Thursday, April 29, 2010

Guest Post: TKW's Dad: The Old Buick

Hi Readers! I'm pleased to bring you another guest post from my Daddy-O, back by popular demand! Here he is, with more college revelry in store for you!


TKW, that saucy daughter of mine, has been giving her Dad a bit of a bad rap lately; it’s getting rather personal, don’t you think? She’s been bemoaning my handyman skills and inferring that any foul language that she uses is a result of hanging around dear old Dad growing up. This is just plain bullshit. Bullshit, I say!

Everybody knows that daughters should never be around their Dad when he is assembling a barbeque, doing home maintenance, watching sports on TV, discussing politics, or railing at the economy. Daughters should be outside playing with their little friends*, not pulling surveillance on Dad. And if you find any foul language in TKW Dad’s blog post, just remember who edits this thing before publication, and who publishes it. I plead innocence! Now, on to my next story.


Following up on the story of the Green Lantern and Chicago Style Hot Dogs, we return again to my college campus in the early ‘50’s. Back then, hardly any students at small liberal arts colleges had the wherewithal to have a car. At my school, in a small suburb, with a small downtown area, you got pretty tired of the same two beer joints every week. As lovely as The Green Lantern was, we yearned for more excitement—excitement far beyond walking distance.

Lady luck was on our side. My Freshman year, one of the dorm counselors mentioned that he had an old 1936 Buick in running condition that he would sell for $100. So four of us scraped together $25 each and purchased transportation that would reliably get us farther afield, to new and exciting places, to further our…education.

As happy as this circumstance was, however, there was a little problem. The old Buick’s starter was shot and did not function at all. This didn’t cause any trouble when all four of us were together; three guys pushed while one popped the clutch and the Buick was in business. But when one of us took the car on a date, we had to find a hill to park on, so we could get the car rolling on its own. If we couldn’t find a hill, we’d have to suffer the indignity of getting out to push while our date tried to pop the clutch. Not really the way to make a glowing impression with the ladies, you know?

But somehow, we made it work and in short order we found a roadhouse called Hall’s with great hamburgers, steak and libations. We found a place called Washington Gardens, with terrific pizza and a long bar with good—you guessed it--libations. But the most frequented place we found was called Gus’s Eat. It was just a hole-in-the-wall hamburger joint. We called it Greasy Gus’s, and I swear, the later the hour (and the more libations in our bellies), the more delicious those burgers tasted. In the early morning hours, grease puddled on the griddle and Gus’s apron would be covered in smears. We also suspected that Gus imbibed just a bit—as the night went on, the more he’d forget to clean the griddle. Fortified, he would flip those burgers to perfection while talking to himself and muttering nonsense. Colorful guy, Gus.

We took that rickety Buick all over, even into Chicago to see the Cubs play at Wrigley. The Old Hoss served us well. Finally a day came, late in the spring when some guys(author not present)were driving back to campus when the old Buick started sputtering, coughing, bucking and farting all over the place. When the ignition was turned off, that old Buick wouldn’t die--it just kept bucking and farting. So what did my creative partners do? They just pushed the old sonofabitch over the side of the road into a deeply wooded ravine and walked back to campus. Fortunately, it didn’t start a fire. Miraculously, we never heard from the police, or the administration and nothing appeared in the paper. Back then, nobody even knew of the word environmental hazard, or toxic. I suspect the Buick is still sitting down there, covered by underbrush and rusting away.

Today, I am told that Hall’s is a pizza parlor, Greasy Gus’s is a huge home supply outlet, and Washington Gardens is no more. I’m afraid that a great part of my early days have joined Scarlett O’Hara’s world and are...gone with the wind.


Thanks, Daddy, for sitting in for me today! You're the best, brown eyes! *ps: I couldn't go out and play with my friends while you were putting together that barbeque, Dad! I had no friends, remember? Plus, watching you was just too much fun! xoxo

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spring Libations: Pear Sparkler

One of the many (shiteous) jobs I've had in my past is Tending of the Bar. The bartending phase occurred post-college and pre-graduate school. You know, the WTF? years. Where you don't know who you are or where you want to go or what you want to be? Yeah, those. Those are some un-comfy years, aren't they?

Bartending sucked, but it didn't suck as hard as waitressing. At least when you are tending bar, you are behind the bar, so nobody can pinch (or otherwise insult) your moneymaker. And your face-to-face exposure with obnoxious toolbags is low; you just have to deal with the regulars at the bar itself and the brief walk-ups...waitresses have entire tables of jerkwads to deal with.

I've done both and believe me, give me a spot behind the bar any day. Plus, when things are slow, you get to fool around and try to create new, interesting libations. It's not altogether unlike cooking. Or chemistry. Take some raw material, shake it up, add a hint of this and a smattering of that and...viola! Some new genius drink. Or, sometimes, a vile concoction that even Sideshow Bob wouldn't ingest. But it's good fun, really.

I've been obsessed lately with infused vodkas. We have several bars in our area that are infusing vodka with amazing things--ginger, pineapple, guava, cucumber, habanero. Vodka is cool like that--it's a canvas for whatever strong flavor you want to bring.

I'm not ambitious enough to infuse my own vodka--yet--wait until this summer for that little project, but I did see a pear-infused vodka the other day and I had to give it a spin. Hangar One is a terrific vodka. I love, love, love it. But not as much as my husband loves it. He's a sucker for the stuff.

What we love about Hangar One is that they infuse the vodka with a flavor--say, mandarin orange--and yet it isn't sweet, sugary overload like a lot of vodkas on the market. The vodka smacks of orange but is barely sweet at all. And if you don't like things very sweet (like weirdo me), you're gonna love Hangar One.

The pear vodka is crazy! It's barely sweet at all, but it's got notes of cardamom and star anise, which immediately bring heat to back of your throat, and shoot me if I'm wrong, but I swear I tasted peppercorn in that stuff. It's a spicy, heady mix. Hubs and I tried it first on the rocks and decided, Whoa! It's just too packed with flavor (for us) to drink au naturel.

So I played around and came up with a wallop of a drink. It's a drink we immediately fell in love with, because it isn't too sweet, it's got a lot of flavor, it's refreshing, and it's potent. Fair warning: one of these babies will make you bubbly. Two will make you downright frisky. Which is why we forgot to take a photo of our drinks.

But damn, they're good. I dare you to whip these up on a warm evening. I bet you're going to be dancing in the yard with the kids, blasting the Lyle Lovett or the Pink or The Shins or whatever you like, before you know it. Bring on Spring.

Saucy Spring Pear Deliciousness
serves 2

1/2 cup pear-infused vodka, such as Hangar One*
1/4 cup good vodka
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1-4 tablespoons simple syrup (to taste)**
1/2 Asian pear, peeled, grated (preferably on a microplane, over the cocktail shaker)
cold Prosecco, or other sweet sparkling white wine
if desired, frozen grapes***

Freeze both vodkas and cocktail shaker, at least 2 hours. Place grated pear in shaker (if you use a microplane, grate the pear over the cocktail shaker, collecting any pear juice/pulp you can get). Add 1 tablespoon simple syrup to pears and, using the back of a spoon, muddle the pears/syrup. Add vodkas and lime juice. Add ice to the shaker and shake well. Taste. If mixture isn't at all sweet, add simple syrup, by tablespoons, until slightly sweet.

Strain mixture into two highball glasses, filled with ice and, if using, frozen grapes. Add Prosecco to fill; stir well. Garnish with lime and/or Asian pear slices.

*Hangar One Pear is a lot less sweet than other infused vodkas, so depending on the brand you use, you really may have to adjust the ratio of simple syrup. Taste! And taste again!

**Simple syrup: Boil 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar until sugar dissolves. Cool completely. Simple syrup will keep well, covered in the refrigerator, for a week.

***Frozen grapes in drinks are genius! They work like ice cubes, but don't dilute the drink! Wash some grapes, put them in a plastic freezer bag, toss them in the icebox and Hey! Cool ice "cubes" that don't dilute your drink! Because diluted drinks are castrated drinks, you know.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

EEK! It's Big! And Green!

Confession: I'm not a "greens" girl. I find them a little frightening, actually. First off, they're always hiding dirt--lots of it--in their fat, curly leaves. Second, they've got stiff, stringy ribs to deal with. Third, once you actually get them prepped for cooking and in the pot, they wilt down into almost nothing! What the heck? I'm not going to all that effort for a piddly pile of greens!

I also had a run in with some pretty bitter kale once, and I've been gun-shy ever since. Bitter green stuff is not the stuff of dreams. At least my dreams, anyways.

But I was drawn to this recipe because it actually uses two kinds of greens I like, baby bok choy and broccolini. Yes, the broccolini is slightly bitter, but next to silky baby bok choy, it somehow works. The bok choy melts down and is the perfect foil for the sturdier stalks of broccolini.

The dried mushrooms and black bean sauce add richness to the dish, and paired with some steamed rice, you've got a healthy and relatively easy dinner. And I even ate my greens, like the brave girl I am.

Stir-Fried Greens with Pork, Shiitakes, and Back Bean Sauce
from Sunset Best Recipes 2010
serves 4

2 boned pork chops (8 oz. total), fat trimmed
12 whole dried shiitake mushrooms*
1 1/4 cups warm reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons black bean garlic sauce
3/4 lb. broccolini or Chinese broccoli
3/4 lb. baby bok choy
3 tablespoons peanut or canola oil, divided
1/2 large onion, cut lengthwise into slivers
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
**TKW's additions: 1/2 cup sliced carrot, 1/2 cup cremini mushrooms, sliced, chopped cilantro, chopped peanuts, red pepper flakes

Put pork chops on a sheet of plastic wrap and wrap airtight. Freeze just until firm to the touch, at least 2 and up to 3 hours. Cut into very thin diagonal slices.

In a small bowl, soak mushrooms in broth until soft and pliable, 20 to 30 minutes; occasionally work mushrooms with your fingers to release any grit. Lift mushrooms from broth, squeezing out liquid. Gently fold each mushroom in half, gill side out, and trim off any hard stems. *I couldn't find dried shiitakes, so I used a mix of several dried mushrooms and it worked fine.

Pour 1/2 cup soaking broth into a measuring cup and set aside. Pour 1/4 cup soaking broth into a measuring cup, leaving grit behind (add water if needed to make 1/4 cup); stir in black bean sauce.

Meanwhile, trim ends from green vegetables. Peel broccolini stems, then cut into 3-inch lengths. Rinse and set aside. Cut remaining green vegetables into 3-inch lengths, separating clusters of bok choy into single stalks; rinse and drain.

Set a wok or 5-to-6-quart pan over high heat. When hot, pour in 2 tablespoons oil and swirl to coat. Add pork, onion and ginger and fry, stirring occasionally, until meat is mostly cooked but still a bit pink, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer to a plate with slotted spoon.

Add broccolini stems, shiitakes, and reserved 1/2 cup soaking broth to pan and cover quickly. Cook until stems are barely tender-crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Uncover and add remaining 1 tablespoon oil and rest of green vegetables. Cook, stirring, until leaves and flowers wilt, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Return pork mixture to pan along with reserved black bean liquid; cook until bubbling.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Jam Thumbprint Cookies

Barefoot Bloggers has yet another cookie recipe in the store for us this month. The Minxes are pretty sure that Barefoot Bloggers is one awesome and rockin' organization.

I made these on an overcast, soggy day when the Minxes were restless and we were recovering from a rather traumatic incident at Miss D.'s annual school talent show. The short version: messed up music, puzzled and clueless 8-year old, frantic exit from stage in tears and hysterics.

Buzzkill. For all of us.

So the next day, still feeling a little heartsick, we rolled up our sleeves and played with vanilla-scented dough and coconut and jam.

The girls enjoyed rolling out the balls of dough and then poking indentations in them with buttery fingers. They especially liked licking the jam-covered spoons and, much to their mother's dismay, dunking the spoons back into the jam jar.

But I let them. I can always purchase another jar of jam. Mending broken hearts? If only it were so easy.

Jam Thumbprint Cookies
from Barefoot Contessa Family Style
makes 32 cookies

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
7 ounces sweetened flaked coconut
Raspberry and/or apricot jam

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until they are just combined and then add the vanilla. Separately, sift together the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar. Mix until the dough starts to come together. Dump on a floured board and roll together into a flat disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. (If you have a scale, they should each weigh 1 ounce.) Dip each ball into the egg wash and the roll it in coconut. Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet and press a light indentation into the top of each with your finger. Drop 1/4 teaspoon of jam into each indentation. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the coconut is golden brown. Cool and serve.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Spring Dessert You Need

No, readers, your eyes are not fooling you. I am posting a dessert recipe. Me, the Salt Queen, is posting a dessert on her blog. How 'bout that?

And no, it's not even a dessert I *had* to make for a project. This dessert sounded so good to me that I actually decided to make it on my own.

I do apologize to you readers with a sweet tooth. Except for the December Cookie Orgy, you have been pretty deprived of sugary delicacies on this blog. Sorry about that. As one of the few freakazoids on this planet who lacks a sweet tooth, I rarely even think about making dessert.

But this one appealed to me. Why, you ask?

Well, first off, it uses strawberries, the very fruit that announces the Rite of Spring in the Rocky Mountains. They're coming out our ears right now--big, gorgeous, juicy suckers. I cannot resist spring strawberries. They're such a thrill after a long winter of apples, bananas, pears and oranges...damn, winter fruit is boring.

Second, the strawberries are drizzled with a sugar-balsamic reduction sauce. I love balsamic vinegar like nobody's business. I could bathe in the stuff. And as odd as it sounds, balsamic vinegar loves strawberries. Trust me on this one and just try it. You'll see.

Finally, this is a dessert that your ass isn't going to hate you for! It's healthy! And fresh, and yummy, and not too sweet...which is important to me. Sugar shock sucks.

I actually didn't alter this recipe too much. I know! I usually have to tinker around with everything, but this time, all I did was add a sprinkling of toasted pistachio nuts for contrast and crunch. Serve this up on a spring afternoon and you'll make some people very happy. For kids with picky palates, I'd leave off the basil and the reduction. They'll still enjoy it, especially if you sexy it up with a dollop of whipped cream.

Balsamic Strawberries with Ricotta Cream
serves 4
from Ellie Krieger's So Easy

1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 16-ounce container fresh strawberries, stems removed and quartered
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, cut into ribbons
2 tablespoons toasted pistachio nuts, chopped

Put the ricotta cheese, honey and vanilla into the small bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate, covered, at least 2 hours.

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool completely. In a medium sized bowl, toss the berries with the basil and the balsamic syrup.

Divide the ricotta mixture among 4 glass bowls or cocktail glasses. Top with the berry mixture and nuts and serve.

Per serving: 180 calories

Monday, April 19, 2010

Alaskan Black Cod with Hoisin and Ginger Sauces

Now I know that some of you readers, like Amber, fear the fish. And sure, fish can be intimidating, and if you've ever had a run-in with bad fish...well, let's just say that it's hard to get your Fish Mojo back after that.

But this recipe is light, healthy and easy. And, despite the short ingredient list, really flavorful!

Delicate fish like cod and halibut really thrive under Asian seasonings. The fish becomes a blank canvas for the heady flavors of ginger, sesame and hoisin. Served with some steamed rice and a vegetable, this is a dish light enough for Spring palates, but flavorful enough to satisfy.

Alaskan Black Cod with Hoisin and Ginger Sauces*
from Bon Appetit Magazine
serves 4

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1 tablespoon honey
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 1/4 teaspoons hot chili paste (such as sambal oelek)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 7-ounce Alaskan black cod fillets
steamed rice
steamed vegetable of your choice

Whisk first 6 ingredients in a small bowl.

Preheat oven to 450. Stir hoisin and chili paste together in another small bowl.

Heat oil in heavy, large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add cod, skin side up. Cook 2 minutes, then turn cod over. Spoon hoisin mixture over the fillets. Transfer to oven and bake until fish is just opaque in the center, about 5 minutes. Place 1 fillet in each of 4 shallow soup bowls. Spoon ginger sauce around fish and serve with rice.

* A few notes from me: I couldn't find Alaskan cod, but if you can, I encourage you to use it. If you can't find cod, another sustainable fish such as halibut can be used. Also, this dish is fairly salty due to the soy and hoisin. I used a lower-sodium soy sauce and found it plenty salty. We liked it with a crisp white wine, like Pinot Grigio.

Friday, April 16, 2010

White Trash Motherlode: Brazilian Hamburgers

In my house, growing up, Daddy was the sole master of the grill. Nobody else in the family touched it.

I, personally, was afraid of the thing. It arrived, unassembled, in a gi-normous box one Spring day, and Daddy vowed to put it together on the weekend. The box boasted that the grill only took about an hour (with minimal tools) to assemble.

Well, it took Daddy about six hours to put together. I remember riding my tricycle around the neighborhood and passing by our garage, and there was Daddy, counting screws, re-reading directions, throwing screwdrivers across the garage in frustration.

I'd ride into the garage on occasion, just to check on him. It was pretty swell entertainment, actually.

As dusk approached, I parked my tricycle in the garage, stood by Daddy for a few minutes and then went inside for some Hi-C.

"Is your father still out there?" Mama asked.
"Uh-huh," I said, gulping my juice.
"It's not ladylike to swill like that, Miss," Mama reminded.
"Sorry." I put down my glass. "Hey Mama?"
"What does 'Goddamnsonofabitch' mean?"
My mother put down her potato peeler and looked at me sternly. "Now just where did you hear that word, Miss?"
Wide-eyed,I pointed to the garage. "Daddy said it. He's talkin' to the barbeque."

He did, eventually, get it put together, but there were a few mysterious stray screws lying around that nettled him.

With all of the effort it took to assemble the grill, you'd think Daddy would've given more thought to his grilling technique. Alas, he never did.

Daddy would cheerfully take out a plate of juicy chops or plump burgers, plop them on the grill, and then get distracted. Even when Mama remembered to set the timer, he'd somehow manage to overcook whatever foodstuff graced that grill.

Diligently, we'd chew our way through burgers the consistency of hockey pucks, slathering on copious amounts of Heinz 57 sauce.

Daddy cooked "Puck Burgers" for most of my childhood. He's gotten better at the grilling thing with age; perhaps because he's not so easily distracted anymore. Or perhaps because he got a new grill a while back--a pre-assembled one.

Anyways, the following recipe is an old one. I'm not sure where Mama got it, but it greatly reduced the chance of us getting "Puck Burgers" for dinner. The egg, water, cheese and herbs add moisture to the meat, so even if you cook them a little South of where you like, you won't need that bottle of Heinz 57.

Brazilian Hamburgers*
makes 4

1 pound lean ground beef
1/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon ice water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
dash cayenne

Mix all ingredients together; shape into 4 patties. Grill 4 minutes per side or until desired doneness. Serve bunless, or open-faced.

Personally, I like mine topped with a little onion jam (Boar's Head) and a sprinkling of Parmesan.

* I do not know where these burgers got their name. As far as I can tell, there's nothing inherently "Brazilian" in the recipe. All of the ingredients are pretty plebian. Perhaps it's because the burger is served bunless/topless? Would a recipe dare to be that racy in the early 70's? Your guess is as good as mine.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hot Stuff: Camarones a la Diabla

This recipe isn't for the faint of heart; I'm not gonna lie. I mean hey, this dish is named after the Devil himself! But if you like your Mexican food hoppin' with spice, this recipe is for you! Large shrimp are sexied up with a zingy chipotle sauce; placed in warm flour tortillas with cool avocado, cilantro and crisp cabbage to seal the deal, this recipe is a winner. Best of all, this fiesta can be on your table in about 30 minutes!

Awesome Stepkid R. straight-up loved this meal, and so did hubs and I, once we got our hands on a couple of cold cervezas to wash it down. It's a great way to heat up your cool, early Spring nights.

Camarones a la Diabla
~recipe courtesy of Martin Limas

20 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, chopped
12 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
2 tablespoons granulated chicken bouillon
1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

For Serving:
Warm flour tortillas
Diced avocado
Shredded Cabbage
Lime Wedges
Optional: crumbled queso fresco or feta cheese

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until lightly golden, 2-3 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook 4-5 minutes or until they're pink. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside. In a blender or food processor, puree chipotles, onion, bouillon granules, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Pour into the pan and return it to the heat. Bring the sauce to a boil; lower the heat and then add the shrimp, stirring to coat and heat through. Serve with tortillas and accompaniments and rice.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Veg-Head Monday: Mediterranean Grilled Vegetables

We missed Easter last week. By the time I even realized it WAS Easter, we were on the plane heading home from Hawaii. Whoops.

I could have just let things pass, but the Minxes love nothing better than a good egg hunt, so I just postponed the holiday for a week.

When Easter arrives this early in the calendar, chances are good that we're going to have to settle for an indoor version of the egg extravaganza, which seriously bums the girls out. To them, indoor egg hunt=castrated egg hunt. The last few years, they've had to settle for the castrated version, and it's made them cranky.

Happily, the weather cooperated this year. We enjoyed a 70-degree day and my parents drove up and we enjoyed a lovely Spring lunch.

Perhaps because I've been missing Greece (and thinking of our trip there about a year ago), I wanted to channel the Mediterranean this year.

This "salad" takes a little time, but it's worth the trouble. Nothing makes vegetables sing like a sizzle on the grill, some fresh herbs, a sprinkle of creamy feta, and a bath in good olive oil.

While we dug into lunch, the girls pillaged the backyard for eggs and frolicked in the sun. And while I still yearn for Grecian shores, if pressed, I'd have to say that my heart was exactly where it wanted to be this weekend. At home.

Grilled Mediterranean Vegetable Salad
serves 6-8

2 small, firm eggplants
2 zucchini
1 large red onion
1 bunch cherry tomatoes
2 red bell peppers, roasted and seeded
olive oil
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup basil, chopped
good balsamic vinegar and olive oil

Heat grill to medium-high. Slice eggplants and zucchini into 1/4-inch slices. Sprinkle eggplant and zucchini slices with a healthy handful of salt; place in a colander to drain for 20 minutes.

While eggplant and zucchini drain, coat bell peppers in olive oil. Grill, turning on all sides, until skin is blackened and charred. Remove peppers from grill and place in a bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes.

While peppers sit, cut onion into wedges. Brush with olive oil and grill until slightly softened and charred. Remove from grill.

In a grill basket, place tomatoes (drizzled with olive oil) on the grill and grill until slightly blistered. Remove from grill.

Rinse eggplant and zucchini slices and pat dry. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and grill until slightly charred and softened, turning once. Remove from grill.

Remove skin and seeds from red bell peppers and cut into strips.

Layer all vegetables on a big platter, drizzle with good olive oil, good balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle feta and basil over the top.

Serve with crusty bread to lap up all of the veggie/olive oil goodness.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Orange Potato Salad and Other Family Oddities

Hi awesome readers! It's been a year since I parked my snarky ass in this space, so I thought I'd dig through the archives and share a fledgling post with you. This one's from the very young days, when it was absolutely a 2-minute enterprise to check the comments section. But those of you who encouraged me early meant the world.

It was an amusing trip down memory lane, trolling through the old posts. A lot of them are really freaking rough, but that's part of the beauty of just throwing your hat into the ring and saying, "Let's Go!" Right?

This post is one of my favorites, because it's so oddball that it's almost picaresque. Don Quixote chased windmills. We ate The Orange Potato Salad.

Enjoy. And again, thank you so much for being here.


Admit it, you have some strange food skeletons clanking in your closet. Every family does. Maybe it's white trash food, or scrapple, or liverwurst on toast at midnight. But somewhere in your past, guarantee ya, you've got some embarrassing food lurking in the corner.

I do, too. And for some reason I'm not just embarrassed about the weird food I've eaten--I'm embarrassed about the weird food my family's eaten as well. There's some strange guilt-by-association thing going on there. If I see my dad eating slices of raw salted potato for a snack (which he does) shame just seeps outta me. Which makes zero sense--it's not my freakshow snack, it's my father's.

Food and family are so closely intertwined it's scary. Take Thanksgiving, for example. The food that ends up on your holiday table says a lot about you and yours. Illustration: cornbread stuffing. If you eat cornbread stuffing on a certain day in November, I'm betting there's Southern knocking around somewhere in your family tree. Creamed pearl onions? Yankee. Green jello mold with shredded carrots and pineapple in it? Hello, Midwest.

Now some of those family foods are stamps of pride; my Grandmother's fried chicken was legendary. It was so crisp, so perfectly Grandma-seasoned, so juicy...the day she died, fried chicken died too. I've never eaten it since, because she owned fried chicken. I can't look at a chicken without mourning her loss and knowing that never, not ever, will I eat fried chicken that perfect again. Ditto for Aunt Lee's Chocolate Cake. Maybe in your case it's your Nonna's Marinara or your mother's stuffed cabbage. Those are the family gems, the heirlooms you guard passionately because they are your history.

But just like that one cousin you had with the buck teeth and the donkey laugh and the ears that didn't match, some food appeared on your family's guest list that made you squirm. And darned if you aren't as ashamed of that as you are proud of Dad's bbq sauce. Because those oddities say something about your family too, and they're not always fun to examine.

I recall dying of embarrassment in 6th grade when a playmate and I walked into the kitchen just as my father was whipping up his favorite little afternoon refresher, a tall glass of saurkraut juice mixed with V-8. "YARGH," was all the horrified kid could sputter, eyes a-buggin. I wanted to vaporize into thin air.

In fact, my German father had plenty of little doozies in his arsenal. The strips of raw turnip, salted to death, which he snacked on during football games. The wedges of watermelon he salted, peppered, then ate. The hideous Braunschweiger roll he smeared on crackers. The bologna he sneaked from the package, rolled up and popped in his mouth. The peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. Embarrassments, all of them.

My mother's diet was pretty plebian in comparison, but she did make her famous potato salad, which she toted to every potluck and party of my youth. The Orange Potato Salad. I remember one 4th of July when a kid next to me in the buffet line said, "Who the Hell brought orange potato salad?" And I replied, "No idea."

Orange Potato Salad was one of my mother's "experiments." Experiments happened when my mother, missing an ingredient or two from a recipe (in the middle of a North Dakota winter), decided to improvise rather than drag two young children to the supermarket in 8-inch drifts of white misery.

In the case of the potato salad, my mother was out of vinegar and had a scant cup only of mayonnaise. Normally, she tossed the cooked potatoes with a drizzle of vinegar and let them cool before dressing. The hot potatoes absorbed the tang and salt of the vinegar and resulted in some spunky salad, let me tell you.

But she didn't have any vinegar, so she went shopping in the refrigerator and came up with Kraft French Dressing (yeah, the neon orange kind). She had about 3 tablespoons of it left in the bottle, so she tossed the hot potatoes with that, let them cool, and then tossed in some celery, onion, seasonings and that scant cup of mayonnaise. Orange Potato Salad was born.

Crazy thing is, as unsightly as that crayola-hued salad looks, people love it. It's different and un-boring (and admit it, most potato salad is boring). People started asking my mother to bring Orange Potato Salad to parties and she was happy to oblige. "Ah! You brought the Orange Potato Salad!" neighbors would announce, and she would beam.

I guess it could be worse--at least Orange Potato Salad was a crowd pleaser. Mrs. Mondry always brought oyster stew and nobody wanted that, so I shouldn't complain.

This Father's Day, I had my parents and the K family over for a barbecue. Mom called earlier in the week to ask what she could bring. "Orange Potato Salad," I said. Of course. Orange Potato Salad may be an embarrassment, but it's our embarrassment and what's a family without a few quirks?

Mom's Orange Potato Salad

serves 6-8

2 1/2 pounds red potatoes, unpeeled

3 tablespoons Kraft French Dressing

1 cup celery, diced

1/2 cup onion, diced

1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish

1 scant cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon mustard seed

salt and pepper to taste

Boil potatoes about 15 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife. Drain potatoes and cool until warm enough to handle. Peel potatoes, chunk them and toss with French dressing while still warm. Cool.

Whisk mayonnaise, pickle relish, mustard seed, salt and pepper. Add celery and onion to potatoes, then toss with mayonnaise mixture. Make a few hours in advance to allow flavors to blend, and re-taste for salt/pepper before serving. If salad seems dry, add more mayonnaise.

Serve to non-judgemental people who love you.


Confession time, I hope! What humiliating food lurks in your family history? Pleeeeease? It can't be any worse than the freaky sauerkraut concoction!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Anniversary Cookies

Barefoot Bloggers
has two, yes, two cookie recipes this month! The Minxes think this is serendipity at its finest. I'm not the best baker, but cookies I can handle...I think. At this high altitude, even cookies can foil the Baking Gods.

This recipe is pretty straightforward; I did have to substitute chocolate chips for raisins, however. My children think raisins are the Devil's Instrument. Actually, so does hubs. What's so objectionable about little dried grapes, I do not know. Particularly if nestled into a buttery, cinnamon-kissed cookie?

Whatevs. If you are a raisin-hater, just use chocolate chips instead. Nobody will complain. Well, I might, because oatmeal raisin is my favorite cookie. I'm weird like that.

Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies
from Ina Garten's Back to Basics
makes about 30 cookies

1 1/2 cups pecans
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup granulated sugar*
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1 1/2 cups raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the pecans on a sheet pan and bake for 5 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to cool. Chop very coarsely.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla.

Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together in a medium bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture. Add the oats, raisins, and pecans and mix until just combined.

Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a damp hand. Bake 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.

* I reduced the sugar to 2/3 cup because I was using chocolate chips in the recipe. I think they were just sweet enough without being cloying.


I got no complaints with these. What's not to love?


In other news, I realized that I've been running my mouth in this space, obnoxiously posting jell-o and popsicle recipes, for one year, as of today. It doesn't seem nearly that long, and yet somehow it feels like forever. Does that make any sense?

I'd like to thank each and every one of you readers for sharing a corner of your day with me. I have learned so much from you, and remain stunned by the generosity and congeniality you've shown me.

I still honestly feel like I don't know what the Hell I'm doing here, but you've all made me feel at home. As a girl who has never really fit in anywhere, it's been humbling and shattering to find a place with such open minds, arms and hearts. Thank you for your encouragement, your willingness to listen to me yammer on, your witty and kind comments.

I've met so many amazing minds, amazing writers, amazing people that I am proud to call my friends.

And to those of you who read but don't comment, thank you, as well. I don't really know you, but I'm so glad you check in. And if you ever decide to jump into the fray, I'd love it. I'd love to meet you.

And finally, thanks to my dear, patient friend Ink. You pushed me into this virtual world, assured me I could do it, and coped with months of my neuroses when this fledgling blog debuted. Thank you for believing in me when I could not. There but for you go I.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hawaiian Vacation: Part II

Before I go any further, I feel a need to explain a little something. A little something known to this family as the curse.

The T Family has, somewhere along the line, pissed off The Vacation Gods. Royally. I don't know how we did it, but we did, and those Vacation Gods are vindictive little fucks. Because every vacation we take as a family? Plagued by sickness and/or some kind of mayhem. Cursed.

You think I'm kidding?

Exhibit A: the tropical vacation 2 years ago where Awesome Stepkid R arrived on our doorstep, the day before travel, with a miserable cold. Which was just a cold, no big deal...for him. However, Miss D. caught the cold, which turned into raging bronchitis. 4 days of that vacation were spent trapped in the hotel room, alternating nursing shifts with hubs, as she coughed up her lungs, burned with fever and wailed.

Exhibit B:The trip to Disney last year, where Miss D. projectile vomited all over herself, her brother, and the rental car with velour seats on a busy highway. And bad mom only had 2 more wipes left in her purse. Try cleaning that mess.

Exhibit C: The destination wedding in Mexico, where 2 hours after checking into the hotel, KitchyWitchy, in all her grace and glory, slipped on wet tiles by the side of the pool and came crashing down, with all of her weight, on her left wrist. My poor friend Shelley's wedding photos are laden with images of bruised, bandaged and braced up me, sulking.

Exhibit D: The worst of the bunch, by far. The $4,000 ski vacation from Hades. The build-up for this one was big; hubs had a medical conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Beaver Creek. A Ritz-Carlton! Awesome! We were beyond excited. On our way up to the ski resort, Miss D. barfed. And then the whole night. The next day, on a packed-to-the-gills apres-ski shuttle bus, Miss M. decided to give dozens of skiiers a lovely vomit shower. It was so vile that they evacuated everyone off the bus at the closest stop. She threw up every hour for 12 hours after that. Then, I spent a day and a half over a toilet. Je-sus. 3 out of 4 family members K.O.'ed. Plus, because it was a "working vacation", we couldn't just leave. We were stuck. At a freaking Ritz-Carlton. We paid $4,000 for a room to vomit in for 5 days.

See? Cursed.

So without further ado, I'll tell you about Hawaii, episode 2. I'll be brief.

Sitting in our hotel room, watching it pour rain (oh, did I neglect to share that little detail?) husband said, "Well, as bad as that was, at least it was asthma and not some disease."

I told him to shut the Hell up. He hadn't been vomited on twice, in public, in one day. Optimists suck.

The next morning, Miss D. awoke in fine fettle. Happily, we hit the beach and the pool and the clouds cleared by afternoon and I thought maybe, just maybe, this was going to be a good vacation.

That evening, The Licker began to cough. A few hours later, she was incendiary. Then she said, "Mommy, I think I ate too much candy," and gripped her gut. Alas, she hadn't eaten any candy.

You know what comes next.

Fortunately, the disease that The Licker contracted (by French-kissing her way around the airport, don'tcha think?) was short-lived. The cough remained but the stomach issues passed, so we were able to somewhat enjoy a good portion of our vacation. Well, except for the sleepless nights, when The Licker became The Hacker.

The T Family curse is, indeed, still with us. But the Vacation Gods showed us some modicum of mercy, because there was still time for this:

Oh, and about that flight home? You don't want to know.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hawaiian Vacation: Then and Now: Part I

Then: Two days before vacation: bikini wax, pedicure, spray-on tan, epic 4 hour shopping trip in search of the perfect bikini to show off cute butt.

Now: Two days before vacation: realize you haven't contacted anyone to take care of Harryboy the cat and Twinkle the gay Russian dwarf hamster in your absence. Scramble madly. Cancel milk delivery, newspaper, mail. Dig out summer clothing for children; wash. Dig out summer clothing for husband; wash. Neglect to dig out and wash own clothing.

Then: Day before vacation: Throw the half-and-half for coffee down the drain. Try on all prospective cute outfits and shoe combinations; pack.

Now: Day before vacation: Clean copious detritus out of refrigerator. Contemplate whether your refrigerator qualifies as a biohazard. Pack each child's bag with laundered clothing, favorite lovey, coloring book/crayons, favorite snacks, dvd's. Pack personal carry-on bag with wipes, pull-ups, little girl undies, extra (2) pairs of little girl capris, 1 extra pair of big girl capris, 2 emergency activity books, tissues. Neglect to pack own paperback novel.

Then: Morning of departure: Double check contents of suitcase; zip.

Now: Morning of departure: Throw any unwashed warm-weather item of clothing you can find from the closet floor into own suitcase, add flip-flops, search crazily for the one swimsuit that hides your big butt.

Then: At ticket counter: Smile widely, make chit-chat with ticketing agent, mention shyly that you're getting married in Hawaii, score free upgrade.

Now: At ticket counter: Snarl at youngest child for licking the entire length of the ticket counter. Fumble for identification. Throw down all bags, search each for identification, bark at husband to keep an eye on The Licker. Present identification. Hear coughing and keening sound. Turn around. Watch as older daughter hacks viciously and vomits on your shoes. Apologize profusely to ticket agent, hiss at husband to "handle the ticket thing" and squish your wailing child to restroom. Clean off child's face and hands. Rinse off shoes. Apply hand sanitizer to all exposed skin.

Then: Pre-boarding: Buy water, gum, mints. Tally: 6 dollars.

Now: Pre-boarding: Buy 3 extra bottles of hand sanitizer, 2 extra containers of travel tissues, 2 extra containers of hand wipes, 3 rolls of cough drops, 1 box of Tylenol cough/cold, 2 bottles of 7-up and several boxes of graham crackers. Tally: 48 dollars.

Then: In-flight: Receive complimentary "good luck!" mini-bottles of champagne. Kiss fiancee. Enjoy novel and in-flight movie.

Now: In-flight: Shake head, stunned, when The Licker consumes all of the planned snacks for the (6-hour) flight in 45 minutes.
Ward off hostile stares/reproachful glares as older daughter continues to cough, non-stop, for duration of flight. Parcel out cough drops, Tylenol, tissues, 7-up. Worry that she's sounding asthmatic. Search carry-on bag for inhaler. Ask husband to search his bag for inhaler. Inhaler Fail.

Then: 4.5 hours into flight: summon flight attendant, order another bottle of mini-champagne. Kiss fiancee.

Now: 4.5 hours into flight: watch in horror as older daughter gags on another cough and spews monstrous amount of masticated 7-up, graham cracker, and in-flight pretzel pack all over her tray table and portable dvd player. Sit, immobilized, as vomit drips off of tray table onto daughter's lap, your lap, floor of airplane, carry-on luggage. Summon flight attendant. Begin to weep and hyperventilate. Perform the vomit-laced walk of shame with child towards the bathroom. Allow two extremely kind Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants to cordon off the back of the airplane. Strip child and self down to skivvies, hope nobody objects to your ass, attempt to clean up.

Then: 4.75 hours into flight: go to restroom, pee, freshen lipstick.

Now: 4.75 hours into flight: fill out medical release forms for Air-Medic so asthmatic child can receive emergency inhaler kept on board. Wonder how much this is going to cost you. Berate yourself for being a shit mother. Wince as they make the announcement over the intercom for all passengers with medical backgrounds to buzz the flight attendant due to a medical emergency on the plane. Wave weakly to own husband as he heads to the back of the plane.

Then: Arrival: Thank flight attendants profusely for the upgrade and the champagne. Call honeymoon limo for transport to hotel.

Now: Arrival: Wait until all passengers disembark. Slink, red-faced off the plane. Begin to thank flight attendants. Burst into tears. Shlep odiferous carry-on luggage, self, child and entourage outside. Attempt to calm down while husband arranges transport to hotel.

Then: Arrive at honeymoon suite, forget any signs of fatigue, fling open suitcase, don butt-revealing swimsuit, frolic in waves with fiancee.

Now: Arrive at condo/villa, prevent The Licker from jumping into the koi pond, immediately start washing machine for vomit elimination, shower...tell husband that you are never having sex again.

Jealous yet? And we haven't even covered most of it, non?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Neighbor Friday: Motherese

Aloha, readers! We are winding down here, planning on a safe landing Easter Sunday. Can I wax any more poetic about my guest today? Kristen brings it. Every post she writes on her blog is thoughtful and makes me stop in my tracks. Which is a pretty impressive feat, since I write recipes for popsicles and burgers and don't use my brain on a regular basis. Enjoy her. I know you will.

For more Friday fun, click on the icon below and check out other neighbors at The Never-True Tales!

Savoring the Sweet
by Kristen @ Motherese

I like to bake.

Baking appeals not only to my insatiable appetite for sweets, but also to my love of order, my passion for following directions. (Yes, it is possible to feel passion for following directions.) I like to cook, too, but not in the same way. To cook well, I think, takes improvisation. And, as you may have gleaned, I am not all that comfortable with improvisation. (But that, perhaps, is a topic for another post.)

Yesterday, Big Boy and I were baking chocolate chip cookies. (Baking with a toddler and the ample metaphors it affords is yet another topic for yet another post.) To me, the perfect chocolate chip cookie is the Holy Grail of the confectionery world.

The ideal cookie can’t be too chewy. It can’t be too crispy. The ratio of chocolate chip to cookie dough must be just right. The chip itself can’t be too sweet or too bitter. The center of the cookie must not be undercooked. (A common sin of the chocolate chip cookies available in many bakeries.) And the cookie must have just the right amount of salt.

Yes, salt.

That delectably sweet cookie needs to have the precise punch of salt.

Dorie Greenspan, author of my favorite recent baking cookbook, Baking: From My Home to Yours, helped teach me this lesson, one which I think applies to cookies and – wait for it – to life. In the New York Times article, “Perfection? Hint: It’s Warm and Has a Secret,” a number of noted bakers shared their theories on what makes the perfect chocolate chip cookie. My eyes instantly widened when I saw my beloved Dorie among those interviewed.

Although unsure she could bring anything new to the party, she went through the usual checklist: read through the recipe first, make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature, use the best-quality ingredients you can find, don’t overmix. Then she hit upon something everyone else had missed, and some home bakers are nervous about: salt.

“You can’t underestimate the importance of salt in sweet baked goods,” she said. Salt, in the dough and sprinkled on top, adds dimension that can lift even a plebeian cookie…Five years ago, sea salt as a must-have ingredient and garnish for sweets wouldn’t have registered on the radar of many home bakers, but now it has become almost commonplace, in part because of Ms. Greenspan’s unwavering belief in its virtue.

And that’s just it, isn’t it? Salty in the sweet. (You know, Sweet | Salty.)

Think about it: how often have you heard someone express a desire for something savory when they’re eating something sweet? For something sweet when they’re eating something salty? For a coffee break in the middle of an afternoon at work? For a rest stop on a long drive? For a languorous stretch in the middle of a long session at the computer? For a chance to stop and bake cookies with a two year old in the middle of a Saturday morning of writing?

And isn’t that a metaphor for life? A treacly tonic for our elusive quest for balance? A gastronomic reminder to stop and smell the flour?

Variety. It’s the spice of life. It’s the salt in the cookies. Bon appetit.

What little treats do you give yourself every day? What puts the salty in your sweet?