Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A hint of autumn......

From what I'm told....there's a hint of autumn in the air...everywhere but here in Florida. Here, it's still "Africa hot" (as a friend of mine says) and we're sweltering away in the 90's. However, there is a breeze in the air that hints at autumn (1. I hate the word "fall" and 2. that might be the 3 hurricanes out in the Atlantic making that breeze, but I prefer to think positively).

One thing that begins to tell me autumn is in the air is that seasonal fruits and vegetables are beginning to appear. This is my favorite time of year, and the appearance of squash, figs, and best of all pumpkins, gives me that "warm and fuzzy" feeling. It won't be long and my favorite holiday of all year, Thanksgiving, will be here.

And so, with a tip of my hat to the upcoming cooler (thank GOD) weather and autumnal holidays...here is today's recipe; which incorporates pumpkins...the epitome of autumn vegetables. Pumpkins are versatile; in fact, from blossom to flesh they are mostly edible. The blossoms (which pumpkin growers often pluck to encourage growth on other vines) taste wonderful on salads or deep fried as appetizers and it is well known that the salted, roasted seeds of a pumpkin are a favorite of just about everyone.

Pumpkin Ravioli

1/2 c. finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp, plus 1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. blanched almonds, toasted
1 1/2 T. chopped fresh rosemary
1 c. canned pumpkin (be VERY careful not to buy "pumpkin pie filling"--but make sure the can says only "pumpkin"...pumpkin pie filling is already spiced for making a pie..and is not the flavor you want here)
1/4 c. finely shredded Parmegiano-Reggiano cheese, plus additional for garnish (if you cannot find this particular type of cheese, just grate regular parmesan....these can be found in your supermarket either in the deli section or in the cheese aisle---with regular parmesan you will lose some of the "richness" of the flavor that you would get with parmegiano-reggiano, but it can be substituted)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper--plus additional to taste
20 wonton wrappers, thawed if frozen

In a medium skillet cook onion and garlic in 1 tsp hot butter over medium heat..only until onion is softened, about 3 minutes

In a food processor (or blender) combine 1/4 c. of the almonds and the rosemary. Cover and pulse with several on/off turns until nuts are finely ground. Add pumpkin, 1/4 c. of the cheese, the onion mixture, salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. Cover and pulse until just combined.

Working with 2 wonton wrappers at a time, top wrappers with one tablespoon of filling. Brush edges of wrapper with water and bring one corner of wrapper to meet the opposite corner to form a triangle, pressing down around filling to force out any air and to seal edges well. Cover filled ravioli with a dry kitchen towel while you repeat with remaining wonton wrappers and filling.

Coarsely chop remaining 1/4 c. of almonds. In a medium skillet heat remaining 1/4 c. butter over medium heat, add chopped almonds and cook, stirring until butter begins to brown on bottom of skillet (do not allow to burn)....note here: if you have made my "Ravioli with Browned Balsamic Butter Sauce" recipe...this is basically the same procedure in cooking the butter. Remove from heat, cover, and keep warm.

Bring water to a boil and cook ravioli for 2-3 minutes or until tender, gently stirring occasionally. (Keep water at a low boil to prevent ravioli from breaking) Drain.

Drizzle ravioli with almond-browned butter and sprinkle with additional parmesan and pepper to taste. Makes about 20 raviolis.

This is an awesome "meatless" meal...but can also be used as a side dish and goes nicely with pork or lamb chops. Either way, pair with a salad and add pumpkin seeds to that as a garnish...it makes it fun and ties everything together.

Pumpkins (fresh ones) can be roasted exactly the same way you do any other squash, by scooping out the seeds (save those for roasting too) and cooked in the oven. Scoop out the flesh and it can then be used in place of any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin--in the making of pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin muffins or cake. If you season it with nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, etc, you can go ahead and make your favorite pumpkin pie recipe. Make SURE, however, that when you are doing this, you are buying a "baking" or "pie" pumpkin. They are MUCH smaller than the "jack o'lantern" variety. They are small, round and plump and vary in size, usually from 2 to 5 pounds. Choose one that feels heavy for its size and is blemish free. If stored away from direct light they will keep for about a month, or can be kept chilled. Go ahead and give it a try...it's not that hard. The kids can have a GREAT time scooping out the seeds for you (and eating them after they've been roasted) and the difference in flavor between this and canned will be PHENOMENAL!!)

Tomorrow, along with a couple more "autumn recipes, we'll talk about how to go about roasting those pumpkin seeds so that you'll get top notch flavor.

Today's food quote: "I cook with wine....sometimes I even add it to the food" W. C. Fields, American comic (1880-1946)

Monday, August 30, 2010

This "Southern Kitchen" ain't THAT Southern!!

So...a friend loaned me one of his cookbooks (word to the wise...do NOT loan me a cookbook...I collect them and if you loan me a GOOD one, it's going to tempt me in a bad way not to give it back to you----yes Clay, I'm going to return your cookbook, don't worry). This cookbook is called "Southern Kitchen", by Billy Cross. In reading it, I found out my kitchen ain't as Southern as I guess some people's are (another word to the "wise", this post is going to contain some "Southern English, so watch out, I've lived down here a long dang time and have had some great teachers).

Anyway, I'm ramblin' (what's new, right?). The cookbook is divided into 5 sections: Big Game, Small Game, Fowl, Fish, and "Serve Alongs". After discovering that there were recipes in here for about a dozen ways to cook squirrel (are you KIDDING me?), Beaver, Raccoon and Rattlesnake, I figured my kitchen must be "not that southern". I mean, I've eaten venison (deer, for the uninitiated) almost all my life, but SQUIRREL? And seriously, I can't speak for squirrels anywhere ELSE in the South, but Florida squirrels are small, REALLY small....basically little more than a rat with a furry tail (and not that FURRY a tail either!!). Certainly not the fat, sassy furry squirrels of the northern part of the country. As for eating Beaver, Raccoon or Rattlesnake...yea no thanks.

But....the section labeled "Serve Alongs" was where I got REALLY interested. These are some GOOOOODDD recipes so I fully intend to share some of them with you. Then....wherever you live, you can add a "touch of the South" to your kitchen--without having to eat squirrel.

And so I'm fixin to give you some recipes...so maybe you can eat southern tonight!!

Corn Soup

1 small onion
1 qt. chicken broth
1 small can tomatoes
dash, salt and pepper
2 T. margarine
1 can whole kernel corn
1 cup half-and-half

Saute onions in margarine. Put onion, a small amount of the stock, about 3/4's of the corn, and all of the tomatoes into a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Put puree in pan and add remaining stock and corn. Salt and pepper to taste. Boil for 5 minutes. Reduce heat and add half-and-half. Simmer, but do not boil.

goes great with......

Jalapeno Cornbread

3 cups cornbread mix
2 1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. salad oil (vegetable oil)
2 T. sugar
1/4 c. jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 1/2 c. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 pound bacon, fried crisp and crumbled
1/4 c. pimentos, chopped
1 c. cream style corn
1 large onion, grated
3 eggs, beaten

Put corn bread mix into a large bowl and add milk. Stir and add other ingredients. Bake in 3 greased 8x8x2 pans at 400 for 30 to 35 minutes or until light brown.

(If this recipe makes to much for you, you can freeze the extra (or give it to a friend, along with the recipe---it's always nice to share!!)

and....for dessert!!

Fried Apple Pies

1 lg can Hungry Jack biscuits
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 c. cooking oil
3 c. water
12 apples (fresh)
1 c. sugar
1 c. flour
1/2 tsp salt

Peel and core apples, chop and cook in water until tender, then add sugar, cinnamon and salt. Open biscuit can and separate individual biscuits. Place flour on board and roll each biscuit thin. Place small saucer upside down over rolled dough. Take knife and cut around the edges of saucer. Place 2 T. cooked apples on each circular piece of dough. Fold dough over apples and crinkle edges with fork, punch holes in the top and fry in hot cooking oil (use a shallow pan)until golden brown. If desired, dust with confectioner's sugar.

Today's food quote: "Swappin' recipes is "prob'ly" one of the best ways in the world to git yourself some new friends" Billy Cross (author of "Southern Kitchen")

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Quick fixes, and oh no! what am I going to DO??!!

So yesterday we talked about staple items for your pantry. Items that you should have on hand all the time, to pull from to make a meal. I also think that, there are a couple things you should have on hand at all times (mostly in your freezer) for what I call those "oh no" moments (Oprah has "ah ha" moments....I have "oh no" moments). Moments when you've been detained and have to make a quick meal, you were planning on having tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner and you get unexpected company, or moments when you just do NOT feel like cooking a full fledged meal. I rarely use packaged foods, but it doesn't mean I don't use them EVER. I just try to find the best possible quality (and bargain) for myself when I DO have to use them. So these are a couple recommendations from me for items that can rescue you when you're in a "fix"

Pepperidge Farm cake (found in the frozen food aisle, they have several flavors)--a good dessert if you get unexpected company, or just an unexpected occasion to celebrate.

Stouffer's Frozen Lasagna (also found in the frozen food aisle) this is THE best lasagna around. I will very often pull from this if I want lasagna, because they use top notch, quality ingredients, and it's actually cheaper to buy THIS than all the ingredients needed to make it yourself. You can just throw it into the oven and forget it. Tastes great. Makes a great take along dish for potlucks if you don't know what to take. Comes in sizes from individual to party tray size. I usually have either the "family size" or the party tray in my freezer. (good tip: Publix often has the family size on their "buy one, get one free" sale---which makes it an even BETTER bargain!!)

having pastas on hand at all times (ziti, rotini, even elbow macaroni) means you can make a quick meal (provided you don't exhaust your sauce supply like I did yesterday) or even a pasta salad for a quick lunch. This list of things to add to cooked pasta to make a pasta salad is endless; canned chicken or tuna, chopped onions or olives, frozen peas or even halved grapes!

Tonight I'm entertaining, my son and his fiance are coming, and I don't want to spend a lot of time cooking while they are here. So today's recipe is quick, can be made ahead (mine is already made and covered with plastic wrap in the fridge) and best of all--it's DELICIOUS!! You'll notice pantry staples in this recipe as well. Kudos to Marna Ross, an old friend of mine, who provided this basic recipe. Marna is very active in Pampered Chef, and if you need to purchase kitchen items or tools I HIGHLY recommend the Pampered Chef products. I'm sure if you search the Pampered Chef website you can find Marna and perhaps order from her. If not, host a party and get some great stuff! So, here's today's recipe--Cheesy Mostaccioli

Cheesy Mostaccioli

(I have made this recipe with ziti, rotini, and even elbow macaroni if I had them on hand)

16 oz box mostaccioli pasta
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1/2 t. pepper
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 Jar spaghetti sauce (24-28 oz)
1 can cheddar cheese soup
3 c. mozzarella cheese, grated


Preheat oven to 350. Cook mostaccioli according to package directions, drain. Brown ground beef and drain. Add pepper, Italian seasoning, spaghetti sauce, soup (do NOT dilute) and 1.5 c. of the cheese. Pour into 13x9 casserole and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 40 minutes.

I have added to this chopped onion and finely chopped mushrooms (I cook them in with the ground beef). I also add about 1/4-1/2 c. of grated cheddar cheese to the topping as well.

So the pasta is made and in the fridge. When it's dinner time I can just take it out and pop it into the oven to bake (you might want to add 5-10 minutes of cooking time if you've made it ahead and are refrigerating), add a tossed salad and a Pepperidge Farm cake. Maybe I'll even throw some sourdough bread into the bread machine and we'll have hot bread when dinner time comes! No muss, no fuss and one GREAT dinner.

Today's food quote: "I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them" Nora Ephron, writer

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Staples...(not the office supply store) and why they're important

I think the worst thing in the world is to start making something and realize you're out of one of the "key ingredients". This happens to me less and less now, but today is one of "those days". I'd wanted to make tortellini for dinner and I've found that I am lacking in the sauce department. So, after blogging, I will be on the hunt for a sauce recipe. I refuse to go out to the store. This is why having a good stash of staples is SO important, because a run to the store to pick up that one lacking ingredient can result in a $30 tab. I hate that. Also, having a good staple stash means that you can then pull from leftovers in your fridge to make dinner. Besides sauces (which, as I have mentioned, I am OUT of) here is a list of things I try to have on hand at all times:

A bag of frozen tortellini
Bag of frozen ravioli
bacon or pancetta (italian style bacon, however it has not been "cured"). I freeze it if I don't think I'm going to be using it anytime soon
at least one can of "Ro-tel" tomatoes
VIGO brand yellow rice
tortillas (usually flour ones---you can do SO much with a tortilla, it can substitute for flat bread in a wrap, cut into small pieces and drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and then baked at about 350 for 8 or 9 minutes and "voila" you have taco chips!)
Bisquick baking mix
envelope of taco seasoning
chopped walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, etc.
potatoes
fresh tomatoes (buy the "roma" tomatoes, they're less juicy and they stay fresh longer)
a red onion and a vidalia onion
head of garlic
jar of brown mushroom gravy (I add this to my roasts when I put them into the crock pot and it makes them SUPER juicy)
Can of cheddar cheese soup (great topping for almost anything; meatloaf, meatballs, chicken etc, or add to spaghetti sauce for baked ziti and it makes it super cheese-y, add a can of rotel tomatoes to it and heat---don't dilute, and it's great for dipping tortilla chips in)
sour cream
heavy whipping cream
mascarpone cheese (not easy to find, but invaluable in the kitchen)
ricotta cheese
mozzarella cheese, brick and grated
brick of parmesan cheese
grated cheddar cheese

From the above list, I can make a host of meals happen. Obviously today, I'm in a bit of a pickle since my sauce base isn't here, but I'm going to solve this issue somehow (topic for future blog...hmmmmm). The other night, when it was just Dan and I, I pulled from my staple cupboard and made the following dinner, utilizing leftover asparagus, crabmeat and mushrooms:

Seafood Alfredo Tortellini

1 jar alfredo sauce
2-3 c. frozen tortellini (I usually get the cheese tortellini)
1 small bunch of asparagus spears, fresh
1/2 c. of crab meat
1 T. butter
1 clove of garlic finely diced
1/2 c. of sliced mushrooms, fresh
1 small (or 1/2 medium) onion finely diced
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 to 1/2 c. of grated parmesan cheese
small sprigs of basil (optional, for garnish)

Steam the fresh asparagus (remember to put immediately into an ice bath to stop cooking and preserve greenness). Cook the tortellini according to package directions and drain. In a saute pan, melt the butter and then add the onion and the garlic. When the onions are soft (not browned) add the mushrooms, cook until soft. Add the asparagus spears and then add the sauce...heat through. Pour over the tortellini and add the lemon juice. Toss. Top with the freshly grated parmesan and crab meat and then garnish with some sprigs of fresh basil.

Obviously you could leave out the crab meat if you don't like it (but, seriously why don't you? it's DELICIOUS!!) or even subsitute diced chicken instead. Also, instead of asparagus you can use broccoli, peas, carrots, virtually any vegetable you may have left over.

Today's food quote: "There is no love sincerer than the love of food" George Bernard Shaw, Irish playright

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fun with Skewers

Isn't food on a stick more fun? Isn't the word "shish kebab" just fun to even SAY? It's one of the oldest ways to serve food, but in our American culture it's very seldom used. Still, it's one of the BEST ways to get kids to eat something they might not normally eat, especially if you let them put it on the stick! In any case, here are some fun ideas for foods to "skewer" and eat. From fridge to grilling to fun, if you have any ideas that haven't been mentioned (and I'm sure there are a lot of ideas out there!) PLEASE feel free to share them.

First off, and by popular request, are "Dan's Chicken Sticks". Our girls aren't big steak fans, and we (Dan and I) aren't very fond of chicken, so these "Chicken Sticks" often make their appearance when we're grilling steaks (or salmon...the girls don't like THAT either). We take boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cut them into strips about 1 to 1 1/2 inch wide. Season them with salt, pepper, garlic powder and Dan's favorite seasoning, "Everglades" (you can find it in the spice aisle, alongside the "Mrs. Dash, salt, pepper, etc. It's a spice mixture and it's awesome on meat). We thread the chicken onto the skewers and place them on an area of the grill with medium heat. Melt about 1 stick of butter and to that add 1-2 cloves of garlic; crushed. As the chicken is grilling, baste often with the melted garlic butter. Keep the skewers moving often (rotating and moving) so as not to burn.

One of my favorite "stick foods" is prosciutto and melon. Had some last night in fact. Ask your deli attendant to slice prosciutto nice and thin. Cut honeydew and cantaloupe melon into cubes (you can also use watermelon if you'd like). Cut the prosciutto into small squares and stack them. Alternate melon cubes with prosciutto onto the skewers. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Works great as a lunch, a snack, or an appetizer. You can also use small "party picks" and just use one cube of melon and a couple squares of prosciutto. You can even add small cubes of mozzarella cheese if you'd like.

For vegetarian friends (or just as a side dish) you can skewer small onions, cherry tomatoes (grape tomatoes are a bit too small) cubes of pineapple, slices of green pepper, lemon wedges (grilled lemon tastes AWESOME!!) and even small slices of corn on the cob. Grill these slices and baste them with the same garlic butter mentioned above for the chicken skewers and they are great!! We've added shrimp and also cubes of kielbasa to these and they become a main meal.

A good idea for a "dessert on a stick" (and kids LOVE making these themselves) is cubes of pound cake, pieces of their favorite fruit, berries, and cubes of Rice Krispie marshmallow treats. Serve with vanilla yogurt for "dipping"--and maybe even some chocolate sauce! :)

Cubes of different types of cheeses, on a stick make a great snack and, once again, are fun for the kids to do all by themselves.

Also remember that all time favorite "stick food", fondue. It's making a comeback with restaurants like "The Melting Pot" and is a lot of funs for kids (if supervised), couples, and parties. We did fondue for dinner once when the power was out and it was fun and convenient. Also, fondue is a great way to rid the fridge of leftovers. You can "deep fry" the fondue food in hot oil, and then dip it into sauces...or you can just melt some cheese (always add gruyere, it's the base for all really GREAT cheese fondues) and dip cubes of food like bread, vegetables, apples, etc, into that. Chocolate fondue is awesome as well, but then what ISN'T good when you add chocolate!!

so go ahead, "stick it to 'em" and have some fun. Like I said, if you have other ideas not mentioned here...share them with us!!

Today's food quote: "Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort" Norman Kolpas

Today's recommended cooking tool: for basting (both inside the home and on the grill, I highly recommend the new silicone basting brushes. Easy to clean (they are completely dishwasher safe) and to MY mind much more sanitary than the old style hair brushes, they make basting a breeze. They are heat resistant usually up to about 500 degrees so are completely comfortable both in the oven, on the grill or wherever you may need them.

Friday, August 20, 2010

tonight's dinner, Steak Oscar....oh yea, baby

Our family spent the day on the beach. Usually when we do that, we eat very light when we get home...or even eat out. But in the car, driving home, Dan mentioned that he would like to try making Steak Oscar...and I was TOTALLY up for it, neither of us ever having tasted it before. A drive home, a trip to Publix and we were IN business. If you love steak, give this one a go, it is AWESOME!!
This recipe is for two...so if you are needing to serve more, you're going to have to multiply...but it's easy, so no problem

Steak Oscar

2 small ribeye steaks
1/2 pound of asparagus, thin delicate spears
1 envelope bearnaise sauce
1/2 pound of crabmeat (PLEASE do not use the "sashimi crab meat) we bought a pound of crab legs/claws at Publix and had the seafood counter attendant steam them for us (adding only Old Bay as the seasoning)....then crack the claws and remove the meat, shred with two forks and you're in business. You can buy crab meat in small containers in the seafood section of your supermarket, but you'll find..if you do...that you will be chomping on a LOT of crab shell. They don't do a very good job of cleaning it, so take it from me, just have the "fish guy" steam some crab legs for you and take the time to remove the meat yourself. It's not that hard...:)
3 scallions, finely chopped
1 T. lemon juice

Chop the scallions and mix with the shredded crab meat. Steam the asparagus in a steamer basket over about 1 in. of water. bring the water to a boil, cover and steam the asparagus for about 8 to 10 minutes, until crisp-tender. Remove and put into ice bath (bowl of cold water and ice cubes) to stop cooking and preserve the green color, drain.

Grill the steaks to your desired level of doneness (medium to medium rare is recommended). When almost finished, prepare the bearnaise sauce according to package decorations. Take a steak, place several (6-8) asparagus spears on top, cover with a small scoop of the crab meat and pour one half of the bearnaise sauce over each steak. Add (on top) about 1/2 T of lemon juice. Really, measuring the lemon juice is not necessary, just a "spritz" over the top will do great.

We had ours tonight with "Wedge Salad" (AWESOMMMMEEEE, check out yesterday's blog if you haven't already for that recipe, generously donated by Rachel Viera)and it was a delicious full meal, meat, salad, and vegetable. Fabulous, beautiful, a sensual experience and a WHOLE lot cheaper than if we had ordered it in a restaurant. Plus we had a great time preparing it together.

Today's food quote: "For the millions of us who live glued to computer keyboards at work and TV monitors at home, food may be more than entertainment. It may be the only sensual experience left" Barbara Ehrenreich, author

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Summer is winding down.....maybe

Summer is in its waning days....in most places. Here in "sunny Florida' we're probably in for at LEAST another two months of HOT weather. This summer has been a hot one most places, and I'm sure we'll all be glad for autumn to arrive after all of this heat, but in January's cold and gloom most of us will probably wax poetic back to these days of sun, heat and hanging out by the beach or pool. When our family does this, we like to grill. Personally, I think there's nothing better than the beach, and grilling on the beach (where allowed) just makes perfection even MORE perfect! But backyard grilling is probably the easiest, since everything's at hand. While my husband and I both love seafood, and especially grilled seafood, he tends toward loving to throw a big fat steak on the grill. It's affectionately known as "man food" at our house. I like to pay special attention to the salad whenever it's a "man food night" because that's what I tend to concentrate on. I like steak...just not in mass quantities.

I stumbled upon this method for grilling steak when reading an Italian cookbook. In Italy, they often marinade a steak AFTER it's been grilled. In a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and thyme. Measurements are unimportant, just for an average to large size steak measure out about 1/4 c. olive oil, the juice of one to one and a half medium sized lemons and several sprigs of fresh thyme. If you can't find fresh thyme, use about 2 tsps of dried. But trust me, the fresh thyme is going to be better. Mix all the ingredients together and place in a shallow pan. When you remove the steak from the grill, immediately place it in this pan, for about 1-2 minutes per side. Squeeze about a half a lemon over the top and serve.

Now onto the salad. In several local restaurants they serve this salad that we also refer to as "man salad" because of it's size--but it's real name is "Wedge Salad". My husband's not all that fond of it-not because of the taste but because of the way it's served (he totally ruins the presentation by hacking it all to pieces)....but seriously I think it ROCKS. It's awesome for serving next to steaks, grilled seafood, anything really. But the even better thing about this salad is it can stand alone, for a great lunch. It's fun, its presentation is fabulous and it's easy to make. I got this recipe from my friend (and my ONLY Blog follower to date) Rachel Viera. Thanks, Rachel, for this contribution. Rachel loves to cook and I'm looking forward to sharing many recipes of hers with you in the future. So here is Rachel's recipe (and it's great..I might add...had it last night) for "Wedge Salad" (aka in the Lowe house "man salad). Give it a try tonight...you are going to LOVE it! (and thanks again, Rachel, love YOU too!!)

Wedge Salad

Take a head of iceberg lettuce and cut it into quarters, place each "wedge" on a plate.

Dressing:
3 T. white wine vinegar
1 small onion finely chopped
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. crumbled bleu cheese

Mix all ingredients together and pour over the wedges. Rachel recommends placing small baby carrots on the side for added color and presentation (and it does, it looks really pretty) but I have to say that they also taste great when dipped into the extra dressing.

So in the waning days of summer, when you're wanting to enjoy that grill just a few more times (we can do it year round here, but I recognize that a lot of people cannot) give that Tuscan Steak Marinade a try, and serve it alongside of Rachel's Wedge Salad. Great meal, some fantastic flavors and both are super easy to make.

Today's food quote: "Food is our common ground. A universal experience" James Beard

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More lunchbox favorites

I have SO much going on right now, but it's for this very reason that planning ideas for the girls' school lunches when school starts next week is so very important. Having things on-hand, to make sure they eat nutritious lunches is really important to me.

So here, once again, are some quick ideas for lunchbox items:

Puree black beans or pinto beans (or you can buy canned refried beans). Spread on a tortilla (whole wheat for more nutrition) and top with salsa and chopped lettuce. Also grated cheedar cheese if desired. Roll tightly and you have a completely balanced, nutritious lunch. Avocado tastes great on this as well, but I'd only use that if you were making this for an afternoon snack, as putting it in a lunchbox will cause it to turn brown by the time lunch rolls around....still tastes great, but kids don't consider it very appetizing.

Whole grain crackers, spread with cheese(s) or peanut butter are a great sandwich alternative. Kids love them.

If your kids are like mine they love pizza. They'll eat it hot or cold. You can make a pizza for dinner, topped with your choice of toppings, and refrigerate the left-overs and wrap pieces in foil for a lunchbox treat the next day.

Wonton wrappers from your local supermarket, stuffed with chopped vegetables, potato, or ground or chopped meat can be quickly deep fried in a pan and are great the next day (refrigerate after making) in a lunchbox served with a container of your choice of dip. Along this same line, for a "sweet treat", place a small scoop of nutella or peanut butter in the center of a wonton wrapper, fold over and seal with an egg wash and deep fry. Top with confectioner's sugar and you have a great treat for lunchbox or after school.

Today's food quote: "There's something I've noticed about food: whenever there's a crisis if you can get people to eat normally things get better: Madeleine L'Engle

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The inside secret on a Disney favorite

One of my favorite places to eat at Disney (and there are a LOT of them, believe me, Disney knows how to do a LOT of things right, but food is at the top of their list) is Le Cellier Steakhouse. Le Cellier is located in World Showcase at Epcot, in the Canadian section. Every year, during Disney's Food and Wine Festival, I am breathless with the anticipation of having.....Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup. I know that I'm supposed to be sharing lunchbox ideas with you....but today I'm not going to. I have a yearning to share something that makes me feel warm, cozy and safe. And that something is, Le Cellier's Soup. My husband even went out of his way to bring me a bowl of this when I was sick. Had to pull a lot of strings to do it, but not as many as it took for me to get my hands on this recipe (and a few other "Disney Favorites" too, I might add, but we'll save those for other times)

Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup, Le Cellier, Epcot:

1/2 lb. bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (use kitchen scissors, makes it much faster and a LOT easier)
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
3 celery ribs, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
4 T. butter
1 c. all purpose flour
3 c. chicken stock
4 c. milk (whole milk)
1 lb. white cheddar cheese, grated (you can usually find this in the deli section of your supermarket)
1 T. Tabasco sauce
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 c. warm beer
Chopped scallions or chives for garnish

In a 4 or 5 qt. Dutch oven or large pot cook the bacon, stirring, over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned.
Add the red onion, celery, and butter and saute for about 5 minutes, or until the onion has softened.

Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes over medium heat. Whisk in the chicken stock and bring to a boil for a minute. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally

Add the milk and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Do NOT boil after you add the milk.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper until the cheese is melted ad the soup is smooth. Stir in the warm beer. If the soup is too thick, thin with some warm milk.

Serve the soup hot, garnished with chopped scallions or chives.

Today's food quote: "The quality of the food experience combined with great service is the foundation to building long-lasting relationships with our guests." Dieter Hannig, former Sr. Vice Pres. WDW Food and Beverage (Dieter, you are, were and always will be one of my heroes at Disney...thanks.....love you)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Add this....and make it even BETTER!

As promised, I'm going to give you a list of things to add to your chicken (or tuna) salad to make it taste different...and maybe even better!

I love both chicken and tuna salads, but it was only recently that I could get my girls to eat them. I'm now slowing introducing them to new and exciting "additions" to jazz up their (formerly boring) salads. Here's a list for you, and if you have one YOU use that's not on the list...please share...that's how the best recipes happen...they get passed along. Feel free to use as many of these in your recipes for chicken and tuna salad as you like...the more the merrier! (and more interesting!)--adding two or three or more of the items below will really give a kick to an everyday lunchbox staple.

chopped black or green olives
chopped green chilis (drain well)
chopped jalapenos
chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds, or pistachios
chives
finely diced mango
finely chopped and seeded tomatoes, or halved grape tomatoes
frozen peas (slightly thawed)
finely diced scallions
grapes, halved
finely diced apples (I like using the granny smith variety for this)
chopped boiled egg
very finely diced pineapple (you can use can crushed pineapple, but be SURE to drain VERY well)
finely diced cucumber
finely chopped zucchini
cilantro, very finely chopped (this is one of my favorites)
a VERY small pinch of red pepper flakes
salad shrimp
diced avocados
finely chopped celery
diced onions
diced hard white cheeses

For dressings, we have used everything from the traditional "mayo" to miracle whip, ranch dressing, etc. I've often mixed some Bleu Cheese with mayo, or even some thousand island dressing. Adding some other type of salad dressing to your mayo can really spice up the flavor. If you're using the crushed pineapple listed above, why not use a bit of the juice in your mayo? Play around a bit, it's the best way to come up with something awesome.

Hope this gives you some ideas for giving your chicken/tuna salad a little variation. Be sure to share if you have some ideas that aren't on this list.

Today's food quote: "Food is not about impressing people. It's about making them feel comfortable." Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lunchtime, Snacktime...any time at all!

Today I'm making my girls some Rice Krispie treats (ok, ok...so I'm making them for me too). I have no problem with my kids eating them, as opposed to, say, potato chips or store bought cookies...since they're made with cereal (unsweetened), which provides fiber, real butter, and marshmallows. Food that are simple, with the fewest ingredients possible, are the best in my opinion; whether they be "sweet treats" or otherwise.

In keeping with providing you with ideas for lunchboxes and "afterschool" snacks I have decided today to go with one of my all time favorites, celery and to show you how many things you can STUFF into it.

Besides the obvious, peanut butter, (to which you can, I might add, put some raisins on top; my kids called that "bugs on a log"), I also love the following:

pimento cheese (if you don't want to make your own, which is a jar of cheese spread (found in the aisle alongside the parmesan---it's a small jar) and a small jar of pimentos, chopped, you can buy it ready made in most grocery stores. My favorite ready-made one is from the Publix deli (I feel so completely sorry for my "Yankee" friends who have no Publix in their neighborhood to go to. Such a travesty. But I digress....;)

Nutella (a chocolate hazelnut spread with the same consistency of peanut butter)--it's heaven. Also almond butter and cashew butter are good too.

hummus

brie

cream cheese (Kraft makes so many flavors, it's a veritable BUFFET for celery stuffing)

chopped apples mixed into some caramel apple dip (yup...it's REALLY good in celery and kids LOVE it). You can even top this with some very finely chopped pecans.

egg salad

tuna or chicken salad (tomorrow I'm going to give you a BUNCH of things to put into your chicken salad to make it even more appealing and MUCH less boring)

ricotta cheese (you can mix in some chopped fruit and it's absolutely lovely)

mascarpone cheese (should be flavored with something like chopped fruits or vegetables--maybe some spices like cinnamon if you're adding fruits, or a pinch of salt, even celery salt is nice, and/or some red pepper flakes for a bit of "heat")

Kids love finger food (who doesn't, really--that's one of the reasons so many parties serve it!!) and so finding ways to give them things they can easily eat, that are fun, is a good way to "jazz up" a school lunch--and even your work lunch as well!!

Today's food quote: "If we don't permit to earth to produce beauty and joy, it will, in the end not produce any food either." Joseph Krutch

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sweets to the sweet...

Heavens, such a busy day!! I almost never post this late but have spent the entire day just running and rushing, so I apologize for the lateness of this post.

As promised, here is a treat for lunchboxes or after-school snacks. No one's ever going to complain about getting one of these. They provide a quick burst of energy and I've even used this snack for a breakfast on the run, along with a cup of milk.

Rocky Road Crunch Bars

1 stick plus 1 T soft unsalted butter
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces (I've also used "almost" a full bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, if I'm out of bar baking chocolate)
1/4 c. corn syrup
8 ounces plain, hard crunchy cookies (for this, my particular favorite is English tea biscuits....they are the perfect consistency, the perfect flavor, and the price is always awesomely economical...you can usually find them either in the "ethnic" food aisle, or along with the cookies----if you CAN'T find them...I would recommend vanilla wafers)
2 c. mini marshmallows
2 tsp powdered sugar

Melt butter, chocolate and syrup in a heavy based saucepan. Scoop out about 1/2 c. of this melted mixture and put aside.

Put the biscuits/cookies into a freezer bag and then bash them with a rolling pin. You are looking for both crumbs and pieces of cookies, so don't "pulverize" them completely.

Fold the cookie pieces and crumbs into the melted chocolate mixture, and then add the marshmallows. Pour into a 9 inch square foil tray (if you use one of your own pans, these can be difficult to remove...so a foil pan actually works better, I buy mine at the Dollar Store-- however, if you do not want to invest in the foil pan..just REALLY spray your pan WELL with Pam or butter it a LOT), flatten as best you can with a spatula. Pour over the reserved 1/2 c. of melted chocolate mixture and smooth the top.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Cut into 24 "fingers" and dust with powdered sugar by pushing it gently through a tea strainer or small sieve.

Today's food quote: "Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food" Hippocrates

Recommended cooking tool: I think a small (or medium sized) sieve is an absolute must. With a small one you can drain sauces and dressings, sift flour, confectioner's sugar or brew tea. A medium sized one can lift and drain pasta from a pan of boiling water---you can dip it right out of the pot and drain it at the same time (tip in a tip....if you're making your own sauce of olive oil, butter or aioli, always use about a half cup of the pasta water when you add the pasta to the sauce and toss..it helps the sauce to stick to the pasta..due to all of the carbohydrates in the water.

Happy cooking!!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Great lunchbox/lunchtime idea!

So we're working on making nutritious, fast and easy ideas for the kids' lunchboxes. Yesterday's was a "fun one" so today I'm going to opt for something a bit more substantial, and good for you. Everything in moderation (tomorrow's will be a sweet, I promise..:) after all the kids have to have DESSERT! LOL)

This pita filling made with chicken is also great in a wrap or simply put into a tupperware and eaten with a fork. Those plastic containers made by Glad are great (sold in the plastic bag, foil aisle) and inexpensive. If they don't happen to make it back home in the kids' lunchbox, it's really not that big of a deal. Coupled with plastic silverware it's a good idea. I've even seen people use the plastic silverware and then put the salad into a ziploc bag and...at lunchtime...simply unzip the bag and eat!, then everything can go straight into the trash! Depends on how "green" you are at your house.

Cool Chicken Pita

2 c. honeydew melon
1 c. finely chopped cucumber
1 c. finely chopped zucchini
1/4 c. thinly sliced green onions
2 c. shredded chicken (this can be from a deli rotisserie chicken breast, leftover chicken, or even the canned variety; make sure it's white meat chicken breast and that you drain very well and shred well if you're using the canned.)
1/3 c. lime juice
2 T. canola oil
2 T. water
2 T. snipped fresh mint (optional)
1 T. sugar
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

In large bowl toss together the honeydew, cucumber, zuccini, green onions and chicken

For dressing...in a container with a lid (tightly fitting)combine lime juice, oil, water, mint, sugar and pepper. Cover and shake well. Drizzle dressing over the melon mixture and toss lightly to coat.

If using as a sandwich filler slice pita breads in half, split open carefully and fill, or you can place into the middle of a "wrap" and then roll TIGHTLY...then slice in half; on the diagonal. If making to use as sandwiches this will make between 4-6.

Today's food quote: "Ask a child what he wants for dinner only if he's buying" Fran Lebowitz.

Recommended kitchen tool: invest in good knives for slicing and chopping. It's usually not a good idea to buy the "knife set"..and the ones that come already in a chopping block are often even worse. Start small. Buy a good paring knife and a good chopping knife. Later you can add a serrated knife for slicing breads, a filet knive and steak knives. But bad knives end up cutting more people then good, sharp ones do. Also, get cutting boards that can go directly into the dishwasher, as the hotter water temperature can sterilize them. I have a large wooden cutting board for cutting pizzas, etc. But make sure you don't EVER chop or cut anything on a cutting board after you've cut up any type of raw meat on it. Bad idea....really dangerous....but you probably already knew that. :)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back to School fun and snacks!

It's that time again! Time for the kids to go back to school. Down here in Florida we only have about a dozen days left of summer vacation, so I thought this would be the perfect time to get out, dust off and share the recipes for home-made, wholesome snacks that can not only travel in a lunch box but also are great when those hungry kids get off the school bus!! My two girls get home a little after 2 p.m. so, since they don't always take a lunch to school, they are REALLY hungry when they get home. From now until the first day of school (August 23rd for us) I'm going to share recipes for lunchboxes, treats and after school snacks. These are fun to make WITH your kids, and most are easy enough that older kids can make them by themselves.

My first recipe is...I must admit....my favorite. It's called "hokey pokey", which I've found out is the Cornish term for "honeycomb"; exactly what this honey colored confection looks like. To me, it's as much fun to make as it is to eat...and it's pretty fun to eat. It makes a nice hostess gift packaged up in a pretty tin box, or....the crumbles that are sometimes left over taste FABULOUS on vanilla ice cream. Unfortunately, this recipe makes a very small amount....but since it's basically "candy" i's just as well. Because of the steps involved I wouldn't recommend doubling it, but it just means you and the kids can have fun FREQUENTLY! It's fast, inexpensive to make, easy (only 3 ingredients!) and even, to some extent, fascinating to watch. To kids it's a chemistry experiment that tastes AWESOME!!

Hokey Pokey

1/2 c. sugar
4 T dark corn syrup
1 1/2 tsp baking soda

Put the sugar and corn syrup into a saucepan and stir together to mix. This is an important step because you can't stir once the pan's on the heat...so matter how much you're tempted..DON'T STIR IT ONCE IT'S ON THE HEAT!! :). You can swirl the pan, but move all spoons and other implements completely out of your reach.

Place the pan on the heat and let the mixture first melt, then turn to "goo", and then a bubbling mass the color of maple syrup. This entire process takes about 3 minutes. If you want to make sure that you've reached the right stage, take a very small amount of the liquid and drop it into a glass of very cold water...it should solidify immediately into a very hard "string". If it doesn't...wait a bit longer and then try again.

Once you've reached that stage, take it off the heat and whisk in the baking soda. (This is the GOOD part! watch the syrup turn into this WHOOSHING cloud of airy pale gold). Turn this immediately out onto a sheet that has been covered with either baking parchment (preferred) or aluminum foil.

Leave until set...then (again this is fun, gets out pent up aggression) bash at it so that it splinters into many pieces.

This stuff is addicting. You will find yourself "snitching" pieces of it, even though you've told yourself you are making it "for the kids".

Today's food quote: "Watermelon...it's a good fruit..you eat, you drink, you wash your face" anonymous 5 year old.

Recommended cooking tool: Baking Parchment paper. I know I've mentioned parchment paper in a few of my other recipes. I think it's pretty great stuff. It can be found in the same grocery store aisle as (and is made by the same companies as) aluminum foil, saran wrap and waxed paper. Food comes off the baking sheets MUCH easier and clean up is also MUCH easier. An inexpensive time saver...and if you hate scrubbing sticky messy pans, it's an inexpensive SANITY saver as well. As Paula Deen would say, "git yourself some, ya'll"

Also in the next few days we're going to discuss school cafeteria nutrition and why I think it STINKS!! It's hard to get kids (older ones) to want to carry a lunch when the cafeterias are serving stuff like pizza and cheeseburgers and fries, but...if you get them INVOLVED in choosing nutritious foods and preparing them, I guarantee they will change their tunes. I watched a show recently where a group of kindergarten children could NOT identify 80% of the vegetables being shown to them. They did NOT know that a french fry came from a potato, or that ketchup came from tomatoes. Let's change that, shall we? In over 50% of the school cafeteria lunches, when preparing a lunch that they consider BALANCED...ketchup is considered a vegetable. I see absolutely NOTHING wrong with giving kids treats...as long as the rest of the foods they're eating are good, wholesome and nutritious.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What's for dinner? Ravioli, with a twist!

Tonight it's going to be just Dan and I for dinner. Cassie has to work, and Bella is with a friend. I don't know if you're like me, but typically, when that happens, we try to have something that WE like but the girls may not. Tonight, however, I'm going to make my Ravioli with Browned Balsamic Butter sauce---since I don't want to do all the thawing, cooking, etc. that's involved with cooking a meal when it's just going to be us two.

So here's the recipe....it's quick, it's fast, it's inexpensive...and it's great for a summer time meal.

Ravioli with Balsamic Browned Butter

18-20 oz store bought package of frozen ravioli (cheese, mushroom, squash, sausage, whatever it is that you like)
6-8 T. unsalted butter (I use the entire stick of butter to make this sauce, because I like my pasta "saucy" but if you don't, then cut back to the 6T)
2 T. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c. toasted chopped walnuts (you can toast regular walnuts yourself, in a 350 oven for 5-7 minutes, if you don't want to buy already toasted ones....if you do it yourself it tastes, and is, a lot fresher)
1/4 c. grated parmesan

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the ravioli and cook for 4-5 minutes, until tender but still firm to the bite (al dente), stirring occasionally. Drain the ravioli onto a large serving platter.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan cook the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. It will begin to "foam". When the foam subsides, and the butter begins to turn a nice golden brown (about 3 minutes), turn off the heat. Let cool for about 1 minute. Stir in teh balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

Transfer the ravioli to the a large bowl, cover with the sauce and toss lightly. Sprinkle the walnuts and parmesan over the top. serve immediately.

This is one dish that does not work well as a leftover, so make only about as much as you know you're going to eat at one meal. But it is seriously awesome...has a very unique flavor. Nice to try different sauces with pasta instead of the usual marinara and alfredo ones that are so often used.

Today's food quote: Kind of a twist today, but I thought it appropriate (in view of the recipe) and interesting. In Italy someone who is a good eater is known as "una buona forchetta"---a good fork.

Recommendation: If you are a fan of Italy and Italian cuisine as I am, and love to read (as I do) please read "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is due to be released as a movie--starring Julia Roberts....but please read the book first. Awesome stuff.

Have a great day...wherever you may be. Today, here in Florida, it's raining (and we sorely need the rain) but if you look outside you can turn in 360 degrees and see an almost total spectrum....sunshine in once direction, sky that's streaked cloudy blue in another, gray and dreary to the next, and then the dark, dark black that signals an incoming storm. Pretty interesting and awe inspiring stuff if I do say so myself. In any case, wherever you are, have a great day....go ahead and cook something...create something....Eat....pray.....LOVE.

Monday, August 9, 2010

more uses for those leftovers!!

A couple weeks ago we had company for dinner and I made chicken. I'm not a big FAN of chicken so there was quite a bit left. I removed all of the white meat, chopped it up and put it into a freezer bag in the freezer. Last night I got out that bag of chicken, some leftover gravy and mashed potatoes, and some corn. I diced up a carrot and a regular potato and cooked them in the microwave until done.

Then, I took a package of prepared pie crust from the refrigerator. I've found that is one thing I like always to have on hand. There are SO many things you can do with it besides just make fruit pies. I took two "bean pot/French onion soup" dishes and buttered them If you're not sure, these are the type of soup "pots" you can place directly into the oven. I then took the two prepared pie crusts and placed them into each of the soup pots, letting the excess come up over the sides. Placing the diced chicken into the bottom, I then added some corn, some of the carrot/potato mixture, some diced small cubes of butter and salt and pepper. I topped them with some of the mashed potatoes I had warmed in the oven. I then folded the excess pie crust over the top and gave the tops an "egg wash" (brushing with lightly beaten egg). Into a 375 oven for about 35 minutes and they came out warm, bubbly and a perfect dinner for Bella and myself. The rest of the chicken is going to be made into a chicken salad (for sandwiches) today, with some chopped red onion, cilantro, and celery. Using up leftovers is, I think, one of the best and most rewarding things you can manage to do, especially in today's economy. If you can cook something for one meal, and get another (or sometimes two more) meals out of it...it's an awesome thing.

Today's food quote: "I was 32 when I started cooking...up until then I just ate" Julia Child

Recommended cooking tool: those little bean pot/french onion soup pots are AWESOME. You can do almost anything with them, and the fact that they can go directly into the oven and then to the table makes them convenient and versatile. I have even baked individual apple "pies" in them. Basically just some pie crust, butter, sugar, cinnamon and diced apples covered with that great refrigerated pie crust. To make it easier and even faster, you can simply core a whole apple, fill the core opening with sugar, butter and cinnamon and then cover that up with pie crust. It's a good idea to pierce the apple in a couple places to allow for steam to escape.
I like to make my own pie crust, but sometimes...if you have a quick idea you want to just whip up, it's good to be able to grab, unroll and get GOING!!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

As promised, let's use up the rest of yesterday's phyllo dough!!

OK...so yesterday we used 1/2 of a package of frozen phyllo dough to make Karis' "Phyllo Wrapped Asparagus". I promised to give you a recipe today to use the other half of that package (personally I HATE wasting things). This is a dessert, sweet-type snack so in reality, if you were having a party, and wanted to make the phyllo wrapped asparagus for an appetizer or vegetable side dish you could ALSO make this for the dessert. Your call.

Chocolate Purses

unwrap the phyllo and cut into squares. Each square should ideally have about 3-4 layers of phyllo sheets to it. These squares should be about 4-6 inches across. Remember to keep a damp dishtowel over the phyllo you're not working with to keep it moist. Place a chocolate "Hershey kiss" into the middle of the square and then wrap it up around it (sort of like a "kiss" shape or a purse). Twist to keep closed. Do the same with the remaining phyllo. Beat an egg into a small dish and brush each "purse" with the egg. Sprinkle with a small abount of sugar. Place in 350 oven for about 10-15 minutes (or until golden brown). Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

I also use "puff pastry" and Hershey bars to make "chocolate croissants" for my daughters (in a "pinch" you can even use refrigerated crescent rolls). If you're using puff pastry just cut into squares (slightly larger than the ones you'd use for the chocolate purses) and then cut each square in half---triangularly. place a small square of chocolate at the wide end and then roll up, croissant style. Pinch each end tightly so no chocolate escapes. Egg wash each one and dust with a small amount of sugar. Bake in a 375 oven for 11-13 minutes. If you're using refrigerated cresent rolls just unroll, place the square of chocoate on the wide end and roll up--egg wash and sugar dust as well. Follow the package directions for baking these. Great for brunches, parties, or just a nice breakfast.

Today's food quote: "Food is a lot like romance....the very stuff of dreams" Nigella Lawson

Recommended cooking tool: Good rubber spatulas. (I believe that Rachael Ray calls them "spoonulas", but you get the idea). Pampered Chef sells them that are heat resistant up to very high heat...500 degrees I believe (but don't quote me). They can then be used for stirring and scraping, and are very safe to use in non-stick cookware. I currently have a Pampered Chef one, and also two by Paula Deen and all are absolutely great. I do not wash them in the dishwasher (again the high water temp and heat drying tends to break them down). I know that alot of my cooking tools I advise against washing in the dishwasher, but I honestly believe that if you invest in good cookware it's worth it to spend the extra time taking excellent care of it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

In honor of Karis.....

My daughter, Karis, recently moved to Virginia. I miss her TERRIBLY and so today have decided to share one of HER recipes (she's an awesome cook, by the way). This recipe was one she made for a couple of years for our annual "Academy Awards Night" bash. It's great for an appetizer, a snack or even a very elegant side dish.
Karis, I miss you, here's your

Phyllo Wrapped Asparagus
8 or 9 asparagus spears, depending on size
1/2 (16 oz) package frozen phyllo dough sheets, thawed
1/4 c. butter, melted
1/4 finely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375. Snap (or cut, if you need them all of uniform size, which for this particular recipe is a good idea) off the tough ends of the asparagus (a good way to find where this is to take a spear in your hands and bend it. It will almost always break at the end of the tough part, which is known as "the first break". You can then line the rest up accordingly and cut to uniform size)
Unwrap the phyllo and cut the stack in half lengthwise. Reserve 1 stack for later use. (tomorrow I'll give you a GREAT recipe for dessert using the rest of this phyllo!!) Cover the phyllo with a damp towel to keep it from drying out (you won't be able to work with it if it dries out...and trust me it dries out FAST). Take one sheet of phyllo and brush lightly with some melted butter. Sprinkle with some Parmesan sheese. Place 2 or 3 asparagus spears on the short end of the sheet. Roll up jelly roll style. Place each piece, seam side down on a baking sheet. Brush with more melted butter and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Repeat until all asparagus spears are used up. Place baking sheet in oven and bake for 15 to 18 miknutes or until golden brown and crispy.

Notes: this recipe is easily enlarged. Just add more asparagus spears, melt a bit more butter and use more grated Parmesan. Also, I would keep to using asparagus spears of a medium to large size. The smaller spears (thinner around than say...a pencil, don't hold up well to baking..they get really tough.)

Today's food quote: "Sacred cows make the best hamburger" Mark Twain

Recommended cooking tool: some REALLY good non-stick baking sheets. Although my aunt once told me, "I never trust a women with nice shiny cookie sheets" I think that pans with good quality non stick surfaces are a godsend in the kitchen. They will (the nonstick surfaces) break down over time and need to be replaced. Try never to use the non-stick sprays on your really good non-stick pans, believe it or not they form a build up and can burn, damage the non stick coating and even aid in the scratching of your cookware. If you have things you want to use non-stick sprays on, get a couple lesser expensive sheets for that. But use good nonstick sheets for your baking. If you can't afford to invest in them right now (and I can SURE understand that!! believe me!) use parchment paper when baking, or "sil-pat" (silicone) sheets. If using silpat sheets, never put them in the dishwasher, wash and dry them by hand. They will break down over time as well, and need replacing. Probably the cheapest, easiest and best route if you're going to forego the new nonstick pans is to use parchment paper.

Good luck in Virginia, Karis. We love you, we miss you (AND your cooking, but mostly you, ;) lol) and I can't wait to see you and cook with you again. You've made your momma proud.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sunday's dinner, Monday's supper

My favorite thing is to have a nice "Sunday dinner". I used to love it even more if all my kids could be there, but with everyone going their own way and leading their own lives, jobs, etc. that seems to get less and less frequent. Still, whenever I can make one of those great, old-time Southern Sunday dinners I just really enjoy myself. Yesterday was one of those days. We had a great Smithfield ham, some fresh vegetables and and potatoes.

My "Sunday Ham" (also known in our house as "Easter Ham") is from a recipe I got from a woman who was from North Carolina. She cooks her ham in a mixture of Coca-Cola, orange juice, honey and water. I loved listening to her when she told me the recipe (not written down, of course, just "a touch of this, or a bit of that"). My favorite was her saying, "I cook the meat in "co-cola", honey...the caffeine and the sugar in there just tenderizes the livin' DAYLIGHTS outta the meat" I've done it both in the oven and in the crock pot and either way tastes great. I usually use one can of Coke, one 8 oz glass of orange juice and about 1/4 c. of honey. I add just a touch of water to blend the honey into the other liquids, it doesn't take much. If you're cooking it in the oven, I'd recommend about 3-4 hours for a 7 or 8 pound ham, and if I do it in the crock pot, I leave it cooking all day, on low.

There was some ham left over on the bone yesterday, and luckily, in my pantry, I had two partial bags of beans; one was Great Northern Beans and the other was Navy beans. I rinsed the beans and then soaked them for about an hour. Then I added them into a pot with the ham bone, covered them with water, added a few carrots, two diced up raw potatoes, some chopped onion and a garlic clove. I let THAT cook all day on the stove (again on low) and together with some fresh bread and a salad, Sunday dinner became Monday supper.

Take care in seasoning a ham when you first cook it, sometimes they can be quite salty and other times..not. Yesterday's turned out to be not salty at all, so in making today's soup I made sure to salt it, added a generous helping of pepper, some cumin, some tabasco sauce (just a few "slugs" of the bottle) and that's about it!!

Keeping your pantry stocked can be a good idea, especially if you have something you want to do with leftovers, it's good to have staples on hand (like beans....also pastas, jars of sauce, etc) and then you can save yourself a trip to the store.

Today's food quote: "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." Virginia Woolf

To be honest, I don't know if anyone is actually READING this! lol, but in truth I'm doing it for my children. I love leaving then tips, tricks and recipes and if they're the only ones reading it that's perfectly fine with me. If others are getting any fun, enjoyment or inspiration out of it, so much the better. I had so many relatives, from so many different cultures that taught me how to cook, told me stories of food, what it meant, why it was called what it was. It kind of saddens me to think that today's family eats mostly processed foods, or fast foods. It is sad to think that people don't gather together in the kitchen, share recipes, swap stories and pass on to each other what they've learned. I hope others feel the same way.

Keep on cooking......it's just one of a number of really great things we can pass on down the line.