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Saturday
Aug202011

At the beach and Coconut Cake

My husband says I can over-complicate a chicken sandwich.  

The first time I spent the day with him and Grace, The Girl (pictured below), I invited them to a beach picnic at Hammonasset.  I had snacks, appetizers, hot food, champagne, sparkling pink lemonade, champagne glasses and dessert. 

Too much? 

That was just the food.  I also brought an 8 foot umbrella, towels to sit on, towels to dry off with, a cooler, a grocery bag, three chairs, and a table, and plates and utensils.  All matching.  Oh, and a garden trowel to dig out the sand for the umbrella. 

Chris still insists that I bring more to the beach than Hannibal brought when he crossed the Alps, but I think I’ve cut down.  Mostly on the amount of food and beverages.  Not because I want to, but because it’s really hard to bring Coconut Cake to the beach.

Tuesday
Aug232011

The Muster and Cherry Sangria

 

Chris and I host an "after the Muster" picnic on our porch this summer.  The Deep River Ancient Muster has been an event since 1934, hosting more than 150 Fife and Drum Corps from all over the world.  The past few years have taken their toll on the participation.  The parade, which is our favorite part, is still two hours of heart pounding drum rolls and cannon fire.  It's always the hottest day of the year, so after the parade, we usually want something cold and refreshing, and this year we made Cherry Sangria.  I took the leftovers, strained out the fruit and froze the remainder for another event.

Thursday
Sep082011

August 28, 2011: Irene MacGyver

When my husband and I first started dating on a steady basis, we would spend the work week apart and the entire weekend together, mostly at my house in Stony Creek.  Inevitably, we ran out of restaurant dining options on weekends when I had not planned on cooking dinner at home.  Not daunted by lack of a plan, I usually find something I can throw together.  Chris couldn't fathom the idea that I could dig a few ingredients out of the freezer and pantry and put together a meal.  That’s bachelorhood for you. 

After a couple of these thrown together meals, he said to me, What are you?  MacGyver?”

Now, I never watched that series, so I had no idea what he was talking about, and for those of you who don’t either, the premise of this series was a secret agent who carried around nothing but duct tape and a Swiss army knife and got himself out of all kinds of predicaments with a few common objects he found lying around. 

Chris:  “You have string, a tin can, a tomato, bacon and a spatula and you come up with chicken saltimbocca!”

Now, I can cook just about anything with tomatoes, bacon and some onions and garlic.  So, my skills were put to the test this past week.  Hurricane Irene, by the time she got to Connecticut, wasn’t even a Hurricane anymore.   But that didn’t stop her from wrecking complete havoc in New England.  Once we got our power restored, we found out there were many, many less fortunate than ourselves.  Loss of life, loss of home, loss of livelihood with no recompense.  Our thoughts and whatever we can do to help, are with them.

For more than a week, we had no power and no running water.  That’s what you get in New England when you have a well.  I spent my day just trying to bath, feed us, and flush a toilet when we needed to.

Chris got called into work under a great deal of pressure from Corporate Headquarters.  He’s not a First Responder, nor is he a utility worker like our next door neighbor who worked more than 100 hours in that week.  He’s in the marine business.   So, while I was hauling water up the stairs to flush toilets and throwing spoiled food out of the freezer, he was waiting on some clown who came into the store because he didn’t have the right boom vang, gib line and roller furling swizzle sticks for his sailboat.

So, what did I cook?  I have no photos.  It’s hard to take pictures in the dark.  I will re-create some of those recipes because they are some of my favorite end-of-summer dishes.   

I had an empty refrigerator, but I’m planbed on Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin and Peanut Slaw, Amatriciana, South Florida Seafood Stew and Grace’s favorite soup.  Oh, and the post I was planning for the day of the storm, from our dinner party the previous evening, which we cancelled.  Seafood Francese and Sparkling Pinot Grigio.  Disclaimer:  the contents of this refridgerator are for medicinal purposes only.  Do not try this at home.

Tuesday
Sep132011

Seafood Francaise and a Mandatory State of Panic

We were anticipating having guests the night before Hurricane Irene.  

We had planned Seafood Francese with a sparkling Pinot Grigio.  I wanted to try it out the week before as I had never made this dish and don’t like to use dinner parties as test kitchens.    

I purchased a small amount of fish, shrimp and scallops and invited my Dad for lunch to be taste tester, prior to taking the pictures for my post.

Good thing, or you would never have seen this dish.

For several days prior to August 28th, the hype and build up of the Hurricane threat waged on.  All of the computer models on all of the news stations showed Her heading right for us.  The Weather Channel predicted an unprecedented storm.  Just like they did for Hurricane Ike last summer.   Ike evaporated into nothing more than a nasty summer storm, even though the supermarket shelves were devoid of water, bread and milk.

That Saturday morning the threat level started to escalate and speed up.  We got no less than 6 pre-recorded emergency messages on each phone line, from the First Selectmen of our town, warning us to stay off the roads from 9pm to 3pm the following day.  Then the Governor goes on TV and issues a travel ban for all roads, saying, “If you are out on the road, you will be stopped.”

Chris:  “The Governor has issued a Mandatory State of Panic”

Me:  “Should we cancel dinner?”

We did.  Chris and I stayed up and watched Hurricane footage until about 11:30pm and then went to bed.  We lost power about 30 minutes after that, and got our power back 8 days later, about 30 minutes after we got our brand new generator started.

After that, we had planned a short getaway for the Labor Day weekend, and when we got back, Summer was gone.   Time to put away the crisp whites and the ocean and sky blues, and do some fall cleaning.

Tuesday
Sep202011

Sparkling Pinot Grigio

This particular wine was a gift from a friend who gets to Trader Joe's outside of CT on a regular basis.  (In Connecticut, TJ is not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages).  We loved it so much, that when she finds it, she picks up a case for us.  At $4.99 a bottle, we can afford to do that.  We have tried to source it elsewhere, but it must be one of those Trader Joe's exclusives, much like Two Buck Chuck.  It is exactly as described, a fresh, light Pinot Grigio with a generous fizz to it. 

Wonderful in the Summer with fresh fish.

Monday
Jul232012

Market Day

I had hoped to find some interesting glassware in Italy, but it turns out we were in Ceramic-town, not Venice.  

We were inundated with shop after shop, all offering brightly colored ceramics, Limoncello, and pepperoncini.   You just get numb to it, because there is another shop selling the same thing just 10 yards down the street.

I was interested in going to Market Day, and arranged to go with the Chef, Angelo, to the Friday Market Day in Maiori. 

Can you say “Flea Market” in Italian?  It was more like the swap meet in Orange Country, or the Big Pine Key Flea Market in Florida.  Tents filled with tube socks, cheap Italian speedo underwear, sunglasses and plastic wallets.

But then we got to Ravello.  A charming, mountaintop town, centered on a perfect piazza of cafés, shops selling beautiful and unique Italian goods, and two magnificent ancient villas.  Villa Giobrani and Villa Rufulo. 

I managed to hobble all the way up the nearly ½ mile of stairs it takes to get to the Villa Giobrani, passing by some exquisite shops containing Italian knits and textiles, and ceramics.  You would think I would have been numb to the whole ceramic thing, but when you finally get to see something that is truly beautiful and very high quality, it practically jumps into your shopping cart.  At least it did to me. 

We passed by the shops on the way up to the Villa (why carry all that stuff both ways?).  By the time I got to the ristorante, it was time for my pain medication. 

Chris and I sat in the gardens, drinking beautiful drinks, until we got hungry, then made our way back to another ristorante we saw on the way up.  Much less fussy food, and much less expensive. 

Charming.  Outdoors.  Breathtaking views.  Simple food.

After lunch and vino, I now had to continue negotiating down the mountain steps.  However, with the pain medication taking hold, I was now in the perfect frame of mind to shop.  Inhibitions and judgment in low gear, I purchased a linen tablecloth the likes of which I have never seen in this country, and practically screaming to be included in my collection of antique and vintage tablecloths.

 

Ceramics?  

I don’t have the space for every dish set I see, so I’ve learned to use white plates, and dress them up with different linens, flowers and different serving pieces to change the look of my table and countertop.   

Thursday
May302013

The No Fish Zone: Grilled Swordfish Sandwich

My husband would be perfect except for one thing:  he doesn’t eat fish.

Of any kind.

Can’t even stay in the house if I cook it.  Must have been too many frozen fish sticks in Catholic Boys School.

Worse yet, he’s got Grace The Girl thinking along the same lines.   So, if I wanted to have fish as a meal with both of them, I have to cook two meals, and one of them has to be cooked outside.  But I made a discovery recently that all parents of young children should know about:

Me:  “Grace, do you eat fish at home when Mommy makes it?”

Grace: “Yes.”

Me:  “Why do you eat it at home and not here?”

Grace:  “Because there’s nothing else to eat.”

Now there’s a concept.  Unfortunately, it won’t work with Chris.  He will eat scallops and shrimp or lobster on occassion, and I've seen him eat an oyster or two (mostly when we were dating).  But if it has fins and swims, that's his no-fly zone.

I order fish every time we go out for a meal.  Problem is, in New England you get either fried seafood, or you get some chef who tries to prepare fish with all manner of strange ingredients, adding sauces and toppings in an effort to make the menu look like Alice Water’s menu did back in, well, 1980.

“Our special tonight is swordfish, encrusted in potato peels, sautéed with chicken livers and spinach in a balsamic reduction, and served with brandied raisins and okra.” 

That sounds yummy.

When Chris isn’t home for dinner, I either grill fish or I make a simple sauté.  Having lived on the West Coast, I found that many restaurants out there do just that:  prepare it simply, and let the fish stand on its own. 

Now if I can just convert The Girl I might be able to enjoy a Grilled Swordfish Sandwich with my family at home.

Saturday
Jun012013

Crabby Patties: Maryland Style Crabcakes

 That Sponge Bob is a crybaby.”   No kidding. 

It’s not that Sponge Bob’s crabby patties are better than mine.  Or that Mr. Krabbs won't give out the secret recipe.  It’s just that I’ve spoiled everyone to anything but my crabcakes.  No one I know is willing to risk greasy heavy breading, canned ingredients, or heaven knows what other kinds of additives.


It took me many years to perfect them. 

It took me many years to even eat crab. 

My first experience with crab was as a kid when my mother and my aunts made spaghetti and crab sauce, from the local blue crabs available in Connecticut.  Cooked whole in tomato sauce.

(They were from Southern Italy.  Everything was cooked in tomato sauce).   

I couldn’t even stand the smell in the kitchen. 

Years later, I moved to the DC area, home of the Chesapeake Bay Blue Crab.  One of my first social outings was to a crab feast.  A tactile event where whole crabs are steamed in Old Bay and dumped on a brown paper-covered table in front of a group of people with mallets and nut crackers.  

It was all I could do to get down my beer and corn on the cob.

Somehow, someone managed to get me to eat cream of crab and corn soup.  It was all the rage at a restaurant chain in the area called The American Café.  (I have never successfully duplicated that soup, try as I might).  From that point on, I would eat nearly anything with crab in it, as long as someone else picked the crabmeat first.

After I moved to California, I would often visit my cousin and her husband on Kent Island, which is smack in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.  The hunt for the perfect crab cake and the perfect cream of crab soup would continue through my entire visit.

Turns out, I already had the perfect Crab Cake Recipe.   It came out of one of the White House Cookbooks, published during any Presidential administration, and I just happened to have a Clinton Administration copy. 

The first time I made them this season, I sent a plate over to my sister, who was babysitting her grandson.  To convince him to try them, she told him they were Sponge Bob’s crabby patties.

Out of the mouths' of babes.

Saturday
Jun082013

Build a Better Burger: or, the Great Wall of Clinton

It's finally here:  burger season.  Time to take that mess in the kitchen outside. 

Where it belongs.  

That means I also have to clean up the real mess in the kitchen from winter cooking. It took me an entire day to clean our great room and get the Summer Mantle Ready.

After three years in our new house, we have finally scraped together enough money to build our patio.  We now have a solid launch pad for the champagne corks to make it through the tree trunks.

But I digress.

Normally, a patio would not be such an undertaking.   Ours was a feat of engineering driven by our septic system.  That’s right, our septic system.  Turns out, when you are designing your new house, everything is driven off of the worst test hole on your lot, which determines the grade of the leaching field baffles, which determines the grade of the Septic Tank, which determines the pitch of your waste pipe leaving the house, which determines the grade of the foundation of the house, which eventually determines whether you can have a patio or not. 

Our house sits four feet out of grade in the front, and a good half story in the back.  The land is what the land is.  You work around it.  So our lovely wrap-around porch dropped off three to four feet in some spots, which necessitates the need for a railing. 

Which ruins the view.  Can’t have that.

When we made plans for the patio, it had to serve several functions:  it had to eliminate the need for a railing, so it had to be raised up to the level of the porch, or just a step or two down.  It had to be big enough for a grill, a firepit, and a fountain (eventually). 

By the time the landscape designer was done, it was five feet high, 35 feet long, and 12 feet wide.  Every single block had to be leveled.  Every single angle had to be calculated to come up the porch, bear into the mound that houses the septic tank and still have enough pitch to let the water drain off. 

It made me wonder how the Mayans and the Egyptians built their pyramids without a laser level.

Think you might never see The Great Wall of China?  No worries,  just walk through the vineyard and take a look at my back yard.  

So, its Summer.  Best of the produce, the best of the weather, and the start of burger season.  And now that we have a patio we can avoid that awkward time when it’s too cool in the shade, but not cold enough to go inside.

On my first try, I was able to get the cork through the uprights. 

Which brings me to burgers (bleu bacon and italian burgers).  Not just any burgers, but the kind you have to build.  Like a wall.  And just as much work.  But if I had a dollar for every time one of my guests said, “This is The Best Burger I have ever had” I’d have . . .well . . . ok about 10 dollars.  Not quite enough for a patio.  (I only have to make them another 15,990 times.)

Sunday
Jun092013

The Question of Carne: Pork Tenderloin

I really learned to appreciate meat when we were in Italy.  Not Pasta.  Meat.

On several occasions, Margot and I ventured out of the Villa for a meal at a local restaurant.  As these restaurants find themselves in a tourist-rich environment, the menus are printed in Italian with the English translation directly below.  They are categorized as most menus are, as Pasta, Seafood, and “Carne” which is the Italian word for meat.  Under this heading, you’ll see, for instance, something along the lines of “carna alla (something in Italian)” and underneath, “meat with (English translation).” 

Should you find yourself interested in one of these dishes (and me not being a seafood eater), you might want to know more about it (such as what kind of meat it is). 

When the waiter arrived to take our order, it usually went something like this:

Me: “what is the carne alla something?”

Waiter: “Is meat with something”

Me: “What kind of meat”

Waiter: “Si, carne”

Me: “I know, but what kind of carne?”

Waiter: “Si, is meat”

Me: “Yes, but what kind?”

Waiter: “Carne, si.  Is meat.”

You are now in the Italian version of “who’s on first” and the waiter will continue in this manner for as long as you can hold out. 

Eventually I would give up and order the questionable carne (English translation: mystery meat).  I still don’t know what any of it was.  Maybe they don’t know either, or they don’t want you to know.  It may have been beef, pork, veal, or donkey.  Or Soylent Green.

Whatever you order, you have to remember that the pace is much slower in Italy, and after you place your order, kick back, relax and enjoy your wine and the people watching because it may be a bit of a wait until your food arrives. 

When it did, I noticed that the dish would bear a passing resemblance to the description on the menu, but not by much.   But by this time, they figure you will eat whatever they put in front of you, and they’re right.

The odd thing is, I wasn’t thrilled the food I in Italy.  I mean, it was good, but I was expecting to be blown away by everything I ate.  I wasn’t. 

It made me think of my Italian Grandmother.  When I was a kid, our family would periodically go out to dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants (Italian, of course.  There really wasn't any other kind.)  On rare occasions, we would talk my Grandmother into joining us. 

Afterwards, her critique of the meal was always, “Isa no like I make.”

I guess when it comes to the food in Italy, I could say, “Isa no like Margot make.”

Monday
Jun102013

Bed, Breakfast and Buttermilk Pancakes

After my niece’s out-of-town wedding I had invited some of my family members back to our house for a few days. 

What was I thinking? 

We spent Friday and Saturday on Long Island, coming back from the wedding in Nassau County through the North Fork and the Long Island Winery’s because we just don’t have enough wineries in our back yard.  Then the ferry ride home, always an adventure.  Then home sweet home and houseguests.

At one point, my cousin’s significant other commented:  “I’d come back to this Bed and Breakfast any time.”

Really?  All kidding aside, we did have a great weekend.  The hit, it seems, was the pancakes.  Real Buttermilk Pancakes.  The ones I took out of the freezer. 

Bob:  “these pancakes are so good you don’t really need anything on them.”

That’s because they were fried in butter, Bob.

When Grace is with us on the weekends, we spend our time making a mess in the kitchen.  And pancakes make a big mess.  For Christmas one year, Chris bought me a pancake dispenser so that I could get the perfect round pancakes. 

It only makes four at a time, and by the time you open it up, spoon more batter into it, and get ready to flip you have batter in your hair.

Regardless of how you get the batter onto the griddle, the perfect pancake starts with the perfect batter.  We wanted ours to be thick and fluffy like cakes, with crispy edges.  It took Grace and me six years to finally perfect ours.  We make a big batch and then freeze the leftovers in waxed paper and foil.  Just take them out the night before and let them thaw in the refrigerator, then warm them up in the toaster oven for serving.

Your houseguests will never know you didn’t get up at the crack of early to make them.

Thursday
Jun202013

Cherry Garcia: I Scream

You scream.

Guess what Grace and I got for Christmas?

It was all an evil plot hatched by Grace and Susan.

Executed by Chris.

They calculated (correctly), that if they got me an ice cream maker for Christmas, I would probably make them ice cream.

They were right.

Grace and I tackled the first recipe for coconut ice cream we found.

What a rookie mistake!

While it tasted good, it didn't have the texture we expected from a homemade ice cream.

Back to the drawing board.

Shortly after, I was watching a cooking competition on television, and one contestant made bourban pecan ice cream.  I couldn't wait for the result, and neither could one of the judges.  She lost.  Great flavor, but not the creamy consistancy the judge expected from homemade ice cream.

What a rookie mistake!

Turns out, ice cream is made in short bursts, but over a period of time in order to get the consistancy right, and you just can't be successful trying to win a cooking show contest with a home version of the applicance.

It took us a couple of tries, but we finally perfected our vanilla base which will become the future of our ice cream recipes. Grace is responsible for coming up with the additions.  Fresh cherries and dark chocolate for our version of Cherry Garcia Icecream.

Friday
Jun212013

MCI Mail and the days of Crab and Corn Soup

Remember when you had to dial a special number before the long distance number you wanted to call, so you could get cheap long distance rates?  And cheap was somewhere north of a quarter a minute, and that was back in the seventies.

Little did I know how that process would affect my life.  And all of your lives, though you may not have realized it.

My first job in corporate america was for a little company called MCI (which eventually became Verizon). They were headquartered in Washington, DC and when I first moved to DC I got a job with them as a secretary.  

MCI was responsible for the break-up of THE PHONE COMPANY, which was how we referred to anything to do with telephones.  Shortly after this happened, they hired a group of people from some other walks of communications life, and brought them all together in a secret building, to launch a secret product.  

I didn't know what the product was.  I started hearing words like, "No it's not analog, it's digital."  I didn't know what that meant.

After several months of being in the dark, I got the secretaries together and approached the VP of Engineering to ask him to explain the product to us so we could understand what everyone was talking about.  

The VP?  To us, he was just Vint.  Vint Cerf.  Dr. Vinton Gray Cerf to be precise. And he agreed to do a weekly "brown bag" series for the secretaries to teach us about data communications.  Just him, and a white board and a marker pen.  We called it Datacom 101.

I was hooked.  I did everything I could to learn as much about the technology and the product as I could and eventually got myself promoted into a sales support position and my career took off.  

Those were heady days working at Downtown and M.  It was the 80's. Reagonomics. IRA's and the Magellen Fund. Michael Miliken (then an advisor to MCI), Miami Vice.  

And let's not forget the Jane Fonda Workout.

In a word:  YUPPIES.

(Young, Upwardly Mobile, Professional, in case you don't remember)

And the social life that was the downtown grid at lunch and after hours.  I never had so much fun working.  

One of my favorite places was The American Cafe.  It was the beginning of the food revolution.  It was the discovery of chicken salad with tarragon, and basil pesto pasta.  And Cream of Crab and Corn Soup.

It was also before the days of individual computers in our offices and homes.  I remember we got three Personal Computers in the office, and they cost $7,500 each.  And they had less computing power than the smartphone you are holding in your hand.  

The Product?  It was called MCI Mail.  Electronic Mail.  We had to explain to customers what electronic mail was.  And what you did with it.  We called it "application selling."  Today, its just an app. We thought the "first public electronic mail system" was going to change the world.  

It didn't.  At least not then.

MCI finally shut it down, but not before they had built "the world's most expensive internal electronic mail system" used primarily by them.  We were 15 years too early.

The MCI Mail Group?  We all went our separate ways, eventually, but most of us remained in technology and telecommunications.  

And Vint?  By all accounts, he is considered "the father of the Internet."  He recently received the Queens Award, by Queen Elizabeth.

We are all getting together this October in DC, for the MCI Mail 30th Reunion.  I was able to attend the 5th and 10th, and I'm really excited about seeing everyone.  And I want to thank Vint, Ray, Dave and Leslie for helping launch my career in telecommunication.  It's was, and still is, a wild ride.

Next time I'll tell you about the vision of having "a nationwide cellular network".

Thursday
Jul042013

From the Editor: Succotash reworded

Remember my Blogger Editor/Kitchen Slave?  

I asked her to help me "recipe test" the Cream Corn and Lima Bean Succotash, as I had written down the recipe nearly two years ago, and never got around to taking the photos.

Careful what you ask for.

As I went through each ingredients, she made me actually measure everything. Unless I'm baking, I tend not to measure much, as it just makes a bigger mess.  In the kitchen.

That was just not going to cut it with Grace.

When we were done with that, it was time to review the instructions.

As I went through each step, she read the instructions to me, just to make sure that I was doing it the way I told all of you to do it.  There was a lot of discussion about using "in the meantime" when you are trying to get a recipe completed.

I can chop something else, and hear when something in a pan is getting to the saute/carmelize stage and the next step needs to be executed.  But if you don't have that skill, you tend to do one step at a time.  

Of course, Chris claims I am deaf since he has never actually witnessed this skill. This usually happens when I am washing dishes and he is somewhere upstairs or downstairs and needs something.

Chris:  a;ewifjajaelkndlkjoeiu

Me, washing dishes with water running.

Chris:  A;EWIFJAJAELKNDLKJOEIU!

Me: What?

Chris:  I said, CAN YOU HEAR ME?

Yeah, now that you stood in the stairwell and shouted at me, I can.

Nevermind.

I wrote "render the bacon" for one of the instructions.

Grace:  Margot, what does render mean?

Me:  It means fry the bacon until its crispy.

Grace:  Margot . . . do you really think people know what render means?

Monday
Jul152013

Hot Artichoke Dip: No need to choke

Artichoke eaters can be very finicky.  Some eat the entire globe.  Some eat only the hearts.  Some eat only the leaves, and leave the hearts.  

Seems a shame.

I once tried my hand at making hot artichoke dip using fresh artichoke hearts that I steamed just for the recipe.  It took a week for my hands to heal.

While I'm on the subject, I looked for recipes all over the Internet, trying to find something that would update this 70's concoction, but nearly every recipe was identical, and all claiming to be the best ever.

Using canned artichoke hearts.  Which frankly bear no resemblance to real artichoke hearts.  I needed to make that point.  I succeeded with Grace, I think.

Me:  Grace, now that you like artichokes, let me give you some words of advice.  If you see stuffed and steamed artichokes on a menu, order them.  You will probably like them.

Grace:  Ok.

Me:  If you see a menu item with artichoke hearts in it, don't order it.  You will probably hate it.

Grace:  Ok.

Back to recipe research.

There were exactly two that used fresh artichoke hearts, but getting to the hearts following their instructions was the same blood drawing exercise I had already gone through.

Stop.  Wait.  (You've probably figured it out at this point)

Use leftover hearts.  Like the ones left over from the California Grilled Artichokes.

If you ever look in my freezer, you will find random bits of things in plastic containers that probably don't make any sense, but I save all little bits of leftovers. Might not be enough to do anything with yet, but next time I make that something, I add the leftovers to the same container until I have enough for something.  Might not know what that is, but it will come to me eventually.

So by July 4th, I had nearly a dozen, already cooked, already grilled, frozen artichoke hearts, from real artichokes.

Next time, I'll take a run at changing the base, but technology has taught me to change only one thing at a time when you are trying to solve a problem.

Saturday
Jul202013

Eggplant Parmesan: Just Shut Up and Eat It


I grew up with real eggplant parmesan.  The kind you peeled, sliced thinly across into rounds, then battered and fried.  

This recipe was never deviated from, under penalty from the law.

In fact, my aunt taught me this recipe when I was about 12 years old, and seriously into being a vagabond by staying over at all of my aunts houses whenever I as allowed to.  

Auntie Alice, (top row, middle) the oldest of the Euzzine Girls, grew up during the Great Depression, the first child of Vincent and Caroline, who were fresh off the boat.

Not only did she have the Italian Vegetable Gene, but she learned the art of "putting up vegetables" from her parents, and continued that for all of her life.  When she built a new house, it had a second kitchen in the basement, with a tiny Chambers gas stove, a farmhouse sink, a battered wooden table and shelving to the ceiling.  I hate to think what those appliances are now worth.

Days in the kitchen would go something like this:

Auntie Alice:  Margot, you're young, can you reach under there and get that pan?

Or,

Auntie Alice:  Margot, you're tall, can you reach up and get that pan?

One weekend, she was going to pickle peppers, and had me help by having me peel a dozen heads of garlic.  I used a small paring knife, and by the time I was done, my right thumb was, well, imagine pressing raw garlic juice into your thumb with the sharp edge of a knife about 250 times.

She would either plant her own vegetables, or accept harvest from neighbors who had overplanted, and one year we fried a bushel of eggplant.

You understand the concept of a bushel?  It's a dry volume measurement that goes like this:

2 pints to a quart

8 quarts to a peck

4 pecks to a bushel

Roughly translated, we fried somewhere between 50 and 60 eggplants.  It took a dozen dozen eggs, and 12 pounds of lard.  (Because that's what you fried it in, don't ask questions.)  I can't remember how long it took us (My Aunt, My Uncle, My Cousin and Me), but the six that I fried recently took 3 hours, including cleaning up the mess in the kitchen.

Fast forward to somewhere around 1980, and suddenly everyone is trying to make eggplant healthy. Many failed miserably.  

"The skin must be healthy, lets leave it on."  

No.

"Let's broil it instead of frying it."

Nope.  Try again.

"If we cut it thicker, it won't soak up so much grease when we fry it."  

Ok, but you eat it.  Not me.

Anyway, when I was preparing my Eggplant Parmesean for our post Muster party, I mentioned it at my gym, and the subject very quickly turned to "bad eggplant reviews" from most of the class attendees, and specifically from the instructor, Wendy.

"My mother makes eggplant, and it's always green and kind of crunchy.  I never knew what it was supposed to taste like until I had yours. How do I tell her?

The lesson here is, just make it the old fashion way a couple of times a year, shut up about trying to make it healthy, and eat it.

To my Auntie Jo (bottom row, middle), for all of the threads she has weaved for all of us. Hope you enjoyed your send-off, dear.

 

Tuesday
Aug202013

Seafood and eat it: Swordfish Oreganade

 

That was my mother's motto.  She was a seafood lover, and she was always trying to get us to eat it as well.  Being a Catholic (reasonably) household, that meant we had fish on Fridays. 

Fridays would usually go something like this:

Us:  What are we having for dinner?

Mom:  Fish sticks

Us:  Ok

Next Friday:

Us:  What are we having for dinner?

Mom:  Baked Fillet of Sole

Us: Eeeewww!

Mom: But you like Sole!  (we didn't)

Next Friday:

Us: What are we having for dinner?

Mom:  Spagetti and Crabs

Us:  Eeeewww! (as we ran out of the house)

Next Friday:

Us:  What are we having for dinner?

Mom:  Baked Stuffed Clams

Us:  Eeeewww!

Following Friday:

Us:  What are we having for dinner?

Mom: Halibut

Us: Hmmmm.  Maybe.

Actually, we did like halibut, it was probably our favorite.  Why?  Because it tasted like chicken, not fish. (So, why not just eat chicken?)  Atlantic Halibut, steaks baked in the oven with parsley and butter. Ugly, but aside from that, pretty kid friendly.

Next Friday:

Us:  What are we having for dinner?

Mom:  Shrimp Marsala

Us:  Really, again?

Next Friday:

Us: What are we having for dinner?

Mom: Daddy's making baked stuffed lobster on the grill

Us:  Will you take it out of the shell for us?

Christmas:

Us:  What are we having for Christmas Eve?

Mom: Baked Stuffed Shrimp

Us:  Make sure there's enough for breakfast on Christmas morning

Me visiting my parents after moving to DC:

Them:  What are you making us for dinner?

Me:  Penne with Lobster and Vodka Sauce

Next visit:

Them:  What are you making us for dinner?

Me:  White House Maryland Crab Cakes

Them visiting me after moving to California:

Me:  Let's get some Alaskan Halibut and I'll cook it on the grill

I guess I have a ways to go with my husband and wicked step-child. 

However, when I described my idea for Swordfish Oreganade to Grace, she said:

"That sounds fantastic!"

There's hope for her, but not for Chris.

Saturday
Aug242013

Houseguests and Hummus

I know you can buy good hummus, but if I have to make one more trip to the grocery store before guests arrive, I'm going to scream.  

Which is why I like to make hummus.  

Its what I call great pantry food.  You can pretty much count on having the ingredients around when you need to make something quick.

Like when guests show up.  Which they are doing again.  Not the sames ones as after the wedding (Bed, Breakfast and Buttermilk Pancakes), this is a different round.  

I will go broke paying for groceries, especially the way I shop.  Most of my guests, however, show up with wine, so I have that to be thankful for.  (They pretty much know not to show up with food as they know I have standards.)

Back to hummus.  

It's fast, its easy (Grace the Kitchen Slave made this batch) you can pull the ingredients out of your freezer and pantry, its pretty healthy, and people can tell the difference when its homemade.

We like Classic Hummus, garlicy and smooth, with lots of tahini, olive oil and lemon, so I keep adding more until it tastes the way we like it, but you can adjust it to you and your family's taste.  

For example, my nephew only eats the grilled Naan bread I serve with it.

Monday
Jun162014

Gramma Daly's Cole Slaw: Not your average fruit loop salad

Must be a trend.  I thought my sister was the only cook whose idea of a vegetable included the use of dried ramen noodles.  Sometimes, if the recipe was for a special occasion, she would make dressing out of the packet of dried stuff that came in the box.  Now that’s a smart use of her grocery money. 

(And I know that she knows I hate it.)

Then I saw it on a cooking show.  On television.  In primetime. 

As I start out this food blog adventure, I wonder what makes people watch a cooking show, read a blog or a cookbook.  I’m trying to keep an open mind, because they are on television, and well, I’m not.

(Not that I want to be, but I have always dreamed of publishing a cookbook.)

I was livid the other day watching this one program, and not to get too serious, but there was nearly 6 cups of sugar used in this meal.  Dinner was for six people.  There was two cups of sugar and a cup of honey blended together to pour over ham.  Then there was a stick of butter, and a half cup of brown sugar in another sauce.  Then the salad had a 3/4ths cup of sugar in the dressing.  The dessert had  another 1 ½ cups of sugar. 

For Dinner.  For six people.  Ok, so the ham was intended for 15 or so servings, and the dessert 10 servings, if you made the cuts small.  For a single serving of this meal, I calculated more than one half cup of sugar, but I’m guessing they went back for seconds. 

What do you want to bet they served diet soda with the meal?

No wonder we have obesity running rampant in this country.

Ok, I’m done.

I get a lot of compliments when I make cole slaw (Gramma Daly's).

Like:  “I don’t really like cole slaw, but yours is delicious.”

Let me tell you why they like it:  Because it hasn’t been sitting in a vinegar and sugar dressing for hours.  That’s why.

I won’t tell you it’s low fat.  Not with all of the mayonnaise in it.  Made correctly, however, it can be about the same as any other salad.

Simple.  Five ingredients.

Creamy.  Only about 2 tablespoons of vinegar.

Fresh and Crunchy.  Tossed just before it’s served.

Never any left.

Tuesday
Aug042015

Healthy Eating: Blueberry Almond Crumble Pie

"I lost weight on my vacation"

Like I needed to hear that.

Apparently, it's all about eating blueberries.  Day and night.  

I had this conversation with a client the other day.  She had just gotten back from vacation and we were trying to catch up.  Being an hour behind me, my phone rang just as I was at the point of dinner prep that there was no going back.

Cheryl: Can you talk now?

Me: Well, I just started dinner but I have hands-free headset, so sure!

Cheryl:  Well, I really need to talk the contracts, and I forgot you were an hour ahead of me.

Me:  Are you sure?

Cheryl:  What are you cooking for dinner?

Me:  Frittata with Homemade Sausage and fresh tomatoes

Cheryl:  I'm coming to your house!  

Me:  Where did you go on vacation?

Cheryl:  We went mountain biking in Colorado Springs.  We actually ate really healthy.  I had blueberries every morning for breakfast and then again at night, with yogurt instead of ice cream.  I lost weight!

So that's the secret, huh?

This Blueberry Almond Crumble pie isn't going to be on anyone's healthy list, but as far as dessert goes, you can't beat it with a gallon of ice cream.