Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I Love the Flower Girl ( Having a Cowsills Moment)

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head and you can't get it out no matter how bad the song is. For some reason I have been mentally singing The Rain, The Park and Other Things for about a week now.

"Then I knew (I knew... I knew... I knew... I knew)
She could make me happy (happy... happy)
(She could make me very happy)
Flowers in her hair (in her hair)
Flowers everywhere (everywhere)"

If someone out there can explain why this song is occupying my thoughts please let me know, and if this is the indication that I am deeply damaged please just keep that to yourself. I will confess that in the not too distant past I had a completely different song in the vault and it stayed with me for about 6 months. At odd times I would find myself humming and brain singing " Well listen to my story of a man named Jed" I would leave my brain to science if I thought there was anything there worth studying.

Back to the flower song...I was walking through Publix singing to myself when I saw it on the end cap of the produce aisle, cauliflower BOGO. It must have been a message from Asparagasia, the Muse of Flora and Fauna songs.
Before I knew what was happening the 2 heads of cauliflower jumped in my buggy. They were paid for and loaded in my car when I started thinking " Hmmm I am not sure we even like cauliflower enough to have 2 huge heads in the fridge at the same time"
I hate it when Muses makes me buy more than I need of any single item, but I was not going to use one and let the other die a slow death in the crisper drawer. After unloading them I immediately washed and dried one head and put it in a zip lock plastic bag. It's funny, if veggies are prepared we will eat them instead of chips or crackers. But that still left me with one extra, which I did not think about until about 5:30 when it was time to start thinking about supper. I guess I could have done the traditional steam and serve method but we have been eating foods high on the flavor index for about a week and a half and I was not in the mood for anything bland and mushy. A Google search led me to a new and different take on a very traditional vegetable. Since we visited the foods of Peru last week it just made sense to try Spain this week.

Spanish Cauliflower Salad

Dressing Recipe:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, mashed to a paste or put through a garlic press
1 tablespoon small capers,
1 teaspoon paprika
Dash of cayenne pepper

In a bowl, lightly beat together the olive oil, wine vinegar, garlic, capers, paprika, cayenne pepper, and salt. Set aside

1 head of cauliflower with the hard core removed and cut into large floretes
2 tablespoons lemon juice
pinch of salt
1 quart water

1 hard boiled egg shredded
2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley

Cook the cauliflower in a small pot with the water, lemon juice and the salt until crisp-tender. Put it in a colander to drain while rinsing with cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well and blot any excess water with paper towels. Remove most of the large stem pieces leaving just the pretty florets Put into a bowl with a tight fitting cover and toss with the reserved dressing.( The recipe suggested letting it stand for a few hours in the fridge. Since I did not start it early in the day our stood for about 30 minutes. Serve with shredded egg and parsley sprinkled over the top.

This was a nice piquant way to eat cauliflower. I served it alongside chicken seasoned with a Spanish smoked paprika, onions, tomatoes and brown rice. I thought we needed a little more color on the plate so I put the cauliflower on a bed of cucumber and red and yellow pepper slices. The Hub and I both liked it, but Son3 gave it a big thumbs down. To be honest he does not eat cauliflower anyway, but he found this particularly offensive. If you like the vegetable and wind up with a BOGO deal I think it is a pretty good and different way to use it. If you are cauliflower intolerant this will not change your mind.

I just realized there are little more than a couple of days left in March and I still have to do something vegetarian and a baked good. I need to find some new inspiration...quickly!

Now have a nice day and deliver me from the Cowsills

Monday, March 26, 2012

What A Crock!

Okay! Before I go any further let me go ahead and admit how totally lame this crock pot post is going to be. I have really had no reason to make anything in the crock pot since we have been grilling out every night, but I realized I needed to have one for my self imposed challenge. I also wanted to make sure I could make it with ingredients I already had in the house. With that out of the way allow me to introduce you to:

Crock Pot Candy

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 12 ounce package chocolate bits
2 cups fritos, crushed but not crumbed
2 cups pretzels,crushed but not crumbed
1 cup peanuts, chopped

Line a cookie sheet with either parchment paper or foil and set aside
Put butter, brown sugar, peanut butter, and chocolate bits in a crock pot set on low heat. Put the lid on it and walk away and do all kinds of things for about 1 hour then check to see how melted it is. If you can stir it and it is smooth you are ready to add the salty stuff. If not go fold clothes and sweep the deck for about 30 more minutes. When it is all smooth and melty stir in the Friito and pretzel pieces. Quickly take the crock to the prepared pan using pot holders. ( Trust me on this one grasshopper. The crock gets hot!) Spread the mixture onto the pan in a mostly even layer. Pop into the freezer for about 20 minutes then break into pieces similar to bark candies.

Now it is the verdict time. First want to know what kind of idiot thought it would be a good idea to put Fritos into chocolate. I love chocolate and even me, a die hard chocolate lover, did not like the flavor combination. The chocolate did not alter the Frito flavor at all. Chocolate covered pretzels are good. Chocolate covered peanuts are good. Chocolate covered Fritos are bad.
Really bad...So bad that I tossed the entire recipe! 12 ounces of otherwise perfectly decent chocolate in the trash. ( I am wiping tears from my eyes as I type this) I wonder if Pandora has a funeral dirge station? I could have had music and a proper burial instead of a sea funeral down the disposal.

Other than my corn chip/chocolate aversion the candy was very soft, not like a bark at all. The candy had a really nice mouth feel. It was just the taste I found objectionable...really objectionable...really, really objectionable. Come to think of it, when we sit down in the summer to eat corn on the cob I have never said to The Hub " Let's leave the butter in the fridge and get some Hershey's syrup instead"

Thinking a different approach might have been to use butterscotch chips and almond butter rather than the peanut butter, Rice Chex rather than Fritos, and pretzels. ( No nuts). Also I have no idea why anyone but me would make this in the crock pot. The entire thing would have melted in a double boiler in about 15 minutes from start to finish and then the candy pot would fit right in the dishwasher. No hand washing and less time. But to be perfectly honest I will never try this again.

FAIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mea culpa!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

PERUsing Bookclub

A couple of weeks ago we were in NYC eating at a restaurant on the way upper west side. I love a concierge who will tell you in no uncertain terms their personal favorite places. After all they are getting paid to steer you in the right direction and I don't always want to be sent to the tourist places. When I am in a city I like to see how the residents of the city live, what they see and where they eat. We were overjoyed to be sent to Pio Pio. There are three in Manhattan, but she preferred the one on Amsterdam. Since we have never been to the other two I can't vouch for her opinion that it was the best of the three, but I can tell you how incredibly delicious it was. I have only eaten Peruvian food at one other restaurant in my life. Andina in Portland is an upscale trendy place near The Pearl district. The food is some of the best I have ever put in my mouth and is worth however long you have to wait for a meal. You leave feeling comfortably full, your mouth is overjoyed and your wallet is considerably flatter. We were hoping for the happy mouth and full feeling with a little less economic destruction and we were not disappointed. They have a meal called the Matador for $36 which will feed 3 easily. We ordered it but Son3 thought he needed more so he got an entire whole roast chicken for himself. In a nutshell we ate and ate and ate and still had much food left over. The worst thing about being in a hotel is the lack of facilities required for rewarming the contents of a doggy bag. We wound up leaving so much food on the table because we could not eat another bite.
As I sat eating, I tried to figure out the delicious spice combination they used to season the roasted chicken, and I also tried to taste all the components in the green sauce they served along side it. I could pick out some but still didn't know how they worked that chicken magic. After many Google searches, I found I was not the only one looking for these recipes. It seems that virtually everyone who has eaten there wants to know how to make the sauce. Thanks to Grace Parsi of Food and Wine magazine I think I found it. It is not exact but it is dang close to the restaurant sauce.

Creamy Peruvian Chili Sauce

1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large jalapeƱos, seeded and quartered lengthwise
1 large serrano chile with seeds, quartered lengthwise
1/2 small white onion, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 cup water
1/2 Hass avocado
2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the jalapeƱos, serrano, onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cook over moderate heat until the vegetables are tender and the water is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Add the avocado and puree again until it is smooth and creamy. Leave the blender running and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Blend until creamy. Add the lime juice and season with salt and pepper.

I found this was a little too thick and added about a tablespoon more of the lime juice. There was also a slight smoky taste to the Pio sauce. I think next time I will grill at least one of the gaps to see if that will give a little smoke flavor to the sauce.

Serve as a dipping sauce for the chicken or slather it on top of the chicken or just eat it with a spoon. It really is that good!

Almost Pio Pio Chicken

I medium size whole fryer ( about 4 lbs.)

I quart water
juice of 2 lemons

4 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons white wine
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons paprika
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon salt

Combine vinegar, wine, oil with garlic powder, cumin, paprika, black pepper, and salt. Mix well to form a paste. Add lemon juice to cold water. Trim chicken of any excess or loose fat. Soak the chicken in the lemon water for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry . Place chicken in zip-top bag. Pour spice paste over chicken. Coat chicken completely with mixture rubbing onto every surface. Try to get the paste under the skin as much as possible.
Seal bag and place chicken in refrigerator for at least 2 hours. The chicken will have more flavor the longer it sits in the spice mixture. Do not refrigerate more than 24 hours.

Instead of a whole chicken I used boneless chicken breasts and put them on a medium grill for about 9 minutes. If cooking a whole bird either put it on a spit on the grill or oven roast it.

Preheat grill and prepare rotisserie. Place chicken on rotisserie and on the grill for approximately 1 1/2 hours at a temperature around 300 degrees F.Test chicken for doneness by measure in the temperature in the thickest part of the thigh. Chicken is done at 165 degrees F. If oven roasting I would probably cook it at 350 for about 45 minutes.

I served this tonight to my book club and it seemed to be well received. I'm not saying I was paying attention or anything but I am pretty sure everyone had at least seconds of the chicken. It truly is probably the best tasting chicken I have ever cooked and will be in the regular chicken rotation from now on.

In keeping with the Peruvian meal theme I fixed a very simple quinoa salad

Quinoa Salad with Lime and Mint

1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 2 limes
2-3 fresh mint sprigs, leaves removed and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves or parsley
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons diced red onion- or use 2 chopped scallions
1 garlic clove, minced
A handful of sweet and ripe cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered

Rinse quinoa in a sieve (
Cook the quinoa as per package directions. (2 and 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups fresh salted water, covered, till all of the water is absorbed).

Put the cooked quinoa into a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients, tossing lightly with a fork until combined.

Taste test and adjust seasonings.

Cover and chill. tastes best made the day before serving.

After dinner we had a treat. 2 odd members of the Odd Quad played some light jazz for our after dinner pleasure. Thank you Son3 and Friend. We enjoyed listening to you!

If you decide you want delicious Peruvian food my first suggestion is to eat at Pio Pio on the corner of 94th and Amsterdam Avenue. If that is not in the cards for the day, fire up the grill and give this a try. Unless your taste buds just don't work I am fairly certain you will like it.

And p.s to Peggy: Quinoa is a complex carbohydrate. Each portion contains carbohydrates plus 6 grams of complete protein. It seems that the grain has all nine of the amino acids required to make it a complete protein. Just saying'

Monday, March 19, 2012

Is It Really Beyond Mid March?

It's funny. When someone in your circle needs to be cared for time halts except for doing whatever needs to be done "right now". We have been in one of those weird places but are slowly coming out of it, and, after shaking off the cobwebs, I realize it is getting toward the later part of March.

For my Beloved Sister, March has always been a particularly malevolent month. Personally I think she might have hung around Caesar in a past life. She gets really wiggy around the Ides. If fact so wiggy that each year on the fifteenth I call her and, in the lowest voice I can project, say very slowly " Beware the Ides of March". We both laugh and then I don't have to use my man voice for another year.

This year the Ides brought some joy. Dad is home from rehab and is making huge progress, and it is much easier on us to run by their house daily than it was to head to the hospital. Plus there is some sort of normalcy at home vs. having someone come in every 2 hours to check your vitals and do blood work.

Now that life is returning to order for the parents my everyday life is adjusting to a more usual routine. ( One that includes cooking!) This week is Spring Break for Son3 and we are staying home this year. ( Possibly because the trip to NYC for college auditions taxed both our available vacation time and wallet) so we decided to make this the week of cookouts. Luckily for us the weather is working to our advantage. I never remember March days in the mid 80's with high 60's nights. In addition to the lovely cookout weather I have a freezer filled food that need to be used, so I am doing my weekly shopping in the laundry room.

Yesterday I was nosing through plastic freezer bags looking for something a little different when I found 2 packages of veal chops. These were not beautiful 1 1/2 inch thick rib chops like we had several months ago, but were much thinner loin chops. Still veal is veal and it is delicious grilled. I had four chops and started wondering what to do with them. Google is without a doubt the easiest way to find a different way of preparing anything under the sun. Want to make a warthog pot roast? Just Google it and you will find Odette's special recipe. Reindeer ravioli? Try Food Networks website.

I was not looking for anything so exotic, just a rather simple sauce to accompany grilled veal. After looking at a couple of recipes I found Tony Randall's recipe for veal chops with bourbon black pepper sauce. As Guy Fieri says "Winer, Winner, Chicken Dinner"

Grilled Veal Chops

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4-6 veal loin chops

Preheat an outdoor grill to about 350 degrees
Coat the veal chops with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper
For 1/2 inch chops grill 4 minutes on on side, turn and grill 2-3 minutes on the other side.

Bourbon Butter and black Pepper Sauce

1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup bourbon
1 cup butter cut in 8 pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly cracked pepper

While the chops are grilling make the sauce. It really works best if you have someone grilling while cook it. If not put it together just prior to putting the chops on the grill. Bring wines to a boil in a small saucepan. Add bourbon and reduce heat to medium. Cook until mixture is reduced by half. Remove from the heat and add the butter one piece at a time , incorporating each pat totally before adding the next one. When all the butter has been added stir in the black pepper.
Serve on top of the piping hot chop.

I put the chops on a bed of mashed potatoes. I would have preferred brown rice or couscous but I had neither in the pantry. We had a side of broccoli and carrots and called it a meal. the sauce is thick and buttery and peppery. Don't worry about the alcohol in the wine and bourbon. It cooks off and all you are left with is this delicious flavor. This sauce will go in my make again file, but it will be for special occasions. It has a boatload of butter, which is delicious but not good for everyday fare.

Cookout meal 1 was a success!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

In A Pickle

Today I have been free of all hospital duty and have done a few errands and been on the phone with admissions for various schools following up on the receipt of a gozillion forms. While I was on hold I was looking out the window admiring the beautiful day. It truly looks like spring is upon us. The redbud trees are blooming, the pear tree is in full bloom, there were out 10 robins in the back yard, an anorexic squirrel was running on the fence and a white chicken was pecking away in the yard next door???

My neighbors form 2 doors down have a few chickens in their backyard. I don't know why. Are they pets, laying hens, or are they going to invite the entire neighborhood to a fried chicken dinner sometime in the not to distant future? Dunno, but it kind of creeps me out. One of them is an escape artist who flies to the top of the 6 foot fence then flops down in the next door neighbors backyard. Chickens are not supposed to be hanging around my house scratching and pooping. ( I have not seen them do that yet but I am assuming it is a smaller version of goose poop which I am completely familiar with, since millions of endangered Canadian Geese now call Birmingham home.) Chickens are supposed to be packaged in nice white little styrofoam trays, wrapped tightly in plastic with a price per pound. I really don't like seeing the blooming chicken out there and like less the thought that the chicken could wind up in my yard. ( Can anyone say phobia?)

Which leaves me with a comment about the starving squirrel. Most squirrels are nice and plump with bushy tails and they look kind of cute even though we know they are nothing more than rats with furry tails. Appearance really is everything! This dude or dudette is a seriously skinny version of squirrel with a very bare tail. If there is such a thing as Hair Club for Squirrels this one could not only be a member but also the president. i can only hope it is healthy and maybe just some rawboned teen guy squirrel whose tail has not come in yet. Keeping my eye out just to see what happens.

You might wonder what this has to do with pickles and the answer would be nothing. I was just stuck on hold, at the table with a notebook filled with questions and nothing better to do than look out the window. But before I start window watching and dreaming of summer let me get back to pickles. About a week ago Publix had a super deal on grapes and strawberries which I overbought and then I bought a box of kumquats because they were very pretty. We had eaten many of the grapes and strawberries but not all of them. What could I do with the ones we didn't eat? I remembered pinning pickled grapes on Pinterest and then started wondering if I could find a recipe for pickled strawberries too. The kumquats were strictly for eating until I ate one and then remembered why I don't like them. They are the original sweet tarts of the fruit world. The first bite is so sweet and mild followed by a lip puckering acidic sour taste. When my jaws loosened from the sour induced locked position I vowed I would not eat another one. But what to do with the remaining 47 kumquats. Ah yes, search for a kumquat pickle recipe!

I would like to report the search for all was successful, so I got busy preparing the jars and getting in the canning mode. ( Who am I kidding? I stuck 3 jars in the dishwasher with the rest of a load of dishes and turned it on. Since I was only making one jar of each and am storing them in the fridge who really cares if everything is boiled?

Pickled Red Grapes

1 pound red seedless grapes
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/8 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

Wash grapes and remove from stem
Slice stem end off of the grapes and set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, water and sugar. Place over high heat and bring to a boil.
Place spices into the bottom of a quart jar.
Put grapes into the jar on top of the spices.
Pour hot vinegar into jar over grapes.
Let grapes sit until cool. Screw lid on the jar and refrigerate.
24 hours later Voila! Pickles!

Now you might think this sounds gross and to be honest the pickles by themselves are pretty weird, but pair them with some soft goat cheese and it is out of this world good. I will also try it with Havarti since I think the mild cheese would work well with the sharp pickled grapes.

Instead of sugar I substituted Splenda. It seems to have worked very well. I will probably make a jar of these whenever this one gets close to being empty.

Strawberry Pickles

14 strawberries, stems removed
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 serrano, sliced into thin rounds
½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 sprig of mint

Place the strawberries in a quart Mason Jar

In a saucepan, add the vinegar, salt, sugar, and serrano. Bring to a boil and then allow the liquids to cool to room temperature. Pour over the strawberries, add the peppercorns and mint, and then seal the jar, turning upside once or twice to mix around the ingredients. Place in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Slice and use on turkey or chicken sandwiches.
The jury is still out on these. I had no fresh mint so I used dried and the same for the pepper. Instead I used pepper flakes. Since I did not follow the directions totally I will refrain from telling what I really think about this. The strawberries are a little too mushy and the vinegar is too sharp and pronounced. I will try this again in the summer when my mint is growing and add more than a sprig. I will use a fresh and very hot pepper and will use half cider and half balsamic vinegar and see how that changes things. The apple cider overpowers the strawberry flavor totally. I did not use it on a chicken sandwich but did use it on top of a cracker with a piece of salami* . The salty meat helped but it is still not very good

* Salami aside: We have been married nearly 40 years and in all that time as far as I can remember we have never had a slice of salami in this house. I am wondering who this who is buying a pound of salami and what they did with my husband?

Pickled Kumquat

1 1/2 cups of kumquats, sliced in half and any seeds easily accessible discarded
1/4teaspoon of salt
3/4 cups of white vinegar
1/4 cup of sugar
2 cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
2 peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger
1/2 cinnamon stick

Put the kumquats in a pan. Cover with water and add the salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside. Put the vinegar, sugar, and spices in a pan and bring to a boil. Add the kumquats to the hot liquid. Simmer for 1 minute. Put in a 1 pint canning jar ( Marie's dressing jar) and let it live in the fridge.

As odd as this sounds it has all kinds of deliciousness in it. Serve it over roasted pork, or chicken and it is superb. Bake onions and pour a little over them and it is divine. I am so sorry we live in a kumquat free zone or I would make this in bulk and go through the steps to can and water process it. It is that good. the only step I took off the recipe path was to use Splenda instead of sugar. I am sure this is not as syrupy as it would have been, but the previously sour fruit has been tamed and coaxed into this deliciously sweet strongly citrus flavored mouthful of heaven. I did save some of the seeds. Wonder if I can get them to grow? Will try!

Dang! Now I covet kumquats!

Oh yeah this post counts in the February total, I just didn't get it written until today.