December 31, 2007

Slow Baked Potatoes

I did something over the weekend that I shouldn't have. I weighed myself.


I've gained 20 pounds this past year. And I need to do something about that.

So, I've decided to do the South Beach Diet again...starting tomorrow. I did it a few years ago, after my dad was diagnosed with diabetes, more to get healthy than to lose weight.

I'll have to put some of my "plan to cook" recipes--like my search for the perfect macaroni & cheese--on hold while I make healthier dishes. But, that will be a new quest all its own.

As one last act of indulgence, after I ate leftover fettuccine alfredo, I slow baked some potatoes for lunch today. I've been reading about slow roasting vegetables, so I followed Alanna's recipe on A Veggie Venture, which says to roast the spuds at 350 for 3 hours.

The house smelled so good as the potatoes cooked, and I could hear them slightly sizzling & sputtering. I peeked into the oven a few times, and gently poked each potato. The skins were getting really crispy.

When I took the potatoes out of the oven after 3 hours, I was a little skeptical. They felt hard. I wondered if I'd read the recipe wrong and cooked them at too high a temperature. But, those potatoes were so soft and fluffy on the inside, so creamy. I didn't even put butter on them. Instead, I ate them--skins and all--with just a sprinkle of salt.

And potatoes or other starches, no fruit, no sweets for two weeks.

Cheese Souffle with Lobster Sauce

Let me tell you about my friend Margaret. I met her at the university where we both taught English. She is beautiful, brilliant, talented, creative, funny, caring, and a wonderful cook. I always think of Margaret as an "Earth Mother," always a nurturer.

I love her.

Recently, Margaret learned to master the souffle. So, before Christmas I suggested that we cook together...she could teach me to make souffle and I could show her how to cook a live lobster, something I learned at one of Kitchen Conservatory's Novel Cuisine classes.

Our little dinner party evolved into one of extreme, but simple, decadence. As Margaret wrote on her blog:

Here is my menu for an upcoming very small holiday dinner at my place, as demonstration of the principle that quality ingredients prepared simply are the secret to culinary happiness:

Caviar on crackers with creme fraiche
Very Light Salad
Cheese souffle with lobster sauce
Hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps
Gingered Sugar Cookies, Peppermint Sugar Cookies

Yes, all simple. Nothing to cover up, nothing to obscure. If any of these ingredients were less than fresh or less than fine the meal would suffer horribly (and thus the guests). So, we'll work with live lobster, fresh (even though the inexpensive domestic kind) caviar, good eggs, local cream and milk, fine cheese and chocolate, homemade cookies baked that day, and the freshest salad makings (Kelly is bringing them, and I know she won't go astray). That's it.

Margaret had called the local seafood market to see if they had any caviar; they were getting a shipment that day of Missouri paddlefish caviar (very comparable to the expensive Russian kind!) at $20 an ounce, so she reserved a jar for us. I picked it up with a 1 1/2 pound lobster.

I was pretty nervous about Margaret's suggestion of a "very light salad." I didn't want to disappoint. So, I wandered around Whole Foods until I decided on fresh arugula with tangerines (with the leaves still attached!) and balsamic syrup.

Making the souffle was much easier than I expected. We first boiled the lobster, then I went to town with a kitchen towel, breaking the meat out of the shell. We undercooked it just slightly, as it would finish cooking in the sauce. Next, we made a roux for the souffle, then added some eggs yolks to it. Margaret beat the eggs whites BY HAND, and that got folded into the yolk mixture with some cheese. It was dumped in a prepared dish, which was buttered & parmesaned. Apparently, that's the give the souffle something to cling to as it rises up the pan.

As the souffle cooked, Margaret made the creamy lobster sauce, which she spooned onto plates and topped with portions of the souffle. The salad was a do-it-yourself kind of thing as everyone got to squeeze tangerine wedges and drizzle balsamic syrup on their arugula.

The entire meal was simply divine. It was some of the most delicious, most satisfying food I've had in a while. The souffle was perfect, the lobster sauce was obscenely rich, and the "real" hot chocolate (dark chocolate melted in heavy cream) was absolutely orgasmic.

I was so full when I left, that I had to unbuckle my belt in the car. No joke.

Christmas Cookies

I had this grand plan to make 12 different cookie recipes this year. But that didn't work as I had hoped. I simply didn't have time to make that many cookies, and thank god...I still have cookies left from the 4 batches I did bake!

I started with Martha Stewart's Pumpkin Cookies, because I had two cans of pumpkin puree in my pantry and I had no idea why. Did I plan to make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, then completely forgot about it? I haven't a clue.

Is 34 too young to be going senile?

Nevertheless, December 13th was a cold day (32 degrees!) and in an attempt to avoid grading papers, I began my Christmas baking.

I adapted Martha's recipe slightly, increasing the pumpkin pie spice to one tablespoon and adding a couple teaspoons of gingerbread syrup. The batter tasted just like pumpkin pie filling.


Instead of drizzling the finished cookies with chocolate, like the recipe calls for (I was too lazy to deal with melted chocolate), I sprinkled them with cinnamon & sugar before baking.

They turned out soft & cakey, but not my favorite. Though, I did use them for the cake layer in my Spiced Pear & Caramel Trifle.

Next, I made my Grandma Martin's Chocolate Nut Drops. I've made these in the past, but they never turn out like hers. They were too cakey and dry. After looking through my recipe box, I found Grandma's own typed recipe card. I was using butter instead of shortening and cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate. So, I tried these cookies again.

There was one problem, however. Her recipe is a little vague. It calls for "2 squares of melted chocolate" but doesn't say how much those two squares are or what kind of chocolate. I guessed and chose German chocolate, which wasn't right. As soon as I opened the package, I knew those squares were too small. (I've since learned that I should have used baker's unsweetened chocolate, which comes in individually wrapped 1 ounce squares).

The cookies were better this time, a texture and taste more like Grandma's cookies.


A few days later, I made press cookies at my friends' second annual cookie baking party. My Grandma Green always made these kind of cookies; green christmas trees with sprinkles were my favorite. I bought a cookie press several year ago and always use the recipe for Classic Spritz Cookies that came with it...a recipe that calls for 3 sticks of butter!

We had fun all taking turns shooting the cookie gun. We made the green trees with sprinkles, white snowflakes with red & white peppermint spinkles, wreaths, leaves, and hearts.

Slop having a go with the gun.

I'm dangerous with a trigger.

Decorative & Delicious!

Lindy's first ever batch of cookies: Peanut Butter Oatmeal.

Erin's sexy Snickerdoodles.

Finally, I baked some Lavender Faerie Cookies, a recipe my friend Sue gave me a few years ago. Sue actually introduced me to the joy that is eating lavender. She adds it to her "better butter" (equal parts olive oil & butter) that she uses every day.

If you've never eaten lavender-laced food, you must try it. I like lavender mixed with melted butter and used as a dip for steamed artichokes. It's also very good on roasted asparagus.

Anyway, these cookies were very delicate and fragrant. My friend Margaret called them "startling". They go excellently with hot chocolate & even with red wine.


December 18, 2007


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December 16, 2007

Spiced Pear & Caramel Trifle

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Layers of aromatic cake, fruit, caramel, custard, & nuts inspired by Catherynne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales books, this is my entry for A Recipe From the Crease of my Right Eye, a food blogging event from Habeas Brulee.

According to Danielle, "the food and spice imagery in these books is inspiring. Not only does the boy steal food from the Sultan’s palace to bring to the girl, but the imagery infuses the rest of the stories as well. [...] In the second book, the basilisk lives in a grove of persimmon and coconut, a girl dances in shoes made of cinnamon, and Ajanabh, the city of spice, is filled with a spice-smog, 'the faintest sigh of cardamom and cumin and cinnamon breathing through the night.' It is filled with quail eggs and cinnamon candies, rose and leek sandwiches, sugar pies and lamb fat. And more, and more. "

With this imagery in mind, I decided to make something seasonal and full of spice...something to help use up all that gingerbread syrup.

So, here it first entry into a blogger's cooking very own recipe, which I invented specifically for this contest, for SPICED PEAR & CARAMEL TRIFLE...

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For the pumpkin cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice
2 teaspoons gingerbread syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
15 ounces (1 can) pure pumpkin puree

For the caramel & pears:
½ cup + 1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 red pears (halved, cored, & sliced)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons spiced rum

For the custard:
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons gingerbread syrup
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
8 ounces heavy cream, whipped

For the topping:
1/4 cup mixed nuts (I used almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, & pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup dried fruits (I used cranberries, raisins, & golden raisins)
1/2 tablespoon candied ginger, finely chopped.


Make the cake:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, pumpkin-pie spice, and salt; set aside.
3. In another bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg; beat until smooth. With mixer on low speed, alternately add half of the flour mixture, then all of the pumpkin puree, then the rest of the flour mixture; mix just until combined (do not overmix).
4. Pour into a 9x9 baking dish & bake for 15-20 minutes.
5. Remove from oven & let cool.
6. Cut into bite-sized pieces.

Make the caramel:
1. In a medium saucepan, melt brown sugar & ½ cup butter over medium-low heat, whisking often.
2. When melted & smooth, stir in heavy cream.
3. Remove from heat & let cool to room temperature.

Make the pears:
1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large non-stick skillet over medium heat.
2. Add pears & cook about 10 minutes, until warmed through but not mushy.
3. Sprinkle cinnamon & sugar over, stir.
4. Turn off the heat & pour in spiced rum, stir.
5. Let cool to room temperature.

Make the custard:
1. Blend yolks & sugar until light & fluffy.
2. Add gingerbread syrup.
3. Add mascarpone & blend until smooth.
4. Fold in whipped cream.
5. Refrigerate until ready to assemble trifle.

Assemble the trifle:
1. In a trifle bowl, place 3 cups of cubed pumpkin cake.
2. Top with pears & their liquid.
3. Pour over 2/3 cup (or up to 1 cup, if desired) caramel.
4. Layer in custard.
5. Sprinkle nuts, fruit, & ginger on top.

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December 13, 2007

Insatiable Macaroni & Cheese

I've been doing much research in my quest for the perfect mac-n-cheese, including browsing through all my cookbooks for recipes, purchasing a new all macaroni & cheese cookbook, and comparing numerous recipes online.

Most of the recipes I've found for baked mac-n-cheese are made with either a bechamel sauce or Velvetta cheese. While I plan to try a bechamel-based dish eventually, that's not what I am in the mood for. Instead, I've been looking for a recipe more that which my Grandma Green used to make.

You see, each year for the holidays (Christmas & Easter), Grandma would make the same meal...Italian sausages from the local butcher, ham, baked mac-n-cheese, potato salad, and "pink salad."

Let me explain this "pink salad": It's a strawberry jello/cream cheese/whipped cream thing that I can't stand to eat. However, at some point, Grandma got the impression that I LOVED the pink salad. And so, at every holiday, Grandma made it just for me (much like that dreaded Easter lamb cake). She even wrote out the recipe for me when I got married. After so many years of her thinking that I liked the pink stuff, I would take a small spoonful of it with my dinner so as not to hurt my grandmother's.

Anyway, Granny's mac-n-cheese wasn't very saucy & creamy; it was more of a stringy cheesy, almost dry, kind of thing...with lots of black pepper. So, when recently I came across Gael Greene's Almost Like Mom's Macaroni and Cheese recipe in her book Insatiable, I decided to try it out.

Greene writes: "This is a recipe food-writer friends have been passing around—I got it from Arthur Schwartz (a passionate New Yorker), who got it from Suzanne Hamlin (an ultimate southerner). I am using it here because it’s close to my memory of my Detroit-born mom’s baked macaroni. The goal is crisp, not creamy. Use half-and-half instead of milk if you like it creamier." [emphasis mine]

There seems to be quite a history behind this particular recipe, which Schwartz calls "the mother of macaroni and cheese recipes." It seems to derive from 1950's version served in school cafeterias. Schwartz's version calls for butter instead of olive oil, an addition of finely minced onion, & melted butter stirred into the bread crumb mixture.

Here's how I made it today:
Almost like Grandma's Baked Mac & Cheese
You'll need:
1/2 pound small elbow macaroni.
1 tablespoon olive oil (or butter)
1 tablespoon salt.
2 1/2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese.
1 cup 2% milk.
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper.
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder.
4 tablespoons bread crumbs.
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese.
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Spray the bottom and sides of a baking dish* (one that can go under the boiler) with cooking spray.
3. Cook macaroni in boiling, salted water until just tender. Drain well.
4. Immediately turn the macaroni into the baking dish. Toss with olive oil. Then add cheese, milk, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Mix well.
5. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and stir. Sprinkle bread crumbs and parm on top. Bake another 15 minutes.
6. If topping has not browned and crisped to your liking, drizzle the top with a tablespoon or so of olive oil and bake another 5 minutes.
7. If still not sufficiently browned and crisped, stick it under the broiler. DON'T WALK AWAY TO QUICKLY CHECK YOUR EMAIL, because after just a few seconds the top will be well-done.
8. Curse, quickly remove pan from boiler, & scrap off any burnt crumbs.
* Greene suggests using a flat (as opposed to a loaf pan) metal pan for added crispiness. I used an oval stoneware casserole dish.

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The pictures suck, but the macaroni was pretty damn good! Not exactly like Granny's, but similar in texture...not creamy as I imagine bechamel or Velvetta versions to be. The crumb topping created a satisfying crunch when I spooned some out, but next time I'll use less of it as it was a bit distracting.

December 12, 2007

Ten Things to do with Gingerbread Syrup

10. Spike your coffee or tea.

9. Make dessert: Add to cake batter, icing, whipped cream, or ice cream.

8. Spice up breakfast: mix into pancake/waffle batter or oatmeal.

7. Spread it on: stir into softened butter & use on toast or bagels.

6. Drizzle over baked sweet potatoes.

5. Make dips: mix with 1 jar of marshmallow cream & 1 block of cream cheese to use with fruit, stir into homemade pumpkin hummus, use instead of fresh ginger in peanut satay dip.

4. Mix with mustard: spread on turkey or chicken sandwiches.

3. Glaze a ham.

2. Shake up a cocktail: shake with vodka (plain, vanilla, or orange) & top with a splash of ginger ale or 7-Up. Or shake with vanilla vodka, Kahlua, & cream for a gingerbread latte martini!

1. Make gingerbread vinaigrette: whisk 1/4 cup cider vinegar with 1 teaspoon (or more to taste) syrup, 1 crushed garlic clove, & a pinch of salt. Continue whisking & slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Pour over a spinach salad with apple (or pear) slices, dried cranberries, walnuts (or pecans, almonds, pine nuts), & goat cheese (crumbled, sliced, or coated with bread crumbs and lightly fried). This goes really well with roasted chicken or pork!

December 11, 2007

Visions of Gingerbread & Peppermint Dance in My Head

Champagne + Gingerbread Syrup = PURE JOY.

I saw this recipe for "Christmas in a Glass" in Nigella Express and was anxious to try it. All I did was add a tablespoon or so of syrup to each glass. So festive...and delicious!

The problem was finding the syrup. I remember Starbucks selling small bottles of it last year, but they are not carrying it this year. I explained my dilemma to a guy at Starbucks recently, and he very generously gave me a plastic cup with some syrup for free. Last night, I asked again about buying some syrup and learned that they only sell the big bottles now. But, they are only about $7 each, so I decided to get one. When I got home, a friend of mine brought a second bottle over to surprise me (since I've been talking about this for a couple weeks!).

Now I have 2 liters of gingerbread syrup. I used some in coffee this morning, but am looking for other recipes. Any suggestions?

I went to sleep last night while thinking about what all I could use that syrup for. You would have thought I'd dream about gingerbread. Instead, I dreamt that I made a chocolate peppermint cake...a single layer of chocolate cake covered in vanilla icing and topped with crushed candy canes. A sign? Apparently, I've been thinking too much about holiday baking.

Indeed, I have been giving lots of thought to which cookies to bake this year. I have it narrowed down to 12 recipes and am seriously considering just baking them all...a "12 days of Christmas cookies" kind of thing. That would, after all, be much more cheery than my last 12 days list which set off an onslaught of family drama.

So, if you know me, expect to receive some cookies......

December 10, 2007

Turkey Noodle Soup

Last December a winter storm rolled through the mid-west, covering everything in ice that flattened trees and cut out power for many days.

For the past few days, it's been raining in St. Louis. Once the temperature drops, all that water turns to ice. Once again, everything is covered with a layer of ice, making cars & houses & trees look as if they were made of glass.

I think it's actually quite beautiful. While driving down the river road on my way to the winery yesterday, I felt a little like I was in a black & white Ansel Adams photograph. Last night, the streetlights & Christmas lights sparkled off the ice.

Winter is finally here (it was way too warm this November). I've been nursing a cold the past week, which I attribute to the sudden change in weather. So, I need some comfort food. All I've been wanting to eat and drink is hot tea and soup...peppermint tea and hearty cream or noodle soup to be exact.

I always have these grand plans to make homemade soups. My freezer is usually stocked with ingredients like chicken bones, shrimp shells, and various vegetables. Right now, in fact, I have bags of asparagus stems saved from the summer. But, I never use any of it, often throwing most of it away when I can't remember the last time I ate shrimp or whatever

However, Friday night after I got home from work, I made a pot of turkey stock with stuff from the freezer...the first homemade stock I've ever simmering that leftover Thanksgiving carcass, carrots, celery, onions, garlic, rosemary, oregano, salt & pepper in water for two hours. When it was finally midnight...I drained the stock, then picked off all the extra meat from the bones. Last night I made turkey noodle soup for dinner by adding thin egg noodles, carrots, celery, garlic, & rosemary to the stock.

I don't know what it is about soup that is so comforting. Maybe it's the warmth, the heartiness, and the memories...this soup reminded me so much of my grandmother's homemade chicken noodle soup. Whatever it is, it did the trick.

And now, after waking up to a literal winter wonderland, I have a pot of soup waiting to warm me.

December 3, 2007

Foodies Online

THANKS to Alanna of A Veggie Venture, for inviting me to be a part of the St. Louis food bloggers group. This is motivating me to update my blog more and strive to find my niche in the world of food bloggers. I have a few good ideas for the next month, so check back often!

SHOPPING FOR A FOODIE? Check out the St. Louis Food Gifts lists from those local bloggers. My idea: If you've got a wine lover on your list, take a short road trip to Piasa Winery in Grafton, Illinois. They make 10 wines from grapes they grow in Godfrey. Their River Road Red, a semi-dry red made from Norton & Rougeon grapes, was voted Best Red Wine in Illinois at the State Fair this summer. They also carry hundreds of wines from around the world.

CONGRATS to my friend Margaret, whose Smith Family Recipes & Stories blog earned her "featured publisher" status on Food Buzz.

NEED A PERSONAL CHEF? For those of you in the St. Louis area, check out Unseen Orchard (Margaret's new catering venture). Another gift idea: A romantic dinner for two, lovingly prepared by Margaret in your home. Wouldn't your spouse/parents/best friend/kid's teacher/neighbor just love that?

FOOD BUZZ: Click here to see my new page, where I'll be posting my favorite recipes and other tasty tidbits.

November 30, 2007

Alone in the Kitchen

Earlier this year, I read Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. It's a collection of essays about cooking & eating alone, the things people only cook for themselves. So, it made me think about the things I make when I'm alone.

My solo cooking is often repetitive...I'll find something I really like, then cook it again and again...for months at a time. After a while I'll stop cooking it all together. Like potatoes and eggs. For such a long time, I ate that almost everyday for either breakfast or lunch. It was nearly ritualistic. I'd pour frozen hash browns (the chunky kind, not the shredded kind) into a dry, non-stick pan and cook them until they thawed. Then, I'd drizzle them with olive oil. When they were brown and crunchy, I'd sprinkle them with Emeril's seasoning & dump them onto a plate. That got topped with a couple of eggs, over-easy. I mixed it all together before eating it.

Of course, that was before I did South Beach for about a year. Now, potatoes & eggs are a rare treat.

Another dish I'd make a lot was pasta with peas: frozen peas sauteed in butter with herbs de provence, then poured over spiral noodles & topped with parm.

I've also gone through a toasted pumpernickel & cheese phase, a buttered noodles phase, a white rice with soy sauce phase, a saltines with mustard and cheese slices phase, a ramen noodles phase (I'd boil water with the seasoning packet, crush up the noodles, then add them to the broth, turn of the heat, & let sit for 5 minutes), a hard-boiled egg phase (with the yolks slightly undercooked), and this summer a fried eggplant phase.

My favorite solo meal, though, is a soup-for-one that I call Bean & Greens: In a medium saucepan, saute a small onion (chopped) in some olive oil with a bit of fresh garlic, then add a can of reduced-sodium chicken broth, a can of cannellini beans, (I also sometimes add a handful of whole-wheat macaroni when the broth boils), and either a handful of spinach or a small chopped zucchini. The soup gets topped with grated parm. It's quick & makes just enough for one big hearty bowl.

Sticky Toffee Pudding, Two Tries

A few weeks ago, I went to another Novel Cuisine class at Kitchen Conservatory; this one was for Tom Schlafly's book A New Religion in Mecca: Memoir of a Renegade Brewery in St. Louis. The author himself was there, and Anne made foods inspired by the menu at the Tap Room, Schlafly's brew pub. I was there mainly to see how their signature dessert, sticky toffee pudding, is made.

When you get the dessert at the restaurant, it's dark, thick, and moist. K.C.'s version was light and cakey. Apparently, the key is to chop the dates (Dates! Who knew!) in a food's what, I guessed, gave the pudding its dense, rich texture.

At home last weekend, I followed the Tap Room's recipe for the cake exactly. Still, what came out of my oven was more like a cake than a "pudding". I topped it with K.C.'s caramel sauce recipe: 1 cup water & 1/4 cup sugar, melted until golden then whisked with 1 cup of warm cream.

This first attempt at caramel was not spectacular. For some reason, it was lumpy. Either the cream curdled or the sugar crystalized. Either way, I was really disappointed. It tasted fairly good, but it wasn't at all the same at the Tap Room's.

I had a good amount of cake left, so I took it to the winery for Ron's birthday on Wednesday. This time, I followed the Tap Room's recipe for caramel: 1 pound of dark brown sugar melted with 1 pound of butter, then whisked with 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 cup of cream.

Oh. My. God. This was it! The caramel was thick, creamy, & smooth. At the winery, we heated each piece of cake, then cut an X in the top to help the warm caramel soak in. We were very generous with the sauce. Once properly soaked, the cake becomes dark and moist...exactly like that at the Tap Room.

I was so happy...and so was everyone else. Which, let's be honest, is really all that matters when you are feeding your friends.

An Oysters & Champagne Kind of Thanksgiving

About the only thing that really makes me giddy around the holidays is drinking champagne. I love it. I simply cannot be depressed with a glass of bubbly in my hand...the slighly sweet nectar that tickles my nose, sipped from a delicately long-stemmed flute. Pure joy.

So, in an act of indulgence, I bought oysters and champagne for lunch on Thanksgiving. My friend shucked a couple dozen, which we ate with a mignonette sauce I made...champagne vinegar with finely chopped shallots, lemon zest, salt & pepper. It was absolutely delicious. We even mixed the leftover sauce with olive oil to use as the salad dressing.

Then, with our turkey dinner, I made a baked oysters in lieu of the planned oyster dressing...a rich butter-and-cream laden casserole that is perfect for a holiday meal. This turned out to be everyone's favorite.

Scalloped Oysters
(adapted from Paula Deen's recipe)

1 pint of shucked oysters in their liquor
2 cups coarsely crushed crackers *
1 cup dried bread crumbs, Italian style
3/4 cup melted butter
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon thyme
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together crackers, bread crumbs, and melted butter. Place half of the crumb mixture in the bottom of a buttered 9x9 casserole (or similar size).

Cover it with the oysters & their liquor, arranging the oysters in a single layer.

Season the cream with nutmeg, salt, pepper. Pour it over the oysters.

Mix the remaining crumbs with the fresh parsely & lemon thyme. Sprinkle on top of the oysters.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

* Paula Deen uses saltine crackers. I used all of my random last-of-the-box crackers, a combination of butter, wheat, sesame, & water. Any crackers would work, I'm guessing.

November 12, 2007

Make that FIVE new recipes

I've been hoping that the weather will finally cool and it will feel like winter. I am ready for heavy sweaters, boots, warming fires, and belly-filling comfort foods like soups and stews and casseroles and pastas.

No such luck. Although it was gray and rainy today, it was still 70 degrees again. In mid-November. This just isn't right.

Winter was well underway at this time last year. In fact, during the first week of December there was a major ice storm that cut out power for a while. Then again, it did dip down into the 30s a couple weeks ago and is supposed to get that cold again later this week. So, who might actually be chilly enough in December to warrant getting my coats out.

Who says global warming doesn't exist?

Despite the unseasonably warm weather, I made soup anyway for dinner it wishful thinking...another batch of creamy potato & leek soup, this one with an addition of chicken broth, garlic, fresh rosemary, & fresh oregano.

And to go with it, some of Tyler's Ultimate caramelized onion toast...crunchy French bread topped with onions, anchovies, olives, oregano, thyme, olive oil, & shaved aged gouda. Really, really good...especially with a big glass of spicy red zin.

November 11, 2007

Playing Catch-Up: Four New Recipes in One Week

One of my favorite ways to waste time is to browse through cookbooks at Borders. I drink a pot of Earl Grey and fondle the newest culinary releases. Most recently, I took a gander at Nigella's new book, Nigella Express...which I see as a sexy, British version of Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals. What I like about Nigella, as opposed to that mousey Rachel Ray, is her extravagance, even with her everyday "fast" food. For instance, she includes a recipe for "Christmas in a glass"...champagne with a splash of gingerbread syrup. I not only want to drink A LOT of that during the holidays; I want to bathe in it.

I made one of her recipes, Mustard Pork Chops, for dinner on Wednesday: Brown a couple of chops in a pan with olive oil (I used bone-in chops), remove them from the pan, deglaze with some hard cider, add coarse mustard & cream, put the chops back in for a few minutes, eat with your fingers.

I've also been reading Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries, which is part cookbook, part diary, and part food porn. So many of his recipes have caught my eye...chicken patties with rosemary & pancetta, lentils with sausage & salami, baked onions with parmesan & cream, and many others. He cooks a lot of seasonal foods & local foods, so during the winter months there are lots of recipes for soups, stews, curries, and roasted squashes. On Thursday, I took a cue from Slater and roasted a small pumpkin. I ate the soft chunks of squash along side a wilted spinach salad with bacon, onions, pine nuts, & feta (a recipe I adapted from Tyler's Ultimate cookbook).

Last night, I made Slater's lemon pepper chicken wings, which are coated with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, loads of cracked black pepper, & sea salt before roasted until crispy. Talk about clearing up your sinuses. Wow.

November 1, 2007

My After Hiatus Return

Yeah, I'm still around. Just been busy with work is all. Not enough time to do any real cooking, let alone blogging. *sigh*

Anyway, my cooking project has been halted somewhat. I only have a few nights a week to cook and I am usually too darn tired to whip up some new recipe. So, I've been eating a lot of stove-top mac-n-cheese...always homemade now...last time with a bit of butter, cream, and Italian blend cheese. I'll never go back to that blue-boxed stuff.

I did do some baking for my birthday. I had been thinking about the s'mores cupcakes I saw on Cupcake Bakeshop for a while, wondering how to vary that idea....chocolate cupcakes with marshmallow frosting & graham cracker crumbs, or a graham cracker cupcake with chocolate filling and marshmallow frosting, or vice-versa....

I decided to experiment. I made the graham cupcakes from Bakeshop's recipe (minus the cracker crumb bottom), topped each cake with milk chocolate ganache, then a dallop of marshmallow fluff and some graham cracker crumb sprinkles.

Sounds good, right?

Sadly, they weren't even all that edible. The cakes were dense, with no real graham flavor. The ganache was too runny, and the fluff eventually spread instead of staying in a nice little dallop on top. They were messy, much like real s'mores, but weren't at all tasty.

So, I gave them to the students in one of my classes.

Then, I decided to bake myself a birthday cake. I wanted something yummy and pretty. I considered a flourless chocolate hazelnut cake (I wanted Nigel Slater's recipe, but couldn't find it anywhere), a multi-layered coconut cake, a maple cake I saw on I went with the maple cake. All together, there's like four cups of maple syrup in this recipe...the good this wasn't necessarily an inexpensive cake to make. Nevertheless, it was pretty good. The cake was moist and flavorful, and the icing was rich and sweet. I didn't like Martha's maple buttercream recipe; I didn't feel like cooking syrup to the soft-boil stage. So, I found another recipe online...a simple mixture of butter, syrup, and powdered sugar. So sweet. Almost too sweet. However, the sweetness mellowed and the cake was delicious with coffee the next day. My best friend, Sarah, helped me decorate the cake (really, she did all the decorating) and it was even a pretty cake...with whole walnut halves around the outer-edge and chopped walnuts sprinkled in the center. YUM.

I also made a pot of black bean soup last week. I started it in the crockpot, thinking the beans would cook up just like navy beans. They didn't. After like 8 hours, the beans were still crunchy. So, I dumped it all into a pot on the stove and boiled the hell out of them, adding onions, garlic, bay leaves, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, tabasco, and some coffee stout. When the beans were soft, I pureed three cups in the blender and added it back to the pot. I ate the soup with sliced andouille sausage. The stout added a depth of flavor that made the soup very rich. All in all, I was pretty happy with my made-up recipe.

I do have lots of plans for cooking. I want to make mustard-glazed pork chops, roasted pumpkin, Tyler's ultimate warm spinach salad, baked mac-n-cheese, and lots of different soups, stews, and casseroles (yeah for cooler weather, finally!). From now on, I am going to plan on making new food for dinner on Wednesdays, my easiest day of the week.

Next week....those mustard & cider glazed pork chops I recently saw in Nigella's new book.

September 23, 2007


In July, my friend Erin & I went to a Novel Cuisine class at Kitchen Conservatory, a small cooking school in St. Louis. These classes are a combination book club/cooking class. The July class was on Nigel Slater's memoir Toast, a collection of childhood memories associated with food. The chef prepared a meal (rarebit puffs, roast chicken, mashed potatoes, & trifle) while we discussed the book.

It was so much fun that I took Sarah there last weekend for her birthday. This class was on The Secret Life of Lobsters. Guess what was on the menu? You got it. Lobsters. Lots of lobsters. We watched as the cook made fresh lobster stock and steamed live lobsters. Then we dined on lobster risotto, lobster bisque, lobster salad, & lobster potstickers.

I was surprised at how easy the risotto was to make. I had always thought that risotto needed constant attention. Not so. The chef just stirred in some stock, then let it simmer until absorbed before adding more stock.

I had already decided to make risotto at home last week, so I took a cue from Kitchen Conservatory's recipe. I used chicken broth instead of lobster stock and mixed in mushrooms & spinach. Then, I topped it with parmesan cheese & sauteed shrimp. It was creamy, but not as flavorful as the lobster version. Though, I will try a different risotto recipe sometime this fall.

In Search of the Perfect Mac & Cheese Recipe

My quest started with Alton Brown's Stove Top Mac-n-Cheese. The sauce, which is made with eggs, evaporated milk, and sharp cheddar, is mixed in a pot with cooked macaroni. It was very creamy, but the taste wasn't what I am looking for. It was almost too cheezy. I think the sharp cheddar was too much, though it was better reheated the next day.

Attempt #2 was a spur-of-the-moment adaptation of the same recipe. I used monterey jack instead of sharp cheddar (less 1/2 cup) & added some steamed broccoli. Much better. The cheese wasn't so overwhelming, and it was pretty good cold the next day.

Next experiment: Baked mac & cheese. Anyone got some good recipes?

September 10, 2007

Curry Lime Chicken Wings

There is a new Borders bookstore in town, and I went there a couple weeks ago on my lunch break. I browsed cookbooks while lunching on a cheese & tomato melt & pot of Earl Grey tea. And I couldn't resist copying down a chicken wings recipe from Tyler Florence's Tyler's Ultimate cookbook.

Since I had the day off yesterday, I made these for a late after grocery shopping lunch. They were an excellent combination of spicy, tangy, and slightly sweet. Here's what you do:

Put chicken wings on a baking sheet or in a baking dish or whatever you prefer. Drizzle them olive oil and season with salt & pepper. Bake at 425 about 30 minutes or until they are crispy.

Meanwhile, blend 1/2 stick of softened butter with 2 teaspoons of red curry paste, the zest & juice of one lime, a tablespoon of honey, and a splash of soy sauce.

When the wings are done, toss them in the curry butter. The butter will melt and coat the wings.

September 3, 2007

August 31, 2007

Spaghetti with Browned Butter

One summer, when I was in college, I worked as a hostess at The Old Spaghetti Factory in St. Louis for like 30 seconds. Really, it was more like a few weeks. And that was a few weeks too many.

The place didn't take reservations, so there was often an hour+ wait. The manager was a nut who refused to let the hostesses keep a list of available tables, so tables were always getting double-sat on busy evenings. Hostesses were responsible for getting together to-go orders, which meant venturing into the steamy kitchen. Rats...big river rats...lived under the infamous trolley car.

Like I imagine with so many restaurants, once you work there you never want to eat there again. And that's what happened with The Spaghetti Factory. Employees could eat for free before their shift, so I had my lifetime supply of the Pot Pourri, "A sampler of Browned Butter & Mizithra Cheese, Meat, Clam, and Marinara Sauces."

I haven't eaten there in well over ten-years. In fact, the last time I ate there was the night Sarah & I got looped up on red wine with dinner before getting our tattoos. For some reason, other than the tattoos, I've been thinking about that place recently. After foraging in my kitchen for dinner tonight, I decided to pay homage to OSF with some spaghetti & browned butter with grated ricotta salata...mostly because I have the cheese in my fridge I am curious about what to do with it.

And now I feel like puking.

I think I burned the butter, instead of lightly browning it. And the cheese is so dry. Thank god I have an entire bottle of cabernet to keep my palate moist!

Dinner with Friends

Last Saturday, a few friends and some of their friends came over for dinner. I chose two recipes from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris cookbook: Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic & Vegetable Tian (both of which I'd never made before).

I planned to have everything prepped when people got here, so that I could cook while they drank (Absolut New Orleans cocktails) and munched (roasted grapes w/cheese & crackers). But, that didn't happen. I had nothing ready when they arrived. And, I mean nothing. Luckily, I have wonderful friends who very willingly helped in the kitchen. In fact, they prepared most of the meal...making cocktails, destemming grapes, setting out cheeses & crackers, peeling garlic, slicing zucchini & tomatoes, layering three veggies artistically in a casserole (Nice work, Ashby). All I did was slice potatoes, cook the chicken, and arrange an arugula & mushroom salad. Oh, and bake two pies: Another blueberry pie like before and one with strawberries instead. Both delish, by the way. And, I have to give myself props for making the scrumptious garlicy gravy for the chicken.

So, after a couple of hours of cooking, dinner was served. Everyone seemed full, a little drunk, and pretty happy, albeit tired from having to cook their own dinners. *sigh*

August 17, 2007

Lovely Meals

Since this is my last week of summer vacation, I've been doing lots of cooking-things-I've-never-cooked-before:

Truffled Egg Toast
I've been wanting to do something with the white truffle oil I have; I bought it last October to make mushroom pate for the Halloween party, but haven't used it since. One of the recipes in Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant is for Truffled Egg Toast, so I decided to try that.

1 teaspoon butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon heavy cream
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper
1 slice country bread, halved & toasted
white truffle oil

1. Melt the butter in a small, non-stick skillet over very low heat.
2. Whisk together the eggs & cream.
3. Pour eggs into pan with butter and stir constantly with rubber scraper. You're making soft scrambled eggs here, so be patient. The eggs should end up creamy, like custard...not dry and fluffy.
4. Spoon the eggs over the toast & sprinkle with salt & pepper. Drizzle with truffle oil.

This was pretty good, and I'll probably eat it again. Although, the oil didn't lend that much flavor. I have truffle flavored olive oil, and I wonder if that makes a difference. Is there pure truffle oil, or is it all flavored olive oil?

Roasted Grapes
I read about roasted grapes, which you are supposed to serve with cheese & crackers, on MAC & CHEESE and decided to give it a try for Port Club yesterday.

It's pretty simple:
1. Put a bunch of seedless grapes in a pie dish. I used red grapes.
2. Pour over a couple tablespoons of vinegar. I used balsamic.
3. Bake at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

The grapes, which tasted like cherries, were delicious with water crackers & smoked white cheddar. Since they are sweet, they would be best with a strong cheese like bleu cheese or goat cheese. We also tried them with wheat crackers & fresh mozzarella, but the cheese was too bland and the crackers too over-powering.

Nicoise Salad
I was inspired by this:
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I didn't follow the recipe exactly; I just remembered what it looked like and tried to recreate it.

1. Put a handful of arugula in the bottom of a large bowl.
2. Top with 2 sliced, boiled new potatoes. I uncooked them just a bit, because I like the firmness.
3. Add a handful of fresh, steamed green beans.
4. Add a few halved green & black olives. I used the kind with chopped garlic that you can get at the bulk olive section of the grocery store.
5. Sprinkle with 1 hard-boiled egg that you've pressed through a sieve.
6. Coat a tuna steak with cracked pepper & kosher salt. Sear in a non-stick pan with a bit of olive oil, about a minute per side. Remove from pan & let rest.
7. Make a classic vinaigrette by whisking together 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard with 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of salt & pepper. While still whisking, drizzle in 3/4 cup of olive oil.
8. Slice the tuna and layer it on top of the salad. Spoon over the dressing to taste.

I have to brag about how freakin' tasty this salad was. I lingered over it for about an hour... enjoying the warm potatoes that soaked up the dressing, the crunch of the fresh beans, the salty garlicy olives, & the peppery tuna. I will definitely make this again.

Eggs Benedict
I was a little nervous about making this, because in her book Julie Powell talks about how difficult it was to poach a perfect egg and how her hollandaise kept breaking. I was also worried about the timing of it. So, here's what I did this morning:

1. Toast the English muffin (I used whole wheat) & put on a plate.
2. Fry the Canadian bacon in a pan coated with cooking spray. Place on top of the muffin halves.
3. Bring a skillet of water with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer.
4. While the water is getting ready, mix 3 egg yolks, 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of warm water, and a pinch of salt & pepper in a blender or food processor.
5. Carefully crack two eggs into small bowls. When the water is simmering, slowly pour each egg into the skillet. Leave them alone for 3 minutes, then remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper towel covered plate.
6. Finish the sauce by blending in 1 stick of hot melted butter. SLOWLY drizzle it in while blending.
7. Put the eggs on the muffins, spoon over some sauce.
8. Marvel at how much of a culinary genus you are.

I don't know what I was worried about. The eggs were perfect...nice shape, firm whites, runny yolks...and the sauce held together just fine. I plan to try it again next week, adding spinach and artichoke bottoms...a recreation of the Eggs Sardou I once ate at Commander's Palace in New Orleans.

And, finally, tonight I'm going to make...

Chopped Salad with Spicy Grilled Shrimp
Here's the plan:

Chopped fresh cabbage, fresh tomatoes, fresh bell peppers, corn off the cob, red onion, avocado, crisp bacon, black beans (maybe), & homemade creamy arugula dressing (using the green goddess recipe, but substituting arugula for the parsley) topped with shrimp coated in olive oil & Emeril's seasoning then seared in a non-stick pan.

August 15, 2007

Foodie Fieldtrip

Call it what you will - Girl's Day Out, Afternoon Adventure, Foodie Fieldtrip, Whatever - I spent the last several hours in St. Louis in Culinary Heaven. After making plans to meet my friend Margaret for lunch, I decided to go to a few places in the city that I've heard about but never been.

I started with breakfast at the London Tea Room on Washington Ave. It's an open, light space with exposed brick, lime-green walls, wood floors, and white marble tables. The tea was brought to my table on a linen-lined tray in mis-matched blue & white china.

I tried a small pot of the Lapsang Souchong, which is said to have been Winston Churchill's favorite. The tea had a very smoky aroma, reminiscent of a campfire. It was not subtle and lingered in the mouth & nose, but not in an unpleasant way. I sprinkled in some raw sugar, though I think it would be good with honey & lemon to off-set the robust smokiness. It was so interesting, that I bought a 1/4 pound and gave Margaret half to try (with a little strawberry fairy cake). I also ate a warm almond scone that was round & biscuit-like with clotted (aka Devonshire) cream. The cream is like unsalted butter. I think it would have been better with jam, too. Next time, I'd like to try the green chai or the high tea service.

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Next was lunch with Margaret at Wasabi, my favorite sushi place. We shared four rolls and caught up on each other's lives. I haven't seen Margaret in over a year and it was nice to chat.

After lunch, I drove to Whole Foods...a place where I like to treat myself every once in a while and where I obviously need to be chaperoned. I bought black figs, spelt pasta, san marzano tomatoes, ricotta salata cheese, goose liver pate, albacore canned in olive oil, green olives with cardamom, rice crackers with tamari, breakfast sausages with blueberries & maple, a loaf of country bread, broccoli rapini, some organic heavy cream, a nice tuna steak, and a couple 6-packs of beer I'd been wanting to try (Hoegaarden & Bell's Two-Hearted Ale). I have some lovely meals planned for the next week.

Note: Drinking English tea out of a china cup makes me use adjectives like "lovely."

I ended my little afternoon adventure with a visit to Jilly's Cupcake Bar, where I purchased four treats: a PB & "J"illy, a S'murtle, a Bee Sting, & a Ja Love. I couldn't decide, so I just got all of the ones that looked good to me.

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Despite still having tons of work to do before fall classes start on Monday, I don't feel the least bit of regret over "wasting" the day (or the money). Instead, I feel recharged and ready to tackle the challenges of a new semester.

August 10, 2007

Port Club

Each Thursday, a group meets at the winery for a couple hours of good wine, good food, and good company. As a winery employee, I was automatically initiated into the Port Club, which is made up of most residents from a nearby gated community. It’s a close-knit group of people, the kind of people you want on your side because if they like you, they will do just about anything for take home boxes of dirty wine glasses to run through their dishwasher to save you from hand-washing them all, and bringing you plates of food while you’re working on a busy weekend.

Each week, the Port Club members bring home-cooked goodies to share over several bottles of good red wine. Sam is known for his chicken wing gumbo, peanut chicken lettuce wraps, almond cake, and pate (though, I have yet to try the pate). We’ve enjoyed Dan & Sharon’s pasta salad and Mexican layered dip. Ron & Gloria’s chicken salad, tomato bruschetta, and prosciuto-wrapped asparagus. We’ve eaten an array of cheeses, sausages, and crackers.

Cooking for the Port Club is a somewhat intimidating experience. These are good cooks, retirees who have all afternoon to prepare things like gumbo and pate. They relish their culinary creations, oohing & aahing over each bite, describing how it lingers on the tongue and discussing how it goes with different wines.

The first recipe I shared with the Port Club was my feta bruschetta, a mixture of roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, fresh rosemary, feta cheese, and olive oil that was eaten on sourdough baguette toasts. It went over well enough that I was encourage to share other recipes.

Last week, I made baba ghannouj, something I have never made before. After roasting a couple eggplants, squeezing out their squishy flesh, & blending it with garlic, lemon, sesame paste, and olive oil, the finished dip was delicious and had a nice smooth texture when it was still warm. Once chilled, however, it firmed up and lost its creamy spreadability. Sam was the only Port Clubber there that day, and I don’t think the cold, gelatinous goop impressed him at all.

I had to redeem myself this week, so I made the artichoke-stuffed bread I’ve been eyeing on Bake and Shake. The French loaf I bought was rather large, so I decided – at the last minute – to double the filling recipe to ensure that I had enough. So, I chopped up two cans of artichoke hearts, fried up 8 strips of bacon, sauteed an onion, then mixed it all with mayo, sour cream, cheddar, parmesan, garlic, oregano, & a few shakes of Tabasco. I spread this heart-stopping filling into the hollowed-out loaf, topped it with roma tomato slices, and baked it for 25 minutes. I placed the still-hot baking sheet on my passenger seat, then headed up to the winery.

Upon my arrival, I was poured a glass of Meeker Pink Elephant (a deep red rose with a dry but fruity taste) and the bread – crusty on the outside & creamy on the inside – was cut into pieces immediately. Oohs & aahs were uttered. The entire loaf was, much to my delight, devoured before the night was over.

Personally, I thought the filling was too much; it was so thick and rich. I thought that it would have been much better simply schmeared on the top of a sliced loaf before baking. So, when I got home that evening – feeling swirly from drinking glasses of a 1999 Meeker Petit Verdot, Hahn Cab Franc, Meeker Barberian, Meeker Petite Sirah, Meeker Carignane, a bubbly Bouvet, and Mackeson triple stout (which, by the way, is absolutely delightful with chocolate cake) – I had another go at the artichoke bread. I tore off a piece of the French bread top, the part I had sliced off of the original loaf, and topped it with a rather thin layer of the artichoke spread (note to self: there is no need to double the filling recipe, unless you want tons leftover...which might be tasty stirred into scrambled eggs in the morning). I baked it in the oven until the bread was crisp, then stuck it under the broiler until the top was browned and bubbling.

Ooh. Aah.

August 6, 2007

This is just to say

I have eaten
the pie
with friends at
the winery
and they
all thought the
was delicious
Forgive me
if you didn't
get any
it's all gone

August 4, 2007

Dugalicious Housewarming Cherry Almond Porch Cake

My BFF, Sarah (aka "Duga"), just moved into a new house. I baked this cherry almond cake and took it to Sarah and her family at their new place (because I wanted to bake something and her hubby really loves cherries).

I had to pit a cup and a half of bing cherries. Easy, I thought. No sweat. I'll just squash them with a knife like I would pit olives. Uh, not such a good idea. Red juice squirted in every direction, onto my favorite blue tee-shirt with skulls. Damn. Instead, I gingerly cut each cherry in half and popped out the pit with the tip of a knife. A not clean job. My kitchen looked like a crime scene:
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The batter is really thick and fragrant, with almond & vanilla extracts and ground almonds. It barely covered the bottom of a 10-inch springform. I arranged the cherries on top of the batter before baking:
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They were supposed to sink and be invisible in the finished cake, but mine didn't turn out that way:
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Still, it was pretty delish...very moist, almost wet, and dense:
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Too bad I dropped the leftovers on the porch when I got home. I almost baked another one that night.

July 24, 2007

"...tastes like summer, and death."

On her blog, "Lo" recently wrote about summers on the lake and making artichoke-stuffed French bread, which she says "tastes like summer, and death."

And that got me thinking.

Every year, I am so excited for summer break. This summer, though, I taught Writing Camp (creative writing for middle school & high school kids) all day for 4 weeks, taught college classes 4 nights a week for 8 weeks, and worked at the winery every weekend. Not much of a break.

Like every year, I get nostalgic right after July 4th about how the summer is almost over, how I didn't get to do all that I had planned for the "break." Last summer, I wrote: "And now that July is here, I can glimpse the summer's end and feel my dreams of Summer Fun fading. I already mourn the sun. [...] The Fourth of July always signifies the midsummer mark for me...the beginning of the end, so to speak."

So, I can understand Lo's comparison of summer and death.

I remember visiting my uncle's farm during summer break. It was a quiet place, named the Blue Goose Farm, tucked into the hills of Alderson, West Virginia. He had cattle, chickens, and horses. I spent the days lounging, reading, walking around the property, enjoying lazy meals. Everything was handmade. I remember watching my British aunt making chicken and spicy peanut sauce. I had never eaten like this before. She sauteed chopped garlic until it browned, then added peanut butter and spices. I was amazed. I couldn't, however, bring myself to enjoy the meal, because I was convinced that they had slaughtered one of their chickens for of the chickens I had fed that afternoon. (I didn't realize then that those were chickens for eggs, not for meat.)

One night I stirred a scoop of thick vanilla ice cream, one spoonful at a time, into a huge mug of hot coffee. I drank it once all the ice cream had melted. THAT'S the kind of lazy eating I am talking about.

More than anything, though, I remember picking wild blueberries in their backyard. There was always a big colander full in the sink . I ate blueberries all day cereal at breakfast, handfuls for an afternoon snack, with ice cream for dessert.

When I think of summer, I think of those bittersweet berries. so many summer, and death.

My aunt & uncle no longer live on that farm. They are no longer married. I don't get to spend a lazy summer week with either of them. I've never eaten blueberries fresh off the bush since then.

In honor of those lazy summer vacations, I made blueberry muffins this weekend...during a lazy Sunday morning.

Blueberry Almond Muffins
slightly adapted from Cooking Light

makes about 30 muffins

For the muffins:

1 1/2  cups all-purpose flour, divided
1  cup whole wheat flour
1  cup quick-cooking oats
1  cup sugar
1  tablespoon baking powder
1  teaspoon baking soda
1/4  teaspoon salt
2  cups vanilla yogurt
1/2  cup milk
3  tablespoons canola oil
2  teaspoons vanilla extract
1  large egg
1 1/2  cups fresh blueberries

For the topping:

1/4  cup all-purpose flour
1/4  cup slivered almond
1  tablespoon light brown sugar
1  tablespoon butter, melted
  • Preheat oven to 400°.
  • To make the muffins, combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. 
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, oil, vanilla, and egg. 
  • Add the yogurt mixture to flour mixture; stir just until moist. 
  • Fold in the blueberries. 
  • Spoon 2 rounded tablespoons batter into muffin cups coated with cooking spray.
  • To make the topping, combine 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, almonds, brown sugar, and butter. Sprinkle evenly over batter. 
  • Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. 
  • Cool in the pans for 10 minutes on a wire rack; then remove the muffins from the pans.

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Digital pics coming soon!

July 15, 2007

Bad Boozey Brownies

We sell a hellava lot of sweet wine at the winery where I work on the weekends (check out that alliteration, y'all!). A. Lot.

"Hi there, Folks. Would you like to sample some wine?"


"Ok, what kind of wine do you like?"

"We like it all." Har-dee-har-har.

Contemptuous chuckle. "Well, what kind would you like to try today?"


Right. "Well, according to state law, we can offer 3 ounces of free samples. So, let me know what kind of wine you prefer so that I know where to start you." (This is known in the biz as "evoking the 3 oz. rule.")

"Anything sweet."

Of course. "I'll start you with our Illini White then; it's our best seller."

"Is it sweet?"

"Yes, it's our sweetest white wine."

"What about this one? Is it sweet?" Points to the chardonnay on counter.

"That's a dry white."

"It's dry?"

"Yep. Dry." Like your leathery skin. Use some sunscreen. Seriously. And wear some pants that fit your fat ass.

"Got anything sweeter?"

I think I can find a bottle of maple syrup lying around, if you'd like to guzzle that this afternoon. "Do you like chocolate-covered cherries?"

As if I even need to ask.

So, we have this Danish cherry wine called Kijafa that we pull out in emergencies such as that. It tastes just like a bottle of melted chocolate cherry cordials... It's gross, actually (though I was able once to stomach a shot of it in coffee, and I bet it wouldn't be half-bad over vanilla ice cream). People love it. They buy the shit out of it; they drink the shit out of it....then they get sloppy drunk (it's 16% alcohol) and go refill their insulin prescription.

Recently, a sampler bottle came adorned with a little "Taste the Possibilities" recipe booklet: Imported Kijafa, which is made with orchard-sweet cherries and European-style chocolate, makes martinis magnificent. Adds verve to vodka drinks. Compliments cocktails. And dresses up desserts.

Now, THAT's some alliteration!

In a fit of period-induced baking anxiety (and because I've been wondering if they are any good), I made a pan of Kijafa brownies this morning:

Combine 2 cups AP flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, & 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl.

In a small saucepan, melt 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate with 2/3 cup butter over low heat. Cool slightly; stir in 1 1/2 cups sugar, 7 tbsp Kijafa chocolate cherry (from that half-empty sampler bottle you borrowed from the winery the night before), & 3 slightly beaten eggs.

Stir chocolate mixture into dry ingredients. Fold in 3/4 cups coarsely chopped walnuts (if you're a sadist instead of a brownie purist).

Pour into greased pan. Bake @ 350 for 25 minutes.

Perform culinary cunnilingus on the mixing bowl and spoon. She's special, so take your time. It's not all about you.

Cool brownies in pan. Mix 3 tbsp Kijafa with 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar. Gross out at the pale pinkish beige color; think about how it reminds you of puke. Add a drop or two of red food coloring and stir until the somersaults in your stomach subside (alliteration!).

Drizzle the brownies with the now shockingly psychedelic pink glaze. Cut into squares. Take to the winery to give away because they are really not all that good...too dense and cakey with no distinguishable chocolate-covered cherry flavor.

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I really need to get a digital camera. Like now.

July 12, 2007

Some fava beans and a nice chianti....well, a nice zin actually

I was browsing around a bunch of food blogs this afternoon, came across this picture on Bake & Shake (my new favorite thing to read online; she's hilarious), and actually drooled. It just looks so refreshing and satisfying.

So, I made a trip to Dierberg's after camp today to purchase random food for my supper. I decided I would get whatever looked good, limiting my shopping to the produce, cheese, organic, and bakery sections.

I ended up with almost $50 worth of goodies in my grocery bag.

I bought fresh fava beans in the pods, which I had to shell, boil, then peel. I ate them drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt & cracked pepper.

I also ate three small heirloom tomatoes--a firm green & white striped one, a juicy red & yellow striped one, and a yummy purpley one--sliced and salted.

Then there was olive tapenade with endive, little balsamic roasted onions, and crusty sourdough rolls with a small wedge of creamy brie. Oh, and a bottle of Bogle Old Vine Zin.

I made a few finger sandwiches--tapenade & tomato, butter & favas--and took my time eating everything with my fingers, sipping wine, & reading.

July 9, 2007

Fish en Papillote & Salad w/Green Goddess Dressing

While I ate a lot of veggies last week and not much junk food, I am still feeling a bit squishy this week. So, I decided to bake some fish en papillote...that is, fish wrapped in parchment paper. I drizzled the fillet with a couple tablespoons of white wine, sprinkled salt, pepper, garlic, & rosemary, then topped it with a few capers, a pat of butter, & a couple thin slices of lemon.

The fish was moist and flaky, but surprisingly there wasn't much flavor. And I was worried about overpowering the meat with everything. Still it was pretty good....with no fishy smell in the house and easy clean up!

I ate the fish along side a green salad (lettuce, asparagus, green pepper, avocado, & edamame) with homemade Green Goddess Dressing (mayo, sour cream, anchovy paste, green onion, parsley, garlic, & lemon juice).

The dressing was good, but a little too creamy for my taste (I would add a bit of white wine or even water to thin it out). I think it would be better if it had time to sit and let the flavor meld. I am going to try it again on leftover salad tomorrow. I think it would be good, though, as a dip for veggies or grilled shrimp.

July 8, 2007

Eat, Pray, Love

I was leery of this book when I started reading it. The author, having just gone though a grueling divorce, decides she needs to go on a spiritual journey...four months in Italy learning about pleasure, four months in India learning about devotion, and four months in Indonesia learning to balance the two. However, she can't afford a year of travel. So, she pitches her trip as a memoir idea to her publisher who then buys the rights to the future book. And, well, that rubbed me the wrong way. Because, wouldn't that pervert what she did on her trip...because she needed fodder for her book?

Anyway, I liked reading about her time in Italy (all the food!) but the India part with all the "godness" was a bit much. Still, her fairy tale ending was inspiring.

July 5, 2007

Fireworks Feast

Marinated Shrimp
I wanted to make some food to take to the winery for the fireworks on the 4th and remembered seeing a recipe a while ago on Food Network for shrimp that looked mighty tasty. I looked up the recipe and made it the night before, but it just didn't seem right...more mayonnaisey than I remembered. I didn't feel comfortable taking mayo-soaked seafood to sit outside for a few hours, so I did another recipe search and discovered that I made the wrong one. I should have made Pickled Shrimp. Oh well, the shrimp were still good for an after-class snack that night.

Instead, I made roasted asparagus wrapped with prosciutto, tomato/basil/mozzarella skewers, & marinated zucchini with green olives.

Cheddar Ale Spread
This is shown with rosemary flatbread, which I intended to make. But I did so much cooking this week that I simply didn't have enough time to put it together. Still, this tangy cheese spread was great on rosemary Triscuits. I did change the recipe a bit, substituting garden-fresh rosemary for the parsley, Newcastle Brown Ale for the beer, & sliced almonds for the hazelnuts.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
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I'd been wanting to make cupcakes from scratch for a while and was inspired by these delicious looking treats, but I used this recipe instead.

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The batter called for 2 tablespoons of red coloring, so it was really red. I got it all over my hands, the countertop, the everywhere. It looked like something died in my kitchen.

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However, I managed to fill the cupcake pans pretty darn neatly.

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I was pretty happy with the results, especially since I don't usually do well with baking.

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I used silver liners like the others, but I didn't pipe the icing on.

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Still, they looked festive (topped with blueberries) & everyone liked them!

July 3, 2007

I have zucchini coming out my ears!

A friend of mine has been giving me stuff from the garden every week. I love all the fresh veggies and herbs, but right now I have more zucchini (and basil) than I know what to do with. I used a humongous zuc for the soup yesterday, but I still have another huge one, a medium one, and three small ones to use up. So....

....I made zucchini bread this afternoon.

I was surprised that the dough was very dense, more like cookie dough than bread or cake dough. And, honestly, I don't quite get the appeal of zucchini bread. Don't get me wrong; it tastes good, all cinnamony and walnutty, but you can't decipher the vegetables at all. So, what's the point?

Still, I might make another loaf this weekend just to get rid of more zucchini, and so that I will have something to eat for a quick breakfast next week.

Gifts from the Garden

Breakfast: Tomato & Basil Pie
It's from Paula Deen, so you know it's gonna be good. I mean, ANYTHING with 1 cup of mayo and 2 cups of cheese baked into a buttery crust is good. I think this would be good with bacon, too; I can't believe Paula didn't think of that herself.

I'll probably try it again with spinach, ham, olives, & feta.

Lunch: Fried Green Tomatoes
I did a little experiment with this one...cooked some dipped in egg then coated in seasoned semolina. They were really crunchy and firm. It worked well with thicker slices of tomato.

Cooked another batch without the egg. These were not as crunchy, but I could taste the tomato flavor better. This worked well for the thin slices.

Dinner: Zucchini Soup

This is pretty much the same as the potato/leek soup I made a few months ago, but with zucchini added. It was good, but I couldn't really taste the zucchini at all. I have another big zucchini, so I might try a "truer" soup next week sans potatoes.

July 2, 2007


I have been wanting to make homemade ice cream lately but not wanting to spend $50+ on an ice cream machine.

Then, I came across a recipe for pistachio semifreddo. It's an Italian "semi-frozen" custard. And it looked pretty simple, just 5 ingredients (egg whites, heavy cream, sugar, nuts, & vanilla) that you pour into a dish and freeze for a few hours.

I should have read the recipe a little closer. You have to whip the egg whites & cream into stiff peaks, separately. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem...but I don't have the whisk attachment to my Kitchenaid mixer, so I had to do all that whipping by hand.

Still, I did it.

I used a mixture of pistachios & almonds, then added lemon zest and chopped fresh basil. I ate it over strawberries macerated with lemon juice & sugar.

It's good...very thick & creamy, not as frozen as ice cream, more like gelato.

June 26, 2007

I'd rather be cooking.

This whole "cook something I've never cooked before at least once a week" thing was supposed to help calm me, to give me something worthwhile to do, to make me feel accomplished.

It's not fucking working.

Instead, I am feeling anxious and stressed and overworked.

See, I am damn busy this summer...teaching a creative writing workshop from 9-3:30 each week day, then teaching college classes from 7-10 four nights a week, then working every weekend at the winery. The cooking feels just like one more thing I have to do...mostly because I don't really have time to do it.

But, I still want to. I have a growing list of things I want to make, but I simply don't have time to fit it all in (last night I made sesame soba noodles at 11:00, so that I would have something to take for lunch the rest of the week). Sunday evenings are about the only day I have time to cook, and by then I am too beat to stand in the heat of the kitchen for a couple hours. Next week, though, I don't have to teach the workshop, so I am going to try to cook every day.

That's my goal, anyway.


Lately, I've been browsing around some food blogs. I've always loved reading about food, which is why I often thumb through cookbooks whenever I can. Some of the blogs out there have great stories, recipes, and pictures (if only I had a digital camera to take some pics of my food!). Check out my new "I eat" links.

June 25, 2007

Breakfast for Dinner

I had planned to make Monte Cristos for breakfast yesterday, but I didn't have time. Instead, I had them for dinner before my class tonight.

I began these "french toast" sandwiches by schmearing one slice of multi-grain bread with dijon mustard and another with orange marmalade. I topped each with some baby swiss, then Virgina ham on one and maple turkey on the other. I dipped them in beaten eggs and fried them in a bit of melted butter until browned. I stuck them under the broiler for just a few minutes to ensure everything was warm and melty.

And, well, they were just okay. Not as spectacular as I had hoped. Kind of just like a grilled ham/turkey & cheese sandwich. And the middles were kind of cold and unmelty.

I was hoping for something much more satisfying, something more of a cheezy taste explosion in my mouth. Maybe I'll try Croque Monsieur next time.

June 21, 2007


I was browsing around my Photobucket pics today and thought this one, which was taken a couple years ago, was pretty cool.

June 19, 2007

Hail Caesar!

I'd been wanting to make Caesar dressing from scratch for a while, and finally did it Sunday night. I followed Martha Stewart's Caesar Salad 101 recipe. I baked bread cubes into croutons. I mashed garlic with a knife. I mashed anchovies with a small mortar & pestle. I separated egg yolks from their whites. I juiced lemons. I whisked and drizzled and whisked some more. I somehow cut my finger.

And, it was pretty darn painless (the recipe, not the cut on my finger). It tasted like--well--like Caesar dressing should taste...salty & slightly fishy, lemony & creamy.

It made me want to never buy bottled dressing again.

June 12, 2007

Pesto: A Recipe in Haiku

Garden fresh basil
blend with pecans and garlic
add olive oil

A squeeze of lemon
and a few sprigs of spearmint
some parmesan cheese

Tasty on pasta
tumble in grape tomatoes
satisfying lunch

June 5, 2007

Soft-Boiled Eggs

Right now I am reading Eat, Pray, Love. In the first part, author Elizabeth Gilbert travels to Italy in search of pleasure, the art of eating well. At one point, she describes a meal that "will always count amongs the happiest [hours] of my life." After purchasing some "thin, bright asparagus" from a vegetable stand in Rome, she goes back to her apartment where she soft-boiled a pair of fresh brown eggs for her lunch, peeled the eggs and arranged them on a plate beside the seven stalks of asparagus (which were so slim and snappy they didn't need to be cooked at all), put some olives on the plate with four knobs of goat cheese and two slices of pink, oily salmon.

She writes, "For the longest time I couldn't even touch this food because it was such a masterpiece of lunch, a true expression of the art of making something out of nothing. Finally, when Ihad fully absorbed the prettiness of my meal, I went and sat int he patch of sunbeam on my clean wooden floor and ate every bite of it, with my fingers, while reading my daily nespaper article in Italian. Happiness inhabited my every molecule."

I read that yesterday morning and actually salivated. I then remembered a recipe in Nigella Lawson's Nigella Bites cookbook for "Soft-boiled eggs with asparagus soldiers" and decided to make that for my lunch.

I don't recall ever cooking soft-boiled eggs, though I know I have eaten them at some point in my life. It seems like such an easy thing, especially compared to the last two recipes I've tackled. But, I was ready for something a little lighter and simpler.

Nevertheless, I thought that if I was going to make such a simple recipe I needed to have the correct paraphenalia. So, I stopped by my favorite little antique shop in town in search of a pair of porcelean egg cups. Buyer's remorse hit me as soon as I stepped out onto the sidewalk after my purchase, but I figured that the $12 cups were a good investment. After all, part of the joy of eating a soft-boiled egg is in the aesthetic of it all. I simply couldn't eat it without the equipment.

At home, I followed Nigella's recipe: Bring a pot of water to a boil, lower in the eggs, and boil steadily for four minutes. Immediately cut off the tops, sprinkle in some salt, then dunk in the steamed asparagus spears. I also dunked in some slices of crusty french bread. When the runny golden yolks were gone, I scooped out the delicate whites and ate them on the bread with herbed butter. I sat at the kitchen table, eating with my fingers, taking my time to savor the texture and flavor of the eggs.

I am typically pretty picky about how my eggs are cooked; I usually can't stomach runny eggs. But these were good. Really good. I am thinking they should be a new lazy late morning ritual.