Thursday, December 30, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Often I don't try out Asian recipes because of all those exotic sauces called for -- oyster sauce, fish sauce, black bean sauce, Siracha, and the like? So why doesn't somebody get smart and offer a sampler of small jars or bottles of all these Asian ingredients. I use Siracha and a couple of other Asian condiments once in a while, but those large bottles usually languish in the fridge until I'm afraid they're too old to use.
Asparagus is a popular vegetable. Why won't Williams Sonoma or Sur la Table create and market really pretty asparagus serving tongs -- maybe one in a contemporary design and another in a French country motif? There are plenty of asparagus serving platters around, but no matching tongs. If they really want to make money, they could make an attractive matching set.
Why, oh why, do they sell so much stark-white china? I want creamy-white dinner place settings -- just thick and plain with wide rims, restaurant style. But since I have a traditional home decor, I don't want a modern, white-white look on my table. If I order what I think I want from a restaurant supply house, I can't see it in person first, and I must order a minimum of two dozen plates, bowls, etc., then pay shipping costs that equal almost the price of the china. Still a bargain at that, but I want to see and touch them first to make sure they're what I want. I have eight ivory-colored wide-rimmed soup/pasta bowls that I bought for $2 apiece at an antique mall in Florida. They had been used by a restaurant, they're made in France, and they're wonderful -- no worse for the wear. I want plates like that.
More of this vent later . . . .
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Just a couple of days after having this for lunch at a friend's home, I made this for tonight's dessert. It's termed a crustless pie, but it's actually more like a cake, and it just couldn't be easier or quicker to prepare. I love cranberries, but don't know many ways to use them, so this recipe fit the bill. Though I wouldn't normally associate almond flavor with cranberries, it works, though my husband noted that they don't really taste like cranberries in this desert. The recipe seems to have originated in a cookbook by Laurie Colwin.
Nantucket Cranberry Pie
2 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 cups sugar
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon almond extract
Spread the cranberries, walnuts and 1/2 cup sugar in the bottom of a 9- or 10-inch cake pie plate. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl to form a batter. Pour the batter over the cranberry mixture and bake in an oven preheated to 350 for around 40 or 45 minutes. Cool in the pan for a few minutes before serving with some whipped cream.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The other issue I researched is nutritive value. I started peeling the spears many years ago when a neighbor who had lived in Germany told me she had learned to do so there. Ironically, my Hamburgian friend told me that by peeling I was removing the most nutritious part of the plant. Not true, apparently, because actually most of the nutrition resides in the tips -- one reason cooking asparagus vertically in a special asparagus steamer is preferable to my method: laying the spears on a steamer insert in a large pot with about an inch of water. Does this mean, I wonder, that the nutrition passes to the stems if you steam it with tips up? However, if tender, peeled spears are cooked in a vertical position, are they vulnerable to breaking in the pot?
It's obvious that in retirement I have too much time to ponder such weighty matters. But maybe someone will read this and answer some of these questions. I was thrilled yesterday to discover one comment on one of my posts, and delighted to learn I'd provided some useful information on books to her. I usually assume I'm talking to myself here.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
If you discover a novelist you like and want to read everything the person has written, this is the site for you: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/. It lists bibliographies for 30,000 authors and even tells you where and for what price you can buy their books. Though I do like dealoz.com for comparison shopping. Though since I got my Kindle, I'll resort to hardcopy books now only when that's all that's available. I absolutely adore the historical fiction of Brit Diana Norman (aka Ariana Franklin), but several of her older books are OOP and selling for exorbitant prices. At least I could find them on the abovementioned site and got a couple of them through the public library's interlibrary loan program. It's a British site, but it lists all popular U.S. authors as well.
Now, just having finished Ken Follett's highly popular Pillars of the Earth, I'm reading its sequel. Follett is a good storyteller, but he really never even seems to try to make any of the dialogue authentic to the era. In fact, there are expressions that are downright anachronistically modern and jarring. And, despite having a story and characters that carry me along, I don't get nearly as much of a sense of the medieval setting as I do in the far lesser known Franklin novels and those of others.
However, watching the excellent newish version of Robin Hood, created by Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott, around the same time I'm reading the novel, somehow helps me with the atmosphere while I'm reading. I liked this movie better than any of the earlier film versions of the Robin legend, and I hope they'll make sequels. However, as I recall, it didn't get a great reception from critics or public, so I'm not holding my breath.
Also have been watching the excellent Brother Cadfael series from BBC (from Netflix), about a medieval Welsh monk who solves murder mysteries -- based on books by Ellis Peters (aka Edith Parteger). They, too help steep me in the period where Follett fails to do so.
Franklin's books are set in the era of King Henry II, who figures as a pivotal character in her plots. Both Pillars of the Earth and Cadfael are set in the fascinating time when cousins Stephen and Maud were fighting over the English crown. Since the Elizabethan era has been done to death on paper and film and almost seems a cliche, it's fun to read about these earlier and easily as interesting times.
Gwynne's excellent book couldn't have come along at a better time for me: I'd just finished reading Paulette Giles' wonderful novel, based loosely on the true story of a former slave's effort to rescue his wife and child, who were captured by the Comanches. "Empire of the Summer Moon," was, in its own way, just as riveting as Giles' fiction. As a journalist, Gwynne knows how to turn history into what it should be: a good story. He weaves into his account the stories of individuals -- Quanah, of course, and his mother Cynthia Parker, as well military prodigy Ranald Mackenzie, famous Texas ranger Jack Hays, and others -- so that you want to keep reading to find out what happens to them. And, I never thought I could be so intrigued by horses, guns, and battle strategy, but when the writing is this good it can hold my interest in things normally outside my interests. I'm looking forward to whatever's next from this terrific new history writer.
To peel or not to peel
A resounding Yes! to peeling. Though one of the food "experts" at Cook's Illustrated once wrote that it's unnecessary to peel asparagus, I beg to differ. I really think it is not only much prettier, but tastes better when peeled. It has to be thin as a pencil before I'll serve it unpeeled. And, with my much-loved German asparagus peeler (a great find at Williams Sonoma after decades of using a potato peeler, this thing holds onto the spear and easily sheds the peelings), I can peel two pounds in the time it takes an inch of water to boil.
I don't own a fancy asparagus steamer:
My method is to place up to two pounds of spears in a steamer basket in a large pot with about an inch of water, bring to a boil and cook from 3 to 5 minutes, using the fork test for doneness. Then I remove the spears and plunge them into a bowl of water with ice until it's cold and transfer it to paper towels to dry off. When I'm serving the spears as a side vegetable with butter and lemon juice, I omit the ice-water step. For risotto, I use ice water, but omit the paper towel drying.
Both Sam's and Costco have good prices on asparagus, but Costco seals theirs up in a plastic bag and somehow it doesn't taste right to me. At Sam's, it's sold unwrapped and you can get a big plastic bag in the meat department to put it in without sealing it up.
When I'm asked to take a vegetable (or even a salad) to a potluck luncheon or dinner, asparagus vinaigrette is often my choice, because it's much easier than schlepping a hot dish across the county. The asparagus and the vinagrette sauce can be made the day before and chilled. An oblong plastic container with a drainer insert is perfect to keep the veggie from getting waterlogged. As to the garnishes, chop the peppers, toast the pine nuts, and store both in zipper bags to be applied upon arrival. Likewise, store the sauce in a jar for last-minute application. Warning: Even when I take 4 pounds to a potluck, it disappears before the last people in line get to it. Here's the recipe:
Asparagus with Red Pepper Vinaigrette
Oh, yeah, there's the matter of the worldwide pine nut shortage. Since I've always kept a large bag of Costco's pine nuts in the freezer, I'm not so lavish with them since they went up to $29 for 1-1/2 pounds. Last time, I stingily meted out only the requisite 2 tablespoons before toasting over the gas stove burner with another cute little Sonoma gadget.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Italian comfort food
A photo couldn't do this justice! Tonight I had some Italian chicken sausage and decided to make an old family favorite from years ago: Italians sausage and peppers. When we lived in Chicago, then New Jersey, it was a favorite dish with everybody.
And what a winner this recipe was. I based it loosely on Giada's recipe on the Food Network website, using up the last handful of fresh basil of the season from my pot on the deck. If I'd had sweet Italian sausage (will check out Trader Joe's for that), I'd have used the cup of Marsala wine Giada's recipe called for. But, because it was the smoked variety, I used dry vermouth.
The whole thing was great, high-flavor comfort food -- with its thick sauce just right for sandwiches. Served on slightly scooped out mini French baguettes from Costco. I couldn't stand to throw out those insides, so after dinner they went into the processor for bread crumbs. I feel so virtuous; my mom would've been proud.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
It's been months since I've seen any at the supermarket, and this week I found a nice, big, fresh bunch at Publix for one of my favorite soups -- one version of an Italian favorite. So simple, but so good:
Escarole Rice Soup
3 tablespoons butter
Small onion, minced
Garlic, minced, to taste
Head of escarole, cut into thin strips
½ cup Arborio rice
4 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons Romano cheese
Saute onion over low heat until softened. Add garlic and escarole. Stir to coat, Add ½ cup of broth and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes. Add rice and remaining broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in cheese and serve with additional cheese.
Since I still haven't got the hang of posting photos correctly, the cornbread picture is misplaced. And somehow I've lost the photo I took of escarole soup.
And, to make it a really eclectic meal, my favorite cornbread, nice and crumbly but almost puddinglike:
Jalapeno Cheese Cornbread
Vegetable oil for the pan
½ cup yellow cornmeal
½ cup flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
Dash ground chipotle or cayenne pepper
¾ cup jalapeno jack cheese, grated
¾ cup corn kernels, fresh, canned or frozen
½ cup sour cream
6 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter
Coat a heavy 8- or 9-inch skillet or baking pan with oil and set aside. Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients, corn, and cheese. Heat skillet or pan in the oven or on the stovetop. Whisk together eggs, sour cream, milk, and butter. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Spread in the hot skillet. Bake for about 22 minutes, until set and lightly browned around the edges. Cut into wedges and serve while hot.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Having finally caved to using the much-vaunted Kosher coarse sea salt called for in so many recipes, I'd set a recycled jar of the stuff next to my cooktop and got into the habit using it more and more. Then the other day, wandering around the cavernous isles of Walmart, I found a nice little glass salt cellar for only $4. Though you can't see it in the photo, the word salt is etched on the side. No need to take time to unscrew a jar lid when I'm in a hurry to grab a pinch. A cool little product from the venerable Fire King brand. Then I felt even better when I saw the same thing at Crate & Barrel for $7.99!
Do they never learn that trickle-down economics just doesn't work? Or is it just a feudal mentality and they simply don't care? Dateline NBC had a real eye-opener the other night on out-of-work people in Ohio who are struggling just to find a place to sleep and to feed themselves. While Congressmen still fight tooth and nail to keep the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
Well, today somebody said she'd made my Greek salad dressing, which I season proudly with not only dried oregano, but fresh oregano and fresh thyme from the planters on my deck. She said she was amazed at how easy it is to make your own salad dressing, and I'm tickled to have a convert away from those ghastly bottled dressings. Last night I was able to make a batch of my favorite sweet-and-sour Italian dressing in the actual time it took for the spaghetti water to come to a boil.
Greek Salad Dressing
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tablespoon dried oregano
½ tablespoon fresh oregano
½ tablespoon fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper.
Mix first five ingredients. Add salt and pepper taste. Add fresh oregano and thyme the same day it will be served. If refrigerated, remove from fridge about a half-hour before serving and whisk or shake well.
To serve four people, double the recipe to cover about 1 to 1½ heads of Romaine plus a small bag of field greens, along with sliced red onion, cucumber, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and feta cheese.