Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone!

Here are some resolutions for you for the new year. Make them because I told you to.

1. I will not serve frozen chicken nuggets without prior approval from June.

2. I will try at least one new recipe a week.

3. I will not attempt to bake anything in my microwave, because it is stupid. And also because it heats unevenly, denatures proteins, and turns baked goods into sponges.

4. I will serve dinner made from simple, fresh foods at least three times a week.

5. I will listen to all cooking advice June dispenses and not argue with her, because I wouldn't want to risk pissing her off. Or being uninvited to any of her dinner parties.

My family is going to a New Year's Eve party tonight like many of you are as well. I made this simple salmon spread earlier today. It will be fabulous by tonight and everyone will think I am a genius. Really, I'm not. I just know how to search out good recipes. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bracciole and Mannicotti

My daughter Meagan needs more recipes for Christmas, so again, you get to benefit. These are recipes passed down from at least her Great Grandmotheron her father's side, possibly older than that. (Caveat: I am not Italian at all. I married into it.) Her Great Grandmother was born in Sicily and emigrated to America. So they must be authentic, right? Well, maybe. What we have noticed is that theItalian family recipes seem to have morphed a bit to fit the poverty in which the family found itself in America as well as the lack of real Italian ingredients. Most of the recipes include lots of eggs even where seemingly unnecessary, probably to get the protein content of the food up and make use of a cheap source of protein. Breadcrumbs make lots of appearances, too. The surprising thing to me is that most of the family recipes are very bland considering that they supposedly originate from Sicily. These recipes were traditionally served on Christmas, but I can't abide Italian on Christmas, I am strictly a big-hunk-of-juicy-prime-rib sort of girl. We instead sometimes make them on Christmas Eve, which is what Meg is going to do and we're going to her house for Christmas Eve. Yay!!! Now I only have to cook two big meals for Christmas instead of three!!!

Bracciole

Butterflied top sirloin
Layer:
Breadcrumbs
Parmesan Cheese
Pepper
Parsley
thinly sliced, sauteed onions
sauteed meatball mixture
sauteed diced mushrooms
hard boiled eggs, sliced thin
roll and tie and saute the bracciole in olive oil until brown, add to red sauce and cook for two or three hours.

Manicotti

Beat 8 eggs well and add 2 cups of water and 2 cups of flour and 2 tsp salt. Cook on an ungreased griddle over low heat. Pour like small pancakes and cook on one side until rubbery.

Filling

1 1/2 lbs ricotta (Get the good kind from the deli section.)
2 egg yolks
1/4 c parmesan
salt and pepper
minced parsley, dash of sugar and cinnamon

Put 1 T filling in the center and spread it over the crepe. Roll seam side down aand layer in a baking pan with sauce. Bake 25 minutes at 350.

Traditional Italian Manicotti are crepes, not those huge pasta tubes you get at the grocery. They are very delicate and subtle, but super yummy! Although one Christmas eve when my son Ben was four (and a VERY picky eater) we made him try these and he immediately threw them right back up. We never forced him to try anything ever again. Although, that is my prefered method for raising un-picky eaters. Which the rest of my kids are not. Because I am (nearly) perfect.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Recipe for My Daughter

I know the rest of you probably won't try this recipe because it requires time and yeast. And candied fruit. But this is my daughter's favorite Christmas recipe and she needs it, so I am sharing it with the world. It is from the 1980 edition of Joy of Cooking. The Joy is the best cookbook ever written. My mother had an older edition than I do and I bought Meagan the updated version of Joy of Cooking when she had her first apartment. So we have three generations of good cooks (I mean great cooks) relying on the Joy of Cooking for basic recipes with fanstastic results. This morning I used it to make homemade English muffins and Hollandaise for Eggs Benedict. It will tell you how to make ANYTHING. The newer revised edition is not as good, though. It left out directions for skinning and cooking a squirrel and they changed the Stollen recipe. She tried the updated Stollen recipe last year and it was a disaster. Here is the 1980 version:

Stollen

Have ready: 6 to 8 cups of all purpose flour

Combine and let stand for 3- 5 minutes:
1 1/2 cups 105 to 115 degree water or milk
2 packages active dry yeast
Add 1 cup of the flour. Cover this sponge and let it rest in a warm place until light and foamy, about 1 hour. Sprinkle a little of the sifted flur over:
1/2 Lb raisins (Note from June: I hate raisins so I leave them out and add more candied fruit)
1/2 lb chopped blanched almonds
1/2 cup chopped candied fruit

Beat until soft:
1 1/2 cup butter
Add gradually and blend until light and creamy
3/4 cup sifted sugar
Beat in one at a time:
3 eggs
Add
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp grated lemon rind
Add the sponge and enough flour to knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. Toss the dough onto a floured board. Knead in the fruit and nuts. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Roll each into an 8 x 15 inch oval. Fold in half lengthwise and place loaves on greased baking sheets. Brush the top with melted butter. Let the loaves rise, covered until they almost double in bulk, about 45 minutes. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven 30 to 40 minutes or until done.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pancakes with Hannah




Last Sunday Hannah and I decided to make pancakes for breakfast. Now this is not a rare occurrence; we make pancakes fairly frequently for Sunday breakfast. I had bought some blueberries the day before just for this purpose. I did forget to get buttermilk, though. However, this day, Hannah decided she wanted to make them because we had eggnog in the fridge and she wanted to make eggnog pancakes, and so I said she could and I would go behind her and clean and make the bacon. She started gathering her ingredients while I started the bacon. As she pulled out the baking powder, she asked me what the difference between double-acting baking powder and regular baking powder was. "Oh god", I thought to myself, "I can't quite remember why they call it double-acting, I know I used to know, and I, the goddess of food, can't let my offspring know that I don't know everything!" Or something like that. Actually that's really not true, I am fine with admitting that I don't know everything to my kids, and a few others, but I will NEVER admit that to my hubbie. Or to you. I am the final authority on all things culinary! I am the goddess of food! Don't forget it. So I mumbled something about people how in the olden days people had to make their own baking powder which consisted of a few ingridients mixed to gether in a certain proportion and when commercial baking powder became available 'double acting' connoted that it contained two active ingredients, only one of which I could remember at the time.



Hannah and I really are starting to enjoy cooking together. She is becoming enthusiastic about learning about cooking and willing to try new things. And really, isn't that about all it takes? Oh, and learning that people who like food and care about it do not serve cheese in a can. Or a jar. (have you ever eaten that stuff? Disgusting!) So I find the times when Hannah wants to cook to be times when she will let her teenagerish attitude down and just be a nice girl again. She respects my abilities in the kitchen and sincerely wants to hear what I have to say about cooking. And so I may slip in a word or two about values, or things I care about, what I want her to know about life. Cooking together gives her a way to let down her defenses. I treasure that time together.

So, as we talk and cook, and drink coffee, (yes, I am a terrible mother. I let my fourteen year old drink coffee. Sue me.) we start to cook the pancakes on the cast iron griddle. I had a banana on the counter that was too ripe to eat, but perfect to cook, so we sliced that and added it to some of the pancakes as we laid them on the griddle. We made some with blueberries, some with banana and some with both. Oh, and don't forget the eggnog. I wasn't sure how the combinations would be, but hey, I am always up for experimenting. As we started eating them, with some really great maple syrup from Vermont provided by my friend Gi-gi, we started noticing that the texture was a little waxy, and flat. Maybe it was the eggnog? No, that wouldn't have done it. Why were these so different? And then I realized: Hannah had forgotten to put in the baking powder. After our long discussions on the origins of baking powder. The pancakes had the consistncy of crepes or clafouti, and they were still quite delicious. We ate them all. We decided to call them pancrepes. It was fun.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Another Quick Pasta Recipe

Well, maybe two more quick ones, we'll see how I feel by the end of the first one. The first one is for Carbonara. Carbonara is what I make when I REALLY have nothing in the fridge for dinner. Since everyone has eggs, bacon keeps in the freezer very nicely, pasta is a can't-live-without-it staple, and, really, if don't keep some parmegianno-reggiano or other grated Italian cheese around you shouldn't be reading my blog (Deb I'll give you a pass, due to your difficulties resolving your cheese dilemmas with your hubbie) but the rest of you, PLEASE DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT WHINING TO ME THAT YOU LIKE CHEESE IN A CAN, or that you don't always have some around. Get it. Keep it. I have NEVER seen parmesan go moldy. I think it has a half life of about ten years. Anyway, you see my point: almost everyone has or should have the ingredients for a quick Carbonara right on hand.

Carbonara

1 Lb spaghetti (this is best pasta for this dish, but other long types work as well, just don't use anything tubular. You need the egg to be able to cling to the strands)
6 slices bacon, use more if your kids really like bacon, like mine do
2-3 eggs
2 T cream (optional, but it does make it nice and well, creamy.
1/2 cup Parmesan (see above note about what type of cheese I will allow you to use without ridiculing you.)

Now remember, what is the first thing you ALWAYS do when cooking pasta? That's right, put your water on to boil. While waiting for the water to boil, fry the bacon. Crumble.

In the serving bowl, crack the eggs and beat them fairly thoroughly. Add the cream and cheese and beat again.

Cook and drain the pasta. IMMEDIATELY toss it into the bowl and begin lifting and turning the pasta so that it is coated with egg. The egg will cook from the heat of the pasta. If you didn't use any cream, add 1 T of the bacon grease and toss again. Sprinkle with bacon and pass parmesan cheese. Serve Lipitor for dessert.

Well, that's it for today. I don't feel like posting another pasta recipe. Maybe tomorrow. Now, I think I'll go try to whip up one of Martha Stewart's Christmas cookie recipes. Oh joy. That usually ends with me cursing Martha and wishing she would be damned for all eternity. But it also ends msot of the time with some awesome cookies.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Impressing People with Your food

My daughter is a very good cook. She should be, I taught her. So what did she learn from me? To always go with the tried and true? Nope. I rarely do that. To experiment on your guests? Yup. She does it all the time. We had a great Roasted Portobello and Prosciutto Lasagna at her house the day after Thanksgiving. She of course had never made it before, but pulled it off with ease and panache. We had a great time.

The new house she and her fiancee bought is in one of those neighborhoods that has a lot of neighborhood parties. They attended their first one last night. Lots of people in their forties and fifties were there. She decided to bring some gougeres, but she has never made puff paste and may have slightly messed up the execution. Okay, she really messed it up, but the result was still not bad. Being my daughter, she was not willing to settle for a so-so showing. So, in typical making-her-mama proud fashion, she whipped up this Red Velvet Cake two hours before they had to be at the party. I'm so proud I could almost cry. Or toast her with some bubbly. Or both. Yeah, let's go with the bubbly. She tells me it was the hit of the party and all the old folks, (her words) gobbled it up and chatted them up the whole night. I have just one caveat for her: now they will expect great things from you. You now have a reputation to live up to. Could it be the birth of the Gates Foodie? Perhaps. But she's still too nice. Chalk it up to youth.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Nonna's stuffing

As mentioned in my last post, which was all of two minutes ago, I have four kids, only two of whom are still at home. (Well, my son still technically lives here, but he is in the military and so he is here only about two weeks at a time. I'll get to see him at Christmas for two and a half weeks and then send him to Iraq. Oh, boy, won't that be fun.) Anyway, my daughter recently bought a house with her fiancee and is now busy becoming domesticated. She calls me all the time for recipes. And in a panic, "I don't have olive oil, what should I do?" Well, go buy some olive oil. She is going to be making a turkey this weekend and although she is planning on following all of my turkey tips, she needs her Nonna's stuffing recipe. Now, Nonna wrote this recipe down for her in a memoir, but can my daughter locate the book her grandmother spent about two years writing? Not at the moment. Besides, it is easier to get it from Mom. I realize this is too late for Thanksgiving, but I thought if I had to write it down anyway, I might as well share it with the world. Or at least my seven followers.

Nonna's stuffing

1/2 bag cornbread stuffing mix
1/2 bag seasoned stuffing mix
1 T brown sugar
20 or so chestnuts, roasted, peeled, and chopped
3 roasted Italian sausages, cut into pieces
1 onion
1 c celery
1 apple, peeled and diced
Sage
Thyme
Parsley
Wine
Chicken stock
1 stick of butter

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add onion, celery, and apple and saute until soft. Add wine and simmer for a minute. Put stuffing mixes in a large bowl. Add chestnuts, sausage, and herbs. Mix in onion mixture and toss to combine. Add enough chicken stock to moisten. Add two beaten eggs and freshly ground pepper. Stuff inside your turkey.

What I Cook When I have no time

We all have those hellish days when we can't think of what to make for dinner, have no time to make anything for dinner, or can't don't have the energy to put into making something for dinner. So what does the Mendon Foodie do on those occasions? Well, I'll tell you what I DON'T do: I do not make anything from a box. Have I made food from a box in the past? Yes, I have. And was it absolutely horrible? YES!!!! When I was pregnant with my first child (I have four, which may explain my bad attitude) I had a day when I couldn't face cooking or eating. yet I still had to feed my new hubbie. We were on a tight budget, so what did I do? I fixed a box of Hamburger Helper for my husband. Mind you, I have still to this day never eaten Hamburger Helper. My mother did not make packaged food, either. Well, maybe the occasional side dish, but if you ask me to name anything specifically, I wouldn't be able to. Maybe my sisters could. Anyway, so my husband comes home and looks at the splendid feast I have managed to prepare while only throwing up once and says, "What's this?" And I reply, "Hamburger Helper!" And he replies, "It looks like shit." Then he tastes it, looks at me and says, "Never fix this for me again." I really can't say that I blame him. There has got to be something fast and easy to make that still tastes like real food.

Well there is! And I don't mean any of those annoying Rachel Ray recipes where she runs around her kitchen frenetically trying to make food in 30 minutes just to show you she can. Most people would probably rather slow down and cook at a more leisurely pace so they don't die of an aneurysm. So what do I cook when I don't feel like cooking, don't have time to cook, blah, blah, blah? Pasta!

My family (everyone except me, that is) is Italian. They like to eat pasta. A lot. If I cooked it as often as they want it, I would get so sick of it I would have to throw up. But, in the winter, I probably make it twice a week. Okay, three times. But do I open a jar of red sauce and throw it on? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? NO OF COURSE I DON'T! There are many ways to dress pasta that require little effort, little time, and yet you would still want to actually consume them.There is one trick to getting a pasta dinner on the table fast: the first thing you do is start the water heating for the pasta. Make the sauce while the water comes to a boil. If you clean lettuce when you buy it and keep it wrapped in a towel inside a plastic bag in fridge you can have salad, too. Here is one of my families favorite pasta dishes, adapted from Marcella Hazan.

Bean pasta

Dice an onion and saute with four ounces of pancetta and two cloves of minced garlic until the onion is translucent and the pancetta is a little crispy. Drain one can of cannellini beans reserving liquid. Add that can plus one UNDRAINED can to the frying pan. Add some chopped fresh sage and rosemary. (Dried is okay, too.) Season to taste with salt and pepper. If it is too thick, add some more of the bean liquid.

Cook pasta while making the sauce and toss pasta with sauce and top with Parmesan.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you can keep the ingredients on hand and for when you are pressed for time. Pancetta freezes well. It is a nice thing to keep around. This recipe will make enough for about a pound and a half of pasta. You can make it with only one can of beans if you need a smaller amount. I devised this recipe when I still had four kids at home. I'm down to two, so now I make only one pound of pasta.

There are so many other quick pasta recipes that don't involve jarred sauce. I'll try to post some more soon, although I make no promises. It all depends on my mood.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Leave some comments, dammit

I know there are some people reading this blog besides Laura. She can't be logging on here as many times a day as it is being accessed. She may be one of my biggest fans, and the ultimate goddess of blogging, but she does have a life. Just one that doesn't involve cooking.

So, get to the point, you say? Leave a comment. I don't want to hear your whining about not knowing how. It is not that hard. I want to hear if you disagree with me, agree with me, think I'm a nutjob, whatever! Tell me what you're cooking and I'll tell you if you're doing it right. I may be opening a big can of worms, but I am curious. Do you know me, or just want to know me? Do you think I'm a bitch? Okay, maybe I am. Sometimes. Let me know.

Osso Buco

Apparently people think I have cooked everything there is to cook under the sun. Not really true. I will attempt to cook just about anything that interests me, even if it is hard. But then again, there are plenty of things that come to mind that I wouldn't be caught dead cooking: Fish with eyes, frog's legs, anything slimy to name just a few. Oh yeah, and venison. Don't get me wrong, I think if people want to go out and shoot Bambi and eat him, that is just fine with me. As long as I don't have to eat it. I'm sure it is delicious, I think it's great that people save money by shooting their own meat, but really, I just don't want to be confronted with the bloody carcass of the food I'm planning on serving. I don't want to debate any ethical points, I am NOT a vegetarian, I have no problem with people hunting their food, I just DON'T want to be involved. I think it goes back to when my mom and step-dad were dating and he brought her a huge yellow-tail tuna from a fishing expedition he had been on. They butchered it in our kitchen sink. I couldn't look. Nor could I eat it after having seen the whole thing laying on our counter. It was a traumatic childhood incident, to which I am undoubtedly giving much more importance than it deserves. I'll bet Mom doesn't even remember that before her new boyfriend brought her a giant tuna she didn't even LIKE fish, but hey, he was very good-looking and he brought her presents, even if they were slimy, disgusting fish. Also, for the record, I do like fish and would eat and even cook one that someone caught, IF they brought it to me cleaned, gutted, and without a head.

Now, I've really gotten off track here. Another friend of mine apparently has a new boyfriend who likes to hunt and now she is hunting for recipes for venison osso buco. Yuck-o! So of course, what does she do? She asks me. You know, that everyone-thinks-I-can-cook-anything thing. I have made veal osso buco once. It was okay. Didn't thrill me. I don't think it is worth the expense and the hours of simmering. But anyway, she was looking for a tomato-based osso buco recipe, so I dug up this recipe for her, because I promised I would. And even if I am going to make fun of you, if I promise you I will do something, I will do it. Most of the time.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Deb's Pie

I'm busily ensconced this weekend managing 60+ kids at six performances of the Nutcracker. It is a lot of fun, but it leaves no time for anything, inlcuding feeding my family. So we eat leftovers and go out to Dim Sum restaurants in between performances.

I did receive this picture from my intrepid friend, who was willing to try to tackle pie crust with my encouragement. Good job!




It doesn't have to be perfect, mine certainly never are, at least in the looks department. They taste fantastic, of course. I am practicing rolling. I recently bought a french rolling pin. It makes all the difference in the world! Here is what my friend had to say about making her crust:

"I had to add more butter and more water than your recipe says before I could even get it to ball up. And I am no good at rolling it out without it breaking apart.

I decided to shred frozen butter like it says in the Scones recipe from Cook's Illustrated. I unfortunately shredded my thumb knuckle only eight strokes into it, and so switched to cutting it into little tiny pieces and freezing it again.

No actual blood in the pie.

We'll see what everyone has to say tomorrow"

Now, my only comment is that she should have just used more ice water; the amount needed can vary every time you make a pie depending on the humidity, flour temperature, and who knows how many other factors. But, hey, she gave it a go, which is more than I can say for a lot of women out there who rely on store bought pie crust. Get with it, ladies.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Stress


If only I could just COOK, dammit, on thanksgiving. What's with all this CLEANING!!!

Since we had all of our kids here for a "Thanksgiving" dinner at the end of October, for the real Thanksgiving, my sister in law and I are making this meal for Thanksgiving. The best part is that she is an even better cook than I am (if that is possible). We are leaving out a few of the dishes because the menu is for twelve and there will be only seven of us, my smallest Thanksgiving dinner ever. My daughter is going to her fiancee's family and my son couldn't make it back from his military training. I will probably need either anti-depressants or lots of alcohol to get through it. I guess I'll probably go for the alcohol!

Anyway, good luck with your cooking endeavors tomorrow. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Take Home Chef

If any of you read the comments that people leave, you will have noticed that on my last post Laura referred to the time she had to "fry six pieces of bacon". About a year ago she offered to help me organize my disgusting basement if I cooked dinner for her and some out of town guests. And she was providing the groceries! Boy, did I get the better end of that deal. But, you really should read her account of the night. Continued here.

And concluded here.

I hope you enjoy her story as much as I enjoyed the cosmopolitans she made that night. And boy, did I really enjoy them. A lot.

Mistakes I have made

So instead of merely dissing all of the cooks I know, I feel I should humble myself a bit and reveal some horrible kitchen mistakes I have made. I offer these to you in humility, so that you will know I was once where you are now. And that I am not perfect. Well, I wasn't perfect then, but now I am pretty darn close. At least in the kitchen.

1. Peanut butter rice pudding. It sounded good. I had all of the ingredients. I was having company and needed a dessert that I didn't have to go out and spend a lot of money on, because I was newlywed and poor. I had never made it before I served it to my guests. It was a disaster. Utterly. I served it up and took a bite. Horrible!!!! My guests didn't even feign politeness, they took a bite and didn't eat any more, either.

2. Brie tart. Another dinner guest debacle. I found some recipe in Bon Appetit and it sounded good. Too bad it wasn't good. It was bland. It was supposed to be an appetizer, but apparently my guest thought it was a dessert I was serving before dinner and said it needed more sugar. Maybe it did, since it didn't have any, it was a friggin' appetizer.

3. Garlic bread. I burn it with regularity. Drives my hubby insane.

I have countless (well, maybe not countless. Maybe a few.) other failures in the kitchen. The point is you have to be willing to fail in the kitchen. You have to take risks. Find a recipe you've never tried (maybe you don't want to try something new for guests. But that has never stopped me. I almost always make something new when I have guests). You will never serve interesting food if you are unwilling to make a mistake or two. Just like you can't succeed at anything in life if you are unwilling to first fail. We all learn from our mistakes. Even me. Ultimately, my much maligned friend Laura CAN become a good cook because she tries to improve and she is not afraid to serve something which didn't quite turn out the way she expected. And she has me to tell her when she screws up.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mashed Potatoes

Let me say, first of all, that I owe my entire blogging career to Laura. In more ways than one. She created this blog for me one day, because she was avoiding her own work and she likes to encourage creativity in others. Plus, as an added bonus, she is a doofus in the kitchen. (But what I really like about her is that she TRIES. She really does. And under my tutelage, she is improving. Somewhat.)

So today she called and mentioned that she was going to the mall to look for a new computer. I needed to re-supply my teenage daughter in the unmentionables department, so I immediately insinuated myself into her plan.

We got to the mall, and I dropped her off at the Mac store and went happily off in search of undergarments. Later, as we passed the Williams-Sonoma store, a picture of a potato ricer caught my eye.

"Hey", I said to her, "I like that potato ricer better than mine; it has holes in the side, so you get less resistance when you press the potatoes."

"What do you us the potatoes for? Hash Browns?" she asked.

"No, you dork, you make mashed potatoes out of them", I replied. Now, mind you, I didn't really expect Laura to be familiar with potato ricing. It is a little known way of making mashed potatoes. So, I was simply doing my best to educate her. But of course I had to throw in the "dork" comment. Just to make sure she knew I still loved and respected her. But then, she said something that made me stop dead in my tracks and slap my forehead with my hand.

"Why do you need that? You just use a blender."

Now Laura will dispute that she said blender and I will allow that what she meant was mixer. But still, even saying mixer would cause me heart palpitations. Let's just get this straight right now, and anyone who disagrees with me on this is just plain STUPID: YOU CANNOT MAKE MASHED POTATOES WITH ANY TYPE OF ELECTRIC APPLIANCE!!!!!

Let me begin this tirade by saying that I have made mashed potatoes with a mixer, but not for at least twenty years! I was young and foolish and uneducated. I grew up with a mother who didn't really like to serve starches, as she was of the opinion that they made you fat. So typically we only had mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving. And after I was married, I didn't have a mixer so I used the potato masher that my husband had bought at the Goodwill store. (When I met him, that is where he got all of his kitchen accessories. And his wardrobe. But I reformed him.) I still have said potato masher. Well after a couple of years Steve bought me a hand mixer for Christmas one year. I was so happy. No more hand mixing cookies with a wooden spoon. No more beating egg whites with a whisk and a copper bowl. (Okay that is the way you're SUPPOSED to do it, but what a pain.) I stated making my potatoes with the mixer. And I turned them into gelatinous, glutinous, gloppy messes. Never use a mixer, okay? Just don't do it. Here are the three acceptable ways to make mashed potatoes: put them through a ricer, or a food mill, or mash them by hand.

Putting your potatoes through a ricer ensures fluffy, creamy, smoooth potatoes. Mashing by hand gives you a little lumpier, but still tasty product and a food mill will give you good sturdy, but not really fluffy potatoes. Hence, my love of my ricer. It is so not hard. You can do it! Yes you can!

Mashed Potatoes

Boil some potatoes until tender, but leave the skins on so that they don't become water-logged. (I will let you peel them first if you must, but at least try it my way once, okay? Would I steer you wrong? No, I wouldn't) Peel them with a paring knife and put through the ricer. Put them back in the pan and add melted or really soft butter. I don't know how much, use your judgement. Then add copious amount of cream or whole milk and stir. That's it. And don't let me hear your whining about how you use margarine or low-fat milk because it's cheaper or better for you. Really, I don't care. Go ahead, your mashed potatoes just won't be as good as mine, so why not aspire to greatness? It's not as hard as you think.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thoughts on Thanksgiving


Perhaps the most important food holiday ever created, Thanksgiving inspires more anguish, hand-wringing, and contradictory turkey advice than any other single meal of the year. I, frankly, am sick of reading the "brine your turkey, don't brine your turkey, baste every fifteen minutes, don't open the oven door until it's done" arguments. All these "experts" and their absolute certainty that their way is the only way to cook a turkey advice make me a little crazy! I have spent inordinate amounts of time reading all the different advice for Thanksgiving dinner. I have used several different methods for cooking the bird and have found some better than others. SO, I have developed my OWN annoying litany of turkey do's and don'ts. And why should you follow my advice as opposed to Alton Brown's or Martha Stewart's? Because I am the goddess of real world cooking, that's why. Plus I am always right about everything. The sooner you realize that, as I tell my husband, the happier we'll all be.

Turkey do's:

  • Brine. It actually does make the turkey moister. Just make sure you keep it cold while you're brining. You can put the turkey in one of those really big ziploc bags and add a brine of 2 cups of kosher salt and 1 cup of brown sugar with some peppercorns thrown in and dissolved in 1 quart of boiling water. After it cools, add about one more quart of cold water. Then put the whole thing in a cooler and surround with ice. Or if you live in a cold climate like I do, put it in a big pot and leave it in the 35 degree garage.
  • Give the bird a good massage. With butter that is. All over. Season with salt and pepper. If you're feeling adventurous, you could rub some of that butter, mixed with herbs of your choice under the skin of the breast.
  • Stuff. I know, I know, you've read all the Cassandra warnings about not stuffing your turkey. Guess what? We've all been stuffing our turkeys for at least as long as I've been alive and I don't know anyone who's died from eating turkey. Just make sure you cook the damn thing long enough. To 165 degrees in the center of the stuffing. Nobody wants to eat the stuffing that's not cooked inside the turkey anyway.
  • Baste. Every fifteen minutes. A lot. I start with a stick of butter until the turkey starts to render some of its fat.
  • Put cheesecloth on the breast. You are pretty much trying to cook two different kinds of meat (white and dark) at the same time. Soak a piece of cheesecloth in butter and lay on the breast. Then baste both under and on top of the cheesecloth. Take the cheesecloth off for the last twenty to thirty minutes.
Turkey don'ts
  • Don't use one of those awful turkey bags. You are then not roasting, you are steaming.
  • Don't cover with foil. Again, you are then not roasting. You are steaming.
  • Don't even think of using Alton Brown's method of not opening the oven door. I did it once. Most dried out turkey I ever made.
  • Don't deep fry. While it is delicious, this is Thanksgiving. Save that for your Super Bowl party or something. Have a little self-respect!
That is about all there is to it. Pretty simple, really. For straightforward directions on how to roast a turkey, consult the Joy of Cooking. Call or email (jsantini1@msn.com) if you need help. I'm more fun than the butterball hotline. Plus, my first piece of advice will be to tell you to open a bottle of champagne and have a glass. You can't cook a turkey if you're all stressed out, can you?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Teriyaki Sauce

My friend Denise tells me that in Japan people use Kikkoman teriyaki sauce. And I nod and say, "Oh really? That's nice." I don't think she has ever tasted my mom's teriyaki sauce. It is the most incredible marinade in the world! You can marinate just about ANYTHING in it. Steaks, chicken, lamb, you name it. It makes that stuff in the bottle taste like watery brine.

Once, when Steve and I still lived in California, his parents were visiting and so we were obligated to either drive all over the Southland visiting their various siblings, nieces, nephews, and cousins, or get it over with in one fell swoop by having them all over to our place for a barbeque. If you have ever navigated the traffic for hours on end in LA, you know I chose to have a barbeque. I bought some huge piece of beef or another and sliced it paper thin. (You can do this by partially freezing the beef, making it pretty simple to slice with a knife.) I put it in a huge vat of some sort and poured the teriyaki over it. Now you may think that buying the bottle is so much easier, but let me assure you, it is just as simple to whip this up. It is THAT easy. And so delicious. If you read the comment from my last post, you'll notice my mom said that flank steak is the best cut to use and I will certainly defer to her experience and wisdom on that point, but I think I used sirloin.

Now Steve is from an enormous Italian family. They are a great bunch, for the most part, like any huge family. But there has been very little non-Italian intermarrying until the last fifteen or twenty years. So they had a different set of food expectations than I had anticipated. I remember some crazy uncle coming in and anouncing, "Oh boy, I get sausage!" Because to Italians, if you're going to have a picnic, and you're going to grill, you're going to grill sausage. Still a young bride, I blanched a bit and swallowed hard and said, "Um, we're having teriyaki." Nobody said much of anything else, and one of Steve's cousins took me aside and told me not to worry about it, Old Uncle So and So would be fine. If this happened today, I would probably look at him and say, "Sorry, you want sausage you better go the deli down the street. We're having steak. And if you don't like it, oh well." Or I'd at least think it while smiling and shooting fireballs out of my eyes.

So I proceeded to thread the steak onto bamboo skewers that I had soaked in water for a while. Steve fired up the grill and started laying them on the grill. He started flipping the first ones he placed as soon as he filled up the grill, these babies only take about two minutes or less. Total. Not per side. You can overcook these into dried out beef jerky really quickly. But it's not that hard to turn out moist, succulent morsels of meat really quickly. You simply must try this recipe. It is that good. Oh, and the Italian relatives raved about it. They had never had anything like it and it was a HUGE hit. Just like it is everytime I make it. Thanks, Mom!


Mom's Teriyaki Sauce

1 C brown sugar
1 C soy sauce
8 T lemon juice
1/4 C vegetable oil
1 tsp ground ginger (this is the only place I don't follow Mom's recipe: I use fresh ginger. I'm sure she doesn't mind!)
1 clove minced garlic

Mix together: For flank steak, slice on bias and marinade for 3 days in a plastic bag

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What Will I Ever do About Priscilla?


Picture of Hannah and Priscilla at Starbucks.

I must reiterate to you all that Priscilla is a really good cook. Which is why I get so annoyed when she does stupid things in the kitchen.


A couple of days ago, I was over for a cup of tea (okay wine) and she was starting to make dinner. (I had already made most of my dinner, tacos, and I just had to go home and fry up the taco shells. You don't actually think I would use taco shells from a box, do you? Or salsa from a jar? Do you? How long have been reading this blog?) Prissie was trying to decide whether to cook the filets she had, or some pasta. Did she have any bacon to wrap around the filets, I asked? No. Any great ideas about a quick sauce? No. She thought she might marinate them in teriyaki sauce (one of my mom's recipes) but they could only soak for forty-five minutes. STOP RIGHT THERE, YOU GOOBER! Teriyaki is a great marinade, but it needs at least four hours, preferably longer. So she mixed up the teriyaki and put the steaks in to soak until the next day. Good thinking, Priscilla, glad I could help. (We won't go into why she shouldn't use $9.00 a lb filets for teriyaki. That was a losing battle with her, I assure you. She hates beef and so she must do anything she can to disguise its taste.)

So, she was going to make some pasta. Now, I learned ninety percent of what I know about Chinese cooking from Prissie, but Italian is NOT her forte. She overcooks pasta until it is mush. She mostly uses sauce from a jar. Her pastas come out with some really weird sauces she makes up on the fly. So anyway, she starts throwing pasta in a pot of boiling water and overcooking it. But guess what? She still hasn't decided how to dress the pasta! Here is a tip for Italian cooking: put the water on to boil and start making your sauce. Most pasta sauces can be made in under twenty minutes. Put the pasta in to boil just at the last minute and cook it a minute or two under what it says on the box. It should still be a little firm to the bite. Just tonight I made a sauce with sauteed shallots, porcini mushrooms, sage, and cream. I also added fresh cracked pepper and some of the porcini soaking liquid. I simmered it until the cream had reduced by about half and topped some homemade gnocchi with it and a grating of parmesan. Yummy!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sorry I have neglected you

Oh Faithful Reader, oh my raison d'etre, how could I have been so callous, so hard-hearted to neglect you for two long weeks? I was freakin busy, that's how. Get over it!

While I was away from my blog I attended a little soiree at my friend Laura's house. It was Halloween and the livin was easy. I whipped up some Sweet and Spicy Popcorn Balls to bring and headed over in time to shove Alex out the door with Laura's husband for some ritualistic pagan candy gathering. Steve was late as usual. Laura had been stressed out about her party for a few days. I tried to calm her. "It's an after trick or treat party", I told her,"You don't have to make dinner; just put out a few munchies!" I gave her a recipe for Chicken Wings Pacifica and told her to put out a few chips. Nobody, I knew, but didn't tell her, would have high expectations.

Well, lo and behold! She pulled off a great party with some RATHER impressive snacks. I especially liked her Apricot -BlueCheese- Honey-Pistachio-Pepper Thingys. There is no recipe, just smear some dried apricots with a good quality blue cheese, sprinkle with salted, roasted, pistachios, drizzle with some honey and finish with a grinding of fresh pepper. They were yummy. And here is photographic proof of her prowess:

BTW, that's my plate.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Too Busy to Blog

I have been too damn busy to blog. I am also too busy to cook, but I have been doing it anyway. I made Thanktober dinner last Saturday for my family since neither my son or daughter will be home for Thanksgiving. It was pretty good, not my best effort. I couldn't get any chestnuts for the stuffing, it was too early. And I overcooked the pumpkin pie for reasons too complicated to explain.

I will leave you with a cool recipe though. This is from my dear, dear friend Diane in California. It is deceptively simple. It is sooooo good. She made it for me once while she and her husband were visiting. We cooked while drinking copious amounts of champagne, my VERY MOST FAVORITIST DRINK IN THE WHOLE WORLD. Course, I drink copious amounts of champagne ever weekend, but Diane is the only one who likes it as much as I do.

Diane's
Balsamic Glazed Scallops

16 Sea Scallops
seasalt, white ground pepper
1/2 c Balsamic vinegar
1 tsp very shap dijon mustard
1/2 tsp tamari or soy sauce
dash cayenne
4 Tbs unsalted butter
1 Tbs chopped chervil

Pat scallops dry and season with salt and pepper In small bow, whisk vinegar, mustard, tamari and cayenne Heat butter in large skillet over medium high heat. Lay scallops in sizzling butter and cook until crusty brown on first side (about 1 to 2 minutes) Turn each scallop over Immediatly pour vinegar mixture over scallops.
Cook 2 to 3 minutes, until just cooked through spoon remaining glaze around scallops and sprinkle with chevril Serve immediatlely.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A blogger's dilemma

Writing this blog has been more fun than I could have imagined, so far at least. I really need to thank Laura for getting me started on it, as well as for being a good sport about me making fun of her cooking.

(Oh, BTW, guess what I caught her doing NOW? Using lemon juice from a bottle. You know, the concentrated, stale, shelf-stable stuff that never goes bad? Can you guess what I think about that? I would never deny myself the pleasure of reaming a lemon up the behind and smelling its fresh scent as I pour it into or onto whatever it is I am cooking. I LOVE lemons. Remember what Martha Stewart said she missed while in prison? Lemons. Not her family. Lemons. Five days a month, I'm sure I would give the same answer, unless I wasn't properly medicated with large amounts of wine and chocolate.)

All that aside, here is my dilemma: my friends are becoming afraid of me. Prissie and Laura are the only ones about whom I can write with impunity. Within the last two weeks, I ran into the same friend three times at the grocery store. I know this friend doesn't like to cook; she has a great career, and she doesn't have time. I don't care if she doesn't cook, I love her. I love having friends that worship my kitchen abilities. It gives me a way to feel slightly superior. (kidding) So I do my best not to look in her cart. But, inevitably, I can't help but seeing what is in her cart. And I don't say ANYTHING. Nothing. No comment. But she goes pale, and says, "My husband really likes this. You can't use his real name." As if I would skewer him for LIKING some disgusting, pre-packaged dinner. Not so. There is no accounting for taste. Okay, I might skewer someone for liking that stuff, but only if I knew them intimately and knew they could take my (sometimes) good-natured ribbing.

And then there is another good friend. I have been friends with her for years. She is a decent cook. She makes some really good things. I have eaten them. She even invented a meal herself that her husband absolutely loves. He asks for it regularly. And the only reason I would make fun of it is because she calls it "fajitas" although it bears no resemblance to fajitas. Whatsoever. But hey, her family likes it, so what the heck? Anyway, I asked her if I could write a description of it and she said, "No!" Next time, I won't ask first.

You guys gotta loosen up. It is all in good fun. At least until you start making fun of my cooking. But then, there's nothing really to make fun of, is there?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pie Crust

Beautiful fall weather returns and our thoughts turn to pie. Nothing says "get out your woolies, winter is on its way" quite as much as hot pie. Okay, that was way too sappy for me, but you get my drift.

So, I tried to drag the kids out to the apple orchard last Sunday, but no luck. Seems my two youngest have even now outgrown the simple pleasure of plucking apples direct from the tree, biting into its juicy crispness, and eating it right there in the orchard, thus stealing it from the farmer. I guess I'll have to wait for grandchildren to have the fun of seeing the little kids get excited by a wagon ride again. Time to get crackin', Meagan. Oh wait. You're not married yet. Well, the wedding's next summer, so I'm sure it won't be long after that. No pressure though, honey. Anyway, since I couldn't persuade any kids to go with me, Laura went. It wasn't quite the same, since she didn't want to take the wagon ride and we had to HIKE up the hill to the orchard. I hate hiking. But, I showed her, I complained the whole time, so she'll never ask me to go hiking with her again!

Having lugged home twenty pounds of apples, I had no choice but to make pie.I read a recipe for Ginger Apple Pie and was a little intrigued. But of course I didn't follow the recipe. Instead, I made my Super Simple Pie Crust and threw a filling together. For the filling, I peeled and sliced five apples and then tossed them with 1/2 c brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 3 T cornstarch (I was out of tapioca starch) 1 T lemon juice, 2 T apple cider and two heaping spoonfuls of ginger preserves. Next time I am going to try crystallized ginger instead of ginger preserves.

I actually made two pies and took one of them to a meeting I had to go to. One of the people there was very impressed that I had made my own pie crust. Now ordinarily, I would sneer and say, "Well, of course I made it, what kind of person do you think I am?" but my journey to homemade pie crust has not been easy. I tried and failed many times to make good crust, and once when I used pre-made crusts in desperation, my huisband couldn't tell the difference. So I didn't make pie crust for fifteen years. And then I got sick of paying too much for packaged, and having to go to the store to buy them. I sent my friend this pie crust recipe later that night:

Here is super simple pie crust. I used to use packaged ones, but I read and read many pie crust recipes until I understood what actually needed to happen to have great pie crust. Now, I cannot make a beautiful pie crust to save my soul, one summer I even decided to make a pie every day until I had mastered rolling out crust. Alas, I couldn’t keep up with a pie a day, (putting aside completely my families’ collective waistline) but I did make some progress. Tonight’s crust was not one of my better, and I don’t think I really like the ginger preserves in the pie, but as I said, it was an experiment.

Super Simple pie crust:

2 Cups cold flour (I use pastry flour when I can get it. I store the bag in the freezer so it is ready to go when I am)

1 stick cold butter cut into small pieces

1 tsp vinegar

2-3 T ice water

Put the flour into your food processor, add the butter and process with on/off turns until butter is thoroughly cut in. With processor running, add vinegar and just enough water so that pastry clumps into a ball. You can wrap in plastic and keep for a day or two, or roll out immediately. I use this crust for everything. Most crusts have 2-3 T of sugar added, but I find it unnecessary. I always brush the crust with cream and dust with sanding sugar, which I think adds crispness. My other tip is to use powdered tapioca instead of cornstarch in your filling. It thickens a little better. I hate runny pie!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Roasted Garlic Butternut Squash Soup

This recipe was sent to my by one of the choir moms. We made it this weekend, and even Alex ate it, which is amazing. I served it as a first course with some croutons made from a day-old baguette. (Melt butter in pan, sprinkle garlic powder, add baguette slices brown on both sides, sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Not from a can, as if I have to say it.) Yes, I know, garlic powder is not normally acceptable, but it is in this case. Because I say so. I also prefer to use homemade stock. In these days of trying to save money, making your own stock is a good strategy, especially since I really only like the expensive kind in the box. For $3.00 each. But hey, you do what you want. Anyway, the soup was really good. Thanks Deb!

I made this with half a butternut squash. I had used the other half a few days earlier to make Butternut squash risotto with sage. While I was doing that, I popped the other half in the oven and roasted it. I kept in the fridge for a few days and it was fine. Next, we must try to make Butternut squash ravioli with browned butter sage sauce. I'll let you know how it goes. A lot of times my ravioli making ends with cursing, but also with some pretty fantastic ravioli.

A head of garlic
A butternut squash
A small handful of fresh basil
ground pepper to taste
nutmeg to taste
salt to taste
heavy cream to finish

Split a butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and put the two halves in a roasting pan "face up" so you can see the inside. Put a pat of butter inside the "bowl" part of each side of the squash. I also slather some butter over the top "smooth" half of the squash, and score it with a knife so that the butter sinks in.

Roast in a 400-degree oven for about an hour, or until the thick part of the squash is easy to slip a butter knife into.

At the same time, take a whole head of garlic and slice off the top part so that you can see a tiny bit of the inside of most of the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil, put in a small pan, and roast it in the oven along with the squash. It should only take about half an hour to roast, though. Then remove the garlic and peel it when it is cool. Or roast the garlic however you personally like to roast garlic, I don't care.

When the squash is done, scoop out the insides and place them in a food processor along with the garlic. Put in about 1/4 cup of olive oil, and a can of chicken broth. Start the food processor going. Feed in the fresh basil and keep processing until that's thoroughly chopped. Grind in some salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. A little bit of nutmeg goes a long way.

Then transfer to a pot, and simmer for a while. (Yes, a while. It's not as though anything really needs to cook, but the basil needs to be simmering to get the flavor out.) Depending on the size of the squash, you may want to add in up to another can of chicken broth to get the consistency of soup you want, and to increase the volume because everyone will want some and that way you might possibly get leftovers out of the deal. You might keep adding nutmeg or pepper, it depends on your taste. The thing is, keep tasting, because this is delicious, and there's no sense in your family getting to eat most of it. You're doing all the work.

When you feel like it's done, ladle the soup into bowls. And then, put a splash of heavy cream in the center and swirl it around. You can swirl it into a pattern like they do in fancy restaurants if you want your family to think you're hot stuff, or you can just blend it in like we unpretentious people do. Also, you could use a spoonful of sour cream instead of heavy cream if that floats your boat, but I've tried that and I think plain old heavy cream is best. If you're trying to be calorie-conscious you could go with milk, probably, but I'm not calorie-conscious enough to try it. Who needs to be calorie-conscious when the rest of this recipe is so darned good for you, anyway.

Note: This soup is so healthful that you should probably offset it with the best accompaniment in the world: A Wegmans french baguette and Irish butter. Cut a slice of the bread, smear it with butter, dip it in the soup, totally awesome. This is a good way to taste the soup when it's simmering in the pot. You have to keep making sure it's okay, after all.

Another note: If you can get cheap butternut squash in the fall, load up and they keep for a while. And, you can always roast and freeze...it defrosts just fine for using in the soup.

Yet one more note: If you like garlic, roast up to two heads of garlic and put them in instead of just one. As long as your spouse is also consuming this meal, it shouldn't be a big deal. But you'll be aware of garlic for the next day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sometimes You Have to Make a New Plan

Today I was lucky enough to find a tri-tip roast at Wegmans. A tri-tip is a tender, fairly inexpensive cut of beef from the bottom of the sirloin. It is very popular in California, where I lived until I was thirty-two. Since moving to Upstate New York, I have begged the butchers at the grocery to order them, and they have told me they were unavailable. That is if they had heard of them at all. I have found them at a few smaller specialty meat stores in Rochester. So I was happily surprised when I found one at Wegmans today. I plucked it up and dropped it into my cart. I thought I would make Barbecued Tri-tip with Carmelized Onions and Red Wine Barbecue Sauce. I grabbed some baby romaine and a pear to make a quick salad with some blue cheese I had in the fredge at home, and some carrots and parsnips to roast in olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme along with the potatoes I still had from the farm co-op produce from last week. I even considered making a quick foccacia from scratch because Ben is home for a while and he loves it.

When I got home, I dragged the kids out to help prepare the driveway to be sealed tomorrow. They all lasted about twenty minutes, so I worked for two hours and did it all by myself.

We ordered pizza.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cooks Who Have Influenced Me




1. My Mom. My mom is the most amazing cook ever. She cooks everything fearlessly and with great style and panache. She travels with a lemon reamer in her RV, and in my opinion, that is the mark of someone who will produce fabulous meals wherever she goes. Or at least lemony ones.

There used to be a show on the travel channel called "Great Chefs of the World". The show would go to the most exclusive restaurants in the world and show their chefs cooking world-class cuisine. Meals that would easily cost you $100.00 a plate. Well, my mom is the only person I know who ever attempted to make one of the recipes from that show. Now we're not talking about accessible, tailored to the home cook food. We're talking cuisine. When Mom is visiting she and I cook together, but most of the time, she is driving the bus. She has great ideas, and even better, when she is here she pays for most of the food. So one day she says, "Hey, I made the most amazing salmon, with mango, melted brie, tomato coulis, napa cabbage, all sitting on top of Parmesan mashed potatoes. Now, my first thought was, "You're kidding. That sounds disgusting!" But I just looked warily at her and said, "Um, okay, sounds good." So off to Wegman's we went and procured the vast array of ingredients needed to make this dish. It took a long time. We came back and she started the elaborate preparations, while I kept my reservations to myself about how these tastes would intermingle with each other. Well, boy, was I wrong. But I should have known better. It was FANTASTIC! Even my kids liked it. It took hours to make, but it was worth it. My mom is the only one I know who could pull it off. Oh, except me. I have since made this dish. I would love to publish the recipe, but alas, I cannot. And even if I did, most people would be too intimidated to make it. BUT, you can buy the recipe for .25 from the Great Chefs of the World. Or you can beg me for a dinner invitation and bribe me with cheap champagne to cook it for you. You never know, I just might do it.

I have many more stories to tell about Mom's fabulous cooking. And I will. Stay tuned. Next up on Chefs who Have Influenced Me: the Galloping Gourmet. More from the kitchen later.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tastefully Stupid

Have you ever been to one of those parties where the hostess is actually a shill for some product you don't really want or need? Well, I certainly have, and really I shouldn't bitch about it too much, as my great-grandfather actually invented the home-product party. So all of my family money, of which I personally have none, came from the home-party business. But all of that aside, I have been to the ones where they pitch beer bread mixes and assorted dip mixes. And yeah, after about four glasses of wine I coughed up fifty bucks for assorted seasoning mixes, marinades, and no-work pound cakes.

Of course after I sobered up I felt really stupid. Those mixes are a complete rip-off! Most of the products can be reproduced at home for one-tenth the cost and not much more work.

Take the beer bread mix, for instance. For around $7.00 a box you get a mix to which you have to add one 12 ounce bottle of beer and 3 T of butter. Guess what? To make it at home the only other things you need are: 3 C of flour, 1 T of baking powder, 1 tsp salt, and 3 T of brown sugar. And the homemade one comes out with a nice crisp crust and a more robust, fuller flavor. For exactly one minute thirty seconds more work. Try it this fall, and save your money for something you need. Like an organic flour baguette at Wegmans with some really expensive cheese. Or smoked Maldon sea salt.

Beer Bread

3 C all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
3 T brown sugar
12 ounces of beer
4 T melted butter

Mix the dry ingredients. Pour in beer and stir to combine. Pour into prepared(that means greased) loaf pan and bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts

Well, in my quest to ferret out bad food bloggers, I ran across one who is actually pretty good. Her website, simply recipes, has some great looking stuff, but I did run across a recipe which I found to be completely WRONG!!!!! She posted a recipe for Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts with mushroom sage sauce. Now, the sauce looked good, and easy to prepare, but please, NO ONE SHOULD EVER USE BONELESS SKINLESS CHICKEN BREASTS! They are dried out, rubbery messes! Taking the skin off robs the breast of the only thing keeping it moist. Removing the bones takes away substantial flavor. You can cook plain chicken breasts if you want to, but at least leave the skin on. You can even remove the skin after you cook it, but give the bird a small chance at being moist and flavorful.

Now there are those of you, my friends, who will say, "But June, they cook so fast and they are better for you." Guess, what? I don't care! Ease of preparation should never be an excuse for serving shoddy food. Unless I need to make dinner for my kids in 10 minutes flat. Then out comes the ramen noodles.

Mario Batali was once asked if there was any food he would not cook. His reply? Boneless, skinless, chicken breasts. So there, dear readers, is my justification. How about using chicken thighs instead? The tasty, moist, dark meat will take just about any preparation for which you would use breasts. If you don't have a lot of time and haven't shopped for any special ingredients, try making a chicken fricassee. The basic preparation method allows for endless creativity, or not, depending on the contents of your pantry. It is a great fall or winter meal served with some soft, herbed polenta. One of Hannah's friends like it so much, she ate four pieces one night. And then another day said she would do a favor for Hannah if she could get her mom to make "that really good chicken' again. Come on over, I can have it on the table in 30 minutes. Matter of fact, this is what I am making tonight. I'll add the polenta to pour the pan juices over and some roasted broccoli. And a salad. Because my mom would kill me if I didn't serve a salad.

Chicken Fricassee

Heat 2 T olive oil (I don't have to say extra virgin, do I?) and add 6 well-seasoned chicken thighs, skin down. Brown well. Throw in a clove or two of chopped garlic, and/or chopped onion, carrot, or celery and cook until vegetables are softened.(See, it I told you you could get creative) Add about 1/2 cup white wine and some fresh herbs, kosher salt, and fresh ground pepper. I like thyme and rosemary, but tarragon, marjoram, oregano, or chives also work well. You can use dried herbs if it is the middle of winter and you can't fight the two foot deep snow drifts to go the twenty minutes to Wegmans to get some fresh ones. Put a lid on the pan and cook for about twenty minutes. At this point you can add some fresh mushrooms or kalamata olives and cook another few minutes, or just serve as is, with the pan juices. You could also add a little cream or butter to the pan juices, but I find it not really necessary. Adjust the seasonings and serve with pan juices.

Here is my favorite polenta recipe.

And this is how I roast broccoli: Cut broccoli into florets. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in a 450 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze, if desired. My kids LOVE this broccoli.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cupcake in a Mug! Really?

I recently ran across this blog written by this woman. It makes me want to throw up. The first paragraph in her latest entry is dedicated to the Paula Deen cake she made for her husband, "because he is so sweet, he does so much for me" etc. etc. Okay, maybe he is and maybe he does, but for God's sake keep it to yourself! I would never wax on and on about my hubby and how great he is. It would go to his head and then he would expect things from me. Besides my fabulous cooking, which he gets anyway. He should be happy. And do everything I tell him to do.

Well, while checking out some of this woman's recipes, I ran across this one:


LARGE CHOCOLATE CUPCAKE IN A MUG. (5 minutes ) 4 Tablespoons cake flour (I've used all-purpose flour and it works fine) 4 Tablespoons sugar 2 Tablespoons cocoa 1 Egg 3 Tablespoons milk 3 Tablespoons oil 1 Mug Put flour in mug. Stir in Sugar and Cocoa Spoon in one egg Stir in milk and oil Microwave for 3 mins on high til cake sets in mug Remove from mug when slightly cooled.

I couldn't believe it. Does she actually think that baking in the microwave is going to yield anything worth eating? Well, I decided that I couldn't judge her without trying the recipe. I called Hannah down and we cooked it up. Here is a photo essay about it:







IT WAS HIDEOUS!!!!!!! It looked like a sponge and worse yet, IT TASTED LIKE A SPONGE. DON'T DO IT!!!! DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT DOING IT!!!!!

If you want some fast chocolate cake make these instead. Just leave off the mint sauce and serve with ice cream. I once made these from start to finish, on the table in twenty minutes. I had a dinner party and one of my friends made a sarcastic remark about the dessert not being chocolate. So I gave her a dirty look, got up from the table, marched in to the kitchen and presented her with these little beauties a short time later. Even though I had made a delicious, decadent trifle with gobs of raspberries, silky custard, and whipped cream. The nerve of some people. Of course, come to think of it, she got to have trifle AND molten chocolate cakes.

Note about the cakes: you most likely have all of the ingredients in your cupboard right now. They are a snap to make in your kitchenaid. You do have a kitchenaid, don't you?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Most requested recipe

Almost anytime I am asked to send in a dish for a teacher luncheon, my husband's office party, a pot luck or whatever, I bring or send my Curried Chicken Pasta salad. It is REALLY good. Of course. Why would I make it if it wasn't? The only problem is that EVERYONE wants the recipe. Which I can understand. It is that good, if I do say so myself. But I have found myself hounded by people; everytime I see them they beg, "Oh, can I PLEASE have the recipe?" And of course I say "Yes!" And then promptly forget about writing it down. I have avoided people at the grocery store over this. That and I don't want them to see the hohos in my cart.

So from now on, I will just tell them, "Sure, go read my blog" And then I can alienate them and they'll avoid ME at the grocery store.

Curried Chicken Pasta Salad

2 Lbs chicken, roasted (or use one of those $4.00 roasted chickens from the grocery store)
1 Lb medium pasta shells, cooked and cooled. (DO NOT OVERCOOK THE PASTA!!! If you cook your pasta any softer than al dente, you're an idiot. The time on the box is too long, so don't go by that either)
1/2 C raisins
!/4 C slivered almonds, toasted
1/4 C diced celery
1/2 C chopped green onions

Put it all in a bowl and top with dressing:

1/2 C mango chutney, chopped. (yeah, I know it is expensive. Get over it if you want the best pasta salad you ever ate)
2 tsp curry powder (get it at the Indian grocery, the stuff in the regular grocery sucks)
1 1/2 C mayo
1 tsp tumeric

Blend with a whisk.

Let me know how you like it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Wine at Jan's

Well, we celebrated the end of summer (sigh) by meeting up at Jan's for some drunken debauchery accompanied by kids splashing in the pool and some good eats.

Laura brought a delicious black bean and corn salsa.

I don't know if this is the same recipe she used, but it is my version:

Black Bean and Corn Salsa

  • 2 cans black beans, rinsed
  • 1 can white corn, or leftover corn cut from the cob
  • 1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 minced jalapeno
  • 1/2 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 1/2 limes
  • 3 Tablespoons and red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix it all up and serve with tortilla chips.

Jan made a fantastic grilled pizza, it had sauteed veggies and goat cheese and some other stuff I may have been too drunk to remember. She put her pizza stone directly on the grill. Next time, I'll show her how to cook pizzas directly on the grill. It is easy.

Grilled pizza

Okay, if you're too lazy to make your own pizza dough, or you don't have time, you can use a dough ball from the grocery store. I make it in the Kitchenaid with 1 C warm water, 1 T yeast, 1 tsp sugar (dissolve yeast in water, add sugar, and proof (that means wait until it gets foamy for you dough-challenged people) add 1 T olive oil, 1/2 tsp kosher salt (do I really have to say kosher? All of my faithful readers would never dream of using regular salt, right?) and 3-4 cups of flour. Let rise about an hour.

Rip off a piece of dough and pat or roll it into some kind of pizza-looking shape. It doesn't have to be perfect. Brush it with olive oil (or in this case I will let you get away with spraying it with Pam. But this is one of only two sanctioned uses of Pam. I'll bet you can guess what the other one is, and it is NOT roasting asparagus, ANN) Plop it on a pre-heated grill set to medium and cook a minute or two on one side, until it is set a little. Flip it over and brush with olive oil. (No Pam THIS time, faithful readers) Top as you please. Lower the heat, close the lid and cook until the cheese is melted and the dough is cooked, about 5 minutes, depending on the heat and your toppings.

Suggested toppings:

Goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and kalamata olives

Carmelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, blue cheese and fresh mozzarella

Pesto, fresh mozzarella, slivered prosciutto and a basil chiffonade. (google it if you don't know how to chiffonade)

Tomato sauce and any traditional pizza topping

Fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil

Pears, manchego cheese, and walnuts

There were several other really good dishes that I don't have time to tell you about now. More from the kitchen later...

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Pictures of my son



5 ways to spice up your white rice

Does the Mendon Foodie serve plain white rice? Yes! I serve it with most stir fry dishes I make. There is nothing quite as good for sopping up a great Eggplant in Garlic sauce or Kung Pao chicken. But if I am stuck for a quick side dish for a more mundane meal, I might use one of the following ideas:

1. Add chopped green onion and cilantro, squeeze a lime over it if you are serving with anything southwestern flavor, or sprinkle with a VERY small amount of soy sauce if it is with anything asian.
2. Use chicken stock instead of water
3. Add sliced almonds.
4. Serve Cuban style, with black beans mixed in. Top with grilled pineapple,
5. Turn leftover white rice into fried rice: Saute any leftover veggies n two tablespoons oil with some chopped garlic and ginger. Add rice and cook until grains separate. Add 3 T soy sauce. Move rice to edges of pan and cook 1- 2 beaten eggs in the center of pan until set. Mix in rice and serve.

I also like to make risotto. I do use arborio rice, but any short grain rice (think asian rice, not regular rice) will do. Try to keep several different kinds of rice around for different uses. I keep it in the freezer to maintain freshness; it is not necessary to thaw it before using. In my freezer you will find the following rices (is that the plural of rice? Not sure): long-grain, jasmine, arborio, short grain Nishiki brand, and basmati. I am ready to whip up any number of rice dishes without much forethought. And I do, because a lot of times I don't really think ahead about what I am going to make.

So, the basic way to make risotto is this: start by sauteing some diced onion in olive oil until translucent. Add some chopped garlic and about a cup of arborio rice. Saute the rice for a minute or two, making sure all the grains are coated. Throw in a 1/2 cup of white wine and let it bubble until absorbed. Add chicken broth a half a cup at a time and stir frequently. Do not add more broth until ALL the previous half a cup is absorbed. Continue adding broth, stirring frequently, and cooking until rice is tender, about thirty minutes. Stir in 3/4 cup Parmesan (remember, if you use cheese in a can you should probably be taken out back and tied to an anthill.)

Now, don't whine at me about it being too difficult or complicated: IT IS REALLY EASY TO MAKE!!! Just try it. And once you are comfortable with that, you can vary it with other add-ins: fresh steamed asparagus at the end, butternut squash and sage ( cook it ahead of time, puree some and keep some in small chunks.) Add the puree towards the beginning of the process and the chunks at the end. Peas and prosciutto can turn the dish into a meal. Porcini mushrooms are sublime; use the soaking liquid for part of the broth. Although this dish is called "Breakfast Risotto" we like it as a main dish for dinner. It is one of our favorites! Risotto is one of those things you can get really creative with, as long as you follow the basic method. SO JUST TRY IT, DAMMIT! I'll even let you use canned chicken broth if you are too lazy to make your own. (Which of course I am not, most of the time!)

Quality ingredients

The nice thing about living in a small town is that you know a lot of people and can stop in unannounced to friend's houses just for the heck of it. When you do, it is important not to notice the dishes in the sink, the dust bunnies peeking out from underneath the couch, or the lack of freshly baked brownies.

So I stopped in to a friend's house the other day, and her kitchen cabinets happen to be open. There, in plain view, I noticed something that should exist in no one's cupboards: a bottle of "pancake syrup." I have deal with this friend: if I notice something amiss in her kitchen, if I detect that she is about to serve hot tea made from Lipton tea bags from water microwaved in a pyrex measuring dish, i will tell her.

So of course, out of the love I have for her, I said, "What the hell is that crap in your cupboard?" She replied, "But June, real maple syrup is $20.00 a quart! And my kids can't tell the difference!"

This begs the question: Is saving mone worth cutting corners on quality?

I think we all know the answer. Never. Not ever.

Real maple syrup bears no relation to the crappy, high fructose corn syrup imitation stuff trying to pass itself off as maple syrup.

And so it goes with all ingredients. Cheese in a can is no substitute for real parmesan. Pure olive oil is not the same as extra virgin.

Do your kids a favor: give them real food instead of imitation. Cook them fresh food instead of heating ujp frozen chicken nuggets. They will be less picky eaters and grow up to love a wide variety of real foods. They will be healthier for it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What I am going to cook for my son


Well, loyal readers, you may know me as a smart-alecky, wise-crackin biatch, but I'm really a softie down deep. At least when it comes to my kids. The ones who don't annoy me, anyway.

So, I am going to Parris Island, SC for my son's graduation from boot camp. When we asked him what he missed most from home, his reply was, "Mom's cooking".

Which means I must spend my vacation cooking. A lot. Ben has lost 40 pounds at boot camp while eating 4500 calories a day. You read that right. 4500 calories. A day. And lost 40 pounds. In three months.

Here are some things I am going to cook for him:

Brownies
Chocolate Chip cookies
Peach Blackberry Pie
Shrimp Sates with Spiced Pistachio chutney
Deviled eggs
Breakfast sandwiches (fried egg on a toasted bun with cheese and ham)
Anything else he asks for.

I love you, Ben

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Laura is such a pain. Constant nagging and begging for recipes. "Please tell me how to cook such and such", "Do you have a recipe for zucchini?"

As if.

Hey Laura, it is August, we all have zucchini coming out of our asses.

Fire up the google search and get to work.

Well, alright, I'll take pity on you. Today.

Here is a good zucchini recipe.

As is my custom, I don't follow too many recipes. This is my adaptation of one I read somewhere.

Stuffed zucchini

Slice zucchini lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and discard. The scoop out some of the meat to make a boat, reserving scooped squash. Season the inside of the zucchini boats with salt and pepper. (you better grind it fresh and use only kosher or sea salt. Chop squash.

Heat a saute pan and add some olive oil (okay, I don't know how much, just use your judgment). Add some chopped onion and a clove or two of chopped garlic.

Remove casings from 2 or 3 italian sausages and put in a bowl. Mix in the onion, some breadcrumbs, preferably not the nasty kind in a can. Crumble up some nice day old french bread. Add some parmesan (again, if you use the kind in a can you shouldn't even try to cook any of my recipes. You're too dumb to live) Throw in a handful of chopped parsley or thyme or whatever is growing out in your herb garden and the reserved chopped zucchini. Add a generous amount of kosher salt and pepper. Mix it all up with your bare hands and stuff it into those squash. Dot with obscene amounts of butter, at least half a stick. If you use margarine, get off my blog right now and go look at a cooking site dedicated to trailer park cuisine. Cover with foil and Bake in a 350 oven for an hour. Alternately, cook on low or indirect heat on the bbq until the sausage is cooked through and the squash is tender.

Hmm, maybe I'll go out and get some zucchini....

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Champagne punch

This is for Alecia and Ramsey

I can't even find the damn recipe now. I think I got it from Bon Appetit. It is close to this:

1/2 simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated until sugar dissolves, then cooled)
1 cup light rum
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 bottle champagne

Mix and put in punch bowl with an ice ring

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A night at Priscilla's

I love my friend Priscilla. She is ALMOST as good a cook as I am. She could probably be AS good a cook as I am if she would stop serving hors d'oevres on cookie sheets and get some serving plates. And if she would stop overcooking meat.

I understand that she is afraid of meat. Doesn't like it very much, in fact. That is okay, but she shouldn't ruin it for the rest of us. She so dislikes meat that she insists on turning out some very odd hamburgers, because she thinks that adding vegetables is somehow going to make the meat taste better. Instead, she ends up with some disgusting looking green blobs full of cilantro.

But I digress....

Priscilla opinion is that unless meat is cooked to a leathery, dried out piece of shoe leather, it will poison you. Which is not to say that all of her meat tastes bad. As a matter of fact, she once made the most delicious rack of lamb I have ever eaten. Of course this was because she used my recipe for homemade teriyaki sauce to marinate it. And I stopped her from overcooking it.

Well last night Priscilla had a dinner party. She needs me to help her with advice for dinner parties because while she is a GOOD cook, she is not an ORGANIZED cook. She tries, though. I arrived about a half an hour before the guests were due. I found the green blobs on the counter and resigned myself quietly to cilantro encrusted pate de boeuf. But lo and behold! She had decided to feed those to the unsuspecting children and cook some chickens on the bbq. Halleluia! She proudly opened the lid to the barbeque to show me her golden brown delights. They looked marvelous. Only one problem: SHE WAS ABOUT TO INCINERATE THEM! She forgot to call me to ask me WHEN she should start cooking the birds in order to have them done at the end of cocktail hour. Priscilla had intended on cooking them an entire hour longer, by which time the internal temperature would have reached 250 degrees and every bit of juice would have evaporated. Well, I did what any reasonable cook would have done; I started SCREAMING at her at the top of my lungs to GET THE GODDAMN CHICKENS OFF THE BARBECUE! We wrangled over how much she was going to overcook them and finally I won. I put the chickens into an insulated cooler bag to keep them hot until dinner time, and all was well.

Well, until the neighbors came over. Jan, the next door neighbor said, "My husband came in and said he heard June yelling about chickens." What can I say, I am passionate about food.

Tip for the day: Poultry is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees , measured in the thickest part of the thigh. Do not let the thermometer touch the bone. Remove it at 155 degrees and let it sit for ten minutes, during which time the temperature will rise 10 degrees and the juices will set.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Farm Coop Produce

This year I joined a farm coop to get fresh produce, cheap. Windy Meadows Farm provides twenty two weeks of produce for a really reasonable price. Plus, here is the best part: YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORK ON THEIR FARM. The trouble with most of these crunchy-granola co-opy things is that they expect you to go out to their farms and provide slave labor in return for nice fresh crunchy veggies. I don't think so.... If I wanted to work on a farm, I'd plant a garden, or better yet, buy my own John Deere tractor and start a farm on the 5 acre bunny sanctuary that I call a backyard. So I happily joined and traipsed off this week to collect my goodies.

This is my friend, Laura, who also joined the coop, picking up produce this week.

Here is what we got


The challenge this summer is going to be adapting my cooking to what they give me rather than what I feel like cooking. I'll let you know how it goes.

Anybody need some radishes?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cheesecake

So about 25 years ago, I made an awesome grand marnier cheesecake, the recipe for which I found in a magazine.I brought it to my mom's house for a family party and everybody loved it! It was so popular that my mom started baking it frequently for parties and gatherings. Soon, everybody was asking her to make "her famous cheesecake" Even I almost forgot that I was the originator (although not the creator) of this recipe.

SO, if you want to use my recipes, fine go ahead, use them. Just don't forget to say, "I got this from June, that girl can cook!"

GRAND MARNIER CHEESECAKE WITH
STRAWBERRIES
1 1/4 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 c. toasted husked hazelnuts (about 5 oz.), ground
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 tbsp. firmly packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. grated orange peel
FILLING:
4 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, room temp.
1 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 c. Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
1/4 c. whipping cream
2 tsp. vanilla
3 lg. eggs, room temp., beaten to blend
2 lg. egg yolks
TOPPING:
2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
4 tsp. Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
1 tsp. vanilla
4 c. fresh strawberries, hulled
1/4 c. red currant jelly
5 1/2 tsp. Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
1/2 c. chilled whipping cream
2 tsp. powdered sugar
Candied Orange Peel
Fresh mint leaves (optional)
For crust: Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter 9 1/2 inch round springform pan. Mix all ingredients in bowl. Press mixture firmly onto bottom and up sides of pan to within 1/2 inch of top edge. Bake 10 minutes. Maintain oven temperature. Transfer crust to rack and cool completely. Set aside.

For filling: Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese in large bowl until very smooth. Beat in sugar, Grand Marnier, cream and vanilla. Add eggs and yolks and beat just until blended. Pour filling into prepared pan. Bake until top puffs and is golden brown, about 50 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 15 minute (cake will fall as it cools). Maintain oven temperature.

Meanwhile, prepare topping: Blend first 4 ingredients in small bowl. Pour over cooled filling, spreading with back of spoon. Bake 5 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Run small sharp knife around edge of pan. Release pan sides. Set cheesecake on platter. Arrange strawberries, pointed ends up, atop cheesecake, leaving 1 inch border around outer edge. Stir jelly in heavy small saucepan over low heat until just melted. Mix in 4 teaspoons liqueur; brush over berries. Using electric mixer, beat cream in medium bowl until soft peaks form.

Add powdered sugar and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons Grand Marnier and beat to firm peaks. Spoon cream into pastry bag fitted with large star tip. Pipe cream decoratively around outside of strawberry border. Arrange orange peel decoratively atop whipped cream. Garnish platter with mint leaves if desired. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead and refrigerated.)

CANDIED ORANGE PEEL:
Enough for 1 cheesecake. 1/2 c. cold water 2 tbsp. sugar

Using vegetable peeler, cut peel from orange in 1 inch wide strips. Cut away any white pith from peel. Cut peel into 3 inch long 1/8 inch wide julienne. Blanch peel in small saucepan of boiling water 1 minute. Drain; rinse peel under cold water. Repeat blanching and rinsing of orange peel twice.

Cook 1/2 cup water and sugar in heavy small saucepan over low heat, swirling pan occasionally until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to simmer. Add peel and cook until glaze forms and almost all liquid evaporates, swirling pan occasionally, about 10 minutes. Transfer peel to waxed paper lined plate, separating each piece to prevent sticking. Cool completely. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.)

* recipe from cooks.com