Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Midwinter's Lunch

What do you do when the produce aisles are filled with winter vegetables but it feels like late spring outdoors?  A salad lunch sounded fantastic but the tomatoes this time of year are so pithy and not worth eating, plus the cucumbers I have seen feel soft.  Not what I want with a salad. Looking through the fridge I found one of those plastic containers of kale.  I also found a 4 pound package of applewood smoked bacon.  Hmmmmmm bacon, kale, kale, bacon.  I was debating when the universe decided for me.  I had been listening to jazz on Spotify  and with the refrigerator door still open I heard the beginnings of a different song... Cannonball Adderley's version of "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy".  You can't argue with the universe so all that was left was to decide how to combine the 2.

Would Be Healthy If Not For The Bacon Salad

                  This made 1 lunch size salad.  Would be enough for 2 side salads at night

1 large bowl filled with shredded kale
2 slices thick applewood smoked bacon  (truthfully any bacon will do.  Neuske's is just my favorite)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped onions
2 teaspoons grapeseed oil ( or any other non flavored oil)
2teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons vinegar ( I used strawberry vinegar because I had used it earlier and it was still out)
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
5 pecans halves

Put the kale in a bowl and just let it sit for  bit.

Cook the bacon until it is crisp.  Drain on paper towels.  Toss the chopped onion in the bacon grease left in the pan and let it wilt.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  Pour all the remaining bacon fat out of the pan and lightly wipe with a dry paper towel.  Put the pan on a very low heat and add the vinegar to deglaze the bacon flavor form the bottom of the pan.  Add the onions, brown sugar and dijon.  Stir to combine well.  Mix in the oil and stir till hot throughout.  Pour over the kale and sprinkle with the pecans.

I am not a big fan of raw kale but the hot dressing wilted it just enough that it lost  some of its raw flavor.  This was really good and I will maybe do it again, but I will do it differently.

I love the way bacon tastes but I absolutely hate to cook the stuff. I know a lot of people like the way bacon smells when it is cooking.  I am not one of them, and I especially hate how the smell lingers throughout the day.  Since I was cooking 2 slices for the salad I went ahead and pulled out my biggest baking sheets and cooked all 4 pounds in the oven  at once.  As soon as they are cooled I will put them in freezer bags and we will pull out precooked bacon to zap in the microwave whenever we need it.  But right this minute everything in my house smells like bacon___ugh!

When I make this again I will use the precooked bacon  and will probably use olive oil as the base oil for the dressing since I will not be fighting to preserve the bacon flavor in the dressing.  Other than the oil and using apple cider vinegar I will form it the same.

p.s I am glad I listened to the universe earlier because right now Prokofiev's "The Montagues and Capulets  just started playing!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Restaurant Redoux

Tonight The Hub is in Chicago and that means 2 things, the remote is mine and popcorn for supper!  Even better someplace near his hotel is noted for their pizza and they prepare "ready to travel" pizzas, so he is bringing one home for supper tomorrow.  The only down side to this is the fact that I was going to try and replicate something we had eaten at a restaurant every Monday night, so I cheated and made it for supper last night.

10 or so years ago we took a spring break trip to Whistler in British Columbia for some skiing and then flew down to Phoenix for a little spring baseball.  We are smart like that and like to travel with clothing for 2 climate extremes in the same suitcase.  As fate would have it there was a little stroke of serendipity
the day we arrived in Arizona.  Alabama's basketball team was in the March quarter finals  and would be playing there.  A couple of phone calls and a quick change of clothing ( from sweaters to something appropriate for 90 degrees) and we had scored tickets to the game and were headed downtown.  Now remember we were in the process of traveling and I don't think we had eaten anything but plane peanuts by this time.  We had to meet someone well before the game to pick up the tickets and were going to have a couple of hours to kill prior to going into the arena.  We decided we would just find something close by and whatever they had we would eat.

The only restaurant we found open was a pretty decent size Mexican restaurant which was fine with me. My Beloved Sister and I had  already completed a cheesecake and hotdog tour of Birmingham and I had just begun a Chile Relleno tour.  ( For those of you who have never done a tour, it requires eating from places all over town to determine the "best")  Bingo!  A new touring venue!

I have no idea what the name of the restaurant was nor what The Hub and Son3 ate.  When I ordered  the waitress said they were a little different from traditional rellenos.  The dish arrived at the table like a huge cloud in a  casserole dish  It could only be described as a cheese stuffed chile souffle.  I have tried the dish at every Mexican restaurant we have been to since  nothing has come close to the puffy deliciousness I ate that day.

My experiment was a slight deviation from a traditional cheese souffle recipe I have used for years.  Also since there were only 2 of us I cut the recipe in half.  If you choose to double it add 1 additional egg white to the recipe.

So this is my take on the dish and it was very close.  In fact since 10 years has passed I can't say whether this was better or worse,  just that it was very, very tasty

Cheese Chili Relleno Souffle
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter (melted)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
2 large egg yolks
2 large egg whites
2 cans whole chiles (those small cans)
4 ounces pepper jack cheese (  I used less but more would taste a little better I think. Uou could use other cheese, that is just what I had on hand)

Drain the chiles, cut small slices of cheese  and stuff inside each pepper.  Each can has 6 peppers so you will need a total of 6 slices.  I cut mine slightly less than 1/4 inch thick.  Arrange them in the bottom of a greased casserole dish.  They will overlap if you use a small dish like I did.

In a large glass bowl beat egg whites until very stiff and set aside.

Whisk the egg yolks and add the milk to them.  Slowly whisk in the flour, salt and chili powder.  Stir on the melted butter and mix well.  Slowly fold into the stiff egg whites, making sure to fold rather than stir keeping as much air in the mixture as possible.  Pour over the chiles and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Remove from the oven and cut almost immediately.  Serve piping hot with salsa*

This was really good and will be a part of our regular food rotation.  It was good, quick and a different type meal than we usually have.  It would have been perfect with a big salad, but we had none.  I guess that is what a grocery moratorium does for the salad stock.

This was so easy that I would do it again next week, except I have to remember something new and memorable I have eaten out.  Good thing it is just Monday and I still have 4 or 5 restaurant possibilities this week.

If you are in Phoenix and near the Diamondback Stadium or the Arena just walk around and look for the little Mexican joint with the freaky rellenos.  You will be glad you did!

p.s.  This would be really good for a brunch with some chorizo on the side.

  • Sunday, January 27, 2013

    Basically Basic Bread

    I made the dreadful mistake last week of cleaning out the freezer and seeing exactly what I had stored in there.  I was kind of horrified to see I had over 20 packages of chicken and 16 packages of steak.  I am having a hard time adjusting to cooking for just the two of us and seem to still be buying like I had a teenage boy living and eating here.  At the same time while I have not altered my buying habits, I evidently have been in some kind of freezing frenzy.  I made the decision with the exception of fresh produce and milk I am not going to the store until the freezer contents are reduced by a third.

    This creates a small problem with breads.  We don't have bread with every meal but sometimes if we are having a chicken breast and a salad a roll really does change the meal.  It sort of rounds it out into a more complete dinner.  I was looking for something with few ingredients that could be whipped up in a flash with things I already have on hand when I stumbled on this recipe in one of my grandmothers old cookbooks.

    Muffins ( I adore a catchy recipe name)

    1/4 cup oil
    1 egg
    1 cup milk
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1/3 cup sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    2 cups flour

    Put the oil, egg, milk, sugar, vanilla and salt in a large bowl and beat well with a fork.  Add the flour and baking powder and mix until the dough is moist but not smooth.  I counted as I stirred and it took me about 35 strokes to get everything uniformly moist.  Spoon the batter into oiled muffin tins ( I used paper muffin cups because I didn't feel like taking the time to oil the pan.  Do not do this, go ahead and either spray with pam or oil the tins.  It tends to stick to the paper.)  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  Remove for the pan and enjoy.

    That is the recipe as written  but I did make a couple of changes.  Since we were using this as a bread with the meal I reduced the sugar to 1/4 cup and omitted the vanilla entirely.  I also used whole wheat pastry flour instead of white all purpose flour.  The result was a light and fluffy though slightly dry muffin that became fabulous when eaten hot with butter on it.  It was not very sweet at all.  If you wanted a sweet muffin I would increase the sugar to 1/2 cup and add the vanilla.

    This is probably something I will play with adding different ingredients to see how it hold up to them.  I am thinking it might work with some thyme, savory and parsley for a herbed muffin and some brown sugar and cinnamon for a sweeter version.

    I will be sure to let you know  the results of the kitchen chemistry as I do muffin trial and error.  With all the food reserves I have it looks like I am going to have a multitude of  opportunities for experimentation.

    Thursday, January 24, 2013

    Batting 500 With Pinterest Today

    This morning before I had coffee, I started the day with hot vinegar and blue Dawn dishwashing liquid.  I had been reading all about the miracle of vinegar and Dawn as the end all be all of shower cleaning.  According to all of the posts it was the most amazing cleaner EVER!  So, I woke,  put the coffee on and immediately began heating the vinegar in the microwave.  Beep!  Not hot enough so a little more time. Beep! Still just warm so a bit more.  Finally I had it heated hot yet not boiling.  I poured it in its brand new spray bottle and mixed equal portions of Dawn original blue detergent.

    Still no coffee, but off I went to spray all the surfaces of the shower.  Spritz, spritz, spritz,  and after about 15 minutes of spritzing my bathroom smelled like a really clean pickle.  Now it was time to wait 2 hours for the magic to happen.  I sipped coffee, did laundry, cleaned out a few drawers, kitchen cabinets, the freezer in the laundry, laundry room fridge and various other tasks that I also dislike doing .

     I could not wait to get in the shower and wipe all the soap scum down with a sponge. About 10 minutes later I was supposed  have a gleaming shower.  I  was almost giddy as I entered it but then i almost  busted my big fat butt as I slid across the shower floor.  The dishwashing liquid was very slippery but that was no problem, I just got out so I could wipe the floor first and then I could wipe down the walls without the fear of slipping.  The first swipe with the sponge yielded no results, nor did the second, nor the third.  No problem, I would get the scrub brush that is specifically used for the shower and lightly scrub.  Did I say lightly?  Two hours with a scrub brush later I had finished all the surfaces, so I rinsed everything well then waited for it to dry, to see_______more damn soap scum marks!  If I had used what I normally use I would have scrubbed for 30 minutes, rinsed and it would have been clean.  Instead I had to spray again with Kaboom, wait about 10 more minutes and scrub again.  So yes, my shower is gleaming, and no, the Dawn and vinegar does not work at all!

    After that Pinterest fiasco I really did not think our supper tonight would be a success.  Oh I knew the chicken would cook and I knew that it would taste ok, but I had little faith that it would actually be good.  What a pleasant surprise I had!   This is that chicken recipe that is flooding Pinterest and it says So much better than fried!   Then it lists the ingredients.  I tried to trace it back to the website it came from but all I found was one Pinterest picture after another, so I apologize for not crediting this to whomever originated it.  Here goes!

    So Much Better Than Fried Chicken

    4 (boneless skinless?) chicken breasts.  What I used anyway
    1/2 cup parmesan cheese
    1 cup plain greek yogurt
    1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    1 teaspoon seasoned salt

    Mix all the ingredients together and spread on the top of the chicken.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  Oh my goodness!  I don't know if it was the yogurt or something else but this was probably the most tender chicken I have ever eaten. The cheese formed a soft crust on the top with this delicious savory custard underneath followed by melt in your mouth chicken.  It was truly delicious.  Usually we each eat 1 piece of chicken and I have the leftovers for a couple of lunches.  Tonight there was nothing left!

    This is going to be in rotation for one of those "go to" meals.  We only had chicken a mixed green salad and a savory muffin and the meal felt complete.  It really does not get any easier than that.  The only thing I will do differently is use minced fresh garlic instead of garlic powder and cut the seasoned salt down to about 1/2 teaspoon. ( I don't like a lot of salt and with the parmesan cheese this was almost on the salty side.  The Hub thought it was perfect, but he can  salt his a little more at the table the next time we have it.

    Monday, January 21, 2013

    New Year, New Theme

    I have decided to do this a little different this year.  I have mentioned before that we eat out____a lot!  Too much in fact, but that is neither here nor there, it's just what happens.  Often we have had something so delicious that we both want it again.  Unfortunately for us a lot of  those delicious flavors happen in other cities so we aren't able to make reservations and go again the following week, or maybe even ever again.  Lucky for us I can usually pick out the flavors and if I remember to make a note of  right after we eat, I can SOMETIMES replicate the dish.

    This year Monday's are going to be RESTAURANT REDOUX, my attempt at recreating something we found to be fabulous and want again.  We have just returned from a quick trip to New York. We wanted to eat lunch somewhere un-rushed with enough space for conversation.  We have found that space is quite a commodity in the city so we opted for lunch at Arte' Cafe on W.73rd.  The food there is above average and the tables have room around them so you are not to close to the person sitting at the table next to you.  ( A few restaurants leave you no option but to become new best friends with the other diners because you are all but sitting in your neighbors lap)

     Arte' offers a prix fixe menu for lunch which turned out to be another bonus.  If not I probably would have ordered a salad and certainly not the one I chose for my part of the meal.  Along with my Caprese paninni  I had the pear salad ( Italian name I don't remember at all) which amounted to a large bed of baby arugula with these cool spirals of green pear, candied warm pecans, goat cheese and a very mild vinaigrette.  Tonight I decided to try and duplicate this salad.  It was not exact but was close and I think I learned what to do next time I make it.

    Fancy Forgotten Italian Name Pear Salad

    Enough Baby Arugula for 2
    Candied Roasted Pecans*
    1 inch slice from a goat cheese log
    1/2 hard green pear
    Vinaigrette Dressing**

     Place the greens in a small colander. Gently rinse them with cool water.  Tap the sides of the colander to help remove the excess water, then put the damp greens on a clean kitchen towel and very lightly blot to remove the moisture. ( Arugula does not cotton to a ride in the salad spinner)   Put on salad plates and put a few (6-8) candied pecan halves among the greens. Slice the goat cheese in half  ( making 2 circles of cheese) and cut it into 4 wedges for each salad. ( I did not do this and had cheese blobs instead.  Still delicious but not very pretty)  If you have mad knife skills or one of those old Popiel  spiral apple slicers then cut the paper thin pear spirals.  I have neither so I just used my vegetable peeler to create paper them.  They were straight rather than spiraled but my mouth did not care at all. My pear was a tiny bit to ripe.  A greener pear would have been just perfect but mine was ok and the slices were so thin.  Funny what a difference a day makes in pear world.  Drizzle dressing on top of the salad and enjoy!

    1/2 cup pecan halves
    2 teaspoons brown sugar
    1 tablespoon oil
    dash of salt
    2 pinches  dried thyme
    2 pinches dried parsley
    1 pinch cayenne pepper

    * Pecans--Mix the oil, sugar, and spices in a small bowl.  Stir in the pecans and toss to cover them.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  Trust your nose on the time.  You want to smell roasted but not burnt.

    **Dressing-- Mix 3 tablespoons non flavored oil ( like grapeseed)  with a 3 teaspoons of fresh lemon or lime juice.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add about 3/4 teaspoon of sugar ( I used a full teaspoon and it was a bit too sweet)  Mix well and drizzle over the two salads.

    I would say this was pretty much a success.  The pecans at the restaurant might have been a little sweeter and that could be changed by adding another teaspoon of brown sugar.  I actually preferred the less sweet version.  A firmer pear would have been better.  The one I had was really green when I bought it yesterday, but had ripened just enough that it the slices drooped a wee bit.  It was no where near ripe, but not as crisp as it would have been Sunday.

    I will put this in the food rotation when orchard fruits are at their prime.

    Now I just have to remember something we have eaten out recently that I want to try to redoux.  Should not be hard since I am eating out tomorrow night!

    Tuesday, January 8, 2013

    Monday Night BCS grazing

    T'was the night of the last bowl and all hunkered in,
    A quick meal with loved ones was where we'd begin
    It started at 6 with the food for the hoard,
    A BBQ fest and dessert smorgasbord.
    We stood after dining and moved to the den
    And turned on the TV to watch all our "men"
    The channel was clear with no flicker of snow,
    A coin toss and handshake, the whistle did blow.
    We heard the loud sounds of a lusty long cheer.
    A kickoff, a quick score; we'd nothing to fear.
    The first part was over with just 14 points scored
    At this point t'was too close to even be bored.
    Everything changed in the new 2nd quarter.
    One more quick TD,  attentions grew shorter.
    Someone stood up with a hand on their hip,
    Looking for munchies, a snack or a chip.
    A look from The Hub and a nod of his head
    I went in the kitchen, returned with some bread,
    A couple of drinks,  some cupcakes and chips,
    T'was then I remembered I forgot the dip.

    Dip? Did I mention the dip?

    Buffalo Chicken Dip

    3/4 cup buffalo wing sauce
    2 8 ounce packages cream cheese
    2 10 ounce cans breast meat chicken
    1/2 cup ranch dressing ( can also use blue cheese)
    1 cup grated sharp cheddar.

    Put in a crock pot on high for about 30 minutes until everything is melted.  Stir to combine it.  Serve with chips, crackers and celery sticks.
    Best served in individual ramekins on houndstooth plates.

         Easiest. Dip. Ever

    And I heard them exclaim as the game did subside
    "Season's ended, You Did it again! and Roll Tide!

    Tuesday, January 1, 2013


    Feel free to put on your Russian boots and dance and sing like Topol in "Fiddler on the Roof " if you are so inspired by the title up there.  I know I was singing it as I typed.  We were fortunate enough to see it on Broadway several years ago but we saw Harvey Firestein and Rosie O' Donnell as Tevya and Golda.  It was an interesting cast.  The best part of the play was the ticket on the 8th row.  I really do love being close enough to see the facial expressions.  The last time we were in NYC we were lucky enough to get what they called obstructed view seats in the first box directly next to the stage.  It is my new favorite place to watch a play as we were able to see everything on the stage* as well as in the wings of stage right and also had a complete view of the pit.  We are going there in a couple of weeks and hopefully can score similar seats.

    But I digress,  today is not about theater but is about those traditions we honor or feel bound to observe yearly.  I think there has only been one time in my life that I have foregone a traditional Southern New Year's Day Meal.  For those of you who were not born here to generations of Southern parents you might have no clue what I am talking about, so here is the rundown:
    Black Eyed Peas , Pig product, Collard Greens, Corn product.  Usually we have it straight and simple with peas, ham, collards and cornbread.  This year we shook up traditions a tad and opted for pork steaks and grits rather than the ham and cornbread.  The result was delicious and a different form of the same food. ( I guess it really is like recasting the same play!)

    Black Eyed Peas for New Year's Day:  Black Eyed Peas are supposed to bring luck to the year (Start this New Year's Eve) Wash and sort a small pack of dried black eyed peas.  Place cleaned peas in a large pot and cover with water overnight.  About 45 minutes before the meal drain the water from the peas, rinse again and put the peas in a pot and cover with water.  Add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 ham hock and 2 slices of hog jowl. ( Thank you Piggly Wiggly for having the jowl sliced in nice easy to use strips rather than the whole gross looking thing I used to have to buy!)  We do not eat the jowl at all but, since I have been told my entire life that the success of the coming year rests entirely in this first major meal of the new year, I refuse to tempt fate or whatever fairies are responsible for keeping the meal score.  So the jowl is in there and really does flavor the peas. Bring the pot to a boil and turn down the heat to a medium low until the peas are still firm but the centers are well cooked.  It truly is about a 45 minute process.  If you like mushy peas just continue to let them cook but please don't invite us for dinner.  I grew up eating mushy peas and like the firmer version much better.

    Collards:  This is supposed to offer luck in the $$$$ department.  Collards come fresh in 2 forms.  One is in a bunch of large whole leaves, the other is in a bag, washed and either cut or shredded.  I am not going to argue with anyone about which they prefer, but if you buy the bag please go ahead and put them in a colander to rinse off any preservatives that might have been added to keep them fresh. ( Personally I think the bagged shredded collards located in the produce section of every grocery store is a message from God that I should buy them, and I try to listen to Divine messages.  But then again everyone sees and hears God differently.   If you use the bunches get busy washing and shredding)    Put about a tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of your largest saute pan or skillet.  Heat it over medium high heat and add 1 onion, sliced thinly.  Stir quickly until it begins to wilt and add 3 minced cloves of garlic.  Cook about 1 minute stirring constantly so the garlic doesn't burn.  Put enough shredded collards to fill the entire pan from top to bottom and add about 1/2 cup of water.  Put the lid on and cook until the greens are cooked down to about half their original volume, then add more collards to fill the pan again and repeat the process minus adding the water.  Only add water if the collards cook dry.  When they are again at about half of their original size top off the pan with additional collards , cover and cook until they are soft.  Salt lightly and stir to distribute the onions well and serve.  Hot pepper sauce is often used to sprinkle on top. ( This is the clear vinegar pepper sauce, not the red stuff)

    Grits:   I'm not sure what the luck from corn is but we are thankful for whatever it is. I am not offering instructions on cooking grits.  If you can't read the package and make them you need to either use instant or go ahead and plunk down $5 for polenta which is basically expensive already cooked grits.  If you choose to use instant grits I am not judging  but please don't let me know you used them. Ditto for polenta.

    Herb Crusted Pork Steaks

    4 pork sirloin steaks ( can use chops also but the cooking time with vary with the thickness)
    2-3 tablespoons olive oil
    1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour ( can use white flour)
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons dried parsley
    1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
    1 teaspoon dried savory
    pinch of black pepper
    1/2 cup dry white wine
    3 tablespoons cream

    Put the oil in a saute pan and heat to medium high
    Rinse and pat pork steaks dry.  Mix all the dry ingredients and put on a plate.  Place steaks, one at a time, in the dry mix and coat on both sides.  Brown the coated steaks in the oil  turning after about 3 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium and let cook for 5 more minutes.  Add the wine and cover the pan cooking for 5 more minutes or until done ( Like I said the thickness of the steak will determine the cooking time)
    Turn the heat to high and reduce the cooking liquid so there is about 1/4 cup left, being sure to scrape up all the brown bits in the pan.  Add the cream and stir to incorporate.  Serve the pork steak on top of the grits.  Divide the sauce into 4 servings and pour over the pork.

    I am not sure if the pork is supposed to be lucky or if it just tastes really good with the aforementioned lucky foods.  Either way it is still a part of our New Year plate.  Now that we are filled with food and luck we are spending the day as we are supposed to, in front of the TV watching the bowl games.

    Wishing everyone a joyous and exciting New Year with hope, health and happiness!!!!!!!!

    * Matthew Brodrick is not my favorite film actor but is quite at home on Broadway.  From our seats we could see stays in character even when he is no longer on stage.