Monday, December 12, 2011

Eat Mor Chik'n

Don't you get sick of chicken?  I don't know when it happened that the only acceptable protein is chicken.  Is it because they aren't cute?  Beef has a bad rap because it's all fatty and clogs your heart.  Ditto bacon.  Leaner pork is ok, but everyone is always afraid it's going to cause parasites or something.  Fish is expensive.  People don't shoot squirrels or possum for themselves; and if I tried to serve rabbit I think my children would disown me.  Actually, they might try to have me arrested.  Bunnies are cute.  Cows and pigs are cute, fish is expensive (plus: mercury).   Chickens, well, they are loud, smelly, and peck your feet.

Ok, I don't actually know that for sure because I haven't truly spent a lot of time with chickens.  When my mom was growing up in Kentucky, there were chickens running all over my grandfather's gentleman's farm.  And when my grandfather was growing up in West Virginia - a lot of what his family ate came straight from the yard - what they grew and what they raised.  I think it's a little sad that I am most intimate with chickens when they are already sliced into a cutlet and wrapped in plastic.  But what can you do.  I don't live in the country.  The farmers I know, I know because they are standing under a tent in the parking lot of the GSB building once a week.  Selling stuff from a truck.

I'm going off on a rant here - and it's doing this post no good whatsoever because the meal I made last night was indeed chicken, pre-sliced into a cutlet and dressed with ingredients that are either slightly exotic or out of season, or both.  So much for my holier-than-thou-I-only-shop-at-farmer's-markets attitude.  Because the reality is, my kids ate it and asked for more - Which means that this recipe is a keeper and I'm going to make it again.

I took a Martha Stewart recipe and bumped it up a bit.  The original is in the December issue of Martha Stewart Magazine.  If you have time, marinate it longer - I really only had time to throw the ingredients on it and let it sit out on the counter for an hour while I cooked up some rice.

I do not like this picture, it's too shiny.  Food shouldn't be this shiny.

Lime & Basil Chicken

2 limes - juice one and a half for about a 1/4 of lime juice.  Slice the last half for garnish
1/4 cup of grape seed oil
2 tblsp of lower sodium soy sauce
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 tbslp of brown sugar
1 tsp of dried basil
1 tsp salt
some grindings of pepper
8 thinly sliced chicken cutlets (or you can take 4 boneless chicken breasts and with a very sharp knife, slice them in half length wise)
1/4 cup of white wine (something slightly sweeter - but not too sweet)
1/4 cup of chicken stock
1/4 cup of fresh basil - (which I didn't have - however I did have the cool frozen basil from Trader Joe's - which comes frozen in these great little cubes - I used about four of those) plus a bit extra for garnish.

Mix the first 8 ingredients (limes through pepper) in a shallow dish - and then place the chicken in the dish flipping and swishing them until they are covered in marinade.  Let them sit at least an hour, or, if you're more organized than I am, mix it all up in the morning before you head out for your day so they are all nice and marinady when you get home.

Then, heat your saute pan until it is very hot.  Drop 3 or 4 cutlets in the pan (don't over crowd the pan, it's ok to do all this in sections).  Turn the heat to medium and sear the cutlets on one side for about 4 minutes.  Then flip them and sear for another 4 minutes.  Repeat with remaining cutlets.  Let the chicken rest in a bowl where all their chickeny juices can collect.

When all the chicken is cooked and relaxing in the bowl, pour the wine and chicken broth into the pan along with the marinade.  Don't worry, you are going to cook the marinade - in fact start scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Let the marinade come to a boil, stirring all the while.  Reduce it down so that it is about half the amount, add the basil, and then return the chicken to the pan, cooking to heat it through over a lower heat.  Serve the whole thing over a nice steaming bowl of rice.  You can sprinkle some of the lovely basil over all, which I didn't do because I didn't have any.  I did, however, lovingly place a sliced lime right on top of your cutlets.  Very pretty.  And it keeps the cows happy...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Steak & Potatoes -

I did not take this picture which is why it looks so good...
So, the other day, I called my friend Laura and invited her to the movies.  I wanted to see if she could drop everything and run to a 6pm movie with me, but she couldn't, so we planned on seeing a later show - 8:45 in Center City.  It was Sunday, and I decided I'd make dinner for the family - I grabbed some steak, and sliced some potatoes, and sauteed some green beans.  Then one daughter came home and started talking to me about the movie she'd just seen, and my husband began a conversation with me about what we were going to do with the leaves outside and my older daughter came down and declared that she wasn't going to eat, and then there was that fight.  At about 7:45 I got the dinner on the table.  We all sat down, and I played some Christmas music, and we all started talking about - actually, I have no idea what we were all talking about - but it was just one of those shiny moments that happen when you are completely involved - then the phone rang.  It was 8:28.  On the other line was my friend Laura who I was supposed to have picked up at 8:15.  She said, don't tell me you forgot.  But I did!  I had actually completely forgotten that she and I had made a plan to do something FUN not two hours before.

This is my life - in a nutshell.  I have no ability to attend.  I'm like a freaking magpie - something - anything - shiny distracts me.  I cannot hold a thing in my head: not plans I've made, not conversations I've had, not important things I'm supposed to do. Maybe it's age.  I'm getting on up there, much to my own disbelief.  Maybe it's because I have a lot on my plate with teaching and kids and - ok that's it, just teaching and kids - that seems to be enough.  But even if I make a plan for something fun - if it's not bright and shiny and right in front of my face - it flies out of my mind like a goose flees winter.

This is why I like simple foods like steak and potatoes.  It is the only thing that I can make when I am mightily distractible that I can do, and do fairly well, with out, well, as my 15 year old likes to say (a little too often) totally f*ing it up.  Throw the stake in a hot saute pan, on a hot grill pan, or on a hot grill outside.  Set the timer.  Flip the steak.  Reset the timer.  Take the steak off and let it rest in a bit of marinade (I like to reverse marinade because who has the foresight to marinade earlier in the day).  Flip it.  Let it sit in the marinade a bit longer.  It's that easy.

cutest freaking sous chef in the world
Potatoes are easy like this too - I always seem to have potatoes kicking around my kitchen.  (Literally kicking around because some times my sous-chef likes to stretch her long paws up into the bowl on the counter just to see what she can get - and what she usually gets is a potato which she doesn't really like, but hey, she's a dog, and it's food, so she kind of takes a few bites before leaving it under the table where it gets kicked across the room a few times before some one thinks to pick it up.)

And while your steak rests and your potatoes rest you can toss some fresh green beans in a pot of salted water.  Or frozen green beans in a pot of salted water.  Or if you're feeling ambitious you can throw said fresh or frozen green beans in a saute pan with salt, water, a little olive oil and a crushed clove of garlic and let all that simmer on a low heat until the water has evaporated, at which point in time you give the whole thing a lazy stir so the oil salt and garlic get properly incorporated with the beans.  But that's it.  That's the whole effort - and a desultory effort at that.

This is the kind of food where all you have to do is set the timer on your iPhone while you drift into the family room to watch the last half of How I Met Your Mother (which the 15yrold is obsessed with) or Adventure Time (an obsession of the 13yrold) or X Files reruns (the husband).  You can make this dinner if you are reading a really good book you can't put down which means you can only cook with one hand because you're holding the book with the other.

And this is the kind of meal I make when I have about 30 papers to grade, and I've been distracted by all sorts of shiny (ie movies with my friend... cleaning out the refrigerator ... organizing necklaces in my jewelry box) and I have to return said papers to students tomorrow.  At 8am.

I'm making a lot of steak,  potatoes and green beans these days.

My Favorite Steak

about 1 1/4 lb London Broil steak
garlic - as much as you happen to have
thyme, or tarragon, or parsley, or cilantro - what ever.
1/3 or so of olive oil.  Or grapeseed oil, or canola oil
1/4 cup of lemon juice, or red or white wine or balsamic vinegar - or any other acidy liquid you have hanging about.  My favorite is lemon juice, but red wine is also awesome.  And if you use red wine throw in a splash of Worcestershire sauce - you won't regret it.
1 TBlsp of Sea Salt, or 1 tsp of Kosher salt or table salt
LOTS of fresh ground pepper.

Heat your pan super hot.  Turn on the fan over your stove.  Oil the steak,  dash with a bit of salt, but not too much.  Grind some pepper over the whole thing.  Slap it in the pan.  (Or grill).  DO NOT TOUCH IT FOR 7 MINUTES.  Then flip it over DO NOT TOUCH IT FOR 5-7 MINUTES depending on how well done you like your steak and how thick the whole thing is.

Meanwhile dump the rest of the ingredients in a dish that will fit the steak.  Whisk it all up.  When the steak is done, plonk it in the dish and turn it so that both sides have been dredged in marinade.  Tent with foil and DO NOT TOUCH IT FOR 10 MINUTES.  Flip the steak and let it be while you finish making the rest of the meal, setting the table, and drinking your Manhattan.

Cut your steak thinly and on the bias.

Here's one way to do 'em -
New potatoes or Yukon Golds, quartered
Sea or Kosher salt
about 1/8th to 1/4 cup of olive oil

Preheat your oven to 400 or so.  Dump the potatoes in a roasting pan, a cast iron skillet or a jelly roll pan.  Swirl with olive oil and salt.  Roast for 20 min.

OR slice your potatoes into match sticks, and do the same thing, only don't roast as long.  Matchsticks will be cooked in 10 minutes

Green Beans - I don't actually need to tell you how to cook green beans, do I?

Friday, September 30, 2011

Best. Lunch. Ever.

Sometimes it has very little to do with cooking and everything to do with what you have on hand.  Sure, you could call this a melted cheese sandwich with a bit of preserves on top.  But if that's all you see, then what we have here is a failure to communicate.

Because this a melted cheese sandwich made from fresh Okracity cheese from Stoudts - hand made cheese with, yes, roasted okra dotted throughout it.  I bought it from the cheese lady at the Farmer's market yesterday.  This cheese sandwich is also made from my own bread and topped with cranberry chutney that I picked up when traveling in Maine this summer.

And THIS was my breakfast yesterday:

I'll admit, I'm a fan of the bread and cheese combo for the small meals.  What you see here, is a cup of coffee from local a coffee roaster, my bread (again) and a bit of locally produced goat cheese from Whole Foods.  Perfection.

I'm always making stuff like this for myself on the weekends - a little hummus on crackers with some minced parsley and squeeze of lemon.  Avocado slices on a toasted English Muffin with a sprinkling of sea salt, maybe a thin slice of tomato.  A little leftover Rao's Spaghetti sauce, straight from the jar with a bit of fresh basil straight from the yard, maybe a little cheese, or not, on top of toasted pita, thinly sliced bread, or just some water crackers.  Bread, goat cheese, pumpkin butter.  Sliced grapes, feta, and chopped haricot vert salad. Maybe with a can of chopped drained tuna thrown in...

Whatever you have.  Smith has gotten into the habit of waiting to see what I'll make myself, before he goes to his default, PB&J.  Sometimes he sticks with the standard (particularly if what I'm putting together involves olives), sometimes he takes what I've got, and adds his own touch.  The big dinners are important, sitting together at a table with your spouse and children, or your fiends is an important part of the day, but it is the small meals, often eaten alone, which make up the majority of our dining experiences.  And these, in my opinion, should be tasty, created from the foods you love.  Pure comfort even if it's five minutes in the middle of the busiest part of the day.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pancakes (Dairy Free)



So for the past, oh, 3 years or so, our Emm has eaten a Van's Chocolate Chip Waffle for breakfast.  Van's Waffles are the best frozen waffles you can buy.  They toast up crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside and have an excellent vanilla taste.  And because I don't allow my kids to have syrup on their waffles on a school day, I gave her maple flavored yogurt to dip her waffle in.
If you read my previous post, you already know the disaster that created. 

 The third ingredient in Van's Chocolate Chip Waffles?  That's right, Non Fat Milk.  And yogurt.  She doesn't even like yogurt, I just made her eat it because I thought it would be better for her than maple syrup.  It's like when they were children, and they'd be all, Mommy my feet hurt, and I'd be like no they don't we just bought you new shoes, but they'd complain and complain and you take them to the shoe store and it turns out their little feet have grown two solid sizes and you've been jamming their feet into those now tiny shoes.  It was like that.  Only worse.  A lot worse.  Yeah, so I don't feel badly about that AT ALL.

We started giving her oatmeal for a quick breakfast, but on weekends we are serious fans of pancakes. (With a side of bacon, of course.)  And I always made pancakes with buttermilk and butter - but I wanted to see if I could make them dairy free - and still have them taste good.  I started out using vanilla flavored soy milk and the dreaded earth's best margarine (again, previous post for what I think about THAT stuff) - and the pancakes were passable - but didn't get that nice crust we liked that came about when you buttered the pan.  Plus, the soy milk, no matter how much you try to hide it with vanilla flavoring, to me just tastes off.  There is an aftertaste.  I know lots of people like it, and I'm certainly not hating on the whole soy industry - it's just - for us, well, ew.  Plus in all my breast cancer research, there is a link between soy and hormones and breast cancer, so the girls and I are probably better off not drinking it.  So we switched it out for vanilla flavored rice milk - and that was great. No weird after taste - but I was still left with, ok I'm just going to say it, flaccid pancakes.  Ew.

I don't know why it took me so long, but I finally switched the margarine out for good old canola oil, and LOW AND BEHOLD, the perfect pancakes.  Add to them some dairy free chocolate chips and they were amazing.  Plus, no stomach ache.  And the other family members loved them.  So happiness all around.

I like to mix the dry ingredients for my pancakes and just leave it sitting in a jar so that it takes me a fraction of the time to make breakfast in the morning.

To do this scoop 4 cups of all purpose flour, 3 TBLSP of baking powder, 2 tsp of baking soda,  a scant TLBS of sea or kosher salt and 2 TLBS of sugar into a large jar and put the lid on and shake it up.  If you want to get fancy, you can divide this mixture into two smaller jars and drop a vanilla bean into one and an orange peel in the other - which will gently flavor your pancakes.  Or get crazy and drop in a cinnamon stick.

Then, when you are ready to make your pancakes, break 1 large egg into a large bowl.  Add 1 cup of vanilla flavored rice milk and 1TLBS of canola or other lightly flavored oil (grapeseed is good, but olive oil is too strong) to the bowl and give it a good whisking.  

Then dump in 1 cup of the pancake mixture.  If you mixture is plain, add 1 tsp of vanilla before mixing it.  If it is already flavored, leave it be.  Play around - have fun - go nuts with the flavors.  Mix it up until it is only marginally lumpy.  If it looks too dry, add more rice milk.  I don't like my batter too dry.

While you are doing all this, you should be preheating your pan or griddle.  Just before you make you pancakes - add a swirl of canola oil (this is usually a couple of tblsps) - Cook the pancakes over medium heat until the bubbles burst, then flip 'em.  I find that if I cook them on to high a heat they burn quickly, probably because of the oil - but do be sure your pan is good and hot before you add the oil.  Then turn the heat down to medium when you add the batter.

We are big fans of adding chocolate chips.  Emm has become addicted to these Enjoy Life Mega Chunk chocolate chips which are dairy, wheat and nut free.  A handful of these sprinkled on top of the pancake while it cooks, before you flip it - takes it from darn good to spectacular.

Heavenly - dairy (and stomach ache) FREE


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Goodbye Yellow Brick


Yes.  That yellow brick.  After 2 years of agonizing stomach aches, innumerable blood and skin tests, one endoscopy and a truck load of prescription strength Prilosec, we have our answer:  Em is allergic to dairy.

OH. MY. GOD.  I was kind of hoping for something simple, like corn.  It's not like corn is in everything... oh wait.  Actually, it is.

So, my heart is breaking.  Of course on the bright side, we'll all probably lose a few pounds here since I won't be adding tablespoons of butter to everything a la Paula Deen.  On the dark dark dark side: mashed potatoes.  Mashed potatoes are a staple in our house.  I know one can mash up potatoes with chicken stock (in fact, I usually boil my potatoes in a combination of chicken stock and and water), but to get them super super creamy you need butter.  A lot of butter.

Want to know what is NOT going to cut it for the mashed potatoes?  This:

This would be margarine.  I don't care that it's in gold packaging, I don't care that it is organic margarine (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) it's margarine and it sucks.

Years ago, in the late 70's when my parents and the parents of everyone else I knew was on a heart-healthy-health-food kick and consuming enormous amounts of margarine (...if you think it's butter but it's not...) - I remember my grandfather taking a stand.  Margarine was simply not allowed in his house.  My grandmother would plead, "But, Jimmy, our arteries..." and my grandfather would have none of it.  "That stuff'll kill you," he said plainly.  This was a man who salted his cantaloupe half each morning.  Who drank a Co-Cola every day, and a cocktail every night.  Sure he only lived briefly into his seventies, but he LIVED.  You know?  I miss that guy.

So, margarine isn't in the genes.  And I think olive and other expeller pressed oils are fine - and can be used in a lot of things in place of butter (see my next post which will be on truly yummy dairy free pancakes)  but - oh - dear - the mashed potatoes.

No recipe in this post, just mourning here.  Just mourning...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sauteed Pork With Brussel Sprouts Leeks and Apples, Plus, Creamy Polenta

OK - here's the picture of my latest creation.  Right off the bat I want to say that my daughter Mads took a much more appetizing picture - but I'm a spaz and I couldn't find the thingy to connect to the camera and the laptop to upload the pictures so I had to upload the ones I took with my phone.  Hopefully, you get the idea that this was delicious and not at all slimy.

This was really fun to create.  It started with Ina Garten's recipe for creamy polenta found on page 182 of her book, How Easy Is That? - I was thumbing through it yesterday looking for ideas for meals this week before heading out to the grocery store.  I love polenta - but no one else in my family likes it as much as I do - still every now and then I just need to make something I like, right?  Polenta is pure comfort food.  I think it's because I spent a lot of time in Kentucky in the summers and my cousin Martha was fan of grits back then.  Plain grits with melted butter.  I remember trying them for the first time in my Aunt's kitchen.  She had that crazy green and white trellis wall paper in her breakfast room that a lot of people had in the '70s.  And she had this beautiful chandelier over the breakfast table that was white and shaped like vines and flowers.  Martha made the grits for me, and at first I thought they were tasteless.  And gritty.  (Hence, grits - probably - right?) But then that butter melted in, and I added more salt, and I was hooked.  I cannot pass up grits if it is on a menu.  Nor can I pass up grit's Italian cousin - cheesey, creamy Polenta.  Fuggeddaboutit.  The best.  

Then I had this idea that the pork sirloin I'd bought would be tasty with the polenta - AND I had this thought that my sage outside - sitting pretty on my deck was getting a bit large and could do with a trim.  And it dawned on me that those things would taste nicely together - polenta, sage, pork...  

Of course when I went to make the grits polenta, I did not have most of the ingredients - despite going to the grocery store less than an hour before firing up the stove.  (see "spaz" in the 1st paragraph)  Ina calls for chicken stock.  I had beef stock.  Ina calls for parmesan - I had nought but a rind, dammit.  But I always have goat cheese.  And of course, when I was at Whole Foods, I intended to pick up some sort of vegetable to go with the pork and polenta but, as usual, I got distracted by something shiny and forgot - So, did what I always do and winged it.  Had about a 1/4 bag of frozen Brussels Sprouts and a 1/4 bag of leeks in the freezer - which I threw in after cooking the pork.  Wanted to make a wine sauce to deglaze the pan - no wine - only beer.  Used that.  Then I thought it looked like it needed plumping up, so I added the apple and it was a home run.

Sauteed Pork, With Leeks, Apples and Brussels Sprouts over Creamy Polenta

For the Polenta: 
(I made this to serve 4 people, three of whom claimed they didn't like polenta all that much - this recipe is easily doubled. Doubled it should serve 4-6)

1/4 cup olive or canola oil
10 or so whole sage leaves

2 Cups of Beef Broth (low sodium in you have it - you can also use chicken stock, homemade or not - you know me, I'm all about using what you have)
1 minced garlic clove 
4 fresh sage leaves
1 cup of polenta or stone ground grits
Kosher salt to taste (I think I used a tsp & 1/2 of it)
Freshly ground pepper to taste (probably about 1/2 a tsp - I love pepper)
1/4 cup of creme fraiche - (I can't figure out how to make that look French - but you know what I'm talking about) - or you can use sour cream - but creme fraiche is better - 
1/4 of goat cheese (instead of the parmesan - !  And better!  Who doesn't love goat cheese, right Ina?)

First, heat the olive oil until it is very hot, and drop your sage leaves in a few at a time until they are crispy.  Take them out and let them drain on a paper towel.  Repeat until all the sage leaves are crispy. Set this aside.  

In a medium sized pot heat the broth, garlic and sage leaves until the broth has hit a rolling boil.  Slowly, whisking constantly, add the polenta and continue to whisk until it is all absorbed.  Switch your stirring implement to a spoon and keep stirring until the broth is absorbed and the polenta is thick.  Take your polenta off the heat and whisk in the creme fraiche and the goat cheese.  Adjust your seasonings.  My seasonings were a bit salty because my beef broth was NOT low sodium, so I had to add more creme fraiche until it tasted right.  This is never a bad thing.  More creme fraiche is only ever a good thing.  

For the Pork:  

4 bonless sirloins of Pork cut into 1/4 inch strips. ( I have to confess, I don't know how much pork I had - I threw the package away before I wrote it down.  Suffice it to say, I had 2 packs of 2 sirloin cuts of pork - maybe a lb all together? I don't know (refer back to "spaz"))
1/8 cup or so of olive oil
2 TBLSP of fresh sage, minced
1 large apple, cored and cubed
1 1/2 cups frozen Brussels Sprouts 
1/2 cup frozen leeks (you can get these at Trader Joes!  Yay!)
1/4 cup beer (I used a darkish Mexican style beer - but something more stoudt-ish would be good too)
1 TBSLP butter - I used my salted Kerry Gold - because that's all I had (What DID I buy at Whole Foods yesterday, you must be asking yourself, and the answer is, I don't know.  Sigh.)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a sautee pan or cast iron skillet until it shimmers.  Add the pork in batches and sautee it until it is lightly browned - just about 3-4 min a batch.  Take it out of the oil and let it sit - repeat until all the pork is cooked.  Add the frozen leeks and brussels sprouts (I didn't even bother to try and defrost them - if you have fresh ones of these things, you might need to pre-cook the sprouts a minute in a pot of boiling water or a microwave because they'll never cook here otherwise - fresh leeks you can just chop and throw in) - add the beer and scrape up all the browned bits from the pork.  When the leeks are nice and wilty and the sprouts are pretty much defrosted in the middle, add the apples to the mix, then return the pork and any of the accumulated juices to the pot.  Stir all this around until the pork is heated through - about 5 or so minutes - take one of your pieces out to check it - then stir in the butter and add salt and pepper to taste.  With a slotted spoon, remove the pork and sprouts, but try to leave some apple chunks behind.  Let your sauce simmer, and smash the bits of apple right in to thicken it.  

Serve the pork over the polenta - Remember that sage you fried?  Pour a bit of the oil over each serving and crumble your fried sage leaves on top.  

The sad thing is that I made the polenta fully expecting to have leftovers for lunch today - and darn my family - nothing is left.  (insert frowny face here.)

I believe this counts as a full meal because it included starch, protein and vegetable - even the dairy - all on one plate - which should make Mrs. Obama very happy.  OH - one thing we DID buy at Whole Foods - a very delicious strawberry rhubarb pie, which we ate for dessert.  Mmmmmm.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

LET THEM EAT CAKE! - Oops - wrong revolution, Still: CAKE!

Red Velvet.  I'm still perfecting it - so I'm not going to put the recipe up yet, but I couldn't possibly let a great title like that slip through my fingers.

Here she is - a grand old Lady:

My cake decorating skills leave a lot to be desired, I know.  Usually I'm a little better, but I was rushed last night because the girls had their own plans for fireworks and the like and I was trying to get at least one daughter (and her friend) to eat a hamburger so I wouldn't have to receive the, "Mom, I've got a bad headache can you pick me up NOW," call.  I hate that call - because if they'd only listened to me and had a little food...

Who am I kidding?  They don't listen to me.  They're 12 and 14.  In ten years they might be ready to listen to me but until then I do my best to speak through their father (for whom they still have a bit of respect.)

We had fun this Fourth.  Mads, her dad and I went to the usual parade - with the ooompa loompa band:

they old timey cars:

Plus your usual panoply of kids on bikes, floats made by parents featuring their infants, politicians (some more smarmy and blown dry than others) - police cars and fire trucks.  The guy on stilts was there, as he is every year as well as the creepy, yet still somehow cool horse drawn hearse from the historic grave yard that borders our town.  This is the very same hearse used in the 1800s to carry those who could afford it to their eternal resting places:

See what I did here - used my camera+ to make it LOOK old timey

even though I took these pictures yesterday- because I'm clever that way.  (Love those horses)

Any way - even though I'm still working on my red velvet cake recipe (because frankly the one above was a bit dry) - I'll give you the method - (because everyone has this recipe) - for creating my awesome cream cheese frosting with which I frosted my July 4 cake:

Super Fluffy Cream Cheese Frosting:
3 cups of powdered sugar
2 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter room temp
tsp of good vanilla (the best you can afford)
pinch of salt (just regular old table salt, not sea salt)
1 package of cream cheese - room temp as well - chopped up into bits about a table spoon in size

Sift the powered sugar.  Sift it again.  And just to be on the safe side, sift it one more time.  The main thing here is no lumps.  At all.  I mean it.  If you see a lump sift it.  Put your butter in a standing mixer if you have one - although a hand held is fine, it's just more boring because you have to whip the heck out of the butter - you just leave it in the bottom of the mixer getting all whipped up by the mixer until it's light and incredibly fluffy - then add the sugar about a cup at a time - letting it get all whipped into the butter before adding more.  When all the sugar is whipped add the vanilla and pinch of sugar then add the cream cheese a block at a time until it is all incorporated and very very whipped.  

Every time I write the word whipped I keep thinking that there's got to be a joke in there somehow involving Paris Hilton or a Kardashian - but I can't do it because I'm not a guy.  

Anyway - when all your cream cheese is incorporated and, well, whipped, you will have the lightest most yummy cream cheese frosting ever.  And if you want to make it chocolate, just swap out 1/2 cup of cocoa powder for 1/2 cup of sugar and sift, sift, sift and mix like mad.  People will love it.  Even if your  cake is a little dry.  

Happy 4th. Yay US.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Soup to Nuts. Actually, Halibut or Pork Chops with Pesto, Rice Salad, Grilled Vegetables

Prepare yourself.  This is an insanely long post.  Here's a picture of the result, just as a little teaser...

My mom loves my blog - but she wants more.  More than just one recipe for one dish.  And she doesn't want to search around my blog picking and choosing, she wants me to do the work for her.  And I guess since she raised me, and I guess since I spent umpteen years yelling for her to please bring me a glass of water/sandwich/cookie/toast when she was folding laundry in the basement and I was watching TV in the family room which was three steps from the kitchen, I might owe this to her.

So, Mom, this post's for you.

I love to make my dad fish for dinner because my mom is either allergic to or dislikes most all creatures from the sea and so, obviously, rarely cooks anything fishy for him at home.  On Father's day this year I bought a lovely piece of Halibut from the fish market, as well as some really gorgeous pork chops for my mom and my girls.  My husband, the other dad at the table, was planning on having a little of both.  It was win win for everyone.

Here's what I did -

First, made a bit of pesto.  This I did on Saturday because we were having our friends Mark and Barry over and Mark has made it clear that he just might love my pesto a little more than he loves me - which is ok because my pesto is freakin' good, if I say so myself.  If you click on the words pesto in this or the above sentence, you will come to my recipe for both pesto and pork chops with pesto.  OR you can make it the way I made it last Saturday - because I seem to make pesto differently every time.

1 to 2 cloves of garlic
1 large bunch of basil - cleaned and stemmed
1 large bunch of parsley - cleaned
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 a lemon (or to taste)
juice of 1/2 a lime (or to taste)
1/8 cup of freshly grated parmesan
1/8 cup of freshly grated pecorino romano
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil - (or more, just splash it in until it is the consistency you like)
sea salt and pepper to taste.

whir the garlic, basil and parsley (use the parsley stems - they have flavor which I learned from watching PAULA DEEN on the food network - I believe it is required to write her name in all caps) and the lemon zest and juices in your food processor or blender.  Add the cheese, whir it up again.  With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil until it is at the right consistency.  Give it a taste and add pepper but only add salt if it's absolutely necessary.

On Sunday morning -  I rubbed this pesto all over the chops and put them back in the fridge.  If I'd had my wits about me, I'd have done this Saturday, however my wits were not about whatsoever and were probably taking a much needed holiday with a gin & tonic out behind the shed.  (The children are on summer break, need I say more...)

Also on Sunday morning,  I cooked a batch of basmati rice for the rice salad I wanted to serve at dinner.  I always cook rice the same way - I think most people have their own fail safe rice recipe - but if you don't - this is mine:

  • boil 2 cups of water, add a tablespoon of oil or butter and 1 cup of  rice, cover your pot, turn it down and simmer for 15 min.  Turn the heat off, DON'T TOUCH THE POT, let the rice sit covered for 10 min or more.  Open up the pot and fluff with a fork.
When the rice was done, but while it was still hot, I added 1/2 cup of frozen peas and half of my vinaigrette.  This is important, because you want the peas to unfreeze, but not to cook, and you want your vinaigrette to be absorbed by the still warm rice. 

Here's the vinaigrette I used - it was the same one I used for my last post (back to the farmer's market - click on the link) - I used marjoram for  the herb.  Then I refrigerated the rice.

My mom and dad came over around 5ish, and we all sat around and outside getting eaten by mosquitos until we couldn't stand it no more - and then every one went in and my husband fired up the kettle grill.  I have to say, right now, that he is becoming the master firemaker.  It is an art form and a beautiful thing to see.  He banks most of the heat on one side of the grill so there's a hot side and a cool side, and he's my hero for that.  I sliced two zucchini lenghtwise, trimmed my spring onions, and cut the peppers in half tossed all of it in olive oil, and grilled them first while the fire was very hot.  

Meanwhile, I slathered my beautiful halibut with my pesto and let it, and the chops sit out a while so they could come to room temperature.

Took the veg off the grill, sprinkled them with this pear/balsamic vinegar that I bought last month at Garces Trading Co. and let them sit.

Ran back inside, chopped up some basil and cherry tomatoes and parsley and tossed all that into my now cold rice salad.  Poured the remainder of my lemon vinaigrette over it.  Tossed it.  Tasted it.  Added a pinch or two of sea salt and a bit more pepper.

Back outside, I put my pork chops on the grill - on the side without the heat - 5 min a side because they were rather thick.   Then 1 min on each side over the very hottest part of the grill to get the good grill marks.  Pork goes on a platter to rest covered with foil while ...

... Finally -cook the halibut.  You have to clean the grill first with a crumpled up piece of foil because if anything at all is on your grill the fish will stick and that's the end of it.  Use your tongs and rub the grill with the foil, then wad up as many paper towels as you can stand to use and oil the grill.  Then oil the fish, even though it's already smeared with pesto - 

I grilled the flesh side for about a minute - then flipped it and grilled it another 7 or 8 min on the skin side.  By this time the fire was much cooler, so I grilled the fish pretty close to the coals.

Whew.  Fish rice salad, grilled vegetables.  Happy Dad, Happy Husband/Father of my children.  Both girls and their Nana happily gnawing on pork chops - It was all good.

Ice cream for dessert - got my Dad's favorite - butter pecan - everyone else got chocolate.  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Back to the Farmer's Market!

Beautiful beets at the farmer's market last week.  I think they were called bullseye beets because they were crimison on the outside, but white like radishes on the inside with a little red bullseye when you cut them in half.  I cut them up tossed them in sea salt and olive oil and threw them on the grill along with some tender broccolini - then I dressed the whole thing up in lemony vinaigrette. Here are the results:

This is a truly terrible picture, out of focus and you can't really see how beautiful the beets and broccoli looked together. Dang.

I love the vinaigrette I make.  I can eat it by the spoonful.  Or if I have fresh bread, by the loaf-ful.

Throw a crushed or minced garlic clove in the bottom of a measuring cup.  If you happen to have been to Trader Joe's recently, and they have this:
...then you are in luck my friend.  I love this stuff - it's pre-crushed garlic in these little squares that you keep in the freezer and you plonk into whatever you happen to be making - such as vinaigrette.  

On top of the garlic, spoon some dijon or a nice grainy country mustard - anywhere from a tsp to a tblsp - depending on your taste.  Grate in a bit of lemon rind, then squeeze in half the lemon.  Chop some herbs - tarragon is good - I am growing thyme and marjoram in my sad little garden (yes, the one with the one with the very hungry caterpillar eating my fennel - as pictured below) which is what I threw in my vinaigrette. (Left the caterpillar outside.  It's still eating my fennel.)

Stir your ingredients all around with a baby whisk or a fork.  Pinch in some salt and pepper.  Add about 1/4 cup of sherry vinegar then 1/4 to 1/2 cup of olive oil.  I like my vinaigrette on the tangy side. You can play around with the lemon juice too.  Add more salt and pepper if you need to as well.
there's my cute baby whisk!
Pour it all on top of what ever you like, salad, a steak fresh from the grill, roasted potatoes, or, in this case some still crispy beets and brocollini hot off the grill.

I promise, this vinaigrette will make you so happy you won't care about the garlic breath you'll have the next day.

Well, this has been a long way of saying I'm so glad the Farmer's Market is back in business for the season.

Monday, May 30, 2011

This is What Happens When Mom Gets a Full-Time Job

I know you're wondering what happened to me.  Give you this Thanksgiving teaser and then fall off the face of the earth for a while.  To brine or not to brine?  - Give you the answer?  Well, first, let me sing you a song of  meatballs and jarred sauce.

Because this is what happens when mommy gets a job:

Trader Joe's and take out.  

That's right, right after Thanksgiving was the run down to finals at the University, and then, job over.  I'd already been informed that there were no jobs for me there.  I'd sent out resumes galore and had gotten no response, I was looking forward to a leisurely spring filled with lots of time and monetary anxiety.  Lots of monetary anxiety.

I prepared and read finals.  Christmas showed up.  I created a decent Christmas - and I wanted to blog about it - I really did - but I was paralyzed with anxiety about my future jobless existence and looming bills.

So my advice is to be careful what you wish for  - Cuz I got me, at the last minute, not one but 3 classes.  And when I say the last minute, I mean I was hired with less than one week to prepare for 2 of the classes and 24 hours to prepare for the other.  Yeah, you read that right, 24 hours.  So, as an old employer of mine used to say, I was behind the airplane (yeah, it makes no sense, yet the image has stayed with me).  And I remained behind the airplane an entire semester.  Which meant that including the month I was paralyzed, I have not contributed to my blog for 6 months.

That's a long time to leave people hanging and wondering about brine.

So let me talk about Trader Joe's for a minute.  I love the freaking party meatballs there.  And here's a tip, if you have a leftover jar of Rao's Marinara, and a left over jar of Newman's Own Alfredo Sauce, and 3 cups of leftover cooked pasta and a bag of those party meatballs, and if you dump them all into a large and wide sauce pan and heat the whole thing, your daughter will tell you it's the best meal you've ever made.  Never mind you create fantastic recipes OUT OF YOUR HEAD - 2 kinds of jarred sauce and mushy pasta will win every time.  Here's some more good things (hello Martha) about Trader Joe's.  The pot stickers.  They are amazing with rice noodles and a little soy sauce.  And those suckers can be cooked up in less than three minutes with a glass of wine in one hand.  You know what else is good from there?  This pizza with artichokes and goat cheese.  Kids eat the plain pizza, Smith and I chow that one.  I could go on, because we spent the last six months alternating Trader Joe's food, with rotisserie chicken and frozen vegetables and take out from Elevation Burger - because I had lessons to plan, man!

I'm coming out of it now.  The girls have a couple more weeks of school - all the grades have been turned in for one of my classes, and I just have a couple more weeks for the other 2.  I made dinner - a real freaking dinner - the other night for the first time in ages.  (more about that later) - and Smith and I are finally starting to organize the crap we've been throwing in  straighten the guest room.

And so, to brine:

In the end, the brine won.  I brined and roasted turkey number one - and it was succulent and tasty and before I could take a picture of it, it was reduced to this:

The grilled turkey also tasted incredible, but it was dry.  It looked better though, crispy and a little charred, it had an excellent smoky quality and it took a lot less time to grill than I anticipated. - I think maybe this year, I'll brine and grill the turkey.  Then again, this year, we are thinking of bagging the whole Thanksgiving thing and heading to Disney World.