Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Technical Difficulties. Please Stand By.

Those of you who are my Facebook peeps already know this, but I have been suffering through the painful and lingering death of my notebook monitor the past two days. It passed away last night after a brave battle with the NVidia drivers. I've spent the bulk of the day giving last rites, mourning, preparing the body for a proper burial, and distributing the worldly possessions of the deceased.
After our brief moment of silence, (while I actually cook dinner instead of seeking solace and refuge at Nikki's Sushi) we will resume our regularly scheduled programming. Thank you for your patience.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pork, Pears and Parsnips

I was so depressed about my last batch of pictures that I didn't even have the heart to pull the camera out last night.

Well, sort of. That was partly it, and it was also partly because I felt lazy. I spent yesterday getting lost on the way to the airport in Myrtle Beach to pick up a friend (thanks loads, Google) and shopping in the outlet mall there. I got home on the late side, had been up since early, and was just not in the mood to fool with it.

Here is a picture of the DOT airport sign. Myrtle Beach could use a few more of these.

Last night's dinner was simple to pull together.

Tomato-Basil Soup

Pork Chops with Parsnips and Pears

The Tomato-Basil soup was just a sauteed chopped onion with a couple of garlic cloves, a can of whole, peeled tomatoes, and a fistful of chopped basil. I simmered that for about 20 minutes, then pureed it with the immersion blender, and served it topped with a whole wheat baguette crouton with melted Comte.

The Pork Chops were seared in an ovenproof skillet, then baked with chopped pears and parsnips and a cut up lemon that had been tossed in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and about a Tbs. of brown sugar. Then I baked that at 400 for about 40 minutes - too long. The pork was a little dry. It would be an excellent dish with properly cooked pork, though, so I'll keep it and pay closer attention next time. I might also do it on the grill, where I can get higher heat.
So lessons learned yesterday: Don't cook the pork chops too long, and don't get your directions from Google Maps.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Spicy Chicken and Oregano

Tonight I played with lighting, the camera, and recipes. The recipes were a success. The lighting and camera... not so much.

Look. Here's a peach I messed with. Not great. Not awful, but not great either.

I spent the afternoon making soups for the week. I have a carrot-cumin, asparagus-thyme, tomato-basil, and cold cucumber put up for our lunches and dinners. Of course, when you cook, you also spend an inordinate amount of time washing dishes, wiping counters, peeling things, and cleaning the sink. (sigh). There was no point to that. I just needed to whine a second. Thanks for your indulgence.

For dinner, I thought I'd lead with the carrot-cumin soup. Already done. Ta-da! I heated that up for first course.

For the main course, I got to use one of my new toys. Yesterday, our covered wagon trip to town to lay in supplies found us in Costco. We briefly discussed the merits of owning a food sealer, and while we were talking about using it for kayak camping, it jumped off the shelf into our cart. Phillip wrestled with it for a minute, but it was strong, and made a convincing argument, so we brought it home. It has a "marinate" setting that I was a little skeptical of, but thought "Well, hell, I have something to marinate tonight, and not enough time to do it right, so why not?" I have to say, it proved me wrong. I'm sure some food scientist out there would say "No, it didn't really work - the suction/expulsion method doesn't work - blah blah blah" but it sure SEEMED to make the chicken more tender and uniformly infused with flavor. We'll try it a few more times to see. The chicken recipe was from a Donna Hay magazine. (I love her stuff - simple, simple simple, but flavorful and enviably gorgeous pictures. I think she's like the Australian Martha Stewart, without the baggage.)
Anyway, the marinade was fresh oregano, chicken broth, lemon juice (too much, in my opinion - I cut it back and it was still pretty tart), red pepper flakes, fresh oregano, and coriander. This marinate setting on the food sealer sucks air out, then releases it, then sucks it out again. I guess the idea is to kind of massage the meat in the marinade. It did seem more tender and more infused with marinade flavor than usual, though. So maybe.

I made up a gratin for the side dish. I sauteed some onions, a little minced pancetta, and some mushrooms. I layered sliced potatoes, a little parmesan cheese, a little Comte cheese, (salt and pepper), then the mushroom/onion mixture, more potatoes, etc. Then I poured about a cup of chicken stock over the whole thing and baked it at 400 for about an hour. It turned out really well, if I do say so myself. (No, the picture didn't. The dish did, though.)

Here's dinner all together.

See? Sucky lighting. Bad photographer! Bad! No cookie!
I need to read the manual more.
So there's dinner tonight. It all tasted great, and now I have to go clean the #$%&*!! kitchen AGAIN. Then I tell you what. I'm going to BED. I have clean sheets and a book calling my name already. (Thank God it's getting dark earlier.)

Flounder with Parmesan

Sometimes when you menu plan, if you are going to try something new, you get to the grocery and find that they don't have what you need. Such was the case yesterday with the fish we'd picked. That's when you grab something else and make the best of it. So what was going to be Striped Bass something or other, turned into Grilled Flounder with Parmesan.

Grilled Flounder with Parmesan

Green Beans with Lemon Vinaigrette and Parmesan Bread Crumbs

Potato Rosti, which is supposed to have an umlaut over the o, but I can't find it on this blog tool.

I have GOT to work on better lighting. Isn't that awful? It's so bad I'm actually doing research on the interwebs. I know, right!?

But lighting aside, you look at this picture and "Hey!", you say, "That looks like hash browns!" Well, they're not. They're much fancier, because instead of being called "hash browns", they're called something Danish or German or Swiss with an umlaut. Well, it would have one, if I could find it. (Shall I state the obvious, that this is my hobby, not my profession?)

The flounder was put on the grill on a foil-lined pan and a mixture of (nonfat) mayo, worcestershire sauce, anchovy paste, parmesan cheese, garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice spread on top. (Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Yes, it's kind of like Ceasar dressing). Phillip loved it. He kept saying it tasted like crab. (That's a high compliment since we both love crab.)

The green beans were very simple - toasted bread crumbs mixed with a little parmesan cheese and lemon zest were sprinkled over green beans that were cooked in salted water, drained, then tossed with lemon juice, a little sugar, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Now if I could get the blasted lighting to work out as well as dinner, I'd be in business.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Menu planning and grocery shopping part 2

I've taken what amounts to 45 minutes and planned our meals for the week. A browse through my "to try" cookbooks in Master Cook, plus a flip through my most recent cooking magazines has yielded me a plan.

I do love MasterCook, but it isn't the prettiest software in the world. I guess for twenty bucks, they didn't feel like spending much time on aesthetics. On my meal plan there in the middle, I can insert recipes from my cookbook, most of which I've imported off the web. Thank goodness most cooking magazines have their recipes on the web site. I still love to browse through the hard copy, and that's how I select the recipes I want to try, but then I can go to the computer, pull it up on their site, and quickly import it into my cookbooks. (yes, complete with the source). That keeps me from having to hand-type it in, let's me also import a picture of the dish, and allows me to recycle the magazines when I'm finished with them.

Here's my own personal procedure:

  1. Get a cooking magazine (let's say Bon Appetit for a change, since I use Fine Cooking as my example most of the time) out of the mailbox.

  2. Jump up and down, clap hands and go "yaaaay!"

  3. Put it on the coffee table, look at it longingly, and go back to work.

  4. Finish work, pour myself a glass of wine, sit down and read it cover to cover, turning down the pages of the dishes I want to try.

  5. Put the magazine on my desk.

  6. When I have 30 minutes or so, open the pages to the ones I've turned down, go to the web site, search for those, and import them into Master Cook. I have these separated into "To Try" cookbooks. Like "To Try - Main Course". I don't put anything in my permanent cookbooks that I have not tried and want to cook again.

  7. Recycle the magazine.
Now I have a bunch of things that looked interesting in my "to try" cookbooks. When I want to plan meals, here's what I do.

  1. Sit down at my desk. (Oh, all right, I'm usually there anyway.)
  2. Pull up Master Cook.
  3. Browse through my "to try" cookbooks and insert recipes I want to do that week into the meal plan. I have mine divided into courses so I can pick a salad and a main course, or a salad for dinner, or soup, or whatever.
  4. When I'm finished with the meal plan (about 30 minutes), I click the tools menu and export all the ingridents of all the recipes to the shopping list.
  5. View the shopping list and check the items I don't already have.
    Go to my Pantry, which I set up when I first got the software - it has things I like to keep on hand all the time, like peanut butter and seltzer and milk - and select the items I need from the grocery. Then I click another button and add those to the shopping list.
  6. The shopping list puts everthing in order by section of the grocery. I dink with it a little, to suit the way I shop, then save it.

When it's time to go, I print it out and walk out the door. (The list it prints has handy little checkboxes next to it.)

I didn't always have software, of course. My old-fashioned way of doing it was to fold a piece of paper lengthwise, and write the days of the week on one side, then write headings for the sections of the grocery on the other side. I'd jot down the recipes straight out of the cooking magazine or cookbook and make the grocery list as I went. This was honestly probably faster than my current procedure, but it limited me to the current issue, and if I wanted to cook something again, I had to go dig it out and magazines take up too much storage space.

The amount of time this takes me really is about 30 minutes, not counting the initial browsing and importing time. Now we have a week of meals planned and I don't have to think "what am I going to cook" at 6:00. I just look at the list and pick something. And I know I have all the ingredients in the kitchen, waiting to go.

This week, I've also planned to make another lot of vegetable soups. Phillip and I have both missed having them in the fridge, ready to eat for lunches. I'm going to make some that are good hot, too, since it's "pretend fall". I get to play in the kitchen! Yay! I'll keep you posted.

Leftovers for lunch

From the roasted vegetables from two nights ago, and the leftover roasted chicken last night, we have this:

For being pretty low on groceries, it's not a bad lunch. And it's got lots of vegetables. Go, me! I reheated the veggies with some of the chicken, and put it warm over green leaf lettuce with a little homemade lowfat ranch dressing. I'm working on the menus for the upcoming week on my lunch break and will post about that later.

Happy lunch hour, everybody!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Menu planning and grocery shopping

Last week or so, I ran an informal and completely unscientific poll about grocery shopping amongst my friends locally and on Facebook. I'm a voyeur when it comes to food. (I love to know what people eat, how they shop, where they shop, what they buy, etc.) With the exception of two people, everyone I asked grocery shops once or twice a week, same as we do. Only a handful shop at Farmer's Markets. One shops daily because she likes to grocery shop, and it's on her way home from work. The other shops almost daily because he has two teenagers with squirrely schedules, and it's anybody's guess whether they'll be eating at home, or grabbing something fast before a soccer game. Also, he lives in a small town, and his groceries are within a few minutes of the house.

The reason I put this question out there in the first place is because of my cooking magazines. The ideal is to cook the "European" way - go to the market, see what's fresh and appealing, skip home with your basket and make a delicious meal out of it. That's the dream. Let's look at it a minute. Isn't it pretty? Ahhhh...

OK. Time to wake up. Let's look at reality square in the face. Well, at any rate, MY reality, and the reality of the friends I've talked to.

First of all, none of us (meaning the peeps I asked) live in big cities. Or Europe. We live in towns with sprawling suburbia, where the nearest supermarket is a 10 minute drive, for the most part. Ten minutes doesn't seem like all that much, but when you double it (for driving there AND home) and then add in the time it takes to get out of the car and go in there and buy your stuff, you're talking 30 - 40 minutes. When you tack that on to every single day, it's a significant time chunk that personally, I'd rather spend doing something else. If it was a fresh European market, I'd happily spend 30 minutes a day wandering through there. But the Teeter... not so much.

Then there's the "fresh" factor. I wouldn't exactly call the food in supermarkets "fresh". At least not open-air market fresh. The stack of Braeburn apples they're restocking with on Monday came in a big ol' shipment last Thursday that left the processor in a truck three days before that. It's being kept in the back in a refrigerated area. So "fresh" is relative there. If you go in Tuesday, you're getting the same batch of apples you got the day before, the day before that, and three days before that. Perhaps I exaggerate, but you get the point. Shopping daily at the supermarket does not get you meals that are any fresher than going once a week, for the most part.

Of course, there are an increasing number of Farmer's Markets, and I love 'em. But ours is downtown, and once a week - on Saturday mornings. For my friends who live farther out, and have little kids, forget it. We're fortunate that it's convenient for us, since we live close to downtown. But there again, I go and buy a bunch of stuff and use it through the week. By Thursday, it's certainly not new anymore. Newer than the supermarket fare, yes, but not all shiny.

So to make the best of a situation that isn't ideal (by cooking magazine and chef standards), I try to plan a week of menus. When I take the time (and it DOES take some time), we eat better, and there's less waste. I try new things, and we don't wind up with a variation of the same old last-minute meals. You know what I'm talking about. "Crap. It's 6:00, and I haven't started dinner. Hmm... I guess I can roast some potatoes, and cook some chicken." We eat healthier, too. As I've mentioned time and again, vegetables are my nemesis, and I either cook them in ways that get left on the plate (see yesterday's entry), or don't have any to cook in the first place because I didn't plan and it's Thursday and we're out of everything except frozen blackeyed peas.

MasterCook makes this tons easier for me. It lets me browse my cookbooks for things I've stuck in there that I want to try, assemble a week of menus, then export a shopping list for it. I can go in and edit the shopping list for the location of the items, too. It automatically puts a grocery store location for standard items, and I can change that to "Farmer's Market" or "Costco", for example, which lets me then organize the list as I go place to place.

So this morning, I have a Salad and Soup cookbooks sitting on my desk, and at some point this evening, I will sit down and plan this week's menus. I've already decided that since it's a free weekend, I'll be playing Domestic Goddess. I'm going to cook a bunch of vegetable soups (I have a chicken thawing now to roast for dinner tonight and will make the remains into stock tomorrow), and we're going to try some new salads this week. Saturday morning will be Farmer's Market and grocery - oop - actually I bet we wind up going to the grocery tomorrow. Someone is out of bananas for his breakfast smoothies. (He hasn't discovered that yet. I'm expecting some swearing from the kitchen shortly.)

So stay tuned and tomorrow we'll do some menu planning together!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pecan-Crusted Skirt Steak and roasted vegetables

I won't say that dinner was a smashing success. Phillip loved the skirt steak and the potatoes, but here was this morning's commentary on the roasted vegetables.

Phillip: "If you're going to make carrots that al-dente, they need to be cut into smaller pieces. And broccoli florets like that just don't do it for me. I don't know what it is about hollandaise sauce, but it makes broccoli delicious."
Me: Well... since it's mostly fat...
Phillip: Yeah, it's poison.
Me: And you can't have it.
I think I'm going to have to find another way to get my broccoli fix.

At least he liked the roasted fingerling and sweet potatoes and he loved the skirt steak. It's crusted with a mixture of pecans, butter (not much), rosemary, and honey, mixed up in the food processor. Then that is spread on the steak. I threw it on a foil-lined pan on a hot grill. (It's a Fine Cooking recipe and it says put it under the broiler.) It cooked in a hot minute (or five) and was tender and moist. Phillip said it tasted like pot roast. He said that was a compliment. I liked the pecan crust. Very "fall". Even if the weather isn't. I'm so looking forward to cool weather. It's not in the near forecast, though. No surprise. But when it gets here, look out! It's gonna be soup-tastic!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sand, Grit, Kayak Camping, and Turkey Bolognese

Whew. What a weekend. We went kayak camping on Masonboro Island Saturday night with Robert (Robertiak) and Melissa. It was fun, but it was also a lot of work, with the packing, paddling, unpacking, repacking, paddling, unpacking, cleaning, and putting away. But when you get this as your "good morning", it's worth it.

There were no amazing culinary adventures over the camping trip. We brought some leftover chicken and tomato stew and heated that over the camp stove for dinner. For breakfast, the most important thing is coffee.

Before caffiene.

After caffiene.

Nature is not kind to my looks.

When we got home, I made a shower my first priority. I'm really not a big fan of sand, and don't like having it stuck all over me. Once I got cleaned up, and we got some lunch, we spent the remainder of the afternoon cleaning up all the camping gear and putting things away. When dinner time rolled around, I was seriously ready for a big glass of wine and something that I could simmer for a while so I could upload pictures (like this one) and relax for a bit.

So turkey bolognese it was. I chopped some carrots and added them to the bolognese to get some more veggies in there. We had that and a salad, and a nice red wine, and debriefed about the trip. We talked some about our camp food experience at dinner. Ziploc bags simply will not keep water out when you're kayaking. So I had packed a lot of our food in clamp-top plastic containers. They were bulky, and of course didn't keep the food from knocking around inside there so that some things were a real mess. Obviously, when you're kayak camping, space is at a premium.

For camping, this is what you have to work with.

You have to get all your gear and food...

...into this. And I'm not talking about the big middle part. That's where I go. We had Ps kayak too, but it's still not a lot of space.

Ice and big coolers are out. We have four soft coolers, and the amount of ice or ice paks you can take with you is pretty limited. So last night we started talking about what our options are. There are the dehydrated backpack meals, but you can probably guess that I'd prefer to cook it myself and eat "real" food. We decided the thing to do would be to get one of those vacuum sealers. Then we can freeze the packets. Little bricks of air-tight (and water-tight) food that will fit in small spaces and we can heat up easily. It's an intriguing idea that I'm looking forward to trying out.

But last night I was too tired for anything except talking about it. My bolognese made me even sleepier, and I was in bed by 9:00. I think I was sound asleep by 9:02. Clean sheets on a Pillow-top Sealy Posturepedic vs. a grit-covered Thermarest. Ahhhhh... no contest.

Nothing like a camping trip to make you appreciate both nature AND the comforts of home.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Pasta Salad and Cheddar Biscuits with the Shanks

I know. I should have taken pictures. But it's hard to remember that when you're playing with your friends. Shannon and Strider and their two girls, Eryn and Regan, came over last night for dinner, and I just forgot the camera. Here's what Shannon looked like in July.

And here's what Strider looked like. That was not the best jacknife I've ever seen...

We spent some time outside talking and laughing (mostly when Strider somehow managed to lock himself out of the house and yard. We're still trying to figure out how that happened), then came in for dinner. It's gotten back to muggy, so we abandoned the outdoor dining room. I made a pasta salad with grilled veggies and chicken and some cheddar biscuits. The girls dug the biscuits and were polite about eating the pasta. Shannon brought some great cupcakes for dessert and cleaned my kitchen while I ... hmmm. What WAS I doing while Shannon cleaned my kitchen? I'm not sure. I just know at some point I walked in there and it was clean. I think I'll keep her. She gets a lot more done than my maid.

After cleanup, we settled in to watch Swiss Family Robinson. Shannon and I were particularly excited about seeing it - we both loved it as kids and hadn't seen it since we were probably Eryn's age. Strider and Phillip and the girls had never seen it. It was great to watch it again, but the poor girls may not have gotten to actually watch much of it, since Phillip and Strider and I spent the entire movie making fun of the fact that they had animals from all the continents living "naturally" on this one tiny island. Zebras? Seriously? And the three of us contend that poor Frances doesn't stand a chance on the playground with a name like that and with his mother dressing him in pink pants. I don't care if it was made in 1960. Shannon, who was initially stoked to watch it, wound up taking a nice long nap. I guess cleaning my kitchen wore her slap out.

We wound everything up around 10:30, long past the girls' bedtimes (and past mine, for that matter). Shannon was probably ready to rumble, after her nap. But we tossed them out and locked the door behind them, so they had to go on home. We've already picked the next movie. (How on earth have they not seen Lilo and Stitch?)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Not To Do in Food Presentation

I could start out by saying "What's wrong with this picture?", but you would probably come up with so many different things that I'd be insulted, and that's no way to start out a blog. So I will just point out that tonight's dinner is basically light brown. Monochrome. Now that's all right if you're decorating your spa room, or dressing for an outing in the Sahara, or shooting a sci-fi film, but when you're preparing a meal, it's not so great. It's not interesting, plated. I truly think this is why green vegetables were invented - to garnish and liven up the plate.

But alas, I was out of green vegetables, and I'm only cooking for us, (and you), and I had a big-ass head of cauliflower I needed to use. And I love roasted cauliflower! So it was that and some crispy panko chicken cutlets, and some stewed apples with dried cranberries. (Please note. Dried Cranberries. Not light brown.)

I have a reputation among friends and family for being a Brown Food Fiend. I like me some meat and potatoes. But cauliflower, while brown when roasted, does indeed count as a vegetable, and has good stuff in it, like vitamins and things. I cannot understand how people eat that stuff uncooked and unadorned, but MAN it's good drizzled with some olive oil, sprinkled with kosher salt and pepper and crisped up... MMMMMMMMMMMMmmmm! Sure does make a huge difference.
So there's your lesson in food photography. I have a couple of links I need to read that my brother sent me. He actually knows something about the art of picture-taking, whereas I can't even claim to be a poser. How sad is that?
Oh well. At least I can make good Brown Food.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Books (about food and cooking)

I'm just jotting some quick notes about a few books I've read and liked that have to do with food. Not cookbooks, but book, books.

Kitchen Confidential, Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
I know. Who hasn't read this one? I read it when it first came out, before Anthony Bourdain was all the shizzle and stuff. I liked it then, and I still like it. He's got a tough attitude and a good sense of humor. That said, I doubt I'd get along with him if I met him. And having known a few chefs now, I can say with certainty that not all kitchens operate the way he describes. But it's definitely entertaining.

Food in History by Reay Tannahill
I read this ages ago, and have re-read it recently. It's not an easy read, but it's fascinating. I love, love, love history, and I loved this book. It goes all the way back to theory of cooking in prehistory and goes on up. She also wrote Sex in History, also great.

My Life in France by Julia Child
Again, who hasn't read this one? It's wonderful and her voice is so clear, she could almost be sitting and reading it to you. Comforting.

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany (Vintage) by Bill Buford
THIS book really gives a good picture of what working in a restaurant kitchen is like. I loved it. Bill Buford is a good writer, spins a good tale, and took a pretty amazing journey from a journalist trying to write a story to jumping whole-hog (pun intended) into the food industry. I loved this.

Life Is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days by James Salter and Kay Salter
I love to just thumb through this and read a few passages before bed. The anecdotes and menus are just jits and jots of the act of cooking, eating and sharing table with friends and loved ones. Some of the comments are a little pretentious, and I've muttered at it a few times, but overall, it's enjoyable.

The Oxford Companion to Food 2nd Ed by Alan Davidson, Tom Jaine, Jane Davidson, and Helen Saberi
No, I haven't read the whole thing, but it sure is pretty! It's a wonderful reference, and a great book to just sit and thumb through from time to time.

The New Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
Everyone who loves to cook should own this book. Quote me.

The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America by Michael Ruhlman
Wow. Read this. Really.

The Food of a Younger Land: A Portrait of American Food--Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation's Food Was Seasonal by Mark Kurlansky
This is a collection of writings submitted to the WPA before WWII. They were supposed to be compiled into a book, but the war interrupted that effort. Mark Kurlansky obtained the manuscripts from the Library of Congress and has put them together in this book. It's interesting reading for history peeps.

Anyone who has any other must-read recommendations, I'm all ears.

Chicken Stew and Spades with the Reids

Tonight my in-laws came over for dinner and spades.I always partner with my father-in-law, and Phillip and his mother play as a team. Let's get the important stuff over first - we won! (Heh) It's OK. I'm entitled to gloat just a little. We always get annihilated at Rook. I still don't really get that game.

Back to dinner now that we've got that out of the way. It was pleasant out, so we got to eat in the backyard pavilion.

Mixed Green Salad with Honey-Lemon Dressing

Chicken Tomato Stew

Creamy Polenta

Apple-Parmesan Muffins

Ever notice how the wording on a menu makes all the difference in the world? I mentioned this to my sister-in-law, Natalie today. (Holla!) "Creamy Polenta" sounds better on the C.V. than "corn meal mush", which is exactly what creamy polenta is. Not to say it tasted bad, but presentation goes a long way. "Corn meal mush" wouldn't get the job. "Creamy Polenta" would.

I decided on Apple-Parmesan muffins because I didn't have time to put together any dough for rolls, and the larder is devoid of anything that would have gone with dinner. Somehow, whole wheat English muffins just didn't grab me with this. I often forget about the lowly savory muffin as a bread option when I want one. Likewise, I forget biscuits. Both are great alternatives to risen bread when you're short on time. (When I remember them in the nick of time, I feel like someone ought to give me an award.) These muffins are whole wheat, apples, parmesan cheese (not much), and buttermilk and eggs. Typical wet/dry ratio of muffins. They're good and will also make nice breakfast bread in the morning. Not sweet. But they could be served with jam or honey and be great with coffee.

Phillip has been nagging me to use up the okra we got at the Farmer's Market. I didn't want to fry it, and it's great with tomatoes, so I took a look around and thought about what else I had. It was a fairly last-minute construction, but came together well. It's nothing new under the sun - just a bunch of stuff tossed in with tomatoes and some herbs and served over corn meal mush. Here's the recipe, more or less:

Chicken Stew

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, salted and peppered
  • 4 ea chicken sausage (mine was Italian seasoned)
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 - 28oz. cans whole tomatoes plus juice
  • 1 cup okra, sliced
  • 1 eggplant, sliced, salted and patted dry, then cut into wedges
  • 1-4 inch sprig fresh rosemary
  • 4 ea fresh sage leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
Sautee' the onion in the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add a pinch of kosher salt. Add the chicken thighs and chicken sausage and brown. Add the red wine and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Boil until wine is reduced by half. Add the whole tomatoes and the okra. Add the rosemary, sage, and bay leaf. Turn down the heat to low and simmer about 30 - 40 minutes, until the chicken thighs are cooked, stirring occasionally and mashing the meat around a little to break it apart into pieces. If you leave it longer than that, no big deal. Add the eggplant about 10 minutes before serving. Whoever gets the bay leaf wins. I don't know what they win - I guess a bay leaf. But yeah, baby, they win. Come to think of it, maybe what they win is spades. I did get the bay leaf.

Serve this stew over polenta, or of course you could use rice or mashed potatoes or nothing. That recipe would probably serve six easily. We have a leftovers. Come on over, if you want them for lunch.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kale and Catfish Salad with Panko-Pups

Now, just give it a chance! You don't know it's nasty until you've heard the whole dish and seen the picture.

Look, see? I took a picture of it. You don't have to comment on the photography skills, or lack thereof. I need better lighting. I hate the flash. And that LED lighting thing doesn't work all that well either.

Phillip was rapturous about it. Here is his "restaurant description". "Kale & Catfish salad with black-eyed peas and “panko-pups”—light panko-breaded catfish filet over kale with black-eyed peas, roasted carrots and parsnips, and “panko-pup” croutons; sweet champagne-honey vinaigrette".

The "panko-pups" came about because I hate wasting panko crumbs. I was cooking the catfish and looking at my dredging pans, and eyeing a lump of panko that had wrapped around a blob of egg white and thought "what the hell?" so I dropped it in the pan with the catfish. Then I thought "Well, I might as well go ahead and use up what I got." So I grabbed fingerfuls of egg white, dropped them in the panko crumbs, gobbed them together, salted and peppered them, and tossed them in the pan with the catfish. And used up all the rest of the panko crumbs. Yay!

OK, here's the recipe: (Note: I am not Fine Cooking or Bon Appetit. I do not have a test kitchen and I don't always pay close attention when I'm doing something in the kitchen. While this is marginally better than those old colonial "receipts" that have you mixing "a good amount of flour" with "a standard amount of lard or butter", it is not going to be perfect. Feel free to tweak.

Catfish Fillets
2 each catfish fillet
3 each egg whites
1/2 cup flour
1 cup panko crumbs
kosher salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Roasted Vegetables
2 each carrots, peeled and cut
2 each parsnips, peeled and cut
olive oil
kosher salt

4 cups kale, washed and drained
2 cups frisee lettuce, washed and drained
3 Tablespoons Champagne wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons olive oil

Black Eyed Peas
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 1/2 cups frozen blackeyed peas
3/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil

1. For the blackeyed peas: Sautee the chopped onion and celery in the olive oil until soft. Add a healthy pinch of kosher salt. Add the blackeyed peas and the chicken stock. Turn the heat down to medium low and simmer about 45 minutes.

2. For the salad: Mix together the Champagne vinegar, honey, dijon mustard, salt and olive oil. Wash and drain the kale and frisee well, and tear into bite sized pieces. Be sure to leave out the tough stems of the kale. (Kale may take extra washing to get all the grit off.) Mix together the kale and the frisee, and then dress. Let sit for 20 minutes, tossing occasionally.

3. For the roasted vegetables: Cut the carrots and the parsnips into finger-size pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast at 400F for 30 minutes.

4. For the catfish: Heat the vegetable oil over medium heat in a skillet. Salt and pepper the catfish fillets. Dredge in flour, and shake off excess. Dip in beaten egg whites and shake off excess. Dip in panko crumbs and place in hot oil. Cook on each side about 4 minutes, until golden brown.

5. For Panko "Pups". Drop a spoonful of egg white from the catfish dredge into the panko crumbs. Place in the hot oil with the catfish. Salt and pepper and cook on each side until golden brown.

6. Assemble the salad: Place half the dressing-tossed greens on the plate. Arrange the roasted vegetables around the edges. Add the Panko Pups around the edges. Place a serving spoonful of drained blackeyed peas in the middle and top with a catfish fillet. Serve warm.

Note: I had reservations about the "vinegariness" of the salad. I think it worked well with the flavors, and it certainly cut the bitterness of the kale, but I worried it was a little overpowering. Phillip says absolutely not, but he eats more southern greens than I do. (Like, try never.) But overall, it worked and is reasonably balanced. You could cut back on the amount of dressing for the kale if you think it's too much.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Bicycles and Restaurants

I did not cook last night. Two out of the five of you readers already know about yesterday, but for those who don't, Phillip got hit by a car yesterday when he was riding his bike to teach his class. He's just fine, but an ambulance hauled him off, then we spent four hours in the emergency room. (Mostly waiting for the doctor to remember to read his x-rays - he wandered off and forgot.)

So our morning started off like this:

and hours later went to this:

Life can turn on a dime. You do not want to be on your way to see your husband, and walk under a giant red TRAUMA sign in the ER, and you do not want to walk in and see the above. It's just scary.

Seriously, though, he's fine. And he was fine when he was in this getup. They put it on as a precaution. He was even pretty fine when he first got hit. He made sure he called the department secretary FIRST to tell her to please let his class know he wasn't going to make it. THEN he called me to let me know he'd been hit by a car. And, he felt good enough to be a complete tourist in the ambulance and take pictures of the interior with his cell phone.

They released him at 3:00. We came home and grabbed a quick bite, since we hadn't eaten since breakfast, then we had to go downtown to get his bike. He'd gotten hit right in front of the Port City Java on the corner of Grace and Front, and they were nice enough to hold his bike for us until we could get back and pick it up. It was pretty banged up. We took it on in to Two Wheeler Dealer for repairs.

Then we got home to deal with the fallout. A quick phone call gave us the information we did not want to hear - the driver who hit him is uninsured. Of course. Which means that we will now be stuck with all the bills for the ambulance ride, the hospital visit, and the bike repairs.
After a day like that, I just couldn't deal with dinner. So we went to Marc's and let our friends take care of us.

Yes, I was scared. Yes, I'm extremely grateful that my reason for living is still padding around the house in his pajamas, getting ready for another day. But I'm also really bummed that we're now going to face bills probably in the thousands for a situation that was totally not our fault. Sure, she got a ticket, and she'll be theoretically held accountable, but reality is that she will pretty much get away scott-free for running a red light and driving over my husband. Dad always reminds me "Life is not fair." And man, is he ever right.
Update: Phillip talked to our auto insurance provider (yay, Allstate!) and we ARE covered under our uninsure motorist coverage. Hooray! No deductible! Hooray! They don't cover the property damage to the bike, but I'm never letting him ride it again anyway, so that's OK!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Carrot-Parsnip Soup and Duck with Apples

We have seriously lucked out on the weather. It's been "fall-like" for a week, which is unheard of here in Wilmington. Usually it still feels like August. Not my favorite month. I'm taking advantage of the cooler temperatures to bring on the fall fare. Last night's menu:

Carrot-Parsnip Soup
Duck with Apples
Twice-Baked Kale-Stuffed Potatoes

Of course, I can't post the blog without including my excuse for not taking photos of the meal, so here you go. Yesterday evening, we decided that we needed to spray for mosquitoes and pull the back yard together since it's too nice not to be able to sit out there and enjoy it. Given the time of year and our typical hot sticky nastiness, abundance of blood-sucking fiends, and frequent torrential downpours, we had all the furniture cushions stored and weren't spending much time outside. The squirrels had been using the patio as their diner, so it looked like those awful steak places that let you drop your peanut shells all over the floor. Except the squirrels had to settle for pine cones. What a mess! We spent about an hour back there cleaning up and that meant dinner was late, and we were hungry, which didn't leave me time to fiddle with cameras and tripods. Also, "hungry" meant "slam the dinner on the plate and let's go!" So not pretty for pictures. But the back yard is! Here's my Pootie Pie (Phillip) enjoying his coffee this morning out there.

While I sit in the house and work on my blog. I think maybe my priorities need adjusting.

The soup wound up being really good. I like parsnips, and their fresh, peppery flavor. They added a nice kick to the sweet carrot taste. Here is a picture I swiped of carrots and parsnips in someone's refrigerator.

Standard "Andie Soup" prep on these. Sautee a chopped onion in a little olive oil, add kosher salt, chopped parsnips and carrots (about 4 of each), stir occasionally for about 5 minutes, then cover with chicken stock and simmer until tender, then puree and thin with more chicken stock to desired consistency. Not especially complicated, but a good way for me to get my vegetables.

The duck I prepared my usual way - outside on the grill. It's just way too smoky for my vent-a-hood-less kitchen. (Someday.) I put the cast-iron skillet on the grill, cranked the heat up to about 500, put the salted and peppered duck breast on skin-side down (I scored the fat on the skin side) and seared the phoo out of those mothers. Then I turned them over and seared the other side, and let them rest. I scooped out just a little duck fat, put that in a skillet, and fried some apple slices in it and dusted them with nutmeg to accompany the duck. We each only ate about half a breast, so we have leftovers for today!

I didn't have time to get to the grocery yesterday because of a dental appointment, so I couldn't get the stuff I needed to make Melissa's kale recipe I wanted to try. Hopefully today. But I did use some of it. I baked a potato, then scooped out the innards, mixed that with salt, pepper, and some kale I wilted with chopped onion, and mixed that together with a little olive oil and topped it with parmesan cheese and nutmeg. THAT was GOOD! And not fatty and terrible for us. We're working way too hard with P90X to load up on butter and cream. (Phillip is now down 45 pounds, by the way and is looking cut! We won't talk about me. I'm down inches, but not lbs.)

Here is some Kale. It is not the kale that I used, but it looks a lot like it.

Here is a potato. It is not the potato I used, but it looks a lot like it.

You can imagine mashed up potato and wilted kale mixed together and scooped into half a potato shell, and that's what part of our dinner looked like. Isn't the internet great? It's so nice of these people to take pictures for me to swipe and use.
So there's last night's dinner, plus leftovers for today. Tonight I have a skirt steak to figure out something to do with, and if I don't take pictures of it, you can just imagine the fun I'm going to have trying to find a picture of a cow with a skirt on with Google Images.
Cheers, people!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Zucchini Soup

Wow. 7: 42, and it's pretty dark already. Fall really is coming! And I'm glad. I'm ready for some cooler weather-fare. Tonight we stuck with summerish dishes, though.

Zucchini Soup

Grilled Salmon (again. I know, I know... I'll explain)

Potato Pancakes
Pootie Pie LOVES him some salmon. And while there are many creative ways of preparing this fish that I am, quite frankly, lukewarm about at best, he prefers it plain. His attitude is that the salmon we're getting is really good quality (wild caught King, in this case), and he wants to taste the fish, not muddy up his palate with anything else. He's a pretty adventurous eater, so it's not like he's one of those meat and potatoes people. (I'm that guy.) Since I don't much care for the fish anyway, I'm happy to prepare it the way he likes it. Although tonight I did add some chopped olives to the top of it before I put it on the grill to cook. Just so I wouldn't get bored.

Speaking of bored, I didn't take pictures of this meal. Because it would have been. (Boring, that is.) Here is a picture of a very dapper man with a salmon.

Oh, those Scots! They know how to dress for their sports. (sigh) Isn't he lovely? I do have a thing for well-dressed gentlemen, I admit. I'll pause while you look at the picture some more.

OK. Back to dinner. The potato pancakes were leftover smashed baby reds that I made a couple of nights ago. I feel driven to use leftovers that are still good when I've cleaned out the fridge. I preceded dinner prep with that, and it always makes me feel guilty to throw stuff away. Not guilty enough to eat it, but still guilty. These were stil just fine, and pattied, salted, then dredged in flour, they made a nice crispy side dish that I enjoyed more than the salmon. (See meat and potatoes reference above.)

The soup, was another vegetable soup from fresh farmer's market fare. (I know I served that first. I'm trying to keep you on your toes.) I got some pretty zucchini and needed to use it tonight. It doesn't keep all that long. So I chopped an onion, sauteed it in a little olive oil, added sliced zucchini, covered that with chicken stock (yeah, I do make my own, actually), then simmered and pureed with the immersion blender. It should be good cold, too.

Tomorrow I need to make a quick run to the grocery for a couple of things to make a new kale recipe that was passed along to me by a new acquaintance, Melissa Costello. I'll give you the lowdown on that later.

Stuffed Flounder

We got some beautiful flounder at Fresh Market and I was standing there trying to figure out what I wanted to do with it, when I started thinking about that beef dish I made for game night. I decided that the stuffing for that would be pretty good in the flounder. So I chopped up some bread crumbs, added just a little parmesan, and some fresh basil, spread that on the flounder, rolled it up, and grilled it. Very nice.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Cakes Part 2

The desserts went well and were pretty much eaten up. Lots of people commented on the Glazed Lemon Cake. It's one of my favorites to make. It's a recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook that I've been making for years and years. Since it's my mother-in-law's favorite, I figured it was appropriate for her birthday party.

This cake is moist and rich, sweet and tart, and pretty easy to make. It tastes like lemonade. Perfect when it's still warm outside.

Next, the somewhat less successful desserts. We'll start with the brownies, since they weren't a bona fide culinary disaster. I had wanted to make brownies with caramel and walnut topping. Unfortunately, I didn't check Master Cook thoroughly when I put the recipe in, and it wound up omitting a rather important part of the recipe on the shopping list. The brownie part made it on the list all right, but the caramel topping portion didn't. So I got home from the long grocery haul with no cream. Kind of crucial for caramel. I wasn't about to go drag myself back out into the fray for cream, so I did a basic brownie with pecans instead. It served the purpose just fine.

And now, on to the true disaster. The Plum Cake. There have been times, when cooking, that I haven't been paying attention, and have omitted a fairly important ingredient (like sugar), but I usually catch it while still in the batter phase, so that I can correct the problem before the product goes in the oven. Unfortunately, that was not the case with the plum cake. I couldn't figure out why it wasn't rising. Was my baking powder old? Was my oven temperature off? Was it the pan? (Yes, folks, this is called "grasping at straws".) Finally, while the lump of lead in the oven was finishing off, I started making the brownies and got to the "add the eggs one at a time" part of the recipe and my brain started wheeling backward to the plum cake put-together, searching for the part on THAT when I added the eggs. Aaaand came up empty. No eggs. No wonder the thing wasn't rising!

It was, needless to say, NOT a beautiful cake. It was more like a brownie - dense and chewy - decidedly not cake-like. Phillip pronounced it "really good anyway", though, and made me take it to the party. The bizarre thing was that I got a LOT of comments on that plum thing and requests for recipes, which I may not provide. (Let's face it. If they make the REAL recipe, they're going to say "Hey! How come mine is a completely different texture?")

So, for your consumption, here is the recipe for Ann Smith's Plum Cake. (Ann Smith was a friend of my grandmother's.) When made correctly, it is a moist, delicious bundt cake with warm spice flavors. When made incorrectly, it is a dense, chewy brownie-like thing with warm spice flavors. You can decide if you want to omit the eggs, but if you do, I'd recommend making it in a brownie pan instead of a bundt cake pan, just for appearances.

Ann Smith's Plum Cake

2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup wesson oil
3 each eggs
2 jars plum or apricot baby food (Good luck finding these. Sheez. See my other
post. I used some ridiculous flavor combination, and I don't think it gives nearly as good a flavor as the unadulterated fruit baby food.)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Beat the sugar and oil together until well-blended. Add the eggs, one at a time (or not, if you're going to mimic my incompetence) until incorporated. Add the bastardized-with-too-many-fruits baby food, then stir in the dry ingredients. Bake in a greased and floured bundt pan at 350F for about an hour. Have more patience than I do about turning out cakes. Let it cool in the pan until the sides pull away slightly, then loosen it and dump it on a plate. Or, you can do like I do, NOT have patience, grasshopper, flip the thing over on a plate then pull the bundt pan off to discover that about half your cake is still stuck on the bottom and have to paste together an already unattractive cake (because of the whole not putting in the eggs thing).

Friday, September 4, 2009


Tomorrow morning, I will be baking. Phillip's dad is having a party for his lovely wife's birthday (along with his own, which is two days later). It's being catered, but he didn't much care for the dessert selections, so he asked me to cook for it. There are going to be about 34 people there, so I've decided on two cakes and some bars. I'd do more, but we'd just be stuck with a bunch. People just don't seem to eat desserts at these things.

So I've decided on a Glazed Lemon Cake, a Plum Cake and Walnut Caramel Bars. I should be able to get those cranked out in fairly quick order tomorrow morning.

An aside about the Plum Cake. This is a recipe I love that I grew up with. It's basically a very moist bundt spice cake. It calls for a jar or two (I forget) of plum or apricot baby food. Now, you guys know I don't have kids, and apparently, I have missed a memo or two on children's products. What on earth happened to plain old single fruit baby foods? I scoured the aisle and couldn't find plum OR apricot. Oh, I found plum and banana and apple, and apricot and apple, and apricot and prune, and plum kiwi grape passionfruit twist. It's like pantyhose. Too many choices. But no "plum" or "apricot". Did babies complain about the lack of complexity in the fruit flavors? I'm mystified.

So this cake will have two jars of the closest thing I could find - plum bastardized with apples. I'm sure it won't impact the taste of the cake too much, but it's still just leaves me wondering what happened. I mean, the Gerber baby still looks like the same kid. Why did they have to mess with what went in the jar?

I will snag the camera out of my PFD pocket tomorrow morning to get a few pictures.

Turkey Cutlets with Apples and Corn Basil Soup

My camera is still in the pocket of my kayak PFD in the car. We went kayaking Tuesday evening and I haven't managed to go outside and bring it in. I should probably do that. At any rate, that's why no pictures.

I have a few meals to catch up on, once I remember what we've eaten since Game Night on Saturday. But last night we had a good corn and basil soup and some turkey cutlets with apples.

Here's Fine Cooking's picture of the soup. I'm pretty sure Scott Phillips took it. He totally rules. Mine didn't have the proscuitto in it. It was tasty, though! I expect it will be good cold, too.

The turkey cutlets I browned in olive oil, then sliced some apples and browned those in olive oil and served them with the turkey. Pretty good. I'm seriously ready for fall.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Game Night and Beef Braciole


Back in mid-summer, I decided I wanted to start a game night/potluck group. So I sent an email out to a handful of good, fun friends to gauge the interest. I got enough responses that we gave it the green light, and I hosted the first one here a few nights ago. The idea is that we take turns hosting and get together about once every two months. The host picks the game and prepares the main course, and everyone else claims another part of dinner and brings it along.

Pootie and I picked Turbo Cranium and I made braised beef braciole stuffed with basil and fresh mozarella. It's a flank steak, pounded thin, then spread with a mixture of bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, mozarella cheese, and fresh basil. It's tied up after rolling up like a jelly roll and braised in tomatoes and onions and mushrooms. Mine wasn't quite as beautiful as the recipe picture, so I didn't bother photographing it. I sometimes have issues following instructions (ahem).

Recipe: Secure with kitchen twine in five or six places.

Me: "Oh, pooh. Three will be plenty. "

Dinner: All right, hoser, I'm planning on falling all to pieces in this pot. Good luck slicing me and putting me on a platter later!

It tasted fine, but I was not able to put much emphasis on presentation. Therefore, I shall distract you with another game night video.


Stephanie and Chris brought a delicious variety of twice-baked potatoes. They went perfectly with the beef and were good enough that I made sure I snagged the recipe from Steph afterward. Yasmin and Robert brought appetizers - Yasmin did some great filled jalapenos and some crackers with cheese and bell pepper. Good! Poor Jenn (who was abandoned for some lame-ass football draft pick something or other - rest assured we talked trash about him) had played not one, not two, but SIX games of Ultimate Frisbee that day, and still managed to pull herself and a salad together and drag her tired butt over.

Dan and Christina brought dessert and also some kind of powerful alcohol from Dan's trip to Korea. He'd just gotten back that day, and I gotta say, for a dude with major jet lag, he performed well. Turns out Robert spent over a year living in Korea, so there was much discussion about it and about the liquor Dan brought, proper serving procedure, etc. I thought it tasted like ispropyl alcohol, frankly, but Dan and Robert enjoyed it. I had made a pitcher of pomegranate margaritas, so between those, the Korean IPA, and the wine, it's no surprise that the game degenerated.

We started out in three teams of three, but then there was a child bedtime emergency and we lost Chris and Steph. After that, we just sat around yapping and reading each other questions and cracking adolescent jokes.


We used the obnoxious Turbo Cranium timer to pick the next host, so Christina and Dan have it next. I had a good time, and I think everyone else did. Even Jenn, who was almost dead on her feet by the time she left. Looking forward to the next one!