Monday, August 31, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers tackled Ina Garten's White Pizza with Arugula for our second recipe in August.

I've only had white pizza at our neighborhood joint. On Fridays, and Fridays only, they make clam pizza. If you're from the east coast, particularly Connecticut, you'll know that white clam pizza, when done right, is bliss. It's simplicity in itself--cracker thin crust, a brushing of olive oil, herbs and crushed red pepper, maybe a tiny sheen of cheese, loads of garlic and fresh, briny clams. It's a slice of the sea.

I digress. Anyways, Ina's pizza didn't call for clams, and it had a LOT of cheese. Three kinds to be exact: fontina, fresh mozzarella and goat cheese. To add freshness to the pizza, she topped it with a simple salad of arugula in a crisp lemon viniagrette.

My husband was skeptical. No meat on this pizza? And it has no tomato sauce? And it's topped with, of all things, salad? A Salad Pizza? What the heck?

But he's a good guy, willing to try whatever I fling on the table (as long as it's not casserole; casserole induces mutiny).

You can find Ina's recipe here.

Ina makes her own crust, and I'm sure it's great. I even thought I was going to brave the yeast package and give it a whirl, but life interfered.

In fact, it interfered so badly that I couldn't make this dish on deadline. I am several days late. Bad Girl!

So I schlepped down to the local pizza joint and they kindly let me buy a few balls of dough. They rock.

I was having a guest for dinner, so I decided to make 2 large pizzas instead of the little individual ones Ina made. Our dinner guest also happened to be a dude, so I had mercy on him and made the second pizza with tomato sauce, proscuitto and roasted red peppers.

I rolled out the dough, brushed it with the spicy olive oil, topped it with a ton of cheese, a little extra dizzle of oil, looked at it was just too white. I couldn't do it--I had to put some color on that sucker. I had a few of the caramelized tomatoes left over from this post, so slapped them on and shoved that pie in the oven. While it cooked, I made the lemon viniagrette, tossed it with the arugula and waited for the timer to buzz.

The pizza came out gooey and bubbly and smelled delicious. I sliced it, topped it with the salad and we dug in.

We took an experimental bite: Whoa. Seriously good. The peppery arugula and the tang of the lemon cut the incredible richness of the cheese.

As we worked our way through a slice, however, our enthusiasm dulled a little. It was really terrific, don't get me wrong, but...none of us really wanted a second slice. For us, it was simply TOO rich. Maybe there are a few benefits to having a Health Nazi wife; even my husband thought it was a one-slice experience.

I definitely recommend this recipe, but I think it's better suited as an appetizer. Make it, cut it into small slivers, and I think your guests will swoon.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Jag Eating: It's in the Genes

Sometimes, I'll call my mother earlier in the day than our standard 4pm gab-fest, usually to bitch/moan/whine about some slight or unfairness that's gotten my panties in a wad. "It's not faaaaaaiiiir," I'll keen into the phone, and she is quite sympathetic and patient and hears me out. My mother is assured a place in Heaven for this.

After a while, even I get bored with my sniveling, so we move on to nicer subjects. If it's around breakfast or lunchtime, I'll usually ask her what she's eating, because I'm sick that way. I'm always interested in what other people are eating.

Sometimes, she'll pause, take a deep breath, and sheepishly say,"Well....I'm on a jag..."

And I will know exactly what she means. I, too, am a Jag Eater. It's in the blood.

What is a Jag Eater, you ask? No, it's not someone who eats some bizarre food called Jag.

A Jag Eater is someone who becomes inexplicably addicted to a certain food (usually a strange one) and is then compelled to eat that food for at least one meal a day until s/he is suddenly revolted by said food.

Jag Eating is a strange behavior indeed. And, since I lived at home a long time, and my mother and I share the same taste in food, we went on a lot of Jags together. And strangely enough, when I think about it, our Jags are little time capsules that say alot about what our lives were like at the time.

Take, for example, the Baked Potato Topped with Salsa and Fat-Free Sour Cream Jag. This Jag was a reaction to the belief (in the late 1980's) that protein was bad for you, fat was EVIL, and carbs were the answer. We ate those potatoes for lunch or dinner one entire summer. We also, unpleasantly, farted a lot.

There was the summer of Ratatouille (also a pretty foul-smelling summer, if I'm honest). That Jag was a product of a year-long flirtation with vegetarianism. Which led to the winter Pasta Primavera Jag.

The spring AND summer of the Einstein's Sesame Bagel, topped with mustard, lettuce, pepperjack cheese and capers. Otherwise known as The Two Seasons of Stubborn Water Retention Jag. We found the Bagel Jag annoyingly hard to shake.

One Jag I'm particularly sheepish about is the Rocky Road Ice Milk Jag. Mother and I were slaves to Healthy Choice Rocky Road Ice Milk for several months, eating little but fruit and salad so we could scarf huge bowls of the garbage 3 times a day. This Jag was so fierce that we bought 8 tubs one afternoon, fearful that one day we'd crave it and The Horror! be denied at the freezer section. When, mercifully, that Jag passed, we threw out four large tubs we'd stashed in the deep freeze. That was a walk of shame to the garbage can, lemme tell ya.

And I don't feel good about the Miserable at College Jag. This I did alone, because my mother would've throttled me had she gotten wind of it. This little freakshow consisted of an apple for breakfast and a large bag of Vic's Lite Popcorn for lunch/dinner. Amazingly, I did not contract scurvy, but I did have to come home for a while after that little love affair.

Most of our Jags were fairly benign, although, certainly, strange. I feel I should mention that neither my father nor my sister are Jag Eaters. They're capable of enjoying a food without becoming completely consumed by it.

As we've aged, Jag Eating has relaxed considerably. Now we'll hop on a Jag maybe once a year, and even then, it has a short life span. Maybe a week, perhaps two. Maybe Jag Eating requires the energy and devotion of the young.

However, on those occasions when mama does fess up to one, I'll sympathize and listen intently, wondering what little morsel of wonder has caught her fancy this time.

As I write this, Miss M. has demanded Kraft Macaroni and Cheese at lunchtime for 3 weeks straight. If I deny her, she hugs herself tightly, rocks back and forth, wails as if she's in unspeakable pain.

I hand her the tissue box, pat her softly on the back and murmur, "I know, honey. I know."

***If any of you readers are freaks like me, feel free to confess your food obsessions/jags in the comments page!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ice Cream Dreams: Pina Colada Ice Cream

I always hated going to Illinois to visit my father's parents. They didn't have any fun toys, and they lived in an apartment so we couldn't play outside, and they had two bizzare old buzzard-ladies next door named Hazel and Belle who smelled funny and always wanted to kiss me.

However, the one bright side to visiting dad's parents was the obligatory trip to Petersen's Ice Cream in Oak Park. The ice cream was positively swoon-worthy, and I always tried to eat my scoop of Butter Brickle (always Butter Brickle) verrrry slowly, wishing it would last forever. Petersen's Ice Cream (with its legendary 18% butterfat content) almost made up for Hazel and Belle.

We had two mom-and-pop type ice cream places in my Colorado neighborhood, and while their ice cream wasn't quite Petersen's, it was pretty close. For a while we had Mom's Ice Cream, a shop dangerously close to the supermarket we frequented. My poor mama got hassled every time she took us grocery shopping (which wasn't that often, because my mama is smarter than that).

Mom's Ice Cream didn't have Butter Brickle, but it did have Lemon Drop. Lemon Drop was a delightful, puckery confection, dotted with little crisp nuggets of smashed candy. They also carried a neon-blue bucket of hideousness, Bubble Gum, which for some reason I loved. Mom's version of Bubble Gum didn't have those pesky hard pebbles of real gum that I hated. It was smooth blue paradise. However, I once threw up Bubble Gum in mama's car on the way home from the supermarket, and from that day forward, Bubble Gum was forbidden fruit.

Mom's closed when I was in third grade, and we had to endure trips to the lowly Baskin-Robbins for several years. Then, in a stroke of good luck, my sister insisted on attending a Jr. High out of our neighborhood. Near this coveted school was a wonderful ice cream emporium called Apple Orchard, or as the locals called it, "AppleTree."

Apple Orchard had (in my childish opinion) fascinating and exotic flavors of ice cream: cappucinno chip, cantaloupe sorbet, mint oreo. I think I tried almost every flavor they churned out, but my all time favorite was Pina Colada. I'm surprised I didn't start sprouting stiff, green shoots out the top of my head, I ate so much of it.

I ate Pina Colada almost weekly from the 7th grade until 10th, when I progressed to a high school farther away. I'm amazed I wasn't broad as a barn. Thank God for growth spurts.

Apple Orchard was the place I fumbled through first dates, desperately grappling for words. It was the place I sobbed, my mother rubbing my back, when the boy I'd loved for years just didn't love me back. It was the place I marched to, singing and giggling at the top of my lungs, gaggle of girlfriends in tow, at the end of every school dance.

Alas, Apple Orchard eventually closed also. And I can't help but notice that nowadays, there's hardly ANY mom-and-pop ice cream joint that survives a year in our neck of the woods. We've all been lured to the dark side of Cold Stone. Don't get me wrong, Cold Stone is fine, but it lacks the charm of a mom-and-pop joint. Plus, that damn place doesn't carry Pina Colada. Nobody does.

I was near my old stomping grounds this past weekend and noticed that--horrors! The building that once housed Apple Orchard is a weight loss facility now. Mama and I laughed at the irony, and then lamented the loss of Pina Colada ice cream. And then I got a hankering for that ice cream like nobody's business.

I came up with a version that's close, but still not as fantabulous as the Pina Colada of yore. That, like my youth, is water down the drain, accessible only in trickles of memory.

Pina Colada Ice Cream
based on Emeril Lagasse's recipe for coconut ice cream
makes about a quart

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup coconut-flavored rum
1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 large egg yolks
1 cup crushed pineapple, slightly drained

In a large heavy saucepan, combine the cream, coconut milk, whole milk, rum and sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks until pale yellow and frothy. Add about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture, and whisk to combine, Add the egg mixture to the saucepan with the remaining hot cream and whisk.

Return to medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with a heavy wooden spoon until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 4-5 minutes.

Remove from heat. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least three hours. Freeze according to manufacturer's directions. 5 minutes before the end of freezing time, add the pineapple bits; freeze 5 minutes more.

Transfer mixture to plastic container and freeze until firm.

***I would urge you to check out Phoo-D's site for a great recipe for Pineapple-Ginger Sorbet. She and I must be channeling our inner Carmen Miranda this week!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Getting a Teen to Cook: An Idiot's Guide

Awesome Stepkid R. and I were excited to give our "Inaugural Love Food Dinner" a try this weekend.

A little background. For those of you who've just joined us, you might want to read about our Love Food Discussion here. I'd urge you to do so if only for the comments section, where my amazing, thoughtful readers give insight and sage advice on the art of food seduction.

Anyways, I've been toying with sample menus for weeks, running them by Awesome Stepkid R. We considered, batted ideas back-and-forth, and have several dinners that we are gung-ho to test drive for you!

This weekend was the first, and the easiest, of those dinners. And there is no lack of irony here that our first dinner comes gratis of none other than Rachael Ray herself. I know, I wanted to gag, too.

However, this month's issue of Everyday With Rachael Ray magazine had a recipe for Halibut Saltimbocca with Lemon Butter Orzo. This recipe had potential for several reasons:

a) it was found in the 30 Minute Meal section of the magazine, which meant it wasn't overly complicated.
b) halibut is a very mild, inoffensive-tasting fish, so even people who are ambivalent about seafood could eat this easily.
c) said seafood is wrapped in Italian bacon, and let's face it, bacon is the bomb.
d) the lemon orzo is made at the same time as the fish, which is pretty handy.

Now on it's own, I wouldn't call this dish a MEAL. There is a glaring lack of veg in this recipe. Thus, I decided to heed the advice of several wise readers who indicated that a beautiful salad was something women appreciate.

I decided on a romaine, orange segment, red onion and toasted walnut salad. I went to the store, bought all of the ingredients, and burst through the door, excited to get crackin'.

And then I saw it.

It. The Buzzkill. The thing that was going to make my previously affable, willing teenager into a reluctant--if not outright sullen--sous chef.

While I was meandering through the market, squeezing oranges and sniffing halibut,weighing which oil to buy for the viniagrette... my Loving Husband had the brilliant idea to unpack and assemble his latest toy: Guitar Hero: Rock Band 2.

I came through the door and was nearly rendered deaf by the raucous, infectious hook of Franz Ferdinand's Take Me Out. I entered the room, arms full, and spied all three children and Loving Husband rocking out, hooting and guffawing, all obviously smitten.

Well, shit. Learning how to supreme an orange really cannot compare to mastering Pearl Jam's Alive, can it?

So I put the groceries away, pouted a bit, and figured that Inaugural Love Food Dinner was toast. I got to work on supreme-ing my orange segments, scowling over the bowl as Miss D. channeled her inner Pat Benatar.

And then, engrossed in my sulk, I was startled--jolted--by a sudden touch on the back from my husband. So jolted that my very sharp paring knife, which a minute ago was meticulously segmenting tender orange from white pith, slipped and segmented my finger.

In retrospect, the amount of blood was quite impressive. For a while there, an ER visit seemed imminent, but a few kitchen towels later, we decided we were okay. Except. Open wound+Citrus juice? Yeah.

I was in horrible pain. Not only did it sting like a bitch, it throbbed.

I do have the good fortune, however, to know lots of folks in the medical profession, so while I howled, hubs was on the phone trolling for quality painkillers. Thankfully, a nearby friend's husband was coming off back surgery, so while Loving Husband got in the car to score me pharmaceuticals, I walked (okay limped) Roshan through dinner prep.

The Reluctant Sous Chef cooked the whole darn dinner. And he did a fantastic job, too. He stepped up, was SO game, and so calm and, well, Awesome about the whole thing. He even did the cleanup, too.

I know.

Verdict: The salad was my favorite part of the meal. I ate through a slight haze, however. Everything was delicious, actually, but it wasn't our Love Meal, we decided. This was a meal we'd make any night of the week, but maybe not for that special one evening. The search, my friends, continues.

Halibut Saltimbocca with Lemon Butter Orzo
serves 4

salt and pepper
1/2 pound orzo pasta
4 halibut fillets (about 6 oz each)
4 leaves fresh sage
4 slices proscuitto di Parma
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
2 tablespoons butter, cut einto small pieces
Juice of 1 lemon, plus 2 teaspoons grated peel
**I added a little flat-leaf parsley...the dish was too white without it

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and return to the pot.

While the pasta is working, season the halibut with salt and pepper. Top each fillet with a sage leaf and wrap with a piece of proscuitto. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the EVOO, 1 turn of the pan, over medium heat. Add the fish and cook, turning once, until the fish is firm and the proscuitto is crisp, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the butter, lemon juice, parsley (if using) and lemon peel to the pasta and toss. Serve with the fish.

Romaine, Orange, Red Onion and Toasted Walnut Salad
serves 4

2 cups romaine lettuce, torn
3 oranges, supremed
1/2 cup very thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted

juice from segmented oranges
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Peel oranges. Cut segments away from the white pith over a bowl. Reserve juice. Toss lettuce, orange segments, red onion and walnuts in a bowl.

Combine reserved juice, champagne vinegar, walnut oil, salt and pepper. Whisk. Pour over salad, toss.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Weekend Wishes: Bon Voyage!

When Miss D. was little, she hated her car seat. In fact, I think the word hate is a little weak. She detested that thing with every curl on her head, because to her, the car seat meant one thing. The minute I broke that seat out, she knew: Carseat=Having to be Still and Restrained for God Knows How Long.

Miss D. doesn't do still well.

As soon as she saw that seat, the howling commenced. And the wiggling. And the throwing of the sippy cup at mommy's head while she is driving, almost causing an accident. Who knew that a yellow Spongebob cup was a lethal weapon?

The only person who could tolerate Miss D. during this trying period was my mother. Because, you see, my mother sympathized. My mother is also piss-poor at still. She can't do it. I recall very long flights with her to London, Paris, Dublin--flights she fidgeted and fussed through, resorting to hourly trips to the loo in order to ease her wanderlust.

My father and I love to travel. We want to see, taste, do it all. My mother is perfectly happy to stay home. It's not that she doesn't love foreign places and all they have to offer; she does. It's just that for her, the getting there is so incredibly torturous, it almost cancels out the pleasures to come.

As she's gotten older, more obstacles have gotten thrown into the mix: About ten years ago, on one of those long flights that she detests, my mom developed a blood clot in her leg. And that cranky clot travelled to her lungs, which, peskily, can be fatal. Fortunately for her, she just got a little vacation in the hospital with hers.

Turns out, mom has a genetic condition called Factor Five/Leiden Deficiency. In short: she's a clotter. And folks with blood that likes to clot shouldn't go on plane rides, particularly long ones. Which should have been the end of her trans-Continental gallivanting right there. But.

My Dad lives for travel, loves it desperately. And is now retired, so he is actually free to do it. And, he absolutely loathes doing it alone.

So he snips articles out of travel magazines, leaves them out on the coffee table. Sighs, looks out the window, mentions that it would be dazzling in Capri right now. Wonders aloud if winter really is that magical in Austria?

In truth, he wears her down. He's patient and very, very, good at it. So, as a belated 48th Anniversary present, Mama has agreed to make the trek to Rome. He's seduced her with business-class seats and lovely accommodations and promises of scrumptious meals to come.

And, like the clever dog that he is, my father pointed out that now Mama needn't suffer any ribbing about her hourly trips to the loo, since that's exactly what the doctor orders for her now. So at this moment, she's probably on her seventh trip to that closet the airlines call a bathroom, cursing my father, itching to get her legs on land.

Godspeed, Mom and Dad. I hope you walk until you can't anymore, linger in every piazza, drink scads of wine, and eat yourselves into bliss.

In your honor (and also because it's hotter than Hades' butt), I am making bruschetta this weekend. Because when tomatoes and basil are in season, Italians drown themselves in them. Damn, I wish I were there.

Bruschetta with Goat Cheese, Basil, Caramelized Tomatoes and Proscuitto Crisps*

serves a crowd

The technique for caramelizing, or slow-roasting tomatoes, comes from Molly Wizenberg, who details the process in her wonderful, moving, delicious book A Homemade Life. Her book is my favorite book this year, and I read a lot of books. You should check her out--her writing is glorious.

For the Caramelized Tomatoes:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Wash and dry 3 1/2 pounds of tomatoes (about 20 Romas), trim away the stem end, and halve them lengthwise. Place them in a large bowl, and, using your hands, toss them gently with the oil. Arrange them cut side up on a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and about a pinch of salt each for every 4 to 6 tomato halves.

Bake until the tomatoes crinkle at the edges and shrink to about half their original size, 4 to 6 hours. They should still be juicy in their centers. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool at room temperature.

Put them in an airtight container, and store them in the refrigerator for up to a week.

To Crisp Proscuitto:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place slices of proscuitto on parchment and roast until crisp, about 6-8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the proscuitto. Watch carefully! Drain on paper towels and break into shards.

For the Bruschetta:

1 batch caremelized tomatoes

1 batch proscuitto crisps

1 8oz. log of good goat cheese, softened (I used Haystack Mountain, made here in Colorado. If you can score yourself some, you are a lucky bastard. It's great).

fresh basil leaves, torn

salt and pepper

1 loaf good rustic bread, such as baguette, ciabatta

good olive oil

2-4 cloves garlic

Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high head. Slice the bread and drizzle generously on both sides with olive oil. Place bread on the hot grill and grill 2 minutes or until toasted. Turn over, grill the other side. Remove bread from grill and immediately rub the surface of each slice of bread with the garlic cloves. The flavor of the garlic will infuse the bread.

Spread goat cheese over the bread slices. Top with tomatoes, basil, a good grind of pepper and a sprinkle of salt. Top each bread slice with a shard or two of proscuitto.

Best eaten on a hot summer night, with good wine and someone you love. Unless, of course, you're in Rome...

*This bruschetta was so good and looked so sexy that I think it's a contender for Awesome Stepkid R's Love Food Meal. And the tomatoes are done ahead, which is great.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Eating Solo: A Confession

My husband--a physician--is on call at least one night a week, which means, of course, that I might not see him until the next morning, when I roll over and realize that sometime during the night, he crept in between the covers. It also means that at least one night a week, I usually eat alone.

Last night was one of those nights. Hubs called around 7pm and alerted me that he was waist deep in work--he's thoughtful that way. I said I'd leave his dinner in the fridge. After hanging up, I lovingly made him a sandwich wrap with hummus, turkey, fontina, bibb lettuce and thin slices of red bell pepper. I cut it in half, put it on a plate with some juicy red grapes, covered it in plastic wrap, and placed it neatly in the refrigerator.

And then I ate a slightly over-ripe tomato, a tennis ball-sized scoop of cottage cheese (salted and peppered to death) and a glass of wine. And called it dinner.

This made me think of a book I just finished, called What We Eat When We Eat Alone, by Deborah Madison.

In Madison's book, which I found delightful, she learned a lot about the down and dirty stuff we eat when we eat alone. She also, interestingly enough, learned that men and women eat very different things when alone. Women, in particular, are loathe to cook for themselves. They eat leftovers, or cereal, or cookie dough. Although there are many reasons for this (hello? a night OFF from making dinner!) the reason that made me stop in my tracks was: Some women don't bother cooking for themselves because deep down, they don't really feel that they're worth the effort.

Bingo. But ICK! I don't like that reason at all, and yet that's my reflection looking right back at ya.

I'll painstakingly make my husband a yummy and healthy dinner, stow it away for him to eat when he gets home, and then eat dreck. And part of it's because it's no fun to cook for one, and part of it's because I am a lazy slob, and part of it's because I'm too cheap to throw away the stupid tomato that's thisclose to growing fuzz on it.

But part of it, if I'm honest, is because I figure: eh, it's just me, no need to bother.

If you need any further urging to read the book, consider the following passage:

People told us, though not nearly as often as we would have expected, that when left alone in their own kitchens, they resorted to eating cereal for dinner. A little cloud of shame seems to hover around the cereal eaters, as if they know they really could do better and perhaps should try...

Great stuff, right? And it's hysterical (and sometimes gag-inducing) to read what human beings feast on when nobody's there to scoff.

So without further ado, I will confess to my most popular go-to dinners when there are no witnesses. Well, our cat, Harryboy knows, but he's not talking.

-a bowl of steaming basmati rice, topped with chopped tomato and slivers of red onion, topped with shards of very strong bleu cheese, salted and peppered. Sometimes with a drizzle of balsamic.

-bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado (the microwave thick-cut bacon, so don't go getting all impressed that I fried up fresh bacon) on a toasted english muffin

-any leftover about to go bad in the next day

-pimiento-jalapeno cheese from Whole Foods on toasted english muffin, topped with a tomato

-my comfort food: a big bowl of Uncle Ben's converted rice, buttered and salted to death

All kinda nasty and a little sad, but mine all the same. And now, brave readers, please share your own, if you dare. What do you eat--or have eaten in the past--when nobody was there to bear witness? I promise to laugh only a little.

*** Giveaway alert!*** If you post a comment/confession below, you will be eligible to win a 1-year subscrption to Everyday Food Magazine, courtesy of TKW! I really like this magazine because the recipes are simple, fresh and delicious. And maybe, just maybe, you might not be stuck eating cereal for dinner again!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

After the 2nd Glass of Gin, Life Looks Better.

See this picture? The boy on the spotted pony is my maternal grandfather, John, when he was six years old. That's his sister, Fida, on the horse and the two adults are his mother (Florence) and father (Samuel). My mother and I estimate this photo was snapped circa 1916.

If you look closely, you'll notice the roof that needs mending, the crooked barbed wire, the battered bench. It was a tumultuous, unpredictable life.

The story doesn't begin that way. His mother, Florence, was college educated (a genuine rarity back then) and taught college-level math. I cannot believe I have a math teacher in my genetic lineage, but it's true. She was sharp as a tack, had an incendiary French temper and stood under 5 feet tall. She was fiercely independent; she scandalized Philadelphia when she had the audacity to divorce her wastrel first husband. She was quite happy on her own... until she laid eyes on Samuel Ludlam.

You might not be able to tell from the photo, but he was a handsome dude. He knew it, too. Samuel Ludlam, in the Irish way, could charm the fangs off a rattlesnake. He was a cad, a scoundrel, a whole lotta fun. And alas, in the Irish way, a drinker.

My grandmother knew this, and boy, did those two fight--passionately, viciously--but in the end, she never could resist him or turn him away. Like a moth to a flame, she went straight for the heat.

It couldn't have been easy growing up in that household, covering your ears during the screaming, tiptoeing around broken dishes, retreating to the back of the house when the cap came off the bottle.

But despite my grandfather's anger at his father's drinking, his disgust at the recklessness that squandered any money they saved, my grandfather John was a chip off the old Irish block.**

Handsome, charming, changeable, witty, scallywag...drinker. And, like his daddy, he managed to find a woman indefensible against his charms. I mean, just look at her expression there, and that snap was taken after they were married a LONG time.

However, Gramma Henrietta wasn't a fiery Frenchwoman. My grandparents rarely fought, because my grandmother, in the stoic English fashion, ignored any infractions and bad behavior. "The Ostrich," we called her, because the minute trouble came calling, Gramma just stuck her head in the sand and pretended she never saw it.

Grandpa John was a charming boozer...until he got enough in him to get ugly. I remember him looking like this: (although that's my sis in the picture, not me)

My mama, unfortunately, remembers spending most weekend afternoons outside, afraid to come home, not knowing which Daddy she'd arrive home to--the loveable prankster or the seething kettle.

I don't remember much about Grandpa John. He wasn't much of a "kid" person--he basically wanted little to do with my sister and me, and we were happy to give him a wide berth. I do remember, however, early in the evening, after the second glass of gin, his edges would soften. Suddenly, I saw a man who would chuckle at my antics and, if I was particularly entertaining, ruffle my hair. I liked early evening, that second glass of gin.

That's the Grandpa John I choose to remember today. I'll even throw in some gin, just to get to that place where those blue eyes sparkle and there's a bawdy joke on the tongue. Slaince!**

**Slaince is Irish for Cheers! Apparently, there was also some English knocking around in the Ludlam genes, but you'd never know it from their behavior.

Gingered Gin and Tonic
from Bon Appetit magazine
serves 4

1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh grated peeled fresh ginger
2 cups tonic water
1 cup gin (please do not use Gilbey's; grandpa loved it but it sucks)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
24 ice cubes
fresh ginger slices (optional)
lime wedges (optional)

Combine furst 3 ingredients in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 3 minutes. Cool syrup; then strain. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover. Chill.)

Mix tonic water, gin, lime juice and 1/2 cup ginger syrup in glass measuring cup. Taste, adding more syrup, if desired (reserve remaining syrup for another use). Divide ice among 4 tall glasses. Pour gin and tonic mixture over. Garnish with fresh ginger slices and lime wedges, if desired.

Sis again...alas, there are no pictures of Grandpa John and me, alone.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Umami, anyone?

Make way for umami! Umami is a term used to describe what Japanese cooks call "the fifth taste."

I'm sure you all know the other four quite well: salty, sweet, sour and bitter. Some of them you like better than others....I'm a salt junkie, personally.

Umami is a savory, meaty taste. It's most often used to describe beef, mushrooms, olives and aged cheeses (you know, the stinky ones).

I was flipping though an issue of Saveur magazine and came across a recipe for Umami Ketchup. I was intrigued--could a ketchup make a burger even more beefy tasting than it was already?

We here at the T house are huge ketchup consumers. Miss D. dips her vegetables in the stuff, and I'm pretty sure Miss M. considers it a beverage. I should own stock in the Heinz company, because we go through a ginormous bottle of ketchup every week.

But I've never made my own. Would umami ketchup pass muster with the girls, or would they find it too funky-town for their taste?

I got our Heinz ketchup bottle out of the refrigerator and scanned the ingredient list to see if the recipes had similar ingredients. They didn't.

Here comes the rant: Holy shitty ingredients, Batman! Do you realize what hideous crap Heinz puts in their ketchup!!!?? I was horrified! I have been feeding my kids complete nutritional dreck every week of their lives.

Ingredient list (as seen on the bottle): Tomato concentrate from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, salt, spice, onion powder, natural flavoring.

Not just one but two kinds of corn syrup? You know, that stuff that nutritionists are telling us makes our asses the size of India and our blood sugar blow off of the Richter scale? Yeah, that stuff.

And just what is in that ubiquitous "natural flavoring?" I'm betting nothing natural.

I felt like turning myself in to Social Services. I am Crap Mum of the Universe.

When my heart rate returned back to normal, I proceeded with the recipe.

Turns out, ketchup isn't that hard to make. The recipe in Saveur magazine attributes this recipe to the Los Angeles restaurant Umami Burger.

Umami Ketchup
makes about 2 cups

1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive pil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 tsp. tamari (or soy sauce)
2 tsp. worcestershire
2 tsp. oyster sauce
5 anchovies, finely chopped and mashed into a paste

Puree tomatoes in a blender; set aside. Heat oil in a 4-qt saucepan over medium heat. Add onions; cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Add tomato puree, vinegar, brown sugar, tomato paste and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 1 hour.

Puree cooked tomato mixture in a blender. Transfer to a bowl; season with salt and stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and chill before using.

The Verdict:

I will, first off, admit to being a huge loser because I had trouble stomaching the thought of raw mashed anchovies in my ketchup. So I decided to cook the anchovy paste with the onions, let it get that toasty/nutty flavor and proceed with the rest of the recipe.

I also couldn't find the lid to my blender (read: I am a disorganized tool) so I had to throw the ketchup mixture into the food processor. Thus, my ketchup wasn't silky smooth--I'd advise using a blender for that step, for sure.

Taste? YUM.

I decided to have an UmamiFest (why show restraint, eh?) so I sauteed some wild mushrooms with shallot, thyme and a splash of red wine. Then I topped the burger with melted fontina, the mushrooms and the umami ketchup.

We had to eat it with a knife and fork, but boy, was it good.

**Endnote: Daphne liked the taste of the ketchup (no surprise, since she loves olives and all things salty) but she wanted a smoother texture. Note to self: find the freaking blender lid!

***One more thing: Have I decided what I'm going to do about that Heinz ketchup sitting in my fridge? No. But I'll keep you posted.Ketchup on Foodista

Monday, August 17, 2009

Chicken Rehab: When Fowl Goes Foul

Confession: I cheated my way through 8th grade Geometry. Sorry, Mr. Narveson, but it's the truth. I tried to learn to solve the problems myself; I did. But no matter how hard I concentrated, how often I came in early for extra help, those angles and lines never made any sense to me. It was humiliating. I sulked through that class, slung myself low in the corner, praying that old "Nickels" Narvie wouldn't call my name.

For some people, cooking is like that dreaded Geometry class. However, Geometry class ended. I just had to "do my time" for two semesters. People who are cooking challenged have to deal with the stove for the rest of their lives. Now that's terrifying.

Cooking, like any other hobby/creative pursuit takes practice. That said, some of us just seem to have a knack for it. I'm lucky that way. I can rummage around my pantry, peek into the refrigerator and, most times, figure out a way to combine the odds and ends into something fairly tasty. For others, throwing dinner together on the fly like that is akin to Chinese Water Torture. Or 8th grade Geometry.

My sweet fellow blogger Gibby wrote this hilarious post a while back, cataloging her mishap with a recalcitrant chicken dinner. While I can't say I've been confounded by chicken, I do know how she feels. What chicken is to Gibs, a parrallelogram is to me. Life is cruel, I tell you.

Luckily, Gibby has a sense of humor about her struggles (unlike me, who will retain her Mathematical Sourpuss title for life). I promised Gibs that I would post a Chicken Rehab recipe for her--a relatively simple solution for her chicken conundrum.

So wonderful, witty Gibby, this is for you. Give it a shot, sweet-cheeks, and let me know how it goes. Life's too short to Kung-Fu fight with chicken.

Honey-Mustard Oven Fried Chicken
adapted from Paula Deen
serves 4

3 cups Panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons freshly minced thyme leaves (or you can use 1 tsp. dried thyme)
Kosher salt, ground pepper and a dash of cayenne
1/4 cup honey mustard
2 tablespoons water
2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4 inch thickness

Directions: Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil. Place a cooling rack (wire) over the baking sheet and coat rack well with nonstick cooking spray.

In a shallow dish, combine panko, 2 tablespoons olive oil, thyme, salt, pepper and cayenne.

In a separate bowl, combine honey mustard, water, and salt and pepper to taste, and remaining olive oil.

Coat each chicken breast with mustard mixture; dredge in crumb mixture. Place on prepared rack in pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until chicken is golden brown. Serve immediately.

**A note from me: If you place each chicken breast between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, they pound out easily and tend not to tear around the edges. My girls love pounding out chicken--it's noisy, a little dirty, and strangely cathartic to go all Jackie Chan on a lump of fowl. Trust me.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fiery Grilled Peach and Habanero Salsa

We've been grilling a lot this summer, but one thing we haven't tackled is fruit. Bobby Flay grills fruit all the time, and although I trust him, grilled fruit just sounds kind of...weird.

I came across this recipe in the August 2009 issue of Cooking Light magazine and knew it was for us. Because it's, you know, spicy. Well, at least Cooking Light says it's spicy; most of the time when a magazine says something is spicy, it's really a barely-there, castrated kind of heat. Which is not the heat we like in the T house.

Fiery Grilled Peach and Habanero Salsa
from the August 2009 issue of Cooking Light Magazine

4 large peeled peaches, halved and pitted*
2 (1/4-inch-thick) slices red onion
Cooking spray
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange rid
1 teaspoon finely chopped seeded habanero pepper** (I doubled the amount for us)
1/2 teaspoon salt

Prepare grill to medium-high heat.

Lightly coat peaches and onion with cooking spray. Place peaches and onion on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill peaches 2 minutes on each side. Cool and chop. Grill onion 3 minutes on each side. Cool and chop. Combine peaches, onion, cilantro and remaining ingredients in a medium bowl; toss well. Let stand 15 minutes.

* The easiest way to peel a peach, I've found, is to plop them in a pot of boiling water for about 15 seconds. Remove them and cool for a few minutes. The skin should peel off easily with a paring knife.

**Habanero peppers, or Scotch Bonnets, are very, very potent. Use caution when chopping them and make sure you wash your hands before touching ANY part of your body. I know this from firsthand experience; my nose has never forgiven me for itching it once with "Habanero Hands."

I thought that this salsa screamed to be served over fish, so I grilled some gorgeous sea bass fillets.

The verdict (and a small RANT):

Those folks at Cooking Light lie like rugs! Even with the amount of habanero doubled, the salsa was tame. Now it could be that I got a puny habanero, but I smelled the sucker when I was chopping it, and it smelled spicy. I know CL is a mainstream magazine, but in my opinion, if you're gonna call a recipe "fiery"--it had better have some fire there! If a magazine uses "fiery" in the title, it's user beware, right? So people who make it shouldn't be crying like babies if the recipe is hot, because they were warned. Quit castrating my food, people!! Pony up or don't do it at all.


Sigh, rant over.

Once I added another pinch of chiles, we enjoyed the dish. The combination of flavors was delicious! The sea bass was rich and buttery, and the clean peach and chile flavors blanced that. It's a keeper.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

White Trash MotherLode: Shipwreck Casserole

In my family, when birthday time finally rolled around, it meant one thing (well, okay, two things if you include cake). Birthdays meant Total Menu Domination.

On my birthday, my mother allowed me to choose the entire dinner menu. Now of course there were a few ground rules; as in, the entire dinner couldn't consist of dessert, and it couldn't be something bank-breaking like lobster, but otherwise, the field was pretty open.

Actually, Total Menu Domination occurred the day before my birthday, because we always dined out on the actual day.

I think I enjoyed planning the before-Birthday dinner more than eating the restaurant one. I liked the idea of picking and choosing my then-favorites, presenting the menu to mother, and feasting on the bounty at the end.

It varied from year to year, depending on my whims. One year, it was fried pork chops, cream gravy, mashed potatoes and tomato salad. Thank goodness I was going through a growth spurt that year; that's an ass-busting spread right there.

Sometimes it was tacos, enchiladas, guacamole. Or shrimp scampi. Or pasta primavera with real garlic bread. If Gramma Rhetta was in town, it was definitely fried chicken and cornbread.

Now Total Menu Domination is a wonderful idea. It made me feel special, and loved, and powerful to be Master of the Dinner. I buzzed in and out of the kitchen all day, watching the progress of my feast. And when it was finally done and laid on the table, I always felt a secret little rush. Total Menu Domination=cool.

Except for one leeeeeetle problem.

Every year on my sister's birthday, she got Total Menu Domination. And my sister always picked the same hideous, nasty shit.

Inevitably, her birthday would roll around, and every year I hoped she'd pick something normal, like lasagna or steak with a baked potato. Or even, God forbid, pot roast dinner, which I didn't much like. But no, my sister's birthday meant the arrival of one thing: Shipwreck Casserole.

Shipwreck Casserole struck fear in my bones and made my legs itch to run far, far away. Shipwreck Casserole came from the Book. You know, The White Trash MotherLode Book. If you missed it, you can read about the Book here.

If you look at the ingredient list in the recipe, it doesn't seem too bad, really. It isn't unlike a lot of casserole recipes from the 60's era. But I assure you, throw those ingredients in one dish and bake them together, and you have retch-o-rama on your hands. Some vile magic happened to Shipwreck Casserole while it was in the oven, and as soon as my mother pulled that freakshow out, fragrant and steaming, I'd start to gag.

My sister loved Shipwreck Casserole. She squeezed a little ketchup over the top and happily munched her way through a huge pile. For the record, that little spectacle made me gag again.

How you can raise two children with entirely different tastes is beyond me. I mean, look at the movies-- I was popcorn (none of that gnarly fake butter shit on it), she was Red Vines.

I liked to know what was in my food, at all times. She would wolf down Shipwreck Casserole and chili and meatloaf, for Chrissakes, with no hesitation. It boggled my mind.

As the years pass, I wonder if my sister really loved Shipwreck Casserole as much as she did. I'm sort of thinking that maybe even she got sick of it every year. But every year she asked for it and smiled sweetly as I turned green and prayed to die.

And Sis, guess what? I'm onto you. You ordered up that meal because you liked watching me stew and fret and work myself into a complete froth the entire day. It wasn't the food, it was the accompanying entertainment that you so enjoyed. Well, Sis, beware. I'm combing the internet for whoopie cushions, garlic gum and exploding cigarettes as we speak. Just wait...someday, you're toast.

Shipwreck Casserole
feeds 4 crazy people who don't have the sense to gag

2 peeled baking potatoes
1 large yellow onion
2 stalks of celery, sliced
salt and pepper
1 pound ground beef
1 can kidney beans, undrained
1 can tomato soup

Slice raw potatoes into a large greased casserole, spreading them to an even layer. Add a layer of onions, a layer of celery, and salt and pepper. Brown ground beef and add 1 can kidney beans. Pour into dish. Cover top of casserole with tomato soup.

Bake for an hour or more at 350 degrees.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ina's Mango-Banana Daiquiris

Our first August recipe for Barefoot Bloggers is something I think a lot of you will be excited about: Mango-Banana Daiquiris. Now who wouldn't want one of those on a hot summer afternoon?

Well, me, actually. Dirty Little Secret: I don't really like sweet, fruity drinks. I know, I know, it's terrible, right? I should surrender my Femininity License, don't you think? I mean, I went to Daytona Beach with my girlfriends and drank beer, for heaven's sake.

I also don't like bananas. And any of you who've stuck around for a while know my issues with mango.

But, we do what we do for our craft....

Actually, the mangoes at the store were hard enough to classify as lethal weapons, so I passed on those. We're finally getting decent peaches, so I decided to substitute them for the mango.

I whipped a batch up on a steamy 90 degree afternoon, and to my surprise, I liked my daiquiri just fine! It wasn't too sweet, which I liked. And the batch serves 4, so you can even share with the neighbors, which is exactly what we did.

Peach-Banana Daiquiris
adapted from Ina Garten's Mango-Banana Daiquiris
serves 4

2 cups pitted, peeled ripe peach (or mango) diced
1 ripe banana, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 4 limes)
1/4 cup simple syrup*
1 1/4 cups dark rum, such as Mount Gay
2 cups ice cubes

Combine all ingredients except ice in a blender container. Blend well. Add ice, a cup at a time, and blend until frothy and cold.

*To make simple syrup, combine 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan. Heat on low until sugar is melted. Chill until cool.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Happy 48 Years, Mom and Dad

My parents have been married 48 years this week. They've been together longer than I've been on the planet--if you hear a crackling sound, that's my mind blowing.

When I got married (a mere 9 years ago), my mom said, "there will be good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks, and, if I'm honest, good years and bad years." The idea of a bad YEAR is almost too much to bear, but she remembers vividly the year that she was diagnosed with lung cancer, we were audited by the I.R.S., and damn near every appliance we owned went kaput.

But they weathered through. They weathered snowy North Dakota winters, threadbare paychecks, a catastrophic home fire, numerous grim diagnoses, several audits, 2 constantly unmanageable daughters and, of course, a lot of meals around the table.

My father and my mother have completely different tastes in food. He likes the plain, meat-and-potatoes-style food he grew up with. My mother says that when she first visited her in-laws, she discovered (to her horror) only these spices in her mother-in-law's cabinet: cinnamon, vanilla, salt and pepper.

My mother grew up in an experimental kitchen. Gramma Henrietta DID fry chicken several days a week, but she also dabbled in Italian, Mexican, French cuisine. When my mother met my dad, he'd never eaten spaghetti. Or chili. Or chocolate mousse. It was a rough transition, and not just because my mother got married knowing how to make one thing: salad.

It was the culinary equivalent of trial by fire, and my mother spent many nights in tears, throwing dinners that were either botched or deemed unpalatable by my father into the garbage can.

But like the feisty French/Irish/English hybrid that she is, my momma didn't give up. In the beginning, she did what any new bride in the early sixties did--she ignored her own palate and cooked to please my father. Those were the pot roast years, the meat loaf years, the fried pork chop with cream gravy years. She had those meals down to a science.

Once my sister and I were old enough to voice an opinion, things got more complicated. Well, not on my sister's end, because she was Daddy's girl, right down to the gravy on her plate. I, however, liked rice. And chicken. And fish. And, God forbid, pasta in all its forms. I clamored for chop suey, taco salad, pasta primavera. It was a delicate and dicey balance, but my mother pulled it off with aplomb. If my father had to suffer through pasta, it was assured that he'd be tucking into a chop the next evening. Smart cookie, my mama.

Now that those 2 pesky girls are out of the house, and have been for some time, my mother has discovered Costco. Mom and Dad go every week, load up on staples and those tasty heat-and-eat meals, and do quite fine, thank you very much. Funny thing is, on one given night, they rarely eat the same thing. Mama's gotten assertive late in life and won't eat those dad-pleasing dishes any more.

Every evening I call her, 4 o'clock sharp. We talk about the day, I deliver any and all delicious/hideous anecdotes about the 2 pesky girls in MY house, we patch any fresh wounds with clucking and sympathy, and then inevitably end up at that one place--"So, what are you making for dinner?"

Because my husband and I are foodies, my answer is always more involved than hers. And she always gives a little sigh and says that she wants to come to my house tonight. Which, of course, I'd love. But an hour away, in a much nicer kitchen, she's tinkering around with the Costco spoils, "jazzing it up" as she calls it. Dad will get his meat loaf, she will get her halibut. But she fusses and fiddles with it, gives it love and attention, some fresh herbs and a drizzle of vinegar, and calls it done. And for the first time in a long time, they both sit down to a dinner they are pleased with. And that's a beautiful thing, no matter how you slice it.

I had a pretty rough time deciding on a recipe to post in honor of my parents' 48th anniversary. What recipe could I post that could satisfy such disparate palates? A drink? Mom loves wine, Dad a good gin and tonic. An appetizer? Dad is celery stuffed with crocked cheddar, Mom is shrimp cocktail. Salad? Mom chooses Caesar, Dad favors Iceberg Wedge. Entree? Forget it. Dessert? Dad is lemon, Mom is chocolate all the way.

But finally, after riffling through dozens of recipes, I remembered a summer staple that is equally beloved by both. In fact, this dish probably makes it to the table 3-4 times a week when tomatoes are ripe and worth eating.

So mom and dad, this one's for you. To my two favorite polar opposites: Congrats on 48 years together.

Tomato Salad with Roquefort Drizzle

Slice ripe tomatoes onto a big platter. Sprinkle sparsely with salt and generously with pepper. Drizzle tomatoes with:

Roquefort Dressing*
makes about 3 cups

1/4 cup vinegar (I believe my mom used white or cider)
3/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup half and half (or sour cream)
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 lb. strong Roquefort or Blue Cheese, crumbled
1 clove garlic, minced

Beat ingredients together thoroughly and chill.

*I have made a less-rich, but still satisfying version using plain Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream and using low-fat mayonnaise for half of the mayo called for.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Love Food: An Inquiry

The other night, as Awesome Stepkid R. was serving as my sous-chef, diligently peeling and dicing away, my husband wandered in.

Hubs: Hey, you're getting pretty good at that.
ASR: I know.
Hubs: You know, chicks are impressed by a guy who can cook.
ASR: Can you cook?
Hubs: Um........... no. But you should learn.
Me: That's a good idea. We should pick a few things that would impress chicks and make them.
ASR: Kay.....but what food impresses chicks?

This led to a rather animated discussion. My husband voted for grilled steak, some kind of potato besides mashed, and a salad.

I disagreed. I think the menu he suggested is a menu to impress a dude, not a chick. It is, in fact, the menu he asks for every Father's Day.

Awesome Stepkid R., showing a frightening ability to look into the future, suggested he learn how to make breakfast. You know, just in case.

Yeah, I almost peed myself too.

I'm not sure I have the emotional fortitude to delve into breakfast just yet with R. However, it got me thinking...what, as a woman, would impress you? What would you love to see on the table, happily prepared by the man at the stove? And men, you can weigh in too, feel free.

I immediately thought of pasta. But unfortunately, Awesome Stepkid R. doesn't like pasta. That kid is craaaaazy that way.

Then I thought of chocolate. Of course. But that's dessert. Shouldn't we start with the meal?

Shrimp, scallops or tuna could be a good bet, but then again, a heck of a lot of people don't "do" fish. Seems kind of risky to me--I'd hate for him to take the pains to make something, only to turn his date green around the gills. Still, there's something about shellfish that's sexy, don't you think?

Here are a few of my thoughts:

- it shouldn't be too heavy. You definitely don't want your date to require a nap during the date.
- it should be relatively simple, yet complicated enough to impress.
- ditto with speed of execution. Not too quick, not too cumbersome.
- it shouldn't contain immense amounts of the following: garlic, chile flakes/peppers, bones, shells, cheese.
- it shouldn't require copious mess and/or skill to eat, eg: ribs, crab legs, whole lobster, noodles with chopsticks.

I'm searching for a meal to seal the deal (okay, not like that) that's not a bank-breaker, a time-sucker or a risk-taker.

Tell me, tell me, wise readers...what should Awesome Stepkid R. have in his culinary arsenal?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday Foto: Over the Hump

I have big news, ladies and gentlemen...wait.

Maybe I should just keep my flippin' mouth shut. I'm afraid I'll curse myself. In fact, I know I'll curse myself.

But aww, what the Hell, I never can keep my ginormous pie-hole closed, so here goes. **Whispering so The Karma Gods can't hear** I think we're over the hump with potty training Miss M.

Yes, I'm skipping around like a lunatic. Training this child to use the toilet was a Sisyphean task, let me tell you. She's been "trained" successfully 3 times. And each time, there's been some event that de-railed her. Most recently, it was our entire month of May.

We returned from Disney with a child in Pull-Ups again. And it's taken us two full months to get her back on track, and I am so freaking excited because there are zero more babies in my future, so if #4 TTO (toilet-training-ordeal) is successful, I won't have to go through this Hell again.

Until my kids grow up and have babies, as you can see from the photo above. That's my father's mother, Helen, telling me stories as I sit on the throne. She gave me a penny for every pee; not a bad idea. So okay, maybe I'll have to help train another child, but I have a lot of free years coming.

This idea is so awesome that I do believe I deserve a drink.

**And yeah, this is a really shitty photo. I had some weird light thing going on in the house, and we don't have even a table in our backyard. Excuses, Excuses.**

Grapefruit Gimlet

from June 2009 Bon Appetit Magazine
serves 2 or 1 exhuasted veteran from Potty Training Wars

1/4 cup Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka (Charbay or Smirinoff or Absolut or whatever)
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons simple syrup**
Ice cubes
Lime slices

Place first 4 ingredients in cocktail shaker; fill with ice. Cover and shake quickly and vigorously for 8 seconds. Strain into 2 Martini glasses. Garnish with lime slices.

**To prepare simple syrup: Stir 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons water in small saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; cool.

Enjoy, but try not to gloat. Who knows what The Karma Gods have in store tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Riff: Mexican Stuffed Portobellos

The portobello parmesan went over so well at the T house that I decided to experiment. We love all things spicy, so I thought, "Why not Mexican?"

The portobello's at the grocery store were still huge-ass buggers. I don't know what they're putting in the soil, but it's causing mushroom elephantiasis. Three of them cost me**coughcough** over six bucks.

I had a russett potato lying around, so I decided to bake it off and mash it, since I liked the heft potato added to the Roasted Chile Rellenos we made a few weeks ago.

I also had two spicy green chile sausages from Whole Foods in the freezer, so I thawed them, popped them out of their casings and sauteed them up with a shallot.

When I added the mashed potato to the sausage and shallot mixture, it seemed dry. I added 1/3 cup salsa, a minced jalapeno pepper, a good dollop of jalapeno cream cheese and about 2/3 cup shredded pepper jack.

The filling tasted pretty good at this point. I added salt, pepper and an extra shake of chili flakes (did I mention that we like spicy around here?)

I prepped the portobellos: gave them a good rub with a damp paper towel, spooned out the gills and stems, glugged some olive oil over them and sprinkled on salt and pepper.

We grilled them on medium high heat for about 2 minutes per side. Then I filled them, topped them with a little extra shredded cheese and back on the grill they went, lid closed, for about 8 minutes.

We LOVED them! I think we liked them even better than the Italian version! Feel free to tinker with the spices/ingredients in this recipe, since it's a complete riff.

Here's the approximate recipe for ours:

Grilled Stuffed Mexican Portobellos
serves 3-4

3 ginormous or 4 large portobello mushrooms, cleaned, gills and stems removed
1 large russet potato, baked and mashed
2 spicy sausages: you can use Italian, chorizo, andouille, whatever you can find
1/3 cup salsa
1/4 cup low-fat jalapeno flavored cream cheese
1 chopped seeded jalapeno pepper
2/3 cup pepper jack cheese, shredded
salt, pepper and chile flakes to taste

Heat grill to medium-high. Brush portobellos with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until mushrooms begin to soften a little, about 2 minutes per side.

Remove sausages from casings and cook over medium heat; drain fat. Combine sausage with remaining ingredients. Stuff into mushrooms. If desired, top with a little extra cheese.

Grill, with lid closed, until cheese is hot and melted, 5-10 minutes.

Monday, August 3, 2009

It's French Week: Anticipating Julie and Julia

There's a lot of French food flying around the blogosphere this week, in anticipation of Friday's opening of the movie Julie and Julia. I'm excited on many levels:

I loved the book, Julie&Julia, a memoir written by Julie Powell. If you haven't read the book, you should. It follows Julie (who started a blog called the Julie/Julia Project) through 365 days; days in which she has pledged to cook every recipe (all 524 of them) from Julia Child's lofty tome: Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Add to it that Powell accomplished this in a teeny-tiny apartment kitchen and you have an entertaining read.

I love Nora Ephron, who adapted the book into the movie Julie and Julia. The fact that Meryl Streep plays Julia Child and Amy Adams plays Powell is pure icing on the cake.

I love that one little blog jump-started Julie Powell's life. A life that, at the time, was languishing at a dead-end secretarial job. I love that she had the courage to take on the Julie/Julia Project, still working full-time, and it caught fire. Everyone loves a good underdog tale.

I also love that Julia Child herself wasn't a big fan of the Julie/Julia Project, partly because she objected to Powell's salty language on the blog. Powell is especially fond of the word f*%k in all its configurations . Julie Powell is a girl I can love! As a blogger who also gets chastized for her ribald tongue, I have to root for Powell. Tell it like you see it, girlfriend!

The one thing I don't love about the whole media circus surrounding Julie and Julia is the inundation of all things French in the media. Because, gentle reader, I have a confession to make. A lot of French food, in my opinion, sorta sucks ass.

Now before you throw a fistful of lardons at my head, let me explain. I have nothing wrong with the French food you get at a simple brasserie or bistro. I'll eat a plate of steak frites or a croque-monsieur with the best of them.

I don't mind some of the simpler French fare--peasant cooking, really--like coq au vin or bouef bourguignonne. Those dishes perk up a chilly day just fine.

The French food I don't like is the high-falutin' stuff, the stuff with confit and foie gras and escargots and enough butter and cream to lube up the Eiffel Tower. I don't like fussy techniques, like making rillettes or pate choux or veloute.** And I don't want seared pituitary glands on top of my salade frisee.

The French food I don't like is the food that gave my father a horrendous case of the gout when we visited Paris one spring. Food like that isn't good for you, costs more than a Buick, and puts you in a wicked bad mood when it's time to Pay the Piper.

Now I realize that most people residing in France use that thing called moderation. You know, that thing that we Americans consider sacrilege? I realize that those slender folk in France don't eat foie gras or creme brie or protiferoles every day. Or even every week. I understand that they drink wine without making it a Bacchanalia.

French people are just...smarter than we are. They know if they eat like Americans, they'll look like Americans--impossibly rotund, limping through the seventh arrondissement, cursing blue like my father. The clever French practice moderation and walk a lot. Oh, and they smoke like goddamn chimney's too. That helps, certainly.

I will never make even 1/8 of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I don't have the patience to bone a whole duck, the fortitude to crisp sweetbreads. That just ain't me.

So while other media might be exploding this week with French delicacies, I'll post my recipe for the humble Salade Nicoise. It's one of my favorite simple French things. And it's killer during the dog days of summer, when you don't want anything heavy.

Salade Nicoise *

serves 4 Americans or 8 French people

For Salad:

1 pound tiny new or fingerling potatoes
1/2 pound thin string beans or haricot verts, if you can find them
3 medium tomatoes (good ripe ones!), cut into wedges
2 (6 oz cans) tuna in oil, drained *** see note
1/2 cup slivered red onion
3 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
1/4 cup good black olives (such as Nicoise or kalamata)
1 tablespoon drained capers
1/4 cup french cornichons or small sweet pickles
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

1 large head red leaf or boston lettuce

1/3 cup of your favorite viniagrette

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water (make sure water covers the potatoes by 1-2 inches) in a large uncovered pot, 15-20 minutes or until tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove potatoes from pot using a slotted spoon. Cool slightly, until you can handle them.

Drop the green beans into the boiling water and cook 4-5 minutes, uncovered, until crisp-tender. Drain in a colander and immediately rinse with icy cold water to stop the cooking process. Pat dry.

At this point, you can decide to peel the potatoes or leave the jackets on. It looks more elegant with the skins off, but you'll get more fiber if you leave the skins on. I detest peeling potatoes, so I usually keep skins on. Halve the potatoes and toss with a couple tablespoons of viniagrette.

Line a large platter with the lettuce, torn into manageable pieces. Make a row of string beans, a row of potatoes and a row of the tuna. Place tomatoes, eggs, olives and cornichons around the perimeter of the platter. Sprinkle red onion, capers, parsley and chives over top. Season with a generous grind of salt and pepper.

Pour remaining viniagrette over salad and enjoy with a nice crisp chilled rose or pinot grigio.

* This is my recipe, not Julia's. She would roll over in her grave at the inclusion of cornichons, and rightly so. But I love 'em.

**I can't figure out how to get that cool little french accent mark in my text? I'm an asshole. Anyone know?

***Do not use sucky tuna for this!! No Chicken of the Sea, no StarKist here! No water-packed tuna, either. Use really good imported tuna in oil (make that journey to Whole Foods, guys!) I recommend Ortiz Bonito brand. You can find it at WF or order it from Zingerman's.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

MommyTime: Spiked Lemonade

This weekend, we're madly scrambling to get our Lore hugged, kissed, packed and ready to return to Mexico. We're sad, certainly, but we're also excited for Lore to open a new chapter in her life. She knows that whatever her future holds, her American family will be watching with love, support and interest.

Me? I have a serious case of the weeps, so I decided to make a nice pitcher of Spiked Lemonade to get hubs and I through the weekend. It didn't cure the weeps, but it did dull the pain a little. Plus, it was delicious!

Spiked Lemonade (for when you have the weeps or just need a breather)
serves 8, or 2 sad-sack humans over a weekend

1 container (64 oz.) refrigerated prepared lemonade (I used Minute Maid Light)
1/2 cup Lemon Drop Martini Mix (liquor store has them--not the vodka enhanced version!)
1/2 cup Orange Flavored Vodka
1/2 cup Lemon Flavored Vodka
1 fresh lemon, sliced

Set aside 3/4 cup of the lemonade. Combine all other ingredients in a large pitcher. Stir. Chill at least 2 hours and serve over Lemonade Ice Cubes.

Lemonade Ice Cubes
Place a strawberry or raspberry in each square of an ice cube tray. Fill with left over 3/4 cup lemonade. Freeze until firm.