vice President of the United States

Would that I had known about the Minnesota Wild Rice Casserole though.  Would that I had known.

Minnesota Wild Rice Casserole – six servings
¾ cup long-grained rice
¼ cup wild rice
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons diced celery
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped green pepper
1 pound ground beef
1 can (10 ½ ounces) mushroom soup (Ann's Note:  Not CREAM of Mushroom Soup.  Mushroom soup.)
½ cup consommé
½ pound fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
¼ cup slivered almonds

In separate pots cook the long-grained rice and the wild rice according to directions on packages.  While they are cooking, sauté the vegetables in the butter.  Add the ground beef and brown.  Stir in the mushroom soup, consommé, mushrooms, and almonds.  Cook for 10 to 15 minutes.  In a casserole, combine the rices with the vegetable-beef mixture and keep warm in a 250 oven until served.

Friday, January 20, 2017

"The Asian Slow Cooker" - Lemon Chicken and Classic Fried Rice - Feeding a "yen" for Asian food

Date I made these recipes:  January 15, 2017 – In an Asian food kind of mood!

The Asian Slow Cooker – Exotic Favorites For Your Crockpot by Kelly Kwok
Published by Page Street Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-62414-290-1; copyright 2016
Purchased at Bibelot Shops
Recipes:  Lemon Chicken – p. 25 and Classic Fried Rice – p. 66

A friend of mine and I walk frequently at a local mall containing several fast-casual restaurants.  There's a yogurt place, a hot dog place, a burger place, a wing place, a soup place and an Asian place – Leeann Chin.

So we're walking by Leeann Chin and I smelled Kung Pao chicken and other Asian delights, and wished I could have grabbed something to go, but my schedule did not allow for it that day or for several days thereafter.  And this is terrible when one has a yen for something, is it not? 

Then this past Sunday, it was time for another [Green Bay] Packers playoff game and if you read my last blog, you know that now that we are in the playoffs, making a Wisconsin or football-related dish is out lest it jinx my team, and so why not Asian instead?

And people, it worked!  It was a very close game but with my crazy strategy, I am now  two for two and I'm liking those odds.  That said, food alone does not "save" a team:  I have a whole anti-jinx system for my clothing, even down to which one of my eyeglass frames (I have two pairs) to wear on game day.  Let's just say I take "lucky socks" to a whole new dimension!

But I digress so let's get back to this cookbook.

I purchased this book at a local store called Bibelot.  The name "bibelot" means "a small, decorative ornament or trinket" and Bibelot, the store sells that and more.  Although Bibelot doesn't carry a huge stock of cookbooks, the ones they carry are great and I am happy to add them to my collection.

This cookbook has a lot to offer, both with recipes and mouth-watering photographs.  Unlike many of the cookbooks in my collection, I pretty much could have made every single recipe save for those that I knew were going to be "Danger, Will Robinson" on the heat index.  I don't know about you, but the phrase "add several tablespoons hot sauce," and/or "add several Thai chilies finely minced," is a big clue to upcoming pain and so I avoid those recipes like the plague.

And while this cookbook is geared for a slow cooker, it contains also a chapter titled "One-Pot & Skillet" from which the fried rice recipe (made in a wok) came.  In fact, many of the recipes in this chapter are for easy stir fries and I love stir fries!

Other chapters are: "Ditch the Takeout;" "5 Ingredients or Less;" "Skip the Stove-Top;" "Fiery Favorites;" "Meatless Mondays;" "Sensational Soups," and "Delectable Desserts."  And honestly, if you can't find something to make in this book, I'll be amazed and just say that you probably should not have purchased it.

As these things go, my husband selected an entirely different list of potential recipes than I did but that was before my waltz by Leeann Chin at the local mall.  After that, I axed his list (sorry, honey) and decided on Lemon Chicken as that is one of Leeann Chin's signature dishes.

For those who aren't from around here, Leeann Chin was a Chinese immigrant who, after moving to Minneapolis, founded an Asian food [restaurant] empire.  In addition to her signature Leeann Chin restaurants, she started a fast-casual restaurant chain of the same name – Leeann Chin – and several remain in operation today.  She also started another restaurant chain, Asia Grille, which featured a variety of Asian foods.  Alas, that chain went away but while in operation, her company hired the consulting group I worked for to work on branding and expanding this concept.

And just like the kid in the Shake-N-Bake commercial said, "I helped!"  I did!  The consulting group at the time consisted of the owner, a friend of mine, and me, his project manager.  Among my many tasks for this project was to set up some focus groups to get feedback about the concept, and Leeann and her daughter attended.

Well, naturally, we were a little stressed out about this because around here, this woman was a legend, but she was very nice and liked what we were doing with "the 'place.'"

Still, I have a story:  so it is usual and customary to offer participants coming to these focus groups (for hours at a time) a snack and so I always arranged that with the focus group facility I selected to "host" this thing.  But we also arranged food for the back room, i.e. the people behind the mirrored wall ("Hi!  "Hello!  "Yes, that's us waving at you!  Just pretend like you can't hear us back here!") and that menu was always different  - no mere "snacks" for the client, oh no!

Well, knowing that Leeann herself was coming to the focus groups, the pressure was on me and therefore on the focus group facility, to offer a knock-your-socks off dinner to our guests.  And I could not emphasize enough to them who our guest of honor was and the focus group facility staff, all of whom were familiar with Leeann Chin and her food, assured me that "they got this."

Shall I just tell you that they didn't "got this?"  In fact, it turned out to be the absolute worse food we ever offered to the clients, bar none.  I cannot recall exactly what we had except if memory serves, the meat (likely a steak) was rubbery and cold and the potato?  I cannot go there with you.  Can Not.

Well bless her heart, Leeann was very gracious about it but I had a very strong "Come to Jesus" with the facility after which, a considerable portion of that meal cost came off our bill.  And when we ran more focus groups for this project, we switched facilities.  Of course, the perfect food to have served to the client would have been her food, but it's pretty ticky tacky to ask her if she could swing by one of her retail operations and BYO fried rice, am I right?  Exactly.

If Leeann was alive (she passed away in 2010), she likely would have asked for a refund on the lemon chicken dish but not for reasons you might think.  It was delicious and didn't take long to cook, but the lemon sauce wasn't anywhere close to the recipe she served at her two restaurants.  I'm noting specifically the restaurants (as opposed to the fast-casual stores) because like many restaurant operators, when she moved into mass production at the fast-casual stores, the lemon sauce was too goopy for me to enjoy and the breaded coating on her chicken, too heavy.  (That said, her food is still very good, made fresh and replenished often so don't let my comment on the chicken stop you.  J'adore many of her other dishes which do not suffer as much in the translation.)

But ah, the "original" lemon chicken and sauce was a delight!  And by all rights, my concoction should have been the same because it sure looked the same in the picture, but it was not.  Instead, it turned brown and gloppy and that was disappointing.  So I tell you what, if I were you, I'd slow cook this dish as directed (3-4 hours) and then stop.  Stop the insanity! The chicken was just fine and most delicious before I went down this rabbit hole a/k/a the lemon sauce.

As with most Asian recipes, this dish was to be served with rice and we could have gone with just white rice which I enjoy, but Andy loves fried rice.  And so fair is fair:  since I selected the main dish, I let him choose the rice accompaniment and he wanted Classic Fried Rice.

You should know that you need to cook the rice for this dish the night before and then refrigerate it.  And I did that but I tell you what, I created a monster because we had rice coming out of our ears!

Our rice cooker is old.   "Old" as in it was made in Japan and all the instructions were in Japanese and we don't speak or read Japanese.  And this likely begs the question of why we purchased the thing in the first place and the answer is because at the time, it was a new, cool product offered by Cooks of Crocus Hills (a local cookware store)  and it was on sale so we bought it, thinking that we were so ahead of the curve as rice cookers were just on their way to becoming all the rage. 

And the thing works great but there are issues and somewhat hilariously, they are the most important ones:  how to measure the rice, what amount are we measuring really, and how much water to add?  And years later, I am unhappy to report that we have still been unable to figure out the answers to these burning and important questions.  There are all kinds of markings on a plastic cup that appears to be a measuring cup that came with the cooker, and all kinds of markings on the inside of the rice cooker, but without translation assistance, we remain in the dark.

So prior to today, here's how I made rice and let me add that it usually ended up working out just fine:  I filled the plastic cup to the top, then poured it in the cooker, filled it with water to the "1" line indicator (there is also a "2" indicator and a "3" indicator and I assume this is for the water but we don't know because again, Japanese instructions), depressed the "on" tab to cook the rice and then ate it all when it was done.  I know for sure that this method makes more than 1 cup of cooked rice but I've never really had to care and so I didn't.  (By the way, there is only one switch on this cooker:  if you depress it, it starts cooking the rice, and when it is done, the switch pops up and your rice is done and your cooker is turned off.)

So anyway.  Since this recipe called for 3 cups of cooked rice, I measured out three cups with my little plastic cup, and then filled the (alleged) water level to "3" and cooked my rice.  And it cooked all right, but it cooked its way to yield nearly 6 cups of rice!  Good thing I like the stuff!  Side note:  I am a huge fan of the I Love Lucy show, and during one of their more famous shows," Job Switching," Ricky and Fred attempt to make rice for dinner and it was, of course, a disaster.  Happily, my "episode" did not end like theirs!

At any rate, once all your ingredients are assembled, all you have to do is stir-fry them and you are in business.  I have a wok and I love my wok and so I went to town and within minutes, we had prefect fried rice but this can be made with a skillet as well.

All told, this was a good meal but I had to laugh that Andy and I both woke up the next day totally starving.  Well, it's an old adage that Asian food is not necessarily filling and I don't know why that is but it is.  But it sure was tasty save for the goopy lemon sauce which I think you can do without.

So there you have it – craving cured and I didn't have to go stand in line to get take-out to do it.  And if Lemon Chicken and Classic Fried Rice are not your thing, you should be able to find easily something that is.  Good luck!

This concludes week #2 of "Non-football, non-Wisconsin" (not to be confused with "On, Wisconsin!," the state song) food.  The Packers are playing this coming Sunday, January 22, so expect another food blackout from me.  Until then, enjoy your Asian meal.
Lemon Chicken – Yield:  4 servings
1 cup plus 1 ½ tbsp cornstarch, divided
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-sized cubes
2 tsp cooking oil (Ann's Note:  No way is that enough.  No way.  See below)
½ cup low sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup low sodium chicken broth
¼ cup honey
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 tsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp fresh ginger, minced
3 tbsp cold water (to be added to the cornstarch)
Cooked rice, for serving
Sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)
1 green onion, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)

In a large zip-top bag, toss together 1 cup cornstarch, salt and black pepper.  Next add the chicken to the bag, and give it a little shake until well coated.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Ann's Note:  as mentioned above, there is no way two teaspoons of oil will brown that much chicken.  I had to keep adding oil so that the chicken didn't stick but even then, it kept sticking.  I was not very happy at all.  So I would use 2 TABLESPOONS and see how that goes. Cook the chicken, about 2 to 3 minutes on both sides, then transfer to the slow cooker.

In a medium bowl, whisk together:
  • Soy sauce
  • Broth
  • Honey
  • Vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Lemon zest
  • Sesame oil
  • Garlic
  • Ginger

Pour this mixture over the chicken.  Cover and cook on low for about 3 to 4 hours. (Ann's Note:  I cooked it for 3 and it was perfect.)

Ann's Note: Now here, reader, is where I urge caution with the next step.  Truth be told, I forgot about this step and so served us up the lemon chicken without the additional cornstarch sauce and thought it was very tasty.  And then I did as directed and added the cornstarch slurry to the crock pot and thought the result was an ugly mess and not at all as pictured.  It's up to you, of course, but I would stop with the directions above.  If not, here's how to "finish" the dish:  About 30 minutes prior to serving, whisk together the remaining cornstarch with water in a small bowl and stir into the slow cooker.  Turn the heat to high and allow the sauce to cook and thicken up for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve over hot rice.  Garnish with sesame seeds and green onions, if desired.

Classic Fried Rice – Yield:  4 servings
1 cup cubed lean beef, chicken or pork (leave out for meatless version)
1 ½ tbsp low sodium soy sauce, divided
½ tsp cornstarch
¼ tsp black pepper
1 tbsp cooking oil, divided*
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups cooked, day-old rice, chilled with clumps separated
1 tsp fish sauce OR 1 tbsp oyster sauce (vegetarian or regular)
1 tsp mirin, Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
¼ tsp sesame oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 green onion, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)
Sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

In a small bowl, combine the meat with ½ tablespoons soy sauce, cornstarch and black pepper. (Ann's Note:  I skipped this part, poached some chicken instead of stir-frying it and then cubed it to add to the dish when required.)

Heat 2 teaspoons of cooking oil* on medium-high heat in a non-stick wok or pan.  Toss in the garlic and sauté until fragrant; about 10 seconds.  Add the cubed meat and stir-fry until almost cooked through, around 2 to 3 minutes.  Stir in the mixed vegetables and cook for another minutes, then push all the ingredients to the side of the pan and pour in the beaten eggs.  Scramble into small pieces and cook, then transfer the entire contents of the pan to a large plate.

Return the pan to the stove and add another teaspoon of oil**Ann's Note: I have a feeling that these oil measurements are wrong as in "not enough."  I used a bit more than directed.

Stir in the rice and break up any large chunks with a spatula while tossing until heated through, around 2 minutes.  Add the plate of cooked meat and vegetables back to the pan and drizzle in the remaining soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin and sesame oil, tossing to combine everything evenly.  Keep stirring the fried rice until slightly toasted, about 2 minutes.  Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Transfer to bowls and serve hot.  Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds, if desired.

Ann's Note:  If you want to make the fried rice in a crockpot, the recipe for it is on p. 43 of this book or below:

3 cups cooked, day-old rice
1 cup fresh or frozen chopped mixed vegetables
2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp mirin

Add the rice and vegetables into a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker.  Stir in the soy sauce, fish sauce and mirin.  Cover and cook on high for 1 hour or low for 3 hours.  Stir well before serving.

Friday, January 13, 2017

"A Taste of Switzerland" - Pears and Apples with Potatoes and Bacon - a "neutral" dish for a night filled with competition!

Date I made this recipe:  January 8, 2017 – Double header: Packers v. Giants and the Golden Globes

A Taste of Switzerland by Sue Style
Published by Hearst Books New York
ISBN: 0-688-10900-4; © 1992
Purchased at Bloomington Crime Prevention Association (BCPA) annual sale
Recipe:  Pears and Apples with Potatoes and Bacon (or Ham) (Schnitz Und Drunder) – p. 119

Folks, it's that time of year for football divisional playoffs.  Such pitched battles!  Such edge-of-the-seat moments!  Such "underdog" triumphs!

And then, of course, there are TV and movie award shows like tonight's Golden Globes.  Such pitched battles!  Such edge-of-the-seat moments!  Such "underdog" triumphs!  Such...interesting..."outfits?!" (To quote two of my celebrity fashion bloggers, Tom and Lorenzo – – "What is that even?")

At least I don't have to ask my Green Bay Packers "who are you wearing" because I know.  They're wearing "victory!"  (Green Bay Packers 38, New York Giants 13)

Like a lot of football fans (and players), I have my superstitions surrounding game time.  One wrong move and I could jinx my team and they will be out of the running.  And so I approached tonight's dinner very carefully.

First, I thought of making something Saturday night from some of my Wisconsin-themed cookbooks or a football cookbooks, but then thought that might screw up things on  Sunday.

Then I contemplated making something on game day itself but the game was scheduled to end around the dinner hour and I was concerned that if we won (and we did), that I would jinx it for the following week. (Yes, I know this makes no sense whatsoever but it's how I roll.)  And if we lost, well then I just wouldn't be hungry.

Hot on the heels of the game though was the Golden Globe award show and so making something international as a salute to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that hands out these awards seemed like the better way to go (to avoid the jinx) but what country?

And then, light bulb moment:  Switzerland.  The Swiss are neutral!  They are noted for their neutrality!  (And their Swiss bank accounts!  And their chocolate!)  So I could make something Swiss and it would all be okay.  I could avoid anything football related and just concentrate on film and TV.  Perfect.

And so Swiss food it was and so I pulled out my A Taste of Switzerland cookbook and got to work.  And it didn't take me long to figure out the theme to Swiss cooking and it boils down to this:  cheese, sausages, and chocolate.  And while this makes it easy to come up with a recipe, I would have liked more variety but perhaps that is not the Swiss way?

Sadly, I cannot tell you much about Swiss food as I've only been to Switzerland once and then only to Zurich where I am proud to say I ordered our Italian meal for us in our Swiss restaurant in Spanish!  You probably had to be there.  The funniest thing though is that the waiter understood me (and I him) despite the fact that the Swiss generally speak a mix of German, Italian, and French so "'S' is for 'Spanish'" is no where to be seen.  That said, when in Rome, or in this case, Zurich, we order food "by any means we can, in any way we can, for as long as we can."  (With apologies to Methodists everywhere.)

Aside from that one stop in Zurich, the rest of our time in Switzerland was spent on a train bound for Italy where we spent the second half of our honeymoon (25 years ago this past May!).  The scenery was spectacular although I got just a teensy nervous when we went through the Swiss Alps given that I'm afraid of heights and all.  And while the train food was not all that bad (the Europeans have a lock and load on this), we didn't get to sample much in the way of Swiss fare.  Next time.

This cookbook contains the following sections:  "Daily Bread;" "Of Cows and Cheese;" "The Federal Sausage Feast;" "Wild Beasts and Wild Mushrooms;" "Champion Chocolate Consumption;" "Fruits of the Earth and Heavenly Distillations;" "A Taste of Switzerland's Wines," and then a few pages about "The Art of the Swiss Hotelier," and "Food and Wine Museums in Switzerland." 

If there's a downside to this cookbook, is that there are not enough recipes from which to choose.  And hilariously, the first recipe that this book opened to is "Diced Veal with Cream and Mushrooms," and if you read my last blog about National Spaghetti Day, you'll know why I passed on that.

Okay, so I looked through the recipes and settled on two, both involving cheese and potatoes (how can that combination be wrong?), and Andy cast the deciding vote:  "And the Collectible Cooking award goes to....Schnitz Und Drunder, otherwise known as Pears and Apple with Potatoes and Bacon (or ham)."

Congratulations, "Schnitz" – so deserved!  Sympathies to our runner up, Älpler Magrone – Macaroni with Bacon, Cream and Cheese (p. 62). Look, if it was up to me....

I'm glad we decided on the "Schnitz" recipe though because the flavors of the fruit, ham, and potatoes all worked well together.  After simmering the first set of ingredients together, you add a bit of cream to pull it all together and there you go, your winning dish!

So the Packers won, and many people "won" at the Golden Globes and this dish was winning save for one tiny thing:  the time it took to make it.

This was supposed to be a 30-minute dish.  Thirty minutes to sauté the mixture "until most of the liquid has evaporated."  Well, it took a lot longer than 30 minutes to accomplish this feat.  My best guestimate is about an hour but that all depends on your definition of "most" and "evaporated."  I wasn't sure how much liquid constituted "most" and so cooked the dish closer to 50 minutes than 30.  And even after I added the cream, I did not "serve immediately" but rather kept it simmering for another 10 minutes, bringing our total closer to 60 minutes..  But you know what, it's best not to rush these things and besides, I was able to toggle my TV viewing between post-game wrap ups and the Golden Globes and that was fine by me.

Finally, I'm surprised that there was not a chapter specifically dedicated to "potatoes," as many Swiss dishes, like this one, contain them.  In fact, a potato dish called Rösti is probably the Swiss national dish and if it isn't, it should be.  Rösti is like a potato pancake and I could have made it (recipe on p. 76), but we decided on the other recipe instead.

This then concludes all things "competition." But PS, and with all due respect Meryl Streep, football is so art, especially when you look at the "ballet" performed by Green Bay Wide Receiver, Randall Cobb, when he reached up to grab a Hail Mary pass for a touchdown lobbed by quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, at the end of the first half.  So there! It was poetry in motion, I tell you, poetry- and art - in motion!

So much for being neutral like our Swiss friends.  Enjoy!

Pears and Apples with Potatoes and Bacon – serves 4-6
1 onion, chopped
25g/1 oz/2 tablespoons butter
1 pear, peeled, cored and sliced
1 apple, peeled, cored and sliced
Optional:  1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and pepper
500g/ 1 pound, 2 ounces potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
A 300g/ 10 oz piece of bacon or ham (cut into large chunks)
2 tablespoons cream

Soften the onion in the butter without allowing it to brown.  Add the pear and apple and toss them in the sugar (if using).  (Ann's Note:  I didn't!).  Season lightly and add potatoes and enough water to barely cover.  Cut the bacon or ham into large chunks and add to the pan.

Simmer for about 30 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Stir in the cream, check the seasoning and serve immediately.  (Ann's Note:  as stated above, I simmered for about an hour total.  After 30 minutes, it just didn't seem like most of the liquid had evaporated so I cooked it for another 15, then added the cream and cooked it for about another 15 after that.)

And here is what the author said about this dish:  The combination of apples and/or pears with potatoes and smoked pork in a savoury one-pot meal crops up all over German-speaking Switzerland under many different names.  In the old days, the fruit would have been dried, the potatoes from stocks in the cellar and the bacon or ham from the family pig.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

"The Pleasures of Italian Cooking" - Spaghetti with Veal Dumplings + a bonus recipe, Spaghetti with Bacon Sauce - National Spaghetti Day, 2017

Date I made this recipe:  Wednesday, January 5, 2017 – National Spaghetti Day!

The Pleasures of Italian Cooking by Romeo Salta with an Introduction by Myra Waldo
Published by The Macmillan Company
© 1962; Fourth Printing 1968
Purchased at Hilo Bay Books, Hilo, Hawaii
Recipe:  Spaghetti with Veal Dumplings (Spaghetti Piatto Unico) – p. 73; Bonus recipe (untried) – Spaghetti with Bacon Sauce (Spaghetti all' Amatriciana)- p. 78.

So thanks to Facebook, I was alerted to the fact that Wednesday, January 5th, was National Spaghetti Day and boy was I ever excited.  Mind you, when I was growing up, Wednesday was "Prince Spaghetti Day," as advertised on TV by the Prince Spaghetti Company (go to YouTube and search "Anthony!  Anthony!  Price Spaghetti Commercial." (

"Anthony's" family was not alone in making spaghetti on Wednesday.  We often had it on Wednesday as well because Wednesday was typically the day we scheduled our doctor and dentist appointments for late afternoon, and when we came home, my mom wanted to make a quick and easy dinner.  She often made the sauce in advance in large batches and then froze and thawed them, so that all she had to do was cook the spaghetti, made a salad, slice the bread and dinner was served.

I wish I could give my mom credit for starting National Spaghetti Day but alas, I think not although the Prince Spaghetti commercial might have definitely played a role in all this.

Now I am nothing if not prepared for a day like this as I have numerous Italian or Sicilian cookbooks containing recipes for spaghetti.  But let's be real here:  it's the sauce that seals the deal.

Which is not to say that I don't like spaghetti and other forms of pasta because I do.  In  fact, every time I make a pot and drain it, I always grab a piece or two to "taste," don't you know, before putting it in a bowl and adding sauce.  I get that from my father who always tasted tested the pasta in the same way.  When it came to cooking pasta, dad was the man and he could make a mean sauce too, but he usually left that part to mom.

So I looked through my vast collection for spaghetti recipes and let me suggest to you that the easiest way to find one is to look at the Recipes Indexe found in the back of most cookbooks.  Simply cruise your way through "Salads," "Soups," and there you go – "Spaghetti."  And oh sure, sometimes you have to go rogue and look under "Pasta" but not in the books I looked at.

So I looked through two books and then when I got to this one – The Pleasures of Italian Cooking – I found not one but two great-sounding recipes.  The first one was basic – Spaghetti with Bacon Sauce (Spaghetti all' Amatriciana) – p. 78, but the second one was intriguing – Spaghetti with Veal Dumplings (Spaghetti Platto Unico) - p. 73.  Because I don't know about you, but when I hear the word "dumplings,"  I think of either hearty Eastern European food or Chinese dumplings like Shumai which I love.  In reality, these were really meatballs but the author chose to call them "dumplings" and who am I to argue?

Since both of these sounded good (and boy, was I starving when I finished looking through cookbooks), I decided to photocopy both recipes and then make a final decision at the grocery store.  And happily, I didn't need to purchase much as I had all the ingredients for either one save for some chopped tomatoes and, for the veal dumplings, the veal.

It is here I must pause to a) rant and b) tell a hilarious "What are the odds?" story.

The rant is this:  why do I always have so much trouble finding veal, never mind fresh (not frozen) veal in this town?  Yes, I know that some people have issues with the way veal (baby cows) are raised.  And yes I know that the Italian population here in Minnesota is minuscule compared to that of the east coat.  But for the love of Michelangelo folks, it is nearly impossible to source veal of any kind (ground, cutlets, etc.) and it's not like I live in the backwater, I live in the city!  A fairly good-sized city! "Twin" Cities even!  Yet you can just forget about finding it at a regular grocery store or  some of our upscale stores like Lunds & Byerlys, and even Whole Foods informed me that they are very fussy about their veal vendors (well, who isn't), and so they have not secured one for their local area stores.

Seriously?  In the entire state of Minnesota and/or Western Wisconsin and/or Eastern Iowa, you cannot find one – o.n.e. – vendor to provide you with veal?

What is this country coming to?

But folks, all is not lost.  Kowalski's grocery store (also somewhat upscale) carries it, as does the St. Paul Meat Shop on Grand Ave in St. Paul (but theirs is frozen) and so I had those two options but it's not like I had racks and racks of veal products to peruse at either because I did not.  At best, I'd find maybe a few packages.

As a side note, I have to confess that I was stuck with only two grocery options until it dawned on me today that I forgot a store: Cossetta, an Italian grocery store in St. Paul.  But Cossetta is a little further for me to drive, the parking lot is the size of a postage stamp, and it's a veritable "zoo" inside which is to say crammed to the rafters, "all day, all night, Marianne" ("down by the seaside siftin' sand...").

And now we turn to the second pause in our (riveting) story, b) "What are the odds?"   So I elected to shop at Kowalski's meat department where I found one, lone package of ground veal.  Well then, maybe I should make the dumplings after all, no?  Except I thought about the rest of you trying to source veal and thought maybe I should just go with the Spaghetti with Bacon sauce because if you all can't get your hands on some bacon, then I don't know what to tell you.

Still though, I vacillated and it was getting late in the day and I had other groceries to buy and so I left the one, lone package behind.  I did this in part because Andy was not going to be home on National Spaghetti Day and so I felt I had a day to make up my mind on the veal before making our spaghetti meal the next night.  Because seriously, what are the odds that someone else would buy "my veal?"

Turns out:  considerable!  Because I went back the next day and "my" veal was gone.  Gone, Baby, Gone!  I mean, the freaking nerve!  Honestly, I am still obsessing about the person(s) who absconded with my veal because who besides me was on the lookout for the stuff?  I was half tempted to ask to see store footage...

Luckily, even thought the ground veal was Gone, Baby, Gone, there were a few packages of veal for veal scaloppini.  And so I inquired of one of the butchers whether I could just put this in my Cuisinart and he said "sure," and so I brought it home and pulsed it in my Cuisinart for just a few seconds and I tell you what:  I would put up my version of ground veal against a bona fide butcher any day.  It was perfect!

So I added the rest of the ingredients to the veal, made them into little "dumplings" and fried them up as directed, and then all that needed to be done was to add the chopped tomatoes and some pepper and let it all simmer for 30 minutes.  Tack on another 8 minutes or so for the spaghetti (plus another 24 hours since I made this on Thursday) and we had ourselves a very tasty National Spaghetti Day dinner!

But I'm still stuck on how to accommodate the people who want to observe a late-breaking National Spaghetti Day but who can't find veal and so here's a thought:  if you can't source veal you might try using ground chicken or turkey.  The consistency is about the same as the veal and so it might work.  Or you could try ground pork although it might make the meatballs a tad more greasy so perhaps ground beef?

Or, you can try the runner-up recipe for Spaghetti with Bacon Sauce below.  I didn't try it but it sounded tasty and is oh-so-easy.

Finally, I have to mention that as you will see by the photo, this cookbook was likely well used as it is coming apart at the seams and that is sad.  Inexplicably, I found this book in two places, one in NYC and this one in Hawaii.  I passed on the one in NYC because at the time, I felt the cover was kind of tattered plus it was pricey, coming in around $25.00.  But when I found this version in Hawaii, even the falling-apart cover could not persuade me to pass on a book that was priced at $6.00.  I can be such a smart shopper even while being a dumb one with the veal.  And so we come full circle!
As to the book, when I Googled author Romeo Salta's name, I found that he was a pretty important person in Manhattan, enough to merit an obituary in the New York Times on September 6, 1998 ( Romeo died on August 31, 1998).  As the obituary noted, "one of the first Manhattan restaurateurs to introduce fine Italian cuisine" to NYC.  He owned a couple of restaurants, worked at a few hotels including the Waldorf Astoria, and according to the New York Times, even had a line of frozen foods with his name on it for a short period of time.  All that and more from a guy who immigrated here from Italy!  So "Oh Romeo, Romeo," I wish you were still alive so I could tell you how much I enjoyed these veal dumplings which is a damned good thing considering all the hoops I had to jump through to get them!  And they made for a very good accompaniment to spaghetti on National Spaghetti Day 2017.  On to next year!

Spaghetti with Veal Dumplings (Spaghetti Piatto Unico)  – serves 4
½ pound ground veal
1/8 pound prosciutto, or cooked ham, finely chopped
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 ½ teaspoons salt (Ann's Note: use ½ teaspoon for the dumplings, reserve the rest for the sauce)
1 egg, beaten
½ cup dry bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons dry vermouth (Ann's Note:  You can probably get away with using a dry white wine here)
1 pound tomatoes, chopped (Ann's Note:  I use Pomi brand chopped tomatoes. They come in a carton already chopped and ready to go.  And as I love to say, "Why do for yourself what you can pay others to do for you?")
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti, cooked and drained

Mix together the veal, ham, cheese, ½ teaspoon salt and the egg.  Shape teaspoons of the mixture into little balls.  Roll in the bread crumbs.

Melt the butter in a saucepan; brown the balls in it.  Add the wine; cook until absorbed, add the tomatoes, pepper and remaining salt; cook over low heat 30 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.  Pour over the hot spaghetti and serve with grated cheese. This dish is served as a main course.

Bonus recipe:  Spaghetti with Bacon Sauce (Spaghetti all' Amatriciana) – serves 4-6
¼ pound bacon, diced
½ cup chopped onion
¼ cup dry white wine
1 pound tomatoes, peeled and chopped
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti, cooked and drained
1 cup grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, cook the bacon and onion until browned.  Add the wine; cook until almost evaporated.  Mix the tomatoes and pepper; cook over low heat for 20 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.  Pour over the hot spaghetti and sprinkle with the cheese.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

"Beat This! Cookbook" & "Italian Family Cooking" - Savory Bread Pudding & Lentil Soup - New Year's Day 2017

Date I made this recipe:  New Year's Day, 2017 – Breakfast and Dinner

Beat This! Cookbook – Absolutely Unbeatable Knock-'em-Dead Recipes for the Very Best Dishes by Ann Hodgman
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
ISBN:  978-0-547-43700-2; © 2011
Purchased at Powell's Chicago
Recipe: Savory Bread Pudding – p. 44-45

Italian Family Cooking by Edward Giobbi, with an Introduction by Craig Caliborne
Published by Vintage Books, a division of Random House
© 1971
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift StoresRichfield, MN
Recipe:  Lentil Soup ("Minestrone Di Lenticchie") – p. 21

Oh my gosh, if you have to start a day and a new year with a dish, the Savory Bread Pudding is the way to go.  It was easy to make and delicious!  And to think it was sort of a last minute "Oh what the heck, let me look at this cookbook" decision.  I love it when I get it right like this.

And the Lentil Soup was a great way to close the day, a day filled with football, but most importantly, Green Bay Packers playoff football.  My boys in green and gold prevailed and I was a happy, if not tired, camper.  And I would have said both recipes were "home runs" but as we are not in baseball season, I have to go with the flow and instead dub them "touchdowns."  I love [Packers] touchdowns!

Now I've mentioned before that the great thing about having so many cookbooks is also the worst thing about having so many cookbooks:  indecision.  And when it comes to major holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are so many avenues I could take, so many holiday-themed cookbooks to peruse, that I am often paralyzed just by staring at my shelves.  "Where should I go?  What shall I do" is just not for Scarlett O'Hara anymore!

But then this year, I nailed my cookbooks and recipe selections pretty much in one fell swoop and well – how did that happen?  Answer:  somewhat easily for once!

Most of you probably know that on New Year's Day, there are "lucky foods" – foods that will bring you luck in the coming year - and "unlucky" foods, and even though I was pretty sure I was on track for good luck, it didn't hurt to double-check via the internet.

Lucky foods to start off the new year are pork (for eating "high on the hog"), cornbread, legumes including black eyed peas or lentils, and, if you are Spanish, grapes.  Apparently, if a Spaniard can eat 12 grapes every time the clock strikes at midnight (i.e. 12 times), good luck will come to that person.  But as you might imagine, this is hard to do, and since I didn't want to start the new year off by choking to death at my own hand, that custom went out the window.  As did eating  black-eyed peas because try as I might (and I have tried), they do not float my Midwest boat.

So those are some of the lucky foods.  Unlucky foods, and this may crack you up, are lobsters and chicken.  Why?  Because chickens can fly away and with it apparently, your luck!  Also, they scratch backwards and New Year's Day is all about going forward so have those buffalo wings on New Year's Eve and then forget about it!  And since lobsters can also "walk" backwards, they too, are out for New Year's day so best to stuff yourselves on lobster tails the night before.

Also out?  "White" food.   This is an Asian belief as white signifies death in that culture. So does it count that my breakfast dish had "white" bread and "white cheese," and eggs containing egg whites?  Am I okay by adding greens (sign of money???) and sun dried tomatoes?  It's unclear.  Also unclear is whether or not the egg from the verboten chicken started my day off on the wrong foot.  I'm going with "no."

But even if the answer was "yes," I offset the whole curse by ending the day with my lucky lentils in the form of [Lucky] Lentil Soup.  And since I knew lentils to be lucky, all I had to do was consult one of my many Italian cookbooks for a recipe and "ecco" (Italian for "There you go!"), there was Edward Giobbi's recipe just waiting for me to make it and so I did and it was good.  And as mentioned, my breakfast dish was also good which was nice seeing as how I decided on a breakfast recipe at the very last minute. 

So let's break down these cookbooks and recipes, starting with Ann Hodgman's Beat This!  You should know she also wrote Beat That! and I have that book as well but didn't find anything to make this time around.  And I have to confess that I found her Savory Bread Pudding recipe right off the bat and so didn't spend much time looking at the rest of the book, but if you do, here's what you'll find:  "Drinks;" "Hors D' Oeuvres;" "Soups;" "Salads and Dressings;" "Main Dishes;" "Sauces and Accompaniments;" Side Dishes;" "Show-Off Staples;" "Breads and Breakfasts," and "Desserts."

A few observations:  There is only one "Beverage" listed and it's for a Coquito – a Coconut Eggnog.  Well yumm-y!  And it has rum in it?  Sign me up!  The next category is "Hors D' Oeuvres," and look, I know its much more fancy to use the French word for "appetizers," but for the love of "Michel" (Mike) folks, I never, ever spell it right and so can we just all agree to use the word "appetizers" for cookbooks and "hors d' oeuvres" while out at cocktail parties when we want to sound all lofty and impressive?  We can?  Good!

Also, I think I absolutely need to to try the "Slow-Cooker Caramelized Onion recipe (p. 59) under "Show-Off Staples" as that sounds delicious plus you can freeze them which is good otherwise. I'd be tempted to eat the entire quart all by myself.  Like ice cream.  Only not.

Finally, the author must have a sweet tooth because there are more desserts in this book than there are other dishes and although tempting, I was in a breakfast kind of mood.  And the dish was good.  And it called for bacon and not that there is ever anything wrong with bacon, but I substituted prosciutto for the bacon and man, oh man – winner, winner, chicken dinner!  Plus, the prosciutto + sun dried tomatoes + cheese made it a tad more Italian in flavor and that fit perfectly with the Italian lentil soup I made from the Italian Family Cookbook by Edward Giobbi.

I can't recall just when I became aware of author Edward Giobbi and his daughter, Eugenia Bone, but methinks it was probably in the way, way back from an article in a cooking magazine, perhaps Gourmet, but more likely, Saveur.  At any rate, his stuff is great, his recipes, simple and tasty, and also familiar to me; his lentil soup recipe is similar to other Italian concoctions I've made in the past.

This cookbook (introduction by the late Craig Claiborne) is broken out by "Antipasti;" "Soups;" "Pasta and Rice;" "Salads;" "Eggs;" "Fish;" "Poultry and Game;" "Meats;" "Vegetables;" "Sauces;" and "Breads, Pizzas and Desserts."

And I have to give Edward credit in that he includes a "Feast of the Seven Fishes" menu for Christmas Eve even though there's not a chance in hell I would purchase and cook that much fish for just two people.  Plus, one of the dishes includes "Smelt."  If you've never had smelt, and sadly, I have, the only thing fun about smelt is catching it when the "smelt are running."  When that happens, you can pretty much dip a net in the river and come up with a huge haul. But smelt are full of bones and cleaning them is a nightmare and eating them is as well (to me). 

You should also prepare yourself not to be startled by a recipe for "Baccala with Rape."  The word "rape" here is an Italian green, leafy vegetable and "baccala" is the word for cod.  I'm not exactly sure how "rape" (the veg) is pronounced, but it's either "Rah-pay" or "rah-puh". (Similarly, my last name is "Verme" but the "e" is not pronounced here in America and if it is, it's more like "Verm-uh," not Verme-"ee" as most people think. Anyway, it's complicated!)  If you want to make this recipe (p. 104-105) and you can't find Italian "rape" (or "rapa" or "rabe"), use another green such as Swiss chard, mustard greens, etc.

In conclusion, the lentil soup was great (I substituted bacon for salt pork), the breakfast was killer and so does this bode well for the rest of 2017?  I think it does!

Savory Bread Pudding – Serves 4 to 6 – from Beat This!
(Ann's Note:  you need to soak the sun-dried tomatoes for 20 minutes before preparing this dish.)
½ cup chicken stock
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil), finely sliced (Ann's NoteTrader Joe's sells these in a resealable bag)
1 cup milk
½ cup heavy cream
5 large eggs
½ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
6 slices bacon (Ann's Note:  I substituted prosciutto and it was fabulous.  You'll need to add a little oil to the pan though, before cooking the shallots.)
4 shallots, chopped
7 ounces arugula or baby spinach
1 1-pound loaf crusty bread – peasant, focaccia, sourdough or Italian – cut into bite-size cubes
4 ounces Gruyere, coarsely grated
2 ounces Parmesan, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 400F, with a rack in the middle.  Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or a shallow 2-quart ramekin-type dish.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil and stir in the sun-dried tomatoes.  Remove from heat and let them sit for 20 minutes, until softened.

In a large bowl, beat the milk, cream, eggs and seasonings.

In a large, heavy skillet, cook the bacon, turning once, until crisp.  Drain it on paper towels, then crumble it.  Pour away all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease from the skillet.  Add the shallots and cook them, stirring, until they're beginning to brown, about 6 minutes.  Add the arugula or spinach.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the greens wilt.  Let the mixture cool slightly.  (Ann's Note:  add the bacon to this mixture.  *See below for more notes about the bacon.)

In a large bow, toss together the bread cubes, the arugula mixture, the milk mixture, the sun-dried tomatoes and their liquid and the Gruyere.  Pack this mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle the Parmesan over it.

Cover the dish with foil and bake it for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for about 15 more minutes, or until golden brown.

Ann's Note:  Reader, please scan the above paragraphs carefully.  Do you see her tell you to add the bacon anywhere once you removed it from the pan and crumbled it?  No, you do not.  But the way it reads i.e. "crumble it," suggests that she intends you to put it somewhere in the dish otherwise, she'd tell you to throw it out.  So I made an executive decision and added it back to the pan after cooking the shallots and greens.  And I still stand by my other executive decision to substitute prosciutto for bacon!

Lentil Soup (Minestrone Di Lenticchie) – serves 4 – from Italian Family Cooking
½ cup lentils
½ carrot, chopped
1 whole clove garlic
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons chopped tomato
Pinch of oregano
1 slice salt pork, about 3 inches long and 1 inch wide (Ann's Note:  substituted bacon)
3 cups water (Ann's Note:  nope, more like 5-6)
1 small potato, diced
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese

Put all ingredients except potato, parsley and cheese in soup pot.  Cook gently for 1 ½ hours.  Add potatoes and when they are tender, remove salt pork and garlic.  Serve hot, sprinkled with parsley and grated cheese, to 4.

Ann's Note:  "Serve 4" means it serves four people.  This is a most awkward way to list the serving amount but except for the first couple recipes, this is what you'll find in the rest of the book.